Methane on Mars

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In a Little While

“In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.” (John 16:16–22)

Jesus first told his disciples that they wouldn’t seem him anymore—then told them that after a little while, they would see him again.

Jesus predicted his death at the hands of the Romans—and he predicted his resurrection. He knew they would mourn not only the loss of the one they considered a friend, but also the death of their dream of national redemption. He knew they thought Jesus would restore the kingdom of David and overcome the Romans. Instead, the Romans would overcome their Messiah. They would never see that Jesus of their mistaken dreams again.

But Jesus wanted his disciples to understand his death and the death of their mistaken hopes wasn’t the end. They were still missing the vital reality that the kingdom of God was not a physical, earthly kingdom like Rome, but something far grander and more pervasive.

Their mourning, as sharp as it would be, would be mercifully brief. From the night he was arrested, until the morning he rose from the dead, barely three days passed. Jesus compared what was about to happen to the birth of a child. The joy the disciples had after the resurrection, and the joy that we now have from it, is a joy that will endure forever. All our sorrows from this brief lifetime of ours will be wiped away in the wonder of God’s eternal kingdom. It’s eternity that even now we have in our hearts.

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Mistaken About Many Things

The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God’s justice and the judgment. The Spirit will show them that they are wrong about sin, because they didn’t have faith in me. They are wrong about God’s justice, because I am going to the Father, and you won’t see me again. And they are wrong about the judgment, because God has already judged the ruler of this world.

I have much more to say to you, but right now it would be more than you could understand. The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth. The Spirit doesn’t speak on his own. He will tell you only what he has heard from me, and he will let you know what is going to happen. The Spirit will bring glory to me by taking my message and telling it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine. That is why I have said that the Spirit takes my message and tells it to you. (John 16:8–15)

Jesus told his disciples that humanity was mistaken about many things.

Human beings are wrong about sin because they lack faith in Jesus. That’s why Adam and Eve sinned: their lack of trust. Rather than believing God, they believed the serpent’s lie that God was trying to keep them from something good. Ever since, humans have doubted that God has their best intentions in mind. Our lack of trust in God is at the core of sin.

Human beings are wrong about justice—or as some translations have it, “righteousness.” “Righteousness” is the opposite of sin. The religious establishment condemned Jesus, a righteous man, to death. Meanwhile, God tells the human race that their righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We are barely capable of genuine righteousness.

Human beings are wrong about judgment because they think of it only in the future tense. But God has already judged Satan, the ruler of the world. Satan is already guilty, already overthrown by Jesus, as demonstrated time and again by his power over the demons. Moreover, our sin has already been judged because Jesus was judged in our place. We stand forgiven and righteous because we died with Christ. We are not righteous in ourselves, but righteous in Christ. Everything has changed for us thanks to Jesus. Today the Holy Spirit helps us realize how things stand between us and God, and between us and one another.

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The Messiah

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:60–71)

Some people followed Jesus for reasons that made it possible for them to later turn away from him. When what Jesus taught them became hard, when he didn’t seem to be taking them where they wanted to go, they abandoned him.

But Peter followed Jesus because he knew that he was the Messiah. Peter followed Jesus because he knew that he was going to bring in God’s kingdom. Peter followed Jesus because he knew that with Jesus, he would have eternal life.

But Judas—the one of the twelve who was “a devil”—would be like the crowd who had abandoned him here. Judas would hang in for awhile yet, but the day would come, just as it had come for some of the crowd, for him to decide that what Jesus was about, that where Jesus was going, was simply not a place that Judas wanted to be.

We may not fully comprehend all the implications of what Jesus is and what he wants of us, but we know enough that like Peter, we can’t imagine being without Jesus. Jesus is the only one who can give us what we can otherwise never have: eternal life.

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They started arguing with each other and asked, “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus answered:

“I tell you for certain that you won’t live unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man. But if you do eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life, and I will raise you to life on the last day. My flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are one with me, and I am one with you.
The living Father sent me, and I have life because of him. Now everyone who eats my flesh will live because of me. The bread that comes down from heaven isn’t like what your ancestors ate. They died, but whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Jesus was teaching in a Jewish place of worship in Capernaum when he said these things. (John 6:52–59)

A common result of Jesus’ preaching was that his audience misunderstood him. They regularly literalized his metaphors. They took what he meant spiritually and tried to understand it in purely physical terms. Thus, when Jesus told the crowd about “eating his body,” a phrase which should obviously not be taken literally, they simply became confused. The literal meaning stood in opposition to biblical injunctions against murder and against consuming blood. They found what he had said so disturbing, that many of those who had been following him decided to leave him.

So what did Jesus mean about eating his flesh and drinking his blood? He was speaking about his coming sacrifice on the cross and what that meant for the human race. Just as animals and plants must die and be consumed as food in order for us to continue living, so Jesus had to die in order to provide us eternal life. Spiritually speaking, we consume him. But since he was and is an eternal being, there is more than enough of his life to go around. Therefore he didn’t—couldn’t—stay dead, unlike what we ate for lunch today.

Jesus’ life is inexhaustible, in contrast to the life of an animal or plant that sustains us for but a few hours before we become hungry again. Jesus satisfies us completely. We will never again hunger or thirst: he has provided us eternal satisfaction and an existence that can never end.

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Every Family in Heaven

Ephesians 3:14-15 is an odd passage:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

The obvious question raised by the passage is who are the families in heaven. There is no real consensus among commentators on the question. Some suggest that it refers to the Jewish people and the Gentles—the Jewish people as the family in heaven, the gentiles as those on earth. Others have suggested that families in heaven are the angels. Some have suggested that it refers to Christians here on earth, as well as believers who have passed on in death.

Given my interest in astronomy and science fiction, it should not be shocking to any regular reader that I am tempted to suggest that should we ever discover extraterrestrial civilizations, then Paul’s words here would be helpful. Something that theologians are likely to have to come to grips with at some point will be finding a way to accept the existence of such extraterrestrials and to fit them into our theological frameworks. I suggest that a passage like this from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians might be useful in this regard. After all, we need to think about how God would relate to non-human intelligence. Obviously (it seems to me) the Bible was written to and for human beings; it was not written for angels, it was not written for animals, and it wasn’t written for infants. Thus, the questions we might have about the ultimate fates of animals and infants, for instance, are not answered explicitly in the text. Likewise, the text does not deal with a question that is of interest to us in the twenty-first century, since the concept of other worlds and other beings living on them was not really something that Paul would likely have thought about or even imagined. The chances that Paul was thinking of alien beings is highly improbable from a historical or cultural context.

Nevertheless, I suspect that once First Contact occurs, this is one of the texts that will get used as we adapt to that new reality. Likewise, I suggest this passage will serve as an opening to a future theological/academic discipline: comparative Christianity. That is, I suspect that we will find analogues of Christianity in alien garb simply because I suspect that the only way to reconcile sentient creatures is for God to become one and die for them. If you think it impossible that God’s son could die an infinite number of times on an infinite number of worlds for an infinite number of species, I have a two-part question: first, on what basis is such a scenario impossible? I don’t believe the Bible addresses the question either way. Second, is God’s arm too short to save all life in the universe?

Assuming extraterrestrial intelligence piles on to another problem, if you would: the incredible naiveté of how most think about eschatology and the second coming. Already, thanks to space travel, the popular image of Jesus’ return is obviously not correct. Human beings have lived continuously in space for the last ten years (on the International Space Station); the ashes of two people are not on Earth at all and more are likely to follow, which complicates our picture of the resurrection: Eugene M. Shoemaker’s ashes are on the moon (they were deposited there by the Lunar Prospector space probe in 1999) and Clyde W. Tombaugh’s ashes are currently more than five astronomical units from Earth and bound for interstellar space after New Horizon’s flyby of Pluto in July, 2015.

As I’ve told my students, theology is mostly about our questions, not about the answers. Given an infinite, eternal God, there are more things we don’t know or understand than we do, or ever can. God and his relationship to us and the universe do not fit into tidy little boxes: there aren’t any boxes big enough. All we can manage is a bare outline, with few certainties, such as “God loves us.” And “we sinners have been reconciled to God through the death of Jesus on the cross.” Basic things. But there is so much else we are clueless about, and some of our certainties are likely wrong or at best incomplete and confused.

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Why Do the Laws Exist?

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”

And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”

And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the –Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:18–27)

When Jesus told the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath he was trying to teach them an important principle that they had somehow missed in all their study of the scriptures.

The Pharisee’s concern for the Sabbath was genuine. But as well-intentioned as they might be, they had forgotten the reason that the Sabbath existed. Moses himself had written, “on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the foreigner among you as well, may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12) The Sabbath existed because it was important for people to take time off. It was created in order to improve their lives. And such is the case with every law that God created. He didn’t come up with the rules arbitrarily. The rules exist to benefit us, as expressions of his love for us, so that we can live well and have the best lives possible. Understanding the purpose of the biblical laws may help us understand how to apply them today; circumstances may change, but the purposes behind the regulations remain. The central interpretive guideline is simple: it must be consistent with the concept of loving our neighbors as ourselves (see Matthew 22:34-40).

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While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

The large crowd listened to him with delight.

As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:35–44)

The religious leaders wanted to be honored by people, even as they dishonored those around them. They claimed to love God, even as they hated those created in his image. The problems infesting the Israelite leadership were the same problems that had infested Israelite leadership throughout its history. Though they had given up idolatry for the worship of a single God, they still didn’t understand what it meant to be righteous. Prayer and tithing were good, but Jesus was concerned about their motivations.

Righteousness is not about giving money, or praying long prayers, or gaining the admiration of others. Instead, righteousness is all about loving God. And the way we love God is revealed by how we treat those who bring us no advantage, who cannot advance our careers, who cannot offer us money or prestige. As John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) How we treat the least of God’s people is how we are treating God. Our behavior toward those around us is a reflection of what we believe about God.

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Using the Bible

When Jesus returned from the Jordan River, the power of the Holy Spirit was with him, and the Spirit led him into the desert. For forty days Jesus was tested by the devil, and during that time he went without eating. When it was all over, he was hungry.

The devil said to Jesus, “If you are God’s Son, tell this stone to turn into bread.”

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say, ‘No one can live only on food.’ ”

Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place and quickly showed him all the nations on earth. The devil said, “I will give all this power and glory to you. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. Just worship me, and you can have it all.”

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:

‘Worship the Lord your God
and serve only him!’”

Finally, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on top of the temple. The devil said, “If you are God’s Son, jump off. The Scriptures say:

‘God will tell his angels to take care of you.
They will catch you in their arms,
and you will not hurt your feet on the stones.’ ”

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures also say, ‘Don’t try to test the Lord your God!’ ”

After the devil had finished testing Jesus in every way possible, he left him for a while. (Luke 4:1–13)

Luke’s Gospel, like Matthew’s, describes Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. One detail that Luke reveals that was missing from Matthew’s account of the event comes at the end of the temptation. Luke reveals that the devil left Jesus “for awhile.” The implication was that Satan tried again, later.

The author of Hebrews explains that Jesus was tempted in every way, just like us. Luke tells us that he was tempted during the full forty days, not just by the three temptations listed. The gospel give us merely a selective summary of Jesus’ experiences, not an exhaustive account.

We are not tempted just once in our lives. We are not even tempted only once for the same sin. We spend our lives being tempted time and time again, usually over the identical issues. When we’re told that Satan had left Jesus “for awhile,” we understand what that means. Like us, Jesus would again be faced with temptations from the devil. Our temptations may not be constant, but they are never-ending and normally come without warning, at the worst possible times.

It is interesting to notice, too, that Satan is proficient in using the Bible. Perhaps this should be taken as a bit of a warning: just because you can quote chapter and verse, you might still be completely off base.

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This is Rape Culture

The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM).

The Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State (ISIS) has released a pamphlet on the topic of female captives and slaves. The pamphlet, which is dated Muharram 1436 (October/November 2014) and was printed by ISIS’s publishing house, Al-Himma Library, is titled Su’al wa-Jawab fi al-Sabi wa-Riqab(“Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves”). It was presumably released in response to the uproar caused by the many reports this summer that ISIS had taken Yazidi girls and women as sex slaves. Written in the form of questions and answers, it clarifies the position of Islamic law (as ISIS interprets it) on various relevant issues, and states, among other things, that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with non-Muslim slaves, including young girls, and that it is also permitted to beat them and trade in them.

The following are excerpts from the pamphlet, which was posted on a pro-ISIS Twitter account.

“Question 1: What is al-sabi?

“Al-Sabi is a woman from among ahl al-harb [the people of war] who has been captured by Muslims.

“Question 2: What makes al-sabi permissible?

“What makes al-sabi permissible [i.e., what makes it permissible to take such a woman captive] is [her] unbelief. Unbelieving [women] who were captured and brought into the abode of Islam are permissible to us, after the imam distributes them [among us].”

“Question 3: Can all unbelieving women be taken captive?

“There is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to capture unbelieving women [who are characterized by] original unbelief [kufr asli], such as thekitabiyat [women from among the People of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians] and polytheists. However, [the scholars] are disputed over [the issue of] capturing apostate women. The consensus leans towards forbidding it, though some people of knowledge think it permissible. We [ISIS] lean towards accepting the consensus…”

“Question 4: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive?

“It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: ‘[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Koran 23:5-6]’…”

“Question 5: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive immediately after taking possession [of her]?

“If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, is she isn’t, her uterus must be purified [first]…”

“Question 6: Is it permissible to sell a female captive?

“It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of [as long as that doesn’t cause [the Muslim ummah] any harm or damage.”

“Question 7: Is it permissible to separate a mother from her children through [the act of] buying and selling?

