By Archbishop Timothy Costelloe
One of the great benefits of regularly praying the official Prayer of the Church each day, as deacons, priests and bishops do, along with many lay people and members of Religious Orders, is the way in which the psalms become so familiar that they easily arise in our minds and hearts as spontaneous prayers.
For me one such psalm is Psalm 8, which includes these words:
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, The moon and the stars which you arranged, Who are we that you keep us in mind, Mere human beings that you care for us? (Cf. Psalm 8:3-4)
I am always reminded of these words whenever the question of the presumed conflict between faith and science comes up.
While I acknowledge the point of view of those who believe that science will ultimately be able to explain everything about the world and the universe in which we live, and that therefore there is no need for God, my own experience, as I look into the night sky, is one of awe and wonder. And at least for me, the more that science discovers about the nature and the origins of all that exists, the more that wonder and awe increases.
The existence of the universe is not simply a puzzle to be solved: it is a mystery to be contemplated.
When, before I was appointed as a Bishop, I taught theology both here in Perth and in Melbourne, I used to encourage my students to wait for a clear night to lie on the ground in the backyard looking up at the moon and the stars.
“Remember” I used to say to them, “that what you see is only the tiniest fragment of the universe – and that even if you could see the whole universe, it would still be only a dim reflection of the beauty, glory and mystery of the true origin of the universe, of God”.
One of the greatest dangers we Christians face in relation to our faith is the temptation to “domesticate” God; to fall into the trap of thinking that we have understood God, or know God through and through. To the extent that we, perhaps even unconsciously, believe this to be true, we may very well be adding to the criticism of those who do not believe in God and who claim that, rather than God creating humanity in the divine image, humanity has created God in its own image.
The almost incomprehensible vastness and complexity of the universe should remind us that, as Saint Paul once commented, “now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect, but then I shall know as fully as I am known” (1 Cor 13:12).
Science, as it discovers more and more about the nature of reality, is not a threat to our faith in God, but rather a God-given way of entering more fully into the mystery of God and of God’s creation. So on the next clear night go out into the back-yard, stare up into the sky, and allow the words of Psalm 8 to rise in your heart:
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, The moon and the stars which you arranged, Who are we that you care for us, Mere human beings that you keep us in mind?
And in asking this question remember the way in which Psalm 8 continues:
And yet you have made us little less than gods, With glory and honour you have crowned us…
How great is your name, O Lord our God,
Through all the earth!
From pages 4 and 5 of Issue 13: ‘God, Science, Church’ of The Record Magazine