Physics and Faith … the “String Theory” of salvation

5 05 2008

Before I move on to John 15, I wanted to pause and summarize briefly what I’m calling the “string theory” of salvation. Much of this is taken from a sermon my rector preached on John 14 a few years ago and my own very limited understanding of physics.

One of the goals of physics is to find a theory that can explains how the universe works. Out of this has come the theory of relativity, which explains how the very big things work … gravity, the speed of light, black holes and so on. Also out of this has come the field of quantum mechanics which speaks to how things work on the subatomic level. They both seem to work well and scientists can make accurate prediction using them. The big problem is that the theories are very inconsistent with each other. It’s like the rules of the universe change when going from the really big to the really small and you cannot make predictions on the subatomic level using mathematical formulas associated with the theory of relativity.

In his sermon, my rector compared it to looking great in a striped shirt and having a fabulous pair of plaid pants, but if you try to wear them together, you wind up looking ridiculous and the outfit just doesn’t work.

In John 14 you have a very inclusive statement followed very soon by a very exclusive one. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, and I am going to prepare a place for you” could be called the theological cousin of the Theory of Relativity and “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me” could be the counterpart to Quantum Mechanics. In the universe, two seemingly inconsistent laws live side-by-side and all of creation keeps humming along. In John, the universal and the particular meet in almost the same breath, and Jesus keeps on going as if he has not said anything contradictory. Creation proudly wears its striped shirt and plaid pants and is ready for a night on the town.

Physicists, not content to just live with the fact that the universe should not function according to two inconsistent laws, and there must be some way the whole thing just works. String theory is a recent development that appears to hold much promise into filling in the gaps between the universal and the particular, finding out why Creation appears to act in inconsistent and sometimes contradictory ways.

When my rector explored the theological equivalents and how it all ties together he said, about John 14:2, In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places:

…in this one verse on the lips of Jesus, people have heard the radical welcome of God’s wide-open, even universal embrace to all sorts and conditions of believers. Those whom we might call “John 14:2” people rightly point out that it is the love and grace of God that saves, not the merits of anyone’s correct believing.

and then again about John 14:6, No one comes to the Father but through me:

Here is but one example of a consistent Biblical truth often referred to as “the scandal of particularity.” What this means is that God chooses particular nations and individuals — and not others — to be the focal points of revelation. God poured himself into a covenant relationship with the Jews as he did no other nation. God poured himself into Jesus as he did no other person. It’s a scandal because God’s designated doorways to himself seem too few, too narrow, and too culturally constrained to reach a diverse world.

So how does it all work? What are the strings that tie the universal embrace of God with the particular truth claims of Christianity? He sums our dilemma as follows:

John 14:2 people claim that we are children of God by virtue of creation, and you can’t give tickets to heaven only to those lucky enough to have heard about Jesus [I would add and believe about him in a certain way — Rb]. John 14:6 people counter that we are children of God by virtue of the cross and the resurrection, and you can’t have a church whose only particular claim is that we have no particular truth claim.

The string that ties the universal and the particular is none other than Jesus himself. If we had time and space, we could look at clues that he gives us about his divine nature. The Bible also speaks of Jesus being the Chief Cornerstone, and there is a hymn which speaks of Christ “binding all the church in one.” In sum, says my rector, “our calling is never to follow any one theology but rather the risen Lord Jesus, who is alive and leading. He says to us as well as to the disciples, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.”

Once again, scientists have a thing or two to teach those of us with an interest in religion and faith. If the scientific community refuses to believe that Creation can be inconsistent with itself and its own laws of universality and particularity, then why can’t we? The universe is not divided against itself, and neither is God’s house.

In Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time, he says “Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest.” This alone should give a sort of divine discontent in those of us to follow Jesus to continue to press on for our own answers, and to know more about Jesus. The more we know, the more we will see we have much more to learn. To end with one more quote from my rector, “I pray that our continuing quest will be for all the world to know of the many rooms in our heavenly Father’s house, prepared for each and every soul by him who is the way, the truth, and the life.”

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12 responses

5 05 2008
5 05 2008
theoldadam

Very interesting and thought provoking post.

I saw a tv program on string theory awhile back and thought of God spesking existence into being.

God continually speaks or existence would cease. That these theoretical strings vibrate and create the molecular motion necessary for life (I’m sure I probably got that a little bit wrong) brought to my mind , God speaking. His voice causes theses strings to vibrate. Jesus, of course, being the one string that all of life is created around and for.

Great post. Thanks!

– Steve Martin San Clemente, CA

5 05 2008
Reverend boy

I like that! Good one. Resonates with the idea of Jesus being the Word of God. Thanks for stopping by Steve, glad to have you.

5 05 2008
Anthony

Nice theory, but since John had been through at least 3 major revisions, it would be impossible to know what was meant. Which John is speaking at that moment, the proto-John of the time of Mark, or the Ecclesiastical John of much later? Who knows, I sure don’t. One theory is as good as another.

5 05 2008
FranIAm

What a fascinating post indeed. You know I end up hanging with some other folks in other blog circles that I am in and they tend to see through a narrow view.

You know, the well meaning (and I hate to sound like I am judging – but well I am judging) leftist liberals. Of which I am one too- ‘cepting’ that whole God thang.

Anyway, I would love to show a post like this but it would lost I think.

You posit some really interesting thoughts here; I am no Biblical or theological scholar, and certainly no physicist, but I think well enough read to think in this.

Thank you.
(hope I do not sound like a total a$$ – but I am always frustrated with people who want to be accepted for one thing and then are so quick to shut down another.)

5 05 2008
FranIAm

Oh I had to come back and say this. After leaving here, I went to the atheist blog where I have been invited to write on. I am not getting into too much idiocy over there, but I am compelled and invited to do some stereotype busting.

That said, one of the commenters on my most recent post there actually brought up string theory.

I mean- what are the odds? God has an unusual sense of humor if you ask me.

5 05 2008
Reverend boy

Over on Nick Knisely’s blog, Entangled States, he posted on Quantum physics too!

Fran, you are always welcome come and say whatever you like and you do not sound like an a$$ at all. And as for God’s unusual sense of humour, well thanks be to him for that!

5 05 2008
Reverend boy

Anthony, I don’t think any of us can know what was meant about a lot of it because John, while very beautiful in much of its language and imagery, is also very dense, and Lord knows I have a hard time wrestling with such things. I think I’m going to take a quick skim of the John section of “The Four Witnesses,” which speaks of how the Gospels came about, and hopefully it will speak to more of the revisions of John. As to the subject matter, I myself believe everyone who enters into a relationship with God in this life or goes into his nearer presence in the next or even in the New Creation will do so through Jesus. That being said, I also believe that there will be practicing Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, Buddhists, Jews, pagans, even atheists and agnostics and all sorts and conditions of folks “over there.” And somehow, we all wind up in the same place, through Jesus. Luckily, it’s in God’s hands and not ours to figure out all that stuff.

Just my opinion and I’m sure I’m wrong and naive on a lot of stuff.

6 05 2008
FranIAm

Thank you.

I had to return yet again, as at daily mass the topic of String Theory and John came up in the homily.

Not that I am trying to, but this cannot be ignored, something is calling me!

6 05 2008
MadPriest

Oh, I like that. I like it so much I shall steal the central idea and pretend it’s my own.

The only problem is that string theory is a bit last year. Most physicists are now agreed that life IS like a box of chocolates.

7 05 2008
RFSJ

RB –

If you’re interested in John then run, don’t walk, to Raymond E. Brown’s work. The Community of the Beloved Disciple, his Anchor Bible commentary on the Gospel of John, and An Introduction to the Gospel of John are all excellent places to start. Community of the Beloved Disciple is a real nice intro tyo the whole thing and is in paperback so it’s inexpensive!

Bob

9 05 2008
FranIAm

This coming week I am taking a 4 part course offered as part of a diocesan adult faith formation initiative on John. It is being taught by my pastor, who I must say I think is pretty brilliant. I have heard that Raymond Brown’s work is worth reading.

So many things to read and so little time. That whole pesky work thing.

And then there’s the blogs!

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