An After-Easter Meditation for the Cosmos Generation

Our entire universe emerged from a point smaller than a single atom. Space itself exploded in a cosmic fire, launching the expansion of the universe and giving birth to all the energy and all the matter we know today. I know that sounds crazy, but there is strong observational evidence to support the Big Bang theory. -- Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos

I am a child whose life was forged in the womb of mid-20th century American Evangelicalism. As Charles Dickens said about another era, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness... we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..." (1)

My young life was marked by clarity, by sharp distinctions -- heaven and hell, good and evil, right and wrong, God and the devil. There was great comfort in "knowing that you know," even if it created an unkind "us versus them" culture that my children's generation now finds themselves inheriting, dismantling, rebuilding. Our not-all-bad tendency toward insulation led unfortunately to isolation. We married ourselves to conservative politics and used it to foist our social agenda on an often-unwilling public by sheer numbers. We created a parallel universe, with our own entertainment industry -- best-seller Christian books, blockbuster Christian movies, a constellation of Christian music stars -- our own education system... and our own science. While a positive evangelical trait is to always take the Bible seriously, we assembled a new "ism" -- literalism -- that created a straw man out of the scientific community and set itself against mainstream science.

Looking back on this era, Mark Noll famously declared, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." (2)

Prophets and scientists have always had a rough go in the church. Copernicus and Galileo
were sorely persecuted for their scientific observation that the earth rotated around the sun -- not the other way around -- based in part on verses like Psalm 93:1 that declares, in the King James Version of course, "The world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved."

While I am certainly a creationist, I am decidedly not a "Creationist" with a capital "c," which is a construction of my generation within evangelicalism. There are very early references in Christian literature to the "two books" -- Scripture and Creation -- and it is important we read them both and let them each inform the other as well as our understanding of God, the cosmos and our place in it all. I am quite content with deGrasse Tyson's description of the very beginnings of our universe; science cannot look beyond matter or time -- that is not within its purview. But surely a "Big Bang" -- something sudden, something immense, something awesome -- is a reasonable scientific "translation" of Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

The message of this Easter just past and its implications are far larger than the narrow "sacrificial blood atonement" notion of the Gospel that, again, has become a hallmark of my generation of evangelicals. Imagine God stepping inside the story of a universe cycling toward death with entire populations of beings wiped out over eons of time. Imagine God on a cross, dying at the hands of created beings, declaring "Enough!" Imagine all of creation groaning with anticipation of a universe cycling now toward renewed life.

Young Christian, listen to these gray hairs writing on an Easter Sunday: a lobotomy is not a prerequisite to faith. You should probe, poke, investigate this incredible universe (or multi-verse!) in which you find yourself. Consider the wisdom of science even as you consider the wisdom of Scripture. You should challenge God and challenge yourself. Explore the mysteries, hold things in tension, embrace paradox.

God is bigger than you think -- or God is not God at all.

(1) Dickens, Charles & Sanders, Andrew. 2008. A tale of two cities. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
(2) Noll, Mark A.. 1994. The scandal of the evangelical mind. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans.