I recently finished a biography of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States. The author (Robert W. Merry) detailed McKinley’s assassination. On 6 September 1901, McKinley was shot twice in the stomach as he attended the World’s Fair in Buffalo New York. He died eight days later. Yet strictly speaking, he was not killed by the bullets. Both bullets were surgically removed but, unfortunately, one of them came so close to the pancreas that its heat caused enzymes to leak from the pancreas into his abdomen. Eight days later McKinley died due to the complications of necrotising pancreatitis (called gangrene back then). As you might appreciate, I was particularly interested in this historical fact. And it got me thinking.
In 1901 necrotising pancreatitis was pretty much a death sentence. And according to my doctor, things were not much better in the year I was born. The only way to treat it was to open up the abdomen, which would almost certainly result in death. But medical advancements have been made over time and therefore I’m grateful to live (literally!) at this time. I am alive partly because of the advancement of the kingdom of God. I am alive today because of what King Jesus has been during in world history through his gospel. Let me explain.
The almost ubiquitous scriptural contrast between light and darkness (commencing in Genesis 1:1–5) is symbolic of God’s word enlightening a morally dark world with his truth. Truth that transforms. Truth that saves the sinner and truth that also advances flourishing in the world.
God’s truth reconciles, and God’s truth heals. And this is not restricted to the salvation of the soul, for all truth is God’s truth. The mathematics of two plus two equals four is God’s truth. The triangle as the strongest shape is an engineering and architectural reality is also God’s truth. Astronomical facts are part and parcel of God’s truth. All of the electrical engineering behind SpaceX and Apple computers is God’s truth. In short, wherever you discover truth, thank God. Literally. Including advancements in medical science.
All of these advancements are because of the gospel, including advancements through those who reject the gospel. Ironically, the logo of a partially bitten apple attached to billions of electronic devices in our unbelieving world might remind us of the events of Genesis 3 where mankind fell in sin and where we also read the first promise of the gospel (v. 15).
What we must appreciate is that, wherever the gospel has gone and gripped a culture, life has improved. Max Weber argued, in his classic The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that societies impacted by the heirs of the Protestant Reformation developed technologically, industrially, and economically because of what Martin Luther called “vocation.” Luther believed that, as people embrace the gospel, they gain a new appreciation that, whatever they do, they do for the glory of God. He pithily explained, “God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.” As one sees they are serving God in their vocation they will generally be more productive, and civilisation will advance.
I’m not arguing that it is only Christians that have made marvellous discoveries. I am saying that, when God by his special grace saves sinners, collateral blessings often flow to a culture through God’s common grace. And among these blessings are scientific discoveries, including technological and medical advancements.
Believers should be encouraged that, as the kingdom of Jesus Christ arrives in a fuller way, it will be increasingly seen by all.
According to Isaiah 65:17–25, with Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death, we are assured of “new heavens and a new earth” in which human life will flourish as never before, including the promise that “no more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old” (v. 20). In other words, things like pancreatitis will be no more. And to that I say a hearty, “Amen.”
Longing with you for that day,