Growing up, evolution was one of those subjects that no one in my family or church talked about. If it was talked about, it was regulated to a category of people who wanted nothing to do with God and used evolution as an excuse to explain a world without God. If you were to ask me about evolution, even just a couple of years ago, I would have scoffed and said it was ridiculous. After all, how could any reasonable person expect me to believe that life in all its complexity evolved from a collection of algae on an ocean rock? Thinking about it even now intuitively seems like a silly notion not worthy of devoting any serious time to considering.
This is not to say my family or my fellow Christians who wrote off evolution years ago as anti-God propaganda weren’t critical thinkers. Even scientists admit it is not the answer one would intuitively arrive at. I know for me, it didn’t seem like it was worth my time to even think about, much less discuss.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t have genuine questions growing up, particularly concerning dinosaurs. The same intuition I relied on to tell me evolution was ridiculous, also told me that the earth was surely older than 6,000 years. The thoughtful explanation given to me by my grandmother when I was young was that there were civilizations before Adam and Eve, but they were wiped out and God started over with Adam and Eve.
This was a satisfactory explanation for me for most of my life up until a few years ago, primarily because I never gave it much thought seeing that explanation as being more than reasonable and after all, how could we know what happened so far back anyway. In fairness, I don’t discount the entirety of this theory / belief out of hand even to this day. Certainly there are elements to this belief that line up with scientific findings. I will not go into that here however.
The first awakening of my uneasiness concerning evolution occurred when we took a family trip to Arizona. We visited the Grand Canyon of course, but before that we visited the Petrified Forest. Sitting there looking over the desert and visiting the park’s museum as suggested by my grandmother, I came face to face with the reality that the earth has been here for a very long time. Living in northeast Texas, it is not readily apparent how old the earth actually is because we are surrounded by wildlife and vegetation. Even though I had lived in southern Arizona for a brief time while in the Army, something about this moment was different. Perhaps it comes with age and a greater awareness of one’s own mortality, but I felt incredibly small; not in the traditional sense of there being millions of people in the world, but small in relation to the passage of time.
“…For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” – James 4:14
This feeling would be compounded when we visited the Grand Canyon. Magnificent and beautiful took on a whole other definition when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. So also did that sense of smallness in relation to time and space.
Here is a short video that talks about the age of the Grand Canyon for anyone interested.
I left Arizona and returned home with a profound sense of gratitude that I was able to witness something that literally took millions of years to create. With this positive experience however came questions, questions that would come to a head a short time later. My daughter began asking me tough questions about God and the age of the earth. Not wanting to simply offer explanations to appease, but rather real answers based on scientific fact and reason, I began looking more closely at the subject of evolution. What I found was tremendously unsettling. All the mockery I had taken part in over the years when people asked me about evolution came back to haunt me.
I am not going to go any further on my reasons for my eventual acceptance of biological evolution here. For those who are interested, I have read that one of the best books on the subject to date, written from a Christian standpoint is called “the language of God” by Dr. Francis Collins. For the purposes of this writing, I simply state that I found the evidence for biological evolution overwhelming.
For those who have spent years studying the Bible, accepting evolution as fact has serious ramifications from a Christian standpoint. There are doctrinal issues as well as reliability issues that one is faced with concerning the Bible in light of a world brought about by evolution. The common complaints usually levied by the strongest critics of religion and Christianity however are not the issues I refer to. What I found when listening to people like Hitchens and Dawkins was that their arguments were surprisingly disappointing when trying to argue against the Bible. Many of the issues they raise have already been tackled by great Christian thinkers over the years. They may know a lot about science, but they are amateurs in the world of theology and philosophy. I don’t mean that as an insult, but as an observation.
The issues I have been centrally concerned with are what I consider the most basic, fundamental issues of life. Perhaps chiefly in this regard is what I have already alluded to about one’s smallness in the world, not only in relation to being one among hundreds of millions of people currently in the world, but being one of billions of vapors that vanish in the vastness of time. In short, what is the significance of one person and one fleeting life in a world so big and in a span of time so long?
I have listened to atheists who reason how they came to believe that there is no God. The most common view I have heard is that either God doesn’t exist or if he does, he doesn’t care anything about us. This is based on the understanding of the Big Bang Theory and that how it is commonly accepted that any action on the part of God (if there is a God) took place in that moment and that we have no evidence of his intervention in the physical world after the Big Bang itself. This type of God is seen as cold, distant, uncaring and even evil due to the reality of suffering and death.
I can certainly understand and even sympathize with this viewpoint. If one simply looks at what we know of the visible world, it is completely reasonable to deduce that we are nothing more than high functioning animals. If God exists, from this viewpoint, we are no more significant than the chalk on a chalkboard that we wipe away with a brush, not giving it a second thought.
I of course am not the first to ponder on the seeming meaningless of life. King David was the first person I ever read who pondered the question on the significance of man in relation to God. He said…
“What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” – Psalms 8:4
In context, David is praising God for being kind to mankind. The very fact that God created man and the goodness he experienced or perceived (though he had many family problems) made him want to praise God for the unmerited kindness God bestowed on him.
I have often pondered in a more negative fashion, this same question, only asking it from the standpoint of being that one among billions of specks of chalk dust on God’s blackboard. I have never sought to blame God. After all, He is God. If He wanted to view me like the speck of chalk that I am in relation to Him, it is certainly His right to do so. I am ultimately a tiny part of His creation and what He does with His creation is his business. Certainly the pot has no grounds from which to judge the potter on why or how He chooses to make the pot.
All of this is cold comfort from a human standpoint though and we human beings are by no small measure, troubled by this notion. The atheist on an emotional level I think rejects the idea of God because this type of cold, uncaring God is seen as lacking any love, care or compassion and who would want to acknowledge, much less worship a God like that? The agnostic I believe would typically rather avoid the whole line of questioning altogether. At least that is what I would do if I were an atheist or agnostic.
What I purposefully left out of that quote from David were the next two verses. Most would understandably not think twice about these verses, but for those who have studied Biblical prophecy, we know that what David says in the following verse is actually a prophetic statement foretelling the coming of the Messiah, even though he surely had no clue he was prophesying when he made the statement.
“For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” – Psalms 8:5-6
Here we have King David praising God for earthly blessings and kindness and it is as if God steps into space and time and speaks through his praise, foretelling of something far greater that is to come. This far greater kindness would come long after David’s death, but the God that it reveals is not subject to space or time.
If you are not familiar with Biblical Messianic prophecy or you are an agnostic or atheist, I realize this might seem like I am running off the rails of reason trying to read meaning that isn’t there into an archaic religious text. My intention for writing this is not to explore Old Testament Messianic prophecy so I would ask that you allow me this indulgence without providing an explanation on why the Psalms are highly prophetic concerning the Messiah. You see, for me, this is incredible. In the very passage that asks the question of human significance to God, we find buried within it, a prophecy of the coming Messiah as if God purposefully answers the question by pointing to Jesus.
If the atheist is right and there is no God or there is one, but we are insignificant to Him, then there is no meaning or significance to our lives. Family, career, health, pleasure, knowledge all vanish with death. Even if one looks to secure a legacy and prolong their existence through the memory of others or contribution to society, in relation to the vastness of time, it is still just a vapor. When the sun burns out and life here ceases to exist, it will be as if we never existed and all that we did to build a significance for ourselves in this life before our passing will have vanished away.
If however this is God in Psalms 8 answering the question of our significance to Him, then not only should we find in Jesus, the God we long for, full of grace, truth, love and compassion, but we should also find a meaningful expounding on the answer to our significance to God in a way that we can apply to our lives.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8
Jesus had purpose and significance that originated in the will of His Father. Jesus didn’t get mad at His Father and say, “why God? Why do you allow death and suffering? You are so cold and distant; I want nothing to do with you!”
One of the great questions that Jesus’ life answers is that the value and significance of one’s life is not determined by the insignificance that we perceive in relation to our standing in society or within the universe or the pain and suffering that we endure. In human terms, if we went back in time and looked at Jesus we would see what we would normally categorize in the human sense as complete insignificance and a lost cause. He was someone hated by the ruling authorities, he had no life, no wife, no children, no home and no career. In the end, virtually everyone abandoned him and he died one of the most awful deaths imaginable.
Deep in the human psyche this is perhaps our greatest fear. Not the fear of the physical pain of death necessarily, but the fear of losing that which gives us meaning, value and significance. This brings us to the greatest question of all that is answered in the life of Jesus. The New Testament states plainly that God himself became a man and died a horrible death because He loves you and me more than we can possibly imagine. It might be tempting to devalue His love for us as an individual by saying that He died for all mankind and not us as individuals, but to paraphrase the atheist I heard the other day, there is no reason to look at humanity, let alone our existence as individuals in relation to the vastness of the universe and draw the conclusion that we matter at all to God, or as I argued above, that we should.
One thing is for certain. When all is said and done, the only thing that truly matters is what matters to God. If you believe Jesus is who He said He is, then you believe that you matter enough to God for Him to come down as a man and die on the cross for you to bring you into eternal relationship with Him.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. – Colossians 1:15-20