Christians ought to love science

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19

In Christian theology there is what is called “general revelation” and “special revelation.” This Psalm nicely includes both in that order. The heavens and creation is part of God’s general revelation. Modern science marked by ongoing observation, hypothesis and testing delves deeply into this revelation, yes for utilitarian reasons to some extent, but also with the sense of exploration and wonder. When we look at the night sky in an area not flooded by “light pollution” from humans, or enjoy a state or national park, we can begin to take in this revelation from God. It’s remarkable how even in a crowded urban or suburban, trees and birds can still leave their mark on a landscape humanity has pummeled with bricks and concrete.

General revelation points to something beyond it, in Christian terms, a Creator. And its scope and wonder suggest something about that hidden reality. Revelation of course means something revealed, and Scripture tells us that creation reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). Again, it points to a Creator.

What is termed “special revelation” refers to what God directly reveals to humans. Through God’s written word, Scripture, and what is revealed there, especially with reference to its fulfillment in Christ and the gospel, or good news in him. It needs to be seen in terms of Story, meant to intersect our story, and whether we choose to accept that or not, eventually will.

I would like to highly recommend an organization that seeks to mediate the two revelations: BioLogos. There’s much helpful information to read with videos and a podcast. There’s an emphasis on science, although never cut off from Scripture. Founded by Francis Collins, a person of faith,

BioLogos invites the church and the world
to see the harmony between science and biblical faith
as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.

I realize for many within my tradition, this is controversial. I used to try to share with others my appreciation of science with the mainstream evolutionary aspect, but then decided to steer clear of it, since I’m no authority on science myself, but like classical music, simply have a love and appreciation for it, especially from those who are gifted in its understanding. I don’t believe Christians have any reason to fear honest science, and believe properly done, without trying to delve into meaning (“scientism”) which special revelation provides for us, we can appreciate more fully the remarkable wonder God has made. As we look forward to the new creation to come. In and through Jesus.

BioLogos  Core Commitments
We embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible.
We affirm evolutionary creation, recognizing God as Creator of all life over billions of years.
We seek truth, ever learning as we study the natural world and the Bible.
We strive for humility and gracious dialogue with those who hold other views.
We aim for excellence in all areas, from science to education to business practices.

the heavens declare the glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19

Yesterday was the solar eclipse making its path through the United States. It was a wonder to behold. My favorite part of it was NASA’s coverage, which I was able to enjoy on a computer in the midst of work, seeing the first sighting of it in Oregon. It was so exciting, my heart was full of praise for its Creator, and I couldn’t help but think of Dean Ohlman who has helped us learn to appreciate more, the wonder of creation.

I was surprised to find out that besides the big screen in the break room with NASA’s coverage and some snacks, there was a party of sorts going on outside, with solar glasses, and even a couple of welder’s masks on hand. I was able to get a nice view of the partial eclipse with one of the solar glasses which were provided.

Scientists, whether they have faith in God or not, ooh and ah over nature. The more they learn, the more astounding it becomes. It might seem simple in its singular beauty, but it is also complex beyond simple human understanding, as quantum physics has demonstrated. Somehow I believe it reflects the endless creativity of the One who made it. John Polkinghorne is especially helpful here.

One of my regrets in life, especially when we had our daughter was not taking in sufficiently the beauty of our national (and state) parks. We have an immense variety of this beauty right here in the United States, and set apart for our enjoyment. As the psalm above suggests, something of the reality of God in God’s greatness is revealed in the grandeur of creation. We miss a lot, if we don’t see it firsthand.

Amazingly, even though in our warped mindset we’ve made a concrete jungle, life won’t be denied. Creation is still in our face, even in our tiny yard, which my wife has so artistically landscaped. As my dad used to say, reciting a line from a poem I’m sure he had to learn as a boy, “Trees”:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

I end with one of my favorite hymns, This is my Father’s World:

  1. This is my Father’s world,
    And to my list’ning ears
    All nature sings, and round me rings
    The music of the spheres.
    This is my Father’s world:
    I rest me in the thought
    Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
    His hand the wonders wrought.

  2. This is my Father’s world:
    The birds their carols raise,
    The morning light, the lily white,
    Declare their Maker’s praise.
    This is my Father’s world:
    He shines in all that’s fair;
    In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
    He speaks to me everywhere.

  3. This is my Father’s world:
    Oh, let me ne’er forget
    That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
    God is the ruler yet.
    This is my Father’s world,
    The battle is not done:
    Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
    And earth and Heav’n be one.

 Maltbie D. Babcock

searching for meaning

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1

My go to book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes (one of my favorites, anyhow) is an acknowledgment in part of the futility of life, and of thinking that one can find any real meaning under the sun. The idea ends up simply enjoying what is, to the fullest, and not taking it too seriously, since in the end it will all be gone.

