Book Review: ALWAYS BE READY by Hugh Ross with Kathy Ross

Hugh Ross has been a controversial figure over the years, enduring strong criticism from both sides of the creation debate – from philosophical naturalists and young-earth creationists alike. It’s likely that most people would characterize Ross as a scientist. And that he is. Typically, his books are saturated with scientific detail and many, many pages dedicated to the citation of referenced publications.

This book is different.

Indeed, he could not resist including a summary of what he considers to be the most important scientific evidences of the Christian faith; however, most of the book is about a side of Hugh Ross that gets less public attention. He is, in fact, a pastor, and in Always Be Ready we learn how he has applied the rigor of the scientific method (not just scientific facts) to his evangelistic efforts.

Remarkable stories result.

We find that Ross is an evangelist who was never evangelized. Rather it was science that introduced him to his loving Creator, and it was the Christian Bible that stood out among the world’s other holy books to woo him towards a consummating commitment to Jesus Christ. In addition, he is a communicator who overcame communication challenges associated with autism. The stories that emerge are nothing short of miraculous and many of them qualify as full-fledged adventures.

If the following questions pique your interest, then you will want to check out this new narrative:

  • What happened when the president of a school’s Atheist Club converted to Christianity one-the-spot during a science apologetics presentation?
  • Can door-to-door visitation be successful?
  • Is it too late to share Christ with someone in a coma?
  • How can a church respond to the presence of an adult bookstore in the neighborhood?
  • What questions regularly invite meaningful and respectful dialogue?
  • What role does hospitality play in apologetics?

At this point, a warning is warranted. Something happens to the reader of this book. You read along effortlessly for a while…then you begin to get a bit uneasy. You start to question, “Why do I not have amazing encounters like this on a regular basis?”

Ross gives some very practical advice about how to improve your own ministry to those around you in a winsome way. Some of his ideas and approaches might be new to you, but by the end of the book you realize that he does many things that are not new at all.

He believes that God is already at work in the lives of those he encounters.
He welcomes questions from skeptics.
He joins together with other Christians.
He uses his strengths and learns from his weaknesses.
He fasts and prays.
He simply takes 1 Peter 3:15 seriously.

Read this book if you are a skeptic of Christianity who wants to better understand its attraction. Read it if you are a Christian who wants to be simultaneously encouraged and challenged.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
1 Peter 3:15


Hugh Ross shares stories from his new book at Reason to Believe’s AMP Conference 2018…

Book Review: 4th edition of THE CREATOR AND THE COSMOS by Dr. Hugh Ross

The Creator and the Cosmos by Dr. Hugh Ross

Now available at reasons.org.

Terrorism. Tragedies. Fake news. Allegations. It’s time to avert your eyes from the anxiety-producing online commentary that drives you to distraction. Turn off your mobile. Sit back and wonder. Look at points of light in a dark, night sky. Was our universe – everything we see and know – inevitable? Is it by chance or by purpose that you consider this question? Reclaim control of your faculties, and contemplate your place in the cosmos.

A seven-year-old, budding astronomer named Hugh Ross looked to the night sky more than six decades ago and asked, “Are stars hot?” A prolonged pursuit for answers set him out on an academic quest, not only into space, but into the past and beyond. Dr. Ross’ newly released 4th edition of The Creator and the Cosmos is an ardent scientific defense of Big Bang cosmology and a call to consider its implications on a personal and spiritual level.

Like me, you may be surprised to learn that the Big Bang Theory requires a defense at this point. After all, it has not only been well vetted by the mainstream physics community, it has passed into the vernacular of popular culture via the title of a popular sit-com. Nevertheless, the most celebrated minds of science still endeavor to know exactly how our universe came to be, and they engage in vigorous debate to that end. After all, the how may imply a why.

The Big Bang is not just a tacit affirmation of “In the beginning…”; it is a theory that leads us to the possibility of a transcendent Creator via the scientific method rather than in spite of it. Its seemingly incontrovertible implications are both profound and unsettling to anyone who believes themselves to be well-ensconced within the fortress of philosophical naturalism. Once 20th-century scientists determined that the universe was inexorably expanding, they could then begin to retrace its early development. Ross reviews a litany of discoveries that permitted scientists to see further and further into the past with increasing clarity. Having retreated so far, they now find their backs up against a single point that defines the boundary of all that is known. Will they now turn and face that which is beyond? The realm that spawned a pluripotent singularity that differentiated into all the space, time, matter, and energy that we experience? A First Cause that set it all in motion?

Dr. Ross very effectively couples physics with Christian evangelism until, under the duress of the data, the intellectually honest skeptic must at least consider that something supernatural is afoot in the universe. This new iteration includes over 70 pages of new content, and the discussion questions at the end of each chapter invite readers to engage in intellectually and theologically rich discussions. Still have doubts at the end of the book? Check out the appendices and online compendium listing hundreds of finely tuned parameters for life. Or, alternatively, just proceed to 30 years’ worth of research compiled by Christian scholars at reasons.org.

Although this book specifically targets challenges to Big Bang cosmology, The Creator and the Cosmos offers abbreviated explanations on other related topics that receive further elaboration in Ross’ other works such as More Than a Theory, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Beyond the Cosmos, and Improbable Planet. Dr. Hugh Ross is both the consummate scientist and the consummate evangelist, uniquely qualified to address questions at the intersection of science and faith. If any of the following questions pique your interest, you will want to add these books and others offered through the ministry of Reasons to Believe (RTB) to your reading list:

  • How do we know that the universe is expanding?
  • Does the quantum eternity theorem offer a viable alternative to a cosmic beginning?
  • Why might atoms never have existed, and why must life be carbon-based?
  • Why does our solar system’s location in the galaxy matter?
  • How does a comparison of Earth’s extinction rate with its speciation rate support a Biblical view of creation and pose problems for the macroevolutionary paradigm?
  • Why is a 13.8-billion-year-old universe insufficiently old to support naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios?
  • Why was it advantageous for the Holy Spirit to come to believers after Christ ascended from Earth?

The book is written from an old-earth creation perspective that does not support macroevolution. It primarily addresses the concerns of skeptical scientists as well as scientifically literate laypeople within the church. Young-earth creationists may want to venture out and examine this book or other RTB reads in order to explore the robust scientific support for the old-earth position as well as its moorings to an inerrant interpretation of Scripture as affirmed by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

While the SETI Institute still awaits transmissions from intelligent life beyond Earth, the stars have been speaking all along. It is from their language of light that physicists continue to decipher the story of the universe and how it relates to life here on Earth. Tonight, resist the seductive siren call of your cellular device. Look to heavens and be reminded of their enduring and ancient declarations: There is a Creator of the cosmos, and he is the Creator of you.

Molecular Magic or Deus Ex Machina?

Senior researcher Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has recently made a captivating, if not fanciful, statement regarding the remarkable capabilities of a little molecule bearing a quite mundane moniker: diamidophosphate, or DAP:

“It [DAP] reminds me of the fairy godmother in Cinderella, who waves a wand and poof, poof, poof, everything simple is transformed into something more complex and interesting.”1

Krishnamurthy is referencing DAP’s newfound, transformative qualities as described in an article published in Nature Chemistry: “Phosphorylation, oligomerization and self-assembly in water under potential prebiotic conditions.”2 The title is a bit more detached but sure to invoke at least a bit of giddy excitement among those who follow the origin-of-life (OOL) question. Has a new incarnation of spontaneous generation, a DAP phoenix, risen from the ashes? Has the secret recipe for “life in a jiffy” been revealed? Is prebiotic soup back on the table? In the researcher’s own whimsical words, “Poof, poof, poof!”

Remarkably, DAP can phosphorylate three distinct types of biologically significant molecules: nucleosides/tides, amino acids, and lipid precursors. Adding phosphoryl groups to these molecules allows a progression of chemical reactions necessary to advance bottom-up OOL scenarios. DAP reacts with these diverse prebiotic molecules so that they may further assemble into larger biologically significant molecules: oligonucleotides, peptides and liposomes, respectively. Furthermore, DAP’s phosphorylating reactions occur readily, not requiring condensation reactions to drive particular chemical processes to completion.

To their credit, the research team carefully crafted their experimentation using as many plausible prebiotic reagents and primordial conditions as possible. Even so, the initial DAP reagent was synthesized from the “prebiotically available trimetaphosphate by reaction with ammonia, at relatively high pH.” This synthesis is problematic since ammonia levels were very low on the early Earth3 and because the subsequent experimentation was carried out in neutral conditions. The scientists acknowledge that alternative DAP production pathways should be sought out. Intelligent agency, courtesy of the research team, is still a de facto catalyst in these reactions.

It is also important to note that although the experimental conditions were similar for each synthesis, the various molecular assemblages were all acquired separately. The researchers later hypothesized that “the commonality of conditions for the oligomerization [assembly] of different building blocks suggests that productive and mixed chemistries might be possible.” On the other hand, mixed chemistries might compete or otherwise prove to be detrimental, yielding undesirable products that interfere with the production of the targeted compounds as well as with the original experimental conditions that have been so carefully standardized. Robust reactivity can both work for you and against you in a chemical milieu.

Although this work strives to create uniform prebiotic conditions for the emergence of first-life, one must note that life would immediately alter its own habitat upon arrival. Waste products and metabolites change the environment in short order, so adaptability (which presupposes genetic information) would seem to be necessary from the start. Although conflicting environments cannot be plausibly posited for bottom-up OOL scenarios, the inevitability of changing environments must be considered. Hence the importance of a bilayer phospholipid cell membrane that can both provide both a protective barrier and homeostatic intermediary. In The Cell’s Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator’s Artistry, Fazale Rana concurs that “[t]he origin of cell membranes has to be one of the first steps in the origin of life.”4

In Krishnamurthy’s research, the lipid-building DAP experiments formed “micelles and vesicle-like bilayer and multilamellar structures in the range of 30–110 nm…[as well as] liposome-like structures with diameters around 280 nm.” In addition, transmission electron microscopy images “impl[ied] the formation of giant bilayer vesicle-like structures with diameters of 9.2 µm on average, with some structures nearing 20 µm.” Impressive as these structures might sound, the unilamellar, phospholipid bilayer required for critical cellular function is notoriously difficult to produce and sustain.5 Micelles and multilamellar structures are much easier to generate, but they are not likely to have formed the first cell membranes. On the other hand, more promising lipid bilayer compositions are “generally impermeable to the types of molecules needed to maintain the activity of encapsulated self-replicators.”6

As previously noted, genetic information is required to invoke and sustain adaptation. The OOL-linchpin molecule, RNA, is quite fragile and relatively short-lived as a “naked replicator,”7 but intact RNA seems to operate quite well within its wide variety of living hosts. As clearly demonstrated in extremophiles, the hardiness of a whole organism is greater than that of its constituent parts. In this way, homeostatic mechanisms appear to be irreducibly complex and are only afforded the fully viable entity.

Just as the DAP-induced liposomes do not necessarily become biologically responsive phospholipid bilayer membranes, DAP-induced assemblies of sugars8 and nucleotide strands do not necessarily form self-replicating molecules, much less bio-relevant information. Likewise, the selective phosphorylation of certain amino acids may not necessarily lead to the production of bio-functional proteins. In naturalistic terms, there is absolutely no reason for chemicals to preferentially tend towards increased complexity in an ongoing fashion, and there can be no meaningful form of natural selection until a reliable replication system is in place to reproduce favorable selections. In the end, the phosphorylation and subsequent oligomerization reactions made possible by DAP might lead to the rapid, concurrent assembly of some potentially useful cell components. Top-down OOL researchers, who already possess all the fully developed cell components, know that the complete assembly and arrangement of the parts is another very real OOL challenge.

How hard can it be?

Although ardently opposed to intelligent design arguments, OOL researcher Iris Frye makes the following statement (which strangely sounds like an acknowledgement of irreducible complexity):

“Every living system, as revealed particularly at the molecular level, is organized in a much more complex way than any ordered physical system known to us. The unique character of this complexity lies in the ability of an organism to maintain and reproduce its organization according to specific internal instructions, or information, manifested in specific macromolecules. This character is connected with the purposeful, functional nature of biological organization, in which each part serves the survival of the whole.”9

Frye actually attributes this “informed organized complexity” to evolutionary processes with “natural selection,” “physiochemical constraints,” and “alleged principles of self-organization” making potentially significant contributions towards this end.10 The researcher’s quote above is in sharp contrast to her own description of Steven J. Gould’s initial response when meteor-bound evidence of past Martian life was discovered (and mischaracterized) in 1996:

“Pointing out that life arose on Earth almost as soon as environmental conditions permitted,’ Gould went on to state ‘the standard expectation of paleontologists’: We can only infer from this rapidity, he said, “that it is not ‘difficult’ for life of bacterial grade to evolve on planets with appropriate conditions. The origin of life may be a virtually automatic consequence of carbon chemistry and the physics of self-organizing systems, given favorable conditions and the requisite inorganic constituents.”11

Regarding “the requisite inorganic constituents” as they relate to the DAP research, we should not overlook the obvious: phosphorous is clearly a life-essential element. It is critical to both structural and metabolic chemistries (e.g., adensosine triphosphate). Although the Earth’s crust is “the most phosphorous-rich source known,” it yields a concentration of only about a thousand parts per million.12 Phosphorous is a limited resource, irregularly distributed across the Earth and rarely found in concentrated forms.13 Minerals containing phosphorus are almost always in the maximally oxidized state,14 and it is well-known that oxidative conditions are destructive to prebiotics. So, inorganic phosphorous would be necessary, yet not conducive, to naturalistic OOL scenarios.15 Ross and Rana note that “[w]ithout life molecules (already assembled and operating), no known natural processes can harvest the amounts of phosphorus necessary for life from the environment. All the phosphate-rich deposits on Earth are produced by life.”16

The inadmissible alternative

At the most basic level, there is no naturalistic reason for any chemistry-enabling atom (phosphorous or otherwise) to exist at all. Why should the Big Bang have yielded anything more than widely distributed, discrete subatomic particles or, alternatively, nothing more than all-consuming black holes?17 If mainstream physicists can accept the existence of additional dimensions beyond our experience18 or multiverses beyond our detection,19 why then is it unscientific to consider that life’s source of information and irreducibly complex design features might lie beyond our full apprehension? At an intuitive level we sense that materialism’s mechanisms are more reductionist than rational, and a DAP fairytale featuring molecular characters does not suffice. There is no reason to expect a purposeless naturalistic process to ultimately produce an organism that seeks to understand its origin, but we humans insatiably seek our story — our grand meta-narrative in which both mystery and meaning ring true.

The Fellowship of Performing Arts (FPA) founder and artistic director Max McLean recently recounted a common criticism of their group’s theater performances:

“One of the critiques of FPA’s productions is that we rely on supernatural or improbable events to solve a play’s main problem…God comes in and changes the outcome. This device is known as “deus ex machina.” I didn’t realize this has become a literary taboo…To guardians of contemporary theater, this literary device generates an eye roll. It might be okay for children, but educated people know that ‘real’ life doesn’t work that way. The world is naturalistic. There is no divine intervention.”20

Although the artistic elites now echo the theme so familiar to scientists, McLean goes on to defend the much-maligned “deus ex machina” plot solution:

“It doesn’t cheapen or weaken the story. Rather, it reintroduces a reality that many have forgotten: that ‘God is there, and He is not silent.’ We believe it makes for a far greater story.”21

The fact of life’s origin is incontrovertibly grounded in realism, yet its veiled narrative is as mystical a fairytale. Only the concurrent immanence and transcendence of Christ the Creator can reconcile these seemingly divergent storylines into a unified plot that accounts for the harshest of realities while eagerly awaiting the happiest of endings. He is the only satisfying denouement in a drama truly Divine.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.” Isaiah 40:28

1 Scripps Research Institute. “Potential ‘missing link’ in chemistry that led to life on Earth discovered.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171106112301.htm (accessed December 7, 2017).
2 Clémentine Gibard, Subhendu Bhowmik, Megha Karki, Eun-Kyong Kim, Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy. Phosphorylation, oligomerization and self-assembly in water under potential prebiotic conditions. Nature Chemistry, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nchem.2878.
3 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 105.
4 Fazale Rana, The Cell’s Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator’s Artistry (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 273.
5 Ibid, 229-32.
6 Ibid, 240.
7 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 90-1.
8 Krishnamurthy, R., Guntha, S. & Eschenmoser, A. Regioselective αphosphorylation of aldoses in aqueous solution. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 39, 2281–5 (2000).
9 Iris Fry, The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), Chapter 14.*
10 Ibid.*
11 Ibid.*
12 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 96.
13 Wikipedia contributors, “Peak phosphorus,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Peak_phosphorus&oldid=805719116 (accessed December 8, 2017).
14 Wikipedia contributors, “Phosphorus,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Phosphorus&oldid=814149017 (accessed December 8, 2017).
15 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 203-5.
16 Ibid, 96.
17 See Why the Universe Is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross.
18 See Beyond the Cosmos: The Transdimensionality of God by Hugh Ross.
19 See Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse by Jeffrey Zweerink.
20 McLean, Max. 2017. “Deus Ex Machina.” Fellowship Circle, Fall 2017.
21 Ibid.

*Page numbers not available in Kindle version.

Extreme Origin or Extreme Originality?

Enceladus, icy moon of Saturn

Icy water plumes spray forth from the frozen surface of Enceladus and provoke speculation that life resembling Earth’s psychrophiles may be lurking in a liquid ocean beneath. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (Artist’s concept)

As soon the Earth’s molten mass cooled following the Hadean Era, moon-forming event, and late heavy bombardment, life was present and proliferating in all of its diverse and mysterious glory.1 The oldest rocks are 3.9 billion years old (bya) and radiometric bio-signatures date to earlier than 3.8 bya.2,3 Because life appeared so rapidly and under such hostile conditions, some origin-of-life (OOL) researchers believe that Earth-life may have originated elsewhere and then arrived via meteorite during the fray.4 Perhaps life even initiated independently both on Earth and on other planets or moons. Alternatively, the planet’s earliest life-forms may have lurked in deep places, easily riding out catastrophic conditions raging above on the surface. In order to posit novel naturalistic OOL scenarios, scientists look to some exotic little microbes harbored within some of the world’s most extreme environments.

Extremophiles demonstrate that life can exist in a wide variety of conditions: high temperatures, low temperatures, high pH, low pH, high salinity, or high pressure.5 Life can be found nearly everywhere, so first-life must have been fast and easy, even simple – so it would seem. Because they exhibit some of the smallest genomes of independently living, non-symbiont, non-parasitic organisms, various extremophilic organisms appear to be rooted at the base of the of the evolutionary tree.6,7 Maybe OOL researchers have simply not been looking in the right places. Even so, finding life in any locale is not the same as finding its origin.

Thermophiles and hyperthermophiles are early-life candidates that presumably developed as the mostly molten Earth started to cool. They can withstand temperatures up to 70°C and 113°C, respectively, and may also occur in the high-pressure environments near hydrothermal vents. Research has shown that deep ocean chemistry can produce peptides, amino acids, and other bio-precursor molecules.8 In general, however, most prebiotic molecules are unstable in extreme conditions. OOL-critical RNA has been found to be particularly delicate.9  In addition, the cycling of the ocean through these superheated, underwater vents is physically destructive.10 Though some OOL chemistry might be favored at these sites, it is unlikely that all the necessary reagents would remain viable throughout the necessary sequence of OOL reactions. Even though life is still inadequately characterized and ill-defined, it still seems to be an “all or nothing” proposition for the most part.

It is also important to note that thermophilic biochemistry is not “simple.” Rather, “heat-loving” proteins are customized for the stability in hot environments, and they do not adapt well to mesophilic environments. Special interactions between the proteins’ amino acids stabilize their three-dimensional structure, but these same interactions result in a maladaptive rigidity in mesophilic conditions.11 Furthermore, experimentation seems to indicate that the rRNA of the presumed LUCA would have possessed insufficient guanine and cytosine content to have been a thermophile.12 Stanford University and NASA Ames Research Center have determined that as early Earth cooled, “temperature[s] would have persisted within a thermophilic window for at least 100,000 years but for no more than 10 million years – a time window far shorter for life than that on which natural process life-origin models depend.”13 Just as a gradual formation of thermophilic life-form is difficult to imagine, its transformation into a mesophile seems equally unlikely. It appears that they were created in-place, fully customized from the start, with a low likelihood of relocation to mesophilic conditions.

As thermophiles potentially expand the OOL timeline, psychrophiles theoretically expand the OOL habitable zones out to the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter.14 Such microbes have been found living comfortably in the Antarctic Ocean at around 4°C.15 Bada and Lazcano have noted that low temperatures stabilize some biomolecules, and that some putatively necessary prebiotic reactions only occur in the laboratory at temperatures near 0°C.16 Since the bio-necessity of liquid water remains, psychophiles find ways to lower the freezing point of water. They utilize concentrations of certain molecules17 or antifreeze proteins to this end. This means that these special accommodations would need to be present during the naturalistic construction of the first psychophile in addition to all the “standard” OOL reactants and chemistry. Otherwise, as water began to freeze, cold denaturation would have arrested the hydrophobic effect that allows membrane aggregation, protein folding, and formation of RNA and DNA replicator molecules.18 We find that the whole organism is more robust that its constituent parts, which makes a purposeless and gradual, step-by-step construction process seem implausible.

Sub-surface life found as far as 3.7 miles deep in the Earth’s crust and has prompted even more OOL speculation. Scientists believe that a deep-biosphere may offer realistic early-Earth conditions for first-life or alternatively provide insight into how OOL scenarios transpired beneath the surfaces of other planets and moons.19 Underground or underwater ecosystems in regions devoid of sunlight are often found to depend on organics trickling down from photosynthetically derived products closer to the surface.20 A few microbial populations are truly isolated from surface organics, however, and can live off of crustal carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas generated as water interfaces with rock at tectonic plate boundaries. This, however, is a rare and finely tuned phenomenon that could not occur where tectonic activity is not present (e.g., Mars). In addition, the deeply localized organics have been biogenically produced by these organisms, leaving the origin of their initial organic precursors a mystery.21 Paul Davies asserts that LUCA likely “lived deep beneath the Earth’s surface, at a temperature well above a hundred degrees Celsius, and probably ate sulfur,” but he also concedes that “it is clear that this little creature was already a sophisticated life form with complex features like coded protein synthesis.”22 Furthermore, deep-Earth organisms typically possess extremely low metabolic rates,23 rendering them incapable of sufficiently rapid replication rates required to promote the fast-paced evolutionary advances required by naturalistic models.

Although the search for a mechanistically initiated origin of life continues, extremophiles seem to have originated in-place, optimized and operational from the start.

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress yourself for action like a man; I will question you and you will answer me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…Have you entered into the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?…Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.” Job 38:1-4,16,18

1 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 175-6.
2 Ibid, 176.
3 Takayuki Tashiro et al., “Early trace of life from 3.95 Ga sedimentary rocks in Labrador, Canada,” Nature 549 (2017): 516-8, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v549/n7673/full/nature24019.html.
4 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 186.
5 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 177.
6 Ibid, 178.
7 Rana, Fazale. “Lesson 9: Assembly Of Life, Part 2.” Lecture Notes, Advanced Origin of Life Seminar, Reasons Institute, 2006 (revised 2017).
8 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 178.
9 Ibid, 182.
10 Ibid, 104-6.
11 Ibid, 181.
12 Ibid, 181-2.
13 Ibid, 181.
14 Ibid, 182.
15Ibid, 177.
16 Ibid, 182.
17 Ibid, 182-3.
18 Ibid, 183.
19 Ibid, 184.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid, 184-5.
22 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 186.
23 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 184.

Directionally Challenged

Origin of life research is generally conducted in two different, but related, ways: “bottom-up” and “top-down.” “Bottom-up” researchers seek a combination of chemical reactions that could have yielded a simple, first life-form on the early Earth. “Top-down” researchers seek to understand the simplest of contemporary life-forms, primarily by ascertaining their minimum genome requirements.1 Pathways forged by “bottom-up” and “top-down” camps theoretically meet somewhere in the middle to catch a glimpse of the first-life’s mysterious appearance as well as its transition into the no-less-elusive last universal common ancestor (LUCA).

Both routes must reckon with the empirically determined essentials of life: energy production and metabolism (including catalysts and/or enzymes), information-bearing replicating molecules (including translation mechanisms), and a cell barrier to partition off life from non-life (yet allow interaction with the external environment). Befuddled by simplest life’s innate complexity, both camps would desire to simplify their labors by jettisoning any nice-but-unnecessary, auxiliary cellular functions in order to find a “basic” unit of life that is relatively simple.

Bottom-up researchers are continually plagued with the finding the appropriate prebiotics in realistic concentrations and determining the mechanisms by which they could all come together to successfully produce living cells given the conditions of the early Earth. First, they possess an inadequate knowledge of such conditions, and what they do know seems to mitigate against life. To make matters worse, each hypothetical (and often convoluted) chemical pathway thought to produce a single nascent necessity seems to work against other pathways that lead to products no less important. Yet, all the parts seem to have arrived simultaneously to work in concert rather quickly – a little too quickly. Finally, there is the perpetual problem of the experimenters themselves, who continuously inject their own intelligent influence to purportedly produce a naturalistic outcome. Bottom-up researchers are therefore caught in a maddening loop that still yet lacks life.

Whereas the bottom-up approach seeks a feasibly authentic origin of Earth-life starting from simple chemical compounds, the top-down approach starts with existing organics and bioinformation and seeks to gain mastery over it. A comprehensive knowledge of the life’s minimum genome requirements not only allows an enhanced characterization of LUCA, but it also affords the opportunity to refashion life into new, synthetic forms. These scientists seek not only enlightenment but empowerment. Life can be stripped down and refurbished for specific purposes such as the production of tailored biomedical compounds or renewable energy resources.”2 Like those pursuing a bottom-up approach, these top-down researchers also search out the mechanisms required to build biomolecules, but they are less concerned about the chemical history of “life as we know it.” All available ingenuity, materials, and technologies are fair play when constructing “life as it could be.”3

If top-downers could successfully synthesize a living cell “from scratch” (simple, inorganic compounds) as they are instructed in the lessons of life by today’s simplest organisms, this would provide a much-desired proof-of-principle for the bottom-up researchers; it would show that life can be constructed from chemicals. For now, however, these researchers can fundamentally change the characteristics of existing cells, but they must rely heavily on existing organics and bioinformation.  Quite remarkably, Craig Venter’s team at Synthetic Genomics, Inc., has apparently transformed Mycoplasma capricolum into Mycoplasma mycoides by implanting a synthetic genome of the former into the latter. 4 They cannot yet initiate life, though they soon might.  Even so, though the nature of the physical world may be further elucidated, the necessity of intelligent agency will be simultaneously affirmed. Scientists may manipulate existing matter and information systems in ways that produce physical life demanding at least hundreds of genes,5 but this is a minimum complexity that is still uncomfortably complex from a naturalistic, bottom-up perspective. Yet according to Scripture, various forms of life are more than merely physical and may also manifest that which is soulish and spiritual.6 When scientists look beyond where empiricism can probe, they may find more meaning in the mysteries than the mechanisms.

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. The wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast in men.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20

1 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 3.*
2 Ibid, Chapters 3-4.*
3 Ibid, Chapter 4.*
4 Ibid, Chapter 3.*
5 Ibid.
6 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 79.
*Page numbers not available in Kindle edition.

Commentary on Reasons to Believe’s Interview with an OOL Insider

By Holger.Ellgaard (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Holger.Ellgaard (Creative Commons)

This commentary is based on an interview conducted by Reasons to Believe (RTB) with origin-of-life researcher Robert Shapiro. It was recorded on an unknown date prior to his Dr. Shapiro’s death in 2011.

One cannot listen to Dr. Robert Shapiro without being struck by this synthetic chemist’s brilliant mind and impressive credentials. He is well-studied in the multi-disciplinary field of origin-of-life (OOL) research, and the elegant simplicity of his illustrations belies his depth of understanding. As an independent thinker, he sustains an unrelenting critique of the OOL community from a position of agnostism. From this detached perspective, he evaluates experimental details without philosophical duress or (apparent) financial reprisal. He asserts that unfounded assumptions hinder the advance of the OOL discipline and that the research community needs to start over from scratch with a more open-minded intellectual agility. His self-described exile by the scientific community seems to expose the establishment’s pre-commitments that are grounded in something that is less constructive than the scientific objectivity that Shapiro seems to demonstrate more authentically. The fact that life’s definition is elusive and ill-defined seems to justify his position: “When I get to something [where] I do not know the complete answer (which covers, I think, even the mystery of our existence), I’m not ashamed to say I don’t know and to go on from that. So, [agnosticism is] the best label to apply to me.”

Shapiro is able to step back from the detailed chemistry that confounds most and view the big OOL picture. He then authoritatively states what the layperson had hoped was obvious: organic molecules are not alive, irrespective of their abundance and diversity. Moreover, more time does not solve the problem. Life requires more than just chemical reactions; it requires complex organization. We simply do not comprehend its origin.

Shapiro dislikes the use of the term “prebiotics” when applied to meteor composition due to the unfounded assumption that such chemicals would become “biotic” under some yet-to-be-determined circumstances. Rather, he believes that the “massive molecules” that characterize biological systems on the contemporary Earth run counter to what chemists currently know and can explain. He points out that the very scientists who claim to recreate the first unguided steps toward life on early Earth are actually conducting carefully controlled experiments, magnificent in terms of their design by intelligent agency. After all, organizing complexity is not what we typically find in chemical milieus governed by second law of thermodynamics. Is it reasonable to believe that, once upon a time, some highly significant, albeit unguided, reactions somehow capitalized on localized releases of energy to self-organize and advance in their complexity when no experiments have been conducted to support this notion?

It is beneficial, as well as somewhat refreshing, that all critiques are not being made by creationists. Internal disagreements between replicator-first and metabolism-first OOL camps provide insight into the shortcomings of each. Few secular researchers are willing to openly acknowledge the flaws of both positions and suggest taking an entirely different approach. Shapiro is critical of bottom-up research of chemical mechanisms carried out in pristine laboratory settings as guided by ingenious investigators. He is also critical of top-down paradigms. Whereas biologists see the uniformity of materials that compose living organisms as our greatest clue towards a viable OOL solution, Shapiro considers the continuity of life’s structure as something that may be misleading scientists, diverting their attention from the exotic reactions that might be found to spawn life.

Shapiro seems to think that life should occur fairly readily under the right conditions, so that’s what researchers should be looking for — but we don’t seem to be finding it here on Earth. He seeks a self-sustaining set of reactions that might occur under a set of circumstances and conditions of which we are not yet aware. This is why he believes that the exploration of other celestial bodies within our solar system (and experimental reach) is important. He is excited by the prospect of finding novel, independently developed life-forms on the icy moons of Saturn, but he likewise acknowledges that such life might not relate to the origin of contemporary life on Earth. He makes a subtle but important distinction between finding life and finding the origin of life. Furthermore, recognizing that directed panspermia only re-locates the OOL question, he views this position as a last resort when all other feasible exploration and research endeavors provide no answer. He espouses “science of the gaps,” then perhaps “aliens of the gaps,” but never “god of the gaps.”

Though Shapiro rightly points out the proactive role of the investigator in OOL research, he by no means accepts intelligent design as a tenable explanation for the origin of the universe or life. He politely, but rigidly, insists upon both philosophical and methodological naturalism, and he fully anticipates that naturalistic answers will be found through ongoing research. This provides the opportunity for Hugh Ross, PhD, to explain the importance of the RTB creation model that offers testable, scientific predictions based on various worldviews in order to see which one yields the best empirical results as more and more scientific data becomes available.

Referencing the RTB model, Fazale Rana, PhD, remarked that the extremely unlikely appearance of life during the hostile conditions of early Earth might be in accord with Earth’s description in Genesis 1:2. (Interestingly, Shapiro basically equates the term “miracle” with highly improbable natural occurrences.) After all, there appears to be both fossil and isotopic evidence supporting the presence of fairly complex life right after the inhospitable conditions of the late heavy bombardment around 3.3 to 3.8+ billion years ago. The ensuing divide between Rana and Shapiro shows the RTB creation model at work. Rana has no problem with data supporting life soon after the late heavy bombardment or even before. In contrast, Shapiro doubts the data on naturalistic grounds, moving first-life to a more comfortable data point — 2.8 billion years ago, “when life was probably very peaceful.” Accumulating evidence will increasingly support either Rana or Shapiro on this matter, yet even Shapiro’s accepted date for first-life doesn’t elucidate the mechanism of its arrival. Shapiro admits that “only time will tell, and time is not amicable to us.”

Shapiro finds his time and place in the universe to be limiting but, in reality, they are most favorable:

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:26-27

When confronted with the possibility of the supernatural, Shapiro respectfully relegates anything beyond human senses and empirical proof as being something other than the science and the subject at hand. He stalwartly insists upon keeping the domains of science and philosophy separated into non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), yet he is not immune to a desire for something more. It is with some vulnerability that he states, “Well, to me, our very existence is a wonder…a wonder, a surprise, something that’s awesome.” Perhaps his affection for “a [fictitious] place called Xanth where every human being had some magical property” is a trace of the unrealized capacity for eternity burning within.

“[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Why would materialism lead to the conclusion that anything (much less everything) can be known? That which is bound by time and space cannot reach up to transcendence but rather transcendence must reach down to bestow not only knowledge but the very capacity for it. In a way, NOMA assumes that the philosophical realm does not align with the natural world – a dichotomy which is consistent with the naturalistic worldview, as alluded to by philosopher Kenneth Samples. Even so, the naturalist uses the same human brain to carry out the philosophical reasoning and logic as he does to conduct and accept science.

During the interview, Shapiro acknowledges that no one knows why there is something rather than nothing but then stops short. Perhaps the mystery of life is meant to lead us beyond the boundaries of empirical investigation – not to life’s origin but rather to its Source.

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” Proverb 25:2

Make your own tracks…Another synthetic chemist, James Tour, PhD, addresses his colleagues regarding the search for life’s origin: http://inference-review.com/article/an-open-letter-to-my-colleagues.

Frustrating Extraterrestrials, Part 2

Extraterrestrial impactors of the late heavy bombardment are thought to have made Earth’s surface inhospitable to the prebiotic chemistry and biomolecules, frustrating origin-of-life scenarios. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

The advent of Big Bang cosmology narrowed the history of universe to 13.8 billion years. From a naturalistic perspective, both chemical evolution and biological evolution must fit within this timeframe. (The production of extraterrestrial prebiotic and organic molecules would not be constrained to Earth’s formation 4.5 billion years ago [bya].) As plausible dates for the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) recede further and further into the past, less time is available for complex chemistry to birth first-life.

Fossil and geochemical data indicate that earliest life dates back to 3.7 bya, perhaps to 3.8+ bya.1  For example, rocks in Australia and South Africa dated at 3.3 and 3.5 bya bear the signs of fossilized prokaryotes. The carbon-12 enrichment of the samples implies past photosynthetic activity.2 Researchers do not question the early appearance of life but rather “the rapid emergence of cyanobacteria and complex photosynthetic processes.”3 pushing dates for a more chemically simplistic LUCA back even further. Chemical evolution and biological evolution therefore must vie against one another for the available cosmic time.

But as potential dates for first-life work their way further into the past, chemical evolution is pushed back into less-than-hospitable time in Earth’s history.  During the late heavy bombardment (LHB), impact collisions produced a hot, molten surface that would deter the formation of a permanent land and ocean features until about 3.85 bya.4,5 A very recently published paper asserts that ancient rocks in western Greenland and Eastern Canada show signs of life from as early as 3.95 bya.6 These new dates begin to overlap with this turbulent time period when warm, little, life-friendly ponds were not likely. Appeals to the Hadean Era (prior to the LHB) appear no more accommodating and require not just one, but “multiple, independent origin-of-life scenarios.”7 Neither do hydrothermal vents scenarios provide safe haven. Scientists estimate that the entire ocean cycles through such vents every 10 million years. This destructive process once again severely limits the timeframe for origin of life (OOL) and, once again, thwarts attempts to provide a naturalistic mechanism to produce life.8

“Traditionally, origin-of-life researchers have posited that chemical evolution took place over hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years. More recent assessments allow only about ten million years for life’s origin to take place.”9 Given the available timeframe, scientists like Antonio Lazcano and Stanley Miller must simply retrofit their time estimates for the evolution of cyanobacteria to suit.10 Furthermore, all OOL scenarios require the development of delicate RNA molecules that must be soon incorporated into living systems or degrade quickly11 – an independent indicator that life must develop rapidly. Meanwhile, no viable mechanisms have been determined to potentially produce life on early Earth – slowly or rapidly.

1 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 75.
2 Ibid, 70-4.
3 Ibid, 69.
4 Ibid, 63.
5 Ibid, 88.
6 Takayuki Tashiro et al., “Early trace of life from 3.95 Ga sedimentary rocks in Labrador, Canada,” Nature 549 (2017): 516-8, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v549/n7673/full/nature24019.html.
7 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 91.
8 Fazale Rana, Lecture #10: “Early Earth’s Environment,” Reasons Institute “Origin of Life” online course, 2017.
9 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 8.*
10 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 87, 90.
11 Ibid, 90.
*Page numbers not available in Kindle version.

Frustrating Extraterrestrials, Part 1

Artist’s depiction of extraterrestrial impactors of the late heavy bombardment striking Earth, perhaps the most significant origin-of-life frustration event. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

In order to understand how the requirements for life might have first been met, origin-of-life (OOL) scientists must determine the chemicals, conditions, and time(s) available to meet first-life’s requirements. Nucleosynthesis of hydrogen and helium began minutes after the Big Bang, then elements of increasing mass developed over time in burning stars and through supernova events. The formation of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorous are of particular interest since they are the elemental constituents of peptides, nucleotides, and phospholipids;1 these polymers are the organic precursors to proteins, nucleic acids, and cell membranes.2 “Chemical evolution and planetary evolution are [therefore] inextricably intertwined,” according to Alan Schwartz and Sherwood Chang.,3

Life-essential elements, prebiotic compounds, and even organic molecules, occur in interstellar space,4,5 comets,6  meteorites,7 asteroids, planets, and moons.8 Schwartz and Chang thereby assert that “organic matter occurs throughout the Universe as an integral component of cosmic evolution…[T]he prospect of identifying other life-harboring solar systems seems inevitable.”9 OOL researchers must yet determine how closely the prevalence of life directly corresponds to the proper abundances of necessary reagents, catalysts, and energies.

More specifically, Earth’s history and formation as part of the larger solar system must be considered in order to assess the plausibility of proposed OOL scenarios. The presence of interstellar organics might be thought to seed and speed Earth’s chemical evolution process; however, a steady pummeling of high-energy impactors during the Hadean Era, Moon-forming event, and late heavy bombardment (LBH) would have likely destroyed complex molecules, vaporized surface water, and significantly altered atmospheric conditions.

At this point, it should be noted that an inadequately founded assumption regarding the composition of the early atmosphere reduced (pun intended) the Miller-Urey proof-of-principle experiment from a milestone to a mile marker on the road to first-life. But during the OOL’s “greatest frustration event,” the LBH, impact collisions produced a hot, molten surface that would deter the formation of a permanent land and ocean features until about 3.85 billion years ago.10,11 Fossil and geochemical data indicate that earliest life dates back to 3.7 billion years ago (bya), perhaps to 3.8+ bya.12 The plausible window of opportunity for elaborate chemical pathways to produce Earth’s first life closes, nearly shut. “Origin-of-life researchers [now] recognize that life had no more than tens of millions of years to emerge”13 – a far different scenario that what could have ever been imagined by earlier scientists who accepted a steady-state model of the universe. A rapidly increasing understanding of how cosmological events impacted (pun intended) the early Earth is reshaping OOL models. Those seeking purely naturalistic scenarios find that life is hard and its origin frustrated.

1 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 33.
2 Ibid, 46.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid, 51.
5 Ibid, 52.
6 Ibid, 59.
7 Ibid, 62.
8 Ibid, 47.
9 Ibid.
10 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 63.
11 Ibid, 88.
12 Ibid, 75.
13 Ibid, 27.

Welcome to RNA World! Carefully watch your steps…

The proposed RNA World is a linchpin concept in origin-of-life (OOL) research. RNA seems to conveniently solve the chicken-or-egg dilemma faced by scientists who observe double-stranded DNA coding for the very same protein-based enzymes responsible for its own replication, transcription, and translation processes. In contrast, single-stranded RNA seems to multi-task well, both replicating and providing enzymatic functions. Furthermore, different RNAs mediate critical steps in the process of protein synthesis from DNA; their pivotal intermediary roles assumed to be embedded traces of a past RNA World. Yet the RNA World does not fare well in bottom-up chemical evolution models, especially when carefully managed proof-of-principle experiments in pristine laboratory conditions are compared to the environmental conditions likely present on the early Earth.

The RNA World is a necessary destination on the broader naturalistic pathway called chemical evolution. Upon entry to this primeval place of great OOL promise, some assembly will be required. Herein lies many problems. First, water breaks down nuclide polymers, “casting doubt on any soupy version of the RNA world – [e]ven the synthesis of the four bases required as building blocks is not without serious problems.”1 The two known synthetic pathways to produce cytosine are unlikely to have existed in sufficient quantities on the early Earth. Competing chemical interactions would be problematic and the half-life of the desired product insufficiently brief.2 Spark-discharge experiments and meteorites (assumed analogues of the primordial landscape) have even failed to produce any cytosine.3

Next, consider production of the five-carbon sugar ribose required for the RNA molecule’s backbone. The only known mechanism to assemble long-chain sugars is the formose reaction, which produces over forty different sugars along with many more unintended products when contaminants are present. Ribose yield is low and its instability high. Rapid breakdown is inevitable as evidenced by the striking lack of sugars in meteorite samples.4

Finally, phosphates play a crucial role in RNA (and DNA) backbone structure as well as for adenosine tri-phosphate molecules that can generously liberate energy for necessary chemical reactions to take place. Proposed chemical routes to produce polyphosphates encounter typical OOL problems when taking the primordial environmental conditions into consideration: inadequate concentrations of reactants, low product yields, chemical interference, and/or rapid degradation. In addition, although is Earth’s crust in the most phosphorus-rich material in the universe, it bears an elemental abundance of only 1,000 parts per million. Ross and Rana note that “[w]ithout life molecules (already assembled and operating), no known natural process can harvest the amounts of phosphorus necessary for life from the environment.”5

Synthesis of RNA’s homopolymer backbone is contingent on precisely controlled laboratory conditions and a high level of researcher involvement,6 and the characteristic right-handed chirality of RNA sugars only occurs in living systems. Outside a cell, enantiomers almost always tend towards racemic mixtures in relatively short order.7 The purported evolutionary capabilities of RNA also depend on a high level of intervention,8 which better supports intelligent design than chemical evolution by naturalistic processes. Despite their many successes in the laboratory, even the researchers have yet to make truly, self-replicating RNA molecule.9

Given the seemingly intractable problems of the RNA World, as well as dissatisfaction with metabolism-first OOL scenarios, researchers now look back further to a Pre-RNA World to set the stage. Achiral peptide nucleic acid (PNA)10 or threose nucleic acid (TNA) alternatives appear to solve some problems but concurrently add layers of complexity to an already daunting challenge.

“It may be claimed, without too much exaggeration, that the problem of the origin of life is the problem of the origin of the RNA World.” — Leslie E. Orgel11

1 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 134.
2 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 114.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid, 115-6.
5 Ibid, 96.
6 Ibid, 119-120.
7 Ibid.
8 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 121.
9 Ibid, 121.
10 Ibid, 135.
11 Leslie E. Orgel, “Prebiotic Chemistry and the Origin of the RNA World,” Critical Reviews in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 39 (March-April 2004): 99-123.
*Page numbers not available in Kindle version.

Who Moved My Primordial Soup?

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverb 18:17 (ESV)

The mere suggestion of a primordial soup made the idea of a naturalistic origin of life (OOL) easily imagined and readily accepted by both scientists and the public. The Miller-Urey experiment seemed to provide proof-of-principle for a mechanistic event that was both plausible and fairly simple; however, the assumed chemicals and conditions were simply irrelevant to those present on the early Earth.1 Although a more neutral (rather than strongly reducing) nacent atmosphere has since been accepted by the scientific establishment, laypeople still retain the textbook image of Miller’s experimental contraption in their memory. They confuse the production of a few amino acids with the creation of a living organism. They believe first-life was simple and therefore simple to make.  Meanwhile, scientists have come to realize that life’s origin is actually quite elusive, its location mysterious and mechanisms uncertain. The soup is not just murky – it’s missing.2,3

New OOL solutions have been sought in the neutral atmosphere of the early Earth to no avail. Either the necessary hydrogen tends to slip away due to an inadequate gravitational grasp4 or the chemically promising, but sparse, products yielded by carbon monoxide do not endure.5 The Earth’s crust and volcanic emissions have been found to be as oxidizing today as 3.6 billion years ago,6,7 and the oxygen-ultraviolet paradox continues to plague OOL conjecture.8 Perhaps most significantly, high-energy impactors are thought to have blasted away Earth’s initial atmosphere and vaporized its waters until the end of the late heavy bombardment around 3.8 billion years ago. Isotopic signatures of complex photosynthetic life appear in the oldest of remaining rocks around this time.9 Life shows up early and rapidly, with no warning and no soup.10

The possibility of OOL at hydrothermal vents is also severely constrained by time limitations since the early ocean is thought to have cycled through such vents at least once every 10 million years.11 As in many proposed OOL scenarios, the potential organic products of such hypothetical reactions are destroyed faster than they can be produced.12  Ever-promising and multi-functional RNA molecules are quite delicate under any extracellular conditions, and they would need to be incorporated into a living system quickly before degradation could occur.13 In addition, if nucleic acids become long enough to code for anything meaningful, it is also likely that they will be too long to be replicated accurately without a complete array of enzymes already in place.14

The extraterrestrial delivery of organic compounds via comets, meteorites, and interplanetary dust has been shown to have been insufficient to seed Earth’s abundant early life, even if the desired molecules were not incinerated upon entry into the atmosphere. 15 Perhaps only a combination of molecular sources can offer an adequate concentration of prebiotic compounds.16,17 Yet, all the varied chemical mechanisms make their own peculiar demands, many of which are antagonistic to others.18  How might they all come together at the same place and time?19

I have not even mentioned the origin of biological information or the homochirality of biomolecules yet.20 Simply put, for those seeking naturalistic OOL solutions, life is hard.

”So far, no geochemical evidence for the existence of a prebiotic soup has been published. Indeed, a number of scientists have challenged the prebiotic soup concept, noting that even if it existed, the concentration of organic building blocks in it would have been too small to be meaningful for prebiotic evolution.“ — Noam Lahav, Biogenesis: Theories of Life’s Origin

1 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 9.*
2 Ibid.
3 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 91.
4 Ibid, 90.
5 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 9.*
6 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 104.
7 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 9.*
8 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 103.
9 Ibid, 106.
10 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 9.*
11 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 105.
12 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 101-2.
13 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 90-91.
14 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 62.
15 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 103-4.
16 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 107-8.
17 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 95-6.
18 Fazale Rana, Lecture #12: “The Fossil Evidence,” Reasons Institute “Origin of Life” online course, 2017.
19 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 91.
20 Ibid, 49-121.
*Page numbers not available in Kindle version.

Variations on a Quandary

Is life’s song a transcendent composition or a collection of notes arranged in perceptible patterns? Characteristics common to contemporary life have accumulated, yet “life” is still not sufficiently characterized.1 Notwithstanding the lack of an adequate definition, life is universally acknowledged as being complex. Evolutionists assert a continuum of complexity bridging chemicals to creatures, but the minimum requirements for the simplest possible synthetic life-form are yet to be ascertained.2 What has been assumed to be “simple”3 may not have been so simple. Does Earth’s life reflect levels of increasing complexity or layers of irreducible complexity? Is life so complex that it must indeed be rare, or is it necessarily abundant throughout the universe?4,5 Is physical life (i.e., bacteria and plants) merely a “continual throughput of matter and energy,”6 distinguished from the inanimate only in death? If, according to Paul Davies, “[t]he living cell is crammed with miniature machines,”7 does death simply flip the switches to “off”? The question becomes even more complicated when considering soulish nephesh creatures or spiritual humans.

Apart from the philosophical or religious implications, origin-of-life researchers have their own set of concerns regarding the definition of life. Since science deals only with physical matter and processes, it is inherently reductionistic. Dr. Fazale Rana observes that “[u]nderstanding the operation of a system is not the same as explaining where it came from.”8 Unless life is reliably defined, how will researchers know when they have successfully found it or its origin?9 As they contemplate the possibility of chemical evolution on the early Earth, how fuzzy or distinct is the line that divides macromolecules and chemical reactions from independently functioning and replicating microbes? Is there anything actually primeval and vestigial lying within contemporary cells,10 or do such assertions by evolutionists simply beg the question?  When they look beyond Earth, how might scientists identify life’s precursors or extraterrestrial life-forms fundamentally novel in structure and function? Are hopes to indefinitely extend human life grounded in solid science or is the dream of transhumanism merely a cruel distraction from a Creator who can truly bestow Life?

Even so, definitions still matter in the here and now. Validation of artificial, synthetic, or novel life in the laboratory will depend on the precision of life’s definition.”11 Scientists sometimes describe life’s complexity as being instructed, specified, contextualized, and organized, but will a positive case for intentional complexity be made? Intentionality implies a Mind and Volition. Has a such a Being likewise endowed us with some level of free will? Davies observes that animals (even bacteria) seem to contain “some inner spark that gives them autonomy, so that they can (within limits) do as they please.”12 Making use of our free will, to Whom will we credit our existence?

1 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 2.*
2 Ibid.
3 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 60.
4 Ibid, 51.
5 Iris Fry, The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), Chapter 5, “Panspermia — Eternal Life in the Universe.”*
6 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 37.
7 Ibid, 35.
8 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 2.*
9 Ibid.
10 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 34, 49-50.
11 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 2.*
12 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 36.
*Kindle version did not include page numbers.

Original Quandary

Abiogenesis is the assertion that all life naturalistically and mechanistically developed from inorganic, inanimate matter. Outdated textbooks characterize this seamless molecules-to-men progression as indubitably supported by the scientific evidence. Those who discern a break in the continuum may prefer panspermia in order to relocate the discontinuity to an unknown extraterrestrial site and/or intelligence. In reality, scientists struggle to sufficiently define “life.” As biochemist Juan Oró observed, “It is easier to recognize life…than it is to define it.”1

Mainstream researchers working in origins-of-life (OOL) disciplines acknowledge that there is currently no viable OOL scenario based on today’s knowledge of early Earth conditions. The environment was too hostile and the time constraints too short. Many molecular transitions proposed by various OOL models may be scientifically plausible under highly specified conditions, but their undirected progression without confounding interruption is not scientifically probable.2

In Chapter 1 of Schopf’s “Life’s Origin,” Oró interacts with the worldview implications of a secular and cosmic OOL. He offers a utopian prescription for “children on the Universe” to coexist peacefully on Earth: treat[ing] others as we would like them to treat us.”3 However, his naturalistic worldview provides no solution or redress when its pivotal Golden Rule (borrowed from Christianity) is not observed. Why peace rather than war when nature is “red in tooth and claw” and “survival of the fittest” has brought you thus far? Unfortunately, the material universe is a vast and uncaring parent, and to be its child is to be bereft of ultimate meaning and significance. Children of a Creator, however, possess an eternal identity and purpose. To be created intentionally and loved sacrificially confers a knowledge of one’s value.

But what humans expend great cost and energy to create a mechanistic form of life – a self-replicating machine, programmed by scientists and composed of organic compounds fashioned from existing matter? It might happen in the not-so-distant future.4 Yet are we so boundless in our character and capabilities that we might endow any future version of it with “inalienable rights”? Might we grant access to other dimensions to which we have no passage or enact transcendent moral law over which we have no governance?

Human endeavors to create life should not be unanticipated; we are creative because we are made in the image of our Creator. Nevertheless, even the successful development of synthetic life certainly would not be evidence of an unplanned advancement of molecular transitions on the early Earth. Rather, it would be a brilliantly contrived and highly controlled endeavor indicative of intelligent agency.

