What I Believe: Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of the “end times.” There are many opinions about the end times. For myself, I think the world entered the end times with the Incarnation of Jesus. At that time a new reality of human history began and everything that has happened since and will happen until history is long past is founded on that event.

If my thinking about the end times is right, the whole Christian period on earth is part of the end times and all that is in Scripture concerning this period may apply to us or to Christians who have come before us, and after us. The four gospels and the Book of Acts tell us the history of the beginnings of Christianity. The book of Revelation tells us the rest of the story. It is a very complex book because that is the way history is. Another difficulty is that we cannot know where we are on the time-line if there is one. A third problem arises from the fact that John had to describe spiritual entities in terms of physical images.

All in all, I believe the end times we live in are complex mixture of physical and spiritual events of which most occur outside the realm of our human understanding unless their meaning is revealed to us by God.

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What I Believe: Created Spirits

The Bible mentions a wide variety of created spirits. One problem we have in knowing more about spiritual creatures is that the writers of Scripture had to use physical categories to describe spiritual realities. Another, more actual, problem is that we normally have little experience with spiritual creatures and so when we may think we are in the presence of angels of light they may actually be demons.

One defining characteristic of Satan and his minions is that they are liars. This is why it is so important in our thinking about spiritual creatures and events to seek only to know what is true because truth only comes from God.

There is a fundamental division between those created spirits who have chosen to serve God and those who choose to follow Satan. The lower ranks of those who follow Satan we call demons. The New Testament also tells us of powerful beings, apparently produced by Satan, that are described as frogs, dragons, two beasts, a false prophet, and a reigning prostitute.

On God’s side, in addition to angels, there are archangels, elders and seraphim. Angels act as God’s messengers. Archangels also act to bring God’s messages to people. They also have a role in the destiny of nations and wage war against the satanic spirits. The elders lead worship in heaven and may have other roles. The seraphim, with their multitude of eyes, appear to have the job of overseeing God’s physical creation.

On earth, I believe we are in the midst of a vast spiritual warfare. Satan’s intent is not just to cause problems for people but to bring physical and spiritual death to as many humans as he can. Were it not for the purpose of the Father, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the obedience to God of the angels we all, without exception, would be doomed to eternal death.

What I Believe: Work of the Holy Spirit

The work of the Holy Spirit moves in two directions. It proceeds from the Father and Son towards creation and humanity and from Christians to the Father and the Son as he acts as an advocate for our needs. I do not believe that the work of the Holy Spirit is under our control. God, in each of the persons, does what it is that is his intention. It is better that we align ourselves with that intention rather than try to persuade the Holy Spirit, or any of the other two, to do what we would like happen.

The Bible is a work of the Holy Spirit. Our redemption is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, I believe, also shapes human culture and history by influencing the thoughts and actions of different people, believers and nonbelievers, at various times and places to fulfill the purposes of the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is active now and can be seen by faith as he works in our persons, faithful churches and our world. I believe that the present works of the Holy Spirit can be experienced by Christians though an internal assurance of his presence in our beings and recognition of  his work in shaping events around us.

What I Believe: The Holy Spirit

Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. It might also be defined, if we take on the mood of the writer of Ecclesiastes, as a chasing of the wind. However, there is much written about the Holy Spirit in Scripture to help us understand the nature and role of this third person of the Trinity. Despite all the information, we still do not seem to be given a concrete image for our minds except that of, occasionally, a dove.

The word Holy signifies that the Holy Spirit is divine. The words used in the original languages for Spirit have various meanings and always refer to something invisible. Some of these meanings are wind, life, energy or power. All of these meanings designate something outside human control or capture. In other words, the Holy Spirit goes where he will and does what he chooses as far as our wills are concerned, just as the other persons of the Trinity do. At the same time, just as the Son serves the purposes of the Father so the Holy Spirit moves to shape creation, history and people to the will of the Father and Son.

What I Believe: The Story

The Bible tells, in sixty-six books, the story of God’s relationship to humanity. The story begins before the creation of the earth and ends in eternal blessedness for those people whom he has redeemed. There are three major themes that continue throughout the story. These are God’s creation of all that exists, the disobedience of the first humans and the consequences of that for all of physical reality, and God’s work to make right (redeem) according to his purposes all that has gone wrong. Redemption is a long and complex project and, I believe, cannot be finished in the framework of our present reality.

What I Believe: General Revelation

Modern people think that they know how everything works and do not find God in any of it. Post-moderns do not care how anything works—as long as the battery is charged. Both philosophies discard any idea of general revelation, which is God showing his power and nature to humanity.

 

I believe that God’s reveals his existence and purposes in such things as physical reality, history, and human nature. Paul wrote that nobody had any excuse for not acknowledging the existence of God because of what was revealed to us in his creation of physical reality. The Old Testament shows God working in human history to show us what we are to do collectively as members of nations. God reveals his framework for human communities by providing everyone (with a few possible exceptions) a sense of right and wrong.

 

Any or all of these three aspects of general revelation can be denied or ignored by individuals and/or societies. Proverbs 1:20-33 describes this very situation. Wisdom (God’s voice) calls out in public places and is rejected by people given various derogatory names by the writer of Proverbs. These will suffer great harm because of their foolishness. At the end of the passage, a blessing is pronounced on those who listen.

 

Sometime time ago Time magazine had a cover which asked the question, “Is God Dead?” The April 3, 2017 issue asks “Is Truth Dead?” I believe there is an inevitable trajectory between those two issues. A society that pushes God away cannot maintain its hold on truth. After all Jesus told us that he is truth and people who reject him are not only turning against him but all the blessings that come with belief in him.

 

General revelation is a great blessing to humanity but it is not sufficient to bring people to righteousness. People are given the ability to blind themselves to any learning from general revelation and to make their selves deaf to the voice of God, which is one aspect of special revelation. The possession of these abilities does not excuse them for making use of them to refuse to seek and obey God.

 

What If Everything Is Quantum

When I use the word “quantum” I am not thinking of the miniscule aspects of quantum physics but of how it reveals a very “squirrelly” physical reality. I will start with a quite old, in physics, illustration of this.

The physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 created a famous thought experiment to illustrate the strangeness of quantum mechanics. The experiment involves a cat placed in a box, in a way it cannot be observed, along with a radiation source and a vial of poison. The radiation source has a 50% probability of emitting a particle during the time of the experiment. If it does emit a particle, the vial is broken and the cat dies. The emission or the non-emission of the radioactive particle represents potentialities for the cat. But the actuality of what happens to the cat cannot be determined until the event occurs and the state of the cat is observed.

The point of Schrödinger’s illustration was that the cat was in a state of quantum superposition, simultaneously dead and alive during the experiment, until the box is opened and the cat observed. At this point the cat is either dead or alive and thus back to being a part of the world we live in. It has not been noted by anyone I have read who described the experiment that it could have been an actual experiment. The only reason for it being a thought experiment is not to put a cat at risk just to illustrate a physical principle.

Superposition is a hard concept to grasp but what if it is the key to understanding all of physical reality. Let me explain my idea by presenting analogies to the objects in Schrödinger’s experiment. Think of the cat as any object, from the smallest subatomic particle to the universe itself. The radiation source and the vial represent the potentialities for the future state of the object. The object as it is seen when the box is opened is the extent of our available knowledge of physical events. The box represents the inability we have of knowing both the future outcomes and the available potentialities regarding all physical existence.

Schrödinger could have added other possible outcomes to his experiment. A mouse could have been released into the box or the cat could have been provided with food, water and kitty litter for a kinder, gentler outcome. The point here is that the potentialities in regard to a given event are always suited to the nature of the object but it cannot be known regarding any occurrence that the potentialities include all possible outcomes.

Where does this get us in regard to what happens in all of physical reality? If all of physical existence is the result of the actualization of potentialities, then we have to concede that if there could be something that controls the available potentialities then the physical reality we experience is the result of the generation and control of the potentialities available for any given event. This idea I have of everything being quantum invokes the principle of superposition developed by quantum physics and extends it to all events. What happens in Schrödinger’s box is unknowable until an event is observed. This uncertainty is not a lack of knowledge of potentialities that will someday be overcome by an advance in scientific knowledge. It is inherent in physical reality.

This idea of quantum everything is not a version of the God of the Gaps idea proposed by some Christians. It suggests that there is an uncertainty in our knowledge of physical events that is, to use a technical term, invincible.

To illustrate this let me turn to the world of sports. This is a good place to look for uncertainty because the essence of sports is uncertainty of outcome. There is an important figure, Chris Berman, at ESPN who does a swami routine to pick the weekly winners of NFL games. The funny part of it is not his shtick but that you or I could do as well in selecting winners by flipping a coin. This is not to say that the outcomes are random but that there are a large number of variables involved. Materialists would claim that the problem is lack of sufficient data and may think that in the era of Big Data the problem can be solved. This thinking brings in two levels of belief. One is that all the data can be known and properly used to arrive at knowledge of a certain outcome of a particular game, and two is that there are no relevant variables outside their knowledge. The reason this thinking involves faith is that Schrödinger’s box is opaque. What potentialities are in the box and what will certainly happen as a result of these potentialities are, scientifically, I think, unknowable.

It would be belaboring my point to go through every type of occurrence, not only physical but historical, economic, cultural and so forth, and show they all look quantum. It is remarkable that in their quest to get to the bottom of physical reality quantum physicists have become, as some will admit, philosophers. It may be even worse than that. I think string theory and M theory, and the mathematical need for 11 dimensions, has led physicists in the direction of becoming metaphysicists. This is dangerous ground for materialists because it brings them closer than many of them would like to theology.

Science can study the potentialities, although their origins are unknown, and their totality (for example dark energy and dark matter) still not established. Science can observe the actualizations that come out of the box. However, what is in the box and what occurs there must remain a mystery as far as scientific understanding is concerned. Thus it is not unreasonable or irrational to think there is a place in the box for God to act to accomplish his purposes for the universe he created by controlling the potentialities in the box. I think most times these potentialities consist of natural laws and probabilities. However, we cannot show whether this is always the case.

We are comfortable when we see a purpose to our lives and a solid connection between cause and effect but these do not always accurately describe our experience of life. The human condition, just like all the rest of physical reality, is far more complex than we can possibly understand. The quantum idea of everything, though, allows us to pursue science to its utmost limits while at the same time giving those who chose it a confidence in a higher reality—a divine reality beyond our understanding.