Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Genesis 1:1 - 2:4

I never did get around to doing what I promised: blogging my way through the OT. I started in Genesis, made two or three posts, and then quit. I really meant to keep going. But I found myself distracted by my personal life (a friend told me recently, and he was right, that I am horrible at multitasking).

I haven't stopped thinking about it. It's a good way to keep a blog busy. No one besides me will probably care, but I hope to learn more by reading and studying God's word.

[I am reposting my older posts, from August 22, 2006, and August 31, 2006]

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

(Edit: fix typos and other irritations)

Reading Genesis 1 has made quite an impression on me. I began blogging my thoughts on it and realized I was churning out a book from my keyboard. So I have resolved to state my thoughts on the subject as simply and concisely as I can (Edit: as it turns out, not very). I begin with a very powerful presupposition which I will not attempt to defend: that the Bible is perfectly true. Period. All of my commentary will assume that context, with the aim of discerning the truth taught in the Scriptures.

1. The first four words of verse 1 are the thesis statement for the entire chapter. "In the beginning" or "in beginning" (as a friend tells me the Hebrew says) shows the ultimate origin of the creation and even time itself. The very first "who" in Scripture is right here: God. And we see that God exists outside of the "beginning" and transcends it, and indeed, authors it into being. The first statement in Scripture is NOT a defense of God or proof of His existence. God Is. He has always been. He will always be. He has no beginning or ending, and depends on nothing for His existence (implied by the solitary, independent authorship spoken in the first verse). I am reminded here of Christ speaking in Revelation 1:8 (ASV): "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

2. In verse 2, we see the person of the Holy Spirit in operation in darkness and over the Earth which is then formless and void, all preceding the creation of light. The powerful truth taught here is that the profundity and magnitude of God's power, besides being self-authoritative and self-existing, is here unseen and invisible. Mortal eyes do not see this, appreciate it, or critique it. But God revealed it to Moses, to teach him and God's people truths about God.

3. Verses 3-4 show the creation of Light and its separation from Darkness, on the first day of Creation: Sunday. Notice it does not say, God created light and darkness. God created light, speaking it into existence. This teaches us another powerful truth. We define darkness as the absence of light. God is the only source of this light, and it exists by His pleasure. Just as light either is, or is not, and darkness is in relation to light as a secondary reference, I believe we too (and all Creation itself) has only one ultimate reference point: God Himself. Notice too, before the separation of light from darkness in verse 4, that God simply spoke light into being, and there was light. God's word cannot fail, and no explanation is given here. We naturally want to know the how, but this is not given to us here. We are told instead the Who, what, when, where, and why.

4. The second day, Monday, sees the division of waters above from the waters below by an expanse. I'm not sure what the theological significance here is, but I would hazard to say that the division by the expanse known as heaven is meant to be humbling to us: there is a division here we cannot easily cross, a threshhold that God has reserved for Himself. Even now, when God has granted such wonders as space travel and space stations, we are still reminded of our humble nature and humble dependence on the Earth which forces our return to being underneath the division God made. Though this is speculation, as dry Earth did not yet even exist. Incidentally, today is the only day in Creation about which nothing is said to be good. Make of that what you will.

5. On the third day, Tuesday, God creates dry land (Earth) and the herb and fruit of the field. It is very interesting to note that each contained seed after its kind. By this seed, these plants have sustained the existence of their species since the beginning of Creation, and will, barring extinction, continue it until the Lord's return. I believe here you can see the suggestion of the concept of eternal life and self-existence, ultimately found in God alone. God is the source of life and self-exists. But more importantly as a Christian, I see in the seed a teaching of death, burial and resurrection. The seed "dies" and is buried, and a resurrection of life comes forth (this is from the commentary of others but I do agree). The Lord Himself used this same concept to teach His resurrection, in John 12:24 (ASV), "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit."

6. On the fourth day, Wednesday, God created the sun, moon, stars, and other heavenly bodies from my understanding. God created day and night, signs, seasons, and days and years. I believe that in these verses, reminding us of the changing states of creation, that we are taught two things about God: that God's work is not static or limited, that it is ongoing, and that God is in complete control of it (though we don't fully understand the "how" we have some understanding of the who, what, when, where, and why). That many of the things mentioned here cycle (seasons, day/night. etc.) give witness to both the logical order of God's arrangement and His ceaseless existence and control of all things, even by His unseen hand. Only God could create the cycle itself, and only God can keep it continuing, even smoothly flowing from one to the other. God does not change, and He is not cycling through patterns of strength and weakness as the false gods the heathen worship (who worship nature and not its Creator). God's work is continuous, mostly unseen, and could not be predicted beforehand (who would have invented seasons, for example?). But its reliability itself points to the constant unseen hand of God. Incidentally, "He made the stars also" according to commentary I read is a well-earned swipe against pagans, the simple heathen who ignorantly worship nature and glorious celestial objects such as stars that merit merely a passing reference in a passage centered on the excellency and supremacy of God, who transcends the highest, most glorious objects of Creation with an infinite degree of superlative existence.

7. On the fifth day, Thursday, God created the sea creatures and the birds. I find it interesting that God speaks both blessing and command upon these creatures to fill and multiply on the planet. This divine command is built into their very nature: be fruitful and multiply. I suppose I can say here that God's blessing gives and intends life. And that life itself is a gift from God who authors it and sustains it. Though I confess, I forgot that Scripture even said that sea creatures and birds were blessed by God.

8. The sixth day, Friday, sees the creation of cattle and other creeping things on the Earth. Man is created last. Man is created in "Our likeness," a plural here referring to the God who we know is a unity. Is this simply a plurality of majesty? Or a reference to the Trinity? The Holy Spirit is seen in 1:2, as a separate person but of the same essence as God the Father in verse 1, perhaps. And we know from other Scriptures the eternal Son of God, who created all things (Colossians 1:12-16). Man is given authority over the other life of all creation, because he is made in the likeness of God. And male and female are both created in the image of God, showing a fundamental spiritual equality between the genders in our essential personhood and souls. However, the male is mentioned first, showing (I believe) an authoritative superiority in the created order, and a difference in role and function. God also gives as food to them and all other creatures on the earth the herb of the field and other plants (curiously enough, not mentioning the food of sea creatures). Man would sustain his life by food outside of himself (showing dependence and ultimately complete dependence on God the author) and that this food did not consist originally of animals, who according to the literal Hebrew (ASV footnote, as I know no Hebrew), are "living souls." I'm not sure how much to make of this, but I think it simply means they are alive and possess breath, at the very least. I think the choice of food, here, however, is to show man in his original holy state of perfection, before the Fall (and I'm *not* suggesting vegeterianism is a moral requirement; but I do feel it was God's original perfect plan for the pre-fallen creation, now stained by the Fall).

9. Last, I count seven times that "good" appears in the Scriptures, ending with a superlative "very good" that demands recognition of the Holiness and perfection of God, who creates out of His own goodness, by the only standard of goodness and righteousness that has ever existed or ever will exist, Himself. The seven "good" statements are found in 1:4, 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21, 1:25, 1:31 (with superlative prefix "very"). Seven is a number of perfection. How do I prove this? By proving it from Scripture, starting here. :) And I believe in this, that God was most pleased, and His goodness was best expressed, in the creation of Man (and to a lesser extent, of land animals which appear first on the sixth day before Man).

10. Lastly, I want to note the "evening and morning" as the separation of days, with a night inbetween two portions of days. This is deliberate, as God first created light, and day and night, which together formed the first day of 1:5. There is no other way it could be when you stop and think about it. Though I'm not sure how this worked before the creation of the Sun and Moon on Day 4. But the concept is simply this: that God created and is master over Day and Night together is inescapable, in my opinion. The totality of every thing is under God's control. And more importantly, God is sovereign over everything: Day and Night exist at His pleasure, not ours, and for His purpose, not ours. God's strength is not limited to Day, or Night, or creation itself, or to time in which creation operates. And also this points to God as the first and best recordkeeper, and knower and sustainer of all things, before Whom all are ultimately accountable.

