Symbolism in Architecture: A Design Tool in the Formation of Meaning

Introduction

The concern of meaning in architecture has been an age-old endeavor, and throughout the ages symbolism has been used as one design tool to communicate ideas and meaning. This is apparent even in current postmodern architecture which promotes the use of symbolism through the design’s forms or ornaments to display the architect’s intended message. But long before this, the Bible had already commended the use of symbolism in works of architecture. For instance, the form and ornaments of the Tabernacle became the means of communicating God’s covenantal desire to dwell among His people (Ex. 29:45-46). Although symbolic means are generally used across history, there is a profound contrast between the biblical usage of symbolism and that of the postmodern era. This essay will argue that the method of symbolism in architecture has its foundation in biblical principles, yet its appropriate use is governed fundamentally by the architect’s presuppositional worldview, whether it be opposing God or glorifying God. By contrasting the symbolism in the Vanna Venturi House and the Tabernacle, one will see how the former leads to ambiguity and fragmentation of meaning due to its application of the postmodern worldview and oppositely, how the latter leads to the coherent truth of God as the foreshadow of Christ.

Symbolism in Postmodernism

The secular viewpoint that gave rise to the symbolic approach in postmodern architecture in the 20th century was the result of dissatisfaction towards the Modern Movement. Because of its rejection towards classical orders, modern architecture in its abstract and functionalist character was deemed lacking in symbolic meaning due to its limited denotation. By contrast, postmodern architecture highlights the richness of meaning and forms, ambiguity, differentiation and dissonance, and neo-eclecticism (not to be confused with neo-classical eclecticism). This inflection point of time in architecture coincided with the rise of theory in semantics by Charles W. Morris, which sought to establish the relationship between sign and its meaning. Symbols, being an arbitrary or culturally established sign, can be connected to form a sign system that may be called as language. Therefore, architecture may be perceived as a language consisting of a sign system that aims to communicate meaning within a social group or culture. Although this view of architecture as a language is itself commended in the Bible, the meaning being implanted by postmodern works tend to communicate the postmodernist spirit of disorder and fragmentation of meaning, partly influenced by the Deconstructivist theory of language.

One project that displayed this idea is the house of Vanna Venturi by Robert Venturi in 1964, which is often referred to as the first work of postmodern architecture. Venturi’s concept of complexity and contradiction is conveyed by altering symbolic forms that conventionally contained historical references. For instance, classical elements on the facade, such as the triangular pediment is altered with a break in the centre, while the lintel and arch are placed with no functional justification rather than for purely decorative purposes (See image). Contradictions to the pre-conceived modernistic notion of function are also seen in the stairs that lead to nowhere, redundant pilotis and many more structures like it. It is clear that Venturi’s deconstruction of historical symbols promotes the rejection towards historic original meaning and shows a desire to put a new subjective interpretation of meaning towards the old symbol system.

From this example, we see values opposing biblical principles, such as symbolic references being used in conflict with one another. Instead of leading to a coherent message, each part becomes a collection of fragmented elements that tells its own importance. See also, the disregard for accurate historical meaning behind each element, seen in the pediment and the arch. This signifies that Venturi’s usage of symbolism is merely a shallow representation that dwells only on the visual, without establishing a deep connection between history and the architecture of the house.

Symbolism in the Tabernacle

In contrast to the deconstruction of historically-established meaning in postmodernism, the symbolism in Tabernacle seeks to reveal the coherent truth of God that is consistent across the history of the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT) and becomes part of God’s progressive revelation to His people. In the OT context, the Tabernacle communicates God’s covenantal desire to dwell with His people and simultaneously being the foreshadowment of Christ, which was further revealed in the NT. Exodus 25-27 speaks about the tabernacle as a dwelling place for the ark of covenant that contains the 10 commandments. In Exodus 25:22 (ESV), God specifically mentioned that it is with the ark, “there I will meet with you”. The structure signifies the contact point God made with men. In other words, the tabernacle is the symbol of the presence of God. This symbolism carried on throughout the course of Israel’s history in the form of the Synagogue, the temple of God. As such, Jews were greatly devastated when their synagogues (particularly Jerusalem’s as it was located in their capital city) were destroyed when they were in captivity. This was because the destruction of the temple signified that God had left their presence.

During Israel’s exodus, the tabernacle was a place where the rites of atonement with God were held; this included blood sacrifices from calves, goats, and other livestock to have the sin of Israel be atoned. The high priest represented the whole nation to offer sacrifices of atonement to the Lord, and the priest himself also had to provide sacrifices to atone for his own sin. Therefore, the tabernacle also acted as a place of reconciliation and atonement of sin that concerns the salvation of the Israelites.

Ultimately, all of the symbolism contained in the Tabernacle seeks to reveal the person of Christ, where it was later explained by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb 8:5). In Hebrew 9:1-10:18, the author compared the tabernacle with Christ, that the purpose of the rituals and the tabernacle itself, was to point towards Christ. Christ being the only Person in the Trinity that has the dual nature of man and God became flesh and dwelled on earth (John 1:14). Through this example, we can see that the source of the coherency and perfection of the use of symbolism of architecture is only the ectype or derivative of God’s coherent being that does not self-contradict Himself, who is the archetype.

The Problem of Interpretation

However, it is not only the design that has to have biblical purpose and method, but even the method of interpretation has to be biblical as well. The translation of meaning from the architect to the users does not depend solely on the architect’s worldview and his/her portrayal of it, but also on the worldview of the viewers who observe and interpret the work. Similar to the problem in interpreting any symbolic work of art, it lies in the separation between image and essence. This is the danger of the Deconstructivist language theory that seeks to establish personal meaning to the reading of signs, where meaning is placed according to each individual’s own interpretation. Although the connection may be historical and philosophical (like in the fragmentation of Vanna Venturi House) or theological (like in the Tabernacle), the key is to maintain the relationship between the architectural element as a sign and the worldview as the meaning. In this sense, the common grace of unity and coherence is fundamentally required in appreciating any work of architecture that exalts Christ, in whom all things will be united with in the end of the age (Eph. 1:10).

Conclusion

To conclude, symbolism in architecture is a powerful tool to convey meaning. But the secular worldview seeks to diminish its power as exemplified in works of postmodern architecture. The biblical worldview is able to redeem this concept, using it to convey the truth about the Triune God, as seen in the Tabernacle. However, we must beware, lest we fall into the danger of detaching image and essence during interpretation; the idea of coherence and unity are integral in order to form meaning out of symbols, and this is a common grace given by God. It is truly our hope that the grace given by the Lord through symbolism in architecture can be ascribed back to the glory of God alone. (FC & JC)

Bibliography

Davies, C. (2011). Thinking about architecture: an introduction to architectural theory: Laurence King.

Mallgrave, H. F., & Goodman, D. J. (2011). An introduction to architectural theory: 1968 to the present: John Wiley & Sons.

Rimkute, K. (2013). Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) and the Vanna Venturi House (1964): concept of history reassessed. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.

The Perfect Father

If you study Psychology or like reading Psychology articles, you would have learned by now that the person you have become is not solely the result of your genes (nature), or because of the environment you grew up in (nurture), but an interaction between the two. In this article, we will be looking more deeply into the growth environment and one element that is part of that environment – parents. According to Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory (Bronfebrenner, 1992), a child grows up in a context of multiple environments, also known as ecological systems. The smallest ecological system is referred as the microsystem, which is the most immediate environment in which the child lives, comprising of people such as parents, peers, and teachers. Typically, children spend most of their childhood and teenage years living with their parents. Thus, the interaction between children and their parents has a huge impact on who they are as a person. This article will begin by briefly describing Baumrind’s (1967) and Maccoby and Martin’s (1983) four parenting styles, which are the most well-known and influential typological approaches in parenting, and then compare specifically the authoritative parenting style with the likes of our perfect Father in heaven.  

4 Types of Parenting Styles 

According to Baumrind (1971, 1978, 1989) and Maccoby and Martin (1983), there are 4 types of parenting styles. Parenting styles are categorized based on two dimensions of parenting behaviors – demandingness and responsiveness (Baumrind, 1991). Demandingness refers to the extent parents guide their children’s behavior, expect high standards or demand their maturity. Responsiveness, on the other hand, refers to the degree parents are sensitive to their children’s emotional and developmental needs. Below is a chart to show where each of the parenting style falls in the different dimensions.

Authoritative

We will start with the authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parents score high on measures of control and maturity demands, at the same time scoring high on measures of warmth and responsiveness; providing attention, feedback, and adequate support (Baumrind, 1978; Maccoby and Martin, 1983). These parents are known for explaining the reasons behind their rules. They enforce rules and consequences, while at the same time taking their children’s feelings into consideration; thus validating their children’s feelings while also making it clear that the adults are ultimately in charge (Baumrind, 1991).  

Authoritarian

These parents score high on measures of control and maturity demands but low on measures of responsiveness, warmth, and bidirectional communication (Maccoby and Martin, 1983). They are “obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation” (Baumrind, 1967). Authoritarian parents are known for saying, “Because I said so,” when a child questions the rationale behind these rules. Thus, mistakes are punished, yet their children are often left wondering exactly what they did wrong.   

Permissive

Parents score excessively low on measures of control, maturity demands, and tolerance of misbehavior, but moderately high on measures of responsiveness (Baumrind, 1978; Maccoby and Martin, 1983). They are more like friends than parents and offer limited guidance or direction, mostly allowing their children to do what they want. Permissive parents are very forgiving and adopt an attitude of “kids will be kids”, so they set rules but rarely enforce them. 

Indulgent

These parents score low on both measures of control and maturity demands and responsiveness and warmth (Maccoby and Martin, 1983). They expect children to raise themselves and do not devote much time or energy into meeting their children’s basic needs. Thus, children may not receive much guidance, nurturing, and parental attention. However, this neglect might not always be intentional. For instance, a parent with mental health issues or substance abuse problems may not be able to attend to the child’s physical or emotional needs on a consistent basis.  

 

A host of studies have shown a positive association between authoritative parenting and beneficial outcomes such as better academic performance, better school engagement, less risk of substance abuse, etc. (Baumrind, 1967; Dornbusch et al., 1987; Baumrind, 1991; Steinberg et al., 1992). However, we should keep in mind that the environment consists of other factors that also play an important role in shaping a child, such as culture, children’s perceptions of parental treatment, and social influences such as peers or teachers. The level of demandingness and responsiveness may also differ across different stages of a child’s development. For instance, more control is required at a child’s early years, when his frontal lobe and decision making skills are still developing, as well as more guidance and discipline. However, as a child grows older, parents could afford less control and more autonomy could be granted to the child. 

Having said that, to this date, many studies have consistently shown the advantages of authoritative parenting and no study has conclusively disproved its benefits. Therefore, authoritative parenting is still the parenting style of choice recommended by experts.  

Our Perfect Father in Heaven 

When I learned about the different parenting styles, the authoritative parenting style really resonated with how God, who is also our perfect Father in Heaven, treats us, and this resonance makes it clearer and more certain as to why the authoritative parenting style is the healthiest and most recommended approach.

He is responsive to our physical, spiritual, and emotional needs

God is not an uninvolved and disinterested Father, who leaves us to raise ourselves on our own devices. Our interaction with God does not stop at Genesis 1:31, where God saw all that He had made, and thought it was very good. When Adam and Eve first fell into sin, followed by the murder of Abel, and how the human race continued to sin against God, God did not just let the universe run its own course. The whole Bible is a factual account of how God intervened by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to liberate the human race from the deathly clutch of sin and eternal death. This salvation is personal as much as it is universal. In addition, our Father in heaven is responsive towards us and cares for us, both physically (Matthew 6:26) and emotionally (1 Peter 5:7). He listens and answers our prayers (John 14:13; Jeremiah 33:3) and bears our grief and sorrows (Psalm 34:18; 56:8). And better yet, He knows what is best for us and always has our best interest at heart (Romans 8:28, 31). Just like God, authoritative parents are warm and responsive, providing their children with the affection and support they need.

He disciplines us, like a good father would his children

This verse describes as much:  “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV). Also, God highly demands for us to live a Christ-like life. “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16 ESV). Indeed, our God is a forgiving, loving, and understanding God (Psalm 86:5, Micah 7:18-19; Daniel 9:9), but these attributes were so often emphasized that we tend to use them as an excuse to sin against Him. How many times in the Bible have we seen the visitation of divine wrath on people who sinned against God? In fact, some theologians such as D. A. Carson and John MacArthur claimed that Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven to warn men of its reality. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10 ESV). God has been extremely gracious to us in sending His Son to die on the cross, and His grace demands a life which reflects that faith (James 2:17) and a life of submission to Him (Romans 12:1).

He is not a dictator but a God who takes into account His children’s feelings and requests, and accommodates to us

Unlike authoritarian parents who think that children should only be seen but not heard, communication with God is not one-way – from God to us only – but two-way. An example of divine accommodation can be found in Gen. 18, when Abraham appealed to God’s justice. God told Abraham that He will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah in its entirety and clearly, from Abraham’s conversation with God, we could see how disturbed he was by this; concerned that the innocent would perish along with the guilty.  

Gen. 18:23-25 (ESV):

Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  

God would never kill innocent people along with the guilty, but He was willing to bend over backwards for Abraham. He said He would spare the whole city if Abraham could find forty five righteous people, thirty, and then ten. The text implied that God would have spared the city for one person if Abraham could find one. But Sodom and Gomorrah ended up being destroyed, indicating that there was not one innocent person to begin with, that God did right, and His justice is perfect justice (Sproul, 2006). Abraham was not able to comprehend this initially with his limited mind, but God was willing to accommodate to his limitations. In addition, in verse 29, we see how the Lord remembered, meaning considered, Abraham’s request and rescued Lot out of respect to Abraham. 

Another example could be found in Exodus 32. God told Moses that His wrath will burn against the Israelites who worshiped and sacrificed to the golden calf that they have made for themselves. However, when Moses argued and pleaded God to spare the Israelites, God relented from the disaster that He had spoken of bringing on His people. In verse 10, God said, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” Though it seemed to forbid Moses’ interceding, it actually really encouraged it; when God resolves to abandon a people and the decree of ruin has been set, no intercession can prevent it, but God spares and reprieves upon the intercession of others for them. This shows the power the prayer of faith has with God – of how He listens to our prayers and takes into account our feelings despite ultimately being in charge.  

He provides rationales behind His rules. The bible is not a string of pearls, but a chain of linked thoughts

For example, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on….” (Matthew 6:25 ESV). Jesus gave us a command not to be anxious. If we were to ask God “why?” Or “how could I not be anxious, oh Lord?” He did not reply us with a crude “because I said so.” Jesus provided us with several reasons why we shouldn’t be anxious. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (v. 25b). Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (v. 26). And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (v. 27). And so on. 

Another example would be “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:14 ESV)This verse is followed by “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world”. We are to cease from grumbling because of our contentedness and confidence in God has the intended result of us shining like lights in a dark world.   

Just like God, authoritative parents are known for explaining the rationale behind their rules. God wants us to obey Him joyfully, with the assurance that He is for us, not against us (Romans 8:31) and that all His decrees are for our ultimate benefit (Deut. 10:12-13). A child can freely and sincerely submit to his parents’ rules only if he believes that his parents have his/her best interest at heart.  

I would like to end this article by quoting John Piper, “[Children] ought to see in their human father a reflection—albeit imperfect—of the heavenly Father in his strength and tenderness, in his wrath and mercy, in his exaltation and condescension, in his surpassing wisdom and patient guidance. The task of every human father is to be for his children an image of the Father in heaven” (Piper, 2007). Some fathers show their kids what it’s like to have God as their father; others don’t. Psychology has shown us that the authoritative parenting style is the way to go, but let us look up to God as the perfect role model, and regardless of whether recalling our parents stimulates anxiety and sadness or gratitude and honor, let us give thanks and celebrate even more that we are in God’s family and children of a perfect Father. (DA)

 

References

Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental Psychology, 4(1, Pt. 2). 1-103.

Baumrind, D. (1978). Parental disciplinary patterns and social competence in children. Youth & Society, 9(3), 239-267.

Baumrind, D. (1989). Child Development Today and Tomorrow (1st ed., pp. 349-378). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Baumrind, D. (1991). The Encyclopedia of Adolescence (pp. 746-758). New York: Garland Publishing.

Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992). Six Theories of Child Development: Revised Formulations and Current Issues. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 187-249.

Dornbusch, S., Ritter, P., Leiderman, P., Roberts, D., & Fraleigh, M. (1987). The relation of parenting style to adolescent school performance. Child Development, 58(5), 1244.

Maccoby, E., & Martin, J. (1983). Handbook of Child Psychology, Socialization, Personality and Social Development. New York: Wiley.

Piper, J. (1986). Fathers Who Give Hope [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/fathers-who-give-hope

Sproul, R. (2006). The Holiness of God (2nd ed., pp. 99-129). Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers.

Steinberg, L., Lamborn, S., Dornbusch, S., & Darling, N. (1992). Impact of parenting practices on adolescent achievement: Authoritative parenting, school involvement, and encouragement to succeed. Child Development, 63(5), 1266.

 

Contemporary Feminism Vs. Biblical Womanhood

Feminism was originally a positive movement that sought to give women the basic rights God intended every human being to have; however, the movement now generally focuses on eradicating the distinctions between men and women. The term feminism means “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” The history of feminism is divided into three waves. The first feminist wave was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the second was in the 1960s and 1970s, and the third extends from the 1990s to the present. The first wave started when women fought for female education rights, women’s suffrage, better working conditions, and abolition of gender double standards. The second wave then focused on other cultural issues such as ending discrimination. The third wave feminism, which is contemporary feminism, arose as a response to the second wave, which was perceived as a failure due to its essentialist definitions of femininity.  

The equality that modern feminists now fight for argue that there should not be any difference between men and women, and that any perceived differences are only because of social conditioning. Radical feminists actively seek to overthrow any sign of male dominance. They support abortion with the saying “My body, my choice” and also support the LGBT community, where the roles of men and women are blurred and unidentifiable. They even fight for language equality, for example, “chairman” should not be used but instead “chairperson,” whether the person in the position is male or female. Symbols can also cause controversies for feminists, such as the female and male symbols used for toilets, or even the little man on traffic lights used to signify pedestrians to walk or stop. Nowadays you can also find gender neutral toilets, which is promoted so that anyone of any sexual or gender orientation may use it, further promoting their misconstrued concept of “equality”.

In the beginning when God created Adam and Eve, man and woman, it has been clear that He intended for them to have different roles. In Genesis 2:20-23, it is shown that because Adam, the man, had no helper fit for him, God created Eve, the woman. For it was from Adam that Eve was created, God had designed from the very beginning that men and women are created to complement each other, meaning they are intrinsically different, but that does not mean they are unequal where one is superior and the other less. The problem with feminism nowadays, is that it fails to see the beauty of the difference between male and female; they see this “difference” as inequality and injustice. The modern society is so focused on being “different” (referring to uniqueness and originality in order to stand out), and yet they fail to see how the difference between men and women, as designed by our Creator, is not life deprecating, but in fact beautiful and fulfilling. It is not simply about who makes or nurses the baby, who works to provide, or who makes the sandwich; the differences between these two sexes are rooted in their own unique humanity which God has created as part of His grand plan. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Christians are called to delight in the way God has created us, and it is a grand thing that He created men and women, both in His image. As John Piper said, “When it comes to human sexuality, the greatest display of God’s glory, the greatest joy of human relationships, and the greatest fruitfulness in ministry come about when the deep differences between men and women are embraced and celebrated as complements to each other.”

A complementing, Godly relationship requires the man to have biblical headship and the woman to have biblical submission, and the qualities that allow men to lead and women to submit are given and designed by God. In John Piper’s sermon “God Created Male and Female: What Does It Mean to Be Complementarian?”, he gave the audience a depiction to portray the differences of manhood and womanhood. It goes as such:

Among the young adults at the Downtown Campus a young man and woman — say twenty years old — find themselves chatting before the worship service. He likes what he hears and sees, and says, “Are you sitting with anyone?” They sit together. They notice how each engages with God in worship.

When the service is over, as they are leaving, he says, “Do you have any lunch plans? I’d love to treat you to lunch.” At that point she can signal she is not interested, “I do have some plans. But thanks.” Or she can signal the opposite: “I do, but let me make a call. I think I can change them. I’d love to go.”

Neither has a car, so he suggests they walk to Maria’s Café down on Franklin Avenue, about 10 minutes from the church. As they walk he finds out that she has a black belt in martial arts, and that she is one of the best in the state. At 19th Street two men block their way ominously and say, “Pretty girlfriend you’ve got there. We’d like her purse and your wallet. In fact, she’s so pretty we’d like her.” The thought goes through his head: “She can whip these guys.” But instead of stepping behind her, he takes her arm, pulls her back behind him, and says, “If you’re going to touch her, it will be over my dead body.”

When they make their move, he tackles them both and tells her to run. They knock him unconscious, but before they know what hit them, she has put them both on their backs with their teeth knocked out. And a little crowd has gathered. The police and ambulance come and she gets in the ambulance with the young man. And she has one main thought on the way to the hospital: this is the kind of man I want to marry.”

John Piper’s purpose of this story is to illustrate that the differences between manhood and womanhood are not about superior or inferior competencies. There are three main points in Piper’s sermon. First, the young man took the initiative and asked the young woman if he could sit with her and if she would go to lunch and also suggested the place and how to get there. She could see clearly what he was doing, and responded freely according to her desires. This says nothing about who has superior competencies in planning. God writes the impulse to lead on a man’s heart, and the wisdom to discern it and enjoy it on a woman’s.

Second, he offered to treat her to lunch and this sends a signal that the young man believes that it is part of his responsibility and he desires to initiate and provide. She understands, approves and supports the initiative he has taken and graciously accepts the offer to be provided for. This has nothing to do with who is wealthier or more capable of earning; It is what God’s man feels he must do.

Third, it is irrelevant to the masculine soul that a woman he is with has greater self-defending competencies. It is his deep, God-given, masculine impulse to protect her. It is not a matter of superior competency. It is a matter of manhood. She recognized it and did not feel belittled by it, but honored, and she loved it. At the heart of mature manhood is the God-given disposition that the primary responsibility (not sole responsibility) lies with him when it comes to leadership-initiative, provision, and protection. And at the heart of mature womanhood is the God-given disposition that none of this implies her inferiority, but that it will be a beautiful thing to come alongside such a man and gladly affirm and receive this kind of leadership and provision and protection. Despite that man’s heart may be distorted by sin and may often times not comply with these God-given inclinations, these are still deep dispositions written on the heart by God that calls men to lead and women to submit.

