God’s Sovereignty over Time

To get this blog going again, I will be re-posting some of the most popular theology material from my former blog. This is from April 2010.

How can God have always existed if time has a beginning? This and similar questions often grace my path as a teacher of young students. One paradigm has helped me answer them, and I want to share it with you.

It is mind boggling to think of God as always having existed. He has lived forever and will still live as long as we do. This teaching can become problematic as we deal in terms of creationism versus theories like the Big Bang. One argument against the latter theory is that it is impossible for an actually infinite number of things to exist; also the second law of thermodynamics indicates that the universe is “winding down” from a point of higher usable energy. Is God subject to these laws?

In other words, how can one say God has always existed and that matter can’t have always existed?

To answer this question, I have the help of two great theologians: C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine. Lewis argues in Mere Christianity that God’s relationship to time is like the relationship between an author and her work.

“Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another…He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer… Suppose I am writing a novel… Between writing the first half of that sentence and the second, I might sit down for three hours and think.” (pp. 167-168; HarperSanFrancisco, 2001 edition)

In my own words, God is not just on the entire timeline, he is outside the timeline.He created time itself. Therefore, to say God has always existed is an understatement. He invented both “existence” and the concept of “always.”

Augustine sheds more light on the issue in The City of God.

“…time does not exist without some movement and transition, while in eternity there is no change, who does not see that there could have been no time had not some creature been made, which by some motion could give birth to change…and thus, in these shorter or longer intervals of duration, time would begin? Since then, God, in whose eternity is no change at all, is the Creator and Ordainer of time, I do not see how He can be said to have created the world after spaces of time had elapsed, unless it be said that prior to the world there was some creature by whose movement time could pass. … then assuredly the world was made, not in time, but simultaneously with time.” (Book 11, The City of God)

In other words, if nothing changes, there is no passage of time. Therefore, God did not “wait” for time to pass before creating the world. He created time by the simple act of creating. Time and the world began at the same…time.

Time itself is subject to God. Therefore, issues like God existing within creation for ever are subject to this greater principle. God’s immanence is explained by his transcendence.


Answering a Fool: Proverbs 26:4-5

To get this blog going again, I will be re-posting some of the most popular theology material from my former blog. This is from April 2010.

The Bible seems to have many contradictions. I am of the opinion that most can be sorted out by a better understanding of the text. Others are more challenging. While it would be enjoyable to confront all proposed biblical contradictions, it would be redundant as many have attempted to do it already. The Christian perspective on many of these issues can be found here.

I recently had one of these apparent contradictions brought to me by a student. The issue is how to appropriately handle a foolish person.

Proverbs 26:4-5 NASB
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:4-5 KJV
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

Well, then. Somebody is either arguing with himself or forgot what he just said, right?

On the spot, I see two possible ways to reconcile these obvious opposites with each other. Firstly, the author could be merely stating an apparent reality. In other words, “It seems that if you answer a fool, you become foolish, but if you don’t, he thinks he’s wise!” Frustrating indeed. While the Proverbs often do this, it is not the only possible reconciliation.

I hoped to find some help by looking up the phrase “according to/as his …deserves” in the original Hebrew. Maybe they are different words for the two lines.

No dice. They were identical.

So the author used the exact same phrase twice. Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, just like it deserves. Better yet, do it.

I found one other instance of this phrase in the Hebrew Bible that was of some help. At the end of Job, God is correcting Job’s frenemies for their foolishness and says:

“Now therefore…offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” (Job 42:8 NASB)

The phrase seems to indicate a relationship of authority giving punishment. This works, as the context of Proverbs 26:1-5 is all about putting a fool in his rightful place…downward.

Finally I found some help from early interpretive tradition: the Septuagint. This is the attempt of Jewish scholars to translate their writings from Hebrew into Greek completed in the 2nd century BC. They rendered the phrase “according to” in two different ways in the two verses. They used “pros” in verse 4 and “kata” in verse 5.

There is a slight nuance in meaning difference here. Pros seems to indicate going toward something else on the same level. I would answer pros my wife if she asked a question. Kata seems to refer to a downward approach as with one in authority. I would answer kata my son if he challenged me. The result is something like you see in the NASB translation above. Don’t answer a fool toward or on the same level with his folly. Do put his foolishness in its rightful place.

Of course, the practical reality is that one is usually a poor judge of whether the other is a fool. It seems that the answer should only be given to correct a person that you are in intellectual authority over. Otherwise, it will look like the conversation of two fools.

Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. – Mark Twain?


Eternal Happiness

To get this blog going again, I will be re-posting some of the most popular theology material from my former blog. This is from July 2009.

“For we mean by eternal life that life where there is endless happiness. For if the soul live in eternal punishments, by which also those unclean spirits shall be tormented, that is rather eternal death than eternal life. For there is no greater or worse death than when death never dies. But because the soul from its very nature, being created immortal, cannot be without some kind of life, its utmost death is alienation from the life of God in an eternity of punishment. So, then, He only who gives true happiness gives eternal life, that is, an endlessly happy life.” -Augustine, The City of God, Book 6, Chapter 12

Augustine here continues his tirade against those who would worship “happiness” (a.k.a. felicity) or any other trait as a god in itself. Rather, it makes more sense that God gives happiness, than that happiness is a god. Furthermore, if we want to life a life of happiness, what better way than to live an eternal life of happiness? We will all live forever, but we must determine what kind of life it will be. God who gives happiness is the only one worth pursuing for eternal life.


Hinduism Trivia

To get this blog going again, I will be re-posting some of the most popular theology material from my former blog. This is from November 2008.

In one of my classes we are discussing Amy Carmichael, a former missionary to India. As part of our discussion we have researched Hinduism. I asked the students to make a list of questions they had about Hinduism so that I could dedicate a class to them. Here are some of their questions and the answers I found.

Why do they not eat cows? 
All animals are revered because they have souls just like humans. To kill a cow would be like committing murder. Plus, since you interfered with the cow’s natural death, it would have to be reborn in the same form. Cows are specifically revered because they are so important to life. Not only do they provide milk, but burning their dung can be a good insecticide and the ashes make great fertilizer.

How would other people know if other people were breaking caste
It involves the interaction of two people, so someone else will always find out. Here are the major rules of the caste system, (which is now illegal in India).

  • Caste members can socially mix with only those belonging to their caste.
  • Caste determines where each member can live.
  • Caste determines what an individual may eat and drink.
  • Caste determines how each member may earn a living.

Accepting one’s caste is seen as a key part of dharma, right actions in life. Due to the belief in reincarnation, most people believe that violations of caste will be punished in the next life.

Why do they have so many gods? How many are there?

Christians know that with Adam and Noah, there was a worship of the One True God. As people continued to rebel against God, they replaced him with their own perceptions of divinity. God is infinitely powerful. However, people rejected the idea of an omnipotent God. Therefore, they must come up with an infinite number of gods to fill His shoes. It takes an infinite number of gods with limited power to make up for One Omnipotent God.

There are two answers to the question of “how many gods”. There is only one pantheistic god in Hinduism and that is the Brahman. All gods that Hindus worship are an example or aspect of the Brahman. There are three major gods: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). The only total number I could find is about 330 million.

What is their theory of creation?
The Brahman has always been. The other gods emanated from it. The following is a version of their creation legend.

A giant cobra floated on the waters. Asleep within its endless coils lay the Lord Vishnu. He was watched over by the mighty serpent. Everything was so peaceful and silent that Vishnu slept undisturbed by dreams motion. From the depths a humming sound began to tremble, Ohm. It grew and spread, filling the emptiness and throbbing with energy.

The night had ended, Vishnu awoke. As the dawn began to break, from Vishnu’s navel grew a magnificent lotus flower. In the middle of the blossom sat Vishnu’s servant, Brahma. He awaited the Lord’s command.
Vishnu spoke to his servant: ‘It is time to begin.’ Brahma bowed. Vishnu commanded: ‘Create the World.’ A wind swept up the waters. Vishnu and the serpent vanished.
Brahma remained in the lotus flower, floating and tossing on the sea. He lifted up his arms and calmed the wind and the ocean.
Then Brahma split the lotus flower into three. He stretched one part into the heavens. He made another part into the earth. With the third part of the flower he created the skies.
The earth was bare. Brahma set to work. He created grass, flowers, trees and plants of all kinds. To these he gave feeling. Next he created the animals and the insects to live on the land. He made birds and many fish. To all these creatures, he gave the senses of touch and smell. He gave them power to see, hear and move. The world was soon bristling with life and the air was filled with the sounds of Brahma’s creation.

