Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Springs Of Life

"Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life"
-Proverbs 4:23
Original photographer: Spencer Rowell: http://www.spencerrowell.com/

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bel, Bildad, Eldad, Bar-Jesus and Elymas

We recently posted an article on the name Bel, which is the name of the notorious Babylonian deity. Biblical names often are constructed from divine names, and not only from the name of the Living God. The names Bel and the related name Baal show up quite often as elements of Biblical names (think for instance of Belshazzar). Often these divine names are quite obviously part of Biblical names, but sometimes they aren't. We just posted an article on the etymology of the name Bildad for instance, which also (probably) contains the name Bel. And that lead us to have a look at the name Eldad, which is essentially the same name, except that the Bel-part is now El.

In the New Testament occurs the curious name Bar-Jesus, which literally means Son Of Jesus, but with a lot of footnotes. This fellow also went by the name Elymas, which comes with even more footnotes. Check it out!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The well-known story of the guy in the boat – on answer to prayer

The guy in a boat

(For Deidra)

Once upon a time there was a guy in a boat. Well, actually there was first a guy who wasn’t in boat, and he stood up to his knees in water, and the water rose, and he couldn’t get to shore for some reason.

When the water had reached his family jewels, he cried out to the Lord – first properly praising Him for all His mercies and wonders, but then kindly requesting to lift him up from the waters and put him somewhere dry. When he was just about to stamp his prayer with a basso “amen,” he heard someone clear his throat, just behind him. It was a guy in a boat.

“Get in my boat, homie,” said the guy in the boat to the guy who wasn’t in the boat. “The water is rising and you can’t get to shore from here.”
“Ah, brother,” said the guy who wasn’t in the boat. “Don’t you worry about me. I am a servant of the Most High Lord of Hosts, and He won’t let any harm come to me.”

“Fair enough then,” said the guy in the boat and peddled off.

And the water rose. And the guy who wasn’t in the boat became more and more eloquent. He stretched his arms to heaven and quoted Psalms and Gospels and beseeched the Lord to do something miraculous. Behind him someone cleared his throat. The water was now at chest level.

“Me again,” said the guy in the boat. “You best get in.”
“You of little faith!” admonished the guy who wasn’t in the boat. “The Lord Almighty is testing my faith and you are a temptation! My Father who is in heaven, will save me! Now be off and stay off!”

And the guy in the boat peddled off.

And the water rose. And the guy who wasn’t in the boat grew stronger and stronger in his faith and praised the Creator, the Judge, the Merciful in several ancient language now until the water rose to his lips and he had to pout and everything started to sound funny.

“Are you about done yet?” asked the guy in the boat who had come back and was hovering over the face of the guy who wasn’t in the boat.
“Noy!” gurgled the guy who wasn’t in the boat. “Yoo son ov Belial! Gut awoy from moy! I knoy that my Redeemer livz!”

“Suit yourself, then” said the guy in the boat and drifted away while the water rose and the guy who wasn’t in the boat slowly drowned.

When the guy who drowned came to heaven, he demanded an audience with the Boss right away. When he reached the Great White Throne, he omitted praise, even a polite salute, and began to complain: “What’s with this drowning deal?” he growled. I praised you ‘till the very end, and You promised to hear my prayers and that nothing would harm me and that you would save me.”
“That’s right,” said God. “Everything was lined up to save you.”
“Well!” said the guy who drowned, “I saw no angels to lift me up, no path through the waters, You didn’t do anything!”
“Yes I did,” said God. “Three times I sent a guy in a boat over to get you.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight."
- Proverbs 3:5-6

Source: http://nmazca.com/3142857/2007/10/ascending-imhosan-part-31.htm

Friday, November 18, 2011

Paganism, Christianity and Understanding the Tree

Just beneath the narrative layers of the Bible (the stories) lies a wealth of information that gets lost in translations and which subsequently is largely missed by popular Christianity. Let me give you a really groovy example:

In our day and age we seem to be gaining new respect for pre-Christian religions, and probably rightly so. Back in the days when the world was largely governed by people’s understanding of nature, incredible wisdom was normal but obviously incomplete. The emergence of Christianity didn’t simply introduce some new religion, but an adaptation of what man knew until then. Or in the words of the delightful philosopher Jacob Needleman  (From the book What is God?):
“I had no suspicion that my own personal discovery of the intellectual content of Judaism and Christianity was mirroring, in its own small way, an immense struggle that shaped the heart of our whole Western civilization two thousand and more years ago. I had no suspicion that the word “God,” which we all take for granted, was, and an idea, actually the work of many gifted minds searching, pondering, plunging themselves into the depths of meditation and contemplation while submitting to the stringent demands of philosophical dialogue, argument and objective logical reflection.”
Alas, in our day and age the stringent demands of philosophical dialogue call with less attraction than the stringent demands of commerce, and in stead of sound theology (or at least sound religious philosophy) the cultural phenomenon called Christianity mostly offers slick how-to books, paper-thin worship songs and T-shirts that speak of buddy Christ. And that is why (a) I wrote Cross On Me – Fear and Loathing on a Pilgrim’s Progress, and (b) humanity is sliding back down the scale of brilliance, right back into the natural religions that Christianity once superseded.

And a primary theme of nature religions is the tree: all understanding starts with understanding the tree – how it brings forth fruits, how half of it exists free in the air while its other half remains hidden and caught in the earth. Especially in forested regions, understanding the tree was greatly appreciated. The word “druid” for instance, by which the holy men of the Celts were known, means exactly that: tree-knower.

And sure enough, folks - including Christians - would benefit greatly from looking at trees, also because the tree is of prime importance in the Bible. Creation started with a garden with the Tree of Life at the heart of it, and redemption starts with the Son of God crucified on a tree. This central tenet of Christian theology, the crucifixion of Christ on a tree, is also a clear statement of how and in what Christian thought supersedes natural thought.

But what to us is wise – namely an understanding of the tree – to the body of superseding thought is folly. Merely understanding the tree proved insufficient, and thus the death and resurrection of Christ entered the philosophical stage. But in order to understand the greatness and brilliance of this idea, one should still understand the tree!

For the Biblical Name Vault, I was looking at the name Allon, which is identical to the Hebrew word allon meaning oak or terebonth. But this word seems to be part of two groups of words; two times two roots that yield their derivations (like trees that yield their fruits) according to their kind, and which somehow brought forth this name Allon through two different  and unrelated evolutions! It made me think of the two differing genealogies of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus. But what was more striking was the groups of meanings that were brought about by these separate roots.

Here they are:

Root 1
The root aleph-lamed-lamed yields the rare feminine noun alla, which means oak, and the much more common masculine noun allon, also meaning oak. In the Bible the oak is often utilized to symbolize strength, but also to mark some location (like the Oak of Weeping, where Deborah was buried). The prophet Hosea mentions the oak as instrument in pagan worship (4:13) and Isaiah tells the satirical story of a man who chops down a tree (like a cedar or oak) and uses half to make a cooking fire and the other half to carve an idol from (44:9-17).

Root 2
The identical root aleph-lamed-lamed yields the word elil, which denotes something worthless, particularly as an object of worship.

Root 3
The root aleph-waw-lamed yields an abundance of derivations, all having to do with protruding or sticking out. The noun ul may mean belly or leading man, depending on the context. The noun ulam means porch. The noun ayil means either ram, door post, leader or terebinth (that’s a kind of oak), depending on the context. The word ela means terebinth as well. And finally the word elon, which is spelled identical to the word alon and the Biblical name Allon as mentioned under root 1 but pronounced slightly different, means again terebinth.

Root 4
The identical root aleph-waw-lamed yields three derivations, all having to do with foolishness: The adjective ewil means foolish. The adjective ewili means foolish too. And the feminine noun iwwelet means folly or foolishness.

Go figure. And while you’re figuring, remember that someone who delights in the Law of the Lord is like a tree planted by water, and that in the new creation, the Tree of Life will stand by the river of life, where it will yield twelve kinds of fruits. And its leaves will be for the healing of the nations.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Black Holes & Michelangelo’s Sistine Brain – Is God in our head?

God between your ears.

In last year’s May issue of Neurosurgery – the official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons – medical illustrator Ian Suk, BSc, BMC, and neurosurgeon Rafael Tamargo caused a bit of a stir by posting an article in which they subscribed to the theory that, indeed, Michelangelo had placed his famous Creator God on a human cranium. What Michelangelo had meant with that can no longer be established, but one of the proposals was that God exists solely in the human mind. Ergo: the famous detail of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was not about God creating man, but man creating God! The message that critics derived was that Michelangelo preached that God, like all other figments of human imagination, existed only between human ears. Is that bad? Well, no, it isn’t.

The Sistine Brain by Ian Suk and  Rafael Tamargo

Everything between your ears.

In order for the human brain to create a picture of what is around it, it needs stimuli, and it obtains stimuli through the senses. When something makes a sound, the sound travels through the air, reaches our ears, is translated into an electrical signal and travels to the brain. The brain then uses the same sub-routine that allows us to fantasize, dream or ponder abstractions, and connects the stimuli-dots into a recognizable picture of something that might be out there.

Without that signal reaching the brain, there is no awareness in the brain of the source of that signal. In other words: items are only incorporated into our reality-model when its signal passes into our body and into our brain. In other words: in order for something to be perceived as real, it must exist between our ears. We can not be aware of something that doesn’t exist solely in our minds.

And that means that for a solitary person, it is impossible to detect a difference between observed reality and fantasy. When there are two or more people together, fantasies will be restricted to one person, and reality will be confirmed by the others, and that’s how we can tell the difference. And that works really well, until someone realizes that he or she could be making the other guys up, and there is no way of telling whether anything is real.

General Existential Relativity

Einstein is famous for discovering that there is no difference between sitting motionless in a gravitational field or speeding up outside of one. All math works the same in either situation, and there’s no way of telling whether we’re accelerating or whether we’re stationary close to a massive object.

In much the same way there is no way of telling whether the world truly exists or whether you, the reader, are making everything up. You could be some solitary worm-like creature floating in some ocean out there, erroneously convinced that you are a human, and that there are more humans who all tell you that you are one too. Or you could be a spark flying off some handle in which in a blip of consciousness an entire fantasy world arose. In fact, there’s no way of knowing for sure that you are not the only thing that exists, and that besides you there’s only the howling infinite of nothingness. You could be all alone.

Fortunately, we’ve learned to believe. And we like to believe that we are humans, and that the other humans are autonomous humans just like us, and that we’re in a universe. And some of us have been given the additional belief that God created everything (or should we say that this belief is inherent to all mankind and some of us try very hard to deny it?)

The Grave And Beyond

An implication of Einstein’s relativity theories is the existence of so-called black holes. These are celestial objects that are so incredibly dense that all material structure is crushed into a single point. And another implication of relativity is that the stronger the gravitational field, the slower time progresses. At the so-called event horizon (that’s the edge) of a black hole, time stands still.

But that means that if we could place an observer inside a black hole, he would see the rest of the universe pass within the blink of an eye. In fact, he would see all the other black holes (or rather the radiation that flows from them) zip in an out of existence. But he wouldn’t be able to tell whether the images he sees originate from outside the black hole or not. All he sees are signals that are inside. Between his ears.

An infinite volume within a finite diameter.

Einstein figured out that mass curves space-time. If we would depict the 3 dimensions of space as a 1-dimensional rubber string, a massive object would lean in on that string and create a crater-like indentation. Light from that massive object would have to travel up the crater to finally reach open, flat space. But that means that a space-traveler who decides to travel very near the star would have to travel much further (down the crater and back up again) than a space traveler who decides to give the star and its crater a wide birth. And that means that the radius of the crater (from the edge to the star) is much larger than half the diameter (from one point on the diameter to a point directly on the other side).

In black holes space is curved so dramatically that the radius becomes infinite. And that means that even though the diameter of a black hole is finite, the volume inside a black hole is infinite, which makes it effectively as large as the universe it lives in. To an observer inside a black hole, there is absolutely no difference between believing that (a) the black hole sits inside the universe or (b) the universe sits inside the black hole.

There are several strong indications that the mental sphere is a self-similar replica of the material sphere. And sure enough, the human mind seems to work quite alike a black hole. A human mind isn’t structured according to a temporal lattice (memories of what happened years ago may be much stronger than what happened this morning) and the space needed to contain a human mind is much smaller than the space the mind contains.

Just like physicist deem it folly to demand to know whether an observer is in an accelerating rocket or stationary in a gravitational field, so is it folly to demand to know whether something is between our ears or not. To physicists there is no difference between the two and mankind’s reality view should also not try to make a difference between believed reality and absolute reality.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful world - out there and in here, and let God’s will be done, in heaven as it is on earth.

“The Kingdom of God is not coming with your careful observations; nor will it be said, ‘here it is, or there it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
- Luke 17:20-21

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A tree planted by the water

"Blesed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes, but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to bear fruit." - Jeremiah 17:7-8
Source: the delightful blog called WordsWay:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Counting Blessings whilst Heeding George’s Tree

Lately I’ve woken up to the notion that I should be counting my blessings, for blessed I am. I’m married to the most wonderful woman in the world, I’m surrounded by a loving family and cheerful neighbors, and the website is making enough money to live on. Things were quite different a few years back – “God is teaching you valuable lessons,” was the ubiquitous observation, but I couldn’t wait to see the lessons end and rewards to start.

And that seems to be happening right now. And so I’m counting. I’m counting every kiss, every click, every sunny day I spend at Mica’s Paradise, every cup of nana tea I drink, and every bag of walnuts neighbors hand me when I pass by on my everlasting journey to find access to the river.

The other day Mica asked me why I wouldn’t move to her Paradise permanently. Even though it would be a wish come true and there are houses for sale here, and some land too, funds, unfortunately, are stretched pretty thin. I’ve been an engineer half my life, and I’m sure I could build a house all by myself, but where, if I only have money for either land or material?

Mica took me around the back of her house and calmly said, “Build your house here. I’m giving you this land.”

Moved to tears, I counted yet another blessing. It was almost too good to be true, and as my eyes swept over the plot, I realized there was nothing to keep me from building a house right there, behind Mica’s house, except for… George’s walnut tree.

George is a friendly neighbor who tends his vineyard and takes care of other people’s land while he is at it. I’d seem him many times, shuffle around the walnut tree behind Mica’s house, tending that thing like it was his own child. He pruned it in the spring, watered it in the summer, and every now and then he brought bags of expensive fertilizer from town in his rinky-dink truck, and dispensed it carefully at the base of the tree.

George's wallnut tree in Mica's Paradise

As I was standing there, already estimating where the living room was going to be, George appeared, walked up to the tree, laid his hands on it and looked up into its leafy branches. There was no way that he was going to let me chop down that tree to build a house, I figured. But I figured wrong.

    “Mica tells me you’re going to build a house here,” he said, looking at me, strangely vacantly.
    “Well, I won’t be able to, George. That tree already lives here.”
    “That tree,” said George, shaking his head, “hasn’t produced a single walnut in the whole decade and a half that I’ve been pampering it. It’s wasting dirt, and I told Mica last week that she should have it chopped down. I’ve already sharpened the axe back in the shed. That tree is a goner. We’ll use its wood to fire the stove. It’ll burn all winter.”

    “I see,” I said, averting my eyes back to the land, estimating where the living room was going to be. The kitchen would be at the back of the house. The master bedroom would be above the living room, and above the kitchen would be a guest room. I’m sure there are lots of people in town who, like I, need a few days at Mica’s Paradise, to worship the Lord in the peace and quiet of nature.

And of course I’d build an incredible office for myself, somewhere on the second floor. I’ll have all my books there, and an Internet connection. And during the day I’ll be up there, studying Scriptures and writing articles to post on the main website of Abarim Publications. And in the evening we’ll host neighborhood Bible studies on the porch, looking out over the river.

I’m counting my blessings because there are a lot of them to count. But I can’t also wait to start shedding some serious walnuts. George’s axe, after all, is laying back in the shed, sharp as a chisel.

George's walnut tree; soon to make way for a modest family house and a warm fire

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The kingdoms tottered

"The nations made an uproar,
The kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice,
The earth melted'
-Psalm 46:6
Photo by  Chris Kotsiopoulos: http://www.greeksky.gr/files/atmospheric.htm
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