The Mystery of Creation

hst_pillars_m16 croppedThe heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. (Ps 9:1-4)

How did God create the heavens and the earth?

This becomes a conundrum in many discussions of science and Christian faith. It is viewed as a problem to be solved. The more that we learn about science, the smaller the available space for the active creative power of God. Either natural processes or God. The next couple of chapters of Ron Highfield’s book The Faithful Creator address the question of how God created. Highfield’s view of the nature of God shapes this discussion (see the previous post A Philosopher’s God? for more details).

When we think about God as creator several competing ideas come to mind. On of the first involves an understanding of God’s act of creation. According to Highfield it is important to discipline our thinking and our language here to be careful not to attribute human characteristics to God. “The differences between the divine act of creating and the human act of making are so profound that we must conclude that they are no merely quantitatively different but qualitatively of a different kind.” (p. 78) The most significant point is that the act of creating cannot come from any idea of anything outside of God and it cannot be dependent on nondivine means. Creation from nothing is important because without God’s act of creating there would be nothing. The act of creating cannot change God and it must produce exactly what God intends and do so perfectly.

It should be clear from the previous post that I am not comfortable with some aspects of this way of talking about God, but it leads Highfield to a significant conclusion, and one I agree with completely. How God creates – the connection between the mind of God and the motions and structures of creation – remains, and must remain a mystery. This is not something that human mind can comprehend. We err when we use human notions of creating and laws of physics constrain God’s act.There is an intrinsic mystery in creation that falls out of our realm of experience and understanding.

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Posted in Creation, Theology | Tagged

How To Read Job

How to Read JobSeveral years ago I posted a long series on the book of Job (See here for the posts) using the commentaries written by John Walton (Job (The NIV Application Commentary)) and Tremper Longman III (Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms)) both published in August 2012. The book of Job is an often misunderstood and misused or overlooked book, but it is a powerful book and one we would do well to study. The book of Job is a profound exploration of wisdom and suffering, of the nature of God, the nature of Creation, the nature of man, and the interaction of God with his creation and his creatures. The series on Job and the detailed reading of both of these excellent commentaries along with a handful of other sources was one of the most satisfying series of posts I’ve done. This is a book that we should study more often as Christians.

Of course, two 400+ page commentaries are rather daunting and hard to plow through. Fortunately Longman and Walton have teamed up to put out a short study of the book of Job designed especially for bible studies in small groups or adult classes. How to Read Job (IVP 2015) draws on their combined insights to bring the interested readers through the book. A mere 200 pages, with discussion question, the book is an excellent resource.

The structure of the book gives some insight into its strengths.

Part One: Reading Job as Literature
1. What Is the Book of Job About?
2. What Is the Rhetorical Strategy of the Book of Job?
3. Job in the Context of the Ancient Near East
4. Is Job a Real Person?

Both Walton and Longman see the book of Job as a literary work designed as a thought experiment to explore some very important questions concerning God and his governance of the world. It is not a historical book.

We therefore adopt the position that , though job himself may have been a real person who actually lived, the rest of the book is a literary work of art providing a wisdom discussion that is framed by extremes. … This is important for some readers because it is easy to get distracted by this picture of a God who is “making wagers with the devil” or has no knowledge of what Satan is doing or of what motivates Job’s righteousness. Instead we should take this scenario as a hypothetical one: what if we imagine …? In this view, the truth of the message of Job is preserved while potential concerns about the nature of God are avoided. … Whether we label it a thought experiment or simply a hypothetical scenario built around extremes, we can encounter the God-given message of the text undistracted from incidental curiosities and without the angst that comes with wondering why God killed Job’s children. (p. 39)

This is a very important point. Too many times Christians get hung up on the problems with Job as history and simply cannot see the book for its intended message and effect.

Each chapter of the book ends with further reflections – questions that will make good discussion starters in any bible study class.

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Posted in Bible, Job

All Authority in Heaven and on Earth

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Mt. 28:18-20

800px-Ghirlandaio,_Domenico_-_Calling_of_the_Apostles_-_1481All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. Quite the encompassing statement! There are a number of other references in the Gospels to the authority with which Jesus spoke, his authority to forgive sins, to command demons.

I started a series a couple of weeks ago to look at biblical womanhood. The first post (Biblical Womanhood … Not What Many Think) looked at what the women of the Old Testament are reported to have done. The second post (Biblical Womanhood … The New Testament) summarized many of the women of the New Testament. The range is impressive. But any discussion of biblical womanhood in the evangelical church today will eventually come to the issue of authority, specifically human authority. Someone will point to 1 Timothy 2:12 … “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Much has been made over the word “authority” in this verse, extending far beyond leadership in the church.

Before beginning to tackle this issue, it is important to first understand what the New Testament models and teaches about human authority. This post is not an exhaustive study of the issue. It is an attempt to start a conversation to look at the form that proper human authority takes in the New Testament.

What does the New Testament teach about authority?

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Posted in Bible, Christian Life

Prepared in Heaven, Unveiled on Earth and Left Behind

Middleton A New Heaven and EarthThe next chapter of Richard Middleton’s book A New Heaven and a New Earth looks at passages in the New Testament that appear to support the idea of heaven hereafter, either as a permanent or temporary abode. These can be divided into three types. There are several texts that portray heaven as an ideal that is contrasted with the present far from ideal earth, a handful of texts that appear to describe a rapture of believers, taking them off to a better place, and a few texts that seem to support the idea of heaven as a temporary abode for the faithful until the final resurrection and the recreation of a new heaven and a new earth.

Apocalyptic Texts. The majority of texts considered are in the category that Middleton refers to as apocalyptic. These are texts that describe a future reality that is prepared in heaven for later unveiling on earth. The most prominent texts here are 1 Cor. 2:9, Matt 25:34, 1 Pet . 1:3-5, Col. 1:5, 2 Cor. 5:1-5, John 14:1-3, Phil. 3:20-21, Heb. 11:13-16, and Rev. 21:1-2. The passage from 1 Peter illustrates all of the basic elements.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this passage inheritance that can never perish, salvation (what) is kept (verb) for us (recipient) in heaven (where) to be revealed in the last time (future expectation). Most of the passages don’t have all five of these elements, but they all follow the basic form. What is prepared and kept in heaven will be revealed in the last times.

The rest of the passages can be understood in much the same way, and Middleton works through each of them. Philippians 3:20-22 is a much misunderstood passage worth special mention here.

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Middleton suggests that the apocalyptic pattern helps us interpret these verses more accurately.

The text is not talking about going to heaven, but rather about the source of our confidence to live on earth in a manner different from (and in tension with) the present fallen world, until Christ’s return. (p. 218)

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Posted in After Life, Bible, Resurrection | Tagged

Biblical Womanhood … The New Testament

I started a series on Biblical womanhood last Thursday with a look at women of the Old Testament. Not commands and laws, but stories about people, what they did and how they did it. It is quite an amazing variety. Today we will look at women of the New Testament. Like the ancient Near East and ancient Israel, first century Galilee, Judea, and the Greek and Roman world were patriarchal cultures. This culture is reflected in the narrative. Still, in the New Testament, even more than the Old Testament, biblical women were not passive wives and mothers staying in the background. Nor were they condemned for their actions (except for the same kinds of failures that condemned men). If there are other specific New Testament examples that we should consider, add them in a comment.

People of Faith

El_GRECO(Domenikos_Theotokopoulos)_-_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_ProjectThen Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:47-48, also Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-33)

Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” … He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:22-28, also Mark 7:24-30)

When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)

This is a group of references, but Mary (in a class of her own) and the two women who came to Jesus for healing were clearly women of faith. They had faith in God and faith in Jesus as God’s prophet … Mary may have known more, but the people who came and heard Jesus in his life probably had no other idea concerning him than that of prophet.

Devout Prophet

Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-19-_-_Presentation_at_the_TempleThere was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 36-38)

It is significant that Luke includes two witnesses here – one male, one female – when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for his presentation as first born son. Anna is a prophet. What is the role of a prophet? Isn’t it to speak the word of the Lord to the people? In both the Old and New Testament to prophesy (to speak as a mediator between God and humankind or in God’s stead) is an equal opportunity calling, not one limited to men.

Sincere Questioner and Witness

Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_(Leipzig) cropMany Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” (John 4:39)

The entire story of the encounter at the well is worth considering (John 4:1-42). Jesus met the woman when she came for water. She had an openness that is a positive contrast to Nicodemus who came at night (John 3).

Connivers

Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” (Matthew 14:8, also Mark 6:22-25)

As in the Old Testament not all examples are laudatory.

Followers and Supporters of Jesus

The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:1-3)

The twelve and some women, three of whom are named, were in the closest circle of followers who were leaving all for Jesus. They traveled with the group, didn’t just support it from afar.

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Posted in Bible, Women

How the Fossil Record Supports Evolution

TrilobitesA scientific theory is not a hunch or mere speculation. Rather the term refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by many congruent lines of data. A further explanation from the NAS web site is helpful.

Many scientific theories are so well-established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. However, like all scientific theories, the theory of evolution is subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.

Robert Asher, in Evolution and Belief, runs through some of the evidence for evolution. Early classifications of animals were based on comparative anatomy and embryology. The first attempts to derive a “tree of life,” a broad scale theory of genealogical relationships relied heavily on this data. After 150 years of scientific investigation we now also possess a much more complete fossil record and have access to extensive data from molecular biology and the genome project. All of these lines of evidence (comparative anatomy, embryology, fossil record, and molecular biology) confirm the same basic theory of interrelationships.

EvolutionStratigraphy. The geological column, strata of fossil bearing rocks, provides one strong thread of evidence for evolutionary progression. The layers that contain the fantastic variety of trilobites, as in the image above, fall between ca. 520 and 250 MYA (million years ago). This image is of a section of a large slab from 450 MYA in the Oxford University Museum of Natural history. In contrast the earliest mammals don’t show up until layers that date to 215 MYA or primates until 56 MYA. The timeline to the right highlights part of Fig. 4.1 p. 64 (click on it for a larger version). Much more information is available in the full figure. Finding a variation of trilobite alive today, or a even tyrannosaurus, wouldn’t be a problem for evolutionary theory. Finding a rabbit or a monkey in a Cambrian layer (541-485 MYA) or an Ordovician layer (485-444 MYA) would undermine the entire picture and send us back to the drawing board… on par with discovering something that moves through space faster than the speed of light.

That last is an interesting example. An experiment a few years ago to measure the speed of a neutrino (tiny neutral particles with a mass less than a millionth that of an electron) appeared to give a result faster than the speed of light (here). There was a great deal of skepticism, but the response of the community was to dig deeper, to substantiate the result or determine where the error was made. It was a subtle error in the instrumentation – but dogma didn’t rule the day, data did.

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Posted in Evolution, The Fossil Record | Tagged

Biblical Womanhood … Not What Many Think

More often than I am asked how I as a scientist can be a Christian, I am asked how I as an educated woman can be a Christian. After all, the questioner generally continues, Christianity oppresses women. Unfortunately we don’t have to look far to find appalling evidence for this view at the extremes. But even in churches closer to the center there is evidence that can be used to support this position. All we have to do is look at the ongoing leadership wars and sift through the arguments that are used. Some rest solely on “roles,” but many wander into the nature of our being. Some will claim that it is a violation of natural law for women to have a position of authority over a man – in church, family, or secular occupations.

Over a series of posts I would like to offer a perspective on the issue and put some ideas up for conversation. We will start, as is always wise, with Scripture. Not with propositions and commands, but with the story as it is told. In the first two posts, I will look at the way women are portrayed in Scripture, today the Old Testament. The next post will focus on the New Testament.

The Old Testament.The ancient Near East, ancient Israel, first century Galilee, Judea, and the Greek and Roman world were patriarchal cultures. This culture is reflected in the text, including some of the laws. Most of the active characters are men. Still, biblical women were not passive wives and mothers staying in the background. Nor were they condemned for their actions (except for the same kinds of failures that condemned men). Over the last year or so I have taken note of the various descriptions of women in the Bible as well as their occupations and accomplishments. It is quite an amazing variety, and I doubt I have them all here. If there are other specific Old Testament examples that should be included, add them in a comment.

Prophet, Musician, Leader

662px-Miriams_TanzThen Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. (Exodus 15:20)

Listen to what the LORD says:

I brought you up out of Egypt
and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
also Aaron and Miriam. (Micah 6:1, 4)

The Micah reference surprised me when I heard it – Miriam, like Moses and Aaron was sent to lead. According to the prophet, this is what the LORD himself says.

Imperfect (but so was Aaron and even Moses – as a result he didn’t enter the promised land)

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this. (Numbers 12:1-2)

Miriam was a prophet, sent to lead along with her brothers, … and the LORD had spoken through her.

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Posted in Bible, Women