Why God Works Slowly | The BioLogos Forum


(system) #1

I was hooked on Genesis as a kid. It seemed like such scandalous knowledge–to have a God's eye view of how everything came to be. Some itch was scratched every time I read those first couple of chapters. As much as I loved to hear about an explosion of light created from chaos, I tended to lose interest as the human drama entered the scene. My passion was for the formation of the Earth, the sky, trees, and birds.

I loved how God's life seemed to be like mine. Genesis is written around the cycle of a week, and my grade school life was metered with the same rhythm. Like God, I savored the day of rest that followed a busy week.

Years later, I learned about a different story of our origins. In this one, our universe formed in billions of years, and life developed by a haphazard, wasteful process called Evolution. I found the idea more than absurd–it was offensive.

Why would anyone say God was unable to make everything in seven days? Why would they deny his hand at work forming life from the dust in all its stunning diversity?

Of course, the ancient universe made its case over time. I made a strong effort to understand the world through Creation Science, but cosmologists and evolutionary biologists are relentless with evidence to support their claims. The sky and the fossil record tell the story of a very old Earth, and a truly ancient night sky.

For people like me, people whose faith is rooted in the soil of a God who formed it all in a week, this transition is scary. Frankly, a lot of people turn away from God when this happens. They feel duped and foolish for accepting such a wild tale. I know I went through that.

But I think it's much more interesting to ask, "Why does God work slowly?" After all, our life is all about speed. We have fast internet, overnight shipping, instant coffee, and airplanes that cross continents faster than we could once cross a town. A literal seven day creation fits our modern ethos quite well.

The universe formed slowly. It took almost 380,000 years for light to pass through the fabric of spacetime. Millions of years passed before the first stars were born, and millions more before those stars formed galaxies and planets.

Nine billion years passed before the Earth was formed. It was lifeless for as many as a billion years before the first life appeared on its surface. Life was primitive for several billion years after that–land animals and vertebrates only appeared 380 million years ago. Finally humans show up a couple hundred thousand years ago–but language and civilization would take even longer.

The formation of our universe and the creation of human life took an unfathomable amount of time. God works slowly–so slowly we can't even imagine the timeline of creation. These days, I think this speaks of a God who cares deeply about creation.

In an age of just-in-time manufacturing and logistics, the finest things are made slowly. We place the most value on anything that was hand-made by a craftsman. Watches, furniture, even cars–the best ones are assembled by hand. We associate luxury with an investment of effort over time.

The slow, creative processes of Big Bang cosmology and Evolution reveal a grand Creator. This is a God unconstrained by any limit of God, who invokes a creation that continues to express that creative energy. Like a master craftsman, the God who creates over billions of years is not in a hurry. Meticulous care goes into every creative action.

Why would God make the universe faster than we make an exotic sports car? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure God could make the universe in six days. But the billions of years in which creation unfolded speak to more than just care–they speak to how the universe is different than anything humans make.

It isn't finished. Our creation continues to unfold, and God trusts us to play a part. We've been entrusted with our own dirt, and we've been endowed by our Creator with our own creative energy. Our birthright as living things is the ability to make more life, just like stars make more stars.

We were placed in a cradle: a beautiful, pale-blue-dot cradle. This cradle reflects the decisions we make. We can build up the land and care for it, or we can exploit it and destroy. Likewise, we can build each other up, or we can follow our own self interests at the expense of others.

To do the careful work of building up is the Gospel. God came down and put on a face so we could know what God is like. And this God, Jesus, told us to love our God and our neighbor. He told us to forgive others, to be born again, and to feed his sheep–to take the narrow road.

These are slow, meticulous ways of living. Loving people well is an investment with a slow return. Turning the other cheek is an act of patience and great care. But it's our invitation to follow Christ, and in doing so to be more like God.

And God works slowly.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/why-god-works-slowly

(Dcscccc) #3

from the article:

“It took almost 380,000 years for light to pass through the fabric of spacetime.”-

actually, even now the space stertch in a speed that is above the speed of light. there is actually stars that are 20-30 bilions light years away. it cant be if the universe is only about 14. 5 bilions years because the speed of light is the top speed an object can get. so the light may passed very fast in the past, if god create the universe.

