There are a number of comments and questions that come up repeatedly in the discussion of science and faith. One of the issues raised often is the question of time. Why would God take 9 billion years to create a universe ready for the earth and for life? Why would God use 4.6 billion years to create life leading to humans on this earth?
Ben Witherington, Amos Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, prolific writer and blogger, was at the Pepperdine Christian Scholars conference last month. He was there for a review and discussion of his textbook New Testament Rhetoric, but the conference also featured lectures by Francis Collins and John Polkinghorne on science and faith. Dr. Witherington commented on this conference on his blog last week: The Malibu Blues – Dispelling the Beach Boy’s Myths. OK the post was not really on the conference per se … but the opening paragraph was. And it sets up the question I would like to pose today.
So I go to Pepperdine for the Christian scholars conference and I run into this other alumnus from my period at Carolina—- Francis Collins. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. Turns out he became a Christian while he was there, and in fact so did I. So picture us singing the UNC fight song at the science and faith conference. Anyway, he presented an awesome powerpoint lecture on genetic research and its ability to help us cure diseases, and he also talked about creation and evolution in a helpful and non-confrontational way. I was still left wondering why in the world the God who can raise Jesus from the dead in a nano-second would need or bother to set the clock to millions of years until the creation process worked itself up to homo sapiens. It doesn’t really compute.
Do you find it troubling that God used time, massive stretches of time, to achieve his purpose?
Does this raise questions?
This comment by Dr. Witherington was picked up and addressed in the comments where Jonathan and Justin B. responded. First Jonathan:
Regarding the “resurrection in a nano-second” question: It seems to me that God often chooses to work over the long haul, through historical processes. For example, God theoretically could have provided redemption more or less right away (say, within a generation) after the fall. Instead, God worked through several millennia of history before sending the redeemer. The second coming could have happened more or less immediately, but again God seems to be working over millennia, preparing for that.
And then Justin B.:
“I was still left wondering why in the world the God who can raise Jesus from the dead in a nano-second would need or bother to set the clock to millions of years until the creation process worked itself up to homo sapiens. It doesn’t really compute.”
I don’t think that’s a strike against evolution, though. God doesn’t seem concerned with doing something because we feel He should have done it faster. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead also waited a very long time to send His Son into the world at all.
Dr. Witherington responded to these comments:
Justin I disagree with this analogy. God waited a few thousand years to send his Son, and in between lots was happening God was involved with, like the Exodus or the monarchy. This is no comparison to the apparent millions of years of development leading up to homo sapiens. It really doesn’t make much sense.
God used and uses time. I agree with Jonathan and Justin here – God used and uses time. He used time to form Israel, he used time to bring us to the point of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, and he is using time to move from the incarnation to the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth. We wonder why God worked as he did and is continuing to work as he does. Why did two devout Christian mothers in our church die of cancer this last year, leaving husbands and 6 children between them from elementary school to high school? Why would God use 9 billion years to produce the earth, 4 billion years to produce hominids and something like 140 million years to bring homo sapiens up to the point of culture and community leading to temples, farming, and civilization? To something like Gobeckli Tepe? (Dr. Witherington has a nice series on this site: One, Two, Three, Four – I envy his travels.)
Why didn’t God simply create the new heavens and the new earth? After all decay and sin will have no place in the new creation. If God can do it then why not now? Why not simply start with the ultimate goal? These why questions are necessary as we ponder the majesty of God, his creation, and his interaction with his people. But ultimately we cannot reason ourselves to an answer. What we can do is look at what God did do, the way he creates, the way he interacts with his people and move forward.
When we look at the evidence there is no real doubt. God used long stretches of time create the earth. He used long stretches of time and evolutionary processes to create humans on the earth. He used millenia to bring us to the present. We look at the present, we look at the past, we wonder why … but it does little good to argue against the evidence based on our limited expectation of what God should have done, or what we would have done had we been in the position.
What do you think? Do you agree with Dr. Witherington?
Do the long stretches of time in cause you to wonder?
As a technicality… a nanosecond (10-9 seconds), for some things, is a long time. Electrons move in attoseconds (10-18 seconds), atoms in femtoseconds (10-15 seconds). Light travels a foot in a nanosecond. “Instantaneous” is at least as many orders of magnitude (factors of 10) less than nanosecond as nanosecond is less than second. I don’t think the resurrection was instantaneous – it took time.
And, called to mind by the rest of Dr. Witherington’s post … Surfin’ USA:
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net