1 Christmas 2019: Primeval Atom

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You will have to determine
if this sermon is about the Big Bang or
angels in my head.

From time to time
someone will ask me
why I always dig around
and poke things
when it comes to faith,
the bible,
and God.
Usually it is less of a question
and more of a statement,
as in, “cut it out.”

The answer to that question
or complaint, is:
the Gospel of John
and the Big Bang Theory.
In the beginning…there was a bang.
In the beginning,
the name for the theory of the “Big Bang”
was, “the hypothesis of the primeval atom.”
I’m not kidding,
that was the first name of the theory.

I’m guessing that “primeval atom”
may have sounded too theological
to gain general respect in science
so they went with a more sophisticated:
The Big Bang Theory.
Then, to confuse everything,
they made a television sitcom by the same name.
Anyway, the Big Bang Theory
and a variety of nuanced speculations
that fall under that general moniker,
is our best guess
about what happened at the beginning…of everything.
But the theory does not really
tell us about the beginning.
You see, we have absolutely no evidence
or even computer models
for what happed
or existed
BEFORE the big bang
that then led to a Big Bang.
And so, the Big Bang Theory
does not provide any explanation
for an initial circumstance
or the particular conditions
that produced the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is more about what has happened since –
an explanation
for what is NOW
rather than what was at the beginning.

From what we can see and imagine
taking place in the universe NOW,
we know that the farther away
a galaxy is from our vantage point
the higher the velocity
with which it is moving.
That also suggests
the further back in time we go toward the big bang
the more extreme
will be the densities and temperatures
of all the stuff in the cosmos.

Based upon such observations
we have constructed imaginative models
to demonstrate how it all began
from one giant explosion

so powerful
that billions and billions of years later
the cosmos is still expanding outward from its force.
(One of the big questions
and little arguments now however,
is when will the expansion stop
and the cosmos fall back in on itself…
or perhaps, some argue,
that process has already begun).

Anyway, the Big Bang Theory
makes a lot of sense
even if it still doesn’t tell us
about the beginning –
before the bang.

“In the beginning was the Word…”
John doesn’t tell us about the beginning either.
“The Word”
is just a gap-filler too, John’s gap-filler.

The author of John’s gospel
wants to make the theological argument
that Jesus
was the primeval atom.
And honestly, that is not so strange
because everyone who wonders about such things –
whether in religion,
or science fiction,
also wonders about that primeval atom.
The primeval atom is the Holy Grail
of human inquiry.
It is the thing
we wish we knew
but are unlikely to ever know – ever.

In religion,
and science
there is routine banter
between those that believe
the cosmos comes from NOTHING
and those that believe
it comes from SOMEthing.
Was there ever a time when there was nothing?
Or, was there always something
from which time itself
was then created?

For those who look to the bible for answers
to such daunting questions
there are two creation stories
in the Book of Genesis:
one in which God makes the Creation from nothing
and the other in which God
makes the Creation out of what was in the beginning.
It must be maddening
for those who insist on only one answer.

“In the beginning was the Word…”
it seems to me, was just John’s way of punting.
But it was a pretty good punt.
John doesn’t make a commitment
to either side of the argument about the beginning
except to say that either way,
Jesus was there.

Still, I prefer the first Genesis story:
In the beginning there was nothing
and then God created an oozing,
bubbling, broiling water
that covered the face of the earth.
Because the bible doesn’t care much about the rest of the cosmos,
except as it relates to the earth and human beings,
it doesn’t say much about the process
or sequence in which everything else came to be.
It punts too, just like John did.

But the bible imagines the beginning of the earth
much like science does in all those classic
museum miniature models:
giant, hot shallow seas
covering the planet like a hand over a face;
a scalding soup of micro-organisms
with chunks of biologicals
we can only imagine.
And eventually,
out of that ooze
emerges LIFE.

Squiggling cells
burst forth into ever greater complexity
until there is abundant LIFE.

