Let’s Talk About Evil

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The idea of evil has been a part of humanity as far back as the notion of good has existed. But what is “evil” and does the problem of evil negate a good God? Since the time of the ancient Greeks, and possibly further, it has been thought that the idea of evil existing eliminates the idea of a good and all-powerful God. It seems to make senses that if God can stop evil but chooses not to, then he is not Good. It also seems to make sense that if God cannot stop evil he is not nearly as powerful as we make him out to be. In this post I hope to make it clear why neither of these are necessarily true statements. God can be good and evil can exist at the same time.

First let’s start with the famous Epicurus “Problem of Evil” which goes as follows:

  1. If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.

  2. There is evil in the world.

  3. Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

Now for this to be a logically sound argument all the aspects of it have to be true. This is problematic because of several factors. First, Epicurus doesn’t define “good” or “evil.” To show why this is a problem one only needs to look at how different cultures regard good and evil. Epicurus himself had a very different understanding of good and evil than most modern people do. According to Epicurus’ philosophy good is what we find pleasurable and evil is what we find painful. He argued that sometimes a person will go through pain to achieve an even greater pleasure (example: exercising to have a better body) but ultimately all good is simply pursuing the greatest possible pleasure.

I don’t want to deny Epicurus his due respect, but I don’t think I could ever advocate the Epicurus moral system. What bothers me the most is morality in this case lacks any universality. Good and evil are completely subjective to the person. Joseph Stalin had a dream that one day the world would be a communist paradise free from class struggle, racism, poverty, and inequality. In his efforts though somewhere around twenty million people died. Ultimately Stalin is regarded by most as one of History’s greatest villains because after all that pain his dream never came to be. Out of fairness let’s talk about U.S. President Harry S. Trueman’s decision to drop nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima’s destruction killed between 90,000–166,000 and Nagasaki’s destruction killed somewhere between 60,000–80,000 people. These were men, women, and children who had committed no war crimes. These were people who’s only fault was living in the wrong city in the wrong country. In the end though, this pain ultimately probably saved more lives than it lost by preventing a full U.S. military invasion of mainland Japan.

Was President Trueman’s decision morally good? If Stalin had succeeded would he be seen as a great hero? That’s up for you to decide, but my point is that Epicurus leaves a lot open for interpretation. He assumes that evil exists, that God wants to rid the world of evil, and that if something apart from God’s will or desires exist then he ultimately cannot exist. There’s also a bit of narcissism in this argument since Epicurus defines good as what is pleasurable and he thinks that for God to exist he must ultimately provide nothing but pleasure or else he cannot exist.

Epicurus’ problem of evil is really just the first level of the problem though. The idea has been built upon, improved, and elaborated on many times. From what I can find the most current example goes as follows:

  1. God exists.

  2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

  3. A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.

  4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.

  5. An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.

  6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.

  7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.

  8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

Ok, let’s break this one down. It starts with the premise being tested, that “God exists.” It then goes on to define God by saying that “God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.” So far this argument is set up well. It has established what it wishes to test and it defines God so that there should be no questions as to what is being tested.

Point three is where the argument begins to fall apart. “A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.” This is once again problematic because “evil” is not defined. If we assume that God is all good and evil is the antithesis of good then this point can stand. We assume here that “evil” serves no purpose and that this perfectly good being wants to rid the world of evil at this very moment, but for some reason cannot or is not. Can a perfectly good being allow evil to exist for a time if it ultimately serves a purpose for greater good? By Epicurus’ own logic this is possible and perfectly logical. As you can see, argument is becoming a little shaky, but it hasn’t crumbled completely just yet.

Point four and five are pretty sold, but point six doesn’t work for the same reason point three fails. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil. Once again the assumption is that evil has no purpose and that God is just helpless to prevent it. Point seven and eight follow on point six.

So by this point you are probably wondering what my answer to the problem of evil is. Well, I say that evil exist because God loves us. How’s that for a contradiction! But seriously, I think evil has to exist for love to exist. I’ll explain why soon, but first let’s establish what evil is not.

thEvil is not this counter force that is equal and opposite to good. There is no yin-yang thing going on (which by the way doesn’t really have anything to do with good and evil) where there is some balance that exists where the good and evil sides are always in some constant war for the souls of man.

I know that this is a popular theme in what I like to call “pop culture Christianity” where the devil and angel on our shoulders are always tempting us to make good or bad decisions. We love the idea of God and Satan are bitter rivals in some cosmic war for the world, but ultimately that’s not really the case.

For starters evil is not a force to go to war with good. In one way of looking at it, evil is not even a real thing. Now I say evil exists, but only in the same way that cold exists in the absence of heat. Evil (in my understanding) is an emptiness that is left by abandoning good that can be filled up again.

Let’s look at the popular antagonist in the character of Satan. From the few things we know of him through scripture (he’s not as big of a figure as people paint him to be) he is an angel who was created good and beautiful but chose to rebel against God. Satan’s evilness isn’t something that was innately apart of his being, it is an emptiness left by his choice to rebel against what was good.

