What I Believe: Origins and Natures of Humans

When it comes to the origin and nature of humanity, I am going to depart from traditional understandings. First, I think that the two accounts in Genesis of the creation of people are actually two events. The first one, on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:26-31) begins with a description of the creation of humans in the same terms as the creation of livestock, wild beasts, and varmints (my terminology). Then that creation account tells us that these people were to be fruitful and multiply and rule over the other animals (except wild animals) and the earth. This mandate to rule, I believe, constitutes their creation in the image of God, that is they were able to think rationally. Since these original people came before people had spirits and Jesus had a body they had to be in the image of God in some way other than physically or spiritually.

The second account, which is that of Adam and Eve, I believe, particularizes the origin and nature of current humanity. The creation of Adam and Eve marked the beginning of a new kind of humanity. It differed from the earlier humanity in that they had an indwelling spirit. As it is written in Ecclesiastes 11:5( ESV) “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” What we do know was that these new people had spirits that came to them while they were babies still in the womb.

These humans were also to have something new—a sense of right and wrong. This came into being when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. It also resulted in them being expelled from the Garden of Eden and forced to make their way in the “real” world and deal with their spiritless relatives. We are told in Genesis 6 how the sons of God found the daughters of man (earlier humans) attractive and the usual thing happened.

By the time of Noah, the attractiveness of the women and their culture had so overwhelmed the virtues of the sons of God that God brought about a mass extinction of humanity, except for eight people of the new type.

I think what I believe about the origin and nature of humanity is different from what you have been told or have read about. Nonetheless, what I have pictured retains the validity of the biblical accounts of creation and also allows for the prior existence of human-type people. It also takes into account the knowledge we have of the effects of mass extinctions on the overall history of life.

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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: 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: Redemption

Redemption has many facets. It is not enough that people know about good and evil. This understanding is insufficient to do the two things necessary to bring us to God. The first is to free us of the condemnation we have as heirs of Adam’s sin and the second is to free us from our own sinful condition.

 

Freeing us and others from the eternal consequences of Adam’s sin required a life of perfect obedience to the Father that Adam could not accomplish. Jesus lived out for us the perfect life that is beyond our own capabilities. Thus, by faith in Jesus we can be freed from the bondage and consequences of Adam’s sin.

 

What has been provided to Christians through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was offered, I believe, to some people before Jesus came to earth through the means we read about in the Old Testament.

 

When Abram’s name was changed to Abraham it began the process of widening God’s offer of faith and forgiveness to larger groups of people. When we get to Moses, God’s offer continues to widen. However, the fundamental requirements of faith and forgiveness continue. Paul tells us that the Mosaic Law does not save anyone but directs people to the need for faith and forgiveness.

 

The Mosaic Law stayed in effect until Jesus fulfilled it. Now we have a New Covenant but, I believe, it is as impossible for me to live up to it on my own as it would be for me to completely obey the Mosaic Law. The extent to which I am able to fulfill it depends on Christ’s gifts to me of faith, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit.

 

For our own sins a sacrifice was required. This sacrifice Jesus offered for us by going to the Cross. What Jesus did is made effective in us by our repentance for our sins, our acknowledgment we are not able to present ourselves righteous before God by our own efforts, and our belief the Jesus Christ is the living Son of God. It is in this way we come to redemption.

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.

 

Seven Things Jesus Accomplished on the Cross

There were seven things Jesus needed to accomplish while he was on the Cross. Dying was only one of them, and you or I could do that assuming we were crucified. What Jesus had to do was to complete, in perfection, some other tasks only he could do as the only begotten Son of his Father. What he needed to do before he died is reflected in words he said while on the cross. There are seven of these given below in chronological order.

Number One: Jesus forgave his executioners.

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”  (Luke 23:34)

From our perspective, it would not be easy to forgive people who were putting us to death. To make it worse for Jesus, his executioners were gambling to determine who would get his clothes, including a seamless robe of presumably significant value. It was necessary, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus to forgive them.  This was to demonstrate that anyone could receive forgiveness from him, though not everybody would. Jesus extended grace to the soldiers and not to some other people. In doing so he showed he had no anger or hate for those who tortured him. That was undoubtedly not easy in the circumstances.

We remember there was in Jerusalem that day many people as guilty of Jesus’ death as the soldiers who actually carried out the crucifixion. Perhaps there was no forgiveness for them for they did know what they had done and thought they had done it for the best of reasons.

Number Two: Jesus ministered to someone in the most excruciating of circumstances.

“And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:43)

Would you or I be willing to offer the priceless gift of salvation to someone who minutes before had been taunting us about our faith. Would we even have such a conversation while dying a tortuous death? Jesus had to provide a conversion experience to the repentant thief because he had said no one would be condemned who came to him believing in who he was (John 3:18). He needed to prove the truth of that assertion in the worst situation anyone has ever been in.

Number Three: Jesus remembered his mother’s needs.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)

Why did Jesus have to make provision for his mother’s future welfare while he was dying? One answer would be that his obedience to his heavenly Father would leave her without her eldest son who would normally have taken care of her. Another way of looking at it is that Jesus foresaw that his brother James and all the apostles except John would be martyred. Jesus must have known that John was the only one who could fulfill his obligation to his mother.

Number Four: Jesus endured separation from God his Father.

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34)

Some Christians have experienced what is sometimes called “a dark night of the soul.” This, as you might imagine, causes them great anguish. Perhaps Jesus had to have this experience to know what some of his brothers and sisters would go through when calling out in desperation for a feeling or sign that someone cared for them and getting nothing back in response. This seeming absence of God apparently is always temporary, otherwise there would not be books written by faithful Christians describing the trauma of their hurting souls.

Just as Jesus’ death was of immeasurably greater importance than ours will be, so was the temporal withdrawal of the Father from Jesus of greater significance. Jerusalem was darkened for three hours.

Number Five: Jesus fulfilled Scripture.

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28)

A drink of sour wine was God’s provision, and it was given to him by an act of human mercy. It is hard to see how Jesus’ expression of his thirst was a fulfillment of Scripture. Perhaps it is connected with the surprisingly early death of Jesus (Mark 15:44). Possibly, the wine somehow allowed Jesus’ life to end so he would avoid the breaking of his legs to ensure his more rapid death. Thus the Scripture was fulfilled that said “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36).

Number Six: Jesus surrendered his human spirit to death.

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)

Jesus, because of his divine nature as the Son of God, was able to do what we cannot. As an act of his will, Jesus separated his human spirit and his divinity from his physical body and thus denied death a final victory over him. When Sunday morning came, his body, spirit, and deity were reunited, and then we arrive at the Easter story. Jesus, in some manner after that, stayed on earth for forty days and then ascended into heaven.

Number Seven: Jesus trusted God fully at his last breath.

“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)

Although the Father had departed from Jesus for three hours while he was on the cross, when it came time for Jesus to die their relationship was restored. This was consistent with Jesus’ total obedience to the Father’s will. He was ready to do what we should do when our time of death comes and that is to entrust God with the keeping of our spirit.

Faithfull obedience to his Father’s will was Jesus’ desire  in all he did while he was on earth, and it also was the motive of his creative work before the Incarnation, and it drives what he now does as the risen Son of God.

Scripture from the English Standard Version

People of a Higher Reality

In a previous post I wrote that Christians are a people of a higher reality. I think I need to explain what I meant.

We can start with our physical reality. This we share with everyone. The evolutionists tell us we are physically descended from primates. I prefer to think we are descended from our ancestors and ascended from primates. It seems to clarify our actual situation. In any case, we are told by atheists, materialists, humanists and secularists that our existence and lives can be entirely explained physically. Fortunately, Christians, and most of the rest of the human species, are not deceived by this claim.

Most people think there is a spirit, a soul or something else immaterial in us. We have, it is thought, a ghost in our electro/chemical/mechanical machines. Further, this ghost is thought to be associated with our minds. The federal government has begun a Brain Mapping Project to learn all that can be known about the function of our minds. I suspect that for some people it is also an attempt to exorcize the ghost and thus justify the materialist explanation.

Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, not physically but spiritually, if he was to understand the things of God. It is this, let me call it, spiritual enhancement that allows Christians to be in more complete communication and relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is not that the Godhead does not speak to non-Christians but that their ability to hear and understand is very limited. This is why unbelievers find it hard to get much out of reading the Bible while people like John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, Matthew Henry and many others get so much out of it they can write multivolume commentaries.

Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in The End of Christendom, “I am certain that in eternity when we understand, and no longer see through a glass darkly but face to face, we shall find that all our efforts to convey the reality of our existence are just so much children’s scribble in the light of what it really is.” Muggeridge perfectly expressed my problem in conveying to you the higher reality in which we Christians live. Nonetheless I think I must make a stab at it.

We are told in the book of Revelation of millions and millions of Christians surrounding the throne of God and singing praises to him. These are the people the Son has made for the Father and presented to him as a love gift. We who are still on earth are brought by Christ and the Holy Spirit into this saintly multitude and so become members of the family of God. A part of our higher reality is that we have relatives all over the world and throughout the past. These are our spiritual brothers and sisters to whom we are linked by our relationship to Christ.

Another higher reality for Christians is being able to know the truth of things. Truth, which contemporary philosophy denies even exists, allows us to embrace (symbolically) the lovely woman Wisdom. It is evident those who have help in acquiring wisdom have a better chance of understanding the world we live in. Although, I must admit, Christians have not done as well as we should have in this regard.

Since we have access to truth, we are free to know the untruths in human ideologies. Whatever the social or political pressures to conform to the “spirit of the age,” we are internally emancipated and thus cannot be enslaved by the culture around us. We are not citizens of the city of man but those people who live in the city of God. In this we too are people of a higher reality.

Charles Spurgeon wrote concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, “I trust Him to curb my temper, to subdue my will, to enlighten my understanding, to check my passions, to comfort my despondency, to help my weaknesses, and to illuminate my darkness.” Each Christian has his or her own list of the help needed from the Holy Spirit and each of us receive help as we are made able to incorporate it into our individual lives.

If you want to send a humanist into orbit, tell him or her that Christians are better people than non-Christians. The truth is we cannot legitimately make that claim, but we can say with certainty that each of us is a better person than we would have been without the help of the Holy Spirit. That is, other than our personal relationship with the Trinity, perhaps the best aspect of our higher reality. We are better than we could possibly be if we only had our own efforts to aid us.

If there is a reformation of American Christianity, it will be, in part, because many Christians enter and live in this higher reality. This extra-life is one of God’s many gifts that we receive as a result of his grace and love.