Archive for December, 2016

Contradictions – The Potter’s Field

December 31, 2016

Number 11 on the list of contradictions takes issue with the two accounts of what happens to Judas and his money after his betrayal of Jesus.  Specifically, does Judas buy a field with the money or not?

The two Biblical texts allegedly in contradiction with one another are Acts 1:18-19 and Matthew 27:6-8.  However these are not the complete verses that are relevant, so I find the author’s technique to be questionable, at best.  Matthew’s full treatment of the topic includes 27:3-10.

Acts 1:18-19 just says that “this man” – Judas – acquired a field with the money he received from betraying Jesus.  That’s a pretty general statement.  Must it mean that Judas was active in this process, or could it mean that he was passive – that the action happened on his behalf, even after his death?  I understand that generally I would read theses verses in the active sense, as though Judas was personally the agent of this activity.

Unless I had a particular reason for believing the words could be interpreted differently.  These words could be understood in a passive sense, even though  that’s not necessarily how we expect them to be understood.  If someone in my congregation dies and leaves money for something at the church, we talk about how they purchased that item or contributed towards that project.  Did they actively do it?  No, it was done after their death, on their behalf.  Perhaps it was at their explicit direction but not necessarily so.  They may just leave an amount of money to utilized at the congregation’s discretion.  If they decided to update the sound system, we would still talk about how so-and-so made that possible.  They paid for it, despite the fact that it was done on their behalf after their death.

So although I acknowledge that the words in Acts would typically be understood in an active sense, as though Judas himself is purchasing this field personally, with the proper context and explanation, the words read just as naturally in the passive sense.  Matthew provides the context and explanation for why I should read Acts in the passive sense on this topic.  What is important to take into account in Luke’s account (Luke authored the book of Acts as well as the Gospel with his name) is that this was a well-known story.  Everyone in Jerusalem knew about Judas’ demise.  So Luke may not have felt the need to go into greater depth on the details the way Matthew does.

Matthew explains the fuller story.  Judas is wracked with remorse, it would seem.  Or else he didn’t think that Jesus would actually be condemned, that He would be declared innocent or would defend himself or would convince his accusers of his identity as the Messiah.  Whatever the case, things apparently don’t play out as Judas envisioned, or else he comes belatedly to the realization that his actions are sinful.  The commentator R.C.H. Lenski interprets the Greek to mean that only upon seeing the consequences does Judas repent.  He doesn’t necessarily think his actions were wrong, but he regrets the consequences.  His act of returning the money may be an attempt to offer a sacrifice for his sin, except it’s not the appropriate sacrifice.  So the leader’s reject it and direct him to make the appropriate sacrifices for his sin.

Instead, Judas hurls the money into the Temple, where it is picked up by the leaders who had dismissed him so callously.    He then goes and hangs himself.  Seeing no need to further incriminate themselves (or believing their actions in arresting and convicting Jesus to be truly righteous), the High priests collect the money.  They might be thinking of Deuteronomy 23:18 which indicates that some money is inappropriate to enter the treasury, so they need to find an alternate use for the money.  They purchase a field wherein to bury “strangers” – perhaps poor Jews that move to Jerusalem for their final days, or for Jews who die in Jerusalem while on pilgrimage.  Their were rules determining what land could be used for this purpose, and an appropriate field happens to coincide with where Judas hangs himself.  The connection between the field and Judas’ body is well known, even as Matthew is writing several years after the fact.

So, as with most of the alleged contradictions thus far, it’s not necessarily a contradiction.  And I’d argue that a reasonable, objective person, knowing the full story, would not find this to be a contradiction.  Judas is the means by which the field is purchased.  The fact that it happens after his death does not contradict the assertion that ‘he’ bought it.

