Pandemic Fear and Faith

Pandemic Fear and Faith

We are all going through changes as the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads, and many people seem to have pandemic fear.

In my lifetime, I have seen several disease epidemics. I find it interesting how differently people are responding to this than they did when I was a child, and polio was running wild. Polio was a much more serious issue than COVID-19 ever thought of being. If you got polio in 1952, you were either going to die, be paralyzed, or be in an iron lung for the rest of your life. For those who are younger, an iron lung was a huge tin can that breathed for you, because polio could stop you from breathing on your own. If you were put in an iron lung to preserve your life, the chances are that you would be in that large tin can until you did die. It was awful, but we did not have the pandemic fear.

Even though polio was much worse than the current virus, my classmates were not absorbed with fear and extreme measures to avoid getting polio. We were told that flies carried polio. I remember my mother stringing flypaper all over the place, and going bonkers if she saw a fly in our garage. I was not allowed to go to outdoor events for fear of polio. Still, there was no panic from the media and no cancellations of anything. That is a huge contrast with what has happened in 2020 as we face this virus. That is even though most people who get the virus do not die or have any long-lasting effects. What is the difference?

In my childhood years, being an atheist was unique. I was the only openly atheistic person in my high school class. Our family went to Brown County State Park every Sunday to swim in the park swimming pool. We had the pool to ourselves because everyone else was in church. I had friends who did contract polio. Outside of a sign which said “quarantine” being placed on their front door, not much else happened.

The panic that has gripped our culture today is amazing. According to the CDC ordinary, run of the mill flu killed 61,000 Americans last year and over 12,000 this year so far. But the pandemic fear of COVID-19 far exceeds the fear that has been with us before.

I would suggest to you that as our culture has drifted away from God, the fear of the unknown has grown exponentially. At least part of the pandemic fear is our lack of faith as a society about life and death and who or what is in control.

One fundamental message of Jesus Christ is that Christians should not be driven by panic and fear of the unknown. In Mark 4:36-41, we read the wonderful story of Jesus and the disciples being caught in a storm in a small boat. Jesus is asleep, and they wake him up. Christ quiets the storm and says to the disciples, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (verse 40).

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible calls believers not to be driven by fear. Joshua 1:9 tells us not to be afraid. Psalms 23:4 talks about walking through the darkest valley. Psalms 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “…the Lord your God will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5-8 tells us that the Lord is our helper, so we should not be afraid. Jesus tells us in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

If you believe that this life is all you will ever have, then you will fear anything that threatens this life. If you believe that there is something better coming, then nothing that happens in this life is of great consequence. However, I have an instinct to survive and knowing that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), I will do what I can to avoid premature death. I am washing my hands, avoiding crowds, and following the other guidelines. Still, I can relate to Paul’s discourse in Philippians 1:21-24, where he says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … I am in a struggle between having a desire to leave and be with Christ, but I know I should abide in the flesh, which is more needful for you…”

We want the life God gave us to be fruitful and meaningful. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Let our love of God cause us to relax and avoid pandemic fear. This can be our living message to a lost, dying, and fearful world.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

The orbit of the Earth around the Sun produces variations in the seasons with four orbital positions having particular significance. Today, March 19, 2020, the Sun will pass directly overhead at the equator. The exact time will be 11:49 p.m. EDT (0349 GMT March 20, 2020). We can rejoice that the vernal equinox arrives today!

This is the earliest equinox in the United States in 124 years! As you can see in the diagram, the usual date for the vernal equinox is March 20 or 21, depending on where you live on the Earth. The reason it arrives on the 19th this year in North America is somewhat complicated, but it has to do with leap years and daylight saving time. We won’t get into that, but I thought we should explain why the diagram differs from this year’s dates.

There is wonderful history of how the Greek scholar Eratosthenes of Alexandria used the equinox to measure the circumference of the Earth. He knew that on the equinox, a pole stuck vertically in the ground left little or no shadow at noon, depending on location. He compared the length of the shadow of a pole in Syene, a town in southern Egypt, with one in Alexandria in northern Egypt. Using the difference in the shadow lengths, he calculated the circumference of the Earth. His calculation was very close to the known circumference today, and it proved the Earth was round. He did that in 245 BC, long before Columbus sailed.

