Thunker’s Weblog


Gained in Translation

Robert Wheadon-126x150

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion out of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana. Last year he published his translation of the New Testament. It’s an interesting work. Hart’s goal in translation is to bring the ancient Greek New Testament text into a clearer focus. He translates the text into a document where Hart presents a truer rendering from the Greek. Below are three examples from the Gospel of Luke that illustrate his approach.

Luke 3:8 – “Bear fruits, then, worthy of a change of heart.”

Luke 3:3 – “And he went into all the region round about the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of the heart’s transformation, for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke 5:32 – “I have come to call not the upright, but sinners, to a change of heart.”

In the King James Version, the verses are rendered:

Luke 3:8 – “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance.”

Luke 3:3 – “And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Luke 5:34 – “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

I’ve found that reading various translations of scripture can bring new insights and meaning to scripture study. Translators each have their own biases and agendas, and will translate accordingly. In this translation, Hart makes word choices in rendering the koine Greek into English, yet at the same time he tries to portray the text as closely as he can to the original language.

In the examples I cited above, rather than use the word, “repentance,” Hart renders the text as “change of heart,” or “heart’s transformation.” I like Hart’s rendering as it much more clearly describes what Jesus is talking about in his preaching. Real repentance, true repentance, is part of the process of becoming like Christ. And that requires a change of heart, or a change of our desires that tend to be more earthly than godly.

And we all have portions of our hearts that need changing. Personally, I am exasperatingly stubborn when so inclined. I lack patience, especially when it is most needed. I could go on and then on some more. The point is we all have elements of our needing to be re-directioned towards heaven.

In counterpoint to this is the effort required to change. I’ll be first in line to admit that change is uncomfortable. At times, I would prefer being dragged naked through a field of cactus than adjust my habits, perspectives or attitude.

C.S. Lewis, in his book, “Mere Christianity,” puts it this way. “People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”

C.S. Lewis paints this philosophy in an either/or scenario. I believe the spectrum is broader than that. How could it not be? Throughout our lives we change. There are times of improvement and times of decline; periods of faith and moments of despair. Our lives are never static or frozen in sameness for very long. Lewis’ description aptly describes what a change of heart really consists of.

There is a broad, overall change when our life’s focus re-centers itself away from us and points towards God. We look for ways to serve His children. We slow down and see the beauty of people and the world God created. Then there are the day-by-day actions which we perform as a barometer of our current state of devotion. This change, this metamorphosis, is not just making good choices. With the right amount of fear, desire or motivation, any one of us can outwardly act like saints. The mountain that God is trying to move within each of us is a change of who we are into someone better, someone purer, someone more joyful. He is trying to transform us into “children of Christ.” This transformation takes a lifetime and beyond, but it does begin with us wanting to, as David Bentley Hart translated, “change our hearts.”

Be kind, make good memories and come back soon.

 

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The Is That Isn’t

Robert Wheadon-126x150

 

In a recent article in The Atlantic, [1] Peter Brannen discusses a concept in physics. Rather than examining visible evidence, the article looks at evidence of what is missing. Sometimes what is not evident can teach us more than the what is right in front of us. For example, in WWII, British and American bomber crews, flying out of England, were being shot down in deplorably high numbers. The military brought in an economist, to assist in evaluating the planes that returned from bombing raids. The military first inspected the battered bombers. After examining the returned bombers, the military suggested that armor plating be increased where the highest concentration of flak and bullet damage existed on the surviving planes. The economist responded with a totally opposite observation. Additional armor should be placed where the least amount of bullet damage could be found. The logic here existed in the fact that if a plane returned, it meant that the vital areas of the bomber had not been seriously hit, thus allowing the plane to return. So, additional armor was affixed to the engines per the economist’s suggestion.

This focus on what is not there is completely opposite to our every-day world view. We focus on what is, to what draws our attention and what captures our interest. This manner of input awareness, established through our sight, hearing, smell and taste, introduces us to our world and are the tools with which our brain interprets our world. For a toddler, this is an excellent approach to learning and explaining the world. Most of the elements that illuminate a child’s world are external, tactile items. It is through this experiential process children learn the stove is sometimes hot, flowers can smell good and frogs are slimy.

As one grows older, however, it soon becomes evident that there is more going on than just what our senses capture. The growing cognizance of feeling and emotion adds layers of causation to events. We soon realize there is more going on in this world than merely synaptic interactions and molecular activity. At least, if you are following this blog, I sincerely hope you do.

One of the most invisible, yet most sought after of intangibles is truth. Truth has taken quite a beating over the last few years, especially in the arena of politics. New phrases have entered our vocabulary, such as “fake news,” and “alternative news,” and the result is an increase of insecurity and cynicism of not knowing what to believe as fact. We are deluged and forced to dog-paddle in a sea of opinions which clamor for respectability as truth. The same mistrust occurs with business, the justice system and gender relations.

It is understandable why some lose hope or surrender to an outlook of cynicism. Yet I don’t believe that is what God wants for us. One of the messages of God’s son, Jesus Christ, is that of hope and a charitable, loving attitude in this life. And God has provided all of us with ways to discern truth and be confident we are pursuing a course in life that is pleasing to our Father. He is most certainly aware of our needs and desires for truth and of the problems that arise when there is a lack of truth. In Isaiah 49:13 we read: “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.” Now I don’t know about singing mountains, but it seems clear that God can and will provide peace for us.

The next question is in what manner that assistance comes. Is there a heavenly hotline where we can dial up our questions? Something like 1-800-GET-HELP would be extremely beneficial. As always, our Heavenly Father has prepared a better way. In John 14:26, the Savior teaches: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” The Comforter, or the Holy Ghost is the means God has given us to be able to discern truth, or “teach (us) all things.” By asking God and by listening for the Holy Ghost to illuminate truth, we can know where truth lays.

So, how do we obtain access to the Holy Ghost? How do we tap in? What’s the secret password? The simple answer consists of two steps: 1) Ask. As I’ve written about previously, prayer opens the doors of heaven. 2) Keep trying to live our days in harmony with Jesus Christ. That means we repent, and avoid pride. As it says in Moroni 8:26: “And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.”

As this article began, sometimes the unseen is more important than the seen. Sometimes the truth is gained from means not visible and measurable by our science. Sometimes, as Bob Dylan said, we need to keep “knockin’ on heaven’s door.”

Be kind, make good memories, and come back soon.

 

[1] “Why Earth’s History Appears So Miraculous,” The Atlantic, 15 March 2018



The Anthropomorphic Nature of God
April 13, 2018, 3:27 am
Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, faith, LDS, Mormon, religion

Robert Wheadon-126x150

In my conversations with friends of other faiths, one of the consistent points of difference is regarding the physical nature of God. When talking with those of a Protestant background, the nature of God discussion quickly coalesces around whether God is an eternal spirit, or whether he possesses a corporeal body. The Bible contains passages which are interpreted to support both claims. Yet I find the preponderance of scriptural examples, as well as logic, side with the position of God possessing a corporeal, physical form.

From the very beginning of the biblical record, one encounters passages that support this view. In Genesis 1:27 (KJV), we read how, “God created man in his own image.” In Genesis 5:1b,”…In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him.”

Comparative literature demonstrates similar views of deity. In the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian creation text from approximately 1400 BCE, the creation of the universe and the ordering of cosmic chaos is related. The god, Marduk, a very corporeal god, defeats the other Babylonian gods of wind, water, storm and sea, and creates humanity from the body of his mother, Tiamat. It is apparent that an anthropomorphic pantheon of gods occupied the Babylonian cosmology account.

This is a very different view from than the Aristotelian view. As B.A.G. Fuller describes, “God, as Aristotle describes him, is merely an abstract, general description of the nature and ideal of the human reason;”[1] Thus, God is a force, an essence in the cosmos. According to Aristotle’s philosophy, God is busy with the loftiest effort possible: thinking about thinking. This earth and its inhabitants are outside of God’s activities, and not God’s concern.

Plato’s philosophy of God’s nature is a bit more aligned with Christianity’s view. The alignment occurs only with Plato’s assertion that there is a being who created the universe. The being does those things which achieve the greatest good. Good is a causal element, practiced by beings who are the most virtuous and seek to achieve the highest level of good. Plato does not address the attributes of God beyond the philosophical motivation of achieving good through the act of creation.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we are left with scriptural evidences to guide us in learning whether humanity worships a God with physical, albeit eternal, attributes, or if God is a force of energy or an omnipresent spirit.

As I quoted at the beginning of this article, the ancient scriptural record of Genesis portrays the creation of humanity as being in the likeness or image of its Creator. (See Gen. 1:27, Gen 5:1, and Gen. 9:6.) My approach to scriptural exegesis is going to follow a more literal course, rather than an interpretative one. For example, when the ancient patriarch, Jacob, has an encounter with God, Jacob describes it as, “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved,” (Gen. 32:30.) The literal event Jacob describes is one where he sees God, and describes the encounter in terms where he is speaking to an anthropomorphic deity, i.e. one who has a face. This type of descriptive encounter is similar to one found in Gen. 3:8. Prior to being evicted from the Garden of Eden, the verse recounts, “And they (Adam and Eve) heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day:” A walking god seems to clearly demonstrate a god with physical form.

As the reader moves on through the story of Israel, we are introduced to the great lawgiver, Moses. In Exodus 24:10, we read how Moses, his brother, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders of Israel are commanded to ascend Mt. Horeb to receive the tablets of stone, containing God’s law and commandments. Going up the mountain, verse 10 says, “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.” Again, we are presented with a god with feet, definitely a physical attribute. Other examples exist similar to this one. (See Ex. 31:18, Ex. 33;11, Ex. 33:23 and Num. 12:8.)

Moving into the New Testament, some of the clearest scriptural examples of corporeal divinity are found in the book of John. In John 14:9, Jesus is teaching Phillip. The Savior says, “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” The Savior makes the comparison between his heavenly parent and himself to the apostles, teaching them that the physical form they see in Jesus, is the same form held by God, the Father. Other examples from the Synoptic Gospels are found in John 17. Jesus, in his wonderful Intercessory Prayer to the Father, asks that the apostles return to the Father, just as Jesus will return to the Father. Jesus will return to God in his resurrected, glorified corporeal form, not as an ethereal spirit that is nowhere and everywhere.

The apostle, Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, discusses the promised resurrection. In Phil. 3:31, Paul relates that Christ, through the resurrection, “…shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” Again, Paul is teaching and of the understanding that Jesus received an eternal body through the resurrection, and through grace, shall grant the same gift to all of God’s children. (Also see Hebrews 1:3, James 3:9, 1 John 3:2, and Rev. 22:4.)

There are other extra-biblical sources that could be examined, but I believe the biblical record presents a clear and logical presentation on the anthropomorphic attributes of God the Father, as well as His son, Jesus Christ.

Be kind, make good memories, and come back soon.

[1] The Theory of God in Book Λ of Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Author(s): B. A. G. Fuller

Source: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Mar., 1907), pp. 170-183

Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2177471



Keep or Fulfill

Robert Wheadon-126x150

I read an interesting verse in the Book of Mormon. In Moroni 8:25 it reads, “And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins.”

I think it is interesting that the writer chose to use the word, “fulfill,” rather than “keep.” I think most followers of religion are much more familiar with “keep,” as in “keep the commandments.” And when we think about it, the nuance is that we are living in accordance to a requirement. In the instance of commandments, we try and live by requirements given to humanity by God. We use the same nuance when we talk about keeping a promise or keeping an appointment. We are comporting ourselves in line with a mutually understood set of rules. These rules are sometimes set by society, by employers, and in the case of commandments, by God, (see Exodus 20:6.)

The word, “fulfill,” can have a similar meaning. It can mean to carry out a command or duty, which aligns its definition with “keep.” However, there are some significant differences. To fulfill does not bring with it the strictness of “to keep.” To fulfill a commandment opens the principle of agency, of allowing a person to obey a commandment with their understanding of God’s will. The term also promotes the idea of the progressive nature of commandments. What I mean by progressive nature is obeying the commandments is a transitive experience. Initially, when someone is at a point early in life, they are going to obey the commandments for basic reasons: fear of punishment, pursuit of parental or Godly recognition, or avoidance of guilt. As we mature, the motivations for following the path of God take on different iterations. We try and align our lives with Christ, and pattern our lives from a growing love of God, rather than a reward-punishment model. Fulfilling a commandment encompasses God’s plan for us as we grow and progress in our mortal journey. Keeping a commandment gives a static sense of obedience, whereas fulfilling a commandment allows for personal growth and progression.

This model also allows for those times when we don’t progress. When we live at a level less than our understanding, our spiritual progression retrogrades, our proximity to God decreases and our divine light fades. This contrasts with keeping a commandment where the only option is the breaking of the commandment when we don’t live up to our divine potential. I don’t believe Heavenly Father views our life as a series of binary consequences, or an eternal checklist. That is why the atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to repent, or change direction towards light, when we make a decision that leads towards darkness. It is because of the atonement that we can fulfill God’s commands rather than just keep or break them.

The most significant impact of this model is how it demonstrates Heavenly Father’s love for all of us. Instead of a stern, patriarchal picture of our divine parent, the use of fulfilling a commandment highlights a love-filled plan of salvation for His children.

Be kind, make good memories, and come back soon.

 



A Christmas Prayer

Robert Wheadon-126x150

Christianity has a long history of writing and preserving prayers.   The Old Testament is full of prayers.  Just contemplate the Psalms.  Psalms 102:1 reads:

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee.”

In the New Testament there are several examples of recorded prayer.  In Matthew 6:9-13,  we have the Lord’s Prayer.  In Matthew 26:39, the prayer the Savior offers in the Garden of Gethsemane is recorded for all to read.  In John 17 is the beautiful Intecessory Prayer.  Jesus prays for his disciples, and for all of us, to His Father, to help make us one with Divinity.

In the spirit of Christmas and the Christ, I want to share a prayer written by an Anglican in England, named Winfred, which I find both heart-touching and soul-approriate for this time of year.

The Advent Prayer

Loving God,

I come to You as one on a journey.

As I see and hear the busyness of Christmas all around me,

I now pause and rest and reflect.

It’s not an easy time for many.

I am where I am, for good or ill.

Among the bright lights around me,

I seek a truer and more meaningful light.

I am grateful that all is not darkness.

I am grateful for those who are there for me in my need,

Offering friendship, and support, and understanding.

May I, in some small way,

Be there for those who also have needs not unlike my own.

May we be gifts to one another.

I am where I am.

Lead me to where You would have me be.

I am where I am.

If I am weak, I pray to be made strong.

I am where I am.

If I am lost, I pray for guiding hands.

I am where I am.

If I am in despair, I pray for new hope.

May the God of Peace grant me His Peace,

Whatever I do and Wherever I go,

Today and every day.

Amen.

I pray that we may be the gifts, freely shared, to those whom God has placed in our lives.

Be kind, make good memories, and come back soon.



Hello? God?

Robert Wheadon-126x150

 

In March 2011, the coast of Japan was struck by a horricfic earthquake and  subsequent tsunami.  Most of us will remember the media coverage of the of nuclear reactors in danger of emitting radioactive material, and of thousands of Japanese killed in the combination of quaking earth and devastating waves.  Almost 16,000 people are reported dead, with another 2,500 still missing.  Whole families were wiped out, with many other families touched by the devastation with the loss of a father, mother, brother, sister or other family member.

Japaness culture honors the memory of their dead.  With such a sudden loss of life, many Japanese were left grasping for ways to say goodbye to their loved ones.

Shortly prior to the earthquake and tsunami, a Japanese gardner named Itaru Sasaki, was grieving the loss of his cousin.  In order to maintain a connection with his departed cousin, Itaru set up an old-style telephone booth in his garden.  The booth  has an aging rotary telephone inside, disconnected, sitting on a wooden shelf.

At times, Itaru would go outside, enter the telephone booth and dial his cousin’s telephone number and just talk.  He didn’t care that no one was on the other end of the telephone.  Using the telephone booth allowed Itaru to express his feelings, his grief and his sense of loss.

Itaru Sasaki lives in the town of Otsuchi, which lies on the northeast coast of Japan.  The earthquake and tsunami destroyed the town and the majority of its inhabitants.  Soon after the earthquake and tsunami, people began to come to Itaru Sasaki’s garden, first from the survivors of Otsuchi, and then from all over Japan.

Grandmothers bring their grandchildren to call departed grandfathers.  The grandchildren speak into the telephone and tell the silence on the other end how they are doing in school.  Brothers enter the booth and break down, trying to express their grief and loss of fathers, mothers and sisters.  Wives enter the booth to talk to husbands who were swept away in the 30-foot waves.

Otsuchi Phone Booth

Even though these conversations are decidely one-sided, thousands of Japanese have come to Otsuchi, to what is now called, “The Wind Telephone.”

I think that we all have such longings and yearnings to connect with family, or friends, or shadows of our past that nag at our memory like evening shades.  This desire also surfaces when we yearn to connect with heaven.  We all have those times.  When things out of our control come crashing into our  worlds, these circumstances can drive us to our knees and plead to God for help, strength and peace.  King David, in the book of Psalms 54:2 echoes those times:  “Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.”

In Psalms 39:12, David prayed, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.”

Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, practiced the act of prayer.  In Luke 6:12, we are told, “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”  Jesus prayed all through the night, it seems in a search for inspiration, for the next day is when he called his twelve apostles to follow him in his ministry.

Of course, we only will seek the help of heaven if we believe it is a source of relief and safety.  Just as we might confide our fears or difficulties with a trusted friend, do we look heavenward for help?  Only if we believe that help and solace are found there.

In Luke 9:18, the Savior asks the apostles, “And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?”

Even if we only harbor the smallest, most minute portion of hope, we can always send up a cry for help, for inspiration and for peace.  I promise you that if you are still, and listen with your heart, that heaven will come, like rain on a cool Autumn evening, to quench the fire of your despair and provide you with soul-lifting strength to go on.

Remember, be kind, make good memories and come back soon. 🙂

 

 



A Life Worth Living
September 15, 2017, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, LDS, Mormon, religion, Uncategorized

Robert Wheadon-126x150

I’m a stubborn learner.  Usually, it takes a few times of me banging my head against a problem before some light seeps into my brain.  For example, it took me a long time to figure happiness out.  For years I used to search for happiness in school, or books, or McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.  Fortunately, I have finally figured out while I still enjoy learning and reading and the occasional double cheeseburger, my peace, my contentment, my happiness, are not anchored in those things.  I think we all follow the path of happiness = things at various times in our lives.  On a daily basis, we are saturated with media-driven promises of pure joy if we would only buy these shoes, or this car or that tweedle-thwacker, (whatever that is.)  What really happens though is we end up wanting more stuff,  and because Amazon only delivers once a day, the sparkle quickly wears off, and we are left winterized in our discontent.

Another common happiness trap is when we tie our happiness to people.  This is where we place the responsibility for contentment on the shoulders of someone else.  Usually, we place it on a spouse or significant other.  Sometimes it is a friend or even a pet.  Invariably, however, friends, spouses, and even my dog, Keela, disappoint and hurt us.  It’s not that people usually try to disappoint.  It’s just that they are busy and have their own lives to figure out.  They can’t be responsible for our happiness on a 24/7 basis.  How exhausting would that be?

I’m learning that peace, contentment, and well-being lay in two places.  The first place exists between my ears.  I know most of you think that area is vacant and ready for renters, but I can assure that my cranial area is busy and buzzing.  With what?  With my deciding to be responsible for my own happiness.  My contentment is my responsibility.  I choose.  Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness;  only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate;  only love can do that.”  The point is that if I am unhappy with my lot, I cannot drive it away with things that do not bring lasting peace.  But I can improve my lot by bringing light and love into my world perspective.  It is within my power to seize the day, (carpe diem,) or not, (carpe diem malum.)

The other source of happiness I think can be described by everyone’s favorite Biblical general, Joshua.  In the Old Testament, in the 24th chapter of Joshua, we find our glorious leader calling all the tribes of Israel together.  He then relates to them the story of the nation Israel.  He goes over Abraham leaving his father’s house, along with his father’s pagan gods and going to Canaan.  He then moves on to Israel’s time in Egypt and how God rescued Israel from slavery.  He then relates Israel’s successful crossing of the river Jordan, and God being the guiding force behind Israel’s victories in Canaan.  Joshua is reminding Israel of this history, in part, because there are lots of options on whom they can worship.  Israel was still very familiar with the Egyptian gods, having been exposed to the Egyptian pantheon for several centuries.  The people living in Canaan also had their deities, which were available for worship.  Israel had lots of options on where to go for spiritual contentment.  Joshua reminds Israel in verse 15:  “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” In practical terms, we know serving the Lord translates into serving each other with love and honesty.

So, let’s find our focus and our God.  Being happy in life is our choice.  It is not dependent on circumstances.  Happiness depends on you.

Remember: Be kind, make good memories and come back soon.