Monday, July 13, 2015

Ant-God

If God is infinite, then aren't possibilities more godly than fixed absolutes?
Jamie Arpin-Ricci

If your God doesn't meet you and love you where you are, then your God is too small.

If your God doesn't understand the motivations and addictions and needs of all sinners, then your God is too small.

If your God is constantly angry at the sins of others, but winks at yours, then your God is too small.

If your God doesn't know what it means to love in different contexts, different cultures, and different points of view, then your God is too small.

If your God only gives every human being one option to purely love, no matter what their context, then your God is too small.



Thursday, June 25, 2015

What is the Image of God in Humanity?


One of the great questions of Jewish and Christian theology is how humanity is made in God’s image.  We know humanity is, it says so in Genesis 1:26-27—“ Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” 

But in reading this passage, many have become confused.  HOW are we created in God’s image?  What exactly is the “image” of God?

Of course, the first thought anyone would have by looking at the word “image” is physical appearance.  After all, when we see our image in a mirror, all we are saying is that the image looks like us, not that it has any other characteristic, even so our image in a statue or a photo.  However, this idea causes a number of difficulties.  First of all, it is both the male and the female that was created in God’s image—so which one would God look like?  Is it a general appearance?  And the passage is saying that God created all humanity to be in His image—how can we all look like God when we all look so differently?  What color, size, shape is God?  These questions seem nonsensical, but I think that the problem comes in assuming that the image of God must, in some way, be physical.

Many Trinitarian theologians declare that humanity, in one’s nature, is Trinitarian, just as God.  This also poses a difficulty in determining what that Trinitarian nature is.  Many theologians say the three parts of humanity are: body, soul, spirit.  But Aquinas said that it was the memory, the understanding and the will.  What we need to recognize is that humanity is exceedingly complex and that counting only three parts lessens the creation of humanity.  It assumes that the divine nature in humanity is based on a number, rather than a nature.  This seems to be poor theology.

Some would say that humanity is like God in the manner in which humanity is superior to animals.  In other words, the divine nature of humanity is found in that which animals lack.  Thus, some have put forward intellect, long term memory, self awareness, or other features.  The problem with just stating this is that as animals are studied, it is clear that animals have many of the characteristics that humans have, just in a more minor capacity.  Some animals can be trained in language, are very creative and can learn as much as humans.  Certainly humans are unique in the animal kingdom, but it might be difficult to determine in exactly what way.

Often, when we have a puzzle in Scripture, it is best to go back to the text, to see if there are clues we have missed.  And in the midst of the text about God’s image there is a description of humanity’s function: to rule over the animals of the earth.  It seems a curious placement unless the description of the rule pertains to the idea of being made in God’s image.  And if we think about it, the main characteristic of God, as given in the Hebrew Bible is that He is in charge.  There is no being—god, angel, human, animal, cosmic force—that is above God.  And it seems that Genesis 1 is actually all about God’s superiority over the powers that the ancient world found significant and frightening and awe-inspiring.  God is above the ocean, because He divided it.  God is above the sun, moon and stars and established their authority.  God is above all powers, and even though there may have been others who participated in His creation, it was His command that made it happen.

Given this understanding of God, then it would make sense that if humanity is to be in God’s image, it is in the area of sovereignty.  Humanity is like God in the area of having a huge realm to rule.  Humanity has great authority, to determine the shape and purpose of the earth, as well as all the animals.  Humanity is granted god-like powers of sovereignty. 
And, in fact, Psalm 8 is a hymn to exactly that nature.  “What is man that You take thought of him?... You have made him a little lower than God.”  And a description of humanity’s rule over the earth is given.  Even little children have power to rule, the psalmist says.

And every single human does rule.  It seems, at first, that some humans rule and some do not.  But that is simply over other humans.  Although, most humans do rule over other humans—every parent rules over their children, every pet owner rules over their pet (although cats think it is the other way around).  Yes, governments are the big rulers, but every human has an aspect of rule, a sovereignty to rule over.  And, in fact, humans are different from animals in that they rule over themselves.  They are responsible for their actions, and recognize themselves as responsible.  And this completely natural, powerful tendency is our godlike nature.  We are like God in that we are in charge of ourselves, our environment, those below us.  And humanity, as a whole, is in charge of the earth as a whole.

Many would like to deny human sovereignty, especially over the earth.  “Humans don’t deserve rule over the earth.  All they do is exploit it and ruin it.”  This cannot be denied. There have been five periods of time in which mass numbers of species disappeared from the earth, and we are living in one of those times. However, that idea only proves that humanity IS ultimately in charge of the earth.  If humans can cause such mass extinction, it means that humans are the determining factor.  The fact that humans are sovereign has nothing to do with the fact that they are moral in being sovereign. And the environmental movement and animal rights groups are just more proof of human rule over animals.  No one considers themselves the equal of animals, otherwise we would not use moral reasoning with each other to change our actions.  We all recognize not only that we rule, but that there are principles by which we should rule.

So, if we rule, then we should consider HOW we should rule.  What is the ideal state that humanity should establish?  There are three basic moral ways of ruling, according to Scripture.  We can rule in a manner of judgment and law.  One breaks the law, one dies.  For instance, should a tiger or wolf kill a human, the animal dies—that’s the principle found in Genesis 9.  This is the moral rule of judgment—it is fair, but it is harsh.  This is the moral rule of vigilantism, which is softened and controlled by government forces, but is still the basic moral rule of government.

There is also the moral rule of self interest.  This is the idea that resources are to be exploited for the self-interest of the ruling.  Children are there to support their parents, the earth is there to be used for wealth and power of those who can grab it.  This is the principle of business, where profit is the bottom line.  This is also called “pride” by the Bible—taking that which truly doesn’t belong to you.  Jesus specifically spoke against this kind of rule in Luke 22, and Paul in Ephesians 5.

Finally, there is the kind of rule Jesus supported.  This is the sovereignty that holds authority for the sake of those under them.  It is a rule to provide benefit, not for the ruler, but for the ones ruled.  This ruler would sacrifice his or her own good for the good of the one ruled.  It is a mother’s rule for her infant.  And it is the kind of rule environmentalists have as an ideal for the earth, and the main characteristic of all “good” rulers. 


Thus, there are two ways of being in God’s image.  Surely, ruling in any way is god-like.  And humanity, both individually and collectively is certainly god-like in changing the surface of the earth and ruling over all creatures—whether they know that is what they are doing or not.  But the other aspect is a moral aspect.  And to be like God IN our rule is to be merciful, to be forgiving, to act in the benefit of those rules, to use our power for the benefit of all, even our enemies.  In this way, we show how truly divine we can be.

The Weakness of Humanity


  1. Humans are physically weak
God specifically made humanity physically weak, at least compared to the spirit world.  In the Bible, “spirit” doesn’t mean ethereal, but supernaturally strong.  An angel is some kind of superman who can turn invisible and transport to another place instantly.  Humans, individually, are weak—easy to kill, quick to get sick, weak when young and weak when old.  Humanity is just a weak species.  Which is why it is amazing what humanity has done.  They have created mountains out of steel and glass.  They have changed the surface of the world in ways only God has done.  Individually, humans are weak, but collectively, humanity is a god—creative and powerful.  For this reason the God says, “Nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible to them,” and then He limits human capacity for community (Genesis 11:6-7).  Humans are made to be weak so that only through God’s strength can they accomplish great things.

  1. Humans are mentally weak
The human brain is an amazingly adaptive creation.  If a person is blind, the brain takes the cells used for sight and uses them for other tasks, strengthening other senses.  However, our minds are somewhat too adaptive, able to adapt to imaginary structures, thus becoming maladaptive to real situations.  It requires a strong mind to respond appropriately to the unbelievably complex physical, social, and intellectual environment we find ourselves in.  Society is more complex than ever—and our brains adapt, somewhat.  But more often than not, our minds confuse reality with a lie, confuse what is with what we’ve been told, confuse our thinking with what is real.  More and more people are mentally and socially incapable of functioning in our society.  But even the functional will make grave mental mistakes. We trust that which we ought not and distrust that which we can rely on.  And in the simplest of tasks, we find ourselves in error. 

  1. Humans are self-oriented
In the womb, every human being is alone.  For nine months, there is no one else in the universe.  Then we are born and we have the stark reality of others thrust upon us as a stark reality.  However, in our minds, the Other does not exist.  There is simply those who provide for our needs.  Eventually, we recognize other human beings who might even be equal to us.  But the habit of thinking of ourselves as the only individual in the universe is hard to break.  Perhaps in general we see others as equal to ourselves, at least philosophically, but when it comes down to it, when stressed or in severe crisis, we take care of ourselves first, or only. 

            This does not mean that humans cannot be altruistic.  They can, although it is rare, and requires a severe form of discipline.  But the same firefighter who was willing to sacrifice himself for a victim of a fire might also beat his wife.  The philanthropist could ignore her children for her work, and then excuse her wrong as “necessity.”  In the end, we put energy into that which we feel compelled to focus on, not because it is right or because it helps the most people, but because we have some innate drive to do so. 
Humans wear strange clothes

            It is fascinating to hear people talk about “love”, meaning erotic or romantic attachment.  This love more than any other is driven by inner need, yet it is spoken of at times as altruistic, as focus on the Other.  Another person is involved in erotic love almost by default, but erotic love does not in any way necessitate the benefit of the other.  Rather, erotic love is driven exclusively by inner desire, and when that desire acts in opposition to the other’s need, then the other is sacrificed on the altar of Love.  Romeo and Juliet were perfect examples of the inner selfish drive ignoring the needs of the Other.  Yes, they loved the object of their desire, but ignored the needs of everyone else and allowed their families to be destroyed for the sake of their desire.

            Another kind of love is often confused with selflessness, which is parental love.  Again, this is a love that is based on an inner drive, not necessarily focused on the needs of the other.  We can see this in the abuses of parental love.  How often does fatherly love—the love of provision and discipline—turn into the narrow-focused selfishness of a workaholic or an abuser?  And motherly love—the love of empathy and benevolence—can easily turn into co-dependence or depression, if the love is driven by inner need instead of the need of the other. 

All too often do we call our selfishness “love” and then excuse all the wrongs we do because they were done out of “love”.   “Love” is only a benefit when it is done out of knowledge and true concern for the Other, not due to single-minded adherence to our inner drives.

It's all about the meat
  1. Humans are survival-oriented
Human beings are wired to be survivalists.  This doesn’t mean that we can necessarily be dropped in the middle of any wilderness and figure out how to live in harsh conditions.  I know that I would die, and quickly, if stuck in that kind of a situation.  Rather, we are wired to focus on the things that pertain to our own needs, and to help us attain those needs.

            I am not just talking about food, clothing and shelter, although this is part of it.  But most of us live in a society in which these foundational needs are provided for, even to those who are unable to obtain them on their own.  Once the basic survival needs are taken care of, then we focus on other aspects of survival.  We focus on security, so we are protected from harm, whether that be from wild dogs or from the threat of terrorists.  We focus on social connection, because we know that there is strength in numbers.  We focus on inner peace, because we know that excessive stress can kill us (or others if we tend to be an angry type). 

            And there is nothing wrong with trying to survive in these ways.  The problem is, even when we have our needs met in these areas, we tend to do more than our survival necessitates, and when we overcompensate, our ability to survive actually goes down, not up.  Our need for security easily becomes anxiety, which causes excessive stress and we tend to overreact to others—causing destruction to both ourselves and others.  We can eat to survive, or we can eat to self-medicate our mental instabilities which causes us physical problems.  We can work to maintain enough money to live on, but if money becomes a matter of societal honor, we can horde money for ourselves—money we don’t need or use—until we become dependent on an obscenely high salary, and that becomes our level for survival.  And society can become obese as well until they make it a legal necessity for others to live according to their high level of normalcy, where they end up punishing those who do not live with electricity or a certain kind of housing. 

            Because of our tendency to focus on survival, humans tend to over-survive.  We see certain levels of lifestyles as the “basics”, but we very much overcompensate for what we actually need.  Paul said, “With food and clothing we shall be content”, yet try to find a single follower of Paul who agrees with this statement.

  1. Humans are oppressed
If we take as a basic definition of freedom “the ability to do what is right without punishment”, then there is not a single human being that is free.  

We are controlled by our fears, which force us to do actions to alleviate that fear.  We fear losing our jobs, which give us the money to live our lifestyles, so we do whatever the jobs necessitate, even if we know it’s wrong.  We fear confrontation, so we stay away from relationships that would cause us to grow to avoid that which we find unpleasing.  We fear those who are unlike ourselves, so we avoid all those who are in greater need than ourselves, and make up stories about why we shouldn’t connect to them.  We fear punishment from the government, so we keep ourselves from doing good things that would get us punished.  We fear being shamed, so we try to fit into our society, even when our society is wrong.  We fear death and pain, so we don’t do the good things that cause these things.  And because we do not want to face our fears, we make excuses for why following our fears is the right thing to do.

            But we do not live by our fears absolutely—we not mice, scurrying away from every hint of monsters.  We also have drives.  We are driven by our addictions—that which we know harms us but makes us feel better or normal.  We are not afraid of our addictions, but we know that they should be feared.  They are too close to who we are to allow us to be fearful.  We are driven by our pleasures—our need for excitement or relaxation or to forget our normal life.  We are driven by need for family and community, and we will face our fears of meeting the opposite sex, of having a baby, of going to a new meeting full of strangers, just so that we can find or create that community that meets our drive. 

            But we are forced to do these things, either by ourselves, or by others.  Some of these things are good, some are not.  But the ethics or spirituality of the situation is almost never what drives us.  Rather we are like magnets, either pulled toward or driven away by this or that force.  We may claim independence, but rarely do we make a decision based on our own free will, on what is good.  We are led by others, by the context we live in.  This is oppression.  We are not free.

"I wear my sunglasses at night... so what?"
  1. Humans focus on the wrong solutions
We recognize our oppressions, our tendency to over-compensate, and the fact that we tend to do things that are not helpful to ourselves or others.  And so we try to find solutions.  “If only I lived somewhere else,” we say to ourselves, not realizing that the next place will be just as full of oppressions as this place.  “If only I met the right person,” we say, not realizing that the next person is just as imperfect as we are, and just as much in need, driven by their own desires.  “If only I had more money,” we say, not realizing that money doesn’t change who we are, it only magnifies who we are, causing our problems to increase, not decrease.  “If only I had the right job,” we say, not realizing that jobs are not about the needs of the employees, but the needs of the owners or customers, so employees always get the short shrift, no matter what the context (this isn’t always the case for professionals—the only workers who are treated as full human beings).  “If only I had more pleasure,” we say, but pleasure only requires more pleasure, creating a cycle of oppression. 

            What we really want is an easy solution that will meet all of our needs.  Of course, part of the problem is that we don’t actually want what we need.  We need to work hard to become the best of who we are.  We need to face our fears to be free of them.  We need to refuse our desires at times in order to obtain our true desire.  The most amazing thing is that at times we need to be still and do nothing, allowing others to provide for us completely, just as if we were a baby, in full trust.  Of course, none of us are wise enough to know when is the time to do one or the other.

  1. Humans are sinful
Sin is the destruction of relationship, disloyalty, the harm of the Other.  Sin is disloyalty to God who created us, who loves us and provides all good things for us to meet our needs.  We tend to think much more of ourselves than God.  And even though our relationship with God is much less complex than our relationship to government or family, and much more central to our needs, we gravitate toward the latter relationships rather than the former. 

Sin is harming other people, who were made in God’s image, because of our own fears and desires.  It is acting out destruction against others because it is better for us.  It is not acting for the benefit of others, even though it is in our power to do so, because of our own fears and drives.  It is listening to that which oppress us rather than God’s Spirit who leads us to do what is good for all.

We do not sin because of Adam’s sin.  Rather, each and every one of us enacts Adam’s sin ourselves.  We believe in our independence more than we believe in our relationship with God.  We rely more on our sense of fear and our sense of need rather than our more obvious factual knowledge of another’s need. 

Why are we sinful?  Because we are weak.  Even our displays of strength—our technology, our ability to travel in space, our ability to fly around the earth in hours, our communication with each other no matter where we live, our growth of amazing amounts of food, our ability to control the atom, our ability to crush diseases—are paired directly with our weaknesses—the multiplication of diseases, the ability to destroy innocents at the push of a button, two billion people starving, a thriving porn industry and slavery associated with that, an epidemic of homelessness, diseases that ravage a continent although they can be stopped, millions of people drinking contaminated water.  The internet is used to gossip and dishonor much more than uphold the good.  Television is used to encourage fear instead of provide social benefit.  Knowledge of the Bible is used to destroy people’s morality instead of building up people’s love of God and others. 


But I can’t really blame anyone.  I do the same things, although I try not to.  I am weak.  I am human.  Lord, let me dive into You so Your love drowns my desires and fears.  Let me come out a new creature of purity and new hope.

Humanity


“Bible believers sometimes take refuge behind defensive positions not supported by the Bible itself.  The Bible does not teach that the world is flat, or that it was created in the year 4004 BC, or that the earth, or the solar system, or our galaxy is the center of the material universe.  Adhering to non-biblical positions in a dogmatic “religious” spirit has created unnecessary problems for biblical faith.” –J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.  The Origin of Man

The meaning of humanity is ultimately tied into the making of the earth.  All traditions, whether religious or secular, see a connection between humanity and all the other species on earth, ultimately connecting humanity to the earth and how it was made.  This is one of the reasons that the evolution debate persists, because the philosophy of how we see humanity hangs in the balance.  If humanity is a result of a series of random events, then humanity has no purpose, no meaning and all we do is of no import.  If humanity was created based on principles of power, then humanity is about power.  If humanity was created in the image of God, then humanity is purposed to act like God.  This is all very heady and conceptual, but the fact is, we have little actual evidence to help us understand the purpose of humanity, so conceptual ideals is all we have.

The evidence: The current debate between evolution and creation philosophies are based on a couple different bodies of evidence.  First, on the evolution side, we have the fossil record.  And then we have various philosophies that popped up from an interpretation of the fossil record.  On the creation side, we have the biblical text.  But we also have various theologies that developed from interpretations of the biblical text.  And most of the arguments between the evolutionists and the creationists have occurred from the philosophies, not the evidence.  It comes down to the interpretation we want to believe just as before we read the evidence and what conclusions we come to after.  It also depends on what community we belong to, as to what kinds of interpretation we will allow ourselves to have. 

Let’s talk about the evidence for evolution.  Evolution has been seen by human eyes, and recorded.  It is shown that birds, who have a variety of colors, will tend toward colors that keep them camouflaged in the environment that they live in.  This only makes sense, for predators will capture the birds that are not camouflaged well.  And this means that within that species, there will be changes over time.  No problem, for any breeder or horticulturalist well knows that you can remarkably change the appearance of an animal or plant to suit one’s purposes—whether on purpose or by accident.  Changes happen.

For evolution there is also the fossil record.  The fossil record shows that over a long period of time, species have changed remarkably, and that most species that existed in the early times of earth no longer exist.  And that humanity is a young species compared to the many varieties of species over time.  The fossil record also shows, in general, that species develop in complexity over time.  Species with fewer cells consistently exist earlier in the fossil record, and systems develop and then are included consistently later on in the fossil record.  This indicates development over time.

However, the mechanism of that development is not clearly seen.  To understand that, there must be interpretation of the evidence.  Darwin was a marvelous interpreter, but many seculars who honor his findings, also find that his interpretation has need of exam and re-interpretation, not least of which is Stephan Gould.  Thus, “survival of the fittest” is simply a principle which could interpret the findings, but not the only one.  In fact, scientific interpreters find, the facts are much more complex than “fittest” could explain.

As to the biblical facts, these come from what the text of scripture actually says.  It says that God created all things, and that a creation took place in six days. It says that God created humanity in a special creation, not naturally, for his own purposes.  It also says that all the earth’s creation was handed over to humanity to be under humanity’s rule.

What is remarkable is what the textual record does not say.  Not only does it not indicate that the earth was created at approximately the same time as humanity, but it says that the earth, heavens and oceans already existed before the six day creation began.  Thus, there is actually biblical evidence that counters a young earth theory along with all the interpretations that go with it.  Also, the order of creation is not clear in Scripture, for while Genesis 1 is clear, the parallel creation account in Genesis 2 discusses a different order.  Thus, the order must not be significant. There is little biblical evidence for a canopy of ice, dinosaurs existing at the same time as humans or other creation speculations.  Certainly there is no evidence of this in the fossil record, and in fact the fossil record clearly speaks against a young earth, the Genesis 1 order of creation (in which day and vegetation exist before the sun), and dinosaurs and humans existing at the same time.

What exactly is the source of the conflict?  Well, the evolutionists look at their evidence and see the interpreters of biblical text ignoring what seems clear to them: a long progression from simple life to more complex.  And the biblical interpreters see the secularists ignoring what is obvious from their evidence: God’s creation and a special human creation.  And these two evidences ARE difficult to reconcile.  After all, if one believes in a single creator, all knowing and all powerful, then it makes no sense that there would be a progression of creation over time.  And if one believes in a natural progression, when why should human creation not be a part of the same progression, and if the process can be seen as natural, why claim that God is involved in the process at all—it simply is not necessary to determine the facts.

Is there a way to pull together these claims?  Yes, if one looks at both sets of evidence, but doing so requires some release of favorite interpretations.  It means that we, as theologians, must look at the fossil record fairly for what it says.  That the earth truly is old, and that there is a progression.  Is there any hint of this in the biblical text?  And, in fact, there is a hint, although not easy to find. 

Psalm 74 says:
God is my king from of old, Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth.
 13 You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
 14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
 15 You broke open springs and torrents; You dried up ever-flowing streams.
 16 Yours is the day, Yours also is the night; You have prepared the light and the sun.
 17 You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.

This is an ancient interpretation of Genesis 1.  It describes the creation event as being an act of war against Leviathan and sea monsters, which the earth had to be delivered from.  This indicates not only that the earth already existed, but that some kind of creatures already existed on it.  That there may have been a creation before the Genesis 1 account.

And this makes sense.  After all, the Genesis 1 creation begins with the earth already existing and it being covered with ocean.  Interestingly enough, this is the same state of affairs in Genesis 8, after the flood in which God “delivers” the earth from the mass of humanity who had become too violent.  Thus, a creation event could very well be a wiping of a previous creation and the creating of a new one.  The biblical record, then speaks of two of these events.

It just so happens, that the fossil record also speaks of a “wiping out” of species.  In fact, there are indications of five mass extinctions in the fossil record, followed by a heightened period of new species being developed.  The complexification of species does not exclusively in this period, but it certainly increases.  Thus it is possible that both science and theology can agree upon various periods of destruction and re-creation.

But what about God’s participation?  This requires a little speculation, but it is possible to reconcile theology and science in this regard as well.  It is clear in the biblical text that God had “helpers” in creation.  Some of these helpers are metaphorical, such as “wisdom” in Proverbs 7, but some are considered to be literal, such as the Word in John 1 and Jesus in Colossians 1.  And Elohim in Genesis 1 calls himself “we”, which is rare in the Bible text. 

My speculation is this: that God created the earth much in the way that a CEO of Microsoft creates programs.  The CEO orders the programs made, but the actual creation is done by underlings.  This is not that the CEO cannot do the programs himself, but that he is teaching his underlings to create.  Thus, there is a progression in creation, and it happens over time, while an all powerful, all knowing creator would do it all at once.

My speculation goes further: A computer program is not actually made by a single person, but later programmers actually borrow pieces of earlier programs in order to quickly develop their programs, without having to re-invent the wheel.  Thus, if one looks at computer programs over the whole of the invention of them, it looks as if they “evolved”, that is, developed in a natural progression.  This is because a single program develops a useful set of text, which is then found after in many other programs.  However, we understand that there were many designers involved that made that progression possible. 

Again, this is speculation, but it is this sort of speculation that might help there be a new kind of creationism that, like the intelligent design philosophy, would take a fair look at both the biblical text and the fossil record and try to determine God’s plan from that.

From the fossil record, and from looking at other creatures, we can determine that the parts of humanity were compiled from other creature’s collections of cells.  However, the whole of humanity remains unique.  Humanity truly is a special creation.

It seems difficult to justify self-consciousness from an evolutionary standpoint.  What possible benefit can self-consciousness provide any species?  I am not saying that other species besides humanity cannot have self-consciousness.  It is clear that other animals can have this possibility.  But what is the benefit of it?  It only leads to speculation and failed attempts to control ones environment.  On a survival basis, self-consciousness is decidedly unhelpful.

The beginning of a human relationship with the Creator is to know ourselves as creatures.  Humanity is dust—one with the world—yet created in God’s image.  Earthiness and divinity in one neat package, multiplied by billions.  Weakness and strength; bound to both the physical and the spiritual; fallen yet eternally linked to God.  Humanity is the perfect bridge, between heaven and earth, yet fundamentally warped.


Purpose of Creation


Then God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them"; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.  Genesis 1:11-12

When my son was very young, my parents bought him a Brio table.  It was about two feet high, four by three feet in area, and it had a four inch lip around it so the Brio train pieces wouldn’t fall off.  The center of it had a river, a road and other designs painted on it.  It was nice, but not especially pretty.  When it was clean, it looked decidedly empty. 

Almost the instant the table reached home, it was filled with Brio pieces, some connected, some strewn about, awaiting their turn to be a part of play.  And this is the state the table was for years, until at last it was replaced by a computer and it was no longer needed.   It was cleared, the pieces packed away and given to another child who would spend his young years building and rebuilding train tracks.

Recently, someone “donated” (e.g. abandoned) a Brio table at our church facility.  There were no tracks or bridges or trains, just the table, all made and set up.  It looked so lonely, so empty.  Having seen this kind of table filled for so many years it seemed strange for it to sit there, without purpose, without life.

I wonder if this is how God saw the world.  He had separated light and darkness, established the sun moon and stars, the sea and land were in their proper places.  I wonder if he looked out at this creation and said, “It’s so empty.  I mean, it’s pretty enough but without movement, without stuff to play with there’s really nothing there. “

So God filled the land and filled the sea and filled the sky so that the world wouldn’t seem so bland.  Because what is a whole world if you don’t have anything to play with?

He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine which makes man's heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man's heart.
The trees of the LORD drink their fill, The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,
Where the birds build their nests, And the stork, whose home is the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats; The cliffs are a refuge for the shephanim.
Psalm 104:13-18 

Now I have to make a confession that my previous portrayal of God is inadequate.  Yes, he certainly wanted to fill the earth with life, but it wasn’t spontaneous.  Certainly he wanted moving parts in his world to play with, but it was much better planned than I presented above.

To a certain degree, the battle between science and religion in terms of creation has less to do with whether God was involved in creation, and more with the timing of the planning.  Did God, in one fell swoop, create all things, great and small and that one great plan established all things for all time?  Or was creation done by the seat of God’s pants, one piece at a time, and the process of creation is still going on, even now?  Theologians and fundamentalists have argued over this, but there is not real clear answer in the Bible. 

What is clear, however, is that in the planning God established the world and life to work together.  It wasn’t just that God woke up one day and decided to create the world.  Poof!  There it is!  And the next day he woke up and said, “Hmm.  Something’s missing,” as if he were a cook figuring out a missing ingredient for a soup and determining that Life was the missing ingredient.  Life and the world were made to work together.  Whether they were made at the same time is insignificant.  But the world was made to sustain life and life was made to live in the world.

There are basic ingredients to sustaining life.  The Bible mentions food, water and shelter.  Of course, most life also needs oxygen and carbon dioxide, a certain temperature range and protection from the rays and objects in space.  God made the world specifically in order to sustain the life he desired.  This world was created with life in mind.

There are other ideas of what life might be like.  Perhaps there is a kind of intelligent life that could be gaseous.  Certainly most life found in the ocean are of a very different type than us mammals (dolphins, whales and their kin excepted).  A wider array of potential life could be found.  But life was made to be sustained in this particular world.

When God created the world, he created it to be sustainable.  When God said that creation was “good” he was, at the very least, speaking of a world and life that could sustain each other, and they would. 

It is fascinating that humanity has sometimes forsaken this basic model of sustainability, not only for the world at large, but for others in their own species.  If someone is hungry or thirsty or without shelter, a large portion of humanity says, “It’s not my problem,” as if mutual sustainability wasn’t something in our very nature.

Not only is mutual sustainability part of our nature, it is in the very DNA of the earth itself.  Life supports the world and the world supports life.  The mountains provide homes for the goats and bones from dead creatures create limestone, which builds the world.  And it is the responsibility of humanity to sustain creation, even as creation sustains humanity.  It is, if possible even more, the responsibility for humanity to sustain humanity.  Because if we do not, we do not even have ourselves.  To ignore our sister in need is to vote against our own existence.

O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions.
There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great.
There the ships move along, And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.
Psalm 104:24-26

The great and powerful sea is the work of God.  But the greatest of the creatures in the sea is Leviathan.
Mind you, few of humanity has ever seen Leviathan, yet we are told some of this creature in the Bible.  It is a creature that lives, not in the oceans that remain on the earth, but in the waters above, in the spirit world, where it lives with other sea dragons, powerful and wise and terrible.
In Job 41, we have a poetic but detailed description of this creature:

Around his teeth there is terror.

Better not to get too close to the mouth, then.

 15 "His strong scales are his pride, Shut up as with a tight seal.
 16 "One is so near to another That no air can come between them.         

Very well made.  Like a tortoise shell, or a Tupperware bowl.


  18 "His sneezes flash forth light…

That must be some pretty bad cold.

 19 "Out of his mouth go burning torches; Sparks of fire leap forth.
 20 "Out of his nostrils smoke goes forth As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
 21 "His breath kindles coals, And a flame goes forth from his mouth.

Wow, that’s what I call morning breath.  I’ve had some horrible gingivitis in my time, but I’ve never had it dark and flaming out of my mouth.  This is not the kind of creature I think I want to be near. 

25 "When he raises himself up, the mighty fear; Because of the crashing they are bewildered.
 26 "The sword that reaches him cannot avail, Nor the spear, the dart or the javelin.
 27 "He regards iron as straw, Bronze as rotten wood.

He’s scary because no one can defeat him.  Call out St. George or Bard, because they’re the only ones who could face up to this character.

31 "He makes the depths boil like a pot;

You know, I’m not really interested in approaching a sea creature that makes the sea boil.  I don’t care whether it’s hot or not, a monster that makes his own rapids is someone to keep away from.
Leviathan is a scary dude.  He is used as a symbol of the greatest enemies of God and humanity.  In Canaanite myths, all creation was scared to death of this serpent, and it required Baal, the greatest of all warrior gods in Canaanite mythology to take him on, and after one epic (literally) battle, Leviathan was finally defeated.  In Revelation the description of many-headed Leviathan is used to describe Satan, the enemy of Jesus and all humanity.

For YHWH God, creator of heaven and earth, his perspective on Leviathan is quite different.  It says that the archnemesis of Baal, the fear of humanity was created by God for “his sport.”  Leviathan was made to splash around the water, for God’s entertainment.

Wow.

Yes, this monster, this terror, who breathes flame and destroys all that comes near him was God’s plaything, his bathtub toy. 

Not only that, but this was his purpose of creation.  He wasn’t created to protect the sea, or to destroy or to cause havoc or to destroy.  He was created to play with, to have fun.  God perhaps has an odd idea of fun, and I’m glad he doesn’t make toys for children, but that was Leviathan’s purpose.

It seems that Leviathan might have strayed from his purpose of creation.  He was made to be good, to be a part of the creation that sustains and enjoys and is enjoyed, but now he is the byword for terror, and no one would want to come near him. 

But isn’t that like all of us.  God has created each one of us for a certain purpose, for a cause, a reason… but how many of us have fulfilled the purpose of our creation.  Perhaps few of us have made such a drastic departure as Leviathan, but some of us have come close.  Some of us have drifted such a distance from who we were supposed to be that we don’t even recognize ourselves. 
But with God, there is always another opportunity.  God made us for a certain purpose, and He has not forgotten that purpose, nor can we drift away to such a degree from that purpose that we can never fulfill it.  God, and God alone, can lead us back to our original path.  If we would but allow Him to do so.


“I want to be all that You dreamed of
When You saw my frame.”
  -Isa

The Pattern of Creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Before this, there was nothing.  Then, poof!  (or Bang!) there were heavens and earth.  The two basics of all life. Sky and ground.  Ceiling and floor.  Up and down.  These are the two basics of many cosmos origin stories.  Some say that life was created from the union of these two basic elements.  Of all the ancient cosmos origins, only the Hebrew one declares that all that we know was created by an outside entity: God, who is both outside and greater than earth or heaven, and they are both submitted to him for He is the maker of both.

And we know in the Bible that when God creates, his creation is Good.  Yahweh, Elohim, the Creator, is neither evil nor is he the originator of evil.  Nor is He the originator of chaos, of empty utility.  When God finishes his creation, whatever it may be, he looks at it and says, “It is good.”
This does not mean that creation is perfect.  There is still growth to be made, things to be named, enemies to subdue, difficulties to overcome and tests to either pass or fail.  God’s creation is never a perfect creation.  It is sufficient to grow in, it is sufficient for peace, it is sufficient for sustenance.  But it can also fail, it can falter, it can become inadequate, it can potentially be destroyed.   However, when everything begins, it is enough to be called “good”. 

Thus, when the heavens and the earth were created, God looked at it and said, “it is good.”  But at the beginning of God’s six-day creation, all was not good.

The earth was formless and void, darkness was over the face of the deep, and the breath of God was over the waters.

The earth was not as God had made it in the beginning.  It was empty, vanity, chaotic, purposeless: a wasteland.  It had changes drastically away from the good that God had created.  He created a good heavens and a good earth, but there is the earth being the very antithesis of the peace that God had intended in creation. 

We will discuss how it got this way in another episode, but for now, let us look deeper at this inversion of creation, this chaos out of order, this void out of substance,  this evil out of good.   First, there is darkness.  Darkness is not of God, but of the enemy of God, in fact, darkness can be seen as the opposite of God.  God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.  But on the earth, God’s creation, is no light whatsoever.  It is completely dark.

Second, the earth is full of the deep.   The deep is the Sea, the Ocean, full of darkness, chaos and insanity.  The deep is the enemy of earthly creation, a horror story in and of itself, in opposition to God’s creation.  Even though the Sea itself is a creation of God, yet the deep pits itself against all other forms of God’s creation, leaving only destruction in its wake.  No one can determine the motivations of the sea, no one can understand it.  None except God travels into the deep, and only God dares to move His wind, his breath, his power over the top of it.

In the first verse God created all the cosmos in good and strength.  By the second verse, all is darkness and chaos and waste and horror and monstrosity. 

And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light and God saw that it was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light day and the darkness night.

So God creates again.  He creates something like Himself, something good, some light to be put in the darkness, some hope to be put into despair, some order put into the chaos, some mercy in the midst of hatred.  God creates because it is in His nature to create.  In the beginning God created out of nothing, out of emptiness.  After that first creation, God’s creation only builds, re-forms, but never out of nothing again.  God will never again wipe the slate completely clean.  Something must be built out of something, even if that something is ruined, turned into evil.

Because evil is never purely evil.  There is no such thing as pure evil.  God created all things and he created them good.  So evil is simply an attempt to be better than good, which is the same impulse God has.  God also wants to see good improved.  It is just that evil uses the means of destruction.  Evil believes that weakness should be wiped away and then only the perfect will be left.
God believes that everything has its place, and that creation must be filled with weakness in order to firmly establish strength.  So when God re-created, when He took back the earth from darkness and the deep, the enemies of God, he didn’t wipe darkness out.  Instead, he gave darkness its proper place.  To wipe out one’s enemies, that is the path of evil.  God isn’t like that.  Rather, he sets boundaries, and says, “Darkness, this is your place.  But you can’t cross the border to this place.  Stay there.”

God says to the Sea, “I am giving you a place on earth, but you may not have it all.  You have a border, a limit.  You stay in this place, you may not cross over.”  Mind you, darkness and the Sea are forces of chaos.  They will test these borders, they will attempt to cross over and wield destruction.  But God always puts them back and says to them like a rebellious child, “No.  This is your place.  You may not cross over.  Stay there.”  And, like a rebellious child, they stay in their place until the next time they escape.

Our lives are God’s creation.  We were started by God in the midst of this world.  And quickly after our lives became chaotic, ugly, even horrific.  We think we can fix it, but we find that fixing our lives is like placing darkness in a box, pushing the sea back with a bulldozer.  It can’t be done.  We don’t have the capacity for it.


Our only hope is to  have God fix the darkness and chaos of our lives.  To have Him re-create our world.  But when He does that, he doesn’t get rid of the chaos or the destruction.  Rather, he forms our lives so that the chaos remains in its place, it has a limit, it becomes manageable.  Yes, sometimes the destruction escapes and gets out of our control.  That’s when we need to call God, the Father, and ask him to put the rebellious child back in its place.  The evil in our lives is still there.  It is just limited.  With God at our side, perhaps that is enough.

Ministry to the Outcast



All true ministry has the goal of leading a people to faith in Jesus as Lord and living that out in their lives.

n  Identification—I Cor. 9:19-23  Some within a congregation that will take on the role of an outcast in order to reach them.  Get rid of the separation between the “server” and the “served”.

n  Offer to be Family—Mark 2:15-17; Luke 15.  Total love of the “sinner”, and an offer to partake in acceptance.  This is the major felt need of the outcast—social acceptability.  To offer acceptance is not to have the outcast feel that acceptance—this only comes with an acceptance of forgiveness and inclusion in the community.  This sense of family cannot be created by a program, but one can use a program as a base-point to increase this acceptance.

n  Listening—James 1:19  You cannot meet anyone’s needs until you know what they are.  Get past the first hurdles in order to discover their real needs (e.g. no one needs money, money is a means to meet the real need)

n  Benevolence—Trying to meet their needs, but doing so with dependence on God.  Those with resources, give what you have (Luke 12:33); those without, pray for healing (Matt 10).  To give what we have, may be to offer what God alone has to give, instead of the petty resources we have (Acts 3:1-8).

n  Deliverance—From Satan, from sin, from death.  This is God’s area, and if we are called to work with the outcast, we are God’s representatives. 
A.     By prayer.  (Mark 9:28-29; Luke 18:1-8). Through prayer, deliverance from oppression can occur.
B.     By teaching. (Matthew 28:19-20).  Through the teaching of Jesus’ commands, teaching and life there will come understanding of God’s justice and of gaining that justice.
C.     By dwelling with (John 1:14; Acts 2:42-47).  By living with the outcast and showing them the life of Christ they will gain understanding and the ability to live it out.
D.     By suffering for. (John 12:24-27; Colossians 1:24)  Through suffering the suffering of Christ the people of God will be redeemed.  This is the wake up call, the realization of the atonement in the lives of the people, the life of Christ in the flesh.

n  Forgiveness— Luke 15; Mark 2:1-12; John 20:23. This is also a sense of acceptance, like mentioned above, under “family”.  But this is different, in that it occurs after regret for sin and repentance is done.  This is an acceptance that comes after a wiping away of the debt of sin, and is fuller than a simple offering of acceptance.

n  Guiding to Commitment—Luke 14:26-27.
A.     Commitment to God as the one true Lord (Matthew 6:24);
B.     Commitment to living according to the righteousness of Jesus (Matthew 7:24-27; John 14:15);
C.     Commitment to Love (Mark 21:29-31);
D.     Commitment to the family of God (Matthew 12:47-50);
E.      Commitment to reaching out to the outcast (Matthew 28:19-20).

Attitudes to Minister to the Outcast


Gentleness (Proverbs 15:1; Matthew 11:28-30; Galatians 6:1-2) 
The outcast are typically wrathful, having been oppressed by the evil.  Even if they are in sin, they don’t need to be treated with harshness.  They know their sin, and if they do not, they need to be informed carefully, not with anger.  They are looking for deliverance, they are looking for family.  They will not choose to pursue family with those who are harsh or critical.  This is not to say that sin should not be spoken of—it is.  But it needs to be dealt with kid gloves, not with wrath.

Patience (Psalm 103:8; I Thess. 2:9; II Peter 3:9)
            Convictions built up over years do not melt away overnight.  It requires much patience and work to show others that God is for them, although the world be against them.  The outcast will reject you, will speak evil of you, will mock you and secretly despise you.  But over time, the message of the gospel will work in the hearts—even of those who seems least likely to hear it!  Labor patiently—literally for years—in order to see the fruit of faith.
           
Impartiality
We are not to show favoritism between social groups. (James 2:1-8; I Cor. 7:22) We are not to show favoritism between ethnic or cultural groups. (Matthew 8:11-12; Acts 10:34-35) We are not to show favoritism between knowledge of God. (Romans 2:11-13). We are not to show favoritism between sins. (James 2:10) This last is a tricky one.  We want to separate some sinners from another because one sin is worse than another.  James says that we are condemned by all of them.  If we are to offer a benefit or service to one sinner outside of Christ, then why shouldn’t we give it to all of them?  Impartiality is essential in ministry to the outcast, for their sense of injustice is strong.

Reliance on God  (Matthew 10:9-10)
            We, the ministers of the gospel, must be dependent on God.  In the New Testament, most ministry is done with total dependence on God, for no one can do miraculous healings or exorcisms of their own power.  Even so, we must not depend on our own resources or abilities to minister, but to rely on God and his work.

Surrender (Colossians 1:24; Philippians 2:3)


            In ministering to the outcast, we must be ready to sacrifice.  The needs are great—greater than we can meet.  And more will be demanded of us than we can give.  Yes, we do what we can so we can minister, but let us not set arbitrary boundaries around our love.  Instead, we should set boundaries so we can love the most people we can.  This will mean that care for ourselves might be compromised—but this is what ministry is about.  Do what you must to continue to love, and beyond that, give and give.  

Salvation is...

What is Salvation?


The salvation of the Father is…
…living with God
…a homeland of peace and security and justice
…sufficient food and drink and warmth for everyone
…deliverance from enemies and all who hate us
…a family and a community that cares for you and supports you
…the ability to worship and serve God in how he desires us to
…living obediently to God, free from sin and rebellion
…life and peace that lasts forever

The salvation of Jesus is…
…freedom from slavery to sin
…freedom from the consequences of sin, including suffering, hatred and death.
…being made right with God
…remaining satisfied with who you are without anxiety, shame or fear.
…being reconciled to your community
…being raised from the dead
…being a peacemaker, drawing others closer to God and to others

The salvation of the Holy Spirit is…
…always having the ability to do what is right
…living in love of others
…having wisdom to know and do what God wants
…understanding what is true and right
…courage to stand for God in all circumstances, no matter the cost



Your Salvation is Too Small:
If your salvation includes forgiveness, but not healing, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes heaven, but not a restored earth, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes Christians, but not sinners, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes freedom of worship, but not food, shelter and hope for the poor, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes resurrection, but not the eradication of oppression, then your salvation is too small.

If your salvation includes reconciliation between God and man, but not reconciliation between enemies on earth, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes a peaceful worshiping community, but not the destitute, then your salvation is too small. 
If your salvation includes purity, but not love, then your salvation is too small.