Taking the Hand of God, Literally; How We Read the Bible

Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool. What sort of house will you build for me? says the Lord, or what will be my resting place? Did not my hand make all these things?


Acts 7:49‭-‬50 CSB

I have thought and written about the fundamentalists and the atheists of the world who, ironically, approach the Bible in the same way. Both groups of people read the Bible in a wooden, inflexible, literal kind of way. (See Sam Harris Podcast with Bart Ehrman – Part 2 – Wooden Fundamentalism)

This passage above gets me thinking about these things again. The passage quoted above is from Steven’s address to the Jewish leaders who had him stoned after calling them stiff-necked like their ancestors in the desert (among other things).

Steven recited the Jewish history to them, including the Ark of the Covenant that was created for the Ten Commandments and Tent of Meeting that was carried through the desert. The Tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant became the inner sanctum of the Tent of Meeting. These structures the people carried with them became the place they would meet with God.

David desired to build God a home, a permanent place for the Ark of the Covenant and Tabernacle, and Solomon accomplished David’s dream. David knew, however, that God does not live in a temple made by human hands. Solomon, David’s son who built the Temple, acknowledged this when he dedicated the Temple:

“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

1 Kings 8:27

They understood that the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, and the Temple were symbolic. These physical structures and the activity organized around them and in them were meant to point to a metaphysical reality of much greater substance.

It’s ironic that David, a man after God’s own heart, knew these things, but the people of God generally often did not. David was a man after God’s own heart, but the Israelites on the whole were often stiff-necked, as Stephen said.

I find it ironic that people who try to interpret and apply the Bible in the most literal way fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Fundamentalists and atheists both tend to interpret the Bible literally. They are the two sides of the same interpretive coin.

At the end of the passage quoted above, the Lord poses the rhetorical question, “Did not my hand make all of these things?” Does anyone literally believe that God’s hand made the universe? (Only one hand?)

I would venture to guess that nearly everyone understands this phrase to be allegorical. Yet, there are so many things in the Bible that people try to take and apply literally that are, perhaps, not as obviously allegorical.

I’ve heard the counter statement that we cannot pick and choose the things we believe out of the Bible. We must believe every word of it, or reject all of it. This is the literalist approach – all or nothing. Never mind that a verse like the one quoted above is clearly not intended to be taken literally!

Not to pick on “fundamentalists” (whatever that term might mean), but those people we tend to label with that term tend to push a very literal interpretation of Scripture. They, in a sense, double-down on the “facts” stated in the Bible and believe everything. Many atheists dig in on the same literal way of interpreting the Bible, but they believe none of it. They both approach the Bible the same way, but one believes 100% and the other believes 0%.

Continue reading “Taking the Hand of God, Literally; How We Read the Bible”

Are Near Death Experiences Real?

I recently listened to episode #47 on the podcast by the Dr. Michael Guillen in which he explored the latest scientific research on near death experiences (NDEs). Michael Guillen is a former Harvard physics professor. You can listen to the half hour episode through Spotify at this link:

I have written on the research by Gary Habermas on NDEs. I chased down a rabbit hole to follow the NDE of an atheist. I also did a candid piece on what NDEs prove and what NDEs do not prove. My fascination with NDEs continues in this article with some of the basic conclusions Dr. Guillen notes from his look at NDEs.

He acknowledges from the start that scientific study of NDEs provides few clear answers. Even defining something as seemingly simple as death has become more difficult, rather than simpler, over time. We have gotten so good at reviving people that people we once thought were dead have been brought back to life.

Most people today define death synonymously with brain death. When brain activity ceases is when death is declared. Even patients who cease brain activity, however, sometimes go on living in fashion. Circulation and breathing may continue, the body may continue to regulate temperature, and the body may continue to excrete urine and feces for instance.

Determining the exact time of death is not an exact science. Dr. Guillen calls death “the ultimate mystery”. Death has been the focus of poets, writers, prophets, and scientists for centuries. For millennia, civilized societies have built elaborate rituals around death and the hope of life after death. Recent scientific studies have begun to shed some light on death.

Continue reading “Are Near Death Experiences Real?”

Drinking Living Water & Embracing the Unseen: of Science and Faith

My inspiration this morning comes from “the woman at the well” and Galileo. They are separated by about 1500 years, but their stories resonate together for me this morning.

The theme is inspired by the question: “How should we read Scripture?” A closely related question is, “How should we understand science and faith?” Those questions were relevant over 2000 years ago; they were relevant 500 years ago; and still they are relevant today.

Michael Guillen, in his book, Believing is Seeing, reveals how logical and trans logical thinking are different tools, and each have a place in the intellectual toolbox. Logic is necessary to understand simple, “trivial” truths, but “profound” truths require trans logical thinking.


We err to apply logic to every problem. Simple matters are the province of logic, but complex matters require trans logic. As much as we might want to keep complex matters simple, we cannot gain insight into more complex matters without a willingness to go beyond the familiar confines of simple logic.

For Guillen, the necessity to stretch beyond simple logic to more complex trans logical thinking was understood, among other things, in the realization that dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of the entire universe. In other words, 95% of the universe is invisible to us! (p. 9)

If we insist on limiting ourselves to things that we can see, touch, feel, smell, and hear, we must give up on 95% of the universe!

If we are not willing to give up on 95% of reality, we must be willing to adapt. We must let go of our insistence that everything be reduced to what we can affirm with our senses and to what will fit into simple formulas and logical constraints.

Guillen sees a parallel in “stretching” that scientists must do to grapple with the unseen world at the edges of simple science and the Bible that teaches on more “spiritual” things:

“’What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’ —
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.”

1 Corinthians 2:9

What the Spirit of God can reveal to us is somewhat similar to the stretching the scientist must do in his thinking to understand things like dark matter and dark energy, quarks, quantum entanglement and other mysteries of science that defy Aristotelian logic and conventional principals. For those people who like to live with their feet planted solidly on the ground and with certainty anchoring their beliefs, the prospect of revelation by God’s Holy Spirit is like a black hole. We dare not venture too close for fear of being sucked in to the eternal unknown.

Yet, God not only invites us in; He insists that we venture close to understand Him.

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.”

1 Corinthians 2:10-13

The difference between logic and trans logic in science and the study of the edges of the physical world have application to the metaphysical world in the encounter of the woman at the well with Jesus. I will lay out the similarities I see below.

Continue reading “Drinking Living Water & Embracing the Unseen: of Science and Faith”

How Not to Look for God: An “Unapologetic” Argument for God

In two previous articles attempting to make an “unapologetic” argument for God, I have just been ramping up to make the argument. I still haven’t gotten there yet, and I am still just getting started.

That’s right. I am still working on getting to the starting line. Maybe I will still get there.

I say, “unapologetic”, rather loosely, in case you are wondering.  I am not being apologetic in the sense of apologizing for anything. Apologetics has nothing to do with being sorry, of course. It means to provide a defense, and it specifically describes the effort of providing a defense for Christianity.

The word, apologetics, derives from the Greek word, apologia, which means “a speech in defense” or a “verbal defense” or a “well-reasoned reply”. The world is used in Peter 3:15 as follows:

“Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give the reason [logos] for the hope that you have.”

I am using “unapologetic” as a kind of play on words. I am not giving a typical apologetic argument for the existence of God, and I am not being apologetic about doing that.

I previously made the observation that we all start with axioms, premises on which we support our positions for and against God, but we are incapable of proving those axioms. We consider them “self-evident”, but that is, frankly, just another way of saying that we can’t prove our starting premises” we have to assume they are true, and we go from there.

We take our fundamental premises on faith, essentially. This includes everyone, even in science.

As an example, consider the scientist, like a few I have heard, who says that science is the only way to know truth and all truths can be revealed by science. That premise cannot be scientifically proven. Therefore, you just must take it on faith.

Ironically, that statement is also self-contradictory. If science is the only way to know truth, and the statement itself cannot be proven by science, then even if it is right, it is wrong! (Echoing John Lennox here.)

I recently heard the astrophysicist, Michael Guillen, say similarly that science does not prove anything absolutely. As an example, he says we could posit that ravens are always black. Every raven the modern world has ever encountered and documented may be black, but that doesn’t mean that every raven that ever existed and every raven that will ever exist is always black.

To make the claim that all ravens are black is to go beyond science. We can only verify the blackness of all the ravens we can find and the ravens that other people have documented, but we can’t verify the blackness of the ravens that were never documented or the ravens that have not yet existed.

William Lane Craig talks about the philosophy of logical positivism championed by people like AJ Ayer in the 1940’s and 50’s. Logical positivism, or “verificationism”, as Craig calls it, was claimed that consideration of the existence of God is meaningless because it is not verifiable by the five senses. The book, Language, Proof and Logic, was a kind of “manifesto” of this view, says Craig,

Verificationsim was used by Ayer to nix anything metaphysical. According to this view, a statement is only meaningful if it is capable of being empirically verified. Since metaphysical statements are beyond the reach of empirical science, they cannot be verified. Metaphysical statements were, therefore, dismissed out of hand. According to Craig,

“Ayer was very explicit about the theological implications of this verificationism. Since God is a metaphysical object, the possibility of knowledge was ‘ruled out’ by our treatment of metaphysics. Thus, there can be no knowledge of God.”

Do you see the problem with this view? One only need ask, “Is that statement capable of being empirically verified?”

Ayer’s view was built on an axiom he could not prove, and which could not be proven by the methods he arbitrarily limited according to the premise he assumed. His view could not even stand up to itself!

Craig says the collapse of verificationism was “the most philosophical event of the twentieth century”. The verification principal was not only unscientific; it was self-refuting. “The statement, ‘You should only believe what can be scientifically proven cannot, itself, be scientifically proven.’”

In the previous “unapologetic” articles, I claim that we all have to take certain things on faith, especially our starting premises, which are the tools by which we view and explore the world, but not all of those starting premises are created equal. Some of them cannot even stand up to themselves!

But, enough of that. I need to get to the point of this article.

It seems axiomatic that, if one wants to determine whether God exists, and if one is sincere in making that determination, one will not start with a premise that will inevitably result in the logic that God does not exist.

Continue reading “How Not to Look for God: An “Unapologetic” Argument for God”

The End of Stubborn Piety, and a New Beginning.

“[R]ising anxiety, suicide, and deaths of despair speak to a profound national disorder….”

Donald Trump with Jerry Falwell, Jr. at Liberty University in Virginia

I just read Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why? By staff writer for the Atlantic, Derek Thompson. I find The Atlantic to be full of insightful articles, even when I don’t wholeheartedly agree with them. This article is no exception.

Thompson recalls those enlightened 19th century pundits who predicted the death of God and advances in “scientific discovery and modernity” that would lead to widespread atheism. Thompson is a skeptic, himself. While Europe has largely gone the way the pundits predicted, The United States has resisted that prognostication – at least until recently.

Thompson blames “America’s unique synthesis of wealth and worship” and “stubbornly pious Americans” for the United States not going with the flow of the Enlightenment ascent of man from the superstitious dark ages into the light of science and reason.

While the rest of the western world has been drifting away from religious affiliation, and religion altogether, the United States seemed impervious to those forces working on the rest of the western world – until recently. Things began to change in the United States in the 1990’s, and that trend continues.

The article borrows heavily from Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, for figures and figurings of the reasons why. The shift is clear, though, and the statistics bear it out, that religious affiliation and interest in religion in the United States is waning and going the way of the rest of the western world.

“According to Smith, America’s nonreligious lurch has mostly been the result of three historical events: the association of the Republican Party with the Christian right, the end of the Cold War, and 9/11.” Smith goes on to provide some explanation for how these “events” have triggered the change. He says,

“The marriage between the religious and political right …. disgusted liberal Democrats, especially those with weak connections to the Church. It also shocked the conscience of moderates, who preferred a wide berth between their faith and their politics.”

Thompson’s article got me thinking. He is right about the trend away from religion in the United States. We don’t need data to tell us that. The “nones” are increasing while the committed believers are decreasing. That these observations come from “outside the camp” doesn’t make them false.

Thompson’s explanations for the reasons why this is may be more of a mixed bag. He (naturally) views the changes through a naturalistic lens. He may be right about some of the cause and effect, but he (naturally) isn’t likely to see the more spiritual side of those things.

I “grew up” spiritually during the mid to late 80’s when the marriage between religion and the political right was consummated. I fell out of step with it, and lost track of it, when I went to law school in 1988. Apparently the honeymoon went well.

I count myself (even today) as an evangelical (though I search for a different label). My spiritual upbringing included the experience of the courting of the religious right of the Republican Party. (Or was it the other way around?)   

Law school, however, challenged even my most sacrosanct connections, and the cares and concerns of fatherhood and providing for a growing family distracted me from other relationships. It was all I could do to hold onto God during this time, and the truth is that He mostly held onto me.

Perhaps, that was a blessing in disguise, as I didn’t grow into the religio-politico affiliation that seems to characterize a large segment of the evangelical church today. I am a more distant observer of that relationship today, so I think I have some objectivity left.

I agree (partially) with Thompson’s assessment that the congruence of the religious right and the political right changed the political landscape. It also changed the religious landscape. Perhaps, more than we might care to acknowledge.

Continue reading “The End of Stubborn Piety, and a New Beginning.”