The Unseen Order
Dr. Michael Thomas
Scientists find themselves in a dilemma. The scientific method has evolved over hundreds (thousands!) of years as the best way we have figured out to systematically understand our universe. But now that we have come so far, our findings have given light to a problem. Actually, its a pretty big and disturbing problem. Ninety percent of all matter in the universe is completely invisible to their most sophisticated instruments. Most of what is, cannot be seen or smelled or felt. Scientists know that this invisible, insensible matter exists because of the effect it has on the matter we can see and smell and touch. But, all things being as they may, what we do know (as Einstein remarked) is almost infinitely less than what we do not know.
And so we find ourselves, six and a half billion of us, sustaining ourselves on the crust of a small planet circling around a small star at the edge of one galaxy out of untold numbers that ply their way through the universe. At least this is the story that our best minds have come up with at the current time. If size is important, then we are less than a speck of dust in the immensity of all that we have seen with our telescopes. If length of time is important, we are less than the blink of an eye.
Spiritual insight tells us that what is most important is not seen or tasted or felt. So how can one be aware of it? Do we know God only by reading the Bible? When our pastors talk of spiritual matters, how do they know? How do we know God is? God doesn’t seem to have any height or width or depth. God would seem to have no color or weight. God seems to make no obvious sound that can be heard by everyone. In the physical world we can see churches and temples and mosques. We can read scripture. We have clergy to guide us, but where is God in all of this?
Before Genesis begins, God is. In the first sentence of the Bible, God created the heavens and the earth. Then came the waters of the earth. Light was separated from darkness and the firmament of heaven was created. Dry land was formed and vegetation was created. Day was separated from night and seasons were created. Living creatures were created in the waters and in the air and on the land. Then God said:
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness
And so we are here, six and a half billion of us, each made in the image and likeness of God. If we accept that before anything was created, there was only God, then all of creation has come from God. In this secular, rational world where we are taught that all matter is made of separate atoms and that all things are separate, a creation that is all ultimately one seems foreign to our thoughts. In Gods creation, how can we be anywhere that God isn’t?
Using the scientific method, we make observations with our senses. We gather enough observations to begin to see a pattern. We can then create an idea (hypothesis) of what may be occurring. We test our hypothesis by creating certain conditions that should lead to the result predicted by our hypothesis. If our hypothesis is validated then we have a theory. This theory is then usually tested by others to see if the same result occurs. If the results are validated by others and continue to ˜hold up over time, we come to accept this result as ˜truth. Newtons Laws of thermodynamics are an example. What you may discern in this explanation of the scientific method is that theories can be disproven by others who are unable to replicate the findings, but ultimate proof is not possible.
The scientific method is responsible for much of the world we now live in. Technology has transformed our lives. The usefulness of this method is undeniable. The problem comes when it is said that this is the only way we can come to knowledge about our universe. The scientific method was so powerful that many people began to say that if something cannot be measured then it doesn’t exist. This leads us back to the beginning of this piece where I noted that over ninety percent of matter is unmeasurable. The idea that we can just dismiss what isnt measurable is naive at best.
So, is there another way to know? God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, Elijah heard a still, small voice. Other prophets heard an overwhelming roar. Gods actions were notable in the events of Exodus. Throughout history, others have heard Gods voice through mediation, prayer, solitude and fasting. Jesus spent forty days in solitude in the desert, praying and fasting and returned with a clarity that has changed the whole world.
Our actions stem from our perspective. If we use the scientific method to discern our world from the outside in, we must rely on our senses to literally make sense of the world. But when we can become aware of our intimate connection with God, another way of life becomes possible. Is there not a secret place, deep within our hearts where the fire of God burns? Can we not become quiet and begin to hear Gods wisdom for us? So many people pray and pray, telling God so much. How often do we stop to listen for the answer? How often do we find the space to stop and sit in quiet patience, waiting for Gods word to us? Can we stop the jabber of our minds long enough to glean what the Lord would have us do?
But even if we rarely find the time to sit and pray, let alone meditate, there are still moments that come to us, almost like wisps of fragrant smoke, reminding us of a belonging that we have almost forgotten about. God loves us with an intensity that is unknown between human beings. Unconditional Love is absolute and unrelenting. It is unreasonable. It is omnipotent. It is immeasurable.
These moments of recollection are Gods grace. Many of us are guided by our memories of these moments. There is an old story of a man pounding with both fists on a heavy door, trying to gain access to God. Weary with long effort, and finally exhausted, he turns away from the door and slumps down. As he looks up he realizes that he has been pounding from the inside!
And so there is an inside (spiritual) way to knowledge and an outside (scientific) way. Both are vitally important in all of our lives, but for the outside way to declare that the inside way doesn’t exist, simply betrays those moments of grace that occur to each of us -when we are courageous enough to acknowledge them.
I wont deny the existence of evil. All of us have seen its horror in countless acts throughout the world, in all times, both individually and collectively throughout history. Each of us has at times known it in our own lives. When we turn away from our heart, we must look at things only from the outside. Its the only vantage point we have left. We must rely only on reason (which is a step up from primitive instinct). And, using reason, it makes much more sense to take care of ones self first. Competitive aggression becomes a survival skill. Dog eat dog. Natural Selection. Survival of the fittest.
˜Outside thinking misses the essential connection. Think about what Jesus said (Mt:5.38-42):
You have heard that it was said, ˜An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
This is not rational advice. If most people got this advice from someone else, they would shrug it off as ill advised at best. It is unreasonable advice. It is ˜unrealistic. Even so, Jesus goes on to enjoin people to:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt:5.44).
Jesus knew about the inside and outside way of knowing. He said:
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other, You cannot serve God and the mammon. (Mt:6.24) (Note: mammon means: riches, avarice, and worldly gain personified as a false god.)
Ultimately, it is our choice to turn to God or away. How do you turn to God? Jesus answered that question too, later in the same incredible sermon:
Ask and it shall be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Mt:7.7-8)
Indeed it is very possible to listen to Gods love for you in you own heart. Its the best place to hear what God has for you, and, if you can maintain that heart space, you can begin to hear it and see it everywhere. Sometimes a line in a song makes a deep impression in your heart. A stranger might just say something to you. You might read a line in a book. You may hear it in a birds call or the rustle of leaves in the trees. Each of us hears Gods call in our own way. Perhaps we are like the story of the blind men and the elephant. In the story, each of the blind men gropes his way into a certain room and feeling with his arms, touches a different part of an elephant. One, who has grasped the trunk, calls out with certainty, An elephant is like a large rubber hose! Another, who has come up under the elephants belly, reaches up and exclaims that, The elephant is like the roof of a tent! The last man, having grabbed a hold of the elephants tail announces that an elephant is definitely like a rope.
God touches each one of us. We can each reach out and touch God. Perhaps, because he too was aware of the incomplete nature of our knowledge, Jesus encouraged tolerance. Like the blind men and the elephant, we know what we know, but perhaps we need to hang on to what we know a bit loosely, because we don’t know what we don’t know.
(Note: I am grateful for Rachel Naomi Ramens retelling of the story of the three blind men and the elephant in her book, My Grandfathers Blessings. She helped me see this story in a new light.)