Friday, November 27, 2009

X-rays and Truth

One distant memory of my childhood involves visits to the shoe store. Many such establishments had shoe-fitting fluoroscopes. These machines sent X-rays through shoe, flesh, and bone. Live images were transmitted to a fluorescent screen and we were able to see the digits of our toes wiggling. Purportedly, these fascinating machines helped the shoe salesman achieve a proper fit for the wearer. I’ll confess to being more highly interested in the novelty of seeing the internal structure of my feet--live, and in motion. These machines no doubt helped sell footwear, but the same purpose could have been achieved with simple measurements.

X-rays were discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895. My paternal grandparents were teenagers; my maternal grandparents were already busy raising their first eight children on the Great Plains of Oklahoma. X-rays were so named because so much was unknown about them. Knowledge of electromagnetic radiation--its potential and its hazards--was in its earliest stages. Medical personnel were quick to apply the technology to aid in discovering internally embedded objects, reveal fractures, and treat injured soldiers on the battlefield. It was soon discovered that X-rays also had downside potential.

The shortest-wave, highest frequency areas of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as X-rays, also have the highest energy. This means they are able to penetrate a wide variety of bodies. X-rays are able to ionize atoms and molecules in living things by detaching electrons, leaving charged ions to wreak tissue damage in large enough doses. Returning to our introductory example, fluoroscopes were recognized as potentially dangerous, and they vanished from shoe stores shortly after mid-century.

Preachers could use many object lessons from the scientific realm, particularly lessons concerning the penetrating qualities of radiation and its ability to reveal otherwise obscured truth. Medical personnel, in particular, need to discover truth about conditions in our bodies in order to effect appropriate treatment. X-rays and other types of penetrating radiation reveal not only the truth about internal bodily conditions, but are also effective in treatment of some of those conditions. For example, in proper doses they are able to destroy harmful tissue, such as cancer cells.

Luke 12:2 speaks explicitly about the revelation of truth in our spiritual, conscious existence: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” God’s desire is that this existence be healthy: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place” (Psalm 51:6, NIV). God’s truth discovery methods, therefore, also have a dimension of treatment for undesirable conditions.

We are created as physical beings as well as spiritual beings in God’s image. These two realms are intertwined. Since the scientific revolution, and, in particular, in the last 150-200 years mankind has been gifted with knowledge as never before in the preceding hundreds of centuries. That this knowledge has been made accessible is a cause for celebration and wonder