When Appearances Are Deceiving
“That just doesn’t sound right.”
At one time or another, we have all had this reaction to something someone said to us. Usually what we indicate by saying this is that we sense intuitively that something is amiss in what was just communicated to us but we cannot at the moment lay our finger on just what that “something” is.
Ever since I was a kid, that was my gut reaction to those well-meaning people in my church and school who told me that despite what many in the sciences were saying, the earth and the entire universe were actually of relatively recent manufacture (say, on the order of 10,000 years of age or so). Yes, there are rocks on the earth that test out to be millions of years old but you must understand: all of those things popped into existence in one fell swoop already bearing the marks of a certain age. God created the universe in motion with the appearance of age. It looks old but it isn’t. Already on his first night in Eden, Adam was able to see stars that we can now measure to be so far away that their light would take millions of years to get here. But because God created things already in motion, that light hit Adam’s eyeballs immediately even though the universe was a scant six days old.
That never sounded right to me, but one could conceive of it. Doing such a thing would hardly be beyond an almighty God’s abilities. God could snap his fingers and create any state of being he wanted. Still, something about the whole “appearance of age” scheme nettled. After all, what God could do cannot trump what a loving and true God would do.
My “Ah-Ha” moment that confirmed my intuition that something was wrong here came a few years ago when my colleague, Deborah Haarsma, gave a guest lecture in a theology and science course I was teaching. At one point Deb said to the class that we must remember that the light that streams to us from stars and galaxies and nebulae is not just generic light—these streams of light tell a story. They represent cosmic history. All of that light is the collective memory of the cosmos. It tells us about when stars were born. It tells us about when stars matured. It tells us about when stars died (and the stages they went through en route to their deaths). Light tells a story. It tells the story of the universe.
As a preacher, I have spent years training myself to think analogically. Those of us who preach for a living (and those of us who teach for a living) know that one of our main tasks is to take complicated doctrines, theories, or concepts and try to make them plainer and easier to understand by way of analogy. We are constantly saying, “Think of this idea this way . . . “ or “I know this portion of theology sounds difficult to grasp but what if you realize that it is actually a little like this . . .”
Deb’s helpful comment that beams of light tell the universe’s story finally helped me come up with the analogy that made me hit on the “something” that was wrong with this whole scheme. Ever since then, here is what I have told people in order to convey to them what I believe is wrong with the appearance of age argument.
Saying the universe was created in motion is sort of like this: imagine you are like me, a guy who will turn 47 years of age in March of 2011. As a 47-year-old person, I have almost five decades of memories. I can remember my brother being born when I was four years old. I can remember my mother walking me to kindergarten, my family moving to a new area when I was half-way through second grade, graduating from high school, traveling to Europe for the first time, meeting my wife, and the births of my two children. This memory stream, this history of my life that appears to me in my mind, is clear and vivid and undeniable. There is nothing inside of me or in the ways I retrieve these images to tell me they are anything other than iron-clad truth. This is what has happened to me along the way. This is my story. I’ve even got pictures and videos of all those times. I have other people who were there then, too, and who confirm my memories by sharing their own.
So how would I feel if someone—based on some piece of insight they thought they had allegedly received from the Bible or some other source—told me that in reality Scott Hoezee (and everything else for that matter) had been created in motion starting at my 45th year of life in 2009? Yes, everything about me—every DNA test available, every bone scan or memory scan or any other way by which the medical establishment could determine a person’s chronological age—all of it could confirm my 47 years but . . . my actual life would be but 2 years. So what about all those memories that stream to me from 42 years ago when I started kindergarten or from 19 years ago when my first child was born? What about the pictures, the videos, the others who remember it all, too? Well, they look and sound true but strictly speaking are not. None of those things happened (not in the way the last two years’ worth of stuff happened anyway). Installing those memories (of things that never truly took place) were necessary to make Scott’s appearance of age appear authentic but all of them (all 45 years’ worth of stuff) popped into existence at the same moment Scott did a scant two years ago. The events of the last two years are as real as they appear to me. The stuff from the previous 45 years . . . not so much.
If someone told me that it was God who did this all, I would conclude that God is cruel. That sense of cruelty would only be reinforced in case it were also true that within the human sphere of things, there would be absolutely no way I could know about the falsity of all those memories because in the proper exercise of my mental faculties and in the proper use of medical technologies by which my age could be verified, there would be no earthly reason to doubt the veracity of those memories or of the full 47 years they represent.
I would feel deceived.
The history of the universe—when stars were born, when they died, and other events that come to us in the streams of light that beam toward our planet every day—may seem far less personal than the birth of my first child or my remembering when Mom took me to kindergarten. But if all that cosmic information and history are not true—and if there is no way within the normal exercise of our human abilities to measure things to know any better—then why would God build up a story of the universe’s past life in case none of it (save for the last 10,000 years) ever actually took place but was made only to look as though it took place?
I would not like God to do that to me and the story of my life as I apprehend it. But I don’t like this concept any better when it applies to life beyond myself, either. That just doesn’t sound right.
And it isn’t.
Rev. Scott E. Hoezee is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America and has served two congregations. He was the pastor of Second Christian Reformed Church in Fremont, Michigan, from 1990-1993. Then from 1993-2005 he was the Minister of Preaching and Administration at Calvin CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the spring of 2005 Scott accepted the Seminary's offer to become the first Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching. He has also been a member of the Pastor-Theologian Program sponsored by the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, where he was pastor-in-residence in the fall of 2000. He currently serves as one of three co-editors of Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought.