Science and Faith: Encouraging the Next Generation

There’s a great documentary on Netflix called The Mars Generation. It follows a group of teenagers at Space Camp, showcasing their excitement about all things space, the things they are learning, and how that fits into the past, present, and future of the American space program. The central message is, this is the generation who will land humans on Mars. They are passionate enough and talented enough to get us there, if we can just support them and avoid squashing their dreams. It’s an inspiring movie. (I *might* have teared up during the trailer.)

The Mars Generation stresses the importance of nurturing among young people a love for science and exploration. It issues a call to us adults to do well by these teenagers by giving them avenues for growth and learning, as well as opportunities to put their knowledge and skills to use in the best possible way. It’s our responsibility to enable them to flourish and allow society to benefit from their contributions now and in the future.MarsGeneration

This is a message that resonates quite strongly with the Christian faith. Our tradition places a high value on teaching and nurturing children, enabling them to grow up in faith and love God with their whole being. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, used to ask the Methodist preachers if they would “diligently instruct the children in every place.” This was one of 19 questions they were required to answer “yes” to when they became preachers; those ordained in The United Methodist Church today still must answer yes to this question.

Wesley recognized, it seems, the importance of caring for our children spiritually and intellectually, as well as physically. He no doubt learned this from his mother, Susanna, an incredible woman who invested much of herself in educating and nurturing her children. He also probably learned it from Jesus, who told his disciples to “let the little children come to me,” and from the Old Testament, where the importance of teaching children to keep God’s covenant is impressed upon the Israelites time and time again.

The Old Testament writers, as well Jesus and Susanna Wesley, recognized that children keep the faith alive into the future. If you don’t instruct the children, the faith might just die with your generation. But if you do instruct the children, investing yourself in their care and tending to their spiritual well-being, the faith will grow into the future and adapt in a way that is, well, faithful.

Of course, I also resonate with the desire to foster in young people a love for science, math, and engineering, and I believe it’s possible to do this while also raising them in the Christian faith. In fact, I believe that giving young people the tools for exploring the world provides them an opportunity to encounter God, and to grow in their love of God through the natural world.

That’s why I was so impressed when my son told me that he’d enjoyed the science part of Vacation Bible School a couple weeks ago. This was Caleb’s first year of being old enough to attend, and he had a great time. He learned a lot of Bible stories, as well as some great songs (he’s treated us to several performances). He really enjoyed seeing his church friends during the week. But his favorite part was the science.

“Huh?” I thought, when he told me that. Science at VBS? Turns out, I wasn’t hearing it wrong. A friend of mine from church had been in charge of the science at VBS this year. This particular VBS program includes a science component, with some experiments and demonstrations for the kids to try that line up with the week’s theme. “Caleb’s favorite part was science,” I told my friend who led that part of VBS. “Oh, that’s great!” she said. Then she paused. “Well, actually that’s pretty typical. It’s easy to be the favorite when you’re the one leading all the cool experiments!”

I’m so glad that VBS gives kids the opportunity see that science and faith can go together and reinforce one another. I’m also very glad that the 2019 VBS theme from Cokesbury is “To Mars and Beyond.” (Yeah, I’m probably going to have to volunteer for that one!)

If the up-and-coming generation is bound for Mars, I’d like to think that at least some of them will carry with them a love for God and neighbor that grows out of a deep faith in Jesus Christ. That thought alone is reason enough to diligently instruct the children in every place–in science and in faith.

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