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The Oldest Books in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible

As anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the Judeo-Christian Bible knows, that book is composed of a collection of writings which were...

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?