What will people say?
“Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” — Luther at the Diet of Worms
While these words of reformer Martin Luther may be the stuff of myth, it is known that he felt conflicted and was definitely plagued with doubt over leaving his monastic life behind and envisioning the way forward for Christianity.
According to a well known biography of Luther the problems he wrestled with were such that he sunk into a depression. The issues he was grappling with were not imaginary; they were implicit in the religion on which he was reared. This is a very similar place to where we find ourselves as we consider complex social ills of the day, the uncertainty of economic collapse and a growing faith in technology and science to fix what ails us — all with a sense of wonder of where our faith fits in.
These questions have haunted us deeply and have challenged Christianity to its core over the last century. But let’s not forget that scientists have had their own doubts in recent memory and have also struggled with illogical outcomes. Illogic in what should be a logical world such as comprehending infinity in mathematics and physics or even understanding the evolution of consciousness in biology.
There seems to be a breaking point. Things that cannot be logically explained must be left alone as some scientists would say for nothing new or valuable can be discovered. At the same time for those caught in the middle of potentially radical new ideas related to these illogical notions, there must be a soft whisper filled with doubt, “What will people say?”
In religion and science, this feeling of doubt can easily be a stepping off point for further discussion. For in science, a concept that cannot be explained or proven in a lab is simply not valid. In religion, if a belief counters traditional practices or somehow threatens our interpretation of God it is heretical.
The world that we live in, when it comes to bringing faith and science together, is a much more open system, however. But in putting the religion and science together something a little more interesting is born. Change can happen, faith can be renewed and awe in nature’s splendor and mechanics can be reawakened.
Instead of thinking about what people will say, modern reformers should ask: ”What should people think, pray or meditate on if (blank) is true, happens or is false?” But sometimes asking people to think, pray or meditate is out of the realm of discussion when relating faith to science and society to technology.
For Luther, whatever aided in the understanding of God and God’s word needed to be encouraged. Although God’s word seems to say nothing about biology, physics, mathematics or other areas of science, it really comes down to a new realization of God, from God. According to Luther, God fills the world, but God is not contained by the world.
This idea may be a logician’s personal nightmare, but ultimately what should lead our thoughts is awe for creation as well as a curiosity about its inner workings. This is a combination that leads to some of the most fascinating scientific discoveries that in turn may lead to greater interest on the part of faith communities in the workings of science.
Contemplating which line of thinking has the capacity to heal creation and give hope to a broken world is ultimately the endeavor of a lifetime, combining the labors of theologians, scientists, laymen as well as scientists who are also Christians. Essentially these are the people who are taking a stand, just as Luther did, in creating the future of the church.
Covalence, September, 2010