Three Big Questions and the Difference Our Answers Make


Hispaniolan Woodpecker / Melanerpes striatus

Image via Wikipedia

I would like to reflect with you today on 3 big questions.  These are questions that each of us must wrestle with at some point in our life, so let’s consider these questions together.  And the questions are:

  1. Where did we come from?
  2. Why are things the way that they are?
  3. Where are we going?

And what I hope to show is that the way that we answer these questions will make a huge difference in your life and mine.

First of all: Where did we come from? There are two main stories available to us, both of which provide an answer to that question.  And those two main stories are 1) we are the product of random chance plus matter plus time, and 2) we are the product of a supernatural action of God.  Both stories start with the same evidence (i.e. fossils, geology and the world as it is today).  But the two stories end up with two very different conclusions.  And this is because they start out with two very different sets of presuppositions.  The first set of presuppositions is that there is that there is no revelation from God to us and there is no supernatural action of God in this world.  The second set of presuppositions is that God does reveal things to us and that God does act supernaturally in this world.

So, can we say that it all depends on your personal presuppositions and all presuppositions are equally valid?  As we reflect on that question, let’s examine one piece of evidence for ourselves:  the woodpecker.  The woodpecker has four very important and unique features.  First, it has very unique feet.  Most birds have three toes forward and one toe back to enable them to grip horizontal branches.  But the woodpecker has two toes forward and two toes back which enable the bird to grip a tree vertically and move up, down and around a tree both backwards and forwards.  Second, the woodpecker has a special bill for pecking wood.  Third, this bird has special cushioning to prevent brain damage while it pecks.  Fourth, the woodpecker has a sticky tongue that is able to extend beyond its beak.  The tongues of most birds do not extend beyond their beaks, but the configuration of the tongue of the woodpecker enables it to reach into the holes it pecks to gather up insects to eat.

Now the theory of evolution as I understand it, and I could be wrong, would explain the uniqueness of the woodpecker by saying that among a population of ordinary birds, one bird developed a genetic mutation which gave it and its offspring an advantage in terms of survival.  Then, over time, the birds without that mutation died out and the mutation became “standard equipment” for that species.  Then after some more time passes, another bird develops with a different genetic mutation which gives it and its offspring an advantage in terms of survival.  Again, birds without that mutation tend to die off so that the second mutation also becomes a standard characteristic of that species of bird.  And this series of mutations over long periods of time continues until you have a bird that we know as the woodpecker.

But there is a problem with that line of thinking.  And the problem is this: having a specialized beak is no advantage for a bird unless it also has, at the very same time, the long, narrow, sticky, retractable tongue, and the cushioning for its brain, and the special feet so it can grip the tree vertically.  So, in order for the first woodpecker to survive and pass on its unique characteristics to its offspring, it has to have all of the unique characteristics of a woodpecker all at once.  And that is far more likely to happen with a supernatural, all-at-once creation by God than it is with gradual development by means of random chance plus matter plus time.

Now let’s look at a second piece of evidence:  The fossil record.

Fossil Tree

This is an old diagram that you may have seen before called the fossil tree.  It describes in visual form, the idea that all living things from single-celled organisms, an idea which is built on the random chance plus matter plus time story.  But there is also a problem with the explanatory power of the story.  With the random chance plus matter plus time story, one would expect to see, in the fossil record, gradual changes over time as one species goes through macroevolution to develop into another species.  But that is not what we see in the fossil record.  Noted evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould writes:

The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism [the idea that new species develop gradually over time]:

1.Stasis.  Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth.  They appear in the fossil record looking pretty much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless.

2.Sudden appearance.  In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and “fully formed.[1]

I am suggesting to you that the kind of fossil record that we actually have was more likely to come about through supernatural, all-at-once creation by God than by random chance plus matter plus time.  So all presuppositions are not equally valid, because some presuppositions can rule out a conclusion that may do a better job of explaining the evidence.

So why does the way that we answer this question “Where did we come from?” make a difference?  What we believe about where we came from makes a difference in how we live our live.  The story that you and I are just a cosmic accident can offer humanity no sense of value or worth.  Things just happened to turn out this way, that’s all.  But the story that you and I are supernatural creations of God, made in his image and placed here to care for his creation and for each other, that story gives us and all creation a great sense of value and worth.  And when understand that we and all of creation has great worth, then we will make different decisions than if we believe that we don’t.

Let’s consider the second great question of life: Why are things the way that they are? We look at the world around us and we see this mixture of incredible beauty in nature and in human achievement, and disease, natural disasters, environmental damage and despicable acts of evil committed by humans against one another.  How do we understand the world we live in?  How did things get to be this way?

There are several different stories that try to explain why things are the way that they are.  For example, some people believe that the world is the arena in which the great struggle called the survival of the fittest takes place.  But if we understand the world in that way, then all the power and the glory should go to the strong and there is no hope for the weak and the suffering.  Others would explain the state of the world today with the concept of karma:  If we are suffering it must be because of bad things that we have done.   And if we are enjoying success and prosperity, it must be because of good things that we have done.  But that understanding of the world will either weigh us down with guilt or blind us with pride.

