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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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Theistic Evolution

God, Prayer, and Randomness

From a mathematical and practical standpoint, it seems that randomness and probabilities undergird the foundations of our universe.  (See here for an intro. ). Even for those things which are not TRULY random (like the outcome of a flip of the coin, which is really determined by a whole set of variables), the amount of complexity involved in seemingly random occurrences (such as the chance of a thunderstorm on a specific place and date a decade from now) is so overwhelming that these things are best described in terms of chaos theory and its probabilities and fractals.  (Our inability to exactly calculate Pi even after finding trillions of digits is an example of this complexity.)

RANDOMNESS and PRAYER

tile-193295_640As a believer in Christ, one of the things I noticed when I was younger and just beginning to really pray about things was that most often, answers to prayer just seemed like a string of really good “luck.”  Most of the time when we pray, nothing occurs that actually seems to break any natural laws (like limbs growing out, or objects materializing out of thin air.). Most of the time, it just ends up seeming like things went better than we could have expected them to go, with a line-up of freak coincidences and really impossible-to-conjecture happy occurrences just line up in.a way that leaves us in awe and praising God for how our prayers were heard.

Sometimes the string of “good luck” borders on the edge of ridiculous.   I’ll never forget the time in my teens that I decided I wanted to SEE an angel and locked myself in my room for hours doing nothing but tarrying in prayer over this, holding to Jesus’s promise that if we asked for ANYTHING in His name, it would be done for us.  While praying for so long, I had my eyes open and was staring into my aquarium as something to absent-mindedly look at while praying.   Hours into this prayer marathon, with not a soul in the world including my family having any idea what I was focused on that day and no previous discussions about it with anyone, my mom who had been gone all day long while I was doing this, uncharacteristically had a random thought to go to the pet store and buy me two new fish — angel fish — for my aquarium.

angel-fish-57060_640 It interrupted my prayers when she got home so I took a break to help her unload groceries and then put the bag floating in my tank to let the fish acclimate to the tank water, and ultimately shut my door and resumed my prayer, staring once again into my fish tank absently, until about 10 minutes in I realized I was looking right at “angels” that hadn’t been there when I started praying.  Ok, well, I certainly wasn’t expecting ANGELfish, while begging the Lord to let me see an angel.   Honestly, I was amused and angry at the same time, as I realized that for whatever reason, the joke was on me, as God demonstrated that He heard my prayer AND pretty much played with the semantics of my request to pull a joke on me which I was shocked to find out He might do.  

Again, when prayer seems to result in a ridiculous string of “good luck” – another time much later on, my husband went for a couple weeks without work and our finances were stretched, and for various reasons we also couldn’t use our kitchen so we were having to eat out.  While we prayed for the Lord to please bring him calls for work to provide for our bills, during that week our seeming “good luck” left us rejoicing in awe of the Lord’s kindness in the “ether” of the universe — a malfunctioning coupon code at one restaurant gave us our entire meal for free; at another restaurant, they mistakingly put mustard on something we asked for no mustard on, so they decided to fix the order AND give us 50% our entire meal.  And on and on, until it was literally ridiculous and happy.

These are the types of occurrences that could never be used in an apologetics debate to prove God to someone who doesn’t believe, but for those who already believe, the seeming “good fortune” that occurs when praying about stuff can be pretty amazing.  And yet accusations of “confirmation bias” might rightly be applied; which really only further underscores the point I wish to make – that overall, much of the time, God’s observed interactions with the physical universe are so subtle that they really look no different at all than the general randomness in the midst of overwhelming complexity that surrounds our existences.  And yet, answered prayer seems to put us on the “good luck” side of that incalculable, immeasurable, randomness.

evilIt should be mentioned that Curses, spiritual opposition, and general spiritual negativity seem to work like that too, though.  For instance, people are often aware that when they try to step out in some direction in life for the purpose of bringing freedom to people long held in some sort of oppressive bondage, that often they experience a string of “bad luck” and everything going wrong — as if some invisible force was pushing back at them for trying to see others get set free from things.

The apostle Paul said in 1 Thess 2:17-18:

“Brothers, although we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in heart), our desire to see you face to face was even more intense. For we wanted to come to you—indeed I, Paul, tried again and again—but Satan obstructed us….”  

