Daily Devotional 3-31-18

A Brief History of Time (According to St. Paul)

“What are you doing for Easter?” A fashionably dressed urbane suburbanite was chatting yesterday with a barista at a local coffee shop. The young man behind the counter replied, “Well we’re not sure. We might go to the beach in South Carolina, but then again, we just might hang around the condo and do some binge movie watching.” The customer, perhaps in his early thirties, responded, “Now, that sounds like a great Easter. Me? Easter means one thing: another reason to golf.”

Now you might imagine that I was surprised. But I was not. In a post-Christian Secular age, so described by the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, I would be more surprised to hear, “Well, my wife and I are planning on taking our children to Easter Sunday services. We don’t normally go to church, but tomorrow is Easter after all. So, we will go to church.” That is a statement you might’ve heard 10 or 15 years ago. Perhaps, 50 years ago, you would’ve heard, “Well, I suppose we’ll do what we do every Sunday: get up and go to church and then afterward will have lunch. I think I’ll have a rest after that, maybe read, maybe not. Then church, supper, and Ed Sullivan.” Times have changed. But we thank God that there is still some who want to come to church on Easter; and of course, we thank God for those who come to church each and every Sunday! We thank God not because we want to build up our brand or establish a “franchise” of a denomination. We are merely delighted when people join us to worship the living God and to honor him as our Creator and Sustainer of all things. It makes more fully human.

But back to the conversation in the coffee shop. The difference between the two young men chatting about their plans for Easter and those of, say, 50 years ago, in a pre-secular Western society, is, and you must pardon me for using this word in the pulpit: an example of their new cosmology. Cosmology is the consideration or the study of the cosmos, that is, the universe, and all that is in it; from the nano-cellular architecture of otherwise invisible life to the vast unknowable worlds of the unfathomable universe. The purpose of my sermon is certainly not to give you a history of the study of the cosmos. However, I do think cosmology is relevant to our text. Here is a brief history of a brief history of time.

Let’s launch out on our little exploration of the cosmos with that poor student, who be become a low-level clerk in the office of patents in Zurich, Switzerland: Albert Einstein. Einstein was a poor student—he was a drop-out—likely because he asked questions few if anyone had ever asked. This inquisitive mind asked questions like how a train could move but the passengers didn’t. He would move from the questions in the train station and the patent office to the University of Zürich and, later, to a doctorate in physics. Einstein’s innate inquisitive nature led to a mathematical equation that would explain the universe, E=mc2. The German-Swiss-American would later be called the single most brilliant scientist and cosmologist or theoretical physicist in the history of the world. I remember being in his classroom during a visit to Princeton. But there were theoretical physicists prior to Einstein. One of those was name Dr. Olber. There is, in fact, a problem that he put forth that has been called “Olber’s paradox.”[1] The paradox is that because of the number of stars in the sky and their transmission of light nighttime itself is a paradox. The paradox was wrestled with by various other people. But Einstein’s brilliant calculation, E=mc2, introduced the theory of relativity that changed everything in science.[2] And all he did was answer his question about the movement of the train. The theory goes something like this, “all objects are relative to other objects and therefore time is something that is measured by the relationship between the two objects. That relationship may be speed, distance, transmission of light, and other variables. But the constant is ‘relativity rules in the universe.’” This had enormous implications for scientific activity. In many ways, his theories were able to set the stage for space exploration. He predicted that light would “bend” due to the force of gravity. When astronauts first entered space, they tested the famous theory. Einstein was correct. Theory becomes law. Fast-forward. In 1988 a British theoretical physicist from Cambridge, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, wrote a book for popular consumption that was called, “A Brief History of Time.” And the world got to know the brilliant Dr. Stephen Hawking. With such an ambitious title you would hardly think that anyone could read the book. Yet, it became a bestseller around the world. The sadly, “unfairly,” twisted, wheel-chaired-bound, and diminutive Hawking disagreed with the late Great giant, Albert Einstein. That sentence in itself tells you not only about the brilliance of the scientist about the sheer audacity of this physicist. While giving Prof. Einstein of Princeton University his due concerning his theory of relativity, he disagreed with Einstein about the matter of the expansion of the universe and that most mysterious phenomena in space called “black holes.” Einstein did not believe black holes could exist. And so, in his book a brief history of time the unlikely giant-killer of modern physics, Stephen Hawking, laid out the cosmology of past, present, and future. Can you speak of cosmology without talking about God? No. But the only hints of God in Hawking’s formulae are the incalculable but very present forces of Deistic design, so evident in all of creation. In this point, he agreed with Einstein, who also recognized the incomprehensibility of randomness. In the 1996 edition of his best-selling book, Stephen Hawking went further and began to describe the possibility of time-travel based upon Einstein’s original work of the bending of time. So, you can see, it gets quite intricate. It is a fantastic study. It led me to consider the study of quantum physics as a sub-division of a theological cosmology. However, the popular notion of an incomprehensible life and meaningless universe leaves you feeling as if you are an inconsequential, smidgen of a dot in an inexplicable universe that is chugging along on the stopwatch theory: some unknowable Power created a Big Bang and has wound up an astronomical stop-watch. Time, the measurement between objects, is an irrelevant variable as the cosmos is moving to an unavoidable evaporation of all things. The universe eventually swallows itself in the final unheard death-rattle of cosmic existence. Nothingness times nothingness = Meaningless-squared. The extrapolation of such thinking can make a man go mad. Frederick Nietzsche did. What a dark and useless, purposeless universe is such a cosmology. Yet, this is the cosmological view of many if not the majority of astrophysicists and theoretical physicists today. How very quaint. It makes one think that Easter really is just a springtime weekend to go to the beach or just lounge around, eat pints of low-calorie ice cream, and binge on old re-runs of Mission Impossible. Because, really, what else is there?

I am not blaming all of modern secularism upon theoretical physical scientists or theoretical physicists. In fact, I’m not blaming them at all. But I am saying that theoretical physicists who will take the advice of St. Augustine might find new discoveries, even as Isaac Newton did. What did Augustine teach us? Augustine said, “I believe that I may understand.”[3] Is it so outlandish to think that you can believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and still find some black holes along the way? You still may agree with Stephen Hawking that the universe is expanding, which is the received view of scientists today, even though it was not the view 100 years ago. Science is changing. Indeed, the very nature of science is to investigate evidence-based variables in order to postulate and prove a hypothesis. This means that science will always be changing. Faith is unchanged. Our faith is an Almighty God who revealed himself fully through the Word made flesh, his Son, and our Savior Jesus Christ.

I want to take you almost 2,000 years before Stephen Hawking to another brilliant man who claimed not only a theory but a factual account of the history of time. That man is Saul of Tarsus, a multilingual, Roman-Hebraic “Ivy League-educated,” brilliant philosopher, legal scholar, and public servant par ‘excellence of his day.[4]This extraordinary man, as efficient in his plan of persecution and killing Christians as some of the most heinous criminal minds, was an up and comer in Roman-occupied Israel. Yet, this man was transformed by the risen Christ. This unlikely preacher would become the greatest missionary and church leader in the history of the church. He would take the Gentile name “Paul.” St. Paul, as he became known in the church, wrote a letter to the Corinthian Christians. He wrote several letters and we have retained two of them in the canonical Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, we have what has often been called “the Easter chapter.” It has been labeled, appropriately, “the resurrection chapter of the Bible.” For in this text, the Apostle Paul argues for not only the reality of the resurrection but the centrality of the resurrection in time. So, what I want to do is to follow the logic of the Apostle Paul in verses 20 through 28 that we may see the cosmology of the Bible according to St. Paul: a brief history of time according to Scripture. In time according to Scripture is measured and may be understood through the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We may observe this in the Pauline framework of cosmology what is revealed in his careful argument in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. There are three fixed points to this cosmological framework.

