When Obeying God Doesn’t Make Sense

When Obeying God Doesn’t Make Sense

God’s first command to Adam and Eve did not seem to make sense. God created many beautiful trees, but one of them was different. God told the first couple they could eat the fruit from any of the trees, with only one exception. They must have thought that obeying God doesn’t make sense. Why should one tree be off-limits?

Sometimes we must tell our children to avoid doing something that doesn’t make sense to them. To a small child, we say, “Stay out of the street.” They look at that open space where they could run or ride a tricycle. It seems like a fun place to venture into. Genesis 3:6 says that Eve saw the forbidden tree was “good for food” and “pleasant to the eyes.” How could it be possible that God was right when He said that eating from that tree would lead to death (Genesis 2:17)?

Eve knew what God had told Adam about the tree. In Genesis 3:2, she goes even further when she says that even touching it would lead to death. Was she embellishing what God had said, or had she received further warnings? Did she know that if she touched it, she would want to eat it, just like the child who is near the street wants to step into it? Like that child, did the woman even understand what death is?

God couldn’t explain to Adam and Eve why He put that tree in the garden any more than the road builders could explain to the young child why they put the street in front of his house. The “why” didn’t really matter. The point is that just as the parent who tells a child to stay out of the street is wiser than the child, so God was wiser than the newly-created couple. Just as the child must learn to obey, so did Adam and Eve.

Learning to obey wise warnings is more important than knowing the reason. When we demand an explanation, we are saying that we are our own masters and will decide what we will do. Doing what God commands even when obeying God doesn’t make sense means that we believe He knows more than we do. It means we trust God, even though our desires and our culture tell us to take a different action. We must overcome our feelings and pride to obey, even when we want to run out into that street.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). When Jesus says to love your enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and pray for your persecutors, we think, “Obeying God doesn’t make sense.” (See Matthew 5:38-48.) Like the child running into the street or Eve reaching for the forbidden fruit, we want to rebel and trust our own understanding. But we need to remember the words of Jesus in John 15:10-11, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”

— Roland Earnst © 2023

Learn from the Past or Repeat the Cycle

Learn from the Past or Repeat the Cycle

How much of the Old Testament do you know and understand? If you are like me, you know some of the stories of biblical heroes and heroines. In the New Testament, Hebrews 11 discusses many of those individuals – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. Chapter 12 begins by referring to them as” a great cloud of witnesses” and an inspiration to run “the race that is set before us.” The historical record of God and His relationship to His people is a “schoolmaster” so that we can learn from the past and not make the same mistakes.

Someone said that the value of knowing history is to avoid repeating it, and humans have been slow learners. One lesson from Old Testament history that needs our attention is the on-and-off cycle of the human relationship with God that can only be broken by the message of Christ.

That cycle begins with Adam and Eve and is repeated over and over up to the present time. God creates, and His creation is perfect. Humans receive the blessings of God’s creation, and for a time, all is well. But, when humans become too comfortable with God’s simple covenant, they turn away from Him.

That began the cycle. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 predicts that it will be repeated. First, God told Israel, “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God.” God then lists all the good things Israel will receive if they follow His commands and take advantage of His promises. Then in the following 54 verses, God tells Israel what will happen if they do not obey God’s provisions expressed in His covenant. The next chapter of Deuteronomy begins with, “These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites ….”

As we follow the history of Israel from the golden calf to corrupt king after corrupt king, we see them turning away from God to embrace sinful and destructive practices, worshiping pagan gods, and even going so far as to sacrifice their children to those gods. Over and over, God responds by removing His protection and allowing foreign nations to overtake and destroy them. Then, finally, they repent and return to God, but they fail to learn from the past and repeat the cycle.

The whole message of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles tells the story of this destructive cycle. Jeremiah and Hosea devoted their lives and message to warning Israel of the dangers of their actions. When Israel returns to God, He restores the covenant until they forsake Him again. Finally, Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed, and still, they repeat the cycle.

