Gregory Snyder: PhD, Priest-Geochemist
- Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO with Ph.D. in Geochemistry
- Research Associate Professor at University of Tennessee: Planetary Petrology & Geochemistry
- Author or co-author of over 60 research papers in refereed scientific journals in the fields of terrestrial geochemistry of diamonds, platinum deposits, layered mafic intrusions, and the chemistry and evolution of the Moon and planets
- Recipient of the inaugural John Stott Award for Pastoral Engagement (2016-2017)
- Rector (head pastor) of St. John’s Parish Church, Johns Island, SC since 2005
- Initiation as a full member into the Society of Ordained Scientists
- Chair of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Diocese of South Carolina (Anglican)
- Member of the Board of Trustees of Trinity School for Ministry (my seminary), Ambridge, PA; and Porter-Gaud School (my daughters’ school), Charleston, SC
We acclaim you, holy Lord, glorious in power. Your mighty
works reveal your wisdom and love. You formed us in your
own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in
obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all
your creatures. When our disobedience took us far from you,
you did not abandon us to the power of death. In your mercy
you came to our help, so that in seeking you we might find
you. Again and again you called us into covenant with you,
and through the prophets you taught us to hope for salvation.
(Eucharistic Prayer of St. Basil, 4thCentury)
While growing up, my family life was not always stable, so I sought truth outside of my family environment. When I was eight years old, I asked for and received on Christmas morning a Geology set with hammer, specific gravity kit, various rocks and minerals, which began a life-long desire to know, understand, and experience God’s Creation. On my ninth birthday I received a chemistry set. These two gifts set in motion the providential path that God would guide me in, responding to the desire of my heart, and culminating in my education and graduation with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Geochemistry from Colorado School of Mines. But, even throughout my graduate school years in Colorado, I was active in my church and increasing in my faith as a layreader and leader at Calvary Episcopal Church in Golden, CO.
Sometime in my first few years as a research professor at the University of Tennessee, standing before a crowd of 200 lunar scientists from all over the globe, the Lord spoke to me (yes, actually during my presentation…it was very disconcerting) and said, “So, how have the desires of your heart worked out? Are you pleased with your international standing and reputation in the science community? Are you making the impact in this world that you had hoped? Or…would you like to make and even greater impact in this world…for me?” I was dumbfounded. I finished the talk, but I was somewhat shaken. It was not long after that I began my discernment to be a priest in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The rest, as they say, is history.
It has always been my greatest desire to be faithful and obedient to the Word of God, found most clearly in the Bible. I have most of my life, albeit imperfectly, endeavored to be faithful to the Faith handed down to the Church by our Lord and His disciples. Also, being a trained scientist, I have tried to be faithful to the teachings of Science, for after all, Jesus Christ is Lord of all Creation. And, being Lord of all Creation means that He is also Lord of all Science. He created nature and designed it to work in a particular way, a way that scientists have been discovering and learning about for over 400 years. God created the universe to be logical and systematic, and thus we can understand how it works by using this sort of logic that human beings are capable of deploying. So, being faithful to the teachings of Science is also being faithful to Our Lord and Savior. In fact, to “suppress the truth,” any truth that the Lord would want to convey to us, either through His Word or through His Creation, would be a form of unrighteousness (see below). For, as St. Paul said in his Epistle to the Romans, chapter 1,
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For
his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:18-20)
In his Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul is even more specific about Christ’s involvement in Creation at its beginning and even up to the present day,
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or
rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The issue that people of Faith often have with scientists is not over Science itself, but over a philosophy, a world-view that many scientists have. This world-view is called scientific materialism, or materialism, and simply put, does not allow anything to exist that is not material, tangible, that can be seen or measured. So, anything in the spiritual realm, anything that cannot be measured, would be excluded. And, yet, we know of many things in our world that are NOT measurable, in fact, most of the things that are most dear to us…love…joy…peace…one’s soul. These are not necessarily quantifiable entities, and yet we know they exist and that they make life most livable. Some scientists have recognized this, leading to this quote, attributed to Albert Einstein,
Not everything that can be counted counts.
Not everything that counts can be counted.
So, again, to be faithful to the Lord, is not only to be faithful to His Word revealed in a special way in the Holy Bible and to His Church, but also to His Creation, the very work of His hands and His fore-thought.
I am still a scientist. And I am a priest and leader in the Christian Faith. I am still enthralled with God’s Creation and its inner workings, its secrets, that scientists are diligently trying to unlock. Because of this, I am an active member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, a unique group of about 200 people from all over the world, who similarly desire to be true to their Faith and Science. And, so I continue to attempt to be faithful to both of God’s Two Books – The Bible and Nature.
And, I have also attempted, more and more, to be faithful to these Two Books – The Bible and Nature, even as I live with the understanding that I am created in the Image of God. That understanding, being made according to God’s own image, is both an encouragement and a great burden. Encouraging, because I know that not only myself, but all human beings have the potential to grow in their understanding of God’s image bearers, and a great dignity comes with this potentiality. But, also there is a great burden to indeed reflect God, to be His image, his ambassador in this world, and through my relationships to help others realize this goal.
- What is one essential thing you would say to a high school or college student first considering a life in science or science-related field? You do not have to give up your faith to follow God. The two are NOT INCOMPATIBLE.
- How might they find their calling? Follow your bliss and your gifting. The Lord will do the rest…he will equip you and give you opportunities to be equipped. There is no perfect path for you. The Lord is willing and able to turn your mistakes into good things. Say your prayers, use the wisdom God gave you, and plunge in.
- What is the best career-vocational advice you received? Attaining the degrees required is not a matter of intellect, but PERSISTENCE (that was the exact word used by an undergraduate professor)
- How do you sense God changing you and this world through your work?
