Back in 1933 a Belgian Catholic Priest called George Lemaitre, who was also a scientist, infuriated the atheist scientists of his day by suggesting what is now called the Big Bang Theory about the beginning of the Universe. The atheists hated this theory because if the Universe had a beginning then there was a possibility that it had a Creator. There was a possibility that God exists.
Many of you know how enthusiastic I am about this kind of thing, at showing how the discoveries of science simply make it more and more likely that God is a reality underlying this fascinating Universe we live in.
I was delighted therefore, when we had our Course on the Faith last Tuesday, to have discovered this quote from the Catechism (Paragraph 283) “The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator.” Yes – “an even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator.” There is however one problem, as we discover the fascinating complexity of the ever-expanding Universe, and that is that it tends to make us think of God the Creator as more distant and more mysterious than ever.
In our Course, we stressed two other truths about God the Creator. The first truth is that God creates from nothing – that is certainly the Big Bang Theory. At one moment there is nothing, and at the next moment, there is all that the Universe will expand into being, though as yet infinitesimally small. This is exactly what the Catechism says (Paragraph 299).
The second truth is that God as Creator is perpetually creating. There was not just one moment of creation and all was done. As the Catechism puts it (Paragraph 301)“God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being” As the scientists put it, our Universe is not static, it is endlessly expanding, and thus just as it was infinitesimally small at the beginning, so it is now infinitely immense and yet still growing. No wonder God as Creator is beyond our understanding!
As one of the Confirmation Candidates said to me the other day, “How can God be everywhere and yet close to us?” My reply was to remind her that it is because we tend to use human words to talk about God that we find it hard to imagine a being that can be in more than one place at the same time. But then, as I have just said, it then becomes hard to imagine that we can ever get close to a power that is in so many ways, so different from us.
Our 2nd Reading today (Hebrews 4:14-16) uses a very different set of images to express how distant God is from us. Here God is like a great Emperor on a throne. He has to be approached through a series of throne rooms, each one more magnificent than the last. But because he is God these rooms are described as a series of heavens, each one higher and greater than the one before; and it is only in the “highest heaven” that we will find God. How can we then, small as we are, ever hope to pass all the way through? And even if we did, how could we ever feel able to actually approach the throne, and stand and see God face to face?
The writer gives us the answer as he describes it, because there is someone who can lead us through, “who has gone through to the highest heaven”. It is Jesus, of course. Our other readings today (Isaiah 53:10-11 & Mark 10:35-45) remind us how Jesus does this, how he passes through the heavens, through the throne rooms, to bring us close to the mystery of God. His disciples think he will do this in a moment of instant glory! James and John are even cheeky enough to ask if they can sit on either side of him to share in that glory. But Jesus hints at what he knows must happen to him from his reading of Isaiah: that he must be crushed with suffering; that he must offer his life in atonement; that his soul must face anguish; and that only then shall he “see the light and be content”
So we have two mysteries today side by side. One is that God is beyond anything that we could ever see or imagine. But the other is that one man Jesus, in whom God is present in a special and unique way, can make the impossible possible. God himself makes himself like us in Jesus, in order that he can bring us into glory. So we can “be confident in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.” (Hebrews 4:16)