But God’s story of why the world is the way that it is tells us that the world was originally created very good.  However something early on in the life of this new creation:  Our first parents disobeyed God.  And that disobedience had cosmic consequences—all of creation was corrupted—what once was beautiful in its entirety was now a mixture of good and evil.  Human beings are capable of great and wonderful accomplishments.  And human beings are capable of horrific evil.  We had Hitler and Mother Teresa living on this planet in the same century.  We are filled with joy over the birth of a little baby, and yet we also face the reality that one day that baby, and all of us, will die.  God’s explanation for the state of the world today is that we are broken people living in a broken world.

And yet there is something more is God’s explanation for the state of the world today.   Because God promised Adam and Eve that he will send a remedy to this broken creation.  Within earshot of the first two humans, God said to the serpent,

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”  (Genesis 3:15)

And down through the ages, God repeated his promise to humanity, that one day a descendant of Eve would come who would crush the head of the serpent and, at his own peril, do what needs to be done to heal the world.  And that special descendant of Eve was Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect human life and died a sinner’s death on the cross, and then rose from the dead to declare to the world that something great and wonderful and new is about to unfold.  So God’s explanation of why things are the way that they are is a story of hope.

The third great question is: Where are we going? If we live with the founding story that we are all the products of random chance plus matter plus time, then we believe that there is nothing beyond this life and, at best, we can hope to leave behind some kind of legacy that will help others during their time on this earth.  But God’s story of where things are far different.  God describes our future reality through the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 65, starting at verse 17:

17 “See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it
infants who live but a few days,
or older people who do not live out their years;
those who die at a hundred
will be thought mere youths;
those who fail to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD. (Isaiah 65:17-25)

Additional details of God’s story of the future are filled in elsewhere in the Bible.  In a nutshell, this is it:  One day Jesus will come back to this earth and he will transform it into something new and reconnect it with heaven to make the new heavens and earth.  And the things that we do here and now will make a difference in the new heavens and earth.

N.T. Wright explains it this way:  It is like a craftsman working on a stone that will be used in the construction of a great cathedral.  The craftsman works diligently carving on his one little stone, but that is all he knows.  But one day, after the great cathedral is completed, the master builder takes the craftsman up to the front near the altar and points high up on the wall to a little stone that fits together with many other stones to form a beautiful carving on the wall of the cathedral.  And the craftsman catches his breath at the beauty of it all.  And he says, “I never knew that the little things that I did would make such a difference in this new cathedral that you have built!”  And it is the same thing with us.  The little stones that we work on in our everyday lives here and now will have an important place in the new heavens and earth.  So God’s story of the future gives us purpose.

What we have been talking about is the concept of worldview.  Our worldview is how we interpret and understand the world.  And worldviews generally strive to provide answers to these 3 big questions:  Where did we come from? Why are things the way that they are?  Where are we going?

So how do you answer those questions?  What is your worldview?  Are you willing to reflect on your worldview and compare it to the story that God gives us?  Does your worldview ascribe great value to human beings and to the rest of creation?  Does your worldview give you hope as you struggle with the brokenness in your life?  Does your worldview give you purpose as you look forward to the future?

Why is the way that we answer these questions important?  Because how we see the world governs what we say, think and do.  Consider Susan G.’s actions after her husband Brent died.  She asked that Brent’s memorial service be recorded for those who could not attend.  So we recorded the service and put it on our website with the rest of the sermon podcasts.  Susan then told her friends about the podcast, and that podcast received far and away more hits than any other WGLC podcast.  And people began leaving comments to Susan.  Here is one example:

Hi Susan,
…………..I have to say, although I’m not a very religious person , I found that day at your church, such a peace that I have never felt before.
It was very comforting listening to all the members of your church singing all around me.I’m so glad I called you that night………………….Love Deb

That’s the difference a person’s worldview can make.  And Susan did all that as she was grieving the loss of her husband.

Do we have struggles in our lives?  Are we hurting from the pain of our own brokenness and the brokenness of others?  Yes we are.  But our task is not to try to rise above our brokenness.  Our task is to move forward in faith, in the midst of our brokenness, and reach out to others with the love of God so that they too can have a life where they have a sense of their own true value, and where they have hope and purpose that extends forward into forever.

As a community of faith do we face challenges?  One of the big things that your Leadership Team is struggling with right now is how do we, as a church, deal with the financial challenges of funding the ministry that we believe God is calling us to do.  There is a significant gap between our projected expenses and our projected revenue and we have to address it.  But the most important thing is that we continue to move forward in faith, even with these challenges, reaching out to this community with God’s love so that the people of Walnut Grove and the rest of Langley and beyond can know that, in the midst of their brokenness, they have a God who loves them, who treasures them and gives them hope for today and a purpose for tomorrow.  That is the most important thing!  People, we have work to do, and with the love that the Father gives us and the hope that Jesus gives and the power that the Holy Spirit gives us, we can do it!  So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.  Amen.

(This message, or words that were something like it, were shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on January 9, 2011.)

 


[1] Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (InterVarsity Press:  Downers Grove IL:  1993) 50.

 

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About James Paulgaard

Living in the in between, becoming, but not quite there yet, old and new mixed together, hanging on with all my might to the One who is holding onto me.
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3 Responses to Three Big Questions and the Difference Our Answers Make

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