Of Spiritual Evolution and Embers Waiting to Glow as Flame

It has been said that in this universe, the only constant is change.  It’s all around us:  an individual is born (or germinated, or hatched, or otherwise reproduced), grows, matures—all aspects of life—and dies—which is also part of life.  As individuals are born, others die, and the population is in constant flux.  The weather changes, which affects biological communities.  The movement of the planet around the sun invokes changing seasons.  On a more cosmic scale, stars explode, shedding their elements.  Planets form.

Change is inevitable and unavoidable. 

The great British naturalist, hailed as a visionary by some and a devil by others, described his concept of a tree of life based on the processes of natural selection.  Figure 1 is an image of Charles Darwin’s early concept in his own handwriting, taken from one of his journals.  

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Figure 1.  Darwin’s original concept of a “Tree of Life.”

He wrote of this concept:

“The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during former years may represent the long succession of extinct species. At each period of growth all the growing twigs have tried to branch out on all sides, and to overtop and kill the surrounding twigs and branches, in the same manner as species and groups of species have at all times overmastered other species in the great battle for life. The limbs divided into great branches, and these into lesser and lesser branches, were themselves once, when the tree was young, budding twigs; and this connection of the former and present buds by ramifying branches may well represent the classification of all extinct and living species in groups subordinate to groups. Of the many twigs which flourished when the tree was a mere bush, only two or three, now grown into great branches, yet survive and bear the other branches; so with the species which lived during long-past geological periods, very few have left living and modified descendants. From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these fallen branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit…. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.”

From the biological perspective, genetic changes in populations may be the result of random changes or genetic mutations, which, if they confer a benefit, are likely to be carried on in future generations.  That is not to say that all change is good.  Some mutations are harmful, and are therefore less likely to be passed on in the progeny.  Some harmful changes do survive, thus hereditary diseases and genetic disorders and cancers.

As a biologist and a Christian, it is not unexpected that I should start thinking about similarities between living things in nature and living entities in the realm of faith.  I started thinking about the relationships among religious denominations from the same perspective as the relationships among species in the biological world. 

In a recent series of studies I participated in regarding church history, as well as in a class I taught to a group of college students, we explored the beginnings of many of the various churches in existence.  The take home message was that all of the “denominations” have distinct dates of origin, e.g., Lutheranism began in 1517 with the nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Cathedral.  When considering the churches of Christ, however, while there was discussion of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, the conclusion was that this group actually traces its lineage directly back to the first century, specifically to the day of Pentecost somewhere around 27-33 A.D., and the first great sermon preached by Peter to the assembled Jewish masses that had converged for required Temple worship in Jerusalem.

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Figure 2.  A phylogeny of religious denominations.

But is that a fair and reasonable and unbiased way to consider this question?  I came across this phylogeny of religious bodies (Figure 2) when I began thinking about this puzzle.  Notice that the Restorationist line has two origins: one that is the claimed unbroken chain and the other the line of direct evidence, leading from the Calvinistic branch of Protestantism, through the work of those like Presbyterian Barton W. Stone and Presbyterians-turned-Baptist, Thomas and Alexander Campbell.  Other like Walter Scott had been Baptist, and even the man who would eventually define the separation of the Disciples line from the churches of Christ in 1906, none other than David Lipscomb, began his religious life among the Baptist ranks.  Early 19th century restorationist and frontier preacher, John Mulkey started his career as a Baptist, as did his contemporary, Raccoon John Smith. 

I mention these things because these men were instrumental in the development of the Restoration Movement.  Not one of them was a member of the Disciples or churches of Christ when they began to think about returning to the Bible for guidance in revisiting and restoring a more primitive expression of Christianity untainted by the accretion of creeds, catechisms, and confessions of faith.

In fact, to my knowledge, there is no verifiable historical or sociological evidence of any group practicing “New Testament Christianity” in any unbroken chain since 33 A.D.  So why is it so easy to accept something with no actual evidence?  Of course, one favorite answer would have to be “faith.”  We have faith there was a “faithful remnant” of Christians somewhere hidden from persecution and oppression much as there was always a faithful remnant of Jews who did not take up idols and fall away from their faith during the periods of captivity in the Old Testament.   

This same concept is mirrored in statements like one of my favorite religious fantasies (if not fallacies), that being that if a Bible were to wash up on some distant shore and uneducated natives were to take that alone at face value, the only expression of Christianity they could possibly demonstrate is that of a particular sliver of a branch of the Stone Campbell Movement.  (Of course, the sliver changes depending on which group the preacher belongs to, but that is beside the point.  Oh, and never mind that they can’t read English, either.)

The call of men like Thomas and Alexander Campbell was to unite the Christians in all of the sects or denominations, a call that speaks more directly to the phylogeny of Christian denominations in Figure 2.  The philosophical descendants of the Restorationists should be the most ardent in a continued attempt to unite all Christians, but instead, we are among the most splintered of religious bodies.  If we cannot achieve any sense of brotherhood within the many disparate branches of the churches of Christ, or among the branches of the Stone Campbell Movement, our calls for unity are met with little more than derision.

While calling for unity, congregations continue to split.  Neighbors who call themselves by the same religious name do not interact because the other “does not follow with us” over some binding link of interpreted or interpolated law that we have forged in the 2,000 years since the early church mushroomed across the known world of the Roman Empire, and according to tradition, beyond to places like India, preaching peace and hope and justice.

We cannot hope to recapture the unity of the Spirit among all Christians when we actively strive to alienate and divide those who share our most recent demonstrable heritage.  Our actions belie our orations.  It should not be so.

On Sunday, August 18, 1889, in Sand Creek, Illinois, Daniel Sommer delivered his “Address and Declaration,” which was the formal beginning of the schism that ultimately divided the Disciples line from the churches of Christ.  It is rather obvious that Sommer’s speech was directly playing off of Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address” of 80 years prior.  The irony is that Campbell’s work called for unity.  Sommer’s work called for division.

Sommer was a firebrand who tirelessly beat the drum for separation from the Disciples during the middle of his career for their “innovations.”  For that, his legacy is one of divisiveness.  But many people do not know of the remorse at causing such discord that he expressed later in life in largely disregarded works such as “The Rough Draft.” There, according to historian Leroy Garrett, Sommer’s “…theme was: “If we can search out the things we can agree on, and unite on them, and work together, we’ll have unity!”” 

In his landmark history of the Stone-Campbell Movement, Garrett wrote of Sommer:

“He dictated to his son Allen a final statement to his brethren in which he stated that his chief concern in life had been “the disciple brotherhood” and his chief grief was its divisions.  Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers was on his mind.  He expressed similar feelings in the last lines of his life story, referring to “a divided and disgraced brotherhood,” and noting that it was those who strained certain scriptures who were to blame.  His last line provided an ominous epitaph to his own life:  The strainers have all come to grief sooner or later.”    

In the biological concept of evolution, once speciation has occurred, it is highly unlikely for disparate groups to unite and again form a single entity.  But biological evolution is not subject to conscious manipulation.  In matters of faith, we have the power by force of will and reason to change things, to eliminate barriers and come together.  It was Jesus’ hope that all of his followers whether descendants of Abraham or the sheep of a different fold be unified in purpose.  While centuries of human desires and the power struggles of warring egos have brought nearly immeasurable division, that original intent is still an attainable goal.  The plea of the early Restorationists can provide a path to it.  Creeds and dogmas and doctrines of opinion erect weak walls.  Truth and trust can tear them down.  Only then can a greater building be built on the only foundation that will stand.  I hope we may soon see the end to that counter-productive building outward and join together to build upward like they did in the earliest days of the Christian movement. 

In its essence, the true promise of Christianity is to shine a light to dispel the darkness of fear and oppression and evil.  Imagine if all the tiny lights scattered like starlight reflected in dew drops on the ground were to someday truly be one: the light from that city set on a hill would shine as never before.  And then maybe we could experience the spirit of unity, the unity of purpose and the shared vision that changed the world twenty centuries ago. 

The ember still burns among many fires. 

Fan the flame.