The four polar positions roughly predict the seasons that have been used by every culture to control planting, harvesting, and preparing the soil. In Genesis 1:14, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of space to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” God not only instituted day and night, but He also positioned the Sun and Moon so they could be used to mark the seasons we would need to live on this planet.

As the vernal equinox arrives today, we wish you a happy equinox!! Enjoy the season and the official end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. We will have more on the spring equinox tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020

Assisted Suicide and Choices

Assisted Suicide and Choices

In our March 16, 2020, post, we discussed the issue of suicide, and the Federal Communication Commission’s efforts to create a suicide hotline. We discussed the problem of assisted suicide or euthanasia in our February 24 and 25 posts. The March 20 issue of The Week magazine carried an article (page 11) titled “The Spread of Assisted Suicide.”

In addition to the data showing how much assisted suicide has increased, the article in The Week points out that assisted suicide is now available to people for various reasons. It is being made available to those who are in psychological pain, those who don’t want to go into a nursing home, and to minors with their parent’s permission. This is a significant problem with large numbers of people involved. In the Netherlands alone, there were 6585 assisted deaths in 2017.

Our biggest concern in this growing trend is the misinformation that the public is receiving. Dignitas, which is a Swiss organization assisting in suicides, says that assisted suicide is “far preferable to letting ill people make a lonely, risky suicide attempt.” Those are not the only choices available to a person who is depressed, in pain, or fearing dementia.

As life expectancy continues to climb, more and more people will struggle with emotional and physical pain. Our focus needs to be on solving those issues, not just in finding ways to destroy the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Christ’s Transfiguration and Its Significance

Mount Tabor, traditional site of Christ's Transfiguration
View of Mt. Tabor, the traditional site of the Transfiguration.

Perhaps Christ’s transfiguration was the most significant biblical event other than the creation and Christ’s resurrection. It is described in Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. Three men meet together on a mountain–Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.

The Law and the Prophets were the basis of Judaism. Exodus 24:13-18 tells us that Moses went up on Mount Sinai and received the Law. Deuteronomy 34:6 indicates that he had no known grave. Elijah, the prophet, went up Mount Horeb (Sinai) according to 1 Kings 19:8, where God spoke to him. Like Moses, Elijah had no grave (2 Kings 2:11).

God told the people through the prophet Malachi that the Law and the prophets would lead to Christ (Malachi 4:4-6). In Luke 9:34-35 we read of Christ’s transfiguration and the cloud which symbolized the covering of divine presence. God spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.” The message is clear. Don’t let the Law or the prophets guide you–follow Jesus.

To this day, people want to snip out various parts of the Law or the prophets and use them in their religious practices. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that He fulfilled the Law and the prophets. Jesus summed up the Law and the prophets in Matthew 7:12 with what we often call the “Golden Rule.” Colossians 2:6-23 states that Jesus blotted out the written code with its regulations by nailing to the cross (verse 14).

Christ’s transfiguration leads us to real freedom. Just as Moses led Israel out of slavery to Egypt, Jesus leads all of us to real freedom from sin. Romans 6:4-23 speaks of Christians having a new life, not a legalistic political system. The Law was impossible to keep perfectly because of human weakness. Romans describes the new life we are called to. We can be completely and totally free by God’s grace and the power of love.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Suicide Prevention Hotline 988

Suicide Prevention Hotline 988

The Federal Communications Commission is working to establish a three-digit suicide prevention hotline. It will use the number 988, comparable to 911 for other emergencies. The reason for this new emergency number is a surge in deaths by suicide over the past ten years. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 20 veterans commit suicide each day, and more than 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt to kill themselves annually.

You might think that the reason for an increase in suicide is poverty or hunger, but that is not the case. According to the experts at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the common denominator is a lack of hope. As a former atheist, I can verify that kind of thinking. As an atheist, when I no longer was the “fittest,” my moral foundation built on “survival of the fittest” collapsed. That’s when I reached the point of attempting to end my life. There is no hope when everything around you is collapsing, and you are no longer in control.

The word “hope” occurs 135 times in the Bible. Life has meaning when we have faith in Christ and believe that this life leads to something better–even when we are not the fittest. Christ’s teaching and the New Testament repeatedly refer to joy. That joy leads to loving life and looking forward to the future no matter how bleak our circumstances are now.

The 988 number of the suicide prevention hotline is good because just having someone to talk to may help a person contemplating suicide. But it may be 2021 before the number is in service. The greatest message of hope comes from the Bible, and it’s available now. The real source of hope comes from finding new life in Christ, as Romans 6 describes in glowing terms.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Washington Post, December 13, 2019.

Faith of the Wealthy?

Faith of the Wealthy?

One of the constant accusations of atheists and skeptics is that Christians oppress those who are poor. Nearly every week, we read about a well-known preacher who has gotten very wealthy by his preaching, or a religious leader who has made a fortune by merchandising his or her faith. Is Christianity a faith of the wealthy?

There is no question that some people use Christianity to benefit themselves. But that is not Christianity. It is a perversion of what Jesus taught and what the Christian faith is about. In Matthew 23, Jesus describes this kind of religious leader. He says they “bind heavy burdens .. and lay them on men’s shoulders; but that they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” He talks about them wanting praise and devouring widows’ houses and points out their hypocrisy. Throughout His ministry, Jesus and His followers helped people.

In Matthew 11:2-11, John the Baptist sent his disciples to determine if Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus responded by telling John and his disciples to look at who Jesus ministered to – the blind, the crippled, the lepers, the deaf, and the poor. He then asks the crowds, “What did you go to see in John, a man in fancy clothing? Those people are in King’s houses.. but come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden…” In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus tells his hometown crowd that He came to preach to the poor, the broken-hearted, the blind, and the captives. In Luke 6:20-38, Jesus tells the poor that they are the kingdom of God. Jesus condemned the rich, not because they were rich, but because of how they used their wealth. (See Luke 11:39-46.) Christianity is not a faith of the wealthy oppressing the poor.

In Matthew 9:10-13, Jesus ate with the outcasts of society, and the religious leaders asked: “Why?” Jesus said, “I did not come to call the virtuous people but the outcasts.” The ministry of Paul was to the poor, including those who rejected Judaism. Galatians 2:10 finds Paul talking about “giving thought to the poor.” The passage goes on to talk about Peter struggling with this, and Paul reprimanding him (verses 11-18). The early Church was all about supporting the weak. (See Acts 20:35, Romans 15:1, I Corinthians 9:22-23, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14). James even condemned congregations who gave deference to the wealthy in James 2:2-8.

There is too much need around us for any Christian to be wallowing in self-serving wealth. Skeptics and atheists are correct in condemning those who claim to be Christians but have not found the joy of giving. Those they condemn do not represent what Christianity is all about and how real Christians try to live. Christianity is not a faith of the wealthy, but a faith of caring for the needs of all.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Third Law of Thermodynamics

Third Law of Thermodynamics

For the past two days, we have been examining the Laws of Thermodynamics. As I said before, In 41 years of teaching high school physics, I learned that the hard part of teaching is getting kids to want to understand physics concepts. The concepts are easy if the students can see some application to their daily lives. But if they don’t understand the relevance of the subject, they won’t try to understand it. To get their attention, I called the unit on thermodynamics “Break the Thermo law and You Don’t Survive!” The three laws of thermodynamics are fundamental truths that apply to all of science, and we would not be alive without them. Today, we look at the Third Law of Thermodynamics.

THIRD LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS: Absolute Zero is a Limit that, Like the Speed of Light, Can Be Approached but Not Reached.

This statement of the Third Law is called the Nernst heat theorem, and, like the other two laws, it just makes sense. If matter were to reach absolute zero, then all atomic motion would stop. If electrons stopped orbiting around the positive nucleus of atoms, what would happen? Opposites attract, and the electrons would be pulled in by the protons in the nucleus. Matter would simply dissolve!

Interestingly, the Bible says that at the end of time, matter will dissolve (2 Peter 3:10). If you stop time and all motion that depends upon time, the Third Law of Thermodynamics tells us that all matter would dissolve. The design of the cosmos shows wisdom and purpose.

The laws of thermodynamics and the multiplicity of other laws that are known to science, all show that the creation is logical and open to understanding. We can see the evidence for the existence of a Creator of the cosmos through the things He has made (Romans 1:19-22). Understanding what God has done and something about how He has done it is what science is all about. Studying God’s creation is a wonderful, useful, and practical way to grow intellectually and spiritually.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Note: Laws are quoted from Physics, Principles and Problems, Glencoe Publications of Macmillan/McGraw Hill, PO Box 508, Columbus, Ohio 43216, pages 256-259.

Laws of Thermodynamics

Laws of Thermodynamics

In 41 years of teaching high school physics, I learned that the hard part of teaching is getting kids to work on understanding concepts. The concepts are easy if the students can see some application to their daily lives. But if they did not understand the relevance of the subject, they were not going to work on understanding. To that end, I titled the unit on thermodynamics “Break the Thermo law and You Don’t Survive!” The three laws of thermodynamics are fundamental truths that apply to all of science, and theories that break those laws do not survive.

The laws of thermodynamics have a great deal to do with cosmology and questions about creation. We want to state these laws and try to point out their application to issues related to life, death, and how we live our lives.

THE FIRST LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS: The Total Increase in Thermal Energy of a System is the Sum of the Work Done on It and the Heat Added to It.

I used to tell my classes that this law says, “You don’t get something for nothing.” What does it take to run your car? One student said, “$2.00 a gallon.” They had learned how to calculate how much energy a gallon of gasoline produces, so I would show them how to calculate how far you ought to be able to drive your car on a gallon of gas. The answer usually came out to be something close to 1,000 miles. “He can’t get that crate of his out of the parking lot on a gallon of gas,” another student volunteered.

“What’s the inconsistency?” I would ask. Then I answered my own question by screaming, “The First Law of Thermodynamics!” The point is that the total thermal energy added to the car (the burning gasoline) will never be equal to the work done by the engine. There will always be energy lost to heating the engine, to friction, to incomplete combustion, and a variety of other energy-consuming problems.

This principle is simply a thermal statement of the Law of Conservation of Energy, and it applies to everything in life. We will never have cars, motors, or heating systems that are 100 percent efficient. Perpetual motion will never happen. There is always a price to pay for any energy that you use. Planet Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and in fact, the cosmos all operate in conformance to the First Law.

If the cosmos started with a massive singularity of energy, then that total energy is equal to the work that has been done in the cosmos and the energy that still exists within it. Proposing that something can “pop into existence out of nothing” is not a possibility. Energy systems can change, but the First Law will still apply. Quantum mechanics may show us new ways in which energy systems change, but the total energy of the cosmos has not changed even in quantum reactions. The fact that there are newly understood mechanisms of change does not invalidate the First Law. They change how the laws of thermodynamics are applied, sometimes in remarkable ways, but you still do not get something from nothing.

In the beginning, an incredible concentration of energy was created at the point when time and space were created. We know from Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 that this energy can appear as mass. Those of us who believe in God believe that “God is light” applies to this situation. God just took some of his own essence and produced the singularity that led to the cosmos. Those who reject God’s existence have to believe that some extra-dimensional entity did the same thing, but without wisdom, intelligence, or design.

While we can argue about what that entity is. We cannot argue about the laws of thermodynamics that describe how that initial singularity became the physical world in which we live–and became us as well. The first law of thermodynamics profoundly describes that, and it gives our world order, function, and predictability.

Tomorrow we will look at the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Note: Laws are quoted from Physics, Principles and Problems, Glencoe Publications of Macmillan/McGraw Hill, PO Box 508, Columbus, Ohio 43216, pages 256-259.

Viral Diseases and Christians

Coronavirus- Viral Diseases and Christians

Listening to the media, you might conclude that we have a new threat to our survival in the COVID-19 virus, but that is not the case. Viral diseases have been around from the earliest days of human existence. Recorded history tells us that in 430 BC, a virus took root in Athens and killed two-thirds of the city’s population. Seventy-five million people died from the Black Death in the 14th century. One hundred million people died from the Spanish flu of 1918, and 500 million people were infected. In modern times entire native populations have been wiped out by virus infections. We have all heard of HIV, MERS, SARS, Ebola, H5N1, Nipah, and Zika virus epidemics and their massive numbers of victims.

Scientists studying each of these diseases have determined that they came to humans from animals. HIV originated in chimpanzees. MERS came from camels. SARS originated from bats and civet cats. We can trace COVID-19 to bats and soldierfish. The massive concern about the current coronavirus is that there are far more humans to contract and spread the virus than at any time in the past. Also, we are more concentrated in cities, are more mobile, and have close interaction regularly with animals. In the past 50 years, more than 300 pathogens have emerged. With the use of more animals as pets and as food, there is an increase in the diseases they bring to humans.

From a historical standpoint, the biblical injunctions about hygiene and animal husbandry avoided much of the viral disease problem. The identification of clean and unclean animals reduced human interaction with animals that carry disease. The elaborate rituals of washing and handling animals used as food not only had an aesthetic appeal but reduced the opportunities for disease transmission. The acts of quarantine for anyone showing symptoms eliminated the spreading of disease from one person to another. Pandemics in an isolated farming population was not likely.

As the human population increased, and cities became population centers, the incidence rate of viral diseases increased. Advancing science and technology gave brought the ability to control some diseases. Selfishness, greed, carelessness, and poor hygiene provide easy ways for viruses to spread. Instead of following God’s rules for cleanliness and the preparation of food, humans have employed destructive methods. This is especially true in cultures that have no connection to God’s instructions. It is no accident that the coronavirus for COVID-19 originated in China and in a food market there where food handling and animal managing is limited. It is also no accident that many of the viruses that have decimated human populations were spread because of sexual practices that ignore God’s instructions for sexual relationships.

This virus is not a tool of punishment forged by God. There are good viruses and harmful viruses. Using the intelligence God gave us and following His commands, we can eventually eliminate the effects of the bad ones. Meanwhile, Christians can help those who are infected. We can also work to improve the lifestyles of our friends and neighbors to reduce the spread of viral diseases.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from The Week, March 6, 2020, page 11.

God’s Image in Human Creativity and Spirituality

God’s Image in Human Creativity and Spirituality

Many people misunderstand what it means to be created in the image of God. If you think that God is an “old man in the sky,” then you probably believe that God looks like you. I have a whole shelf of children’s books that portray God as a caucasian, male, old white-bearded man in the sky. I have a few that show God as a man of color. I have one that shows Him as an oriental. All of these are dead wrong and can lead a child to misunderstand an essential concept that we are created in the spiritual image of God. God is not any racial, ethnic, sexual, or aged physical being (John 4:24). We know this is true because we see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.

The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 70-73) carried an interesting article by Kateb Wong titled “The First Story.” She begins a report on new archeological discoveries by saying, “Homo sapiens is the only species known to make figurative art, engage in spiritual thinking, and convey fictional tales through imagery.” We suggest that this is true because humans are the only life-form created in the image of God. We see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality. We don’t see this ability developing gradually over a long period of evolutionary change. The article reports on cave paintings discovered by archaeologists on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

What the paintings describe is a hunt. Six hunters using ropes or spears confront a large buffalo. Nearby more hunters are attacking other buffalos and pigs. One of the hunters is a therianthrope, meaning a spiritual leader and similar to the minotaur of Greek mythology. The researchers suggest that the scene shows a communal hunting strategy or game drive in which prey are flushed from cover and driven toward other hunters. These paintings are high up in hard to reach caves, and they appear to be made for cultural and symbolic use.

These are the oldest artworks anthropologists have ever found that depict a story. They show the uniqueness of humans from their earliest days on Earth. When God excluded humans from the “Garden,” they left with no experience, tools, or data. They had to start at the very beginning of the learning curve, but their desire for self-expression artistically and spiritually was in full operation. These ancient drawings display God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.

— John N. Clayton © 2020