The mystery of everything

The Mystery of Everything & The Magic of Stuff’ – Genesis 1:1-14

Christ Church Highbury, February 18th 2018

[Each year, Christ Church chooses a Lent course that is followed in home groups & in Sunday’s sermons. This year we used The Mystery of Everything, a course by Hilary Brand based upon the film The Theory of Everything. We use the course in our home groups and Sunday sermons – this was the first week of that series.]

The ‘mystery of everything’ is potentially quite an undertaking for just 6 weeks, but it’s broken down into five themes of mystery:

  • Our origins
  • Suffering
  • God’s care for us
  • Wisdom
  • Weakness
  • The cross

It acknowledges that faith requires us to engage in mystery. We never reach a point in our relationship with God where we know all the answers. No human in the history of creation has come close to fully comprehending the mystery of God, although many have tried!

The problem is that this doesn’t sit well with our human instinct of curiosity – we’d rather know the theory behind everything, rather than having to settle for a mystery. We seek answers to questions; we are created with an innate desire for knowledge within us. I’m not sure we ever fully depart from that phase all small children go through where every other question is “But why….???”

And, over centuries, humanity has tried to establish the answers to our questions. This course explores some of these questions, doing so through the story of someone who attempted to find answers in science: Stephen Hawking, and the film based upon his earlier career, The Theory of Everything.

Stephen Hawking is arguably one of the greatest scientists the UK has ever produced. His book A Brief History of Time, published in 1988 as an introduction to his work and ideas for the masses, sold over 10 million copies in 20 years. It’s been published in 35 languages and is one of the bestselling science books ever published. Covering topics such as the Big Bang and Black Holes, for many people it’s been their main introduction to some of the ‘big’ questions around our origin and how our world works.

Modern culture has a tendency of viewing science and faith as an either/or situation. Can you believe in Genesis and the Big Bang? Hasn’t modern science disproved monotheistic views of how the world came into being?

The Mystery of Origin

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” 

The most we are told about HOW God created the world is that his Spirit hovers above all, and that at his command, light, sky, land, and all that grows & lives on earth. The intricacies of exactly how this all came to pass, and a precise time frame is not part of Genesis’ opening chapters.

It’s generally understood that this account was written by Moses, in around 1445 BC. It is certainly not an eye witness account! There are also widely understood to be two creation narratives, this in chapter 1 and then a further narrative in chapter 2. They are complementary rather than contradictory, providing God’s people with an understanding of his centrality in their world.

God’s creation is shrouded in mystery, and the more that we have learnt of the world through scientific exploration, the more questions have been raised. Some would argue that theories such as the Big Bang and Evolution are indicative of Genesis being wrong. That there is no God, or that creation couldn’t have taken place in the way Genesis accounts for.

I don’t know where you stand on these questions. I am categorically not a scientist! It was not my strongest subject at school, and I don’t really have the greatest of interests in it – certainly not to the extent that I would buy A Brief History of Time and read it for fun! But I am a historian and theologian. I am interested in why and how things happened. I’m fascinated by the way in which our world has grown, changed and evolved. And obviously, I believe that God is in the centre of it all.

My father has a scientific background – he was part-way through a science degree when he realised he was being called to ordained ministry. As a result, growing up, religion and science were not regarded as an either/or – they were compatible rather than being mutually exclusive. I learned about evolution at school, but was shocked to discover that there were Christians who didn’t believe in the scientific theory because it was at odds with Genesis. Aged 9, I was rather hasty in my dismissal of these Christians (probably to my parents’ great amusement), but it resulted in a long conversation with my father about how to reconcile the two arguments with each other. As an adult, I still hold a similar view – that I can see God at work in these scientific ideas, and I don’t consider them to undermine my faith and beliefs.

There isn’t time to go deeply into the debate of which creation ‘story’ or theory is correct, or grounded in the most evidence. I’m sure many of you will have your own opinions on this. What we should not do is dismiss scientific discoveries and research as attacks upon God’s autonomy – because although there are atheist scientists, there are many who have a belief in God’s work in creation too.

I love this story about one of Einstein’s classes:

A class of students were saying they had decided there was no God. Einstein asked them how much of all the knowledge in the world they had among themselves collectively, as a class. The students discussed it for a while and decided they had 5% of all human knowledge among themselves. Einstein thought their estimate was a little generous, but he replied: “Is it possible God exists in the 95% you don’t know?”

Even within science, there is still mystery…

When we read the creation narrative set out in Genesis as readers dwelling in the 21st century, we do so in our specific time and culture. We bring to our reading myriad questions that would not have crossed the minds of those hearing Moses’ account centuries ago. But we see God at work at the beginning of time, just as we see God at work in the world in which we live today.

A sense of awe:

In the mystery of creation is a sense of awe. As we ponder these questions of how, when and why, we are struck by the majesty of what God has done and is doing. Where do we find that sense of awe at God’s creation in our lives?

There has been more than one depiction of Stephen Hawking’s life over the years. Just a couple of years before The Theory of Everything came out, the BBC made a film of his life starring Benedict Cumberbatch. I happen to be more of a Cumberbatch fan than an Eddie Redmayne one, and in this drama was a scene between Hawkings and Jane – who he later married – where they lie together in a garden, gazing at the stars. As they do so, Stephen attempts to explain some of his ideas about black holes and the universe – very romantic!

But as I was re-reading Genesis, I was struck that I have a similar response to the stars. Not a scientific weighing up of possibilities, but a sense of awe at the vastness of God’s creation. Living in London, it’s not something I get to do every day – but I think of when I’m on holiday in rural France, sitting outside late at night, looking up at a sky that seems so huge and full of infinite possibilities. That the stars I’m looking up at began burning bright centuries ago. That people I care for far away can look up at the same stars. That, these lights in the sky were created at God’s command…

This sermon was preached just a few weeks before Stephen Hawking died. In the days following his death, many tributes appeared that included some of his work on stars. (Credit.)

As I look back on my life I can think of plenty of other moments where I’ve felt a similar sense of awe:

  • Holding a newborn baby & marvelling at this tiny, perfect creature who’ll grow up to be someone.
  • Watching a child do something for the first time.
  • Standing in the waves of the Pacific Ocean, overcome by the vastness of water.
  • Catching sight of a beautiful sunrise or sunset.

I could go on, and I’m sure you would all have plenty of moments to add to that list. I would encourage you to find time to think about those that have come into your mind. Thank God for his creation, and for the way in which it has reminded you of his presence.

Perhaps you have questions? Lent can be a time in which you choose to intentionally engage in the mysteries of our faith and our world – through a lent course, through conversation with others, or through intentionally finding out more about an area you’re curious about.

Despite all our questions and wondering, in the midst of the mystery of everything, there is one certainty: God is at work – yesterday, today, and forever.

Friday Fun with tampons, tastebuds & transport

Yes, tampons.

I’ve had to wait two weeks to share this gem, but trust me, it’s very worth it! (And massive thanks to Jenni for sharing this with me.) I don’t think I need say more than its title – Tampon Vs. Mooncup rap battle:

Yes, it’s a Mooncup ad, but it is laugh-out-loud hilarious. And kudos to Mooncup for managing to get ‘no strings attached’ in as a final line! Utter genius. (And no, I’ve still not tried it.)

If you think that’s terrible advertising, try this Russian Tampax ad – which gives a whole new meaning to ‘shark week’…

Moving on to something a little less, well, bloody. It’s got to be time for some transport geekiness. Firstly, geekiness of a London variety – were you aware that somebody has spent nearly 50 years working out what each tube station tastes like? Not that he went around licking station walls, apparently he has synaethesia which mixes up senses in the brain, meaning that he could taste what he saw. It’s an interesting concept as I’ve often associated particular stations with particular smells – Elephant & Castle station smells just like the NYC subway, for example. (Poor Russell Square has only managed to taste like celery, which effectively means that it tastes of nothing.)


Talking of New York, we might make a lot of fuss over the ways in which the Tube map has changed and developed, but watching the subway map’s progress between 1924 and 2012 is fascinating. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1972 that the map became standardised…

NYC Subway GIF

Finally, possibly the most education a capella YouTube video I’ve ever watched  – so educational that I actually didn’t fully understand it, but that’s probably because it’s about String Theory. Bohemian Gravity is an excellent piece of work and very watchable, even if you don’t really know the first thing about Quantum Physics. Oh, and it features a singing Einstein sock puppet – what’s not to love??

Friday Fun with the entire universe

Something mind-blowing with which to kick off Friday Fun today. Ever wondered how the various elements of the universe compare in terms of size? From a teeny-tiny neutron, to a double decker bus, to the Milky Way? Wonder no more and simply engross yourself in this awesome website

My mind was officially blown for some time after playing with this. Utterly amazing! 
The kind of person who can create something like that is probably someone with a touch of OCD in their life. In fact, I’m of the opinion that all the best people are a tad OCD – I freely admit that it exists in my world in terms of book organisation, symmetry, labelling and general organisation. Last Sunday at the birthday party, I was responsible for checking decorations were straight because it bothered me in the same way as it would bother the birthday girl – OCD is genetic. Perhaps you think you have no OCD tendencies at all? Well, try looking at these ’19 images that will drive your OCD self insane’ and see if you cringe… (I’m already upset by the lack of a round number!) 

You know what really upsets me? The fact that you can’t do proper symmetry with Stickle Bricks – it bothered me all the way through my years of working with under-6’s at church. With Lego you can, but Stickle Bricks? No. Thus, picture #6 really struck a chord:

Finally, a little something to calm you down – after all, there’s nothing as calming as a good power ballad is there? How about a parodied power ballad about bacon? You might dislike Celine Dion with a passion (I have to say, I don’t – I may own multiple albums of hers…) but you probably rather like bacon, or like it enough to watch some of The Power of Bacon. Genius.

Painful festive fun

When I began writing this post it was with an apologetic intro because I didn’t really have anything for you, then I remembered to look up some Facebook links I’d been meaning to watch and checked my google reader. As a result I’ve got a classic Christmas Friday Fun and something a little bit more educational – but still fun, if you’re a geek.

The one thing that had been thrown my way this week was only funny in the rudest, crudest way and that’s not really the style of humour I go for. [If you’re even slightly intrigued just google ‘Buffy swearing keyboard’ & stick your headphones in – it’s awful but possibly faintly amusing depending on your level of depravity.]

To counteract that, you can receive edification by heading over to Andy’s blog where you can watch an amazing film that’s awesome  (in the truest sense of the word) and educational.

And Christmas fun? This week O Holy Night was voted Britain’s number one Christmas Carol, I just suspect that they weren’t voting on the basis of this version. See how long you can bear listening to it – I’d recommend sticking with it till the end, but it might be painful…

May your day/weekend be snowy and muchly fun-filled!

Fizzy Friday Fun

I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t find anything amusing for today, especially as my regular source hasn’t been as forthcoming as they have been of late. But have no fear, Gizmodo has delivered!

You’ll have heard of the Diet Coke + Mentos = Fizzing Explosion before (unless you’ve been living in Outer Mongolia for the last few years). Now there’s a new spin on a classic:

Freeze mentos in ice cubes, add them to Diet Coke and voila! Time delayed explosions from a glass.

Hilarious. (Except for those in white clothing or with nervous dispositions.) Full instructions here.

[In the meantime, be very wary if you come to a party at my place and upon entry are handed a glass of tepid Diet Coke with slightly opaque ice cubes floating in it – especially if I make a quick getaway. You have been warned.]