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May Hope Abound

N.T. Wright, Francis Collins, John Walton, Deb Haarsma, Julia Wattacheril, Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, and Curtis Chang talk about hope.


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N.T. Wright, Francis Collins, John Walton, Deb Haarsma, Julia Wattacheril, Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, and Curtis Chang talk about hope.

Description

We reach out to some of our guests over the past 99 episodes to find out where they find hope in this season of Christmas. We hear from N.T. Wright, Francis Collins, John Walton, Deb Haarsma, Julia Wattacheril, Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, and Curtis Chang.

Transcript

Stump: 

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Jim Stump. 

Hoogerwerf:

And I’m Colin Hoogerwerf.

Stump: 

You’re back!

Hoogerwerf: 

I’ve actually been here the whole time.

Stump: 

I mean back in front of the microphone. Must be something special going on.

Hoogerwerf: 

Yes, this is our 100th episode of the podcast. We thought it called for something a little different.

Stump: 

Wow. 100 episodes. That’s a pretty big deal. So what do you have planned?

Hoogerwerf: 

Well an unrestrained celebration seems out of place, given that there continues to be an inordinate amount of suffering and division in our world. We’re still dealing with a pandemic that has taken over 5 million lives worldwide, and it has caused deep divisions in our families and friendships.

Stump: 

But it’s also Christmas, that season of Hope and Joy. 

Hoogerwerf: 

Right, so we’ve decided to go back to several of our podcast guests over these past 99 episodes and check in, see what they are up to now, but more importantly, to get a bit of their wisdom in this time about hope: what it is, where to find it, how to keep it.

We’ve got seven voices here today talking about hope, and one surprise musical production from two of those guests. 

Stump: 

Ooh, exciting and mysterious.

Hoogerwerf: 

But first, I went back the other day to look at the transcripts from some of our earliest episodes just to confirm—and you have been asking our guests a question about hope since some of our earliest interviews. It’s often the last thing you ask and you ask them what they are hopeful for and what they are concerned about. Any reflections after all these episodes and all those answers?

Stump: 

Hmm… Yes, I think this has been a preoccupation of mine for a while. And I’ve actually just written an article for the BioLogos website about hope, and have drawn from several of the conversations we’ve had with our podcast guests over these 99 episodes. I think back to Stanford neuroscientist, Bill Newsome, who said that he thinks religious belief is about ⅓ cognitive, ⅓ intuitive, and ⅓ sheer unadulterated hopefulness. I really like that phrase, “sheer unadulterated hope.” And I think back to a recent episode with climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who brought the sober reminder from Romans 5 that hope comes from suffering. The apostle Paul said “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” And of course I think back to the episode with Francis Collins and Jane Goodall. Jane is not as conventionally Christian as many would like her to be, but her words were so infused with spirituality in the Christian tradition that sees hope beyond our present circumstances.

Hoogerwerf: 

It strikes me that the word “hope” can be used to mean a lot of different things. Sometimes it’s just a synonym for “optimism” or even wishes or desires. I hope my basketball team wins or I hope my four-month-old sleeps through the night tonight. I suspect we’re going for something a little deeper than that?

Stump: 

You’re right these words are difficult to pin down sometimes. We philosophers like to do some conceptual analysis and think we’ve done something important in pinning down the precise meaning. But meaning ultimately comes down to usage, which changes from place to place and over time. So maybe the best we can do is to point or gesture in the direction that we’re hoping to explore. And yes, I think hope is something different than optimism. The pandemic circumstances, and we might as well throw in the climate crisis, don’t leave me very optimistic. But I’ve been wondering if there is a way to remain hopeful in spite of the circumstances.

Part One

Hoogerwerf: 

This is a good time to bring in our first guest. Charlotte VanOyen Witvliet was on the podcast back in episode 32 when we talked about forgiveness and some really fascinating psychological studies that showed that forgiveness was something that was tied to genetics but also learnable. Charlotte also joined us on our episode about humility, episode 58. Forgiveness, humility, empathy…it’s not surprising that she has also done some work on hope. 

vanOyen Witvliet:

Hope anticipates a good particular future that may be to attain a positive outcome or to be relieved of a present negative circumstance. It can characterize us dispositionally as a virtue. Hope is a theological virtue which is a gift from God. Hope is also a word that we use to describe a passion or an emotional state of being. And we have ultimate hopes and more immediate hopes.

Stump: 

I like leaning into hope in that more ultimate sense, and I think that fits well with understanding it as a virtue, a gift from God, and perhaps it can even be cultivated to some degree. So how does this differ from optimism?

vanOyen Witvliet:

So in the field of psychology people get pretty technical with their definitions, and it’s broadly embraced that optimism is a more general tilt in a positive direction. It doesn’t have the same kind of particularity that hope does because hope is about anticipating a good and particular kind of outcome in the future, whereas optimism has a general interpretation that things will go well or have gone well.

