Proclaim God's Glory To The Nations
This morning, as we continue the series on the Psalms, I will be focusing on the Creation Psalms. The most well-known of those are Psalms 8 and 19, but several others likewise refer to the glory of the Creator and his creation and call us to worship the Creator. Thus, I hope that the message I have to share with you will inspire you to a deeper sense of worship and reverence of our God and Creator. This, after all, is the very essence of what the church is supposed to be about — namely the worship and praise of our Creator and Sustainer.
I'm afraid, however, that we in the Church often lose sight of this fact, with the result that our worship can become rather superficial and perfunctory. I must admit that this certainly has at times been true in my own life, and it is something that I particularly became aware of when I began devoting a lot of time to the issue of faith and science and how that can be used as a tool for leading secular people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Later on, I want to share with you a bit about how amazingly true the words of Ps. 19 are as it begins, "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands," but first, let's take a few minutes to think about this area of worship and what it means to worship God. Some or you are perhaps familiar with the Westminster Catechism, which comes out of the Presbyterian tradition. The very first question in this historic catechism is "What is the chief end of man?" — to which the answer is given, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." That, of course, is just another way of saying that God’s primary desire is for us to worship him. It's saying that it is the purpose of our existence.
Psalm 96 is one among many that call on people everywhere to worship the one and only true God. Verse 3 says, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” These “marvelous deeds,” of course, refer to not only God’s “salvation history” through the nation of Israel, but also the wonder of his creation, which is our focus today. Phrases such as “Praise the Lord, all people on earth” and “glorify God’s name” or similar such phrases are found throughout the Psalms and they impress on us the fact that we are to worship God.
Some of the other biblical data we have to come to terms with include numerous references to God being a “jealous” God who tolerates no competition whatsoever in the area of worship. For instance, the 10 Commandments, which are the very basis of the Judeo-Christian worldview, include the phrase in the Deuteronomy version, “Do not worship any other god, because I, the Lord, tolerate no rivals.” Another representative verse is found in Isaiah 48:11, where the Lord says, "I will not let my name be dishonored or let anyone else share the glory that should be mine and mine alone." Quoting from one commentator's remarks on these and other such passages, “God is central and supreme in his own affections. There are no rivals for the supremacy of God's glory in his own heart. ... With all his heart and soul and strength and mind he delights in the glory of his manifold perfections. The most passionate heart for God in all the universe is God's heart.” In other words, God delights in being God and he wants all his creatures to praise him continually and to glorify his name.
As I thought about these and other such verses, a persistent and even rather unwelcome thought kept entering my mind. “Gee, how conceited can you get? Come on, God. Lighten up a bit and don't take yourself so seriously!” And so began this disconcerting debate in my mind. Now, when we think of megalomaniac human leaders who, in their pompous pride act in a superficially similar fashion, we naturally feel disdain and contempt. Or how about some narcissistic brat who is so full of himself that he can't see anyone else? Don't we even feel a sort of self-righteous sense of joy when we see him get put in his proper place?
Putting these two together, it occurred to me that since our human tendency is to think of God in terms of human attributes, I had thus been feeling a kind of resistance to this notion of a “jealous God” who tolerates no competition. Ah, but that's the problem, isn't it! Unless we have a clear understanding of just who God really is, then there is always a part of us that rebels against this concept that the chief purpose of our existence is to worship God.
When a mere human being puts himself or herself in such a position (or is put there by society by reason of birth as a king or queen) — when such a person demands our absolute allegiance and even our worship, as did the Roman Caesars of old or more recent characters such as Hitler and Emperor Hirohito in wartime Japan, then we really should rebel against it. Neither they nor any other creature deserve worship in any form. It is proper for us to feel disdain and to even publicly denounce their blasphemy.
When it comes to God, however, everything is reversed. God really does deserve our absolute allegiance and worship because he is the Creator of everything. When we really begin to understand how incredibly complex and intricate is the design of the physical world around us, then a sense of awe and reverence for the Creator of it all begins to well up in our hearts.
As many of you know, I have a science background and even have a bilingual website dedicated to the interplay of faith and science, called “konkyo.org.” It is related to a ministry in the US called “Reasons To Believe,” which was founded by astronomer Hugh Ross. I’ve translated several of his books and DVDs into Japanese, and even brought him here to KUC about 15 years ago as part of a speaking tour. In fact, today, as we begin the fall Sunday School program, the main English Bible Study will be the first in an 8-week series based on Dr. Ross’ recent book, “Why The Universe Is The Way It Is.”
Just to give you a flavor of the wonder of the creation, what astronomers have been discovering in recent years with a variety of powerful new instruments is truly incredible. We now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that approximately 13.7 billion years ago all of the matter and energy of the universe, along with the very dimensions of space and time they exist in, suddenly came into existence out of nothing, in an incredibly fine-tuned explosive expansion that scientists half-jokingly refer to as the “Big Bang.” That phrase, by the way, was coined by an atheist who didn't like the implications of what scientists were discovering, and so the term was first said in derision. But the term has stuck, and so we are stuck with it for better or worse. Anyway, scientists have been able to calculate that that initial creation event had to be exactly as it was in order for the universe to have developed into a state where life on earth (or any place else for that matter) could possibly exist. How exact did it have to be? If it had been even one part in 1060 greater or lesser than it was — that's a 1 with 60 zeros after it — then stars and planets could not have formed. Nothing we humans can do in the way of design can even remotely correspond with the fine-tuning we see in this and numerous other factors. I like to picture it as so finely balancing a perfectly round marble on the edge of a razor-sharp sword that it can roll down the edge without falling off on either side. With incredible luck, you might possibly be able to do that with a very short “sword” — say, an inch-long razor. But in order to make this analogy even remotely accurate, you'd have to do that with a sword so long that it reaches from the top of Mt. Rokko all the way to Osaka, or something like that! Such a feat is far beyond our wildest imaginations!
While the Creation Event that got it all started is awe-inspiring enough, that is only the beginning of the story. In order to end up with the crown of his creation living on planet earth, God had to meticulously craft numerous other factors that all have to be perfectly balanced in order for it all to come together. Already, scientists have discovered over 30 different factors in the universe as a whole that must be within a narrow range of values in order for life to be possible at any time in the history of the universe. If even one of these factors was significantly different than it is, then life could not exist. On top of these, several hundred other factors have been discovered that relate to the earth and solar system that likewise have to be similarly fine-tuned in order for us to exist. And it seems like every few weeks, another factor is discovered that simply adds to the already overwhelming evidence. The only logical conclusion is that the Creator not only got things going in the beginning, but that God has been intimately involved in the fashioning of our earth at every step along the way.
In a message such as this, I obviously won't be able to go into a lot of detail, but suffice it to say that each one of these delicately balanced parameters must remain within a narrow range of values over the eons of earth history in order for us to exist today. Let me, however, share just one such factor that is particularly amazing and that will give you a sense of what I'm talking about. Astronomers have been able to analyze literally millions of individual stars to determine their characteristics. Through this study, they have been able to trace out the life cycles for a variety of types of stars, and through this, they have a quite accurate picture of the life history of our own sun — what it was like in the past, and how it will continue to change in the future. Now our sun is the most stable type of star that exists. This itself is one of these exacting parameters necessary for life, because the only stars that could possibly support a life-supporting planet like earth for long periods of time are stars that are practically identical to our sun.
Yet even though the sun is so stable, it is still gradually getting hotter. In fact, the most recent estimates indicate that since the first life forms were introduced to earth approximately 3.86 billion years ago, the sun's luminosity has steadily increased and is now about 30% brighter that it was then. Now, that is a huge difference, and unless there were some other factors in play to counterbalance the effects of that increase in radiation, temperatures on earth would have become far too hot for advanced life to exist. What scientists have discovered is that this gradual increase in the heat received from the sun has been exactly counteracted by a steady decrease in the earth's ability to hold onto that heat.
Recently, we have been hearing a lot about the “greenhouse effect” and how it is an important component in the “global warming” that has become increasingly evident in recent years. The evidence is that the early atmosphere of the earth had far higher levels of “greenhouse gases,” and this was necessary to hold in the heat from the cooler sun. In his great wisdom, however, God gradually introduced new life forms over the eons, which slowly transformed the atmosphere and reduced this greenhouse effect in such a way that even with the gradually increasing radiation from the sun, the earth's temperature remained relatively stable. In fact, it's even more complicated than that, as other factors, such as the earth's volcanic activity, had to also be adjusted to just the right levels so that everything could be kept in balance.
Now, the probability of that happening by chance is extremely remote, as just one "evolutionary accident" in those billions of years would have sent the earth into a vicious cycle of either runaway freezing or runaway heating, which would have doomed life as we know it. I like to picture a cross-section of Mt. Fuji, with the crater at the top representing the safe range of temperatures. Over the entire history of life on earth, it has to stay in that narrow “crater.” If it even once goes up over the edge, then the earth's climate goes into a runaway condition towards either very cold or very hot conditions where advanced life at least is impossible.
This overwhelming evidence for the careful design of the earth, the sun and the universe as a whole so that life is possible has caused many scientists to reevaluate their atheistic presuppositions and to recognize that there must be a super intelligence behind it all. In fact, about the only holdouts are those who have a strong emotional aversion to belief in God. They simply refuse to accept the obvious conclusions and have been resorting to increasingly absurd ideas in vain attempts to avoid having to admit there really is a Creator. Admittedly, there are still a number of "big name" scientists in this category — particularly among biologists — but they hold onto this view for philosophical and not scientific reasons.
