Monday, February 18, 2013

Divinity of Christ 2. The Scriptures declare: His virgin birth -- When Myth became Fact.

From the stone age storytellers have shown religious longings. Stories of a god-like hero who comes to save a community appear cross culturally for thousands of years. Instead of rejecting religious longings, we can think of these age old desires for faith as signposts leading us to faith in the historic person of Jesus.

Carl Jung introduced the idea of archetypes that appear cross culturally that tap into unconscious truths that each culture shares. These archetypes seem to be built into the structure of the mind, like a deep structured grammar, like an empty space that seeks to be filled. 

We can think of the virgin birth of Christ as a fulfillment of ancient longings.  Unlike the gods of folklore and myth, Christ was actually an historical person. Yet, the story of his birth follows the structure of any good narrative type.

We all enjoy a good story. But, we usually are even more impressed when a good story is also non-fiction or is "based on actual events".

The narrative of Christ's birth seems like the birth of other divine-like heroes of mythic times.

But, there are curious departures from the expected archetype. Unlike the mythological heroes who are portrayed as a descendant of the gods, Jesus is both fully God and fully human. No other "incarnation" of other religions (such as the Hindu gods who only appear as humans) have this quantum mechanics-like dual nature.

The Greek and Roman folktale figure Hercules was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman -- making him half god or a demi-god. The Hindu Krishna is fully divine and only takes on the appearance of a human.  The ancient emperors of China or ancient Mesopotamian kings were likewise fully divine.

Here the dual nature of Christ makes him stand out uniquely from the other gods of myth and folklore. when the formulation of the trinity adds something new that resembles quantum paradoxes.

Literary scholar C.S. Lewis argues that myth is a kind of deep structured grammar imbedded in the human imagination that unlocks truths that social progression is unable to realize otherwise. In When Myth became Fact, Lewis holds that literary images such as the divine hero told in prehistoric stories are necessary mental forms to help future generations understand what God was doing in history. He says that stories that formed the basis for pagan religions prepared our minds to accept the coming of Christ as an historical reality. The voice of imagination acts like an antenna for actualities to come.

"The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact," Lewis argued. 

"The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle." 

(C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 66-67.) 

The myths about the demi-gods and heroes our age old longing for an accessible encounter with the divine have been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. The stories of the mythic gods prepared us for accepting Jesus as God in fact. 

What is exciting about Christianity is that it fulfills all the best parts of all of the other religions.  We see Jesus as a fulfillment of the pagan stories of the divine savior. We can think of God as a human person with a body.

God's Spirit fills every point of space, fulfilling the faith of tribal animists who believe that spirits indwell natural objects such as trees or mountains. The Christian shares the believe that nature is filled with a Spirit, but God's Spirit isn't part of nature. God's mind created and observes nature and so when we encounter nature we are close to God.

God is the one transcendent, unknowable Spirit (Hinduism, Buddhism) who is accessible to our imagination and language in the person of Jesus.

We also have a basis for knowing about the nature of God from scripture, which we believe is God communicating through the consciousness of inspired writers. These writers were influenced by their cultures so interpretation is still necessary.

Inspiration is not dictation. We say that the bible is composed of "the Word of God in the words of men." We trust the 27 books New Testament as well as the 39 of the Old Testament and look to these for insights of God's will. Here are recorded the stories and teachings of men and women who had a close relationship with God and revealed his thinking about humanity.

If a personal God exists we would expect that this Being would try to communicate with us. The bible is our most accessible message from the Divine Being. 

A prophecy in the Old Testament foretold the coming of a universal savior who would be born of a virgin.  “Behold the virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and he shall be called Immanuel, meaning, with us is God.” (Isaiah 7:14) For God to be with us as a human we would expect a dramatic departure from the ways of biology as we know it.

The idea that Christ was conceived differently than any other person in history is unsurprising when we consider that Christ was the "Second Adam", or the human being who came to reverse the contamination of Adam's sin which lead to the current state of universal brokenness in society and nature. In other words, the DNA of Christ had to be unique from all others to break the inherited proclivity for radical separation from God's mind. Human DNA is in a spiritual state of brokenness along with all features of this universe.

It takes the mind of the incarnate Christ to repair the universal brokenness by his perfected divine-human dual nature. In other words, Christ needs to observe each feature of the universe, from the subatomic, to the everyday to the cosmic universal. In his observation he judges it and refines it and redeems it. Our spirit or inner being is saved when we respond to the observation of Christ by accepting his judgement and salvation. 

