The Noah Controversy: Could that Flood have happened?

Russel Crowe starring in Noah
Russel Crowe starring in Noah

Today movie theaters worldwide open with one of the most anticipated blockbusters of 2014 – “Noah”.  Not only is there a lot of hype surrounding the movie but a lot of controversy as well.  Critics are questioning how faithfully the plotline follows the biblical account – with Russell Crowe (who stars as Noah) trying – and failing – to get the Pope’s personal stamp of approval for the film.  In the Islamic world several countries are banning the movie since it visually depicts a prophet – which is forbidden in most Islamic interpretations.  But all these hullabaloos are merely minor hiccups compared to a much deeper and longer-running controversy – did such a worldwide flood really happen?  That’s a question worth considering.

I have shown how multiple cultures around the world have a memory of a great flood leaving only a handful of survivors from which they descended.  There is anthropological and historical evidence for a ‘Noah’.  But are there any physical evidences of ‘his’ flood around in the world today?

The Power of Moving Flood Water seen in Tsunamis

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The Tsunami hits the coast of Japan in 2011

Let’s start by surmising what such a flood would have done to the earth.  For sure, a flood of that scope would involve unimaginable quantities of water moving at great speeds and depths over continental distances.  Large quantities of water moving at high speeds have a lot of kinetic energy (KE = ½ * mass * velocity2).   This is why floods are so destructive.  When we saw the pictures of the 2011 Tsunami that devastated Japan, we saw how kinetic water energy can cause extensive damage, easily picking up and moving large objects like cars, homes and boats – and crippling nuclear reactors in its path.

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That tsunami showed how the energy of a few ‘big’ waves could move and destroy almost everything in their path

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Floods and Sedimentary Rock

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A flooding river in Ecuador. The water is brown because the fast moving water is carrying a lot of dirt – sediment.

Thus, when water increases its speed it will start to pick up and transport sediment – particles of dirt, sand, rocks and boulders.

This is why swollen and flooding rivers are brown – they are loaded with sediment (soil and rock) that has been picked up from the surface over which the water is traveling.

Aerial view in New England showing brown flood water entering ocean. It is brown from the sediments
Aerial view in New England showing brown flood water entering ocean. It is brown from the sediments
sediment will sort into layers based on particle size even in a 'dry' flow
sediment will sort into layers based on particle size even in a ‘dry’ flow

When water starts to slow down and loses its kinetic energy it then drops this sediment which is deposited in laminar layers resulting in a particular kind of rock.

Japan tsunami 2011. Sediment laid down during tsunami flooding.2011-tsunami-sediment
Sediments from the 2011 Japan Tsunami showing pancake-like layers – this is the signature for sedimentary rock – rock that was laid down by moving water. Taken from British Geological Survey website

This kind of rock is known as sedimentary rock and is easily recognized by its trademark pancake-like layers that are stacked upon one another.  The figure below shows sedimentary layers about 20 cm thick (from the measuring tape) that were deposited from the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Sedimentary rock from Tsunami that hit Japan in 859 AD
Sedimentary rock from a tsunami that hit Japan in 859 AD. It also produced sedimentary rock about 20-30 cm thick. Taken from British Geological Survey website

 

 

 

 

 

Tsunamis and river floods leave their signatures behind in these sedimentary rocks long after the flood has receded and things have turned back to normal.

Sedimentary Strata around the World

So, do we find sedimentary rocks that are, in a similar way, signature markers for the Noahic deluge that the Bible claims happened?  When you ask that question and you start to look around you will see that our planet is literally covered in sedimentary rock.  You will notice this type of pancake-layer rock on highway cut-a-ways.  What is different about this sedimentary rock, when you compare it with the sedimentary strata that were produced by the devastating tsunami of Japan in 2011 is the sheer size – both laterally across the earth and in vertical thickness of sedimentary layers.  Below are some photos that I have taken of sedimentary rocks as I have traveled.

Mountains of Sedimentary rock in hinterlands of Morocco
Sedimentary formations in the hinterlands of Morocco that extend for many kilometers and are hundreds of meters thick vertically
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Sedimentary rock in Joggins, Nova Scotia. The layers are tilted about 30 degrees and are stacked vertically more than a kilometer deep.

 

The escarpment in Hamilton Ontario shows vertical sedimentary rock many meters thick
The escarpment in Hamilton Ontario shows vertical sedimentary rock many meters thick. This is part of the Niagara escarpment which extends for hundreds of miles.

 

This escarpment extends for hundreds of miles. This sedimentary formation covers a good part of North America
This sedimentary formation covers a good part of North America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedimentary formations on a drive through US MidWest
Sedimentary formations on a drive through the US Midwest
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Note the cars (barely visible) for scale to compare with these sedimentary rocks.

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The sedimentary formations go on and on…

Bryce Canyon Sedimentary Formations
Bryce Canyon Sedimentary Formations in US Midwest

 

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Towering Sedimentary formations on drive through US Midwest

 

Continental extent of the sedimentary strata in US Midwest. Miles thick and hundreds of miles wide
Continental extent of the Sedimentary strata in US Midwest. Miles thick and extending laterally for hundreds of miles. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

So if one tsunami which caused such devastation in Japan left sedimentary layers measured in centimeters and that extend inland a few kilometers, what mechanism explains the gigantic and continental-in-scope sedimentary formations found almost over the entire globe (including on the ocean bottom) that are measured vertically in hundreds of meters and are measured laterally in thousands of kilometers?  Could these sedimentary rocks be the signature of Noah’s flood?

Rapid Deposition of Sedimentary Formations

No one argues that the planet is not covered in sedimentary rock of unbelievably massive scope.  The question is whether these sedimentary rocks were laid down by one event (i.e. Noah’s flood), or whether these massive formations were built up over time through a series of smaller events (of the scope of the tsunami in Japan of 2011) that were separated by significant intervals of time. The figure below illustrates this other concept.

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed
Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed apart from Noah’s flood

As you can see, in this model of sedimentary formation (technically known as neo-catastrophism) a series of high impact sedimentary events are separated by large intervals of time.  These events add sedimentary layers onto the previous layers and so, over time, the huge formations that we see around the world today are built up sequentially.

Soil Formation and Sedimentary Strata

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Sedimentary rock in Prince Edward Island. We can see that a soil layer has formed on top of it so we know that some period of time has elapsed since these strata were laid down by flood water

Do we have any real-world data that can help us evaluate between these two models?  Actually, it is not that hard to spot.  On top of many of these sedimentary formations we see that soil layers have formed.  Thus a physical and observable indicator of time passage after a sedimentary event is soil formed on top of it.  Soil is characterized by horizons (called A horizon – often dark with organic material, the B horizon – with more minerals, etc.).

Thin layer of soil (and trees) has formed over sedimentary rock that has been exposed for a time
Thin layer of soil (and trees) has formed over sedimentary rock in US Midwest showing that these sedimentary rocks were laid down some time ago.
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Soil layer clearly visible on top of sedimentary rock in US Midwest. These rocks were thus laid down sometime ago.

Sedimentary strata laid down to form a new ocean bottom will also soon be marked with life signs.  Wormholes, clam tunnels and other signs of life (known as bioturbation) provide tell-tale signs of life and of the passage of time since the strata were deposited on the sea floor.

bioturbation
Life on the bottom of shallow seas will, over a rather short interval of time, reveal its telltale markers. This is called bioturbation

 

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed
Testing the model of catastrophe sequences by looking for evidence of soil formation or bioturbation at the ‘Time passes’ planes

Armed with this insight we can see if we find evidence of soil formation or bioturbation at these ‘Time passes’ borders in the strata formation.  After all, this model is saying that at some point these ‘Time passes’ boundaries were exposed surfaces for significant periods of time either on land or under water.  In that case we should expect some of these surfaces to have developed soil or bioturbation indicators.  When these time boundary surfaces were buried by subsequent sedimentary events the soil or bioturbation would have likewise been buried.  Take a look again at the photos above and below.  Do we see any evidence of either soil formation or bioturbation?

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No evidence of soil layers or bioturbation in this sedimentary formation in US Midwest.

There is no evidence of soil layers or bioturbation in the above photo or the one below.  Look again at the Hamilton escarpment photo and you will see no evidence of any bioturbation or soil formation.  From that data the bottom of these formations were laid down almost equivalent in time from the top.  Yet these formations all extend vertically about 50-100 meters.

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Folding of Sedimentary Rocks

 

Sedimentary strata formed in 1980 from Mount St Helens had already become brittle by 1983
Sedimentary strata formed in 1980 from Mount Saint Helens had already become brittle by 1983. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

Sedimentary strata, when they are laid down in moving water are initially permeated with water and thus they bend very easily.  They are pliable.  But it only takes a few years for these sedimentary strata to dry out and harden and when that happens they become brittle as was learned from the events of Mount St Helens eruption in 1980 followed by a 1983 lake breach.

When brittle rock is bent it snaps. This principle is shown

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Sedimentary rock gets brittle very quickly. When brittle it snaps when bent.

 

in the figure on the side.  We can see this sort of rock failure in the Niagara escarpment.  After these sediments were laid down they became brittle and when an upthrust then pushed up some of these sedimentary layers they snapped under the shear stress, forming the Niagara escarpment which runs for hundreds of miles.  From this evidence

Niagara escarpment
Niagara escarpment is Sedimentary Rock that broke under shear stress and was thrust up in a fault.
Niagara escarpment is an upthrust extending hundreds of miles
Niagara escarpment is an upthrust extending hundreds of miles

We know that the upthrust that produced the Niagara escarpment happened after these sedimentary strata became brittle so there was some time lapse between the deposition of these sedimentary strata and the upthrust which produced the escarpment.  There was at least enough time between these events for the strata to harden and become brittle – which does not take eons of time, but does take a couple of years at least.

The photo below shows large sedimentary formations that I photographed in Morocco.  You can see how the strata formation bends as a unit.  There is no evidence of the strata snapping either in tension (pulled apart) or in shear (sidewise stress).  This whole formation must have still been pliable when it was bent.  But if it takes only a couple of years for sedimentary rock to become brittle. This means that there can be no significant passage of time between the lower layers and the upper layers in this formation.  If there had been ‘time passage’ in these layers then the earlier layers would have become brittle and would have snapped rather than bent when the formation was contorted.

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Sedimentary formations in Morocco. The whole formation bends as a unit showing that it had still been supple (rather than dry and brittle) when it was bent. This indicates that there is no time passage from the bottom to the top of this formation.
Schematic of upthrust at Grand Canyon showing it was raised vertically about 5000 feet - one mile
Schematic of monocline (bending upthrust) at Grand Canyon showing it was raised vertically about 5000 feet – one mile. Adapted from “The Young Earth” by Dr. John Morris

We can see the same type of bending in the Grand Canyon.  At some point in the past there was a bending upthrust (technically known as a monocline), similar to the Niagara escarpment, that raised one side of the strata one mile vertically up (this you see from the elevation difference of 7000 ft compared to 2000 ft on the opposing sides of the upthrust).  But here the strata did not snap (like the Niagara escarpment did).  Instead it bent at both the bottom and the top of the formation, indicating that it was still pliable throughout rather than brittle through the formation.

Bending that occurred at Tapeats, in the low layer of Grand Canyon sedimentary formations
Bending that occurred at Tapeats, in the low layer of the Grand Canyon sedimentary formations. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

This indicates that the time interval from the bottom to the top of these strata has an upper limit of a couple of years (the time it takes for sedimentary strata to become hard and brittle).

Noah’s Flood vs. Flood on Mars

The idea of Noah’s flood having actually happened is, of course, quite controversial and in this one article I cannot cover all the issues that it raises which I hope to do later.

Sedimentation and flooding on Mars?
Sedimentation and flooding on Mars?

Mars sediment 2 But at the very least, it is instructive to consider an irony in our modern day.  Because of the channeling and evidence of sedimentation that are visible on Mars, it is actively postulated that Mars was once inundated by a huge flood.  The big problem with this theory is that no water has ever been discovered on the Red Planet.  But for the Earth, though it is 2/3 covered by water – deep enough to cover our whole globe to a depth of one mile if the oceanic trenches were raised and the land mountains smoothed down so the world had less topographic variation – and though it is covered with continental sized sedimentary formations that by physical and observable evidence seem to have been deposited rapidly in a devastating cataclysm, it is almost considered heresy to postulate that any such flood has ever occurred on this planet.  Is that not a double standard?  Though we may look at this Russell Crowe Noah movie as only a reenactment of a myth written as a Hollywood script, perhaps we should look and consider whether the rocks themselves are crying out about this deluge story written on scripts of stone.

Christmas is Coming! But not in the way you are thinking…

Think beyond the annual cycle of Christmas preparations and associated hoopla.  This event was foreshadowed in history, even at the dawn of human history – but in ways you will miss if you dial in only on the frequency emitted by society.

You can see this fore-telling by looking in the (seemingly) most unlikely of places – the dialogue between Jesus and the devil in his wilderness temptation.  See how this starts us on a trail leading to the dawn of history, taking your Christmas to a whole new level.

 

Bones, Skeletons & Zombies come alive: Prophetic Halloween before our eyes

Sam Harris vs. the Valley of Dry Bones

We are now in the time of year where the stores are full of costumes of the dead, of spirits, of witches and the like. Yes, Halloween is coming and for many it’s the time to have cheeky fun at parties with role-plays or costumes of skeletons coming to life, or dead bodies walking around, all in good fun. Michael Jackson’s Thriller will be played, watched and danced to around the globe, because it’s perfect for Halloween.

But long before Thriller was conceived, and even long before Halloween itself was celebrated, an eccentric man penned some vivid images that fit perfectly for Halloween of today. One can’t help but wonder if Michael Jackson had not read these lines as he  choreographed Thriller – yet they were written about 2500 years ago!

The Valley of Dry Bones (with skeletons and corpses too)

This eccentric man was given a tour in a valley ‘filled with bones’. Read how he described it:

… the bones covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. … Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them…. Then he said … “Come, O breath, from the four winds” … They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

A man whisked away to a valley full of bones which start to rattle and hum as they join together forming skeletons … and then dead flesh and skin starts to envelope the lifeless skeletons so that they become corpses. Then the wind blows wildly from all directions and the bodies all come to life and they stand up to become a great army.

This sounds like a script from a horror movie ready to open up at Halloween!

The Valley of Dry Bones – the Eternal Spirit’s prophetic message through Ezekiel

But the man who wrote this script was not interested in sending shivers down our spines. He was engaged in something much more serious. He claimed that this script was a message from God Himself. And remarkably, the events of history have played out such that this message was meant for us who are living today! How so?

The man in question is Ezekiel who lived ca. 550 BC and along with this vision (from Ezekiel 37 – read complete chapter here) he explicitly provided its meaning. He wrote:

Then [God] said to me, “… these bones represent the people of Israel. … I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel…. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’”

… I will gather the people of Israel from among the nations. I will bring them home to their own land from the places where they have been scattered. I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms. They will never again pollute themselves with their idols and vile images and rebellion, for I will save them from their sinful backsliding. I will cleanse them. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:11-23)

In other words these bones that Ezekiel saw in a vision 2500 years ago represented the Jewish people. This is not my interpretation – Ezekiel explicitly said so himself. When Ezekiel wrote these words the Jews had previously been divided into two political nations but had now gone into exile to Babylon as a conquered and ruined people. Just as every bone, by definition, has previously been a living organ in a living body, but is now ‘dead’, the Jews of that day saw themselves as formerly alive but now ‘dead bones’. Then Ezekiel had this vision of their eventual return to life. The Jews in his day did return from the Babylonian exile a few decades after his vision, but he was not writing of that since it was a return only from Babylon, and they returned only as a province dominated within a vast Empire. They did not come alive as a nation.

The Return of the Jews

In his vision Ezekiel foresaw a return from the ‘nations’ and ‘places where they had been scattered’ back to that same land that they had been ejected from, where they would be ‘one nation’ with their own ‘king’ or ruler. That did not happen until thousands of years later when the modern state of Israel was forged from a United Nations resolution in 1948. Only then did the Jews finally get a self-governing nation with their own ruler. In the intervening decades Jews have literally been returning (which they call aliyah) from ‘nations’ all over the world where they have lived since being sent into their second exile beginning when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 AD. Since 1948 more than 3 million Jews from over 90 countries (which is almost half of all the countries in the world) have arrived in Israel. For a nation of 7 million people, having 40% of the population immigrate from almost half the countries of our globe in the span of 65 years, after an exile of 1900 years, is nothing short of remarkable. What is even more remarkable is that Ezekiel ‘saw’ it in his vision 2500 years ago.

The Return – in context of Jewish History

The timeline below showing the last 3500 years of Jewish history illustrates this. Starting from the time of Moses the Jews have alternated between three different national dispensations indicated by the different color coding.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring Ezekiel & Isaiah
Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring Ezekiel & Isaiah

In the yellow periods, the Jews lived in the land promised to Abraham, but were not self-ruled from Jerusalem, their traditional capital. The first yellow period, that of the Judges, saw the Jewish people live independent from foreign powers, but without centralized rule, and with no Jerusalem.

This was followed by the green period, the golden age of Jewish history, where the dynasty of kings descending from David ruled from Jerusalem. But this ended in disaster when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and forced the Jews into exile in Babylon – the first red period. This is the time that Ezekiel lived (as well as Jeremiah and Daniel), and the time when the Jewish people saw themselves as ‘dead bones’. Though they did return after a 70 year exile, they were not self-ruled from an independent Jerusalem. Rather they were provinces dominated within the successive Persian, Greek and Roman Empires. They were back to ‘yellow’.

This continued for over 500 years and ended when the Jews revolted against Roman rule but lost the revolt. Jerusalem was once again burned and destroyed, and the Romans this time exiled the survivors across the many nations in the larger Roman world. They were back to ‘red’ and they lived this way for almost 1900 years.

‘Dead Bones’ Coming Alive in Front of our Eyes

Until our day! With the re-birth in 1948 the dead bones started to rattle together into skeletons. With the subsequent gain of Jerusalem in 1967 as their capital, flesh and skin started to envelope the skeletons. And now every year thousands of Jews are returning from all the nations around the world. They are returning and making deserts bloom into lush farmland; they are returning and rebuilding ruined cities; they are learning Hebrew their ancient tongue; and more and more are considering again their ancient God revealed in the Hebrew Old Testament as Elohim and as YHWH. We can see the dead zombie coming back to life in front of our eyes, in the stages envisioned by Ezekiel those thousands of years ago.  And just like Ezekiel described, it is happening with all the confusion, splitting and dividing between peoples, like the violence caused by the rushing of the ‘four winds’ of the compass.  If you doubt me, just listen to the world news.

Isaiah predicts the Jewish renaissance too

It was not just Ezekiel who predicted this. Another Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, about two hundred years before Ezekiel saw that same day when (as he put it):

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to bring back the remnant of his people— those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt; in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam; in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.

He will raise a flag among the nations and assemble the exiles of Israel. He will gather the scattered people of Judah from the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12-13)

Notice how Isaiah (see where he sits on the timeline) saw past the first time the remnant of exiles came back (the end of the first short red period) and predicted specifically of a second time when the remnants would be regathered “from the end of the earth”.  He saw the end of the second ‘red’ period – the very period in which you and I are now living and can see unfolding with our own eyes.

So how did Ezekiel and Isaiah foresee this so spot on? How did Isaiah even know there was going to be a ‘second’ regathering? How could they foreknow that the Jewish people would survive as a distinct people group while living as exiles in these nations around the world? After all, I see here in Canada how the many immigrants lose their ethnic and language identity after only about three generations. The Jews kept theirs for millennia. Against those odds, the promise of an enduring people which was given to Abraham should long ago have been snuffed out.

Perhaps it really is true that this Elohim or YHWH, who, according to Ezekiel, gave this vision of dry bones, really is there, watching, working, and willing that things will unfold as He promised, even as it seems so impossible. The thought that that Spirit may really be working in our midst in just this way is almost spooky.

Sam Harris objects

But some of those who have reflected on this are unconvinced. Prominent among them is Sam Harris. Here is how he phrases his objection:

“But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as ‘In the latter half of the 20th century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers-the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus-and this system shall be called the internet” The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you.” Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation. p.60

Harris derides the prophetic foretelling in the Bible as being merely coincidental. In his view, if you ‘predict’ something vague enough (regathering of Jews to Abraham’s Promised Land), eventually it will happen. He would be impressed if Ezekiel had predicted by timing it in the 20th century and linked that prediction back to Leviticus. That would be a Sign of Real Omniscience!

Unfortunately for Harris, he has not done his homework. Because Ezekiel, in another really bizarre setting, does make a timing prediction – to the 20th century – and, almost as if there is some Divine humor in addressing Harris’s taunt, links it back to … you guessed it – Leviticus. How? What kind of timing? We pick it up in a later post, and when you see it, it’ll send a shiver down your spine better than any scary Halloween spectacle can.

Was there a Noah? (Part 2) – Testimony of ‘weeks’ in Calendars

Why are there many languages & where does the ‘week’ come from?

In my last post I looked at the convergence between the myriad of flood accounts that are indigenously preserved around the world with the account of Noah in the book of Genesis of the Bible. The Vedic account even goes so far as to say that Manu (the Vedic ‘Noah’) had three sons from which all humanity has descended. As I argued, the theory of one account borrowing from another is too simplistic to explain this remarkable congruence of the accounts. So why do we see these convergences? Here’s an explanation to consider.

The Tower of Babel – After the Flood

Following the account of Noah, the book of Genesis in the Bible goes on to record the descendants of his three sons and to state that “From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.” (Genesis 10:32). But how did this ‘spreading out’ occur?

