The planet we inhabit, or live on, is an amazing place. Every day, a person who has looked into the heavens reveals its mysteries through some new scientific discovery or some new thought. The human brain still is an unknown dimension; we do not know all there is to know about what goes on in that mass of cells, synapses, and electrical circuits. Scientists continue to delve deeper into the molecular and atomic composition of matter and its intricacy stuns us. Astronomers and astronauts continue to explore the space of the heavens and show to us that it too is more mysterious than we believed.
One amazing piece of information I learned recently is that if the total mass of all the human beings who live on planet earth today formed a single mass, it would be no larger than a sugar cube. It does not make sense. How can that be? We take up space, and there are about seven billion humans now breathing the air of the planet, yet, that total mass of humanity is no larger than a cube of sugar. The answer is that the atoms of the molecules that make us who we are have space between them and space within them. The electrons, protons, and nucleus of each human atom are the mass, the stuff, that is condensed to a small cube one half-inch, by one half-inch, by one half-inch; in other words, one-twenty-fifth of a cubic inch.
The earth, and for that matter, the universe, has been a place of amazement and mystery from the beginning of time when humanity rose out of mere existence to being human. The ancients stared into the sky and attempted to understand the meaning of the stars. For example, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Amos we find,
“Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth: The Lord is his name” (Amos 5:8).
The Pyramids of Giza are in the same pattern on the ground as Orion’s belt in the constellation. The ancients believed the dome of the heavens was an actual dome, beyond which the gods lived. Thus, the planet on which we ride through space and the universe have been for humanity a place of the unknown, awe, and fear.
The things that grow on the earth, those who plant and harvest them have been topics used to describe life in general, but the unknown of the heavens has taken different tack. Isaiah describes the heavens in a dramatic way in his description of his encounter with God in the year that King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1-8). Because he had to use words that he understood, we cannot know exactly what he saw and what he experienced. Nevertheless, the description is dramatic and does catch the awesomeness of the universe. By the way, this Scripture is a beautiful choral anthem sung at my ordination in 1983.
The point is this; the earth and the universe are the outward manifestations of God. While creationism does not explain the magnificence of the universe and the nature of all things, we can still hold in awe the universe in which we live. However, holding nature, outer space, and our atomic structure in awe does not explain the spirit that lives within us.
Jesus tells Nicodemus (John 3:1-17) that we know all sorts of things, or we accept nature as it is without question, but what we do not know is what the spark of life is. We do not know the nature of our beings in a deeper sense. Human beings know what physical life is. We know that we breathe, eat, and seek security against the forces of nature, but we do not know the source of the true depth of life.Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born from above.” It is a new birth, a non-physical birth. A human being lives only as a creature of the earth and not as a child of God until he or she experiences the new birth Jesus describes.
Apparently, this new birth takes place at baptism. In the Gospel according to John,Jesus instructs reportedly Nicodemus that he must be born of Spirit and water. A person baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity of God, experiences that new birth. The teaching of the Church over the millennia makes clear that the age of the person is not critical to the experience of the new birth; in other words, baptism is the event, the time, the place when and where a person experiences redemption.
Nicodemus’ question did not concern a belief in God. Nicodemus, already a man of devout faith, knew God to be the God of Abraham,Isaac, and Jacob, the power Moses encountered at the burning bush in the Sinai desert and the God who gave Moses the rules of life on the Holy Mountain. For Nicodemus faith meant obeying the rules, strict adherence to dietary regulations, and avoiding gentiles in order to remain pure in the sight of God. Nicodemus knew these things. What he did not know was the power of God to change lives simply through faith and a willingness to be the one who leaves the security of a cultural religion to proclaim that God loves the world; all of it.
Baptism, faith in the Living God, becoming a follower of Jesus, and being born from above, places humanity into a new relationship with the universe. No longer simply another species or creature of nature, humanity has the potential to make the universe habitable into eternity. In this special relationship, we are now heirs to God’s creative Spirit and heirs to a new form of being.
The Apostle Paul describes it beautifully in his letter to the Christians in Rome; he wrote,
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:).
Therefore, when researchers, astronomers, and explorers find new ways of understanding the universe in which we live, we will understand what Isaiah saw the year King Uzziah died. We can believe that the Spirit of God does make us into new creatures, and that Paul’s assurance that we have nothing to fear is real. Finally, we live in joy knowing we are children of God and heirs through adoption to the whole of all that is now beyond our knowing.