 

For Us or Against Us? A Question of Intentions and Purposes

I was listening to a presentation the other evening in which the speaker was extolling the values of the early church with respect to the concept of evangelism.  In the course of the talk, he began quoting a number of seemingly disjunct scriptures, one of which was Matthew 12.30:  “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”  This is also found in Luke 11.23. 

Immediately, my mind went to the scene recorded in both Mark 9 and Luke 9 where the disciples are complaining to Jesus that they had rebuked a man who did not “follow with” them for casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  Consider both of these passages:

 Luke 9.“49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.”

50  But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

 Mark 9. “38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

39  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  40  For the one who is not against us is for us.”

There is no denying that both diametrically opposed, seemingly inconsistent comments are recorded in the gospels.  However, Matthew/Luke 11’s incident heuristically contrasts with that of Mark/Luke 9.  In Matthew’s record, Jesus is responding to the attacks of his arch-detractors, the Pharisees.  Their purpose was to tear down what Jesus was building because it did not fit with their plan and vision. Jesus’ comment is pointed and definitive: if one is not unified in purpose with him, they are at cross-purposes, and in conscious, defiant opposition.   

In Mark and Luke, Jesus is responding to the complaint of his disciples about someone who appeared to be “stealing their thunder.”  This individual was casting out demons in the name of the Messiah, but was not specifically counted among the followers.  Perhaps this person was an admirer who saw the power and authority even the name of Jesus wielded.  Besides that, Jesus knew the heart and intent of the accused person in this case.  He knew that the intent was good, and the effect would be that Jesus’ reputation and message would be spread farther as a result of this man’s action.

I have heard many examples of preachers in the faith heritage with which I fellowship (and others of slightly different stripe) use Matthew’s report to emphasize the centrality of distinction and distinctiveness.  As I grew in my study of the Word, however, I came across Jesus’ comment in Mark and Luke 9, and I was puzzled by it.  I know I have heard very few if any preachers in my faith heritage relate the other message from Mark and Luke 9.  Why?  Perhaps it is because it contradicts the strict exclusivism to which we have adhered since our predecessors began splitting and dividing over minutiae, opinions and irrelevant distractions.  Perhaps it is because to admit that there are those who are not in lock step with us who are not outright condemned diminishes our message that we and only we are the only ones who have attained perfect knowledge and all others stand condemned and lost.

I subconsciously arrived at this thought before I started checking commentaries for clarification.  I usually like to focus on those commentaries that are more language and cultural tools rather than those that have a particular doctrinal angle to defend, whether of my own tribe or any other specific denomination.  However, I was struck by the comment by 19th century theologian, Albert Barnes, regarding Mark 9.39:

“Forbid him not – Do not prevent his doing good. If he can work a miracle in my name, it is sufficient proof of attachment to me, and he should not be prevented.

“Can lightly speak evil of me – The word here rendered “lightly” means quickly or “immediately.” The meaning of the passage is, that he to whom God gave the power of working a miracle, by that gave evidence that he could not be found among the enemies of Jesus. He ought not, therefore, to be prevented from doing it. There is no reason to think here that John had any improper designs in opposing the man. He thought that it was evidence that he could not be right, because he did not join them and follow the Saviour. Our Lord taught him differently. He opposed no one who gave evidence that he loved him. Wherever he might be or whatever his work, yet, if he did it in the name of Jesus and with the approbation of God, it was evidence sufficient that he was right. Christians should rejoice in good done by their brethren of any denomination. There are men calling themselves Christians who seem to look with doubt and suspicion on all that is done by those who do not walk with them. They undervalue their labors, and attempt to lessen the evidences of their success and to diminish their influence. True likeness to the Saviour would lead us to rejoice in all the good accomplished. by whomsoever it may be done – to rejoice that the kingdom of Christ is advanced, whether by a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian, a Baptist, or a Methodist.”

