Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Big Bang Theology

"For me the universe is more coherent and congenial place if I assume that it embodies purpose and intention."

We human beings are the most extraordinary creatures we know about, and part of our glory is that we can imagine we are not the most remarkable creatures in the entire universe."

Owen Gingerich, Harvard Astronomer & Mennonite

As we were eating dinner tonight, my seven-year-old turned to me and started to say, "Did you know that God..." Then he reassessed his approach and got a very serious look on his face and started again.

"I have some things to tell you."

Based on his false start I was prepared to hear that he had a prophetic vision to share, and I was almost as anxious as the priest Eli waiting to hear what God had said to the boy Samuel. My fears were unwarranted.

"When God created the world he didn't just do it like bam all green with regular animals and everything. First he had to create like a lava planet and then micro-organisms and then eventually dinosaurs, and then everything else up to today."

I should explain that by the age of three (as is typical for little boys) he could spot a trilobite across a crowded natural history museum and correctly pronounce the names of dinosaurs I didn't even know existed.

He went on as we tried not to interrupt.

"because if the Bible is true and science is true, then we have to put them together and figure out how to understand them both."

At this point I realized that my son could articulate a theological understanding of biblical authority working in concert with modern science better than some adults I know.

I asked him a follow-up question that would be normal for me to pose to a class of teenagers: "if God created the world through lava and microorganisms, then why doesn't the Bible talk about that?"

His answer was spot on. "Because the people who wrote the Bible didn't know about those things yet. They hadn't discovered any dinosaurs. They hadn't discovered America yet either. That's why they don't talk about America in the Bible."

I should also explain that he is fascinated with ancient cultures, particularly Egyptian, and he often reminds me of the father in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" who could trace all things back to their origin in Greece. Any time he is introduced to a new concept he can explain it back to you relative to Egyptian culture. (While this is odd in most instances it is invaluable when it come to teaching him about the ancient world of the Bible.)

I have no idea how long these things about the Bible and science have been rolling around in his brain. I don't have any memory of sitting him down and telling him these things, though with the combination in our house of a science fanatic, a pastor, and a biblical scholar I am sure the topic has come up at some point.

The thing I enjoy so much about hearing him talk in this way is how confident he is about the Bible being true. It would never have crossed his mind that he would have to choose either the Bible or science - either faith or fact. He is very close to understanding that the Bible can be True without being factually accurate - a concept that will hold him in good stead as he continues to read and explore the complexities of the Bible.

There is no reason that parents cant teach religion and science together, or any reason why we need to teach them in opposition. Children, especially postmodern children, are perfectly capable of holding two opposing ideas together as okay. We dont need to talk to them about science and in particular scientific theories of evolution as an alternative to faith. We dont need to teach them the Bible and in particular the stories of creation as the only way to understand the created universe.

At the same time, children can see the divine beauty that lies at the other end of a microscope and a telescope AND they can read and identify the cycles of nature and the universe in the ancient words of scripture.

Lest you think that this marriage of science and religion in his brain has left no room for the creative theological imagination of a child, our conversation ended with this:

Dad: "So do you think God made the Big Bang?"

Son: "Maybe. Maybe God was tired of being all by himself, and so lonely that he cried out in a loud scream that created the universe."

Sounds just about perfect to me.

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