"Clearly Christian: Scientific"#88-44
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 4, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Psalm 19:1-4
Jack loved Joy, but his friends weren't so sure about her. Some even think less of Jack because he married her. But they didn't know Joy like Jack did. I want to talk with you about Jack and Joy, but not only about them. More importantly, how their relationship can shed light on the relationship between the Christian faith and science, the study of the natural world. Christians are for science. Christians are for the study of the natural world, much like a devoted husband would be for the study of a book written by his beloved wife. When Jack married Joy, he knew that she was an accomplished author. He had even written a foreword for one of her books, commending people to read it, study, and appreciate it as he had. Jack was his nickname. His given name was Clive Staples Lewis or C.S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century.
When C.S. Lewis married Joy Davidman, he knew she was a gifted writer, and he was interested in her creative work, because it was her work and no one else's. So also Christians are interested in science, in the study of the natural universe, because it is God's work and no one else's. Now, maybe you're wondering, I thought Christians were against science. Over the last four weeks on this program we've been discussing half-truths about the Christian faith. And this is a common one, that Christians are against science. And there is a half-truth in that statement about Christians being against it, but not against science itself, but against a certain use of science. See, Christians just don't want to be married to science. We don't want to forsake all others and cling only to science. We might call that marriage to science, scientism. Scientism isn't new. The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud proposed this arranged marriage to science back in 1927. Freud said that people should divorce themselves from dependence on God and cling instead to science.
Now Freud, to his credit, didn't suffer from the illusion that this would give humanity a happy marriage. But he did think it was an illusion to suppose that what science cannot give us, we can get elsewhere. Joy, the wife of Jack whom I mentioned earlier, was raised with the scientism of Sigmund Freud. Joy Davidman was born in 1915. Her parents were Jewish by blood, but atheist by belief. Joy wrote later how she came to adopt her parents' beliefs. She said, "I had assumed that science had disproved God. Men I said are only apes. Virtue is only custom. Life is only an electrochemical reaction. The universe is only matter. Matter is only energy. I forget what I said energy was only." But still, something didn't sit right with Joy. She had this nagging sense that there was something more to the universe. Like it was a book written by an anonymous author, and she wanted to know who.
In 1946 when she was 31 years old and living in New York City, Joy read some books by an Oxford professor by the name of C.S. Lewis. Only later did she learn that his friends called him Jack. Like many people today, Joy thought that Christians denied science, that they were required to check their brains at the church door. But this Mr. Lewis was different. He also once had been an atheist but was converted to Christianity in his early 30s. And it was clear from his writings that he had thought deeply about the Christian faith. In my opinion, one of the best examples of this is his book, Mere Christianity, and in that book, he talks about science. He wrote, "Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, no matter how complicated it looks really means something like I pointed the telescope to such and such part of the sky at 2:20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so and so. Or I put some stuff in a pot and heated it to such and such a temperature and it did so and so."
Lewis isn't denying science. He's only saying what its job is and what kinds of answers it can give us. As for answers to questions like "Why is there a universe and not nothing at all?" And "Why is the universe the way it is? And will it always be this way?" And "Does it have any meaning?" Those questions are very human questions. They're just not the kinds of questions you can answer by scientific experiment. So how do we answer them?
Well, let's say you discovered a book. You pick it up and you read it and you find it to be not only well written and engaging, but also that it speaks to you. And so you want to find more about this book. Where did it come from? What does it mean? Is it part of a larger series yet to be written? Now to answer these questions, you have to make a decision about the book's origin. On the one hand, if you believe that the book was written by an author, you would start by learning more about that author. And maybe even if you had the opportunity, you would want to meet that author.
On the other hand, if you believe that the book has no author, that it was generated by a randomized, highly developed computer algorithm, and there is no author to seek, you'll have to answer these questions as best you can by reading and rereading the book on its own terms. Now notice that in each scenario, careful study and appreciation of the book is a part of the investigation. Finding out that there's an author doesn't mean you want to throw the book out. In fact, finding out that there's an author might make you appreciate the book all the more. And so also with the Christian faith and science, the study of the natural world—for Christians, science is the study and appreciation of God's book of nature. And nature has a lot to say, as the poet of the psalms wrote, "The heavens declare the work of God's hands. Day after day, they pour forth speech; night after night, they display knowledge. Their voice has gone out into all the earth."
Let's review: Christians are for science, but not in the sense of being married to science. That's scientism. Scientism is guided by the scientifically unprovable belief that the book of nature has no author for us to know. In contrast, Christianity is guided by the belief also scientifically unprovable that the author of the book of nature has personally introduced Himself by sending His eternal Son to be conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the human nature of His Jewish mother Mary, who named Him Jesus, because God's messenger said that He would be the Messiah, the Christ, who will restore nature and rule forever. Christians are given His Name, Christ. And so we cannot be spiritually married to science or to any other method or any other belief system because we're spiritually married to Christ. Collectively, we were united with Him in Baptism. We died with Him on the cross. We rose from the dead with Him. We've been given a new nature in Him, but that doesn't mean we throw out the old book. How could we? It's His masterpiece, and we're all a part of it, a part of His beloved creation.
But maybe you're wondering what if I read the book of nature and I don't like what I find there? Author Annie Dillard describes a walk she took through nature one summer. It was along the edge of a creek. Frogs were leaping from the bank into the water, as she walked along. She notices a little green frog, a few steps ahead that didn't jump. She creeps closer. It doesn't move. Dillard writes, "He was a very small frog with wide, dull eyes. And just as I looked at him, he slowly crumbled and began to sag. His skin emptied and drooped. His skull seemed to collapse and settle in like a kicked tent. He was shrinking before my eyes like a deflating football. It was a monstrous and terrifying thing. An oval shadow hung in the water behind the drained frog. And then the shadow glided away. The frog skin bag started to sink."
What Annie had observed was the work of a creature called the giant water bug. It eats insects, tadpoles, fish, and frogs. It seizes its victims with giant hooked four legs. It paralyzes it with enzymes injected during a vicious bite. And one bite is all it takes. Through the puncture, poisons dissolve the victim's muscles, bones, and organs, all but the skin, and through it, the giant water bugs sucks out the victim's body reduced to a juice. C.S. Lewis reading the same book of nature is Annie Dillard said that, "If the universe were our only clue about its author, then I think we should have to conclude that He was a great artist for the universe is a very beautiful place, but also that He is quite merciless and no friend of man, for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place."
So we, Christians have a problem. What we know to be true about God in Jesus doesn't always seem to match with what we can know about God through His book of nature. Because of Jesus, we know that our Author is not only brilliant and good and wise, but also merciful, loving, and forgiving, worthy of our trust. Sometimes it's hard for us to believe living in God's book when nature seizes us, paralyzes us, and drains us. Here's where the comparison with Jack and Joy might help us once more. Jack, that is C.S. Lewis, was 52 years old when he received his first letter from Joy. Jack was a confirmed bachelor, and they assumed he'd never marry. But over the next seven years, Joy would become his friend and eventually capture his heart.
At the time, she was 35 years old, and her marriage was falling apart. She wrote to him with questions about the Christian faith, and he wrote back. And over the next few years, they became pen pals. Two years later with her husband's blessing, Joy sailed to England to meet Jack in person. While she was there, her husband cheated on her. He wrote and said that he had fallen in love with another woman. When she returned to New York, they divorced. Not knowing where else to go, Joy took her two sons and moved to England. And once in England, her friendship with Jack deepened. Three years later, they married. Around that time, Joy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They prayed for her. Miraculously, her cancer goes into remission and for the next three years, Joy and Jack delight in newlywed life.
But her cancer returned with a vengeance, dissolving her muscles, bones, and organs. She died at 45. Jack died three years later. Jack came to know Joy intimately. He loved her deeply, but some of his friends didn't care for her. Her New York City personality offended their Oxford refinement. Jack's brother Warren remembers when he first met her, Joy came into the medieval stonewalled room, wearing her horn-rimmed glasses. And she turned to him in the presence of three or four other men and asked in the most natural tone in the world, "Is there anywhere in this monastic establishment where a lady can relieve herself?" And I imagine the color drained from their faces as though seized by a giant water bug. Joy struck many of Jack's friends as impudent, uncouth, and outrageous.
"But Jack laughed uproariously when he was with her," says Abigail Santa Maria in her biography about Joy, the woman who captivated and some might say seduced C.S. Lewis. Jack's love for Joy continues to confound many a C.S. Lewis admirer. One writer who recently read a collection of Joy's writings, found her work to be unattractive, loud, and obnoxious. He said he came away from reading it not only repulsed by Joy, but actually questioning the judgment and goodness of C.S. Lewis. So how is it that Jack could love her so deeply, but some of his fans, when they encounter her writings are much less smitten? It's something like how an atheist like Richard Dawkins describes the God he meets in nature as blind, purposeless, unattractive, the inscrutable shadow behind the giant water bug. The God that he briefly meets in Scripture as a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak. What Dawkins and these C.S. Lewis admirers have in common is that they're speaking about Someone they don't know personally. They're repulsed by one they've only heard about from a distance.
But Jack knew Joy personally. He compared her to a garden, like a nest of gardens, wall within wall, hedge within hedge, more secret, more full of fragrant and fertile life the further you entered—like the Author who created her. We Christians have not yet come to know why God permits such suffering, and we may not ever. But we have come to know God through Jesus, and we are eager to use God's gifts to love and serve our neighbors who suffer. Whether God gives these gifts through prayer and miracle or through science and technology, or whether He withholds them, and we wait for Jesus to return, raise the dead, and make all things new. We do this because we know Jesus, the Author who so outrageously, unattractively wrote Himself into the book to be born in a cattle stall, despised and rejected by men, stricken by God and afflicted, drained of His mortal life so that by His resurrection, He might captivate us all with His love. Why don't you pray to Him with me.
