Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Certainty in an uncertain world

Today I was looking at something online and I saw a mention of the Paul Simon song American Tune.  It’s a song from a ways back, one which I am fairly certain I hadn’t heard in a long time, but I knew that the melody and fragments of the lyrics were embedded in my memory. 

So, living in the time that we do, I found the song on YouTube and had a listen.  The oldest version was from 1974, which reminded me that it was on the album he released that year, an album I acquired when it was issued, when I was a senior in high school.

I listened to the song once today and fragments of it have replayed through my mind since.  Of these fragments, one line stands out:

“We come at the age’s most uncertain hour”

And that brought to mind how quickly our circumstances, or our view of life as we live in a particular moment, can shift from certainty to uncertainty. 

I am not an astute enough student of poetry to understand what, if anything, Simon may have been singing about in particular.  In 1974 our country was still entangled in Viet Nam.  The Nixon administration was unraveling.  Quite likely there were other things were going on in the world that could evoke feelings of uncertainty as well.

I think that every “age” has its uncertainties.  The news today is full of things that have unknown implications for the future.  The presidential election is an obvious one.  Another is today’s report of a significant melting of the ice sheet in Greenland.   The recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, where in an instant the relative certainty of an evening at the movies changed, permanently affecting the lives of everyone present in the theater.

Despite the things that may occur that bring uncertainty into our lives there are some things that never change, things that we may count on no matter what our circumstances are or what the world is telling us.  These are the promises of God, spoken through the Bible.  I’m studying one of them today in preparation for a sermon in two weeks.  In John 6:40 Jesus says:

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

This promise of God, spoken through Jesus, is that those who have faith in him also have eternal security with God.  It is a security that transcends each and every uncertainty of our lives.  It is a security that transcends time.  No matter what happened yesterday, what happens today, or what will happen tomorrow, the Christian can be assured that God’s grasp on them is firm.  It is the certain thing that will endure every uncertainty.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The point of it all…sort of

There has been a lot of news from the field of physics lately, particularly particle physics, which as I understand it has to do with finding all of the little things that somehow come together to make stuff.  Not stuff like TV’s or clothing and not little things like all of the parts that make up my car.  But stuff as in any object you can possibly imagine…even a speck of dust, and little things being the sub-atomic particles of which all things are made.  Physicists believe these particles exist and they are involved in a quest to find and understand them.

Now all of this isn’t really news, because people have been studying what things are made of since before Galileo invented the pre-cursor to the modern microscope.  The discovery reported last week, of the Higgs boson, is the culmination of 50 years of theorizing and experimenting.  And if my comments so far seem like I understand all of this, I really don’t.  My sketchy knowledge comes from reading a number of general interest articles.

I get interested in all of this because the Higgs boson is considered so essential to the existence of matter that the popular press frequently refers to it as the “God particle.”  Physics trips some people’s triggers and theology trips mine.  Put mention of God into a popular conversation and I get interested. 

So I’ve read a few things about the Higgs boson in the last week and tonight I read an article titled “Higgs boson binds the universe, but people give it meaning.”  The gist of the article is that as we discover more about the minutiae and complexity of the universe we are left with one of two options.  The first is essentially an awareness of how small and insignificant we are, both in space and time.  As the author sums this viewpoint he writes, “We are dust in the wind, utterly inconsequential in the dark expanse of time and space.”   That option, in my mind, leads to things like Nihilism and despair.  Not pretty places to live our lives.

The second option invites us to use our brief time in this life, on this planet, well.  The author writes, “What we do in our brief lives on this small planet may be the only thing that matters” and “The Higgs boson may glue this universe together, but we are the ones who give it meaning.”  And that sounds well and good.  This perspective invites us to all manner of opportunities of being engaged with our neighbors, with our world, for a collective good. 

Using our actions to invest meaning into life is the point of it all..sort of.

Doing good things and making life meaningful in the process sounds like a wonderful thing, but it is incomplete.  If that is all we are doing and there is no concept of God in our thoughts and actions then what we are really doing is making gods out of ourselves.  We are using this brief sliver of time in this vast universe to serve and glorify ourselves. 

God invites us to something better.  Something much better.  This extensive Biblical wisdom on this is summed up well in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, whose first question-and-answer is:

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Rather than citing and explaining all of the Bible verses that support the claims of the catechism I invite you to follow the link and read the verses that underlie the two claims of Answer 1.  They are extensive.

God invites us to live meaningful lives not to give meaning to the universe but to give glory to the God who created it.