INTRO BY BRAD: BioLogos has a long history with Dr. Joel C. Hunter, the senior pastor at Northland Church (Longwood, FL), as he worked alongside Francis Collins when Collins was in the process of launching BioLogos. Dr. Hunter has also served on the BioLogos advisory council. He has been an important voice in the science and faith discussion beyond his work with Biologos, especially through his sermons. Having preached several sermons as part of my seminary education, I know how hard it is to competently address difficult topics in a way that is both thorough and pastoral. A recent sermon by Dr. Hunter on the relationship between science and Christian faith shows a combination of wisdom, knowledge, and pastoral sensitivity—with his love for Christ as the cornerstone. What’s especially exciting is his passion to help his congregation move beyond false dichotomies for the sake of the Gospel. Pastors who are intimidated by the idea of preaching about science and faith would do well to emulate Dr. Hunter here. Below is the embedded video of the full sermon, followed by a written summary.
Refocusing our Attention: God is Everywhere
Dr. Hunter’s begins his sermon, entitled “Jesus, Creator and Redeemer,” by drawing listeners into the Lenten season, noting that, historically, the focus of Lent has been on repentance, to “get out of our lives that which stands in between us and God or that which would replace God in our lives.” However, to foster true transformation, Dr. Hunter thinks we shouldn’t focus on the negative, such as our sins and the realities we would like to remove from our lives, but should rather focus on what we should add more of to our lives: God. He notes, “Lent is not just for repentance, it’s for refocus.” In the spirit of refocusing, Dr. Hunter encourages believers to widen their perspective, “God wants you to see him everywhere.”
From this starting point, Dr. Hunter explores how the Bible talks about God’s presence in the world, especially in creation (John 1:1-3). Scripture dispels the notion that the spiritual and the natural are divided, portraying them as complementary realities (Col. 1:19-23). Dr. Hunter thinks contemporary believers tend to stumble on this point especially: “We bifurcate things of the world and things in heaven. Scripture doesn’t. Scripture unites them.” If believers wish to see God, they will “see him in the things of the earth.”
To illustrate his point, Dr. Hunter tells a story about a child who is fishing on a beautiful evening with his grandfather. After asking other family members the same question and receiving unsatisfactory answers, the child asks his grandfather whether it is true that he will never be able to see God in this life. Gazing into the brightly painted sunset, his grandfather replies, “I’ve come to a place in my life where I can see almost nothing else.” With this image in mind, Dr. Hunter calls the church to adopt such a mindset: “God wants you to come to a place in your life where you can see almost nothing else, where you can see him in everything—in every living thing and in every circumstance.”
He then discusses this revelation in terms of the believer’s everyday life. Though we tend to focus on our day-to-day problems—our aches, pains, and difficult schedules—we must remember that “there is a kind of faith that, in the midst of our problems, can still see God.” He paints a picture of a God who always “has our back,” even when we are in difficult situations. A helpful example from Scripture is when Elisha and his servant are surrounded by their enemies. While the servant is fearful, Elisha prays that God would open his eyes, so he might comprehend and experience God’s faithful presence (II Kings 6:17). Much in this way, Dr. Hunter calls us to open our eyes to see God’s presence in every situation we face.
To further illustrate his point, Dr. Hunter draws a parallel between our spiritual and physical sight, by highlighting the important role that the reticular activating system plays in what we see. Much like this system shapes our expectations with regard to our physical sight, we should train our spiritual sight to expect to see God everywhere by recognizing and accepting God as Creator. We need to reshape our “vision” of God, to shape our ability to see the truth: “God is everywhere.” He is the “Creator of creation who is still resident in creation.”
Dr. Hunter makes a few other relevant points, supported by Scripture:
- God is revealed and understood in Creation (Rom. 1:19-20).
- Heaven/spiritual and Earth/physical are together, not separate (Col. 1:16:17 ). On this, Dr. Hunter notes, “Our spiritual sight must not just look to spiritual things, they must look to physical things that have spiritual implications. We must not narrow our sight and worship of God. Because God is all around us.”
- We don’t have to enter the afterlife to experience God. Even though some Scriptures (e.g., 1 Cor. 13:12) hint at the notion that we do not see clearly, Dr. Hunter explains that such references are not indications that we will not see God until we die, but rather that dying will perfect the sight that we can cultivate on the earth, here and now.
The Dastardly Dichotomy
From here, Dr. Hunter addresses what he calls a “dastardly dichotomy”: the notion that science and faith are fundamentally at odds with one another. On this, he says,“Somehow in the last couple of decades, somebody has cooked up a false war between science and faith.” In fact, Dr. Hunter says, “Science is simply the study of Creation. It’s the study of what God has done and how he does it.” Because science is connected with, rather than at odds with, creation, if there is an apparent conflict between the two, we have misinterpreted the data. “If there seems to be some sort of disagreement between science and the Bible, then either we have not interpreted the Bible correctly or science needs to catch up. Because the God who made this world is the same God who inspired the writing of Scripture. He does not speak with a forked tongue.” God is consistent.
To support this notion, Dr. Hunter explains that Jesus never separated nature and Scripture. In fact, Jesus referenced mundane relationships (such as a sibling rivalry) and used items and activities in nature (such as a person harvesting a crop, lilies in a field, birds in the air, and fishermen casting nets) to help us understand deep theological and spiritual truths. This, Dr. Hunter thinks, shows how Jesus views the relationship between our spiritual life and the natural world: connected and equally relevant to our experience. In fact, God does not ask us to choose between science and Scripture because he has not chosen between them. God chooses both.
In order to encourage believers to continue learning about the science and faith topic, Dr. Hunter directs the audience to a website called God Evidence and highlights one page in particular, which offers a number of relevant quotes from scientists who were also people of faith:
Little science takes you away from God but more of it takes you to Him.—Louis Pasteur, the founder of microbiology and immunology.
The more I study science, the more I believe in God.—Albert Einstein (The Wall Street Journal, Dec 24, 1997, article by Jim Holt, “Science Resurrects God.”)
Nevertheless, just as I believe that the Book of Scripture illumines the pathway to God, so I believe that the Book of Nature, with its astonishing details–the blade of grass, the Conus cedonulli, or the resonance levels of the carbon atom–also suggest a God of purpose and a God of design. And I think my belief makes me no less a scientist. —Owen Gingerich, former Research Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University. Gingerich is now the senior astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
He also highlights a Francis Collins quote on the topic of the science–faith relationship:
I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral and in the laboratory. By investigating God’s majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship. —Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project
In addition to seeking to see God in everything, Dr. Hunter calls believers to recognize that we are surrounded by other people who wish to do the same—a relevant point for sharing Jesus with others, but also for recognizing the many scientists who are also believers. These individuals serve as living examples that the apparent conflict between science and faith is just that—merely apparent.
Dr. Hunter ends his sermon with a quote that nicely summarizes his main idea: “God isn’t otherworldly. God fits into your everyday conversation. You have to be able to see him in everyday terms, or you’ll miss noticing the very God who wants to live every day with you.” His message is simple: God is redeemer, but he is also Creator. Thus, we should seek to see him in and throughout all of creation—here and now—and, further, should see the work of science for what it is: the exploration of the Creator’s handiwork.