Your world is an ashtray
We burn and coil like cigarettes
The more you cry the ashes turn to mud
– Marilyn Manson
Ok, so Marilyn Manson’s 1996 tune “The Reflecting God” is intense. And it would be an understatement to say these lyrics project a radically different vibe than, say, Michael Buble’s slightly less desolate 2009 pop offering of “Just Haven’t Met You Yet”. Buble’s “glass half full” take on life has almost nothing in common with Mansons’ bleak “ashtray three-quarter empty” prognosis.
While these two contrasts in optimism are packaged in different genres, I have no intention of railing against either the intensity of Manson’s metal persona or the syropy slickness of Michael Buble’s crooner image. A treatise on the purposes of music and art will have to wait for another time.
(Personally, I am more of a pop guy than a metal guy, to the dismay of my 90’s self who flirted shamelessly with Van Halen, Stryper and Whitesnake. “Here I Go Again On My Own” – Anybody?)
Musical styling aside, it would appear that Manson’s perspective on life and Buble’s perspective on life give at least a hint as to their belief about the universe or God and the potential for good or evil that underlies our existence.
I bring up these two examples to raise a question that we could ask of Marilyn Manson, Michael Buble and ourselves: Does what I believe about God affect the way I present him to the world? Or to put it another way: Do my attitudes toward the people around me tip my hand and display what I truly believe God is like, even if I don’t verbalize those beliefs?
The answer, I would argue, is a resounding yes.
(This would all be so easy if we could restrict our analysis to pop or industrial metal but we can’t.)
The world can only understand the God I believe in based on the God I reflect.
The character of God is one of the central themes in the Gospels. All four gospel writers seemed intent on letting the reader know what Jesus was really like, and by extension they were proclaiming their understanding of what God was really like..
Pastor and author Brian Zahnd has summed it up like this:
“God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known this.
But now we do.”
God is like Jesus. If I ever get a tattoo this statement is near the top of my list. These words are both life-giving and unsettling. If God is like Jesus, then I’m not stuck, trying to piece together some semblance of god consciousness from the mists of history. The unknown “God Out There” that the Apostle Paul talked about in his Mars Hill dissertation – the distant incomprehensible deity of both ancient and modern contemplation – is old news. We have a whole new set of ideas to work with.
If the Gospels accounts are accurate, if God actually did integrate himself into the human story, becoming a jewish carpenter in first century Israel in order to engage with his creation and show by example what God is like, well. that changes everything. We have something revolutionary to work with. Jesus ways of interacting with people becomes a lens through which we see what God is really like.
I don’t have to wonder how God might relate to a person just like me, or different from me, opposed to my views, or dismissive of my values. I don’t have to guess how God treats his enemies. I need not wonder any longer because Jesus makes it clear. And this leads us back to the point:
I reflect the God I believe in.
If Jesus was truly the visible image of the invisible God, as the Apostle Paul says (Col. 1:15), then I don’t need a more accurate picture of the heart of God beyond what I see in the words, actions and responses of Jesus. While I can learn things from the Old Testament that inform me of the nation of Israel’s journey to discover the true Yahweh, I can’t base my future actions on deficient depictions of a wrathful, vengeful deity as is sometimes recorded in the Hebrew scriptures. To state it another way: the books in the Old Testament present an incomplete snapshot of what God is really like and I misrepresent God recklessly when I broadcast these fractured images across my life to the people around me.
Yeah, I get it. Jesus is God. I believe that. What’s the problem?
Well, if the God I actually believe in is the God I reflect to others, then it would be wise for me to consider what my “reflecting” says about my subconscious preconceptions about him.
If I allow myself to get angry at “those people” is it because, secretly, I believe God is also angry at them? And if God is angry at them, how much harm could it do if I were to cheat just a little bit, and help God out by venting or railing or accusing? I mean, it’s going to happen eventually. God is going to drop the hammer “one of these days” in an apocalyptic tantrum, might as well get a jump on the inevitable reign of shock and awe and hey… maybe we can clean this mess up before lunch.
My outward displays of anger or an attitude that defends and even exonerates my anger towards others can be justified ONLY if I believe that God would act the same way if he was in the room.
I reflect the God I believe in.
If, on the other hand, I am confident that Jesus acted in history, in each moment, in unison with the heart of the Father, doing and acting in ways he saw his father doing and acting, this changes everything. I should be eager to hear and act on the words of Jesus famous Sermon on the Mount because I consider the words glorious advice from the mouth of God to his children intent on living the truth of his arriving kingdom. What I don’t do is plaster his words all over my house in swirly font barnboard memes – and then ignore those very words.
