Space, Physics, and the Incarnation

Several weeks ago, I posted a question on Facebook and invited my friends to respond: What are the most interesting topics and questions at the intersection of theology, physics, and space exploration? This was part of a new endeavor of mine to read, think, and write about those very topics: the intersection of Christian faith and physics, and theology of space exploration. More on that below.

I was delighted to see just how much of a response I received to this question. My infrequent Facebook posts normally elicit the social media equivalent of crickets. (Well, except for posts about my kids. People love those.) But this one got a lot more attention and interaction than usual. Clearly the question resonated with people. Some of the questions and topics people named were ones I’d thought of already, while others were new to me. Almost all of them were compelling. The one that stood out the most, though, was this one: the understanding of Christ as the second person of the Trinity—Logos, Wisdom, organizing principle of creation—and what that means for understanding scientific principles of order and chaos.

That one resonated with me because it’s one that I’ve thought about a lot. The Gospel of John begins with a prologue about the Word of God (the Logos), which was “in the beginning with God” and “all things came into being through him” (John 1:2-3). The Word was not only with God; the Word was God (John 1:1). And then, the miracle of the Incarnation: this word of God “became flesh and lived among us” in the person of Jesus (John 1:14).

This idea of the divine word becoming flesh is central to Christian theology and played a prominent role in the early church’s affirmation that Christ is fully God, the second person of the Trinity. In the underlying worldview of John 1, the word of God is the intellect or reason of God, or rationality itself. It is Wisdom, or in my friend’s words, “the organizing principle of creation.” We might call it something like the animating reason of the universe. It is, in other words, the underlying logic of everything that exists (with the exception of sin, which is irrational). If this description of it isn’t too far off, then the divine word surely includes the laws of physics. The divine word must be the source of the laws of gravity and inertia, Maxwell’s equations, relativity, quantum mechanics, and all the rest of the physical laws we’ve discovered to describe what happens in the world. And Jesus is that very word made flesh.

If this is true, then it says something powerful about our universe, our faith, and the relationship between science and the Christian way of life. It means that quantum mechanics, general relativity, algebra, Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, and all the stuff we don’t yet know about has become flesh and lived among us. Jesus of Nazareth is source of all the weird, wonderful laws of the universe expressed in form of a single human life. On the one hand, this means perhaps that I can get to know Jesus in some way by doing math problems and observing the stars. It means, on the other hand, that I can perhaps understand something of the physical character of the universe by imitating Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform me into his likeness. I can obtain a deep knowledge of what’s at the heart of our world not only by science, but by receiving communion; by praying; by worshiping; by reading Scripture; by serving my neighbor in need; by loving my enemies; by extending forgiveness to those who have wronged me; by practicing a life of virtue; by living self-sacrificially. And I think it might turn out to mean that things like space exploration can be holy endeavors in which we come to know Jesus more intimately. I want to be a part of that.

I’ve loved space since I first saw Star Wars in the fifth grade. I’ve loved physics since the eighth grade when I read a book called Hyperspace, by Michio Kaku. Ultimately I chose the route of theology as a profession because I longed to know the Creator of the universe, not just the creation. Yet now, after more than ten years of studying theology, I find myself drawn to physics and space once again. This love of mine that never really went away (thank you Discover Magazine and sci-fi books) has intensified recently. I’ll write more about the reasons why in a subsequent post, but the catalyst was a realization that God may be found throughout the whole created universe; that humans will likely take dramatic leaps in exploring space in my or my children’s lifetimes; and that this will likely mean something important for the Christian faith as it will for humankind itself.

That brings me back to this new endeavor of mine I mentioned earlier. I want to read, write, and simply think about the relationship between theology, physics, and space exploration, and what the intersection of them can mean for the Christian faith. The writing part is mostly to help me capture and express my thoughts, but I also hope to connect with others who find these things important and desire to think about them. So I’ll be sharing my writing here once a week.

If you are reading this, I invite you to join me in thinking about space, physics, theology, the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and more. I’d love to spark conversation about these ideas, which I believe are significant for Christian theology now and in the future. I hope my reflections will fuel your imagination as well as mine.

2 thoughts on “Space, Physics, and the Incarnation

  1. If you haven’t already read it, I would recommend “Stealing From God” by Frank Turek. I’m working thru it now. It makes the claim that the universe was created for a reason. Atheists hold to cause and effect as part of scientific methodology, but quickly dismiss it when reasoning the origin of the universe.

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