I’ve been thinking a lot about science lately.
I’m doing a lot of reading to finish up my graduate studies. It’s been so rewarding to go back and read some of the books that have shaped my education as a pastor. So far, I’ve knocked out two of the three rereads I’m supposed to do. And both of them, oddly enough, focus a lot on the physical world and its relation to my faith.
Seasoned Christians tend to dismiss this sort of thing out-of-hand. After all, we know that everything physical is temporary and corrupted by sin, and will all be destroyed by fire so that we can go to heaven. The real work of Christianity is in the heart, the soul, if you will, and it flows out of the body in basic good deeds and dragging your tuckus to church on Sundays and other such things.
Except that’s really not the case at all.
The argument made by the books I’ve been reading* is that the body and the physical world are the very things that were corrupted by the fall. Jesus came to save that which was corrupted by the fall. Therefore, this physical world is the very thing that Jesus died to save.
That’s an oversimplification (it kind of has to be since I just condensed like 500 pages of reading into 3 sentences), but it’s a really important truth that has had great impact on the way I view my faith and my role in the world around me.
Specifically, it’s made me think a lot about science–the study of physical things, both here on earth and in the universe beyond.
The purpose of humanity, at creation’s very inception, was to participate in God’s task of reigning. We were to “rule over” the created order–plants and animals and all kinds of things (Genesis 1:28). The idea here isn’t of some kind of totalitarian dictator. Unfortunately, the idea of “ruling” has been tainted by sin as well. But think about the way we understand God’s rule over us–lovingly guiding us to become our best selves, strengthening us when we are weak, disciplining us when we need to grow. Now imagine mankind, doing the same thing for the creative order.
I was reading about this, and my mind instantly went to science.
At its best, science shows us how to take care of the world around us. It gives us knowledge about the earth, the plants, the animals, and even the massive expanse of celestial bodies within which we find ourselves. It’s amazing. When we, as a people, apply that knowledge wisely, we are able to cure diseases. We are able to rescue struggling species. We are able to do all kinds of things that I’m having a lot of trouble thinking up right now because doggone it Jim I’m a pastor not a scientist. But the point remains–when we do science right, we learn some cool stuff, and we are able to use it to accomplish great things in our world.
What will science look like when Jesus comes back? When the resurrection takes place and all evil and corruption and selfish ambition is banished forever? When the entire created order as we know it is totally transformed so that it never has to endure decay or death ever again?
I don’t know. But I think it’ll be amazing. And I cannot imagine that the God who created our minds and placed in us an incredible thirst for knowledge would send His Son to redeem all things, including those minds, and then just say “WELP. Eternity time, you guys. Put down those beakers and pick up some harps, it’s time to play “Old Rugged Cross” for 10,000 years!!!” I think God has some reigning, some ruling, for us to do. And to do it, we’re going to have to learn a lot about the created order over which we’ll be presiding.
That means a lot of things. It means that we, as Christians, need to get our collective rears in gear when it comes to academics. We need to stop warring with the findings of science, recognizing that in reality, faith and science are not mutually exclusive. It means that perhaps we should spend less time dwelling on the possible “How”s of creation embedded in some evocative, poetic words, and instead focus on the “Why”s–the purpose for which we and all around us were made. It means that we should rejoice when new things are discovered about our world, because perhaps these new things we’ve discovered can be part of bringing light and hope where there is currently darkness and decay.
I don’t know. I’m certainly not out to bring the entirety of the “faith vs. science” debate onto my doorstep. I just think maybe it doesn’t need to be a debate at all. Just something I’ve been thinking about.
I’ve also been thinking about science fiction.
It is so hard for us to conceptualize a universe untainted by sin–we’ve never experienced it, and we won’t until Jesus does come back. But what if we started viewing the cosmos through the lens of the new creation? What if we let our vision of the future be shaped by the oncoming resurrection power? And what if we cast that vision into the hearts of others through the stories we tell?
It has been said, by more knowledgeable and more eloquent people than me, that Star Trek portrayed an incredibly optimistic view of the future. I wonder if that has anything to do with its longevity. A future where all races band together as one and head towards the stars to learn and to make peace. That captures our hearts, deep in that place where we want the restoration of all things. We want peace. We want to be purely altruistic in our pursuit of knowledge and our interaction with the created order.
I think that as we tell our stories, as we build our worlds in our hearts and minds and then share them with the world, we would do well to let the desires God places in us for our future–for His future–give shape to our fiction. As we consume media that captures our hearts, we would do well to examine the ways that it projects our hope. Whether our science is real or involves laser guns and rubber-suited aliens, I think it’s a vital component to visualizing the things Christ has in store for us, and building for that future when He does come.
* the books I’ve read recently are Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright and Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, for any curious souls looking for some in-depth but fascinating reading)