Lessons from Cosmos

A few months ago, I got completely hooked on the show Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. 

Science was always my least favorite subject in school, so Discovery Channel specials have never been my thing.  But as I started learning more about the universe in which we live, I found myself overcome with a sense of wonder.  I started to be in awe of this universe that is infinitely big and unimaginably old and full of unexplained mysteries.  There are so many discoveries yet to be made, from the far reaches of outer space to the depths of the oceans to the inner-workings of our own bodies.  In a universe so vast and mysterious, we never know what will be discovered next, and how it will impact our lives. 

No matter what you believe about the creation of the universe, it’s an undeniable fact that since the beginning of time, the universe has been getting bigger and deeper and more complex.  Planets and galaxies are moving away from each other at a speed of about 46 miles per second, life forms on earth are continually adapting to changes, and new mysteries are found every day.  The universe and all the known life within it are moving forward, progressing from one place to another. 

It’s been really hard for me lately to justify believing in a God I don't fully understand. 

It's also been hard to call myself a Christian in a world full of self-proclaimed prophets—you know, the ones who believe America was once a great Christian nation, but has been on a moral decline roughly since 1957.  The only thing we can do, they say, is continually tell everyone else they are wrong and pray that God will be merciful and we won't meet the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.  To the self-proclaimed prophet, the world is on a slippery downward slope, doomed to get worse unless there is a revival of superior morality taking us back to where we once were. 

It must be scary to be a self-proclaimed prophet.  It must be frightening to spend your life in fear of a dystopian future where pedophiles are running loose and Christians are being turned out of their homes and pastors are being forced to marry same-sex couples, and gun control laws have rendered everyone defenseless against an onslaught of persecution by the liberal establishment.  Living with a persecution complex must make it difficult to sleep at night. 

It’s true that God doesn’t change.

The God who created the universe is the same God we claim to know today.  However, because God doesn’t change, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking we have a monopoly on truth.  We shouldn’t believe that once we have read and studied the Bible, we know everything there is to know.  But it’s for this reason, I think, that many believe our morality, our politics, our science, our worldview also should never change.  As the world is changing around us, we shouldn't get sucked into “the ways of the world”.  We follow a God whose laws do not change, even if our country’s do.  In some ways, we are still the ones who believe the sun revolves around the earth long after Galileo looks through his telescope. 

We forget, though, that 96% of the universe is made of dark matter and unknown substances, full of mysterious forces the laws of physics cannot yet explain.  We forget that the God who set the universe in motion created a universe that is vast and endless and unimaginable, a universe that is changing and rapidly expanding every second of every day.  We forget that the universe cannot move back in time—it can only move forward towards more complex life forms and new ways of living. 

If the universe can’t move backwards, neither can we.

In opposition to the self-proclaimed prophets, there is the radical idea that the world is actually getting better.  Like the universe, it is getting bigger and deeper and more complex, and it is moving toward one thing and away from another.  We can look back at the systems of oppression — slavery, child labor, gender discrimination, segregation, Apartheid — and say that these are the ways of the past.  Even in a world where many forms of injustice still exist, we can see the way forward.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. — Romans 1:20 (ESV) 

We can learn so much about God’s character by learning about the universe. 

Living in this universe that Jesus called the Kingdom of God, we have two choices.  We can hide away from the world, longing to return to a past that was smaller and less complicated, or we can allow ourselves to change.  We can continue to identify the systems of this world we are called to leave behind.  We can claim to know everything, or we can embrace the mystery and humbly admit we are still learning.  We can expand the Kingdom of God as we learn more about this crazy, amazing, complicated universe and try to make it better.