Regarding Luke 9.49,50, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown explain,

“John answered, etc. — The link of connection here with the foregoing context lies in the words “in My name” (Luk_9:48). “Oh, as to that,” said John, young, warm, but not sufficiently apprehending Christ’s teaching in these things, “we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and we forbade him: Were we wrong?” “Ye were wrong.” “But we did because he followeth not us,’” “No matter. For (1) There is no man which shall do a miracle in My name that can lightly [soon] speak evil of Me’ [Mar_9:39]. And (2) If such a person cannot be supposed to be ‘against us,’ you are to consider him ‘for us.’” Two principles of immense importance. Christ does not say this man should not have followed “with them,” but simply teaches how he was to be regarded though he did not – as a reverer of His name and a promoter of His cause. Surely this condemns not only those horrible attempts by force to shut up all within one visible pale of discipleship, which have deluged Christendom with blood in Christ’s name, but the same spirit in its milder form of proud ecclesiastic scowl upon all who “after the form which they call a sect (as the word signifies, Act_24:14), do so worship the God of their fathers.” Visible unity in Christ’s Church is devoutly to be sought, but this is not the way to it.”

In his commentary on Luke, Leon Morris wrote:

“49…John and whoever else is included in his we told him to stop (the imperfect may mean ‘we tried to stop him’ or ‘we kept stopping him’) because he does not follow with us.  Luke does not say that the man claimed to be a disciple, only that he cast out demons in Jesus’ name. But for these disciples it was not enough that he should be able to do in the name of Jesus what they had so recently and so conspicuously failed to do (40).  He had to follow with them.  This has been the error of Christians in every age and it is interesting to see it in the very first generation of Jesus’ followers.

“50.  But the Master would have none of it.  Do not forbid him, he said, and added the important rule, he that is not against you is for you.  There can be no neutrality in the war against evil.  Anyone who opposes demons in Jesus’ name in to be welcomed, not opposed.  He is on the right side.”

Paul wrote about the same sort of thing to the Philippians. In the first chapter of that letter, Paul wrote, “14  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15  Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice….”

Paul knew that some people were preaching Christ in an attempt to discredit him.  If they were proclaiming the same message, it is hard to imagine how one could be discredited.  But Paul reasoned that no matter what, no matter the motive or rationale of the proclaimer, the message of Jesus was being broadcast to people who needed to hear it.

There will always be differences among people who claim to be followers of Christ whether among fellowships, or within a fellowship or even within a congregation.  It is an unfortunate result of imperfect understanding and the distinctly human nature possessed of us all.  However, we have the directive to discern motives and intentions and rise above partisan bickering where good is being done in Jesus’ name.  If good is being done and attributed to the cause of Christ to change lives and to the advancement of his power to accomplish just that, then we must not condemn.

If military history teaches anything, it is the value of coordinated action. An army that only holds the line can expect little more than to fight to a draw.  In order to win, it must advance, gain ground, and end the conflict in victory.  The Allied victory in Europe would not have been possible without the efforts of Americans, British, Canadians, and others.  When there was in-fighting among the commanders, the progress toward victory stalled.  When there was unity, peace became the attainable prize.

Too often, the people that are most likely to condemn the actions of those who “do not follow with us” are the ones most likely to do nothing.  I often return to the image of the one talent man, who buried the money entrusted to him in the dirt so that he would not lose it, so that he would be able to return it to his master, unchanged.  But his failure was not in losing the money.  It was in the fearful failure to gainfully invest.  If we look down on the efforts of others to accomplish good, we must be ready to do twice as much to see that more good is done.  Otherwise, all we have to show for our lack of effort is a dirty shovel.  We can—no, we must—do far better than that.  

Trials

It was near the height of Jesus’ ministry.  He was going throughout the land teaching people how to live, teaching them how citizens of the kingdom would act.  He had just delivered one of the greatest and most meaningful of parables, the parable of the sower, when he decided it was time that he and his disciples take a boat to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, perhaps about the time he would visit the land of the Gerasenes, where he would encounter a man possessed with a “Legion” of evil spirits, which looked suspiciously like some form of mental illness upon careful reading. 

But on that voyage, the Master fell asleep, much to the dismay of his disciples.  Their panic was brought on by the sudden onset of a storm which threatened to capsize their small craft.  They woke him, he rebuked the wind and waves, they were calmed by his will through his words, and then he turned to the fearful followers and asked, “Where is your faith?”

That question has stuck with me for a long time, because I have found myself asking that same question of myself on many occasions. 

I want to believe. 

