January 10, 2007

Toward an Adventist View of the Universe

1501 page22 cap 4OBERT JASTROW, SELF-AVOWED agnostic and founding director of NASA’s famed Goddard Institute for Space Studies, admits that scientists would love to pursue the enigma of origins farther back in time, but doubts they will ever be able to breach the curtain shrouding creation.
He sadly concludes, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”1
Seventh-day Adventists, avowed theists, readily embrace a handful of relatively straightforward suppositions regarding the universe and life within it. First, we agree that a benevolent and supernatural Being created all life—wherever. Second, we understand that sin has been quarantined to this planet. Third, we believe intelligent life also exists elsewhere in the universe. And fourth, we anticipate our Creator’s soon return.
With astronomers and astrophysicists differing over which of their sciences is a branch of the other, each seems determined to “out theorize” the other. Consequently, both follow quite different agendas than do we. They naturally wish to explain the universe apart from the idea of God; we plainly wish to present God as the First Cause of the universe. They seek to describe what is; we strive to report what ought to be. They catalog how the world acts upon humanity, while we work to clarify how Christians should act upon the world.
1501 page22 intext2 0In the nineteenth century, science frequently constituted an avenue to a deeper appreciation for the works of God. More than a few scientists studied nature to decipher a divine order. In the motions of the planets, early astronomers like Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler sensed God’s blueprint for the universe. Newton believed that in his uncovering the laws of motion and universal gravitation God had granted him a glimpse into the very operating manual of the vast machine called creation.
Scriptural confirmation of a Creator God abounds in John 1:1-4 (KJV): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” Precisely how and when God spun the universe and solar system into existence we are not told, but we continue working earnestly to understand creation and the origin of life as revealed to us. Like good stewards everywhere, we are determined to learn as much in all realms as God will permit. Or as devout Christian Henry “Fritz” Schaefer III, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and the director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia, puts it: “The significance and joy in my science comes in the occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, ‘So that’s how God did it!’ My goal is to understand a little corner of God’s plan.”2
Werner von Braun found it as difficult to understand scientists who refuse to acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as to comprehend theologians who spurn the discoveries of science. He concluded that “there is certainly no scientific reason why God cannot retain the same relevance in our modern world that He held before we began probing His creation with telescope, cyclotron, and space vehicles.”3
Joseph Silk agrees, saying that “humility in the face of the persistent great unknowns is the true philosophy that modern physics has to offer.”4 This differs markedly from Russian scientist Lev Landau’s much-quoted characterization: “Cosmologists are often in error, but never in doubt.”
There Was a Day
There was a day when the sons of God presented themselves before Him, with Satan, the fallen archangel, accompanying them. Taking notice of this uninvited guest, God inquired, “From where do you come?” (Job 1:7, KJV). Satan answered, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” The precise location of this council is not identified, but it could not have been heaven, for Satan had already been excluded from its precincts.5 (Still he did continue to have a degree of access to other worlds, as Revelation 12:10 seems to suggest.) Although Satan inserted himself among the sons of God, he was obviously no longer considered one of them.
It is also evident that sin had been confined to Earth, because earthlings had already fallen and Satan was laboring to gain even more subscribers to his rebellion.
Constraints of Time and Distance
Humanity is not finding it easy to break the bonds of Earth. Traveling even at 50,000 mph would take us almost 8.5 years to escape the solar system—more than 3.5 billion miles! (The space station now circles Earth at approximately 17,500 mph, while space probes cruise past planets at only 27,345 mph). Even at the speed of light, 5,000 years would pass before we could reach the outer rim of our Galaxy, the Milky Way.
Two of our nearest neighboring galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, are 170,000 light-years away and contain 15 billion stars. What we “see” when observing them transpired 170,000 years ago. More distant at 2.2 million light-years is the Andromeda (M31) galaxy, twice the size of the Milky Way and containing 250 billion stars. A little farther away resides the galaxy M87 (with 750-1,000 billion stars), and the galaxies NGC2997 and NGC1365 (astronomers now give galaxies numbers instead of names because there are so many). If the first man had begun counting galaxies at 100 per minute, life on Earth has not existed long enough to count them all.
Galaxies travel in groups called island universes, with our local island universe containing approximately 30 galaxies with some 10 trillion stars. Island universes are about a million times farther apart than galaxies. If we were to continue out 50 million light-years, we would leave our island universe and encounter more island universes than are even countable.6
Yet just the time spent in space brings challenges. Astronaut David Wolf recently revealed that his 119 days aboard the Russian space station Mir in 1997 resulted in radiation exposure equal to 1,300 chest X-rays, besides the loss of 12 percent bone mass and 60 percent lean muscle mass. Though Wolf subsequently recovered to preflight levels, he stated that others may never fully regain their bone mass. “It’s hard to live in space and it’s hard to come back,” he concluded.7
Something has to give!
The Second Coming
Christ will return personally and visibly to the earth. He has reserved unto Himself not only the work of creation, but the ministry of re-creation. “We shall see him” (1 John 3:2). “Every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7). “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). “He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:20, 21).
