James Webb Space Telescope Photos From Space: How Have Christians Reacted?

This article was first published in the State of the Faith Newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.

If you’re anything like me, the images sent back to Earth by the James Webb Space Telescope made you feel very small. It is difficult and uncomfortable to understand that we are a tiny spot on a little spot in a universe full of tiny and beautiful spots.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the images of James Webb actually threw me into a kind of existential crisis, a crisis that I didn’t fully quit until I spoke with Deborah Haarsma, an astrophysicist Christian, of their spiritual significance.

Haarsma, who is president of BioLogos, an organization that works to reduce tensions between the worlds of science and faith, told me that I’m not the only one reeling from the vastness of outer space. -atmospheric. Then she shared wisdom that has helped guide her work for years.

“You don’t have to look at the vastness of the universe and feel insignificant. You can look at it and see how great the power and love of God is,” she said.

For Haarsma, the new images from outer space are no cause for fear. They are a reason to revisit and celebrate religious teachings about the natural world and a reason to give thanks that we humans are part of it all.

Here are some more thoughts from Haarsma on the new images. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Kelsey Dallas: Do you think the images from the James Webb Space Telescope are spiritually significant?

Deborah Haarsma: Yes, I think so. They are certainly scientifically significant since they show us new things about the universe and the conditions on other planets. But I think most people believe there’s more to the pictures than that.

What we discover about the universe tells us about humanity’s place in the universe, and it is something that matters to us spiritually, whether we are religious or not.

KD: Did your own faith influence how you viewed the images?

DH: Yes, they were important to me on many levels. The sheer beauty of the images means a lot to me, because when we do astronomy or any other type of science, we are studying the very work of God. We see God’s creation.

KD: Does getting more information about the universe have the potential to create conflict for Christians?

DH: I know some people feel this, and I personally felt this when I started studying astronomy. I grew up in an evangelical church and heard that we had to choose between the Christian view that God created the earth and that it is 6,000 years old and the atheist view that the earth was billions of ‘years.

But when I got interested in astronomy I saw how much evidence there was for the very old age of the universe and I was also pointed to some great resources that helped me dig deeper the Scriptures and better understand Genesis. I didn’t want science to dictate how I interpreted the Bible, but I enjoyed deepening my understanding of Genesis.

In general, I believe that studying the work of God will not lead people away from the faith. Instead, it will tell us more about his work as a creator. I believe that all truth is God’s truth. If you’re studying something about the universe that’s true, it’s not something you need be afraid of.

KD: Do you think religious leaders should talk about images in church programming, such as Sunday School classes or in sermons?

DH: Yes, there is so much potential there. In my own church, we had the images projected on a screen on Sundays after they were broadcast and we sang hymns about nature. They created an opportunity to thank God for the wonders of the natural world.

The pictures also provide a chance to talk to young people in the church about science and allow them to ask questions. We need to show children that Christians can engage in science and that if they like science, there is a place for them in the church.

Pastors should take comfort in knowing that they don’t need to have all the answers about science to benefit from it. What kids want most is someone who is just willing to have a conversation.

KD: What attracted you to your career as an astrophysicist? Does your faith have anything to do with it?

DH: I have always been interested in science and mathematics, and my parents and my teachers encouraged me to pursue this passion. I got into physics because I liked the way math describes the real world. The calculations you make on paper can be measured in the real world.

For a while I wasn’t sure if working in science was a Christian thing, but I went to a Christian college and heard that, yes, it’s good to study the creation of God. Astrophysicists see how the principles of physics work in the universe under the extreme conditions of black holes and ultra-intense gravitational forces. It’s just amazing.


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Term of the week: Spiritual abuse

The term of the week is difficult to define, as believers disagree on when inconvenient faith-related behavior crosses the line and becomes abuse. “When does a disagreement, an unhealthy culture, or the normal challenges of church life become abusive? The answer is not always clear,” Religion News Service reported last week in an article about the recent conflict in a few prominent churches.

This article drew on the expertise of authors and scholars to outline some of the markers of spiritual abuse. “Spiritual abuse, at its core, involves the abuse of spiritual authority,” Religion News Service reported, noting that spiritually abusive religious leaders “manipulate or coerce” members of their congregation into following their demands and going sometimes even avoiding those who dare. to raise concerns. The faithful end up feeling silenced and scared instead of uplifted and loved.


What I read…

As the average lifespan increases, religious communities are adopting new rituals to recognize important moments in the lives of older people, according to The New York Times. “The second half of life includes so many moments that deserve attention and community celebration,” Rabbi Rachel Timoner told The Times.

I always love when articles surprise me, and Christianity Today’s look at Christian colleges embracing green energy does the trick. The story highlighted how new funding options are helping schools across the country install solar panels, save money and live the belief that caring for the environment is part of life. of faith. “I think caring for the planet is a prerequisite for being a Christian,” Tim Fennema, vice president of administration and finance at Calvin University, told Christianity Today.


Tips

The iconic Notre-Dame cathedral, which suffered extensive damage in a fire in 2019, will reopen in time for the Paris Olympics in the summer of 2024, according to Reuters.

I’m a Midwesterner at heart, so I loved the Washington Post’s recent article on “the most Midwestern things on Earth.”

If you ever wonder “What’s up with American religion?”, I have a video for you to watch. Two academics and I tried to answer this question during a virtual panel last week.

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