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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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morality

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.

 

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Epigenetics and “Generational Curses”

I ran across a video today posted by a friend on Facebook about how science is “proving the Bible” – in this case, “proving the Bible” was synonymous with affirming the charismatic belief in “generational curses.”

Now I know many of my readers are not part of the charismatic movement and as far as I know, most versions of Christianity outside of the charismatic church do not teach such a concept even exists, but to give a quick primer version of what this belief is about, I’ll just simply say that some Charismatic churches teach that if one’s great-grandparents, grandparents, or parents indulged in any of a variety of sins in their lives that one can inherit a curse in their family line for these actions. This belief is based on verses such as this one:

The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.
(Numbers 14:18 ESV, see also Exodus 20:5, 34:7, and Deut. 5:9-10)

Now, I must disclose that I personally am somewhat undecided about what I think about this (even though I am a card-carrying charismatic myself) as I also consider the contrasting view presented in Ezekiel 18 on this very topic. That said, I have also prayed according to recommended charismatic wisdom about the sins of my family, known and unknown, and asked the Lord to break off any curses from me, should they exist. But as the goal of this post is not to debate the validity of “generational curses” in and of themselves, none of that is really what I wish to discuss here – so for the sake of this post, I’ll proceed from this point forward with the hypothetical position that generational curses really are, well, real – and that they are the Biblically accurate concept about how this sort of thing works. The question then I am exploring here is the validity of the scientific assertions that this video presents, and whether epigenetics is in fact, as the video says, synonymous with the charismatic belief about “generational curses.”

And, so, here’s a preview – my position on this video is that while epigenetics is an exciting science that is SOMEWHAT explained in this video, overall this is an intensely misleading, twisted example of Christians doing bad PR for the faith…and the only thing I think can be rightly done for this video is to “burn it with fire.” So in hopes that more misleading PR won’t be perpetuated, here comes the fire.

Oh yeah, I guess you’d like to see the video first. It is only right to give some free promotion for those I am about to take to task. Ok, so here it is, and then I’ll proceed with the fire:

Now, I must say that first of all I can’t fault the creators of this video for exhorting people to live a holy life – and to care about the effect that their decisions might have on others. That in and of itself is a noble exhortation, even though I may disagree with the details. And yes, as you are well aware at this point, I do emphatically disagree with the details. So on with my disagreements, below:

1) The concept of a Biblical “generational curse,” as I understand it, does not require the person receiving the curse to be as-yet unborn in order to receive the curse. For instance, if a 50-year old grandmother commits adultery, and she has a grown daughter who has a 2-year-old son, from what I understand about generational curses, her daughter and grandson (and grandson’s future children) could receive that curse, even though her daughter and grandson are already born at the time the adultery is committed and any great-grandchildren would not be able to receive epigenetic results from her life decisions at that point in time. If instead, epigenetic changes are presumed to be the normal way that these curses are transmitted through the family line, then the family line is not able to be cursed in this situation – because the daughter and grandson (and, by extension, grandson’s future children) can’t inherit genes from the grandmother when they’ve already been born.

2) If epigenetics is believed to be the way that Biblical generational curses are transmitted through a family line, then all prayer counseling and repentance to “break off” generational curses is relatively pointless. If you alter your chromosomes through epigenetics, then getting saved, confessing sins, breaking off generational curses, etc., has no effect on those changes. In the charismatic movement, we know this is not the case regarding generational curses – a generational curse, if it actually exists, is reversible – it is breakable through repentance and confession in prayer. But if we blame “generational curses” on epigenetics, we are saying there is no hope, at least not by merely praying about the issue – once you’ve sinned, your genetics are altered and there is no way to break the curse off yourself or your children short of a really huge inventive miracle or a dose of methylizing chemicals either injected or ingested into your system in the right way to alter the epigenetic changes….

3) Epigenetic modifications are not all bad. For instance, if your parents are addicted to watching porn before you were born (an example from the video) despite what the video forewarns with carefully edited ominous music, the actual epigenetic effect on your genes is not necessarily going to make you addicted to porn. (And to my knowledge, there is no scientific study on the books that actually says anything to this effect.) The epigenetic changes to one’s genome are not the way the video is describing them – it’s not like, “Your parents did this so now it’s written in your genes that you will be even more predisposed to do the same thing.”
In fact, in regards to cocaine addiction, there is substantial evidence at least through a mouse model that if a mouse develops a cocaine addiction, its offspring are substantially LESS likely to ever become addicted cocaine than a normal mouse would be – in this case, epigenetics has a protective effect. See article here.

4) Epigenetic changes are not necessarily due to “sin.” If one of your parents goes through a car accident, a traumatic experience, the trauma is possibly going to cause epigenetic changes that you will inherit. Your parents didn’t sin by experiencing a traumatic event – so why would we consider the resulting epigenetic changes to be a “curse?” Experiencing trauma does not curse your family line, but it can cause epigenetic changes… Again, epigenetics is not necessarily “good” nor “bad” – but to sum up the way epigenetics works in really loose laymen terms, whether an epigenetic change is “good” or “bad” for an organism is not really related to the morality of what prompted the change. Many times what we consider “bad” habits do tend to create some negative epigenetic changes; but bad things do not always result in bad epigenetic changes. For instance, a study done in Sweden showed an epigenetic disadvantage towards diabetes and heart disease for the offspring of people whose fathers had ample food between the ages of 9 and 12, whereas people whose fathers faced famine during those ages inherited better health. But this result also only held true if the father experienced famine in that age range – experiencing famine at a different age had no effect.

5) I’m not sure why anyone would say this is a proof against evolution. That doesn’t follow from the science of epigenetics at all. And there’s the rub: the guy in the video seems to go out of his way to give a blatant, but subtle misrepresentation of the science.
A recent, actual study done on Darwin’s finches relative to epigenetics states, “As environmental factors are known to result in heritable changes in the epigenome, it is POSSIBLE that epigenetic changes CONTRIBUTE to the molecular basis of the evolution of Darwin’s finches.” But, somehow video guy leapt from the words “possible” and “contribute” and he instead paints a much different picture using the words “science has now PROVED it is epigenetic modification” making it sound like it is much, much more than a “possible contribution.” Realistically, whether or not epigenetics is involved (and it is likely that it is) doesn’t change whether or not the finches on Galápagos island, or any other species, evolved for millions of years or not. The theory of evolution has always recognized that small changes -whether those changes be mutations, or now, epigenetic changes – occur and in one way or another, lead to evolution – whether this be by punctuated evolution (spurts of time in which many changes occur relatively rapidly) or otherwise.

6) The video names a number of sexual things that are implied to cause epigenetic changes in humans, without any concern for God’s approval of sexual acts done within marriage. For instance, “cyber sex” and “masturbation” are displayed as examples of things that will change your genes (and thus far in my searching, it seems that this is completely imaginary with not a single study to support it.) But, if we allow such a thing as a hypothetical, then assuming typical evangelical/charismatic Christian morals regarding what is sexually appropriate behavior, the question becomes: are your genes going to be epigenetically marked differently if you have “cyber sex” with some stranger, in contrast to what will occur if you are away from home on a business trip and have “cyber sex” with your spouse long distance? How? Or again, will masturbation alone contrasted with masturbation with your spouse as part of foreplay markedly affect your genes in profoundly differing ways? And if so, how?
If so, the assertion the video is making that the pleasure center of someone’s brain is somehow distinguishing between holy acts of sexuality and yet cursing someone with epigenetic changes if they do unholy acts with similar amounts of pleasure, but if someone who was raised to not feel guilty about these acts performed outside of marriage, are we really to believe that they are experiencing destruction of their genome in the one situation and health of their genome in the other? If so, again the question would be: how? What is the mechanism of action?
One side note: it should be mentioned that sex addiction is not universally regarded by the health field as even existing – while the video is maintaining that science has demonstrated sex addiction causes epigenetic damage. Again, the question must be asked: if a married couple has an extremely high libido and together they enjoy unusually frequent sex by mutual consent, is this damaging to their genes – and can we prove it? And would charismatic Christians really want to start teaching that the marriage bed is made impure somehow in this way?

7) Finally, the singularly most detestable thing in my mind about this video is the absolute attempt to deceive people using the visual graphics of the presentation. For instance, starting at about 2 minutes into the video, various sexual activities are written on the screen and underneath are written such things as “Genome: Up to 97%”. For each sexual activity, the percentage listed is different, but they are all extremely high percentages, and it appears that the suggestion being made to the viewer is that these activities alter an incredibly high percentage of someone’s genome. In reality, any epigenetic change that we have ever studied involves only a ridiculously miniscule amount of one’s genome. Small genetic markers can have large effects, but to suggest that sexual conduct is changing vast amounts of one’s genome – when there’s not even a single study to substantiate that sexual behavior is changing ANYTHING in one’s genome, is deception of a pretty high degree – maybe even something like, 97%, give or take.

sexaddiction
Science fiction jibber-jabber, designed to look like something real

But that’s not all. Reading the fine print on these graphics reveals…complete gibberish. Not a single line of any of these graphics says anything scientifically real at all. It’s all nonsense, designed to make the viewer think that there are actual scientifically precise encodings of genes taking place, that are known and measurable – using words and numbers that don’t even describe the process as it would be described if it WERE known to be taking place. And that is incredibly yucky, at least to me.

In the final analysis, the field of epigenetics DOES demonstrate that what parents do affects their unborn children and grandchildren. It DOES give us an extra reason to take care of our bodies and make good choices. But the science is extremely complex, and it is nowhere near as cut and dry – nor “moral” as this video wants us to believe. And it definitely does not “prove” the Bible, nor the concept of “Generational Curses” in any way that the video is suggesting – or demanding – that we believe.

For more reading on this topic, check out:
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/epigenetics-it-doesnt-mean-what-quacks-think-it-means/

Black and White thinking

I’ve been musing lately on the topic of “black and white thinking…”  Many christians I know consider “black and white” thinking to be a great thing…. and yet in psychological terms, “black and white” thinking is a sign of something called “splitting” which is part of the overall makeup of “borderline personality disorder.”

I think when christians eagerly embrace things as being “black and white” that it is mostly a stance that is designed to buffer against the feared tendency for people to create “gray zones” of morality.

Now the irony of this, is that nowhere in the world or nature do we see so much “GRAY” as when things actually ARE in “black and white.”  That is, the very thing that christians fear, moral ambiguity, may in fact be a byproduct of trying to always cast things in “black and white” terms.  Case in point – have you ever seen so much variety of “gray” as you see in black and white photos or black and white television?  Gray is the absolute effect of trying to view the world in black and white.

But in LIFE, we see in color.  Brilliant, beautiful, color.  Thus, the opposite of “black and white” thinking is not as many fear, “gray zone thinking.”  No…the opposite, or actually, AUTHENTIC type of mindset that “black and white” is the counterfeit of, is FULL COLOR thinking.

In full color, sometimes you still see something is actually white, or that something is actually black.  Color does not preclude the ability to actually see black where black exists and white where white truly exists.  But how often do you find yourself obsessed with black and white when you are pointing out how blue the sky is today, or how beautiful that flower is over there, or how cute that chocolate labrador retriever is with his shiny brown nose and coat?  Or how yucky the brown pollution is in the wave at the shore?

Life in the Lord is a cascade of colors.  Black and White has its place, but it’s not so prevalent as some might wish it to be.

One last thought, from the verse below:

Ephesians 3:10 – “so that through the church the manifold [literally, “multi-colored”] wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

If we dwell in black and white, we risk falling short of our calling as the people of God!