From time to time someone will ask me
why I am always digging around and poking things
when it comes to
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 “Big Bang” theory was
“the hypothesis of the primeval atom.”
But the “primeval atom”
may have sounded too theological
to gain general respect in science
so they went with a more sophisticated name:
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 in the beginning.
But it does not really tell us about
We have absolutely no idea
evidence or even computer models
for what happed or existed before
in order to create the Big Bang.
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
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
that the further back in time we go toward the big bang
the more extreme will be the densities and temperatures
of all the matter in the cosmos.
Based upon these observations
great models have been constructed
to demonstrate how it all began
from one giant explosion
that billions and billions of years later
the cosmos is still expanding outward
from its initial force.
(One of the big questions
and little arguments now,
is when will the expansion stop
and the cosmos fall back in on itself…
or has that process begun already
as some argue).
Anyway, the Big Bang Theory makes a lot of sense
but it still does not tell us about
“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.
everyone that wonders about such things –
or science fiction –
is trying to imagine the 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.
there is routine banter
between those that believe the cosmos comes
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 those 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 would be maddening if you insisted upon one answer.
“In the beginning was the Word…”
That is just the Gospel of John’s way of punting.
But it is a pretty good punt!
He doesn’t make a commitment
to either side of the argument
except to say that either way, Jesus was there.
I prefer the first Genesis story myself.
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, just like John does.
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 biological
we can only imagine.
out of that ooze
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
Creation from something.
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 how many angels dance on the head of a pin.
What matters is that
because the end of our wondering
spells the end of abundant life.
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.
Like so many parents since then
who have asked me how to respond
to their child’s questions about God
or even more troubling, questions about death,
I can remember reminding myself
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 tow-headed curls
and blue eyes looking up at me.
“What do you think, sweetie?” I finally asked,
then waited to hear what she would say.
“I don’t know,” she said
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,
then we dull their inquiry.
It is far better to invite their wonderment.
What can we do to invite further questions
and further inquiry instead of dulling their wonder?
Perhaps one of the reasons 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 the gaps in our knowledge
in hopes of making ourselves feel better –
especially as grief piles up
and builds in us the dull ache of loss.
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 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.
Answers that are not really answers
stultify our wonderment.
Muffling curiosity and wonderment
and shallows depth.
So 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.
But we can ask, “What the heck does that mean?”
It’s okay, really, to ask, “How can that possibly be?”
And we can wonder openly about it
and maybe even come to a different speculation
than John does.
- We can wonder about this God-in-a-baby thing too.
- We can ask how Jesus could be God AND human.
- We can be perplexed about the claim that Jesus was perfect and yet we do not know any perfect humans 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 can wonder about whether there is such a thing as spiritual salvation –
and from what, do we imagine, we need salvation?
- Why would God create a system in which some people get to play the harp on gilded clouds
while others gnash their teeth?
- We can even wonder about and dig around in claims
that any religion would make about being the exclusive keeper of ultimate truth.
All of that will lead us to think more about
our own community
and our own place in our community
and perhaps to be more and more curious
about other people and other ideas
and other desires
inside those in community with us.
Like the layering pedals unfolding a rose,
one question will lead to another
and the greater our sense of wonderment and curiosity
the fuller our imagination will bloom.
The more our imagination blooms
the deeper we will travel into the depths of our lives
and 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.
the beginning of wisdom that is,
is awe and wonderment.
So let us invite awe
and then share our wonder. Amen.