Wandering the savage garden…

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A Core Belief

It is my belief that the church is not meant to tell people to do right but to serve as inspiration for the lost to come to Christ, where He inspires people to act in accordance with His Will.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged” considered harmful?

Jessa Duggar is back, and under fire from those enlightened souls at Addicting Info, who posted Duggar Daughter: Liberal Christians Are Going To Hell, Just Like Other Sinners. It’s an interesting read, but not for the reasons the site would hope. This kind of content makes me angry, even as I try to be calm and mild in expression. It’s not journalism – although I’m sure its perpetrators think it is – and it gets a lot of commentary on… Continue reading »

The Beginning as Proof of God

Recently, there’s been news about the theory that the universe is cyclic in nature, not existing from a point of a “big bang” and dying in a “big crunch.” Many theologians – apologists, really – including William Lane Craig – use the idea of a terminal universe as a beginning point for the existence of a higher power, God, who brought this universe into being and exists outside of it.

A cyclic universe strikes against this idea, according to some, because the Bible begins with “In the beginning.” With no beginning, the statement that God created what we know of existence in a beginning is moot; there goes another crutch for theists, who assume that something in progress (existence) had to have an earlier state (in this case, nonexistence) and therefore a prime mover (God) who changed its state from nonexistence to existence.

I don’t think theists are actually in trouble, given the suggestion of an eternal universe.

Maybe some are, but an eternal universe is a poorer attack on theism than it might seem.

Genesis may not have been one hundred percent literal. Some Christians certainly believe so, with varying implications. (Some of these might actually believe that Ha-Adam and Havvah spoke English, because that’s what the Bible says, after all!)

With a literal Genesis, any provable or firm theoretical divergence from it means devastation for theism, because the idea of an inerrant Bible can’t withstand error.

However, I don’t think Genesis is literal. I don’t think many do, honestly, because an honest investigation would yield contradictions within a few chapters, and many details are preserved in Genesis that simply make no sense to preserve.

It’s worth pointing out (and was pointed out, by a friend) that there’s a way to resolve the two stories of creation in Genesis, through a literary method called “Synopsis, Resumption, Expansion,” that actually itself focuses on an eastern mindset held by Hebrew authors. The narrative doesn’t have to have a singular flow from beginning to end to be one narrative, although it might seem like two separate stories. This makes sense to me – a lot of sense, really – but I still don’t think the story is more than a cohesive framework representative of a history, rather than a literal history.

Simply put, I don’t think Genesis was ever meant to be taken literally.

I don’t think that a literal Genesis is outside of God’s power, however.

Consider the Young Earth idea, which states that the universe is somewhere in the realm of six thousand years old. Carbon dating can show age of billions of years if it likes; clearly God created the universe with age, including the bones of dinosaurs, right?

Well… my stance is that He might have, I guess. I don’t know why, because Occam’s Razor suggests the that universe is as old as it might appear, including a cyclic nature if that’s what it turns out to have.

Yet the main point is that God is able to do whatever He desires – and if His desire was to create a universe that is six thousand years – or maybe only fifty years – or maybe even one year – old, such that I think it looks like it’s fifty trillion years old… then so be it. I think God can do that.

So back to Genesis – if it’s not meant to be taken literally, what is it? Why is it there?

It’s there to give its readers – us – a context. An image. A mythos – not purely in terms of myth, but a framework in which to seat ourselves. It’s a mythos in which we see a constant – a history in which God exposes who He is, in some small way. It’s a beginning, if not the beginning.

It gives us a working starting point. It’s even allegorical in nature – what with two creation myths in the first three chapters – and thus it’s self-aware, almost as if God were saying “This should tide you over until you see more of the mystery of what I have created.”

And thus, an eternal universe, never beginning, never ending? I don’t see where that changes anything. Maybe it changes things for people who are trying to stake a claim that “with no beginning, there is no God,” but that’s a silly argument and always has been, if the question becomes “Is there a God?”

Consider:

  • If the universe has no beginning, there is no God.
  • There is a God. Therefore, the universe has no beginning.

Nope. Let’s try again.

  • There is a God.
  • The universe therefore had a beginning.

Darn it, another non sequitur!

Try this one, which fails to trigger my “this is baloney!” sense:

  • There is a God.
  • There is a universe.

No therefores, no ties, no conclusions about beginnings that are unrelated. It’s a statement of faith, not science — and what it does is state what I believe.

What it doesn’t do is pit science against God, pit evidence against evidence. It accepts that what is, might actually be, on both sides.

Does that make an apologetic statement? Hmm, no, it really doesn’t. It’s a statement of faith, not apologetics. I’m not actually much of an apologist, as it turns out – I don’t think apologetics works well as a positive assertion.

For me, apologetics is a matter of accepting possibilities, not denying them.

I have no problem with the concept of arguing for the possibility of God.

I have no problem opening the door – I find myself unable to use apologetics to try to force someone to acknowledge God.

And that makes sense to me; nobody has ever been argued into Heaven. Nobody of whom I know has ever accepted Christ for real, in a living relationship, out of pure reason – maybe reason was the lever used by God to create a willingness to hear Him, but I don’t think anyone has ever or can decide to follow Him truly out of pure reason.

(If they could, they’d be saving themselves… and the Bible says that the work of salvation is His and not ours.)

So:

Apologetics is great, it’s fun to watch – but it’s also not more than one more tool for witnessing.

Science is not religion’s enemy, no matter what stance some scientists take against religion. The two are in different domains; math does not win the fight against history, english doesn’t totally trounce chemistry, social studies doesn’t beat up western literature.

They’re both ways to experience and study the world in which we live, in different ways and in different spheres altogether; I want science to advance as far as it can, and to me, every victory science claims is proof of and glory to God.

Man, Gideon didn’t end well

In my Bible-in-a-year quest, I’m still way behind, but at least I’m in Judges now. I just got done reading about Gideon, and it’s pretty sad; it doesn’t end well.

To really see the whole, I needed to step back and consider the whole narrative. (And, of course, I still could be missing quite a bit.)

First off, this is Israel in the time of the tribal league. D’vorah is no longer a judge. Israel has yet again turned from God. (This is a recurring thing with Israel, just as it is with us.)

Because of the terms of the Covenant, God has invoked the curses; Midian is oppressing Israel. The text – in Judges 6:1-6 – doesn’t make it sound quite like a military invasion. It sounds like the Midianim are simply moving in, overwhelming the Israelites through numbers; they “devoured the produce of the land” and left nothing for Israel; as a result, the tribes fled to the mountains.

This is, of course, an inverse of what Israel itself did to the Kenanim: a foreign, numerous host comes in like a plague of locusts. Is there a difference? Well, it depends on whose perspective you use.

For the Kenanim, well, Israel was a foreign invader; numerous, hungry, convinced, the invader was victorious, and aggressive about asserting cultural purity. The Canaanites fought back militarily as well as subversively; the Gibeonites, for example, lied to the Israelites to convince them that there was not a cultural conflict, with the result that the Gibeonites were a local cultural influence – and for Israel, a foreign culture, with foreign idols, was a bad thing.

From the Israelite perspective, the culture war was necessary; a pure culture, arranged around the Covenant, was a mandate. Any violation of this was an offense, and here we see part of the result of the failure to assert a monoculture.

The Midianites were a foreign culture, invading the Israelite culture. The result is conflict.

Anyway: Gideon. Israel has violated the monoculture, God has allowed the Midianites to move in on Israel. As we’ve seen before in Hebrew history, God raises a messiah – Gideon – to rescue Israel.

God called Gideon from his father’s land as he worked a winepress (according to Judges 6:11-12). Gideon is struggling with doubt; if God saved Israel, why has Midian attacked and been successful? Why has God not delivered Israel already?

The messenger of God then tells Gideon that he is the one who will deliver Israel; Gideon, echoing Moshe, says that he is unable to do it, that he’s the least of his father’s house. He demands signs and proof; he receives them.

I’m not quite sure how well this plays with D’varim 6:16, which says “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” I suppose it doesn’t matter; in the end, Gideon agrees.

The next part of the story is fairly well-known (or it was to me, at least) – Gideon goes to war with the Midianites, using a small force of 300 men; armed with trumpets and torches, they frightened the army of the Midianites into fleeing.

Pursuing the army (in part for revenge for killing his brothers at Mount Tabor), they asked for help from Succot and Penuel, being denied in both cases (Judges 8:4-9) – a move that both Succot and Penuel would regret, after Gideon was victorious.

Speaking of his total victory – avenging his brothers, conquering the Midianites – Gideon takes their treasure and screws up. After denying the tribal league’s desire to make him a king, he makes a breastplate, an ephod; it becomes a “snare to Israel,” according to Judges 8:27.

The irony of the kingship comes home: Gideon (known now as Jerub-Baal, “contends with Baal,” although it could also mean “one who defends the Name” or “one who strives with the Name”) has many sons, one of whom is named Abimelech, which means “son of the king.” (Melech is “king” in Hebrew.)

But Gideon’s not a king! Whoops. This doesn’t look good, and it will continue to not look good.

Abimelech then declares himself a king in Shechem, a city in the middle of Israel, killing his own brothers – save one, Jotham, the youngest. Jotham makes an impassioned speech against Abimelech to Shechem – the people who declared Abimelech king – and in three years’ time, we see a war between the supporters of Jotham (who is not a claimant to a throne) and Abimelech, with the result that Abimelech chases his opponents to a tower, where a woman throws a stone and wounds him.

Abimelech then commands a soldier to kill him, so that it could not be said that he died at the hand of a woman. The text in Judges 9:57 states that Shechem ended up losing as well: the evil of the men of Shechem “returned on their heads,” as a result of declaring Abimelech as king in the first place.

And Jotham fades from history.

Thus ends the first recorded kingship in Israel.