Tag Archives: God

The Unlimited Limited

We know that God is everywhere at once, so it would be impossible for Heaven to be His literal dwelling place. But we’re also taught that He lives in Heaven, that He sits on a throne, that Jesus stands beside Him, and so on.

So I’ve wondered before whether God in Heaven is just a limited manifestation of Him, like a protuberance into our universe that He extends, like He’s reaching an arm into Nature. Sunday’s lesson’s author almost agrees with that, but shows a refined view of it from the Bible.

The Logistics of Being Everywhere and Right Here

God isn’t lying to anyone if He has a local form of Himself while also being everywhere at once, because He most likely just tells everyone something like, “This is just one aspect of my infinite Self. I am actually everywhere at once, and I just give you this appearance of myself here as something for you to understand.”

And actually, they would probably have a direct experience of Him being everywhere in the universe: anywhere they go, I’m sure they can  sense His promptings in their minds, so they know that He isn’t just in the throne room in Heaven.

God the Indivisible

Here’s a little-known attribute of God you can use to impress somebody: He’s indivisible. That means He can’t be divided into different parts; He’s not made up of different pieces; He’s a single, indivisible whole. So that appearance of Him in Heaven’s throne room would be totally undiluted; it wouldn’t be a part of Him, because He has no parts!

Keep in mind also that He is infinitely powerful in every place in the universe. And He has infinite attention; nothing can ever use up His attention or divide it.

What this all means is that that aspect of Him in Heaven would be fully Him, have 100% of His attention, and have all His power. It, or He, would be able to create a whole new galaxy with a single word, or whatever else. It’s really Him.

And at the same time, there’s an infinity of Him out there doing other things, such as sustaining the whole universe, keeping every atom and photon in motion, and maybe interacting with strange and exotic beings we know nothing about.

God Has His Own Country We Know Nothing About

God has a whole life we don’t even know about and can never really understand. He’s uncreated. He’s infinite. We are so tiny compared to Him that we’re almost infinitely small: He’s infinite and we’re finite, and any finite number divided by infinity is very, very close to zero.

So we’re like tiny little thoughts off in the corner of His mind somewhere, like a grain of sand on the beach in front of His summer home in His true country that is really Himself. He certainly wouldn’t be obligated by someone above Him to have to come to Earth on that grain of sand to die for our sins, but He did it anyway, because He is principled and loving.

And the appearance of Him in Heaven is another example of that love. He meets beings in a special way there. He is so infinitely immense and different than us that we could never understand Him, but He gives us something we can understand because it is loving to do that for us.

Solomon: God is Uncontainable yet Chooses to be Near

Surprisingly, 1 Kings 8 expresses these concepts perfectly. In verse 27, Solomon (billed as the wisest man who ever lived) states that Heaven can’t contain God (so how much less the temple on Earth that Solomon built, he says). And then in verses 30, 43, and 49, he also asks God to hear them from His special dwelling place in Heaven.

In other words, he acknowledges this strange reality that God is everywhere at once, is also above and beyond our physical reality, and is also specially present in a place that we call Heaven.

His true mode of existence is unimaginable, but because He constantly sustains our universe and also maintains a local home for His people to visit Him, we know that He loves us.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

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Looking Down on Deathbed Confessions

We think the wrong way about the thief on the cross, Pastor Mark Welch explained this weekend.

Someone He Could Trust Forever

You remember the story: as Jesus behaved in a gracious and forgiving way to people who were hurting and killing Him for no good reason, one thief being crucified beside Him had a change of heart. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” he requested. And Jesus promised He would.

Graham Maxwell wrote that maybe that thief thought that if this Man was going to have a Kingdom, he wanted to be there. He would be a great King! He’d be Someone you could trust.

Pastor Welch stated that we normally think of this thief as a “deathbed confession,” someone who sees death approaching and only decides to repent because of it. And we think it’s great that God is able to save someone like that, but we think it must take a special effort to do so and that we are better because we repented earlier in our lives, not on our deathbeds.

How I’m Like a Pharisee

But that’s similar to the attitude that the Pharisee had in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. A tax collector and a religious leader are both praying out loud in the temple. The religious leader loudly thanks God for not making him like this sinner standing beside him. But the tax collector just sinks to his knees and pleads with God to have mercy on him, because he knows how bad he is.

And maybe we’re like the Pharisee when we look down on deathbed confessions. The fact is that God uses just as much grace to save me as to save someone who confesses on her deathbed. We both required the infinite sacrifice of His Son.

I was an enemy of God when He saved me. Up to that moment, I had wasted my life just as much as everyone else — even a deathbed confession person. I had no chance to save myself.

Grace is never based on our good works, the Bible says, so that no one can boast. So repenting a little earlier than someone else can’t make me better than them.

The Greatest Need in the World

Finally, the person who thinks he has the least need for grace needs it most.

We all need God’s grace throughout our whole lives, every day. It’s the universal human desire. People all over the world want to be let off the hook, to be treated with mercy, with leniency. We want a judge at the moment of sentencing or a police officer standing at the window to take a deep breath and say, “You know what? You’re free to go, get out of here.”

Someone who knows they’re helpless and lost and humbly asks God for help makes Heaven ring with shouts of joy, no matter when they ask.

So don’t worry about when someone else repents or is born again. We’re all nothing without God. Instead, realize that all people, from the deathbed confession person to you, need grace every single day.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Feeling Confident Reading the Bible (Part 3)

Let’s continue with our hermeneutic principles (see the previous post for the first four). Remember to practice just one at a time for a while and don’t get overwhelmed. Author Josh Kaufman has found that twenty hours of practice can make you pretty good at something, if you’re focusing on key ideas like these.

5. Circumstances alter meaning.

In response to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the Bible gives two different and contradictory answers in Mark 10:17 and Acts 16:30. In Mark, Jesus tells the rich young ruler that he needs to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, pick up “his cross” and follow Jesus. In Acts, Paul tells his jailer that all he needs to do is believe in Jesus. So is the Bible contradicting itself here?

The circumstances of the persons asking the question were far different. The rich young ruler’s problem was greed. In order to be happy and able to follow God, he needed to be freed from the love of money that blocked his love for humanity and for God.

But the jailer, in contrast, didn’t have that particular problem. As a pagan, his challenge was that he believed in many different gods, and it would require a new way of life for him to acknowledge and follow only One and to admit that what he had believed all his life was not true.

This principle is similar to studying the culture of the Bible, but it’s more specific: studying the particular circumstances in which a Biblical statement was first made, including the unique people involved.

6. A word may have different meanings even in the same book, written by the same author.

This is a tricky one. Once we figure out that a word means something, we want that meaning to stay the same, but that doesn’t always happen. A modern example is the word “bow,” which can refer to a curved weapon, to a part of a violin, to the act of bending down in front of someone, and other meanings. So when reading the Bible, it can take work to figure out which definition of a word is meant each time that word is used.

For example, the word “glorified” can refer to the state of Jesus’ body when He was first resurrected. But it can also refer to His new status in the universe when He ascended to Heaven. So we can say He was glorified when He came out of the tomb and the Roman soldiers saw Him, but He was not yet glorified in His new position of power and authority on the Throne in Heaven until later. Same word, different meanings.

7. A given act or a given word may be interpreted quite differently by the same person, or by two persons (or more) who approach identical data from different perspectives — different cultures, different contexts, etc.

This reminds me of when creationists and evolutionists can look at the same data in nature and come to very different conclusions about what they mean based on their different theories. In reading the Bible, too, people get very different ideas of it depending on where they’re from or how they were raised. So we shouldn’t expect interpreting it is easy.

Deep, Complex and Simple?

But remember that some parts of the Bible are very simple to understand. For example, all Christians agree that salvation comes through depending on Jesus. So don’t get hung up on the tough parts!

I heard a story about a guy in the 1800s who traveled on ships to various parts of the world, often stuck in small rooms for weeks on end. The only book he had with him was the Bible, and he ended up reading it all the way through five to ten times, if I remember right.

Well, he said that it was the greatest thing he had ever read, that the incredible story of love and truth and salvation changed his life. So the overall story of a loving God is what’s most important.

A Tiny Bit of Interest Plus Practice

Most of us mere mortals won’t be in that world traveler’s situation. But remember if you have even a tiny amount of interest in the Bible right now and you read just a little bit following that interest, your interest will grow as you get to know the Bible better and better. Your journey may take a long time, but that’s okay.

And I really I hope these principles of hermeneutics show you that even if the Bible seems confusing or self-contradictory sometimes — and if someone is trying to discourage you and make you feel that the Bible is just a relic that should be discarded along with bronze spears and chariots — remember that these principles show that it just takes some work (sometimes a lot of work) to understand something written by someone thousands of years ago.

