I’ve been shaken in my faith recently by certain thoughts about “last things,” both as physics and as faith talk about them.  The natural sciences paint a world that seems pretty meaningless.  Now I don’t buy into meaninglessness, but it appears that God was acting through secondary natural causes, and sheer scale of the universe is so massive that we seem to be insignificant.  If He acted through natural secondary causes for 13.7 billion years, I can assume that he will continue doing the same. Will there be a church in the year 22 billion AD?  The sheer scale of time makes me find that promise difficult to believe.

I also have a difficulty picturing Christ coming from heaven and renewing the cosmos – that we on planet earth in this corner of the milky way are front and center to an event of cosmos wide significance.  When else has God done something like that?  In all those billions of years why didn’t do some miracle here or there that is traceable by modern science (other than the Big Bang)?

Physicists talk about the heat death of the universe.  That might align with what the bible says about this present world passing away.  And I am afraid that is what is going to happen, because the idea that Christ will come in a cloud and judge the living and the dead, and that the cosmos will be renewed, strikes me as unbelievable.  I don't think I have the full picture, but this has caused me a lot of distress.

Thanks.  These doubts were a mighty Lenten penance, let me tell you.



In one of my favorite cartoons, three young men are hanging out and talking about the Resurrection.  The first says, “Okay, so what do you think happened to Jesus’ body after he died?”  The second replies, “I think an alien intelligence converted His entire mass into energy and beamed him into space.”  The first one responds “I think God raised Him from the dead.”  Turning to the third fellow, he asks, “What do you think?”  The third fellow points to the second one and says, “I go with the scientific view.”

It seems to me that “scientific” analyses of things like what our resurrected bodies will be like and how the new heaven and earth will come about are equally comical.  They view as absolutely valid, and apply to God’s own deeds, a set of assumptions which is only contingently valid – assumptions about the relations of mass and energy which apply only at this stage in the history of Creation, and only so long as God does not suspend them by miracle.  We know nothing whatsoever about the ways in which God may manage and arrange these things.

Take the assumption that when the Scriptures speak of the heavens and earth passing away, they are referring to the heat death of the universe.  It’s true that in a closed system, the degree of disorder will always tend to increase, for just the same reasons that my kitchen gets messy over time.  My kitchen, of course, is not a closed system, and I enter it from time to time to wash the dishes and wipe the counters.  If we assume that the universe is a closed system, then it will eventually reach a point of maximum disorder; it will run down.  But if we take seriously the causal activity of God, then the universe is no more a closed system than my kitchen is.

So predictions about what will happen to the universe are always conditioned on the assumption that God just lets the natural laws take their course.  Usually, He does, or we would never be able to count on the sun rising in the morning.  But if He always did, there would never have been a Resurrection.

Let me comment on some of your remarks one at a time.

“The natural sciences paint a world that seems pretty meaningless.”

I understand that you don’t buy into meaninglessness, but I don’t agree that the natural sciences paint such a world.  Certainly materialism does, but you don’t have to be a materialist to practice the natural sciences.  It isn’t as though scientists had a Meaning Guage they could point at the developing mind of a child, seeing the needle swing over and point to Zero.  The instrument which detects meaning is the human mind.

“The sheer scale of the universe is so massive that we seem to be insignificant.”

You are assuming that bigger things are more significant than smaller ones.  C.S. Lewis astutely criticizes this fallacy with the remark that “only a lunatic would think a man six-feet high necessarily more important than a man five-feet high, or a horse necessarily more important than a man, or a man’s leg than his brain.”  So why should we think a mountain, a solar system, a galaxy, or a cosmos more important than a human soul?

The mountain isn’t made in God’s image.  You are.  The solar system cannot love, know God, or exercise free will.  You can.  The cosmos doesn’t even know that it exists.  You do.  You are immeasurably greater than all these things.  Our Adversary wants us to bow down before mere bigness.  God wants us to bow down only before Himself.

True, a certain awe is appropriate in gazing upon a mountain.  But my awe should be for God, who can conceive and make a universe so far beyond my puny powers.  It should not be for the mountain as such.

“If God acted through natural secondary causes for 13.7 billion years, I can assume that he will continue doing the same.”

God does employ secondary causes, but they don’t limit Him.  It isn’t safe to assume that He will always and forever act through the same ones in the same way,  or to assume that the only ones He uses will be natural causes, or that He will never suspend the operation of natural causes, as He has each time He has performed a miracle.  God doesn’t see natural causes lying around and then decide to make use of them.  He created them, too.

