Upending Einstein

I don’t normally catch up on the world of physics before I start my day. And yet, the other morning this headline got my very first click: “Speed of light maybe not fastest after all.” Perhaps it was because I had just been talking to my youngest son about why we see lightning before we hear thunder. Perhaps because I correctly sensed this was, actually, big news.

According to the article, an “international team” (how exciting!) of scientists at the CERN laboratory has “recorded subatomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light - a finding that could overturn one of Albert Einstein's long-accepted fundamental laws of the universe.”

Turns out, if Einstein’s 106-year-old theory of special relativity is undermined, this could upend what physicists have used to “understand (or describe) the way the universe and everything in it works.”

Of course, other teams of skeptical scientists are now testing the results of the initial experiment. But can you imagine what it must have been like for a physicist to first hear this news? Spending a life, a career, based on one thing only to have it disproved by something that is one 60 billionth of a second faster?

I actually can. Well, not the understanding-the-way-universe-works part - of which, honestly, I understand very little. (No offense to my high school physics teacher and college astronomy professor.)

While I may not understand what difference 60 billionths of a second makes in understanding the universe, what I do understand is what it means when ideas you’ve once lived, beliefs you’ve once held true and dear, laws you’ve maybe even once built a life around get upended. When suddenly all that you thought was, turns out to be not so.

While I have never - and most certainly will never - disprove one of Einstein’s laws of the universe, I have been known to discover how some of Middle Class American Christendom’s laws don’t exactly stand the tests of time.

Take, for instance, the law that says study hard, work hard, make good choices, believe in Jesus, trust and obey and all will be well. While most of us won’t say we believe it just like this, really, we do. Don’t we?

We’ve all heard enough stories of the good lives of the faithful and of the divine u-turns of newly born again to make us believe the law that pretty much says Me plus God equals Smooth Sailing. Einstein might have put it: M+G=SS. Or not.

However we express it, most of cling to this law in some fashion. We desperately want to believe it. And many of us base our lives on it - and encourage others to do the same.

Until we get to the point that I did a few years ago. When the stresses and disappointments and big hurts of life overwhelmed me. When I lay on the kitchen floor sobbing and telling my husband that I hated my life. When I finally realized that law - good old M+G=SS - was not true at all.

No matter how I tweaked my experiments. (A little more faith? A few more prayer requests?) It didn’t matter if it was only off by 60 billionths of a second or by 60 billion light years. (Is there even such a thing?) Off is off. Rendering everything I’d once believed useless. Leaving me wondering what all this meant that I no longer could believe that M+G=SS. And in fact wondering if M+G would always equal such Rough Sailing.

Antonio Ereditato, the spokesperson for these Einstein-toppling researchers, told the Reuters news agency this about his group’s findings: "I just don't want to think of the implications. We are scientists and work with what we know.”

I totally relate to both of his semi-paradoxical statements. Indeed, it was my over-thinking the implications of my own disproved theory M+G=SS that had me hating life and weeping on the floor that day.

But it was also my faith - and my working with what I knew - that got me back up off that floor, searching for a way to love my life again even if God wasn’t answering prayers the way I wanted, even if my life was headed in a direction it wasn’t “supposed to,” even if my parents stayed divorced, health issues swarmed, my own marriage buckled under stress of sunk finances and failed business.

Even in the worst of times, we must remember that we are Christians. We may not want to think of the implications of life gone wrong. But we work with what we know.

And what we know - no matter which universal or doctrinal or personal life theories get disproved along the way - is that God is good, all the time. That God is with us, Emmanuel! And that Jesus - who loves us, covers us with His grace - is the Light of the World.

That in every darkness, He is the Light that matters. Whether it’s the fastest or not.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Comments (6)

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Fantastic post!  I'm very thankful that you were led by the Spirit to address this touchy topic.  Thank you!
Chris Langkamp
Great commentary Caryn. Often times Me plus God equals a kind of theology which eventually breeds discontent.  God seems is distant, silent, big and relatively unknowable, but fortunately He left us with a book. We somehow interpret this book as life’s instruction manual. And we have our “faith”, a commitment to a set of propositions which we attempt to hold on to fiercely. Some believe that the origins and words of the book are mostly cultural and try instead to follow the teachings or moral example of Jesus. In all these scenarios something critical is missing. The reality and tangible presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was tangible and vocal while on the earth. Yet He told his disciples;  “it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” The Holy Spirit is an invisible person, He speaks, He is a helper, He is called the comforter. We cannot get along without the comforter. The fullness of the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, praying in the Spirit, the Power of the Spirit, the Gifts of the Spirit, even, as Paul says, singing in the Spirit are designed to give us comfort and direction. So often Luke says, “the Holy Spirit said” “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Or “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” This is the dimension of Pentecost which needs to be added to the equation, the supernatural fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Loved this! Thank you. I love that when we start with the certainty of God's goodness and love for us our uncertainties about how the spiritual universe turn from fear to wonder.
God left us with the book of nature also, and the intelligence and capacity to learn and discover from it as well.  For the Christian, the Spirit's guidance in and through both books is vital.
Wonderful article. It brings to mind The verses from Habbakuk 3:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

It also reminds me of a line I heard in a sermon, shortly after my son was diagnosed with autism: This is NOT all there is.
I cling to that sure hope when things are difficult.
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