Piper’s story is supported by Ephesians 5:22-23 regarding the topic of marriage and home. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

As written, marriage is a symbol of Christ’s relationship with the church, in which He is the head and the church is the body. Husbands are called to be like Christ and wives are called to take her cues from God’s will for the church. So the men’s role is to be the leader that takes initiatives and leads the family with love, just as Christ loves His church and was willing to lay His life on the cross for His church. So this is clearly not about who has the rights and the power, but about responsibility and sacrifice. That is why abuse, bossiness, authoritarianism, arrogance, and pride is not what God designed men for, which is contrary to the commonly misunderstood definition of the “leader” position men are called for in the Scriptures. This leadership in the home involves the sense of primary responsibility for nourishing provision and tender protection, because that is what Christ does for his bride. Thus, biblical headship for the husband is the divine calling to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant-leadership, protection and provision in the home; And biblical submission for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and be his helper that carries it through according to her gifts.

Nowadays women that desire to be stay-at-home moms or any occupation related to “femininity” are often times mocked by modern radical feminists with the reasons related to being weak, dependent on men, embarrassing and regressive. However, using an analogy, a spoon is different than a fork, and people can acknowledge this difference without arguing which is better than the other; and what would be the point of comparing? Trying to scoop soup or porridge with a fork would be impossible, and it would also be difficult to twirl pasta and pick up a piece of steak with a spoon. A spoon has to be evaluated according to the standards of what makes a good spoon, and forks have to be judged on their own terms as well. Christians are supposed to acknowledge that God created men and women to be different; Therefore, women have to be held up to the standards of what makes an excellent woman, not a man, and vice versa for men. A high-achieving, admirable woman looks different than a high-achieving, admirable man, and she is going to accomplish different things. This is at the core of the differing perspectives between Christians and feminists. Feminists want the standards, categories, and judging to look exactly the same for both men and women. However, if people really think about it, the standards they want to apply to everyone are the ones that have always been applied to the men. Feminists are now insisting that masculine standards for achievement should be imposed on women. This sounds far from liberating women and they have actually removed women’s potential for true excellence. Women who achieves success in the masculine world gets all the cheers, while women that want to raise a family are ridiculed and belittled, is this not horribly patronizing?

Christians, particularly Christian women, need to fight harder to recapture the idea of feminine excellence. Often times it is misunderstood that the stereotype of a “helpless, soft, little woman” persona is what it means to be feminine. However, that is simply not true and not what God calls women to be like. Christian women need to delve into Scripture and learn to embody virtue, obedience, ambition, wisdom, courage, faithfulness, and strength like the women God designed and desires females to be. (DC)

Taxes: A Way to Solve Inequality?

On the news today or any information platform, it is easy to notice that when it comes to politics a majority of those stories reflect on current political ideologies or thoughts. The days where western countries are labelled as the champion of capitalism and eastern nations as communists or socialists during the cold war are over. As more people ponder upon their basic norms and beliefs concerning their society or self, more people are drawn into the system of socialism even in the Western world. The survey conducted by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation used YouGov polling data to assess American attitudes toward socialism and communism. The study found that 44% of millennials said they would rather live in a socialist society rather than a capitalist society (Miller, 2017). If we count communism and fascism which both are born from the same idea group of “socialism”; 58% percent of millennials said they prefer to live in a socialist, communist and fascist society rather than capitalist one. Though we might or should be sceptical of these results as they may carry the biases of the organisation. A study of similar nature held by Harvard in 2016 and polls conducted by the Centre for Independent Studies in Australia in 2018 showed the same pattern whereby the significant if not majority of millennials supported socialism rather than capitalism (Jones, 2018).

This development created a heated debate among the academia on many sectors including economics and public policy whereby the question of private property rights, taxation and income inequalities, which have been taken for granted, come under review. This paper will try to unravel the subject of tax in relation to whether it enables us to solve economic inequality and whether it is within government rights or moral. We shall solve these questions with the perspective of the wisdom contained in the word of God.

What is Taxation?

According to Investopedia (2018), Taxation is a term for when a taxing authority, usually a government, levies or imposes a tax. The phrase “taxation” applies to all types of involuntary levies, from income, to capital gains, to estate taxes. Though taxation can be a noun or verb, it is usually referred to as an act; the resulting revenue is then usually called “taxes.” (Investopedia, 2018). The key term to focus on here is “involuntary”; taxation is a legal obligation, where it has to be followed, unlike other transactions. As we sometimes become reckless in our shopping behaviour, at least all those transactions are within our consent. Therefore, the point of tension is not whether the government has a right to impose taxes, as the majority of economic-political thoughts have agreed on the issue, even interpretations of Matthew 22:21 generally support the idea that the government, as ordained by God, has the power of taxation to support and finance its programs. Instead, the tension comes from the question whether there is a just and fair tax.

The Tension

Dr. Yaron Brook an objectivist, chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute and guest lecturer of Brown University in 2016 published a book titled “Equal Is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality.” where he challenged the notion that the government through taxation will result in income equality that also benefited them. During his talks in 2015 in the University of Exeter, he promotes the idea that charity and other “voluntary methods” will bring income equality and prosperity instead of a government that enforced laws on the people. A similar notion is usually also advocated by free-market economists. On the other hand, other schools of economics and different models show that more taxation will fix income inequality and bring prosperity. One such model is Keynesian economics, and a modern interpretation of this would be the Nordic model. The Nordic model usually leans towards socialist elements or other forms of planned economies.

Tax Resisters

We shall use the term “tax resisters” to describe the people that disagree with the idea that taxation will bring income equality and that it is morally just. It does not mean that these individuals resist paying taxes or reject the idea of the tax. The idea that that taxes will not bring equality is shared upon many intellectuals within different groups of interest. Predominantly the intellectual bedrock of the idea can be found in Frederick Hayek and his book “Road to Serfdom” in which he described how terrible government planning was when compared to free-market economics. This idea is widely shared among the Austrian, and the Chicago Schools of economic thought, as well as many self-proclaimed classical liberals.

Some Truth

Hayek (ed. 2007, p. 113) stated that governments tend to be arbitrary in their decisions. In Hayek’s mind government planning simply cannot take into account all of the people’s wants and needs. Therefore any plan executed will undoubtedly upset some individuals; which brings into question the equality and fairness of the system. Hayek (ed. 2007, p.p.139-140) also wrote: “[A] government which undertakes to direct economic activity will have to use its power to realize somebody’s idea of distributive justice is certain. But how can and how will that government use that power? By what principles will it or ought it to be guided? Is there a definite answer to the frequent question of relative merit that will arise and that will have to be solved deliberately? Is there a scale of values on which reasonable people can be expected to agree, which would justify a new hierarchical order of society and is likely to satisfy the demands for justice?” Hayek ponders on the question whether the government has the moral and ethical right to distribute an individual’s income to another through taxation laws, since it bypasses the “voluntary” decision of individuals, and Hayek found it is hazardous to give the “arbitrary” government this power. If Hayek supposes that the government is unable to find the objective meaning of terms such as “equality”, “common good” or”social welfare” in modernist 1944, then imagine the difficulty of finding them in a postmodern and constructivist age such as today. If what Hayek claims is true, then the government would just set more arbitrary meanings towards these terms in order to impose tyranny on .

