All good stories begin with "Once upon a time...", but the story I wish to tell cannot because it began before time began. Even that statement is not really accurate because before time existed it is meaningless to talk about "before time began." We have to have time in order to make a statement that something was before. Indeed, I cannot even tell you whether this story was, is, or will be. All these temporal references require time.
This story also takes place before there was space, so we cannot even explain where it took place, maybe inside space, in space, or outside space; or even between space or around space. Perhaps, we should simply think that is occurred nowhere in time and not when in space--or maybe everywhere in time and whenever in space.
With no space and time, there is no energy, matter, forces, fields, or any of the interesting concepts and quantities that physicists so love to talk about. And, of course, there were no stars, planets, rocks, trees, people, or anything. There will be no changes, no distance--just nothing. The universe is not empty and formless, it simply does not exist.
The only thing there will be, was God, who is present in a special three-part singular relation with Themselves. God thinks to Himselves, and Herself thinks back, sharing ideas between the one and three. Our pronouns based upon concepts of number and gender cannot serve to describe God because these concepts will not exist when our story began, and even if they did they are simple anthropomorphic descriptions of a notion that transcends description in human terms.
And as God thought, Its thoughts will express themselves in a continuous, present creative activity. Perhaps God expressed it best when She told Moses that He was, is, and will be the great "I AM."
As a very fundamental basis to things to end this story, continue it, and to begin it; God is thinking up time and space--not just inventing them but imagining their properties. Of course, once we have time and space, then we can hang our story somewhere and sometime. Perhaps the best is the present time and the present place.
Now, empty space and flowing time is not very exciting. So God is thinking up energy and matter to inhabit it. And energy and matter in space moving through time suggest dynamic, changing patterns. Things are now quite interesting! God is an orderly God, so He manipulates matter and energy in orderly ways. She is not just dreaming up the rules for the behavior of things, winding them up and letting them go, but rather They are constantly manipulating things and sustaining wholly.
We can observe all these things that God is thinking up. We can observe the orderly rules that It uses. We can even make an attempt to study these and to try to determine these rules. This is the purpose of science--to study nature and thereby better understand its creator and sustainer. Because God is orderly, we can perceive patterns and formulate our ideas of the laws of nature that are reflections of Their contemplation.
From our perspective, this is not at all easy. An analogy would be to attempt to deduce the rules of football by watching games on television--with the sound off!
God thinks and the universe that we observe exists.
I do not know how many different ways God might imagine up an universe. There might be many possible different universes. However, it perhaps is an important part of the character of God to invent a universe that includes the possibility of you and I. Certainly, at least one such universe can be made!
Our story then is one of design, invention, creation, and, maintenance all combined deliciously in the minds of God. Now you or I tend to separate these aspects. We have an idea for a sermon, an essay, a computer program, or a device of some sort. Next we work out the design. Then we build, manufacture, write down, develop, or create the entity. Typically, we go through a stage of improvement, getting rid of the bugs, sometimes throwing the whole thing away and starting over. Finally, there may be a long period of use. If it is a device or a computer program, then there may need to be a very active maintenance procedure. But with God, there are no trial and error efforts. Everything unfolded flawlessly as She will imagine it.
Another important difference is that after we build something we can forget it and do something else. It works even when we are asleep. But without God's continual attention, the universe does not even exist!
We can only infer the details of the story, perhaps add to it our own ideas for interest. Most certainly, any time we attempt to describe the innermost thoughts and acts of God we can only make an uneducated guess at best. But I can imagine God thinking to Herself about time, space, matter, and forces and Themselves thinking back, exploring the consequences of various choices--a harmonious dialogue of three parts weaving patterns of logic, support, and love. It has to be very exciting!
What we do understand about the universe around us, is that it is basically very simple at a fundamental level. Yet, this simplicity allows an incredibly rich and varied universe. There seems to be only about a dozen elementary particles and no more than four kinds of forces that may even turn out to be just aspects of one--just as the Three seem so close that they are aspects of One. Using these very simple building blocks and limited kinds of mortar, God's thoughts work themselves out in many beautiful, intricate forms and patterns.
Perhaps as God thinks about leptons and quarks, They think back to Himself about how these can be combined--and neutron and protons appear. He thinks about how these can fit together--and we have atoms--ninety some different varieties grown out of the dozen basic particles. Atoms can combine into millions of different molecules, and molecules into much more beautiful structures: stars, nebulae, galaxies, planets, waterfalls, trees, animals, flowers, and people. Can you imagine the excitement of putting water together and realizing that it leads to rainbows? The fun of working out the exact balance of nuclear forces and electrical forces that allow stars to synthesize carbon--carbon that with its multiple valences and flexibility is the basis of the biochemicals that support life?
We can only imagine through a glass darkly, as it were, what it could have been like. Most people have a really tremendous feeling "when a plan comes together." It is great to produce something of quality. So much grander is the universe.
Exactly, how it all works, we do not really understand. Science studies the universe for the orderly patterns of behavior of God inventing and manipulating the very fabric of space and time and energy and matter. From these repeated patterns we can draw inferences and devise a story of the way the universe is and the way it changes. And our present understanding may appear in time as primitive as the fire, water, earth, and air of the ancient Greeks.
Our present best idea seems that God will create a tiny space, is filling it with the matter and energy of the entire universe, and started it in time. Now that we have time, the story can unfold in a more traditional way. This tiny embryonic universe was incredibly hot and energetic as it came from its maker cradled in Her closed hands. Jeremiah tells us the "God stretched forth his hands". As They opened Her arms, the universe expanded and cooled--eventually cooling far enough that protons and some neutrons condensed out of the hot radiation; eventually cooling so that electrons formed; eventually cooling so that atoms become stable; eventually expanding and cooling so that galaxies formed and gravity contracted the interstellar medium into stars.
The universe continues to expand and cool, but the interior of the stars form isolated embers that are fanned by the energy from gravity until nuclear processes begin cooking the hydrogen into other elements. Eventually, these sparks use up their fuel and many explode, spewing their contents back into space to mix, and in time, to form new stars, planets, and even living organisms. But in all of this it is God that is directing and powering the entire process. It is Her thoughts that produce what we see. Without the right delicate balance in the mortar to produce just the right energy levels in the bricks of nuclei and atoms, it would not at all work quite the same. By Their wisdom is the universe. It is not because of power, nor energy, nor any of the physicist's quantities, but a mental process--wisdom!
Perhaps the how that science worries about is less important than the why. Why, of course, is something that science cannot address. Perhaps in what we see around us we can perceive part of the why. Perhaps, in learning about the how we can gain an insight into the why. But, we have to be open to the story.
Now, perhaps a universe could be created in which everything was the same. Perhaps, nothing needs to change. The moon could be a perfect polished sphere. Perhaps, we could have a totally, orderly, repetitious universe at all levels. Whether we could exist in such a universe is another question. Whether we could stay awake in such a universe is a very significant question!
While we have order at a very fundamental level--the same laws of physics seem to apply to distant galaxies and stars as they do our solar system, this planet, and you and I--these very basic ways that God is actively running things does allow tremendous variety. No two galaxies are a repeat; no two people are identical; even no two snowflakes are exactly the same.
I believe that God is NOT a boring God. It is an interesting being that imagines up a universe that contains gardens of galaxies, sprays of stars, palaces of planets, and collections of creatures. She is an exciting entity that crushes stars into existence to warm nearby planets, and touches them so that they explode--perhaps to enjoy the fireworks display of the supernovas.
But most of all, I perceive that God is a supreme I AM of love. They are a caring being that guides galaxies with Her hands, gently pushes the planets around their suns, cradles continents, molds moons with a finger, adjusts atoms, bears a bird aloft in its flight through the air, and cares for you and I.
An exciting, energetic, changing universe is all quite nice, but there it nothing quite like the feeling that comes from sharing your creation. There is nothing quite like having someone you love also get excited. God did not just think up an interesting universe, but Their thoughts also populated it with beings that could also enjoy it. Perhaps the authority that empowers the universe is simply an emotion--love! You see, love really is the force that makes the world go around!
And the wonderful news is that He is asking us to join in the fun for an eternity. Thus, our personal story not only will have a beginning before time, it had an ending after time, and, most importantly, it was and will be now and here!