I suppose most people could care less
about such speculation.
Most people, I suspect,
do not spend much time fretting about
Creation out of nothing verses
Creation from something –
or angels on the head of a pin for that matter.

In fact, it does not matter
what we think one way or the other.
It does not matter
which side of the argument we come down on
and it does not matter if we never wonder
about the beginning
or angels for that matter.
What matters is that
we wonder,
because the end of our wondering
is probably the end of abundant life too.

When I was still a pretty new parent,
and our first child was only about three or four,
she asked me out of the blue,
“God made everything?”

“Yes,” I murmured
as I went on doing what I was doing,
more engaged in my own project
than with the small wonder at my feet.
“Then who made God,” she asked flatly.

Her question stopped me in my tracks.

Just like all the parents since then
who have asked me how to respond
to their child’s questions
about God or death,
I froze.

I remember reminding myself at the time,
that she was too young for abstract thought –
because that doesn’t come along until age six,
or even seven, eight, or nine.
But there she was,
her little toe-headed curls
and blue eyes looking up at me.

“Well, what do you think, sweetie?”
I finally asked, then waited with baited breath
to hear wisdom from the mouth of a child.

“I don’t know,” she said nonchalantly,
and went on picking clover
and talking to her doll as if she hadn’t just asked
the biggest question in the world.

When small children ask us
questions about
life and death and God,
and we give them answers
as if we actually know the answer,
we are dulling their curiosity.
Far better to invite their wonderment
without filling in the gaps
that are full of mysteries we can’t answer.

Perhaps one reason you come to a place like this
is to wonder about such questions –
because there are profound gaps
in our own knowledge.

We often have a knee-jerk instinct
to fill those gaps
in hopes of making ourselves feel better –
especially as grief piles up.

We think that filling the gaps with answers
will make us feel better
and will dull the pain of grief
or staunch the swirl of anxiety
that builds up with each loss
or sorrow
that we collect along the way.
Loss after loss takes its toll
but even loss
is part of abundant life.
Filling the gaps with answers
made up like placebos
to dull the pain
also dulls our curiosity
and limits our openness to the holy.
that are not really answers
stultify our wonderment.
Muffling curiosity
and wonderment
retards growth and shallows our depth.

So, at least from my point of view,
if we want to host a vibrant spiritual community
we will not be in the answer-business.
Instead, we will be in the question-business.

John’s Gospel claims
that Jesus is the “Word”
and that in the beginning
the “Word” was with God.

We can ask, “What the heck does that mean?”
And we can wonder openly about it
and maybe even come to a different speculation
than John does.

  • We can wonder about the God-in-the-baby thing too, you know, we can ask how Jesus could be God AND human.
  • We can be perplexed about the claim
    that Jesus was perfect
    given that we do not know any perfect human beings.
  • We can push up against the claim
    that one human being born thousands of years ago could have something to do
    with our own spiritual salvation.
  • In fact, we are welcome to wonder
    about whether there is such a thing
    as spiritual salvation –
    as in, from what do we need salvation?
  • It is not all that bad to ask why God
    would create a system
    in which some people get to play the harp
    on gilded clouds
    while others gnash their teeth?
  • It is okay, of course, to dig around in claims
    that one religion is the exclusive guardian of ultimate truth.

To wonder and discuss and explore such things
will lead us to think more about
our own community,
and to be more curious about other people
and their communities.
Like the layering pedals
unfolding a rose,
one question will lead to another
and the greater our sense of wonderment
the fuller our imaginations will bloom.
The more our imagination blooms
the deeper we will travel into the depths of our lives,
and once there,
the more we will hear
and the more we will see
and the more we will understand
even as we get clearer and clearer
about the gaps in our knowledge.

It turns out that in the beginning
was awe and wonderment.
And wouldn’t you know,
even the bible claims that the beginning of wisdom,
is indeed awe…and wonderment.

So let us invite awe
and then share our wonder.