We like to know stuff. We like to understand how things work, to ask questions and receive satisfactory answers. Our culture is characterised by the endless exchange and consumption of knowledge. This has consequences for the way that we think about God. For many people, the idea of any god at all is ridiculous. I don’t think it’s ridiculous, I just think that believing in God means taking a step away from our modern way of thinking and accepting that there are some things beyond understanding.
This process of methodical, scientific understanding that we use to make sense of the world around us is a fantastic thing. I’m no scientist, but I enjoy learning about the discoveries of science and watch the odd documentary every now and then just to make myself feel a bit clever. Scientific disciplines have been instrumental in developing and improving our world and I’m thankful for that. The flipside of this is that scientific disciplines have become so dominant that the way of thinking that goes with them has also become dominant, especially in the West.
So when I talk about this scientific mindset, I’m not just talking about lab experiments and rovers on Mars, I’m talking about a way of thinking. The need to break something down to its component parts and understand it bit by bit, the discarding of a theory if it doesn’t have hard evidence to back it up, the need to constantly have our questions answered. The way I see it, even philosophy, thought by many to be the polar opposite of science, has been conquered by this scientific way of thinking. In many cases, this is a great way of thinking – it’s cautious and rational and all that – but it’s not the only way.
Have a look at this short extract from John Keats’ Lamia:
‘Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomèd mine—
Unweave a rainbow…’
There is no place for the mysterious in scientific thinking. All mysteries are simply things that science hasn’t picked apart yet. But to accept the Biblical message of Christianity, you have to accept that there are some things that are simply unknowable, starting with the thoughts of God. Yes, we have access to what he has chosen to reveal to us in the Bible, but it is made clear that humans simply cannot fully comprehend God:
‘How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
They would outnumber the grains of sand…’ (Psalm 139:17-18)
Believing that such a God exists means that we have to put aside that scientific mindset and have faith. As I write this, I can see how hard a thing that could be for a lot of people to do, but the first step is simply admitting that science has its limits. Once you accept that, you can start to approach these mysteries in a different way.
So how can we approach these mysteries? I don’t know if there’s a label I can put on this other way of thinking, but I think that with that after that step of faith has been taken, the next stage is awe and wonder. The universe is a beautiful place. Yes, it’s something that we can learn about, but it’s also a place of unparalleled beauty and art. Maybe we can learn how to appreciate the vast beauty and majesty of God by first turning our gazes upon his creation. In fact, Paul writes at the start of Romans that ‘since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.’
The fantasy author Raymond E. Feist wrote about the wonder of the universe in another way:
‘…the symmetry, the order, the stunning magnificence that spin about him, all tied together in some plan beyond his ability to perceive. He stands in awe.’ (A Darkness at Sethanon – Raymond E. Feist)
I’m not trying to say that the sense of awe and wonder is exclusively a religious thing, but I am saying that it has to be the starting point for coming to know God. Yes, science can also be born from such awe and wonder, but when finding belief in God, we can never afford to lose that awe at the way things are. As a Christian, I am in awe of God, and that means I am in awe of the mysteries of God. Some of this wonderment comes from the very fact that I will never fully understand him. This is becoming difficult to convey clearly, so I’m going to stop before I get myself confused!
I’ll leave you with this: if you’re struggling to comprehend how God could exist, then maybe you need to stop trying so hard to comprehend it, and let the need for understanding be replaced with wonder at the beauty of creation. From there, you never know what might happen.