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Salvation, an engineer’s perspective

by Joseph F. Mibelli

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    An article which examines certain dogmatic issues from a scientific viewpoint.
  • Larger Work:
    Original
  • Publisher & Date:
    Original, December 22, 1998

Rationalization

An engineer is a professional trained to use a well disciplined, methodic, logical approach to problem solving. This approach, however, is not confined exclusively to the solution of technical problems. It can also be used to solve other problems of our daily lives and it can be used also to develop a better understanding on matters of the faith.

Introduction

Today, the word "salvation" and references to it can be seen and heard in a variety of publications and in radio and television programs, so upon seeing or hearing the word "salvation", our first reaction would be to ask "salvation from what condemnation?, what caused it, what can be done to remedy it and should I care?".

Throughout all recorded history, man has displayed a dependence on a "higher being, or beings", at times to explain the forces of nature and at other times to request divine intervention where human resources were totally exhausted, as in the case of illnesses. All of this, replete with a wide variety of worship rituals aimed at obtaining favors for life here on earth and for the thereafter.

To research this subject we have several choices. We can travel to remote lands to study the behavior of ancient tribes, we can read many decades worth of National Geographic or we can go directly to the books that specifically deal with this subject.

If we listen to those that proclaim "repent and be saved" we can see that all statements make reference to a book, known as the Bible, some sort of supreme compendium of ancient events, mandates and words of wisdom aimed as being the source of all truths.

Now, an engineer can certainly appreciate the availability of such material, for after all, all engineering achievements are based on the research of work done previously by others.

The Bible, however, is not written as a scientific journal. The information is incomplete, hard to understand and there are few exact references. In all, the Bible cannot be used in the manner that we are accustomed to when dealing with references such as encyclopedias, textbooks or research journals. Thus, all Bible scholars are characterized by a faith that transcends the written word. Faith must take over where human reasoning runs out of energy.

This is indeed a hard act to follow because an engineer is trained to work on hard facts not on acts of faith (but, even engineers must at times make decisions based on pure "gut feeling"...). Principles and formulas may be hard to understand, it may not be easy to follow all deductions and derivations, but in the end there is always a connection to some basic theories of physics.

Faith matters transcend the classical scientific methods. They require a trust and vision that are above what can be experimented in a laboratory. So, it may seem that it is impossible to reconcile the two.

In engineering, when something does not work we often fall back to basics in an attempt to find what went wrong. (The other alternative is to read the instructions, but in this case, the instructions are themselves very hard to understand).

The basic question, then, is "Why the need to believe in a Supreme Being?" After all, the scientific discoveries are a definite proof of the power of the human mind. It would seem then, that as we succeed in inventing new and more powerful ways of controlling and conducting our earthly life, we demonstrate that the notion of a Supreme Being becomes less and less of a necessity.

That may be true for the un-initiated, but as engineers, scientists or researchers, we can only wonder about who (not what) is behind the exact mathematical order of the universe. For every discovery that may answer current questions, many more and deeper questions arise.

How capable and powerful are we? Can we truly think that the do not need God? Every time we think that we have reached a new peak in human achievement, all we need to put us in a reality check is to come face to face with the forces of nature (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, collisions with asteroids, etc).

We can certainly lecture on the composition of matter or how living organisms function, but no matter how deep we manage to get, we find that there is always more.

The big bang theory may be a proper way to explain physically how the universe started (as we know it), but, can we determine Who started it and why? This is where faith must take over. There are no possible human explanations.

We do have, however, sufficient human reasoning capability to accept that there have to be answers that are beyond a detailed comprehension. A simple example is to take the limit of 1/X as X approaches zero. Everybody knows that the answer is infinity. Infinity? Can it be measured? Can it be described? Is there such a thing as infinity minus one? How much is that? The answer, albeit simpleminded, is that we do not know. When we say "infinite" we say that it not only is unmeasurable, we also say that it will never be measured, for if we could ever measure it, then it would not be infinite.

Then, how do we handle infinity? We simply accept it. We know that we cannot measure infinity, but know that infinity does exist. We know that it must exist because of our understanding of numbers. (In case this is too clear, try the concept that we learned in geometry that all parallel lines converge at infinity...).

The concept of the Supreme Being, who we call God, the author of the universe can be "rationalized" in the same manner. There are no other explanations. Faith must take over when reasoning runs out of fuel, which happens all too quickly when compared to the magnitude of the concept of God.

Does this mean that we simply give up and assume that the only way to provide an explanation is to say "There has to be a God"?. Do we assume that may be in the next century we can find other "scientific" answers?. Yes, certainly we will find more answers, but no matter how hard we try or for how long, we will never reach infinity...

Faith in God does not mean giving up, it simply means elevating ourselves to a level that is way above what we can measure and comprehend with our limited human reasoning. Even if we ever succeed in using all of our brain capacity, our human reasoning will always reach a limit and faith will have to take over.

Where do we go for help?

So here we are, back to the original question, "Why do we need salvation? Should I care to find out? Where can I find material to read about it (research)?

The message of salvation can be found in thousands of books, can be heard in thousands of sermons (preaching), but they all have their roots in the Bible. The Bible, however, was not written as a text book or as a simple compendium of stories; it is a diverse collection of messages, predictions, stories, teachings, lamentations and praises.

It was written through a period of several thousand years, with a variety of styles and with too few and incomplete (but not inaccurate) references. To make matters worse, some of the messages may even appear to be contradictory.

It would seem that to study from such a source it would be hopeless...

Not so. The same faith that takes us to God also supports us in our desire to read and understand the Bible. But, make no mistake, attempting to read the Bible and develop a proper understanding is not a solo job. (It can really be hazardous!).

As engineers we claim to have the capacity to read and understand manuals, academic papers, text books, handbooks and a variety of publications (after all, it is part of our work). We also claim that we can do it with no external help (it is part of our job description). Sometimes, however, no amount of reading and re-reading can give us a clear understanding. When was the last time that you were capable of programming the VCR on the first try? Or setting your multi-function digital watch? Or setting up the newly acquired software that claims that it is easy to install? It is worse yet (or funnier) when we assume that because we are engineers we do not need instructions...

When the level of frustration reaches unexpected proportions, it is time to call a friend that has gone through this before or to call the manufacturer (if we can ever get to speak to a support technician).

When it comes to the scriptures, there are many friends (brothers and sisters in the faith) that are ready and anxious to help us by sharing their knowledge and inspiration. There is also the Church, also ready and anxious to shows us the significance of our faith. But, does the "manufacturer" have a "technical support department? How about toll free, no charge, 24hrs a day availability of the best source of knowledge? Yes, it is called the Holy Spirit.

We may not have a clear understanding of what we are about to do (read and understand the scriptures). We may think that our faith is too limited to carry us through and because of that, that we will never make it. Not so, all it takes is a desire to reach our God and to pray to Him to give us the needed wisdom and understanding. As a loving father that he is, he will send the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds, for without the Holy Spirit, nothing works.

We can have the most powerful computer in the world, we can have the best piece of software that gifted programmers can generate, but, without power, it is only a useless, mind boggling assembly of wires, semiconductors, buttons and lights. We are the computer, the scriptures are the instructions and the Holy Spirit is the power, the heavenly power that makes possible the proper execution of the instructions!

Without the Holy Spirit we will never understand the significance and the reach of salvation. We will never understand how and omnipotent God can create us with free will to accept or reject His place in our lives.

The plan of salvation.

A bit of history. As we can read in the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were enticed by the devil (in the form of a serpent) to disobey God’s mandate; that in doing so that their eyes would open up and that they would become like God. And so they did. What they accomplished though, was eternal damnation (which means not being in God’s presence). This act of defiance (that we call original sin) doomed the entire humanity. [1]

But, God is also an infinitely loving Father so He put immediately into action a salvation plan [2]. He sent his son, Jesus Christ to repair the damage, to reconcile us back to God [3]. Does this make any sense? Is it that we cannot repair the damage ourselves? Precisely. An offense against our God cannot be repaired by any human act, whether individual or collective (one person cannot do it but neither can the entire population of the earth). So where is the logic? If man cannot repair the damage done by the original sin, then the only other possibility is for "another" God to do it.

The process of salvation.

Again, the love that God has for us as our creator (Father) is such that he sent the only one that could redeem us: his Son Jesus Christ. So, how did He do it? The Son on God had to become human so that He could take our place (since we cannot do it) and pay for all our sins (committed and still to be committed) with a sacrifice that only a God could endure. Jesus Christ took human form to pay for a debt that He did not contract because we contracted a debt that we cannot pay [4].

Accessing salvation.

Salvation is a gift from God to us. It is free, but it is not cheap. Our Lord did his part by dying on the Cross. We now need to do our part.

Then, can we "earn" or "buy" salvation?

There is nothing that we can physically do to earn it and there is no money in the world that can begin to pay for salvation but in reality, no money is needed. All we have to do is accept His salvation. And this is hard, for it requires a great effort from our part to abandon all of which that binds us to our earthly living [5].

In order to be able to rise up to our God, we need to leave all "excess baggage" behind. Does this mean that we have to abandon all our years of studying and hard work and become hermits and pray all day? Not so, it simply means to put God first in our lives; Above everything else, for with God, it is an all or nothing situation [6].

To our earthly form of thinking, we could quickly arrive at the conclusion that this God is a selfish one; a God that wants everything for Himself. But, God is not selfish, on the contrary, God is a loving Father that wants the best for us, He wants us to secure eternal life in his presence.

Then, how do we reconcile the concept of putting Him first and still perform our earthly duties? We put God first when we obey his commandments[7], when we accept the salvation gained through or Lord Jesus Christ and when we follow the examples and teachings that He left us throughout the New Testament [8], [9], and also when we accept the Holy Spirit as God and giver of life. All of this we can accomplish in our daily living, as scientists, street peddlers, housewives, fathers, teachers, employees and many more.

But, this is very difficult and very demanding to accomplish. Putting God first means that every word that we speak, every move that we make, every decision that we take must be in accordance to his will.

Does this mean that we will have to abandon certain lifestyles, certain jobs, certain pleasures? The answer is yes [10]. There is no other way. This is very hard indeed but God promised us that if we will it (it is always our choice ...) that He will grant us, through the Holy Spirit, the grace needed to follow in Christ’s footsteps.

Salvation, more than just a personal relationship.

In our journey to eternal life, we will learn about God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit). In that learning journey, we will learn to love God and we will learn to love our neighbor (including those that we dislike). We will learn to establish and maintain a "personal" relationship with God, through His Son, with the graces of the Holy Spirit.

A "personal" relationship does not mean just "me and Jesus" (at the exclusion of others). It is through our "personal" relationship with God that we learn to love others and to share the happiness of walking with the Lord. After all, when we have or know of a good thing, don’t we rush to tell others? Furthermore, don’t we wish that other could share our happiness?

As children of God, we are not isolated individuals, we are part of a big family so we must celebrate together our love for God. When we pray we must pray for ourselves as well as for others, when we worship, we must join our brothers and sisters in faith.

So, where do we achieve this fellowship in the worship of God? It is in the Church, established by our Lord Jesus Christ himself when He told Peter that He would build His Church on the rock (represented by Peter, the first Pope) [11], [12]. We can learn and understand a lot by reading the Scriptures, but it is in the community of followers of Christ that we achieve the totality of worship and fellowship.

Conclusion.

How do we know that all of this is the "right thing" to do? Do we have any assurances? As engineers we do "what if" scenarios, we do "worst case analysis", we do failure "predictions" as a way to validate or design plans. Can we do something similar at the spiritual level?

The trivial answer is that God exists independent of whether we believe in him or not. The not so trivial reality is that God loves us independent of whether we love Him or not ...

The simplistic earthly answer is "we have nothing to lose" if we believe. If God exists we are OK. If He does not exist, then it does not matter. Reality, however, is a lot more serious than that. The prospect of eternal life or eternal damnation, cannot be evaluated like we evaluate an insurance policy. Spiritual life cannot be reduced to just doing enough "good" things to be OK at the end.

To believe in what we cannot see and to accept what our intelligence tells us that it cannot be is to have faith and faith is what God gives us to accept the infinity of His mysteries.

If we need words of reassurance, we can find them in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6, verse 68: "Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" [13].

So, to whom shall we go?

To Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer

Almighty God and Father, you gave us the capability to work with complex equations; give us the simplicity to see You in everything that surrounds us.

You gave us the intelligence to solve intricate design problems; give us the wisdom to follow your mandates.

You gave us the capability to develop bigger and better technology for our comfort and advantage; give us the heart to help those that have nothing in this life.

You gave us power to harness the earth’s resources; give us humility to accept that You are the one that is in control.

You gave us an immense gift in our engineering capacity; give us the desire to show others that all that we have comes from You.

Amen

REFERENCES

[1]-Genesis 3:1-24

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,

3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"

4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.

5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

22 And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."

23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

[2]-Genesis 3:14-15

14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

Here we have the first "hint" of the salvation plan. The woman as referred to in verse 15 is Mary and her offspring is Jesus Christ, who will triumph over the devil with his resurrection after his death on the cross.

[3]-John 3:16

16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

[4]-Luke 19:31-33

31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.

32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.

33 On the third day he will rise again."

Here Jesus describes the kind of suffering that He would have to endure for our sins.

[5] Matthew 18:3-9

3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.

6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

7 "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!

8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.

9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

[6] Matthew 6-25-33

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.

29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'

32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

[7]-Mark 12:28-31

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'

31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

[8]-John 13:34-35

34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

[9]-John 15:9-14

9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.

11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

[10] Matthew 5:27-30

27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'

28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

[11] Matthew 16:15-19

15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Here, Jesus establishes His church by entrusting St. Peter to direct it, a mandate that subsequently applies to his successors (Bishops, Popes).

[12] 1 Timothy 3:15-16

14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that,

15 If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Here, St. Paul refers to the Church as "the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" hence affirming its authority ...

[13] John 6:66-68

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

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