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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - November 12, 2006

God has made the cover of Time magazine again. “God vs. Science: Can Religion Pass the Test?” is the title of the article.  It includes the usual creation vs. evolution argument which never seems to go away despite saner voices saying it’s not either/or, that the Bible is not and never was intended to be a science book in competition with other theories of science.  I suppose a big reason it doesn’t go away is because hard liners on both sides don’t listen to each other so nothing is ever resolved; both sides declare victory and go away happy.  It sells books and magazines though; Time wouldn’t put it on the cover otherwise 

This particular article was spurred by a new book by Richard Dawkins titled “The God Delusion” a provocative title to say the least, one that has it at #8 on the NY Times bestseller list. The different spin of this book is that it attempts to scientifically disprove not just the creation account of Genesis, but the very existence of God saying that the notion of God and what people claim as experiences of God can be explained away by study of the brain and various chemical and neurological imbalances.  It’s kind of a new take on the God is dead stuff from back in the 60’s which some of you perhaps remember.  It was just about exactly 40 years ago, April of 1966 that “Is God Dead?” was the cover story in Time.  The answer must have been “No,” because 40 years later here we are again.  What goes around comes around. 

My intent however, is not to mock such articles or the authors who inspire such articles.  Richard Dawkins is a legitimate and highly respected biologist.  My assumption  though, is that people like him who become stridently anti-God are probably reacting more to the ways God and religion have been misused throughout history, which is a legitimate criticism.  In fact, reading this article, Dawkins primary problem seems to be not so much with God, but with the exclusivist claims of any one religion that they’ve got it all figured out, that their understanding of God is right and everyone else is wrong.  He might be surprised to find that there are a lot of faithful people who agree with him.

Part of the problem is that people like Richard Dawkins are good scientists, but lousy or at least naive theologians.  His notion of God is pretty simplistic and it’s easy with sophisticated science to kill off or disprove a simplistic God.  But it won’t settle things as he might like them settled because what he doesn’t realize is that the living God of the Bible that we worship and believe in is a complex, sometimes elusive God who will not conform to such settled truth, whether it’s settled scientific truth, settled political truth or even the settled truth of the church, let’s not forget that either.  His ways are not our ways and our ways are not his ways. 

The core story of the Bible is of odd, surprising voices breaking through with hints and traces of a different truth, God’s truth that retells and reconfigures and redefines all that we may think is settled, predictable, and unchangeable.  It’s the story of a God who challenges us precisely at those times when we think we’ve got it all figured out, and stories of a God who brings us hope precisely at those times when it seems there’s no reason for hope.  I think if Richard Dawkins could open himself to hear the voice of this God, the voices of the prophets who reveal him, he might be less anxious to disprove him because he’d see that the world needs this God. 

Maybe I should invite him to church here.  His last statement in the Time article is, “If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”  He clearly hasn’t read much theology because the God of the Bible, the God Christians try to explain in the doctrine of the Trinity is just such an incomprehensible God.  There are those who try to explain God in simplistic categories of black and white, right and wrong, good and bad or see God as a cosmic vending machine, put in your prayer quarters, push the button and expect God to do your bidding, but there are lots of voices from many traditions that acknowledge, celebrate and stand in awe before the incomprehensibility of God. 

If Richard Dawkins came to church he would have to wrestle with this incomprehensible God in the stories of the Bible, stories like the story of Elijah. Elijah the prophet represents one of the Old Testament voices that challenges and jolts the settled world of ancient Israel with the surprising alternative of this God.  Elijah lived in a settled world, among kings who managed budgets and worried about taxes, watching the numbers and the market fluctuations, always worried about production and having enough; not terribly different from our world.  The situation in Elijah’s time became complicated by a drought, not enough water; not exactly our problem but not that different from a drought of oil, not enough gasoline or heating fuel.  Not enough always produces fear so fear is a link between Elijah’s time and our time.

For Elijah though, the Lord had a strange proposal.  Elijah was stuck in the drought too.  He wasn’t exempt.  The river he drank from had dried up so the Lord says, “Go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  This is not a proposal that the settled world of kings who managed numbers would have considered.  It’s also not a proposal that a settled, predictable God would have considered…because on the face of it, it’s absurd.

Sidon was beyond the boundaries of Elijah’s life, a dangerous place occupied by enemies.  Zarephath was a village nobody ever heard of where there were no important people.  A widow was the least important unimportant person, a woman without a man in a patriarchal society, no resources, vulnerable, her only source of any security her son, and he is about to die.  She was one of life’s losers so it makes absolutely no sense that the Lord would send Elijah to this place and this woman.  If Richard Dawkins is looking for an incomprehensible God, try this story on for size.

This God is strangely attracted to the nameless, insignificant people who have dropped off the royal radar screen.  It’s frequently through such people that his intentions for the world are revealed.  So Elijah goes, according to the word of the Lord, to be provided for by this woman who has nothing.  When he encounters the widow, understandably she protests.  She knows she’s one of life’s losers, that she only has a handful of meal and a little oil, just enough to prepare one last meal for her and her son before they both starve to death.  That’s the hand society has dealt her.  She can’t help anyone else.  But into her settled hopelessness, Elijah speaks a word of hope from the God who refuses to conform.  “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.”

Of course you know what happened; “She went and did as Elijah said, so that she and Elijah and her household ate for many days.  The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”  It doesn’t make sense does it?  This doesn’t happen in the real world.  But it does happen in God’s world, this trace of a different truth, a different reality that redefines things.  God’s word is always a word of abundance against the fear of not enough.  “The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail.”  It’s a miracle!

Now Richard Dawkins doesn’t like miracles.  He seems to be looking for an incomprehensible God whom he can comprehend according to known scientific laws and principles.  You can’t make this God or this story fit known scientific principles.  What you have to do is imagine the truth of this story, that in a dangerous, fearful world, God does provide; there is enough. 

In the odd economy of God’s world, sometimes we become the providers as we hear his truth of abundance and realize that in our own abundance we can help.  Having more than enough, trusting in God, we don’t have to be afraid; we don’t have to hold on so tightly.  We do what we can, but we also never underestimate the ability of God to act, to break into the settledness of our lives and our world to bring about new possibilities, new hope apart from anything we might do.  We celebrate the freedom of God to do what he will.  When you deal with an incomprehensible God, that’s what you have to do.

After all, as Christians, the most incomprehensible story we have is the story of Jesus, his birth, his life, his passion, his resurrection.  None of it makes sense according to any predictable patterns, but Jesus breaks into our settled world and brings new life, new hope.  He reveals a God who we can’t fully comprehend, but in Jesus, we know what we need to know so we share his good news, of a God who loves us and saves us, a God who will not be disproved, but will continue to break into our lives in surprising, life giving ways.

God vs. Science:  Can Religion pass the test?  I don’t know about religion, but the God we worship certainly can. 


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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