Thursday, January 28, 2016

[BTT014] "If the Bible is the Eternal Word of God..."

Previous: [BTT013] "Isn't the problem of Time..."

Question 2. “If the Bible is the Eternal Word of God, how can the historical events within it be wiped out?”

This objection may seem strange at first, so let's lay it out in a little more detail.

Essentially, this argument rest on two claims;

1). The Bible is the inerrant Word of God - it cannot contain errors or untruths.

2). The Bible is the unchanging Word of God - not "one jot or tittle" will pass away.

These are claims that most Christians would accept with little objection. However, if the Bible is to remain both inerrant and unchanging, it is impossible for history to change.

Why is this? Because certain sections of the Bible describe actions and events that took place within time, such as in the historical books of the Old Testament or the Gospels and Acts of the New Testament. Were history to change, then the information contained in the Old and New Testament would either become incorrect (since it would differ from the actual occurrences of history) or else would be changed (to reflect the new timeline).

Even books of poetry, such as Psalms, are intimately connected with the story of God and His people. Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. Our God is not a remote and distant being, but a God who takes glory from His interactions with us throughout history.

So the very reasonable motive behind this objection is the concern that that the redemption of time would in some way render the Scriptures null and void. How can this be when the Bible, the Word of God, is eternal? Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God will not.

However, while we must agree that the Bible is indeed the eternal Word of God, we must also explore exactly what this means.

While we confess that the Word of God revealed in the Bible is eternal, we also recognize that it has a temporal element. It was a progressive revelation throughout time. The book of Revelation was not available to Moses, just as the autograph manuscripts are not available to us. God has used the passage of time to craft the Bible into its current state in addition to direct revelation.

In fact, without the unfolding of the Bible throughout time, it would be impossible for it to record the story of God and His people. We do not worship an unknown, amorphous "god," but a God who committed specific actions throughout history - who revealed Himself to His people by walking among them. An eternal Bible, in the sense of a static text which is never added to, would not be suited for this purpose. Perhaps there is an Eternal Bible which exists in the mind of God, but the Bible He has revealed to us was revealed through time.

This should not surprise us nor cast doubt on the authenticity of the Bible. Jesus was born, grew, reached maturity, died, and was resurrected. These things would not be possible without time, and yet they in no way detract from Jesus's eternal nature. Just as Jesus was eternal God and yet lived in time as a temporal being, so the Bible is the eternal Word of God in temporal form.

There is no inherent contradiction in being temporal and eternal. Scripture tells us that Jesus retains His physical body in His current, eternal state in Heaven at the right hand of the Father. Our future resurrection is not only a spiritual one, but also a physical one, with perfect eternal bodies much like the one Christ now has.

If the physical universe will be destroyed and remade, how is it that the physical material on which Bible are printed be spared this fate? In a sense, we already believe that every physical copy of the Bible will either be destroyed, or if some object to that, divinely preserved in the Great Conflagration. If we say they will be destroyed along with all other physical matter, then how would the destruction of time make matters worse? If we say they will be divinely preserved the physical destruction, then why not the temporal destruction?

Jesus is referred to as the "Word of God", for the very good reason that all of Scripture is ultimately about Jesus. Jesus did say that no jot or tittle of Scripture would be lost, but He also claims to be the fulfillment of all Scripture. So even if there is no physical copy of the Bible in the new heavens and the new earth, the eternal Word of God will be present in the person of Jesus Christ. There will be no need for a Sun in Heaven for the Lord will be our Light. There will be (in a sense) no need for a Bible in Heaven, for the Lord will be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths.

I do not think it impossible that some sort of physically perfected (free from decay and other ways in which sin effects physical objects) Bible would or will exist in Heaven. Whether this would involve a divinely preserved physical copy of the Scriptures, a divinely recreated Scripture, or an eternal copy of the Bible already present in heaven, I will not venture to say. My point is only that whether you accept the destruction of space/time or only the destruction of space, some divine means will be necessary to preserve the physical book.

All of this is to say that while the Word of God is eternal, the physical book known as the Bible is not. It has been progressively revealed through history and exists in the physical world as printed words (or else digital bits). When the physical universe is destroyed, these physical copies will either be destroyed along with everything else, or else miraculously preserved by a miraculous act of God. If Bibles can be preserved from the physical destruction of all matter, why not from the destruction of time?

But all of this still dances around the edge of the main objection. We would all recognize that God has the ability to preserve the Scriptures into eternity, just as He has preserved them throughout time against those who sought to stamp out their light. The more worrisome question is if by destroying and remaking time, the contents of the Bible would be rendered untrue.

The Bible does not simply record history - it also records many descriptions of sins committed throughout history. Whether it is the original fall of man, the wickedness of Noah's day, or the adultery of King David, examples abound. So if time is remade without sin, wouldn't the Scriptures (even Scriptures eternally preserved by God) become out of line with the new timeline, and thus inaccurate?

My argument, in a word, would be "no," but the reader may want a more detailed response.

This objection follows what may be termed the Back to the Future theory of time travel. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly changed things in the past which caused changes to the future. Because his actions in the past prevented his parents from falling in love, he was never born and began fading from reality. In the sequel, he brings a sports almanac from the future back to the present, which allows the evil Biff to bet large sums of cash on the winners, once again changing the future.

Basically, this theory claims that changing something in the past will necessarily change the present. So if we were to go back in time and help Hitler win World War II, when we returned to the present, the Nazis would rule the world. If we were to go back in time and kill Hitler, perhaps World War II never happens.

This theory makes a certain sort of sense in a purely naturalistic universe. Since all of the events of history are irrevocably linked, stepping on a butterfly in the past might cause Robo- Genghis Khan to conquer Europe in the present. No one would know that anything had changed, because from their perspective, nothing has changed.

So then, if we go back in time and prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fruit, does this mean that all of the sins recorded in the Bible would fade from its pages like the picture of Marty McFly?

This model only makes sense if we have a purely physical universe. An observer not limited by our temporal perspective, one "looking in from the outside," would be fully aware that a change had taken place. A being not bound by the rules of time and space would not be affected by a change in either.

So it is with God, the angels, and the saints gone before us. Were something to be altered in our timeline, it would not be hidden from God. He would know what the world was like before the change and what had changed as a result. Knowledge of the original timeline would not be truly lost, since knowledge of it would not be lost to God. The Scriptures would remain a perfectly true account of God's work in time, since changing the timeline in no way impinges on the God who exists beyond time.

Arguably, it would not affect our knowledge of the past either. Only creatures bound by time would be affected by changes in the past. If the new heavens and new earth come after the final judgment, as seems to be indicated by Scripture, we will have already been gathered into eternity by the point the physical universe is destroyed. If so, we will already be outside the bonds of time and thus unaffected by changes to it. We would know the Scriptures to be true both because we would have God to vouch for them, and because we would be surrounded by witness from all of history.

So even if time is changed, this does not mean that the Bible would necessarily change or that changing it would make it untrue. It could remain in its current state, as a true account of God's actions within time. Additionally, since the autograph versions of the Bible are currently lost, the Bible could even potentially be restored to its original state. Far from changing the Bible, the destruction of space and time could de-change the Bible.

There is one other means by which we could deal with this objection, but I fear that it will be considered more controversial. I am advancing it here with a double portion of my usual caveats: the Bible may predict its own destruction along with the physical universe.

Now, since this is a fairly big statement, let's start with Jesus' own words on the subject from the Sermon on the Mount:

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."

- Mat. 5:17-18

This passage does not necessitate that the "law or the prophets" will be destroyed, but it does at least open the possibility. While Jesus goes out of His way to stress that not a single punctuation mark of the law will change during His life, He does tell us what would end it. Specifically, He gives two things:

1. Heaven and Earth passing away.

2. All of the law and prophets being fulfilled.

In a sense, these two conditions are actually one: the law and prophets will not be fulfilled until Heaven and Earth pass away and Heaven and Earth will not pass away until the law and prophets are fulfilled.

So then, it would be reasonable to say that the Bible will endure until "All is fulfilled;" that is to say, all of the laws of the Old Testament are perfectly fulfilled in Christ and all of the prophets are fulfilled in the Second Coming, when "heaven and earth" pass away. Once these conditions are met, it would be acceptable for jots and tittles to change, since their Divine purpose has been fulfilled.

