The Kingdom of God is like an Autostereogram

Autostereograms and the inability to see the image within the image remind me of the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God

If Jesus was walking the earth today, as he did in the 1st Century, he might have said, “the kingdom of God is like an autostereogram.” Or maybe not. Who knows what an autostereogram is? He probably would have used more common words and, perhaps, pointed to an image demonstrating what he was saying.

The image above is an autostereogram. It appears like a repeating pattern of two-dimensional, abstract, interconnected design, but it “hides” a three-dimensional image. It isn’t really hidden, but we must “look beyond” the two dimensional image to see it. Can you see the three-dimensional image? (Look to the end for a clue.)

Our eyes don’t naturally pick up on the three-dimensional object “hidden” (in plain sight) in the abstract image. We have to “strain” to see it. In truth, I wouldn’t say that strain is the right word; it’s rather like we need to relax to see it.

I usually have to stare and stare at an autostereogram to see the three-dimensional object, and sometimes I give up impatiently. When I finally do se it, the image emerges, or even pops, out at me. Some people who have certain eye conditions can’t see the three-dimensional images because of a lack of eye function.

One web page on autostereograms provides the following instruction:

  1. Concentrate at a point in the middle of the 2D picture. Try not to get distracted by looking around the picture.
  2. Let your eyes relax and look through the picture rather than at it. You want to look at a point behind the picture. You will notice that the picture will go slightly out of focus. This is normal, and in fact, this is what you want to happen. For beginners, a useful way to start would be to look at pictures that have been framed. You can then learn to look beyond the picture by using your reflection as a guide.
  3. Once you notice the 3D image, it gets easier. Try to resist the temptation to refocus onto the 2D picture– you will lose the 3D picture if you do so.

People who have never been able to perceive 3D shapes hidden within an autostereogram find it hard to understand remarks such as, “the 3D image will just pop out of the background, after you stare at the picture long enough”, or “the 3D objects will just emerge from the background”. Unless or until you see it, you can’t imagine what it is like.

A skeptic who can’t see the 3D image might be tempted to write it off as an illusion or an active imagination. The reality of autostereograms with 3D images designed into a flat, two-dimensional image, however, is fact. You can even generate your own autostereograms on the Internet.

Autostereograms and the inability to see the image within the image remind me of the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God. People who have gone from atheist or agnostic to believer often describe the switch in similar terms. Sy Garte described a similar experience in his book “The work of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith”. He describes the period of time when he had moved from atheism to agnosticism as follows:

I found myself standing on the shores of a sea of mystery, certain that the waters hid treasures of beauty and goodness, but with no way to see them for myself.

(An excerpt from Sy Garte: Why I Believe in the Resurrection, commenting on his book in Peaceful Science, November 19, 2019) He recalled reading the Gospels when he still subscribed to materialism and atheism. He read them, he says,

only as an exercise to reinforce my atheistic scorn at the stupidity of Christianity. Back then I was focused on the magic, the contradictions, the naiveté of the ignorant who believed in scientifically impossible events like the resurrection.

Years later, no longer convinced that all truth was bounded by the parameters established by materialism and atheism, Sy Garte read the Gospels with an open mind. He “relaxed” his view, and this time, he saw the image within the image:

When I read the Gospels the second time, my mind was open, freed of the ideological certainty of atheism. I still saw the apparent contradictions, but now they appeared as evidence for truth, the kind of differences one would expect in true eyewitness accounts [citation omitted]. I still saw what looked like magic, but now it confirmed for me my new-found conviction that science is not the only pathway to truth. And now I saw the figure of Jesus Christ, and reading His words, I realized that God must have seen me standing on the shore, staring helplessly at the waves. Jesus Christ rose from those waters and held out His hand to me.

Sy Garte uses metaphoric language here. He didn’t actually see Jesus emerge or pop out of the pages, like the hidden image in an autostereogram. The metaphor is apt, though. The experience is the same.

At one point in his life, Sy Garte couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to believe in Jesus. Later, when he had relaxed his embrace of atheism and materialism, Jesus virtually leapt off the pages of the Gospels.

Sy Garte’s experience is far from unique. The lightbulb moment, the dramatic paradigm shift, is common to stories of conversion. The description Jesus gave it, being born again, is beautifully descriptive of the experience many people have had who went from no faith to faith, often very quickly, even suddenly.

I recall one friend who described that she suddenly realized she saw the world differently. As she gazed out over the landscape, it was alive in ways she never noticed before. In most recent article I wrote, I described the conversion of an Afghan Muslim. He said that he saw people differently after his conversion. He loved them.

These experiences are similar to suddenly being able to see the image in the image of an autostereogram, though the experience of “seeing” and understanding God, Jesus and the kingdom of God is much more dramatic, meaningful, and (of course) life changing. The autostereogram metaphor also makes some sense of the way Jesus described the kingdom of God.

Continue reading “The Kingdom of God is like an Autostereogram”

Tales of Afghan Christians: Amazing, but Heartbreaking,

I am listening to the Quick to Listen Podcast, Episode 277: ‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal (America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country) I haven’t finished it yet. I stopped in my tracks at about 18 minutes and 40 seconds into the discussion with an Afghan pastor, and have paused to sift through it.

At the beginning of the interview, the unidentified pastor described himself as a Muslim in 2001, where the discussion started with the US invading Afghanistan. Even then, he said he welcomed the US interference. The country was in upheaval and chaos, and Western troops brought some hope for stability.

I do not want to get into my thoughts on the initial invasion or the US presence since that date. They are not relevant to my purpose for writing. I don’t want to be distracted by political assessment or judgment, of which I am deeply ambivalent.

The recent video footage from Afghanistan of people so desperate to leave before the Taliban takes over that they are clinging to airplanes as they take off, is heartbreaking to watch. The desperation in the faces of the people crowding unto Afghan runways still today (while there is still a sliver of hope to escape) is something I have never known. I can only watch in stunning silence.

Thus, I listened to the interview of the anonymous Afghan pastor with interest as he described from his personal experience the reality of life in Afghanistan for a Christian today.

About 18 minutes into the discussion, one of the interviewers recalled that the gentleman described himself as a Muslim when the US first stepped on Afghan soil and asked, “How did you come to faith? How did Jesus find you?”

Without hesitation, in his broken English, he said, “I don’t want to come to faith. I … hate Christians. I don’t like to become Christian because I [come] from a very religious Muslim background. My father was Imam. They taught me to be good Muslim. Six time I have been to Mecca. I practiced my religion very well.”

This man was not looking for a Christian savior when the US troops arrived in 2001. He just wanted peace and stability in his life and in his country, something most people in the western world take for granted. The idea of becoming Christian was abhorrent to him.

His personal story needs to be heard. It is the story of many Afghans who seek asylum today. They look to the US, and other countries, not as a savior, but as a refuge against evil that is hard to imagine for most of us. These people are not battle-hardened jihadists, as some people seem to fear.

Many of them are even Christians, despite the great risk personal risk involved. This is just one such story of a real person who has experienced a life most of us can’t even imagine and have a hard time appreciating. I will give him a name, Abdul, for personal affect, though he remains anonymous for obvious reasons.

Continue reading “Tales of Afghan Christians: Amazing, but Heartbreaking,”

A Critique of a Critique of Critical Race Theory: How We Navigate in the World While not of the World

I am borrowing extensively from a fellow blogger today who wrote:

Critical Race Theory (Part 8): My Grand Conclusion! What I’ve Learned in My Reading of CRT and What I Feel the Proper Christian/Gospel Response Should Be

Posted on  by joelando11@yahoo.com

“Earlier this summer, before I decided to take the time to read the three books I have covered in this series on critical race theory, I didn’t feel I really knew enough about it to say anything about it. I had heard a few talking heads on cable news decry it as Marxist and racist in and of itself, but didn’t really know much more than that. After a few people wrote to me and asked me what my view of CRT was and if I’d ever write a few posts on it, though, that is when I decided to read up on it and try to distill what I had learned about it in a short blog series.”

I quote from the 8th blog article in a series written by my blogging friend, Joel Edmond Anderson. He finds much to criticize in CRT, but it comes with some caveats. I believe many of my evangelical brothers and sisters would support his critique, which focuses largely on political, ideological and philosophical points (and, truthfully, not much Scripture, though I know him to be a man of Scripture).

My past concerns about the critics of CRT I echo here: our baseline should be the Word of God, not political, ideological and philosophical standards. If we devolve into non-biblical standards, we loose our saltiness. We lose our distinctiveness as children of God, citizens of the kingdom of God and aliens and strangers in the world.

Because of the unique position of believers in relation to the world – in the world but not of the world – Christians have often staked out claims against injustice, including the abolition movement, while other people ignored the plight of the oppressed. I believe this is (partially) what it means to be salt and light.

Setting captives free was an essential component of the work of Jesus in the world, but it was only a component of his work. Preaching good news to the poor (the first of the things Jesus announced he came to do) is part and parcel of his purpose in the world. (Luke 4:17-20)

Neglect or rejection of the Gospel (the good news) is a chief complaint of critics of the proponents of CRT. Captives are not truly set free without it. Yet, those who would preach the good news cannot ignore the setting of the captives free. Jesus focused on both, and so should we. Thus, I agree with this first caveat of Anderson:

“I think it has to be clearly emphasized that criticism of CRT isn’t a denial of racism in America or a refusal to try to address clear problems in America that stem from our racist past.”

Anderson goes on to state:

Rather, disagreeing with CRT means disagreeing with the claim that the American free market system and constitutional law is inherently racist and that Marxist principles and a Marxist system is what is needed to eradicate racism for good.”

I don’t disagree with him on the point that the American free market system and constitutional law is not inherently racist, or that Marxist principles are a poor substitute for a governmental system that has elevated more people out of poverty and oppression than other system of law in history. At the same time, I am not going to die on that hill. Calvary is where I will take my stand.

The Gospel spreads and the kingdom of God thrives under any system of government, no matter how good or bad, precisely because it is not of this world. The kingdom of God cannot be equated with any system of human government. It transcends them all.

Anderson goes on to criticize CRT, but he comes back to this, which I think we MUST confront, especially in the body of Christ, who came to breach good news and set the oppressed free:

“[T]he reason we even have CRT, and the reason why we have growing calls for Socialism and Marxism, is because, quite frankly, there still is racial healing to be done and there still are issues of racial injustice to be addressed—and too often those instances have been ignored. America has indeed come a long way in healing racial injustices, but America has still nevertheless failed in certain areas—that is undeniable.”

CRT developed as a critique of an American system that has expressly addressed a history of racism with laws that have produced the promised outcomes of equality and fairness and justice for which people have hoped. It developed as a legal tool to address latent racism – racism that lies below the surface and continues on despite laws that prohibit overt racial behavior.

CRT was not proposed as a Marxist ideal designed to achieve Marxist outcomes. It was an attempt to get at pernicious racial disparities that persist despite laws that expressly outlaw it. Thus, I agree with Anderson when he says:

“I believe [CRT proponents] they have a genuine concern for injustice, and they want to address it.”

People are not our enemies. We can’t forget that, even people who advocate systems we don’t believe in. Even if we count them as enemies, Jesus clearly said we should love them. We in the body of Christ need to take that imperative seriously.

We may might fight against principalities and thoughts which hold people captive, but the people who hold them and and who are influenced by them are not (should not be) our enemies. They are the ones for whom Jesus was willing to leave the 99. They are in the field that is ripe unto harvest.

