Sunday, September 30, 2007

Got Philosophy?

Both Christians and “Scientists”* need some.

Christians’ key philosophical mistake is in the area of epistemology (‘what can be known and how do we know it?’).

--The Mistake: basing their epistemology on the inerrancy of Scripture.

--The Problem: makes Christians too easy to dismiss.

--The Correction: realizing the case for Christ is stronger without the doctrine of inerrancy.

“Scientists’ ” key philosophical mistake is also in the area of epistemology.

--The Mistake: accepting an epistemology of “naturalism.” Naturalism is the idea that the only thing that’s real is what can be empirically observed.

--The Retort: “Like that could even possibly be known!”

--The Problem: it makes people irrationally dismiss God.

--The Correction: admitting that looking for God with a microscope is like looking for a rainbow with a stethescope.

* by "scientists," I mean people who co-opt science and misapply it to politics, religion, and ethics. Unfortunately this is a common practice, and some scientists are also "scientists." But, Jesus, I think, has no problemo with real science.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Crazy Noah (Genesis 6:5-14)

So Noah is living in a generation of great wickedness, but Noah himself was a righteous man. God decides to destroy the earth, and tells Noah to build a boat. Much is often made of how people would have thought Noah was crazy for building this boat, and how he would have been ridiculed by them. But this wouldn’t have been the first time Noah had been persecuted. He was the one righteous person out of a generation; he was accustomed to being an outsider, and perhaps his years of being an alien in the world made it that much easier for him to obey God when asked to build the Ark. It’s a thought for all believers: our daily obedience now may be necessary for us to be able to take larger steps of faith in the future.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Addition by Subtraction

When I was a younger Christian, I thought that I’d eventually have it “all together.” I expected to become the “complete package,” strong in every important spiritual quality. But I have been greatly disappointed. Not only have I not achieved completeness in any spiritual quality, I have only come to learn I am so far from being complete that I’ll never get even close—that I’ll always be incomplete in just the ways that I had deemed it important to be complete.

But, amazingly, this has turned out to be good news. In my incompleteness, I have been forced to turn to God and found that in Christ, I am complete. In fact, I now suspect this was the point all along, not for me to become complete in and of myself, but rather to learn I needed Christ to make me perfect, and, hallelujah, that He had done so.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Genesis 6:1-6: The Nephilim, man's wickedness, God's judgment, the book of Enoch

Genesis contains some stories that are fantastic by any measure. Genesis 6, contains the story of the Nephilim, who are the children of the “sons of God” and human women. The Nephilim were extraordinary: “they were the heroes of old, men of renown.” (v. 4).

It’s hard to know what to make of such a passage. Humorously, Matthew Henry’s commentary does not even refer to the Nephilim. He must have simply decided it was too bizarre to exegete.

The story of the Nephilim is more fully detailed in the Book of Enoch. Enoch is an interesting book because although it is not canonized, it is quoted in the NT book of Jude. Several early church fathers considered it inspired. Enoch says that 200 fallen angels came to earth, took human wives, and had children who were “giants.” The giants ultimately turn on mankind and begin killing humans and animal life.

God ultimately intervenes, sending angels Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel to earth. Michael and Raphael bind up the fallen angels and imprison them to await the judgment, and Gabriel destroys the Nephilim.

Apparently, the fallen angels had also been teaching mankind all sorts of warfare, magic, and corruption. And it appears that the earth must be destroyed because of all of this. Uriel is sent to Noah to warn him about a coming apocalypse.

Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become…”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cain and his offspring build civilization (Genesis 4:17-24)

Cain and his offspring give birth to civilization. He’s the first to be seen building a city. His direct descendant Jabal seems to be a rancher or farmer. Jabal’s brother, Jubal, is the first musician. And another descendent of Cain, Tubal-Cain, is a blacksmith.
Lamech, the father of Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain, kills a young man, committing the second recorded murder (4:23). But then he goes beyond Cain’s misdeed by becoming presumptuous and arrogant about his crime. Cain concealed his murder (4:9), presumably feeling at least some guilt about it. But Lamech calls together his two wives (he’s our first polygamist) and announces that he’s committed murder. And this is no act of contrition; it’s his opportunity to mimic the words of God (4:15) when he says “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” Who proclaimed the punishment for harming Cain? God. Who proclaimed the punishment for harming Lamech? Lamech. Lamech is an arrogant murder who does not hesitate to take the place of God as an avenger.

It’s suspicious that civilizations springs up among the descendents of muderers.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

You must master sin (Genesis 4:7)

When God rejects Cain’s offering, He warns him that “…if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you but you must master it.” (4:7).

We must master sin, and this is the only attitude any biblical writer ever takes toward the subject. Yet, sometimes we get complacent or even comfortable with our sin. Most evangelical churches, praise God, preach strictly “grace alone.” But when we hear this message, aren’t we sometimes relieved that the preacher does not go further and insist that we master our sin? Don’t some of our teachers fall into the temptation of preaching the crown but not the cross? But we cheapen grace when we do this, using our spouse’s unconditional love as license to commit adultery. If “grace alone” has come to mean for us “and don’t worry about sin” then we’re misunderstanding the Gospel. The merciful touch of God is always followed by His telling us to “go and sin no more.” Sin desires to have you but you must master it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Burly street preacher

Late summer, early evening,
on the Starbucks patio,
corner of O and 12th.

College students are out
(they’re mostly still sober),
and I’m sipping a latte,
reading Kafka on the Shore.

But I’m distracted by the bellowing
of a burly street preacher
who’s got propped on his shoulder
a 20-foot cross.

He’s barking “sin” and “judgment,”
courtesy of our Lord and Savior,
and I grimace
as some teens snicker.
I cringe as he snarls, “you didn’t come from no monkey!”
to jeering, bepectacled humanists
who're holding a banner reading
God hates wet dreams, Deuteronomy 23:10’.
The preacher threatens hell
to a man in tattoos and black,
and I brace myself as the rebel
angrily yells back "you're the one who's gonna burn!"

I wish I’d brought my ear plugs.
I’m just trying to read Murakami.
Still – even if I’ve got to pick them out
between grating spiritual epithets
– still –
I never get tired of hearing
the balmy words, “Jesus Christ.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Second Curse, mercy on a murder, the message of a non-literal Genesis

Cain’s punishment for killing Abel is that the ground will no longer yield its crops to him. It was bad enough that Man’s work was cursed, that he was to labor in pain and eat by the sweat of his brow. But now the ground will no longer produce anything at all for Cain, sweat or no. Furthermore, Cain will have no home, and he will be a restless wanderer.

The notion that exile from one’s home is the greatest punishment is attested to by Homer, Socrates, and Shakespeare—and before these men said it we see it here in Cain’s curse. Only a chapter ago, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. This gets to be a pattern, as we will eventually see the Jews driven from Jerusalem. This is the cursed condition of human beings: we are not at home. Instead we are in a cursed world where even inanimate objects like the ground oppose us. Perhaps all fantasy for the past or the future, heaven or utopia, is rooted in this basic human condition of homelessness. We all ache for a place not like this one. One of our greatest quests in life is to find a “home.”

God is so merciful that even His curse of Cain, the first murderer, is accompanied is tinged by mercy. Cain despairs that as he wanders the earth, other people will kill him. But God proclaims that this shall not be allowed, and God gives Cain a protective mark. What kind of God has mercy on the first murderer? A God who sees human beings, even the most sinful, as his wayward children. God did not hesitate to kill an animal (3:21), but God protects the life of a human murderer.

From passages like these we can see that the Bible portrays human life as sacred. And it’s based on passages like these that may Christians to this day reject abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and the like.

Also, note another non-literal moment in Genesis. Cain is worried about others in the world who would kill him. Who are these others? It’s not clear, and to this point Genesis has not suggested there were any others. However, who these others are or where they came from is largely beside the point. And I use “non-literal” here loosely, only to suggest that Genesis does not ask us to read it like a news article or a passage from a modern history textbook. If it did expect this, then it is a very poorly written book—leaving such a gaping hole in its facts. But we know that it is not a poorly written book—therefore we should surmise that Genesis does not ask us to be too concerned about who the other people about whom Cain is worried, or where they came from. Genesis does not purport to be history or journalism in the modern sense. Rather, Genesis wants us to know about the fundamental human predicament: we are the creations of a good and loving God, but we are alienated from God by our sin.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cain's Anger

The LORD asks Cain why he is angry, and there appear to be two reasons. First, Cain is angry because God has rejected his efforts. This attitude is common today. Many people are angry at God because God rejects what the person has done. This is particularly evident in sexual ethics and among ethical people. Some people are angry that God would impinge upon their sexual desires. Other people are angry that God would not think they were good people, because by their own lights they are good people. In short, these people are angry at being called sinners, and most of us—Christian and non-Christian alike--have the same reaction when we feel accused of sin.

Cain is also angry that he has been rejected, but Abel has been accepted. Being found wanting as compared to another person is something we human beings find insufferable. In part this has to do with our insecurity in the universe: in a world where resources are scarce, where we play a zero-sum game – another person’s success could mean our failure. If someone gets a job, we can’t get it. If someone else is the center of attention, we are ignored. We’re often jealous for people’s affection, and if someone loves one person, we worry that he or she cares less for us. Perhaps Cain feels that he’s competing with Abel and losing.

But God assures Cain that there is enough love to go around: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (4:7). Cain’s problem is not that Abel has usurped his place with God, but that he has not acted acceptably. But God assures Cain there is no impediment to being accepted except changing his ways. The decision lies with Cain; it does not hinge on Abel.

As Christians we should particularly keep this in mind, since our jealousies are most likely to be aroused by our fellow Christians. We often live in closest proximity to our fellow Christians, and so it is easy to begin comparing our lives to theirs. We can compare our lives to theirs in standard terms (who has a better this, that, or the other thing), but we can also add a “spiritual” dimension to our jealousy, and to some extent begin to see other Christians’ blessings as proof that they have a better relationship with God than we do. But God’s statement to Cain suggests that God would not have any problem accepting all of his children—the only issue is whether they will conform their ways to God’s ways.

Unfortunately, Cain is unwilling to change his ways.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The encouragement of Mother Teresa’s dark night

Recently, much ado has been made about Mother Teresa’s experience of doubting God. It’s largely been portrayed as a discouragement to the faithful. This article makes a good argument that we should see it otherwise:

“The dark night of Mother Teresa presents us with an even greater interpretive challenge than her visions and locutions. It means that the missionary foundress who called herself “God’s pencil” was not the God-intoxicated saint many of us had assumed her to be. We may prefer to think that she spent her days in a state of ecstatic mystical union with God, because that would get us ordinary worldlings off the hook.”

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cain’s works leading to death; Christ's conflict with the Pharisees foreshadowed (Gen. 4:1-8)

We next meet Adam and Eve after the birth of their sons, Cain and Abel. Cain works the soil, but Abel kept flocks.

It is said that Man will work the ground, from which he is taken (3:23), and “for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” (3:19) In this, there’s a sense of the futility of Man’s efforts at works-based self-sufficiency. It’s futile because even though he labors painfully to keep himself alive, he will still die. Ultimately, Man will not be able to sustain himself by his working the ground. This image is like Man’s attempt to justify himself before God by his own works of righteousness, which we will see more fully in the life of Cain.

Cain, in accordance with the Curse, works the soil. (3:23, 4:2). But notably Abel does not work the soil, but instead keeps flocks. This becomes significant because when they bring sacrifices from their respective professions, Cain’s fruits are rejected while Abel’s fat portions are accepted.

Again, the produce of the soil is an image of Man’s works, and here they are presented as an attempt to please God. But God is not pleased with Man’s works of self-sufficiency.

Instead, God is pleased with Abel’s fat portions—offerings which do not come from Man’s cursed efforts at self-sufficiency. Rather, they involve the sacrifice of a living being.

This sacrifice of an animal and conflict with Cain appears to be a foreshadowing of Christ and his conflict with the Jewish religious establishment. The Pharisees, like Cain, are said to believe that they were justified before God by their own efforts, but God required the sacrifice of Christ. The parallels between Cain and Able and the Pharisees and Christ is even more striking when we see what Cain does to Abel. Cain’s sacrifice is found wanting particularly when compared to Abel’s sacrifice, and this angers Cain and so he kills Abel. In the same way, the Pharisees conspired to have Christ killed because Christ exposed their efforts at religious observance as godless self-reliance.
Do you agree with this statement?

"...all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to GOD..."

-- Brother Lawrence:

In the Christian life is there any place for diversion, recreation, etc? Is it part of God's plan for people that they simply enjoy themselves with no other purpose in mind?

A related question: is there any place for the Christian to spend surplus money on themselves when there are people dying from poverty?