It took me a long time to figure this out, but because I’m generous with my accrued knowledge, I’ll sum it up for you here real quick for free: The Bible is not a science textbook.
I know! It came as a shock to me too!
I embraced a biblical literalist perspective of the creation story for a long time until I couldn’t anymore. The weight of knowledge pressed down too hard on my fundamentalism to keep it together. This worldview of mine was one narrow microscope slide of the world. The book of Genesis and the creation story were oral traditions told by nomads around campfires before we had a written language.
In Love Wins, Rob Bell calls the beginning of Genesis a poem. I like that. Poems are small, pocket-sized pieces of literature that aim to capture a snapshot of an experience in words. They don’t claim to carry all of history in their lines or each scientific detail in their verses. The creation story is God’s revelation of how we came to be as told to people who thought the earth was flat and believed the sun and moon and celestial lights orbited around the earth. How could the audience of Genesis, written several millennia ago, understand anything as specific as what we know about the universe today and the details of how it came into existence?
For as much and as long as I wrestled against the theory of evolution versus the biblical literalist’s story of creation and God’s presence in it all, I know it isn’t a struggle everyone faces. Mine was a slow, years-long unfolding accompanied by a deeper study of biblical texts, historical contexts, the wisdom of teachers and pastors, and a few good books. Some books built up my ideological fortress (Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe) and others allowed for contemporary scientific knowledge, the Bible, and belief in God to snuggle comfortably on the same couch (Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson).
Meanwhile, during conversation about evolution vs. creation, my best friend shrugged one evening and said, “I just always assumed there had to be some method for God to create.”
All of this studying and reaching and wrestling and wondering gradually led me to turn my exclamation point (crazy scientists!) into an ellipsis (God . . .). There is forever more to learn about this world. The vastness of it is humbling, and it is from this position of humility—I know that I do not know—that we are able to embrace mystery.
I am listening to a book called Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith. I would have struggled to read this book as a young believer, ever ready to defend my God, who apparently, I thought, couldn’t handle a few puny humans examining his universe.
Even now, I am struggling, but for different reasons. I can hardly garner anything from this text, it’s so full of astrophysics and chemistry, and I’m one who tends to stay on the right side of the brain. But as I listen, I see God in every quark and spiral galaxy and photon mentioned. We can’t seem to magnify close enough or telescope deep enough. As our technology increases, so does each specimen’s complexity. With so much to explore, the farther we reach outward—and inward—the more overwhelmingly huge and impossibly detailed is this place.
What draws atoms together? What leads particles to combine with other particles? What binds up and defines the laws of nature and physics? What masterminded beauty, and why do we love the array of colors in sunsets? How is it that we do not just spontaneously combust? What made us curious?
From subatomic particles to vast universes of galaxies filled with hundreds of billions of stars: Here we are, very small. Very, very small.
And yet: God is personal. And universal. In the particular. In the cosmos.
Awe and wonder.
DeGrasse Tyson says early in his narrative, “We are not simply in the universe, we are part of it. We are born from it. One might even say that the universe has empowered us, here in our small corner of the cosmos, to figure itself out. And we have only just begun.”
I don’t think deGrasse Tyson would agree with me, but we could just as easily say, “We are not simply in God, we are part of God. We are born from God. One might even say that God has empowered us, here in our small corner of the cosmos, to figure him out. And we have only just begun.”
In the same way, I join with Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”.
May we reside in this mystery, ever seeking new telescopic views, and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.