by David Phelps

"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa

October, 1999

This summer, my wife, Charlotte, asked our almost-seven-year-old daughter, Monica, what she was looking forward to about returning to school and starting first grade. I was amazed by Monica's response: "I want to get better at writing, spelling, addition and subtraction, and I want to learn as much as I can."

Naturally, we were pleased and proud to hear her say this, because it showed that she understood the reason for going to school. Unfortunately, many kids think of school as a place to socialize or as a waste of time. And yet, the desire for knowledge is one of our defining characteristics as human beings. We want to learn about the world around us: What makes things tick? What's over the next hill? But it seems there's always something left to learn.

Neutrinos (new-tree-nos) are tiny subatomic particles produced by nuclear reactions (such as the ones inside the sun). Among other things, they are fiendishly difficult to detect because they can pass through almost anything. In the 1970's, scientists devised a method for detecting neutrinos from the sun. They set up their detectors and sat back to await the results.

There were no neutrinos.

Eventually, they were able to detect a few neutrinos occasionally but nowhere near the number there should have been. The scientists were faced with three possibilities: There was something wrong with the experiment, they didn't know as much as they thought they did about how the sun works, or the sun had gone out! (That last possibility is more likely than it seems. The sun could easily release as much energy as it does now by simply contracting under its own weight.) Even today, a quarter of a century later, this mystery is still unsolved.

Another scientific mystery is the "missing matter." There is not enough mass -- stuff -- in the universe to produce enough gravity keep it from flying apart, but it isn't flying apart, and scientists don't know why not. The current theory is that there is "dark matter" in between the stars that can't be detected. However, since scientists can't detect it, they don't know whether it's there or not, so this mystery also remains unsolved.

Astrophysicist Gregory Benford has written that if there is no belief in a supreme being -- God -- the universe is a very scary place. No one is in control except us and we know we are inadequate to handle things on our own.

Perhaps the problem isn't in our quest for knowledge but in the kind of knowledge we seek. Several years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a book called Everything I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. His idea was that the important concepts and values are the ones we learn as children.

As persons of faith, we know that the sun shines because God makes it shine, and that the universe stays together because God holds it together. These are things any child in Sunday School knows. Perhaps we should change the title of the song to "He's Got The Whole Universe In His Hands." However, we cannot afford to let our faith remain at a child's level.  Our pastor, Allen, recently pointed out that most people stop learning about God and the Bible after the fourth grade. This translates to an age of about nine or ten years. We continue to learn and grow intellectually and physically after the age of ten. Our spiritual growth should not be different (Eph. 4:11-15; Heb. 6:1-3).

We are called to learn, and also to understand (Psa. 32:8-10). We are called to learn, and in turn to teach -- to share what we have learned (Psa. 51:6-13). We are surrounded by people who need to know what we know, people who live in a universe beyond their understanding or control, whose worlds are flying apart and whose lives are devoid of sunlight, people who need the assurance and peace that only a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ can provide (Matt. 11:28-30).

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:14-17 NIV.)


Copyright © 1999 by David Phelps