Framing Life


Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

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Ghost Ship Trial Update

On Thursday September 5, Max Harris was acquitted of all charges against him, 36 counts of manslaughter. His co-defendant Derick Almena was neither acquitted nor convicted; the jury was hung, and a mistrial was declared. He remains in prison while Max is a free man in Oakland today.

The acquittal is hard for the victims' families, yet it is just and lawful.

The Role of Intuition in Theology

In Jacques Hadamard's book The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field the author advances a view of innovation or invention in mathematics, based on evidence and personal reflection of many mathematical luminaries such as Einstein, Pascal and Wiener and with much reliance on the self-reflection of Poincaré. Hadamard himself was a notable mathematician in his own right. His survey of the process involved in mathematical innovation highlights significant similarities among practicioners across the centuries, and this gives his work weight, in my opinion.

Briefly, he argues that mathematical discovery typically occurs in two steps: an intuitive step and a rational step (my terms). In the former, the mathematician 'sees' or somehow grasps an abstract entity and some property of it. Mathematicians often speak of the 'beauty' of mathematics, and this is in direct reference to the structures and objects that are discovered and incorporated into mathematics. I use the word 'discovered' advisedly, as it is my belief that mathematical objects and their properties somehow exist independently of our minds and are capable of being discovered by us. I do not agree that mathematical objects and structures are purely expressions of our minds or consciousness, but this is the other major view held. Both views have many proponents, though I'd guess that the former is predominant.

The intuitive step thus is an apprehension or glimpse into this abstract realm, inviting study and investigation. But one cannot conduct further study by intuiting; rather, further study is conducted by formalizing a definition, property or theorem to be proved. In other words, the rational step takes the opening provided by the intuitive step, formalizes it with definitions and proofs, and presents it to our rational faculties for examination and approval. As well, in this form, the new realization is conveyed to other mathematicians.

In my own limited mathematical experience, I can testify that there is a kind of 'knowing by seeing' the object in some abstract vision in the mind. This precedes useful interaction on a formal level with such entities. The two modes of knowing/seeing and formal interaction are real.

This leads me to advance and apply Hadamard's conclusions to theology, namely, in theology as in mathematics there is an intuitive element of knowing or seeing a spiritual or biblical truth, followed by a more rigorous support and defense of some truth, by appeal to the Scriptures, and possibly to church tradition and other writers. There are significant differences between theology and mathematics: a theological truth is not susceptible to rigorous formal proof, as are the truths of mathematics. A theological truth is more like a theory in the physical sciences, in which a theory gains increasing stature by cumulative agreement and support from experiment, and by lack of counterexamples. In the realm of theology, some truths may seem radical at first, yet they gain prominence by various means of support and agreement from the Scripture, from the opinions of others looking at Scripture, and from their explanatory power. An example might be the notion of 'covenant' which is certainly present in Scripture and which, on further examination, seems to permeate God's dealing with us in redemptive history. In theology as in science, no proposition is ever proved with absolute formal certainty (but what would such a proof in theology mean, in any case?), but ever-closer approximations to truth seem possible.

In theology, as in mathematics, it is not sufficient to intuit or grasp with some inner vision a spiritual truth. While in mathematics the intuitive vision must be validated by rigorous proof, in theology the intuitive vision must be validated by explicit appeal to the words and text of Scripture. Only after that occurs can we rely on the theological truth, even if it is somehow 'obvious' to others. Thus, we do not wish to deprecate or disparage the role of intuition in grasping spiritual truths, but we wish to assert that it is not complete until passing some form of rational and cognitive muster. Neither, incidentally, is it valid to assert some theological truth purely based on rational considerations. No, if it is true, it will be true intuitively and rationally.

Theological inquiry and spiritual understanding require both (spiritual) intuition and (a sanctified) rational capability. Our practice of theology is impacted negatively by the effects of sin, making the joint application of intuition and rationality more urgent. Rationality can check and counterbalance imperfect and inaccurate intuitions, and intuition can inform and direct formal inquiry.

In the body of Christ, there will be those excelling in spiritual intuition and also those excelling in rational methods of inquiry. It is critical to note that neither camp can say to the other, "I have no need of you." These two faculties form complementary parts of an overall enterprise, one that God has given to us to do.

Reference: The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field by Jacques Hadamard; 1945, Dover 1954.

The Invaders

Here it is. I know you've been waiting for it.

Starring Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent.

The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet.

Their destination: the Earth.

Their purpose: to make it their world.

David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun.

"Luke, Trust Your Feelings"

This advice was given to young Luke Skywalker by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. It is a question to wonder why this advice needed to be given to Luke in the setting of the movie and to us as movie-watchers in second half of the 20th century. The advice given suggests that we might otherwise trust some other of our faculties, presumably our minds, for guidance. Humanity has trusted and relied upon the mind and its products off and on for centuries, attempting to conquer or ignore our 'baser' selves -- our passions, lusts and desires. In medieval scholasticim, rationality and rationalism powerfully informed and affected medieval theology, particularly in natural theology, in which certain self-evident or 'common notions' were said to lead to, or perhaps even prove, the existence of God and something of his attributes. One of the significant contributions of post-Reformation thinking was the realization that the mind was not immune to the effects of our fallenness. If our desires and emotions were affected by the fall, then so equally was our thinking. We could not reason our way infallibly to saving truths, although we could infer some general truths from general revelation, albeit fallibly. No, our passions and thoughts, the whole person, were in need of redemption, and both needed to be sanctified and redeemed by the power of Christ in us. Thus, reason was subordinated to divine revelation in the Scriptures; our thoughts were to be brought 'captive' to Christ, redeemed, recalibrated and reset for a true knowledge of the sacred and also a re-framed knowledge of the natural, physical realm.

With the Enlightenment, the mind was 'freed' from the shackles of subordination to the Scriptures and could proceed on its merry way without such restraint. Natural theology was replaced by the immense explanatory power of science. As the Enlightenment progressed into modernity, science and rationality was the rising and unchallenged king, for a time. Then the incompleteness and moral vacuity of science began to take its toll, as we discovered that being treated and understood as purely physical beings operating purely in the physical realm was hollow. The immense gains and progress from science and technology were indisputable, but critically insufficient.

Into this context in the second half of the 20th century, George Lucas introduces the characters and setting of Star Wars. The mind, having been elevated higher than its proper place, had failed to bear the weight placed upon it, and a return to some form of spirituality was needed. The spirituality in question was a quasi-Eastern form of religion involving 'The Force' which could be harnessed for good or evil and which had both good and evil in its essence. The Force was made available to its mediators (Jedi knights) by techniques and practices in which the mind, the rational component of us, is shut down or sidelined. Thus, the advice to Luke.

