Topics: God

The Creator of all reality and the intimate friend of the Christian.

Design & Theology

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

I did an internet search recently to understand what designers like me (web, graphic, or industrial designers specifically) think about their activity in terms of how it relates to God.  The first post I came across after doing a Google search was a blog with a category page with a confusing title of “The Design of Theology.”  All its posts were instead about the theology of design.  The first one I read was about how the main purpose of graphic / communication design was to share or promote the glory of God.  This seemed to me a good idea, but a little odd because a professional graphic designer often does things other than that, so it would be hard to argue that this is the primary purpose of Graphic design in the sphere of human society, and it would lead a professional to feel a little guilty that he or she wasn’t doing something “churchy.”  This is unhelpful theology to me or anyone not working as a graphic designer for a church.

The second post I read was much worse.

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“Knowing” God in the Old Testament

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

In my experience in popular theology, I have frequently read and heard the notion that the God of the Old Testament scriptures was somewhat distant from his people in relation to how the modern Christian experiences him today. With the advent of the coming of Christ and the ushering in of the New Covenant, a new closeness and intimacy with God was now possible to a degree not experienced before through the impartation of the Holy Spirit.  This concept may be further solidified by Jesus’ comment that “the Counselor” will not come to his people until Christ had completed his work and returned to the Father.[1] This idea of God’s closeness to his people being different from one Covenant to the next has always bothered me, most likely because of a perceived consistency of God’s character and his dealings with people summarized by the author of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”[2] It seems odd to me that he would treat his people differently in terms of relational intimacy from one covenant to another.

In order to understand this issue better, I have chosen to examine the Old Testament’s use of the Hebrew word yāda , (to perceive, to know) in terms of God “knowing” man or man “knowing” God.  With a thorough study of this word and its nuanced meanings found throughout the Old Testament and a brief look at its counterparts in the Ancient Near Eastern languages of the time, a good foundation can be laid for further studies in the disciplines of theology and philosophy.  None of these disciplines or any topic within them, however, will be addressed. Read the rest of this entry »

The Problem of Natural Evil

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Within the last 6 years, two devastating natural disasters have shaken the consciences of our generation.  On December 26th 2004, an underwater earthquake with a magnitude measuring between 9.0 and 9.3 on the Richter scale occurred a hundred miles off the coast of northern Sumatra, a province of Indonesia.  The resulting tsunami, later named “The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami,” devastated the coastline communities of nearly all nearby land masses with tidal waves up to a hundred feet high.  The death toll was enormous: nearly a quarter of a million people perished, and based on the many photos taken in the aftermath, many of its victims were small children, whose bodies were found scattered up and down the coasts where the tsunamis hit.[1]

Six years later in January of 2010, another devastating earthquake hit a small town 16 miles away from the heavily populated city of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti.  The quake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, and the death toll according to the Haitian government was 230,000 with 300,000 injured and 1,000,000 left homeless.

No more than a month later, an even more severe earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale hit off the coast of the Maule region of Chili, devastating coastal towns thought the region. Although the death toll was not as high as the Asian tsunami or the Haitian earthquakes, local news services at the time reported that more than 1.5 million people had been displaced.

This was not the first time such visceral evil and suffering had jarred the minds and hearts of people in this decade.  From an American perspective, the beginning of this century was marred by a horrifying display of terrorism as the infamous events of 9/11 flashed before our eyes on television and computer screens across the world.  People all over the country, unaccustomed to violence so immanent in their lives, sought to find answers and consolation.  How could this kind of evil have happened to our country?  Some people turned to religion to answer questions.  Church attendance grew for a time.

However, the Tsunami of 2004 awoke in men and women of this generation the realization of a different kind of evil – one that could not be blamed on men, but on whimsical natural forces of the earth.  No longer could the senseless violence and the deaths of thousands be blamed on moral agents as we had been culturally accustomed to thinking about evil over the last 3 years, but was instead the fault of an “act of God.”  A discomfort with religion and its attempts to explain such suffering began to emerge.  Both the atheist and the theist could see a common enemy behind the 9/11 attacks, but with the horrors of a natural disaster now in the forefront, the national and international religious communities began to struggle with answers for questions they were not used to addressing.

In some cases, Christians and religious leaders could not digest the events of the Tsunami or other instances of natural evil without readjusting their views of the goodness or power of God.[2] Outspoken atheists seemed to find real proof that the claim of the Christian God being all-powerful and loving was illogical.[3] Outspoken Christians unconcerned with correlating these events with God’s character were quick to see them instead as being a righteous judgment against people who deserved it.  Others saw it as an act of God that was in some way beneficial to the human race or more specifically to enlightened Christians.  As it turned out, there were a lot of bad explanations for the reasons behind these terrible disasters, but there was an absence of any good ones.  Why would God allow such devastation?  Many more thoughtful and rational religious thinkers agreed: there was no answer.[4] Read the rest of this entry »

Father, forgive them.

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

I’m taking a quick break from my weekly paper writing.  I was recently asked by my pastor, who didn’t know better :),  to give a short meditation to speak in church on Jesus’ first statement while on the cross.  I thought I’d post it, because in seeing Jesus’ reaction, I was immediately reminded of my failure to be anything like him when I was going though very painful times in my life, specifically my ugly church experiences where I made many enemies.  It has been an inspiration for me to read and think about this moment in Jesus’ life, and is a story about a person’s heart that we should all strive for, whether Christian or not.

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. – Luke 23:33-34

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The dark side of free will

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

warn2.gifNote to atheists: this post may look like I’m pointing a critical finger exclusively at you, but I’m not! This isn’t a happy or easy topic for me. After reading this (if you choose to) please believe me that I, like all humanity suffer from the same problems that free will makes us susceptible to. If I end up offending you, please forgive me! I’m not perfect and I don’t have the ability to write about this sensitive subject very well. Please know I have a great respect for you and that I do not know the whole story for why you believe the way you do. I borrowed the cute warning sticker off of alistapart.com, and will use it when the posts I write have potential to annoy or offend people. BTW, this is NOT reverse psychology trick. It means to get ready to be offended (possibly).

I have talked in earlier posts about the concept of man’s free will in a worldview of an all-powerful God. It’s a nice thing – it makes us different than robots and all that. We have the freedom to choose what to do with the time we have – to live a spiritual life or to live a selfish one. What has haunted me for the last 5 weeks has been this – that free will, as rosy as it seems on the surface, has a terrible side-effect.
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Fried Green Tomatoes

Monday, April 9th, 2007

If anyone who is reading this hasn’t seen the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, I would suggest seeing it ASAP if you are a person who cares deeply about the spiritual life. Since I am spending all my time at home with my wife helping out with our new baby, we end up sitting and watching movies. We just watched it, and when I watch a good movie, I’m up half the night thinking about it.

Two things about this movie made a big impression on me. The first one was who the real heroes in a society really are. I’ve written about the concept of the hero in society before – but this movie is the embodiment of what I think one looks like.

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Atonement

Friday, February 9th, 2007

A long time ago, I had a dream. It was one of the most amazing dreams I’ve ever had, and I felt tonight that I should write about it.

I can’t remember what I was going through at the time in my life, but usually dreams like this come when I am really discouraged. But I don’t even remember what exactly it was I was discouraged with. This is probably because my dream was so powerful it overshadowed all my memories in the year it happened. It will definitely sound weird to most, and if it isn’t helpful, just stop reading it. I just don’t have the talent for writing about things in my life that are so wild.

In my dream, I remember being in a place of fog – I could not see further than a few yards in any direction, but I believe I was standing on a smooth hard surface. Even though I could not see, there was an ambient light that made my entire surroundings glow, so I was not in darkness. What happened next is very hard for me to describe.

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Motivations behind the switch…

Monday, February 5th, 2007

Bored in Vernal posted a great question in response to the Risk and Proof post: Is a person who has had a religious experience with a God in one tradition justified in looking into other religions… here’s my best crack at an answer that is more exploring the issue than actually answering it 🙂

What was the motivation for pursing another? If a person had real communication with a God from one faith tradition, why leave (or wander)? First of all, it might be easy to leave or look around because the God of one seems to be a similar God in another (such as is the case with Catholicism, Protestant Christianity, Mormonism, and Islam) – Every one of those faiths seem to believe in the same God of the Bible, but differ radically in the details. But even if the leaving is easy and would not be considered “adultery” in the OT sense, why leave or look elsewhere?

I guess there is a sense of studying other religions just to understand them while still believing in your current one, and this can’t be wrong, but what if one were actually trying to find truth in them. Even in this sense, it seems to me that there are certain truths found in most religions – such as certain virtues of martial fidelity, the view of life as sacred, not to steal or testify falsely in trial, etc. So in other religious that have a different God-like entity entirely – such as Buddhism or Hinduism in contrast to Judeo-Christian religions, some things are still the same.

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After the risk

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

Asara asked some great questions about finding God from a risk-taking perspective. If a person takes the risk of believing in God, what would be the next steps towards a deeper faith? This was in response to my previous post, (Risk and Proof.) My answer got too long, so I thought I would write another post instead. Note: this is not how I came to know God of the Bible – it was more of an overwhelming invitation. However, if my life were different, I would probably venture down a similar road to the one I describe.
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Can a person please God or be saved without direction revelation?

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

These are some thoughts from my father on this subject – one that has bothered me for a long time now and I have often sought to figure it out in more detail. But as you can see in a list of 26 points, the Bible is pretty clear — absolutely!

  1. Enoch, who had no access to any direct revelation from God, “walked with God” (Gen 5:24). Apparently human beings, even without direct revelation, had been given enough to enable them to seek to live righteously and to be able to please God.
  2. Likewise Noah “walked with God” prior to receiving any direct revelation from God; he was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” (Gen 6:9); and “he found favor in the eyes of the Lord”–before God spoke to him (Gen 6:8)
  3. It seems unlikely that Enoch was the only human being who pleased God during the time between Noah and Abraham (the two individuals who received direct revelation from God). God apparently did not seem pressed to give more direct revelation in order to make it possible for the millions of human beings who lived during those 10 generations to hear, and be saved.
  4. Did all the people on earth go to hell during the 400 years that the Israelites sojourned in Egypt, since there was no direct revelation from God during that period of time?
  5. Did all the people on earth go to hell, except for a few Israelites, between the time of Moses (ca. 1440 B.C.) and Jesus’ death (A.D. 31), since no one except for the Israelites had access to God’s direct revelation during this time? If God provided a way for human beings without direct revelation to be accepted by God during these years, does this mean that God-fearing people in the Fiji Islands (or China or Tibet) could go to heaven if they lived during the time from 3000 B.C. to 31 A.D., but would go to hell if they lived during the time from 31 A.D. onward? Wouldn’t this mean that Christ’s death actually doomed to hell countless thousands or millions of God-fearing people in distant lands who had the misfortune of being born after, rather than before, Christ’s death?
  6. If God provided a way for God-fearing non-Israelites to “be saved” without access to direct revelation during the millennia before Christ, did he suddenly change the rules at the moment Christ died on the cross?
  7. God’s revelation of himself to the Israelites (the OT) never claims that it gives the Israelites a better chance of going to heaven than non-Israelites.
  8. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who had never received revelation from God, was a priest of God and instructed Moses (Exodus 18).
  9. Melchizedek, who never received any direct revelation from God, was a priest of God who was highly commended in Scripture.
  10. The Law given to Moses was not perceived as a way for people to “get saved” or go to heaven.
  11. God would have saved the city of Sodom if there had been 10 righteous people there–which suggests that people in a non-Israelite city could live righteous lives and be pleasing God.
  12. The Syrian Naaman and the Phoenician woman of Zarephath were righteous individuals, and they were more pleasing to God than the Israelites, despite the fact that, unlike the Israelites, they had not received any divine revelation.
  13. Job, who had never received any direct revelation about God, was the most righteous man on the earth at the time. This would mean that Job was more pleasing to God than any of the Israelites, who had access to God’s direct revelation. People in OT times who had never heard about the true God of Israel could live righteous lives and be more pleasing to God than those who had received God’s direct revelation.
  14. The book of Job often refers to “the righteous” (among the nations), as those who please God, etc. (e.g., Job 28:28).
  15. God accepts Job’s three friends (Job 42:9ff.)
  16. The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes divide mankind up into “the righteous” and “the wicked”–without regard to whether or not they have received direct revelation (e.g., “it will go better for those who fear God . . . ”–contra the wicked)
  17. In the NT, the Phoenician woman amazed Jesus by her faith (Matt 15:21-28).
  18. The Roman centurian amazed Jesus by his faith (“I have not found such great faith in Israel!” (Matthew 8 ).
  19. Jesus declared, “Many will come from the east and west and take their places at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the subjects of the kingdom [of Israel] will be thrown outside . . . ” (Matt. 8:11-12)
  20. The Roman Cornelius and his family were living lives that were pleasing to God before they heard anything about the Gospel: “He and his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10).
  21. Peter to Cornelius: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35)
  22. The woman from Thyatira, Lydia, who was not Jewish, is described as “a worshiper of God”; and the Lord opened her heart to receive Paul’s message of the Gospel (Acts 16:14).
  23. Not only Jews, but God-fearing Gentiles keep turning to Christ throughout the book of Acts.
  24. Paul to the Athenians: “God has given all men life and breath and everything else, . . . God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each on one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’. As some of you own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:25-28).
  25. God said to Paul, about the city of Corinth: “Do not be afraid; I have many people in this city (Acts 18:9). Apparently a number of the (Gentile) inhabitants of Corinth, even before Paul arrived there with the Gospel, were God-fearing people that God considered his own.
  26. Regarding those who have never received the kind of direct revelation which the Jews received, Paul explains: God judges all human beings justly, rewarding those who seek to live righteously and punishing those who live wickedly. God gives eternal life to the righteous, and he punishes the wicked (Romans 2:6-11).

Revelation (a response to Elise’s question)

Friday, November 17th, 2006

This is a response to a question Elise had about my understanding of how God reveals himself to people, and how I understand atheism in all of this. Please believe me when I say that I am just like the next guy trying to figure this stuff out. This post represents my best current thinking, and I am not at all 100% sure my thinking is solid, but I am just doing my best I can.As a Christian, I do not believe Christianity is the ‘One True Religion,’ and all others are absolutely false, but rather that Jesus spoke the clearest revelation of spiritual truth than all others. All religions have some truth to them, some more than others, but to me, Jesus’ teachings and the God of the Old Testament, who I believe to be one and the same person, seem to me to be the most purest written revelation that is available to men. That is why I believe it was called the good news. Its the clearest, most direct answer to how to live the spiritual life. All religions, including atheism, are like lights in darkness – some are brighter, some are darker – I simply want to follow the brightest light of all.

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Science fiction and the spiritual world view

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

Asara asked me a good question about science fiction and spiritual phenomena in a previous post, and it actually made me think about another topic – In all of my readings, the world views presented in SF rarely allow for the existence of the spiritual, with the exception of Stephen Lawhead and C.S. Lewis (neither are well known for their SF work). In my experience, mixing in a spiritual world with the prevalent SF atheist world view makes for a strange and interesting story, which is in some ways uncomfortable but in other ways is exciting and mind-bending. Mind bending is a good way to describe it because reading them caused me to have to corrode that “invisible divide” in my brain between science and spirituality that Sam Harris talks about in The End of Faith. Has anyone read any good science fiction that crosses these boundaries? What has been your experience reading them? Is anyone else very sensitive, like I am, to world views in fantasy and science fiction, especially when it conflicts with your world view?

God and the natural world

Monday, November 6th, 2006

I remember when a girl down the street from me died.

Her name was Andi. She was only 3 years older than me and a senior in my high school. I was friends with her younger brother, who would get together and talk about video games and cross-country running with my other good friend. It was a terrible shock to our small rural neighborhood. She lived with her parents and her brother in a renovated farmhouse, and our whole neighborhood, who were mostly Christian, got together at her house to express their grief with the family. One neighbor tried to comfort the parents by saying that God was in this somehow, and I remember my father coming home upset by that comment and told me so. “You should never say such a thing, he told me – who knows that stuff… it’s better just to cry with them and just shut up.” I was too young and stupid to understand, but I never forgot what he said. Her parents moved away not too long after and we never saw them again.

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The meaning of the fairy tale

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

I wanted to add some notes about my final dream / short story fairy tale I spoke about in my last post. I read it and realized that nobody would be able to understand how it defined my life.

The grandmother represents the Christian church I grew up in similar to how C.S. Lewis describes the allegorical character of Mother Kirk in his book Pilgrim’s Regress. This was a complete coincidence (or was it??) – I read Pilgrim’s Regress years later. The church told the stories (the Bible) about God (the princess), but only managed to put within me the desire. They were simply the messenger, and the stories were only stories, testimonies of something or someone beautiful and real.

Even after I came to believe in God, it was hard figuring out what to do with Him amidst the pulls of the world and culture around me. I was drawn to all the different kinds of pursuits a young, shy, and intellectual guy could find to do. I dove headfirst into the arts – drawing and painting, and literature: SF, the classics, and then spiritual books – mostly C.S Lewis and crowd (the Inklings), the sciences (astronomy and physics), and creative writing. Each new area I encountered, I would engorge myself on it. For instance, when I first got into fantasy and SF – I would read 2-3 200+ page books a week.

Each pursuit had something exciting about it, some mysterious quality that attracted me to it. But the closer I got to it, the more its mystery and exciting qualities seemed to wane. Eventually they would all settle into the role of comfortable pastimes rather than passionate pursuits. So I would jump and engorge myself on the next thing.

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Foundations of my belief (part 2)

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

John over at MindonFire.com helped me remember that not only reading, but also writing, has had a huge impact on what I believe. I thought I would actually write about this experience, and how it shaped me. I have written a collection of short stories that blend the spaces of SF and fantasy. It is in the strange marriage of these two genres, where the worlds of magic and theoretical science come together, that my imagination has always been most stirred.  To me, the two are one and the same thing, only in different contexts.
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Evidence of God (a reply to Elise’s comment)

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

In a previous post, Elise responded with some great questions and doubts about repeatable proof of the existence of God based on the spiritual experiences of people of faith. I responded, but my reply was so long I had to turn it into another post, which seems to be a common occurrence. This is a humble and probably bad attempt to explain what I mean in my own experience when I say the existence of God and spiritual truth is measurable and repeatable on a personal and spiritual level. Some optional prerequisite reading would be a previous post- “Empirical evidence for spiritual truth?” which was inspired by parts of Sam Harris’ book – The End Of Faith, plus the comment dialog that followed.

My basic motivation behind this post is to give more concrete examples of what I mean when I talk about spiritual truth being measurable and repeatable, specifically involving the unique problems that come along with proving the existence of a person when physical proof is not available.

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Is God loving through inaction? (part 1)

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Piggybacking off of my previous post, Dear God?, I wanted to try to tackle a couple of interesting issues that arose there. I pulled the whole faith-based reasoning that I did there out and put it in this new post because it didn’t really belong there. All I really wanted to do was ask the question and explain in detail what I was confused by, and hopefully someone would come along and explain things. The discussion that follows is just my humble attempt at making sense of something that is a controversial subject, so if you find it doesn’t help you, as C.S. Lewis would say, just throw it out and don’t read it.

Anyway, out of the song, Dear God, the singer comes across as angry at God for not acting in a loving way towards His creation, which made me think about the nature of love and God and His interactions with us, a subject I wanted to give more depth to here. The argument is that through either His perceived inaction to rescue innocent people from the harm of others, or though His direct action to hurt innocent people through “acts of God” or natural disasters, He comes across as unloving.

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