Scientists, Your Work Matters to God

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In preparation for this newsletter, I emailed a good friend who’s a scientist. I posed a fairly simple question, expecting a succinct response. Instead, he poured out his heart in a long email, which started with this: “How was I treated in the church as a scientist? Man, that’s a trigger question for me. The simple answer is, not very well. Sadly, our long history of often experiencing rejection or simply being ignored is disillusioning for me.”

How did we get here as the church? Let me draw together a few threads from my experience.

After college, my first full-time job (like most of us) was not in the church, but in the marketplace. Specifically, my wife and I owned a small business. We did this work in response to God’s leading and calling. Over time, however, I started pondering a career change to become a pastor. As I shared these thoughts with friends at church, I’d often hear the question, “So, you feel a call to go into the Ministry?”

I have to admit I was puzzled (and honestly, even a little offended) by that question. Hadn’t Laura and I already been called to ministry in our retail work? In fact, this experience brings me to a thought: I wonder if scientists feel similarly when people ask, “What’s your ministry?” So often “ministry” means serving on a church committee or leading a small group… as if scientists’ uncovering subtle structures of biochemistry or probing the vast reaches of the universe don’t matter to the God, the One who created all these things in love and with “good pleasure” (Revelation 4:11).

Ultimately, God called me to pastoral ministry, where I served for eighteen years. In light of my experience—and striking misconceptions I heard then and since—I used capitalization to make a point: There is no one Ministry. Whatever kind of work we do, all Christians are called by God to be “ministers of Christ’s reconciliation” (1 Corinthians 5:17, my italics).

Paul even directs all those who lead the church as it gathers to empower others’ ministries: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Undoubtedly, these verses apply to the ministry of science. A few days ago, I heard NIH director Francis Collins talk at the ASA’s Winter Symposium on “Scientific and Spiritual Lessons in the Time of COVID.” It was profoundly moving, and it wasn’t hard to see: This work certainly is ministry.

The Ministry of Science

My friend’s email did add this word of encouragement: “I know things are slowly changing and positive things are happening by the work of folks like you [at Science for the Church] and Biologos, and I’m glad for that.”

We are trying to make a difference. Drew will consider scientists in churches next week. Here I’ll lay out a quick-and-dirty three-point framework that fits the ministry of science into a broader theology of work.

First of all, God gives scientists work to do. Work is not a curse; it’s a gift. God gave Adam a “field to till” (Genesis 2:15), and for good reason, we ask scientists to this day, “What is your field?” A few verses later in the creation texts, Adam named, or classified, the animals (Genesis 2:19-20), which is essentially what scientists do in creating taxonomies.

Second, there is futility in our work. In their disobedience, Adam’s work became infested with “thorns,” and he had to work by “the sweat of his brow” (Genesis 3:17-19). In a fallen world, according to Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, there is vanity in our work, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” As scientists know all too well, experiments don’t always produce results, and a good deal of research seems futile.

Finally, scientific work is redeemed by Christ. As Paul puts it, our “work in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). The Word in Life Study Bible—which specifically connects the New Testament texts with our work—adds another element: according to Revelation 22, there will be work in the new heavens and new earth. All this means that work has profound significance, and called to Christ, we—including the scientists in our congregations—are sent out into the world in ministry. As Paul put it earlier in that same letter, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Scientists, we need you. In a world increasingly shaped by science and technology, your work indeed matters to God.

Thank you for what you do.

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