All posts by Peter Thomas

currently lives with his wife Vanita and his children in Redmond, WA. Having completed a doctorate in Theoretical Physics in TIFR , India, his family moved to New York/New Jersey, and lived there for almost 10 years. They adopted their two older children Sandeep and Ruth Sneha in 1998. They then made another major move across the country to Redmond, Washington in 2003, because Peter's hectic work schedule prevented him from being able to spend the time he needed with his family. Their youngest daughter Sarah Rachna was born a year after this move. Looking back at the many ups and downs of their life, Peter can clearly trace the faithful, gracious, and relentlessly loving hand of God, leading and guiding him and his family, and also gently disciplining and restoring him every time he wandered away. His son Sandeep was recently married to Shirley, and they live nearby. Having experienced the thrill of knowing God first hand, Peter enjoys sharing about this amazing experience with others. He and Vanita also passionately believe that adoption is very close to the heart of God, because it is a powerful reflection of how God Himself brings all who put their trust in Jesus into His own family, on the basis of Jesus' death and glorious resurrection. As the Bible says: ... to all who received Him, who believed in his Name, He gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

The Indian National Anthem – Pointing to Jesus?

Today India celebrates its Independence Day. 70 years ago on August 15th 1947, India was formally released from British domination.  India has always been deeply religious, and its National Anthem reflects this. Here is the romanized version of the Indian National Anthem, that is sung in Bengali

Janagaṇamana-adhināẏaka jaẏa hē
Bhāratabhāgyabidhātā!
Pañjāba Sindhu Gujarāta Marāṭhā
Drābiṛa Utkala Baṅga
Bindhya Himācala Yamunā Gaṅgā
Ucchalajaladhitaraṅga
Taba śubha nāmē jāgē,
Taba śubha āśiṣa māgē,
Gāhē taba jaẏagāthā.
Janagaṇamaṅgaladāẏaka jaẏa hē
Bhāratabhāgyabidhātā!
Jaẏa hē, jaẏa hē, jaẏa hē,
jaẏa jaẏa jaẏa jaẏa hē.

The following link is a very powerful rendition, sung by many famous Indian singers. The Indian National Anthem is actually a prayer, which can be translated in this way:

You are the ruler of the minds of all people,
Dispenser of India’s destiny.
Your name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat and Maratha,
Of the Dravida, Utkala and Bengal;
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
mingles in the music of Yamuna and Ganga and is
chanted by the waves of the Indian Ocean.
They pray for Your blessings and sing Your praise.
The saving of all people waits in Your hand,
You dispenser of India’s destiny.
Victory, victory, victory to You.

Jesus is the God who is described in this prayer, although the poet Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore did not realize it. Below, I have broken down this translation along with corresponding verses in the Bible ascribing these attributes to Jesus.

Indian National Anthem

The Bible

You are the ruler of the minds of all people
  • His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation … He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth (Daniel 4:34-35)
  • The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will (Proverbs 21:1).
You are the … Dispenser of India’s destiny
  • Jesus alone holds the scroll containing the destinies of the nations in the palm of His hand, and opens it. No one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it .. [but] .. the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll. .. Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev 5:4-9)
Your name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat and Maratha,Of the Dravida, Utkala and Bengal;
  • And He made … every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, … that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26-27).
  • God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Acts 2:9-11)
[Your Name] echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas, mingles in the music of Yamuna and Ganga and ischanted by the waves of the Indian Ocean.They … sing Your praise.
  • The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4).
The saving of all people waits in Your hand
  • Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
  • And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Victory, Victory, Victory to You!
  • Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him (Rev 1:7)
  • Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah [Jesus], the Root of David, has conquered (Rev. 5:5).

The National Anthem reminds me of a passage in Acts 17:23. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. There is an urgency, because the Bible says:The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30). May God reveal Himself in truth and glory to all the people of this great nation.

Race, Caste and Class

A story is told of a prince who wants to marry a real princess, but is having difficulty because there are many pretenders who are in fact not princesses at all. One stormy night a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince’s castle, claiming to be a princess. So the prince’s mother offers her a bed covered by 20 mattresses and 20 feather-beds, with a single pea at the very bottom. In the morning, the guest tells her hosts that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed that has bruised her badly. The prince and his family rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through so much bedding! So the two get married.

Here is a children’s fairy tale with the subtle message that no one is worthy of the prince’s hand except those with the “blue blood” of princesses! Unfortunately it reflects a tragic reality that exists even today. An article about Princess Kate talks about the class divide that still plagues Britain: “She may be beautiful, graceful and fabulously rich, but Middleton is still a ‘commoner’.”

Coming even closer to home, I hail from a country where the caste system is ingrained in our culture. India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of surviving social stratification. At the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly teachers and intellectuals and are believed to have come from god Brahma’s head. Then came the Kshatriyas, or the warriors and rulers, supposedly from his arms. The third slot went to the Vaishyas, or the traders, who were created from his thighs. At the bottom of the heap were the Sudras, who came from Brahma’s feet and did all the menial jobs. Outside of this Hindu caste system are the Dalits or the untouchables. Christians in India are also often associated with castes that depend on the region and the language spoken.

Yet another way we humans distinguish ourselves from each other are by our race and ethnicity. This is sometimes referred to by the color of people’s skin – red, yellow, brown, black and white. The extreme abuse of this was found in Nazi Germany during the second world war. Nazi foreign policy was guided by the racist belief that an enlarged, racially superior German population should establish permanent rule in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and this led to the horrors of the holocaust.

In addition to caste and race, there is also an underlying thinking about class and pedigree. We just looked at the story of “The Princess and the Pea”. However, even in everyday life,. We talk about the “poor”, the “middle-class” and the “rich”. We also talk about “blue-collar” workers and “white-collar workers”, as well as about the “educated” and the “uneducated”. An extreme abuse of this was found in slavery, that used to be practiced until relatively recently. Today the exploitation of human beings still exists in a twisted, evil form now known as “sex slavery”, where typically younger children and girls are forced into prostitution. Even leaving aside these extreme forms of exploitation, considerations about class and pedigree have seeped right into our own homes! For example, often the dignity of labor that is taken for granted in America does not exist in third world countries such as India. Most homes employ maids who are not allowed to eat at the table of the home in which they serve, but sit on the floor with a different plates and glasses that only they should use, and are often treated as working machines rather than people. All of us (the exploited and the exploiters) have been conditioned to believe that they do not have a right  to be treated the same way as we are, in society.

The Christian gospel does not give room to us, for using these kinds of differences for social stratification. There are two premises that our fundamental to our Christian faith.

  1. Every single human being is in the same plight – at odds with our Creator, and on the path of His wrath against our sin. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:11-12).
  2. God does not accept a person by any considerations based on race, caste or class. He opens his arms to welcome all of us – all who put their trust in Jesus, who died on the cross on our behalf, and bore the punishment for our sins: God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). One of the apostle Peter’s early discoveries as a Christian caused him to say: I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality (Acts 10:34, KJV).

Thus the playing field is flat. No one has any intrinsic advantage or disadvantage over anyone else. In fact, often the things that we consider to be advantages may actually work against us the other way! But I digress – more on that in a later post. Flushing this out in detail in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul concludes: He Himself is our peace, who has made us one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall  … that He might create in Himself one new man …, so making peace, and might reconcile us all to God in one body through the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16). And Paul triumphantly states: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). This truth should so grip our hearts and minds, that it should spill into all our interactions with others: Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-4,8-9)

This radical way of thinking has caused fundamental changes in society that have reverberated across the annals of history. The US Constitution states: …We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. And after this there has been a civil war and a civil rights movement to uphold this now “self-evident” equality in the dignity and value of all human beings. Unfortunately, even truths such as this are not sufficient to erase centuries-old habits and biasses.

More unfortunate however, is the sad fact that although we Christians should be leading the way, we still have not fully embraced these profound truths in our personal lives and families. For example, these differences are deeply ingrained in the Indian Christian Community, and are evident in the choice of spouses we make for our children. One of the ripple effects of this is that most families do not even consider the option of adoption except when they have a need, such as in cases of infertility. Stay tuned for other posts, where I unpack the underlying reasons why I make these statements. May God grant us grace to transform our thinking from the inside, so that behavior becomes consistent with the faith that we profess!

IMG_1522

Is Choosing to Adopt Going Too Far?

Adoption is a hard and lonely journey we undertook almost two decades ago when we chose two children to be our son and daughter. Hard because our children faced much loss and came into our family, overwhelmed by trauma and brokenness. Human nature causes us to lean towards personal comfort and away from brokenness. As we traveled this road, we found that most walked away but a few chose to walk alongside us and offered their support in deeply practical ways for which we are very grateful.

However, we are finding that adoption is a hard concept for our human minds to grasp.  Recently, when we were in the midst deep struggle, we were told by a well wisher that, “God only talks of orphan care in the Bible and doesn’t talk about adopting children. So, perhaps He only expects us to care for the fatherless by placing them in orphanages where the kids have each other, are well looked after, and might even be happy and thrive. Most adopted children seem so unhappy, and their adoptive parents struggle so much too. It just doesn’t seem worth it!” In other words, they were wondering if adoption was really required.

So the question we had to face was: Had we unnecessarily stretched ourselves too far? Did we go beyond what God had expected of us?

This caused us to pause. It is a very weighty question, because adoption had changed the trajectory of our lives! In choosing this path, had we inadvertently stepped out of God’s will, and were our struggles just a consequence of those self-made choices? We earnestly began seeking answers to these questions, because in addition to being deeply invested in it, we were also involved in adoption and foster care ministry in our church and county. Not surprisingly, the is answer embedded in the very core of our Christian faith! We re-discovered that God did not need to tell  us to adopt in the Bible, because He modeled it Himself through His actions, and Scripture is threaded with His invitation for us to be like Him! To understand this awesome truth, we need to first step back and remind ourselves of how far God was willing to “stretch Himself” for our sake, so we could belong to Him as His adopted children.

The Bible tells us that God created all human beings to reflect His nature and to bring Him glory. However, right from the beginning, we chose to rebel against God our Creator, and broke our relationship and fellowship with Him. Consequently, for His justice to prevail (since He is a perfect and holy God), every one of us justly deserves to experience His wrath against us, and we should be banished from His Presence forever into Hell. However, God in His mercy and compassion chose to do something about it, which He had planned before the world even existed! He sent His Son Jesus, to come to earth as a man, and to die on a cross, bearing the punishment for all our sins on Himself! In this way, God could  freely offer us reconciliation with Him, in perfect mercy and justice, and that we can live eternally with restored fellowship with Him. This is perfectly summed up in this well known verse: “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The Bible calls this salvation. It is a free gift God has given us, although we did not even deserve it. God demonstrates His love for us, in that while were were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Imagine that! God chose to save us when were were at our worst! He set His love on us! He sent His Son to die on the cross to take the punishment we deserved for our own sins! What a God He is! If He had done nothing more for us than to save us, the echoes of our praises for His mercy and His grace would reverberate throughout eternity!

However, the wonder of the Christian gospel is that God did even more. Far more! With a love that we can only marvel at but never fully understand, God chose to go above and beyond! God chose to adopt us into His family as His beloved sons and daughters, and make us co-heirs with Jesus. That is over the top, outlandish love! This very thought caused the apostle John to pause in the midst of his letter and exclaim in awe: “See, what kind of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1). As Matt Carter once said, we will never understand the depth and intensity of God’s love for us, until we wrap our minds around the kind of love that He has for us. God didn’t just love us by taking our punishment on Himself. He did it by choosing to adopt us into His family at great cost to Himself! He is now our Father. We are now His children. The implications of this thought should really mess us up (in a good way)! Through His grace, we have been redeemed and are raised up  through Jesus as His adopted children. Nothing  can separate us from His love forever! May we never lose the wonder of this staggering truth!  In fact, one day as heirs of God, we will sit with Jesus on His throne and rule all of His creation along with Him (Rev 3:21)!

Here is a powerful message our family recently watched, which explains these truths more clearly: https://vimeo.com/51894525. This message is well worth the watch, and can be life-changing for you!

This is the heart of our Christian faith. It gives us the perfect framework to address the question of whether we go too far when we choose to adopt children! Yes, we can support children in orphanages – and orphanages do have their place. However when we choose adoption, it becomes a beautiful reflection of the very nature of God Himself, and stands as a testament of the gospel to a watching world! If God has loved us so much that He became our Father, how can we stop at less? We can step out boldly, knowing that it greatly pleases and honors God. with the deep assurance that even though the price we pay be extremely high, we are in the center of a His will and that He will walk along with us to provide for all our physical, emotional and spiritual needs! So, the next time we are asked this question, we can confidently say that we adopt because it reflects our Heavenly Father’s heart!

He is the Propitiation for Our Sins

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin,we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-3).  

These words come from the apostle John’s first letter.  John had started his letter with a lot of excitement, tripping over his phrases with his joy in sharing about Jesus, the “Word of Life” who existed from the beginning, and who enables him to have fellowship with God, and that also provides the basis of fellowship with all others who also believe in Jesus (1 John 1:1-3). He then proceeded to make an assertion: God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:4). By this he is referring to God’s absolute holiness and purity. In contrast, none of us are without sin. In fact, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8). As such it is impossible for us sinners to have fellowship with God. However, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

This forms a background to the verses quoted above, because as John writes this he recognizes that this has posed a serious problem that demands an explanation.

The Problem

John and all the early Christians were not troubled by the question “How can a loving God send people to hell?” at all. In fact he needed to grapple with exactly the opposite issue. When he said that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, it begs the question: “How can a just God forgive sin and take anyone to heaven at all?

You see, how would God who is light respond to sin? The Bible says: the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18). Even Jesus asserted that by default every person is under the wrath of God (see John 3:36). Paul says that we all are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), and are as such storing up wrath for [ourselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom 2:5). The Bible says that when Jesus comes again, He will tread the wine-press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev 19:15).

The following is a visual illustration of this truth. The lightning represents God’s wrath, that is directed towards each one of us.

lightning

The problem is, that if God is just, He cannot simply push our sins under the “rug of the universe” so to speak, and pretend they did not happen. So here John begins by addressing this problem, and telling us the solution in two parts.

First part of the answer: We have an Advocate: Jesus Christ the Righteous

Since the question has been raised regarding the justice of God, John creates a word picture of a law court where we are on trial, and God is the Judge. He then goes on to assert that we have an amazing Defense Lawyer who is none other than Jesus Christ Himself! In fact, this Defense Lawyer is Jesus Christ the Righteous. Being righteous, He can stand before the Judge – God who is Light – and defend our case.

However while this is great to have the best Attorney defending our case, it does not really solve our problem because we actually are guilty. On what basis can Jesus – however brilliant a Lawyer He may be – make a defense for us? Let us consider some possible arguments:

1. “They do not know what they is doing”

Jesus prayed for his tormentors when He hung on the cross, and asked His Father to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing. However ignorance on its own is not a valid excuse (there is another reason why Jesus could pray this way, as we will see). Jesus Himself has taught that:  the servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. (Luke 12:47-48). In fact, the Bible says unequivocally that we are  without excuse (Rom 1:20)

2. “He/she is a good person”

Jesus told someone once: No one is good except God alone (Mark 10:18). So Jesus will not even take this line of argument to court.

3. “His/her heart is in the right place

This argument falls even before it is proposed, because the Bible teaches that: the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9).

4. “He has done a lot of good in his life

The problem with such an argument is that it does not look at our heart and our motives when we “do good”. But God who does see all this declares that: all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isa 64:6).

5. “Let us be nice and let him off the hook

This kind of argument in the highest court of the universe poses a horrific assault on justice. If God is a good and just, it is inconceivable that He would do this. Confidence in the justice of God was the basis of Abraham’s appeal for his nephew Lot: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Gen 18:25).

Our Predicament:

So we see, there is no defense of this type which can stand in the divine courtroom! We are in a really desperate situation, and there is nothing we can do about it. Even if we try to work our way to heaven, all that we can do appears only like a filthy garment to God who is Light.

Every religion needs to face up to this truth. No human being from any religion is exempt from having to face the reality of the wrath of our holy God, and the predicament it puts us all in!

Second part of the answer: He is the Propitiation for our Sins

The amazing truth is that Jesus our Defense Lawyer had died on the cross for exactly this reason. He died in order to bear the wrath of God that we deserved, and to be punished in our stead. When Jesus died on the cross, He bore the unleashed cumulative fury of God against all of our sin. The Bible says that for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

According to Paul, the reason  God did this was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:16). This particular verse shows that that God the Son was not pitted against God the Father in this, but rather, it was all an unfolding of a plan that had been conceived by the Triune God from eternity past.

As one hymn writer puts it:

Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me

The following picture illustrates this visually.

cross_propitation

For those of us who do put our trust in Jesus, we have the best possible Defense Lawyer, who has the best possible defense – that the penalty for the guilt of our crimes has already been paid by Him. What tremendous good news! No illustration can be stretched too far, and this one also breaks down when we think of those who do not believe in Jesus. According to the Bible they will continue to remain under the wrath of God.

There are some thing that we will never fully understand:

How much did Jesus really suffer? Though we will never fully comprehend this, we know that it was enough to satisfy the justice of God regarding the sins of every single person in the world who goes to Him for refuge (see 1 John 2:2). Isaiah described His sufferings with prophetic foresight thus: He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace (Isa 53:5).  It was the will of the Lord to crush Him;  He has put Him to grief (Isa 53:10). His repeated use of the word “crush” causes me to suspect that Jesus suffered far more than I can ever imagine. Moreover, this was Satan’s last chance to defeat Jesus, so it is likely that he faced a barrage of temptations with a ferocity that any other man would have crumbled well before Satan had unleashed his entire arsenal (see John 14:30-31). For example, we know from some of the Messianic Psalms that Jesus would have had to face the temptation to succumb to total despair. This is why we are encouraged to boldly approach Jesus for help whenever we are tempted. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin  (Heb 4:15)

Yet there are many things we do understand!

We can understand why Jesus so desperately did not want to drink this terrible “cup” of God’s wrath if at all it were possible. We can understand why there was darkness for three  hours while Jesus hung on the cross. I am amazed that the wrath of God unleashed against Him did not completely obliterate Him! We can understand why Jesus cried out from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? We can understand why Jesus could pray for the forgiveness of His tormentors! In doing so He was offering Himself as a substitute to bear the punishment for their blasphemous rants. For this same reason, Jesus could grant salvation to the criminal who died next to Him. We can also understand why the veil within the temple separating the Most Holy Place was rent. Access into God’s presence has been thrown wide open through the cross.