Again, I don’t personally disagree with his assertion:

“The problem is that they honestly think all that is needed is the implementation of a ‘better system’—the Marxist system. But that is simply detached from historical reality. It reflects the naïve wishful thinking of an ideology that has failed miserably, time and time again.”

But these are secondary matters in relation to the kingdom of God, which is not of this world. The Gospel goes forward in communist China and Russia and in theocratic Iran. The Gospel is not deterred by the systems of human government. It thrives despite them. Sometimes it thrives because of them, as people yearn for the eternity that God put in their hearts.

The Kingdom of God is always contrary to the kingdoms of this world, even free market, constitutional, and democratic kingdoms.

I wholeheartedly agree with Anderson when he says:

“CRT certainly highlights the clear racists policies of America’s past, and it sometimes points out clear instances of racial injustice still around today.”

We should not deny these things. Of all people, followers of Jesus, who is the way, the Truth and the life, should not ignore the truth of the injustice that survives in our world. Not that we can eradicate injustice in a fallen world. Injustice in a fallen world is inevitable, but we should not be any part of it.

For this reason, alone, we dare not ignore injustice, even when the majority of the people who seem to be fighting it are advocating systems of government that tend contrary to our political views.

For this reason, therefore, I suggest that we have more in common with fighters of injustice than members of our own political tribe who stand opposed because we serve a God whose throne is built on a foundation of justice and righteousness.

The nuance of that awkward positions may seem difficult to navigate, but we should be accustomed to awkward positions – being in the world, but not of the world. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways ore not our ways. We can trust Him to lead us through it.

The Paths that Diverge at the Crossroads of Existential Angst

Why do I wonder? Why am I conscious of my wondering, and why does my wondering create in me such terrifying angst?

Stephen Meyer describes the existential angst he experienced in his early teens in the interview with Sean McDowell that is embedded in its entirety at end of this article. Meyer majored in physics and geology, but he accumulated a minor in philosophy on his way to an undergraduate degree. His interest in philosophy was driven by the existential angst he felt as a young man.

(Stephen would become a geophysicist and college professor and would go on to obtain a Masters n Philosophy and a Ph.D in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. He now directs Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle and authored the New York Times best seller Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (HarperOne, 2013), Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperOne, 2009), which was named a Book of the Year by the Times (of London) Literary Supplement in 2009, and more recently, The Return of the God Hypothesis (HarperOne, 2021).)

Meyer wanted to be popular and good at sports, like most teenager’s, but that wasn’t going well for him. A couple of nights before a planned ski trip with his father, some “weird questions” started “popping” into his mind: “What’s it going to matter in a hundred years?” He was initially troubled by it, but anticipation for the ski trip distracted him for the time being.

On the skiing trip, however, he broke his leg badly. He woke up from an operation with a full leg cast. Several days in the hospital and limitations on his mobility stirred his active teenage brain to dwell on the questions that haunted him before the trip.

While he was in the hospital, his father brought him a book on the history of baseball. As he read the book, he began to notice that the stories all ended the same way. The great prospects were scouted. They came up to the majors with budding promise. They had a fantastic career. They accumulated records, and they retired… and, “Then what?” He wondered.

In his 14-year old mind, baseball was the greatest thing a person could do, but he wondered, “In a hundred years, would anyone remember those accomplishments?”

His own mundane routines of life – getting up in the morning, taking the bus to school, coming home, doing his homework and chores, and getting up in the morning to do it all again – led him to fear “that nothing I was doing was going to amount to anything”.

He added the routine of hobbling to the mailbox each day to get the newspaper to read the baseball box scores. As days went by, he became conscious of the dates on the newspapers. Each day a new date, one after the other, with each one passing into his memory. Snap your finger one moment, he realized, and the next moment you are remembering the moment you snapped your finger, but it was gone.

He became aware of the ephemeral nature of time, and began to wonder, “What is it that is the same all the time and is the basis for binding all these passing sense impressions together?” these questions led to the conclusion, “Unless there is something that doesn’t change, everything that is constantly changing has no lasting reality, let alone meaning.”

He had no reason to believe, at that time, that there was an answer to this angst. There was no reason to believe there was anything that was always the same, that was unchanging. There was nothing evident to him to tether the ever changing world of his experience.

I recall early in my life a time of deep unsettling angst. I was maybe around 5-7 years old, when we watched a reel of home movies of my father and grandparents and me as a younger child. This was, perhaps, my first awareness of the passage of time.

I don’t know if I dreamt this, or imagined it, or whether it was a “vision”, but what I recall was “real”. I still remember it, though the immediacy of the feelings that went with it have faded. I experienced the sensation of floating in the unimaginably vast emptiness and expanse of space – alone – not connected to anyone or anything.

Terrifying is not the right word for the feeling I felt, but I can’t come up with a better description. I imagine now that the same or similar gnawing feeling is what Meyer experienced as he wrestled with the questions whirling in his young mind.

Meyer realized one day, as he had a strong urge to ask his parents, that his parents could offer him no better solution, that there was no sense even asking. Stephen Meyer remembers looking at his windowsill in his leg cast and staring at the pattern in the wood. He wondered, “How do I know that what I am seeing is really there and not just something that is going on in my brain?”

At that point his next thought was, “I wonder if this is what it means to be insane?” Then arose the fear that led to a new fear that the questions meant there was something wrong with him. If his parents had taken him to a psychologist then, he might have been diagnosed with anxiety leading to a panic attack.

In college, though, Meyer was able to find some clarity and context for his experience in the study of existentialism: “Without an infinite reference point, nothing finite has any ultimate meaning or value.” (Paraphrasing John Paul Sartre). Meyer realized, “That was what was bothering me!”

Everything is in flux from our human vantage point. Everything is passing, passing, passing….. Nothing has any lasting meaning or value from the position of a finite being. The anxiety he felt was a “metaphysical anxiety”.


Stephen Meyer’s journey is somewhat similar to mine, except for the details. This journey is common to human experience, and it has ancient roots. Anyone who has spent any time reading Ecclesiastes knows what I am talking about.

Continue reading “The Paths that Diverge at the Crossroads of Existential Angst”

The 2020 Census and the Breaking Down of the Dividing Walls of Hostility

Fundamentally, Christians should align with Christ, and nothing else.

The 2020 Census reveals a story of changing demographics in the United States. It should hardly come as a surprise that the story is diversity. “Over the past 10 years, people who identified as Hispanic, Asian or more than one race accounted for larger shares of the population….”[1]

I suspect we could say the same thing about many a decennial consensus over the history of the United States. I grew up learning that the United Stated if America is a melting pot. We learned about the influx of immigrants from various parts of the world at various times: the English, the French, West Africans (almost entirely against their will), the Germans, the Italians, the Irish, the Chinese, the Eastern Europeans…

In some ways this news is simply the continuation of the same story that is America. It is an uniquely American story, though rhetoric in the 21st Century might suggest otherwise. The new census may reveal a plot twist of sorts, though: a “pivotal moment”.

Whereas the American story of the past was primarily an European story, the plot is tending toward greater diversity. The population of “people of color” are increasingly “younger and growing more rapidly” then their traditional American counterparts with Eurocentric origins.

The population growth since 2010 “was made up entirely of people who identified as Hispanic, Asian, Black or more than one race”. We can speculate on the reasons for this major shift, but the fact remains that people of color are increasingly making up a larger percent of the population, and that trend will more than likely continue.

My thoughts, as always, turn to the impact on the Body of Christ and how the Church is responding… and should respond… to the times. These times are a changing, crooned Bob Dylan in my youth, but they are always a changing.

Continue reading “The 2020 Census and the Breaking Down of the Dividing Walls of Hostility”