Those whom Christ saves will reign with Him forever. Jesus prayed to His Father, “I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am” (John 17:24). Graves are opened, and “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth . . . awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Those who have sacrificed all for Christ will be secure, hidden, as it were, in the Lord’s pavilion.
End-time Cautions
With the alarming increase in reports of UFOs, extraterrestrials, crop circles, and animal mutilations, Adventists everywhere must seriously ponder three things: military research and development, the human capacity for hoaxing, and the increasingly invasive activities of a darker power. Regarding the last days Jesus warned, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24).
1501 page22If strange, highly intelligent creatures should appear, commanding massive, telepathically sensitive spacecraft and claiming to bear special messages from distant galaxies, it could likely elicit both consternation and admiration. Who of us would trust our capacity for reason over our gift of sight? And who would dare cry “Demonic artifice!” in the face of miraculous healings? “Are the people of God now so firmly established upon His word that they would not yield to the evidence of their senses? Would they, in such a crisis, cling to the Bible and the Bible only?”8 For this reason, the proper understanding of the subordination of the universe to its Creator is vitally important to the remnant. It is the risen Christ who is returning to take us home—not some gray little creatures or even angelic demons of light.
We may yet see the day when Satan himself poses as Christ, and in various locations presents himself as a heavenly being of dazzling brightness. His aura easily surpasses anything seen before, and the throngs exclaim, “Christ has come! Christ has come!” As he raises his hands to bless, a teeming sea of humanity bows before him. Ellen White used these words to describe it: “His voice is soft and subdued, yet full of melody. In gentle, compassionate tones he presents some of the same gracious, heavenly truths which the Savior uttered; he heals the diseases of the people, and then, in his assumed character of Christ, he claims to have changed the Sabbath to Sunday, and commands all to hallow the day which he has blessed. He declares that those who persist in keeping holy the seventh day are blaspheming his name by refusing to listen to his angels sent to them with light and truth.”9
This last of Satan’s lies will constitute his strongest, most overpowering delusion!
God’s Plan Trumps All
Our religious literature contains a rich vein affirming the existence of other worlds with unfallen beings. Ellen White wrote: “God has worlds upon worlds that are obedient to His law. These worlds are conducted with reference to the glory of the Creator. As these inhabitants see the great price that has been paid to ransom man, they are filled with amazement. With intense interest they watch the controversy between Christ and Satan; and as this controversy progresses, and the glory of God shines brighter and brighter, they give praise to God.”10
Again, “To the angels and the unfallen worlds the cry, ‘It is finished,’ had a deep significance. It was for them as well as for us that the great work of redemption had been accomplished. They with us share the fruits of Christ’s victory.”11 Satan’s character was not fully revealed to the angels or the unfallen worlds until the death of Christ. He had so clothed himself in deception that even holy beings could not understand his principles. They had failed to comprehend the true nature of his rebellion.12
In light of the tragedies attending space travel, the following account from Ellen White’s vision is astounding: “The Lord has given me a view of other worlds. Wings were given me, and an angel attended me from the city to a place that was bright and glorious. The grass of the place was living green, and the birds there warbled a sweet song. The inhabitants of the place were of all sizes; they were noble, majestic, and lovely. They bore the express image of Jesus, and their countenances beamed with holy joy, expressive of the freedom and happiness of the place.”13
We may look forward to that day when, “unfettered by mortality, they wing their tireless flight to worlds afar—worlds that thrilled with sorrow at the spectacle of human woe and rang with songs of gladness at the tidings of a ransomed soul.”14 With indescribable pleasure we will find abundant opportunity to revel in the wisdom of unfallen worlds. With great patience they will share from the storehouse of the knowledge they have gained through ages upon ages spent contemplating God’s handiwork.
1Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992/2000), p. 116.
2US News & World Report, Dec. 23, 1991.
3Werner von Braun, as cited in Michael Reagan, The Hand of God (Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1999), p. 128.
4Joseph Silk, as cited in Martin Rees, Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others (U.S.A.: Helix Books, 1997), p. 6.
5“Limited alone to the earth, he will not have the privilege of ranging to other planets, to tempt and annoy those who have not fallen [italics mine]” (Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 290).
6Martin Rees, Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books).
7Jennifer Laing, “A Wolf in Astronaut’s Clothing,” Universe Today (posted Nov. 15, 2000; accessed Feb. 19, 2003). www.universetoday.com/html/speciaI/davewolf.html
8Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 625.
9Ibid., p. 624.
10Ellen G. White, “The Example and Teaching of Our Redeemer,” The Watchman (April 23, 1907), paragraph 8.
11Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 758.
13Ellen G. White, Maranatha: The Lord Is Coming, p. 368.
14Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 677.
Gerald Colvin, Ed.D., Ph.D., LPC, NCC, is a public and private school administrator, as well as a professor and graduate dean at various universities, including Southern Adventist University, where he is retired.