Thursday, August 30, 2007

Brother Lawerence on sin and grace:

"That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to GOD, I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself; ’tis You must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss. That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it...

"That he was very sensible of his faults, but not discouraged by them; that he confessed them to GOD, and did not plead against Him to excuse them. When he had so done, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration...

"That we ought, without anxiety, to expect the pardon of our sins from the Blood of JESUS CHRIST, only endeavouring to love Him with all our hearts. That GOD seemed to have granted the greatest favours to the greatest sinners, as more signal monuments of His mercy...

- Brother Lawrence's book, 'The Practice of the Presence of God,' is a wonderful encouragement, and an easy and short read:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Banished (Genesis 3:23-24)

This scene is so sad, as God dresses his children before banishing them from the Garden. It looks like a parent who is forced to put their rebellious teenager out of the house—it’s a tragedy for all involved. Then the door slams: God is on the inside; Adam and Eve are on the outside. They are prevented from returning by the flashing sword of the cherubim. Man is now alienated from God.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Curse: the Man

Man’s work is cursed and he will die. (Genesis 3:17-19)

In eating from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Man showed that he wanted to rely on himself for knowledge and judgment, not God. In this sense, Man’s sin is like Satan’s because it shows a desire to displace God. However, in Man’s Emersonian self-reliance, he will die (‘return to the dust’). This curse is fitting because it is exactly what God warned would happen. And it also shows that Man cannot rely on himself, cannot be literally self-sufficient, cannot be God. And as Man’s work has been made painful, so has God’s work been made painful (recall that before God’s work was all “very good”).

It’s sometimes said that men find too much of their identity in their work (e.g., when we meet someone one of the first things we ask is ‘what do you do?’). We find much of our self-worth in our work: status in society can be quickly determined based on your job. Yet few people really like their work (as in, they’d rather be doing something else), and their work often interferes with other aspects of their lives. This predicament can be explained by Genesis. Man’s purpose was to work (1:28, 2:5), but this essential aspect of Man was cursed. So now our labor is painful.
Answered prayers?

Post your recent answered prayers, for the encouragement of others and the Glory of God.

About a month ago, I was thinking about how biblical discipleship seems to involve the discipler (e.g., Jesus) calling the disciple, and not the other way around. In the past I’ve sought out the people I wanted to mentor me (except for Larry, who I’ve mentioned before), but this time I prayed to God, “if you want me to be discipled, I’m just going to do nothing and wait until a someone calls me.”

About two days later, I received an e-mail from a man asking if I’d like to start meeting for discipleship.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My good friend and mentor, Larry, has a blog where he's done a series of posts on church elders, which from a practical stand-point may be the most important aspect of a church because the congregation can only go where its leaders take it. Here's the link:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Curse: the Woman

God curses essential aspects of the Woman, her childbearing and her relationship with Man.

Woman is created with two purposes. She is a companion to Man (2:18), and she is to bear children (1:28). Both are cursed.

1- Her companionship with Man is cursed in that her desire will be for him, and he will rule over her. Men have mostly dominated women throughout history, politically and relationally. This curse particularly fits the crime because it was Woman who led Man astray, but now Man will lead her as a curse. Since it is a curse, women chafe against it, and history is replete with instances of struggle between the sexes.

Although the curse is the status quo, it shouldn’t be taken for the Christian ideal. The Gospel teaches post-curse living, and so Christian men should not abuse their natural dominance over women, but instead should serve them.

2- Woman's child bearing is cursed. Woman, along with man, was told to “be fruitful and multiply,” but women must bear the children. Now her work will be with pain, similarly to how the man’s work will be painful (1:16-17), and this parallels how God’s work in bringing about his children will be painful. Woman wanted to know good from evil, and now she will know the evil of pain.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Curse: the Serpent

After God determines the Man and Woman ate of the Tree based on the temptation of the Serpent, He curses them all. The Curse fits the crime.

