Does it? Do the heavens declare the glory of God? When you look at the heavens, do you see written/declared/proclaimed, God’s glory?
I think I was about 15 when I came across Bertrand Russell’s slim volume Why I am not a Christian and I declared to my friends and my teachers, probably pretentiously, to shock, that I was no longer a Christian. When I looked into the heavens, I may have seen something inspiring, but I would have told myself that it had nothing to do with God.
Well, as you can see, as the years went by I changed my views. But I never lost my respect for the scientific method and for the vision and purpose of science, nor sensed any real clash between the purposes of science and religion. Even back at the Renaissance, there was a clear demarcation between what was called natural philosophy (what we call science), which concentrated on empirical evidence from nature, and theology’s concentration on the world beyond. Interestingly, Sir Isaac Newton wrote as much about the Book of Revelation as about the theory of gravity.
So it seems particularly baffling to me, why so much fuss is made about the teaching of science in schools in our country. To try to mix the empirical scientific method, with a priori theories about God, creationism or intelligent design seems wrong-headed. In my own experience, especially the experience of coming to faith, they are different languages, science and religion, employing different modes of perception.
I taught for five years in a high school in England. We weren’t too far away from Cambridge, and one day we invited Prof. Stephen Hawking to speak to our students. You’ll remember A Brief History of Time, which many people bought, but not so many managed to read!
As you know, he suffers from cerebral palsy, and speaks through a machine. After his lecture, a group of us had lunch with him and his then wife. The conversation turned to questions of God and religion. He would not be drawn on whether he believed in God or not, but one phrase he used has stayed with me. He is a committed scientist, but he said, “in life there are other sources of inspiration.” I found that helpful, because it rang true to my own experience. My own encounter with God came from “another source of inspiration,” which I would call the mystical.
Albert Einstein once wrote this: “The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is of the mystical: it is the source of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand wrapped in awe – is as good as dead.”
“The heavens declare the glory of God
And the firmament shows his handiwork.”
It is not the task of natural scientists to speculate as to whether God is the author of the heavens. But there are “other sources of inspiration,” as Stephen Hawking put it, and when we stand with Einstein, wrapped in awe, gazing into the heavens, we may indeed experience with the Psalmist, something of the glory of God.
My point is that different methods are appropriate for different focuses of study. The scientific method is not appropriate for examining Gd.
There is an extraordinary poem by the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas, called Raptor. It is about our vain attempts to measure and examine God – the God who comes to us in awesome and fearful ways. This is how the poem begins:
“You have made God small,
setting him astride
a pipette or a retort
studying the bubbles
absorbed in an experiment
that will come to nothing.
I think of him rather
as an enormous owl
abroad in the shadows,
brushing me sometimes
with his wing, so the blood
in my veins freezes….”
Just reading it sends a shiver down my spine. God as an owl whose great wings brush me as he flies by in the night.
R. S. Thomas himself was very interested in science, and it was an important source of inspiration for him. But so was poetry, and what he has said about poetry is, I think, helpful in understanding faith and worship. He said, “Poetry is that which arrives at the intellect by way of the heart.” I think we could say the same about this act of worship. Much of what we know about God arrives at the intellect by way of the heart. Or, as Pascal put it, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing!”
Falling in love with God is not always something we can explain well rationally. We may need to turn to poetry, or to religious metaphor and imagery. This source of inspiration is hugely important. You may not be able to describe rationally why you fell in love with the person you are married to. You may not be able to examine your relationship empirically, and yet you trust this source of inspiration enough to have based probably the biggest decision in your life on it, by deciding to marry that person! “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
I believe God is drawing each of us to fall in love with God. He plants seeds of longing and desire deep within our souls, beyond the range of scientific examinations.
What brought you to God? What drew you to know and love God? What was the source of inspiration?
If you were asked why do you believe in God, what would you say?
Would you speak theology? Poetry?
Would you speak from your head? Or your heart?
What would you say?
What have you seen/heard/experienced?
What do you know to be true?
Bertrand Russell, whose book Why I Am Not a Christian had a formative effect on my adolescent life, remained an atheist to the end, but towards the end of his life he wrote these poignant words.
“The center of me is always and eternally a terrible pain. A curious, wild pain – a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite – the beautiful vision, God…I do not find it – but the love of it is my life.”
May God the great lover, may God the great owl, may God whose glory the heavens declare, may the great God never stop seeking you, till you are found and brought home to God forever.
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