The first fixed point in Paul’s brief history of time is this:

1.   The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only true, but it explains our past predicament.

Now, the Apostle Paul had spent a good part of this chapter arguing for the reality of the resurrection (verses 1-19). By the time he gets to what we call verse 20, he moves to another argument. He asserts that the resurrection is at the center of all of history. In fact, he says that our past is understood by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Look at his words.

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (Verse 21 – 22).

The Apostle Paul looks back and sees the state of the world and, indeed, the state of the universe is in a fallen condition. A catastrophic event has happened in the history of the cosmos. There was the creation and then there was a viral disorder of universal proportions. This was the pandemic that set off a molecular chain reaction of decay. And Paul is saying that this disorder did not come from nature but came from mankind itself. He is declaring (not hypothesizing) that in Adam, the first man, all human flesh and, indeed, he will teach us in Romans chapter 8 that all creation has been subjected to the fall of mankind.

In his brilliant but self-indicting Confessions, the great Bishop of North Africa, Augustine, identified for distinct phases of human and we might add cosmic development:

  1. Able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare) the state of man in innocence, before the Fall
  2. Not able not to sin (non posse non peccare); the second the state of the natural man after the Fall
  3. Able not to sin (posse non peccare) the third the state of the regenerate man
  4. Unable to sin (non posse peccare) the fourth the glorified man.

So, the apostle Paul, on whose work Augustine Drew, tells us that the state of the world and the universe has been that of death and decay.

Left to ourselves, then, we, also, or on this path. We are born in sin. We need a Savior. The world and the universe need a grand correction that only the Creator himself can provide. Otherwise, the universe is heading into a final catastrophe. Yet God Almighty is so gracious and so loving that he intervened. And this brings us to what Paul is saying. We can understand the power of the resurrection by saying that the resurrection was absolutely necessary to overturn the catastrophic invasion of sin and entropy and degradation and corruption.

That leads us to the second part of the Pauline framework of the cosmos:

2.   The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only true, but it explains our present condition.

The apostle Paul says that as in Adam all die so in Christ over. It was no less than the great reformer, John Calvin of Geneva, who said that this was not a mere similitude. Paul’s words about Adam and Jesus was something more than comparison. Calvin said, and I must say that I agree with him without exception, that this is a contrast between death and life. The old man, Adam, brought this into the cosmos. The new man, Christ Jesus, brought life. Whereby we are federally connected to Adam and whereby the cosmos, according to Paul in Romans chapter 8, is subjected to sin’s consequences of Adam; so, also, we who by faith are in Christ are federally related to the new Man. He has brought life through the resurrection. And in contrast to the consequences of endemic sin in the universe, the life of Jesus Christ has inaugurated the cosmic transformation. This is why the apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 8 the creation is groaning within itself. Creation is groaning within itself because something has happened. There has been a catastrophic break in the old way of life. It is as real as the catastrophe of the flood, but it is singularly more glorious and eternally wonderful way. Our present condition is one in which we may choose death or life. I think of the great Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) (ches-laf Mi-wash)), Lithuanian Nobel-prize recipient who wrote so poignantly and movingly about the suffering of Christians under communism, about the loss of homeland, and about the questions of faith in exile. He wrote a poem about the resurrection in which he asked, “If we believe that Jesus is raised from the dead why do we behave as we do?”

Milosz went on to talk about the possibility of resurrection in the everyday activities of people. He demonstrated that the resurrection challenged the specter of death that was hanging over our everyday actions. He saw the resurrection as defying the fears and anxieties that were within us. He challenged us to see that there was hop in the resurrection. It was, of course, this hope that liberated his native land and allowed him to return before he died, to return to the river that he wept over in exiled verse.