Now you would think this would be a simple shift, once I get past my bad habit of spinning a poor reflection of God. A reflection that looks more like me than Him. And you would hope that if the God I believe in doesn’t look, talk, walk, listen, forgive, empathize, console, and confront with restoring love as exemplified perfectly in Jesus, that I would acknowledge that I had lost the plot and change course. You would think.
So, what’s holding me back? Why God, is it so hard to live this stuff? Maybe, in some strange prophetic sense, Buble got it right after all – I just haven’t met you yet.
Have you ever discovered that something you believed to have incredible value in it’s proper context was a poor substitute when applied to a different situation? Have you ever been forced to endure a shallow imposter of the real thing? Have you ever eaten turkey bacon?
I’m not exactly sure why so many of my thought experiments involve food. Perhaps it is because on my personal pyramid of need/wants/luxuries, black forest cake ranks just below truth and shares shelf space with integrity and lobster cannelloni.
Back to turkey bacon. It’s not really bacon. While this may appear to be a minor oversight to the marketing gurus who named it, this innocent looking product snuggled up next to the honey ham at your local supermarket is nothing like bacon. Oh it might look a lot like bacon! Except… except where’s the fat? What did those baconnoisseurs do with the fat? What about those pale marbled veins that sweep the length of every old school piece of genuine bacon?
“That’s easy,” says the health conscious spouse as she marches into my (her) kitchen with a 3 pound bag of not-quite-bacon bacon. “There isn’t any fat because turkeys don’t have any,” says the wife.
“So what good is it?” says I.
“You’ll live longer and be able to enjoy more turkey bacon,” says she.
“And whats the upside?” says I.
There is a principle at play here. Will my ability to embrace the almost ever satisfy my deepest cravings for the actual?
Segue to faith and science. Creation science specifically. Somewhere along the line too many Christians got comfortable with a diet of science that isn’t really science. We convinced ourselves, as we became embedded in our private “members only” Christian think tanks, that our understanding of the physical world couldn’t be based on our discoveries about that physical world. Sometime after Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and a busload of other geniuses laid the foundations for the scientific method, our little gang abandoned it in favour of an origins models based on ancient Hebrew poetry. God breathed ancient Hebrew poetry, but you can see where I’m going with this.
Is it Bible or is it science? And does the authority of the first automatically imply the fallacy in the second?
Now, I am not suggesting that the opening chapters of Genesis are not inspired or that the details of creation were somehow beyond the scope of the Old Testament God. What I am arguing is that He chose to exclude those details in his earliest memos to our species. You must remember that at this point in human history, goat herding was a growth industry and vineyard startups were still trying to unlock the secrets of grape juice. Thunder and lightening were taken as signs of God’s anger. Microbiology wasn’t on the radar. Radar wasn’t even on the radar.
Genesis was never intended to explain how the natural world works. But God was very aware that we would eventually become bored with fire and start digging around for things to dissect. Centuries after Genesis was written, the apostle Paul suggested that by looking into the creation itself (doing science) we can see the fingerprints of God.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. – Romans 1:20
So how should we react when a Jesus follower disrupts our creationist circle by suggesting that this science we are parading around isn’t really science because real science solves problems in the real world, that real science isn’t preoccupied with proving or disproving the existence of God, and real scientists are focused on things like finding oil deposits 8,000 feet underground so they can provide a decent return for the shareholders?
Well, for starters, we should leave the word heretic in the shelf, until we find a better use for it.
Here’s the thing: Bible science doesn’t actually do anything in the real world. Oh sure we dress it up to look like science but that doesn’t mean it is science. There are no documented cases of young earth creationist theory being used to solve a geologic puzzle that mainstream ‘old earth’ geology has not already solved. There has never been a species migration map drawn up by universal flood advocates that explains how wallabies arrived in Australia, pandas showed up in China and woolly mammoths appeared on Canada’s west coast – all by way of the Ark in the foothills of Mount Ararat. Evolutionary biology, on the other hand, lays out a framework that explains how all these species developed and why we find them in the locations that we do.
Bible science must do more than simply hurl accusations of atheistic intent at the other sciences that are so busy solving real world puzzles they don’t even have time to roll their eyes and respond.
Until that happens, Bible science will reside on a list of things I have no use for. Like turkey bacon.
