Why am I here?

Why do I exist? What is my purpose in life? Why did God put me here? Most of us grapple with these questions from time to time. Even Socrates knew that the unexamined life is not worth living. Does the Bible contain answers to these questions, or are we doomed to ask them again and again until the day we die?

The Bible says that the first man and the first woman were made in the image of God. This can refer to many things—intelligence, moral sense, and creativity, for example—but the most important quality of God, according to God, is love. “God is love.” Outside of creation, the Persons of God have pure and perfect love for one another. Creation itself can be viewed as a gift of love from the Father to the Son. God created many more beings that he could love, beings that could return his love. We are created to love God whole-heartedly and also to love one another. God needs nothing from us, but we glorify God and serve God when we love and help each other.

How do we love God? We place no other gods ahead of him: not Baal or Zeus or Thor, and not money or power or fame or entertainment or any person or animal or cause or job or hobby. We love God when we use his name properly, rather than using it to trick other people (or using it carelessly to punctuate our conversations). We love God when we give him the time he deserves—not merely an hour on Sunday morning, but time each day to speak to him in prayer and to learn from His Word about his commands and his promises. We love God when we honor, respect, and obey human authority in the home, the workplace, and the government. The way we treat those in authority over us shows how we truly feel about God’s authority.

We love and serve God by loving and helping our neighbors. We respect their lives, their marriages, their property, and their reputations. Not only are we careful not to harm them in these matters; we look for ways to help them in these matters. We love God and our neighbors when we are content with what God has given us and made available to us. When we are not content, we do not love God, for we accuse him of failing to give us what we should have. When we are not content, we do not love our neighbors, for we become angry seeing them enjoy things we do not have.

This is why we were made: to love in all these ways. Different people in different situations will have different opportunities to love. Marriage is one kind of love; friendship is another. Children love their parents by honoring, respecting, and obeying them. Parents love their children by instructing them and by modeling God’s love and forgiveness. Workers and managers do their jobs with mutual respect. Citizens honor and obey their governments, while those with authority do not abuse their authority but use it for the good of the people they serve.

Each of us has a different blend of resources, abilities, opportunities, and interests. Each of us can spend a lifetime serving and glorifying God while helping his or her neighbors in a different way. To find your niche in God’s creation, if you have not already found it, I recommend answering three questions: “What do I enjoy doing? What do other people tell me I do well? What tasks do I most notice need to be done?” When the answers to these three questions converge, you may have found the unique purpose for which God put you into his creation.

We were created to love, to do good works motivated by love. When we fall short—when our love is incomplete—we cannot restore ourselves to perfection or reconcile ourselves to the God who made us. No matter how hard we strive to love properly and to do those things that love requires, the more we will see ourselves falling short of the glory of God. The better we know the commandments of God, the more clearly we see how we have failed to accomplish them. Each of us was created to love. None of us can rescue ourselves when our love has failed to meet God’s standards.

God’s plan for salvation is entirely separated from his plan for creation. When we do not do the things God created us to do, we cannot change matters by trying harder to do them. God does not redeem us or reconcile us because of anything we did in the past, or because of anything we are doing now, or because of anything we will do in the future. God redeems us and reconciles us because he loves us. He rescues us without any merit or worthiness in us. We cannot earn his redemption, and we cannot repay his redemption. If we try to do so, we only insult God and his gift.

Yet the forgiveness of God, his redemption, and his reconciliation, change us. They erase all sins from our record. They restore to us the image of God. They made us able to love as we should love. It does not happen instantly; our transformation will not be completed until the Day of the Lord, the Day of Resurrection. Along the way, though, with no stain of sin to restrain us, we are able to love more and more in the way God intended. The good things we do are not proof of our redemption. We have all the proof we need in the promises of the Bible and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As we deny ourselves and follow him, we stop measuring ourselves and our worthiness (which are insufficient for our redemption) and we instead measure Jesus Christ, his perfect life, his sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection (which are fully sufficient for our redemption).

Why am I here? To love God and to love my neighbors. Why am I saved and a citizen of heaven? Because of what Jesus has done for me. It is as simple as that. J.

Sources, and the origin of the world

I teach history. Every term, in the first session, I talk to my students about sources. I tell them that there are primary sources, secondary sources, and tertiary sources.

Primary sources come from witnesses, people who were there when history was being made. They might be autobiographies and memoirs, diaries, letters, oral histories, or any other record of what people saw and heard and felt. Artifacts can also be primary sources—ruins of buildings, tools, artwork, even garbage. Garbage is a great source of information about the way people live.

