In the first chapter of his letter to the Romans, St Paul has a beautiful verse, profound, but so brief that it’s easy to miss. “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Romans 1: 20). God’s divine nature is seen through the things he has made.
Have you ever just looked at the creation and marvelled at its magnificence? Have you ever wondered how we’re here at all? Our Solar System is just a tiny blip towards the outer rim of the Milky Way Galaxy. Earth is just one planet circling a fairly ordinary, unremarkable yellow star: a star, which is one of literally billions of stars in the Universe. Yet here we are, conscious, thinking, human beings, existing on this planet, surrounded by the beauty of the natural world, using our intelligence to create things, to invent things, to learn things. I find it amazing we exist at all.
Scientists tell us that billions of years ago, so long ago that the timeframe doesn’t even make sense, a singular event occurred, an explosion of unthinkable proportions; but even the word explosion doesn’t do it justice, because that implies a destructive event – it was just the opposite. ‘The Big Bang’ as it’s popularly called, this singular event, sparked a whole chain reaction, and from this one, intensely hot event, matter began to form and expand incredibly rapidly and cool down. Over billions of years the Universe, as we now call this expanding reality, formed galaxies, stars and planets. What I find truly amazing is the rate of expansion: if the Universe had expanded too quickly, the speed of the expansion would not have allowed anything substantial to form: stars and planets, for example, would not have been able to form: no stars, no planets – no life. But if the expansion had been too slow, if the Universe had not expanded quickly enough, then the whole Universe would have collapsed back on itself. Scientists sometimes call this the ‘Big Crunch’. The whole Universe collapses back in on itself. So, from the very first moments of the Universe, the rate or the speed of the expansion had to be just right: too fast, atoms don’t get a change to form, too slow, the whole thing falls back into a big crunch.
So, my theory, well it’s not mine, but it’s one I quite like and have written about: God set up the laws, the physical laws of the Universe, right from the start of the Big Bang. So, God started the whole process going and the laws had to be right, had to be correct, for it to work. But even for those who don’t believe in God, it’s worth reflecting on the miracle of life. It is incredible that we are here at all, on this beautiful planet, Earth, which itself is such a fountain of life and has allowed life to evolve.
It’s sometimes just worth noticing how unbelievable it is that we exist at all and to give thanks for the fact that we do exist.
I remember reflecting on this when my children were born and much more recently when one of my nieces was born. I remember walking into the hospital room, giving my sister a hug, patting my brother-in-law on the back, and then seeing my new niece for the first time. I was reminded how precious life is and what a gift it is. I don’t know if you remember the last time you saw a new-born baby. They are remarkably small. I have several young nieces and nephews now, and I’m always reminded how beautiful and wonderful life is when I see new-born babies. They look very fragile. And being my sister and brother-in-law’s first child, they were very protective. So protective that I was almost nervous leaning over to give my new niece a little blessing, because both my sister and brother-in-law were hovering, anxious that I might slip. Even their slightly over-protective reaction reminded me that life is precious! We shouldn’t take it for granted, but rejoice in every minute of it.
As Christians we also know that we are called to live in harmony with creation, as stewards of creation. In the book of Genesis the man and the woman are given stewardship of creation, to look after it. And this creation is described as being good. In the Eastern tradition the writers talk about the sacrament of creation: creation itself is something holy, which shows something of God. In the west we are probably more used to the idea that creation is blessed by God, but really we’re talking about the same thing. God’s creation is beautiful and we are called to be stewards of it and live in harmony with it. In our Christian history there are those remarkable saints who managed to do just that. St Francis is the saint who springs immediately to mind: someone who found that balance with creation.
There are moments when I channel St Francis. On the expansive grounds of St Peter’s College we have a large family of resident magpies. They say that magpies remember people and if you talk to them and are kind to them, you join their family. So, faithfully and in the spirit of Francis, I always greet the magpies whenever I see them around the grounds. It’s a simple way of saying, “You are one of God’s creatures.”
Our challenge as human beings, now, is to take that sense of connection and belonging to our relationship with the entire creation. The biggest challenge is to reverse the damage we are doing to our environment, principally through pollution, so that we may get the balance right again. Psalm 148 tells us that the whole creation praises God. We make that so much harder, though, when we upset that sacred balance.
One of the remarkable things about Jesus in the gospels is that he seemed to wake people up. He didn’t allow people to remain in their comfortable, slumbering state of self-satisfaction – he woke people up; he opened their eyes. We are called to see clearly the damage we are doing to creation and to hear the prophetic call to change our ways.
At some point in our history, we lost the connection between the sacred and the secular. We started to make a distinction between the spiritual and the physical. We restricted faith, spirituality, and religion to something that was personal, done mainly on Sundays. It could change peoples’ lives for the better, to be sure, but mainly at a personal level. The grand Christian vision of changing the world, of connecting the spiritual and the physical, the sacred and the secular, was lost. We became blind to our connection with the creation.
When we reach a place of being in a beautiful relationship with God, when we praise God with everything we think and everything we do, then our eyes are opened to notice the rest of God’s creation doing the same thing. Psalm 148, a psalm of praise, has all of creation praising God – not just the creatures and the people – but the entirety of God’s creation, including that archaic but rather beautiful notion of the waters above the heavens, from whence the rain comes. When we achieve a sacred balance, the balance of lives lived in harmony with another and all of creation, then all of creation joins us in praising the Creator, and God in turn blesses us through his creation, in the autumn rain which covers us in blessings. It is a picture of a beautiful world now, and a vision of the life to come in the kingdom of heaven.
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall