17 February 2019
How many hymns do you know which employ scientific imagery. We may think initially of Psalm 8 which was written three thousand years ago, ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Then there’s Joseph Addison’s famous, ‘The spacious firmament on high, with all the blue ethereal sky’. But what others come to mind? There is one from the twentieth century in our hymnary. It was written Albert Bayly and begins, ‘Great God of every shining constellation’. It talks about ‘the atom’s hidden forces’ and describes God as ‘True Life, awaking life in cell and tissue’. There aren’t many like it. Why not?
Two reasons. The first is that the scientific and poetic minds are considered to be different. People say that different sides of the brain are being exercised in these two spheres of thinking. The result is unchallenged compartmentalisation.
The second is that scientific language is not so readily embraced either in poetic forms nor in devotional metaphors. Sometimes it appears to alienate us from God, our traditions and our comfortable symbolism. ‘God of concrete, God of steel’ etc.
But the paucity of hymns celebrating the scientific age and, more particularly, the work of God within scientific discoveries only emphasises the foolish division between faith and science and reinforces the view that the Church is out of touch with our contemporary world.