Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why Professors Can Also Be Christians

It’s possible to be a scholar and a Christian.   It’s possible to study neuroscience, understand the process behind how we age fossils, know the mechanism of evolution, immerse yourself in various spiritual paths and still proclaim, with a resounding “yes,” that Jesus Christ is the one true God.  Many professors have deeply held spiritual beliefs.  Students, I find, have a hard time believing this.  Let me set the record straight. 

I believe the claims of Jesus because I don’t base my faith on my experience (I read too much neuroscience to be able to validate my perceptions of God as truth).  And although I feel, on a daily basis, what I describe as the peace and love of God in my life, answered prayer, protection, provision, and joy, I’m not a Christian because of emotion or experience.

I also acknowledge Jesus because I know you don’t need to discount science.  I’m married to an organic chemist, after all.  I honestly don’t understand, with 100 % certainty, the matrix behind creation or how species evolved (I wasn’t there).  The more I read, the more I observe, the more I see mystery and the limits of human understanding.   I’m not afraid of science; the deeper I delve, the more I’m amazed.    

When students ask me why I’m a Christian, I tell them it’s because of the historical Jesus.   As a college student, I read the entire New Testament because I had to be absolutely certain that Jesus made claims to divinity and that his body was resurrected as proof of his claim.  Why, I reasoned, would I stake my life and my reputation as a future scholar on some hogwash that wasn’t true?  I needed to come to terms with the claims of Jesus. 

What I found when I read the eye witness accounts of Jesus of Nazareth included miraculous demonstrations of power:  controlling weather, healing diseases, curing blindness and paralysis, knowing a person’s thoughts, multiplying resources like bread, wine, and fish, casting out demons, and predicting the future.  As I read, I wondered to myself why people worshipped this man.  And why did he cause such a political stir?  Other people, as the scriptures and historical documents report, did miraculous things.  Healers, psychics, and sorcerers had been around for a while (they made big money).  Other men, in other cultures, claimed to have the power of God.  They even performed miracles.  I’ve even read other cultures, in other times, have their own virgin birth narratives. 

But when I examine the resurrection of Jesus’s body, when I analyze the reports of who saw him, and when I read how I could know God, I had to listen.   I also had to listen to the hundreds of prophecies, written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, that talked about his life and death--and resurrection. 

The religious rhetoric imprisoning Christianity makes it nearly impossible to talk about it.  I don’t even know how to begin.  What I can say is that I acknowledged, in my mind, that Jesus was the incarnation of God.  Scripture talks about “receiving Jesus” into my life, so mentally, I asked the spirit of God to reside in me.  As someone who reads about the brain, I’m not sure where the Holy Spirit actually dwells in a person, but I know Jesus claimed that receiving the Holy Spirit meant you had a Counselor and a Comforter.  Jesus also claimed that by receiving him, I’d have eternal life that began now.  In other words, the spiritual death that accompanies our separation from a holy God wasn’t a future death.  It was the reality of my life before knowing God ("sin" is one way to describe it).  I had no “relationship” to God.  When I began praying to Jesus, I became alive spiritually. This meant that I began to enjoy worshipping God, praying to God, listening to the instructions and promises in the Bible, and most importantly, relishing the favor of God.  I also had power in my life to become the type of person God wanted me to be.   

I didn’t go to church today.  I was too tired (grading, a big wedding, everything else).  As I lay in my bed, I thanked God that my going to church doesn’t help me impress God.  I’m deeply loved, completely free, and completing confident that I am known by God.  I go to church to enjoy praising God with other folks.  I don’t do one thing to earn God’s love; I also can’t do anything to lose God’s love.

So, in case you wondered, that’s why I’m so happy and full of energy when I’m teaching.  That's one reason why I can live with flair.  God’s love is unfathomable; it sets people free.  My teaching philosophy has much to do with the love and acceptance I extend from knowing God.  

Now you can say you know a professor who is also a Christian.    

Living with flair means seeing the harmony between the life of the mind and the life of faith. 

6 comments:

Jenny S. said...

Amen, sister.

You are a wonderful wife, mother, friend, teacher (your students are truly blessed), writer (I am more amazed by this each day), friend, and, most importantly, child of God. Thank you for demonstrating to us - for living out day in and day out - how to follow Jesus in all aspects of your life.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog by reading your response to another blog (Gretchen Rubin) and I'm so happy I found it. How great to find someone who can combine science and Christianity. Just makes my day! I love that you don't discount one to find belief in the other. I very much enjoyed reading and will definitely be back.
~Vicky M
Nashville, TN

Vince said...

Heather,

I have a question related to epistemology of faith.

Vince, a physicist, who would loosely fit the label Creedal Christian.

Vince said...

My blog is pretty slow because I don't write often. If a few good comments are posted, then I will let you know. I have some more specific comments of my own in mind, but I am hoping for some participation from a group of academics that I meet with before I comment further.

Thanks for your post.
Vince

Vince said...

Thanks again for your post. I tried to post additional comments but it was too long by just a few words to be a comment. I posted it at
Where does knowledge end and faith begin?

Thanks for your post.

Fullcircle7 said...

Thank you for this. I experience a constant struggle between my love of science and my desire for faith. It's reassuring to know that I am not alone and that the two don't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.