Reading about Johannes Kepler’s given circumstances (1571-1630),
- buildings blocking his astronomical observations,
- having to move repeatedly to find new accommodations conducive to his work (Prague, Linz),
- the coming and going of his employers (government changes and rulers),
- troubles of warring peoples (peasants’ war burned down the printing firm which he needed to publish his works),
- having to lead the defense of his mother on trial six years for witchcraft.
Regardless of circumstances he always carried on his minutia of data and tedious observations as a mathematician and astronomer. He discovered laws of planetary movement which we depend on to this day for our space probes. Against the advice of authorities like Tycho Brahe and Galileo, he mixed physics with astronomy to create the field of astrophysics.
Why devote himself so, when the practicalities of life demanded his time and energy?
Almost no one considered his calculations necessary, certainly not like science does today. Most people would have advised him to just manage his material here-and-now.
Hey, the “important things” are all about survival, right?
But we are compelled to walk forward into the unknown. I see this compulsion as God’s way of developing humanity. Observe ancient histories such as the Old Testament characters moving unreasonably into uncharted behaviors and places. Samuel lived in a period of fear under the tyrant Saul when God directed him to go anoint a son of Jesse as the new king. He responded to God that Saul would kill him for that. So, God gave him a cover and he went. (1 Samuel 16:1-13a) The one he anointed, David, then lived a very inconvenient life as a fugitive from Saul for years before assuming the throne. These people’s perception of progress was an “insecure” life.
Observe those who volunteered to follow Jesus (descendant of David) who responded by challenging them with the prospects of the hardships and cost of discipleship. (Matthew 8:18-21)
Why pursue paths beyond the boundaries of our practical needs?
Why write another poem, play, or novel, paint another canvas, knock yourself out to produce another film? If you are doing it in the hopes of getting a handsome retirement package, you are missing the point. Why spend your life researching the unknowns of science, philosophy, theology or anything else that is not critical to put food on the table? And why support the arts or “impractical” fields of endeavor, as Kepler’s patrons did?
We do these “unreasonable” things against daunting resistance because humanity is part of the constant expansion of the universe – into what? Unknown. I call it God drawing us forward in growth, guiding us through and maturing us by means of life’s troubles and turmoil.
Here is another telling scene from the ancient world:
Jesus’ disciples in a boat became preoccupied with the threat of a storm and he said not to worry as he rose to calm the weather. The disciples mused to one another, “what manner of man is this?” For he was another man with them, not an alien with super powers. (Matthew 8:22-27) The behavior they observed was Jesus demonstrating humanity’s move ahead into a new kind of human.
We are drawn by God out of the previous order into the new reality.
No wonder that later Apostle Paul wrote about being “… filled with the fullness of God … to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us …” (Ephesians 3:14-21)