Tuesday, August 14, 2007

POST #1: Understandings I am Seeking

Recently, a friend was troubled by my search for understandings which, in his view, threaten to deviate from traditionally held Christian Doctrine. He asked me to define truths which I am seeking that “make a difference”. In my reply, I listed four areas in which I seek understandings that go beyond those I have received from the evangelical church. I open this blog with my response to his question ...

I believe in both Special Revelation (mainly the Scriptures, but including the on-going ministry of the H.S. as he guides us into truth) and General Revelation (truths about God and his purposes which are discernible in Creation.) I also believe in Progressive Revelation. Through the ages, believing mankind has been given the revelation required to fulfill its purpose in history on an as-needed basis. And I believe that there may be significant revelation as this age closes (Joel 2:28-32, which was not completely fulfilled in Acts 2). If you take a different view of any of these three elements of revelation, you may as well stop reading right here. They are foundational in my thinking.

1) I am seeking to understand the role of entropy in God's overall plan. Scripture gives some strong clues that there is something significant here. (Romans 8:18-25 and 1 Corinthians 15 for starters.) Only lately have we come to understand more fully what entropy is, how it works, where it is leading, and how long it has been here. Entropy is the predictable conversion of all matter and energy into useless low level heat scattered across the known universe: the cosmos is headed toward an exceedingly cold, completely dark, stable state of near nothingness. Death. And this universe has been moving in that direction since the creation moment. Entropy is itself, of course, death and decay. It therefore has great theological and eschatological significance. We now understand that God intentionally created a universe driven by death. A universe that began to die at the very moment of its inception. Death is the engine that makes this universe work. And when he finished creating the universe in this way, God stepped back and said, "This is GOOD." Now that combination of facts creates all kinds of questions for me. Does it not for you? It is strange, to me, that more thinking believers aren't, at least, puzzled. I am amazed that Zoroastrians and Jewish Kabbalists have noticed this, and have been for hundreds of years asking questions about entropy and evil. But their answers are lame in my judgment, and fail to take into consideration the New Testament Scriptures which powerfully speak to this question. At least, they are asking. I believe Christians can give better answers!

2) I am seeking to understand how a compassionate, caring God can stand idly by while children are stolen away from their homes by the sex marketeers, and forced into horrible, unthinkable lives of sex-slavery. I am seeking to understand how this loving Father could look on from heaven while Hitler's soldiers dumped, literally dumped dump-truck loads of babies that could barely talk and walk, little innocent toddlers, into raging bonfires for their amusement, using pitchforks to stop the little screaming ones who tried to escape. The problem of evil is the most significant stumbling block to faith for skeptics today. When Einstein, perhaps the greatest mind of the 20th Century, discovered relativity and described a cosmology which now necessitated a belief in God, he became a convinced theist. But because of the the problem of evil, he could never come to belief in a personal God. The god Einstein declared must surely exist was for him only an "impersonal creative force". The church has offered no satisfying answers to the riddle, or at least none that satisfy my mind. Nor the minds of the many agnostics who cite this problem as an insurmountable obstacle to belief in God. The church has offered answers which fail to uphold the integrity and character of God. Is it the best we can do to shrug our shoulders and say we don't understand? I believe that this riddle may be to some degree solvable, and that the solution may be right before our eyes; but our theological presuppositions have barred us from seeing it. So I seek a clearer understanding of what God is doing here in the universe that will explain why he is compelled to restrain his hand in the face of evil and suffering.

3) In conjunction with the riddle of evil, I seek a clearer and fuller understanding of the role and significance of suffering. Scripture is full of hints; we have been slow on the uptake, in my opinion. But when we piece together the theological implications of entropy, and come to a more complete understanding of evil, we will see more clearly why people suffer. We will see the role of suffering in the cosmic plan of God. We will see why it is necessary. We will understand its interwoven connectedness with glory. We will see that something in the spiritual realm is actually accomplished through our suffering. And we will be better prepared personally if we are called upon to suffer as this age winds down.

