iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Wondering

literature: lyrics to new hymns and some revisions to old hymns, poetry, and stories

Creation of ubiquitous light

The first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1, has attracted many commentators over the centuries. Recent scholarly work attempts to place it in the context of ancient Near East writings. (Near East is the European moniker for what Americans call the Middle East.) That however undervalues the unique, nuanced text of Genesis.

Creation ex nihilo is analogous in some ways to the creation of an axiomatic system such as Euclid’s Elements of Geometry. Before the first postulate (“A straight line segment can be drawn joining any two points.”) one should not assume that any such straight lines exist. “Let there be a line such that …” is the act of creating a line.

Similarly, in reading Genesis 1 we should not assume that before something was created, it existed or it existed in the way that we know it. Things we take for granted today, such as light, had to be created. This requires a close reading of Genesis 1 as a step by step process in which as little as possible is assumed to exist before there is some indication that it does exist.

Genesis 1 begins with some of the most famous words ever written:

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

In regards to light, the second verse says there was darkness but no light, at least in the earthly world (we’re not told about the heavens of verse 1). Light is created in verse 3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Where was the light shining from that was created in verse 3? And what time was the light shining? The text answers the second question first, in verses 4 and 5: “And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

The light of verse 3 was separated from darkness to produce daylight, that is, a time of light. Before that separation, light and darkness were commingled in time. That is, at first light was ubiquitous in time. After the separation, light was concentrated in time, which is what constituted Day, that is, daylight.

Several verses later the text reads about the fourth day (Gen. 1:14-18):

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

For centuries people have found this passage perplexing. How could there be light on earth without the sun? Why was the sun needed if there was already light on earth? To start with, there was light on earth before the sun; that’s what the text says about day one. There was also evening and morning, nighttime and daytime without the sun.

Again, where was the light shining from that was created in verse 3? The answer is given in verse 18, which says why the sun, moon, and stars were created: to separate the light from the darkness. Prior to this light and darkness were commingled in space. That is, at first light was ubiquitous in space.

The image is that of the creation of ubiquitous light, which is then separated from darkness in time, and later separated from darkness in space. The separation of light and darkness on the fourth day produced stars, including the sun. The stars were not created from nothing at that time but were made by concentrating the light in space. Stars are a concentration of light that was already there.

This answers another perplexing question, which is asked since the speed of light is known to be finite, and some stars are many light-years away: How did the light get from the stars to the earth so quickly? The answer is that the light was already on the earth because light was ubiquitous in space before the stars were made. Concentrated darkness was lacking, too, before the light and darkness were separated.

In order to explain how starlight got to earth in a short time, it is sometimes asserted that God created light in transit. That is a different view than the one presented here, and one that lacks support in the text of Genesis 1. There are those who say Genesis 1 is just poetry and so can be interpreted any way you want. I have no patience for such a low view of poetry or anyone who plays fast and loose with the text. The close reading above shows that the text of Genesis 1 makes sense on its own terms.

One-sentence summaries

One could use the common one-sentence summary of the Muslim faith to describe other monotheistic faiths and monistic ideologies; for example:

There is no God but Yahweh and Moses is his legislator.

There is no God but Yahweh and David is his psalmist.

There is no God but Deus and the Pope is his bishop.

There is no God but Gott and Luther is his reformer.

There is no God but Dieu and Calvin is his polemicist.

There is no God but Jesus and Wesley is his evangelist.

There is no God but Nature and Newton is his scientist.

There is no God but Evolution and Darwin is his scientist.

There is no God but Matter and Marx is his revolutionary.

 

I give thanks

I give thanks that “God exists and rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).

I give thanks that “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (Ps 19:9).

I give thanks to God for providing salvation and life everlasting, even for me, who am not worthy nor able to do the least to begin a new life in Christ.

I give thanks for the blessings of this life — for health, for wealth, for a wife. I give thanks for a mind to think, hands to work, and a spirit to worship the Creator, Savior, and Redeemer of mankind.

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you most humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and for the hope of glory. And give us, we pray, such a sense of all your mercies that our hearts may be unfeignèdly thankful, and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you, in holiness and righteousness, all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical

This post is about the words catholic, orthodox, and evangelical and what they mean. The first question is whether only one branch (denomination) of Christianity can legitimately use any of these words. The answer is No; many churches can use them.

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed includes the words “In one holy catholic and apostolic Church”. So any church that accepts this creed has some claim on the word catholic (as well as the word apostolic).

Catholic means universal so any church that identifies with the universal church (whether as part of it or the whole of it is another matter) has a claim on this word. This includes every branch of Christianity, though the Church of Rome has taken it their moniker.

It is similar with the word orthodox. Any church that considers its doctrine to be orthodox Christianity has a claim on this word. That covers every branch of Christianity, although the churches of Eastern Christianity have taken it as their moniker.

The word evangelical simply means “pertaining to the gospel.” Any church which promotes the gospel has a claim on this word. That covers every branch of Christianity, though some Protestant churches (especially revivalist ones) have taken it as their moniker.

We could say that the words catholic, orthodox, and evangelical have generic and specialized meanings. Their specialized uses are usually capitalized. No one branch of Christianity has a monopoly on any of these words, though it sometimes seems so.

 

Million-dollar parable

You’re broke. You don’t have enough the pay the rent at the end of the month. If your car breaks down, you can’t afford to have it fixed. Your bank account is almost empty. You’re at the end of your rope.

Then an old friend stops by, someone you knew in school who happens to be very wealthy. He says he heard you’ve been having a hard time so he went to your bank and deposited a million dollars in your name. You can hardly believe it. You thank him and he leaves.

Then you start wondering, Is this for real? So you go down to the bank and ask for your balance. The clerk gives you a slip of paper with the balance and, sure enough, it says there’s a million dollars there. You take that slip of paper home and keep it with you. Sometimes you take it out and read it to remind you this is for real.

It starts to sink in and you tell others what happened. You think of all the things you can do with the money now. You can take your family on a vacation. You can pay for your kids to go to college. You can even give some money away.

You keep in touch with this old friend — after all, friends like this are good to have. You thank him every time you meet. You tell others about this friend’s generosity and how you didn’t earn a penny of it. You’re very thankful that your life has turned around.

This changes your life but it didn’t have to. You could have told your old friend, I appreciate your concern but I believe in earning my own way in this world — I don’t want to be dependent on anyone else. Thanks but no thanks.

Or you could have gone down to the bank and told them, There’s been a mistake — take that million dollars off the account. You don’t want it, you don’t need it, you’re not going to keep it.

Either way, the gift is for you. The million dollars is put on your account. Your finances are secure — unless you reject this gift. And if you keep it, your life will be changed.

Complementary Catholics and Evangelicals

There is a kind of complementarity between Catholics and Evangelicals today. Very briefly, accepting the authority of the Pope is the key to being a Catholic today. There seems to be little else that unites the bewildering variety of Catholics, from Latin mass hard-liners to Marxist liberation theologians and from the superstitious to the intellectuals.

Accepting the authority of the Bible is the key to being an Evangelical today. There seems to be little else that unites the bewildering variety of Evangelicals, from fundamentalist hard-liners to breezy popularizers and from stuffy traditionalists to laid-back gen-Xers.

Catholics justify the papacy by a hierarchical conception of the church and an emphasis on unity. Evangelicals justify a multiplicity of denominations by a bottom-up conception of the church and an emphasis on doctrinal purity.

Catholics criticize the sola scriptura of Evangelicals by pointing out that a church is needed to determine what is or is not scripture. Evangelicals defend the authority of the Bible by its holy authorship, self-referential integration, and miraculous quality.

Evangelicals criticize the papacy (and the devotion to saints) by pointing out that Christ is our only mediator. Catholics defend the authority of the papacy by its long-running preservation, doctrinal fidelity, and unifying position.

There are two other groups that aren’t part of this complementarity: the Orthodox and the Liberals. The Orthodox are the extreme traditionalists, trying to preserve the church of late antiquity. The Liberals are the extreme accomodationists, trying to be as consistent with larger social and intellectual trends as possible.

The concept of miracle

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg made some good points in a short article on miracles; see excerpt below:

In the modern history of the dispute between scientists or philosophers calling upon the authority of science on the one hand and Christian theologians on the other, the concept of miracle has become one of the more intricate problems, because miracles are said to involve a violation of the laws of nature, as David Hume asserted in the section on miracles in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). This is a self-defeating notion of miracle, of course, because the logic of the concept of natural law requires that there be no exceptions–otherwise the pretended law in question would turn out not to be truly a law of nature. The concept of miracle as a violation of natural law subverts the very concept of law and in effect exposes the futility of the assertion of miracles.

This is not the meaning of the concept of miracle in Christian theology, however. In the biblical writings, the word miracle refers to extraordinary events that function as “signs” of God’s sovereign power. Therefore, the biblical language often speaks of “signs and wonders’ (Daniel 6:27; John4:48). A wonder, or miracle, is basically an unusual–in fact, extraordinary–event. Augustine said, “Whatever is unusual, is a miracle”…. Explicitly he emphasized that events of that type do not occur contrary to the nature of things. To us they may appear contrary, because of our limited knowledge of the “course of nature.” But God’s point of view is different, because he is the Creator of the nature of things as well as of the events that appear unusual to us. …

In medieval theology the conception of miracles changes, because the nature of things was now conceived of objectively, not in relation to the limitations of our knowledge. …

Later, the view of miracles as occurring contra naturam [against nature] became more generally accepted, as did a concept of nature and of the order of nature based on human experience. This development finally led to the idea that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.

The concept of miracle in the Augustinian sense of the term, then, does not involve any opposition to the order of nature described in terms of natural law. It only requires us to admit that we do not know everything about how the processes of nature work.

Zygon, vol.37, no.3 (Sept. 2002), 759-762

 

Dialogue on induction

Greek Coffee

Philario was sitting in the coffee shop, typing into his computer when he saw his friend Hector and greeted him.

Philario:  Hi, Hector.  What’s up?

Hector:  Well said, Philario.  What is up.  Who is down.

Philario:  Are you trying to Costello me?

Hector:  I wasn’t Abbott to do that.

Philario:  Very funny.  I’m searching on induction.  Can you tell me what it is?

Hector:  It depends on what kind of induction you want.

Philario:  I want the kind of induction used in natural science.

Hector:  OK, say we’ve got this large urn. You put your arm in and as far as you can tell it’s full of pieces of pottery.  Then you pull out one piece, and it’s painted blue.  What do you conclude about how the other pieces are painted?

Philario:  I don’t know; they could be painted anything.  Perhaps they’re from a beautiful urn that broke in pieces.

Hector:  Now think like a natural scientist.  What do natural scientists say about nature?

Philario:  They say nature is uniform.

Hector:  So if nature is uniform, how are all the balls painted?

Philario:  They must be painted the same way.

Hector:  That’s right!  So the natural scientist says they’re all painted blue.

Philario:  But they could easily be wrong!

Hector:  Did you ever notice how often natural scientists change their opinions?  They don’t seem to worry about being wrong.

Philario:  Well, I would worry about being wrong.

Hector:  Then you’re not a natural scientist!  Now suppose you pull out another piece, and it’s also painted blue.  What do you conclude?

Philario:  There’s beginning to be a pattern.  So it’s possible they could all be painted blue.

Hector:  You need more confidence if you want to be a natural scientist.

Philario:  I didn’t say I wanted to be a natural scientist.  I just want to know how they think.

Hector:  So try thinking like one.  What do you say?

Philario:  I suppose I should say they’re all painted blue.

Hector:  Now do you have any evidence to back that up?

Philario:  I don’t have much evidence; only two pieces.

Hector:  But is there any contrary evidence?

Philario:  No, not yet.

Hector:  There’s no contrary evidence so no-one can say you’re wrong yet.

Philario:  That’s not much consolation.

Hector:  You need more confidence, my man!  You can prove your case by appealing to all the available evidence.

Philario:  But someone else might take out other pieces and find they are painted differently.

Hector:  Has that happened yet?

Philario:  No.

Hector:  So you’ve made your case for now.  No-one can prove you wrong.

Philario:  Now suppose you put your hand in and pull out another piece, and it’s painted red.  What do you say?

Hector:  I would say I was wrong about all of them being blue because some of them are red.

Philario:  That’s weak, much too weak.

Hector:  I could say based on the evidence two-thirds are probably blue and one-third are probably red.

Philario:  That’s what statisticians say!  You’re trying to think like a natural scientist.

Hector:  So what should I say?

Philario:  You should say there are two kinds of pieces in the urn.  One kind are all painted blue and the other kind are all painted red.  You might say that the blue kind are from a piece of blue pottery and the red kind are from a piece of red pottery.

Hector:  That sounds like a hypothesis.

Philario:  Yes, it is a hypothesis!

Hector:  So natural scientists make bold statements based on flimsy evidence and call them hypotheses.

Philario:  You might put it that way.  But remember they are careful not to contradict evidence, unless they want to say the evidence is erroneous.

Hector:  Why would they say evidence is erroneous?

Philario:  Because it gets in the way of a good hypothesis!

Hector:  So it’s all about making up hypotheses that sound good.

Philario:  You’re catching on!

Hector:  I think I’m too cautious to be much good at that.

Philario:  Have you considered becoming a statistician?

Hector:  No, do they like to be cautious?

Philario:  Boy, do they like to be cautious!  That’s probably all they do.

Hector:  They must eat sometimes.

Philario:  Probably.  But you can’t be 100% certain.

Hector:  I think I can be 100% certain about some things.

Philario:  Like what?

Hector:  I can be 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow.

Philario:  OK, let’s consider that.  What do you base that assertion on?

Hector:  I base it on the fact that it’s risen every time in the past.

Philario:  I didn’t know you were as old as time!

Hector:  Well, I haven’t personally witnessed the sun rising every day, but someone has.

Philario:  Who has?

Hector:  Other people.  There are records that go back to Babylon.

Philario:  What about before Babylon?

Hector:  Well, I suppose it must have risen before that, too.  We’ve got thousands of years’ worth of evidence that the sun rises every day.

Philario:  So there’s a high probably the sun will rise tomorrow.

Hector:  That’s what I said!

Philario:  No, you said you were 100% certain the sun will rise tomorrow.

Hector:  That’s virtually the same thing.  You’re not going to split hairs, are you?

Philario:  Of course I am!  We’re thinking like statisticians now.

Hector:  Oh no.  You mean statisticians are super cautious?

Philario:  Professionally, yes.  They’re paid to be hedge their bets.

Hector:  I don’t think I’m cut out to be a statistician either.

Philario:  You could always be a philosopher.

Hector:  Why is that?

Philario:  They can take any side of an argument!

Hector:  I think you’re better at that than I am.

Philario:  Study philosophy and you’ll get better at it.

Hector:  I’d rather have a latte.

 

It Could Happen

NEW YORK, 2024 JUL 14. President of the Nations Jack Lever gave his State of the World speech to the United Nations today. President Lever began by listing his accomplishments in the past year. These included making the United Nations’ currency, the Uno, the sovereign currency of every country. Switzerland, the last hold-out, turned over it’s franc in May. He also stated that world unemployment was at the same level it was before the World Depression of 2010-2018. While he acknowledged that the world economy still needed redistribution of wealth, he said that much progress had been made.

President Lever then outlined the challenges he sees ahead. First was ending the epidemics that spread during the World Depression. Next was having the World Curriculum that was completed last year instituted in the schools of every nation. Third was bringing unity to the religions of the world.

He stressed the importance of the third goal even though the first two might seem more pressing. “The goal of world unity will not be achieved without religions reconciliation,” he said to the delegates who gave him a standing ovation. He went on to say “Each of the great religions of the world must become unified before world religions can unite.” President Lever said that as a Christian he was particularly interested in the unity of the Christian Church. “In the spirit of Constantine the Great, I am calling all church leaders to an ecumenical council of reconciliation.” he said.

After the speech, church leaders reacted with cautious optimism. Some extremists of the Fundamentalist and Traditionalist groups made negative remarks but acknowledged that recent scandals have left them in a weak position. Commentators pointed out that this was an opportune moment since many new leaders have arisen during the last ten years who support unity, including the new Pope, John-Paul III. The decision by China earlier this year to adopt Christianity (which they call “the Three Self Patriotic Movement”) as their official religion added to the momentum world for unity.

