Transactive Memory and the Bible

Transactive Memory and Couples
Many times a new concept appears in the scientific literature, and when we look at it, we see that it is something that the Bible has already described. A recent example of this is a concept given by social psychologist Daniel Wegner called transactive memory.

Transactive memory is defined as “a shared system for encoding, storing, and retrieving information.” Wegner explains this concept in this way: “People in close relationships know many things about each other’s memories. One partner may not know where to find candles around the house, for instance, but may still be able to find them in a blackout by asking the other partner where the candles are. Each partner can enjoy the benefits of the pair’s memory by assuming responsibility for remembering just those items that fall clearly to him or to her and then by attending to the categories of knowledge encoded by the partner so that items within those categories can be retrieved from the partner when they are needed. Such knowledge of one another’s memory areas takes time and practice to develop, but the result is that close couples have an implicit structure to carrying out the pair’s memory tasks.”

Psychologists are using this concept to help people dealing with the death of a spouse. As a person who has gone through that experience, I can testify that when your wife of 49 years dies, a part of you seems to die too. Panic attacks after the death of a spouse are common, and that is when you suddenly are faced with having lost a large part of your memory.

Bible readers will recognize this “new” concept. In the Old Testament, a variety of transactive memory devices were commanded and put in place by God. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 12, 20; Exodus 13:14; and Joshua 4:6 are all cases where devices such as writing history on door posts were given to help remember the past and teach children the value of a culture. The various feasts of Israel in Exodus 23:15-16 were transactive memory devices.

In the New Testament, the congregation was developed as a transactive device. Acts 2:41-47 shows transactive memory helping the first century Church. James 5:14-16 described congregational conduct in various circumstances in life. The Bible itself is a transactive device as it is described in 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

One of the problems with megachurches is that much of the transactive memory value of the local congregation is lost. It is hard to pray for or to encourage someone you don’t know. Death is of little meaning if you don’t know the person. The congregational conduct discussed in Hebrews 10:22 is difficult in a huge congregation.

When Jesus prayed for unity, He gave us something that can sustain us in every stage of life and in every crisis. We defeat that blessing when we make entertainment the focus of our worship and when we don’t build relationships that allow transactive memory to function. Transactive memory may be new to the world of social psychology, but it is as old as the Bible itself.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Lesson from the Unicorn

Lesson from the Unicorn
Do you believe that there was an animal in biblical days that looked like a horse with a huge horn? In ancient times people believed that such animals existed and that they had extraordinary powers. People in ancient times found horn-shaped fossils that were sometimes several feet long and believed that they were the remains of unicorns. Of course, they were wrong, but we can learn a lesson from the unicorn.

Science proved that unicorns did not exist, and the horns came from animals like the narwhal or ancient snails. So why are unicorns mentioned in the Bible? Is this evidence that much of the biblical record is simply a repeat of local legends and stories?

We can learn more than one lesson from the unicorn and the biblical record. The first lesson is that we must be very careful about translations. The King James translation of the Bible mentions unicorns in Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-12; Isaiah 34:7; and Psalms 22:21, 29:6, and 92:10. At the time of the King James translation, there were many myths and stories about unicorns, and scientific facts were not available to assist Bible translators.

In the past, we have mentioned errors and language issues in the King James translation. Genesis 6 is an example, where the Hebrew word nephilim was translated “giant,” leaving major misunderstandings of what the text means. This part of the Genesis account was not translated directly from the Hebrew. It was translated from the Latin Vulgate translation. The Catholic translators of the Vulgate translated nephilim into the Latin gigantus. The King James translators didn’t know what to do with gigantus, so they just left it as “giant.” Nephilim actually means “fallen ones” and referred to humans who rejected God and His will. In the same way “unicorn” came from the Hebrew reem which means a “roaring animal” or a “wild ox.”

The primary message here is not to rely on a translation that is from many centuries in the past. Word meanings change and what a word means now can be radically different than what it meant in the past. Think about how the word “gay” has changed in its meaning in the past 50 years.

Another major lesson from the unicorn is to take the Bible literally. That means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. In the biblical use of the word reem, the context makes it clear that it is describing a violent wild animal. None of the cases would refer to a magic horse-like animal.

When we say the Bible is inspired, we mean that it is accurate in all that it teaches, and we can understand it. Sometimes we have to do word studies to answer the challenges of skeptics and critics, and that is another lesson from the unicorn.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Homeopathic Nonsense

Homeopathic Nonsense
There are many negative spin offs of the “evolution creation controversy” and the view that science and region are opponents. One of the most destructive is the skepticism of natural medical remedies by opponents of religion, and the blind acceptance of them by believers.

Science and faith are friends, and science by definition is knowledge (see Webster’s Dictionary) and involves an organized way to arrive at facts. There are natural things that scientific research has shown to be useful in treating ailments and pain. Aspirin is a natural material that has many medical benefits, and some plants such as aloe help relieve sunburn. The list of tested natural materials that help us medically is very long.

Jesus pointed out that natural things can serve us in profitable ways. In Matthew 16:2-3 he told about the use of natural things to predict the weather. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul pointed out a use of the wine of that day for stomach problems. However, homeopathic nonsense originated in 1796 based on a false theory that “like cures like.” In other words, if you take something that causes an illness and dilute it with water or alcohol until there is nothing left of it, that dilute solution will cure the ailment.

One homeopathic “cure” is Boiron’s Oscillococcinum. The manufacturer claims that it cures cold and flu symptoms. Some drug stores sell it on the shelf with Tylenol. It has been marketed for years based on the false claim that Oscillococcinum is a bacteria that causes influenza. There is no bacteria by that name and colds and flu are caused by viruses and not by bacteria. The inventor claimed that he found the bacteria in patients with Spanish flu in 1917 and also in the liver of the Muscovy duck. The duck liver is diluted to one part duck liver with 10 to the 400th power parts of water. (That would be one followed by 400 zeroes, or virtually pure water.) Other ingredients (sucrose and lactose) are added to make it into pills. In other words, it is a sugar pill placebo.

Just because a product is “natural” doesn’t mean it gives any health benefits. Although many natural products do contribute to our health, many other natural products are toxic to the human body. God expects us to use evidence and common sense in applying what He has given us to treat our ailments, and we can start by avoiding homeopathic nonsense.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Cancer Curse and God

Cancer Curse and God
One of the most common catastrophic illnesses facing humans is cancer. If you live long enough, it is almost sure that you will experience cancer in yourself or a loved one. Atheists contend that there can’t be a God or He wouldn’t allow the cancer curse to become so common and cause so much suffering.

A study recently released by Johns Hopkins University found that 29% of cancer-causing mutations result from environmental factors such as Sun exposure or cigarette smoking and inherited genetic mutations cause 5%. The remaining 66%, according to the study, are completely random and are due to bad luck. The authors of the study say they wanted to offer comfort to people with cancer who were living a healthy lifestyle, by showing that it was not their fault they got cancer.

This type of study has many problems. First, it involved 32 cancer types and 69 countries. The sampling of the study would have been extremely difficult because cancer incidence in areas with large amounts of asbestos in the soil and bedrock would be different from areas with no asbestos. The effect of exposure to toxins in the environment would vary widely. The ages of the subjects are also important because part of the cancer problem is that more people are living long enough to get cancer. That was not the case even 100 years ago.

When God created the first humans, there was no cancer problem. The point is that God did not create cancer. Passages like Deuteronomy 28 tell us that rejecting God would result in God not withholding “curses” on humans. Verses 1-14 describe God’s protection from these things, but verses 15-68 describe the curses in detail. The Hebrew word for curse in these verses is arar which means to be completely without God’s help or blessing.

When humans reject God, we are left on our own to deal with the consequences. Galatians 6:7-8 talks about reaping what we sow. That principle applies to people or nations as well as individuals. James 1:13-17 describes God as a loving God who never gives us temptations of any kind, but rather brings good things. It also tells us that God does not vary or mislead in the way He deals with us.

We have contaminated our world with chemicals that we disposed of in irresponsible ways. We have contaminated our bodies with chemicals from recreational drugs, alcohol, and even prescription drugs. The result has been a cancer curse and many of the curses God warned of in Deuteronomy. We need to turn back to Him.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Space Dimensions and Lunar Motion

Space Dimensions and Lunar Motion
We have had several questions and comments precipitated by the eclipse on August 21. Most of them centered around the fact that the Moon’s motion across the Sun was so slow. In reality, the lunar motion is very fast. The speed is a function of the Earth’s rotation as well as the Moon’s revolution around the Earth. However, when compared to space dimensions, lunar motion can seem slow.

The Moon moves with an orbital speed of 2,288 miles (3,683 km) per hour, taking about 28 days to complete its journey around the Earth. Although that sounds fast, it is quite slow in relation to the size of the cosmos. Other moons going around other planets travel at higher speeds. Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, whizzes completely around the planet in less than two days. While our Moon travels at the speed of a rifle bullet, it is 80 times slower than the speed of meteors. Saturn travels ten times faster than the Moon.

The reason we are not aware of the speeds involved is because of the incredible size of the creation. We see meteors moving fast because they are close to us. Meteors are pieces of space junk whizzing through our atmosphere so quickly that they burn up from friction with the air. The moon is over 239,000 miles (384,633 km) away, so its motion appears to be much slower.

When we look out into the night sky, we are looking far into the past. By the time we see the light from stars like Albireo, that light has traveled 430 light-years. That star is actually two stars spinning around each other. Even though they are orbiting each other and astronomers have been watching them since the seventeenth century, we have not seen them change position.

Space dimensions are beyond our comprehension, and the size of the cosmos affects what we see and how we see it. Understanding that should give a whole new significance to the words of the song How Great Thou Art. It should also expand our understanding of, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).

Data from Astronomy magazine, July 2017, page 10.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Apes and Humans

Apes and Humans
Is there an evolutionary connection between apes and humans? Many years ago in a youth rally, a young lady asked me, “If we didn’t come from apes, how come my brother looks so much like an ape?”

It is true that we share many physical characteristics with the apes. Apes and humans both have stereoscopic vision, necessary for depth perception. We both have opposable thumbs, necessary to hold a tool or a club. Apes and humans have noses immediately above our mouth to detect and analyze flavor. Naturalists who want to explain everything on a chance basis suggest that apes and humans share a common ancestor.

Those naturalists frequently ignore the fact that there are many things humans do not share with apes. These are not physical characteristics, but they are what separate us from all other forms of animal life. They include our capacity for worship and our ability to create music and art. Only humans have the ability to think and reason in abstract terms. Apes do not share our capacity for guilt and sympathy, including our ability to have an “agape” kind of love that isn’t survival based.

We would think that with our genome being so similar to the apes some of these characteristics should show up to some degree in the apes. In spite of attempts to show such connections, it is increasingly obvious that such attempts are complex exercises in anthropomorphism.

The question then is, “Why do we see such an enormous collection of fossils of primates which is expanded daily by paleoanthropologists?” In The September 2, 2017, issue of Science News Bruce Bower reviewed some of the evidence and current theories about ape evolution.

The bottom line is that there are connections between specimens like oreopithecus, modern day gibbons and recent finds like Nyanzapithecus alesi. The capacity of life-forms to change is a fact that no one can deny. The various races of human beings indicate that humans have changed enormously since the beginning. The Bible tells us about our human spiritual nature, and that nature has not changed throughout our history. Our physical makeup has changed a great deal during that time, and apes have changed even more.

We see humans as a special creation of God–created in His image with characteristics that are not a product of physical changes. As scientists find more fossils of apes, they will study the changes that have taken place leading to the wide variety of monkeys and apes in the world today. They will create more theories about the physical evolution of apes. In spite of that, the special place of humans in relationship to God will remain unchanged. How we should treat other humans with love and compassion will also not change.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Issues

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Issues
The weekend issue of USA Today for August 25-27 made the problems of Catholic priests sexually abusing children the front page story. The article centered on recent cases in Guam, and made the statement that the continuing Catholic Church sexual abuse issues have “shattered faith.”