The Serpent’s curse is fitting in two ways: 1) most Christians believe that the Serpent is Satan, who was cast from heaven for his pride in wanting to take God’s place. So Satan attempted to take the highest place and was cursed by being assigned the lowest place. 2) The Serpent sought to kill Man and Woman, but it will be the Serpent that dies.

Verse 3:15 is said to contain the first messianic prophecy: ‘I will put enmity between…your seed and (the woman’s seed),; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.’ The prophecy is similar to the later notion that Death took Christ for three days (‘you will strike his heel’), but that Christ ultimately defeated Death for all-time (‘he will crush your head’). Christ was injured, but Death was destroyed. The serpent brought death to humanity, but the prophecy describes an battle in which the Woman’s Seed (Christ) is ultimately victorious over Death.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A new short story of mine got published in Storyglossia:

It's a fun, relatively short piece about a guy who gets obsessed with a noise coming from his fridge.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Genesis 3:7-8: lost intimacy with God

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they’re eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked. They immediately made clothes to cover their nudity.

Clothes conceal our private body parts and our physical imperfections. They also protect us from the heat and cold. Adam and Eve know that something has changed in the universe, and they prepare themselves against the coming changes by getting dressed. It is also a great symbol of our flawed attempts to cover our sin. Adam and Eve become very concerned with being naked – but the problem wasn’t their nudity. It was that they’d eaten of the forbidden tree. Don’t we often do the same thing? Our sin may be wanting to usurp God’s throne or to worship creation rather than the Creator, and our self-fashioned remedy will be to say we’ll pray more or memorize more Bible verses or do more of this or less of that not go to that place again or not do that thing again.

Also, this shows another typical reaction to sin: hiding. Often, our first reaction to our sin is not to repent, but to conceal the sin. Our first concern is not always that we have sinned, but that we’ll get caught and punished. It is almost comical how Adam and Eve go about this: sewing fig aprons seems certain to draw attention to their sin rather than to conceal it. But this too is an accurate depiction of human nature – we often give ourselves away as we stumble about in our sin, like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Perhaps this is because Man is not meant to lie, and thus looks unnatural and unhappy doing it, just as many sins give themselves away by the misery they create.

Why is their nudity a source of shame? It does not appear that their physical appearance has changed – they haven’t grown scales. Instead, it’s something about what they already were – naked – but had not previously known. Nakedness is a state of vulnerability, intimacy, trust, and safety. However, Man can no longer feel safe with God because of his disobedience. Man, with the serpent’s help, has inserted a distance between himself and God. And we continue to feel this today, that things between us and God are problematic due to who He is and who we are and the things we’ve done.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The serpent’s craftiness (Genesis 3:1-5)

Three tactics of the serpent: 1) question the commandment of God, 2) deny the consequences of disobedience, 3) cast aspersions on the character of God.

The serpent is described as crafty, and his temptation of Woman shows this craftiness.
The serpent’s goal is to get the Woman to defy God and eat from the Tree. However, the serpent does not suggest this directly.

Tactic 1: question the commandment of God

The serpent questions the woman, like a lawyer, charting her understanding of the situation, and perhaps challenging whether God has issued a command at all

It is often suggested to us, either from an external source or even our own minds, that perhaps God did not issue a certain command at all. (“Did God really say ‘don’t look at attractive people’?” “Did God really say that it was wrong to be rich?” “By ‘thou shalt not steal,’ was God really thinking about office supplies or taking overly long lunches?”)

This questioning of the command seems to cause us to begin to deconstruct the commandment, as if it were up to us to judge the edicts of God. Also, stating the grounds for the commandment in this context opens up lines of attack (the serpent will next attack the rationale for the command), particularly if we’ve failed to know or understand the command.

What is the difference between a bad-faith deconstruction of a command and a good-faith inquiry into the nature of a command? Perhaps it is the motivation – if we begin questioning the command during temptation, that may be a sign of a bad-faith motive.

Tactic 2: deny the consequences of disobedience.

The second tactic, the undermining of the consequence of disobedience, is used perhaps even more frequently than the first tactic. The Woman says that if they eat of the tree they will die; the serpent denies this. (Notice that the line of attack was opened up by the initial questioning of the command – the woman explained that if they touched or ate from the tree they would die).

This is done today by believers and non-believers alike. From the non-believer, it often comes in the form of academic and popular criticism, and the most obvious current examples are in the realm of sexual activity, for example:

The command: sex must only occur in marriage. This is because it is good for people (for whatever reason, fill in the blank).

The counter-argument: “sex outside of biblical norms is not bad or harmful. In fact, it is good for you, and you should enjoy it, particularly if it is between two people who love each other.”


The command: lying is wrong. This is because (insert rationale).

Counter-argument: lying is actually often-times good for you and the person you lie to.

The underlying point is that these activities which are prohibited by God, are in fact good for you – and the underlying argument is that you should partake of the prohibited activity.

However, Christians often make this argument to themselves.

The command: do not sin. This is because of (name your negative consequence as described in the Bible).

Counter-argument: God will forgive your sin, so there will be no negative consequence.

However, we know that the Woman did die, even though it did not come to pass exactly as she may have expected.

Sometimes Christians even engage is offering reasons for a commandment, for example Christians will describe the hidden benefits of some of the stranger Levitical commands. We should be careful with this because the serpent may challenge our rationale, and we need to remember that the command is controlling, not the rationale.

Tactic 3: Cast aspersions on God’s motives.

Another tactic of the serpent is to cast aspersions on God’s motives for his command. ‘You will surely not die! The real reason for God’s command is that He knows you will become like him, knowing good from evil.’

This same statement is commonly recited now as ‘the reason for the commands of the church is that certain men wanted to keep everyone under their thumb.’ It was similarly stated that ‘Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having fun.’

The Woman should have kept in mind the benevolence of God as testified to by the goodness of the garden, and the goodness of God’s treatment of her and Man. Further, she appears to have had access to God, and she should have talked to him about it.

We similarly should keep in mind God’s goodness to us, the goodness of even a fallen creation, and the sacrifice of his Son when we’re tempted to doubt God’s goodness. We should also keep in mind that this is a common tactic of the serpent.


1) If you see any of these tactics, watch out! There may be a snake nearby.
2) Don’t answer the Devil’s questions; do theology with Christians, not the Devil.
3) Obey the command, regardless of the rationale.
4) Remember God’s goodness; don’t believe lies about his character.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Genesis 1:27-3:1: non-literal, beauty separate from functionality, man's purpose is to work, evil is a mystery

Creation account is non-literal

The Creation account indicates that its style is non-literal because in chapter 1, it is said that plant-life is created on the third day (1:11), but man is created on the sixth day (1:26, 31). But in chapter two, it says man was created before there was any plant-life (2:6-7).
The book of Genesis shows profound wisdom, and if such a story were written by a contemporary author we would call it ‘brilliant’ or ‘genius,’ so it is unlikely the writer was so inept and careless as to not notice this contradiction at the literal level. Instead, it is more likely that descriptions were not meant to be contrasted and interpreted in a literal manner.

Beauty, morality, and utility are separate, but go together.

Beauty and utility are separate, but go together. The trees of the LORD are both “pleasing to the eye” and “good for food.” Evolutionary biology currently teaches that humans find things “beautiful” because they are promote survival, they are ‘good for food,’ so to speak. The same argument is used regarding morality – that morality is only short-hand for what promotes survival for the species. (This view is the impetus for the continual stream of articles explaining why everything from gossip to men's taste for blondes to sexual activity to eating ice cream has an evolutionary survival value).

Moral and aesthetic judgments are similar because they are intuitive and unprovable. They relate to Natural Law, which points to God. The moral and ethical result of the evolutionary-biology view that beauty and morality are only misnomers or short-hand for utility is to make utility the chief good; beauty and morality are not independent values. Then a leap is made, which is that if something can be shown to be functional, it is morally acceptable. Similarly, moral and aesthetic judgments can be put aside as long as their survival-value can be extracted. The result of putting aside the moral and aesthetic judgment leads to sin and the casting aside of the compass, our intuitive recognition of Natural Law, that points to God.

