Order From Disorder

“When will I ever use _________ in real life?”  Students (and sometimes their parents) ask this question about algebra, trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, grammatical parts of speech, literature, history, or other subjects that they find difficult to learn.

As human beings created in the image of God, one of the ways we reflect God’s image is by creating order from disorder.  Although God created ex nihilo (which we as humans cannot do), part of his creative effort was to create order from disorder.  Genesis 1:2 tells us that the initial state of the earth was “formless.”  The first thing God did was to separate light (day) from darkness (night).  Next he separated the waters above (sky) from the waters below, and finally he separated the waters below (sea) from the dry ground (land).

When humans “create,” we use our God-given faculties to put things in a meaningful order or structure.  Scientific and mathematical discoveries are all about discovering the order that God has instilled in the universe, and utilizing that order to discover yet more and harnessing that order in ways that benefit us.  Learning about, and helping to define the order of our world isn’t just useful for those considering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers (although this is certainly a very good reason for learning these subjects).  It is also an exercise in understanding and reflecting our Creator.

It’s fairly easy to see how science is a means of discovering and utilizing the order that exists in the physical world around us, while mathematics may be described as a logical structure explaining and predicting what we observe in the physical world.  But this exercise in observing and creating order is not limited to just the fields of math and science.  Language and art is also about creating order and meaning.

Without organizing thoughts and meanings into words and language, our communication would be limited to pointing and grunting.  Assembling words with no regard for their order and structure is what we call “gibberish.”  This is why all students should welcome the opportunity to learn sentence structure, parts of speech, and how different ways of organizing words can enhance meaning.  A sonnet, a haiku, a pun, a limerick, etc., are different ways of organizing and structuring words and thoughts that may elicit a different response than if they were organized differently.  So, even if the language arts are not “your bag,” there is value in understanding how words are ordered and structured.  Again, putting random words into a meaningful order is a creative process that reflects our Creator and it gives Him glory when we follow Him in creating order from disorder.

It should be clear by now that the visual arts and musical arts are also creative outlets for producing order and structure in a way that reflects and glorifies our Creator.  A piece of artwork keeps colors and lines separated and ordered in a way that creates meaning.  A musical composition arranges notes and sounds in a certain order.  Whether someone finds that order “pleasing” or not, it’s still a creative effort that can be distinguished from random, unordered sounds (aka “noise”).

Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”  Even those of us who are not kings can partake in the glory of kings and the glory of God by seeking to find and create order in the world around us.  Keep this in mind the next time you are struggling to solve a quadratic equation or remember what a dangling gerund is.

Communion with God …a series of echoes

This is a devotional written by my grandfather, Laurance W. Long.

Laurance W. Long“When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Psalm 27:8).

Communion with God may be likened to a series of echoes. When God speaks, and “echo” response should come from His children. An echo is immediate. It does not vary from the original . . . it is an accurate reproduction. God says SEEK . . . we should seek. God says GIVE . . . our echo should be to give. SERVE, serve. LOVE, love. OBEY, obey . . . in complete conformity with the command. Then, in turn, the child may ask his God for mercy. And God’s reply is MERCY. Bread, BREAD. Grace, GRACE. Peace, PEACE. Communion with God . . . a series of echoes going both ways, all the day.

Unfairness

If you do a web search on “where is God when it hurts” you will find a book by Philip Yancey by this title, as well as some other articles and dicussions of this topic. Here’s one page in particular that is relevant: http://www.gotquestions.org/btgp.html

There is a verse in the Bible, 2 Peter 3:9, that says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” If I could have my own book of the Bible, I might have a verse that said, “The Lord is not unfair in dealing with people, as some understand unfairness.”

To illustrate this concept, Jesus tells a story in Matthew 20 about a man who hired some workers to work in his vineyard. At the beginning of the day, he hired some men and agreed to pay them a typical days wage. At various times throughout the day, he went out and hired more workers. The last few workers he hired were hired only an hour before quitting time. Then, at the end of the day, he paid all his workers a full days wage, even the ones who had only worked part of the day. The workers who started first thing in the morning were upset, because they thought they should get more than the workers who only worked part of the day. The owner of the vineyard told them, “Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?”

Another story in the Bible that illustrates how God operates is the story of Job. Job was “blameless, a man of complete integrity. He feared (obeyed) God and stayed away from evil.” God even bragged about Job to Satan. “The LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth–a man of complete integrity. He fears (obeys) God and will have nothing to do with evil.” Satan replies that the only reason Job is so obedient is because God has blessed him greatly. “Take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!” So God said, “All right, you may test him. Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” Later, after Job has remained faithful to God, Satan wants to up the stakes. “Take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!” So God allows Satan to go even further. “All right, do with him as you please. But spare his life.” Although Job never curses God, he does begin to ask, “Why me, God?” At the end of the book, God goes on for four chapters asking Job all sorts of questions that Job cannot answer, really putting Job in his place. Finally Job says, “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You ask, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I. And I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me.” Then God restored Job’s fortunes and blessed him even more than ever. Was God fair to Job? Would it have been fair of God if he hadn’t restored Job’s fortunes? (hint: the answer to both questions is “yes”)

One more verse: Matthew 5:45. “He (God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Not everything that happens in life is a function of whether we “deserve it” or not.

In reality, everyone has sinned against God and deserves immediate destruction. It would be perfectly fair and just of God to let the ravages of sin completely destroy us. However, in His wisdom, in ways that we do not understand, He extends grace at certain times to certain people.

Originally posted 8/3/2005 on bibleforums.org

Fear or Love?

