Fr. John's Column
from the monthly magazine Ecclesia
There is a new series of radio programmes on BBC Radio 4 entitled The Secret History of Science and Religion, which traces the relationship of these two subjects over the centuries. I am looking forward to listening to it. However, I was struck recently by the tension that existed between these subjects as recorded in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon - a book of the Apocrypha probably written not long before the birth of Jesus, in Alexandria in Egypt.
During the last few days of the Easter season, the readings for Morning Prayer come from the Wisdom of Solomon. One passage from chapter 13 speaks about the foolishness of those who study the things of the natural world, and who wonder at their beauty and formation, yet fail to see the creative hand behind them. Here is the passage:
For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.
If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them. And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the one who formed them.
For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. Yet these people are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him. For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful.
Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?
As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think of how true that is of our modern age. There is an increasing understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the universe, as scientists carry on their experimental endeavour, and in a way that helps the ordinary lay person to understand the world about us. But there is a great reluctance to admit that there can be any causative entity behind it all. Indeed among some of the scientists, who have become celebrities through their presentation of science and scientific knowledge in the media in order to make it accessible to popular thought,
there is an obvious antagonism to the attempts of theologians - who do not dispute the scientific facts - to retain God as part of the equation, and who refuse to be relegated to a position where God is only a “God-of-the-gaps”. For God to be the explanation only for those things for which science has not yet found an answer, results in a God who is continually reduced in importance and effect.
Of course, there is weakness in the theological argument that says the revelation of God is only found in the pages of scripture, and our understanding of the human state restricted to what I recently heard described as a “Bronze-age” attitude of our humanity. I believe that the two or three thousand intervening years, during which the human race has sought after and achieved an increasing self-awareness, are filled with divine revelation, through the God-given gifts of human imagination, intelligence, and ingenuity. I also believe, as the Psalmist says, we should seek after God, and that our searchings, both in theology and science, should bring us to a greater not lesser sense of wonder before the Divine.
I am sure you are familiar with the passage from Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for every season under heaven; a time to be born a time to die … a time for war, and a time for peace”. It continues “God has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind” .
Indeed the human mind, though finite, has achieved understanding of the unseen, in terms of atomic physics and the outermost depths of the universe, can think mathematically in many more dimensions than the three which we commonly experience, and has postulated the possibilities of multi-universes, either in sequence or in tandem, which could have existed before the Big-bang, our might exist after our present universe implodes on itself. But none of these approaches the eternity of God.
It may be that that is the reason why people just give up on God - those who demand rationality and have no patience for mystery.; the mystery of a God who is revealed through the beauty of creation , but who has also entered into Creation through the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes
All praise we would render, O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee