Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

The Possibility Is Just Too Wonderful – From the Daily Office – February 23, 2013

From the Psalms:

Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 139:1-9 (BCP version) – February 23, 2013.)

Multiple Worlds IllustrationA few days ago I wrote about my interest in superstring theory, m-theory, and the multiverse concept which springs from my life-long love of science fiction and the especially the “alternate reality” sorts of tales. I suggested that Jesus’ miracles might have been accomplished by his somehow accessing an alternate reality to affect this world; that would imply some sort of access to knowledge of those other universes.

I’ve never believed that the human Jesus had access to the divine mind in that way, so I’m not sure how I feel about that implication. Or maybe a spiritual connection to another reality doesn’t require that; perhaps that sense of and access to a healthier reality is what the Celts are onto with their idea of a “thin place”. Perhaps there are places where the divisions between the universes are permeable, and perhaps there are people who, like Jesus can sense that, and draw the realities together. Perhaps the ability to do this is what Jesus promised his disciples when he said, “If you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:23-24) I know that’s a lot of “perhapses” . . . . but that’s part of what meditation is all about, imagining the possibilities.

And it is possibilities and alternate realities, and the question of God’s knowledge of them, that grab my attention today as I consider the evening psalm. The psalmist sings of God’s knowledge, which is all encompassing; God’s understanding of the psalmist’s existence is inescapable. In theology this is call “omniscience”; God is described as “all knowing.”

If there is only a universe, a single reality, this would mean that God knows the past, the present, and the future of the one-and-only timeline, and this gives rise to the doctrine of predestination, a sort of determinism: if God knows ahead of time what will happen, then events in the universe are effectively predetermined from God’s point of view. I have a lot of difficulty with predestination because, if it is true, then Jesus promise that “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32) is hollow. There is no freedom in a single universe whose future is determined.

But what if m-theory is right and there are alternative realities, an infinity of them? What if what God “knows” is not the future of a single reality, but all the multiplicity of possible outcomes? What God “knows” in that case is not what must be, but what might be. God knows, for example, what will become of Schrödinger’s cat . . . in every possible outcome there may be.

The multiverse theory is much too complicated to lay out in a brief theological reflection (and I’m certainly not the theoretical mathematician who could do so, in any case), but at its highest level it simply postulates that any universe that is mathematically possible has equal possibility of actually existing: if the physicists and mathematicians can get it to work out on paper, even if it can’t exist in this universe, it would exist “somewhere”. And, I would suggest, the God of possibilities would know about that universe.

God’s omniscience over a multiverse reality truly is “too wonderful for me.” It is also, from my point of view, much more exciting than any deterministic, single-universe idea that God simply knows the future of a solitary timeline. It means that God is the God of possibility. “For God all things are possible,” said Jesus (Matt. 19:26) And again, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” (Luke 18:27) And again, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible.” (Mark 14:36)

Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “Inasmuch as for God all things are possible, it may be said that this is what God is: one for whom all things are possible . . . God is that all things are possible, and that all things are possible is the existence of God.” (The Sickness Unto Death) For Kierkegaard, human existence is not confined to the known, to one concrete, “factual” reality; a multitude of possibilities is fundamental to human life. The human soul is released by possibility; it is possibility that makes us free.

Superstring theory, m-theory, the multiverse hypothesis . . . these are the new science of possibility. Our omniscient God is the God of possibility. And possibility is the truth that sets us free! That is just too wonderful!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

7 Comments

  1. Mary

    Great post! I definitely don’t understand most of these science theories but I am beginning to see the “sense,” if you will, behind the multi-universe theory. Was intrigued by a book I recently read (Proof of Heaven) in which the author claims that God told him (in a NDE) that there are many universes with life of varying intellect. I had just come out of the C.S. Lewis science fiction series in which, again, there is this idea of multiple universes under God. Fascinating, especially as science is lining up with this theory more all the time. Sharing this with my husband, who is really into science/religion! Keep up the great posts!

  2. Archie Pieplow

    @Mary: PBS did a 4-part series called “The Fabric of the Cosmos” which puts many of the theories involved into small words & pictures that even I could understand. Amazing stuff!

    You can watch the series online at the PBS website: http://to.pbs.org/X3lRXa . Click on the individual titles in the left column and then click “Watch the Program” on the right.

  3. Jeff Schwartz

    Reading this post I was reminded of a novel I read many years ago — “The Man in the Tree” by Damon Knight in which the hero is a Christ figure, but pursuant to a special ability to move between alternate realities. FYI.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1875613.The_Man_In_The_Tree?auto_login_attempted=true

  4. eric

    Mary – Thank you. I’ll be interested in your husband’s comments.

  5. eric

    Jeff – I have read a lot of Knight’s stuff, but that title and plot don’t ring any bells. I’ll have to look for it. Thanks!

  6. Victoria Davidson (Rev.)

    Such interesting possibilities you have probed! I’ll keep reading…

  7. Carolyn VM

    This is incredibly fascinating. I’ve always believed that myth alone doesn’t explain the stories connected to Jesus. People don’t die for a myth that they know is just a myth. Something real happened.

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