The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament (sky above) proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
The author expresses what people have always sensed: that the whole cosmos is telling a story, is communicating the awesomeness of God. Cosmology, over the past hundred years, has unveiled the scale and beauty of this story in an astounding new way.
To give a sense of the scale let me read for you from John Haught’s book, Resting on the Future (Page 101):
Our universe began with a Big Bang approximately 13.8 billion years ago. To get a sense of the scale of the cosmic story, it may be instructive to imagine that you have a set of thirty big books, each 450 pages long, and each page of every book standing for one million years…
the first twenty volumes are taken up with the story of lifeless astrophysical, chemical, and geological transformations….
Earth and other planets spin out around the sun in volume 21, about 4.5 billion years ago, but the first signs of cellular life do not show up until around 3.8 billion years ago (in volume 22).
Life remains relatively uncomplicated until almost the end of volume 29 when the Cambrian explosion occurs (around 520 million years ago). After that, living organisms become more complex at an accelerated pace.
Dinosaurs eventually appear around the middle of volume 30 and go extinct on page 385, probably because of the earth-chilling effects of an enormous asteroid impact.
This leaves only the last sixty-five pages of volume 30 to cover the development and flourishing of mammalian life. When do we humans show up? Our hominid ancestors appear a few pages from the end of volume 30, but anatomically modern humans do not arrive until page 450. Reflective thought, ethical aspiration, a sense of personhood, and religious longing finally enter the cosmic story only toward the bottom of the last page of the whole set.
Wow, the scale is breathtaking! It seems our Creator is not in a hurry.
But even more surprising is the trajectory of this story… it moves toward greater complexity, greater consciousness, greater meaning. There is an inner story, an inaudible voice that keeps communicating something of great significance.
A purely materialistic philosophy – one that tries to explain all that is by only recognizing the outer story – finds it very difficult to explain this trajectory, this inner story. This philosophy has great confidence that by delving into our past and understanding as much as possible about the initial conditions that gave birth to our universe, that it can explain all that currently exists. But who could have predicted, after billions of years of lifeless astrophysical movements… that life would emerge. Even more unpredictable is the emergence of subjective consciousness. For some atheistic materialists, consciousness is simply a meaningless accident.
However, it seems to me that our universe has both an outer physical story and an inner story full of meaning… and it is human consciousness that is able to recognize and participate in this meaning. Evolution emphasizes the fact that we are part of a big and developing story, not a stale and static reality.
The whole creation is eagerly waiting for the full revelation of the children of God. . . . From the beginning until now, the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth. —Romans 8:19-22
Love what RR says about this:
In this familiar passage, St. Paul seems to fully assume evolution. It has always seemed completely strange to me that there should be any resistance whatsoever to evolution in Christian theology or practice. Christians should have been the first in line to recognize and cooperate with such a dynamic notion of God. But maybe many do not enjoy a fully relational God—with all that that implies—and have just met an independent “substance” they call God.
I can only assume that this reflects a very limited inner experience of God… Anybody who has paid any attention to their inner life or read any history books surely recognizes that life and love are always cumulative, diffusive, and expanding. (https://cac.org/evolution-2017-10-25/)
Stories are containers for meaning and you are part of an enormous story. But one of the most exciting aspects of this story is that it is unfinished. Our cosmos continues to expand. More meaning, greater meaning, surprising meaning is still possible. Like any good story, the whole truth is not found in the beginning but unfolds through the twists and turns as the story develops.
Let me remind you again what we are aiming to achieve through this series.
You are a living story with a past, a present and a future. Your story gains meaning in the context of a larger story. How we relate to the past, the present and the future can either enrich or impoverish our experience. And so we are developing a framework of interpretation to enable us to relate to our past, present and future in a healthy way. So far we have mainly considered the past. We still need to consider our relationship with the present and the future in the sessions to follow.