A Wacky Idea

Dear Reader,

So I has kind of a wacky idea. I don’t really know what conclusions to draw from it and I think it is probably better if I don’t try.

I was reading how scientists now think, based on DNA evidence, that early humans interbred with Neanderthals. Now I don’t quite know where I stand on the whole creation thing (though I have done a lot of posts on it; see the most recent example which includes many links here). One aspect I am not willing to let go of is that people are not just highly evolved animals. There is something fundamentally different about us — we are spiritual creatures, which they are not, and we are made in the image of God which means a whole host of things including that we are relational, have authority, and are creative among others. These are concepts I can’t give up for theological reasons. So my tendency is to think that whatever natural selection may have occurred in the earth’s history, people themselves probably did not evolve from animals.

Nonetheless, I found this idea — that there is evidence of other races in the human genome intriguing. (Of course, I don’t mean “races” in the sense we usually use it, to distinguish different people groups. But I don’t want to say “species” either because different species by definition can’t interbreed and these clearly could since it is evidence of interbreeding we are looking at.) Something started resonating in my brain when I read this. Where do we hear of humans interbreeding with other kinds of creatures? The beginning of Genesis 6 leaps to mind. We are told here that the “sons of God” came down and intermarried with “the daughters of men.” It is hard to know how to take this passage. I have never really heard a satisfying explanation. Some say that this simply means that good, godly men married ungodly women. Others look for a more extraterrestrial (if you will) explanation. Fallen angels seems to be the most common one. Though in other places it seems like it is implied that angels are not sexual creatures. Though  we are not given a lot of info on it, it does seem like there are various kinds of heavenly creatures so perhaps this is true of some but not others. Still, it is not a very satisfying answer. There are also other peoples in the Bible whose identity is vague. Their common characteristic seems to be that they are big. The Anakim and Rephaim are two such groups. Goliath and his family were perhaps their descendents.

What does all this mean? Again, I don’t know and am hesitant to try to say. Only there is this: science tells us that at some point in human history people interbred with other closely related creatures. The Bible also tells us that there was a time when people interbred with non-people (but creatures who were nonetheless genetically compatible with them).

Nebby

Jeremiah 1, Or Why You Should All Learn Hebrew (Part 1)

Dear Reader,

I am a good reformed girl and I know that it is really important that everyone have access to God’s Word in their native tongue. But as someone who has studied biblical Hebrew, sometimes I just think that we can miss so much when we read the Bible in translation. I have talked about this some before in my posts on the Psalms (there are too many to link to easily; you can search on “psalm”). I think it is probably more of an issue with the Old Testament than the New since Hebrew thought, its literary forms, and ways of speaking are more foreign to us. There is a middle ground though. Instead of everyone learning Hebrew we can educate people so that they understand a bit better how Hebrew works and appreciate the beauty of God’s Word more. Consider this your first lesson :)

I was reading through the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah recently and was struck by three things that I think might have escaped me if I were reading it in English.

The first point is just about how Hebrew poetry works. I have said this before (see this post), but it bears repeating. Biblical poetry is not based on rhyme (there is some debate about to what degree rhythm figures in it; we can at least say that it is of secondary importance). Instead, Hebrew poetry uses repetition, specifically parallelism. Have you ever noticed that the Psalms seem to say things more than once? Think of the 23rd which is so well-known. In the ESV, it reads:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.” (Ps. 23:1-3)

Notice in particular the 2nd through 5th lines. They all follow the same basic pattern and say very similar things as well. This is parallelism. On its most basic level, the parallelism consist of just two lines (like a rhyming couplet in English). In Psalm 23 we get a kind of extended parallelism. Just as rhyme schemes can vary, so too paralellism can take different forms (but that is a subject for another post). But we must be careful lest we read such passages and think “okay, I got it” and skim over the details because it does seem so repetitive. There is meaning in biblical parallelism. It is never just about repetition. For instance, in the above quote there is a movement from the shepherd image taken literally (the “green pastures” and “waters”) and to something more theoretical (“paths of righteousness”). I think the form here is significant as well; the extended parallelism serves to highlight God’s faithfulness. Said another way, the repetition of similar ideas illustrates for us the continuity of the Lord’s care for us. It is also is repetitive (in a good way).

