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Consider “The Year Without a Summer” — a phenomenon resulting from the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The reduced sunlight due to volcanic ash led to a dramatic decrease in temperatures (known as a volcanic winter), causing heavy rainfalls as well as snow and ice, which precipitated global crop failures worldwide — including those of Thomas Jefferson.
In the midst of this disruption, one group of British writers visiting Switzerland in 1816 retreated indoors to avoid the inclement weather. There they challenged each other with a contest to write the scariest story — resulting in what would become Mary Shelley’s best-selling novel “Frankenstein.”
“My imagination … guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie,” Shelley wrote in her journal that summer.
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together — I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
Not all of us are prominent writers, theologians or scientists, but we can all express the most important act of hope in times of crisis: love toward our neighbors.
During a plague outbreak in 1665 London, Cambridge University enacted social distancing by sending its students home — not unlike most of today’s universities’ response to the novel coronavirus. One Cambridge scholar used his God-given gifts at home, a time that would later be called his “year of wonders.”
That scholar? A young Isaac Newton.
Newton’s time of quarantine brought forth revolutionary discoveries in calculus, laws of gravity and motion, and optic theory. Marveling at God’s creation and inspiration, he would later write about his findings on motion and gravitation in “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”: “This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could proceed only from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being …This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all.”
Over the years, many have used their God-given intelligence to address diseases. Known as “the father of bacteriology,” Catholic scientist Louis Pasteur would develop vaccines for rabies, diphtheria and anthrax to name a few.
Best known today for his process to remove bacteria from milk (known as “pasteurization”), Pasteur was unapologetic about his faith: “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the works of the Creator. I pray while I am engaged in my work in the laboratory.”
Time after time historians have documented Christian men and women doing their best work in periods of uncertainty and suffering for the life of the world and the glory of God.