I apologize for the book-length of this blog post, but I wanted to fully express my thoughts. I love the depth and richness of Scripture, and how God uses it to point to and teach about Himself. Yet, the feeling never leaves me that our understanding is like that of schoolchildren who learn only a little at a time and very gradually over a long period of time. We cannot comprehend God's infinitude of Being or Sovereignty. But it is God's good pleasure to condescend to us and teach us, focusing our eyes on Him, and granting us the deep desire and privilege to humbly approach Him and worship with reverential awe.

I feel led to close this post with Paul's wonderful doxology in Romans.

Romans 11:36 (ASV)
For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

This chapter begins what is known as the second Creation story. Some have completely distinguished this second account from the first. Some distinction must be acknowledged simply due to the fact of its separation from the first account. My personal view is that this second account is simply a continuation of the first, with further details and a different perspective (more on this later). In fact, I am of the view that this so-called second Creation story does not actually start until verse 5 of this chapter, and that these first four verses should actually be in chapter 1 (which I say in the knowledge that the chapter and verse divisions are neither inspired nor infallible, though the actual contents of Scripture are divine in origin and inerrant). But my judgment is of course not infallible; it is simply offered as the personal opinion of a Bible student on the matter.

Verses 2:1-4 end the first Creation story in Scripture, with the perspective focused on God as Creator. Verses 5 and following begin the second Creation story, and I believe the focus is centered upon God's highest creation, Man. This helps explain the two creation accounts, and each has important lessons for the believer.

Verse 1 follows immediately after the benediction of the previous chapter in which God judged His work to be "very good" in six days of Creation. That work is now completely finished, including all the "hosts" or contents of the heavens above and earth beneath. This verse seems like an insignificant summary at first glance, but I believe what it teaches about the creative power of God is important: God finished His work. That is, God's work in its entire scope was brought to completion, nothing was left undone, and most importantly, God Himself is not changed or lessened or weakened by the creative process which has just been finished. This is a very implicit reference to the infinite power of God as an argument from silence I think, because God is not described here as having changed (become tired, lost strength, decreased in creative ability, etc.) but the Creation is described as finished, and with completeness. This is very important for understanding the next verse.

Verse 2:2 brings the full force of this thought to bear upon the mind. God's work, unbelievably vast, is finished, and God rests from the work He has done. Because God has not been described as being wearied in His task here (a very important omission!) the "rest" here must be understood as a ceasing from activity, the reason for which is given first: the work is completed. Again, seven is used here as a number of perfection (see previous blog entry). So three ideas are evident here after some careful thought: God's work is completed, He ceases from the activity of Creation, and its initial created state is complete and perfect.

The third verse tells us that God blessed the seventh day, perhaps meaning that it is marked for divine praise in contradistinction with the other days. He also sanctified it, which means to "make holy" and refers to the only source of Holiness there is in this passage, Himself. In other words, this day shows us and represents the Holiness of God in some important way. I think that this important way is what I will call the Static Perfection of God: God's eternal, perpetual state of static changelessness and unalterable perfection. Because I know from other Scriptures that Christ is the Creator, I can recall Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (though the verse is used in a different context there).

Now I confess that I am not a Hebrew scholar, and know no Hebrew, so I want to warn the reader that I am plunging on a tangent in this paragraph which can probably be ignored. I noticed that the "created and made" at the end of 2:3 have two different Strong's numbers, so I read both (created-1254, made-6213. Click on the numbers to see what I found). I am going to merely repeat some teaching I received on this: I cannot vouch for its accuracy, but I believe it makes sense. "Created" refers to what God created Ex Nihilo (out of nothing) by His power, while "Made" refers to God using some of the created things in some form or fashion to produce other things. I think this is seen for example back in 1:24 where God says let the earth (which He created) bring forth the living land creatures, and in 1:25 which says "God made [Strong's 6213] the beast of the earth after his kind" (KJV). The earth was "created" but the animals here were "made" in some manner referential to the earth. Perhaps this is wrong, but if so, it is a minor point, and I currently believe it to be true.