“land animals and vertebrates only appeared 380 million years ago.”-

actually 99% of the specie that lived on earth doesnt appeared at all in the fossil record. so its not mean that there is no land animals before of this time. it can be just because its rare to get a fossil. sea animals have a lot of species, so they appear before of land animals.

about the age of the universe and the time for evolution- even if the universe is indeed so old (and you can check for yourself in any creation site for evidences for a young earth), evolution doesnt have a time to evolve even one protein (a sequance space of about 20^300 for a 300 amino acid protein). so from a scientific prespective we dont need to involve this theory, that have a lot of problems.

the evidence that there is a creator is the complexity of life. if we will find a self replicating watch(with dna), we will know that this kind of watch made by designer. so a bacterial flagellum for example, that is a self replicating motor found in bacteria, also need a designer.


(Robert J. Kurland, Ph.D.) #5

What a fine article!.. I wish I had written that.
One reason that God works slowly is that it takes time for stars to form that can support human life, red giant stars to grow and then collapse, giving the elements necessary for life, and then for evolution to yield a self-aware thinking being.


(Mike McHargue) #6

It sounds like you don’t accept either an ancient universe or the Theory of Evolution. Honestly, my post takes both as assumptions, and the purpose of this article was not to defend modern cosmology or evolutionary biology.

My goal was to examine how these two ideas intersect the theology of Christians who accept them.

I’m familiar with the critiques of these Theories by some creationists, but I do appreciate that you brought them to my attention. In the same light, you’ve come to the right place if you’d like to learn more about Christians who accept evolution. I’d start with this article, and then work through the other resources on this site.

Peace, love, entropy,
Science Mike


(Larry Bunce) #7

Humans are impressed with speed, since it takes most of us a lot of time (by our time scale) to do any complicated task. Genesis 1 could have said, “God said ‘let there be a universe,’ and lo, the whole universe sprang at once into being in all its glory.” That scene might have made an impressive movie opening, and would certainly have emphasized God’s infinite power, but Genesis was not written that way. The 6 days of Creation point to a finite amount of time, and a process where each stage created the proper conditions for the next. (Does that sound like evolution?) If the process took billions of years, that is even more an indication of God’s power over time. If it all happened as a result of laws of nature, and we believe God created all of nature, we have to believe that God also created those laws of nature also.


(David Jenkins) #8

Hi Mike,
Great post. I was wondering if you have any explanation within this framework for the creation of things such as disease and parasites. I know this is a big question but it seems to create a problem within the paradigm of a loving God being intimately, creatively involved. I have some ideas as to how it might work. What are your thoughts?
David


#9

No, it doesn’t “sound” like evolution. Why should it? I don’t expect an ancient text praising the God of Israel for his creating the various “domains” of the world (which neighboring people attributed to various gods and goddesses) to provide an overview of evolutionary biology. Instead, I expect exactly what I see in Genesis 1, a carefully structured 3+3 chiastic hymn of praise where each YOM/verse is followed by a chorus of “and the evening and the morning was the Nth YOM”.

I grew up in a Young Earth Creationist church and got very excited about the “creation science” movement which Morris & Whitcomb started. Yet, as I shared with audiences their “flood geology” and young earth arguments, I became more and more frustrated with the internal contradictions and contrary evidence, at first in the scriptures and then a few years later as I started investigating more of the science evidence from God’s creation. Nothing fit! And the evidence obviously pointed elsewhere. Fortunately, study in the Hebrew Bible brought me to an understanding that doesn’t require constant contradiction and conflict between the evidence from the Bible and the evidence from creation itself.

So no, I don’t expect Genesis to sound like The Theory of Evolution–just as I don’t expect a science textbook to sound like the Gospel. God gave us plenty of answers in the Bible and in his creation and I thankfully praise him for the clear answers in both! And I wish that peace for everyone.


(Richard Wright) #10

Mike,

Nice post. I love it when writers tie theology to the ways of the physical universe.

I’ve come up with a theory called the Time Effect theory and I’m wondering what you (or any of the posters here) might think of it. According to this theory, not only did God create slowly through the laws of the universe acting on mass and energy starting at the Big Bang, that is in fact the only way he could have created this universe while being the God that He is and that the bible claims He is, that is a completely loving, honest and consistent God. Let me explain

In the physical paradigm that God has put us in, which has atoms, quarks, molecules, etc, there is also time, which was created at the Big Bang along with space, energy, matter and the physical laws, which we all know. In this physical paradigm time has an effect on matter - matter is always effected by time in some way, either degrading or going through some process of change, many of which we can observe and quantify. Atoms form molecules, which form substances which come together to make systems, and systems have a start and are heading in some direction. If God were to make this universe 6,000 years old (or anything younger than we know it to be) and appropriate for human existence, using this physical paradigm, wouldn’t He have to make it seem more along the time continuum that it would be. If that were the case, then God wouldn’t be a completely honest God, since he would be being deceitful by doing that.

