|Picture from Phys.org|
The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave
As an artist, light has always been a fascinating subject. Light is the cornerstone of visual arts. Whether working in pen and ink or oils, I am trying to capture the interaction of light upon an object. In other words, I am not painting an object. I am actually painting the play of light upon the object by capturing highlights and shadows with my pen or brush.
We all know that without light sight as we know it is impossible, but rarely do we think about how much we rely on light for our very existence. As one simplified example put it: Plants convert light into stored energy. When we eat plants we are in fact eating light. When we eat meat, we are eating the light they have metabolized through the eating of the plants that stored light. Without light all life would cease to exist, including our own. It is in the creation of light that the earth, formerly void and empty (Genesis 1:2), becomes capable of sustaining life.
Despite the importance of light for our existence, the precise nature of light has long been a topic of much debate, centering on one question – is light made up of waves or particles? The correct answer is yes, sorta. Light is an electromagnetic wave that sometimes decides to act as a particle. Now, this is where things get tricky because when we think of particles we tend to think of mass, or matter. Basically something that takes up space in this universe and has substance. The typical definition of mass does not apply to light. Light has what is called relativistic mass which means that it has energy and momentum that allow it be effected by and to effect its environment. In other words, while you may feel the warmth of sunlight on your skin, you will never have to shovel piles of sunlight off your sidewalk because it has no resting mass. While all of this was pretty much nailed down by Einstein and his cohorts, until very recently science has only been able to observe light behaving as either a wave or a particle, but never both at the same time.
I know, you are all beginning to wonder if you stumbled onto the wrong blog, but bear with me, I am going somewhere.
Light came into being because God said, “Let there be light.” There are two words to pay attention to here: said and light. When someone speaks they are creating sound waves, and waves transfer energy. They do not move matter, but rather they use matter as a conduit to for their energy. Now, I want you to think about God for a moment, you know the omnipotent creator God? What type of energy do you think he was transferring through his sound waves? Once your brain stops sizzling, keep reading.
Before we go any further, let’s reframe this: God’s voice took on new properties. In the act of creation, the sound wave takes on new properties. It became more than a wave and more than particle, while remaining true to the behavioral characteristics of both. A new manifestation for the wave is given, but the original state as a wave is never surrendered.
Let’s skip ahead about one and half millennia, and listen another fascinating statement:
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
There is a reason that Jesus chose light as way to explain himself to the world. In him we can see all the observable elements of light in play. His life, death, and resurrection is the transformative act of creation, we call it redemption, but how much more transformative do you want? (And I am working on a theme here.) He rules over all creation just as God created the sun, moon, and stars to rule over day and night, (Ephesians 1:20, Genesis 1:14-19). He is the first born of creation, all things were created for him, through him, and by him in his sustaining power, (Colossians 1:15, 16).
In him we see the story of light, and in light we see his story as no other created substance could convey, but what the writer of Genesis could not know, what Jesus could not know if had not been more than a man, was how the dual nature of light expresses the greatest mystery known to all of humanity – how can a holy God become fully human without surrendering his original state? In other words, how does a wave become a particle? How does spirit become flesh? How do we explain an omnipotent God whose presence is only measured by the effect he has on our lives while never overwhelming us with his infinite greatness?
To realize that this great truth was embedded into creation from the beginning is mind blowing. To me it speaks of a God who playful and profound, hiding but wanting to be seen, waiting upon our willingness to chase after him and unravel the mysteries that reveal his love and greatness for his creation. And as I find these little nuggets within this ancient book, I am overwhelmed that we have been given such a great in his Word faithfully preserved for us to this day.
Obviously, the illustration breaks down as all comparisons of Jesus to any created thing as Jesus was not created but the created. However, the use of metaphor is employed by Jesus himself as a means to help us understand his person, nature, and position within creation. The beauty of this metaphor is that it encompassed current scientific knowledge of light over 3,000 years before the dual nature of light was known. By choosing to identify with light, Jesus places himself in the center of creation and time by embodying all ancient understandings of light and concepts embedded within the science that will shape our future.