This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/star-wars-evolution-and-the-squishiness-of-biology
Thank you so much for this piece. It has helped me (a fellow, long suffering biologist) put so many things together that I have never been able to understand. For example, why certain people (not mentioning any names at the moment) have this drive to turn biology and evolution in particular into a metaphor for software engineering, or believe that biology is simply a special form of energy use and propagation, and therefore a trivial subject for physicists to dabble in. Yes, biology is messy. And I dont mean just the kind of gut (pun intended) reactions people have to the processes of life, but also the messiness of its rules and laws, such as they are. It seems that as soon as we discover any overarching, general principle of biology, we immediately find exceptions. Sometimes those exceptions branch off like fractals to ever increasing layers of complexity, and even the most arcane equations just dont work.
But I think you hit the nail on the head in your Biblical references. There is something about life that is more closely connected to the creator, than even the most sublime rainbow or supernova. Life is messy and impossible to figure out, and maybe that is the whole point. I dont believe there is anything simple about God, and we, created in his image, blessedly reflect that unending complexity.
Based on one of your statements further down, “Jesus experienced just about everything that biology has to offer.” what do you think having a cold, the flu, or any number of ailments look like for Jesus? We see with his interactions with the infirm that he could heal them, but did that preclude him totally from sickness, or would that have defeated the purpose of becoming fully flesh?
Kyle - Thanks for the great question!
Obviously we’re in speculative territory, since the Bible doesn’t say anything one way or another. Still, infectious diseases are my field, so I have a few thoughts.
It seems reasonable to assume Jesus was exposed to a typical assortment of microbes, since just about everyone is. And there are reasons to think such exposure is actually beneficial for our immune systems. So Jesus’ body may have been better off experiencing that contact with the microbial world, rather than being miraculously kept from it.
That leaves the question of whether he would have healed himself before any symptoms appeared. The healing of the woman who touched his garment in Matthew 9 and Luke 8 suggests that healing may not have required Jesus’ conscious action. Then again, we don’t actually get insight into everything going on in Jesus’ mind; it’s also possible he was aware of and participating in the entire process.
Coming from a different angle, Jesus’ miracles generally have an external purpose. A miraculous healing to avoid the discomfort of the common cold seems self-serving in a way that isn’t consistent with Jesus’ character. If necessary, I could see self-healing of a potentially fatal illness so that his death would come at the appointed time and not prematurely. He does appear to miraculously avoid a potentially fatal situation in Luke 4 when a crowd has him at the edge of a cliff; a healing in life-threatening circumstances would serve the same purpose. Outside of that scenario, though, I expect Jesus would have experienced illness as we do for the sake of a more complete incarnation.
What do you think, Kyle?
Sy - I’m glad you found this piece helpful. Thank you for the kind words.
I agree that wrestling with the complexity of biology is useful practice for our ultimate purpose of knowing God in all of his richness more fully. If creation is part of God’s revelation, it seems only natural that the more we study it, the more deeply we will know him. And if God is infinite, I would expect the process of knowing him to continue on indefinitely. So while the physicists fret over the possibility of figuring everything out in one grand theory, I am grateful that we have plenty left to learn about biology so that we can carry on learning more about God as well.
I was thinking along those same lines. I agree that it is indeed speculative, however, there are some further parallels that nudged me in that direction. Jesus’ fast in the desert certainly was not without discomfort, if not intense suffering. As you pointed out, there was purpose to that trial, to draw him closer to the Father and show obedience. I imagine a sickness serving those purposes as well, though I do say, it is a little bit strange, perhaps uncomfortable, to think how that would look (mostly because of the paradigm shift from my childhood perceptions).
The last paragraph in your comment boils it down nicely though and most closely reflects how I would imagine it working in practice. I think the purpose driven approach is, for me, the most important component to putting it into proper perspective and allowing thoughtful reflection.
Kyle - Thanks for bringing up Jesus’ experience in the desert. That’s a very relevant data point, especially since we later learn that Jesus miraculously provided food for others and relieved their hunger. This speaks again to the idea that both ability and purpose need to be considered.
Don’t most people assume that Joseph died before Jesus began his ministry (you’d think if Jesus was in the habit of healing folks people prior to his ministry years, he would have had his own dad’s back) and that the miracle at Cana was Jesus first miracle, an inauguration of sorts?
It seems to me that all of Jesus’ healing miracles were in the context of his Messianic ministry and were intended as signs, not mere favors or conveniences.
If Jesus’ body was fully human, and he got hungry, and thirsty, and tired, and hurt, and if he manifested the full physical effects of psychological pain (crying at a friends death, sweating blood over the stress of the coming crucifixion), it seems logical to me to assume he got sick too. There wasn’t anything special about his biology.
Christy - That’s an interesting point about Joseph; I had never thought about that particular aspect of his relationship with Jesus in that way before. Thanks for sharing.
I tend to think about Jesus and his humanity in the way that you described. I was just trying to explore some other potential perspectives for the sake of some discussion.