Sometimes God teaches us through circumstance. For instance, he might govern things so that as we read through the Bible, we come to a certain passage at the opportune time, so that it corresponds with other circumstances around us that serve to illustrate a theological lesson.
This morning in my quiet time I was reading chapters 44 and 45 in the book of Isaiah. They are all about God’s sovereignty over all things, and how worthy he is to have a plan over it all, and righteous and just to actually implement that plan.
“Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and
righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the LORD have created it.
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it,
‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Woe to him who says to a father,
‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?'” (Isaiah 45:8-9, ESV)
My illustrations and insights are inadequate, but I’m going to attempt a little commentary on life here. I think people believe they can control certain things, but in reality their idea of control is only an illusion. We had an illusion of security here in America, which was so horribly shattered at Liberty and Church in New York on September 11. There was an illusion of control in New Orleans, when man’s attempts to wall up the sea were proved so inadequate last summer.
My first contemporary illustration seems rather light in comparison with these. In baseball, there are crazy statisticians who go nuts with numbers, and they act as if these numbers are going to accurately predict what’s going to happen in a given game, but there are so many variables that make the numbers irrelevant. And then there are coaches who use these numbers to govern their choices during the trading season. They’ll make moves that they think will help the team, but these moves can actually hurt more than they help. Case in point: At different points in the last few weeks, the Padres have dropped veterans Vinnie Castilla and Eric Young from the lineup, in order to make room for relief pitcher Scott Williamson and third baseman (he’s trying) Todd Walker. However, although they’re still in first place in the N.L. West, both of these trades resulted in small slumps for the Padres, and I think it’s due to Vinnie and E.Y. being missing from the roster. Young Adrian Gonzalez looked up to Vinnie as a mentor, and although his hitting streak lasted another several games, he hasn’t been playing as well as he had before Vinnie left. The so-called experts think they can improve matters by doing certain things, but human beings are not machines. There is a relationship factor, and a team factor, where each person plays a distinct role, but the cohesive unit is organic because its parts are organic, and is therefore unpredictable on a certain level.
An issue that has been in the news lately is the issue of stem cell research. Lots of people are rather upset with George W. Bush because he vetoed this bill that would grant federal funding to labs doing research on embryonic stem cells. However, I just read a very interesting article in Time Magazine (August 7 issue) which contrasted the hopeful expectations of the ESC (embryonic stem cell) researchers (who are finding that ESC’s have a high potential to produce tumors) with the real-life miracles worked by the scientists who have been using umbilical and adult stem cells. You see, the issue has been so highly politicized, as if ESC’s are the answer to everybody’s problems; as if Bush has just signed the death warrant of billions of people.
This blog entry is about the illusion of control. And the fact is, scientists don’t yet have a way to understand or explain what will cause a stem cell to turn into the specialized type of tissue they want it to become, whereas adult stem cells are stable and can be expected to work a certain way. In the article, they quote Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, of Duke University Medical Center, whose research has resulted in a cure for fatal blood diseases in children.
“In some cases, you may not want to go all the way back to embryonic stem cells,” says Kurtzberg. “You may want something more specific or less likely to stray. You wouldn’t want to put a cell in the brain and find out later that it turned into bone.” (Nancy Gibbs, “Stem Cells: the Hope and the Hype”, Time Magazine, August 7, 2006, p. 46)
Democrats have made a huge deal out of this issue because they think it will help them gain seats in Congress. But this is pure politics, irresponsibly preying on the hope of the sick and downtrodden (which the Bible condemns), with no scientific proof. The fact is, in order to get any viable research done on ESC’s, the scientists will need many more embryos to work with than those that they could have gotten from the in-vitro fertilization clinics the bill would have given them access to. And this raises many other ethical questions regarding cloning or the fertilization of new embryos for the express purpose of research.
There are three points I want to make about the ESC issue. 1. Don’t believe everything a Democrat or movie star tells you without checking the facts for yourself. 2. If you have any questions about this field, I recommend the Time article. 3. Control is an illusion. There will always remain some mysteries in science. There are certain things that are up to God and him alone, and one of these might possibly be the governing of which embryonic stem cell is going to turn into tissue for which vital organ. On the other hand, it’s possible that God has granted unto man the gift of reason to figure this out; it might be scientifically possible to find the answer, but ethically, the pursuit of this research will be immoral until they can figure out how to harvest ESC’s without harming the embryo. Until then, the destruction of embryos and the reckless injection of blank stem cells without understanding all the factors that govern its development into vital tissue is just irresponsible and dangerous.
(If we’re going to examine the ethics, we have to look into the field which is producing all these wasted embryos as well, and that is the field of in vitro fertilization. There are millions of orphans around the world who need adults who will take care of them. Why can’t infertile couples adopt these orphans in the first place instead of contributing to the mass of frozen embryos that has caused this latest controversy?)
The idea of human control of our surroundings only works up to a certain point, and when we get beyond that point, things become dangerous. In New Orleans, there were people who knew the levy system was weak, but they didn’t do anything about it. In California, people have knowingly built football stadiums on top of fault lines. Granted, natural disasters are properly referred to as Acts of God. But he has given us brains, and to play with fate on the fault lines or in the hurricane zone is very irresponsible. Humans need to admit where they have no control. And they need to get rid of the arrogance that supposes that the “big one” won’t come in our time, or at least won’t come in the middle of a football game when 50,000 people are gathered in one place (God used Samson to kill a bunch of Philistines in a stadium once).
Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” (Isaiah 39:8, ESV)
We need to work in cohesion, agreement, and submission with God’s works. If the historical and geological proof is that there is a certain region in God’s creation where a certain type of disaster always happens, we need to be submissive to that fact in that region and govern our own actions accordingly. If the scientific proof is that there are certain things that we don’t understand, we need to not pretend that we understand them until we do, and to not politicize the situation as if we already know.
I used to hate Calvinists because I felt like all they did was sit around on their duffs, with a “Que será, será” attitude, and I felt that this attitude was what was responsible for the abominable decline of Christianity in formerly-devout, Calvinistic Scotland, where the gothic cathedrals have been hollowed out and converted into night clubs, and less than 10 percent of the population are believers.
It was an unfair judgment. Calvinism wasn’t responsible for this. It was a general lack of belief in God’s power and supremacy, and it happened all over Europe during the Age of Reason and the Age of Progress, when Mankind attempted to take over the throne of the universe and Humanism became the new religion. And the same thing has been happening in America ever since the infamous Scopes monkey trial.
Even so, God is sovereign and in control over all of this. Thousands of years ago he used periods of oppression and persecution in Israel’s history in order that he might preserve a remnant and bring out a renewal of devotion on the other side of it when things were restored. It was during the Roman occupation of Palestine that God intervened and implanted himself as a covert operative, and from there the Gospel began to spread around the globe. Even today, he has a plan that we can only guess at. Man has a responsibility to glorify him in all things. It was what we were created to do. When more people start to live life in this way, maybe we will meet with more successful results.