MAKING SENSE OF THE UNIVERSE
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
(Job 38:1-7 NRSV)
God comes to Job out of whirlwind and speaks to him. So often when we think about the bible and creation we refer to the Genesis accounts in chapters 1 and 2 and we forget that there are other accounts found in the Wisdom literature, Job 38 being one of those accounts. If you are looking for science in the bible then I would suggest you study the Wisdom literature. Reading on in this chapter of Job you find countless reference to the natural world, we hear about lions and horses, ravens and eagles as well as reference to various constellations, the Pleiades and Orion, we hear about various meteorological phenomena, thunder, rain, dew and frost. The writer of Job is using the natural world to teach us something of God.
Does the universe in which we live make sense? Perhaps one of the best known popular books on modern physics is Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time (Bantam Press, 1988). Stephen Hawking concludes his book with a rather teasing paragraph where he writes about the possibility of discovering a complete theory, a unified theory of the cosmos, which in time will not only be known by a few scientists but it could be known to some extent by everyone and all will be able to join in discussion about why we and the universe exists. ‘If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we shall know the mind of God’ (p.175).
Unsurprisingly this phrase about knowing ‘the mind of God’ has been frequently quoted by all sorts of people. A later book that Stephen Hawking co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (Bantam Press, 2010), picks up on this idea of a unified theory. This time the phrase that caught public attention was found on the penultimate page. ‘It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper to set the universe going’ (p.180).
I would not be too alarmed, the mathematics and physics of Stephen Hawking are not really concerned about God’s existence. Even scientists who are people of faith do their sums without an assumption of God at the beginning. The Christian doctrine of creation is not primarily about the origins of the universe but is about the relationship of that universe with God at every moment of its existence.
Does the universe make sense? That is a question that underlies much of our exploration of Advent. There are many scientists who seek to explore the fine-tuning of matter and the farthest reaches of the cosmos who still will talk about a purpose lying at the heart of universe, for them the universe does indeed make sense and some even speak of God.
Take some time today to reflect upon your relationships with other people and the created world and ask yourself if they reflect what you understand to be the purposes of God.