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By 
Rachel Wahlberg
 on March 05, 2024

God is Big Enough for All My Questions

A neuroscience graduate student unexpectedly finds peace sitting in mystery rather than finding all the answers. God is bigger than all her questions.

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A model of the human brain surrounded by question marks on various colors of blocks

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

I can often be found scrolling through hours worth of electrophysiology data recorded from a rat’s brain. The part of the brain I study is the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory formation. As a neuroscience Ph.D. student, I am asking the question of how our brain splits continuous experiences into distinct memories. It’s a big task as I try to make sense of countless  “squiggles” of electrophysiological data on my computer screen. Thankfully, hundreds of years of neuroscience research before me has given me insight into what they mean. The squiggles show voltage changes in the brain: The upward and downward motions of the squiggles represent the constant rise and fall of electrically-charged ions. They follow distinct patterns that may hold the secret to how the brain creates memories.

A thought I often return to as I peruse my data is how beautiful, artistic, and even musical it all is. As a musician, I use rhythm to evoke emotion through song. This might look like choosing to sing a slow ballad or upbeat song depending on the context and emotions I want to evoke. I can even vary the vibrato of an instrument or my voice to change the dynamics of a song. I can also change the frequency of a sound, which affects the pitch of a note.

Neural electrophysiology works in a similar way. Neurons communicate with each other, not in the size of the signal (amplitude or dynamics), but in how quickly messages are repeatedly sent (the space between beats)—kind of like rhythm. These repetitive messages are organized by the rise and fall of ions in the space between neurons. This creates a sort of rhythmic dance. On one hand, both music and neuronal communication could just be patterns—or they could be songs.

The artist inside me leans towards the latter. Maybe neuronal communication is like a song I’m trying to analyze. A song with a beautiful beat I’m trying to deconstruct. As a Christian, I find peace in my knowledge of the ultimate Creator of it all, the composer of these songs. I can ask him anything, and tell him everything. No question is too big or too hard. He’s both a scientist and an artist like me. And at the end of the day, it’s not always about finding answers. I can find peace in mystery while continuing to pursue both science and God.

And at the end of the day, it’s not always about finding answers. I can find peace in mystery while continuing to pursue both science and God.

Wrestling with Faith and Science

My younger self would’ve been surprised to discover that I would become a scientist. In retrospect, though, there were clues that a future in science awaited me. I always asked questions, regardless of the topic, and the more difficult the question the more I pushed into it. I remember walking hand in hand with my dad around our Minnesota lake at ten years old, and nervously asking him, “Why is Christianity the one “true” religion? Why is every one so confident that their religion is the right one?” We didn’t come to any grand conclusions that night, but the safety he provided in allowing me to voice these questions brought comfort and encouraged me to keep pursuing God despite uncertainty. He and my mom had also instilled a deep value of perseverance in me and my sisters, encouraging us to dive headfirst into challenges. This value would continue to propel me toward, rather than away from, questions of faith and eventually questions of the brain.

Middle school was when I became well-aware of the perceived conflict between science and faith. I was homeschooled, and though my mom gave us a thorough science education, we embraced a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. This changed when our uncle sent us the book “Beyond the Firmament.” This book helped me realize that Genesis, and the entire Bible for that matter, was not written directly for 21st century Christians deducing the age of the earth. It helped me discover the ancient context in which it was written and for whom it was written.

Despite the crucial role this book had on my view of science, and how it would ultimately shape my trajectory, at the time I was simply happy that it broadened my perspective. It was comforting to consider the possible role evolution could have played in creation. Suddenly, I was also freed from the fear that such an idea would buy me a one-way ticket ride to an eternal lava hot spring.

Two students talking with a professor

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

God continued to meet me again and again, question after question, primarily through professors at my Christian institution who were willing to sit with me in these doubts….I didn’t find answers clad in stone in these conversations. But I found deep thinkers who weren’t threatened by my questions because they believed in a God who was big enough for those questions.

Rachel Wahlberg

As I began pursuing an undergraduate degree in neuroscience, I realized that I still had many questions about science and faith. I started reading Francis Collins’ “The Language of God,” and Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” Despite pairing these disparate books together, I found Collins’ arguments most compelling. I felt peace with the reconciliation of evolution and Genesis, despite undergoing another deconstruction in my faith. God continued to meet me again and again, question after question, primarily through professors at my Christian institution who were willing to sit with me in these doubts. As in my walk around the lake with my dad, I didn’t find answers clad in stone in these conversations. But I found deep thinkers who weren’t threatened by my questions, because they believed in a God who was big enough for those questions.

Sitting with Mystery

There’s a song by Jess Ray called “Runaway. The final stanza reads:

Even if you stomp and scream and huff, tell Me that I’m not good enough

I’ll take every swing and every blow, until you know My love

Even if you beat upon My chest, tell Me that you don’t understand

I will love you and teach you to love Me again.

 This has been the story of my own pursuit of God. A messy pursuit. I can, and still do, get stuck in the question cycle. I ask questions repeatedly and hope for clear answers; truthfully, I often times will just not get them. The God of the universe has no need to listen to my questions, which are seemingly insignificant. And yet he has, again and again, both through people around me and through still small moments.

I’ve come to see this lack of clear answers as part of the beauty of God. It reminds me of when I first fell in love with my now-husband. He had complexity, a fierceness to match my own, and enough new and deep dimensions of his personality that I knew it’d take more than one lifetime to learn all there was to know about him. Has this meeting of two strong personalities caused consternation at times? Of course, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the case with how I see God—I can’t force him into my own conception of him, and that has at times has caused frustration, doubts, and anger. But it’s this infinite mystery that is ever enticing, that pulls me closer and finds him worthy of worship and adoration. I  will never be able to fully figure him out, at least in this lifetime, but I’ve realized that it’s okay for me to relinquish that control.

I am a neuroscientist with questions, and I continually find God big enough to sit with those questions. I’ve found peace in his answered prayers, in my community of friends who show the love of Christ in innumerable ways, and in the way I have felt continually pursued by God despite my own wanderings. I believe in a magnificent scientist who created this complex brain I study, and a breathtaking artist who embedded music into how our neurons communicate within our brain—this God will forever be worthy of pursuit and adoration.

I am a neuroscientist with questions, and I continually find God big enough to sit with those questions… I’ve found peace [and]…have felt continually pursued by God despite my own wanderings.