The evolutionary-biology view, however, is not a good enough theory (in what way is a beautiful sunset good for survival?) The Genesis view, instead, offers a fuller and richer view: God makes things that are both beautiful and functional. He is not a narrow, one-dimensional God creating a craven, desperate universe where every living thing simply strives to survive and where there is no such thing as beauty but only utility. Instead, He is like any good craftsman who makes his goods both pleasing to the eye and useful for their user.

Man’s purpose is to work. (Gen. 2:5, 15).

Man is meant to live and work in community. (Gen. 2:18). Woman is portrayed as a distinctly suitable helper for man. After the other beasts and birds are considered as companions and helpers for man, they are found unsuitable, so with that in mind, God creates woman. This must be why it is so common for males and females to become partners.

Evil is both a mystery and a fact of life.

It is difficult not to ask, 'if in Genesis 1 God views all of creation as “very good” (1:31), how in Genesis 3 is there a crafty serpent who tempts Eve?' This is the well-known 'problem of pain.'

On one hand, it seems reasonable and common for humans to ask these questions. On the other, it is better to relegate the answers to these questions to the mysterious ways of God rather than to the lucidity of finite human reasoning. While Genesis purports to tell us what happened in the beginning, it does not purport to tell us everything that ever happened.

Further, human beings are probably incapable of understanding everything that ever happened – in fact, we don’t really even understand the things we claim to know: Who knows every fact of recorded history? Who fully understands quantum physics? Who fully understands himself or his best friend? No one, and yet these are fields of which we claim to have actual knowledge. What then of the deepest questions?

It is often smugly argued that ‘if God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful – then He would not have allowed for evil.’ But what do we humans know about omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, or the orgin or nature of evil? All we know is the speculation of our finite minds. There is nothing wrong with the speculation of our finite minds, but it’s best to acknowledge that it does not constitute actual knowledge, and probably constitutes incomplete knowledge. To the extent we fail to understand the deepest questions regarding the ways of God, it is better to call the answer a mystery than to presume to know more than we do.

Evil is a fact of life in this world. Evil's mysterious arrival at our door-step is a common experience. Who has not started a day at peace and with the best of intentions and yet ended the day having committed sin and wondering how and why?

Genesis may not give every answer, but it gives a startlingly accurate description of life.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Genesis 1:26 : the dignity of man rooted in God

Man is accorded profound dignity in the beginning: he is a ruler, and he is made like God.

It’s a astonishing fact that man is made in God’s image and likeness. While not losing sight of our sinful condition and many valid reasons for humility, we should also properly marvel that we are wonderfully made, designed like God.

What does it mean to be made in God’s image and likeness? In other words, what characteristics and qualities in us that are also in God? A non-exhaustive list: we are creative (no one does not create – even the least artsy jock re-‘creates’ when he creates a game out of a ball and lines in the ground); we have minds, wills, and emotions; we are moral actors; we can act upon the world.

To see how wonderful this is, simply imagine if a rock said to you 'I have an idea...' or even if your cat or dog came to you with a water-color painting it had made.

As a political, moral, philosophical, and aesthetic matter, our dignity and worth is rooted in being created in God’s image. This is why some argue that our country must acknowledge God – because to do otherwise unmoors us from the very source of our worth. If a man is not made in the image of God, then he is just another beast.

Man is immediately established as ruler over the other animals on earth. Here is one example of God’s establishment of authority (others are government/citizen, husband/wife, parent/child, elder/congregation, Jesus/everything).

Circling back around to man being made in God’s image and likeness, this is something profound and helpful to meditate on. In our cynical, competitive world we do not look upon ourselves and others as God-like. Would we slander each other if we thought of each other as God-like? Would we cut each other off in traffic? Would we kill each other? Would we not love each other more if we considered each other God-like? Would we not enjoy each other and ourselves more? Wouldn’t we be more secure and more happy if we thought of ourselves as a God-like race instead of members of the rat race?

There is a movement in the world to make human beings believe they are nothing but animals, driven by bestial urges just like rats and chimps. This is a lie. You and your neighbor are like God.