4) I seek to understand the profound significance of man, and the immense responsibility that believing men and women share in the purposes of God. This also relates to entropy, evil, and suffering. We have been assigned a critical role in the affairs of our planet and in the ultimate undoing of evil. This is clear in the Scriptures. But little emphasis is given to this truth in the church. It is not understood well at all, in my view. Again, our theology may be standing in the way, perhaps barring us from fully participating in the breath-taking tasks of the advancing Kingdom of God.

Well, there are four, for starters. I do not expect that all believers should seek these things as I do. It is not necessary. You need not join me. If the theology which has been handed to you satisfies your mind, there is no need to trouble yourself with my questions. But I do ask you not to scold me for asking them. Or to suggest that I shouldn't ask. That is part of the problem of this whole sea change we call postmodernism. Young people today are asking hard questions. You and I can't stop them. We must decide whether we will join them in their quest, and attempt to provide intellectually and spiritually satisfying answers, or stand back and chide them for their lack of contentedness, and watch them drift off. Which will it be for you?

19 comments:

Steve Martin said...

Excellent start Cliff. Looking forward to following your conversation here too. On your comment:

If you take a different view of any of these three elements of revelation, you may as well stop reading right here. They are foundational in my thinking.

Stop reading & thinking because I *might* disagree with some of your foundational ideas? But why? First I'm not sure yet (mostly aspects of the third aspect - need to ask more qualifying questions on that), and second I've always thought it very helpful to read different perspectives. So I think I'll ignore that recommendation and keep reading. :-)

Steve Martin said...

Also saw that Hugh Ross is on your list of favourite writers. As you can probably guess by now, I really can not agree with Ross's conclusions on evolution. However, I have a lot of respect for him. In the origin conversations I find very little evidence of Christian charity shown to other Christians who have different views. Ross is a notable exception. And given the abuse he sometimes receives, he has shown incredible patience.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

This opening post was a (slightly edited) letter to a friend. The "stop reading here" comment was directed to him personally, and had to do with some specific concerns he had spken to me. It is true, though, that if someone is closed to the notion that scientific inquiry can be a means of receiving revelation about God, then most of my writings will be lost on them.

Hugh Ross? like you, I do not agree with his progressive creationist views. But most of the battles I have faced have been with young earthers. On that question, you and I would stand together with Ross. And his writing style is engaging and popular, so I recommend him to many of my friends with the stated caveat that my views on evolution are more naturalistic. I still like Ross, and appreciate what he is doing. And I credit him with being the one who first dislodged me from my earlier YEC views.

Thanks for you comments ...
Cliff

jamsession137 said...

The question of "the insignificance of man in the cosmos"? brings to mind a couple of thought strands.

First, maybe some rethinking for the believer. I have heard taught the 'centrality' of mankind in all God's creation. But I think this teaching assumes more than what the Word teaches. Jesus said "...you are of more value than many sparrows" and other verses indicate man's primacy over the animals. And the "angels desire to look into" the things that God is doing with mankind. So we are more than simply self-important. And of course, the unique Son of God was slain for us, that we may be reconciled to our Maker. Obviously we are very important to God. No insignificant creatures, we are.
But center of it all? The Word seems clear that Christ is the center. Not us. And I don't see where the Word teaches that God did or does nothing more than what we read in His Word. Why would we assume there are no other worlds? no other universes? or no life on other planets/galaxies even? (disclaimer: I do not believe the ET/UFO stuff that goes is of God. Likely rather demonic.)

CS Lewis, in Perelandra, near the very end (p.213 in my edition) the main character asks "In our world, those who know (Christ) at all believe that His coming down to us and becoming a man is the central happening of all that happens. If you take that from me...to whither will you lead me? Surely not to the enemy's talk which thrusts my world and my race into a remote corner and gives me a universe, with no center at all, but millions of worlds that lead nowhere or (what is worse) to more and more worlds for ever, and comes over with numbers and empty spaces and repetitions and asks me to bow down before bigness."

