Fish and faith may not always appear to go hand-in-hand. But for marine biologist Robert Sluka, the pairing is synonymous. On Sept. 17, Sluka spoke about how his faith in God relates to his work as a scientist with the Faith Church community during evening HomeFront.
Sluka shared a memory from when he was a student at the University of Miami. A hands-on research project found him in the Bahamas for three weeks, scuba diving deep in the ocean to study marine protected areas.
“I remember one day out in the boat,” he said. “I swam to a place where the coral reef drops down into the ocean, 2,000-3,000 feet deep. My job was to go down about 100 feet and count the number, size and species of the fish. At some point, I looked down and saw something a few hundred feet away. I kept my eye on it, noticing it was slowly getting bigger. Eventually, I came face-to-face with a barracuda about as big as me, with big teeth and eyes.”
Though fear was his first natural response, Sluka said he then remembered a barracuda in clear water is not prone to attack. “My fear turned into this amazing experience of awe, of wonder,” he said. “I thought, this is why I am doing this, enjoying this animal, being out here on this beautiful reef.”
Sluka explained that despite enjoying the experience, he had no thoughts about God during it, nor did he “connect the dots” between his love of marine biology and his Christian faith. It was not until several years later, through interacting with other scientists who are Christians, that he began to work through the implications of his faith for his work.
“What does it mean to be a scientist who loves the Lord and desires to serve him?,” Sluka asked. “Especially in the area of creation care. What does the Bible have to say about the world around us, the non-human aspects of creation?”
Sluka shared how Colossians 1:15-20 became an important Scripture passage on his journey of integrating his faith and his work. He explained how this passage teaches that God sustains all things in a world that would fall apart without Him; how God is the source of nature, where all things are created through Him and for Him; and how he is the Redeemer of everything broken in the world. The passage also teaches that the world is made for God.
“When you think about the world around us, it is not made for us, but for God,” Sluka said. “As image bearers, we have a role in bringing about this reconciliation in all creation, back to the point where it should be.”
Sluka explained one of his roles as a marine biologist, which is to design protected areas in remote, barren parts of the ocean. He helps grow colonies in these destroyed areas, sometimes through gluing pieces of healthy coral onto frames above the rubble. This begins the process of coral reef restoration, providing healthy, growing habitats for ocean life.
“Part of my role as a conservationist is restoration, moving these habitats from something destroyed towards something that is meant to be,” he said. “A place full of beauty, of new creation. I love to be part of doing something that is valuable to God. It is not just about protecting this habitat for the sake of this habitat, but as Christians, to bring about the praise of all creation (toward its Creator).”
Sluka encouraged the Faith Church community to view their own work as a means to glorify God.
“Right in the middle of a coral colony is the coral crab, a beautiful little creature that most people haven’t seen before,” he concluded. “But this little creature exists for the glory of God.” His work as a marine biologist preserves animals such as these while educating people about their existence so that they, too, can give God glory for his creation. “The process of conservation is bringing about the healing of creation in a way that glorifies God.”
Robert Sluka is a marine biologist who consults with a number of organizations on marine conservation and research, especially as it relates to blessing the nations. He is a lead scientist and director at A Rocha, an international Christian organization that engages in scientific research, environmental education and community-based conservation projects. Sluka is also an associate of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.