‘Breakthrough’


Scientism is the prevailing religion of the day. It may, or may not, have more devotees than any other religion. But it is definitely favored in the halls of power. 

Scientism is taught in textbooks. It animates our art. It drives dramatic plots from TV to the silver screen. It excites the enthusiasm of policymakers who are intensely busy reorganizing society according to its dictates. And it’s a jealous god that demands unquestioning loyalty.

Like all religions, Scientism is a comprehensive system of beliefs and assumptions that are used to interpret the observable world. It claims certain knowledge about unseen and unmeasurable things that purport to explain the things that are seen. What makes science different from Scientism is the difference between seeing and believing. 

Science is seeable by all people, without the need for blind faith. Two and two are four. The sky is blue. Fossils exist. That’s science. But stories about how the sky came to be and how fossils were deposited in the exact order in which they are discovered, that is not a tale that science can tell. Science knows of no way to prove Scientism’s myths. 

Nor do all of life’s mysteries lie in the past. Religion deals not only with the existence of lifeless objects, it is also needed to explain life itself. Despite centuries of medical advances that can peer into molecular structures at the sub-cellular level, science has yet to discover the secret of life.

Medical science can cut tissue and sew it back together, but it cannot create the new tissue that mends the cut—only a living body can do that. Science can bring sperm and egg together in a petri dish. But it can only watch and wait to see what will happen next. When some human beings come to life and other eggs remain only eggs, it can predict neither when nor why.

As a father of nine children, I have often heard the remark, “we know what causes that.” I typically respond with a smile. I rarely say out loud, what I’m really thinking: “You have no earthly idea what causes life.” That’s the truth of the matter. Science can manipulate life once it happens. But it cannot create it. 

Likewise, medical science can learn what conditions threaten death. It can then work with scalpel and drugs, pumps and tubes, to lessen these threats. But whether and when a life-threatening situation ends someone’s life remains outside the predictive capabilities of science.

Occasionally something happens that is so far off the charts that we are jolted out of a complacent trust in Scientism and back into a recognition of the mystery of human life. “Breakthrough,” a movie coming to theaters on April 17, 2019, tells such a real-life story.

It happened on January 19, 2015. John Smith, an eighth grader at Living Word Christian Middle School, was goofing around on a frozen lake west of St. Louis, Missouri. Suddenly the ice broke and he was submerged in 40-degree water along with his two friends. Two of them made it out, but John sank to the bottom.

By the time paramedics arrived, John lay, apparently lifeless, at the bottom of the murky lake. Unable to see him, they blindly poked around with rescue poles. Fifteen minutes had passed since John went under when one of the paramedics followed a gut feeling and probed two steps to the left. There, his pole found the boy’s body.

On the surface, they could find no pulse and his lungs were filled. Twice they tried to shock his heart back to life but to no avail. The team began taking turns at the exhausting task of CPR as they transported him to the hospital.

The doctor on call directed all the medical power at his disposal, to no avail. Still, he was not going to pronounce the boy dead until his mother saw first-hand how hard they tried. So, they continued CPR efforts long past the norm while awaiting his mother’s arrival.

They ushered his mother, Joyce, into the room so that she could say good-bye before they called the time of death. But instead of whispering into John’s ears, Joyce grabbed hold of his cold and lifeless feet and called out to God.

Within moments, the packed room was jolted into surprised action. For the first time since John had disappeared under the water three quarters of an hour earlier, the heart monitor jumped to life. 

That doctor later wrote, “I had exhausted all interventions in my scientific armamentarium without even a hint of success.  All the resources of this world were being thrust upon this young man with no indication except the cold reality of a young life snuffed out before our very eyes.  But the interventions of modern medicine are not what John’s mother was counting on.  Spiritual warfare is what she called this. No sooner did John’s mother call on the Holy Spirit to bring her son back to her than the monitor started that rhythmic beat, a pulse could be felt in his groin and his carotid artery.”

There is no scientific explanation for that turn of events. But that was not the only unscientific thing to happen. Internal organs, deprived of oxygen for such a prolonged period typically fail over the next day or two. The pulse by itself did not mean he would survive. 

Immediately John was transported to a children’s hospital in St. Louis, where the doctor on staff happened to be an expert in water-accident victims. He had the unenviable task of delivering the sad prognosis. John, “only had brain stem activity, his lungs were full of acid and if he [did] live, he would be a vegetable,” according to his mother. Instead of signing “do not resuscitate” orders, John’s parents called their pastor. 

John was totally unresponsive when Pastor Noble, John’s parents and five other pastors entered the room. They began praying and after about 10 minutes, John opened his eyes and squeezed his pastor’s hand. Then he was out again. They kept praying. They prayed for his oxygen deprived brain. They prayed for his bacteria-ridden lungs. They prayed nearly around the clock for an entire week.

Scientism believes that such prayer is worthless. It assumes that God is non-existent. It believes that life is dictated by mechanical rules that are unalterable by any external unseen factors. It cannot prove these assumptions, but it doggedly clings to its blind faith in unbelief. 

Science cannot explain why John’s acidic lungs did not kill him. It does not know why his oxygen-deprived organs did not shut down that first night. It has no idea why his brain showed no sign of injury after 45 minutes without a pulse. Over 300 pages of medical records document dozens of reasons that John should be dead. But he isn’t. He’s not even harmed.

Something unseen and unmeasured made the difference between life and death. On that, everyone agrees. Christians believe the invisible and immeasurable One is the Triune God. The doctors and nurses who were eyewitnesses to the miraculous recovery of John Smith have good reason to believe they are right.

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