Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Big Bang Cosmology and "God is love"

The Big Bang, in modern cosmological theory, asserts that at one, particular "zero point," there was no space, nor was there any time, calling this the "singularity." In other words, there was a time when time was not (this statement is an anomaly appropriate for a different discussion, as describing the singularity must make use of reference to time in order to describe it).

But what can we learn about the nature of God and the universe from the Big Bang, and what does "God is love," one of the most oft-quoted Scriptures have to do with modern cosmological theory? Stephen Meyer (PhD, Cambridge), researcher at the Discovery Institute in Seattle Washington explains in True U, a curriculum for university students and produced by Focus on the Family, that Big Bang cosmology, with its affirmation of the singularity, rules out naturalism and pantheism as viable worldviews, leaving deism (impersonal, uninvolved deity) and theism (personal, involved deity) as the only viable options.

Naturalism--the idea that nature is all that exists--is not a viable option, according to Meyer, due to the evidence of the singularity, because it provides no causal agent for what brought the universe into being. Recall that the "singularity" is a "zero point" where both matter and time were not in existence (I am aware that some cosmologists and physicists et al want to assert a "quantum vacuum" and other "cosmological constants" in order to avoid the inevitable conclusion that the universe is a created thing). Similarly, pantheism--the idea that God and matter are intertwined, mixed and one in essence, is also an impossibility from what we have learned about Big Bang theory. This is because in pantheism, matter and spirit are one in essence. But this cannot be, since matter (and time) did not exist at one time. For pantheism to be true, matter would have to exist from all eternity, but we know that the material universe is not infinite, but finite. Therefore, if a spirit did create the universe, it would have had to exist prior to it. This leaves pantheism (God is all) out as an unscientific religion.

Readers of the Bible know that Big Bang cosmology fits very well with what we read in the very first verse: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The Old and New Testament Scriptures therefore, are in complete line with what we read in our telescopes and on our mathematical charts: the universe came into being from an outside agent.

What this has to do with "God is love" (1 John 4:8) can be seen in the incorrect way this verse if often interpreted. Many times, "process" theologians, who believe God is evolving, progressing, and "in process" along with humans, read this verse in the reverse: "Love is God." (Maybe "Love is god" is more appropriate). Here is the SBL Greek text...

ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.

Where we read "God is love," God (theos, θεὸς) has the article "the" (ho, ὁ) and love (agape, ἀγάπη) has no article. Grammatically, "God is love" means that "love" is predicated on God. But notice that it is not the other way around. If the anarthrous noun (lacks the article) had been "God," we might have a notion of pantheism in John. But as a Hebrew, John would never affirm a pantheistic notion such as "Love is god." That would make love an abstraction, and a very Greek idea, and not a Hebraic one, where God is seen as a personal, infinite Being. Rather, the biblical idea is that love is an attribute of God, and an essential part of his nature. Greek scholar Dan Wallace writes, "The meaning is certainly not convertible: "love is God." The idea of a qualitative ἀγάπη (agape) is that God's essence or nature is love, or that he has the quality of love. Thus love is an attribute, not an identification of God" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 264, 1996 edition). This is further evidenced by the context of the passage where John tells us that the one who loves is of God (same verse). Thus love is an action, and John is saying that when God acts, he acts in love. Moreover, John tells us that God is light (1:5), and that he is Spirit (John 4:24). The reverse of these ideas are not true, where the former would be pantheism, and the latter would be both pantheism, and cosmic dualism. Rather, John's point in 1 John 4:8 "God is love" is that when God acts, he acts in love. Yes, that includes his judgment, justice, and wrath. A good God judges evil!

John's statement "God is love" is about God's character and nature and is, according to commentator Stephen Smalley, an anti-gnostic notion, as Gnostics, who believed that matter was evil and only spirit was good, would easily accept that Jesus of Nazareth was divine "light" and "truth," as John says, but they would have a hard time believing that God's love was manifest in Jesus, because Jesus "came in the flesh" i.e. in a material body, and was crucified for our sins. "God is love" therefore, is a very concrete, real affirmation of God's activity, ultimately shown for us in the death of his Son, who was fully God and fully man in one person. John's context of "God is love" in verse 8 is continued in the same, concurrent thought in verse 10 and 11: "In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [sacrifice that bears God's wrath and brings favor] for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another."

Both science and proper exegesis of Scripture show us that God is infinite and personal, and not one in essence with matter. Nor are abstract ideas available to humans for ethics apart from the nature and character of God. Love, goodness, justice, truth--these all have their origin, meaning and apprehension for living within the character of God and are essential attributes of God. So, give pantheism and naturalism the boot! And bow to Jesus (we'll talk about deism later).

1 comment:

Alex said...

Just goes to show how learning the original Biblical languages is one of the keys in understanding Scripture to the best of our abilities. Great post!