Words

A few days ago, I watched a video of a sermon by David Jeremiah, senior pastor of the Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, CA. [1]  In this sermon he was giving advice on how to evaluate political candidates.  One point he made was:  “It is not what a man says that is important but what he does”.

I recently finished reading Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig. [2]  Dr. Craig very ably details the evidence for the existence of God, for the reliability of the New Testament, and for the resurrection of Jesus.  In his conclusion, he describes the ultimate apologetic which is someone who is focused on loving God and loving his neighbor as himself. Jesus stated that all the law and prophets were fulfilled in just these two concepts (Matthew 22:35-40) and these two concepts are action items, not just words.

With our words we can explore different ways that we should act.  Words can motivate us; words can move us to action.  However, “talk is cheap” is a phase with which we are familiar and its implication is that taking an action costs us more than just talking about something.  Talking is just saying words; taking action means making a commitment.  With our actions we use our will to actually change ourselves and our world not just speculate about the future.

Consider a young couple who say they love each other.  If all they say is “I love you” and take no actions such as spending time together and doing things for each other, will either of them believe the other actually loves them?  It would be a very unusual person who would answer “Yes”.  “Actions speak louder than words”.

If actions are more important than words in our human lives, why do Christians believe salvation is obtained by believing in Jesus and his death for our sins?  If we truly believed in Jesus, would we not need to make changes in our lives instead of just saying words?

______________________

[1]   http://vimeo.com/52163082?utm_source=Pastor+David+Jeremiah+On+Obama%2C+Romney%2C+Mormonism%2C+%26+Voting&utm_campaign=David+Jeremiah+on+Romney%2C+Obama%2C+Voting&utm_medium=email

[2]   William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2008.

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Moral Choices

In the last blog, we laid out all the Biblical support for the position that salvation is the renovation of our soul so it becomes like God.  Salvation is a free gift from God.  The gift he gave is that he sent Jesus to die for the sins of the entire world.  Jesus’ death and resurrection applies to the entire human race, not just those who believe in Jesus.  So now the entire world has a choice of becoming more like God or continuing our rebellion against God.  It is this choice that will determine if we spend eternity with God or without God.

This view of salvation does more than conform to Biblical teaching.  It also answers all the questions we have previously raised about this doctrine. [1]  Those who have never heard of Jesus and those whose culture and/or religion tell them Jesus is irrelevant still have the opportunity to go to heaven provided they live up to whatever light God has provided for them.

It also answers the question of why God would require us to believe in something for which we cannot obtain certain proof:  Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins.  God knows our beliefs are primarily determined by the culture in which we were raised and our life experiences.  God knows our beliefs are largely not under our control.  That is just the human condition; that is the way God constructed our existence.  So it does make sense that God would not require us to believe in an historical fact to obtain salvation.

However, there is one area of our lives where God has given us the capacity to do what he requires and that area is the moral choices we make.  In fact, God forces us to make these choices.  Robert J. Fogelin states there is no way to avoid making moral choices without losing one’s essential humanity. [2]

One could make the argument since we are finite we will not know what moral choices to make.  So how can we make the proper moral choices?  God provides us with three ways.

First, our life experiences teach us.  We only have to look at the world around us to see what we humans have created.  Our world reflects back to us, in a physical form, the reality of our moral choices.  This applies to our world, our nations, our communities, and our families.  The moral choices made by each of these entities are reflected in its character and actions.  And if we do not like what we see, this should give us the motivation and opportunity to change our moral choices.

Second, God gave us the Bible.  Not everyone has access to the Bible but other religions do provide guidance consistent with the Bible.  C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man notes how similar Christianity and other religions are in terms of their values.  He maintains there is an objective reality of our universe; there are everlasting ideals which are part of the fabric of our universe; there exists a sole source of values for all of humanity.  He refers to this universal principle as the Tao. [3]  In the Appendix, he provides examples of similar values held by peoples of different times, religions, and geographic areas. [4]

Third, God gave us the Holy Spirit who convicts us concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-8).  We can ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit as Paul teaches (Romans 1 and 2) but that is a moral choice we make.