The message is to trust our feelings because we cannot trust our minds. It seeks to place the same weight on our feelings and passions that was placed on our minds and which our minds could not support. Why should we expect our feelings to do any better? Why should we trust our feelings? If our minds have failed us, it is because we placed too much weight on them and separated them from revelation, and not because our minds are inherently less capable than our feelings and passions. Our minds have the invaluable task and capability of filtering our sensory input, thoughts and even our responses by appeal to reason, based on revelation and substantiated by our experience. Why would we give this up? Our passions and feelings, apart from the contributions of rationality, are vulnerable to spiritual fraud of various kinds.

No, the answer is that all parts of us, our rationality and passions, have their place in our whole person, serving the role that God has laid out for us, but only if we bring them all, our whole selves, to God and worship him and only him. In our society and media, we are bombarded with messages like "follow your heart", "live your passions" and others like it. It is as if our hearts and passions are better indicators of what is true and good than the simple truths of Scripture communicated verbally in rational form (it must be clear, however, that the message of the Scriptures, while framed in words and discourse, is not limited to the rational realm and contains spiritual depths and dimensions). This assumption is false and deceptive. If you're reading this, turn away from that mode of thinking and living. Live life as a whole person, including both your rationality and passions. Don't throw one away and expect the other to do all the work, particularly apart from the word and spirit of God.

Large Hadron Rap

I really love this. It is a rap made back in 2008 by Katherine McAlpine about the Large Hadron Collider, which was just being built at CERN. Enjoy.

The [In]Comprehensibility of Creation

There is a question I have entertained over the years regarding the formulation of physical theories in the light of the Christian doctrine of creation, namely, God made everything there is (that is not God) and upholds it all continuously 'by the word of his power'. The physical world is an expression of the mind of God, which is inexhaustible and can never be fully comprehended by other beings. Yet, we can observe, formulate and regularize behaviors and characteristics of the physical world in scientific experiments and theories. We have done so over the years in atomic models, in which the pieces of the physical world are tiny indivisible objects, and then later also in terms of waves and fields. The general theory of relativity states that physical objects bend space by their presence and in so doing bend the lines of gravitational force. And in the quantum world, it seems that all bets are off, as many assumptions break down. I have read with interest Wolfgang Smith's 'The Quantum Enigma', where he attempts to deal with some of these by appeal to Aristotelianism, but have not understood much of it; he is a Catholic scholar with doctorates in both physics and philosophy.

But the question I raise is, how close in principle can any physical theory come to the actual creation from God's hands? (By in principle, I mean that if we had infinite time and resources, we'd be able to fully understand and grasp God's creation.) The question is motivated by the observation that, as each physical theory has been formulated throughout history, it has worked well enough to a point, and then people encounter situations where it breaks down. New theories, whether extensions of previous ones or completely new ones, are then formulated to cover all known cases. But then the cycle repeats, as the new theory reaches its limits and breaks down or fails to explain new phenomena, and it appears we go deeper and deeper into the guts of creation.

So I wonder, can we ever "reach bottom", i.e., find a final, comprehensive explanation of all physical phenomena? I mean, is this possible even in principle, or is it somehow ruled out by the fact that since the physical world is a product of God's mind, it is thereby inherently inexhaustible to us? That is, as our theories become finer and finer and we go deeper and deeper, we will necessarily find more structure and complexity, and the cycle repeats. For example, there is a Standard Model of particle physics which is pretty well established, I'm told; the recently inaugurated Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has proved some parts of the model that were previously speculated upon, but has also found behaviors that are not predicted by the Standard Model.

If we were to find some set of objects that could not be further subdivided, then these objects would necessarily possess the requisite properties attributed to them. Although created by God, they would be in a sense mystical or ultimate. In a pantheistic setting, they would be divine, I'd say.

Is there a philosophical or theological problem if God's physical world was completely exhaustible by man? It suggests that God could create a structure which is finite in that sense. I guess he could. Yet, he could also do the opposite, namely, create a physical world whose structure is not exhaustible by man, not even in principle. Are there considerations which would push us one way or another, and does it even matter?

Praying the Lord's Prayer

In this post, I'd like to present and suggest something that has been very valuable and undoubtedly transformative for me, that is, praying the Lord's Prayer on behalf of someone else. I have done this for my family and others close to me for years now. See Matthew 6:9-13 for the source in Scripture. The last line is not found in Scripture, but there is nothing wrong with praying it.

Here is a traditional form of the Lord's Prayer:

Our Father, Who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.


Our Father, Who art in heaven,
I don't include this line in my prayers. Maybe I should.

hallowed be thy Name.
I pray that the person will hallow God's name, will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and will have no other gods before him/her.

Thy Kingdom come,
I pray that God's kingdom will come, first in the person him/herself, and secondly by and through the person. First, here one can pray for the status of the person before God, including body, soul, mind and strength and asking God to build up, purify and rectify the person. Next, pray that God's kingdom will be advanced and spread by the direct and indirect presence and activity of the person in the lives of others and in their activities in the world.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
I pray that God's will be done for the person on earth as it is done in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,
I pray that God will give the person all he/she needs, things I know about and things I don't know about. Here one can make requests for specific known issues. Notice that this comes after the preceding requests, which deal with God's name and kingdom.

and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
I pray that God will forgive the person his/her sins, debts and trespasses and help the person do the same to others.

And lead us not into temptation,
I pray that God will not lead the person into temptation, but that the person will flee and turn from temptation and not entertain it.

but deliver us from evil.
I pray that God will deliver the person from Satan, from his accusations, lies and deceptions; that the person will resist the devil and see him flee. The Greek here would permit a translation of 'deliver us from the evil one.'

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Usually I say something like, "I pray this in the name of your son Jesus Christ in and through the Holy Spirit, because yours is the kingdom, power and glory, for ever and ever. Amen."

There you have it. It's just a suggestion, but doing this daily will not only help the person you pray for, but will also have an effect on you, an effect you probably need.

One more thing, it's not necessarily to "feel spiritual" to pray to God. Treat God with the respect he deserves, and he will understand your state and hear your prayers.

ACNA Turns 10

Happy Birthday, ACNA!

Humanity and Impermanence

Besides the references to grass as literal food for animals, the Scriptures use grass also as simile for human finitude and impermanence. For example:

15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, (Ps. 103:15-17 ESV)

The Scriptures remind us in many ways that we are not here for very long before we're gone. This is just what we need, since we are prone to forget that our time is limited, and our efforts are not all we'd like to think they are.

Let us consider a model in which each generation lives 90 years and in which each generation begins to have children at age 30. A lifetime of 90 years is generous but not absurd. The use of 30 as an age-marker for having children is not unreasonable in our society, though it occurred much earlier in previous times.

Let us say someone, call him or her Person 0, lives from years 0 to 90, where year 0 is the birthday of that person. His/her children live from years 30 to 120, the grandchildren live from years 60 to 150, and the great-grandchildren live from years 90 to 180. Notice that the great-grandchildren have no living memory of Person 0. All knowledge of Person 0 will necessarily be second-hand, via oral communication or by various media.

The amount of information and personal knowledge of Person 0 passed down through each generation also gets progressively smaller. That is, the children have direct experience and knowledge of Person 0; the grandchildren will also have direct experience and knowledge of Person 0, but there is less of it; it is at one level of indirection, if you will. The great-grandchildren will have knowledge but no direct experience, as noted, of Person 0; furthermore, the amount of knowledge of Person 0 will also be attenuated. For the great-great-grandchildren, the attenuation is even more pronounced, and the amount of any knowledge of Person 0 goes rapidly to zero.

That is, if you are generation 0, then your great-grandchildren (generation 3) will have no living memory of you and greatly attenuated knowledge about you, and at generation 4, the knowledge about you will likely be close to zero. This means that knowledge of what you have done and what you were like is gone.

Society does not remember people unless they do something very good or very bad. Most of us do not fit into either category, therefore, society will not remember us after a point. As noted, our descendants will likely not remember us either after four generations.

All of us take pride and pleasure in various accomplishments in our lives. Yet, in all likelihood, the particulars of our works will never be known past a certain point in time. No one will know or care, even if written or electronic records survive about us.

Where does this leave us?

It leaves us in despair and insignificance were it not for the fact that God sees all and remembers all. This is not in reference to his judgment of our sins and iniquities, but rather to the fact that all the details of our lives, who we were and what we did, are alive and known forever by God. God does not forget. In particular, if you tried to serve him in the family, on the job or in the broader society, God does not forget. We remain significant in his sight, and all those things we did in his name or because he told us to, are precious to him and remain in his consciousness.

In case anyone is wondering, I am not suggesting that our works and good intentions save us. No, they do not. We cannot atone for our sins. We can only look to the one designated sin-bearer to atone for us, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Atonement and Propitiation

Day of Atonement

Let us briefly review the procedure followed on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).

The high priest (Aaron) takes one bull and two goats from the people.

And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. (Lev. 16:5 ESV)

The bull is a sin offering for himself and his house. It enables him to draw near to God to do the remaining tasks, which would be impossible to do without first atoning for his own sins.

"Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. (Lev. 16:5-6 ESV)

"Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. (Lev. 16:11 ESV)

Then two goats are selected, one designated as the sin offering, and the other as the scapegoat.

8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. (Lev. 16:8-10 ESV)

After sacrificing a bull for himself and his house, Aaron shall:

-- Atone for Holy Place, using the goat designated as the sin offering

15 "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. (Lev. 16:15-16 ESV)

-- Atone for sins of Israel, using the goat designed as the scapegoat

20 "And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:20-22 ESV)


The two goats being offered serve different purposes and are offered in different ways. It seems that the first goat, the goat of the sin offering, is not offered to atone for the sins of the people, but rather to atone for the holy place being in an unholy setting, in the midst of unholy people. It seems instead that the sins of the people are dealt with by the second goat, the scapegoat, upon whom the sins of the people are confessed and then who carries these sins out to the wilderness where it will die by itself.

Thus, the atonement for the sins of the people is made by carrying their sins away from them. The sin-bearing goat bears them and dies because of them; he dies by being cut off from food and shelter and probably at the hands of a predator. The picture this gives of atonement is one of removing, carrying away, bearing our sins far from us. See, for example, 'as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.' (Ps. 103:12 ESV)

Removal from home and safety is an expression of punishment in the OT. Here are two verses using the same root 'remove' as above:

and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. (Isa. 6:12 ESV)

For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. (Jer. 27:10 ESV)

Hebrews 13:10-14

We consider this passage from Hebrews 13:

10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Heb. 13:10-14 ESV)

This passage makes clear reference to the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement. v10 appears to say that the people of God today have an altar before God that is superior to the one that the high priests of the Old Covenant had, a very bold statement for a first-century audience and for us as well. v11 appears to refer back to:

And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. (Lev. 16:27 ESV)

Then v12 speaks of Jesus 'suffering outside the gate', and this wording is highly significant. Recall that the sin offering on the Day of Atonement was killed in the camp, in the tabernacle itself, and the scapegoat was sent out to the wilderness, where it suffered and died. Heb 13:12 appears to compare Jesus' suffering with that of the scapegoat, whose suffering was that of removal, expulsion from the camp.

Consider Jesus' suffering on the cross, and his cry: "My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?" This is the only specific clue I know of that speaks of Jesus' experience of suffering with respect to the Father on the cross. We know he suffered brutally in physical torment, but this verse suggests that it was not the primary or ultimate suffering; rather, his ultimate suffering was being cut off from the Father.


An aspect of atonement not directly addressed in the Leviticus 16 passage is that of propitiation, although it is present implicitly. [Also see End Note below.] The Scripture is clear that Jesus was the propitiation for our sins. We find the related words hilasmos (ἱλασμός) and hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον) in a few places in the New Testament translated as propitiation, atonement, or place of atonement. These words do not appear prominently, but are undoubtedly present. Here is a brief survey:


hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον) (noun):

whom God put forward as a propitiation [ἱλαστήριον] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Rom. 3:25 ESV)

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation [ἱλαστήριον] for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:17 ESV)

Note that Heb 2:17 gives evidence that the work of OT priests involved making propitiation before God.

Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat [ἱλαστήριον]. ... (Heb. 9:5 ESV)

hilasmos (ἱλασμός) (noun):

He is the propitiation [ἱλασμός] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 Jn. 2:2 ESV)

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [ἱλασμός] for our sins. (1 Jn. 4:10 ESV)


It is no surprise that we find several forms of hilasterion in LXX Leviticus 16 which speaks of the Day of Atonement. These translate the Hebrew kaphar (root meaning 'cover'), e.g., ‎הַכַּפֹּ֛רֶת (Lev. 16:13), translated as 'mercy seat' in English. Indeed, the Hebrew forms are the basis for the Greek usage of hilasterion, and not the opposite.

