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.)
A 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!
A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.