When I was a child, my Mom often used an expression – “Spit’n Image.” I never quite understood the derivation of the expression, but I knew when she used it what it meant. It meant that a family member, usually a son or daughter or granddaughter, looked very much like their ancestor. And, most importantly, this was not just physical appearance, that person favored their ancestor in their very spirit, their character, their attributes. They were indeed the Spit’n Image of their ancestor.
It was not until a few years ago that I came to understand what that strange expression, Spit’n Image, actually meant. It turns out this phrase is an old Negro expression from the South. That it is a contraction of the phrase “spirit and image.” So, this person had the very spirit and image of their ancestor. Now, this made perfect sense.
That all-important phrase, Image of God, is found in the very first chapter of Genesis,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-28)
What does it mean that humanity, male and female, are made in the Image of God? For us as children of faith, we must begin at the beginning, knowing that ALL humanity is made in the Image of God.
It also means NOT focusing the Image of God on certain characteristics that make us human, like rationality, reason, and intellect. For these may wax and wane from youth to old age, and may also be diminished in others who are equally made in the Image of God. These character traits may help us to fulfill the Image of God in our respective callings, but are not what makes us all uniquely created in the Image of God.
It is noteworthy, first of all, that when the author of Colossians mentions Christ in the same verse as the Image of God, there is no preposition to divide the two.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
Everywhere else in all of Scripture, when Image of God and humanity are placed together, there is a preposition to divide them. In other words, Christ is the very image of God, His perfect likeness, whereas humanity is made “according to” or “toward” the Image of God. There is a grand and even glorious potentiality, but it remains a potentiality for humanity.
As Dr. John Kilner and others have shown, the Image of God to which all human beings are endowed, does not mean our mental or physical capacities, though dissimilar to other animals, but our divinely gifted purpose, our potentiality. Prof. John Walton has noted four categories that define the Image of God: 1. Role and function(Gen 1:28 – subdue and rule); 2. Identity(in the NT, “in Christ,” “children of God); 3. Substitute (as in the Ancient Near Eastern king or statue in the temple); 4. Relationshipthat God intends to have with us (unique to the Hebrew Bible) (Walton, 2015, p. 42). John Kilner sees fundamentally two characteristics: 1. Connection with God (covenant and calling); and 2. Reflection of God (displaying His character and action in the world).
In a similar vein, Bishop N. T. Wright agrees,
The notion of the “image” doesn’t refer to a particular spiritual endowment, a secret “property” that humans possess somewhere in their genetic makeup, something that might be found by a scientific observation of humans as opposed to chimps. The image is a vocation, a calling. It is the call to be an angled mirror, reflecting God’s wise order into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to the Creator. That is what it means to be the royal priesthood: looking after God’s world is the royal bit, summing up creation’s praise is the priestly bit. And the image is, of course, the final thing that is put into the temple [a la Prof. Walton]…so that the god can be present to his people through the image and that his people can worship him in that image.” (N.T. Wright, in Walton, 2015, p. 175)
As Prof. John Walton has recently said, “It’s not about you asking God to drive your car, but God asking you to climb on His train.” Salvation is not only, possibly even not primarily, about your “benefits package” for the after-life. It is about reflecting God in this world and being His substitute, His vice-regent, His ambassador. Or, as Bishop Wright has also said,
God’s creation was supposed to function through human stewardship, and instead it now produces thorns and thistles. Now humans are redeemed, in order to get God’s creation-project back on track; and the word for all of that is ‘reigning,’ ‘ruling,’ besileueinin Greek, in other words, ‘kingdom.’… God sets people right in order that through them he will set the world right(N. T. Wright, in Walton, 2015, p. 174)
That is the calling of all humanity created in the Image of God. It is a calling to re-join God’s work of setting right our relationship to God and His creation, at least partly, through human relationships.
C. S. Lewis gives us a very practical yet poignant approach to human relationships and their potentiality in the Image of God. From his famous sermon, Weight of Glory,
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal….And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.This is truly treating your neighbor as made in the Image of God. And this is my kingdom perspective: to try to help every human being I come in contact with to realize their calling as the Image of God.
- How does your career in science motivate your faith? How does your faith energize and inform your career? The two are mutually reinforcing. My faith drives me to want to understand more fully who God is through His loving creation, and my love of Science shows me the wonders of God’s plan and creation.
- How did your prepare for and attain your current position? (See above). My science career was attained through hard work, really an insatiable desire to learn in so many fields (which has also been distracting at times), taking opportunities where they came, and learning from my defeats
- What can you see in your background that was “divine” preparation for you path? Was your path planned or unexpected? There was certainly divine preparation and intervention throughout my path, and at many levels. Doors and windows were often opened for seemingly no earthly reason, and just as surely others were closed. Although some of my plans came to fruition, many of them did not occur in the way I envisioned or through the media expected. Learning to accept what the Lord gives you is also a life-long aspect of gaining wisdom.
- How were your specific research or study topics chosen in school and profession? Some planned, many ‘stumbled’ into. I originally went to graduate school to study oil and gas geology to work for an oil company and make tons of money and become an executive in a company or start my own. Once in graduate school, I discovered a love of igneous rocks, specifically layered mafic intrusions and their formation. I did not know that my greatest love would transfer to the Moon later on, which turned out to be the largest layered mafic intrusion in the solar system.
- What are the greatest challenges as a believer in discipline and career? I think to maintain a healthy worship and devotional pattern throughout my science career, because there appears to be little pay-off in your field for doing this…but, there is great pay-off in your family life and in your character, and this leads to a fuller family life and greatest trust in your colleagues, no matter what field.
- Describe any favorite and influential passages or theological themes influencing your career. I have always loved God’s answer to Job’s questionings in Job 38:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Dress for action[a] like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?...
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!...
31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?
34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
or given understanding to the mind?