Tuesday, October 4, 2022

God, Creation, and Space

Some Christian apologists (e.g., William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross) contend that it is scientifically proven that the physical universe began from an infinitely dense point of space (the so-called Big Bang singularity), which marked the creation also of space and time. They contend that, if space and time did not exist before creation, then the universe must have been created by a cause transcending space and time, which they equate with God.

Did space and time really begin to exist along with the physical universe? or did our physical universe begin within a pre-existing space and time? 

In a previous post, we argued that God and time existed before the creation of the physical universe. In this post, we shall consider what the Bible says about God, creation, and space.

What is Space?

What do we mean by "space"? Very roughly, "space" forms the background for reality. Space makes it possible for things to exist. Generally, for something to "exist" means that it can be found somewhere, at some location within space. Even immaterial spirits, who may lack any spatial extension, still have a spatial location 

Since unicorns haven't been as yet found anywhere in the real physical world, we assume they don't presently "exist." On the other hand, the idea of a unicorn exists in my mind, which is located spatially within my brain.

Space can be viewed as a "container" in which objects can exist at different "locations". Space can also be seen as a set of relations between different existing objects. Space enables us to separate objects, and to distinguish between them.

Space in the Bible

What does the Bible say about space and creation? The Bible relates:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Gen.1:1-2)

The first creative act of Day 1 was thus the creation of heaven and a watery earth, from which the entire physical universe was later formed (Gen.1: 6-19). A few points of cosmological interest can be noted.

1. A finite bounded physical universe

First, the waters covering the earth are said to have a "face" or surface. The initial physical universe could thus be viewed as a finite, bounded volume of matter. Further, since darkness and the Spirit of God are found "over the face", beyond the created matter, the finite physical universe seems to be embedded within a larger space, empty of material things.

2. The heavenly realm

Second, in addition to the physical universe, God created also a heavenly realm. The Bible speaks about "heaven" or the "heavens" (Hebrew shamayim, which is always plural) in three different senses. Heaven can refer to the atmosphere, in which birds fly (Gen.1:20), the celestial realm of the stars (Gen.1:14), or to the heaven of heavens, where God's throne is found (Ps.103:19). Since the first two senses of heaven are situated within the "expanse" formed on Day 2, the "heavens" of Day 1 probably refers primarily to the heaven of heaven, which was created by God (Ps.33:6). Hereafter, all references to "heaven" refer to heaven in the latter sense.

William Craig believes that heaven is a purely spiritual realm, beyond space-time, inhabited entirely by non-physical beings. Thus he contends that Christ presently has no physical body. However, Craig gives no grounds for why heaven could not be another space-time realm beyond that of our physical universe.

Indeed, the biblical heaven is no mere spiritual abstraction but has a concrete spatial aspect. Jesus called heaven a "place" (John 14:2). The Bible describes it as being above the earth, a place from which God looks down onto the earth (Ps.14:2) and to which Christ ascends (Acts 1). Michael and his angels fight in heaven against Satan and his angels, who were defeated, and "neither was their place found anymore in heaven" (Rev.12:7-8). Angels, even as spirits, occupy places in heaven (or earth), and can be displaced. Since angels and demons can act effectively within our physical world, it is evident that not all physical events can be explained in terms of purely physical laws.

The biblical evidence supports the notion that Christ currently does have a physical body. In his ascension, he is taken up into heaven in bodily form (Acts 1:9-11). As the first fruits of the resurrection, Christ had received a permanent glorified body (1 Cor. 15: 23). Also, Christ's human body seems to be a necessary part of his human nature (Hebr. 2:17). 

Moreover, heaven contains other physical things, such as the human bodies of Enoch and Elijah, God's temple containing the ark of the covenant (Rev.11:19), a sea of glass, harps, linen clothing, etc. The heavenly visions of John picture God seated on a throne surrounded by angels, elders, and saints.

Normally, heaven is invisible to man. However, it is sometimes opened (see, for example, II Kings 6:17, Eze.1:1, Mark 1:10, John 1:51), so that man may catch a glimpse of heavenly things. Heaven, although invisible, is nearby, like a universe parallel to our physical universe. How heaven intersects with our physical universe is at present a mystery. Perhaps both are embedded within a larger, multi-dimensional space. 

God and Space

We are told that God made heaven and earth, and all that is in them, but not that He created the larger space containing heaven and earth. This leaves open the possibility that space existed already before the creation of our universe.

1. Omnipresence and universal time

This raises the question of how God relates to space. The Bible affirms that God is not a spaceless abstraction but, rather, a triune, personal, living God who is fully present everywhere at the same time (his omnipresence). God fills heaven and earth (Jer. 23: 24); in him, we live and have our being (Acts 17:27-28). In fact, not even earth and heaven can contain God (1 Kings 8:27). God's presence extends beyond the universe He has created, and is without spatial limits (his immensity).

