And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
-Matthew 2:8-14 (NIV)
A study published this week in The Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that the human hand evolved into its present shape because its form is the best combination of physical dexterity and - that’s right - punching power. David Carrier, a University of Utah evolutionary biologist and co-author of the study, says that the shape of the human hand and its ability to clench into a fist “turns this relatively delicate musculoskeletal system into an effective club” that’s able to deliver the force of a blow to a smaller surface area, without being injured.
So, according to this study, the human hand evolved for fighting. Human beings evolved the ability to make a fist so that we could punch and brawl our way to biological superiority.
I’m no biologist, but I’m not convinced. I just don’t think that this study adequately deals with all the data.
I’m not really talking here about the whole “evolution vs. creation” debate. To be honest, I think that argument’s pretty non-productive, as both sides tend to make it into something it isn’t.* All I mean is that the study seems to take one possible use of the human hand and extrapolate from that the purpose for which it came into being.
Couldn’t you just as readily say that the human hand is made for stroking a child’s head as she cries?
Couldn’t you just as readily say that the human hand is made for helping someone who’s sick take a sip of water?
Couldn’t you just as readily say that the human hand is made for placing a coat on the back of someone who’s cold, or offering food to someone who’s hungry, or holding the hand of someone who’s dying? Isn’t there just as much data to suggest that the human hand is ideally suited for gently caressing a husband or wife, or comforting a discouraged friend, or greeting a brother or sister in Christ? Building a house for someone trying to make a new start? Fixing a car for a widow?
Isn’t just as likely that the human hand evolved, or was created, to do the will of its Creator?
Or have we forgotten, at this time of year of all times, that the Creator clearly showed us the purpose of a human hand?
A hand is for reaching from a bed of rough straw to clench the finger of a mother.
A hand is for touching a leper and passing on love and grace and healing.
A hand is for beckoning a sinner down from the place where he’s hiding and watching from a distance.
A hand is for healing the blind. A hand might even be for raising the dead.
A hand is for blessing children.
A hand is for saving a friend who’s drowning in fear and faithlessness.
A hand is for opening the Scriptures.
A hand is for sharing bread and fish with a crowd of thousands, or bread and wine with twelve. A hand is for washing feet.
A hand is for prayerful supplication, alone in a dark garden.
And a hand is for offering, when necessary, to wood and nail.
But a hand is also for pushing aside a stone. A hand, with its wound still open, is for convincing the doubting.
A hand is not meant for the shackles of sin and death. It isn’t intended to be scarred and calloused in service to evil.
A human hand is meant for life. It’s meant for service to God.
This time of year, lots of us talk about peace. We sing songs and hear sermons and read scriptures that tell of it. But peace is never created by mouth, by lip, by tongue. Peace is created by hands.
Peace is cobbled together out of the ruins of God’s creation by hands that don’t mind getting dirty, or calloused, or contaminated. Peace is rescued from the pit of death and sin and violence by hands that don’t mind touching the sick and dying. Peace is liberated by hands that aren’t discouraged by the thickness of the chains that have to be broken. Peace is offered as a gift to the world by hands that don’t hoard, but that share God’s grace generously.
The angels announced peace to the shepherds, but Jesus made peace a reality. If we learn anything from that, it’s that peace is brought to the world in every generation by hands that are eager to do God’s will in the world. And that don’t flinch from cold iron and rough wood.
So as we celebrate “peace on earth” this week, let’s remember that we will always do so, until Jesus comes, with a touch of irony. Our world, after all, is filled with people for whom promises of peace sounds like a cruel joke. They have no one willing to get their hands dirty to bring about peace for them. Their hands have long ago lost the will to create peace. So as we celebrate the coming of Jesus by exchanging gifts and singing songs and eating with family and friends, may we also celebrate by doing what Jesus did - by working with the hands God has given us to make peace a reality. In his name. For his glory.
May God bless the work of our hands.
*On the one hand, evidence for evolution doesn’t disprove “the truth of the Bible.” On the other, expecting the Bible to offer a scientific account of human origins shouldn’t be a test of faith or orthodoxy.