There are multiple things to consider in this tragic situation. Many of the people coming forward and making claims about abuse are relying on “repressed memories,” which is only marginally reliable at best. Also, large settlements publicized in the media have encouraged people to claim sexual abuse, which may or may not have happened.

The point that we would like to make is that this whole horrible issue has nothing to do with the existence of God or with the validity of Christianity. The New Testament clearly teaches the condemnation of sexual acts outside of marriage. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:1-11 make it clear that the sexual needs of men and women are to be met only in the sacrament of marriage. The man-made teaching that those who serve God as Church leaders should not be married and should be celibate is at least a part of what has led to Catholic Church sexual abuse issues.

First Timothy 4:1-3 predicts that human perversions of God’s design would take place. “In latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. Speaking lies in hypocrisy: having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry …” The Bible never commands celibacy as a requirement of Church leadership. In fact, the qualifications of bishops given in 1 Timothy 3 require that they be “the husband of one wife (verse 2).

When humans add commands or requirements to what God has given and alter what Jesus taught, the result is always catastrophic. While this may “shatter faith” in human institutions, it should not “shatter faith” in either God or in His Word.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Where Is God When Natural Disaster Strikes?

Where Is God?
Many times atheists and skeptics use natural disasters as proof that God doesn’t exist. The argument is that an almighty and loving God would not allow these things to happen, so therefore God doesn’t exist. That is a faulty argument that assumes we know more than an omniscient God could know. When faced with the current disaster of flooding from Hurricane Harvey on the United States Gulf Coast, even those who believe in God often ask, “Where is God?” They want to know why the God they believe in would allow such things to happen.

So where is God? Why doesn’t He do something about the suffering? God is there, and He is doing something. God is working through His people. We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). When tragedy strikes, even those who don’t have a good relationship with God begin to show a little bit of that image as they reach out to help. Those of us who are Christians should be the most willing and eager to show God’s love. We not only bear the image of God, but we also remember what Jesus did and what He said about helping “the least of these” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Rick Stedman posted an opinion essay on the Fox News website that answers the question about where is God when a natural disaster strikes. We recommend that you read it. We could not have said it better.

We also encourage you to help those in need in any way you can. If you can donate to help the flood victims in Texas and Louisiana, please do so. But make sure you are giving your support through a trustworthy organization. You want your money to go toward helping the people in need and churches and Christian relief funds are the best a doing that.

Where is God when natural disasters strike? He is working through His people who are demonstrating God’s love to those who need it the most. There is no better time for you to witness to those who need to know that God loves them.

If you have questions about why God allows pain and suffering, we invite you to visit our website www.whypain.org.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

The Wonder of Flowing Water

Flowing Water
There are many lessons for us in flowing water and its capacity to change everything that it touches. We live on the edge of the St. Joseph River in Michigan, and over the years we have seen the flowing water undercut huge trees and topple them into the river. We have seen banks erode and man-made things slide into the river. We have watched huge objects float down the river and get hung up on something. Then we have seen that over a period of months or even years the river works on the object and eventually carries it away. The patience and continuous action of flowing water can bring incredible change everything around it.

Human lives function in very much the same way. Many times we want to make changes in things in quick, easy ways. When we pray, we frequently want God to do things in a fast, easily recognized fashion. God usually works more like a river than like a bulldozer. God’s actions in our lives take time, and the things that we accomplish in our lives that have lasting effects usually take place over a long period. Quick fixes are not God’s methodology, and they cannot be ours in most cases. Marriage problems take time to solve. Children require patience and consistent love and direction to make the changes that will bring fruitful and happy lives. We have much to learn from flowing water.

A stagnant lake or pond can become depleted of oxygen, and things living in the water can die. In a stream or river, this never happens because as water falls and tumbles, it dissolves oxygen from the atmosphere. Stagnation is always bad for water, and it is bad for humans as well. We need to experience dynamic change in our lives. We cannot just sit still and wait for someone else or for God to solve our problems. In the Bible, God never acted to do something for people that the people could do for themselves. As the Jews made the Exodus out of Egypt, they did not see God act until they had gone as far as they could go. When the Egyptians were behind them and the Red Sea in front of them, they had exhausted all of their options. That was when God acted.

The same is true for us. God acts in our lives when we have done everything that we can do to solve our problems. We cannot sit on our hands and cry out to God and expect him to fix things with no effort on our part. Wonderful things happen when we are active in doing what God has told us to do. Sometimes people tell me that they are unhappy with their spiritual lives, have doubts, or lack faith. I ask them what they have done to allow themselves to be active and dynamic in making changes in life. Doing the work of the Lord not only brings good things to others but makes enormous changes in our own lives. Just like water, we need to be flowing with activity.

Flowing water also brings life to all that surrounds it. In our Grand Canyon trips, the river literally teams with plants and with animals that thrive on those plants. When there is a tumbling stream with waterfalls and rapids, there will be a variety of plant, animal, and bird life flourishing in the area. People are like that too. A person who withdraws and is not active can be very lonely. God instructs us to share with others, serve others, do good for others, and teach others. It is not just for their benefit, but also for ours. Like flowing water, we are bringing life to the world around us–spiritual life.

When Jesus came to the well in Samaria, he told the woman that he had water which, if one should drink it, he would never thirst again. Christ said, “But the water I give … becomes a perpetual spring within them, watering them forever with eternal life” (John 4:14, TLB). Water figured prominently in the teachings of Christ and what he calls us to do. Let us be encouraged and active in what we bring to a thirsty world.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Bible Translations and the Tyranny of God

Bible Translations
One of the constant challenges made by skeptics of the existence of God is what they sometimes call the tyranny of God. The charge is that God has done things that make it impossible to believe that He is a God of love and mercy. They suggest that the biblical stories are just myths contrived by brutal and primitive societies. This misunderstanding is often caused by Bible translations.

They give examples like 2 Samuel 12:31 where David “puts people under saws, axes, and iron and passes them through brick kilns: … ” Perhaps the most frequently used case is 2 Kings 2:23-25 where Elisha has God send a bear to rip up a group of children who are kidding him because he is bald. Just reading these stories in your KJV Bible might make you think that there is some validity to the challenges, but there is a far more basic problem here.

The problem in these cases and many others is translation. In many cases, the King James is a very poor translation of the original language, and the meaning many English words has changed since 1611. You can see this by looking at modern Bible translations or by using The Word: The Bible in Twenty-six Translations. Let us take the two examples above to see what we mean.

Second Samuel 12:31 does not say that David cut up people with saws and irons and burned them in kilns. It says he forced them into doing these things as labor. The people involved cut wood, made bricks, picked rock, and the like. It may have been hard labor, but it was not wanton brutality. The story in 2 Kings 2:23 -25 is badly distorted by the KJV use of the word “child.” The actual Hebrew word in the passage refers to a young man in a militant form–sometimes referring to an army. This was a gang of teenage thugs who were not just making fun of Elisha, but denigrating God and His spokesman. The reference to baldness probably had to do with the fact that lepers shaved their heads, and as such were outcasts. This is a case of a direct challenge to God and His representative.

To get at the question of whether we understand God’s methods, purposes, or nature, we must look at the original language and the context in which it was written. Failure to do this is not confined to those who would discredit God. It is also seen in the work of some fundamentalists and religionists.

In the debates about evolution, many creationists do not look at the words in Genesis and what they mean and how they were understood by the people of Moses’ day. The fact that the Sun, Moon, and stars were created in verse 1 and then became fully visible in verses 14-19 is lost if one does not look at the difference between the process of creating (Hebrew bara) and making (Hebrew asah). Failure to take the Hebrew words literally has caused some to limit God’s creative process to the week of Genesis when clearly God’s miraculous acts took place before the week started.

Those who claim to take the Bible literally must work at understanding what the author wanted to convey in the original language. Comparing different Bible translations can help to clarify some problems. For a detailed explanation of the Hebrew words in Genesis, we recommend our booklet God’s Revelation in His Rocks and in His Word available in printed form or online.
–John N. Clayton © 2017