One thing that is amazing to me about God’s creation is how many helpful co-evolved entities have evolved with us that we take for granted and that we couldn’t exist with, like bees (pollinating $19 billion worth of US produce). Life is a struggle, and it was meant to be so that we would see our need for God, but at the same time we were given a world that can be manipulated, using the intelligence and creativity we were given, and his message to help us get along, to help us survive, thrive, enjoy our time here and understand the awesomeness of our God and his creation. All of this starting with an unimaginable amount of intelligence creating in one instance long ago that has given us all this in the only way He could give it to us that would make sense of what we know of Him. That to me is amazing.

I’d like any feedback on this theory, there may be some logical and obvious flaw that I missed but please be nice, this is only something that I thought about on the way home from work. Thanks.


(Walt Huber) #12

As I understand it, the Hebrew word YOM (that translates to “day” in the Genesis story) also can mean “an indeterminate period of time.” The steps in the Genesis creation story are in order. God may have chosen to take as long as as He felt was needed to do each step in the creation process. The “24 hour days” in the Genesis story is a “not so perfect” translation of the ancient Hebrew.


(Connor Mooneyhan) #13

I’ve spent a good bit of time studying YOM and it didn’t seem to me that it can mean an indeterminate amount of time. It can mean a year, but that doesn’t help much. The most general interpretation of YOM I can find is a general period of time… but as a definite period of time such as the 1700’s. However, I do affirm evolutionary creation, and I have come to realize that YOM needn’t represent the exact amount of time the creation happened in, so much as just sectioning it off into coherent chunks.


#14

But I think it’s much more interesting to ask, “Why does God work slowly?” After all, our life is all about speed. We have fast internet, overnight shipping, instant coffee, and airplanes that cross continents faster than we could once cross a town. A literal seven day creation fits our modern ethos quite well.

I think this statement reveals the desire to rationalize our connection to our interpretation of time. The story of Creation was not written in a time when everything happened quickly. When first told and when first written, and for thousands of years afterwards, things happened relatively slowly… and the story of a relatively quick creation was well accepted. Today, ironically, when things happen very quickly, it now appears necessary to say that creation happened very slowly, much more slowly than the story indicates.

Does God work slowly? Depends on what you mean by slow. A week is much slower than an instant. But much faster than a thousand years. It also depends on what kind of work you are talking about. It took Jesus very little time to make wine from water, or to build the church at Pentecost, (and only a year to destroy the world with the flood) but it took many many years before the promise to Adam and Eve in the garden for Adam’s seed to crush Satan was fulfilled in Christ coming to die and rise from the grave. What’s slow to us can be instant to God, and perhaps the opposite also.

But the basic premise that finer craftmanship happens more slowly, is simply nostalgic, and not necessarily true. It is the quality and precision of work, not the speed, that determines the result. Today’s autos are made much more quickly than previous autos, but are certainly much better in terms of engines and technology than the older autos (even though some of the older autos were very good and very fun). Building processes are much quicker today, and also result in a better product with better insulation, higher quality windows, better housewraps, etc., etc.

So I feel that our reaction to speed or slowness is really irrelevant. God also works quickly.


(Walt Huber) #15

Hi, Connor.

I got my info about the Hebrew word Yom from this website:
http://www.answersincreation.org/word_study_yom.htm
I don’t really know if Greg Neyman is correct or not. (If you found it on the Internet, it must be correct, right?) We use this reference on page 42 of our book when we discuss the creation (How Did God Do It? A Symphony of Science and Scripture).
But it makes sense to me. When the “day” in the Genesis story can be a period of time that God wants to use to do the job, the steps are in a very logical order. For a detailed discussion of the Genesis creation story as it comes out of the Hebrew language, see the book: The Book of Life: Genesis and the Scientific Record by Hutchinson Jr, Richard N


(Jim Lock) #16

I think there is definitely something to that. Might I add that there is considerable enjoyment to be found in a long and complex project. Not that we can’t enjoy ramen noodles in the microwave, but that we can also enjoy the kind of hobby that takes months or years for each finished product. As we are made in God’s image then it stands to reason that perhaps God could enjoy enjoy the process?

