“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’” – Luke 19:39-40
“Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?” There I stood in front of 29 eighth-grade students, my daughter among them, having to speak truth about Adam and Eve’s navels. “Probably,” I responded. There was a gasp, then an explosion of chattering. “How could they, if God created them from nothing?” one student blurted out. “Were they created from nothing?” I replied. More chatter. “Maybe,” I went on, “the Bible isn’t trying to tell us about their belly buttons; maybe it’s trying to tell us something about who God is and what it means to live as God’s people in the world. If we’re curious about belly buttons, maybe we need science to help us out?” An explosion of hands and energy quickly followed by the bell. On the way out, I could hear them talking, arguing and complaining, which I think meant the class went well.
The universe is where God plays.
Honestly, I really don’t care about belly buttons; I do care that young people come to recognize that faith and science do not have to be in conflict. Earlier in the class I asked how many students thought the world was flat – one wise guy raised his hand and laughed. I went on to talk about the church’s response to Galileo and Copernicus and said that sometimes Christians get it wrong. They might get it wrong with the best of intentions, but they’re wrong nonetheless.
I know there are a wide variety of perspectives in the Christian community about how to interpret Genesis and whether accepting evolution is tenable for people of faith; my purpose is not to impose any one set of beliefs on anyone. I do want to foster generosity – to cultivate curiosity. Not just in the realm of science but in how we read the biblical text as well. Often the problem is that we think we know what Scripture says, only to be surprised again and again when we actually read it – the same surprise, I hope, we get when we hear about black holes colliding in the deep recesses of space or the same wonder we experience when we open ourselves up to the rhythms of the created world.
I refer often to the “rocks crying out.” I want my own children to recognize that God loves the creation, not just for what it provides for human beings but because it is God’s good creation. God doesn’t necessarily make grass or trees because they’re useful, to channel my inner G.K. Chesterton; God makes them because God loves grass and trees. Sometimes I hear arguments against faith that point to the inefficiency of creation; for me, the inefficiency is beautiful. It shows that the creation is not a machine governed by rigid laws and processes; it is instead an artistic expression of joyful waste. To think that there is so much of the universe that exists outside of the human experience puts us in our place. We might be made in the image of God, but the universe is where God plays. How fortunate and blessed we are when God allows us to catch a glimpse – and to hear the faint echo of creation’s praise.
Jason Lief teaches theology at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa, and is co-editor of Perspectives.
Image by M.Weiss, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration; public domain via Wikimedia Commons.