While Jesus' words in Matthew 5 allow for the Bible to pass away once its purposes are fulfilled, God's words in Isaiah 65 lean towards actively suggesting it:

"So that he who blesses himself in the earth
Shall bless himself in the God of truth;
And he who swears in the earth
Shall swear by the God of truth;
Because the former troubles are forgotten,
And because they are hidden from My eyes.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy."

- Isaiah 65:16-18

Once again, God speaks of a new heavens and a new earth which are distinct from the former. Moreover, "the former shall not be remembered or come to mind." In other words, the current world will not even be worth thinking about.

Since the contents of the Bible largely deal with events that occurred in the current world, it is reasonable to assume that the Bible will also not be remembered. The "former troubles" which the people of God endured in this world will be forgotten in comparison with the joy of the new world. So even if the timeline will somehow be isolated from physical matter and preserved, the events of that timeline will not matter to us in the slightest.

Now it is possible that the book of Isaiah is speaking figuratively here. God says that the former troubles will also be "hidden from My eyes," which does not imply that God will lose knowledge of past events. It simply means that He will not count our past sins against us. Either way, the point stands that even if we have memories of the old earth, God's command is that we should rejoice forever in the new world, not dwell on the troubles of the old.

Once the Bible's purpose has been fulfilled, the Bible itself allows for the Bible to be changed and/or pass away. Furthermore, both the Old and New Testament seem to indicate that this is exactly what will happen. However, these are only suggestions, not explicit statements. Therefore, we can only say the Bible passing away is something that could happen rather than something that definitely will happen.

That said, by recognizing that the Bible allows for the Bible to pass away after its fulfillment, we can say with certainty that changing time does not contradict the status of the Bible. The Word of God is eternal, but the physical book of the Bible is not. Or rather, the physical book of the Bible will be eternally fulfilled - the law by Christ's perfect life, the prophets by His second coming.

In summary:

1). Changing history does not necessarily change the Bible.

2). Changing history would not make the Bible untrue.

3). Once the laws and prophecies of the Bible are fulfilled, it is possible for it to pass away.

4). God commands us to rejoice in the new heavens and earth rather than dwelling on what happened in the current world.

Next: [BTT015] "If the Death and Resurrection of Jesus..."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

[BTT013] "Isn't the problem of Time..."

[BTT012] Time Destroyed

I realize that my views involve some very serious departures from the traditional understandings of eschatology, soteriology, and probably some other –ologies that I’m forgetting. This section is my chance to respond to accusations of heresy in advance.

I will freely admit to innovation, but if my interpretation is unorthodox, it is only because I am venturing into an area that orthodoxy has not yet entered. This is why I have kept my presuppositions so rigid, attempting to err on the side of the literal, orthodox reading.

I have prepared responses to the four most common objections I have encountered when sharing these ideas with others, in order of the frequency with which I hear them. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all possible objections. I look forward to hearing new objections, since they will force me to dig deeper into the topic.

Question 1. “Isn’t the problem of Time beyond our understanding?”
This is a common and completely legitimate objection. After all, humans cannot conceive of Time in the same way that God does. This may be the reason scripture does not give us more details about Time - we might not be at all capable of understanding the truth with limited minds. Is it then best to let sleeping dogs lie? Are these questions better left unasked?

If you do not want to engage with the questions raised here on the grounds that the human mind cannot comprehend them, I fully understand. However, our inability as humans to fully understand the Trinity does not stop us from asserting that the Father, Son, and Spirit are One. Our inability to understand how Jesus could be fully God and fully Man does not stop us from confessing that saving truth. We do not know how God created the universe from nothingness, but can we deny it?

While Scripture does not give us every detail of God's relation to Time, it does give us a few certain truths. God made Time, God transcends Time, God has a plan for the end of Time. Although the conclusions we may draw from these facts often differ, so do our views on any number of biblical issues.

Part of the reason for the confusion is that the issue of the End of Time is part of prophecy, and prophecy is not a simple subject. Many of the Old Testament passages that New Testament writers apply to the life of Jesus do not look like prophecies in their original context. Certainly, the contemporaries of Christ did not understand the meaning of the prophecies until after the fact. They could speculate, but many of their assumptions proved to be false.

Christ did not criticize the Pharisees for daring to try to understand the difficult prophecies of the Old Testament. He criticized them for rejecting the Word of God made flesh, for blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The problem was not that they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and struggled with the Scriptures. The problem was that they rejected the Truth when He came.

Curiosity is not a sin. Honest inquiry is not a sin. The angels earnestly inquire after the mysteries of salvation. The sin is not to ask honest questions, the sin is to claim scriptural-level authority for man-made theories.

This is why I am presenting my ideas as theories and not as Scriptural facts. It is completely legitimate to say that the Bible does not give us as clear a picture of the ultimate fate of Time as it does the ultimate fate of Space. It is also legitimate to say that you, as an individual, are uncomfortable speculating on this issue.

It is not, however, legitimate to say that it is sinful for others to speculate on this topic because it involves extrapolating from Scripture. Extrapolation is the basis of our understanding of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and many other important aspects of our faith.

It is also, however, completely illegitimate to claim that extrapolation from Scripture holds the same weight as the Scriptures themselves. We must be ready to lay down our Theology when the Truth comes, whether it is in the form of a stronger Scriptural argument or when Jesus returns to explain it Himself.

When Christ condemns the Pharisees who “[teach] as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7), it is because they are putting human teachings on the same level as the Bible, not because they are using their intellects to attempt to understand the Bible. Compare Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees with Luke’s praise of those in Berea who “…searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). There is no condemnation on those who actively try to work out what the Scriptures say, only on those who put human teachings on the same level as Divine teachings.

[BTT014] "If the Bible is the Eternal Word of God..."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

StudyOke! "Shima Uta" THE BOOM

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Abortion Post

I enjoy thinking about abortion.

No, not the act itself. All that clamping and scraping and vacuuming – ick. I’m talking about the abortion debate, the base issue of abortion as a right vs. abortion as a moral abomination.

It’s an interesting case because there isn't a convincing middle option. Either a fetus is a human life (in which case, killing it is murder and evil) or the fetus is a blob of tissue (in which case, removing it is no more immoral than popping a pimple). The middle ground either involves accepting a moderate level of child murder (unacceptable) or a moderate level of government control over women’s wombs (unacceptable).

So we have two parts that simply will not fit together. The closest thing I have ever heard to a middle ground is the “safe, legal, and rare” meme, which at least admits that abortion is less savory than, say, a pony ride.

Here comes the part where I clarify my personal opinion: I am rabidly pro-life. This is partially for religious reasons (from my mother’s womb, you are my God), but my keystone argument is genetic. Simply put, a fertilized egg is a unique set of human DNA distinct from both the mother and the father.

The most objective way to define an individual human being is by their unique DNA sequence. Of course, the most objective way is not the same as the best way (a severed limb has the same DNA as the human it was lopped off of), but it is the most fair. It requires no belief in God, gods, or the sanctity of life.

More importantly for the abortion issue, we can use DNA to show objectively that the blob of tissue is not part of the body of the mother. They are indisputably different humans. The only real debate can be over whether the blob of tissue is a human life.

Now, there are some pro-choicers who argue that consciousness is what matters, not life. These are the sorts who argue for 4th, 5th, and 6th trimester abortions – the murder of infants, toddlers, 4 year olds, etc., up until the ill-defined passage into consciousness.

My favorite part of the argument from consciousness is that consciousness can in no way be objectively quantified, let alone what level of consciousness makes one “legitimately human.” At least the argument from birth has an objective, clear cut-off point. Is it in the mother’s body? It’s a blob of tissue. Is it out of the mother’s body? It’s a human. Consciousness cannot be objectively quantified, much less "adequately human" consciousness.

There are still problems with the trans-vaginal definition of human life. The unavoidable genetic differences between mother and child means that it fails to prove that the fetus is not a distinct human. But what about the meaning (or rather, definition) of “life”?

I’m going to do some Wiki-quoting:

“Since there is no unequivocal definition of life, the current understanding is descriptive. Life is considered a characteristic of something that exhibits all or most of the following traits:

1. Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, sweating to reduce temperature.

2. Organization: Being structurally composed of one or more cells — the basic units of life.

3. Metabolism: Transformation of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.

4. Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.

5. Adaptation: The ability to change over time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism's heredity, diet, and external factors.

6. Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals, to complex reactions involving all the senses of multicellular organisms. A response is often expressed by motion; for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun (phototropism), and chemotaxis.

7. Reproduction: The ability to produce new individual organisms, either asexually from a single parent organism, or sexually from two parent organisms, "with an error rate below the sustainability threshold."