Hebrews 2:3-4 tells us that “…the builder of the house has more honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” Perhaps we will find that what is true of “houses” will be also be true of man-made organisms. As elegant as a synthetic cell might be, the sophistication of its human designer will far exceed it. Then, in turn, the grandeur of God is still greater. He is the Builder of all things, providing both the minds and materials for every innovative endeavor.

1 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 3.
2 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe Press, 2014), 26-7.
3 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 40-1.
4 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 20.

Science & Scripture: God Speaks Through the World and to the World

Visit Science: God Speaks Through the World to find regularly updated resources that integrate science and theology. Select Scripture: God Speaks to the World for articles and videos about the historicity and reliability of Holy Scripture.

God the Geometer

Title: God as Architect/Builder/Geometer/Craftsman
From: The Frontispiece of Bible Moralisee
Style: Gothic
Date: mid-13th C.
Location: France
Codex Vindobonensis 2554 (French, ca. 1250), in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

Going Supernova

SN1994D_type_1a_supernova

SN 1994D (bright spot on the lower left), shines nearly as brightly as the adjacent NGC 4526 galaxy. Image credit: NASA/ESA“A supernova is an astronomical event that occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of a massive star’s life, whose dramatic and catastrophic destruction is marked by one final titanic explosion…Supernovae play a significant role in enriching the interstellar medium with the heavier atomic mass chemical elements. Furthermore, the expanding shock waves from supernova explosions can trigger the formation of new stars.” (Wikipedia)

Supernova explosions are among the most dramatic events witnessed in the night skies. In the throes of death, a massive and expanding star suddenly collapses. Gravity forcefully slams the star’s celestial substance into its stellar core to produce a high-energy shock wave and grand, explosive finale. A brilliant light suddenly appears in the sky, rendering our usual assortment of evening stars dim in contrast. A once giant star goes out, quite literally, with a bang. Its starlight will only linger a few months but its stardust will be distributed over great distances in the vastness of space, interacting with worlds far away for unknowable eons of time.

When visible from Earth, a supernova arrests the attention of those who realize its significance. Even those supernovae that go unrecognized, however, distribute various heavy metals to other planets. Most of Earth’s inhabitants do not realize that nearly the full complement of naturally occurring elements found in our periodic table were deposited here by multiple supernovae, each occurring at a particular time and place in relationship to our developing planet. The ashes of once giant stars provide the atomic building blocks for the life we experience and the advanced technologies we employ.

•••

In Scripture, we find a similar phenomenon. Sometimes a person transitions from being merely massive in their impact on the world around them to shining as a ultra-bright light with eternal influence. Samson is an example. He was renowned for the great military feats of his youth, but he also suffered greatly as he bore the consequences of sin. Yet he did not bear these consequences forever. He still had time to “go supernova.” He will ever be remembered for his final strategic attack on the Philistines (Judges 16: 28-30), and he is recorded among those who are known for their lives of faith (Hebrews 11:32).

In the New Testament we find other characters with different stories but similar stellar testimonies of faith in their final days and moments. Paul, for example, was the quintessential Pharisee, keeping every letter of the Law, minding every jot and tittle — yet struggling against the One he claimed to serve (Acts 9:1-19). He was a big star in his little world but yet to actually ignite. Eventually Paul was to be consumed by a ministry that would explosively shine the light of the Gospel beyond the world he knew and divinely distribute the inspired letters he penned throughout the Earth for millennia to follow.

Stephen, on the other hand, seemed to have lived a respectable and admirable life all along. The early church made him a deacon, but God made him a supernova light in the darkness around him. His face glowed with a transcendent radiance as he testified (before an unconverted Paul, still known as Saul) in his final, mortal moments (Acts 6:8-7:60). A larger-than-life character collapsed, reduced to ink on paper, but even now his story bursts forth from the pages of Scripture into the awareness of its readers for all time.

Throughout the Bible, many other “stars” have shone brightly for a brief time then quietly distributed their life-essential messages to far away places. They permeate not only space but also time for their words disseminate spiritual elements that edify the faith of those who come after them.

Even a guilty and dying thief made his way into the Holy Scriptures as he confessed the deity of Christ from a cross (Luke 23:32-43). Regardless of what our lives have yielded to this point and irrespective of the wrongs we have committed, let us pray to go supernova in the end — demonstrating God’s brilliant glory to a watching world even with our final breath.

trackMake your own tracks…
Learn more about your world and others in “Why the Universe Is the Way It Is” by Hugh Ross. “Starkindler” by Michael Card provides the perfect soundtrack as you start your exploration.

Copyright © 2016. The Literate Lyoness. All rights reserved.

Sons of Dust

Comet McNaught setting with the Sun over the Pacific Ocean

Comet McNaught over the Pacific Ocean at sunset. The Moon is shown to the right. Image credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer

Composed of icy cold dust and gas, comets are sometimes called the “dirty snowballs” of space. More recently, they have been characterized as “icy dirtballs.” Irrespective of monikers, one will occasionally streak into our solar system within view of Earth’s observers, and the show begins. As the comet bears in, the Sun heats its surface and a plume of jettisoned matter spews forth, glowing in the light that has unbound it and leaving a long trail of debris behind. A comet’s head may shine brighter in the sky than planets and stars, and its tail may stretch out for millions of miles behind.

•••

Creation

In Genesis 2:7 we read that “God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  Inorganic matter was enlivened to make a man; dust of the earth was infused with an essence from beyond it. Was this man, Adam, a “dusty spirit” or “spiritual dust”? Divinity had interfaced with dirt, and an image of the Trinity had transferred to a creature bearing body, soul, and spirit.

Rebellion

But to be the only creature taking on such grand characteristics of the transcendent Creator must have been too heady a proposition. Mankind found it difficult to believe that the full capacities of God were beyond his reach. Indeed, in a very mortal act of rebellion, something immortal died within. Now, rather than words of creation, words of judgment echoed in Adam’s ears: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19). Sent beyond the boundaries of the bounty, dust was ever in sight before him as he trod from Eden with his head hung low.

Remorse

How Adam wanted once again to sense that sweet breath that had filled, not just his lungs, but his very being from the beginning! For though he still drew breath, a different kind of Life within him was no longer sustained. Surely without it, he was not fully alive. The dust particles that had coalesced now seemed disparate, lacking integration, insufficiently cohering. The gravitas of his identity now seemed to wane as if something ethereal had effused from him. Eternity was in his heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and it was that Life-giving breath that had given weight and substance to everything he had been or ever could have become.

Repentance

Thousands of years later, David spoke words of comfort befitting all those like Adam:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)

David knew well his substance and pleaded for mercy. But he pleaded as a son. A son of dust.

Redemption

Redemption would ultimately come through one called the Son of Man. Among many miracles, he gave sight to a man born blind. The same One who had breathed into dry dust now spat to moisten it, and mud applied to staring, blank eyes reconfigured creation gone awry. Light once again penetrated darkness. The imagery evoked by this act was not lost as the man proclaimed to those still spiritually blind that “never since the world began” had such an act been heard of. (John 9:32)

O worship the King, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.*

Renewal

Several times in Revelation we read of men who, in the wake of judgment, respond with increasing rebellion. They are subsequently characterized as those who “dwell on the earth.” They embrace their earthiness, and it consumes their identity as they outgas the breath of God within them. But “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) They increasingly jettison their dustiness to become more and more breathy. And they find their citizenship elsewhere (Hebrews 11:16), a place where they must be changed to enter. (Isaiah 35:8, Revelation 21:27)

•••

As the Son makes his face shine upon our substance, may we reflect brightly his glory and leave a heritage of words, works, and worship trailing behind for all to see. For “those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

*”O Worship the King.” Original lyrics by Ro­bert Grant, in Christ­ian Psalm­o­dy, by Ed­ward H. Bick­er­steth, 1833, alt. This ver­sion is a re­work­ing of lyr­ics by Wil­liam Kethe in the Ge­ne­van Psalt­er of 1561.

trackMake your own tracks…“Light Up the Sky” by The Afters, as well as 2nd Chapter of Acts’ version of “Worship the King” in their Hymns Collection.

Copyright © 2016. The Literate Lyoness. All rights reserved.

Amplified Echoes 2014 now available

Revised_cover“Amplified Echoes” is now available in PDF format.

This 60-page compilation of 2014 Literate Lyoness blog posts are formatted to be read in Adobe Acrobat Reader’s 2-page view. Enjoy!

Possibly coming in 2015: “My Favorite Prophet Ezekiel.”  Subscribe to this blog to get updates. In the meantime, you can contact me at thelyoness@literatelyoness.com.

Discrepant Events

Lazarus of Bethany icon

Christ Raising Lazarus, Athens, 12-13th century icon.

From atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Galileo simultaneously dropped a massive canon ball alongside a much smaller musket ball. As they struck the the ground below with a single thud (more or less), a commonly held misconception was shattered. Shockingly, the erudite Aristotle had been erroneous in his assumption that two objects of different weights would drop at different rates. A simple demonstration to the contrary shook loose this faulty notion and plunged thinking minds forward into a new understanding of the natural world.

In the field of science education, such occasions are called “discrepant events.” Simple observations that fly in the face of what we expect, thereby necessitating the development of new explanations to make sense of it all.  Unnoticed weeds that have spread their roots through our minds are suddenly spotted and uprooted from our cognitive landscape — leaving a place for new ideas to grow.

In the New Testament we find that Jesus was often addressed as “Teacher.” And that he was. Scripture records his skillful questioning techniques, powerful illustrations, instructive metaphors and, yes, perfectly timed discrepant events. Perhaps no story better displays Jesus’ pedagogical prowess in the use of this particular technique than the story of Lazarus  in John 11.

In this well known account, Jesus is notified that his beloved friend Lazarus is sick. Nevertheless, he waits for a couple of days before going to visit. When he finally arrives, Lazarus has died and Jesus is met by the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha. Each sister approaches Jesus with the same faulty “if, then” statement: “If you have been here, then our brother would not have died.” Their hypothesis revealed misconceptions that would need to be unlearned before relearning could take place. They knew Jesus had healed others who were complete strangers, so why now did he not rush to the aid of his close friends? Why had he lingered with the Twelve, speaking in puzzling metaphors?

Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples in advance, but this lesson was going to be beyond words. It would need to permeate through them, beyond their minds and into their hearts and souls. And this discrepant event would not only generate cognitive dissonance, but emotional dissonance. The fabric of Mary and Martha’s thoughts and feelings would unravel into a mass of confused and disparate strands in order to be rewoven into a new garment of praise. (Isaiah 61:3) His precious  friends would be devastated, though only temporarily. But Jesus was himself so embedded into their lives that he entered into their grief with them. Alongside them, he wept.

Throughout the Gospels we find that Jesus met people where they they were before taking them where he knew they could be. For instance, the centurion already understood that time and space were not problematic for one with the authority and power to heal. (Matt. 8: 13) In that case, Jesus confirmed the man’s faith and moved on. But not in this case. Jesus didn’t answer questions directly and didn’t act immediately. Rather, he disoriented these folks enough that they started to reframe their questions.

And this Instructor had skillfully used proofs before. At least a few of his skeptics had learned not to challenge him about his ability to forgive sin. (Matt. 9:1-8) Now he extended his claims further and provided a sufficient miracle to back it up. With this event, he would declare that he was the Resurrection and the Life. By bringing Lazarus back to temporal life, he would prepare his friends and followers to understand something of eternal life.

Eventually Christ’s own resurrection would be declared a non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith as spoken by believers throughout the world in the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

When recited, the Creed sounds quite reverent and dignified. But make no mistake. The Father’s kingdom belongs to those of simple, child-like faith. (Matt. 18:1-6) Perhaps the most fundamental creed of every Christ-follower is captured in this most recognizable of songs:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but He is strong

trackMake your own tracks…Carefully examine Jesus’ instructional techniques as he speaks with both a rich, young man (Matt. 19:16-26) and a rich, old man (John 3:1-21) about how to obtain eternal life.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

Amplified Echoes

image“An echo is a reflection of sound, arriving at the listener some time after the direct sound.” (Wikipedia, June 16, 2014)

I plan to soon complete a post that will conclude a compilation titled “Amplified Echoes.” The title of the work reflects its intent: to speak again with clarity the words and ideas of ancient, holy scriptures — hopefully in ways that are fresh and compelling to contemporary readers. Featured icons, quotes, and lyrics are intended to evoke thankful reflection on the influence and work of saints around us, as well as those who have gone before.

“Amplified Echoes” will be dedicated to (at least) two saints influential in my own life, both who have recently completed their earthly journeys:

Virginia Ruth Fagan Lyon • January 20, 1936 – June 11, 2013

Carl C. Waggoner, Jr. • July 19, 1942 – July 30, 2013

They now are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” that cheer us on to the end of our own race. (Hebrews 12:1-3) May the Author who penned Bible stories through his servants of old continue to tell new stories of his greatness through our lives as we seek to follow Christ today.

***

“I’m an empty page;
I’m an open book.
Write Your story on my heart;
Come on and make Your mark!”

“Author of my hope.
Maker of the stars,
let me be Your work of art!
Won’t You write Your story on my heart?”*

*From “Write Your Story,” on the album If We’re Honest.
Written by Battistelli, Francesca; Garcia, David; Glover, Benjamin Michael.

***

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

Your Place in History

One of my favorite speakers and authors, Ravi Zacharias, often quotes Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990). Muggeridge was an English journalist as well as a soldier and spy during World War II. It was later in life that he began to write about Christianity and his personal faith.  His fascinating life story is summarized on Wikipedia, but his own synopsis of the times is provided below. As we consider his words, may we also consider our own place in history.

“We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’”

“I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.”

“All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.”

“All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.”

–Malcolm Muggeridge, 1980*

Zacharias seamlessly appends this quote with the following words:

“Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ…The more I look at the saviors of man, the more beautiful the Lamb of God looks to me.”**

*Malcom Muggeridge, “But Not of Christ,” Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith, ed. Cecil Kuhne (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 29-30.

**Ravi Zacharias, Let My People Think, “Absolute Truth in Relative Terms.”

Unholy Traffic

490px-Traffic_Jam,1953The roadways of the U.S. transportation system are a marvel of the modern, industrialized world. In a simple, pragmatic elegance, individuals daily execute complex patterns of motion to maintain their own particular life rhythms, operating their vehicles as part of a larger and interconnected symphony of mass motoring. To achieve this phenomenon, numerous factors have been carefully considered: mapping of routes, paving of roads, posting of signs and symbols, timing of traffic lights, manufacturing of vehicles to meet specifications, fueling of vehicles, allocation of parking, testing of drivers, lighting of thoroughfares, and the list goes on. And it all works beautifully…when it works. But when it doesn’t, an ordinary day can turn into a frustrating or even tragic day at a moment’s notice. For even in this most precisely planned of systems, there are variables. They are called drivers. Some drivers are largely ignorant of how the system is intended to work. Some drivers think the rules don’t really matter or just don’t apply to them. Others are distracted and oblivious to what is going on around them. Regardless of their state of mind, however, all these folks are wielding powerful machines and can easily become dangerous to themselves or others.

And so it is with sin. Sin creates traffic snarls in the patterns of our lives and those around us. God acts as a transcendent civil engineer to specify patterns that optimize movement. Not only with physical safety in mind, but with concern for our emotional and spiritual health as well. And his  prescribed patterns for safe travel on life’s journeys are born out of holiness, a divine trait foreign to mere mortals.

Holiness is different than goodness. Sometimes a term is best understood by learning what it is not. For example, “clean” can be described as “not dirty”; “dry” can be described as “not wet.” Some ideas are difficult to grasp without referencing a contrasting state that has been experienced by the reader. We have not experienced holiness, at least not in its fullness. This is a significant limitation, for the pure and unadulterated nature of the trait must be conveyed to comprehend the term. We have, however, experienced what it is not. We have experienced its generalized absence as “falleness” and its corruption or violation as “sin.”

Much like Jude (v. 3-4), I wish that I could only discuss pleasant concepts and beautiful thoughts, yet the bitter topic of sin must be addressed to remain true to the goal of promoting biblical literacy. And to be true to harsher realities that we all experience. It must especially be addressed during this time of year. For there is no spring without winter. There is no Easter without Good Friday. Yep, I just had to bring up the “s” word. And as soon as a Christian does so, non-Christians immediately begin to cry “hypocrite.” And indeed, there are hypocrites. And even if we are not deserving of the label, we probably at least sporadically demonstrate the characteristic of hypocrisy. But an accurate view of sin and holiness does not naturally lead to this end. Rather, it leads to humility. Authentic Christ-followers know that they are not devoid of sin, but are being saved from it. (1 John 1:8) Faith and obedience then follow out of love and gratitude rather than an effort to achieve a state of sinlessness.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.*

Like Paul, we find that it is better not to kick against the goads. (Acts 26:12-18) Or perhaps you more closely identify with barnyard animals…

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” (Psalm 32:8-9)

Try as we might, we don’t get to redefine holiness based on what we believe that we might be able to achieve. We are better off to just go ahead and confess what we might prefer to deny. When you are lost, stop and ask for directions. Get into the flow of traffic with corrected navigation and discover your part in the grand redemptive score — a holiness remix. (1 John 1:9)

*From lyrics at­trib­ut­ed to Ber­nard of Clair­vaux, 1153 (Sal­ve ca­put cru­en­ta­tum); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Ger­man by Paul Ger­hardt, 1656 (O Haupt voll Blut und Wund­en), and from La­tin to Eng­lish James W. Al­ex­and­er, 1830.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Arrangement of choice for this week is “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” on Beginnings by Fernando Ortega.

Hungry Royals

EstherMany Christians around the world are currently observing Lent. I rarely do. Left to my own devices, I tend to feel that life produces enough hardship to make additional self-imposed suffering or discomfort seem unnecessary. Just being honest. But fasting is a spiritual discipline mentioned sporadically throughout Holy Scripture, and it is particularly evident in Esther — the only book of the Bible where God’s presence is made conspicuous by the absence of any direct reference to him. Beyond fasting, the more prominently featured characters carry out some other activities that seem bizarre to those of us who live in a different time, culture, and hemisphere. We read that Queen Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews in Persia do things like tear their clothes, wear burlap-like rags, cover themselves in ashes, and wail aloud. All these acts fervently externalize the grief and terror within as they face the prospect of annihilation. The twists and turns of interwoven plot strands contained in this little book all come together to fashion one of the most fascinating and compelling narratives ever told. A story complete with wild parties, seduction and romance, an assassination  plot, a genocidal maniac, a temperamental king, an orphan turned queen, a short war, the pronouncement of a new holiday celebration (still observed to this day), and some very satisfying poetic justice. Even some divinely ordained insomnia.

But back to fasting…why would anyone do it? In the case of Esther, it appears to be a physical manifestation of weakness and unworthiness in approaching God during a time of dire need. But I think there must be more to it. I found that John Piper offers some noteworthy commentary in his book “A Hunger for God”:

Bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for his goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God himself…

In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship…Each has it’s appointed place and each has it’s danger. The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower…

[Fasting] is an intensifier of spiritual desire. It is a faithful enemy of fatal bondage to innocent things. It is the physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence: “This much, O God, I long for You and for the manifestation of Your glory in the world!”

At the end of Esther’s story we find that God indeed honors the prayers and fasting of the Jewish people. Fasting finally leads to feasting. And Queen Esther has played more than just a royal role. She has intervened on behalf of her people to save them from destruction. As Beth Moore points out in her women’s study on Esther, in a sense, this Jewish queen has also served a priestly role.

The book of Esther begins with Queen Vashti, who does not come before the king when summoned. But then enters Queen Esther, who risks her life by approaching the king though she has not been summoned. In doing so, she reconciles the Jewish people to the king and people of a foreign land. Likewise, we find in 1 Peter 2:9 that we to are to serve as royal priests (and priestesses), interceding and intervening for those around us in efforts to reconcile them to our Bridegroom and King. But unlike Esther, we are ever entreated to approach his throne with confidence. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…This week’s music pick is “Dance with the King” on Joy by Beckah Shae. Enjoy!

Reverent Roars

Little Drummer Boy_revised

A random search yielded this week’s image and the recommended song arrangement provided in Make Your Own Tracks. Both were found on a homeschool mom’s blog. Click the photo to visit her site.

Then I (Ezra) set apart twelve of the leading priests, together with Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God.  I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and 2 fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold. I said to them, “You, as well as these articles, are consecrated to the LORD.” Ezra 8:24-28

she-cub69:  Today I stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me. (Habakkuk 2:1)  O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3) Yet, what can this poor, wounded soul give to a mighty King? Can He who holds the world in place have anything of need?*

LoJαΩ:  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, [I] will not despise. (Psalm 51:17) For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’ (Isaiah 57:15)  For my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

she-cub69:  I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [this]…But I strain toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to which [You have] called me. (Philippians 3:12-14) For [you say] our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

LoJαΩ:  [Yes,] “this is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it, not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)

she-cub69: So this is why you often don’t answer “why”? For even if you tried to explain, in ignorance we might conclude that your desired outcome is not worth the cost of the plan to achieve it?

LoJαΩ:  And that would break my heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30) I have shown you what is good and what I require of you: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

she-cub69:  [So let] my soul [now] never cease to offer gifts of praise; I kneel in Spirit at your feet, a sinner saved by grace.*

And when [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before [Him], each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:8-10)

*Lyrics from “Hosanna,” Beyond Imagination, a youth song collection. Additional reference information to be added, as possible.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…A modern arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy” by Pentatonix can be experienced on YouTube. According to the lyrics of the song, what did the young musician learn about bringing gifts to a king? If you prefer a retro arrangement, check out “Little Drummer Boy,” by 4Him, Season of Love, 1993. 

Sheep and Wave-Particle Duality

image

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his Son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Psalm 2:10-12

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Genesis 1:1-3

The presence or absence of light seems pretty simplistic. With no conscious effort, we flip light switches on and off 24/7, as needed. But light is anything but simple. In fact, the nature of light has baffled the most brilliant scientists for decades. The conundrum lies in that light exhibits two seemingly different natures simultaneously. For lack of a single term to characterize it, light is said to have “wave-particle duality.” This means that light sometimes appears to behave like a propagating energy wave (with no mass). But then change the experimental set up, and as if on a whim, light taunts the watching and waiting investigators of the natural world by acting like a particulate. Particles typically have mass, but light does not. This paradox is vexing and perplexing enough that it can’t just be ignored. Terms that once seemed quite basic…”matter,” “energy,” “particle,” “wave”…now must be continually redefined to try to make sense of it. It’s kind of a big deal because the properties of light are key to understanding the cosmos. Every equation relating to general relativity (that I can remember from college physics, anyway) includes the constant “c,” which represents “the speed of light.” Yet at the beginning of the 21st century, we still lack illumination regarding exactly what this radical radiation is like. Fascinating though…in the ancient book of Genesis, even before the Sun could be seen in Earth’s sky (vs. 14-18), light already defined universal boundaries yet to be discovered.

And then, as I’ve mentioned before, there were creatures. And among them were sheep. Sheep do not know about the boundaries of the universe. It’s my understanding that they are not really that sure about how to find grass. This said, you may be insulted to learn that God often describes his followers as sheep. No one likes the idea of being helpless and dependent, even if they are. But when the frailty of the human condition becomes unavoidably apparent at a funeral, it is Psalm 23 that is commonly read to bring comfort. A psalm written from the perspective of a sheep, albeit a well-cared-for one. It is a well-known wellspring of words that flowed from the heart of God through David, a man who guided and protected the flock in his father’s pasture long before ruling the nation of Israel.

Admittedly, however, sheep do have one innate capability: voice recognition. Though spread out over wide expanses and mixed together with other herds, they know how to gather when they hear the distinct call of their Good Shepherd. In fact, a sheep might tell you that vision is overrated, for most threats come by night. Better to stay within earshot of the One with the staff that nudges strays, but whacks predators. Lots of animals can see in the daylight, but no matter what the commotion, only ovine ears accurately identify the specific voice signature that matters.

But beyond the typical sheep of the pasture, the Holy Scriptures are replete with references to the rather mysterious, other-worldly-sounding Lamb of God. The Lamb who opened not his mouth as he was led to the slaughter. Who died in submission to the will of the Father, though he had the authority to call upon legions of angels to rescue him. The Lamb who came to dwell among other sheep, but they knew him not. But this Lamb has yet another nature. You see, under the right conditions, he is quickly recognized as a Lion. Lambs may willingly submit to injustices, but lions take charge and call the shots. And this Lion sets things right, not with a wooden staff but with an iron scepter. (Psalm 2:9) You just can’t read the Bible for too long without coming to the conclusion that the Lamb of God who was slain is also the Lion of Judah who will reign.

How can two contrasting natures impossibly coexist? Herein lies the quandary of both theologians and physicists. Examination of unfolding changes in the space-time continuum are likely to elucidate these matters for both in short order.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

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Make your own tracks…Enjoy some retro reading from C.S Lewis’ “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe”:

“Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

And finally, just when you thought it was safe to listen to my music recommendations, take in some retro alternative rock tunes from AudioAdrenaline: “Mighty Good Leader” from Underdog, 1999.

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer

St. Patrick

The original cartoon for this contemporary icon of Saint Patrick was designed by Leona Phelps. Leona just turned 100 years old in January of this year, and I’m grateful to her for instilling in me an interest in the ancient icons of the Church. Click the image to read about the life and ministry of Saint Patrick.

There are many online resources that recount the perilous life of Saint Patrick and many versions of the Breastplate Prayer of Protection that bear his name. As he is the Patron Saint of Ireland, I thought it only proper to use this rendition from a Catholic site today.

Furthermore, I would encourage you to pray for the protection of those in the armed forces and law enforcement services who daily defend the freedoms of both nations and individuals, at great risk to themselves.

“I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.”

trackLeave your own tracks…For more modern protection praise, watch and listen to the very talented David Wesley perform “Whom Shall I Fear (The God of Angel Armies)” on YouTube. Like the Breastplate Prayer, the lyrics of this song capture the image of God’s protection on all sides.

Related scripture readings: Psalm 91 would probably be a closer match to the Breastplate Prayer, but I’m leaning toward Psalm 17 today.

The Triune Trifecta

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Version of “Hospitality of Abraham” by Andrei Rublev. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the three angels represent the three “distinct and unconfused” persons of God that share a single eternal and divine essence. Click image for source info.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b) That’s some tough talk from the Apostle Paul. So who exactly is this God he is talking about, and what is he supposed to be doing for me? We don’t even need to leave the chapter to find out.