Dear Jesus, help me die to my old nature so that I may live eternally knowing You. Amen.
Reflections for July 4, 2021
Title: Clearly Christian: Scientific
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Once again, here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: I'm visiting with Pastor Trevor Sutton. Welcome back, Trevor.
Trevor Sutton: Thanks for having me.
Mike Zeigler: And Deaconess Dorothy Glenn. Thanks for being here, Dorothy.
Dorothy Glenn: It's always a pleasure.
Mike Zeigler: We're still talking about Trevor's book. It's titled, Clearly Christian: Following Jesus in This Age of Confusion. Now, Trevor, I've learned a little bit more about you. You're an academically curious person. You've been to seminary.
Trevor Sutton: Addicted. Addicted would be the right word.
Mike Zeigler: A nerd?
Trevor Sutton: Yeah, sure.
Mike Zeigler: You got a master's degree of divinity, a master's in rhetoric and communication from Michigan State University. You're studying for your Ph.D. Clearly, you love learning. So, I'm curious, what would you want to say to somebody who's interested in the Christian faith, but is afraid that following Jesus means checking your brain at the church door?
Trevor Sutton: You cannot substantiate that with the history of Christianity and the history of the world as you look at all of these people who are followers of Jesus, but also deeply intellectually engaged and intellectually or academically curious people. And in the book, I chart all these influential figures who followed Jesus, but were also engaged intellectually. I've had conversations with people where it just absolutely is clear—to be a follower of Jesus, they assume you can't be academically engaged.
One time, I was depositing a check at the bank. So I deposited the check there and she goes, "Oh, you're from St. Louis." And I said, "Yeah. I'm studying there." And she goes, "What are you studying?" And I said, "theology." And she goes, "Oh, there's enough there for it to be like a master's degree program?"
Mike Zeigler: Jesus loves me, and that's it.
Trevor Sutton: Yeah, yeah. It was just so funny that her conception was like "I didn't know they did graduate school for theology." And it just was, again, one of those clear moments where I said, "You're certainly working with a false conception of what it means to follow Jesus."
Mike Zeigler: Dorothy, in this section of the book, what was something you found helpful and enlightening at this part where Trevor addresses the skeptic's potential fear that Christians have to be brainless?
Dorothy Glenn: As someone who grew up in England, I actually experienced this a lot as a PK, a pastor's kid. In England, theology is very much an academic study, but that's what it is. It's academic. And it's simply something that is studied and not believed. And were you to believe it, well, you must be gullible. And so, it's a very interesting place to grow up. And as someone who went to church weekly with my family, obviously, since my dad was the pastor, I almost felt like I was living a dual life. Because I would be the me who went to church and was with my family and understood what the Bible spoke, but then there was the me at school who didn't really want to acknowledge that. I especially liked the quote that I'm now going to read from the book. "Apologetics, therefore, is both a thinking defense and a living defense for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus." And that's where we really merge what we believe to what we actually profess and what we do in our daily lives.
Trevor Sutton: You realize every follower of Jesus is engaged in apologetics. Because simply how you treat other people, how you live, how you conduct yourself, all of that is a response in some sense. The world looks at you and says, "You're a Christian. What is this hope? And how do you live according to that hope?" And so every day, I think, we're engaged in apologetics simply by the words we use and the way we go about our interactions.
Mike Zeigler: Reading your book, Trevor, it sparked me to go back to a book I'd seen referenced before but hadn't spent a lot of time with. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. He talks about how, really amazing historically, that what started as an obscure Jesus movement in the Roman Empire, persecuted, pushed to the side, living on the margins, how over maybe two, three centuries, becomes the dominant religious force in the Western world for the next 18 centuries. He's just looking at it from a historical problem. Like, how did this come to be? His main argument is just this, that it was the lived defense of the people. It wasn't arguments. It wasn't even miraculous signs that they did. It was when everybody else was running away from the city during a pandemic, Christians went in and cared for people and started the first hospitals. When Greco-Roman culture would discard unwanted babies in the dumps, Christians would go and adopt them and take them as their own children. And that's how the Christian faith became what we know it today so spread across the globe.
Trevor Sutton: In our congregation, we talk about how joy is an apologetic, which sounds weird. But just when the rest of the world is losing their mind because of a pandemic or an election or whatever else is in the headlines, we have joy. And that is a defense against the chaos, but it's also an opportunity for people to say, "What do you know? Who do you know?" And that's then an invitation for witness.
Mike Zeigler: The way Martin Luther defines Christianity is the sheep who hear the shepherd's voice. And that's all we are. We're following, but not just sheep, growing to be mature sons and daughters of God who live a full life, give witness to who God is, who our Father is.
Well, again, the book we've been talking about is called Clearly Christian. It is written by Trevor Sutton. Give it a read, talk about it, and see what you think.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Christ, Our True and Only Light" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)