Central Question

We come to the central question of this posting: Does the propitiation of Jesus offered to God for our sins involve or imply that the full wrath of God was vented upon him at his crucifixion and death? Reformed theologians have held the so-called Penal Theory of Atonement, which states that Christ bore the penalty of our sins as part of his work of atonement. If so, then it is assumed that part of this penalty is the righteous wrath of God against us for our sins. As one point of comparison, Anselm promulgated the so-called Satisfaction Theory of Atonement:

Anselm, by contrast, regarded human sin as defrauding God of the honour he is due. Christ's death, the ultimate act of obedience, gives God great honour. As it was beyond the call of duty for Christ, it is more honour than he was obliged to give. Christ's surplus can therefore repay our deficit. Hence Christ's death is substitutionary in this sense: he pays the honour instead of us. But that substitution is not penal; his death pays our honour not our penalty. (Theopedia, reference below)

This posting does not intend to address the varying theories of atonement which have been put forth over the ages. Instead, we ask whether the scriptural evidence summarized above supports the penal view. The primary theme which emerges from the scriptures cited appears to be that atonement is related to removal of sin, taking sin away by means of a designated sin-bearer. The sin-bearer is taken far from God and suffers from that separation what is the ultimate suffering one can suffer. This conclusion can be justified from the scriptural evidence.

Is God a god of justice? Yes, of course. Given that atonement involves separation from God by a designated sin-bearer, and that separation is bearing the penalty (consequence) of our sins, we ask: does bearing the penalty then involve bearing the (righteous) wrath of God? We know Jesus propitiated the wrath of God, so we ask whether that propitiation demanded his endurance of God's wrath against sin, was his separation from the Father on the cross itself a sufficient propitiation, or are these in fact distinct but inseparable?

My consideration of this scriptural evidence has led me to give much greater emphasis than before to atonement understood as separation from God by a designated sin-bearer. In the past, I have placed emphasis purely on the penal aspect and was invariably forced to conclude that the Father directly vented his wrath on his beloved Son. The considerations in this posting do not rule this out, but certainly compel us to acknowledge the significance and centrality of Jesus' abandonment on the cross by the Father in the work of atonement, in a manner hearkening back to the OT Day of Atonement.

Book Reference: The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, by Leon Morris, Eerdmans 3rd rev. ed. 1965.


Expiation and propitiation are related concepts. It has been said that propitiation deals with appeasing wrath, whereas expiation deals with the turning away of wrath. Some authors and references appear to treat expiation and propitiation synonymously, but some (particularly more classic theologians) do not. For example, John Murray, in The Atonement (reference below), says that propitiation is "the removal of wrath" (p 11), whereas expiation is "the removal of the liability accruing from sin" (p 13), and expiation is associated with offering of sacrifice.

Can one propitiate without also expiating? It appears not, for if wrath is propitiated, is it not thereby turned away as well? Can one expiate without also propitiating? In biblical terms, I'd say no, since 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins'. (Heb. 9:22 ESV) That is, the shedding of blood is an expression of propitiating the wrath of God against sin and is necessary for turning away his wrath. Note that God's wrath against us for our sins is completely righteous.

Reference: The Atonement, John Murray, International Library of Philosophy and Theology, BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1978.

What is Israel?

Written in 2010.

We will consider two passages in Romans which shed light on the question.

Romans 9:6-8

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Rom. 9:6-8 ESV)

The first critical sentence is 'For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel', in which it is clear that there are two distinct senses of the word Israel in this verse. The context of v6 is that, in view of the Jewish rejection of Christ, it may appear that the word of God has failed. Paul refutes that in v6 by distinguishing national Israel from a different, greater Israel. The phrase 'descended from Israel' seems to denote national Israel. To support this, note that this sentence is in parallel with the first half of v7 'not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring [Gk. seed]'. Thus, being an offspring or descendant of Abraham is put in parallel with descended from Israel.

If not everyone descended from Israel belongs to Israel, then it is clear that the latter is a distinct entity, yet also called Israel. Note that if not all who are descended from Israel belong to this other entity called Israel, it follows that some do belong to it. In other words, some of those who are descended from Abraham (national Israel) do belong to the Israel in the latter sense.

So what is this entity called Israel which is not national Israel, composed of Abraham's offspring? It follows directly that not all members of this Israel are Jews; hence, this Israel contains Gentiles. Therefore, this Israel is not national Israel, although it contains members of national Israel, and is greater than national Israel, since it contains Gentiles.

In v8 the children of the flesh are used to describe children of Abraham who are not through Isaac; the children of the promise are Abraham's offspring through Isaac, and it is these who are called the children of God. The contrast of v8 parallels the contrast in v7, which implies that the physical offspring of Abraham (national Israel) is put in contrast with the children of the promise which are through Isaac. If the children of the flesh are correlated with national Israel, then the children of the promise are correlated with the greater Israel, the second sense of the word.

The objection that national Israel is through Isaac and, hence, the children of the promise refers to the national Israel destroys the flow of the text and invalidates the contrasts being made, particularly in v7. No, the children of the promise come through Isaac, and this is something distinct and greater than the physical offspring of Abraham.

Romans 11:25-27

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; 27 "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." (Rom. 11:25-27 ESV)

The context of the passage is Paul’s preceding explication of the Gentiles as branches having been grafted onto the Jewish tree of God’s people. Paul is warning the Gentiles against conceit. The critical question to ask is what are the Israel of v25 and of v26. In v25, Israel is contrasted with the Gentiles, and this suggests that the Israel of v25 refers to national Israel. This is also consistent with its preceding context of contrasting the Jews and Gentiles as members of God’s tree.

To determine the reference to Israel in v26, we ask what does 'in this way' in v26 refer to? It refers to the fullness of the Gentiles coming in. Therefore, by the fullness of the Gentiles coming in, all Israel will be saved. This implies that the fullness of the Gentiles coming in completes Israel, thus, Israel in v26 cannot refer to national Israel. So the sense of Israel in v26 is not that of national Israel in v25 and preceding. As in the Romans 9 passage, here it is also clear that there is an entity of Israel which is distinct from national Israel and greater than national Israel, since it contains the Gentiles.

Yet 'until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in' suggests that the state of hardness of national Israel will also be changed once the Gentiles have come in. Such a view would lead to an expectation that Jews will, as a people, return to the Lord once the Gentiles have come in. v27-32 do not preclude that possibility, as far as I can see. Yet it's not clear if this understanding is generally supported by other NT passages, or if it is required by the Romans passages under consideration.


There is a distinct sense that, going back to the patriarch Abraham, something greater than physical offspring are in view. Abraham will have offspring by some means, as it were, other than the flesh, and this is the true intent and purpose of his life. Yet, his physical offspring are a picture or representation of the greater reality, one not readily visible.

Tax Brackets

I think it's time to replace tax brackets with a continuous sliding scale. Under the current scheme, a difference of a dollar can change one's tax rate by 5-10% which seems unfair and invites abuse. I don't know if other countries differ in this regard.

From my Guestbook 2019-06-01, a reader writes:

— That's not how tax brackets work. the increased tax rate only applies to the portion of income in that bracket, e.g., if I make $9,526, I'm taxed 10% on 9,525, and 12% on the $1 in the higher bracket.

