The Patient Creator

If the Universe is 14 billion years old, and humans evolved only about 300 million years ago, then Creation existed without humans for 13.7 billion years. For some, this is a problem for Christian faith: “it makes no sense to imagine that an all-powerful God would need to devise this vast universal Rube Goldberg contrivance for the sake of creating life, rather than just doing it in one fell swoop of His mighty hand.”

This argument is essentially subjective and it targets the omnipotence of God. The idea is that a truly all-powerful God would not have to employ such an immensely long, drawn out, inefficient process since He had the power to bring Creation into existence in an instantaneous act. Why bother with 13.7 billion years of irrelevant history when what matters is the origin of humankind?

Now, I have already noted that even Genesis does not teach an instantaneous, all-at-once, creation. Certainly, God could have created all of reality in one fell swoop of His mighty hand. And He could have done so last Thursday. But that is not what happened. So we need to ask why it is that creation is so old and why it is that creation existed as long as it did without humans. But before getting to that directly, we should also pause to consider that this ancient Universe is consistent with the teachings about God.

It’s not enough for the Christian to ponder God through the monolithic prism of omnipotence. The Bible speaks at length about many attributes of God and one such attribute is his patience and long-suffering nature:

Romans 15:5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

Psalms 86:15 But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.

2 Peter 3:15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Christians are thus called to mimic the patience of God (patience being one of the fruits of the Spirit):

James 5:7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

James 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

James 1:3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

1 Peter 2:20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

Luke 8:15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

Lamentations 3:26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

Hebrews 10:36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.

John Reisinger has a very nice essay that explores God’s patience:

Strong gives the following meaning to the Greek word for longsuffering.

makrothuméō

- to be of a long spirit, not to lose heart a) to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles; b) to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others; 1) to be mild and slow in avenging; 2) to be longsuffering, to be slow to anger, to be slow to punish.

The KJV translates the word as longsuffering, and patient. The basic idea is two fold. Objectively, we show longsuffering, and subjectively we exercise patience. The main idea is that longsuffering is the ability to endure everything that is necessary to reach a desired goal.

Reisinger then puts his finger on a very key point:

God’s patience, or longsuffering, is a power in God that enables him to endure everything that is necessary to accomplish all that he has planned. God’s longsuffering is tied to both his sovereign power and his sovereign purposes. Nothing will make him act contrary to his own ultimate goal.

So let us return to the complaint: “it makes no sense to imagine that an all-powerful God would need to devise this vast universal Rube Goldberg contrivance for the sake of creating life, rather than just doing it in one fell swoop of His mighty hand.”

This complaint has everything upside down. The 13.7 billion history that predates humankind speaks to the omnipotent patience of God. “God’s patience, or longsuffering, is a power in God that enables him to endure everything that is necessary to accomplish all that he has planned.” The Universe and Scripture testify to the same God.

Yes, we still need to ask why it is that creation is so old and why it is that creation existed as long as it did without us. But in the meantime….

Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. – Ecclesiastes 7:8

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9 Responses to The Patient Creator

  1. Bilbo says:

    Very good post, Mike. Might I add another point for consideration? We tend to think of things either as means or as ends, never as both. Thus we tend to think of the entire history of life as a means to producing us. And that it’s only value was being that means. But there is no logical reason why each part of that history cannot also be an end in itself, having value to God simply for the thing that it is in its own right, worthy of being created, even if no further use came of it.
    So yes, God is patient, and can wait for the final crown of creation. But perhaps God is also someone who finds joy in all the flowers He stops to smell along the way.
    By the way, this is the answer I would give to Professor MacNeill’s objection that natural selection is a wasteful process, proving that God was uncaring of all the carnage strewn in its path. Just because a thing doesn’t survive to reproduce doesn’t mean that it isn’t of value to God. It may not be a means to some future end, but it may still be an end in and of itself.

  2. Tim says:

    I see most of living world as having the characteristics of my dog. There is several games my dog plays with a ball. One is to bop the ball up into the air instead of catching the ball. Another thing she loves to do is set the ball at my feet and wait till I kick the ball in her direction. It isn’t necessary the ball be thrown the same way each time. She would prefer a few options. There is a strong element of patients and anticipation in the game. There is also guidlines and limits. The game is played with a ball, a person, and a dog in a restricted area. This leads me having a few questions about God.

    Is God patient and does he drool with anticipation? Also does he view things as being necessary or does he like limited (not infinite) directed contigencies?

  3. Bilbo says:

    Tim asks: “
    Is God patient and does he drool with anticipation?

    Mike has already provided ample Biblical passages indicating that God is patient. Does he drool with anticipation? I don’t know about drooling, and I don’t have a Bible in front of me, but Paul tells us in Romans that all of creation groans in anticipation of redemption. And John tells us that Jesus could hardly wait for…was it his baptism with fire?…to come. If creation and Jesus reflect the nature of God, then yes, God suffers anticipation. If only we did as well.

    Also does he view things as being necessary or does he like limited (not infinite) directed contigencies?

    Didn’t you find Mike’s first OP helpful?

    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/because-of-us/#more-52

  4. Tim says:

    I think you answered my questions. Thank you.

