On Curiosity

“The important thing is not to stop questioning,” Albert Einstein said. “Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” The reality of the natural world has fewer mysteries because of Einstein’s curiosity.

Einstein connected curiosity (a state of mind) and questioning (acting on that state of mind). An unasked question is an unanswered one that abandons you on the island of ignorance. That is a desolate place to be, given the mysteries of eternity, life, and reality as Einstein said.

Dr. Sy Garte, an American biochemist, is another curious scientist. Garte was raised to believe in Darwin and Marx. But as a young man, he found those philosophies contradictory. If humans are meaningless products of evolution, he wondered, how did the socialist goals of advancing human dignity make sense? If Christianity is so bad, why was the civil rights movement led by Christians?

Garte pursued an academic career and became a professor. For a while, he accepted the claims of scientism, which holds that science is sufficient for any knowledge humans need. But being curious, a question began to nag him. Does science hold the keys to unlock all mysteries? The answer from quantum mechanics is that some things are unknowable. That led to other questions. Where did the universe come from? How did life begin? What does it mean to be a human being? How did humans develop an ability to create and appreciate art, poetry, music, and humor? His worldview had no satisfactory answers.

Garte tells his story in “Christianity Today” magazine. His curiosity led him to read the story of Jesus in the Bible, which he found beautiful and believable. Then this rational, sane, and well-educated man had a kind of epiphany. He had an intense vision of himself as a preacher, appealing to a large crowd and saying things he had yet to affirm or even hear before. He began to listen to what the preacher (himself) was saying. His response was emotional, and his heartfelt words flowed. “I believe, and I am saved,” he said out loud. “Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today Garte works with the American Scientific Affiliation helping people who are curious about the link between science and theology.

Are you curious? Jesus offers some questions to help you along. “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). “Whom do you seek?” (John 18:7). “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). And my favorite, “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:26). Do you seek answers to the questions of life and eternity? I guess it depends on your curiosity.

Lay the Burden Down

Jack London’s The Call of the Wild was required reading in my high school. It is red in tooth and claw. It reveals London’s burdensome view that this harsh world is all of reality.

The protagonist of the novel is Buck, a dog. He learns by the “law of club and fang” to be an obedient Klondike sled dog. It’s a story of weary labor, deadly retribution, and the struggle to survive. At the end, Buck discovers his owner Thornton and the other dogs dead – killed by indigenous people. He joins a wolf pack living in the wild only to return as the legendary “Ghost Dog” who kills humans.

London’s experiences informed his stories and his worldview. His time in the Klondike damaged his health. As a child he labored 12 to 18 hours a day at a cannery. As a teenager he sailed with a sealing expedition, bludgeoning and skinning seals for days on end. He experienced hunger, homelessness, and a stint in the penitentiary. His mother attempted suicide. His birth father denied him, suggesting any number of other men could be his father.

London’s faith was in Darwin. He declared, “I believe that with my death I am just as much obliterated as the last mosquito you and I squashed.” A few months before he died at age 40 of an overdose, London explained his credo. “I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.” If anything, he lived as though to shorten them. “The ultimate word,” he wrote, “is I Like,” expressed in his wild adventures, riotous living, and substance abuse. Those were his attempts to offload the burden of a pitiless and pointless world.

His is a story of tragedy, not redemption. He missed the evidence all around him of a far greater and more attractive reality – the rest of the story. Even amidst tooth and claw, creation points to something beautiful and sublime. “O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions. There is the sea, great and broad… animals both small and great. Let the glory of the Lord endure forever. As for me, I shall be glad in the Lord” (Psa. 104).

What is your story? You don’t have to live a burdened life, denying that transcendent, eternal good exists. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).

Save the Queen

In 1952, 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth entered Westminster Abbey for her coronation. As she stood by King Edward’s Chair, the Archbishop presented her. “God save Queen Elizabeth!” everyone cried out together.

God certainly gave her a long life. She couldn’t have predicted that her reign would last 70 years and span such disturbing and tumultuous years. Yet she served her people and the world with grace and endurance. Her faith in Jesus inspired her. “The teachings of Christ have served as my inner light,” she said recently.

Her 2015 Christmas message came amidst a year of terrorism and migrating refugees. The Chinese communists had made troubling power moves. “It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year,” she said, “but the gospel of John contains a verse of great hope: ‘The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ ” The context is that Jesus is God the Son, the Creator in human flesh who offers the gift of eternal life. “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men” (John 1:1-5).  The Queen was offering the Light that overcomes the darkness of evil.

In 2020, the world was responding to the COVID pandemic. In that year’s Christmas message, the Queen mentioned one of Jesus’ parables. “This wonderful story of kindness is still relevant today. Good Samaritans have emerged across society showing care and respect for all…reminding us that each one of us is special and equal in the eyes of God.” By creating us all in His image, God made the Queen and the pauper of equal and high value. “In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). He made you as a unique person so He could love you. When you grasp that God made, values, and loves you, it moves you from selfishness toward loving your neighbor.

The Queen’s 1952 coronation service ended with the singing of the anthem, “God Save the Queen.” By all indications, He did. And now, Elizabeth has departed for the land of the living.

Pursuit of God

A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God reveals a pastor’s heart. “I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God,” he writes. I share his purpose here.

So much competes for our time and focus. In this smart phone-social media age, it’s drivel that competes for our clicks. The algorithms know what you pursue by keeping up with your clicks and offering you more of the same. When you take stock, you realize you aren’t pursuing your true longings.

Tozer was speaking to believers who know what matters – a relationship with God through Christ Jesus – but do not act as though it is a lifelong pursuit. “The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless,” he writes. “The man is ‘saved,’ but he is not hungry nor thirsty after God.” God has revealed Himself to be a Person, and you are made in His image. You can learn what He thinks, desires, enjoys, and loves. He communicates with your soul through the avenues of your mind and emotions. He uses Scripture, prayer, and other believers to intensify your desire for Him. Join the pursuit!

Moses asked, “Let me know Your ways that I may know you,” (Exo. 33:13) and that was after he met God on the mountain. David cried out, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth” (Psa. 73:25). Paul was blunt. “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). History tells stories of believers who lived lives of joy amidst sacrifice, consequence despite failings, and focus over distraction because they fanned the flames of their desire for God.

Pursuing that desire has a simple result. “The man who has God for his treasure,” Tozer writes, “has all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight…and he has it purely, legitimately, and forever.”

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psa. 37:3-4).

 

Forgiven Debt

Forgiveness is in the news. The president decided that the federal government should forgive $10,000 of student loan balances.

I’m not interested here in the politics of that move. I do note how the level of student loans has changed in my lifetime. I graduated from university with a student loan debt equivalent to 40% of my starting salary. That was serviceable. Some time back, I tuned in to a radio call-in program. A young lady wanted advice on paying her student loans. She had recently graduated in graphic arts and landed a job in her field. Her loan was 400% of her starting salary. She needed help. She could not repay that level of debt.

How would you feel if you incurred a debt you could not pay? That was the tact Jesus took in answering Peter’s question, “How often should I forgive my brother?” True to form, he told a story. A king had a servant who owed more than he could repay in a lifetime. That being the case, the king considered harsh terms against the servant and his family. When the servant pled his case, the king “felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” Jesus’ point was that you have no hope to repay your sin debt to God. So, when you receive His forgiveness by faith, you will know what it means to forgive others when they sin against you (Matt. 18:21-35). No one can offend you more than your sin offends a holy God.

God created each one of us with a sense of right and wrong, a moral law you might say. That is how you incur debt to Him. You are not perfect. “Christianity tells people to repent,” C. S. Lewis writes, “and promises them forgiveness. It has nothing to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness.” You must know just how deep in debt you really are before you can appreciate that God’s forgiveness is deeper still.

That young lady I mentioned understood her desperate situation. The radio host offered some predictable suggestions, like look for a better-paying job, move in with her parents, or sell her car. But what if, in the moment that she realized what she had done and expressed deep remorse, the radio host offered to pay her debt in full? He would be committing his own resources to settle a debt he did not owe, on behalf of someone who had a debt she could not pay. That sounds like what Jesus did.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on it” (Eph. 1:7-8).

The Meaning of Hope

When you acquired your first car, started a new job, or first fell in love, you had hope. It wasn’t just a car, but an expression of independence. It wasn’t just a job, but a better income or career. It wasn’t just about a person, but a loving, enduring relationship.

Yet hope can let you down. Let me take you back to 1971 during the Vietnam War, when John Lennon released the song “Imagine.” He imagined “all the people living for today.” He hoped away countries, religions, and possessions in order to usher in world peace and eliminate greed and hunger. It was one of the most popular songs of the twentieth century, but it produced nothing for which Lennon hoped. We still yearn for peace and human flourishing.

What’s the point of hope when it fails to produce the ideal? How do we make sense of it, when the idea of the thing is better than the thing itself, as happens so often? C. S. Lewis offers answers in Mere Christianity. He uses the examples of marriage, vacations, and learning. Even if the wife is pleasant, the hotels and scenery excellent, and the career in pharmacy interesting, “something has evaded us,” he writes.

He offers three possible responses. The “Fool’s Way” is to blame the thing. Get a new wife or try a more expensive trip and maybe you’ll catch this elusive sense of satisfaction that beckons you. The “Sensible Man” decides that such passions are the idealism of youth. He gives up on hope and just settles down to boredom.

The third response is the “Christian Way.” Humans are born with longings, some of which are fulfilled. But “if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,” Lewis writes, “the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Your unrequited hopes point to something deeper, your true country, which you find by faith in Christ. Such is the meaning of hope.

“I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus said, “and you know the way” (John 14).

The Hug

“He could have seen me as trying to throw a punch,” Isaiah Jarvis said about approaching the mound during a Little League playoff game. But that was not his intention. Not at all.

Kaiden Shelton threw the pitch that hit Isaiah in the head. Isaiah collapsed at the plate, mainly due to the shock. But the ball had glanced off his helmet, and he realized he was not hurt. After he made his way to first base, he noticed the pitcher Kaiden struggling to collect himself. “I see Kaiden getting emotional so I tossed my helmet to the side,” Isaiah said. He walked to the mound and gave Kaiden a hug saying, “Hey, you’re doing great!” He later explained, “I was trying to spread Jesus’ love and do what He would do in that situation.”

Wow. Think maybe we adults could learn something from “the hug felt ‘round the world”?  Isaiah’s coach Sean Couplen thinks so. He reflected on the incident going viral. “I believe what we are seeing is that our world is tired of divisiveness,” he said. “Friendship and caring trump competition.”

What you see happening between these young men is a display of empathy. Isn’t that part of Jesus’ radical ethic, to “treat people the same way you want them to treat you,” and “love your neighbor as yourself”? (Matt. 7:12, 22:39) To do these, you must at least try to imagine what people are going through, sense what they feel and need, and react to their concerns. Sometimes more is needed than just “shake it off,” or “he’ll get over it.”

People are more important than competition. Business can take a lesson here. Making a sale cannot be more important than treating people with fairness, honesty, and integrity.

“That’s really the main take of all this,” Isaiah said about his moment in the spotlight. “Just treat others how you want to be treated.”  You may not yet embrace the Christian faith but surely you can agree that when it teaches young men to live like this, everyone benefits. Isaiah shows empathy. Be like Isaiah.

But To Minister

Twin girls born in rural South Georgia during the depression years didn’t have many advantages. But someone took the words of Jesus seriously – and impacted generations.

The physician attending their home birth did not believe the tiny babies would survive. But they did, and at age 15 placed first in their high school graduating class. A librarian who was impressed with their potential and knew their circumstances suggested they apply to Berry College.

Martha Berry’s life spanned the years from the Civil War to WWII. Moved by the plight of children of poor landowners and tenant farmers, she began a Sunday school class on the family property near Rome, GA. That led to her opening first a boarding school for high school education, then Berry College. She offered the opportunity for students to work and earn their tuition, room, and board while receiving an education. She was not offering a handout but rather the dignity of serving others. They farmed, cleaned, and cooked for fellow students and staff.

Berry adopted the motto, “Not to be ministered unto but to minister.” This expression is taken from an exchange between Jesus and the sons of Zebedee. They wanted Him to make them privileged leaders. “You do not know what you’re asking,” He replied. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” That idea is at the core of the Christian gospel. “For even the Son of man (Jesus) came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45, KJV). Berry understood that following Jesus means sacrifice and service to others.

In 1950, the teenaged twins took the Nancy Hanks train to Atlanta where they boarded a bus to Rome. Despite intense homesickness, they endured and earned college degrees. One of those girls is my mother. At Berry College, she met my father. With college degrees in hand, the newlyweds began their careers and later their family. Berry’s impact to their children and successive generations was not just to elevate their economic class. It was the legacy of service to others, as taught and modeled by our Savior.

Martha Berry never married. She dedicated her treasure, land, and life to serve others. It was a simple gesture when she sat down with a few poor kids to teach them Bible stories. She couldn’t have known how that one act of obedience would change not only their lives, but hers also.

Here is your takeaway. If you want to live a meaningful life and leave a generational legacy as a powerful rejoinder to our era’s unapologetic selfishness, then believe and follow Jesus. That means living by His words, “not to be ministered unto but to minister.”

Believing Is Seeing

Dr. Michael Guillen was the ABC News Science Editor (1988-2002). He earned a rare 3D Ph.D. from Cornel in physics, mathematics and astronomy. What he learned as a scientist led him to believe in God and become a Christian. He writes about it in his book, Believing Is Seeing.

Guillen’s first belief was in science. While at Cornel, he began to seek answers for universal, ultimate questions. He and fellow student Lauren, also an atheist, looked for answers in the Bible. “It reminded me immediately,” he writes, “of what I’d been learning in quantum physics.” He explains that quantum physics defies logic but it’s not nonsense. “I recognized the possibility that the New Testament was translogical (a truth that’s not logical) – like quantum physics it was signaling profundity.”

He began to ask specific questions of science and worldview. Does absolute truth exist? Are there truths that cannot be proven? Is the universe designed for life? He found that the atheistic worldview is opposed to science. But despite the popular notion that science contradicts faith, he found that the Christian worldview and science agree on the answers.

After 20 years of exploring science and world religions, Guillen came to a personal decision, which remained private until a stunning moment on live TV. A panel was discussing Sir Ian Wilmut’s cloning of a sheep named Dolly, and the implications for humans. The show host Charlie Gibson called for final thoughts. “Well, Charlie, I’m concerned that Wilmut’s cloning technique might one day be used to clone a human being,” Guillen said. “It worries me not just as a scientist, but as a scientist who happens to believe in God.” He couldn’t believe he just “outed” himself on national television, but the response of his viewers was encouraging.

A near-tragic incident affirmed Guillen’s faith. He joined an expedition to visit the Titanic wreck resting miles below the surface – even though he suffered from hydrophobia (fear of water). As they circled the wreck, a current thrust their vessel into the Titanic’s propeller. They were stuck and his phobia began to emerge. Then “something happened that’s difficult to describe,” he writes. “It was as if an invisible presence had entered the sub. At the same time, an uncanny and unheralded sensation of peace washed over me.” After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot freed the sub and they returned safely.

Later Guillen and Lauren (now his wife), read these words: “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me” (Psa. 139). “I experienced that psalm,” Guillen remembers, “God’s presence and peace, right when I was resigned to kissing my life good-bye.”

 

 

Jordan Peterson

“Young men our age are, honestly, lost. Peterson’s book is about what makes you happy through responsibility, meaningfulness, and finding something you truly enjoy.” That sentiment explains the popularity of clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson and his 2018 book, 12 Rules for Life.

Peterson draws attention because he challenges current cultural ideologies as foolish. He’s a secular prophet, calling out for a restoration of truth, common sense, and mutual respect. He makes no claim to religious faith, but that does not stop him from issuing a friendly charge to those who do.  “The Christian Church is there to remind people,” he says in a video, “young men included, and perhaps even first and foremost, that they have a woman to find, a garden to walk in, a family to nurture, an ark to build, a land to conquer, a ladder to heaven to build, and the utter terrible catastrophe of life to face stalwartly in truth, devoted to love, and without fear.”

Peterson appeals to Christians to connect young men to meaning and purpose. I like his reference to the narratives of Hebrew Scripture. But he may misunderstand building “a ladder to heaven.” That is built by God Himself, not by you. Jesus, God the Son, is the ladder, built by His sacrifice on the cross for your sin. Your response to that sacrifice is repentance and faith.

Life as a Christian is appealing as an antidote to the “catastrophe of life.” To begin with, everybody needs love and a loving community. “Love one another,” Jesus said, “even as I have loved you.” It is also freedom from confusion and deception. You can “know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

It’s a new way to experience life. You sacrifice your old ways to find a new cause to live or die for. “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it,” Jesus said. In Christ, you are re-created as “a new self” and join in God’s creativity by offering other people reasons to embrace and believe truth.

Jesus’ call is, “Follow me.” That is a mystery and an adventure as we walk into the unknown. The Christian life takes courage to stand for what matters. Jesus warned that doing so could attract persecution. Finally, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. The King we worship “is not of this world,” but He’s still at work in it.

So, allow me to deploy Peterson’s turn of phrase in summary. In Christ you have a love to share, a freedom to celebrate, a reason to sacrifice, an opportunity to create, an adventure to experience, a call to courage, and a King to worship. That is how you (young men included) face life as a stalwart follower of Jesus.

(John 8:32, 10:27, 13:34, 15:20, 18:36, Matt. 16:25, Eph. 4:24)