Archive for March, 2013

angelwings

Little different post today.  I just finished writing an article on the Nephilim from Genesis 6.  It’s longer than a normal blog post, but I’ve included a snippet here.  If you’re interested in this subject and would like to read the full article, the link is below.

I get questions about the Nephilim from Genesis 6:4 all the time, and with several recent book series and movies based on speculation about what it might mean that the “sons of God married daughters of men”, producing the Nephilim, I thought it was time to develop a solid biblical answer to this long-standing puzzle from the Bible.  At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think God has given me some important insight into this question and I think I can tell you with a high degree of confidence what the Nephilim were and why they are mentioned in Genesis 6.  And (spoiler alert), they aren’t angel/human hybrids!

Perhaps one of the most puzzling passages in the book of Genesis is found in 6:4:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days– and also afterward– when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.

This enigmatic verse has caused no end of confusion, consternation and, of course, speculation. One of the most common speculations holds that this verse teaches that fallen angels (e.g. the “sons of God”) had sex with human women, giving rise to some kind of human/angel hybrid called the Nephilim. This view has been popularized in books, movies, TV shows and, most unfortunately of all, in sermons by irresponsible preachers.   This teaching depends on the fact that in the book of Job, the phrase “sons of God” is a clear reference to angelic spirits (cf. Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7) and assumes that the phrase must mean the same thing here in Genesis.  The fact that the Nephilim, who appear to be the offspring of this union, are said to be “heroes of old, men of renown” reinforces the idea that they are not mere mortals but had supernatural qualities.

This idea certainly feeds our appetites for sensationalism, but is it good biblical teaching?  No, it is not.  More importantly, it ends up causing people to miss the very point God was making when He inspired Moses to write these words!

Let’s deal first with why this popular idea of angel/human hybrids is almost certainly mistaken…

Hooked?  You’re welcome to read the full article at the Shepherd Project website.  Click here to read the full article. (Don’t worry…it’s free and there are no sign-ins required!)

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joyous

A note to my readers:  the following post is an excerpt from a book I’m currently trying to finish up called How Not To Miss God’s Moving.  The danger of an excerpt is always that it may  not make as much sense out of context as it should, but I have posted it here primarily because I think the discussion of joy vs. happiness is an important one.  As for the role of happiness or joy in causing us to miss God’s moving…that’s a larger discussion that may not make as much sense with what I’ve included here.  Stay tuned for more on that!

Bitterness is not the only thing that can make us lose our focus and so miss God’s moving.  Sometimes we lose our focus and miss God’s moving because of joy.

Well, perhaps joy isn’t quite the right word for what I’m talking about here.  Maybe happiness speaks more directly to what I have in mind.  As I see it, joy is best understood as an experience of contentment that transcends our circumstances, whereas happiness is deeply rooted in our feelings about a particular set of circumstances.

This distinction can be overdone and I will be the first to acknowledge that there is considerable overlap between the two terms in common usage.  I must also acknowledge that one cannot always read this kind of distinction into the two different terms as we find them in the Bible; the Greek and Hebrew terms for “joy” “happiness” and “rejoicing” are often used interchangeably.

However, it seems to me that we need to be able to distinguish between two different types of gladness – the one circumstantial, the other transcendent – and these two words will serve that purpose in many instances.

Why do we need to be able to distinguish between types of gladness?  Simply because there is a gladness which depends on what is happening now and a gladness which depends on what we know will happen…but which we may not yet have seen fully realized.

On a very superficial level we experience this distinction daily.  I am rarely happy about getting out of bed, but I can be joyful about arising if I look forward to what the day holds.  I am never happy about cleaning my office, but I can be joyful about the process because I look forward to a clean workspace.  I am never happy about working out, but I can be joyful about going to the gym because I look forward to being better able to enjoy hikes with my family this summer.

Spiritually speaking, this distinction in terms is even more necessary, simply because we regularly face circumstances in this life which we do not like, but which we must approach in light of what God has promised.  We are told, for instance, that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).  In other words, God will bring good out of even the worst of our circumstances and we must somehow learn to approach our present circumstances in light of this coming redemption of them.  We need not be happy about what is happening, but we must take joy in what God will do with what is happening.

This is not simply an optional approach to difficult circumstances.  It is a command.  In James 1:2 we are told to consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.  James goes on in this passage to speak of the good things that he knows God brings out of such trials.  I do not believe he is calling us here to take pleasure in, or be happy about, the trials themselves, but to rest in a more transcendent joy which depends on the coming redemption of them.

That is why I say that we need to make this distinction between joy and happiness.  It is possible, though it is never easy, to have joy even in very difficult circumstances, but happiness, by its very nature, is confined to those circumstances which we find inherently pleasant.

The problem is that, for most of us, the distinction between joy and happiness is a very slippery one, simply because we cannot see beyond the present moment in any meaningful sense. We find it very difficult to be content when things are unpleasant, even when we understand that those circumstances are transient and insignificant, pale shadows to the greater glories God has promised are coming.

The root of the struggle, I think, is not that our present circumstances are larger than coming glories, but only that they are closer.  Put your hand close in front of your eyes and you will find that it blocks out nearly everything else. Your hand, of course, is quite small compared to the room you’re sitting in right now, but if it is brought close enough, it eclipses even the things which are many hundreds of times larger.

Consequently our circumstances exert an unjustifiably great influence on us, robbing us of a lasting joy simply because we are not happy about this one present moment.

But I digress.  My point is not that unpleasant circumstances make it hard for us to see God moving, though that is true enough.  My point is, rather, that all circumstances can cause us to miss God’s moving.  This is true for unpleasant circumstances, obviously, but it is just as true for pleasant ones.  And so I say that sometimes we lose our focus and miss God’s moving because of happiness.

RacismAndSocialNetworks

I read an article today that made use of some studies which suggest that there is a strong link between organized religion and racism.  How disturbing is that?  I would like to just write the studies off as prejudical against religion (how ironic would that be?) but I can’t easily dismiss the studies so easily.  One of the studies, published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, was actually a meta-analysis of 55 independent studies and found that there was stastistically more racism among devoted Christians and less among people who considered themselves non-religious.  The studies focused on Christianity because it is the most common religious affiliation in the U.S.

To be fair, the study doesn’t suggest that the religious people consider other races inferior, but merely that they are less comfortable with other races/ethnicities and more likely to make decisions which favor people of their own race.

The odd thing about this, of course, is that the Bible teaches the opposite:  the equality of all races and the sinfulness of favoring people on the basis of race.  To be fair, this isn’t always recognized or taught.  As a kid, visiting churches in some parts of the South, I heard some blatantly racist misinterpretations of Scripture (the prohibition against Israelites marrying Canaanite in Deuteronomy 7:2 being a favorite).  But even a semi-neutral look at what the Bible actually says about race makes it extremely clear that God considers all races equal and forbids favoritism based on things like race/ethnicity.

So why should being a devoted Christian tend to make people more biased when it comes to race/ethnicity?

It seems to me that this may be less about racism per se and more about the sad state of the American church which is, by and large, the most racially segregated institution in the world (yes, I know there are notable expections, but they are exactly that…exceptions). We have white churches and black churches and Korean churches and Spanish churches…and people who are not of those particular racial/ethnic groups are pretty unlikely to attend those particular churches.  This doesn’t mean that white Christians are necessarily racist towards black Christians, for example, but it does mean that Christians, perhaps more than any other people in our society, have at least one very signficant time during their week when they their cultural comfort zones are reinforced.  Maybe people who don’t go to church are less likely to have such a place, so racial bias tends not to gain a foothold in them.  The kid who never has candy will crave candy less than the kid who only has it once a week. So maybe the racially segregated nature of our churches is the problem.

You know what’s really odd? We do have other racially/ethnically segregated places, but they aren’t nearly as uncomfortable for people of other races/ethnicities.  For instance, I recently found an Asian supermarket in Denver which clearly caters to Asians.  While there are English signs there, most of them are in Asian languages and the food is most definately Asian.  Yet, I felt perfectly comfortable shopping there…certainly more comfortable than I would feel walking into an Asian church service.  I’m not quite sure why that is.

In any event, the study is a sobering reminder of how easy it is for us to sanctify our comfort zones…and of the dangers of doing so.  Probably a TWT (thought worth thinking).