Monday, October 31, 2011

Cranky Old Neighbors and Fences

Like many other people I have neighbors, defined as people whose property is adjacent to my own.  Since my lot includes the middle of the block I have a lot of neighbors, some that I know and some that I don't.  But in general I have gotten along with them for the most part.  But that has apparently changed.

On one side of me is a cantankerous old lady that I had gotten along with pretty well from the time she moved in until last year.  But now, apparently, I have done something, either real or imagined, that has offended her.  She no longer acknowledges my existence and, even worse, has done the same thing with my wife.  And we are left to our own imaginations to try and figure out what the problem is.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Problem of Evil

How come bad things happen in the world?  Rape, child abuse, tsunamis, hurricanes, war and disease.  The news is filled with accounts of the hurt that is inflicted on oftentimes innocent people.  Why does an all powerful and loving God allow this to happen?  I have no doubt that most, if not all, of us have wondered that from time to time, especially when the hurt hits close to home.

If God is all powerful and all knowing, and really cares about us, surely he should be able to fix the evils in our world, the hurricanes and earthquakes, the diseases and famines, the tyrant who oppresses his people and the drug industry that so disrupts society.  If he has the ability to 'fix it' and yet does not, is he really all that loving?  There are many people who use the evils in our world today as an excuse to reject the existence of a loving and caring god.  And many others who, while not rejecting God, still question his motives and purposes; why does God allow all the hurts seen on the news or in my life.

The 'Problem of Evil', a topic that has occupied philosophers for ages is one that has no easy answer, although many attempts are made.  Some argue that God must allow evil if we are to truly have free will.  Others will argue that suffering now can produce a long term benefit for our eternity.  And others offer other alternatives that are just as unsatisfying to the person who is hurting or deeply concerned about the hurting that is going on all around us.

I do believe that God exists.  And that he is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing).  And I believe that God is good, although not necessarily so when judged by human standards.  I do believe that it is incorrect to overlay human concepts of morality onto our creator.  He is, fortunately, not like us (can you imagine me as god) and his reasons and purposes are beyond our understanding.  That God appears to be indifferent to the sufferings of mankind does not mean that he is, or that he is not at work in our world today.

For myself, I have no real answer to the problem of evil, but I choose to trust that God cares for me and that he is working through all the stuff that happens to me, whether I think it good or bad, to accomplish his purpose in my life (Romans 8:28).  Living with an attitude of thankfulness does not make the problems go away, but it sure does affect my attitude and the way I view life.

While I am far from being a deist, I do believe that God has created a self sustaining world where he is not actively pulling all the strings.  Children are born with defects, not because God made them that way, but because of genetic or other issues.  People die and suffer from hurricanes, not because God is punishing a particular place, but because of the way our weather systems function.  Could God change them?  I believe so.  But it is apparent he does not always, if ever.

Many would have us believe that God's desire for me now is that I be happy, healthy and prosperous.  But I do not believe that to be the case.  I have come to accept that what happens to me here is of little real (eternal) consequence, other than in what God can work out in my life through it.  And that what really matters is in the unseen, to us, but eternal kingdom that God is preparing us for.  My prayer for myself, my family and for others is not that life would be dandy, but that God would be glorified in us and in our response to what happens to us.  And also that he would use the events and circumstances of my life to prepare me for whatever purpose he has awaiting me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Miss Weekends

I can remember back to a time when I had to work at an office job for 5 days out of the week.  I would be up early in the morning to do all of the pre-work stuff like devotionals, running, showering, getting dressed, making a lunch and eating breakfast.  Then it was off to the office for 8 hours of staring at a computer monitor.  At the end of the day I got to wake up, go back home, do a few small chores, eat dinner, read for a bit and then off to bed.  An unending cycle only broken by the weekend.  Aw, glorious weekends.  Two whole days to do most anything I wanted to.  Sunday morning was devoted to church, but that still gave me a day and a half.

The only problem with all that time off was deciding what to do with it.  Would I stay home and do chores or try to get out and do something else.  Seldom was there time to do both.  And it seemed like all too often the chores won out.  But still, I wasn't in the office and my time was my own.  And the thing I choose to do held a special place.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What is Heaven Like?

Mansion Over the Hilltop
I've got a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we'll never grow old.  And some day yonder we will never more wander, but walk on the streets that are purest gold

I love this song and enjoyed singing it as a part of a quartet in a small church years ago.  It really brings back fond memories.  Unfortunately it's just not true, at least as far as I can tell.  This song, and many others, paint a picture of heaven as a place where we can kick back, stroll streets of gold and live in a mansion on a hilltop, probably with lots of servants to wait on us for eternity.  An eternity of bliss as a reward for accepting Jesus as savior.  But that really doesn't make sense to me (after all I did nothing to deserve it), nor do I really find that sentiment supported in the scriptures.

Ones answer to the question about what heaven's like is, I believe, shaped by their view of God's purpose in creation.  Why did he create a habitable universe with at least one planet populated by intelligent beings?  I can't help but believe that if the previous statement is true, and I believe it is, that he must have had a reason for doing it.  And that reason must include our current existence as a step in the process.  If life here is nothing more than a time to determine who the believers are that will be rewarded with paradise, and he already knew who they would be prior to creation, then why not just jump to the end game and skip this messy and often painful part?

So it seems to me like life here is playing some part in the long term future God is working us toward.  There are at least a couple of passages in the New Testament that give support to the thought that my life here, as a believer, has an impact on my future in the Kingdom of God.  The first of these are the parables recorded in the gospels (Matthew 25:14-30 & Luke 19:11-27) of the king who entrusted possessions to servants, goes away for a while, and then returns for an accounting of their stewardship.  There is praise, and more responsibility, for those who performed well and condemnation for those who failed to satisfy the king.

The second passage is in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 where Paul talks about building on the foundation of Christ. There are a variety of building materials that could be used, some of value and some not.  If the life I build on the foundation of Christ has value, there is reward to come.  But if I build on that foundation will lesser materials I will be saved because of the foundation, but will experience a lesser, or no, reward.  There is no mention of what that reward is, although in the gospel parables the reward was two-fold, sharing in the Master's happiness and additional responsibility.

These passages tell us that what I do now in this life will have an impact on the life to come.  How successful I am by human standards will have nothing to do with it.  Rather how faithful I am to the God who called me and equips me for his service will be the key.  We need to serve God here as if our future depends on it, because to some extent it does.

So, what is heaven really like?  I must confess that I really don't know.  I do believe that my future though will not just be a time of kicking back, swinging in a hammock and having fair maidens drop grapes in my mouth for eternity.  Rather it will be a time (time will likely have no real meaning) of serving along side our creator in carrying out whatever purpose he created us for.

BTW, the streets of gold?  That comes from Revelation 21:21, part of a description of the New Jerusalem, specifically identified as the bride of Christ (21:2, 9-10).  We will not be walking on streets of gold.  We will potentially be a nugget in the street. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shoes, Shoes and more Shoes

How many pairs of shoes do you have in your closet?  Seems like just a few years ago I would have answered that question with no more than 5 or 6.  After all, how many pairs of shoes does a guy need, especially one with no fashion sense.  A pair of 'nice' shoes for special occasions, a comfortable pair of shoes for everyday use, an old ratty pair for yard work and a pair of boots for hiking.

But somewhere along the way I must have come up with a fertile pair because they seem to be rapidly proliferating.  The shoes in my collection could also be a case study in evolution, branching out into several new niches and species, including running and biking shoes as well as Five Fingers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Bible and Science

The B I B L E, yes that's the book for me.
I stand alone on the word of God.
The B I B L E.
I grew up singing that song and for pretty much all of my life that I can remember the Bible has been at the top of my reading list, providing guidance and instruction.  But just what is this book that many Christians hold so dear and what role should it play in our lives?  You have likely heard many terms used in relation to the Bible, like inspiredinerrancy, infallibility, authoritative, ...  I must confess that I am never too sure just what a person means when they use those words in relation to the Bible, and I disagree with some of what I do understand the terms to mean.

The Bible has this to say about itself:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV
This is, as far as I know, the primary passage used in support of inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.  This passage does indeed affirm the inspiration of the scriptures, although it is uncertain just how that occurs.  But I fail to see that it really says anything about inerrancy.  What it tells me is that the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness to thoroughly equip me for doing what God wants of me.  It is God's instruction for me on how to live a holy life in his service.  I do believe that in matters of faith and service to God that the Bible is trust worthy and authoritative.

Science is, according to Wikipedia:
Science (from Latin: scientia meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. ... In modern use, science is "often treated as synonymous with ‘natural and physical science’, and thus restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics. This is now the dominant sense in ordinary use
In simpler terms science is the study of the world around us, trying to understand the nature of the universe and all it contains and how and why it works the way it does.  I find it unfortunate that to many people, both believers and non-believers, the Bible and science are thought to be at odds with one another.

I believe that the reason for this is that too many believers attempt to make the Bible be something that it is not; an inspired science and/or history text.  For example, how old is the earth?  The Bible doesn't actually say, but the implication from Genesis is that the earth is not really all that old, in the range of 6-10 thousand years.  However, modern science claims that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old; certainly quite a contrast to 6-10 thousand years.  As a believer, how do I choose which to believe?

Those who hold to Biblical inerrancy would say that the Genesis account must be historically and scientifically accurate because it is the inspired word of a God who cannot lie.  And I hesitate to challenge that statement because I would then come across as one who claims that God lies, which I will never do.  But, does belief in a young earth better equip me for serving God than belief in an old earth?  I would argue that it does not, and that is some ways it actually hinders it.  Part of my service to God is in sharing the good news with a world that is in need of it.  But how can I effectively do that when I deny the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of the age of the earth and hold to a contrary belief that has no scientific support.  St. Augustine wrote:
 “It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are... In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.” The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (De Genesi ad Litteram) 1:19–20, Chapter 19
I do believe his words are instructive to us when dealing with the debate between the Bible and scientific findings.  We make ourselves a laughing stock to the world around us when we hold so strongly to something that is so obviously at odds with what we can see around us concerning the creation.  Let us hold tightly to the Bible in matters of faith and service to God, and less loosely in matters that are not central to our faith.  Really, what difference does it make how God created the heavens and the earth and the life that populates this planet?

We often apply the following verse only to unbelievers:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. - Romans 1:20 NIV
But does it not have application to believers as well?  Should I not be able to look at the creation and see what God has created without twisting it to fit an ancient cosmology?  And is that not what science does; look at the creation and try to make sense of it?  In my mind science is a tool that can help me to better understand God's working, the revelation of himself in the natural world.  I follow the Bible in matters of faith and service to God; but in understanding the world around me I am willing to learn from those who have invested their lives in revealing the mysteries of creation.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Profound Thoughts of a Long Distance Runner

I went out for a long run this morning and somewhere along the way it dawned on me that both of my loyal readers would dearly love to know the amazing thoughts that run through my head while plodding down the road.  Running gives a person lots of time to think since it is pretty challenging to watch TV or read a book while dodging cars in the early morning fog.  There is not really much else to do besides think and devise solutions to the problems that plague our world today.  So here, in no particular order, are the things I can remember thinking about during this mornings 2 hour run.

"Are we there yet?"  This is actually a conversation that goes on between much of my body and my brain after the first few minutes of most runs.  My feet and legs in particular would much prefer to cease this nonsense and head on back to the house and back to bed.  They are as bad as the kids in the back of the car on a long car trip.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Origins

We live in a big complex universe.  Where did it come from?  How did I come to be?  These are questions I have frequently asked myself and I suspect I am not alone in doing so.  The response you have for these questions will have a big impact on how you view the world around you and how you respond to much of what happens to you.

To give an authoritative and comprehensive answer is beyond me, but I would like to share a few thoughts.  There are, at least to my mind, three general answers that can be given, each with a lot of variation.  The first approach is one taken by many believers in my circle and includes:
  • God created the universe, this earth, and life on it exactly (or nearly) as is.
  • the belief that God continues to be actively involved with everything that happens on earth, from the blooming of a flower or birth of a child to earthquakes, storms and wars.
  • God has a specific plan for my life and that there is a specific right choice for me in every decision that I face.
  • science is treated with suspicion, especially when it is at odds with beliefs about origins.