“Have you ever wondered . . .?”
It’s a simple phrase comprised of only four words, none of which are individually terrifying. Yet when I say them to my husband, his face takes on a look of guardedness that one usually associates with a politician who is being interviewed by a journalist who is trying to skewer him, as if he has to anticipate the next question and produce a response that will forestall the imminent skewering. When I see the deer-in-the-headlights expression on my husband’s face, I plow on, ignoring his discomfort, and present my pondering for his opinion. Sometimes I just need to hear myself voice one of my ideas even though I know he doesn’t share my enthusiasm for it. Over thirty-three years of marriage, we’ve both learned that my mind goes places that many people’s minds do not, including the nimble mathematical mind of my husband. He teaches AP calculus and statistics, so he’s certainly not an intellectual lightweight. In fact, he does to me what I do to him, only mathematically. When he decides to practice teaching some bit of calculus to me (which he does at least monthly), I nod my head and say things like “Uh-huh,” and “Right,” and “Sure,” while I’m thinking about something other than calculus. Anything other than calculus. I try to keep my eyes from glazing over. It’s best if he does it when I’m driving the car, because I have an excuse for not giving him my undivided attention. So we’re both guilty of bouncing unappreciated ideas off the other. But I also bounce my ideas off God. My pastor has taught us that prayer is really nothing more than talking to God. So God gets to hear all my wonderings, and they neither frighten Him nor cause His eyes to glaze over.
One thing I want answers about is certain things that I have to deal with here on my corner of Earth (and I have a list). Why do we need chiggers, fire ants, and tarantulas? What is the purpose of poison ivy? Why must we endure temperatures in excess of one hundred degrees or less than thirty? In the same calendar year, helping my daughter move in to her dorm at ORU, I was treated to a chill factor of about 0 degrees in January and a whopping 113 in August. Why, God? Well, I do know this much. In Genesis 1:30 it says that God “saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” What this means, I believe, is that God declared “very good” the functioning ecosystems He had put into operation. Everything worked together well. Every creature and plant had a purpose in the larger scheme of things, and nothing was left out. So if that is the case, then there is a purpose to chiggers, fire ants, tarantulas, poison ivy, and extremes of temperature. I’m sure biologists and ecologists could inform me about some of the things I listed. We know too that after Adam sinned, God’s beautiful creation became cursed. Before the fall, it seems that all creatures were vegetarians. So my mind wonders whether, after the fall, God had to change our teeth? Humans now have the teeth of omnivores, not the teeth of horses. Or did we always have omnivore teeth because God knew we wouldn’t be able to resist temptation? Is it possible that chiggers were not originally blood suckers? Did they originally eat nectar, like bees, or leaves, like grasshoppers? And it says that it had never rained, but that a mist rose up and watered everything. Was there always weather, or was the planet at first a lovely, placid place without extremes of temperature and natural disasters? If there was no disease, then was poison ivy originally not highly allergenic, or have we changed to become sensitive to it? I’m sure some theologians could enlighten me on the prevailing thought pertaining to those questions.
Believe it or not, I really want the answers to these questions. I actually do occasionally wonder about these things actively. It has long been my intent to ask God about them when I get to heaven. (God, you got some splainin’ to do.) But I don’t really know what heaven will be like. I don’t think that God won’t have time to answer my questions. If we’re going to be there for eternity, then eventually He can get around to each one of us. Or will it be that when we arrive, we will be automatically infused with all of God’s understanding? Will we know all the secrets of the universe? Compared to God, we’re all just one small step better than being as “dumb as dirt,” but will people who were extra stupid here on earth have to be that way for all eternity? That doesn’t seem fair to me. Perhaps when I get there, I simply won’t care about the questions that have intrigued me all throughout my life. Perhaps I’ll be so filled with joy and satisfaction that I won’t need to know. I doubt it, though. I’ll get a new body someday, but I think that the innate characteristics that make me who I am will remain. God crafted me carefully and thoughtfully, and I am exactly as He wanted me to be, so why would He change those things about me when I get there? I think I’ll still have a curious nature, at least about the things that I find inherently interesting. I don’t know if I’ll ever care much about calculus, and if God could ever make me interested in economics, then there would be incontrovertible proof that He is indeed a miracle worker.
I also intend to find out the answers to all the mysteries that have intrigued me. I will learn all about the Kennedy assassination and why the Polynesians carved those big heads on Easter Island and who the mysterious white-skinned, blue-eyed native Americans were that the French explorers encountered in Missouri. I want to know if there was any factual basis to the legend of Atlantis. I want to know if there really is a Loch Ness monster or sasquatch. I want to know what happened to Amelia Earhart and the lost colony of Roanoke. I want to know what the perfect diet for human beings is because nobody seems to really know, although lots of people think they do. (I know, it will be too late to benefit me in this life, but I really want to know).
Since I’m a Christian but also an educated person, I want to know the truth about how everything came to be. I want to know if God allowed the universe (and planet Earth) to evolve slowly over billions of years before creating humans, or did He do it all in six literal spans of twenty-four hours? The older I get and the more I ponder, the less likely the second option seems to me. I’ve heard heaven described as a place that’s outside of time, like a different dimension. It sounds very science fiction-y, but it’s an explanation that works. Where is heaven, anyway? In the Bible, it’s usually described as being “above” us, but that was before we understood planetary rotation. Which direction is “above” from the Earth? If heaven is a place that’s outside the boundaries of time as we experience it, then “time” did not exist until God made the universe, and twenty-four-hour “days” did not exist until He caused our planet to spin on its axis as it revolved around our star. (I do not, however, see any biblical justification for the argument that humans evolved from a lesser creature or that God took a lesser creature and made it sentient. He made us as we are, and he said His creation was “very good.” I have no explanation for carbon dating, though some creationists do. Sometimes we just have to have faith, even when it means looking foolish to the scientific establishment.)
My husband’s least favorite of my “Have you ever wondered…?” themes is the “what ifs.” What if George Washington and his men had been captured on Long Island at the outset of the Revolutionary War? Would I be a British citizen right now? Or would we have gotten our independence later? The idea of independence would have been a difficult genie to force back into its bottle. What if Neil Armstrong had actually run out of fuel and crashed onto the surface of the moon in July of 1969? He was only seconds away from doing so. What would our country be like right now without the cachet of having landed on the moon? What if John Wilkes Booth hadn’t been successful in assassinating Lincoln? Might the plight of African Americans over the next century have been less than what it was if Lincoln’s plans of moderation for the purpose of healing had been carried out? If Reconstruction hadn’t been such a horribly bitter pill for the South, might they not have turned their anger toward the entire African American community? What if Jack Ruby hadn’t killed Lee Harvey Oswald? Would we all have known the truth about JFK’s assassination all this time? Oswald clearly had no compunctions about talking and never intended to be a silent martyr. What if Paul had ignored the Holy Spirit and gone to Asia rather than Europe? Would Islam have spread north and west rather than east and south? If we look at the “what ifs” of history as divergent paths, as some science fiction writers like to do, then the number of possible permutations in the progression of history has more zeroes than I can even imagine. But perhaps God will satisfy my curiosity about some of them.
God isn’t threatened by our questions. He isn’t even threatened when we question Him, as long as we don’t turn our backs on Him. When we walk away from faith in Jesus as being the Son of God and our only redemption from sin, it’s apostasy. Our questions are fine as long as we don’t start putting faith in our own minds and ability to reason rather than the Word of God. Genesis chapter 1 says that God created everything in six days, but it also says in 2 Peter 3:8 that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” So perhaps to God, a billion years is as one day as well. Although I deeply want to know the answer to that question, I won’t let my desire to understand things that are “above my pay grade” derail my faith. Jesus told us that we have to come to God as a little child. In what way? In self-centeredness and whininess? No, little children will believe what they’re told. (That’s why I never taught my children to believe in Santa Claus.) In Hebrews 11:6 it says that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” The word “impossible” doesn’t mean “hard”–it means “impossible.” Asking God to help me understand the horrible things I see and experience in life is exactly what I ought to do. He wants to help me understand. But questioning the truth of the Bible in the face of the horrible things I see and experience in life is dangerous ground. It’s the first step in becoming apostate. I can ask God any question I want as long as I accept the answer I find in the Bible. If I discard the Bible’s answer for something I would prefer the answer to be, then I’ve put my own opinion above God’s.
I truly do hope that someday all my questions about history’s mysteries and the universe will be answered. Until then, I will keep wondering about them, and I will keep doing my best to trust in God.