As I've studied numerous books and articles by such formerly atheistic scientists, I've been impressed by how often they use phrases such as “providentially crafted” and “exquisitely designed.” While it's true that most have not yet gone as far as formally entrusting their lives to the Creator they see partially revealed in the design of the cosmos, they've nevertheless moved a significant ways in that direction. So, for these people, all that is typically needed are the following two things: first, the realization that the God revealed in nature is identical to the God revealed in the Bible through Jesus Christ, and second, that God is calling everyone of his creatures to acknowledge him through repentance, worship and utter dependence on him. That last one, of course, is perhaps the most difficult for many, as human pride gets in the way and they don't want to submit to God in faith in spite of the evidence. And for many atheists, there is often a strong emotional response involved that is related to very negative personal experiences they have had related to religion. In fact, it seems that most, if not all, dedicated atheists are subconscioiusly basing their extreme dislike of the idea of God on negative experiences they had as children. The evidence is clearly there if they are able to look at it objectively, but it seems to be part of the human condition that we all have a strong subjective component involved in our belief system.
Some 3000 years ago, David looked up at the heavens and composed the words of Psalm 8: "When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places — what are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them? Yet you made them inferior only to yourself; you crowned them with glory and honor." Little did David know, however, that those few thousand stars that can be seen with the naked eye are only just a tiny drop in the huge bucket of the universe God has created. While there is no way we will every be able to count all of the stars, the current ballpark figure is 1023, or a hundred billion trillion stars! That's such a huge number that even if we could count 230,000 stars per second, we would have had to start counting from the beginning of the universe 13.7 billion years ago to just be finishing up today! And yet the Scripture says that God keeps track of each and every one. Isaiah 40:25-26: “To whom can the holy God be compared? Is there anyone else like him? Look up at the sky! Who created the stars you see? The one who leads them out like an army, he knows how many there are and calls each one by name! His power is so great — not one of them is ever missing!”
Likewise, when David and Isaiah penned their words, little did they know that each one of those 100 billion trillion stars is necessary for us to exist. Each is part of God's incredible plan to design and carefully construct a universe in which a planet like earth can exist for the crown of his creation to enjoy. In fact, the conclusion that scientists have been led to — kicking and screaming all the way — is that everything in the universe is designed for a purpose, namely, to all come together in an incredibly fine-tuned planet that allows intelligent life to exist and to become aware of the enormity of it all.
When one truly begins to understand the enormous gap between who God really is and the very limited concepts we humans have created in our minds concerning God, then all resistance to the worship of this “jealous God who tolerates no rivals” evaporates away. When we realize that this special place we call earth and everything in the universe that supports its life-giving environment was carefully created for the purpose of bringing us into existence, then we are filled with thanksgiving and praise for the God who made it all possible. The familiar words of John 3:16, that “God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son…” take on an additional new meaning, which we could paraphrase as, “God so loved the world — that is you and me — that he went to all of the trouble to construct a hundred billion trillion stars over a 13.7 billion year time span just so that we could have a pleasant place to live and to come into a right relationship with our Creator.” This was God's way of creating beings who truly have free will and who freely choose to worship and to relate to their Creator. That is really what this “grand experiment” of life is all about, as God prepares us for his New Creation.
You may wonder why God would bother creating so many galaxies and take such a long time if it was all just to bring us into existence. No one, of course, can fully answer that question, but we now know that given the laws of physics that God created, it takes a universe this big and this old to allow a life-giving planet like earth to come into existence. Theoretically, of course, God could have done it a different way, including some way that in our time frame would not have involved such seemingly long periods of time. But since God exists outside of our time frame, the question of time is irrelevant anyway. To paraphrase the biblical phrase, “In God's sight, a thousand years is but a day,” we could say “13.7 billion years is but 6000 years” — or 6 minutes, for that matter. God is not limited by our time.
There is still much I don't yet understand, but this new understanding has truly deepened my faith as well as adding depth to my worship of God. The Scriptures tell us that “The heavens declare the glory of God” and they commission us to “proclaim his glory to the nations, his mighty deeds to all peoples.” That is exactly what we are attempting to do through this new and exciting approach to reaching people for Christ. I truly believe that God has given us a powerful new tool to add to the many other positive approaches being used to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
So, as we close, let’s join together in praise of our great God, the Creator of this vast universe and all the wonders that it contains. “O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made.” This morning, we have been considering those very worlds, and so we have added reasons to praise God for the wonders of his creation. So, let’s sing together, “How Great Thou Art!”