I often get asked if I am into “theistic evolution” to which I reply with a resounding “No! Not anymore than I am into theistic dermatology.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in proper skin care AND Yahweh but I am not convinced he needs to personally intercede when I exfoliate. That’s what crushed walnut shells are for. My worldview allows for a God who delegates to nuts. (Insert political joke here).
And so I broke into an unbridled smirk the other day as I read the John Fallon article in Forbes magazine where he offered his take on this whole ‘theistic evolution’ war of the words. Fallon’s argument, summed up in the title “It’s Time To Retire Theistic Evolution” is that duct taping the term “theistic” to “evolution” isn’t actually helping. Fallon writes, “there are a whole pack of creationists who don’t like other Christians embracing evolution. They have a name for them. ‘Theistic Evolutionists’. And it’s not meant as a compliment. It’s more like being told you’re the equivalent of Judas Iscariot.”
Fallon agrees with me or the other way around if you view him as the more credible one. He writes for an internationally renowned magazine. I write for my dad plus nineteen.
My Christian worldview is this: God is. This is a theological position. Science is not qualified to comment on his existence as science is limited to measuring the material. Their rules not mine.
God, on the other hand, is spirit. He creates, upholds, sustains every thing that has ever existed or ever will exist. This is a theological position, arrived at without consent from and not beholden to any expert opinion from within the ranks of the scientific establishment.
So to preface every science discussion with a term that emphasizes divine authority is needless. Am I concerned that bringing God into the conversation might be offensive to people who don’t yet believe he exists? Not really. The reason I don’t prefix evolution with a reference to God is because the evolution debate, in its simplest form, is about process. How did body type X arrive at this point in history? What is the evidence? On the other hand, discussions about God and why we are here are purely theological in nature. And theology is about purpose.
Purpose and Process. The late Stephen Jay Gould, the brilliant evolutionary biologist and science historian referred to these two ways of thinking as “non-overlapping magisteria”.
I believe many of our conversations around origins often morph into maddening exercises in talking past each other. Failure to engage the topic of conversation on it’s own terms is, in my opinion, the source of the frustration.
Suppose we dragged a wooden stool into the middle of the room. If you asked me how the stool was manufactured I could respond in several ways.
I might point to the laminated seat, and explain the gluing procedure and what type of wood clamps were used. We could discuss the shaping and sanding that was required to achieve such posterior pleasing results. Or I could hold the stool aloft and point to the faint circular outlines on the surface of the legs that suggests that dowel construction was employed to connect the supporting members. We could even discuss the relative tensile and compressive strength of wood and ponder why the stool was made out of maple or teak and not balsa.
At this point we are talking carpentry. Wood grain, sawdust, chisels, and trips to the ER. The simple science of wood joinery and day surgery. We could even strike up a conversation on ergonomics and discuss what a stool would look like if our knees bent the other way.
But what if you asked a technical question about the stool and I replied with “Mike made the stool.”
“What about those wooden dowels? Were they hand carved or machine drilled?” You ask.
“Well Mike has the answer to that question. Is it really that important to you?” I reply.
“Well”, you might respond, “I am fascinated with stool construction techniques and I am curious what makes this one different.”
“Relax”, says I. “Mike is a fabulous wood worker. He never makes mistakes. Would you like to meet him?”
Uh.. I don’t know… I have a drill press and a jig at home and I’ve been watching Youtube video about dowels. Can you offer me any insight?”
“Well, I’m not much of a dowel man myself… but Mike assures me that its a well built piece of furniture” says I.
And on it goes.
It wouldn’t be long before you were done with my constant references to Mike and you walked away in search of someone else who was actually interested in carpentry.
And based on our rocky interaction, you might be less interested in meeting this Mike fellow than you were before we started talking.
We face a similar problem as soon as we attempt to wrangle God into a scientific discussion. If you don’t want to discuss genetic mutation, natural selection, species migration, bio diversity, radiometric dating methods and geological strata, that’s okay. It might even be a sign you’re normal.
If you would rather talk about God, the reason for human existence and why our tiny lives matter that is also very, very okay.
Just don’t get ruffled when someone walks away because you confused two entirely valid, but completely different conversations.
But what about faith? What about engaging people with the good news?
What I have discovered is that successfully connecting on the science – “the process” – with people who don’t yet believe, opens up plenty of doors for those purpose driven conversations. Especially when they discover that my faith is quite comfortable rubbing shoulders with my science.
I knew from the moment it hit my inbox what it was. I am a subscriber to more than one creationist blog and I shouldn’t have been surprised. This unnamed magazine (they don’t need any more publicity) started off with a familiar accusation:
“You’ve likely heard the statistics that around 2/3 of children who grew up in Christian homes are leaving the church. And now there are ‘Christian’ organizations trying to ‘deconvert’ our children by causing them to stop trusting the Bible.”
As I used to be a creationist I recognized the vitriol. I’d like to offer up some comments that I hope will prove helpful.
Let’s start with the unsettling statistic that two thirds of kids raised in Christian families are leaving their faith behind when they reach adulthood. There are several possible reasons for this unsettling trend.
One possibility is that they don’t believe God actually exists. While this is a valid reason for playing hooky on Sunday morning, my hunch is that this is the exception rather than the rule. Rumours abound of systemic hypocrisy being the culprit. Some will place the blame for this exodus on shoddy worship music, dated sound systems, poor use of in-service lighting, lame use of colour on interior walls, lack of rain forest certified coffee in the foyer, and a complete absence of video gaming options in the youth room and/or jets in the baptistry. I believe that for more than a few, the problem is much deeper. But totally fixable.
Many of our kids have real questions about God and science and we’ve told them to trust in Jesus and forget about science. Sadly, most christian parents and pastors are not prepared, or equipped to tackle these questions.
The final comment in the quote from my Creationist blogger sums it up nicely. “And now there are ‘Christian’ organizations trying to ‘deconvert’ our children by causing them to stop trusting the Bible.”
Apparently any discussion about science that doesn’t line up with a literal creationist viewpoint is equated as not trusting the Bible.
There is no middle ground. I get it.
I used to live in a 10,000 year old universe where dinosaurs lived on Noah’s Ark along with the millions of other species that have ever existed, and the Grand Canyon was formed in a few short weeks after the flood. Only one problem with this ‘literal’ view of creation. It doesn’t stand up to reason, evidence or any other method we have of measuring reality. It’s not even ‘literal’ unless you can prove that the ancient Hebrews interpreted it that way.
This ‘literal’ 10,000 year old universe doesn’t exist. God didn’t make one anything like this. The only universe he made that we know about can be investigated using all the powers of reason that our creator has endowed us with. And it is very old. Very, very, very old. And you don’t even need a Bible to learn any of this. Got a shovel? You’re good to go.
The problem is that the young earthers have failed to mesh their Biblical worldview with a scientific worldview. (If something is scientifically true it is also, necessarily theologically true. Relax people.) They don’t perceive this exercise in integration as part of the faith journey. They call it heresy. But a Biblical worldview CAN fit with an established scientific perspective. When all parts of life fit together in a unified whole to make sense of all the pieces of this puzzle we call existence, we call this integrity.
For too long our conversations on faith and science have included too little “let’s talk about how your perspective on cosmology, anthropology and biology fit into the Jesus story” and too much “your perspective on cosmology, anthropology and biology don’t count for spit. Here’s the Jesus story. Take it or leave it.”
We shouldn’t be surprised they’re leaving it.
Two thirds of them.
But are they leaving because the Jesus story is unbelievable or are they walking away from faith because they can’t reconcile the Jesus story with everything else they know about the physical world? And whose fault is that?
Another question while we’re at it:
Why is it that people who interpret a verse differently than I do suddenly “don’t believe”?
Every time each of us read the Bible, we interpret it. It’s what we do when we read anything. Our folly has not been in the reading but in the interpretation.
Here’s an example from the new testament that should make the predicament obvious.
When the subject of adultery came up, Jesus offered the following piece of advice:
“…If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…”
We can all read Matthew 5:29 and agree on what the text SAYS. What we seem incapable of doing is agreeing on what the text means.
Has your pastor ever suggested during a Sunday morning sermon that we take Jesus words ‘literally’? (insert joke about why there aren’t more one-eyed Christians stumbling around).
Of course we don’t take it literally.
- we call on metaphor or hyperbole to explain the text.
- we don’t want to take it literally because most of us would have to give up our drivers licenses and stop watching movies in 3D.
But the metaphorical eye gouging that Jesus refers to is only the beginning. Jesus completes the thought by suggesting that our whole body will be thrown into hell. And this is also metaphor. Oh it’s not. Why not?
You see the problem. We can all agree on what the text says, but coming to a consensus on what it means leaves us battered and bruised. So when I hear one group of Christians calling other believers heretics, while they reach for the lighter fluid and torches I get nervous.
So back to the original thought. Do they really want to convert your children?
Well, “they” are me, and yes, I would like to convert all of your children.
I want them to believe in a God that created a universe 17 billion years ago, and watched gleefully as it unfolded over eons, until creatures pretty much like us took over the place and broke it. I want them to believe that God gasped with a broken heart like any parent gasps when their child walks away. I want them know that God, refusing to give up on his creation stepped in, in the person of Jesus, to live with his creation, restore and reclaim us as his children.
It’s called the Gospel. Good News. A compelling story grounded in the stuff of science, history, human drama, and God’s forgiveness. Now, let’s go find those missing 2/3rds.
“So do you think there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark?” She said with a hint of hope in her voice. I thought for a moment, trying to find a way to break it to my young earth friend.
“Well, no there were not” I replied gently, not sure if this conversation was about to end suddenly with a flip of the hair and a hasty exit.
“Not even dinosaur eggs?”
“Not even eggs. But reptiles grow for their entire life, so you could have squeezed a few babies on board, if they hadn’t all died off 65 million years before Noah ever picked up a hammer” I said calmly. I could see the dread in her eyes. I might as well have told her they smuggled extra puppies on board to keep the crocodiles from getting bored with the menu.
Ah yes. Dinosaurs on the ark. Where does one begin to poke holes in this fragile raft of creationist logic? For starters, if young earthers truly believed that dinosaurs had been assigned bunks aboard Noah’s ark, they would publish images showing this. But wait! They have something close. Turns out The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky features a display with animatronic dinosaurs walking with humans. According to the museum’s founder and CEO, Ken Ham, there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark.
“Evolution has claimed dinosaurs evolved over 200 million years ago, that nobody ever lived with them… But the Bible gives a different history. God tells us that he created all land animals the same day he created man, about 6,000 years ago. What’s more, there are even dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark because God told Noah to take pairs of every land animal.”
According to Creation Research Institute, the team behind the Creation Museum, dragon legends from cultures throughout the ancient world (St. George and the dragon, for example) describe creatures which match the dinosaurs that have been reconstructed from the fossil record. “These depictions match what we know from the fossil evidence of certain dinosaurs.” Says CRI. Funny how when they like the evidence they “know it” and when they don’t like the evidence they attack it as unsubstantiated glop from the mind of an atheistic neo-naturalist.
Hold it. Did somebody say dragon? The people at CRI actually rely on the legend of St. George to flesh out their theory of recent dinosaurs. Even the Brits, who claim George as their patron saint, will quickly point out that he was born in Turkey about 900 years before the legend surfaced. In this famous dragon story, the monstrous villain had succeeding in eating all the sheep set before him by the villagers. The dragon then demanded (as dragons are wont to do) that the townsfolk feed him their young daughters. Unconfirmed reports maintain that when the townsfolk asked the hungry dragon what he was thinking about he replied “mutton”. To those readers offended by jokes about dragons with speech impediments: I just nailed it!
Let’s pretend that the Creation Research team didn’t rely on the unsubstantiated legend of St. George when they decided to pump millions of dollars into their dinosaurs in the Garden exhibit. Instead, let’s jump straightaway to their exhibit B nestled in the pages of the book of Job. According to CRI, the behemoth mentioned in Job 40:15 – “Now behold the behemoth which I made with thee” – is a dinosaur. “Its description matches that of a sauropod… this statement affirms that both behemoth and man and were made on the same day.”
The debate here centers around the phrase “which I made WITH thee”. Does this verse mean WITH as in cheeseburger WITH bacon, part of a unified whole, or “as well as”. Sort of like Abraham Lincoln is on the list of American Presidents AS WELL AS Barak Obama. Lincoln wasn’t president WITH Barak Obama. Now that would have made for a difficult administration.
Obama: “How will people tell us apart Abe? ”
Lincoln: “I’ll keep my hat on.”
There are a variety of opinions as to the identity of this mysterious behemoth. Some Bible scholars have speculated that it was a hippopotamus that the Biblical author was referring to, and that the cedar trunk appendage wasn’t a tail at all. Of course, this kind of potty talk is commonplace in the Bible and only reinforces the notion that the writer of Job was stuck in the seventh grade. Or a Scot. (In a related matter, I am still searching for the Hebrew word that translates as “wedgie”. Will keep you posted.)
Dinosaurs on the Ark. I don’t think so. What’s your take?