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Friday, July 6, 2012

God Particle


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.
    And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
    God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
    God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.
-Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)


    Scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN announced this week that they think they’ve found evidence of the Higgs Bosun. So, if you know Mr. Higgs, please tell him that his bosun has turned up at CERN.
    Seriously, though, this is a pretty big announcement. The Higgs Bosun, a particle that scientists have theorized for half a century now must exist, is thought to give mass to matter. Actually, it’s the Higgs field that gives mass; the Bosun is really just the concrete evidence that it exists. According to quantum field theory, the Higgs field is thought to permeate the known universe. Like paper soaking up ink, when a particle interacts with this field it acquires potential energy and, because of E=mc2, also acquires mass. So the existence of the Higgs Field, if confirmed, would confirm a very important set of hypotheses about the creation and existence of the universe.
    That’s why the Higgs Bosun has sometimes been called the “God Particle”.
    In the beginning, the Higgs Bosun created the heavens and the earth.
    I don’t know, it just doesn’t grab me.
    Call it the God Particle if you will, but the confirmation of its existence (if that’s what this is) only adds to our understanding of the way the universe works. In that, it’s interesting. I’m sure there are even important applications of this knowledge. (At the moment, I’m wondering if it has implications for weight loss. I’m just saying.) But, again, it only adds to our picture of the nature of the universe and the mechanisms by which it functions. It doesn’t say anything at all about the Designer and Builder of those mechanisms. It doesn’t remove the need for a Creator.
    The Bible simply assumes God “in the beginning.” There is no explanation of where he came from, or how he got there, and that’s intentional. There is no prequel, no backstory, only  “In the beginning - God.”
    All the explanations of creation in the Ancient Near East assumed a god or gods, of course. According to those stories, powerful beings created parts of the universe, and created people to serve them. But these gods were full of all the evil that human beings are known for. They bickered amongst themselves, and created or used the universe or human beings for their own ends. They cheated and defrauded each other. They were cruel and capricious.
    Over against these creation stories, Genesis tells us of the one true God who chose to create, not part of the universe, but “the heavens and the earth.” He created from nothing, speaking the universe into existence piece by piece. If Genesis had been written in a more scientific age, it might have described God’s creation in terms of quantum theory, or molecular biology, or what have you. Maybe a day would be spent on each of the laws of thermodynamics. But, back of all that, the main story would remain: behind everything we see and know and experience as the universe, there is a God who created it all. Not a field, or a particle, or a theory, or a law. A God. A God who knew what he was doing and chose to bring a universe into existence.
    This God had hopes and expectations for his creation. He called it “good.” Said it was perfect, flawless, just as he intended it to be. And then, when it was all but done, he created human beings out of some of the stuff of that creation. And he told those human beings to rule over it and order it. He made those people to be like him, in his image, and to represent the Creator to the rest of creation.
    Of course, when you have a story like that, you have to explain how we got so far away.
    And so the story explains sin, explains why human beings don’t often look much like the Creator whose image we’re supposed to bear. It explains our dissatisfaction with the universe as God created it, our pathological need to “be like God.” It shows our rebellion, our fall, and the breaking of creation. Thorns grow, and brother kills brother, and the creation, with God’s chosen image-bearers rejecting their calling to try to usurp his place, spins into chaos.
    So the third act of the story begins. This Creator God has a plan to redeem his broken creation. It involves a new act of Creation, this time one in which the creative Word of God itself, Jesus, becomes flesh. He came to bring light into the darkness, just like before. He came to do what every human being was supposed to do as God’s image-bearer - to make it so that the rest of Creation could see his glory. Then Jesus, after his death and resurrection, pours out the Holy Spirit - the same one hovering over the empty, formless Earth at creation - into human beings to make them the image-bearers God created them to be.
    Particles don’t create with purpose and intent, and fields don’t redeem that Creation when it goes wrong. Fields and particles explain mechanisms, shed light on how and why the universe works like it does. Quantum physics can’t account for sin, or develop an equation for love, or explain resurrection. It has no theories that model the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart, no metric to measure the enormity of the Fall or the depth of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
    Believers have no reason to be defensive about science, or resentful or suspicious of its discoveries. It’s good to marvel in the complex design of our universe as we come to understand more of the parts its Creator put into motion. It’s right that we should be amazed at the intricacies of his work, the natural laws that he put in place to keep it all in order. But don’t think for a moment that our rudimentary understanding of the universe makes us independent of him. That sounds too much like Adam and Eve, so sure that their knowledge of their world made God something of an obsolete notion. Without his intervention, I suppose their arrogance might have brought the whole thing crashing down.
    We need him more than ever. As long as creation groans for redemption, as long as we grown in the pain and sorrow of thorns and death and illness and sin, we need him. A particle won’t call me from my grave. A field won’t offer me forgiveness, or transform my heart and mind, or give me life. There’s no theory for reversing the decay of matter, or for overcoming the power of death. There’s only God, our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Savior.
    Just try to get a bosun to do all that.

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