Friday, December 21, 2007

Big picture? Small picture?

In response to this old post, someone called John said this in his comment:
The entire religion looks exactly as it would if no supreme interventionist being was behind it. It is obviously just another religion created by primitive man to explain the universe we inhabit.
I have a feeling I may already have made this point before, but I am kind of in agreement with that statement.

If you take the broad view and look at everything that calls itself Christianity, you cannot really see the hand of God in shaping this thing. It is fractured into more sects and denominations than I could name, bits of it more or less wage war on other bits of it. Looking back across the history of the religion, there are a great many unpleasant and certainly ungodly things there. That's the broad view.

But if you take the narrow view and look at individual people and groups of people, the opposite is true. Here you often see the hand of God at work. Prayers are answered, people are healed, people are transformed, worship works, amazing things happen.

Why is this?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oh me of little faith...

Remember this post about 'Healing'?

Or this one about 'Healing (again)'?

Well, I'm not done with the subject yet! But maybe I'm a bit less skeptical this time...

A couple of weeks ago, on Wednesday, I woke up with a pain in my left shoulder. It worsened through the day. By the evening I couldn't pick up my three year old daughter or even look over my shoulder in the car without wincing. On Thursday it was much the same - couldn't look over my shoulder, couldn't pick things up without pain. Don't get me wrong here, it wasn't debilitating pain, just very inconvenient.

Thursday evening was the housegroup meeting. So I asked them to pray for healing. They did and nothing happened... immediately. Friday morning, however, my shoulder was a bit better. By Friday lunchtime it was totally back to normal.

Aaaargh! So I've experienced healing of a totally unverifiable ailment! How annoying is that for a skeptic?

Thank you Jesus!

I guess I get a bit of humility as well as healing here.

But its not all unverifiable. There was a lady at church yesterday who'd just been healed of something much more verifiable. She had been suffering with kidney stones and had had all the scans, etc., which had identified 'many' stones in her kidney. They were giving her a lot of pain. A few weeks ago, the pastor of the church had a specific 'word' for someone with a pain in their lower left back (I was there and remember him saying this). The lady went for prayer ministry at the end of the service. Following this, her pain went, and when she went back for more scans at the hospital and they found that there was only one stone left, which was much more manageable. They did whatever procedure it is they do to break down kidney stones. The nurse warned her that the procedure was going to be extremely painful... it wasn't. Indeed the nurse had never seen anyone suffer so little during the procedure. The next scan revealed that the stone was gone totally.

Healings do happen. I've experienced a minor one and met someone with a more major one.

So my questions now shift to the 'how', 'why' and 'when' questions, and I'll leave the 'if' question behind. I guess its a little step in the right direction.


The Presbyterian Prayer

I was back in the church that I grew up in again last night. Its a Presbyterian Church of Scotland. And it was particularly stereotypically Presbyterian last night (that's not necessarily a criticism, by the way. The sermon was quite interesting - if a bit hellfire - and the hymns were very rousing...).

The thing that struck me was the prayers.

Despite the fact that the minister has changed since I grew up there, and they have a 'band' playing the music for three of the songs, the format of the service has not changed since I was young:
  1. Hymn
  2. Prayer
  3. Hymn
  4. Bible reading
  5. Hymn
  6. Offering and notices
  7. Hymn
  8. Sermon
  9. Hymn
  10. Benediction
OK, so the third hymn was a 'modern hymn' - one of those wordy Stuart Townend ones - but aside from that, the content was pretty much as it would have been in the 70s.

Its only when you go away from a place like this and experience the wider church that you question things when you come back. What I found myself wondering last night was:

Who is the opening prayer for?

The opening prayer at this church, like a great many presbyterian churches I have attended, was a long and wordy thing. Must have been at least 7 or 8 minutes long, maybe more. In most of the churches I have attended since leaving home, the prayers have been shorter. Jesus said explicity that it is not because of long prayers that you are heard. So why is the presbyterian prayer so long?

I found myself thinking about the style and content of the prayer, and I began to question the history of this format of prayer. I'm not saying that the current minister believes this of his congregation, but I wonder if the original idea behind this kind of prayer was to pray on behalf of a congregation who didn't actually do any praying themselves. Faced with a congregation of folk who were just there on a Sunday because that was the done thing, the ministers of old felt the need to do all the praying for the congregation. The thing is, this is definitely not the case of the congregation who were there last night. I've known many of them since birth and they're a prayerful lot. Most of them are at the prayer meeting on Saturday night too. And yet the established pattern is to have this long prayer at the start, which more-or-less contains a second sermon, speaking of the great things of God.

But what does God get out of this? On reflection, I can't help but think that God would rather have more of his people involved in speaking to him, rather than one speaking and eighty sitting there nodding quietly. I'm all in favour of 'open prayer' in a church service setting (not just in the prayer meeting), yet I have rarely experinced this lately (in any church except this one). But I think open prayer in the main service is a long way off in this church, if they ever get there at all.

But of course, no church is perfect, and when we finally achieve perfection is won't be one denomination, but the entire universal church, prepared as a bride... Sometimes that still seems a long way off.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An old post that still lives on...

It sometimes amazes me when people I have never met and have no connection to randomly end up on my blog and leave comments.

But I get an even bigger surprise when someone responds to really old posts.

One old post seems to have a life of its own:
Todd Friel vs the Infidel Guy

The discussion is in reference to a podcast which unfortunately has dropped off the bottom of the Infidel Guy's archive page.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hope

Romans 15v13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 24v18-25
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
2 Corinthians 3v11-12
And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.
Colossians 1v27
Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Hebrews 11v1
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
I've always been suspicious of the word 'hope' in the New Testament. There are many instances of it as well as those I quote above. Its such an uncertain word. It is quite possible to hope for something that never happens. I had hoped to get certain grades in my finals as an undergrad, but didn't quite get them. I got a 2(ii) degree not the 2(i) that I had hoped for. Hope is not certainty.

And yet hope is a word that is hard to avoid in the New Testament. Paul, Peter, the writer to the Hebrews - all of them speak of the Christian life as being a life of hope.

Not assurance.

No guarantees.

No certainty.

Hope.

I have always tried to ignore that. I convinced myself (and many preachers backed up this belief) that a great many things in the Christian life were certain. But now that I am scrutinising my beliefs I find that many things I once took to be assured, guaranteed, promised or certain are actually nothing of the kind. They're just my hopes. Of course, many of those things are not wrong to hope for, but they might be misplaced hopes. They might not happen.