Verse 4 makes me want to rethink my terminology of the different perspectives between the two Creation stories. Here, it makes me think that the focal reference is in the creation of the heavens and the earth themselves as the handiwork of God, whereas 2:5 and following speak more about the creation of Man and his involvement with God. So, I believe at least that two perspectives on the same Creation event are recorded in Scripture, and that both are true, correct, and in ultimate harmony simply because they are presented as such in the Scripture covering both chapters (and given my stated presupposition of the Bible's truth and accuracy mentioned previously). Verse 4 says that this is the account of the Creation of the heavens and the earth, with no uncertainty, nothing left out, and no defense offered for the given explanation. For one who believes the Bible to be true, this is the authoritative account to be believed and cherished. A defense is simply not expected or required, at least according to this context (which I unreservedly accept as completely true).

Lastly is the idea of the Creation of the heavens and the earth "in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven" (NASB). Now, if this is a literal day, then we have a contradiction here with the six days of Creation which Scripture explicitly testifies to taking place. Rather, I believe that this verse is explained by the previous verse (3), in which all of Creation is viewed from the finished perspective of God's completed, perfect work which is blessed and sanctified in the seventh day (Saturday, the Jewish Shabbat). I believe this verse is not contradiction the explicit teaching of the previous Scripture which detailed the six Creation days, but that a very important idea is communicated here for the believer. The entire Creation in all of its scope was complete and perfect first in the mind of God before Creation even started.

Thus, we have the summary "very good" of 1:31 (judged by the only standard, His Holiness of being and perfection of understanding), and the fact (I assert) that all of Creation is viewed from the vantage point of the meaning of the Sabbath. This Sabbath day ultimately is not so much about rest (though it is for that in the Old Testament), but about the perfect completeness of God and His worthiness to be Worshiped simply for the essence of His being, His total majesty, and His excellence of character (I admit I'm preaching here). Therefore the Sabbath day is really about worship, when viewed from Man's perspective, and about perfection and wholeness centered in the person of God, when contemplating the divine perspective given (sometimes implicitly) in these verses.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

This Thing Called Calvinism

[UPDATED]

First, some links are in order.

  1. Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinism
  2. R.L. Dabney: www.spurgeon.org/~phil/dabney/5points.htm
  3. Comparison between Arminianism and Calvinism: www.the-highway.com/compare.html
Calvinism

I don't like this title, because it makes it sound as if we followed a man. I don't like Augustinianism, because it's simply too long to type, and doesn't go far enough back in history (much older than Augustine or even Christ [well, the time of His incarnation at least]). It gives the mistaken idea that this soteriological system was invented, as some of its opponents would have you believe.

Sovereign Grace

Redundant. This is so not just because of the Reformed concept of the idea, but because "grace" itself must be sovereign by its very nature and operation. That is, it cannot be coerced or earned, or it is no longer grace but something else. I cannot show someone else grace if they have coerced it or earned it (though if I am a good enough actor, I can make it to appear to be grace I suppose).

Doctrines of Grace

Forgive me for referring back to the KJV, here, but I haven't looked in the modern translations (yet). The English word "doctrines" appears in the KJV translation a total of five times, all in the New Testament, and all with a negative connotation (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7, Colossians 2:22, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 13:9). Three of those are in reference to the doctrines or teachings of men (Matthew, Mark, and Colossians), one is in reference to demons (1 Timothy), and the last one is in reference to falsehood in general (though in context, of men, I believe). I shy away from the terminology because of this.

There is really only one doctrine anyway, and that is the Word of God. I believe it can be referred to be a singular doctrine of Grace, revealed in the Word, centered on Christ, and glorifying to God. As believers, we seek to teach the entire truth of the Scriptures as accurately and faithfully as we can.

Monergism

I actually like this term. It is defined here. I think (though I haven't verified this) that it literally means "one energy or force." But, it does not exactly roll off the tongue. In fact, the word "Synergism" is more pleasant to pronounce and to hear, and much more agreeable to our self-will and pride. But it is no more truthful than the idea that there is salvation outside of Christ.

[updated the section below]

Old:
So, I suppose I am stuck with the term Calvinist for the time being. It sounds menacing, like I have some dark and sinister agenda, and some equally twisted and heretical doctrine as its underlying foundation. I don't. I am just displeased that Arminianism is the new Baptist orthodoxy, at least in the SBC world, and considered unbiblical and barely tolerable (if that), when in actual truth I believe it is the more Biblical and Christian position to take.

New:
I never should have written the above (under the Old: heading) in hindsight. I was just getting on my soapbox, and my comments there were unhelpful. I like what my pastor told me, that Christianity is a lot larger than Calvinism, and to preach the Scriptures and focus on Christ, which is where all the truth is. I have known many good Christian men who do not accept Calvinism, but fortunately do not make it a fellowship issue. We have fellowship together as Christians, because we believe Jesus Christ is Lord.

Jonah 2:9
But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.

I can claim no credit to my salvation. Yes, I did cooperate with God. But I did that after God circumcised my heart, took out the heart of stone, and put in a heart of flesh. God opened my ears to hear the Gospel. Praise God! God gets all the glory!

Romans 10:17
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria! (Glory to God alone).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Abstinence or Moderation in Alcohol?

This is for reference. This is a very interesting discussion on alcohol use. Currently, I fall into the "moderation" camp. Read the comments here to find out why. :)

http://guardian-ministries.blogspot.com/2006/07/dr-jerry-vines-article-on-abstinence.html

Baptism and Church Membership

If you've never read anything on the connection between Baptism and Church Membership (or even if you have), then read this:

http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/enjoying-god/piper-grudem-dever-et-al-on-baptism-the-lords-table-and-church-membership-just-how-together-for-the-gospel-are-we/

It is possibly the best article I've read so far on this issue (ok, I admit---not many). One that is probably just as good is Wade Burleson's on the matter (and of course, John Piper's, to which he links):

http://kerussocharis.blogspot.com/2007/08/sectarians-focus-more-on-church-than.html

I do not agree with paedobaptism, and I believe it to be doctrinal error. However, I would not exclude a paedobaptist brother from church membership or participation in the Lord's Supper on that basis, though I would (as would John Piper) exclude that person from church leadership. But, I am not in a position of church leadership, so this is simply a stated opinion on my part. The union we have in Christ, and the spiritual baptism we share in the Holy Spirit, is far more important than the physical sign of water baptism or political union in the local body of believers, I think. Those in the SBC who would refuse membership and the Lord's supper on these grounds are forgetting the membership and baptism which is in Christ.

It just strikes me as odd, like a bunch of children telling one of their own, "We like you. We'll even let you play with us in our treehouse. You just can't join our club."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Prayer 2

I like what I heard Adrian Rogers preach once, concerning people who only wanted to bring the "big" problems in life to God in prayer. He put it this way, as best as I can recall, "Take the biggest problem you have. Now put it in God's hands. It's ALL small to Him." Amen!

Along with this idea, I've begun to realize that prayer is not simply the process of forming the right words in our brains and shooting them heavenwards, occasionally tweaking our methods to enhance our results. Yes, such should be obvious, I know, but for some reason it wasn't (spiritual ignorance is often like that). My brain is currently focused on the idea that prayer should not be some impersonal spiritual activity like it all too often is in my personal walk, in the spiritual pattern of the habitual monologue like I've so often thought of it. Prayer like this is a tiresome chore of an activity to produce, and though I cannot know the mind of God thoroughly, I do not believe such can be reverent or pleasing in the Divine Ear.

