Recently I watched an American Public Broadcasting television show about the mathematical universe. The program featured the universe of numerical relations around us—relations by which we can trace underlying patterns in the universe.
Galileo and Newton became stars for having identified key formulae—some of the many patterns that point to the orderly numerical relations of the universe as a whole. We’re able to discover more and more about reality by following the pathways offered by numbers.
The program also noted how digital images and music represent sets of numbers arranged to reproduce “real” sources on display screens and in sound systems—all of which we take for granted with our digital cameras and our digital recordings.
And, as we also know, the digital world can be re-shaped by clever number crunchers. Creative and fictive Photoshop images and impossible actions performed by virtual movie stars are now commonplace. The skilled digital workers are godlike in shaping their new realities.
Yet weather systems still set a boundary. The program narrator acknowledged limits in our current mathematical models so that, for one, weather forecasting isn’t as reliable as we might wish for. But, the program suggested, we’re doing better all the time.
I certainly appreciated the program and learned from it. Yet as a Christian I dismissed the implicit—and sometimes explicit—assumption that guided the production. The narrator treated the universe as an unaccountable product of time and evolutionary chance. For me, on the other hand, God’s breathtaking creative wisdom was in view from beginning to end.
Of course there’s nothing new in this division of perspectives. Christians always worship the Creator and see his fingerprints in the creation. And non-Christians always dismiss the Creator and focus on the creation in terms aligned with human autonomy. Which is only to repeat what Paul said in Romans 1.
But back to the weather where the mathematicians fall silent in the face of its vast complexity. The weather is beyond our control. And apart from an immediate window of five to ten days, it remains unpredictable.
And the New Testament apostles were alert to all this centuries ago when they spoke of Jesus with awe after he snuffed out a storm: “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” – in Mark 4:41.
These folks were not naive. Jesus healed people, exorcised demons, multiplied food, and even raised people from the dead. But all these events were so localized that willful skeptics could doubt such claims both then and now. Weather, on the other hand, is neither strictly local nor single-event-based. Certainly no man can change a weather system. No man, that is, except Jesus.
But first let’s dismiss the soft skepticism offered by the “God of the gaps” version of Christianity. This is an awkward halfway house between secular Naturalism and biblical Supernaturalism. In the “gaps” version of faith people rule out God’s direct involvement in whatever science can explain. The outcome is a very narrow—and ever-shrinking—space for God to be in charge of things. Proper Supernaturalism, on the other hand, attributes everything to God. Every feature of life and nature are his work. So while Naturalism attributes God’s orderly works to dumb luck, Christians attribute such views to a willful dismissal of abundant evidence: to becoming fools.
So what controls the weather? The devoted Naturalist treats it as a complex and self-ordered system—as something uncontrollable even if we can identify some operational forces behind it. Devoted believers, on the other hand, view weather as a complex system ordered and ruled by God.
The Bible also treats the weather as part of God’s providential care for his creation. That’s not to say the weather is a unique indicator—the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is ultimate—but it’s one we notice more than most. Even when it brings tragedy in the so-called “acts of God.”
So weather brings both good and ill. We read of the great flood and of Joseph’s rise to power in Genesis—both stories that feature God’s rule over the weather. The promises in Leviticus 26 and elsewhere underscore God’s blessing expressed in seasonal rains and sunshine. Later we read of Elijah’s three-year drought. There is the storm that decimated Job’s family; and the storm that got Jonah tossed out of his boat.
In the New Testament we have more. As we’ve already noticed, Jesus calmed the storm with a word. God also reassured Paul that he and his companions would survive a Mediterranean storm in Acts.
So here’s something that intrigued me about the television show about mathematics. It pointed to the continuity between the mathematical ordering of nature that science is discovering; and the mathematical basis for human creativity in ordering virtual reality. A movie made some years ago about The Perfect Storm, for instance, offered a compelling picture of an actual storm. But it was all computer generated—using mathematical tools.
So why is our world today missing the point? Hollywood only mimics God when it creates a virtual reality with tools God created. And the fingerprints of God—as seen in the mathematical order of the creation—should be telling us something. The magicians in Egypt who imitated some of Moses’ miracles finally gave up and acknowledged, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). Yet Pharaoh’s heart remained “hardened.”
My prayer, then, is that coming storms—sometimes in melodramatic events that are increasingly common—will begin to awaken more of our skeptical friends to God’s presence in his ordered yet sometimes feisty creation.
I pray, especially, that many will repent and believe in Jesus who can calm any storm with a mere word.