Look at some of the 'hope' verses in the NT. Here are some of the hopes:
  • We hope that creation will be liberated from bondage & decay (Romans 24)
  • We hope for the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23v6)
  • We hope for salvation (1 Thess 5v8)
  • We hope to be adopted sons of God (Romans 24)
  • We hope for future glory (Colossians 1v27)
  • We hope for eternal life (Titus - various verses)
I have heard preachers assure me that all these things are guaranteed. But that's not what the New Testament says!

But enough negativity. I don't say all this because I've lost hope. Quite the opposite. I now see the value of hope.

Without hope we have nothing to drive us on. Without hope we will not strive to be better. Without hope we will not pray as we should. Without hope we will not come back to God in worship. Without hope we cannot get any of the things that aren't assured. With hope we might.

Faith is being sure of what we hope for (Heb 11v1). In other words, faith is living your life as if the things you hope for were assured. If we hope for good and honourable things, such faith produces good fruit - even if the hopes are never realised. If we hope that our friends will be saved, we will take the gospel to them. Some will be saved. Others will not. But if we don't have the hope we won't speak to any of them. No assurances, but living by hope/faith produces results.

But what of the other things? Salvation? Eternal life? Future glory? What if they come to nothing? Well, I hope that they don't. But maybe I'm wrong. However, I can see no benefit to living as if you believed them to be false and immense benefits in living as if you believe them to be true.

And now the big one. Jesus said "I am the way the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father but by me" - I hope that is true. But nothing, outwith the pages of the bible, actually guarantees that. Yet I hope. I live in hope. If I am right, I gain everything. If I am wrong, I lose nothing.

There are an awful lot of unknowns in the Christian life that people fill in with hope. When will Christ come again? No idea. But I have hopes... What will 'heaven' be like? No idea. But I have hopes... and so on. Chances are I will be wrong on some of my hopes. But I still lose nothing.

I have finally accepted hope as a good thing. I hope you do too.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The First Christians

Acts 11v26b
It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.
I must have read that verse loads of times. It always struck me as an interesting footnote in history, but nothing worthy of major study.

But I listened to a sermon from Mars Hill Bible Church the other day on Acts 11 and the preacher (Doug Pagitt) dug into it a bit deeper and asked the one question that I'd never really asked before:

Why?

The disciples had a collective name already before this time, they appear to have been known as followers of 'The Way'. Why should they suddenly gain a new name?

The thing that I'd never really thought about was that there must have been something distinctly different about the disciples in Antioch from the others to merit the use of a new name. These guys were culturally different from the church in Jerusalem, perhaps they did things in a different way from the church in Jerusalem. Perhaps what we see here is the first denominational divide...

The word 'Christian' is based on the word 'Christ' which is a Greek word. Not a Jewish word. There is a cultural difference here. These guys viewed the world in a different way from the Jews, is it too much of a leap to wonder if they did Church in a totally different way? Hence the need for a new name. Hmmm.

But for all that, the next interesting thing is that the first recorded act of this new denomonation was to send aid to the other denomonation. We don't really see this today - sometimes denomonations appear to be rivals rather than simply different parts of the body.

Healing (again)

I've blogged about healing before, but it came up again in our housegroup last night...

Its a new housegroup, and I don't know the folk in it that well, so I didn't throw all my doubts about healing into the discussion, but I did observe that I have never actually seen anyone healed of anything more serious than a headache or a sore back (Yes David, I know that certain sore backs are a major thing, but bear with me).

Several of the others in the group claimed healing and recounted their stories. And before you make assumptions about me here, let me state that I totally believed all their stories.

But while one of the stories related to a potentially life-threatening condition being healed, in every case the illnesses or conditions that were healed were all completely unverifiable by medical science. In the serious case, the doctors weren't really sure what was wrong and thus were surprised when things improved rapidly, but still didn't know what was wrong. In all of the other stories the healing involved things that are known to just clear up by themselves, although it has to be said that major coincidences were going on there if God wasn't involved.

But I still came away from the meeting with no greater faith in healing than before. Apparently God heals sometimes and sometimes does not. But some conditions clear up spontaneously even when nobody is praying. The skeptical side of my brain says 'what if its mostly psychological?' - perhaps the benefit of 'praying' for healing has no supernatural effect but does have some physical or psychological effect which simply works.

Perhaps this is why we see frequent healing of aches and headaches, etc. but not frequent healing of cancer or broken bones or (as the atheist website has it) amputated limbs.

But you see, the problem I face here is major. For I believe that it is God who heals the minor things, the tennis elbow, the headaches, the back aches, the intestinal difficulties. But when I don't see the serious illnesses being healed, the question I find myself asking is not 'Why doesn't God heal these?' but rather 'What if God is unable to heal these?'

As doubts go, that one is pretty major.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Us and them

I was raised with a very polarised view of salvation. You were either (a) a Christian and were saved, or (b) a non-Christian and were not. There was a clearly defined line which you had to cross to pass from one state to the other. Kind of like in this picture:Each black dot with a letter on it represents a person. If a person is to the right of the line, in the green zone (i.e. B, F and C), they are a Christian and are saved. If a person is to the left of the line, in the red zone (i.e. D, E and A), then they are not. The church I grew up in would try to reach out to those who were not saved, but were close, i.e. 'A', but would have little or nothing to do with those who were further away, i.e. D and E.

Over the years I've cone to a very different understanding of Salvation which is a lot more fuzzy in some regards. The line has become blurred. Indeed I'm not sure the line exists, as such.

Suppose person 'A' is slowly drifing right. At current rate of travel they will cross the line on Wednesday of next week. If they die on Tuesday they go to hell, if they die on Thursday they go to heaven. It can't work like that! I'm pretty sure God isn't like that.

And what about person 'B', in the green but slowly drifting left? In order to ensure their salvation, the best thing to do would be to kill them before they cross the line...? Nonsense! It doesn't work like that.

There is no line.

Steve Chalke's 'controversial' book 'The Lost Message of Jesus' touches on this issue. While he may not have expressed it in these terms, this is the gist of one of his points. It doesn't so much matter which side of the line somone is on, but rather their direction of travel is what is important. More like this:
Here the differnce between 'A' and 'B' is more apparent. Even though they are quite close, they are travelling in opposite directions. To use new testament teminology, I'd go as far as to say that 'A' is 'being saved' (1 Cor 1v18, 2 Cor 2v15). Indeed, despite being much further into the red, 'D' is also heading in the right direction and I wouldn't be too surprised if folk who died in a state like that - apparently far away from the Kingdom - will be found in glory.

'B' on the other hand is heading the other way. He is losing his salvation. And what about 'F'? There are a great many folk in the church who are neither growing in righteousness or apparently backsliding. They just pootle along. I wouldn't be surpriesd if it was to people such as these who Jesus said "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." (Matthew 21v32)

What is the point of saying all this? To prompt us to widen our sights - we should not just direct our energies to 'evangelising' those just outside the church, but we should be aware that others, further out, may be more receptive to the gospel than we think. And also to note that we shouldn't let people be once they are 'saved'. We need to encourage all to be heading in the right direction.

The Samaritan's donkey

Luke 10v30-35
In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
I listened to a downloaded sermon from Mars Hill Bible Church the other day. It wasn't a Rob Bell one, it was preached by a guy called Matthew Sleeth (author of 'Serve God, Save the Planet'). Interesting guy, I've added his book to my 'books to read eventually' list. Anyhow, in the middle of other interesting stuff he spoke about the parable of the Good Samaritan and raised a couple of good points about it. One was that we know what resources the Samaritan had because he used them. He had a donkey, wine, oil, bandages and cash - the priest and the Levite might have had such things too but we don't know because they never used them. But the best point he got out of this passage was:
"If you want to help your neighbour you have to get off your ass..."
Sorry, I just thought it was a good observation on that story :o)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Survivor Digital Songbook Gripe!

I got the Survivor Digital Songbook last week. Basically its the complete score, guitar chord sheets and full text for all songs in all 4 'Survivor' music books on one handy CD. Its only £20 for the printable music for almost 700 songs. Great value.

This way I only need to print out the songs I want and never have to flick past pages and pages of songs I don't want. All good so far.

But I would like to print out the index for the thing - 13 pages of song titles (and composers) arranged in alphabetical order. But on the PDF they have included the index in white text on a black background! 13 pages which are probably over 95% black ink! The thing is designed to be printed out at home, that would use up almost one entire (£15) black ink tank on its own. What idiot had that idea? Aaaaargh!

(any hints on how to invert the colours of a PDF file before printing would be appreciated...)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Answers for the Hillbilly Atheist: Part 6

After a long break... Following on from parts one, two, three, four and five. And responding to these questions.

51. If you think the rest of the world is deceived or mistaken, even though they think their right, then what makes you any different?

For a start, I know the difference between "their" and "they're" :o)
I could be wrong, I'll admit that. But the experiences I have had have lead me to the conclusion that what I believe is at least consistent with the evidence and reasonable.

52. if we are designed so perfectly as intelligent design suggests, than why are there disabled people, retarded, blind, crippled etc.

Intelligent design is a nonsense. The bible does not shy away from the (undeniable) fact that we live in an imperfect world. It also proposes a plan to 'make everything new' and improve things.

53. If your answer to the last question was sin, then why did god make me blind at birth, I hadn’t done anything yet?

That wasn't my answer.

54. Why does god need us to kill animals then his son to forgive us, why couldn’t he just choose not to hold this incredible grudge?

Dunno. I believe the animal sacrifice thing was a way of explaining to simple people that there are consequences for your actions - it costs to fix the problems. And I have no idea why the death of Jesus was required. But I believe it did happen and was required. I know that's not very satisfying for you, but I'm sure there's things you don't understand either.

55. Since god wanted to kill Jesus to forgive us, why didn't he do it right after Adam ate the apple, that way the Jews wouldn't have to live under the oppression of the old testament?

Sometimes the best time to fix something is not immediately after it breaks. Maybe he waited for the right time? Or maybe the original problem wasn't actually fruit-related.

56. Why would a loving god create Parasites and Ebola and rabies or design animals to rip other animals apart and eat them?

Because evolution is not guided evolution.

57. Why is a first cause necessary, why not an infinite regression of causes?

Neither option solves the problem of origins.

58. isn't it such a coincidence that folks tend to believe the religion of their parents?

No. That's just human nature. Its far more interesting to look at those who convert from one religion to another. I know a few former muslims who are now Christians. I know a former muslim who is now a Wiccan, for that matter. I know a few Christians who have 'lost faith' and now are atheists. I know a few former atheists who are now Christians. I don't actually know anyone (or have heard of anyone) who was raised a Christian who now is a muslim.

59. If God has such a tremendous problem with uncircumcised penises, why did he make man with foreskin in the first place?

It was an act of devotion. It wasn't that God has anything in particular against foreskins, its just that it is a demonstrable act of sacrifice.

60. It says in genesis that the sons of god saw the daughters of men that they were fair... now since these "angels were able to copulate does this indicate that angels have a gender and are not spiritual beings. how did angel chromosomes work with the human genome.

Well, you're probably just misunderstanding the passage. What if there was a tribe who called themselves 'Sons of God'? Suddenly its all human.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The power of the devil?

I've touched on this in a previous post, but I want to raise the issue again.

What power does the devil have?

I heard recently of a newborn baby with tumours behind its eyes. The person recounting the news was absolutely convinced that these tumours were a direct spiritual attack - that the devil had caused the baby to be born with these tumours.

Does the devil have the power to do this? Or is this simply the product of a fallen world (i.e. is it just 'life')?

Mulling over my previous observations, I still observe that Jesus only attributes the powers of deception and theft to the devil - he does not give the devil credit for any power over nature. In the gospels, Jesus is the one who the wind and waves obey, not the devil.

Could this be a spiritual attack?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hell freezes over!

I was at the evening service in the church that I grew up in last night. The church is a 'conservative evangelical' Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) and quite traditional. When I was there, a 'modern hymn' was considered to be anything written after the first world war, and modern 'choruses' were really considered as only fit for the children in the Sunday school to be singing.

When the 'new' minister was inducted in the mid/late 1990s, I predicted that the congregation would be singing 'choruses' within 5 years. It turns out I was wrong. Five years after he took the charge, the music was still firmly grounded in the 19th century. Hymns, organ, that's it.

Imagine my surprise last night to discover not one but three 'choruses' being sung. One of them as even less than 15 years old! (Matt Redman's "I will Offer")

OK, so they still sung them as if they were hymns, but its a step in the direction of the 21st century - and they were even played by a band (piano, guitar, sax, trumpet and even vocals (gasp)).

But for all that, I still felt that the church has a long way to go. The music and sermon were fine and were God centred, but there was no sense of meeting with Him, no sense of an interaction with the Spirit. Which is a shame.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wine and Heaven

Kind of out of character for me on this blog, but I listened to a downloaded sermon by Rob Bell yesterday which was just great. Its on 'Wine and Heaven'. There was so much insight and interesting stuff crammed into it that I thought I'd encourage you all to listen. Sadly the sermon in question has dropped off the bottom of the Mars Hill downloads page (they only list the most recent 12 sermons) but I have put it on my website for your edification: [click here to download] (12Mb). I can't actually remember the last time I heard a sermon go well past the hour mark and still be interesting...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Communion of the saints?

Last week, the guy who was leading communion in church said something and I've been mulling it over all week without really getting anywhere.

He said that once he was praying for something personal and he had a strong sense that God said to him something along the lines of "you're not the only person praying for this, others are praying for you about this matter, and you do realise that not all of those praying for you are on earth..."

I'm really not sure what to make of this.

I know that Catholic doctrine asserts that the departed saints watch over us and may intercede on our behalf, but I also thought that this was one of the things that got thrown out by protestants in the reformation.

This thought ties in with my earlier thought on what happens when you die. Are dead people really in a position to view what is going on on earth?

Where does this belief come from anyway? Well, the Catholic encyclopedia is quite handy at this point, it says:
"The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices. The participants in that solidarity are called saints by reason of their destination and of their partaking of the fruits of the Redemption. The damned are thus excluded from the communion of saints. The living, even if they do not belong to the body of the true Church, share in it according to the measure of their union with Christ and with the soul of the Church..."
But I am slightly concerned that the first passage cited to support this statement comes from the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.

But biblical origins of this doctrine seem to be based largely in Hebrews 12v1, where it talks about us being surrounded by a 'cloud of witnesses'.

Blueletterbible.org tells me that the word translated as 'witness' here is the Greek word 'martus' which is frequently translated as 'witness' in the NT but is also occasionally translated as 'martyr' (Acts 22v20 when referring to Stephen) or 'record' (Philippians 1v8 - 'For God is my record...'). So it is possible that the Hebrews passage speaks of a cloud of departed souls who are watching us, but it is equally possible that it is saying that we are not alone in our struggle - that we follow in the footsteps of those who were witnesses (and, indeed, martyrs); not that they're witnesses of us now, but they were witnesses for God and Christ.

Surely that is the point of the passage in Hebrews? Not that Abraham and the other heroes of faith are sitting up there watching us now, but rather that when they were alive they lived the life of a witness - they did something. I have always interpreted this passage to imply that given that there were witnesses in the past, there are others like them today - we are still surrounded by living witnesses, even if we don't realise it.

But are the dead witnesses of us now? If so, how can we know that?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rob Bell: Sex God

You've got to wonder about the ego of a man who can write a book called 'Sex God' - knowing full well it will be listed as "Sex God: Rob Bell" or "Rob Bell: Sex God" in most book listings. But, thankfully, the book is not about the sexual prowess of the author - you buy the thing in Wesley Owen or Eden.co.uk (or your favourite local Christian bookshop) after all...

Just in case you don't know, Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, USA. He is also the man behind the NOOMA videos (someone in your church has watched these already, I bet). This is his second book (I haven't read the first, 'Velvet Elvis', yet).

It says on the cover that it is "exploring the endless connections between sexuality and spirituality". Huh? What endless connections?

As everyone who has ever attended a Christian youth fellowship or youth camp will tell you, the 'sex talk' is always the most eagerly awaited part of the programme or the talk series. Yet it always turns out to be about 'relationships' and not actually about sex; teenagers are always disappointed (primarily because the youth pastor (or whoever) generally doesn't tell folk that it is OK to do what their hormones are telling them too...). For the most part, this is true here too. This is a book about relationships which occasionally strays into 'sex' territory.

But I can't knock it too much. It is well written and exhibits a fair amount of wisdom on the part of Rob Bell. Although, I got the feeling that much of the first half of the book was 'Christianised' common sense rather than original biblical teaching in many ways.

Theologically, Rob Bell seems to hold a few views that are closer to some of my doubts on this web page than to the orthodox 'the bible says it, I believe it' view. Yet (unlike this blog) he doesn't openly question these things, he subtly and carefully avoids the issues. For example rather than addressing the creation story and asking 'did it happen like this?' he frequently refers to it as a 'poem' and leaves it at that. Likewise, he refers to 'the author of the epistle to the [whoevers]' rather than claiming it was Paul who wrote it, and so on. Indeed, have a look at the 'directions' section on the Mars Hill website and you will see that their basis of faith contains very few statements about who God is, how accurate the bible is, etc. It is a pretty woolly basis of faith (but I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing).

I get the impression that 'Velvet Elvis' may challenge some beliefs of orthodox Christians (how're you getting on with it San?). 'Sex God' doesn't. Its more of an 'oh, I'd never thought of it that way before' kind of book. Some bits are interesting, some you've heard before, but it is always well thought through. I guess that this is kind of the sermon notes for a series of talks that Rob Bell delivered some time. It feels like that.

The bit that struck me the most when reading it was the bit talking about Jesus saying "in my father's house there are many rooms..." (John 14v2) - here it is claimed that Jesus is actually quoting from the traditional Hebrew wedding ceremony and this is one of the things that the groom says to the bride - basically, "everything is now ready for you to leave your home and come and live with me..." - I found that very interesting.

Another interesting thought (although RB doesn't claim this as biblical or necessarily true, he just speculates) is what does 'married in the sight of God' mean? As far as God is concerned, when are people married? RB suggests that maybe the act of sexual union is that moment, not saying 'I do' in front of a preist, but the physical union of two people. Maybe we place too much empahsis on the ceremony and miss the point entirely? Or maybe not.

Anyway, its a good read (if a bit 'lite'), and I recommend it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Beatitudes

Matthew 5v1-12:
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Another different perspective from Steve Chalke's book 'The Lost Message of Jesus'...

How many times have I heard this passage preached upon? Probably well in excess of ten times, I'd think. Most of those times, the passage was expounded in such a way as to suggest that the various qualities mentioned (i.e. 'poor in spirit', 'meekness', etc.) are the qualities that a Christian should have.

Steve Chalke suggests that maybe this isn't the case. Maybe Jesus was simply looking around at those around him. He sees some folk who are 'poor in spirit' and says to them 'you are blessed', and so on. The suggestion is that its not a case of 'in order to be blessed you must have these attributes' but rather it is 'you, whoever you are and whatever your status, are blessed by God' - the blessing comes before the transformation, not the other way around. Steve Chalke suggests that the message of Jesus is that God's blessing is available here and now for everyone, not just for those who have a particular set of attributes.

I like this reasoning. But is it right?

Do you need to repent or change in order to get the blessing, or is transformation an inevitable consequence of receiving the blessing?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The ten warnings

Exodus 20v1-3:
Then God gave the people all these instructions: "I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery." "You must not have any other god but me..."
I've started reading 'The Lost Message of Jesus' the controversial book by Steve Chalke. Steve Chalke was on the telly a lot when I was a student, generally trying to play the role of the young, hip & trendy Christian minister on BBC religious programmes. For this reason I never really liked him much. But in this book (which was written a few years ago, but only seems to have become controversial this year) shows a much deeper insight and wisdom than I'd ever given him credit for.

I've heard a few preachers in the past trying to explain why the "I am the Lord your God..." line before the first commandment was so important, but I'd never really got the importance of it until I read the third chapter of Steve's book.

That line is there to put the commandments in context. They're not a list of "thou shalt not do [whatever] or else!" as is the common perception. Rather, the list is more one of warnings: "It would be better for you if you didn't do [whatever] because that action will have negative consequences...". And the consequence is not the wrath of a vengeful God for breaking His law, the consequence is the breakdown of happy family and community life.

All this is conveyed in Exodus 20v2: "I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery."

The point is not "I am a great and powerful God who Lords it over you" but rather "I am the God who loves you, who has already demonstrated this love for you, and who wants the best for you... and the best will only be realised if you avoid doing these things..."

How come I'd never seen it like that before? Has society's negative view of God infiltrated the church so much that we believe in the angry, vengeful God?



I'm hoping for more big insights in the rest of the book... and I haven't even got to the controversial bit yet. Watch this space...

Friday, June 15, 2007

What happens when you die?

What happens when you die? I mean, where do you go?

The bible seems to imply that you go directly from death to the judgement, but it also implies that the judgement is at the end of all things.

If time is linear (and I'm not altogether certain that it is), then where do you go between death and judgement? Does anyone actually hang around as ghosts?

My default belief up to this point was that when you die, the part of you that survives the death of the body is somehow taken out of space-time directly to the judgement and the start of eternity, whatever that is. But this is not explained in the bible, this was just the position I came to from various chats and thoughts over the years.

But. Something odd happened a few weeks ago which challenged this view.

Last month, an elderly relative of mine died. The following week three inexplicable things happened to three of her close relatives. Basically in each of the three cases, at night, in locked-up houses, while the folk were asleep, things were moved in inexplicable ways. Each of the three events was totally consistent with the character of the lady who had died. Those involved are quite certain that their Granny came back to visit them.

The thing is, as one relative put it: "If anyone is going to heaven, she is" - she was a committed, faithful and prayerful Christian.

I have always been skeptical of the notion of ghosts. Or rather, I have always been skeptical that the phenomena labeled ghosts are the disembodied spirits of deceased people. Sure, there may be spiritual beings around, but I have never believed that they actually were dead people. But when stuff like this happens in your family, you have to wonder.

What does happen when you die?


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Omnipresence

Psalm 139 is one of those classic 'proof texts' for the omnipresence of God. But I just read it and it isn't...

Psalm 139v7-16:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

This is an amazing statement, and I know many, many believers can testify to the truth of it, but it doesn't actually speak of the omnipresence of God. What it does speak of is that God is always with his people - wherever they go and whatever they do. The Psalmist doesn't speak of God being in places where he is not, but only says that 'wherever I go, He is there...'

Of course, Proverbs 15v3 ("The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.") extends the concept a bit further, saying that God is able to see everyone. But nowhere in the bible does it claim that God is everywhere. Why should he be between the rings of Saturn, or at the bottom of the Marianas Trench or in the heart of the Sun? (sorry for that last link ;o)

Also, 'the Lord dwells in the praises of His people' (can't seem to find the verse at the mo) which kind of implies that there are places where he isn't. He is always with us, but not always everywhere.

I believe in an everpresent God, but not necessarily an omnipresent one.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Millennium

Wow! I just became the 1000th 'hit' on my own blog. Um, well, the 1000th hit since I put the counter there anyway.

ctrl-alt-del & reboot

Time for a bit of a reboot on this blog. I guess I've kind of lost track of what I'm trying to achieve with this blog. As Marcus said in a comment on a recent blog posting (which I have subsequently deleted, so no point in looking for it), this blog does give a very skewed perspective on who I am and what I believe. I'm not as heretical as some of my recent posts might imply.

There are two things about 'Doubting Thomas' that I can relate to:
  1. He wasn't prepared to accept second hand evidence - he wanted to see things for himself, and
  2. He exclaimed 'my Lord and my God' when in the presence of Jesus.
This blog has tended to lean towards the first of those points with not enough emphasis being placed on the second. I'll try to restore the balance from here on in (remind me if I forget).

In the scientific method, the accepted way to prove a hypothesis (a belief) is to attempt to falsify it. If you can't falsify it, then there is excellent grounds for believing it; for having faith in it. Just because I express questions and doubts here, it doesn't necessarily mean that I believe the unorthodox or heretical stance on the issue. I just want to understand the issue and see the truth. Sometimes this is best achieved by playing 'Devil's advocate', but not always.

So, time for a reboot.

CTRL-ALT-DEL

Friday, May 18, 2007

Faith and false propositions

A very interesting question from last week's Faith and Freethought podcast:
"How can faith be epistemologically valid when it provides no method for distinction between true and false propositions?"
Hmmm. If you're anything like me, the first thing you'll be thinking is 'what's epistemology again?' - so, from those kind people at dictionary.com:
e·pis·te·mol·o·gy (ĭ-pĭs'tə-mŏl'ə-jē) : n. The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity.
The question is a very interesting problem, neatly expressed. How is it justigiable to 'live by faith' when there is no way of knowing if the thing you're hoping for is true?
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."
(Hebrews 11v1)
But that sounds like wish-fulfillment, right? Is there any foundation but hope?

Anyone?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Backslider?

A long time ago (16 years to be precise) I was on the 'exec' committee of the University of St Andrews Christian Union (CU). In order to be allowed to be a member of that committee I was required to sign a 'declaration of faith' document. This 'declaration of faith' was (and still is) the one used by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) - an evangelical organisation to which the majority of university CUs in the UK are affiliated.

At the time I had no major issues with any of the beliefs expressed in the document and was happy to sign it (I did have minor issues, see below). If I was presented with such a document today I don't think I'd be able to sign it with a clear conscience. There are some things in there that I do not believe are fundamental to the faith and, furthermore, I simply do not believe them to be true.

Does this make me a 'backslider'?

Here I will list the UCCF declaration of faith and comment on each of the articles in turn:

The doctrinal basis of the Fellowship shall be the fundamental truths of Christianity, as revealed in Holy Scripture, including:
  1. The unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead.
    Yes, I think I can still agree on this one. It doesn't use the phrase 'trinity' which I am beginning to question, but I think 'Unity' is a perfectly acceptable word here.
  2. The sovereignty of God in creation, revelation, redemption and final judgment.
    More or less, yes. This doesn't actually use any words beginning with 'omni' which might cause me problems. It also doesn't insist on any particular meaning of 'creation' which might also bring me to the point of dissent.
  3. The divine inspiration and infallibility of Holy Scripture as originally given, and its supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
    No! This was my only minor niggle before - the word 'infallible' - but now I really can't agree with all of this. The divine inspiration of Scripture - yes, OK, I believe that much of the bible is in some way 'inspired'. But I can't go as far as 'infallible'. The Scripture Union basis of faith is very similar to the UCCF one, except it speaks of the bible as being "God-breathed" and "fully trustworthy in all that they affirm, and are our highest authority for faith and life" - this is a much better starting point than claiming the 'infallibility' of a book which asserts that it is possible to get two of every kind of animal on the planet into a reasonably small ship.
  4. The universal sinfulness and guilt of human nature since the fall, rendering man subject to God's wrath and condemnation.
    I do have a problem with the concept of 'God's wrath' against mankind. I accept that there is a problem of sin and that it needed dealt with, but the whole idea that a blood sacrifice was required to appease an angry God goes against my world view.
  5. The full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God; His virgin birth and His real and sinless humanity; His death on the cross, His bodily resurrection and His present reign in heaven and earth.
    Most of this, yes. Jesus is God, yes. He was a man, yes. He was crucified and rose again, yes. Virgin birth? Is this in any way an essential doctrine? It may have happened, but I remain in doubt over this one. I don't really see the need.
  6. Redemption from guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once and for all time of our representative and substitute, Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man.
    Most of this, yes. However, I don't think we truly understand what Jesus did by dying on the cross. I certainly don't think his death was simply his dying instead of us - let's face it, we're all going to die anyway - but something else was achieved there which we still can't see or understand. Maybe in eternity...
  7. Justification as God's act of undeserved mercy, in which the sinner is pardoned all his sins, and accepted as righteous in Gods sight, only because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, this justification being received by faith alone.
    Yes. There is nothing we can do to reconcile us to God. That is why Jesus died (although, as I say, I don't think we understand what exactly his death achieved).
  8. The need for the Holy Spirit to make the work of Christ effective to the individual sinner, granting him repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ.
    Yes.
  9. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all those thus regenerated, producing in them an increasing likeness to Christ in character and behaviour, and empowering them for their witness in the world.
    Yes.
  10. The one holy universal Church, which is the Body of Christ, and to which all true believers belong.
    Yes.
  11. The future personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge all men, executing God's just condemnation on the impenitent and receiving the redeemed to eternal glory.
    Mostly, yes. Although there is much about 'heaven' and 'hell' which I think we have completely misunderstood.
See, I'm not as heretical as you might think... ;o)

Friday, April 27, 2007

11 atheist arguements

On the 'Faith and Freethought' podcast last week, Richard Spencer offered 11 arguements that he thought were compelling reasons to believe that there is no God. I will list them here without comment and then consider each in turn in future postings...

"Atheism offers the best explanation for..."
  1. the physical forces that cause natural disasters
  2. the presence of unjustified pain and suffering in the world
  3. God's silence in the face of adversity
  4. the physical dependence of the mind on the brain
  5. the hiddenness of God
  6. religious history (i.e. why God does not seem to favour followers of any particular religion and why horrible things have been done in the name of all religions)
  7. religious confusion (i.e. why the 'true path' is not obvious)
  8. the uniformity of religious experience
  9. the evidence of evolution
  10. the scale of the universe
  11. seemingly poor design in nature
More to follow...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Omnibenevolence

An awful lot of atheist arguments seem to rely on the omnibenevolence of God.

"If God is omnibenevolent then..." [the world wouldn't be the way that it clearly is]

Is God omnibenevolent?
Where does it say so?
How do we know this from experience?


The other part of the argument is often omnipotence. The argument often goes like:

"If God is omnibenevolent and omnipotent then why is there suffering?"

I'm afraid I find that line of reasoning fairly compelling. But I don't conclude from that that there is no God, only that maybe he isn't either omnibenevolent or omnipotent...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Creation Science

Where is the 'science' in Creation Science?

Science is: "The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena." (thanks dictionary.com)

'Creation Science' starts with its conclusion ('God did it') and goes round in circles repeating the same conclusion, trying to find evidence to support that statement and trying to find explanations for other phenomena which appear to be consistent with the main conclusion.

At no point does it offer any explanation as to how God may have done it. There is no attempt to propose a mechanism. 'God said "let there be light" and there was' is not science. How did the light come about? What was the initial source? What was the initial power source? Was it instantly at maximum intensity, or did it slowly increase in luminosity? If so, how long until it reached the maximum, if indeed it has yet reached the maximum? If creation science was actually a science there would be speculation about these sorts of questions.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jesus and the family

The sixth commandment:
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20v12)
Is it just me, or does Jesus appear to break this one on a few occasions and even appear to encourage others to break it?
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go."

Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."

But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." (Matthew 8v18-22)

Here Jesus seems to be telling the disciple to dishonour his (dead) father. On another occasion, Jesus says:

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14v26)
On one level, this appears to be an anti-family statement too. And when Jesus's mother and brothers come looking for him in Matthew 12, Mark 3 and Luke 8, he appears to ignore them and keeps teaching the disciples. And what about this:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
" 'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her motherinlaw—
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' (Matthew 10v34-36)
That's about as clear as it gets.

So you've got to wonder when you hear folk talking about 'Christian family values'...

But does Jesus break one of the ten commandments here? I wonder if he broke any of the others?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Samson and astrology

As I've explained (at great length) in this blog, there is a lot in the bible that I have difficulty accepting as being historically accurate, or even true. Some stories seem to me to simply be myths, legends, or so embellised with false details that it is hard to tell what the original, true, story might have been.

The story of Samson (Judges 13-16) is one of those highly mythological stories which makes me wonder if there is any truth hiding under there at all.

The compiler of the book of Judges lived many hundreds of years, perhaps a thousand years later than the time of the alleged events. His view of the world was very much defined by the world around him. It was alsmost certainly a completely different world view to the originator of the Samson story, hundreds of years earlier. Crucially, if the story was of mythological origin, the compiler may not have known this and simply shoe-horned it in to the historical record at a point where he thought it fitted.

The story of Samson sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of the book of Judges. Most of the 'Judges' were leaders of the people of Israel and had at least some redeeming features. Samson on the other hand is a selfish, violent, lusty brute who does everything on his own.

One school of thought goes like this: the story is included there, simply because it happened and was recorded. Just because something is odd, doesn't mean that it is untrue. This is fair enough.

However, another school of thought about Samson connects the story to similar astrological stories from other cultures. Here Samson (which more-or-less means 'Sun') is either the sun god or, in some other variations, Orion. The incident with the lion relates to the story of Orion defeating Leo. The whole 'jawbone of an ass' bit (which is perhaps the most odd part of the entire story) makes sense if you look at the constelations near to Orion - in astrological terms, the jawbone is actually the Hyades star cluster. This crops up in other myths from other groups in around the same era or earlier. For example, in Babylonian myth, Marduk used the Hyades (jawbone) as a weapon and killed thousands.

So what's with Samson's hair? Well, in these astrological stories, the hair of the sun god represents the rays of the sun. The story of Samson having his hair cut and losing his power, only to have it return when the hair regrows is alegorical of winter and the return of the sun in spring. Indeed, Delilah, who is instrumental in that 'death and rebirth' story is either Aquarius or the moon, depending on which interpretation you go for.

From what little I've heard and read, there is quite a good case to be made for believing the story of Samson to be nothing other than an astrological myth turned into a historical account by a compiler who simply didn't know better. But I'll need to read and think more on this...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Old maps

I love old maps. They give a fantastic insight into how people saw the world around them. The map above is my favourite old map of Scotland, from 1558 (see it in more detail on the National Library of Scotland web pages). The thing about this map is that much of Scotland is mapped out reasonably accurately. If you wanted to travel from Edinburgh to Aberdeen by sea, this map would be of some use to you. But the islands on the west and north coasts are completely wrong - the map maker knew that there were islands there, but not anything about them.

So far, you are probably thinking I am posting this on the wrong blog...

I think I've come to an understanding of the books in the bible as being a bit like old maps. The people who wrote (or compiled) them knew something about God, but not everything. Obviously, if God is infinite, or at least very big, then we cannot know everything about Him, there is always more to find out - there is always unexplored territory. These people could only write with authority about what they knew - from their experiences or the experiences of folk they had spoken to. They could also always speculate about what they didn't know.

I'm not even saying here that the bible writers weren't inspired, I'm just thinking that, being human, they probably filled in the blanks in their understanding with speculation. This is why I think the inspired word of God contains errors and inconsistencies.

Another way I think of the bible as being like an old map is that it helps me think in terms of exploring God. The old maps are useful, but there are things you can find out without the map - by exploring for yourself.

Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34v8)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Healing

I've often heard preachers talk about God as being 'the God who heals' and making statements to the effect of 'God doesn't want you to be ill, He wants to heal you'.

But, to be honest, I don't know anybody who has been genuinely healed - and by this I mean that they had a confirmed medical condition, were healed, and then they were checked by a doctor and found not to have any trace of the condition at all.

My friend Chris tells of his healing experience on his blog. But while I accept that God did something for Chris in his illness, there was no full healing - medical intervention and a pretty major surgical operation were also required.

The skeptic James Randi has devoted some time to following up people who have claimed to have been healed after attending 'healing' services, etc. He visited folk a year after the alleged healing and found that in every instance the people fell into one of three categories:
  1. People who had never been medically diagnosed with anything prior to the 'healing'
  2. People who were still medically diagnosed with the condition, but were often in denial of the fact, and
  3. People who had died (often from the condition) in the intervening period.
Furthermore, he has done some 'behind the scenes' investigation of these big 'healing events' that do the rounds in the USA and elsewhere. He says he frequently observed people who had no mobility issues being ushered onto the stage in wheelchairs and then encouraged to stand up and walk to the 'healer'. The audience sees this and thinks 'wow! that person in the wheelchair is walking' but this is not healing - this is deceit. Furthermore, people with genuine mobility issues were kept so far back in the queue that they never made it to the stage during the meeting.

OK, there are charlatans out there who do the fake thing and deceive the gullible, but what about real healing? Does this happen anywhere? I want to believe that it does, but I haven't seen it. And I have seen several 'good Christian' people suffering and dying with diseases like MS and cancer without any healing. Yes, they may be given strength to endure and have periods of remission, but I have not known anyone to be fully healed.

Does God heal absolutely?

What are the 10 commandments?

You know the story: Moses went up the mountain, met God, got the 10 commandments on stone tablets, came down the mountain, broke the tablets in anger, later on went back up the mountain and carved the 10 commandments onto new tablets...

But the thing is, the first 10 don't seem to match with the second 10. Huh?





Exodus 20
The first 10 commandments

And God spoke all these words: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Exodus 34
The second 10 commandments


Then the LORD said: "I am making a covenant with you. [...]. Obey what I command you today. [...]
  1. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
  2. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land [...].
  3. Do not make cast idols.
  4. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. [...].
  5. The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. [...]. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
  6. Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
  7. Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. [...].
  8. Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning.
  9. Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.
  10. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk."
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant — the Ten Commandments.