As a postscript, the compiler of these ‘contradictions’ thinks that there is a contradiction in why the field is referred to as the Field of Blood.  He sees Acts as linking the name to Judas’ death there, which I think is correct.  But he interprets Matthew as linking the name of the field to Jesus, which I think is a misinterpretation.  Matthew does not clearly indicate why it becomes known as the Field of Blood.  Perhaps he finds the details unnecessary to convey at this point, as inhabitants of Jerusalem would already know them and others might not care about this detail.  I don’t see Matthew linking the name to Jesus in any way, though he does link the purchase of the field itself to Jesus and prophecy.  That will lead us into the next alleged contradiction!


Contradictions – Does Everyone Sin?

December 29, 2016

It’s been a while, but not forgotten.  The next alleged Biblical contradiction in the list is whether or not everyone sins.  Multiple verses are quoted saying that everyone sins – there is nobody who does not sin – 1 Kings 8:46, 2 Chronicles 6:36, Proverbs 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20, 1 John 1:8-10.  Then 1 John 3:9 is quoted as contradicting all of these.

We should note that 1 John is quoted on both sides of this issue, so if there is going to be a condemning contradiction, surely it would be catching St. John in contradicting himself in the same letter, right?

1 John 1:5-10 contrasts the nature of God, which is sinless and all together light – no darkness (sin) at all – with our own nature.  Our own nature is sinful and needs forgiveness, which is received through the blood of Christ (1:7).  The result is that we who were sinful are forgiven – the guilt of our sins is wiped away and we walk in God’s revealed truth (his Word) which points out our sinfulness and therefore our need of a Savior.  If we insist that we don’t need a Savior, that we are not sinful, then we contradict God and call him a liar.

1 John 3:1-10 is a deeper exploration of what the blood of Christ has accomplished in those who have faith in him.  Now we are not dealing with our sinful nature as distinct from the holy and perfect nature of God, but rather with our new nature through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf.  What we are is a new creation, but we can’t perceive this yet.  What we see is our sinfulness, because we are still sinful (v.2), but this is not who we are any more through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are, in fact, pure in God’s eyes, because our sin is forgiven and not held against us.  In this reality that has yet to be revealed, our lives are spent in anticipation of finally beholding our recreated selves, our sanctified, pure, and holy selves.  Knowing who it is we really are and will one day be shown to be, our lives are spent trying to live consistent with this new identity (v.3).

But those who think that their new identity in Christ is a license to continue sinning however they see fit do not understand what has happened to them, what is offered to them through the death and resurrection of the Son of God, and who they can in fact be.  They prefer sin to the reality of the new identity Jesus makes possible.  This confusion is referenced elsewhere, such as the 6th chapter of Romans where Paul deals with various aspects of this issue.

What John is dealing with in 1 John 3 is the Christian’s emphasis or focus in their life.  Is it on gratifying the self constantly, regardless of God’s love and grace?  Or are they practicing righteousness, seeking to live consistent to who God has declared them to be in Christ (vs. 7-8)?  For the one united in Christ, their heart cannot be set wholly on sinning – it can’t be where their joy and focus is, because Christ should occupy that place in their heart.  If they are able to focus only on their sinful desires – without struggle, without remorse, without acknowledging that it is wrong and that they need to be cleansed of such things by God the Holy Spirit – then they aren’t truly in Christ.  They may say they are, but they aren’t.

Note that this is not something that someone from the outside can determine.  I can see someone sinning, but I can’t know for certain the state of their heart and mind in that moment of sin, or in the moments afterwards.  I can’t know whether there is regret or remorse.  Therefore, it is not for one Christian to declare to another Christian that they are no longer in Christ.  Rather, we are to speak in love to one another pointing out the sin so that we can walk together towards undoing the power of sin in each person’s life.

So no, I don’t see 1 John 3:9 as a contradiction of the overwhelming evidence of the rest of Scripture that all human beings are sinful.  It’s a complicated passage, to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be a contradiction, unless you want to intentionally try and interpret it that way.


Surprise, Surprise

December 29, 2016

Two articles with “surprising” revelations about the very real issue of cause and effect.

