“Look, there are 1080 elementary particles in the universe. Do you realize how big God would have to be to keep track of every one of them?” I heard that question long ago from someone of significance (Carl Sagan, perhaps?) before I started keeping track of such things. Who asked it isn’t important because the question itself reflects a common feeling that an omniscient God would have to be impossibly large in order to keep track of the entire universe. Now for a Christian that has never been a problem. We are used to thinking in terms of a God who is infinite. While we marvel at the size of the universe like anyone else, we know the Creator must be larger than his creation. However large the universe is, it is finite. Our minds are accustomed to the infinite.
Now string theory comes and suggests our universe is but one of a multitude. How many? Who knows? One calculation estimates the multi-verse might contain something on the order of 10500 universes. Another says 101000. This proposed multi-dimensional multi-verse, when taken as a whole, illustrates an order of existence that makes our tiny bubble absurdly small by comparison. If you’ll forgive my being crass for a moment, string theory implies there’s plenty of room for the Big Guy to be big enough to do all the Bible says. The problem is not the magnitude of God but rather the lack of imagination in the mind of man.
There is a pair of words used in theology and philosophy to discuss God’s presence: transcendent and immanent. Simply put, for God to be immanent means he is immediately present in each and every corner of the universe. There is no place that he is not. At the same time, to be transcendent means he is not limited to our physical world. He exists outside of space and time as we know it. So the two words work together to describe God as being actually present throughout the world but not part of it. Some have trouble with this concept and insist that God can only be one or the other, either transcendent or immanent. Thus one might contend that if God is immanent, he must be part of our world and thus observable. Or if God is transcendent, he can have no connection to us at all.
The narrative unfolded in the Bible tells of God’s transcendence and immanence. He exists in the unreachable heavens, yet he knows his creatures so intimately that he numbers the hairs on their heads. Even the death of a sparrow is not too inconsequential for him to note. He creates a garden for Adam to tend, but it is Adam and the other creatures that live there. God himself is a visitor to the garden. He does not live there. Later, God chooses a people for himself and gives them an image of fire and smoke to follow out of captivity and through the desert. Unlike the stationary gods of Egypt, he shows himself to be a god who is with his people wherever they go. In the climatic center of the Pentateuch comes the moment when, after the nation of Israel had done all that he commanded, a visible representation of his glory descends upon the newly-constructed tabernacle to demonstrate his coming to dwell amongst his people. The Old Testament name Immanuel means literally, God with us.
After Israel crosses the Jordan into the Promised Land, the visible image disappears and his presence is understood as being invisible. Later, the mobile tabernacle is discarded for the permanence of Solomon’s temple. Then comes the concept that while God is everywhere present and everywhere to be worshiped, there is only one place where the blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins may take place. Every believer must travel to the temple in Jerusalem to offer that sacrifice. Finally Jesus comes in the ultimate tabernacle, a human body, and presents himself as the true temple and the true sacrifice. Whoever desires to be forgiven of their sins must come to Jesus and understand that the necessary sacrifice has already been made. The revelation is completed with the vision of a New Jerusalem with a beauty built not of earthly stone but heavenly materials. There is light, but there is no sun. Jesus is the light and God’s chosen people are gathered there in that heavenly realm to enjoy his presence.
Thus throughout the Bible the natural is contrasted with the supernatural. Every natural feature described in the Bible, every natural act, consistently points to a corresponding super-natural truth. Until now, the unbeliever could insulate himself from such ideas by equating supernatural with superstition. Comfort could be taken that there was no evidence of anything beyond the natural world existing. One can still cling to that hope, but I would think with less comfort now that science itself is building the case that there is more, much more, to reality than what meets the eye.
It’s difficult to imagine more than three spatial dimensions, but you can get the flavor of multi-dimensional existence by picturing yourself sitting with a sheet of paper in front of you. Now imagine a two-dimensional world exists on the surface of the sheet of paper populated with two-dimensional residents. They can move freely along the breadth and width of the surface but they cannot rise above it. You however are free to interact with their world in ways they cannot comprehend. With a pencil, you make objects appear in their world. With an eraser, they disappear just as easily. Pass a pencil through the sheet of paper and they will experience only the exterior of a two-dimensional slice of the wood coming from nowhere as it penetrates their reality. Their two-dimensional nature precludes them from observing you, yet you are free to manipulate their very existence. You are immanent over the surface of the paper and at the same time transcendent. How much more so when speaking of our three-dimensional existence and that of a multi-dimensional being?
Yes, I agree that string theory is unproven and perhaps even unprovable. I agree that even if it is ultimately confirmed, it will still not point directly to the truth of the Bible. It could be mere coincidence that the more science advances, the nearer it draws to reality as described by this ancient scripture. Still there is more to consider. In the next part we’ll look at the idea of God’s very existence.