God knows what he is doing.  God knows we are finite; that is why he will not judge us for our beliefs if we do not have sufficient information to rationally arrive at a particular belief.  Jesus did criticize the people of his day who did not believe in him because they experienced firsthand the teachings and miracles of Jesus.  For the rest of us God knows that while we cannot have definitive proof of Jesus’ life and resurrection, we are very capable of making moral decisions and he will judge us for those moral decisions we make.

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[1]   See my blogs dated May 15, 22, and 29, 2011.

[2]   Robert J. Fogelin, ed., Right and Wrong (Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1986), p. 2.

[3]   C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1974), pp. 15-19.

[4]   Lewis, pp. 83-101.

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The Doctrine of Salvation

In previous blogs, we have described several problems with the Christian doctrine of salvation. [1]  It is always easy to criticize another point of view but our aim is to do more than criticize.  So in this blog we will formulate a doctrine that that adheres to Biblical teachings and answers all the questions we have raised.  Nothing I will say in this blog is new; it has been stated in previous blogs and footnotes will direct you to those blogs.

I agree with a large part of the Christian doctrine of salvation.  I believe that we have rebelled against God and that we have a sinful nature.  I believe there is no way we can make ourselves right with God.  God, in his mercy, sent Christ as a substitute to die for our sins and to restore us to a right relationship with him. [2]

Where I differ from Christian doctrine is that I believe the Bible teaches we must change our entire soul, renovate our soul, so it becomes like God if we want to be saved. [3]  I based this belief on the  at least 70 verses which teach salvation is through:

¨      Repentance of our sins or humility – Luke 18:11-14, 2 Corinthians 7:10

¨      Belief in God – John 5:24, Acts 10:34-35

¨      Our conduct or actions – Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6-10

¨      Our pattern of behavior or persistence – Matthew 10:22, Hebrews 10:26-27

¨      Our talents or the use of what is given us – Luke 16:9-11

I also believe that Jesus died for the sins of the entire human race, not just those who believe in him.  There are at least 12 verses in the New Testament that leave no doubt about this issue. [4]  That means the sins of every person has been forgiven.  Does that means everyone will go to heaven?  No.  It is also obvious the Bible teaches not everyone will be in heaven. [5]  The way we get to heaven is as mentioned above:  Become more like God.  Just a belief system will not change our soul or enable us to become like God; as James 2:14-26 says our salvation requires belief and action. [6]

In summary, a truly Biblical doctrine of salvation is:

1.         There is a supreme being (God) who has a standard for humans.

2.         We humans have a sinful nature.  We do not live up to God’s standard.  In fact we have rebelled against that standard and against God.  This rebellion (sin) results in human death and the punishment of eternal separation from God (hell).

3.         Through the work of Jesus (his death and resurrection for our sins), God views humans as if they have met his standard.  This is called justification.  This is also God’s grace:  Granting humans something they do not deserve.

4.         The work of Jesus applies to the entire human race.  Everyone’s sins have been forgiven.

5.         We now have a choice of becoming more like God or continuing our rebellion against God.  It is this choice that will determine if we spend eternity with God or without God.

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[1]   See my blog dated March 2, 2011 and March 7, 2011.

[2]   See my blog dated March 22, 2011.

[3]   See the article listed in the heading of my blog entitled “What the Bible Says about Salvation” for a complete description of all the Bible passages that support this idea.

[4]   See my blog dated March 25, 2011.

[5]   See my blog dated March 29, 2011.

[6]   See my blog dated April 1, 2011 and April 9, 2011.

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What It Means to Be Finite

In the past 20 months in this blog, we have asked questions about Christianity that are centuries old but which have never been adequately resolved.  One question deals with an aspect of the human condition that Christians do not want to deal with:  We are finite.  One reason might be this issue calls into question certain aspects of our theology.  For example:

  1. Being finite means we do not have the time or talent to learn everything we need to know about life, about ourselves, about God.  Being finite means we do not have access to all the information we need to make correct decisions.  Because of this fact, there are people in our world who will not believe in Christ because they either have not heard of Jesus or their culture and/or religion tell them Jesus is irrelevant.  How can God be a God of love and justice and yet condemn such people to hell?
  2. Being finite means God constructed our existence so certainty in regards to historical events is not absolute.  For example, while there is substantial evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, there will always remain an element of doubt.  So how can God condemn people to hell for not believing in something for which they cannot obtain certain proof?
  3. Being finite means that most of our beliefs are not under our control.  Our beliefs are mainly formed by the culture in which we were raised and by our experiences.  Another person with very different experiences and considering very different evidences could come to a very different belief system than a Christian would.  How can God condemn a person to hell because his/her life experiences are different?
  4. Being finite means, as William Lane Craig says in his book Reasonable Faith, Christianity can only be shown to be probably true. [1]  As my blogs of June 20, 2012 through July 11, 2012 show, that it is true in all areas of our lives.  Even our science cannot provide us with absolute proof on any topic.  We can only have certainty for things that occur within our space and time.  The problem Christianity faces is that it teaches we must believe in Jesus Christ or we will spend eternity in hell.  On an issue a crucial as our eternal fate, it would seem that God would give us more proof than mere probability

What the above questions demonstrate is that Christianity has failed to deal with the facts of the human condition (which is the way God made us).  If we are to be intellectually honest, we must deal with these facts.  In the next few blogs we will propose a solution that will deal with the facts of the human condition and also conform to Biblical teachings.

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[1]   William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2008, p. 55.

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Theories of Life

In the last blog, I made the comment that our beliefs are like scientific theories and I would like to expand upon that topic in this blog.

Henri Poincairé in his book The Foundations of Science notes that experiments are the source of scientific truth; they are the foundation of science. [1[  He also notes that “a collection of facts [experiments] is no more a science than a heap of stones a building”. [2]  The stones must have some order if they are to be a building and our experiments must have some order if they are to be a science.  The reason is because our experiments can only examine a very limited number of almost infinite number of events that occur in our universe.  If we are to understand something about our world and universe, we must bring order to our limited number of experiments and facts by constructing theories.  These theories take the limited number of observation we have made and make sense of, or explains them and our world.  These theories also give us ideas on how to construct additional experiments which can either refute or support the theory and further expand our knowledge.

Our beliefs are no different.  As we stated in our blog of March 6, 2012, any person observant of the world around us recognizes that our choices are infinite.  Each day we make decisions that change our lives.  Our life is different because of the school we attend, the career we choose, the marriage partner we select, the friends with whom we associate.  Many of the decisions we face involve many unknowns.  So how can we make the right choices when our ability to gain all the needed facts is so limited?  To make these decisions, we must have some theory of how our world is constructed.  Our beliefs are our theories.  When we face situations where we do not have all the facts, we depend upon our theories of how our world, our life, is constructed to help us make the right decision.

While our beliefs can help us make the decisions we need to make, how do we know our beliefs are correct?  In the past few blogs, we have seen the difficulty of answering that question.

____________________________

[1]   Henri Poincaré, The Foundations of Science (Lancaster, PA:  The Science Press, 1946), p. 127.

[2]   Poincaré, p. 127.

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Beliefs and Theories

Our beliefs are our theories about how the world is constructed, about how life is structured.  In a way, our beliefs are like scientific theories.  Scientists take what knowledge they have about the natural world from the experiments they perform and construct theories to explain how the natural world works.  Sometimes new experiments change those theories; sometimes new experiments confirm old theories.  In the same way, our life experiences together with our rational self either confirm or refute our beliefs.

A few days ago, I watched a movie on TV entitled “Fog of War”  It was an interview with Robert McNamara and he was describing the lessons he had learned over his life time as a bombing analyst during World War II, as a business executive, and as Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War.  One lesson he learned was that “belief and seeing are both often wrong”.  Our beliefs about how the world is constructed are not always accurate because, as we stated in the last blog, our beliefs are based upon the society in which we live and our life experiences.  McNamara’s point was that we must be willing to reevaluate our beliefs and to question what we see if we are serious about knowing what is true.

I wish God had made it simpler.  I wish he had given us indisputable proof that he exists, that the Bible is his word to us, and that Jesus rose from the dead.  But he did not.  God has structured our existence so we are limited in our knowledge of both material and spiritual matters, in our ability to know good and evil, in our capacity to know what is true.  And we must deal with that fact.

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Beliefs

As we have learn in the past year in the discussions we have had in this blog, given the current state of our technology and knowledge we cannot have certainty with regard to matters outside our space and time.  The implication for Christianity is that we cannot have absolute proof for the existence of God, for the Bible as the word of God, and for the resurrection of Jesus.  For many, this is sufficient reason to discard belief in Christianity.  The problem with this approach is that there is not a single belief system in the world, including agnosticism and atheism, which does not face the same dilemma.  No one can prove the validity of their belief system.  That is just the human condition.

Dr. James F. Sennett observes the various belief systems of the world have rational parity which means for every problem one raises about a particular belief, there is an equal and opposite problem for the opposing beliefs. [1] If we decide to change our belief system, we might resolve a few issues but we will acquire a different set of questions.  We will simply exchange one set of problems for another.

Dr. Sennett also points out another problem with beliefs:  Most of our beliefs are not under our control.  “We simply form beliefs as a direct result of experiences we undergo and evidence we consider.” [2]  Another person with very different experiences and considering very different evidences could come to a very different belief system than I would.  For example, I am taking a class in Business Ethics.  One of our assignments was to interview someone very different that us.  I chose to interview an atheist.  The person I interviewed was raised in the Christian community and went to a Bible college just like I did.  He told me he did not want to be an atheist but he was driven to that belief by rational thought.  In some ways he sounded like a Christian in quoting various people, in describing scientific results, and in citing history to support his point of view.  However, his different life experiences led him to a very different belief system than I had.

Another example of the fact that our beliefs are not totally under our control is the question of whether we can convince ourselves that Abraham Lincoln was never the president of the United States?  Can we convince ourselves that World War II never happened?  Much of what we believe is dependant upon the culture and age in which we live.  We simply cannot and do not control much of what we believe.

Given all the problems with beliefs, do beliefs matter?  Beliefs do matter.  In my interview with the atheist, he brought up the point that if you believe the world will end in 10 years, you will not be very concerned about the environment.  If you believe Allah will send you to heaven with 72 virgins if you kill infidels, then you will kill infidels and your belief system will matter, particularly to those who you kill.  William Clifford states that our beliefs eventually become our actions; our beliefs influence others and succeeding generations. [3]

While our beliefs do matter, it is apparent they are not what is ultimately important.

__________________________

[1]   James F. Sennett, The Reluctant Disciple:  A Postmodern Apologetic (an unpublished book), chapter 3, pp. 1-2.

[2]   Sennett, chapter 3, pp. 12-13.

[3]   A. J. Berger, Editor.  The Ethics of Belief (Lexington, KY:  Self published, 2008

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The Role of Religion

Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg note the importance of religion in the science fiction novel Nightfall. [1]  Nightfall is about a world that has six suns and has perpetual light.  All the people have a collective, instinctual fear of darkness.  An amusement park ride that placed people in darkness is shut down because so many experience such terror that they become mentally unbalanced and some die.  The dominant religion is the Apostles of Flame and they predict a coming darkness, the appearance of stars, and the world ending in fire.  Needless to say, the general population considers them to be, at best, eccentric.  But the astronomers on this world discover that every 2,049 years the five suns set, the remaining sun is eclipsed by another planet, and darkness descends on the world.  Archeology shows several previous civilizations that have ended in fire and the time between the fires is 2,049 years.  The book spends considerable time on the conflict between the scientists and religion.

The book is notable because it demonstrates that scientists have prejudices and assumptions (taking certain facts on faith) like religion does.  It also points out the problems with religion:  a tendency to be dogmatic and unwilling to change.  In the end, after the darkness and the catastrophe it brings, several scientists decide to join the Apostles of Flame because they decide it is the best way to rebuild their civilization and to prepare for the next darkness.

Nightfall asks how one should pass critical information down several centuries and suggests that religion is the best way.  This makes sense because religion codifies and preserved the values that God knows work best and previous generations have sought to preserve that knowledge.  This is why religion is sometimes seen as dogmatic and unwilling to change.  The values religion espouses should not change even though a particular generation would like to “bend the rules” for its own advantage.  The problem we face is to decide whether the values religion espouses are God’s values or if these values are simply human tradition that has been passed off as God’s commands.  However, as Nightfall shows, religion is timeless; it provides us with values that work even though at times it does not communicate those ideas well.  Each age needs people who can interpret the timeless concepts of religion for that age.  Each age need people who can express the values at the core of all of the world’s great religions:  belief in God, the golden rule, respect for life, the principles of life as set forth in the Ten Commandments.

Throughout history it has been the task of religion to teach us what is right and wrong, to teach us what values we should hold, to hold forth a vision of what our world should be like.  Durant in explaining Kant’s belief in religion states that “when mere creed or ceremonies usurp priority over moral excellence, religion has disappeared. . .Churches and dogmas have value only in so far as they assist the moral development of the race.” [2]   Will and Ariel Durant state:  “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion”. [3]  In spite of all the criticism leveled at it (and it deserves some of the criticism), religion is the leading institution of our lives because it reminds us that the material world is not all that is and it addresses what our values should be.

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[1]   Isaac Isimov and Robert Silverberg, Nightfall (New York:  Doubleday, 1990).

[2]   Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1953), p. 212.

[3]   Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1968), p. 51.

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Benefits of Religion

Given all the problems with religion we have discussed in the previous blogs, why should we take religion seriously?  There are several reasons.

First, the historians Will and Ariel Durant state:  “Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion, since he sees it functioning, and seemingly indispensable, in every land and age”. [1]  Religion has provided answers to humans about the ultimate questions of life for ages so it must offer something to humans for it to remain such an important aspect of our lives.

Second, the validity of our religious institutions is demonstrated by the experiences of people around the world.  Trueblood states “the only evidence that can stand alone, or nearly alone, is. . .empirical evidence”. [2]  Empirical evidence is defined as: “depending upon experience or observation alone”.  Our observations tell us that our religious institutions crystallize the first hand experience of millions of people over the ages and around the world who believe in the existence of God and the values he wants us to hold.  Are all these people suffering from delusions; are they mentally unbalanced? [3]  It would be absurd to make such a statement.  The truth is that religion works.

Third, C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man makes the argument objective values are built into the structure of our universe, just as certain physical laws such as gravity constitute the makeup of our physical universe.   The religions of the world recognize these natural values and have incorporated them into their teachings.  In the appendix Lewis lists several of these values:  Duties to parents, elders, ancestors, children, and posterity; justice, good faith, veracity, mercy, and magnanimity.  These natural laws, or the Tao as Lewis calls them, provide a common law of action that governs ruler and ruled alike.  “A dogmatic belief in objective values is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” [4]

Lewis maintains there is no example of a person who has acquired power and stepped outside the Tao who has used that power benevolently. [5]  The reason is because if a person steps outside the Tao, they have no basis on which to make decisions other than their own pleasure.  Any one who has studied the human condition recognizes that our tendency is to be selfish and we are not much bothered if our gain is someone else’s loss.  To combat this tendency, all religions teach us some form of the Golden Rule.

Fourth, after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, where did people go to find meaning in these seemingly meaningless and horrific events?  Did they flock to governmental buildings, did they mass at our scientific institutions, did they meet at our business centers, did they inquire at our educational institutions?  Absolutely not!  If people want to know about the ultimate meaning of life, if they need instruction on the values we should hold, they know where to turn and that is to our religious institutions.

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[1]   Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1968), p. 43.

[2]   David Elton Trueblood, General Philosophy (New York:  Harper & Row, 1963), p. 220.

[3]   Ibid., pp. 216-217.

[4]   C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1974), p. 73.

[5]   Lewis, p. 66.

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Religion Is a Human Construct

What the errors we have discussed in the last few blogs demonstrate is that all organized religion is, to a large extent, a human construct.  Organized religion is the attempt of humans to codify a particular interpretation of God’s communication to us.  This is a worthwhile effort because as the human condition tells us we need to work with others to determine the truth of what God is saying.  What organized religion must understand is their doctrines are not the inspired word of God; they are just the feeble attempts of humans to understand an infinite God.

Catholic Church has its pronouncements from its councils and the popes that it claims are inspired by God just like the Bible.  The Jewish religion has its Mishnah and the Talmud and the Muslims have their Hadith and Sunnah.  Certain groups within these two religions also claim these books, which are interpretations of their holy book (the Torah and the Qur’an), are also inspired by God.  Claiming God endorses a particular interpretation of a holy book is the height of human arrogance.

Another example of the fact that organized religion is a human construct is the way religion reacts to threats to its existence—it reacts just like any other human institution or human being.  As Jeffrey Lockwood states:  “. . .all human organizations . . . have as their primary goal the acquisition and maintenance of power, not the search for and reporting of the truth” [1] and we find evidence of that in religion.  The Catholic Church is always criticized for its action against Galileo and the usual take is that this contest was religion against science.  That might not be the case.  The Catholic Church was in power at that time and it was very involved in the science of astronomy.  The Church did not dispute the observations made by Galileo and in fact they made the same observations.  What they disagreed about was the interpretation of those observations.  At that time the Church decided what was accepted as the truth and when this power was threatened by a young upstart called science, it reacted in very human ways to preserve its power.

Now that science has obtained a considerable amount of power in our society, we see science reacting in a similar fashion when its power is threatened.  It’s version of excommunication is to deny grants, deny scientists time on scientific instruments, deny tenure, and to prevent publishing research that is critical of its tenants such as the Big Bang theory, Darwinian evolution, and human caused global warming.  (For an example, read Seeing Red by Halton Arp.)

What all these problems and faults of religion tell us is if religion was the unadulterated message of God to us, we should see more God like actions by religious groups instead of the fallible human actions we have noted in the last few blogs.  Therefore, we can only conclude that organize religion is very human and should not represent itself as the infallible message of God.  To assert that we know exactly what God meant in his word to us is to ignore all we have learned about the human condition.  It is pride that causes religions to assert they know precisely the mind of God and to maintain they are the one and only true religion.

When Job and his friend were discussing the religious beliefs of their time (how God relates to people on earth and why Job had suffered so much calamity), God ends the discussion with the question:  “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  (Job 38:2).  While God did seem to side somewhat with Job and against his friends (Job 42:7), God still took Job to task for his beliefs (Job 38:1-2).

Job and his friends are no different than us today.  Each of us believes that we know exactly how God is working with everyone on this earth but because of our human condition, can we really claim to know the mind of God?  Our response should be like Job who stated:  “. . .Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  (Job 42:3).

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[1]   Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Six-Legged Soldiers (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009), p. ix.

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