His observation makes us into the people that he wants us to be. An ordinary person would be unable to transform us by this intense quantum level observation. Only Christ, who is the Creator and fellow human, the dual natured God-man, is able to observe our constituent information and reform that information by his evaluation.

Unlike the natural "selfish gene" of biological reproduction which seeks to foster survival of specific traits, Christ's morally perfect DNA introduced the "unselfish gene" in human society which fulfills the purpose to heal universal brokenness and save humanity.

The doctrine of the virgin birth is necessary to create the unique God-man Jesus. He had to differ from ordinary humans to break the fundamental brokenness of time, space matter and society. Christ introduces the true evolutionary leap in human development that permits us now to be reborn into his family line that will signify the future of saved humanity. 

Although we say that Christ is fully human, Christians believe that Jesus is a unique person in the history of the world. We believe that his conception was likewise an unique event.  Just as the Big Bang started from nothing but the will of God, so the virginal conception of the Savior was a divine act without natural antecedent.

In the same way that virtual particles pop into existence from apparently nothing, so the random superpositions of subatomic particles could be re-arranged by the will of God with a different statistical algorithm to produce a unique fertilized egg in the womb of Mary. Since at its core all objects and phenomena are information, this information pattern could be re-arranged by God for a specific purpose of producing the perfect human DNA of the embryonic Christ who would then grow up to possess the redemptive consciousness needed to repair the universal brokenness.
By sending the virgin born Christ, God was injecting a healing quantum serum into the veins of civilization. We all need our flawed genetic condition treated by this "unselfish gene" therapy. We experience this radical salvation of our inner most being when we become a part of the family of God.


Divinity of Christ 3. The Scriptures declare: His sinless life -- Universal Brokenness has its Root in Flawed Human Consciousness.

“We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.”
- A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

That we live in a broken universe is a physical fact. After the Big Bang when time, space and matter began to cool, different features we observe cascaded into existence. Once everything existed in a microscopic super hot primordial. As things cooled, each of the fundamental forces were formed -- gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces and the electromagnetism. Each force "broke off" from a more unified state before, putting us in the middle of a physically broken universe.

In the same way, human society and psychology is broken. 

The brokenness may go deeper. It seems that human consciousness may have contaminated the universe with a backward in time effect that limits the potential that the Creator intended.  Flawed human consciousness -- that is there is something quite wrong with how we observe, think about and then act toward the world, ourselves and other-- is the source of all suffering, hurt, conflict war, alienation and even death itself. 

Sin is a word that means offense. It is an attack upon God's inner observation of the outward expression of reality. 

A world without sin would have harmony between this inner observation of information and its outward expression. The idea and its expression fit together to form something beautiful. For example, a great work of art inspires awe in the mind of the observer. The inner aesthetic observation is perfectly tied to the artifact.  In a similar way, the act of seeing natural beauty -- an orchid, mountain lake or child's face -- is ennobling.  

The experience of seeing the perfect connection between the act of conscious observation and the reality observed produces a feeling of harmony. There is no information that is disconnected. This harmony is what sinlessness is like. 

The reality of the world that we live in differs from the ideal such that we are surprised by brief episodes of beauty that we do encounter. To see beauty we need to turn our attention to unspoiled natural landscapes or to great works of art or literature to get glimpses of perfection. 

Ultimately we encounter perfect holiness when we encounter the person of Jesus Christ.  He embodies sinlessness. By getting know Christ we find that some of his holiness rubs off. By identifying with his life, death and resurrection we over come the effects of sin and begin the process of being changed into his likeness.  

Teologian A.W. Tozer refers to the quality of holiness almost as a luminous presence or fire that we can enter. We can gain knowledge of the holy.
"The original root of the word holy was of something beyond, something strange and mysterious and awe-inspiring. When we consider the holiness of God we talk about something heavenly, full of awe, mysterious and fear-inspiring. Now, this is supreme when it relates to God, but it is also marked in men of God and deepens as men become more like God. 

"It is a sense of awareness of the other world, a mysterious quality and difference that has come to rest upon some men - that is a holiness. . . . Theologians long ago referred to it as the numinous, meaning that overplus of something that is more than righteous, but is righteous in a fearful, awe inspiring, wondrous, heavenly sense. It is as though it is marked with a brightness, glowing with a mysterious fire." I Call it Hersey, Chapter Five, "Holiness is Not an Option", by AW Tozer, 1974)

The radical brokenness of the universe -- which affects our own ability to think -- cuts us off from experiencing the presence of holiness. We are blind to the light of God's moral perfection and may not even realize that our existential nature is offensive. When we do approach his awesome presence we rightly experience mystery and overwhelming awe.