First this article which finds that in states that legalize recreational marijuana usage for adults, there is an increased acceptance of marijuana usage among minors.  In other words, adolescents have a more accepting view of marijuana usage in states where adults can utilize it legally for fun.  The proposed solution to this undesired outcome?  “States should consider developing evidence-based prevention programs aimed at adolescents before they legalize the recreational use of marijuana“.

Because that’s worked soooooo well with alcohol consumption, right?

Look, here’s the issue.  If you legalize something for adults, kids are naturally going to get the message that whatever is legal for adults must be OK.  Sure, they may be banned from legally enjoying it themselves until they turn 21, but the reality is that it must be OK.  Which in turn will lead to increased usage by people under 21.  If they see Mom and Dad doing it and it’s legal, they’re going to want to try it for themselves.

If you want to encourage young people not to engage in marijuana usage, you have to convince them somehow that it’s bad for them.  Unhealthy.  It stunts their brain growth or other negative outcomes (the article specifically mentions “psychosis” and “poor financial status” although those are pretty vague terms!).  But this may lead the discerning student to wonder whether there are adverse effects for adults who use the substance legally, and now you’re taking on the pro-marijuana supporters who insist that there is no negative health impacts of pot usage.

Fortunately, there is the strong stance of experts on this stuff, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which boldly asserts that there “may” be a health risk to children from marijuana.  Wow.  That should dissuade a lot of kids (and their parents) from trying pot!

In other news, cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have reached an all-time high in our nation.  According to this article, over 1/3 of our country is infected with some sort of STD.  Does that seem outrageously high to anyone else?  And let’s stop to unpack this for a moment.

Based on US demographic data from 2015, roughly 32% of our population is either above the age of 65 or below the age of 14.  Those between 14 and 65 make up 2/3 of our population, and I’m assuming that they are also more sexually active than those below 14 or above 65 (and also more likely to be with multiple/different partners).  If the US population is roughly 318 million, that means there are roughly 200 million folks who are statistically most likely to be sexually active.  And perhaps half of them are infected with an STD of one sort or another?!?!?  Yet we continue to encourage our young people to emulate the irresponsible sexual behavior of adults?  Despite the fact that just the three STDs discussed in the article can lead to “infertility, cancer and death” and are part of a 16 billion dollar annual medical tab?

Which my tax dollars help to pay, thanks to mandatory health insurance laws and government subsidies?

And the amazing thing is that, of all the possible causes listed in the article, having sex is not even mentioned!

Instead, blame is shifted to “erosion” of publicly funded treatment and prevention resources (which I suspect is fancy talk for Planned Parenthood facilities) and increased screening.  Fortunately, if we spend more money in “community services” (another term for Planned Parenthood?) and sex education, we can reverse the trend.  I’ll assume that this sex education won’t emphasize monogamy or celibacy until you’re married, because that would just be silly and unrealistic and impractical.  Right?

Brilliant.  Let’s not warn people about the real risks of sex with random people (college hook-up culture, anyone?) or the benefits of monogamy, we’ll just spend more money to treat people dealing with the inevitable repercussions of a licentious culture.  I *love* that my taxes will continue to increase in part to pay rising subsidized health care costs driven in part by our cultural insistence that sex never entails the need to think about very real physical repercussions because you can get a shot or an abortion for cheap or free.

I’m so surprised at this data.  So very, very surprised!!





More Vaccine Fun

December 28, 2016


There’s a spike in reported cases of mumps this year.  But it’s not grabbing headlines like a couple of years ago when measles at Disneyland provided the necessary ammunition for states like California to ram through mandatory vaccination legislation.

I wonder why not?

