Thursday, July 14, 2011

Isaiah the Astronomer?

Either Isaiah was an inspired prophet or he was an excellent astronomer. 2700 years ago, he stated that the moon was 1/7 as bright as the sun (cf Is. 30:26). Current measurements of the moon's reflectivity (albedo) match this claim to within 5% accuracy. Pretty cool :). Can't claim that this was written later & injected into the Bible, since the oldest copies of the book of Isaiah are dated 600 years BC. Pretty friggin cool, if you ask me.

Check Albedo information here:

and the moon's characteristics here:

And compare to Isaiah's prophecy:

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dirty Faith

I recently read through the book of Leviticus as part of my regular Bible reading. For those of you who aren't totally familiar with what this book discusses, let's just summarise it as a list of regulations and stipulations for holy and proper Jewish living. Often times, people complain about its content, wondering what level of worth this "book of the Law" has for contemporary Christianity—seeing as Christ's death and resurrection supersedes the Mosaic Law and imposes a new manner for creating community with God. Usually I read the book with the notion in the back of my head that its purpose is to remind me of the old ways, under which I don't have to submit—to reflect, instead, upon the freedom and grace that I have, having been saved by Jesus. But not this time... something else grabbed my attention.

If you ever get a chance, read through Leviticus chapter 15. Kind of weird, eh? This section spells out laws about cleanness and societal propriety with respect to bodily discharges. "What," you may ask, "grabbed your attention so much in this section of the Law?" Well, if you'd like to know, it was the portion on women & bleeding at the end—verses 25-30. Immediately after reading that passage, my mind turned to the New Testament woman who was healed by Jesus from her persistent problem... and then I got to wondering about the context of this story and to the way Jesus reacted in this situation.

You see, according to the Mosaic Law, this woman was unclean. She was restricted from coming within a certain distance of other individuals—so much so that, in her state, anything that she touched would also be considered unclean. Those who, in turn, touched anything unclean would themselves become unclean until the end of the day—when they had to ceremonially cleanse themselves with a water bath. Now bear this in mind as we progress: whomever and whatever this unclean woman touches will become "tainted" by her uncleanness and would be required to separate themselves from society until evening, when they had to wash themselves and their clothes before returning to a "clean" state.

Read that last sentence again. Now read the story of the bleeding woman in Mark 5:21-34. Notice what was going on? A large, tightly-packed crowd was swarming around Jesus. This unclean woman pushes her way in, through the throng to the centre where Jesus was... and she touches the fringe of His cloak. Do you notice what's just happened? This unclean woman has effectively made the entire crowd surrounding Jesus ceremonially unclean. They all are compelled, by Jewish Law, to cleanse their clothes and themselves with water, and they're required to isolate themselves from other people until evening. That includes Jesus. And even after the woman herself is healed from the affliction, she's to be considered unclean for another seven days. Now, let's not forget where Jesus was going when this all happened: He was implored to visit the house of Jairus, a synagogue official, in order to heal his dying daughter.

So, let's assess the situation. Jesus, a teacher and moderately well-known public figure, is on his way to a synagogue ruler's house. If anybody knew about the implications of uncleanness in everyday Jewish society, it was a synagogue ruler (of course, Jesus notwithstanding). All of the sudden, an unclean woman comes up & touches the man who was on his way to this ruler's house. Because of this seemingly small action, Jewish Law declares both the dying daughter's healer & the dying daughter's father as unclean. That means there's no way they should be getting anywhere near the sickly child.

One must wonder what was going through Jairus' mind as this happened. He must have been altogether mortified, furious and distraught. Mortified because he had just become unclean owing to no fault of his own & would therefore need to be cut off from his family for the rest of the day. Furious because the woman who made him unclean gave him no warning—like she was supposed to—all because she wanted to sneak up to Jesus and "snag" some of His healing power for herself. Distraught because now, not only would he be technically forbidden from touching his dying daughter, but so would her potential healer until nightfall, owing to the purity laws. Jairus' daughter was now, therefore, facing a condemnation of death because this inconsiderate, impure woman decided that her needs were more important than others'—that she would inconvenience and taint whoever got in the way of her getting what she wanted.

But is that how the story goes?

Interestingly, we see a very different picture unfold. No mention of Jairus' reaction is made in any of the Gospels, and Jesus—being a teacher of the Law Himself—doesn't even bring up the fact that he, she and the whole crowd around them were all now unclean. He doesn't condemn the woman at all. He, instead, praises her for her faith.

There's got to be a handful of lessons that we can draw from this story about this woman's actions, her faith & Jesus' response to it (note well that Jesus proceeds to Jairus' house right after this and touches the dying child in His "unclean" state). What does this story tell us about the importance of faith vs. "obedience," or about means justifying the ends? What does this tell us about ourselves and our own interactions with Jesus? What are the deeper implications of Jesus' response to the woman's actions—namely, when He tells her to "Go in peace"?

Usually, I would do my best to spell out my own opinion on the aforementioned passages of Scripture and formulate a reasonably convincing position as to why I believe what I believe in light of the scriptural implications... but this time, I want to do something different.

