“The Theory of Everything” except Love
Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 15, 2015
British physicist Stephen Hawking is enjoying a new wave of celebrity, and it’s not limited to the scientific and academic world as in the past. The motion picture “The Theory of Everything,” based on the autobiographical work by Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde, entitled “Traveling to Infinity,” has moviegoers around the world intimately familiar with the story of the couple’s very complicated relationship. Married while university students, in interviews, Hawking acknowledged that having first been diagnosed with ALS, ”Falling in love (with Jane) gave me something to live for…Jane was beautiful and gentle, and seemingly undaunted by the harsh reality of my illness.” He has admitted that the relationship motivated him to move forward with his life, his studies, and ultimately, ground-breaking discoveries.
After 30 years of marriage, the couple divorced. Jane Wilde describes the challenge of caring for three children, as well as a husband struggling with a devastating illness, which, together with the negative effects of Hawking’s rise to international fame, pressured the relationship to the breaking point. But she also says that a major reason for the divorce was Hawking’s committed atheism. In his search for a single universal equation for all existence, Hawking professes to have ”controversially shown the laws of nature suggest there is no need for a creator or God. The universe just came into existence all by itself.”
While his love for her gave him the will to continue to live and work and accomplish great things in spite of the devastating impact of ALS, it was Jane’s Catholic faith which sustained her throughout a very stress-filled married life. With great success, there apparently came the desire within Hawking to challenge the existence of God, in whom his wife found comfort, strength, and solace. This relentless ambition to eliminate God from the “equation for all existence” intensified with his success and was intolerable to his wife.
The popularity of the movie is worrisome in the sense that many people, impressed by his almost unparalleled scientific accomplishments, might be unduly influenced by his thinking, and may wrongly presume that he offers a convincing argument for atheism. Those so inclined might well benefit by attempting to answer two questions, the first being the source of Stephen’s life-giving love for Jane. Secondly, where did his burning desire to eliminate God from his personal “theory of everything” come from? Actually, the answer to both of those questions might well be inspired by…of all things…the movie!
Hawking acknowledged that the film was “broadly true.” With respect to the young actor who portrayed him, the renowned physicist is quoted as saying: “I thought Eddie Redmayne portrayed me very well…at times I thought he was me,” the great irony being what Hawking recognized in the actor’s performance was not himself…at least not his true self…not the Stephen Hawking that God created him to be. What is revealed by the movie, as well as by Hawking’s writings and statements, is a person in costume…a face behind a mask. What Hawking recognized was, in truth, his “false self.” We all have one….a false self. We come by it naturally because of the original sin. It is our false self that leads us to make decisions and choices that conceal who and what we are at our core: creatures created in the image and likeness of our Creator…Who called us into being out of love.
In his efforts to discover a “theory of everything”, and misled by his false self, Stephen Hawking appears to offer an explanation for the origin of everything EXCEPT love. If he actually believes that human feelings, emotions, and even the human intellect are mere accidents…somehow a by-product of the Big Bang,” his “travel to infinity” will carry him to a dead end…a place of total darkness, confusion, and despair. How could he fail to include love in his “theory of everything”? Simple. He listened to the serpent. He let his false self-overpower the person God created him to be. It is Professor Hawking who deserves an Academy Award for his flawless portrayal of Adam…the first creature to deny the supremacy of God’s creative love.
But there are lots of others competing in this category because there are lots of people who bring Adam to life by allowing their “false self” to control and misguide their thinking. And that is the exact message of our Readings for this 4th week in the Lenten Season.
Consider this: Any journey to infinity should begin at the beginning. John’s Gospel offers the starting point: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.
It is impossible for us fragile, finite, limited human beings, no matter how brilliant we might be, to “travel to infinity.” So, through Christ, the Infinite has traveled to us. And, in arriving in time, the Timeless has brought the light of truth, love, and peace to a world that would otherwise be covered in darkness. Tragically, as we hear in both the First Reading as well as the Gospel, Adam still lives within each of us and struggles to show his face…our false self…setting a course towards darkness and away from the Light of Christ, the only true path to infinity.
So how can we drive out the serpent? How can we push Adam back into the darkness? How can we resist the urge that causes us to masquerade as something much less than we were created to be? How can we stop acting and start living authentically? Prayer offers the right answer and casts the brilliant Light of Christ onto the path that carries us to The Source of infinite peace and joy and love. A good prayer for us as we continue our Lenten journey comes to us from St. Thomas Aquinas, a person who was equally as brilliant as Professor Hawking, but whose travels to infinity took an entirely different course. Let us join St. Thomas Aquinas in praying:
GRANT ME, O LORD MY GOD,
A MIND TO KNOW YOU,
A HEART TO SEEK YOU,
WISDOM TO FIND YOU,
CONDUCT PLEASING TO YOU,
FAITHFUL PERSEVERANCE IN WAITING FOR YOU,
AND A HOPE OF EMBRACING YOU!