Life in 4D

It amazes me how, in a world with billions of people, each of whom has a nearly identical set of genes, it can be so difficult to find someone on the same page as you when it comes to interests, beliefs, perspectives and priorities. I suppose each experience we undergo – every book we read, TV show we watch, childhood (or adulthood) interaction and life event, big or small – affects us uniquely, leading us to embrace or discard things, in order to build what seems like a sensible, enjoyable framework in which to understand and live life.

Throughout the course of three decades, but especially in the last few years, my own interests have diverged in three (or more) distinct directions, each of which seems to have increasingly less interaction with the other. I don’t like this, mainly because I feel as if nobody understands the ‘real’ me, but I’m not sure how to change it, or even if I really can or want to. I chose the title ‘Life in 4D’ not to suggest that my own life is particularly extensive on every axis, but because it’s how I’ve begun to visualise it: growing and stretching in different dimensions, with my identity becoming increasingly separated between them.

I recently imagined a scenario in which I came to a sudden and tragic end (don’t read into that too much), upon which my funeral was arranged. Realistically, I’d expect a few dozen people to show up here in Australia. There would probably be most of my church, a few friends from the school community, a few colleagues and maybe a handful from the gym. As representatives from each of these communities rose to share memories of how I touched their lives, I imagine the surprise that would be evident on some of the other’s faces as they heard about who I was from their point of view. I guess I thought by writing this blog post I could help clarify in advance, both for my own sake and that of the dear guests attending my untimely, hypothetical funeral, who I think I am and the various dimensions I occupy:

  • Fitness (The X Dimension): I’ve always liked sports, especially team sports of the not-too-serious variety. As my kids have grown more playful (and heavier), I began to realise that one game of casual soccer per week wasn’t going to cut it if I wanted to keep up with them; I needed core strength. This was my main motivation for starting CrossFit, because I wanted to build strength and CrossFit seems to be successful at achieving that, with the added bonus of having a team atmosphere, and no mirrors. I kept pretty quiet about my CrossFit involvement for a while, but as I’ve become more muscly and stuff I’ve had to explain it to people. I’ve achieved my initial goal of not being a pathetic weakling, but I continue to go a few times a week because I genuinely feel great after a hard workout. Despite all my gainz, I still hesitate to identity myself as a CrossFitter, or even a gym-goer.
  • Faith (The Y Dimension – see what I’m doing here?): I grew up in church. Some of it was pretty cool, some of it I didn’t like at all. I believed what I was taught, then grew up a bit and questioned it all, then grew up some more and chose to continue to believe that God is real, that there is meaning and purpose to existence and that Jesus is at the core of it all. He’s a fantastic teacher and his true followers can only be described as Top Blokes. He really demonstrated love in its fullness, being led like a lamb to the slaughter and forgiving those in the very act of doing it. I challenge anyone to read through the New Testament and find any ulterior motive to Christianity than love of the undeserving. If there is any quality you admire in me, it’s probably a result of my desire to be like Jesus. I identify as a Christian more than anything else, yet I rarely talk about this with people outside of Dimension Y, I guess because it’s kind of uncomfortable for many people.
  • Science (dangit, this one doesn’t cleverly suit the letter Z, nor does it start with an ‘F’): It can be challenging believing in God (particularly a fundamentally good one) and loving science, but I do. I love the study of nature, the pursuit of answers to perplexing questions, the beauty of physics and the eloquence of mathematical language. Professionally speaking I’m a geologist, which is how lots of people likely identify me; however, this is an aspect I consider relatively disposable, of least significance to me. Lots of people in Dimension Z and Dimension Y are sceptical of, or even hostile toward, one another, but I try not to be too hostile toward myself. There are so few people in my life with whom I share these two interests that I tend to mitigate the loneliness of it by reading like-minded bloggers like The Natural Historian and GeoChristian.

Fatherhood is the fourth dimension (Time), which suits it well because it keeps steaming forward no matter what I do, permeating all others dimensions. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a dad, and now that I am one, I love it. Everyone knows this about me, and it’s the only dimension I feel perfectly comfortable talking about with anyone (even blatant kid-haters). The other great thing about having kids is that they know me and accept me and love me just as I am. To them, I am a CrossFitter and a Christian and a Geologist and they love all of it, because they love me. No topic is off-limits or uncomfortable (yet) and they see no reason why I shouldn’t read the Bible, collect rocks and swing upside down on monkey bars as much as I like. Eventually they’ll find me super embarrassing, but I’ll make the most of that too.

Have I gotten any further ahead by writing this out? I don’t know. It’s natural, probably healthy and wise in some respects, to be selective about which aspects of yourself you choose to reveal to others (or the entire internet), but it’s funny to think that your Tim is different to Kathryn’s Tim, who’s different to my colleagues’ Tim, who’s different to my church family’s Tim and CrossFit Tim. And I’m sure they’re all different to how I perceive myself.

How about you – do you feel like you’ve selectively withheld aspects of your identity and now can’t seem to bring them all together with any one person or group? Perhaps this is more normal than I’m aware of. If you’ve made it this far into the post I’d definitely be keen to hear your thoughts on the matter.

’til next time,

Tim the Patriarchal Angel of Science and Gainz

Prayers, Plans, and Split Lips

Our church CityLight is going through a bit of a transition right now and as a result Tim and two other leaders are going to be sharing the teaching role. This is a new thing for Tim (but not the others) as well as an exciting and scary leap of faith. We’ve been praying a lot lately about our church, our role in the church, and future plans for our church.

This morning we were there early helping set up. Tim was planning on leading a session on personal testimony this morning for our Family Service (everyone in together including kids) when Eden, who was running around in her sock feet, slipped and had a fantastic face-plant on the tile.

This resulted in me scooping up all 20kg of her, running to the kitchen where Tim was, and trying to figure out where all the blood was coming from. We decided that it wasn’t bad enough for a trip to emergency but definitely a trip home for a non bloody shirt.

So here we are, Eden’s eating a popsicle while Tim’s teaching and somehow looking after Kate at the same time.

Thing’s don’t always work out how we plan them, often they don’t, but we have to trust that God has a plan better then ours, even if it involves split lips. This is definitely true for our church, we wouldn’t have planned how things are going right now but we can trust that God has a plan and rest in that knowledge.

So stay tuned as the next few months are bound to be full of prayer, plans, and hopefully no more split lips.

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Further Thoughts on Evolution and Theology

I’ve been mulling over this topic for a long time, but not in the way I used to. The question of “creation versus evolution” is no longer a pivotal, no-compromise-allowed, authenticity-defining question for me, so I can tackle it much more peacefully. In fact, tackle isn’t the right verb at all, because it’s more like the topic and I stroll amicably through the park, sharing our differences and laughing about the fiery, perhaps misguided, passion we had in our younger days.

There was a time not so many years ago when, having recently read a few Creationist books, I nearly took the leap and said, “H E double hockey sticks, in spite of all the amazing things I learned and accepted after a great deal of scrutiny during my geology degree, I think I might just decide to become a YEC after all.” And that’s what it would had to have been: a leap of faith, and even more substantially, a leap of doubt in the many many discoveries (and interpretations) I had come to appreciate from highly respected, seemingly honest and sincere experts across many disciplines of science.

In the end, I decided I was most comfortable believing what I felt convinced about in the history of scientific inquiry along with the biblical revelation on the condition of mankind. I guess one could say I’m just believing what I want to believe, but surely everyone knows that deep down, that’s what we all do. We generally do what we think is best, and we believe… well, what we believe.

The beauty of the ancient earth framework is that it forms a fantastic context for describing so many phenomena we see in nature. The incredibly weathered, archaic appearance of the continental shields; the spreading of mid-ocean ridges at particular rates that can be calculated – in the hundreds of millions of years – and matched to reversals in polar magnetism; the fascinating and unique biogeography we find in isolated populations, even on the continental (e.g. Australia) scale; these all fit naturally and elegantly into an ancient earth framework, but result in awkward challenges for 6-day creationists. I can’t even be bothered starting on radiometric dating, because I usually find the YEC arguments against it unbearable to read.

