Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

IS GOD EVERYWHERE?

We have tackled the weighty questions of ‘Does God Know Everything?’ and ‘Can God Do Anything?’ Now we turn our attention to ‘Is God Everywhere?’

I have procrastinated a long time in writing this post. The concept of omnipresence is very abstract and complicated. We must delve into the brain-teasing subject of the spatial relationships of spiritual beings, objects, and places. While this is a favorite area of inquiry for me, we can quickly spiral off into tangents with no practical value to our day-to-day lives as Christians. On the surface, it does not seem that omnipresence is even a doctrine worth spending time on. Omniscience and omnipotence have immediate implications for Christian belief and life whereas whether or not God is “present in all places at all times” (Merriam-Webster) or ‘spatially infinite’ appears to be rather academic. Why did early theologians even bother themselves with this infinite attribute?

Allow me to share a perspective that will hopefully illuminate why this discussion is both helpful and relevant. Some people may assume a religion like Hinduism is polytheistic. Polytheism, in contrast to monotheism, means belief in multiple gods. However, Hinduism is more accurately defined by pantheism or even perhaps panentheism. In a pantheistic system, the divine penetrates and permeates all things: a rock is divine; a tree is divine; a mosquito is divine, the West Nile virus that mosquito is carrying is divine… Now, I do not pretend to be an expert on the incredibly diverse religion of Hinduism, but this concept of pantheism is also found in Taoism, the New Age movement, as well as in the fictional Jedi religion of the Star Wars series. Pantheism is today, in its many forms, an influential worldview.

In contrast, Christianity presents a worldview with a clear distinction between Creator and Creation. God is eternally pre-existent and qualitatively different from everything that came after him. The ‘creature’ (e.g., you and me) is closer in essence to the nothingness from whence it was called into being than to the infinite God that transcends the physical cosmos. Christians can categorically say “this is God” and “this is not God.” So, how do we reconcile this theological proposition of God being “present in all places at all times” with the clear Creator / Creation distinction? How could anything not be divine if God is fully present throughout all creation? Or, perhaps the common perception of omnipresence is off base.

Our discussion will necessitate an examination of the Transcendence and Immanence attributes of God, a look at the Biblical data where language depicting proximity and presence of the divine is used, and a discussion of how the doctrine of omnipresence radically differs between the different persons of the so-called Trinity.

To save time, I will go ahead and share my hypothesis upfront and then examine each member of the Trinity in more depth in subsequent posts:

Current Hypothesis:

God the Father is, by his nature, transcendent and necessarily separate from the physical universe. It would be more accurate to say that the cosmos exists within God rather than to think of God the Father as being present within the cosmos. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). “… in him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:28a)

God the Son, especially post-Incarnation as Jesus Christ, has a physical body and, although he can go anywhere he wants, cannot be in more than one location at a time. “Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.” (Matthew 24:25-16) Jesus has a physical form by choice (albeit now glorified) that precludes omnipresence. “… Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God … emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (see: Philippians 2:5-6)

God the Spirit is who we would most consider to represent the classic depiction of omnipresence. The Holy Spirit can fill the entire universe and be everywhere at all times, although it does not necessarily follow that he IS everywhere at all times. Although the Spirit of Yahweh has operated throughout Biblical history, Jesus specifically mentions asking for the Father to send the Spirit. Elsewhere we read about the Spirit being poured out on all flesh at a future point in time. So spiritual-spatially, this Spirit did not seem to be everywhere at once at all times in the past. Today, Christians can experience the Holy Spirit simultaneously on opposite sides of the planet. A key is this: most descriptions of God being near or distant seem to speak to relational closeness and distance, rather than physical proximity. In the most well-known passage that is used as evidence of the doctrine of omnipresence, the psalmist poetically intones, Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand will lay hold of me.” (Psalm 139:7-10, emphasis added)

To be continued…

THE SPEED OF LIGHT AND SPIRITUAL LAWS

642736_76463569Einstein famously said, “God doesn’t play with dice.” Observers of our created universe note predictable patterns that govern the motion of physical matter. Over time, scientists test hypotheses and develop theories. Theories, given enough testing and widespread acceptance, become laws.