Thank you, I didn't know that.

What is Right?

Originally written in 1992. The paragraphs on science were added just now.

How do you decide what is right and what is wrong? How does anyone decide this? Individuals and societies have answered this by appeals to conscience, to universal ideals, to traditional morality, and to religion. Let's briefly consider these.


Many people will claim that what is morally correct is that which is consistent with an inner sense of right and wrong, usually called the conscience. While the conscience can be a strong motivating force, there are at least two reasons why it cannot be used exclusively as a basis for morality: (1) People's consciences vary according to the individual, their culture, nation, society, etc. For one person, it may violate their conscience to kill, but not to commit adultery. In some societies, revenge killing is considered valid. One woman may feel a pang of conscience when getting an abortion, but another may not. (2) Any behavior can be rationalized, particularly in retrospect, by claiming that it did not violate one's conscience. Because human beings have a great capacity for self-deception, we sometimes justify our deeds to ourselves and to others by claiming we acted consistently with our conscience, when in fact we did not.

Universal Ideals

Morality is also grounded by appeals to some universal ideal, such as the advancement of the proletariat (USSR), the protection of the Fatherland (Nazi Germany), the preservation of the human species, or of the Earth itself -- the latter two being found in our society. Thus, whatever serves the ideal being advanced is morally correct. There are at least two flaws in basing morality on a universal ideal: (1) Adherence to the ideal may provide no guidance or restraint in individual morality. So, the mass murders and atrocities performed under Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler were, in reference to the ideals, completely justifiable and correct. Among those for whom the preservation of the human species or the Earth is the overarching ideal, traditional sexual boundaries and prohibitions, viewed as moral strictures, often disappear. It is not hard to conceive of arguments that may be advanced to the effect that the behavior or existence of some particular group of people so threatens the ideal that the group must be eliminated. (2) The ideals themselves are open to challenge. It is fairly easy to challenge nationalistic or political ideals as being arbitrary, but what of those ideals which seek to preserve the species or the Earth? These ideals provide no reason to preserve mankind or the Earth. In fact, they may provide more argument for destroying mankind than not. If human behavior is destructive to humanity as a whole and threatens the planet itself, we may argue that the elimination of humanity altogether is most beneficial to saving the rest of the planet. Why should we prefer the survival of the human species over that of the hundreds of other species whose existence is threatened?

Traditional Morality

Judging moral correctness by adherence to traditional morality begs the question, since it does not address how the moral correctness of the traditional morality is to be evaluated.


Finally, religion is advanced as a criterion for judging moral correctness. It is necessary to distinguish between the traditional view and the modern view.

In the traditional view, whatever God asserts to be right and good is in fact right and good. This view requires that the moral assessments of God can be communicated to humanity, or else we could not test our adherence to them. The communication is not reliable if it is purely subjective (internal), since then we would be subject to possible misinterpretations and a similar possibility for abuse as in the case of conscience; that is, we could justify improper behavior by appeal to the subjective communication of God. Rather, the communication of God comes in written form and may or may not be augmented by personal spiritual experience.

In the modern view, there is no written or verbal communication from God. The Bible is viewed purely as the product of human beings attempting to verbalize spiritual experience which they have had. Hence, it has no binding authority in the realm of morals or of faith. Attempts to ground morality in religion, so conceived, are ultimately appeals to share in the vision which produced the writings. But this vision is not accessible objectively, and we can attach any interpretation we wish to it, even supposing we can glimpse the vision.

Science [added]

Science can provide no moral guidance or basis for values. Science can tell us what is, was or what may be. But it cannot tell us whether these things are good, bad or indifferent. There is no experiment we can perform or theory that we may formulate that will answer a question of value or morality. All such questions are superimposed by humans onto scientific theories and/or experimental results.

The theory of evolution, as a subset of science, can do no better. It cannot say whether whether the survival or extinction of some species is morally significant. If I kill others, then I have survived and they have not. It is a matter of fact, but not of morality or value.


We assert that the traditional view of religion is the only viable foundation for morality. A basis for morality which permits any behavior to be justified is no basis at all, and a basis for morality not accessible in objective form permits any behavior to be rationalized.

In the traditional view, there is a God who knows and judges what is morally correct and who has communicated this to humanity in an objective (external) form, the Bible. While acknowledging the possibility of abuse and problems, this point of view permits a morality which is objective and can be judged objectively, provides individual guidance while retaining overarching ideals, and whose ideals (the will and glory of God) are ultimate.

Knowledge as Belief

Originally written in 2006.

It has been said that knowledge is justified true belief. Here I want to argue briefly that the primary component in the acquisition of knowledge, i.e., learning, is belief based on trust. Learning occurs when one believes what another, presumably authoritative or trustworthy, person or source of information is presenting. Learning by its very nature involves acceptance of knowledge heretofore not present in the subject. It involves acceptance of knowledge without the possibility of verifying it in advance. I claim that learning is simply believing what you’re told.

It is evident that, prior to the acceptance of new knowledge, one can test whether it is consistent with existing knowledge. Such evaluation will reveal whether the new knowledge is consistent or not with what is currently known; however, the critical fact is that the putative knowledge is new: Its truthfulness cannot be evaluated in advance, only its consistency with existing knowledge can be. Once accepted, it will alter the understanding and relationship of currently-held knowledge.

The point can be illustrated by considering the interpretation of documents. In the interpretation of Scripture, for example, one can (and must) evaluate if a proposed interpretation, whether presented by another or arising from personal study, is consistent with the existing and broader understanding of the Bible. A proposed interpretation can be evaluated for its consistency with the biblical context, as currently understood, but the interpretation cannot be evaluated for its essential truthfulness beyond that. The acceptance of the proposed interpretation will, by its addition to the core of accepted biblical knowledge, change the context of all subsequent interpretation.

Fortunately, going astray in biblical interpretation is less likely than the preceding discussion might suggest. There is a great deal of redundancy in the text, so much that a fair consideration of existing context will rule out interpretive outliers. Yet the principle stands, namely, accepting new knowledge alters the knowledge, or context, used to evaluate subsequent new putative knowledge. Similarly, accepting a new understanding of Scripture will change the context used in all subsequent interpretive activity.

It is a fiction of rationalism that we accept knowledge based on rational, dispassionate, and logical study and evaluation. The acceptance of knowledge, as has been argued, involves the acceptance of that which cannot be verified independently. Its consistency can be checked to the extent of existing knowledge, but the new component of knowledge cannot be so checked. The young child being taught by parents learns a great deal of fundamental knowledge and skill simply by trusting and believing his or her parents and others who are present. What is so learned becomes knowledge for the child and will persist unless and until subsequent knowledge or experience casts it into doubt.

In ordinary persuasive discourse, one can readily find assertions like, “Believe me, I’m telling the truth.” Here, the speaker is appealing for the listener to believe his (the speaker’s) assertions. Our Lord in the Gospels made similar statements, such as, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” Yet these are both ridiculous in some sense, since the hearer cannot know that the speaker is telling the truth and has only the speaker’s assertion of truthfulness and appeal to belief. Yet, we all have no difficulty in understanding and responding to the sense of these statements. How can this be? The appeal of these declarations is to a personal knowledge of the speaker, i.e., because you know me, believe what I'm telling you.

An Example

Consider two passages from the book of Genesis:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV)

Let us imagine conversing with Eve before she ate the fruit God told her not to eat:

"So Eve, I notice you're eating every fruit in the garden, except that one."

"That's right. Adam and I can't eat it."

"Why not?"

"If we eat it, we'll die."

"How do you know that?"

"God told me."

Eve would certainly say that she knew the consequence of eating the fruit, even though she had not actually done so. I claim she’d say she knew it, not merely believed it with a high degree of certainty. The acceptance of God’s words regarding the fruit became knowledge for her.

Now, the serpent tempts Eve; she eats some of the fruit and gives some to Adam, who eats it as well.

"Well Eve, I see you decided to eat the fruit after all."

"I realized it was good to eat and would make me wise if I ate it."

"Really, how did you discover that?"

"The serpent told me."

Eve had no way in advance to verify the truth of God's statement that, if she and Adam ate the fruit, they would die. She simply took God at his word, and this became knowledge for her. Neither could Eve know for herself in advance that the the words of the serpent were to be disbelieved. She only knew that the serpent was contradicting the words of God, which she had believed thus far. By deciding to take and eat the fruit, Eve implicitly accepted the serpent’s claims that the fruit was good and desirable. Eve believed the serpent, and this too became knowledge for her; thus, in this understanding, not all knowledge is true knowledge or good knowledge.

It is evident that the acquisition of knowledge is a highly personal act, for when we accept knowledge from another person, i.e., when we take someone at his word and believe his assertions, we cannot do so without placing some degree of trust and reliance in the person giving the knowledge. In the case of taking the word of Person A over that of Person B, we are choosing or preferring the person A over B; we are saying that Person A is a more reliable source of knowledge or perhaps a more reliable witness than is Person B.

When we accept knowledge from another person, we are saying to some extent, 'I will see the universe your way [or the way you present it to me].' We are putting ourselves in submission to a particular understanding of the universe and our place in it; we are giving this knowledge or point of view an authoritative place in our lives. This follows simply because the acceptance of knowledge is done without the means to corroborate it independently. In doing so, we are implicitly excluding certain points of view and interpreting evidence in the light of the understanding we've accepted. If our authoritative source has deceived us, we are in big trouble, for the acceptance of his particular understanding can render us blind to or biased against evidence to the contrary.

By eating the fruit, Adam and Eve preferred the serpent over God and affirmed the primacy of the serpent's word over God's word. This gives additional insight into the seriousness of their act.

Here we are led to understand the acquisition of knowledge as believing what we've been told. It follows that all of what we say we know is the accumulation of what we've been told and which we have not stopped believing.


Two objections to the view of learning and knowledge presented here immediately appear. First, it will be argued that our physical senses provide input to us directly and can be used to confirm or disconfirm the statements from our authoritative source. The senses can indeed be a valuable means of checking the truth of the assertions we hear, yet they are by no means infallible. In the early years of child development, the young child learns to parse the sensory input which comes to him. He learns what is foreground and background, that objects have persistence even when they are not directly seen, and so on. In other words, he learns how to interpret his senses, i.e., he learns how to read what his senses tell him. The senses implicitly provide information to us; they tell us of the world around us. We choose what to do with this, and it is significant that in some contexts we will do well to disbelieve our senses, since they may mislead us.

Secondly, it will be argued that we can use existing knowledge to check the veracity of new claims. It is more accurate to reiterate that we can use existing knowledge, such as it is, to check the consistency of new claims with existing claims. It has been argued that existing knowledge is none other than assertions previously accepted and believed from a trustworthy source. Consider an example: suppose a college physics class is told to measure the acceleration of gravity, a well-known physical value. Suppose also that a group of students measure, repeatedly, a value differing by 10% from the accepted value. Which value will they accept, their laboratory-verified value or the value found in textbooks and taught by their professor? Obviously, the latter. Why? The students immediately realize that their laboratory work, as careful as it presumably was, was somehow in error, since it deviated from the accepted value. That is, they will accept the value taught by the authoritative community of science and disregard (disbelieve) their own work and sensory input.


If this understanding of knowledge is correct, it presupposes that we are able to know persons in a way that is independent of direct verbal or nonverbal communication. We trust some people and not others, and we will receive knowledge from those we trust, but not from those we don’t trust. Also, there must be some cognitive apparatus present in us to receive and understand assertions about things we do not already know about or understand. Given all this, fundamentally, knowledge becomes a matter of who you believe, more than what you believe. This finds support in Scriptural passages dealing with hearing the voice of God. As it was in the beginning, it still is now. Fundamentally, there are two voices: the voice of God and the voice of Satan.

It can be very difficult to know that one has believed a lie of the evil one or see the evidence which contradicts the so-called knowledge from evil. This is because we cannot believe the word of the serpent without being changed for the worse by it. Believing the serpent involves preferring the person of the serpent over the person of God and submitting ourselves to the serpent's ostensible knowledge over the knowledge God has.

Domains of Authority

It is undeniable that the paradox or tension of God's sovereignty vs man's free will has consumed much thought and discussion throughout the ages. It should be noted first that nowhere in the Bible that I am aware of does it say that man's will is 'free'. The Bible treats man's will as real with real consequences, but the word 'free' is loaded and introduces extraneous considerations.

Consider the creation narrative in Genesis. God gives man [male and female] authority over the rest of creation; this is part of our glory as God's image bearers.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Gen. 1:26 ESV)

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen. 1:28 ESV)

We are given authority over the earth itself as well as over all life-forms on the earth. Does this authority extend beyond the earth to extra-terrestrial bodies? It seems an inevitable consequence of our identity as God's image-bearers that wherever we go, there we shall exercise rule and domain, whether on earth or on Mars, for example. This does not contradict the intent of the biblical narrative, even if goes beyond the literal sense of the narrative; an ancient Israelite would not dream of leaving the earth.

In this setting, there is no hint that our authority extends to God or heavenly beings. We are not given authority over them. Our authority over the earth is limited, though real. Our actions have real consequences, both good and evil. We can exercise actual dominion, as in:

Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (Gen. 2:19 ESV)

So Adam named the animals, and God accepted these names it appears.