In the face of evolutionists’ success at explaining so many facets of what we currently observe in nature, YEC’s fall back on the need to alter the very rules governing the universe as we know it, and this is precisely where they focus much of their effort these days: on historically (often radically) different rates of radioactive decay, tectonic plate movement, magnetic pole reversals, erosion and sedimentation, and even “microevolution”. This is what makes me uncomfortable, because so much of it feels forced, based on conjecture, although an entrenched YEC would definitely reprimand me for referring to the opening chapters of the Bible as conjecture.

At the end of the day I feel like the Bible is telling us a couple of big-picture messages: that we and everything in the universe were created by God, and as his subjects – who can only come willingly – we have certain privileges and obligations. It shows us a way to live that is higher than the rest of the selfishly struggling created order, and – after demonstrating repeatedly how awful we are at doing so ourselves through the course of history – provides us with an example and enabler in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I have no problem accepting that God’s mechanisms are different to how the ancient Israelites/authors perceived them. I think what He’s done is fantastic and that the people who have sought and served him as he’s asked us to have made the most positive, fantastic contributions to humanity throughout history. There have been a lot of misguided, terrible actions undertaken in the name of Christendom, but you’d have to be completely ignorant not to recognize that these were absolutely incompatible with the teachings of Jesus, and that many more atrocities have been committed outside of a religious context.

Accepting evolution and God means you can cast aside all statistical arguments against the former, along with a lot of unnecessary philosophy that stems from an awareness of those improbabilities. You can believe that God did it all intentionally; not just the big events, but that he set it all in motion, cradled the universe in his hands as it formed and developed. And not just the universe, but even you individually. That all of what may appear to be random chances through the course of ancient, primordial history was leading up to you, sitting and reading this blog post and marveling at the vast depth of God’s wisdom and love. In retrospect I hope it’ll be made clear to us what the order was behind all of what we can only now perceive as randomness. It’ll be another reason for us to bow down and give credit/worship to the mastermind behind it all.

So that’s where I stand these days. I enjoy science, I enjoy faith. If you like these kind of topics I suggest you check out the GeoChristian (http://geochristian.com/) and Naturalis Historia (http://thenaturalhistorian.com/) blogs, both of which I enjoy reading on a regular basis. To borrow from Kevin at the GeoChristian blog, I’ll close with a simple phrase:

Grace and peace.

Worlds Apart – My Thoughts on Evolution, the Age of the Earth, and Interpreting the Bible

Hi everyone,

Today’s post is for the deeper thinkers among you, particularly those of a religious (Christian) persuasion, which I know are quite a few.  I chose the title ‘Worlds Apart’ because it’s a reflection of what’s been going on in my mind for many years, bringing together convictions from Christianity and ‘Science’ that I’ve left separate for a long time.  I obviously don’t believe science and faith are mutually exclusive, but some central beliefs amongst the scientifically minded have become so strongly associated with atheism/agnosticism that it is a form of reconciliation, bringing these ideas together.  It has been for me, at least.

Mainly, I want to talk about the age of the earth, evolution, and, consequently, my take on interpretation of the Bible.  I was going to put some pictures in here to break up all the text, but that’s just too much work!  So, straight back to words we go:

As most of you know by now, I go through phases of interest in scientific/theological issues.  Sometimes life is busy enough that I really don’t care whether God made the Earth in 6 days or billions of years; other times, I feel like this is an essential component of  my faith (not to mention work) that I ought to get sorted.  I think, for the first time in a long time – perhaps since I began studying Geology in 2003 – I’ve reached a point where it is has become more or less sorted, and that is a relief.

I recently read two books dealing with ‘Creationist issues’, but from opposite points of view.  One, called ‘Dismantling the Big Bang Theory’, was clearly written from the point of view that the Bible contains a literal, 6-day description of how the universe and everything in it was made.  The other book, called ‘Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose?‘, was a much more interesting read for me, and provided the inspiration for writing this post.  I’m not going to give a review of any kind for either book, I just wanted to point them out and then launch into a summary of my current thoughts and beliefs regarding these issues.