But then, a new creation begins. Christ comes on the scene to restore the human relationship with God and establish His Church. Humans can now become new (Romans 6). Jesus shed His blood to make us one body free of all division and human fallacies. As in the past, God promises blessings when we obey His commands. (See John 14:15-17.) But here we are in America today, failing to learn from the past as we repeat the cycle.

We have seen the blessings of God as America has prospered. But humans are rebelling against God and His covenant by embracing destructive practices. How long will God tolerate our nation’s immorality as we restrict worship of God and endorse the killing of babies and the destruction of marriage? The Church is all that stands against the complete rejection of God’s commands and His covenant. We can break the cycle of history by relying on God’s word and following His instructions individually and as a nation. Will we learn from the past or repeat the cycle by following the path of nations that rose and fell in the past?

— John N. Clayton © 2022

A Poem Lovely as a Tree

A Poem Lovely as a Tree

In 1913 poet and journalist Joyce Kilmer wrote his best-known poem simply titled “Trees.” It begins with, “I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree.” In fact, poems and trees have one thing in common. They are hard to define. What one person considers poetry could be something very different to another. The same is true of a tree. How can we define a tree?

There is no universally accepted common or scientific definition of a tree. Scientists classify all plants and animals into categories such as family, genus, and species. But trees, in general, don’t fit into any of those categories. You can assign any of those labels to a specific tree, but you can’t fit all trees into one specific classification. The best you can do is say that all trees are in the plant kingdom.

Even the common concept of a tree is a bit vague. You could say that a tree is a tall, woody plant with branches, leaves, bark, and a trunk that shows rings when you cut it down. That means what we call “palm trees” are not trees. Neither are banana trees, papaya trees, or Joshua trees. Also, bamboo is a plant that can grow to heights that exceed many trees, but we classify bamboo as grass. Many woody plants that we call shrubs or bushes can grow as tall as a height. How tall does a bush have to grow before we call it a tree?

No matter how you define trees, consider the benefits they give us. From trees, we get wood for furniture, homes, and buildings. We get fuel for campfires and even heating homes. Without the wood from trees, our ancestors could not have built boats and wagons that allowed them to travel, explore, and spread around the world. Trees provide shade, protection from wind, and in many cases, fruit. They can live for decades, centuries, or even thousands of years, releasing oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide to reduce Earth’s greenhouse effect. We will never find a poem lovely as a tree in spring, summer, or fall.

In Genesis, we read about the progressive steps of creation as God placed on Earth first grasses, then plants bearing seeds, and then trees bearing fruit that was good to eat (Genesis 1:11-12). God told the first couple to enjoy the fruit of all the trees except one. The beauty of the paradise where God placed Adam and Eve must have been beyond description. However, the tragedy that came because of the sin of pride and disobedience did not completely destroy that beauty. A glimpse of it has remained for us to enjoy, and it inspired Joyce Kilmer to write those words, “I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree.”

No matter how you define trees, we could not live without them. Kilmer’s poem ends with, “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” God made the trees, and it was on a tree that He made the ultimate sacrifice for the sin that began with Adam and Eve. (See I Peter 2:21-24.) Sin has marred the beauty of the world and our lives as well. However, God has provided the solution–if we are willing to accept it.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Difficult Genesis Issues – Where Did Cain Get His Wife? 

Difficult Genesis Issues - Where Did Cain Get His Wife? 

Several Genesis verses contain some issues that have bothered many people. For example, are we supposed to understand the ages of the people chronologically? If so, how did they live so long? Who was Cain afraid of, and where did those people come from? Where did Cain get his wife? Those are some of the difficult Genesis issues people have tried to resolve. 

The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation is the product of scientists who believe in God and accept the Bible as His Word. They have advanced academic degrees, and their articles are very scholarly. Recent issues have carried some interesting discussions of difficult Genesis issues, including the account of Adam and Eve. The September issue contains an article by Dr. Roy Clouser. He contends that we have ignored the Jewish understanding of Genesis, causing credibility issues with the biblical account. Clouser maintains that the ages of biblical characters were not intended to be understood as chronological but symbolic of their character or accomplishments. For example, Methuselah living 969 years would indicate higher qualities than Adam’s 600 years. 

That is an interesting explanation. I am now 83 years old chronologically, and I cannot fathom living for 600 years. The physical weakness that comes from age seems to be built into humans as it is in the rest of the world. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden, they had access to the Tree of Life that would allow them to live forever. The traditional explanation that the human fall into sin brought physical death into the world for the first time has credibility issues with most people. 

Clouser makes an interesting comparison between Genesis 2:7, where God breathed into Adam the breath of life, and John 20:22, where Jesus breathed on His disciples. Genesis tells us that “God formed man of the dust of the ground,” clearly referring to man’s body. Then the verse says, “and man became a living soul.” Genesis 1:26-27 describes the man and woman as created in the image of God. That, of course, refers to the spiritual image because God is a Spirit and not a limited physical being. When humans sinned, God’s spirit departed from them. However, John 20:22 tells us that Jesus “breathed on them (His disciples) and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” 

Other difficult Genesis issues include when Cain says, “Everyone who finds me will try to kill me” (Genesis 4:14). Who are those who would try to kill Cain, and where did they come from? Where did Cain get his wife? Cain also builds a city, and that requires large numbers of humans. My response has always been that Adam and Eve had many children in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, all of humanity rebelled against God and were forced out of the Garden and lost a relationship with God. Clouser presents a different interpretation that warrants more study. 

The fact is that the biblical account is accurate and deals with salvation through Jesus Christ. However, understanding how we got to where we are is very complex and will always leave some questions for further study. It is our understanding of the difficult Genesis issues that is in question–not the accuracy of the biblical record

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Human Precursors in the Fossil Record

Are Neanderthals Human Precursors in the Fossil Record?
Neanderthal Man in London Museum

Bible skeptics claim that God did not uniquely create humans because scientists find human precursors in the fossil record. Instead, they say that Darwinian evolution can explain all human traits, and we are just more advanced animals.

The Bible defines humans in terms of spiritual characteristics, not physical attributes. Our capacity to create art and music, worship, show empathy, and display guilt indicates that we are unique. Our use of language and symbolism and our ability to be taught to think define humans from a biblical perspective. The critical factors are not brain size, the shape of the mandible, or standing erect.

Skeptics often use the fossil remains of Neanderthals to show that there are human precursors in the fossil record leading to human evolution. We have maintained that the properties of the Neanderthals are racial variations and not a different species from humans. Paleontologists have found Neanderthal fossils buried with religious artifacts. Scientists recently used computerized tomography (CT) scans to study Neanderthal specimens. Their findings suggest that the hearing and speaking organs of Neanderthals should give them language and communication abilities “…as efficient and complex as modern human speech,”

The descendants of Adam and Eve had the genetic code to enable them to adapt to whatever climate and conditions they encountered. So, while the racial variations were striking, the fact is that they were clearly human.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: World Archaeology Magazine # 107 page 9.

Skin Color of Ancient Humans

Skin Color of Ancient Humans

“Systemic racism” is making the news in a wide variety of subject areas. Science News magazine carried an interesting discussion of how media presentations and museums have contributed to racial bias. When you look at a series of pictures dealing with apes and ancient humans, they are artist depictions with many details that could not possibly be determined from a few bones. Anthropologists cannot determine soft tissue like ears, noses, and lips or skin color of ancient humans by looking at some bones.

When I taught a class on anthropology, I found the portrayal of Neandertals interesting. The earliest images showed hunched-over creatures with matted hair walking with the gait of a very old man. The fact is that grooming is part of any primate’s behavior. Some scientists believe that the first fossil specimens had arthritic problems that contributed to how they appeared.