Choice is the key factor here. Christian theology believes that God created the universe good and perfect. Sin only entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to move away from the good will of God. Evil is nothing more than the absence or perversion of good. Greed is the choice not to participate in generosity, violence and hatred come from a choice not to participate in brotherly love and empathy, it goes on and on…. every sin comes from a choice not to participate in what God created for good.

So why would God give us the ability to choose? Simply put God is love and love requires a choice. If I had no choice at all whether or not I loved someone then it isn’t really love. Love requires that a person could leave or abandon the other. If a wife could never cheat on her husband, leave her husband, or even contemplate loving another then she isn’t his lover…. she’s his slave. The same goes for all types of love. A choice has to exist and God created us to love us and to be loved by us. God is relational and seeks relationships, and yet he will not force love.

Christianity believes that God literally did all the work required for us to join him and be forgiven of our transgressions, we simply have to choose to love him. He couldn’t have made it easier and every moment that he let’s evil run rampant is a mercy shown to us by giving us even more time to come to our senses and return to love. Evil exists because we are allowed to choose between good and not-good, and God allows it because he wants to give each of us opportunity to find and return to him.

Paul, when dealing with people who demanded God be quicker in punishing evil, had this to say:

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

– Romans 2:3-4

So to wrap this up my answer to the problem of evil is simply this: Evil exists so that true love can exist, and because God is patient, kind, and willing to give each of us chance after chance to repent. A day will come when no more evil will exist, where God will fill in all the gaps of his creation with his glory and goodness, but until that day let us not ignore the grace and mercy of God. Let us not grow weary in doing good. And let us not forget that the good news we believe and hold true to is for all people, and it is our job to spread the love by pointing and leading others back to God.

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Book Review: “Quarks Chaos and Christianity” by John Polkinghorne

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I decided to pick up “Quarks Chaos and Christianity” for two reasons.

1) The author (John Polkinghorne) is both a renowned theoretical physicist and an Anglican priest. How could I not be interested in a book by a guy with a resume like that.

2) The book is barely over one hundred pages long, so I knew I could read it quickly one lazy afternoon. While I do love a good long book, I’m also a big fan of the quick read as well.

In his book, John Polkinghorne tries to bridge the gap between science and religion by seeking a common ground of mutual understanding. This rare convergence of the empirical and religious mind is a welcomed break from the clash many readers might have come to expect in texts that deal with the relationship between the sciences and religion. The book is easy to follow, which is surprising when one considers the very advanced physical and theological concepts that the author deals with. As a reader who’s only knowledge of physics is what I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel show “How The Universe Works” I was still able to follow along pretty easily.  Polkinghorne manages the very difficult feat of tackling both theology and physical sciences in an accessible and non-threatening way.

The book is organized into eight chapters, each dealing with a specific problem that a scientific mind might have when it comes to matters of faith and religion. It is clear from the questions Polkinghorne chooses to address that this book was aimed more at the scientist struggling with faith than the faithful struggling with science, though readers from either perspectives could benefit from this book.  Religion, as presented in this book, is not something completely alien to science but rather just another tool by which man seeks to understand the universe that God created.  A person unfamiliar with science might have to overcome a slight learning curve as a result, but Polkinghorne does his best to explain any difficult concepts referenced within the text. I do not consider myself to be scientifically gifted, but I was able to easily following along most of the time.

The topics covered in this book are:

  1. Why do we need religion?
  2. Does the universe need a creator or designer?
  3. Why does evil exist from a scientific and religious stand point?
  4. Is a man more than a just a body?
  5. Can a logical person pray?
  6. How can a scientist believe in miracles?
  7. Where does Christianity stand in a universe that is materially pointless, hopeless, and inevitably doomed?
  8. What does all of this mean?

While I have some issues with this book, I feel it has done as excellent a job of trying to unite religion and science as anyone could hope for. Polkinghorne, for the most part, manages to stay both theologically and scientifically sound in all of his claims as far as this reader could tell. Though I do not agree with some of the author’s conclusion I could easily follow most of his thoughts and see how he came to most of the conclusions he did. Many sections of this book, I found to be extremely enlightening and challenging. The combined mastery that Polkinghorne shows for both science and theology is at a level that I have not experienced before in a single author. Of the weaknesses I found in this book, most were nothing more than leaps in logic I did not follow or assumptions that I thought were too readily accepted. I cannot really criticize Polkinghorne too harshly for this, since the subject matter he is dealing with exists largely in the theoretical and theological disagreements on my part do not equal a weakness on the author’s part.

This book should be seen as a valuable resource considering how well it is able to make sense of advanced concepts that could easily confuse most men. The amazing way in which Polkinghorne is able to work science into religion is heads above the usually heavy-handed attempts to force the two together. I would gladly recommend this book for either the scientific person wandering if religion can be for them, or for the religious person wanting to understand how the Christian faith works in this ever increasingly scientific world.  This book successfully manages to bring two different schools of thought together without overtly catering to one side or the other, and in doing so it achieves the goal it set out to accomplish.

Is God A Megalomaniac?

