The following post is an excerpt from the Preface to my book manuscript, which is now in the final editing phase. The working title is The Book of Works (just like this blog). I am also about to start looking for agents/publishers, so any advice is welcome.
There is a well known joke about a man caught in a flood who prays to God to be saved. He hears an answer to his prayer: “I will save you, my son.” So, with a glad heart, he waits for the miracle to happen. A boat comes by, and the people in it call for the stranded man to join them, but he says “No, thank you, God will save me.” And he continues to wait for the miracle. Two more boats follow (as in any good folk tale), but his answer is the same.
The man drowns. When he gets to Heaven, he confronts God: “Why didn’t you save me, like you promised?” God says, “I sent you three boats. What more did you want?”
Here is another version of the story. Instead of a believer, our hero is an atheist. Caught in the flood, he thinks: it sure looks like only a miracle could save me, but I don’t believe in miracles, so I must save myself. He dives into the swirling waters and tries to swim to safety. He sees a boat, and hears people calling to him, but as a rational person, he knows the chances of there being a real boat there just when he needs one are so small as to make such an occurrence essentially impossible. So, he decides the boat must be an illusion conjured up by his mind, and he continues swimming.
After he drowns, he also goes to Heaven, where God asks him why he didn’t get into the boat to save himself. “Because it made no sense for there to be a boat there, and I used my reason to reject that possibility. Logic is stronger than belief in fairy tales.”
God says, “Yet here you are, in Heaven, in front of the real God who made you, as real as the boat that could have saved you.”
The meaning of both of these parables is, of course, that God works through the natural world, and the natural world is the miracle. The first man expected an angel to come down, swoop him up, and carry him to shore. He rejected the possibility that an ordinary boat with a mortal human could be God’s instrument of miraculous salvation. The second man assumed that his salvation was entirely in his own hands, and even rejected the evidence of his senses that a miracle could happen. Some believers fail to see that the “mundane” world of nature with its scientific laws is itself divine, flowing from God’s will and character. They miss the miraculous nature of everything around them, looking instead only to what they consider to be the rigid and unbendable word of God. They share this blindness with many atheists who, like our second man, also find nature devoid of anything related to divinity, but think of all of reality as the rigid and unbendable consequence of arbitrary natural laws.
They are both wrong, of course, because God is not rigid or unbendable, and His laws of nature reflect this. The great gift of God to the universe is freedom. We see this when we examine the physical and the biological worlds in detail. God has created a universe in which the fundamental particles of matter have the freedom to exist in multiple states; it is only when they are observed that they make their “choice”. As for life, God has created it in a way to allow a breathtaking diversity. There is freedom in evolution – freedom to explore, to succeed or fail. And God has granted His special creation of mankind the most freedom of all. Freedom to choose moral options. To sin, or to love; to worship, or to scorn. To recognize that the boat is a miracle of salvation, or to reject it. My own salvation came through the understanding that the natural world, and its description by science, is a strong witness to God’s existence and majesty.