Even concerning the physical universe, it isn’t wise to assume that whatever has happened will continue to happen with no change.  There was at first no universe; now there is a universe.  There were at first no stars; now there are stars.  There was at first no life; now there is life.  I am alive now; but I will die.

With rational agents, the assumption is even less justified.  When you were eight, you probably didn’t think much about falling in love with a girl and getting married; now you do.  You once lived in South America; then North America; now another continent.  I once repudiated God; now I have returned to faith in Him.

The same-old-same-old assumption is still less justified with God Himself.  He will do nothing which contradicts His own goodness, but that leaves an awful lot of latitude.  Who could have imagined the plan of salvation?  “Thus says the Lord,” says the prophet Isaiah:  “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”

“Will there be a Church in the year 22 billion A.D.?”

Who knows?  But in the meantime, why be frightened by how far you can imagine the future to be?  All of history thus far has been the flick of a gnat’s eyelash.  We don’t know how long God will keep the show in motion.  We don’t even know how long He will maintain time itself in existence, for time, like space, is something created.  Nations fail, and civilizations collapse.  Considering how foolish we are, human contrivance couldn’t even have kept the Church in existence until 2000 A.D., yet here we are.

Whenever Christ returns, there will be only the Church Triumphant.  Until that time, the Church Militant will remain in being, for He has promised that the gates of hell will not stand against it. 

“I also have a difficulty picturing Christ coming from heaven and renewing the cosmos -- that we on planet earth in this corner of the milky way are front and center to an event of cosmos wide significance?”

We are God’s images.  Since even a single image of God is greater than the whole cosmos, I don’t have difficulty imagining that everything else was made for rational beings.  I don’t necessarily mean just for us.  For all I know, the imago Dei is also found on a  planet in orbit around Alpha Centauri A, or somewhere in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud.

On the other hand, I don’t whether “the heavens” refers just to our heavens or to the whole cosmos.  Suppose it turned out that God did make many species of rational creatures, each in its own planet and region of the heavens.  Suppose, then, that the renewal of the heavens and the earth were in cosmic terms a local event, which might take place many times in many places.  I would marvel to learn this, but I wouldn’t be surprised by it.  God is able to do far more than that.

“When else has God done something like that?”

How do you know that He hasn’t?  Why should you even assume that He hasn’t?  But if He hasn’t, then why should He have to?

“Or why the first 13.7 billion years he did not do some miracle here or there that is traceable by modern science (well I guess the big bang might count).”

In fact, the Church rigorously investigates all sorts of alleged miracles, and involves scientists of various kinds in the investigation.  For example, it investigates alleged miraculous healings, accepting only those which really happened and cannot be explained in any other way.  Quite a few are thrown out!  But there seem to be rather a lot of them.  It has always seemed to me unreasonable for agnostics to protest that extraordinary claims, such as the Divinity of Christ, require extraordinary evidence -- then throw out extraordinary evidence.

There is excellent historical evidence even for that most astonishing of all miracles, the Resurrection itself.  Consider the fine article by philosopher Robert Lane Craig, “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  I concede that we don’t have, say phonographic, photographic, or seismographic data on the Resurrection.  But if we are going to throw out historical evidence, then as Craig points out, we may as well not believe that Julius Caesar was really a Roman emperor.

“The idea that Christ will come in a cloud and judge the living and the dead, and that the cosmos will be renewed, strikes me as unbelievable.”

I don’t even know what the Scriptures mean by Christ coming “in a cloud” – biblical language for things we haven’t directly experienced is usually figurative.  But considering the Divine Omnipotence, I don’t see why the Last Things should be unbelievable.  Sheer incredulity is not a reason to be incredulous.  It is just an impediment to considering the matter.

Good heavens, these days we are even expected to believe that scientists will be able to resurrect wooly mammoths from scraps of prehistoric DNA.  Then may we not believe that the Lord of Life can raise the dead?  Tulane University physicist Frank J. Tipler believes that through the advance of science, intelligent species will literally evolve into God, bringing everyone back to virtual life in a virtual reality.  His notion  that dependent being could turn itself into absolute Being is so muddled that one hardly knows how to argue with it.  Yet not only are arguments of this sort taken seriously by serious people, but the same serious people consider it unserious to think that God is already what He Is.  That view is so silly as to beggar imagination.

I’ll tell you something I would find unbelievable:  That the Almighty God would not vindicate His justice by judging the living and the dead, or that the Omnipotent Creator of the Universe could not make all things new!