Thursday, July 24, 2014

Deducing the Universe

There is a way of understanding the universe that we have inherited from the Greek philosophers. This idea is that the physical laws work in a way that parallels mathematics. You start with a set of obvious premises, such as 2+2=4, that are transparently so. You then use these premises to deduce the rest of the system that necessarily follows from them. This does not mean all the answers will be easy; certainly this is not so in mathematics. But all the answers, no matter how complicated, are a necessary result of the obvious premises. The Greek philosophers and the early scientists believed the physical laws worked in the same way. While I do not believe such a concept could prevent God from intervening if He chose, intervention in such a clearly ordered machine seems intrusive. But it does eliminate any idea of God's providence, beyond setting up the original premises. Also, if human beings are outside the system and able to think and act independently, it is difficult to see how they could interface with the system. But if they are simply another part of the system, then all their thinking and beliefs are a result of what the system requires, with no necessary relationship to reality or truth. But is this concept correct?

Now we have not yet figured out what the basic premises are for the physical laws. But they do not look to be something simple and obvious. The current theory, which is not yet proven, involves strings vibrating in ten dimensions. This does not look like something that is obviously necessary.  But even if we can find the premises, we are left with serious problems in deducing the universe. We are faced with quantum mechanics, which says that when we look at objects on the smallest scale, we can only know probabilities. Then there is chaos theory, which says that under certain conditions small differences in initial conditions can produce major differences in results. And if those differences get small enough, we are once more faced with quantum mechanics.

The mathematical  model does not seem to reflect the world that is. I would like to suggest the alphabetical model. The alphabet also starts with a series of basic elements. These are put together in an orderly manner to make words, sentences, and works of literature. But the results cannot be logically deduced from the elements. You cannot start with the English alphabet and deduce Shakespeare's plays. And if you tried to deduce rules from the final product, in the end you would be left with probabilities. Now if the universe is not really deducible, there is room left for both God and human beings. And the options for how a universe which is not deductible came about are either an intelligent Creator or an explosion in a print shop.  But the idea of a deducible universe has serious flaws.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Demon Possessed

What does it mean to be demon possessed, and who can be? We need to understand that the term "demon possessed" does not appear in the original language of the New Testament; the literal translation is "demonized" or "having a demon." The question is, what is this, and what are the symptoms? The most common symptom is some sort of physical malady (Matthew 9:32,33; 12:22; Luke 13:16). This does not mean that all illness is demon induced, as demonization was one of a list of things Jesus and His disciples healed (Matthew 4:24; 10:8; Mark 1:34). There are also seizures (Mark 9:17-23, perhaps another form of physical ailment) and psychic powers (Acts 16:16). There are particular cases, though not every case, where the demon speaks, and in one case acts, through the demonized person (Acts 19:13-16; Mark 1:23-26; Luke 4:41). But this seems to be the result of confrontation and may have involved the cooperation of the person who had the demon. There is no indication that the person involved was continually possessed or controlled by the demon. Now there is one extreme case where being demonized clearly disrupted a man's entire life (two men according to Matthew), but this is presented as an extreme case and as the man being afflicted by a legion of demons (Mark 5:2-10; Matthew 8:28,29; Luke 8:27-31). I would therefore regard actual possession as an extreme case and not the necessary meaning of being demonized. Therefore, as to the question of whether Christians can be demonized, I would say they cannot be fully controlled, but I do not think that is what being demonized means. But I also think we should not live in fear, but trust in God to overcome any demonic influence in our lives (1 John 4:4; Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8-10).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Who Belongs?

There are two opposite ideas for deciding who is part of the Christian church. No one really believes them in an unqualified form. Yet, with many qualifications, they still seem to underlie how we think of this.

One of these is the idea that if you become a member of the organization and go through the proper rites of initiation, you are automatically a part of the church. This fits with the idea that those ordinances of entry automatically, or almost automatically, do something to you to bring this about. Now there are always qualifications. Frequently, an outwardly moral life is required. There are certain beliefs that you need to adhere to. Particularly in those groups in the Protestant tradition, there is a requirement of faith, a trust in the promises of God. But after all these, there is still the idea that if I am member in good standing of the organization, I must be part of the church. And unless I do something to radically violate the organizations' principles, I am probably safe.

