So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NRSV).
The season of Advent can be described as a dose of realism before Christmas. Along with Lent it is one of the penitential seasons of the Christian year. The idea of penitence can sound a bit sombre and gloomy. At a bible study group we recently talked about Advent and the general feeling was that Advent had a tendency to be rather miserable whereas what we could do with was a bit more joy and hope.
Advent is not about feeling miserable and guilty but is concerned with helping us face reality. Advent is a season during which we grapple with the way things actually are. Thinking about things that we would rather dodge like death and judgement. Advent is also a time where we can think about God and God’s relationship with the universe in the light of the coming of Christ.
I have been asked to write this series of blogs from the perspective of science. Some of you know that before my ordination I studied Chemistry and worked as a scientist. I have had a long standing interest in the relationship between science and faith. I have been particularly influenced by three scientist-theologians, two of whom I have met and one of whom I have merely read.
The first of these scientist-theologians is John Polkinghorne (b.1930), former Professor of Mathematical Physics in Cambridge who became a Church of England Priest and who has written many books of the interaction of science and theology. Later he returned to Cambridge as President of Queens College. About the time I began my ministerial training I read about John’s ordination in New Scientist and it stoked up the fires of my own interest is science and faith.
The second scientist-theologian was Arthur Peacocke (1924-2006). Like John Polkinghorne Arthur Peacocke was also an Anglican Priest, he taught Biochemistry at Birmingham and Oxford Universities, was Dean of Clare College in Cambridge and latterly director of the Ian Ramsey Centre in Oxford. He was the founder and first Warden of an order prayer, the Society of Ordained Scientists, a society that I went on to join.
Ian Barbour (1923-2013) was the third of these scientist-theologians. He was a physicist and a theologian from the USA. He has been described as the founder of the field of science and religion. As a student I remember buying a couple of his books second-hand.
The theologies that emerged from the minds of these three giants in the field are different but all three were critical realists in both science and theology. By this I mean what is known goes some way to describing what actually is, but not completely. In the case of particle physics or astrophysics we have to make sense of masses of data and conclusions are tentative to varying degrees. In the case of theology we cannot see God, but God’s existence goes a way to making sense of religious experience.
You may say that Advent is a time when we think about unseen realities that lie beneath the surface, it provides resources and challenge for the present and hope for the future.
sometimes we struggle to understand, for you are too big.
Sometimes, we feel your presence and just know you are present with us.
Sometimes, we can rest in the faith that all will make sense one day.
Faithful God, thank you.