That brings me to another point. I thought: I do not want to insult the intelligence of God with my prayers. I should put all of my reverence and intellect into such an activity, with holy passion and humility, and plead for the grace I so desperately need and could never earn. So far, so good. But do you see the flaw in my thinking? That is, can any of my prayers be of worth to God intellectually (or otherwise)? It humbles me to think that I pray to a Divine, Infinite, Omniscient intelligence who knows all the stars by name, yet still hears my prayers with all my petty frustrations, silly ignorance, foolish hopes, and immature dreams. How can I ever hope to pray a worthy prayer, any more than a grasshopper's mental capacity could impress Einstein, except perhaps by the humbleness of its lowly state? My only hope to be heard and answered must lie solely in Christ, depending solely on His grace and His wisdom as my intercessor, to communicate to the Father according to His will. And that is indeed my hope.

I am still learning precisely what this activity called prayer is all about. An appropriate question arises: if I believe God is sovereign, why pray? But if I believe God is sovereign, why not pray? Who better to ask requests of and place hope in than a fully sovereign God, who has all things under His control and brings all things together for good for those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)? If God is Sovereign, Gracious, Merciful, Long-suffering, Salvation, and my only Hope, I hope to pray to Him and that He would teach me to faithfully trust Him more.

But also, I do not believe that prayer changes the mind of God, or alters His plans. If I have a holy desire, and pray, if it is truly holy in nature, how is that different from being God's ultimate will, which is inherently holy and good? And how did such a desire arise in my heart? If it is holy and good, would not the Holy Spirit have placed such there? Did I ever invent a holy or good thought on my own? I cannot see that I ever did, because fundamentally I was unholy, fallen in Adam and dead in trespasses and sins, but in Christ I have been born again, given a new circumcised heart and a new nature. It must all be of God and therefore of grace, or it would be of works. So if salvation itself is all of God's grace, does it not follow that every righteousness in my life also comes from Him? And further, because there is only one God, who is absolutely Holy and Good, does it not follow that all righteousness is ultimately from Him, that He is the author and defender of it? It truly should be a joy to pray to God: when done righteously, I believe it is no less than praying God's righteous and holy desires back to Him through Christ our Lord and Savior. And knowing that if we are praying the will of God, that His will is certainly done. My hope and prayer that I will begin praying for is that God would place His holy and righteous desires in me that such would form the foundation of all my prayers, and that all my prayer would be both Christ-centered and Christ-glorifying.

P.S. OK. I'm sorry, but occasionally I try very hard to be and sound "spiritual" and I think it's showing here. Well, I really need to apologize to God for it. Currently, I'm very frustrated with my life and spiritual walk in some things, but I am learning to surrender to Christ, pray about it, trust Him for the answers, and most of all wait---as patiently as I possibly can (which is almost impossible for me, and contrary to my basic nature)---and then things work out differently than I expected if they do at all. I suppose what I am learning and need to learn most is humility and trust in prayer. Again, that's extremely hard for me, as I seem to have the idea that I need to first try it on my own, and then if (but really, "when") I have problems, pray to God for help. No surprise to the reader, but I trip and fall on my face a lot with that approach. You'd really think I'd learn faster.

P.P.S. OK, more than occasionally.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Prayer

The other day I was listening to a radio preacher in the morning on my way to work, and he made a statement that lodged itself directly into my brain: (the following quote is not exact, but a paraphrase) "Prayer is a skill you need to develop over your whole lifetime." I cannot help but think this statement and its underlying thought patterns do nothing better than trivialize the spiritual exercise of prayer, and more importantly, the reverence due to God and His very sovereignty.

The problem with this type of thinking is simply this: it is no more developed, no more sophisticated, no more mature than the equivalent thinking of a small child honing her skills of manipulation and questioning to get something she desires from mommy or daddy. Prayer is no more a skill to be developed, than God is a cosmic vending machine in the sky on which to operate with that same skill until one receives all that one desires, without respect to the divine will or His omniscient wisdom. Well, perhaps the TV preacher didn't carry the idea that far, but that's the logical conclusion of it based on what I remember. I remember also being completely disgusted with those particular parts of the message.

Has anyone bothered to ask themselves whether God, who is infinite and omniscient and omnipotent, particularly desires to be treated like some cosmic slot machine in the heavenly faith casino of man-centeredness and self-will?

(The title links to some Puritan prayers I found in a recent Internet search. My hope is you will find them interesting and helpful.)