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Isaac Newton discovered gravity while social distancing during a plague: Using crisis for Christ

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Category Culture

Isaac Newton famously sat under an apple tree, was hit on the head by an apple when it fell, and suddenly understood the theory of gravity.

Except that this story is largely apocryphal. But it has an element of truth in it.

Newton’s assistant, John Conduitt, later stated: “Whilst he was musing in a garden it came into his thought that the same power of gravity (which made an apple fall from the tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from the earth but must extend much farther than was usually thought. ‘Why not as high as the Moon?’ said he to himself.”

How did Newton happen to be “musing in a garden” that day? The answer is eerily familiar to us.

In 1665, when Newton was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, the Great Plague of London hit. While scientists would not discover for another two hundred years the bacteria that causes plague, they knew that people needed to keep distance from each other. As a result, Cambridge sent its students home to continue their studies.

Newton returned to Wollsthorpe Manor, the family estate about sixty miles northwest of the college. Outside his window, there was an apple tree.

That apple tree, in fact.

During his time away, Newton wrote mathematical papers that became early calculus. He conducted experiments that led to his theories on optics. And he developed theories related to gravitational forces.

He returned to Cambridge in 1667, bringing his theories with him. Within six months, he was made a fellow. In two years, he was a professor.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Using crisis for Christ

I’m not suggesting that what you do during this time of social distancing will change the world, but it can change your world.

You can spend this time with your Lord in a way that draws you closer to him and empowers you to lead others to him as well. And when he changes your world, you can change our world.

In other words, the Holy Spirit has a way of using crisis for Christ, if we are willing.

For example, in Acts 3, Peter and John are used by God to heal a crippled man. In the next chapter, they are brought before the Sanhedrin. The council’s purpose is to stop their preaching and end their nascent movement. But the opposite occurs.

Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter had cowered before a serving girl. Now he declares to the very men who arranged Jesus’ death (and could arrange his): “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the chief cornerstone” (vv. 10–11).

Then Peter makes a statement that has echoed across the centuries: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (v. 12).

What empowered Peter and the other apostles in this way?

The Sanhedrin noted the answer: “They recognized that they had been with Jesus” (v. 13).

During these days of crisis, will we be able to say the same of you?

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