I want to hear what you have to say about this New Testament story. I want a discussion on these things.

Will you bite?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hope beyond hope: why, as a Christian, I’m either an idiot or saved

Eternal life.
Heaven / paradise.

Life after death in any of its forms is a common theme throughout humankind’s global heritage. It seems to be a universal notion that these 80 or so-odd years are not the end of our existence; that there is something else afterward. Why? Well, maybe it’s true. Can we prove it? ...Can we disprove it? It’s pretty hard to devise a conclusive experiment which could test these divergent outcomes, and if it were even possible, our current understandings of life and of spirit are far too meagre even to begin seriously devising such processes.

How does one secure another life? Many religions believe that nothing needs to be done in order for one to pass from this existence to the next. In fact, the majority of belief systems that come to mind seem to stress that the purpose of activity in this life is directed not toward ensuring continuance, but toward improving the quality of our next phase in existence. The better a Buddhist you are in this life affords a stronger foundation to build upon in the next life, which progress one towards reaching nirvana. The better a Hindu in this life, the higher up the castes you will return as in the next one. The better a Mormon, the better chances you’ll get to be in Heaven instead of just living for eternity on the New Earth. Same with JW’s. Similar with Muslims and Jews. It’s all about merit. Then there’s Christianity. It also is about merit, but with a twist: Christianity teaches that a person can borrow someone else’s meritous deeds to replace one’s own for the purpose of determining one’s quality of existence in the next life. And herein lies the dilemma.

Every major religion in the world that I can think of tells me that my next life will depend largely on what I do in this one. How good I act or how righteous I live in this life is essential. Christianity teaches very much the same thing, except that the Bible tells us that no level of good deeds will ever be enough to counterbalance the amount of evil that we undertake in our lives, according to God’s standard (Rom 3:10,23). Even if we were to only ever to “good” things in every waking second of our lives, the level of “goodness” that we accomplish, the Bible tells us, is about as valuable as filthy rags in comparison to God’s requirements for humankind (Isaiah 64:6). If this is the case, where is the hope of salvation in Christianity? Every person should be (and is) doomed to hell, based on this unattainable goal God places against each and every person.

God, however, provides a loop-hole for us to squeeze out of this predicament. He allows anyone who chooses to substitute their own efforts toward attaining righteousness for the actions & deeds of Jesus Christ, who essentially (and literally) is God Himself (Rom 6:23, Phil 2:6-11). Since God sets the standard which determines who is good enough, it follows naturally that when God declares Himself as “good,” He must necessarily make the merit “grade” which would allows access to heaven. Simply put: A.) Jesus is God; B.) God is good; C.) Only people whom God declares to be good get to go to heaven; therefore D.) Jesus is good enough to go to heaven. Flawless logic.

So, because God offers humankind the option to substitute their own deeds for Jesus’, that pretty much means a free pass to heaven—provided that this option is chosen by the individual. There’s a condition, however, that God places on those who wish to swap their efforts of attaining righteousness for Jesus’ credentials. The condition and its implications are intense. You ready for it? Jesus tells us that we can only use His deeds in place of our own if we consciously decide to give up trying to earn our way to heaven by any other means (John 14:6): we must choose to risk our place in the next life based upon the promise that His deeds will actually take the place of our own. That’s right. We are given no guarantee that what Jesus says is actually even true, besides His claims of being Truth & of being God & from the reports of his coming back from the dead. But what if Christianity is wrong? What if it’s a big fictitious “feel good” story? Then all those people who chose to hang their eternal futures on this promise Jesus gave us have wasted their entire lives (1 Cor 15:16-19) & destroyed their chances for improving the next one. Choosing Jesus, if He is wrong, means damnation for His followers.

I’m a Christian. That means I’ve chosen to believe all of Jesus’ claims and promises. I recognise that this life isn’t the end and that there will be a continuance for me after I die. I have placed my eternal future entirely in the hope of a promise from a man whom I’ve never physically met, who lived 2000 years before I did and who was reported to have come back to life after three days in a grave... only to float away to heaven one afternoon & disappear from the world thereafter. Is there any concrete, objectively verifiable evidence that what Jesus said back then was true? Nope. The best we have are the written claims from eyewitness reports.

If I’m wrong and if Jesus was a fraud, then at best I’ve wasted all those opportunities for self-centred pleasure & self-gratification in this life and my existence ends on my death-bed. At worst, I’ve offended the real god who will punish & torment me for not serving him/it. Somewhere in between is the karmic reincarnation, where I’ll have to suffer through a harder life-cycle with more obstacles and greater challenges toward reaching nirvana. Essentially, I’m either shooting myself in the foot or shooting myself in the head. My hopes for a better future would be lost.

If I’m right, and Jesus in fact is the Son of the one true God, then I’m saved from eternal destruction and I will live in eternal glory with Him. It’s an all or nothing deal. Black or white. Right or wrong. A glorious eternity or a wasted existence....

No wonder Paul refers to belief in the Christian God as “hope against hope” (Rom 4:18).

I’ve made my decision; what’s your choice?