In the Beginning and the End

Jun 11 2017

                                             IN THE BEGINNING AND THE END

 In 1925, the famous Scopes Trial was held in Dayton, Tennessee. William Jennings Bryan assisted the prosecution while Clarence Darrow assisted the ACLU for the defense. Scopes was convicted after the trial judge, Raulston, declared almost all of the defense’s testimony inadmissible. To give you a flavor of the courtroom atmosphere, here is a quote from the trial. During the questioning of William Jennings Bryan who agreed to take the stand, Stewart objected for the prosecution, demanding to know the legal purpose of Darrow's questioning. Bryan, gauging the effect the session was having, snapped that its purpose was "to cast ridicule on everybody who believes in the Bible". Darrow, with equal vehemence, retorted, "We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States."

Ultimately, Scopes was fined $100. On appeal, the Court ordered a retrial on a technicality regarding the fine, but the case was never retried.

The debate rages on. Is it creation or is it evolution? Or…is it both? Or, in the final analysis, does it make a difference. As we begin our meditation on our humble beginnings, I would like to share a few words of Charles Darwin with you that point to a fact that most creationists conveniently fail to mention – Darwin had an incredible faith in God and would have been appalled to witness the famous Scopes trial.

“From the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one, and that…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.” (Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species)

“Man, with all his noble qualities…with his godlike intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system…still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” (Charles Darwin – The Descent of Man)

There was a side to Darwin that was completely awed by the mystery and grandeur of the natural world, and by the wonderful intellect of humankind that has been able to unlock so many mysteries of science and the solar system. But to suggest to Darwin that God was in no way involved in the process would have been tantamount to heresy.

So I ask you again – does it make a difference? Does it make a difference how we got to where we are as a human civilization if we acknowledge, as Darwin did, that the Creator of it all was God? Even the account that we read this morning conflicts with the second account of creation that we find in Genesis 2. The important point for us to remember is the opening line of the Bible – In the beginning God created…” Whether it was the literal seven days or the billions of years of evolution that science has uncovered, the point is that we have come from God.

Let us turn now to the words of Jesus in the ending words of Matthew: “And lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” What is the end of the age? The early church members believed that the end was imminent, but it wasn’t. Revelation lists the plagues that will come, but they haven’t. On a regular basis television shows have attempted to literalize the prophecies of Revelation, but we have had earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars and chaos for centuries, and still, the end has not come. But Matthew assures us that Jesus will still be with us – even at the end of the age – even if we refer to it as the age of humankind.

So what do we do in the middle? What do we do and what do we believe between creation, or our creation, and the end of the world, or our own earthly end? We are told that God was there at the beginning and God will be there at the end. Why do we have so much difficulty believing and working with the concept that God is with us always?  Jesus said it in Matthew – I am with you always.

Do we make decisions that are in keeping with God’s will? Or, do we do what we please, because God will forgive and God will always be there? Do we blame God for the actions of humankind that produce illness and pain, suffering and death? Or do we believe that we make decisions because God created us with free will, and it is really we who make the decisions that create the pain and suffering in the world, not God?

 

Would we feel better if God were a puppet master pulling our strings and choreographing our every move? Would that give us leave to blame God? Or, is the real truth that we simply do not want to claim responsibility for another’s pain and suffering?

Do we blame God for the natural disasters that can take the lives of hundreds and thousands of people when we have taken very few steps to stop the devastation that can occur from an earthquake, a tidal wave, a volcanic eruption, or global warming?

It can be very convenient to view God in black and white terms. To say that God punishes when nature erupts, that God is not with us when things don’t turn out the way we want them to, that people are being punished for their sins when disaster befalls them. But ultimately, if we truly believe in God as 21st century Christians, the truth lies in our faith in a loving God.

It is that God who has given Darwin and people like him the ability to examine the wonders of science and nature. It is God who has given each of us the special talents that we can use to make this world a better place. It is God who has given us the free will and the intellect to take our investigations to the boundaries of knowable science and has given us the courage to search for the answers hidden in this world around us.

In the beginning, God…

Always with us, God…

To the end of the age, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.