The Genesis account lists in detail the descendants of these three sons of Noah as you can read here. The account then goes on to describe how these descendants disobeyed God’s directive, who had commanded them to ‘fill the earth’ (Genesis 9:1), but instead these people remained together in Mesopotomia to build a tower (read the table of nations here). The account states this was a tower ‘that reaches to the heavens’ (Genesis 11:4). This means that these first descendants of Noah were building a tower for the purpose of worshiping bodies in the heavens (sun, moon, planets etc.) instead of worshiping the Creator.

It is well-known that star worship originated in Mesopotamia (where these descendants were living) and that it then spread all over the world. A Religion Dictionary reference states that star worship:

This was certainly so in Mesopotamia in the last two millennia bce [10: i–iii ] and in Central America among the Maya [9: v ]. Star-worship probably underlies the prehistoric megalithic astronomical sites of northern Europe [9: ii–iii ; e.g. Stonehenge] and similar sites in North America [9: iv ; e.g. the Big Horn medicine wheel]. From Mesopotamia star-worship passed into Graeco-Roman culture

So instead of worshiping the Creator, Noah’s descendants worshiped planets and stars. The account then says that to frustrate this, so that the corruption of worship would not become irreversible, God decided to

…confuse their language so they will not understand each other. (Genesis 11:7)

As a result of this, these first descendants of Noah could not talk with and understand each other and thus in this way the Creator

…scattered them from there over all the earth (Genesis 11:8)

In other words, once these people could no longer understand each other, they migrated away from each other, within their newly formed linguistic groups, and thus they ‘scattered’. This explains why the different people groups of the world today speak in very different languages, as each group spread out from their original center in Mesopotamia (over many generations) to the places where they are found today. Thus, their respective histories diverged from this point onwards. But each language group (which formed these first nations) had a common history up to this point. This common history included the  flood event (of Noah), and thus the convergence of the flood accounts is therefore due to the different peoples remembering that event in their respective histories.

The Testimony of the ‘week’ in the Hindi Calendar

It was when I worked and traveled in India that I noticed a testimony to this explanation which I found to be rather remarkable – but is easy to miss. It does not record a dramatic event (like the flood) but it is a rather mundane detail, therefore not readily noticed, but it is peculiar enough to demand an explanation. When working in India I saw the many Hindi calendars. I noticed that they were different than western calendars.

Hindi Calendar - the days of the month go top to bottom, but there is the 7-day week
Hindi Calendar – the days of the month go top to bottom, but there is the 7-day week

The obvious difference to me was that the calendars were constructed so that the days would go down columns (top to bottom) instead of across rows (left to right), which is the universal way of demarking calendars in the West. Some calendars had different numbers than the western ‘1, 2, 3…’ since they used the Hindi script (१, २, ३ …). I could understand, and even expect, such difference since there is no ‘right’ way to structure a calendar. But it was the central convergence – in the midst of these differences – that struck me. The Hindi calendar used the 7-day week – the same as in the Western world. Why? I could understand why the calendar was divided into years and months like the Western one since these are based on the revolutions of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth – thus giving astronomical foundations universal to all people. But there is no astronomical time basis for the ‘week’. When I asked people they said it was custom and tradition that went far back in their history (how far back no one seemed to know).

… and the Buddhist Thai Calendar has a ‘week’

I also had the opportunity to live and work in Thailand. While there I would view their calendars.

Thai Calendar goes left to right, but has a different year than in West - but still that 7-day week
Thai Calendar goes left to right, but has a different year than in West – but still that 7-day week

Being a Buddhist country, Thais mark their years from the life of the Buddha so that their years were always 543 years greater than in the West (ie the year 2013 AD is 2556 in BE –Buddhist Era – in the Thai calendar). But again they also used a 7-day week. Where did they get that from? Why are calendars that diverge in so many ways across different culture and language groups based on the 7-day week when there is no real astronomical basis for this calendar time unit?

Testimony of ancient Greeks on the ‘week’

These observations on Hindi and Thai calendars pushed me to see if the 7-day week was evident in other ancient cultures. And it is.

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived around 400 BC is considered the father of modern medicine and he wrote books, preserved to this day, recording his medical observations. In doing so he used ‘week’ as a time unit. Writing about the growing symptoms of a certain disease he stated:

The fourth day is indicative of the seventh; the eighth is the commencement of the second week; and hence, the eleventh being the fourth of the second week, is also indicative; and again, the seventeenth is indicative, as being the fourth from the fourteenth, and the seventh from the eleventh (Hippocrates, Aphorisms. #24)

Aristotle, writing in the 350’s BC uses the ‘week’ regularly to demark time. To cite one example he writes:

The majority of deaths in infancy occur before the child is a week old, hence it is customary to name the child at that age, from a belief that it has now a better chance of survival. (Aristotle, The History of Animals, Part 12, ca 350 BC)

So where did these ancient Greek writers, far removed from India and Thailand, get the idea of a ‘week’ such that they used it so unassumingly, quietly but obviously expecting their Greek readers to know what a ‘week’ was? Remember, Hippocrates and Aristotle lived long before the Old Testament was translated into the Greek Septuagint (ca 250 BC) so they – and their readers – did not borrow it from Genesis. Perhaps there was an historical event which all these cultures had in their past (though they may have forgotten the event) which established the 7-day week?

The Genesis account does describe just such an event – the initial creation of the world. On that basis the first humans used, and then passed on to succeeding generations this 7-day cycle in the calendar. When mankind was subsequently scattered by the confusion of languages these major events that preceded this ‘scattering’ were remembered in different ways by some of these different language groups, including the Vedic promise of a coming sacrifice, the accounts of the cataclysmic flood, the primeval events of Genesis embedded in the Chinese calligraphy – and now the more innocuous 7-day week. The widespread and ancient 7-day week, at the very least, argues for the fact that this 7-day cycle gained prominence early in human history, long before the Biblical account started exerting its influence outside the Jewish nation.

Even our names for the seven days of the week (Sunday, Monday, etc.) are not Biblically derived. Each name for the days of the week reference the seven heavenly bodies visible to the naked eye (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) which the different cultures, from the Greeks, to the Romans and the ancient peoples of the East worshiped. The current names of the days of the week are living artefacts of the corruption surrounding the events of the tower of Babel which preceded mankind’s dispersal, when the descendants of Noah wanted to build a tower that ‘reaches to the heavens’.  But the 7-day cycle itself was preserved through this corruption to point even further back – to Noah, and beyond.

This explanation certainly is the cleanest and simplest way to explain these convergences.  The different calendars in use today but having the ‘week’ in common are testaments to Noah and his early descendants.  The Genesis account also provides the cleanest explanation for why the human race is partitioned by many languages.  Most of us today dismiss this part of the Biblical account as mere superstitious mythology but these weekly calendars and diverse tongues in use by billions today are witnesses that should perhaps provide food for thoughtful rethinking.

