Poets will tell you that science diminishes the beauty of the stars by reducing them to super-heated balls of gas. But I don’t think there is a scientist alive who isn’t awed by the heavens. We’re all just kids lying on our backs on the lawn looking up at the sky wondering where we fit in. We don’t seek answers to diminish nature. We seek answers to discover who we are. And if our search takes us to unfamiliar or frightening places, we trust that nature will help us find a way out.Donnor’s voice over is from the last aired episode of ABC’s Defying Gravity, a series following six astronauts as they journey through the solar system on a mission they recently realized involves a new life form. In this episode, the crew learns of this new life form’s existence, and much of what they believed and took for granted is challenged. And while Donnor is coming from a place in which he trusts in the larger providence of nature to help him find his way through, I think Donnor’s words have quite a bit to say about how those who choose to believe in the existence of a larger Providence are called to approach life, too.
—Maddox Donnor, in the “Eve Ate the Apple” episode of Defying Gravity
Right off the bat, I resonated with Donnor’s observation about science. There is a fear among some that science somehow seeks to diminish mystery and faith. There is a contingent of folks who do indeed try to use science to do so. And there are those both of faith and those who see no use for it who seek to use science as a tool to support their theology or philosophy by ignoring (sometimes vast) portions of it and squeezing and shoving the rest into places it just doesn’t fit. But then, I’m not sure any of them are really seeking after truth.
I get why people do that. I’ve even been among some of them. There is a scary and vertigo-like edge to lying on your back, looking up at the sky in awe and wondering where we fit in because that will take us to unfamiliar and frightening places. Seeking truth will cause us to examine and re-examine what we believe and why. It will cause us to doubt.
But doubt is not necessarily a bad thing for those of faith because it almost paradoxically leads to a stronger and more genuine trust. If God is who he says and can do what he says, it can’t help but do so. "A faith without some doubts is like a human body without antibodies in it,” writes Tim Keller in The Reason for God. “People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic." God doesn’t want us to walk around in a fog-headed stupor of blind devotion to a belief or doctrine. He wants us to know him for who he is and the universe around us as it is. C.S. Lewis reflects that if we really seek to know if God exists and who he is we will inevitably discover the areas where we simply get it wrong. In the poignant and raw A Grief Observed, which he wrote in the wake of the death of his wife Joy, Lewis muses: “Images of the Holy easily become holy images—sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself…And all this time, I may, once more, be building with cards. And if I am, He will once more knock it down as often as proves necessary.”
If God is who he says, then this makes sense. He wants to be the goal and the end, not the means, says Lewis. He wants to be known for who he is; and the life he offers comes from knowing him, not following the precepts and beliefs of a religion, philosophy or doctrine. And he’ll run us headlong into the facades and houses of cards we build with those philosophies, religions and doctrines in order to open our eyes to see him. Our journey to know him, then, will inevitably bring us to unfamiliar, uncomfortable and even dark and frightening places. Sometimes those places last for minutes, sometimes for days, sometimes even years.
But as we go, we do come to know some things. Like that this journey and it’s unfamiliar places are not meant to be walked alone but with others—in fact, a central part of the journey is discovering and becoming who we are called and enabled to be as God’s people together. But above all, we discover God is good and we are unfathomably loved. And we come to trust that he is who he says, will do what he says, and will help us find our way through.
I know there are those who think me a sot for believing God exists, much less that he’s good and takes an interest in me and the rest humanity. I get where they’re coming from. Sometimes I wrestle with the question myself. And I could go through a list of reasonable, historical and rational reasons for believing as I do (Ken at COrthodoxy does a good job of getting at some of those here). But, when I get down to it, I trust God is who he says because that’s my experience of him. That may seem like foolishness to many, but that’s how it has played out in my life.
And my journey has not been one of paved roads and roses. I’ve had my share of card houses knocked down and I’m sure I’ve many more to come. But consistently, in the darkness and rubble, God has revealed himself. Sometimes, the darkness seemed as if that was all there ever has been and would be. And more often than not, he revealed himself in times, places and ways I’d never have expected. I’m not the same person I used to be; he has changed me. And my faith in and trust of him has changed, too. I trust he is who he says because he has done what he says he can do; and as my trust grows, I trust that he will again.
Does that make the darkness any less black or suffering less agonizing? In a way. The nature of darkness seems to be that it seems to swallow any sign of light, and sometimes all we can do is just endure and trust we’ll see the light again. If we’ve been this way before, there is a perseverance that permeates the darkness. But still, there are those moments when all we can do is cry out like the psalmist, “The darkness is my closest friend.”
But perhaps that’s part and parcel when we seek the truth. When we lie on our backs, look up at the universe and dare to wonder and seek after God, we will end up in unfamiliar, unexpected and even frightening places. We will feel the earth turn beneath us and spin through the vast reaches and darkness of the universe. But we will also discover an even vaster and amazing God of Love who helps us find our way through.