Category Archives: Creation

Dung Beetles in Heaven

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“I’m bored,” the young man says, setting his golden harp down on the soft, white mound next to him.

His companion sits up quickly, sending small puffs of cloud scattering in every direction, several catching on the shimmering halo that had slipped slightly to one side at her sudden movement. “Stop saying that. You’re going to get us in trouble.”

“But I am bored. There’s nothing to do.” Reaching down he fiddles absently with one of the harp strings, sending soft notes through the golden light and causing the small cloud puffs to float rhythmically around his head. “All we ever do is play these stupid harps and sing.”

“Shhhh. Someone will hear you!” she says, glancing around in a futile effort to see if anyone was close enough to hear. Futile, of course, because in this place, someone always hears.

“What are they gonna do? Kick me out?” Jerking his head, he slaps at the swirling could puffs, looking every bit like an angry camper trying to disperse a swarm of hungry mosquitos. “I almost wish they would.”

She just stares at him, too stunned to reply. After a long silence, she whispers, “You want out?”

He responds with a deep sigh, “I don’t know. Four thousand years is a long time to sit on a cloud playing a harp. A little change might be nice.” Staring down at his white robes, he adds, “I know the other side is for bad people. But maybe they’re at least having some fun.”

Dave King (via Flickr)

I’m sorry to say that the way most people describe Heaven sounds rather boring to me. Ask what they’re looking forward to about Heaven, and many people will say something about finding lost loved ones—sometimes even lost pets—the end of pain and sorrow, finally being able to dunk a basketball, run a marathon, or possibly even fly through the clouds. And these are all great things, I suppose. But I’m guessing that after a few thousand years, they’d all grow a bit stale. I love my friends and family, but after a millennium or two, I can pretty much guarantee that I’d be hiding in a closet every time I heard one of them coming around the corner. It’s possible that I just have an unusually short attention span and get bored easily. But 4,000 years of the same old thing sounds boring.

The problem is that our idea of eternity is badly confused. Ask us about Heaven, and we start describing some ethereal city in the clouds. When people do that, I always ask, “Where are the trees?” After waiting a few seconds for that to sink in, I’ll add, “God made trees, so apparently he likes them. Where are the trees in Heaven?” Then, while they’re scrambling about for an adequate answer, I’ll follow up with, “And don’t forget dung beetles. God made those too, so we should figure out where the dung beetles will be in Heaven.” Finally, pausing for effect, I’ll add, “And the fleas.” That always gets their attention. Trees are okay. Everybody likes trees. But dung beetles sound rather disgusting. And who wants to believe that there will be fleas in Heaven? That can’t be right. Heaven is holy and spiritual. Surely there won’t be fleas in Heaven. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, the logic of this argument cannot be applied to cats since they were the result of an evil scientist’s failed experiment and were not actually created by God. It’s true, Google it.)

Since we see Heaven as a wholly spiritual place, we have a hard time conceiving of it having any room for such earthy things as insects. But “earthy” is exactly how the Bible describes our eternal destiny. The focus of the Bible is not on our eternal destiny up among the stars somewhere, but a new city coming down on a new earth completing the plan that God has had in mind since the beginning (Rev. 21).

Our picture of “Heaven” is wrong because we’re looking in the wrong place. Rather than gazing up in the clouds trying to picture what heaven will be like, look down at your feet. Take your shoes off and dig your toes into the damp soil. Reach down and tip the little pill bug over on its back. Watch its squiggly legs kick in the air. Then, turn it over again and let it scurry away. Nearby, see the earthworm wriggling deeper into the freshly turned earth. Look closer and examine the tiny grains of dirt, each a different shape and color, yet combining to form the lush hue of fertile soil. It even smells brown. Turn over the small rocks and explore the exquisite glories that hide in even the most innocuous crevices of creation. I can’t tell you what the new earth will be like. The Bible gives us very little detail. But I can say that this one’s pretty amazing. And, whatever God has in mind for our future, it will not be any less than this.

Who came up with the idea that we’d be disembodied spirits living in some spiritual universe forever? The Bible never says anything about that. Indeed, the Bible describes our future lies as resurrection to a true physical body, appropriately fitted for our new life (1 Cor. 15).

And our picture of eternity is out of whack because we’re selfish. Once again we find that we tend to twist the story so that it’s primarily about us—no more pain, sadness, loss, or loneliness. We can be happy forever. It sounds great. Why wouldn’t it? It’s all about us. For deeply selfish people, this sounds like the ultimate paradise.

But once again we have to remind ourselves that this story isn’t about us. Sure, eternity will be great. God loves us and wouldn’t have anything less than the best for his people. But that doesn’t mean that this is all about us. The new earth is still about God (Rev. 21:22). And that’s good news. As long as eternity is about us, it will be a boring place to be. We’re just not that cool, and eventually we’ll get bored with ourselves and our own happiness. But God? He’s another story entirely. We could spend an entire eternity pursuing him in his infinite mystery: constantly learning new things, being challenged in new ways, rediscovering over and over again how far beyond us he truly is.

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Setting his harp down on the velvety soft grass, he looks over at his companion. “That’s enough for now,” he says. “I’m going to go tend the garden for a while. The corn is almost ready.”

“Thank you,” she replies, “that was lovely.” She moves slowly away meditating on the song, already looking forward to sharing it with everyone at the feast later, so they can all sing it together. But right now, she’s going to the lake for a swim.

A dung beetle watches her pass.

God smiles.

[This post is part of a series on the Gospel and understanding the story of the Bible. You can check out the rest of the posts in the series on the Gospel book page.]

God Created the World for Himself

[This is a guest post by Ron Kimmel. Ron is a new Th.M. student at Western Seminary and a pastor at Bethany Church in Canby, OR. Ron is participating in this summer’sTh.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]

Why did God create? That’s the question Jonathan Edwards wrestles with in The End for which God Created the World. In the process, he makes an important distinction between the proximate means of creation and the Ultimate End of creation. It’s a distinction that drives him toward an interesting conclusion.

Edwards deals quite extensively with the end for God is presumed (based upon human reasoning) to have created, and surprisingly JE does not cast these ends (consequences of creation) in a negative light. Instead, he looks on them as ‘means’ that God would use to communicate his Ultimate End. And, although he appreciates the value of the means, he warns strongly against equating them with the End itself.

It may be reasonable to argue that God created in order that He might show His love to creation, display His power, establish fellowship, or that it was a natural outflow of is character and nature. JE argues that it is quite a bewildered notion that God should have ever created for the purpose of receiving anything from His creation. He also argues that God did not create because it is merely in His nature and character to do so, even though that nature and character does exist within God.

JE argues that God is His own Ultimate End in creation. He delights in His own perfections and His delight can only be found in Himself. God makes His own perfections His end. In other words, God created out of the love for His own perfection, and creation is a witness to His own greatness. He created so that He might see His own virtues on display in what He had made. It begins and ends with Him. All other ‘means’ are merely consequences of creating.

Though God has created for Himself and He is His own Ultimate End, the concept of God being benevolent toward His creation cannot be a completely separate matter. JE argues that God’s goodness toward His creation is a way of gratifying His own desire and ‘general inclination.’ Set in this mode, God’s acts toward His creation (means) are directly related to God bringing Himself glory. Therefore, these are not seen as separate acts, but rather as coinciding and implied one within the other.

JE argues that this is at least partly because God does not see in past, present and future tenses, but rather He views all at once. Thus, JE links John 17:21 & 23 with the idea that’ redeemed’ are being brought home to God and are being swallowed up in Him so that there is no differentiation between the redeemed and God. This is not to suggest that the redeemed become God but that they are so united with Him that they become one. Thus, God’s benevolent acts toward creation are always linked to his acting on behalf of his own glory.

This has significant implications for life and ministry, particularly in JE’s view of communion. The concept of the redeemed being one with God would lead to all sorts of personal internal struggle toward those who participated in communion but could not give a testimony as to the nature of the conversion. If the redeemed really are expressions of God’s most holy perfections then pretending to reflect those perfections without having actualized the light would certainly lead to one’s condemnation and cast a dark shadow over the church.

Nonetheless, I think JE struggled mightily to find an appropriate balance between these two elements in this dissertation. He wrestled between God’s gracious treatment of creation and His eternal purpose of creation. The tension seems to have become a ‘both and’ type of agreement, but he places the horse before the cart in that God created for His own delight and all else is consequence.

One disturbing thing almost from the outset of reading JE’s work was that of the wrath of God. Where is it? Who’s under it? He talks little about this here and he limits the “consequences” largely to good things that God does toward man. Wrath is spoken of sparingly. While leaving the reader somewhat in want, he points to God being glorified in judging the wicked: glorified, in that He judges the wicked for the sake of the redeemed, creating in the redeemed a greater dependence upon Him and trust in His mercies that would lead to strengthening the union between God and His chosen. His point being that your neighbor is damned so you will glorify God. Though one may feel misery over the damned, it is not for misery itself that one is to delight because misery is a consequence of creation that should find its final realization in giving glory to God. Why? Because man is not to be concerned with his own feelings or emotions and recognize that God is just.

While the premise is excellent in that God’s wrath leads to His glorification, the struggle comes in accepting that God’s wrath is a consequence of creation. Wrath has its beginning and ending with God. Meaning, wrath has always existed in God. It was not just done for the sake of the redeemed but has always existed in God’s virtues and characteristic perfections.

As seems to be the case with JE’s works, this is a humbling and challenging study by a great mind and philosopher of his day. To witness his personal struggles and journey toward putting into words what he believed to the most accurate descriptions of why God would bother with man leaves one questioning the pettiness of his own daily considerations. To have such a great challenge in this day and age of materialism and selfishness is to be found worth its weight in gold if one will pause long enough from his blog post to be mentored by those who have gone before. Thank you JE for pushing your readers on toward glorifying Him.

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]

Is it selfish not to have children?

“My wife and I don’t want to have children. Is that selfish?”

He’s looking at me with complete earnest. This isn’t one of those hypothetical questions. He really expects an answer.

Straight out of Bible school, I quickly run through everything I can remember from my last theology class. Nope, I’m pretty sure we didn’t cover this. Great, now what am I going to do?

So, like all good pastors hit with an unexpected question, I shoot back with one of my own. “What do you mean?” I ask, hoping desperately for some flash of inspiration or suddenly remembered lecture to prepare me for whatever comes next.

“Well,” he continues, “we’re really happy and neither of us are particularly good with kids.” He fidgets a little before continuing, “But, we’re afraid that it’s selfish to keep some child from being born just because we don’t want kids. Is it fair to keep someone from existing just so we can be happy?”

And my brain froze.

But apparently my mouth kept working. He went home after a while thinking that he’d received godly counsel. I should track him down someday and find out what I said.

Now that I’ve had a few years to think about it, I realize what an odd question that was. It’s entirely possible that this couple really did have selfish issues that they needed to work through. Don’t we all? But, how can it be selfish to keep someone from existing? They don’t exist. You can’t owe them anything. Parents shouldn’t have children because they feel obligated to provide existence to these possible people, but because they want to share themselves and their love with their children.

Parents don’t have kids because they somehow owe it to their children. Having children is an act of grace.

Indeed, every act of creation is an act of grace.

For it to be grace, though, it has to be free. When we were living in Scotland, my wife would often take my daughter to one of the thrift shops in town. They loved to browse the various odds and ends that accumulate in a store like that. And, they developed a friendship with the lady who ran the story. Almost every time they left, the shop owner would run over and give Leah some little toy to take with her. The toys were for sale, but she was the kind of person who just loved giving presents and couldn’t stand to see Leah walk away empty-handed.

That’s grace.

There were other times when Leah and Mary would buy something in the store. But, that’s not grace; it’s a transaction. For grace to be grace, it has to be free. Indeed, Mary could have insisted that she needed to pay for the toys; they weren’t expensive.  But, that would have ruined the gracious nature of the interaction. Grace is gift. And, true gifts are free.

At the same time, grace is unmerited. “Merit” has to do with what you deserve, what you’ve earned. Leah will be coming home with her report card soon. And, since she does very well in school, she will be excited to show us her grades and hear us praise her for how hard she’s worked. She’s excited about her grades because she’s earned them. If she brought home her report card and discovered that her teacher had arbitrarily given her low grades, she would be devastated. She would rightly feel cheated because she’d earned much higher grades, she deserved better. (Now, my wife and I are both teachers, so I am very much aware that students—and their parents—often think they’ve earned much higher grades than they really have. But, let’s assume for the sake of the analogy, that Leah really has earned the higher grades.) Grades aren’t supposed to be arbitrary. They are supposed to be about merit. You earn them.

Paychecks work the same way. If my wife opened her pay statement at the end of the month and discovered that the school district had only paid her half of her salary, she would be upset, and rightly so. She works hard. And, she has an agreement with the school district that they will pay her a certain amount in exchange for that hard work. She’s earned her pay.

That’s merit.

Grace works very differently; grace cannot be earned. Grace is gift. Kids understand grace better than adults do. Imagine a five year-old girl bringing her father some present that she has made at school. Has the father earned the present? Does the daughter owe her father a present? Such questions never enter the little girl’s mind.  Sadly, the opposite is often true. In reality, many fathers have done much to suggest that they do not deserve the present. They have not been good fathers and have not earned the right to this gift of love. But, again, such questions rarely enter the little girl’s mind. They probably will when she gets older; but, for now, she just wants to give her daddy a present—a gift given regardless of merit.

That’s grace.

No created thing deserves to be created. And, it certainly can’t earn its own creation. It just doesn’t work that way.

Every act of creation is a gift.

Every created thing testifies that this story is about God’s grace.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

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BioLogos on Intelligent Design

Anyone familiar with BioLogos shouldn’t be surprised that they’re not real keen on intelligent design. But, if you’d like a short video explaining why, here you go. The first half of the video is the most interesting, offering quotes from leading intelligent design proponents, followed by comments from other scientists explaining the broader scientific community views intelligent design arguments. (Note: this is a short video, so don’t look for evidence/arguments here.)

The second half of the video, offering “theological” perspectives on intelligent design is a complete waste of time. For some reason, Thomas Jay Oord thinks that God’s love precludes intelligent design because it would have God “forcing” creation to do things. And, Denis Alexander writes the whole discussion off by appealing to Augustine as support for a “traditional” creation theology that we need to get back to. I’m hard pressed to see how either approach is likely to be helpful here.

[Update: Apparently I linked to the wrong video. Although BioLogos says you can link to the video from their YouTube channel, I can’t find it. Granted, I often can’t find things. So, that’s no surprise. For now you’ll have to view the video on the BioLogos site.]

Are You Kidding? One of the most amazing statements in the Bible

Not all sentences are created equal. Most sit quietly, not doing much to get your attention. Others reach out and slap you upside the head. This was one of those.

The setting couldn’t have been better: rushing stream, blue sky, pine trees, just a slight breath of wind causing her hair to drift softly across her face, cool, but not cold.

I’m on one knee. The ring, a family heirloom, gripped in my right hand. Face upturned, I’ve just asked the Question. All I need now is the Answer.

And then it comes. One of those sentences.

Without a hint of a smile, she looks down at me and says, “Are you kidding?”

Fortunately, I’d placed my left hand on the ground for stability, otherwise I may well have tipped over and fallen into the river. We’d been dating for five years! So, it’s not like this was a surprise. Here I am on one knee, at a romantic location, with a diamond ring in my hand, and she wants to know if I’m kidding? I’m usually pretty good with words, but at that moment…speechless.

Some sentences just have that effect on you.

At the very beginning of the Bible, we run into this kind of sentence. Unfortunately, many of us have heard it so many times that it no longer surprises us. It has lost its shock value. But still, it’s one of the most amazing statements in the entire Bible.

“In the beginning, God created.”

Wait, he did what?

Stop and think about that for a second. God created. First, there was just God. And then he decided to make stuff.

And, why was this so amazing? Because God didn’t need to create. God doesn’t need anything. He is the one who gives everything—life, breath, land, and even time itself (Acts 17:22-34). He’s so far beyond us that he holds the entire universe in one hand, like I might cup a puddle of water in my palm, its existence dependent on me keeping it from dribbling through my fingers into nothingness (Isaiah 40:12). What could he possibly need from creation?

But, if God doesn’t need anything, why create? God was perfect before creation and would have been perfect without creation. So, why bother?

I have a few rules that I use when I teach about God. One of them is that if someone asks me a question beginning with “Why did God…?” I am very likely to answer with “I don’t know.” That only seems fair. Unless God explicitly tells us why he’s done something, we should be very careful about guessing. We’re more likely to describe why we think God should have done something, than say anything about why he actually did it.

Nonetheless, even if we can’t say for sure why God created, we know one of the main things that he does through creation: he glorifies himself. Everything that God made “declares the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). As the twenty-four elders in the Book of Revelation proclaim, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Creation brings glory to God.

At its most basic “glory” refers to how amazingly awesome someone or something is. Think, for example, of an Olympic runner taking a victory lap just after winning her event. Everyone has just witnessed how amazingly awesome she is—her speed, strength, and skill. She displayed her glory in her race, and she continues to display her glory as she runs around the track. Or, consider the glory of a flower. Although not as immediately awe-inspiring as a perfect Olympic performance, the flower has its own glory. Consider the delicacy of its petals, the contour of its stem, the subtle shading of its colors. Amazing. Glory.

Something has glory, then, in the very fact that it is amazing in some way. But, we can also talk about giving glory. That’s what the crowd does as it cheers for the athlete running her victory lap. The crowd does not make her glorious—she’s already displayed her glory in the race. But it recognizes and celebrates her glory by cheering as she takes her victory lap. And, my daughters do the same thing when they rush into the house and drag me into the backyard to witness the glory of the flower, rejoicing in its beauty and unique splendor.

That’s how God’s glory works. Consider God in all his incredible wonder—his love, strength, power, creativity, holiness, wisdom, justice, and so much more.  Everything God does displays his glory.

God created.

In the end, I can’t explain why, though I intend to ask someday. For now it’s enough to know that by creating God displayed his own awesome glory so that all of creation could respond in worship.

Amazing. Glory.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

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Just because…mosquito close up

It’s late, my house has been overrun by pre-adolescent girls (sleepover tonight), and the world is supposed to be ending. At least one of those probably explains why I’m finding this video so fascinating. I hate mosquitoes, but this is worth watching. It develops slowly, so be patient. And just relish the small details of God’s amazing creation. Yes, even in mosquitoes.

P.S. That had to leave one big mosquito bite the next day.

What is “beautiful” to you?

What comes to your mind first when you hear the word “beautiful”? When you want to describe the beauty that’s in the world, what’s your go to analogy? For me, it’s easy:

  • a waterfall
  • a single blade of grass
  • a child’s smile

What about you?

by Baaker2009 (via Flickr)

.We’re coming to the end of Jonathan Edwards week. And one of the primary distinguishing characteristics of Edwards’ theology was his appreciation of beauty. For Edwards, you really don’t know anyone or anything until you have come to appreciate his/her/its particular beauty – i.e. its particular “fit” in the universe as a whole.

And, you can’t really appreciate how something fits into the whole universe until you know how it relates to God. So, for Edwards, the experiencing the beauty of creation is ultimately about experiencing God’s own beauty.

Indeed, Edwards thought so much of the world’s beauty that he could say:

the reason why almost all men, and those that seem to be very miserable, love life: because they cannot bear to lose the sight of such a beautiful and lovely world. (Beauty of the World)

So, again I ask, what is “beautiful” to you? In what do you most often experience the beauty of the world and, consequently, God’s own beauty? If you want to leave a comment and tell us about it, great. If not, at least give yourself a chance to see beauty today. Go find it somewhere. It shouldn’t take long if your eyes are open.

Creation vs. evolution – a compromise

I couldn’t resist. I really couldn’t. I thought about saving it for tomorrow’s Flotsam and Jetsam, but it was too much fun.

 

 HT 22 Words

Would you go on an Answers in Genesis trip to the Grand Canyon?

Every year, Answers in Genesis sponsors a trip to the Grand Canyon and invites people from around the country to attend. I’ve been invited for this next summer and I need to decide if I’m going to go.

The point of the trip, of course, is to present data from the Grand Canyon that ostensibly supports a “young earth” understanding of creation. But, you don’t have to be a young earth creationist to attend. As I understand from people who have gone on previous trips, at least half of the group tends to be either undecided or openly in the “old earth” camp. So, it’s a good chance to interact with people from a variety of perspectives, even though the purpose of the trip is to provide arguments in favor of one particular perspective.

The bonus is that the trips are heavily subsidized. So, at the very least you end up with a pretty cheap river-rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. And, you get to hang out with professors from schools around the country at the same time.

So, what do you think? Would you go on a trip like this? Why or why not? Should I go?  I haven’t really commented much about creation issues on this blog, but I’m not a “young earth” guy. A trip down the Grand Canyon would be pretty amazing. I’m just trying to decide if this is the way I want to do it.

Hawking (et al) on Larry King Live

Steven Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, Deepak Chopra, and Robert Spitzer were recently interviewed by Larry King and shared their respective views on the relationship between science and religion. Just in case (like me) you missed this interview and (unlike me) you care, here you go. (By the way, how does Deepak Chopra keep getting invited to these things? The fact that your name rhymes with Oprah really shouldn’t qualify as a compelling reason.)

If you want a quick rundown on what they talked about, there’s a good summary here.