The Time-Life series that was popular several decades back contained numerous errors. One interesting fact was that early specimens were shown with dark skin and negroid soft tissue, while recent models had lighter skin and caucasian features. The article in Science News points out that the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has a similar portrayal in which the skin color of ancient humans gives the impression that people with lighter skin are more evolved.

Many years ago, in a college lectureship, I confronted a professor who said that black people evolved from gorillas and white people were true humans who had not changed. I asked the audience to compare the properties of a gorilla with those of the races today. Here are some examples:
Gorillas have straight hair, not curled hair. Which race has straight hair?
Gorillas have white skin under their hair. Which race has white skin?
Gorillas have thin linear lips. Which race has thin lips as opposed to thicker lips?

I’m sure you get the point. The physical features of white people are more like gorillas than those of black people. I suggested to the professor that white people evolved from gorillas, and Adam was a black person. The reality is that no one evolved from gorillas, and no evolutionist would suggest that. We can’t determine the skin color of ancient humans.

Adam named his wife “Eve” because she would be the “mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). All of us carry the same genetic information indicating the truth of that statement. Like it or not, we are all related. The imaginative artwork that is so popular in the media and museums is almost always inconsistent with scientific evidence.

The biblical concept of humans is spiritual and has nothing to do with a person’s race or ethnic background. We are all in God’s image, and that reference has to do with our soul, not how we look (Genesis 1:27).

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News magazine for April 24, 2021 (page 32)

Data on Neanderthals and DNA

Data on Neanderthals and DNA - Neanderthal Woman
Neanderthal Woman Sculpture in National Archaeological Museum of Madrid, Spain

News reports of the data on Neanderthals have often contained misinformation. Neanderthals (or Neandertals) were not apes, and they were not primitive subhumans. They engaged in activities similar to modern humans. Our suggestion for many years has been that we should think of the Neanderthals as a race of humans. When one looks at the different races of humans in today’s world, we see huge variations. A pygmy is much different from a Scandinavian, and yet from a scientific standpoint, they are one species. They can mate and produce fertile offspring, which was has been the usual way of defining a species.

The newest data on Neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) is that they interbred with those we call Homo sapiens, and their genes are being discovered in populations in Europe and western Asia. Science News carried an article titled “Neanderthals and Humans Mated Often.” It reported on the DNA evidence linking Neanderthals to modern humans.

If scientists found the remains of Adam and Eve, what would their DNA look like? The Bible gives us no indication of what Adam and Eve were like regarding their race or physical characteristics. The sons of Noah were Ham, Shem, and Japheth. In the original Hebrew, Ham means dark-colored and Japheth means fair. The term Neanderthal comes from where scientists found their first bones in the Neander Valley of Germany. The name has nothing to do with skin color. If we found the fossil remains of Adam and Eve, what name would we give them?

The only thing we know is that Eve was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). How long ago she lived and how we would classify her today is pure speculation.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News for May 8 and May 22, 2021 (page 7)

Could Adam Create Art?

Could Adam Create Art?
Ancient Cave Art in Chauvet Cave, France

One of the characteristics unique to humans is the creation of art. Some people have made desperate attempts to prove that gorillas, chimps, and elephants create art. When you look at their “art,” you realize that it is merely swashes of color enabled by the researchers working with the animals. Is art just something that evolved, or could Adam create art?

Archaeologists and other scientists have found that ancient humans created art. That very ancient art is not simple swashes of color but complex pictures. Paintings found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi seem to portray a fight between a group of pigs. This discovery is significant because evolutionists have always maintained that humans did not create art until Ice Age Europe. They insisted that humans had not evolved to the point of being able to express historical events in pictures until that time.

Archaeologists have found an even older example of artwork in the Ramie region of Israel, and it consists of symbols cut into a bone fragment. Symbols tell of beliefs beyond survival and express thoughts beyond the mundane affairs of life. People used symbolic expressions from the very beginning of human history. These examples tell us that humans were created with the capacity to express themselves in art.

So the answer to the question, “could Adam create art” would be “yes.” The unique capacities of humans were built into Adam because he was created in the image of God. The human spiritual makeup expressed itself in art from the earliest days of human existence.

Genesis 4:19-26 tells about the first descendants of Adam and Eve. Jubal “was the father of all who play the harp and flute.” Those verses also tell us that Tubal-Cain was the first artisan in brass and iron. These descriptions were all before the birth of Seth. That means Adam and Eve were still around as musical instruments and artisans in metal were doing their creative works.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News, February 13, 2021, page 32 and Bible History Daily for February 18, 2021.

Wildlife Trade and Health

Wildlife Trade and Health

One of the most destructive luxuries of many people is to take an animal from its wild environment and make it a household pet. Every year, 224 million live animals are imported into the United States. This is destructive in many ways. The Center for Biological Diversity, associated with the United Nations, reports that at the present rate of the wildlife trade, a million species are facing extinction in the wild.

Even more frightening is the fact that zoonotic transfer is now well understood. Zoonotic means that a disease has jumped from wildlife to people. We know that HIV, SARS, avian flu, and Ebola are all zoonotic. There is every indication that COVID-19 also originated in a live wildlife market in China. There is a great need to shut down the wildlife trade.

The idea of humans having animal pets is alien to the Bible. In the Garden of Eden, humans were gatherers using plant material for food. After Adam and Eve left the garden, people domesticated animals, and sheep became the primary source of clothing and meat. In Genesis 8 and 9, Noah brought the animals onto the ark for safety. While God allows us to use animals as food (Genesis 9:3), there is a clear understanding of the separation of wild animals and humans. “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that lives on the earth and upon all the fishes of the sea…” (Genesis 9:2). The wildlife trade is foreign to the scriptures.

Humans domesticated certain animals for defensive reasons (like dogs), but the desire for “cuteness” is more a fixture of modern wealth than anything else. Very few of us buy live animals for food. You take a risk and responsibility in having any animal as a pet, but having a wild animal as a pet is inviting disaster in the form of disease.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from the fall 2020 issue of Nature’s Voice from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Deforestation and Disease Pandemics

Deforestation and Disease Pandemics
Burning a Rainforest to Plant a Palm Oil Plantation

One of the interesting aspects of the story of Adam and Eve is the environment in which God placed them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that God planted a garden, and verse 9 tells us that He planted every tree that was pleasant and good for food. The Bible doesn’t say how long God took to plant the garden and what was involved in the garden’s growth. Verse 15 tells us that “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” After establishing the man’s environment, the Genesis account turns to man’s spiritual nature. But the planted garden with every tree is our focus here as we think about deforestation and disease.

The Bible describes the first humans as what anthropologists call gatherers. Agriculture was a long way off. The eating of animals isn’t even suggested until chapter 4 when Abel brings “the firstlings of his flock” as an offering to God. An article in Scientific American (June 2020, page 8) points out how modern agricultural methods have led to the three major highly infectious viruses since 2002 – SARS, EBOLA, and COVID-19.

Slashing and burning to create land for crops, such as palm oil, reduces biodiversity and puts humans in contact with wildlife that carry microbes able to kill us. Species that survive the clearing are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. In addition to the three main viruses of our time, the Scientific American article mentions some other diseases have come from rain forest inhabitants – Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera, and HIV.

Humans have brought on most of our major disease issues by allowing greed and “survival of the fittest” mentality to govern our decisions about how we use the environment. We waste between 30 and 40% of the food we produce. Poor agricultural techniques and mismanagement of water prevent efficient use of what God has given us. Deforestation and disease go together. Now we are contaminating our atmosphere and filling our lakes, rivers, and oceans with waste.

The title of the Scientific American article is “To Stop Pandemics, Stop Deforestation.” God gave us the “garden” and the tools to manage it. We can’t continue to mismanage it and not see more consequences such as pandemics, global warming, and diseases produced by our failure to do what God called us to do in the beginning.

— John N. Clayton © 2020