Let’s start with the age of the Earth.  When I first began studying geology at Acadia, I was fresh out of high school and had never really engaged in any discussions about earth history/evolution, since my friends and I weren’t particularly into biology or geology.  I arrived at uni thinking that there was no good reason to believe the earth was as old as people said it was, and that the Bible might as well be taken literally, since we could never really know.  My experience at uni taught me that a whole lot of things make sense in a context of billions of years, and the evidence for this kind of time frame is very compelling.  There are still bits and pieces that are difficult to resolve, and young earth creationists cling to these (in a way that strikes me as rather desperate), but overall the evidence vastly points towards a very, very ancient earth/universe, and I don’t think this perception is ever going to change. I don’t have time (or the desire) to elaborate on the supporting arguments without making this post horrendously long, but for the purpose of this post (it’s really a confession, in a way!) it will suffice to say that I’m convinced that the earth really is much older than 6000 years. If this is not the case, I think God has allowed nature to produce a very deceptive set of circumstances, which would not be in his character.

Evolution I found harder to swallow, at least on the species to species scale  (sometimes referred to as macroevolution).  I guess when it came down to it, the idea made me uncomfortable. But once again, there truly is overwhelming evidence pointing towards common ancestry (inheritance of genetic information) between us and, well, most of everything.  The ‘Creation vs Evolution’ book I mentioned above provides lots of great examples, and is written from a Christian perspective. Most of the counter arguments, such as irreducible complexity, are misguided in my opinion, as the rate of evolution is so slow – and the functionality of proteins so flexible – that this is not really an issue.  Inability to reproduce with mutated offspring (as in, “If the parents gave birth to a mutant child that was suddenly a new species, how could it every find a compatible mate?” isn’t an issue at all, since the species-to-species transition would have been so much more gradational than proponents of this mentality imagine.  I think the biggest obstacle I faced when it came to accepting evolution was my own lack of imagination (and just plain ignorance), coupled with my desire for it not to be true (i.e. denial).  Just because I can’t conceive of something I’ve never seen before doesn’t mean it hasn’t existed, because certainly unique creatures we’d never conceived of before have been found numerous times in the fossil record.  In short, once again, I think in order to be intellectually honest with myself, I have to concede that evolution was/is reality; in so many instances it provides the most sensible context for what we observe in nature, and to date it does not have any solid (scientific) refutation.

Without having to go back too far in time, let’s just consider Australian flora and fauna; they’re so radically different from elsewhere, which I’ve only come to appreciate since moving here.  The trees look, smell, and grow so differently from in North America.  The animals are almost entirely different, like they’re from another world: we’ve got all kinds of things with pouches (kangaroos, koalas, wombats and tazzy devils), heaps of venomous monsters, and other things that are just so weird.  Could the complete divergence of all these plant and animal species have occurred within the last 6000 years (or even less, considering post-Flood time)?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  And if it did, macroevolution would have had to occur at a much faster rate than that postulated by naturalists (i.e. agnostics/atheists).  Could God have simply placed all these unique animals and plants in this region from the beginning?  I guess he could have, but why would he do that??  Could they simply have been the only ones who migrated here following a global flood?  Possibly, if you have a great imagination…  but when it comes down to it, there’s no good reason to believe either of these scenarios, and surely God would have foreseen that having things turn out this way (intentionally or incidentally) would only serve to help deceive people into believing in evolution (were it false).  Anyway, that’s just one simple example to consider.

Does all this make God unnecessary?  Not necessarily.  I think there’s still something to the fact that nature ‘appears’ to have a purpose and a design.  Our existence alone points to the will/action of something.  The physical process of evolution doesn’t preclude God’s involvement in initiating, upholding, or whatever it is he did in the beginning and does “in the background” now.  The way I see it, we are studying his world, the work of his hands, and whatever can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt is likely true, and therefore  a reflection of his characteristics.  Evolution is incredibly cool, and that’s what made it most difficult for me when I encountered it in first year uni.  I thought it was going to be easy to discard, but once I began to understand it, I didn’t want to discard it; it’s so clever and elegant, and effective, and truly beautiful.

