Suffering: The Tree of Life, Job, and Jesus

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© Ruth Bancewicz

‘What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

a son of man that you care for him?

You made them a little lower than the angels;

you crowned them with glory and honour

and put everything under their feet.’

…But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while,

now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death,

so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2: 6b-8a, 9

Nick Higgs is a marine biologist who studies the explosion of life that happens when a whale dies and its carcass sinks to the sea floor. As a Christian, his view of human suffering and death is formed both by his knowledge of how the created order works, and by his understanding of what Jesus did when he came to earth. Nick shared his perspective at a recent conference organised by Christians in Science, where he had been invited to give the Oliver Barclay lecture – an annual award for an young scientist – and I will share an abbreviated version of his thoughts here. Continue reading

A Reflection for Lent

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John 19:19-22 – The King of the Jews. Image source: http://jesusisgod316.blogspot.co.uk/

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him:

this is jesus, the king of the jews.

Matthew 27:32-37

Some of the most beautiful things in the world have an ugly side. I was recently Continue reading

What Animals Teach Christians about Getting Along

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Portuguese Man o’ War By Volkan Yuksel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The deadly marine wonder, the Portuguese man o’ war, resembles a jellyfish with its beautiful blue and purple ship-shaped bladder and impressive 30-foot stinging tentacles. What may at first appear to be a single organism is actually a colony of four completely different types of polyp, working together so closely that they are not able to survive Continue reading

The Bible and Human Origins

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Great Isaiah Scroll. Photographs by Ardon Bar Hama, author of original document is unknown. (Website of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Science may have changed the way we read the opening chapters of Genesis, but we still need to respect the historical integrity of the text. This was Mark Harris’s reflection as he opened his lecture on The Bible and Human Origins  at the Faraday summer course last month. When it comes to questions of human identity and where we came from, the focus for most Christians is on the first three chapters of Genesis. Harris spent his talk looking at different interpretations of this text – especially the story of the fall – and the questions those interpretations raise for both science and faith. Continue reading

H is for Hawk

© Rose Meyer, freeimages.com
© Rose Meyer, freeimages.com

Do we struggle, or snuggle for existence? This is a question that Martin Nowak, Harvard’s Professor of Mathematical Biology addresses in his book SuperCooperators, and it is also played out in H is for Hawk, the Cambridge writer Helen Macdonald’s beautiful account of her relationship with a goshawk.

Macdonald had developed an interest in falconry as a child Continue reading

Hope for the Ocean

Indian Fisherman. © Asif Akbar, freeimages.com

This is the final part of my interview with marine conservationist Bob Sluka. Here he reflects on the science-faith dialogue in the non-western world, and how he finds his place as an academic and a Christian in the world of marine conservation. (Part 1, Part 2)

To me, there appeared to be a separation of science and faith in the Maldives and India. People’s religious devotion in those countries had more to do with personal faith orientation. They were very devout people but they didn’t seem to talk much about how their faith interacted with their science. Of course I wasn’t thinking that way either at the time (see part 1).

In South Asia and India there was so much poverty that the questions that came up in a faith context were about suffering and other problems. The science-religion question doesn’t necessarily come into conversation. We had to focus on people as individuals with spiritual and physical needs, and help them as whole persons in a holistic way. Science is certainly not keeping people from God in those countries. Nearly everybody in the non-Western world is religious, so there isn’t the perception we have here that scientific data indicate there is no God. With increasing numbers of people who are educated in Western universities, or as certain people promote atheism then it may become more of an issue. Continue reading

Jurgen Moltmann: The aesthetic dimension of science

Tanaka Juuyoh, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

German theologian Jurgen Moltmann spoke very movingly in his CIS-Faraday Lecture ‘From Physics to Theology: A Personal Story’ on Tuesday. Moltmann described in detail his experiences as a soldier in the Second World War, his discovery of Christianity and early immersion in theology.

In his teens Moltmann was a keen student of chemistry, physics and maths, doing experiments in cellars with his friends and competing with them to learn more and more advanced theories. His education came to an abrupt halt when he was drafted into the German army at 16 and spent five years in uniform: about a year fighting and four years in British prisoner of war camps.

As a prisoner Moltmann, like many of his companions, suffered from boredom, horrific nightmares and deep depression. After his first winter in a Belgian camp the beauty of spring cherry blossom filled him with overwhelming joy. Eventually he was moved to a POW camp in Kilmarnock where he experienced warm hospitality and acceptance by his Scottish hosts, and began to feel human again. When a British army chaplain gave him a Bible Moltmann read it, first out of boredom and then with real interest. He realised that Jesus had also been through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. Moltmann’s discovery of a God who loved him helped him to find hope again.

After just over a year of captivity Moltmann heard of a camp where the younger prisoners whose schooling had been interrupted by the war could study for university entrance exams. ‘Norton Camp’ had a well-stocked library and here the Moltmann read his first theology books, enjoying an almost monastic experience of intensive study and spiritual growth. After attending a post-war Student Christian Movement conference where he experienced reconciliation with young people who had fought on the other side, he decided to study theology.

In the second half of his lecture Moltmann spoke about the human dimensions of science: power, beauty, truth and wisdom. Unless ethical power develops as far as scientific power, science will remain dangerous.

Moltmann is the first person I have heard to actually flesh out what beauty in science looks like (though I expect others have written on this – answers on a postcard…) According to Moltmann, beauty in science can be experienced as symmetry, simplicity or unity. And beauty is seen most clearly when systems are moving from chaos to order, or vice versa. While beauty is not worth searching for in science for its own sake, Moltmann is convinced that beauty is a sign that you are nearer the truth, and that this sort of beauty is not subjective. Beauty may be useless from a utilitarian point of view, but it is meaningful in itself. I wonder how much an experience of the horrors of war informs this theologian’s love of beauty?