An accident of life?

North New South Wales church planting director Dr Sven Ostring reflects on how unlikely it is that he—or any of us—ever came into existence at all!

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I could have been half-Brazilian. I have always been thrilled at the very thought of this possibility! Imagine this—I could have been an incredibly friendly, warm, huggable, talkative Swedish-Brazilian. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

Let me explain. When my grandfather was working in a mine in Lapland in Sweden, it finally dawned on him one dark, cold Swedish winter that life would be much easier if he took his family to live in a warmer country. So, he pulled out a map of the world and the two countries that leaped off the page were Australia and Brazil. Which one would he choose? After much soul-searching and weighing up the two options, my grandfather chose Australia. But! My grandfather could have decided to take my nine-year-old father to Brazil instead—that’s why I could have been half-Brazilian.

At least that is what I thought for many years. Then the reality finally dawned on me—I could never have been half-Brazilian. If my grandfather had decided to go to Brazil, my father would have married a Brazilian woman who was not my Kiwi mother Elizabeth. Then later, my Swedish father and his Brazilian wife would have had different little half Swedish, half Brazilian boy who wasn’t me. When that little boy grew up, he would have gone to work each day and come home to spend time with his kids in the evening, but that Swedish-Brazilian man would not have been me. The sobering reality is that I simply would never have existed at all if my grandfather decided to go Brazil instead of Australia.

It’s possible that I never came into existence. I am alive because my grandfather accidentally choose Australia.

Not only is it possible that I never existed, but it is also incredibly unlikely that I actually came to exist at all. When my parents decided to have a baby, there were a million other sperm that could have united with that expectant ovum. If any other sperm was the lucky winner in the reproductive grand prix, then another person would have been born, and not me. This is no hypothetical possibility—I have tangible evidence to prove it! There was another sperm that did unite with another ovum at that time, and the result was that my twin sister Genevieve was conceived. There were two winners standing on the podium of that reproductive race, and, as much as I would like to think that I was the only possible winner and wish that I could gently push her off that level of the sibling stage, Genevieve will always be a constant reminder to me that I wasn’t the only conceivable possibility.

It is not only possible that I never existed. It is also highly unlikely that I eventually came to exist. It is a rather confronting realisation, but the fact is that it’s true. I am alive as a result of an accidental, one-in-a-million winner in the race for reproduction.

There is another final possibility. Unless I receive divine intervention, there is a very real possibility that I will cease to exist. I could contract a coronavirus in Bergamo, Italy, I could be caught in the middle of a mega bushfire on the Gospers Mountain, New South Wales, or I could be taking off on a faulty Boeing 737 Max over the Java Sea, and in a moment, my life would be snuffed out. I would become a protein source for ants, dandelions, or mackerel. After all of my hard work, my life could be taken away in an accident.

As I reflect deeply on how unlikely and fragile our lives really are, it is so easy to see why Solomon blurted out, “Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless!”1 Is there anything solid and substantial in life?

Solomon’s conclusion was: God! But what about God, though? Is it possible that God does not exist? Is it unlikely that God exists?

Professor Richard Dawkins from Oxford University thinks so. In his bestseller The God Delusion, Dawkins has argued that God almost certainly does not exist.2 He believes that we should not give up hope that physics will one day provide us with a better explanation for the universe. His confidence is based on the fact that many scientists believe that Darwin successfully explained the biological life that we find in this world. Richard Dawkins was so confident in this conclusion that he stepped out in faith to be the primary donor for the London bus campaign with the advertising slogan:

There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

His step of faith was well rewarded. The campaign was aiming to raise £5,500, but ended up with £153,523.3 That’s almost 28 times what they were originally hoping for, which is very impressive! However, there are reasons to doubt Dawkins’ very low estimate that God exists. In fact, on multiple occasions, Dawkins’ embarrassed academic colleague Michael Ruse publicly made this comment about Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist.”4 I believe that it is Richard Dawkins’ turn to feel a bit uncomfortable now!

In his book The Existence of God, Oxford Professor Richard Swinburne has considered a number of key reasons for believing that God exists.5 These reasons include:

  1. The origin of the universe: God is the transcendent Cause of the universe.
  2. The design in the universe: God is the Designer who finely tuned our universe and who designed the irreducibly complex systems that we find in nature.
  3. The foundation for moral values: God is the Lawgiver of the objective moral values which are essential for our safety and ability to flourish.
  4. The origin of consciousness: God is where our consciousness originally came from.
  5. Miracles: God is the supernatural Power who performed the miracles that were recorded in the Bible and that, at various times, people experience today.
  6. Religious experience: God is the reason why so many people have powerful personal religious experiences.

After carefully considering all of these reasons, Professor Swinburne concluded that there are so many cumulative reasons that it is very likely that God exists.

"It is a rather confronting realisation, but the fact is that it's true. I am alive as a result of an accidental, one-in-a-million winner in the race for reproduction."

But the fascinating reality is there is another aspect to the nature of God that gives us even more confidence that He is real. Both an exploration of the origin of the universe and a careful study of the very nature of God’s existence point to the fact that God simply exists and that it is impossible for God not to exist.6 What this means is that it is impossible that God came into existence and that He will ever cease to exist.

God Himself affirmed that this is true when He told Moses His name, “I Am”. He was telling Moses that He exists, pure and simple. There is no variation or shadow of turning in God’s existence and His core nature. It is possible that you and I never existed, and that the universe never existed, but God simply exists and it is impossible for God not to exist.

This amazing realisation comes even closer to home for us, because this is the very nature of Jesus—that kind, wonderful supernatural Physician who roamed around the Galilean country side healing people who were sick and dying. As Jesus’ little assorted band of fisherman, tax collectors and other Jewish randoms struggled to keep up with His healing ministry, one of the things that they realised was that the Man who was striding ahead of them was truly divine. That means it is impossible for Jesus not to exist. It also means that it is impossible that He came into existence or that He will ever cease to exist. Their eyes must have been as big as saucers as they looked at each other with that unspoken question that they could not dismiss, “Who is this Man?!”

Jesus Himself claimed that same name: “I Am”. “Silence fell upon the vast assembly. The name of God, given to Moses to express the idea of the eternal presence, had been claimed as His own by this Galilean Rabbi. He had announced Himself to be the self-existent One, He who had been promised to Israel, ‘whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity.’”7 When reflecting on how Jesus comforted Lazarus’ sister Martha that He had the power to raise her brother back to life, Ellen White wrote, “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”8 Even when Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, He died for us as the incarnate Son of God. His divine nature did not die. As Ellen White has so clearly pointed out, with insight well beyond her third grade education, “When Christ was crucified, it was His human nature that died. Deity did not sink and die; that would have been impossible.”9 This explains why “the Saviour came forth from the grave by the life that was in Himself”.10

It is possible that you and I never existed at all. It is also very possible that we could cease to exist. Because that reality is so familiar to us, we might be confronted by the very stark uncertainty in our lives, which seem like a series of random accidents. However, the incredibly comforting truth is that there is Someone whose existence is absolutely rock solid and certain. He still walks this planet, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, comforting, healing and building the faith of everyone who will turn their eyes upon Him. What incredibly good news!

  1. Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NLT).
  2. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2008).
  3. The fundraising page is still available here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/atheistbus.
  4. Michael Ruse. “Dawkins et al bring us into disrepute” The Guardian, 2 November 2009. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/nov/02/atheism-dawkins-ruse.
  5. Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
  6. These philosophical explorations of the nature of God are called the cosmological argument and the ontological argument. The technical expression is that God exists necessarily, while we exist contingently. To delve into the idea that God exists necessarily, check out the book by Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974).
  7. Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, 469.
  8. Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, 530.
  9. Ellen White, Letter 280, September 3, 1904. Available at https://egwwritings.org/?ref=en_Lt280-1904&para=10626.1.
  10. Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, 785.