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Monday, February 28, 2011

Prophecy: The first four fulfilled Messianic prophecies

The New Testament, especially the book of Matthew, which was apparently written with a Jewish audience in mind, frequently reminds us of Old Testament prophecies about Christ.

Matthew indicates Old Testament prophecies which were fulfilled by events related to Christ's life on earth. I'm going to muse about the first four of these. I shall use the World English Bible, which is public domain, throughout this post.

The first fulfilled prophecy is in Matthew 1:23:
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child,
and shall bring forth a son.
They shall call his name Immanuel”;
which is, being interpreted, “God with us.”
This is a quotation from Isaiah 7:14. However, I quote additional verses from that chapter:
7:10 Yahweh spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign of Yahweh your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt Yahweh.”
13 He said, “Listen now, house of David. Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat butter and honey when he knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings you abhor shall be forsaken. 17 Yahweh will bring on you, on your people, and on your father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria. 18 It will happen in that day that Yahweh will whistle for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.

Matthew says that 7:14 was a fulfilled prophecy about the birth of Christ, so it must have been. But it would have taken extraordinary wisdom to find such a prophecy in Isaiah's original proclamation, which, on the face of it, is given as a prophecy of God's judgment on the kingdom of Ahaz. There are other difficulties. Did Jesus ever have to learn to refuse evil? Was there a child born in Ahaz's time, who also fulfilled this prophecy? (My NIV study bible suggests that a betrothed wife of Isaiah may have been referred to.) What am I saying? I'm saying that it is unlikely that Ahaz, or even Isaiah, would have taken Isaiah 7:14 to be a prophecy about the coming of Christ. Matthew, and you and I, can see that it was, in hindsight.

An interesting sidelight about this prophecy is that some scholars have translated the Hebrew word from Isaiah, which the WEB has rendered as "virgin," as "young woman." This includes a recent translation, the New American Bible, Revised Edition, which has the approval of the U. S. Catholic Bishops. The Catholic Bishops, I'm sure, are not changing their belief that Mary was a virgin when Christ was conceived, but are apparently convinced that the Hebrew word did not have to mean "virgin."

The second prophecy listed by Matthew as fulfilled is in 2:6:
2:6 'You Bethlehem, land of Judah,
    are in no way least among the princes of Judah:
for out of you shall come forth a governor,
    who shall shepherd my people, Israel.'

The original statement is in Micah 5:
5:1 Now you shall gather yourself in troops,
    daughter of troops.
He has laid siege against us.
    They will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.
2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    being small among the clans of Judah,
    out of you one will come forth to me that is to be ruler in Israel;
    whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
3 Therefore he will abandon them until the time that she who is in labor gives birth.
    Then the rest of his brothers will return to the children of Israel.
4 He shall stand, and shall shepherd in the strength of Yahweh,
    in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God:
    and they will live, for then he will be great to the ends of the earth.
5 He will be our peace when Assyria invades our land,
    and when he marches through our fortresses,
    then we will raise against him seven shepherds,
    and eight leaders of men.
6 They will rule the land of Assyria with the sword,
    and the land of Nimrod in its gates.

It is clear that at least one scholar understood that verse 2 referred to the birth of the Messiah, because he communicated that to the Wise Men. But the context, before and after, involves warfare, in particular against the Assyrians. I wonder if anyone familiar with this prophecy, when it was given, would have understood that it was talking, in part, about the birth of God's Son, the Savior?

The third prophecy is this:
Matthew 2:14 He arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Here's the original:
Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, then I loved him,
    and called my son out of Egypt.
2 They called to them, so they went from them.
    They sacrificed to the Baals,
    and burned incense to engraved images.
3 Yet I taught Ephraim to walk.
    I took them by his arms;
    but they didn’t know that I healed them.
4 I drew them with cords of a man, with ties of love;
    and I was to them like those who lift up the yoke on their necks;
    and I bent down to him and I fed him.
5 “They won’t return into the land of Egypt;
    but the Assyrian will be their king,
    because they refused to repent.

This seems to be speaking of the Exodus, and subsequent events. Apparently God meant this prophecy to cover more than one event, one national, and one related to the early life of Christ. For a discussion of this prophecy by a Bible scholar, Ken Schenck, see here.

The fourth prophecy, a sad one, is:
Matthew 2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    lamentation, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she wouldn’t be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

The source is Jeremiah 31:11 For Yahweh has ransomed Jacob, and redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he. 12 They shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow to the goodness of Yahweh, to the grain, and to the new wine, and to the oil, and to the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. 13 Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. 14 I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, says Yahweh. 15 Thus says Yahweh: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. 16 Thus says Yahweh: Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says Yahweh; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. 17 There is hope for your latter end, says Yahweh; and your children shall come again to their own border.

It would seem that this, too, would have been difficult, or impossible, to read as a prophecy of Herod killing the boy babies to try to kill Christ. The passage, as a whole, is a prophecy of the restoration of Israel.

My point is that, based on these four prophecies, where we know that they have been fulfilled, at least partly, and how they were fulfilled, there would have been real difficulty for anyone to have understood what they were all about until Matthew told us. I mean this as a cautionary tale about prophecies of end times, so popular in our own day.

Here's a related post, about end time prophecy, and one asking whether the establishment of Israel in 1948 is fulfillment of prophecy. Here is a post by a Bible scholar, on the same subject.

Thanks for reading.

*  *  *  *  *  *

May 19, 2012: I have now considered the fifth prophecy about Jesus that Matthew treats as fulfilled. That case is, if anything, more difficult to understand than the four above. 

February 2, 2013: I added a link to a recent post from Ken Schenck to the discussion of the third prophecy.

June 7, 2019: There are serious dangers to using scripture out of context. But it appears that Matthew, no doubt under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, used all four of these prophecies as if they were independent of surrounding contextual material. (See scripture quotations above.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Moses and the idolatry of the Israelites

Exodus 32:11 Moses begged Yahweh his God, and said, “Yahweh, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 32:12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘He brought them forth for evil, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the surface of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people. 32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your seed as the stars of the sky, and all this land that I have spoken of I will give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 32:14 Yahweh repented of the evil which he said he would do to his people. (WEB)
I suspect that God knew full well that Moses was going to intercede for the people, and that He wouldn't destroy them utterly. But Moses didn't know it, until he had interceded, and God had honored his prayer. This prayer shows that it is all right to pray for sinners, or, rather, to pray that they won't be punished. Furthermore, it was all right for Moses to pray in opposition to what God had said. Remarkable. I would be most reluctant to try that myself.

Thanks for reading. This is one in a series of posts on prayers in the Bible. The previous post was last Sunday's, Feb 20th.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why did God create things?

I am, of course, assuming that God did create.

I have occasionally remarked, in this blog, that the Bible doesn't tell us why God created, or how, or when, but it does tell us Who. I was wrong. We do know something of why God created.

Some people believe that we do know why, and that Revelation 4:11 tells us why: "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (KJV. The song "Thou Art Worthy" is based on this verse.) However, that translation is probably misleading. Here's a compilation of several translations of that verse. The majority, including the New KJV, render that phrase as "by your will," rather than "for your pleasure." In fact, the Greek word θέλημα, thelema, translated as "for thy pleasure" in this case, is translated as "at your will" in the 59 other verses where it occurs, in the KJV.

I have now read an article that claims to give reasons why God created. Here are the reasons presented:

1) To show God's glory. Bishop, the author, quotes Romans 1:20 in support of that: "For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse." (All Bible quotations are from the WEB) He could have quoted Psalm 19:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God.
    The expanse shows his handiwork. 

