Posts Tagged ‘god’

The Church and the Mainstream

April 27, 2014

Last week there was an article at YahooNews asking the question whether Evangelicals are out of  touch with mainstream views.

As a part of a special Easter week discussion on religion, Graham told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz that gays could go to heaven if they repent.

“Maybe gays that are watching want to know, ‘Can God forgive me? Or can I go to heaven as a gay person?’ Absolutely. But the same for any of us. We have to repent of our sins in turn. A person cannot stay in adultery and be accepted by God. You’ll have to repent,” said Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“Franklin Graham is a sinner, and I’m no better than a gay person. I’m a sinner,” he added. “But I’ve been forgiven, and I’ve turned from my sins. For any person that’s willing to repent in turn, God will forgive.”

ABC News’ Cokie Roberts replied: “A lot of gay people feel that they are sinners, but not because they’re gay.”

In the last decade, public opinion has swung dramatically on key issues pertaining to gay rights, including gay marriage and adoption. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from March found approval for same-sex marriage at an all-time high: 59 percent of total respondents said they approve, including 75 percent of respondents under 30 years old.

While evangelical Christians overall are more likely to disapprove of same-sex marriage, younger evangelicals are nearly split on this issue: 43 percent of evangelicals under 30 years old said they approve of the idea.

The same poll also found that a majority of Americans, 61 percent, also now approve of gay adoption.

“The reason the numbers have changed so fast and so dramatically on this question of gay marriage is because everybody in America now has experience with someone who is gay,” Roberts said. “People have come out of the closet and said, ‘I am your brother. I am your sister. I am your cousin. I am your friend.’ And then they have seen these families raising children and see these loving families.”

Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, noted that overwhelmingly states still define marriage as being between a man and woman, while voicing his belief that laws should be written based on an “ideal” for families.

“I think that the social science is just simply not in yet on same-sex couples, and I think the law has every right to set an ideal, and the ideal is a mother and father,” he said.

Politically, the majority of evangelical leaders – 82 percent – think evangelicals’ influence is waning in the U.S., according to a 2011 Pew poll. Simultaneously, church attendance and membership is at record lows in the U.S.

Putting aside the questions of same-sex marriage and homosexuality generally, of which too much has been written, the question asked is whether the Church should strive to conform with what is popular, mainstream, or politically correct or should the Church uphold the teachings of the Gospel even if they are considered to be unpopular, strange, or hateful. I think that anyone who has studied the Bible to any extent must conclude that the Christian Church must take the latter position. I would even go so far to say that a church that is considered popular and mainstream by the world may not be doing its job very well.

Jesus himself said that Christians ought not to expect to be popular.

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. ( John 15:18-20)

And:

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

The Apostle John writes:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

And the Apostle Paul:

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2 Cor 6:14-16)

Christians, then, must be counter-cultural. We live in the world but are not of the world. Our true citizenship is of Heaven and it is Heaven’s values we must follow. Since the world and Heaven oppose each other, we ought not to expect to be politically correct. I think C. S. Lewis put it very well in Mere Christianity.

One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living ma part of the universe occupied by the rebel. 
    Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening–in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-—hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do. I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person. ‘Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.’

If I could extend Lewis’s World War II analogy a bit further, as Christians we are members of the resistance fighting for our King against a usurper. When we go to church we are attending meetings of our cell. The Bible is the secret instructions from our true King. If a church strives to uphold the values of this world, it is in effect taking instructions from collaborators working for the invaders.If you look back through the history of Christianity, it is always when the Church follows the world that Christianity goes bad. Think of the horrible medieval popes who were more concerned with Italian politics than proclaiming the Word of God. Think of the religious wars during the Reformation gave up on God’s way of settling differences and decided to use the world’s way of bloodshed. Think of corrupt television preachers, more concerned with living well instead of doing good or liberal denominations who are so intent on following the world that their churches are empty.

The decline in attendance is a concern; obviously we want to reach as many people as possible. Still, we must not forget the mission of the Church. The whole purpose of the Christian Church is to get souls into Heaven. Everything else is secondary. It does no one any good at all if a church fills its pews by watering down or diluting the Gospel. In fact, to continue the analogy, such a church is a little like agents provocateur send by the enemy to capture would be resistance fighters. We want to make the message attractive to save as many as possible, but we must always make such that we are proclaiming the true message that saves.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

What’s In a Name

August 13, 2013

Here is another picture I saw on Facebook.

download

The sentiment here is that all of the various religions are essentially the same and therefore we shouldn’t fight over religious differences because they are not really very important. Well, we shouldn’t fight over religious differences not because they are unimportant, but because no one has ever discovered the truth or been convinced by people shouting past one another.

In a superficial sense, the sentiment expressed by this picture is true. Most of the great religions have rather similar expectations on how people ought to be behave. They all preach variations on statements like, “do not kill”, “do not steal”, “treat others as you would want to be treated”, and others. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. If right and wrong really exist and are not merely social conventions then you might expect people all over the world to have similar rules, even if they seldom follow them. As the apostle Paul stated,

14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.                (Romans 2:14-16)

Actually, religion is not really about morality. You can be a moral person of any faith or of no faith at all, if the law is truly written on human hearts. Religion is about approaching or coming to know God, again as Paul says,

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring. (Acts 17:22-28)

This is another way in which the sentiment expressed in the picture is superficially true. All of the great religions teach that there is something more than the material world that we sense. In most cases they teach that there is a god or gods or some divine principle that rules the universe and is the source of all goodness.

In the more profound sense, however, the sentiment that all religions are essentially the same is simply not true. Every religious tradition makes claims about the nature of the divine principle and these claims tend to be exclusive ones. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in one God, but Jews and Muslims are uncompromising monotheists with a simple view of God as One. The Christian view is more complicated involving three Persons in one Godhood, with one of the Persons becoming a man named Jesus. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but deny his divinity. Jews reject both Jesus and Mohammed as prophets. Muslims also regard the Christians and Jews as having corrupted their holy texts while their Koran is the true Word of God. Many Hindus believe in many gods but also believe that the many are one universal spirit. Many Hindus believe otherwise as it it is a diverse religion. Buddhists are unconcerned about gods seeking to liberate themselves from the cycle of rebirth and suffering, but many Buddhists worship traditional deities. There are many other beliefs. They cannot all be true.

Do these differences matter? I think they do. If religion is a means of coming to know the creator of the universe, then we had better have accurate information about Him. If I decided to travel to California, I had better go west. If I go north or south or east, I’ll never get there. If I decide to fly to California, I’ll get there quickly. Driving will take a little longer. Walking would take a very long time, weeks or months, assuming I manage to get there at all. If I decide to go to Australia, I am going to have to fly in an airplane, or go by boat. I cannot drive or walk to Australia, no matter how much I might want to.  In like fashion, if I want to know about God, I should try to go in the right direction and take the right means of travel. Some might say that is doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere. Well, I could sincerely believe that I could get to Australia by walking north. I would be sincerely wrong and never reach Australia.

So, does God care what name we call Him? Perhaps not, but He does want us to know Him and He does want to save us from our own sins and bad decisions. If the Christian beliefs are correct, then God is good, infinitely good, and we humans are not. By our nature and our actions, we have estranged ourselves from God and there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves with him. Fortunately, He has provided a means by which we can be reconciled by the sacrifice of His Son. The problem with all the other religions as well as that vague sentiment that all religions are equal is that by following their precepts, we may come to believe that we can approach God and be saved by our own efforts, through rituals, good deeds and the like. God is infinitely good however, and He is not likely to be impressed by anything we do. As Isaiah wrote,

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; (Isaiah 64:6)

Or, to put it a little less dramatically, no matter how good we think we are, next to God we aren’t really very good at all. We cannot save ourselves. We have to trust in God to save us.

Leviticus

July 15, 2013

It is unfortunate that all too few Christians in this secular age ever actually read the Bible. Many Christians realize this and make a resolution to read the bible all the way through, from beginning to end. This is the way most books should be read, but it is not a good way to read the Bible for the first time. The Bible is an anthology so it is perfectly acceptable to skip around.

The problem with reading the Bible from beginning to end is that you quickly come to some of the driest and least interesting parts. Genesis is interesting and fun to read, full of great stories like the Creation, Adam and Eve, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and others. The story of Moses and the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt as told in the book of Exodus is exciting too. But, then around chapter 20 of Exodus there is the beginning of the law code as told to Moses at Mount Sinai. Chapter after chapter describes the laws, the building of the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant, the clothes of the priests and their consecration ceremony. There is some relief with the story of the Golden Calf in chapter 32, but soon we are back to law codes and a description of the building of the tabernacle that is a repeat of the earlier passages.

Leviticus is worse. There is no action at all in this book except for the deaths of Nadab and Abihu

English: Aaron's Sons, Nadab and Abihu, Destro...

English: Aaron’s Sons, Nadab and Abihu, Destroyed by Fire; Leviticus 10:2; 1625-30 engraving by Matthäus Merian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

for offering “strange fire” to the LORD Other than that, there is just chapter after chapter of ordinances dealing with offerings and sacrifices, priestly ordinations, clean and unclean foods, leprosy (almost certainly not the disease that is now called leprosy, so modern translations say “skin disease”), mold and mildew, the Day of Atonement, forbidden sexual  relations, festivals, and other such matters. It would not seem as if much of this book is relevant for the modern Christian. We don’t sacrifice animals at the temple anymore. We go to a dermatologist if we have a disgusting skin disease. Perhaps it might be simply ignored.

I think that would be a mistake. The first time Bible reader or the beginning Christian ought not to try to tackle Leviticus, but the more experienced Christian ought to read the book of Leviticus all the way through at least once, for the central theme of Leviticus is one Christians need to remember, especially in these irreverent times. That central theme is God’s absolute holiness.

If you ask any believer what characteristics God possesses they would be quick to mention His omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. They might also state that He is a loving God and indeed the first Letter of John states that God is love. One attribute that tends to be forgotten is God’s holiness, or goodness. God is entirely good and holy and there is no evil in him. People of modern times tend to overlook God’s holiness and assume that he is a being much like themselves, only grander. The modern image of God seems to be of a kindly elderly man played by George Burns or Morgan Freeman, or of Jesus the hippie. The book of Leviticus shows a different side.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

“‘Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.

“‘Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God.

“‘When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because they have desecrated what is holy to the Lord; they must be cut off from their people.

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

19 “‘Keep my decrees.

“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.

“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.

“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:1-9, 19)

God says, “Be holy for I the LORD your God am holy.” Over and over there is the refrain, “I am the LORD your God.” Notice also besides the obvious moral laws, there is the concept of a separation between the holy and the worldly. Do not blend separate things together.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek. (Lev 20:1-5)

There follows laws about illicit sexual practices, etc, all of which get the death penalty.  Most people would regard these laws with death for so many crimes as barbaric. Perhaps, but the purpose of such severity is to reinforce the seriousness of keeping holy things holy and to worship only the Lord, not turning to other gods.

Here is one more excerpt.

31 “Keep my commands and follow them. I am the Lord. 32 Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord, who made you holy 33 and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord.” (Lev 22:31-33)

God loves us but He is much, much more than the popular conceptions of Him. He is holy and He wants us to be holy.

Empire of Fear

June 21, 2013

Robert Spencer has some interesting things to say about the Muslim family at Jihad Watch and PJMedia.

Earlier this month, Islamic member nations of the United Nations Human Rights Council rejected as un-Islamic a resolution condemning violence against women. The Kuwait News Agency reported that “the rejections include the paragraph, which gives women ‘the right to control matters concerning their sexual lives as well as their reproductive health without coercion, discrimination or violence.’”

It is likely that this rejection had as much or more to do with the idea that women should be protected from coercion and violence as it may have had to do with any pro-life concerns. After all, the Qur’an directs men to beat disobedient women (4:34), while Islamic law allows for abortion at least early in the pregnancy. The Muslim scholar Sayyid Sabiq explains that,

abortion is not allowed after four months have passed since conception because at that time it is akin to taking a life, an act that entails penalty in this world and in the Hereafter. As regards the matter of abortion before this period elapses, it is considered allowed if necessary.

The idea that it is un-Islamic for women to have the right to be free from coercion and violence is revealing of the mindset underlying the entire Islamic understanding of morality. Muslims and non-Muslims often tell us that Muslims hate the West for its decadence, its immorality, its lasciviousness, which they contrast unfavorably with the supposed morality and uprightness of the Islamic world. Often this boils down to a Muslim critique of Western “freedom,” especially as Bush and Obama pursued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan ostensibly to bring Western-style freedom to those countries.

In line with that, the mufti of Australia, Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, once complained that “Australian law guarantees freedoms up to a crazy level.” Yet genuine freedom is an indispensable prerequisite for any cultivation of real virtue.

Even the post-Christian West makes it more possible to be virtuous than the apparently much more straitlaced Islamic world. With its stonings, amputations, and death penalties for an array of offenses including apostasy, Islam has created – even in the family itself — not a framework in which people can become genuinely good, but an empire of fear. People don’t dare step out of line, not out of an authentic understanding that the path of moral and ethical uprightness is preferable to the alternative, much less out of love for God or a real desire to please him, but because they are afraid of what would happen to them if they did depart from Islam’s vision of morality.

He has more to say. With all that in mind, I think it might be interesting to consider how the subtle differences between the Judeo-Christian and the Islamic view of God ties into the question of freedom and virtue.

In Christian and Jewish theology, God is considered to be not only omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful), but also omni-benevolent (entirely good). As God is wholly good and has no evil in Him, God cannot commit an evil act. To do so would be contrary to His nature. An Islamic theologian cannot say that. It is not that Muslims believe that God is evil or indifferent. Islam is, as C. S. Lewis said of Christianity, a fighting religion with a God who takes sides. The problem that Muslims have with saying that God cannot commit an evil act lies in their conception of God as all-powerful.

All three Abrahamic religions believe God to be omnipotent. Islam, however, emphasizes divine omnipotence quite a lot more than the other two religions. Muslims, therefore, are uncomfortable with any concept that seems to put a limit on God’s absolute sovereignty and divine freedom. Saying that God cannot do a thing or has any limits seems to be blasphemy. God cannot be constrained in any way or by any thing, not even by natural laws or logic. God may be good but there is no reason why He could not command something evil, arbitrary, or even irrational. Islam also teaches the unknowability of God by mere humans. No human being can know anything about God or His nature. This means that such statements as the apostle John is fond of using such as God is love or God is Light, or identifying God with the Logos or Reason are meaningless to the Muslim and, again, may even be blasphemous. We cannot know God. We can only know His will for us. Islamic theologians have not spent much time debating the nature of God, as Christians have with their disputes over the trinity and how Jesus can be both God and man. Islamic theology is more focused on legal matters and regulations for the believer.

These concepts might be the reason that Islamic political history is largely a history of despotism. If God is absolute with no constraints on His authority, then it stands to reason that rulers, God’s representatives, should also have absolute authority. There is, as far as I know, no Magna Carta in Islam, and certainly no Declaration of Independence with its inalienable rights. Muslims believe that humans are the slaves of God, while Christians believe that we are His Sons. Sons have rights. Slaves do not.

This also puts an interesting twist on the Euthyphro dilemma. Euthypho is a character in Plato’s dialog of that name. Socrates and Euthypho meet each other at a law court while they each are waiting for the court to hear their cases, in Socrates’s case the trial that would cost him his life. Since Euthypho is presented as an expert theologian who knows all about the gods, Socrates asks to define piety or holiness and the two begin the dialog. During the discussion Socrates asks whether the gods love pious acts because they are pious or are things pious because the gods love them. In other words, and moving to monotheism, does God command us to do good things because they are good, or are good actions good because God commands them. For instance, one of the ten commandments that God gave to Moses was, “Thou shalt not kill”. Did God forbid killing because killing is inherently evil, or is killing evil because God forbade it.

You may see the dilemma here. If the things that God wishes us to do are good in themselves, then does that not imply that there is some source of morality higher than God? On the other hand if good actions are good simply because those are the actions God happens to approve of, then the ideas of good and evil become arbitrary. God could just as easily told Moses, “Thou shalt kill”.

There have been a number of ways that both Christians and Jews have attempted to resolve this dilemma. I think that, in general, Christians and Jews tend to favor the first answer, that God’s commands are good in themselves and that for God to command or commit an evil act would be contrary to His nature. God can no more do evil than a triangle could have four sides. Islamic theology compels a Muslim to favor the second answer. Thus, there is a tendency to believe that God’s commands are somewhat arbitrary and subject to change. Indeed in the Koran, later commands replace or abrogate earlier commands.

I gone somewhat far afield, so perhaps I should try to tie in what I have written with Robert Spencer’s argument. If you consider the ultimate source of morality is not some abstract concept of justice but the somewhat arbitrary commands of the supreme deity then wouldn’t it stand to reason that you might adopt a sort of  “might makes right” and “ends justify the means” sort of moral code? And, wouldn’t you come to believe that virtue is something that must be imposed from outside, rather than something that each person must develop from within? That is something to consider.

The Big Picture of the Bible

June 18, 2013

The Bible is a fairly large anthology of sixty-six books written in three languages, (Hebrew, Greek, and a little Aramaic) with many genres (history, poetry, letters, etc), on three continents over a period of 1500 years. With such an epic scope, it is easy for even the devout Christian to become lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. For the beginning Christian, reading the Bible often seems to be a daunting tasking with seeming no easy way to begin or to make sense of everything. What is needed is a short book explaining the big picture of the Bible, to tie everything together in manner that is short and easily understandable.

This is precisely what Kenneth W. Craig has done with his book The Big Picture of the Bible. In this short book, Craig covers the basic Biblical message of salvation. The Big Picture of the Bible is divided into two parts and seventeen short chapters which contain lessons easy to understand and can be covered quickly. The Big Picture of the Bible is ideal for personal study or evangelization.

Jesus’s Appearance

April 29, 2013

I saw this posted on a Facebook group.

488028_500663049997463_1663490392_n

I was not aware that the Republican party had any sort of official position on the appearance of Jesus, nor was I aware that Republicans do not believe in science.The picture on the right is not how Science sees Jesus. That picture is a reconstruction of a typical first century Judean male based on skeletal evidence and forensic anthropology. The physical appearance of Jesus is never described in the gospels but we can infer that he did not look in any way unusual or had any particular distinguishing marks.

You can see the trick here. Liberals state that their positions are based on Science. Therefore if you do not agree with them than you do not believe in Science. For example, if you do not believe that man-made global warming is a drastic threat that requires immediate action which might damage the world’s economy and lower living standards for billions. The truth is that it is people on the Left who consistently misunderstand the nature of science. I have said it before. Science is not an infallible Authority. Science is not based upon unquestioned dogma. Science is a method of asking questions about the world around us and getting the answers.

But, as to Jesus’s appearance. It is important to remember that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew who lived in Galilee in the first century. The New Testament and especially the Gospels cannot be properly understood without a knowledge and appreciation of the cultural background in which the books of the New Testament were written. It is unfortunate that many generations of Christians have tended to disregard the Jewish heritage of their faith.

Still, the Jesus Christ ought not to be too tied to any one culture or ethnicity. As the Son of God and our Savior, Jesus is universal and can be claimed by all humankind. Thus we have the Northern European Jesus.

Eurojesus

Or the Chinese Jesus

chinese-jesus-11

Or the African Jesus

BlackJesus_Euro_hair

The Indian Jesus

indian_jesus

And the Native American Jesus

NativeAmericanJesus

He can be depicted as a Byzantine Emperor.

MA Byzantine Jesus

Or as a humble shepard

Jesus-Good-Shepherd-04

Jesus has been depicted in many ways in books, art, in movies and in manga.

Manga_Messiah

So, every culture and ethnic group can claim Jesus as their own. His actual physical appearance is quite irrelevant. What matters most is the message He preached and His death and resurrection.

 

 

Atheist Appreciation Day

April 1, 2013

Today is Atheist Appreciation Day, the day in which we celebrate all the contributions that Atheists have made to science, culture, and the arts throughout the ages. Why should I pick April 1 as a day to celebrate Atheism? Well, it is April Fool’s Day and the Bible states;

The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)

So there you have it. Today is the day for fools to celebrate.

I hope any atheist reading this will forgive me for my little April Fool’s joke. I have been waiting for most of the last year to spring it and I really couldn’t resist. You could say the Devil made me do it, if you believed in the Devil.

Actually, the Hebrew word that is translated as fool in that verse is nabel. The meaning of that word carries a connotation of someone who acts, not just unwisely or foolishly, but also wickedly. A nabel, in other words, is not just a fool in the English sense of the word, but also someone who is morally corrupt. This becomes clearer when you read the psalm in its entirety.

The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

Do all these evildoers know nothing?

They devour my people as though eating bread;
they never call on the Lord.
But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.
You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad! (Psalm 14:1-7)

Despite my joke, I do not believe that this psalm was directed at the person who holds the intellectual or metaphysical belief that a deity or deities does not exist. Although Atheism as a belief is far older than many modern Atheist apologists like to believe, ancient Greek philosophers made many of the same talking points as the advanced New Atheists have, atheists in the modern sense must have been very rare among the Hebrews at the time this Psalm was written. Rather, this Psalm seems to be directed at those people who profess a belief in God but who live as though there is none.

I think the number of such “practical Atheists” must be very large in any culture no matter how religious or devout that culture professes itself to be. The majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians, at least in a nominal sense, and many would describe the US as a Christian, or a Judeo-Christian nation. Yet, you would be hard pressed to see much evidence of large numbers of Christians, based on these same Americans personal lives, not to mention our popular culture.

The problem is that many people who state that they believe in God, do not in fact believe in God, at least not in the same way that they believe in the world around them that they can see and feel. God, being imperceptible to the senses, becomes an abstraction, and for many people, the desire to fulfill immediate needs and wants overcomes the desire to follow the will of one who seems to be absent. Think of how the world might be different if God would make himself visible for thirty seconds. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t make a difference at all.

In the Beginning was the Word

December 24, 2012

The Gospel of John does not include the story of the nativity. Instead John goes right to the beginning, the beginning of the world.

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. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:1-18)

Raphael's "School of Athens"

Here they all are.

The Word mentioned in the first verse is a translation of the Greek word λογος (logos). Logos means word in Greek, but it also means reason or thought. Logos is the root of the English word “logic” and the suffix “-ology”, as in biology, geology,astrology. In Greek philosophy logos came to mean the rational principle of the universe. The Greek philosophers taught that the universe is a rational, orderly world that functions according to rational laws rather than by the arbitrary whims of changeable deities. Because the universe itself is rational, its laws and structure may be learned through the use of reason.The Greek philosophers, especially the Stoics who tended to be pantheists, tended to identify this rational principle, or logos, with God, although their conception of God was rather impersonal.

During the Hellenistic Era, Jewish philosophers sought to synthesize Greek philosophy with the Hebrew scriptures and thought. The leading proponent of this effort was Philo of Alexandria who lived from around 20 BC to AD 50. He identified the logos with God’s spoken Word which created the Heavens and the Earth.

Philo of Alexandria

Philo of Alexandria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Gen 1:1-5)

He also identified the logos with God’s wisdom, by which God created the world.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalms 33:4-9)

and

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind. (Proverbs 8:22-31)

In  identifying the logos with divine Wisdom and the divine creative force, Philo seemed to regard the logos almost as a being distinct from God, or perhaps as an separate aspect of God. In this way he seems to have anticipated Christian thinking on the logos. Consider Paul’s statement in Colossians.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:15-20)

John identified Jesus with the logos and Paul with the Wisdom that was present at the creation. In both cases they clearly indicated that Jesus is divine. This then, is the true meaning of Christmas. ( I was getting to that.) Linus was correct to quote Luke to explain the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown, but his explanation was a little incomplete. Jesus was not just a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. Jesus was and is the everlasting God who created the Heavens and the Earth. The true meaning of Christmas is that this God humbled Himself and sent His Son to suffer and die for our salvation.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8)

This seems to have become more of an Easter post than a Christmas one, but I did want to include the Gospel of John. John does not mention the birth of Jesus but I thought it worth mentioning that the birth in Bethlehem is not really the beginning of the story, but the climax, the culmination of God’s intervention in Human history.

 

Democrats Boo God

September 6, 2012

The Democratic Party Platform somehow neglected to mention God in the context of God-given potential as well not affirming the position of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Normally no one pays any attention to party platforms but the Republicans didn’t waste anytime making use of this absence to imply that the Democrats are anti-God and anti-Israel. The Democrats quickly put the language back into the platform with amazing results.

This had to be intensely embarrassing for Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. I am not sure whether the people at the convention are actually booing the mention of God into the platform or the affirmation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Either way, this show a party badly out of step with mainstream American public opinion.

These conventions are supposed to be tightly scheduled affairs with little or nothing left to chance. There shouldn’t be any unpleasant surprises like the one shown in that video. Even worse than the impression that the Democrats are out of touch with mainstream America is the impression that they aren’t able t get their act together.

Will this little embarrassment matter in November? Probably not. By then, it will be long forgotten. But if this is how they are going to run their campaign, then maybe the results won’t even be close.

Digital Bibles

August 23, 2012

 

I read this article in USA Today about the increasing use of digital Bibles in church services.

Not too long ago, the sight of someone using an electronic device during a worship service might lead an observer to assume that person was not fully engaged. But not anymore. Reading the Bible used to mean reading a book, but increasingly, people are getting the Word on smartphones, iPads and other electronic devices.

So then, what will happen to the printed Bible? The last word has not been written on that, but experts speculate that its unchallenged reign is over.

These days I am more apt to take my Kindle to church than an actual printed Bible. One of the first e-books I bought for my Kindle was a Bible and I have always had one on whatever PDA or smart phone I have been using. I find the electronic format very useful since you can have a great many translations, as well as commentaries, dictionaries, and other resources all in one easy to carry package. There do seem to be a few drawbacks.

The Rev. Michael Nabors, pastor of New Calvary Baptist Church in Detroit, has at least 20 hardcover Bibles in the office of his church. He recently began using an iPad during Bible study, but sticks to a hardcover version in the pulpit. He doesn’t think many of his older members would appreciate him using his iPad.

“What if he’s up there preaching and the battery dies or something like that? I hope he has a real Bible next to him, so he can look up what he needs to look up,” said Isabella Howard, 62, of Detroit, a longtime member.

She wouldn’t trade her hardbound Bible for any e-version.

“I feel closer to God with this,” she said referring to her Bible. “I don’t have to plug up anything. All I have to do is open it up and read it.”

For others, there are more liturgical reasons to shun e-Bibles during worship.

A representative of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit said it would be impractical for a priest to use an e-reader during mass because the Holy Book is held high, carried down the aisle and placed for display on the altar as part of the opening of the service.

“It would be really strange to process an iPad down the aisle and place it on the altar,” said Dan McAfee, director of Christian Worship for the archdiocese.

“E-Bibles are great for personal study, but they can’t be used for liturgical books,” he said. “The Bible is a sacred book — a one of a kind — not just a file among many files in an iPad.”

I guess having a priest holding up an iPad during a Catholic mass would be a little like replacing the candles with little electric lights. You could do it, but the effect wouldn’t be quite the same. I would imagine that some of the more enthusiastic preachers who handle a Bible during sermons might be wary of dropping an expensive e-reader.

In my opinion it is the words in Scripture that are important and the physical medium through which we read those words is not very important, so I do not feel the sentimental attachment to the printed Bible, nor do I feel that I am missing anything even though the Bible I read is one file among many on my kindle. The Bible was probably one of the first books produced in codex form, as opposed to the scrolls of ancient times, and was the first book printed in the West. It is only proper that it is prominent among e-books.

 

 


%d bloggers like this: