2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
Quarks. They are subatomic particles, so small, they have never been seen. Theoretical predictions based on their existence have been confirmed experimentally. The late John Polkinghorne was a mathematician when quarks were discovered. Mid-career, feeling the call of God, he switched careers, attending seminary to become an Anglican priest. In his book Living with Hope, a collection of Advent devotions, during the second week of Advent, he briefly describes the discovery of these theoretical realities, quarks.
We cannot see them. We only believe they exist. Belief is the stuff of faith. Science deals with measurable evidence. Polkinghorne wonders whether real scientists should take quarks seriously. Then, the scientist-pastor answers his own question writing, “We believe in quarks not because we have seen them sitting on their own but because that belief make sense of so much experience that we can observe directly”[i] (italics mine). He has faith in the methods of observation that leads scientists to accept un-seeable quarks as real things.
Similarly, Polkinghorne anticipates the eternal blessing we have in our faith in Jesus. Citing 2 Corinthians 4, we see that our outer nature is wasting away (our bodies are dying). But, because of who we are in Christ, saved by grace, our inner nature is being renewed and destined for life beyond the death of the body. Paul says something seemingly incongruous. “We look at … what cannot be seen.”
Like the unobservable quarks, we can’t see the eternal life we are promised when we give ourselves to Christ. What we can do is hear the story – Jesus rose from the grave. We can assess the history. Bodily resurrection is the best explanation for why first century Jews like Peter and Paul believed in Jesus as Messiah and Savior. If he was truly resurrected, then should God be trusted? Yes. Polkinghorne writes that though Paul did not see the glory he was describing, both he and Peter “had direct experience of the grace given them from God the Father, and the hope given them through the risen Christ, and sufficient knowledge of the Spirit at work in their hearts.”[ii]
Can you believe a Star led astrologers from Persia to Bethlehem? Or that a baby was born to a virgin? Or that this baby was the Savior of the world who, when he grew up, would be crucified for your sins and after that rose from the grave? Is any of this believable? John Polkinghorne, a true scientist, considered the evidence and more importantly considered his own experience after seeking God. This Christmas, seek God! Consider the evidence yourself, and ask God to speak to your heart. I pray that if you do, you’ll find the best conclusion to be reached is that God can be trusted and Jesus is who the Bible says he is. Once you’ve discovered that, put your faith in Him.
[i] J. Polkinghorne (2003), Living with Hope: A Scientist Looks at Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville), p.27.
[ii] Ibid, p.27.