God's omnipresence is intimately related to his knowledge of what is happening everywhere (part of his omniscience) and his ability to control all that is happening (his omnipotence). Further, since God is fully present everywhere at once, and since only the present moment of time exists, each location within the universe exists at the same moment of time. There is thus a universal time throughout creation: earth, the rest of the physical universe, and heaven all follow the same universal time.

2. God's throne at the center

However, although God is omnipresent, he does not manifest Himself everywhere in the same manner. God the Father dwells more fully "in heaven" (Matt.6:9), seated on His throne (Psalm 47:8), from where He sometimes visits the earth (e.g., Gen.11:5-7). 

Since God rules and judges from his heavenly throne, this forms the central position, the ultimate standard of rest, for the universe. Although God's throne is not necessarily at the exact geometric center of the universe, it is the prime focal point for the theocentric universe. In the next life, God's throne will be moved from heaven to the New Jerusalem, situated on the transformed earth. 

3. God's own space?

Where did God reside before he created our universe? Since the Bible does not directly address this question, theologians can only speculate.  Some theologians have conjectured that God has always lived in His own, uncreated, higher-dimensional space (see Jan Muis, 2021 "Our Spatial Reality and God", HTS Theological Studies 77(3), a6890)

For example, the Dutch theologian Luco van den Brom (Van den Brom, L.J. 1991 "Interpreting the Doctrine of Creation" in Vincent Brummer (ed.), Interpreting the Universe as Creation. Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1991) proposes that God exists spatially in his own more-dimensional, perhaps even infinite-dimensional, universe. He reasons that, if God has existed from everlasting, and if God is spirit, then God's place, the spiritual world, must have always existed. Consequently, Van den Brom suggests that, in his act of creation, God made room for the created 3-d physical world and the created heaven3 in his own higher dimensional world.

Some Cautions

Although I endorse the notion of a spatial heaven, beyond our three physical dimensions, and of a deeper spatial reality even beyond that, a few words of caution are in order. 

First, any higher dimensions may be qualitatively quite different from those of the 3-d physical world. In these higher dimensions physical laws, such as the limited speed of light, may not apply or may take on very different forms. Nor should these higher dimensions be confused with the extra-spatial dimensions required by, for example, superstring theories in physics, the latter being little more than mathematical abstractions. 

Second, our knowledge of God and of the spiritual realm is confined to what God has revealed to us in his Word, which is very limited. As finite, fallen humans, we are surely in no position to fully understand God. Hence, we must be careful regarding speculations about God. Certainly in this life, we are constrained to look through a glass darkly. 


From the biblical evidence, we can draw the following conclusions about time, space, and creation.

1. Time, and possibly space, existed before the creation of heaven and the physical universe.

2. The physical universe is finite and bounded, contained within a larger space.

3. Heaven exists within its own space, containing physical objects. It is parallel to the physical universe, with which it can interact.

4. The physical universe and heaven both partake of the same universal time.

5. The focal point of the entire creation is God's heavenly throne, which may serve as the prime reference point in physical and heavenly space.

Current mainstream cosmology, on the other hand, views the physical universe as all that exists, having no edges, center, or preferred position, and where space-time cannot exist in the absence of matter. The scientific evidence regarding these issues shall be examined in a later post.



George van Popta said...

Hello Dr. Byl. I'm no scientist and some of this went beyond me, but I found it very interesting.

john byl said...

Thanks, George.

Unknown said...

Dr Byl

I'm having a very difficult time with your idea that somehow God didn't create the void (space) along with everything else. I would think that means space is as eternal as God, that a thing that is not God is essential infinite. And this brings a question to my mind. Why must we think of God in spatial terms at all. I don't think that spirit has to take upon itself any kind of spatial qualities at all, and the bible doesn't shed any light on this at all. It's highly speculative IMO.

john byl said...

Thanks for your comment.

You wonder whether something other than God can exist eternally. I address this question in my post “God and necessary truths”. There I conclude that necessary truths, such as those in math and logic, pose no challenge to God's sovereignty or freedom since they are established and upheld by God, ultimately deriving from God's very character. The same thing could apply to space.

Why think about God in spatial terms at all? Because that’s how the Bible reveals God to us. However, since the Bible doesn’t directly address how God relates to space before the creation of the physical world, I concur that answers to this question are largely speculative, as I noted in my post.

By the way, I like to know who I am responding to, so next time please use your name (or email it to me), as per my comment rules. Thanks.