A Scientist’s Letter to the UK Church: Hope, prayer and some helpful resources

By Dr Ruth Bancewicz

Dear Church,

I am so grateful for the overwhelmingly gracious and resourceful ways in which UK churches, including my own, have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of our lives are restricted in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a year ago. Many of us are experiencing loss. We have watched our friends lose loved ones, livelihoods, and hope.

Nevertheless, our Christian communities still found new ways to help each other. There has been an incredible outpouring of generosity in providing meals and other support to those who need it most. Thank you for taking scientific advice seriously, whilst not letting fear silence your ministry.

Dr Francis Collins, who is heading up medical research on COVID in the US, recently expressed his faith in God to help us through the pandemic. He voiced the grief that so many are experiencing, and its impact on health workers. He also offered his conviction that he is in exactly the right place - serving God with his science. He is holding on tight to the words of Paul in 2:

Timothy 1:7, ‘for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.’

As I very briefly unpack this passage, I want to emphasise the hopeful message that Christians in the sciences can bring to the church right now. They are demonstrating their love for people by working to the best of their God-given ability, using what resources they have to improve care for the sick and protect the vulnerable.

I will also share some ways to pray, and some resources that will help your church respond to the latest knowledge about this disease from a Christian perspective. Science will not solve all our problems, but with God’s wisdom we can use scientific tools to serve him during the current crisis.

Power

In 2 Timothy, Paul encourages his friend to ‘fan into flame the gift of God’ that is in them. I am thankful that scientists like Francis are using their particular talents to understand this virus. Their discoveries are not just useful but can also display God’s wondrous creation.

When I spoke to Lisa Tan, a clinical researcher in my own church, she suggested these prayer points:

1. That clinical trials – whether of drugs or vaccines – are well designed and conducted and provide conclusive unambiguous results (positive or negative).

2. Scientific integrity, quality and rigour would be maintained, even as we wish for a speedy vaccine approval process.

3. The trial subjects’ safety would be paramount and maintained at all times.

4. Decision makers in companies, academia and government would work well together.

Love

For the Christian, every walk of life is a ministry that must be done with love. A scientist shows their love for God and for the rest of creation through their work in the lab. They wholeheartedly pour themselves into their work, trusting that God will guide their efforts to positive effect.

Dr Harvey McMahon works at the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge. He described his experiences to me in a recent email:

“I have a deep love and appreciation for science and count it as a privilege to study God’s creation. For me science and faith are intertwined and are part of a more holistic view. I study God’s fingerprints to learn more of him and the world he placed us in and to learn how we should take care of it and each other.

He continued, “I am awed by my heavenly Father’s glory displayed in creation (and I get to investigate this day after day!) I pray for inspiration and insight into how his creation works, and that he would reveal what he wants me to know, and that he provides the opportunities to give the glory to him.”

Let’s pray.

For all the scientists around the world who are working on COVID-19.

For those who want to work out their faith in loving ways through science.

For generosity and kindness in sharing resources and expertise.

That decisions on the application of scientific knowledge would benefit the most vulnerable.

Self-Control

A scientist has to be extremely tenacious, motivated, and self-controlled if they are to achieve a result – positive or negative. Is there anyone in your church who is a scientist, science teacher or student, or who uses scientific knowledge in their work? Let us encourage them and ask how we can support their efforts.

“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4: 5b-8

It is largely our own and others’ selfish actions that can turn a forest into a desert, a natural event into a natural disaster, or one animal’s friendly virus into our own species’ personal nightmare. Thankfully, it’s not up to scientists, politicians, or even the church, to save the world. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection are the solution to evil. Our ultimate hope is that one day all creation will be renewed.

We can also have hope in the here and now, that God is with us in our suffering, and that we can care for creation with his help. When we respond in positive ways to painful events, that is evidence that Jesus is alive and working in our lives.

You can be confident that Christians serving in the sciences across the globe are standing with you in love, hope and faith. Let us pray together for the strength to cope, and for an end to this pandemic.

Dr Ruth Bancewicz is the Church Engagement Director for the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, where her remit is to help UK churches interact with science. She studied Genetics at Aberdeen and Edinburgh university, is a member of Christians in Science, and is currently studying theology with Spurgeon’s College. Her next book, Wonders of the Living World: Curiosity, awe, and the meaning of life, will be published by Lion in summer 2021.

You can find resources and Christian responses to COVID at faraday.cam.ac.uk/churches

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