|Chapter Five from 3rd Compass, the book;|
Copyright © 2009-2012. Tyrone Alexander. All Rights Reserved. Click here for full copyright.
[Back to Chapter 4]
"But you Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are by no means least
among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will
be the shepherd of my people Israel." (Matthew 2:6)
The passage in Matthew above speaks of the Shepherd, who will come out of a humble village called Bethlehem and guide his people, who, in today's context is everyone. He is the Guide, the Light, the Compass in which reality is framed, but many people still have trouble seeing and understanding this Big Picture of Reality.
It is enormous and difficult to grasp as a whole, but if you do not understand it completely, that is ok. You do not have to see the entire landscape in order to navigate it. All you need is the Compass. If you are more interested in understanding how to navigate your life map then skip to the next chapter, which will help you to follow Christ and use the tools he provides for us. These are the same tools I have used during my journey. However, if you are interested in a more complete understanding of the Big Picture then continue with this chapter.
The first chapter of this book introduced life maps and the notion that guides exist for us to get direction in our life maps. Chapter Two discussed the reality in which we exist and began to frame that blueprint of reality in the proper context so that it can be overlaid onto our life maps. We mixed in the solidifying agent of God and by the end of the testimonies in Chapters Three and Four the Big Picture of Reality should be forming before your eyes.
I have presented a mound of evidence and logical arguments for not just a god and creator, but the only true God. We now have the proper context that allows us to gain meaning and direction in our existence as well as understand the Big Picture.
Who is God?
The starting point for the Big Picture and everything in it is God, and so we must have an understanding of who he is. In Chapter Three, I mentioned that there are many gods in many religions, but the God I have been speaking of is the only true God. How can I dismiss all the others?
You saw in my testimony that I was not partial to any particular religion, so it is not in bias that I dismiss other gods or religions. It is simply in the evidence I was given that I can make that decision. It isn't just my personal "lottery ticket" that swayed me, but all the other evidence stacked with it.
It is a mountain of evidence consisting of scientific and logical validations of Biblical content to countless witness testimonies to confirmations of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Truth throughout my journey. The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the God of Christianity. Still, what of the other gods and religions? What is their place in the Big Picture? We will get to that after we have looked more closely at who our God is.
In Chapter Two, I noted God as the Creator of everything, the Master Architect, and absolutely necessary for our existence and reality. In Chapter Three, I introduced God as a Guide and Compass by which we can navigate our life maps. Creator and Guide, though, are only two of God's character traits.
Other commonly spoken traits of God are: omniscience (all knowing), omnipotence (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at once), transcendence (outside material or physical existence), eternal (everlasting), omnibenevolent (morally perfect or good willed), perfect (in all aspects of logic, judgment and righteousness), immutable (unchanging), and personal (accessible).
These traits paint a picture of an unchanging and all powerful being without a physical body, but who is still accessible to anyone. It is an unusual combination of traits, which are in themselves also very unusual. They are so unusual and unrealistic in our everyday experience that people have attacked these traits persistently in an effort to refute God's existence. They give "proofs" based on philosophical logic and theoretical conjecture, which in the end are meaningless because their context for understanding God is completely wrong.
That context is science, that formless Blob of data, and Selective Reasoning. Science, I have argued is incomplete and incapable of probing spiritual things, such as God, and atheists fall to Selective Reasoning because they simply do not understand God or his Creation (our reality and existence) and refuse to consider all the evidence for his existence, much of which I have laid out in the previous chapters.
Of course, this is understandable because I had once fallen to these pitfalls. To make the Big Picture clearer, I will describe God in terms that most people can understand. Think of him as the architect, engineer, painter, writer, and programmer of our reality. He is outside our reality just as the painter is outside the painting, the writer is outside the novel, and the programmer is outside the computer program.
Being outside of our reality gives God many of the properties I have listed simply because of this state of being. He is omniscient just as a writer knows completely the story he writes. He is omnipotent just as the programmer can change the parameters of his computer program. He is transcendent and eternal because being outside the creation he is outside its physical bounds. He has no specific location inside our reality because he is outside of it, and in the same way, he is eternal because he is not bound by our reality's timeline.
Our concept of time is bound inside our reality, but God existed before our reality and will continue to exist after our reality ceases to exist. This is how God can exist before and after time (our reality's timeline) and therefore be eternal, but that isn't the complete picture. God's eternal nature has to do with more than being outside our reality. We will explore this when we come to his immutable nature.
Our reality can be likened to a grand computer simulation where the programmer has set all the parameters, specified all the rules, and built all the mechanisms for everything to work as it does, including mechanisms for himself to interact with and influence us - the inhabitants of the creation. Simulation is a bad word, though, because it suggests our reality isn't real and is simplified in some way. On the contrary, it couldn't be any more real and is very complex and confusing.
Just think about how our reality works and that God has access to and knowledge of every part of it, including the lives, thoughts and desires of every individual in it. Billions of people and billions of lives on our planet alone are tracked and orchestrated. Clearly, an intelligence that can organize and interact with all of this information at once is beyond mind boggling. It is totally beyond our abilities to comprehend.
Fans of computer games, like "The Sims" or "Age of Empires," that allow the players to interact with the simulated inhabitants of the game can easily see how someone can be outside of the simulation and also in it. The programmers of those games built the mechanisms for that interaction, just as God built our reality and the mechanisms for him to interact in it.
However, I feel that comparing God's Creation to our simple simulations does not do justice to his work. It is only the parallel analogy that I want to convey because it shows best how God exists in relation to our reality. He is outside of it, as well as in it because of how he built it.
What I don't want to portray is that God is like a computer gamer who is only playing a game or interacting with simulated things. The nature of God, our reality, and our own purpose for existence precludes such silly notions, though, I am sure some comic personalities will draw up cartoons portraying God with coke bottle eyeglasses, staring at a computer screen, and punching at a keyboard, and exclaiming, "Why!? Why, do these little beings keep making fun of me!?"
Actually, I do recall seeing a cartoon like this years ago and I'm sure there are many more out there, but humor aside, there is a complexity to the Big Picture and our relationship with God that should be taken very seriously. The context of this relationship is a foundation for the picture we are drafting, and once we see how God relates to his creation, logical proofs rebuking his existence simply fall apart.
Two such proofs attack God's omnipotence by asking, one, if God can create a spherical cube or, two, could he create an object so heavy that even he could not lift it? The spherical cube is clearly an impossibility in our "normal" three dimensional world, but atheist's also want to attribute this impossible circumstance as a contradiction to God's omnipotence and therefore disprove his existence. God can't be omnipotent if he can't make a spherical cube. This logic is flawed because it assumes God is bound by the rules of our reality. He is not and can change any of the rules at any time.
Still, I find it an amusing thought experiment because for the spherical cube question God does not have to change anything. He already created the rules of physical reality to make the possibility possible. We know from Einstein's Theory of Relativity that space and time can be warped by gravitational fields. Space and time are therefore flexible and malleable, so all God needs to do to create a spherical cube is warp the space around a sphere such that it appears as a cube or vice versa. An easy task for someone who controls the parameters of reality.
What about the other question, can God create an object so heavy that he could not lift it? Atheists argue that either a yes or no answer will disprove the omnipotence trait and therefore disprove God, but like the first question it assumes God is bound in our reality, which is wrong.
Asking this question is like asking if an author could write about an object so heavy that his persona in the story could not lift it. The author would answer, of course, he could write that, but that doesn't mean he lost his omnipotence as the writer of the story - the author can still write anything he wishes.
Proofs like these clearly show the confusion between our reality and God's reality. They are separate things, so the proper context needs to be considered when looking at what is logical or impossible. Once the right context is used, we can see these so-called proofs against God fall away as nothing more than theories that don't fit the circumstance.
Now what about the other traits I mentioned: omnibenevolence, perfect, immutable, omniscient and personal? These traits are more confusing to understand, but they have to do with God's nature or personality instead of his state of being, which the other traits go with. Omnibenevolence, I will come to later as questions around it involve a more detailed discussion about why there is suffering in our reality.
The next trait - "perfect," in the sense that God possesses perfect logic, judgment and righteousness - is a part of his nature but also stems from being omniscient. He can see all ends in ways that limited beings such as ourselves cannot, and therefore has all the information to make the right decisions. God could never fall to Selective Reasoning.
