Friday, September 26, 2008

Repentant God, Part 1

One of God's many reported attributes is that He is completely omniscient. He knows the past, present, and future perfectly. God is supposedly in the unique position of knowing the exact consequences of His possible actions before He even takes the action, thereby allowing Him to make the best possible decisions.

Today's study is in Genesis 6. Previously, Adam and Eve have been kicked out from the Garden of Eden, and their offspring have been multiplying on the Earth. There is no record that God has tried to steer mankind down the path of righteousness since expulsion from Eden.

Repentant God, Part 1
Like a patient that undergoes the pain of a hip replacement surgery and subsequent therapy in order to walk with ease, God knows all of the discomfort He will have to endure to achieve His ultimate goal. In fact, an omniscient God would be in a better position than the patient, as He would know the exact detail of the pain He would experience by His decision before His decision is brought into fruition. Plus, such a God would know exactly the extent of the result and reward for enduring that pain. With such perfect knowledge, such a God has no excuse for mistakes and repentance of His own actions. Yet this is not what we find in the Bible, as we see in Genesis 6:5-8:

The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. NIV

Because mankind had ultimately ended up thinking “only evil all the time”, God felt sorry that He ever made man. In other words, God repented making man. He changed His mind that the whole mankind project was a good idea. But if God knew the outcome of the project in advance, then why would and how could He repent? Everything was going exactly according to His Plan. If it was not part of His Plan, then He would not have decided to have mankind in the first place. Thus we see a failure of omniscience.

God's solution to the problem of evil in mankind was not remedial in nature. He did not say “These people are sheep without a shepherd. I will send them guides to the path of righteousness.” He did not decide that He needed a new strategy to encourage the love of God and doing what is right. Instead, God wanted to end the mankind project altogether, saying that He will wipe mankind from the face of the Earth. This solution shows another failure of omniscience; a failure to know that the present pain is worth the future reward according the the original Plan.

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. In other words, as God was about to wipe mankind off the Earth, He realized that there was one righteous man. So God made an exception. As the legend goes, God tells Noah to make an Ark and through doing so the animal kingdom is preserved and mankind again repopulates the Earth.

What is important to note is that God was not even omniscient about Noah. This is revealed in the language that God used, or rather did not use. God did not say “I will wipe mankind from the face of the Earth except for my servant Noah and his family.” God did not say “I have painfully endured the evil of mankind until the time of my beloved servant Noah, and now I am happy that I can start mankind over with a man of great faith.” Instead, we read God intended to end the mankind project, and would have done so if not for finding Noah. So we see a third failure of omniscience about Noah and the ultimate Plan.

So when you tuck your kids in at night, be sure to tell them that, at least at one time, God thought mankind was a mistake, and he would have snuffed us all out if not for Noah and a lack of His omniscience.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Sacrifice of Cain

Sacrifice is one of the strangest religious rites in the Bible. Regimented sacrifices were required under God's Law. Later, King David sacrificed countless animals, but supposedly also wrote Psalms saying God doesn't want animal sacrifices. Yet, in most cases where animal sacrifice is said not to be desired, a sacrifice of the will is said to be the goal. Collectively, we see that the theme of a sacrifice is that it should be of significant cost or meaning to the individual to prove its worthiness and sincerity.

On a different subject, one theory of the creation of the Bible is that it is a collection of oral traditions, written stories, historical events, and blends of other religion's myths. If that were the case, we might expect to occasionally find some incongruent storylines. This is the case indeed as we will see today.

The Sacrifice of Cain
As most Christians know, it was Cain that performed the first murder on his brother Abel. The impetus for this deed is succinctly stated in Genesis 4:2-4:

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. NIV

What is never disclosed with the telling of this story is that at this time mankind and every living thing is on a strictly vegetarian diet. Going back to Genesis 1:29-30:

Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so. NIV

Man and beast reportedly do not start eating meat until after The Flood of Noah in Genesis 9.

So let's compare the sacrifices made to God. Cain toiled on the soil and offered God fruit of that labor, fruit that he would otherwise have eaten. There was intrinsic value and cost to the sacrifice. Abel was a shepherd and offered the fatty parts of a newborn animal. This fatty flesh had no value to Abel. There was nothing he could do with it. The only thing of value on the animal at that time would be the hide for clothing, which was not sacrificed.

Cain made a sacrifice that is consistent with the intent of a sacrifice. Cain worked the field for months and offered up fruit of his labor, fruit that meant something to him because of the work put into it and the actual value of it as food. So when God rejects the sacrifice, it is easy to understand that Cain would get angry, just as if a father were to reject a homemade gift that a child had worked on for weeks. Not that such rejection justifies murder, just that the anger the rejection caused is understandable.

Abel was a shepherd. But at this time, neither man nor beast ate flesh. So basically, Abel didn't have to protect the flocks. He just kept them together. The goal of such activity at that time could only be to produce hides for clothing. It seems rather ludicrous that Abel would choose to be a shepherd in that case; a big glitch in the cohesion of the Bible's story. For Abel to make a sacrifice of a product, animal fat, that had no value and for God to find favor in that sacrifice defies the theme of a true sacrifice and confounds logic.

On a final note, it is very interesting to consider that in the many animal sacrifices much later on in the Bible, the fat of the animal is most of what gets sacrificed. One could say that Abel's fat sacrifice was a precursor of things to come, but a more likely scenario is that the story of Cain and Abel in its Biblical form came together in a time after fat sacrifices were ordained because fat would have meant nothing to Cain and Abel. I leave you with a quote from God's Law on sacrifice, Leviticus 3:14-16:

From what he offers he is to make this offering to the LORD by fire: all the fat that covers the inner parts or is connected to them, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the covering of the liver, which he will remove with the kidneys. The priest shall burn them on the altar as food, an offering made by fire, a pleasing aroma. All the fat is the LORD's. NIV

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Fall of Curses

The first three chapters of Genesis are dense with explanations of why and how, but they are not flushed out in much detail. I've found it to be challenging to withhold so many thought provoking questions that are generated each time I read them. I may eventually revisit them, but at this time I will stick to the major contrasts between tradition and Bible text so that we do not get bogged down.

God creates Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God tells Adam in Genesis 2:16-17, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” NIV The majority of Christians believe what happens next is that Satan, disguised as a serpent, persuades Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, Eve shares the fruit with Adam, and for that error God curses all of mankind and the world in what is most often referred to as “The Fall”. Most Christians are quick to explain all of the hardships and devastation of this world as due to the fact that we live in a Fallen World.

The Fall of Curses
The Fall of mankind is wrapped with many traditional assumptions that simply do not stand up under scrutiny of the text. Those assumptions permeate the modern Christian teachings and culture to the point that the assumptions are considered fact. The majority of believers think Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple, and Eve shared the apple with Adam. The funny thing is that nowhere does an apple show up in the story text, and that is just the start of the popular misconception of the story.

Starting from the beginning we read in Genesis 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made...” NIV Notice that the serpent is associated and compared with the wild animals God made. This association is the first hint that the serpent is just some animal God made as opposed to being Satan.

While a rebellious angel would certainly fit the bill of being more crafty than wild animals, such a comparison would not likely be made to describe the reported mastermind of all Evil because the scale is so different. That would be a comparison between a spiritual, sentient being capable of abstract and complex thoughts that has dwelt with God compared to Earthbound physical beings that are considerably more limited in their thought capacity and are assumed not to have souls. Or in simple words, like saying I am smarter than a room full of chipmunks. Duh.

From there, the serpent does convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Some may claim that the serpent's ability to talk to Eve gives evidence that it is Satan. This does seem a bit strange. However, when put in other Biblical context, it seems that God controls the gift of language, such as how He makes all the languages of the world in Genesis 11, and how He makes a donkey able to speak its mind in Numbers 22. So it is not unreasonable to suggest that perhaps man could communicate with the animals at that point in the story, or that God had blessed the serpent with the ability of speech.

Eve shares the fruit with Adam. Suddenly they realize they are naked, so they make clothes out of fig leaves. (This is in and of itself odd, but we'll leave that topic alone for now.) God walks through the garden and eventually finds Adam and Eve. God confronts them. Eve blames the mistake on the serpent. God then curses them all starting with the serpent, followed by Eve, followed by Adam.

The devil is in the details of the curse. Or actually, the devil is not in the details of the curse. Genesis 3:14-15:

So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” NIV

First, we see the association again of the serpent with the wild animals. Second, we see that the serpent will crawl on its belly all the days of its life. (OK class: What animal crawls on its belly? Follow up: What lord of Evil does not crawl on his belly?) Third, we see that the serpent's offspring will strike the heel of the woman's offspring, like a snake does because it crawls on the ground. Anyone that attempts to equate the serpent to Satan, who is supposedly free in this world attacking our hearts and minds (both of which are very far from our heels) to win our eternal souls, is really liberal in his or her interpretation of the Bible.

In Genesis 3:16, God cursed the Eve with painful childbirth, desire for her husband and a subservient position relative to her husband. In Genesis 3:17-19, God cursed Adam with a cursed ground that will cause him to have to painfully work the Earth to provide food, and the Earth will now have thorns and thistles.

There are a few things missing here. There is nothing that explicitly says that any of the curses are applicable to all of mankind with the exception of man attacking snakes and visa versa, and possibly the thorns and thistles growing in the land. There is no curse of disease or genetic mutations that cause debilitating or painful conditions yet do not cause death. There is no curse of hurricanes, droughts, bacterial infections, viruses, volcanic eruptions, or any other natural event that we know today that causes massive loss of human life. There is not even a hint or vague expression that could be used to extrapolate these things. The idea that these are part of curses of The Fall is completely fabricated as a defense of why bad things happen to good people.

After the curses, God kicks Adam and Eve our of the Garden of Eden so that they can't eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Adam goes on to live 930 years, which must have seemed like forever.

I'll close the study of The Fall with a final observation: God only told Adam that the punishment for eating the forbidden fruit was that he would die. However, after eating the fruit God ends up adding to that punishment by cursing Adam and Eve as well as kicking them out of the Garden. So it would appear that God is at liberty to add to punishments however He seems fit without fully disclosing them. This is odd when you consider that one of the cornerstones of justice is that both the crime and the punishment are explicitly defined.

Friday, September 5, 2008

So God Created Man...

To some extent, evolution is a proven fact. We've seen bacteria evolve to be resistant to the medicine we apply to fight infections. We've seen Hawaiian crickets evolve a chirp-less variety to avoid a parasite which is drawn by the chirping noise of the non-evolved crickets. We've seen a plethora of other examples to suggest that evolution is a mechanism for driving the change of a life form over time.

While we have yet to observe the evolution of an entirely different type of creature, we have sufficient fossil records to support the theory that this has occurred in the past. We have even found animals with vestigial parts which appear to be left-overs from an evolutionary process, such as foot bones in a certain specie of whales. Ultimately, we have enough evidence to advance the theory that man is probably the result of evolution.

So God Created Man (and it was all downhill from there!)
I've often run into Christians that believe the evolution of man as well as God. To reconcile this, there have been all sorts of crazy ideas, such as: Genesis was not a literal account of creation. God influenced evolutionary processes to make man. Evolution occurred in accordance with God's plan, and the six days of creation actually represent billions of years because time is influenced by gravity, and gravity was much more intense as the universe was expanding, so what appeared to be one day was actually much longer, with each passing day taking less time as the gravity field strength was reduced.

These are great stories, but the Bible does not permit that type of wiggle room in its interpretation. The Old Testament is very clear about how man was created. Although it is not often advertised, the New Testament also confirms this story of creation. Let's take a quick look at both, shall we?

In Genesis 1:24-31, the sixth day of creation is recorded. On that day, all creatures that walk on the ground were created, including man. In verse 24, God says “Let the land produce living creatures“, which almost leaves the door open for evolution, but we will find that door soon closed for man.

Genesis 2:4-25 repeats the account of the creation of man, but with greater detail. Genesis 2:7 specifically reveals how man was supposedly made; “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Adam did not come from anything prior but dirt and Holy breath. In fact, the name Adam is very close to the Hebrew word adamah, which means ground. You can not possibly interpret this as man was somehow the product of evolution. The Old Testament is clear on the matter.

This account is confirmed in the New Testament multiple times, and three of those times are fairly blatant. The first of the blatant accounts is in the family lineage of Jesus that Luke records in Luke 3:23-38, where the last two entries are “the son of Adam, the son of God.” The second is 1 Corinthians 15:45 where it states that “The first man Adam became a living being.” The third is 1 Timothy 2:13 where it states “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Strike three. Evolution is out.

So, if you are Christian, stop believing in evolution. If you can't do that due to the volume of scientific evidence and in the name of intellectual honesty, then stop believing there is a god, or, at least, stop believing in the God of the Bible. Because otherwise, you believe that God has lied.