Tuesday, May 31, 2011


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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Spirit of John Muir

We all have heroes of the past that we admire for their exploits, writings and works.  Recently, I was talking with a friend about our heroes of the past and how they influenced us.  At one point he shook his head and said, "all my best friends are dead!" Of course it was rhetorical hyperbole referring to some of his heroes of the past. It got me thinking about who my dead best friends are.  I'd have to say the greatest of them all was John Muir.  By anyone's estimation he was special in his time and has become a great inspiration to many and certainly to me; especially for his spiritual view of nature.  Here are some of my thoughts about Muir's spiritual views on nature:

Muir was a prolific nature writer

Muir was raised by a devout Bible believing father. Young John was trained to work hard on his father's Wisconsin farm, as well as in his Bible lessons. But, John did not swallow the Bible whole, as his father desired for him. Rather, John took the atmosphere of the Bible and left behind its stories and theology. He had a love for God, which he learned about first from the Bible and then through nature. He ferreted out of the Bible what made sense to him about God and he left the rest behind.

He never developed an appreciation for organized religion of any kind. Nature and the mountains were his temple, the place where he went to meet with God. He once wrote, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. "  And, "Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." And, "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn."   The language of his writings remind me of the expressions of a Biblical prophet or an evangelist, evidence that he kept the atmosphere of the Bible. Indeed, Muir was a prophet and an evangelist, but of the wilderness rather than the Bible. Since Muir rejected the theology of the Bible I am more in line with the nature theology of another dead friend, Martin Luther, who said, "God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars." But, it is not clear to me that Muir ever rejected Christ along with his rejection of religion and the Bible.

There are many who have misunderstood Muir. He was not a pantheist, as nature pantheists prefer to interpret Muir's writings. No, from his writings we can at least see that he believed in a transcendent God who created the world. He believed that natural forces set in place by God created the glaciers, mountains and trees. God was at work in nature and you could see and experience God through what we call, nature.

He wasn't a theologian, nor a philosopher, but a naturalist. We can't go to his writings to get a clear theological treatment of God in nature anymore than we can go to the writings of Mother Theresa to learn about the Trinity.

Muir was a mountain mystic who painted nature with the brush of his words. In his writings he went beyond his naturalism to create word paintings that inspire us to look deeper in to nature than it's mere physical features and function. He illustrates God's work in and through nature, so that we might better partake of God's majesty and power. As a mountain mystic he exhorted us to see nature as he saw it, a sacrament of God. This is the spirit of John Muir.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Top Ten Cheers for the Bible

I read a blog post at Lady Atheist entitled, "Top Ten Grievances Against The Bible." You can read it here. I would like to respond point by point to that post with my, "Top Ten Cheers for the Bible." Here I go:1. The Bible has stood the test of time as the authority for God's people because it is remarkably accurate historically and has displayed an amazing unanimity between its authors. The transmission of the Old Testament text by the Masorites and the New Testament text by early copyists is a testament to the divine guidance of this holy book. No other ancient documents can boast such amazing success in its transmission. The copyist errors, and there are many, amount to nothing significant. 99% of them are spelling or word omission/misplacement. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a wonderful testimony to the faithful transmission of the Old Testament.

2. The Bible is remarkably consistent with itself. From cover to cover there is one message, God wants to redeem the world and the Bible displays his plan to do so. When I hear people speak of its inconsistencies and contradictions I find that they either have not studied the texts or they are projecting a bias against the text. In other words, they prefer to see contradiction rather than finding the natural harmonization. The two creation stories are only written with a different perspective in mind without being in conflict at all. the four gospels and the two genealogies of Jesus are not in conflict once you see why they were written and who the audience is that the writer is addressing.

3. The Bible's presentation of God is majestic and awe inspiring. He is worthy of worship, respect and adoration. It is wonderful to have such a God to worship and admire, because as humans we need and want such a God. A great God lifts humanity up in greatness. Sure, He's tough and at times wrathful. But, the same degree to which God hates sin and judges those who are unrepentant, he is amazingly loving, kind and forgiving. In the atonement of Christ we find both the fullness of God's wrath toward sin and his love for mankind. Both are startling.

Sure, we don't want to be on the side of His wrath. It's awful. But, we do want to partake of the amazing graciousness and kindness of God found in Christ's sacrificial death. There is nothing comparable to the love of God in Christ. Nothing!

I find that people who despise the Biblical God by citing certain texts that show his, so called "brutality," are only declaring a distorted picture of Him, because they do not see the composite picture of God that the whole Bible presents.

4. The Bible presents miracles that amazed the most skeptical people and substantiated the claims of Christ. I don't buy the argument that people in Biblical times were so steeped in superstition that we cannot trust their claims to have seen real miracles. Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke, was a physician and had a scientific mind. Just read his introduction! Of all the disciples Thomas was a hold out and doubted that Jesus was resurrected, but Jesus came to him and convinced him with evidence (I can identify with Thomas). According to Paul, 500 people claimed to have seen the risen Christ. People who were widely known to have been dead, such as Lazarus in John 11, were raised from the dead. The writers of these events, contrary to the claim that they were "superstitious," went out of there way to show that these miraculous events were substantiated by "eyewitness" observation. This is impirical evidence which is scientific, not superstitious.

Why don't we see these kind of miracles today? The best answer is that they happened at a time when it was important to establish the claims of Christ and the Apostles. Once the Bible was completed miracles disappeared. I call it a, "phasing out." The early church fathers did not claim miracles and they didn't seem to have a problem that they stopped. That's just history!

So, why weren't the miracles and resurrection of Jesus corroborated outside of the Bible? You don't find much in the secular historical record and that is a fact, as well. There might have been a lot of literature written about Jesus and the activities of the Apostles in secular writings, but they were lost to us. When Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in 70AD all literature in the city was destroyed along with the buildings. It's a theory, but I think it's reasonable to think that a lot of "secular" literature about early Christianity went up in smoke with Jerusalem.

5. The Bible is a reliable revelation of God's will for mankind. People malign the Bible as a divinely inspired book. After all, wasn't it written by men who wrote with different motivations, ideas, and from different perspectives? So, how can it be a book from God? I simply see that God used these differences to communicate what he wanted. People wrote from their perspective, in their language, within their cultures, and with their own intentions as they understood God. However, all that they wrote was all superintended by God so that what they wrote was God's word. God's normal modus operandi in the Bible is to work though people. Why is this so unbelievable? We are not robots, but free agents who are used by God. Also, those who want to reject the Bible as a revelation of God will often speak of people in Biblical times as superstitious, psychotic, or schizophrenic to account for miracles, dreams, and voices from God. But, that is purely an argument from silence.

6. The Bible is not contradicted by science, but substantiated by science! I'm not saying it's a science book, it's not intended to provide all knowledge of all things. It's a book intended to communicate God's will, period! However, as an example, Archeologists have successfully used the Bible to find ancient cities buried under thousands of years of dirt; cities that were once thought to be mythological.

It is often pointed out that the Bible reinforces unscientific ideas, such as the Bible referring to the sun rising and setting, rather than accurately communicating that the earth revolves around the sun. True, but the Bible is often written in phenomenological language, so it speaks of nature as humans experience it; not as it is scientifically. Nothing wrong with that, we still speak and write this way in our "scientific" times.

What about evolution? The Bible speaks of man as a creation by fiat, not evolution. As a matter of fact we don't know any more about the origin of man by evolutionary process than we do about the creation by fiat - scientifically, that is! Both the evolutionist and the creationist have to take the origin of man by faith. While the scientific method has displayed the possibility of evolution within species, it has not proven the origin of man by evolution.

7. In Jesus the Bible provides a solution to the problem that we humans have always agonized over. It's in all the great literature of ancient and modern history. Because of the short life we live, the suffering we experience, and calamitous world we live in, we naturally crave a hero to rescue us from this misery. The Bible displays Jesus as a dying and rising savior who rescues us from our plight. But, it's been well established that there were a number of ancient hero gods much like Jesus of the Bible, such as Mithra. but, to me, this does not destroy my faith by proving that Jesus was a copy or just another mythical hero. On the contrary. First of all, if there is a Satan, and I believe there is, wouldn't it be reasonable to think that he would counterfeit Jesus with other similar identities? Satan is not going to try to thwart Christianity with something totally opposite, but he's smart, so he uses counterfeit tactics. Also, it might be just as reasonable to understand these saviors previous to Jesus as simply foreshadows of the real thing to come, Jesus. Furthermore, these other characters were not historical figures, as was Jesus, who is rooted in history. And furthermore, the whole Bible, from cover to cover, ties itself to Jesus the Messiah and his heroic sacrifice for mankind on the cross. There isn't any story comparable in history. In other words, I am saying that all others are either counterfeits or foreshadows of the reality in Jesus.

8. The Bible gives hope of redemption to the worst offenders. The Bible records the conversion to Christianity of a Jewish Rabbi in training, who at one time was helping to execute Christians. Then, the Bible contains more New Testament books written by this man for the good of the Church than any other person. His name was Paul. Contrary to the growing popular belief that Paul never believed in a historical Jesus, Paul met Jesus and spoke more about his historical crucifixion than any other New Testament writer! Read Paul's letters for yourself, folks. Don't suck down the disinformation being spread around the internet about Paul. It's irresponsible.

Also, in Paul's books to the Romans and Galatians we have a tour de force presentation of the great doctrine of grace, of which we would know precious little without his exposition of this doctrine in these books.