This is the message John is so excited about. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

  • God is Light. He is perfect in His purity and holiness (1:4)
  • We are sinners (1:8,10).
  • Yet we can have fellowship with God because God will forgive our sins if we confess them to Him (1:9).
  • This is only possible because Jesus Christ is our Defense Lawyer (2:1), and in defending us His rock-solid case rests on the stupendous fact that He Himself is the propitiation for our sins (2:2)
  • This motivates us not to sin (2:1), yet Jesus’ blood purifies us when we do (1:7)
  • These truths form the basis of our fellowship with others who believe in Jesus (1:3).

What an amazing God we have. Have you been saved from the wrath of God by taking refuge in Jesus Christ who died and became sin for you, so that you can stand upright and righteous in God’s presence?

Applying these Truths

Here are some things we can think bout, as we ponder the consequences of these tremendous truths.

  • We will be able to understand how much Jesus suffered on the cross, only to the extent we understand how much God hates sin! Do we hate sin? Are we at war against our own sins?
  • The reason people in today’s society seem to struggle with the question: “How can a loving God send people to hell”?, comes from a failure to understand the terrible state we are all in by default – we are all by nature “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Have we  understood this truth?
  • Are we “narrow-minded” or “arrogant” when we proclaim that Jesus is the only way, or do we realize that this is the only loving thing we can do if we really care for the people around us who do not know Jesus?
  • Would we be really sharing the total gospel if we only talk about the love of God, and neglect to talk about His holiness, wrath against sin, and His justice?
  • Do we have a desire like John, to share this amazing message with others?

Redeeming My Use of Social Media

thumb

What is it that makes us jump at every beep when we are online? It is that desire to find out who wants to communicate with us. In this age of Social Media, the number of ways we can make ourselves appear important are endless. After all, who doesn’t enjoy seeing a picture on Facebook “liked” or a tweet “Favorited” by another user? Why do we love to keep track of the number of shares from our posts, or the number of times we get re-tweeted. it is because we become intoxicated with the popularity contest that comes with online participation. On the other hand, if we do not get many likes or responses to our posts, we begin to feel anxious or insecure about our status. That in turn, may cause us to post more updates or tweets in an effort to bolster our virtual presence trapping us in a never-ending cycle of addiction in the virtual world.

Social Media Can be a Distraction

I have experienced the lure of Social Media, and often ask myself how I as a Christian should to deal with it’s enticement. The issue is that Jesus demands that our love for Him be total. We are to love Him with all of of our hearts, souls, minds and strength (Mark 12:30). If we are drawn in by the intoxication of Social Media, we are in danger of making that our god, and giving it a place that is above where Jesus demands to be in our lives. This is exactly the problem with the thorny soil in Jesus’ parable. Jesus explained that “the cares of the world … and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Social Media surely can very easily become a desire we have for “other things”, and that can make us unfruitful for Jesus. Similarly, we are encouraged to run our Christian race with purpose, and to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb 12;1).

Social Media Enables us to Wear Masks

Here is another challenge that Social Media poses to Christians. If we were to use Social Media to post too many things about ourselves (think “selfies” and status updates) we will be tempted to make ourselves look cooler than we really are. It is natural that we desire that others think that we have it all together. We fear that if people were to see us as we really are, they will not like us.  However, if our lives were really that well put-together, then Jesus would not have had to die for our sins. Apart from Him we were all in a desperate situation, and there was no possible way our lives could have been salvaged, except that Jesus chose to step down from His throne and die on the cross, bearing the wrath of God against all of our sins on Himself. How can we proclaim the wonder of Jesus has done for us if we are so eager to make our lives look so completely put-together? In what ways would we be any different to those who do not know Jesus? Social Media makes it very easy to proclaim our so-called “achievements” and those of our children. However, every last one of them is also a generous gift from God that we did not deserve (James 1:17). So how can we boast in them without disparaging our generous God the Giver? This is probably why Paul said that he decided to “know” nothing among his hearers except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2), and that he counted all his achievements as “rubbish”, in order that he could gain Christ (Phil 3:8). Alongside our “achievements” one can also usually find pride, sin, suffering and brokenness, which we are not so enthusiastic to share about. So to use Social Media to parade just our achievements and those of our families would skew our portrayed image of ourselves in a more favorable light than the real truth.

We can Send a Wrong Message Through Social Media

Let us take this a step further. The masks that are so easy for us to wear on-line can rouse envy in others who wish they could have the life they perceive that we have (and let us face it – maybe deep down inside we do really want that to happen)! Often we prefix our posts with phrases like “God has been so good to me”, etc. In this way without realizing it, we are making an underlying implication that God’s goodness is measured by the physical blessings we have in our lives.Then when people say they are “blessed” by our posts, they are perhaps looking at an unrealistic picture of what the Christian life is about. What if we are feeding a deeply cherished hope within them that if they are good enough and serve God well enough, they will also be physically showered with God’s favor they way we portray ourselves to have been? However, that is the exact opposite of what the gospel really is in so many ways. In Jesus’ parable, the hearts represented by the seed that was sown in rocky ground hear the Word and “immediately receive it with joy” (Mark 4:17). However, that kind of faith is not genuine, because they “endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:17).

Social Media Enables Connections With Old Friends and Acquaintances

However although there are many dangers inherent in Social Media, on the flip side, Social Media is a tool that can enable us connect with many of our friends, classmates from school college, and our old work colleagues – some of whom we may have lost touch with for several years. Many of them may not know Jesus, and the connections that Social Media facilitates can provide a means by which we can share the love of God in Jesus Christ with them. Paul says that he had “become all things to all people, that by all means [he] might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). Since most of our friends and acquaintances are connected through Social Media, this is one of the means that God can use to enable us to reach out to them with the good news about Jesus.

