Category Archives: Christianity

An Abundance of Pitfalls

Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn’t strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins. – Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p.65

I don’t believe that God made any mistakes in creating my human nature. Bill makes it pretty clear in this passage that our desires are not our problem, but rather how we choose to satisfy them that drives our defects. Hunger is not a defect. Gluttony is, but so too is self-starvation. Sexual desire is not a defect, but harming others to satisfy it is. Our need to feel loved and accepted is good and God-given, but when we lie and manipulate others in order to feel loved we are clearly no longer in His will.

When we take inventory in the Fourth Step, we ultimately come to see that virtually all of our defects can be traced back to self-centered fear. When we discuss (actually confess) these things to another person, we have begun a process that will bring light to those dark and devious motives. But that in and of itself is not sufficient. If my problem is self-centeredness , then my focusing on my defects may not be the best means of ridding myself of them. Consider the compulsion to drink. Isn’t it true that the harder we tried to change that behavior the more uncontrollable it became? Can we assume that there is something inherently different in our other defects. Bill makes this point earlier:

Having been granted a perfect release from alcoholism, why then shouldn’t we be able to achieve by the same means a perfect release from every other difficulty or defect? This is a riddle of our existence, the full answer to which may be only in the mind of God. – Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 64

I believe the answer to the riddle lies in the Third Step and Seventh Step prayers.

God, I offer myself to Thee-to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always! – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 63 [emphasis mine]

My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen. – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 76 – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 63 [emphasis mine]

Note what the prayers do not say. We’re not asking God to take away our difficulties to make our lives easier. We are asking that they be removed as a demonstration to others of God’s power. We’re not asking God to remove the defects that stand in the way of our sobriety. Rather, we are asking to have them removed to make ourselves more useful. As we begin to see our recovery not as something for our benefit, but rather for the benefit of others, we lose that focus on self that was such a stumbling block to spiritual growth. In other words, our defects are removed as a consequence of selfless surrender to God’s will. It’s a flanking attack, not a head-on assault.

Yet we all continue to fall short. Does this mean we are not sincere in our desire to have God remove these things? Hardly. As they say, old habits die hard. All those things that I identified as defects were my best attempts at living. They were my coping skills. Having to give these up is frightening and and difficult. And we will often slip back into them without intending to. That’s why we continue to look at our behavior through the lens of our usefulness to others. Look at our evening examination on page 86.

When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.

We have the means to gauge our behavior. Did we do anything that impeded another person’s spiritual growth? Did we behave in such a way that someone observing us would not want what we have? Did we do anything that might have driven a wedge between God and one of His children, or did we create an atmosphere of love and acceptance that mirrors our Father’s care for us? If we continue to see recovery in this light we have a good chance of maintaining it.

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Here’s an article that expands on a topic I have discussed here before.

BioLogos Guided Tours #1: Ancient Cosmology and the Bible

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This is my prayer as I begin this day

Lord, there is more to do today than I can possibly accomplish. I don’t believe that You spun the Earth too fast, so grant me the grace to do only those things You expect of me so that, when the day is over, I will know that I got everything done.

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“Mary, Did You Know?” (An a capella delight.)

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by | December 11, 2015 · 12:04 am

What do we call Jesus’ mother?

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. — Isaiah 7:14 [emphasis mine]

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. – Luke 1:41-42 [emphasis mine]

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. – Luke 1:46-48 [emphasis mine]

When Protestants refer to Jesus’ mother they call her by her name, Mary. That makes sense. It was, after all, her name. But people are sometimes put off when they hear Catholics refer to her as “the Blessed Virgin Mary.” I don’t think it is wrong either way, but I do want the show that the Catholic appellation is at least consistent with Scripture.

Isaiah prophesied that “a” virgin would conceive. Not “some” or “many” virgins. So when the fulfillment of the prophecy occurred, Mary was “the” virgin whom he foretold. So it would be completely scriptural to call her “the virgin.”

The Holy Spirit, speaking through Elisabeth and Mary said that all future generations would call her “blessed.” I think that includes us. So it is scriptural to call her the “blessed virgin.” And it is common in the English language, when referring to a person of title, to attach an appellation to the title. “His Majesty, King George the First.” “The President of the United States, George W. Bush.” “The Blessed Virgin, Mary.”

Oops! Did I just use a Protestant Bible to explain a Catholic tradition? Yes, I did. Does that mean that Protestants are wrong and Catholics are right? No, it certainly  does not. Both are correct. So during this Christmas season (we call it Advent because we await His appearance) we should stop and consider how much she was favored by God and at the very least ponder in our own hearts how such a miracle could be so.

Bless you all.

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An observation on “Christmassy” music

We are bombarded by the usual overabundance of “Christmas” music. I noted some time ago that many songs had nothing to do with our Christian holiday. I have since created a classification system for the music of the season.

See if this makes sense:

Class I: Songs about Jesus or specific Christian themes.

  • Silent Night
  • Away In A Manger
  • Joy to the World
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

Class II: Songs about the season but not specifically Christian (although they may use the word “Christmas” in them).

  • It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
  • Deck The Halls
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  • The Christmas Song
    (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Class III: Winter and snow songs. (Why don’t we sing these in February when it’s really winter? Are these considered Christmas songs in Australia?)

  • Sleigh Ride
  • Frosty The Snowman
  • Jingle Bells

I hope I haven’t ruined Christmas for you. Now, every time you hear a song, you’ll be thinking “Is that a class I or II song?” Actually, it doesn’t matter. If we only hear “Frosty” during Christmas at least we only have to put up with it for a month or so.

“And though it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.”

 

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Often seen at football games

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 King James Version (KJV)

john316signCan the Gospel be reduced to one verse? In one sense it can. John 3:16 cuts to the very core of God’s plan of salvation: His great love for the world, His great sacrifice freely offered, and our response to that call.

On the other hand, Jesus expounds a Gospel that encompasses so much more than that. Although this verse might be sufficient to achieve salvation alone, it can not even begin to inform a Christian life.

What is the answer? Very simple.

Hold up the sign.

Jesus said that when He is lifted up (exalted) He will draw all men to Himself. But after that, we who follow Him must care for the souls drawn to Him. A “John 3:16” Christian may escape Hell, but he will not experience the joy of a Christian life and he will not be very effective in drawing still more to the Lord.

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In the beginning

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. – John 1:1-3 (NIV)

It’s terribly tempting to get into the intricate theology that is contained in these few words. And I started to do just that. But as I became more and more bogged down I realized that my real purpose here is not to instruct or convince. Rather, it is to share my thoughts. They may be insightful, they may be shallow and they may (certainly at times) be dead wrong. But in the end (no pun intended) they are mine.

I am examining this text with the benefit of centuries of Christian theology. So it is easy to read into the words meaning that wasn’t intended at the time. The Holy Spirit often does that. Holy men, as they are inspired by God, write things without always understanding what the fuller meaning of their words are. So it is here, I think. The first thing that jumps out at me is the idea of “being” and “being with” as simultaneously possible. Things, created things, can’t do that. I can’t “be” myself and “be with myself” at the same time. So John is either stating an obvious impossibility, or he is more likely stating something much more profound, namely that the Word is not a created thing, that the Word is in fact God. This meshes perfectly with the more fully developed doctrine of the Trinity which will not be elaborated until the fourth century. God is both Himself and His Word: they exist in perfect unity yet they are distinct.

The “word” he is referring to is the Greek word “logos.” Without getting into all the finer philosophical points, one of the obvious meanings of that word to readers at that time would have been the Greek philosophical concept of the logos as the active creative principle in the universe. And that is pretty much the meaning that John is conveying. God, the Word, creates all that there is by His Word. That’s a pretty obvious theme in the Old testament. “God said ‘Let there be light, and there was light’.” It was God’s Word that was the active agent of creation. We see this in verse three and also in this well-known passage from Isaiah.

11 So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

“In the beginning” is the opening both of this Gospel as well as Genesis. John is talking about the time before creation. But we now know that time and space are two different ways of looking at the same thing. Physicists use the term “space-time” to refer to the matrix of being in which we exist. I believe that prior to creation there was neither space nor time. It makes no more sense to ask “when” the universe was created than to ask “where” it was created. There was no “where” there and there was no “when” then. We’re dipping our toes into that arcane subject called ontology, the philosophy of “being.” One of the main questions ontology addresses is  “Why is there ‘is’ “?” Obviously the kind of “being” God possesses  is profoundly different than what we perceive to be “being.”  (What an unavoidable  swarm of bees.) The existential theologian Paul Tillich approached it this way:

Paul Tillich was critical of the view of God as a type of being or presence. He felt that, if God were a being, God could not then properly be called the source of all being (due to the question of what, in turn, created God). As an alternative, he suggested that God be understood as the “ground of Being-Itself”.

http://religiousnaturalism.org/god-as-ground-of-being-paul-tillich/

Or as another Paul (the apostle) put it when expounding the Gospel among the philosophers at the Areopagus , “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) (He is quoting the Cretan philosopher Epimenides.) The word “ground” here is taken is the artistic sense of figure and ground. In other words, the variation (figure) is only possible against the unchanging ground. A black stroke on canvas exists because it is something other than canvas. Analogies can be helpful if not carried too far. Think of a glassy smooth body of water. No motion, no disturbance of any kind. And then think of a ripple moving across the water. The ripple exists but it only exists as a change of the otherwise unchanging water. The water s the ground and the ripple is the figure. By extension, then, our “being” is nothing more (or less) than a ripple on the ground of God’s being. We know that God is unchanging in His essence but he is also omnipotent and therefore unconstrained by His own nature. And here we come to the mystery of creation. Why, if God is complete in Himself, does He choose to create? Why is there “is?”

 

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Welcoming the rationalist

I have invited Malibu Bob from christiannews.net to join us here. Among his posts Bob said the following:

Christianity is so unbelievable and so contrary to everyday observation on its surface, that the only way in which people can maintain such an untenable set of beliefs is by constant reinforcement.

That’s a pretty big challenge and one that I feel would be better addressed by breaking it into it a set of questions that can be approached more succinctly. So here’s how I think it should go. Bob may feel differently.

  1. The supernatural: Is there a “reality” not readily accessible to human perception? Or at the very least, is it even possible to prove that one way or the other?
  2. If such a thing may exist, then does God exist or is it even possible to prove that as well?
  3. If God exists, what is his/her/its relationship to the natural world and to us human beings?
  4. What is the nature of man and how does it relate to God’s nature?
  5. If man is imperfect, in what ways have we sought to achieve perfection?
  6. Finally, if God exists and it is not in our power to achieve perfection, what means have we been given to do so?

So to kick things off, let’s talk about that which is contrary to everyday observation, namely question one. What does Bob have to say about the possibility of the supernatural?

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Did Jesus lie about the age of the universe?

My friend from christiannews.net, Reason2012, crafted a very thorough and carefully reasoned response to one of my posts. Much of it concerns what Jesus Himself believed about Creation since, as the Bible clearly states, He was present at the creation of the world. And he makes a very valid point that we shouldn’t distort Scripture because it makes us uncomfortable by not comporting with our scientific point of view. Given the absolute sovereignty of God, there is every reason to assume that He may create His universe in whatever form He pleases and I can’t refute that. Omnipotence pretty much trumps everything.

However, I want to lay out some additional thoughts in relation to his response that clarifies my point of view. He begins by quoting part of my response.

“And what we know for certain about light makes it impossible for the universe to be much less than 13 BILLION years old.”
No, all we “know” on this topic are assumptions
– we ASSUME light traveled the same speed since light first existed
– we ASSUME God cannot change that speed
– we ASSUME God cannot create other things, heavenly bodies, in mature form where we assume they went through other processes before their current state when God could have easily created them in mature form skipping previous ‘states’ as well.

Following that logic, it would also be possible to say that God created the entire universe ten seconds ago with you having a memory of your entire life even though it didn’t “really” happen. That is PROBABLY absurd. (And not exactly Scriptural) But it leaves us with a quandary.

We know from Scripture that God’s nature is clearly evident in His creation.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. – Romans 1:20 NIV [emphasis mine]

The crux of the problem is this: when what we can “clearly see” does not jibe with what we understand from God’s Word, it seems as if we have to make a choice. Do we believe the Bible or do we believe the evidence of our senses (science)? Since both reflect the truth of God’s nature they can’t disagree. Do we distort the Word to make it conform to science, or do we distort science to make it conform to the Word? Or is it possible that we can believe that both are true but the reconciliation of the two exceeds our present understanding?

Before I delve into this, let’s first consider for a moment language in the context of culture. As I mentioned before, I was at one time an anthropology major concentrating in linguistics. The study of contemporary cultures from a socio-linguistic context shows that language and culture are so inextricably intertwined that it may be said that they are each an expression of the same thing. And language operates at multiple levels. At the lowest levels, it exists as unarticulated concepts. The process of translating from one language to another is, at its root, the reduction of one language to its conceptual level and the re-articulation of these concepts back into the target language. And since language and culture are so intertwined, a culture that lacks a particular concept will not have the means of expressing it. We see this in modern day translation when one language “borrows” from another because it is better expressed that way. For example, there is a word in German, schadenfreude that expresses the idea of deriving  pleasure from another’s misfortune. There is no succinct way of expressing that concept in English so it was borrowed and is now a legitimate English word.There are many words borrowed from English that appear in other languages albeit in their phonology. For example, the word “steak” (or beef steak) appears in French as biftec, in Spanish as bistec, in Japanese as suteki.

In observing language development in children, we see that their use of language reflects their level of conceptual ability. If a five-year-old asks his father “what makes the car go,” he will probably be able to grasp the concept that the big thing under the hood “eats” gas and pushes the car. Dad will probably not get into the details of the internal combustion engine. And it is much the same with cultures. Human beings can only understand language in the context of their existing categories. And while they are certainly capable of learning new concepts, attempting to convey information information radically beyond their understanding is not likely to be fruitful.

So now let us now consider the Holy Spirit inspiring the writer of Genesis. There’s a pretty good chance that the Biblical story of creation existed in oral form long before it was written down, but for the sake of argument let’s assume that Moses sat down with pen and papyrus and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit began to recount the story of creation.  Keep in mind that this is God the Holy Spirit who knows all of nature down to the tiniest details. And again for the sake of argument, let us assume that the universe was created 13 billion years ago, that the stars are distributed in three-dimensional space and not attached to the inside of a solid sphere (or “firmament”), and that the Earth is not its center, that matter is not composed of uniform substances but is composed of indescribably tiny particles. How could this information be conveyed in a true sense but still be comprehensible to Moses? In my opinion it was God’s intended purpose to convey the parts of the message that were essential for the spiritual life of the Jews in categories that were comprehensible in their culture. Did God lie? Is the withholding of unnecessary details dishonest or is it expedient?

So when Jesus spoke to His disciples, he spoke to them as the first-century Palestinians they were. Did he lie because He omitted the details of the Higgs boson? He had a very few years in which to convey the vitally important details of God’s plan of salvation. (Even then they didn’t understand Him a lot of the time). So he used terms with which they were already familiar. In their minds the world was the center of the universe and was recent in origin. Would it have served any purpose for Him to expound on the fact that when he said “from the beginning” he was referring to a time less than 13 billion years ago but more than several thousand?

In the intervening two thousand years we have learned a lot more about God’s creation and it continues to astound us how infinitely beautiful, complex and massive it really is. If Jesus were speaking to us today, would it make sense for Him to speak to us as first-century Palestininans, or would He have the ability to offer us even deeper understandings of the creation? (I picture him at CERN explaining to the particle physicists how to improve their experiments.) Why, then, do we insist on reading the Bible as if we were Palestinian fisherman?

By approaching it this way there is no need to distort Scripture, nor to reject our scientific understanding of the universe. Why, after all, did God give us such powerful brains? As our understanding increases we usually find that it conforms to the Scriptures in a way we could never have imagined. Who would have thought that the discovery of the background microwave radiation would settle the dispute among astronomers and cosmologists as to whether the universe had a beginning or had always existed. When the truth was finally determined, it turns out that Genesis was right, that everything that exists was brought into being all at once out of nothing.

We will not always be able to harmonize what we can discover through our senses with what the Holy Spirit teaches us, but when there are apparent conflicts we can say that we’re still very young and continue to learn at the feet of our Father.

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