Tag Archives: Lewis

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)

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God: Two Arms, Two Legs, and a Head?

(This is a reaction to the January 28 bible study lesson at http://www.ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less05.html.)

Yes, the Bible says we’re made in the image of God. But does that mean we look like Him? That doesn’t make sense in the context of the rest of the Bible. The Bible says over and over how different God is from us. He is in the midst of fire and turning wheels and eyes and beasts. David says that He is everywhere at once.

All the New Testament writers say that God is three Persons at the same time but one Being. So that doesn’t sound like He looks like us, like a guy with two legs and two arms and a head. And how could a Being who existed before time and who exists even now outside of time and space look like a human?

Now, that isn’t to say that He is a cloud, something indefinite. C.S. Lewis points out that God is actually more real than we are, more solid. He is reality itself, and He has a definite shape and form that is unique to Him. Maybe that’s why in the Old Testament He says that He has a specific name (YHWH); the name shows that He is not just a cloud of energy.

So in one sense, it seems like He could be human-shaped for all we know, but at the same time, He is a Being who is outside of our universe of shapes altogether.

Well, we know that Jesus is a human now, and He’s God. So maybe that’s what the image of God means? Maybe it’s part of it. Along with that, the Bible, especially the book of Revelation, rejoices in the fact that God will live on our planet now forever. No other race will have that privilege, and no other race will have God become one of them in the flesh.

But it also makes sense to say the image of God is in our moral and relationship qualities. We have a sense of what is right and wrong that the animals don’t have. We have a moral responsibility to take care of totally different species; animals can’t think that way in general. And we have loving relationships chosen through intelligence and will rather than animal instincts. God created humans not to live as individuals but as pairs and groups.

OXYGEN VOLUME 13

And it’s amazing that God Himself has existed as a group in all eternity outside of time. Their relationship has always been, and always will be, the Son being subordinate to the Father by loving choice and the Holy Spirit being the servant of both.

So God is not a lonely Being wishing He had some friends; no, He has always been, and always will be, in an environment of perfect harmony and love. And that type of experience is what He has for us – one of the main purposes for which He created us.

~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)

God’s Investment School in One Lesson

Our guest speaker on January 19 was an estate planner from the SDA Iowa-Missouri conference. He explained that Jesus said (in Mark 10:29–30) that when we get to Heaven, we will receive back 100-fold of anything that we give to others while we’re here on Earth. Jesus often talked about storing up treasures in Heaven, not because treasures are bad here on Earth but because wealth here can vanish at any moment.

So when we give to others, that has eternal value stored in Heaven. Imagine if there was an investment, the pastor said, that gave you that much. A 100-fold return means a 10,000% return on investment. If you got that much on an investment, you’d want to put everything into it. That’s the “pearl of great price” that the Bible talks about, something so valuable that you will give everything you have to get it.

He read that there are four characteristics of a get-rich-quick scheme. Number one: it’s too good to be true. Number two: you have to make a decision right away without consulting anyone else. Number three: you have to use money that you can’t afford to lose. Number four: you don’t understand it the investment.

And then he said that those are also the characteristics of our investment in Heaven. Number one: it’s too good to be true, getting a 10,000% return on any good deeds or charity we do and give. Number two: you have to make a decision right away, because when do people need your help and charity? If they’re stuck, if they’re starving? They need it right away, not later.

Number three, you have to use something you can’t afford to lose. We feel like we can’t give away our material things, like the rich young ruler who didn’t want to give up his possessions after talking to Jesus. But think of it this way: Martin Luther said that he had had many things in his life and lost them all except the things that he gave to God, because those things are still his. And then the fourth one is great, which is that we really don’t understand how we can have infinite riches and eternal life because of the death of one Man. We’ll study it forever. The Bible says that even angels long to study the plan of salvation.

One thing that stood out about the sermon is that it made me think that maybe there was something literal about the idea of getting a 10,000% return on investment in Heaven; maybe it’s not just a general saying. What if there were an actual storehouse or bank in Heaven that gave out a specific reward for our giving here on Earth? That seems almost wrong to have any kind of literal rewards in Heaven. It must be figurative, right?

That’s what I always assumed, and I don’t know. But if it were literal, that wouldn’t be so bad, because not everyone has to be equal in Heaven. Some people will be totally new in the knowledge of God when they get there, whereas some will be famous saints and martyrs and even kings. But because no one will envy or covet, everyone will simply give glory to God for any gift that He gives, even when gifts are going to someone else.

So maybe it wouldn’t be wrong for literal investment returns to go to certain people. It reminds me of the Christian author Chris Blake in his book Searching for a God to Love. He wrote that God doesn’t have us practice something that we’re not going to keep doing later; in other words, we’re not going to practice charity and patience and temperance and then suddenly not use them any more in Heaven. Blake wrote that that would be like a swimming coach telling his team they were going to practice crocheting in order to get ready for the swim meet; you have to practice what you’re actually going to be performing.

So there might be a real continuity between what we do in this life and what we do and receive in Heaven. I usually have imagined that we get done with this life and then, boom, everything is different when we get to Heaven–a clean start. But if there were more of a connection between what we do here and what happens there, that would make a lot of sense. It would seem to be in keeping with the character of the Creator who makes so many cause-and-effect connections in Nature. It also reminds me of the C.S. Lewis book The Last Battle in which the main characters travel to Paradise and find a talking mouse who, because of his valor and love, is living inside an estate that actually contains a whole country inside of it–it’s bigger on the inside than the outside.

Of course, everyone in Heaven will ultimately have infinite wealth because of knowing God and being taken care of for all eternity. The scientist Dr. Buckminster Fuller wrote that wealth is not money; wealth is the ability to extend and enhance life–to travel, to learn, to contribute meaningfully, to have shelter, food, friends, and the like. So we’ll all really have infinite wealth in Heaven and the New Earth, even if people have different specific rewards when we first arrive. Not everyone has to be the same! God loves variety. And with no envy or pride, we will, too.

The pastor also stated that the saddest story in the Bible, to him, as an estate planner, is the story of Achan. Achan stole from God when God told the Israelites to give all the treasures of Jericho to the temple. Achan kept some for himself. He was discovered and stoned (along with his whole family). What’s so sad about this, the pastor said, was that if he had waited a few weeks, he would have been rich beyond his wildest dreams: the children of Israel were simply given all the lands of the Canaanites. Achan would have had vineyards and houses and more. So stealing from God was really also destroying his own wealth and inheritance.

It’s not easy to give; we want to be sure we’re safe and we can provide for those close to us. That’s prudent. But we’re also building a great inheritance for ourselves on the New Earth when we take care of others, following the example of Jesus’ perfect life.

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

There’s One Thing with No Beginning

hubbledeepfield

Imagine a timeline of the universe, going back further and further before the Earth was created, labeled in millions or billions of years perhaps. At some point, since the Bible says “In the beginning,” there has to be a start to the timeline where the universe was created. Every other event followed from that, cause leading to effect on and on. But right before the beginning, God exists (and He exists all around and under and through the timeline, too). He’s outside of time, time is in Him, and He has absolutely no beginning, no cause, and simply always exists with no support or need. He simply exists; He is existence.

Everything in existence is a miracle constantly. It’s all supernatural in origin every moment. We are in God; we live and move and have our being in Him, the Bible says.

I’ve mentioned before that a prominent scientist stated that it’s a mystery why there is anything in existence at all rather than just non-existence. That’s true. If there were no God, why would anything exist at all?

Now, in all eternity, something either has to exist forever or nothing would exist, ever. And with no God, something unintelligent and unloving would have had to exist forever. Why? Because nothing can come from nothing, and so if there were ever pure nothingness in the past, then nothing would exist today. But something does exist, so we know there has always been something. (Thanks to C.S. Lewis for that argument.)

Well, even with God, it’s a profound mystery why He should simply exist–no time, no beginning, no outside cause of His existence, nothing else above Him bringing Him into existence. It almost seems crazy that He should exist at all.

But we either believe in Him, or we believe that something else has always existed, such as time, space, matter, and random fluctuations. Either some sort of combination of conditions and materials that creates beings, stars, pebbles, etc., over huge periods of times through random combinations, or a conscious, loving, eternal, wise Being Who creates everything when and how He chooses for pure love and joy.

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

(This is a reflection on Ellen White’s words quoted in the January 4 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less01.html.)

“So brim-full of existence that He can give existence away…”

god finger

This lesson states that God has incredible power and is not bound by the laws of nature. (This is a reaction to the January 1 bible study lesson at http://www.ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less01.html.) The amazing thing is that He actually has infinite power, endless power.

The lesson mentions that we don’t know how God created. That’s true. We can imagine all sorts of amazing construction projects, and we can imagine energy being converted into matter. But what we really can’t understand is existence itself being created. But that’s the only scenario that makes sense, unless you think that the universe has existed forever, and that contradicts the Bible, which says that God created all things. (I remember reading that a famous atheist said that the most profound mystery is why there is existence at all rather than non-existence.)

This reminds me of what the theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote: that God is the source of all existence–nothing else has existence except through Him–and He gives existence away to things and beings who didn’t have it before. The Christian author C.S. Lewis put it this way: “He is so brim-full of existence that He can give existence away, can cause things to be, and to be really other than Himself, can make it untrue to say that He is everything.” The image is of a God overflowing with sheer existence and letting it spill over into new beings who then suddenly exist.

Imagine having all the other qualities of life that you have, such as color and breath and thought, but lacking the quality of existence. It doesn’t make sense. But Aquinas gets deep into the philosophy behind this in his book Summa Theologica. What I got out of it is that God is really amazing in His ability to cause things to simply exist.

That is sort of like His primary power that no other being could ever have. Every other thing or being in existence has to have the quality of existence, and only God can supply it. We are utterly dependent on Him. Wonderfully, He is also utterly loving and constantly giving.

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