“For if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?” – Wisdom 13:9
They admired His craft, even saw His maker’s mark, but failed to perceive the Craftsman. They admired the beauty of nature’s artistry, but failed to give credit to the Artist. They were amazed at the power and working of the forces of nature, but failed to perceive the God who made the heavens and the earth in the beginning by nothing more than His Word.
The apostle Paul likely had Wisdom 13 in mind when he said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
In the ancient world, everything was deity – sun, moon, stars, darkness, deep, chaos, earth, air, wind, fire. Everything was god. And your existence and survival depended upon your orientation toward these capricious gods who could turn on you in an instant. The entire natural world was sacrament, a real presence of the gods: golden bulls, statues made of wood, trees, mountains. Can you blame them? Well, maybe a little, says Wisdom. They were on the right seeking path but got sidetracked by the beauty, the splendor, the majesty, the power. When they looked at lofty mountain splendor and all the works God’s hands had made, their souls didn’t sing “How great Thou art,” but “How great That is.”
Who could really blame them? We do the same thing, we just don’t make gods of them. Or maybe we do: “Mother Nature, Mother Earth….”
Are they without excuse? Not really. “For if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?” You would think that sentence had been written today. If we have the power to know so much, to investigate the world through telescope and microscope, to plumb the depths of the sea, the atom, the universe, how then do we fail to find the Lord of these things?
If the problem of the ancient world was that everything was deity and the whole natural world was sacrament, the problem in our modern world is that there is no deity. Our world has been de-deified by the modern mythos of scientific method. There are no gods, only natural mechanisms and theories.
This is not some preacher’s diatribe against science and its method. I’m a scientist by training. Chemistry was my first vocation. Scientific method has been very fruitful and productive, and we are its benefactors. Science has rescued us from the alchemy of garlic juice demagnetizing iron and other false causes and medieval superstitions. Science, ‘scientia,” is knowledge, knowing the natural world through observation in a system of natural causes and effects. It is a first article gift of the God that we, his foremost creature made in His image, should have the reason and senses to study the works of His hands, and marvel at the beauty, the splendor, the ingenuity of the Creator. It is part and parcel of our having dominion over the works of Creation and participating in the creativity of God.
In former times, scientists were believers, deists at the least, many of them Christian, some even Lutheran. We Lutherans could claim the astronomer Johannes Kepler and the theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg for our tribe. Today, not so much. Oh, there are still believers in the laboratory, more than most people realize from what they hear, but the prevailing attitude is best summarized by biologist Richard Dawkins who states that anyone who still believes in a god in this enlightened age of science is suffering from a “God Delusion.”
“From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” says Wisdom. The error of our day is that we stop short of the goal. We stop at the first article and fail to move on to the second, to Christ, the creative Logos incarnate, the Wisdom and Power of God, the Word through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together. We focus on penultimate causes but fall short of the Ultimate Cause. We speak of a genetic code but fail to recognize the Coder. We speak of a Big Bang that started the whole thing, but fail to perceive the Divine Suspect who pulled the cosmic trigger. This is foolishness taken to a higher plane.
To borrow an image from CS Lewis, where the ancient idolatries ran “thick” with idols made of wood and stone demanding blood and sacrifice, our modern idols run “clear” with concepts, abstractions, and ideas that demand the sacrifice of our faith and the allegiance of our intellect.
Why is that? Why has science become our age’s new mythos, our worldview, our religious metanarrative? How did this happen? It’s partly our fault. We’re to blame. The church, the clergy, the laity, Christians. We stopped proclaiming and started analyzing and atomizing, putting the sacred Scriptures under the scientific microscope. Seeking to ease the obvious tensions between the seen and the unseen, we turned the Scriptures into a competing textbook setting Scripture against science or trying to harmonize them. And in the process we wound up doing what St. Augustine warned us not to do: We made fools out of Moses and the prophets, the apostles, and the evangelists. The world stopped listening because we tried to outsmart the world instead of becoming foolish with the wisdom of God. We were not content to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We wanted to know everything about everything. And so we exchanged the mysteria of God for the scientia of Man, and like Rudolph Bultmann’s “demythologized Scripture,” we left the world with nothing to believe in. We let science run the mythos that defines who we are.
We failed to remember and put into practice what we learned in catechism: “I cannot by own own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” God isn’t known by discovery; He is known by revelation. He isn’t known by experimentation but by contemplation.
Theology is not the “queen of sciences,” at least according to the modern use of the word “science.” God is not the subject of our curiosities and speculations. Theology is the study of God-words – texts spoken, written, and handed down. And those God-words reveal the God who works as a holy, hidden Mystery in, with, and under all things, who calls light out of darkness, who sets the days in motion and orders our days, who separates sea and dry land, who calls forth plants from the earth and fills the sky, sea, and land with birds, fish, and animals, and who ordains Man as His priestly image over creation.
Faith is God’s third article gift, corresponding to the gift of reason in the first article. Faith is the other way of knowing, knowing not about the seen but the unseen, knowing not by seeing but by faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Faith and reason are not opposed to each other, any more than the first and third articles of the creed contradict one another. Faith goes beyond reason, where reason and observation can’t go. Science can measure the head of a pin to a high degree of accuracy. But only faith can rejoice in the angels and archangels that dance with joy over the salvation of a sinner. We have the power to investigate the mechanisms and workings of creation; but we do not have the power to find the Creator. Not by my own reason or strength.
God as Creator can only be understood rightly through Christ, the creative Word incarnate, the Wisdom and Power of God revealed with a human face. He is not seen not in lofty mountain grandeur or fiery sunsets (though He is there). He is not observed through telescopes and microscopes (though He is there too). He is not found in genetic codes and super novae and black holes, though those are indeed the works of His hands.
The Creator of the universe revealed to you, present for you in the gentle humility of the swaddled Baby of Bethlehem, the baptized spotless Lamb, the Suffering Servant on the cross, the risen Lord of the open, empty tomb. He reveals Himself in the Scriptures Word, baptismal water, Eucharistic bread and wine. In these things, the Mystery of creation is made known to you, His creature, by the Creator Himself.
We are given to proclaim the Mystery of Christ to the world. Proclaim, herald, preach. We are not called to argue with theories of science, but to say to our scientific world, “but wait, there’s more.” Don’t stop with what you can measure, observe, and extrapolate. Go beyond the beauty, the power, the majesty of creation. Go beyond mechanism to Mystery. Observe with the eyes of faith and listen to the Word who made you and all creatures. We have been given the power to know so much, to investigate the world and discern its mechanisms. We know a lot about how things work. But knowing “how” does not mean you know “who” and “why,” and creation won’t tell you. For that, we must close our eyes, silence our mouths, and hear the Word that made us and holds us in His Being.
Then we will know in the fullest sense of knowing, beyond the scientia of Reason to the mysteria of Faith.
Then we will be wise in the Wisdom of God.
©2019 William M. Cwirla