Spirit and nature, faith and reason: Christ is Lord of all
How faith relates to reason and how the spiritual world relates to the physical are issues that lead to much angst and confusion these days. Back in the 17th century, in defending the Copernican view that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa, Galileo made the claim that “the Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go”. In much more recent times, Stephen Jay Gould towards the end of his life cited with approval the view that the Bible tells of the Rock of Ages, not the ages of the rocks.
There is some truth in these statements. When the Bible says that the moon is the lesser light to the sun (Gen. 1:16), it is not claiming that the moon is a source of light and operates as a smaller kind of sun. It is only speaking of how we see their respective lights – in the moon’s case, reflective light – from here on earth.
Similarly, when the book of Ecclesiastes says that the sun rises and goes down, it is not siding with Ptolemy against Copernicus, but speaking as a weather reporter does today. To us, it appears that the sun rises and sets. So the statements of Galileo and Gould seem a neat and tidy solution to the difficulty: the Bible speaks of spiritual truth, and science of physical truth. However, such a neat and tidy solution has opened the door to a worldview that is decidedly unbiblical. For example, on August 23, 1907, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of NSW, Rev. Philip Norman, addressed the students at St Andrew’s College in Sydney University on The Trend of Modern Thought. He began by asserting that “we live today in a new world, which science, criticism and philosophy have created for us”. Referring to the Bible, and its spiritual aims, he stated: “If it is suitable to this end, and, wherever honestly studied and practiced, attains it, then no verbal inaccuracies, no apparent or real discrepancies between it and modern science, and colouring which it may bring down to us from remote and less perfect times, can weaken its claims upon our reverence and affection, or unfit it to achieve its noble purpose.”
A radical dichotomy was created between the spiritual world and the natural world. Norman still believed in the supernatural claims of Christ, but restricted the scope of the authority of Scripture: “I can say with Kant that two
things impress me: the starry heavens above me, and the moral law within me; and to both worlds I desire to be faithful. To science we owe our choicest blessings in the sphere of the material, and to Jesus Christ our choicest
blessings in the sphere of the spiritual. The blessings of our commercial and industrial life we owe in large measure to science; the influences which tend to control and humanise and sweeten our lives and unite us into happy homes and happy communities, we owe to Christianity.”
It all makes it appear that Christ can rule our lives when it comes to reading the Bible and praying, but the rest of the world – what many would call the real world – has nothing to do with Him.
The reality is that Christ is Lord of all of life, not just what we might call the spiritual and moral parts (see Col.1:15- 20). God reveals Himself in history. Luke tells us that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world of the Roman Empire should be registered (Luke 2:1). The Old Testament refers to Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian kings. Nebuchadnezzar, Darius and Cyrus are figures in the Bible as well as what we would call secular history books.
For that matter, Adam is presented as a real man in a real place, just as Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead in real time and space. John North and Robert Forsyth tell of a man who had thought of the Gospels as good moral
stories like Aesop’s Fables. When he finally decided to read Matthew’s Gospel, he was shattered. Matthew begins with a genealogy, a list of 42 names (Matt.1:1-17). What might seem like an unpromising way to grab any reader’s attention – a genealogy – was exactly what the man needed to hear. Fairy tales and poetry books do not contain genealogies; history books do.
For convenience, we may think in terms of two spheres, but Christ is Lord of both, and the Bible portrays both accurately and truthfully. The truth is not schizophrenic; it is an harmonious whole under Him who is truth incarnate.
Peter Barnes is editor of AP