Boasting Only in Jesus

So how can I as a Christian redeem my use of Social Media? I want to try to take the approach that Paul did and boast only in Jesus Christ. My desire is to be honest about my weaknesses, sin and failure, so that I can show how much I need Jesus, and that His grace is sufficient for me. I am ashamed to say that I have a long list of failures as a man, a husband and as a father. However, as I review my walk with Jesus that spans over three decades, I can see His hand on my life in unmistakable ways. He has relentlessly stood by me and pursued me when I have wandered away from Him (and how I wish it did not happen so often)! I have experienced His severe but loving hand of discipline that has drawn me back on multiple occasions, and I can affirm with the Psalmist that “the Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1), and that He is “my Refuge and Strength” (Psalm 46:1), and He is always with me (Matt 28:20). I would like to be honest. The road in following Jesus is very costly. It crosses deep valleys that require much loneliness and suffering. The difficulties are enhanced because not all of it is due to devotion to Jesus, but also because there is so much sin in my life. I have destroyed friendships and relationships by anger, self-righteousness, insensitivity, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness. Sometimes my pride gets in the way of seeking reconciliation and it goes on for years. This causes deep heartbreak, and I am to blame for some of it. Yes, there are some ugly parts of my life that I deeply desire healing from, but the process is taking much longer than I would like. However, the wonder of it all is that Jesus has not given up on me. He still whispers His precious promises to me through His Word and assures me that He will never let me go. He tells me that there is nothing I can do that will separate me from His love (Romans 8:39), and that He will keep working on me from the inside and will gradually enable me to become like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). His relentless love for me enthralls me. Jesus also tells me that a day is coming when all my difficulties and the battle against my own sinful nature will be over once and for all (Rev 21:4). On that day I will be able to bask in His presence forever (John 17:24), and I cannot even imagine how wonderful that would be!

How I have Determined to Use Social Media

So this is how I have decided to use Social Media. I want to talk about Jesus. I want to talk about my failures and my sin, and the way Jesus has forgiven me, cleansed me and restored me. I want to avoid making posts about myself or my family, unless it makes a strong statement about how wonderful Jesus is. My deep desire is that my circle of friends in Social Media know that I passionately love Jesus, and I don’t want any of my posts to distract them from getting that message.

Note: I am not making value statements about how Social Media should be used, but am just evaluating my use of it, based on my own proclivities.

Historicity of Queen Esther

I had some troubling questions about how the biblical book of Esther fits with secular history, and so I spent a few hours researching this in the public library as well as online, and gleaned a wealth of information, which strengthened my confidence in the inerrancy of the Bible. I would like to share some of these discoveries, in case there is anyone else who would like more information on the historicity of Queen Esther.

The Problems

There is no mention of Esther at all in secular history (Herodotus is our primary, if not only source), even though according to the Biblical record, she was Queen for at least 6 years. The only Queen of Xerxes mentioned by Herodotus is Amestris, and she is not Jewish so she cannot be identified with the Biblical Esther. This queen is recorded to have had at least 6 children, and had considerable power when Xerxes son Ataxerxes I took over the throne after Xerxes. To add to the confusion, there are writings about Vashti and Esther in Jewish tradition, according to which Vashti was beheaded after her deposition (which if true would imply that Amestris cannot be Vashti). These lead to serious questions, which are quite alarming, because if history proves the biblical record wrong, then the Bible is not inspired and innerrant, and we will never know what we can really trust in the Bible. So I dug a little deeper, and am sharing my findings on this matter.

In order to resolve these difficulties, I used the following guidelines.

  1. Assume that the biblical record is 100% accurate, since the Bible is inspired by God. Given the Bible’s claims and its track record in amazing historical accuracy, the Bible should always get the “benefit of the doubt” when there is a difficulty.
  2. Assume that the main facts recorded in secular history are accurate, but allow for names to be different, and for facts to possibly be biased.
  3. Give low credence to Jewish historical records from non-biblical sources whenever anything contradicts conclusions from the above two considerations.

Working Hypothesis

With this, here is a working hypothesis:

  • It is likely that Amestris is the same as the Bible’s Vashti. Apparently this can also be justified on linguistic grounds.
  • Ataxerxes I – the king who succeeded Xerxes is the son of Xerxes and Amestris. We don’t know when he was born, but if he was over 13 years old when he took over the throne of Persia, then he could not have been born of Esther, and thus it is consistent if he was Vashti’s son. That Vashti had at least 6 children of Xerxes is possible even though she was queen only for 3 years, because according to secular history Amestris was Xerxes’ wife even before he became king in 586 BC.
  • If Esther and Xerxes had any children, they would have been less than 13 years old when Xerxes died. Secular history records at least 5 children of Xerxes whose mother is unknown.
  • We don’t know when Herodotus wrote about King Xerxes, but he would have been only 18 years old when Xerxes died, and his writings about Xerxes are in books VII, VIII and IX. Thus the earliest he could have written about Xerxes was during the rule of Xerxes’ son Ataxerxes I. Since Ataxerxes I is really the son of Vashti, it is entirely reasonable to expect that he would not have encouraged any record of Vashti’s humiliation or of Esther being queen (add to the embarrassing fact that Esther was of Jewish origin), which would explain the silence about Esther in Herodotus’s writings.
  • Although Jewish history says Vashti was beheaded, the only statement in the Bible is that Vashti was “to come no more before” Xerxes. Vashti may not have been banished from the kingdom, but just demoted from Queen to a place in Xerxes’ harem. She could have easily returned to a significant position of influence after the death of Xerxes and the rise of her son Artaxerxes I as Persia’s new ruler.

Historical Reconstruction and Harmony with the Biblical Narrative

With the above in mind, the following is a reconstruction of Xerxes’ life, harmonized with Herodotus’s account. Not having access to Herodotus’ writings, I have taken a lot of the material that follows, from an informative article by Professor William Shea.

While at his winter quarters in Sardis in 480-479 B.C, Xerxes turned his attention from making war to affairs of the heart. Herodotus reports that during that time the Persian king fell in love with the wife of Masistes, his brother, and endeavored unsuccessfully to carry on an affair with her. Out of unusual respect for his brother, Xerxes did not force himself on her, but instead arranged for his son to marry her daughter Artaynte, hoping this would make the seduction of her mother easier.  In connection with this incident, we should note that Greek sources indicate that Amestris was not with him in Sardis during the winter of 480-479 B.C, which is consistent with the biblical record of Vashti’s deposition in 483 BC.

Upon returning to Susa from his Greek campaign after his historic defeat at Thermopylae, Xerxes unexpectedly finds himself getting attracted to his daughter-in-law Artaynte, and the seduction of her is successful. This matter came to a crisis when he promised Artaynte the desire of her heart. She chose Xerxes’ coat of many colors, which Amestris herself had woven for him. Heroditus tells us that Xerxes tried to distract her by offering her cities or unlimited gold, or even and army, for one reason alone – that he feared lest Amestris previously suspecting what was going on might find out this way and react violantly. However, Artaynte insisted on getting the robe, which Xerxes gave her. Amestris was furious when she found out, and felt that the real blame lay with Artaynte’s mother, and got revenge when the time came to celebrate the king’s birthday. On that occasion she, like Salome, asked Xerxes to give her Masistes’ wife, and according to the custom of the day he was obliged to comply with her request, and Amestris promptly had her killed. We don’t know exactly what happened to Artaynte, but Heroditus mentions that “she and her whole household were fated to die”. In this incident, we here see two occasions where Xerxes made sweeping promises to women he loved, just as he did in Esther 5:6 and 7:2.