The Belief of Abraham – the Model Calling for us to Follow

In my last post we saw that Abraham obtained that indispensable status of being righteous simply by believing. This was declared in the little sentence:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Belief is not about the existence of God

I now want to unpack what it means that Abraham ‘believed’. Many people I talk to think that ‘believing’ means believing in the existence of God. How many times have I heard “Oh I believe in God” – meaning “I believe that God exists”. Somehow we seem to think that God is impressed and delighted when we affirm His existence. But in fact the Bible is far more muted on that. It states that:

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)

According to the Bible, simply believing that God exists puts us in the same league as the Devil. I will leave it to you to judge for yourself how much assurance you want to take from that. Now it is true that Abraham believed in God’s existence, but that is not at all the point in this encounter. The reality facing Abraham was that he had no son and he was in his 80’s. In this exchange, God, as he had done several times before, had just finished promising Abraham that He would give him one. It was that promise which thrust Abraham unto a Crossroads of Decision. His choice was not about believing in the existence of God or not, but whether he would believe that particular promise that this God had given him – or not. And in that decision Abraham chose to believe. He trusted that God would fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this account, is synonymous with trust. Abraham chose to trust God in this matter that was very important to him – which solely by looking on the surface of things did not look very hopeful.

So Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son. In return God gave him something in addition to the promise. He gave him – the word used is ‘credited’ – righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the fulfilled promise (a son from whom a great nation would come) with righteousness almost seemingly thrown in as a side-thought.

Righteousness – not from our merit or effort

I have had the privilege to hear from people of many different religions and philosophies. What I find quite striking is that though their theologies can vary quite substantially, virtually everyone I talk to or read from operates on the assumption that righteousness is obtained through merit, or earned by some specific efforts, ascetic denials or ‘good’ behaviour. We reason that doing more good things than bad things, or doing a certain kind or amount of religious ‘goodness’ allows us to deserve, earn or merit righteousness. I have seen this logic expressed amongst Buddhist friends in Thailand, Hindus in India, Muslims across the Muslim world, in Catholics, Protestants, and even those who believe simply in ‘a Higher Power’ – all of us around the world naturally live by this credo. I remember once interviewing theology students leaving a seminary and being informed by them that it was the balance between our merits and sins that determined our righteousness.

But Abraham did not ‘earn’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. So what is the difference? Well, if something is ‘earned’ you worked for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. Like any gift freely given it is not earned or merited, but simply received.

This account of Abraham overturns the common understanding that we have about righteousness either by thinking that it is a belief in God’s existence, or it is obtained by doing enough sufficiently good or religious activities. This is not the way Abraham took. He simply chose to believe the promise extended to him.

Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it

Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was perhaps simple but it definitely was not easy.  Abraham could easily have disregarded the promise by objecting that if God really had the desire as well as the power to grant him a son then He should have already done so. Because at this point in his life, Abraham and Sarah (his wife) were old – well past the age of getting children. Remember when he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ that he was already 75 years old. In response to that he left his home country and went to Canaan.  Many years  passed since then so Abraham and Sarah  grew very old and they still did not even have one child – let alone a nation! “Why has  God not already given us a son if he could have done so”? he would have wondered. In other words, he believed the promise of a coming son even though he probably had unanswered questions about the promise. He believed the promise because he trusted God who gave the promise – even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor had he figured out all that God had in mind with it.

Believing the promise demanded active waiting. His whole life was, in a sense, interrupted while he was living in tents in the Promised Land of Canaan waiting (still many years) for the coming of the promised son. It would have been much easier to rationalize away the promise and return home to civilization in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived. Abraham had to live with the difficulties of continuing to believe the promise – each and every day – for the many years while he waited for the promise to be realized. His trust in the promise was so great that it took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being. In a real sense, living in anticipation of the promise meant dying to the normal goals of life. Believing the promise showed both his trust in, and love for, God. He could have chosen not to believe and returned back to the land he came from (modern-day Iraq). He could have disregarded the promise while still believing in the existence of God and still continuing in his prayers and helping other people. But then he would have only maintained his religion but not been credited ‘righteousness’.

Thus believing the promise went far beyond just mental assent to it. Abraham had to stake his life, reputation, safety, actions in the present and hopes for the future on this promise because he believed he was actively and obediently waiting. This was the Way of Abraham.

Abraham: The Pattern for us – to also believe Promises

The rest of the Bible treats this encounter as a Sign for us.  Abraham’s belief in the promise from God, and the ensuing credit of righteousness, is a pattern for us to follow. The whole of the Gospel is founded on promises that God gives to each and every one of us. These promises are not the same as the specific promise to Abraham of a son. But they are promises nonetheless, and like the promise to Abraham these promises bring us to the crossroads of a decision. Do we believe (i.e. trust) these promises, or not?

What promises are we talking about? Here are a few

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)

 

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. (John 5:24-25)

 

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:9-10)

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

I could go on and list some more. But the point is that these are promises and they are given either by Jesus or in his name – to you and to me. Like Abraham we can choose to believe these promises – or not. Like Abraham, believing these promises will engage and require your entire life. You will have to make your normal life goals and aspirations subservient to these promises. Mental assent to these promises is not the offer that the Gospel is putting on your table. Neither is belief in the existence of God, or valiant and well-intentioned efforts to earn merit. If you believe these promises such that you trust your life with them you also will be credited righteousness. And they will start you on the same journey of faith that Abraham embarked on.  This journey has God paying the price, while you and I are credited life.  This was all foreseen in the subsequent Sacrifice of Abraham.

Though Abraham lived in a different era, with different customs and different rituals, he is a model to us. The promise to Abraham that was literally, historically and verifiably fulfilled stands as a beacon heralding that the same kind of offer is made to us in Jesus.

That Promise to Abraham … Overlooked but Everlasting

Tonight as I write this post the world sits on the eve of the largest one-day sporting event ever. Everyone’s attention is being drawn to the Super Bowl on Sunday and the drama that will be ours given that the Super Bowl features two brothers who are coaching the opposing teams. This Super Bowl will be a family feud! And then there is the anticipation of the Beyonce half-time show.  So much excitement abuzz in the air.

It is amazing to think that with all the attention focused on it now, the Super Bowl will be largely forgotten in just six months. What the world is taking great note of now will quickly be forgotten as we move on to other amusements, entertainment or political events. The rage one day quickly becomes ancient history the next.  Chances are, when you read this you won’t even know which Super Bowl or which teams are the rage just now.

We saw in our last post that this same pattern was true in the really ancient history of Abraham’s day. The important and spectacular contests, achievements and drama that captured the imagination of people living 4000 years ago are now totally forgotten, but a solemn promise spoken quietly to an individual, though totally overlooked by the world back then, is growing and unfolding before our eyes. I pointed out the obvious, but usually overlooked fact, that the promise given to Abraham about 4000 years ago has literally, historically and verifiably come true. This should give us reason to recognize that at the very least this Promise to Abraham provides an opening case for the existence of the God of the Bible. The story of Abraham continues with a few further encounters with this Promise-Making God of the Bible.  Abraham (and we who follow his journey) learn much more – even to the point of seeing this promise move from the realm of history to that of The Everlasting.  The story of Abraham is not a trendy but quickly forgotten event like the upcoming Super Bowl, it is one of an overlooked man setting a foundation to understand the gaining of eternity, so we’d better take note.

Abraham’s Complaint

Several years have passed in Abraham’s life since the Promise recorded in Genesis 12 was spoken. Abraham had moved to Canaan (the Promised Land) in what is today Israel in obedience to that promise. Other memorable events then occurred in his life except the one that he anticipated – the birth of the son through whom this promise would be fulfilled. So we pick up the account with Abraham’s complaint:

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3)

 

God’s Promise

Abraham had been camping out in the Land awaiting the start of the ‘Great Nation’ that had been promised him. But nothing had happened and by this time he was around 80 years old. He complains that God was not keeping that Promise given to him. Their conversation continues with:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)

So in their exchange God basically reiterates His initial Promise by declaring that he would get a son that would become a people as uncountable as the stars in the sky – many for sure, but hard to number.

Abraham’s Response: Everlasting Effect

The ball was now back in Abraham’s court. How would he respond to this reiterated Promise? What follows is a sentence that the Bible itself treats as one of the most important sentences in the Bible (since this sentence is quoted several times later on). It lays the foundation to understand the Gospel and reveals the way to The Everlasting. It says:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is probably easier to unpack this sentence if we replace the pronouns with names, thus it would read:

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is such a small and inconspicuous sentence. It comes and goes with no Super Bowl fanfare and so we are apt to miss it. But it is truly significant – and it contains the seeds of The Everlasting. Why? Because in this little sentence Abraham obtains ‘righteousness’. This is the one – and the only one – quality that we need to get right standing before God.

Reviewing our Problem: Corruption

From God’s point-of-view, though we were made in the image of God something happened that corrupted that image. So that now the Biblical charge is that

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

The visual images that have helped me better understand this were the corruption of elves to orcs in the Lord of the Rings saga as well as the ‘missing’ the mark analogy used in the Bible. How this corruption occurred is explained in the account of Adam which I looked at here. The bottom line of all this is that we find ourselves separated from a Righteous God because we have no righteousness. Our corruption has taken and launched us into a Brave New World of autonomy from God and a propensity to not do good – reaping futility and death in its wake. If you doubt that just scan some news headlines and see what people have been up to that last 24 hours.

In fact our corruption has made us rather repulsive to God in the same way that the decaying body of a dead rat would be repulsive to us. We would not want to go near such a thing. The sight and stench would impel us to keep our distance. We are separated from the Maker of Life and so the words of Isaiah come true

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Abraham and Righteousness

But here in the conversation between Abraham and God we find, slipped in so unobtrusively that we can almost miss it, the declaration that Abraham had gained ‘righteousness’ – the kind that God accepts. So what did Abraham ‘do’ to get this righteousness? Once again, so unassumingly that we are in danger of missing the point, it simply says of Abraham that he ‘believed’. That’s it?! We have this insurmountable obstacle of being corrupt ‘orcs’ and so the natural, and dare I say universal, tendency of mankind down the ages is to look for sophisticated and difficult religions, efforts, ethics, teachings etc., – illustrated before our very eyes with the efforts of the devotees of the Mela Kumbh festival – to gain righteousness. But this man, Abraham, gained that prized righteousness simply by ‘believing’.

But what does that mean?  And what does this have to do with your righteousness and mine?  Everything!  We take it up in our next post.

Why would God allow suffering and death? Part 2

In my last post I posed the question as to why God would impose the Curse on the world. The hellish misery and death is one of the primary arguments used today to contend that there is no Good God. It was my experience in Africa contrasted to Canada that gave me a glimpse into why He may have done so.

Living in Africa

After high school, I took a year to live in Cameroon, Africa, where I worked in a machete crew that would hack its way through the steamy and dense jungle in straight lines to measure forest inventory. I was one of the crew that wielded a machete to clear a path. It was excruciatingly back-breaking work in the hot and humid jungle – wacking the vines, going straight through huge walls of thorn bushes, up steep slopes. We wore thick rubber boots (protection against snakes) and when we were done the day’s work we were exhausted.

The co-workers on the inventory team were simple and poor blue-collar men, on low wages trying to provide for their families. We became friends and I would regularly visit them after work. They lived in tin roofed, two-room huts/shacks by the road with no plumbing of any kind. I would sit with them on their mud floors, hearing the rats scampering in the darker recesses of the huts, eating their food. At times it was lizard tail, other times dried rodent of some sort, and bananas and other fruit growing around them. They shared their huts with a large family, there were lots of kids, often sick with something, and of course the elderly. The village ‘idiot’ was there. He was insane and would walk around naked, babbling some random ‘thoughts’. They could not put these kinds of folks away in care like we can here.

At one point we started to investigate the Bible together. It was at their suggestion after they had seen me reading my pocket Testament on one of our breaks deep in the jungle. We were an unlikely grouping; an upper middle-class, educated, white, Swedish-Anglo 18 year-old exploring the gospel with middle-aged, married, ‘simple’, Bassa tribe, African men in their huts. In the context of this study that went on through the year they surprised me. Though uneducated they astutely wondered why, if God was so good (as the Bible says He is), was the world around them so difficult, life so hard, things so unfair, health so fickle, the poor (themselves!) always exploited, work so tiring etc. They wrestled through the same issues, asking the same questions that Ehrman and the rest of us educated in the West ask. But what I noticed about my machete-crew friends contrasted so sharply with my experience in Canada at university.

Compared to Canada

After my year in Africa, I went to Canada for university studies. Here I was among my own: western, rich, educated, young, intelligent, healthy – by any global standard, and certainly my machete-crew friends. And once again there were some discussions regarding the gospel on the go, in the cafeteria, or the dorm, as part of university life. And the same questions were raised. But it was different now. In Africa, my friends were themselves in the experience they were asking about, and they asked from a posture of humility, feeling the personal relevance of the gospel solution to their situation and willing to wait patiently for it. They were, in a phrase, poor in spirit.

In Canada, my friends had never ever personally experienced one day of real hunger through their entire lives; they had not had real and personal brushes with death because the medical system rescued them long before anything got serious; they had never experienced one day of back-breaking labour in such heat; they had lots of gadgets to amuse themselves with.  So they asked the same questions with a totally different attitude. They were defiant and taunting, and would use these questions, not to see if there were answers, but to presume that there was no answer and to keep the gospel at arms-length. They were, to borrow a phrase, not poor in spirit. Thus they could dismiss the whole thing and continue living their lives the way they wanted to. The intellectual questions were the same, but the difference in attitude between Africa and Canada was so palpable to me – because here in Canada my friends felt very little personal need.

I would go to the university cafeteria (offering various hot meals, drinks and desserts available to us in all-you-can eat quantities, three times a day, seven days a week) with my friends amidst cursing of the poor food quality, grumbling that there was a wait in the line, and complaining when the ice cream ran out that day. The conversation revolved around which girl, amongst those we could see, would we ‘do’ and in what ‘position’, and if she was ‘worth’ it or not. The cursing would make sailors blush. Favorite events were the Roman Toga parties where everyone spent the night in drunkenness, debauchery and girl-swapping all night. Bootleg videos of a woman having sex with a horse; and a man with a rabbit – while killing it – made it around our dorm. I knew girls who were raped. Fires would be lit in the dorms for fun – so they could watch the firetrucks come in the middle of the night. Having piranhas as pets, so we could see hapless goldfish destroyed in a frenzy every week, made great sport. In one drunken party a guy fell out the 3rd floor window headfirst to his death on the pavement below; I awoke to see them mopping up the blood outside my window the next morning. The end of the year would be celebrated by busting doors and windows, and throwing TVs out the windows unto the ground below. “Yes indeed”, my friends would declare, shaking a fist at God, “He is unfair and unjust and has made a mess of the world”!

