Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; John 21:4-11
Long before computer programs, Luuk Tinbergen, a Dutch ornithologist, coined the term “search image” when he noticed that birds would search out certain insects that they like above others. Having a predetermined search image helps them find the tastier beetles in their lives. As humans we have this talent as well. It’s why branding works so well. We learn to look for images of the places we like to eat or shop. It’s why the moment you buy a new car, you’ll notice all the other people driving that same car. Our brains notice the things that are important to making decisions and processing information quickly and effectively. Rob Walker, in his book, “The Art of Noticing” says that you can practice this all the time and end up seeing the world differently. Next time you’re out walking, pick something ahead of time that you will look for— it can be as simple as looking for street lamps, a certain type of flower, or mailboxes. And just take time to notice whatever you decided to see. You’ll never see it the same again. (The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker)
Carlo Rovelli, an Italian physicist, tells the story of being on the shores of Italy during a break from school, reading about Einstein’s theory of relativity. Every once in awhile he would look up from the book he was reading and watch the ocean waves come in to shore, and what he was reading all of a sudden made a lot more sense. He felt that he could actually see, by looking at the water waves, what the waves of space might look like, and he was mesmerized to think about space and time in this new way. (Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli)
Once we start looking at something in a certain way, often we can’t unsee it. We’ve discovered something new in how we view the world and it changes how we see things.
In our Gospel this morning the disciples have gone back to fishing. Some of them were fishermen before Jesus discovered them, some were other things like tax collectors or farmers— but this morning, as they are still reeling from Jesus’ death and don't quite know what to think of him being alive, they are all out there on the boat fishing together. Except they’re not catching anything. That’s always the way, isn’t it? When you need an easy win, you can’t get one? The disciples have been looking at the world through Jesus’ eyes for three years now so when they go back to fishing, not knowing what else to do immediately following his death, their heart isn’t exactly in it. They have seen so much. They have felt such purpose to be part of something bigger, and they can’t unsee it even though they don’t understand what to do now. Then a stranger on shore, after noticing that they have caught nothing, tells them to put their nets on the other side of the boat and immediately their nets are filled to overflowing, and they know. They know when they see abundance. They know when they experience something amazing that they don’t understand. They know when they discover something new, that it must be Jesus. Because that’s what happens when they’re with Jesus.
This Scripture passage is about abundance. It’s about who Jesus is. It’s about the experiences that the disciples have had, and how it is that they now recognize God— by noticing abundance in their lives. We would never ask, after reading this story, “I wonder what fishing technique they used when they caught all of that fish? I wonder what it was about the right side of the boat that made all those fish rush into their nets? I wonder how we can replicate this so that we too can catch fish?” That’s not the point. The writer of Luke didn’t write this so that we can catch fish. The writer of Luke wrote this so that we know how to look for Jesus in our daily lives. Luke wants us to be looking for Jesus, like a search image.
There was a time before modern scientific thought, when people believed that we could learn science from the Bible. But our world changed. We discovered things the writers of Scripture didn’t know— like the fact that the earth is round; that dinosaurs existed; that we can fight cancer with radiation; that there is radiation. Our understanding of the Bible, of our world, and of how we understand God has had to change as our knowledge changes. But that doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t have a place in our lives or that just because our understanding of the world is growing and expanding, that God is not still both creator and participant in creation. Science has a very important role in our lives and in our world, in such a variety of ways that we don’t even think about most of them. But science is also, in many ways, just a tool. If we separate it from our values about what God’s Kingdom can look like here on earth and in space, than it can easily be used to devalue human life, to destroy our earth, to cause pain and suffering rather than to bring healing and hope and life. Science can’t save us from ourselves. But God can.
CS Lewis once wrote, “I believe in God like I believe in the sun. Not because I can see it, but because by it, I can see everything else.”
Our faith in Christ gives us a way to see the world, and once we begin to see the world through the lens of who Jesus was and still is today, we can’t unsee it. Believing in God, who is love, affects how we see the world around us. Our discoveries within science that tell us how things work, why things exist, how long things have existed, what might be out there, what comes next— all of these are wonderful discoveries. And it continues to be our faith in Christ that shows us how to see these discoveries; how to understand them; what to do once we know about them. It is God speaking through God’s Word that teaches us how to apply science to continue Jesus’ ministry — to feed the poor, to proclaim release to captives; to heal the sick; to recover the sight of the blind; to let the oppressed go free.
And for every generation, we have to once again figure out how to live into that vision of God’s Kingdom in our time and our place. Which means that our understanding of our own faith and who God is will be challenged at times, but we don’t need to fear. Our faith and our understanding of God will change. That’s a given. We see that in the Bible. Over and over again people in the Bible rediscover things about God and themselves, but because they have a search image— a way to identify God as love— they are able to find God when God looks differently than they were expecting. This kind of noticing causes us to rely on God’s goodness and mercy, rather than on our own judgment.
So where does that leave us? Well, as Methodists, we actually have a statement about science and our faith, found in our Book of Discipline:
We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God’s natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology....We find that as science expands human understanding of the natural world, our understanding of the mysteries of God’s creation and word are enhanced.
... We therefore encourage dialogue between the scientific and theological communities and seek the kind of participation that will enable humanity to sustain life on earth and, by God’s grace, increase the quality of our common lives together.
So in many ways, we end where we began. The first week of our Science & Faith series we read Genesis 1 which focuses on humanity made in God’s image, and God says “It is good!” And then in week two we read Genesis 2 which focuses on humanity being made from the dirt, a part of creation, and susceptible to evil. Both are true. Science can be used for ill or for good because science is used by people. So can religion. As people of faith, we have to be open to acknowledging where we go wrong, whether scientifically or theologically, and to name that we are constantly discovering new things about God and one another, relying on God to see us through.
So let’s keep our search image focused on God, and know that we don’t need to be afraid. God is at work in amazing ways in our world, bringing abundance, forgiveness, healing and hope in ways that are far greater than we could ever imagine!