The answer given requires pages of 'conversation' that reads sometimes more like song, and includes this portion (p. 216): "Where (Christ) is, there is the center. He is in every place. Not some of Him in one place and some in another, but in each place the whole (Christ Jesus)..."
Reminds me of the verses, "Where can I go from Thy Spirit?..." "...in Him we live and move and have our being."
(Lewis does not bring this into pantheism.)...


And for the skeptic who asks, 'how can such a small race of man on such a small planet be of great value in such large universe?' I must say that I, created in the image of God, also 'create' many things, like a written essay, or a garden planted and grown, or building a fence. Over many years I produce very many things, and some of them are very large. But even with their great number, and great composite size, their value to me does not compare to the great value of my children, my spouse, my friends whom I cherish deeply, and for whom I willingly sacrifice.
If God is truly a creative and personal God, is it hard to see that the persons he creates might be of more value to him than the things?

Cliff, thanks for thinking, asking hard questions, praying to God for wisdom, and holding fast to the Light of the Scriptures as your guide and anchor.

Cliff Martin said...

Jamison (jamsession137),

Thank you for your comments. I think you are mainly responding to discussions over at Steve Martin's site:

http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/

... where I am contributing. Steve is using a list questions I provided for an on and off discussion. In an early question in the series, I wrote, "If man is central to what God is doing in the cosmos ..."

It was not my intention to suggest the centrality of man, as opposed to Christ. My question was more like this ... "If man is at the center of God's purposes for creating the cosmos (as Genesis strongly suggests, and most Christian's believe) why is the universe so vast beyond imagination, and man comparatively so infinitesimal." The wide discrepancy of scale stretches credulity, as skeptics like Richard Dawkins have noted.

I do not dispute the Christian idea that man is at the center of God's purposes in the cosmos. In fact, I am persuaded that we have long overly minimized our role, in a self-effacing way that sounds appropriately humble, but may in fact just be a cop out. So my comments have less to do with the "value" of man (which is where you went in your response) as the critical place we occupy in God's overall scheme.

Again, I do not raise this question because the skeptics do so. But when I read Dawkins comments (in which he scoffs belief that tiny man, living as he does on a little planet in an average solar system on the outer reaches of a nondescript galaxy, one galaxy in a cosmos filled with hundreds of billions of galaxies, could possibly have any significance to an imagined All-Mighty, and in which he furthers scoffs believers for failing to even notice this, and failing to even pose the question), I went, "Not me! I've been asking the very question for at least two decades!"

I have been amazed at how many believers, when confronted with this question, look quizzical and shrug their shoulders and say “What’s the problem?”. Unlike Dawkins, I believe there is a very rational, logical approach to the question from a Christian perspective. But until I can persuade my fellows that the question exists, and that it does matter, there will be no point in discussing the answers I wish to propose.

complete-joy said...

Hi Cliff! My brother just introduced me to your new blog. I have yet to understand how much personal information should be posted on the internet, but since you have posted your name, I will post mine- Cara Ediger. The last name will I'm sure ring a bell. Hopefully you can guess that my brother's name is Seth Ediger :) SO, all this said... I appreciate your preliminary post and look forward to following your blog. I am on the same journey of searching that you are, and lately I've been studying the events of the first 3 or so chapters of Genesis, where I think all things of theology start. Are there any Bible studies or material on those chapters that you would recommend looking into? Oh, and I have started a new blog as well that I'm not sure if I have a focused purpose, but is mainly around the same subjects you are searching. http://complete-joy.blogspot.com/ Thanks.

Cliff Martin said...

Welcome Cara!
I enjoyed looking at your blog, and reading some of the posts. I like what I read. If someone else asked me for reading material on Genesis 1-3, I might send them to you blog. But since you ask ...
I do not have any Bible study material on early Genesis that I can recommend without reservation. Young Earth Creationists (YEC) have many such materials, and they would certainly agree with your premise about the primacy of Genesis 1-3 in Theology. But their science is faulty, and so many of their theoogical conclusions are therefore suspect. I have many books by Hugh Ross (a Progressive Creationist who interprets Genesis 1 in a Billions-of-Years scenario). He is evangelical, and a good writer, but sticks motly to science and steers clear of theology in most of his books. An exception is his book on dimensions (Beyond the Cosmos), but it has less to do with Genesis than his other writings. And though I appreciate the work of Ross, my views on evolution are far more naturalistic than are his.
Genes, Genesis, and God, by Holmes Rolston III is a book I have not read, but it is endorsed by John Polinghorne. A Guide to Genesis by Hargreaves, also endorsed by Polkinghorne, is another possibility. I have not read these books, and I know little of the authors. But they sound like interesting reads, particularly for the track you are on. And from what I have gleaned, their take on the science of Genesis would be more in line with my own views.
~ Cliff

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Hi, Cliff:

I'm trying to start reading you at the beginning, since you haven't posted too many posts yet, and you wish to present your ideas systematically.

One quick response to the dialogue in this thread. It's funny, but the vastness of the cosmos has never troubled me as much as the vast time span that passed before man came into existence. We're such latecomers to the planet (and the cosmos!) — how can it be all about us?! And yet the Bible is written so that God's interactions with human beings are the centerpiece of the whole book.

It leads me to suspect that there is indeed be life elsewhere in the cosmos. The Bible doesn't speak to that fact because, as Lewis points out in the Narnia series, God doesn't discuss other people's stories with us. God talks to us only about us.

Cliff Martin said...

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for reading.

I am equally curious about the significance of man light of 1) the immensity of the cosmos and 2) the 13.7 billion year run-up to these last score or so thousand years of human history. However, the way in which I am coming to understand things solves both riddles (and several others) for me, at least. But it will take a while to get to that point in my thoughts and writings.

Of course, there could be other populated planets. Looking at thing naturalistically (as I tend to do), this is unlikely. The fine tuning required for planet earth to host life (at least carbon-based life) is such that a universe this size may only yield one. But if you stay with me, you will see why that could make perfect sense.

Mike Beidler said...

Cliff,

I'm looking forward to reading your series and, like you, attempt to "understand the role of entropy in God's overall plan."

And this universe has been moving in that direction since the creation moment. Entropy is itself, of course, death and decay. It therefore has great theological and eschatological significance.

I'm not so sure that entropy has great eschatological significance, at least in terms of the Body of Christ. Although the Bible speaks of a new heavens and a new earth, I think those references are better understood through the lens of several things: (1) ANE perspective, (2) the symbolic nature of apocalyptic literature, and (3) a fuller examination of the shadow that was the Old Covenant and the reality that is the New Covenant. In short, I don't believe that the Bible actually addresses the end of the space-time continuum as we know it. Yes, our current observations lead us to conclude that the universe will one day die, but at the same time I don't see Scripture as addressing that event. In short, the Bible is absolutely silent about the death of the universe.

The problem of evil is the most significant stumbling block to faith for skeptics today.

You've hit the nail on the head. The more I read about atheists' objections to Christianity, this one tops the list.

We will see that something in the spiritual realm is actually accomplished through our suffering. And we will be better prepared personally if we are called upon to suffer as this age winds down.

What is "this age" of which you speak? Be afraid to answer, because the ensuing conversation might take a considerable amount of time. ;-)

our theology may be standing in the way, perhaps barring us from fully participating in the breath-taking tasks of the advancing Kingdom of God.

And yet another "Amen!" And might I add that, in many cases, it's our eschatology that may hinder or better advance the Kingdom of God.

Cliff Martin said...

Mike,

This cosmos, as it is currently configured, cannot and will not last forever. While the actual time frame for a gradual cool down or a cataclysmic implosion are measured in the billions, even trillions of years, the window of habitability will be much shorter than that. Still, the universe, and our solar system specifically, will be habitable for a very long time. But not forever.

When the Bible speaks of an age to come, it uses language which suggests to me an alteration of the very physics of the cosmos. (see 2 Peter 3:10-11; Hebrews 12:26-29; Isaiah 24; etc.) Further, it suggests that this coming change will result in a reality in which the sun will not longer be required, that God himself will be the inexhaustible energy source of our existence. (see Revelation 21:23; 22:5; Isaiah 60:19-20.) Tie this together with the promise that death will play no role in the coming reality and the distinct possibility arises that this new reality is non-entropic.

If you keep reading the posts on entropy, I address some of these topics there. But in short, Romans 8:18-23 suggests to me that entropy was a provisional aspect of God's creation, and that when it has served is unspecified purpose, it will be abandoned in favor of a physical reality that is not subject to decay.

Now I realize that I am reading these texts quite literally, assigning to them cosmological scientific significance in a way that I am uncomfortable doing with other texts. This is an admitted inconsistency in my approach. Still, there seems to be such a weight of Biblical promises that speak of this coming non-entropic reality that it seems more than plausible that a very real fulfillment awaits us.

As I have indicated elsewhere, I am a partial preterist. Perhaps, this is because I have not been introduced to full preterism. But I would be interested in your take on the scriptures I have cited above, and whether or not you see any coming age in which entropy plays no role.

Mike Beidler said...

This cosmos, as it is currently configured, cannot and will not last forever.

Agreed.

When the Bible speaks of an age to come, it uses language which suggests to me an alteration of the very physics of the cosmos. (see 2 Peter 3:10-11; Hebrews 12:26-29; Isaiah 24; etc.)

May I humbly suggest that some of these passages which suggest an "alteration of the very physics of the cosmos" read this way because you are reading them through a modern lens. In Isaiah 51:16, God says, "And I have put my words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of my hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, 'You are my people.'" From reading the context of this passage, you can see that it uses a creation motif in reference to the creation of Israel. The "establishing the heaves and laying of the foundations of the earth" phrase, while echoing Genesis 1:1, are actually describing the establishment of Israel as God's people, not God's creation of the cosmos. The rise and downfall of many nations mentioned in the Bible are described using universal-sounding creation/decreation language. Thus, when we get to the NT, we need to read these similar sounding passages as the original audience would have understood them.

In the case of 2 Peter 3:10-11, there are four key words that need clarification: heavens, elements, earth, and works. From reading the works of Josephus (Book III, Chapter 7, Section 7), one will discover that certain portions of the temple represented the "heavens" and "earth":

"When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts,c and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men. (182) And when he ordered twelve loaves to be set on the table, he denoted the year, as distinguished into so many months. By branching out the candlestick into seventy parts, he secretly intimated the Decani, or seventy divisions of the planets; and as to the seven lamps upon the candlesticks, they referred to the course of the planets, of which that is the number. (183) The vails, too, which were composed of four things, they declared the four elements; for the fine linen was proper to signify the earth, because the flax grows out of the earth; the purple signified the sea, because that color is dyed by the blood of a sea shell fish; the blue is fit to signify the air; and the scarlet will naturally be an indication of fire. (184) Now the vestment of the high priest being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder. And for the ephod, it showed that God had made the universe of four [elements]; and as for the gold interwoven, I suppose it related to the splendor by which all things are enlightened. (185) He also appointed the breastplate to be placed in the middle of the ephod, to resemble the earth, for that has the very middle place of the world. And the girdle which encompassed the high priest round, signified the ocean, for that goes round about and includes the universe. Each of the sardonyxes declare to us the sun and the moon; those, I mean, that were in the nature of buttons on the high priest’s shoulders. (186) And for the twelve stones, whether we understand by them the months, or whether we understand the like number of the signs of that circle which the Greeks call the Zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning. And for the mitre, which was of a blue color, it seems to me to mean heaven; (187) for how otherwise could the name of God be inscribed upon it? That it was also illustrated with a crown, and that of gold also, is because of that splendor with which God is pleased."

As for "elements," it does not refer to the physical elements. Strong’s Greek Dictionary gives this definition of "elements" (Gk. "stoicheion"): "something orderly in arrangement, i.e. (by implication) a serial (basal, fundamental, initial) constituent (literally), proposition (figuratively): KJV—element, principle, rudiment." To what is Peter referring? Take a look at these other passages that use the exact same Greek word:

Galatians 4:3-5 (ESV)
"In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."

Galatians 4:9-10 (ESV)
"But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles [stoicheion]of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!"