I really want to believe. 

But sometimes, I find myself questioning the sincerity of my prayers, because too many of them seem to be unanswered.  I don’t ask for wealth.  I don’t ask for ease and luxury.  I pray for things like strength to overcome weakness.  Strength to deal with the daily issues encountered with raising a child with autism.  But as often as not, there is no great improvement.  In fact, recently, we have seen worsening behaviors as the professionals have been tinkering with his medication regimen.  The guys are supposed to know what they are doing, but I have come to understand it’s more like a process of trial and error.  Trial is easy.  But trust me, error is hard to live with.

And I keep praying that there will be some way to help him.  Yes, it would make my life better.  But only because his life is better.  And then maybe my wife would experience less stress.  And our family wouldn’t be constantly on the verge of emotional and physical and mental exhaustion.

It is so easy for someone who hasn’t lived this kind of trial to offer platitudes like, “God gave you this child because he knew you could handle it.”  Excuse me?  Try living a week with the outbursts, meltdowns, hair-pulling, spitting, kicking, hitting, constant yelling, and constant vigilance to protect both him and the rest of the family and the house and the pets from harm….  There is no relaxation until he goes to bed, and lately, since a change in medication, he doesn’t sleep like he used to.  He doesn’t go to bed and stay asleep.  He gets up and starts another round of difficult behavior when we need to be resting.

We’d like to think that he is usually better in school or daycare, but he has his moments there.  We’ve missed more than a little work because of suspensions.  We live in fear of every phone call.

There is no joy.

There is no peace.

There is only the dread that this will never improve and that he will someday reach a point where we can no longer physically control him.  What will we do then?

It’s easy to say, “The Lord will provide.”

But that seldom happens with autism.  At least not in any visible, sustainable sense.

My wife has a full time job teaching and another full time job keeping track of appointments.  I get to be the muscle when needed, and the chauffeur to many of the therapies.  Well, someone may say she needs to quit her job and do this full time.  And then we couldn’t afford all the therapies he needs on one paycheck.  That’s right, not everything is covered on insurance.  We pay a lot out of pocket.

I’m not trying to garner sympathy with this discussion.  I’m trying to show the reality of autism.  It is enough to test your patience and test your faith and your perseverance.  James said to count it all joy when you face trials.  But James’ trials were not indefinite.  Even if he faced death, the trial had an end.  If we can’t find a way to adequately provide for our son after we are gone, this trial extends beyond death.

And until that point, there is the stress.  There is the heartbreak of seeing him rejected by other kids.  There is the heartache of realizing that although we are doing all that we can to help him, the positive results just aren’t apparent.  There is the conflict of parents with child, parent with parent, parents with teachers.  There is the joyless existence. 

For a sibling of autism to grow up in a house with this much stress and no joy is not fair.  She didn’t ask to be the sister of an autistic brother.

And that is but one facet of the ever present guilt. There is always the guilt.  I was the one who wanted a second child.  I was the one who thought it wouldn’t be fair for an only child to deal with the problems of aging parents later in life.  And then there is the guilt of realizing that it was possibly, maybe even likely something I did, some exposure to a chemical or radiation that may have led to this.  Sometimes, a little knowledge really hurts.

I want desperately to believe that God is watching, but much of the time, it feels like he is looking the other way.  I want an answer that isn’t “No” for a change.  I want to see that famous “way of escape” Paul promised would be there.  So far, there is no glowing exit sign marking it.

I want to believe that God is listening and preparing a big change to hit at any time now.

But maybe I need help realizing it.

Would more prayers in concert benefit?  If I pray and you pray and scores or thousands more pray, will any possible doubt be canceled, or will the smallest shadow of doubt spoil the whole exercise?  Faith is a hard thing to maintain when you see no results.

Make no mistake, I’m not blaming God.  I’m not like Job.  I’d just like to know we’re not in this alone.  A little glimmer of hope would build a lot of faith and help me keep going.

But no matter what, I will keep going.  And I hope the writer of Romans was right when he said all things work together for good.  (And, no, I haven’t forgotten the qualifier.)

