Christianity 201

December 3, 2014

What Science Cannot Accomplish, God Can

Regular contributor Clarke Dixon begins a series of Advent meditations. Click the title to read at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. (Should that be Shrunken?)

Finding Hope

small__5645102295We Canadians can tend to be a hopeful bunch. Perhaps for some of us it is learned through the yearly reaffirmation of that hopeful phrase “there is always next year” when the Toronto Maple Leafs are knocked out of contention. Perhaps it is our yearly experience of spring following a hard winter. Whatever it is, we are hopeful.

Where do we place our greatest hope? Some might say on winning the lottery, but when you look around, science must be near the top of the list. And for good reason. Because of science we getting better at treating diseases and closer to finding cures. Because of science we enjoy quite good health care and many other comforts. As Christians we celebrate science and encourage our youth to pursue it with excellence. It is a very hopeful and hope inspiring enterprise. But it is limited:

Science cannot lift the shroud of death. Even if a cure is found for all kinds of disease, we will die from something else, old age if nothing else. Old age is an age old problem. Even if we produce some kind of miracle cure for aging, people will still die from violence, accidents, or disasters. Science can help us live longer but what it cannot do is keep us from dying. Compare this to hope placed in God:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
(Isaiah 25:6-8a NRSV)

This prophecy of Isaiah points forward to the coming of Jesus, whose death and resurrection took place on that very mountain of Zion. His resurrection points to the fact that God has power over death. That is a power we cannot replicate through our best scientific endeavours. Only the Creator has the power to mess with the creation to that extent.

And only God has the ability to deal with the core problem that leads to death. We think the core problem is that our bodies are prone to failure, and so we seek physical cures. But think back to Adam and Eve and the banishment from the Garden of Eden and the introduction of death. We die because our spirits are prone to failure, we die because of sin. Science can help us deal with some of our physical problems, but only God can deal with our sin problem. He does, has done, and will do:

 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NRSV)

Science cannot wipe away all tears from all faces. Science can help wipe away tears, and does keep certain tears from streaming. How thankful I am for what good science has meant for my child with Type 1 diabetes. Just a century ago grief filled tears were the only prognosis for a parent. But here also, science is limited. Though science can save a good number of people from the effects of disease, how far does it go to ensure people do not experience the effects of injustice, fighting, hatred, and war. Tears have always been with us, but with God things will be different:

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
(Isaiah 25:8b NRSV)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:3-5 NRSV)

God, who is Creator, is also the One who is re-Creator. “Every tear” includes every tear ever shed by His people.

Science cannot take away disgrace from people. We should mention here that it is not science itself that gives hope. It is good people using science for good ends that inspire hope. The advances made possible through science can also be used for evil. If we look at the history of humanity, it is a history of bright moments and achievement. But it is also a history of disgrace. While the name Nobel is often associated with awards for pursuing peace, it is also associated with the creation of deadly weapons, which have been used to maintain peace and wage wars alike. Such is the history of humanity, a mixture of beauty and disgrace. But while we continually fall into disgrace, it was in God’s heart to lift us to a place of grace:

. . . and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 25:8c)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 8:1 NRSV)

In no moment of world history has humanity fallen into disgrace further than when we lifted up Jesus to crucify him. And in no moment of history has God’s grace been more evident.

It is good to have hope in scientific discovery and advance. But as good as it is, it is limited. I am reminded of a van we once owned which proudly displayed a “limited” badge. We bought it with some excitement, but years of ownership proved its limitations alright. It was limited in power, in endurance, and in reliability. It earned its “limited” status well! We approach science with great excitement over its ability to inspire hope. But it is limited. When we stand before the Creator we have sinned against, our only hope will be in the salvation revealed in Jesus Christ.

It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(Isaiah 25:9 NRSV)

December 5, 2011

Two Aspects of Advent

Consider for a moment two aspects of the advent of Christ as it might relate to his second coming:

  • The timing of His coming
  • The nature of His arrival

The timing of His coming

I’ve heard many sermons about the fact that before the time of Christ, we find what Christians call the “intertestamental period” wherein the prophets seem to be silent. It’s a kind of ‘calm before the storm’ before Jesus breaks on the scene and teaches like no other rabbi or prophet ever.

Will there be a calm before the storm before Jesus returns a second time? The voices (prophets if you will) of our day are being silenced. In the east because of the rise of militant Islam or religious radicals in places like India. In the west because of the rise of militant atheism or political correctness. Could it be that the second coming of Christ will take place in a time where the voices of the prophets are not heard in the land?

The nature of His arrival

We tend to think of Jesus’ arrival on earth at Bethlehem, but really Jesus arrived so to speak when He began His public ministry. You can date this arrival by His submission to John’s baptism and identification by John as “the lamb of God;” or you can choose the wedding at Cana or the beginning of His teaching ministry.

We tend to think of Jesus’ second arrival as being signaled by the sound of trumpets and his appearance on a white horse.

I am not, in the following paragraphs, suggesting that it’s possible that Christ has already returned and is alive and on earth now; so please don’t write me off as a heretic.

What I’m wondering is, if it’s possible for Jesus to embed himself here on earth somehow for a short period of time, and then, suddenly, there is the sound of trumpets, there is the appearance of the conquering King on a white horse (as opposed to the submission symbolized by the donkey the first time around) and every eye sees and every ear hears. I say that only because that was the nature of His first coming. There was a beginning in Bethlehem that preceded — in this case by 30 years — the beginning of His taking up His spiritual office.

Before you jump all over this and find it full of flaws, remember, at the time of His birth, it is the belief of many commentators that nobody understood the “…then a virgin shall conceive…” passage as meaning exactly how we know today the story played out. There wasn’t the “messianic mindset.”

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned herself as being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior. Though all was quiet on the western eastern front, there was great expectancy. None of this type of speculation discounts the aspect of “being caught up to meet Him in the air;” the idea that the quietly building return should not have its moments of drama.

I’m just saying it would be most consistent if, in addition to the timing of His second coming following the pattern of His first coming; that the nature of His arrival should also include something that has an element of ‘process’ to it. That perhaps instead of looking “up” we should be looking to the left and to the right. Scanning the horizon for the Lion of Judah who has massed his forces, or, more likely, will mass his forces, right here prior to that moment when every eye will see and every ear will hear.

Or perhaps it’s something closer to the more traditional view, but there is a physical presence — similar to the angels at Bethlehem singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ — followed by the taking up of the spiritual office. A period, a moment filled with signs in the skies followed by a dawning of the great significance of what is happening. Only instead of it taking up to a year for the Magi to arrive on the scene bearing gifts, we have CNN carrying the event live.

Either way of course, it will also be a dramatic intervention into world history on a par equal to His first coming; but seen and known by everyone instantaneously.

The point is, ultimately we just don’t know. However, though we don’t know “the day nor the hour,” we can know “the times and seasons.” And we can be prepared. Are you?

My point is to ask, “What if…?” We read scriptures with so many built-in assumptions — as I am sure Old Testament saints did with the writings available to them — and I think we need to be challenged to think outside the box, without tossing out the basic elements necessary for the Grand Story to play out to completion. Is it heretical to ask, “What if…?”? I think the next chapter will be full of surprises on so many levels.

I Cor 2:6 Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7 No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8 But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,   

 “No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
      and no mind has imagined
   what God has prepared
      for those who love him.”  NLT