But the God behind it all is still exactly the same as always, just as willing to help you grow in wisdom and happiness and in the knowledge of Him.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Does God Criticize Your Choices?

(This is a reaction to the February 6 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less06.html.)

When Adam and Eve sinned, it’s interesting that God just asks them questions at first. He doesn’t reprimand or condemn or call them names or act hurt. He asks questions. And then when He finally makes a declarative statement, it is a condemnation of Satan, not of Adam and Eve. It’s like in the last chapter of the book The Great Controversy where E.G. White states that in the final judgement Satan will be “the object of universal abhorrence.” Everyone will know that Satan started all this pain.

After that declaration against Satan in the Garden of Eden, God gave the first gospel promise (Genesis 3:15); He promises to put enmity between us and the serpent, or as Jack Blanco puts it in his Clear Word Bible paraphrase: “I will put a hatred of sin in the heart of the woman and her descendants, and this hatred of sin will find its ultimate expression in One of her offspring.”

Notice that God doesn’t act hurt, doesn’t lash out, doesn’t do any of the things a human would do. He tells them instead that they will be saved in the future and then honestly tells them the consequences of their actions. Even though lies led them into their actions, which leaves Satan with the ultimate condemnation, humans still have to face the consequences of their own actions.

C.S. Lewis wrote in chapter 11 of his book Perelandra: “Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made. Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it? A stone may determine the course of a river.” In other words, life is made by people taking actions that have real consequences.

God in His power could have rewound time and avoided terrible pain and grief. But He has the strength of character to maintain a stable environment for us in which our choices matter. Imagine what a miserable sense of helplessness we would have if our actions didn’t matter.

It seems like God has no ego, which is the thing that demands that I am more important and privileged than anyone else. Probably every fight I’ve ever had with my wife was because of one of us having a wounded ego. It would be a joy to be more like God. He came to Earth knowing He was going to be treated like garbage. But He did the loving thing without ego.

Imagine if you were like that: you would just enjoy every good thing, whether it’s a good thing in you or in someone else, appreciating that it’s coming from God, and you would hate every bad thing and desire to help any people who are hurt by bad things. And that’s how God is. He didn’t act jealous or angry with Adam and Eve. He told them about salvation as soon as possible. He hated sin but loved them and worked to help them. That’s an attitude to strive for with God’s help.

God also didn’t criticize Adam and Eve. According to renowned psychologist Dr. William Glasser, using criticism in relationships is the top habit that is likely to push people further apart. And of course God wanted to draw Adam and Eve into a saving relationship with Him so that they could receive His grace. Paul states in Acts 17:27 that God calls to us so that we might reach out to Him because we need Him. He doesn’t need us, but He knows that we need Him. So, without any ego, He does unselfish things in order to entice us to reach out to Him so that we can be saved. That’s unconditional love.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Two Poisons and an Antidote

Satan got two main lies into the mind of Eve in order to get sin into our lives. The only way to discredit a perfectly loving God is through lies. (This is a reaction to the February 3 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less06.html.)

When he told Eve that they would become like gods if they ate the forbidden fruit, he implied that God was withholding something good from them, which would mean God was unloving, God was not generous, God was untrustworthy.

Then he said that Eve wouldn’t die from eating the fruit, that being separated from God doesn’t really lead to death. He wanted us to think that being separated from God is preferable.

Why do I say “being separated from God”? My understanding is that sin is the condition of being separated from God. Here’s why. The Bible says that sin is “lawlessness,” a lack of law. Well, what is the Law? It’s love. And it says that God is love. So sin is lawlessness, which is a lack of love, which is a lack of God. So sin is separation from God.

We see this in the Garden: as soon as Adam and Eve broke their promise, they experienced separation. God walked around calling to them, instead of them running to Him as usual. They were separated from their own bodies by shame. They were separated from each other by blame. They were separated from their home. That’s the state of sin: separation.

Those two lies became real in Eve’s life when she took action on them, when she actually ate the fruit. She created distrust within herself – as Adam did soon after – by acting on the idea of not trusting God.

The distrust, fear, and blame against God in our minds is like a poison that Satan put there through these two lies, separating us from God – a separation that leads to death.

Now, what type of antidote could God give us to a mental poison? Jesus on the cross gave us a mental antidote: He showed that God is loving and generous and that sin really does cause death. Even while being tortured, He prayed for forgiveness for His tormentors, and that showed God’s amazing love. He went to the Cross unresistingly, “like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), showing God’s generosity.

And Jesus didn’t die of the wounds He received but rather because of the separation from God the Father: as evidence that They were being separated, right before He died, Jesus cried out that God had left Him alone. Then, the soldiers saw that He was already dead far before someone would normally die from natural causes.

Satan wants us to think that God is unloving and that separating ourselves from Him is safe. That’s the poison. But Jesus gave an antidote that goes in through our eyes and ears by the power of the Spirit when we contemplate Him.

Graham Maxwell said in his book Servants or Friends? that only a best Friend will share an unpleasant truth with you. Well, God in Jesus used His own body to show us the truth of His love so that we don’t have to be separated anymore.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

The Serpent and the Sabbath

(This is a reaction to the January 27 bible study lesson at http://www.ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less05.html.)

God is powerful and we’re dependent on Him, but those aren’t the best reasons to trust and obey Him. Yes, we’re created so we only have life when connected to Him. But it’s not like there’s an unfun life without Him and a fun life with Him. No, He is life, and we only have any life in Him. He’s infinite, and there’s nothing outside of Him.

But we trust and obey Him not just because of His power, but because He is wise and good. Someone who just has power without love isn’t worth obeying. The Bible says that we obey Him out of love. And demons know His power but don’t put their faith in Him.

Anyway, I don’t think Adam and Eve saw rules and obligations. He was their everything, their whole lives: they knew nothing else. And the things He commanded them to do were things they wanted to do anyway, such as multiplying and eating.

Of course they would want to multiply, because they would be expressing their boundless love for each other; and of course they would want to eat, because everything would be indescribably delicious.

So He gave them natural desires and then commanded them to do things that would simply be following the desires He gave them. But that one prohibition against eating that one fruit was the only command that would seem more like a modern rule, because it would be the only one against their natural desires.serpent tree

And actually my understanding from reading C.S. Lewis’ book Perelandra is that that test actually gave them a benefit: they gained the knowledge of good and evil by not eating from the tree, because they experienced the battle between trusting self and trusting God above self that they wouldn’t get if they were just following their pleasant natural desires all the time.

God gave them a chance to step outside of their own will and more deeply into His by resisting a fruit that seemed desirable to eat and just obeying Him without understanding why.

And we need that experience, too. Maybe that’s partially why the Sabbath is so important, because there’s no logical reason for it to be on a particular day. But if we obey God’s command in spite of that, we step outside of our own will and into His.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Seeing Science in the Wild

The things this lesson claimed about science aren’t all true. For example, it’s not true “science has a difficult time dealing” with events that only happened one time. Scientists have theories about things that happened just once, like their theory that a meteorite or comet caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, which happened only once, according to theory. (This is a reaction to the January 25 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less04.html.)

An event that happened only once can’t be tested or repeated. But scientists can form a theory about the event and then test and repeat certain experiments to decide whether that theory makes sense. For example, they can test the soil for levels of minerals that would be there if a meteorite had hit the Earth. They can search fossil layers for a level of meteorite dust.

Not that I believe that theory necessarily. Not that I’m saying science is perfect. I’m just saying that scientists can make theories about events that have only happened once. And we’re not going to help anyone by putting down science based on misunderstandings of what science is.

It pretty much never makes sense to say, “science does this” or “science can’t do that,” because it’s really all just people: there never is a thing called “science” out there in the wild on its own doing things. It’s people doing things, investigating the world, trying to do a better and better job of understanding nature while following certain rules.

I’m getting this partly from Del Ratzsch’s book Science and Its Limits, an excellent book by a Christian who also has a PhD in the philosophy of science. One insight from that book is that there actually isn’t a single definition of science. We think there is because there are definitions in textbooks and dictionaries. But human beings made up those definitions. Human beings can change them. Human beings can study nature in various ways.newton5

If science is the search for truth, why can’t we include God and revealed truth in that? Who has the authority to make rules stopping us? Of course, we don’t want anyone to be lazy when searching for truth, giving up easily and stating, “God did it.” But allowing God into science doesn’t have to lead to laziness. Many scientists in history have studied nature as a way to glorify and worship God. If that’s your motivation, instead of being lazy, you could work really hard to honor Him.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)