Working Through Cycles of Personal Growth

We often think of growth as happening one direction. Growing things expand and get older, they don’t shrink or get younger. If something is not moving forward, then it’s not growing.

But maybe that’s not always the case, especially when we’re talking about personal growth journeys. Growth like this doesn’t happen all at once or in a steady direction. Sometimes, a thing that you thought you dealt with will come back and needs to be worked through again. You often have to keep going back over the same ground in order to make progress.

This isn’t failure to grow. But it might look like it depending on our perspective. If we’re the type of person who wants to get everything right the first time, then it can be discouraging when we find ourselves having to deal with something we thought we’d already worked through. We might even decided that since we failed once there’s no point in trying again. But that isn’t really a healthy or helpful perspective.

New “Thought Paths” Take Time

Last year, I wrote a post about changing thought patterns related to anxiety. In that post, I talked about my counselor’s analogy of our minds as a big open field. As we live and grow, our thoughts travel over this field and we start to wear-down paths as we think along the same lines over and over. When we identify “thought paths” that aren’t doing us any good we need to create new pathways in our mind by learning to think in a different way. To do that, you have to keep going over the new paths again and again. Read more

Why do we care about old writings?

A few years ago when I was in college, one of my professors organized a small group of interested students and took us up to the Cleveland art museum. The purpose of our visit, a touring exhibit of religious artifacts from medieval Europe, was interesting, but that wasn’t what lured me there. It was the museum’s permanent collection of illuminated manuscripts.

These manuscripts date from the Middle Ages. Every page was carefully copied by hand, and they didn’t just stop there. Illuminating a manuscript with (real) gold, silver, and bright colors in illustrations and elaborate first letters turned them into works of art. The sort of books you took the time to create like this were held in high value (many are religious texts).

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo of Cleveland’s “The Glory of the Painted Page” collection

It’s no secret I love books. But most of the books on my shelves are, in the strictest sense, disposable and replaceable. They were impersonally mass-printed in a factory. Any meaning that particular copy has is unique to me. But for the handwritten manuscripts each copy is unique. They’re irreplaceable. And they were created with love.

That’s also true of the ancient writings I saw yesterday. The Ancient Hebrew Scroll Project is one of only 2 or 3 complete sets of the Tanakh (Old Testament), and it’s the only one you’ll ever have a chance to see. It tours in public and there’s never any admission fee. The oldest scroll is a 600 year old Torah. Others are around 250 years old, with the exception of some scrolls too rare to obtain old copies (those are newly commissioned). Several survived the Holocaust, including a Haftorah that was bayoneted six times by Nazis.

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
The beginning of Psalm 119 on a scroll written in 2009. Notice you can see the lines are written in sets of 8, each starting with the same Hebrew letter (that’s why it’s divided alphabetically in your English Bibles; because of the type of poem/song it is)

Every single Bible scroll, the new and the old, was created the same way. Two Levites stand holding a completed scroll open before a scribe. The scribe reads one word aloud, then writes it using a pen made from a turkey feather dipped in ink made from gall nuts, gum-Arabic, and ash. He does this for every single word with the exception of the YHWH name of God. For this word, he will not speak it aloud and before writing it he washes his hands and takes up a pen only used to write the Name.

Once the scroll is finished, the scribe counts every letter to make sure it adds up to the correct number for that scroll. If it passes that test, he gives it to another scribe for re-counting, spell-checking, and format inspection. If that scribe gives it the go-ahead, it’s given to another scribe. Only after two scribes double-check the first scribe’s work is the scroll kosher.

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Latter (aka “Minor”) Prophets. Scroll written the late 17th Century

“So what?” some people ask. Who cares about hand-writing things like this in the age of computers? And yet this is how the Bible was preserved intact and unchanged for thousands of years. It’s the only way any writing from pre-1440 got passed down to us. There’s something about the process itself that lends meaning to the books and scrolls created with such careful attention.

New, fast, and disposable isn’t always better. There’s value in taking time to pour love and great care into something that will last. That’s one of the lessons the old writings teach us. They give us a chance to stop and ponder what we value. Something preserved in this way has to matter or it’s not worth taking the time.

Why care about old writings? (or, On Torah Scrolls and Illuminated Manuscripts) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

If there were no computers or printing presses any more, which writings would you value highly enough to copy by hand letter by letter so nothing was lost?

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Time and Foreknowledge (Free Will, Part 2)

Last week, I started writing about a question one of my friends asked regarding my views on free will. That post was part 1 and it has lots of background info for this post, so if you haven’t read it yet you can check it out here. Another aspect  of the question he asked, which I didn’t have time to get to last week, was “Do you believe God is omniscient, or do you believe there are limits to His knowledge of the future, etc.”

Omniscience basically means “all knowing,” and I suppose given these two options I’m going to have to go with saying that I believe there are some limits to God’s knowledge of the future. That’s the short answer 🙂 Here’s the long one …

God Knowing Us

Prophecy teaches us that God has knowledge of future events — fulfilled prophecy gives us proof that He was correct in the past and we have faith that He will also be correct about the future. God has a plan for where the world is heading, and He certainly has the power to get it there. This is the kind of thing we talked about last week when looking at the examples of Jonah and Abraham.

Continuing with these two examples, I’ve said I believe that Jonah, Abraham, and Sarah had free will in how they responded to God’s work in their lives. But the fact that God didn’t make the decisions for them doesn’t prove that He didn’t know how they would respond.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (Ps. 139:1-3)

Many verses speak of God knowing our hearts, but these are mostly present-tense, as far as I can tell. From perfect knowledge of what we are now, I suppose God has a pretty good idea of what we will be and how we will act in the future. I think we still have the potential to surprise Him, through.

I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:10)

If God did know exactly how we were going to live our lives, however, why does He need to search our hearts to determine how to reward us? Probably the best example of this is Abraham’s test. God commanded him to sacrifice his only son, and Abraham was prepared to do so right up to the moment God stopped him. Up until Abraham was at the point where he was about to kill Isaac, it seems that God didn’t know how far Abraham would go to obey Him.

And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Gen. 22:12)

God’s Foreknowledge

Some people use Psalm 139:16 to say God knows the day we will die and has all our days mapped out. The King James Version doesn’t give that sense at all, but other translations could. Here’s a few:

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. (KJV)

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. (NKJV)

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (NIV)

I really have doubts about this interpretation, though. Going back to the story of Nineveh, God told those people through Jonah that He would destroy their city in 40 days. We know “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18), so I can’t believe He told them this if he already knew He would delay Nineveh’s punishment (Jon. 3:1-10).

A similar case occurs in 2 Kings 20. King Hezekiah falls ill, and the Lord sends Isaiah the prophet to tell him, “Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live” (2 Kings 20:1). Hezekiah prayed to the Lord …

And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.”’” (2 Kings 20:4-6)

Again, why would God tell Hezekiah that he was going to die if He already knew that He would give Hezekiah 15 years? This story is one of the reasons we have hope when we pray — because we know God hears us and can intervene to answer our prayers. If everything was predestined, what would be the point of praying? For that matter, what would be the point of obeying the commandments or being loving and faithful? As a commenter on last week’s post pointed out, “If there were no free will, then whether we believe in God & Jesus, and whether we love them or not, would be determined by God, not us. And if that were the case, then it would not be true faith and it would not be true love. For faith and love to be real, there must be a choice.”

Some Ideas About Time

From what I read in the Bible, along with a dab of theoretical physics and a heavy dollop of sci-fi, here’s my pet theory: assuming time and space are connected, then “a God who is not limited by space is not limited by time” (I got that from an old Moody science tape).  I hypothesize that God can step outside of time in a way and see how the potential outcomes are changing. He can look at the whole breadth of human history, read every nuance of the present, and predict and direct the course of events. He has a definitive end goal in mind, and He can directly intervene to accomplish that goal, but I think our specific futures are in a state of flux, changing as we make decisions.

Time and Foreknowledge (Free Will, Part 2) | marissabaker.wordpress.comI’m perfectly willing to admit there are flaws and gaps in my theory, and it might even be totally worthless, but it is what makes sense to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts/ideas/theories if you’d like to share them. 🙂 I really don’t think we can fully understand how God relates to time and the future right now — we can just see glimpses and try to make sense of the clues we are given.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. (Is. 55:8-9)

In keeping with the fact that God’s thoughts are very different and much higher than ours, He has a unique view of time as well.

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Pet. 3:8)

For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night. (Ps. 90:4)

This is very confusing for us, trapped in a single moment of linear time. We have imperfect recall of our own past, second-hand knowledge of history and other people’s lives, limited understanding of the present, and dim ideas about the future. Compared to us, God is indeed omniscient, even if there are what we think of as “limits” to His foreknowledge.