There are a variety of fundamental scientific laws / principles that have been discovered, and they often bear the names of the human discoverers. Naturally, as a Christian I believe that the creator of these laws is Yahweh himself, who through his wisdom established every aspect of the physical reality we inhabit (Proverbs 3:19).

Here are a few examples of scientific laws:

Newton’s First Law of Motion: The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.

Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics: If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they are also in thermal equilibrium with each other.

Einstein’s Principal of the Constancy of the Speed of Light: The speed of light in a vacuum is a universal physical constant.

These scientific laws appear to accurately and predictably describe how our physical universe operates and will continue to operate. Proponents of multiverse theories argue that such laws may be totally different in other universes. The speed of light may not be 299,792,458 meters per second in another universe. With an infinite number of universes, the argument goes, we just happen to be in one with an essentially randomized speed of light. Now, I am not convinced as to the existence of a parallel physical universe, but I do believe in a parallel spiritual reality.

For whatever reason, God actualized a universe (the physical reality we live in) in which we observe the speed of light as indeed being 299,792,456 meters per second. Like it or not, that is just the way it is. You can’t change the facts. This may even be an inconvenient truth, because no matter how much I would like to fly a spaceship to Polaris, it would take me 434 years if I could somehow travel at light speed. I could never arrive sooner. Warp drives don’t exist.

What many people do not realize is that there are spiritual laws in place that govern our spiritual reality just like scientific laws govern our physical reality. Regardless of our opinions, beliefs, understanding, or desires, they remain true and timeless. One such spiritual law is as follows:

“… without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22b)

Many people do not understand the atonement. ‘Wait… why did Jesus have to die to forgive our sins? He’s God, right? Can’t he just snap his fingers and make everything better? Why are Christians so obsessed with the blood of Christ?’ In fact, many lay Christians do not know that there are many competing and intersecting theories of atonement debated in theological circles about what the sacrifice of Christ accomplished. Regardless of all that, there seems to be a very real spiritual constant in much the same way that the speed of light in a vacuum is a physical constant. Sin can never be forgiven unless blood is shed. This is a spiritual law, presumably established as a wise design decision of God, which predates any of us and cannot be altered. No human can use a spiritual warp drive to shortcut this unavoidable fact about their sinfulness.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” (Leviticus 17:11)

THREE SURPRISING ACTIVITIES THAT MAKE ME FEEL CLOSER TO GOD

Creation of Adam

Intimacy with Christ is perhaps the single most worthwhile thing that a person can seek. And, as we are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength, there are different ways of drawing close as there are different degrees of proximity.

I generally subscribe to a ‘tripartite’ view of the composition of man – spirit, soul, and body. This would be analogous to the “heart, soul, and strength” referenced above. In Greek we find the words soma, psyche, and pneuma. The soma is the physical body, shared by all living things in our universe. The psyche is the soul or psychological self, comprised of cognitions, emotions, and memories. The pneuma is the spirit, the heart, or the inner-man – it is the spiritual core and the seat of the will.

In this post I will describe three surprising activities at the level of the soma that, for me, foster a subjective feeling of closeness and deeper appreciation of God.

1. RUNNING

I am not much of a runner. I can’t remember the last time the Nike running app on my smartphone was activated. Running had always seemed masochistic to me, and it wasn’t until my wife suggested a couch-to-5k plan as a potential shoulder-to-shoulder bonding activity that I reluctantly began to enjoy the activity.

Besides the eventual endorphin release, putting on my brightly colored running shoes and hitting the pavement brings to mind the many, many analogies found in scripture that compare the Christian life to running a race.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1)

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV)

I also can’t help but think of Olympic athlete Eric Liddell as depicted in the film ‘Chariots of Fire.’ “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

2. DRINKING WINE

I am also not much of a wine drinker. I have dabbled in and enjoyed the fine Pinot Noir that comes out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I have been to a few wine tastings. I have even read the book, ‘The Billionaire’s Vinegar.’ Still, nobody would confuse me for an oenophile. If I have any beverage of choice it is coffee, hands down. Also, lived in “Beer City, USA” for many years and was exposed to local, craft beers that would make Belgian monks proud. What’s more is that my current job precludes my consumption of any alcoholic beverages.

But still, drinking wine makes me feel closer to God.

Jesus was a fan of wine. Our Lord and Savior’s first recorded miracle involves transmuting water into wine (John 2). His opponents actually accused him of being a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). This was real wine, not “grape juice” as some have attempted to twist the biblical language to fit human traditions.

Growing up in a very “low church” setting, I did indeed drink store-bought grape juice in a tiny paper cup and eat a cracker for Communion (I can’t bring myself to refer to an ounce of grape juice and a cracker as the Lord’s Supper). I have even heard a former youth pastor joke about offering purple Gatorade and potato chips. Although I am not a proponent of “means of grace” sacramentalism, I have a strong sense that Evangelicalism’s Communion resembles very little the Last Supper that Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room. In contrast, I have a sense of reverence whenever I visit a Lutheran service and dip my bread into a goblet of wine, feeling the slight alcoholic sting of the “blood of Christ” on my tongue.

What interests me most are the words of Matthew 26:29: “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my father’s kingdom.” There is an actual promise from Jesus to his disciples that he will drink wine with them during his coming kingdom. Drinking a glass of wine makes me remember this promise and look forward to spending time with my God.

3. BIRD WATCHING

What? Did you say bird watching?!? Fifteen years ago I would have ranked bird watching one step above stamp collecting as the most boring and unmanly hobbies of all time. So what changed? First, I saw the Academy Award-nominated documentary ‘Winged Migration.’ Second, I visited the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. Third, I began to notice interesting birds such as wild turkeys, owls, and even a massive turkey vulture near the places I lived in North Carolina. Those events helped me appreciate the diversity of ‘little feathery animals that fly around’ significantly more.

More recently, the Campus Pastor at my work has repeatedly commented on the deep impact his mother’s advice had on him as he grew up: “Look at the birds…” She would reference Jesus in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father” and Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!”

To combat worry and fear, this boy’s mother would recall the Word and enjoin him to spend time in nature contemplating God’s design and goodness. These memories were so meaningful to this Pastor that if he were to plant a new church he would affix the name Sparrow Ridge to it, out of every possible name one could choose. I too am learning the art of quieting myself and appreciating God’s creation, allowing his General Revelation to speak to me and remind me of my father’s ways.

REFLECTIONS ON GRACE

Growing up in a church environment as well as with a personal mindset that stressed personal holiness bordering on the elusive concept of “Christian perfection,” I did not have a firm grasp of the concept of ‘grace.’ Reading the Gospels, I understood mercy and the love of God, for sure, but grace seemed ill-defined and often misused throughout the universal Church. Reading Tozer, I could zealously agree with this statement: “We have come to our present low state as the result of an almost fanatical emphasis on grace to the total exclusion of obedience, self-discipline, patience, personal holiness, cross carrying, discipleship and other such precious doctrines of the New Testament.” (Tozer 2011, 116).

In many ways I still agree with that statement. The high calling of personal holiness is ingrained deep within my marrow, and I believe that there is a widespread misunderstanding of grace in our churches to this day. But for me, it was not until I read ‘The Hammer of God’ by Bo Giertz that I truly came to understand ‘grace’ on a personal level. The other day I came across this prayer from John Chrysostom that beautifully illustrates what I see as grace in its purest form:

“Know, O Lord my God, I am unworthy that You should enter beneath the roof of the temple of my soul, because it is all empty and dead. There is in me no worthy place where You may lay Your head. But since from Your loftiness You humbled yourself for our sake, please humble Yourself now toward my humility. And as it seemed good to You to lie in the cavern and in the manger with dumb beasts, so also now graciously lie in the manger of my dumb soul, and enter into my defiled body. Just as You did not refuse to enter into the house of Simon the leper, and there to sit at a meal with sinners, so also graciously enter into the house of my humble soul, which is leprous and sinful. Just as You did not feel loathing at the polluted lips of a sinful woman who kissed Your feet, so also do not loathe my even more defiled and polluted lips and unclean tongue. Amen.” – John Chrysostom

SALVATION AND SOVEREIGNTY: A MOLINIST APPROACH

Salvation and Sovereignty

I just finished reading ‘Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach’ by Kenneth Keathley in my ongoing quest to find out exactly what I believe about God’s “sovereignty.” Molinism, often advertised as a middle-ground position between Calvinism and Arminianism, piqued my interest. Keathley is a Baptist who teaches at a Baptist seminary, who adopts the ROSES acronym (against TULIP)… originally presented by Baptist scholar Timothy George. As Baptist theology has always been a curious mixture of Calvinist and Arminian ideas, it seems fitting for Keathley to embrace this “middle position” of Molinism.

Unfortunately, the book is far more about the ROSES acronym and how it plays into the doctrines of salvation and sovereignty (as the title advertises) than it is about Molinism itself. I was left mystified by the more elusive, philosophical details of Molinism and will have to read ‘A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology’ by Kirk R. MacGregor next.

Keathley often states that God “uses his middle-knowledge” in such-and-such circumstances. But how? In what exact way? Also, God “actualizes” a particular world out of all possible worlds. But what does it mean for God to “actualize” a world – does he only actualize a world during the seven days of creation recorded in Genesis and then sit back and watch everything unfold in a deterministic cascade? Or is God in a process of constant actualization? Does the world he actualizes change based on Keathley’s concept of contingency? What specific criteria did / does God use to choose a particular world to actualize? Keathley says little about these matters.

Regardless, Keathley writes well and his attention to certain topics have left lasting impressions on me. He argues very clearly and logically in favor of:

1. Contingency: Scripture repeatedly presents scenarios that turned out one way but could have truly turned out a very different way. The outcome was not set it stone. “Contingency is the concept that things could have been otherwise” (25). “A contingent truth is something that happens to be true but obviously could have been false” (28).

2. Permission: The Bible “presents God’s relationship with iniquity as one of permission. The notion of God’s permissive relationship to evil permeates the Bible” (27). This is opposed to God being in any way the author or cause of sin, even indirectly.

3. Soft Libertarianism: Humans have a limited ability to choose to the contrary – their set or range of possible choices are determined by their character. An unregenerate person has the possibility of making genuine choices between alternatives, even to engage in externally moral behavior, but they do not have the ability to please God because this is not within the scope of their character. Humans do not have the freedom to make any possible choice out of an infinite set of choices, nor are their choices illusions determined by external factors.

4. Agent Causation: Closely related to soft libertarianism, the concept of agent causation states that “a person is the source and origin of his choices” and that ultimate responsibility for decisions lies with that agent (73). “Rather than functioning simply as a link in a chain of events, a causal agent operates as the impetus for new causal chains. This creative ability reflects the imago dei” (75). Our capacity to originate choices is like “a little citadel of creativity ex nihilo.

5. Resistible Grace: Keathley powerfully argues, from both Scripture and logic, that grace (though “monergistic”) is in fact resistible. “God’s drawing grace should and would be efficacious for all. The only thing that could stop it is if, inexplicably, a person decides to refuse” (106). Keathley uses many verses that point to the free and universal offer of salvation as well as the culpability of those that refuse. “[T]hose who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonian 2:10b, ESV).

Has this book convinced me to become a Molinist? No. I still don’t fully understand the nuances of the position. But I got a lot out of reading it and I applaud Keathley’s thoughtful work. If this book can help nudge doubting hyper-Calvinists toward becoming 5-point Calvinists, and 5-point Calvinists toward becoming 4-point Calvinists, and 4-point Calvinists toward becoming Molinists… then I consider that a win!

GENERAL REVELATION / NATURAL THEOLOGY

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In a previous post I argued that revelation is more accurately described as apocalypse – an unveiling or uncovering of divine reality. However, that would best describe what theologians call Special Revelation. General Revelation and Natural Theology are not quite examples of tearing away a supernatural veil but rather the lingering fingerprints of divine handiwork in creation – both within the material universe and our individual selves.

Natural Theology refers to the beliefs that we can arrive at by observing aspects of General Revelation and using human reason (logic) to attach meaning to those observations. These evidences are theoretically available to all people everywhere.

General Revelation can be divided into two categories: internal and external:

Internal evidences of the existence of God and his attributes include logical deductions (e.g., there must be an uncaused cause) and innate beliefs. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has “set eternity” into human hearts. Various theologians speak of an ‘innate sense of the divine’ within us. C.S. Lewis famously argued in favor of an inherent moral conscience in his book ‘Mere Christianity.’ If somebody accidentally trips you, you will feel far less animosity than if that person tripped you on purpose, even though the end result is identical. There seems to be an untaught, intuitive sense of justice / injustice within us. Even depraved individuals with seared consciences (1 Timothy 4:2) understand when something is unfair to them – far beyond a sense of inconvenience or survival instinct.

External evidences include the witness of creation, which leads to the belief in the necessity of a Creator, as purported by Intelligent Design theory. Psalm 19:1 tells us that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.” Romans 1:19-20 says, “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

However, the effects of sin have so greatly tarnished humanity, including human reason and moral conscience, that we find General Revelation not being sufficient in leading somebody into a salvific relationship. As Romans 1:21 continues, “they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” General Revelation alone will never lead somebody to accurate conclusions about the incarnation of Jesus Christ nor the atonement. We desperately need God to pull back the veil and reveal himself to us in a special fashion, whether we realize it or not.

Acts 17:26-17, 30: “and he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us … Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent…”

THE SOURCE OF ALL TRUTH

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“What is truth?” – Pontius Pilate

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” – Jesus Christ

In a discussion over coffee about the compatibility or non-compatibility of Freudian theories of psychoanalysis with Christian belief, a pastor once told me that “All truth is God’s truth.” I have since heard that sentiment expressed by many others. While that statement can indeed only be true, something about it kept nagging me. How exactly are you defining or determining truth? It seemed to me that such a statement could be used to conveniently sidestep the need to do the work, to investigate and actively establish truth on a clear basis.

How do we define truth? What priority do we give to various sources that claim to describe reality accurately? Here are my current thoughts on the subject:

TRUTH

God himself is the source of all truth. The eternal, self-existent God is the ultimate reality. There is no higher being or principle in existence. Everything that is has originated from him (John 1:3). As the First Principle, the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Prime Reality, the great I AM… Yahweh is the very embodiment of truth.

PRIMARY SOURCES OF TRUTH

The Bible, at the very least in its “original autographs” (e.g., the actual scrolls that Moses wrote on, etc.), is a primary source of truth because it accurately testifies about God and records his words. It is direct and purposeful revelation from the all-knowing and truth-telling God. Because God has infinite understanding (Psalm 147:5) and is unable to lie (Titus 1:2), we can fully trust everything that he says. We can trust that what he says is accurately recorded in scripture because all scripture is “inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and prophecy was made by men “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Further, we are told that “scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Jesus himself quoted and affirmed scripture on many occasions.

The Bible itself is not the ultimate reality, nor does it describe everything that exists in reality. Truth existed for a presumably infinite period of time before the Bible was written. However, as Christians we can and must trust in the whole counsel of scripture (Acts 20:27).

The Holy Spirit is described as the Spirit of Truth which can lead us into all truth (John 16:13). A word from the Holy Spirit to an individual can thus also be a primary source of truth, albeit subjective. The Bible tells us that there are other spirits that speak (1 John 4:1; 1 Timothy 4:1). We must always compare what we believe the Spirit to be revealing to us with the witness of scripture, which is a much more standardized and objective primary source of truth.

SECONDARY AND TERTIARY SOURCES OF TRUTH

Apart from the Bible, which is ‘special revelation,’ general revelation can be found in three main sources: “nature, history, and the constitution of the human being” (Erickson 1998, 179). However, this form of truth requires the application of human reason and investigation. As humans are finite and flawed, such deductions and conclusions cannot be held with the same regard as primary truth. Generalizations from revealed biblical truth, if theologically rigorous, may be a form of secondary truth. Deductions and conclusions from the three sources of general revelation that do not coincide with a Christian worldview may be no better than tertiary sources of truth, or may be completely false and unreliable.