Hoogerwerf: 

Charlotte has actually done some legitimate scientific studies on hope, like she has on other virtues.

vanOyen Witvliet:

So, we conducted an experiment to try to uncover whether there would be an approach that people could take to bolster their present hope and also their happiness while pursuing an outcome that’s important and meaningful to them, but that isn’t assured. So, it’s something that they are hoping for, and they cannot guarantee the outcome, but they really care about it. And we randomly assigned people to 2 different groups: one was a control group, and the other was a grateful remembering condition. We asked people to think about a similar experience of hoping in the past—a situation in which they had an outcome they really cared about, that was meaningful to them, and that they couldn’t completely be assured would come to pass but did. We asked people to gratefully remember that time in the past and to identify what it is that they learned in the process of pursuing that hoped for outcome. What kind of motivation they engaged to bring about the fulfillment of that hope, what steps they took to pursue the outcome, how their relationships with other people played a role, how they grew spiritually in the process, and how they developed their own strengths and also grew in virtue in the process. They then went on to name who they were grateful to and what they were grateful for in reflecting on that past hope that was fulfilled. It turns out that people who were randomly assigned to write about this past hope fulfilled in grateful ways reliably increase their level of hope and happiness—exceeding the outcome that people in the control condition experienced.

Stump: 

That’s really interesting. That gives us some hope for developing hope. If we want to be more hopeful, it sounds like there are concrete things we can do that can help to bring that about. But is this still hope in a little more temporal and less ultimate sense, like it’s still closer to optimism. What else might we say about the more theological interpretation of hope and its connection to faith?

vanOyen Witvliet:

If I were to think about some of the lessons that I’ve learned from the science of hope and how that can help cultivate hope in a lived way that is faith connected I would say this: it’s important to clarify what it is that we hope for—to have a real sense of the aim, the telos. Being clear about what it is that we hope for can help us in how we pray, what we pray for, how we plan, how we chart out the progress that we are pursuing—individually but also with others—while also being open to change, being able to do that sort of pathways thinking that sees alternate ways of reaching our goal. At the same time, we can harness the energy of our agency. We can engage the particular capacities that we have in pursuing that goal so we can exert motivated action without being controlling. We need to recognize of course that our virtuous efforts ultimately rely on God’s action. But we can roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Hoogerwerf:

Charlotte points us toward a really active kind of hope. And I love that word work. Hope is not something we passively wait for. 

Stump: 

Right, passively waiting for hope during a pandemic doesn’t seem like it’s going to be very fruitful. But neither do we simply try to muster up positive feelings as though everything is OK. It seems like grieving or lamenting might be called for as part of the work we need to do in moving toward hope.

Hoogerwerf:

I’ve been pretty interested recently in the intersection of lament and hope. Charlotte sent me a diagram from a book by Kelly Kapic that I thought was really helpful, which puts hope on one axis and lament on the other. If you have a lot of hope but no lament, Kapic calls that naive optimism. If you have a lot of lament but no hope, he calls that unrelenting despair. No hope, no lament would be detached stoicism. And the situation which is most healthy then is both hope and lament, which he calls faithful suffering. He says “hope cannot be seen and felt unless brokenness and pain are recognized first.” 

Stump: 

Let’s turn to our second guest, who has been in the throes of providing difficult medical care for people over the last couple of years. We talked to Julia Wattacheril back in episode 63, primarily about her work in a New York City hospital during the first wave of COVID. We caught up with her and asked how it’s been going since then.

Wattacheril:

You know, it’s almost like everything got thrown up in the air. And then we juggled around for 6 months to now more than 19 months. Things are generally starting to settle out in a new, more organic way.

Hoogerwerf: 

The hospitals these days are an especially hard place to be optimistic so we wanted to hear what Julia has to say about the difference between hope and optimism.

Wattacheril:

They’re so interrelated. I’m a big fan of Krista Tippett’s work of hope as a muscle that you build, and Brene Brown’s quote is hope is a function of struggle. Because I think some of us really intuit the difference between hope and optimism. I don’t know if you saw the Arthur Brooks piece that came out, that optimism has always rested with me as sort of a vestige of privilege, that everything’s just gonna work out okay. For a lot of us, we didn’t grow up thinking that at all, it was all sort of self initiated, and a lot of looking at the water to fix the broken pipe. But hope as a function of struggle is something that I think is carrying a lot of weight right now. And people are open to the idea of the actual mechanical muscle building work that it’s going to take in order to actualize meaningful individual interpersonal relational growth, but also societal change. As a believer, I don’t put my hope in people. I look for evidence in people sometimes because that’s what I’m praying about the most. I know given the biblical narrative that we will generally continue to mess things up and even in our attempts to try to fix things create even bigger messes. But the assurance that I have is just over and over again—I was in Genesis at this time last year, and now I’m in Matthew—just what God responded to, was one person naming the problem, very similar to what I described when I was overwhelmed with these dying patients, not knowing how long and how many resources we are going to have. It’s looking at these gaping wounds in our society, these hurt people, and manifesting their hurt in various ways, and crying out to God. So that crying aspect, as a helpless child, reminds me of what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God, and how we all have to be like children. 

Stump: 

This points back to the Romans 5 verse again about suffering leading to hope. That’s sound theology and good theory, but what about actual practice? How has hope emerged from the difficult times?

Wattacheril:

Just the fact that there is an emerging group of people that say, enough is enough. The old way of living was not sustainable for all of us. It could have been sustainable if we kept lying to ourselves, for some of us, but this is not the type of society that I want to live in, or the type of health care model that I want to be part of going forward. But when I see change, when I see openness to change, that generates a lot of hope for me, because I take that not as a dependent, weighty object to take to other humans to figure out but I take that to the Lord.

Hoogerwerf: 

We talked to Curtis Chang on the podcast last March about his effort to get Christians vaccinated. As someone who’s been working in the middle of an issue that has become contentious, we wanted to know how Curtis is staying hopeful. His first series of videos was aimed at American Christians and attempting to counteract misinformation about COVID vaccines. And we know he hasn’t worked himself out of a job here in the United States yet, but the need for the work he is doing goes beyond our borders. 

Chang:

Globally we’re still very much in the early stages of vaccine distribution. And what we have found is that the same vaccine misinformation and abuse of Christianity that has happened here in the United States, is getting exported to the rest of the world, and in parts of Africa or Asia, which are actually heavily Christian in their culture, we’re seeing some of the very same rumors and mark of the beast stuff and all that being replicated abroad. It would be tragic if we repeated the same mistake we made in the US where we did not get out ahead of that, and try to address those issues in partnership with religious leaders. So we are working in partnership with COVID Collaborative and COVAX, which is the United Nations initiative on vaccine distribution, to try to get ahead of this issue early across the world.

Stump: 

When we asked Curtis about hope, he too pointed to more ultimate concerns and convictions instead of immediate circumstances.

Chang: 

What I’ve learned from doing this work with the vaccine is that I have a very limited ability to grasp short term outcomes or even medium term outcomes or trends. This pandemic and all the polarization that surrounded it, I would not have predicted this would have been happening a year ago, two years ago. I’ve come to sort of hold very loosely any short term optimism or pessimism. I believe Christ is risen and so there is no power of death, no power of disease, no power, even of polarization and misinformation that is more powerful than the resurrection. And so we know we’re headed there. That’s what keeps me going is that all of the work we do in these kinds of projects like Christians and the Vaccine are mere pointers, they are mirror signs, pointing to the ultimate restoration that lies before us.

Stump:

John Walton has been a long time friend of BioLogos and has been on the podcast twice. When we asked him about hope, he first responded by telling us that he actually wasn’t sure he had much hopeful to say right now. He works with a lot of students and sees the way they are responding to current culture in relation to their faith.

Walton: 

I think there’s discontent in the younger generation, whether it’s millennials or younger, discontent, that somehow they got sold a bill of goods, in the way theology was done, in the way Bible was used, in the way that social issues were approached. They just felt like they got sold a bill of goods and they responded by checking out. And if we can come to them, offering a different way to use the Bible, a different way to understand the Bible that will make sense to them. And I don’t mean by compromising and giving things up. I mean, by just sharpening the way we do what we do, I think that could be a very, very positive thing.

Hoogerwerf: 

As we continued talking, he shifted more and more toward the story of Scripture, showing the relevance of that ancient text for today’s world in a way that might recover a sense of hope in our current circumstances.

Walton: 

I’m working on a book that I’m calling—I don’t know what it’ll end up being titled but—best practices for faithful interpretation. And there I’m trying to restructure how we think about, especially the Old Testament, and what it actually provides for us. We’re still often stuck in the rut that it’s, it’s a book of morality, it’s a book of theology, those kinds of ideas, a book of role models. I’m trying to deconstruct those ways of thinking. Toward the end, I have a section called living in light of Scripture, and what does that look like once we kind of weed out some of the things that we shouldn’t be doing? And when it comes down to it, as I see it, when we say what does God want from us? Well, he wants holiness, but properly reflected, that doesn’t mean morality and piety. That means to recognize the status God has given us, and to live it out. God wants justice from us, but not just justice. He wants justice done in the fear of the Lord. When we think about our identity, we should be finding our identity as the people of God. Certainly we should be abandoning the quest for self fulfillment and recognizing that that’s not the way that the Bible lays out for us. So I’m trying to do some of those things. At the same time, I’m writing a Daniel commentary. And boy, there’s hardly a better book than Daniel, for trying to understand this concept that the world’s a mess, but God’s got it. God’s in control in his time in his way, but that doesn’t remove the mess. Daniel talks about how we ought to view God when the world’s a mess, when the politics of our times are causing us great concerns, if not great discomfort. I think that if we can help people to understand how to get to the biblical message, to understand it as text in context, first of all, then to appropriate it into our own times, and then to apply it to our own lives. To get that process step by step, I think there’s great hope in that.

Hoogerwerf: 

This leads pretty well into what our next guest has to say. And really she’s more than a guest, she’s the president of our organization. Deb Haarsma has been thinking a lot about hope too and has written some about this recently.