2 Day after day they pour forth speech,
    and night after night they display knowledge. 

3 There is no speech nor language,
    where their voice is not heard. 

4 Their voice has gone out through all the earth,
    their words to the end of the world.  

2) To serve as God's temple. (The author quotes Psalm 78:69, Psalm 93:1-2, and Isaiah 66:1.) I have some problems with this, or at least with the scripture taken to support it. I'm not sure that it does. Psalm 93:1-2 says:
93:1 Yahweh reigns!
He is clothed with majesty!
Yahweh is armed with strength.
The world also is established.
It can’t be moved.
2 Your throne is established from long ago.
You are from everlasting. (WEB)

We aren't to take the last part of verse 1 literally, surely. Why should we take the rest of it as literal, rather than poetic?
Hebrews speaks of a temple of God in the heavens. Why did God need a temple on earth, then? I'm not convinced.

3) Bishop writes: "Another of God’s purposes, that we’ve already seen, is for creation to become uniquely what it is called to be in Christ." OK. I can see that one, even though there's not explicit scripture cited for it. Bishop might have used Romans 8:18-25. (See below)

4)Bishop's next reason is that God wanted to populate the earth with life. He uses Isaiah 45:18 as part of his justification. Here it is:
45:18 For thus says Yahweh who created the heavens,
the God who formed the earth and made it,
who established it and didn’t create it a waste,
who formed it to be inhabited: (WEB)

5) The author's last reason is this: ". . . God intends for creation to be an arena for comprehensive redemption . . ." He uses Romans 8 as his Biblical justification.

In summary, after reading Bishop, I conclude that, while we can't understand all of God's purposes, we can grasp, from the Bible, that God's plans were to create beings for His glory, and to redeem creation.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sunspots 302

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

Science: Wired has a report on the language ability of dolphins.

Politics: (or something) National Public Radio has posted an essay on how quickly we receive news, in this day. 

Sports: A video of a fantastic soccer goal by a Wayne Rooney, of the UK, kicking while upside down.

Computing: A list of 260 web sites where you can get free books on-line. Note: the Amazon Kindle book reader (and lots of free books) are available from Amazon, for free, for various computers and smart phones. You can also download the Barnes and Noble Nook, free. Many free books can be read with your browser, without either the Kindle or the Nook.
Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

C. S. Lewis on the ultimate meaning of things

Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, “Why is there a universe?” “Why does it go on as it does?” “Has it any meaning?” would remain just as they were? C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, p. 23.

Monday, February 21, 2011

IBM versus humans: Lessons from "Jeopardy"

I watched the final episode of the contest between IBM's Watson, a computer system, and two great human players, on Jeopardy. Watson won. But, as a Wired commentator says, the real lessons from this match are how good, and how efficient, the human brain is. I was thinking the same thoughts, but he published first, and probably said it better.

Thanks for reading. Use your brain!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Paul in Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3:14 For this cause, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 3:16 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; 3:17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 3:18 may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 3:19 and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 3:20 Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 3:21 to him be the glory in the assembly and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (WEB)

Paul is praying for his readers, apparently the church in Ephesus, in this passage. In one phrase, his prayer is that that group of believers would "know Christ's love." May I also know it!

This is one of a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post in the series is here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Philippians 4:8 poster

Philippians 4:8 poster, "whatever things are true . . ."

A poster, based on Philippians 4:8, from our church's Sunday School lesson from tomorrow. You should be able to see larger versions of this by clicking on the graphic, which is a link to the original in my Flickr photostream.

In the WEB, the verse reads: "Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things."

Paul doesn't explicitly say so, but I think he was also telling us to avoid thinking of things that aren't true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, with virtue, and worth of praise.

Thanks for looking and reading. Think about true and lovely things. There are some.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Happy 50th

Brother and sister-in-law 50th

Happy 50th anniversary to my second youngest brother and his wife. They are celebrating by going to South America, bird-watching.

The main photo was taken in a restaurant near their home, in 2008. The photo in the window was taken by the brother between the honoree and me, at their wedding, which took place during a snowstorm in Wisconsin. Let's put it this way -- the bride's party had to wait an hour after the scheduled wedding time for the groom and party to arrive.

All the best to both of them. Many marriages don't last 50 weeks, in this day and time.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sunspots 301

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

Humor: (and maybe The Arts) A stairway in a mall in Sweden has been transformed into a piano keyboard you walk up.

Politics: I'm not making this up: A petition to add traffic lights to a road in North Carolina was so good that a traffic official is having the petitioner investigated for practicing traffic engineering without a license.
Sports: Aaron Rodgers, Super Bowl most valuable player, is a Christian.

Wired reports on a new sport, Hockern, from Germany (with a video). Think of it as a cross between a stool and a skateboard.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love poster

Love poster

You may be able to see larger versions of this poster from my Flickr photostream -- use the photo as a link. No password or membership is required to see Flickr photos.

I thank my wife for advice on this poster, and it is dedicate to her. She wished that I had used a different translation, but I wanted one in public domain, and the RSV seemed best. Her problem was with 1 Corinthians 13:7, which, in the RSV, says "believes all things." Some versions have "trusts" here, instead, and I think that that conveys the meaning better. I believe that the idea is that we trust God's love, no matter what.

As you probably know, there is more than one word for love in the Greek. (See Wikipedia article on The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis.)

Thank you, God, for Your great love, which I don't deserve.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

prayers in the Bible: Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1

2 Thessalonians 1:11 To this end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire of goodness and work of faith, with power; 1:12 that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (WEB)

Here is a simple, yet profound prayer. It is that God would count us worthy of our calling! How simple. How profound. May it be so in my own life.

This is part of a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post in the series is here.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is "Christian Speculative Fiction" an oxymoron?

I recently read an interesting exchange between two writers on the Speculative Faith blog. In the first post, Mike Duran states as a fact: "While Borders and Barnes and Noble contain aisles of horror, science fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy, spec titles comprise a relatively minuscule portion of the religious fiction market." (I think he's right about that.) In his attempt to explain this, he doesn't exactly say that Christians can't write speculative fiction. But he does say ". . . speculative fiction, by its very nature, grates against the core of Christianity, which states that some things are beyond the pale of speculation." He also suggests that Christians are bound by their beliefs -- they can't question some of them, such as the nature of God, even in fiction, while non-believers are not so bound.

Rebecca Luella Miller, the blog's owner, responded. She says that all writers, not just Christians, are constrained by their beliefs. She uses Phillip Pullman as an example, saying, correctly, I believe, that Pullman wouldn't write about an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God because he doesn't believe that such a being is possible. Miller concludes that Christians actually have more freedom to create speculative worlds. "And we can infuse those worlds with a Being capable of coloring outside all boxes — because He made the boxes and the colors. How unlimiting for a writer. How speculative. And how Christian."

Both of these authors are at least partly correct. Christian bookstores are not the best place to go to purchase speculative fiction. And there seem to be some things, for example a God who is unjust and evil, that Christians won't write about, even in fantastic literature. And it is also true that writers are constrained by their beliefs.

But there were some things left out of the discussion. One of them is that Christian, and Christian fiction, are not defined. Is Christian fiction fiction in which people come to belief? Is it fiction which is published by certain publishers who market their books for evangelicals (mostly women)?

I have posted a tentative solution to the first problem. I have attempted to describe Christian fiction.

A second problem with the exchange is that it fails to cite some recent works of fantastic literature that have been well-received by the public at large, and are, I would say, Christian novels. Eifelheim was a nominee for the Hugo award in 2007. Important characters believed in a monotheistic God, and prayed to Him. There were choices between good and evil. There were even conversions, no less (of aliens). Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1992. At least one of the main characters, Roche, is faced with an important choice between good and evil. Can he continue to believe in a good God, pray and hope, in spite of a terrible plague -- which eventually kills him? Yes, he can. At least some of the works of Stephen Lawhead were published, and marketed, by "mainstream" publishers, and sold well, and were read by people who wouldn't even know about faith fiction. There are other examples.

Thomson has responded to Duran's post, here. Her main thrust is that ". . . all fiction is speculative . . ."

Thanks for reading. Read Speculative Faith!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Sunspots 300

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

Science: The DNA of the water flea, Daphnia, has been sequenced, according to a report on NPR.

That marcescence is the term applied to deciduous trees that do not shed their leaves in the fall, such as the beech.

Politics: Wired discusses attempts to count large gatherings, like those in Cairo. They say that Tahrir Square will only hold about 225,000 people.

(or something) A newly discovered Brazilian tribe has probably had no contact with "civilized" people, ever. Wired shows photos, taken from the air. There are perhaps 100 such tribes around the world.

Computing:  Gizmo's Freeware reports on Prey, a free program, running on Windows, Mac, and Android, that allows you to order a missing smart phone to send you a map of where it is, and/or take photos showing its surroundings.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Describing Christian novels

A few years ago, during an attack of hubris, I attempted to define Christian novels. It's a difficult thing to do, to say the least. I now believe that a description makes more sense than a definition. It's not much easier.

I'm avoiding two fundamental issues, namely what a novel is, or what Christianity is.

Here's my description. A Christian novel should include three things. First, some sort of important choice between good and evil. There should also be evidence that a character has hope, beyond despair. Such a work should also contain at least one of the following, as a significant part of the plot, or the theme, or as an attribute of an important character: 1) A Christ-figure 2) Belief in important orthodox Christian doctrine, on the part of a narrator or character 3) Practicing prayer to a monotheistic divine being 4) Having a relationship with such a monotheistic divine being in other significant ways, including receiving guidance from him, or being placed in his presence. (For more discussion of these points, see the post indicated in the first sentence.)

This is a broader description than some have proposed. Angela Hunt put forth a simpler one, with three characteristics only, namely that the story should illustrate some aspect of Christian faith, that the writing should avoid obscenity and profanity (she didn't define these) and that it should offer hope. She was writing about what she has called "faith fiction" which is fiction aimed mainly at a female evangelical Christian audience. Hunt has written a lot of that herself. Hunt writes "I'm sure you're waiting for me to say there must be a conversion scene, a moral, a sermon, prayer, the name of Jesus, Christian protagonists, angels, or something else, but that's it." Most faith fiction does involve a conversion, and some of the other aspects that Hunt mentions, which aren't for her, requirements. I think most faith fiction also includes a marriage, or points toward a forthcoming marriage.

I would agree with Hunt on most matters, and I think our descriptions overlap a great deal. I prefer not to read books with lots of profanity or obscenity in them, but I believe it would be possible to write a thoroughly Christian work, meeting my description, which included such language. I think she's right about hope, although it doesn't seem to me that it would have to be realized within the novel. I thank her for mentioning hope as a critical component. I wouldn't have included it if I hadn't read her post.

My own interest is in what I call fantastic literature. I cannot recall reading any award-winning fantasy or science fiction works which had language that turned me off.

Could a non-Christian write a book that meets my description, or Hunt's? I suppose so. Such an author probably wouldn't.

Let me mention three specific cases. The Narnia books, by C. S. Lewis, match the description. Aslan is a Christ-figure, dying for the sin of someone else. Characters have a relationship with Aslan. The children sometimes pray to Aslan. There are moral choices, lots of them. Perhaps the most important Christian doctrine, the Atonement, is portrayed directly, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is no wonder that the series is sometimes described as being too preachy.

