Formations 03.09.2014: The Wonders of the Universe

Luke 18:10-14

af23_2_030914_a_c_for_webAstrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson will host a new version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. The first episode of this science miniseries debuts tonight (March 9) on FOX and the National Geographic Channel.

The original miniseries aired on PBS in 1980. DeGrasse Tyson says his version is not a remake but a continuation. “It would be weird to try and be Carl, but I’m just trying to be myself,” he says. “And luckily I already have a following and a comfort level reaching the public and bringing the universe down to Earth. I think that’s what Cosmos is about.

The original series was highly successful and still fondly remembered. According to entertainment columnist Tom Hawking, its appeal lay both in the enthusiasm of Sagan himself and in the simple wonder of the subject matter. Hawking writes,

It’s popular science in the best sense of that term: accessible, engaging and fascinating. Sagan’s wasn’t at all interested in being cool or flashy or anything else — he was interested in telling the world about the cosmos, and sharing the wonders of the universe.

In a recent interview with Popular Science, deGrasse Tyson expressed his desire to share a “cosmic perspective” with his audience: “Ideally I’d want people to be intellectually, psychology, spiritually moved, and realize the role of science in their lives.” He went on to explain “spiritual” as the feeling one gets when one is awed by something, when words fail to convey the experience.

Carl Sagan can rightly be faulted for his overtly materialistic outlook in the original Cosmos. The very first words of the very first episode announced, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” If deGrasse Tyson’s past comments about the irreconcilability of science and religion are any indication, this new series will follow the same trajectory.

It seems fruitless to me to try to shoehorn ancient notions of cosmology, geology, and biology into our modern, scientific understanding of the world. But people of faith recognize that it is equally fruitless to seek to be “spiritually moved” without reference to Spirit. Our faith must take account of the physical universe. We may even sense its awe and majesty. But faith stretches past the material universe to what (or, better, Who), lies beyond it.

The drama of divine-human relationship begins with and in the cosmos, the created order. God created this cosmos as a realm in which God and humans could interact. Today’s passage from Genesis gives us our first glimpses not only of God’s power and wisdom but of God’s intentions for humanity made in God’s image, blessed, and entrusted with responsibility to “fill the earth and subdue it.”

On this first Sunday in Lent, explore what these verses teach us about humanity’s place in the cosmos and how we are intended to relate to the God who made it.

Tom Hawking, “Why We’re Still Obsessed with Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos,’” Flavorwire, 20 Feb 2014

Douglas Main, “The Cosmos Explained: Neil deGrasse Tyson on His New Series,” Popular Science, 12 Feb 2014


• What is the relationship between science and faith? Why do some seem so intent on dismissing one or the other?
• Should Christians be concerned that the biblical writers consistently describe the universe in terms of ancient scientific conceptions (for example, with the sky as a solid dome over the earth)? Explain.
• What is the relationship between the grandeur of God and the grandeur of creation?
• How can perceiving humanity’s connection to the wider world expand our vision of God and creation?

Reference Shelf

Creation and Redemption

The precise relationship between creation and salvation history is currently a matter of debate. Gerhard von Rad’s opinion that the creation accounts in Gen 1–2 are merely the prologue to God’s redemptive acts in history has been quite influential. In texts like Ps 136, Isa 42:5-9, and Isa 51:9-10 where creation and salvation are spoken of together, creation is ancillary, while the accent falls upon God’s saving deeds. In von Rad’s opinion, creation does not achieve the status of an independent theme. When one reads ‘”But thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’” (Isa 43:1), one sees that the prophet quickly leaves creation to talk about salvation. For von Rad and those persuaded by him, creation is merely the first of God’s historical acts that paves the way for redemption.

Current scholarship is concerned to hear what the many biblical creation texts have to say without imposing von Rad’s salvation-historical schema upon them. This, along with consideration of extrabiblical creation texts, has led many scholars to understand that creation says as much about order as origins. The priestly creation story in Gen 1 is clearly concerned with order. The waters above are separated from those below; light and darkness, seas and earth are distinguished from one another. One plant is distinct from another plant, and one animal unlike another animal. All boundaries are crisp and sharp. Within this divinely established order humans have their place. When humans act righteously and uphold the order of the cosmos, the world is at peace. When humans display unrighteousness, the order is usurped and, in Hosea’s words, ”the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish…” (Hos 4:3). As the prophets see so clearly, cosmic and social order are intricately connected. The observation that a divinely established order inheres in the cosmos cautions against subordinating creation to salvation history and calls for a balanced estimation of their relationship.

V. Steven Parrish, “Creation,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 182–83.

God Is at Work

God speaks, and creatures of terra firma come to inhabit the earth. Living things that creep and crawl flourish among the preexisting vegetation and contribute to the wealth of the earth.

Finally, God speaks, and humans come to be, male and female together, both unity and plurality, the crowning glory of all creation—and in that sense we are said to be made “in God’s image” (tselem). Something about us is like God, in God’s image.

One could argue that one aspect of being made in God’s image is to be made both male and female. Perhaps the author hints at this with the introductory “let us make humankind.” While some seek a reference to the Trinity here, the author almost certainly had in mind a heavenly council or court in which God was surrounded by leaders of the heavenly host of angels—clearly superior to humans, but also thought of as created beings who served God.

In the second creation story, God appears in a more anthropomorphic role. God does not speak from on high or hover over the primordial waters but treads on the earth, which already exists at the beginning of the story. In this story, God does not create (bar’a) so much as God fashions (yatsar) new things.

Here God begins the creative process by butting hands into clay, forming a man from the dust of the earth, and breathing into him the breath of life. God then plants a garden in Eden and puts the man there, with restrictions as to what he may and may not eat.

After this, God begins to create animal life, ostensibly as a potential source of companionship for the man (“It is not good for the man to be alone…”). When no suitable partner is found among all the animals, God finishes the work by forming a woman to make both the man in particular and humanity in general complete.

Both stories illustrate a core belief: God is no absentee or uninvolved deity. God is at work.

Tony W. Cartledge, Sessions with Genesis: The Story Begins (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2012) 7–8.

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