It isn't just about decision making, though. God has a perfect sense of right and wrong, good and bad, justice and morality - Righteousness. These things overlap omnibenevolence, which I will discuss in greater detail later, but I note it here because other qualities of God are related to it - Truth, Good, Faithfulness, Justice, and Mercy. This means he never lies, never does wrong, always works for our good, always upholds justice, and is merciful.
Now, immutability. This simply means that God does not change his personality or anything else about himself, so he will not all of a sudden decide to be a deceitful and unjust tyrant. God can always be trusted, absolutely, because of his combined immutability and righteousness.
Immutability may seem unusual to us, because we are biological beings, limited, flawed, and easily corruptible through our desires, but God's immutable nature points to something very different and completely opposite. This attribute lends to his eternal nature, which was brought up earlier, and makes it not only a state of being (of being outside our reality and timeline) but also a part of his natural make-up - that of being truly immortal.
What this means to us is that God won't all of a sudden disappear like that computer gamer, who will age, deteriorate and could very well die of a heart attack after days on end of exhilarating game play, energy drinks, and pizza.
Lastly, God is personal. He interacts with us on a personal level and answers prayers. The testimonies in the last two chapters made that clear. Something else you may have noticed throughout the testimonies and this book is that God, Jesus Christ and his Spirit (or Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost) are used interchangeably with one another. The Bible also does this because they all function as one and are in essence extensions of the same person. They are united in relation to each other, always working in unison and always agreeing (another aspect of His immutability), as opposed to God and Satan who are opposites and separate persons.
This concept of the unity of the three holy persons is called the Holy Trinity. Some denominations of Christianity do not accept the Holy Trinity and treat God (the Father), Jesus Christ (the Son) and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) as separate. This likely came about because the concept of the Trinity is very confusing and completely different from our dealings with people in our reality.
We think of a person as a single entity, but God is different. He is outside our reality, but he also created extensions of himself in our reality so that he can interact with us. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are the parts of him inside our reality. They are all one and the same person as God the Creator who originates outside our reality.
It is no mistake, then, that the passage in Matthew quoted at the beginning of this chapter refers to Jesus as a ruler, and in Revelation he is described as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus, the Son, is God and has the same authority as God, the Father.
"On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." (Revelation 19:16)
God is the supreme authority of all things and in total control, yet he is still accessible to all of us on a personal level. It sounds counterintuitive. After all, how many of us actually get to speak to a president or monarch of a country and have them listen whole-heartedly? Very few people have the ear of an earthly king, but every single one of us can have the ear of God.
How can this be? It is through his extensions of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, which He provided for us to connect with him, as well as him with us. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus appointed a more human personality for God so that we could understand and relate to him better, while the Holy Spirit came with the appointment of Jesus so that it could act as an emissary or agent by which God can communicate with us on a continual basis.
You can think of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God living and acting with and inside us. This combination of Christ and the Holy Spirit, which are extensions of God himself, is the mechanism he provided for us to attain and maintain a relationship with him. I will talk more about that relationship in the next chapter.
The Composition of God
When we talk about God, the question inevitably comes up about where and how he came to be. If God created our reality and all life in it then who created him or how did he come to exist? Is there a creator for the Creator? Atheists often bring up this problem as another "proof" that God cannot exist, but the simple fact is, this conjecture is only another example of Selective Reasoning.
We do not know and do not have any means to know or verify how God came into existence because we are confined to our reality, not God's. I believe that if it were possible for us to understand God's reality, he would have already told us, just as he has told us about how our reality was created and how it relates to us.
The problem is, we are limited beings with limited capacity to understand. We can only understand reality based on the one in which we exist, so how could we understand a completely different reality? We are like the fish in an entirely water "universe." How can the fish understand what is outside their existence, such as air and land, when those things do not exist for them?
When it comes down to it, the question about where God came from does not matter at all. I can think up a hundred scenarios of how an intelligence like God could come about, but these thought experiments are fruitless when there is no way to verify God's reality other than through God himself. The logical person should move on to more important things concerning his own reality because that is what matters in his existence.
The Science of Creation
"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
And there was evening, and there was morning - the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array." (Genesis 1:31)
One thing that atheists often bring up as proof against God and Creation is the timeline of the universe and our existence being in conflict with what is stated in the Bible. Genesis Chapter One clearly states that the whole of our reality, including us as humans, was made in six days. This is at odds with what science has told us, which is that the universe is over 13 billion years old, our planet is over 4 billion years old, and the life on it is nearly as old but has progressed from bacterium to complex forms, such as us, over those few billion years.
What is the problem with this discrepancy? Opponents of Creationism say that God and the Bible are wrong and therefore there is no God and the Bible is invalid, but yet again we have another example of Selective Reasoning. The correct context for understanding must be understood.
There is the word "context" again. I have brought it up many times now and will note why it is important to take appropriate context into account when reading and understanding God and the Bible. Some people read the Bible absolutely literally and do not take the context into account, but proper context is critical to understanding God's Word and our reality.
In the case of Genesis, our universe and everything in it was created and formed inside our reality's timeline within six days or 144 hours, period, but science says that is impossible. How can these points of view be resolved?
Think of the simulation analogy again. It is entirely possible for someone to create a "universe" in a computer simulation within a matter of days, but inside that universe the timeline for the inhabitants is completely separate and different. Since we are confined to our reality we can only perceive what our reality tells us, which appears to be billions of years, but in actuality it was only a handful of days that passed in creating the universe.
God can speed up or slow down any part of our reality like we can fast forward or freeze frame through a video. He has complete control over all the laws of our reality, including space and time. Those billions of years that science says are needed to coalesce the universe into what we see now aren't even necessary.
Genesis makes it sound like it was no difficult task at all for God to have created everything in a matter of days. After all, God simply says something and it happens, but that doesn't mean great thought was not involved in the creation. When you look closely at our reality, it is obvious that it was devised with great care, but we cannot see the entire process of the logic and decision making from our perspective. It is akin to the programmer of a simulation changing the parameters of the simulation.
The programmer (God) is aware of all the thought and processes involved in making the changes, but for the individuals inside the created reality the entire process of how the change came is hidden and obscures the reality's true nature. The change simply becomes a part of their reality and is seemingly instantaneous. Still, the fact that God says he created all of our reality in six days gives another clue as to how vast and impressive his intelligence is.
When we talk about Genesis, we talk about life, and when we talk about life, we talk about evolution or more specifically, Darwinian Evolution. The battle between Evolution and Creationism has been raging since Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species in 1859. He brought up the notion of natural selection and postulated that all the great variety of life on earth, including humans, came about because life evolved from earlier and simpler forms by being "selected" through survival of their genes in the environment.
To put it simply, if an animal or plant is better suited for the environment then it will survive, and as it passes its genes on from one generation to the next, the traits it has that aid survival are reinforced or augmented. Evolution theorizes that over time, the augmented traits create new species, such as the giraffe evolving from a hoofed animal with a much shorter neck, or whales, which are aquatic mammals, evolving from wolf-like animals that liked to hunt in the sea.
The fossil record supports Darwin's notion of evolution with countless animal skeletons that show slow progression from earlier forms to later forms over millions of years or faster. This is how science postulates that birds are descended from predatory dinosaurs, that whales and dolphins descended from wolf-like creatures, and primates (lemurs, monkeys and apes) descended from tree dwelling shrews.
What about humans from primates? For this too, there seems to be fossil evidence, so-called "missing links," which show a sequence of small lemurs progressing to monkeys and apes and finally to creatures that more closely resemble modern humans - small apes that could walk upright, such as "Lucy" the small australopithecine, no larger than a modern chimpanzee and then larger forms of "ape men" like homo habilis and homo erectus. The fossil record seems to show these earlier forms of humanlike primates appearing through time in a logical sequence from over 3 million years ago to approximately one quarter to half a million years for our modern species of human, homo sapiens.
The fossil record is not the only evidence for evolution as DNA also reinforces the notion through shared genes. Humankind's closest living relative is the chimpanzee because more than 98% of our DNA is the same as that of a chimpanzee. The DNA of other animals can also be compared and a similar sharing and "evolution" of genes can be seen throughout the animal and plant world.
