Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Advent.
From the standpoint of being a professing Christian and a chemist/chemical educator, I have observed some troubling things over the past few weeks. It all has to do with the issue of “intelligent design”, its inclusion or exclusion in the science classroom and the role of religion in our daily lives.
What bothers me is not the issue of this presumed “new” scientific theory. First, this is not a new theory but rather an attempt to restate an old idea (i.e., creationism) in terms that should be acceptable to both the lay public and the scientific community. If you will allow me the latitude of using Biblical references in a scientific discussion, you cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.
Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9: 17)
It would be one thing if “intelligent design” were a new theory; then it could be debated on the public stage as its supporters would like. But it is not a new theory and merely an attempt to get around the legal problems those creationist theories encountered in the 1980’s.
Second, it is not, in my mind, a credible scientific theory. You cannot simply say that because something observed is too complex to be explained with present knowledge, there must be an “intelligent design’ involved. That is taking the easy way out and that is not the way of science. The history of science has shown repeatedly that when explanations of observed phenomena become extremely complex it is time for a restatement of the theory. This occurred with the change from a geocentric view of the solar system to a heliocentric view; it occurred with the demise of phlogiston and the discovery of oxygen; it occurred when the caloric theory of heat was determined to be incorrect. If certain biological explanations cannot be explained with the knowledge that we have at the present, it simply means that we need to do more research and expand what we are looking for, not simply write off the problem as being too complex or complicated for modern day explanations. We are never going to fully explain what evolution is or the mechanisms by which it operates if we don’t keep looking for the answers. In the long run, adoption of theories such as “intelligent design” will stifle scientific research and push us backwards in terms of progress, rather than forward.
It seems to me that we have forgotten that many, many years ago we were nothing more than just another animal wandering this planet. But, at some point in our past, our lives changed. Perhaps it was like the opening science in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” where an unseen and highly intelligent race modify the conditions of the earth and changed early apes into creatures that eventually become man.
Or it may have been something entirely different. At this point, it is hard to tell what happened. But the result of this change so many years ago was that mankind became a questioning, exploring sentient being that wondered why things happened.
Some of the questions that we began asking were about the world around us. Mankind began to seek answers about the regularities that were discovered in this world. It became natural for us to even ask why these things happened. And when we asked these latter questions, we began to have a sense of gods in our lives.
It became obvious to these early people that there were gods responsible for the seasons, gods responsible for the growth of plants and so on. Mankind began to give credit to gods for everything good and to blame the gods for all the evil and bad that occurred in the world. Then God chose Abram and life changed.
Genesis, despite what others may say, is not about the earth and its development; it is about us and who we are. It is about our discovery of who God is and what He means to us.
But even today we still persist in believing that there are other gods, gods who send hurricanes to destroy cities where sin allegedly runs rampant or tornados to wipe towns off the map because they choose the right to seek free will instead of blindly following a rigid set of beliefs. And that is what all these debates about religion and life, be they about science, sexuality, or politics, have been about today. These debates are focused more on the laws we create or seek in order to create order in our lives rather than our desire to honor God in our lives.
We find it necessary and appropriate to have laws in our lives. We are afraid that if we do not have laws, there will be no order. And the one thing that mankind has always desired is order. As the world has grown more and more complex and complicated, as discoveries add more and more knowledge to our lives, we seek more and more order. It seems that life has grown beyond our capability to understand; so we create laws to help us to understand.
But as we create more and more laws, we begin to contradict ourselves. The very problem with society in Jesus’ time was that there were so many laws, it was impossible for anyone to find the right way to salvation. Remember that the Pharisees objected to Christ healing on the Sabbath because it involved working on the Sabbath; it was okay and proper to heal them any other time, but not on the Sabbath, for the Sabbath should be kept Holy.
A Crippled Woman Healed on the Sabbath (Luke 13: 10 – 17)
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
But which law takes precedence in one’s life? The Pharisees and authorities would have the law upheld, even if it means that someone is healed from a crippling disease. But Jesus points out that care for the sick is more important that a strict observance of the law. The authorities who complain ignored the liberation from pain that the woman enjoyed. All they saw was a violation of the law. There is no indication that they saw the Power of God at work in their presence. Jesus rebukes them for they were not willing to change; they were not willing to repent. It should be noted that healing on the Sabbath was acceptable, when it came to a farmer’s animals. So why should it not be allowed for the owners of the animals? This was the basis for Jesus’ rebuke.
The summary of this paragraph by Luke is that Jesus’ opponents were put to shame in front of the people. The passage ends by noting that we must make a choice about Jesus. Shall we side with the leaders who hold to a strict interpretation of the law and ignore the power of God? Or shall we side with Jesus with the exercise of power and compassion?
