Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Paradoxes of Faith

(I will begin to republish some older articles that I thought had been lost long ago but are still quite relevant!)

In a religious forum discussion, one of the participants raised the issue of paradoxes in the Bible. Apparently Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, uses the story of Abraham and Isaac as an irrational paradox that invites us to respond with a faith that leaves reason out of the equation. Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac, his son of promise in his old age. The claim being made with this story is that the Christian faith is something that should NOT be given a rational basis at all; that our faith is (and ought to be) a blind leap of faith. The assertion is that Christians should not waste so much energy attempting to 'prove' anything about their faith, because faith and reason are antithetical. "If you can prove it, it can't be faith", seems to be a prevailing sentiment, particularly among the postmodern crowds. Mark Twain apparently said, "Faith is believing something you know ain't so!"

I am reminded of a story that I personally heard from Dr. John White, a physician and psychiatrist who spent his early years as a missionary in Bolivia. He was stationed in an isolated region of the country, and had no access to modern medical equipment or help. One day, his young toddler son was playing outside when he tripped and fell on his face, striking his chin on a rock on the ground. His chin was split open, and he required immediate medical attention. But his father the physician had no anesthetic equipment or drugs with him. However, he realized that unless he acted immediately, infection would certainly set in. There was no time to wait for a plane to come and fly him out of the jungle to a modern hospital. That would have taken days to arrange. With loving care, they laid the screaming child on the table. First they cleaned the wound. That was painful enough, but then came the hard part. The father would now have to stitch up the gaping wound, without benefit of any painkillers. Now imagine the father as he begins to stitch up the child, all the while causing the child more pain than he has ever known in his life. Mother and assistants all hold the child down so the procedure can be done safely. The child's eyes look up frantically at the face of the father from whom he has only ever known love and acceptance, but now the child's eyes are full of abject terror as he feels nothing but unbelievable pain from the hands of his 'loving' dad.

At this very moment, the reassuring "I love you" from father and mother falls on deaf ears. How can this be love by any definition of the word? As Dr. White shared this story, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, as he invited us to imagine not only how the child felt, but how the father felt at that point. This is a great paradox from the child's point of view. More than that; it was a contradiction in the mind of the child, and no amount of reasoning would satisfy. In reality from an adult point of view, the father's actions were anything but irrational. The paradox is resolved from the adult point of view. The parent knows that at this point, love demands that the child's medical condition needs to be looked after in the most expeditious way, even if that way means pain and misunderstanding on the part of the child. Love at this point is NOT caving in to the screaming, superficial demandingness of the child, who is only interested in avoidance of pain and restoration of comfort. God often allows our faith to be tested in this way. Sometimes things happen to us the likes of which leave us wondering about the rationality of our God and our faith. As we try to figure things out, we need to remember that after all, our God did say, "My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts." He did not say his thoughts were irrational. They are simply beyond ours. Otherwise God would merely be one of us. Think about it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More on the "Lost Tomb" Circus

From the email bag..

Dear Professors and other Bloggers

I’d like to report something of potentially great interest with respect to assessing the Jesus tomb theory offered by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino (and, by extension, James Tabor).

Many scholars have demonstrated the glaring weaknesses of this theory with respect to the inscriptions, the names themselves, the shaky logic, etc. And despite the clear, coherent response to the statistical framework and analysis offered by my friend Randy Ingermanson, the public continues to be bludgeoned with the “improbability” of it all. Well, it appears that having the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Matthew, and Martha (“Mara”) on ossuaries at one location isn’t as improbable as Jacobovici, Pellegrino, and Tabor would have the world believe.

I want to draw your attention—and the attention of scholars and interested parties who read your blog—to a SECOND site that has all those names. In 1953-1955, Bellarmino Bagatti excavated the site of Dominus Flevit (“The Lord wept”) on the Mount of Olives. The excavation uncovered a necropolis and over 40 inscribed ossuaries – including the names of Mary, Martha, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus. These ossuaries are not, as far as I can tell, in Rahmani’s catalogue. I’m guessing the reason is that they are not the property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (see Rahmani’s Preface). The necropolis was apparently used ca. 136 BC to 300 AD. Here is a link that discusses the site. A few scanned pages of Bagatti’s excavation report (written in Italian) can be found here as well.