Do you believe in Jesus because you love Him, or because you fear hell? Should children obey their parents because they fear being punished, or because they love them?

This question stems from some negative reviews of Tedd Tripp’s book Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

Originally posted 10/2/2004, on bibleforums.org:

Which is better–obedience out of fear, or obedience out of love? I think we would all agree that obedience out of love is better. From what I’ve seen about this book, Tedd Tripp is saying the same thing. He is focused on the child’s heart moreso than their actions, and the parent’s role in protecting and guiding their child’s heart.

The difference of opinion appears to be in the best way to effectively guide and prepare children so that they will be most likely to acheive that goal of obedience to Christ out of love.

Which is better–obedience out of fear, or disobedience? Some people may disagree with me, but I think obedience always trumps disobedience. Every child I’ve ever seen is disobedient, so something needs to be done to help them move from disobedience to obedience. The big question is whether that is best accomplished by a two-part process (‘obey because there are consequences’ first, followed by ‘obey because you want to’) or a one-part process that skips right to the final goal.

The Old Testament tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; but it seems to talk even more about fearing God and keeping His commandments. Why did God wait 4,000 years before sending Jesus to redeem us for our sins? Why did He lay down the law to the Israelites and stress judgement for so long, instead of skipping right to grace and love? (not that grace and love are absent from the OT; they just don’t seem to be the focal point like they are in the NT.)

When I was a child, I loved my parents, but that isn’t necessarily why I obeyed them. When I was young, I obeyed them because I would get spanked if I didn’t. As I got older, I continued to obey them (for the most part) even if I knew I wouldn’t get caught, because they had taught me right from wrong and I loved and respected them.

Soldiers in basic training do what they’re told because their commanding officer will make their lives miserable if they don’t. Yet when their training is over, many soldiers would voluntarily lay down their lives for their commander. I doubt if our military would function nearly as well if it wasn’t for some healthy fear of disobeying. Now, soldiers aren’t children, and children should not be treated like soldiers, but I think the principle still applies. I don’t think it’s wrong to instill a little fear, because that is often a necessary motivator. It’s hard to teach someone love and respect if they won’t first obey.

It is wrong to overemphasize fear, or to stop at step 1 of a 2-step process. Some churches and leaders are guilty of this. They get so wrapped up in the negative consequences of disobedience, that they end up failing in their goal of guiding the heart, because outward behaviour gets priority instead. They don’t intentionally put outward behaviour above heart change, but that’s the message that comes across. As with most things in life, the best approach is balance not one or the other. It can be difficult to find the right balance.

More thoughts on “the fear of the Lord…”

Originally posted 10/4/2004 on bibleforums.org:

Some people get hung up on the word fear, because they associate it with terror. It has more to do with reverence and respect for the power and holiness of God. An illustration I like that sheds a little light on a proper context for fear goes something like this: a group of teenagers are hanging out and someone suggests going to do something that they shouldn’t do. One teen objects, and says “no, I’d be scared my dad would find out.” Another teen sneers, “what you’re afraid your daddy will hurt you if he finds out?” The teen replies, “no, I’m afraid if he found out it would hurt him.” This isn’t a perfect illustration, but it gives a picture of “being afraid” in a proper context.

I am reminded of a passage in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (if you haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend you do).

If you’re familiar with the story, you know that it is an allegory, and Christ is represented by Aslan the lion. Much of the story centers on four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and their journeies in Narnia. In the following passage, Mr. & Mrs. Beaver are describing Aslan (Jesus) to them:

“Is he—quite safe?” [asks Susan.] “I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

There is something a little paradoxical about God being our shield, protector, provider, comforter, etc.; yet at the same time He is our fearsome judge and ruler. Is God safe? No, but He’s good, so you can trust Him. He gives us plenty of reason to fear getting on His bad side, but He also gives us His word that He knows what’s best for us and will take good care of us if we trust and obey Him.

Allah

Is it heresy to say the Muslims worship the same God that Christians worship?

Many respectable Christians have different viewpoints on this. To me, it’s more important to discuss the character, actions, and expectations of the Creator and Supreme Being of the Universe than to debate what He should be called. Jews do not believe that Jesus was God’s son; does that mean the Jehovah they serve is not the same God we serve? I don’t think many people would say the Jews believe in a different god; however, they don’t believe the right things about God. Some people believe the same principle applies to Muslims.

Does believing the wrong thing about God mean that you believe in a false god? Many people have taken offense at President Bush and others who have said something to the effect that Muslims worship the same God that we do. I have a problem with such a statement if it implies that Islam is an equally valid route to God, but I’m not so sure that it’s necessary to separate “God” and “Allah.” According to the Wikipedia entry on Allah, “The word Allah is not specific to Islam; Arab Christians and Arab Jews also use it to refer to the monotheist deity. Arabic translations of the Bible also employ it.” “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God.” Judaism rejects Jesus as the Messiah and therefore believes the wrong things about God, but we wouldn’t say they worship a false god. I know a couple of missionaries to Muslims who don’t try to get Muslims to stop worshipping Allah. Rather, they try to get Muslims to understand that Jesus IS Allah, and the things they have been taught about Allah all their lives are wrong. When Paul was in Athens, he didn’t tell them to stop worshipping the “unknown god” and worship the “true God” instead; he told them “you know this god you worship…let me tell you what He’s really like.” I wonder if that’s how we ought to approach the God vs. Allah debate.

Here are a couple of interesting links on the subject:
http://www.equip.org/free/DI220.htm
http://www.answering-islam.org/God/same.html