Reflect back with me to your formative years. Consider the stepping stones that led you to where you are today. Trace the path of discerning your vocation. Hold on to those moments when you see that your work is what God intended it to be. I will return to this reflection, but first some thoughts on science as vocation.
I ended a recent newsletter on the remarkable convergence between Scripture and science in regard to love by stating: “The challenge is… will they know we are Christians by our love?” To love God and to love neighbor is our charge as Easter people.
Much of what happens in the worlds I move in is more head than heart: how do we reconcile our Christian belief with what science is telling us? How does the complex history of religion and science inform the present? How can research in a particular area of study inform theology and the work of the church?
All of that is important—and I trust it is what God called me to do—but I suspect that intellectual exploration is a secondary motivation for most Christians engaged in science, technology, and medicine. The primary motivation depends on the head, but is of the heart; most Christians I know in the sciences pursue their work because they take seriously God’s call on their lives to love. Doing science is one way they worship their Creator and care for their neighbors.
This is why Maureen Wise is helping us learn to care for creation through simple changes in how we use church buildings. It’s why Ben McFarland is so excited to read the chemistry chapter in the Book of Nature. And it’s why Whitney Robinson tries to reveal and heal disparities in gynecological health.
Called to Science
Both secular and sacred understandings of vocation value using our gifts and passions to contribute to the good. To paraphrase optometry graduate student Halle Neyens, it is finding what we were made to do.
Science becomes a Christian vocation when a Christian is gifted for scientific work and has a passion to use their gifts to do good. For some, like Neyens, it is about healing and flourishing through medicine and technology. For others, it is about discovery and understanding, reading pages in the Book of Nature that were previously only known to its author.
Neyens says it this way: “In coming to optometry and deciding to pursue this as a career, I have felt over and over again like, ‘Man, I was just made for this.’ My experiences, my personality, my education, all of these things have just tied together that I was made to do this. And that is a form of worship. It’s a way for me to honor God as my creator and say, ‘I respect you enough that I am going to do things that are good for me; that are intellectually stimulating; that are good for my health’… So, yeah, that’s absolutely a way to worship God with our lives for those of us who have been called to science.”
...In addition to this newsletter and our website, we are collecting stories of Christians in the sciences through our Standard Model videos. Check them out and follow us on YouTube to catch new ones as they are released.
Manifesting God’s Love
“All vocations are intended by God to manifest His love in the world.” Thomas Merton expressed these thoughts in No Man is an Island. The purpose to our vocations, to how we use our God-given abilities and passions, is love.
So when we talk about science as a Christian vocation, we are talking about how Christians in the sciences labor in order to help others experience God’s love.
This is why I want to tell you about Rebekah. I know I have no say in who ultimately is sainted, but she might be my top candidate. She and her amazing family were stalwarts in our church back in Philadelphia. We know her as a Sunday school teacher, a leader, and someone who follows through when she says she’ll keep you in her prayers. Everyone who knows Rebekah loves her because she makes her love of God and God’s people manifest to us.
Moreover, Rebekah is a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. Much of her work over the past few decades has been with newborns who are struggling to survive. It is work that requires her to bring both scientific training and God’s abiding love to every baby entrusted in her care, including some who will not survive their stay in the NICU. It is hard work, and she labors at it with Christ-like gentleness and grace. Many infants rely on her care for weeks and even months. So she shows up long shift after long shift to make sure each tiny image-bearer experiences God’s love.
The Saints Among Us
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Rebekah is that she isn’t so remarkable. Saints like her exist in most of our churches. Some choose nursing. For others, it is teaching, public service, or professional ministry. Some wind up in HR or IT and others staff the front desk or a back office.
Each of these saints, including many Christians in the sciences, do what they were made to do as a means of loving God and neighbor. They do incredible ministry, and it does us and our children good to see it.
Return now to my opening reflection about your discernment of vocation. Did you begin to see what you were made to do as a kid, or was it later in life? Our children’s ministries should be places where children begin the process of finding what they are made to do and how they might do it in ways that will help others experience God’s love. For those gifted in science, how do we help them follow saints like Rebekah, Halle, Whitney, Ben, and Maureen? For those gifted in other areas, how do we inspire them through other saints in our churches? How do we form young Christians so that later in life, when they reflect back on their formative years, they say, “Man, I was made for this; this is how I manifest God’s love to others”?
This, church, is our work. It’s science for the church, and it is so much more. It is ministry, mission, discipleship, vocation, and worship. Ultimately, it is how we make sure the world knows we are Christians by our love.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science