Haarsma:

It has been sad to watch the polarization just get harder and harder. This feels like a gulf of divide between two sides. It seems like people are determined to make things as polarized as possible and to place science all on one side and faith all on the other. We’re sitting here in the middle affirming rigorous science and Christ centered faith. And we believe these can go together. But sometimes it seems like everybody else thinks that they can’t.

Stump: 

Deb reminds us that hope isn’t just a feeling, something that happens to us, but also has an active component.

Haarsma:

One aspect of Christ centered hope is remembering how it’s all going to end. But the other aspect is that we’re imitating Christ. So our hope is an active one. If you think of what Jesus Christ did, he didn’t just say from a distance, hey, you know, it’s all going to be right in the end, just deal with it. Instead, Christ came and walked among us and suffered alongside us and suffered for us. That is where we base our salvation. Then in his resurrection, we have hope. But it’s an active hope because we’re called to imitate Christ to come alongside the suffering, to be part of what God’s doing. He asked us to follow him, where we’re not strong enough to bring about all the change that is needed to conquer all the suffering in our world. But through Christ, we can follow the one who is and be part of what God is doing. It’s for that reason that we take action, even when we don’t see in the circumstances, how it’s gonna turn out.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the church, the churches all over the planet, if the whole church rose up to address these global issues. We’re this worldwide community of compassion that is called to sacrifice ourselves for others, and we are, the church is serving in so many ways. But how much more could we do? That vision gives me hope as well. It’s possible, it’s not an impossible thing. 

Hoogerwerf: 

The idea of the church rising up, becoming an answer to all the suffering we see in the world, is a really powerful one. But where does science fit into this vision?

Haarsma:

At BioLogos, we like to talk about faith and science working hand in hand. And I think hope is a really interesting example of how that works. Because during the pandemic, we have seen exactly how much science can do and how much it cannot do. We have seen scientists coming together, all their technology was able to produce these vaccines that were incredibly effective, incredible gift to humanity. Science could do that. Science can’t make any individual go and get their shot. It still comes down to everybody’s choices, it comes down to public policy, and it becomes embroiled in our polarized divides. Science doesn’t have a lot to say about that. Some people say, well, if everybody just accepted the science, we would be okay. I don’t think so. I think everybody is still fallen, and we would have all sorts of human dynamic issues to deal with. This is where faith has so much to offer because faith can unite communities, faith can give us generosity in our hearts to care for others, even when we are scared and stressed by uncertainty, faith gives us hope. It gives us this Christ centered, robust hope of the ultimate end we’re headed towards and a way to imitate Christ and take action and follow in his footsteps to be part of what God is doing to be his hands and feet in the world. So faith and science working hand in hand. Faith alone also can’t put the vaccine into the vial that we need, we need science for that. So we need both and when both are working well together that is when things are most effective for addressing the needs of suffering in the world. 

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hey Language of God listeners. If you enjoy the conversations you hear on the podcast, we just wanted to let you know about our website, biologos.org, which has articles, videos, personal stories, and curated resources for pastors, students, and educators. And we’ve recently launched a new animated video series called Insights. These short videos tell stories and explore many of the questions at the heart of the faith and science conversation. You can find them at biologos dot org slash insights or there’s a link in the shownotes. All right, back to the show!

Part Two

Stump: 

Our final two guests are people well equipped to be talking about hope. The British biblical scholar N.T. Wright has been a long time friend of BioLogos, appearing at some of our early meetings and conferences, and always having something insightful and profound to say. He’s also written a popular book called Surprised By Hope.

Hoogerwerf: 

And Francis Collins, as the leader of the National Institutes of Health, has been in the very center of the response to COVID this last almost two years and so, for him, hope has become something that stands in bright relief to the suffering that is happening — both in terms of the death and physical sickness from the virus, but also the divisions and misinformation that have come about. But it’s not just COVID that has taught him about hope. As a medical doctor and researcher he has been a witness to pain and suffering for many decades, and in that he has witnessed a lot of healing and a lot of medical breakthroughs, brought about by science, which have provided hope to so many. 

Stump: 

Tom Wright and Francis Collins have been long time friends. They appeared together in an episode we did about the pandemic back in July of 2020. And if you heard that or saw the video that made its way around the internet, you’ll know their friendship has, at times, resulted in musical productions. 

Hoogerwerf: 

And we have one of those musical productions today. But before we get to the song, we got a chance to talk to both Francis and Tom together. You asked them about the origins of the song, and so we’ll hear just a bit of that before we play the song. And then you asked them about hope. And that led to a conversation between the two of them, which I was happy to just sit back and listen to. We’ll play that conversation, in full, after the song. There’s also a video of the song available. There’s a link to that in our shownotes. 

Stump: 

Here’s Tom. 

Wright: 

Well, I had been having a little, what we call an ear worm, a little bit of a tune in my head, based on Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm, which is a song I’ve always enjoyed. And it was to do with what happens after Adam and Eve with Cain. I had this little line in my head literally, for years, when Cain had married a local girl, as they always knew he would, which for some reason, that sort of stuck in my head. I thought, sooner or later this is going to turn into something. Then I think I thought of the Abraham bit and I realized that what I was talking about was the longing right from the beginning for a new world and how God’s new world really begins when God calls Abraham, who has no family and no city, which had been the problem up to that point. I think I was actually in Houston, doing some other lectures before the BioLogos meeting in whichever year it was. 