I’ll be tracking down this report (and perhaps buying an Italian dictionary). I found this information last night (actually 2:00am) while working on my portion of a lengthy response to the Jesus tomb theory (to be co-authored with Randy Ingermanson). I didn’t want to wait until that was done to alert scholars to this so we can collectively look at this data. It appears that the statistical odds touted in such assured terms have taken a sound beating – fifty years ago.

There’s one more really intriguing thing about the Dominus Flevit site. It is referenced by Jacobovici with respect to his argument about the cross symbol’s antiquity, and Bagatti’s book is in his bibliography. And yet he and Charlie Pellegrino somehow overlooked the fact that ossuaries were found at that site with all the names accounted for. One can only guess whether the omission was due to careless scholarship or an effort to deceive the public.

Mike Heiser, PhD
Academic Editor, Logos Bible Software

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Whom Are We to Worship?

Several times in my ministry through the years I have had a person say to me something like, "Nowhere does the Bible tell us to worship the Son directly. We are to worship the Father in the name of the Son." It would ring true with me in my earlier years, because I had always felt a discomfort in addressing Jesus directly. I still haven't understood that feeling, but it was the same feeling that I had when I began to pray in English instead of my mother tongue (German).
But others I have talked to have confessed to that same discomfort.

It may be that because I have always been taught to pray to the Father in the name of the Son, it felt like I was crossing a line. Perhaps it's the same line I crossed when I first stopped using King James pronouns in addressing God in my prayers.

But psychological reasons aside, I can think of some legitimate reasons for this teaching.

Jesus prescribed prayer for his disciples in a certain way. He said:
Matthew 6:9-11 9 "This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread..." and so forth.

We are also instructed in several Scriptures to direct our gratitude and praise to God.

For example: Colossians 3:17 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Ephesians 5:19-20 Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The obvious question then becomes: Did Jesus intend for us to always only to pray exclusively to the Father? I don't think so.

Although there are several verses telling us who to address in prayer, we do have some examples of worship and prayer to Jesus that are not protested.

So here are the questions I brought to the biblical text:

1. Do we have any examples of humans in the New Testament praying to Jesus and worshiping Him?

Yes, we do. And the Lord Jesus does not object. He accepts their praise.

a. He was worshiped in his infancy.

Matthew 2:2 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

Matthew 2:11 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

b. He was worshiped in His adult life.
John 9:37-38 37 Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." 38 Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

Matthew 14:30-33 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

c. He was worshiped in His post-resurrection state.

Matthew 28:8-10 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Matthew 28:16-17 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Luke 24:51-53 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

2. Are we instructed anywhere to worship Jesus? Not exactly. Not directly, that is.

a. But angels are instructed to worship Him.
Hebrews 1:5-6 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"? 6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."

b. We ARE instructed to pray to Him.
John 14:13-14 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

c. And we will certainly be worshiping Him in the future. If what happens in the following description is not worship of Christ, then you can call me a heretic.

Revelation 5:11-12 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

Whatever the final answer, I prefer to err on the side of honouring the Son as I honour the Father. After all, Jesus said in John 5:23
He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.

If you disagree, I would like to hear your reasons. But then I might just pull out some heavyweights, like John Owens and a few other Puritans who would likely really be concerned that this is even a question that is up for discussion!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Do They Read Blogs in Heaven?

How does this happen? The first few years of my spiritual re-awakening were also 'years I spent in vanity and pride'. In my case, when I sing that well known hymn, I am singing about the time AFTER I connected with my Saviour, not before.

I have always looked at my late teens as a turn-a-round point in my life. It was the late sixties. Everyone was on a search of some sort. That's the time I felt that God turned my life around. It had been going nowhere; yet I knew that there was a purpose to life. I had just been too laid back to go after it.

I was a miner in Thompson, Manitoba, and through a series of circumstances, I dedicated my life to the pursuit of God. I met another guy my age who was an authentic example for me. I saw up close that it was possible for someone like me to live for Him.

Yet, I had this radical and impulsive streak. (It was the age of radicalism, remember?) I joined a small group of Christians which was meeting in a home and decided, under its influence, that every other denomination and organized church was somehow substandard. These people claimed that they were the closest thing to a New Testament church that existed. I believed them. No other church seemed to care about a biblical ecclesiology.

We were the elect, the chosen people. We were the ones who did things the New Testament way. We broke bread every Sunday, our ladies wore head coverings (although they wore the pants at home!) and the Holy Spirit led our meetings; there was no presiding officer or pastor. Everything was to be spontaneous and when people asked us what we called ourselves, well, we were just plain Christians. We dared not call ourselves Plymouth Brethren! That's what other people called us. We wanted to be the people who 'gathered to the name of Jesus Christ'.

At the young age of 19, I had become a Pharisee.

I left the small church that I had first attended (although they needed all the help they could get in that mining town). I told the pastor why I was leaving, and I told him how wrong it was to do church the way they were doing church. I left, not regarding the pain and grief I caused in my family or friends.

I lived with my brother and sister in law. I told them how wrong they were.

And I visited with another pastor, and told him how wrong he was. The man's name was George Nelner (His name will come up again). He didn't try to argue much with me. I had my pet verses and I knew how to use them, and I felt very smug as I left his office, because once again it was confirmed in my mind just how right I was and how wrong the whole ecclesiastical system was. (Why it never dawned on me how arrogant I had become, I will never know. I think it had something to do with the illusions that happen when there is a timber in one's eye; see Matthew 7)

Fast forward. I moved from Thompson back to Winnipeg, began fellowshipping with those brethren who were responsible for the effort in Thompson. There was a lot of good Bible teaching there. A lot of people there truly loved the Lord. But there was also an elephant in their living room that no one had the nerve to point out. Group denial is a powerful thing. There were times in those meetings when I had a stirring deep within that said, "This is spiritual pride and it stinks."

I had spiritually distanced myself from my friends and had alienated some of my family with my smug self righteousness. They knew me best, and they did not buy my self-righteous act for a minute; yet they had patience with me; my father most of all. I think my father knew that I just needed time to grow. And with time, I did. I think I know what it must be like coming out of a cult. I was summoned to a meeting one evening. It was with the elders (they really did seem austere and ancient). They read out of the book of Revelation, the passage that tells of the church of Philadelphia. It was the one church that did not receive any criticism from the Lord. Here are the words they read:

"See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars-- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Revelation 3:8-11

They looked at me and asked, "Do you deny that we are the church Jesus was talking about?"

"Yes," I said, "I deny that this is the Philadelphian church."

The next Sunday I was 'read out of the meeting'. Excommunicated.

I walked out of the Gospel Hall that day, dazed but free.

I was free from a systemic kind of pride that overshadowed these groups of people. But pride as a property of our individual natures doesn't surrender that easily. Although this was a good beginning the Lord had to teach me a few lessons yet.

Fast forward another few years. My sister (who is only a year older than I am) had a series of very difficult circumstances that I will not detail in a public blog. She had also experienced the judgmentalism of some Baptist deacons who had shamed her without knowing her circumstances. Through their actions they made it very difficult for her to ever darken the door of a church again. Many Christians understand this dynamic. There are many 'walking wounded' whose church should have been their safe place. Unfortunately the church can also be a place where the deepest wounds occur.

My sister moved from Toronto to Calgary with her two children. There, with a lot of uncertainty, she, with her children and her partner sought out a church, and I was happy to hear that they had found a place where they were accepted and loved. Not long after that I was invited to their wedding.

The man who officiated the wedding and had become their pastor was none other than George Nelner. I am so grateful that my sister did not find a church led by someone with an attitude that I had displayed to George Nelner that day in Thompson. The grace that this man exuded was evident in his speech and his actions. He personified the words that Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery (John 8). "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin."

Oh yes. George Nelner died this last month. He's gone to his heavenly home. I heard news of this, and it began to stir some of these memories in me. I wish that I could have done a better job of apologizing for being such an arrogant twit in his office so many years ago. I should have thanked him for being so gracious to my sister and brother in law. I can only hope they read blogs in heaven. George, this is me, making things right.