Monday, April 21, 2014

Read Genesis with me? (Genesis 1:1-2:3)

It was fun, if it took some time, to walk through the New Testament these last 8 weeks. Why stop? I thought I'd slow the pace down to a chapter a day, and start taking notes on the Old Testament. I thought I'd commit one book at a time.

So anyone interested in reading through Genesis over the next 50 days or so, a chapter a day? I thought I'd start with Genesis 1 today. I won't post every day but mostly when I hit the end of recognizable units.
Genesis 1:1-2:3
  • Genesis 1:1-2:3 might have been written as an introduction to the entire Pentateuch (meaning "five scrolls"). The five scrolls are of course Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  • Genesis is anonymous. It nowhere mentions its author. Later Jewish tradition would assume that Moses wrote it.
  • It is debated whether Genesis 1:1-3 in Hebrew speaks of the creation of the waters or whether the chaotic waters were pictured as already there when God began to create. Here is an alternative translation.
  • Probably the first thing an ancient would have noticed about Genesis 1 is the complete absence of other gods. In the Babylonian creation story, in the Greek creation story, creation is full of conflict between the gods. In Genesis 1, God speaks and it is done. That is all.
  • The creation is very orderly. Creatures are created according to certain kinds. The structure of the creation mirrors the Israelite week with six days and a Sabbath. People debate whether this is a more or less literal presentation, whether the days represent ages, whether it is more or less a poetic presentation of a Levitical worldview, etc...
  • The final picture of Genesis 1 seems to look something like below, which shouldn't surprise us, since God revealed himself in Scripture in the categories of those to which he was first speaking:
  • The climax of creation is the creation of humanity. Christians have long seen in the "Let us make humanity" a mirror of the Trinity. Obviously no Israelite would have taken it in that way--it took centuries even for Christians to agree on the Trinity. In its historical context, the Israelites would have more likely thought of God among the "gods" of Deuteronomy 32:8 or Psalm 82. But I personally have no problem at all with us reading Genesis 1 theologically in reference to the Trinity--God may have tucked away this possible reading for New Testament times, even though it seems quite certain that no one before the Christian era read it in that way.
  • The image of God in Genesis 1:27-28 in context seems to refer to the fact that man and woman are placed as rulers of the creation (governmental image), much as the state of humanity for which Psalm 8 thanks God. Later Christians would of course see in these words many other ways in which we mirror God. For example, we are like God in our ability to tell the difference between good and evil (moral image) and our ability to think (rational image). There's no evidence in Genesis 1 that it had such things in mind, but they are certainly true--good theological readings of the text.
  • God's creation is entirely good. There was nothing evil to what God had made.
The target for the next post is Wednesday on Genesis 2-3.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

G7. God loves everything he has created.

Here is the next installment of my theology in bullet points.
G7. God loves everything he has created.

That is not to say that God loves everything we do or even that the creation is the "best possible world." [1] One of the ways that God showed his love for the creation was by giving it a degree of freedom and creativity. He created a world where it is better to love someone freely than to love under compulsion, and thus he created a world where we might choose to love him or choose to ignore him.

As part of this freedom, the creation and humanity has often gone the wrong way. But God still loves his creation, even when it sins or errs. "God is love," John the elder told his congregation (1 John 4:8). Like a parent that loves a child who has strayed, God loves the world. Indeed, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

This is not a love merely for those he has chosen to return to him, as the Calvinist might say. This is a love even for the person who will never return. When Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies, he uses God as the model, who "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:45). So also, "Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete" (5:48, CEB).

What is love? Jesus defines it very practically, "in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). Paul put it in this way, "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10). When we say God is love, we mean that he wants good for us--wants good for everyone. God wants to help us. If God allows us to experience pain, it is for some greater good. If God allows the evil to prosper for a time, it is because the overall benefit is greater.

Good is not the same as pleasure. God's love for us may bring us pain for a season so that we can experience a more lasting happiness. And God's love for the many may sometimes trump the pain of an individual. His love is only reckless when it brings good, not when it indulges our selfishness or brings pain to others in order for us to have pleasure.

The best biblical picture of the kind of "prodigal" love God has is in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The father allows his son to leave. The father allows his son to fail. The father wants the son to come back but recognizes that the son must make this decision for himself, for that is how God has made the world. The father would have let the son die in the far away country.

But the father welcomes the son without anyone needing to pay. There is no sense that justice must be satisfied. The father has the authority to forgive the son outright, and he eagerly does so. He is looking for the son's return. And so God's justice fits within the overall context of his love, rather than his love fitting within the context of his justice. "Mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas. 2:13).

It thus will not do to play games with the meaning of the word love. Some would like to define the word circularly, "Since God is the definition of love, anything God does is loving." This is a clever trick to try to make an unloving picture of God fit with the truth that God is love.

But it just won't work. When the Bible says God is love, it uses the word love in its ordinary sense. There must therefore be an explanation for any passages in the Bible where the picture of God does not seem to fit with the ordinary meaning of the word. At times, our understanding of love can be anemic. Love sometimes brings pain because it leads to a greater good. Justice does not contradict love, although there is a loving way to be just, as we will argue in the next article.

Passages or verses where God seems unloving may be unclear. Or they may involve cultural or anthropomorphism in their portrayal of God. At times the understanding of God is imprecise or less complete than later in Scripture. At times rhetoric may be involved to make a quite different point. In such cases we must follow the lead of Christ and Paul not to let the unclear details obscure the clear center point of revelation.

Here we remember that the earliest parts of the Old Testament do not distinguish between God as tempter and Satan as tempter. Job and 1 Chronicles, arguably both written after the Babylonian exile of Israel, introduce the role of Satan as tempter in situations where the earlier parts of the Old Testament pictured God doing the tempting. [2] God is in control. God signs off on what Satan does. God allows it but does not directly cause evil. [3]

This distance between specific acts of evil and God, who allows but does not directly command it, helps us understand how God can be loving and yet allow evil to take place. It will not do simply to say, as some traditions, that we deserve any evil that befalls us, as if this would sufficiently explain God taking a blind eye to atrocity. A truly loving being does not enjoy suffering and evil even when the object of suffering deserves it.

Of course the greatest instance of divine love is the incarnation and atonement God provided by becoming human and dying on the cross for the world. We will argue that God could have forgiven us on his own authority. He could have miraculously healed us by his divine power. Yet it better fit the order of the world he created and it was more powerful for us that he suffer himself as we suffer.

God therefore chose to suffer and die on the cross. Jesus in his humanity chose to suffer and die on the cross. Jesus died for everyone, not just a certain limited number. Jesus died for those who would stay his enemies forever, not just for those God knew would turn to him. In a sense, Jesus willingly wasted some of his blood on those whom God knew would never respond.

God loves everything he has created, even those who will never choose to serve him.

Next week: G8. God's justice fits within the context of his love.

[1] As Gottfried Leibniz, a Christian philosopher of the 1600s, thought.

[2] Compare 1 Chronicles 21:1 with 2 Samuel 24:1. Job may picture a patriarchal situation, but this in no way means that Job was written during the time of the patriarchs, a fact that the Hebrew of Job would militate against. Thus where 1 Samuel 18:10-11 speaks of an evil spirit coming from God and driving Saul to throw a spear at David, we should take this as very imprecise language that only imprecisely understands divine agency in relation to evil. God allowed an evil spirit to drive Saul to throw the spear.

