The God Particle

Last year ongoing experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, produced what may prove to be the elusive Higgs boson particle.  The subatomic particle got its name from Peter Higgs who was but one of six physicists who had proposed a mechanism in 1964 that might explain the particle’s existence.  According to the Standard Model, the Higgs particle is a basic part of the theoretical puzzle of particle physics, and these subatomic particles are the building blocks of all matter in the universe.

The search for the Higgs boson began around 1960.  The Higgs particle is caused by the collision of two protons, a mini explosion, and because its mass is very unstable a Higgs boson decays or disintegrates immediately making observation of the phenomena difficult.  The Higgs boson’s elusive nature is why physicist Leon M. Lederman, a Nobel Prize winner, wrote a book in 1993 entitled “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?”  The “God Particle” was actually a euphemism required by the publisher who refused to use Lederman’s more profane term expressing his frustration in the search for the Higgs particle.

It was the search for the Higgs boson that prompted the construction of the Large Hadron Collider to begin in 1998 and be completed in 2008.  It cost 9 billion dollars to build and was built underground at varying depths of 160 (16 stories) to 574 (over 57 stories) feet in a circular tunnel with a circumference of 17 miles.  It is literally the most expensive and largest scientific instrument ever built, and is a modern marvel of technological engineering.  It was built to look for a theoretical particle.

So the tentative discovery last year in 2012 of the Higgs particle is momentous, possibly culminating more than fifty years of research.  Continuing experiments probe the properties of this small snapshot of the universal picture to determine if the Higgs particle has been discovered.  Some are saying the instability of the Higgs boson’s makeup revealed by ongoing research indicate a coming catastrophe.

Theoretical physicist Joseph Lykken has suggested, “It may be the universe we live in is inherently unstable, and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out.”  Lykken is not the only theoretical physicist that believes the cosmos will eventually collapse.  There are others.

But the end of the universe is only a part of the universe’s macro narrative.  I am going to give you a glimpse of the big picture and ask if you can tell whether or not this is a biblical or scientific perspective of the universe.

A long time ago there was nothing, then there was a tremendous burst of energy that formed all the matter in the universe in a very short period of time.  Inorganic or non-living matter existed first and from which organic or living matter was formed.  The universe will eventually cease to exist in its present form.  This macro narrative of the universe is both a biblical and scientific view of the universe.

Science says they do not know what if anything existed before the Big Bang.  The Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago.  Scientists go on to say all the matter that exists today in the universe was created in the first three minutes after the Big Bang, though not necessarily in its different current forms.  Living matter came from non-living matter, and the universe had a beginning and like a big machine it will eventually wind down and come to an end.

The Bible teaches that in the beginning, an indeterminate time in the past, God said “let there be light.”  Light is one of the byproducts of expended energy.  At this time, He then created everything that exists from nothing.  Over a period of six days He formed the inorganic matter of the universe, and then created every living thing.  The universe as it exists now will come to a cataclysmic end.

It seems to me that biblical revelation regarding the flow of events in the universe is compatible with current scientific theory.  So when Lykken suggests “that many tens of billions of years from now there’ll be a catastrophe,” I do not see this as inconsistent with the apostle Peter’s prediction that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

Maybe the Higgs boson particle is “the God particle.”  Maybe God is using science to corroborate what the Scriptures teach.  And though the end of the universe may be distant, our end, death, is much nearer.  Are you ready?

To Sue or not to Sue

I read an article in the Christian Post by Benjamin Bull entitled “Why Should Christians Fight for Justice?  Bull is addressing the question, “Shouldn’t Christians, including Christian lawyers, try to avoid conflict, such as litigation in courts, and spend their time on prayer and Christian fellowship and evangelism?”  Bull replies with a question of his own, “what would have happened without Christian litigation in the courts over the last 20 years or so?  And if we’re ready to turn back the clock on litigation, which legal victories are we willing to surrender?

The article and these two questions as they are framed address an issue that should be of concern to thinking Christians.  Should a Christian ever engage in a lawsuit?  If there are times when a suit is permissible what, if any, biblical parameters should guide us as Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 6:1 we read, “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?”  Some suggest Paul is saying lawsuits are never the way to handle disputes, but the context that continues through verse 8 refers to disagreements among members in the church, that should be handled among themselves without outside interference.

When Paul was threatened by a Jewish mob and arrested by the Roman authorities, thinking Paul had incited a riot, the Roman commander prepared to examine Paul by scourging.  Paul exercised his legal rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29).  It was not the first time Paul had done this (Acts 16:36-39).

But this same apostle would enjoin us “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:17-18).  So I glean two truths from Paul’s example and his teaching; it is not wrong to pursue our legal rights when persecuted, but pursuing our legal rights may not always be the right thing to do if there is a peaceful means of resolving the conflict.

I believe religious institutions like churches, Bible colleges, seminaries, etcetera, have a right to have a moral clause in their employment contracts requiring biblical standards of morality of employees, and to enforce those standards.  I also believe such religious employers should be exempt from requirements to provide contraceptives or abortive services to their employees through their respective health care plans.  They have every right to pursue their legal remedies under the United States Constitution.

In recent years another issue has arisen.  Should Christian student organizations be given the same recognition as other student organizations, even though as Christians they have club rules that discriminate anyone serving in leadership with non-Christian beliefs or practices?  There have been cases where schools have refused to recognize such religious organizations like the Christian Legal Society, and in effect, denied them reasonable accommodations to meet on campus and nominal financial assistance afforded other student organizations.

This issue is a little thornier from the legal perspective.  Any private university that is funded solely by private donors and student tuition (even though some of those students are Christians) has a legal right to support the student organizations it chooses.  The legal standard is different for public universities, id est, those universities that receive some governmental funding.  Public universities supported by tax dollars should not be permitted to discriminate against any legitimate student organization.

So when the Christian Legal Society sued the University of California’s Hastings School of Law a few years ago for being denied status as a registered student organization entitled to reasonable accommodations and nominal financial support, I believe they had a legal right, but I was not convinced of the strength of their issue.  They could have easily met virtually anywhere else and the nominal financial support given to other registered student organizations was something like airfare for the leader of the group to travel to the national conference of the mother organization.  The CLS suit appeared to be a childish tantrum akin to throwing a sucker in the sand.

I realize what is a trifle to one is trouble to another, but while Christians have legal rights it is not always the right course to pursue them.  The CLS eventually lost the case.  I thought they should have never filed it.

A Bad Hair Day in Cleveland

A mullet is a fish, but when it comes to hair a “mullet” is a haircut that is short on the top and sides but long in the back.  It is not considered by most to be an especially attractive haircut, although it did not seem to hurt Bill Ray Cyrus’ singing career.

This past Friday, February 8, 2013, Samuel Mullet (unfortunate name) had a bad hair day in the United States Federal District Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio.  Federal Judge Dan Aaron Polster sentenced Mullet, age 67, for hate crimes in which Mullet stood accused of influencing nine men and six women of forcibly cutting the hair and shaving off the beards of a rival group.  Judge Polster said Mullet was the leader of a cult.  Mullet got 15 years in the federal pen.

Mullet was not the leader of a rogue cult of cosmetologists or a band of barbarous barbers roaming hill and dale up Ohio way.  He is an Amish bishop to a group of breakaway followers in the Bergholz, Ohio community.  Chaffing under the criticism of nearby Amish leaders who thought him too authoritarian, Mullet was accused of inciting haircutting and shaving attacks on a total of eight victims or four days in October 2011.  Amish women do not cut their hair because of what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 11:6 & 15, and Amish men do not shave their beards after they marry in keeping with Leviticus 19:27, et alibi.  This was Amish on Amish.

This is the surprising element in all of this; the Amish by belief and behavior are pacifists.  While these assaults are not on a level with a drive-by shooting, in an Amish community that prides itself on peaceful relations, these attacks are considered extreme.  What did his hirsute neighbors do that was so bad that Sam Mullet took the law into his own hands?  What made him compromise his biblical pledge “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18)?

Sam Mullet told the courtroom, “That’s been my goal all my life” to help others.  But Judge Polster disagreed and claimed “the victims were terrorized and traumatized” by the assaults.  During the investigation of the attacks Mullet commented, “It’s all religion…that’s why we can’t figure out why the sheriff has his nose in it.”  But Judge Polster told Mullet he and his defendants were being punished because they were the ones who denied the victims of their constitutional right to religious freedom.  Evidently, Sam could not see religious freedom is lost when we try to force our opinions on others.

Since Sam had not actually taken part in the attacks, or ordered them, I thought Judge Polster was excessive in sentencing him to 15 years.  But Sam had said, “You have your laws on the road and the town — if somebody doesn’t obey them, you punish them. But I’m not allowed to punish the church people?”  No Sam, you’re not allowed.  They were not a part of your splinter group, or you church.  You are not allowed to punish others who disagree with you.  You are not allowed to take the law into your own hands, and to force others to do as you think they should.  His arrogance in the face of his guilt did not favor him when Judge Polster exercised his judicial discretion.

History has taught us repeatedly that religious views cannot be spread or sustained by force.  Wars have been waged throughout human history over religious beliefs and the only thing that has been accomplished is the needless loss of life.  It is impossible to force one’s faith on another.  What was Sam thinking?

In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew Jesus accuses some Pharisees and scribes as being hypocrites because they had made a rule that allowed them to continue using a piece of property rather than honor and care for their aged parents as required (Exodus 20:12).  He supports His statement with a quote from the prophet Isaiah, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.  But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:8-9, Isaiah 29:13).

Serving God goes much deeper than manmade rules.  Sam Mullet was making his own rules and when others criticized him for it, he took matters into his own hands.  In sermon after sermon he called his rivals “Amish hypocrites.”  Well Sam, when you violated your neighbors’ religious freedom and ignored the scriptural mandate to “be at peace with all men,” what were you?

Then and Now

I typically do not address divisive doctrines here because they typically generate more heat than light.  But while going through the book of Acts at seminary I felt compelled to comment.

“Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (Acts 1:4-5, emphasis is mine).’”

I have read a lot of discussion about Luke’s purpose for writing Acts, but here in his own God-inspired words, Luke sets the theological tone for what is to follow.  These words that appear at the outset of his record are not there by chance.  I maintain Acts is primarily descriptive, any prescriptive merit lies in the example of the founding fathers of our faith.

The Father fulfills His promise on the day of Pentecost and Peter preaches a sermon that brings three thousand souls to Christ.  The Church is born!  But do you remember the words Peter closed his message with.  Convicted of their sin, the gathering cried out to Peter and the other apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?”  Peter replies, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself (Acts 2:38-39, emphasis is mine).”

In the first chapter they are told to wait for the promise of empowerment (Acts 1:4-5, 8).  In the second chapter God fulfills His promise to empower the Church at its birth.  What follows in the book of Acts is not what the apostles did, it is what God the Holy Spirit did through the apostles (Acts 19:11).  Peter says this promise of Holy Spirit empowerment is “for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.

All who are saved have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  At the point of repentance of sin, and trust in Christ, the living Spirit of God regenerates the lifeless inner man and quickens him and He takes up abode in him.  So this same Spirit who indwells us is the same Holy Spirit whose power is unleashed as we humble ourselves by waiting on Him, by seeking Him.

So forget tongues, and prophecy, and the word of knowledge, etcetera, because these are just byproducts of seeking the Holy Spirit.  The only reason these gifts divide us today is because of our professed scholarship and debates.  The truth is the gifts of the Spirit were never more pervasive, and the Church never more united than in the book of Acts.  They do not divide us, we divide ourselves.  Maybe we should quit debating and start praying.

America is a bastion of biblical scholarship.  I am not aware of another country where biblical scholarship is more pervasively promulgated, yet our country is incrementally going to hell in a hand basket.  I believe in pursuing biblical scholarship, I would not be enrolled in seminary if I didn’t.  I think apologetics are useful to remove intellectual roadblocks to the Gospel, but people are not saved because the Gospel is reasonable.  They are saved when they recognize their sin, and repent, and cry out to Christ.  If we ever think that biblical scholarship is a substitute for a genuine move of the Spirit of God to convict the hearts of men, you might as well bar the church doors and spray paint Ichabod across the front.

I don’t think anyone would say the Gospel of Jesus Christ was only for the early church in the first century, but it seems to me we do that with the Holy Spirit.  We take the third Person of the Trinity and wrap Him up in a first century box.  Are we really that deluded and spiritually detached?  I think there has never been a time in the history of mankind when the need for the fullness of God’s Spirit has been greater.

On October 15, 1975, the Spirit of God was heavy upon me as I waited on God.  I believed God was calling me to preach and I was afraid and rebelling.  I told God, “I do not have the words or ability to sway men’s hearts for Christ.”  I cannot explain what happened next.  I told a friend later it was like getting saved again.  But I got up from my knees a changed man.  When I gave God my heart, He gave me His help.  We need His Promise now, as they did then.