Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Explaining Variations in Jesus' Words

There are several good explanations for why each of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) sometimes carry slightly different accounts of what Jesus said: In some cases it could be that it is a different event being recorded and that Jesus said similar things on differerent occasions (just as any traveling preacher might do); in some cases one writer may have recorded one part of what Jesus said and another writer may have recorded another part of what he said; or it could be that the Aramaic words Jesus used could be translated into the Greek of the New Testament using different (legitimate) words, and the gospel writers chose different words to bring out a different emphasis in what Jesus said; or, finally, it could be that the authors are paraphrasing - legitimately giving the meaning of what Jesus said - but not always giving the words verbatim.

All of these are good possibilities and probably they all apply in various situations.

But in reading the letter of 1 John it occurs to me that there may be another good explanation, and that is, simply, that Jesus said the same thing multiple ways on the same occasion.

Listen to 1 John 2:12-14:

I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.

And then it repeats, but with differences:

I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.
I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

So, here we have John, one of Jesus' main disciples, who may well have picked up some of his teaching style from his Master, saying one thing and then immediately repeating it with some variation.

I suspect that Jesus may have done the same thing; say things one way, then immediately say them in another way. Then - in some cases - one gospel writer may have recorded one of Jesus' comments and another writer may have recorded another.

As I reflect on this, I recall that just this last Sunday the pastor at our church said the same thing four or five times in a row, sometimes repeating what he said verbatim, sometimes with variations, as a way of emphasizing his point.

If my pastor did this, and if the apostle John did this, I'm sure Jesus may have done it as well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Accidentally Obedient

Usually I'm a bit quiet among people I don't know, and, well, sometimes I'm quiet among people I do know, so obeying Jesus' command to let the world know about him has always been rather difficult for me to obey on a personal level. I'm okay with supporting missionaries financially and things like that, but personally talking to people about Christ ("witnessing," in Christian jargon) has always been very difficult for me.

But over the past few years I've discovered - accidentally - that it can be done without any difficulty at all. So I thought I'd pass along what I've learned for other Christians who are on the shy side.

Fortunately, in addition to being a bit shy, in some ways I'm also boringly predictable. I wake up early and go out to a coffee shop (the same one all the time) to have a cup of coffee, read my Bible, pray, and plan my day. I don't approach anyone or really attempt any conversation, though I try to smile at people who walk by.

Well, it turns out that other people are also creatures of habit, and a lot of them come to the same coffee shop every day at the same time. So after months and even years of just being there you get to know people by face, and eventually somebody is bound to come up to you and say something like, "Can I use this chair?" and I say "Sure!" But one way or another, you slowly get to know people.

And people see you reading your Bible, and when they know you a little bit they comment on that and you can respond. I've had spiritual conversations with several people and got one guy a Bible by just - basically - sitting there minding my own business.

And, of course, occasionally Christians will see you with your Bible and will say hello and sometimes share something from their own lives. I've prayed with people who have endured some deep pains (one woman lost her husband in a traffic accident and another was in real financial trouble).

But my point is that it all came about by just quietly sitting and reading my Bible. But - and here's the secret - doing it for a loooong time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

God of Mystery

Speaking of mysteries (as I did in my last post) the thought occurs to me that if I believed in a God in whom there was no mystery, I'd probably be believing in a made-up God.


Because I think a made-up God would be a god who makes sense within the everyday knowledge that we have. I just don't think we'd make up a god who didn't fit our notions of reality.

Instead, the Real God must be greater than everything we perceive, or He couldn't have made everything.

And if there is mystery in what we perceive - and when we come to the edges of our perception of reality, things do begin to get really weird - then the God who created all this stuff, from the commonplace to the incomprehensibly baffling, must have a nature that in some ways is far more baffling than the weirdest mysteries of the universe.

His nature is true and constant and good, but to us limited human beings elements of his nature must be impossible to understand. I guess that's where faith comes in.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mystery for Christians and Atheists

Whenever either Christians or atheists get to a certain point in a logical examination of their beliefs, they find mystery.

For example, let's take the topic of free will.

For the Christian there are two seemingly incompatible truths:

First, that human beings have a free will and can make real decisions. You can see this throughout the Bible in every command and every bit of praise and every bit of blame. If we were mere puppets then we couldn't make real decisions - for good or for bad - so there would be no need for commands and no point in praise or blame.

Second, there is the truth that God is in control of everything, down to the last little thing.

So how do those two beliefs fit together? I don't know.

But the atheist faces a similar dilemma.

On the one hand, most atheists seem to believe that people can make real free-will decisions, otherwise, why would they write books and give lectures and otherwise try to persuade people to become atheists?

But on the other hand, athiests believe that everything is based on purely natural processes: one thing leading to another to another to another, the previous things causing the next things, from the beginning of the universe right down to their lives. But that means their decisions are not really decisions, but are just the inevitable result of preceeding events.

So, they believe in free-will and they believe that free-will is impossible, two clearly contradictory beliefs.

Okay, so what is the difference between the Christian's dilemna and the atheist's?

Well, as a Christian, what makes the seeming contradiction acceptable to me is that I know the One who understands how they fit together and who wouldn't have told us these two truths if they did not fit together. So I can reasonably assume that the logical conflict I face is resolved in dimensions or ways that I can't begin to imagine.

But the atheist - by definition - cannot appeal to God or any "higher power" who might assure him that, despite appearances, his contradictory beliefs fit together. Therefore he has no reasonable cause for believing that the logical conflict he faces can be reconciled, and he is left with nothing but contradiction.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Where Did God Come From?

I thought this question had been adequately dealt with years ago, but it seems to have made a reappearance, so I thought I would address it.

If you ask, "Where did God come from?" you are incorrectly including in your question the idea that God is a part of time, rather than the creator of time.

It does not make sense to ask what came "before" God because words like "before" and "earlier" and "previous" and so forth are all about time, but God made time and therefore is separate from time. And if something is separate from time, then there is no "before," and asking what is before God is as silly as asking, "What is before blue?" It is not a time question so you can't get a time answer.

Think of time as a line you draw on a sheet of paper. If someone asked what comes before you on that line, the question wouldn't really make sense because you are not part of the line. It's the same with God.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Encyclopedia Trivia

I've been slowly adding an old encyclopedia to the web, reading it as I go along, and occasionally stumbling on interesting tidbits.

For instance:

- Did you know that "Captain Bligh ... betrayed a singular capacity for making himself disliked by his subordinates." Oh, you did know that.

- I like James Brindley's method of solving problems.

- Did you know that a French engineers' report concluded that it would be virtually impossible to build the the Panama Canal?

- Did you know Sunday School had an inventor?