This is the kind of God that I like, a God that would forgive a repentant murderer of Christians and then make him the greatest defender and proponent of Christianity in the New Testament. Paul has become the premiere example of salvation by grace to billions of Christians. The God of the Bible loves to take worthless, degenerate, obnoxious, prideful, morally ugly people, and then bring them to a repentance that changes both them and the world around them.

9. The Bible contains perhaps the most beloved book by Christians, the Gospel of John. It is so loved because of it's clear message of Christ's nature as God and his atoning death for us on the cross. This book smashes to pieces the popular liberal orientation that Jesus was just a great moral teacher, or an apocalyptic prophet, or the messiah who came to be the king of the Jews. The Gospel of John presents Jesus as God Himself breaking in to this sin sick world to lay down his life for mankind. John's Gospel is indeed, "The Good News!"

10. The Bible provides a needed moral compass for humanity. The 10 commandments were not just for Christians or Jews, but all humanity. Without the 10 commandments and the absolute moral standards communicated in the Bible we would be living in a sea of anarchy driven by what ever conflicting standards people choose to live by. The Bible's ethics, despite what atheists claim, is the basis for our modern jurisprudence.

In the last several years atheists against Christianity have been loudly charging that the God of the Bible is a brutal and capricious ogre. It seems to have become part of the Atheist's Gospel. It is claimed that He orders the executions of men, women and children, sanctions child sacrifice, and is blood thirsty. I almost have to keep from laughing when I hear of these charges, because these charges are caricatures of God, like one of those twisted cartoon sketches comedic artists draw of us at the fair. All of our features are distorted to make us look exaggerated. That's what is being done with God in this case.

God never sanctioned or condoned child sacrifice. The story of Jephtha supposedly sacrificing his daughter, recorded in Judges, is misunderstood. God explicitly commanded His people not to practice such sacrifices. In context there are other explanations of what happened. As for the "blood thisty" charge against God, I think it's misunderstood. It's not the blood itself that is important, but that the blood represents life. Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice for us, not his blood. Christians were never told to drink blood. The drinking of the blood of Jesus was symbolic and never to be taken literally. I guess one has to appreciate figurative language to understand this. As for the killing of the men, women and children in the book of Joshua, it was in fact commanded by God. How's that for not beating around the bush? But, just to put things in perspective let me add two things: 1) God was purging evil from the land to make way for God's people who were to be holy. They were to be a light of holiness and goodness and well being to the nations around them. Once in the land they were called upon by God to care for those around them by taking in and helping the "strangers" in the land, not killing all of them off but welcoming them. 2) The greater truth in this story is that every one of us ought to be condemned and snuffed out just like the Amalakites. The only reason God hasn't plowed all of us under is that he is gracious and long suffering with us. We ought to be glad we have any kind of peace, love and happiness in our lives, for by his standards we don't deserve it. We can either be angry at God for doing such a "brutal thing," or we can stand in awe of his justice and be amazed that he is so gracious with us to provide a path of acceptance and forgiveness.

I can go on and on with each of these top 10 cheers for the Bible, but I would rather answer questions or handle criticisms if you have any.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Pursuit of Virtue Over Happiness

I listened to a great pod cast by Psychologist Jordan Peterson on, "The Necessity of Virtue." You can listen to it on line for free at, Big Ideas Podcasts. You can access it here. This is a lecture that everyone will appreciate who is interested in understanding and solving our most basic human problem, suffering.

Peterson's point is that our modern pursuit of happiness is an invalid goal for life, because life is inherently about suffering. We might experience happiness, but only at unique and special times in our lives. We all get sick, suffer emotional and metaphysical troubles, and eventually die. There is no utopian life or magic button to press that can provide happiness as a sustained experience in life.

He explains that all the great world religions and timeless cultural stories teach us that suffering is endemic to life. Buddhism defines life itself as suffering. Judaism and Christianity teach that the fall of Adam and Eve brought suffering to us as a constancy, rather than an intermittent or exceptional experience.

In light of this fact we ought to pursue virtue, which can give us a sustained sense of fulfillment, or overarching satisfaction about life, in the face of suffering. Trying to transcend our own suffering by pursuing happiness as a goal for life will only lead to self loathing, despair, and anxiety. Then, as a consequence of this personal "hell" of despair, one digresses so easily in to doing evil.

He sites Nazi Germany as evidence that normal people can slip in to evil by not accepting life as it is. During the 20s and 30s in Germany, when life was hard and national pride had been crushed by the first world war, the German people chose to live as deluded cowards by not accepting their own suffering as part and parcel of life.

Could this very problem be a factor in the genesis of Jared Loughner's act of evil in Tuscon? It has been observed time and again, "There is a thin veneer of civility in all humans."

What Peterson means by virtue
is living a life of authentic goodness. To live such a life one must accept suffering as the price for life and transcend its despair by getting outside of self- consciousness and seeking to live truthfully in the context of the suffering life.

When one accepts that life "will be" a hard knock then there is no need to fool ourselves and others by trying to be something we are not, or cannot be. It is to accept ourselves as limited, finite, and vulnerable beings. Once we accept life as it is then we will be less prone to doing evil because we are finding fulfillment in being authentic and less self-absorbed.

As a Christian I appreciate Dr. Peterson's, accurate, honest, and realistic portrayal of life. It also happens to be very Biblical. It is the reason I became a Christian in the first place. Christianity has a satisfactory explanation for why life is the way it is and Peterson expounds it accurately.

However, while I think Peterson accurately identifies the problem, he offers an incomplete solution.
It seems to me that Peterson can only go so far as to encourage us to "fool" reality. In his concept of pursuing virtue over happiness he is teaching Existentialism 101. Watch a Woody Allen movie, such as Hannah and Her Sisters, and you will get an entertaining picture of man's problem of suffering and the Existentialists solution, which amounts to masking it. One can cover over personal and social problems with Peterson's solution, but the problem is still there and the destination of death is ever present. So, who are you really fooling?

Without taking anything away from Peterson, I would add that we accept our lot in life as suffering beings and after realizing it's stinging truth, accept the life saver that God offers us. The life saver is Jesus Christ, who suffered, died and was resurrected to provide a way for us to escape the ultimate destiny of this life; death.

True Virtue is to live our lives with the life saver in mind.
In this way we not only transcend suffering, but also its culmination of death.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

He is There and He is not Silent

Many years ago I read a book by Francis Schaffer entitled, "He is There and He is not Silent." It is a philosophical treatment of the existence of God. Schaffer's argument is that God is real and he reveals himself to us in a variety of ways. However, he may not reveal himself as we would like.

I for one like evidence and I like tangible truth. Perhaps that's why I so much enjoy nature, science, and wilderness. In the natural world we see the results of God's creative power, as if he were a painter and the earth was His canvas.

The Scriptures tell us that God reveals himself in two basic ways: In The Scriptures and in creation. We distinguish between these two forms of revelation by referring to creation as God's General Revelation of Himself and the Scriptures as God's Special Revelation of Himself. Creation is a visible and tangible expression of God, but it cannot specifically tell us things about God and his will. The Scriptures do that for us. Psalm 19 is the great passage in the Scriptures that teach us this.

Is it any wonder that Christians tend to have a great appreciation for nature and wilderness education? When we head out in to the woods and mountains it's as if God were calling out to the Christian, "here I am, my beloved!"

When Job struggled with the issue of suffering he asked, as we all do in times of suffering, "God, where are you? Why will you not talk to me and explain to me why this is happening to me?!" God's answer to Job was, "Job, look at my creation! Look at what I have made!" God proceeded to give Job a tour de force of the greatness of His creation and it quelled Job's thirst to understand and know God. After that experience with God and his creation, Job found peace and restoration.

It was John Muir, the mountain mystic, who said, "let us go to the mountains and receive their glad tidings!" Indeed, when I want to experience the power, greatness, and majesty of my God, that's where I go.

Friday, January 7, 2011

True Grit or True Disgrace?

I went with Pam to see True Grit last night. The only movie I've wanted to go see at the theater for a couple of years. We both were disappointed!

I love Jeff Bridges, so I was expecting a great performance from him as the updated, Rooster Cogburn. All I can say is, "Jeff, I saw John Wayne in the original True Grit, and you're no John Wayne." Sorry my friend. It's not Jeff's fault, John Wayne gave his greatest performance in True Grit and he was great in most any movie he made. Also, he had the disadvantage of working with the weird and wacky Cohen brothers; the directors of this film.

In fact, performances in the place of Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Strother Martin, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper just didn't cut it. Plus, the whole story lacked the character and emotion of the original. For instance, the subtle and endearing father-daughter relationship between Mattie and Rooster was missing the entire film, even at the end when he rescued her. We never had a chance to see the relationship developed.

The True Rooster Cogburn, John Wayne

I think the Cohen brothers were focused on quirky details more than story development and character development.

The following scenes were characteristic of the poor quality of this film: Rooster Cogburn's "marbles in the mouth" responses in court (Bridges seemed tortured the entire film, trying to talk and act like Rooster. I had to focus to keep my attention on that scene), The dead man hanging from the tree scene with the Indian and old doc trading the body (what???), Rooster's drunken shooting scene with Matt Damon (how dumb and poorly conceived), Ned Pepper's teeth and ashen face (his rotten teeth and face were so weird and unnatural that it made him look like a zombie and not a real person), and the "fright night" snakes in the pit scene with Mattie. What a distracted film.

I blame the Cohen brothers for this remake atrocity! Now that this classic original film has been sullied with this dud will someone please come to the rescue with a proper remake.

I Loved the scenery, though.