Secondary sources come from scholars who interpret the primary sources. They gather as much information as they can, and they explain what happened, and why it happened, and what resulted from its happening. Secondary sources can be very narrow and deep investigations into a topic, or they can be broad evaluations of an entire culture or time period.

Journalism produces a mix of primary and secondary source material. The journalist explains and interprets, but often the journalist quotes a witness directly. The quote from the witness is a primary source, even as the article as a whole is a secondary source. This is true of newspaper accounts, magazine articles, radio and television broadcasts, and internet news services.

Tertiary sources summarize what the secondary sources say. Encyclopedia entries, whether printed in books or distributed online, are tertiary sources. Textbooks are tertiary sources. Papers written by students are tertiary sources. Such sources are useful summaries and can be a good starting place for research. However, a student who writes a paper based only on tertiary sources has produced a quaternary source which has no academic value. Beyond the junior high school level, teachers generally do not approve of student papers that are based only on encyclopedias and on the textbook.

After explaining sources to the students, I ask them whether a larger number of primary sources guarantees that historians will understand what happened. That seems like a reasonable proposition, but my test case shows the opposite. On November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, President Kennedy was shot and killed. Hundreds of people were present at the time. Many of them had cameras, even moving pictures. Along with the human witnesses, there are numerous artifacts: the injuries to the bodies of the President and Governor Connelly, the gun, the bullets, the clothing of the President and of the Governor, the car, the pavement—all these are primary sources. Yet the secondary sources disagree about what happened. Most witnesses heard either two or three shots; hardly any witness reports hearing more than three shots. Yet many secondary sources insist that the damage was caused by at least four and sometimes up to twelve gunshots. Some secondary sources conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot the President. Others say he was part of a conspiracy. A few say he was investigating a conspiracy to shoot the President but was unable to prevent its success. Many others say that Harvey was innocent of any crime but was framed for the shooting.

If historians are confused about an event that happened just a few decades ago in front of many witnesses, how can people today investigate the origin of the world? There are primary sources—some written documents that describe creation, and many oral traditions about creation—but they do not all agree. Other primary sources exist as artifacts: fossils, geographic patterns, radioactive decay, and astronomic observations, among others. Can investigation of these primary sources be trusted when the conclusions of those investigations match none of the other primary sources that claim to have inside knowledge about creation?

Americans are fond of easy choices between two extremes. One approves of the President’s actions, or one disapproves. One votes Republican, or one votes Democratic. Creation is true, or evolution is true. In fact, there are more than two opinions about the origin of the world. Some Hindus believe that the world goes through lengthy cycles of development, culminating in a catastrophic destruction that is followed by a new beginning. Some ancient Greek philosophers thought that the physical universe is eternal, without beginning or end. Muslims are as divided as Christians about whether the world was created by direct miracle a few thousand years ago or whether it evolved over many millions of years. Some Christians hold to a young earth opinion, while others believe that God worked through the powers he created, planning and developing the world over many millions of years. Some say that God is eternal and unchanging but chose this slow method to create the world, while others say that God himself developed and evolved over the course of creation. Yet another view says that God created the world as it is now in an instant, but that he described creation to Moses over the course of six days.

What did Jesus say? He treated the account of creation written in Genesis as an accurate primary source. Trusting his authority, my opinion is that the earth and the universe are less than ten thousand years old. I view the act of creation as a singularity, as some physicists would say. God spoke, and the world appeared according to his design. He did not plant acorns and wait for them to sprout and grow; he created mature oak trees bearing acorns. He did not wait tens of thousands of years for coral reefs to grow from a single coral creature; he created mature coral reefs containing thousands of coral creatures. Adam and Eve were created with mature adult bodies; they did not grow from babies. Distant objects in the universe are visible from Earth because God created beams of light that extend to the Earth, even though the sources of those beams are more than ten thousand light years away.

I admit that I may be wrong. As I have written before, when I meet Jesus face to face in the new creation, he might tell me that I took the first chapters of Genesis far too literally. If so, the two of us will have a good laugh about my mistake. On the other hand, those who reject Jesus because they refuse to believe in a literal creation by an all-powerful God will not be laughing on that Day.

The primary job of the Christian Church is to warn sinners of the consequences of their sins and to introduce those sinners to the Savior who rescues them from evil and death and promises everlasting life. When our conversation disintegrates into arguments over creation versus evolution—or arguments over abortion, or homosexuality, or other matters that are important but not vital—only the devil wins. We have time to debate important matters, but we must be careful not to neglect the vital matters. At times, like Paul, we must know nothing aside from Christ and Him crucified. That matters most of all. J.

Christ in Genesis

My writing project for 2016 was a series of studies of Christ in Genesis. I want to publish it all in one place, but now that I have time to work with it, WordPress is being uncooperative. Therefore, as one reader asked, here are links to the twenty-two pieces of the work as published.
Introduction

  1. In the Beginning
  2. In the Garden
  3. A Tale of Two Trees
  4. The Better Garment
  5. Confession and Promise
  6. Raising Cain, Raising Abel
  7. Noah, the Ark, and the Flood
  8. The Tower of Babel
  9. The Promise to Abraham
  10. Melchizedek
  11. Abraham, the Father of Faith
  12. Miracle Babies, and the Rights of the Firstborn
  13. The Sacrifice
  14. The Bride
  15. Birthright and Blessing
  16. Jacob’s Ladder
  17. Wrestling with God, and Seeing the Face of God
  18. Joseph & Bros.
  19. At the Right HandAt the Right Hand
  20. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
  21. “Am I in the Place of God?”

 

On cars and science

I had several ideas for posts to write this evening: I was going to write about the haircut I had this morning. I was also going to write about the fact that, after hounding me for months to donate blood, the Red Cross refused this afternoon to take my blood. I also had some Christmas memories and observations to share. All those will have to wait. I have something else to say.

This began as a conversation on a post by InsanityBytes (which you can read here). IB referenced Genesis 1:3—“God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” John responded that photons did not exist for the first four hundred million years of the history of the universe. John went on to say that the universe is 13.82 billion years old, the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, suggesting that God and his Word have nothing to do with the existence of the universe, the Earth, or light.

I suggested that we could visit the highway and determine the speed of the passing cars; knowing their speed and their direction, we can use a map to find where each car was one hour ago and where it will be one hour from now. The problem with that assumption is, of course, that cars have drivers who make decisions about the motion of the cars. Knowing how fast it is going this minute does not tell me whether that car was sixty miles away an hour ago or was sitting in a nearby parking lot until a few minutes ago.

Science can measure mass and energy in the present and can make predictions about the past and the future, but only with the assumption that the universe is a closed system. If any supernatural being can enter the universe and change things, then science has a problem. Years of observation have determined that on very few occasions do things happen that could not have been predicted by science. Some call these miracles and take them as proof of an intelligent being who is beyond science; others are determined to say that miracles never happen. They insist that every recorded miracle is faulty information, recorded by unscientific people who were tricked by others or by their own imaginations. This leads to circular reasoning, which first defines miracles as impossible and then uses that definition to discredit every record of a miracle.

So let us study cars scientifically. I have seen cars in a parking lot. They are physical objects, hollow metal boxes with some moving parts that I did not take time to study thoroughly. I did not notice any drivers in the parked cars I observed. Now we know that a moving object tends to remain in motion and an object at rest tends to remain at rest, unless outside forces are at work on that object. Therefore, if no drivers were required to keep those cars in the parking lot at rest, I assume that no drivers are required to keep moving cars on the highway in motion. In fact, given my observation of moving cars on the highway, I find it highly unlikely that any intelligent being is in control of the motion of those cars.

Now John (or someone like him) can present me with literature about cars, literature that demonstrates the existence of drivers, but I am free to laugh away his literature as the deluded imaginings of unscientific writers. (Of course they are unscientific—they believe in drivers!)  John can tell me that he has met drivers and has spoken with them—that he has even ridden with them in cars. I cannot test the experiences of John to know whether he has really met a driver or only thinks that it happened. John can try to explain certain irregularities in the behavior of some of those moving cars that reveal the presence of an intelligent driver, but John may be disregarding physical laws and forces that require the cars to move in the way we both observe. John may even try to point out drivers to me as the cars move past us on the highway, but my radar gun only detects moving cars. It cannot tell me anything about drivers inside those cars, and therefore I am free not to believe in them.

I am not at any great risk if I refuse to believe that cars are operated by drivers. I will be sure to keep my distance from any moving cars, all the more so since I don’t expect them to be operated by intelligent beings. People like John are at a greater risk if they refuse to believe that a God created the universe. The God who made all things has the right to tell his creatures how to behave. He has the right to punish those who break his commandments. Ironically, John judges God as wicked and malevolent because the Creator does not follow John’s rules regarding creation and miracles. I suggested to John that God might call John the same things if John does not follow God’s rules. J.

Microaggressions

This month I attended a workshop at work about microaggressions. I chose this workshop over others for two reasons: I knew that the presenters would lead a good workshop (they always do), and I wanted to learn more about what microaggressions are and how I can avoid doing them.