@Connor_Mooneyhan @everybody else You might also want to consider that if YOM is most easily translated as a definite period of time, that may be exactly what the writer intended. However, some day I hope to build a house. I’m using our 24-hour term of reference and yet I can’t imagine that anybody here seriously believes that I will personally build a house in 1 24-hour time period. I can’t argue that this was definitely the way the author intended to communicate, but I do believe it is plausible.


#17

Dear Mike,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Let’s imagine God creating at an extreme low speed. A low speed that is so so slow that does not permit God to be neither detected nor perceived. With this extreme low speed we cannot discern when and where he is operating or not. Even if he directly says that he is doing something, we really don’t know where and how. This is how I find God in the extremely slow evolutionary scenario. A god that has become simply an observer, if he is there at all! And what a paradox. With the evolutionary low speed, he as a designer is not even responsible for design! This God has become an absent God who cannot be understood as creator. This God wrote a book explaining his acts of creation and a universal flood. But it appears that these two fundamental reports were just a tale. This slow God says in his book that he completed his work of creation but according to the evolutionary truth, this is a lie, because in a misterious way, the creative process “established by God”, continues creating.

Sometimes God works slowly. But I wish to suggest that that is not the case in Genesis 1 and 2.

Cordially.


#18

Yes, there might be some enjoyment in spending much time learning or building or cooking. But for others, the quicker the better. The long drawn-out process is simply painful. Therefore, I would suggest that for us to put our “feelings” onto our supposition of what God would enjoy at any given time or instance, is delusional. We cannot use such feelings to justify, or even to speculate that God would do anything at a particular speed simply because it makes us feel good. In any instance, God could do any number of things at any number of speeds. But such knowledge is irrelevant and non-determinant to discovering what speed he actually used.


(Jim Lock) #19

@johnZ I was merely suggesting that is plausible for God to work slowly because he takes pleasure from the process. In order to clarify a bit, I would never suggest such enjoyment as the sole reason for taking time. But rather, one of many facets of God’s character. Yes, as evidence I look to Creation in order to tease out reflections of the Creator. I see God in the way the 3 year old girl at Church dances with complete and utter abandon during the praise and worship songs. The reflection may be imperfect and dim, but surely such abandon is part of the reason David was ‘a man after God’s heart.’ Along the same lines, I would bet that even the most harried and ‘on the go’ personality can enjoy a process. Perhaps it is in the development of a theme in particularly well written piece of music. Or, perhaps it is in the development and negotiation of a business deal. The point is, I bet we all find joy in some process or another. In that, we find MAY experience a little of bit of the pleasure God takes in working on Creation over a long period of time. I do not find it at all ‘delusional’ to suggest as a fun thought experiment that ONE of the reasons God takes his time is because he simply might enjoy the work.

Respectfully,
Jim


#20

Maybe delusional was a bit strong. …maybe not… I don’t know. Surely you agree that a fun thought experiment cannot really help us to verify speed or process? I mean yes, the process might be interesting, but the speed at which it happens is surely related to personality, and even to circumstance. Besides, if to God a thousand years is as one day, then even a long process to us, is not a long process to him, so it does not seem to fulfill the requirements or benefits of a slow process that we might enjoy for us.

In my own case, I see things entirely different. If I think something should take an hour to do, and it takes four hours, I enjoy it proportionately less. If it takes less time, I enjoy the fact I can now do more things. If I could get four hours of exercise into ten minutes, that would be great. When I get a design for a room, or building, or renovation, right the first time, I enjoy it every bit as much, and in some ways with more glee, than if I had to agonize over it countless times to get it right (as I enjoy such designing and planning). While time for pure recreation (non-work) is certainly enjoyable to some extent based on the time spent on it (such as time to watch a movie, read a book, go swimming, visiting, cross country skiing), even here, the enjoyability of the time is reduced when it goes too long and then becomes work instead of recreation. But this is just my reaction, my feelings. I don’t know that God pays attention to my feelings as to decide when he creates, nor even when he chooses to rest.

But I think we have said enough about this. You are writing a poem, and I am writing an essay, or an abstract. The language is somewhat different. I think God might enjoy trying to see how fast he can get his work done…

And David? yes… the unanswered question… did he dance fast or did he dance slow? :smile:


(system) #21

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