Thursday, February 25, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Regarding the Lives of Beasts

Losing a dog has gotten me thinking about the place of animals in God’s purposes for the world. I’ve tried to find some books/resources for a biblical perspective on animals, but unfortunately most of it is sentimental pro-vegetarian animal-rights stuff. This is a refreshing exception:

Aside from the question of whether or not there will be animals in heaven, there’s the more general question of animal care in the here and now, which initially brings to mind Proverbs 12:10: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.” God preserves the lives of both people and animals (Psa. 36:6; Matt. 6:26), which means that caring for animals is, on some level, an expression of godliness.

I also think about the fictional poor man in Nathan’s parable, who “had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.” The parable goes on to tell of a rich man who, despite the fact that he had plenty of his own sheep, decided to take the poor man’s lamb and serve it to his guests. David reacts severely to this parable, which he initially takes to be a true story; but it was all for the purpose of illustrating to David his own wickedness.

The care that the poor man showed to his lamb exacerbated the rich man’s crime. His compassion for the lamb meant something to God, and should have meant something to the rich man. We know that the rich man acted wickedly, because his actions are being used as an illustration of the wickedness of David. David’s wickedness is like the wickedness of the rich man.

But it really goes without saying that human life is vastly more important than animal life. Remember what Jesus said in relation to the birds: “Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26) This is why we don’t go out of our way to take care of any dogs we might come across on a mission trip in Honduras: because we’re there for the people.

Something tells me that even animals understand this hierarchy. They understand the dominion of mankind. They’re part of the creation order that is eagerly anticipating the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19–23). In some mysterious way, they’re actually aware that God has big plans for humanity which will somehow turn out to mean good things for them as well. Why else would they take part in the praise chorus extolling the Lord for the great things he has done for his people (Psa. 148)?

Do some animals understand the dominion of mankind more than others? Are some animals more fallen than others? Why would a shark tear me to pieces when Pearl, my deceased dog, loved nothing more than to cuddle on the couch?

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Hermeneutics of Happenstance

In John 19, the inscription on the sign at the top of Jesus’s cross reads “King of the Jews.” The chief priests take exception to this and request that the inscription be changed to read, “This man said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” But Pilate denies their request: “What I have written, I have written.”

Now why would John include this element of the crucifixion story? Well, because there’s meaning in it. But on the part of whom? Obviously, Pilate himself was not trying to make a theological point about who Jesus was. The sign just happened to be written a certain way, and he chose not to have it changed despite the Jews’ protest. In one sense, this is really just a happenstance of history, and yet John finds significance in it. The irony in this “coincidental” sign-inscription episode was too theologically meaningful for John to leave it out of his gospel. Jesus really is king of the Jews, and there is nothing man can do to change that.

Now some might say that John was allowed to do this sort of thing – finding theological significance in happenstances – only because he was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and so this doesn’t mean we are allowed to do the same thing. But that just seems artificial to me.

Is there still a place for finding meaning in “happenstances” today? I think there is, but let me issue some initial caveats: I’m not saying that we should bank very much on these things, or try to discern God’s will for our lives from them. So don’t look for messages from the Lord in your alphabet soup. And I’m also not saying that meaningful happenstances have any real apologetic value – they don’t. Things like this are far too easily dismissed by unbelievers.

But that doesn’t mean “happenstances” can’t carry legitimate significance for believers – people who understand that God made the world and everything in it, and who understand that in God’s world there really isn’t any such thing as a happenstance. Believers have a capacity for noticing things about the world that other people don’t.

Take for example the fact that around Easter time every year, pine tree shoots take the form of a cross. Again, I would never bother presenting this phenomenon to an unbeliever as a way of persuading him of the Christian faith. But from the perspective of a Christian worldview, if this really is the world that God made, why should we not find meaning in a “happenstance” phenomenon like that? Why should we not take it as a visual symbol of Christ’s work embedded in the creation itself? What else could its meaning be? Personally, I won’t be the least bit surprised if we get to heaven and God says, “Did you like what I did with the pine trees?” Then we’ll tease all the seminary graduates who rolled their eyes at such things, in good fun of course.

Dreams might give us another example. What could be more erratic and “coincidental” than a dream? Good luck trying to convince an unbeliever that God is real based on a dream you had. They’ll dismiss you, but that’s not surprising. They’re unbelievers; that’s what they do. But we’re not unbelievers. We believe this is the world God made, and dreams are part of that world.

Repeatedly in Scripture, dreams are understood to carry meaning. All dreams? Maybe not. But personally, I’ve woken up from dreams in tears before. I’ve woken up from others terrified, from others with a renewed appreciation for life. Some dreams just stick with you. And oftentimes, dreams cause me to reflect on the Lord in some way, or to reflect on my life in general. Should I dismiss this inclination? Should I discourage myself from reflecting on dreams? And should I be closed to the prospect that God might actually have a hand in the way that my dreams personally affect me? Why?

I readily acknowledge that more needs to be said, but so far I stand by this much.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Book Brief: The Singing Thing

The Singing ThingThe Singing Thing by John L. Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Never heard of this guy, but he’s very thoughtful. The theology was suspect in places, but it’s a great book overall.

View all my reviews

Here’s a good quote:
The chances are that never again will every one of these people be in exactly the same place singing these particular hymns and songs. At the next service of worship some will be missing, others will be new and the likelihood is that the liturgy will require a different selection of texts for singing. So, if we can but sense it, every time a congregation sings, it is offering an absolutely one-time-gift to its Maker. It is important that every song sung is offered to God with that sense of uniqueness. God is worth it.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Bible Says So

Some arguments are bad arguments; others are just ineffective. But an ineffective argument is not necessarily a bad argument. Consider the following:

“You should believe that x is true, because the Bible says so.”

Christian apologists typically treat this like a bad argument to present to unbelievers. Yet certainly we would say that it’s not a bad argument to present to believers. But how can an argument be good or bad depending on who it’s presented to?

In interactions with unbelievers, it’s not a bad argument so much as an ineffective one. It simply lacks usefulness because the unbeliever doesn’t yet have what he needs in order to accept an argument like that. So this might very well be an argument you shouldn’t use with unbelievers, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad argument.

The unspoken premise in the argument is this: Whatever is in the Bible, you should believe. That’s the premise that the unbeliever doesn’t accept. And since he doesn’t accept this premise, the argument isn’t compelling to him. But again, this doesn’t make it a bad argument, or a weak argument, or a poor argument. It just makes it an ineffective argument.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Food Grows on Trees

Would it be amazing if money grew on trees? Not nearly as amazing as the fact that food does. If money grew on trees, you’d obviously have to deal with the reality of inflation. Money wouldn’t mean anything anymore if it were so freely available. But food doesn’t work that way. The value of food to our bodies doesn’t rise or fall depending on how much of it is in the world. Food isn’t subject to inflation. And it grows on trees, believe it or not.