Monday, January 28, 2013

S.of the F. v. the G. R.

(Survival of the Fittest versus the Golden Rule)

Where does morality come from? How do humans decide how to behave? As a Christian, I would say that moral behavior is a product of my belief in a Creator God. But what if a person does not believe in God? What dictates his morality?

That’s a huge question. If people reject the Creatorship of God, then, if they’re honest with themselves, they also have to reject God’s pronouncement of what’s right and wrong. Some folks try to have it both ways by claiming that morality is a natural evolutionary step, but macro evolution, to my knowledge, says little about absolute rights and wrongs but quite abit about the importance of survival.

Terry Mattingly, senior fellow for journalism at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, quotes from a sermon by Phillip E. Johnson called “Evolution and the Christian Faith.”
 “‘If there is no Creator who has a purpose for your life, then there is no such thing as sin, … ‘Sin would mean that you are in a wrong relationship to your Creator. Well, you can't be in the wrong relationship with the particles. They don't care. So you don't need a Savior to save you from the consequences of your wrong relationship with the particles.’”Mattingly then concludes, “When you give away creation, you have given away everything.”[1]
That’s a pretty harsh conclusion, isn’t it? But I don’t believe we can deny the truth of it when we look around at what has happened in society since the theory of evolution has become the popular way to explain the existence of our world.

Evolution teaches that only the strongest, healthiest, and smartest survive, a concept that is completely incompatible with the concept of the Golden Rule.
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Surprisingly, I’ve found that the Golden Rule is harder to teach than you might think. I mean, out of context, many people wouldn’t immediately assume that it was a text from the Bible. You could say it was just a good rule to live by. But in 20 plus years of teaching in one capacity or another, without the opportunity to back that statement up with a belief in God, it has little impact on individual behavior. The response I most often get when I try to explain the Golden Rule to one of my students is, “Why?” In fact, they often completely turn the whole concept around, “They’re not going to treat me the way I want to be treated, why should I be nice to them?”

You have to admit that by today’s standards, the Golden Rule is counter-intuitive.

The Golden Rule says, “Share.”
Survival of the Fittest says, “Take yours first and let the rest fend for themselves.

The Golden Rule says, “Lend a helping hand.”
Survival of the Fittest says, “If you can’t keep up, get out of the way.”

The Golden Rule says, “Look out for one another.”
Survival of the Fittest says, “Every man for himself.”

Counter-intuitive or not, our Creator has both told and demonstrated to us how we should behave as we represent Him.
“Your relation to God and your fellow men demands a change in your life. In the Sermon on the Mount the injunction of the world’s redeemer was: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” These words are of the highest value to us, a golden rule given us by which to measure our conduct. This is the true rule of honesty. Very much is comprehended in these words. We are here required to deal with our neighbors as we would wish them to deal with us were we in their circumstances.” (E.G. White, Testimonies of the Church, Volume 4, p. 359)
But without God, there are no such requirements. Facing each day without the belief that each of us is a special creation of the God of the universe, leaves each of us to find meaning and truth in our own way. And that has led to moral relativism and situational ethics – the belief that there is no absolute truth, no right and wrong and no consequences for poor choices.

Where does that leave us?

Well, according to William Watkins, it leaves us with ten core beliefs that govern the lives of those people today who claim there are no absolutes. (Try to wrap your brain around that!)

Anyway, here are The New Absolutes.
“(1) Religion interferes with freedom and must be banished from the public square.(2) Human life is valuable only as long as it is wanted.(3) Marriage is a human contract made between any two people, and can be terminated for any reason.(4) Family is any grouping of two or more people.(5) Sexual intercourse is permissible regardless of marital status.(6) All forms of sexual activity are moral as long as they occur between consenting adults.(7) Women are oppressed by men and must liberate themselves.(8) People of color should receive preferential treatment.(9) Non-Western societies and other oppressed peoples and their heritage should be studied and valued above Western civilization.(10) Only viewpoints deemed politically correct should be tolerated and encouraged to prevail.”[2]
Call me old fashioned or simple minded, but I prefer God’s Absolutes. God absolutely created each of us, loves each of us and wants to spend eternity with each of us. You know where I’m going with this:
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.” John 3:16-17
Now that’s an absolute, I can live with!

[1] Terry Mattingly, senior fellow for journalism at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, from his column "Phillip E. Johnson”
[2] William Watkins, The New Absolutes (Bethany House, 1996)

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Revisionist Bible

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson fr 1.19.13

Once upon a time, the world happened, possibly with the help of some Higher Being. Finally, men and women came along. They began to worship the Higher Being and to tell and to write down stories about It (the Higher Being). In some of the stories, the Higher Being was called God. One of the stories described how some of the people thought God created the world and all the animals and people in six days. Another story was about a flood that God sent when the people weren’t paying enough attention to Him.     After that the stories were about lots of people who tried to do the right things to make God happy but they kept messing up so He gave them a set of rules that they had to follow. There are stories about wars and people who were good and people who were not.  The people wrote some poems to God. Some people wrote about things they said God told them were going to happen in the future.
After a long time, a baby named Jesus was born and he grew up and was a good man. He made some of the people who believed in God so angry that they killed him. But some people thought he was sent by God and they worshiped him and wrote about the things Jesus said and did while he was on Earth. Finally the people wrote a book about how God would get revenge on all the people who didn’t follow His rules. The End.
I just found out that Thomas Jefferson actually put together his own version of the Gospels. He called it, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. What he did was, he took six bibles – two in English, two in French and two that were in Greek and Latin. Then he actually cut passages out of the Gospels and pasted them back in another book, in chronological order. He put the same passages in English, French, Latin and Greek next to each other so he could compare them.

The final book, called The Jefferson Bible, is 86 pages long and is still around. The Smithsonian bought it from Jefferson’s great-granddaughter in 1895 for the huge sum of $400.

Pretty cool, right? Well, it was a good idea. But what Jefferson actually did while he was cutting and pasting was take out everything except 
“those parts that can be identified through reason and thought, … So out goes [sic] the miracles, out goes [sic] the resurrections and what remains is what he thinks is the life and morals of Jesus, the true teachings."
Jefferson even changed the grammar at one point. “On one page, he apparently didn't like the number of prepositions in a verse from Matthew that started, ‘For as in the days that were before the flood ...’ He cut out the word ‘as,’ changing the scripture to ‘For in the days that were before the flood ..."[1]
Here’s the whole text: 
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Matthew 24:36-39
I don’t know, maybe leaving out a word here or there isn’t that big of a deal, but leaving out anything that can’t be “identified through reason and thought?” (Well, right off the bat, I object to the assertion that things that require faith exclude both reason and thought, but that’s a whole different article.)

What was Jefferson really trying to do though? The same thing people have been trying to do since just about right after the Fall. He was trying to take the “Godness” out of God.

If God is just a social construct (something that humans made up) and Jesus was just a really good guy, then we don’t have to believe in anything hard like a real six day creation, a catastrophic flood, a virgin birth, or a resurrection. If we can look at the Bible as a compilation of some really good stories that teach some good lessons, then we don’t have to believe anything that makes us uncomfortable like the Ten Commandments or a final accounting for the way we’ve lived our lives. We don’t have to be changed by a relationship with the God who made us … because, “if we admit that He made us,” as a friend of mine said, “we have to admit that He can tell us what to do – He has a right to be interested/involved in our lives.” That makes a whole lot of people really uncomfortable.

The truth is, whether we like it or not – whether we can understand it or not, the Bible is true. God created the world in six days and rested on the Sabbath. If we discount the Genesis account of Creation, then what’s to stop us from discounting any other part of the Bible that we can’t understand? And, once we start cutting and pasting only the parts we can understand, we’ll find that we’ve cut out God. After that, there’s nothing left.  
“God is the foundation of everything. All true science is in harmony with his works; all true education leads to obedience to his government. Science opens new wonders to our view; she soars high, and explores new depths; but she brings nothing from her research that conflicts with divine revelation. Ignorance may seek to support false views of God by appeals to science; but the book of nature and the written word shed light upon each other. We are thus led to adore the Creator, and to have an intelligent trust in his word.” E.G. White, Christian Education, p 196
"In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was present originally with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being. In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men.  And the Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it [put it out or absorbed it or appropriated it, and is unreceptive to it]." John 1:1-5AMP

[1] Sally Holland, “Saving Thomas Jefferson's scrapbook Bible,” CNN,

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chicken vs. Egg?

I can remember really puzzling over that question, wondering how a person could actually know which came first. I believe I was well into my teens before I realized that, for a Christian who believed in the six days of Creation, it was a no-brainer.

The God Who created the world in six real, twenty-four hour days did everything in a carefully ordered way. He didn’t just start creating things willy-nilly – He followed a meticulously thought out plan. How do I know? Because 7,000 plus years since the Fall of Adam and Eve, the world is still so orderly that almost every part of it can be described in mathematical formulas.

Do you realize that almost everything in our world can be described by a single set of numbers? They’re called the Fibonacci numbers and the visual equivalent, the Golden Mean and is a sequence of numbers, starting with 0, 1 and continuing 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. Each new number equals the two numbers before it. This is only the first few numbers – they go on forever, but the ratio is 1.618033988749895… The whole concept gets pretty math heavy and I get pretty lost, but when I can see that rose petals wrap around their stem using that pattern, sea shells follow the Golden spiral, and so many things in nature contain the same ratio over and over again, I’m led to the conclusion that God laid out our world along very strict guidelines.
“John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist and a minister, claims that the equations that guide physics point to a Creator. Polkinhorne said, ‘Physicists are deeply impressed with the order of the world. It is rationally beautiful and structured, and the feeling that there is a mind behind it is a very natural feeling to have …. I think the feeling of wonder, which is fundamental to the experience of physicists … is fundamentally a religious experience, whether people recognize it or not.’”[1]
In Genesis 1, God worked from general to specific. He didn’t create an living thing until He had created a place where it could survive.
“Then God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear’; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth’; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the third day.” Genesis 1:9-13
The whole Genesis account of Creation shows a thoughtful and concerned Creator who carefully built a beautiful home for His creations. Not even a blade of grass was created until the system to keep it alive was in place.

On the other hand, we have the theories of Charles Darwin built around his research on the Galapagos Islands. His ideas involve natural selection and don’t describe any logic or purpose just an on-going struggle for survival. If God were to use a theory like the one described by Darwin, He would have to be described as careless, wasteful and cruel to just pitch ideas for creatures out into the planet and see which ones survived.

That would be like me deciding to plant a garden in my backyard so I just gathered up a whole bunch of seed of all different kinds and just pitched them out into the yard. Then I just watched to see what would come up. I didn’t prepare the ground for the seeds or make sure the seeds went into the right kind of soil or in the right amount of sunlight. I didn’t worry about whether or not the seeds could even grow in my area of the country. If the plants made it, great, but if the weeds took over and none of them made it, that’s ok too. In my backyard, that would mean I’d end up with very little of anything edible, just Johnson grass and sticker burs. I would have wasted a lot of seeds.

Anyway, how would you feel about God if He was so indifferent about how things went on His planet? Would you be interested in worshipping Him? or praying to Him?

I believe that the way we picture Creation has everything to do with the way we picture God.
“Some theologians argue that God is not indifferent to natural evil, but, rather, God is limited in His very nature so that He is good but limited in power. Hence, while He desires to do something about the pain and suffering in the world, He is unable.
“A second option offered asserts that while God is all-powerful, His greatest desire is the complete freedom of the cosmos to self-create and self-determine. This freedom is said to be more important to God than imposing some kind of order or design on the universe. Advocates of this view tend to express God as being in a power-sharing relationship with the universe, with the universe participating in its own creation.
“A third option is Deism. In this view, God launches all the natural processes and then absents Himself like a disinterested, absentee landlord. While this God may have all power, He shows little or no personal interest in the affairs of humankind. In this construct, God is highly unlikely to personally interact or intervene with any particularity in the affairs of earth’s history.”[2]
What a blessing to know that our God is not limited in any way, that He maintains His control over the universe, and that He cares about each and every one of us.

I know I end with John 3:16-17 often, but I just don’t believe we can be reminded enough of how involved God wants to be in every aspect of our lives and that, more than anything else, He wants to spend eternity with us. Take just a couple more seconds and really read and think about every word. Each one was written just for you and for me.

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.
“For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.” John 3:16-17AMP

[1] Pallab Ghosh, "Historic Hunt for 'God Particle,'" BBC News (9-10-08)
[2] Stephen Bauer, PhD, The Lesson in Brief and Learning Cycle, Lesson 2, Origins-Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide