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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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hermeneutics

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

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

Coping with Pain, Theological Preferences

A few years back, when a tornado ripped through Oklahoma killing a bunch of elementary school children and others, John Piper famously came under fire for tweeting a verse from Job about Job’s children being suddenly killed.   The outrage over his tweet, and how insensitive many viewed it to be, took the internet by storm in hours – to the point where Piper himself uncharacteristically deleted it.

As a somewhat neutral observer, I thought then and have chewed on it fairly often since then, that it was interesting to see how people cope with loss theologically – and what ways they are offended theologically at the same time.   The wild thing about it is that it is really completely DIFFERENT from one person to the next, and from one subculture to the next, how we want to, and don’t want to, see God’s role when we suffer.   It’s almost like a love-language thing.

For some people, from some backgrounds, there is nothing more comforting when going through trauma than the idea that God has a plan for it – in fact, that God even sent it.   While I don’t hear this view as often as I used to, it’s still firmly held by many as their source of strength when something goes terribly wrong.   A few years back, some friends of mine were in a horrible car accident and their infant child was killed.   In the days and months following, they spoke passionately about being comforted in knowing that God was sovereign, and that He had a plan for this.   For them, the theme of TRUST in a God who knew what He was doing in the midst of tragedy – either by causing it or allowing it, helped them get through it all and get back on their feet.

For other people, however, the idea that God could behind such a thing, whether actively or passively, just shatters any sense that they have that God is trustworthy at all – so they just don’t go there.   For these folks, if someone attempted to comfort them in a time of tragedy or loss with the words, “God has a plan in this,” that person bringing that word might have to duck and cover.   So where do these folks see God in pain?   More likely, they see God as their ally against the enemy that caused it – whether they perceive the enemy to be a personal enemy, such as satan, or a generalized enemy, such as “the randomness of life and nature” or “the corruption of the Fall.”  For them, God is there as the One who we can take our pain to and find perfect sympathy and encouragement through it.   For these folks, the universe is not operating according to a sovereign plan of God, but it is either broken, or if not broken, just not quite tame – and thus bad things happen that are really no one’s fault.   Yet in the midst of that, God understands our loss – He is there to lean on, and to comfort us as a good friend or parent might.  He is there to help us have the strength to get up, dust ourselves off, and go on to conquer the challenge that the trauma has thrown us.

moore-112783_1280The wild thing is that people usually don’t realize that their agitation at how other people make sense of trauma and tragedy is a preference.   Wars could be (and have been) started over this stuff in theological corners – because there are Bible verses that can be lined up and used to bolster either of these positions against the other.   But I don’t think that’s what this is really about – this is about what makes people feel loved by God.   We tend to cling to the Bible verses that resonate most with our understanding of what love looks like – love either means to me, He’s working everything out even if it doesn’t look that way, OR, love looks to me like He couldn’t possibly plan something awful in an “ends justify the means” sort of way, but His love is there for me to face whatever crazy things come our way.

You can go to war about this with someone and tell them that their understanding of God’s love is lacking and unenlightened compared to yours – and maybe you are even right.   But if you step back for a moment and look at this, the reality is – everyone is trying to understand God and this crazy universe in a way that they can handle.  And what some people can handle ends up being the exact opposite of what other people feel they can handle.   Someone who trusts that God is behind everything would feel very unloved if they suddenly found out that God isn’t controlling the details of their tragedy – it helps them to trust that He is.   And someone who sees God as their ally against freak tragedies would feel very unloved to think that God had actually sent the tragedy to them – it helps them to believe He was not at all involved, and is even upset at what happened to them.   And, the wild reality is that the Bible provides enough material to support a variety of viewpoints on the topic, even as we change and grow through out lifetimes – strangely enough.

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