The Christian Theory of Everything

When I was a teenager the Walmart in our small town functioned like a shopping mall. It was a place to hang out. But every once in a while, we would go on an adventure. My teenage comrades and I would pile into the most reliable used vehicle owned by one of us at the time and drive thirty miles away to the state capital to visit an authentic, full-orbed, center of commercialism and materialism, real deal shopping mall.

These irregular ventures were always a treat. Besides the expected stuff, window shopping at “The Buckle,” consuming thousands of calories at Luca’s Pizza, and in general trying to project a cool and confident exterior walking through the mall interior, I would usually spend some time sitting cross-legged on the floor in the mall’s bookstore pouring over whatever suited my adolescent pseudo-intellectual mood at the moment. I’ll never forget the time that included Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”

Hawking’s discussion of dark matter and dark energy provoked my attention. I acted like I understood what this brilliant scientist was talking about. I didn’t. But apparently neither did a lot of people. The book was described as the “least-read-best-seller.”

Hawking summarizes the scientist’s desire to find a theory of everything in the closing paragraphs of the book:

“If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”

This quote has stuck with me since reading it as a high schooler. Of course Hawking wasn’t being literal, he doesn’t believe in God, he didn’t seem to then, he clearly doesn’t now. But his quote illustrates something powerful, understanding a theory that can describe with elegant simplicity the sum total of the human expeirence would be on par with divine knowledge.

That is what Christians have the audacity to claim every time they open the Bible. They believe they are learning the mind of God, not by Hawking’s ‘ultimate triumph of human reason,’ but through God’s gracious condescension to communicate his love to us. It is the Christian’s conviction that you cannot understand the world unless you understand the Creator who made the world, the One who loved the world so much he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.

If you miss this, no matter how much you might get about the physical world, you miss the big picture. You miss what really matters. Jesus said it this way, “What would it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?”

Only by knowing God can you understand reality. “The fear of the Lord,” King Solomon wrote, “is the beginning of wisdom.” Edgar Andrews, Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London,  seems to echo Solomon’s conviction when he explains that the idea of God is necessary for developing a theory of everything:

A scientist’s dream is to develop a ‘theory of everything’ — a scientific theory that will encompass all the workings of the physical universe in a single self-consistent formulation. Fair enough, but there is more to the universe than matter, energy, space and time. Most of us believe in the real existence of non-material entities such as friendship, love, beauty, poetry, truth, faith, justice and son on — the things that actually make human life worth living. A true ‘theory of everything,’ therefore, must embrace both the material and non-material aspects of the universe and my contention is we already posses such a theory, namely, the hypothesis of God.

The Christian believes, like Professor Andrews, that knowledge of God is absolutely necessary to understand the world. And the only way to know about God, in any meaningful way that might provide insights into reality, is for God to reveal himself to his creation. We are completely dependent upon God to explain himself and our world so that me might understand ourselves and our place in his creation.

That’s why theism, belief in God, isn’t enough for  a theory of everything. Theism best explains reality — but only Christianity explains theism.

C.S. Lewis compared Christianity to the sun. We can know the sun has risen by either waking up to watch it rise or at some point looking across our bedroom, seeing items like clothes left on the floor or papers or books on the nightstand, that in the darkness of night were unclear to us, but now, because the light of the sun, are illuminated.

The gospel shines light on what it means to be human. Like other theories, the Christian theory of everything is an attempt to explain the world we live in and the human experience. But in comparison, Christianity has a distinct feature: It has the added advantage of being true.