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.
– 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