But there’s some stealth thoughts interjected along the way, such as the fact that God will judge, which is roundly stated in the end. And that we shouldn’t say much when we enter into the space where God is present for worship, but simply be silent. Those are clues that there may be more to this, to life than what often meets the eye. And in the end again, the charge to fear God and keep his commandments caps what has been an interesting read.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to what we regularly profess and confess. We need to let the weight of the narrative in Ecclesiastes have its affect on us. That is the way we’re to read scripture. And preferably with others.

I think it’s best to embrace the reality of how all these means which are made to be ends are not ends themselves at all. They have usefulness, to be sure, their place in life “under the sun.” But none of them in themselves can fulfill what only God and the promise of God in the grace and kingdom come in Jesus can. But we need to feel the full weight of the emptiness of the endless pursuit of humanity to arrive and achieve. While some satisfaction might be found in it, it will end, and then what? (Another theme in Ecclesiastes.)

We have to look “above” (or beyond) the sun to find meaning in life “under the sun.” The meaning we find won’t be in what is done in this life, but the transcendence which is imminent, and therefore gives meaning either to or in the midst of all that happens here and now. So that while these things in the present are empty and meaningless in themselves, they derive meaning and fullness in the Creator God, and the covenant God makes with humans. A covenant fulfilled in Jesus, full of meaning, which then translates to all the emptiness and meaninglessness down here. In and through Jesus.

living in a post-truth time

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18

Roger Olson’s thoughts (better read than here, if you’re short on time, from a seasoned theologian and thinker: What Living in a Post-Truth Culture Means) on living in a post-truth time got me to thinking. I too think we’ve been watering down truth in too many Christian churches and places in order to be relevant to society around us. Seems like the Jesus of the gospels shared no such concern at all. Read them from Matthew through John and see what you think.

Olson says he’s a critical realist, which I fancy myself to be, as well. He says truth is simply what is, regardless of our ability to perceive and understand it. When I heard someone say a couple decades back that theology is in a flux, and changes were coming, they were so right, and really none of us had a clue, it seems, just how true that was, and the changes that would come with it. Some of that is surely legitimate (and study church history), and some not, all depending.

We live in a society in which truth and facts don’t matter. Winning is all that counts and on nothing less than our own terms. It is a difficult time indeed, for those who hold to the truth no matter what, or attempt to do so.

For us as Christians, “all truth is God’s truth” (from Francis Schaeffer, I think, see Olson’s post, linked above), and Jesus is the Truth. The gospel is the heart of this revelation, which we in Jesus are to give our lives to. The thought that all truth is God’s truth opens up what is called general revelation, as given to all in creation, the truth as it is in Jesus, special revelation offered to all through the gospel.

We don’t need to apologize or back down from our commitment to truth. At the same time we ought to hold to that with the utmost humility. Truth is powerful, not only explaining the way things really are, but exposing us, as well. It is not relegated to the human intellect, but as big as all of life in all its components. The “wild card” in that being a Creator whose creation indicates his power and glory, us humans mirroring something of the Person of God, even the essence of it. Restored to us fully in the one perfect human, Christ, God-in-the-flesh, whose first coming we celebrate during this season.

the blessing of sleep

for he grants sleep to those he loves.

For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

Psalm 127: NIV; NASB

Neurologists have uncovered how important sleep is to the brain. The brain, though active at night while we sleep since we actually are always dreaming (though I rarely remember my dreams) is actually in repair while we’re sleeping. And even though I often don’t get as much sleep as I ought to (so this psalm would be a good one for me to meditate on for a while), I wake up not only refreshed, but oftentimes with a burden at least partially lifted.

Part of sleeping for a person of faith is simply an act of faith in trusting the God who while watching over us, neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121). Although sleeping is most definitely one of my favorite parts of the day (of course, at night, usually), I often find myself resisting it. Sometimes up surfing the internet, or making another move in Lexulous (an online Scrabble game). Or listening to something. Better for me as a rule to shut the internet down, perhaps read some scripture, and then doze off. In fact, I think it’s always good to read scripture in the evening, which is actually the start of a Jewish day, and then go to sleep. That might be better than reading scripture once we wake up from a night’s rest, instead of doing so the night before. Though both are surely good.

The bottom line is that we humans need sufficient rest (and for me, sufficient coffee especially in the morning), part of God’s provision for us surely in more ways than one. Afternoon naps (a wish for me) when possible, included. God will provide what we need; we can’t do it ourselves. But part of what we can do among other things is discipline ourselves with enough sleep, surely a means of grace itself. A part of the rhythm of creation and provision for us from the Creator. And a blessing to us in and through Jesus.

C. S. Lewis on the greatness and goodness of creation and the glory of the Creator

The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose…The earth was of many colours: they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited; until you saw the Singer himself and then you forgot everything else. It was a lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun.

C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia), quoted from A Day with C.S. Lewis: A Spiritual Journey into Fascinating Worlds, by Dennis and Janet Fisher

the debate on origins

There is nothing more divisive among American evangelicals than suggesting that Genesis 1 is not scientific in the sense of telling us how God created the heavens and the earth and all things, but rather doing so in terms of purpose and order, especially in the sense of how it fits together and why in theological terms. Science can never answer such questions, but is confined to the what and how in terms of the material (matter). Science observes by hypothesis, testing, and ongoing hypothesis and testing beyond that, within the scientific community in terms of peer review. Theology and particularly that in Genesis is taken up with an entirely different matter.

