By Ben Swift
“I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.” (Albert Einstein)
I recall in my university years, purchasing a poster that I stuck to my bedroom wall, vividly displaying a photo of Einstein sharing these words. Many of us are familiar with this famous quote and Christians are often swift to use it to claim the great mind of Albert Einstein for Christianity. The truth however, when the context of Einstein’s quote is considered, is far from what it may first infer. According to an article from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, a more accurate rendition of Einstein’s quote is, “I want to know how God created this world. I’m not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know his thoughts, the rest are details.” In fact it has been suggested that Einstein used the term ‘God’ in exchange for ‘the laws of the universe’. In this way the laws of Physics are represented as the ‘thoughts of God’. What he was suggesting was that he wasn’t so much interested in experiments and the filling out of the implications of theories but rather in how the universe was created and exists from a mathematical stand point.
Putting Einstein’s religious or philosophical stances aside, he does share a common thread with many who seek answers about such things as origins, existence, life, death and how everything in our universe works. From a Christian perspective, God has gifted humanity with what many like to think of as a complex mind and consciousness. Obviously it would be a redundant gift if we were not supposed to use it, but the question remains, “Just how much does God want us to know and how much should be left to faith and humility?”
While as followers of Christ we are called to faith, we are not called to ignorance. This is an important point. On more than one occasion the Apostle Paul in his letters, introduces his new ideas with the statement, “We do not want you to be ignorant”. As we read through Scripture and meditate on what it is revealing to us, we soon come to comprehend that while God provides His people with an incredible amount of insight into His character and the plan that has always existed for His people through Christ, there are many questions that still remain unanswered, or that must be left to faith. Leon Morris, a well-respected theologian, wisely suggests, “There are many things that we would like to know, but the Bible was not written to gratify our curiosity. Rather it is intended to help us in our Christian lives, and for that the important thing is that we should be ready when the Lord comes.”
Take for example the Parousia [the second coming of Christ]. There has been endless debate over the details of the events surrounding Christ’s return. A topic particularly popular amongst modern day Christians is that of ‘The Rapture’ and it’s timing in relation to ‘The Great Tribulation’. While the term ‘rapture’ does not appear in Scripture, it refers to what happens at Christ’s second coming when believers are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, particularly with reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar [ram’s horn or trumpet]; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord.”
While some say that the concept of ‘The Rapture’ is a modern invention, undergirded with the support of fictional films and storytelling, others such as Christian writer, Spencer D Gear, suggest that it has roots in the writings of our Church Fathers and thus is historically supported. Even scholars such as Leon Morris in his commentary on Thessalonians admits, “The Parousia is a difficult topic. Within the short space of the mission it would have been impossible for the apostolic band to have given anything like a complete teaching about it.”
So what can we learn from studying what the Scriptures say in regards to Christ’s return. If you dedicate even a small amount of your time to analysing the various theories and arguments that surround this event, you will engage with some interesting ideas and your mind will boggle. But let me save you some time. No matter what your stance, if any, on pre-tribulation or post-tribulation rapture, there is a more important message to encourage each other with. A message that requires faith, where black and white answers remain the intellectual property of our incomprehensible God. As the Apostle Paul clearly suggests to the Thessalonians and to us, death has no impact on our relationship with Christ. We are wanted dead or alive so to speak. All things and all people are in His hands. If death could not hold Him down, for those that belong to Him, the same will apply.
Faith in God it seems is the inevitable resting place in which we must become childlike once again, humbling ourselves before the One who asks for our trust. This is why atheists for example will continue to find the message of the Cross a stumbling block because it will always require faith. As human beings, curiosity is innate and we all want answers. It is for this reason, the faith that Christ demands can only live in us through the work of the Holy Spirit, a gift allowing us to see beyond reason and towards a present and future hope with our incomprehensible God.
O the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgements! How unsearchable are his ways! (Romans 11:33)