We may smile at the antics of university life and chide that most of us smarten up when we graduate and have the responsibility of a job, raising a family, paying a mortgage, and keeping our ‘Molson muscle’ belly from getting too big. And that is precisely the point. These things do smarten us up, but these are effects from the Frustration of the Curse. It is work responsibilities that the Curse has instituted to cause ‘sweat on our brow’ and ‘painful toil’. It is the heart-breaking and tiring process of raising children that comes from the Curse. It is aging that the Molson muscle represents – again from the Curse. It is the unavoidable and inevitable approaching of death that even keeps us moderately meek – again from the Curse. My friends in Africa were in touch with this all the time, and thus were open in some ways that my Canadian university friends were not. My friends in university could so mitigate the effects of the Curse for that period of their lives – thus their hearts remained hard.

Consider that the advances of technology and wealth that we in the West enjoy are only appreciated because they mitigate (temporarily) the brunt of the Curse from our experience. Medicine mitigates against sickness, cosmetics hide the effect of aging, scientific techniques supply us with an abundance and variety of food, technology has reduced the ‘painful’ aspect of work to the extent that we now are used to thinking in terms of ‘careers’ that can satisfy our desires, rather than provide for daily necessities. The motive for advancement in science and technology is never about gaining wisdom. We have the same motive that drove the magicians and alchemists of the Middle Ages (though with more success). We want to master Nature so that Nature’s sting on our lives is reduced. All my friends went to university so they could ‘get a good job’ – they were not interested in learning for learning’s sake – but with a good job they could enjoy all the benefits of a lessened Curse.

Now I am not against that, and I think our advancements are good. But they do not soften our hearts; it is the hard knocks of living in the Curse that do that – for me and for the others I have seen life’s sterner hand upon. I find it interesting that mostly in the West, amongst the rich and wealthy of the world, do we find this issue (of pain and misery in the world) advanced as an argument against the existence of God – the very ones who do not experience The Curse to the same intensity as our brothers across the globe and back in time do. The loosening of the grip of the Curse on our lives has hardened us.

And with that I get a faint glimmer of perhaps why God has brought about the Curse on the world in the first place. Without it we would never ever bother listening to hear God’s call no matter what. In imposing the Curse He faced the choice between having no people ever listen to him versus some listening and others calling Him evil. Personally, I am thankful he chose the latter option.

Why would a Good God allow Suffering and Death?

I had used the story of Pinocchio, his destiny hanging in the balance, to help us see the stark and eternal contrasts between the two roads that opened up before us with our forebears’ rebellion in the Garden. And God, with his veiled foreshadowing of the coming Redeemer at the dawn of history, wanted us to see and choose this path of redemption that He would carve out for us. But there was a more immediate problem that God had to deal with.

Adam and Original Sin

In his Declaration of Independence something in Adam changed. As I went over in Corrupted (Part 2) … Missing our Target, immediately after his defiance he tried to cover up. He would not accept responsibility. What Adam started we continue because we have inherited that disposition. Some misunderstand the Biblical account to infer that we are blamed for the rebellion of Adam. In fact, the only one blamed is Adam (ex. Romans 5:14) but we do live in the consequences of that rebellion. We can think of it genetically. As our parents have had genetic mutations, we receive them and, in turn, pass them on to our offspring.  Similarly, through characteristics passed from parent to offspring we have inherited this mutinous nature of Adam and thus innately, sometimes unconsciously, but still willfully, we continue the uprising that he started.  This is what is meant by Original Sin.

Adam – Head of Human Race

We can also think of it in terms of headship. The following real situation helped me start to better understand what the Bible means when it says we are ‘in’ Adam. In recent times several Canadian provinces have been involved in high-stakes negotiations with aboriginal groups over their logging, fishing and hunting rights. At the heart of the negotiations lies the fact that several hundred years ago British generals signed treaties as British representatives on behalf of the Queen and British Empire with the then-living aboriginal leaders over the rights that the British Empire would grant them. In short, treaties were signed back then and the parties are now negotiating over the implications. What is interesting is that no one today had any say in the treaties signed back then, yet all parties today are bound by them. It is no use to protest, “But I did not sign the treaty”. In fact, there was not even a Canada (or provinces) back then, yet the Canadian government still has legal and moral responsibility to uphold (though they may not like it, and do find it economically inconvenient) what the treaties stipulated. In a very real sense, the British general of yesteryear was representing every Canadian who would ever live. These men, whoever they were, created a reality for Canadians living today that we must abide by. In this sense we can say that Canadians living today were ‘in’ those generals who signed back then and are thus bound by the treaties they created. These generals form a headship for Canadians today with respect to these ancient signed treaties.

Similarly, when a nation goes to war with another, it takes only one, the Head of State, to declare war and all citizens of that state, whether they like it or not, are then implicated. When US President Roosevelt declared war on Germany and Japan in World War II, all Americans were at war with Germany and Japan. American citizens were ‘in’ Roosevelt and what the Head of State put in effect applied to all. In similar ways, the Bible tells us that we are ‘in’ Adam. He is Head of Man and the Declaration of Independence from God that he started implicates us all.

God’s Obliges

And God, true to the essence of freedom of choice, respected Adam’s decision. His love for Adam was not some sort of co-dependent ‘need’ for him. But God, in his overall plan to redeem us, which He declared in that veiled manner using the promise of the coming offspring, also set things up so we could better ‘see’ the destiny toward which our Independence was taking us. Adam (and descendants) needed to understand, in a real sense needed to feel, the consequences of their rebellion and the start of their own pseudo-jurisdiction. As Adam was corrupted by his rebellion, God cursed the world he lived in so he could get a taste of what life apart from God would be like. As God said to Adam:

“…the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

Lives of people would now be marked by frustration, struggle and finally death. But this was not done out of spite. We wanted a Divorce and God is obliging with an initial Separation. The Divorce will come and it will be Permanent (more on that later), but for now He is helping us feel the consequences of our Separation. When a rebellious teenager wants to move out of the parents’ house, the parents may oblige, but to help them see consequences they do not pay the teen’s newly acquired rent. The teen needs to experience the full implications of their new autonomy. Then they may realize it was not so bad at home after all – and may decide to come back. In a similar way, since we chose independence from God, and He is in actual fact the source of life, we needed to get a taste of what death – being apart from God – would be like. God was setting the stage so we will perhaps come to our senses, lay down our arms, and re-enter the new covenant with Him.

In other words, God partly obliged our desire for autonomy by bringing about frustration into our world that would give us a taste or feel for what existence Divorced from Him would ultimately entail. Often referred to as the Curse, it is explained Biblically in the following way:

19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8: 19-23)

It states that ‘the creation was subjected to frustation’, i.e., it was imposed on it by God. This ‘frustration’ is its universal ‘bondage to decay’ – mutation, disease, death (and extinction) in the biological world, and increasing entropy or disorder in the physical world. Things run downhill, wear out, rust out, break down – both the creation and we ourselves are ‘groaning’ in this state. Notice though the causal connection. Verse 19 says the creation is waiting for the ‘sons of God to be revealed’ for (v.20) it had been frustrated. Therefore the ‘sons of God’ must have been key to the original imposing of the frustration. When mankind became corrupt God placed a frustration on the world – a Curse. The revealing of redeemed humanity, now the ‘sons of God’, like the return of Pinocchio to Jepetto, will herald the release from this frustration.