To return again to Jeremiah, the first chapter begins with an introduction to the career of the prophet, telling us when he worked (dated by the kings during whose reigns he prophesied) and using language (“the word of Jeremiah”, “the word of the LORD”) which places us clearly in the realm of prophesy. It then moves on to give us a description of the prophet’s call:

“The word of the LORD was unto me, saying:

‘Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you;

And before you came out from the womb, I set you apart;*

A prophet to the nations I made you.'” (Jer. 1:4-5; my translation)

*literally “I made you holy”, in the sense of set apart for a sacred purpose; in Hebrew it is one word

Notice the parallelism in the second and third lines. It is not a major point by any means, but the ESV translates in the third line “before you were born”, but “were born” in Hebrew is more literally “came out from the womb.” There is nothing technically wrong with the ESV’s translation. It captures the meaning of the Hebrew. But in doing so, it obscures the underlying Hebrew idiom and does away with the prepositional phrase. Because this phrase was parallel to the one in the previous line, the parallelism is not as complete. Is there a difference in meaning? I am hard pressed to find one in this instance. But I am saddened that the text is not as lovely.

Meaning is often conveyed through parallelism (as in Psalm 23). Another aspect of Hebrew poetry which adds to its beauty though it is less likely to add to the meaning in and of itself (I will not say it never does) is the sound of the words. Hebrew likes to repeat sounds. In English we like best to rhyme the end of words (fat, cat, sat) but we also use things like assonance and alliteration. Hebrew too likes to repeat sounds or use similar sounds. The section of Psalm 23 above actually has a lot of sound repetition as well. In this brief section of Jeremiah, there is a repetition of a certain vowel pattern. The words in the second and third lines for before, belly and womb all have the e-e pattern (in Hebrew they are called segholate nouns; seghol is the Hebrew short e). In addition yo the parallel structure of these two lines, this repetition of the vowel sounds also serves to draw these two verse segments together. The effect of this is to make the last part of the verse (line 4 as I have laid it out above) stand apart. And, indeed, it is in this verset that we find the heart of the message. It amounts to “I have made you, Jeremiah, my prophet.” The first two parts leave us wondering why God has chosen Jeremiah; the last part gives the answer. Does this all come across in your English translation? Maybe. Check it out for yourself and let me know. My point though is that the very structure of the Hebrew text serves to highlight the message. It is lovely but there is also meaning that is added, or at least highlighted, through the devices of parallelism and repetition of sounds.

I have a couple more things to point out in this first chapter of Jeremiah, but as this post is getting long already, I will save them for part 2. Stay tuned.

Nebby

The Cool Kids

Dear Reader,

Have you seen the study which came out recently showing that “cool” kids do not do well later in life? I have seen it in a couple of places. You can read a summary here. This seems to me to be one of those “well, duh” studies. The kids they deemed cool: had more attractive friends, were dating early, and disobeyed authority more including stealing, damaging property and using drugs. It’s hard to believe such qualities would not pay off later in life, huh? It’s like no one involved ever read the book of Proverbs. These are clearly not rewarded behaviors long-term but I guess this is news now.

I think the real question we should be asking is why these qualities are what makes one cool or popular as a middle schooler (which is when they first looked at these kids). I suspect these students are a minority of the their population (it wouldn’t be much good is too many kids were popular anyway) so why don’t all the rest stand up and just say “No, this is not cool. We won’t define it this way anymore.” I know, middle schoolers will never do such things. But I am really glad my kids are not in that fish-bowl culture which teaches them that vanity, early sexuality and disrespect are the prime values.

Nebby

Book Finds

Dear Reader,

Our library has taken in recent weeks to having a shelf of free books in the children’s section. Many of these are not very interesting but I have come across a few that I consider real finds. One is on a subject we will be covering this year and the other is on a subject I would like to cover. Both are appropriate for my two older kids (whereas many give-away books are for younger children) and both seem to be living books. Here they are:

books1We are going to be continuing our study of American history this year, beginning with the Revolution, so I don’t think it will be too many months before we are on to the Constitution and the American government. The first book, The Great Constitution, is just what I was looking for for this.

books3I have read the first couple of chapters and it is a well-written account of how the constitutional convention came to be. It is not hard reading but is detailed and gives a good picture of the character of the participants. Plus it has lots of pictures.

