As high school science classes became more advanced and dug deeper into human life and origin, I had a hard time believing in God. As I began to grow more curious about the world beyond what could be perceived with the senses, what could be seen and felt and heard, what my boyfriend professed I needed to know to marry him someday, I fought hard against God.
“In light of all of this”—sweeping arm motion encompassing trees and grass and sky—“how could there be a God?” I had dissected a shark in biology class. I had seen the bodily resemblance of human systems in other creatures. I had learned Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. I loved the science behind eye color and the way the elements on either side of chemical reactions had to be equal—nothing gained, nothing lost. Nothing was lost for me; science explained everything.
Except for what was beyond the realm of the senses. God. Love. Salvation.
The guy I was dating my junior and senior years of high school took me to his church and youth group, and we dove into Scripture. Diving into Scripture was new to me, and as an amateur swimmer, there was a lot of doggy paddling to be done. Kicking and splashing. Surface-level stuff. As I began to read and learn the stories of God’s people, God began to infiltrate the seams of my day. I needed to make sense of this God.
The tradition and the guy I dated during that season was one of extremes—either you believe this or you believe that. Either you believe in Jesus and go to heaven or you don’t believe in Jesus and you spend eternity in hell. Either you believe the Bible is the literal Word of God or you don’t. Sola scriptura, I learned: only Scripture matters. Scripture is the be-all, end-all of matters of faith, religion, morals, ethics, and God. Whatever it says on a topic is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The end.
So when I read the story in the beginning of Genesis of the creation of the universe in seven days, I took it literally. This is the Word of God, after all. God-breathed, useful for teaching, rebuking, training, and correcting.
This evolution (ha!) of thought was probably gradual, but it felt sudden. One day I was driving, wondering how God could exist in light of everything that existed around me and everything I had learned in school, and the next day I saw the rays of sun colliding with the leaves of trees, the wind invisible made visible by its movement, and a spiritual switch flipped. “In light of all of this,” I murmured to myself, eyes wet with wonder, “how could there not be a God?”
In true either/or form, the study of our origins became science versus religion. The two were mutually exclusive for me—either there’s a God and evolution is bunk, or we evolved and God is bunk. By that point, my faith in God was such that I could no longer deny him, so it was easy for me to choose sides. It helped that the surrounding culture had also established this mutually exclusive relationship between science and religion. Prominent authorities on both sides were warring against the other in loud voices, each staunchly refuting the other side’s claims in spitting matches and mudslinging. It was easy to join the war and defend God and Creationism, because if God didn’t create the earth according to how he said in his Bible, then what was I supposed to do with the rest of God’s Word?
I’ve always been one who needs to know. My hunger for knowledge seems insatiable. I need facts. I need answers to these questions. Gimme gimme gimme I said to the Creator of the universe. And a funny thing happened.
Even as I held tight to my literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, the more I learned in school, the more questions emerged. What am I supposed to do with the fossil record? What am I supposed to make of the native people of other nations and continents and their apparent existence beyond a 6,000-year-old Earth? What am I supposed to do with the Milky Way, the galaxies beyond our galaxy, the broad and expansive universe?
It’s frightening when the worldview you’ve adopted comes under threat and begins to crack. In an effort to buttress my beliefs, I sought out creation scientists. I sought proof that the world was created, not evolved (those crazy scientists and their monkeys!). I sought evidence against the theory of evolution (Oh yeah? oh yeah? Well, how do you explain the eye? Irreducibly complex, buddy. Evolution is for losers.). God can do anything; even make the earth look old, I learned. I read that evolution is an attempt by Satan to undermine people’s belief in God. I heard God created in this specific way as laid out in this specific chapter of this specific book, or else.
Or else what? No God? Can science disprove God? Is God so small?
The either/or worldview is scary because it stays so shallow. We miss so much if we stay on the surface.
That first spark of revelation that spun my spirit around from “there is no God” to “there has to be a God” was only the beginning. It took years of curiosity and questioning to navigate the waters of science and religion, to learn that all truth is God’s Truth, and to open the Bible to read its truth through the voices of men whose depth of knowledge was limited by time and history and technology. Just as swim instructors show us how to go below the surface, how to plunge beyond the fear and trust the water and the lungs and our training to penetrate the depths and then emerge again into fresh, breathable air, it took other believers who were better swimmers than me to show how the Bible and its parts are not science textbook but poetry, story, song, law, history, letter, and oral tradition.
“There must be a God” is step one on a lifelong journey to getting to know the Creator of the universe. Just because there is a God and a sacred text does not mean there is nothing else. It takes a lot of energy to swim through life at a doggy paddle, maintaining narrow beliefs and arguing against a whole body of knowledge. May we learn to swim so we can experience an entire world of light refracting through the waves.