Stump:

2017 I think.

Wright:

2017, okay. I had some spare time between lectures, and I borrowed a friend’s guitar. I was just strumming along and thinking and then some of the other verses came together. Then as has happened before, all I did was shoot what I had at Francis and Francis came back with a bunch of other stuff. I also brought in my friend Brian Walsh from Toronto, who suggested a few lines and a few comments here and there. So in a sense, it was a triple effect. Does that tally with your memory, Francis?

Collins: 

It does. And by the magic of the fact that I never delete any Gmail messages I found yours from Saturday, March 25 2017. Where you say you were chatting with Brian Walsh, this was when you were trying to figure out how do we get the New Testament in here because up until then, we got to Abraham and Sarah. And then came forth on that Saturday, when these two amazing verses, the new worlds born in blood and pain and the birth names are severe. And then we get to the cross and the grave bursts open in the last verse of this, although I added one more after that, to try to tie it all together for BioLogos audience. My contribution was quite small there, but it fell together that Saturday in the most amazing way.

Stump:

Well let’s hear the song. 

Wright and Collins:

[New World Has Been Born, words by N.T. Wright, with assistance from Francis Collins, to the tune of Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan)]

When Cain had married a local girl
As they always knew he would;
And Seth was running the family farm
And Abel was gone for good;
Then Eve shook her head, and to Adam she said
As they planted out the corn:
We’ve a family to feed, but what we need
Is a new world to be born.

When Cain had built him a city
As they always knew he might;
And they planned a tower right up to the sky
So the top would be out of sight,
Then Adam sighed, and to Eve replied,
As they faced the neighbors’ scorn:
A city means greed; but what we need
Is a new world to be born.

When Noah decided to build him a boat
And collect a floating zoo
And it rained so hard that they called out the guard
But ‘twas nothing they could do;
Then Adam thought back to the snake in the grass
On that innocent sunny morn;
And he muttered to Eve, We’ve got to believe
There’s a new world to be born.

Now Abraham had no family,
And he’d left his city behind.
And against all the odds he trusted in God
Not knowing what he would find;
Then Sarah heard the voice of Eve
A-whispering in her ear:
It may sound funny; but never fear, honey –
The new world starts right here.

That new world’s born in blood and pain,
And the birth pangs are severe.
When Jesus calmed the angry storm,
We knew that it was near.
When on that cross, they hung him up,
The Temple veil was torn;
His sacrifice gave us new life, so
The new world could be born.

So then the grave burst open,
And creation sang in praise.
All creatures heard the good news,
And their victory song they raised.
On that Sunday morning early
They blew the Jubilee horn;
With the death of death and the Spirit’s breath
The new world has been born. 

So come on all you people
Who’re gathered here today
Some will talk of exegesis
Some will talk of DNA
God’s two books cannot disagree
So do not be forlorn!
Let’s fill our days with joyful praise,
The new world has been born.

Stump:

Very good. New World has been born is a very hopeful sounding song. We’ve come through a couple years here where hope has been in short supply or maybe it’s not actually in short supply, but we’ve had to look a little harder for it sometimes. How do the two of you maintain hopefulness during these days?

Wright:

That’s a great question. Knowing this was coming up, I’ve been asking myself, where have been the signs of hope. And I mean, hope is a funny thing, because, you know, I always go back to a line from old Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, who I knew quite well in his last years. He was a wonderful man of God. And somebody asked Lesslie once in my hearing, whether he was an optimist or a pessimist, and he said, “I am neither an optimist or a pessimist, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” In other words, it’s not about how I feel, it’s about that is sitting there in the middle of history, that is the sign that God the Creator has launched his new creation, the new world has been born. I think, really, Leslie gave me the courage when I was first working on resurrection ideas, to say, no, this is how history works that God’s new world has been born, we live in the light of that. Even though all kinds of extraordinary and horrible and nasty things happen. But what it doesn’t mean is that we can then trace a kind of step by step progression of everything getting better and better. People in the 19th century sometimes thought that, some of the people in the first half of the 20th century thought that that’s how history now worked, that everything just gets better and better. The history of the 20th century is, of course, the story of that dream collapsing in ruins. So any suggestion that oh, well, that’s all right now everything is going to be much easier. We ought to know by now, that’s not how it works. But at the same time, the idea of God’s new world has already been born by the Spirit, we are called to be unable to be part of that new world now. Fitfully and in bits and pieces and we mess it up and we still sin and, and of course, ultimately, we still die unless the Lord comes again first, but signs of new creation can be born and are being born. Of course, the trouble is they don’t hit the headlines, they don’t get in the newspapers, certainly not on this side of the Atlantic where the last thing that newspaper editors want or TV news editors want is to be showing signs of new creation because they love to show all the nasty stuff that’s going on. So it’s quite easy to forget, if you’re reliant on outside sources for news, as we’ve all been through the years of COVID now, quite easy to forget that there are really good things going on, God is at work, and lives are being changed. New creation is happening, it’s bubbling up all over the place. That’s what we have to remind ourselves and work on and go forward from.