John Calvin, a renowned French theologian and reformist, was also more inclined to the idea that the ethics of love calls for us to value and protect our neighbor’s property and estate (Hall and Burton 2009, p. 76). These ethics were also demonstrated by the use of private agency and deacons instead of “enforced” government mandate (Hall and Burton 2009, p.123) This notion also approved by Yaron Brook who often said during his talks that taxes are only moral if the process is voluntary. Even though there are many economic models that also show that government tax usually result in loss of economic profit or deadweight loss, the moral argument (Arbitrariness of Fairness)  is one that most academics and members of the tax resisters holds as a bastion against socialism or any other worldview that promotes imposing high taxes to individuals to better society.

Weakness

The moral and ethics of the tax resisters are sound, but it also presupposes that the nature of man is good. The practicality of the tax resisters’ suggestion whereby people will voluntarily give something to the betterment of society assumes that humanity is by nature a “socialist.” Whereby given time, mankind will consciously give their money to public projects, simply for the benefit of self and others. The end goal of this notion only aims to confirm Karl Marx’s theory, that socialism is the last evolutionary process of humanity from capitalism. Instead, only those who hold the Christian worldview are able to escape this kind of argument. In Genesis chapter 3, it is said that man has fallen into sin and other verses such as Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) also claimed that “the heart is deceitful above all things”. Therefore John Calvin’s as well as other reformed theologians’ vision of free voluntary philanthropy does not completely agree with the ideas of socialism or the tax resisters. Calvinism or Christianity generally addresses the problem with man’s nature first and the system second. Hall and Burton (2009, p. 63) described this well when they wrote that “anyone who begins with the expectation of a utopia will quickly become frustrated by the fallen nature of our universe.” Though this would be a more prevalent critique to socialism rather than the entirety of the liberal school of thought, it does not mean that the liberals can attain their version of a utopia, where through hard work and correct laws, social problems may be extinguished and where philanthropists are then expected to help the poor. Is this truly what happens?

Though there are many businessmen/women who become great philanthropists and act as a blessing for numerous communities, how many of these people end up in jail for fraud, manipulation, and impoverishing others? Those that deny the presence of man’s inherent sinfulness and expect the rich to willingly give out their wealth to the poor without being consumed by the greed that comes with their “private property” will only find misery and more social hatred for social welfare recipients that work and do their best in life. Hence, a state where mankind has no social welfare and where taxes are regulated by the state and rely on voluntary charities is a better idea compared to socialism, but considering the fall of man and its nature, it left society with uncertainties, inherent social problems and moral dilemma.

Tax for Equality

The recent rise of support for socialism gave way for academia and policymakers to ponder upon matters of state welfare including the viability of an economic model that shows how high taxes will benefit society. This model is sometimes called the Nordic model. However, the idea itself is not new. Ever since Karl Marx’s critique on capitalism published in the books “Communist Manifesto” and “Das Kapital,” the idea that the role of government or any centralized institution is to scrub social problems have been practiced in one form or another. For example, in Germany Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of Germany (in office 1871–90), developed the modern welfare state by building on a tradition of welfare programs in Prussia and Saxony that had begun in as early as the 1840s. A more recent Keynesian economic model that influenced many governments today came from ideas crystalized in the book titled “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” published in 1936. Hence, as many people were, and are even now, drawn into this concept, what can we say about the strength and weakness of this approach to deal with the social problem?

Few Truths

Biswas, Chakraborty, and Hai (2017, p. 688) wrote that modern governments had successfully utilized tax policy not only to raise capital for government operations but also to reduce income inequality among citizens. Progressive taxation with negative net tax rates for the lowest income households aims to achieve two distinct objectives: to provide a minimum level of consumption for the low-income population, and to reduce income inequality between different groups of the community. The underlying economic justification for this tax policy is that income inequality creates lower economic growth (Biswas, Chakraborty and Hai 2017, p. 688). For example, even though it is assumed that the market can recover given time, the Keynesian economic model shows that government intervention can help the people faster. Keynes (1964, p. 378) found that the creation of banking policies that influence the interest rate does not result in being sufficient by itself to determine an optimum rate of investment. There are holes in the economic system and recessions do happen, citing 2008 as an example; though arguably lax government regulations helped to cause crises similar to the Great Depression, Black Monday, Tulipmania, or the Dot-com bubble, it was market overreaction and lack of confidence that escalated these situations into world economic crises. Where there is no finance, bank closure, high rate of unemployment and other sufferings are bound to occur. Wayne Grudem (2010, p.281) an American Theologian and the Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary wrote that there is some need for government-supported welfare programs to help cases of urgent need. Additionally, it is essential to recognize that “freedom”(the phrase that often used by liberal and free-market economists as the ultimate principle to be defended) does not necessarily mean “complete freedom”, instead for there to be a successful society there must be regulation to some degree or another that ultimately will “limit” our freedom. Therefore, government, when necessary, should have a right to take an individual’s freedom to properly exact justice and correctly uphold God’s moral principle in the Bible (Rom 13:4), rather than merely protecting their “freedom”.

In other words, socialism is right on the mark when it comes to pointing out the reality that the defects in human nature causes social problems. Kuyper (2011, p. 24), Dutch statesman and churchman stated in 1891 that

“In both instances the series of misdirected actions had 2 invariable causes: error and sin. Error insofar as there was ignorance about the essence of man and his social attributes, as well as about the laws that govern human association and the production, distribution and use of material goods. Sin insofar as greed and lust for power.”

Thus, to some degree both the socialist or any other group that advocates for social equality, and Christians would agree that social problems can and have caused real suffering and is an instance where the government has a right to alleviate social suffering.

Weaknesses

With the same problem that few liberals are having where their ideology become utopian, the intervention of the government or any centralized institution will not result in the complete elimination of social problems. Hayek (ed. 2007, p.140) claimed that socialist movements do not in themselves pursue full equality, instead aiming for “greater equality”. Keynes (1946, p. 372) observed that implementation to eliminate disparities through direct taxation is hindered by the fact that companies or the rich can just move their wealth abroad and reduce their consumption overall due to lower disposable income. Hence, practically complete equality is impossible as it may result in the harm of others and self.

However, the wrong assumption of tax for equality is that all mankind entitled to the same privileges. Though some rights are shared equally such as those documented under many human rights law, “Entitled wealth” on the other hand, is not something that everyone agrees with. The biblical reason is that the covenant of works between Adam and God is still in effect. John Calvin notes on Genesis 2:15-16 that man was created and was given the task to work, and that God ordained all productive work. Calvin further stated that ”nothing is more contrary to the order of nature, than to consume life in eating, drinking and sleeping while in the meantime we propose nothing to ourselves to do.” Therefore, the sort of “equality” one should pursue is to award those who work and not penalize those who succeed, but instead encourage as many people to work. Though it is arguably easy to support the incarceration and condemnation of the rich when they break the law, the same must also be said when dealing with the poor (Deuteronomy 1:17; Leviticus 17:5). Injustice is inexcusable in order to reach an equal society for everyone. Hall and Burton (2009, p.63) remarked that public use of property rights may also lead to its overuse and abuse.

A Synthesis

Therefore, we conclude that there are both truths and weaknesses in these mainstream views, which in my opinion can be synthesized through the Christian worldview. The nature of man must be understood correctly, in which humanity is called to work, have fall in sin and is created by God. Following this, excessive welfare and tax can be easily manipulated as tools of slothfulness and tyranny while its absence results in lack of compassion and greed which both will fuel social tension and problem. Any taxation program that funds social welfare should not cause humanity to become lazy or cause some to be kept in poverty. Tax and welfare should instead be used as a tool to uphold the original calling of creation, which is work and to avoid sinning such as greed and envy over wealth. If we reflect on the early Christian congregations, they were told to help those in need and to learn from the teachings of the Apostles, in which one of them taught that those who do not work also shall not eat (Acts 2:42-47; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). On the other hand, the government should realize its duty to uphold God’s moral principle and thus able to grace those who follow the law and punish those who break it (1 Peter 2:14).

With this principle, governments must not be limited to using tax to fund its programs and punish those who do not pay their dues, but they must be able to give incentives (tax breaks or deductible or other methods) for individuals or companies to give to charities and/or responsible Churches, through their own social responsibility programs to help others. This solution will make businesses and individuals help others without feeling robbed, and the recipients will behave responsibly knowing the welfare funded by the work of their brothers and sisters, fellow creations of God and knowing that some work needs to be done for it to be eligible. Enabling society and government to work together to prevent sin, and working for the good of self and becoming a blessing of others, following God’s covenant for His Glory. (HS)

Reference

Abigail, Miller. 2018. “Survey Shows Half Of Millennials Prefer Socialism To Capitalism”. Mail Online. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5044527/Survey-shows-millennials-prefer-socialism-capitalism.html.

Alex, Jones. 2018. “Australian Youth Lurching Left: 58% Of Millennials Favour Socialism”. 2Gb.Com. https://www.2gb.com/australian-youth-lurching-to-the-left-58-of-millennials-favour-socialism/.

Biswas, Siddhartha, Indraneel Chakraborty, and Rong Hai. 2017. “Income Inequality, Tax Policy, And Economic Growth”. The Economic Journal 127 (601): 688-727. doi:10.1111/ecoj.12485.

Grudem, Wayne A. 2010. Politics According To The Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

Hall, David W, and Matthew D Burton. 2009. Calvin And Commerce. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

Hayek, Friedrich A. von. 2007. The Road To Serfdom. [Chicago]: University of Chicago Press.

Keynes, John Maynard. 2015. The General Theory Of Employment, Interest, And Money. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.

Kuyper, Abraham, and James W Skillen. 2011. The Problem Of Poverty. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press.

Staff, Investopedia. 2018. “Taxation”. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/taxation.asp.

 

 

 

 

God’s Greatness in Spider

I have an arachnophobic friend who once jokingly said: “If spiders were never created, the world would have been none the worse!” Despite my friend’s sarcastic tone, this statement does raise a reasonable question: Why indeed did God make such widely feared creatures? I believe the most straightforward but correct answer would be, “because He willed it”, and in truth we can never know the full extent of God’s plan for these often-terrifying beasts until we meet Him face to face. However, we can surely derive a few points, after all, God reveals His attributes in each and every one of His creations (Job 12:7-10) and this is certainly no different in the spider. One of the earliest men who realised this was the famous preacher, Jonathan Edwards. He wrote a whole letter describing meticulously the spider’s great abilities. He was so impressed by them, even so far as to state that “of all insects, no one is more wonderful than the spider, especially with respect to their sagacity admirable way of working” (Edwards, n.d.). But this is not all he does, for he also connects the condition of the spider to the kindness and wisdom of God, and this is what I shall also attempt to do in this article. It’s true that science of Edwards’ time pales in comparison to our own, and I would be ignorant to say that his conclusions from the 1700s are completely true today. But his spirit in seeing that any natural phenomena is reflective of God’s own attributes is something that must be mimicked by all Christians, especially Christian scientists. This work is made easier by the wealth of scientific knowledge available in this modern era, and I intend to use this very knowledge in seeking God’s greatness presented in the spider.

From looking at the spider’s bodies and the skills they possess, we already see proof of  the Creator’s deliberate design. Indeed, several kinds of spiders seem to be equipped with many amazing characteristics. For example, the diving bell spider (Agyroneta aquatica) can fashion its webbing into canopy that traps air underwater into a sizeable air bubble. This allows the spider to eat and mate inside of the bubble, living most of its life submerged, surfacing only to replenish the bubble’s gas supply (Ruether, 2017). Another astonishing arachnid is the net-casting spider (Deinopidae), capable of creating webbing that it attaches to the front legs which it can stretch around oncoming prey to grab them, a skill that earns the spider its name (Gray, 2014). Both creatures create tools with their silk that are similar to mankind’s own, which is not surprising considering that God is the source of all knowledge (Proverbs 9:10). And as God has gifted knowledge in crafts and science to man (Exodus 31:2-11), it would not be surprising that he gifted other creations some part of this talent as well, albeit in a lesser quality. One could also mention the beautiful coloration and courtship dances of the Australian peacock spider (Maratus sp.), so small and seemingly insignificant that many of its species went undiscovered until the 21st Century! (“Maratus”, 2018) But despite their size, God dresses them in the most vibrant of colours, similar to how He dresses the short-lived lilies (Mat 6:28-30). There are various other examples belonging to the wide array of unique and wonderful spider species, but we do not even need to look far from home to see the ingenuity of a common orb-weaver spider’s propensity for architecture with its intricately designed webs, which also shows the ingenuity God gifted to His creatures. With all these examples in mind, it seems strange that God would equip spiders with such wonderful traits if He did not care for their existence. But what purpose could a spider fulfil with these gifts?

 

Are Spiders Alive?

Before we move on, we must first define what biblically constitutes as life. While we are familiar with the popular and scientific definition of life, the Bible defines life differently. The word nepes/nephesh is used to describe the soul or consciousness, along with ruah/ruach referring to the breath of life. Both words are used mainly to describe human lives, but they have also been used in relation to many animals such as birds, reptiles, mammals and sometimes even fish, although the latter word is rarely used in this regard (Pitman, 2014). There are other articles that possess better detail on how the Bible defines life, more so than what is needed here. What is important to note is that insects and other invertebrates are never said to have this life, and they might be understood as very complex machines instead (Cosner, 2016). But despite being categorised as non-living, God does care for these types of creation as well, seeing as. they were often mentioned in the Bible. Plants were often used in Christ’s parables, likening us and Himself as various flora, most prominently in John 15:1, with Him being the grapevine and us its branches. As for invertebrates, God has used the ant as a good example of how to live (Prov 6:6-8), He used locusts to curse Egypt (Exo 10:14), and He even likened Himself to one of the insects, specifically the moth when describing His wrath, being a slow destructive punishment which lay unnoticed until it is too late (Hosea 5:12). These examples show God using the creatures to express both grace and judgement, but through other verses in the Bible we know that they were all created to glorify God and show His wisdom regardless of their specific roles (Psalms 19:1-4). Do note however, that not every researcher agrees with the life and non-life distinction, they argue that invertebrates also possess life through other qualifications such as having blood and flesh/muscle (Stambaugh, n.d.).

But with this division of life and non-life, we get a clearer picture of the initial plan for these eight-legged arthropods. Many Biblical creationists believe that since spiders and insects are not “alive”, it is plausible to say that they could “die” and be eaten even before the fall, similar to the death of plants before the fall as they became food for the animals (Gen 1:30). As some insects were used for the reproduction of plants, both through pollination or seed dispersal, it is believed that spiders as well as other predatory insects were created to quell the numbers of these insects from becoming too numerous (Cosner, 2016). This makes it possible for spiders to be a part of God’s “very good” creation.

 

Death by Spider

But with the mention of these functions and wonders, one must address a somewhat justifiable reason for the hatred and fear of spiders. This is regarding their venom, the painful and/or deadly substance spiders and other insects use for both hunting and defence. We see that almost all spiders possess some sort of venom, although not all of them are life-threatening (Nentwig & Aitchison-Benell, 2013). If you consider that these spiders needed venom to kill their prey, which we have established can happen before the fall, then it should be no problem admitting that it was once considered good as a part of creation. However, what makes the statement difficult to accept is how this venom can very negatively affect humans. Spider venom has been shown to be made of a very complex mixture of toxic proteins with varying effects. One example is the venom of the Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus) which is made up of 40 different proteins, which make the venom extremely deadly to humans and primates, but not so for other animals (Hardy & Ryan, 2016). This degree of complexity and specificity does indicate deliberate design, but then why would God create these spiders to be this deadly? The Bible does not speak thoroughly about spiders, only mentioning them in passing in the book of Job (Job 8:14), even then God condemned the man who gave these statements against Job, so this statement’s accuracy is questionable. But the Bible does mention other venomous animals such as scorpions which are closely related to spiders while also possessing venom, although it is located in the scorpion’s tail stinger instead of the animal’s fangs. In these cases, venom is seen as something terrible, the scorpions and their stings are used to symbolise pain and torture (Luke 11:12; Deut 8:15). This is completely reasonable, as the pain induced by these animals, as well as suffering in general are a result of the fall (Genesis 3:16-19). Spiders, scorpions and other venomous beasts were not supposed to use their deadly defences against humans (Cosner, 2016). In relation to this, perhaps the fear of spiders was God’s way to keep mankind away from death, or even a manifestation of humanity’s own fear of death. It is possible that both statements are true, since it is fitting that many common fears are associated with things that can harm a human being; as stated above, this harm came about only after the fall. The spider then becomes another reminder of mankind’s sin and inability to subdue the whole of creation as Adam and Eve once did before the fall. As the creatures were once supposed to fear and tremble before mankind (Gen 9:2), the opposite is now true.  However, Christ has saved us from death’s clutches so that it no longer has dominion over us, signified in that famous and thematically appropriate verse “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:55 KJV). To the believer, spiders and other venomous creatures should no longer be a symbol of death, and our fears of them should be lessened. For even if we are to die from their bites and stings, it shall not matter for death shall not take hold of our souls. This does not mean that we should not be careful around spiders however, but since we are now secure in our salvation in Jesus Christ we can now focus on the good that God has created in these terrifying beings. Or if we are still afraid, we ought to take hope in the fact that God shall restore venomous creatures to be good when we see them again in heaven (Isaiah 11:8). It is possible for unbelievers to appreciate the intricacies of the spider, but those who fear them shall find it difficult to see that greatness. Instead, through their fears and phobias they themselves express, perhaps subconsciously, how they wish to escape death and suffering. (JTY)

References

Cosner, L. (2016). Wasps, Nature’s Pest Control. Creation, (4), 16-19.

Edwards, J. Of Insects and Spiders. Retrieved from http://www.apuritansmind.com/puritan-favorites/jonathan-edwards/scientific-writings/of-insects/

Edwards, J. (1741). Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. A Sermon Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741.

Falzone, C. (2015). Jonathan Edwards and the Flying Spiders. Retrieved from http://blog.nyhistory.org/jonathan-edwards-and-the-flying-spiders/

Gray, M. (2014). Net-casting Spiders. Retrieved from https://australianmuseum.net.au/net-casting-spiders

Hardy, M., & Ryan, N. (2016). Venom: the painful truth. Retrieved from https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/venom-painful-truth

Maratus. (2018). Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maratus

Nentwig, W., & Aitchison-Benell, C. (2013). Ecophysiology of spiders. Berlin: Springer.

Pitman, D. (2014). nephesh chayyah – creation.com. Retrieved from https://creation.com/nephesh-chayyah

Ruether, B. (2017). Spider Man Meets Aquaman: Unraveling the Superpowers of the Diving Spider. Retrieved from http://ketheridge.sites.gettysburg.edu/Bio340Fall2016/tag/diving-bell/

Stambaugh, J. ‘Life’ according to the Bible, and the scientific evidence – creation.com. Retrieved from https://creation.com/life-according-to-the-bible-and-the-scientific-evidence

A Theological Outlook on Counselling

Sam Harris, one of the main pillars of new atheism, has said that the success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma or theology and vice versa. The quote above is a manifestation of the essence of the age of enlightenment, an age which held the supremacy or rational ability and human autonomy. With the advancements in technology and science, people tend to regard theology as obsolete, narrow-minded and only useful when discussing spirituality. This dualistic point of view assumes that theology and science should be well separated. Why? Because science delves into the natural while theology explores the supernatural. As a result of this way of thinking, many people deny the impact of religion and theology on the various the fields of science, an example among these is the area of psychological counselling. To many secular counsellors, psychology – that which is based on ratio and scientific evidence – seems to be the only acceptable basis in the practice of counselling. Meanwhile, some Christian counsellors believe that there is some benefit in knowing the science of psychology, and that the integration of psychological science and theology can be used for the wellbeing of clients. So how must theology, psychology and medical science relate to each other in counselling? Is there a place for theology in the realm of counselling? Or is it simply not needed? This piece will examine two prevalent views of this, secular counselling and biblical counselling.

Secular Counselling

The first view we will look at is secular counselling, with an approach based on a belief of atheism, rational supremacy and empiricism. There are of course many branches of secular counselling, each with a different emphasis. But in its core, secular counselling rejects the view that God had created man and in addition the authority of the Scriptures in all aspects of human life, including counselling. Their philosophy revolves around man’s ability to change for the better without grace from God, enough simply by relying on the strength and capability of oneself. The many figures that have developed this field include those such as Carl Jung, Carl Rogers, B.F. Skinners among many others, we will discuss briefly two of them which have established a basis for which either modern psychology or counselling rests upon, which are Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud.

Wilhelm Wundt

In the eighteenth century, a psychologist of German descent, Wilhelm Wundt pioneered the development of modern psychology after he created the first psychological laboratory. In addition, Wundt also introduced a new concept in psychology which is physiological psychology. To Wundt, all psychological processes coming from humans are always based upon the arrangement and composition of each individual’s biology. This type of thinking is what has become the standard of physiological psychology, that all our thoughts and actions are controlled by the activity of the brain. Brain activity, including the construction or deconstruction neural pathways and the secretion of enzymes, are what have been thought to be the main reason of human behaviour. Heath Lambert (2012) in his book ‘The Biblical Counselling Movement after Adams’, argues that Wundt’s work integrated psychology to be a part of science which further decreased the influence of theology in counselling. Wundt’s way of thinking was not uncommon during his time. His perspective influence over the age include the increase of trials that acknowledge and dismisses crimes on the basis of the criminal’s mental illness or brain damage, thus could not be blamed upon the perpetrator.

The bible clearly introduces the concept of total depravity. This doctrine realises that the crimes of this world are caused by mankind’s fall into sin (Genesis 6:5-7; Psalms 51:7; Romans 3:23). Aside from that, sin also corrupts mankind’s status as the image of God so that the orientations of their hearts become that which opposes God and all of His commandments. Proverbs 4:23 states how important it is to keep one’s heart clean and sacred as it is there from which life flows or manifests, this includes our actions. The same matter is addressed by Christ in the New Testament, that it is not what comes into the mouth that defiles, but rather what comes out of it. From these few passages, it is clear that the problems and evils of humanity come from the nature of humanity itself which has already fallen into sin. Which means that the problem does not lie merely in the human brain but human nature as a whole, which the Bible refers to as the heart.

Sigmund Freud

Aside from Wilhelm Wundt, another influential figure in psychology as well as counselling which would probably be more familiar to the general public is Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis in counselling. Freud (1907) in his work, ‘Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices’ writes that religion shares many similarities to a type of neurosis that causes individuals to be obsessed with religious rituals, which are done repeatedly. Not only that, Freud also considers God to only be an imaginative concept and that religion becomes a sort of “leash” which restrains humans from becoming barbaric.

One of Freud’s most renowned ideas is the concept that the human mind is divided into three parts, the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious. Freud believed that all human activity and experience are influenced by the unconscious, which is shaped in an individual’s past, these influences can be either positive or negative. Furthermore, he believed the problems experienced by his clients are a manifestation of unresolved conflicts in the past and are hidden in their unconscious. Because of this, it is the counsellor’s duty to probe into the unconscious and reveal that conflict to the client so that the problem can be resolved.

At a glance, Freud’s words do not seem to entirely clash with the Bible. Does the Bible not speak of the significance of good teaching during childhood to avoid bad influences? While this is indeed found in the Bible, the Word goes much deeper, exposing that the root of humanity’s every problem is in its sinful nature. This sinfulness is what causes man to become more corrupted as he lives. So in reality, even children are not exempt from the ill effects of sin’s existence. One’s childhood is not a blank piece of paper, it is not good or even neutral in its nature. It is not a clean slate that is then only tainted by bad influences or bad experiences which will affect that person’s future. It is no surprise then, that many studying psychoanalysis or the public in general tend to focus more on the education and wellbeing of children instead of addressing their sinful nature. Children are protected in such a way that they live a sort of “heaven on earth”, while none focus their efforts to expose them to the Word of God and a Christian worldview as early as possible.

In summary, where psychoanalysis uses various techniques to encourage human autonomy so that patients are able to control themselves (through their past experiences, from the past and for the future), the Bible actually reveals to us that humanity must depend on God because He is the ruler of human life. When people depend on God, they can again see hope for their lives that are haunted by damage done in the past. Christian faith believes in the complete restorative power of Christ’s blood. Isaiah 43:18-19 speaks of how God will redeem and restore the Israelites, even though they are full of evil and sin.

Biblical Counselling

The second view that we will look at is Biblical Counselling, which is an antithesis to secular counselling. Biblical counselling aims to build a system and approach in counselling based on Christian values. The Biblical Counselling movement was started by Jay E. Adams, a Christian counsellor believing in reformed theology who longs for the field of counselling to be submitted under Biblical authority. There are a few presuppositions that serve as a basis for the approach of Biblical Counselling.

The first presupposition is that God created man as a creature whose existence is dependent on God (Acts 17:28; Revelations 4:11). As mankind’s creator, it is natural that God has complete knowledge of all human life, including their mental wellbeing. Therefore, it is not possible for man to become autonomous and to find solutions for all the problems they face outside of God, the creator. Cornelius Van Til, a reformed theologian and apologist has devised this concept in what he calls the Creator-Creature distinction. Van Til said that God being the creator would not be a part of creation, there is a qualitative difference between God and His creation, which include humans (Isaiah 40:12-31). On the other hand, man as a creation means that he must totally lean and depend on God in all aspects of his life. Aside from that, God as the creator means that He is the source of all things for all things are made through Him. Through this basis, then all types of knowledge come from God and without God’s revelation, it is not possible for man to attain knowledge. Not only that, but all the meaning and purpose of human life, even its existence comes from God. So only God has authority to value the lives of each human (Romans 11:36).

Understanding of the Creator-Creature distinction has large implications in the field of counselling. When we realise that all things come from God, including the knowledge of man, then the only way for us to give a form of counselling that glorifies God is to seek His wisdom in His Word. That is how important for Christian counsellors to study and understand the Word and to also live in it. For without understanding and knowing the Bible, how can we attain true wisdom? Yet, it must be noted that Biblical Counselling does not deny the existence of common grace, that God Himself has granted upon man some knowledge, both for believers and non-believers alike. Heath Lambert (2012) explains that Christian counsellors do not reject information gained from outside the Bible such as from science, but that we can use it in everyday practice. But it must be noted that all of such information must be interpreted and understood in the light of the Word of God. Jay Adams (1979) in his book ‘A Theology of Christian Counselling’ says that, “God does, of course, restrain sin, allow people to discover facts about His creation, etc., in common grace, but God never set up rival systems competitive to the Bible” (p. 8). As an example, one of the major principles of counselling is feeling empathy towards the client. The concept of empathy was developed by Carl Rogers using the client-centered approach that prioritised human autonomy. We are asked to empathise with other people to understand and feel how they feel so we can help them to overcome their problems correctly. This way of thinking assumes that humans have the ability to understand each other correctly and completely, while also assuming that humans are able to help each other. The Bible teaches us firstly, that our help comes from God alone, who created heaven and earth. Our lives are held by the sovereign care of His hand to this day, meaning that He is the one that made our lives what they are today. So, only from Him do we seek our motives, methods and goals of our lives, so that we know why we live, and why did God lead us where we are today and how through our consequences we can glorify His name (Romans 11:36). Secondly, empathy towards fellow men and women are a part of our nature that has been redeemed as one body of Christ. Empathy becomes a sign of being the body of Christ, as a hand will reflexively help a wounded part of the body, and even pain is shared across the whole body. This is the life of a Christian who sees that He has already been redeemed by Christ and has become a part of His body. So empathy becomes a statement of love towards a fellow body part in Christ that expresses and has witnessed how God’s love has worked in us. Not only towards other parts of the body of Christ, but also to other humans. In the same way, manifestation of Christ’s love is realised through the witness of His body to bring the world to see the love of the Creator to His creation. This is the sign of love for us, God’s children (1 John 4:7-8)

The second presupposition concerns the centrality and authority of the Bible in the practice of counselling. 2 Timothy 3:16 states that the Word of God is profitable for teaching, for reproof and to bring change in one’s actions. Paul also states also in a similar fashion in Colossians 1:28. In these verses, Paul is teaching that the Word of God has authority and power to bring out true change in all man. Heath Lambert (2012) wrote an interesting point about the centrality and authority of Scripture in counselling. He states that the Bible is a promise from God that He will give His wisdom when counselling through the Word of God. So, through the Bible we can find numerous principles of truth that can lead and bring people in trouble towards a resolve for their problems. But unfortunately, many Christians believe that the Bible is only useful in matters of life after death and how one will get to heaven. This false and reduced understanding has already been objected by the Second Helvetic Confession as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith which states that the Word of God speaks of a good, healthy and pious life. The Bible is the word of God that will always bring care and assurance to humanity for them to live better in His presence.

While it has been said to be so, many still question whether the Bible really provide detailed answers on every topic in the field of counselling. John Frame (2010) in his book, ‘The Doctrine of the Word of God’ stated that the Bible is not a guide book providing step-by-step information, rather it is a book containing God’s revelation to mankind so they can glorify Him in every field. This principle can also be applied to the area of counselling. The Bible does not contain every type of information on every medical and/or mental problems as well as the medications required. Yet, the Bible does explain the principles of counselling needed for a counsellor that glorifies God, for example principles about the source of true change in human life, the root of the problem and its solution, man’s identity, and so on. Answers for these topics have been sought out by secular theories for hundreds of years without realising that the Bible has already given the answer far before. Furthermore, the fact that humans have fallen into sin states the importance of God’s Word in everyday lives. Sin has entered and corrupted all that God has created. Sin has affected every aspect of human life, from motivations, emotions, the mind, the body and in our relations with other people. The only way for mankind to rid itself from the bondage of sin and to experience true change is when Christ’s blood has cleansed everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. The only true release for humanity from its sin is from the redemption of Christ accounted in the Bible. From this basis, counselling efforts to bring positive change which is both healthy and thorough becomes impossible when not dine with the Word of God that leads to Christ. For from Him only can true change be given!

This brief piece on secular counselling and biblical counselling are to encourage each reader to together learn to know His truth which He has given to His people to live a life that glorifies Him according to His will. And with so, we are submitting every field of our lives to the supremacy of the Holy Word as a basis, as glasses from which we see the world, and as a true guide. (KH)

References:

Frame, J. M. (2010). The doctrine of the Word of God: PetR Publishing.

Lambert, H. (2016). A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry: Zondervan.