The point here is that authority gives real power and discretion, but within a circumscribed context. Man has authority over some things, but not over all things or beings. Man's authority is subordinate to the authority of God; man's authority is delegated to him by God. This is well established in traditional theology.

To extend this to the notion of 'will', we may say that man's will is subordinate to God's will, is delegated to him by God, and yet is real within the prescribed context. We want to affirm that people make real choices with real consequences, and this is part of what God has given us as his image-bearers. Our choices and will are relevant and determinative within our designated sphere (context) of authority, the earth and by extension all creation, as we travel in space.

God can and does alter our circumstances and ourselves as well according to his will. If a traffic jam blocks our progress, we may not be able to exercise any authority or choice whatsoever to get past or around the jam.

Thinking of our will and choices as framed in a particular context is exceedingly helpful to me. I want to say that within this context our will and choices are indeed free. The fall of mankind into sin and its continuing effects on us are a critical modification to our situation. The context of our authority and will remains the same: we are to rule the earth and creation as God's image-bearers, but our ability to do this properly has been impaired and corrupted by sin and its effects, such that we will 'freely' choose evil and not good much/all of the time.

We can thus say that our will is free, properly understood as operative within a context; yet God's will is 'freer' than ours and always will be. God can will that volcanoes erupt and earthquakes happen by means of geological processes, but we cannot will this, at least not yet or anytime in the near future.

God's plan of redemption, with its historical development, was never in doubt by human choice or agency. Yet, it seems we may say that our choices as people determined the path of history within God's overarching plan. This is a bold thing to contemplate, yet it appears to follow.

One conclusion emerges, that authority and will are coupled to specific contexts and are operative within those contexts but not outside those contexts. Thus, authority and will are related.

Canon Fodder

Canon Fodder is the name of Michael Kruger's blog. He is president of Reformed Seminary Charlotte and is a fine, conservative scholar in issues relating to the Canon and early Church.

Ten excellent articles:

But there are many others on this site.

Forbidden Planet

I wrote this back in 1999 and still mostly agree with the (brief) analysis and conclusions given at the end. But see a few comments appended after the review.

"Forbidden Planet", released in 1956, is a well-done science fiction movie which succeeds at entertaining us, piquing our scientific and technological curiosity, and in addressing fundamental philosophical questions. It stars Leslie Nielsen (in a serious role) as Commander Adams, the commander of a starship assigned to look for survivors of a earlier survey ship sent to the Altair star system; Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Morbius, a philologist originally on the survey ship; and Anne Francis as Altaira, daughter of Morbius. The movie also introduces Robbie the Robot.

Note: this review gives away all major plot details.


The story opens with Commander Adams' spaceship entering the Altair star system and approaching the fourth planet, Altair-4. The movie reveals its age when one of the crewmen, on seeing the planet from space, remarks, "The Lord sure makes some beautiful worlds." The spaceship makes contact with Dr. Morbius who warns them not to land, but they land anyway to carry out their orders. They are escorted to Dr. Morbius' house by Robbie the Robot, a polite and courteous creature who can synthesize solid lead and frilly women's clothing with equal ease. On meeting Morbius, the visitors from space learn that he and his daughter Altaira are the only survivors from the survey ship, the rest having been destroyed by some "mysterious planetary force".

The obvious question of how Dr. Morbius and his daughter escaped destruction is posed but not answered until the end of the movie. As Commander Adams and his officers continue to interact with Dr. Morbius, Morbius reveals the secret of Altair-4: the planet was populated long ago by a highly advanced species, the Krell, which left vast subterranean self-maintaining machines in place, yet of whom themselves no trace exists. The special effects here, though over 40 years old, still convey a sense of the vastness and grandeur of the creations of the vanished aliens. Simultaneously, the affections of Altaira become a prize sought by the woman-hungry officers of the starship. Although the sexual tension created by the men and innocent Altaira is naive by today's standards, it is nonetheless credible and essential to the plot.

As the crew of the starship settles in on Altair-4 to await further orders from Earth, violent acts of increasing ferocity are committed by some kind of monster against the equipment and then the men of the ship. When called to offer some explanation for the attacks, Morbius can offer none but only recount that the same "pattern [of destruction] is being woven" as before. We learn that Dr. Morbius' mind was artificially expanded by a Krell machine to which he had access.

All the pieces are put together as the ship's doctor gives himself the same artificial brain boost. The ship's doctor realizes that the Krell had succeeded in one vast, ultimate technological triumph, powered and implemented by the vast underground complex of machinery. They had developed the capability to materialize matter in any form at any place purely from their thoughts. The doctor grasps the frightening implication that this capability, being implemented by machines, could be for any purpose, whether good or evil. It now becomes clear that the Krell, having developed this capability, allowed their inner lusts and hatreds to destroy themselves.

But how could the same force of destruction be acting against the crew of the spaceship, since the Krell themselves have been dead for centuries? This question is answered as a by-product of Altaira's relationship with Commander Adams, which has turned into love. By allying herself with Commander Adams, she has implicitly distanced herself from her father. When she becomes a target for the destroying monster, the puzzle is complete: her father Dr. Morbius is, by the power of his artificially expanded mind powered by the alien machinery, sending out the monster to destroy anything and anyone which threatens his sovereignty and ego.

In the final climactic scene, Dr. Morbius realizes that the monster is in fact his "evil self" and utters, with horrible realization, that he has "no power to stop it". He stops it by confronting it and denying it, which is in fact a form of suicide. The story closes by the destruction of the entire planet, triggered by Morbius.


"Forbidden Planet" addresses, on the one hand, man's ability to create noble and powerful technological marvels and, on the other hand, the question of whether and how this ability to create fundamentally alters the nature of man. The movie answers the latter in the negative: even a mighty race such as the Krell, vastly beyond the development of humanity on Earth, could not overcome their own inner evil and, rather, used their superior talents and knowledge toward destruction and death. The point is amplified by noting that the inner evils within a person are largely invisible to the person; Morbius had no idea until the end that it was his lust for power and importance which led to the death of his fellow crewmen. Further, when one is made aware of one's true inner nature, one realizes the impossibility of controlling or taming the evil within; Morbius saw that the evil within him had a life of its own and was beyond changing, because it was a direct expression of his own heart! The only answer given by the movie is that of self-destruction, i.e., one can destroy the evil within only by destroying oneself altogether.

Apart from the redemptive work of Christ, the only way to destroy the evil within us is to destroy us, since the evil is who we at base are: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" Matthew 7:11

The movie makes the point as well that technological progress, along with the education and knowledge that are presupposed by it, cannot alter the fundamental base reality of our hearts. This point is being appreciated by contemporary postmodern audiences, but comes across clearly in "Forbidden Planet" which is over 40 years old. That true redemption of the person can happen through Christ is the reality we must seek to communicate to our friends and neighbors.

I think the statement above 'the evil is who we at base are' is too simple. Jesus calls us evil in the Matthew 7 quote, yet elsewhere affirms that we continue to retain the image of God. Still, evil has permeated and affected our being and every faculty, as the doctrine of total depravity affirms.

Public Debt

The tax bill passed in 2017 reduced tax rates and increased standard deductions for many. Some claim that the primary benefits went to the wealthy, and that moderate-income taxpayers saw little or no reduction in their tax bills. I can't claim to know enough to address this. As well, the economy has seen many favorable positive statistics that are possibly attributable to the effects of the tax bill. Finally, it also seems to be the case that government tax revenues are at record high levels.

Yet, in the midst of this, the government is spending more than it is taking in, and that discrepancy is higher than under any previous administration. Consequently, our national debt is increasing at a higher rate than at any time previously.

President Trump did not create the debt problem our country faces -- it was inherited from multiple previous administrations -- but he aggravated it, thus increasing our speed along the path to financial doom. As in previous administrations, so in this one, no one seems to be able to actually deal with the problem. But the problem won't go away by ignoring it; it will one day have its bite, and the longer we wait, the worse the bite will be.

The President's tax records were released last week and revealed ten years of red ink in his taxes, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the same approach is being applied to national governance.

Just today on CNN, hardly a place for financial doom-saying, we find:

I'm just one more person worrying about this and don't know if I'll live to see the crisis hit. But hit us it will, at some point, unless major changes are made.

Sources of Authority

It has been a point of surprise for me that Catholic thought and theology seem to rely so heavily on Greek philosophy and metaphysics. A recent article in First Things [November 2018, reference below] lamented the lack of awareness and knowledge of Greek thought in Catholic circles. Aquinas incorporated Aristotelian thought into Catholic thought and thinking in his time, with lasting effect; one can see in Thomistic thought similar inclusions/amalgamations of thinking.

So why is this, I ask as a believing Protestant? A brief conversation with a Catholic friend pointed me to the answer: Catholicism relies on Greek philosophy to interpret the Scriptures, since it appears that the Bible is not clear, and we need help in interpreting it. This is to me, a believing Protestant, very surprising and shocking and puts the Reformation into better context. Is this what 'Sola Scriptura' is targeting? It appears so.

Granted, it is not hard to find things in the Bible that are very unclear if not opaque. But appealing to Greek thought and philosophy doesn't really solve the problem; it just pushes it back one level. Instead of asking how my church, my minister or me myself understand a passage or teaching, we ask how the Church with its Greek foundation understands the passage. Let's be clear that appeals to authority occur as well in Protestant circles. We ask what our ministers, church leaders and seminary professors teach and believe, and we defer to them (or failing that, we start our own denomination or cult).

Creeds serve to control and guide our thinking and believing, and they function to do so in all three branches of Christianity. So it is not that our thinking and believing are totally random and unguided; rather, they are on a trajectory informed by the creeds and church teaching and doctrine. The ancient creeds were formulated in the first 500 years of the church, for the most part, during which time Greek thought and philosophy actively informed the culture. Thus, it is no surprise that the Nicene Creed, for example, contains a careful expression of the divinity of Jesus which incorporates Greek philosophical language. For example, a section reads:

"... God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father."

Shall we discard the Nicene Creed because we no longer think in the terms expressed here? No, they do not nullify the creed or its purpose. The creed was formulated to counter the heresy of Arianism, and it does so by carefully delineating categories and distinctions and doing so in the context of Greek thought. The crucial point is that the categories and distinctions clearly serve to identify the boundaries of truth in the matter. The fact that Greek language and categories are used is not the point, since the same points could have been expressed in any language and culture which possessed the ability to reason and wrestle with the Scripture itself. And that is the point: at some point we come to the Scripture itself, and we ask if it actually says or means anything specific.

The Catholic Church surprisingly seems to affirm the relative opaqueness of Scripture in contrast with Protestant views; hence, the appeal to the authority of Greek thought, transmitted through Church bodies, becomes necessary and sensible. Protestant thought, in contrast, by affirming Sola Scriptura is implicitly affirming that Scripture provides sufficient context for itself to provide meaning and interpretation without appeal to outside authority. No, we do not deny that the documents of Scripture are placed in specific cultural and temporal settings; but nonetheless, we affirm that in that framework it is nonetheless possible to form understandings of what Scripture says.

In other words: Scripture actually says something, and we can know some of what it says. This single point is the most basic reason I am Protestant and not Catholic. Certainly, the matters pertaining to salvation are clear enough to all.

I've had two Catholics friends and acquaintances give the example of abortion, i.e., the Bible doesn't say abortion is wrong. True, not in those words. But the Scripture provides examples which imply or presuppose that the unborn 'fetus' is a human person. Psalm 139 and the incident of John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth's womb when Mary arrives come to mind, but they are not the only ones. The argument simply goes that, if the unborn in Scripture is treated with the attributes of personhood, then they must therefore possess those attributes. Is it literary license of some kind, condescension to primitive social beliefs? No, one would have to argue that by appeal to extra-Scriptural premises.

The very same argument is made for the Trinity itself, namely, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all in various places in Scripture treated with the attributes of Deity. It follows then, most reasonably and naturally, that they must indeed be God, keeping in mind that God is one. The Trinity is forced upon us by inference and deduction from Scripture, and this was understood very early in the Church's history.

The Protestant view of Scripture then is that Scripture is understandable on its own because it is its own context. Not surprisingly then, all discussion and debate about questions of interpretation are ultimately understood to be discussions and debate about context. Once you identify the context of a passage, chapter or book, you most likely have found the meaning or have restricted the set of possible meanings considerably. Similar considerations apply to any document.

The question of Canon becomes relevant then because by determining the bounds of Scripture the Canon determines the context for its interpretation. Michael Kruger is a fine, conservative scholar and has written recently on the topic. Here are two of his books:

  • The Question of Canon -- engages and challenges the primary assumptions of critical canon scholarship.

  • Christianity at the Crossroads -- looks in some depth at the church in the second century, a century which has not been the focus of much scholarship, compared to subsequent centuries.

The Canon has never been arbitrary in its construction; rather, its contents have been perceived from the beginning for most of the books. This topic is for another post though.

A False Paradigm, Against the de-Hellenization of Christianity, by Michael Hanby

China Persecutes the Uyghurs

The scale and thoroughness of Chinese actions is stunning. Here are a couple of links to recent articles. Makes for gripping reading.

Good article arguing for a consistent and pragmatic US policy on religious freedom: