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God, Job and loss

While some folks are stuck debating whether or not Job was a real person who actually experienced the things written in the book in our Bibl...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Destination Truth: The Road Goes Ever On

Yes, I borrowed the title of this post from a television show and my favorite author (J.R.R. Tolkien). The topic of this post has been on my mind for several days. It was inspired by two seemingly unrelated posts on two of the blogs which I follow: Ambassador Watch and Banned by HWA!

On Thursday of last week, Gavin posted two pieces that broke a two week drought. As he noted in the first post, one of the side benefits of the dearth of posts was the conversation that unfolded over his last post. He concluded, "maybe the journey really is more important than the destination."

On Friday, Dennis Diehl took Dave Pack (RCOG) "to the wood shed" by posting a video where Aron Ra refutes Pack's statements about God and evolution. As usual, Ra was very matter of fact and devastating. And, although I enjoyed his take down of Mr. Pack, I found myself cringing at some of his statements about God and the Bible.

For the Worldwide Church of God (and almost all of its descendants), the TRUTH is a neat little package of doctrines/teachings based on a Fundamentalist and Literalist approach to interpreting Scripture (with a healthy dose of circular reasoning thrown in). In short, one learned the TRUTH and either accepted or rejected it. And, if you accepted the TRUTH, it was mission accomplished. There was effectively nothing more to consider or learn. Indeed, according to HWA and his minions, if one continued to do research and ask questions, that individual would be sure to lose the TRUTH which they had received. For them, the journey had ended.

It struck me that some of Aron Ra's statements were in much the same vein. In both of the YouTube videos that Dennis included, Ra stated several times that EVERYTHING that Dave Pack believes and teaches is basically bullshit. He also stated that there wasn't ANY truth or ANYTHING of value in the Bible. Like the objects of his attention (Dave Pack and Believers), it appears that Aron Ra has reached destination TRUTH. Sure, Aron says that everything he believes is subject to the further development of the evidence at hand, but his many sweeping statements about God, religion and the Bible seem to undermine his assertion.

You can't find ANY truth in Scripture? Really? I can - ask me about it sometime (it's not that hard). And, just for the record, I'm not talking about TRUTH in the WCOG sense (that Scripture is literally correct in all particulars).

Aron doesn't like religion because he believes it to be the antithesis of reason. He doesn't like the fact that it is so emotional - that it is based on feelings. I wonder what Aron thinks about instinct. I wonder if he believes that instincts are of any value - that nature equipped us with various instincts for a reason(s).

Does any of the old stuff have any value? Must we discard all of mankind's beliefs and experiences that predate the application of the scientific method as rubbish? Where does this need for a god or supernatural things come from? Is it a primitive relic that should be discarded? If for no other reason, is it useful in measuring the progress that mankind has made? And, if so, doesn't that alone make it useful?

I believe that Something or Someone put us on this road. I'm all for exploring and being open to wherever it takes us, and I'm very suspicious of anyone who thinks they've reached their destination (or claims that we must follow precisely in their footsteps). What do you think?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

No finessing this contradiction!

"Reverend" Franklin Graham (son of Billy) apparently recently stated on Facebook (I don't have an account):  "Another first for America that we should not be proud of - the Vice President of the United States presiding over a same-sex wedding...Our country may have made same-sex marriage legal in the eyes of man, but that doesn't make it right in the eyes of God...Sadly, as a nation we have a reputation for celebrating what God defines as sin, AND THERE WILL BE A PRICE TO PAY." He then proceeds to quote Isaiah 1:4 (Woe to the sinful nation - originally intended for Israel). You can see an article on his statement here: http://cnsnews.com/blog/michael-w-chapman/rev-graham-biden-conducts-gay-marriage-there-will-be-price-pay-our-nation

For the sake of argument, let's say that the "Reverend" is right about homosexuality being a sin. The clear implication is that God is going to punish the entire nation because our leaders (Executive and Judicial Branches) have endorsed same-sex marriage. How is that fair? How is it fair for God to punish all of the people like the "Reverend" who oppose the practice - the ones on "God's side" of the issue?

We are told in Scripture that Abraham once persuaded God to spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if "He" could find just ten righteous individuals within them by pointing out how unfair it would be to destroy the righteous with the wicked (see Genesis 18). In Ezekiel, we are told that each person is responsible for his/her own sins - not the sins of others (Ezekiel 18:20).

Nevertheless, it would appear that Franklin Graham is also on firm ground where Scripture is concerned. There are also a number of Scriptures where we are told that God punishes an entire nation because of the sins of a few. Will the real God please stand up?

I have talked about this principle in times past. When faced with a clear contradiction in Scripture, which alternative seems to be the most consistent with a loving, just and fair God? "Reverend" Graham appears to have decided that God is ready to punish the entire country for the sins of some. Personally, I don't want any part of a God who holds me responsible/culpable for the sins of others. What about you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What does Luca tell us about the nature of God?

It appears that the study of genetics has opened up some exciting possibilities about the origin of life on this planet. By comparing the genomes of living things from all three domains (Archea, Bacteria and Eukarya), a team of evolutionary biologists has determined a likely genetic blueprint for the "Last Universal Common Ancestor" (Luca). This is exciting because a common origin for the domains of life has heretofore eluded the scientists who study these things.

As with most other breakthroughs, however, the discovery has generated even more questions. Although they've determined that Luca probably arose about four billion years ago (when the earth was only 560 million years old), many scientists believe that the family tree stretches back further in time to even simpler organisms than this one. Moreover, the scientific community seems to still be divided into two camps about where life originated. One camp believes that pools of warm water on land were the most likely place of origin, while others speculate that deep sea vents provide the most likely scenario (Luca seems to point in that direction). You can read about all of this for yourself at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/science/last-universal-ancestor.html?_r=0

What does all of this tell us about God? For me, this article generated a few questions of my own and rekindled my interest in others that I've wondered about for many years:

Doesn't the nature of life suggest Someone or Something set it all in motion?
Since life began on this planet, what has its purpose been?
Hasn't life sought immortality?
Isn't the perpetuation of itself the preoccupation of life?
Isn't evolution the story of how life has adapted to changing circumstances/environments in order to assure its survival?
Is the survival of a particular organism or an entire species important to the survival of life?
On the other hand, haven't the contributions of individual organisms and species been essential to the survival of the whole (even the "failures")?
Why does life appear to be so fragile and yet has exhibited such tenaciousness?
Hasn't the evolution of certain branches of the family tree into very complex organisms (I'm thinking of things like us) made survival more probable?
Hasn't the development of consciousness and the ability to reason made survival more likely?
What happens to our ability to evolve when we are able to manipulate the genetic code?
Did Someone or Something anticipate the eventual development of these abilities?
Were we intended to accumulate knowledge and information so that life might finally achieve eternal self-perpetuation?
In other words, is life developing along a path that was anticipated by Someone or Something prior to that first spark?
Could it be that it was our destiny to ask questions and explore our world?
Isn't it interesting to think about that genetic code in terms of preserving the story of all living things - from the beginning?
And, if that's really the case, has anything ever really been lost?
Isn't it interesting to think about the fact that we are all the products of everything that has gone before us (I'm thinking literally now, not figuratively)?
Is instinct akin to collective or species memory?
Will it someday be possible to summon up the full story of our past?

The evidence doesn't present us with a picture of a hands-on God, one who is involved in the day to day operation of things (although I'm not discounting the occasional intervention). For the most part, life appears to have been on its own from the start. Meteors have crashed into the surface of the earth and obliterated vast numbers in an instant, organisms have killed and eaten each other for ages, disease and starvation have taken their toll, humans have killed each other and their co-inhabitants on this planet; but life endures. Does the story have an ending? Do we have anything to say about that ending? Just thinking out loud, but none of it seems very random to me. What about you?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

God and Jane Fonda

There's probably only one woman that my conservative-minded friends hate more than Hillary Clinton: JANE FONDA. And, as most of my Armstrong Church of God friends are on the conservative side, I was a little surprised when one of them sent me a link to Jane's website (although I realized a long time ago that the individual who sent it to me had transcended those kinds of labels and exhibited a compassionate open-mindedness that was too often lacking in others within that culture). At any rate, I was delighted by what I read and felt it was worth sharing with others.

In her article "About My Faith" (http://www.janefonda.com/about-my-faith/), Fonda tells the story of her journey from atheist to Christian. Of course, just as one would expect who knows anything about Jane Fonda, the story does not follow a straight line - there are many twists and turns; but it does have the aura of an honest account from beginning to end. Jane seems to have grasped some spiritual truths that many Christians have missed.

In the article, she wrote about how she "had begun to feel I was being lead. I felt a presence, a reverence humming within me. It was and is difficult to articulate." Hmmm, that sounds an awful lot like someone who is being called by God, doesn't it? She continued: "Over the months, I went to Bible study every week, had it interpreted for me by biblical literalists, did my homework faithfully but, as time went on, I felt myself losing the very thing that had called me from within: Spirit. The literalness with which I was expected to read and interpret the Bible seemed to simplify and flatten out what I wanted to experience as metaphor. Christianity was beginning to feel shrunken, freeze-dried...As I diligently slogged away in my weekly bible class, doing the homework and studying the charts, I began to notice that the dance was gone. Try to render it literal, concrete, and it dies. I had started my journey with a powerful sense of the divine presence, but the linear approach seemed too rigid to contain this and I began to get scared: What had I gotten myself into?"

For those who are familiar with this blog, that language should feel familiar. Try to forget for just a moment who wrote the words that I just quoted. I have been saying for several years now that Christianity is NOT an intellectual experience. True Christianity is not found in a set of doctrines or teachings. Like God, it cannot be fully or adequately explained by ANY book or pamphlet. Paul wrote in many places that Christianity cannot be explained or understood using man's words and wisdom - that it is OUTSIDE of that realm. Christianity must be experienced on an emotional level - in the gut. I'm not saying that you have to experience Christianity in the same way (or using the same words) that Fonda did, but I am saying that you can't be a TRUE Christian by comprehending and/or adopting a set of beliefs as your own. Choose your own words, but you must be "begotten again" or "reborn."

Fonda wrote: "From time to time, there have been the awakened ones, conduits of perception, who, by fully embodying Spirit, have shown us the way—Jesus, Muhammed, Buddha, Allah, and others. Their messages have invariably been bare-bone-simple, remarkably similar and often embedded in metaphor, stories, and poems—all forms of art. Why? Because the non-linear, non-cerebral forms that are Art speak on a different frequency, they by-pass thinking, penetrate our defenses and jolt us open to consciousness." YES! You go girl!

Try to forget the literalist and fundamentalist baloney. Abandon the apologetics. You're never going to get there on that road. Leave the Armstrong path! Herbert and Garner Ted were wrong. It turns out that the HEART and SENTIMENTALITY are what it's all about! You've got to FEEL it on the inside. Wipe that smug, self-righteous smirk off of your face and let God and Christ into your heart.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

God and Alcoholic Beverages

A friend recently forwarded to me an interesting piece by Paige Patterson that appeared on the Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary website on July 11, 2016. The full article, "Concerning alcoholic beverages," can be accessed at this address: http://swbts.edu/news/releases/first-person-concerning-alcoholic-beverages/ (It is well-researched and offers a very comprehensive treatment of the subject from a Scriptural perspective).

The author correctly points out that the term translated into English as "wine" covered a number of different kinds of beverages derived from grapes in biblical times. He goes on to acknowledge that "the ancients...imbibed without reluctance." However, Pastor Patterson is quick to point out that Nazarites were prohibited from imbibing any alcoholic beverages, and that John the Baptist (whom Christ referred to as "the greatest born among men") also abstained from drinking them. He goes on to quote a number of scriptures that speak of the negative effects of drinking alcoholic spirits (e.g. impaired judgment, weakening inhibitions, overindulgence, etc.). This is followed by an attempt to explain away Christ's first miracle at Cana (changing water into wine) and Paul's admonition to Timothy to take a little wine for the sake of his weak stomach. Patterson concludes his article by pointing out that alcohol is either the cause or a significant contributing factor to much of the human misery that exists on this planet (e.g. bad parenting, violent deaths, divorces, crime, damage to property, etc.)

The Pastor talks about three categories of behavior relative to Scripture: "the prohibited, the acceptable and God's ideal." He reasons that Christians should want to live God's ideal and that anything less amounts to sin. Patterson summarizes his thesis thus: "Even if a Christian wished to demur from the idea that to take a drink is sin, strict biblical evidence establishes that imbibing strong drink is not God’s ideal for the believer. The question then becomes: Can it be anything less than sin for a believer who is genuinely grateful for the atoning power of Christ in his life to pursue anything other than the highest—God’s ideal—the best that he can be for Christ?"

That reasoning reminds me of the methodology employed by the Pharisees in erecting a law around THE LAW to ensure that it was never violated. Although my former church culture (Armstrong Church of God) clearly abused the fact that alcoholic beverages are not strictly prohibited by Scripture, Pastor Patterson's apology for his denomination's stance on the use of alcohol does not change/alter/disprove the fact that my former culture was correct in its characterization of the Scriptural position (that imbibing of alcoholic beverages is not prohibited). Nevertheless, the Pastor is correct in his assertion that overindulgence or abuse is a sin.

For me, the subject of what is acceptable for Christian's to eat or drink is a matter of personal conscience. It should NEVER be an occasion for one Christian to label the behavior of another Christian in this area as a SIN. In my opinion, if God intended for any behavior to be prohibited, then that should be spelled out in no uncertain terms by God - no equivocating, no need for extrapolating principles. God is responsible for setting the standard of behavior, PERIOD (not you, me or some organization of men). In other words, if it's not clearly spelled out in Scripture, then it must not be very important to God! Why leave something fuzzy and nebulous that's important?

It seems to me that we would all do better to pay more attention to whether or not our own behavior is motivated by LOVE (something that is mentioned over and over again in Scripture) than whether or not smoking, drinking or eating pork should be classified as sin. If we allowed our conscience to evaluate our behavior based on this standard (LOVE), we might indeed come to the conclusion that imbibing any alcohol would be a personal sin; but that same standard would never allow us to judge the same behavior in others as such. What do you think?   

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

God, Muslims and Guns

In predictable fashion, the Orlando tragedy has been used by two of the largest splinter groups from the old Worldwide Church of God (United Church of God and Philadelphia Church of God) to echo the rhetoric of the political Right in the U.S. and attack those on the Left. In an article by UCG Elder Tom Robinson (https://www.ucg.org/beyond-today/blogs/current-events-trends-muslim-terrorist-carries-out-most-deadly-shooting-in-us), we read: "Yet when President Barack Obama spoke in response immediately after, he would not refer to what happened as Islamic terrorism, following his established pattern, and used this as an opportunity to declare the need for more gun control." Robinson went on to say: "The attack has thrown the progressive left into a quandary. Had a 'right-wing Christian' perpetrated this act, it would have been used to vilify all conservative Christians who want to deny gay rights. But as it was a Muslim, great effort is made to distance him from 'authentic Islam'—lest the left’s alliance with Islam against traditional Christianity be put in jeopardy. The shooter was portrayed as a troubled, unbalanced person—but what Islamic terrorist is not? ... This should be a wake-up call to those on the left. Radical Islamists are not their friends. In a number of Islamic countries, homosexual behavior is punishable by death and gays are routinely jailed and/or executed." Over at PCG, the tease for the Trumpet Daily Radio Show sounds like something that could have been borrowed from a FOX News broadcast or a Donald Trump speech (https://www.thetrumpet.com/radio/shows/1/episodes/578/253-orlando-you-can-t-call-it-islamist-terrorism#player). We read there: "Once upon a time, the media labeled anyone who said 'Islam is a violent religion' as Islamophobic. But after the Orlando shooting this weekend, all you need to do to earn that label is mention that the terrorist was Muslim...No one wants to talk about radical Islam. Even after news media reported Omar Mateen's pledge of allegiance to the Isalmic State, United States President Barack Obama said he had no 'judgment on the precise motivations of the killer.' ... Trumpet writer Richard Palmer explores America's muddled response to Sunday's shooting and shows why America cannot solve a problem that it refuses to see."

The folks over at UCG/PCG seem to be saying that they would like to see the leaders of the United States acknowledge that we are in a war with Islam, they're not as bad as Muslims on the issue of homosexuality, and they are against gun control. They appear to be pining for the good old days when Christians weren't skiddish about declaring war on Muslims (remember the Crusades). Never mind that this is exactly what the terrorists would like to see the fight against terrorism become! Shame on the President for attempting to isolate these radical extremists from any association with the larger religious community of Islam. They can't seem to comprehend why anyone would want to draw a distinction between this violent and perverted minority and the peace loving/seeking majority. Nevertheless, the Left should be willing to acknowledge that shunning homosexuals and declaring them to be bound for hellfire is not as bad as shooting them or throwing them off of a building - there is a difference.  As for guns, what do our friends over at UCG/PCG make of the prophecies about converting implements of war into tools of agriculture in God's Kingdom? If guns aren't part of the problem, then why bother to get rid of them? I also seem to recall something about those who live by the sword dying by the sword (oops, forgive me - that's swords - we were talking about guns). Still, maybe God's not as in sync with "His" churches on this one as "He" should be. What do you think?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Allah/Elohim needs YOU to do His dirty work!

Many of us were sickened by the news from Orlando.Unfortunately, there are also folks who share this planet with us who will rejoice and celebrate. For them, the gunman was doing God's work.

Allah/Elohim hates homosexuals, so it is OK for His followers to hate them too. In fact, it's more than OK. Doesn't God demand that His true followers execute/stone these perverts?

The gunman's father said that his son may have been motivated by the fact he witnessed two males engaged in public displays of affection. How horrible is that? That one of God's children had to witness such behavior!

At least 50 people dead, and that many more injured. Allah/Elohim must be grateful that there are folks willing to do His dirty work. My question is: If that's what God wants, why doesn't He do it Himself?