Science, Calvinism and Mysticism
A way to come close to God is through the mystical experience of his presence.
I grew up in the Canadian CRC community in Montreal. There, in Sunday school and catechism classes, I learned how to understand God’s love and care for his creation, for children like me, and for the church. This education was a blessing. I was given a framework for my faith – creation, fall and redemption – which shaped how I looked at the world. In the Heidelberg Catechism’s “sin, salvation and service” I received a model to shape my actions and how I lived. This Calvinist understanding of God’s love fostered my faith. It was a faith of propositional knowledge, and very genuine.
I believe this understanding of my faith is part of what led me to a career as a professor and behavioural neuroscientist. Science, like Calvinism, provides a rational approach to the world and its mysteries. I spent my career puzzling and exploring a tiny aspect of how the world works, looking at rat models of addiction. Each hypothesis, experiment and theory led to another question and further work. I enjoyed looking at how simple things could be built into an overarching way of looking at the world. Each question, and I had many, led to a better understanding of how things work. Thus, my faith and my career were built on propositional truths and reductionist models (scientists believe complex things can be understood by breaking them down into smaller parts).
But this is not the only way to understand our Lord and his world. Narrative truths, as opposed to propositional ones, fill Scripture. Large parts of the Old Testament are stories of God’s faithfulness, and Jesus taught in parables. Reducing such stories to propositions and “truth statements” is often an affront. Their richness compels us to digest them as wholes, for like the content of a great novel, they are not easily simplified into rules for today.
Another way to come close to God is through the mystical experience of his presence and awareness of God’s overwhelming greatness and incomprehensibility. This way acknowledges that we are creatures of dust. The Creator is revealed to us in the complex person of Jesus, the God-Man. In many ways, mysticism is the opposite of propositional knowledge. The more I delve into Scripture and come closer to God in prayer, the less I understand and the more I must just trust.
In my retirement, I am a scientist who is also now becoming a mystic. I don’t know if the Holy Spirit is equally involved in my propositional knowledge of God and in my mystical experience of God. Still, I sense my beliefs, walk and obedience are stronger now that I can see multiple ways to be his child. Trust in our Father, Son and Holy Spirit comes from the gift of knowledge, stories of his actions and the mystical experience of God’s presence.