Collins:  

Tom, that’s a lovely and deeply thoughtful approach to this question about hope. I guess my involvement and trying to figure out where it fits, reflects very much the life I’ve been leading for these last 12 years as NIH director, and particularly these last two years with COVID. It has been, at times deeply troubling, to see the way in which, while the science has been moving forward in really remarkable ways, in many ways that hasn’t necessarily been embraced and adopted to the degree it might have. And we are losing lives every day that need not be lost because of misunderstanding, misinformation. That gets very frustrating. But I am determined to keep in mind that it’s not really a battle that’s just ours, we have our faith to rest upon. I have hanging here in my home office, a whole bunch of scripture verses that I pull up and paste next to me in case I need them. Hebrews chapter 6, verses 10-11 is one of them. It’s a good reminder of where hope fits in here. “God is not unjust, he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end. So that what you hope for may be fully realized.” So God is the reason that we can have hope. And we can live out his calling upon us with the confidence that he is right there with us. I’m claiming that one every day.

Wright:

That’s great. I’d love to know more about how you communicate that because the word we get from America particularly, is precisely of a very large anti vaccine movement, which seems to us in the UK, almost all of us in the UK, to be just a weird world. Here is this amazing country, America, which is full of great scientists and all sorts of things. And yet there’s this movement, which sometimes friends tell me thinks of itself as Christian, which is saying, no, no, no, we’ve got to distrust all that. Is that linked to the rejection of science in general, which you and I have talked about before, and which of course BioLogos exists in order to break down?

Collins:

I think there is a connection there. And all the more reason why BioLogos’ mission is more critical than ever. I do think my dear friends in the white evangelical community have continued to struggle for decades about whether science is their friend, or whether maybe science has an agenda to try to undercut their faith by disagreeing with interpretations of biblical versions of origins. Of course, BioLogos makes it very clear over these many years, that that is not a conflict that needs to be accepted. In fact, we see wonderful harmony between the scientific and the Christian views of almost everything. But yet, I don’t know that that is a reassuring message that’s fully integrated into many evangelical circles. So when something like COVID comes along, and when you add to that, a whole lot of misinformation, and political insertion of agendas, which heightens the tribalism of the us versus them, then it all gets all mixed and mingled, as it never should have in public health, and politics and other other aspects of what social media can put forward as far as just frank falsehoods.

Wright: 

I was about to say social media, of course, is very much involved in that and I stay well away from social media as much as I can. I have a few Instagram friends and that’s about it. I don’t do Facebook, I don’t do Twitter, etc. But I do know that there’s an awful lot of stuff out there. I’m in regular touch with a couple just north of Oxford here, who I don’t know face to face personally, but I’ve got to know them through the pandemic. The husband has been apparently inundated with all this social media stuff and as a consequence refused to get vaccinated. The wife who is very sick is worried because if she has to go into hospital, the husband won’t be allowed to come in to visit her because he is very suspicious about the vaccines. I’m trying to be gentle with them on the email, which is the only contact we have. But I see that then what friends tell me multiplied to the nth degree in America. How one has hope in that context? I wonder if it isn’t something to do with the larger life of the church? I mean, you specified the white evangelical fraternity and the kind of danger of tribalism. To what extent do we see the same thing among, say, the black churches among the Latino churches? Or is this confined to one bit? Because, as you know, one of my great agendas, and I think it’s one of the signs of hope, in Romans chapter 15, Paul says, I want you to worship together, and he means very specifically Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, you got to get together, that you may with one heart and voice glorify the God who is the father of Jesus Christ. And then he quotes from Isaiah chapter 11, when he talks about the root of Jesse who rises to rule the nations, and that is from the passage which is about the wolf and the lamb laying down together, etc. Paul’s kind of ecumenical passion to see Christians from every possible background, like in Revelation, every nation and kingdom and tribe and tongue, getting together to worship. That’s the context in which he says, “may the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace of believing so that by the power of the Spirit, you may abound in hope.” That it’s when you see Christians worshiping and working together across traditional tribal divisions, that is the great sign that a new world has been born. And we in the West have kind of ignored that or treated it as Oh, that will be nice. But of course, it’s not going to happen tomorrow and we will just stick with our own tribes. I wonder how much this is a wake up call to us? To say we need to learn from and worship with one another and only so will we discover the reality of that ultimate hope.

Collins:  

Tom, I think that’s absolutely right. Yet, I’m afraid when I see what’s happening in many churches in the US. Again, it’s particularly, I think, prominent in white evangelical churches, it really has become sort of a hunker down sense where there’s way too much tying up with grievances and with grievance politics, as opposed to opening the arms and embracing all of the rest of humanity as all God’s children. We have a long way to go to get past that. I think that is a big factor here that has played into the unfortunate resistance to what I consider to be gifts from God, these vaccines that turned out to be so much more effective than we dared hope for and entirely safe and answers to prayer. I personally have prayed for many months last year that we would end up with something that would be as wonderful as this and we’ve got it and yet, strangely enough Christians of all groups seem to be among the most resistant. It’s all so upside down.

