Thursday, April 28, 2022

God Manifest in the Mundane

 Our recent family move to a different state necessitated many deliberate actions and modifications during the moving process. Of course, there was plentiful discard of what may be termed “junk.” The material for which we had no use was shipped to the “junkyard.” It no longer served any useful purpose. Other materials were classified as “clutter.” They needed to be organized more intelligently, perhaps to be used at a future time. In the past we did not see the value of materials we now judge to be clutter as significantly interesting or useful. Some clutter became useful as “giveaways,” including books which may or may not be useful to their new owners. Many items were donated to Goodwill Industries for resale.

Some giveaways had unusual histories. One example is the jade plant (Crassula ovata) which graced our Illinois home for almost twenty years. This jade plant began its sojourn as a very small plant a few inches tall, possibly purchased at very low cost from a supermarket shelf. A few months ago it had achieved a height of one meter and a width of a similar dimension. We found it impossible to transport this large volume jade plant to a new midwestern state. So we clipped all the fleshy leaves of the succulent plant, leaving only a few bare branches. It was a harsh reminder of the beauty we had enjoyed for two decades—now gone!

Happily, in the past few months our jade plant has experienced a renewal. Slowly, the branches have sprung back to life. The bare, woody stems have sprouted many new leaves fashioned in their characteristic ovals—some from the ends of stems where the clippers had lopped off succulent leaves, some from other random locations along the bare stems. The jade plant is slowly returning to its former attractive dense, dark green, fleshy succulence. This method of plant propagation is called root cutting. Some new jade plants also grew from stem cuttings. Several friends and relatives received young jade plants as “going away gifts,” offspring of our twenty year old jade plant.

Our experience with the recent renewal of our jade plant inspired us to research other methods of plant propagation. These fascinating methods are known to plant hobbyists. They have been developed over thousands of years ever since the writer of Genesis 1:29 penned these words: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (ESV). In addition to the method of plant propagation by seed, humanity has discovered other plant propagation methods in addition to the root and stem cutting methods described above. They are suitable for decorative plants such as our jade plant. Decorative plants are also created by God to supply esthetic enjoyment for humanity. Vegetative propagation methods involve splitting of the root system, layering, grafting, budding, and tissue culturing (used by cloning technologists to produce exact replicas). Our jade plant provided us with an imagery of resurrection as well as other spiritual life lessons.

What is our attitude toward the unusual characteristics of plants in our home and neighborhood? Do we perceive their fascinating characteristics as merely ordinary or do we recognize the unique traits as a manifestation of God’s creative genius? We have mused that the jade plant’s color, unique leaf shape, succulence and especially its power of renewal are wondrous outworkings of the genetic code which governs the activity of all life forms. Beyond this, many human gardeners are hobbyists gifted with creative plant propagation talents reflecting the ability of the Divine Creator.

When our grandchildren visited our Northwestern Illinois home and marveled at the multitude of unusual traits of plants and animals in our neighborhood, they were reminded by their grandfather many times that “God had (has) great ideas." We encouraged them to reflect and appreciate the mundane as well as the exceptionally unusual.     



Saturday, April 16, 2022

God Belief---Proven, Probable, or Doubtful?

 What is more important than belief in God? Many would put this question at the top of their list of important life issues. People who believe in God usually acknowledge that God is the Creator. Many also acknowledge that we should offer God respect and obedience. As Creator, God has established requirements for successful, fulfilled living. In our day of personal self-esteem, there are many ways these requirements are met. The wide spectrum of beliefs and how they manifest themselves in the fabric of our lives is very wide indeed.

Belief in God is fundamental. The Creator does not force his human creations to believe in a particular way. They are free to respond to God with love or reject Him in disbelief. Believers in God experience a wide range of allegiance to the Creator. God knows that in our human frame we are weak and imperfect. Sadly, even In our day up to one third of the populace professes disbelief in God. Their response depends on how the question is phrased. A large fraction of people self identify as a member of the category of “nones”—they do not identify with ANY religion. In the past fifteen years this fraction has virtually doubled. This may indicate these individuals do not believe in the reality of God. Included are atheists and agnostics.

In our personal devotional life there are many opportunities to contemplate the quality of our “God belief.” We acknowledge that our quality of belief may vary moment to moment or day to day. We may speak on the topic of personal “God belief” with family or friends. This results in many interesting discussions. Can we demonstrate that the reality of God has been proven? Is the Creator’s reality axiomatic and self-evident or a proposition taken to be true intrinsically? Some people insist they need proof for the existence of God. Others are satisfied with the probability that God exists. 

Individuals intent on solving such weighty questions must be approached honestly and sincerely. Truth seekers have devoted energy to solving similar questions for thousands of years. Our discussion barely touches the surface of this profound topic. Pastors in our church pulpits most often present their sermons assuming that their members’ “God belief” is axiomatic or self-evident.

What arguments for the reality of God are proposed by theologians or by the writers of science/faith blogs such as ours? There are several arguments. 

(1) The cosmological argument poses the reality of a first cause. William Lane Craig has stated the Kalam argument that everything has a cause. The universe began to exist. The universe, therefore, has a cause. That cause is God.

(2) The teleological argument is the argument citing the apparent design of the universe, sometimes called the intelligent design argument. When we examine the world, we perceive it is complex but coherent, orderly, and inherently purposeful. There are many aspects of the teleological argument including the apparent consistency of fundamental physical constants governing gravity, electromagnetic charges and forces, masses of particles, and velocity of light. If any of these physical constants were even slightly different, matter’s existence and life itself would be impossible. Existence of consistent physical constants is affirmation of the argument from design—intelligent supernatural design.

(3) The moral argument for God’s existence refers to objective truth which must exist driving people to act morally. God must exist to give authority to these moral truths.

These capsule statements are far from convincing. They do not prove God’s existence nor could they persuade anyone that God’s existence is probable. Our goal is to encourage subjective investigation related to this vital question. In a New Testament passage (Mark 9:23-25) the father of a demon-possessed boy confesses his belief in Christ as a divine healer was weak: “I believe; help my unbelief,” he stated. Many people of that day had difficulty believing in Christ and in the reality of the Heavenly Father. The issue of belief in divine reality has always been present in man. Ultimately, belief in God is a divine gift from God himself: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44).