Questions for a Pastor: How Do You Answer Stephen Hawking?

Questions for a Pastor_ How Do You Answer Stephen HawkingThis question recently came in to the church Facebook Page (reprinted with permission of the questioner):

There is a new book out by Stephen Hawking. Have not read it but the headline from it is that he says there is no God. I used to have solid faith, but it seems to be disintegrating. Reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, seems not to bolster my faith, but makes me question it even more. The thought of Hawking being correct is incredibly depressing. How does a person who has lost faith get it back? How does a person of faith respond to people like Hawking?

My response:

Hi (name redacted), thanks for asking.

When it comes to faith that is faltering, I am reminded of the cry of the father who brought his son to Jesus for healing: “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24 – check out the whole story around the verse for context). I think that is a prayer that fits these times of existential doubt. It is a prayer that acknowledges the challenge of belief and at the same time cries out to Christ for His presence and power in our lives.

I’ve had those moments in the quiet hours of the evening where I’ve been troubled by thoughts about “Is this all there is? Why is God so silent sometimes?” I’m sure that most people in our era have encountered such thoughts, even if they don’t want to admit it publicly.  The Medieval mystics talked about this as the “Dark Night of the Soul” – when all evidences of God’s presence seem to be withdrawn.

What often gets me through such times are the memories of those special times when I have felt God’s power and presence in life, for I’ve had those experiences as well: experiences where there was an encounter of transcendence. These encounters with God are always hard to describe because they are so personal, yet so very real. Often they are hyper-real – every detail of the moment seems vested with significance and I just want to linger (much like Peter, James, and John wanted to linger on the Mount of Transfiguration, the story that immediately precedes “I believe, help my unbelief” in Mark 9). Perhaps that sounds a little too mystical and spiritual, but such encounters have led me back to the scriptures as a place of further encounter with God.

As for Hawking – I’ve not read his latest book. However really smart scientists and philosophers have been saying “there is no god” for millennia. And we can set alongside them equally smart scientists and philosophers who have found increasing evidence for God through their work (a good for instance would be Francis Collins, who led the National Institute of Health and who helped map the human genome. In the realm of physics I find Sarah Salviander to be a helpful source:

I don’t know if that helps, but I would be glad to meet with you and talk with you in more depth about these things. Also, have you seen our online Bible Study, the Night Owl Bible Study? Each week we explore a psalm and what it has to teach us about prayer. This weeks’ study was on Psalm 6. I share a little bit about how this psalm spoke to fears about mortality. Here’s a link to the video from the study:

Thanks again for being in touch. God bless you!

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