Life’s little mysteries make us ponder whether there is a god

Stephen Hawking said “There was no God and is no God”. In his weekly column, John Arnold reflects on some of the scientist's beliefs.
Life’s little mysteries make us ponder whether there is a god

GREAT THINKER: The late Professor Stephen Hawking’s final book, released this week, rules out the existence of a god

I LOVE books and love reading them, but unfortunately I never seem to have enough time to do all the reading I want to do!

At the last count I had got presents of 22 books in the last year — and of these I have read four!

Now, I’m a strange reader as I cannot ever contemplate reading maybe a chapter or two of a book, putting it away and coming back to it in a day or a week later. No, I try and read a book through from start to finish if at all possible.

That’s not absolutely always practical. For instance, in recent years I’ve got the magnificent Atlas of the Great Famine and then the volume on ‘The Troubles’. These are huge publications running to 1,000 pages. Indeed, these books are not meant to be read like an ‘ordinary’ book. They are reference treasuries where one goes to check or double check or verify some fact or happening.

The books I dearly appreciate are historical, sporting, travel and folklore publications, and of course poetry. I think I might have mentioned before that my idea of a near-perfect holiday would be a week in the sunshine in January with 15 or 20 good books to read.

Generally, reading for me is a winter activity when outdoor pursuits are at a minimum and farming toil is at a slower pace.

I really can’t make up my mind these last few days whether to purchase a book published on Tuesday. Stephen Hawking, the very eminent scientist, died last March aged 76. He had a brilliant mind and was what I call a real ‘thinker’, he questioned everything and anything and searched out answers and probable and possible theories.

Hawking took on the big issues, like who are we and where did we (mankind) come from, and of course where are we going — if anywhere?

The new book, Brief Answers to The Big Questions, was published posthumously, having been completed by Hawking’s family — he had been working on the project right up to the time of his death earlier this year. As I’m writing these few lines I’m listening to Joan Osborne singing 'What if God was one of us?'

What if God was one of us?

Just a slob like one of us

Just a stranger on the bus

Trying to make his way home

In his Brief Answers, Hawking has come down definitely on the side of those who said and still say “There was no God and is no God” — Oh Lord, I wish I could be that certain about anything in this world!

Hawking was an absolute giant amongst scientists and I know absolutely nothing about science, it was the first subject I gave up after the Junior Cert because I could make no sense of physics, chemistry or biology.

During his lifetime, Hawking worked assiduously on his research. I suppose people like him will only believe what they can prove. In the world of science there seems to be no room at all for things we might term faith, beliefs, mysteries... and yet in this book he doesn’t rule out all ‘unexplainable’ phenomena.

His beautiful and poignant final farewell gives us much to ponder upon; Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.

I remember well the morning my mother died. When I opened the door of her bedroom just one overpowering smell came forth — the smell and aroma of roses. There were no roses in the room nor rose fragrances or essences or anything like that, yet it was unmistakable.

Mam had a great devotion to Padre Pio, or St Padre Pio as he now is, and his link with roses and the beautiful aroma they exude is well known.

Was it a sign ? Of what? One of those unexplainable experiences which happen and we never know why.

I can recall being in Lourdes about eight years ago. A group of us were walking one closing June evening by the Grotto when a rose petal gently floated down from the sky and literally landed on the head of one of our group, a young girl.

She was quite ill at the time but she grasped that precious pearl of a petal. She never looked back health-wise since that day.

You may ask, of course, do little coincidences like these prove anything conclusively — on their own they don’t, but they are part of that mysterious mix we call faith. I know it’s often referred to as ‘blind faith’, but if life held no mysteries and we understood everything perfectly, what a dull world we’d be living in!

A neighbour of mine lost a little sister of hers to a brain disorder in the early 1950s. The youngest of the family, she was just five when she died in a Dublin Hospital. The little girl’s mother grieved for her lost child but then she had to rear the others and take care of her husband.

As the years and decades went by, the mother never spoke of her darling youngest child. She lived on into her nineties in relatively good health.

Then, sometime before her death, she spoke again and again of ‘the little girl in the room’ and asked repeatedly ‘why don’t ye bring her over to me?’ It was as if when her own death was nigh she once more came into the presence of the daughter she had given birth to and lost all those years ago.

Does that story prove that God exists — no, but it shows that there are unexplainable happenings that make up parts of a story that no scientist can adequately analyse or put logic to.

We often hear the throwaway phrase ‘Sure, God is good’ and let’s face it, though horrific evil exists in this world, there is also a huge amount of good and positivity there.

The cynics may say that goodness and honesty and kindness are simply natural human traits and have nothing to do with the existence or otherwise of a God or any other super-human being. I suppose you can argue the toss every which way but in a world so full of woe, the power of goodness still shines forth like a stunning beacon.

One of the greatest manifestations we have of the existence of God is the manner in which so many teachers, preachers and priests are able to splendidly proclaim the ‘Good News’ — truly the gift of preaching is, in my humble estimation, God-given rather than man made.

Last weekend, I attended two Masses celebrated by the same priest. One was a requiem Mass for a young man from our community who died tragically and unexpectedly and left his family and friends stunned and dazed. To be able to choose the right words and song lyrics at such a fragile time was just wonderful to witness and gave some succour to those grieving.

The following morning, that same pastor was telling us about wealth and possessions and how, at the end of the day, they matter so little. He recalled that over 70 years ago he’d venture to a small sweet shop in his native village. Armed with a penny he could get 12 toffees or ten bulls’ eyes for the coin with the hen and chickens. The sweets were loose in glass jars back then.

“Put in your hand and take as many as you can,” the lady behind the counter would urge. Of course, once you grabbed a big fistful of the chosen sweets your hand wouldn’t come out the narrow neck of the glass jar! Nothing for it, only to drop back most of the sweets and invariably you might end up with only six toffees or eight bulls’ eyes for your penny!

More became less, so need is more important than greed. A lesson well learned.

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