Gaze into the night sky on a clear night and let your mind roam a bit. Look upward from any spot on Earth and you’ll see millions of light-years into the distance, and millions of years into the past. Wherever your gaze may land, there you will find stars, countless in quantity and immense in dimension, grouped into solar systems and galaxies, numbering into the untold billions. And around each star, material revolves, sometimes planets larger than our own. Yet scientists tell us that the closest possibly Earth-like planets would take us millions of years to reach, while the planets closer to home are simply uninhabitable.
The atheist and the theist, considering this same canvas, reach two quite different conclusions. For the Christian there is awe – despite our knowledge that we are not the “geographic” center of the universe, it does appear that the universe was fine-tuned and created with us in mind. Though we are located on the periphery of an unremarkable single galaxy, we seem ideally situated to gaze back into the creation event. To the atheist, by contrast, it seems like such a, well, waste: no rational being would go to the trouble of making so much just for us. The vastness of the cosmos, for them, proves that either there is no God, or he is certainly not a God interested in the lives of people here.
Is there an adequate answer to this challenge? Can we still have confidence that despite occupying a space in the universe that is infinitesimally small, we can rightly claim to be intended for this?
A starting point is to examine what underlies the atheist’s challenge. From a human perspective, their point is sound. Imagine for a moment a plan to house two scientists at the extreme reaches of Antarctica. A proposal to build a small city and to pave the streets with gold would be exceedingly foolish. The conditions would make construction extremely difficult; the cost would be excessive, and there would be no need. Anything more than the bare essentials to keep them alive would be wasteful.; any plan to build more evidence of irrationality.
If God wanted to build a home for humanity, wouldn’t a single planet have been enough? Or a solar system? Why do so much more? The answer, I submit, lies in a proper understanding of God’s attributes. Unlike human builders, God suffers no limitations. He is omnipotent. It is as easy for him to construct 100 billion stars as it is to construct one. While this creative activity may require effort, it is not “work.” In fact, like the artist who paints a portrait as a gift to a loved one, the very act of creating may well be an act of love. The artist is free to place his subject in any surroundings he chooses, and if challenged as to why he didn’t simply paint the person’s face, he would not doubt be surprised at the question. After all, his creative energies were directed at something much bigger than simply the central feature of the work.
Unlike men who labor for what they build, and who must conserve resources or energy, an omnipotent being has no need to scrimp. Consider for a moment a programmer who develops a computer simulation. With adequate computing power, can he not populate his simulation with a million characters as easily as he can with one? Can he not let his creative juices flow to make the simulation exactly the expression of his imagination that he wishes it to be? For God, it is simply a matter of desire, not one of power or purpose.
So why would God go to such extremes? The answer may lie in the fact that Earth lies in a very distinct location both within the universe and within the timeline. Moreover, earth’s unique set of characteristics allows for scientific study of the created order. For more on this, check out the scientists and scholars at Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org). They present a compelling case that we have been placed at the very best time and location to see the hand of God at work. Had we arrived at a different time, or arisen in a different location, we may not have been able to gaze back to the creation point as our modern technology now allows us to do. And without that access, we may have been like creatures put in an artificial terrarium, unable to see what lies beyond our immediate surroundings.
And why would God want us to see back to the creation event? Why indeed? When the U.S. military seeks to get someone’s attention, the phrase they use to describe the level of their efforts is “shock and awe.” Perhaps this is an apt phrase for understanding God’s approach as well. For when one contemplates the immensity of the power and intelligence necessary to create – from nothing – something so vast, organized and powerful as our universe, mere mortals should shake in their boots as they bend their knees in awe, and adulation. Psalm 8 captures the thought:
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
Perhaps that’s why the Bible teaches that the beginning of wisdom is a proper fear of the Lord.