This is why neither evolution nor creation science (or “intelligent design,” even though there most certainly is such in creation) won’t win any debate. One side or the other may win a debate, but neither touches what actually is going on in the biblical text. The one is not true to the biblical text, and the other is not disproving the biblical text. Because the text of Genesis must be read in its historical context to see what is going on. To the original readers the Genesis account is a breathtaking view of the majesty of God and creation in terms of a temple narrative. We can read it simply, and we need to take what we read literally, but literally in terms of what it actually is, not at all in terms of what we impose on it with our understanding of science, etc.

The video can give us more of a sense of what is actually happening in this wonderful poetical account of creation.

looking beyond the problem

I am one who can easily become fixated on a problem. In today’s information age, in which we can get quite a lot of data at our fingertips, that is a habit which can end up draining one of time and energy. Draining spiritually, as well.

Such times are good times for me to practice the discipline of looking beyond the problem, to the Lord, the Creator and Redeemer and Sovereign over all. That doesn’t mean I can’t consider the issue at all, but I must learn at the same time to approach it, not in my own efforts in trying to resolve it. But looking to the Lord for his answer, whatever that may be. With the desire to radically rest in that, in all my weakness.

A big part of my problem is that somehow I think I can solve a problem. Some problems we can solve rather easily. And sometimes we receive information which helps. Nevertheless, it is good, and actually a blessing to be put in a place in which we can look only up, beyond the problem, to God himself.

Job is a good case in point of this. Much of that great wisdom book is taken up with Job and his three “friends” focusing on the great problem at hand: the misfortune and suffering of Job. In the end God appears and with that comes a resolution, but not of the sort either Job or his friends were looking for, or could have imagined.

I too need to practice this by not thinking that the solution to a hard problem lies with me. And there are so many problems which arise not only in our lives, but in the lives of our loved ones, in the lives of those around us, yes, in this world, to be sure.

And so I turn my eyes away, or look beyond the problem to the one who is our help, our hope and our salvation. Together with others in Jesus and for the world.

works that remain

Recently I was listening to a talk online from N.T. Wright on baptism and the Eucharist in which the following has given me much pause, rather stopping me in my tracks to ponder and wonder:

Baptism is about dying and then rising again, not somehow getting into the church by evading the challenge. As C. S. Lewis emphasized again and again, there is nothing in this world which cannot die and be raised into God’s new world in terms of the actual good creation. At the same time, there’s nothing in this world that will make it into the new world if it does not first die and be raised.

I had to think about my love for classical music. I could well hope, and I suppose I do that Mozart’s wonderful music will be present in the new creation, and those who don’t appreciate that gift now will then. I was left to wonder if such works won’t be present in the new creation in Jesus, how we can enjoy them now, we who are in Jesus. Of course that is not a hard question to answer on the surface: such works are indeed a part of creation now. We read in Genesis not from Seth’s line, but from Cain’s line quite notable achievements which impact us all to this day, including musical instruments. I will continue to listen to Mozart and others. Hopefully our listening will transport that music into the new creation as we do so in praise of the Creator who made such music possible.

But what stands out to me the most about this thought is to consider what works of mine will remain and what will have to be burned in the judgment, when God through Christ makes all things known, including the worth of everything. While Paul here was referring to the work of leaders in the church, I think without question this applies to all of us in Jesus:

 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

It is amazing how in some way that is well beyond us since it isn’t we doing it, but no less than God, we can be taken up into the actual work of God. This is a work that is characterized by love and truth in the testimony and proclamation of Jesus. It is a work that involves both serving and speaking, can be either. We pray and work, work and pray. And God takes us up by the Spirit into his work. Something of those works from us because of God’s grace will remain and go on into the new creation in some ways quite beyond us now, surely. But in other ways in which we can surmise now, such as those who see the Savior anew through us, and are by that means changed by God.

Works that remain. Yes, we ask God to establish the work of our hands, to make it lasting. We do want to know that our work is not in vain, and we are assured that indeed work in the Lord is not because of his resurrection (end of passage). Somehow works done here go on into the new world, the new creation. Works done in the grace, truth and love of our Lord individually and together with others in Jesus for the world.

John Stott on a bigger gospel

It is the comprehensiveness of Paul’s message that is impressive. He proclaimed God in his fullness as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Father, and Judge. All this is part of the gospel, or, at least, the necessary prolegomena to the gospel. Many people are rejecting our gospel today, not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial. They are looking for an integrated worldview that makes sense of all their experience. We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without creation, or salvation without judgment, or vice-versa. Today’s world needs a bigger gospel, the full gospel of Scripture, what Paul later in Ephesians was to call “the entire plan of God” (Acts 20:27 NAB).

John Stott  (on Paul’s sermon in Athens, Acts 17)

John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation, 334 quoted by Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 46.