Which are the real '10 Commandments'? In the bible it is the second list that are actually referred to as 'the ten commandments', the first list are not.

Or do we have 17 commandments? Or do we only really have the three that are common to both lists?

Anyone got any inspiration here?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Did God ever want sacrifices?

Its amazing what you notice when you read a different translation of something for a change.

I have read the (whole) bible several times through, but most of this has been using the New International Version (NIV). So probably every time I have read Jeremiah 7v22 before, I'd have read these words:
For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, [23] but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.
However, I read that verse in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) today and it says:
For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. [23] But this thing I commanded them, saying, Hearken unto my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.
What? The apparent meaning is totally different! The NIV translation implies that God gave the Israelites the command to obey Him AND instructions about sacrifices, while the RSV clearly states that God did NOT give instructions about sacrifices, but only gave the command to listen and obey ('hearken').

So I had a look at several other translations (NASB, NKJV, ESB, NLT, ASV,... isn't the internet really useful sometimes?). Almost all of them agree with the RSV; God did not give instructions or commands about sacrifices ('in the day [that they came] out of Egypt').

I know that it is a joke that 'NIV' stands for 'Nearly Infallible Version' but I had always been lead to believe that it was a good translation.

Anyway, all this by means of introduction...

While all the translations (except NIV) say that God did not give instructions about sacrifice 'in the day', it seems to me (from context) that the meaning of the prophecy of Jeremiah here is that God never gave any instructions about sacrifice to the Israelites - because God doesn't want sacrifice! (see also 1 Samuel 15v22, Psalm 40v6, Psalm 51v16, Hosea 6v6).

But if God doesn't want sacrifice and He never gave instructions or commands about sacrifice, then who on earth wrote all the stuff in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deutoronomy?!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Good God?

This challenge came from an atheist on another podcast...

Except from the act of creation, can you (the reader of this blog) give chapter and verse for any 'good' act of God, as recorded in the bible, that did not have negative consequences for someone?

For example, God was good when he helped the Israelites escape from Egypt, but the effects of God's goodness towards the Israelites resulted in bad experiences for the Egyptians.

Does God not play 'win-win' game theory?

According to the atheist guy, there are only three instances of God's goodness being good to all involved in the old testament. Can we prove him wrong?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Polygamy, polyamory and the bible

Um, sorry about this one in advance... the correct response to this post is "you really should stop listening to so many of that guy's podcasts..."

I listened to another of the Infidel Guy's podcasts yesterday. This was one of his 'Debate Hour' shows rather than a conventional IG show. The distinction is that the IG show generally takes the form of an interview about religious or atheistic subject matter, whereas the debate hour is generally a fairly formal debate between two parties with opposing views on a topic, which may not be related to religion at all. Generally each party has an opening statement then a chance to comment on the other's opening statement than a period of rebuttal and finally a question and answer session. This format was intended here but, due to the debaters, did not happen.

Anyway, the subject of the show was 'Alternative Relationships' - specifically Polyamory.

For those of you who don't know, the dictionary definition of polyamory is:
"participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships"
(Webster's New Millennium Dictionary)
The two debaters were 'Rayven', an atheist living a polyamorous lifestyle, and 'Deacon Greg Cooper' a Presbyterian with very strict bible-based beliefs. However, Rayven didn't really get the chance to say much as the bible-thumping deacon ate up most of the airtime.

In between Greg's rants, the Infidel Guy, Rayven and folk calling in managed to make some quite valid comments, which the deacon ignored or dismissed without thought. He really was an awful advert for Christianity. Anyway, I want to comment on some of the issues raised.

And just to be clear on this point, just because I am raising the issue and posing the questions here does not mean that I am in support of the alternative lifestyle or the opinions expressed. OK?

Greg made it quite clear that his opinion was entirely based on the bible and it is this: that the only non-sinful sexual relationships are those between one man and one woman within the confines of a marriage. Greg also voiced the opinion that his interpretation of the bible could not possibly be wrong on any issue. He was that kind of guy. In fact, his attitude and manner made me inclined to take the other side in the debate when I really don't agree with it.

The others pointed out to him that many important characters in the old testament: patriarchs, kings and prophets, had multiple wives and were not condemned for it at any point in the bible. Indeed many of them were held up as being 'men of faith' and even 'righteous'. Indeed, the sins that the Kings David & Solomon were taken to task about had nothing to do with their multiple wives. Furthermore, in Exodus 21v10 there is a law which clearly governs the behaviour of a man taking a second wife. This practice is not condemned in the old testament, it is regulated.

This is true, whatever Greg said to dismiss it. If we believe that the old testament law came from God, then we must accept that God allowed and regulated multiple marriages. Also if God does not change his mind then this allowance still is in place... right?

Or is it one of those cultural things that God allows because it neither helps or hinders his agenda? Is it morally neutral?

During one of the moments that she was allowed to speak, Rayven said a few things that really surprised me. These related to the beliefs of 'polyamorous Christians' - I wouldn't have thought that such a group would exist, yet apparently it does. A simple websearch took me to their wesite too... Rayven took their side in the debate, primarily to annoy the fundamentalist, even though she said that she cannot see how you can reconcile the bible to a polyamorous lifestyle. The poly-Chrisitian apparently accepts that when people are united together to become 'one flesh' this needn't necessarily be a union of only two people - they see no biblical reason why three or more people cannot enter into a commited relationship with each other... I'm so gobsmacked there that I actually can't come up with a rebuttal!

But anyway, as I was generally inclined to find fault with the fundamentalist's position, I was quite miffed that nobody pointed out one of the key beliefs of the fundamentalist's belief structure - that of the Trinity. While the concept is not made fully explicit in the bible, the generally held belief amongst Christians is that there are three distinct characters in the Godhead - God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit - and these three are eternally united in a loving, intimate relationship. Now I'm not saying that sex is involved there, but from my understanding of what was said on the show, sex is not an essential of the polyamorous relationship either - it is a loving union of more than two people... sounds like the Trinity to me...

So how can we defend the position that our loving relationships should only involve two people, when our God apparently exists in a three-way relationship?

(and yes, I know what some answers to that question might be, but I thought I'd ask anyway...)