  5. DATCG says:

    Hi guys,

    Sorry late on responding. I worked on a comment last night and wanted to edit it down. My response follows…

    Michael,

    Good references on patience. I do not have as many verses for a rebuttal.

    Ne 9:30
    “Yet for many years You had patience with them, And testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.”

    So God does show pateince, but then even he has a point where patience runs out.

    The tribes of Israel all rebelled against the Lord. God was long-suffering and merciful, even after the murder of his prophets who warned Israel.

    It is evident however, the Lord lost patience with the tribes of Israel. He had them killed and enslaved as a result of their sin, gave them 2nd and 3rd chances only to finally boot them out again into other lands like Assyria and
    Babylon, and eventually dispersed through out the world. 1948 is significant for this very reason. It is the promise of their “final” return.

    Yeshua himself lost patience with the crowds and the disciples. For example…

    Luke 9:41,
    “Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.””

    Essentially there is a patient Creator for 13.7 billion years, then He becomes impatient with his creation after several years. I left out obvious verses; Adam and Eve’s exile from Paradise, or Noah’s Flood, where the entire world is destroyed according to scripture.

    I do not doubt Jesus’s right to be impatient or weary with a faithless
    generation. I am surprised he has patience with me at times. I merely point out evidence that even our Creator grows tired of waiting and proclaims his disgust and judgement on all people. This world we are warned will not last forever. Thus we must make a choice.

    He expects more from us. Why does he expect us to hurry up and get it? Yet, we would expect him to wait for billions of years? I think this dichotomy is
    evident in us and the Creator.

    Some of us can be very patient at times. Nations can be patient with dictators at times until finally the breaking point.

    Now, are the circumstances and purpose different? Yes, they are. The fact that God can be patient and teaches us to be patient however does not change the biblical record of Genesis in the Hewbrew in my limited educated view. I’m not an expert, but I think the case for an old earth Biblically is not likely open to great interpretation.

    I’ll approach that topic tomorrow. Thanks for addressing these issues.

  6. Bilbo says:

    Dat, you’re assuming that God had no purposes that needed to be fulfilled in the prior 13.7 billion years of history. On what basis can you make that assumption.

    The Bible tells us about human history with God. Not about pre-human history.

  7. DATCG says:

    Hi Bilbo,

    No, I’m not making any assumptions. I’m simply pointing out issues I do not know or am uncomfortable with at this time. You assume you are not making an assumption today because you assume todays science is correct regarding age.

    You may be right.

    In that case, God may have a table to build for us in the presence of our enemies, or for a grand wedding feast. :-) Afterall, Jesus was a carpenter. Interesting how he liked simple beauty of working with his hands.

    My point is we are all making assumptions to some degree. Right now, consensus science states our universe is billions of years old. It does not mean man can determine the time of God or his timing. He lives outside of our universe, correct? He can, right? So, is time real to him? Or to us? What if he “stretched out the heavens” so fast that we simply are unaware at this moment what happened in the past? The Big Bang has several problems, thus Dark Energy/Matter and a whole host of other issues fudged and cajoled for the theory to work. New studies show concentric rings of galaxies in our universe make it appear as if our galaxy is at the center. This changes everything if more studies and research change scientific views on Copernican theory related to us not being special in the universe.

    I’m uncertain. I’m not saying I know the answer. And taking this uncertainty into account I’d rather depend upon the Biblical text, ancient Jewish beliefs about that text, than in men today as fallible as we all are, me above others quite frequently.

  8. Michael says:

    Hi datcg,

    You write,

    I do not doubt Jesus’s right to be impatient or weary with a faithless
    generation. I am surprised he has patience with me at times. I merely point out evidence that even our Creator grows tired of waiting and proclaims his disgust and judgement on all people. This world we are warned will not last forever. Thus we must make a choice.

    I like what Reisinger says:

    God is slow to anger, but he will not keep back his anger forever. When will God finally display his anger? When will he let his anger loose? When he runs out options? Nonsense! When he is too frustrated because things are not going right? Never! When the situation is so hopeless that he can do nothing about it? More nonsense! When he is at his wits’ end because he has tried everything and has nothing left to try? The answer in every case is no, no, a thousand times no. God’s anger is completely under his control and he will not let it loose until he has accomplished everything he set out to do. God will not express his anger until every elect sheep is safe in the fold. He will not show his wrath until every obstinate Pharaoh has played out his part in God’s sovereign plans and purposes. We are to praise him for his awesome power that controls his whole being in order for him to accomplish all of his purposes.

    […]

    You and I let our anger loose when we lose heart or get frustrated. We allow circumstances to control our emotions, but not so with God. He can, and does, suffer as long and as deeply as is necessary to accomplish his purpose.

    God could wait billions of years for us to come into existence precisely because our coming into existence was his purpose.

  9. Michael says:

    Hi datcg,

    You write,

    He lives outside of our universe, correct? He can, right? So, is time real to him? Or to us?

    This response would likewise undercut the criticism of waiting, as since God is outside time, there is no need to wait or be patient.

    But me thinks it is much more deep than that, as God is not an aloof sky god. We know that our reality came into existence and was brought into existence by God, yet God is also somehow in our reality.

    I think it has something to do with the Incarnation, where God took this reality into Himself. Yet being outside of time, from God’s perspective, the creation of the universe and the Incarnation were not separate events.

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