Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I've struggled with the idea of God for most of my life. On the one hand, I'm a very logically minded person and require that things follow a pattern that makes sense. Above almost all things, I crave the basic simplicity of a fundamental order. I want things to be provable; to be observable. I am very interested in science, physics, space exploration, quantum mechanics, string theory, subatomic particles, evolution, the possibility of life on other planets, the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, whether or not intelligent aliens have a Bible, whether or not God appeared to them in their own alien form as he came to us in the form man, what that could mean in the great scheme of life and God's plan for the entire universe, and just about every curiosity or puzzle the beckons to be figured out.
In a way I wish that I wasn't interested in those things and that I had never heard of or learned about any of that stuff because it has made it all that much harder to accept God as a reality when there is no observable evidence that can be scientifically examined. However, I have never been happy with the idea that God doesn't exist, and I abhor the thought of being an atheist with all of my being. I've always wanted God in my life, but there is a force in me which has made it impossible for Him to exist within me. No matter how much I wanted to believe in God, this force has relegated me to the status of a miserable agnostic. It has been a terrible thing for me... that I should have this powerful desire and need for God, and at the same time to have a built in barrier, over which I have no control, that seems to render faith impossible. For the last 28 years, that's how it was for me.
For a couple of years now I have been in the process of recovering from a bleak time in my life... that absolute bottom, that blackest of pits; that place from which the only direction to go is up, and I've been guardedly optimistic. Almost a year ago, In early January, I was introduced to St. Maximus Orthodox Mission by a friend and have been attending services and going to classes. As a result I have been able to reconcile myself largely to the aforementioned problems. It has been a miracle for me, that I can now look into my heart and really sense true belief there, a belief that defies all of the logic which has defined my core being for so long. I attribute this miracle to God's mercy; that maybe the 28 years of flailing about in the darkness was necessary in order to prepare myself so that I could finally accept God into my heart... that I was required to hit rock bottom in order to build anew from the bare foundations of my 'self'.
This new belief is still fledgling though, and during the past year I have experienced a definite, almost predictable pattern of ups and downs; like peaks and valleys. During the peaks, everything seems so easy and natural. I am enthusiastic, I read the Gospels regularly (usually before bed), I pray often, I go to church, I attend classes, and I feel comfortable and at ease. None of those logical problems bother me. It's as if they don't even matter; that they have been nothing more than distractions and obstacles set in place to hinder me. I feel the presence of God and I am aware of His miracles around me.
Then there are the valleys. At these times I tend to argue a lot with people close to me. I find myself vehemently defending Orthodox Christianity to those who aren't Christian, or just not Orthodox, while at the same time feeling that I am a hypocrite. As I sink deeper, I start to second guess myself. I remember all of the reasons why I used to think that Christianity was just one of thousands of religions invented by man, and that religion is nothing more than a comforting technique inspired by an inordinate need for us to escape the fate of meaningless oblivion. I begin to question the basic tenets of Christianity, such as the virgin birth, Jesus Christ as God incarnate, the miracles described in the Gospels, and the resurrection, as things that are physically impossible. At my lowest point, it's as if almost all of the faith that I have built up has been torn down, and I'm back to the foundations of myself. Sometimes these valleys occur as a result of something specific but more often they just happen, as if they are part of a repeating cycle.
At some level I understand these peaks and valleys as my own personal battle with the forces which have been hindering my belief for almost 30 years. When I step back from it, I can see this battle occurring, and I can identify my obstacles as things that are not of my own will; objects that are actively trying to tear down my faith. I suppose they could even be called demons, as that's as good a name as any for an active force which is working inside me and against my own will and well being. It's heartening to think of it this way, as it then becomes a tangible thing which I can grapple with instead of succumb to. I don't recall anyone telling me that becoming an Orthodox Christian was going to be easy.
Now I come to the crux of my essay. Ironically, I have never had a problem with science and religion. I've always believed that if there was a God, that all of the observable scientific phenomenon we have discovered that describes the ongoing existence of the universe - evolution and the big bang being two prime examples - are Gods own tools, and that He made the universe this way to operate according to His will. However, as I've pointed out before, much of my trouble comes from trying to reconcile the basic elements of Christianity with observable reality. Lately I have been experiencing a pretty severe valley, but the other day something happened that promises to permanently defeat those things which have been working against my will and to my detriment.
A few days ago I was watching a program about quantum mechanics which presented me with a wonderful possibility. Now, in order to fully explain this, I would have to delve into the subject at a fair length, a daunting prospect at best, so I'll try to explain it simply. At the quantum level, subatomic particles follow a rather strange set of laws that differ greatly from those at the macroscopic level... that is, the level with which we are familiar; from complex molecules and on up to galaxies. What quantum mechanics states is that all of the subatomic particles which comprise physical reality exist in a state of flux - that is, these particles haven't settled down into any kind of form that can be measured; they all merely represent potentials. Here is a crude analogy - Imagine a spinning roulette wheel. Until that roulette wheel stops spinning, it is impossible to know where the ball will come to rest. It is similar with subatomic particles in the quantum world. All of these particles are 'spinning', each with the potential to be either 'here' or 'there', or maybe moving 'this fast' or 'that fast'. The catch is, all quantum particles will remain in this state of potential until they are observed. I know, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I think that one would need a degree in astrophysics to really grasp it, but suffice it to say that quantum mechanics describes it that way.
So, in effect, according to quantum mechanics, nothing really exists as a definite, measurable or observable entity or phenomenon until it is observed. It is a mind boggling concept... that unless someone is there to witness a thing, that thing does not exist. It's similar to the the old adage which states "If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" It's the same principle. Now, the gist of the program was that since everything is merely unexpressed potential until observed, that humans in fact create the reality merely by witnessing it. At this point the writers of the program indulged their egos by suggesting that because of this, everyone is a god. However, I chose to see it somewhat differently, in that it is not 'we' who cause the quantum potential of reality to take form by observing it. That honor falls to God, and He is the one doing the observing which sets the gears of creation into motion.
It really was a great epiphany when I realized this. Suddenly, in my mind, anything is possible. All of the miracles are possible. Anything could have happened, can happen, and still might happen. Everything is defined by God, created by God, and witnessed by God. I can believe everything now, from the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine, to the coming resurrection of every single person who ever lived and died. And the best part is that I don't have to understand it.