My first semester as a grad student at UCI started last week. Modern, secular academia is a whole new world for me. It’s like Biola, with lots more money and lots less purpose. Walking around campus gives me the same kind of feeling I get when I drive by a certain billboard along the 210 for the City of Hope cancer research center. It reads “There is hope”, with an image of a smiling doctor and patient in the background. Paraphrase: “If you’re suffering from cancer, don’t worry. Modern medical technology can save you. Place your faith in science.” This sort of outlook is so empty it makes my heart ache. But I suppose this is the best that secularism can provide.
I get that exact feeling of emptiness walking into the UCI science library. It is an incredible building, a beautiful monument to... what? Human learning, which will purportedly save mankind from their sins. I suppose it’s a sign of the times that our culture builds ugly churches and beautiful science libraries. This is what mankind fills their lives with in the absence of Christ. I guess it’s no worse (and probably better) than any other substitute, but all the same the emptiness is saddening.
If you are devoid of an eschatology, if you aren’t looking for the kingdom coming in power, then all of this is meaningless – an incredibly expensive monument to human pride and vanity, a modern Tower of Babel. Nothing more. But I can’t help wondering what it would be like if a hub of learning like UCI was devoted to the advancement of the kingdom... if all the current work being done, and all the past work filling the aisles of the libraries, was done with the kingdom of God in mind. This doesn’t mean the science library would be smaller or uglier, it means the science library would mean something. It means the science library would cease to be a monument to the emptiness with which those who reject Christ replace Him, and become a monument to the Creator, as He has revealed Himself. It means that scientists would stop looking for ways to exclude God from their work and start seeing Him in it. Any Christian biologist will tell you that studying protein synthesis (to pick an arbitrary example) can be a devotional experience. I suspect the same is true for every discipline.
Academia was like this, once, in the Middle Ages. Some of the most influential books that have ever been written were written as devotions. This is true of Augustine’s Confessions, Anselsm’s Proslogion, and even Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. Dante’s Divine Comedy combines the best science of the day with some of the best poetry ever to be penned with a deeply Christian worldview. Will it ever be like this again? I’m praying that it will. And, more immediately, I’m praying that God will give me the grace to do my graduate work in submission to the queen of the sciences, theology.