We Canadians can tend to be a hopeful bunch. Perhaps for some of us it is learned through the yearly reaffirmation of that hopeful phrase “there is always next year” when the Toronto Maple Leafs are knocked out of contention. Perhaps it is our yearly experience of spring following a hard winter. Whatever it is, we are hopeful.
Where do we place our greatest hope? Some might say on winning the lottery, but when you look around, science must be near the top of the list. And for good reason. Because of science we getting better at treating diseases and closer to finding cures. Because of science we enjoy quite good health care and many other comforts. As Christians we celebrate science and encourage our youth to pursue it with excellence. It is a very hopeful and hope inspiring enterprise. But it is limited:
Science cannot lift the shroud of death. Even if a cure is found for all kinds of disease, we will die from something else, old age if nothing else. Old age is an age old problem. Even if we produce some kind of miracle cure for aging, people will still die from violence, accidents, or disasters. Science can help us live longer but what it cannot do is keep us from dying. Compare this to hope placed in God:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
(Isaiah 25:6-8a NRSV)
This prophecy of Isaiah points forward to the coming of Jesus, whose death and resurrection took place on that very mountain of Zion. His resurrection points to the fact that God has power over death. That is a power we cannot replicate through our best scientific endeavours. Only the Creator has the power to mess with the creation to that extent.
And only God has the ability to deal with the core problem that leads to death. We think the core problem is that our bodies are prone to failure, and so we seek physical cures. But think back to Adam and Eve and the banishment from the Garden of Eden and the introduction of death. We die because our spirits are prone to failure, we die because of sin. Science can help us deal with some of our physical problems, but only God can deal with our sin problem. He does, has done, and will do:
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NRSV)
Science cannot wipe away all tears from all faces. Science can help wipe away tears, and does keep certain tears from streaming. How thankful I am for what good science has meant for my child with Type 1 diabetes. Just a century ago grief filled tears were the only prognosis for a parent. But here also, science is limited. Though science can save a good number of people from the effects of disease, how far does it go to ensure people do not experience the effects of injustice, fighting, hatred, and war. Tears have always been with us, but with God things will be different:
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
(Isaiah 25:8b NRSV)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:3-5 NRSV)
God, who is Creator, is also the One who is re-Creator. “Every tear” includes every tear ever shed by His people.
Science cannot take away disgrace from people. We should mention here that it is not science itself that gives hope. It is good people using science for good ends that inspire hope. The advances made possible through science can also be used for evil. If we look at the history of humanity, it is a history of bright moments and achievement. But it is also a history of disgrace. While the name Nobel is often associated with awards for pursuing peace, it is also associated with the creation of deadly weapons, which have been used to maintain peace and wage wars alike. Such is the history of humanity, a mixture of beauty and disgrace. But while we continually fall into disgrace, it was in God’s heart to lift us to a place of grace:
. . . and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 8:1 NRSV)
In no moment of world history has humanity fallen into disgrace further than when we lifted up Jesus to crucify him. And in no moment of history has God’s grace been more evident.
It is good to have hope in scientific discovery and advance. But as good as it is, it is limited. I am reminded of a van we once owned which proudly displayed a “limited” badge. We bought it with some excitement, but years of ownership proved its limitations alright. It was limited in power, in endurance, and in reliability. It earned its “limited” status well! We approach science with great excitement over its ability to inspire hope. But it is limited. When we stand before the Creator we have sinned against, our only hope will be in the salvation revealed in Jesus Christ.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(Isaiah 25:9 NRSV)