From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor’s Study
God of the Gaps
Nov 23, 2022
In past centuries, when a particular phenomenon could not be understood, Christians would say triumphantly, “This is proof that there is a God.” For example, before the invention of powerful electron microscopes, how a cell worked was unknown. The amazing process by which cells in our bodies multiply was said to be the handiwork of God. Or, as another example, scientists could sense that there were forces in the heavens that we did not understand, and many concluded that these forces were proof of the existence of a powerful God at work in the universe.
Attributing what was unknown to God was called “God-of-the-gaps” theology. Anything we don’t understand (gaps in our knowledge) is attributed to God. There is a significant problem with this theology, however, and it is this: as we understand more and more about the universe in which we live, especially the really big stuff and the really small stuff, the less we can attribute to God. In other words, as the gaps become smaller, God becomes smaller. God-of-the-gaps theology, while it seems helpful in proving the existence and presence of God, turns out to be quite dangerous. While we will never understand everything about the universe in which we live, we are understanding more and more, and if we hold to God-of-the-gaps theology, God will eventually become unnecessary and irrelevant.
God-of-the-gaps theology has also made its inroads into our prayer lives. Most often we pray only for those things which we cannot do ourselves. So, for example, when someone has an illness or medical problem that can be quickly and easily healed by modern medical technology and pharmaceuticals, we tend not to pray about that. On the other hand, when we are faced with a medical problem for which there is no known solution (e.g. cancer or some other progressive debilitating disease), it is then that we turn to the Lord in prayer. God becomes a God-of-the-gaps-of-our-problems, and we turn to him only when we really need him. As we become more and more adept at solving many of our problems ourselves, God becomes less and less necessary and, as a consequence, irrelevant.
Already many have made God just that. For the last 300 years or so we have seen huge advances in our understanding of the creation. A lot of what we could not know 100 years ago has now been revealed to us through powerful and amazing technological advances. The gaps in our understanding and the gaps in finding solutions to our problems are becoming smaller. True, there will always be gaps, but we do not doubt that we will eventually figure those out as well. As a result, we tend to depend less and less on God as we gain understanding and self-sufficiency. The existence of God and his intervention in this world has become, for many, little more than an outdated fairy tale.
Yet, even as we gain understanding of the physical world and even as we find more and more solutions to our problems, we are discovering that the naturalistic theories are becoming insufficient to explain our origins, for example. (A naturalistic theory is one that provides an explanation for something in the universe that does not necessitate the existence of God.) The naturalistic theory of atheistic evolution, for example, is showing its insufficiency, for example, when we consider the incredible intricacy of a single-celled organism. A single-celled organism is nearly as complex as a multi-celled organism (a fish or a dog or a human), and the big difference between the two is not complexity but quantity. Humans are comprised of trillions of incredibly complex cells while a single-celled organism has only one incredibly complex cell. A simply evolutionary explanation is not adequate to explain how a single cell could come into existence all by itself.
What we are seeing, therefore, is a scrambling among naturalists to come up with theories that will explain how this world can exist without God. So far, there has been no good answer. Of course, as Christians we must be careful not to say triumphantly, “So this proves the existence and presence of God,” because to do so would be to revert to the God-of-the-gaps theology again. One day naturalistic scientists may one day come up with a much better theory than the one they are currently working with, and that would again make God irrelevant.
So, what is the Christian stance? Simply put, our response begins with faith. If we begin with the belief that God exists, then we are given the opportunity to marvel at creation and all of its intricacies. We can be confident that God knows how everything works even if we don’t, and we can rejoice that God has given us the opportunity and privilege to study the universe and all of its parts so that we can understand it. As we do, through faith we can see the hand of God in everything, and we rejoice that not only humanity but all of creation is fearfully and wonderfully made. When we make a discovery (e.g. a new medication that cures a previously deadly illness), we rejoice that God has so created the world that the solution to many of our problems can be found in the very world that he made and in which we live. Instead of thinking of God as the God-of-the-gaps, we understand him to be the God of all, and we glorify him when we learn about the world which he made.
This view of God is much more robust that a God-of-the-gaps theology. For example, in our prayers, instead of just turning to God when there is no available solution to our problem (a gap), we can praise him for all that we have. In fact, when a solution to a previously unsolved problem is discovered, this does not make God less relevant; instead, it makes us realize that God has built into creation that very solution, and we thank him that we have been able to discover it. A lot of times God answers our prayers by directing us to the solution he has already provided but we have yet to discover. True, we also recognize that there are many times that God does intervene in creation in miraculous ways (ways that do not follow normal ways that creation is designed to operate), and we thank God for that as well. But even if God does not provide a miracle and yet healing takes place in a way that is entirely natural, we recognize that he ultimately provided an answer to prayer by already building the answer into the creation.
When we view this world with faith, we cannot fail to see God. (Of course, if we choose not to believe, we will be blinded to him, as many people are.) When we look at creation with the foundation that God exists and is present and intervening in this world, we will never cease to be amazed at what a wonderful God we have. And when scientists make new discoveries and increase our understanding, instead of making God irrelevant, they are revealing that God is bigger and more wonderful than we thought. May we look with eyes of faith at this world, and as we do, grow in our awe at what an incredible God we serve.