We find evidence in our searches that the earth is not the center of the Solar System, despite statements in the Bible that suggest otherwise. Those who speak out in favor of the new system are considered heretics and treated accordingly. Even today, the debate is on whether the Bible is a collection of laws which must be obeyed without question or a guide for the way we should live. Too many people see the Bible as the law rather than the spirit; it leads to preferring victory over repentance; hatred over love, vengeance over reconciliation.
The rise of fundamentalism in today’s society is because we look for simple answers and fundamentalism gives such answers. But the questions being asked in today’s society are far from simple. They require understanding and exploration.
The problem for me with a fundamentalist approach to Christianity is that it does not allow for me to expand my knowledge of God and Christ. It seems to me that the basic premise of a fundamentalist approach is that these are the truths and they do not change and they cannot be challenged. I have come to believe that the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time would feel right at home in a fundamentalist church today. Everything is cut and dried, fixed and unchanging; there is no room for change or independent thought. We know that hurricanes are not the wrath of any god but the result of atmospheric conditions. We know that earthquakes, no matter how frightening they may be, are not the results of a god lashing out at an unrepentant world but a shift in plates of stone floating on a layer of molten rock.
Fundamentalism sees hunger, sickness, and oppression as a sign of sin. We should see such signs as a call from God to respond. It was this attitude that Jesus fought against; it is what we are faced with today. Does not Isaiah say that the Messiah will come to proclaim liberty to the captives, release the prisoners and bring hope to the brokenhearted? (Isaiah 61: 2) Does not God say that He loves justice and hates wrongdoing? Shall we not be rewarded when we do God’s work, not stop people from coming to God?
In a letter to his brother, Vincent Van Gogh wrote
The Jesuitism of clergymen and devout ladies no longer have any hold on me now. You see, for me that God of the clergy is as dead as a doornail. But does that make me an atheist? Clergymen consider me one – so be it – but you see, I love, and how could I feel love if I were not alive myself, or if others were not alive; and if we are alive there is something wondrous about it. Now call that God or human nature or whatever you like, but there is a certain something I cannot define systematically, although it is very much alive and real, and you see, for me that something is God or as good as God… (From a letter by Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, December 21, 1881 – printed in the Daily Dig for 8 September 2005.)
We seek God but we will not be able to find Him if we get trapped in simple explanations. We cannot see God in the world if we are blind to the problems of the world. Just as John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness, calling on the people to repent of their sins and prepare for the coming of the Messiah, so too are the needs of the people a voice crying out in the wilderness warning us of God’s coming.
Shall we stand idly by and let the voices go unheeded? Shall we wonder why the world is the way it is when God was calling upon us to fix the problems of the world? Did not Paul tell us to test everything, to hold fast to that which was good but abstain from evil? (1 Thessalonians 6: 16 – 24) How are we to do this if we limit our knowledge of what is good and what is bad?
Now this is not a statement that says we can go and do whatever we want, so as to learn what is good and evil. We have been shown what is good; we have been shown what is evil. We are challenged to do that which is good, help the needy, heal the sick, feed the hungry and fight oppression and injustice.
We live in a world in which simple answers are sought. If life were simple and fixed, simple answers would work. But life is neither simple nor fixed; so our answers can never be fixed or simple. Jesus told us that He did not come to abolish the law or ignore the prophets but rather as a fulfillment of the law.
If we see Jesus as solely the law, then we see Christianity without caring, without understanding. We cannot live in a world that neither cares nor understands. We need to seek both aspects of life in our world.
John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling for us to repent of our ways and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Today, the voice of the wilderness is the voice of the sick, the hungry, the homeless, and the oppressed calling again for the Messiah to appear. We would rather hear the cry of the Christ child lying in the manger in Bethlehem because we think that it will quiet those other voices we hear. A child is simple and life needs to be simple. Maybe this child will offer us the simple answers we so desperately seek.
But in a few months, we will hear the words of Jesus calling upon us to hear the voices of the sick, the needy, the hungry, and the oppressed. Try as we might we cannot silence the other voices that cry out.
As we prepare this Sunday for the coming of Christ, as the Child born in Bethlehem, let us listen carefully to the voice crying out in the wilderness, challenging us to be God’s messenger in today’s society. Let us hear the prophet call that will tell us that though He is born a King, He will be a servant so that we may enjoy the victory of His Kingdom. Hear the voice of the prophet; hear the voice of the Baptist; and last, hear the voice of Christ calling you today. Do you hear?
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Said the night wind to the little lamb,
“Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
with a tail as big as a kite,
with a tail as big as a kite.”
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
“Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees
with a voice as big as the sea,
with a voice as big as the sea.”
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
“Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold–
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold.”
Said the king to the people everywhere,
“Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light.”