Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vacations and Sabbaths

I just got back late last night from a 10 day vacation. And, while I enjoyed the time away from my regular routine very much, being the philosophical guy that I am, I got to thinking about the concept of "vacation" and how it relates to our calling as Christians. Stated a little differently, I began to think about how a "vacation" as practiced by a follower of Jesus should be different from those as practiced by others.

Perhaps a good place to start is with the need for rest. It's quite easy to see by reading the Bible that God not only created people with a need for it, but commands that we shall rest regularly. So what, exactly, is rest?

Some would say that rest is purely utilitarian -- i.e., a periodic cessation or reduction of work which allows the gathering of renewed energy to engage in continued work. While this may be true in a sense, emphasized too strongly it can promote a view of life as drudgery with rest being something that we need to get just enough of in order to be more productive. That is, it presumes that the purpose of life is "productivity".

Others would say that it's the other way around: that is, that rest is the reward toward which work is directed. But emphasized too strongly this can promote a view of work as a necessary evil which we endure to get the pleasures we're really after.

But it's probably more accurate to see both work and rest as institutions of God which are to be enjoyed both now and in eternity in their proper balance and in the proper way, each serving the other as part of a glorious whole. In some ways, it's a balance very much like giving and receiving, loving and being loved.

The Sabbath, of course, was a day which God set apart as holy to commemorate the completion of God's work of creation and his subsequent rest. And the book of Hebrews tells us that we are to seek to enter the Sabbath rest which is the completion of God's work of redemption. In neither case is God's rest the cessation of all activity -- for God continues to "uphold all things by the word of His power". The rest in each case signals the revelation of a completed work of God and the consecration of it as holy.

In the same way, our daily, weekly, and yearly "rests" can be set apart as holy times to delight in Him and to honor Him for the work that He has accomplished in, for, and through us and to consecrate ourselves to Him as we continue into the future.

Viewed this way, vacations can be seen not as occasions for self-indulgence when we are freed from the restraints of "regular life", but as times set apart to the Lord to be renewed in our primary purpose which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Blessings until next time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Great new book by Stephen Meyer on intelligent design

Began reading Stephen Meyer's new book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design this week. It's a really excellent examination of the "goodness" of various scientific theories (including intelligent design) of the origin of life. Dr. Meyer articulates the various principles that are used by historical scientists (such as cosmologists, paleontologists, geologists, etc.) to evaluate the "goodness" of theories of past events. He then applies these principles to various theories which try to account for how the process of gene expression arose as part of the origin of life.

The very least that one can conclude upon reading the book is that he has taken the ground right from under the feet of a certain type of scientific bigot. That is, one comes away from reading the book convinced that the only way one can reject intelligent design as at least a possibly valid explanation for the origin of life is if one has presumed in advance that no valid theory can include intelligent design. Said another way, he's made it very difficult to dogmatically oppose intelligent design as a possible explanation for life's origin while claiming to be an unbiased evaluator of scientific evidence.

I highly recommend the book.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reflections on Freedom after Independence Day

While I sat and watched the fireworks on July 4 and listened to patriotic songs about American freedom, I pondered again what it is that people mean by the term "freedom". The most common meaning is "the extent to which a person is able to do as he or she wishes". Which is a perfectly serviceable definition.

The problem, of course, is that with respect to actions that are physically possible, people ARE free to do as they wish -- so long as they're willing to deal with the consequences of whatever it is that they want to do. Which reveals that there's a hidden element to the common notion of freedom. Rephrased, one might say that what people really mean by freedom is "the extent to which a person is able to do as he or she wishes WITHOUT A CONSEQUENCE TO HIM OR HERSELF WHICH THEY WOULD PERCEIVE AS UNDESIRABLE".

Stated in this form, the constraints which lie at the heart of freedom are made clearer. Given that there are multiple actors with possibly conflicting desires, freedom in one individual is in potential opposition to freedom in others. And, in the absence of an outside constraining force, the extent of one's freedom is the extent of one's ability to bring about their their wishes, whether or not their wishes are opposed.

Said another way, when discussing freedom we must always be clear about whose freedom we are discussing, to what end that freedom is directed, and who opposes it.

It's also clear that there is a very close association between freedom and desire. That is, freedom is always the ability to do or not do according to one's desire without external constraint or restraint. An implication of this is that if everyone desired possible and consistent end goals, then there would be maximum freedom. The converse of this is that if many actors desire inconsistent goals, then the factor that will equilibrate between the actors is the ability of each to impose their desires against the wishes of others.

Finally, in considering freedom, we must recall that God is the only truly free Being, in that he does whatever He wishes and none can impose their will on Him. The freedom of all others to do as they wish is contingent upon the extent to which what they wish is within the scope of God's Will.

Putting all this together, we see that the only way in which freedom can truly be maximized is for all to know God and to seek to do His Will. In every other case, "freedom" inevitably becomes the rule of the strong. Or, said another way, freedom for one is often bondage for another.

So, in light of all this, in what sense is a country, such as the United States, free? A country is only free to the extent that it is is governed in accordance with the revealed (as opposed to the decretive -- see below) Will of God. And, a consequence of this is that the further a nation strays from this foundation, the more subject to the will of the strong it will become, and the less free it will be.

A technical note on the above -- it is important to emphasize that the revealed Will of God can vary from the decretive Will of God. That is, sometimes God decrees that certain things will happen which are not, in and of themselves, according to His revealed Will -- but because those things serve a higher and more important purpose in what He has Willed. The best example of this is the death of Jesus -- an act which was the ultimate in evil, but which God decreed because it would result in ultimate good.

But the part of God's Will to which we have responsibility is his revealed, as opposed to his decretive Will.

And the salient point here is that a nation is only free to the extent that it is governed in accordance with the revealed Will of God.

Father God, have mercy upon us.