What is the percentage of Hindus in the US? the World? 

Hindus make up about .4% of the U.S. population with 1.1 million people. They make up 14% of the world population with about 900 million people.

If they aren’t supposed to kill anything, how do they eat?

Ideally, all Hindus are supposed to be vegetarians. They get their protein from nuts, beans, and other plants. However, Shiva is a mega meat-eater, and many Hindus don’t feel it necessary to practice this.

Do they have a god of poop?

His name is Samana.


Iraq in the Bible

To get this blog going again, I will be re-posting some of the most popular theology material from my former blog. This is from October 2008.

I just received an email that was quite intriguing to me. I have received versions of this before. It’s not on Snopes in its entirety yet, so I thought I would take the opportunity to challenge it. Here’s version I received:

Read all of this one, it is interesting!!
Near the bottom will give you GOOSEBUMPS!!!
You don’t want to miss this! ((*_*) )
VERY INTERESTING-

1. The Garden of Eden was in Iraq
2. Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq, was the cradle of civilization!
3. Noah built the ark in Iraq
4. The Tower of Babel was in Iraq
5. Abraham was from Ur, which is in Southern Iraq
6. Isaac’s wife Rebekah is from Nahor, which is in Iraq
7. Jacob met Rachel in Iraq
8. Jonah preached in Nineveh – which is in Iraq
9. Assyria, which is in Iraq, conquered the ten tribes of Israel
10. Amos cried out in Iraq
11. Babylon, which is in Iraq, destroyed Jerusalem
12. Daniel was in the lion’s den in Iraq
13. The three Hebrew children were in the fire in Iraq (Jesus had been in Iraq also as the fourth person in the Fiery Furnace!)
14. Belshazzar, the King of Babylon saw the ‘writing on the wall’ in Iraq
15. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, carried the Jews captive into Iraq
16. Ezekiel preached in Iraq
17. The wise men were from Iraq
18. Peter preached in Iraq
19. The ‘Empire of Man’ described in Revelation is called Babylon –which was a city in Iraq

And you have probably seen this one: Israel is the nation most often mentioned in the Bible. But do you know which nation is second? It is Iraq !

However, that is not the name that is used in the Bible. The names used in the Bible are Babylon , Land of Shinar, and Mesopotamia … The word Mesopotamia means between the two rivers, more exactly between the Tigris And Euphrates Rivers ..

The name Iraq means country with deep roots. Indeed Iraq is a country with deep roots and is a very significant country in the Bible. No other nation, except Israel , has more history and prophecy associated with it than Iraq

And also, This is something to think about: Since America is typically represented by an eagle. Saddam should have read up on his Muslim passages …

The following verse is from the Koran, (the Islamic Bible)

Koran ( 9:11 ) – For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle.. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah; And there was peace.

(Note the verse number!) Hmmmmmmm?!

You will notice as we proceed that this email, as with most falsehoods, has much truth. For quick synopsis, I will put three asterisks (***) before points that are entirely true, two (**) before those that are partially true and one (*) before those that are entirely false.

(**) 1. The Garden of Eden was in Iraq.

The Garden of Eden was located at the convergence of the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers. The latter two flow from Turkey to the Persian Gulf in Iraq. Thus based on the location of the former two rivers (which is unknown) the Garden could be anywhere between the highlands of Turkey and the bottom of the Persian Gulf.

(***) 2. Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq, was the cradle of civilization!

Mesopotamia included more land than just modern Iraq, but the statement is generally true.

(**) 3. Noah built the ark in Iraq.

The biblical account of the building of the ark mentions no location whatsoever. However, this assumption is not unreasonable.

(***) 4. The Tower of Babel was in Iraq.

The Tower of Babel was in the land of Shinar, likely southern Iraq.

(***) 5. Abraham was from Ur, which is in Southern Iraq.

Yep

(**) 6. Isaac’s wife Rebekah is from Nahor, which is in Iraq.

Nahor was a person, Abraham’s brother. Nahor’s city was in Mesopotamia, but that could be anything between Turkey, Syria, or Iraq.

(***) 7. Jacob met Rachel in Iraq.

Jacob met her in “the lands of the east“. The people there said they were from some of the cities in southern Iraq.

(***) 8. Jonah preached in Nineveh – which is in Iraq.

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and is presently located in Northern Iraq.

(***) 9. Assyria, which is in Iraq, conquered the ten tribes of Israel.

See above.

(*) 10. Amos cried out in Iraq.

Several locations are mentioned in the book of Amos, but whenever they are referring to where the man Amos presently is, they always point to Judah or Israel. In fact there is a point (Amos 8:12-13) that the king tells Amos to leave Israel, therefore he must have been there.

(**) 11. Babylon, which is in Iraq, destroyed Jerusalem.

It would be more accurate to say that Iraq is in Babylon as Babylon is bigger. However, the rest is true.

(*) 12. Daniel was in the lion’s den in Iraq.

By this point Babylon had been overthrown by the Persians. The new capital, where Daniel was likely located was East, in Persia (Iran).

(*) 13. The three Hebrew children were in the fire in Iraq (Jesus had been in Iraq also as the fourth person in the Fiery Furnace!)

The location is the same as Daniel. Whether Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego) were children is a curious question. Also, whether Jesus was in fact the fourth man belongs to the realm of Theophany.

(***) 14. Belshazzar, the King of Babylon saw the ‘writing on the wall’ in Iraq.

See 12.

(***) 15. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, carried the Jews captive into Iraq.

Same as above.

(***) 16. Ezekiel preached in Iraq.

Babylon, yeah.

(**) 17. The wise men were from Iraq.

Matthew 2 indicates that the “wise men” that visited Jesus were from the “East”. This could be Iraq or the region of Persia–modern day Iran.

(**) 18. Peter preached in Iraq

If the “Babylon” referred to in 1 Peter 5:13 is literal, then yes.

(*) 19. The ‘Empire of Man’ described in Revelation is called Babylon –which was a city in Iraq.

First, “empire of man” is not a phrase that exists anywhere in any English translation of the Bible. Secondly, in much prophetic literature city names are symbolic. Babylon is a common reference in Revelation but it likely referred to contemporary Rome or some other future powerful city.

(*) And you have probably seen this one: Israel is the nation most often mentioned in the Bible. But do you know which nation is second? It is Iraq !

Actually, Egypt is mentioned way more, even if you include the alternate names for the region of Iraq.

(*)The name Iraq means country with deep roots. Indeed Iraq is a country with deep roots and is a very significant country in the Bible. No other nation, except Israel , has more history and prophecy associated with it than Iraq

Iraq is usually translated as “by the river” or “by the source.” It is a significant historical region. The land does have much history but the country does not. Prophecies are hard to associate with this region as it is impossible to determine how symbolic they are until they are fulfilled.

Another thing to remember is that Iraq didn’t exist as a country until the 1920s. It is a result of the carving up of the Ottoman Empire by the allied powers of WWI. It has no history as a unified nation before that, unless it was part of some other, larger empire (which it often was).

(*)And also, This is something to think about: Since America is typically represented by an eagle. Saddam should have read up on his Muslim passages … The following verse is from the Koran, (the Islamic Bible)

(*)Koran ( 9:11 ) – For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle.. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah; And there was peace.

Wow. This is bad. Thanks to an article on Snopes I discovered this is totally false.

Surah 9:11 actually says, “But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, they are your brethren in faith; and We make the communications clear for a people who know.”

There is no quote like the one mentioned in this email.

So, what’s the point? The region that Iraq sits in has rich history; however, the nation itself is relatively new and does not have the significance that we often give it.

P.S. I found another source who has addressed this same issue very well that you should check out.


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