Back in 1988 I, like many others, read Stephen Hawkings book called, “A Brief History of Time.” As you know he is a paralysed, wheelchair bound, physicist, who can only speak by artificial means. His book became an international best seller. However, 90% of all those who read it probably did not understand it all, including me. Delving into the origins of the cosmos with all the abstruse mathematics of physics, he comes up in the end with the question, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”
His ideas have changed since then. And he was not asking the “God” question as traditional Christianity would understand it, like, “Who made the world?”. “God made the world!” No. But he was declaring that physics had seemed to come up against the limits of the scientific method at arriving at knowledge. Since that time many scientists have taken up the search for a way of tackling that kind of question. They have turned to poetry to try to express their ideas. Some have even been accused of straying into the realms of Theology.
On the theological side, that trend in scientific thought confronted theologians with the reality that they could no longer speculate in isolation from the description of the universe that science has developed over the past century or so. Whether that be in biology and genetics and the consequences for sexual and reproductive morality, or our understanding of the Bible and its world view of creation. Nor could we ignore creation as irrelivant in the story of salvation. The universe is not just a place of test for a few human beings. The extraordinary beauty and enormity of the cosmos cannot be ignored. It is also the fruit of God's love.
It took a long time for some Christians to realise that our understanding of how God works in our lives does not need to be confined to the notion of God dictating his book, the bible, or of God setting the universe up, letting it go, and watching us mere mortals to see if we would mess things up. Science has forced Christians to re-examine our roots and look again at our scriptures as a story of faith, and our history which is also a story of faith.
Stephen Hawkings question rang bells for some. The very words he used echoed the scripture and the thinking of some of the early church like Basil and Origen. The Spirit is described as the “breath of God”. The Bible gives us the image of the Spirit as the Breath of God that breathes life into the Earth so that it becomes a living being (Gen 2:7). That Spirit is also the life of any process of evolution that brings forth something new. What science struggles to identify in describing the universe with its equations and can give hints about we can only name and have a personal relationship with by revelation. We can name the creator spirit and know God through Jesus. This Spirit has been with the universe from the beginning, not just since Pentecost.
This creative spirit of God has been described by various people as “the wind-breath-sound that the Creator breathes forth into primordial big bang chaos”, the “gentle breeze” that walks with Adam and Eve in the garden, or Elijah's “small still voice”, the “Shekinah” or Glory of the Rabbis, the “Advocate” that “blows where it wills” through the Gospel of John, and of course, in the famous line from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkin' s speaking of the “Holy Ghost that over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings.”
The Creator Spirit is not some thing coming into us from outside. Jesus says today, he does not leave us orphans. In fact “you will understand that I am in the Father and you in me and I in you.” God is within creation and within us. For the Christian the universe is never an object to be used. Our relationships with people and all creation are not commercial transactions. Neither is God's communication with us a matter of miracles. God is not just intervening in a world he setup from outside in response to our prayers. For us God's spirit is the fire that breathes life into everything, always.
This Spirit is the love of God poured out for us and continuing to burn within us. It is this Spirit whom we celebrate at Confirmation at Pentecost. So with good reason we can sing as we did in the Psalm today, “Let all creation cry out to God with joy!”Fr Graham