Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Bet You Never Thought That God Was Humble. He Demonstrated It

The Bible makes all sorts of preposterous statements and claims.
It is filled with all sorts of verses such as the following...

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
1 John 1:1-2

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made... The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-3,14

Those verses imply that the authors claimed that Jesus was God. To make such a statement, however, was anathema to the Jews of His day. It gave rise to justification for their wanting to put Him to death. The following verse illustrates that.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with GodJohn 5:16-18

Claiming to be God or making oneself to be equal with God, was, indeed blasphemy and punishable by death. Indeed Islam, which came 600 years after the compilation of the New Testament, calls this "shirk"... idolatry, also punishable by death.

Nevertheless the Apostle Paul who'd been educated by the great Rabbi Gamalael, of his day, had the audacity to make the following statement.

For in Messiah all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Messiah you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.             
Colossians 2:9-10

Such seemingly preposterous New Testament claims about a man being God, or a plurality of God's nature, or God having a "Son" did not just pop up out of nowhere. A veritable plethora of verses hinting at this sort of claim pervade the pages of the Old Testament as well. The possibility of a plurality in the nature of the one true God is hinted at in the following where God speaks to Himself in the first person plural:

Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
Genesis 1:26

Even the Sh'ma of Deuteronomy 6:4, the watchword of the faith of Judaism which declares the oneness of God, in its declaration of the oneness of God, uses the adjective "echod"... which implies a unity which is potentially made of many parts much as one hand is made of a palm, a thumb, fingers, skin, muscles, bones, connective tissue, etc.

Interestingly the Rabbi, Maimonodes of the middle ages, in his contention for the "oneness"of God, in his 13 Articles of Faith, used a different adjective "Yachid" which implies an absolute ONE. In so doing, he resorted to using a term other than the one used by scripture. Hence, one might rightfully ask the question "whom did Maimonodes regard as more authoritative, Torah or Himself"?  And there is one of a number of very important principals in hermeneutics (interpretation)... let the scripture speak for itself.  Don't infuse your interpretation upon the scriptures.

Such verses as the following, imply that God has a "Son"...

“I am weary, God, but I can prevail. Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know! Proverbs 30:1-4

Passages such as the following add leverage to the notion that there exists an individual that can manifest Himself as both exalted and yet humanoid...

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. Daniel 7:13

This particular individual, in fact, approached into the presence of the very Ancient of Days (a synonym for God) without even so much as prostrating Himself.

Indeed, the following verse hints of a "Trinity".

16 “Come near me and listen to this: “From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.” And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me, endowed with his SpiritIsaiah 48:16

So, the notion that God could reveal Himself as a man, did not just come out of nowhere. There is Old Testament precedent for it. However such a notion seems to defy logic. It is no wonder that Muslims might question the veracity of the Bible. Judaism, itself, seeks to interpret Tanaach (Old Testament) through Rabbinic eyes and by so doing, avoid, like the plague, the possibility that God could manifest Himself as a man. I would argue that anyone, as the scripture says, "who has eyes to see and ears to hear" can read the text for himself and determine clearly what it has to say.

But even so, maybe this Book that we call the Bible is, in fact, nothing but good (or bad, depending upon one's taste) literature. Maybe it's not divinely inspired at all!
Despite the fact that the Bible has withstood all sorts of tests from scientific to archeological to historical, through well over two millenia, I would like to pursue a line of thought, which, to this day, I don't think has been adequately approached. Somewhat ironically, it is built around the question "What does it mean to be truly human?"
Let's put the Bible to the test. We've already seen the Bible verse Genesis 1:26 which begins with "Let us make man in our image..." According to this text, in some fashion, if the Bible is, in fact, veracious, man was made in such a way that he is like God. If that's the case, how is He presumed to be like God?

The three major monotheistic religions would argue that there are certain things about God upon which they can all agree...

God is omniscient - There's nothing He doesn't know.

God is omnipresent - He's everywhere at the same time.

God is omnipotent - He's all powerful... There's nothing He can't do.

God is self existing - He always was, He is and He always will be forever on into eternity.

God made and created things ex-nihilo, out of nothing.

Such assumed facts about the nature of God (to which I also subscribe) are certainly beyond human capability. No human knows everything, is everywhere at the same time, is self-existent or is all powerful ('though there are many humans who think they are).

This creates a definite conundrum for someone like me who argues that a God of that nature can actually manifest Himself as a baby and later as a man. How can the God who fills the infinite universe take up just 4 liters of space? How could an all powerful God have difficulty bearing the weight of a 30 km. execution stake? How can an all knowing God "Learn obedience" through suffering? (Hebrews 5:8).

My answer may not suffice to convince you. I can't do that anyway, only God can. I can only present my case. And as I've already intimated, it is wrapped up in the question of what it means to be human. Because according to Genesis 1:26 being fully human is, in some way, being like, or in the image of God.
So we humans can't be any of those absolute things that we know characterize God's nature but what about those absolute things that characterize human nature? I think that if we were to look at people today, or throughout history, for that matter, they are decidedly schizophrenic. "How?" you might ask.  People are universally inconsistent.

Sometimes they Love. Sometimes they hate. Most of the time they're ambivalent.

Sometimes they're humble. Sometimes they're arrogant.

This "Yin-Yang" human response to what we commonly call virtue pervades all of our human nature... Sometimes we're patient. Sometimes we're impatient. Sometimes we're generous. Sometimes we're stingy. The list of virtues coupled with their associate vices is quite extensive!

I think it's safe to discern between the virtue and its associated vice as well. For instance...

Clearly Love is preferable to hate or indifference.

Likewise, we can easily discern that humility is preferable to arrogance.

Perhaps I'm mistaken but I think that an objective poll would yield almost unanimous consensus that people would instinctively discern what the virtues are as opposed to their corresponding vices. Yet, in spite of our ability to make such judgments it's, nevertheless, apparently impossible to imagine that anyone could possibly be perfectly humble or loving all the time throughout one's entire life without just a little bit of vice sneaking in somewhere along the way. Such conduct, humanly speaking, would seem impossible to do yet not impossible to conceptualize.

We've looked at omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence etc. and we've seen that these traits of God are absolute. Omnipotence, possibly might be the easiest to illustrate. The physicist defines power as the ability to do work divided by time. Work by definition, is the mass of an object times the distance it is made to travel. Put mathematically...

Power = Mass X Distance
        Time

A rule of mathematics is that as the denominator (time) approaches 0, the value of the equation (Power) approaches infinity.  Hence, if God is able to accomplish any task in no time at all, He is demonstrating absolute power, or omnipotence.

But what if humility, for instance, were measured in absolutes? We pass judgment on individuals and say "this man is humble." This man is not humble". But by what standard can we make that judgment? What is absolute humility? Could an individual's humility be graded according to that standard?

One dictionary definition of humility is "Modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc." It seems from this definition that one must have importance or rank in the first place in order to be modest about it.

So what would be an absolute definition of humility? Allow me to posit a suggestion. You're free to accept it or reject it.

Absolute Humility - God (certainly the zenith of importance or rank) willing to give up all the rights, privileges and accolades that are associate with being God in order to become a perfect servant (the utter expression of modesty) on behalf of His entire creation.

Put into mathematical terms (as was the case with our definition of Power)

Humility = One's actual rank or stature divided by
The importance that one holds onto that rank or stature

Therefore, how would we define Absolute Humility?

Absolute Humility = God (The highest of any possible rank or stature or importance) 
God's willingness to relinquish that stature called "God-ness" and become a perfect servant

Again, as the importance of one's rank (that of being God) approaches zero, Humility approaches infinity.

This is entirely consistent with what Paul said referring to Jesus...

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-11

In reality, God is both our God and our servant. "Such blasphemy" you might say! But, think about it. Is it not God who gives us life? Is it not God who gives us breath and the food we put on our table? By doing so, is He not serving us?  Without Him serving us, we could not live.

Yes, we can declare the power, might, glory majesty and sovereignty of God. But part of that glory and majesty is caught up in the reality that He is THE perfect servant of His creation. If we lose sight of His servant-hood towards us, we can't even begin to scratch the surface of what it means to worship Him!

In both science and philosophy there exists a phenomenon called an "antinomy". An antinomy is a clash between two totally opposing contradictory rules or phenomena which are derived rationally or even experimentally and are, in and of themselves, totally rational and indisputable. In essence, two irrefutable laws are mutually incompatible. Emanuel Kant, for instance was able to rationally argue that time had no beginning. On the other hand, he rationally contested that time did have a beginning. Both assertions are true, yet they both contradict one another and are mutually incompatible.

If we can't understand Time, therefore, how can we even begin to understand God?

If there's one thing that I know for sure... it's that I am not God. How could God, who governs the infinite vast universe, who's power, wisdom and knowledge is limitless, at the same time, take the form of a baby occupying 4 liters of space? How could this eternal God endure death while still governing the universe? I do not know the answers to such questions. I'm not God.

Yet, I know, for instance that God desires for each and every person that He's created to demonstrate the virtues that make up our humanness... humility being one of them. Furthermore, when we fail at manifesting this virtue, we are without excuse because God, Himself, showed us that it can be done. If Genesis 1:26 is true, therefore, by virtue of the fact that we were made in God's image, we are required to reflect that image perfectly. Hence, in light of our failure, we are deserving of nothing but eternal condemnation.

But God, as has already been alluded to, possesses absolute virtues that we humans inadequately display as part of our humanity which are really poor reflections of God's nature. the actual umbrella for these virtues is love. And for us, as we shall see (if we don't already know), love is necessary for our well-being.

Hence, I ask... "What would be the definition of perfect love? Does God manifest this virtue perfectly as well?"

Might I suggest that perfect love be defined, not just as love for one's friends or family but for all people, including complete strangers and even the bitterest of enemies. This love has total empathy for the condition of even these enemies and is so self-less and concerned about the well-being of the "other" that it's willing to absorb the punishment that is rightfully due the objects of that love for whatever wrong actions and attitudes of which they might be guilty.

Put another way (according to our mathematical method of communication)...

Absolute Love = Willing endurance of punishment deserved by the one loved (times) Everyone
(since everyone is loved)

NOTE: As the number of objects of love grows larger, love grows larger.  In light of that I would say that "everyone" is a pretty large number!
Put another way... God manifested absolute love by being willing to endure the punishment deserved by everyone. And what is this punishment? From our discussion of humility we've concluded that lack of humility deserves condemnation. Now take that virtue and multiply it by all the other virtues and I think it's safe to say that our ineptness at practicing the virtues we were created and supposed to demonstrate leaves us deserving of eternal condemnation.

But Jesus, having taken on this condemnation Himself, rescues us from its consequences.

Paul alluded to this when he said...

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Messiah's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation
Colossians 1:21-22

So what are we to conclude, having said all this? God is ONE (Echod). This remains a constant, goes without saying, and is irrefutable. However, If GOD had not manifested Himself as an entirely human individual, capable of and, in actuality, perfectly practicing the virtues that inherently are part of our humanity, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN INCONSISTENT WITH HIS NATURE.

It is commonly said that "to love someone is to know that someone". In Deuteronomy, we've been commanded to "love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength". But how can we love God if we don't know Him? Jesus said to one of His disciples "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father". Conversely, if you don't know Jesus there is no way that you can know the Father.
Furthermore, if we willfully choose not to know Jesus, we've willfully chosen not to love the Father and our eternal condemnation remains on us.

It is my hope that you would choose to know Jesus.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Israel's God Granted Us Our Independence Let Us Never Forget



The American war for independence was fought by ill trained, over taxed, over-burdened Colonists who pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor believing that this call for independence was supported by a “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence”.

It was remarkable that America had won her independence.  The ragtag colonists had pitted themselves against the most powerful, best equipped military in the world at that time.  And yet, they prevailed.

At his inaugural address George Washington declared:

No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency... We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.1

Just about all of the founding fathers saw God’s hand in the making of America. 

Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying…

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel.2

John Adams said…

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” 3

Contrary to the opinions of many, the majority of the founding fathers of the United States had a deep and abiding trust in God.  And who was this God?  We get a hint from Benjamin Franklins afore mentioned quote.  This was the God manifested in the Hebrew scriptures.

The Bible refers to the eternal God of the Universe over 200 times as the “God of Israel”.  Elsewhere He’s described as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… the Patriarchs of the Jewish people.

But why would the God of the Universe be so exclusive as to focus on identifying with Israel?  The answer to that question is far more involved than I can communicate in a simple essay.  Suffice it to say that God’s identification with Israel is necessarily His plan for blessing the entire world by ultimately trading in man’s plea for “tolerance” with the preferable attribute of love which brings with it  genuine peace.

Were the founding fathers, therefore exclusivist?  By no means!  George Washington was quoted as saying

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.4

(As an aside, note, if you will, Washington’s words in bold.  I believe that that is a statement particularly relevant in this day.)

Against all odds, the United States was created with the blessing and aide of Almighty God.  This God has certain characteristics of not only power, omnipresence and all of those attributes that are universally assumed by monotheists, but of love and intimacy, justice, kindness and absolute adherence to what would be universally known as virtues.  He manifested His nature to us throughout scripture but most explicitly through the manifestation of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. 

For the most part, it seems that what is commonly known as “the Church” forgets the reality that the God they profess to worship identifies Himself as the “God of Israel”.  It does tend to remember this fact once a year when it traditionally sings “born is the King of Israel”.

The King of Israel died and rose from the dead not so that we can with cavalier abandon take what He accomplished for us on the cross for granted.  Nor are we to put words in His mouth and condone that which He, in reality and according to His Word, the Scriptures, condemns.  Historically when we’ve condoned what God condemns, He’s punished us.  Lincoln interpreted the Civil War as punishment from God for not having eliminated slavery.5

The King of Israel died and conquered death so that we might serve Him and obey Him, not so that we can pursue our own self-interests.  If we fail at this task as individuals and fail to encourage this as of foremost importance collectively we will certainly lose the freedom that the God of Israel desires for all people, and subsequently our “independence”.

1 https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/american_originals/inaugtxt.html


3 Ibid 

4 Ibid