Milosz challenged theologians to let their yes be yes about the resurrection:

“To put it very simply and bluntly, I must ask if I believe that the four Gospels tell the truth. My answer to this is: ‘Yes.’ So, I believe in an absurdity, that Jesus rose from the dead? Just answer without any of those evasions and artful tricks employed by theologians: ‘Yes or no?’ I answer: ‘Yes,’ and by that response, I nullify death’s omnipotence.’”[5]

“Why do we behave as we do Jesus is raised again from the dead?” Our present condition is one of glorious hope: a certain hope grounded in faith and in history; a faith that will “nullify death’s omnipotence.” Whatever you are facing today because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead there is hope. “Death is not a wall,” said Dr. Peter Marshall (1902-1949). “Death is a door.”[6]

They, too, believed in order to understand. And so much we. Receive Jesus Christ by faith and move to the place of defying the omnipotence of death and one day you will not hit the wall. You will open the door.

The third Pauline conception of time in the universe is this:

3.   The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only true, but it explains our future glory.

We have seen that for Paul a brief history of time includes a past in which God created everything perfectly but man’s full contaminated the cosmos. We have seen, very clearly, that for the apostle Paul the resurrection of Jesus Christ has inaugurated a new age. And we live in that age today. With all of its opportunities and all of its great hope, we can live with fearless anticipation. And that anticipation. And that anticipation leads us to the rest of Paul’s climactic overview: a glorious future.

The first thing to say about this is what we might call our individual or our personal eschatology. Eschatology is the study of the last things. For the apostle Paul the eschatological clock and started to tick with the resurrection of Jesus. This means that every human being who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will begin to experience the glorious future that now is like yeast within the bread working its way through. The Bible teaches that when we die our spirit goes immediately to be with God if we are his children. The Bible also teaches that to remain separated from God in this life is to remain separated from God for eternity. Paul is saying our future glory has already started. For as Jesus is the firstfruits of new life in this new world since the and resurrection, so too we will experience an immediate blessing of new life as we passed from this life and the presence of God. But that is a personal eschatology. That personal eschatology will yield, ultimately, to a cosmic eschatology. The apostle Paul teaches in perfect harmony, we might add, with the rest of the Bible, that the world is moving to a place where Jesus Christ will return. He tells the Thessalonians that the dead in Christ shall rise first and then we who are liable be caught up to meet him in the air and there will be with him forevermore. The apocalyptic book of Revelation describes the new heaven and the new earth, a place where every tear will be wiped away, where there will be no more sorrow, no more weeping, no more night, for the light of Christ will provide eternal light and no more see, the vast expansiveness that separates people’s incontinence will be removed. It is hard for us to contemplate the fullness of this beauty. But Paul says all of this is moving to what we might call a post eternal state. That is the very dialectical time that means to reflect the enigmatic final statement of the apostle Paul. That when all these things are completed the Lord Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father that God made become “all in all.” I have read numerous commentaries on this passage. I do not doubt that some are right, and some are not and that my own view is lacking. I merely say that I do not fully comprehend this. In some way, the fact that this verse remains a mystery increases my faith. Of all of the passages in the Bible, it remains to me the most mysterious and most amazingly beautiful. We could say that the kingdom work of Jesus Christ is completed, and we would return to a pre-Eden state. We might say with John Milton that it is “Paradise Restored.” But there is something magnificent, majestic and enigmatic in the language of Paul as he describes the Triune God finding perfect community and fulfillment with the safety of all of His children home. Perhaps, we can think of the Wizard of Oz and of Dorothy safe in her home, safe in the bed, with her Auntie Em and the kind farmhands, and, of course, the tail-wagging joy of her little dog, Toto, is at her bedside. The storm is over. The bad dream is no more. She is safe. And maybe this is what Paul is trying to say to us. That Almighty God is so loving and so wonderful that he is not fully realizing the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit until all of the children are brought in. How I wish I could say this without the threat of heretical words that would in any way diminish the majesty and completeness of God. But when I read these words that “God may be all in all,” I sense that there is something coming that is more mind-boggling than we could ever imagine. Indeed, it is beyond the dimension of time.

But what does that say to you today? It’s as if you were going to be part of the magnificent future then you should receive the resurrected and raining Lord Jesus Christ today is your God and your king. You will demonstrate your own election into his family by saying yes to him today. He will save you. And he will make for you a doorway where there is a wall in this life and in the next.

Conclusion

I would never dare to pretend that I have been anyway equaled the mind of Stephen Hawking in his book a brief history of time. But I will say this with absolute confidence: the apostle Paul has given a brief history of time that is more certain, less abstract, and more life-changing than anything in the history of the world. Paul has shown that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the essential energy of the entire universe. Our past, our present, and our future is linked to his resurrection. And faith through the resurrected Christ changes our past, transforms our present, and guarantees our eternal future.

I shall never forget when I was a youngster and a family from church that had a car invited Aunt Eva and me to go with them to hear the great evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham. The event seemed to take all day as we left our rural area and our elderly driver was over-cautious in his driving. We pulled in the expansive parking lot of the football stadium at Louisiana State University. I had never been there. To see such a large football stadium was absolutely thrilling. And it was quite a feat to make it up to our seats, far away from the field where there were choirs, and testimonies, and, a sort of excitement that was not present in the tent meetings that I grew up in. But what was more thrilling was to hear the voice, the soft Charlotte baritone voice, of the great evangelist. I would have never imagined that one day I would meet Billy Graham, sit down and talk with him, get to know his son, Franklin, and be with my wife at his funeral. That was a great honor. But for me, I will always remember his words at that stadium in which he said words to this effect,

“If only we could see beyond our present dimension now. We would see angels. We would see activity between good and evil. We would be able to see another dimension. That dimension is only a breath away.”

“Soon, he said, “these two dimensions will merge together into one and that will be a new heaven and a new earth. To suppose that the other dimension does not exist is a fool’s thought.”

I shall never forget it because it struck me so. Everything within me said, “Yes, this must be correct. Everything in life is pointing towards the transcendent.”

There is a God. Because of his Son Jesus Christ, there is a new dimension that has entered this world a dimension that will soon overtake this dimension and that will only be one. The new heaven and the new earth is already on its way. My question to you today is this, are you fit to be translated into this new dimension. Imagine an astronaut going out of his spacecraft for a space-walk. He needs the proper outfit. Otherwise, he will die. What a fool he would be to pass through that portal without the right covering! You must have a new soul. You must have a new heart and a new mine. The old will not do it cannot pass into the eternal new kingdom. What a sad situation for one to stand before the portals of life and death and be without the covering needed, without the atonement for sin necessary. But if you will trust in the Lord Jesus Christ you will be born again. And in this new birth will be granted forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Jesus Christ which will clothe you for eternity.

The resurrection is the centering point of cosmic history. It is the event that calls you to the dock to say, “I believe” or not. Your past, your present, and your future depend upon the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Will you receive Him by faith as the resurrected and living Lord of all?

This is not only a brief history of time, this is the Word of God.

Bibliography

Bodanis, David. E= Mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2005.

Brown, Joan Winmill. Wings of Joy. Old Tappan, N.J.: F.H. Revell Co., 1977.

Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids; Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Eerdmans ; Paternoster Press, 2000.

“IF ONLY THIS COULD BE SAID by Czeslaw Milosz.” Accessed April 1, 2018. http://www.crosscurrents.org/Miloszspring2002.htm.

Nash, Ronald H. Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith. Harper Collins, 1994.

“Olbers’ Paradox.” Accessed April 1, 2018. http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/GR/olbers.html.

 

[1] “Olbers’ Paradox,” accessed April 1, 2018, http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/GR/olbers.html.

[2] See, e.g., David Bodanis, E= Mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation (Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2005).

[3] Augustine’s saying is, more properly, crede, ut intelligas, “believe so that you may understand.” See Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Harper Collins, 1994), 88.

[4] See, e.g., F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids; Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Eerdmans ; Paternoster Press, 2000).

[5] “IF ONLY THIS COULD BE SAID by Czeslaw Milosz,” accessed April 1, 2018, http://www.crosscurrents.org/Miloszspring2002.htm.

[6] From Easter sermons of Peter Marshall. See Joan Winmill. Brown, Wings of Joy(Old Tappan, N.J.: F.H. Revell Co., 1977), 170.