Now, this is a Wikipedia summary of the biological definition of life, so let’s start by understanding this is not a perfect list. Let’s also understand that this definition is descriptive – we look at things we consider to be alive, and describe their traits. That’s actually a good thing. Science should be descriptive, not proscriptive.

So, using this list as a rough sketch, how do fetuses stack up?

1. Homeostasis: Fetuses self-regulate to their environment. Some of these processes are dependent on the mother, but then, all life forms depended on their food source. I'd consider this one debatable, but for now: one point for fetuses

2. Organization: Fetuses are inarguably composed of cells. Point two for fetuses.

3. Metabolism: Fetuses inarguably transform chemicals into energy. Point three.

4. Growth: Fetuses inarguably have a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. We’re four for four.

5. Adaptation: This one seems to apply more to species (change over time) than individual lifeforms (when’s the last time you mutated a new adaptation?). So either adult humans don’t get the point, or all human organisms get it. Either way, I’m calling this five points for fetuses.

6. Response to stimuli: This one is trickier. Fetuses don’t develop nerve endings (and thus the ability to respond to stimuli) until roughly the 10th week of gestation. I’m giving this point to all fetuses with nerves. Call it 5.5 out of 6 points.

7. Reproduction: Human children are also not capable of reproduction, in addition to eunuchs/the infertile/post-menopausal women. Unless we are going to define all humans not currently capable of reproduction as “not alive,” I’m giving this point to fetuses too.

So that's 3 indisputable points for all fetuses (Organization, Metabolism, Growth), 1 point for all fetuses past the 10th week of gestation (Response to Stimuli), 2 points that that either fetuses get or post-menopausal women don't get (Adaptation, Reproduction), and 1 partially debatable point (Homeostasis is partially shared with the mother).

Let's assume we have a hostile witness who is willing to throw post-menopausal women out with the babies. That means fetuses past 10 weeks of gestation still beat the "all or most" spread with a solid 4 points. With a non-hostile witness who does consider post-menopausal women human, all fetuses beat the "all or most" spread, hands down.

Fetuses fulfill as many of the conditions of "life" as post-menopausal women. Unless someone wants to argue that adult post-menopausal women are not alive, the only reasonable conclusion is that fetuses are both human (genetically distinct individuals with human DNA) and alive (fulfilling as many of the definitions of life as a post-menopausal woman). 

Of course, this argument says nothing about the rights of women, the trauma of being raped, or the difficulty of raising children. It also says nothing about God, the Bible, or morality. It is a completely objective, scientifically verifiable argument that demonstrates fetuses fulfill both the definitions of “human” and the definition of “living.”

To destroy a fetus is to destroy a living human. Moreover, it is to destroy a helpless human which had committed no crime other than living. If you feel the rights of women justify the destruction of a helpless, innocent human life, you are free to make that argument. You are not free to ignore the objective status of fetuses as living humans.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

[BTT012] Time Destroyed

Previous: [BTT011] The End of Time

Let’s do a quick recap:

1). The Bible uses two primary images for the Day of Judgment: an old worn out cloth being replaced and an all-consuming fire.

2). All physical matter will be destroyed, down to the very elements.

3). Human souls and good works done in Christ will survive the Day of Judgment, but everything else will be destroyed.

I’m once again leaning slightly more towards the “literal meaning” camp, but it seems justifiable in this case. While the passages in Isaiah and Psalms could easily be taken as figurative (i.e., not a literal fire), Peter goes out of his way to emphasize that the Day of Judgment will physically, literally consume the entire physical universe down to its base elements. Even if we suggest it will not be a conventional fire, it is most reasonable to assume a literal destruction.

With this much established, let’s think about what the destruction of physical Space implies for physical Time.

Right off the bat, we are confronted with something of a conundrum. Space and Time are not two separate entities. Time only exists in relation to Space. Moving through Space alters the very nature of Time.

Have you ever used a GPS device? GPS functions using satellites. Cosmically speaking, there is not a very large distance between your GPS device and the satellite it is communicating with. And yet, even within that very short distance, your GPS device must take relativity into account. If your GPS device did not take into account the fact that Time is moving ever so slightly differently between the surface of the Earth and the satellite in orbit, it would be impossible to calculate your location accurately.

Time on, say, Pluto, is different than Time on Earth, and not only because Pluto’s days and years are longer. The distance between the two planets and their relative speeds means that they are moving through Time at different speeds.

Again, if I left the Earth on a rock ship to Pluto and you stayed behind, I would age more slowly than you. The faster an object in Space moves, the slower it moves in Time. Time literally functions differently depending on your location and speed within Space.

Therefore, it would be inaccurate to think that Time can exist without Space. It is popular to describe Time as “The Fourth Dimension,” but Time is actually a function of three-dimensional Space. If three-dimensional Space is destroyed, Time will inevitably be destroyed along with it.

Arguments from science are well and good, but we must also recognize the necessity for Time to be destroyed and recreated when we consider that God curses Time in Genesis 3. Sin affects Time as much as Space, as it affects all of Creation. A world with a redeemed, recreated Space but the same old fallen Time would be by no means a paradise.

So far so good. Time in the New Heavens and New Earth will be recreated and restored. This causes no problems if we limit the recreation of Time to the Future. Up until this point on the timeline, Time is cursed and tainted by Sin, but at this point (the Day of Judgment) it is destroyed and recreated.

Here’s the problem: you cannot destroy the Present of Time without also destroying the Past. The entirety of the physical universe does not take place in a uniform Present. Due to relativity, the Present on Earth is different than the Present on Pluto, is a different than the Present on Alpha Centauri. Destroying the Present necessarily involves destroying the Future and destroying the Past.

This may not be as shocking as it initially appears. 1 Corinthians 3 also describes a sort of destruction of the Past – at least, all actions in the past that were not founded in the love of Christ. This makes sense – if the Past is destroyed, all actions that are not founded in Eternity will be destroyed as well. Works founded in Jesus can survive the destruction of Time because God is Eternal.

While the physical Space where these works occurred may be destroyed – the home you built for the homeless, the food you gave to the hungry, the art you made while inspired by the love of God – the God who inspired you is Eternal.

For the redeemed, only works done in Christ will live on. 1 Corinthians 3 clearly states that all works not done in Christ – not sinful works only, but any actions not done for the love of Christ – will be burned up and destroyed. Isaiah 65 confirms that the burned-up past “shall not be remembered or come to mind.” We will not remember these things because they will have no place in the New Earth.

But in another sense, we will not remember them because they will not have happened. If the Past is destroyed and remade, then actions done in the Past will also be wiped out. They will no longer exist in the world of Time and Space.

This too may not be as shocking as it seems when we take into account two things about God:

1). God is not bound by Time, but rather sees the end from the beginning (and presumably the beginning from the end).

2). Sin cannot exist in the presence of God.

 We’ve already discussed the first point in some detail, but I think it’s worthwhile to review the second. I do not anticipate much resistance to this idea, so I’m going to indulge in a bit of proof-texting:

           “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.

            - Psalm 5:4

           “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate
           the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than

            - Habakkuk 1:13

           "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD,
           in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion
           on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see
           me and live.

            - Ezekiel 33:19-20

Essentially, sin cannot exist in the presence of God. His holiness and purity are so great that He destroys sinful men by His very presence.

Now jump back to Isaiah 65 or Revelation 21. Part of the promise of the New Heavens and New Earth is that God will physically, literally dwell in our midst. This is why the refining fire of Judgment Day, which burns up all impure acts is necessary. Until we are purified of our sins, we cannot survive in the full presence of God. It is the same reason why it is necessary for the rest of physical creation to be burned up and remade – a cursed, sinful world would not be able to survive the full presence of God.

This is why it is necessary for the Past to be remade as well as the Present. Because God is not bound by Time, at the point that He comes to dwell fully in our universe again, He will not only be dwelling in the Present moment. He will see all of Time at once, existing equally in the Present, Future, and Past. How can an eternal God tolerate a Past which is still filled with Sin and cursed in its very being? If the very atoms of the universe must be destroyed and recreated to be worthy of the presence of God, how can we exempt the Past from this recreation?

This, I think, is where many of you will start to have serious disagreements with me. So let’s wrap up Part Two and start dealing with objections in Part Three.

Next: [BTT013] Isn't the problem of Time..."

