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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sunspots 333

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

Science: Wired reports that on-line gamers have significantly assisted scientists in solving the three-dimensional structure of a protein. The research paper is here.

Politics:  (or something) CNN reports on a study that attempts to explain why some store clerks can seem rude.

Computing: Google created a doodle in honor of Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets.

Christianity: The Dead Sea Scrolls are now visible on-line.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Female Headship: Biblical Examples

Although Ephesians 5:22 is often quoted as proof that the husband is to be the head of the house, there are some examples of female spiritual leadership in families in the Bible. One such is the wife of Manoah, who was Samson's mother. Another is Hannah, who seems to have taken the lead, rather than her husband doing so, in praying and acting in the matter of having a child, in 1 Samuel 1. Abigail, in 1 Samuel 25, acted without her first husband's knowledge, and was apparently blessed and scripturally commended for doing so. (She later married David.) In Exodus 4, Zipporah, Moses' wife, took action in relation to the circumcision of their sons,when Moses hadn't, and, in doing so, apparently kept God from killing Moses. In Exodus 2, it was the mother of Moses who was responsible for his escape from the command of Pharaoh that all male Hebrew babies should be killed. The Virtuous Woman/Excellent Wife, idealized in Proverbs 31, is described as making business decisions (perhaps not spiritual ones) on her own, and, also, as having a husband at the time.

I am not including all of the women of faith from the Bible in this brief discussion. Rahab and Naomi may not have taken spiritual leadership while they had a husband, but they took it when they were single. Deborah acted in leadership of Israel. We don't know whether she also acted as spiritual leader in her home. A church was begun in Lydia's home. She may not have had a husband. Dorcas may not have, either. There are other examples, in both the Old and New Testaments, of godly female leaders. Some of them may have been the spiritual leader of their husband. We don't know. 2 Timothy 1:5 says that Timothy's mother and grandmother were the spiritual leaders in Timothy's family. His father is mentioned in Acts 16:3. It is possible that that father died early in Timothy's life. Priscilla and Aquila seem to have been equals in ministry. I submit that most likely at least some of the women in this paragraph were spiritual leaders in their home, and had a husband at the time.

My conclusion is that wives and mothers, at least some of the time, took spiritual leadership in Biblical homes, and, therefore, God may expect many wives and mothers to do this now, in the twenty-first century.

Thanks for reading. This is an excerpt from a previous post.

Added June 21, 2012: See this post. Mary, Christ's mother, seems to have exercised spiritual leadership.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Paul's prayer for the Corinthians

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the assembly of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (World English Bible, public domain)

Here, Paul prays for grace for the church at Corinth. He also includes some adoration, and thanksgiving. A good pattern for us.

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why do sickness and death bother us so much?

Why do sickness and death bother us so much? Every one reading this, and the vast number who won't, will die, barring some miraculous event. All of us get sick, sometimes as a minor inconvenience, sometimes as a crippling incapacitation, and sometimes to death.

Why, then, don't we just accept this state of things? Why do we expect things to go right, when they almost never do?

There are probably a lot of different reasons for our rebellion against the way things are. I hope I understand part of the reasons.

I think that, deep in our DNA, or our unconscious, is the knowledge that things shouldn't be like this. So we complain, and rebel against the way things are. What do I mean, things shouldn't be like this? The Bible teaches us that the first humans lived in a world without human sickness and death. (Plants and animals probably died, or were killed by humans.) But that world changed drastically, because those first humans disobeyed God, the Creator. I believe that we somehow know that there has been a change, and long for it to be reversed, and complain at the consequences of that change, the Fall.

Some of us question God's goodness, or even His existence, because of the consequences of sin in the world. How could a loving God allow such terrible things to happen? If I had the full answer to that, I would be God, which I certainly am not. But part of the answer is that God suffers with us, probably more than we suffer ourselves. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus also took the consequences of our sin upon Himself, for those who are willing to let Him do so for them. In the process, Jesus, Himself, suffered. Granted, He didn't suffer as long as, say, a burn victim, but He did suffer.

Another part of the answer is that God is going to provide a Heaven for those who believe, free from sickness and death.

It is not wrong to want to do something about sickness. Jesus healed every person who asked Him to do so. He also raised a few people from death. The Bible suggests that we pray for sick believers. But healing everyone is not God's final answer. (See here for more of what the Bible says on that subject.) Consider, also, that everyone Jesus healed died, most likely of sickness, later in their life. Those He raised from the dead  
died a second time. The Bible says that death is the last enemy to be defeated.

I think we, including me, concentrate too much on sickness. Although all the churches I have attended, and can remember, prayed most of their prayers for the sick, the New Testament church didn't pray in that pattern.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sunspots 332

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

Science: A diagram, showing what we know about planets in other solar systems.

Guess what? Natural selection still works. The widespread use of Roundup, the weedkiller, has led to the appearance of Roundup-resistant strains of weeds, according to Business Week.

Politics:  (sort of -- I don't have a category for this) The New York Times has reviewed an important new book on the subject of why marriage is less frequent among blacks than whites, in the U. S. The book's title is Is Marriage For White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone. The review is also an analysis of the issue.

(or maybe Science) Wired reports on the new patent legislation. The reported indicates that the new law is an improvement, but is still less than thrilled, saying that it gives advantages to corporations, rather than individual inventors..

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Job prays for his friends

Job 42:7 It was so, that after Yahweh had spoken these words to Job, Yahweh said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore, take to yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept him, that I not deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has.”
9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went, and did what Yahweh commanded them, and Yahweh accepted Job.
10 Yahweh turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends. Yahweh gave Job twice as much as he had before.  (World English Bible, public domain)

Job interceded for his friends. Were they really friends? Sometimes, during the 30 or so chapters when they were lecturing Job on his supposed secret sins, they must not have seemed like friends. But they did sit with him in his agony of body and mind. Most of the prayer in the New Testament is prayer for other believers. (See here) Intercession, or supplication. Ours should be, too. For our friends, in other words.

Note that it sounds like God gave Job back what Satan had been allowed to take from him, after Job proved that he really did have his heart in the right place, that is, when he prayed for his friends, when he really would have liked to have said, yet again, "I told you so!"

Thanks for reading. This is part of a series. The previous entry is here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

John 3:13: Had anyone been to heaven yet, during the time of Christ?

John 3:13 on ascending to heaven
I was recently asked about John 3:13, which says:
NLT translation: No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man* has come down from heaven. Footnote:
* Some manuscripts add who lives in heaven. “Son of Man” is a title Jesus used for himself.

ESV translation: No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. Footnote:
* Some manuscripts add who is in heaven

NIV translation: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven -- the Son of Man. Footnote as in the other two versions.

These and other versions are given here.

The question, if I understand it, related to the matter of Old Testament figures who have died, such as Enoch and Elijah. Weren't they in heaven when Jesus said this? (In the discussion below, I generally refer to this as dealing with Elijah. That's short-hand for Enoch, Moses, Rahab, Esther, Ruth, Isaiah, David, Abraham and many other persons, who, one might think, were in heaven when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus.)
I checked four on-line commentaries, all public domain.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown: 3:13. no man hath ascended, &c.--There is something paradoxical in this language--"No one has gone up but He that came down, even He who is at once both up and down." Doubtless it was intended to startle and constrain His auditor to think that there must be mysterious elements in His Person. The old Socinians, to subvert the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ, seized upon this passage as teaching that the man Jesus was secretly caught up to heaven to receive His instructions, and then "came down from heaven" to deliver them. But the sense manifestly is this: "The perfect knowledge of God is not obtained by any man's going up from earth to heaven to receive it--no man hath so ascended--but He whose proper habitation, in His essential and eternal nature, is heaven, hath, by taking human flesh, descended as the Son of man to disclose the Father, whom He knows by immediate gaze alike in the flesh as before He assumed it, being essentially and unchangeably 'in the bosom of the Father'"

This author, who was David Brown, emphasizes Christ's nature, as being God, whereas no human was then, or is now, God, in knowledge and power. He does not address the question of Elijah directly.

John Wesley 3:13    For no one - For here you must rely on my single testimony, whereas there you have a cloud of witnesses: Hath gone up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven. Who is in heaven - Therefore he is omnipresent; else he could not be in heavenand on earth at once. This is a plain instance of what is usually termed the communication of properties between the Divine and human nature; whereby what is proper to the Divine nature is spoken concerning the human, and what is proper to the human is, as here, spoken of the Divine.  Explanatory Notes.

If I understand him, Wesley emphasized Christ's assertion of his Divine nature in this verse. That doesn't explain what seems to be the language of the verse, in the NIV, anyway, nor does it touch on the question of Elijah.

Matthew Henry
Our Lord Jesus, and he alone, was fit to reveal to us a doctrine thus certain, thus sublime: No man hath ascended up into heaven but he, v. 13.

First, None but Christ was able to reveal to us the will of God for our salvation. Nicodemus addressed Christ as a prophet; but he must know that he is greater than all the Old-Testament prophets, for none of them had ascended into heaven. They wrote by divine inspiration, and not of their own knowledge; see ch. i. 18. Moses ascended into the mount, but not into heaven. No man hath attained to the certain knowledge of God and heavenly things as Christ has; see Matt. xi. 27. It is not for us to send to heaven for instructions; we must wait to receive what instructions Heaven will send to us; see Prov. xxx. 4; Deut. xxx. 12.

Secondly, Jesus Christ is able, and fit, and every way qualified, to reveal the will of God to us; for it is he that came down from heaven and is in heaven. He had said (v. 12), How shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? Now here, 1. He gives them an instance of those heavenly things which he could tell them of, when he tells them of one that came down from heaven, and yet is the Son of man; is the Son of man, and yet is in heaven. If the regeneration of the soul of man is such a mystery, what then is the incarnation of the Son of God? These are divine and heavenly things indeed. We have here an intimation of Christ's two distinct natures in one person: his divine nature, in which he came down from heaven; his human nature, in which he is the Son of man; and that union of those two, in that while he is the Son of man yet he is in heaven. 2. He gives them a proof of his ability to speak to them heavenly things, and to lead them into the arcana of the kingdom of heaven, by telling them, (1.) That he came down from heaven. The intercourse settled between God and man began above; the first motion towards it did not arise from this earth, but came down from heaven. We love him, and send to him, because he first loved us, and sent to us. Now this intimates, [1.] Christ's divine nature. He that came down from heaven is certainly more than a mere man; he is the Lord from heaven, 1 Cor. xv. 47. [2.] His intimate acquaintance with the divine counsels; for, coming from the court of heaven, he had been from eternity conversant with them. [3.] The manifestation of God. Under the Old Testament God's favours to his people are expressed by his hearing from heaven (2 Chron. vii. 14), looking from heaven (Ps. lxxx. 14), speaking from heaven (Neh. ix. 13), sending from heaven, Ps. lvii. 3. But the New Testament shows us God coming down from heaven, to teach and save us. That he thus descended is an admirable mystery, for the Godhead cannot change places, nor did he bring his body from heaven; but that he thus condescended for our redemption is a more admirable mercy; herein he commended his love. (2.) That he is the Son of man, that Son of man spoken of by Daniel (vii. 13), by which the Jews always understand to be meant the Messiah. Christ, in calling himself the Son of man, shows that he is the second Adam, for the first Adam was the father of man. And of all the Old-Testament titles of the Messiah he chose to make use of this, because it was most expressive of his humility, and most agreeable to his present state of humiliation. (3.) That he is in heaven. Now at this time, when he is talking with Nicodemus on earth, yet, as God, he is in heaven. The Son of man, as such, was not in heaven till his ascension; but he that was the Son of man was now, by his divine nature, every where present, and particularly in heaven. Thus the Lord of glory, as such, could not be crucified, nor could God, as such, shed his blood; yet that person who was the Lord of glory was crucified (1 Cor. ii. 8), and God purchased the church with his own blood, Acts xx. 28. So close is the union of the two natures in one person that there is a communication of properties. He doth not say hos esti. God is the ho on to ourano—he that is, and heaven is the habitation of his holiness.

Henry, also, emphasizes the divine nature of Christ, and does not consider the question of Elijah.

John Calvin 13. No one hath ascended to heaven. He again exhorts Nicodemus not to trust to himself and his own sagacity, because no mortal man can, by his own unaided powers, enter into heaven, but only he who goes thither under the guidance of the Son of God. For to ascend to heaven means here, “to have a pure knowledge of the mysteries of God, and the light of spiritual understanding.” For Christ gives here the same instruction which is given by Paul, when he declares that
the sensual man does not comprehend the things which are of God, [1 Corinthians 2:14] and, therefore, he excludes from divine things all the acuteness of the human understanding, for it is far below God.
But we must attend to the words, that Christ alone, who is heavenly, ascends to heaven, but that the entrance is closed against all others. For, in the former clause, he humbles us, when he excludes the whole world from heaven. Paul enjoins those who are desirous to be wise with God to be fools with themselves, [1 Corinthians 3:18].

There is nothing which we do with greater reluctance. For this purpose we ought to remember, that all our senses fail and give way when we come to God; but, after having shut us out from heaven, Christ quickly proposes a remedy, when he adds, that what was denied to all others is granted to the Son of God. And this too is the reason why he calls himself the Son of man, that we may not doubt that we have an entrance into heaven in common with him who clothed himself with our flesh, that he might make us partakers of all blessings. Since, therefore, he is the Father’s only Counselor, [Isaiah 9:6] he admits us into those secrets which otherwise would have remained in concealment.

Who is in heaven. It may be thought absurd to say that he is in heaven, while he still dwells on the earth. If it be replied, that this is true in regard to his Divine nature, the mode of expression means something else, namely, that while he was man, he was in heaven. It might be said that no mention is here made of any place, but that Christ is only distinguished from others, in regard to his condition, because he is the heir of the kingdom of God, from which the whole human race is banished; but, as it very frequently happens, on account of the unity of the Person of Christ, that what properly belongs to one nature is applied to another, we ought not to seek any other solution. Christ, therefore, who is in heaven, hath clothed himself with our flesh, that, by stretching out his brotherly hand to us, he may raise us to heaven along with him.

Calvin also emphasizes the divine nature -- there is no other way to heaven but through Christ. He also deals with the question of Christ being in heaven and on earth at the same time, and, apparently, believed that He was in both places (?) at once.

My reaction, based on the commentaries, and the context, is that Jesus wasn't dealing directly with the question of who is in heaven now, but, rather, with His nature as Lord and Redeemer, which were the roles that Nicodemus really needed, whether he knew it or not.

OK. What about Elijah? I did a search for this sequence of words (not a phrase search): "Do we go straight to heaven when we die?" I have looked at the first ten responses from that search, and am using them, and, in some cases, from documents that the first group were linked to, in the following discussion.

Do Believers Go Straight to Heaven?
My first answer is that we don't know this for sure. There is disagreement among believers. However, we don't need all the answers. If we can trust Christ to save us, then we ought to be able to trust Him to take care of us, and our departed loved ones, after death, and put us into God's presence for eternity, and we don't need to know whether this will take place instantaneously, or as the result of a process, or will take place only after the creation, as a whole, is redeemed. We also don't need to know whether we will be conscious or not, if we don't enter God's presence immediately. If I am not conscious after death for, say, 100,000 years, and am then raised, and placed in the presence of God, I suppose that this would be little or no different from entering in to heaven immediately upon death, as far as my experience would be concerned.

There is scripture on the subject. I don't believe that it is conclusive, but it seems most likely that it means that believers won't go straight to heaven upon death. (I doubt that that is the belief of most North Americans, or the belief of most believers!)

Probably the most commonly quoted scripture, on this subject, is the statement of Jesus, to the thief on the cross, that that thief would be with Jesus, in Paradise, today. It is possible, I guess, that Jesus meant something like "you are going to die. When you become conscious again, after a long time, you will be with me in heaven," but didn't have the right circumstances to say all that, in such a way that the thief, who must have been in agony, could understand it. But I take it that what Jesus said was meant to be taken literally, or as literally as is possible for us to understand. The Greek word, here translated "paradise," is only used three times in the New Testament. The other two times are 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7. If you  follow the link in the previous sentence, the reference gives five meanings for the word, paradeisos. Here are the most pertinent of these meanings:
3) the part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of pious until the resurrection: but some understand this to be a heavenly paradise
4) the upper regions of the heavens. According to the early church Fathers, the paradise in which our first parents dwelt before the fall still exists, neither on the earth or in the heavens, but above and beyond the world
5) heaven

Note that paradeisos would probably not have meant "heaven" to the thief on the cross. Note also, however, that not everyone accepts the distinction between the two.

For more on Paradise, see this Wikipedia article (The Wikipedia is not, of course, divinely inspired, but it usually is a good resource for finding out what we think about a topic. Usually, important competing views are given.) My sense of the word, paradise, is that the thief would probably have understood that Jesus was telling him that he would go to a place reserved for those who had found favor with God, and that Jesus would be there, too.

There is another word for heaven in the Greek New Testament. "Heaven" occurs in the King James Version over 200 times. I didn't check them all, but it appears that it is always the English translation of ouranos. Jesus used that word when talking to Nicodemus in John 3:13. He used it three times in that verse.

So, one answer to the original question is simply that no one except Jesus, including Elijah, had really entered into heaven at the time when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus. Elijah, and others, had gone to paradise instead.

What do other thinkers say on this question? N. T. Wright, one of the most important theologians of today, and one who takes the Bible very seriously, believes that there will be a final resurrection, which will make a new heaven, and that Christians will not enter heaven until that event takes place. The article on Wright's belief quotes him using John 3:13 as part of his biblical evidence. (There are other parts.) Wright says, and I checked, that Martin Luther and William Tyndale, among others, did not believe that Christians go immediately to heaven.

If I die, redeemed through the blood of Christ, what will happen to me? I'm not sure. Perhaps I'll go straight to heaven. Perhaps I'll go to an intermediate "place" while heaven is prepared. Perhaps I won't know anything until the final resurrection. These questions, of course are insignificant, beside the question of whether or not I have had the sin in my life paid for by the death and resurrection of Christ.

Thanks for reading. Be ready.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sunspots 331

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Science: (or sex) Wired offers a report on the question of why some women experience orgasms, and some don't. We don't really know why this is so.

The Arts: (sort of) Wired tells us that crowd scenes in movies may use inflatable, life-size dolls.

Christianity:  Weekend Fisher tells us, correctly, that the Torah was ahead of its time, at least in some matters.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: David asks for general forgiveness

Psalm 41:4 I said, “Yahweh, have mercy on me!
Heal me, for I have sinned against you.” (World English Bible, public domain)

Psalm 41, according to a note in the World English Bible, is a Psalm of David. From the context, it doesn't seem that it's about the sins connected with his adultery with Bathsheba (Psalm 51 is about that situation) but that this is a more general prayer, and one that we would do well to copy, frequently.

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

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Born Again" in the Greek

In doing some Bible study, I read a curious note, in reference to John 3:3, which, in the English Standard Version, is "Jesus answered him, “'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.'” The note says this referring to what is usually translated as "born again": "Or from above; the Greek is purposely ambiguous and can mean both again and from above; also verse 7."

I found this amazing, and checked it out. (I am by no means a Greek scholar.) The Blueletter Bible's excellent Greek lexicon says, about the word anōthen, ἄνωθεν, here translated "again," that it can mean 1) from above, 2) from the beginning, and 3) over again. So the ESV note is not off base, although "purposely ambiguous" may be reading in a motive that God, or John, did not have.

The lexicon page goes on to give occasions where the the word, anōthen, ἄνωθεν, is used. They are as follows:
1 &2) Matthew 27:51 and Mark 15:38 use it for the top of the temple curtain.
3) Luke 1:3 uses it for Luke's thought that he knew about Christ, and wanted to write about Him from the beginning.
4) John 3:3 and 7 are referred to in the discussion earlier in this document.
5 & 6) John 3:31 and 19:11, the word is usually translated as "from above."
7) John 19:23 refers to the top of the garment worn by Jesus.
8) Acts 26:5 translates the word as "from the beginning."
9) Galatians 4:9 -- I'm not clear on the proper translation.
10, 11 & 12) James 1:17, 3:15, 3:17 use the word in the sense of "above."

"Born again" is a popular phrase. But, it seems, it could just as well be "born from above." Either event would be way beyond the natural.

Thanks for reading.

*  *  *  *
Added September 11, 2011: I checked the 1611 King James Version (not the commonly used 1769, which is usually called the 1611 version) and found that, 400 years ago, there was a text note to "again," in John 3:3, giving the alternate reading, "from above."

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Rick Perry on global warming

In last night's debate between Republican Presidential candidates, Texas Governor Rick Perry indicated that he is skeptical of scientific claims that global warming is real, because of the "scientific theory that’s not settled yet." However, when asked to do so, he did not name a single scientist that he relied on for his own view. Perhaps he doesn't know one, or perhaps he just ignored the question. Here's my own research on which, if any, scientists doubt the reality of global warming. I didn't find a single scientist with academic credentials in climate science who doubted that reality. I also speculated on why the reality of global warming is doubted.

Less there be any doubt about Perry's position, do a search for "Rick Perry global warming." One of the first returns for such a search is here. I was not able to locate any material on global warming on Perry's official site. Perhaps that site is still under development.

Exxon Mobil, for one, acknowledges global warming, presumably relying on scientific opinion. And, to quote the Exxon Mobil web site: "Rising greenhouse gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems."

Here's some material on the positions of other Republican candidates for president, on this topic. Most of them, unfortunately, share Governor Perry's position.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sunspots 330

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

Science: Wired reports that human brains are hard-wired to pay attention to animals.

Wired also reports that English uses a lot more positive words (like "happy") than negative ones. English is the only language studied in this way, so far.

The Arts: (or Computing) Wired reports (with pictures) on a painter that uses discarded motherboards as a canvas.
Christianity:  A quotation from Keith Drury, who has been involved in training ministers, mostly in my denomination, The Wesleyan Church, for years, on how the Church should treat Origins.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Job prays, even when adversity comes

Job 1:18 While he was still speaking, there came also another, and said, “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young men, and they are dead. I alone have escaped to tell you.”
20 Then Job arose, and tore his robe, and shaved his head, and fell down on the ground, and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away. Blessed be the name of Yahweh.” 22 In all this, Job did not sin, nor charge God with wrongdoing. (World English Bible)

This was after losing most of his material possessions, which was bad enough. But to lose his children? How terrible. But Job worshiped. He acknowledged God as omnipotent. What an example!

Thanks for reading. I have attempted to write, elsewhere, about the matter of bad things happening to good people. This is part of a year-long series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Seer of Sevenwaters, by Juliet Marillier

Seer of Sevenwaters is the fifth book in the Sevenwaters series, by Juliet Marillier. (New York: Penguin, 2010) The books are historical romances, set in a fictional part of the real world, in perhaps the 16th century, mostly in the British Isles. Bookstores usually sell them as fantasy novels. Characters are Irish, Saxon, Norse, and from other parts of the old world. Seer of Sevenwaters includes a family tree. Sibeal, the main character in this book, is the granddaughter of Sorcha, the main character in the first book, Daughter of the Forest.

Marillier is a self-confessed druid. It is not surprising that many of the characters in her books are druid believers. As Marillier portrays that religion, it involved priests, who were celibate, and in tune with nature, and were also in tune with spirits of the land around them, and, perhaps, with supernatural beings, such as selkies.

I don't want to give away much of the plot of this book, which is well put together, and compelled my interest. I will say that Sibeal is in training as a druid priestess. She can see the future, at times, in visions, or by scrying -- looking in a special vessel or body of water. Such vision of the future can be deceptive. It might be something that is actually going to happen, or something that might happen, and it's not possible to tell. Sibeal falls in love with Felix, an outsider. He is not from her own ethnic group, and he does not practice her religion.

The characters are well drawn. They include a variety of people, with a variety of motives and interests. Many of them are part of Sibeal's family, but not all of them are.

In some of the other books of this series, Marillier included one or more Christian characters, who were presented as good people, and whose beliefs were also presented with respect, and without distortion. See here and here for my discussion of this aspect of Marillier's work.

This book has no Christian character, or at least no such character who is important, and who believes in Christ as God and savior. There are minor characters who make the sign of the cross when in danger. Felix, a major character, tells Sibeal:
"I was raised in the Christian faith, but my belief was shattered by the wrongs I saw enacted in the name of the Church. . . ." (395) During the conversation that this is part of, he indicates that he admires Sibeal's strong faith, and is drawn to it.

I was disappointed that Marillier had no strong Christian believer in this book, but deciding to have one was up to Marillier, not me, and the book is well-written, and well worth reading. Characters do have  moral choices. There are good characters, and characters who make lots of wrong decisions. One character is surprising in a way that I didn't expect.

Thanks for reading. Read Marillier.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Bible uses the science of the time: Job 37:18

Job 37:18 Can you, with him, spread out the sky,
which is strong as a cast metal mirror? (World English Bible)

18 Can you, like him, spread out the skies,
hard as a cast metal mirror? (English Standard Version)

18 Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass? (KJV)

18 With Him, have you spread out the skies, Strong as a cast metal mirror? (NKJV)

18 he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror. Can you do that? (NLT)

All the versions I checked use similar language. (See here for several of them, from the Blueletter Bible.) What's going on here? Is the Bible in error? No, but there's a lesson here. For one thing, this illustrates that the Bible can't always be taken literally. Much of Job is poetic in nature, and, besides, note the "as" or "like" in some of these renditions -- the sky is somehow like a looking glass, not literally a looking glass, in the mind of the speaker and the listeners. (This was Elihu speaking to Job, and, apparently, Job's three friends were listening.)

And that's the main point I'm trying to make. God, who knows exactly what the sky is like, allowed, and, presumably, directed, that the ideas of the time of writing were used in Job. To describe the sky in the terms we use today would have made this incomprehensible to Elihu's contemporaries, and to people for several centuries after he spoke this. I believe that the same applies to several other biblical passages -- the Bible used the world-view of the people of the time in describing nature.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Lost World of Genesis One: Day Seven

I am posting on The Lost World of Genesis One, by John H. Walton. The previous post is here.

In the previous posts, I have indicated that Walton claims, and presents evidence for the claim, that the description of what happened, in Genesis One, is all about God establishing functions, not about God creating matter. (Walton believes that God created matter, but not that Genesis One describes this.) In other words, rather than describing God creating from nothing, the text is describing how God caused the earth to become organized. He says that we put our own cultural bias into the reading of Genesis One.

Walton's chapters are not listed as chapters, but as propositions -- statements to be supported. The seventh of these propositions was difficult for me to understand. I shall quote Walton:
. . . a reader from the ancient world would know immediately what was going on and recognize the role of day seven. Without hesitation the ancient reader would conclude that this is a temple text and that day seven is the most important of the seven days. In a material account day seven would have little role, but in a functional account . . . it is the true climax without which nothing else would make any sense or have any meaning. (p. 72) Walton, evidently an expert on Middle Eastern culture of the time -- which I certainly am not! -- discusses some of the non-Hebrew literature from ancient times to support this assertion.

It is true that the seventh day seems to be of  little importance, as most of us 21st century readers understand it. Is it true that the seventh day was one in which God acts as if He has settled into a temple? That is a little harder for me to grasp. Walton says, and uses other Old Testament verses to support this, that rest, to the culture of the ancient Hebrews, didn't necessarily mean "doing nothing." It meant, he says, that everything was in place, and functioning as it was supposed to.

An interesting claim. Thanks for reading.