When the name Oliver Wendell Holmes is mentioned, most people consider the man who was a famous jurist and the teacher of law, whose career culminated as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court.
But during his lifetime, the name Oliver Wendell Holmes was famous because another man carried that moniker – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
The father of the famous judge was noted in his own right as an author and as a medical doctor. He served for years as the dean of the medical school at Harvard University.
The senior Holmes had a passion to minimize the pain that surgery patients experienced during their surgical procedures. He was significantly involved in the effects of ether on those patients.
His experiments led him to desire to understand what the patient experienced when put under the influence of the ether. Therefore, he decided that the only way he would ever know would be to experience that anesthetic firsthand.
As the ether was administered, Dr. Holmes realized he was experiencing some of the most profound and wonderful thoughts he had ever realized. But when he was revived from the effects of the anesthetic, he could not remember even one portion of the beautiful thought he had experienced.
Dr. Holmes then determined to try the experiment again, only this time to have a stenographer by his side as he did, writing down every word he said as he was going under the influence of the ether. Again he remembered having this wonderful thought, just before he passed out.
The very first thing he did when he came to was to check with the stenographer. He could hardly contain his excitement as she began to read the words that he had said: “The entire universe is permeated with the distinct odor of turpentine!”
Surely the key to understanding the universe has to be more profound and significant than that!
Dr. Holmes knew that his experiment had failed – at least in terms of delivering the most profound and beautiful thought he had ever experienced.
One student in English literature at Yale University knew that his wisdom was of no consequence when compared to God’s.
Right before Christmas, he was taking an examination in English literature, and came to a question on the exam that was just impossible for him to answer. He wrote the following message to his professor: “God alone knows the answer to this question. Merry Christmas!”
When he received his examination back from the professor, he found the following note scribbled below his answer: “God gets an A. You get an F. Happy New Year!”
Life is filled with all sorts of unanswerable and profound truths, and one of our tasks in life is to uncover and discover those truths and then apply them to our lives. If it is true (and it is!) that God alone knows the answers to those penetrating questions which seem unanswerable, then the Bible is the place where we should go to find the answers to such truths!
The Word of God is the book to which we should turn for the deepest and most profound truths of all eternity.
And what’s more – it is extremely practical! “The Law of the Lord is perfect; it gives us new life. His teachings last forever, and they give wisdom to ordinary people.” (Psalm 19:7)
God alone may know the answers to the questions of life, but He has graciously revealed those answers to us through His Word.
But for some, seeking to find the answers to life’s greatest questions, even looking in the Bible for those answers, is like looking at hieroglyphics. They just don’t make any sense! And that is why He sent us “the Word” in the flesh (See John 1:1-14), His Son Jesus Christ, to give light to the lives of men!
I don’t know how many people think the most profound truth of all is that “The entire universe is permeated with the distinct odor of turpentine!”
But for me, it is much simpler than that! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God gets an A+ for that one! And so does anyone who believes in Jesus!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.