Colossians 2:8 (NAS95)
"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the world, rather than according to Christ."

Colossians 2:20-22 (NAS95)
"If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?"

Hebrews 5:12 (NAS95)
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food."

As you can see, the use of "elements" or "principles" refer to the works of the Mosaic Law. It was the Mosiac Law (referred to using the words "elements" and "works") and the Temple (referred to using the words "heaven" and "earth") that was to suffer destruction (in AD 70), not the cosmos.

In Matthew 5:18, Jesus says, "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." Here, Jesus was referring to the Temple. If not, the Law of Moses is still in effect for us.

FWIW, partial preterist Dr. Peter Leithart has written a fine commentary on 2 Peter (The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second Peter) in which he argues for this passage's fulfillment in AD 70.

The other passages you mentioned can (and should) be viewed in the same manner as 2 Peter and other OT passages which describe the destruction of single nations using global/universal destruction language.

Further, it suggests that this coming change will result in a reality in which the sun will not longer be required, that God himself will be the inexhaustible energy source of our existence. (see Revelation 21:23; 22:5; Isaiah 60:19-20.)

I believe I've already exhausted your attention with the 2 Peter exposition, but I will say that the above Revelation and Isaiah passages are using highly symbolic language to communicate theological truths. These were never meant to be taken literally.

Tie this together with the promise that death will play no role in the coming reality and the distinct possibility arises that this new reality is non-entropic.

I'm not sure that physical death is in mind; rather, Jesus' promise to the Church was that the gates of Hades (the underworld) would not prevail against the Church, that physical death would be overcome by spiritual life—life guaranteed and demonstrated by Christ, the firstfruits of the Resurrection.

But in short, Romans 8:18-23 suggests to me that entropy was a provisional aspect of God's creation, and that when it has served is unspecified purpose, it will be abandoned in favor of a physical reality that is not subject to decay.

I would suggest that you also look at alternative interpretations of what the "creation" actually is. Although, to our 21st-century minds, the "creation" that groans is the cosmos, I would submit that it is actually referring to God's people groaning under the bondage of the Law and sin.

Now I realize that I am reading these texts quite literally, assigning to them cosmological scientific significance in a way that I am uncomfortable doing with other texts. This is an admitted inconsistency in my approach.

In what passages would you be uncomfortable assigning cosmological scientific significance?

Still, there seems to be such a weight of Biblical promises that speak of this coming non-entropic reality that it seems more than plausible that a very real fulfillment awaits us.

I would submit that the afterlife (of which the Bible is generally silent) is non-entropic, but the afterlife exists here and now, in the presence of God. The end of the cosmos is not required.

Mike Beidler said...

but the afterlife exists here and now, in the presence of God.

Hmmmm ... that doesn't read quite right. I meant to say that the afterlife, for believers who have already died, is a current reality for them (Rev 14:13). No cosmic end required for bio-physically dead believers to attain their bio-spiritual bodies and experience non-entropy.

Cliff Martin said...

Mike,

Thank you for your very detailed response. I will pick just a few topics for further clarification here, as a point by point response would be too lengthy for a “comment”.

First, you suggest that I am reading certain prophetic passages through a modern lens. And yes, that is true, and quite intentional. Let me explain. It is clear from many scriptures (I’d be happy to lay them out for you if you wish) that foretelling prophecy is often purposefully unintelligible to the immediate audience. That is, the prophecy cannot be fully understood until the time of its fulfillment. I am asking this question in these posts: is it possible that certain prophetic Scriptures can only now be understood in light of how science has informed our “modern lens.” For example, if in fact Romans 8:19-23 is referring to entropy, only in the last 100 years or so could we understand the full import of the teaching. The church has at times believed that death and decay originated with the Fall. Others have surmised it came earlier, perhaps at the judgment of Satan. Only now do we understand that death and decay have been around since the Creation Moment. God made this cosmos to be entropic, even though it was not ultimately what he wanted for his creation. (He subjected it to entropy in the hope of its ultimate deliverance from same.) That should raise questions which earlier generations of believers never pondered. Is it possible that God expects us to put together what he revealed to Paul with what physicists now tell us to see a deeper truth?

