Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dancing with Fairies

There is a modern tendency to lump the belief in God in with the belief in fairies. The underlying assumption is that these are supernatural beings, and science has disproved the supernatural. The truth is that science cannot disprove the supernatural, because science does not speak to the issue. Science tells us what happens in the normal course of nature, if no one intervenes. It cannot say whether there is someone to intervene or whether they will. Gravity says that if I drop something, it will fall toward the center of the earth. But if someone catches it, they have not violated the laws of science, which say how things work when left to themselves.

What then about fairies? There have always been mysterious things observed along the edges of human life. In the old days it was fairies, leprechauns, and goblins. In modern times it is UFOs, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster. Ghosts seem to be perennial. (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are in a different category, being simply games for children. I have empirical evidence that they are not real.) I am high skeptical of any of these being genuine. But I still feel they need some explanation. In terms of UFOs, I like the Klass plasma hypothesis, that what is observed is some naturally occurring form of plasma. It would explain why they are observed by otherwise reliable observers, but do not act as we would expect alien spacecraft to. I sometimes wonder if in earlier times people saw moving lights and imagined there was a person inside. But whatever they are, hallucinations, natural phenomena, real, or even demonic manifestations, I would like considerably more evidence before believing any of these are what they are claimed to be. However, if such evidence were forthcoming, I am convinced that science would find a way to integrate such things into the natural universe, even fairies. It would ask what they were made of and where they came from and expect to find answers. I am not expecting this to happen because I do not believe fairies are real, but the problem is the lack of solid evidence. What this has to do with the existence of God, who was announced publicly by prophets and became a man to pay for our sins in the open light of history, is not at all clear. You can disbelieve in both, but I see no real analogy.

Part of the problem here is a misunderstanding of monotheism. There are two types of monotheism. One wants one God who is a minimal God that does almost nothing. The other believes in one God who is an absolute God and brooks no equals. The God of Christianity is the second type. He is not the last limited remnant of the supernatural, after all the rest are refuted. He is the Sovereign who controls all things, leaving no place for lesser gods, or even fairies.       

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

United We Stand

What should Christians be united around? The basic thing should be Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 2:18-20; 1 Corinthians 3:10,11) and His message of salvation (Galatians 1:8,9; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). That is, that Jesus is God become man (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18) to pay the price for our sins, so that we might be saved by faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9).

But too often we base our unity on other things. We can claim we have to come to God through being part of a particular organization rather than directly through Christ (1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Now God's people are called to be organized (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 13:17; Titus 1:5). But the organization should serve the people, not the other way around (Matthew 20:25-28; 28:18-20; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Now the message of Christ requires us to hold to certain basic truths (Jude 3; Romans 16:17-20; 1 John 4:1-6). But we can divide over every detail, forgetting that we do not have all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; Philippians 2:1-4). We are also told that putting our faith in Christ results in a changed life (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10). But it is easy to erect a structure of dubious ethical requirements to distinguish ourselves from others (Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 15:7-9; 23:23-28). It is important to base our unity on the right grounds.

But if we do not have a solid basis for our unity, we can, almost by default, base it on something that lacks any clear definition. This can seem broad-minded, but can often have the opposite effect. Those who see the unity of the church as based in Christ have a definite idea of what unity is based on and know where the boundaries are. But it is often those who have no clear idea what their faith is based on who can make a big deal out of externals. They can divide over names or outward behaviors because they have no clear idea of  what the issues are. It is the individuals who clearly understand what they believe who can recognize those who agree, even if they use different words, and see where they disagree with others, if they do. But those with a superficial knowledge are more likely to be impressed by catch-phrases and procedures. And many of the divisions in church are over methods or personalities or even atmosphere. I would therefore conclude that one of the most important factors for maintaining unity in the Christian church is remembering what and Who we are about. Or we will be forever dividing over shadows rather than substance.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Touch of Humor - The Introduction

How do we face difficult situations? What can put them in perspective?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Imagine

God is always bigger than we can understand or even imagine.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Martin of Tours

(At the time of his death, when those who he was in charge of pleaded for him to stay for their sakes.)

Terrible, indeed, Lord, is the struggle of bodily warfare, and surely it is now enough that I have continued the fight till now; but, if thou dost command me still to persevere in the same toil for the defense of thy flock, I do not refuse, nor do I plead against such an appointment my declining years. Wholly given to thee, I will fulfill whatever duties thou dost assign me, and I will serve under thy standard as long as thou shalt prescribe. Yea, although release is sweet to an old man after lengthened toil, yet my mind is a conqueror over my years, and I have no desire to yield to old age. But if now thou art merciful to my many years, good, O Lord, is thy will to me; and thou thyself wilt guard over those for whose safety I fear.

Martin of Tours, 316-397 AD, as recorded by Sulpitius Serverus, 363 - 425 AD, Letter III to Bassula, His Mother-in-Law (translated by Rev. Alexander Roberts, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. IX)

How should the Christian think of death? How can we maintain this perspective?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Martin of Tours - The Evangelist

Martin of Tours lived right after the transition from a persecuted Christianity to a Christianity in power. Martin resigned  from the army to spread the newly acceptable faith. He went to Gaul, the area of present day France, to live the life of a monk and to preach to the people. He faced the strong remnant of pagan worship and the advocacy for Arianism (the belief that Christ was not God, but a powerful created being). Even though his history was written by a younger contemporary, it is hard to evaluate it. I do believe that God does miracles, but some biographers seem to get carried away in this regard. But it is clear that Martin is portrayed as one who cared for the sick and the hurting. The story is told of how he cut the cloak he was wearing in two to give half to a beggar who needed it. He was also a bold preacher. The story is told of how some pagans agreed to cut down a sacred tree if Martin would allow himself to be tied up where the tree would fall. Martin agreed, and the wind blew the tree so it fell in another direction. He is also pictured as questioning whether places which people honored as graves of martyrs really were; he seemed in favor of discernment. But one of the clear things he did was to oppose a decision of the emperor's to use force to impose the accepted orthodox faith on those who disagreed with it. He is pictured as being willing to risk his own life, but not to take the lives of others. It is hard to be sure of the details of Martin's life. But the concept we get here is the correct one. The Christian ideal is the unarmed missionary who risks his life to bring the truth, rather than the government official who threatens punishment for others who will not convert. The important issue is one of faith from the heart. And we must not to confuse this with outward conformity. Martin lived at the point where this transition was being made. Even after they got into power, the orthodox branch of Christianity initially opposed the idea of imposition of the faith by force and endorsed toleration. But over time this position changed. Martin, in spite of being a strong preacher of Christianity, opposed this. He was, however, in the long run unable to prevail. But he did take a stand against drifting that way. There is a strong temptation for those in power to use that power to impose their beliefs on people. We need to be willing to stand firm to resist this.