Many among us, feared this careful man of God, are shying away from God's Holy Word as its own and final interpreter. How can those who use the human mind in higher criticism of the words of its Maker possibly know Him well enough to interpret Him? Higher criticism, he felt, was superseding the simple testimony of Jesus. What makes the situation even more anomalous is that such criticism makes these critics interpreter-bedmates with the conservative scholars they most despise—the one who insists there is only one way to interpret the Bible—his own!
Schools of the "Profits"
I was reminded of an experience I had JULY, 1966 one bitter-cold night in Hakodate, in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. I was talking to an alert audience about the privileges and rewards of Christian education. My theme was built around ancient Israel's schools of the prophets. My interpreter was the special assistant and interpreter for the mayor. Although able, sohisticated, and of advancing age, he was not a Christian.
We were moving along effectively, judging from the listener reaction. My earlier fears of a cold and stoical audience faded in the warmth of their quick smiles and the agreement we could read from their nodding heads. And it was obvious that my traveling collelgue, Wilton Baldwin, was thrilled at our reception. But as we moved deeper into the example of the ancient schools, I began to read increasing puzzlement on the faces before us. Elder Baldwin, sitting in the audience, was the only one still smiling. Finally in one of those coincidental encounters I looked at my interpreter, and he looked at me.
"What kind of institutions . . . uh . . . were these?" he asked.
"I beg your pardon," I countered, mystified.
"I Th . . . uh . . . would you say they are some kind of commercial venture?"
"No. Why?" He had me more puzzled than ever.
"But you speak of the schools of the . . . of the . . . profits . . . I don't quite understand."
The clear if humorous truth flashed simultaneously on Elder Baldwin and me. Our learned interpreter had been translating my word as profits instead of prophets. It was the only context he knew.
Partly dumfounded, partly caught in the humor of the scene, Elder Baldwin broke out in hearty laughs, to the continuing puzzlement of the crowd which had sat in quizzical silence during the English exchange. A few words of interpreted explanation and they joined laughingly with us. Then we backed up and started over, cradled once again in their approbation. But the old scholar had taught me a lesson of a lifetime about interpreters who do not have a personal experience or identification with the message they are trying to interpret.
Time to Back Up?
It may be time for some of us to back up and start over. It might be spiritually reviving for us individually and institutionally to experiment more with the simple fare of the Word, and less with the largess of speculation laid so attractively on science' banquet board.
Otherwise, what have we to offer that others have not? If we must resort to the fluctuating conclusions of science as our bases for interpretation of the Scriptures, where will we find spiritual and doctrinal stability? How will we find a foothold on the pathway to truth?
"Science proves nothing absolutely," says Dr. Vannevar Bush. "On the most vital questions, it does not even produce evidence. . . . And the theologian. . . . He can accept the aid of science. . . . He can accept this knowing that on the central mysteries science cannot speak. And he can then step beyond to lead men in paths of righteousness."—Fortune, May, 1965, pp. 168-172.
"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Not free from thinking, nor free from the obligation to search. No, God is delighted with the inquiring mind that recognizes His Word as the ultimate guidebook in the scientific quest. But we shall have the perfect freedom that comes from certainty, and that certainty comes only from God.
The Fruit of Doubts
When I look at Yellowstone's famed strata of trees erectly standing in orderly rows, one row set in a somewhat orderly layer on another and another, I may be tempted to wonder about the scriptural story of Noah's Flood. I may ponder the forester-naturalist's story that this was accomplished by normal growth and sedimentary procedures over eons of time. I may weigh the story of a summary upheaval against the "normal" processes that seem so logical, or against other possible methods or events not yet known. Then I consider the Creator who controls all processes.
When I gaze upon the relatively undisturbed terrain of parts of Egypt, I may wonder if the Flood actually did cover the entire earth. For I reason that the Genesis writer may have been recording a limited perspective, that part of the world which he knew best. Then I ponder the Genesis account: "And all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. . . . And all flesh died" (Gen. 7:19-21). And I open to supplementary words of inspiration: "The entire surface of the earth was changed at the flood."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 107. "Apart from Bible history, geology can prove nothing."—Ibid., p. 112.
My senses have made their appeal to my mind, to the "kingly power of reason." I have seen. I have touched. Is it so?
I weigh the reality of my senses against the reality of my faith in the Word of God. Do I clearly interpret the story of this Book? Is it oversimplified, and therefore open to substantial interpretation, even speculation?
At this point I may take one of the two courses of action: (1) Relying on my own mind and its private interpretation of my senses, I may speculate that the scriptural account is limited, that its interpretation is hazy because of scant prior evidence, and perhaps I should do some reconstructing of my own, or (2) distrusting my skepticism, I reach out in faith for the simplest possible outline, such as I find in the Bible, realizing that some of the elements of the story may have to await eternity for their explanation.
As a matter of fact, I reason, since my God is all powerful He can make nature or cataclysms perform any feat He desires even to attacking four or five erect rows of trees one above another. Who am I to describe the limits of nature's laws? Any informed scientist these days knows that often what were laid down as absolutes yesterday are nature's uncertainties today —even though they may be the most elementary of physical "laws" or the simplest table of the chemical elements.
At this point I am faced with the identical dilemma known before me by theologians, factory workers, physicians, martyrs, and just plain Christian youth. They have their colleagues and peers, and so do I. Their crosses happened to be concerns of the Trinity, or labor unions, or the ascendency of drugs, or the state church, or facing the challenge of Sabbath classes in the university. The dilemma asks, What will my colleagues think? What will they say or do? What will my future be?
"The great obstacle both to the acceptance and to the promulgation of truth, is the fact that it involves inconvenience and reproach. This is the only argument against the truth which its advocates have never been able to refute. But this does not deter the true followers of Christ. These do not wait for truth to become popular."—The Great Controversy, p. 460. Rather they ask the question, Is my thinking consistent with the Word of God? Is it clearly to His glory?
Speculation's Twin Sister
Identity with the crowd, the characteristic so often associated with teen-agers, is a prime motivator even among scientists. This desire is a twin sister to speculation in seducing the Christian thinker away from the second road, the narrow and simple pathway of truth. It is not an easy matter to take God simply at His Word in the face of the staggering accomplishments of science. Such simplicity has a particular potential for embarrassment for the scientist. For his colleagues are keyed to the senses rather than oriented to faith.
The first road, the shrine road, is a wide and popular one today. Men are often ridiculed and sometimes banished from scientific circles, with all their concomitant advantages, for refusing to travel this way. Science so-called has sometimes crowded this thoroughfare so tightly that truth could not pass. An example is the history of penicillin. Its discovery predated its use some thirty years because science said it would not work, and so organized against it; anyone who challenged the "organization" was left by the professional wayside. Physical therapy was denied accreditation by the scientific community for generations until Sister Kenney defied ridicule and professional chill to throw the spotlight on its miraculous powers: even today it receives only a fraction of the use it deserves. Tradition is not hospitable to progress, nor to truth, nor even today, whether in cancer research, smoking and health, or in Sunday observance.
Ignorance or False Knowledge Works the Same Way
I once wondered why the Spirit of Prophecy writings cast the specious conclusions of human speculations, science falsely so called, in the same mold as those of the papacy. Then I realized that both move away from the Scriptures, sometimes almost imperceptibly, to build and organize around tradition. Whether it be the issue of Sunday sacredness or of organic evolution or antideluge theories makes little difference. All such substitutes cast the Scriptures in a secondary role. "Thus the false science of the present day, which undermines faith in the Bible, will prove as successful in preparing the way for the acceptance of the papacy, with its pleasing forms, as did the withholding of knowledge in opening the way for its aggrandizement in the Dark Ages."—Ibid., p. 573.
Yet the wise and godly scientist who does give faith a chance, who does experiment with God, soon realizes that his speculative brother is relying on assumptions that are much less secure. He knows that the scientist who does not borrow from a godly faith is only an educated guesser, and ultimately no scientist at all.
The first course of action takes me on the side road to reason's shrine, where my mind is the god. Science becomes a vassal to my senses. And truth becomes relative; it depends on how my senses evaluate the evidence. So there is no certainty of truth at all. Reason has become an end. The end.
The second approach keeps me walking alertly on reason's pathway, my eye on the Source of truth, undisturbed by the distractions of the trail. Thus reason is my means, and the God of truth is my end. Truth only can supply certainty, and in certainty only is found perfect freedom and peace. "The truth shall make you free." "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
It may be innocent to speculate beyond what God's word has revealed, if our theories do not contradict facts found in the Scriptures; but those who leave the word of God, and seek to account for His created works upon scientific principles, are drifting, without chart or compass, upon an unknown ocean. The greatest minds, if not guided by the word of God in their research, become bewildered in their attempts to trace the relations of science and revelation. Because the Creator and His works are so far beyond their comprehension that they are unable to explain them by natural laws, they regard Bible history as unreliable. Those who doubt the reliability of the records of the Old and New Testaments, will be led to go a step further, and doubt the existence of God; and then, having lost their anchor, they are left to beat about upon the rocks of infidelity.—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 113.
All who value their eternal interests should be on their guard against the inroads of skepticism. The very pillars of truth will be assailed. It is impossible to keep beyond the reach of the sarcasms and sophisms, the insidious and pestilent teachings, of modern infidelity. Satan adapts his temptations to all classes. He assails the illiterate with a jest or sneer, while he meets the educated with scientific objections and philosophical reasoning, alike calculated to excite distrust or contempt of the Scriptures. Even youth of little experience presume to insinuate doubts concerning the fundamental principles of Christianity. And this youthful infidelity, shallow as it is, has its influence. Many are thus led to jest at the faith of their fathers, and to do despite to the Spirit of grace. Many a life that promised to be an honor to God and a blessing to the world, has been blighted by the foul breath of infidelity. All who trust to the boastful decisions of human reason, and imagine that they can explain divine mysteries, and arrive at truth unaided by the wisdom of God, are entangled in the snare of Satan. —The Great Controversy, pp. 600, 601.
We may with some feeling of justification allude to the uncertainty stirred in us by human shortcomings, whether scientific or theological. They may even include the many scriptural versions, the varying translations and the multiplicity of interpretations. But our final measure will not be found in such rationale. It will be determined by the depth of our person-to-person relationship with the Creator of science, the Center of theology, Himself. And when we spend as much time seeking His help, in the interpretation of His truths as we do in probing the frontiers of science, the temptation to build speculation on things we do not know will disappear before the certainty of His Word.
Out of his long and deep experience as dean of the nation's scientists, Dr. Bush speaks once again, this time hopefully, of the realistic young scientist who aspires to penetrate even beyond the already exploding frontiers of science: "As always he will build his own concepts, and his own loyalties. He will follow science where it leads, but will not attempt to follow where it cannot lead. And, with a pause, he will admit a faith."—Page 172.
Reason without God may become our shrine, yet such reason is no reason at all. But reason as a pathway is faith's outreach to God, the mind's gifted call. And He awaits in omniscience, eagerly desiring and able to give us the deepest and sublimest secrets of His universe. "Taste and see . . ."