“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).
In some recent posts, we have thought about some of God’s majestic attributes, the qualities that set Him apart from everything He created. He is self-existent. He is eternal. These qualities are beyond full human comprehension.
Jesus also tells us that “God is spirit.” This can exceed our comprehension as well, even though we have a spiritual nature. We bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26–29); Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling within us (Romans 8:9–11); and we can be spoken of as “spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 2:15). In spite of that, we have a hard time understanding the meaning of the word “spirit.”
Perhaps most of us imagine something spiritual as being somehow less real than the physical world we see. We imagine life in heaven seeming more like a dream than an awakened reality. I suspect that we will be surprised and find that heaven seems even more real than life on earth; after a while in heaven, we might think our earthly lives seemed like a dream we had while asleep. We hear “spirit” and we think of a shapeless transparent ghost.
People in twelve-step recovery groups will say that theirs is a “spiritual program.” Yet, many describe it in terms that can more accurately be described as “psycho-social” rather than “spiritual.” The same confusion can exist in the church.
In light of this, I will share a few thoughts I have had about the concept of “spirit” from the world of science. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist. As an editor, though, I spend a lot of time reading scientific papers. I often watch science programs on television. I am fascinated and curious about many of the theories that float around. As a Christian, I often look at these theories and ask, “Can this relate to the Bible, the Gospel, my faith, etc.? Can this science inform my faith?” So, here are just a few thoughts.
Is the spiritual realm somehow intertwined with the natural realm we see? More than 15 years ago, I came across a book (I wish I remembered the title and author’s name) which looked at the concept of “intelligent design” from a Hindu perspective. Much like Judaeo-Christian creationists, the author believed a divine being created the universe and his handiwork could be seen in the natural realm. He believed you could see scientific evidence supporting the belief that our world was created by a deity. Frequently, he would refer to electrons as “spiritual particles.”
Electrons are interesting. As we learned in high-school chemistry and physics, atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Electrons have very little mass: so little that, when we refer to the atomic mass of an element, we mean the combined number of protons and neutrons, ignoring electrons. Yet, they have a charge, equal and opposite to that of a proton, which makes them essential to most chemical reactions. The merger or exchange of atoms in the formation or change of molecules is largely the result of electron transfer. They are very small, but they wield great power in the natural realm.
Could electrons or some other subatomic particles be “spiritual particles”?
Is the presence and work of God and spirits evident in the universe, but not adequately explained? Scientists now believe most of the universe is “dark matter” and “dark energy.” They propose that most of the mass and energy in the universe cannot be measured or directly observed. However, this so-called dark matter and energy must be there, because you cannot explain the universe without it. Galaxies are moving apart too quickly. There must be inobservable forces or matter preserving order.
Could it be that the effects of dark matter and energy are nothing more than the work of God Himself as He sustains the universe that He created? Scripture says this about Jesus:
“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Are scientists using the term “dark matter” or “dark energy” to refer to the work of Christ?
Does the spiritual realm perhaps exist parallel to the natural world that we see? We think we live in a three-dimensional universe, where things are measurable in terms of height, width, and depth. Albert Einstein’s theories proposed that it is actually a four-dimensional universe, with time being intertwined with these three spatial dimensions. However, some theories propose that space-time has eight or more (I think some scientists have suggested 20 or more) dimensions: They are just as real and physical as the ones we know, but we cannot observe or experience them. Is the “spirit realm,” including heaven, linked to dimensions of space-time that we simply do not see or experience, even though they exist alongside the four dimensions we experience? Could the spirit realm be in, with, and under our natural world, fully a part of it, yet manifested in dimensions we do not see or hear?
Like I said, I am not a scientist, so perhaps I misunderstood and misrepresented some of these theories. I share these ideas to encourage thought, dialog, and reflection. We say that God is a spirit. Christians believe in the presence of spirits, including angels and demons, and we believe that our spirits and souls will live after we die. This is not mere symbolism. When we say that God is a spirit and there are other spirits, we are making a statement about reality, even though we may not fully understand what that reality is. Perhaps one or more of these ideas can help us to envision the spirit world described by the Bible as something that is real, not merely a dream, fantasy, or symbol.
Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.