When you’re scrolling through items in your algorithmically-designed newsfeed of choice, sometimes a headline will almost forcefully stop your thumb. In the midst of pandemic updates, election news, and sports scores comes something like this: “The Universe is Not Locally Real, and the Physics Nobel Prize Winners Proved It.”
I don’t know about you, but for me this was a compelling enough headline to get me to click.
Here’s a brief summary:
- In scientific terms, “real” means that something has properties all its own even when it’s not being observed. Daniel Garisto, the author of the article, says, “an apple can be red even when no one is looking.”
- And “local” means things can’t be impacted unless they’re manipulated by something nearby. I can’t pick up a coin if the coin is on a table in New Zealand and I’m in Minnesota.
- And, finally, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light (thanks, Einstein).
With those terms and rules in mind, physicists have proved through experimentation that the universe is not both of those things; it is not “locally real.” Instead, they have shown that objects can and seemingly do change when unobserved and that they can be influenced by very distant forces. Yes, we are now stepping into the mind-melting theory of quantum physics and entanglement.
Imagine rolling a die. You know there’s a 1 out of 6 chance of rolling a 5. If you glue two dice together in a specific way and roll that, you can read just 1 die and know what the other one will be. The weird thing is that scientists have shown that phenomenon with particles that aren’t physically glued together. This is termed “quantum entanglement”, but a skeptical Einstein cheekily called it “spooky action at a distance.” This is the phenomenon that the Nobel scientists proved exists.
Okay, enough with the science. Why does all of this matter? As I read the article (and then re-read it), the fingerprints of a loving God on the observable universe began to reveal themselves. What strikes me most is the fact that great distance means less than we thought it did. Two separated pieces of a whole can be placed at opposite ends of the universe and still be somehow connected and talk to each other as if they were in the same room. The dice are still glued together across the universe, interacting and cooperating.
It reminds me of when Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of both the garden and the presence of God, and yet, there was still hope. Throughout the entire Old Testament, God repeatedly warns his people that because of their sin they cannot be with him like back in the garden days. There is an insurmountable distance between them, and getting too close would be fatal. And yet, God continues to communicate his nearby-ness all the more, hinting that better days are coming (Is 43:2).
Then when Jesus arrives on earth the distance and barriers shrink even smaller. Suddenly, a faraway and cosmic God is touching hands and faces, drinking with people in space and time, and washing their feet. Then at the cross, Jesus becomes a stairway between heaven and earth and even sends his spirit to live inside his people!
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13).
Because God loved us, he had a plan in place to rush into our lives and remove the infinite separation that we could never have traversed ourselves. The rules of our universe had to be broken and that could only be accomplished by the one who wrote them in the first place.
In the film Interstellar, Christopher Nolan imagines a story where a father travels light years to try to save the world, leaving his children behind. Because of the theory of relativity (thanks again, Einstein), time slows for him during his journey and he ends up younger than his daughter back on earth. As he realizes what’s happened and that he can never go back, he weeps until he finds that there is a way to communicate with her and ultimately to be with her again. It seems that a bond of love is stronger than gravity and physics, leading to a beautiful reunion and a saved humanity. Maybe you find that rather schmaltzy, but it’s biblical! God is love and his love breaks the rules of physics and, more importantly, the laws of the Old Testament. The far-off, untouchable God suddenly appears, touches us, and instantly brings us to life, by grace, not by the observable patterns of what we have done, obeyed, or striven after.
God created a staggeringly complex universe full of enormous galaxies and intricate subatomic particles. He established rules that are mind-boggling and hard to pin down and are yet foundational and unchanging, in order to illustrate to us who he is (Rom 1:20). All of creation can point us to an attribute of God. When God tells Abraham to look up at the stars and try to count them, blowing his aged, childless mind in telling him that his descendants will outnumber those stars, he used this unfathomably vast creation as an object lesson to one man that he loved. God says, “I will do impossible things for you.”
What is the nature of this universe? Can signals move faster than light between separated particles thanks to some yet-unknown quantum entanglement system? Can two things violently separated ever re-connect and harmonize? In Christ, we see the fullness of these concepts and the true answers to these questions. Even when we wander from him, he is never far off. No matter where we go, he is there, as Psalm 139 says. And when God turns his face, far-off dead sinners come alive instantly and become one with a local and real Savior. No lightspeed travel, Ph.D., or moral acuity needed — just the grace that came near (and maybe a little schmaltz).