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Soli Deo Gloria - Glory to God Alone!

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) has been proclaimed by most of Protestant Christianity. Although stated in a variety of ...

Friday, January 10, 2020

The God of Biodiversity

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, "Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We're currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago." - from their article on the Extinction Crisis which is available for your perusal here:

And, although mass extinction events have occurred throughout the history of life on this planet, this one has the unpleasant distinction of being intimately associated with us (humans). The CBC article goes on to say that "In fact, 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming. Because the rate of change in our biosphere is increasing, and because every species' extinction potentially leads to the extinction of others bound to that species in a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to snowball in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel."

I believe that God, through the process of evolution, has created the great diversity of life which we currently enjoy on this planet. Moreover, this biodiversity is essential to the continuation of life on this planet. And, while biodiversity is a worldwide phenomenon, it is an essential element of the many individual ecosystems that make up this planet's biosphere. And, as the CBC article makes clear, "Species diversity ensures ecosystem resilience, giving ecological communities the scope they need to withstand stress."

When we focus on the United States alone, we realize that human activity has resulted in the near or complete extinction of numerous species. Most Americans are familiar with the story of the Buffalo and the Passenger Pigeon, and many of our citizens have a vague awareness of the fact that bears, wild cats and wolves used to roam the forests of the places where they now live. And, while many Americans are currently experiencing the death of our native Ash trees, the vast majority of them are completely unaware of the mass die-off of our Chestnut and Elm trees that occurred in the last century. Currently, our honeybee and amphibian populations are threatened.

In the Judeo-Christian Bible, we are informed in the second chapter of Genesis that "the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made." (verse 8) A few verses later, we are informed "The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it." (verse 15) How well have we been tending and watching over the garden that God has given to us?

How can anyone who believes that God is the author of the biodiversity that exists on this planet think that mankind's conduct with regard to his natural environment is acceptable to God? Do we think that all of this exists for us to destroy? And, are we really even taking care of us if we are eliminating the very things which sustain our life on this planet?

It is ironic that so many Christians love prophecy and delight in speculating about what different passages mean in the book of Revelation, and how they might apply to modern times. I wonder how many of them have pondered what the twenty-four elders meant when they announced from heaven, "It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) Hmmmm, that sounds like a prophecy that we may all want to focus on a little more.

We Will Serve the Lord!

Over the holidays, two of the young adults in my family posted comments on social media that reflect very different perspectives on the principle outlined in Joshua 24:15. You know, the one that goes something like this: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." One is a member of a prominent Armstrong Church of God splinter, the other belongs to a non-denominational Sunday-observing church. Both are hard-working, devoted parents and appear to be sincere in their beliefs.

The non-denominational Christian has a plaque on her living room wall with the Joshua quote. She posted a comment on social media recounting her experience as a child whose parents believed that Christmas was pagan and did not celebrate Christ's birth. She went on to mention the fact that some members of her family still don't celebrate Christmas, but that she respects them, accepts their devotion to Christ and loves them just the same. She said that Christ was/is the most perfect expression of God's light and love and concluded that this was something that everyone should be able to rally around.

The Armstrong Church of God Christian posted the Joshua quote in his explanation of why he and his family don't celebrate the holiday. For him, his choice to not observe this holiday reflects his decision to put God's will first. In other words, those who choose to observe the holiday may not be serving the Lord.

As I read through their comments, it occurred to me that their remarks demonstrate that this scripture (Joshua 24:15) means very different things to both of them. For one of them, the words reflect their devotion and commitment to God. For the other, the same words seem to imply that we are doing the Lord's will and you aren't. Both of these young people appear to be devoted to God and their faith. Both of them give one the impression that they are sincere and good people. Both look to be following the dictates of their conscience in this matter.

For me, this family interaction perfectly demonstrates the point that Christ made to his disciples about judging each other. It also illustrates the point that Paul was trying to make to the saints at Rome and Colossae about different religious observances. If it is your personal conviction to observe or not observe a particular day, then follow that conviction. Your observance or lack of observance is not the thing that matters in the end - it is your attitude toward what you are doing that matters in the final analysis. I believe that both of these young people have exhibited the light and love of Christ in their lives, but I worry about any feelings of superiority or self-righteousness that might poke its slimy way into their hearts. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Evolving God?

In the comment thread for "Symbol and Meaning" by Stoned Stephen Society posted over at Banned by HWA, Dennis Diehl wrote that "The whole Bible is full of theories on who and what 'God' is, does, thinks, needs, demands and expects. From Genesis to Revelation this God evolves from an original Canaanite Supreme God and intimate with the first two humans, to the Hebrew chosen one they called YHVH. This YHVH then rather quickly begins to fade, as a Cheshire Cat God, away in any real human contact, replaced by it's chosen kings and priests who theorize what this god wants from everyone and want to enforce it upon the people. There are different enforcers with different perspectives of course."

As one would expect on a forum whose audience includes many Biblical Fundamentalists, some of the reactions to Mr. Diehl's comments were in the nature of a defense of God and the Bible. And, to be fair, Mr. Diehl obviously intended his comments as a criticism of Christian notions about both (God and the Bible).

Nevertheless, as someone who is not a Fundamentalist and has a rather expansive view of the nature of God (as evidenced by many past posts on this blog), I was intrigued by his remarks. While Mr. Diehl and I arrive at different conclusions, I share his conviction that our notions about God have evolved over many hundreds (indeed, thousands) of years. I also agree with his observation that this evolution is apparent in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, and that many different perspectives on God are present there.

For me, this reality does not threaten my faith in God or Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that humans have speculated on the nature of God and have put forth arguments in support of that speculation. Isn't that how this world that we inhabit works? Hasn't ALL human development and understanding evolved over many thousands of years? Why should our understanding of God be the exception to the rule?

What about revelation? What about inspiration? Are we suggesting that speculation can't be instrumental in revealing things? Isn't the formulation and testing of a hypothesis an integral part of the scientific method? Are we suggesting that speculation can't be inspired? What causes us to wonder about God and things spiritual? From whence do our philosophical musings arise? We say that authors, artists and musicians are inspired. Is it that implausible to imagine that inspiration could extend to other areas of human interest?

What if our reality is a mathematical construct or Divine dream? Is it possible that the statement that God doesn't change might be wrong or mean something other than what many of us have attached to it? Is it possible that God itself is still growing/expanding/evolving?

Moreover, if we admit that the concept of God has evolved and been presented from a number of different perspectives within the Hebrew Bible, how does that harm or negate the value of those writings? When we look at the history of humanity's gods and religions, don't you find it just a little bit interesting and peculiar that a majority of humanity has settled on the god of the Hebrews? Why the god of an insignificant tribe of people who originated in a relatively unimportant piece of land that was dominated by its more powerful neighbors throughout most of its history? Why not the gods of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks or Romans? What about Eastern religious notions? Wouldn't the adoption of any of those deities have made more sense than El or Yahweh?

Ah, but the Hebrews borrowed from all of those traditions, the skeptics will reply. And what does that demonstrate but the process of evolution? As I have said before, nature/evolution/God has equipped us (humans) with this self-awareness and notions of the Divine. Should we abandon all of that as the relics of a superstitious past OR is it possible that our ancestors were really on to something? Was it really just a coincidence that Jesus Christ arose from the Jewish tradition? I may be wrong, but something tells me that it would be the height of foolishness to dismiss all of this as foolishness!

I'll freely admit that I don't have all of the answers, but I'm also confident that you don't either. I am tempted to invite anyone who is certain that the Hebrew God does not exist and the Bible is useless to drop me a line, but I know I'd be inundated with replies! For my fellow wanderers and searchers with a smattering of humility, you can drop me a line or two when you have it all figured out - I'll do the same.


Monday, January 6, 2020

Your Choice To Be Gay

As a heterosexual, do you ever find members of your own gender to be sexually attractive? If so, how frequently do you have such thoughts? Do you have to suppress thoughts of being attracted to members of your own gender? Have you ever lusted after someone who shares your gender? Have you ever fantasized about engaging in sexual acts with members of your gender? If so, does that make you bisexual? OR Are you always attracted to members of the opposite sex? Do your sexual fantasies always center on the opposite sex? Do you find that you are repulsed by thoughts of engaging in sexual intimacy with members of your own gender?

If you are not sexually attracted to people who share your gender, what would it take to make you attracted to them? Would staring at images of people engaging in same sex acts eventually engender sexual arousal for members of your own gender? Would reading homoerotic literature eventually engender sexual arousal for members of your own gender? What kind of conditioning would be required to get you to abandon your disgust at the thought of engaging in same sex acts? Would you be tempted by a sexual proposition from a beautiful person of your own gender? If a member of your own gender forced him/herself on you, would that make you more likely to engage in same sex behavior? If you went to a gay bar, would you be tempted to engage in homosexual behavior?

Do you recall the occasion/moment when you decided that a woman's breasts were more sexually attractive than a man's pecs or vice versa? Do you recall the occasion/moment when you decided that you preferred vaginas over penises or vice versa? In other words, did you ever have to decide between the two? OR Did a preference for one over the other come naturally to you? When did you decide to be a heterosexual?

In short, what would it take to make you gay? What would it take for someone to convert you to a homosexual orientation? And, if anything could make you gay, can you really claim to be a heterosexual?

And, finally, if you really are a heterosexual, why would you ever want to engage in homosexual behavior? Why would you ever decide to engage in behavior that does not excite passion within you? Why would you ever want to engage in behavior that you find repulsive? Could you, over time, ever learn to enjoy that kind of behavior?

Now, what do your answers to the above questions tell you about the nature of  your own sexual orientation? If  some authority ever decreed that a homosexual orientation was the only acceptable expression of sexual desire, how would you fare within such a society? Does it seem plausible to you that Almighty God would ever require you to go against your own nature or force you to engage in behavior which you find repulsive?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Sometimes the Wicked Prosper

Donald Trump told the King Jesus International Ministry in Florida, "I really do believe we have God on our side. I believe that. I believe that, or there would have been no way we could have won, right? People say how do you win, you don’t have the media, you have so many things against you, and we win. So, there has to be something." https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-tells-evangelicals-that-god-is-on-our-side-234723118.html The evidence that God is on the side of Trump and Evangelicals: The fact that he wins against enormous odds.

When I read that statement, it occurred to me how different this perspective is from the one offered by the sixteenth President of the United States. A clergyman commented that he hoped that the Lord was on our side, Lincoln responded that he didn't worry about that. The President went on to say "But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side." politifact.com

In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln mused about whose side God might be on in the ongoing Civil War. He said: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes." https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=38&page=transcript

Interestingly, Trump appears to be more in sync with modern evangelical thought on this subject than Lincoln. Millions of Christians believe that success is a clear indication of God's favor. They reason that God is on the side of the righteous (them) and against the wicked (liberal Democrats).

According to the Bible, however, this line of reasoning is very flawed. The author of Ecclesiastes observed that very often the wicked prosper in this life (see Ecclesiastes 7:15 and 8:14). Christ once told a parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man had prospered in this life and was punished after he died. Likewise, Lazarus had suffered in this life and was rewarded in the next life. In other words, the success of the righteous is not necessarily guaranteed in this life. Christ also finished the parable with an assertion that the wicked would not be persuaded by someone who had been resurrected from the dead - very interesting in this connection!

The truth is that the cream doesn't always rise to the top. Sometimes that's a turd floating on the surface!

Is God on your side? OR Are you on God's side?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Our Quest To Understand

Throughout the history of humankind, we have sought to understand ourselves, our world, the cosmos and God. In modern times, we have employed the scientific method to get at the answers we seek; but we have always employed comparisons to help us to understand things. Our units of measurement were originally based on body parts, amounts of water or alcoholic beverages, the temperature at which water boils or freezes, the distance between two points, the length of a day here on earth, etc. We classify plants and animals based on their similarities to/differences from each other. We say that someone is tall or short compared to the height of the average man or woman. We often seek to understand things by comparing them to two extremes (e.g. hot/cold, acid/alkaline, infinite/finite, etc.). In short, when we attempt to explain/describe/define/measure something (and to truly understand anything, one must be able to explain/describe/define/measure it), we always resort to some type of comparison.

In the realm of trying to understand God, we have often resorted to the basic formula that Man is less than God or God > Man. Likewise, we reason that the Creator must of necessity be greater than that which has been created. With these simple comparisons, we attempt to explain/describe/define/measure the notion of God. From these things, we deduce that God must supersede space, time and gravity - that "HE" must be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Some of us have even reasoned that since we are the "highest life-form" on this planet that God must look and act like us. But we would do well to stop and ask ourselves: How close to truly understanding God do these elemental comparisons really get us?

Yet, When Zophar confronted his friend Job, he resorted to the only thing available to him - comparisons. "Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens—and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld—what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea." (Job 11:7-9)

In considering these things, I'm reminded of some questions that were asked long ago in the book of Isaiah: "To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him?" (40:18) and "'To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?' asks the Holy One." (40:25)

For those who think that they have God figured out, you may want to reconsider your confidence in your notions about God. Truly, God cannot be contained!

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Christmas Carol

A post that was originally posted over at The Painful Truth Blog five years ago recently made another appearance there. The post by Butler Shaffer was titled "The Case for Ebenezer Scrooge" (the principal character from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol). Shaffer informs us that he "decided that Mr. Dickens had given Ebenezer Scrooge an undeserved reputation for villainy." According to Shaffer, the "true heroes" of that age were the industrialists and the financiers. Thus, in his attempt to vindicate Scrooge, he mounts a passionate defense of Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution.

Shaffer accuses Dickens of launching an ad hominem attack against his client, but his defense sounds more like an ad hominem attack against Dickens, Bob Cratchett, the spirits and Socialists in general! Cratchett is transformed into an unambitious and lazy person who is content to stagnate, instead of a person trapped by the circumstances of the larger labor market, geography and his own education (In other words, there probably wasn't another job just waiting for him around the corner as the author implies).

He characterizes Mr. Dickens allegations as being concerned with Scrooge's wealth, and the fact that he insisted on retaining it for his own use. Shaffer dismisses the obvious objective of the author: To cause Scrooge to take a second look at his "materialistic pursuits" which "had rendered him an unhappy person." Contrary to what Shaffer alleges, Mr. Dickens is concerned with making Mr. Scrooge a happier and more productive person.

The Capitalist system and industrialization which it produced gave rise to several problems. It obviously encouraged greed and materialism (one of the points Dickens made in this piece). It also led to immobility (as evidenced by Cratchett's circumstances). The formation of monopolies distorted the marketplace and prevented it from functioning according to the supply/demand model. Likewise, this system gave rise to an inefficient use of resources and environmental damage. And, finally it gave rise to a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the boom and bust cycle which has plagued the entire history of its operation.

The problem is that: although we humans are often characterized as rational beings, we don't always act rationally! We don't always act in our self-interest either. Humans are also emotional beings. We are, thankfully, also occasionally motivated by things like love, compassion, mercy, empathy and kindness. Mr. Dickens was trying to acquaint his principal character with that other side of what made him human.

And, just for the record, Scrooge did not receive condemnation at the hands of Mr. Dickens - He received redemption! Scrooge finally learned the lesson that there is more to life than making and accumulating money.

What does all of this have to do with a blog about God? As I've said many times over the past few years (and it bears repeating), GOD IS NOT A CAPITALIST OR A SOCIALIST! Both of these economic systems were designed by humans for humans, and neither one of them is anywhere near perfect. God does not endorse Supply-side Economics, and the Bible is not the source for concepts like the "Invisible Hand" or tax cuts to stimulate economic growth. And, just as you can be a Christian and be a Capitalist, you can also be a Socialist and still be on God's side! Capitalism does not equal righteousness, and Socialism does not equal evil! Apparently, this is super hard for some folks to grasp.