The Father has adopted us as beloved children and heirs. Keep in mind that if you are adopted, you were chosen. You were not taken in by chance or by accident. And for guilty sinners, it works out really well to be related to the Judge. Though he judges your misdeeds righteously, he has already arranged payment for all penalties you incur so that you can always stand legally justified. And he appoints Christ, the Lover of your Soul, to speak on your behalf when any accusations arise. (Romans 8:32-34) His arguments for you are so passionate and sweet that you are not only cleared of charges, but declared delightful as well.

Icon_of_jesus_baptism

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all represented in this icon of the Baptism of Christ. Click here to learn more about the related Feast of Holy Theophany.
Click image for source info.

“My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!”*

But though we look forward to a more permanent experience of the transcendent, we still must deal with the daily, and sometimes tragic, nature of our earthbound existence. You don’t have to live too long to learn that “life” is not the same as “Life.” And sheer existence can at times be unspeakably horrific. There are seasons that can beat us down in such a way that we not only lack answers, but we no longer have questions. But God does not break bruised reeds (Matthew 12:20), nor does he ask them to speak. Rather, he sends a Trauma Counselor to help us in our exhausted incoherance. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

“While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.”*

According to Merriam-Webster, a trifecta is “a bet in which the person betting forecasts the first three finishers in a race in the correct order.” Three bets in one. According to Saint Paul, you can put your money (as well as your fleeting life and eternal soul) down on these Three. They are a trustworthy wager.

*Lyrics from “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” by Ray Palmer, 1830.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Carefully review all of Romans 8 to learn how this Triune Tag Team seamlessly integrates its activities to make both temporal and eternal provisions for Their own.

A Fair and Balanced Report on the Serpent: Part 2

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Nehushtan was the Hebrew name given to the bronze serpent held up by Moses to bring healing.
Click the image for a better view.

Flip forward to the Book of Numbers, and we find snakes sneaking up on folks again. This time the entire nation of Israel is in transit, and frankly, in sin. So much sin that it’s about to come back and bite them. Literally. God sends snakes to bite them. It’s wholly unpleasant and the body count is rising. But then there is repentance, and a strange but efficacious cure is made available: look at the bronze snake on the pole and live. (Numbers 21:4-9)

I realize this is a very short snake story. Just a single paragraph in one of the least quoted books of the Bible. But as primitive and obscure as this story might seem, it foreshadows the most profound and fundamental of biblical messages. In fact, this earthly imagery prepares us for the overarching metanarrative of all Holy Scripture, and it reappears just prior to one of the most well known verses of all time:

John 3:14-17 (NIV)

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Thousands of years later, God himself donned the skin of sinful mankind and was raised on a cross, the remedy for the malady of falleness and depravity for those who would see it. The cross was the pivot point upon which the redemption of all the world turned.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood, From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure; Save from wrath and make me pure.”

“Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.”*

It now became evident that God had made a preemptive strike even before the foundation of the Earth. Though He had not created evil itself, He had created the potential for the inception of evil which stood before the world’s inhabitants in the form of a clearly visible tree with a clearly comprehensible commandment. For without at least one Law, there would have been no way to externalize what would fester within. And there could be no repentance without awareness of an infraction. (See Romans 5:12-21 for more detail.) Human beings would have then suffered the same eternal consequences of fallen angels with no recourse.

“Not the labor of my hands Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.”*

Though mankind would indeed gain knowledge of both Good and Evil through their lost innocence, they would also potentially qualify for a benefits plan unavailable to fallen angels. A different system would be put in place this time — a system over which the more “angelic” angels would puzzle, yet rejoice. Indeed they would watch in wonder as the Holy One would reveal yet another facet of his character: that He was merciful and willing to suffer much to make his people aware of it. (Romans 11:32) For He who is incompletely comprehensible is likewise not completely incomprehensible. The glassy barrier now reflective, will one day become transparent. (I Corinthians 13:12)

So, don’t hold the whole Garden incident against the snakes in your backyard. God reclaimed and reframed this creature’s reputation by the fourth book of the Bible. At the same time, the Almighty not only crushed the true enemy’s head, but slapped him in the face as well. For ironically, Lucifer’s deceptive plot only served to advance God’s plan to enable men and women to become like Christ (1 John 3:2) — in a way, the very thing he falsely promised them in the beginning. How ’bout them apples?

*Lyrics from “Rock of Ages” by Au­gus­tus M. Top­la­dy, 1776.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Discuss what it means to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” as Jesus commanded his disciples in Matthew 10:16

A Fair and Balanced Report on the Serpent: Part 1

200px-Star_of_life3_svg

The Star of Life has become the internationally recognized logo of emergency medical personnel. Yet a snake on a rod seems like a strange symbol for healing and life-saving services. How did this sinister creature have its image so remarkably reframed?

Subtle and crafty, the serpent was to become known as Eden’s infamous interloper and Master Botanical SpinDoctor. He could execute a disinformation campaign convincingly enough to sell ice to Eskimos. Or, fruit to those who lived among fruit trees. Or, dissatisfaction to those experiencing the highest quality-of-life index. He ever so carefully sowed seeds of doubt  using false reasoning and half-truths, drawing Adam and Eve into whimsical delusions of grandeur while simultaneously arousing undue suspicion toward their loving Benefactor.

“Why be satisfied with what you have, when you could be obsessed with what you don’t have?”

“Why enjoy communion with the God of the universe when you could be just like him all on your own?”

Not only did his message effectively stimulate discontent, but the messenger himself was probably quite convincing. Adam and Eve had been tasked with managing the Garden, which included naming the animals that dwelt alongside them. They probably called various creatures to themselves, just as we call to our household pets of today. But this one…he addressed them. He seemed more “evolved” than the others. He could speak. He could reason. And how could he possibly know about the singular prohibition that God had given them? If this animal had found a way to become human-like, then he might actually know the secret of how humans could become God-like. A credible, yet ultimately flawed, conjecture.

So serpentine whispers sown in the wind would reap curious thoughts. Curious thoughts would reap self-aggrandizing temptation. Temptation would finally reap an infraction of the only Law in existence at that time. And, the infraction of that Law would reap a whirlwind that would wreak havoc for millennia to come.

In the short term, however, the beguiled and busted humans were immediately demoted from management to labor positions: manual labor for the man and birthing labor for the woman. And they were cast out of the Garden. As the old saying goes, “Sin takes further than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and makes you pay more than you want to pay.” And sadly, sin also has corporate effect. Adam and Eve would not suffer its ill effects alone. The impact of this single act would reverberate throughout the ages and throughout the Creation. What started subtly would not end subtly.

So what was up with this rotten serpent? And why didn’t the Garden Manager (Adam) just smash in his slimy head with a garden hoe right from the beginning?

It all makes more sense if you are familiar with the prequel. This particular serpent was being innervated by a more malevolent being, unlike any ever encountered before by man or beast on Earth. In another time and place, Lucifer had thought himself equal with God. He had gathered a minority contingent of other angelic beings who ultimately failed in their attempts to usurp the power and authority of the Almighty. The consequences were disastrous. They become outcasts from heaven a.k.a fallen angels, a.k.a devils or demons. But Lucifer was as much a victim of faulty thinking patterns as he was a purveyor of them. He conceived that he might still emerge victorious somehow. Maybe a change of venue, maybe a change in species. After all, if you can’t get to Superman, you go after Lois Lane. Right?

trackMake your own tracks…Check out Genesis Chapters 2-3 to read about the initial interaction of mankind with the serpent. Isaiah 14:12-14, Revelation 12:7-9, and Jude 1:6 provide some good material regarding the prequel story. Stay tuned. Next week, the snake is going to make a comeback.

Birds of the Air

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Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible waxes eloquent regarding this biblical scene and provides material far superior to my post. You can click the image to see a far superior icon.

Among Time Magazine’s Top 10 Most Heroic Animals we find a little homing pigeon called Cher Ami. This unlikely conscript saved the lives of nearly 200 American soldiers of the 77th Division’s “Lost Battalion” in France during World War 1. After being shot to the ground, this little bird took flight once again to deliver the critical message that dangled from his bullet-pierced, little leg (that eventually had to be amputated).

Mere pedestrians have long deemed their bipedal experience as merely pedestrian* and coveted the ability to soar. And one can only marvel at the hummingbird’s specialized hovering capabilities. Orville Wright stated that “learning the secret of flight from a bird was a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician.” Effortlessly and unknowingly, these tiny creatures employ the laws of physics to incite wonder in the minds of even the most brilliant engineers.

In the Holy Scriptures, we find birds serving in unique capacities due to their much desired gifting. Perhaps they were Cher Ami’s avian ancestors that served as divine couriers to Elijah. The mighty prophet who could invoke fire to fall from heaven (1 King’s 18:37-38) or conversely request that rain cease to fall (James 5:17) with a single prayer from his lips was required to passively sit and await the arrival of his daily bread brought to him by ravens. In Matthew 6:26 we find that birds are exemplary in their reliance upon God for provision, so it appears they were just passing the lesson along.

In “The Art of War,” Chinese military general and philosopher Sun Tzu (~544–496 BC) observed that “birds rising in flight [are] a sign that the enemy is lying in ambush.”  We also find cases of strategic birdwatching in the Bible. Though the historical characters of scripture could not fly, much could be inferred from a “bird’s-eye view.” While adrift on water as far as the human eye could see, Noah deployed a raven and a dove on surveillance and reconnaissance missions to determine if dry land and vegetation had resurfaced. (Genesis 8) Just as birds were used to indicate hope of a new Earth in Noah’s day, they likewise were utilized by Jesus to symbolically describe another time of renewed hope following worldwide calamity as described in Matthew 24:26-30: “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” (v. 28) In context, this passage simply indicates that one will not need to travel around looking for Christ’s return; His re-entry will be evident to all who simply look up (Luke 21:28). Perhaps he chose this more ominous bird to foreshadow the ultimate renewal of all things because His appearing will transpire in the midst of great turmoil and wrath. I’m open to hearing other possible explanations.

Doves, ravens, and even vultures get biblical press, but it is probably the sparrow that is most frequently referenced in both Christian sermon and song. Why so many “religious retweets”** regarding sparrows? Because of this encouraging contrast found in Luke 12:6-7:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

As it turns out, we are the creatures to be envied after all.

*Yep. Pun intended.
**Agreed. That one was awful.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks...Research the many references to birds in the Bible. What does God tell us about himself through them?

Death by Exposure: Part 2

woman-at-wellTwo thousand years pass. Then from the promised progeny of Abraham and Sarah, yet another son of even more miraculous heritage is born. And his path is about to intersect with that of a woman reminiscent of Hagar in several ways. She is apparently disenfranchised, living on the fringes of accepted society. She, too, arrives at a well, but she purposely travels there in the heat of the day. This unnamed woman seems to be more concerned about a different type of exposure. She has a story, in fact, several. She’s a regular in the tabloids of her day, and at midday, traffic is low around this 1st century water cooler. But also like Hagar, she has a lone Observer who is about to engage her in an unusual conversation.

 John 4

7 Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

She had been exposed. He saw her and knew her. And she was quickly putting together clues regarding his identity, but he certainly challenged some of her assumptions during their interaction. Her particular preconceptions may sound foreign to us, but they can be easily refashioned into similar constructs held by those you know, or even by you. Jesus goes about setting the record straight though, in both word and deed.

The disciples had thought it highly unusual that Jesus would speak one-on-one with a woman. Much less a Samaritan woman. Much less a Samaritan woman of poor reputation. Jesus was already demonstrating what the Apostle Paul would declare to the Galatians:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)

After all, Abraham’s original promise had concluded with the words,“through your offspring, all nations will be blessed.” (Genesis 22:18) As a Samaritan, the woman’s claims of Abrahamic heritage through Jacob (Abraham and Sarah’s grandson) were probably considered dubious to pedigreed Jews anyway. We see that Jesus quickly diverted her focus from bloodlines and sacred locations. His response to this woman echoed the truth that Hagar had learned. That Abraham’s provisions were only temporal. She was going to need something more substantial. That’s where the well comes in.

Abraham’s blessing for all nations was also described as the Light of the World. Exposure to this Light is wherein expiation lies. For it burns with such great intensity that some who encounter it die immediately, only to be simultaneously refreshed by a peculiar Water that restores them to Life. The Light consumes everything, yet all that is finally lost is dross.

“No man has seen Your face and lived,
and that’s what I’m asking You;
for just one look upon Your face
and I’d be made brand new.”

“Is it easier to forgive sin or to open up my blind eyes?
I want to see you right now;
I need to see you somehow, or I’ll die.”*

The Light is both terminal and transformational. And it burns through figurative fig leaves that are suddenly no longer found to be necessary. Eve was the first woman to find that fig leaves have insufficient SPF.

*Lyrics from “Open Up My Blind Eyes” on Singer Sower by 2nd Chapter of Acts.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…At the end of Chapter 11 of “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis, you can read about a ghost with a little pet lizard. Lewis’ friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, might have rewritten the haint to call the little creature “his precious.” See if you can determine how this story relates to the post above.