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It seems like there is a lot of confusion going around recently about the jealous nature of God, and in the past week I have had the subject brought up several times in my youth small groups. The idea of a God who is both perfect and jealous is a difficult concept to understand. It is not something that can be easily grasped or ignored. Having said all that, I feel that now is probably as good a time as ever to try to tackle this theological kerfuffle.

So the first question we have to address is simply is God a jealous God? To me scripture seems to point to yes:

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

-Exodus 20:5

God is a jealous God and very few things seem to frustrate God more than when we do not give him his due place in our life. The question then becomes, can we still say that God is good if he seems to be so petty and covetous of our praise and worship? If I demanded praise like God does then people would call me prideful, arrogant, and a megalomaniac, so why is God allowed to act this way? It seems most people understand that any being who demands to be worshiped under pain of punishment is a very faulty and emotionally fragile being, right?

To this I’d say no. As with any passages that deal with God’s nature we have many obstacles in our path that can trip us up. We are confined to the limitations of our anthropomorphic and finite language. This makes it extremely difficult to describe a being that is by His own admission, incomprehendable outside of what he divinely reveals about himself to us.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”

– Isaiah 55:8

It is extremely hard to write anything about God without drastically limiting Him in the process. For example, when we say that God is “good” it is extremely hard for us not to undermine him in the process. If God is God then he must truly be the greatest thing in existence. For this reason, “good” seems a bit underwhelming when applied to God. We cannot compare God (the ultimate) with anything except what is beneath him, since anything greater than him would nullify the whole ultimate being thing. We have to use words and phrases that human being can experience if we are ever going to have any meaning conveyed in them, but by doing that we have to be careful not to give the wrong idea.

If we can establish that God is the ultimate greatest thing in the universe simply by nature of being God, and if we also know from scripture that God loves us and wants what is best for us, then by putting the two together we can conclude that if God is the best and he wants what is best for us, then he wants us for himself and himself for us.

If I had a child and I saw that he or she was striving after something harmful rather than what I knew to be the best for them, I would want to do everything I could to turn them in the right direction. For us the best direction is always going to be back to God. He deserves to be worshiped and he wants us to be with him because that is what we were made for. God made us to worship him and so that he could love us. We saw from the first few pages of Genesis and the last pages of Revelation that a life with God is the best of all possible realities. In this light God’s “jealousy” serves not only Himself, but also all others.  No other form of jealousy I know of can be said to be both self-serving and yet universally beneficial. In this way I feel it is safe to say that God is both jealous and good.

Christianity With A Side of Zen: Six Zen Teachings Christianity Should Re-Learn

The other day I found myself under a great deal of stress. A storm on monday had rained down some baseball sized hail on my old car that I was just about to sale. My windows are all cracked, my exterior is dented, and my roof has a hole in it… It was not a great way to kick off the week.  On top of that my frantic mind was already having to deal with the pressures that come from handling school, work, ministry, and social pressures.  I’m the type of guy who has a mini-panic attack at least once a week, usually over things that are entirely out of my control. It’s a problem, and I’ve gotten a lot better at it than I was in the past.

Anyways I just happened to stumble upon a book about Zen on this most stressful day. I typically don’t care much for Eastern philosophy (I find it too circular and vague) but while reading I started to draw some connections to my faith. Some of the things proposed in this book could easily be translated into Christianity, and some of them when I really thought about it, were already a part of my faith. I had simply forgotten about them or failed to see them on first glance.

Now I’m not trying to suggest (as some have) that Jesus was somehow influenced by Buddhist teachings. I’m also not advocating “Zen-Christianity” which downplays Christ to a mere wisdom teacher who was no more “divine” than Joe the Plumber. What I am doing is simply bringing to light some often forgotten Christian teachings, and doing so through Zen.

1) Just Look at What’s There:

“Shoshin” is the Buddhist concept of the beginners mind. This is a mental attitude that allows for one to be open and eager to learn. If a person has a beginner’s mind then they will not come in with a bunch of preconceived notions or beliefs already set. In this way they will get a richer and fuller experience since they are not stumbling over how to make everything fit into the worldview they have already adopted. I think if one really wants to experience Christ it would be wise to leave as much theological baggage behind as possible.

Have you ever noticed that people tend to be able to twist the Bible to say just about anything they want it to say? I once knew a guy who was very big into gun’s and after many searches he had compiled a list of scriptures that he believed proved that the Bible followed his anti-gun control political beliefs. Now I really don’t have much an opinion about this gun control debate, but I’m pretty confident that the authors of the Bible weren’t writing with the intention of having some guy thousands of years down the road quote them to defend his right to own a boom-stick.  This is a silly example, but far too often Christians (myself included) will approach scripture already knowing what we want it to say. We want Jesus, or Paul, or Moses, to agree with us and we’ll nit pick up a storm to try to make them. The problem here is that in doing so we are not worshiping God or letting the words of scripture penetrate us and grow us, instead we are molding the Bible into our own image and worshiping it as our own.Wrong-way-to-read-the-Bible

If the way we read the Bible always backs up what we already believe we aren’t going to grow at all. Jesus’ teachings aren’t really going to help you if all you do is try to figure out how to turn him into a puppet that sides with you. There are so many doctrines, ideas, beliefs, and desires blocking our view when we read scripture that sometimes it can be hard to see what the authors might actually be saying. I can tell you with complete confidence that Jesus was not a Calvinist or an Armenianist, nor was he Catholic or Protestant. Jesus wasn’t any of these things because these are all lenses through which we view Christ. We have so much theological baggage tied to us that we have a hard time putting it all aside and seeing the Christ for who he was.

Christ was not amazed by our theological exegetical or hermeneutical skills, in fact what he really wanted from his followers was nothing more than a simple child like faith:

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

– Matthew 18:2-4

How often we tend to forget that the savior of the world spent his time with simple shepherds, fishermen, and street people. In trying to rationalize, compartmentalized, dissect, and study Christ we must be very careful that we don’t miss Christ in the process. This is not an attack on academics or Biblical studies, as much as it is a call not to miss the big picture.

Let Jesus be Jesus and try to experience him and his words with new eyes. Let him teach you, mold you, and make you into the person he wants you to be instead of the other way around.

2) Meditate (Spend Time Experiencing God)

Meditation is something most people attribute to Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, but taking some time out of your day to escape the world and sit in silence is something I think most Christians would benefit from. Before I go any further I’d like for you to take a moment and consider when the last time you actually just walked with God. I’m not talking about your “Christian walk” but a more literal walk. When is the last time you opened up some time in your day to let God speak to you. Maybe it’s been a while. Don’t worry if you can’t remember the last time you did this, sitting in silence is not something that a lot of Christians make a regular practice of.

urlBy proposing this I am not really trying to come up with some East meets West hybrid religion, instead I’m just suggesting we open ourselves up more to experiencing God in the silence. In the 46th Psalm we are told to “Be still and know that I am God” and when Elijah was in the mountains he learned that God was not found in the fire, the wind, nor the earthquakes, but rather the silence. One of the first things Jesus does in Mark 1:35 is go off to be alone with God and frequently we get the image of Christ finding a nice quiet place to be with the Father. Finding God in the stillness isn’t something that is new, but it is something that I think Christianity could use some more of.

Consider your prayer life, do you make time for God in your every day life?  When you pray do you set aside time to let God move in you and speak to you, or do you spout off a list of requests before bed each night and before meals? There’s nothing wrong with bringing concerns before God, but I think we would all benefit if we, like those before us, took time away from our distracting and busy lives every day to just be with God and enjoy his presence.

3) Keep It Simple

Zen teachings are not very complicated, though many people could easily make them out to be. Simplicity is a term that could not often be applied to Christian theology. We ask a lot of complicated questions and we want very detailed answers. We aren’t just satisfied with “abstain from sexual sin” because we want a very detailed list of what we can and cannot do. We aren’t satisfied with “turn the other cheek” because we want to know every loophole and exception that exists. When we really get down to it we want Law, and Christ instead gave us freedom. We have been freed from the bounds of sin and law by Christ, but we still want to have a legalistic system of do’s and dont’s. In the gospels people tried constantly to trick Jesus into legalistic loopholes, condemning him for healing on the sabbath or for letting his disciples eat wheat when it was not the proper time. Jesus dismissed these trivialities and brought about a new perspective, one that focuses on the heart.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

– Matthew 22:36-40

Let’s be clear that the Bible doesn’t spell everything out for us. There’s no passage that’s
going to directly address birth control, stem cell research, cloning, nuclear bombs, high-fructose corn syrup, internet piracy, or tax evasion. But we have a pretty simple way of formulating Christian opinions about just about anything. Are we Loving God and Loving people? Are you seeking to honor God in the way you act and treat others, or are you trying to get away with as much as possible while still not breaking any rules?For those of us who have been forgiven and made clean through Christ, we have the Holy spirit as our guide to help us make difficult calls. What really makes a different is a heart change. If your heart’s end goal is

still self-centered and seeking to get away with as much as possible then I think it is time to re-examine yourself. If your heat is truly focused on loving God and others before yourself then he will make your path straight. You don’t have to logic yourself in or out of every situation, God will guide you if you let him. Coming into proper relationship with God and allowing Christ to be your center puts you in a much greater state to make moral judgements than memorizing a strict list of do’s and dont’s. Paul in Romans 3:19-20 states that laws and moral codes cannot make a man righteous, but instead they can only make him aware of his own shortcomings. Righteousness comes through Christ and we now belong to a new covenant based in forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love. Let us live as if we truly believe this.  Let us stop waving around complex moral codes as weapons like the Pharisees of old used to do, build themselves up and taring others down. Let us love God and Love people and let the scriptures guide us and help us as we seek to do this.

4) Be Mindful (Take Time To Appreciate God’s Gifts) 

url-3When is the last time you were truly grateful for all the wonderful things God has blessed you with? Have you ever stopped and thought about how your very existence makes you extremely fortunate. Consider how many parings of people it took throughout history to make sure you were born. Consider how many different children could had there been a different combination of seed and egg? The overwhelming number of people that could have been, were never born. Yet here you are, reading these words I type. Your won the lottery a million times over simply by the fact that you have been born. You get the privilege of experiencing the wonder of life and all that it has in store, the good and bad. How blessed you are.

Today is an amazing gift that you have been given and there are any number of beautiful and wonderful things all around you. Every day is a new beginning and a new opportunity to experience so many wonderful things. There is a world full of amazing, unique, and beautiful people that are only here for a short while, and yet you get to live with them and love with them. There are millions of things to do, to see, to study, to learn, and to achieve. There is new music to listen to, new friends to make, new foods to try, new places to wander, new things to discover, and new mysteries to uncover. Your mind itself is an amazing place to wander. You can study yourself, create art, think big new thoughts, or most amazingly of all have a chat with your maker.

This world is so vast, so massive, so beautiful, and so full that I often wonder how anyone ever finds the time to be bored. Gifts are everywhere and yet we refuse to see them. Try to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness and take some time to be mindful of what is around you. Realize all that you have, all that you are,  all that you could be, and all that you have been given.  Be grateful.

5) Be Open (Don’t Let Doctrine Imprison You)

url-1The other day I was speaking with one of my professors about the nature of miracles. He was of the opinion that the “miracles” of the Bible (if they occurred at all) could all be naturally explained. This professor is very strongly involved in the sciences, specifically physics and chemistry. Because my professor saw such beauty in the natural laws of the universe he was of the opinion that a perfect God would not violate the laws he set up just to prove a point to us. This debate was really just a friendly discussion, but at the end the professor told me that “In order to hold to what I believe is true, I just can’t accept your arguments.”

At the time I saw nothing wrong with this. The professor knew what he believed and he respected what I believed. He was considerate enough to entertain the notion that I could be right, but he ultimately rejected my doctrine to remain consistent. The problem here that I didn’t realize until just now is that the professor is imprisoned to his own doctrine so much that he is willing to reject what is out there for the sake of consistency.

Granted I’m sure I have been guilty of this as well. I am not exactly an open mind who is willing to turn on a dime, but perhaps when dealing with God we shouldn’t be so slow to consider possibilities. God is much bigger than I think any of us could possibly give him credit for, and I feel utterly confident that I am somehow so special that I have a perfect and complete understanding of God.

Now I firmly believe God is good. I believe God is not unknowable and that he does reveal himself and his nature through his creation and through Christ and the Holy Spirit. I’m mot advocating an unknowable God, but I am advocating a God that is a lot bigger than the human brain can fathom.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

– Isaiah 55:8-9

I truly believe we can have a relationship with the creator of the universe. I believe God is love and that the scriptures in the Bible do reveal parts of his loving nature and character. I also think we will never be able to fully encapsulate God in our doctrines. Doctrines are our human endeavor to find consistency and Theology is merely just human logic being applied to the almost impossible task of wrapping our brains around God. We shouldn’t, however get so caught up in our doctrines and theology that we put limitations on God and start dictating what we believe he can and cannot do. Let’s try to remember that we worship a God who is much bigger than we can imagine. If we are worshiping a God that is small enough to be fully grasped by the human mind is a God that mankind could have easily made up. Why do you think God requires faith? It’s not because he gets a kick out of making people put their logic aside, but rather it is because human logic has it’s limits. Be open and be in wonder of God, don’t try to force him to live in your tiny doctrines of human comprehension. Don’t let your theology become your idol.

6) Get A Sense Of Humor 

I have a pretty dry sense of humor, so maybe this won’t seem as funny to you guys as it is to me, but one time I was teaching a lesson on Hosea and I came across this image:

Hosea 2

I thought it was hilarious. It’s a clever little joke about one of the book’s major themes (Hosea’s cheating wife was like Israel’s abandonment of God) and so I worked it into my lesson. No one thought it was funny. It wasn’t a matter of the joke falling flat, but rather that no one thought I should be making fun of Hosea’s situation. I wasn’t trying to make any real statement here, I just wanted to bring some humor into the study.

Maybe this is predominately a Baptist problem, but I get the feeling that I’m not alone in saying that Christians could learn to laugh at ourselves a little better. Being in ministry, two of my favorite Church jokes are:

Q: “If you take a Baptist fishing, how do you keep him from drinking all your beer?”

A: “Bring another Baptist.”

Q: “How many Baptists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

A: “One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.”

Would you believe that I offended people with these jokes? You don’t get much more tame than that. Now I know I’m cheesy as all get out, but I’d never have thought before I got into Ministry just how easily offended people in churches can get. Have you ever heard of a Buddhist getting offended? When was the last time Buddhists boycotted a business or got angry and went on the news to fuss about how offended they were about something. I can’t think of a time.

File:Buddha_Beipu

This is actually Budai, not Buddha.

Buddhists and Zen religions seem to have a good sense of humor about things. I’m pretty sure when most people think of the Buddha they think of the laughing fat man. While this isn’t really accurate, it does say something about humor.

Look at icons in Christian art and see how long it takes for you to find a picture of someone smiling. Christians don’t smile much in their art and honestly I’d like to see this change. Christianity deals a lot in suffering, which is reflected a lot in our art, but it also deals in joy and happiness.