The other book would fit under the subject heading anatomy which is something I would like to cover if time permits.

books2It is called Spare Parts and is about how we have and will alter the human body. I have read the first chapter so far which is a history of prosthetics, nose jobs and the like. It is interesting if sometimes disgusting. I think my soon to be 14-year-old boy will like it.

The real question is why is a library giving away these books? There are so many more on their shelves which I would consider expendable. I am happy to have these books for my own, of course, but I worry about the standards our libraries have when they give away the living books. I suspect it is a matter of looking to see what hasn’t been checked out ni an age and purging to make room for new books. But it is still sad.

Nebby

 

Difficult Boys

Dear Reader,

I have two boys and two girls and in many ways I would say parenting the girls is harder. The issues they present are much more vague and emotional. There is a lot of whining and attitude problems and with those it is often hard to know where to draw the line. Boys, in contrast, can be very clear cut. You hit your brother? That is wrong. It’s much easier to see where the lines are.

But some boys (and I have one of these) are difficult to parent in that they never seem to learn. They are incorrigible. Some of them just don’t respond well to discipline. Or they don’t remember. There is a constantness to them that really wears a parent down. And a physicality that is hard to take. They are always in some one’s face, on top of some one, needing stimulation. They can be very competitive and confrontational.

So how do we deal with boys like this? I don’t have all the answers by any means (or my own would not be such a trial) and I know there are lots of books out there on difficult boys. But I do have  two thoughts. Neither is a clever discipline trick to solve your problems, I am afraid. They are, rather, a bit of perspective on how we as parents should view our difficult boys.

The first is the simple but comforting idea that not only is this not a new phenomenon, it is one as old as the human race. Reading through Genesis, I am struck by how many of the main players seem to be just this sort of boy. Now some are not good examples like Cain. No mom wants her son to end up like him. Ishmael and Esau both seem to be wild men. Jacob is trouble in a different way — the sort of boy who is deceptive and always hatching a plan. Joseph starts out proud and braggy. His brothers are not much better. And yet God chose some of these to be the leaders and forefathers of His people. In the New Testament, many of the disciples seem to fit the bill as well. Some were revolutionaries. Others are self-promoting. Or they have hair-trigger tempers. They are trouble quite often. Yet again God chose these men.

So my first big thought is that God can and does use people like this. Indeed, more often than not God seems to choose the people that we would not expect Him to. There is a warning in here for us parents, especially if like me you have two boys. Don’t assume that the “good” one is okay and that the other one is the one to worry about. You don’t know their hearts, not for sure. And you don’t know if and how God will use them.

Which brings me to my second idea — a lot of the same qualities that drive me crazy as a parent could be really useful to God. My son, unlike the rest of his family, is not a quiet person. And he has no problem with conflict. Indeed, he seeks it out and creates it. It seems like trouble now but which child do you think would be able to go into a foreign environment and tell people about Christ? Or, perhaps more scary, to stay home and tell his neighbors things they don’t want to hear? I am not saying my son is perfect — he isn’t. But I am also beginning to see that he has qualities which may serve him (and his God) well later in life.

So those are my two ideas. I hope they are encouraging to other parents of difficult boys (or girls for that matter). We still have to parent them which includes discipline, but perhaps at the same time we can begin to envision all the ways their more abrasive characters can actually be used for good.

Nebby

THM Recipe: Peanut Butter Cookie (S)

Dear Reader,

It’s gluten, dairy, and soy free. It is virtually carb free. It cooks in one minute (or so) in your microwave.  And it’s yummy.

Peanut Butter Cookie for One (S)

Ingredients:

2 tbsp coconut flour

1 tbsp defatted peanut flour

2.5 tbsp xylitol (or to taste)

1/4 tsp baking powder (you can omit this for a denser cookie)

1/8 tsp salt

splash vanilla

1 egg

2 tbsp coconut oil (melted will be easier to stir)

2 tbsp water

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl, saving 1/2 tbsp of xylitol. Mix well until it is all of a uniform consistency. Sprinkle remaining xylitol on top. Microwave on high for 1- 1.5 minutes. It should be set on top but still soft. Enjoy!

Here it is topped with whipped cream.

Here it is topped with whipped cream.

Nebby

 

Why Evolution?

Dear Reader,

If God used a long evolution to create the world as we know it with all its various creatures, why did He do so?

I do not mean here to ask whether God used evolution or not. I have discussed creation and evolution in a number of previous posts (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; I told you there were a lot, and technically that series of posts is not finished though I haven’t worked on it in a while). My question is really if God chose to use evolution, if He allowed many species to die out before man was even born (including, of course, dinosaurs), why did He do so? I don’t want to oversimplify anyone’s position; I know there are a lot of reasons young earth creationists believe as they do. But I wonder if part of the reasons that some Christians are so resistant to the idea of evolution is that it seems to take the focus off the human race. If the earth is billions of years old and we are relative newcomers on it, well, that seems to make it all less about us, doesn’t it?

This must be how Copernicus’ contemporaries felt when he said that the earth was not the center of the universe. He argued that the universe doesn’t revolve around us. But does it? Theologically does it? I think the Bible tends to tell us that it does. Of course it tells us nothing about other worlds that might be peopled with other races (not that I believe in such things, but I don’t think the Bible rules them out). But in our own world, God places man at the head. He names and rules over the animals. He subdues the earth. In time, he will even judge angels. It’s a pretty important position.

So if man is the pinnacle of God’s creation, why would He waste billions of years getting there?

One possible answer is that God was getting the earth just right for us. I am thinking now of its geological layers. He knew we would need oil and coal and gold and other metals. So He took the time to lay these down deep in the earth for us to mine out. Fossil fuels require living things to have died and been buried long ago. So the great age of the earth (if one accepts such theories) would give Him time to get everything right for us. It is rather a nice picture, I think, of a God who is planning ahead, like a mother preparing a nursery, to get everything in place which will be needed.

Of course, God being God, He could have just made the earth with all these things in it. The earth could have an apparent rather than an actual history. Switch the other preparing the nursery image above for Samantha from Bewtiched snapping her fingers and everything that is needed appears in its proper place in an instant. This is, I will admit, much closer to the picture the Bible gives us of a very quick creation in which as soon as God speaks a thing it is done. But the first picture has something the second doesn’t — love. The instantaneous snap leaves no room for pondering and considering the loved one. No room for consideration and savoring. Perhaps the mother in the first scenario could have paid someone to come in and stock her nursery in a day. But she enjoys the process. She treasures each minute of fingering the little onesies and imaging how they will be used. It is a joy to do it herself and to take her time over it because she does it for the one she loves (already! though he or she is not there yet).

A slightly different picture takes us out of the picture. God is creative. Maybe like an artist, He enjoys the process. Maybe He felt no need to rush it and even before we, His people, were there He savored the process. He delights in His creation; maybe He delighted in the dinosaurs and everything else that existed before people did.

Finally (and these explanations are by no means mutually exclusive), maybe God is trying to tell us something.We were watching a Great Courses video on geology recently and one thing that came out is that there was a constant process of death and new life throughout the earth’s history. For example, when the large reptiles die out in a relatively short span of time, this allowed the larger mammals to surge to prominence. They became both larger and much more abundant very quickly (geologically speaking). This is perhaps one of the better known examples but it is not the only one. One of the points being made was that this sequence of events has happened over and over again. And it struck me that this is just how God communicates to us. He likes to repeat a theme. In Bible studies we call them types and antitypes. Think of all the things in the Bible which take three days. Or all the times water is parted. Or all the times God chooses the younger son, the one no one expects. The list could go on and on. And not only God does repeat Himself (presumably to get things into our thick heads), even the nature of the message here is His sort of thing — death brings forth new life.

Did God use any sort of evolution? I don’t know. But rather than reading about evolution and being repulsed and thinking that this whole theory removes God from the process and is anathema, I get a different picture — of a God who savors and delights in His creation and in preparing a place for His children and even of a God who is setting up the patterns He will continue to follow of death and new life.

I realize this is a touchy-feely type argument and I am not usually a touchy-feely person. But I also think that a lot of our discussions about evolution (and other things) are influenced more than we realize by our own preconceived notions and feelings. I don’t mean to discount the biblical evidence. My point here is simply that evolution need not preclude God and that I can even see ways in which it seems to fit with the character of the God I know. Honestly, when I read scientific descriptions of how the earth was formed or how its many creatures, past and present, came to be, I find myself more in awe of creation and therefore of its Creator, not less.

Nebby

 

 

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