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PURSUING PERFECTION

Part I

By A. Prentice

 

ARGUMENTS AGAINST the ‘idea’ of God have raged for millennia, but at this particular confluence of history, in which education and scepticism combine with widespread irreverence for established tradition, such contentions have taken on a stronger force.

 

We are in the day of the Lord’s epiphaneia (‘bright shining’), in which ‛persons, principles, and things’ are exposed on daily basis, usually in an unfavourable light.[fn1] It should not, therefore, surprise us that many of those things which we as Christians have taken for granted as true are now fair game for sceptical inquiry. The two-edged sword cuts both ways.

 

Throughout history many have attributed calamities of Nature to manifestations of Divine punishment or to the hiccups of a non-directed gigantic machine. And in the wider sense, no one can escape those raw elements of existence which prevail in every place and at all times – ageing, death, disease, physical or mental handicaps, and a bewildering array of maladies at the organic and genetic level. One might be forgiven for having doubts that there is a living, loving Creator.

 

The ‘new’ aggressive atheism asserts without a hint of doubt that not only does an intelligent Creator not exist, but that from a scientific point of view He cannot exist. This assertion coincides with the general attack in Britain against other Christian beliefs, such as the relevancy of Scripture, the importance of the family structure and its cohesion, and the pernicious effects of promiscuous and aberrant sexual behaviour.

 

We cannot help but bump up against these controversies, and one can hardly be neutral about such a state of affairs. General Booth once remarked that the devil ought not to have all the best tunes; similarly, the Christian ought not to allow the atheists to have all the best arguments. The teaching of human evolution is not new, but it has been honed and is accepted by most scientists in most fields in this country and abroad. It pervades all levels of scientific and philosophical research, even economic theory. Whether valid at all these levels or not, the first port of call is not the Divine, but the Material. Even the underlying belief of space exploration is evolutionary: that if Evolution got life under way on earth, it might exist in an intelligent form elsewhere in the universe. Animal and human behaviour is evaluated in the context of evolutionary motivation. Even the science of climate change is rooted in the assumption that Man – and only Man – is in charge of the planet’s affairs and its long-term future.

 

All of this might be stating the obvious, but many Christians seem to have been caught by surprise at the force and depth of the current onslaught. Many who claim to be Christian will eventually abandon the battlefield because, regardless of their proficiency in scientific matters, they lack a working knowledge of Biblical teachings. Others will adapt their beliefs to accommodate the general evolutionary view of the human race. Such a diluted Christian faith has no future and will attract no sympathy from staunch atheists.

 

With Guns A-Blazing

Atheism has a long history. Frequently stimulated by a genuine disaffection with creedal Christianity and what it has regarded as superstition masquerading as revelation, the atheist mind has railed against religion in general, and against Christianity in particular. Now buoyed up with evidence from decades of research and analysis in psychology, anthropology, the mechanical sciences, and genetic studies, atheism has found its modern voice in spokesmen such as Profs. Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins, among others.

Dawkins is dismissive of claims that the natural order, and human beings in particular, are the product of a supernatural engineering design. And he has no doubts on Evolution:

 

Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eye witnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips – continue the list as long as desired.[fn2]

 

While it may seem extraordinary to the believer that non-believers cannot recognise the creative intelligence underlying the natural order, to the unbeliever it is equally far-fetched that believers can hold as true notions which seem to have no scientific proof.

Atheists adopt several angles of attack. One is based on the on apparent physical imperfections of Man and is the topic under review in this series of articles.

 

Perfection Under the Microscope

Is absolute or physical perfection a possibility? In the Bible, the meaning of perfection often depends on the context. Several Hebrew and Greek words are rendered in English as ‛perfect’, each with a different shade of meaning. The following examples – three from the Old Testament, and three from the New – illustrate this; the first occurrence of each text is from the King James Version and is followed with the same verse from the New International Version-UK, for ease of comparison. It is not an exhaustive listing. The corresponding Hebrew and Greek word is displayed in brackets; in the comparative text the alternative rendering is shown in bold type.

 

Old Testament

Genesis 6: 9

KJV: ‛These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect [tamiym] in his generations . . . .’

NIV-UK: ‛This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, . . .’

 

Deuteronomy 25: 15

KJV: ‛But thou shalt have a perfect [shalem] and just weight, a perfect [shalem] and just measure shalt thou have: . . .’

NIV-UK: ‛You must have accurate and honest weights and measures . . . .’

 

Psalm 138: 8

KJV: ‛The LORD will perfect [gamar] that which concerneth me: . . .’

NIV-UK: ‛The LORD will fulfil his purpose for me; . . .’

 

New Testament

Luke 6: 40

KJV: ‛[E]very one that is perfect [katartizo] shall be as his master.’

NIV-UK: ‛[E]veryone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.’

 

John 17: 23

KJV: ‛[T]hat they may be made perfect [teleioo] in one; . . .’

NIV-UK: ‛May they be brought to complete unity . . . .’

 

2 Timothy 3: 17

KJV: ‛That the man of God may be perfect [artios], throughly furnished unto all good works.’

NIV-UK: ‛[T]hat the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’

 

In other settings ‛perfect’ is translated as ‛well acquainted’, or ‛fully’. The thought conveyed is, in most cases, that of having arrived at the condition in view – satisfactory or suitable for the purpose at hand. We use the word similarly in everyday English: ‘she is the perfect wife for me’; ‘he is a perfect stranger to me.’

 

To be continued

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[fn1] Prof. Paul S.L. Johnson, The Epiphany’s Elect (Philadelphia; 1938), 9: [T]he act of manifesting persons, principles, and things, previously obscure or hidden, by the Truth shining with special brightness; . . .’ Used also with reference to a specific period of time.

 

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[fn2] Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (New York: Simon & Schuster, Free Press, 2009), 8.

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