BRUSSELS, 2025 MAR 6. The Ecumenical Council of Christian Unity convened today with an elaborate procession through the Capital of Europe. In his opening remarks, President of the Nations Jack Lever noted that every Christian body was in attendance: Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and Patriots (Chinese). Even obscure denominations sent delegates. Many said this was a testimony to President Lever’s political skills. Commentators pointed out that last year’s purges of leaders among Catholics and Orthodox removed most of the remaining resistance to the Council. A significant holdout, Metropolitan Boris of the Russian Orthodox Church, charged that these purges were worse than Stalin’s. After he died suddenly he was replaced by Metropolitan Joseph who accepts unity as inevitable.

The charge of the Council is threefold: to produce a common creed, a common liturgy, and a common clergy. This is no small task particularly since President Lever wants it done by the end of the year. Pope John-Paul III expressed optimism, saying “The time has come to bring unity to all the world.” The 6000 delegates gave him a standing ovation.

BRUSSELS, 2025 JUN 9. The Ecumenical Council of Christian Unity announced today that agreement had been reached on a Common Creed. Many observers were surprised at how quickly agreement was produced. Commentators pointed out that after the initial round of discussions produced deadlock, the delegates started dropping phrases that were unacceptable to any group. President of the Nations Jack Lever, who is himself a Christian and has prodded the Council, praised the creed. “The Common Creed is simple, yet elegant, and could easily be translated into any language of the world,” he said. The Council still must produce a common liturgy and a common clergy.

BRUSSELS, 2025 NOV 11. The Ecumenical Council of Christian Unity announced agreement had been reached on a Common Clergy. The announcement came after weeks of high-level pressure from President of the Nations Jack Lever. The final agreement places headquarters offices in Beijing but the leadership will rotate every 5 years between the three so-called Regions: Asia-Oceania (Beijing), Europe-Africa (Rome), and the Americas (Orlando). The new structure reflects the “flat organization” that has transformed businesses worldwide. There are four levels: Regional Shepherd, National Shepherd, Urban Shepherd, and Local Shepherd.

Since President of the Nations Jack Lever began calling Beijing “the new Constantople” in July, his allies have been pressuring the Orthodox. Metropolitan Joseph of the Russian Orthodox Church acknowledged that some Orthodox were unhappy but said the new leaders generally supported unity. Catholics of course wanted the headquarters in Rome but Pope John-Paul III graciously accepted the result saying, “The time has come to set the past aside for the sake of world unity.” A few demonstrators outside the building where the council was held denounced the agreement but were taken into custody for psychiatric counseling.

BRUSSELS, 2026 MAY 1. The Ecumenical Council of Christian Unity concluded today with a celebration led by World Shepherd Chin which was conducted according to the Common Liturgy that was agreed on last week. The celebration began with the 6000 delegates reciting the Common Creed that they agreed on last year. After some discussion, it was decided that each delegate should recite the creed in their own language although the rest of the liturgy was in English which was the official language of the Council.

Many were surprised that it took so long to agree on a Common Liturgy after the heady days last year when the Council agreed on the Common Creed and the Common Clergy. In the end differing views of the meaning of the Sacraments weren’t mentioned. Shepherd of the Americas Roberto said “These issues were left to the conscience of the individual.” Others indicated this means that Local Shepherds would set their own policies.

Other controversial issues of the past such as the status of the Virgin Mary were treated the same way. Instead, the last argument was over the date of Easter (known in some places as Pascha and in China as the Great Morning). Surprisingly, this controversy delayed the Council for eight weeks. The final result is a complex combination of ancient, modern, and Chinese methods.

2008

The Lord is My Shepherd who Takes Care of Me

The Lord is my shepherd who takes care of me.
He makes me to lie down where grasses grow free.
He leads me by waters to drink and digest,
Restoring my soul and giving me rest.

He guides me down paths of the righteous and just
Because of his name, the one whom I trust.
When through a dark valley I can’t see the way,
I will not fear evil for with me you’ll stay.

Your rod and your staff are a comfort to see,
Protecting, correcting, and rescuing me.
You set me a table in front of my foes,
My head is anointed, my cup overflows.

Now truly your goodness and mercy are here
And follow me throughout the life I hold dear.
I go to the Lord’s house again and again;
May there be my dwelling forever. Amen.
________________

Meter: 11.11.11.11
Foundation (e.g., How Firm a Foundation)
Gordon (e.g., My Jesus, I Love Thee)

(c) 2009