Time and Context

Time and context are

In the
was the Word
–John 1:1

I was reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time when the lectionary for Christmas day referred us to the first chapter of the gospel according to John.

Hawking discusses time and humankind’s perceptions of it at various stages of scientific knowledge, and focuses on the significance of the Big Bang theory of the birth of the universe. At a single point (was it in time, in space, in what?) circumstances coalesced and a dynamic universe exploded into existence. This explosive moment is known in physics as the great singularity.

Hawking writes we can’t know what preceded this singular event because our knowledge and experience are based on our understanding of time after the Big Bang. All knowledge breaks down before the singularity because we can’t observe, verify or test before our “time.” We simply can’t know what was before. And if there is an end-point to the universe, a return to a singularity, we won’t be able to know what comes after our time.

The concept of the Big Bang, while plausible and explainable based on our current level of knowledge, must never the less be taken to some degree on faith. No matter how we postulate, we can’t explain what led to the Big Bang that scientists believe started it all.

Pretty heady stuff, I know.

The writer of the Gospel of John, in his own way, discusses what was before creation. It’s not a singularity. This isn’t a scientific observation, it’s poetry; but it’s equally beyond our comprehension. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all the people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

This is pretty heady, too.

As my pastor said in her Christmas sermon, this writer steers clear of the creation in six days and the manger scene with the baby and the animals in the stable. The thought here is of a different kind than the birth narratives in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It’s not inconsistent with these accounts, but it comes at the story of creation and of Jesus from a different direction. John seems to be writing with the intent of creating questions. He gives us an enigma. He’s leading his audience to consider their view of Creation and God differently by referring to their knowledge of Greek philosophy and the Hebrew bible’s view of creation as a starting place. As a result, the Gospel of John is perhaps the most enigmatic scripture of all.

I was thinking of this as I considered the debate about creationism and evolution. The tendency to reduce these complexities to headline characterizations seems unbiblical. The writer of John seems to be saying, “Friends, it ain’t that simple. Put on your thinking caps. I’m going to take you on a ride and it will change how you understand the universe and your place in it. But I warn you, there are no easy answers.”

And then he wrote, In the beginning…

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