On Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme this morning, there was a short interview with astronaut Tim Peake, whose Soyuz Capsule currently resides at Peterborough Cathedral. A self-confessed agnostic and “not religious”, Peake has expressed openness to the possibility of some kind of ‘intelligent design’ behind the universe. He acknowledged that time spent viewing the unique spectacles of space, inevitably shifted his perspective. He wouldn’t be the first scientist to admit that the marvels of the natural world elicit a suitably natural awe in the human mind. For him, this has led in turn to speculation as to what lies behind such grandeur and intricacy.
I was intrigued – but also struck afresh at hearing yet another public figure expressing what’s perhaps the most common and acceptable worldview in our secular culture right now: agnosticism. Esteemed because on the surface it appears the most open-minded and expansive view, unencumbered by what many see as the straitjacket limitations of a ‘religious’ viewpoint, hemmed in by supposedly unquestioned, naively swallowed doctrines and dogmas.
By way of juxtaposition, in the bible this morning I happened to read Romans 8:31-39, which communicates a blazing confidence and joy that nothing in all creation can separate believers from the love of God in Christ. I was struck by the sharp contrast and aching gulf: between the secular scientific view which claims that the mysterious origin of all that exists, is knowable if at all, only through science; and this warm apprehension of a powerful, secure relationship of love with the Ground of our being, the living personal God.
In approaching ultimate questions of life, it seems that many people in our culture, by leaning so heavily on science and rejecting other kinds of knowledge and pathways to truth, tragically close down the possibilities that beckon. The bible is commonly viewed as an archaic collection of outmoded rules and dusty sayings, when in reality it is a rich and multifaceted record of the human experience of grappling with and embracing the divine. Its global appeal and durability don’t categorically ‘prove’ its truthfulness, but at least merit close attention, far closer and more careful than it typically attracts in secular western society.
When I personally read the bible, I find not that it dragoons me into assenting to a list of blind beliefs my intellect bridles at. Rather, it seems to open up vast mysterious caverns of a kind of truth different to – but not contradictory with – science. Spiritual truth – invisible, unprovable, but resonating powerfully in the receptive heart.
If you enter a dark cave, scientific instruments can help you discern all kinds of data. But to see the intricacies of the interior, and perhaps even glorious ancient paintings daubed on the cave walls… you need a lamp. It is the testimony of countless millions down the ages, that when it comes to apprehending spiritual realities and knowing God, not as remote speculation but in living breathing relationship… the bible is that lamp. I look forward to the day when agnostics like Tim Peake, contemplating the deepest mysteries of life, the universe and everything, try deploying not merely the torch or cigarette lighter of science, but the searching lamplight of faith, which the bible has power to seed and nurture.