Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Shout of the Sunrise (Conclusion)

“And they who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Thy signs; Thou dost make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.”[1]

C.S. Lewis wrote during the World War II era, “There is no reason why our reaction to a beautiful landscape should not be the response, however humanly blurred and partial, to a something that is really there.”
[2] In the first part of this article, I presented the debate that exists between the humanist with his evolutionary presuppositions and the Christian theist with his biblical perspective of creation. I conclude this article with two arguments in support of the latter point of view.

Proof 1: The sense of beauty and awe

It is a fact that nature’s spectacles such as a sunrise attract people all over the world. Today, thousands of photographs will be taken of the dawns and sunsets around the world. Travellers will upload photos of the rising sun onto various web sites. We gaze at the bright, shining beauty of the dawn. We ponder the precision that brings about the sunrise at the exactly predicted moment. As Lewis observed, we have a “reaction” to what we see.

We call this reaction an aesthetic sense. We’re attracted to the beautiful, the inspiring. Even scientists, in their quest to discover what makes the universe tick, employ language that often sounds strangely theological. Two time Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan is one of the few human beings to have viewed the earth from the moon. Being interviewed in a documentary of the Apollo missions Cernan recalled, “I felt I was literally standing on a plateau out there in space, a plateau that science and technology had allowed me to get to. Now what I was seeing, even more importantly what I was feeling at that point in time, science and technology had no answers for. Literally no answers. Because there I was, and (looking up) there you are… there you are, the earth, dynamic, overwhelming, and I felt that there was just too much purpose, too much logic, it was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. There has to be someone bigger than you and bigger than me, and I mean this in a spiritual sense, I’m not religious, but there has to be a Creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we create to govern our lives.”[3]

It is a reality that man has a sense of beauty and amazement. Why? If we are random products of nature with no purpose for being here beyond survival of the species as evolution states, then why does the Divine “shout for joy” attract us? Why do we feel inspired to paint the scene, photograph it, and plan our honeymoon to see it, or memorialize it in a song? From a strictly evolutionary basis, why would humans have this sense of appreciating beauty that leads us to higher, nobler thinking?

People’s attraction to majestic, powerful, or beautiful sights is not only pleasing to our senses. It also often causes us to consider transcendent things, as was the case with Cernan. Philip Yancey writes, “Despite the awesome emptiness of our universe, despite the pain that haunts it, something lingers, like a scent of old perfume, from that moment of beginnings in Genesis 1. I too have sensed it. The first time I rounded a bend and saw Yosemite Valley spread out before me, its angel-hair waterfalls spilling over the snow glazed granite. On a small peninsula of Ontario where five million migrating monarch butterflies stop to rest, their papery wings adorning every tree with shimmering, translucent orange… In the beginning, the very beginning, there was … Only joy.”

Man’s aesthetic capacity is an observable fact. This is a universal phenomenon. People all over the world watch, admire, and wonder. When we look at a vast sunrise panorama, a waterfall or the massive rolling waves, we feel small and our thoughts are drawn upward.

Proof 2: Religions everywhere!

That inner attraction and curiosity at the natural world contributes to a second proof that the creation announces a Designer. The universal presence of religion supports the biblical claim regarding nature’s origin. It is partly this fearfulness of nature that explains the worldwide presence of religions. In every culture there is a belief in something beyond what is seen. Often the form of the world’s religions has been the worship of nature. This is human religion in its most primitive form. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun and the Norse, among other things, venerated thunder. Other civilizations worshipped the moon, the sea, or other observable phenomena. Why? Partly at least because of the admiration they inspire. Through observing the dawn, the moon, the lightening, through hearing the thunder, men were drawn to look beyond themselves and worship. Bible translator J. B. Philips reasoned, “Arguing… from what we know to what we don’t know, we may fairly say that as food is the answer to hunger, water the answer to thirst, and a mate to sexual desire, this universal hunger for Truth is unlikely to be without its answer and fulfillment...”

Many mistakenly say that nature itself is god. Because this tendency to worship nature was so strong, in the pre-Christian era, God strictly forbade Israel from this practice. He wanted no confusion between creation and Creator. Some equate the two, but that’s not the scope of this article. The Christian view is the uniqueness and separateness of the Creator and the created.

Many would have us believe religion exists because of what our parents and their parents, and their parents ad infinitum have taught us. It is social conditioning. From an evolutionary point of view, how would this contribute to the survival of our species? Is it not reasonable to say that religion is in every place and culture down through history at least in part because nature “shouts for joy” that ‘something big’ is up? For me, this is a self-evident truth.

The Mercy of God

The Apostle Paul declares that the Lord is not hiding. He writes, “…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
[6] The Creator has made Himself evident through His handiwork. In the Old Testament for a human to see God’s actual being was fatal. Maybe His indirect revealing of Himself through the exquisiteness and greatness of nature is done in mercy? Is it possible that God simply cannot wait to show Himself to us? He wants to share his glory with us but not destroy us in the process. First light attracts us because of its color it doesn’t kill us! To fix your eyes on the divine inventions draws us to worship; it does not end our lives.

