Editor’s Note: This article was written by jonbeadle.com contributor, Luis Rivas.
How Science Saved My Faith
It is no secret that I have been going through a period of struggle and doubts in my faith over the last few months. Most of these were related to the Church and the people in it, but for the most part my faith in Jesus was relatively stable. Actually, more specifically, my belief in the existence of Jesus was mostly intact. But there was a short period of time in which even that last bastion of belief was beginning to be shaken and I began to wonder if my Christianity would survive.
Jesus and the Kingdom of God
Ever since I became a serious student of the Bible, Jesus and the Kingdom of God have been the cornerstone of my theology. Despite all the changes in perspective and exegesis I have had in my hermeneutic, all of these were built on the foundation of Jesus being the ultimate self-disclosure of God and His Kingdom being the climax and the purpose of all creation. I think most Christians would agree with that last statement, but the differences that exist between denominations and factions within Christianity derive from the variety of epistemologies and methodologies that exist when transposing those two truths onto the whole of Scripture (so, put simply, as long as we can agree on Jesus and the Kingdom as objective truths, everything else in the Christian faith is subjective). (Gasp. Yes, I said it; the majority of Christian doctrine is a subjective matter dependent upon experience, cultural bias, and hermeneutics.)
Given this assumption, one would think that believing in the ontological existence of God is a given, but I went through a brief phase where I discovered that is not necessarily the case. (In all fairness though, I am not the first person in history to have become so self-assured in the foundational beliefs of my faith that I began to allow the existence of God to slip out of the picture without shaking the entire structure. There is a point where one becomes so proficient at making modifications that we can make an entire theological system that is not contingent on God being there.) In fact there is a whole branch of theology that stems from this assumption: it’s called liberal theology.
He Ascended into Heaven
Although I still consider myself to be well within the conservative end of the spectrum in regards to my theology, I realized that I had unintentionally wandered into the uncharted waters of liberal theology when I caught myself making sense of Christianity without the need for God to be “real”. Allow me to explain.
It all began when, out of nowhere, I became fixated on the Scripture in Acts 1 about how Jesus ascended into heaven before the disciples’ eyes and a cloud concealed him. Now this is one of those passages of Scripture that seems like a straightforward eyewitness account of an event. The author simply states that as Jesus was speaking to them, he began to levitate up into the sky until a cloud concealed Him. Now, we know that there is no “castle in the sky” to which Jesus ascended, and I refuse to believe that Jesus is some sort of alien being who was simply being beamed up to the mother ship by some sort of heavenly Scotty. So what does this mean? Is Jesus still floating up in outer space, making His rounds around the Solar system like a comet that comes back every 2000 years?
I know that is a silly objection to the faith, but the impossibility of Jesus ascension (at least from a “logical” perspective) quickly became very troubling to me. In fact, most of the claims made by the Bible are incompatible with our modern scientific understanding of reality, or so I thought. Atheism was out of the question for me simply because I believed (and still do) so strongly that the teachings of Jesus and the values of the Kingdom were just too true in practice and experience to deny that He was at least some sort of enlightened Teacher and that this “Kingdom of Heaven” certainly had some very credible merit to it. “Maybe ‘God’ is just an ethereal embodiment of the goodwill of man, or the energy of the universe personified,” I thought.
True to form, my mind absorbed this new information and formed an entire hermeneutic that would fit this hypothetical, and to my surprise, it worked! If one is willing to do away with a few passages of Scripture and attribute them to pre-scientific musings of an ancient culture, the Bible can truly be interpreted to be the story of a Middle Eastern philosophy whose followers struggled to follow until an enlightened Teacher arose from their midst in order to restore it to its roots and take it to the rest of the world. This is the core of much of liberal theology, and this was something that made me uncomfortable, because I knew that without the belief in a literal Christ (in the full sense of the word), it’s hard to appreciably call myself a Christian. But the problem of Jesus’ ascension (or the ontological existence of an invisible, intangible, and yet ever present God) in light of my understanding of physics and reality at the time was actually driving me to consider the possibility of embracing the liberal view of Jesus.
Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior, but Neil Degrasse Tyson is my personal Astrophysicist
If you’ve ever read or listened to Neil Degrasse Tyson, you know his signature slogan “your personal astrophysicist.” This phrase is a reference to his self-assigned mission to educate the general public of science and the cosmos by increasing interest in science literacy within pop culture. One of the ways in which he does this is through a podcast called Star Talk in which he interviews notable scientist and pop culture icons and discusses science with them. During one these podcasts Dr. Tyson was interviewing a guest physicist whose area of study was Dark Matter. Dark matter, as Dr. Tyson explained, is a type of matter that does not interact in any way with regular matter, energy, or even light. The only way we know it exists is because of the gravitational influence it exerts upon the visible universe. Based on the observed gravity of dark matter, scientists have theorized that dark matter makes up about 70% of the universe’s total matter, and that it is most likely present everywhere to some extent. So it is an invisible, intangible substance that exerts a powerful influence on the observable universe. Doesn’t that sound like Someone else I know?
Now I am not suggesting that God is dark matter, or that He is made of dark matter (although He could be for all I know), but learning about the science of dark matter, or quantum mechanics (subatomic particle physics, in which all observable laws of physics break down), or black holes helped me realize an important principle about my understanding of the universe of and reality: I have no idea. There is so much about the universe that we do not know or have yet even begun to grasp, that it would be foolish of me to say that the ontological existence of God and an otherworldly heavenly realm is impossible in light of science.
Science is not antithetical to the existence of God; nor does it prove His existence, but what it does – and it does it very well – is that it witnesses to the truth. And the truth has time and time again testified against our most foundational assumptions of reality. There was a time humanity was sure we were at the center of the universe, and there was a time we were sure that shoving mercury down a child’s throat cured tuberculosis (I guess if dying of something other than tuberculosis counts as curing it, then they were right), and there was even a time we were sure that motion could be explained completely in Newton’s three laws, and that faster than light communication was impossible. But then along came scientific truths like Copernicus’s model of the solar system, and germ theory, and Einstein’s theory of relativity, and quantum entanglement that proved all of those assumptions as fundamentally flawed.
So Where Did Jesus Ascend To?
Maybe I didn’t give you a satisfying resolution to my conundrum of Jesus’s ascension, but that’s because I don’t have one. And I don’t need to. As I learn more about science, I realize more and more how much I don’t know. When we assume that we understand everything about the universe and reality, our perception of reality becomes narrow, myopic, and too small to allow for the existence of God. But when we open our eyes to the literal universe of things we don’t know we may not find direct evidence proving the existence of God, but we find a big enough reality to allow for His existence without the need for a systematic understanding of what that physically looks like.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: ‘He could not be found, because God had taken him away.’ For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” – Hebrews 11: 1-6 (emphasis added)
Luis Rivas is a contributor for JonBeadle.com. He’s an HBU graduate trying to figure out how to walk with Jesus. He enjoys hanging out with friends, spending time outdoors, and the occasional Netflix marathon. He doesn’t tweet because his thoughts don’t fit in 140 characters, and that’s why he writes blog posts; however, you can still follow him @lgrg09