However, you object to the notion that the Romans 8 passage has anything to do with the cosmos and entropy:
I would suggest that you also look at alternative interpretations of what the "creation" actually is. Although, to our 21st-century minds, the "creation" that groans is the cosmos, I would submit that it is actually referring to God's people groaning under the bondage of the Law and sin.

Paul has been addressing issues of bondage to sin in literal plain terms up until this point. Why would he resort to this very enigmatic, veiled language at this juncture. The plain reading of this text suggest that Paul is not now addressing bondage to sin and law. He dealt with that in chapters six, seven, and the first half of eight. The last half of eight reads to me like Paul has launched into a bigger picture, a cosmic view.

If “creation” here refers to God’s people as you suggest, why does Paul contrast “all creation” with “we ourselves” in verses 22 and 23?

You suggest that Peter’s reference to the heaven and earth being destroyed by fire is code language for the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. You cite various usages of “elements” in the N.T. It is true that stoicheion can be used in its metaphorical sense as in the scriptures you cite. But the lexicons definitions certainly include the usage which I assume: “the elements from which all things have come, the material causes of the universe”. This does seem to fit the plain reading of the text. Peter is comparing and contrasting the coming destruction by fire with the earlier destruction of the earth by water in the Flood of Noah (which Peter no doubt understood to be a universal destruction). Or do you believe his references to the Flood is also metaphorical?

You ask, In what passages would you be uncomfortable assigning cosmological scientific significance? Those passages would include (but not be limited to) all the Biblical passages that assume an ANE cosmology, i.e. Genesis 1.

Steve said...

Hey Cliff! I hope you don't mind me adding my two cents' worth on this issue. Your take is an interesting one, but I, like Mike, have to disagree about the necessity of a future physical state without entropy.

You said: First, you suggest that I am reading certain prophetic passages through a modern lens. And yes, that is true, and quite intentional. Let me explain. It is clear from many scriptures (I’d be happy to lay them out for you if you wish) that foretelling prophecy is often purposefully unintelligible to the immediate audience.

I'd love to see those passages, as none come to mind readily for me. The adaptability of the medium of prophecy in genre is seen with contrasting pre-Babylonian prophecy with prophecy after Babylonian influence. It is because people were so aware of Zoroastrian literature that the apocalyptic genre appears in Hebrew prophecy (e.g the books of Daniel and Ezekiel). What's the point of making the vehicle of prophecy more accessible if its messages were not meant to be understood?

You said: (He subjected it to entropy in the hope of its ultimate deliverance from same.)
The metaphor of birth pains doesn't seem to map over into entropy very well. I believe that Paul's choice of "birth pains" terminology was selected without ignorance of:

1) the full-term onset of birth pains; in every pregnancy, the birth pains do not start until time to give birth
2) the relative length of birth pains; taken together with the last one certainly suggests me that this is one of many time texts in the NT (and Romans) expressing the imminence of the eschaton.
3) Jesus' statements considering the birth pains that weren't to start until the beginning of and as a sign of the eschaton

On this let me briefly consider v. Romans 8:18-22 in a little detail.
v. 18 "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed [in] us." Literally, this verse states that the glory was "about to be" (using the Greek word mello) revealed in "us"; this was Paul talking to the Roman Christians. The anticipation of the imminence of this event is restated in the following verse (19), "The creation (Gk. ktisis) waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed."
vv. 20-22 "For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. [For] we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." Notice a couple things about this passage.