So I’ll ask myself again that question Jesus asked: “Where is your faith?” And when I feel my faith waver, like the disciples, I’ll again make the request to increase my faith.  Maybe bigger faith here will translate into better resolutions.

And maybe someday, when all is made new, I’ll see my son whole and perfect, like every father wants for his children. 

But I sure wouldn’t turn down a little preview in the here and now.

In Pursuit of Wonder

From the mundane perspective of middle-age, it seems that very little contains even a modicum of wonder any more.  But it hasn’t always been so.  I remember as a child how everything was new and interesting.  The world was vast, life was unknown, its mystery a game.

I have often mused with my students about how the sense of wonder is vital to anyone interested in science, about how children possess it, but somewhere, some kill-joy element of growing up wrests it from our minds and very few retain any sense of it as adults.  And that is a down right, low and dirty shame.

Wonder is a supreme experience among humankind.  From the freshness of the observations of a baby just beginning to experience the world to the tiny but undeniable thrill of achievement when you learn something new, wonder is among the experiences that set us apart from the rest of the animal world.

In many of the more sedate churches, wonder is something that is more often suppressed.  It is given some lip service (the passing mention of the wonders of creation, etc.), but in reality, wonder may be construed as something that is too volatile to address.

The Bible is filled with the concept of wonder.  Certainly, the miracles are awe-inspiring.  But there are many examples of language meant to at once reflect and inspire wonder.  Perhaps the most succinct of these is found in Psalm 139.13-16:

13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

This passage has been used to support the theory of predestination, with which I admittedly have some trouble.  However, more fundamentally, this soaring expression of awe and wonder at the complexity of the human organism is one of the most beautiful expressions of praise for the creature as well as the creator.

Indeed, as a biologist, I am constantly in a state of wonder when I consider the precision with which life functions.  But I am also in a state of wonder at how life changes, and what may happen, whether good or ill, when those changes occur.

Consider one chromosome in the human set.  Chromosome 11 is a middling sized chromosome.  Everybody has a pair of them, one from your mother and one from your father.  If you reproduce, you will shuffle and rearrange the information from your parents to create unique combinations that will be passed on to your children.  Most of the time, everything is fine with chromosome 11 as with the other 22 in a haploid set.  But sometimes, a mistake occurs when the chromosome is being copied to make gametes—egg or sperm cells—and if that mistake is not corrected, it may lead to very distinctive changes in a child that is the product of the pairing of that “different” chromosome with a normal chromosome from your partner’s donation.

In particular, geneticists now tell us that there is some very specific information on chromosome 11 that affects the expression of things like autism and obesity.  Deletions from a portion of the short arm of chromosome 11 may include six important genes, two of which have information for neuron development and neurotransmitter receptor structure and function.  While our current understanding of autism encompasses a spectrum of disorders with what may be a plethora of causes, being able to locate such an important region may one day lead to new strategies to deal with those problems.

The wonder is not only in the remarkable expression of the normal, but in the complex expression of the abnormal, where such a seemingly small change can make such profound differences.  We cannot fully appreciate the beauty of the normal without there being something to compare it to.  Thus, one “imperfect” expression serves to demonstrate the perfection that is more common but too often taken for granted because of its commonness.

Continuing with the idea of wonder in scriptures, I often return to Job, where beginning in chapter 38, Job is questioned by God who rehearses a lengthy series of questions that explore the details of the creation process and the on-going function of said creation.

Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

The language is beautiful and poetic, but the images are those of wonders beyond the common man’s experience or ability to fully comprehend.

When I consider the natural world, I cannot help but wonder at it.  There is a thrill to learning more about it, understanding its complexity, revealed a layer and a hint at a time, each new bit of information adding to the picture like a single dot in a pointillist painting, an independent element in a rhapsody of color that is life.

Life, in all its complexity, could never be static and contend with a dynamic environment.  The on-going process of creation initiated and ordained by a wiser artist than any man is another unmistakable thumbprint of God, every bit as telling as the gravity waves at the edge of the universe and fractal geometry in the form of a leaf or feather or cloud.  It is not only we that are fearfully and wonderfully made.  It is everything that is, and everything that has been and everything that shall ever be in this tapestry of life.