But why was that done? This Curse would include all the hellish things of our current existence, chief among them: aging, sickness, pain, and death. And here we come to some diametrically opposing views. Many today, including well-known skeptics use this as a primary argument against God. Bart Ehrman, arch New Testament critic, succinctly expresses this view in his statement:

“There came a time when I left the faith … because I could no longer reconcile my faith in God with the state of the world that I saw all around me … there is so much senseless pain and misery in the world that I came to find it impossible to believe that there is a good and loving God who is in control”  Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted. 2010. p. 17

Why would God arrange things in such a way as to give Ehrman and others such ammunition, and indeed such unspeakable wretchedness in the lives of so many? My experience living in Africa and then returning to Canada gave me a glimpse into why He may have done this … in my next post.

The Final Countdown – Embedded in the Beginning

In my last few posts I have looked at how mankind and Lucifer fell from their initial created state. I then used the story of Pinocchio that has helped me to visualize and understand what God was hoping for His creation. But hope is one thing, an executed plan is another.  Jepetto (the creator in Pinocchio) did not have a plan to redeem Pinocchio (it happened apart from him), and here the Pinocchio analogy falls short. In the Biblical account, God has a plan that He will execute. This plan has two parts: A Promise and a Curse. Here I look at the Promise and later I look at the Curse.

The Bible – Really a Library

To appreciate the significance of this Promise we must know some basic things about the Bible. Though it is a book, and we think of it as such, it is actually more accurate to think of it as a mobile library. This is because it is a collection of books, written by a diverse set of authors, over a time span that exceeds 1500 years, which today is bound up into one volume. This fact alone makes the Bible unique among the Great Books of the world. The different books of the Bible make statements, declarations and predictions that later books pick up on. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group of authors that knew each other that should not cause us to take note. But the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds and even thousands of years, writing in different civilizations, languages, social strata, and literary genres – yet their messages, allusions and predictions are picked up seamlessly by later authors or are fulfilled through facts of history verifiable outside the Bible. This makes the Bible unique on a whole different level – and knowing that we should take note. Existing manuscript copies of these books are dated to about 200 BC so the textual base of the Bible is better, by far, than all other ancient books of the world.

I gave a public presentation recently entitled Does God Exist? at McMaster University and will upload the whole presentation shortly. But I have included the first 10 minutes in the video clip below which covers the diversity of authors and the manuscript texts of the books in the Bible. View it to better appreciate the points I am making above.

The Gospel Promise in the Garden

We see this foreshadowing ability clearly in the Creation and Fall account right at the beginning of the book of Genesis in the Bible. In other words, though it is recounting the Beginning, it was written with the End in view.  Here we see a Promise when God confronts Satan (Lucifer) and speaks to him in a riddle:

“… and I (God) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

This is a Promise in riddle form – but it is understandable. Reading carefully you will see that there are five different characters mentioned and that this is prophetic in that it is looking forward-in-time (seen by the repeated use of ‘will’ as in future tense). The characters are:

  1. God
  2. Satan (or Lucifer)
  3. The woman
  4. The offspring of the woman
  5. The offspring of Satan

And the riddle predicts how these characters will relate to each other in the future. This is shown below

Relationships between the characters depicted in the Promise

God will orchestrate that both Satan and the woman will have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these offspring and between the woman and Satan. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the offspring of the woman while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan.

Deductions on the Offspring – a ‘he’

So far we have just made observations directly from the text. Now for some reasoned deductions. Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman is referred to as a ‘he’ and a ‘his’ we know that it is a single male human – a man. With that we can discard some possible interpretations. As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘she’ and thus cannot be a woman – but the ‘he’ comes from a woman. As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘they’, which it could have plausibly been, perhaps a group of people, or a race, or a team, or a nation. At various times and in various ways people have thought that a ‘they’ would be the answer. But the offspring, being a ‘he’ is NOT a group of people whether that refers to a nation or those of a certain religion as in Jews, Christians or Muslims etc. As a ‘he’ the offspring is not an ‘it’ (the offspring is a person). This eliminates the possibility that the offspring is a particular philosophy, teaching, technology, political system, or religion. An ‘it’ of these kinds would probably have been, and still is, our preferred choice to fix the world. We think that what will fix our situation is some kind of ‘it’, so the best of human thinkers through the centuries have advocated different political systems, educational systems, technologies, religions etc. But in this Promise the compass is pointed in a totally different direction. God had something else in mind – a ‘he’. And this ‘he’ would crush the head of the serpent.

Another interesting observation comes from what is not said. God does not promise the man an offspring like he promises the woman (we will see further what He promises there in the Curse). This is quite extraordinary especially given the emphasis of sons coming through fathers throughout the Bible. In fact, one criticism of the genealogies in the Bible by modern Westerners is that they ignore the blood lines that go through women. It is ‘sexist’ in our eyes because it just considers sons of men. But in this case here it is different – there is no promise of an offspring (a ‘he’) coming from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man.

Out of all the humans that have ever existed that I can think of, historically or mythically, only two have never had a physical father (this includes the Greek demi-gods who were sired by ‘gods’ like Zeus being with mortal women). The first was Adam, created directly by God. The second was Jesus who (the New Testament claim goes) was born of a virgin – thus no human father. Is Jesus being foreshadowed here in this riddle? This fits with the observation that the offspring is a ‘he’, not a ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘it’. With that perspective, if you read the riddle some pieces fall into place.

‘Strike his Heel’??

But what does it mean that the serpent would strike ‘his heel’? I could never see it until I worked in the jungles of Cameroon. We had to wear thick rubber boots even in the humid heat – because the snakes there lay in the long grass and would strike your foot – i.e. your heel – and that would kill you. My first day there I almost stepped on a snake, and could have died from it. The riddle made sense to me after that. The ‘he’ would destroy the serpent, but the price he would have to pay, would be that he would be killed.  That does foreshadow the victory achieved through the death of Jesus.

The offspring of the Serpent?

But who is his other protagonist, this offspring of Satan? Though we do not have space here to trace it out exhaustively, the later books speak of a coming person. Note the descriptions:

“… when their sin is at its height, a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people.  He will be a master of deception and will become arrogant; he will destroy many without warning. He will even take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power. (Daniel 8: 23-25; written by Daniel in Babylon ca 550 BC)

A man, with an invisible power behind him will challenge the ‘Prince of princes’ but his head too ‘will be crushed’.

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him … Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4; written by Paul in Greece ca 50 AD)

Hmm … sounds like an echo of Lucifer’s challenge at the dawn of time. The old saying, ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree’ may apply here. And the last book in the Bible, many pages and thousands of years removed from the Promise in Genesis, predicts:

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. This calls for a mind with wisdom. (Revelation 17:8-9; written by John on an island off Turkey ca 90 AD)

These later books (again note the diversity of authors, settings and eras they were written in) more explicitly speak of a countdown to a clash between the offspring of the woman and Satan’s offspring. But it is first mentioned in embryo-like form in this Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of Biblical History, with details waiting to be filled in. So the climax of history, the countdown to a final contest between Satan and God, started long ago in the Garden is foreseen at that same beginning – the earliest Book.  It could almost make one think that history is really His-Story.

Click here to see & hear a video presentation on this in a Christmas context.