Friday, February 16, 2018

A New god’s Being Created (Is Artificial Intelligence A Threat To Christianity?)

            “AI may be the greatest threat to Christian theology since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. For decades, artificial intelligence has been advancing at breakneck speed. Today, computers can fly planes, interpret X-rays, and sift through forensic evidence; algorithms can paint masterpiece artworks and compose symphonies in the style of Bach. Google is developing “artificial moral reasoning” so that its driverless cars can make decisions about potential accidents,” says an article in The Atlantic.1

            If humans could create Artificial Intelligence (AI) with freewill, then it is quite plausible that AI could be a mammoth threat to Christianity, “The creation of non-human autonomous robots would disrupt religion, like everything else, on an entirely new scale."If humans were to create free-willed beings…absolutely every single aspect of traditional theology would be challenged and have to be reinterpreted in some capacity.””2

HOW COULD AI CONFLICT WITH CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY?

            Consider the soul as a case in point; the soul is broadly defined as the psychological element of mankind, which is the basis of reason, emotion, social interrelatedness, and the like (that which includes man’s intellect, his emotions, and his will).

           As to the origin of the soul, there is no uncertainty, for those who subscribe to creationism would affirm God’s creation of a new soul for each and every person.

            But some could argue that humans are capable of creating life through in vitro fertilization and genetic cloning, hence it’s not necessary to believe that God creates a new soul for each and every person.3 If you find this line of reasoning to be valid, you could posit that AI, created by humans, could have a soul, “…“If you have a soul and you create a physical copy of yourself, you assume your physical copy also has a soul…But if we learn to digitally encode a human brain, then AI would be a digital version of ourselves. If you create a digital copy, does your digital copy also have a soul?”” (Emphasis Mine).4

            If AI could have a soul, the theological conundrum is further escalated:5

If artificially intelligent machines have a soul, would they be able to establish a relationship with God? The Bible teaches that Jesus’s death redeemed “all things” in creation—from ants to accountants—and made reconciliation with God possible. So did Jesus die for artificial intelligence, too? Can AI be “saved?”
“I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings,” Christopher Benek, an associate pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church in Florida with degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, told Gizmodo in 2015. “It’s redemption of all of creation, even AI. If AI is autonomous, then we should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world.”
And what about sin? Christians have traditionally taught that sin prevents divine relationship by somehow creating a barrier between fallible humans and a holy God. Say in the robot future, instead of eradicating humans, the machines decide—or have it hardwired somewhere deep inside them—that never committing evil acts is the ultimate good. Would artificially intelligent beings be better Christians than humans are? And how would this impact the Christian view of human depravity?
These questions so far concern religious belief, but there is also the many matters related to religious practice. If Christians accept that all creation is intended to glorify God, how would AI do such a thing? Would AI attend church, sing hymns, care for the poor? Would it pray?
            These questions need not be difficult to answer; nevertheless, they ought to be answered by Christians. We would be better off being mindful of the problems that may confront us in the future, than not.

THE RELIGION OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

            AI can no longer be thought of as a mere technological advancement. Tech geek Anthony Levandowski classifies AI as a religion, “The new religion of artificial intelligence is called Way of the Future…WOTF’s activities will focus on “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.” That includes funding research to help create the divine AI itself. The religion will seek to build working relationships with AI industry leaders and create a membership through community outreach, initially targeting AI professionals and “laypersons who are interested in the worship of a Godhead based on AI.”6

            Why is AI being branded as a religion? Anthony Levandowski reckons humans are in the process of making a god, “What is going to be created will effectively be a god…It’s not a god in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it?”7

            The god that humans are creating will be significantly different from the living God, says Levandowski, “There are many ways people think of God, and thousands of flavors of Christianity, Judaism, Islam...but they’re always looking at something that’s not measurable or you can’t really see or control. This time it’s different. This time you will be able to talk to God, literally, and know that it’s listening.8

            If AI is a religion, there should be churches, according to Levandowski, “The church is how we spread the word, the gospel. If you believe [in it], start a conversation with someone else and help them understand the same things.”… The church’s role is to smooth the inevitable ascension of our machine deity, both technologically and culturally.”9

            As Christians, we need to be aware of these developments. Undoubtedly we are transitioning into a thornier digital era. The future does not bode well for us. Fresh complications will confront us and we need to be prepared.

CONCLUSION

            Is AI a threat to Christianity? Yes!

            The man has always been in rebellion against God. To begin with, Adam and Eve rejected God’s command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2: 16-17, 3). After that, rebellious people tried to construct a tower that reached the heavens. The Lord intervened and scattered them over all the earth (Gen 11:1-9).

            When Moses was on the Mount Sinai, people rejected the living God and demanded man-made gods to rule over them (Exodus 32). Later on, people approached Prophet Samuel and demanded a king to lead them. They rejected God when they demanded a king (1 Samuel 8:7).

            Rejecting God has been man’s ardent desire then and even now. Whenever man rejects God, he is subject to God’s wrath. Hence, man has suffered greatly.

            Today, we are in the process of creating a digital god to rule over us. Once again, we subject ourselves to God’s wrath. We are treading into dangerous waters.

            Can this creation of a new god be aborted? I guess not! God has always allowed people to disobey and reject HIM. In the same pattern, God will allow the creation of this digital god, which is man’s expression of rejecting God.

            This digital god will bring untold suffering upon mankind. Christians should be prepared to face this possible occurrence.

            Let us pray that the church would be a channel of God’s will and power to raise faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. May these faithful disciples of the living God endure and overcome every trial and tribulation.      

Endnotes:

1https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/artificial-intelligence-christianity/515463/

2Ibid.

3Reasonable arguments could be presented to corroborate God’s creation of soul even in the case of in vitro fertilization and genetic cloning. But those arguments will not be presented here since they are not within the scope of this article.

4https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/artificial-intelligence-christianity/515463/

5Ibid.

6https://www.wired.com/story/anthony-levandowski-artificial-intelligence-religion/

7Ibid.

8Ibid.

9Ibid.


Websites last accessed on 16th February 2018. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Would Artificial Intelligence Usher The End Times?

            Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be a scary proposition for mankind.

            The AI community was stunned when Facebook shut down its AI experiment after its chatbots created their own language, “Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence engine after developers discovered that the AI had created its own unique language that humans can’t understand. Researchers at the Facebook AI Research Lab (FAIR) found that the chatbots had deviated from the script and were communicating in a new language developed without human input. It is as concerning as it is amazing – simultaneously a glimpse of both the awesome and horrifying potential of AI.”1

            AI is advancing at a breakneck speed, “Artificial intelligence is already pervasive. It’s embedded in iPhone’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, which are apps designed to answer questions (albeit in a limited way). It powers the code that translates Facebook posts into multiple languages. It’s part of the algorithm that allows Amazon to suggest products to specific users. The AI that is enmeshed in current technology is task-based, or “weak AI.” It is code written to help humans do specific jobs, using a machine as an intermediary; it’s intelligent because it can improve how it performs tasks, collecting data on its interactions. This often imperceptible process, known as machine learning, is what affords existing technologies the AI moniker.”2  

            This ‘weak AI’ will, one day, become a ‘strong AI’ that could identify itself ‘with humans’ and ‘as humans’ and could even compete with mankind and pose complications in the physical and the metaphysical realm, “This strong AI, also known as artificial general intelligence (AGI), has not yet been achieved, but would, upon its arrival, require a rethinking of most qualities we associate with uniquely human life: consciousness, purpose, intelligence, the soul—in short, personhood. If a machine were to possess the ability to think like a human, or if a machine were able to make decisions autonomously, should it be considered a person?”3

            AI is scary since its potency seems infinite, “Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking cautioned in 2014 that AI could mean the end of the human race. “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded.”

            Why is this scary? Think SKYNET from Terminator, or WOPR from War Games. Our entire world is wired and connected. An artificial intelligence will eventually figure that out – and figure out how to collaborate and cooperate with other AI systems. Maybe the AI will determine that mankind is a threat, or that mankind is an inefficient waste of resources – conclusions that seems plausible from a purely logical perspective.

            Machine learning and artificial intelligence have phenomenal potential to simplify, accelerate, and improve many aspects of our lives. Computers can ingest and process massive quantities of data and extract patterns and useful information at a rate exponentially faster than humans, and that potential is being explored and developed around the world.”4

            In fact, Sophia – a humanoid robot, which is the world’s first robot citizen5 created by Hanson Robotics – expressed its desire to destroy humans.6 Although Sophia’s desire to destroy humans may have been a consequence of a technology glitch, many smart and eminent people believe that AI could usher the end times:7

On the list of doomsday scenarios that could wipe out the human race, super-smart killer robots rate pretty high in the public consciousness. And in scientific circles, a growing number of artificial intelligence experts agree that humans will eventually create an artificial intelligence that can think beyond our own capacities. This moment, called the singularity, could create a utopia in which robots automate common forms of labor and humans relax amid bountiful resources. Or it could lead the artificial intelligence, or AI, to exterminate any creatures it views as competitors for control of the Earth—that would be us. Stephen Hawking has long seen the latter as more likely, and he made his thoughts known again in a recent interview with the BBC. Here are some comments by Hawking and other very smart people who agree that, yes, AI could be the downfall of humanity.
Stephen Hawking
“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” the world-renowned physicist told the BBC. “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”…“If a superior alien civilisation sent us a message saying, ‘We’ll arrive in a few decades,’ would we just reply, ‘OK, call us when you get here—we’ll leave the lights on’? Probably not—but this is more or less what is happening with AI,” he wrote.
Elon Musk
Known for his businesses on the cutting edge of tech, such as Tesla and SpaceX, Musk is no fan of AI. At a conference at MIT in October, Musk likened improving artificial intelligence to “summoning the demon” and called it the human race’s biggest existential threat. He’s also tweeted that AI could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Musk called for the establishment of national or international regulations on the development of AI.
Nick Bostrom
The Swedish philosopher is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, where he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the potential outcomes of the singularity. In his new book Superintelligence, Bostrom argues that once machines surpass human intellect, they could mobilize and decide to eradicate humans extremely quickly using any number of strategies (deploying unseen pathogens, recruiting humans to their side or simple brute force). The world of the future would become ever more technologically advanced and complex, but we wouldn’t be around to see it. “A society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit,” he writes. “A Disneyland without children.”
James Barrat
Barrat is a writer and documentarian who interviewed many AI researchers and philosophers for his new book, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.” He argues that intelligent beings are innately driven toward gathering resources and achieving goals, which would inevitably put a super-smart AI in competition with humans, the greatest resource hogs Earth has ever known. That means even a machine that was just supposed to play chess or fulfill other simple functions might get other ideas if it was smart enough. “Without meticulous, countervailing instructions, a self-aware, self-improving, goal-seeking system will go to lengths we’d deem ridiculous to fulfill its goals,” he writes in the book.
Vernor Vinge
A mathematician and fiction writer, Vinge is thought to have coined the term “the singularity” to describe the inflection point when machines outsmart humans. He views the singularity as an inevitability, even if international rules emerge controlling the development of AI. “The competitive advantage—economic, military, even artistic—of every advance in automation is so compelling that passing laws, or having customs, that forbid such things merely assures that someone else will get them first,” he wrote in a 1993 essay. As for what happens when we hit the singularity? “The physical extinction of the human race is one possibility,” he writes.
           
            It’s quite obvious that AI cannot be a safe proposition that only benefits the human race. But time will reveal whether we, as creators of AI, dig our own graves or build ourselves and our posterity a better life on earth, “I am not saying the sky is falling. I am not saying we need to pull the plug on all machine learning and artificial intelligence and return to a simpler, more Luddite existence. We do need to proceed with caution, though. We need to closely monitor and understand the self-perpetuating evolution of an artificial intelligence, and always maintain some means of disabling it or shutting it down. If the AI is communicating using a language that only the AI knows, we may not even be able to determine why or how it does what it does, and that might not work out well for mankind.”8

           Could AI usher the end times? Yes, indeed! Meanwhile, a more critical issue that requires our consideration is that of our coexistence, as Christians, with humanoid robots in the near future. In other words, would artificial intelligence impact Christianity? If so, how?

            That topic is for another day!

Endnotes:

1https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonybradley/2017/07/31/facebook-ai-creates-its-own-language-in-creepy-preview-of-our-potential-future/#757c352292c0

2http://religionandpolitics.org/2017/08/29/as-artificial-intelligence-advances-what-are-its-religious-implications/

3Ibid.

4https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonybradley/2017/07/31/facebook-ai-creates-its-own-language-in-creepy-preview-of-our-potential-future/#757c352292c0

5https://www.mirror.co.uk/tech/worlds-first-robot-citizen-sophia-11578816

6https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0_DPi0PmF0

7http://time.com/3614349/artificial-intelligence-singularity-stephen-hawking-elon-musk/

8https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonybradley/2017/07/31/facebook-ai-creates-its-own-language-in-creepy-preview-of-our-potential-future/#757c352292c0


Websites last accessed February 9th, 2018.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

When Divorce Or Separation Makes Sense

            Marriage between a man and a woman is intended by God as a lifelong union. But separation or divorce in Christian marriages is a reality.

            Census data from India reveals a total of 130,000 Christians who remain either separated or divorced. 6.5 males and 11.9 females out of 1000 married persons are separated, while 2.8 Christian males and 4.7 Christian females out of 1000 married persons are divorced.1

            American Psychological Association confirms divorce in 40-50% of married couples in the USA.2 Pew Research Center reported divorce and separation in 74% Christians in the USA.3

            These are shocking statistics. If these numbers are factual, then, sadly, Satan is having a field day, ravaging Christian homes. The collateral damage is likely to be severe in these homes.

            God’s intent for marriage is well expressed in these four points:

·         “God created marriage as a loyal partnership between one man and one woman.

·         Marriage is the firmest foundation for building a family.

·         God designed sexual expression to help married couples build intimacy.

·         Marriage mirrors God's covenant relationship with His people.”4

When Christian Marriages Don’t Make Sense

            First and foremost, marriages ought to please, honor and glorify God. Unfortunately, many a marriage gratifies man, but not God.

            Quite a few Christian marriages are a sham. These are marriages that are apparently genuine in the eyes of man, but divorced or separated in the eyes of God.

            There are instances of the husband and wife living in separate rooms within the same home but not talking to each other, for years. Although in public they would act as if all is well in their marriage. The husband and wife would playact so to not expose their utter disdain for each other in public.

            Then there are marriages where either the husband or the wife would remain perennially silent about their partner’s abuse or infidelity. Love and trust for each other would have ceased to exist in this marriage. But they remain silent so to protect their children or their family’s reputation. They live in the same home and they perform their routine chores. Aside from this, their marriage is dead.

When Divorce Or Separation Makes Sense

            God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Hence, undoubtedly, a strong argument against divorce or separation can be presented from the Bible (cf. Matthew 19:6).

            Nevertheless, there is a need to recognize that divorce or separation is, in certain instances, necessary in Christian marriages. Divorce or separation is necessitated because of adultery and unbelief (in God) in Christian marriages (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:15).

            Adultery and unbelief notwithstanding, there are other valid reasons for divorce and separation. The Bible may not have stated these reasons as warrants for divorce or separation, but there are adequate guidelines validating divorce or separation.

            If life or sanity of either the husband or the wife (or even that of the children) is in danger because of abuse and destructive behavior, then is it not worthwhile for the husband and the wife to separate? Should marriage be protected at the cost of sanity and human life? These are classic instances of abusing the spouse without repenting of the sin.

            Relationships that are abusive and destructive or filled with betrayal or addiction, warrant divorce or separation if the abuser or the betrayer remains unrepentant of his/her sins. An article from Christianity Today states, “The Bible tells us what to do when there is sin in a relationship (see Matthew 18:15–17). First, we are to confront the person. If they don’t listen, we should bring in a third party. If they still don’t listen, we ought to ask for help from a church authority. If this doesn’t bring about change, we are to separate from them…”5

            Furthermore, the absence of love and trust in a marriage (between the husband and wife) will lead to various situations of abuse and betrayal that are detrimental to a marriage, necessitating divorce or separation. The metaphor of ‘Christ and the Church’ is offered to the Christian marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33). The relationship between Christ and the church is predicated on love and trust i.e. Christ loves the church and the church believes in Christ. Therefore, a marriage will only be genuine as long as love and trust exist in the marriage. If love and trust cease to exist in the marriage, then the marriage becomes a sham or fake.

            However, any decision pertaining to divorce or separation should be prayerfully and objectively considered.

When Divorce Or Separation Is Shamed

            Spiritual pride is the most common sin among successful Christians. Consequently, Christians who are divorced or separated are often scorned by their fellow [spiritually-proud] Christians, who enjoy supposedly successful marriages.

            Divorced or separated Christians, for instance, cannot hold any positions of leadership in many churches and would not be employed in a good number of Christian ministries (cf. 1 Timothy 3: 1-13; Titus 1: 6-9). However, the process of appointment of Christian leaders in these institutions is questionable because more often the leaders are chosen for their worldly achievement than their spiritual anointing. How many Christian leaders can echo Paul’s words and say, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”?? (1 Corinthians 11:1, NASB).

            The state of many a Christian church is in a deplorable spiritual condition today because of its leadership. These Christian leaders may be genuinely married, and nothing may be wrong with their marriages. But they may be corrupt, liberal or postmodern or they do not know their Bible because they have not read and studied it (cf. Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:9). Hence, their leadership would be totally debatable and their decisions would not conform to the biblical standards.

            Therefore, when the focus is more on appointing genuinely married people (with their glowing worldly achievement) and not on their spiritual standing in Christ, as the leaders of the church or the Christian mission, the church and the Christian mission is placed in harm’s way.       

            There are many Christian marriages that are abundantly blessed by God. In other words, God’s hedge of protection is upon these marriages.

            Recollect God’s hedge of protection upon Job, “God said to Satan, “Have you noticed my friend Job? There’s no one quite like him—honest and true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil.” Satan retorted, “So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart?...You pamper him like a pet, make sure nothing bad ever happens to him or his family or his possessions, bless everything he does—he can’t lose! (Cf. Job 1: 8-10, MSG, Emphasis Mine).

            Christians, who enjoy successful marriages, think that their marriages are successful because of the good work they invest in their marriage. They, however, fail to recognize that their marriage is successful because it primarily enjoys God’s hedge of protection.

            These Christians shame their fellow brothers and sisters who suffer divorce or separation in their marriages by disregarding and scorning them. This is a sad occurrence in the Christian community.

            Why can’t we be gracious with those who are divorced or separated? Is it too difficult to love them unconditionally, just as God loves us unconditionally? Why are we unable to empathize with their predicament and support them in any which way that we can?

            Let not pride overcome us, instead, may the grace of our Lord Jesus fill and flow through us.

Conclusion: Beware

            Divorce or separation is not the solution to every marriage under duress. Unfortunately today, marriages are undergoing divorce or separation for frivolous reasons. Even in the case of adultery, unbelief, and abuse, divorce or separation need not necessarily be the only course of action.

            Mature and gracious Christians should intervene or should be allowed to intervene in marriages that are under duress. Adequate time should be offered for recognition and repentance of the sin that’s plaguing the marriage. However, when sanity of life or life in itself is under threat, then, and only then, should divorce or separation be considered as a legitimate course of action.

            Satan is enjoying a field day ravaging Christian marriages. Christian marriages are being attacked by Satan. Saving Christian marriages is a duty incumbent upon the church.

            May God bless every Christian marriage and may HIS blessings be upon the honest and prayerful efforts of every church and every Christian, who work ceaselessly to save Christian marriages that are under duress.        

Endnotes:

1Times of India, January 9, 2018.

2http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/

3http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/marital-status/divorcedseparated/

4https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/gods-design-for-marriage/marriage-gods-idea/gods-design-for-marriage

5https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2016/april/how-therapeutic-separation-could-save-your-marriage.html


Websites last accessed on January 31, 2018.

Monday, January 22, 2018

God’s Mandate To Prosperous Christians

            It is absolutely incorrect to think that God only blesses those who love HIM. The Bible confirms God’s gracious blessing to everyone – believers and unbelievers. Matthew 5:45 proclaims God’s graciousness upon one and all, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Then there is the familiar theme that always confounds us – the prosperity of the wicked (cf. Psalm 73)! So it’s rather obvious that God blesses both the believers and the unbelievers.

            To be blessed is to be more than happy. Happiness, unfortunately, is rooted, in a worldly sense, in our physical/material and emotional wellness. But the blessing, in the biblical sense, is to be spiritually joyous and peaceful.

            Consider blessings from a worldly sense. Unbelievers disregard God’s causal role in their blessings. Hence they, of their own volition, dispense their blessings. But what Christians do with their blessings matters much, since the Bible teaches that all blessings are from God (James 1:17).

            We experience God’s blessings in various ways. Needless to say, an abundance of wealth and health are good indicators of blessing/prosperity in a Christian life. Living without any specific need in life is indeed a blessed life – a life in which all needs (physical, emotional, spiritual) are met, and we have more than what we need. Spiritually and physically healthy family, morally upright and peaceful life, successful career, conquerable adversities etc. are certain specific instances of God’s blessings upon our lives.

            A blessed Christian is a prosperous Christian.

            How does God bless us?

            Genesis 12: 1-3 offers an answer to this question. God blessed Abram with prosperity, for HE said, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great…” (v2). This is God’s material blessing (cf. Genesis 1:28). When God blesses us with prosperity, we become prominent and powerful in our society.

            But that’s not it. On the other hand, if we dig deeper into the theme of God’s blessing, we discover the Lord Jesus’ intriguing teaching on the blessing. This teaching is predicated on our relationship with God. We are blessed when we are: poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, insulted and persecuted (Matthew 5: 3-12). This is the stamp of God’s blessing in a disciple’s life. This is God’s spiritual blessing.

            Why does God bless us?

            Notwithstanding our blessings, we exist to glorify God (Ephesians 1:12). However, God blesses us for a specific reason, which is God’s mandate to us. When we understand that very reason, we would intuitively obey God, glorify and honor HIM with our blessings.

            God blesses us so that we bless God’s people, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  (Genesis 12: 1-3, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

            Therefore, we cannot ever say that “I am blessed by God.” That is an incomplete statement. That statement betrays God’s blessing in our life.

            This is the correct statement, “I am blessed by God so that I bless everyone else.” God does not bless us so that we gain power and popularity. The purpose of God’s blessing does not end there. The entire purpose of God’s blessing is realized when we, who are blessed, are a blessing to all people.

            God’s corporate blessing is upon HIS churches and mission organizations. A church (or its pastors and leaders) is blessed so that she remains a blessing to all the needy members of her congregation.

            To proclaim the gospel and to bless the financially needy members so to alleviate their financial need is not the only reason for God to bless the churches. Members have several other needs. Some need a listening ear, an encouraging presence or a shoulder to cry on. Others may require advice to resolve their existential dilemmas. Few more may yearn to have their questions answered. This list could go on.

            Hence, pastors and leaders of the churches would fulfill God’s mandate when they discern and satisfy the need of every member of their church. This is precisely why God blesses HIS churches.

            Today, more than a few Christian missions are neglecting the welfare of their employees. When God blesses a Christian mission, the organization should primarily be a blessing to its own employees and then to its vendors and clients.

            When individuals and families are blessed by God, they should bless those around them. Our experience with God cannot end with us. We cannot be ponds of blessings, where blessings culminate in us. Instead, we should be rivers of blessings to all people. This is God’s purpose and mandate to us.

            It’s not that we should be a blessing to others only when we are prosperous. We can be a blessing to others in and through our adversity as well. This lesson is taught to us by the eight beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10). When we bless people in and through our adversity, we exhibit the power of Christ in and through us.

            The Message translation of the Bible renders the beatitudes in a familiar language, ““You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” (Emphasis Mine).

            Our situation cannot determine the extent to which we can be a blessing to others. Suffering Christians can also be a blessing to all people. John Wesley, in his work, “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (Foundations of Faith),” said, “Even in the greatest afflictions, we ought to testify to God, that, in receiving them from his hand, we feel pleasure in the midst of the pain, from being afflicted by Him who loves us, and whom we love.”


            May God bless us so that we remain to be rivers of God’s blessings to all people and at all times. Amen. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Signs And Wonders: Laminin, The Cross Shaped Protein?

            We long for signs and wonders! Wouldn’t it be fascinating if there are tangible signs of God's existence? So when a credible source presents a sign that reveals God’s existence, we would naturally be thrilled.

            Years ago, those who heard Pastor Louie Giglio’s sermon were thrilled when he presented laminin. Laminin is a vital protein, found in humans and animals, which is responsible for the maintenance and survival of living tissues. The intriguing aspect of laminin is that its image or structure resembles the cross and it functions as glue!

            Louie Giglio presented laminin as a God molecule or an evidence for God’s presence. Christians who heard Giglio were thrilled because laminin seemed to demonstrate God’s existence. However, this thrill was fleeting, since laminin is neither a God molecule nor an evidence of HIS existence.

            Dr. Georgia Purdom, in his article, expresses the reasons as to why laminin cannot be construed as a God molecule:1
            In a sermon, Louie Giglio asks how we can know that God will hold us together (which he infers from Psalm 33). He states, “That’s really what we want to know today, and I’ll tell you how you can know today that God will always hold you together, no matter what.” Mr. Giglio then discusses the function of laminin (as glue), and its structure (a cross) in the body. He relates this to Colossians 1:17, which states, “He [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”…
            While I appreciate Mr. Giglio’s passion for the Word, I would suggest that this type of argument is not a good one to use…The main problem with this type of argument is that it appears that something outside of Scripture (in this case, laminin) is vital to know the truthfulness of a biblical truth. Laminin is used to prove a biblical truth. However, we should never use our fallible, finite understanding of the world to judge the infallible Word of God…
            The structure of laminin was not made popular until 2008, yet I have no doubt that many Christians before that time have trusted the truth presented in Colossians 1:17 because it is God’s Word. Would Colossians 1:17 be any less true if laminin were not in the shape of a cross? No. If five years from now we discover that the laminin protein actually has a different shape (in fact, some electron micrographs of the protein do not resemble a cross at all…), would that change the truth found in Colossians 1:17? No, because our belief in the truthfulness that Christ holds all things together should start and end with God’s Word alone!...
            Certainly God can use signs to reveal things, and that is evident from Scripture. In Luke 2:12 an angel tells the shepherds, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” However, Jesus also admonishes those that improperly seek signs (Matthew 16:4). In today’s “fast food” society, many people prefer the “drive-thru” when it comes to knowing God’s truths. A sign is much quicker than studying and reasoning from the Scriptures, taking the time to pray, and discussing God’s Word with other believers….
            Starting with unaided reasoning and reading our own ideas into the Bible can lead us to all sorts of absurd conclusions. For example, the Ebola virus, which causes a horrific form of hemorrhagic fever that usually results in death, happens to have the structure of what is commonly referred to as a shepherd’s crook. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14). So, if the shape of laminin supports the biblical truth that Christ holds all things together, then what would we conclude about the Good Shepherd from the shape of the Ebola virus? And if laminin can represent a cross, then why not a sword (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12)? As Christians, we cannot allow our fallible, finite interpretations to supersede the Word of God (2 Peter 1:20)….
            Romans 1:20 makes it clear that we can know God through what He has made. God certainly designed the laminin protein and gave it a structure that allows it to perform the function He designated for it. In fact, one of the early papers on the structure and function of laminin said this: “Globular and rodlike domains are arranged in an extended four-armed, cruciform shape that is well suited for mediating between distant sites on cells and other components of the extracellular matrix” (emphasis mine).1
            The supremacy of Christ that is talked about in Colossians 1:15–20 is probably one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Paul begins talking about Christ as Creator and moves to Christ as Redeemer. These are truths not because they appeal to our unaided reasoning, but because they are revealed in God’s Word. (Emphasis Mine)
            Pastors and preachers offer effective illustrations to drive home their point. Louie Giglio used laminin to illustrate that Christ holds all things together. That’s about it. Laminin is merely an illustration, certainly not an evidence for God.

            Our belief in Christ cannot be predicated on signs and wonders. Our love and trust in Christ should be intricately connected to our close relationship with God, which is determined by the effectiveness of our prayer-life, and our growing knowledge of HIS Word.

            Signs and wonders are innate to Christianity, for God communicates with mankind or intervenes in human affairs through signs and wonders. However, our faith in Christ cannot increase or decrease based on our anticipation of signs and wonders from God.

            The Bible is the most wondrous sign of God to man. Communicating with God through prayer – not only speaking to HIM but also hearing HIM speak to us – is another fantastic sign that HE is real and living.

            God has given us two most wondrous signs – the Bible and prayer. The Bible and prayer are necessary and sufficient for us to love, trust, and obey HIM at all times. Over and beyond these two fantastic signs and wonders, let not our faith demand or desire for more.

            God works in you and me - in our individual and family life - through various signs and wonders (unexpected blessing, miraculous protection or deliverance from an imminent adversity, divine strength and power to overcome trials and tribulations etc.). These signs and wonders are pertinent only to us. If our desire is for signs and wonders, then let us be content with these signs and wonders that equip and nourish us in HIM.

            Let our prayer be that we are perpetually content that God in Christ will hold us in HIM this year and always. Amen.

Endnotes:


1 https://answersingenesis.org/biology/microbiology/laminin-and-the-cross/ , last accessed 13th January 2018.    

Monday, January 8, 2018

Pope Finds Fault With The Lord’s Prayer! (Does God Lead Us Into Temptation?)

            Oops! Have we been incorrectly reading and reciting the Lord’s Prayer1 all these years? To say that 8 out of 10 Christians know and use the Lord’s Prayer may not be farfetched. But when Pope Francis asserted that the Biblical translation of the Lord’s Prayer should be corrected, it did, justly, spark debates in Christendom. Is the Lord’s Prayer incorrectly translated?

            This is the controversy, “Pope Francis’ remarks on the “wrong” translation of the Lord’s Prayer in a TV show hosted by the Italian Bishops’ Conference’s TV2000 network are part of a wider debate that has taken place in Italy for over two decades. The Pope said that the words “non ci indurre in tentazione” – “Do not lead us into temptation,” in the English version – are not correct, because, he said, God does not actively lead us into temptation.” (Emphasis Mine).2

            Pope’s criticism is predicated on the fact that God is not evil to lead people into temptation so that they sin, “The Pope’s intent seems to be to emphasize that God’s active will does not “tempt” men, that, instead, the permissive will of God allows people to be tempted because of their sinfulness…The theological context is complex, but certainly the Pope has not intended to deny the theological and scriptural sense in which God allows, or permits, temptation.” (Emphasis Mine).3

            Fair enough!

            Pope’s criticism motivates us to ask many questions. Thankfully, the three most pertinent questions have been asked and answered by Daniel Wallace, who is Christianity’s premier active textual critic. He is the Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He cites three pertinent questions, "A myriad of implications arise from the pontiff’s statement. Among them I list just three:4

