God is Everywhere, Part 1: Consider the Butterfly

What is a rarer find than an albino deer munching a mouthful of four-leaf clovers that grew in a spot where lightning struck twice?  A Millenial Christian scientist.  I don’t mean a Millenial Christian Scientist – a young adult who emphasizes a connection between spiritual activity and physical healing – but a young adult who believes the orderly outlay of the universe is God’s creation.  I do not believe this only because I take the Bible, which covers the creation of the world in Genesis 1, literally, but because I see the natural world as so organized and intricate that its origins and processes could not have come about by chance.

Perhaps I exaggerated about the odds of a finding a person of my generation who believes in both a Christ and Creator.  But when I was an undergraduate in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program at a secular university, the scientific community that surrounded me dismissed all notions of Intelligent Design – the theory that a deliberate cause is behind certain aspects of nature – and especially Creationism – essentially, Intelligent Design that gives credit to an intelligent Creator – in favor of unguided evolution driven by mutation and circumstance.

But I could not swallow that.  I did as Jesus commanded: “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27, KJV).  Jesus was inviting His disciples to practice the first step of the Scientific Method: to observe the natural world around them.  Jesus wants us to look at the world around us – a wonderful reminder that God is powerful enough to keep the entire universe moving, yet loving enough to care about the petals of every flower.

And so ends the preamble to a series I am starting called “Consider the lilies…and other things.”  The first “other thing” will be…butterflies.  Today is National Learn about Butterflies Day  (Seriously.  I found out on Facebook.), so it’s appropriate for me to post this today.  Butterflies are amazing for many reasons: they “taste” with their feet, some species can fly at 37 miles per hour, and the monarch butterfly can successfully migrate over a distance of 2,000 miles without the aid of Google Maps (San Diego Zoo Global, 2016).  But what I find most fascinating about butterflies is the complex metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult butterfly.

When I was younger, I would capture swallowtail caterpillars I found munching on dill plants in my parents’ garden, place them in a large plastic container lovingly furnished with sticks, grass, dill, and air holes in the container’s lid, and wait for the day the creeping caterpillar would be replaced with a conical chrysalis.  I could only imagine what was taking place inside as the ugly duckling was turning into a swan.  Thanks to modern technology, we can have a better understanding of what takes place during this transition.  Recently, the method called micro-CT was used to take cross-section images of a chrysalis at different stages of metamorphosis (Young, 2013).  These images were put together to form virtual models showing how the organs and structures of a butterfly develop (Young, 2013).

While the processes of this event can be explained, much like the formation of a baby within its mother’s womb, both still carry an aura of mystery.  For me, both are evidence of God: elements and molecules come together to make organs and membranes exactly as He designed them to, yet no one’s hands but His can touch and mold the new life.  The author of  Psalm 139:13-14 praises God for this: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  

The transition of a crawling caterpillar into an airborne butterfly is also an illustration of the rebirth a person experiences when he is saved through Christ.  Jesus told Nicodemus (a Pharisee who was interested in Jesus’ teachings) that a man must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus was puzzled by these words which probably gave him a very weird mental image.  Jesus explained He was not talking about physical birth, but spiritual birth: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8).  Spiritual transformation cannot be gained through physical, earthly means.  It can only be gained through the grace given to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And once we are transformed, we are not just caterpillars wearing a new set of clothes; we are fluttering, soaring, unbounded butterflies no longer confined to the lowly world.  As Paul wrote to the people of Corinth, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  

Even though this front pew kid is all grown up, I still am amazed by the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies, of despairing hearts into joyous ones.  Such creations as the butterfly are wonderful reminders of the new lives God wants us to enjoy to the full.  Of course, He does not want us to forget who designed the caterpillars and butterflies in the first place, so this Christian scientist will be okay with leaving a few mysteries unexplained.

 

Photo credit: Author.

San Diego Zoo Global.  (2016).  Arthropods | Butterfly.  Retrieved from http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/butterfly.

Young, E.  (2013, May 14).  Not Exactly Rocket Science: 3-D Scans Reveal Caterpillars Turning Into Butterflies.  Retrieved from http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/14/3-d-scans-caterpillars-transforming-butterflies-metamorphosis/.

Unless noted, Bible verses are from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Faith in Humanity? I Think I’ll Pass…

In recent years, I have heard more and more about the cultural shift in the U.S. away from belief in a Higher Power to belief in Human Power.  The human heart that has never known the goodness of God might instinctively cheer this at first: “Woo-hoo; we’re in charge!  We can do what we want!”  But just wait for that heart to be cheated and hurt by other humans doing what they want, and the cheers will fade to silence.  For while we are capable of showing kindness and charity, humans are also vehicles for unspeakable evil.  The evening news does not broadcast a story on the adoption of all the orphans in the world, then report on an end to animal cruelty.  There is no interruption of an on-site report of peace in the Middle East with breaking news that poverty has been eradicated worldwide.  Instead, updates on murder trials are followed with recaps of nasty political debates, summaries of economic decline, and accounts of the latest corporate scandals.  These major stories, the times I have been let down, as well as my own personal faults and flaws make me wonder why anyone would want humans to be in control of this world.

But we’re not in control.  God is.  (cue Twila’s Paris’ hit from 1993).  When Adam and Eve – the first two humans to inhabit Earth – were first created, they enjoyed intimacy with God and were free from trouble.  To maintain this life in paradise, all they had to do was follow one command: not to eat fruit from one tree (the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; Genesis 2:16).  The Bible does not disclose how long Adam and Eve enjoyed this existence, but by the third chapter of Genesis, Satan is on the scene, bent on destroying these perfect lives.  He questions Eve on God’s sovereignty, and she decides to ignore God’s command.  She eats the fruit.  (Many front pew kids probably cry out loud, “Nooooo! Don’t eat it!!” whenever they read this story in the Bible.)  Eve convinces Adam to share in her disobedience, and perfect humanity comes to an end (Genesis 3:1-7).

It is interesting to note that in Genesis 3:22, God says that man now knows “good and evil.”  I will not delve too deeply into the philosophy of “If ‘evil’ does not exist, can ‘good’ exist since there is no way to contrast them?”  (I will let someone with a Ph.D. handle that.)  While Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, living in God’s presence, walking and talking with Him, that life was…just the way it was.  There was no choice to worship God; to be was to love God and be one with Him.  But once Adam and Eve were given the boot, the struggles and demands of their new realities got in the way of communion with God.  Their choices, and the choices of their descendants, ranged from reverent to decent to okay to questionable to downright wicked.  They turned away from God, then they turned to God, only to turn away from Him again. But God showed them He is always in control.

The Bible accounts myriad sins of mankind as well as the prescribed sacrifices and rituals to cleanse people from their sins until the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Still, once salvation and forgiveness were offered through Jesus, sin did not disappear.  In fact, that’s why people need Jesus’ grace and mercy today: we cannot live perfect lives because we are the children of Adam and Eve, fallen from grace.  We can know and believe God is in control, but by instinct we like to take the reins away from Him.  We want to charge when He says, “Slow down,” or halt when He says, “Go forward.”  We cannot help it; we’re only human.

But for some people, the thought of obeying God – or another deity – is distasteful, and they prefer to follow the idea of humanism.  According to the American Humanist Association, humanism – belief in the goodness of humanity rather than a Higher Power – may take on a “religious” or “secular” form, but both types have several points in common.  Among them, that “Humanists recognize that intuitive feelings, hunches, speculation, flashes of inspiration, emotion, altered states of consciousness, and even religious experience, while not valid means to acquire knowledge, remain useful sources of ideas that can lead us to new ways of looking at the world” (Edwords, 2008).  Herein lies the danger, since humans know both good and evil.  What if one person has a “flash of inspiration” to buy a new car because, well, why not?, while another person sees the shiny new car and has a “flash of inspiration” to steal it because, well, why not?  Without a Higher Power, without God, who holds us accountable for our actions, humans can justify living by their own desires.  But if all people believed that God, who said, “You shall not steal”  (Exodus 20:15) should be obeyed as our Creator and Judge, theft could not be justified.

The American Humanist Association summarizes humanism this way: “Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy for those in love with life” (Edwords, 2008).  Well.  Hands up, anyone who is in love with life every second of every day of every year.  Hands up, anyone who never experiences the pain of a broken heart or a broken bone, anyone with limitless wealth who does not toil for it, anyone who lives in a sunshine-filled paradise, anyone who never mourns about modern-day slavery, anyone who is not trapped in slavery himself.  The first sin spawned countless others that leave humanity in a conflicted world.  Of course, we experience bright points as we move through life, but darkness can easily overshadow them.

Humanists do not believe in life after death, which makes me 1) pity them, and 2) wonder why they would want to live this way.  Personally, the promise of a heavenly home keeps me strong through moments of weakness.  While He was on Earth, Jesus comforted His disciples, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).  To be with Jesus, the One who died for me, and to be in perfect union with God, the Creator of this world, for that I am willing to give up control.

Jesus told us to love others, but He did wants us to love God first.  He wants us to look to Him both when we are distressed and when we are delighted.  He wants us to remember He is in control, and when the world rails against us, we can take refuge in Him.  This front pew kid hopes that the rush to humanism will slow to a trickle as people remember the goodness of God.  But even if the rush instead turns to a tidal wave, I will remember God is in control, and He offers so much to those who love him.  Man passages in the Psalms,  especially  Psalm 25:20-21,  sum up this determination so well:

“Guard my life and rescue me;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord, is in you.”

 

Photo credit: http://allpix.club/pages/q/quality-clipart/

Edwords, F. (2008). What is Humanism.  Retrieved from http://americanhumanist.org/humanism/what_is_humanism

Unless noted, Bible verses are from the New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

On Chocolates, Lies, and Bottomless Fish Fries

When I was a kid, I never gave up anything for Lent because, well, that was a Catholic thing.  Granted, some Protestants follow the traditions of Lent, but I did not grasp that in my younger days.  In my immature, impressionable mind, the rites of Catholicism had been established as showy and superficial.  I never read in the Bible about having an ashy cross drawn on one’s forehead and participating in a mandated abstinence from hamburgers on Fridays.  I considered myself a good little Protestant by treating the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter as ordinary as any other and, shamefully, scoffed at kids in my class who said they had given up meat, pop, chocolate, or sugar for Lent.  Hopefully you can forgive this unfair prejudice; it wasn’t the first instance of Protestants and Catholics not understanding each other (can you say, “Ireland”?).

Now that this front pew kid is all grown up, my views on fasting during Lent have changed somewhat.  Also, now that the Internet can answer virtually any question, I can find terrific articles to educate me about the history of Lent, the exact rules regarding fasting during Lent for Catholics, and whether, if a person is giving up eating meat on Fridays,  chicken counts as a meat.  But more importantly, I do not assume that all people who fast during Lent give up the same thing for the same reasons for the same amount of time.  I can imagine that some people give up things quietly, telling no one or only those who need to know.  This is how I believe people should fast, since this is what Jesus said on the matter:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18).  

Bragging or making a show about what you are giving up for Lent is just as repugnant to God as belittling someone for fasting during Lent.  After all, during Lent or at any other time of the year, God cares about the motives of our actions rather than the actions themselves.  When Saul was king of Israel, God commanded him to destroy a group of people called the Amalekites and everthing that belonged to them.  Saul had no qualms about annihilating the people, but instead of killing the best livestock, he thought he’d make himself big in God’s eyes by giving Him the best spoils.  When Saul wanted to know why God was furious at him for this, the prophet Samuel said,

“…Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).

When you give something up during Lent, you might be sacrificing, but are you still obeying?  If you go to Greasy Spoon Cafe on a Friday and order the “Bottomless Catch” fish basket because you’re abstaining from red meat but are rude to the waitress, are you following the commandments to love God with all your being, and to love others as you love yourself?  If you “fast” by giving up television but do not fill your now TV-free time with activities that turn your heart to God, what is the point (see Joel 2:12)?  You might impress someone with a claim to be abstaining from sugar until Easter, but if a sugar withdrawal makes you sour and bitter, God is not impressed.  After all, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b).

I like the idea of fasting.  I like the idea of making a decision to abstain from something and spend the time instead praying, reading the Bible, or listening to praise music.  But for me, I do not see how giving up one type of food makes more room for God in my life.  Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” (Mark 7:15).  What would please God more: giving up chocolate…or cheating? lamb…or lying? steak…or sarcasm? pot roast…or pride?

Fasting has been a way to honor God since the Old Testament times, and many Christians still do so today.  This front pew kid has a better understanding of why and how it can be done and just might make it a bigger part of her life.  Giving up a food can remind us how blessed we are to be able to give something up.  Giving up a sinful habit can bring us closer to God’s righteousness.  Either way, it should be done quietly.  Others might notice the effects.  God will definitely know our intentions.

Photo credit: http://oneidacountywi.com/three-spots-to-try-a-fish-fry/

All Bible references are from the New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.