October 27, 2023

From Love to Creation

Meeting God in a storm

Thorsen Haugen

Every manifestation of creative power is an expression of infinite love.”1

Many years ago I visited Rwanda, Africa. One momentous night while there I had an epiphany about the origin of the universe. I’m not a genius, an astrophysicist, or anything else that might qualify me to make such a groundbreaking discovery. Nonetheless, I’d like to believe my theory is plausible. The “proof,” however, is not simple. It requires a combination of physics, theology, and cosmology—along with a story that ties it all together. 

A Reality Check

When I went to Rwanda, I had just finished my undergraduate studies and had six months before beginning classes as a freshman medical student at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. I chose to spend two of those months volunteering at Mugonero Hospital in the tiny, mountainous nation of Rwanda.

At that time I was a passionate and idealistic young man who had led a relatively sheltered life. I knew the world was filled with suffering and injustice, but little of this had touched me personally. And although I was soon to begin medical school, I had little experience in the medical field.

I still remember one of my first patients. She was an attractive young woman, with dark, empty eyes. She lay languidly in her hospital bed, with both feet covered in strange, mushroom-like growths. The next morning her bed was empty.

“What happened to her?” I asked the mission doctor.

“It was AIDS,” he said. “She died during the night from a secondary infection.”

I can also clearly recall my first surgery. This time it was a muscular young man with a fractured femur. By necessity, the mission doctor was a jack-of-all-trades, with a skillset that included a smattering of orthopedics. In the operating room a large incision was made to expose the fracture. A metal rod was then inserted into the bone. The idea was that the rod would be driven into the soft marrow on either side of the fracture, joining the two sections together. Unfortunately, the rod was a tight fit. While the mission doctor stabilized the bone, I was handed a mallet and repeatedly exhorted to “hit it harder.” I did. With one mighty blow and a loud crack, the femur splintered.

Suddenly my world began to lose focus. I stumbled to a wall and collapsed against it with my head between my knees as I fought to maintain consciousness. In the end I did not faint. After several minutes I even managed to return to help deal with the complication and finish the surgery.

There are many other patients who also stand out in my memory. One woman in her early 60s, who came in with her husband, had rectal bleeding. A large tumor was soon identified.

“I can cure you,” the doctor told her, “but you will have to have a permanent bag, a colostomy bag, attached to your abdomen to collect your bowel contents.” This is a common patient issue in the United States, and many resources are available to help. In Rwanda, however, no such resources existed.

The woman listened quietly, then answered that she and her husband were old now and lived in a small hut. They were grateful for the offer, but this was not something they could do. She would die. I watched as, side by side, she and her husband walked down the dirt road from the hospital toward their humble home. It was undoubtedly many long miles away. She probably died in her mud hut in great pain, but I’d like to think she died with the same dignity she displayed during her clinic visit.     

An Atrocity

Eventually the cumulative effects of being far from home and witnessing so much suffering and misery began to take a toll on me. But then, to make matters worse, one afternoon I had a profoundly disturbing experience. 

It happened as I was wandering alone on the hospital campus. I’d noticed that everyone seemed to avoid one particular building. Out of curiosity, I pushed open its heavy doors. Inside was a large, empty room—empty, except for five giant wooden crates draped in white sheets against the far wall. Slowly I walked across the room, my footsteps echoing in the stillness. Sunlight fell in patterns on a cracked concrete floor, stained by something dark. The crates, when I reached them, were nearly chest-high. With some effort I raised a lid. As I did, my breath caught—inside lay thousands of human bones. With a sudden chill, I realized the stains on the floor were old bloodstains. 

Later, from the doctor, and from a borrowed book, I learned the awful history of the room in which I’d stood. Previously I had been largely ignorant of the details of the Rwandan genocide, which had occurred a decade prior. I now learned that this awful event had hit Mugonero especially hard. The abandoned building, with its five giant crates of bones, had once been a church. Here the pastor, a Hutu named Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, had urged his Tutsi parishioners to take refuge. Three thousand did. For several days the fearful group cowered within the walls of their supposed sanctuary, but as the water lines were cut, and as heavily armed groups of Hutu surrounded the building, the doomed people within realized what was about to happen. A group of them composed a letter to the pastor who’d betrayed them. A line from this letter, “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families,” later became the title of a book describing this tragic event.

