My minister recently preached a sermon entitled Who Are We? It seems best to change the pronoun to I and consider “Who am I?”
Reflection is inevitable for a contemplative like me, but is fundamental to everyone, at least to some degree. Wisdom teaches that humans are unique because we think, deeply and rationally – at least most of the time. My dog, Jack, thinks. He solves problems and he’s learned a few silly tricks. But I’m sure Jack doesn’t think deeply of his origin and purpose. Science continues to explore the integrated neural “circuitry” of the brain. Perhaps some other species are, like humans, more than just sentient.
My readers must know by now that I like movies. Some complain that cinema doesn’t do justice to plot and character development like a book. However, the visual imagery in cinema, coupled with evocative music, combines to tell a story that is unique. An example is the stunning depiction of Jean Valjean’s spiritual conversion in the movie adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.” His song, “Who am I” is poignant and spiritual.
Every week my notion of who I am is challenged as I participate in a Bible study group. It is also CME for me. No, I’m not referring to continuing medical education, but “continuing man education” because I’m now the lone male in a group of nine women. Not only is the timbre of the discussion higher than with male voices, the processing of information and stream of thought are also different. Men prefer to discuss one topic at a time. Women seem to prefer many subjects all at once with multiple simultaneous conversations. And a man’s concept of conversational segue is not a woman’s – at least among the Fellowship sisterhood.
I guess you could say I am now semi-retired because I no longer practice medicine fifty plus hours a week. I do stay busy with my concierge medical practice, house calls, caring for my grandkids, teaching Sunday School, participation in two weekly study groups, gardening, wine making and writing a thousand word essay for the Focus each week. And on top of it all, Becky convinced me that we needed to “downsize,” so I now find myself in the midst of a building project! I love my home which we built thirty-six years ago. I vowed I would never move, at least as long as I could walk. You should never say never. And you should never “retire” without a plan for active engagement.
Jack may not consider his origin and purpose, but these two fundamental questions resonate in humans. Science and religion have different perspectives on origin. I believe the real difference in these positions relates to time. The Creation occurred approximately six thousand years ago in the Biblical account. The scientific version holds that the universe came into being about 13.5 billion years ago. Can anyone truly comprehend such vast swaths of time? If I could travel back in a time machine several thousand years, do you think I could explain to a person of Jesus’ time an ever expanding universe, a planetary accretion disc or stars that shine from hydrogen fusion? I believe concepts are best understood within the context of knowledge of that time. Perhaps several thousand years from now humans will have different concepts/appreciation of origin than we have now.
Existentialism is the philosophy that the individual exists in an impersonal and uncaring universe. It holds that men have freewill and responsibility for their actions, but operate without the certainty of right or wrong. Science can take us back to the Genesis Point of the Big Bang, but cannot state that there is any purpose to the Creation. Religion maintains that there is a Creator who purposely caused the universe to occur, culminating in this present moment. Religion also defines what is right.
As a corollary to purpose, the Bible outlines the plan of the Creator from beginning to end. The vision of science is far less certain. Is the Biblical plan a general one or does it specifically involve each of us? Many of the American Founders were Deists who held that God created the universe, but then retreated, entrusting the Earth to the purview of man. The Deist perspective seems as empty as existentialism and science alone.
There remains confusion in the media over the terms evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. Fundamentalists believe in the inerrant word of the Bible, such as the Creation occurring in six days. Evangelicals believe that the Gospel message should be spread, but do not necessarily believe the Bible is a book of facts as much as it is a book of wisdom and truth. I am an evangelical Christian, but not a fundamentalist because I’m also a science guy who believes that the universe is unimaginably old and wondrously majestic.
Two of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century are quantum mechanics and relativity. Quantum mechanics defines how the world of subatomic particles functions. We use this physics to run our smartphones, TVs and the Internet. Einstein described special and then general relativity which explain how the Cosmos operates. Humans inhabit the realm between subatomic quarks and cosmic quasars as massive as galaxies. I find an analogy between the general and special concepts of relativity and God’s general plan of Creation. I just hope that the “special” aspects of His plan include me and thee.
Awareness of the destruction in our country and the world makes it more difficult for me to see God’s overall plan and my place in the plan. Should I play it safe and keep quiet or should I speak out against perceived evil? Scripture describes the consequences of denying Jesus and truth. Denying God, embracing existentialism and trusting in man’s knowledge alone must seem like falling from the top of a high building, and awaiting certain death from the onrushing ground.
I believe our country stands at the precipice. In November we will decide whether we step back from the edge or fall into enslavement on the government’s plantation. Will we choose the arms of government or will we choose the “Everlasting Arms” and freedom?