Consider the Moth

Posted on August 19, 2012

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Luke 12:22-30 (NIV)

22Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.28If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

In the 12th chapter of Luke, Jesus alternates between speaking to a large crowd and teaching his disciples privately in this very public setting. In verses 22 through 30, using two lessons from nature, Jesus attempts to teach his disciples the fruitlessness and folly of worry. He shares the secret to handling the paralyzing grip of worry and selfishness: All we need to do is to put our lives into the protective and comforting hands of God the Father.

In the first vignette, God cares for the birds of the field (ravens or crows depending upon which version of Scriptures you use). Ravens and crows are scavengers and generally considered nuisances and pests. However, God takes care of them. That should give all of us hope and comfort.

In the second vignette, wild flowers or lilies (depending upon the version of Scriptures you use) are favorably compared with the splendor of Solomon, his palace and its royal trappings. We all know that all flowers are very temporary. They eventually wither and die. The remains of the flowers are either left to decompose and become part of the ground for the next crop of flowers, or they are gathered up and burnt, with the ashes scattered to the winds. Finally, time erases the signs of their presence and they are remembered no more. However, God gives these temporary plants as much beauty and concern as the royal trappings with which Solomon surrounded himself. We don’t need to be overly-concerned with the way we look and dress. God will provide us with our basic needs. [Note: I believe the key word in the preceding sentence is “overly-concerned.” We do need to dress modestly and appropriately for the occasion. Other people may judge us by the way we look, but God judges us for what is in our hearts.]

In these two vignettes and in other scripture passages Christ, during his earthly ministry, used examples from nature to teach us practical lessons. Some of these include the parable of the sower, the lesson of the mustard seed, and the lesson of the size of the harvest. God, speaking through writers of Job and the Psalms, used examples from nature to teach us practical lessons.

In Christian higher education, we have often used the phrase “All truth is God’s truth.” Arthur Holmes, in his book by this same title, uses the creation or cultural mandate given to Adam as license to search for truth wherever we might find it. We do not need to be afraid of truth. However, we do need to circumspectly make judgments between God’s truth and Satan’s imitations of that truth.

In that vein, I want to thank Tom Bartlett, senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He wrote an article that appeared in the August 17, 2012 edition of The Chronicle Review. Interestingly the article was labeled Salvaging God on the cover of the magazine section. Does God need salvaging? Do we think we can salvage him? When you get to the article inside the section, it is entitled, Dusting off God; Does Religion Really Poison Everything?

Bartlett begins this article with a parable about moths that Richard Dawkins, an outspoken atheist, introduced in his book, The God Delusion. Moths and bats are two nocturnal fliers. However, their evening flights are made possible because of two very different natural senses. Bats use the sense of sound. They use natural sonar to navigate around obstacles. Moths, on the other hand, use their very sensitive eyes and the light from the moon or stars to see the obstacles and navigate around them.

The fact that moths use light by which to navigate actually explains why they are susceptible to bug zappers. They are not attracted to the light of campfires, light bulbs or bug zappers. They are confused by that light.

Physics tell us that light is a chameleon in the physical world. Sometimes it behaves like waves of energy, and other times like particles with mass. Some physicists attempt to describe this aspect of light by saying that the particles resemble individual packets of matter that are pure energy. This seems to be a key to the complicated relationship between matter and energy. Recall Einstein’s formula, E = mc2.

Light radiates from a source in waves of ever expanding circles. Our eyes and other light sensors don’t “read” the wave. They are focusing on the individual packets of light. By the time light reaches the earth from the moon or stars, the waves of light are so large in diameter that the light sensors in our eyes are “reading” the light as if it was coming into our eyes as a series of parallel, straight lines.

If we look at a light bulb from a distance of three feet, the diameter of the light waves reaching our eyes is not very large. The light sensors in our eyes pick up multiple light packets, and not a straight, steady stream of packets. This can even make the light bulb seem to flicker. If you look at the light bulb through a very narrow slit, the flickering will be greatly reduced.

The great distances between the earth and the sun, moon and stars, fixes the position of these bodies in relationship to the earth. We and moths can then use those fixed positions to navigate successfully objects on the earth.

Since our eyes and sight receptors are so much larger than those in moths, the introduction of a much closer source of light such as a campfire, porch light or bug zapper doesn’t attract moths. It is actually confusing them. Therefore, they can’t navigate properly and tend to begin a death spiral into the source of the light. Self-immolation is not built into their instincts or DNA. It is the result of confusion. Dawkins explains that moths didn’t evolve to commit suicide. He claims that this is just “an unfortunate byproduct” of the evolutionary process.

Richard Dawkins suggests that religion is like a bug zapper for humans. It introduces another source of information that confuses people, distracting their attention from scientific truth. They behave like moths and seek patterns in religious texts. This begins people on a death spiral into the black hole of ignorance.

This is a very convenient and useful explanation for the confirmed atheist. It removes God from the equation. It eradicates any burden of personal obligation or responsibility for our choices. It then squarely places the blame for all of our problems on religion. Although the seemingly innate search for truth through religion and religious experiences appears to be a universal feature built into the soul of every human, it is nothing but “an unfortunate byproduct” of evolution.

Of course we could offer another explanation. However, this explanation is predicated on the existence of an omnipotent and just God who created the universe and everything in it. This God demands obedience and personal responsibility. However, this God is also a loving God. Through the sacrifice of Christ, this God has offered all people the opportunity for eternal salvation. Yet this scenario is unacceptable to many because man is no longer the center of the universe.

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