DNA and fossil evidence are very compelling evidence for Evolution, but recall in Chapter Two we discussed the need for intelligent design in the workings of DNA and physical reality. It was not until we looked closer at the mechanisms for life (DNA) and reality (superstrings) that we could see a random or undirected approach could not explain these structures. Our debate on Evolution will also have to dig deeper to resolve its conflicts with Creationism.
DNA does work to create great variety in an undirected way because attributes, like hair and skin color, height, and even disposition (character traits like passivity and fierceness), can be mixed and changed through breeding alone (natural selection). However, I like to think God designed DNA to accommodate these subtle changes from the mixing of genes to show how wisdom can overpower strength, not as a means of "evolution."
That is, God did not need to go to every single plant and creature in existence and mold each one individually - one at a time - an approach often called the "brute force" method. Instead, I believe he created DNA and the mechanisms of life to produce variety of its own accord. But this is not the entire picture. He didn't just create DNA and then sit back and let it work by chance, random variance, or natural selection as most evolutionists imagine.
God also directs and orchestrates the life he created. We do not know if he molded every single living thing individually, but we do know he molded them by type or kind, such as the plants into the different kinds and animals into their different kinds. "Kinds" can be thought of as different classes of organism.
Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. (Genesis 1:11)This is the essence of Creationism. It took an intelligent designer to create all the types of life we see. It is not the undirected existence evolutionists and scientists postulate. But how can we be sure of that?
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. (Genesis 1:20)
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:24)
Remember the inadequacy of random variance to provide structure for DNA based life and the laws of physics? It is also inadequate to create all the different "kinds" of plant and animal in existence. Without intelligent direction, an amoeba is not going to a become a shellfish or a shellfish into a fish or fish into an amphibian and so on down the chain until we get to us as humans.
Evolutionists suggest that only random variance and the selection of traits for the changing environment is sufficient to create all the kinds of life we see. The problem is that I have already shown that random cannot provide structure or direction of any kind, and natural selection can only go so far in producing changes in an organism. Changing skin color is a far different problem than creating new kinds of limbs and other more complicated structures that differentiate between the different classes of organisms.
We have to look at it more closely to see the problem with Evolution. We have to go right down to the DNA code. If you start making random changes to it, the structure falls apart and the code fails to produce a viable life form, just as a story loses comprehension if words are randomly changed or added to it. Geneticists already know this aspect of DNA - that it is very structured and simply changing things at random is fruitless.
To properly direct useful changes into the code of DNA or any code for that matter, such as the words of a story, intelligent changes or additions need to be made in the correct places and in the correct sequence. Without this kind of intelligent direction, a life form as complex as us would be impossible if it started out as bacterium.
In the case of life then, it was God that made these modifications, not the environment, natural selection, and randomness. If evolutionists were completely right, then biologists could just zap bacterium in a dish with radiation or simply insert or move around the chemical strands to randomly change the DNA and all kinds of different life forms would spring out of that dish. Instead, all they accomplish is to kill the bacterium because random changes only work to make the code of DNA fail.
Randomness cannot direct the changes needed to evolve one kind of life into another, but God did create DNA to allow for a large amount of variety on its own. There is a limit, though, to the amount of change that can come from this designed quality of DNA.
It can produce great variety. For instance look at the class of arthropods called insects, which have six legs and a three part body plan - head, thorax, and abdomen. It is the largest and most varied animal group on our planet consisting of millions of distinct species, but all of them conform to the same body plan and most have not changed by any significant amount over what appears to be hundreds of millions of years.
The lowly ant was here over a hundred million years ago, appearing just as it does today. Where is the great diversification into different life forms over those millions of years that Darwinian Evolution promises? That is more than enough time for the environment to change and for natural selection and random variance to work its wonders, right? But there are no grand changes for the ant and insect kingdom because when left undirected, DNA only creates variations upon the same theme.
There are big ants, little ants, red ants, black ants, ants that march in an armed mass to gather food, and ants that farm fungus for food, but they are all still ants. The same stagnation of evolution can be seen in many other parts of the plant and animal kingdom. DNA can only provide great variety once certain plans or kinds have been created.
The biologist, though, will bring up the apparent progression of life from single-celled organisms like bacteria and protozoa, to more complex forms of aquatic life like crustaceans, to hard shelled, "armored" fish, to scaled fish, to air breathing soft skinned fish, to amphibians, to reptiles, to mammals, and onward to humans. The sequence appears logical, doesn't it?
But ask yourself where all the extra DNA code came from that is needed to build these more complex organisms? Bacteria and viruses only have a genome (the entire genetic make-up or length of the DNA code) in the tens of thousands while more complex organisms have billions. We know that random additions to code don't work and the variety that DNA supports on its own can only make subtle changes. These things cannot add or modify code in the ways needed to build new types of life.
And to further the confusion, the animal with the largest known genome is also one of the smallest and simplest. Certain classes of amoeba have a huge genome of hundreds of billions while humans have less than three billion. Why is that? Are segments of code simply redundant and useless? Some biologists think so, but no one knows for certain because we don't have the knowledge to fully interpret the DNA code. We simply can't jump to conclusions using the evidence and knowledge we have because it leads to serious errors.
Also consider the appearance of flowers and their pollinators (bees, butterflies, birds, bats, etc.) in this debate. Evolutionists believe that flowers appear in the fossil record very suddenly about 130 million years ago. It was as if they just magically appeared out of nowhere. Charles Darwin himself was confused by this and stated that their evolution was "an abominable mystery." That mystery remains today over a century and a half later.
Flowers are complicated structures for the reproduction of their parent plants. They include male and female components that act just like the corresponding parts in the animal world. They also include components like petals and scent glands that are designed to attract their pollinators. How can such a complex design that is tailored so well for the symbiotic relationship between plant and animal just appear suddenly without any previous models that support a codependent relationship between the two forms of life?
It appears that the most common pollinators, insects, had been around for hundreds of millions of years before the first flower appeared. You would think that there would be evidence of a symbiotic relationship between plant and animal over those hundreds of millions of years that shows gradual changes in the plants that develop into those flowers, yet the fossil record shows no evidence for it. Flowers simply bloom out of a vacuum of existence.
To explain this, let's look at the DNA code once again. Biologists have sequenced the DNA of many flowering plants and found that like in the animal kingdom, there are genes that when turned on and off are responsible for producing different structures, such as developing a leg as opposed to an antenna in insects or a petal and other floral structure instead of a leaf for plants. How are these genes significant in this debate?
Their very existence is the key. Recall the structure of DNA, that it is like an instruction book laid out by sequence (sentence), gene (paragraph), and chromosome (chapter). It is a code where the order and interaction between different sections is important, and furthermore, the code must be complete and structured for it to be useful. Randomness is not a viable means for changing or introducing code as we have already discussed, and DNA's support for variety on its own is also insufficient to produce completely new code, which is needed for new and novel biological structures.
These genes in both animals and plants are complete in that they define how entire structures are built, not parts of it, like a piece of a leg or vein of a petal, but the entire structure. How can the complete code of the whole structure (the gene) be created without intelligent direction and design? Assuming genes came about randomly is like assuming entire paragraphs where inserted into a book, complete and coherent, by random chance alone.
If it was only random changes and DNA's innate support for variety that created these genes then there should be much more DNA code for everything as more and more code is added to the instruction book and randomly mixed about. Organisms as complicated as ourselves should have a million times more code than that amoeba, but that isn't the case.
Somehow, the appropriate and complete DNA code was inserted into the instruction book and unnecessary code taken out. A random or undirected process like Darwinian Evolution is completely incapable of such intelligent maintenance of the DNA code. However, God's intelligently directed Creationism is.
Confusing? It certainly is. This aspect of reality was designed to confound us.
If God directed how life was created, then why does the fossil record and Evolution appear to show a logical progression from bacterium to aquatic life to land based life in small increments and steps over eons, including increments from primates to man? God could have created only man and the life forms that we need for food. Why create everything else, like all the animals that are now extinct and the ones that are a nuisance? I, for one, could definitely live without mosquitoes.
This is the confusing part of reality I alluded to earlier and the reason for it is another aspect of the Big Picture. It is the same reason why the timelines for the universe and planetary processes were made to appear in contradiction to statements in the Bible, the reason for the enormous vastness and variety of our visible universe and the life forms on earth, and the reason why our entire reality was constructed with so many layers - the seen, tangible and scientifically testable, physical layers and the unseen "spiritual" layers. Our reality was constructed in a confusing and confounding way, and that is no accident. This leads us to our next section which brings us back to that trait of God I skipped earlier, omnibenevolence.
Reason for Suffering
Omnibenevolence - In strict literal terms is defined as the quality of having infinite benevolence, where benevolence is defined as the desire to do good to others or the expression of kindness, goodwill and charity. In theological context, omnibenevolence further extends the notion of "good" and is taken to mean God is infinitely or perfectly good, just and moral. God's mercifulness, faithfulness, and righteousness stem from this quality and so completes the list of traits that deal with his morality.
Omnibenevolence is a quality of God that is very hard to understand in the reality that many of us perceive today - one that is full of rage, hate, violence, and moral atrocity. How can a God that is omnibenevolent create a reality that would allow such horrible things to happen? Not a day passes today without news of a murder, an abused child, hate crime, sex crime, or some other form of moral injustice.
Aren't we all tired of it - being saturated in the heavy fog of repugnant crimes? No matter what we do to run away, brush it off, or wave it away, it lingers and clings to us with a persistence that breeds fear. The reality of this fog is another confounding example of a very complex and bewildering Creation - an existence created by an omnibenevolent God that appears to be in contradiction of that very trait. It is a contradiction that atheists have jumped on persistently in an effort to crush the notion of God entirely.
They often bring up Bible passages that show God's seeming lack of benevolence, such as the many instances of God enacting punishment on individuals and nations alike, such as bringing plagues and giving commands for war. God even symbolizes his wrath with The Cup of God's Wrath.
Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them. (Jeremiah 25:15)Atheists say, "Look, God is malevolent, not benevolent!" and so cannot be omnibenevolent and therefore cannot exist. Once again, though, this line of thought is too simple and suffers from Selective Reasoning because the entire context, the Big Picture, needs to be considered. Our limited perspectives simply cannot understand the overall good or how to attain it, nor can we judge God from our point of view.
Let us first look at the notion of "good." By all definitions which are not nouns or things, "good," is a state in relation to another state. Good cannot exist on its own, but must be qualified on a scale or compared to another state. Without comparison, we cannot know that something is good or not. How can we judge if a car is good to purchase if we are not comparing it to some standard?
Morality, another aspect of "good," works in the same way. Someone who is morally good is being judged or compared to some standard in order for them to be labeled good, so it is impossible for good to exist without the opposing qualifier, which is not good - bad - or in the context of morality, immoral or unjust.
The concepts of good and bad necessitate one another, and a reality without one or the other would be a reality in which there is no choice of one direction or another, one decision over another, or one state over another.
From an engineering standpoint, all the logic flow charts in that reality would be a simple straight line from problem to solution. There would be no branching in logic from selecting Choice A, Choice B, or Choice C. Zero decisions can be made in such a "single-state reality" because there is only one choice or single direction to go.
Any beings in such a reality would only be automatons set to go in one direction, mere wind up toys that do the same thing over and over again, so arguing that a "perfectly good" god should have also created a "perfectly good" reality, where only good can happen, is suggesting reality be made without the option for choices - no free will. That kind of reality would be as interesting as watching a clock tick. No matter how ornate or intricate one makes the mechanisms of the clock, all it does in the end is tick away the time in an all too predictable way.
Fortunately, God is interested in far more than watching clocks tick. He created our reality and us so that we could have free will - the ability to choose any direction we wish. The main reason for this I am building up to, but at the moment we are talking about benevolence. Our reality, then, with all its choices and possibilities cannot support free will without the possibility of good and bad.
Good and bad existing together does not mean God needs bad or cannot exist without it. This would be confusing our reality with God's reality. Remember that they are separate, and God's intellect is wholly apart from our reality.
Many theists say that God is good or embodies it. This is true because God defines good and he stands for what is good. He is righteous. God also defines what is bad, though, but that is not the same as saying that God is bad or evil. He defines all of our morality and universal notions of good and bad. It was done for our sake, so we could have a reality with free will and be able to discern good and bad.
I think everyone can concede that concepts of good and bad are needed to define each other, but does a god who punishes and disciplines us contradict omnibenevolence? To answer that, we need to move further into the notion of "good," into the realms of morality.
Omnibenevolence also means that God has a perfect sense of morality and justice - perfect righteousness. Earlier in this chapter, I mentioned that this trait also comes from being omniscient. God knows all things and therefore has the foresight to make absolutely good judgments. He can see the consequences of actions which in turn trigger further actions and consequences that we as limited beings cannot fathom as a whole.
Our judgments rely on our limited perspectives and knowledge, but God is fully informed of every aspect of our reality. He can make the decisions that will prove most beneficial to the overall good, which brings us full circle back to the literal meaning of benevolence - the desire to do good or express goodwill to others. God and our reality do not contradict omnibenevolence because he does desire good to be had, but in a reality that has the possibility of good, bad, and everything in between, a balance needs to be made that tips in the favor of the overall good, which may contain some very bad things, such as the suffering from disease or one person needing to die so that many more will benefit.
We are limited beings with limited perspectives and must acknowledge that to understand how God is omnibenevolent in a reality filled with hardship and suffering. A good example of how limited our perspective is can be seen with the disputes of capital punishment in our judicial systems. Do we have the right to condemn people to death?
That discussion could take an entire book to engage in, but when it boils down to the absolute, the fact remains that we as individuals, as groups, as nations, and as societies are capable of making mistakes because of our limited knowledge and way of seeing the world.
That is why God has told us not to judge.
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:1)We can and have condemned innocent people to death, so who are we to make judgments on God's judgment? If we say that God's discipline is too extreme or not right, we are judging God by our own flawed and limited standards, which is a clearly substandard ruler for measuring an omniscient being. We cannot jump to conclusions based on our limited knowledge and viewpoints because the errors coming from the problem of Selective Reasoning can have serious consequences that go beyond simply understanding the blueprint of our reality.
Our limited perspectives are exactly why is it not good enough to simply "be good and do no harm to others" - a popular mantra for our new age of politically correct society. Who's rules are you conforming to when you do this, and how do you know for certain you are doing no harm, not just to others but yourself as well? Just as with capital punishment this issue boils down to the absolute. We do not know all ends to our decisions and how it affects the overall good and our own overall good.
The "be good" mentality is just a compact way of saying, follow our own rules, whatever WE think is right, because all of us have different experiences, predispositions, and viewpoints. It is a self-centered sense of morality that actually opposes true righteousness, which is not based on any individuals' or groups' sense of right, but on the overall good that only an omniscient and omnibenevolent God can perceive.
We try to protect our children with our own judgment because we see that they do not have the experience or wisdom to make the right decisions. They may resist, scoff, or even belittle our decisions because of their willful short-sightedness, but we still try to instruct and discipline them for their overall good. In relation to God, we are all just as willful children resisting the guidance of someone with much greater experience and wisdom than us.
Sometimes, though, we are too willful to take the counsel of a wiser person. How would you treat that dissenting person? If he was part of the military or another institution which strictly enforces behavioral standards, he could be subjected to heavy penalties for willful disobedience.
Most of the time, though, we do not have the authority or right to force behavior on someone. We would be called dictators if we did, and it would be unlawful and immoral to do so, since we would also be removing a God given right from that person - free will. In cases where bad behavior may threaten someone's well-being, yet it is still a lawful behavior by our standards, and they have not taken advice to change, then our only choice is to let them be and have them go their own way.
God, however, has the right to enforce his moral standards at any time, but most of the time, he will simply let willful people be, like he states in Psalm 81:11, "But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not
submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow
their own devices." This may not sound like a punishment, but it actually is, because once we are left to our own devices, our Compass and guidance towards our "overall good" is gone, and we end up stumbling again and again in the darkness of our poor, short-sighted decisions, or worse, we succumb to the forces that oppose God's will and desire for benevolence.
These forces have to do with the entire fallen nature of our existence - the battle with sin or anything which opposes God's will for the overall good. This is a spiritual battle we will discuss later. My point here is that not only do we not have the foresight to choose what judgment is appropriate, but the "let them be" treatment for those who are overly willful is another reason we find great suffering in our reality. The hardships we experience are largely the result of our own actions.