Microaggressions are the way we communicate—usually with spoken words, but also with gestures, facial expressions, and body language—our disdain or dismissal of other people because they are different from us. Deliberate insults and purposeful dismissals are not microaggressions—they are full aggression, easily recognized and easier to address. Microaggressions are usually unintended; they are the result of insensitivity rather than overt prejudice or bigotry. They are unplanned slights toward other people because of their race, language, gender and sexual preferences, age, economic status, religion, political beliefs, and the like.

Saying, “she’s pretty smart for a woman” is a microaggression. Assuming that the white middle-aged male is the head of his department is a microaggression. Choosing which customer to attend first based on skin color is a microaggression. I felt that the workshop gave too much attention to microaggression toward people of different sexual preferences or gender confusion—but my label “gender confusion” would probably be considered microaggression. On the other hand, we all hurt the feelings of other people without intending to be hurtful; sometimes we might even intend to be helpful.

One example was given by two people attending the workshop. A patron had approached the two of them gushing over a book about diets and weight loss. The patron had found the book very helpful, and she thought these two workers would also benefit from it. They were polite while she was near them; after she left, they turned to each other and asked, “Did she just say we are fat?”

I attended the workshop to learn how to avoid troubling other people. I also learned that I am sometimes the victim of microaggressions. An example that came to mind during the workshop was the wailing and gnashing of teeth in my department the day after the national election. Nobody went so far as  to claim that they were cheated or to organize a protest, but the conversations definitely reflected an assumption that everyone within earshot wanted Hillary Clinton to win, and that no one in the room considered her the greater of two evils on the ballot. A common expression was, “It was a terrible mistake, but we need to be calm and to live with it for the next four years.” I kept silent at work that day. I did not remind my coworkers that not everybody in the room supported Clinton. I did not even offer those words as an example of microaggression at the workshop, because I suspected that I represented a minority also within that group of people. Reticence to address a topic or a perceived insult is one of the signals that microaggression is in play.

An even clearer example of microaggression happened to me shortly after the workshop. One of my coworkers told me that a third coworker had needed to go home early that day because of a kidney stone. While he was telling me this, a fourth coworker approached us. The coworker speaking to me proceeded to share with the two of us an email from the coworker who was now at home. This coworker (who is an atheist) disparaged the poor design of the human body (making kidney stones possible) as evidence of the absence of a wise Creator. The fourth coworker responded, “I consider myself a spiritual person, but that’s pretty solid evidence,” or something to that effect. Both these coworkers know that I am a Christian, that my relationship with God is a very important part of my identity. Yet I saw no way to address their casual dismissal of faith—if I were to deliver a lecture on the problem of evil from a Christian perspective, it would not have been effective or well received at that time. Yet I had no short answer to show these two coworkers how disrespectful their conversation was toward me.

Sometimes you can’t win. Jews and atheists might feel dismissed by “Merry Christmas” greetings, while Christians feel slighted by “Happy Holidays” greetings. In the end, we do the best we can to respect one another’s identities and values. Meanwhile, we obviously need to find better ways of informing others of their insensitive microaggressions that trouble us. J.

Christ in Genesis: In the Garden

In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates everything in the universe by the power of his Word. In the second chapter of Genesis, God gets himself dirty, interacting directly with the materials he had created. Critics have noticed this and other differences between the two chapters and have suggested that the accounts contradict each other. Conspiracy theorists have said that the two accounts developed in different parts of Israel and were stuck together by an editor long after the time of Moses. The presence of Christ in Genesis provides a more satisfying explanation for the differences between these chapters.

Chapter one describes the Creator as God (Elohim). God creates the world by speaking; creation is accomplished through his Word and for his Word. Chapter two describes the Creator as the LORD God (Yahweh Elohim). The personal name of God indicates his personal involvement in creation. When God is this personally active in the world, we can be sure that Christ is at work. While the Father speaks, the Son gets dirty fulfilling his Father’s will. This happens again in the Incarnation of Christ, when he is born and placed in a manger and spends more than thirty years among sinners, including some who reject him and execute him.

The order of creation appears to vary between the chapters. Chapter one presents a clear order of events, organized over six days. Plants were created on the third day, and land animals–including the first man and the first woman–were created on the sixth day. But in chapter two, the order of creation appears to be the man first, then plants, then animals, and finally the woman. The plants that are mentioned, though, are specifically garden plants. God created a garden after making the first man; he had already created vegetation earlier. Mention of the animals after the creation of the man but before the creation of the woman does not mean that God created in that order. The Hebrew language has only two tenses and uses them in various ways. The best translation of verse 19 is that the LORD God “had formed” the animals before making the man, and that after the man was formed and the garden planted, the LORD God brought the animals to the man.

