There is a picture floating around the Internet the past couple years featuring a picture of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson with a quote from him that says: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
It only takes a couple minutes on Google to find many versions of the picture on the right.
This Internet meme gets passed around as a way to make fun of religion and those who have anything to do with religion. After all, we live in a scientific age. We live at a time when science has explained so much of reality that many people see no need for a supernatural deity to exist in order to explain how we all got here.
And beyond that, there are many people who feel the need to mock anyone who believes in anything that cannot be proven through science, as if science is the only discipline that can give us truth about our human existence.
As a college biology and chemistry major, I love science and find it to be utterly fascinating, and could listen for hours to people like deGrasse Tyson expound on the wonders of the universe or even Richard Dawkins talk about evolution. But as a human being living in a body and brain that have some major malfunctions, I have also forcefully collided with the limits of science to either heal me, or to help me make sense of my diminished life.
When faced with a chronic, disabling condition that had me unable to get out of bed for days at a time, and for years on end, unable to work in a field that gave my life purpose, science could give me no meaningful answers. Much of life no longer made sense. The hard, cold scientific facts of my existence were very hard and cold. I needed the hope that there is more life beyond the limits of this life.
Ultimately, only faith in a higher power and a higher purpose could give my life meaning.
In John 3: 1-17 in the Christian New Testament Jesus is trying to explain that there is more to life than our physical bodies and the material world.
There was a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus, one of the religious uppity ups, who searched for Jesus at night in order to ask him some questions. He knows of miracles Jesus has performed and is impressed by them. He says to Jesus: “Sir, we know that God has sent you to teach us. You could not work these miracles unless God were with you.” Jesus ignores what he says and replies “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom!” Nicodemus responded to this by asking: “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?” Jesus said to him: “I tell you for certain that before you can get into God’s kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit. Humans give life to their children. Yet only God’s Spirit can change you into a child of God. ” He continues on for a while, and Nicodemus is still confused and asks, “How can this be?” Jesus responds with a question of his own. “How can you be a teacher of Israel and not know these things?”
From here on in the discussion they seem to never get to be on the same page, or even the same book. It sounds a lot like some of the science versus religion conversations that get nowhere. The writers of the Gospels seem to portray the Pharisees as generally being overly legalistic and rigid in their beliefs. And they are usually portrayed as being kind of dense as well, at least when it comes to their interactions with Jesus. They are completely of the establishment and generally see Jesus as a troublemaker.
Contrast the portrayal of the Pharisees with the kinds of people in the Gospels who flocked after Jesus, such as sinners of all kinds, tax collectors, outcasts, the blind, and the sick. Those who are comfortable in life are less likely to understand the need for a spiritual life. It was true in Jesus’ time and it is still true today. Anne Lamott, in her book Help, Thanks, Wow, writes about how people can be pushed to become willing to reach out beyond what we know for sure in this world, to something bigger, to spiritual reality.
It begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves, or when we are just so sick and tired of being psychically sick and tired that we surrender, or at least we finally stop running away and at along last walk or lurch or crawl toward something. Or maybe, miraculously, we just release our grip slightly… …in any case, we are making contact with something unseen, way bigger than we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams, even if we are the most brilliant, open-minded scientists and physicists of our generation. It is something we might dare to call divine intelligence or love energy (if there were no chance that anyone would ever find out about this).
We humans are capable of having an amazingly narrow focus. We can think that we know everything about everything, and even believe everything we think. When we are on top; when things in life are going well, it can seem like there is no need for anything beyond the physical reality. When there is wealth and worldly success, along with physical health, it is easy to scorn spirituality or religion as believing in magic and fairy tales.
Fortunately life has a way of breaking through our narrow perspectives; our delusions of having it all together. Things fall apart. People get sick, people die. Bodies and brains stop cooperating with their owners. The things of the world that we used to trust prove false. We learn that we really can’t take it with us. We find our backs up against the wall over and over.
At those times, we can learn what it means to be born from above, and begin to comprehend the teachings of Jesus. We reach out in desperation and are stunned to find that something is really there. Beyond all reason we find that God is real and that we truly are her beloved children. And the more we connect with this spiritual reality, the more we grow and change and can see evidence of God working in our lives. Let the cynics and atheists ridicule us all they like! We know what is real, whether they believe in it or not.