Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Zechariah 13) transports me to the French-Swiss border, the site of the Large Hadron Collider. With a circumference of 17 miles, this is the biggest machine science has ever built. I confess that I know next to nothing about science, and haven’t a clue what hadrons are or what happens when they collide. What fascinates me is how much the brains behind this project, along with a host of other quantum physicists, sound a whole lot more like theologians and prophets than they do research scientists. They are not simply working to find a cure for cancer or to build a better bomb. They are searching for the one unifying theory that will explain everything. They do not blanch at using Einstein’s phrase – they believe they are close to discovering the mind of God. Of course, many of them use other names for the concept of God: Absolute Consciousness, Pure Energy, Perfect Unity, etc. In the beginning, Absolute Consciousness/ Perfect Unity desired to know what it was like to experience partial consciousness and separation, and so from the mind of God energy exploded into matter, and here we are. That big holy bang created a universe defined by the contradictory trends toward complexity and entropy. Which, as I understand them to say, means that while we experience the continuing move toward more diversity – a move that necessitates the pain of division and alienation – we also experience a dissipating energy that creates a longing to go back to that simpler, unified existence with the Absolute.
Like I said, it sounds more like religion than science. What I am beginning to believe is that underneath all this incredibly complicated language of hadrons and sparticles and quarks and string theory, is the same story the prophets of old were telling. Zechariah lived within the sphere of a collider of his own, as prophets and priests and patriots found themselves on a collision course with God. Zechariah pictures God (aka Absolute Consciousness) experiencing and embodying that very sense of alienation and separation and pain that is inherent in the ever expanding universe. God takes a sword and essentially turns it on himself, saying, Awake, sword, against the shepherd, against the fellow close to me. Strike the shepherd, scatter the sheep! The Lord (who is my shepherd, I shall not want), is divided from the shepherd, and experiences want, experiences hurt, experiences alienation, experiences division, as do the sheep. The sacred story, like life, gets ever more complex. And yet, the longing for that return to simple love is still there, as the chapter ends with, They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “they are my people” and they will say, “the Lord is our God.” It is no accident that Jesus recalled this Zechariah passage as he neared his death, as he experienced the painful alienation of his own expanding universe, even as he longed for and prayed for that return to perfect unity. And so it should come as no surprise that the church, the body of Christ has scattered into 38,000 distinct denominations, all the while making efforts at ecumenical unity and peace.
As I was reading about some of those scientific quests for the mind of God, I was listening to Johnny Cash on Pandora. It occurred to me that the music is telling the same story as well. Quantum physicists, ancient prophets, and an outlaw country singer covering the Nine Inch Nails and Vera Lynn, all speaking of the alienation of life, the pain that accompanies our complex existence, and the longing for that return to pure love, pure energy, perfect unity. If it is not enough to live in this colliding world where we are constantly divided and fractured, scattered and shattered, we sometimes do as God did and awaken the sword, turning it on ourselves to make sure we’re still alive. Johnny sings: I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real, what have I become, my sweetest friend, everyone I know, goes away in the end. But these lyrics collide with the feeling of the very next song, as he sings of our hope, our holy longing for restored unity: We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day. While I won’t claim to have discovered the mind of the Holy, I suspect these Johnny Cash songs are among God’s favorites.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.