Genesis 1:24 quotes God as saying, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” Christ, the Word of God, responds by forming animals from the earth, as described in Genesis 2:19. Then he formed the body of Adam. I suggested earlier that the body of Christ as experienced in Genesis is the same body that was born in Bethlehem, that walked the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, that was beaten, crucified, and buried, that rose on the third day and later ascended to fill the universe in both space and time. If I am correct about that body, then the hands which shaped the body of Adam were already scarred from the nails that held him to the cross.

After forming Adam from the earth, God ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The same Hebrew word (ruach) can mean breath, wind, or spirit. Frequently the Bible makes use of this pun, as on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit announces his presence with the sound of a rushing wind. At the beginning of creation the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Here he is mentioned again as the instrument by which Adam receives life.

God brought every animal to Adam so that Adam would name them. To assign a name is to exercise authority. As in chapter one, authority to care for the planet and for its living beings is assigned to humanity. God had a second purpose for bringing the animals to Adam. He was preparing Adam for a special companion by first giving him the desire for a teammate with whom he could share his world and his authority.

“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God said. Does God know how it feels to be alone? Outside of space and time, God is eternally three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In a sense, then, God has never been alone–except for one occasion when the Son of God was truly alone. Hanging on the cross, atoning for the sins of the world, Jesus was forsaken by his Father. For a few hours, the Son of God was truly alone.

Jesus endured the torture of the cross, including the rejection of his Father, to redeem his people. He paid in full for the sins of the world so he could build a Church and claim a Bride. Paul wrote that every marriage is a picture of Christ and his Church. This surely must be true of the first marriage. To provide a bride for Adam, God had Adam fall into a deep sleep. To claim his Bride, Jesus fell into the sleep of death. After Jesus had died, a soldier prodded him with a spear, opening a wound in his side from which blood and water flowed. Medically this certifies that Jesus truly had died, since fluid had accumulated in his chest around his heart and lungs. In matters of faith, it also pictures the Bride of Christ, the Church, coming from the crucified Savior–water reminding us of Baptism and blood reminding us of the Lord’s Supper, both important events in the life of the Church. And both Adam’s sleep and Christ’s sleep happened on a Friday, the sixth day of the week.

Eve was taken from Adam’s side. Someone has said (It’s attributed to various people.) that she was not taken from Adam’s head to rule him, nor from his foot to be trampled by him, but from his side to be next to him, from under his arm to be protected by him, and  from near his heart to be loved by him. They were a team, both created in the image of God, both given authority over the planet and its living beings.

All this happened in a garden. The theme of gardens and wilderness runs through the Bible. Israel was promised a land flowing with milk and honey; but before they arrived in the Promised Land, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Jesus battled temptation in the wilderness. He was arrested in a garden and forced out of the garden, as Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden after their sin. Yet when he had won the war against evil, he was buried in a garden. In that garden, the news of his resurrection was first announced. The last two chapters of the Bible (Revelation 21-22) describe the new creation which will be our home after Jesus reveals his glory and announces his judgment. That description of the new creation signifies that our home, once again, will be a garden.

Christ in Genesis: In the Beginning

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Traditionally, Christians think of God the Father as the Creator—“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” (The Apostles’ Creed). Yet Genesis 1:2 tells us that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The LORD was present. The Spirit of the LORD was present. What of the Angel of the LORD? We know from the New Testament that he was also present. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3); “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). He is called the firstborn, not because he came into being in time—for the Son of God is eternal, without beginning or ending, and unchanging—but because the Father has granted him all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:19). Because “all things were created through him and for him,” we can regard creation as a gift of love which God the Father made for his Son.

John’s Gospel refers to Jesus as the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John chose the Greek word “logos,” which had a special meaning to some Roman philosophers. They thought of the “logos” as an all-pervading principle of the universe—not a god, but in some ways greater than all the Roman gods. Chinese philosophers describe the Dao in similar terms: “There was something undefined and yet complete in itself; born before heaven and earth. Silent and boundless, standing alone without change, yet pervading all without fail. It can be regarded as the Mother of the world. I do not know its name; I style it the Dao, and, in the absence of a better word, call it The Great” (Daodejing  25).

But “logos,” meaning Word, reminds us also how God created. He spoke things into being. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God is all-powerful. He cannot lie, not simply because he is too good to lie, but because everything he says happens. (Therefore, when God says, “you are forgiven,” you can be certain that you are truly forgiven.) Jesus is the Word of God, the agent through whom all things were created. Yet he is not an impersonal logos or Dao: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Creation was formless and empty when God first created it. In three days, the formless became formed. First, God said, “Let there be light,” creating both energy and matter (for, as we know, matter can be converted into energy and vice versa, as Albert Einstein first described) as well as time and space (for those cannot exist apart from energy and matter). Then he separated the waters above from the waters below, and afterward he caused dry land to rise out of the water and covered it with vegetation.

After three days creation was formed, but it was still empty. God filled the light he had created, making the sun and all the other stars, the moon, and everything else in the vastness of the universe that emits light or reflects light. Next he filled the sky with flying creatures and the waters below with swimming creatures. Finally, he filled the land with walking and crawling creatures. As a culmination of all this creation, God made the first man and the first women. Six times, while he was creating, God described his creation as “good.” When he had made the first man and the first woman, he changed his description to “very good.”

Douglas Adams wrote, “In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move” (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, chapter 1).  Some religious movements, such as the Gnostics, agree that the physical world is bad. Genesis says that creation is good—and that, with human beings living in it, creation is very good. Evil was not created by god, although it entered creation by distorting what is good. At its core, creation is good. Therefore, on the Day of the Lord, his creation will be restored, complete with everything that was good when God first made it. Lions and wolves and lambs and oxen are described in the new creation, and even cobras (Isaiah 11:6-9); I am sure that dogs and cats and goldfish will be there as well.

The first man and the first woman were both made in the image of God. Some people imagine this phrase to imply a recursion in which the body of Jesus was the model for Adam’s body, but then Jesus was born with such a body because he inherited it from Adam’s lineage. However, God said “let us make,” suggesting that the image of God is held by all three Persons, not just by the Son of God, the Word who became flesh. What then is the image of God? Several suggestions can be made. God is creative, and human beings also create. God is good, and human beings were created to be good. God is wise and all-knowing, and human beings are created to seek wisdom and knowledge. God is holy, and human beings also are meant to be holy.

Many adjectives describe God, including creative, good, wise, all-knowing, and holy. However, the Bible says that “God is love” (I John 4:8). God is not creation, or goodness, or knowledge, or holiness. Nor is God power or glory. He possesses all these things, but “God is love.” Love is at the very nature of God. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Had God created nothing, love would still be at the very nature of God. Therefore, human beings were created for love. We were created to love God and to love each other. We were created to do good things for the glory of God and for the good of one another (Ephesians 2:10). When Jesus became flesh and lived among us, he showed us the image of God by loving his Father perfectly and bringing glory to him. He showed us the image of God by loving the people around them and serving them for their benefit.

When God said, “Let there be light,” he knew each of us by name. He knew how we could glorify him and help each other, each with a unique set of abilities and resources and opportunities. He knew how we would fail to love, fail to glorify, and fail to help. He knew the price he would have to pay to redeem us. When God rested, while creation was still very good, he knew that his rest prefigured the Sabbath when Jesus would rest—his body in a tomb, his spirit in the hands of his Father.

Yet, knowing all these things, God decided that creation was worthwhile. He loved us enough—in spite of everything he knew about us—to create the heavens and the earth, to begin the process that would bring the Son of God into the world to suffer and die for sinners, and to move toward the new creation where once again everything will be very good. God knew about you, and he said you were worth the trouble of creation and of redemption. Therefore, God spoke the Word by whom all things were made.

Tuesday ingenuity

Even on a dark and stormy day, the sun is still shining above the clouds. I know that’s a cliché, but it happens to be true. Looking for some ray of sunshine today, I decided to think about Tuesdays, and especially about the very first Tuesday. For on Sunday God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. On Monday God separated the waters above from the waters below. On Tuesday God lifted dry land out of the water, and then he covered the land with vegetation, numerous plants, each according to its kind.

Placing vegetation on the land makes good ecological sense, since healthy plant life reduces erosion by wind and by water. The plant life could also begin the cycle of producing oxygen for animals to breathe, since God foreknew the animals he would create on Thursday and Friday.

When God created plants, he also created beauty. The predominant color of plants is green, but green comes in many shades. God also mixed in flowering plants to provide many other colors as well as pleasant fragrances. God designed tropical rain forests, grand hardwood forests for more moderate climates, prairies of waving grass, and even lichens for the parts of the planet that would remain cold for most of the year. He placed durable plants in the deserts, and other plants underwater in lakes, streams, and oceans. God created plants that could replicate themselves by seeds, and others that could divide to spread through the ground. He made trees that could bend in the wind, violets that could shelter under the trees, and even ivies that could climb the trees.

