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My life in science and the Christian faith

RobertSelvendran0001The distinguished Norwich-based scientist Dr Robert Selvendran (pictured right), reflects on how his life devoted to following Jesus and his passion for scientific research have given him a fuller and more meaningful picture of life in Christ now and eternal life thereafter.

Having been a nominal Christian and somewhat indifferent to the Christian Faith in my early years, in December 1958, at the age of 19, I became deeply involved with it when I came to know Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord. 

The event that precipitated this radical change was the persistent challenge over a period of one month, from a close Hindu friend of mine, that I should renounce Christianity and become a Hindu like my forefathers.  I shall not elaborate, but his arguments were disparaging and provocative.  Such provocation stung me and led me to re-examine the basis of my Christian faith. 

I began a careful study of the Bible, primarily focussing on the New Testament, with particular reference to the birth, life, teachings and works, the death, resurrection and ascension of the risen Lord Jesus, and the events associated with and following the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  I then considered the implications of these happening for my own life.

This research led me to seek the ‘historical’ Jesus, who, after my sincere seeking, genuine repentance for my failings and former indifference to Him, and my heartfelt prayers, began to disclose Himself and become more real and immediate to me.  The net result was that my perception and apprehension of God and of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, underwent a radical change.  Thereafter I became very conscious of the love of God, and the ‘scales’, as it were, dropped from my eyes. 

I knew for certain that God loved me in Jesus Christ and had made me a child of His affection.  Bearing witness to this truth became a passion for me from that time onwards.  Nothing else in the world seemed to matter except serving Him.  To this day, nearly fifty years after I asked Christ to come into my life, I have not found anything remotely comparable to the joy of knowing God through Jesus Christ, my Saviour and Lord.  However it took me several years to work out meaningfully the implications of the love of God, and how best I could respond to His love, in order to serve Him faithfully and effectively.

Reflecting on that phase of my life, I think that it is not unlike the thrill and exhilaration of making new scientific discoveries, but at a more profound level.  The first major discoveries I made were with tea plants, using a novel method I had developed.  And those tea plants seemed altogether different to me, after I had come to appreciate some of their hidden secrets.  In the same manner, the Bible now seemed to pulsate with new truth and life, and appeared to have an organic, living quality for me.  And its central figure, Jesus Christ, seemed to breathe new life into me.  Over the years, I have increasingly come to appreciate the fact that Jesus Christ is indeed ‘the Light (Truth) of Life’.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I have engaged in plant biochemical and physiological research, and aspects of food and nutrition research, for over thirty years.  Throughout, I have been keen to share the excitement I find in science, which increases my awareness of the physical world around us. For a much longer period, I have been a practicing Christian, and I also want to share the joy and certainty of my life in Jesus Christ, which increases my awareness of God’s purposes for humanity and the world at large.  Sharing these experiences (‘verified truths’) has led to thought-provoking discussions with fellow scientists and people from different walks of life in many parts of the world.

As a consequence, I have reflected long and hard on scientific and Christian views of the world, and I have not found these to be mutually exclusive but, in fact, complementary.  Together, both types of truth give a fuller and more meaningful picture of life, of the world, and indeed of the universe. More importantly for me, they enhance the meaning of eternal life in God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, whom to know is life indeed.  And so my thoughts return to Jaffna College, the cherished ‘Alma Mater’ of my early years, whose motto has become my own: ‘Jesus Christ is the Light of Life.’

This essay is the second part of an article entitled 'The Springboard for My Life in Science and The Christian Faith', that Dr Robert Selvendran was invited to write in 2008, for the 185th Anniversary Souvenir of his old school The Jaffna College, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).  

Dr Robert Selvendran is a distinguished Norwich-based scientist, originally from Sri Lanka, who studied at the universities of Ceylon and Cambridge, and received his PhD and ScD degrees from the latter.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and has been awarded its Senior Medal for Food Chemistry in 1994 for his work on plant food materials. He worked at the Institute of Food Research (known as the Food Research Institute until 1985) in Norwich for over 20 years.  Robert contends that science, at its deepest level is essentially a religious activity, which plays its own special role in unfolding the nature and purpose of God.
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