Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. - Ps 111:2 (NIV)
Psalm 111 has been called the ‘research scientist’s Psalm’ for reasons that are hopefully obvious. Scientists have the privilege of being paid to ponder God’s creative works every day. In fact, their pondering can become so intense that their field of study might focus in on a single detail.
A researcher might be looking at just one molecule or a very specific set of physical forces, but that specialization is extremely valuable. Their work has value in economic terms, but also in spiritual ways. Of course what they do will eventually become part of something useful, whether a journal article, a new medicine or patent. But what they find out also has an intrinsic value that has nothing to do with its ‘usefulness’.
Psalm 148, Isaiah 55, and many similar passages say that everything in creation praises God in its own way. The heavens declare the glory of God! How exactly that praise happens, we don’t know – but there is definitely a celebration going on in the world.
When a scientist studies part of creation in detail their work brings attention to what God has made, which in turn can fuel our own worship. That extra level of science-informed worship is, I believe, part of the intrinsic value of science. There’s only one catch. The experience of value-added worship stops with the believing researcher, unless they can share what they find out with others.
The first audience a PhD student finds outside of the lab is often a parent or roommate. Their initial attempts at explaining complex techniques and ideas are often received by blank stares, and then conveyed to other friends or family members in brutal digest form, such as ‘Steve is watching the grass grow’, or ‘Annie studies weird metals’.
Hopefully with some trial and error the message that travels the social airwaves might eventually become more erudite. ‘Steve is finding out how climate change affects the growth of vegetation in sub-Saharan Africa’ or ‘Annie is involved in creating new metal alloys that can be used in medical devices’. As the years go on, that student will develop their teaching skills and hopefully become quite adept at explaining their work in a couple of minutes.
It’s worth persisting in these efforts to explain our work to others, including the members of our churches. Academic study expands our horizons. Science in particular helps us to grasp a little more how great and powerful God is, and how generously he has provided for us. I have been involved in a number of church services where science was used to fuel our sense of wonder and worship, and it was definitely worth the hard work to prepare suitable ways of conveying the information in a way that everyone could understand.
In my own church I recently explained that the total amount of DNA in the average person’s body could stretch to Pluto and back at least six times, and watched people’s faces light up with amazement and awe. We are fearfully and wonderfully made! Pondering God’s work at ever-deeper levels of detail is worthwhile for both utilitarian and spiritual reasons, and even more so when the experience is shared.
How does your work give you a sense of wonder about the world? How does that fuel your own worship?
As you prepare to go on Spring break in the coming weeks, can you get ready to briefly explain your work to the people you meet? What has excited you? How might what you share affect their view of God or the world he has made?
Father God, thank you for creating such a vast, complex and fruitful universe. Thank you for the opportunity to study it in ever-increasing detail. Help us to explain our work to others around us, so that their picture of the world might increase as ours does. Help us not to lose sight of the wonder of studying your works. Amen.
Image courtesy of cocoparisienne at Pixabay: http://pixabay.com/en/users/cocoparisienne-127419/
About the author:
Ruth Bancewicz is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge (UK), where she currently works on positive expressions of the science-faith dialogue.
She originally trained as a biologist, studying genetics at Aberdeen University and a PhD at Edinburgh University, where she was based at the MRC Human Genetics Unit and worked on gene-environment interactions in the development of the eye. She has worked at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, Edinburgh University, and as the Development Officer for Christians in Science. She led the development of the Test of FAITH materials on science and Christianity, and the US edition of her new book God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith is now available.