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Unexpected Wonder

Unexpected Wonder

Living in San Francisco, I don’t have to think far back to the last time I was utterly humbled by and made to feel awe toward the natural world. Just last year, on September 9, 2020, people across the Bay Area woke up to an apocalyptic sight: the sky had turned a dark hue of orange. I remember waking before dawn, working on my computer, looking out my window and checking my clock. I kept wondering why the sun seemed to be taking so long to rise that day. Finally, when I left the house around 8:30 am and it still looked like a 6:30am pre-dawn, with orange glow, I began to realize something was truly different.

All day long, the sky remained orange. Though my phone camera automatically tried to balance the colors resulting in washed-out photos that looked much less orange than the reality of the day, I was able to manually edit my photos, holding them up to the sky to make sure I was able to accurately undo the “corrections” my phone’s computer was trying to do automatically. Two photos I took, one at 9:30 am and one at 3:30 pm show just how orange the sky truly stayed all day long.

And while this day goes down as just another of many previously unbelievable events in the story of the Year of Our Lord 2020, it nevertheless stands out in my memory as a moment of awe and wonder at the terrifying fragility, as well as the stunning beauty, of the created world. For me, as a 21st-century Christian living in a time when most people have a general sense of what causes most natural phenomena to occur, this was a rare moment of being astounded by something new, different, and hard to understand. And it gave me a rare insight into the sort of wonder and awe at God’s power expressed through the natural world that ancient peoples felt so vividly, such as what I find reading Job 37:1-13 for today’s lectionary. 

Some would say that this is a simple “God of the Gaps” argument; that, just as the author of Job assigns to God’s hand the thunder and lightning, snow and rain, and anything else they could not explain scientifically, so too is my awe and wonder at the orange sky misdirected to the extent that I connect it to God rather than the natural consequence of raging forest fires and climate change. 

But that’s the thing about critics of those of us who point to the gaps in our knowledge as places to discover God: they miss out on the wonder, the awe, the wide-eyed stare of an inquiring child that we all can embody if we only allow ourselves to be inspired and amazed and blown away by the awesome power of God’s creation. This is not to say that God is only to be found in the gaps; truly, God is everywhere, in all of us and in everything and everyone we touch. But the gaps to our own knowledge, or even the gaps in knowledge of the scientific community at large, are particular places where we can be inspired to praise God for this blessedly complex, mystifying, and beautiful creation we call home. 

Thankfully, these gaps will never go away. For each new thing the scientific community discovers, for each new fact that each one of us learns, many more questions follow. Why not simply allow these questions to inspire awe, reverence, wonder, and praise, even as we never cease to seek their answers?

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