Yesterday I received a facebook post from a friend in Boston, Mass of a movie clip that was shot in Paraguay about a group of people who scour the dumps there in search of junk, ‘refuse’ that might be put together to make musical instruments. The movie clip features young people of many ages playing cello and violin and flute made from the garbage they found in the dumps. The instruments hardly look like what you would expect, but the music produced by these young folks is clearly incredible . . . and nothing like what you might expect from homemade instruments.
This got me thinking about the sermon topic today because many times, and in many ways, it is God who picks up the garbage left of our lives and fashions it into something that will truly sing to His glory. It happens to Christians and agnostics occasionally but much more often to the atheists among us . . . to those who simply do not believe.
A few weeks ago a group of atheists proudly installed the nation’s first public monument to a nonbelief in God which was allowed on U.S. government property. It is a stone bench and sits alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front a courthouse in Starke, Florida and was unveiled on June 29. Given the number of U.S. atheists, this move is not so surprising: a report from the Pew Research Center last year revealed that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – consider themselves as religiously unaffiliated. The two monuments are side-by-side because American Atheists sued to try to have the six-ton statue of the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse lawn in Starke, a small town in northern Florida. The Community Men’s Fellowship erected the Old Testament monument in what is described as a free-speech zone. During mediation on the case, the atheist group was told that the Old Testament slab had to stay, but that the atheist group could have its own monument as well.
Today in our Epistle, Paul describes for us the lordship of Christ in a dramatic and forthright way, he writes “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
That, the final line “in him all things hold together” is telling, because nowhere else does this concept appear for us in the scriptures.
The Holy Spirit, in giving Paul this inspired passage, explains that all things (both visible and invisible) in the entire universe were created through this same Jesus, the Eternal Word. Many have been taught to think of the universe and its intricate design as being conceived in the mind of the Father then spoken into existence by the Son who makes the invisible, visible. The Nicene Creed goes on to explain Holy Spirit as the One who energizes and supplies life to the creation, not only at the time of creation but perhaps also moment by moment after that.
We are also told in this passage that all things were created for Jesus. He is “the heir of all things.” That means that we are, for all intensive purposes, “house guests” in Someone Else’s universe. Finally, the Bible tells that there is a future accountability to be given by all of us—time itself is headed somewhere . . . unknown, but at the end of all things stands Jesus to whom all power and authority has been given:
Jesus said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:22-29)
One of the key words in the Colossians passage today (“…and in Christ all things hold together”) is the Greek word sunistemi which means “to stand-together,” “to be compacted together,” “to cohere,” “to be constituted with.” Remarkably, this passage may be applied in physics to the structure of the atom. The nucleus of every atom is held together by what physicists call “weak” and “strong” forces. We should all be familiar with four basic forces in the natural world: gravity, electrical forces, a “strong,” and a “weak” nuclear force which act at very short range. Recently two additional close-range, weak gravitational forces have been suggested by research scientists. These are thought to be quantum mechanical corrections to Newton’s Law of Gravitation.
As you are probably aware, the nucleus of the atom contains positively-charged and neutral particles. Mutual electrostatic repulsion between the like-positive protons would drive the nucleus apart if it were not for a “strong force” which binds the nucleus together. If it were not for this force, all atoms in matter would simply fly apart.
Coincidently, a third New Testament passage talks about atomic structure and physics in 2 Peter: “But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise and the elements (atoms) will be dissolved with fire and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
The Greek word translated “elements” in this passage from Colossians is stoicheion which means the actual building blocks of the universe, or “the ordered arrangement of things.” It can also mean the “atomic elements.” The word translated “dissolved” is literally (in Greek) luo, meaning “unloosed.” This suggests a, future letting-go of the nuclear binding force that holds the nuclei together. I believe that this passage suggests that the active power of God is behind the mysterious strong force that holds every atomic nucleus together. If this is so, all the other fundamental forces of nature are likewise forces that originate with Christ and His sustaining direction of the old creation.
A further coincidence to this is a phenomena, discovered only a few months, ago is a kind of particle glue called the Higgs Boson, which scientists have euphemistically nicknamed the ‘God Particle’. It is believed that this particle is instrumental holding the nucleus together, but it is quite elusive and no one has ever seen it itself, only evidence of where it’s been.
Knowing this then, if God was to merely relax His grip on the universe every atom would come apart “by fire” (that is, by nuclear fire). Paul shows us that God dynamically sustains the universe, including the atoms themselves. They are “stable” only because forces from the spiritual realm are being supplied into the physical nuclear binding fields. Whatever we may think of God and his relationship to physics, the Bible leaves us with no room to doubt that God really does care about the sparrow that falls to the ground, the widow, the orphan, and the homeless. He does not lose track of His children and watches over them with infinite, patient, intimate Fatherly care. He sustains the universe by His mighty word of power. He also alters the status quo and, in response to prayer, frequently changes the course of people and nations.
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, credits Jesus with holding all things together and with sustaining the entire universe “with His mighty word of power”. From behind the curtains of our present world, God supplies not only force but it would seem He also supplies also vast amounts of energy to sustain His Creation. In more ways than one we owe not only our lives but the moment by moment sustenance of the physical universe to His energetic involvement, both now discernible, in the conceptual understanding that modern physics has given us. Knowing the Creator personally gives us every reason to feel secure and to stand in awe of Almighty God who has by no means left us alone in the cosmos . . . it’s very existence is a direct expression of His power and His will.
And so we learn that all of creation cannot help but speak to God’s Glory. And even atheist’s, not believing, have erected a monument to their unbelief and have engraved into a monument of granite a symbol that they believe justifies their unbelief for all time – that, the symbol of an atom, God’s fundamental building block of creation – how very appropriate and oddly amusing that atheists would pick something so basic to the proof of the existence of God.