1) Paul says that at that time the "whole creation" was suffering birth pains in its anticipation of something. This talk of pains of childbirth suffered by physical creation is not given isolation, but should remind us of the same language used in the Olivet Discourse. Jesus predicted, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains" (Mat 24.7-8). All of this was promised to take place within that generation (v. 34). In the late 50's, ten years before the eschatological events predicted in the Olivet Discourse and during the closing years of that generation, Paul is describing a fulfillment in his "present time" of Jesus' words predicting the last days. That Romans 8 is to be correlated with Matthew 24 is much preferred over taking Romans 8 as an isolated, novel teaching about recreation: nowhere in the OT is this sort of thing predicted, nor is it implied in the creation narrative.
2) The release from bondage to decay was to be a result of (or at least concomitant with) the revelation of the sons of God. It is this that establishes the new order. For Paul, the coming Day of the Lord was to be the vindication of Christians as the true children of Abraham. The mysterion that God had revealed to the privileged elect, that the Gentiles (including Paul's Roman audience) were to join Christian Jews as heirs of the faith (Ro 11.25; Ep 3.3), was going to be made manifest at that time when God visibly dissolved the Old Covenant cultus by destroying the temple. This was the release of the tension between Jews (including many believers such as James; see Acts 15) still trying to honor at least some of the cultic aspects of the Law of Moses and the other Jews along with the vast majority of Gentiles who did not follow the customs. It was not until that future event in which God would settle the question of the Law and weave together a united Israel "after the Spirit" from Law-observers and non-Law-observers that God could truly be said to be "all in all" (1 Cor 15.28). This resolution and vindication of those believers not observing the Law is what is referred to here in Romans 8.19 as the revelation of the sons of God; at the end of the day, those who were redeemed by faith and not through ethnic identification with the Mosaic covenant were going to be the ones to receive the adoption (Romans 9.3-8). Paul devotes the better part of his epistle to the Romans to defusing the yet unsettled disputes between those observing the Jewish customs and those who were not. The revelation and vindication of the true sons of God and of Abraham would put an end to the Jewish persecution of Christians, who claimed, as Paul once had, the authority of their presumed position of favor before God. In fact, it is this persecution over the question of what constituted the children of the promise that sets the context for Romans 8, as can be seen by reading the verses that conclude the chapter:

"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I've gone on far too long here, and have not addressed anything but Romans 8. But maybe this will answer some of your questions to Mike.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

Thank you for your thoughts. I will have to spend some time digesting how you read Romans 8. But I will offer some scriptures in support of my contention that predictive prophesy is not always intended to be understood until it's fulfillment.

In John 2, when Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection, it seems apparent that no one understood him. And the interesting thing to me is that Jesus did not bother to correct them, even though the misunderstanding of his words led to the serious accusation that he intended to destroy the Temple. His words remained an enigma until after the resurrection, when his disciples finally put it all together, and their faith received the benefit of this "delayed miracle."

In John 14:29, Jesus makes it clear that the purpose of some predictive prophecy is to build faith at the time of the fulfillment. In other words, prophecy is not given to enable us to build detailed eschatological charts, but to build faith when the prophecy is fulfilled. Indeed, one reason that many learned Jews missed Jesus was that they had their interpretative "ducks in a row" with regard to the coming Messiah, and Jesus just did not fit their profile. The problem was that they strove to understand the prophecies prior to their fulfillment.

Daniel 12:4 is a possible reference to this principle as well.

Of course, you may not see any future events for us which are predicted in the Scriptures. I do. And I believe that the purpose of those predictive prophecies is to strengthen faith in the midst of their fulfillment. So, I make it my purpose to know the content of Revelation and other N.T. prophecies, recognizing that 1) some of it is already fulfilled, and 2) much of it is beyond understanding now, but that 3) when events do line up with the prophecies, those prophecies will become clear, and my faith will be strengthened.

Comments?

Mike Beidler said...

Cliff,

My apologies for not getting back to this conversation earlier. It came at a time when my Farsi studies were just beginning.

And now that I'm laid up with some nice painkillers, it's hard to concentrate sometimes on answering your questions in full. Of course, I would love to continue this conversation at a later time, perhaps over the phone. Feel free to visit my blog and call me using the GrandCentral widget. It's free. =)

Steve said...

Cliff, good post. I have just read this first one and I too have questions about good and evil, suffering, and I had never really thought of how death fits in to God's eternal plan for our souls, except that we have to die for God's plan to be fulfilled.

I plan to read your other posts on your questions.

Good to know there is another blogger in Albany,

Steve

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,
Thank you for stopping by. I hope some of my posts are helpful!
~ Cliff