Friday 29 July 2005

Creation and the beginning of the universe

Christians have sometimes been enthusiastic about Big Bang cosmology, since this cosmology posits an absolute beginning of the universe. And some Christians have argued that the singularity of the Big Bang is itself the very “moment of creation.”

But I think that this rests on a basic misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of creation. The doctrine of creation is not an attempt to describe the way the universe began—it is not a quasi-scientific statement about the origins of the universe, and it thus has no special interest in questions of the universe’s early history.

What then does the doctrine of creation mean? It means, quite simply, that God is our creator. All that we have has come freely from God; and at each new moment we continue to depend on God for our life and being. In the words of Luther’s Small Catechism (1529), the doctrine of creation means “that God created me … because of his pure, fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, not because I’ve earned it or deserved it.”

In other words, the doctrine of creation is a doctrine about grace—“creation from nothing” (creatio ex nihilo) means that we exist purely because of the grace of God. And since the grace of God is not an abstract “divine attribute” but a specific event, we might also add that creatio ex nihilo means that we exist because of Jesus Christ.

So did the universe have a beginning? The question is certainly an interesting one, but it is a question for theoretical physicists rather than theologians. One thing is certain: if it does turn out (as Stephen Hawking has argued) that the universe has no temporal boundary, or that the universe has always existed in some other way, such discoveries would not have any direct bearing on the doctrine of creation.

Whether the universe had an absolute beginning some 14 billion years ago, or whether it had no beginning at all, our confession of faith remains just the same as Luther’s: “I believe that God created me because of his goodness and mercy.”

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