Light Speed, God and non-relativity

I believe that God created the universe (and maybe many universes). I also believe that the Bible makes it clear that as we discover the intricacies of that creation, we are discovering the underlying reality of who God is and what he is doing in the world. That is why I LOVE science. Science is full of beautiful, spiritual mystery, and there are none more mysterious (at least to me) than those portrayed by light itself.

We know a lot about the light. Most of it is wild, but not mysterious:

  1. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second.
  2. Though it has wavelike properties it is composed of tiny particles called photons.
  3. The closer you get to approaching the speed of light, the slower time passes.

Here is the mystery: imagine someone fired one of these photons away from you, and you decided to pursue it. You could imagine that if you started to run at 186,000 miles per second (the speed of light), the photon would appear to be standing still (or going the same speed as you). In other words, it would not appear that the distance between you and the photon was increasing. Furthermore, you could imagine that if you started to creep above the speed of light, that you could eventually catch up with the photon.

That is not the case. In fact, no matter how fast you travel, light will always appear to be traveling away from you at 186,000 miles per second. No matter how much energy you spend, no matter how much you try, the speed of light is its own constant to be judged against the speed of nothing else. It is simply not relative to you.

God is the exact same way. Isaiah 55:9 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my [God’s] ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” No matter how much we try to make God conform to our rules of culture or logic, they never seem to fit. No matter how many times we look at each other to decide how God will or should work, God never conforms to our pattern. God is simply not relative to us.

God is the constant. God is the measure. God is. May we be ever seeking to measure ourselves against the person of God, and not the other way around.

Jeremy Steele has been working in youth ministry for the past fifteen years and now serves as the Next Generation Minister  at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL.  He writes for Group Magazine, RETHINK Church and various publications and organizations.  You can find a link to all the places he contributes on his website at  JeremyWords.com.

About Jeremy Steele

Jeremy serves as the Next Generation Minister at Christ UMC in Mobile, AL. He oversees ministry to teens, young adults and young families, leads an evening worship service, and teaches throughout the church. In addition to his "day job," he spends a good bit of time writing for online and print publications, and writing curriculum for different publishers. He also travels as a speaker and ministry trainer.

6 comments

  1. Jeremy, I’m curious to know what you think about whether the Bible gives a context that is consistent with the size and age of the universe. If God created the universe, is it a reasonable expectation for our cosmological context to be presented in some form or fashion in the scripture? I ask this because the universe seems pretty big and old (14 Billion years) when compared to biblical accounts of size and time.

    • Drew, I love your question. Though there are many Christians who would disagree with me, I have no problem reconciling the Biblical narrative and current scientific explanation of the universe. At the most basic level, we have a long history proving numbers examples of how bad religion is at doing science (Galileo… need I say more?). As far as the creation accounts in Genesis, I see much more going on there than a simple explanation of how the earth was created. Did it function as that for a pre-scientific culture? Yes, but the point of those passages is not primarily about how we were created, but why we were created, why life is hard, how we react to sin and temptation, and, most importantly, our desperate need for a savior.

      So, do I believe that the universe is 14 Billion years old? Yes. Do I believe that this fact poses an issue for the accuracy of the scriptural account? No. Do LOTS of Christians disagree with me? Yes. Do lots of Christians need this option so that they can feel they have intellectual integrity and a strong faith in the scriptures? Yes.

      What do you think?

  2. I think it’s pretty weird that the Christian Bible does not reflect the Big Bang very well. I’ve read some arguments for various scriptural references to the way that God stretched the universe (mirroring the cosmic expansion that we have observed), but that in itself seems like a bit of a stretch, since metaphors that connect to a scientific understanding seem to be in too small a minority. The very quick creation presented in the Genesis is also really weird. What does it (or any scripture) have in common with evolution? I do think it is reasonable to expect a good relationship between scripture and science. The Christian Bible demands that we respect it as an authority on how to conduct our lives, and I would say it backs up that authority with wisdom. It also demands that we respect it as an authority on our context within this the universe, and that claim is much less backed up. I don’t expect it to give us our coordinates within the galactic plane anymore than I expect it to tell us which genes are responsible for alcoholism. But I would expect it to acknowledge its/our context more than I’ve found that it does. I find it contradictory that Judeo-Christian tradition purports (to varying degrees, depending on who you ask) to be the be-all end-all religion, but its existence occupies such a minuscule time and space in human history (which spans six continents and between 50k and 200k years, depending on when you think our ancestors became our equivalents).

    • I wanted to make sure I gave you a thoughtful response. I agree with what you say about scripture needing to have a “good relationship” with science and it backing up its authority with wisdom. I like to the ink of that good relationship as one characterized by collaboration rather than unity. I think that when discussing the immense topic of the origins of life and everything else each has unique observations to bring to the table to provide a more complete understanding of reality. Reality is neither totally spiritual nor totally physical, and any attempt to provide a single-sided approach to explaining its origins will fall short. The narrative that characterizes the creation as happening in seven days is beautifully complex. The “seven” motif is repeated in brilliantly complex ways throughout the poem about our beginnings. And that is where the real beauty comes in. Speaking in terms of genre, the seven day account is poetry. It conveys truth through metaphor and by using incredible abstractions of reality to convey far more than how the elements like hydrogen and helium cooled to eventually combine and create carbon.

      As far as wisdom is concerned, I think that wisdom comes in many forms including that of the scientific variety. As far as I’m concerned, the Bible demonstrates its wisdom by how profoundly accurate it is. By that I mean that the Bible not only happened; it happens. I see its statements about who we are and how we act played out before my eyes every day. All you have to do is change names and cultural setting and the stories are stories I have lived throughout my life. That is the deep wisdom of the scriptures. That is why I trust it with my life.

  3. So as it turns out in Numbers 2 9 the men of Judah numbered 186,400.

    • Eli, the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second. If you find any other references to natural laws that were unobservable at the time scripture was written, though, I’d be interested to hear them.