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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Credibility and Incredibility

"Credibility" is a fancy word for "believable." We can accept certain statements as believable, and others as "incredible," not believable.

Religion has always had a problem with credibility. Some of the statements that religious groups make seem incredible to people who are used to working with scientific evidence. How could the dead rise again?

A few weeks ago I heard a discussion on National Public Radio. It dealt with a recent discovery by some scientists working, if I recall correctly, at the South Pole. They claim to have found traces of an event that occurred one trillionth of one trillionth of one trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

The Big Bang, of course, is the theory, now widely accepted, that our entire universe was at one time compressed into a space the size of an atom. That means that not only the earth I live on, but the entire solar system, and the 300 or so billion suns in our galaxy, and the thousand or so galaxies in our universe was in that space.

Of course, no scientific theory is provable, because scientists are always revising earlier theories in the light of new observations. Maybe there are better theories about how our universe started, but for the time being, the Big Bang seems to be the accepted theory.

Now, if you can accept the idea that all these galaxies, including our own, were in that tiny space, you should be able to accept almost anything. At the very least, you have to admit that some stories about what goes on in our environment seem incredible at first glance, but may have credibility anyway.

Here are some more scientific statements that seem incredible. My body in inhabited by trillions of bacteria, and each bacterium has a genome more complicated than the human genome. We used to think that all bacteria are harmful to our health, but now we are beginning to theorize that there are many kinds of good bacteria, and if we kill off the good bacteria, we cause problems.

I think back to the days of the "watchmaker God." God made the world like we make a watch. God made it, wound it up, and stepped aside and let it go from there. We understood how watches work--there are moving parts that we can see, and we theorized that our universe is just like that.

Now we know that the watch is not a good metaphor for the universe, and not even for such a small part of the universe as a human body. We are more like a zoo, with all kinds of living things on us and in us that contribute to our life.

What am I?

They used to say that the human body is made up of about $0.95 worth of chemicals. Our chemicals may be worth more than that today, but nobody will deny that our bodies are made up of atoms and molecules that are constantly coming and going--constantly entering and leaving our bodies. As a result, maybe 95% of my body today is made up of atoms and molecules that were not in my body a year ago. If I go back several years, the percentage gets higher.

If I am made up of atoms and molecules that are always coming and going, what am I?

I am the history of the comings and goings of those atoms and molecules, and of what those elements did while they were part of me. In other words, I am the history of me. I am a story.

Yesterday my pack of molecules went to the store and bought some grocery items (molecules that will soon be part of me). While I was there I met and greeted a friend. That friend and I have a shared story. All of us humans have a shared story. We are living together in the 21st century, and we are interacting, loving, hating, helping and hurting one another.

For that matter, every rock on the earth has a story. A geologist digs into the earth and finds a type of rock. The story of that rock is that its molecules were on the bottom of an ocean several hundred million years ago.

But the story of human beings is infinitely more complex than the story of the rock. We human beings are, we think, unique in that we are the only beings able to create and share stories.

Who gets to tell my story?

Am I am the only person authorized to tell my story? It is possible that I am unable to see certain aspects of my story, and that other people could do a better job than I in telling my story. (We say people often do not know themselves.) In a way, every person who interacts with me can tell my story. Of course, if our interaction is limited to 30 seconds at the grocery counter, the other person's story will be very limited. My own parents could tell my story in a much more developed way. But their version of my story ends with their deaths. After I die, other people will continue to tell my story, but I will not be around to correct them if they tell my story in a way that I think is not authorized.

Does God tell my story?

Here we are in the realm of incredibility. Is it possible that God can tell the story of each of us in a way that is even more accurate than the story that we tell about ourselves? Why not? Isn't that what we think God can do? Is it any harder to believe in a God who can do that than it is to believe in the Big Bang?

"In the beginning was the Word." When the Big Bang first occurred, God alone could tell stories. It took billions of years before creatures could evolve to the point that they could tell their own stories. And then, we Christians believe, God became one of us, Word made flesh. God merged God's own story with the story of each human being.

Jesus, we say, is God's story. If we want to know the story of God, look at Jesus. What is Jesus's story? It is the story of love. God is love, says the First Letter of John. What does that mean?

I use a rather mundane definition of love (mundane in the sense of being observable). Love is passionate, respectful, vulnerable, faithful involvement. God is passionately, respectfully, vulnerably, and faithfully involved with the human race and with each of its members. The reason that God created (the reason for the Big Bang) is that God, who is love, wanted to share that love. God wanted to love and be loved. When God became human in Jesus, God modeled the kind of life that God wanted each of us to live. God wanted our stories to be like the story of Jesus, to be part of the story of Jesus.

When Jesus tells my story, he tells it in the most loving way possible. He tells it in a way more loving than I do myself. He knows every element of my story, the things that molded me and the things that warped me and wounded me. I am often tempted to tell my story in a despairing way. Jesus does not tell my story that way. Jesus, God, wants each story to evolve into a story of loving involvement. I say "evolve." Each of us is evolving just like the whole universe evolved. There was a lot of crushing and burning in the universe's evolution, and there is a lot of crushing and burning in my own evolution. But the end result of my life should be a full sharing in the life of Jesus, and of God.