Polio baffled medical scientists for many years as they sought to prevent the spread of this debilitating illness. Every proven technique applied to the disease came up empty. They could not eliminate the disease once caught, the human immune system was unable to cope with even the mildest dose. It was the most dreaded disease of the 1940s, resulting in the closure of swimming pools, movie theatres and other public places as they sought to prevent its spread. Until Jonas Salk. Whilst there were a number of issues which lead Salk to the breakthrough vaccine so stunning its trial was cut short so all could benefit, one standout was his thinking in regard to immunisation, developing a technique which deactivated the virus, thus allowing people to develop immunity by introducing a safe version of it. By daring to question the assumptions of what had been understood, Salk pioneered a new methodology which formed the basis of preventive medicine across a range of illnesses.
How many areas of our lives are held by assumptions which need to be tested once again? What aspects of our faith are built on presuppositions which were laid in much earlier years and have been largely ignored since? While aspects of faith fall into obscurity in public discussion, their implications still hold power for many of us.
As we examine the biblical teaching on hell over the coming weeks, I realise that we are venturing into territory which once dominated the preaching landscape, but which has fallen upon silent years. As I have researched and reflected in preparation, I have found echoes of my youth having significant voice in my thinking: sermons from much-loved and respected pastors, bible studies, books – I hear these voices bouncing around as I wrestled with the text of scripture: voices which clearly hold significance for a place rarely ventured so intentionally for years.
Arthur Schopenhauer once observed that all truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident… When Salk began his new approach to immunology, he was subjected to much scepticism and ridicule. He dared to explore what others deemed ridiculous. There are times in the journey of faith when we need to explore boldly. If we find the original ground to be sure, we are strengthened. Truth is not weakened by our exploration.
May God embolden us in the journey of faith, as we explore together.
September 25, 2005