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Divine Windows

 

Our President for 2018-19 is Dave Gregory who took office at our Assembly in May. The theme for his Presidency is Divine Windows: glimpses of God in life, the universe... and everything. 

He shared his thoughts about his theme in the Summer edition of our Baptists Together magazine.

 

DivineWindows
 


I was on the phone recently to a young man about my car insurance.  “If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of Doctor are you?” he asked.  

“Not a medical one, so don’t ask me about your bad elbow,”  I replied.  “I’m a Doctor of weather”.

I explained that I had worked in research at the Met Office for over ten years, but that now I was a Baptist minister.  We chatted for a while about his interest in science as well as his understanding of the Bible and faith.  

His response at the end was fairly typical: “I’ve never come across that combination before – someone who is interested in science and believes in God!” 

Dr-Dave--Tornado-MakersI get a similar response from the parents who come along to ‘Dr Dave’s Science Lab’ I run as part of our Messy Church each month at Croxley Green Baptist Church. Yet science is a creative activity as much as art and music, expressing and sharing in the creativity of God. It is a window to the wonder, complexity and the ordering of creation that no other generation has been able to gaze through as we do. Yet too often when it comes to faith, the curtains are firmly drawn. Our wondering stops at the beauty and complexity of the material world, rather than allowing it to draw us deeper, to the divine source that shapes and sustains it all.  

We try to keep the curtains open, often with arguments from the world of apologetics.  We might point to the apparent coincidence that the universe seems just right for life such as ours to exist (a continuing enigma for scientists). But we become disturbed: the vastness of the cosmos, its ancient origins, the gradual development of life with all its ups and downs; all ask questions of our understanding of God as creator and redeemer, expressed long ago by the Psalmist: ‘What are we that you are mindful of us’.  

We too are tempted to pull the curtains across and stick to the certainty of the faith that we think we know. 
The curtains were firmly shut as I embarked on a degree in Physics and Astrophysics. The attraction of science eclipsed my connection with the idea of God. 

Yet, as I learnt more of the complexity and order of creation, from the smallest to the larger scales, I began to wonder, until one day walking along the street to my morning lectures, a thought popped into my head: ‘Maybe there is a God’.

It was quickly followed by: ‘But what has that to do with me?’ The curtains had opened to a new way of seeing. My wondering would lead to a gradual re-discovery of faith as I encountered Jesus through worship, the word and the world.

While the ancients did not have science as we know it, they were acute observers of the world, with eyes that perceived the wonder of the material as pointing to an encounter with God. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.’  Throughout the Bible, God is often visually encountered through creation: Noah in the rainbow; Moses in the burning bush; Job in the song of creation in the face of his incessant questioning.  Jesus’ parables and miracles often revealed the character and power of God through nature. 

And while often our own tradition of worship focuses upon words and music, encountering God through the window of creation has a long tradition within the life of the Church, maintained within Celtic and Franciscan spiritualities along with the Orthodox tradition.   

HubbleDeepFieldNASABonaventure, a 13th century Franciscan theologian, spoke of viewing creation through a Trinitarian lens; of how its origin, diversity and purpose revealed the power, creativity and sustaining work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I wonder what he would have made of the ‘Hubble Deep Field’, a favourite image of mine. This picture reveals a tiny part of the night sky just above the bowl of The Plough constellation.  

A full moon would appear 100 times bigger than this patch, yet still it reveals 3000 galaxies of all sizes, shapes and colours, some as old as a few billion years after the Big Bang. Scale up the entire night sky and it is estimated there are 250 billion galaxies in the whole universe.
 
What does such wonder allow us to glimpse of God? Through Bonaventure’s lens, for example, the vastness points to the power of God and the majesty of his creative vision. The diversity of forms speak of the Word by which all things are richly made and in whom all things hold together. The presence of the Spirit connects creation to divine being, shaping it according to his purpose; the forming, death and rising of stars allow a being to come forth that can look beyond the surface of creation to the wonder of God in whom, as Paul said to the philosophers in Athens, “we live, and move and have our being”.

Of course, there are other windows within everyday life through which we encounter the wonder of life and God. For you, it may be music or art. It may be the beauty of mountains, or forests or valleys. Or the changing cycle of the seasons in your back garden, or the complexity of even the smallest plant growing from the tiniest seed, or in a ‘chance’ meeting with a friend, or a stranger, or in enjoying a meal with loved ones. 

Perhaps you too can be a window for others to gaze through and catch a glimpse of God and the hope that his presence brings.

Yet, wonder is a fragile thing. It is easily missed, and even when it embraces us, we can miss what it might reveal. For some, while it raises questions and evokes feelings that can be overwhelming, that’s as far as it goes. For others, it draws them into deeper possibilities.  

I don’t know what that young man in the call centre will remember of our conversation. Perhaps it will fade away amid all the different voices that he hears each day. 

But when he next sees Brian Cox enthusing over the amazing things that science reveals about the cosmos we live in, or looks into the sky on a dark night to see myriads of stars, or just takes a good look at a leaf on a tree as he walks through a wood, perhaps he will remember the strange person who has an interest in science and God and think ‘maybe?’   

 

Photo from Hubble Deep Field: NASA, ESA and the HST Frontier Fields team
 


This article appears in the Summer 2018 edition of Baptists Together magazine.

Baptist Times, 14/05/2018
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