Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Information God

     I recently listened to a podcast from Houston Baptist University featuring Dr. Phillip Johnson, author of the book Darwin on Trial. Dr. Johnson is a retired law professor and is considered to be the founder of the Intelligent Design movement. While he has been widely criticized for some of his extreme viewpoints, I think that he makes an appealing case for information forming the basis for the way nature works. Information seems to stand behind all scientific phenomena, consequently, the idea of God as creator points to the fact that he may be considered to be the ultimate source of that information.
     It seems that everything that exists exhibits some sort of relationship to information. Therefore, it follows that, in the physical universe, all natural things gather and emit information that can be connotated in a scientific context. Whenever we embark on a scientific study of nature, then, we must attempt to discover the twofold structure of this information: 1.) What is this particular thing listening to? and 2.) What is it saying?
     Everything speaks and understands a "language" by which the information is transmitted or received. These languages are almost always based on the primary language of math. Each particular branch of science speaks its own language, which is, in turn,  is some sort of dialect of math. To fully understand a scientific principle, we must figure out the language behind it and calculate the math behind that. (This is frustrating for people like me who struggle with math and excel at language. We can see the code, but we are unable to decipher what it means.)
     A few examples are:
  • All living things are based on the structure of their specific DNA code, which is always formed in the geometrical shape of a double helix.
  • Birds heed the "call" to migrate from one specific location to another based upon the hours of daylight.
  • A molecule of an organic chemical may be represented by an equation of letters and numbers or as a geometric model.
  • Ants lay down chemical trails for their brethren to follow leading to a food source.
  • The laws of physics that describe how the various forces of nature work are quantified by mathematical formulas.
  • When astronomers observe the light/energy from far-off galaxies, they are able to deduce complex mathematical formulas that detail the nature of the universe itself.  
     Scientific study addresses the questions surrounding what these languages are saying, how they are transmitted and the math behind them. Philosophy and religion ask questions about where the languages come from, who or what is causing them to be spoken, whether or not they have meaning beyond physicality alone and why we are able to perceive them. Once we begin to assess these questions, we have moved from mere scientific study into something that stands behind science, a tenuous locality indeed. If nature is all there is, the languages are allusions at best. But if something exists that is greater than nature, something that is so great as to cause nature to exist, someone who Christianity calls "God" -- then the languages represent reality as well as the possibility of communication between God and mankind.
     In John chapter 1, the Apostle John declares that Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God, the one who has spoken all things into existence. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God...Through him all things were made..." (v. 1,3) Genesis 1 tells us that God spoke the universe into existence -- "and God said." This speaking of God, this expression of truth, became physical reality. The information upon which physical reality rests came directly and ultimately from the mind of God; it is an enactment of the Plan or Will of God. The Apostle John goes on to say that "In him was life;" for the information, once spoken, was either vitalized by the life that God alone can give, or it contributes in some way to that life.
     Proverbs 8:22-31 details the way information (or, Wisdom) facilitates the created order. It originates with God -- "the first of his works" -- before the universe is made, because it is the foundation upon which all creation was to be built. This information delineated the specifics set for the oceans, springs of water, mountains, hills and soil. (v. 22-26) As God spoke the heavens and the earth into reality, Wisdom/information directed what happened or what came about in very precise ways. (v. 27-29) But verses 30 and 31 go on to describe this a little differently. Just like John 1 tells us, the information is God personified -- he is the "craftsman" who creates with joy; he is the one who delights in or loves the people he has made.
     And this is the point where we come full circle in this sort of "information theory" of creation. Because God created out of his love for us, he has bestowed upon us the ability and desire to read and understand the information. Though our image of God, our innate connection with God, we have been given the privilege discovering and interpreting the languages of the cosmos. We must be careful not to take this position lightly. Far too many of us live as if the information doesn't matter, or that it is not worthy of our attention. If we live our lives ignoring the things that God has said, we will be living in a small and dreary world. The light of creation shines on the soul through the lamp of the mind.
     In addition, God has given us verbal information through his word in written form, the Bible. The truths on its pages agree and correlate with words that formed the world, and we must learn to bring the two together. And through the power of redemption, God gave us himself -- Jesus Christ, the living Word, who brings us back into relationship, connection and communication with God. This spiritual connection gives us the greatest and most worthwhile information, the truth of God that sets us free to live unbounded and unfettered by sin and sorrow.
     Yet, in the end, it will all come down to the declaration of the resurrected Lord: "Behold, I make all things new!" A unlimited wealth of information waits to be revealed in the new created order. In Heaven, we will delight in, explore, discover and even develop the inexhaustible possibilities of a perfect existence. Our eternal life with Christ will be living in the ever present and new reality of "knowing and being known" by God who knows all, explains all, and loves without limits.    

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ghost, Vampire or Resurrected Christians? Sunday sermon devotional -- 1

(This post is based on the 8/31/14 Sunday sermon at Covenant Grace Church; the text is Eph. 4:17-32)

     This passage is labeled "the new life" in my ESV Bible, for it describes in both theological and practical terms the life of the Christian who has been given salvation through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. When I looked at this passage, I thought of three descriptions for people who might be called "Christian;" which I will call "ghosts," "vampires" and "resurrected."
     The ghost Christians are given the most detailed description, found in verses 17-19. Perhaps this is because they are so common and insidious; floating about as they do at the edge of almost every church. They are characterized by futility of mind; they are empty thinkers, hollow shells of what they could be. They are unable to do the right thing, even though they try so very,very hard. They have become desensitized to truth and understanding, for they do not want to face the true facts about their deathly, shadowy lives.
     Obviously, ghost Christians are not true Christians at all. Paul calls them "Gentiles," meaning the pagans who were outside of the church and the Jewish nation. But it is interesting that he devotes so much time to their description, as if he knew that many people of this type would haunt the churchyard, so to speak. They claim to be Christians, but their dead souls merely flit about the things that are good and right. They cling to their sins while trying to put a Christian label on their lives.
     The vampire Christians are the ones who "put off [the]old self" -- but only half the time. They may try (in their own way) to do what is holy and true, but if and when they fail, they crawl right back into their old coffins. And even when they emerge from the old pine box, ready to start anew, they end up doing the same old sinful things because their residual carnal desires are tricking them into revisiting their old addictive pleasures again and again...
     Vampire Christians may be true Christians who have trusted in Christ and received his saving grace, but they keep trying to live the Christian life in their own strength. As a result, they are constantly being betrayed by their "old self" that keeps sending them back to their coffins where its very safe and very dark. Paul says that they need to "put off" this old self, in fact, it needs to be "buried with him in baptism," six feet under, never to come out again. This a work that we allow the Holy Spirit to do in us, causing us to live full-time in his power and revitalizing presence.
     Resurrected Christians are those who have received new life in Jesus, who destroyed their sins on the Cross. They live in the constant realization that their old life is dead and their new life is constantly being given to them through the grace and love of God. Their souls, which were dead because of sin, have been raised in what St. Augustine called "the first resurrection." When we receive salvation, the resurrection begins with the new life of the soul; one day our bodies will receive the same thing.
     Paul tells resurrected Christians to do two things. First, we must be "renewed in the spirit of your minds." This means that we must always be engaged in activities that cause us the think rightly upon God and his Word. Ghost Christians have "futile minds;" we must have active, robust minds, centered on righteousness and redemption. Second, we must "put on" our new life. This done by following the pattern of Christ's life. We should imitate Christ and grow in our efforts to be like him. We do not do this on our own, however, for the Holy Spirit is our guide, teacher and helper in our pursuit of the resurrected life.
     The rest of the passage lists some very practical characteristics of the resurrected Christian life. They help us to make direct application of our new life to our daily experience. I noticed these ten helpful guidelines:

  • Be honest and truthful
  • Don't hold on to anger
  • Don't get to the place where you may be easily tempted
  • Don't steal or be lazy. Work hard so that you may share your earnings
  • Don't engage in crude or derogatory speech
  • Speak gracious (loving) words
  • Don't do anything that would disappoint the Holy Spirit
  • Stop doing damaging things
  • Be a kind person
  • Forgive others
     In the next two chapters, Paul is going to address how Christians should act in their personal relationships. This list, therefore, serves as a practical reminder of Christ's golden rule -- treat others the way you want to be treated. (Luke 6:31) The purpose of receiving new life is living new life, sharing God's gracious gift with everyone we meet. May we pray with the Apostle Paul (to paraphrase): "I want to know Christ and the powerful difference his resurrection makes in my life." (Phil. 3:10)