 

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This of course leaves open all sorts of room for interpretation — while one person might see a string of negative occurrences as “satan obstructing them” from a course of action, another person might see the same type of circumstance as God trying to show them to make a different decision about what they are doing.  (The whole, “Open doors you want me to go through, God, and shut the ones you don’t,” sort of prayers that people sometimes pray, usually mean those people will take resistance not as a sign that satan is resisting them, but that God has “shut a door.”  I personally usually don’t lean towards assuming everything that happens is from God.)

worship-435108_640How can one know what is truly going on, whether general “flack” kicking up from the universe is just truly random, or perhaps a warning from God, or even a sign that one is headed in a right direction that evil forces don’t like?   That’s a long discussion for a different blog post — one about divine guidance, discernment of spirits, and hearing God.   But the short answer is that in my opinion, one can never make a decision based on circumstances alone; but must listen to the Holy Spirit to get His perspective, as different spirits (both God or evil spirits) can be responsible for things going on around us.  We can learn though that we are supposed to have some role though in making such decisions from the apostle Paul who confidently asked other believers to join with him to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful, as you pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word [notice no prayers here for closed doors], so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may declare it clearly, as I should.…” (Colossians 4:3)

THE UNIVERSE ON AUTOMATIC

games-2025663_640All that aside, what about the kid who gets cancer, or the family killed in a freak car accident?  What about when prayer doesn’t “work” at all, and instead of a string of good luck, everything goes terribly wrong, or nothing much happens at all?  Is God (or satan) always to blame for the effects of seeming randomness?

As I learned about probability and chaos theory and brought some of those ideas into my faith, one time I felt God was inviting me to go to a casino with Him.  (I seldom go to casinos but all things are permissible — in moderation. 😃 ).   From that experience and multiple other “experiments” with randomness and probability, my opinion at the moment is this:  

Most of the time, the universe just runs on automatic, albeit with Christ holding all things together.  Most of the time, randomness is really just pretty random, with no One or ones specifically interacting with it.  

BUT — It seems as if randomness is a place that God can hide yet emerge, when He wants to exert His influence, yet in a seemingly inconspicuous way.  Most often, God’s exertion of His power is in conjunction with prayer, as God generally acts in conjunction with His human representatives, His kingdom of “kings and priests” on the Earth.  Those of us who are in the midst of developing intimacy and friendship with Him can ask and watch for these emergings, and participate with Him in seeing them happen as we dialogue with Him about His will and desires.  But most of the time even when God does do something unusual, He cloaks Himself with plausible deniability, so that only those with “eyes to see” really know that He has done something, and those whose eyes are still closed to Him can go on dismissing Him.  

explosion-123690_640Why He does that, I don’t know if anyone can be sure; we all would love every moment to be like Elijiah before the prophets of Baal, putting God on full display with fire falling from Heaven in impossible ways, in plain view of those who don’t believe so that their coming to believe would be easy.   But God doesn’t usually go for the full out, “breaking the laws of nature” power display….

(Although, sometimes, sometimes, He cracks right through the fabric of our mundane random reality with something completely out of this world, and undeniably freakish stuff happens.  Or does He?  Maybe in those cases He just operates within really, really, really good probabilities, so good that trillions of particles in the probability of quantum physics just “happen” to line up with creating a new organ or something…But whether it breaks the laws of physics or is just freakishly quantumly normal, this is really rare compared to what we’d often want it to be.).

My sense of this is just that God is Spirit, and He desires people to know Him in Spirit, so He hides Himself much of the time so that the only way He can truly be perceived is Spirit to Spirit.   Because even if someone comes to believe in Him because of experiencing something material of Him directly with the eyes of their flesh, somehow then they still have a hurdle of getting past what they experienced in outward terms to really still apprehending Him with the gaze of their inner Spirit.  (2 Corinthians 5:16)

RANDOMNESS AND THEISTIC EVOLUTION 

shell-219665_640There are considerations involving these topics when it comes to God using the randomness inherent to evolution to create all life on Earth. While evolution is not completely truly random but is a stochastic process operating under many filters and constraints, nevertheless there is enough randomness for one to refer to it as relying on probability and chance and be fairly correct.   Often young-earth creationists will take this as a basis to object to a belief in evolutionary creation/theistic evolution, which because of randomness is in their mind being synonymous with a view that “God isn’t a Creator” or that miracles don’t happen.

But, as discussed above, God lives inside randomness and probability, and it is one of His favorite means of interacting with the material realm.   If we are happy with answers to prayer that seem like nothing more than “good luck” while we indeed perceive that the “good luck” came from Heaven, while is it so unthinkable to concede that the mechanism of God’s direct action as Creator might involve Him breathing on probabilities and chances, even creating the fabric of probability and randomness itself?

nature-1571717_640When we speak of God “sending the rain” upon a place in response to prayer, do we think the rain came deliberately through some supernatural storehouse of precipitation, or can we speak of God sending precipitation knowing that He uses the same general random and chaotic occurrences that direct the weather on any other given day?  I’d like to submit that the well-known “butterfly effect” — that a butterfly flapping its wings one day one one continent could be the tiny variable that when mixed with all the others ends up producing a hurricane in some other place — could just as easily be seen any tiny intervention from God, resulting in Homo sapiens and all other life on Earth.

God working from the hidden places of randomness is no less an act of creation than anything construed from a literal historical reading of Genesis 1 and 2; and in fact serves only to demonstrate His indescribable wisdom and power in being able to use incredibly complex and long-running processes towards His desired ends.   For this, we praise the God of all life and all Creation, of all rain and all snow, and Creator of all the beautiful fractal patterns and outliers of this universe with all its probabilities and randomness.

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~HGM

 

 

 

 

 

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Gideon and the Scientific Method

Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said,  behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.  Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.”  And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.  – Judges 6:36-40


Young Earth Creationists often criticize the theory of evolution saying basically that the scientific method requires that science must be observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable, and since no one can go back and watch all of Earth’s creatures evolving all over again, evolution cannot be scientifically valid.

But the story of Gideon asks some questions about the nature of Divine Revelation in return.    Gideon existed long before the “scientific method” was formalized into any known texts of the Near East or western civilization, but his logic as he approached God for confirmation of divine revelation showed that he had at least a rudimentary appreciation for some of the logical elements used by scientists today – namely, the concept of a “control” – an area of the experiment in which no variable is being tested, and nothing is expected to change in the course of the experiment.

Gideon’s “control” the first time he conducted his experiment, was the ground around the fleece – he asks for the fleece to be wet, thus the “control” – the ground the fleece is in contact with, needed to be dry.   He then repeats the experiment, but this time asks for the ground to be wet, and the fleece serves as the control – it ought to remain dry.

While there are flaws in his experiment from a modern standpoint, the attempt at using an experimental portion in contrast to a control portion in this experiment, is an extremely scientific way for Gideon to attempt to verify what he believes God has spoken to him.

Thus, the question:   Does the theory of evolution provide for predictions to be made, and experiments to be made, that would be true if the theory is true?  If there is no way to go back and test the evolution of all life on earth directly, by having it happen all over again while an observer observes, can we set up OTHER experiments and make other predictions that are congruent with things we would expect to find if evolution is true?   Almost the entire scientific community on the planet would say yes, and thousands and thousands of experiments and predictions have been confirmed since the theory was first imagined.

But it doesn’t end there.   Just as we can’t go back and watch evolution unfold across the millenia, we can’t go back and watch to see if God really created everything in 6 days about 6000 years ago, either.   Gideon’s “scientific testing of God’s word” sets up the idea that Divine Revelation is not immune from being tested; that God Himself is willing to participate in appropriately designed experiments that confirm whether or not He is being heard and understood correctly.

Therefore I would submit several ideas:

1 – the same predictions and experiments across the global scientific community that test the hypothesis of evolutionary theory and all its attached ideas, are simultaneously testing our understanding of how to read, understand, and believe the Divine Revelation in Genesis 1.   New “fleeces” do not need to be invented; humanity has been putting them out everyday.

2 – It is not only the theory of evolution that is worth testing; a literal historical reading of Genesis is also worth testing.   Gideon tested to make sure he both had and understood Divine Revelation correctly – so should we.   If, no matter how many experiments and predictions scientists made, nothing seemed to line up with that predicted by evolutionary theory, then a serious crisis would exist for evolution but not for young earth creationism.   But since it is the other way, it is young earth creationism that must be the misunderstanding or misapprehending of Divine Revelation, not the other way around.

3 – It is not appropriate to test evolution using supernatural tests, as evolution is not a supernatural theory.   Thus, “make the ground wet while the fleece is dry” is not an appropriate test for evolution.  Make the ground wet while the fleece is dry, and make the fleece wet while the ground is dry” was not a test Gideon was making to test natural law, but to test to see if something supernatural would happen in the natural realm to confirm his understanding of God’s word, a word promising supernatural assistance that would change the natural realm.   


4 – Testing God is authorized in scripture.   (Malachi 3:10) It is often confused however with Jesus saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”   There is a difference between testing, confirming what has been spoken, and testing the spirits of a word, and “putting God to the test.”  Putting God to the test has to do with sinning and pitting a promise of God against a sin.  Thus, Jesus throwing himself down from the temple (committing suicide, a sin) being pitted against his word to uphold Jesus from dashing his foot against a stone, would be an attempt to tempt God to affirm sin.   This was what Jesus was against.

In short, it is laughable for Young Earth Creationists to insist evolution cannot be valid because…science…..while insisting their reading of Genesis is valid because….divine revelation…..especially when divine revelation itself, in the example of Gideon, says that even Divine Revelation can be tested.   The important thing is having the right test for the job.   When scores of tests everyday are already done on evolutionary theory as a natural theory and it stands strong using natural means, the scientific evidence points to evolution.   

For a more in-depth discussion of Gideon’s fleece and science, check out this cool article I found:
http://knowledge.e.southern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=jbffl

What Does it Mean to be “In the Image of God?”

When the topic of evolution and the Bible is brought up, one of the many concerns people have is how that fits with humans being “in the image of God.”   But before we can go there, we have to address the underlying question:  What does it mean to be “in the image of God” anyway?

For years and years and in different movements and corners of the body of Christ, I have heard this question asked and answered in many different ways.   Let’s look at some of the ideas I have heard, and then I’ll share what I believe Genesis implies about the topic.

Theory A:  God is three parts, and so are we
In the charismatic church, many leaders and teachers put emphasis on teaching about the Tripartite (three-fold) nature of humans.    This comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where people are refered to as being “Spirit, Soul, and Body” – as well as other scriptures alluding to this metaphysical anatomy.    I also believe humans are tripartite, and I did a whole investigation of the topic here.

So, in many areas of the charismatic church, I have heard it taught that humans being composed of three parts is what it means for us to be “made in the image of God.”

While this three-ness is indeed a similarity between humanity and God, I don’t think it actually is a good identification of what Genesis is implying when it first mentions humans are made in God’s image.   There’s nothing in the immediate context of the passage to suggest three-in-one is the main point of being made in God’s image, nor is there anything about being three-in-one in any other verse about being in the likeness of God in the rest of the Bible.   So to make this the main point of “being made in the image of God” is maybe as a conjecture and musing based on disconnected scriptural ideas, but I’m not sure it’s really the best case in the context of the passages where the actual ideas of “the likeness of God” are presented.   If there were nothing else to go on, I’d say its workable and there’s nothing specifically wrong with it – other than that it tends to overshadow the obvious and immediate meanings which I’ll get to later.

But the other problem with it as the dominant theory on Imago Dei (the image of God) being specifically about being in “three parts” is that this setup is not exclusive to humans.   Animals are also repeatedly referred to in the Bible as being “souls” (although English translations tend to obscure this badly; do a study on the Hebrew word nephesh for more clarity) and obviously they have bodies, and less often (sparsely, but it is there) they are referred to as having spirits.   So if animals are three-part beings too, it might bode well for discussing the implications and validity of evolution in theological circles, but it still doesn’t help arrive at what this unique, “being in the image of God” thing is that is supposed to be a specifically human thing.

Leaving my charismatic brethren, we’ll go to a theory I hear often from mainline and non-charismatic evangelical Christians:

 

Theory B: God is a moral agent, and So Are We

I don’t know what the hangup is …or love affair…that the church has with God and morality, as if the be-all of God and man is morality, but here it shows up again in this theory.   (I’ve written before of how I think it’s an unfortunately bad apologetic to try to “prove” God with the “morality exists, therefore a moral God must exist” line – see here, but this seems another symptom of the same obsession.)  While the entire gospel is about how we fail so desperately in terms of moral righteousness and that grace is the answer to it all, we still hang on to thinking morality is the highest aspect of humanity.  Our obsession with morality is right up there with why we as the church often seem to think the Ten Commandments needs to be displayed on secular government property, but I digress.   From here we tend to go to arguments and discussions about whether or not animals can display true empathy, or morality, with some presenting arguments that actually seem to be “yes” to some degree or another, while others hold out saying those animals don’t quite meet the human standard (obviously, as they are not human.)  But this is probably all very unnecessary.

Surely God is really into fairness and justice, truth, law-giving, and most specifically keeping His own oaths, but you’d be hard pressed to define Him as specifically “moral” by any usual definition of the word (that might be a topic for another day.)  But if you want to use the word “moral” to describe God, you’d have to note that the God of the Old Testament assumes all rights to transcend human morality and stand somewhat over and above it.   At any rate, we’ll save all those moral questions and debates about God for another day but….

Let’s just note that in Genesis, the promise of “knowing good from evil” is not something that Adam and Eve were endowed with as part of being “made in God’s image.”  Instead, the ability to become moral agents was something that another being, other than God, first offered Adam and Eve AFTER they were designed and created.   (Until then, humanity’s only morality was to do as God says and not do as God forbids, rather than figuring out good and evil for themselves.)

Why then, “being able to make moral decisions” would therefore be considered as what it means to be made in the image of God is beyond me, as the very concept seems uncannily like a repetition of the very lie that satan offered to Eve, “You shall be like God, knowing good from evil.”  While perhaps this is a type of “being like God” – it does not seem to have been the specific likeness of Himself that God was aiming for during the creation of humans in Genesis, but rather a similarity to God perhaps that came later as an add-on via the forbidden fruit, after the fact.  At any rate, to view humans as “moral like God”  seems almost like a Deist perspective to me, or perhaps a hangover from the enlightenment period’s humanist view of humankind.

 

Theory C: God has arms and legs and stuff, so, so do we
I’m not sure this theory is worth covering but since I’ve heard and read people arguing for it, it doesn’t hurt I guess to mention it.   Most folks read the Bible and when it speaks of God having hands or nostrils or whatever normally “human” body parts may be ascribed to Him, they see this as anthropomorphism.  But that wouldn’t be everyone’s viewpoint.   Instead, some folks see physical attributes of humans being a reflection of some sort of metaphysical anatomy that God has.  Ok, sure, why not?   I can’t say for sure what “shape” God’s spiritual form takes.  But still, I don’t think this is what Genesis is aiming at when it talks about male and female being made in God’s image. Why not?

(Because in my opinion,)

Genesis actually makes it fairly clear what it means to be “made in God’s image” right in the context of the first mention of the notion.

So here’s theory D:
Being made in God’s image means taking dominion over the Earth.

Ok, I can see why this theory isn’t particularly attractive.   After all, the word “dominion” generally isn’t a very nice sounding word unless you’re playing a first person shooter video game or something.  And that’s just it: the dominion mandate in Genesis has to be one of the most abused concepts in all of Christianity.   Sinful humanity, and particularly religiously sinful humanity, has a way of really messing up anytime it has rights to power.

But that’s what’s there in Genesis:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28 RSV

God is the ruler of the universe, the head honcho, the one who is greater than all of creation, and he makes humans – to be His representatives on the Earth.   They are the top of the food chain…errr…wait, that’s not what I meant – but they are the leaders of all the animal kingdom and all the created realm, as an echo (or image) of God’s leadership.

Adam is made both high priest and high king in Eden, along with his bride Eve.   Together they are going to rule the galaxy (or small patch of Earth…whatever people knew about at that point in time.)  In short, Adam and Eve are proxies – God’s government on Earth.  (At least pictured so before the “fall.”)

And there are extensions of this.   Jonathan David and Melissa Helser come to mind as they have an entire ministry geared towards releasing the creativity of musicians and artists and basically everyone who will listen – and one of their main points of teaching is that God is Creative, and so humans walking in true creativity is our inheritance as the image-bearers of the Father.   I see this as an extension of the dominion theme – because one of the reasons that God is the one who has dominion is that He created everything one way or another – and so humans being creative therefore the more beautiful form of “taking dominion” in the Earth than that previously mentioned first-person shooter game would conjure up.  Of course, stewardship, kindness, meekness (for these inherit the Earth), these are all Biblical themes about what the responsibility of having “dominion” actually looks like…and of course as the Helsers would remind us, beauty and creativity.

When I told my friends on FB I was writing on this topic, several stepped up to bring forth this very theory, and to also introduce me to the writing of Mike Heiser.   Here follows my friend Eric Weiss’s quote introducing me to Mike (thank you Eric and Mike):

Dr. Michael S. Heiser, Hebrew and ANE scholar for Logos Bible Software, says that the phrase means to be given authority to act as God’s representative. I.e., being made in God’s image meant that mankind was in charge of God’s earth and God’s creation:
“This last example directs us to what the Hebrew preposition translated in means in Genesis 1:26. Humankind was created as God’s image. If we think of imaging as a verb or function, that translation makes sense. We are created to image God, to be his imagers. It is what we are by definition. The image is not an ability we have, but a status. We are God’s representatives on earth. To be human is to image God.
“This is why Genesis 1:26–27 is followed by what theologians call the “dominion mandate” in verse 28. The verse informs us that God intends us to be him on this planet. We are to create more imagers (“be fruitful and multiply … fill”) in order to oversee the earth by stewarding its resources and harnessing them for the benefit of all human imagers (“subdue … rule over”).”

So why the heck does any of this matter?

Because there is theory E, which I’ll call the “theory of all the theories.”

Theory E:
Jesus is the ultimate “image of God”.

For just as Adam (and Eve) were the image of God which became corrupted, Jesus (and those who ultimately rule with Him as His bride) is the image of God, uncorrupted – in a NEW CREATION.   Just as Jesus said to the Pharisees that Abraham was not their father as they were claiming, because they didn’t ACT like Abraham would have acted, so also we have failed to really be God’s proxies and look and act like Him in this creation.   But there is a new Adam (and Eve) and a new creation, and this one is not corrupted.   This one will see a New Heaven and New Earth ruled over in all the beauty that God ever intended.   And Jesus, as human and new Adam, laid down His life as the ultimate act of selflessness, dominion taking turned on its head in the truest way.

And this, this is ultimately what it means to be in the Image of God.

 

Literal Jesus?

When I talk with people about how Genesis 1 and 2, or the flood narrative, or other assorted things in Scripture are not literal history, the number one concern that people tend to bring up fairly quickly goes something along the lines of (with a huge note of caution, concern, and alarm) :

“Wait – if you don’t take Genesis 1 and 2 literally, then how do you know what else in the Bible to not take literally – and how are you sure that Jesus is a literal person and His story should be taken literally??”

Right.  Well, first, I don’t always know in every case what in the Bible is literal, what is literal while simultaneously figurative, and what is just not.   I’ll just be honest and put that out there.   But as to Jesus being literal, I think most people asking this question might already sort of have a sense of the answer, because as I write it it’s going to seem almost too easy I think.   But fear has a way of blinding us to truths we already know, so sometimes encouragement is just the voice which reminds us of what we DO know, unencumbered by those fears.   But here is my reply:

“….the substance belongs to Christ.”        

Colossians 2:17

Ok, end of blog post.  🙂

No way, that would be my shortest blog post ever!    So let’s look at this a little deeper. Now, it just doesn’t work to go backwards on this – to say that, “In order for Jesus to be real, we have to claim that Genesis 1 & 2 must be literally real too” might seem to have noble motives behind it, but it’s just not a good path to go down.   Jesus’s reality does not hinge on Genesis – rather, Genesis’s reality hinges on Him.  After all, if Jesus isn’t real, most Christians aren’t going to give a hill of beans if Genesis is (at least until the dust settles for them somewhere between Atheism and Judaism.)   And if Genesis indeed isn’t plain history, me lying about it to prop up Jesus’s reality is bound to get us all into hot water sooner or later, and just isn’t generally the type of foundation anyone would want Jesus to have for a claim to His reality.

But again:

“….the substance belongs to Christ.”        

Colossians 2:17

  So to elucidate: In the context of the verse above from Colossians, the topic is about practicing rituals from the the Old Testament (the Torah) like the Sabbath or New Moon or what have you – and that these things have their place, but that Jesus is more “real” than all of those (aka, He is the real, the fulfillment, the actuality of what all those things are.)

Here are more verses on the same general tone, this time from the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 8:5
They [people living out the instructions of the books of Moses] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 9:22-24
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood,and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

Hebrews 10:1
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

We know that Jesus during His Earthly ministry showed up and had this strong preference for speaking in parables and stories.   We tend to think that this is a uniquely Jesus-y thing – that everything in the Bible is stone cold factual reality and history (except for poetry, of course) apart from Jesus’s very unique and quirky way of getting a point across.   AND, we tend to believe that Jesus told stories in order to really “get at the heart” – to really, truly, illustrate a point in a way that a straightforward teaching might not be able to.   But this isn’t what Jesus or the writers of scriptures had to say about the reason for this style of revelation.   As uncomfortable as it may be to consider, it seems Jesus’s motivations in story-telling were more about a motive to CONCEAL, than to reveal:

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables.  And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”  Mark 4:10-12


This is, by the way, a fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 6:and 6:9

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”  He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’

Now, why on Earth or in Heaven God would have such a motive is well beyond the scope of this blog post, and I’ll be up front and say I’m not even going to claim to have a real grasp on it either.  But the idea that God has some delight in concealing things is also seen here:

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” ~ Proverbs 25:2

So we have Jesus, concealing truth by using parables.   Could – Would – God the Father also use parables, stories that conceal truth, stories that are God-breathed but not literally historically true (nor even immediately clear in their intended meanings and use?)  We are told that Jesus is the fulness of God in flesh, and the express image of His person and that “did nothing He did not see His Father doing” – that in fact, He and the Father are One.  So could – would – God the Father possibly do similar things?

 

Actually it’s not totally the right question to ask – it’s not a matter of whether or not God would do the same things as His Son, but whether or not His Son was pretty much walking in His Father’s footsteps – doing the same things His Father always does, had already done.

So we gotta ask the question:  What is WITH this shadowy, copy tabernacle stuff anyway?   Have you ever asked, “Why bother?”   Or, “Why would God do it that way – set up an entire religion for thousands of years when that who system wasn’t even His main goal?”  He is an incredible concealer, isn’t HE?  While at the same exact time an amazing Teacher.

sky-690293_640It depends in part of whether someone has the key to open the mystery. He seems to be able to teach and reveal while hiding and concealing in the very same breath.   He’s a God who surrounds Himself with clouds of darkness, but is Himself a blazing light.  He’s a God who veils Himself, then splits the veil and becomes the way through it, for some it is taken away completely.  And yet for others the veil is never gone.

Maybe it’s unseemly to focus on such things, after all, people are already questioning God’s character and motives in the blogosphere without me bringing up more uncomfortable things about how He does His God-thing.    But while I’m not going to explain too much of the whys, let’s just take a good look at the thing and acknowledge that it’s there in Scripture – because it is.

So here in Psalm 78 is what my friend calls, “The Case of the Missing Parable.”   Asaph starts out announcing that he’s about to tell a parable, a dark saying:

Psalm 78:1-4      A Maskil of Asaph.

 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth!

  I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old,

 things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers have told us.

 We will not hide them from their children,

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,

and the wonders that he has done.

And then you can read the rest, all 72 verses which recount seemingly no dark sayings or parables whatsoever, just the seemingly literal, plain, historical (and if I’ll be honest, a bit boring) retelling of the history of the people of Israel and God’s works among them.  My mischievous friend likes to read the whole long wordy thing aloud (which takes several minutes) to folks he ends up having this discussion with, and then matter-of-factly closes the book and looks up innocently enough to shrug and say, “Where’s the parable?”

Maybe we shouldn’t make too much out of Psalm 78’s parable – or maybe we should make a whole lot out of it.  Maybe we should just read it as a subtle hint from a God who conceals things and tantalizes His Kings and Priests to seek Him out.

So let’s bring this full circle:

We know that Christ is the fulfillment of all that went before Him, of everything in the Scriptures.   We know that He *is* the substance, the reality.   We know our salvation is found in Him, not in the first Adam, nor in Abraham, nor in Moses or even in King David.   We know it’s not altars made with tools, circumcisions made with hands, temples made by men, or the blood of bulls and goats that means anything.   It’s not the keeping of days, it’s not the eating or abstention from certain foods, and it’s not even physical bloodlines from Abraham that makes someone a real child of God.   So why are we so entirely horrified and frightened to think that these things we know are shadows and types and copies might not even in some cases even be “real?”

Screenshot 2016-04-18 at 1.37.51 PMWhen the sun shines on you as you walk down the street, does it matter to you if your shadow on the ground has a real beating heart in it, or if it is a real person?    And if you went to your kid’s school and there was a show for all the kids involving shadow puppets, are you going to get upset and feel your child was deceived if you find out that the shadow puppets were just some lady’s hands?

If you were, you’d seem at best really…silly.   And at worst, really unhinged.

Kids are OK with enjoying and learning from shadow puppets.   The ancient Hebrews were OK with Ancient Near East Creation Mythology.   Then in the “fulness of time” when God decided His people were at the right point in the timeline, the lights came on and the shadow puppets disappeared.

Sort of.   Yes, the REAL was finally here.   But even He couldn’t stop telling stories that weren’t exactly literal reality…because, that’s just not how it’s done – and it’s not the Way He is.   But He the Story Teller – and the Story Himself – were and are and ever will be completely real, to the point of being the very nature and substance of Reality “I am Who I am” Himself.

 

That Time Jesus Appealed to Scientific Observation

Yeah, it happened:

1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.  (Matthew 16-ish)

Jesus found it pretty inconsistent that the Pharisees and Sadducees had some understanding of how the natural world works, but couldn’t apply that same logic and analysis to their understanding of the place they were at on the scriptural calendar.   In other words:  knowing how to interpret the natural world – what today we would consider scientific observation – should be a parallel to and HELP, not hinder, our ability to understand the scriptures and spiritual things.

Some of the early church fathers (most notably Augustine) understood other scriptures AND from the world around them that Genesis was not a literal account of the creation of the world – and they did not have modern science – not the theory of evolution, nor genetics, nor biology, nor archaeology, nor carbon dating, to make this suggestion to them.   Now that we do have all these things, it is not wrong to allow them to influence us away from particular scientifically-untenable interpretations of Genesis – as well as to note that scripture itself contains clues that it is able to be and often should be read non-literally.   (More on that in future posts.)

physics-140901_640“You know how to read the human genome, you know how to date human remains, you know how to use nuclear energy and therefore understand radiometric dating, and travel in outer space, yet you cannot perceive that Genesis is not literal history?”

Ok, it’s not a verse, but, there is some rationale for the paraphrase, methinks.

