Friday, June 20, 2014

Original Revelation

Last Sunday I preached a sermon entitled “Cosmos.” My scripture text was the first chapter of Genesis, but the topic was prompted by the recent television show “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” hosted by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The 2014 show is a remake of Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.”

I have some reservations about the new series, which I shared in a previous blog (Disappointing Cosmos). But my love for science overcame my distaste for the anti-religious bias that ran throughout the series. I watched every episode. The story of the origin of the universe and life on earth has always filled me with awe. It is a spiritual experience for me.

Therefore it was natural for me to preach about it from the pulpit. Although I did not directly address the creationism-evolution debate, it was clear to members of my congregation that I was not a young earth, seven-day creationist. I believe in the biblical doctrine of Creation, not the modern "science” of Creationism.

The point of my sermon (and every sermon ought to have at least one) is that there is no contradiction between science and religion. At least there should not be any disagreement. In actuality there has been much conflict between the two from the very beginning of modern science.

Nowhere is that disagreement more pronounced than in the area of origins – both cosmic and human. My sermon prompted more than the usual number of comments, both immediately afterwards and in the week following the service. One man pronounced me “brave” to preach such a sermon.

The ongoing discussion of this topic in my congregation has caused me to ponder more thoroughly the relationship between faith and science. I have come to the conclusion that the key element of a Christian understanding of science is to view Nature as Holy Scripture, which is read in the language of science.

God spoke the Old Testament in Hebrew. He spoke the New Testament in Greek. He spoke – and continues to speak - the Oldest Testament in Creation itself. God recorded the history of the earth in the rocks. He recorded the origins of life in the fossil record and DNA. He recorded the origins of the universe in light captured by the Hubble telescope. God speaks to us through science.

The only way we can understand the Biblical account of creation correctly is by interpreting it in light of the older revelation of God in Nature. The Biblical revelation cannot contradict the Original revelation. If our interpretation of Genesis contradicts known scientific facts, then we are interpreting Scripture wrongly.

The authority of Scripture is important for Christians. We call it the Word of God. The Word of God recorded in Nature should be just as authoritative for Christians. To reject the voice of God in creation is to reject the authority of the Creator.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Are School Shootings God’s Will?

There was another school shooting recently. They happen too often.  It makes me glad that the school year is coming to a close. This time it was at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian college of 4,000 students.

After the shooting, Frank Spina, a professor of Biblical Studies at the college, spoke to students at a prayer service. He said, "There's no explaining it. This is not God's plan. This is not God's will. This is not God's way of teaching us a lesson."

I applaud this professor for being honest with the students. He resisted the temptation to mouth comforting clich├ęs, which are so often proffered at such times. No appealing to God’s mysterious ways. No insisting that atrocities are really blessings in disguise, divine good appearing as human evil. He refused to feed his students the spiritual pabulum so often repeated at funerals of shooting victims.

Recently at a Bible Study that I lead, one of the participants shared his struggle with the repeated commands of God in the Old Testament to kill all the inhabitants of some cities, including children and infants and even animals.

Personally I find the issue of violence against innocents to be the most serious challenge to the Christian worldview. That is true whether I find it in the pages of the Bible or the headlines of the newspaper. Paradoxically this issue has also been for me an opening into God’s presence.

Evil and suffering cannot be explained away by theological gymnastics. We can’t blame it on the devil or write it off as man’s free will. God commands things in the Bible that we would call evil when ordered by human commanders today. We call it genocide and label the perpetrator a war criminal.

Whenever mass killings of innocent people happen in our world today, we must admit – at the very least - that God has permitted them to happen. God could stop them if he wanted. After all God is omnipotent.

In Seattle a heroic student named Jon Meis stopped the shooter with pepper spray, and held the murderer in a headlock until help arrived. Thereby he saved many lives. Why didn’t God do as much?  And don’t tell me God sent Jon Meis to do it for him! That is a copout.

It is important to ask this question. Ask it deeply and repeatedly. Go further than the professor at SPU. He said that this shooting was not God’s will or God’s plan. What are the implications of that statement?

Does that mean that it was beyond God’s control? That God was helpless to stop it? If so, then how can we call him omnipotent? If he is not all-powerful, then why call him God? (This is how the ancient philosopher Epicurus phrased the issue 300 years before Christ.)

If we believe God is all-powerful then we have to admit that nothing can happen apart from God’s will. God either permits or causes such tragedies. What does that say about God? Is God all-powerful but not good? (Again this is Epicurus’ phrase.) If he is not good, then he is not God – at least not the Christian God.

So what is the answer? The solution is to keep asking this question and not let go. Do not let God off the hook or defend him. Do not justify his actions in the Scriptures or current events. Do not look for ethical loopholes. Wrestle with God like Jacob. Argue with him like Job. If we ruthlessly stay with the question, it will take us into the heart of God.

If we refuse to drop the issue, we are eventually propelled beyond religious sophistry into the very Being of God. Like Job we meet God in the Cloud of Unknowing. We experience the Truth that includes all things and encompasses all events. God is experienced inexplicably as Unconditional Love.

The question holds the answer. It is the eye of the needle. It is the strait way and the narrow gate into the Kingdom of God. It is the door of heaven. It is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Seek and we shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened.