A couple of months ago, a professor at the Lutheran seminary in Berkeley asked me to review a book for the Theology and Science Journal. I guess he asked me because it’s a German book, ‘Einstein und die Religion’, ‘Einstein and Religion’, by Markus Mühling.
Now I don’t want to bore you with the details of this expansive work, but I want to share one big ‘aha’ moment with you that I had when working through that book: science is not neutral and merely based on measurable and observable facts, but influenced by the background and worldview of the scientist. Everyone learns to see and experience the world through certain lenses. Religion and the understanding of God for many centuries had a huge influence of scientific work and discoveries.
19th century English chemist Michael Faraday, for example, belonged to the Christian sect of the Sandemanians, who believed that God dwells in everything. This belief influenced Faraday’s scientific deduction that empty space simply does not exist. This scientific premise, based in religion, led Faraday to discover electro magnetism.
Einstein actually picked up this idea that there is no empty space, which led to the theory of the existence of atoms. And though Einstein at first was ridiculed for his theory – for who has ever seen an atom? – we all know too well that atoms exists – Hiroshima and Nagasaki are somber reminders of that.
And even Einstein, who was Jewish by birth, but a life-long religious skeptic, saw God behind the laws of science – he famously said, ‘The old man doesn’t roll any dice’. And it can be argued that Einstein’s understanding of God influenced his approach to science – and vice versa. Einstein conducted his thought experiments through certain lenses.
But it’s not only science that is influenced by the experience and worldview of the people behind it. Think of justice. We see the statue of Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice, blindfolded with the scales in her hand, but justice is anything but blind or neutral.
We may have laws, but those are subject to interpretation. Already in the Jewish tradition, the Mosaic laws of the Holy Scriptures have been interpreted through the Talmud, for example. Rabbis would quarrel about the meaning of God’s law. So even God’s commandments have always needed interpretation, and this interpretation was never uniform.
And look at the Supreme Court of this country. If the judges appointed to the Supreme Court were all neutral representatives and executives of U.S. laws, simply following those laws to the letter, we didn’t have all the so called conservative and liberal or moderate justices, and all the political wrangling when a position on the Supreme Court becomes available.
Looking at the law and executing justice happens through certain lenses – gender, religious upbringing, life experience, personal values and political affiliation and loyalty, and sometimes just gut feeling about certain issues – all these definitely have an impact on how those highly educated and extensively trained people understand justice. Justice is not blind. Justice always wears glasses.
Now if this happens to the members of the Supreme Court – imagine how we come to our conclusions about justice. How we judge. And we judge all the time. We meet someone for the first time, and we have a first impression, though we don’t know anything or not much about this person. We like them or dislike them. We are afraid of them or trust them. We find them interesting or boring. We judge, as we are judged at the same time. This judgement it based on past experiences, on stories we’ve heard, on values that have been passed on to us through our communities and society.
And, oh, how easily do we see the speck in the eye of the other. How quickly we point out the negative in someone else. And how easy it is for us to demand that those who make mistakes be brought to justice. Which usually means, we hope they be punished.
Today’s gospel is a reflection on our human tendency to judge quickly and to demand some sort of reprimand for the wrong we see. A sewer went out to sew the good seed, says Jesus in his parable, but then an enemy came and sowed weeds in that same field. The servants soon realize that something’s growing that shouldn’t be growing there, and ask their master if they should rip the weeds out. They are ready, they are eager. Away with the useless weeds!
And can’t we all relate to that feeling? We see all the bad that is happening in this world, we see downright evil, we witness injustice and negligence and callousness against the poor and vulnerable in this world. Watching the world news, I have some very strong feelings about certain world leaders and how blatantly they abuse their power. Do I wish they were robbed of their power and put in their place? Oh, absolutely! Rip them out, Lord!
Most of us, unless God has given us extremely forgiving hearts, are quick to come up with a list of folks about whom we think that they deserve justice, punishment, or at least a slap on the hand. That there are those who deserve to be ripped out. Often our judgment of people then is projected onto God, who, on the last day, certainly must punish all the evil that has gone unpunished here on earth. But here on earth, we already show our disdain against all those whom we deem unworthy of God’s grace. We can’t wait.
No, says the master. No. Don’t rip out the weeds. Don’t be carried away by your judgment of others. Everything that is evil is intertwined with the good. In fact, as wheat and weeds first grow together, they are most likely undistinguishable. Many young shoots look the same. By trying to eradicate evil, we necessarily would also damage that, which is good. Leave the judgment to God. God is just. What we may perceive as just is always influenced by our personal story, background and beliefs, but does not necessarily constitute justice.
And what is God’s justice? As different Christians, and you probably get quite different answers. Ask a Southern Baptist, and you get a fire and brimstone sermon. Ask a Lutheran, and surely you hear the words ‘grace’ and ‘forgiveness’. After all, this was Martin Luther’s great struggle for the better part of his life: how do I get a gracious God? What do I, this sinful and selfish creature, have to do to appease God? How can I be saved from utter destruction and God’s wrath?
As Luther, to his great surprise, discovered after long years of fear and loathing: it’s grace. God knows we are not perfect. God knows the good and the bad, the fruitful and the useless, are often intertwined in our hearts. We are all sinners with great potential. We are all saints tempted and overcome by selfish impulses. We know that, and that’s why we pray, every Sunday, ‘and forgive us our sins’. Weirdly God’s justice consists of mercy for those who repent, for those, who are aware of their shortcomings, of those who know they are not what God envisions them to be. And God’s judgment is displayed on the cross, for all the world to see.
‘And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ If we accept God’s grace and forgiveness, who are we to deny them to someone else?
‘Lord, do you want us to go and gather the weeds, rip them out?’ No. Forgive. Don’t judge quickly. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Strive for the good. Love your neighbor. Acknowledge that you see and experience this world and all that is created through a certain lens – and that this lens may distort that, which God has so lovingly created. And let God be God.
This post is also available in: German