Thursday, January 7, 2016

[BTT011] The End of Time

 Previous: [BTT010] The Fall of Time and the Three Curses

As we saw in the last post, the law of entropy requires that one day, the universe will be incapable of sustaining life. If God had abandoned our universe, it would very literally wear out like a cloth, as matter and energy become increasingly scattered and unusable. This process may involve lengths of Time which are incomprehensible to us as human beings, but from the perspective of eternity, our universe is as good as dead.

 However, the Scriptures seem to indicate that our universe will end well before this becomes an issue. Jesus may have asked if He will “really find faith on the earth” when He returns, but the Bible seems relatively clear that He will have no trouble finding humans.

Beyond this, there is very little consensus on just how the world will end. There is a general agreement that Jesus will have some sort of Second Coming, but pretty much everything else is the subject of intense debate. Revelation and other end-times prophecies are perhaps the one area of Scripture more hotly contested than Genesis 1.

At least with the Creation narrative, we have a pretty good idea of which passages of Scripture we’re arguing about. With prophecy, we can get bogged down in endless debate about whether a given verse applies to the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, the fall of Jerusalem to the Seleucids, the life of Jesus, the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman Empire, some future fall of the current Jerusalem, all of these events, some of these events, or none of these events. Is the Beast of the Sea Nero, Hitler, or some person yet to come?

Fortunately, I have no interest in creating a perfect timeline for all biblical prophecy to follow. I only want to look at how the Bible describes a single moment in future Time – the moment when the universe is physically destroyed and remade. Therefore, for the purposes of the present discussion, I am simply going to operate under the following three presuppositions:

1). There will be a literal, physical Second Coming at some point in the future.

2). The entire physical universe will be literally, physically destroyed at some point in the future.

3). The entire physical universe will be literally, physically remade into a world without sin or death, where God will once again live among humans.

These three propositions lean slightly more towards the “literal reading” camp than towards the “figurative reading” camp, but there is good evidence that this was the understanding of the early Christian church. There is, of course, a slight amount of wiggle room even with the orthodox understanding of these three points.

For example, the exact timing of the literal, physical Second Coming within the context of Revelation is a matter of debate. Some consider the Millennial Reign of Christ to be an image of the Church Age, which would mean the literal, physical Second Coming would occur sometime around the coming of the New Heavens and New Earth. Others claim Christ will return to Earth to literally and physical rule for 1,000 years at some point in the future, after which comes the New Heavens and New Earth. Since either reading would be within a tolerable margin of error with Scripture and orthodox Christianity, I’m going to ignore issues like this for the purposes of this book.

Naturally, I assume that something about my three presuppositions will cause somebody to declare me a heretic, but whatever. Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about the End of Time.

            “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
            And the heavens are the work of Your hands.

            They will perish, but You will endure;
             Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;
             Like a cloak You will change them,
             And they will be changed.
              But You are the same,
             And Your years will have no end

             -Psalm 102:25-27

This is one of the first verses in the Bible which deals with the end of the world, and right from the start, we see that there will be something after. The heavens and the earth are temporary, and subject to Time. Like a well-worn piece of clothing, the world will start to wear thin. So God will do what all of us do with a ratty cloth – throw it out and change into something new.

However, this Psalm does not fall victim to a grim end of the world panic. Verse 28 tells us:

            “The children of Your servants will continue,
            And their descendants will be established before You.

Even in this early passage, the Psalmist knows that the People of God will continue beyond the End of the World. While this passage does not have the fully expressed hope of the bodily resurrection of God’s servants, but we do see a continuation in their descendants.

This passage also starts another familiar thread – it is not simply this Earth that will grow old and be replaced, but the heavens as well. “They” will both perish, not only this ball of dirt.

Now, there is some debate if the “heavens” in passages like this refers to the physical sky (sun, moon, and stars) or to Heaven (the dwelling place of the angels and saints who have gone before us). However, since we are concerning ourselves mainly with the question of Time, I think it is safe to say that either interpretation would include the entirety of the physical universe, and thus Time as well. 

Even if it is “only” the universe outside of planet Earth that will wear out and be replaced, there will be no place for Time to exist. All created things that have been tainted by Sin, therefore all created things must be made new.

Isaiah 51:6 continues the theme of the worn out garment, but adds a second image:
            “Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
            And look on the earth beneath.

             For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,
             The earth will grow old like a garment,
             And those who dwell in it will die in like manner;
             But My salvation will be forever,
             And My righteousness will not be abolished.

 From this point onwards, we begin to see the image of smoke and fire in connection with the end of the world:

           “For behold, the Lord will come with fire
            And with His chariots, like a whirlwind,
            To render His anger with fury,
            And His rebuke with flames of fire.

             For by fire and by His sword
            The Lord will judge all flesh;
            And the slain of the Lord shall be many

             - Isaiah 66:15-16

The coming judgment on “all flesh” will be accomplished “by fire and by His sword.” God takes an active role in filling the world with fire, but also in cutting down individuals by the sword.

             “For behold, the day is coming,
            Burning like an oven,

             And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.
             And the day which is coming shall burn them up,”
             Says the Lord of hosts,
             “That will leave them neither root nor branch.

            - Malachi 4:1

Now, all throughout the Old Testament prophecies, most prophecies utilize what could be figurative language such as “the heavens will vanish away like smoke” and “Burning like an oven.” Even Isaiah 66 could be taken figuratively. After all, it seems unlikely that God will use a literal, physical sword to judge inhabitants of the world, just as we understand that terms like “the eyes of the Lord” or “the hand of the Lord” do not imply God has a physical body.

It is not until 2 Peter 3 that we get an unequivocal statement that the Day of Judgment will literally be accomplished by fire:

            “For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

            -2 Peter 3:5-7

            “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

             -2 Peter 3:10-13

Peter clearly states that the world will be judged with fire in a sense that is at least equivalent to how the earth was destroyed by water in the days of Noah. So if Peter is using fire in a somewhat figurative sense (perhaps “fire” is being used as an image for “intense heat”), the exact details will be similar enough to fire as not to matter. More importantly, Peter also tips us off that the Day of Judgment will be a more complete destruction than the flood in the days of Noah. Let’s compare the two:

In the day of Noah:
            “The world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.

In the Day of Judgment:

            "[On] the day of the Lord …the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up…the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat.

Whereas in the day of Noah, the world was flooded and destroyed, on the Day of Judgment, its constituent elements will be melted and dissolved. Imagine the difference between the United States, the country, being destroyed by a flood and the physical ground that the United States is built on (and everything in it) being destroyed down to its very atoms. The world was destroyed by the flood, but its elements were spared. In the great fire, not a single atom will be left unraveled.

I suppose that it is fair to speculate that it will not be a literal fire, at least not in the sense that we are accustomed to thinking of fire. This is a fire that will burn up the oceans, continents, and stars. This is a fire that will melt the elements themselves – perhaps something closer to a nuclear fire than a forest fire. So when I speculate that it may not be a conventional fire, I do not mean that it will be something less than fire but rather something more overwhelmingly destructive.

In fact, there is only one thing that will survive this all-consuming Fire greater than fire:

            “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."

            -1 Corinthians 3:11-15

Now, obviously, Paul does not mean that man-made objects constructed with gold will survive and stacks of hay will not. He is saying that works (in this context, actions) built on the foundation of Christ will survive. In other words, only the actions we take that were motivated by the love of Christ will have any value in eternity. All else will be burned up and destroyed.

All this talk of “works” may be uncomfortable for the more Luther-esque among us, but note that even those who do not have good works will be saved “yet so as through fire.” These will have done nothing of true value in their entire time on Earth, but because salvation is accomplished through Faith they will not be cast into an eternal fire. All will pass through fire, but not all will be destroyed. Works do matter in that what is done in Christ is all we can take into eternity with us, but they have nothing to do with our salvation.

To turn back to the image of the old garment, Psalm 102 tells us that the existing universe will not simply be burned up, it will be replaced with a new one. Isaiah, repeats this same promise:

            “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
            And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
            But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
            For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
            And her people a joy.
            I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
            And joy in My people;
            The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
            Nor the voice of crying

            - Isaiah 65:17-19

Not only will there be a new heavens and a new earth, they will be so much better than the current one that this world “shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Works of sin, and indeed all works not founded on the love of Christ, will be burnt up and forgotten. Only joy will remain, the joy of union with God and joy in what He has created.

The terrifying prospect of the destruction of the physical universe is balanced by the hope of the creation of a better one. Our current world does not simply long for redemption but for re-creation. It is not a death wish, it is a resurrection wish.

Next: [BTT012] Time Destroyed