Nurturing Faith Journal | The Arrogance of Modernity

When I was a teenager, I encountered an angel.

I woke up in my bed and saw a cloud of light in a corner of my room, hovering near the ceiling. My response was like those of the characters in the Bible when they came face to face with one of God’s messengers – fear. I had been taught their stories all my life – Hagar, Jacob, Mary, among many others – so I knew what was happening within me wasn’t unusual.

Knowing these stories also helped me move past the fear and toward a sense of curiosity and wonder. I began praying, “God, what is going on here?” I can’t remember the answer. What I remember is falling back to sleep after what felt like an eternity of staring at the cloud as it slowly dissipated.

That experience informed my evolving faith for several years. It was an Ebenezer, a marker I could refer to when I had struggles and doubts. Regardless of what I faced, I could always say that God had broken into my world to communicate love and peace. I had never seen the cloud of light before that moment and wouldn’t see it again for several years.

When I was a young adult in my mid-20s, I returned home to visit my parents and slept in my childhood bed in the same room I had encountered the angel years before. I woke up and saw what I had seen before. But something had changed. I instantly knew that what I saw wasn’t an angel but simply a cloud of light. I investigated, looking around for its source.

I pieced the puzzle together by looking outside. A full moon hung directly over the house. This wasn’t out of the ordinary. Full moons happen. But on this particular night, the neighborhood had a spotty layer of fog, and the air was humid enough to make the moon hazy. The moonlight reflected onto a car in the street, sending its muted light into a corner of my room.

Who knows how often that particular set of events aligned to make me see what I saw? At least twice, but there were probably more I had slept through. Regardless, the discovery sent me on a journey to reinterpret my original experience.

I didn’t stop believing in God. I had too much invested. But I did begin to doubt whether God still breaks into our world in the same ways as during the times of the Bible. Later, I would wonder whether God had even broken into our world during the times of the Bible.

This is the dilemma of modernity. Once we analyze the data and make new conclusions about the natural world, what do we do with God?

The answer for some is to ignore or refute the data. “The moon didn’t do anything different those nights. You’re just looking for a reason to not believe in God’s work.”

Others try to make the data and God fit together like puzzle pieces. I have heard some, in an attempt to hold onto a belief in a young earth, say that God placed dinosaur bones in particular layers of sediment to test our faith. The flip side of this, which is where I mostly find myself landing, is to say that God is revealed, not refuted, in the natural world.

If the dilemma of modernity is trying to reconcile God with science, the arrogance of modernity is claiming we have it figured out, and biblical figures like Jacob, Hagar, and Mary suffered from a form of intellectual infantilism. “If only they knew!”

As is often the case, the poets crack open a window to answers that scientists and preachers are too naive or prideful to explore. Their witness deserves a place on the panel. The bright moon reflecting through one of the most beautiful windows comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God/It will flame out like shining from shook oil/It gathers to greatness like the ooze of oil crushed…Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

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