For Sagan, and those who agree with him, the universe describes all of reality. There is nothing else. Nothing before it, nothing beside it, and nothing after it. For the Christian, the universe is part of reality. There is ‘something else’. God has existed before the universe, presently exists outside of it, and will exist when this universe is no more.
But what is this God like? Can we know anything about Him? Or, as some suppose, does allowing for the existence of God mean that we are now entirely free to create from our own imagination any ‘god’? It is true that many people believe in the existence of some sort of higher power or being but, when asked to define or describe such a being, they can’t. However, the God of the Bible is clearly defined and what is revealed of Him fits our experience of life in this world. Let’s consider again the first verse of the Bible:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
This verse clearly implies that God is Eternal. The Hebraism, “the heavens and the earth” sums up all of the universe. The Bible is drawing a circle around all of time, space, and matter and saying “God created this”.
But if everything in the circle is created by God then God must be outside of the circle. He must be outside of time, space, and matter. This makes Him timeless, spaceless, and non-physical. So, while the physical universe is not eternal, the Creator of the physical universe is. God is set apart from creation by this fact: He has always existed; He never began to be.
The universe had a beginning and will one day have an end. It is temporary, transient, passing. It may last for billions of years, but it cannot last forever. We add to that the honest assessment of Moses as he considered the mortality of the human frame and the transience of our physical lives:
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
We are even more fleeting than the universe. We are “like grass which grows up: in the morning it flourishes and grows up; in the evening it is cut down and withers” (Ps. 90.5-6). As Carl Sagan puts it, “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever”.
If everything is temporary life has no ultimate meaning. We might attempt to create meaning for ourselves to make life liveable but we are self-deceived. Life is meaningless if the universe is all that there is. Your relationships, your work, your creativity — all will have little impact beyond your own death, and no impact at all when everything that exists is no more.
However, if God exists “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2) and wants an eternal relationship with us then there can be objective meaning to our lives. This fact is full of tremendous comfort.
A good friend of mine experienced the loss of his father when he was a young man. Happening while he was experiencing many other pressures, this hit him very hard. One morning he lay in bed with no impetus to get up; why should he? He regarded everything as purposeless. He could see no ultimate meaning to life. Then he remembered words he had read about God:
You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail.
What a comfort this provided! If this life is all there is, if the universe is the sum total of existence, nothing matters. Our best relationships will end. Our deepest longings for value and purpose can have no echo in reality. However, because there is an eternal God, everything we do matters, and we can find ultimate meaning in an eternal relationship with Him.
To invoke Carl Sagan again, “What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person … Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.”
The Bible is God’s book for you and it is intended to open to you a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. Can I encourage you to obtain a Bible and read it?
Photo credit: Aldebaran S