About two years ago I went through a rough period of insomnia that lasted about a year. I’m over it now but at the time it was pretty tough. On a good night I would get five hours. Many nights I would get no sleep at all, sitting up reading or playing games on my computer, or just staring at the ceiling in despair.
It got so bad that I dreaded getting into bed. I would spend a lot of time to make sure any possible sources of distraction were removed because I knew that if something woke me up, that would be it for the rest of the night. Falling asleep has been likened to catching a train. Well, my “sleep train” was driven by an unforgiving tormentor, moving quickly out of the station and never returning once it had left. If I was woken, even while lifting my foot to climb aboard, the train would speed away and I would spend the rest of the night staring out along the bleak tracks.
I read a book that helped me understand my symptoms, but not the root cause. I applied the principles described in the book and saw a slight improvement. However, the solution only came when I understood the cause of my problem: a photograph or, more accurately, how I looked at that photograph.
You may have seen an image called “Pale Blue Dot” taken by the Voyager 1 probe in 1990. It shows the Earth from a distance of 6 billion kilometres. The famous astrologer Carl Sagan gave it its name and used it to explain just how insignificant we are against the backdrop of a vast universe. We are, it seems, little more than atoms living on a speck of dust. Our world is not only tiny, but also extremely vulnerable. If, as Sagan believed, everything came about as a result of blind chance, then we are at the mercy of a big, blind, and potentially very dangerous, universe. If this is all just an accident, then we are just a floating target waiting to be wiped out by some cosmic catastrophe. Our very existence, if scientists like Sagan are to be believed, hangs by a fragile thread.
As a Christian, I believe that this universe did not all happen by chance. I believe that God created everything for us, and for a purpose. Sometimes, however, I lose sight of this. Sometimes I look at photographs like “Pale Blue Dot” and wonder if people like Carl Sagan do not actually have it right. I wonder if this isn’t just a big accident waiting for another big accident to end it all. In short, I take my eyes off God.
I forget that scientists, no matter how smart, are only human, with limited faculties and a tendency to see the universe the way they want to see it. There was a time when scientists generally believed in God but agreed to exclude Him from their studies to avoid “cheating”. At some point this changed and scientists who believe in God are now no longer considered “real scientists”. When did this shift happen? I’m sure the likes of Copernicus, Kepler, Galilei, Pascal and Newton, would strongly disagree with the idea that you cannot be a “real scientist” if you believe in God. Even Einstein was of the opinion that the universe is not some random series of events.
I applaud scientists and the work they do but the problem is that they tend to be quite convincing, even when the available evidence is thin on the ground. I remember as a kid, visiting a museum and looking at a diorama of a caveman. He was standing with his family group in front of a hut wearing skins and carrying a club, gazing hungrily out at a backdrop depicting a herd of grazing animals. He even had stubble. I remember wondering how amazing it was that they could have so much information about something that happened so long ago. Had I known then that ninety-nine percent of that diorama was fabricated from pure imagination and guesswork, I am sure I would have been not quite as impressed.
Now when I listen to atheists tell me how the universe came into existence, I imagine an ant farm in which a particularly clever inhabitant has discovered the oldest grain of sand in the colony and now proudly declares that he knows how everything began. What he cannot see is the world outside the glass walls. He thinks he has found the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but his mind cannot begin to grasp the enormity of it all. As a writer of Christian speculative fiction, this is very exciting to me. We are not limited by the glass walls of an ant farm. We can imagine what lies beyond.
The solution to my insomnia came when I stopped thinking of the world as a speck floating aimlessly in the void, but as a special place created by someone who loves each and every one of us and who can see more than we could ever imagine. These days I cannot get enough sleep and even the local farmers doing crazy things in the middle of the night with tractors and big metal trailers doesn’t wake me. The things that used to deprive me of sleep no longer bother me.
Scientists with an atheist world view talk about “the God of the gaps” but I prefer to think of Him as “the God of everything”.