I studied chemistry for three years in high school and, for the most part, focused on inorganic compounds—that is, compounds not involving carbon. Although I enjoyed the subject, I never found it all that relevant to my everyday life—apart from, say, sodium chloride (table salt).
One semester, though, I took organic chemistry. Although I hated it (because I was terrible at it), I discovered something fascinating: organic chemistry was everywhere in my everyday life—in my shampoo, perfume, gasoline, lotion, candles, and more. It was even in the plastic sheet protectors I used for school. (Yes, I was a nerd.)
Naming Raw Materials
Today, as I look back on those years of exploring the material world through the lens of chemistry, I’m saddened that no one showed me how the God of the Bible is also the God of chemistry. No one drew the connection, for example, between Genesis 2 and the Periodic Table.
In Genesis 2, God gives authority to man to name the animals, and the text describes the Lord as waiting to see what Adam would call them:
Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would name them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name (Gen. 2:19, emphasis mine).
The Periodic Table represents all the raw materials that God has created and that we have given names. He created, for example, the raw material we call “oxygen” so that we can breathe and the raw material that we call “calcium” so that our bones and teeth can grow strong. He created them; we named them.
Yet no one described my studies to me this way. At school, I learned about things like the material world and English literature. At church, I learned about things like personal atonement and salvation. But no one—not my teachers nor my pastors—connected these worlds. As a result, I often felt that I had to choose between them.
All Truth Is God’s Truth
“Whatever things were rightly said among men are the property of us Christians,” Justin Martyr said. Drawing attention to the concept of the logos, he explained why Christians could embrace all truth as God’s truth—no matter its human source.
John Piper offers a helpful update. He takes 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 to mean that, until we know in such a way that we love God more because of it, we do not yet know as we ought:
Alongside “All truth is God’s truth,” we need to say, “All truth exists to display more of God and awaken more love for God.” This means that knowing truth and knowing it as God’s truth is not a virtue until it awakens desire and delight in us for the God of truth.
In other words, merely knowing that the God of the Bible is the God of chemistry is not enough. Until chemistry awakens desire and delight in us for the God of truth, we do not know chemistry as we ought.
How to Supplement Education
Except in rare cases, the public school system does not make this connection. It does not aim to glorify God in the knowledge it pursues. Instead, it often robs God of the honor due him by passing off general revelation as a product of its own thoughts. As Abraham Kuyper once said, “[Scholarship] wants to be something outside of God, apart from God, in opposition to God.”
Too often, though, we in the church spend our energies focusing on the brokenness of the system—like, for example, worrying about what the science teacher will say about evolution—when we ought to be looking for creative opportunities to open young minds to the wonder of God’s creation. How can we, then, supplement our students’ education so that they can know as they ought to know, that their studies may awaken desire and delight in them for the God of truth? Here are three practical suggestions:
1. Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear. Do I mean that we should pray for them as they open the pages of Shakespeare or conjugate Spanish verbs? Most certainly, yes, but I also mean something deeper. Kuyper told his students, “I mean that you should place yourself with all your academic hopes and dreams before the face of God in such a way that praying for your studies flows naturally from it and is not attached to it as an afterthought.”
2. Host forums for them to connect what they’re learning at school with what they’re learning at church. In addition to pizza parties and game nights, we can organize youth group discussions about particular subjects that aim to connect them with the gospel. We might be hesitant to do this because, perhaps, we weren’t good at certain subjects, or we don’t remember them. But we don’t need to be experts in any particular field to hear what students are learning and then point them to Scriptures that explore those topics.
3. Acknowledge that seeking wisdom and understanding is a lifelong pursuit. Proverbs 2:1-8 talks about calling out for insight and searching for understanding. This is not wisdom just for the young, but for the old, too. We might be hesitant to engage in these conversations with students because we’re afraid that we’ll learn something that will contradict our theology. But being willfully ignorant or intellectually lazy doesn’t strengthen anyone’s faith. Instead, we must seek wisdom like we’re looking for “hidden treasures” (Prov. 2:4). This will mean digging deep with students—even as we ourselves pray for eyes to see and ears to hear, too.