Saturday Sermon: Before the Beginning
Though some may believe that moving the science/faith dialogue forward is best left to scientists, scholars, and theologians, we at BioLogos recognize that our pastors play an invaluable role in the conversation. Across the globe, pastors are helping their congregations work through difficult issues of science and faith with honesty, insight, and a gentle spirit. This weekend, we begin an ongoing series recognizing sermons (and the pastors who give them) that are helping to promote the harmony of science and faith. Our first sermon comes from Rev. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Click on the picture above to hear a profound and very moving excerpt. This excerpt can be downloaded here, and the full sermon can be purchased from Redeemer’s sermon store. Finally, if you know a sermon or podcast related to science and faith that has especially spoken to you, please let us know.
Dr. Timothy Keller beautifully unravels the first three verses of Genesis 1 in his sermon titled, “Before the Beginning.” From these first verses, three fundamental truths are established. Before the beginning of God’s marvelous works, there was God, there was love, and there was darkness.
Dr. Keller provides a compelling argument for the existence of God. He opens with a discussion on an essay written by John Paul Sartre. This philosopher proposed that a created object or being can only be judged as doing the right or wrong thing if there is a definite purpose it is meant to fulfill. For example, one concludes that a paper knife is great if it indeed cuts paper. However, Sartre did not believe in a creator god or in an ultimate purpose for mankind. If humans exist for no particular reason, then there is no concept of right or wrong and no moral code by which one can be judged. Therefore, he inferred that humans had complete freedom to act in whichever way they pleased. However, Sartre spent his entire life making strong moral claims, and Dr. Keller asks, “Why?”—Well, the answer is clear: God does exist, and so value claims can be made since everything has a specific niche, an intended purpose. The implications of this truth are that each person has a destiny to live out, and it is only when that role is being fulfilled that a person will truly be free. The nature of freedom, then, is not the ability to do whatever one pleases; it is the ability to discover and realize the role for which one has been made.
Next, Dr. Keller makes this necessary distinction: there is not just a God of the universe, but there is a loving God of the universe. He explains that love existed before the beginning because God is a Trinitarian being. The first verses in Genesis mention God and the Spirit of God as hovering over the deep. Then, one reads in the gospel of John that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Therefore, Jesus is God’s word that is speaking creation into existence. Jesus’ prayer in this same gospel explains the relationship these three had before all creation. He makes it known that each distinct part of the Ttrinity was glorifying the others. It is from this glorious state of self-giving love that God’s creation is birthed. This means that love is the ultimate reality. If love is the highest goal, then relationships, not achievement or power, is what all creation was intended for.
Finally, before God acts, there is darkness and chaos. It is “under His word that there comes orderliness and light.” What is the significance of this truth? In order to find it, Dr. Keller turns his audience’s attention to the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. When God sends plagues on the Egyptians because of Pharaoh’s hard heart, the calamities are natural disasters rather than supernatural ones. God was showing humans the true effects of their sin on nature. It is sin that tears at the very fabric of His creation and causes chaos and darkness to ensue. Then, fast-forwarding thousands of years, Jesus dies on the cross. In His last moments, He cries, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This is what was happening in those moments: the chaos and destruction and darkness that sin deserves were falling directly onto Jesus himself. In the words of Pastor Keller, “Jesus is the maker who was willing to be unmade so that we might be remade.” Thus, the result of all human actions apart from God is indeed darkness and death, and the result of all that God does is perfect light and life.
The conclusion when all has been heard is this: that God created and sustains all things in and through His self-giving love. It is in this divine love that one finds purpose, and in finding purpose, so also one finds the ultimate freedom that humanity deeply longs to experience.
ADDENDUM: Please note, although we do invite your comments as we explore the theological richness of God's word in the sermon series, the comments will be restricted to Christians who are genuinely seeking to enter into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God. Those who are not Christians but are seriously seeking to explore the Christian faith as a possibility for their own lives are also very welcome to raise questions and make comments. However, this will not be a place to belittle Christianity. We ask that our atheist friends respect our purpose here. We realize that you think Christianity is irrational and we are willing to engage the profound rationality of our faith, but this is not the place to discuss that with you.
Tim Keller is pastor and founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. The “Influentials” issue of New York magazine featured Keller as “the most successful Christian evangelist in the city” for his engagement with the young professional and artist demographics. He received his bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn., his Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hampton, Mass., and his Doctor of Ministry from Westminster Theological Seminary. Keller has helped start more than 100 churches throughout the world. He is the author of Counterfeit Gods; The Prodigal God; The Reason for God: Belief of God in an Age of Skepticism -- named book of the year by World Magazine in 2008; and the recently released Generous Justice.