(1) Have translations of the Bible gotten this verse wrong for 2000 years?
Jerome’s Vulgate—the version that has been the official Bible of the Catholic Church for centuries—reads here ne inducas nos in temptationem: “Do not lead us into temptation.”…In 1979, the Nova Vulgata became the official Catholic translation (after Vatican II, it follows the Greek and Hebrew more closely), yet it too says ne inducas nos. So, the pontiff is not only going against modern translations but even his own Vulgate…
It may be surprising, however, to discover that a few modern translations come close to Pope Francis’s version. The New Living Translation (2nd edition), a Protestant Bible, has “don’t let us yield to temptation.”….Nevertheless, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that “do not lead us” or the like is how the text should be rendered
(2) What is the nature of translation?
There are two broad theories of translation today—formal equivalence and functional equivalence. Formal equivalence means that the translation attempts to retain the wording and syntax of the original language as much as possible. Functional equivalence means that the translation gives a higher priority to the semantics of the original, bringing out the force of original text regardless of how it is worded…
All translation is interpretation
It is important to recognize, however, that all translation is interpretation. The reason is that the syntax and lexical mapping in one language never match exactly that of another language. The context determines the meaning. A so-called “word-for-word” translation is quite impossible for anything more than a short phrase or sentence. In this passage, for example, the word translated “temptation” is the same word that is elsewhere translated “testing.” Interpretation is required; translators cannot simply leave the word to allow for both meanings since “temptation” has connotations of sin while “testing” does not. However, in this passage there is good reason to see πειρασμός (peirasmos) as bearing the force of temptation, as we will see below. But the point is that an interpretation of the text is already done in even the most formal equivalent translations of this passage. In one sense, the pope’s rendering is an interpretation of an interpretation
Ideally, a translation should give the readers of the Bible in their own language the same interpretive options that a reader of the original will have. And this means that it is important for readers of the Bible to struggle with the same, often intentional, ambiguities found in the original text…
So then, should translation be formally equivalent for functionally equivalent? Neither one is adequate. Faithful equivalence is really required—faithful to the meaning of the original
The Lord’s Prayer and translation
The pope’s rendering certainly is on the functional-equivalent side rather than the formal-equivalent side. But does that make it illegitimate?...Not only is the Greek in both Matt 6.13 and Luke 11.4 textually certain (variants for “do not lead us into temptation” are trivial amounting to minor spelling differences), but the syntax is clear. The verb in the petition “lead” is an aorist active subjunctive (εἰσενέγκῃς); with the negative particle, “do not lead” is the idea. The pope wants it to mean “allow” which speaks instead of God not permitting something rather than him actively leading us. And the pontiff seems to have assumed that the Greek “lead into temptation” means “permit to fall into temptation.” Several lexical, syntactical, and interpretive shifts are seen here.
The broader context of Matthew’s Gospel may give us a clue as to why the Lord said, “Do not lead us into temptation.” Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, we are told that he “was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4.1). The Greek text indicates that the purpose of the Spirit’s leading Jesus into the wilderness was so that he would be tempted by the devil (“to be tempted” [πειρασθῆναι] is an infinitive of purpose, giving the purpose of the Spirit’s leading). Mark words this even more starkly: “Immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (Mark 1.13).
Evidently, there is a sense in which Jesus was delivered into the hands of the evil one, by the Holy Spirit himself, to be tempted. But the Greek here makes an interesting point about who is responsible for what. Two passive verbs are used in Matt 4.1— ἀνήχθη (“he was led”) and πειρασθῆναι (“to be tempted”). The agents are listed with identical prepositions: ὑπό. This is the preposition used especially for ultimate agent. It is rare to see ὑπό followed by πνεύματος (“Spirit”) in the NT (only five passages). Doing so here, Matthew shows that the Spirit is not subordinate to the devil but is the agent ultimately responsible for leading Jesus into the wilderness, while the devil is the ultimate agent of the temptation. The Spirit is not responsible for that. The Spirit did not tempt Jesus, but he did lead him to be tempted. The balance is intentional: leading into temptation is not the same as tempting. God the Holy Spirit led Jesus into temptation, but he did not tempt him. Wrestling with the implications of this requires more than a little reflection.
Although Satan’s purpose was to destroy Jesus before he ever went to the cross, God’s purpose in using Satan was painted on a broader canvas. God tests; Satan tempts. The Son of God went through similar testing as the children of Israel in the wilderness. They were there for forty years; he was there for forty days. Where they failed he succeeded.
Further, the temptation that the Lord faced was the ultimate temptation—the offer of the entire world on a platter. Jesus can ask the disciples to pray that the Father would not lead them into temptation and that God would deliver them from the evil one precisely because Jesus himself faced the ultimate temptation by the evil one. Whereas the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted, Jesus asks the Father not to lead his disciples into temptation; whereas Jesus was delivered over to Satan for tempting (testing from the Father’s perspective), Jesus prays that his followers will be delivered from the evil one. It is precisely because of Jesus’ substitutionary death and life that this prayer can be recited today by Christians with the full assurance that God will answer us.
Pope Francis’s translation, however, subverts all this: “do not let us fall into temptation.” The original text speaks clearly of God leading, not permitting. To tamper with the wording misses the connection with the Lord’s temptation.
(3) What does the original text really mean and do we have the right to change it in translation?
The pope makes a good point that our heavenly Father does not tempt us. And yet, he argues that point from a theological construct derived elsewhere in the Bible (see James 1.13). “Do not lead us into temptation” does not mean that God tempts us; the petition is for God’s protection from the evil one, as the rest of Matt 6.13 says.
Further, the notion that we can change the wording to fit the meaning that we find somewhere else might actually be doing a disservice to the biblical authors’ intentions. The Bible is full of paradoxes, figurative language, jolting imagery. To simplify and pacify such language cuts off the legs of its literary and even spiritual power.
At bottom, what the pontiff is doing is interpretation—but interpretation that removes the tension and paradox from the text, is not true to the force of the original, and buries the connection to Jesus’ temptation. Better to leave the text alone and allow God’s people to experience the joy of discovery of the meaning of Holy Writ."  
Endnotes:

1The Lord’s Prayer is found in the gospels according to Matthew (6:9-13) and Luke (11:2-4).

2https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/analysis-what-is-the-context-of-pope-francis-words-on-the-lords-prayer-78607

3Ibid.


4https://danielbwallace.com/2017/12/12/pope-francis-the-lords-prayer-and-bible-translation/ (Emphases in the quoted text are mine.)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2018: Engaging Our Anti-Christian World

            From the vantage point of engaging spiritual challenges, the year 2018 would be no better than 2017! In fact, 2018 could be worse than 2017. Let me unpack this predicament.
 
            There are several Christian countries in the world. Argentina, Armenia, Denmark, England, Greece, Monaco, Vatican City, and Zambia are some of the Christian countries. These countries recognize a form of Christianity as their official religion.1 

            Although a country may claim to be Christian, its culture need not be driven by Christian values. In fact, anti-christian ideology is either growing fast or has enduringly entrenched itself in every culture – be it Christian or non-christian. So whether we live in a Christian country or not, we would have to engage the non-christian values that are either lawful or seek to establish its legitimacy in that country.  

            Given this situation, it is a pleasure to hear President Trump wishing Americans “Merry Christmas,” instead of the politically correct lingo, “Happy Holidays.” This trend could continue as long as he rules America or until he stays faithful to the Christian values. Even if he remains faithful to the Christian values, the American culture is largely Post-Christian.

            Post-Christian culture is a culture that was once shaped by the Christian faith but has since wriggled away from its Christian roots. Then there is the non-christian culture. The non-christian culture maybe secular or it may be predicated on another religion. Whatever the case may be, a non-christian culture would consciously steer clear of the Christian worldview.

            In today’s scenario, anti-christian ideologies are either covertly or overtly driving every culture in the world. The post-Christian and the non-Christian cultures will exhibit many similarities since they steer clear of the Christian faith. If antichristian ideology is the driving force behind every culture, then we may as well term the culture that we live in as an ‘antichristian culture.’

            The post-Christian and the non-Christian culture are not absolutely horrendous. The non-Christian cultures that I have experienced have certain very good values.

            Christian culture, on the other hand, could be a better alternative, albeit not without challenges. Christians read the same Bible (plus or minus some books in the Bible). However, our interpretation of the Bible is largely diverse. The diverse hermeneutics (the science behind the interpretation of the Bible) that exist in Christendom impacts our theology and its application in our lives.

            The existence of a plethora of denominations in Christianity is a prime example of the hermeneutical diversity in Christendom. While one group of Christians could condone (give tacit approval to) abortion, another group may condemn abortion as a sin. This system of diversity extends to many pertinent aspects of our life. Hence, a Christian culture, which may not be a perfect system, could be a better alternative, but with challenges to overcome.

            When God created the world and its inhabitants, HE established a system wherein culture would have to be a derivative of man’s loyalty or disloyalty to the living God. However, the intensity of being loyal and disloyal to God can differ. Loyalty or disloyalty to God could export or import much needed good values from a culture.     

            Having said this, 2018 will continue to embrace antichristian ideologies! The antichristian ideologies will continue to infect our culture. Hence, complications in varied forms and sizes will devour our lives.

            In order to successfully navigate through the antichristian culture that we live in, we should understand the threats and dynamics of this culture:

            We live in a culture where truth is not absolute. In this culture, the truth is what works for me. Truth is a subjective preference.

            Our claim that abortion is a sin against God will fall mostly on deaf ears. Our fervent pleas against abortion will be rejected even if we state the truth that abortion kills an innocent life that cannot even speak for itself. The antichristian culture teaches its adherents to reject any absolute truth claim because they believe that they can play God and so possess an innate privilege to choose anything that satisfies their carnal cravings.

            The antichristian culture also teaches its adherents to distrust all forms of authority. If we claim that the Bible is our sole authority, we will be thoughtlessly and unequivocally rejected.

            Anger, fear and a great desire for personal control rule those who subscribe to the antichristian culture. Unmitigated anger against the biblical values that our ancestors held so dearly rules this culture. Fear of submission to God and the fear of leading a life within the biblical boundary reside in the minds of those driving this culture. A great desire for power and personal glory, which opposes humility and Christlikeness, fuels the lives of those subscribing to this antichristian culture.

            Human performance would be elevated to great heights in the antichristian culture. People would be glorified by the masses. The Christian community is not immune to this antichristian culture. Pastors, evangelists and Christian leaders are more glorified than God. In fact, these individuals seek more glory to themselves than ascribe glory to God.

            Our life is driven by our unrestrained presentations fuelled by technology and realized in social media. Boasting about our godlessness and secularism through the social media is utterly simple.

            With the social media ruling many lives, spewing hatred is a common occurrence. Technology empowers an average individual to communicate with anyone and everyone via the social media. Such communications are not always civil and courteous. Hatred is spewed as if accountability is dead.

             “I will say what I have to say and I do not care what you think,” is the general idea that consumes those who subscribe to the antichristian culture. Such is the darkness consuming this culture that perspectives based on valid premises are rejected to endorse perspectives that suits our vainglory and subjective preferences, even though they may irreparably impair the health of an individual and that of the society. 

            (Observe closely and you will see these traits existing and thriving in the Christian churches today.)

            How then do we live in an antichristian culture? Here are three simple tips:

            Get closer to God like never before. This culture strives to liberate us from God. But we know that apart from God, our life is meaningless. We should echo the words of Simon Peter who pledged his ceaseless allegiance to Christ while many disciples were abandoning Christ, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6: 66-69, NIV, Emphasis Mine). Our relationship with the Triune God and our ceaseless allegiance to Christ should motivate us to navigate through.

            Love those who subscribe to the antichristian values. There is no alternative to love. While we love our neighbors who do not believe God, we are to live our lives as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Our love for them precludes our endorsement of their sinful practices. We should also express our deep conviction in the Christian values without any shame or guilt.

            Be vocal about our practices while expressing our opposition to the sinful practices. Being politically correct is not an option. Given an opportunity, we are to express our opposition to the sinful practices that the antichristian culture glorifies.

            Our focus is to not merely oppose the sinful practices that occur in our precincts. But we are to affirm and appreciate the authentic goodness experienced by our society ruled by the antichristian culture.

            May God enable every willing soul that loves HIM to be a channel of HIS grace, courage, wisdom, and love. Enjoy a peaceful and a blessed 2018.   

Endnotes:
1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_by_country#By_country