Maybe you just heard about this movie when you watched the 2014 Oscar Awards presentations on TV. It’s a very insightful look at the life of Dr. Stephen Hawking, who has probably the greatest scientific mind of our time, limited within a body that has been ravaged by the disease ALS. More specifically, it’s about his relationship with his wife of 30 years, Jane Wilde. They were married when he had already been diagnosed with the disease, so they both knew what they were getting into.
The film is based on Jane’s book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, so it tells the story through her eyes. Feeling increasingly isolated and helpless with the advance of the disease, Jane joined her church choir, and she began to receive solace and hope through her faith in God. So, while Stephen was drifting farther away from traditional beliefs and into his search through physics for a “theory of everything,” she was being comforted by the sense of God in her personal life. Interestingly, in recent years, Hawking has begun describing himself as an agnostic, rather than an atheist. He doesn’t rule out the possibility that at the end of his scientific journey he will discover a God of some kind.
I stumbled on a fascinating analysis of the movie’s message in an article entitled The Awesomeness of the Universe and the Intimacy of God. It was written by Dr. Pekka Sinervo, who is the professor of physics at the University of Toronto. He is also the President of his Jewish synagogue, Temple Emmanuel. He originally presented this as a meditation during a synagogue worship service. You may read his entire article here, but I will share some excerpts that spoke to me:
As a scientist and a person of faith, I have spent some time grappling with the message of “The Theory of Everything” movie.
In this week’s Torah [Bible] reading, Moses says,
“Face to face the Eternal One spoke to you
On the mountain out of the fire” (Deuteronomy 5:4)
Being face-to-face with God is a powerful idea. It demands that our relationship with God be a very personal one. It’s so powerful that the Torah tells us that it is not possible to see God’s face and live. In Exodus 33:22-23 when Moses asks to see God’s face, the best that God can do is allow Moses to see his back. But even from that encounter, Moses is transformed for the rest of his years, his face aglow.
In the Torah, there are only two other places where the phrase face-to-face is used. The first is in Genesis 32:30, when Jacob, having wrestled all night with what we believe is an angel, exclaims in the morning “I have seen God face-to-face, and I did not know it.” This is when Jacob becomes Israel. The phrase is used once again in Deuteronomy 34:10, after Moses has died: “Since that time, no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face.”
All this is quite sobering, especially when I consider my own search for God. Like Jane Wilde, I have a profound faith or belief in some form of ineffable being. Please don’t ask exactly what that is. And like Stephen Hawking, I have searched for the “why” of this awesome world around us. I have been on the journey to understand what a “theory of everything” might look like for 40 years, about as long as I have been on my Jewish journey. But unlike Stephen Hawking, my belief in the existence of a God has only increased.
So, searching for a theory of everything is certainly important. I also find the search a lot of fun. But seeking a closer relationship with God beats it hands-down. Stephen, we may not be able to get face-to-face with God. But surely, we must be hearing the voice of God when truly awesome events happen, like a black hole exploding.
For believers, God is the Theory of Everything, no matter how awesome science shows that “everything” to be.
— Pastor George Van Alstine