The other extreme is that all that really matters is my inner spiritual life. The organization and its rituals are largely irrelevant. What organization there is, is merely a gathering of those who have made the grade. Again, from a traditionally Protestant position, this is normally seen as involving faith. Now again, it is difficult, from a traditional Christian point of view, to hold to this view in full form. In fact, if followed to its logical conclusion, it would tend to throw out any ordinances or community altogether. But it also leads to having to continually prove you are truly spiritual and really belong. And it is easy to end up ostracizing someone who does not fit in.

But Scripture starts from faith. It is faith that saves (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), resulting in our becoming part of God's people (Acts 2:47; 20:28; Colossians 1:18-23). The ordinances then become a reminder and declaration of our faith (Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 2 Peter 1:9) and of our having also become related to one another (1 Corinthians 12:13; 10:16,17; Ephesians 4:4-6). This faith is focused, not on who we are, but on who Christ is and what He has done for us (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is not merely one factor in an inner spiritual change, but it takes hold of Christ, which, in turn, brings about whatever spiritual change is produced, however imperfect (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Therefore, the key to who is part of the church is faith. The other aspects, the outer organizational expression and the inner life, spring from this. Faith should result in a change in our inner spiritual life. But it is faith that makes us part of the body of Christ, and it is through this body that God works. Starting somewhere else distorts the picture.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Rituals

What kind of unintended rituals do we carry out in the church? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Image

All human beings are are made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly, regardless of race, ethnic background, gender, and whether they have been born yet.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Hilary of Poitiers

He who is the Way leads us not into by-paths or traceless wastes: He who is the Truth mocks us not with lies; He who is the Life betrays us not into delusions which are death. He Himself has chosen these winning words to indicate the methods which He has appointed for our salvation. As the Way, He will guide us to the Truth; the Truth will establish us in the Life.

Hilary of Poitiers, 300-368 AD, On the the Trinity, Book VII, 33 (translated by Rev. E. W. Watson and Rev L. Pullan, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers, 1997, Second Series, Vol. IX, p. 132)

What are the implications of Jesus being the Way, the Truth, and the Life? How should they affect the way we live our life?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Hand of God

There is an idea that if we simply behave according to our own selfish interests when it comes to economics, there is a metaphorical hand of God in the economy that will make things all work out for the best. Unbridled greed, even for a good purpose, is not  a Christian virtue (1 Timothy 6:9,10; Matthew 6:19-24; Colossians 3:5). But the response of turning everything economic over to the government does not seem like much of a solution either. That the government represents and can be expected to always represent the standard for just economical dealing seems dubious in the extreme. The government is made up of people who are not necessarily any better or more moral than the rest of us. So where do we go to find the standard for economic justice?

Scripture says that the normal procedure from the very beginning was for people to work for a living (Genesis 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12; Ephesians 4:28), and we are encouraged to be diligent at our work, even if it is obscure and unimportant (Proverbs 6:6-11; Ephesians 6:6-8; Colossians 3:22-24). This does not preclude helping out those who are poor and in need (James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:17,18; Proverbs 14:31). But it does make working for a living the normal and expected standard. However, there is also the demand that employers treat their employees well, and properly compensate them for their work (James 5:1-6; Deuteronomy 24:14,15; Ephesians 6:9). Further, we need to give our customers a just product at a just price (Leviticus 19:36; Amos 8:4-6; Micah 6:10,11).

It is here again that we run into the purely practical. While it is tempting to want to set prices based on the price of salt, as they did in the Middle Ages, this is a bit simplistic. But it is also simplistic to encourage people to follow their worst impulses and expect it to all come out right in the end. Now it does seem to me that the government has the obligation to prevent or punish the worst abuses in this area. The solution is not to have the government become the one that possesses the means of production but for it to be sufficiently independent of such entanglements that it can restrain the cupidity of others. But this still leaves many complex questions. Such as, if you require a minimum wage, are you guaranteeing that people will be paid fairly, or are you simply reducing the number of available jobs? These are difficult questions to answer. They are best answered through a careful examination of the practical implications. Mere knee-jerk reactions one way or the other should be avoided. But we need to start with the right moral principles.