Is there a Scientist in the House?
"Is there a doctor in the house?" That's the cry in a medical emergency. There's a different emergency in the church today. The separation between science and Christianity as if you can't be a scientist and a Christian. So the cry today is, "Is there a scientist in the house?"
It's a fitting day to ask this question because today we remember St. Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the Book of Acts. For 1,000 years the church has been remembering Luke the Evangelist. Today we remember Luke the scientist. We know he was a scientist because Scripture tells us he was a doctor. Why was this scientist so prominent in the House of the Lord then when so few are today? Could it be because science is god now? An appeal to science ends debate. The only thing most people believe to be facts are things science supposedly says. Listen, read or watch the news. Nameless, faceless science is appealed to. For example, "Science Says: Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful to Babies" "Science Says We Really Are What We Drink";" "Science Says Women Should Lead Governments".
Science is invoked and cited the same way God use to be. "Science says" has the same force today that "Thus says the Lord" use to have. You can't say, "The Bible says" without someone saying, "That's just your interpretation," but you can say, "Science says" and few will contradict you. You can't say, " St. Paul says, 'Women are not to have authority over men,'" without someone saying that's just Paul's opinion. But you can say, "Dr. Smith says, 'Embryos in the womb are not human beings,'" and not many will question you.
Science is the god of this age. What Science proves is true. What Science asserts is fact. But the only things science proves or asserts are things that don't matter. I quote a scientist, "Someone has well said that science gives perfect answers to trivial questions...When it gets down to the real serious questions of life - origin, purpose, destiny, meaning, morality - science is silent" (Dr. Arlie J. Hoover, "Starving the Future, Firm Foundation, 1-27-81, 6). C.S. Lewis put it another way, "Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, Why is there a universe?' Why does it go on as it does?' Has it any meaning?' would remain just as they were" (Mere Christianity, 32)?
Science cannot explain the important things in life, and I don't even mean the religious ones. Watch a science fiction show featuring a robot or android? It has a perfect mind and body; it's a perfect scientist, yet even a secular show portrays it as unfortunate because it cannot understand love, laughter, or being alive!
But scientists, as opposed to nameless, faceless science, aren't nearly as sure about things as the news media make them out to be. In commenting on a BBC story on global warming a scientist wrote, "All science is unfinished." A sociologist says, "Science deals in 'probabilities' and always acknowledges the possibility that a future observation will demonstrate that a theory is incorrect. ...Science leaves open the possibility that tomorrow a mountain will float into space..." (Stephen Goldberg, Why Men Rule, 122).
Science changes based on research. First caffeine was the problem then decaffeinated was. Oat bran was once a cure and eggs a curse. Pluto was a planet now it's not. Reputable scientists stand on opposite sides of every scientific debate from global warming to mega dosing on vitamins. The only thing scientists agree on is that what goes on here must be explained by what we can perceive with our 5 senses. If it can't be touched, tasted, heard, seen or smelled, it's not the subject of science.
That's a fine scientific principle but a lousy religious one. Angels aren't usually perceptible to our senses. The Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper isn't either. Science knows no virgin who can conceive, no water that can wash away sins, or words that can forgive them. What is sin to science anyway? And science knows no place called heaven or thing called a soul. It's a fine scientific principle to say that what isn't accessible to my 5 senses isn't the subject of science, but it's another thing to say it doesn't exist for then what of St. Paul's words, "What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal?"
But Luke was a scientist in the Lord's house. Scripture calls him, "the beloved physician." The 1st century had medical schools, training, and standards to be a doctor. Luke studied the same types of things medical students do today. The people he studied with were much like the scientific community today, not exactly friendly toward Christianity. Luke tells us when the learned men of Athens heard Paul preach the resurrection they mocked him.
Dr. Luke was a good doctor. You can see his scientific precision in his Gospel. He says that Christ "gave many convincing proofs that He was alive," using the medical term for the symptom that is the definitive sign that you have particular disease. He uses the term for an advanced case of leprosy saying the man was full of leprosy. He uses the medical distinction of his day between high and low fevers describing Peter's mother-in-law as having a great fever. Luke alone describes the medical condition of "bloody sweat" that Christ suffered in Gethsemane.
Luke was a real doctor. He practiced medicine when he went with Paul on his missionary journeys. He tended Paul's wounds when he was beat. He rushed to Paul's side when a snake bit him on the island of Malta. He was there when Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. Luke stitched, mended, bandaged, and treated just like good doctors do today. And he observed, analyzed, and tested just like good scientists do today.
Dr. Luke was an actual scientist, and he was a scientist in the Lord's house. Those of you of a scientific bent consider what I am about to say from a scientific viewpoint. This doctor confessed the scientifically unexplainable mysteries of the Christian faith. When Dr. Luke celebrated the Lord's Supper, he wondered like you do. "Jesus says, "This is My body, this is My blood," but I don't see it, taste it, or smell it." When Dr. Luke saw babies baptized, he thought what you think, "Hmm the baby looks cute, innocent, angelic almost. Doesn't look like it needs baptism to be delivered from sin, death and the devil."
When Dr. Luke celebrated Christmas and Easter each year he too was confronted with the mysteries that puzzle you. He saw the babe in the manger and knew that this One who dribbled, cooed, and messed His diapers was His God and Lord. When Dr. Luke heard the words he himself wrote about Jesus suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying, he knew what you know that God cannot die, bleed, sigh, or suffer. Yet, in Jesus he too saw God doing just that. Dr. Luke had your perplexity at the mysteries of the Christian faith, and no he didn't understand them, nor was he able to explain them any better than you can. He just confessed what God revealed and sat in awe and amazement. Rather than saying, "If my science cannot explain it, then it can't be true!" Dr. Luke said, "If my science can't explain it, how much farther above me it must be, and what a joy that God condescended to show it to me!"
Rather than reject the supernatural as impossible or unreal because science can't measure, quantify, categorize, or study it, Dr. Luke gloried in it. How do I know that Luke gloried in the things that are above and beyond the natural realm? Easy, read his books. Luke records more angels than anyone else. Only Luke tells you an angel appeared to Zacharias in the temple to foretell the birth of John the Baptist. Only Luke tells you an angel announced the incarnation to Mary. Only Luke tells you the heavenly angels came down to earth announcing Jesus' birth. Only Luke tells you there was an angel in Gethsemane and two of them at the Ascension.
Dr. Luke loves the supernatural. Being a doctor he knew how babies came into the world. Yet he alone records the pregnancy of the aged Elizabeth and the Virgin conceiving. If it were not for Luke we would know about 6 less miracles of Jesus and none of those in Acts. Who else but a scientist not afraid of the supernatural would have recorded as historical facts so many events that science cannot account for?
Dr. Luke remained a scientist in the Lord's house because he was a theologian of the cross. A theologian of the cross glories in opposites rather that being offended by them. Opposites like: this Man is God. Jesus reigns from a cross. This bread is Body; this wine is Blood. God's wisdom is foolishness. God's strength is weakness. Science trips over things like these. It can't explain them. Dr. Luke couldn't explain them either. He knew the limitations of science; He used his scientific knowledge to describe what he saw, a fine use of science, but that's as far as he went. He didn't try to use science to explain the supernatural or explain it away.
The fact that Dr. Luke was a theologian of the cross explains the particular emphasis of his Gospel. The church gave each Gospel writer a symbol. Matthew focuses on the human side of Jesus, so his symbol is a winged man. Mark shows the royal character of Christ, so his symbol is a winged lion. John talks about Christ in lofty tones, so his symbol is an eagle. Luke's symbol strangely enough is a winged oxen lying down. This is because Dr. Luke focuses on the sacrificial death of Jesus.
What do scientists normally emphasize? Watch "Bill Nye the Science Guy". He emphasizes what I like about science. I like to hear how many volts of electricity lightening has, the gravitational pull of the sun, the power of a tidal wave. Science glories in nature's power and might. Luke gloried in a God who suffered, sacrificed and died for sinners. Luke gloried not in a God he could understand but in a God who did the incomprehensible thing of becoming a Man to suffer and die in the place of sinners. Dr. Luke gloried not in a God who explained all His ways but in a God who forgave all his sins.
Is there a scientist in the house? The Lord's House needs scientist to describe this physical world. But scientists need His House too. As Wisdom 13:9, a book in the Catholic Bible puts it, "If they were able to know so much that they could weigh the world, how come they did not more easily find the Lord of it?" Scientists show us the world God made; Christianity shows scientists the God who made it. They show us the world; we show them the world without end. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Luke, Evangelist (20091018)