Final Word

Have you ever stared at the blurring wings of a hummingbird? Or considered the tiny foot and toes of a newborn? Looked up at the enormity of the towering clouds? Have you ever commented on the color of the sea? The entire universe is an evidence of God’s creative work that communicates to our senses that someone is its Architect. This “general” revelation from God, as theologians call it, is obvious to men. To deny this is a denial of us in some sense. We appreciate nature through an inner artistic-like capacity. Due in part to this detection of God’s fingerprints in nature, man is religious everywhere. The Lord has surrounded us with the works of His hands and they shout with joy to us. Let us not lightly stand by as scoffers declare there is no substantiation for God in the natural world. The proof is all around us! Just get up early tomorrow morning and see!

[1] Psalm 65:8 (NASB)
[2] C.S. Lewis, “Christian Reflections,” (William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, Glasgow, 1967) p 96-97
[3] “In the Shadow of the Moon,” 2007, a film by Ron Howard
[4] Philip Yancey, “Disappointment With God,” (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1988) p. 59
[5] J.B. Philips, “Your God is Too Small (Touchstone Books, New York, 2004 (from 1952 original)), p. 71
[6] Romans 1:19-20 (NASB)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Shout of the Sunrise (Part 1)

The Shout of the Sunrise
(Part one of 2)
I have a favorite picture of my wife and me with two of our daughters taken early one morning in South India. We’re standing on the roof of a hotel at Cape Comorin, at the very southern tip of India. The four of us are in silhouette against the beautiful morning sunrise. As we watched the sun come up over the Bay of Bengal, it was an amazing light show.

The beauty, color, and intricacy of nature tend to inspire us. People everywhere pause, gaze, and comment on the sheer glory of what they’re seeing. Some write poems or compose songs. The Bible says, “They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of your signs; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.”
[1] The word translated “signs” in Psalm 65:8 is interesting. The Hebrew word is “oth,” which can also be translated flag, beacon, or evidence. The point is these attention-getting events communicate a message to us. God shines like a beacon, or lighthouse, each morning and evening. He waves a flag to get our attention. These “oth” are evidence that, “I am here. I am big. What you are seeing reflects who I am.”

Scripture is telling us that the Lord gives man daily evidence of His reality. The rising and the setting of the sun are two of these signs. They literally “shout for joy” to those who are watching them. As a heavenly drum roll to begin the day and solemn bugle call to end it, we look on admiringly. There is no music; no voice is heard, yet for us that morning at Cape Comorin, the sunrise literally shouted with joy to our family.

Modern Thinking

Today, many disagree with the biblical claim that God communicates to us through natural events. Science can break down a sunrise into its components and explain why it happens. Sunrises, and natural events, are reducible to basic physical principles. Given these elements of angle, light, clouds, the earth’s atmosphere and rotation, it is no wonder that a sunrise or sunset occurs! Unfortunately, the fashion today is proving that a rising sun is “no wonder.” In this climate of scientific reductionism modern man has minimized God in our perception. Man-centered secularism says the sunrise and sunset are natural and just ‘happen’ given all the conditions that have evolved. Claiming proof for a Creator in nature is labeled hogwash.

This perspective is the result of decades of humanistic, post-Christian worldview. Denial of evidence for God in the universe around us leaves us with an evolutionary worldview. A God who is mighty enough to create everything would be scary to many. That would mean He is really God, and cannot be ignored. So man promotes the notion of a god that fits his lifestyle and that can be controlled. Learned men pay attention to the whys and hows of the universe and interpret what they learn to explain away God. The Biblical account is ridiculed. Influential scientists, professors, intellectuals and even judges say there is no evidence for design in the universe. Those who deny design in the facts of nature around us, are like those who the Psalmist says “…do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor do they consider the work of His hands.”

The Biblical Perspective

We were meant to consider the works of Gods hands! The Christian believes that the entire creation “shouts for joy” that God exists. Well did Isaiah say, “That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the … Holy One of Israel has created it.”
[3] This was evident to scientists in the past such as Johannes Kepler. He said, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God.”[4] He saw science’s role as studying Gods creation, not explaining God out of it!

As we turn to the words of Scripture, we learn over and over that the very creation itself is a “sign,” or evidence for mankind to see, hear, smell, and sense. Literally all creation exists to reveal God, the Creator. Rick Warren writes, “The ultimate goal of the universe is to show the glory of God… Where is the glory of God? Just look around. Everything created by God reflects his glory in some way. We see it everywhere, from the smallest microscopic form of life to the vast Milky Way, from sunsets and stars to storms and seasons. Creation reveals our Creator’s glory.”

What is True?

So this is the modern debate. Many people oppose the biblical view of God’s revelation in nature and deny evidence for design. Yet we Christians sing, “...early in the morning, I will celebrate the light...” [6] as we observe the beauty of a sunrise. Two opposing views! What does the evidence suggest? Does reality, that which is observed, support the Biblical account or the naturalistic explanations that began with ´´the Age of Enlightenment and Newton’s mechanical description of the universe? ``
[7] We turn in the next installment to proofs in support of the biblical account.

References[1] Psalm 65:8 (NASB)[2] Isaiah 5:12-13 (NASB)[3] Isaiah 41:20 (NASB)[4] Charles Colson, “Developing a Christian World View of Science and Evolution, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2001) p 17[5] Rick Warren, “The Purpose Driven Life,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002) p 53-54[6] Marc Byrd & Steve Hindalong, “God of Wonders”, Copyright 2000 by New Spring

[7] Norman L. Geisler & Chad V. Meister, `Reasons for Faith, Making a Case for the Christian Faith, (Secunderabad, India, Authentic Books, 2007) p 219

Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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