God's omniscience and omnibenevolence make him the perfect judge, but still, why the need for punishment? There are so many Biblical examples of God upholding justice by judging, rewarding and punishing that it could fill an entire book. The faithful are rewarded for their efforts and devotion to God while punishment shares an equal role in Biblical history.
Right from the very beginning in Genesis, God punishes Adam and Eve for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which condemns the whole of humanity afterward to battle sin, corruption, and death, and later in Genesis, Noah and his family are spared from mankind's first global punishment for his righteousness. Judgment, reward and punishment continue all the way up to the last chapter, Revelation, which prophecies the final punishments for mankind and the redemption of the faithful. Justice, judgment, reward and punishment appear to go hand in hand but unlike good and bad, which cannot exist without one another, these extensions of morality can. Or can they?
Morality is a sense of what is right and wrong - the rules laid down to discern right and wrong. Justice is the quality of being just or morally right. In a reality that has the potential for right and wrong acts, justice is akin to the balance scale tipping in favor of the overall good or right. Judgment is to determine whether something falls on the right or wrong side of the scale using the rules of morality, while reward and punishment are the consequences of being in the right or wrong. Righteousness is a result of those consequences, the result of action or inaction, that defines our state of righteousness, which is noted by the apostle John in 1 John 3:7, "He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous."
Atheists argue that an omnibenevolent god should have made a reality without the bad consequences or punishment in the case of justice. What happens when we take away punishment and leave only reward?
This would be a reality with only positive reinforcement in psychological terms. Since we would still be free to choose bad acts but not have the consequence of punishment, there would be nothing to deter our reasoning from committing bad acts. People would reason that, though a reward may come for a good act, a bad act will do no harm and so they might as well do it if it is desirable to them. The frequency of bad acts would then increase more than the good and the overall good or justice could not be maintained.
Taking away punishment would be the same as eliminating our law enforcement and judicial system. That would result in a society overrun by immorality. A reality like that would obviously contradict the "perfectly good" reality that atheists imagine from an omnibenevolent god.
Punishment must go with reward for justice to be upheld. Therefore, our reality was built as just or "perfectly good" as an omnibenevolent god can make while also giving us the ability of free will, which necessitates the options of both good, bad, and everything in between.
Good and bad, right and wrong (morality), and all the options in between are necessary for the kind of existence that God intended for us - one that gives us free will, where justice can be maintained, and where righteousness can be embodied - but those are not the only reasons God designed our reality this way. Let me call this kind of reality a Free-State Reality as opposed to the "single-state," no choice reality I had mentioned before, so that the notion can be encompassed in a single term without having to say good, bad, right, wrong and everything in between.
God designed our Free-State Reality so that we could be less like animals and more like himself - possessing a higher kind of intelligence. One aspect of that higher intelligence is the ability to experience joy - the satisfaction of happiness coming from experiencing the opposite state of unhappiness. Happiness and its opposite are more concepts that need the qualification of a standard to compare one thing with another, just like good and bad, one cannot determine if something is appealing if there is not an idea of what is unappealing. Without contrasting the feelings of what makes us happy and unhappy, joy could not exist.
Hope is another part of a Free-State existence. Like joy, it needs notions of what is better than something else. You cannot hope for a better thing or circumstance if there is no discernment for what is better. We can see now that a reality without the options of a Free-State Reality is also one where free will, joy, hope, or justice can be experienced. Goodwill and mercy would also be absent because the notion of "good" is gone. We would be emotionless beings or at least not have true emotions as we know them.
God created our reality and us to be much more than ticking clocks and pre-programmed robots. He created us to be like him, with higher intelligence, emotions, free will, and morality. He created our Free-State Reality to enable these things. Our reality, with the possibility of bad and good, is essential for a sentient and emotionally expressive existence, but because our God is also omnibenevolent and omniscient, he can and does see to it that events happen for the overall good, not just for humanity as a whole but for individuals as well. He defined the bounds for correct morality so our overall good can be had. That is why we can trust God to be our personal Guide and Compass.
It is only in our limited perspectives that we sometimes cannot understand why things are as they are or why there is suffering and hardship. I stated earlier that we are just like children to God, naive in existence, just as our children are to us, but there are perfectly understandable reasons for suffering, punishment, and discipline. Sometimes we do not see that, but a perfectly omniscient and omnibenevolent God does.
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? ... In this discussion about good and morality, we can see now why our reality has suffering and how God fulfills omnibenevolence. He created the possibility of good and bad and set the rules of morality so that we could have a higher order of intelligence and existence - that we could know hardship, sorrow, and hopelessness in order that we could also know freedom, joy, and hope. It is simply impossible to appreciate the magnitude of joy and good things without also experiencing the opposite. However, there is a greater motivation for why God created reality and us as he did. Sentience and true emotions are wonderful, but there is something more.
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best, but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:4)
It is the pinnacle of what is good - the very tip of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. People have been inspired by it throughout history, and the passage in Hebrews above alludes to it. It is Love, not the world's romantic sense of it, but the selfless, giving sense of doing good for another. That is godly love and the kind of Love and Charity meant as the basis for everything else.
Love - no other word is so short, yet so full of meaning and confusion. The world chases after their romantic ideas of love, but are emptied of their hearts because feelings of love are only temporary shadows of what God means by the Love and Charity he refers to in Scripture.
It's important to know the difference between our idea of love and what God means by Love and Charity, because Selective Reasoning can once again make us error in understanding the complete picture when we assume our ideas of love are the same as God's. Overemphasizing our ideas of love make us overlook the importance of other aspects of reality, such as the consequences of doing wrong, like allowing our children to behave badly because we love them would not result in their overall good.
God defined the rules of morality from the greater wisdom and knowledge he possesses so that our overall good can be maintained. They came out of his godly love for us and cannot be ignored if we also want to achieve the overall good, but sometimes when we misconstrue love, it makes us focus on the temporary kind, which burns hot flames of emotion but soon falls to shadows because it isn't fueled by what God made to be truly eternal - the rules and laws he declared for our overall good.
This inseparable combination of godly love and law is so important, in fact, that it is spelled out for us explicitly as The Greatest Commandments:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 23:37)All the Law and Prophets hinging on these commandments refer to the nature of God's morality being based on the broader sense of selfless Love and Charity that produce our overall good, but when the world misconstrues "love," they often replace God's rules of morality with their own, which ultimately ends up moving us away from the overall good, because our thinking does not take into account God's greater wisdom and insight. We must understand not only God's notion of love, but we also cannot separate that love from his law and morality. They go together and we must walk in together to achieve our overall good, our destinies.
A Solid Blueprint
The first chapters of this book showed how our structured reality is impossible without intelligent direction. In this chapter, I discussed further the need for intelligent direction for the great variety of life and our own existence. And now after talking about the deeper meanings of godly love and the overall good, we also see that our Free-State Reality was created so that we could have higher orders of intelligent existence (free will, morality, emotion and righteousness).
God is the originator of all order, logic, morality, and even love in our reality. The rules and logic were set for us by him, but people still relent and suspend belief of God despite the massive amount of evidence. They persist in seeing reality only with the probing sticks of science, which simply cannot provide the context to understand reality in its truest form.
Once again, this is understandable because our reality was made in a deliberately confusing way. Everything from the properties of the universe, to the apparent sufficiency of Darwinian Evolution, to the invisible nature of God and the spiritual world were designed this way for a reason.
The sheer vastness and amount of variety in the cosmos seem to support the sufficiency of random variance for our existence. The great variety and adaptation that DNA provides and the evidence in favor of Darwinian Evolution also seem to support an undirected existence. That is, on the surface.
It is only when we examine reality closer and pick apart its constructs, we find that things are very different. God and intelligent direction are required for all aspects of our reality to make complete, logical sense.
The very foundations of our reality and existence were laid down in this way to confound and test us. This is the same reason why Jesus spoke to the masses in parables or riddles using symbolism, but to his disciples he spoke plainly, as he told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'" (Mark 4:10)
This sounds like knowledge is being withheld on purpose and seems unfair, but we must be careful not to jump to conclusions and judge God, for we are so limited in understanding. When Jesus said this, he meant that the secret to the kingdom of God is so valuable that it is akin to a great jewel or treasure and cannot simply be given away, but the recipients must be tested and filtered.
I did not pass the filter myself, because science and my leaning towards "free thinking" had led me astray. I was overconfident in myself and in what obvious reasoning and the Blob of Science told me. However, our reality was designed to confound those who have an excess of pride in their own viewpoints.
Pride is so insidious and gives birth to so many other sins that our entire reality was fashioned to make the prideful stumble. Even the Twelve Apostles of Jesus suffered from this, knowing that they had knowledge of the kingdom of heaven and access to Christ himself, and so they asked who among them was the greatest:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"The seriousness of Pride is not to be taken lightly considering that so much of our true and hidden reality, the Big Picture of which I am explaining, was made to be concealed to the prideful. The conceit that pride in our own logic gives us is a dangerous vice, but God knew this, and "By wisdom the Lord laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place, by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew." (Proverbs 3:19)
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:1)
In other words, God saw what bad things Pride would bring right from the beginning, and so devised reality to filter it and created the ultimate reward for virtues opposing it - "Take your inheritance, the kingdom [of heaven] prepared for you since the creation of the world." (Matthew 25:34)
Humility is one of those virtues opposing Pride - "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). The reward of the kingdom of heaven was made for those who could humble themselves and show respect, not just to God, but to all their fellow humans. The first and second greatest commandments in which I ended the last section reflect this thinking, "Love the Lord" and "Love your neighbor," and further emphasizes how important this issue of controlling pride is.
Pride leads to conceit, stubbornness, selfishness, vanity, greed, deceit, blind ambition, and a frequent term in this book, Selective Reasoning. It is also a primary reason for the fall of one of God's most highly appointed angels, Satan. The angels were created with free will and higher intelligence just as mankind was, but Satan had so much pride that he thought he could trump God and replace him, and so began a war - that spiritual war, which was mentioned earlier.
The real confusing thing, though, is that God planned the war and created Satan for a reason. We touched on this necessity for "bad" during the discussion about omnibenevolence. Sin was molded out of the rules of morality in order for us to fully realize redemption, peace, and joy through experiencing suffering, hardship, and pain.
Sin is commonly understood as simply "wrongdoing," but actually it is the breach or transgression of God's laws, "for sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4 King James Version). On the side of sin, Satan was created as an adversary to God, a leader, ruler, and instigator for the side opposing God in this spiritual war, and with him came one-third of God's angels, who we now call demons.
This opposing side to the spiritual war has as much purpose in our reality as any other part, because just as we cannot know joy without sorrow, we also cannot truly know the good of God without seeing the other end of the spectrum. We also cannot experience the joy of conquering a formidable obstacle without having a force to oppose. Satan and demons are that force providing a nontrivial difficulty to overcome, which helps us mature into the likeness of God, having a higher level of wisdom and knowledge, that we were designed to become.
Now, of course, when some people hear about angels and demons they begin to roll their eyes, but recall in Chapter One that a survey found almost 70% of the general population believes that angels and demons are active in our world today. The reason for this large majority is very simple, and it is not because the population is filled with superstitious, irrational people.
Another aspect of the Big Picture is that the Bible is absolutely correct and everything it states about the spiritual world is also true. Not only do God and Jesus Christ exist but angels and demons as well. There are multitudes of witness accounts on this, which cannot simply be dismissed as I pointed out at the end of Chapter Two. You may wonder, though, why haven't I heard of or experienced anything out of the ordinary?
One reason is not that the spiritual world does not exist, but that experiences with the spiritual world are so out of the ordinary and can be so profound that people are afraid to discuss them out of the fear of appearing crazy or delusional.
There are other reasons why you may not have noticed spiritual things too, Selective Reasoning being one of them, but the truth is, the dark forces in this spiritual war would rather stay concealed and let you believe they do not exist because they work to influence us through the invisible mediums of emotion and thought, through sin and temptation, and through our natural biological tendencies for self indulgence and selfish pursuits.
The spiritual world works in very subtle ways most of the time, not just because of the invisible, intentionally confounding nature of our reality but also because of the importance of free will. This the "Coercion Factor" is another reason why the spiritual world is usually hidden to us and why God does not come out in broad daylight and announce himself... most of the time.
There are instances in the Bible where God and other spiritual beings like angels appear to man but in every case where the spiritual beings do not disguise themselves as only human, the people are absolutely frightened by the encounter. "Do not be afraid," is a common directive from angels, and anyone who has witnessed these beings to this day can attest that fear is often the first reaction in the encounter.
If God and spiritual beings were constantly shown to us and exhibiting their far greater powers and "unnatural" properties, our free will would be demolished, because we would be coerced through fear to obey God's directives. A coerced existence is not the kind of reality God wants for us.
He wants us to have free will and designed our Free-State Reality to accommodate it. God knew all the aspects morality and the possibility of great evil and suffering in creating our reality. That possibility is unavoidable with free will, but God also created things this way so that we can be taught what is right. The spiritual war is an aspect of that. It affects every single one of us whether we are aware of it or not, and it leads to our next section about how that spiritual war and the Big Picture affects religion as a whole.
Schematic of Religion
Absolutely confounding our reality is, and for good reason, but the major aspects of the Big Picture have only been touched upon. Another issue full of contention is that of one religion over others, but once the entire context of reality is understood, it is easier to see how religions relate to the Big Picture.
Easier to see, but still a complicated issue that is beyond the scope of this book. It is complicated because there is no absolute right and wrong, but varying degrees by which a particular religion conforms to the Truth of the Big Picture that Christianity gives us.
It may sound conceited to state that Christianity provides us with the best and most complete portrait of our reality, but when it comes down to it, it's a simple matter of statistics. There is no other religion that is backed up by so much real world evidence. No other that can explain with so much accuracy the nature of the spiritual realm and its interaction in our lives.
Recall our discussion about superstring theory in Chapter Two and that, like Christianity and God, it has enough evidence to be taken seriously. So much evidence, in fact, that the probability of it being true is at or near 100%. The evidence for Christianity is no different. There is so much corroborating evidence, especially in first hand witness accounts, such as shared in Chapters Three and Four, that it is reasonable to set Christianity as the standard by which other religions are compared.
This also means the validity of the Bible is at or near 100% and indeed God's Word was given to us for much more than to merely record witness testimony and human history. It is a divinely inspired work given to us as a tool and standard, a ruler, to measure Truth. It is another part of the Compass that encompasses everything, and as a guide combined with the Big Picture, it can be used to evaluate the other religions of the world.
Some religions are truly as atheists charge, fully concocted by mankind as a means to understand the universe, but they have little or nothing to do with the true nature of reality. Others are similar but were devised by unscrupulous people to manipulate and control people. The terms cult, brainwashing, and coercion are often used with these kinds of religions.
Still other religions come closer to the Truth, because they are based on human observations of the spiritual world through centuries of effort and exposure - basically a "scientific" probing of the spiritual realm. But just as scientific probing of the natural world overlooks essential aspects of reality, spiritual probing errors in the same way. I would consider religions that rely only on concentrated meditation and the realization of your "inner self" as fitting this description. Many aboriginal and tribal religions may also fit here. The biggest error they make is to overlook the overall good embodied by God's laws and morality. Walking outside of those standards have serious consequences that cannot be seen by spiritual probing and contemplation.
Then there are the religions that come very close to getting the whole picture but miss important aspects of it. The religion in which Christianity shares its history with, Judaism (the religion of Israel and the Jews), falls here because though the Israelites are the original chosen people of God, they do not acknowledge Jesus as the living and resurrected Christ - the prophet messiah they were instructed to wait for. This is a very important part of the Big Picture that we will examine later.
There are also religions that twist and distort the Big Picture. Islam falls here because it stems out of the roots of Christianity, but unfortunately, its nature signals a more misleading quality. It was founded over 500 years after the time of Jesus and after the latest writings of the New Testament in the Bible. It includes material from Judaism and Christianity, such as the Hebrew Torah (parts of the Christian Old Testament), the Psalms of David (also part of the Old Testament), and the Gospels of Jesus Christ (parts of the New Testament) but changes were made to their content in ways that are conspicuous. This is the first sign of misdirection, because I stated earlier that the Bible and God's Word were given to us as a guide so we can better understand reality and discern the truth.
One example of the twisting of original Scripture is that in Islam the child of promise from whom God's chosen people descend is Ishmael instead of Isaac. Both were begotten from Abraham (the man chosen by God to be the father of his chosen people), but Isaac came from a union with Sarah, Abraham's wife, while Ishmael came from a union with Sarah's servant, Hagar, whom Abraham took as a concubine.
Ishmael was born first, but the Bible clearly shows that the descendents of Isaac are the chosen people of God, the Israelites. The descendents of Ishmael, however, go on to found Islam through the prophet Muhammad, an interesting twist in the favor of Islam. There are many other changes and addenda to original Scripture that appear strategically made, and in the end, Islam paints a very different picture of God and its version of truth.
Another sign of misdirection is how the Islamic holy book came to be. Consider that the contents of the Bible were penned by dozens of people across thousands of years and across cultures, yet the messages of all those writings synchronize and reinforce each other. This is because all of it was directed and inspired by the one true God.
The Qur'an or Koran, however, was penned by one man, Muhammad, supposedly by revelations from the angel Gabriel in a period of about two decades. I say "supposedly" because how did Muhammad know he was actually communicating with one of God's trusted messengers? Muhammad simply took the spiritual being's word for it and did not test the spirit as the Bible instructs us to:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. (1 John 4:1)The need to test the spirits is simple. They can appear to us in many forms and the evil ones do so in ways to deceive, "for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Corinthians 11:14). In a world where a spiritual war is in place, we must be wary of the agents that oppose God, so as Apostle John says above, we must test the spirits.
All spirits from God will acknowledge that Christ came "in the flesh," meaning that Jesus was God incarnate (the actual Son of God) on this earth, and I can say that Muhammad did not test the spirit he was communicating with because Islam explicitly teaches its followers that Jesus was not God "in the flesh" or God's son but simply a man - a prophet of God, yes, but nothing more. We will see in the next section why it is essential that Jesus was not "just a man."
Muslims (the followers of Islam) do not believe Jesus was crucified or resurrected either in the same way that Jews do not. However, I am not lumping Jews and Muslims together as evil or deceived. Followers of other religions too cannot simply be lumped into one category or another because the entire picture is so very complicated.
Even atheists have their system of beliefs about how reality works, though, they recoil from calling non-belief a religion. Still, they do congregate in meetings and conventions to discuss and spread their beliefs and give each other support just as every other religious group does. I suppose that "free thinking" by yourself at home is quite lonely. I say that tongue-in-cheek, knowing full well the reality of things.
We are all more alike than dissimilar. Every one of us seeks out others who are like in mind for companionship and support. God made us social beings after all, so in dealing with all the different religions and viewpoints of the world, we must acknowledge our limited perspectives and submit to another command to us: Do not judge others.
Not only are there religions that are partially based on the truth, in which atheist beliefs are included, but there are also religions that have been created or infiltrated by agents of the ancient spiritual war, which twist the truth and fabricate false beliefs to oppose God. The fact that people have spiritual experiences and encounters from religions around the world is no surprise, because the spiritual world and war are real, but we must careful to understand the full context of reality before accepting one religion over another.
How then with this complex schematic are we to proceed in applying religion and belief to our own lives? We have an obligation to promote the truth because it is for the overall good, but it is not our place to judge people because we do not know their complete circumstances, nor do we know their hearts. Many people are simply born into a religion, including Christianity, and grow up in its culture without truly understanding its principles or how it was founded.
We also cannot pester or coerce others into following our paths or believing the truth. At most, we can share our experiences and make recommendations. It is up to the other person entirely whether they want to put that information to use. Instead, we should use the powers of intelligence that God gave us and consider what is most reasonable and logical. We can judge what is right and wrong in order to proceed on or correct the paths along our own life maps.
So in this way, I will not judge a Jew for not believing in Jesus, nor will I judge a Muslim for believing in altered scripture, nor will I judge a Buddhist for not believing in a God Creator. However, I can judge their beliefs, statements, and evidence, and point out the discrepancies in their viewpoints as it relates to the Big Picture. I will do this as I have been doing all along here and then simply move on. It is not our place to force belief or way of life on anyone.
A Learning Process
Recall earlier when I talked about our confounding reality - that Satan and bad parts of reality have a purpose. Satan, the serpent in Genesis, coaxed Eve into committing the original sin. However, Adam and Eve could not have committed the original sin if God did not give them the command to never eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
God told them that for a reason, as he does so many things. It was a test, and God knew exactly what he was doing and what would happen. It was done in order that not just Adam and Eve could learn but humanity as a whole. Our learning process is the last but most important part of the Big Picture.
Humanity and our reality was put into a state corrupted by sin and death after the original sin, so we could have an existence that forces us to know how good the good is by letting us also know the bad. But simply setting the rules of morality was not enough to make most people lead a life of righteousness. The passions of our blood simmered without restraint. All those little bubbles carried the sin from the heat in our hearts outward into the world, and our sinful natures kept surfacing.
The dark forces in the spiritual war were active from the beginning, as well, urging us further into deviant behavior, and so at this time, "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." (Genesis 6:5). Justice had to be maintained by God's standards and so he brought the Flood to cleanse mankind and the earth of the sin inflicting them. This punishment was the first in an effort to discipline mankind as a whole.
God only spared Noah and his family to repopulate the earth because he found Noah to be not just righteous and deserving to be saved, but also obedient to God's ways and direction. That can be seen by Noah's dedication to completing the ark by God's command, even though it took him nearly a hundred years to finish. Noah's righteousness and obedience allowed mankind to continue on through his family.
Then as mankind recovered and repopulated the earth, the next stage of God's plan in teaching us was put into effect. He would create a nation, a chosen people, to represent him and his best interests to the rest of the world. He chose one man, Abraham, to be the father of this nation, which eventually came to be called Israel.
Now God was working to create and nurture a chosen people, but why? The Coercion Factor. God couldn't keep coming down or sending angels to apply discipline and justice everywhere as we saw him do many times in the Old Testament. He needed human representatives on earth to know, apply, and teach his Law. This is an extremely important responsibility for these people because they were representing God himself and the overall good he intended for the whole of mankind.
God gave them many strict rules of conduct, rituals of cleansing from all types of sin, and harsh punishments for crime among them. He even gave them rules for hygiene to help quarantine and limit the
spread of infectious diseases, which was over a thousand years before
science came to the same conclusions after the discovery of how bacteria
and viruses spread.
All these rules were given so that many of God's invisible laws could be known by man and carefully recorded. The strict law governing the Jews (the Law of Moses) were also made so they could become as holy or as close to God as possible, as well as protect
them, but that isn't all. The sternness in the Law of Moses was also meant to test the Jews. Testing us is a persistent
feature in mankind's learning process and in the next chapter, we will
see that God continues to test us as individuals as well.
For the Israelites, God had come down and shown them miracles and powers beyond imagination as he guided and forged them into the chosen nation. He brought plagues into Egypt and freed them from slavery. He provided for them over the span of decades in the desert and helped them conquer the land that was promised to them.
It was a long and difficult journey that further served to teach and mature his people so their lessons could be taught to the rest of us. One of the main lessons was to fully trust God and his directions without needing the reinforcement of miracles to show his will. It is a lesson we need to take to heart today, because the working of grand miracles is rare, and we cannot develop complete faith and trust in God if we only obey him after getting powerful confirmations.
We must keep that in mind, because the Israelites were people just like you and me, prone to failure and forgetting. As generations passed, the miracles witnessed by previous generations faded and God's laws were often forgotten or overlooked. As a result, the Israelites committed the same unholy things as the other nations and were punished for it many times.
The Bible is full of judgment and punishment for the Israelites as well as other nations, but God knew the nature of man and had planned from the beginning how to deal with it. It was a plan to heal our sinful nature by getting us to focus on the only things that can maintain the overall good - God and his laws. His master plan to teach mankind was unfolding and he would not continue to just let the cycle of sinning and punishing continue endlessly.
Through his most trusted and devoted servants, the Israelite prophets or messengers of God, he told the Jews that someone was coming, a savior messiah, to bring a reign of prosperity and healing to the world. He laid out exactly how they could recognize the messiah and seemed to tell them everything they needed to know except when he was coming.
