Wednesday, November 8, 2017


 Jesus has been closer to me than I realized all of my life.  Unfortunately, I have not given him the recognition he deserves; and as I will be ninety late next year, if I make it, I don’t have a lot of time to make up for my omissions.  I have begun a few posts in the last few years that were almost introductory to a last post.  I have less premonition of such an event now, but the possibility of mental decline increasing made it seem like a good idea to write this now.  I may enlarge on topics in future posts, but I can’t be sure of that.

Who is Jesus?

Jesus is the second identity in the one Trinitarian God who took the human nature to help bring salvation to all people that accept him.  Having become truly human he gives us reason to believe that God really understands our problems.  He sacrificed his life for us to fulfill the will of the Father (at the same time being one with Him) to wipe away our sins that seem to us an impediment to entering heaven.  God’s love is all encompassing, and God’s Holy Spirit is always urging us to improve our love for God and all humanity.

Jesus was born of the virgin, Mary.  His life as the Son of God, a human, as well as his eternal life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is more than I can explain; but I think it is reasonable when you consider that God is an infinitely powerful, eternal being that precedes the universe and time, both of which are parts of his creation.

Jesus, the Jew.

Born into the chosen people, Jesus was trained in the scriptures and followed the Jewish law and traditions under the guidance of his family in preparation for his brief earthly role as the Messiah predicted by Isaiah and other prophets.

He castigated teachers in the temple who interpreted the law so strictly for the people but, did not act the way they taught.  Jesus summed up the law of the Old Testament as the guiding principle in the New Testament, as love of God and neighbor.

Jesus and science.

It appears that Jesus does not try to teach us principles of science.  Instead he accepts the understanding of the culture of the time and uses it to teach things he is concerned about. 
In the previous post, I mentioned the nematode worm that is wound up on a stick to extract it from the skin of an infected person.  Jesus mentions it as a symbol of the way he would die on a cross (John 3:13-15) and references it later (John 8:28 and 12:32-33); the bronze serpent had been held up by Moses (in Numbers 21:6-9) as instructed by God.  In the telling of the story the worm became a seraph serpent depicted in bronze wound around the stick, converted to the symbolic crucifix, used by Christians as a reminder of Jesus’ death and love for us.  And it is converted to a symbol of the medical professions as the caduceus, usually showing the serpent wound around a winged staff; the medical version may be showing a connection to the method of extracting the nematode, or possibly gods of Greek mythology.  [Credit for my knowing the possible connection of the parasite being the fiery serpent of the bible goes to an unknown colleague of Dr. E. B. Steen, my colleague at WMU, who told me about him nearly sixty years ago.]

The three days before the resurrection of Jesus were prefigured by Jonah’s three days in a big fish.  Whether it was literal truth, but mistaking a whale for a big fish, or myth or legend of the Paul Bunyan sort, it provided a teaching moment linking old and new in the Bible.

Science and Religion

There are numerous bits with accuracy in understanding of science common to biblical days as presented in scripture.  Variation in germination and growth of plant seed dependent on soil and determining yield, predicting weather based on clouds on the horizon, the relative permanence of a dwelling built on rock as opposed to sandy soil, as well as understanding of human behavior, are among examples enriching the teachings of Jesus recorded by his disciple’s followers as well as some apostles.

The findings of science are all tentative, i.e., capable of being falsified by new data.  Of course, laws are not expected to yield to new interpretations, whereas hypotheses change, hopefully with declining frequency as new data is obtained and interpreted.  When it comes to spiritual things, science is incapable of making valid observations to either prove or disprove spiritual matters.

The findings of religion do not appear to have clarity of method in all cases.  Because the three dominant monotheistic views differ to increasing degree as we leave discussion of God and some basic principles, we will probably never reach complete unity even though we should strive for it.  But it is difficult for those believing all scripture should be interpreted literally to believe-- the scientific view of age of the universe, or fossils; the fiction incorporated in some bible stories and parables that were used to teach moral principles; the exaggeration common to speech and scriptures during biblical times.

Can we add separation of science and religion to separation of church and state as a desirable principle?  Maybe separation of science and state too?

My personal relationship with God

It has been a journey, many others have taken it, and it is open to you.  I have no doubt that  God has been with me all my life, even when I did not cooperate.  The same is true for you, just have patience.  In the meantime, I suggest a short daily reading of scripture.  Give God a chance.  

The apostle, John, had a close relationship with Jesus, and cared for Mary after the Crucifixion.  So John had opportunity for learning about Jesus' childhood from Mary and directly observing Jesus during his ministry.  So those constructing his gospel were able to faithfully give a clearer picture of what Jesus taught.  In John 13:34-35 we learn of the new law, "love one another".  We get a clearer picture of the Holy Trinity in John 5:19-30 and 5:14-17.  The equality of men and women is perhaps best shown in John's Gospel.

My love of the gospel according to John may be attributed to the fact it was the first one we studied the first year I joined as the only graduate student, along with some faculty and townspeople, in a study group led by Dr. Joseph Druse, an English Professor at Michigan State University.

Joseph Engemann      Kalamazoo, Michigan    November 8, 2017