Friday, December 30, 2016
A number of years ago, I was sitting up in bed, holding my time-worn leather study bible in my hands, feeling a bit lost. I had been going through the motions of reading scripture, and studying word meanings and historical context. But, admittedly, it had been a while since I felt the aliveness of God's word in the pages. I felt a bit like a family dog, desperately digging holes in the backyard, but forgetting where I had buried the bone. I was faithfully reading the bible, but I kept coming up empty. I couldn't hear his voice.
So I sat with the book propped up on my knees, and I decided it was time to start again. Instead of digging into Jesus' words in the New Testament, or turning to the sage words of the prophets, or closing my eyes and letting the book fall open (c'mon, you know you've done it), I would begin again at the beginning. Book one. Genesis.
I said a prayer.
God, I've read this a thousand times. I don't want to read it again the same way. Show me something new. Reveal yourself to me, through your word, in a new way.
And then I opened my bible. It's not easy to describe what happened next, or over the course of the next week, but I can tell you that God met me in Genesis. He revealed himself as the Creator in a new and marvelous way.
When the Spirit of God hovered over the deep in the beginning, I saw God spreading his wings like a majestic eagle over the emptiness, his creation resting in his heart and mind before it ever was. I pictured him with his eyes closed, taking in a deep breath, sustaining it for a moment in his lungs -- holding us there -- and then breathing out the universe.
God was there. In the beginning. And knowing all that was and all that would be, he said yes to us. I scribbled furiously in my notebook and a study begin to take shape that I would share with my bible study group in the following months.
It was way too easy to get caught up in my day-to-day life at the time, and to drag God into my trials of "Please, God, help my baby stop crying." (Remembering this feeling, I just experienced some nausea.) But it is another thing altogether to turn outward, to look into the starry night sky and imagine the mind-boggling expanse of the universe. To zoom out of our planet, out of our solar system, out of our galaxy, and into the darkness. To know that our God is out there, that he is everywhere, and that he is also with us on earth, in a home, in a room, with a mother and her nursing baby.
It was the newness I needed to sustain me.
There's a book that I'm reading right now that reminded me of that time in my life. It's so honest, so thoughtful, and so tender. I'm hesitant to even share about it, because it goes against the establishment of the church in many ways. But it is life, and it is the truth of God that sustained this man's faith. God breathed into him in a way that I could recognize. In a way that resonated with me.
Mike McHargue (aka "Science Mike" on the Internet) is a man who grew up Baptist, rejected the scriptures at a time in his adult life when his parents were divorcing, and spent two years as an atheist. He missed the idea of God, but he couldn't reconcile science and the bible, fact and faith.
Then, the book describes how McHargue has a supernatural experience that brings him back to God. He wrestles deeply with the infallibility of the scriptures, but he can see God in the waves, in the night sky, and in the experiences that he has through prayer and meditation. He recognizes that science can't explain it all, and that's where God meets him. The inexplicable and infinite God. Call it blasphemy if you want, but what it most reminds me of is Abraham getting a vision from God, or of Moses seeing God's presence in a burning bush. They built a relationship, based not on any revelation from scripture, as the written law did not yet exist, but on an experience that could not be explained away. They loved and followed the God of wonder.
The way that McHargue describes creation is what brought me to write this today. It took my breath away. He starts off by explaining the expanding universe in terms of the redshift of galaxies, and how that's a measurable expansion. And if you reverse the math, you can begin to see the origin of the universe as a singular point, called the Initial Singularity. (This is what scientists explain as the thing that existed right before the Big Bang.) "In the Initial Singularity, the laws of physics didn't exist as we know them now. In fact, back then, space-time was so compressed that matter and energy were the same thing, and the four fundamental forces of physics (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces) were just one unified field or force. There was no light and no dark, no separation of space, matter, or energy" (McHargue 147).
Although this is fascinating, it isn't the part that got my motor running. Here's the part that brought me to tears.
"When I read about the Singularity, I think of God. We're talking about a unified energy that caused everything to be, that is beyond language and our math, beyond our very imagination. This thought drives me to a state of profound reverence and awe. I was there, billions of years ago, in that Singularity, as were all my ancestors and descendants. Every star that's been born, every star that has dies, was there, too. So was every particle that makes up every atom in the universe. All was there, together, in the beginning of everything."
As I read, I remembered God hovering over the emptiness in Genesis. The Spirit of God (literally, Ruwach Elohiym or "Breath of God") moving in dynamic force to release the creation. For me, this scientific theory of the entirety of what can be known or seen in the universe in a mystifyingly compacted state is not contrary to my faith. Instead it is a beautiful picture of us all huddling there together, in a small marble of substance, with our God holding us inside himself, and then as we explosively move forth from the singular being of God, we are breathed out and released by his Spirit to expand over an unfathomable range.
Thanks, science. Just like McHargue, my faith has been deepened today.
McHargue, Mike. Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again through Science. New York: Convergent, 2016.