Archive | July 2017

Theology & Ethics of Genesis 1

Valentine heart

If I were to receive a Valentine Card from my wife reading, “When you held my hand for the first time, you held my heart for a lifetime,” and if I were to fly into a panic and race her to a cardiologist insisting that the hospital rush her into emergency surgery to remove her heart from my grasp and to return it to her body, I would have missed by far the intent of her card.  She was not trying to pass along to me medical information but romantic sentiment.  I would have lost the true significance of what she was trying to share with me.

Likewise, if I seek to read the Bible as a scientific textbook, I will miss its true intent.  The purpose of the Bible is not to explain to us the theory of relativity or the laws of thermodynamics or the Pythagorean Theorem.  It’s not that the Bible disputes these scientific laws, nor is it that God is ignorant of them.  (Actually, God designed this universe to run in an orderly fashion, and God equipped us with good brains to figure out His laws of nature.)  But the Bible has a different focus.  It was written not to answer our scientific questions but to answer the deeper questions of our souls.  Thus William Bragg, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915, declared, “Christianity and science are opposed…but only in the same sense as that which my thumb and forefinger and opposed—and between them, I can grasp everything.”  Science helps us discover the laws of nature and what we might do with them; the Bible teaches us the meaning and significance and ethics beneath them so that together we might “grasp everything.”

So when I read Genesis 1, I do not search for a scientific explanation of how the earth came into existence, nor do I waste time debating how old the world is.  Instead, I look for what God wants to reveal to me about the nature of the world and about my place in creation.

In English, Genesis 1 begins with the words, “In the beginning.”  This is not intended to be a chronological statement (for time had not yet been brought into existence) but a value statement.  The root of the Hebrew word used here, bereshith, is “head,” carrying the implication of “first importance.”  Genesis 1 sets out to make known to us what is of chief importance.”

The first item Genesis 1 describes God bringing into existence is light.  With the creation of light begins the matter of chronology.  As one writer puts it, “The separation of light and darkness creates periodicity.  Periodicity produces rotation, and it is the rotation of periodicity that produces the element of time…. Once God set into motion the element of time by separating light from darkness, He could now establish the pacing of time.”

The point being made here is that time is the creation of God.  When Genesis 1:5 goes on to speak of God naming the light day (the Hebrew word yom is normally used to express time) and the darkness night, God is announcing His sovereignty over time.  We do well to take to heart that time is in God’s hands.  No wonder Psalm 90:12 calls us to pray, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Genesis 1:6-10 speaks of God bringing into existence the sky, the seas, and land.  Put them together, and you find the affirmation that matter in all of its forms (gas, liquid, and solid) is the invention of God and under His sovereignty.  In the verses that follow, the sky is filled with “lights” and with “birds,” and the seas are filled with “the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems,” and the land is filled with “vegetation” and with “living creature” and with us.  Repeatedly the declaration is made that what God brought into being is good, making it clear to us that every created thing has purpose, that everything is under the sovereignty of God, and that all of creation is to be enjoyed, appreciated, and cared for responsibly.  Of all the people in the world, Christians especially should hold creation in highest regard and treat it respectfully and ethically, for nothing that God has lovingly and skillfully made should ever be mishandled, misused, or treated callously or improperly.

May God protect us from missing the theological and ethical teaching of Genesis 1 while arguing over scientific questions.

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What if Someone destroyed the power of death?

Jesus' resurrection

Many people doubt religion, scoff at religion, or complain about religion.  I understand many of those doubts and complaints.  But…if the claim of the Bible that Jesus rose from the dead—if one person actually came into this world to overcome death—isn’t that the greatest good news the world has ever heard?  Wouldn’t that make the God/man who endured death for us in order to conquer death on our behalf worth knowing and worth paying close attention to?

Many years ago, Dr. Robert Hughes of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia illustrated the significance of Jesus’ resurrection with a story about his father, who had been a coal-miner in northeastern Pennsylvania.  Dr. Hughes’ father had the job of going down into the mines every morning before the other miners, to check the mines for methane gas.  Every morning he would descend alone into the mines, taking with him the safety light, and he would begin to go through the darkened tunnels, checking out each of the tunnels and shafts of the mine to make sure there was no deadly methane gas present.  If the light of the safety lamp would begin to flicker, he would have to run for his life, because it would signal the presence of methane gas.  Then, every morning, after checking the mine, he would rise to the surface, and there on the surface, where all the miners gathered around waiting expectantly, he would announce, “It’s okay; it’s safe.  You can go down into the mine now.”

Then Dr. Hughes would explain, “That’s what Christ has done for us, coming up out of the depths of death, He has announced to all who are gathered here in this life on earth, ‘It’s okay; it’s safe now.  You can enter into death, into the darkness and the unknown.  It is safe because I have made it safe.  I have been there and checked it out.  It has not been victorious over me, but I have overcome it, and I will be with you in death, even as I have been with you in life!’”

If the resurrection is true, we can live with hope through the deepest challenges of our lives, confident that the One who loved us enough to take on death for us will be with us in every struggle we encounter, and confident that the One who overcame death can handle every challenge we face.  Also, if the resurrection is true, we can live with hope, knowing that an even better life lies ahead for us on the other side of death.

In his book, I Was Just Wondering, Philip Yancey writes, “To people who are trapped in pain, in broken homes, in economic chaos, in hatred and fear, in violence—to these, heaven offers the promise of a time, far longer and more substantial than this time on earth, of health and wholeness and pleasure and peace.  If we do not believe that, then, as the Apostle Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 15, there’s not much reason for being a Christian in the first place.  And if we do believe, it should change our lives.  I say that because I have seen the electrifying results that can happen when the idea of heaven comes alive.” (p. 213)

Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, took hold of this confidence and hope in her own heart.  She said, “For three things I thank God every day of my life: thanks that He has vouchsafed (entrusted to) me knowledge of His works; deep thanks that He has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward—a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”

Jesus’ resurrection makes all the difference in the world—for now and for eternity!

 

The darkness of the crucifixion

darkness of crucifixion

I am curious (and speculative)…. Why do Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that when Jesus hung on the cross “darkness came over the whole land” for three hours?

Could it be that creation itself reacted in pain or sorrow to the agony of its Creator?

Scripture speaks at times of creation delighting in its Creator.  For example, Psalm 19:1 reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”  And Isaiah 55:12 proclaims, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  Yet Romans 8:19-22 speaks of creation groaning in travail while waiting for God to restore all that is wrong in the world.  Could it be that at some level, the universe is more than just a collection of inanimate commodities?  Could it be that “darkness came over the whole land” while Jesus hung upon the cross because all of creation was reacting in pain and sorrow to the agony of its Creator?

Or could the darkness have been a message from God about the agony He was in as His “beloved Son” hung upon the cross?

In his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning shares a letter pertaining to grief which he received from Betty Fusco: “One night a young mother who had recently lost her seven-year-old son came to our prayer meeting.  Her pain was great.  Her hurt and anger were great…. Why, God?  Can’t you feel our pain?  Do you really know how much we hurt?

When Joseph died, what did Mary and Jesus do?  Was not their hurt so great that they covered their faces with ashes, cried out in loud voices with weeping and wailing, rent their clothes, and hired mourners to follow the body in the traditional Hebrew fashion of mourning the dead?

“And was it in this same Hebrew fashion that on Good Friday, the Father covered his face with ashes—the darkness of midday…?

“His earth screamed and groaned in the agony of an earthquake upheaval—the earth trembled and shook—rocks split and mountains fell—he cried out in a loud voice….

“He rent his clothing; the curtain of the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, the place no one entered, the traditional Hebrew dwelling place of God was torn from top to bottom.

“He sent mourners to follow the body.  ‘Tombs opened and many holy men rose from the dead.  And after Jesus’ resurrection they came forth from the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to a number of people.”

Could it be that the darkness was God’s way of letting us know of the grief and agony He Himself was enduring while His “beloved Son” was dying?

Or could it be that the darkness was a message from God that judgment against all the sin of the world was in progress

Darkness is often used in Scripture as a symbol of judgment.  1 Samuel 2:9 announces, “He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.”  And as the prophet Amos speaks of judgment, he foretells, “‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”

As Jesus hung upon the cross judgment against all of the sin of the world was laid upon Him.  The judgment against sin consisted of separation from God (thus Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”) and death (thus “with a loud cry Jesus breathed His last”).

But because Jesus was willing to endure the darkness of judgment for us, our lot in life is totally reversed.  Brennan Manning puts it this way: “Through His passion and death Jesus carried away the essential sickness of the human heart and broke forever the deadly grip of hypocrisy on our souls.  He has robbed our loneliness of its fatal power by traveling Himself to the far reaches of loneliness (“My God, my God, why have You deserted Me?”).  He has understood our ignorance, weakness, and foolishness and granted pardon to us all (“Forgive them, Father, they do not know what they are doing”).  He has made His pierced heart a safe place for every defeated cynic, hopeless sinner, and self-loathing derelict across the bands of time.  God reconciled all things, everything on earth, when He made peace by His death on the cross (Colossians 1:20).” (Abba’s Child, p. 155)