Perhaps the difference in reporting levels is that there is already a vaccine for mumps that most children receive.  Twice.  The majority of those self-reporting in the current outbreak also received the recommended double-dose vaccination against mumps.  Yet mumps is showing up in near-record numbers this year all the same.  There have been other years where mumps has increased, which is itself an interesting phenomenon.  Other sources acknowledge we don’t really know how effective the vaccine is, for how long.  In other words, does the immunity fade over time, and if so, over how long a period?  Nobody knows these things, apparently, despite the fact that citizens are being forced to receive vaccinations.  How good a solution is it to just tack on a third dose of the vaccine?  What sorts of side-effects might that cause?  How can it even be suggested when we don’t apparently understand the effectiveness of the current regimen?

Yet another reason why I still disagree with mandatory vaccinations.  I don’t argue that they can provide some real benefits, but I don’t think we know nearly enough about what we’re doing to force people to receive them.



Resurrecting Rogues

December 27, 2016

We went to see the new Star Wars movie today, part of our annual Christmas-time tradition of going as a family to a movie theater.  Yes, it’s a good movie.  Far better than the last four installments, and frankly even better than I remember Return of the Jedi.  Rogue One inclines me to go back and watch at least A New Hope again to see the interplay, because I think they did a really good job of linking to that next (story-chronology-wise) film.

What I didn’t expect as part of that linking, was to see actors and actresses digitally reproduced for Rogue One as they appeared – roughly – in A New Hope, despite the latter being filmed 40 years ago and at least some of those actors being deceased.  Although Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin is the most obvious example of this, there is one other example at the very end.

I mean, realistically, it shouldn’t be unexpected.  Probably 90% of everything in the movie was digitally created or added in terms of scenery, backdrops, extras.  Frankly, before getting lost in the story – fairly immediately – I pondered how the stunning opening visuals of the new movie didn’t hold the same grandeur for me, knowing that they’re all computer generated.  Part of the immersion into another galaxy is lost for me knowing how little of it is created in our galaxy but rather in a digital galaxy on a hard drive.  But, the story was compelling enough so that such thoughts were short-lived.

Until Peter Cushing appeared on screen.  Since he died 22 years ago, I know that’s not him.  Even were he still alive he wouldn’t look as he did in 1977.  Yet there he is, very realistic and life-like and, had I not known all of the above, perhaps I would never be the wiser that he is as much computer generated wizardry as the backdrop of stars and Death Star behind him.

My immediate reaction was one of curiosity.  Not as to how they did it, but rather what the implications of doing it are.  Does Cushing have an estate, or family that would benefit from royalties or payment for the appearance of his likeness in this movie?  Does the movie studio get to use his likeness for free then?  Did anyone have to give permission for Cushing to appear in this movie, post mortem?  Star Wars fans are well aware that Sir Alec Guiness really disliked Star Wars and his role in it.  Could the studio use his likeness in future films, forcing Guiness to keep appearing in a franchise he loathed?

What’s to keep a studio from reusing famous faces indefinitely?  And what does this mean for actors and actresses, or frankly, for any of us?  What if a director spotted my face in a restaurant, snapped a pic on his phone, sent it to his animators and said ‘put this guy in the film‘?  Would I have any recourse?  Do I deserve compensation?

My wife sent me this article from The New York Times which discussed very few of these things.  The tone of the people quoted reminded me of stories where scientists pursuing questionable procedures are quoted.  Inevitably, they respond with something along the lines of Yes we know this is very complicated and controversial so you can trust us that we’ve thought it all through very carefully.  Which is not reassuring in the least.   I’m glad that thought was given.  But the idea that one small group of scientists or directors have the right to decide what is and isn’t acceptable, based on their own personal struggles and considerations of the topic is ridiculous.

Ultimately, they dismiss the concerns because it was really, really important to them and to their story to do it this way.  I would argue quite the contrary.  Tarkin’s presence would of course be expected in this film at some level, but there was certainly a lot of additional drama and therefore screen time that wasn’t necessary to the storyline at all.   And the fact that you wanted to do this to tell your story is not a justification for doing it.  Nor is the assurance that it’s really expensive and hard to do so not many other people are likely to do it, including us.  The fact that they were willing to go to the time and difficulty and expense of doing it obviously shows that these are not, in and of themselves, deterrent factors.

I was pleased to hear that they received permission from Cushing’s estate, at least.

In a rather unexpected twist of fate, I find myself in agreement with a Huffington Post editorial for a change.  It should not be in the hands of later generations to resurrect the image of a deceased actor or actress.  It is unfair to the dead, and ultimately another blurring of our own acceptance of and coming to grips with mortality in general.  This editorial also rings the same bells, though neither editorial propositions a very compelling rationale for their position.

Here’s my theological rationale:  something in us reacts against the idea of using the dead for these purposes because part of us resonates with the idea that they aren’t really dead and gone.  Oh, they’re not here with us, for certain.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Therefore it’s more than just a memory we do offense to – we do offense to their reality.

If we truly die, if there is nothing beyond death, then that’s it and like an expired copyright others are free to cannibalize us and our works to the extent that the law allows or prohibits.  We can try to ensure that our families are compensated in some fashion, but that’s more of a formality than anything, and certainly one prone to eventual revocation should circumstances make that convenient.  There are no moral obligations to consider, because nothing like morality or appropriateness or ethics exist beyond our conceptualization – or reconceptualization – of them.

But if we aren’t truly dead and gone, absorbed back into atomic nothingness; if there is a corpus of ethical and moral standards that we have been entrusted with as stewards, not creators, then our misgivings have a root.  It’s not just the economics we balk at, not just the potential for misappropriation, but the possibility of actual offense.  Not against an idea or a memory but against a person – a person who may be dead but who continues to exist in a meaningful sense – every bit as meaningful as when they were alive.

If we remember that our theology isn’t separated somehow from the rest of the issues we try to make sense of, these other issues begin to make more sense.  It isn’t a matter of respect for the living or the dead, but rather for a person, who might be living or might be dead, but exists just as definitely either way.  What’s more, Christian theology indicates that we don’t simply continue to exist, we continue to exist in relationship.  What we look forward to is a time to come when we are together again, more together than ever before.  Our actions to one another continue to have meaning and weight.  And while I have no doubt that if we do take advantage of somebody after they are dead, and we meet together again in glory there will be forgiveness for that, it still dictates how we treat that person up until that reunion.  Not as an asset to be exploited but as a creation of God the Father, redeemed by God the Son, and – God-willing – brought to faith by God the Holy Spirit.





Bugs for Lunch

December 26, 2016

Recently having joined the fraternity of people who have eaten bugs, I can tell you that I don’t anticipate these being on the menu regularly in our home any time soon.  Ever, actually.  That doesn’t stop a small group of people out there from continuing to argue that insects are the culinary future.  So much so that someone has given thought to the reality that our current Western utensils are not necessarily the best suited for gorging ourselves on bugs.

Enter the BugBug set of new utensils specifically for eating bugs.  The pincers are intriguing, as are the spear-tipped chopsticks. Although this is just a proto-type set, I don’t anticipate being an early adopter if and when they become available for purchase.  I prefer to continue dining on larger critters!

Reading Ramblings – January 1, 2017

December 25, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Christmas – January 1, 2016

Texts: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:21

Context: We continue to explore the Christmas miracle, that the Son of God should become human. And as such, subject to the customs and expectations peculiar to the people of God, the descendants of Moses. A recipient of the Aaronic blessing as it had been issued for 1500 years. According to his human nature, a marvelous creation of God the Father. A recipient of the sign of circumcision given to Abraham. But destined to extend the blessing of this sign to all peoples, not by virtue of a physical act to their body or their lineage in Abraham, but rather through faith in him.

Numbers 6:22-27 – At the conclusion of another list of directions, and immediately prior to the dedication of the Tabernacle, God instructs Aaron through Moses in how to bless his people. To bless can have several meanings, depending on context. When God blesses us, we think of it in terms of bestowing favor and goodness, or conveying benefits. It is interesting that God’s directives on this come immediately following instructions regarding a Nazirite vow, a word that a man speaks to God concerning his determination. When God speaks to us, we hear his determination that we should be well, that those in proper relationship with him would receive the benefits of his favor and goodness. This is God’s primary attitude towards his creation at all times, an attitude of blessing and benevolence, and his people should remember and trust this at all times and in all situations, to the end that they would have peace.

Psalm 8 – A psalm of praise to God and more specifically, the first such psalm in the psalter. Following a series of psalms praying for God’s deliverance, and prior to a psalm remembering God’s saving works in the past, this psalm emphasizes the very nature of God as worthy of praise and worship, regardless of our current circumstances. This begins in a general sense in verses 1 and 2, and then transitions to a more personal sense in verses 3 and 4, as though the speaker is relating particular things they have noticed that lead them to recognize that God’s name is majestic over all creation. How many of us have gone out into the night sky and gazed up at the stars in the darkness and marveled along with the psalmist that God could care for us, such a small part of the vastness of creation? Verses 5 through 8 echo the dominion conveyed in Genesis 1 & 2 as further evidence that the Lord truly is majestic over all creation (v.9).

Galatians 3:23-29 – What is the role of the Law? Was it ever intended to save us, or was it a means of protecting us? Was it a tutor who prepared us for our coming of age in Christ? Paul revisits familiar themes in the first half of this chapter, insisting that the Law cannot save us, that only faith can do this. Verse 22 makes a statement that Paul will elaborate on in the final verses of the chapter – that the Law has imprisoned everyone.

The Law – which existed implicit in creation from the beginning – only becomes a prison when sin enters the picture. The Law cannot do anything but show us our guilt, which sin multiplies, trapping us and raising awareness that we are incapable of the moral and ethical behavior the Law demands, let alone the proper worship and reverence of the God who established the Law. God intended this – intended that we realize our failure and shortcoming before God, that we might look for a source of salvation other than the Law. Christ is that salvation. Jesus comes that we might be saved despite our sinful inability and unwillingness to fulfill the Law. Now that Jesus has come, the Law no longer imprisons us, and it no longer – in the eternal sense – condemns and imprisons us because through faith in Jesus Christ we are credited with his righteousness, his perfect obedience to God’s Law.

In Christ, all stand free and redeemed before God. The distinction between the Christian Jew as the keeper of the Law and the descendant of Abraham and therefore God’s chosen person and the Gentile who has none of these things but has Christ is now abolished. The sinful distinctions inherent in our broken inability to fulfill the Law are wiped away. It is not as though there is no longer literally a Jewish person and a non-Jewish person, though. It is not as though there is no longer male and female. God created us male and female, after all! But in how accessible God is to us, these distinctions no longer matter, no longer hinder, no longer divide and separate us. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we all have equal access to God the Father’s forgiveness and grace.

Luke 2:21 – Mary and Joseph are obedient to the Law, and thus by implication so is Jesus. Mary and Joseph do not presume that the divine nature of their child, the amazing circumstances of his conception and birth, the mysterious angelic visitations somehow excuse them from obedience to God’s Word. Following God’s command to Abraham in Genesis 17, Mary and Joseph have Jesus circumcised on the eighth day.

Jesus comes to save all mankind, but He is not a generic man, but rather a very specific and particular man, and therefore subject to the Law of God. While many talk about Jesus’ baptism as the moment He embraces his identity as all of humanity represented in himself, we might also talk about Jesus’ circumcision as the moment when He embraces his identity as all of Israel, all of God’s chosen people.

The miracle is that the Word by whom all things were spoken into creation (John 1:1-5) becomes subject to the nature of creation. Born to parents. Circumcised. A specific and particular man within the broad group of Abraham’s descendants and God’s covenant people. Christ who comes for us is also one with us. This is easily as big a mystery and even miracle as the virgin conception and birth, but we don’t tend to think of it on the same level. That Christ would give up the eternal glory of the Trinity, the Godhead, to become a baby. An infant. Child to a mother. Part of a family that in turn is part of the larger family of God’s people, and who will, in time, allow that privilege to be available to anyone through their faith and trust in his atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return.

