Today I was in Waterstone’s bookshop in Cambridge, buying yet another book that will have to get in the queue.
Reflecting later about the material on display, however, I find myself thinking about Paul in Athens. In his case, his spirit was provoked because, “he saw that the city was full of idols”. In my case, it was not idols that filled the bookshop, but it was certainly idolatry.
Here was volume after volume on the same issue: why are we here and what does it mean?
And as we know, idolatry has a strong component of worshipping and serving the creature, but failing to acknowledge the Creator (Rom 1:25).
Most of these books were what might be called pop-science or pop-philosophy. There was inevitably little that would qualify as hard science or serious philosophy and that was in the specialist sections upstairs. (I was grateful that serious philosophy was only on the third, not the fourth, floor or I would be writing this from a hospital bed.)
One can therefore easily dismiss these works precisely for their popular appeal, their lack of seriousness: Darwin By Design, Why Your Brain Can Think for Itself — I made these up, but as titles they would easily be at home amongst the works on offer. Yet for all their fatuousness, they would just be the equivalent of “To An Unknown God”. Real books purporting to explain reality to us (and to explain us away as a side effect of the real world) were everywhere.
There was even a stack of books on something like Reading the Bible as Science. Everyone got a look in. (Perhaps there was an Agnosto Theo, after all!) But just as there was little serious science or philosophy, so it seemed there was no genuine Christian input. The Christian books were also in a little section to themselves, up on that third floor where you really felt the lack of oxygen.
Yet surely if the displays on lower floors say anything about market forces, there is a crying need — indeed a desperate want — of something telling the truth.
On my way out of the shop, therefore, the words that came to mind were those of Job 28 (9–12, ESV)
Man puts his hand to the flinty rock and overturns mountains by the roots. He cuts out channels in the rocks, and his eye sees every precious thing. He dams up the streams so that they do not trickle, and the thing that is hidden he brings out to light. “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?”
Science? Been there. Technology? Done that. Big Bang? Sorted. Evolutionary psychology? Sussed.
But wisdom and understanding — where are they? If anyone possessed them, surely people of all nations would travel the earth to hear it, sent by the kings of whole world, just as they did to Solomon.
Dear brother, dear sister, you and I have the wisdom that is from God.
You do believe that, don’t you? Whether you are an ‘evangelical’ or a ‘liberal’, a ‘conservative’ or a ‘radical’, a ‘traditionalist’ or a ‘reformer’, indeed whether you believe it or not, it is true:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption ... (1 Corinthians 1:26–30, ESV)
Make no mistake though! This ‘wisdom from God’ is not confined to ‘the good news about Jesus’. Solomon’s wisdom encompassed botany and horticulture (1 Ki 4:33). He could hold his own with the wisest of Egypt and the East, just as in another generation, three young Jewish boys surpassed the ‘magi’ of the Babylonian court. And his forerunners in the business of Temple building, men like himself “filled with the spirit of wisdom” (Ex 28:3, KJV, Heb) were both craftsmen and artists of the first order.
It is emphatically not wise to say, “All you need to know is Jesus.” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), but it is not the end, nor is it a substitute for wisdom. Rather, it is the gateway through which we enter into that elusive storehouse where wisdom is actually to be found.
Thus it is that which takes a ‘big bang theory’ or indeed (dare I say) the process of natural selection (which is not so much a theory but, as I think John Lennox says, a truism – a commonplace statement of the obvious) and interprets them — critiquing them so as to question some of the assumptions made by those who hold to them, and applying them in such a way as they fit the known facts of the universe (including consciousness, reason and moral value), not the doctrinaire assertions of those who assume what the facts must be.
Thus we will engage with the likes of the Nobel-prizewinning biologist Jacques Monod and, whilst relishing his discoveries about biology, shout ‘phooey’ to his pronouncements about the meaning(lessness) of it all.
When I read his Chance and Necessity back in the 1970s, even I could see that smuggling in the principles of French Socialism on the back of a case that life is the result of biological accident and chemical determinism was a bit far-fetched. Yet there are pronouncements about ‘the meaning of life’ being made to day by those of the same mind which are no less tosh for the fact that the fanfare accompanying them is louder and more socially acceptable.
Soldiers of Christ, arise and put your armour on — or rather, take up the sword which is the word of God and the pen which is supposedly mightier than the sword. Write, write and keep writing until what you’re writing finally takes a form that will penetrate even the ears of those who gather round them people to tell them what their itching ears yearn to hear.
Speak against the idols. Or even better, do as Paul did and begin from those idols to tell them about the God who actually made the world and everything in it (big bangs, black holes and all), who is not far from every one of us and who desires that we should seek him and reach out for him and perhaps find him.
It is a task beyond me, I’m afraid, but it could be you.
Good luck. God bless you. I’ll see you in the assembly area.
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