The response came the following day. The church became a slaughterhouse. The victims, weak from hunger and dehydration, were killed mostly with machetes to save bullets. When it was over, no one was left alive.

Talking to God

Several days later, with my heart still weighed down by the burden of all I had seen and learned, I went for a long walk. The small village of Mugonero is perched on a hill above the fjords of Lake Kivu. From here a dusty road descends, then follows the shoreline. I began in the late afternoon and went on for miles, as the sun slowly sank toward the horizon. Here and there, along the roadside, stood unoccupied crumbling houses of genocide victims. They served as yet another somber reminder of the dark history haunting this place.

In the fading light I passed through a small roadside village. A crowd of excited children followed after me. 

Mzungu! Mzungu!” they chorused, which is Swahili for White man.

Despite Rwanda’s horrible history, its people were kind. Most even seemed gentle. The children, of course, were best of all. Normally I enjoyed them immensely; but on this particular night their little hands, constantly tugging and pulling as they excitedly shouted, became more than I could bear. After repeated friendly requests to be left alone were ignored, I resorted to an angry outburst. This was effective, but I felt terrible afterward. 

Eventually I found myself alone atop a desolate vista overlooking the lake. Night had now fully descended. The wind picked up. Ominous clouds began to churn while sheet lightning flashed in rapid succession. My own tumultuous thoughts reflected the sky.

In this wild place the gathering storm brought to mind the earth in its primordial state. Why did You create us, God? I recalled the suffering patients I’d helped care for. Life seems so cheap. And inside we’re all rotten, I concluded bitterly as I recalled the boxes of bones and my own anger at the laughing children only a short time ago.

“Where are You, God?” I shouted into the wind and darkness.

The Revelation

Then I thought of Jesus in the New Testament. He’d constantly been surrounded by humanity’s sorrows, yet this weight didn’t overwhelm Him. Instead He lifted everyone around Him. No doubt children also constantly clung to Him, but He never lacked patience. It seemed that to truly love people required energy; far more energy than I possessed. Only Divinity, I surmised, had the energy to love like that.

As the idea of love being related to energy passed through my mind, a series of blindingly bright lightning bolts split the sky. My thoughts went back to the world in its primordial state, when “the Spirit of God moved,” then further back to before the universe existed. Having only recently completed my pre-med basic science classes, theories regarding the universe’s origin were still fresh in my mind. .

Notably, many scientists believe the evidence suggests that there was a single point—a singularity, as it’s termed, containing all the energy and space-time of the universe. From this point the universe, like a firework, flowered into existence, flowing from energy into matter and light, as described by the famous mass-energy equivalence formula E=mc². But where did the singularity, the seed of the universe, come from?2 

God is omnipotent. He is also love. Since loving requires so much energy, perhaps these attributes are two sides of the same coin? Could perfect love produce literal physical energy? I wondered. Suddenly I pictured God in the infinite emptiness before anything existed. I imagined from His mouth that first seed, the singularity, floating into the nothingness. Love spoken. God’s words, spoken in love, issuing forth a force powerful enough to form the estimated 2 trillion galaxies in our universe. From love to energy, and from energy to the universe. God = Love —> E = mc².

“For by Him all things were created. . . . And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (Col. 1:16, 17).

Biblically, humans are dust. I’ve also heard the more romantic notion that we are stardust, since stars are the birthplace of the elements. Perhaps, however, we are ultimately the physical manifestation of God’s love. We, and everything in the universe.

And on that night long ago, this thought filled me with peace as I turned to begin my trek back to the hospital. Is my theory correct? God knows. The idea, however, has remained with me during the many years that have passed since. For me it is a reminder that life is not cheap; it is immensely valuable. It’s also a reminder that God has promised to fill us with that same power, or love.

“Where are You, God?” I had asked. As a Christian, I knew the answer. God was at the bedside the night my first patient breathed her last; He was in the operating room as we struggled with limited resources to help an injured young man; and He was at the side of an old man and an old woman as she lay dying in great pain in their small mud hut. I knew, too, that He had been in the church as 3,000 lives were brutally taken, as well as near a young man with a troubled heart who stood in the midst of an African thunderstorm. God’s love is everywhere.

1 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890, 1908), p. 33.

2 See Clifford Goldstein, “The Big Bang Theory,” https://adventistreview.org/2011-1508/2011-1508-17/.