The View from the Back of the Church

December 24, 2016



This is the view from the back of the church.

Come all ye faithful and gather to see

The God-man commanding your whole life’s search

From poinsettia blood nativity.

Sit down and partake of the Word made man,

Though pews be hard and the liturgy rough.

No harder than mangers where livestock ran,

Nails – destined for hands – hold a cradle trough.

Hear, the oft-told story bears repeating

Of angel bands singing to flocks by night,

Mother, husband, stood amidst the bleating

Backlit in the birth of their son, the Light.

The angels proclaim it still tonight. Hark!

When you enter here, the hold of Christ’s ark.




This Just In…

December 24, 2016

In a shocking turn of events, it has been discovered that Jesus’ virgin birth was actually miraculous.  So miraculous, in fact, that many have a hard time accepting that it could also be true.

Yes folks, it’s Christmas and that means time for articles once again doubting the legitimacy of Scripture in regards to the birth of Jesus.  Which, by implication, casts doubt and aspersions on every other aspect of Jesus’ ministry as recorded in Scripture.  But, since it’s Christmas, we’ll be nice and just focus on the virgin birth.  Very thoughtful.

I first found this article detailing the firestorm that has erupted around a noted preacher’s comment that the virgin birth may not be required as an article of the Christian faith.  Someone might be a Christian without believing this, in other words.  It is unclear – and I don’t have the time or inclination to listen and find out – if the context is someone who knows what the Bible says and chooses to deny or ignore it, or someone who has come to faith in Christ without yet discovering what the Bible has to say on this issue.  That’s a big difference.

Then it was on to this essay, which questions the necessity of the Virgin birth as part of a cohesive Christian faith.  After all, the author knew somebody who was a very Christian person yet didn’t believe this, and therefore it must not be necessary, right?  Of course, as this other interview demonstrates, the author really questions pretty much all of the miraculous aspects of Jesus, not just the Virgin birth.  That demonstrates at the very least a logical consistency – it makes no sense to deny the Virgin birth but accept the Resurrection.  Or to deny the Virgin birth but accept that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Almost everything attributed to Jesus in the form of miracles is just that, miraculous, and so if you have a problem with one of them, you logically ought to have a problem with all of them.

As Keller notes in his interview with Kristof, just like any system of thought or belief, there are parameters which define – at least broadly – who does or does not hold that belief system or follow that system of thought.  Wanting to call yourself a Christian while denying core elements of the faith that have been professed for nearly 2000 years is problematic, certainly no less problematic than a PETA representative stating that they personally think that killing baby seals is just fine.  To assert that you can call yourself something without actually believing or following what you call yourself either demonstrates you to be intellectually dishonest or empties what you believe or follow of any and all value.

Finally, this essay does a good job of stating some of what I’ve summarized above.  If the Bible is lying about the Virgin birth, what else might it be lying about?  Removing the Virgin birth does not make belief in Jesus as a source of hope and joy and promise any easier, it actually makes it more difficult.

I regularly talk with people who struggle to come to grips with the miraculous elements of Scripture.  I don’t denigrate them because they’re honestly searching.  But what I explain is this – we have been trained and educated to think that miraculous and supernatural are both impossible terms.  We have been taught that we live in an impermeable snow globe, a closed system where everything and anything that happens can and ultimately will be explainable.  The means for this is science.  If you’re going to have faith, have faith in science.  Science may not have the answers today, but have faith that science *will* have the answers someday.

