Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Take anyone from anywhere to the top of Mauna Kea on a clear, black night, and let them cast their unbelieving eyes upon ocean waves of diamonds and infinite diamond dust in a display of stars that will fill them with awe. Play Robert Schumann's "Traumerei," a sequence of simple notes, for anyone from any place in any historical era, and their hearts will hear and feel the dreaminess that the composer intended as Schumann himself pictured sleeping children who were dreamers. Or play Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," and their hearts will commune with the "still, sad music of humanity," to borrow Wordsworth's phrase.
But why? How can this be? How can a pattern of dots in the sky cause awe to sweep over the body? How can a particular pattern of notes fill one with joy or another pattern fill one with peace or still another impart a sense of sorrow? Did these composers understand some arcane mapping of musical pitches to the inscrutable and ineffable depths of human emotion? How exactly does this happen? And the answer is, we do not know. We shall never know. In each of these instances, heart speaks to heart. That is all.
I have known people who are confident that science and its practical helpmate technology one day will explicate all these mappings and will quantify all emotional depths. I recall a man seeking me out in an airport one day when he saw me wearing clericals, the attire of a Catholic priest. Had I heard, he asked me in a note of triumph, that science had "figured out God"? As I later learned, this man was an Ivy League trained physician who thought religion was humbug. "Please tell me more," I said. "Yes," he continued enthusiastically. "Researchers have discovered the 'God spot' in the brain. When this brain tissue is stimulated, you have a religious experience. It's no more complicated than that. "Don't you see?" he said. "There is no God. There is merely a God spot in the brain."
After rendering the silence this statement seemed to call for, I replied, "Doctor, have you heard about the 'apple pie spot' in the brain? It seems that when you stimulate it, the subject smells apple pie, tastes apple pie, and even sees apple pie." This seemed to encourage him until I said, "But this does not constitute a proof that there is no apple pie. My friend, you have fallen into the 'genetic fallacy' — that because you have located the origin or proximate function of a certain thing, you believe that you have explained it. But this is a mirage."
In no way do I deprecate the wonders achieved by science, and medical science in particular. As a former hospital chaplain, I have wept with family members in a recovery rooms offering prayers of thanks because a blessed mother had been restored to her young family. I myself have experienced the life-transforming power of medical science. I only mean to say that there is a complete and utter separation between the faculties of reason and the sovereign kingdom of the soul, which we often call the heart.
We shall never know, for example, why the soul experiences the noble loyalty between two friends, the tender love shared between two soul mates, or the exultation of body and soul when encountering God. That a man is willing to sacrifice his life for an ideal runs completely counter to science's findings concerning self-preservation. We shall never know the why of these things, for the soul does not reside within the domain of reason. The heart has its own reasons.
No doubt, each seminary student follows a unique path leading to this unusual kind of college and, therefore, sees the subject matter in a unique light. Not everyone, for example, has actually encountered God before entering seminary; some never do. My own journey included notable twists and turns in the path. I myself was a professional scholar and university professor (my first book was grounded in first-century Roman literature and early Renaissance culture). Before it was published and before I received my Ph.D., Bell Labs Research recruited me, and I entered the rarefied and highly rigorous atmosphere of foremost scientific research. Finally, MIT invited me to teach in that most rigorous environment. In all of these places I became acquainted with exceedingly high standards for presenting ones findings and demonstrating their validity. This is not to exalt myself, but only to say that such was my fate, by the grace of God.
When I began reading great volumes of Biblical scholarship in seminary, I was caught off guard. Where one might expect conclusions being drawn where they were not warranted due to the zeal of faith, I encountered the opposite effect over and over again — conclusions being disqualified though the preponderance of evidence favored them. After a while, I began to suspect that these scholars were embarrassed by their field ruling out, a priori, any possibility of religious phenomena. For example, last week I read that a second-century biography of a towering figure, the Apostolic Father St. Polycarp, was suspect because it contained parallels to the life of Christ — that he was betrayed by an informer, that he hosted a meal the night before he was to be taken to Rome, that he bore his martyrdom with a certain nobility. Now mind you, the body of scholars who refused to credit the historicity of these things also rejected the veracity of the entire narrative simply because it contained these things! This is simply not good science, nor is it sound scholarship. Moreover, given the laws of spiritual life, shouldn't one expect a life to conform more and more to God's life in its mature stages? For God entered our world to remind us, among other things, what we are supposed to be. This is a central tenet of Christianity.
I encountered the same effect reading Biblical scholarship. A foremost Roman Catholic Scripture scholar, for example, dated the Synoptic Gospels after the year 70 A.D. because in these documents Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, which occurred in the year 70. Wait a minute, I thought. Do we accept as axiomatic the dismissal of prophecy? Prophecy is one of the central tenets of the Judeo-Christian faith. Moreover, this same scholar regularly reported on the percentages among "respected scholars" who accepted or rejected various conclusions .... as if anyone could vote on the truth. And this raises another question: what constitutes a "respected scholar." Doesn't this also consign the selection of referees to a vote within a closed system? The truth is the truth, and history has shown that undiscovered truth rarely wins popularity contests.
As a first-year seminarian, I asked myself, Are we to read the Sacred Scriptures assuming from the start that there can be no God, no divine power, and no species of supernatural phenomena of any kind? It seemed as though practitioners in this field wanted to imitate science to bring greater respectability to their work. But they were not acquainted with the way research scientists work. The first thing one does is to ask, what sort of domain am I working in? What are the internal laws governing this domain? How might I use them to explicate and clarify the data I find in this domain? Research scientists do not feel constrained by the opinions of their predecessors, in fact quite the opposite. Breakthroughs in quantum physics came precisely because certain phenomena did not obey the laws of classical physics. And I might add that quantum physics today challenges the notion of even deterministic causality (which the great philosopher David Hume called into question in the eighteenth century). Moreover, contemporary physics is quite open to precisely the phenomena that Biblical scholars regularly rule out. For example, the separate dimensions of time and space that C.S. Lewis describes in his Chronicles of Narnia would not be out of bounds in a conversation among research physicists.
Even the basic contours of the story concerning our God's entrance into history announces from the start that every expectation will be turned back. He is not born in a royal palace. He is not the child of respectable people, in fact quite the opposite; he is the son of homeless parents the night He is born. His family lineage contains scandalous figures and information, even incest. A Gentile mother appears in His genealogical line; is He really Jewish? He is from the wrong homeland, not Judea, which in turn is associated with the wrong Temple, not Zion. Most important, he dies as the least powerful, least imposing, and least influential person on earth. He is a nameless criminal owning nothing, leaving behind no writings, and whose disciples have all repudiated Him and fled. Based on this evidence, shouldn't Biblical scholars rule out the possibility that He is the Son of God. Indeed, the very notion that God has a Son would be ruled out on the basis of norms for monotheism. Christianity from its beginnings plays by none of the rules. This cold fact would be the first and most important finding a research scientist would adduce as this new field of study unfolds, as this new science is born.
No, our faith did not begin, nor will it end, bowing before the Altar of ordinary human intellect, nor will it be voted on by embarrassed men yearning for greater respectability.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
Our faith began when He opened His lips, and living souls sprang to life at the sound of His voice. And "They said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?'" (Lk 24:32).
Let us ask another question? Drive into an city or town in the U.S. So often you can see them from a distance as you near the outskirts. Now, count the steeples. How did this happen? How did a nameless, homeless, impoverished beggar, leaving behind no writings, no teachings, and no disciples come to be worshiped unto every corner of the earth? He does not depend upon acceptance by the Catholic Theological Society nor by the National Academy of Sciences, for that matter.
And this morning a most remarkable thing takes place. Everyone present would have understood it in an instant. For He descends down a mountain like Moses announcing blessings and curses. This is a new berith, a new covenant: a New Law is being given:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted ... for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven.
If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek.
If you look upon a women with lust, you have already committed adultery.
If you boil over in anger at your brother, you risk Hell.
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
His life will never square with our reason .... as He told us in so many ways:
"My Kingdom is not of this world."
But greatness in life so rarely proceeds from the horses of instruction.
Life with Him begins and ends in the holiness of the heart's affections.
In Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.