Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bigger stage, greater drama

Some Christians secretly nurse a suspicion that contemporary cosmology has found them out, confirming the culture of disbelief. As if Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who first broke the atomsphere to say, "I don't see God," was right. Apparently he didn't even say that. Kruschev did.

Contemporary cosmology - as Adam, a faithful Catholic and Princeton astronomist might tell you - is in fact a gift. Whether the Big Bang confirms creatio ex nihilo is an opinion to be held lightly (see Barr's response to Colson), but I'm thinking more of this: The boggling proportions of the known Universe robs us of a prematurely spatial limitation to God's whereabouts, one that more primitive cosmologies could encourage. "'Who art in heaven' does not mean a place ('space'), but a way of being," writes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Our Father is not 'elsewhere.'"

Objection to this teaching could come from claiming it is a contemporary adjustment of Christian doctrine to accommodate new science. And while carefully developing the faith in light of recent discoveries is not in principle wrong, in this case there is no need to. It's not as if the idea of God and his heaven being non-spatial is anything new. The fourth-century quotes from Augustine and Chrysostom in the Catechism following the above assertion (see 2794) convey the very same idea.

This is not to suggest that God and his heaven are less than spatial, but more. Of course, this is impossible to understand. Diogenes Allen recently related how Jesus appears in the film The Green Man to discuss some matters with a businessman. The man asks, "What's it like in Heaven?" Jesus - nearly annoyed - dismisses the question as an unwelcome distraction, offhandedly remarks, "You'd never understand," and steers the conversation back to what matters: the businessman's getting there.

It may stretch the modern mind to be asked to lay down the idol of space as the final frontier, but space isn't: God is. "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me," wrote Blaise Pascal. As I've remarked before, T.F. Torrance has provided the definitive reply: "Don't worry, that's how much God loves you."