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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Apr 30 - May 6

April 30. In the great glow of that great love, this death
Would melt away like a fantastic cloud;
I should no more shrink from it than from the breath
That makes in the frosty air a nimbus-shroud;
Thou, Love, hast conquered death, and I aloud
Should triumph over him, with thy saintly crowd,
That where the Lamb goes ever followeth.

May 1. What though my words glance sideways from the thing
Which I would utter in thine ear, my sire!
Truth in the inward parts thou dost desire--
Wise hunger, not a fitness fine of speech:
The little child that clamouring fails to reach
With upstretched hand the fringe of her attire,
Yet meets the mother's hand down hurrying.

2. Even when their foolish words they turned on him,
He did not his disciples send away;
He knew their hearts were foolish, eyes were dim,
And therefore by his side needs must they stay.
Thou will not, Lord, send me away from thee.
When I am foolish, make thy cock crow grim;
If that is not enough, turn, Lord, and look on me.

3. Another day of gloom and slanting rain!
Of closed skies, cold winds, and blight and bane!
Such not the weather, Lord, which thou art fain
To give thy chosen, sweet to heart and brain!--
Until we mourn, thou keep'st the merry tune;
Thy hand unloved its pleasure must restrain,
Nor spoil both gift and child by lavishing too soon.

4. But all things shall be ours! Up, heart, and sing.
All things were made for us--we are God's heirs--
Moon, sun, and wildest comets that do trail
A crowd of small worlds for a swiftness-tail!
Up from Thy depths in me, my child-heart bring--
The child alone inherits anything:
God's little children-gods--all things are theirs!

5. Thy great deliverance is a greater thing
Than purest imagination can foregrasp;
A thing beyond all conscious hungering,
Beyond all hope that makes the poet sing.
It takes the clinging world, undoes its clasp,
Floats it afar upon a mighty sea,
And leaves us quiet with love and liberty and thee.

6. Through all the fog, through all earth's wintery sighs,
I scent Thy spring, I feel the eternal air,
Warm, soft, and dewy, filled with flowery eyes,
And gentle, murmuring motions everywhere--
Of life in heart, and tree, and brook, and moss;
Thy breath wakes beauty, love, and bliss, and prayer,
And strength to hang with nails upon thy cross.

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. These are the entries for/from April 30 through May 6.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

Patricia A. McKillip has been one of my favorite writers for roughly a quarter century. I recently was privileged to read her Od Magic (New York: Ace, 2005).

Od Magic begins with a young man, whose parents have recently died. He is an expert at healing, using plants. Od, a giantess who heals injured animals of all kinds, and a sorceress, comes to him, and tells him he needs to go to the school for wizards at the capital city, to be the gardener. (Od has been alive for several centuries, and founded the school herself.) When Brenden Vetch gets to the city, he enters the school through a door under a shoe, hung out as a shop sign. It turns out that no one else has seen this sign for 19 years, since Yar, the principal teacher of the school, entered as a student.

Going in doors that no one else can see is a symbol, and it has been used at other times, in other ways, by other authors. Jesus told his followers (John 10:1-7) that he was the only true door, and no one could enter except through him. Ged entered a school for wizards through a door that required him to give his secret name to the Master Doorkeeper in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books. Harry Potter and the other students bound for Hogwarts can see, and enter, a door to a train that ordinary people cannot see. Clearly, Brenden Vetch is special. But the book mostly leaves him alone, until the end. Other characters take the plot over, and there is a plot.

There is a theme, too. The theme is freedom. The school for wizards has been made subordinate to the wishes of the king. Although the king is not malevolent, the wizards are stifled, and ordinary. They don't pursue the edges of their craft. They ignore types of wizardry that haven't been approved. Yar remembers that there is more, but the pupils don't want anything taught except what is safe.

There is some murkiness in this book. As in the Hed trilogy, McKillip introduces beings and powers that aren't really described, except that they are powerful. What they are, what they want, how they operate is not explained -- it's just assumed. It turns out that Od has seen that Brenden Vetch is, potentially, one of these powers, and, incidentally, that it's time that the school for wizards becomes a less stifling place. She has sent him there to do that. It is accomplished.

What is McKillip saying? I'm not sure. Perhaps she is arguing for artistic freedom. Perhaps for freedom to explore scientifically. Perhaps she is arguing for spiritual freedom. Perhaps she has something else in mind. Perhaps she just thinks that people ought to be totally free. I'm not sure.

Od Magic is a good book. There are interesting, believable characters, quite a few of them. She writes well. The plot was such that I wanted to know what was going to happen. I recommend it to lovers of fantasy. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Simple Pleasures meme, sort of

I have been tagged by Julana, from Life in the Slow Lane, who asked that I list some simple pleasures. I'm not very aggressive, and don't tag others for memes*, but if you want to participate, please do. Let me know that you did, please, by commenting.

In no particular order:
1. Listening to classical music.
2. Reading. I enjoy reading many things over again, and good new material. I like passing some of it on to you.
3. Eating good food, including ice cream, the good green salads that everyone in my family but me can make well, chocolate, and lots of other good stuff.
4. Seeing flowers and birds and trees.
5. Watching and listening to anything my grandson does.
6. Mowing the grass, washing the dishes, and doing other things where you can see results quickly.
7. Traveling with my wife, anywhere from a few blocks away to a few time zones away.
8. Going to the grocery store or the library.
9. Attending church.
10. Interacting with others by e-mail, blogs, and Flickr photos.

What about you?

Thanks for reading! I hope it was a pleasure.

*in blogger-ese, some post that is passed on by other bloggers. See here or here for more information on the concept, in society at large.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sunspots 54

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Wired reports that a bacterial glue is really strong.

Anyone who despairs of today's youth might do well to look here.

Katherine's posts from Europe are always interesting. She has two recent ones that weren't about Europe that intrigued me. In one, she lists her 10 key chapters of the Bible, and invites others to do so. Which 10 chapters would you take on a trip to Mars? In the other, she posts on things Jesus was greater than.

Edsitement is a compilation of the best humanities sites on the web.

Kevin Wright on whether Christians should put family or church next to God on their priority list.

Andy Crouch on how some Christians aren't showing Christian joy, and are casualties of the culture wars.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Temptations in Narnia web page

I have a web page here. It consolidates and cleans up several posts to this blog from last year, on temptations in the Narnia books, by C. S. Lewis. In other words, I discuss who I think was tempted to, say, sloth, etc.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 24, 2006

My Presidential Platform

I've decided to run. My platform has one plank. Here it is: Healthcare in the U. S. should be outsourced to Canada.

Why do I suggest this? Because, as I understand it, all Canadians get their healthcare paid for by the government, that is, by taxes. Let's get them to include U. S. citizens and approved aliens in their program. Over 40 million U. S. citizens aren't covered now, and this is a huge problem for them, and for those of us who care about the plight of others.

I recognize that there are some large problems with my proposal. Now, before our health insurance companies have me assassinated, read on. I'll tell you what I think the main problems are, and how I propose dealing with them.

First, some people in the U. S. don't think that Canada's healthcare is as good as theirs. That may be true. It may not. All the Canadians I've ever heard of who know something about our "system" prefer theirs to ours, and will go to considerable lengths, if living in the U. S., to keep their Canadian coverage. But there's another argument on my side. That's the people in the U. S. who do not have health insurance. Whatever the faults of the Canadian system, almost none of these people have better health care than the Canadians. Adding them to the mix means that the U. S. "system" is considerably worse than that of our neighbors to the North.

Second, there's the matter of paying the Canadians for taking over our "system," or, rather, giving us a real system. How can we do that?

Well I have several suggestions. First, a frivolous one. We could just say that we'll not worry about how much it's going to cost. Our current administration and Congress seem to have already taken that attitude toward various matters, such as the war in Iraq, the prescription drug plan for seniors, earmarks in the transportation bill, and cleaning up after hurricanes. We can just spend it.

Let's try another one. We can increase taxes. No one wants to do that, of course, but think. The biggest part of the cost of an automobile made in the U. S. is health care. (The last I knew, healthcare was also the largest expense of the South Carolina District of my church. Not evangelism, not missions, not church building, but healthcare. There was something wrong with that picture.*) If auto companies, and many others, were freed from the burden of providing health care for employees and retirees, they could cut costs, compete much better with other companies from countries where businesses don't provide healthcare directly to their personnel. (This should help the trade deficit.) They should be able to pay more in taxes than they do now, and still come out ahead. Similarly, U. S. consumers should be able to pay more taxes, because they will have to pay less for goods and services that they buy. With the increased tax rates, we can pay the Canadians. Besides, the increased profits that companies could make would mean increased taxes without raising the rates.

A secondary benefit of my plan, which would free companies from being responsible for the health care of their employees, is that they should be better able to provide retirement benefits.

We could phase out the prescription drug program for seniors, which was enacted with the stipulation that the program could not negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. (I wonder who wanted that in, and I wonder why our Congresspersons put it in?) That would save money.

Another way to save money is on prescription drugs. Some U. S. entities (including, I believe, a city or two) are already getting drugs for their plans from Canada, because they are cheaper.

While we're at that, most people could increase their productivity, because they wouldn't be trying to decide what insurance plan to get, or filling out red tape to get reimbursed, etc. That would make more taxes more palatable.

There are other benefits to my program. Retired Canadians could now spend twelve months a year, if they chose, in Florida, Arizona, and other places, since they would be getting their health care from the same source as in, say, New Brunswick. These people would add to the U. S. economy.

Third, how could the Canadians take all this on? Well, it would be unrealistic to suppose that they could do so, at least not all at once. We would need to phase the program in. The U. S. health insurance companies, who would face the prospect of being phased out (except for the wealthy who might choose to take out insurance to pay for items the Canadian system might not) would get contracts to help with the transition, and the Canadians would be offered their offices, their equipment, and their personnel, or as much of these as would be needed, for the purpose of administering their plan in the U. S.

Fourth, why should the Canadians take this on? Well, having so many more customers/clients/whatever should lead to some economies of scale, so healthcare would be cheaper for Canadians if they would do this.

Fifth, and probably the most serious objection, is that some things in the U. S. would change radically, at least for some people. Drug manufacturing, hospital ownership, and insurance company stocks, for instance, would be affected. Well, OK. We've had things like that happen before. To solve critical problems, changes usually have to be made, and they usually hurt someone. The messy "system" the U. S. has now, especially with so many not being covered by health insurance, is a critical problem. Let's solve it.

Thanks for reading.

P. S. I'm not really going to run. Anyone who wants to use my platform idea is welcome to it. Thanks for reading!

*Local pastor's salaries were paid by the local church, but healthcare insurance was paid by the District.
When I say that there was something wrong with that picture, what was wrong wasn't that the health insurance of pastors and other employees of the church was paid for. That was our scriptural responsibility, as I understand it.

On August 10, 2009, I posted on the current situation in Healthcare in the US, pointing out several problems, and their causes.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Apr 23 - 29

23. That all things thou dost fill, I well may think--
Thy power doth reach me in so many ways.
Thou who in one the universe dost bind,
Passest through all the channels of my mind;
The sun of thought, across the farthest brink
Of consciousness thou sendest me thy rays;
Nor drawest them in when lost in sleep I sink.

24. So common are thy paths, thy coming seems
Only another phase oft of my me;
But nearer is my I, O Lord, to thee,
Than is my I to what itself it deems;
How better then couldst thou, O master, come,
Than from thy home across into my home,
Straight o'er the marches that I cannot see!

25. Marches?--'Twixt thee and me there's no division,
Except the meeting of thy will and mine,
The loves that love, the wills that will the same.
Where thine meets mine is my life's true condition;
Yea, only there it burns with any flame.
Thy will but holds me to my life's fruition.
O God, I would--I have no mine that is not thine.

26. I look for thee, and do not see thee come.--
If I could see thee, 'twere a commoner thing,
And shallower comfort would thy coming bring.
Earth, sea, and air lie round me moveless dumb,
Never a tremble, an expectant hum,
To tell the Lord of Hearts is drawing near:
Lo! in the looking eyes, the looked for Lord is here.

27. I take a comfort from my very badness:
It is for lack of thee that I am bad.
How close, how infinitely closer yet
Must I come to thee, ere I can pay one debt
Which mere humanity has on me set!
"How close to thee!"--no wonder, soul, thou art glad!
Oneness with him is the eternal gladness.

28. What can there be so close as making and made?
Nought twinned can be so near; thou art more nigh
To me, my God, than is this thinking I
To that I mean when I by me is said;
Thou art more near me, than is my ready will
Near to my love, though both one place do fill;--
Yet, till we are one,--Ah me! the long until!

29. Then shall my heart behold thee everywhere.
The vision rises of a speechless thing,
A perfectness of bliss beyond compare!
A time when I nor breathe nor think nor move,
But I do breathe and think and feel thy love,
The soul of all the songs the saints do sing!--
And life dies out in bliss, to come again in prayer.

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. These are the entries for/from April 23 through 29.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Environmental Stewardship in the Bible: What the Bible says about care of the environment

Two Days late for Earth Day - Environmental stewardship

We have God-given responsibilities to non-human organisms
Genesis 1:26-28 seems to indicate clearly that humans were placed in charge of the non-human world. Psalm 8:6 reiterates that idea. Psalm 24:1 indicates that even though we are, in some sense, in charge, the world, and the things in it, are God’s. So does Psalm 50:10,11.* The story of Noah seems to indicate that, at one point, humans were directly responsible for the lives of many kinds of animals. Genesis 7:2-5, 14-16, Proverbs 12:10 and Proverbs 27:23 all have to do with caring for animals.

God seems to care not just for animals in general, but for kinds of animals. Psalms 104:24-25 praises God for the diversity of His creation, and His creatures. Since this explicitly includes the wide variety of ocean animals, it doesn’t seem possible that this praise is meant to be only because of their usefulness to humans. Genesis 7:3, 14-16 indicate God’s concern that the different kinds of animals would be preserved. Genesis 8:1 says that God had not forgotten Noah or the animals. Noah and his family were God’s agents in this care, of course, but they were God-directed agents. It would seem reasonable to argue that in our day, we also have responsibilities to the kinds of animals that exist in our time.

Does God care for individual non-human organisms? Perhaps. The question seems to be addressed in Matthew 10:29, which says that even individual sparrows do not fall without God’s knowledge. (Two verses later, Christ stated that the twelve were of more value than many sparrows. However, He didn’t say that sparrows were valueless.)

Does God’s care, and the care that humans are supposed to have, mean that we must refrain from killing animals deliberately? Apparently not. Jesus certainly condoned fishing (John 21:6, Matthew 17:27, Luke 5:4). He ate (Luke 24:36-43), and probably fished (John 21:9) even after His resurrection. Peter's vision, after the resurrection, and after Pentecost, used eating meat as a sign that God does not show favoritism (Acts 11:1-18). Paul referred disparagingly to people who forbid eating meat (I Timothy 4:1-3). There are no explicit commands forbidding the consumption of all meat in the Bible. This is not to say that the Bible condones killing of animals wantonly. That would be contradictory to benign dominion. Nor does the Bible condone consumption of animal flesh (or any other kind of food) selfishly, or to excess. But we are allowed to kill non-human organisms for cause, at least. Such causes include killing an animal because it threatens a human (Exodus 21:29), killing for meat (Genesis 9:2-3, Leviticus 11:1-22) and killing an animal for its skin (Genesis 3:21). Exodus 12:21-23 and 12:46, and Mark 14:12, indicate clearly that the Passover, one of the most important ceremonies of the Jews, and the last ceremony Jesus performed with His disciples, involved eating meat. The Bible is very clear that humans and animals are not equals. Christ came in human form, principally to redeem humans, although the effects of redemption will be felt through all of creation. We have dominion over animals, not the reverse. That dominion implies responsible use, including research and killing for good cause. (Nothing in this paragraph rules out the practice of vegetarianism. Some Christians may decide, or God may reveal to them, that they shouldn't eat meat. But they cannot prove that Scripture demands that Christians don't eat meat.)

Does God’s care extend to plants? To non-living entities? (The Bible, like present-day people, is more concerned with some kinds of animals than others. There is little, if any, mention of mollusks in scripture, for instance.) The Bible mentions God’s care of plants (Psalm 104:16, Matthew 6:30). It also states that everything He created was initially good (Genesis 1:31) and that creation as a whole, not just humans, groans, waiting for restoration (Romans 8:22). It is true that the Bible does not dwell on plants nearly as much as on animals. The creation of plants gets only one phrase in the Genesis account, whereas the creation of animals gets several. There is no mention of God’s concern for plants during the flood, nor are certain kinds of plants declared unclean in the Mosaic dietary laws. All this means that the Hebrews, like ourselves, were more interested in animals than in plants. Perhaps it means that God is also more interested.
From the above, we conclude that God’s care extends beyond humans, certainly to animals. Scripture is less explicit about God’s care for plants, and even less so about His care for rocks, streams, and clouds. However, there seems no reason to expect God to condone wanton destruction of any kind. If God cares for non-human creations, and we are responsible for His creation, then it behooves us to care for non-human creations as well. Proverbs 12:10 says that good people care for their domestic animals, and bad people are cruel to theirs. Caring for animals is usually consistent with caring for plants, or for rocks, streams and clouds. II Chronicles 36:21 tells us that the 70 years that the Israelites were to spend in captivity was not an arbitrary figure. God chose that because his people did not care for the land as he instructed them to. Jeremiah 2:7 and Habakkuk 2:17 condemn the Israelites because they hadn’t taken care of their land.

New Testament teaching on care of the environment
Most of the usual teaching on what the Bible says about care of the environment is from the Old Testament. However, there are two passages from the New Testament that also argue that we should be caring carefully for the environment. They are indirect, but their urgency is important.
Romans 1:20 tells us that observing and learning about nature are part of God’s revelation to humans. (So does Psalm 19:1-4). If that is so, isn’t that another reason to try to preserve nature as well as we can? The Bible is one of the ways that God reveals Himself to us. For a long time, Christians have believed that the Bible should be translated into the language people are most familiar with, so that that revelation may be as clear as possible. Similarly, it would seem that God's revelation through nature should be as clear as possible. A person is more likely to see God in a pristine stream than in a polluted river. Probably seeing bison herds roam freely in Western North America gave people a glimpse of one aspect of God’s power and majesty that they can’t really get now. Therefore, helping to preserve nature in as good a condition as we can is one way to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ. Not the most direct way, and probably not the most effective, for many people, but it is still a way to do this.

Colossians 1:15-20 says, of Christ, that “in Him all things hold together.” (ESV -- other versions have similar language.) That passage also says that He is working to reconcile all things to Himself, and working to make peace through the blood of the cross. As Christians, we believe that it is our duty to be His instruments in reconciling sinners to Christ, and to help Him in the ministry of making peace. In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, tell us that:  18 But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.
Doesn’t it follow that we should also participate in Christ’s work of sustaining “all things,” including endangered species and ecosystems or biological communities? (I realize that there are other places in the New Testament where reconciliation and peacemaking are mentioned, or implied, and this is probably the only one that mentions Christ's sustaining work. But that doesn't mean that His sustaining work can be dismissed, or that we have no responsibility to be His instruments in doing it.)

What must we do when our responsibilities seem to conflict?
One response is to ask, do they ever really conflict? We believe that our responsibilities do, in fact, appear to conflict, in these matters, and in others. As fallen, finite beings, we do not always interpret God’s directions correctly. We certainly do not know enough to always judge correctly. If we did possess the ability to decide correctly in all cases, perhaps God’s demands on us would never even seem to conflict. However, we can’t, and they do seem to conflict. Perhaps, this being a fallen world, they actually conflict.
The Bible does not present a formal hierarchy of principles to guide our behavior, in matters of environmental ethics, or in other matters. It does not tell us how to choose when, for instance, a decision we make will lead to either 5 minutes of misery for each of 2000 people, or 3 days of misery for a single individual. It does not tell us what to do when bringing a field under cultivation will help to feed hungry people, but also will kill native plants, deprive animals of homes, and use petroleum resources. As fallen beings in a fallen world, it is probably too much to expect that all our decisions will be correct.

Here are some attempts at principles which may be of help in making decisions about environmental matters:
This world is temporary. Temporal concerns of any kind should be carefully weighed against eternal values. The fossil record indicates that more species have become extinct than are now alive, and usually not because humans caused the extinction. This doesn’t excuse us from trying to save the organisms that live in our time, of course.

We should recognize that environmental concerns are sometimes overstated, not prioritized, or controversial. Some would have us believe that humans are choking to death and swimming in carcinogens. This is overstatement. The atmosphere may not be as clear as it ought to be, and we may indeed be exposed to cancer-causing substances, but people in North America are living longer than ever before. It seems certain that we can’t cure every ill, environmental or otherwise. Is it more important to try to stop global warming, to save the California condor, or to cut down on our consumption of fossil fuels? Is the cost, or risk, from pollution to landfills from disposable diapers more or less than the pollution to water from washing non-disposable ones? No one seems to know the answers. Solutions are not prioritized. We must be careful not to act precipitously just because someone has a concern.

Selfishness is wrong. Most North Americans seem to subconsciously believe that we are somehow entitled to more possessions than people in other parts of the world. Such a life style contributes to environmental degradation. It may also deprive people in other parts of the world, or future generations, of resources. It may mean that our church, and other charitable causes, do not have funds that we could well afford to give. We may not personally be able to change the way the world works very much. We can change it a little, and we should. We can avoid conspicuous consumption, we can avoid wanting things simply because they are newer than the things we already have. We can participate in recycling, even if it requires some effort on our part. We can think carefully about every purchase we make.
Isaiah 5:8-10 is a warning to the Hebrews. It tells them that God doesn’t condone selfishness in material things, including use of land. It predicts that the land will stop yielding enough, as God’s punishment for selfishness.

Knowledge is necessary. We are in God’s image. Part of the reflection of the omniscient God in us is the desire for knowledge. The Bible speaks approvingly of Solomon’s knowledge of the natural world (I Kings 4:32-33). We should learn to appreciate the world as God made it, and this requires knowledge of it. Knowledge is also necessary for wise alleviation of our own mistakes.

Unselfish love is a scriptural requirement. This unselfish love ought to color our relationships with others in every area, certainly including our environmental activities. It is not clear that we can, or ought, to have a relationship of unselfish love with non-human organisms, but it would seem consistent with God’s expectation of us that we act unselfishly toward non-human organisms.
We need guidance from God. All our important decisions need His help. Even with this guidance, we don’t always agree. God may well want some of us to be deeply involved in helping crisis pregnancies, but others to try to help clean up the environment. This doesn’t mean that both groups can’t assist in both efforts, but God may give our lives different emphases.

Having stated these principles, we realize anew that it is difficult to apply them to cases. In many cases, all we can say is “God help us.”

The Bible does not rule out the use of current technology, and the development of new technology
Since the development and use of technology has often been related to use of valuable resources, or contributed to greater “efficiency” in despoiling the landscape, we certainly need to be careful in developing and using technology, for our own sake, as well as that of the landscape. Is technology anti-God? The answer to that question seems to be “it depends.”
There are three biblical passages that indicate reasons why particular technological development may be wrong.
First, worshiping the results of our technology is clearly wrong, as well as just plain stupid (Isaiah 44:9-20).

Second, pride in our accomplishments is wrong (Daniel 4:30-32).

Third, supposing that there are no limits to human ability is wrong (Genesis 11:5-9).

On the other hand, there are biblical reasons for supposing that technological development is not always wrong, and, in fact, can sometimes glorify God. Noah’s ark, the tabernacle, and the temple, were technological constructs, and God gave instructions for the building of each of them. In fact, in the building of the temple, and other projects completed during the reign of Solomon, there was apparently extensive use of resources. Solomon sent 10,000 workers to Lebanon to cut down cedar trees each month (I Kings 5:14), in addition to the servants of King Hiram who helped them. They may have worked there for as long as seven (I Kings 6:38) or even twenty years (II Chronicles 8:1). All this was at least allowed by God, and some of it was directed by Him. Jeremiah 22:6 contains an amazing statement. This verse says that God finds the royal palace at Jerusalem as beautiful as the mountains of Lebanon. It would seem that technological development, by and of itself, is not wrong, although it may be done for wrong reasons, or with the wrong attitude.
Part of the image of God in humans is the desire to create things. The fact that we can create and use technology has certainly lead to some unfortunate consequences, such as deaths and injuries in highway accidents. However, it may also lead to some fortunate consequences, such as our being able to alleviate some of the consequences of our own mistakes of the past, or even some of the consequences of the fall.

+  +  +  +  +

April 23, 2011:

On an earlier date, links to all the scripture referenced in this post, using the English Standard Version, were added. (See here for the ESV policy on copyright.) The section on New Testament teaching on care of the environment was inserted on this date. It had been part of a previous post. That post is still on-line. I have not removed any of the comments from the previous version of this post.

Thanks for reading!

*Added October 15, 2014: More scripture on God's ownership, and our stewardship: Jeremiah 27:5 ‘I have made the earth, the men, and the animals that are on the surface of the earth by my great power and by my outstretched arm. I give it to whom it seems right to me. 6 Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant. I have also given the animals of the field to him to serve him. (World English Bible, public domain) 

Added April 20, 2017: E. Stephen Burnett has written a fine blog post on how care of the current earth relates to the New Earth.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Why an atheist doesn't want God's existence disproved

I just read an amazing blog post, at The Panda's Thumb. (This is a multi-author blog specializing in attacking Intelligent Design.)

The author began by stating that he believes there is a possible procedure which science could use to prove or disprove the existence of God. He describes this procedure.

Then he indicated that he believes that God does not exist, because evidence of the type that would prove His existence has not been found, and because there is evil in the world.

He went on, to my amazement, to state that a disproof of this type is equivalent to Intelligent Design belief:

Indeed, it is the same diagnosis of exclusion that intelligent-design creationists use when they claim that we cannot figure out how the bacterial flagellum has evolved, so therefore it did not.

In addition to making a scientific disproof of God suspect, the author says that, if science disproved the existence of God, it would be a disaster for science, so he doesn't want this to happen. In his words:

The argument that science has disproved God, besides being wrong, puts religious believers who support science into an untenable position and risks alienating precisely those people whose support we desperately need.

In other words, here's an (I guess) atheist who gives some credit to Intelligent Design arguments, and who also thinks that scientists should be careful not to try to disprove the existence of God, or, if they think they have, shouldn't trumpet it. Wow! The comments are interesting, too.

My take on this is:
1) If you assume that there is no God, or god, then your science (and your art, and, for that matter, your cooking) are going to reflect that, and you aren't going to find him by practicing these. The converse is also true. If you believe that there is an omnipotent God, they your science, and other aspects of your life, will be colored by that.
2) God has revealed himself to us in both the Bible and in nature. Hence, if understood properly, the two will be compatible and complementary. Our understanding of both of these is not perfect.
3) Hebrews 11:3 says that God is found in nature by faith. I can't prove that you can't find God by experiments, but I don't believe that you can.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sunspots 53

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

For those who use Bloglines to check on other blogs and RSS feeds, get your Bloglines page up. Hit the m key. Hit it again. You will probably find this useful.

The response of Answers in Genesis to the discovery of a possible intermediate between fish and amphibians, and the response of Reasons to Believe, and the response to these responses from Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Women who have had breast implants have an increased risk of suicide. (They are less likely to die from some other causes, including breast cancer.) In case you wonder where I got this, I subscribe to the Women's Bioethics Blog.

Before you discard or donate that old computer, you might want to think about the data that's still on the old hard disk.

This year's nominees for the Webby Awards. (I didn't make the list, and you probably didn't either.)

Google now offers the Beta of an on-line appointment calendar.

Yahoo now offers the Beta of a mapping page. It looks good. There's a Live Traffic option, and a Find on Map, which lets you overlay, say, Ice Cream stores, on a map. (To get rid of the annoying initial locations of advertisers, hit Clear in the Find on Map area.)

Michael Swanwick has written short stories to accompany each of the elements of the periodic table. At least one of them, He, is also based on the John Carter books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and my guess is that some of the rest of them are also related to previous works.

We're still traveling. Let's put it this way -- my entry to the Christian Carnival was last week's Sunspots. I hope to get back to more regular posts in a few days. Thanks for reading!

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Apr 16 - 22

16. I see a door, a multitude near by,
In creed and quarrel, sure disciples all!
Gladly they would, they say, enter the hall,
But cannot, the stone threshold is so high.
From unseen hand, full many a feeding crumb,
Slow dropping o'er the threshold high doth come:
They gather and eat, with much disputing hum.

17. Still and anon, a loud clear voice doth call--
"Make your feet clean, and enter so the hall."
They hear, they stoop, they gather each a crumb.
Oh the deaf people! would they were also dumb!
Hear how they talk, and lack of Christ deplore,
Stamping with muddy feet about the door,
And will not wipe them clean to walk upon his floor!

18. But see, one comes; he listens to the voice;
Careful he wipes his weary dusty feet!
The voice hath spoken--to him is left no choice;
He hurries to obey--that only is meet.
Low sinks the threshold, levelled with the ground;
The man leaps in--to liberty he's bound.
The rest go talking, walking, picking round.

19. If I, thus writing, rebuke my neighbour dull,
And talk, and write, and enter not the door,
Than all the rest I wrong Christ tenfold more,
Making his gift of vision void and null.
Help me this day to be thy humble sheep,
Eating thy grass, and following, thou before;
From wolfish lies my life, O Shepherd, keep.

20. God, help me, dull of heart, to trust in thee.
Thou art the father of me--not any mood
Can part me from the One, the verily Good.
When fog and failure o'er my being brood.
When life looks but a glimmering marshy clod,
No fire out flashing from the living God--
Then, then, to rest in faith were worthy victory!

21. To trust is gain and growth, not mere sown seed!
Faith heaves the world round to the heavenly dawn,
In whose great light the soul doth spell and read
Itself high-born, its being derived and drawn
From the eternal self-existent fire;
Then, mazed with joy of its own heavenly breed,
Exultant-humble falls before its awful sire.

22. Art thou not, Jesus, busy like to us?
Thee shall I image as one sitting still,
Ordering all things in thy potent will,
Silent, and thinking ever to thy father,
Whose thought through thee flows multitudinous?
Or shall I think of thee as journeying, rather,
Ceaseless through space, because thou everything dost fill?

Blessed Easter! The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. These are the entries for/from April 16 through 22. (I don't know what day Easter fell on in the year when MacDonald wrote this.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sunspots 52

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

WebMonkey has posted excerpts from a book on how to take better photographs. I have some new perspectives on doing that after reading.

Charles Colson and Anne Morse on at least some current Christian worship music, and thinking, or lack of it, in Christians.

Catez has a solid post on the atheistic assumptions behind Stephen Hawking's writings.

For anyone interested in quicker games of sudoku, try Jigsawdoku. The cells, or whatever you call them, are 2 by 3, rather than 3 by 3.

Joe Carter has posted on Ussher's Chronology. And then the comments began . . .

Here's the Discovery Institute's post on the discovery of a fossil animal which may have been intermediate between fish and amphibians, which says that the discovery is "does not challenge ntelligent design." Here's a post on The Panda's Thumb, dissecting the first post.

This is, apparently, my 52nd post in this series of Sunspots. Thank God, then, for more than a year of being able to do this. (I didn't post during a travel hiatus a time or two, and I had another name for such a column of briefly annotated links before hitting upon Sunspots.)

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Water calligraphy, continued

In a previous post, using a photo of a man writing on the pavement with water (that's not a typo) from a Chinese Flickr contact of mine, I mused about the impermanence of what we do, including what I write in this blog.

I also indicated that some things, especially the redeemed human soul, are eternal. I indicated, also, that some artistic expressions, such as the poetry of John Keats, make an impression for a long time. I consider blogging, and photography, to be artistic expressions. (Sometimes not very high class art!)

There were (for me) a flurry of comments, and I am grateful. One was as follows:

'writing in water' - beautiful metaphor for the brevity of life and the impermanence of our lives and actions on earth. Yet in a way I take issue with it.
By violet

I e-mailed Violet, asking her how she disagreed, and she was gracious enough to respond. I haven't asked her for permission to quote her remarks, but I'll paraphrase them like this:

You never know what eternal good you may do. Jesus commanded us to offer a drink of water unselfishly to those who need one, and said that that act was worthy of an eternal reward. (Matthew 10:42) So do good, including blogging, believing that what you do is part of God's plan for the world. It may affect others in ways you don't know about.

I agree. Thanks, Violet.

We'll be travelling for the next few days, and I don't expect to post, or comment on your blogs, as much.

He is risen! Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Miscarriages in the Old Testament

You read that title right.

This verse jumped out at me:
Exodus 23:26 None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. (ESV)

What a promise! Was it conditional? I suppose so. Almost all of the promises in the Bible are conditional. God promised that the Israelites would defeat all their enemies (Leviticus 26:8, for example) but they were soundly defeated at Ai, because one person, Achan, disobeyed God's instructions about the precious metals found in Jericho. There was an "If" that went with the promise of victory. Perhaps there were miscarriages among the Israelites because they didn't obey. I don't know.

My wife once had a miscarriage. When she did, we were told, by a lot of other women, that they had also had one. A significant fraction of pregnancies, end with no baby being delivered. (I'm not including abortions here, just natural termination of some sort.) Perhaps a third or more conceptions terminate before the woman even knows that she is pregnant, probably because of some serious embryonic defect. In fact, the current version of the Wikipedia article on miscarriages says "Up to 78% of all conceptions may fail . . ., in most cases before the woman even knows she is pregnant."

There are broader promises about health, such as Deuteronomy 7:14, which says "You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. 15 And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you." (ESV)

I am aware that Exodus 21:22-3 has two possible different interpretations, which relate to the abortion debate, depending on whether or not a phrase meant "miscarriage" or not. Compare, for example, the Revised Standard Version and the ESV. That's not why I'm posting this. (I'm not sure this passage is relevant, anyway, as it's not talking about a "natural" miscarriage, if it's talking about one at all, but about one caused by trauma. I don't know.) I'm posting this because, as so often happens when I read the Bible, something occurs to me for the first time. Here, it's the promise of no miscarriages, which means, it would seem, miraculous intervention to prevent the common type that women don't even realize they have had, as well as miscarriages at a later time.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul: Apr 9-15

April 9. Here is my heart, O Christ; thou know'st I love thee.
But wretched is the thing I call my love.
O Love divine, rise up in me and move me--
I follow surely when thou first dost move.
To love the perfect love, is primal, mere
Necessity; and he who holds life dear,
Must love thee every hope and heart above.

10. Might I but scatter interfering things--
Questions and doubts, distrusts and anxious pride,
And in thy garment, as under gathering wings,
Nestle obedient to thy loving side,
Easy it were to love thee. But when thou
Send'st me to think and labour from thee wide,
Love falls to asking many a why and how.

11. Easier it were, but poorer were the love.
Lord, I would have me love thee from the deeps--
Of troubled thought, of pain, of weariness.
Through seething wastes below, billows above,
My soul should rise in eager, hungering leaps;
Through thorny thicks, through sands unstable press--
Out of my dream to him who slumbers not nor sleeps.

12. I do not fear the greatness of thy command--
To keep heart-open-house to brother men;
But till in thy God's love perfect I stand,
My door not wide enough will open. Then
Each man will be love-awful* in my sight;
And, open to the eternal morning's might,
Each human face will shine my window for thy light.

13. Make me all patience and all diligence;
Patience, that thou mayst have thy time with me;
Diligence, that I waste not thy expense
In sending out to bring me home to thee.
What though thy work in me transcends my sense--
Too fine, too high, for me to understand--
I hope entirely. On, Lord, with thy labour grand.

14. Lest I be humbled at the last, and told
That my great labour was but for my peace
That not for love or truth had I been bold,
But merely for a prisoned heart's release;
Careful, I humble me now before thy feet:
Whate'er I be, I cry, and will not cease--
Let me not perish, though favour be not meet.

15. For, what I seek thou knowest I must find,
Or miserably die for lack of love.
I justify** thee: what is in thy mind,
If it be shame to me, all shame above.
Thou know'st I choose it--know'st I would not shove
The hand away that stripped me for the rod--
If so it pleased my Life, my love-made-angry God.

*I think MacDonald meant "awful" in the sense of "full of awe."

**MacDonald is saying that God is justified when he punishes us.

Blessed Palm Sunday! The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. These are the entries for/from April 9 through 15.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Water Calligraphy

water calligraphy
Originally uploaded by mscheng.

I thank mscheng (her Flickr user name) for this photo, which she posted, and I couldn't pass up. The photo was taken recently in Nanjing, China, where mscheng lives. Lest there be any doubt, it really does show a man writing on the pavement with water. He is, of course, very well aware that what he is writing will evaporate. In fact, whatever he has written at the lower right seems to have mostly done so.

You should be able to see a larger view of this photo, and her comments on it, by clicking on it. You can see more interesting photos from mscheng, showing life in China, by clicking here. No password is needed.

mscheng writes that water calligraphy has significance for Buddhists. She wrote me that, on one occasion she heard of (in the US, at a building dedication) monks had written in sand, then wiped it out, saying that they were storing the meaning in themselves, and that the spiritual meaning was more important than the act of writing. (I have paraphrased her message, without, I hope, significantly altering her meaning.)

The tomb of John Keats has the inscription "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." There is a monument to Keats that refers to that. (Keats was an English poet who died in Italy. The inscription was placed at his request.) Keats was referring to the impermanence of fame, and of life.

What I write in this blog is writing in, or with, water. Much of it goes unread, except by me. Even if there may be a few kind souls who read it, they usually don't remember what they have read, and it probably seldom, if ever, affects their lives deeply. Like the Buddhist monks writing in sand, it does affect me, at least sometimes, and, I suppose, the thoughts behind the writing, and the spiritual impact on me, are more important than the blogging.

Keats wrote some great lines. "What mad pursuit?" is the first part of line 9 of his "Ode on a Grecian Urn." Francis Crick (That's the Crick, as in Watson and Crick) used those words as the first three words of the title of one of his books. Dan Simmons peppered his Hyperion Cantos with words from the works of Keats, and, in a sense, Keats was a character in this group of important works of science fiction. So Keats, for one, was not writing in water, at least not all the time. But most of us are. Even Keats will be forgotten, if the world lasts long enough, and be, like the first entry in my Blogroll, "A flower quickly fading."

James 4:14 includes this: "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (ESV) The Bible is right. My whole life is written in, or on, water. It is true that I have offspring (Happy birthday, younger daughter!) but my descendants may eventually all die off, or, if they don't, soon enough they won't remember me. I'm not very significant. I'm not eternal. Yet, looking at it another way, I am eternal, and, therefore, significant. As C. S. Lewis put it: "Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. . . . We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects." The Weight of Glory, HarperSan Francisco, 2001, p. 44.

May you choose Christ, so that you may experience that "splendour." May I!

Keep writing, and thanks for reading.

* * * * *

Added April 11th:

Violet commented below, indicating that, in part, she didn't agree with what I wrote above. I e-mailed her, asking for clarification, and she was kind enough to respond. I have paraphrased her response, and discussed it a little, in my post of this date.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What is the "image of God?" Summary so far

As John Calvin put it, in describing the meaning of the term image of God, "Interpreters do not agree concerning the meaning of these words."

In this post, I shall attempt to summarize what Calvin, John Wesley, and Matthew Henry believed about this term. These three are the only commentators I have found in the public domain who wrote at some length on the meaning of this term in Genesis 1:27 and related verses. (See previous posts in this series -- there should be links to them, or at least to the most recent of them, which, in turn, will have links to earlier posts, under the heading Previous in the right column of this blog. Earlier posts quote extensively from Calvin, Wesley and Henry without comment. It is possible that, here, I am misinterpreting one or more of these authorities.)

Calvin wrote that image meant the substance. He did not believe that image meant physical likeness. He believed that God's image included righteousness and true holiness. He also believed that there was "perfect intelligence" in humans, originally, and that reason reigned in Adam and Eve. He believed that "although some obscure lineaments of that image are found remaining in us; yet are they so vitiated and maimed, that they may truly be said to be destroyed."

John Wesley:
Wesley believed that the image of God in humans consisted of the following:
The nature of our souls, which was ". . . a spirit, an intelligent, immortal spirit, an active spirit, herein resembling God, the Father of spirits . . ."
Our Dominion over other organisms, and over ourselves.
"God's image upon man consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness . . ."

Wesley agrees with Calvin that much or all of that image was lost in the Fall. In his commentary on Genesis 3, he said, of Adam and Eve: "They saw God provoked, his favour forfeited, his image lost . . ."

Matthew Henry:
"God’s image upon man consists in these three things:-1. In his nature and constitution . . . 2. In his place and authority . . . 3. In his purity and rectitude."
Like Wesley and Calvin, Henry believed that much or all of God's image was lost in the Fall: ". . .his likeness and image lost, dominion over the creatures gone."

So, to combine, and summarize, these three believed that humans were like God in having an immortal soul, intelligence, righteousness, and authority over other creatures, and believed that much or all of that image was lost when we fell.

I hope to post later on what some current thinkers have to say.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sunspots 51

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

There is evidence that Saturn has thousands or millions of little moons, perhaps the size of a room.

destinatio (his Flickr user name) has posted a photo of a statue by Michelangelo, which is in front of a church in Belgium. He considered not doing so, because of the fuss over The DaVinci Code, but decided to do so, and gives his reasons.

A company is planning the first clinical trials of embryonic stem cells in human therapy, for spinal cord injuries. The cells in question come from two of the lines approved by President Bush in his speech of August 9, 2001.

For those really into such things, Michele says that Harry Potter is not a horcrux for Voldemort. (2nd post here)

More from CNET on scary new things that viruses may do.

A fossil, apparently intermediate between fish and land tetrapods, has been discovered. See here or here (second article includes a small photo.)

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here) The theme for this week is "March Madness." I'm glad I saw the women's NCAA basketball final, in which Maryland came back from 13 points down to beat Duke in overtime. It was a great game, and it's a shame anyone had to lose.

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What is the "image of God?" Matthew Henry

The first post on this subject quoted what the Bible says about it. The second quoted from John Calvin's commentary on Genesis 1:27, and its context. The third did the same for John Wesley. In this post, I do the same for Matthew Henry. It is my understanding that this material is public domain, so I quote at length. I thank those who have placed this material on the Internet.

from Matthew Henry's An Exposition, With Practical Observations, of The First Book of Moses, Called Genesis

Chapter 1

III. That man was made in God’s image and after his likeness, two words to express the same thing and making each other the more expressive; image and likeness denote the likest image, the nearest resemblance of any of the visible creatures. Man was not made in the likeness of any creature that went before him, but in the likeness of his Creator; yet still between God and man there is an infinite distance. Christ only is the express image of God’s person, as the Son of his Father, having the same nature. It is only some of God’s honour that is put upon man, who is God’s image only as the shadow in the glass, or the king’s impress upon the coin. God’s image upon man consists in these three things:-1. In his nature and constitution, not those of his body (for God has not a body), but those of his soul. This honour indeed God has put upon the body of man, that the Word was made flesh, the Son of God was clothed with a body like ours and will shortly clothe ours with a glory like that of his. And this we may safely say, That he by whom God made the worlds, not only the great world, but man the little world, formed the human body, at the first, according to the platform he designed for himself in the fulness of time. But it is the soul, the great soul, of man, that does especially bear God’s image. The soul is a spirit, an intelligent immortal spirit, an influencing active spirit, herein resembling God, the Father of Spirits, and the soul of the world. The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord. The soul of man, considered in its three noble faculties, understanding, will, and active power, is perhaps the brightest clearest looking-glass in nature, wherein to see God. 2. In his place and authority: Let us make man in our image, and let him have dominion. As he has the government of the inferior creatures, he is, as it were, God’s representative, or viceroy, upon earth; they are not capable of fearing and serving God, therefore God has appointed them to fear and serve man. Yet his government of himself by the freedom of his will has in it more of God’s image than his government of the creatures. 3. In his purity and rectitude. God’s image upon man consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10. He was upright, Eccl. 7:29. He had an habitual conformity of all his natural powers to the whole will of God. His understanding saw divine things clearly and truly, and there were no errors nor mistakes in his knowledge. His will complied readily and universally with the will of God, without reluctancy or resistance. His affections were all regular, and he had no inordinate appetites or passions. His thoughts were easily brought and fixed to the best subjects, and there was no vanity nor ungovernableness in them. All the inferior powers were subject to the dictates and directions of the superior, without any mutiny or rebellion. Thus holy, thus happy, were our first parents, in having the image of God upon them. And this honour, put upon man at first, is a good reason why we should not speak ill one of another (Jam. 3:9), nor do ill one to another (Gen. 9:6), and a good reason why we should not debase ourselves to the service of sin, and why we should devote ourselves to God’s service. But how art thou fallen, O son of the morning! How is this image of God upon man defaced! How small are the remains of it, and how great the ruins of it! The Lord renew it upon our souls by his sanctifying grace!

I am aware that these posts haven't really my musings, but those of three great scholars of the past, thoughts by a scholar from the present, and, most importantly, what the Bible says about the subject. These are more important than anything I could say, of course. If anyone is aware of any other public domain commentaries by recognized scholars on this passage, I'd appreciate knowing about it.

I expect to continue, in due course, by presenting thoughts of current thinkers, including my own.

Thanks for reading.

Note: The Christian Carnival won't appear until tomorrow. God willing, I'll post "Sunspots" then, not, as usual, on Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What is the "image of God?" John Wesley

I am musing, or quoting what others have mused, about what the Bible means when it says that man was created in the image of God. In my first post on the subject, I gave one theologian's interpretation, and quoted all the scripture that seems even close to relevant. In the second, I quoted what John Calvin said in his commentary about what I take to be the most important passage on the subject, namely Genesis 1:27, and its context. In this post, I do the same for John Wesley. It is my understanding that this material is public domain, so I am quoting at length. I thank those who have placed this material on the Internet for public use.

from John Wesley's Notes on the Bible

Genesis 1
Verses 26, 27, 28. We have here the second part of the sixth day's work, the creation of man, which we are in a special manner concerned to take notice of. Observe,

1. That man was made last of all the creatures, which was both an honour and a favour to him: an honour, for the creation was to advance from that which was less perfect, to that which was more so and a favour, for it was not fit he should be lodged in the palace designed for him, till it was completely fitted and furnished for his reception. Man, as soon as he was made, had the whole visible creation before him, both to contemplate, and to take the comfort of.

2. That man's creation was a mere signal act of divine wisdom and power, than that of the other creatures. The narrative of it is introduced with solemnity, and a manifest distinction from the rest. Hitherto it had been said, Let there be light, and Let there be a firmament: but now the word of command is turned into a word of consultation, Let us make man - For whose sake the rest of the creatures were made. Man was to be a creature different from all that had been hitherto made. Flesh and spirit, heaven and earth must be put together in him, and he must be allied to both worlds. And therefore God himself not only undertakes to make, but is pleased so to express himself, as if he called a council to consider of the making of him; Let us make man - The three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, consult about it, and concur in it; because man, when he was made, was to be dedicated and devoted to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

3. That man was made in God's image, and after his likeness; two words to express the same thing. God's image upon man, consists,
(1.) In his nature, not that of his body, for God has not a body, but that of his soul. The soul is a spirit, an intelligent, immortal spirit, an active spirit, herein resembling God, the Father of spirits, and the soul of the world.
(2.) In his place and authority. Let us make man in our image, and let him have dominion. As he has the government of the inferior creatures, he is as it were God's representative on earth. Yet his government of himself by the freedom of his will, has in it more of God's image, than his government of the creatures.
(3.) And chiefly in his purity and rectitude. God's image upon man consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, Eph. iv, 24; Colossians iii, 10. He was upright, Eccl. vii, 29. He had an habitual conformity of all his natural powers to the whole will of God. His understanding saw divine things clearly, and there were no errors in his knowledge: his will complied readily and universally with the will of God; without reluctancy: his affections were all regular, and he had no inordinate appetites or passions: his thoughts were easily fixed to the best subjects, and there was no vanity or ungovernableness in them. And all the inferior powers were subject to the dictates of the superior. Thus holy, thus happy, were our first parents, in having the image of God upon them. But how art thou fallen, O son of the morning? How is this image of God upon man defaced! How small are the remains of it, and how great the ruins of it! The Lord renew it upon our souls by his sanctifying grace!
(4.) That man was made male and female, and blessed with fruitfulness. He created him male and female, Adam and Eve: Adam first out of earth, and Eve out of his side. God made but one male and one female, that all the nations of men might know themselves to be made of one blood, descendants, from one common stock, and might thereby be induced to love one another. God having made them capable of transmitting the nature they had received, said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth - Here he gave them,
[1.] A large inheritance; replenish the earth, in which God has set man to be the servant of his providence, in the government of the inferior creatures, and as it were the intelligence of this orb; to be likewise the collector of his praises in this lower world, and lastly, to be a probationer for a better state.
[2.] A numerous lasting family to enjoy this inheritance; pronouncing a blessing upon them, in the virtue of which, their posterity should extend to the utmost corners of the earth, and continue to the utmost period of time.
(5.) That God gave to man a dominion over the inferior creatures, over fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air - Though man provides for neither, he has power over both, much more over every living thing that moveth upon the earth - God designed hereby to put an honour upon man, that he might find himself the more strongly obliged to bring honour to his Maker. See note at "ver. 26"

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 03, 2006

What is the "image of God?" Calvin's Commentary

I am musing, or quoting what others have mused, about what the Bible means when it says that man was created in the image of God. In an earlier post, I gave one theologian's interpretation, and quoted all the scripture that seems even close to relevant. I also gave John Calvin unduly short shrift on the matter. In this post, I attempt to rectify that by quoting what John Calvin said in his commentary about what I take to be the most important passage on the subject, namely Genesis 1:27, and its context. It is my understanding that this material is public domain, so I am quoting at length. I thank those who have placed this material on the Internet for public use.

from John Calvin's Bible Commentary

Verse 26. Let us make man . 49 Although the tense here used is the future, all must acknowledge that this is the language of one apparently deliberating. Hitherto God has been introduced simply as commanding; now, when he approaches the most excellent of all his works, he enters into consultation. God certainly might here command by his bare word what he wished to be done: but he chose to give this tribute to the excellency of man, that he would, in a manner, enter into consultation concerning his creation. This is the highest honor with which he has dignified us; to a due regard for which, Moses, by this mode of speaking would excite our minds. For God is not now first beginning to consider what form he will give to man, and with what endowments it would be fitting to adorn him, nor is he pausing as over a work of difficulty: but, just as we have before observed, that the creation of the world was distributed over six days, for our sake, to the end that our minds might the more easily be retained in the meditation of God's works: so now, for the purpose of commending to our attention the dignity of our nature, he, in taking counsel concerning the creation of man, testifies that he is about to undertake something great and wonderful. Truly there are many things in this corrupted nature which may induce contempt; but if you rightly weigh all circumstances, man is, among other creatures a certain preeminent specimen of Divine wisdom, justice, and goodness, so that he is deservedly called by the ancients mikri>kosmov, "a world in miniature." But since the Lord needs no other counsellor, there can be no doubt that he consulted with himself. The Jews make themselves altogether ridiculous, in pretending that God held communication with the earth or with angels. 50 The earth, forsooth, was a most excellent adviser! And to ascribe the least portion of a work so exquisite to angels, is a sacrilege to be held in abhorrence. Where, indeed, will they find that we were created after the image of the earth, or of angels? Does not Moses directly exclude all creatures in express terms, when he declares that Adam was created after the image of God? Others who deem themselves more acute, but are doubly infatuated, say that God spoke of himself in the plural number, according to the custom of princes. As if, in truth, that barbarous style of speaking, which has grown into use within a few past centuries, had, even then, prevailed in the world. But it is well that their canine wickedness has been joined with a stupidity so great, that they betray their folly to children. Christians, therefore, properly contend, from this testimony, that there exists a plurality of Persons in the Godhead. God summons no foreign counsellor; hence we infer that he finds within himself something distinct; as, in truth, his eternal wisdom and power reside within him. 51

In our image, etc . Interpreters do not agree concerning the meaning of these words. The greater part, and nearly all, conceive that the word image is to be distinguished from likeness. And the common distinction is, that image exists in the substance, likeness in the accidents of anything. They who would define the subject briefly, say that in the image are contained those endowments which God has conferred on human nature at large, while they expound likeness to mean gratuitous gifts. 52 But Augustine, beyond all others, speculates with excessive refinement, for the purpose of fabricating a Trinity in man. For in laying hold of the three faculties of the soul enumerated by Aristotle, the intellect, the memory, and the will, he afterwards out of one Trinity derives many. If any reader, having leisure, wishes to enjoy such speculations, let him read the tenth and fourteenth books on the Trinity, also the eleventh book of the "City of God." I acknowledge, indeed, that there is something in man which refers to the Fathers and the Son, and the Spirit: and I have no difficulty in admitting the above distinction of the faculties of the soul: although the simpler division into two parts, which is more used in Scripture, is better adapted to the sound doctrine of piety; but a definition of the image of God ought to rest on a firmer basis than such subtleties. As for myself, before I define the image of God, I would deny that it differs from his likeness. For when Moses afterwards repeats the same things he passes over the likeness, and contents himself with mentioning the image. Should any one take the exception, that he was merely studying brevity; I answer, 53 that where he twice uses the word image, he makes no mention of the likeness. We also know that it was customary with the Hebrews to repeat the same thing in different words. besides, the phrase itself shows that the second term was added for the sake of explanation, 'Let us make,' he says, 'man in our image, according to our likeness,' that is, that he may be like God, or may represent the image of God. Lastly, in the fifth chapter, without making any mention of image, he puts likeness in its place, (Genesis 5:1.) Although we have set aside all difference between the two words we have not yet ascertained what this image or likeness is. The Anthropomorphites were too gross in seeking this resemblance in the human body; let that reverie therefore remain entombed. Others proceed with a little more subtlety, who, though they do not imagine God to be corporeal, yet maintain that the image of God is in the body of man, because his admirable workmanship there shines brightly; but this opinion, as we shall see, is by no means consonant with Scripture. The exposition of Chrysostom is not more correct, who refers to the dominion which was given to man in order that he might, in a certain sense, act as God's vicegerent in the government of the world. This truly is some portion, though very small, of the image of God. Since the image of God had been destroyed in us by the fall, we may judge from its restoration what it originally had been. Paul says that we are transformed into the image of God by the gospel. And, according to him, spiritual regeneration is nothing else than the restoration of the same image. (Colossians 3:10, and Ephesians 4:23.) That he made this image to consist in righteousness and true holiness, is by the figure synecdochee; 54 for though this is the chief part, it is not the whole of God's image. Therefore by this word the perfection of our whole nature is designated, as it appeared when Adam was endued with a right judgment, had affections in harmony with reason, had all his senses sound and well-regulated, and truly excelled in everything good. Thus the chief seat of the Divine image was in his mind and heart, where it was eminent: yet was there no part of him in which some scintillations of it did not shine forth. For there was an attempering in the several parts of the soul, which corresponded with their various offices. 55 In the mind perfect intelligence flourished and reigned, uprightness attended as its companion, and all the senses were prepared and moulded for due obedience to reason; and in the body there was a suitable correspondence with this internal order. But now, although some obscure lineaments of that image are found remaining in us; yet are they so vitiated and maimed, that they may truly be said to be destroyed. For besides the deformity which everywhere appears unsightly, this evil also is added, that no part is free from the infection of sin.

In our image, after our likeness . I do not scrupulously insist upon the particles b, (beth,) and k, (caph. 56) I know not whether there is anything solid in the opinion of some who hold that this is said, because the image of God was only shadowed forth in man till he should arrive at his perfection. The thing indeed is true; but I do not think that anything of the kind entered the mind of Moses. 57 It is also truly said that Christ is the only image of the Fathers but yet the words of Moses do not bear the interpretation that "in the image" means "in Christ." It may also be added, that even man, though in a different respects is called the image of God. In which thing some of the Fathers are deceived who thought that they could defeat the Asians with this weapon that Christ alone is God's, image. This further difficulty is also to be encountered, namely, why Paul should deny the woman to be the image of God, when Moses honors both, indiscriminately, with this title. The solution is short; Paul there alludes only to the domestic relation. He therefore restricts the image of God to government, in which the man has superiority over the wife and certainly he meant nothing more than that man is superior in the degree of honor. But here the question is respecting that glory of God which peculiarly shines forth in human nature, where the mind, the will, and all the senses, represent the Divine order.

And let them have dominion . 58 Here he commemorates that part of dignity with which he decreed to honor man, namely, that he should have authority over all living creatures. He appointed man, it is true, lord of the world; but he expressly subjects the animals to him, because they having an inclination or instinct of their own, 59 seem to be less under authority from without. The use of the plural number intimates that this authority was not given to Adam only, but to all his posterity as well as to him. And hence we infer what was the end for which all things were created; namely, that none of the conveniences and necessaries of life might be wanting to men. In the very order of the creation the paternal solicitude of God for man is conspicuous, because he furnished the world with all things needful, and even with an immense profusion of wealth, before he formed man. Thus man was rich before he was born. But if God had such care for us before we existed, he will by no means leave us destitute of food and of other necessaries of life, now that we are placed in the world. Yet, that he often keeps his hand as if closed is to be imputed to our sins.

Verse 27. So God created man . The reiterated mention of the image of God is not a vain repetition. For it is a remarkable instance of the Divine goodness which can never be sufficiently proclaimed. And, at the same time, he admonishes us from what excellence we have fallen, that he may excite in us the desire of its recovery. When he soon afterwards adds, that God created them male and female, he commends to us that conjugal bond by which the society of mankind is cherished. For this form of speaking, God created man, male and female created he them, is of the same force as if he had said, that the man himself was incomplete. 60 Under these circumstances, the woman was added to him as a companion that they both might be one, as he more clearly expresses it in the second chapter. Malachi also means the same thing when he relates, (Genesis 2:15,) that one man was created by God, whilst, nevertheless, he possessed the fullness of the Spirit. 61 For he there treats of conjugal fidelity, which the Jews were violating by their polygamy. For the purpose of correcting this fault, he calls that pair, consisting of man and woman, which God in the beginning had joined together, one man, in order that every one might learn to be content with his own wife.

In my next two posts on this subject, I expect to do the same for John Wesley and Matthew Henry that I did for Calvin in this post, then, after that, follow up with the views of some 20th and 21st century theologians on this matter, and attempt to make some sense out of what all of them have said, and indicate my own view on the matter.

Thanks for reading.

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Later posts quote John Wesley and Matthew Henry.