The Messiah delivered a healing mechanism called Grace. It stems out of God's love for us and blooms as an elegant way to subdue the thorns of our sinful nature. He knew all of us would fall to sin one way or another, which leads us into self-destructive paths whether we know it or not, so to clip the thorns of sin, God heals us by forgiving it completely and remaking us, so we can refocus on the overall good. Grace is a gift of mercy born straight from his omnibenevolence, and he grants it if only we simply acknowledge him correctly.
Why those terms for Grace? As a fully sentient person, God wants to be acknowledged and have fellowship just as anyone else does. However, through much of our history, mankind, the children he created, had rejected him. There are different reasons for this but an important factor is that God works subtly. He does not want to coerce belief.
We had wronged God by not acknowledging him and going against his best intentions for us. All of us would want an apology in the same kind of situation. The power to heal that a simple apology gives to both parties is worth much more than the inconvenience of humbling yourself or hurting your pride. The power of reconciliation can mend arguments and feuds that are centuries old. It can heal the invisible, yet deep, spiritual bond of fellowship with God that we were created for.
God knows this power is far greater than showing a firm hand and stout back, so he offers mercy for doing all the wrong things that move us farther and farther from him and our true destinies. But we must humble ourselves to accept Grace. It is a simple and elegant mechanism, but like God's other elegant devices, such as DNA and superstrings, getting us to understand and accept it would be much more difficult. We are willful children, so how could he get us to acknowledge him and accept Grace without coercion?
This is where Jesus comes in and why it is so absolutely important that he is not simply a man or prophet. Jesus Christ was and is God himself. All the correlating evidence about Jesus in Biblical testimony and external sources point to the truth that he was not just a son but
truly an extension of God, another part of himself. Through Jesus, God
allows us to relate to him directly and thereby acknowledge him.
He came down to our level as the Son of God, so we could understand him by our ways of seeing the world. God's "in the flesh" incarnation as Jesus also shows how completely he understands us as humans and our point of view. He isn't a detached parent, creator or king, but understands us from our perspective.
Acknowledgment was not the only thing he wanted, though. To be truly graced children, we also need to obedient. Again though, how could he get that message across without showing his strong arm? Only wisdom can take the place of might and overpower strength, and so the strong fires burning inside us because of sin would be squelched by the power of lightning from heaven.
God devised a powerful and passionate message for us out of his wisdom. The message would come through the things that Jesus did. It wasn't all the miracles he performed, all the healing, raising of the dead, and displays of supernatural power. These were only signs of his true nature, his omnipotence, and a reinforcement to us that he was indeed God. No, the critical thing he did was to make himself an example to us - the perfect example of how to attain Grace - through acknowledging God correctly, through obedience, and through sacrifice.
Jesus led a truly sinless life as only God could do. He, the Son, also acknowledged God, the Father, and was a completely obedient child. So obedient, in fact, that he went straight to the most excruciating death of the time (crucifixion) despite expressing fear of it the night before.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."Jesus was human at the time and so naturally expressed fear of his death. He prayed three times that God, the Father, release him from his duty. However, Jesus also knew the answer to those prayers and exactly what his purpose on earth was, so in complete obedience he took and drank the cup symbolizing his duty to fulfill destiny. It meant going to his death for all of humanity, for us, to atone for all our wrongdoing throughout history. God sacrificed His Son, Himself, for our sake even though he had done no wrong.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
...He went a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
...So he left them again and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:36)
He was innocent of all wrongdoing yet as a loving parent, he sacrificed his life in order for his children to continue on in a better way. This was an act of pure love and mercy as well as another example for us to follow. Not an example to die literally, but to be freed from sin and live spiritually, because Jesus was resurrected after his death, completely renewed and, literally, a shining example of how we too can be healed of the oppression from sin.
For that is why Jesus died and rose again. It was an act of sacrifice and rebirth, both literal and symbolic to make absolutely clear His message to us - that we too must sacrifice and be reborn.
This sacrifice and rebirth is another absolutely important aspect of implementing Grace and why we must believe that Jesus was resurrected in order to receive it. God made a New Covenant with us on that day of his symbolic death - a new Law for all of mankind that takes away the end result of living in breach of God's laws: being permanently bound in the eternal reality apart from God that is the complete opposite of life with God in his eternal kingdom.
The New Covenant of Grace makes God's eternal kingdom of heaven accessible to every one of us, no matter what we have done wrong. It shows his infinite love for us through mercy. How can a god that is not omnibenevolent offer such grand and overarching benevolence? He offers forgiveness for ANY and ALL wrongs we have done.
All we need to do is accept the terms for Grace - acknowledge God through Jesus Christ (believe wholeheartedly in him and what he did "in the flesh"). It couldn't be any simpler, but in actuality, those are just the first steps into the light of Grace because the full covenant terms for Grace are as follows, spoken by Jesus:
"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven." (Matthew 10:32)We see in those terms it is acknowledgement of Jesus in front of other people that gets us acknowledged in heaven. Faith and belief in Jesus alone is not enough to get us into God's eternal kingdom. We must also confess belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior to other people. This is a critical detail overlooked by the church, but it defines the true bridge into eternity with God. Without fulfilling these terms for Grace, it is impossible to grasp his eternal kingdom and be reborn into a complete relationship with God.
Grace forgives all our sin, but it is not like a "go free card" to do anything we wish. God decreed Grace as the new Law by which we should live, but the effort is not his alone. We must also continue to acknowledge God in our lives, minds, and hearts - change ourselves to align with his best intentions. To do that we must follow Christ (God) by the example he set in Jesus. This will be the focus of the next chapter, but we're not quite finished here.
The next chapter focuses on our individual learning process, but mankind's learning process continues as well. God had told Israel, the Savior (Jesus) was coming hundreds of years before he came, and we see throughout Biblical history that significant time spans elapse between stages of God's plan. In fact, we are nearing one of the next stages of mankind's learning process, some two thousand years after the time of Jesus. Why the significant time spans? Is God on holiday during all of this "down time?" Of course not.
The long time spans are not for God's benefit. They give us the time we need to grow and learn because it is the experiences, the lessons, we go through that are most effective in teaching us. For example, we cannot just write a story from birth. We must learn words and grammar first, then we can learn the tools of writing and storytelling. In this way, humanity itself needs to evolve before certain stages of the learning process can take place.
An example of this is when Jesus was asked about divorce, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" (Matthew 19:3) because under the Law of Moses divorce was allowed if the wife "becomes displeasing" to the husband because "he finds something indecent about her" (Deuteronomy 24:1), which allows broad reasons for divorce.
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matthew 19:8)
Jesus meant that broader terms for divorce were given in the time of Moses because their "hearts were hard" - they were not ready or mature enough for the Law that God intended from the beginning, which was that man and woman are not to divorce at all unless one of them are unfaithful.
Their hearts were too rigid, too stubborn, and their minds too set in their own ways to accept the ideal. We were simply not ready for many of the things God wanted for the greater good. And to this day, many of us are still not ready.
However, the beauty of Grace is that we do not have to be ready for everything that God wants for us all at once. He knows we will make mistakes and is willing to forgive them, but he also won't stop there. He promised us healing as well - "I have seen his willful ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him." (Isaiah 57:18). God will help us change ourselves so we are ready for what he wants of us, and how this happens highlights another reason why our reality is so confoundingly constructed.
Humility was mentioned before as a virtue opposing Pride and to submit to the terms of Grace is also to humble yourself before God. However, there is another virtue that opposes Pride. It is a virtue we will fully discuss in the next chapter and is the means by which God's promised healing comes. It is Faith - belief in God despite his invisibility in our lives, despite what science tells us, despite what the world tells us, and despite everything else that says he does not exist.
God is perfect in nature and logic, and the master of multi-layered communication and symbolism. He crossed every T and dotted every I. He filled in all the blanks to make reality appear as if it and we did not need him, but the truth is, in the great vastness of our universe, in the invisible, intangible nature of the spiritual realm, and in his very subtle ways, our Lord whispers a simple message:
There is more...
There is more to our reality.
There is more to our lives.
There is more to us.
There is more to God.
Continue into more...