Monday, 16 January 2017

… he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. – Isaiah 25:8

Today’s Scripture Reading (January 16, 2017): Isaiah 25

Sigmund Freud spoke of the illusion that nature has been vanquished. But the reality is that

… she will ever be entirely subjected to man. There are the elements, which seem to mock at all human control: the earth, which quakes and is torn apart and buries all human life and its works; water, which deluges and drowns everything in a turmoil; storms, which blow everything before them; there are diseases, which we have only recently recognized as attacks by other organisms; and finally there is the painful riddle of death, against which no medicine has yet been found, nor probably will be.

All of this is part of his treatise against “the ideas of religion.”

He starts off his diatribe against religious ideas by outlining all of the ways that religion has had a positive effect on society, which includes things that we might include under the notion of moral laws. But then he moves on to the concept that we are shortchanging our culture if we do not believe that these positive changes could be attained by a means other than religion. Surely we could learn not to kill each other, not to objectify women and to treat each other with respect without the meddling influence of a God to shape us and tell us what is right. I have to admit; I am not sure that we could ever learn that – maybe not even with God.

This concept he follows up with all of the ways that nature is out of control. It is this “out of controlness” that seems to necessitate a belief in God. Freud stresses that we will never have answers to all of this – but isn’t that okay?

Part of me wants to recognize all of the ways that we have, through intellectual pursuit, brought nature even more under control than it was in the days of Freud. There are so many sicknesses that Freud could not imagine that we would conquer that are no longer part of the “fears of man.”

And yet, with all of the promise of science, we have not conquered death. And there are still hurts, many of them human-made that still brings a tear to the eye. We need to end religious conflict and religious hate. But we are still a people who stand in need of our God. It may not be logical to the scientifically driven mind, but we need and have an answer to the question of the “painful riddle of death.” We believe in a God, who according to Isaiah, will “swallow up death forever.” The Apostle Paul agreed as he quoted this idea from Isaiah.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). In Christ, and by faith, we know the answer to the painful riddle of death. And it is found in the God who created us.  

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Isaiah 26

Sunday, 15 January 2017

See, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants … - Isaiah 24:1

Today’s Scripture Reading (January 15, 2017): Isaiah 24

A new study reveals just how long we would survive a Zombie Apocalypse. The study, conducted by some physics students with way too much time on their hands, does not reveal an encouraging answer for us if “The Walking Dead” actually became a reality. According to the physics students, it would take about 100 days – a little over three months – for the Zombies to reduce the remaining population to less than 300 people. In just over three months, the planet would be nearly empty of human life as we know it.

Oh, there is some good news. After the population dwindles to around the three hundred mark, we might make a rebound. But it would take about twenty-seven years before we began to see the human race start to make gains in population. The study reveals that “A Zombie Apocalypse” is fiction – really? I didn’t know that (sarcasm for those who might have missed it) – but that it was one way to get the students engaged in making complex predictions.

We aren’t real good at making complex predictions. I recently watched as a Christian Scientist speak about the reality and illusion of climate change. He talked about the fossil record and the evidence for higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere in the ancient past of our planet than currently exist. In fact, the world had come perilously close to ending because of a lack of carbon in the atmosphere. What we needed was not a carbon capture device, but a carbon release device to bring us back from the brink. And the burning of fossil fuels, fossil fuels are essentially nature's carbon capture devices, was an excellent carbon release device. Everything that he said was very true, except that the left something out. Human beings can only exist in a minuscule margin that exists at the bottom of the carbon scale. (Or, there is a reason why greenhouses pump carbon dioxide into their plant areas – plants do well with a high carbon atmosphere. We, unfortunately, do not.) In the ages of creation, as plants developed, God had provided a high carbon environment that helped the plants grow. But after we appeared on the scene, the atmosphere changed into another “Goldilocks zone.” An ecological age that allowed for the minimum carbon to keep plants alive, and the maximum carbon that mammals, including us, could tolerate.

Isaiah says the Lord is going to devastate the earth. Remember that in Hebrew thought, what God allows, he does. We are likely the ones who will bring on the devastation of the planet. But God, who is powerful enough to stop the destruction, will allow it. And the earth will cease to be a place where humans live. I don’t think it will be Zombie Apocalypse, but who knows. I am not even sure that it will be climate change that will be humankind's ultimate undoing. But whatever it is, God will allow, ushering in the final days of life on the planet.

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Isaiah 25

Saturday, 14 January 2017

A prophecy against Tyre: Wail, you ships of Tarshish! For Tyre is destroyed and left without house or harbor. From the land of Cyprus word has come to them. - Isaiah 23:1

Today’s Scripture Reading (January 14, 2017): Isaiah 23

Alexander the Great attacked Tyre in 332 B.C.E. The city had never actually been conquered before. It had been attacked. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon had attacked the mainland city (Tyre existed in two parts, a mainland city and an island city) and took control of it during the short reign of his empire. Isaiah describes this in verse fifteen as he pronounces a Tyre that would be forgotten for seventy years, the span of one king’s life – that King would have been Nebuchadnezzar. But the people of Tyre were rich, and they were usually able to buy their way out of any problem. By paying tribute to the powers that ruled the world, life in Tyre continued as it always had. But Alexander wanted to change that. He wanted to defeat and take control of both Tyre’s – the one on the mainland and the one on the island.

Isaiah’s prophecy here is clearly of a description of Alexander’s attack on Tyre, and it is remarkably accurate. The words were prophesied 350 to 400 years before the time of Alexander, and yet they describe the events of Alexander’s defeat of Tyre perfectly.

First, Alexander attacked the mainland city much as Nebuchadnezzar had done a couple of generations before him. The mainland city fell to Alexander and then he turned his sight to the Island. According to historians, Alexander tore down the houses (Tyre is left without house) on the mainland, combined them with other rocks and built an artificial causeway, about a kilometre in length, out to the Island city. This artificial causeway was constructed on top of a natural land bridge that made the water shallower in this one area. The causeway allowed Alexander to get his artillery closer so that it could be used against the Island city.

But Alexander knew that he also needed a navy to take the Island. His earlier conquests had given him control of the Persian navy. But on top of that, the king of Cyprus had heard of Alexander’s success, and in an effort to get on Alexander’s good side, sent his ships to assist in the taking of Tyre (From the land of Cyprus word has come to them.) Once the Island had fallen, the defeat of Tyre was complete – and they no longer had a harbor with which to make their money and buy themselves out of trouble.

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Isaiah 24