An answer most easily offered is that science benefits people. Those who pray, "thy kingdom come" are motivated to be a part of changing our world for the better. Most advances in medicine and other areas which aid people have been inextricably linked to scientific progress. Yet this statement cannot go the other way. All advances in science did not lead to the aid of humanity. Nuclear medicine developed alongside nuclear weapons. Even excepting that rather negative view, I find this answer rather far-fetched. Belief in the abstract ability of science to benefit people in the future does not seem like motivation enough to go back to the lab each day.
Another possible motivation is simply the sheer delight in the natural world as the invention of an incredibly creative and intelligent God. There is a fine line here. The Christian scientist does not merely love the created world, for that would be idolatry. He or she loves the exploration of the natural world because it enables them to see just a bit more clearly how beautiful and awesome is the God who made it. Piper has pointed out that God is glorified when his people delight in him. I agree, and find this answer much more plausible than the first.
Yet I am still troubled by this: the God revealed in the bible is not only a creative and majestic and awesome God; he is also the God who brings good news to the poor and justice to the oppressed. It seems to me that any follower of Christ, including the scientist, must also care about this. So what does this mean for the Christian scientist, or for anyone whose vocation does not directly help the poor or oppressed? I can suggest three possible answers to this question:
- We have to remember that we are not the only member of the church, and trust God that he uses many different people to work in myriads of ways. Surely our creative God does not need to limit all of his people to the same type of vocation. This may be true, but is it a satisfying answer?
- Science is only done with part of our lives; the rest of the time is also valuable time in which God can use us in other ways. Unless my second "answer" above is true, this point makes almost no sense. Even so, it stands on shaky ground. If the scientist can best glorify God by doing science, then why worry about doing anything else? On the other hand, if it is the evenings and weekends that really make a difference in God's kingdom, why bother doing working in the lab in the first place?
- There is a way of living that glorifies God and brings his kingdom on earth that is not limited by a career in science. Perhaps in one small but important sense, it doesn't really matter what career we choose. I am not saying our actions are meaningless. On the contrary, it is what we do all the time - the things we say, the way we interact with people, our priorities, the way that we praise God through our work - these are the things that matter. Surely God could provide opportunities to bring freedom and comfort and justice to those who need it, right in the midst of a scientific vocation.