The Skunks of Spring: reasons to believe

Dozing off last night , I was awakened by the scent of a skunk. And I was happy about that. For most of the year, the scent of skunk does not make me happy, but in early March it does. Why? Because  skunks are out of their dens and stirring, a sign of spring.  Birds have been singing even when snow was falling.  Squirrels are chasing around in the trees. The days are noticeably longer. Trees are beginning to bud. I know more signs of spring will follow.  We know we can count on it. Spring follows winter. Crocus and snowdrops will grow- through snow if necessary. Forsythia will bloom. Tulips. Daffodils. Summer follows spring. Sweet corn and tomatoes. Green grass and mosquitos. Then fall with its apples and pumpkins.  We all know this. This is the way the world works, orderly, repeatable, dependable.

Well, as it turns out, “we” didn’t always know this. What seems self evident to us,that natural world is orderly and reliable, wasn’t always obvious.  Ancient people, living in this same world, saw the world as a frightful place. Yes, spring followed winter but in the pagan mind, the gods who were in charge were capricious and unreliable. There were many gods and sometimes the gods were in conflict with each other. None of the gods were entirely in control. It was, in some ways, a fragile system. Humankind needed to be constantly attentive to the gods, keeping them fed and happy and focused. Focused? Yes focused, so they wouldn’t forget to cause the rain. So plants would grow and babies be born.

One of the gifts of Judaism is the knowledge of the one God who is dependable and reliable. The one God who does not need to be reminded about rain. Now, to be sure, it might not rain sufficiently one year. But that was not because God forgot. The God of Israel is a God of purpose and intention. Israel’s God is trustworthy. No tricks.  No guesses.

The Jewish and later Christian insistence that God is rational and dependable leads to the recognition that nature is understandable. The Bible presents God as trustworthy and God’s creation as orderly and dependable.

This view of the world, that the world is orderly and understandable, is what allows us to “do” science. Science is based on the assumption that we can understand the natural world. 

Science is also based on the Jewish and Christian assumption that the natural world matters. Its worth trying to understand. The world is declared good by God. God upholds and sustains it. God pays attention to it. The hairs of our heads are numbered, lilies of the field are created beautiful. Plants grow, animals are fed, sparrows noticed.

Every year, I look for the signs of spring. I think about how the lengthening days prompt the birds to build nests and squirrels to leave their winter dens. I think about the complex ecological interactions that take place, even in my backyard. The soil warms, bugs hatch, bulbs grow.

Every year, I look for signs of spring. I think about the creator God who set the universe in motion. I think about the sustaining God who preserves and nurtures life on our planet. I think about the redeeming God who works to save all creation.

There is no science versus religion silliness in spring. Spring is science and religion, facts and faith, truth and beauty. Step outside and listen for the first whisper of the promise.

I’d like to know, what do you think?

By the way, my second “Science and Religion” post is up at Presbyterian Bloggers, if you would care to look.

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