Viewpoint from The Bishop of Thetford for 24/09/10
The Rt Revd Alan Winton Bishop of Thetford
Diocese of Norwich
The God Question
Professor Stephen Hawking has been in the news recently with the launch of his new book, and one of the main soundbites used in the media has been that “God is not necessary to exist for the Universe to have formed”. It’s certainl
y a good quote to guarantee publicity for the book and get the columnists and religious commentators talking.
This morning, by contrast, I was reading Psalm 19 with its wonderful opening verse, “The heavens are telling the glory of God”. I thought of what we know about the nature of the universe, its immensity and that strange mixture of complexity and simplicity in the laws of nature. When people reflect on this, some are driven from faith and some are driven to faith.
Like so many aspects of our lives, it’s hard to see how thinking about the nature of the universe can yield a definitive answer on the God question.
The delicate balance of the universe that allows the conditions for life to exis
t is explained by some as evidence of design, and hence as evidence for God’s existence. For others, by contrast, it suggests a ‘multiverse’, so many different universes that it was inevitable one would exist to sustain life.
Fascinating though these questions are, I doubt that they can ever settle the God question finally. However much science explains the physical properties of the universe, religion will always want to ask ‘why’.
I find myself returning to the work of one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers, Karl Rahner. He reflected deeply on the question of God’s existence. He argued that if God exists in the universe, then he is a being, a creature and cannot therefore be the Creator. Instead, God must be understood as ‘the ground of Being’.
This seems to me to be getting closer to a way of speaking of God that is true to religious experience. People of faith speak of experiencing God, but we cannot explain how he interacts with the physical world, we cannot construct a scientific argument that will take us to God, because that would be to misconstrue his nature. God is not a being in the Universe, to be explained, he is the ground of Being itself.
How therefore do I know God? Well, not in the same way that I know that the computer on which I am typing these words exists. I would say that I know God most fully when I pray. Less so when I am speaking, and more so when I am silent, seeking to contemplate, in Rahner’s words, trying to be open to the ground of Being. I cannot construct a certain path to God, through argument or science, but God will always require of us a step of faith, a step into uncertainty. Where that step has taken me has not always been easy, but I have found that the answer to the God question, the ground of Being, is better described as love and mercy and grace.