Best of all, though, God created plants that can be eaten. Buried treasures include carrots, beets, turnips, onions, potatoes, and peanuts. Above the ground we find peas and beans, pumpkins and other kinds of squash, and various edible grains, including wheat, oats, barley, rice, and sweet corn. God made leaves we can eat, such as lettuce and cabbage; stems we can eat, such as rhubarb and asparagus; flowers we can eat, such as broccoli and cauliflower; and even an edible tree bark called cinnamon. He created many kinds of berries—including not only strawberries and blackberries, but also grapes and tomatoes. God designed the fruit of trees with great variety: apples, pears, cherries, peaches, mangoes, papayas, oranges, lemons, coconuts, walnuts, and cashews. God created herbs and spices such as parsley and oregano, cloves and black pepper, mustard and chili pepper, and sugar. To top it off, God hid special surprises in tea leaves, coffee beans, and chocolate.

For which of Tuesday’s children are you especially thankful this week? J.

 

The image of God

What makes people different from animals? The first chapter of the Bible reports that the first man and the first woman were both created in the image and likeness of God. “Image” and “likeness” are synonyms in this verse–Biblical Hebrew frequently uses two words to convey the same idea. But what does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Some people believe that the image of God is an immortal soul. They go on to say that animals do not have an immortal soul, since they were not created in the image of God. However, the new creation is described as including animals, such as lions, wolves, lambs, and even snakes. If God can have these creatures in his new creation, surely he can also restore our favorite cats and dogs and horses. Whether or not he will do so remains to be seen, but there is a passing reference to the spirits of animals in the book of Ecclesiastes.

God’s attributes include omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. In other words, there is nothing God cannot do, no place exists where he is not present, and there is nothing God does not know. Men and women do not have these qualities; there are limits to our power, we exist in only one location at a time, and we do not know everything. Like God, though, we have intelligence and wisdom that surpasses that of animals. Perhaps our thinking ability is part of the image of God that exists in us.

God created, and people create. Beings that create have a sense of beauty which is shown by their creations. Beings that create also express a sense of humor in their creations. Beings that create are able to use objects as tools to accomplish their goals. In all of these ways, men and women are more like God than like the animals made by God.

When God created, he spoke things into existence. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God works through words, and men and women also communicate with words. We do not have the power to cause things to happen merely by speaking, but words remain useful, even essential, to our existence.

God is holy, righteous, and just. Men and women also know the difference between right and wrong. We might not always do what is right, but generally we know what is right. Our moral sense may also be part of the image of God that exists in us.

God has power, but God is not power. God has knowledge, but God is not knowledge. God has righteousness, but God is not righteousness. Only one quality of God is described as God, and that quality is love. Twice the apostle John wrote, “God is love.” Love flows among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Even if God had created nothing, God would still be love because of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

To be created in the image and likeness of God, then, means to be created so we can love. We were created to love God whole-heartedly. We were created to love our neighbors as ourselves. All the rest of the commands of God tell us how to love, but the basic command to love teaches us our purpose. When we love, we are God-like. When we fail to love, we fall short of displaying God’s image. When we fail to love, we fall short of our Creator’s purpose for our existence.

The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness. The more we love ourselves, the less we can love God and our neighbors. True love is sacrificial love. It gives to others and does not demand repayment. True love allows others to be important rather than insisting upon being at the center of attention.

Animals have intelligence to varying degrees. They can solve problems, they can reason, and they can learn. Some animals are creative. Elephants doodle, birds sing, and some fish redesign their environments for purposes of beauty. Many animals create tools out of materials at hand. Animals use language and communicate. Chimpanzees have been taught sign language. Cats and dogs understand dozens of words that they hear men and women speak. Even some insects are capable of passing messages to one another.

Some animals even have a sense of right and wrong. Dogs know when they have done something their owners did not want them to do, and they can express guilt for their wrongdoing. Cats also know when they have broken the rules, although they do not express guilt as frequently as dogs do. Other animals can be trained to do various things, and they know when they have met expectations or failed to please their trainers.

I find it hard to believe that my cats don’t love me. Our relationship is defined by more than food and fresh water. My cats like their people. They like to hear the sound of our voices, even if we are talking to each other and not to them. They like to be pet and scratched, and they have their own gestures to show the love that they feel for their people. If I have been away all day or asleep all night, they greet me when they see me again. We have a genuine relationship based on love, even if I bear the image of God and they do not.

It seems that animals that spend time around people pick up some human characteristics. We teach them to have a moral sense because the distinction between right and wrong is important to us. We teach them to love because love is essential to what we are. When our ancestors were told to rule over the animals of God’s creation, God’s intention was that we be caretakers and not abusers. When we take good care of the creatures entrusted to us, they become a little more like us. That reflects the wisdom of the Creator who put us in charge of his world. J.

Book report: The God Delusion

 

Richard Dawkins is a scientist, a writer, and an atheist. When I saw a chance to grab a free copy of his best-selling attack on religion, The God Delusion, I seized it. This month I have read Dawkins’ book and am ready to offer a review.

Some parts of the book are quite interesting and even useful—particularly those near the beginning and the end of the book. Much of what exists between the two is less satisfying reading. For a while, I thought that Dawkins might be engaged in deliberate satire, mocking the earnest but shrill defenders of religion whom he deplores. Alas, Dawkins is equally earnest and equally shrill in his attacks upon religion. His certainty that science provides correct answers to the questions of the universe blinds him to the reality that, at best, he can provide, for an agnostic, evidence that creation and evolution are equally plausible (or, one might add, equally implausible).

I was prepared for better writing. Dawkins’ friend, Douglas Adams, was able to skewer religion while provoking laughter. Although the back cover promises “a hard-hitting, impassioned, but humorous rebuttal of religious belief,” most of what passes for humor is snide sarcasm. I’ve seen better-phrased rebuttals of religious belief in the comments on various blogs, written by amateurs with no published books to their credit.

Logic is an important tool in the pursuit of scientific investigation, but Dawkins employs most of the logical fallacies identified centuries ago by Aristotle. He lists notorious abuses done in the name of religion, as if this was sufficient to condemn all religion. By the same logic, one could condemn science because it has caused pollution and nuclear bombs. He cherry-picks the Bible, reporting the statements he finds least believable without bothering to establish context for any of the quotes he selects. He references religious leaders who reject the truth of the Bible, as if their authority was somehow greater than that of religious leaders who still trust the Bible.

Dawkins firmly suggests that no one should speak of “Christian children” or “Muslim children.” He claims that no one can be part of any religious group without years of training and indoctrination. He offers no evidence for this claim. Dawkins speaks disparagingly of any person who does not accept evolution as a scientific fact beyond all doubt. In this book he never presents a shred of evidence that evolution is a scientific fact. (I am aware that he has written other books for that purpose, but somewhere in this book he should at least summarize his case for evolution since he uses opposition to the theory of evolution as a reason to attack religion. Given the poor communication skills he shows in this book, I am not likely to seek to read his books about evolutionary theory.

Dawkins also complains that the topic of religion is given a free pass in society, unlike any other topic. Bizarre behavior that should be unacceptable is allowed if it can be labeled as religious. People are unwilling to confront religious ideas with opposition, although they will debate any other subject. I don’t know where Dawkins has been living. I experience less tolerance of religious diversity than of cultural diversity, gender-identification diversity, or many other kinds of diversity in the world today. Perhaps Dawkins’ exaggeration balances that of the Christians who claim to be persecuted by those who say “Happy Holidays” to them.

Near the beginning of the book, Dawkins offers a usable distinction of theists, deists, pantheists, and atheists. (Rather than pantheists, he should have written panentheists. The former believe that everything is God, while the latter believe that God is contained in everything—a necessary distinction.) Many scientists, Dawkins says, are pantheists, viewing God as a result of the universe rather than its cause. While Dawkins remains an atheist, he shows some sympathy for the thought that a mighty God could develop in a universe of increasing complexity, although he says that a perfect God could not exist prior to such a universe. Nowhere in the book does Dawkins address the idea of entropy (the tendency of closed systems to become less complex over time), but his distinction allows for interesting discussion of these four approaches to belief in God.

When I was in college, I raised this question: Is it easier to believe that advocates of evolution were created or that advocates of creation have evolved? Dawkins provides a fine answer, explaining how religion could be a necessary part of human evolution, reacting to the world as it was seen in earlier times. He writes eloquently about the gaps in human knowledge that once were filled by religion but that now are closed by science. Reversing the metaphor, he speaks of science ripping away barriers to our sight, revealing a far more spectacular universe than our ancestors could sense or comprehend.

Dawkins does not realize, though, that believers find the vast universe unknown to our forbearers to be additional reason to praise the God who called the universe into being and shaped it according to his plan. Dawkins’ confrontation between science and religion is fueled by religious leaders, past and present, who have rejected science as a whole. Yet his approach borders on satire of religious discussion rather than a genuine attack upon religion as a whole. He seems to believe that no one can be scientific and religious at the same time.

To maintain an open mind, one must (from time to time) read the work of those with whom one disagrees. Perhaps the greatest benefit, for me, of reading this book is to confirm that rejection of religion does not result in clearer thinking and a healthier view of life as a whole. Dawkins demonstrates the truth that one can be a brilliant scientist without being an expert in other fields. I thank him for his effort, but I am not convinced by what he writes to abandon my faith. J.