God’s Big Story

After drinking my morning coffee, scarfing down a muffin, and almost getting lost on a convoluted university campus, I finally made it to the classroom of my first graduate class. The course was Mineralogy for Science Teachers, and I was taking it as a part of my summer professional development. It was my first time visiting America in 3 years, and part of the reverse-culture shock experience was not just switching from Germany to America, but switching from a missionary school context to secular academia.

The well-respected professor stood at the front of the class and began his 6-hour lecture (you know, as summer courses do). It was Mineralogy, so I was expecting him to start with an introduction on perhaps igneous rocks, or crystal shapes, or maybe the components of granite. But the professor started off with a much bigger perspective. “Minerals tell us the story of our earth’s past, and ultimately our past,” he said. “When you consider our earth’s place in the universe, we really are just an insignificant speck. Humans are simply evolved star-stuff. But our evolutionary history is amazing. You can try to find purpose in the pedestrian affairs of life, but there’s a much Bigger Story—a story that’s cosmological. That Big Story is science.”

Heads all around me nodded in agreement. All my classmates were fellow science teachers, and their wide-opened eyes told me they were excited to share this Bigger Story with their students. As others agreed, I felt something disagreeable within me, and it wasn’t the muffin.

What makes a science teacher with a Biblical worldview different from a secular science teacher? As a Christian, what are the things I want my high school students to know? And more importantly, what is the Big Story I’m telling?

To a surprising degree, I was reminded by my non-Christian professors that humans are not special, but are simply an animal product of Darwinian evolution. Scripture has a different take. In the very first chapter of the Bible, we find “God created mankind in his own image,” (Genesis 1:27)[1]. But what does “in God’s image” really mean? I actually spend a whole week on this in my science class, because I think it is so crucial to how we relate to the world. Part of imaging God means acting towards his earth like He would. Just as He rules over every living creature, so we are to rule over His creatures as His stewards (In fact, it’s one of God’s first commands. Just read Genesis 1:28, 2:15).

During an outdoor ecology class, my professor and I stood under a shelter during a thunderstorm and debated about the management of threatened mammals in the American West. “But WHY do you want to save these animals?” I finally asked. “I guess I just like the thought of them still being around,” he replied. I didn’t find his answer to be that compelling.

So much of science comes down to stewarding this planet. But as a Christian, I have something the secular scientist doesn’t have: a commission to do so. You cannot endow yourself with the responsibility of stewarding the animals while maintaining the idea that humans are in no special position. When the same people who tell me that humans aren’t special are also trying to save species from extinction, I often ask, “And who put you in charge of that?” Only the Christian has the answer to that question, and as a science teacher, I want my students to know that answer, not just in their heads, but in their lives.

To agree with my mineralogy professor, there is in fact a Bigger Story—a story that’s cosmological. But, to take issue with my professor, that Big Story is not science. That Big Story is God’s Story. That Big Story tells of a God who created humans as a special Imago Dei—a representation of God’s loving care on earth. That theme drives why I teach science. It’s why I want students to know how God’s earth works. Science is one way of understanding one part of this Big Story. But science will only be amazing (and fun) if it is put in its proper context in that story.

So, what Big Story are you teaching your students? What will you do to introduce them to God’s Big Story (through science or any other subject you teach) this year? What will you do to better familiarize yourself with how God’s Big Story relates to your subject area?

Harrison Elkins
High School Science Teacher
Black Forest Academy

Click on this link to see Harrison explain more about the connection between God’s Big Story and Science.

[1] Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978 1984 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Photo Credits:

Sea Between Trees by Jeshu John via designerpics.com

Granite Stairs on Moro Rock by National Park Service via npgallery.nps.gov

2016 White-Tailed Deer Fawn in a Field by Jim Roetzel via npgallery.nps.gov (cropped)