Sunday, September 21, 2014

In Your Beginning

(A sermon based on Genesis 1:26-28 and preached on September 21, 2014)

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So begins the Bible. The phrase can be translated “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth” (Fox, 5) so that we could read it as “To start with …” In any case, creation had a beginning and God was up to something with it. Later in Genesis we read about God’s creation of humanity. Regardless of how we literally came to be, which it is the business of science to figure out, God was up to something in the creation and existence of our kind. It stands to reason, then, that God was up to something in the making of you and me and in our placement in this world.

Given how great the odds are that we shouldn’t be here, we really should be amazed that we are. In the summer of 2011 Dr. Ali Binazir posed the question, “What are your chances of coming into being?” He considered such factors as (1) the odds of your parents meeting, which he estimates at 1 in 20,000, (2) the odds of that meeting leading to a relationship that produces a child, which he estimates to be 1 in 2000, (3) the odds of the right sperm from your father joining with the right egg from your mother to form you, which he puts at 1 in 400 quadrillion, and (4) the odds of every one of your ancestors living to the age at which they could reproduce, which Binazir estimates at 1 in 10 to the 45,000th power [“That number,” Binazir observed, “is not just larger than all of the particles in the universe – it’s larger than all the particles in the universe if each particle were itself a universe."].

When you put all of that together, Binazir said, the probability that you could exist is 1 in 10 to the 2,685,000th power. Binazir attempted to describe the enormity of that number by offering a comparison. The number of atoms in the body of an average male (80kg, 175 lb) is 10 to the 27th power. The number of atoms making up the earth is about 10 to the 50th power. The number of atoms in the known universe is estimated at 10 to the 80th power. So what’s the probability of your existing? It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number – say, 550,343,279,001. Therefore, according to Binazir’s calculations, the chances that you could exist are so infinitesimal as to amount to zero; there is virtually no probability that you could exist.

National Public Radio blogger Robert Krulwich, in his intriguingly titled post “Are You Totally Improbable or Totally Inevitable?”, summarized Binazir’s article and then observed, “On the other hand…there are poets who argue exactly the opposite: that each of us is fated to exist, that there is a plan, and that all of us are expected.” The poets of the Bible, I think, would come down mainly on the “there is a plan” side; we at least have strong intimations of such. For example, the Lord said to the young Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). For another example, the Psalmist sang, “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed” (Psalm 139:16b).

Had the biblical writers been confronted with the speculations of modern thinkers, would they have admitted to the presence of randomness and chance in our world and in our lives? Some certainly would have. Have you read Ecclesiastes lately? For the most part, though, I suspect that they would have looked at Binazir’s conclusion—“A miracle is an event so unlikely as to be almost impossible. By that definition, I’ve just shown that you are a miracle. Now go forth and feel and act like the miracle that you are”—said “Amen,” and done a little praising, a little thinking, and a little writing about how God works God’s purposes out even through random selection, chaotic human behavior, chance, coincidence, evolution, and happenstance.

I suspect that the philosopher Forrest Gump was on track when he said, “I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both (are) happening at the same time.”

The bottom line is this: in some mysterious and providential way, we are here. We are here on this earth and we are here in this life. There is virtually no way that we should be here and yet by chance and by the providence of God, here we are. Surely it matters that we do something with the opportunity of being here; surely it matters that we take full advantage of the fact that we are here. You’ve won the lottery and you’re the apple of God’s eye. How can we not be inspired to live life for all it’s worth?

As the philosopher Neil Young put it, "It's better to burn out than it is to rust."

President Jimmy Carter is, as you know, a man of strong Christian faith and commitment. While reflecting on his life, he said, “One of the things that shaped my life was realizing that I have one life to live on this earth and I ask God frequently not to let me waste it and to let my life be beneficial for my fellow human beings in His kingdom” [Randall Balmer, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p. 182, citing “Legitimate Pride” in Conversations with Carter, ed. Don Richardson (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998), p. 268]. That’s a good prayer for all of us to pray in light of the great gift that this life is: “O God, don’t let me waste my life. Let me live my life in ways that are beneficial to your kingdom and to people.”

Only one person has ever gotten it just right and that person was Jesus Christ. Jesus showed us how to live a full life defined by total love for God and by selfless love for others. Because of his crucifixion and resurrection and because of the presence of the Holy Spirit of God through which the fullness of God dwells in us, we are empowered to live in ways that are always moving toward that kind of life. It is a life in which we love God with all we are and in which we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; it is a life in which we think all the time of God and think all the time more of others than we do of ourselves. Such living is how we take full advantage of the life that God has given us to live.

So go now and live as the miracle that you are …

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