More Than Rational | Connecting with Culture
This year it was discovered that the oldest material on Earth is much older than Earth itself. The Murchison meteorite landed in Australia in the 1960s, and contains grains of stardust that are 7.5 billion years old.
To help you wrap your head around that number, the Sun is 4.6 billion years old, so this material comes from outside our solar system. Such large scales are impossible to fully grasp. For the Christian these numbers remind us of God’s greatness. Who else could make a universe as vast and old as ours?
Psalm 139:17-18 says: ‘How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.’ I’m not sure that King David had stardust in mind when he wrote these lines, but he was definitely thinking about big numbers. Today, science can add fuel to our worship.
The Jesuit physicist and philosopher Enrico Cantore wrote about things that we cannot fully comprehend. To him, mystery is what happens when we try to wrap our minds around something like the Murchison meteorite.In his experience, the mysteries of God are based on something rational, but they stretch our comprehension to the limit. He described this as ‘the dazzling light of this exceeding intelligibility’.
By embracing belief in God, Christians are not being irrational but accepting that which goes way, way beyond the finite nature of our minds. Jesus was a man who demonstrated the love and wisdom of God – that I can begin to understand. But at the same time he was also God, whose death and resurrection will one day result in creation itself being ‘liberated from its bondage to decay’ (Romans 8:21).
Most people are capable of feeling a sense of awe when experiences begin with – but then go way beyond – the completely rational: the wonder of a newborn baby who shares your own DNA; that feeling of having a new lease of life when you recover from a serious illness; the sensation of transcendence that can take hold of you when you enter a cathedral.
What would happen if we could hold onto our moments of awe? Would these experiences change us, enabling us to ask different questions, change our priorities, or be willing to step beyond the mundane into more extraordinary ways of living?
Church Engagement Director, The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge