Friday, October 31, 2008

Allegory of Man's Soul

In the earlier part of the Bible, there was no mention of a resurrection and a final judgement that would send some to eternal Hell while sending others to everlasting Heaven. Instead, it seemed that God carried out Holy judgement for the living in life. If you were really good, God blessed you physically, such as with children or with wealth. However, if you were really bad, you just might find yourself afflicted with diseases, captured by enemies, or killed by God Himself.

In this study, we examine the prelude of God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Many Christians are somewhat familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. These towns were so filled with evil people that God took it upon Himself to destroy the towns. Sodom in particular is associated with rampant homosexuality. Not many Christians know the full details. This is part one of a two part study.

The Allegory of Man's Soul
Before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, He and a couple angels take on human form and pay a visit to Abraham to tell him and his wife Sarah that they will have a baby. After the visit, God and his man-angels start walking to Sodom, and Abraham starts to walk with them (Genesis 18:16).

After a brief discussion in God's mind of whether or not to do so, God decides to tell Abraham what He is going to see Sodom and Gomorrah for Himself, and will destroy them if they are really as wicked as He has been told (Genesis 18:17-21). Genesis 18:20-21:
Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me. If not, I will know." NIV
You may ask; why does an omniscient God need to turn into human form and see it in person? I don't have an answer for that, because there is no logical reason for God doing this.

Abraham is a bit surprised at this revelation and proceeds to ask God many questions (Genesis 18:23-32). Will God kill the righteous with the wicked? If there are 50 righteous people there, will God destroy the city? God says no. How about 45 righteous people? God says no. 40? No, nor for 30. 20? No, nor for 10.

Quickly note two significant things here. First, God doesn't get angry with Abraham questioning the actions of God; which is actually pretty good. Second, God does not correct Abraham to say that nobody is righteous because everybody sins, so one must wonder if that is really how God sees it. Meanwhile this is one of the core messages of Christianity; that everyone sins and therefore deserves the wrath of God, and therefore everyone needs the forgiveness made possible only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Back to the story, it always makes me think about the nature of man in an allegory. I think of a city representing a man's personality, and the people within being parts of that man's personality. It is very rare indeed to find someone that is completely good or totally bad. So allegorically, Abraham would be asking; what if someone is all good except one fault? What about mostly good except five faults? Etc.

It is a muddy task to judge the heart of a man; to judge it completely; to judge it for all eternity. If he is mostly evil, but has some good in him, is he worth rewarding with Heaven or suitable for Hell forever? What if he is about half evil and half good? What if he is overwhelmingly good but has some small weakness and commits a minor evil? Or what if a man had led a very evil life but realized that it was wrong, and now does only good to the best of his ability?

Modern Christian theology greatly simplifies God's judgement process with two questions; do you whole-heartedly believe that Jesus died for your sins and do you repent of your sins? While the Old Testament God may have rewarded you just for doing good, such as with Noah and Abraham, the modern Christian theology strongly downplays the requirement of how good you are as a person to receive a favorable judgement.

In modern Christian theology, the worst sinner can enter Heaven with a repentant heart and an acceptance of Jesus. This action supposedly showcases the awesome mercy of God. Indeed, such mercy would be worthy of praise.

However, when you consider the flip side of that modern Christian theology policy, God's actions seem unreasonably intolerant. If there is a man that is morally upright and repentant of his past mistakes, and yet does not have faith, he would be condemned for Hell simply for not believing in Jesus. That one fault, which has absolutely nothing to do with morality, could damn him eternally. Does that seem odd to anyone else?

A believer may argue that this is just, because such a man is rejecting Jesus and therefore rejecting God. However, when you take into consideration that the average person can't really hear God's voice or see God's actions in today's world without making biased assumptions and interpretations, and the average person can't consistently and empirically test the power of God, such as by measuring the constancy of requited prayers, I don't think that unbelief is unreasonable.

Furthermore, if there was such an unbelieving, yet morally upright man, don't you think he would learn to love God in eternity even if he didn't know God in life? I would think so. God is supposedly the epitome of morality. To me, one of the most attractive things about people is their moral character. Show me a man of strong character and I'll show you a best friend.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Age of Ages

In Genesis 6:3, God sets a limit on how long a man will live; 120 years. This is actually one point where the Bible seems somewhat accurate, as I can't remember the last time someone lived that long. The problem is that following this proclamation, Genesis then records at least 10 people that exceeded the age of 120 years. We are left to wonder what was it supposed to be like if you had that type of longevity. Is it equivalent to our aging today? We'll see the answer we are supposed to believe is impossibly yes and no.

The Age of Ages
Genesis records some cases of unreal longevity. Adam lived 930 years. Noah lived 950 years. Several more live well over 120 years. How should we understand what life would have been like for one of these super-elders? Our best reference is Abram (a.k.a. Abraham) and his wife Sarai (a.k.a. Sarah) due to the amount of recorded context.

Abraham lived to be 175 years old. Sarah lived to be 127 years old. Sarah was 10 years younger than Abraham (Genesis 17:17). The effects of their age in their latter years are somewhat documented around the story of their miracle baby Isaac.

Sarah had been barren of children throughout her life, beyond the point of menopause (Genesis 18:11). Age had ravaged Abraham's body too. You can tell because when Abraham and Sarah get the message from God that they will have a son, they both laugh like this is an impossibility (Genesis 17:17, 18:12). So obviously we should expect that certain age-related issues occurred back then as they do in modern times today. Sarah puts it best, after having a baby at the age of 90 years old in Genesis 21:7:
And she added, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age." NIV
On the other hand, when Abraham was waiting out a great famine in the safety of Egypt in Genesis 12, he tells the Egyptians that Sarah is his sister, not his wife. Abraham does this because Sarah is such a beautiful woman that he is afraid the Egyptians would kill the husband of such a beautiful woman so that she would become available. Sure enough, while in Egypt Sarah catches the eye of the Pharaoh, and the Pharaoh takes her into his palace. We're not given an age when Abraham gets to Egypt, but we know that Abraham was 75 years old when he left his home. That would make Sarah at least 65 years old at the time when Pharaoh took her.

By the way, God afflicts Pharaoh with diseases for taking the (unknown to him) married Sarah into his household.

Now back in those Biblical times, the kings and Pharaohs could have their pick of any of the single women in the empire. It seems strange that the Pharaoh would pick a 65 year old. This is especially true when you consider that skin care and cosmetics were primitive at best back then. Few people, if any, understood that the sun accelerated the aging of the skin. However, there are 65 year olds today that are still somewhat beautiful. So for now, let's say that Sarah was somehow very well preserved.

The Bible often likes to tell a good story twice, and in that custom we find Abraham once again claiming that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife in Genesis 20. Instead of Pharaoh, this lie is told to Abimelech, the king of Gerar. Instead of being at least 65 years old, Sarah is at least 89 years old this time per Genesis 17:17. Sarah manages to catch Abimelech's eye, so he brings Sarah into his household.

Now, I don't know about you, but this seems pretty unrealistic to me. I have seen women around 90 that look good for their age relative to other 90 year olds. However, I think that for Abimelech to take Sarah into his household because she is such a beautiful woman at the age of 89 would take a miracle indeed. Because God supposedly cares much more about the heart of a person than their aesthetics, I think it's extremely unlikely that God would perform such a miracle in the name of beauty.

So we have seen that we are expected to believe that the super-old people of the Bible are afflicted with the same age-related ailments as modern man at the same ages. Yet at the same time, we have seen that we should also believe that they maintained their youthful physical appearance much longer. These concepts are incompatible because many of the mechanics of the age-ailments are the same mechanics of aesthetic aging as well. Furthermore, this seems contrary to God's message of looking at the inner beauty of man as opposed to the outward appearance, for why would God choose to preserve form instead of function.

In case you wonder what happened to Abimelech, God makes all the women in Abimelech's household infertile because Sarah is there. Then He comes to Abimelech in a dream and tells him Sarah is married. Why did God choose to inflict diseases on Pharaoh, while only causing infertility on Abimelech's women? God only knows...

Friday, October 17, 2008

John Gets It Right

This time we'll jump into the New Testament to take a quick look at just how much Jesus understood His position. In particular, we'll take a quick look at Jesus' thoughts as He is facing His upcoming crucifixion which will soon provide the method of salvation for everyone He loves so much.

John Gets It Right
Leading up to the crucifixion, Jesus predicts his death multiple times. If Jesus was a real man, one can easily see how troubled this would have made Him. He would have known all the grizzly details in advance, like a victim tied to a train track when he hears the whistle blow and feels the track begin to vibrate beneath him. It would be perfectly natural for any human to be fearful, and to seek a way out of that circumstance.

In the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see the report of Jesus' human reaction. Matthew and Mark report Jesus saying that His “soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. All three of the Synoptic Gospels, in Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, and Luke 22:42, record Jesus making a prayer that says essentially: “God, if it's possible, take this cup from me. But do what You will, not what I want.” From the context of the story, it's easy to see that the “cup” Jesus is referring to is Jesus' role, and the required upcoming crucifixion. I completely understand why a man would pray such a thing, as I can tell you I would be praying the same thing.

But that's the problem. Jesus was more than just a man. Jesus was supposedly God too. In that position, Jesus would have been intimately familiar with God's Plan to know how essential His role was. There was no other way, so Jesus would have already known it was impossible.

Furthermore, reportedly the scriptures from the beginning have pointed toward this exact moment with Him playing that exact role. In Jesus' own words, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), so again Jesus would know that His fate was impossible to escape.

Maybe you think that this just portrays Jesus' human side showing through? Perhaps you think that this is just proof of Jesus' real emotions; emotions that should not only be permitted but expected? Perhaps, but not according to the Gospel of John.

John 12:27 records Jesus as saying this with respect to His impending death:
"Now My heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour." NIV
In this single statement, John shows that Jesus was aware of his future death and was aware that His purpose for being alive was specifically to die in that way. John records Jesus even went as far as to mock the idea that He would ask God to save him. In contradiction, this is exactly what the other three Gospels say Jesus did.

Normally, three eye witnesses against one would make the discordant viewpoint null and void. But considering the status of deity that was endowed on Jesus, I can't help but think John got it right this time. It's the only viewpoint that represents perfect clairvoyant knowledge that Jesus should have had.

Clearly, all four Gospels can't be correct, because then Jesus lied in saying that He would not ask to be saved. So either this is another strike against the Gospel of John, or this is substantial evidence that events recorded in multiple Gospels the same way may still be inaccurate.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Babbling Babel

The story of the the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is a why and how story. It answers the questions about why there are different languages and how the different languages came to be. With a cursory look, it may appear to be a plausible explanation of why we have different languages in different geographic locations today. However, look any closer than that and the story becomes laughable at best. As the expression goes, the devil is in the details.

Babbling Babel
With modern knowledge, examination of the story of the Tower of Babel falls flat quicker than a house of cards. Anyone that still believes in the literal truth of the Bible, a literal truth that is endorsed throughout even the New Testament, after reading this story just isn't thinking deeply about what they are reading.

The scene starts with all the men of Earth having one language, and the men settling in Shinar. The man's intent is Behold, Genesis 11:3-4:
They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." NIV
Just so there is no confusion of mankind's intent here, the actual literal translation of “with a tower that reaches to the heavens” from the Hebrew is “and a tower, with its top in Heaven”. In other words, mankind was intending on making a building tall enough to reach God's domain. After sending numerous spacecraft to “Heaven”, we can be reasonably sure that this would be impossible. But let's suspend our disbelief for a moment and say they only wanted a tower reaching the top of the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the troposphere.

The idea of making a tower over 10 miles high to reach the top of the troposphere out of baked bricks with tar for mortar is ludicrous. At this time in 2008, the most advanced engineering and material science is developing what is soon to be the world's tallest building, the Burj Dubai, which will stand a mere 2313 feet tall; not even half of a mile high. The world's tallest mountain, Mt. Everest, is 29035 feet high, or about half of the height of the troposphere. Structurally, there is no practical way a tower made of bricks and tar could reach this height. Instead, you would have to revert to a pyramid-type structure for stability. Such a pyramid would make the Great Pyramid in Egypt look like a pebble.

Perhaps you think that the tower height mentioned was just poetic hyperbole? That's not what God thought. Behold, God's response to this in Genesis 11:5-7:
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." NIV
Here you see that God's concern is that a mankind with one common language is able to do absolutely anything; nothing will be impossible. This is very strong supporting evidence that the plan for the tower was not just that it would be relatively tall, but that the tower would in fact reach Heaven.

Now, what God should have done was grab a comfortable chair, a bottle of wine, and sit back to enjoy the show. He could have watched the failure as the primitive engineering skills resulted in tower collapses over and over again. Once engineering got to the point of considerably height, He could have watched as the men got skin cancers from the increased intensity of the solar radiation. As it got even higher, He could have laughed as the laboring men gasped for oxygen in the thin air and suffered frostbite from the extreme cold. He could have grinned widely when, after centuries of toil, men decided that their suffering was not worth the continuation of the tower project anymore.

Instead what is relayed is that God was genuinely afraid that a mankind united with one common language would be too powerful. He was afraid that someday the little cretins would show up knocking on Heaven's door. Either this displays a God that is out of touch with the reality of His own universe or this proves the story to be a complete work of fiction.

Wrapping things up here, God scatters the people on the Earth (answering their stated fears) and gives them different languages. A very strange thing about God's distribution of different languages is that God gave his soon-to-be Chosen People such a primitive language; Hebrew. It is a step above hieroglyphics, but not that much of one.

Now, Hebrew has evolved a bit over time, but the Biblical Hebrew was dirt primitive. There were no real vowels. There were rarely spaces to segregate words. There is not much punctuation. All the letters are the same case. To the uninitiated, it may as well be encrypted text. Below is the paragraph under the “Background” heading above rendered in a similar style as Biblical Hebrew.


With a language like this, you could study the Bible for decades and still not come up with 100% accurate translations. You could get close, but there would always be judgment calls in cases where a group of letters could be interpreted in two different ways that would seem to both fit the context. If you have ever used text messages on a cell phone with predictive text, you'll get the idea. Yet, this is the language that God, knowing the future perfectly, supposedly chose for the Old Testament.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Oddities of the Flood Legend

In the previous post, I discussed the impetus for The Flood of Noah.

God has Noah build the Ark, a boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high, and gather up pairs of animals into the Ark to repopulate Earth after The Flood. God Floods the Earth for about a year, wiping out all land creatures, including man, and all birds.

Christians often site the fact that the majority of cultures have a legend of a great flood as evidence for historical proof. At one time, a part of the Ark was thought to have been discovered on a mountain, but this ended up to be a big hoax.

Oddities of the Flood Legend
Humans need fresh water to survive. As such, any self-sustaining community had to locate itself near a fresh water source. Humans learned long ago that the same water that sustained life could easily end it. If there was too little, the drought would claim lives as crops and people died of thirst. If there was too much, the flood would wash away belongings, houses, livestock, and drown loved ones.

Most legends have a basis in fact, it's true. With nearly every community of mankind depending on and living near fresh water to survive, it is no surprise that legends would spring up about floods. Also, we would expect several variations on those flood legends due to the imagination of the local populous. This is exactly the case. Anyone claiming that many cultures having a flood legend would be proof of The Flood obviously hasn't thought very hard about why that may be true.

Moving on to The Flood at hand, there are several oddities about The Flood legend, such as why would God want to kill the animals (Genesis 6:17), and why would God tell Noah to collect pairs of every animal (Genesis 6:19-20), only to tell him seven days before The Flood that he instead needed seven pairs of all the “clean” animals (Genesis 7:1-4). I'm not going to discuss them all here, but I will hit some of the highlights.

Many miracles in the Bible strike me as an odd mix between the natural and the supernatural. The Flood is a prime example. God's objective was to kill all of mankind, except Noah and his family, and kill off all the animals except the ones on the Ark. He chooses to do so with a natural event of unnatural proportion, and it takes a year to do it. Why wouldn't God just instantaneously kill them all and disintegrate them to dust? Such an act would have been even more miraculous, as nothing natural could have possibly done that. The Flood was not to test Noah's heart, as he already had favorable status. To me, such natural miracles suggest that the origin of the legend is a natural event which has been woven into a story about divine power.

The next couple oddities come as Noah disembarks from the Ark in Genesis 8:20-21:
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done." NIV
Why is the smell of burnt flesh a “pleasing aroma” to God? This is something repeated over and over again in the Old Testament. Modern Christians debate about whether or not a fiery Hell is the destination of unsaved sinners. If it is, God is going to be incredibly pleased with the aroma from all those sinners roasting! Maybe that's why only few will enter at the straight gate of salvation...

In these verses, we get a rare glimpse at the heart of God. What does it say? Even though all of mankind's inclinations are evil from childhood on into adulthood, He will not curse the ground again or destroy all living creatures. Those with standard-Christian-issue rose-colored glasses will say that this shows God's great mercy. Under honest scrutiny, the message of mercy is not the only thing revealed. Paraphrasing the full meaning; “Mankind is a failed experiment that has resulted in only evil creatures. I want to just wipe them all off the Earth, but I will not do this.” So, yes, it does show mercy, but not due to some pleasure God takes in man, or out of some great love God has for man.

Closing this legend out, in Genesis 9:8-16 God makes a covenant with Noah that specifically He will never again destroy all life with a flood, and He makes rainbows as a reminder for Him of the covenant. We'll forget that God would need a reminder at this time to tackle a bigger issue. The issue is that God's covenant essentially means nothing! Why? Because, as I hinted earlier, an omnipotent God could wipe out mankind in any number of ways, not just a flood. Not only that, this covenant hasn't stopped God from killing hundreds of thousands with floods through the centuries. So this covenant is worthless, except for the rainbows. Those are nice. :-)