One of the attributes unique to humans is the ability to suffer. You may think the words “suffering” and “pain” are synonyms, but they describe different things. The difference between pain and suffering demonstrates the uniqueness of humans.
Pain is a physical characteristic of almost all living things. It is easy to show that when a nervous system experiences a violent stimulus, it produces an electric signal. For animals, the nervous system is connected to a muscular system that frees the organism from damaging stimuli. This design is present in all members of the animal kingdom to protect them from being wiped out by predators or destructive environmental agents.
The difference between pain and suffering shows us that suffering is a different response and serves a different purpose. Romans 8:16-18 tells us that Christians are joint heirs with Christ and that Christians will suffer with Christ. This means that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.” It is obvious that not all Christians have been physically crucified as Jesus was.
In 2 Corinthians 1:5-7, Paul writes, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so … we endure the same sufferings … for your salvation and our hope for you is knowing that you are partakers in the suffering.” In Philippians 3:8-10, Paul says that he has suffered the loss of all things and refers to the fellowship of His sufferings. In Colossians 1:24, Paul talks about his sufferings for the church in Colosse. Hebrews 2:10 refers to Christ enabling his followers to be made perfect in their salvation through sufferings. Christ himself, according to Hebrews 5:8, “earned obedience by the things he suffered.” This theme is repeated in 1 Peter 1:11, 4:13, and 5:10.
The context of all of these passages is clear. There is a difference between pain and suffering. We are not talking about physical things like being burned, scourged, tortured, or beaten. The early Christians did endure those things, but that is not what the passages above describe.
The simplest example of the sufferings described is what we endure when we have what we call a broken heart. Having heartbreak does not refer to something physical. Most of us who have had our hearts broken would be glad to take a beating instead. A physical beating does not last long. I have had physical pain from a beating, but that pain is a distant memory. The heartbreak of watching my wife die is still heavy upon me, even though it happened more than a decade ago.
Being a Christian in today’s world shares some of the sufferings that first-century Christians endured. Some of us have suffered being rejected and disowned by family. Others have lost good jobs because of their faith. Speaking out in favor of Christ and Christianity, in general, can result in verbal abuse, ridicule, ostracism, exclusion, and rejection. This suffering is real and scars you emotionally and sometimes spiritually.
Animals do not show any evidence of the kind of suffering we have described. Animal behavior is based on food and instinctive drives to reproduce. Guilt, empathy, and sympathy are not part of animal behavior. Claims of grief in animals such as elephants may or may not be real. If it is real, it is based on the social structure of the pack or group and not because the animal is suffering from the memory of a loss that will extend for the rest of the animal’s life.
We can see the difference between pain and suffering in humans because we have a unique spiritual makeup that allows suffering and enables us to relate to the suffering of others. Because we are created in the image of God, we can understand how an agape type of love is possible. That is why Christianity is the one hope the world has for the peace of all people. Your soul suffers, and this suffering can last a lifetime. We need to help animals avoid pain, but human empathy is what may someday foster world peace. That hope is always before us and is unique to humans.
We have just enjoyed a return visit to the Wisconsin Dells. I say a “return visit” because, in the army, I was stationed at Camp McCoy near Sparta, Wisconsin. The closest place to go for an escape from military rigor was the Dells. Later, when I was in a National Science Foundation teacher training seminar, we spent a day at the Dells learning about the area’s geological history. I have been to the Dells nearly a dozen times and watched it change from a primitive camping area to a tourist water wonderland. As a geologist, I enjoy reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells.
The Dells area is geologically interesting because the glaciers did something unusual there. For reasons still debated by geologists, glaciers that covered all of Wisconsin went around the Dells area. That left a very different geology compared to the rest of the state. Where we live in Michigan, glaciers dominated the whole state. Our house sits on a glacial moraine where glaciers dumped sand and gravel as they moved south.
In our gravel pits, we find rocks that came from hundreds of miles north of us. When I took my earth science students on field trips to area gravel pits, they found pieces of copper from the upper peninsula and Jasper conglomerate from southern Ontario. There is no exposed bedrock in southern Michigan, only sand, gravel, and clay left by the glaciers. Hundreds of pothole lakes and ponds cover the area, making it home to a variety of wildlife not abundant in Wisconsin. Farming in our area involves fruits and berries that are rare in Wisconsin.
Reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells tells us a whole different story with exposed sedimentary bedrock and very little sand and gravel. The area’s rivers are very different, with large pillars and buttes that were spared by the glacial ice, and very few ponds. The whole ecological area of the Dells differs from the surrounding part of the state, and the varied ecology provides different natural resources. For example, the grasses that grow in a place like the Dells provide grains not as easily grown in glaciated areas.
Reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells tells us that God has provided radically different ecological systems for our benefit. If all areas of the planet were the same, that would limit the available resources. The wisdom of having multiple agents to prepare different soils, different amounts of water, and different mixing of minerals reminds us of the message of Proverbs 8:22-31. That passage personifies Wisdom as being there when God created all these things. Learning to read Earth’s geological history shows us the methods God used to prepare this planet for human habitation. How blessed we are to travel and see places like Wisconsin Dells and learn of God’s wisdom, love, power, and patience in all He does.
Of all the secular holidays that Americans celebrate, Thanksgiving is the one that has the greatest Christian syzygy. Syzygy is an astronomical term referring to an alignment of astronomical bodies, and Thanksgiving aligns uniquely with the teachings of Christ. Thanksgiving has no mysticism as Halloween does and does not involve special objects like Easter bunnies or eggs. It does not have the commercialism of Christmas. Instead, the family time of Thanksgiving encourages us to count our blessings.
In my 41 years of public school teaching, I saw kids whose parents did not appreciate them. Those kids were a problem for the school and society in general. In addition, I have observed marriages ending in divorce. In most cases, the collapse of the marriage was rooted in the partners not telling each other they were appreciated.
In the Old Testament, God commanded the nation of Israel to observe feasts and festivals of Thanksgiving. In the New Testament, communion is a time for Christians to pause every Sunday and be thankful for Christ’s sacrifice and the forgiveness it offers. We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that Christians should “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” Romans 1:21 identifies those alienated from God as people who “knew about God but neither glorified Him nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
We give thanks not because God has an ego problem that He needs us to fill. We thank God because humans need to be thankful for the blessings we have. Focusing on what we don’t have or comparing ourselves to others is a short road to depression and unfortunate behavior.
Christians should be thankful 24/7/365, and Thanksgiving encourages us to count our blessings. For our own mental and spiritual health, we need to be grateful. Be thankful for the creation, family, friends, life and health, freedom, food and water, the Church, and salvation. May this Thanksgiving Day remind us of all our blessings. Focusing on what we don’t have and anguishing over our losses will not bring the joy and security God intends for us to have.
According to the Boston Globe, 80% of college students are living in fear. The article says that activists and administrators have created an “Us vs. Them” mentality. This applies to race, pronoun usage, and political views creating “intense, persistent and excessive worry and fear about everyday situations.” For example, the article says that even “picnic” is now deemed racist and can get a student branded a bigot or transphobe.
In the history of America, one of the rights we all have is the right to express an opinion. An adage says, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it.” But, unfortunately, that is no longer applicable to life in America.
People could say that in the past because most Americans believed in the Christian concept of God and that all people are created in God’s image. The biblical concept of love was “agapao,” which governed how people thought of even those with whom they disagreed. That word means “to consider of great value,” and Christ introduced the concept in His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5-7). Christ and the apostles taught that every human is infinitely and equally valuable (Galatians 3:28).
People today are living in fear because they have adopted “survival of the fittest” as their guide for dealing with one another. That means I can denigrate those I deem less fit and treat them as less valuable. All abuse of others is rooted in this belief system. Carried to extremes, it even applies to political differences. Recently a female member of congress suggested killing a political opponent to advance her concept of democracy. No wonder people are living in fear.
The Christian belief system eliminates living in fear. John writing his excellent dissertation on love in 1 John 4:7-21 says it beautifully: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear; because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If a man says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen can not love God whom he has not seen” (verses 18-20).
People today often refuse to use evidence to make decisions on everything from personal relationships to politics. One of the unique things we find in the Bible is that Jesus Christ challenges people to think.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus uses the phrase “What do you think” five times (17:25, 18:12, 21:28, 22:17, 22:42). Jesus never called his listeners to blind acceptance or thoughtless adherence to authority. In biblical Christianity, faith is not an emotionally-based response. Despite that fact, modern Christian denominations have relied on blind acceptance and emotion instead of thoughtful reasoning.
A good part of this failure is just plain intellectual laziness. People emotionally follow the charismatic leadership of individuals because it is easier than thoughtfully examining the evidence. The result is that we have cults and abusive religious systems. Unlike other world religions, the Bible and Jesus challenge us to examine the evidence and act on it.
Jesus used miracles to convince people ofHis divine nature. The prophecies about Christ predicted that He would not attract followers by his physical appearance. Consider Isaiah 53:1-6 which is undeniably a messianic prophecy. That passage says, “He had no form or comeliness … there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief … we esteemed Him not.”
Jesus Christ challenges people to think, but as long as people refuse to use their minds and examine the evidence, skepticism and chaos will result. Throughout the Bible, we find encouragement to look at the evidence and know that God is real and that His Word should guide our lives. Read Psalms 19:1, Psalms 53, Psalms 139:14, Proverbs 8, Matthew 6:26-30, Acts 17:22-31, and Romans 1:18-20. Waiting for God to “zap” you with faith is an exercise in futility. Instead, God rewards those who seek to understand and never calls us to blind acceptance.
The “Does God Exist?” program never relies on the opinion or credentials of any human. Instead, we call on all people to come to faith by using their intelligence and what they can see in the world around them. Examine the evidence!
Our materials are free or at cost and provide a way to organize the evidence so that each person who is willing can “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). That means looking at the physical world and the spiritual world and dealing with the evidence that is all around us. Still, in today’s world, Jesus Christ challenges people to think.
If applied to other areas of life, the excuses we hear for people rejecting Christianity would not make sense to any thinking person. However, someone recently sent us an example of applying those excuses to food. Like faith in God, there is evidence that food is a significant source of success in life. So why not take the excuses people use for rejecting God and Christianity and apply them as excuses for not eating:
“I don’t eat anymore because … I was forced to eat as a child. I used to eat, but I got bored. None of my friends will eat with me. I’ll start eating when I get older. I’m too busy working to eat. I really don’t have time to eat. Eating is just a crutch that I don’t need. There are hypocrites who eat. There are too many different kinds of food. I can’t decide what to eat. Restaurants and grocery stores are only after your money. “
If you say that eating is different because we must eat to survive, I would suggest that having a relationship with God is also necessary to survive. Food provides physical survival, but being a Christian brings spiritual, mental, moral, and emotional survival. Therefore, excuses for rejecting God’s gifts make as much sense as excuses for not eating.
Look at the evidence and react to it in an open-minded way. We are not asking you to embrace human-created religions but biblical Christianity that allows us to live successfully through all of life’s trials and beyond. See 1 Peter 2:1-5.
How do you design an optical system that enables an animal to see 2300 feet (700 m) below the ocean’s surface? That question is similar to the problem that astronomers face as they look into low light levels in areas of space around black holes. The answer came from a detailed study of the design of lobster eyes, and scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center have successfully copied it.
The human eye works by refraction, bending light by using rounded lenses. The lobster’s eyes work by reflection. Each eye of the lobster is packed with 10,000 square-shaped tubes lined with a flat, reflective surface that acts like a mirror. These mirrors direct incoming light to the retina, where tiny cells trap the light and focus it onto a layer of photoreceptors. This allows the lobster to have a full 180-degree view compared to the 120-degree view of human eyes. It also enables them to detect motion in low-light conditions.
In 1992, researchers from Columbia University built a device that mimics the design of lobster eyes, but the technology required 15 years to build a device for use in space missions. Studies using the lobster eye device have shown how the solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. In addition, newer models are opening the door to detecting faint X-rays from distant galaxies.
The design of lobster eyes is another of many design features in animal life that scientists have copied, leading to new discoveries. A visual system this complex is not the product of blind accidents. We see the handiwork of God everywhere we look in the natural world. The same God who designed the lobster’s eyes has given us the design for how we should live, and it’s written in His Word, the Bible. We would be wise to follow it.
Biblical Greek had five different words for love, each of which refers to something God created. For example, God wants us to have friends, and the Greek word for friendship is phileo. Peter’s exchange with Jesus in John 21:15-17 does not indicate that phileo was wrong, but Jesus was calling Peter to a different kind of love, agapao (unconditional love). Philadelphia (brotherly love) in Greek calls us to care about others as in Hebrews 13:1. The Greek word thelo (to want something physical) is not negative, but the condemnation in Mark 12:38 was about priorities. Finally, Eros (sexual love) is not used in the New Testament but refers to a beautiful creation of God, used to cement marriage.
What Jesus wants from Peter and us in John 21 and throughout the New Testament is agapao. The Greek dictionary defines it as “seeing something infinitely precious in its object.” People quote John 3:16 carelessly without understanding the depth of the kind of love that God has for us. Read 1 John 2 – 4, especially chapter 4:7-11. The word used throughout 1 John is agapao.
We need to be reminded that God doesn’t create any junk. Every human has a spiritual makeup that makes them “infinitely precious.” When you reject that concept, human life becomes cheap–worth no more than a cockroach.
Where would we be today if all world leaders saw human life as “infinitely precious?” Without that concept, you can’t make sense of the Sermon on The Mount and the admonitions of Jesus to love your enemy and do good even to those who abuse you. Racism and sexism exist because we refuse to have unconditional love for those who are different from us.
Peter learned to have agapao. It was a rough journey for Peter, and it isn’t always easy for us, but we need to preach it and do our best to live it. We can grow in unconditional love (agapao) with the help of God’s Spirit.
Would you like to see a material that is stronger than steel and can stretch ten times more than Kevlar? If so, look at a spider web and marvel at the design of the microscopic nanofibrils of spider silk.
Researchers at William and Mary University, funded by the National Science Foundation, used atomic force microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance to examine the molecular structure of spider silk as never before. The nanofibrils of spider silk are fibers with diameters in the nanometer range, 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Spiders generate them using proteins.
The scientists found seven layers of structural hierarchy in the spider silk. At a molecular level, they saw six distinct protein substructures making up the nanofibrils of spider silk, giving it incredible strength and resilience. They hope their research will lead to the development of high-performance synthetic fibers.
The nanofibril structures are so complex that understanding how they give spider silk its properties takes a great deal of time and special equipment. We have discussed spider web materials previously, but this new research shows that it is even more incredible than we realized. Hannes Schniepp, the director of the study, said, “Right now, we’re innovating and discovering in tiny steps, but there’s the larger goal of fully understanding the structure of spider silk. This study solves a piece of the puzzle and takes us closer to the larger dream of one day making materials like nature and, in doing so, create a more sustainable world.”
Studying God’s design in nature has led to an incredible number of things that make our lives more comfortable and enable us to solve some of the problems we face. Romans 1:20 tells us we can know there is a God through the things He has made. One of those things is the nanofibrils of spider silk.
On the morning of November 8, you will have a chance to see a total lunar eclipse, also known as a “blood moon.” At the same, you may also see a display of “shooting stars.”
A full moon occurs every 29.5 days as our planet comes between the Moon and the Sun. A couple of times per year, the alignment is precise enough that some part of Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon. If the outer area of the shadow crosses the Moon, we see a slight darkening of the Moon’s light. If the full shadow covers only a portion of the Moon, we see a partial eclipse looking as if someone has taken a bite out of the Moon. However, we will see the more dramatic total lunar eclipse this time.
When the eclipse reaches totality, the Moon will take on an orange or reddish glow. That is why people call it a “blood moon.” That color is because the small amount of sunlight reaching the Moon’s surface is the glow of sunrise and sunset all around the world. Our atmosphere bends and filters the light, blocking the blue light and focusing the lower-frequency reds and yellows on the Moon. We see that reflected back to us, this time for about 85 minutes.
You can enjoy a double treat if the sky is clear and the weather is not too cold. This is also the time for the annual Taurid meteor shower. The annual Taurid “shooting stars” are actually fragments of the comet Encke which burn up from the friction of Earth’s atmosphere. They are primarily tiny sand-grain-size pieces of rock that appear as streaks of light. However, some may be a little larger, looking like fireballs. The Taurids generally move more slowly and are often larger than the meteorites of other annual meteor showers. But, they may be fewer and farther between, with perhaps five to fifteen per hour visible in very dark skies.
The problem this year is that the peak of the Taurids is during the full Moon. The bright Moon always makes it difficult to see the much dimmer meteor showers. However, the 85 minutes of the total lunar eclipse creates an ideal window to look for the meteorites. So you can enjoy the “blood moon” and the “shooting stars” at the same time.
So, how and when can you see them? The total eclipse phase will begin on the morning of November 8 at 5:17 a.m. and end at 6:42 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The partial eclipse will start and end about half an hour before and after those times. The faint penumbral phase will begin and end about an hour before and after the partial eclipse times. To see the Taurids, plan on being where you can see a clear view of the whole sky during the total eclipse phase. If you miss this total lunar eclipse, the next one will not occur until March 14, 2025.
Romans 1:20 tells us that we can know there is a God by observing the things He has made. What do the lunar eclipse and the Taurid meteor shower tell us about God? They are not omens of world events. They tell us that the creation is not chaotic but predictable. We live in a solar “system” in which we can accurately predict the movement of planets and moons and calculate what is going to happen and when–even to the exact minute. God has given us an orderly universe that we can study to learn about His power and wisdom. He has also given us His written word, which we can study to learn about His love and find the instructions for how to enjoy the gifts He wants to give us.