Brief thoughts on Eden

In Genesis 1:1-2, God creates chaos and starts to bring order into the world.

In Genesis 2, the author is retelling the creation story. You can tell because Adam and Eve are made on different days, and Adam precedes the plants and animals. That’s not a contradiction any more than Jesus telling a set of parables about sheep, coins, and prodigal sons is a contradiction.

But anyway, the chaos/order motif is still present in Genesis 2. Man must tend the garden (Genesis 2:15). There is a wall (garden means ‘enclosed region’). The waters, which represented chaos in Genesis 1:1-2 are present but flow out of the garden (I suspect we’re supposed to suppose that that’s how the serpent got in).

Anyway, Eden represents a sort of ideal picture of the correct composition of chaos and order, potentiality and actuality.

It’s important to see Eden as a picture of the promise to God’s people as well, and the Bible gives us that, but in Genesis 2, Eden isn’t that yet. For instance, when Adam is put there there is something “not good” (Gen 2:18).

I think there’s a moral/spiritual application of the Eden story which we often overlook about how we manage our families, property, work space, and so-on. There will be a measure of unrealized potential in any well-ordered space. If you over-order a garden (let’s say by mowing it down) it’s not longer beautiful nor fruitful. But there’s less chaos. If you let a garden overgrow too much, perhaps there will be no safe fruit left.

So there’s a picture of something like, “in the space which God gives you, you’re responsible for ensuring that it is orderly in a fashion that does not destroy it’s potential but brings new potential out of that place.”

Of course, every choice to create order in a room or in your life is saying no to millions of other choices. But each new choice can be made in a way that makes space for new chaos/potential to be discovered. There are Proverbs about this very thing:

Proverbs 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

Proverbs 24:27 Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

Without an ox, there’s no ox cleanup (less chaos), but there is more work.

If you build yourself a house where you can relax and chill before you order your field in a fashion in which working it is convenient, you may not work.

And here are some OT laws about this:

Leviticus 25:1-7 ESV The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, (2) “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. (3) For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, (4) but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. (5) You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. (6) The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, (7) and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.

 

Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, and Death

A few weeks ago Chester Bennington, the front-man for the genre bending group, Linkin Park died, apparently having committed suicide.

When I was in high school I really loved every song but one on their first two albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora. And in those days of music pirating software like Kazaa and Morpheus, I was able to discover older versions of hits like In The End with significantly superior lyrics that may not have been as interesting to a mass market audience.

The weird thing about Linkin Park is that they were a staple in weight rooms and gaming dens alike. But admitting you liked them in public was like admitting you liked Wrestling, Nickleback, or Dragon Ball Z. But everybody knew that millions of people liked these things, but somehow it was weird to like them in public…even if you knew that all the jacked guys in school listened to them, too.

I did watch wrestling and I know an unusual number of ex-addicts (usually alcohol) who found Dragon Ball Z’s main character Goku to be archetypally important for overcoming their problems. So, yeah, I like Dragon Ball Z, too. And frankly, Linkin Park had enough awesome songs with sci-fi themed music videos to be a legitimately awesome band. Though, you probably only liked them if you programmed computers, played video games, or lifted weights in high school.

Here’s my favorite Linkin Park and Dragon Ball Z music video:

If you want to be less of a goober and weirdo, here’s the version of that song with alternate (superior lyrics). It deals with the struggles of seeking to be an independent thinker:

Lyrics:

It starts with one
And multiplies ’til you can taste the sun
And burned by the sky you try to take it from
But if it falls, there’s no place to run
Crumbling down, it’s so unreal
They’re dealing you in to determine your end
And sending you back again, the places you’ve been
And bending your will ’til it breaks you within
And still they fill their eyes
With the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad with the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve looked down the line
And what’s there is not what ought to be
Held back by the battles they fought for me
Calling me to be part of their property
And now I see that I get no chance
I get no break, fakes and snakes
Quickly lead to mistakes
And as the tightrope within slowly starts to thin
I can only hope that they close their eyes
To the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad to the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

 

The Epistle to James and How to Sort Yourself Out

Sort yourself out

I’ve been doing Sunday school lessons on the book of James for weeks. It’s been challenging and enriching. I’ve also been listening to Jordan Peterson’s lectures for the last year or so. And in them he uses the phrase “sort yourself out” frequently. One morning, I decided I would read the book of James through the lens of “sorting yourself out.” Let’s define sorting yourself out as something like this: looking at the parts of your life that are preventing you from being what you know or at least think you should be and reordering them to pursue that good efficiently. So to sort yourself out might mean to stop buying videogames on steam sales that you’ll never have time to play when you know you need to pay off student loans or buy groceries. Or it might mean to submit your desire to get the last word in a fight for the goal of peaceable relationships.