Wright:

Do you see in the younger generation any signs of people saying, Actually, we don’t want to live with those tribalisms? Is there a new generation of sort of 20 Somethings and 30 somethings coming through who can see the folly of what we’re talking about? Because when I pray for various other countries, I often pray for the next generation of leadership in places like India and China, for Christian leaders in those great countries to emerge in a new generation because I think that’s what we need. Do you see any signs of that in America?

Collins: 

I do. I’m worried that many of those more open minded 20s and 30s are sufficiently put off by what they see is the behavior of the church, and that their motivations are being a little inhibited. But perhaps we have the opportunity here for a real view of how faith can be open armed and can embrace all of the goodness that God has given us. I’m the director for just a few more days of the National Institutes of Health, but I often refer to it as the National Institutes of Hope, the other H. In fact, I have a little button on my lapel which is actually made of a guitar pick and it says hope at NIH. Because I feel so much like my calling has been to bring the tools of medical research, God’s gift to us, to be able to understand his creation and assist with human suffering. Scientifically it’s been an amazing period of advance that’s going to continue in the next few years, I mean, phenomenal things are gonna happen. But it isn’t going to fully realize the blessings that are there if we don’t also deal with this other disaffection that really never should have been there where people are uncomfortable accepting God’s gifts through science to help us all.

Wright:

It is bizarre. I guess each generation has faced the challenge of innovation. We have the old line from a musical duo in Britain from 40 years ago, if God intended us to fly, he would never have given us the railways. In other words, every generation looks at the new things and says, no, no, we’re quite happy with what we’ve got. But actually, each generation has to say, do you know what, this might just be a good gift. Now, of course, there’s all sorts of questions these days about air travel, but that’s another issue. I think in terms of the medical advances, we have accepted vaccination on so many other fronts, in so many other diseases, which have been largely dealt with more or less globally. And you know more about that than I do. I was vaccinated against a lot of things when I was a kid, and we’ve vaccinated our children. And I can’t imagine not doing that. So it seems to me a real step backwards into fear, which is the opposite of hope. Maybe the message for our time has to include the double negative, don’t be afraid, which, as you know, is the most frequent command in the whole of the Bible. Jesus regularly says to people don’t be afraid, and angels come and say, Hey, don’t be afraid, again and again. Fear not. Of course, there are things that wise people are wary about. But to descend into a sort of closed incense of fear is the very denial of faith. Yes, we’ve got to be wise and not just accept the latest snake oil salesperson who comes down the street. But when it’s, I mean, here in Oxford, as you know, we’ve there’s been a team of scientists who have developed what is called, rather a mouthful, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. And we know these scientists, these are not wild people who are in league with some strange dark movement that is going on. These are precisely people who’ve spent their whole professional lives and are proud of the fact that they are publicly accredited scientists doing good for the population. The thought that it might all be some sinister plot, you just have to sort of shake yourself and say, No, wake up. Where did these dreams come from? So that will be the motto for me. Fear not. Maybe you should do a line in these old guitar picks. And I’ll certainly buy one if you start it. A retirement project for you, Francis.

Collins:  

Lovely. As much as I get frustrated with what’s going around me, I’m always brought back to it by amazing events that are happening in spite of all this. And just one quick story from my experience last week. Medical research has made some steps happen that give me such a sense of joy. I’m particularly focused right now on this genetic disorder called sickle cell disease, where we have reached the ability now through gene therapy to actually not just help these people, but cure them. I had the experience a few days ago of playing with a 13 year old boy with sickle cell disease. He was a classical violinist who started playing violin at age 4, and then had a devastating stroke from his sickle cell disease, had to fight back from that, re-trained himself again, had two more strokes after each of which he had to relearn. Now he’s at NIH having a curative treatment for his sickle cell disease, which is going very well, he will probably go home in the next couple of weeks, essentially cured. Played with him in front of a small audience in our hospital, as he just reduced all of us to this sense of awe and tearfulness with his exquisite skill on the violin, and at the end of which he ended his piece and then said God is good through all of this, it is God that has given me hope. I thought, okay, how can I possibly lose hope in the face of daily frustrations when you have this kind of determination and prayerful resilience, so thank you, Caesar, you 13 year old hero. You really lifted my spirits.

Wright:  

Wow. That’s amazing. I mean, it’s amazing in the sense of delightful and a joy and I’m grateful to you for filling my morning with that joy. But it’s not amazing granted what God does. As I think CS Lewis says somewhere, that the devil does his best work, not by putting ideas into our heads, but by keeping ideas out. And the idea of that kind of moment, and that kind of healing and hope, many people just never think about that possibility. So they go round a little mental loop of fear and anxiety, and oh, dear, everything’s gone down the tubes and so on. So thank you. That’s a wonderful story. 

Collins:

It was a wonderful experience.

Stump: 

Well, that’s our 100th episode.

Hoogerwerf: 

We’ll be taking a bit of a break over the holidays and starting back up with next hundred episodes early in the new year. 

Stump: 

Let’s let the Apostle Paul have the last word from Romans 15:  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. Merry Christmas!

Hoogerwerf:

Merry Christmas!

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, the Fetzer Institute and by individual donors who contribute to BioLogos. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Nate Mulder is our assistant producer. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. 

BioLogos offices are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Grand River watershed. If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum or visit our website, biologos.org, where you will find articles, videos and other resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening. 


Watch as friends N.T. Wright and Francis Collins sing their re-written rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm” that they have titled “New World Has Been Born”

 

Featured guests

NT Wright

N.T. Wright

N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He was formerly a Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews. He also studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford.Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God.
BioLogos - Francis Collins

Francis Collins

Francis Collins is one of the world's leading scientists and geneticists, and the founder of BioLogos, where he is now a Senior Fellow. In his early scientific career, he discovered the gene for cystic fibrosis. Then he led an international collaboration that first mapped the entire human genome. For that work he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. In 2008 he was appointed to his current role as Director of the National Institutes of Health, where he has been overseeing the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2006, Collins wrote the best-selling book The Language of God. It tells the story of his journey from atheism to Christian belief, showing that science actually enhances faith. The tremendous response to the book prompted Collins to found BioLogos. He envisioned it as a forum to discuss issues at the intersection of faith and science and to celebrate the harmony found there. His reputation quickly attracted a large network of faith leaders, including Tim Keller, Philip Yancey, and NT Wright. These and others joined the BioLogos conversation and affirmed the value of engaging science as believers. BioLogos is now an organization that reaches millions around the world. In celebration of his world-class scientific accomplishments and deep Christian faith, Collins was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2020. It honors individuals who are "harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” He joined a prestigious group of previous winners, including Mother Teresa, Francis Ayala, Charles Townes, Desmond Tutu, and Billy Graham.
John Walton

John Walton

John Walton is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois and an editor and writer of Old Testament comparative studies and commentaries. Throughout his research, Walton has focused his attention on comparing the culture and literature of the Bible and the ancient Near East. He has published dozens of books, articles and translations, both as writer and editor, including his book, The Lost World of Genesis One.
Deb Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma is President of BioLogos. She is an astronomer and frequent speaker on modern science and Christian faith at research universities, churches, and public venues like the National Press Club. Her work appears in several recent books, including Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Design and Christ and the Created Order.  She wrote the book Origins with her husband and fellow physicist, Loren Haarsma, presenting the agreements and disagreements among Christians regarding the history of life and the universe.  She edited the anthology Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church with Rev. Scott Hoezee. Previously, Haarsma served as professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin University. She is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. She has studied large galaxies, galaxy clusters, the curvature of space, and the expansion of the universe using telescopes around the world and in orbit.  Haarsma completed her doctoral work in astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her undergraduate work in physics and music at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She and Loren enjoy science fiction and classical music, and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
CharlotteWitvliet

Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet

Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet is the Lavern ’39 and Betty DePree ’41 VanKley Professor of Psychology at Hope College. She loves teaching and mentoring students with a vision to cultivate competence with compassion so that they are prepared for effective and faithful service and leadership in a diverse world. Charlotte has published 75 peer-reviewed journal articles about her research and has had over 125 professional presentations in local, national and international venues. She has been a member of national, multi-year, interdisciplinary work groups on the pursuit of happiness, leading from the soul, and living accountably.
Julia Wattacheril

Julia Wattacheril

Julia Wattacheril, MD, MPH is a clinician investigator, transplant hepatologist, and director of the adult nonalcoholic fatty liver disease program at Columbia University Irving Medical Center - NY Presbyterian Hospital. As a Christian, her passion for faith and work integration began in medical school in Houston at the Baylor College of Medicine. After moving to NYC, she completed the Gotham Fellowship at the Center for Faith and Work and continues to develop innovative ways to implement spiritual tools to help healthcare providers and the patients they serve. She has a particular heart for connecting with people at the fringes of any sphere but particularly in academic medicine.
Curtis Chang, BioLogos

Curtis Chang

As a theologian, Curtis is on the faculty of Duke Divinity School and is a Senior Fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. His ministry experience includes serving as a senior pastor of an Evangelical Covenant Church in California, a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and engaging in racial reconciliation work in Soweto, South Africa. He has authored or contributed to numerous books, including Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine and Aquinas (IVP). Curtis is the founding Executive Director of Redeeming Babel, a nonprofit that produces content to promote a reformation in how Christians engage the wider world. He also co-hosts (with David French) the Good Faith podcast where they discuss how Christian faith intersects with culture, law, and politics. His Biblical insights are enriched by his own secular career, which includes founding a White House award winning nonprofit consulting firm and teaching strategic planning as a faculty at American University’s School of International Service. Curtis graduated from Harvard University and is a former Rockefeller Fellow.