“It is not permissible to separate a mother from her prepubescent children through buying, selling or giving away [a captive or slave]. [But] it is permissible to separate them if the children are grown and mature.”

“Question 8: If two or more [men] buy a female captive together, does she then become [sexually] permissible to each of them?

“It is forbidden to have intercourse with a female captive if [the master] does not own her exclusively. One who owns [a captive] in partnership [with others] may not have sexual intercourse with her until the other [owners] sell or give him [their share].”

“Question 9: If the female captive was impregnated by her owner, can he then sell her?

“He can’t sell her if she becomes the mother of a child…”

“Question 10: If a man dies, what is the law regarding the female captive he owned?

“Female captives are distributed as part of his estate, just as all [other parts] of his estate [are distributed]. However, they may only provide services, not intercourse, if a father or [one of the] sons has already had intercourse with them, or if several [people] inherit them in partnership.”

“Question 11: May a man have intercourse with the female slave of his wife?

“A man may not have intercourse with the female slave of his wife, because [the slave] is owned by someone else.”

“Question 12: May a man kiss the female slave of another, with the owner’s permission?

“A man may not kiss the female slave of another, for kissing [involves] pleasure, and pleasure is prohibited unless [the man] owns [the slave] exclusively.”

“Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?

“It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

“Question 14: What private parts of the female slave’s body must be concealed during prayer?

“Her private body parts [that must be concealed] during prayer are the same as those [that must be concealed] outside [prayer], and they [include] everything besides the head, neck, hands and feet.”

“Question 15: May a female slave meet foreign men without wearing a hijab?

“A female slave is allowed to expose her head, neck, hands, and feet in front of foreign men if fitna [enticement] can be avoided. However, if fitna is present, or of there is fear that it will occur, then it [i.e. exposing these body parts becomes] forbidden.”

“Question 16: Can two sisters be taken together while taking slaves?

“It is permissible to have two sisters, a female slave and her aunt [her father’s sister], or a female slave and her aunt [from her mother’s side]. But they cannot be together during intercourse, [and] whoever has intercourse with one of them cannot have intercourse with the other, due to the general [consensus] over the prohibition of this.”

“Question 17: What is al-‘azl?

“Al-‘azl is refraining from ejaculating on a woman’s pudendum [i.e. coitus interruptus].”

“Question 18: May a man use the al-‘azl [technique] with his female slave?

“A man is allowed [to use] al-‘azl during intercourse with his female slave with or without her consent.”

“Question 19: Is it permissible to beat a female slave?

“It is permissible to beat the female slave as a [form of] darb ta’deeb [disciplinary beating], [but] it is forbidden to [use] darb al-takseer [literally, breaking beating], [darb] al-tashaffi [beating for the purpose of achieving gratification], or [darb] al-ta’dheeb [torture beating]. Further, it is forbidden to hit the face.”

Question 20: What is the ruling regarding a female slave who runs away from her master?

“A male or female slave’s running away [from their master] is among the gravest of sins…”

“Question 21: What is the earthly punishment of a female slave who runs away from her master?

“She [i.e. the female slave who runs away from her master] has no punishment according to the shari’a of Allah; however, she is [to be] reprimanded [in such a way that] deters others like her from escaping.”

“Question 22: Is it permissible to marry a Muslim [slave] or a kitabiyya [i.e. Jewish or Christian] female slave?

“It is impermissible for a free [man] to marry Muslim or kitabiyat female slaves, except for those [men] who feared to [commit] a sin, that is, the sin of fornication…”

“Question 24: If a man marries a female slave who is owned by someone else, who is allowed to have intercourse with her?

“A master is prohibited from having intercourse with his female slave who is married to someone else; instead, the master receives her service, [while] the husband [gets to] enjoy her [sexually].”

“Question 25: Are the huddoud [Koranic punishments] applied to female slaves?

“If a female slave committed what necessitated the enforcement of a hadd [on her], a hadd [is then] enforced on her – however, the hadd is reduced by half within the hudud that accepts reduction by half…”

“Question 27: What is the reward for freeing a slave girl?

“Allah the exalted said [in the Koran]: ‘And what can make you know what is [breaking through] the difficult pass [hell]? It is the freeing of a slave.’ And [the prophet Muhammad] said: ‘Whoever frees a believer Allah frees every organ of his body from hellfire.'”

* * *

The so-called “rape culture” that some profess to demonstrate against at certain universities in the US is about as real as the so-called “war on Christmas” that some worry about. Unless the fraternities are putting out instructions that are like this from ISIS, I don’t think they have a rape culture. In fact, I don’t think there are too many people–besides rapists and extremists such as ISIS–who think rape is okay.

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