Dr. Peterson never said this exactly, but he did, roughly speaking say something along those lines. That, I would say, is a good supposition.

 

Here’s what I found:

  1. Own your trials (James 1:2-4 and 1:13-15)
  2. Pray for wisdom before rescue (James 1:5-8 and James 5:13)
    James says to pray in the midst of trials for wisdom. This is powerful because our first instinct is to pray for difficult times to end. And James does endorse this notion at the end of the book. But it seems that prior to praying for God to miracle us out of a rough patch, James says to pray for wisdom. This is connected, I think, to two things. One is that most of us know what will solve our problems because we’ve heard wisdom and we have a conscience. And so, to ask for it from God reorders our minds to make us perceptive to what might already be present in us. But also, we’re asking God to give us genuine insight that we may not currently have to solve the problems that we’re facing. This is directly connected to owning our trials. James also says that if you ask insincerely or with a double mind, you won’t get wisdom. What does this mean? It means that if you ask for help out of your trial without a willingness to perhaps let go of the parts of your life that are causing you problems, you will not benefit from the prayer.
  3. Submit to the highest good you can imagine (James 1:17 and James 4:7)
    Saint Anselm defined God as the being which is the highest being that could be conceived. And so, whatever the highest ideal we have in our minds is, that is, subjectively speaking, our God. And then God is, objectively infinitely more true, good, and beautiful than that. And so James is saying that God is the source of all goodness and to submit yourself to God. Many of us willingly do things in a manner that does not reflect God himself or his goodness and even more so, we do not even do things in a manner that reflects our own highest conception of the good. And James says that we need to get that straight.
  4. Judge yourself, then act (James 1:21-25, James 2:14-26, and James 3:13-18)
    James then tells us that God’s moral law, contained in Scripture, is the standard by which we must judge ourselves just as we judge ourselves in a mirror. This reflection upon Scripture is meant to give us a picture of how shabby we are morally so that we can shave, shower, comb our hair, and straighten out our clothes. It’s not enough to believe that God’s law is good. And it’s actually worse to believe God’s law and use it to simply judge how bad others are. Instead we have to believe God and do what he says is best, and “it will be accounted” as righteousness to us. James also paints a picture of the worst possible version of yourself and the best possible version of yourself in 3:13-18. The idea is to simultaneously give you a future so horrifying that you run from it like hell, literally, and a future so beautiful and enthralling that you seek it like a river of pleasures and heavenly joy (Psalm 36:8 and Psalm 46:4).
  5. Let Jesus define your vision of glory (James 2:1)
    James briefly mentions that Jesus is the Lord of Glory. For Christians and maybe for any non-Christian in Western Civilization, it’s deeply important that we fully imbibe the story of Jesus in its details, broad strokes, and multiple layers of meaning. And James is telling the early Christians that the Christian faith is a faith that doesn’t reject the concept of glory, but a faith that defines glory as “whatever Jesus is.” Learning to see Jesus as the wise Lord with true teachings, the prototype of perfect humanity, an archetypal figure whose journey through chaos can be a picture of our own, the lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the second person of the Godhead, the way the truth and the life, the resurrected master of the cosmos, and so-on goes a long way in our efforts to sort out our lives.
  6. Start with the little things: the tongue (James 3:2)
    James says that getting our lives together requires taking control of what we say. But the claim seems to be but one expression of a deeper Biblical truth, that if we’re faithful in small matters, God will see to it that we have authority in larger ones (Luke 16:10). The idea is that if you can take responsibility for your tongue, then you’ll learn to control the other habits of your body. Similarly, if you can clean your room or your car, then maybe you’ll start having a better picture of how to clean your heart or your relationships at work or in your home.
  7. Let sorrow make you good (James 4:8-9)
    Sometimes, our circumstances cause us deep deep sorrow. James helps us to see the value of sorrow by encouraging it, despite the fact that earlier in the letter he commends joy in the most trying of times. How can both be true? First, many of our sorrows are our own fault. Not all, but many. If we look to them and weep as he suggests, then we may have insight into what we need to do to cleanse our hearts. Cleansing your heart, is a biblical way of saying, “Sort yourself out.” Second, sometimes our joy is false and we can only learn that we should be sad if we draw near to God and discover how tattered we are due to sins to which we’ve made a commitment which rivals our commitment to God.
  8. Virtue outlasts your achievements (James 2:5, James 4:14, and James 1:9-11)
    The highest form of success we can have is to be virtuous when we die. This idea is stoic but it’s also Biblical. Happiness as a state of life includes more than mere virtue, as the Bible speaks of a life with more goods than mere virtue (see Proverbs). But you cannot always control your possessions, family, and local economy, but you can control your actions.
  9. Resist the devil daily (James 4:7)
    Assume that Satan is the god of the earth (2 Corinthians 4:4). This means that our culture, which shapes our desires, is probably filled with bad ideas, bad habits, false knowledge, counterfeit gospels, and fake news. Not only so, but you’re a product of your culture. So, you’re full of those things, too. So to resist the devil is to resist (or re-aim) the darkest parts of yourself toward the good and to resist the temptations of civilization to stifle truth telling, creativity, love, service, or moral purity. And the devil, in the senses above is without and within. Good luck.
  10. Sacrifice your plans to God (James 4:13-15)
    The Bible is pro-planning. But it’s against holding on to plans in an arrogant way. James says to say, “if God wills we will do ‘this or that.’” The idea isn’t to superstitiously say that. In James, the word “say” reflects your intentions. And so what James is getting at is that at any moment, our best plans for the future must be subject to revision based on our understanding of the will of God. The Old Testament sacrifices are a good metaphor for this. You might have a prized lamb and it is the best possible thing your crops produce, but instead of basing your whole life on that, you must be willing, should the need arise, to sacrifice it to God. In doing this you can sort yourself out when it comes to your competent plans for the future and the level of frustration you’re willing to experience if those plans betray you.
  11. Humble yourself if you want honor (James 4:6 and James 4:10)
    Most people want honor, but few even consider that you might receive honor from the highest possible good (God). And yet, this is precisely what James says. And if we make honor itself the highest good, we’ll find ourselves doing things we regret deeply because we’ll do what the world around us tells us to do without reference to conscience, the truth, or our own intuition.[1] But if instead we think in terms of a covenant or contract with God wherein he promises to make those who humble themselves great by his standards, then we’re not constrained by culture except in the sense Paul talks about in Romans when he said to think about “what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).
  12. Learn to save a brother without judging (James 4:11-12 and James 5:19-20)
    James also tells us that our social lives need sorting. And of course, that’s included in he says about the tongue, doing the will of God, planning our future, and judging ourselves. But a large part of it is learning to avoid having a condemnatory attitude toward others. I think that this is done by seeing ourselves as in need of judging first. This is a principle James outlines in chapters one and two. And Jesus certainly says as much in Matthew 7:1-5. But after judging ourselves and seeing the depth of darkness in our own hearts, we are now competent to observe the evil in others. And if we see it we can guard against evil people, which James talks about in James 2:6-7 and James 5:1-6. But we also have the power to gently correct those who are sinning. And I think we can do this by talking about our own struggle with sin and what was necessary to overcome. But we can also do it by warning as sternly or gently as circumstances warrant from the position of loving family rather than condemning judge.

I frequently feel the need to finish a sermon with “so there” or “take that.” Instead I’ll just say, “any thoughts?”

Footnote

[1] An interesting thing that I really need to think about for a long time is the relationship between conscience, the sinful/deceitful heart in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and the usefulness of personal intuition and the contributions of our unique personality to our calling.

Pre-Evangelism

One of the ways Christians try to evangelize is to help them see how wretched they really are so that they might see their need for Jesus. Other try to help people see their philosophical need for an absolute truth. And just share Jesus without any preamble.

