Traveler’s Aid at JFK

Science & Religion News 6 (Summer 1995): 9

Kevin Sharpe

Since science seems to explain most if not everything, how can we understand the workings of God? How might God work so that God doesn’t compete with science?

When I was 14, I thought I could answer life’s questions. Then I read this in my church newsletter:

The sun rises in the morning because otherwise we would sleep too long and wouldn’t finish our work. The Divine designed it that way because we need to work.

Something’s fishy here, I thought. I had learned in school that the sun rises because of the spin of the earth. “Well,” my inner voice said, “maybe God made the earth to spin because we need to work.” This, I felt, was far fetched. I believed that God had made the heavens, the earth, and all in it including us through the process of evolution. Did this mean that God nudged the evolution of the sun and earth with our need to work in mind? I didn’t think God would nudge for such a relatively trivial matter. God didn’t design the sun and earth to fill our needs; rather, we evolved to sleep and work on a planet whose sun rises and sets every 24 hours.

So, how does God act? We call upon science to explain most everything and it can explain a lot and perhaps a lot more. How does the Divine act when science seems to explain most if not everything?

We could say the Divine brings everything into existence both at the big bang and throughout time. The sun rises in the morning because of the physical properties of it and the earth and the interactions between them. The carrying out of these properties in the ways that physics describes is the Divine at work. Science describes how God works. This understanding of how the Divine interacts with the universe sits comfortably with the findings of science, in comparison with what the church newsletter said about the rising of the sun. No confrontation will ensue because whatever science finds, that is how God acts.

I first came to the US to attend Princeton Seminary. After traveling all day and night from Singapore, spending the daylight hours in London and running with suitcases to get on PanAm Flight 1 before the doors of the jumbo jet closed, and suffering turbulence in two hours’ of circling over New York in which everyone was ill, here we were, my wife and I, overwhelmed at JFK.

A woman behind us in the line for the phone asked where we were headed. My wife told her. “Would you like a ride?” she asked. She and her husband were going to Princeton too.

Perhaps the rescuers’ phone rang and God told them to meet us. Or perhaps the divine planner had influenced events from way back so their plane landed just after ours and they had to use the pay phone to find out the condition of their daughter who just happened to contract tuberculosis two hours before.

This can’t happen if we take science seriously. If a plane leaves London with 10,000 gallons of fuel and needs the energy of 5,000 to fly to JFK, it won’t land there with the 10,000 gallons still in its tanks. Something doesn’t come from nothing. A plane doesn’t fly without burning fuel. Suppose the intervention of my wife and me at JFK happened through a wind that sprung up unexpectedly and blew hard against our rescuers’ plane. The pilot hadn’t allowed for this and thus the plane arrive late. This situation has a problem like a plane that doesn’t burn fuel. Where did the plane-hampering wind come from? It magically appeared from nowhere. Science says this can’t happen. Changes the Divine creates by intervention require happenings that wouldn’t have been there naturally, and so break the laws of science.

These questions sit high on the agenda of those who think about how scientific and spiritual thought relate to one another. The answer, I think, lies in how we further understand what or who God is.

Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Sharpe.