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is not so obvious as the Narnia books. There are moral choices, such as Galadriel's decision not to take the ring from Frodo, Denethor's decision to put his own judgment above Gandalf's, and Saruman's decision to advance himself, rather than trying to defeat Sauron, are bad choices between good and evil. Gandalf dies in Moria, and returns to life, which is part of being a Christ-figure. No one seems to pray. No one seems to have a relationship with the higher deity or deities, and the books don't give a clear picture of monotheism. As to belief in an orthodox Christian doctrine, the only one I can come up with is forgiveness and/or mercy. Sam, Frodo and Bilbo were all merciful toward Gollum. Boromir sought forgiveness for trying to take the ring from Frodo. There is hope, throughout the book.

As much as I like the work of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books, they aren't Christian. (Le Guin says that she is a Taoist.) There are certainly moral choices, and there is hope. But there is no evident belief in a monotheistic god, no relationship with such, and no prayer. And Ged isn't really a Christ-figure. He doesn't actually die, let alone die for someone else, although he does lose his magical abilities in saving Earthsea. Ged's first archmage, Nemmerle, does die, repairing damage that a younger Ged has done, but he really didn't die for Ged, but for his task, to preserve the equilibrium of Earthsea. And death, itself, is problematic. The dead go into the Dry Land, a realm where they seem to just sort of wander around forever, although a wizard with great power can summon their spirits, apparently temporarily. (See this review, on Le Guin's web site, which says a little about the Dry Land, and about Le Guin's Taoism.) The Dry Land is an alternative to orthodox Christian doctrine. There is no heaven, and no hell, in Earthsea.

Thanks for reading. This made me think, and maybe it will do the same for someone else.

Added June 16, 2012: E. Stephen Burnett, of the Speculative Faith blog, has written a post entitled Define 'Christian Speculative Story.' The Speculative Faith blog is indispensable for persons interested in the intersection of Christianity and fantastic literature. I wish that Burnett, and the other authors, would pay less attention to fiction written and marketed to evangelical Christians, and more to fiction which is marketed to a wider audience, but that's a quibble.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Paul in Colossians 1

Colossians 1:3 We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 1:4 having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which you have toward all the saints, 1:5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Good News, 1:6 which has come to you; even as it is in all the world and is bearing fruit and growing, as it does in you also, since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; 1:7 even as you learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 1:8 who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. 1:9 For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 1:10 that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 1:11 strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, for all endurance and perseverance with joy; (WEB)

This is another in a series on prayers in the Bible. The last such is here.

In this prayer, by Paul, he is praying that the Colossian Christians will be filled with a knowledge of God's will, and strengthened with "all power." What a reservoir! What a resource!

Thanks for reading. May I, and you, be strengthened with all power, and filled with a knowledge of God's will.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Russell's teapot

Some time ago, a commenter mentioned Russell's Teapot, and suggested that the idea was pertinent to a post of mine. (See Pete D's first comment on this post.) I had never heard of Russell's Teapot, although I had heard of Bertrand Russell, and I failed to look the matter up right away, which I should have done. I have now done so, and am musing on the topic.

The Wikipedia article on the subject quotes Russell's original statement. Russell's point was that claiming that there is a God, with no scientific proof of His existence, is no more legitimate than claiming that there is a teapot, too small to detect with instruments of any kind, orbiting the sun.

But that's not all. Russell said "since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it. . ." I would claim, and I am not alone, that there is a God, but that I cannot advance any scientific proof of His existence. I claim that I have subjective evidence from personal experience; from observing that sin is in the world, yet most people think that sin and evil is somehow unnatural and wrong; and from the Bible, that God exists. I do not claim that it is not legitimate to doubt God's existence. The validity of my personal experience can be questioned. Sometimes I question it myself. Perhaps our notion that the world is somehow spoiled is mistaken. It is possible that the Bible is a fabrication. In other words, the sentence quoted at the beginning of this paragraph does not apply to my belief, or to that of many other Christians. Just because something cannot be disproved, does not mean that it is not legitimate to doubt its existence.

For example, A could assert that witches can fly. B could respond that she has never seen a witch fly, and even doubt that witches exist. A could counter by asking B to prove that witches do not exist. B could respond that witches have not been found under various circumstances. A could, in that case, respond that there are other circumstances, which B has not experienced, in which witches do exist, and fly. It is not possible for B to examine all possible circumstances, but it is still reasonable for B to doubt that witches can fly.

I don't argue, and I don't think many Christians do, that the fact that Russell cannot disprove God's existence is an important reason for believing in God. I do think that the inability to disprove God's existence is a defense of belief in God. Not a strong one, but a defense. I agree that there is no scientific proof of God's existence. But, as I said, I believe that there are other kinds of proofs of that existence, and that it is not necessary to have scientific proof of His existence for me, and others, to believe in God. There are some things that a significant number of important mainstream scientists believe, that, so far, at least, lack scientific proof. These include the existence of the Higgs boson, and of universes that are parallel to our own, and string theory.

Hebrews 11:3 says: "By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible." Verse 6, of the same chapter, says "Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him." (WEB -- I'm using the WEB because it is public domain. I can't link directly to a verse in that Bible, because the web site uses frames.) As I understand it, and I may be wrong on more than one level, God offers humans the choice as to whether or not to believe. There is enough evidence, to an honest seeker, to bring about belief, but the evidence must be accepted by faith. Thomas didn't have to feel Christ's wounds to know that he was looking at the Resurrected Lord.

My understanding is that the things that happen in the world, which are the province of science, such as the doings of cells and ecosystems and galaxies and quarks and chemical reactions and photosynthesis and tectonic plates and water drops, are expressions of God Himself. In Psalm 19:1, David wrote:
"The heavens declare the glory of God.
The expanse shows his handiwork."
and in Romans 1:20, Paul said: "For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse." And it isn't just that God is revealed through the existence of created things. As Colossians 1 puts it: "16 For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things are held together." (WEB) God, mostly God the Son, made things as they are, and so that they work the way they do. He intimately binds up the test tube, the spectrophotometer, the computer recording the data, the scientist herself, and the means of communicating the results. It's no wonder that the experimenter will not find evidence for God in an experiment.

I also see that there is a sin problem in the world, and in me, and that God alone offers a satisfactory solution, namely the sacrificial death of the incarnated Son of God, validated by His resurrection.

Unfortunately, one thing that helps to keep some people from finding faith in God is that some of us who claim to be Christians don't always live a life consistent with the unselfish teaching of Christ.

One of Russell's great efforts, in collaboration with Whitehead, was "an attempt to derive all mathematical truths from a well-defined set of axioms and inference rules in symbolic logic." In other words, to prove the legitimacy of mathematics beyond any possible doubt. That attempt, though heroic, failed, with the discovery of Gödel's incompleteness theorems. It is not possible to prove the legitimacy of mathematics beyond any possible doubt. But I use mathematics, and I believe that it is right to do so.

The two, putting math on a completely logical and systematic foundation, and arguing that belief in the existence of God does not make sense, are not the same thing, and not exactly comparable. But, I believe, both efforts were and are futile, even for a man as brilliant as the late Lord Russell.

Thanks for reading. I thank Pete D. for his comment.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Sunspots 299

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

Science: (and The Arts) Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, was also a butterfly expert. Carl Zimmer reports, in the New York Times, that the late Nabokov's once-dismissed speculation that some butterflies migrated across the Bering Strait, and ended up in South America, was correct.

Sports: A college basketball  player recently made 8 shots from half court in  a minute, setting a record with his achievement, according to Wired. The  report has video of the event.

Wired reports on a book about various myths in sports. One such, it turns out, is true. The home team has an advantage, in any sport checked.

The Arts: Spring, from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, accompanies an artist drawing with sand.

Christianity: An essay defending egalitarianism (between men and women) in church leadership, by John Stackhouse.

Image source (public domain)