Our Church groups have been talking about The Theory of Everything, the film about Stephen Hawking, so his death is particularly poignant.
His life and work raise questions that range from the nature of the universe to the challenge of physical frailty.
It is extraordinary that he lived so long with a disease that could lock a brilliant mind in a paralysed body – perhaps he kept going on the strength of intellectual willpower while clinging to a tiny flicker of movement to communicate.
His life is inspirational - his determination in the face of adversity and his ability to hold in his mind immensely complicated ideas.
Equally inspiring is the mysterious and awe-inspiring universe that he explored with that mind searching for explanations.
Stephen Hawking didn’t believe that God created it all, but God appears on almost every page of his writings – not as cause, but as meaning and understanding: “if we could answer all the questions about the universe, we would know the mind of God.”
For Albert Einstein it was all about imagination. “What would the universe look like travelling on a beam of light?”
His work was answering that question and the consequences of the answer.
Likewise, Stephen Hawking needed great imagination to envisage how things might exist, plus the brain-power to show how it could work.
But all of that while facing frailty and physical dependence. For most of us, the questions are beyond our grasp, let alone the answers!
There is room for the existence of God in the life and the universe of Stephen Hawking.
For his work, belief was irrelevant and God mustn’t be used as a ‘fudge factor’ to get the answers you want, but explanations that don’t need God, are not evidence of the absence of God.
Hints of God can be found in the extraordinary wonder of the universe – its mystery, magnificence and fragility.
Equally, we can see God revealed in the self-sacrificing, loving care required to meeting the endless physical and emotional demands of holding the life of a totally dependent person.
God is seen in the ingenuity committed to find ways to make living possible in a body that would become a lifeless prison.
And God can be found in our lives, in the Spirit that sustains us through all kinds of troubles, and failures, even through death.
Perhaps that requires a leap of imagination, but that’s the only way to discover new truths.