Hurricanes and God’s Design

Hurricanes and God's Design
Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by the recent storms in Texas and Louisiana. Our family has members who were flooded and have sustained a terrible loss. The total damage to innocent humans is so massive it is hard to comprehend. Please do not interpret this discussion as being callous, unfeeling, or minimizing the loss that so many have suffered. However, we need to consider the cause of hurricanes and God’s design for life on Earth.

When something like this happens, we receive communications either blaming God or wanting to know why God has allowed it to happen. We would not pretend to have all the answers to the questions that a disaster like this raises. However, this is not a vindictive act of God or retaliation for some human sin. It is a natural product of the design of our planet.

The design is a very good. Spreading water around the Earth in such a way that all latitudes and longitudes have enough water for humans to survive is a difficult challenge. When the Sun is directly overhead at the Equator, it generates heat energy on the surface of the Earth at that locale. The heated air rises and cools. Moisture condenses, and precipitation occurs.

The now dry air moves north and south away from the tropical rain forests. Eventually, it falls back to the Earth at about 30 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. That means there will be a desert at 30 degrees latitude. If you look at a globe, you will see that most of Earth’s deserts are at 30 degrees latitude. This effect is called “The Hadley Cell” and is well understood.

In the United States, 30 degrees north runs through Houston, the gulf coast, and northern Florida. Those areas would be deserts except for hurricanes and God’s design. Low-pressure cells generate over the South Atlantic and move toward the Gulf of Mexico. If these cells pick up enough water due to extra heat, a hurricane can result. Hurricanes bring large amounts of water to what would otherwise be parched, dry areas. When these areas go a long time with no significant water-bearing storms, drought is the result.

When I was a child in the middle of the twentieth century, hurricanes were a time for celebration. Hurricane parties were the rage, and people knew how to “batten down” for the “big blow.” The barrier islands were covered with mangroves which would break up the storm surge. Recharging the aquifers in the area was a good thing for everyone.

Since those days, people have cut down the mangroves and built resorts and beach houses on those barrier islands. Without the mangroves, the storm surges are massive. People have built huge housing developments on land poorly protected from the sea. Even farther inland, massive numbers of people have been put in harm’s way by the changes.

Hurricanes are not an evil, vindictive act of God. In this very incomplete and sketchy review of the cause of storm damage along the coast, we want to say that these storms have a positive effect. They are part of a system designed to make an area that otherwise would be a desert into a good place to live.

Like all the things God has given us, in the use of our land we need to apply wisdom. We have not had a good track record on stewardship of God’s gifts. We should think carefully about the future and use our knowledge and our ability to design and engineer things in a way that will minimize future catastrophes. Meanwhile, we need to join hands, clean up the mess, and help those in need.
–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

Political Issues as a Barrier

Political Issues
We get a lot of mail related to things that we express in our posts. In recent months some have wanted to know why we haven’t had any articles about the Supreme Court, the political parties, Donald Trump or about the political issues of our day.

Recently our good friend and brother in Christ David Thurman, had a beautifully crafted article in his periodical Gospel Minutes in which he said what we believe is true about how we should handle the political issues of our day. Here is his statement:

“When it comes to morality, God is our only authority. So whatever the Supreme court says about marriage is not relevant to our teaching and practice on the subject. We will still teach that marriage is between a man and a woman. Whatever our society says about sexuality, we will still contend that sex belongs in a monogamous, married relationship between a man and a woman. Whatever our society says about violence in the streets and black lives and police officers being targeted, we are going to contend that all violence is evil and has no place in our society.

“However, much of politics is not morality based. It is merely opinion. I have good friends who grew up in one political mind-set. They are polar opposites to my upbringing and current political views. Yet, we are brothers in Christ and love each other. I am not going to let his/her political view alter my more important relationship in Christ.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 14, ‘One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God, and he who eats not, for the Lord does not eat, and gives thanks to God’ (Romans 14:5-6). Substitute ‘political viewpoint’ for ‘day’ in these verses, and we get the point. One man’s opinion is between him and God. My opinion may differ, but that is between me and God. Each should be convinced before God that what he/she thinks is the right thing for us. That is, God should be involved in our political viewpoint. But, if another man reaches a different conclusion, that is between him and the Lord, not between him and me. Just as the ‘day’ should not be a barrier to fellowship, so politics should not be either.

So, include God in all aspects of your life, including your political thinking. But if another believer reaches a different political position based on his or her understanding of the Lord’s values, then let him or her have that conviction, and do not let politics become a barrier to unity and fellowship.”

Reference: David Thurman in Gospel Minutes February 24, 2017, page 4.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

New Life from an Old Source

New Life from and Old Source
My daughter and I were digging up potatoes in the garden. Most of the potatoes were pretty small, but we try to be sure we do not waste anything, so all of them were going in the bucket. Suddenly I heard, “Yuk, this isn’t a potato” and she reared back to pitch a tulip bulb she had dug up into the compost pile. I stopped her and said, “Hey, we want to plant that in the flower bed, and it will be beautiful by spring.” She looked at the dirty, shabby tulip bulb and said, “How can anything as pretty as a tulip come out of something as ugly, old, and beat up as this?”

The fact of the matter is that it is a basic design of the Creator that causes all kinds of beauty and new life to come from an old source that has been buried. These beautiful flowers all were dead looking ugly bulbs at one time. It is a design of nature that allows seeds to come out of a dying and rotten vegetable.

The same thing is true on a spiritual, psychological, and emotional level. A beautiful Christian life is only possible when the ugly old person of sin is buried. Those of us who have found ourselves deep in sin, fight a losing battle if we try to overcome that sin on our own. It is only when we bury that sinful, ugly old person that something beautiful can blossom and grow. That is why baptism is such a wonderful and beautiful act. Perhaps those who have grown up in the church cannot appreciate it as much as those of us who experienced total contamination by the world, but it is far from a meaningless or senseless act.

New life for old is a very good offer. Everything God tells us to do is logical, reasonable, and pregnant with meaning. Let us bury the old life of sin, come out of the waters of baptism a new person in a new relationship with God, and with a new capacity to change the world through the power God gives us.
–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

Why Is There Color in Our World?

Why Is there Color in the World?
One of the joys of life is the beauty that we see in the natural world. The beauty of flowers is so great that we decorate our homes inside and out with flowers of every description. People will get out of bed early in the morning to watch a sunrise display colors of incredible beauty and complexity. We admire the work of artists and photographers who can capture a permanent record of the colors of the world on canvas or film. Why is there color in the world?

There are hundreds of papers that have been written by scientists and science writers concerning the reason for color. The design of the Earth and of the life systems on Earth frequently demand that certain colors exist. For example, the green in vegetation is necessary to protect plants from the high energy wavelengths of the Sun’s light.

There are some colors in the natural world, however, that seem to defy a naturalistic evolutionary explanation. Flowers living in identical environments will frequently have radically different colors. If we postulate that the colors are different to attract different pollinators, we run into logical problems. Wouldn’t the most efficient pollinators provide the same advantages to all flowers of similar geometric design? In caves deep in the ocean, there are some of the more vividly colored tropical fish. These fish never see sunlight and have no camouflage advantage given by their colors. There are worms and burrowing animals in thermal vents deep in the floor of the ocean that display rich and beautiful colors.

A skeptic may reply that these colors are a chance consequence of the materials that make up the bodies of these organisms. The fact is that, in many cases, the colored materials in the organism are inconsequential to the survival of the organism. We would suggest an equally plausible and perhaps more realistic explanation. Could it be that a God of intelligence and creative power designed the creation not only with functional wisdom but also with aesthetic intelligence?

Why is there color? God obviously enjoys beauty. We were created in God’s image, and therefore we enjoy the beauty of the world around us. Beauty is one of the things that makes our sojourn on this planet worthwhile.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Medical Marijuana–Good or Bad

Medical Marijuana
All the discussion of medical marijuana and the questions of legalization are based on the assumption that people understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the human body. The general public is almost universally unaware of this system, and yet it is a major player in the question of the use of medical marijuana.

In our brain and throughout our central and peripheral nervous systems we have receptors that are involved in appetite, pain sensation, mood, sleep, and memory. This complex system operates by chemical reactions with enzymes and molecules released by the system itself called endocannabinoids. When life experiences such as stress act on the brain, chemical secretions influence the ECS system and our behavior.

Marijuana contains phytocannabinoids which interact with the endocannabinoids which the body makes. The scientific name for marijuana is Cannabis sativa, and this plant contains more than 100 different cannabinoids as well as hundreds of other chemicals. The following cannabinoids have been studied enough to know what effect they have on the human brain:

Cannabidiols (CBD)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anxiety reducer, antipsychotic, reduces muscle spasms

Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, euphoriant, suppresses nausea and vomiting

Cannabigerols (CBG)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal

Cannabichromenes (CBC)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal

Cannabinols and Cannabinodiols (CBN, CBND)

– anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, sedative, anti-convulsant

Marijuana has a high potential for abuse, but it also has useful purposes. As we understand more about the design of our brain and nervous system, we will find ways that cannabinoids can be used to relieve human suffering. However, medical marijuana benefits do not come from smoking it which can damage the lungs and become addictive just as cigarette smoking does. Tests have shown that long-term use can lead to psychotic disorders, heart problems, and sexual/reproductive problems.

Marijuana itself is not evil, and certainly not a creation of Satan as some have implied. Humans can and do use marijuana as a destructive agent, but God designed it and intended it for good.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Nursing Orangutans and Evolution

Nursing Orangutans
As scientists study different animals in their natural environment, they frequently learn things that complicate accepted pictures of animal history. A recent series of studies of nursing orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra has shown that weaning doesn’t occur in these animals until they are more than eight years old. That is a record lactation period for any wild animal.

Determining the length of nursing for orangutans has been difficult for various reasons. For one thing, the nursing takes place high in the trees, so scientists have difficulty observing. Add to that the fact that these animals are hairy, so it becomes difficult to see what is going on. Some have suggested that the babies are just cuddling.

Researchers finally settled the question by studying orangutan teeth. Studies of the layers of material containing barium in the teeth of the babies indicate that they really are feeding. Museums have collections of orangutan teeth from years ago when these animals were not considered to be endangered and were often killed by collectors. Calcium and barium from the mother’s body go into building the nursing infant’s teeth. Primate teeth are built up with a microscopic layer each day. By examining the layers, scientists can tell when the infant orangutan stopped nursing because there is a greater concentration of barium in the nursing layers. Examining teeth from orangutans at different ages, the scientists determined that nursing can continue through age eight.

Some evolutionary theories have difficulty with these very long lactating periods. Not only is the female not receptive to males during that eight years, but she must continue to produce milk. In milk production, the mother is literally dissolving some of her body to provide nourishment for the young. These two factors seem to be counter to evolutionary models for survival. These new discoveries concerning nursing orangutans may cause some rethinking concerning theories of primate evolution.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst