100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I Take Genesis Literally

A friend of mine, both a theist and an evolutionist, believes that the two world views are not in conflict. In his mind, he simply can’t understand why Christians such as myself are so opposed to Evolution since it poses no threat, as far as he’s concerned, to the existence of God. I answered him, “It’s possible that a god could have set the wheels in motion for evolution, but it certainly wouldn’t be the Christian God who gave us the book of Genesis.” We then began to discuss whether Genesis should be taken literally or not, and so I thought I’d share just a few comments as to why I think it should be.

A First Man
The first point to make, which I think eliminates a lot of other questions right up front, is whether there was a literal first man, Adam. In my mind, I think the Bible is very clear that there was. In Genesis 5 we have a genealogy beginning with Adam. It lists the descendants of Noah. I suppose we would then have to ask ourselves whether the rest of the people in that Genealogy really existed as well, but again I think the Bible is fairly clear that they did, especially when we look at something like Hebrews 11, whose very purpose is to give us real exemplars of faith throughout history, and includes a few of the names in this genealogy. Adam is also listed first in the genealogy of 1 Chronicles; a genealogy that most definitely consists of real people. At what point in the genealogy would the first real person be mentioned if they weren’t all real? And finally we have the genealogy in Luke’s gospel as well, whose purpose is to trace the lineage of Jesus Christ right back to the first man. In this way, the Biblical authors themselves certainly appear to consider Adam an actual person.

Literal Days
The next question is whether the six days of Creation were 24 hours or not. There are a few reasons why I think they were. Firstly, the Bible says:

And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. ... God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:3,5).

The fact that God called the light “Day” suggests a period of time familiar to the Israelite readers - a 24 hour day. Light already has a name - it’s “light”. But by relating “light” to “day” and “darkness” to “night”, the Text is saying that the flow of time was set in motion. It then immediately follows on that “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Later, Adam is created on the sixth day, but evidently survives the entire day; it cannot be a “millions-of-years day”. Furthermore, plants are created on day 3 before the sun on day 4. How long do you suppose plants can survive without the sun? I think these are literal 24 hour days.

Literal Events
The next thing we want to ask is whether the Genesis 1 account speaks of actual events. Let’s start from the beginning:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2).

Before the light was created and the periods of 24-hour time were set in motion, the Earth existed for some unknown period of time as nothing but water. It was “without form” - there was nothing you could point to and say “That’s the Earth.” That is, the Bible is saying that what would later become the Earth was initially “without form”. It doesn’t actually take the form of the Earth until verse 10. That this was literally water is confirmed by Peter:

...the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. (2 Peter 3:5-6)

If we believe in a literal Noah’s flood (the deluge referred to), then I think we should believe in the literal water of Genesis 1:2. And if we believe in the literal Genesis 1:2, why wouldn’t we take the rest of Genesis 1 literally?

The Garden of Eden
When we come to Genesis 2, we read about the Garden of Eden, and how God forbade Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Was there really a Garden, and was there literally such a tree? It seems to me that the writer of Genesis, (that is, Moses), intends for us to take this as a literal place. He speaks of four rivers coming out of Eden, and two of these rivers are still known today - the Tigris and the Euphrates. Now the Garden itself would have been destroyed by the flood, so there may be little chance of finding this Garden today. Whatever it’s location was, it would no longer look like the paradise it once was. As for whether there’s an angel still guarding its entrance as the story describes, it would be difficult to know since angels need not be visible to us, and we wouldn’t see it if we did find the location today. But there’s no reason to deny the story because it includes angels; the Bible certainly affirms the reality of angels, and a God powerful enough to do all of these things. In that sense it is consistent with the rest of the Bible in its depiction of angels.

So to the question of Evolution fitting the Bible; it absolutely doesn’t. We certainly have a first man, which doesn’t fit any reckoning of Evolution. And we don’t have billions of years for the Earth’s existence. Even if the “waters” existed for billions of years, it is certain that there was no evolution going on, nor was there geological activity going on. And we have a place of origin in which Adam was formed in a single day, without biological parents. As Luke’s genealogy puts it, “Adam, the son of God.”

Other Creation Myths
Aside from the agenda to make evolution compatible with the Bible, there is another reason some Christians don’t take the Creation account literally. This is because of the apparently striking parallels to other creation myths of the time, which also have, for example, man created out of the ground by the gods. In some people’s view, this is more than just coincidence, and not having had enough exposure to those texts, I can’t really say. But they believe that Moses simply wrote in a fashion that the Israelites were already familiar with, rather than trying to record actual events. However, it’s been known for a long time that almost all cultures have a flood story. Yet far from being a problem for the Biblical story of Noah’s flood, it has served to bolster the argument that the flood literally took place. We understand that all of these stories exist because the truth of the flood has been passed down verbally from Noah to successive generations. They vary as people have altered the story, but Bible believing Christians know that the Biblical account is the truth. Likewise, I don’t think that what Moses wrote was necessarily the first time God had revealed these things about Creation to Mankind. Adam himself knew that he had been created from the dust of the ground, as he was told by God “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 2:19). And so the story of how Man was created from the dust would have been passed down even to those cultures that existed at the time of Moses. We see references to the creation account in Job also, such as the creation of man from dust (Job 10:8-9), and Job lived around the time of Abraham, long before Moses wrote.

Now there are a lot more “what about this’es” and “what about that’s” which we could discuss, but as I’ve heard one preacher say, “If you believe Genesis 1:1, you shouldn’t have any problem with the rest of Scripture!”

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gay Activism on Facebook

In these modern times, changing the way our whole culture looks at the world is no longer a matter of holding public protests or managing to print articles in prominent magazines. Rather, people are able to use social networking sites to present images and slogans like the ones I've posted here. These are just a few of the ones I've seen posted by friends on Facebook. And seeing the emotionally charged attitudes of those friends, I know that these images are effective in their goal of changing the minds of a nation. Yet their arguments are flawed from a Biblical perspective. So I thought I'd make some comments on these images...

Not wanting to reiterate things I've said about homosexuality in the past, but I must make one thing clear; Christians ought not to hate homosexuals, and I for one certainly don't. A Christian, in one sense, might say "Amen!" to this first image. I agree with the point this image is trying to make about Homophobia. The poster alludes to the common Christian response to homosexuality, that it is "unnatural". But when a Christian uses the term "unnatural", in particular, it can mean unnatural in the sense of what God never intended. In that sense, sin and death itself are unnatural - God never intended for Man to die, but we do as a result of our "unnatural" sinfulness. Again, sin is unnatural (though everybody sins) in the sense that it is not the way God intends for us to behave. However, the image then implies that Homosexuality is, on the contrary, natural. And from a Biblical perspective it is not, in that same sense of being something God never intended for Man. God's intent for Man is clear...

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

Homosexuality is unnatural because God designed our bodies, and it is "natural" for something designed for a purpose to fulfill its purpose. The argument lends support to the idea that homosexuality is natural by claiming that it is found in "over 450 species". Let's assume that claim is true; it makes no difference Biblically, because all of Creation has been corrupted. I've just told you that death is unnatural, Biblically speaking, and it is certain that animals die!

Despite the great number of these sorts of images, they do all tend to be arguing one of only a few key points. Again, this sign is essentially saying that homosexuality is natural. This gentleman appears to be saying that he never chose to be gay, but has been gay since birth. Many Christians have a problem with the idea that one might be genetically predisposed to homosexuality, and I've been involved in that debate amongst my peers. I, personally, don't have a problem with the notion of a "gay gene". There are many unnatural things that are genetic as a result of the corruption of all Creation. We could point to Down's Syndrome, for example. Now, the Bible doesn't condemn having Down's Syndrome, so we might say it's not the same thing, but it's at least an example of an "unnatural" genetic defect. If we wanted a better example, we might talk of the genetic predisposition to alcoholism or violence, which are things the Bible would also condemn. The genetic bias for these things is as debatable as the one for homosexuality, I believe. But it certainly seems to me that a genetic bias seems plausible, even if we base it purely on anecdotal evidence like the image above. It makes no difference - I am certain that I myself have a strong genetic disposition toward adultery, incest, rape, and all manner of sexual acts which are also prohibited in the Bible. It is no excuse if I do those things.

Now the cartoon on the right, and likewise the cartoon below, both say something similar; that society has seen similar prejudices before, and as silly as those prejudices seem to us now, so should any prejudice against homosexuality seem silly to us. However, these images don't draw valid analogies to homosexuality. The first, to do with being left handed, fails because the Bible never condemns left-handedness. Some will disagree with that statement, so I should discuss briefly... The Bible does often speak about the right hand as being significant; Jesus is said to have ascended to Heaven and is now sitting at the Father's right hand (Hebrews 1:3). It is a cultural symbol for a place of honour. It is where the king's most honoured would sit. This doesn't make left handedness evil or inferior. The closest we get to the Bible having something negative to say about left handedness is in Judges 20:16 where the literal translation of "left handed" would be those "impeded in the right hand". But this doesn't condemn left handedness, this is simply a way of referring to left handedness in a world which (still) is predominantly right handed. The verse itself tells us that these left handers were extremely skillful in wielding their slingshots, and so doesn't even imply that being left handed is some kind of disability. Those in the middle ages who called left handedness demonic and such were simply wrong. But the Bible does clearly refer to homosexuality as a violation of God's Law.

The second cartoon is similar to the one above, saying that we once saw interracial marriage as unnatural, but now we don't. However, once again the Bible doesn't condemn interracial marriage. I have to make a point of this because on the surface it does seem to, where the Mosaic Law would prohibit Jews from marrying Gentiles. This distinction however was religious, not racial. If a Gentile would convert to Judaism, (as did Ruth in the Book of Ruth, for example) then there was no infringement of the Law. Even the New Testament maintains that so close a union as marriage should not be made between believers and unbelievers.

Now in standing by the claim that homosexuality is not natural according to God's intended order of Creation, many homosexuals will feel this to be an attack on them. The saying "love the sinner, not the sin" is not often seen as sincere; surely if we hate the actions of a person we necessarily hate the person, right? But that's not so... Another image I've seen is of two men kissing, and behind them an image of Jesus with the caption "Jesus Loves You". The fallacy in that image is that while Jesus does love the people, it is precisely because of that love for them that He commands us through the Scriptures to repent of homosexual behaviour. From one who truly believes that refusal to repent from sin such as homosexuality will lead to eternal judgment, it would be nothing short of hate if I didn't try to correct some of these false notions and direct people to the truth of the matter.

I know that a gay man's feelings for another man can be romantic and loving, and that a true sense of companionship can be found between gay men (or women). But I believe that the good things of God are seen throughout all humanity, though we are all corrupt. Religions other than Christianity, for example, all contain much truth; almost all religions teach some form of the Golden Rule for example. But other religions are in error when it comes to the whole truth about God. We are all created in God's image, and so the good things of God can be found in all of man's pursuits. But homosexuality is a corruption of the good things of God; namely love and sexuality. It's a partial truth. Just as I might find beautiful love and companionship in a polygamous marriage, it would nevertheless be a sinful corruption of God's true intent for marriage. If, however, we live according to God's intended order, we discover true fulfillment because we live and behave as God has designed us to. Does this mean a gay man forcing himself to marry a woman will find "true fulfillment"? No! But a gay man who comes to Christ, and through Christ deals with his homosexuality, may then go on to naturally desire the things of God. That may be marriage or singleness, but a true Christian will naturally align themselves to God's revealed will. And that takes a supernatural change to the heart of any man.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalms 16:11

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Should Circumcision Be Illegal?

I read an article recently that a certain state in the US was almost successful in making circumcision illegal. This is certainly a great concern to the Jewish community! But my own wife is quite a passionate advocate for the banning of circumcision. She considers it to be cruel, and would even go so far as to call it child abuse. But how should I, as a Christian, feel about this issue of circumcision?

When my wife was pregnant with my son, I had been a Christian for less than one year. But my wife was not saved. And at that time I was studying theology under a certain Bible teacher who had once explained that "circumcision is healthy, since a foreskin is able to trap dirt and germs..." and that studies had shown there to be less cases of cervical cancer in countries where circumcision was more commonly practiced. So I, as a new Christian, ate this up. "Oh, the wisdom of God..." (you see), "in giving circumcision to the Jews!" And so I told my wife that I wanted our son to be circumcised, believing myself to be wise as God was wise in giving the Jews circumcision for health reasons. But my wife believed back then, as she does now, that circumcision is cruel and ought to be illegal.

So this was a point of contention between us. I wanted to "be wise", but my wife didn't want to "abuse our child." Finally the day came when my wife went into labour, and we were still unresolved on this matter. My son was born after a 7 hour labour, and they handed him to me to hold. It was while I was holding him that the midwife asked about whether we were going to have him circumcised. My wife told her that she didn't but that I did. And the midwife asked "is that for religious reasons?" "No, no!" I said emphatically, for that would be thoroughly anti-Christian. So I explained it was for health reasons, based on what I'd heard, and for no other reason than that. Then the midwife said that we should discuss it and when we'd come to a decision to let her know. But I looked at my wife, and then I looked at my son, and I think that perhaps God gave me some true wisdom at that moment. Looking at my wife, I thought "Though I've said it is for health reasons, I'm sure she will forever suspect that my real motive was religious... and surely for her sake I should give up my own preference in order to send the right message, for there is no commandment from God that a Christian must circumcise their children." And looking at my son I thought to myself... "I have here in my arms a Gentile child. Since the time of Abraham there have always been Gentiles!" (They seems to have survived fairly well despite having foreskins!) "No, this is a Gentile child, and he should forever be seen as a Gentile child; for the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles!" So before the midwife even left the room, I looked up and said, "It's fine... I don't want him circumcised." (And you should have seen my wife's reaction to that!) I had been so adamant about this for months "because it's the wisdom of God", and just like that I saw my own foolishness. It was also my first lesson in questioning what preachers say from the pulpit!

I later discovered that these studies which supposedly show circumcision to be healthy are truly flawed. But one thing which was sort of a landmark moment for me was when my wife showed me a YouTube video of an actual circumcision. I might be able to find the link on request, but it really was horrific! If circumcision is optional for Christians then there is no reason at all to choose the circumcision option! But does this mean we should ban it? By no means... (and I still disagree with my wife on this point). Just as I relented from circumcising my son because it is evident that Gentiles have survived with their foreskins for so many thousands of years, it is also evident that the Jews have survived for thousands of years. Yet my wife has dug up arguments to show that circumcision is a high-risk operation. While I'm somewhat sympathetic to my wife's view on circumcision, in so far as I would say there's no good reason to circumcise your children, I don't necessarily agree with all of the arguments she would make... She also argues, for example, that it reduces sexual pleasure for men. I doubt it! But most importantly, circumcision is important to the Jews, and what would banning it mean to them? Paul had Timothy circumcised for the sake of the Jews they were witnessing to, even though there was no religious requirement for Timothy to be circumcised. Just as I relented from having my son circumcised for the sake of my wife that I was witnessing to, we should permit the Jews to practice circumcision lest they blame a "Christian people" for taking away that right, and we close off opportunities to witness to them. It's true that circumcision is brutal, but I think that's part of the whole point of circumcision! Biblically, circumcision symbolizes the separation of our sinful nature through adherence to the Law. But separating our sinful nature from us isn't easy when we try to do it "through the Law"; it's very difficult and very painful! This symbolism works, and as Christians we should understand and be thankful to God that through the cross it's not this horrible ordeal!

But what I'm talking about here doesn't apply only to circumcision. I wrote recently about how the Muslims have (allegedly) petitioned for Christmas celebrations to cease at my children's school. As I've been discussing this with people, the response I typically get is something like "Well we should demand that they can't celebrate Ramadan!" But look, why would we cause them to despise us!? They want talk of Jesus Christ at Christmas silenced so their children aren't exposed to Christian ideas; but how much better is it when a Christian can say, "From childhood I've listened to you teach me about Islam, (or Evolution, or New Age, to broaden this scope even further), and yet I firmly believe in Christ." Now we should fight to have Christianity in schools, but let's not fight to have other world views banned. As Paul taught us by his example, we must be "all things to all people"...

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:21-23)