We don’t have to take everything so seriously, and perhaps a part of turning the other cheek could involve maybe not getting so up tight about every little joke that comes our way. The Christian life is a joyous and fun existence. I think it might be a good idea to develop a sense of humor to show this. The passage that comes to my mind is at the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians which reads:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

– Philippians 4:4-8

Basically, lets focus on the positive and lighten up a bit. There are times to be serious, but there are also times for thanksgiving and laughter. I’m pretty sure God didn’t create laughter so that we could squirm uneasily at jokes and become offended whenever we happen to be the butt of one.

As the author of Proverbs said, “A joyful heart is good medicine.”

Allegorical Creation: Not Exactly Heresy

The creation story is a biblical account which has lead to much controversy over the centuries. Many critics of Christianity have used it as a starting point to launch attacks and criticisms at the faith, while those who consider themselves believers are in debate as to whether such accounts are literal historical events, or allegorical means to convey a deeper message. This is not a decision that needs to be taken lightly, since there are theological consequences that emerge no matter where you stand. The creation account is one of the most important passages of scripture in the Bible. It sets the theological foundation upon which the rest of the scriptures build upon. As a result, the debate about how one should interpret the creation account is one of extreme importance.

Some have argued for a literal interpretation, believing that unless such events occurred exactly as described the Bible, the Bible cannot be said to be inerrant and infallible. I am close friends with many people like this, and a conversation I had recently revolving around whether or not the earth is 6,000 years old or not is the reason I decided to write this post. My goal is not to attack anyone’s beliefs as much as it is that I wish to demonstrate that my belief in an allegorical creation is not as much of a heresy as some people might think it is. There are many scholars I respect who hold to the “young earth” ideas, and hopefully I will be able to be fair in giving my reasoning for rejecting that theory without coming off like a condescending tool.

I’ll be the first one to come out and say that not all scripture is infallible. I hold that all scripture has importance, be it philosophical, historical, theological, or in some artistic sense, but infallible is not the choice of words I would use. I believe that all scripture was God inspired, though I’m not going to be the one to say that God held every biblical author’s hand so that they could write down the perfect and divine words of the creator. If that were the case then I question why the book or Revelation has so many gramatical errors. I guess what I’m saying is scholars who run an “all-or-none” theology open themselves to the risk of having a crisis of faith every time a new translation, copy, or discovery reveals something about the texts, or  (as is the case with the creation story) there are two different accounts of the same event. I personally find it unnecessary to limit one’s understanding of scripture to two extremes of literalism and falsity. It is possible for some scripture to be inspired without it being taken literally. The creation account can reveal truth, just as easily as Jesus Christ spoke truth through parables that did not actually occur outside of the parable itself.

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Origen

Some of the more fundamentalist biblical scholars have tried to write off ideas of an allegorical creation as being a new idea, but this could not be further from the truth. The concept of an allegorical creation is not a means of modernistic apologetics, and the allegorical understanding predates any theories of evolution, big bang, carbon dating, or fossil records. The famed theologian Origen of Alexandria made arguments for an allegorical reading of Genesis in 230 AD when he wrote:

“What man of sense will argue with the statement that the first, second and third days, which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon and stars? What man is found such a fool as to suppose that God planted trees in Paradise like a husbandman?… I believe every man must hold these things for images under which a hidden sense is concealed.”

– Origen of Alexandria (230 A.D.)

Origen wasn’t the earliest to make such claims. St. Irenaeus argues for an allegorical creation in his work Against Hereses in the 108 A.D, and St. Augustine denies the literal seven-day creation in his work The Literal Interpretation of Genesis in 408 A.D. Such evidence provides validity too the allegorical creation theory while proving it to be more than merely a modern attempt to bend scripture in order to appease recent scientific discoveries.

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Moses Maimonides

In the 12th Century a Jewish scholar by the name of Moses Maimonides said:

“The foundation of foundations and pillar of all wisdom is to know that the First Being is, and that He gives existence to all that exist.”

– Maimonides

According to Maimonides, the purpose that the author of the creation account is trying to convey is the foundational truth on which existence is based. The author seeks to establishes the existence of a singular God, from whom the universe was created. Such a notion lays the framework for all Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theology that will follow. Keeping that in mind it becomes clear that the goal of this passage is one of theological and religious significance, rather than one of historical or scientific nature.

To argue that the creation account is to be taken as a literal scientific history raises a great number of questions. The first problem comes from the contradictions that form between what science and Genesis say about the order in which the universe is formed. A study of the Astronomy reveals that the Sun pre-existed the Earth (Gen. 1:16), biological and geological records seem to contradict the order in which life appears (Gen. 1:11-12, 24), and fossils reveal animals feed on other animals before man first set foot on the earth (Gen. 1:30). Assuming that several areas of scientific study are not built upon falsities, we are left with two possibilities. Either God created the universe with the appearance of false age and misleading records, or the author of Genesis wrote the order of creation with the best ideas available at the time to demonstrating the power and wisdom of God as creator. Both options are possible with an all powerful God, and so readers are left to come to their own conclusion.

If one were to side on the opinion that God created everything in a literal seven days, and that the order of events is literal and factual, another problem emerges. There are two creation accounts (Gen. 1:1-2:4, 2:4-25) that depict a different order of events in which the earth is created. The first account has the creation of plants (Gen. 1:11-12), followed by animals (Gen.1:20-25), and ending with male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). This is not so in the second account which places the order of creation as man (2:7) followed by plants (2:9), animals (2:19),and finally ending with woman (2:21-22). The passages also suffer from differing styles of speech and structure, implying that they were written years apart, and possibly by different authors. Such questions require a great deal of explanation and theorizing on the part of the literal interpreters.

Examining the first creation story alone, does not lend itself free of problems for those who take a literal approach. The creation account shows that God existed, not in a state of nothingness, but rather in a state of darkness and chaos (Gen.1:1-2). This changes when God spoke and created the first of creation; light (Gen. 1:3-5) and the combined light and darkness formed the first day. In this act time and order seem to come into existence as every moment after this point is referred to as a day. The problem arises when one comes to question what the author meant when he mentions “a day.” It is entirely possible that the author meant to relate an indefinite passage of time, just as it is just as possible that the author was writing in the context of the Jewish weekly calendar’s concept of a day. There is no clear way to know, and such matters are confused even further when one considers that God doesn’t create the Sun and Moon until the fourth day (Gen.1:16). Because time on earth is measured using the Sun and Moon, it is difficult for humans to consider what a day consisted of prior to their existence. Such passages leave the literal reader with many questions to ponder.

The second day of creation, much like the first, has many issues when taken literally.  According to some biblical scholars, the ancient peoples saw the sky or heavens as a solid mass. In their understanding the sky was a dome like structure that separated realms, and acted as a throne for God (Ex. 24:10; Ezk. 1:26). Such theories point to the way that the sky separates the waters, which later are seen flooding down upon the earth when they are opened (Gen. 7:11). Since we today know that the sky is not a dome holding back water, the logical conclusions to be drawn are that either the creation account was written to be allegorical, the creation account was written to be literal and the author made mistakes, or the creation account was written literally and God has since altered the state of the world and universe around us.

The fourth day is an interesting day of creation, which holds special theological significance worth mentioning. It was quite common in the ancient times for societies both primitive and advanced to worship celestial bodies as deities. We see such notions reflected in various cultures on every continent all over the globe.Yet in spite of this trend, the author of Genesis seems assured in his assertion that the celestial bodies were not beings of worship, but rather aspects of the creation just like the rest of the universe. Although an astronomer might argue that it does not dismiss the notion that the sun and moon were created simultaneously, such a notion does imply unique theology on the behalf of the author of Genesis. It could be argued that such ideas lead one to argue that the creation account is divinely inspired,although it should be noted that divine inspiration does not assert a literal or allegorical translation.

The Creation of Adam on the sixth day is another point of discussion in terms of literal vs.allegorical debates. The Hebrew term for “Adam” literally translates into “man”which opens up the possibility that Adam is a representation of humanity,rather than a singular being. The first creation account makes no reference to male and female being created on separate days and is more likely to be viewed as an analogy for mankind, while the second account seems more in favor of Adam and Eve as unique individuals.  When one views Adam as an analogy for man, the reader is presented with a much broader story of humanity being given a sense of good and evil, and choosing evil. This would have occurred over a much longer time than if the accounts truly speak of a single man and woman, and raises questions as to the truth behind the doctrine of original sin.

It is worth mentioning that in the grand scale of things it doesn’t really matter whether one takes a literal or allegorical interpretation of creation account. The general themes and concepts are the same regardless of whether one believes the truths are literal or implied.

  • God is the ultimate and He creates all things that exist. God created all things good and in harmony.
  • God created mankind, and when mankind obtained the knowledge of good and evil he chose to sin.
  • Because of this mankind is out of sync with nature and the result is a broken world and a separation from God.

The book of Genesis is based around the major theme of creation, rejection, and redemption. These will be themes found in most of the books of the Bible, especially in the Gospels of Christ. In either line of reasoning, the foundation on which the rest of scripture to build upon is set, and the author fulfills his purpose in writing the account. This is not to say that both sides are on equal footing. One makes a bold assumption that throws much of the known sciences into question while the other opens up questions regarding the ideas of original sin and when did man truly become man. Neither is full proof and both interpretations need to be seriously considered.

Faith Within Reason: Charles H. Townes on Faith in Scientific Thought

So I’m currently reading Science and Theology: The New Consonance which so far has proven to be an amazing read. It’s a collection of essays written by theologians, physicists, Nobel Prize winners, evolutionary theorists, a former president of the “American Association for the Advancement of Science”, and even Pope John Paul II himself. Seriously though if you want a good intellectual read pick this book up. I’ll post a book review as soon as I’m done, but I can already tell you that this one’s a keeper.

The book deals with the relationship between Science and Theology from various points of view and is really a profound collection of works. I bring it up because today’s post was inspired by one of the essays found in the book: “Logic and Uncertainties in Science and Religion” by Charles H. Townes (a physicist). In it his essay Townes contributes a very interesting perspective on the notion of “Faith”, that being that even the most coldly logical human beings rely on faith at some point.

“Science and religion not only share common logic; they also share something else, namely, uncertainty. We must recognize that we do not know things for sure. Knowledge, even scientific knowledge, is less than absolute.”

– Charles H. Townes

The above quote came form the man who helped revolutionize the study of light and laser theories. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture:

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I told you he was smart!

All joking aside that’s a ballsy thing for a scientist to say considering you make a living based on the assumption that you can understand the universe around you and figure out how things work. He openly admits though that most of what he does as a scientist has grounds in faith at some point.

“The mathematician Godel proved that uncertainty is inherent even in the nature of our logic…. [He] proved that we can never be sure that the assumption with which we started are even self-consistent, let alone true. The only way we may show that they are self-consistent is to appeal to a new set of assumptions…. but of course these assumptions are subject to the same uncertainty regarding consistency, and so on. Logic and uncertainty come together in a single package and to take them seriously, there must be faith”

Charles H. Townes.

For those of you who don’t know Godel was the father of modern mathematics who also supposedly proved the existence of God using math.

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This somehow proves that God exists, but for the life of me it just looks like a bunch of numbers and squiggles. There’s a reason I didn’t major in math.

I don’t get it either, but the point made is that if we question everything, then we eventually reach a belief in nothing at all. Eventually no matter how deep down your thought goes it will eventually have to reside in an assumption. Nothing exists or can be possibly known unless an act of faith is taken at some level, even if it is simply to take on your own words that you are real. Trippy right?

For successful science of the type we know, we must have faith that the universe is governed by reliable laws and, further, that these laws can be discovered by human inquiry. The logic of human inquiry is trustworthy only if nature is itself logical…. This is the faith of reason”

– Charles H. Townes

Have you ever wondered why things always work in the same way over and over. Whether it is subatomic particles or the expansion of the universe itself science seems to be fairly reliable. Do you ever stop and wonder why that is? We assume that because gravity, for instance, always works that it always will work. This isn’t really a reason to believe other than we have no reason to think otherwise. We believe the universe is bound to certain laws and that these laws can be studied, comprehended, and understood by the human mind. If you are religious then you probably attribute the existence of these laws to designer or creator. If you are of the atheist opinion then I guess you assume these just exist because they do (I’m not an atheist so I don’t know what they think). It might just be me but I love thinking about this kind of stuff, the more I learn about the universe and the world around me the more I can see God’s handiwork in even the tiniest details.

[The scientist] must have faith that the problem is solvable, and that there is an inherent logic in nature which his or her mind is capable of reading.”

Charles H. Townes

We are all questing for truth. Some of us choose to look deep inside ourselves and other look outward. There are philosophers, scientists, theologians, logicians, mathematicians, day dreamers, poets, and deep thought thinkers but all of them have faith in something. Faith ties us all together and it is only by having faith in something that we are able to move forward.

Flatland: A Short Post About Understanding Human Limitation

Have you ever heard of a novella known as Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott? It’s a really interesting concept of a world that exists in only two dimensions. It is the story of the inhabitants of a universe that is completely flat where the notion of anything with depth is utterly foreign to them. The story features a square who comes in contact with a strange sphere that exists in three dimension. At first the square thinks the sphere is merely a circle who is pulling tricks on him since the only part of the sphere that square can see is a growing or shrinking circle that exists in two dimensions as seen here:
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Despite all his efforts the sphere can neither explain nor convince to the square that the third dimension exists or what the third dimension is. When the sphere moves in and out of the second dimension the square thinks he is a magician doing tricks to make himself grow and shrink. When the sphere rolls across the dimension the square can feel him, but not see him and does not believe. When the sphere looks onto the flat dimension of square’s house he is able to tell square what is in all the rooms before square is able to open the doors:
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Eventually, though square cannot even begin to conceive of the third dimension, he comes to believe it exists and wonders what other dimensions exist that he could never imagine.

It’s an interesting concept that was meant to open up people’s minds, but I see it as quite an elaborate and easily understood way to discuss human limitation. We perceive space, depth, and time, but any other dimensions are out of our range of perception. Even in this universe we inhabit we are limited to experience only in five senses (taste, touch, smell, feel, and sound). Just as a blind person is handicapped in perceiving and experiencing the universe, so might we be without knowing it. Had no human being ever tasted could it imagine what it would be like to taste a steak?

So when limited beings like square encounter something beyond our comprehension it seems normal to assume something is amiss. Square rarely questions the notion that something could exist that he cannot see.  How silly we are to stay in the mindset of square, to think that because we cannot sense or understand something it cannot be. Until square met sphere he thought he was the ultimate judge of truth in the universe, but he soon became aware of his own limitations. So too must we become aware of our limitations and not be so hasty to dismiss the impossible.

If God exists he is surely much more complicated and transcendent than sphere, and if he does exist I can guarantee that our ability to grasp the eternal, omniscient, all-powerful, alpha and omega in all his splendor will be much more beyond us than it was for square to understand sphere.  It’s something to think about.