Lost in the Forest

Imagine that you are hiking through a great forest, and lose your way.  A storm sets in.  You’re relieved to see a hut in a clearing.  A light shines from the window, and smoke curls from the chimney.  You practically run to the door, hoping to find shelter there.

You knock.  No answer.

You call.  No voice replies.

You go to the window to look in.  What a relief!  The hut is occupied.  There is a fire burning, which warms the stew bubbling merrily in a kettle.  The table is set for supper, and a freshly baked pie sits in the center.

What do you know about this setting, using scientific observation?  You know that someone lives in this hut, even though no one is home at the moment.

Someone had to have built the fire, put water in the kettle, set the table, and baked the pie.  From the state of things, you gather that the person will come back soon to eat the supper he’s prepared.  You are not alone in the forest.[1]

“God.”  He is introduced in the first verse of the Hebrew Bible.  There is no argument.  There is no evidence.  There is no justification.  There is no defense.  Genesis begins with what theologians call a “presupposition.”  Everyone begins with belief.  We all assume something to be true.  Our belief then interprets our world.  Philosophers would refer to Genesis 1:1 as a statement of ontology.  Ontology considers origins.  Beginning to think about reality, existence, and being is a deep, deep well!  But Genesis makes a simple statement: “God is.  Everything else follows.”

Just look around.  Everything that is, is dependent upon One who already Is.  Order—necessary to every thought and action, to living day-to-day existence, to authorities that give boundaries to our lives—comes from Outside of us.   Logic—upon which lawyers depend to make a case, teachers employ to create their lessons, and everyone uses to get from one place to another—is given by Another.  Energy—which powers our solar system, our industries, and our bodies—is impossible to define apart from One who made it.  Postulates—which are claims for truth in math that form the basis for all numbers, equations, proofs—must be grounded in Reality separate from this world.  The Hebraic-Christian faith is best described by Francis Schaeffer: “The truth of Christianity is that it is true to what is there.[2]

We assume ideas that run our lives, normally, without thought.  But we reflect on other concerns that trouble us every day.  Let me consider just two basic ideas that are established in Genesis 1:1: (1) Morality.  How do I know what is right and wrong?  (2) Meaning. Does my life have purpose?  Answers to these and other essential questions are found in this first statement of Genesis.

(1) Morality. “Who are you to tell me what to do?!”  The exclamation asserted by many today gets to the heart of the issue: is there a law outside myself?  “In the beginning” suggests that human history had a start.  There is another assumption here: Someone gave something its commencement.  If there is an eternal God, He sets the standards for all things.  Earthly ethics have their foundation in Heavenly standards.  The origin of anything dictates the ethics of everything.

(2) Meaning. “If there is no God, anything is permissible.”[3] The claim gives an alternative to right and wrong: if life is meaningless can I do whatever I want?  “God created” suggests that humans are responsible to Deity.  There is another assumption here: Someone gave rules for everything.  If The Eternal Personal Triune God exists, there is a response to the exclamation “There has got to be more to life than this!”

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is food.  A duckling wants to swim: there is water.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it…probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.[4]

Meaningful satisfaction in this life is hard to come by.  Perhaps “mystery is an embarrassment to the modern mind”[5] comes closest to our understanding.  Using words like “infinite,” “mystery,” and “wonder,” Maria Spiropulu, a University of Chicago experimental physicist, says,

Our view of things has changed tremendously in the last five years.  We are being totally surprised by what we observe in nature . . . something unknown that exerted a great gravitational force was keeping galaxies bound together . . . Scientists call it dark matter.  We can measure its presence but we can’t see or feel it . . . [it is] invisible . . . [string theory] could explain all the particles and forces we see…We don’t know whether it really works yet.  But it has this wonderful feature of unifying everything.[6]

Unity “assures the wise person that the universe is comprehensible, and thus encourages a search for its secrets.  Furthermore, creation supplies the principle of order that holds together the cosmic, political, and social fabric of the universe.”[7] Order, logic, energy, postulates, meaning, and morality exist because God Is.  We are no longer lost in the forest if Someone is at home in the universe.

Mark misses his days in the woods, hunting, cutting firewood, hiking, but he knew where the cabin was at all times.  Now he teaches at Crossroads Bible College in the city of Indianapolis.

[1] Adapted from Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. 1982. How to Be Your Own Selfish Pig. (Chariot): 34-35.  The story is one of many told by Susan’s father Francis whose ability to connect true Truth to life continues to resonate with hearers.

[2] Francis Schaeffer. 1972. He is There and He is Not Silent. (Tyndale): 17.

[3] The quote a belief espoused by Ivan Karamazov in the early chapters of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov .

[4] C. S. Lewis. 1943, 1952. Mere Christianity. (Reprint, MacMillan): 136.

[5] Flannery O’Connor. 1957, 1969. Mystery and Manners. (Reprint, Farrar, Straus, Giroux): 124.

[6] Ronald Kotulak, “Seriously Weird Science,” Chicago Tribune Magazine, 11 January 04, pp. 12-16, 27.

[7] James L. Crenshaw. 1995. Urgent Advice and Probing Questions: Collected Writings on Old Testament Wisdom. (Mercer University Press):126.

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