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Archive for the ‘Theological Questions’ Category

Maternal Traits of God

Sometimes when someone reads that God I referenced as “He” in the Bible, they think that implies a sex prioritization or and sex hierarchy in the mind of God.

Somehow God being “He” also makes Him more like a male human than like a female human (or a male human more like Him than a female human)…

But I think that is a misunderstanding, mistake or in some cases, abuse.

What does it mean that I am male? It means that I have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. It also probably means that I have certain sex organs and plumbing. It probably means that I choose, as a preference or daily, between boxers and briefs.

So, obviously (I pray it is obvious) God being a “He” doesn’t mean the same things as those. Either there is something about His essence that links to something that all males (not just humans?)

That seems to be the case, but that is also quite a mystery, as revealed in Gen 1:27

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Something about being created in God’s own image is linked to us being create male and female, but what exactly is open to great speculation… but a clear implication is that man and woman are BOTH created in God’s image.

Woman are not a lesser version of God’s image, so God being a “He” must not be meant to imply that men are somehow closer to God’s image.

In fact, the main focus for this little article is to draw attention to the maternal traits of God.

I do not think that masculinity or femininity are biblically founded concepts. Male and female clearly are, but gender traits are entirely culturally based. (not man or woman – that is genetic, but “manly” or “lady-like” for example.) More on that in another article.

I have long said that though there are many biblical roles that can only be held by men (father, son, brother, husband, for example) and there are roles that can only be held by women (wife, mother, sister, daughter, etc.), but with very few directions for men or women outside of roles like this.

There are clearly passages that indicate paternal traits of God – and being referred to as “Father” and “He” are certainly examples that we are used to – but what about God’s maternal traits?

We are called to the roles in people’s lives as parents… for our children and other people’s children.

How would that be possible for women if God’s traits were only masculine?  Next we look at God’s maternal traits.

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The First Life.

Often, theistic views (design, creation, fine-tuning) are disrespected as somehow based in something irrational.

I wonder.

Let’s look at one small consequence of the alternative.

Imagine the first life.

The first life from lifelessness: Somehow a non-living thing came into the spark of life. Not sure how. So far under the most precise and controlled conditions with the energy and resources and intellect of the world’s best scientific community, we have not managed to accomplish this once.

Not just failed in a boiling cauldron of mud, not in the salt water off the coast of a volcanic island, not in a dark cave… in the climate controlled, chlorinated, clinical environment of the lab.

However, the theory is that somehow, in some kind natural environment, life came from something lifeless.  The evidence is that this happened more than 3.45 billion years ago.  (fossils have been found to be dated around that time) So, whatever happened, it happened the first time within the first billion years or so.

That life didn’t die instantly, as one might expect. It didn’t wink out just as quickly as it winked in. We know now how fragile life is, especially at the microscopic level… but this first hardy soul survived.

It seems more likely that this life winking into existence would have needed to have happened a few billion times before one survived past the next micro-second.   But, apparently, one of these little lives survived. And not just survive, but thrive!

Somehow that first life had to find nutrition. There were no predators – that must have been a relief, but still there was no system on Earth to reward or encourage life either… but now it had to find nutrition somehow. Photosynthesis is a crazily complex system of organs and chemical reactions, so it must have taken a long time with a boatload of positive mutations to come into existence… no way this first life had something like that. However, somehow, it found a way to sustain its existence.

And then, perhaps most impressively, it didn’t die alone! Somehow that first life had to figure out how to reproduce… all in one life span. It had to survive long enough to reproduce itself – all in one generation, since obviously no evolution could have taken place yet.

It had to not die instantaneously.

It had to sustain and grow.

It had to reproduce.

All alone, without help or protection… in a hostile world where no life had ever existed before… and no reason to exist beyond chance.

And we have never seen it happen again since; we have never been able to cause it to happen intentionally ever again. Perhaps we will someday. Perhaps one day we will bring life from lifelessness in a lab.

And then we will have shown how, with enough energy, intelligence, resources and intentionality, life can come into existence.

So, am I ok to believe that it is rational to believe that this first life was not all alone?

Can we respect the belief that it was Shepherded intentionally into existence (teleology) and sustained intentionally (providence) and crafted (design) to accomplish what it has accomplished?

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I am sorry that this two part article got broken up.  You might go back and refresh yourself with the first part again.

This level of “oddity” is so “common” that it inspired Tom Clancy to say that “the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”

Mark Twain is given credit for “…Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”

Recent events of flooding in South-East Texas have led to dozens of “unbelievable” accounts of people being rescued.  Unlikely though they may be, people are alive because of them.

But would the historians of the future think them merely myths, legends, or miracles – an ignorant people trying to explain something they didn’t really understand?

At church we went through a sermon series for a few weeks of looking at some of the “extraordinary” lives in the Bible… the likes of Paul, Mary, Zacchaeus, David, and others… and at the same realizing that their lives are extraordinary… Just like ours.

I think many people imagine that the accounts of people’s lives in the Bible for example, or biographies of other great men and women, are radically different from their own… but exactly what makes their lives believable are the ways they seem “out of the ordinary.”

And yet, they happened.

Is it likely that a client told me that that God has woken her up in the night for her to pray for the baby we were pregnant with – having never met my wife – even though we weren’t pregnant?

Or rather, didn’t know that we were?

That seems like a miracle.

They meet astonishing people. They are caught up in events that define their times and history. Unlikely things happen all around them.   Sometimes when we look back on our own lives, these things seem unbelievable, but they happened.

Is it believable that some orphan, Esther, spends a night with Xerxes? That some kidnapped Hebrew kid, Daniel, meets Nebuchadnezzar and Darius? That David faces a Philistine warrior giant and kills him?

It doesn’t seem so, does it? And yet, everyday “normal” people interacted with Napoleon Bonaparte, Florence Nightingale, Abraham Lincoln, Shaka Zulu, etc.

Normal people become everyday soldiers and periodically everyday soldiers become extraordinary heroes.

But all extraordinary heroes are also normal everyday people, too.

The fact that biblical characters have strangely, unlikely, even miraculous unexplainable events is part of what makes them believable!

What seems to unite our lives are the “unbelievable” things that happen.   The vast majority of people, when I have asked them, say that they have experienced “miracles”.

So, Ehrman says that since historians can only accept as accurate what was “most likely” to have happened and by (his) definition, miracles are “the least likely things to happen,” and therefore cannot be accepted as historically accurate.

But in this is a serious problem. So, all of the radically unlikely things that have happened to me, and you could not be part of history? Historians of the future cannot accept those as historically accurate?

In that case, they will miss the truth, because we were present for these events… for these extraordinary, unlikely events.

But they happened. I assume things like them happened to the people of the past,

too. So, it is exactly the accounts of them experiencing miracles that make their life accounts believable – not less believable.

The unwillingness to accept what is unlikely to have happened makes it impossible to accept what does & did happen. This understanding of history makes history a science utterly incapable of accurately describing the unlikely events that are universal to human experience and apparently always have been!

To dismiss the miraculous is to miss out on an accurate understanding of the human experience… and maybe what makes it the human experience.

 

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“and Lead us not into temptation”

According to “The Independent” on Dec 8, 2017,

“Pope Francis has called for a change to the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, as the existing translation implies God ‘induces temptation’… The prayer, also known as Our Father, asks God to ‘lead us not into temptation’.”

“The 80-year-old also highlighted that the Catholic Church in France had already adapted the prayer, and uses the phrase ‘do not let us fall into temptation’ instead.”

I want to start by clarifying that I do not think there is anything malicious or necessarily heretical about the Pope’s call for change here. However, I do think there is clear error, so I will make the case.

“The reasoning is that ‘It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.’”

This is just a mis-use of the word “translation”.  (I hope that, assuming the Pope was speaking in Latin, that this English translation isn’t erroneous).  Rather than trying to change the translation, he should be engaging in the issues of interpretation (more on that later).

Translation is the process of one language to another. In this case, Greek to English (in the case of the Catholic Church, it is often Greek to Latin to English.

The Greek (with English letters) is:

Kai eisphero ego me eis peirasmos

Kai – a conjunction – “And”

eisphero – (bring, take (like a message, a sacrifice, ) (see Luke 5:18, I Tim 6:7))

ego – me

me – not

eis – spatially in reference to – (before, into, onto, next, resulting in, among, about, etc)

peirasmos – “to be put to the test/tribulation”

I know that just like English, just the meaning of each Greek word is not always the right answer for a thought or phrase, but in this case, apparently is pretty good. So, all that being said,

“And lead us not into temptation…” (Matt 5:13)

is a perfectly sound “translation” – in fact, it is an excellent translation! If anything was a potential change in the translation, you might could change it to “and lead us not into trials/tests”… but that isn’t what he wants to change.

The Pope is not troubled by the translation. He is troubled by an interpretation question. One does not change what the Bible says because one is troubled by a question of interpretation – one teaches through it!

What does it say?

It clearly says something close to “and lead us not into temptation.”  If the translation is sound, what is the Pope concerned about?  From his further thoughts it is clear that he is troubled by the interpretation.

“Interpretation” is what something means.

So, if the Pope is uncomfortable with the fact that it sounds like God Himself is tempting someone to sin (which is not in the character of God, as indicated in James 1:13

“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

So, is there any way to understand the words in the prayer other than God tempting people? Can someone lead someone into temptation without tempting them? Of course they can.

Consider that perhaps the exact experience that Jesus had in mind was His own recent experience (Matt 4, which starts with “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Jesus had been led into a situation in which He was tempted. Did the Father tempt Him? No. Did Jesus want to experience the situation again or want His followers to ask to avoid those kind of situations? I think it is likely so.

One interpreter of this passage referenced the idea of a mother taking their children through the checkout line with all of the candy having already told them that they could not have candy. She is putting them in a situation in which they will be tempted. She is not tempted them, though.

Jesus is encouraging us to ask for the extra grace from God to allow them to avoid those type of tough tests – the tests of being led into situations of temptation.

This situation, in which Pope Francis is seeking to change a translation because he thinks the passage needs further interpretation, is just an error. Of course, like the rest of us, he is just a man and “to err is human” (that is also not in the Bible by the way, but a quote from Alexander Pope – no relation to Pope Francis).

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The uncommon life

Popular historian and self-proclaimed former Christian-turned-atheist, Dr. Bart Ehrman, in his debate with Dr. William Craig, clarified that a historian’s job is not to tell “what” happened, but what was “most likely” to have happened.

He goes on to explain why that makes it impossible for him to hold to the idea of a historical miracle.

If the historian is looking for what is most likely to have happened, then he could never accept a historical miracle since miracles are never the most likely thing to have happened… “by definition.”

I can totally see his point. Though, first, I do not agree with his definition of a miracle being “unlikely”. I am not sure what evidence he would have for the rarity of miracles.

It is a common definition that miracles are when God defies “natural law”… however, I am not certain that GK Chesterton wasn’t right about natural laws being somewhat miraculous themselves:

 “It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”   (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

Maybe even natural processes are fundamentally miraculous. I talk about the difference between “how” and “who” (or even “why”) in part 4 of a series of articles about creationism’s relationship to scientific discovery.

Though not anywhere near as well trained in history as he is, I am very well trained and even more experienced in human lives.

In this, I have come to accept an oxymoron… and an apparent (though not literal) paradox.

It seems that everyone has an “uncommon” life.

In the last 20 plus years of doing counseling, I have heard hundreds of people’s life stories. In my effort to understand before seeking to be understood, or even before just being able to effectively come alongside people, I actively listen to them tell their life story.

When it comes to life stories, kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, and everything I’ve seen leads me to believe that there’s one all-powerful Force governing everything. (with apologies to Han)

I have come the conclusion that everyone’s lives are bizarre. Nutty coincidences that often hardly seem coincidental.

Everyone’s lives are filled with these “coincidences” that strain even the most credulous person’s sensibilities.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that maybe the most unifying factor in people’s lives is that we all have experiences… often defining experiences… that are extraordinarily unlikely.

In my experience most people who can stomach the concept of a miracle believe that they have experienced them.

It seems that everyone has experienced million-to-one odds… and been the one… in multiple experiences!

Our lives are extraordinary and somehow, thus, common. More next week. (**** Link to follow).

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https://hunterbeless.com/new-blog/2017/7/ep28-on-understanding-sexuality

I got to be a part of a great podcast a few days ago.  This expresses some of the roots – going WAAAAAYYYY back (in time and in philosophy) for the issues of sexual identity that we face as a culture today.  Check it out!

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Guest Post by Mark Legg

This is a great addition to the series about Christ and ancient myths.  What about how the ancient account of Gilgamesh overlaps with the account of Noah?

Though there are many accounts of a flood that extended back many thousands of years ago, the epic of Gilgamesh is remarkably like the flood narrative of Genesis in many ways. The mention of the flood begins as early as line 7-8 in tablet I. In introducing Gilgamesh, it compares him to people before the flood, and that his in his wisdom he knows many secrets of the world before it. Later, Gilgamesh hears the whole story from Utanapishtim (the Noah character), who possesses eternal life (tablet XI, 10-212). How do the stories differ, and how do they compare? Though the main narrative is similar, many details and the theology behind the story differ.

Utanapishtim’s story infers that the gods attempt to destroy mankind because of overpopulation and that population was also wicked and full of wrongdoers (XI, 185-200). Similarly, we see God’s judgment in the Bible. Genesis 6.1 begins with this sentiment: “When man began to multiply on the face of the land . . .” The text then explains that mankind has grown immoral and wicked (6.5-11). These are cited as reasons for the destruction of mankind in both cases. Also, in both instances the antagonist builds a boat at the command of a god (or the God). Both take the lives of other animals or people (XI, 27 and 6.20). Both come to rest on a mountain (of whose true identity we are unsure of) (144 and 8.4), and both offered sacrifices after arriving safely (160-165 and 8.20). Furthermore, we read a strangely similar detail in the story. To check the safety of the surroundings, they send out birds essentially as scouts (148-160 and 8.6-12). Furthermore, both generally speak of the absolute destruction and the terrible power of the flood.

However, many details differ between the two ancient accounts. The construction and dimensions of the Ark (48-75 and 6.14-22), the length of the flood (it is much shorter in Gilgamesh) (114-150 and 8.1-12)), and many other specifics contrast. More importantly, we see several theological differences. Utanapishtim’s story includes, naturally, multiple gods. All except for two wish to destroy the entire human race. We see the common attribution of gods the ancient times, that they are essentially overgrown people. They cower in fear, their “lips are parched”, and they infight (115-126, 180-200). In the Bible, God sees Noah’s righteousness and decides to save him unilaterally, since He is the only true God. Finally, Utanapishtim receives eternal life on earth (205-211). Though we can assume Noah similarly received eternal life in heaven, the two do differ in that regard (Heb. 11.7).

Though the messages are similar, the difference in deities and details pose a very interesting comparison. The overall stories do overlap in many ways, however. It could easily be theorized that the Babylonian epic drew from the real life events that transpired in Genesis 6-9.

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