Other useful reading:
Reading Scripture in Light of Modern Science (from ICAST)

http://www.reasons.org/articles/coming-to-grips-with-the-early-church-fathers-perspective-on-genesis-part-1-of-5

http://biologos.org/common-questions/biblical-interpretation/early-interpretations-of-genesis

Non-historical Adam and Eve, and original sin

I got in an unplanned discussion with a friend today about Adam and Eve and not taking Genesis 1 and 2 literally.   I’ve written about my views on that before but there are some rubber-meets-the-road questions about how the gospel segues with that viewpoint, that I am asked pretty routinely.   The difference is that today I took the time to write out some replies, which I thought I would share here.

My friend asked the million dollar question (or posed the million dollar objection, whichever 🙂 ) which was:

When you remove the idea that there was a literal Adam and Eve from the picture, you set up a scenario that says Original Sin does not actually exist. In other words if there were other human beings who had been born before the Fall, then there’s still a race out there that hasn’t fallen potentially and therefore does not need a savior?”  

Image

My first reply to my friend was thus:

“This is somewhat off the main topic of what you are bringing up, but just for the record: “original sin” is a term that is somewhat modern compared to antiquity, and postdates the break of the eastern church from Catholicism – the entire Eastern Orthodox church doesn’t believe in “original sin” but something called “ancestral sin” which is a somewhat different spin on the topic – not particularly relevant to a discussion of whether or not Adam and Eve are the first humans, but worth mentioning nonetheless. (http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/ancestral_versus_original_sin)

Since that has next to nothing to do with the main discussion here but is offered just as an informative freebee, I just thought I’d throw it out there, hit send, and then reply to what you’re actually writing about.   I’m not mentioning this because I believe in the Eastern Orthodox perspective per se, but simply to point out that there are a lot of unexamined ideas that we inherit as Christians about something even as seemingly straightforward as our belief in “original sin” which turns out to be not so straightforward as we’d like it to be, after all.  ”

Then I hit send, and wrote my next post, the one that everyone wants to dig into anyway: 

I personally don’t believe that removing a literal Adam and Eve from the picture sets up a scenario that original sin doesn’t not actually exist, at least, not in a way that would deny the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice – because I think the Adam and Eve story is parable, it’s meaning is to reveal truth – truth about Gods reasons for sending His son. Just as like 2 chapters later in Genesis we read stuff like, “Jubal was the father of all who play the pipe” and “Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” I don’t take to means that anyone who ever played the pipe, or lived in a tent and has livestock, is literally the descendants of one of these two guys (and why? because when the [literal,  proportedly worldwide]  flood came, everyone would have been wiped out except Noah’s descendants, and unless Noah was descended from all three guys…this isn’t talking about NATURAL descent, but spiritual descent. )

If we’re going to interpret scripture with scripture, then we need to look about how scripture interprets what it means to be “the father” or “the mother” of someone – and if two chapters after Adam and Eve, we see scripture speaking metaphorically about what it means to be someone’s descendent, that should give us something to chew on. Sin is transmitted through spiritual descent, just as righteousness is transmitted through spiritual descent. Sin resides in the flesh, but so also can righteousness reside in the flesh (the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.) Just as in Christ, “all are made alive” through yes, “one man” – one is not a physical descendant of Christ in order to inherit His righteousness. Neither does one have to be a literally physical descendant of the “one man Adam” to inherit his spiritual unrighteousness. This is one of the reasons that Jesus could rail at the pharisees and tell them that they weren’t children of Abraham when push came to shove:

John 8 38-39, ESV: “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.…”

Sure, they were physically literal descendants of Abraham, but what counts in the spirit realm is who one is spiritually descended from. To be a descendant of Abraham is to descend from the faith of Abraham, not from the flesh of Abraham.  Likewise, Adam *means* man, Eve means *woman*: He represents the condition of the flesh which is not choosing the tree of life (Jesus) to eat from but rather the knowledge of good and evil (earthly morality/the conscience without the Spirit of God.) – the Adam and Eve story, among other things, is revealing the condition of a human without a vital connection by the Spirit to the life of God in the Heavenlies.

So, there was my answer.   I didn’t really get into the issue of whether or not there were other people around before “Adam and Eve” although I think the age old question of “Who did Cain marry?” hints at that.   But it wasn’t important to go there, because the main idea of why it even matters is in the above material.   Of course, I find that I learn the best as I discuss my viewpoints and others viewpoints together, so feel free to add or question or tweek or say anything at all as long as it is respectful and civil, below 🙂

For more reading, I appreciated this post:
http://tamedcynic.org/do-you-have-to-believe-in-original-sin-to-be-a-christian/

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