We often don’t think that the Bible has something to say about research. Of course, the issue of scientific research isn’t explicitly addressed in the Bible. After all, what we call science came to be much later. However, we do know that the Bible can be applied to all aspects of our lives and that includes our vocations. So while there isn’t such thing as a Christian transect (a field technique used in much of ecology), the Bible can give us principles to apply to the process of collecting field data.
I have been reading through Colossians during my stay here at Mwamba, A Rocha Kenya’s field study centre. This book of the Bible is one of Paul’s letters to churches of the time. There is so much that could be said, but for brevity, I want to just focus on one verse that struck me as particularly applicable to how we on the marine team aspire to conduct our research. I have been reading from a Gideons New Testament that was on the bookshelf, so I will give it here in the New King James Version as I read it:
“That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
The context is the beginning of the letter to the Church at Colosse. Paul is greeting them and praying for them. The focus is on encouraging them in their faith and he prays the above four things (among others) for them.
So what does this have to do with research? I think each point is something that I want to aspire to as I set out each day here as I go out and collect data, interact with people, and plan my work. Firstly, Paul prays that they “may walk worthy of the Lord.” He is talking about Christ, of course. This statement points to integrity in all we do. We can’t just do shoddy research in order to get by, but should aspire to the highest possible standards. We need to do the background work of reading the scientific literature on our topic, know the current field methods, their biases and how to adjust for them. We should feel confident, that to the best of our ability, we have done everything reasonably possible to collect information that reflects what is really there.
“Fully pleasing Him.” This says to me that our hearts are important. Why are we doing this research? Certainly it is great fun to go out onto what has been labelled Africa’s second-most beautiful beach, spend the day snorkeling on a reef or meandering through the rockpools. We also love our neighbours – those who depend on these resources for their livelihoods and our conservation partners whom we want to serve with information that can be used to better protect this beautiful place. But we also want to please God. Our heart’s desire is to hear God say – “Well done!” We do all this as unto the Lord, not trying to please people, but the one to whom we are ultimately responsible. As Colossians 3:17 says “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
The A Rocha Kenya Marine Team also wants to collect data in a way that it is “fruitful in every good work.” The team found a rare coral in our rockpool research. What are we doing to make that known? To help others to appreciate it and want to protect it? Do we just write a scientific paper, publish it in a journal that few will read and notch up another line in our CV? We need to get better at publicizing our findings. I don’t think our lack of publicity is out of some sort of notion of humility, though I, for one, don’t like “tooting my own horn.” I think there is just so much that can be done and, frankly, it is more fun to go out to ocean to collect some more data than to sit and write something that can be posted about what we found. The Marine Team has to get better about communicating so that we can bear more fruit with the work we are doing.
God reveals Himself primarily in His word, but Scripture itself teaches us that the world around us points us to God. We see tangible glimpses of His beauty and creativity in the intricate web of life found on a coral reef. I felt his power in being pummeled by the waves on the reef crest while trying to get a glimpse of a stocky hawkfish found only in the surf zone. I feel His peace sitting contented after a dive, warming in the sun while sitting on the boat gazing out at the Indian Ocean. The list could go on. My research helps me to be “increasing in the knowledge of God” as I learn more about His world.
There is more that I aspire to as a marine researcher and conservationist. But Colossians 1:10 has challenged me to not be satisfied with where I am at and has put some focus into this intense few weeks of research here in Kenya.
Robert Sluka, Ph.D.
Director, A Rocha Kenya Marine Conservation and Research Programme