After a long day hiking in the Rocky Mountains, two friends decided to camp under the stars instead of driving back into town. They finished setting up camp as the sun disappeared below the horizon. They gathered close to the campfire as the cool, dark night enveloped them.
Both men were intellectual elites who had graduated magna cum laude from well-respected grad schools. Both were enjoying well-deserved sabbaticals from their tenured professorships. They were equally intelligent and enjoyed one another’s company, but they couldn’t have been more different philosophically. After several minutes of gazing into the sky, the first man exclaimed, “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place.” The second man knitted his brow and shook his head. He thought for a moment and replied, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.”
It is interesting how two people—two of the most impressive minds in history—can stare at the heavens and arrive at such incompatible conclusions.
Have you figured out the characters in the story? The former is King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. The latter is Stephen Hawking, famed author and professor, and one of the most brilliant minds of the last century. King Solomon has been deceased for a few millennia; professor Hawking passed away earlier this month after a decades-long battle with ALS.
Three truths about faith
The purpose of this post is not to comment upon Hawking’s faith or to be disrespectful to the deceased. By all accounts, he was a remarkable human. God created and loved Stephen Hawking like He loves us. The purpose of this post is to point out three important truths about faith, the kind of faith we see in Solomon’s quotation, the opposite of which we observe in Hawking’s quotation.
Faith is rational
Looking at the stars and believing that God created the cosmos does not require us to abandon reason. Art requires an artist. Design requires a designer. Both the expanse of the cosmos and the power of the atom demonstrate the sheer creativity and wisdom of God, as Solomon pointed out when he looked to the sky. The staggering unlikelihood of the belief that everything around and within us arose by chance over billions of years—as Hawking imagines—is the definition of irrational. Eyes of faith can look around and credit the incomprehensibly wise mind of the One who laid the foundations of the earth and put the heavens into place.
Faith fosters humility
Solomon could observe God’s creation and all that he placed within it and admit that God “mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed” (Proverbs 3:34). Solomon observed and knew volumes about the world in which he lived. And it humbled him. Stephen Hawking illustrated and embodied the sheer audacity of the kind of human pride that asserts that we can fully understand the universe. Glimpsing the immensity and goodness of God has a way of reminding people with faith of our comparative smallness. Faith fosters humility.
Faith honors God and humanity
Solomon might have inherited his love of stargazing from his father, King David: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” He answers his own question by remarking that God has crowned us with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5). People with faith are quick to give honor to God. They also honor humanity. Did you catch the contradiction in Hawking’s assertion? On one hand, we are advanced primates. On the other hand, we’re special because we can understand the universe. Perhaps nothing has been more God- and humanity-dishonoring than the assertion that we are merely animals. To then assert that we’re animals that can comprehend the cosmos is folly. Observing creation through eyes of faith honors both God and humanity.
What about us?
What do we see when we look to the sky? Do we see the random results of an endless chain of accidental processes and, in our pride, propose that we can fully understand it all? Or do we, through eyes of faith, see the creative masterwork of a wise and good Designer and, in humility, respond in awe and wonder? Let’s let Solomon be our guide one more time: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).