Death by Exposure: Part 1

Hagar was on the periphery of one of the most pivotal stories of human history. She was servant to Sarah, wife of Abraham. It had been revealed that Abraham and Sarah would miraculously conceive a son in their old age. And through this son, Abraham was to become the father of a nation — not just any nation, but the nation into which the Son of God would be born centuries later.

This glorious promise eventually degraded into a desperately devised work-around, however, as the patience of all parties began to wear thin. To keep the story short and discreet…Years went by, and no baby. Sarah suspects they must not have read the fine print. She wrongly concludes that God must need her strategic planning abilities. So, she offers Hagar as a surrogate. Abraham obliges. Hagar conceives. Sarah is jealous. A cat fight ensues.

Hagar runs away. But in the desert, she happens upon a spring. And at this spring, she meets an “angel,” or messenger. The messenger gives her advice (go back home) and provides some prophetic words about her son. He also tells her the reason for their encounter: “the Lord has heard of your misery.” (Genesis 16: 11) Suddenly, it seems there is a realization:

“You are the God who sees me…I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)

She is exposed. But she recognizes her audience. In that moment at the spring, she experiences a brief taste of the life to come when we will know as we are known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

The story continues though. Hagar indeed bears a son. But wait…Sara eventually births the child that was originally promised. Now there are two women, each with a son of Abraham — the patriarch through whom great inheritance and blessing will come. Things are about to get ugly again. Such are the scenarios that keep tabloids in business. But throughout the pages of the Bible we find that God’s plans are far more glorious than the people through whom they are implemented. He therefore continuously works out work-arounds of his own.

Eventually Sarah is ready to be rid of her servant and, interestingly, God assures Abraham that yet another nation will come from Hagar’s boy but that he will need to let them go. Abraham provides some bread and water for their journey, then Hagar and her young son wander into the wilderness. Abraham’s provisions run out, but new provisions are about to be given.

 Genesis 21:15-20

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. 17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.

Once again, there is One who is watching and listening. There is a moment of revelation, and Hagar’s eyes are opened to a well of water that would restore hope.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Read Genesis 15-17, 21:1-21 for the full biblical backstory on this post. Don’t email me yet though. Part 2 is forthcoming.

In Case of Emergency

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As a young man, Saint Nicholas was traveling by sea and the boat was overtaken by a storm. He prayed and the crew was amazed as the waters quieted. He apparently knew about the emergency procedure.
Commonly known for his good deeds on behalf of the poor, he also became known as the patron saint of sailors and merchants.

What do all of the following characters have in common?

  • One is lost and alone, wandering in the desert. Perhaps due to poor planning, bad directions, or an unexpected detour.
  • One is languishing in prison for crimes committed. He is receiving just penalty for his lawless misdeeds.
  • One is experiencing acute suffering due to irresponsible behavior. Wiser decisions might have kept him from his pain and shame.
  • One is a merchant marine at sea, struggling for survival in a raging storm. He was just doing business and living life, but God brought the storm upon him for unknown reasons.

All the characters described in Psalm 107 are in dire straits, but each has reached his predicament in a different way.  Some just happened upon their distress, and others found trouble on their own.

How would you write the end to each of their stories?  We can all root for the sailor to outlast the storm, emerging triumphant with a tale to tell his children and grandchildren. We can breath a sign of relief when the wanderer sees a city in the distance — finally, a destination where he will receive comfort and relief. But what about the criminal? Would we be satisfied to let him languish in prison? He’s just getting what he deserves, right? What about the foolish character?  He didn’t do anything illegal, but he just should have known better!  Hmmm. Maybe we would allow him to experience a miraculous recovery, but walk with a limp for the rest of his life — as a solemn reminder.

In Psalm 107, however, we find a God who is more ready to help than we might be. We find that he leads wanderers to dwelling places. He stills raging waters and brings weary and battered sailors to port. He rescues and heals the foolish, delivering them out of destruction brought upon themselves. He even brings prisoners out of the shadows and “shatters doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.” (v. 16)

Do you find it surprising that God graciously, and even enthusiastically, delivers all four men? Despite their apparent disparities in character, they were all able to access God’s mercy, and even his favor. They did have one thing in common as it turns out. They all did one very important thing. They each implemented the all-purpose, emergency response procedure: “they cried out to God in their trouble.” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28)

Perhaps we don’t write stories with harsher endings for others, but for ourselves.   Maybe we have resolved to suffer. Maybe we even deserve to suffer. Nevertheless, you have no crisis that has taken God by surprise. Follow the prescribed procedure. Then watch and wait. Modes of deliverance often differ as much as the nature of the distress. Sometimes the delivery is by degrees and sometimes it is by sudden emancipation. Sometimes the delivery is not seen; not absent, just not observable to the average onlooker. After all, the mysteries of God cannot be fully disclosed in a single chapter. In fact, the entirety of scripture  does not provide any formulas or decision trees to predict divine acts.  Sorry.

He does reveal a singular motivation for the his actions in all these scenarios, however. Immediately preceding these case studies, we read that “He is good and his love endures forever.” (I know your next question. There are entire books written to address it, so I’m sure it at least warrants its own stand-alone blog posting at a later date.)

And although He keeps the instructions simple in the moment of crisis, there are several follow up procedures. Giving thanks is a repeated theme (vs. 1, 8, 15, 21, 31). Then there is the exhortation “to let the redeemed of The Lord say so.” (v. 2) Finally, we are left pensive in verse 42…”Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of The Lord.”

And, how else will we learn to sing songs of deliverance? (v. 22)

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.*

*From “Jesus Lover of my Soul” by Charles Wes­ley, Hymns and Sac­red Po­ems, 1740.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…Tell someone about your own stories of deliverance.

The Christ Who Longs

Christ the SaviorAbout 10 years ago, I became a member of a book club, and our first assigned reading was “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In this story, a man named Florentino Ariza is to be wed in his youth to the beautiful Fermina Daza.  But under the pressure and influence of other people and circumstances, she dumps him and marries a rich doctor instead. So Florintino waits in hope for 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days for Fermina’s husband to die so that he can get another shot at marital bliss with this woman.

Though I finished off the book, I was unable to attend the meeting where it was discussed.  I’m guessing, however, that the nature of longing was addressed at length. From where does the desire for relationship, romantic or otherwise, come? I love the answer posed by the well-known author and scholar, C.S. Lewis. He believed the experience of longing or desire to be an internal signpost pointing us towards the God of the Christian faith. Lewis’ conclusion necessitates a belief in a relational God, and indeed, the entirety of biblical scripture is a drama of relationship lost and restored.

The story begins in a Garden where people walk and talk with the One who fashioned them to interact with Himself. But love cannot be forced. So He allows them to supplant relationship with their own ephemeral pursuits.  Man asserts his volition, then furtively loiters among the flora and fauna  where he used to stride in peace and confidence. Ultimately, the story ends in a City where the connectivity between God and man is reestablished, unimpeded by the sinfulness that made a mess of things in between.

Of course between the beginning and the end, there is a lot of hope and longing for the Messiah, or Christ, who would repair the rift between an unholy people and a holy God. In the meantime, humans try to commune with God in their own sin-handicapped sort of way. Catching glimpses of the divine and longing for more.

People like Job, who in while in great suffering declared, “I know my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth…I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25, 27)

The warrior-poet, David, crafted the verse recorded as Psalm 27:4 saying, or perhaps more likely singing, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

Nevertheless, when Christ finally appeared, he had to remind people who were caught up in rules that the first and foremost rule was one of relationship: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And that when you love God indeed, you will desire to live life within the parameters of that relationship.

Now it’s one thing to love God; he is perfect in beauty, grandeur, justice, and mercy. He is worthy of longing. But what is more amazing is that He longs for us.

At the end of the biblical narrative, humans once again dwell with their Maker.  The reunion is described as a wedding, with Christ being the bridegroom and his followers throughout all time collectively being called his bride.  Why the use of a bride-groom metaphor rather than a husband-wife metaphor? They would seem to be parallel, but there is a clear distinction. Anticipation. God himself eagerly awaits this divine consummation, revealing that “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.*

In Christ we find a bridegroom who waits for his bride, with even a more perfect expectancy than that of the fictitious Florintino Ariza.

*From “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, 1747.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…The biblical story is concisely summarized in the lyrics of “In the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable” by Stuart Townend, who specifically references the biblical Bride and Her Lover. There are several arrangements of this song that you may want to explore.

Capturing Wisdom

What if you were charged with the task of defining the word “wisdom”?  Really.
Take a moment and think about it…

All the nuances of this term are difficult to capture, at least in a concise way.

  • How is wisdom different than intelligence?
  • What is the role of life experience in the acquisition of wisdom?
  • How is wisdom accessed, and what does it look like when actualized?

Some abstract concepts connote so much meaning that words do not suffice to describe them.  So the Creator gets creative once again, painting pictures with words penned by Solomon.  Together, words and images coalesce to activate the mind, imagination, and experiences of the learner.

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An attempt to capture the concept of Wisdom while reading Proverbs 3:13-20…

Proverbs 3:13-20 (NIV)
13Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.
19 By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the
heavens in place;

20 by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

Wisdom is nothing if not implemented.  It is never just an idea or philosophy in isolation. “Wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”  (Matthew 11:19)  Wisdom must be acted out by a living agent, so perhaps this is why the literary technique of personification is employed.  And we find that wisdom is to be desired, but not as a purely intellectual pursuit.  More than that, it’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s relationally soothing, it’s physically nourishing.  And even more, we find that it’s the powerful force by which the foundations of the earth were forged.

Who may wield such a powerful force?  Despite its experiential nature, we find that wisdom is not always gained through the accumulation of years.  Nor disseminated through the abundance of words.  Just ask Job.  If you read his story, you find that his aged (and perhaps well-meaning) friends were less than impressive in their attempts to help.  The younger Elihu finally intervened, demonstrating that sometimes wisdom must take initiative — sometimes it must confront.  By it’s very nature, wisdom must somehow be expressed.

Job 32:6-22

So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit[b] in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. It is not only the old[c] who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.

10 “Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. 11 I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, 12I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments. 13 Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom; let God, not a man, refute him.’ 14 But Job has not marshaled his words against me, and I will not answer him with your arguments.

15 “They are dismayed and have no more to say; words have failed them. 16 Must I wait, now that they are silent, now that they stand there with no reply? 17 I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. 18 For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; 19 inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst. 20 I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply. 21 I will show no partiality, nor will I flatter anyone; 22 for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.

Wisdom that remains in the abstract is not wisdom at all.  Maybe we can learn something about its nature, even as we experience it vicariously through imagery.  The best thing about wisdom, however, is that it can be granted upon request as the Spirit of God is infused into its bearer.  (James 1:4-5)

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.*

*From “Be Thou My Vision.” Words: At­trib­ut­ed to Dal­lan For­gaill, 8th Cen­tu­ry (Rob tu mo bhoile, a Com­di cri­de); trans­lat­ed from an­cient Ir­ish to Eng­lish by Ma­ry E. Byrne, in “Eriú,” Jour­nal of the School of Ir­ish Learn­ing, 1905, and versed by El­ea­nor H. Hull, 1912, alt.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…Try painting (or drawing) an image representative of a complex biblical concept.

Favored in a Fallen World

Archangel_Gabriel“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28

Such a warm pronouncement, yet Mary was “greatly troubled…and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29)  She had been chosen to bear the long-awaited Messiah — a great honor for certain!  And those moved by the Spirit knew it.  Upon seeing Jesus in the temple courts, Simeon praised God for the appearance of a Light that would let those who would see it find their way out of darkness. He then gave Mary a blessing somewhat curious to our ears, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35)  Mary was going to experience the bittersweetness of being favored in a fallen world.

So began Mary’s special blessing, but also an onslaught of trials:

  • Her reputation was questioned due to Jesus’ supernatural conception.
  • She endured travel to Bethlehem on a donkey late in her pregnancy.
  • She surely grieved the deaths of the 300 other children born in Bethlehem as Herod sought to kill hers.
  • Her new family was soon displaced after the birth as they fled to Egypt.
  • Her son’s ministry was controversial among the religious leaders of Israel (as Simeon predicted), as well as within her own household.
  • She eventually watched her son be unjustly and cruelly executed.

But  joys, victories, and wondrous miracles were interspersed among these sorrows.  Bittersweet is an apt term to describe the outpouring of Mary’s favor, for her blessings ran counter to the nature of the fallen world around her.  In fact, both “bitter” and “sweet” are terms used to describe the hard prophetic messages given to the prophets Ezekiel and John.  Being commissioned by the God of the universe to deliver a message is certainly both glorious and sweet, but the delivery of the message to a hostile audience can be, well, bitter.  And Jesus’ life bore out the fullness of this reality.

The transcendent, divine love of God and the woe-filled sinfulness of the present age are beautifully juxtaposed in song:

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?*

Just as Mary knew Christ in his sufferings, however, she also knew him in the glory of his resurrection from the dead.  And, perhaps it was even the bitterness of circumstance that maintained her sweetness.  Much like Paul who found that thorns brought with them humility and a reliance on the grace of God, and his weaknesses showcased the power of Christ.

What bitterness compares to the sweetness of having known and been known, loved and been loved, by the God and Creator of the universe?

*From “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…Make a comment or contact me at thelyoness@literatelyoness.com. Also take a look at Star of Bethlehem Documentary 2007 – Rick Larson on YouTube.