But does all this mean that I believe death existed before the fall?

Well yes… but let’s face it, if God made this world, death is here now, and as such he is already responsible for it.  He would have foreseen the coming of physical death when he created it, either as a result of sin or as a part of the process of life, and he chose to create in spite of it.  In that sense, death is a part of the created order, no matter which way you look at it.  I don’t see God as being any better for stalling the entrance of death into his creation until the moment of the fall.

I guess that brings us to more Biblical interpretation.  What about Adam and Eve, and Noah’s flood, and all the stories (particularly) in Genesis 1-12?  Well, it’s hard for me to admit this (because I don’t know how my friends and others who respect my opinion will take it), but I’d have to say I think they’re mainly allegorical, kind of like Jesus’ parables.  I’ve read these chapters so many times over the last few years, and they’re just weird.  The stories are presented strangely, and they just don’t strike me as historical transcripts. Was eating fruit really all it took to attain the knowledge of good and evil?  And a snake had to tell people about that? I think they are probably stories that were invented (or perhaps modified) to convey messages, understand origins, establish connections with God, describe his characteristics, etc.

All of this is what I find easiest to believe, all things considered.  This raises questions regarding redemption (Jesus’ role, pretty pivotal to Christianity), authority of scripture, drawing limits (“when do I interpret literally and when figuratively?”), etc.  I certainly don’t have answers to all the issues, but nobody does.  Most young earth creationists would likely argue that I’m putting “science” above God’s word, but that’s not how I see it, because I understand that there are different motives behind the writing of each.  I hope I’m right, but God will be my judge in the end.  The way I see it, I’m acknowledging truth wherever it is found, with the understanding that all truth must be compatible with God.

I’m not willing to abandon belief in God.  I think Christian community is the best there is in the world.  In the Newfrontiers churches I’ve been involved with, I’ve found people who are genuinely trying to work it all out, openly and in spite of their doubts and flaws.  I’ve always prayed, always relied on God through hard times and thanked him for good ones.  I believe he’s directed my steps through life and I trust him to continue doing so.  I like to pray.  I believe God is fundamentally good, in spite of my inability to understand all the decisions he’s made (or that he’s allowed to be made).  I trust his authority, although sometimes tenuously.

All the young earth creationist literature I’ve read leaves me unimpressed, like the author is pointing at blemishes on the surface of a generally beautiful and complete picture.  The evidence is vastly in favour of an old earth and in the gradual evolution of life upon it; if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be so many people embracing it!  I say we redeem these findings as God’s own tools and methods, since they are a part of his creation (what isn’t?).  All scientific discovery that is (reasonably) irrefutable should be incorporated gladly into our understanding of God’s works, since surely there will be nothing that truly contradicts him.  If some individuals have chosen to harness evolution in support of their faith (or lack thereof), that doesn’t mean they have exclusive rights to it.  People are always anxious to say, “hey, this could support what I already believe if I just present it this way!” (Christians do it all the time, too).

The founders of evolution and other “old earth” theories did not set out to undermine religion in some kind of vast, sinister conspiracy.  They meticulously compiled data and used their God-given reasoning ability to try and understand the physical origins of life and Earth as we know it.  They’ve had to be creative and exercise interpretive skills at times, but only to the extent that most of us can agree with them.  When the evidence is as strong as it is for evolution and an old earth, enough to result in nearly universal agreement among experts across many disciplines, it must be acknowledged that some authority is warranted.

Anyway, now you know a bit more about what goes on in my head.  It’s a relief to share this, and I welcome anyone else’s thoughts on the matter.  I don’t welcome pointless, unsupported tirades about whether religion is true or false or whatever, but I would like to hear a bit about others’ personal experiences working through this stuff.  Have you wrestled with these issues?  Are you still?

I hope my honesty doesn’t compromise any position I hold in your hearts, or in any church setting – let the discussion begin!

A Crisis of Trust

I think most people go through phases in which they question fundamental aspects of their beliefs.  Some people don’t experience this at all, and just go on blissfully believing what they were taught in Sunday School all their lives; oh, how I wish I was one of them (sometimes).  When questions arise, I’m the kind of person who tends to tackle them head on, but at the same time I’m very hesitant to commit to any particular answer.  It can be exhausting, sitting on a fence all the time.

Let’s see… where to begin?

I guess I began to question certain aspects of my religion around the time I realised that women were beautiful (approximately grade 1?).  Or maybe it was when I realized that not everyone believed what I believed, which might have been even earlier.  Either way, my questioning “phase” hasn’t stopped since.  I haven’t flat-out abandoned my faith, which is actually somewhat miraculous, but I’m about as skeptical as they come within the church.  The thing is, when it comes down to it, I want to be a part of the church and to believe what I believe.  And I have a pretty strong conviction that just about everyone actually just believes what they want to in the end, and backs up their position by selectively drawing from literature of a similar persuasion.

When I first learned the details of evolutionary theory (the origin of species by means of natural selection) in first-year university, I was unexpectedly impressed by its thoroughness.  I thought it was going to be some shaky nonsense that would be easy to refute, but as I read through my textbooks I found it quite well presented, consistent, and even believable.  This initiated a bit of a crisis of faith for me, since I found myself actually enjoying the study of evolution/geology, and more or less believing the content.

This experience led to a practically ongoing phase in which I’ve tried to reconcile belief in God/Jesus with belief in evolution, which the well-known atheistic evangelist Richard Dawkins has claimed is not genuinely possible, since the latter is fundamentally corrosive to the former.  The more I think about it, the more I’m tending to agree with him.  The problem is, at the same time, I’m not entirely convinced that I can accept 6-day creation (thus abandoning mainstream science).

It’s not that there aren’t enormous, physics- and biochemistry-defying holes even in the fundamental aspects of evolutionary theory.  It’s actually too easy to identify them.  It’s just that I empathize with both sides of the argument.  I understand the odd sort of comfort that could be found in this life being all there is to it, no strings attached to a non-existent soul.  But at the same time I find the evidence for the truth of the Bible (taken in context) and Jesus’ claims/actions to be stronger than what I’ve seen for an entirely naturalistic view of life.  So what’s making me hesitate to hop off the fence and fully onto conservative Christian terrain?

Basically, it’s Hell. H, E, double hockey sticks.

This is the crux of my crisis of trust (to use a religious metaphor/semi-pun).

It’s not a crisis of faith, because to be honest I don’t have any difficulty believing in God.  I think the evidence is abundant, in the existence of everything (anything), in my personal experience and that of friends and fellow believers, and in the fact that so many things in life are just so wonderful to experience without offering any conceivable survival advantage (granted, my mind may not be creative enough to conceive of the advantages…).

But I recently read this book on hell by Francis Chan, which was basically a rebuttal to Rob Bell’s latest book that stopped just short of stating that everybody goes to Heaven in the end, no matter what (apparently, although I haven’t read it since I couldn’t get into Bell’s earlier books).  I think the book was designed to strengthen Christians’ faith or something like that, but it only left me convinced of one thing: if you want to believe the words of Jesus, you also have to accept his stance on hell, which is pretty clear; that it’s not just a destination for Hitler and priests who molest children, but for any individual who doesn’t accept that Jesus is the literal incarnation of God, who died on humanity’s behalf to justify us before God, and was raised from the dead to demonstrate his authority.  Nobody else is exempt, even those who have never heard of him, or who are “good” people, or who go to church every Sunday out of habit/tradition but have never personally acknowledged him.

That is a tough pill to swallow, and that is why I’m having a crisis of trust.  The thing is, I honestly think Jesus is fantastic.  I love to read the accounts of his life (i.e. the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the things he said.  I love the way he stood up for the disadvantaged, dished out relentless, scathing criticism on the selfish and overtly ‘religious’, and laid down his life out of love for his friends.  He was amazing, really, a top notch kind of guy.

But why did he have to go along with the whole hell thing?  Couldn’t he have clarified that it was symbolic?  Does it really have to be this way?  Perhaps worst of all, do I even WANT to believe in a God who is just letting this happen?  I know there are answers (e.g. he’s letting it happen because his holy nature doesn’t allow him to be in the presence of sinners, so as a result hell exists.  And people need to be allowed the choice to love or reject God freely, because love that isn’t a choice isn’t genuine, etc.), but I just don’t know if I want to trust him on this.  I’ve been feeling like a victim of the holocaust who’s been offered an opportunity to operate the gas chamber his family and friends will be in.  I’d say “No, I don’t want to be part of your exclusive group that’s been set apart – I’d rather die with the ones I love”.  Kind of harsh maybe, but surely the holocaust is a mild analogy for hell!

If you’ve read all the way through this, I’m guessing you may have had similar questions.  Have you got resources to share on the topic?  Do you understand how I feel/think?   Like I said, if only I could be one of those people who cruise through life on faith!  Alas, it seems that personality trait just wasn’t in my genes…

 

 

Coincidence or Providence?

I don’t usually like to share private details from our lives, but times have been pretty tight for Kathryn and I over the last few months.  All of our needs have been met, but we’ve been gradually easing our way into more debt each month, in spite of the fact that we have quite a frugal lifestyle.  Around the end of March 2011, we realized that we had been falling behind in our giving at church – probably a foreign concept to some of you reading this – so we backtracked through the banking history and paid a lump sum tithe to catch up.  However, following that we went another long time… like 4 months, without giving virtually anything to the church.

It’s probably hard for some people to believe, but tithing is a pretty standard practice amongst Christians.  We give 10% of what we earn to the church, to support the salaries of the leaders, upkeep of the building, local and international ministries, etc.  It’s quite a challenge sometimes, but without it there wouldn’t be much of a church!

In the book of Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament, the prophet said the following after rebuking Israel for stinginess:

‘”Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.’

It’s one of the few places in which God actually exhorts people to put him to the test.  So after 4 months of failing to tithe due to concern over finances, I decided to take God for his word and put him to the test.  For the sake of privacy I won’t share the exact numbers, but I hope the story is just as effective without them; suffice it to say we’re not talking about a small amount here (think 10% of over 10 paycheques, so more than a full two weeks income).  We were quite a ways behind, so I resolved to give a certain amount of money per week until we were caught up.  This was during a time in which we were technically not even “getting by”, since we’d been dipping into credit more and more each week, but I just steeled myself for the consequences.

After 3 weeks of giving the chosen amount, I figured we must be getting close to caught up.  I did some calculations from our banking history, and using a handy dandy Open Office spreadsheet I determined that we still had a ways to go, but I breathed a sigh and decided I had to follow through – we’d already come so far!  With some hesitation, I logged into our online banking to see what our balance was, certain we were going to be well into overdraft.  After all, we had already been in bad enough shape just handling our everyday costs.

I clicked on the link to view the chequing account details, scrolled to the bottom, and laughed when I saw the balance: exactly the amount I had calculated that was left to give, to the dollar.

I guess some people would call this coincidence, but I’d rather take it as encouragement from God: “hey, you can do this – test me in this, see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven”.  The floodgates may not quite be bursting yet, but I think this gave me enough peace about the whole situation to proceed with confidence.

I hope this encourages someone else who may be struggling with generosity or trusting God.  He’s put the offer out there to test him on tithing, so why not take him at his word?

Faith & Willingness

I figured it was about time for some heavy duty thoughts, considering how many pictures of Eden have been up lately.  So tonight I’m going to try and dish out some coherent points on willingness to believe, an extremely important aspect of Christianity that I’ve had on my mind for a while.

I want to start with a reference to a Richard Dawkins TED talk on “militant atheism”- I watched this a while ago on a quiet night shift, after being impressed with how poor Dawkins’ Giraffe’s Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve example was for animal “design” being random and unintelligent (i.e. lacking design).  I gave a brief rebuttal to this idea in a previous blog post (in the comments section), so I won’t go into detail here.  It suffices to say that a short Wikipedia article contains more than enough information to form a decent rebuttal.

In the TED talk linked above, Dawkins discusses how religion and evolution are fundamentally corrosive to one another, which may very well be true.  If you’re interested, watch the whole talk, or if you’d like to see just the part I’m about to refer to, go to the 9:45 mark and watch for ~2 minutes.  Prior to this point, he discusses a quote from Douglas Adams, in which Adams challenged the notion that some things in life are up for debate (e.g. which political party to vote for, scientific theories) whereas others, namely religious dogma, are seemingly not.

Dawkins goes on to share a parody in which he compares how people come to scientific conclusions versus religious truths; essentially, he makes a mockery of the fact that religious people can accept something based on the fact that it’s been “revealed” to someone, whereas good scientists would never accept a conclusion based on such evidence (e.g. “it was privately revealed to Professor so-and-so that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs”).  If that summary wasn’t clear, go watch that part of the video (start at 9:45).

This brings me to my real point: not primarily that science and religion need to be considered “differently” – although this is true to an extent – but that Dawkins and Adams are absolutely right, in a way.  From their point of view, it is ridiculous to accept that any truth could be accepted solely on the grounds that it was revealed to someone, who then shared it with the rest of the world.  This is because in their worldview, God does not exist.  In a Godless context, his sarcasm and satire are quite clever, and his point are possibly irrefutable.

But what if there is a God?  What if he actually does speak to individuals, and not necessarily just guys like the Pope, but to regular ones like Abraham, David, and Elijah too (people who, in retrospect, we often call Biblical “heroes”).  The problem that Dawkins, Adams, and all atheists face in considering this possibility is mainly that they are simply not willing to do so.  Josh McDowell, in his information-packed book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict“, makes this point right in his introduction: if a person is not willing to accept something, even in light of the most convincing evidence, then there is no point in presenting the evidence.

Some of you may have heard the proverbial story of an atheist who goes on and on about how, if he was a Christian and really believed that hell was real, he’d get on his hands and knees, weeping and pleading with those around him to repent, forsaking all other responsibilities in order to save his loved ones from eternal damnation.  However, you and I both know that if someone has already determined not to believe in God or hell, all that begging and pleading would serve only to ruin any chance at ongoing friendship.  Everyone would assume you were having a nervous breakdown, and they certainly wouldn’t find the situation appealing.  I hope this helps illustrate the importance of the fact that willingness to believe is a crucial first step.

I believe unwillingness is the point at which Christians find most of their friends and neighbours in modern society – probably not truly convinced that there is no God, but not willing or interested enough to investigate the claims of the Bible.  There is evidence out there (not just revealed dogma), and a “true” Christian doesn’t just accept dogma anyway, but investigates the claims of the Bible, tests them in his or her own life, and eventually accepts them as a their own, but always partly on faith.  In a worldview where God is real, it’s absolutely okay to have faith, while also examining, criticizing, and engaging critical thinking skills (including thinking critically about the “religious” aspects of your life).

The writer of Corinthians, one of the books of the Bible, points out himself that the message of the cross is “foolishness” to those who don’t believe it, and that it’s actually counter to man’s wisdom and intelligence (just as we see in Dawkins parody).  The interesting thing is that, as Christians, we are able to understand that it can be ridiculous to accept that dinosaurs were wiped out based on the fact that “it was revealed to Professor so-and-so” yet at the same time we can accept that there are aspects of existence and reality that God has chosen to reveal through specific people and events in history.  The one (logical reasoning, scientific and philosophical experiments) does not preclude the other (revelation, teaching from God).

Sometimes I wonder which attitude is more open-minded, actually – the one that sees logical deduction as the only source of truth, or the one that understands the roles of both logic and revelation and where each can be applied.  That’s it for tonight, comments are welcome as always.