Monday, April 27, 2015

Now I have Seen You

My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.

~Job 42:5-6

Monday, April 20, 2015

In "The Depths of Despair"

I think Gilbert Blythe may have been the first man I ever loved. I was young when I discovered Anne of Green Gables. The books came first-- I remember being about seven when my mother started reading it to my brother, sister, and me. I still remember the cover-- it was green, with an quirky red-headed girl in outmoded clothing and a straw hat. I was young to be reading that book, and I found it hard to stay focused as my mother's southern cadence caressed the words on her tongue and threatened to send me to dreamland. Years late, in fifth grade, my friends discovered Anne, and try as I might, I couldn't get into the books. Somewhere along the way, of course, I would have watched the miniseries, but I don't think I really fell for Anne until I discovered the books for myself in seventh grade (way later than all of my friends) and devoured them and anything else by L.M. Montgomery that I could get my hands on. I almost feel sure that the Anne series (eight books in total) taught me what a delight books are and birthed in me my life-long love of reading (and set in motion a voracious appetite for books that for years seemed to border on addiction and was quite insatiable).

The TV miniseries, which first aired in 1985, with a sequel airing in 1987, gave the world the faces of Anne and Gilbert. Anne (Ann with an E, mind you) was an instant bosom friend, a kindred spirit. I admired her spunk, her fierce spirit, her resolve. Anne was plain; I was plain. Anne's value lay not in her looks, but in her sharp mind, independent spirit, and all out quirkiness. She was an inspiration to me, and someone that I aspired to be like.

Gilbert, portrayed by actor Jonathan Crombie, wasn't exactly my type. It might have been that first impression, after all, when he teases my dear Anne-girl, provoking her by calling her 'Carrots,' so that she slams her slate over his head. His curly hair and freckles, coupled with that know-it-all smile, didn't engender him to me. I think his best trait, and the one that won me over, however, was his simple and life-long love of Anne. He had the good sense to love that irrepressible girl, and it's that-- that devotion that made me love him. Anne is truly a snot to him throughout much of the story, but Gilbert is always there, always loving her, always her friend. Their love story, and that culminating scene when Anne realizes that she loves him, is just as good as anything I have read in Jane Austen. Unlike Mr. Darcy, who seems to unwittingly fall for Eliza Bennett, Gilbert had the good sense to love poor orphan Anne from the first moment he laid eyes on her. And therein lies his virtue-- his wisdom in loving, and his faithfulness throughout.

Those books, and those characters on TV, definitively shaped who I am today. Anne showed me that it was okay to be a woman who loved knowledge. She showed me that I could be independent, and loved for who I am, and not what I look like. Her relationship with Gilbert showed me what it was like to be loved by a man-- to be utterly devoted to, because you are loved in your essence-- and what to long for and to seek out.

We lost Jonathan Crombie last week. Fans worldwide mourn his death as we reflect upon what his character meant to us. It's a strange thing, because it feels like we lost Gilbert himself. I'm thankful that in 2015, when it seems like the celebrities who grab the spotlight are more known for being infamous than for any actual skill or virtue, that a man who humbly graced the screen thirty years ago as one of literature's most beloved characters is remembered and mourned. Goodbye Gilbert Blythe, dear Jonathan Crombie. Thank you for your contribution to this world and what you impressed upon us. It's said that nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes. You may have escaped the latter this year, but not the former. May God rest your soul. Jonathan Crombie October 12, 1966- April 15, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My New Neighbor

Looking at a cow one morning last month,
I wondered if the congregation of flies
on the eye of the cow
stared at the eye of the cow
with their compound eyes
and if I had ever seen this many eyes
in this small a space or had a thought
in which the word eye occurred so obsessively.
I wanted to touch the cow
and the cow seemed to ask to be touched,
but when I moved toward the fence,
the cow waddled away and the flies waddled with it.
The cow had a metal tag in its ear,
orange with the black numeral 42.
This will help them make hamburger of the cow,
which is the calling of cows in these parts,
help sellers and buyers and loaders of cows
note the selling and buying and loading of this cow.
I confessed to 42 that I eat cheeseburgers.
I had never addressed my food
before it had reached the plate and technically
not even then. What would I say to chicken teriyaki
by way of lessening the blow or making it feel welcome?
42 has large brown eyes and lives in a field
beside a small Pentecostal church.
I guess this makes 42 a God-fearing cow
and all cows have large brown eyes if 73 and 12
are a fair sampling. They pretty much do
what 42 does seven days a week, which is eat
and which suggests they are atheists after all.
Because of this philosophical bent,
I have taken to asking 42 if agnosticism
is the most reasonable position, my thought being
that the mind cannot dispense with the notion
of a first cause. When 42 blinks at my question,
the flies lift off and come back to what must be
their home planet. It is comforting to talk
to large animals, whether they listen or not.
I said, it is comforting to talk to large animals,
whether they listen or not.

~Bob Hicok, "My New Neighbor" from This Clumsy Living 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hilbert's Hotel and the Beginning of the Universe

Analytical philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig explains logically why the universe had to begin to exist:
Ghazali argued that if the universe never began to exist, then there have been an infinite number of past events prior to today. But, he argued, an infinite number of things cannot exist. This claim needs to be carefully nuanced. Ghazali recognized that a potentially infinite number of things could exist, but he denied that an actually infinite number of things could exist. Let me explain the difference. 
When we say that something is potentially infinite, infinity serves merely as an ideal limit that is never reached. For example, you could divide any finite distance in half, and then into fourths, and then into eighths, and then into sixteenths, and so on to infinity. The number of divisions is potentially infinite, in the sense that you could go on dividing endlessly. But you’d never arrive at an “infinitieth” division. You’d never have an actually infinite number of parts or divisions. 
Now Ghazali had no problem with the existence of merely potential infinites, for these are just ideal limits. But when we come to an actual infinite, we’re dealing with a collection that is not growing toward infinity as a limit but is already complete: The number of members already in the collection is greater than any finite number. Ghazali argued that if an actually infinite number of things could exist, then various absurdities would result. If we’re to avoid these absurdities, then we must deny that an actually infinite number of things exist. That means that the number of past events cannot be actually infinite. Therefore, the universe cannot be beginningless; rather the universe began to exist. 
He continues with an interesting thought experiment from German mathematician David Hilbert: 
Hilbert first invites us to imagine an ordinary hotel with a finite number of rooms. Suppose, furthermore, that all the rooms are full. If a new guest shows up at the desk asking for a room, the manager says, “Sorry, all the rooms are full,” and that’s the end of the story. 
But now, says Hilbert, let’s imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, and let’s suppose once again that all the rooms are full. This fact must be clearly appreciated. There isn’t a single vacancy throughout the entire infinite hotel; every room already has somebody in it. Now suppose a new guest shows up at the front desk, asking for a room. “No problem,” says the manager. He moves the person who was staying in room #1 into room #2, the person who was staying in room #2 into room #3, the person who was staying in room #3 into room #4, and so on to infinity. As a result of these room changes, room #1 now becomes vacant, and the new guest gratefully checks in. But before he arrived, all the rooms were already full! 
It gets worse! Let’s now suppose, Hilbert says, that an infinity of new guests shows up at the front desk, asking for rooms. “No problem, no problem!” says the manager. He moves the person who was staying in room #1 into room #2, the person who was staying in room #2 into room #4, the person who was staying in room #3 into room #6, each time moving the person into the room number twice his own. Since any number multiplied by two is an even number, all the guests wind up in even-numbered rooms. As a result, all the odd-numbered rooms become vacant, and the infinity of new guests is easily accommodated. In fact, the manager could do this an infinite number of times and always accommodate infinitely more guests. And yet, before they arrived, all the rooms were already full! 
As a student once remarked to me, Hilbert’s Hotel, if it could exist, would have to have a sign posted outside: “No Vacancy (Guests Welcome).” 
But Hilbert’s Hotel is even stranger than the great German mathematician made it out to be. For just ask yourself the question: What would happen if some of the guests start to check out? Suppose all the guests in the odd-numbered rooms check out. In this case an infinite number of people has left the hotel— indeed, as many as remained behind. And yet, there are no fewer people in the hotel. The number is just infinite! Now suppose the manager doesn’t like having a half-empty hotel (it looks bad for business). No matter! By moving the guests as before, only this time in reverse order, he converts his half-empty hotel into one that is bursting at the seams! 
Now you might think that by these maneuvers the manager could always keep his strange hotel fully occupied. But you’d be wrong. For suppose the guests in rooms # 4, 5, 6, … check out. At a single stroke the hotel would be virtually emptied, the guest register reduced to just three names, and the infinite converted to finitude. And yet it would be true that the same number of guests checked out this time as when all the guests in the odd-numbered rooms checked out! Can such a hotel exist in reality? 
Hilbert’s Hotel is absurd. Since nothing hangs on the illustration’s involving a hotel, the argument can be generalized to show that the existence of an actually infinite number of things is absurd.
And a TedEd talk explaining the paradox:

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Personal Reflections on Isaiah 40 and Psalm 145:

One of the things that struck me as I meditated on the Scripture this week was God’s tenderness towards his people. In Isaiah 40, he uses the pronoun ‘my,' calling the people his own, and he says to speak comfort to them. This tenderness of the almighty God toward his finite creation surprises me and is even more shocking when one considers that they have sinned greatly against him. The other thing that really stood out to me was God’s power and might. The promises for Israel are delivered because God has decreed it. He is so great that he simply opens his mouth and speaks and things happen. Psalm 145:3 reminds us, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” I am challenged to remember God’s tenderness for me, his child, and his goodness and mercy to all people. I am also challenged to remember and reflect on how mighty God is. These truths help me to remember that I am cared for and loved by the God of the universe, and to be bolder in sharing the Gospel with friends since I know that He is mighty to save.

Isaiah’s admonition to go to a high mountain and to say, “Behold your God!” also encourages me to share my faith. We should never be ashamed of our God, who is mighty, and above all faithful, whose very word brings things to come to pass. I am encouraged to behold him-- to gaze upon his mercy, his riches, his might. And, I am encouraged to tell others to behold him. He is, as Isaiah says, without parallel. Who indeed has given him counsel or taught him understanding? There is nothing that we can bring to him. Similarly, Psalm 145 teaches that the saints shall make known God’s deeds and the splendor of his kingdom. I feel a sense of conviction when I reflect and realize that praise for God is often far from my lips and heart. I am sad to say that I often take God for granted, and that moreover, I am hesitant to speak of his riches to others. These passages call me to gaze upon the splendor of God and to boldly speak of his beauty and magnificence to those around me. As I write this, I realize that I need to study God’s attributes displayed in His word so that I may see them more clearly in my day-to-day.

Finally, these passages call me to think on the idols that men fashion, and the idols that I have fashioned in my own heart. I overlay them with gold and seek to find my comfort in these false things rather than reveling in the one true God. Isaiah seems to ask the questions with frustration: Do you not know?!? Have you not heard?!? We see God revealed in creation and his affirmation of his character-- his goodness and provision-- has been passed down through the generations. I do know and I have heard; God is on his throne. Hallelujah! I pray that I will wait on him and trust in him alone for my joy and my salvation. I pray that the false idols in my heart would be revealed and destroyed.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Personal reflections on Isaiah 40 and Psalm 145:

This week I meditated upon Isaiah 40 and Psalm 145. One of the aspects of God displayed in these passages is His goodness. Psalm 145 says that the Lord is gracious and merciful, and that he is good to all. In Isaiah 40, He is compared to a shepherd. It pictures Him gathering the lambs in his arms and carrying them in his bosom. This passage made me immediately think of Jesus as the good shepherd, and it also brought a feeling of tenderness to my breast as I reflected on how gentle and loving God is, not only to his people, but to everyone on the earth.

The verses also call to mind the passages that we reflected on last week. Isaiah says that the heavens are stretched out like a curtain, spread like a tent. God brings out the stars, calling each by name. These verses reminded me of Psalm 19. Everything in God’s creation points to His glory. Psalm 145 says that all of God’s works give thanks to Him, and all speak of the glory of His kingdom and of His power. Psalm 145:20 reminded me of the man who delights in the law of the Lord-- it is he who will be preserved, in contrast to the wicked man who will not stand in the day judgment and will be destroyed.

These verses proclaim how great God is. I am struck by the passion of the Psalmist who is praising God with his heart. He tells Him that he will praise his name forever and ever, and that every day he will bless God. Similarly, Isaiah reminds us that God sits in the heavens and that this earth and everything on it is of no account to him, so great is He. Nothing on earth compares to Him, and He alone is the source of our strength and our support.

As I look at my own life, I realize that I need to look on His creation and see Him in it. How amazing it is to think that not one star is missing from the sky solely because He holds it there. And yet, in my own day to day, I forget that God is in control, that he upholds everything and that he is might and powerful. I am inspired and challenged by the Psalmist to look upon the works of God and to praise Him daily for it. I realize that my heart needs to change, and that I need to be thankful to God for all that he does and has done for me.

These verses also challenge me to rest in His goodness. This image of his tenderness towards his people haunts me. I forget that he cares for me, that he carries me. What a beautiful picture is painted when Isaiah writes that those who wait on the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles. I am challenged to reflect on God’s goodness and to trust that he is the good and loving Lord who is the father of creation and is my salvation.