God Does Not Equal Mystery

Some believe that the discovery of life elsewhere in the universe will create problems for religious people: Christians in particular. Sadly, those who believe it might upset some Christians are probably correct. What is also true, however, is that the reaction they expect from so many Christians comes as a consequence of the heretical beliefs held by far too many of them.

By the time of Christ, Greek philosophy had developed a deep distrust of matter and a corresponding love for the immaterial. Since this Greek philosophy bore a superficial resemblance to Christianity’s concepts of the spiritual, the new Greek converts (who ultimately became the majority of believers) brought this philosophy with them into the new faith.

The natural realm thus became fundamentally separated from the “spiritual” realm in Christian thinking. What could be explained was “mundane”. What could not be explained was “mystery”. And if it was a “mystery” then it belonged to the realm of God. But if “mystery” is the definition of God, then the spiritual world must inevitably lose ground once science can explain what had previously been inexplicable. Removal of “mystery” automatically became the removal of deity. Increasingly it seemed that God was nowhere to be found.

What has happened? Today, religion and religious thought are relegated to a no man’s land of mysticism and subjectivism, a place where God is somehow less than real, with an existence only as people define Him. Whether expressed or not, God’s reality and power have shrunk to become nothing more than “God helps those who help themselves.” Not surprisingly, some Christians — perhaps most — have become terrified of science, fearing that the last few wisps of their faith will dissipate when the final mysteries are explained and understood. Modern science looks out at the universe and finds little if any room for God, so small has He shrunk in the minds of Christians.

The fundamental flaw — or heresy, if you will — has been the separation (and the acceptance of this separation) of the natural and supernatural by Christians. Modern Christianity has become almost deistic, thinking that those things we understand, those things we can do, those things that we can predict and those things that therefore are natural and ordinary, have nothing to do with God, except that he started it all up, sometime long ago. God is simply the clock winder and builder, but everything works by itself now.

When the Bible speaks of God actively orchestrating the birth process, the weather, the feeding of animals, and all the rest, the tendency is to understand it as simply poetic metaphor rather than real.

This is heresy.

Instead, Christians should recognize that the concept of “natural” in the sense of “separate from divine intervention” is fallacious. That we can now understand how God accomplishes many of the wonders of this universe, that we can recognize how everything follows an orderly, repeatable, and predictable pattern, does NOT mean that God isn’t involved.

It simply is not true that God is “wholly Other” and incomprehensible to human beings. Much of what God does we do understand and can explain. Should this be a wonder to us? Why, when we are created in God’s image? Shouldn’t we in fact expect to understand both him and the universe he made and runs? God does not equal mystery. Reduction in ignorance does not make God grow smaller.

The distinction so often made between “supernatural” and “natural” is an artificial distinction that muddles reality. Instead, one could in fact say that everything is supernatural. It is the natural — in the sense of a universe operating without God’s direct, immediate intervention — that doesn’t exist. Likewise, one could argue that there is no supernatural, everything is natural, because the existence and intervention of God is a constant–the utterly natural, ordinary way that the universe operates. Him being around and fiddling with his universe is no more out of the ordinary than me fiddling with my lawn, watering it, mowing it, and pulling weeds.

So what if there is life elsewhere in the universe. It’s a big universe, created by a big God; he can do with it as he wills. Einstein said “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Neils Bohr responded, “Einstein, don’t tell God what to do.”

For many years, people looked at their world, and believed it to be flat, with edges over which they might fall. Now we know better. That we have modified our interpretation of the reality around us, does not speak ill of us. Scientists are not “reading into” the universe something odd that wasn’t really there. They rather simply recognize what was there all along.

Likewise, when the Bible is reinterpreted, it is not an admission by the reinterpreters that there was something wrong with the text, nor does it mean that something is being “read into” it that is odd or wasn’t there to begin with. It simply means that we recognize now what was there all along.

It is impossible to argue biblically one way or the other about life elsewhere in the universe. Too often, we make the mistake as Christians in imagining that the Bible must have all the answers to all the questions. It doesn’t.

The Bible is not a complete revelation to the human race. It is a sufficient revelation: that is, it gives us information about who God is and how to relate to him. It was never intended to tell us everything there is to know about everything. We’re incredibly naive if we think that. The Bible is silent on the matter of life on other worlds, as silent as it is on exactly how to go about fixing the carburetor on my Honda. But just because the Bible doesn’t talk about it, I do not doubt the existence of either my Honda or my twitchy carburetor.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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