[3] The case of God "hardening a heart" such as Pharoah's must be taken in a very general sense. God certainly uses evil for good. God sometimes redirects the direction of evil. God may abandon someone to evil to where their evil is amplified or Satan accentuates evil. But God does not make Pharaoh evil in the first place.

He Arose!

Lo in the grave he lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord.

Up from the grave, he arose,
With a mighty triumph o'er his foes.
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever with his saints to reign.

He arose!
He arose!
Hallelujah!  Christ arose!

Vainly, they watch his bed,
Jesus, my Savior.
Vainly, they seal the dead,
Jesus, my Lord.

Death cannot keep its prey,
Jesus, my Savior.
He tore the bars away,
Jesus, my Lord.

Up from the grave, he arose,
With a mighty triumph o'er his foes.
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever with his saints to reign.

He arose!
He arose!
Hallelujah!  Christ arose!

Christ has died. Christ has risen! Christ will come again!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grudem 16a: God's Providence 1 - Preservation

Nowhere perhaps is Wesleyan-Arminian theology more distinct from Calvinist than in the subject matter of this chapter.  I hope to review this chapter in three installments: 1) today's on Grudem's treatment of God's preservation of the universe, ) a second one on God's "cooperation" with the creation, including whether God causes evil, and 3) a third where Grudem argues against the Arminian position.

For previous summaries and evaluations of Grudem's theology, see here.

Chapter 16: God's Providence
Wayne Grudem defines God's providence in this way: "God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he 1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; 2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and 3) directs them to fulfill his purposes" (315). He treats each of these areas under a distinct heading: 1) preservation, 2) concurrence, and 3) government.

A. Preservation
God does not continuously create new atoms and molecules, but God preserves what has already been created. "God has made and continues to sustain a universe that acts in predictable ways" (317). Grudem references verses like Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17, which speak of God upholding the universe by his word or holding things together. Nehemiah 9:6 says that God preserves the heaven, the earth, and the hosts within them.

One of the biggest weaknesses of Grudem's use of Scripture is his failure to read verses in their full contexts. He more or less takes verses as straightforward propositions. But God spoke to the audiences of Scriptures largely in their worldviews, including their paradigms of the cosmos. This means that language such as that found in the verses Grudem references cannot be assumed to be straightforwardly literal, much less the basis for a firm perspective on a doctrine. In this case, see how few verses he is even able to produce on this subject--a reflection of the fact that we are trying to address questions that were not the questions of the biblical authors themselves.

In Nehemiah's worldview, for example, the hosts that worship God may include stars. In Nehemiah's day, they sometimes thought of stars as heavenly beings, angelic beings of a sort, while we now think of them as burning suns. Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:7 may draw on Jewish traditions about the Logos, which Philo also says glues the world together (e.g., Heir 188). In such cases we are better to take biblical language as more poetic than literal. The imagery is drawn from ancient worldview.

In short, we have no way of knowing exactly how God sustains the universe. The universe would not exist apart from God and it only continues to exist by God's direct will. But does God actively go around making sure gravity always works according to Newton and Einstein's laws? Is God holding my rear end down right now so that I don't fly up and hit the ceiling? Does God specifically make sure the second law of thermodynamics is in play (or is it the result of sin?)? This is certainly the way Christians before the scientific age would have viewed it.

But there is surely nothing heretical to suggest that we may now be able to speculate more precisely than was relevant for Christians before the 1600s and the biblical writers themselves. What if God created the universe as a machine that more or less runs on its own? What if a miracle is God interrupting the normal working of the machine? The key doctrines are maintained. God is still in ultimate control. God is still active in the world according to his will.

However, contrary to Grudem's approach, it was not the sense that God is predictable in his sustaining of events in the universe that gave rise to modern science. Rather, science exploded because thinkers in the 1500s and 1600s believed God had created the universe to run on its own by certain natural laws that inhere in nature itself. Indeed, the view that everything that happens in the world is the action of God or some other spiritual being was an obstacle to the rise of science. It is no coincidence that the Arminian point of view, which argues for free will and which Grudem argues against, rose at the same time as the rise of modern science.

In the end, we have no way of knowing exactly how it works. Does God go around directly making sure electromagnetic forces follow the laws of physics? No one can disprove that he does, because natural laws would look exactly the same. Did God create the universe largely as a machine that runs according to the laws he created as part of it? The fact that the "scientific" paradigms of the biblical authors were a function of their ancient contexts does not argue against this position, since the Bible was revealed in categories its original audiences could understand.

But science has not advanced on the supposition that God flips every switch and yanks every chain. It advances on the assumption that there are regular laws to the way the universe operates and that we best understand those rules by experimentation and the collection of evidence. Grudem's approach thus more pulls against science and the discoveries whose benefits are undeniable and all around us.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Grief Observed

At 3pm on Friday, April 10, AD30, Jesus died on a Roman cross. His head knew that he had obeyed God's will. He knew that God loved him. His head knew he would rise again.

What he felt was, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Here is a reminder for anyone who wonders where God is when they are in a time of deepest anguish. Jesus has been there too and feels their pain.

Passion Week

In a number of previous years (e.g., 2007 and 2008 especially), I walked through Passion Week with Jesus and the disciples. Here are some of those posts:

Palm Sunday
Monday: Jesus in the Temple
Tuesday Debates
Wednesday Plotting
Thursday: Getting Ready for Passover
Good Friday
Saturday: Low in the Grave

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole." (Gal. 3:13)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dark Matter, String Theory, and the End of Spacetime (chaps 11-14)

I suppose we all wish we could live several lives. In one of them, I would teach physics.

I finished the last few chapters of The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity and enjoyed it immensely. There's rarely a book that holds my attention, but this one pulled me on like a novel. I envy the brilliance of the characters in this story and wish I could even catch a glimpse of their thoughts.

Here are my earlier posts:
Chapter 1: Einstein in 1907
Chapter 2: The General Theory of Relativity Born
Chapters 3-6: Expanding Universes, Collapsing Stars, Cuckoo Einstein, and Steady States
Chapters 7-10: Black Holes and Gravitational Waves

Chapter 11: The Dark Universe
This chapter is dominated by the rise of the notion that the universe is full of dark matter, as well as the rise of the idea of dark energy. The key figure of the chapter is Jim Peebles of Princeton, who is still living at almost 80. He retired in 2000.

Peebles devoted most of his career to trying to figure out how the galaxies of the universe hang together. What role do galaxies play in Einstein's relativity? Basically, he explored the middle part, from the Big Bang to what they look like now. He was scooped trying to find background radiation from the Big Bang but he was a key predictor of it.

Throughout his career, he followed the dictum of his mentor, Bob Dicke--good observations trump mediocre theories. This would lead him and others to conclude that something they eventually called dark matter existed. Space should curve quickly but it is relatively smooth. Why does the universe lean Euclidean rather than non-Euclidean? The "cold dark matter" model or CDM suggested that 96% of the universe's stuff isn't seen because it doesn't interact with light.

Hard not to think of the ether that Einstein disproved... or did he?

At the same time, dark matter doesn't account for why the universe doesn't expand even more quickly. Since Einstein abandoned his constant (lambda), the idea that there might be a number in his equation to keep the universe from expanding had been considered an embarrassment. Einstein invented the possibility of a constant in his equations to keep the universe from expanding and he did it because he didn't like the idea of an expanding universe. It was a classic example of fiddling with the data because you didn't like the conclusion.

But by 1996, at a meeting meant to celebrate Peebles 60th birthday by a series of debates, the constant was brought up again as a possible explanation for why the universe wasn't flying apart. Michael Turner from the University of Chicago argued for it. Reluctantly, many cosmologists have finally accepted it.

Or have they? We are witnessing the rise of speculation about another dark entity--dark energy.

Chapter 12: The End of Spacetime
I've never had the slightest interest in string theory. It's a bizarre thing but the very idea that fundamental reality is a bunch of vibrating strings is really annoying to me. Quite irrational, I know. I side with Leslie Winkle in Big Bang Theory, an episode mentioned in this chapter. :-) As Einstein once said of pure math, I find string theory "superfluous erudition" that is pointless because it's untestable, narcissistic, and self-feeding.

I have a similar reaction to Stephen Hawking too. I admire his genius, of course. From what I can tell, he seems a lot smarter than Einstein ever was. His main contribution seems to be his finding that black holes radiate and ultimately evaporate, that they satisfy the second law of thermodynamics and have a temperature.

He's made and lost other bets. Most recently, he bet against the Higgs boson, which seems to have been discovered. Hawking would rather see confirmation of M-theory with its strings and membranes, multiverses and things popping in and out of nothing. Another book on my shelf is Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics, which seems to be part of a wave of "fed-up-ness" with string theory, a theory that has produced nothing of any tangible benefit for physics. I'm thinking it's a colossal waste of two decades.

Smolin is one of the founders of Leslie Winkle's "loop quantum gravity." The notion here is in part that space itself is quantized, that if you get down far enough, space doesn't exist on the quantum level. Now there's a more attractive theory.

Bryce DeWitt summarized the two main approaches to gravity in 1967. The covariant approach is that of the string theories. Gravity is just another force carried by a particle, dubbed the graviton. I'm not sure why I find this approach so annoying, maybe because it was a departure from classical general relativity. The canonical approach sees gravity as a function of the geometry of spacetime. It just seems so much more profound than some dinky particle or vibrating strings.

Chapter 13: A Spectacular Extrapolation
In this chapter Ferreira looks at the minority report, various alternative theories of quantum gravity that simply have not won the day or have been overlooked. The title of the chapter comes from Peebles' sense that while Einstein's general relativity has done well to describe the motion of planets within our solar system, it is quite spectacular to suggest it applies on the level of the universe.

Just as Newtonian physics broke down when things approached the speed of light or the subatomic level, so relativity breaks down on the quantum level and in the farthest reaches of space. Are we really to think that 96% of the universe is "dark matter" or is this as silly a suggestion as the ether was at the end of the 1800s? In Ferreira's words, general relativity is due for a fresh look (211). What about Dirac's work near the end of his life? Was Sakharov right to suggest that gravity emerges from the quantum nature of matter? (214) What of the discarded proposals of Milgrom and Bekenstein?

I wish I were smart enough to grasp all the nuances. I have a strong hunch is that we are in such deep waters here that a lot of the theorists don't even understand each other's proposals. Who will be the new Einstein and Hawking, the person who looks at these questions in completely fresh and different way, one that goes against all our sensibilities?

Chapter 14: Something is Going to Happen
So Ferreira hopes. Meanwhile, the US is falling behind because we aren't willing to spend the kind of money it takes to do this sort of research. We can't even get to the space station now without the help of the Russians--who by the way aren't helping us get there right now. Congress has cut funding to LISA (for measuring gravity waves). But at least the EU is still funding this sort of research.

Meanwhile, we're afraid CERN is going to cause a black hole to swallow up the earth because we saw Dan Brown's Angels and Demons.

New Testament Reading Plan (40 Day Bible)

If you ever want to read through the Bible in 40 days (technically 39), here is a reading plan, based on the 40 Day plan that Biblica arranged with the Wesleyan Church in the Spring of 2014, in the days leading up to Easter. The version used is the NIV2011:

Week 1
Day 1 (Luke 1:1-4:13)
Day 2 (Luke 4:14-9:50)
Day 3 (Luke 9:51-13:21)
Day 4 (Luke 13:22-19:27)
Day 5 (Luke 19:28-24:53)

Week 2
Day 6 (Acts 1:1-6:7)
Day 7 (Acts 6:8-12:24)
Day 8 (Acts 12:25-19:20)
Day 9 (Acts 19:21-28:31)
Day 10 (1 and 2 Thessalonians)

Week 3
Day 11 (1 Corinthians 1-7)
Day 12 (1 Corinthians 8-16)
Day 13 (2 Corinthians)
Day 14 (Galatians)
Day 15 (Romans 1-8)

Week 4
Day 16 (Romans 9-16)
Day 17 (Colossians)
Day 18 (Ephesians and Philemon)
Day 19 (Philippians and 1 Timothy)
Day 20 (Titus and 2 Timothy)

Week 5
Day 21 (Matthew 1-7)
Day 22 (Matthew 8:1-13:52)
Day 23 (Matthew 13:53-18:35)
Day 24 (Matthew 19-25)
Day 25 (Matthew 26-28)

Week 6
Day 26 (Hebrews 1:1-4:13)
Day 27 (Hebrews 4:14-13:25)
Day 28 (James)
Day 29 (Mark 1:1-8:30)
Day 30 (Mark 8:31-16:8)

Week 7
Day 31 (1 Peter)
Day 32 (2 Peter and Jude)
Day 33 (John 1-6)
Day 34 (John 7-12)
Day 35 (John 13-21)

Week 8
Day 36 (1, 2, and 3 John)
Day 37 (Revelation 1-3)
Day 38 (Revelation 4-16)
Day 39 (Revelation 17-20)

#40daybible Day 39 (Rev. 17-22)

And so we come to the final reading of our 40 day Bible experience, Revelation 17-22.

Some notes:
  • The woman in Revelation 17 is a different woman than the one in Revelation 12. The woman in Revelation 12 gives birth to the Messiah and may be true Israel. But this woman is "Babylon," a code name for Rome.
  • It's very hard not to conclude that the symbol of the beast is built off of the emperors of Rome. Surely the churches of Revelation would have thought of Rome when they heard of seven hills. And how easy it would be to think of Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula, and Nero when Revelation mentions 5 kings who have fallen. There was a year with three emperors that probably doesn't count (69). Vespasian would then be the sixth king and Titus the seventh. The eighth would then be Domitian, traditionally the emperor when Revelation was written or at least finished.
  • Revelation 18 seems to look to the fall of Rome, in the first instance, perhaps a foreshadowing of some future foe?
  • Revelation 19 is once again the final battle between Christ and the forces of evil. Jesus wins.
  • Revelation 20 gives us the millennium, not an exact number I suspect. Christ will reign on earth. Revelation does not picture eternity in heaven but on a new earth.
  • But Satan will ultimately be judged, as will all the dead, cast into the lake of fire.
  • Then there is a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21. A new Jerusalem descends from heaven but there will be no temple in the new city.
  • Revelation 22 closes the apocalypse, the letter, and the prophecy. No one must add to or take away from the words of Revelation ("this book of prophecy").
Some words to end on:
  • Then he told me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy." (Rev. 22:10-11)
Here endeth the reading.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

#40daybible Day 38 (Rev. 4-16)

Today's reading covers the middle chapters of Revelation (4-16).

Some notes:
  • With Revelation 4, the apocalyptic section of the book launches in earnest in the throne room of heaven. I've always liked the KJV of 4:11.  "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty."
Seven Seals
  • From Revelation 5-8, we have a series of seven seals. I don't think that these are sequential or exact pictures, but fantastical apocalyptic images. 
  • Before the seals can be opened, there must be someone worthy to break them. Only the Lamb can do so. Hard to compete with Handel on Revelation 5:12!
  • A key to Revelation is that, no matter how much might be about the end of history, it is written most directly to the churches of Asia. These churches were suffering. When 6:9-11 talks of those slain for the word of God and its testimony, John surely primarily had in mind those who were being persecuted at that time.
  • The 144,000 of Revelation 7 symbolizes those in Israel who will finally be saved.
  • The great throng of those in white robes probably represents all of those who will be saved who are not of Israel--those of every nation, tribe, people, and language who had believed. They have come out of great tribulation (not the Great Tribulation, there's no "the" there in the Greek).
  • Perhaps we should think of the end of time blurred with the situation of John's day. Nothing here speaks of another special tribulation at the end of time. Revelation surely has primarily in view the tribulation of John's day.
Seven Trumpets
  • The seventh seal starts seven trumpets in chapter 8-11. With the redeemed removed from the earth, the judgment of the world now begins. Again, I don't think we should read this as sequential or exactly literal.
  • The fifth trumpet starts three woes--again, not chronological, not exactly how it will happen. 
  • When the seventh trumpet sounds, the Hallelujah chorus begins!
The Cosmic Battle
  • We've seen the redeemed. We've seen the damned. Now in Revelation 12 we see the scene from another angle, the cosmic one. It is another symbolic presentation of the same struggle all over again.
  • The dragon is Satan. I think the woman represents (true) Israel, believing Israel. She has twelve stars on her head, which sounds like Israel. The son is obviously Christ.
  • The beast probably relates to the Roman Empire. The descriptions of the beast could easily be read in terms of Nero, who committed suicide in 68.  If you take the letters "Caesar Nero" and treat them as numbers, they add up to 666.
  • The 144,000 probably refers again to the saved in Israel.
Seven Last Plagues
  • Again, we shouldn't think of these plagues as exactly chronological. We're back to the judgment of the earth in Revelation 15.
  • The seven last plagues come from seven bowls of wrath. And the final earthly battle is the battle of Armageddon
Favorite of the day:
  • Not the prettiest verse, but I love the Battle Hymn of the Republic: "The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia" (Rev. 14:19-20).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What would an on-campus, competency based class look like?

The rumblings of competency based credit is out there and seeming to grow. Think Western Governor's University. The problem with WGU is that it's pretty much on the basis of self-motivation. I hear there's a really poor completion rate (unconfirmed).

What if you paid for a "class" or better, a certification, by the week? If you achieved the competency of the class in a week, maybe because of your prior learning or experience, you got the credit in a week. If it took 6 weeks, you paid for 6 weeks. If it took a year... But you would do it in an onsite class environment, with people around you to motivate and a professor who would approach a mentor/tutor...

Just a thought as I listen to our VPAA at IWU, Don Sprowl, talk about assessment and changing times...

#40daybible Day 37 (Revelation 1-3)

We start the final book of the New Testament with Revelation 1-3:
  • Revelation mixes three genres. It is, first, a prophecy. Most of these chapters are, in addition, a letter to seven churches. 
  • It is also an apocalypse. An apocalypse was a type of literature in which a heavenly being appears to a key earthly figure with a revelation about events soon to come.
  • The author is John of Patmos, perhaps John the son of Zebedee. 
Church at Ephesus
  • positive words about the past, admonition to return to their first love
Entrance to marketplace at Ephesus

Church at Symrna
Ruins of Smyrna, in the middle of modern Izmir
  • nothing negative to say, they reject the synagogue of Satan
Church at Pergamum
Theater at Pergamum
  • they have remained true, but they are tolerating some who hold to false teaching
Church at Thyatira
Ruins at Thyatira
  • they're doing more than ever, but they tolerate a false prophetess or a false church
Church at Sardis
  • The church is dead although there are some there alive.
Gymnasium at Sardis
Church at Philadelphia
Little left at Philadelphia
  • only positive words to say about this church... God will make the synagogue of Satan acknowledge they are wrong
Church at Laodicea
  • the lukewarm church
Reconstructing Laodicea, with Hierapolis in distance
Personal favorite verse:
  • "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." Rev. 3:20

Monday, April 14, 2014

#40daybible Day 36 (1-2-3 John)

We enter the final week of the 40 Day Bible experience with 1, 2, and 3 John.

Some notes:
  • The author of these three writings does not identify himself but there are some thematic and stylistic features that seem to bind 1 John to both 2 and 3 John, on the one hand, and the Gospel of John, on the other.
  • 2 and 3 John are both written by "the elder," so we can suppose that 1 John was also and that this "elder" is also the eyewitness source of the Gospel of John. 
  • Papias, writing perhaps within 20-30 years of the Gospel of John, mentions a John the elder (see chapter 39). So it is possible that John the presbyter stands behind these four documents rather than John the son of Zebedee (see Hengel).
  • 2 John is a letter written, not to a woman, but to a local church ("lady"). John warns the church about Gnostics who deny that Jesus came in the flesh. Such individuals are antichrists. 
  • 2 John encourages this church to evaluate traveling teachers in relation to this understanding of Christ. It could be the first of all these writings (the order of 1-2-3 John is based on length).
  • 3 John is a letter written to a Gaius. It serves as a letter of recommendation and encourages him to receive a traveling teacher named Demetrius that John is sending their way. One of the elders of the church, Diotrephes, was refusing John and his teachers. Hengel wonders if this was the first or second writing in the series of John's letters and Gospel, before the split.
  • 1 John seems a little like Hebrews in that it does not have an opening greeting and, unlike Hebrews, does not even have a closing greeting. It looks, in other words, like a word of exhortation or mini-sermon.
  • 1 John was written after the Gnostic split in John's community, perhaps at Ephesus.
  • So the denials of these antichrists likely had to do with a denial that Jesus had come in the flesh. The early Gnostic group usually associated with this teaching was the Docetists, who believed that Jesus only seemed human. 
  • The audience needed to use such criteria to "test the spirits" of prophets who might come to them.
  • Perhaps some of these individuals had more economic resources than most in John's community, but they refused to help those in need. 
  • This is one of the concrete referents behind John's repeated instructions for believers to love each other. God is love--God helps others. So the true children of God love one another. They do not love the world.
  • Those who hate their brothers (in a concrete way) are not in the light. They're on the other team, the Devil's, in the darkness.
  • Jesus showed them what love was when he laid down his life for their sins. God showed his love for us by sending his Son.
  • The body and blood of Jesus is essential to the equation. Those who say they don't need his blood are deceiving themselves. In effect they are saying they do not have sin in need of cleansing by Jesus' blood.
  • Sin is wrongdoing, and John implies that the law to love is the fundamental standard. John is so bold as to say that his teaching makes it clear what God's commandment is. True believers have the Spirit.
  • John is writing in hope that the community will not sin in the concrete ways he has been mentioning. Indeed, once a person has Christ's seed in him or her, he should not be able to continue sinning in these ways.
  • John encourages the community not to fear of their state before God.
  • Pray for God to forgive those whose sin is less severe so that God may restore them. Some have sinned a "sin to death" and are severed from Christ, like those in 2:19. John does not suggest that prayer can help them.
Personal verse for the day:
  • 1 John 4:7-8: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

G6. God can do whatever he wants.

The Sunday theology posts continue. You can see a map to the whole concept here.
God can do whatever he wants. But he doesn't want to do certain things.

1. God can do whatever he wants.

God has the power to do anything he wants in the universe. God has the knowledge to do anything he wants in the universe. In this article, we explore the fact that God has the freedom and authority to do anything he wants in the universe.

God has the authority to do anything he wants because he is king. He is sovereign. We call God's authority over the universe his "sovereignty." Nothing happens in the universe without God's permission.

However, Christians disagree on the extent to which God micromanages his creation. Does God determine everything that happens down to the level of detail, such that nothing could possibly happen any other way? Or does God give the creation extensive freedom to where many different scenarios might possibly play out, depending on our choices or even the "choices" of the creation?

We call those instances where God commands the creation to do a specific thing instances of his "directive will." We can contrast such instances with those where he allows humanity or the creation to do something he did not specifically command--instances of his "permissive will." In such cases, God chooses not to choose directly what happens.

Some traditions, like the Calvinist tradition, emphasize the directive will of God. John Calvin (1509-64), for example, believed that God chose who would be saved and that our human will played no role in the equation at all. God's "election" of us was unconditional, his grace irresistible. If God chose us, we would certainly come to have faith, would live more righteous lives than those he did not empower, and would make it to the coming kingdom.

Some forms of hyper-Calvinism would go even further. They would suggest that God willed that Satan fall from heaven and that Adam would sin in the Garden of Eden, bringing sin onto all humanity. They would see God not only as electing those who will be saved but those who will be damned as well (double predestination). This approach goes beyond Calvin in that Calvin believed it was possible for Adam not to have sinned and thus that humanity would not start off full of sin (totally depraved).

Christians have commonly believed that the first human, Adam, brought sin into the world when he sinned in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 (cf. Rom. 5:12:21). Accordingly, the default state of humanity ever since is to have an inevitable drive to do the wrong thing, a "bent to sinning," a "sin nature." For Calvin, God did not chose the majority of humanity to be damned. They were damned already because of Adam (single predestination). [1]

Other Christian traditions, such as the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition to which I belong, believe that God empowers humanity to have a greater degree of freedom in relation to our eternal destiny. While our default state of sinfulness may be the same as Calvin thought (totally depraved), we believe that God graciously empowers us to freely be able to indicate a desire for more grace. If we continue on this trajectory, God will empower our wills to have faith, then empower us to live righteously, and finally empower us to enter the coming kingdom.

As a part of this latter tradition, I believe that God has given significant freedom to the creation. God miraculously enters the time space continuum and gives every person in the world the opportunity to move toward him, a gracious offer we call God's "prevenient grace," a power that comes to us before we could possibly seek him. Indeed, God cares for the creation in general without the creation ever asking, a grace we might call God's "common grace" toward the creation. [2]

In general, God's care for the creation is called his "providence." Christians have long believed that God sustains the creation, such that the creation could not continue to exist without God's active intervention. It is, admittedly, difficult to know how this sustaining providence might work exactly. Scripture does not really address the questions raised by the rise of a scientific worldview in the 1500s and 1600s. Did God create the universe as a self-standing machine that runs by natural laws he has put into it, or does God actively direct the movement of every quark and boson? These are questions that Scripture and the early fathers did not ask and thus did not clearly answer.

What we can say is that the universe exists by God's will. It would not exist without God's will. Nothing happens in the universe without God's will--either by direct command or with his permission. I personally prefer to believe that God created the universe with some degree of freedom. It is certainly distinct from him--it's existence is distinct from his existence. It seems to follow natural laws in a way that was not understood before the modern era. And to distinguish its "will" from God's will provides us with a more satisfactory explanation for suffering in the world, as something God more allows than directly commands. This approach fits naturally within the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition.

What we are thus saying is that some things happen in the universe as a consequence of God's directive will, his specific command. Other things happen in the universe because of God's permissive will. God allows them to happen or he does not intervene to stop them from happening. In some cases, he may give us and the creation the freedom to make choices where more than one outcome was possible.

It is sometimes objected that God would not be in charge or control if he let a human disobey him. That is to say, God would not be sovereign if he gave humanity or the creation freedom.

But this is a rather anemic understanding of sovereignty and a still more troubling sense of authority. Cannot God freely choose to let someone make a bad choice themselves? What parents with any maturity do not want their children to develop the ability to make the right choices on their own? Which is better, for your spouse to love you freely because they choose to do so or for them to be constrained to be with you?

No, this is an astoundingly immature understanding of authority. This is the projection of a parent who cannot handle disobedience because of his or her own insecurity. This is someone whose sense of control is threatened by someone who will not slavishly obey. This is a picture of a god who is weak and threatened by his creation.

If God is in control, then he is free to give freedom to the creation. If God is God, he is not threatened by our choices. God is not threatened when we disobey any more than I am threatened by a slug in my neighbor's yard.

2. God can do whatever he wants, but he doesn't want to do just anything.

God's will is revealed in Scripture. His attitude toward the creation is so predictable that we can say that God has a certain "nature" that leads him to act consistently and without exception in a certain way. For example, we know that God will never act in a way that is unloving. We can thus say that "God is love" or that God's nature is loving. What we are really saying is that God will never act in an unloving way toward the creation. Everything God does fits with an attitude of love toward us.

There is an old philosophical question in Plato that pre-dates the New Testament. It asks, in effect, "Is good good because God says so, or does God say things are good because they are good?" [3]

What the question in effect is asking is whether God is subject to standards that exist above him or does God himself create the standards? Does God define what is good? Or is good a standard against which we could measure God himself?

The classic example from Scripture is when God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. It seems like a wicked thing to ask. What if I were to test my son by asking him to slap his sister, just to see if he will obey me but intending to stop him if he does? [4] The Christian thinker Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) took this story as an example of how we have to surrender our reason completely to God and take a blind leap of faith into his will. [5]

So should we say that if God tells you to murder someone in cold blood, that becomes a good thing to do? Are there rules that God has to follow?  Broadly speaking, the notion that God defines the rules is called "voluntarism" or "divine command theory." It is the idea that good is good because God says so. What is love? In this approach it could be whatever God does, simply because he does it, whether it seems loving by our definitions or not.

You can see that this approach seems to make a mockery of words like good and love. They can come to mean anything.

Yet, at the same time, there is something ungodlike about saying that there are rules God has to follow. Even to say, "God is just freely following his own nature" seems to say that God did not decide who he is and is not really in control of himself. It at least looks like we are simply saying God is a big Guy, just a bigger version of us, someone who is really not completely free. It makes him particular rather than universal.

The model we have been following of creation out of nothing suggests another solution. We can think of God creating this universe as an act of will in which God made this universe to be a certain way. Within this universe, God behaves consistently, and God has revealed in Scripture exactly what his "nature" is within this universe. We can, for all intents and purposes, speak of God having a certain nature with certain "attributes" or characteristics. We have no point of reference to say what God is like in other universes or "outside" this universe. Perhaps God has, from all eternity past, chosen to be this way.

Good is good because God says so in this universe. This preserves the freedom of God without suggesting that God will ever act in a way that contradicts his revealed nature. But at the same time, it keeps us from seeing God more or less as a larger than life Guy with a personality he ultimately did not determine and over which he is not really in control. This approach befits GOD rather than diminishing him to something more like a god.

The opposite approach seems to put God inside a space that already existed, with limits he did not establish. In keeping with a weak sense of creation out of nothing, it seems ultimately to blur God with the created realm. It seems to fit a god who is at the top of this universe rather than a God who created the very emptiness in which the universe exists.

3. So God can do whatever he wants. He does not want to act in a way that contradicts his revealed nature. For example, he does not want to act in a way that is unloving toward the creation.

God freely chose to create a universe with certain necessary truths. He created a universe where 2 + 2 = 4 in base 10. He created a universe with a law of non-contradiction. He created rules of logic that apply everywhere in this universe without exception. But presumably he is free to create another universe where 2 + 2 = 6 or some logic we cannot possibly imagine.

God also has a directive will. There are instances where God commands the universe to do certain things, where his will is specific. When God commands the creation directly in this way, his will is irresistible. His word without fail always accomplishes what it sets out to do (Isa. 55:11).

In other instances, God has no specific command. He will let us choose whatever jello we want. Perhaps he will let the creation spit out of nothing an electron and positron pair without warning. In such instances he is allowing the universe by his permission to do whatever it wills.

In some cases, God collaborates with us. Perhaps in some cases, he waits to see if we will pray for something. Perhaps whether we receive or not in such cases is entirely dependent on whether we ask. At other times, he may let us wrestle, helping us grow to reach maturity, listening, suggesting, working with us toward salvation.

God does not force anyone to serve him. At times God may abandon us to spiral out of control. He will even let us walk away from him, if that is truly what we choose to do. And God sometimes allows suffering that he could obviously have prevented. We have to have faith in such instances that God's nature is still love and that there is a bigger picture that we are not in a position to understand.

God can do anything he wants, but he doesn't want to do certain things.

Next Sunday, G7 God is present everywhere in the universe.

[1] Calvin's theology is most easily found in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

[2] The idea of prevenient (or "preventing") grace comes from John Wesley (1703-91). A good overview of Wesley's thinking on salvation found in his sermon, "The Scripture Way of Salvation." The idea of common grace comes from Calvin.

[3] In Plato's Euthyprho.

[4] Interestingly, later Jewish tradition suggested that this was another example of God letting Satan test someone, as in Job 1 (compare also 1 Chron. 21:1 with 2 Sam. 24:1). For the reference, see Jubilees 17).

[5] In Fear and Trembling.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

John Wycliffe (1320s-1384)

Just wrote a short piece on Wycliffe. Here are some quick reminders:
  • Lived ca. 1320s to 1384 (died of stroke)
  • Studied, taught at Oxford (then wooden buildings, with priests as teachers, no university salaries) until he was finally forced out in 1381. From Yorkshire, so he belonged to the northern student group at Oxford (boreales).
  • He lived during the Babylonian Captivity where the Pope lived in France and was a puppet of the king of France. From 1305 on the papacy was at Avignon, and from 1378 there were actually two competing popes.
  • During the 100 Years War between England and France, no doubt further creating resistance among the English toward papal leadership
  • Corruption of the Church obvious to everyone. Simony, nepotism, if positions were left open, the salary was still paid to the Pope, false accusations to seize property... Some popes earlier and later wanted to reform but couldn't pull it off.
  • He was Roman Catholic. There was no other option in western Europe. No thought of starting a new church, only the thought of opposing the leadership of the Church and pushing for reform.
  • John had the support of the throne (especially Richard of Gaunt, the king's uncle) because he argued against monasteries having control of property. Secular authorities should decide matters relating to possessions. This position no doubt had a lot to do with Wycliffe's sense of corruption in the use of material possessions by the Church.
  • Wycliffe was protected by Gaunt from the Church most of his life... until he supported a peasants' revolt in 1381. Then he was finally forced to leave Oxford.
  • At Oxford, one of the biggest debates was over the nominalism of Occam versus the realism of earlier days. Occam had been at Oxford not too long before Wycliffe. Wycliffe took the realist side--there was a reality to things that was indestructible and went beyond the thing you can see. See Olson on this subject.
  • This led him to oppose transubstantiation, which got him into trouble since it had become the primary position of the Church since 1215. To him, bread and wine couldn't be destroyed and taken over by Christ's body and blood. Rather, he espoused something like the "real presence" view Luther would later follow. The presence of Christ is really there, but it doesn't replace or remove the bread and wine.
  • Thomas Bradwardine had briefly been Archbishop of Canterbury in 1349 but died of the plague within 40 days of taking the position. He wrote a book against the Pelagians that revived Augustine--especially the notion of predestination. 
  • The way this idea functioned is to allow people like Wycliffe to make a distinction between the visible church and the true, invisible church. So even the Pope (especially the French one after the Great Western Schism), might not be part of the true church. This allowed Wycliffe to suppose that the corrupt leaders of the church in England and elsewhere were not part of the true church.
  • Wycliffe would pioneer turning to the Bible to undermine the corruption of the Church. It provided a means of authority by which to critique the way the Church and the leaders of the church were behaving. For example, if the Church was orienting itself around wealth, he could show the value of poverty in Scripture.
  • He supervised the translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate, probably as part of his drive to reform the Church. Exposing the people to the Bible empowered them in his mind against the corruption of the Church and may have moved England toward greater literacy. The NT was done in 1380, the OT in 1382. The first edition was so literal a second edition had to be made in 1388 for it to be readable in the Middle English of the day.
  • The Council of Constance condemned him in 1415 along with Jan Hus. Hus was burned at the stake alive. Wycliffe's remains were dug up, burned, and scattered in the River Swift. 
  • He is often called the "Morning Star of the Reformation" and we see later reformers drawing on his rhetoric. His followers were called Lollards, a put-down that means mumblers.
  • There is a tradition that Queen Elisabeth I was presented with a copy of Wycliffe's Bible when she became queen in 1558 after the death of Bloody Mary.

Black Holes and Gravitational Waves (chaps 7-10)

The next installment of The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity. The book just came out this year but, amazingly, chapter 10 is already outdated!

Here are my earlier posts:
Chapter 1: Einstein in 1907
Chapter 2: The General Theory of Relativity Born
Chapters 3-6 Expanding Universes, Collapsing Stars, Cuckoo Einstein, and Steady States

Chapter 7: Wheelerisms
The namesake of this chapter is John Wheeler, who was known for turns of phrase like, "mass without mass" and "charge without charge." He's the one who popularized the term "black hole." He came up with the notion of a "wormhole" that bypasses space and time.

One of his main contributions to relativity was the way in which he helped rejuvenated interest in it. In the 1950s, physics was far more interested in quantum matters than general relativity. You could experiment with the quantum. General relativity was more a matter of distant space. Wheeler's support helped get some conferences on relativity going.

So there was the Institute of Field Physics, funded by a couple rich guys who were interested in gravity. Wheeler supported them and their appointment of Bryce DeWitt and his wife as the first employees. They set up meetings on gravitation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the late 50s.

When Richard Feynman (quantum man extraordinaire and former student of Wheeler) arrived for the first conference in Chapel Hill not knowing directions, he helped the taxi driver figure out where it was by suggesting there would have been other attendees in the back of the taxi saying "gee mu nu, gee mu nu" (G_{\mu\nu}). In the words of Ferreira (author of the book), "The driver knew where to go" (109).  

Another meeting of this sort came out of oil money and the University of Texas at Austin. The result was the Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics, first held in 1963 in Dallas, just after Kennedy was shot. One of the things discussed at this symposium were "quasi-stellar radio sources" that were being detected by people like Maarten Schmidt. After the conference, they would be called quasars. They were super-massive objects that emitted lots of energy.

Chapter 8: Singularities
The 60s were the "Golden Age of General Relativity," according to Kip Thorne, one of Wheeler's students. Roger Penrose was a player in the decade. He showed that the collapse of stars after they burned out always ended in singularities or black holes, as they would come to be called.

This was also the decade where the background radiation of the universe was discovered. It showed that the steady state theory was false. The universe had a beginning. Stephen Hawking emerged at this time, showing that the universe would not only end with singularities but had also begun with one.

This was also the decade where pulsars were discovered, "pulsating radio stars." These are neutron stars, stars made up almost completely of neutrons. I'm getting a better picture now of what some of the earlier chapters were talking about. There are white dwarfs that Eddington knew of. These are smaller suns that burn out but they are not massive enough to become singularities from which light cannot escape.

There are black holes. These are the super-massive stars that, when they burn out, collapse into a relativistic nightmare from which nothing can ever escape. From our perspective, they become frozen in time. Neutron stars, of which pulsars are an example, are somewhere in between in mass, more massive than white dwarfs but not so massive as a black hole.

Chapter 9: Unification Woes
Relativity and quantum mechanics have always been difficult to fit together. Einstein couldn't do it. Paul Dirac couldn't do it, although he did it with the electron. The Dirac equation had been a landmark in the history of physics. It had predicted the existence of antiparticles, for example.

This chapter takes a bit of a detour into quantum physics, since it is on the continued attempts to fit quantum physics with relativity and gravitation in particular. The 50s and 60s saw the putting together of quantum electrodynamics (QED) and what is now called the "standard model" of physics.

Dirac, like Einstein, never accepted some aspects of quantum physics. He accepted more than Einstein. For example, he showed that the approaches of Heisenberg and Schroedinger really said the same thing in two different ways. In his later career, like Einstein, Dirac became somewhat of a recluse, a celebrated landmark who refused to stay with where the program had gone. In the summer of 1983, while at Boy's State, I touched his office door at Florida State, the year before he died. He had withdrawn from the mainstream and had become a shadowy figure from the past.

In particular, QED leads to a lot of infinities that are ignored. So even though the equations point to an infinite mass for an electron, QED "normalizes" the mass of an electron by substituting the actual measured value for the infinity. Frankly, this bothers me too and surely speaks to some inadequacy in the theory, says the guy who doesn't have a degree in physics.

Hawking did some work to show some additional places where quantum physics and general relativity might come together. Hawking showed that black holes slowly evaporate, "black hole radiation."

Chapter 10: Seeing Gravity
It is amazing to me that this book is already needing to be updated. I bought this book on March 1, 2014 at the IU Memorial Union Bookstore in Bloomington. It just came out in early February of this year. By March 17, chapter 10 was out of date. That was the date that it was announced that gravitational waves had been observed.

Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, ripples in spacetime, as early as 1916. Eddington rejected the idea, and Einstein himself backed off on the idea in 1936. But Hermann Bondi made a compelling case for them at the watershed 1957 meeting at Chapel Hill. Feynman agreed.

A guy named Weber was also there and would spend the rest of his life trying to prove it experimentally. Unfortunately, he saw them everywhere. Eventually he was marginalized by the scientific community and died a bitter man in 2000. He used very imprecise measuring tools, compared with the laser interferometry that is currently used.

The idea that large objects might give off "gravitational radiation," however, was supported indirectly in 1978. Taylor and Hulse used the very equations Einstein created and whose results he then later rejected to examine two neutron stars orbiting each other. The chapter ends with LIGO in North America trying to find gravitational waves using laser interferometry. Unfortunately for them, they do not seem to be the ones that discovered them.

A final feature of interest in this chapter is the rise of "numerical relativity." For decades, attempts to solve Einstein's field equations in relation to colliding black holes, using computers, would break down the computers. The computer power just wasn't powerful enough yet. Frans Pretorius cracked that one in 2005. He solved Einstein's equations for two colliding black holes on a computer without the process shutting down--90 years after Einstein set them out.

As a side note, the drive to do numerical relativity and the need for more computing power apparently played a role in the implementation of the internet, so that multiple computers across distances could collaborate together. That was in the mid-80s when Larry Smarr was convincing the US government to fund a network of supercomputing centers.

It's quite clear that some of these discoveries would not have happened without a willingness on the part of the government to fund scientific research without immediate results. Such funding seems essential to the long term ability of the US to stay ahead of the curve. The problem is that it will not always pay off and, even when it does pay off, it can be a long time later. We just have to have the foresight to commit to scientific research without immediate results.

Friday, April 11, 2014

#40daybible Day 35 (John 13-21)

So with just a week to go, we finish today the Gospel of John, John 13-21.

Some observations:
  • The next chapters, from John 13-17, give the lead up to Jesus' arrest. 
  • Last Supper - John 13 never says it is a Passover meal, unlike the other Gospels. In fact, John seems to give us the image of Jesus going to the cross as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered to be eaten later that evening. John seems to picture Jesus dying on the morning before Passover (remembering that the new Jewish day began at sundown). There is mention of a garden, but we do not have Jesus' prayer of anguish and the Garden of Gethsemane is not mentioned. John uniquely has foot washing at the supper.
  • John 14-17 is Jesus' Farewell Discourse, unique to John. While the Synoptics mostly give us Jesus' teaching in parables, there is not a single Synoptic style parable in John. Rather, we have this more poetic discourse, "the Message version" of Jesus. John also has no exorcisms, unlike the Synoptics.
  • Going to Heaven: N. T. Wright is correct that most of the New Testament looks to the kingdom being on a renewed earth. I'm not sure if he's right about John. John more seems to picture a future where we go to heaven.
  • Holy Spirit: Very important teaching on the Holy Spirit in John. First, a masculine, personal pronoun is used of him, giving us the sense that the Spirit is a person. The Spirit dwells in y'all (plural). He is the Spirit of truth who leads us into truth. He helped Jesus disciples remember what he had taught, which the Gospels preserve. He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. After the resurrection, Jesus breathes the Spirit on the disciples, perhaps John's version of Pentecost.
  • Two last "I am" statements: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to God apart from Christ. I am the vine; you are the branches.
  • High priestly prayer: In this prayer, presumably in front of his disciples, Jesus prays not only for them but for us (technically, this statement is probably meant for John's own community as a prayer for its unity). A key Wesleyan verse is when Jesus prays for God to "sanctify" them, to set them apart from the world and keep them pure. 
  • This section of John is sometimes called the "Book of Glory," in contrast to the first half, which is sometimes called the "Book of Signs."
  • Private questioning: John's presentation of Jesus' "trial" is more private, with the high priest. It is striking to think of a full Sanhedrin in the middle of the night. 
  • Jesus Victorious: John shows us less of the struggle. They fall over when they come for Jesus to arrest him. Jesus gives last will and testament instructions from the cross.
  • Beloved Disciple: The Gospel of John has a mysterious "disciple whom Jesus loved." Who is it? The NIV introduction is a little overconfident that it was John the Son of Zebedee. [Ben Witherington thinks it was Lazarus] He was an eyewitness at the cross and went on to take care of Mary, Jesus' mother. He runs to the tomb with Peter. He is the source of the information in the Gospel of John, although it was probably put in its final form by someone else, perhaps a Gentile.
  • Mary Magdalene: In John, Mary is the first one to whom the resurrected Jesus appears.
  • Doubting Thomas: He confesses Jesus as Lord and God. We can wonder if Matthew 28:17 might allude to him.
  • Purpose of John: Why was the Gospel of John written? So that John's audience would believe in Jesus. By the way, notice from this verse and throughout John how much differently it uses the word "signs." The Gospel of John just skims the surface of what Jesus did on earth.
  • Epilogue: John uniquely has this post-resurrection scene beside the Sea of Galilee. It addresses a rumor that the beloved disciple would live till Jesus returned and this chapter may have been added after his death. 
Personal take-away:
  • Greater love has no one than to lay down their life. God demonstrates his love for us in that when we were sinners, Christ died for us.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

#40daybible Day 34 (John 7-12)

Today's reading is John 7-12.

Some thoughts:
  • Deception? John 7:8-10 may be a bit puzzling. In many translations, it sounds like Jesus deceives his brothers.
  • Holy Spirit: In 7:37-39, we have a great prediction that the Spirit will come after Jesus' glorification.
  • Woman caught in adultery: Although it comes as somewhat of a disappointment, the earliest manuscripts don't have the story of the woman caught in adultery. The earliest manuscript to have it is from the late 400s. It is not likely to have been in the original John. 
  • Light of the world: In 8:12, we have the second "I am" statement--"I am the light of the world." It's surely no coincidence that in John 9, Jesus heals a blind man. 
  • Jesus is God: 8:58 is the biggest "I AM" statement of all. "Before Abraham was, I AM." Jesus equates himself with Yahweh at the burning bush.
  • Sin make sickness? The man was not blind because he sinned or his parents. (sixth sign, Jesus' healing the blind man)
  • Out of the synagogue: It is often wondered if the potential of being kicked out of the synagogue is a comment on John's context. It seems quite possible that it became more and more likely as the century went by that a Jew would be ousted from synagogues if one believed Jesus was Messiah.
  • Good shepherd: Unlike the "bad shepherds" that were the leaders of Jerusalem, Jesus is the gate for the sheep and the Good Shepherd
  • Hanukkah: Jesus observes Hanukkah in John 10:22.
  • The Resurrection: In John 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and pronounces that he is the resurrection. This is the seventh sign in John.
  • Resolve: John presents the end resolve of Jesus to face the cup before him.  Notice the contrast in tone with Mark.
Some great verses:

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

#40daybible Day 33 (John 1-6)

Day 33 starts the Gospel of John with chapters 1-6.

Some notes:
  • The "prologue" of John is a magnificent hymn to the Logos or "Word," which is not the Bible, but Jesus. John 1:14 makes it clear that the Word come down from heaven is Christ. In theology terms, we call the event when Jesus took on human flesh the "incarnation."
  • This language of God's "word" had a history in Jewish thinking. John 1:1-3 is exactly the kind of thing that Jewish thinkers like Philo said about God's word, his will in action. 
  • John uniquely among the Gospels emphasizes that Jesus existed before he came to earth. John doesn't mention the virgin birth and the others don't mention his pre-existence.
  • The Gospel of John seems to downplay the role of John the Baptist a little. For example, while Matthew tells us that JB was the "Elijah" of prophecy, JB denies it in John. John doesn't even tell his audience, perhaps at Ephesus, that JB baptized Jesus, and Jesus' disciples uniquely baptize in John at the same time as JB. 
  • In short, John makes it very clear that JB's role ends as soon as Jesus arrives on the scene. He must increase, I must decrease. It's easy to wonder whether Ephesus had a lot of "incomplete" followers of John the Baptist, and that John has paraphrased the story in such a way as to make it clear that people like Apollos had been need to go the whole way and follow Jesus.
  • John highlights some different disciples than the other gospels. For example, there's Philip and Nathaniel, Andrew,  and Thomas.
  • John uniquely tells about Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, the first of seven "signs" Jesus does in the first half of John. Some think that John has moved Jesus' action in the temple to contrast the old purification with the new. In the other Gospels, Jesus overturns the tables in the final week before his resurrection.
  • John 3 has Jesus' secret interaction with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, including John 3:16. Jesus is back in Jerusalem. Another unique feature of John's Gospel is how often Jesus goes down to Jerusalem. Jesus attends three Passovers in John, which is where we get the idea that his ministry lasted three years.
  • John 4 has Jesus' interaction with a Samaritan woman. The temple is already destroyed as John writes, and he makes it clear that the temple is not necessary to worship God. God is a Spirit.
  • In healing a royal official's son, he does his second of John's seven signs (although he has done other signs between the first and second in this series).
  • John implicitly shows that Jesus has replaced various Jewish institutions. In John 5, Jesus shows that he can work on the Sabbath.
  • Jesus makes himself equal to God in John to a degree he doesn't in the other Gospels (which are sometimes called the "Synoptic" Gospels because they give a similar presentation that can be distinguished from John's presentation). Nevertheless, Jesus still in John does not act without the Father's initiation.
  • The miracle of feeding the 5000 is the only miracle all four Gospels share in common (aside of course from the resurrection...)
  • John 6 has the first of Jesus' "I am" statements, unique to John: "I am the bread of life." Probably it's no coincidence that John places this saying next to Jesus' feeding of the 5000, where he multiplies bread.
  • The Gospel of John was probably written as Gnosticism was on the rise. Gnosticism believed that matter was evil and thus that Jesus couldn't have taken on flesh. Not only John 1:14 but these verses especially combat that point of view. Disciples leave him as a result, perhaps an allusion to the split that had taken place in John's community over Jesus' flesh.
Personal take-away today:
  • John 3:8 has always been meaningful to me. The Spirit blows where he wills. God has a freedom to do what he wills.