Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

“How can God hear everybody’s prayers, all over the world, all at the same time? …” Someone asked me this question at a church I worked at in Manchester. But while I was gathering myself to launch into a monologue about God’s greatness, omnipotence and mystery, Elaine, an older lady with very little formal education at all, piped up: “well if Google can answer thousands of questions every second, why can’t God?” I didn’t say anything after that. It’s true, Google currently answers 83,000 queries every second. – and all they have are “server farms”, buildings lined with racks and racks of computing .

But that makes you think. Are there other illustrations in the world of technology or science that make it easier to comprehend the un-fathomable nature of God? I think there are a few.

Take for example the uncanny accuracy of predictive analytics. That’s where Amazon tells you what you want next, or what “other people” buying your item also bought. It’s also the technology behind targeted ads that follow you around the internet offering you stuff you might want to buy based on your behaviour. OK sometimes it goes wrong and they offer you stuff you just bought (what’s the point of that?). But often they turn out to be right. Once Google and co. have scanned or “parsed” everything you type into a search engine, the emails you send, plus anything you post on social media, it’s then just a question of crunching the numbers. We are unique as humans but nevertheless we tend to want the same things that “people like us” want. That makes me think of God’s omniscience – his ability to know my thoughts before I know them myself:

Before I even speak a word, you know what I will say – Psalm 139,v4

Or let’s talk about time. We are all accustomed to the idea that time is a constant – you can’t change time right? And yet for God that isn’t the case. Not only is he eternal (outside of time) but we read:

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day – 2 Peter-3,v8

What does that mean? Well time isn’t quite as fixed as we like to think. We know (from Mr Einstein) that as speed increases, time slows down (or, more accurately, to an onlooker it slows down). In fact, as a person approaches the speed of light time actually stands still for that person. I am in no way qualified to understand let alone explain that, but it does suggest to me that time is simply another aspect of God’s creation, subject to him, and not at all as rigid as we assumed. (After all, a day with time standing still could be like a thousand years).

Then we have what scientists call quantum mechanics. This is the world of subatomic particles, the tiniest elements we know of in the universe. Weird things happen in this world. Normally, computers work on the basis of “bits” of information. A bit of information is always set to either a one or a zero, nothing else. It is true OR false, on OR off, one OR zero. But in the sub-atomic world scientists find a particle can be set to both one AND zero at the same time, i.e. it can be TRUE and FALSE at the same time. OK no worries if you don’t understand that (me neither), but doesn’t it throw some light on some of all those old debates? For example, Jesus was wholly God AND wholly man at the same time; God is three AND one; it’s pre-destination AND free-will. In each case two statements which to our simple, dualistic thinking are contradictory, can both be true, both hold together, at the same time.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts – Isaiah 55v8-9

But, on the weirdness scale, perhaps the most bizarre effect that scientists have discovered is what they call quantum entanglement. This is another effect in the strange world of sub-atomic particles. If you have two such particles separated by a great distance (miles), it turns out that an action performed on one of the particles, equally affects the other particle even though it is a great distance away (told you it was weird). They are somehow connected or entangled” in a way we can’t see or explain. Einstein apparently referred to this effect as “spooky action at a distance”. But spooky or not maybe it gives us an inkling into God’s ability to be present everywhere, omnipresent, in a way we can’t explain:

For where two or three gather together in My name, I am there in their midst- Matthew 18,v20

Insights from science and technology can help us comprehend some of the truths of God for the better. We should never be afraid of scientific discovery. In much the same way, in centuries past when we discovered that the world really wasn’t flat, and God really didn’t need to hold it up, our view of God changed for the better.

Where is this all going?

But, hang on, what does any of this mean? Isn’t here a risk in trying to “explain God” that we end up reducing God to an alien supercomputer (or quantum computer) connected to us with zero second connections (zero latency)? Well you could end up thinking that. In fact you could think of the internet itself as a “God”. After all the internet is all around us, in our homes and our phones twenty-four-seven, it’s “omnipresent”. Then, since it stores all human knowledge it’s “omniscient”. And, if knowledge is power, isn’t it also “omnipotent”? And aren’t those the exact three words we use to describe God?

However, God’s nature, his ability, goes infinitely beyond, any of these illustrations whether it’s Google’s server farm or a quantum computer. But, much more importantly, such arguments miss entirely the character of a personal God. They miss the truth of a loving God who lays aside his glory and majesty to become one of us. There is no hi-tech analogy to help me understand that. They also miss aspects of God such as answered prayer, gifts of the spirit, or simply the joy of the Lord. And they miss a host of other questions such as the philosopher-scientist Leibniz’s often repeated question: “why is there something rather than nothing?”

Why there is a universe at all is a question that science will never answer.

by Chris Goswami