We sense a disconnection between our own "ought" and "what is". We aspire to live up to certain ideals, but fall short. We experience alienation from our own set of values. That which we know is right and desire to do, we do not do. 

Saint Paul, author of the book of Romans in the bible, put it this way:

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

The holiness of God mends the brokenness and begins to conform the inner information that makes up who we are -- the genetic,  linguistic and cultural information pattern -- with the reality of our lives. The Holy Spirit fills the gap and applies the redemptive work of Christ on the cross to abolish the effects of sin. We must bask in the gaze of God. When we permit his consciousness to observe our inner being, our sin is burned away and we are transformed into his image. 

As the "new man" to replace the "old man", the mind of Christ makes up for the universal contamination of Adam's sin that spreads to all known reality both before and after. Christ is the first person born without sin and he himself never sinned. That is because the inner information of his being is in perfect harmony with God's observation of the outward expression of his life. Christ has led the way into a new kind of human existence marked by holiness. With God's help we are able to take this holy path towards Christ-likeness. We have hope to live without the effects of sin. In part now and fully one day. 


Divinity of Christ 4. His miracles: Authenticating Proof of the Trustworthiness of Christ we consider that all reality is ultimately information miracles become plausible. Time, space, matter, living organisms, even our thoughts are information patterns that could be expressed as a mathematical algorithm. Therefor if those algorithms could be re-written, the outward expression of reality would change.

Now if the divine Logos sustains the universe at each moment by his conscious observation then it is possible for him to choose to re-arrange the constituent information to produce new effects in the physical world. Just as changes in computer code produces different graphic effects on a screen. 

Christ performed miracles as recorded in the New Testament to prove that he was the Son of God. Two of his best known miracles was turning water into win and walking on water. Study of the stories show that details of the miracles were meant to convey larger truths. The wine from water signaled the beginning of Christ's mission which would end with wine served at the last supper and in the new Jerusalem of heaven. Walking on water symbolized God's control of physical forces such as entropy and death. 

Christ's greatest miracle was his resurrection from the dead. You have to admit that if this happened, it would prove that Christ was God in human flesh.

The point is that lots of prophets and holy men in history have made fantastic claims about themselves.  Only Jesus Christ lived a life to confirm that his claims were true. 

The Christian does not have a problem believing that on occasion God intervenes to influence the flow of cause and effect in our universe -- and even in our personal lives. God might perform a miraculous healing of a disease or ease a physical hardship. God might reveal to another person a "word of knowledge" about another person to inspire faith in a new believer. 

While miracles are uncommon they do exist. There are many testimonies of God healing people and providing tangible help in times of need, including healing of diseases after prayer. 

Unlike pagan concepts of magic, prayer is asking for the divine mind to act. It is God who has the power to cause an effect, not the supposed power of the person praying. Although there are personal benefits from composing a prayer such as helping the person imagine what he or she really wants, we should not think of prayers for miracles are mechanistic formulae like taking a drug. Such prayers are more like going to the top in an organization to get an immediate answer from the boss. The CEO may answer your request. He or she is not automatically obliged. 

Besides requests for healing or to meet some physical need, it is possible to ask God to reveal himself in your life. He may act in such an uncanny or surprising way to convince you that he is indeed real. 

Consider his words in John 14:1-8 comforting his disciples at the last supper the night before his death on the cross. Here he claims to be the "I AM" or the divine mind that created the universe. He also offers to help seekers find the way to know and experience God through him."Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us. Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

Divinity of Christ 5. His Substitutionary Work on the Cross

A question to consider is: how do you deal with guilt? Perhaps you hurt another person or chose to do something that you knew was wrong and the memory troubles you. Do you try to put guilt out of your mind and ignore the feelings of self condemnation? That doesn't work well. 

The existence of God adds to the mix. He is the standard of perfection, making our own limitations for goodness apparent. When we approach the holiness of God we may realize the extent of our own faults and tendency to do wrong as never before. 

The reality is that we are alienated from our own best intentions, from others and ultimately from our Creator. Alienation from God is called sin. It is the root of human wrong. We could say that sin has short circuited our hardwiring. 

A brief review of human history with all the manifestations of inhumanity makes the pervasiveness of our existential brokenness clear. 

The guilt we feel is a symptom that the human condition is broken and needs repair. 

Is there a way to resolve personal and spiritual guilt? Christ offers a solution to guilt. 

Everyone in the western world has seen images of the cross and Christ dying on the cross. We might wonder why the paintings and films showing a man tortured to death on a post could be so meaningful to believers. 

Essentially the idea is that Christ took our place on the cross. That is his death stands for our own. The cross of Christ makes possible the destruction of human guilt. 

Paul in his letter to followers of Christ in Rome said: 

Rembrant helps in Crucifixion
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ...

"For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" 

When we contemplate the execution of the Son of God -- the eternal Word of God -- being nailed to death on a wooded post and cross bar the believer will say: "He took my place. Christ died in my stead."

In his painting of the crucifixion, Rembrandt put himself in the scene, helping to hang Jesus on the cross as a reminder that his sins caused the Lord's death. 

The imagery goes back to ancient times when the Jewish tribes practiced animal sacrificial rites. Moses taught that certain animals should be offered up to God in spiritual ceremonies. The Hebrew priests of Yahweh  would kill goats, bulls, calves or doves, burning the meat and using the blood in purification rituals. 

At the annual Day of Atonement the high priest would lay his hands on the heads to two goats, confessing over them the sins of the people that year. One of the goats would be killed, it's blood used in ritual. The other, known as the "scape goat" would be chased into the wilderness, banished from the people. 

Paul and other New Testament writers argued that the ancient sacrificial system pointed to the reality of the final sacrifice for sin in the crucifixion of Christ. 

Identifying guilt with the sacrificial animal -- then killing the animal -- could be explained as a form of symbolic projection that relieves a person by psychological catharsis. Aristotle believed that tragic plays in which heros died violent deaths had a healing affect on audiences. 

The bible seems to say that the death of Christ on the cross was something more than catharsis. It along with the resurrection opened up a new reality analogous to the big bang creation of the universe. Now all things are new. The old life is gone. Absolute meaning is now accessible. 

Remember the Triangle of Meaning. Words stand for things. Symbols represent referents. Just as the sacrificial animal killed in the days of Moses represented the killing of the offenses of the people, so Christ as the Word of God, the universal Logos (meaning behind the universe) has taken our place, blotting out our sin and killing our guilt. 

We could say that the gospel -- the "good news" about the work of Christ -- is the ultimate message, encompassing all that is best about other human messages. It is the substance, like glue, that binds and give coherence among the chatter and absurdity.

All language is substitutionary. Symbols take the place of objects. Each symbol is "sacrificed" when it gives meaning to a referent in the sense that the word is now limited by the concept of the object (referent). 

The Word of God -- the person of Jesus Christ -- steps into our world to give us meaning, purifying us of sin and resolving our guilt. His death and resurrection gives us a new identity. We are free from the burden of past wrong doing. 

And amazingly, the cross of Christ has a forward in time effect. Not only are past offenses forgiven, but Christ has promised to save us from any future sin which we may commit.  
This promise is called grace and reminds believers that our salvation is independent on our own ability to live a perfect life. Rather we depend on the perfect work of Christ on the cross. 

This semiotic view of human salvation requires the sacrifice of Christ just like grammar is required to give meaning in language. He is the missing part that makes sense of our world. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up this way: 

"I would urge you to give priority to the search for God. Allow his Spirit to permeate your being. To meet the difficulties and challenges of life you will need him. Before the ship of your life reaches its last harbor, there will be long, drawn-out storms, howling and jostling winds, and tempestuous seas that make the heart stand still. 

"If you do not have a deep and patient faith in God, you will be powerless to face the delays, disappointments, and vicissitudes that inevitably come. Without God, all of our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest nights. Without him, life is a meaningless drama in which the decisive scenes are missing. 

"But with him, we are able to rise from tension-packed valleys to the sublime heights of inner peace, and find radiant stars of hope against the nocturnal bosom of life's most depressing nights. "Thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart cannot be quieted till it find repose in thee".

( Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love, "Three dimensions of a complete life." 1968. )

You can be free of guilt by asking God through Christ for foregiveness in a simple prayer.

By becoming a part of a Christian community, called a church, you can get the support you need to more fully experience a life of forgiveness. 


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Disturbing Nature

Kenneth Callahan
Blue jay's squawk
Makes discordant song 
Jars us awake
To wipe away dawn

When sun arises
Rooster is calling
Proving we're denying 
Jesus all over again

Self righteous peacock 
Screaming in midst of a strut
Beautiful and he knows it 
Damnable thing

Near inaudible chatter 
Of chickadees flocking
Twitching eyes flicker
They know you are sinning

Murder of crows gather 
On bare limbs of winter
Morris Graves
Like black robed judges 
Conferring to rule

High perched hawk
Whistles cries from afar
Who welcomed you to witness our music? 
Sink back into sleeping once more

by GJ Gillespie 

Morris Graves