Who created the blind watchmaker?

“What Dawkins does not seem to appreciate is that his blind watchmaker is something even more remarkable than Paley’s watches. Paley finds a watch and asks how such a thing could have come to be there by chance. Dawkins finds an immense automated factory that blindly constructs watches and feels that he has completely answered Paley’s point. But that is absurd. How can a factory that makes watches be less in need of explanation than the watches themselves?”

-Stephen Barr

The incarnation of Jesus and the thoughts of St. John

The apostle John was fixated on the physical reality of Jesus–on the fact that in Jesus, God became a man. In becoming a man, He loved John and became John’s closest friend, and John never forgot the friendship.

In 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle is giddy to be remembering Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the sight, sound, and feel of being with the Messiah (“heard… seen… looked upon… touched”), and how the physical reality of Jesus is related to John’s fellowship with God and with the people reading the letter (which includes you and me):

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched…the life was made manifest, and we… proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father… so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son… And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” -1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)

The reality of God in a physical body fascinated John for his entire life. In the verses above there are echos of the opening words of John’s gospel–Jesus was with God in the beginning; Jesus is life; and Jesus is the manifestation of God’s Word in physical form. 

When Peter and John were defending themselves in the temple in Jerusalem, the reason they gave for talking about Jesus was, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). Having seen Jesus was irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ reality as God, and John implies this in the verses above and in John 19:35. Referring to himself, John says, “He who saw it has born witness–his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth, that you also may believe.” Peter was also captivated by his physical experience of Jesus, as he mentions in 2 Peter 1:16 (“but we were eyewitnesses.”)

Perhaps Peter and John learned their fascination with Jesus’ physicality from Jesus Himself, who emphasized this to the disciples in the upper room in Luke 24:39-43 (“see my hands and my feet”) and famously to doubting Thomas in John 20:27 (“put out your hand, and place it in my side”).

But in 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle also refers to Jesus briefly as “the word of life–the life was made manifest.” Jesus himself also said that He was “the life,” and the reality of Jesus’ physical existence makes His life exuberant and powerful, powerful enough to light a fire under John, and powerful enough to unite distant Christians in fellowship with each other and with the Father.

And the power of Jesus to catalyze fellowship is why John is writing. As he says in verse 3, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.” In the friendship of Jesus and His disciples, the love of God began to spill over into humans, so that if we come to know Jesus, we also can have fellowship with the Father. And through fellowship with the Father, we have better fellowship with other believers.

This is why John was “writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” John already had fellowship with Jesus–it had changed and motivated the entire course of his existence. But his joy was completed when he shared this fellowship with other people, when he could participate in the work of Christ on this earth.

Jesus had spent time with John, and John shared these experiences with other people. These people told other people, who told other people. The cycle continued over millennia, while the Spirit worked in the lives and minds of generation after generation of believers, until eventually somebody told me, and now I am telling you.

I’m writing this post for the same reason John wrote His letter. Jesus is real, and He has lit my life on fire. When I meet other believers, or when I pray, or when I read Scripture, the energy is electric. The Spirit is at work in me, and He is at work in all believers.

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.”

The Fatherless

Disturbingly common question and answer when I’m taking a medical history:

“And what about your dad, does he have any medical problems?”

“Well, I never really knew my dad, so I’m not sure.”

Lord, help us.

“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”
-Psalm 68:5-6 (ESV)

Why do people fight with each other?

On the day after Thanksgiving in 2008, Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, New York. The crowd had lined up for a sale, and Jdimytai was in the way, so they pushed him down and trampled him until he died. When the crowd was told they had to leave because someone had been killed, they didn’t respond in horror–they responded by complaining about how long they’d waited in line.

“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” -James 4:2 (ESV)

Think of the last argument you had. What was it about? What did you want that you didn’t have? All quarrels come from wanting. All of them. My last argument was with my wife–I wanted her to go to a movie, but she didn’t feel like it. I’ve seen people argue about being first in line, because they both want the first spot.

There is only one first spot in line. Everything you could possibly want is limited in supply. The items on sale at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart on Black Friday in 2008 were limited in supply. My wife’s time is limited in supply. If you want something that’s in short supply, you need to compete for it. You need to quarrel for it. You have no other choice.

So, how do we end quarreling? How do we create peace in the world? The only way is to stop wanting the things that are in the world, because all of these things are limited, and all of them will require us to quarrel with other people in order to get them. The only way to create peace is for each of us to want nothing.

The problem is that we all want things. It’s difficult to want nothing–in fact, it’s impossible to want nothing. We can’t create peace by wanting nothing.

We can create peace by wanting something that’s not limited. But the only not-limited thing is God–the eternal, all-knowing, infinitely-loving God. We can all want God, and we don’t need to quarrel for Him, because He’s available to us in unlimited supply. Actually, the Lord wants us to want Him: “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us.” (James 4:5, ESV)

He has made a spirit of wanting to dwell in us, and that spirit can only be peaceably satisfied when it wants Him and nothing else.

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But…a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions… Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

-James 3:16-4:8 (ESV)

Empty

“At about midnight… there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened.”

He ran. His scabbard flapped awkwardly on his hip. He tripped, but caught himself on his hands. An old piece of glass stuck hard into his palm. He pushed himself upward and kept running. The ground shook again, and a beam fell hard on his helmet, knocking him to the ground.

He slept… and then awoke. The moonlight made rays through the crumbled hallway. His ears were ringing. At first he couldn’t move, so he laid there a moment, for some reason examining the cobwebs moving in the breeze. It took awhile, but he got to his knees, his palm stinging as he pressed it into the dirt floor.

The door of the cell next to him was empty, its door bent and hanging loosely on its hinges. He stared for a moment, wondering how long he’d been asleep. He imagined the prisoners tiptoeing quietly past him. This was horrible. He’d worked for Rome 19 years, and next year he’d finish his service. He hadn’t been happy–not happy with guarding a prison, not happy with being sent to Philippi, not happy with much of anything lately.

He drew his sword, placing its tip at the bottom of his sternum and angling it upward. It glinted in the moonlight and began to draw drops of blood. He let out a rasping yell that echoed off the cold walls, but was interrupted:

“Do not harm yourself! For we are all here.”

It was the short man. He’d been singing earlier–some Hebrew song. The short man’s hand was on the prisoner who’d been in the empty cell. Behind him, peeking out of the cells, were all the others. Earlier in the evening, the short man had spoken about salvation–salvation from evil. Salvation from destroying and being destroyed. He had been destroying things and people all of his life, and if the prisoners had left, the very Rome that he’d spent all his energy on would have turned on him for his failure. But the prisoners had stayed. The prisoners who could have had real salvation had stayed in this dark place where they had no freedom and no possessions. It was absurd behavior.

But he was curious, because his dissatisfaction weighed on him every evening he stood here, doing nothing more than remaining awake guarding prisoners, who usually didn’t bother to provide songs as entertainment. He needed salvation, although he wasn’t sure from what. He looked into the short man’s eyes.

“Sirs… what must I do to be saved?”

The short man glanced down for a moment, and then met the soldier’s eyes again:

“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

-Acts 16:25-34

For what does it profit a man?

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’” -Luke 9:23

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” -Luke 12:15

“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” -Luke 12:33

“Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no theif approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” -Luke 12:33-34

“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” -Matthew 5:42

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” -Luke 12:48

“And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses.” -Luke 14:17-18

Forgiveness (a quote from What’s so Amazing about Grace? by Philip Yancy)

“Forgiveness–undeserved, unearned–can cut the cords and let the oppressive burden of guilt roll away. The New Testament shows a resurrected Jesus leading Peter by the hand through a three-fold ritual of forgiveness. Peter need not go through life with the guilty, hangdog look of one who has betrayed the Son of God. Oh, no. On the backs of such transformed sinners Christ would build his church.”

Yancy is alluding to is John 21:15-17. Earlier, when Jesus was taken to be crucified, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times out of fear. He then ran and wept uncontrollably. In this passage, Jesus, now crucified and risen from the dead, guides Peter into professing his his love for Jesus three times. The other passage is Matthew 16:17, where Jesus tells Peter that he is a rock, and that Jesus would build His church–His kingdom–on Peter. I love the connection between Peter’s sin, transformation, and reception of grace with this passage in Matthew. The church is built on grace, which comes from God. We are all sinners, and without pardon from the Lord, there would be no church.

Penny-pinching surgery at a Tanzania hospital

“In Tanzania, the hospital was two hundred miles of sometimes one-lane dirt roads from Dar es Salaam, and flooding during the rainy season cut off supplies–such as medications and anesthetic gases–often for weeks at a time. There were thousands of surgery patients, but just five surgeons and four anesthesia staff. None of the anesthetists had a medical degree. The patients’ families supplied most of the blood for the blood bank, and when that wasn’t enough, staff members rolled up their sleeves. They conserved anesthetic supplies by administering mainly spinal anesthesia–injections of numbing medication directly into the spinal canal. They could do operations under spinal that I never conceived of. They saved and resterilized their surgical gloves, using them over and over until holes appeared. They even made their own surgical gauze, the nurses and anesthesia staff sitting around an old wooden table at teatime each afternoon cutting bolts of white cotton cloth to size for the next day’s cases.”

-from The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande

A perfect retelling of ancient truths

The other day I overheard someone saying that Christian stories are actually not very original, and that in ancient history there are scores of other stories very similar to those of the Scriptures. Predictably, the Epic of Gilgamesh was mentioned as an example.

The implication was that the Christian Scriptures are merely one tradition among many traditions, and they are insignificant when considered alongside the parallel myths of other cultures.

Actually, the implication is exactly the opposite. If you look in multiple places and in multiple different contexts, and you see the same truths expressed, shouldn’t that convince you that perhaps these things are extremely important? God has revealed truth to everyone:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” -Romans 1:19-20 (ESV)

If the stories of Scripture are true, we should expect to find some of them told in various forms in other cultures. Many of the stories predate the Bible, but this shouldn’t surprise us either. We see in Scripture that the Lord has been speaking to men and women since humanity was first created. Scripture is not an imitation of these ancient stories, it’s the crystallization of the truths in these ancient stories. After all, these truths “have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” 

“Those who are of faith are blessed”

History hinges on Genesis 12:1-3. Prior to this we have seen God working on the world as a whole. At least in what we have recorded, God did not significantly select one nation over the others until Genesis 12, when He calls Abraham. Here, the call becomes exclusive. God chooses Abraham. He tells Abraham that he will become a great nation. From here onward, Scripture records the history of Israel, not the history of Babylon, England, China, the United States, or any other nation.

In fact, God promises here to fight for the descendents of Abraham:

“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” -Genesis 12:3 (ESV)

This is what we see throughout the Old Testament. God fights for Israel. He fights for them against foreign nations, but He also fights for them against their own sin and corruption. When Israel becomes corrupted, God brings Assyria and Babylon to crush them, leaving only a remnant of faithful people who will again establish the nation of Israel as it was meant to be.

Repeatedly, God chooses one thing, but not another. He chooses one nation, and not another nation. God encourages one kind of behavior, and he condemns another. Here in Genesis 12, God has chosen Israel.

The call was not one-sided. I’m sure that, if Abraham had chosen not to obey the Lord, then God would not have blessed him or fought for him. But Abraham “went, as the Lord had told him.” Just like throughout all of Israel’s history, Abraham’s obedience was a sign that he accepted God. By doing “as the Lord had told him,” Abraham was signalling to God that he would allow God to bless him and his offspring.

History hinges on Genesis 12:1-3 because in choosing Abraham, God chose you. God’s intent in exclusively choosing Abraham was that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In Galatians 3:9, God tells us, in the words of Paul, that “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

Abraham demonstrated that he accepted God by going where God told him to go. Through Abraham’s faith, everyone in the world can be blessed. Through Abraham’s descendants, God raised up a nation that understood Him, a nation that would be prepared for the coming of Jesus, a nation that called Jesus their Messiah, their expected One, the One who would redeem them. And through Jesus, God calls each of us. The symbol of Abraham’s faith was obedience, and the symbol of our faith is identification with Jesus–believing in Him.

But still, God’s call is exclusive. God hates evil, suffering, greed, and everything that’s wrong with the world. God blesses “those who are of faith”, but He curses evil, and if a person does not choose God, they choose evil. There are only two choices: God, or not-God. God is calling you, just as He called Abraham. Are you “of faith”? If so, Scripture is not just Israel’s history, but also your history.

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” -Galatians 3:7 (ESV)