This philosophy requires faith – the faith that says there cannot be a God, cannot be a power greater than ourselves who is capable and interested in working within creation in ways that are exceptional and inexplicable by science and logic.  I admire such faith, because it means that the person should be just as able to have faith in God and the miraculous.  But they don’t (yet).  So I encourage them to consider that.  How is it that you can have faith that everything that ever has happened must have a naturalistic explanation, and anything that defies such explanations – Virgin births, Resurrections, miraculous healings – must be an example of bad data?  The only way you could make such a categorical statement would be to possess an absolutely perfect and all-inclusive knowledge of everything that has ever happened.  Only then can you rule out the divine, the miraculous.  Of course, we can’t do this.  Science can’t do this.  Science deals in samples, and is unable to collect a perfectly comprehensive set of data and observations of every moment in all of existence.

I understand that much of what the Bible says is difficult to believe, and impossible to reconcile with the secular, scientific insistence on the absolute impossibility of miracles.  I would point out all the other areas in which Biblical statements have been validated – about people and places and events.  I find it interesting that a book that proves to be so accurate in so many non-theological areas should be dismissed entirely whenever it says anything about a Divine.

So yes, the Virgin birth is miraculous and hard to believe.  If it were easy to believe, if it happened all the time, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  And if it didn’t happen at all, what assurance do I have that the Resurrection happened?  And if the Resurrection didn’t happen, I don’t actually have the Christian faith, regardless of how I’d like to think that I do.  What I have is something else.  Something stripped of all the power and beauty and purpose and promise of Christianity.

Hardly something worth celebrating.


Your Tax Dollars at Work

December 23, 2016

I was interested to read the other day of a new fund the city and county of Los Angeles created a fund to provide legal representation to people facing deportation.  A $10 million dollar fund, of which $3 million will be provided by the county, $ 2million by the city, with the remaining $5 million to come from private philanthropies.

It’s interesting that the Tribune News Service article I read initially stated that the fund was for “people in the country illegally facing deportation”, while the National Public Radio (NPR) version of the story simply says “immigrants”.  Every article I can find online only says “immigrants” or “residents”.  Of course, this begs the question.  My understanding is that legal immigrants/residents would not face deportation because, by definition, they are here legally.  Only those who are not here legally would be at risk of deportation.

All of the articles highlight this move as a response to statements by President-Elect Trump that he might actually enforce immigration laws, something President Obama has made clear he isn’t interested in pursuing.  All of which glosses over the major points – there are laws which govern immigration to our country.  Those who do not follow these laws are subject to deportation.

I understand that the process for obtaining legal citizenship can be a very time consuming and costly one.  I wonder why a $10 million dollar fund isn’t being created to help streamline or update immigration laws to make it less time and money intensive?  Instead, taxpayer money is being used to defend people who are breaking the law.  I understand and am sympathetic to the plight of those who are actively seeking legal residence in our country and are forced to wait for years because of costs and scheduling.  I would hope that if immigration laws are enforced, these people will be the last to be affected.  I imagine a lot of other people would be similarly sympathetic, including lawmakers and perhaps even President-Elect Trump.

But I find it dishonest to fudge the reality.  If the city and county decided to set up a fund using your tax money to defend murderers so that they might avoid prison time, how would I feel?  Or if the city and county simply decided that vandalism or theft were no longer crimes to be prosecuted but rather defended using tax payer money, how would I feel?  I understand not agreeing with a law and wanting it changed.  I have difficulty with the idea of commandeering taxpayer money.  Particularly if there aren’t a lot of details about who is going to be defended and on what basis.  And particularly when, as some articles point out, the nature of deportation litigation is under a broad umbrella of civil actions wherein nobody – legal or illegal – is entitled to taxpayer funded defense.

We’re all free to disagree with the law, but we are all required to abide by it.  If millions of dollars can be allocated for this sort of effort, why can’t that money be allocated to working towards better laws?  Towards an immigration system that works, rather than simply thumbing noses at a President who recognizes that part of his job is to enforce laws that are on the books?

The approach that Los Angeles and other cities are taking with these defense funds is flawed.  It doesn’t change the existing laws, doesn’t even attempt to.  It simply seems intended to discourage enforcement of the laws by making it cost prohibitive to enforce them.  This is a bad solution to a large, complicated problem.