These are often wise.

But I’ve come across some people who are so wretched, weak, and disdainful of themselves and being in general that something like “living forever with God” sounds worse than dying and sleeping forever.

How can we help them aside from prayer?

I suspect sometimes, the pre-evangelism necessary might include helping them get their lives together generally, if at all possible. Why? If their life isn’t purely miserable, then eternal life might seem like a worth while goal or a gift worth receiving.

How do you help people do this?

I’m not certain but I have some ideas.

Journalism: A lost art?

I was looking up some of Will Gervais’ recent work on atheism (has in the past published on why even atheists dislike athiests, heh).

One of the articles that popped up was a salon article about his recent work about the apparent prevalence of atheism in the United States. In the final paragraph the author remarked that, about Trump:

As with his other attempts to turn back the clock in America, President Trump’s remark in his inaugural address about joining all Americans together with “the same almighty Creator,” threatens the intricate and varying histories, beliefs and ways of being that are present in this country.

But Trump is a guy who, if ever, only took an interest in God very recently and has made no moves toward a theocracy in any policy.

The article had an awesome title portending the rise of hidden atheists within evangelicalism, “Trump Evangelicals face a growing number of ‘hidden atheists.'” I had hoped for an article about atheists going to church or something (of course this was Solong magazine).

I am aware of several atheists who are willing to participate in Christian culture if it means not submitting to a Muslim culture. I heard one atheist put it this way, “What if the choice isn’t between atheism and Christianity, but between Jesus and Muhammad?” But the headline had nothing to do with the article. The current religious demographic is the same as it was during the election, which means that with the current atheist population, Trump won. So if “Trump evangelicals” are facing “hidden atheists” I don’t know in what sense, if any, that is significant. I’ve known several atheists at most stages in my conscious memory. When I was a kid, I temporarily thought God made no sense because a giant man-in-space couldn’t see both sides of the earth simultaneously. Atheism, particularly of the uncritical sort, is as common as hammers.

Anyway, I applaud the author for trying to apply the findings of #SCIENCE to a topic not addressed in the original piece, but the remark I quoted above is essentially a non-sequitur in relationship to the Trump quote, the numbers cited, and the headline. Why? One, a president (Trump or otherwise) using the vague language of American civil religion is hardly an attempt to threaten the beliefs of atheist Americans. Even the phrase “almighty creator” can be vague enough to be endorsed by Christians, Muslims, or atheists who think the universe generates life through random processes (incidentally, it’s atheists I know who dwell within the darkest corners of the neo-reactionary movement, not the Christians…so I’m interested to know what atheist support for Trump actually looks like despite the left leaning tendencies of atheists).

Two, Obama had several similar references to God in his two inaugural addresses. Here’s one:

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.  This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.  This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

Oh no, the president threatened the stories of atheists by claiming that their confidence in American ideals is theologically rooted!

Anyway, I’ll get around to making a post about atheists being disliked, but for now, at least I found one more barely readable article written to the glee of the internet about how one last thing might spell the end of Donald Trump’s campaign.

When you use the Bible politically

I saw this article below. So I screen capped it to make sure nobody thought I edited it:

One of the most amusing elements of the last few years has been watching the political left and theological left, both of which find themselves appalled by the actual content of the Bible, try to use the Bible politically. Now, the right does it in its own unproductive way. But this article is particularly egregious because it’s evident that the person didn’t read the New Testament. For instance Jude attributes the plagues of Egypt to Jesus…and the gospels are only about  third of the New Testament, and one of them contains almost no healing.

The question of refugees isn’t my point. That’s a really good question with a multilayered answer and hundreds of subquestions. My point is that hamfisted uses of the Bible which are meant to guilt trip Christians into political action aren’t effective and they’re disingenuous.

Genesis 1-2 and Man as Artist

One of the ideas that emerges from the first two chapters of Genesis is the distinction between creation and cultivation, nature and art, or even chaos and order.

For instance, when God makes the world it is a chaotic emptiness (Genesis 1:1-2), but through the next several verses, he organizes it into a series of useful categories. Then he makes humanity, explaining that not only would they reproduce and eat, like the other creatures, but that they would be blessed, take dominion, and bear the image of God. So man is to subdue (or cultivate in context) the created world.

In Genesis 2, while the timeline is intentionally obscured (man is made before the plants, Genesis 2:4-5), the same distinction is further articulated. There is the wild world, but man is placed in a garden planted by God. And so there is nature (that which is) and art (that which is skillfully designed), creation/culture. The idea of subduing/having dominion over the created world is more fully defined in Genesis 2: name the animals, don’t eat poison fruit, eat fruit that gives life, protect the garden, tend the garden, control your body (it’s made of earth, you know), and so-on. In other words, man is to be an artist who makes culture out of creation or art out of nature.

Aristotle’s used the word techne to describe know-how. Later Latin writers translated the word ars. We now use the word art. For Aristotle, art was a virtue of the mind. And I think our tendency to reduce art to the fine arts has led us to undervalue the fact that any human skill that can be acquired through practice is art: mathematics, grammar, cooking, gardening, shepherding, the scientific method, communication, and so-on.

Aristotle’s understanding of art is helpful for seeing what Genesis is getting at, even though Genesis doesn’t use his terminology. Part of our quest for meaning in a world that sometimes seems repetitive and meaningless is acquiring the skills necessary to cultivate the world around us into something beyond what it is. Trees can become parts of a garden, rocks can become a wall, gold can become food containers, currency, or circuits.

Of course, Scripture warns against wrong ways to cultivate creation  (Gen 11:1-9). If you try to unite heaven to earth yourself, you’ll end up utterly confused (which is bad from a personal experience perspective, but good from a necessary moral lesson perspective). I suspect that you’ll find the wrong ways to cultivate insofar as they do lead to confusion which forces different modes of cooperation and thought.

The Imaginary Amendment

Last election season as morally and emotionally exhausting for many.

I thought it was pretty funny.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the whole thing was that in the space of about one year, the notion of purely open borders or even more to the point, the notion that the whole planet had a right to live within the boundaries of the United States of America became a frequent implication of talking points on the right and left.

I was even more intrigued by Bernie Sanders’ claim that such an idea was ludicrous. Steve Sailer recounts it here:

Bernie Sanders: Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein: Really?

Bernie Sanders: Of course. That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States….

Ezra Klein: But it would make…

Bernie Sanders: Excuse me…

Ezra Klein: It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?

Bernie Sanders: It would make everybody in America poorer—you’re doing away with the concept of a nation-state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that.

The article cited above is pretty good. In it, the idea “that American citizens should get no say in who gets to move to America because huddled masses of non-Americans possess civil rights to immigrate” is called the “zeroth amendment.” It’s a clever name.

I mean, it may turn out that groups who wish to freely associate are wrong to exclude anybody ever, but few college safe space groups wish to be as open to outsiders as members of such groups wish for American borders to be.

Science “Disproves” the Bible Again

In a goofy clickbait article, Ian Johnston claims that (btw, it’s helpful to use webarchive to link articles like this so that they don’t get ad revenue):

Independent Article very bad.PNG

The argument goes:

  1. The Bible reported that the Israelites were supposed to annihilate the Canaanites.
  2.  If true, “the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations.”
  3. Canaanite DNA has been in the Lebanese population.
  4. Therefore, the Bible is false.

Hilariously, the author points out that:

While the Bible says they were wiped out by the Israelites under Joshua in the land of Canaan, later passages suggest there were at least a few survivors. Some Biblical scholars have argued the passages are hyperbole, but the genetic research would appear to indicate the slaughter was much less extensive than described.

“The text uses hyperbole…but science says that the text is exaggerating.”

Religious people of all stripes will stop hating scientists or their goofy popularizers in famous online blogs when they stop being disingenuous blobs. I have nothing against disingenuous blobs. It’s an honest living, after all. I’m merely pointing out that others do.

As an aside, the Biblical text explicitly acknowledges that the Canaanites were not destroyed or driven out, implying without scholarly citation, that the Biblical authors engaged in hyperbole:

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.
(Judges 1:31-32 ESV)

Concluding Thought

The article has some cool information about the discovery of Phoenician DNA among the Lebanese. What is curious to me is that I’ve been under the impression that the Levant was full of the descendants of the Phoenicians for nearly a decade.