View from the Vicarage - November 2014
One of the problems of living in a finite universe, someone once said, is that we never have enough time to get everything done. I love the cartoon caption that reads, “God put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now, I’m so far behind, that I may never die!”
Time and tide wait for no one, it is true. (Although, tide here refers to a period of time, rather than the ebb and flow of the ocean. We still use the word in this sense when we speak of Whitsuntide and noontide.) How good it was then to take some time out last month for the Parish Retreat when we were led so thoughtfully through meditations on time and eternity by Revd Lizzie Hood.
Reflecting on these issues, I was reminded of John Polkinghorne's book, Encountering Scripture: A scientist explores the Bible (SPCK Publishing, 2010).
In his final chapter, John Polkinghorne (a former Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University and a Church of England Priest) refers to the modern scientific predictions of eventual cosmic futility. He writes, “Everything in this creation ends in death and futility as far as the story that science can tell us is concerned - ourselves on a timescale of tens of years, and the universe itself on a timescale of many billions of years.”
But then alongside that statement, Polkinghorne places the words of St Paul in Romans chapter eight when he says: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the Children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility ... in hope that [it] will be set free from its bondage and decay.”
In other words, scientific analysis predicts that all carbon-based life will cease to be as the expansion of the universe continues and yet, Polkinghorne affirms, the last word does not lie with death and futility, but with God.
With St Paul, he affirms that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
The hope for us as individuals, and for the universe as a whole, is in the belief that God will not allow anything of good eventually to be lost. Rather, we look to that apocalyptic vision of St John when a new heaven and a new earth will come to fruition.
Just as in the beginning there was God, so too, God will be at the end of all created things - when the first things have passed away and all will be made new.
What better hope could God have given us? Time and eternity are in God’s gift and they are in God’s hands. Let’s keep this in our minds during this Remembrance-tide.
I commend John Polkinghorne's book to your attention as a readable and accessible introduction to Scripture, unafraid to look at the more problematic passages and muse over theological conundrums.
With my prayers and best wishes,