If Amestris is the same person as Vashti, and the verdict on Vashti was that she was “to come no more before” Xerxes (Esther 1:19), then what was Vashti  doing at the birthday banquet described by Herodotus three years later? It appears that Xerxes’ advisers recommended not divorce in the modem sense of the word, but rather demotion from being the chief royal wife and bestowal of that position upon someone else. Connected with this demotion was the prohibition upon her coming before Xerxes, which probably exiled her to a considerably less important position in the royal harem. To interpret this phrase too literally—to mean that Vashti never could come within eyesight of Xerxes again—probably is pushing its significance too far. As an idiom, it probably could be paraphrased to mean that she could not appear again with Xerxes in her official capacity as queen. The reverse of this occurs in the case of the seven princes who “saw the king’s face” (verse 14), which may be interpreted to mean that they could converse personally with the king, i.e., they could minister to him personally in matters of state.

In essence, Herodotus breaks off his account of Xerxes’ reign after describing these events of the king’s seventh year following his return from the Greek campaign. We have no further information about Amestris until the time her son Artaxerxes I occupied the Persian throne. In view of this silence, we have no specific evidence to indicate whether or not Amestris was Xerxes’ chief wife from his seventh year to the end of his reign. This silence at least allows a place in Persian history for Esther, and in harmony with the Bible. We can go further, and say that the fact that there is this gap in the secular record of Xerxes life that begins exactly at the time of Esther in the Bible – and that there is no random event recorded in secular history that could contradict the biblical record – actually points toward the accuracy of the biblical record, though it falls short of actually verifying it. About this time, Xerxes’ advisers must have suggested that the most beautiful girls of the land be brought before him, and the biblical story of Esther picks up again.

Conclusion

Although there is no direct reliable external evidence about the existence of Queen Esther, it is possible to completely harmonize what we know of ancient Persian history, with the biblical record of Esther.

Timeline of Events in the Babylonian and Persian Empires within Biblical History

This is not a complete timeline, but attempts to cover the major events that are relevant to our study of the book of Esther. I have also sprinkled this with some informative comments.

  1. 609 BC: Babylon becomes a world power: 609 BC
  2. 605 BC: Nebuchadnezzar becomes king of Babylon, and Daniel is deported to Babylon. The rise of Nebuchadnezzar was prophesied in Ezekiel 26:7
  3. 587 BC. The fall of Jerusalem and Judah, the Southern Kingdom is taken into Babylonian captivity.
  4. 562 BC:  Death of Nebuchadnezzar. His son Amel Marduk takes throne of Babylon.
  5. 560 BC: Amel Marduk was assasinated by Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law Nergal-shar-usur (Nergal-sharezer/Neriglissar), who takes throne
  6. 555 BC: Nergal-shar-usur was assassinated by Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Nabonidus who takes throne
  7. 550 BC: Cyrus becomes King of Persia. Thus begins a rule that eventually made Persia into a world empire. Also, Belshazzar, son of Nabonidus becomes co-regent and becomes the effective king of Babylon. During this period, Nabonidus was an absentee ruler, and there were rumors that he was mad. Daniel refers to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar’s “father” (Daniel 5:18, 22) which can also mean ancestor. He is in fact Belshazzer’s great grandfather.
  8. 539 BC: Cyrus captures Babylon. This marked the end of Babylonian supremacy. The eventual destruction of Babylon was prophesied several times in Scripture, e.g. Isa 43:14. This also marked the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of Babylon having only 70 years of glory (609 BC to 539 BC), before being subdued by other nations (Jer 25:9-12, Jer 29:10, 2 Chron 36:20-23). This event spurs Daniel to pray for the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem in Daniel 9:2, to complete God’s promise..Apparently at this time, “Darius the Mede” is made king of Babylon. There is no secular historical reference to this man. But Daniel says he “received the kingdom” (Daniel 5:30) was “made” king of Babylon (Daniel 9:1), which is consistent with Cyrus appointing him as ruler of Babylon. He is described by Daniel as the “son of Ahasuerus” (though clearly having nothing to do with the to the king of Persia in Esther’s time), and that he was 62 years old.
  9. 538 BC; Cyrus issues a decree that the Jews can return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1.1). This was in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy that after the 70 years the Jews would return from exile. This is less than a year after Daniel’s passionate prayer in Daniel 9:3-19.
  10. 537/6 BC: The last vision of Daniel recorded in Daniel 10-12, during the third year of Cyrus’ reign (Daniel 10:1).
  11. 530 BC: Cambysis I becomes king of Persia after the death of Cyrus
  12. 522 BC: Darius I becomes King of Persia (Note: The study notes in the ESV Study Bible correctly observes that this Darius is different to the “Darius the Mede” of Daniel chapters 5 and 9, but mistakingly references this king in one of its tables).
  13. 486 BC: Xerxes I becomes King of Persia. He was spoken about in prophecy by Daniel over 50 years earlier. “Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece”. (Daniel 11:2).
  14. 484 BC: Birth of Historian Heroditus
  15. 483 BC: Queen Vashti is deposed on the third year of Xerxes reign (Esther 1:3). Heroditus mentons only one queen of Xerxes called Amestris. This is probably Queen Vashti. This incident is mentioned in Esther chapter 1.
  16. 480 BC: Historic defeat of Xerxes against Greece at Thermopylae. This was a “battle that changed the world”, in that without this defeat the overall outcome of the conflict between Persia and Greece could have ended differently – and Greece may never have had the same impact on Western civilization. This was the first of a series of battles over the next several decades that Persia lost to Greece, eventually losing its superpower status a little over 150 years later, to Alexander the Great in 322 BC. After this defeat, Xerxes handed over command of the army to his cousin Mardonius so that he could return to Susa. Mardonius continued his campaign against Greece until he was killed in the decisive battle of Plataea, a year later.Meanwhile back home, Xerxes had a secret affair with his daughter-in-law which led to Amestris destroying her entire family in revenge. After this, the secular historical record is silent for the rest of Xerxes reign, but the biblical record picks up again (Esther 2:1).
  17. 479/8 BC: Esther is crowned Queen. This was in the seventh year of Xerxes reign (Esther 2:16)
  18. 474 BC: Haman plots against the Jews. This was on the first month, of the twelfth year of Xerxes reign (Esther 3:7, 3:12). Two months later, Mordecai was able to neutralize that decree by issuing a new decree that the Jews could defend themselves (this was on the third day of the third month according to Esther 8:9)
  19. 473 BC: The Jews destroy their attackers on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (Esther 3:12, 8:12, 9:1). The event is celebrated during the Jewish feast of Purim.
  20. 466/5 BC: Xerxes is killed, and his son Ataxerxes I becomes king. Ataxerxes I cannot be Esther’s son because he was 13 years old, so he must have been Vashti’s son. Since the secular record says that his mother was Amestris, this is probably another name for Vashti.
  21. 458 BC: Ataxerxes I issues a decree to rebuild the Temple. Ezra and a contingent journey back to Jerusalem.
  22. 445/4 BC: Ataxerxes I commissions Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls

My Concerns with Young Earth Creationism

I believe in the divine plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible and also have a doctorate in Theoretical Physics. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the question of the origin of life and the age of the earth. To be honest, I have to say that I find overwhelming scientific evidence for a universe that is 13.8 odd billion years old, and an earth that is about 4.5 billion years old. I also have to admit that I do not have a detailed way to reconcile the Bible and science regarding this matter to my complete satisfaction. On the other hand, neither do I find any blatant contradictions between the Bible and science. So I am at present content with not having all the answers. It is not a stretch for me to believe that there does exist a perfect reconciliation between the Bible and true science, even if I do not fully understand it right now. However, I do have a concern with the dogmatism expressed by “young-earth creationists” (by this term, I mean those who believe that our earth is just a few thousand years old and that God created the universe in 6 literal days). I also find a disturbing dishonesty in some of the things that they say and write, which I believe is doing much damage, by reducing the credibility that Christians have in the world today. Let me clarify what I mean.

The Scientific Method

All of Science is strictly speaking, “theory” and not “fact”. There is a level of humility in submission to observable experimental evidence that says that if a new observation does not fit existing scientific theory, then the scientific theory needs to be modified or recognized as incomplete, until the new evidence has a satisfactory explanation. So for example, early astronomers were able to explain the motion of stars and planets in the night sky by using a complicated model where the sun, stars and planets revolved around the earth. However with Kepler’s more accurate measurements, the theory had to be modified to one where the sun lies at the center of our solar system. Then Isaac Newton formulated his brilliant mathematical laws of motion and gravity that explained planetary motion and all the other known phenomena. Newton’s theory, known as Classical Physics, held sway until the end of the 19th century. However in the late 1800’s some new experiments were performed that defied explanation. This is what led to the revolutionary new theories of Quantum Physics, Relativity and Einstein’s Theory of Gravity, which not only explained everything that Classical Physics could explain, but also all the new experimental data, with remarkable mathematical precision. These theories also made new testable predictions, some of which were extremely non-intuitive. The predictions were soon tested and verified. So currently we have excellent working theories that can explain all known phenomena. However, there do exist some perplexing logical paradoxes without good solutions. There are also theoretical inconsistencies between Quantum Physics and Einstein’s Theory of Gravity at the tiniest length scales. Thus scientists believe that our current understanding of the fundamental laws of the nature is still incomplete, and research in this area is still very active.

The young earth creationist Ken Ham writes about “Operational (Observational) Theory” and “Historical (Origins) Theory“. This is a very artificial distinction. For example, we find this statement in the Answers In Genesis website: “All interpretations (theories) of the past [i.e. Historical Theory] are based on assumptions and cannot be equated with facts that are observable in the present [that is, Operational Theory]”. Ham is saying that if something cannot be observed, then we cannot be sure that it is true. Therefore our knowledge regarding past events cannot be made very confidently by science, simply because those events happened in the past. This statement is not true. By Ham’s argument, since no one has ever seen an electron our confidence in its existence should be tenuous at best. However no scientist would say that there is even a remote possibility that electrons do not exist. The fact is that even if something is not directly observable, its effects can be. The theory of electron existence is the best theory that explains all the phenomena that we now attribute to the effects of electrons, so we accept the theory without claiming that we need to actually see electrons to believe in them. It doesn’t even seem to bother anyone that according to the theory they are so tiny that we will never be able to see them. Science is a structured attempt to rigorously solve the complicated jig-saw puzzle of everything we observe in nature today – and we have tools that can probe the furthest reaches of the universe, and the innermost structure of atoms. Scientists believe that everything we observe is a consequence of simple so-called “fundamental laws of nature”. The remarkable fact is that with the large amount of data we have collected, the fundamental laws of nature as we understand them today, have a deep intrinsic mathematical elegance and simplicity. (Side note: personally, this leads me to worship God for His tremendous wisdom, because God created these laws as well. Science gives me new insights into the awesome majesty of God).

Thus for example, to simply dismiss the theory of evolution saying “No one has observed it” is a dishonest play on words and is not consistent with what true science is.

Order cannot come out of Disorder. Really?

A common argument is that life has a lot of structure, and that the “Second Law of Thermodynamics” says that everything tends towards decay, so evolution fundamentally contradicts this well established law of Physics, because the order we see today could not have come from disorder all by itself.

Well, this is not true. Consider a snowflake. Anyone who has seen one under a microscope (or seen a picture of one) sees amazing symmetry and structure in it. This structure arose out of many molecules of water that evaporated from earth’s lakes and oceans, and then condensed in the clouds above. Similarly, if we plant a seed on the ground, it grows into a plant with beautiful flowers and fruit. This plant exists because the seed we planted was able to absorb water, air and nutrients from the soil and the atmosphere, and the resulting growth that ensued could process sunlight through photosynthesis. Both of these are examples of how tremendous order can arise out of total initial disorder. The truth is, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics only applies to a “Closed System”, and our earth is not a Closed System, because it gets a lot of heat and light energy from the sun. So the theory of evolution in itself does not violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

What about Evidence Indicating an Old Universe and an Old Earth?

There are galaxies and other objects in the universe that we believe to be billions of light years away from us. This means that the light that reaches us from them had originally left them billions of years ago. In other words, those galaxies we see today are in fact what they looked like billions of years ago, which in turn implies that they existed billions of years ago. Similarly we can look at stalactites and stalagmites in many caves, the relative composition of radioactive elements in a rock sample, the tectonic plate structure of the earth’s crust, extensive fossil deposits, and the list goes on. There is a mountain of evidence that points to a universe that is about 13.8 billion years old, and an earth that is about 4.5 billion years old.

When young earth creationists are confronted with this kind of evidence that indicates an old universe or an old earth, there are usually one of two kinds of responses:

  • God could have miraculously made the universe and the earth appear old. For example, He could have accelerated the speed of light so that these distant objects appear to be much older than they actually are. After all, didn’t God create Adam as a grown man appearing to be perhaps in his twenties when he was only a day old? The Bible says that nothing is impossible with God.

Regarding this argument, my response would be: “Yes, nothing is impossible with God. However, since God is the God of truth, does it seem consistent with His nature that He would make a young universe appear to be so incredibly old?”. This would then lead me to a more serious charge. “Please stop saying that your young-earth hypothesis is scientific. You have explained away observed evidence that does not fit your theories, by saying God could have done a miracle. So you have gone outside the realm of science and your position is therefore not scientific.”

A second argument that is pretty common goes along the following lines:

  • There are assumptions made for the age calculation that may not be true.

Regarding this, we need remind ourselves regarding what the scientific method really is. Anyone who makes the argument about possible false assumptions has the “burden of proof” to come up with a theory that would provide a different age calculation for every disparate source of evidence that appears to indicate otherwise, yet should also continue to explain every other known fact. Such a theory would be radically different from the fundamental scientific laws of nature as we understand them today, so that is an extremely tall order. Yes – the evidence for an old universe and an old earth are so overwhelming that to overturn all of it would require a complete rewrite of all of modern Physics.

There have been papers published by young-earth creationists that attempt to deal with some isolated phenomena, not recognizing (or ignoring) the cumulative and consistent support from multiple scientific disciplines that would need to be explained if their theses are true. These kinds of papers usually have such blatantly inaccurate statements and/or false claims that they do not make it into any well-established peer-reviewed scientific journal. In fact, most scientists consider it a waste of time to even engage these people in debate.

Old Earth, Evolution and the Bible

Many young-earth creationists claim that if one does not believe in a young earth and a literal 6 day creation,one cannot believe the things the Bible has to say about Jesus and salvation? Thus they make their interpretation of Genesis a critical requirement of true faith. There are a couple comments I would like to make regarding this:

  • Usually when the word ‘evolution” is used in science, it describes the details of a certain process. Strictly speaking this has no bearing on the existence of God because the scientific method by definition does not deal with the issue of God’s existence. This is why there are many scientists who are believing Christians who do not find any conflict between their faith in a Creator God, and evolution. The following statement is often made by young earth creationists: “Darwin’s theory has been rejected by most modern scientists today”. It is true that the details of the mechanism in Darwin’s initial theory has changed with our increased understanding of genetic structure. However, the core concepts are still currently almost universally accepted. So here, the statement causes the general reader to understand it with a much broader brush stroke – which makes it a falsehood. Incidentally, evolution has actually been observed in the lab, consistent with modern genetic theory. For example, when a cold virus resists our antibiotic medication, it is because the virus has literally evolved into a different strain that is resistant to those antibiotics. The new strain could be one that has never existed before. This has led young earth creationists to make a distinction between “micro” and “macro” evolution, and they argue that “macro” evolution (i.e., evolution that changes one species into another) has never been observed. It is true that evolution from one species to another has not been observed, but this can be explained by the same mechanisms that have successfully predicted and verified micro-evolution. The predicted time-frames this mechanism would require for macro-evolution is longer than the few thousand years of known world history, and is therefore consistent with the fact that it has not been observed. Incidentally, the words the Bible uses about the origins of life on earth: “Let the earth sprout” (Gen 1:11) . “Let the waters swarm” (Gen 1:20) and “Let the earth bring forth” (Gen 1:24) is not inconsistent with God using some evolutionary process to make it happen.
  • There are several alternate interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2 that allow for an old earth and a longer creation period. Some of these views are held by conservative Christian scholars and pastors. To go into more detail would be beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that I myself do not see the creation story as an open-and-shut case for a young earth and a literal 6 day creation. For more information, I would recommend reading the study notes on Genesis in the ESV Study Bible. These represent a balanced and accurate summary of various conservative evangelical views on these issues.

Conclusion

Science is our ally and not our enemy. Scientists desire to know truth about how the universe runs. Christians also desire to know a different aspect of truth that deals more with the “why” questions of our existence, and we believe that the Bible is the inerrant revelation of God. Ultimately truth by definition is consistent, so true science will never contradict the correctly interpreted truth of the Bible. What is fundamental to our faith is that God is the Creator of the universe and that God created mankind “in His image” starting with our first human parents Adam and Eve. This puts us in a different category to every other living creature on earth. Details regarding the age of the earth or the time-frames for the origin-of-life are secondary. Our unique status before God is outside the realm of science but does not contradict it. Evolution does not irrefutably imply that God does not exist, or that He did not direct the process in some way. Christians can be enriched by learning about our universe and the wisdom of God who created it, whether or not our universe is old, and whether or not God somehow used the process of evolution to bring about life as we know it.

So isn’t it time for us to stop wasting our energy on useless debates, or preposterously claiming that there is a giant conspiracy by scientists to expel God? In reality there are believing Christians in every scientific discipline (albeit a minority). While science cannot answer questions about God one way or another, the Bible does, because God has chosen to reveal Himself there. Yes there is a God who is the Creator of the entire universe. This God wants us to know that He created us “in His image” because He desires us to have a loving relationship with Him. Although we followed our first parents in rebellion against God, in His mercy He sent Jesus His only Son to die on the cross in our place and for our sins. Jesus rose again victorious on the third day, and freely offers us forgiveness for our sins and a restored relationship with God that can begin now, and will continue into all eternity. What an extraordinary gift this is! Let us not get distracted from sharing this amazing news. Let us allow scientists to do what they are eminently well qualified to do, and let us Christians not make naive statements in our ignorance, that undermine our own credibility. Rather, let us have a laser focus on doing what Jesus has commissioned us to do – to spread the stupendous good news about Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him but does not realize it.