Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Adventures of Santa Claus

Today is St. Nicholas' Day, the day Christians (well, Catholics at least) honour St. Nicholas of Myra, today more widely known as Santa Claus.

Many Christians today believe that Santa Claus is evil, a ploy of the Enemy to distract from the real meaning of Christmas. I believe those people are wrong. Saint Nicholas was himself a Christian, and everything he did, he did for the glory of God.

The following essay is the result of three years of of sporadic research into the topic, and I hope gives an accurate and entertaining recounting of St. Nicholas' life. Please note that there is very little hard evidence for any of this -- most of the ancient biographies we draw information on Nicholas' life from were written centuries after his death. All we know for sure was that he did exist roughly around the the time the biographies said he did, and that he was in fact the bishop of Myra, and that he was beloved by the people. Everything else may or may not have happened.

Still, I've tried to accurately portray Nicholas as he is described in his biographies. I hope you'll find it interesting, at least.

The Adventures of Santa Claus

For fifty years, bloody civil war and raiding barbarians from the savage lands to the north and east had ravaged the mighty Roman Empire, leaving it on the verge of collapse. Emperor after Emperor had risen and fallen, their reigns lasting hardly more than two or three years each, falling in regular succession to assassination or death on the battlefield. Inflation wreaked havoc on the economy, and even the rich could not help but feel it. The fall of the Empire seemed nigh. It was into this uncertain world that a child named Nicholas was born in the little Greek colony town of Patara, on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. Nicholas's parents were wealthy, but while the little town of Patara may not have seen war directly, its effects could be felt by all.

A few years after Nicholas's birth, in A.D. 285, a soldier named Diocletian rose to the throne in yet another bloody civil war. At first there was little difference between him and the short-lived emperors who had gone before. He fought war after war all over the Empire, stamping out insurgencies and fighting off the barbarian hordes. He paid little attention to the growing population of Christians in the Empire, of which Nicholas and his parents were a part. Nicholas's parents were probably grateful for that inattention; it was hard enough being a Christian in a pagan Empire. It had been two hundred years since the horrors of Nero's lunatic reign, when Christians were rounded up and fed to the lions, but such memories fade slowly. As time went on, Diocletian's reign seemed to get better and better, as enemies were vanquished and peace and stability slowly returned to the Empire.

Stability did not return easily, though. Times were tough. Nicholas was a young man when his parents died and left him their fortune, enough for him to live comfortably. Others were not so well off. There was a certain Christian man, as the story goes, who had been rich, but who had lost his fortune in the chaotic times the Empire had just come through. His three daughters were of marriageable age, but he had no money to provide dowries, to secure good marriages for them. If he could not give them good marriages, they would be sold into slavery or worse. So the man prayed. Nicholas heard of his troubles, but being a shy lad, he would have been too embarrassed to simply walk up to the man and hand him money. So, late one night, he snuck up to the man's window, tossed a bag of coins inside, and fled. The man and his daughters awoke the next morning to a wonderful surprise, and it wasn't long before the man's first daughter was married, using the money for a dowry. Nicholas did the same thing for the second daughter, who was also wed. When it came time for the third daughter to be wed, the man had become anxious to find out who his mysterious benefactor was. He stayed up and kept watch, and caught Nicholas in the act. He thanked him profusely, and Nicholas was embarrassed. He told the man to thank God alone for these gifts, and not to tell people what he'd done. It was useless, of course -- the man told everyone he knew, and soon everyone knew of Nicholas's generosity. In fact, people began to realise that there had been other anonymous donations to the poor throughout the city, and rumours spread that it was Nicholas, doling out his late parents’ fortune.

A few years later (probably urged on by his uncle, who was a bishop), Nicholas decided to go on a pilgrimage to Egypt and the Holy Land. According to legend, the first night of the voyage he had a dream warning of danger. He told the sailors that a storm was coming, but God would protect them. Sure enough, a storm whipped up and the soldiers feared for their lives. One of them fell from the rigging and died. Nicholas prayed, and the storm subsided. He then prayed for the dead man, trusting God, and the man was revived. The sailors were astonished. Nicholas, probably, was embarrassed by the attention.

Under his uncle's tutelage, Nicholas grew into a wise and intelligent man of God. When the bishop of nearby Myra died, it was Nicholas who was chosen to replace him. He proved a capable leader, well-loved by the people of his city. When famine came to Myra, he managed to negotiate the purchase of grain from ships bound for Alexandria in Egypt. He began to oppose the nearby pagan temple of Artemis, and the evil spirits that resided within. He became famous for his help to sailors and seafarers.

Meanwhile, Diocletian had brought a hard peace to the Empire. By the time A.D. 300 rolled around, Diocletian had driven back the Germanic invaders from across the Danube and Rhine rivers, stopped the Persian invasions in Syria and Palestine, and squashed the various civil wars and political rivals that had sprung up within the Empire. He had instituted the Tetrarchy, a system of four co-emperors ruling over various regions of the Empire, consisting of two senior emperors and two vice emperors. Diocletian chose the Eastern part of the Empire to rule himself, along with his vice emperor, fellow soldier Galerius, leaving the West to his friend Maximian and his vice emperor, Constantius Chlorus. In an effort to enforce unity in the Empire, Diocletian borrowed an idea from some of the Middle Eastern kingdoms and declared himself not only Emperor, but Dominus et deus: Lord and God. Emperor worship, which had been tolerated before, was now officially the state religion. People who entered his presence were required to lie prostrate on the ground before him, and never to look at him in the eye.

Diocletian might have been content to leave it at that, but his scheming and self-serving vice-emperor Galerius had other ideas. Galerius convinced him that these Christians, who obstinately refused to worship the Emperor, were a risk and a threat, and should be dealt with. In A.D. 302, in a council held at the capitol city of Nicomedia, the two resolved to suppress Christianity throughout the Empire. And so began the last and greatest persecution of the Christian Church.

The cathedral of Nicomedia was torn down. An edict was issued, "to tear down the churches to the foundations and to destroy the Sacred Scriptures by fire; and commanding also that those who were in honourable stations should be degraded if they persevered in their adherence to Christianity." Nicholas was rounded up along with other bishops, presbyters, and deacons throughout the Empire, and they were beaten and tortured in an attempt to force them to sacrifice to pagan gods. Soon even the common Christians were being arrested along with the clergy, and once a whole town was massacred because they declared themselves Christians. Even Nero's mad attacks seemed light compared to this.

Eventually, in the year 305, senior Emperors Diocletian and Maximinian both retired to live by the seashore and grow cabbages. Maximinian was not particularly ready to give up his power like that, but Diocletian convinced him it was for the best, to make sure of a smooth transfer of power, and to avoid the brutal civil wars of the past. In the East, evil vice-Emperor Galerius was promoted to be Eastern senior Emperor, with his equally crooked nephew Maximinius Daia as vice-Emperor. Under Galerius’s direction, the persecution of the Christians continued with ruthless fervour. In the West, meanwhile, the good-hearted vice-Emperor Constantius Chlorus was promoted to be Western senior Emperor, and Galerius managed to get his faithful servant Severus appointed as Western vice-Emperor. Unlike Galerius in the East, Constantius put an end to the persecution of Christians in the West as soon as he became senior Emperor.

Things lasted like that for all of a year, until AD 306, when brave Constantius died while fighting a war in the far northern territory of Britain. Constantius’ son, Constantine, who was as beloved by the troops as his father, was declared Emperor by those troops. Word got to Galerius in the East, and he was reluctantly forced to proclaim Constantine as vice-Emperor in the West, for fear of the army rebelling against him. However, he promoted his servant Severus to senior Emperor in the West, hoping to control the entire Empire in this way.

From there, the Roman Empire descended into the grip of civil war. An upstart, Maxentius, son of retired senior Emperor Maximinian, was appointed Emperor by the Roman Senate and took over Italy. Severus marched out to do battle with Maxentius, but was betrayed by his own army and handed over to Maxentius, and executed. Licinius, a close friend of Galerius, was appointed as Severus’ replacement as senior emperor of the Western Empire. Fearful of what had happened to Severus, he made no move to attack Maxentius.

Three years passed. Galerius, suffering from a debilitating illness and under pressure from the legitimate emperors of the West, Licinius and Constantine, passed an edict proclaiming the end of the persecution of Christians. A month later he died from his gruesome illness, writhing in agony.

With the death of Galerius, Eastern vice-emperor Maximinius Daia seized his uncle’s old lands and claimed the entire Eastern Empire for himself. He once again started up the persecution of Christians, trying to secure his hold on the territory. Western senior emperor Licinius met with Maximinius Daia and forced a treaty with him, dividing the Eastern Empire between them.

Maximinius Daia was not happy with this arrangement, and secretly allied himself with Maxentius, the usurper in Rome. In 312, Constantine marched south to do battle with Maxentius. While he was doing this, he had a dream where he was commanded to put the mark of the cross on the shields of his soldiers. He did, and he defeated Maxentius in battle, ending the reign of the usurper and taking back Italy. Constantine attributed his victory to Christ, and became a Christian. Maximinius Daia, angry at the death of his secret ally, went to war with Licinius and Constantine in 313. Licinius defeated and killed him, and once again called an end to the persecution of Christians, though he remained pagan himself.

The Roman Empire was now divided between only two emperors: Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East. It wasn’t long, only the next year in fact, before Constantine and Licinius went to war, vying for sole control of the Empire. Constantine defeated Licinius in battle, but his forces were so weakened by the battle that he could not truly claim victory. Two years later they fought again, and in 317 they agreed to a truce. Licinius was allowed to keep his throne, but he had to surrender land to Constantine and make other concessions.

There was peace for a few years. Then, in 320, Licinius once again began to turn against the Christians, passing laws restricting their activities, such as forcing them to worship outside city limits, among other things. Constantine could not have been happy, but did nothing. Then, the next year in 321, Constantine chased some barbarians across the border and into Licinius’ territory. Licinius claimed that the treaty had been broken, and went to war with Constantine. Constantine struck back hard, and this time he defeated Licinius utterly. In 324, Constantine became sole emperor of the entire Roman Empire.

One of Constantine’s first acts was to free all his fellow Christians who had been unjustly imprisoned. From the depths of the Roman dungeons a little known middle-aged bishop of a small coastal town returned into the daylight. It was a different world which Nicholas returned to; much had changed since he’d been imprisoned twenty years ago. No longer were Christians hunted down in the streets, instead, for the first time they were an officially recognised religion, and the Emperor was one of them. It must have seemed a miracle. However, not all was well. A new sect had arisen within Christianity, led by a man named Arius, who denied that Jesus was one with God, but rather was a separate god himself. It was heresy. Nicholas returned to his city of Myra and began to preach against this insidious error. As one biographer said "Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison."

In A.D. 325 Constantine, having been a Christian now for 13 years, called a conference of bishops from all over the Empire (and some from outside the Empire) to the city of Nicea, to deal with this problem of Arianism. Constantine himself did not really understand the difference between the two positions, but seemed to favour the Arians. The council included many of the most famous Christians of the era, and one little bishop from Myra: Nicholas. Legend says that when Arius was presenting his position, Nicholas got so angry at hearing this heresy that he got up and slapped him in the face, knocking him over. For this breach of decorum, he was ejected from the council. The council finally condemned Arianism as heresy, and proclaimed the tenets of Christianity in the Nicean Creed, still recognised today by most as an essential definition of true Christianity.

It was at some point during this time that the lifelong enmity between Bishop Nicholas and the nearby pagan temple of Artemis came to a head. Nicholas feared that many Christians would fall back into their old habits and offer sacrifices to Artemis for protection. With Emperor Constantine on the side of the Christians, Nicholas felt that now was the time to act. He stormed the temple, driving out its demons in the name of God, sending them fleeing howling before him. He tore the temple down, even uprooted the foundations, and went on to destroy other pagan temples in the area. The fear of God fell upon all who witnessed or heard about it.

There were further miracles attributed to Nicholas. A woman, excited over the prospect of going to see her arch-bishop, left her baby in a tub of water over the fire. When she finally remembered, she begged Nicholas to pray for her baby, and when she returned home, she found the baby unharmed, playing in the boiling water. In another instance, a child who was possessed by a demon and who was violent and uncontrollable was brought to Nicholas, who drove the demon out and healed the child. He drove out many demons in God's name, and healed many sick people.

One of the more famous legends about Nicholas was said to have happened as he was on his way to the council at Nicea. He stayed one night at an inn, where the innkeeper served meat, even though there was a food shortage everywhere, with almost no meat to be found. When the innkeeper placed the meat in front of Nicholas, he jumped up and shouted "You are a murderer and this is the meat of children you have killed! Show me where their remains are!" The terrified innkeeper lead Nicholas to the barrel where he kept his salted meat, and Nicholas prayed to God. The pieces of meat swirled and reattached themselves to one another, and three young boys stood up from the barrel. The innkeeper was understandably shocked, not to mention terrified that his crime had been uncovered, and converted to Christianity right then and there.

While Constantine lived, Christians and the Empire lived in peace. Still, there was trouble here and there, and Constantine sent his generals to deal with it. At one point, three generals and their troops sailed in to the port at Myra, and stayed, waiting for clear weather to continue on. The troops went into the city to buy food, and soon began arguing with the vendors. Fighting broke out, and it looked like a riot was about to occur. Bishop Nicholas hurried out to the port and confronted the generals, who said that they were on a peaceful mission to Phrygia in the East. Nicholas replied: "How is it, if you are to bring peace, that you are stirring up unrest in our town?" He told the generals what was happening, and they hurried out to reign in their soldiers and make amends.

On their way back to the city, Nicholas and the generals encountered some people weeping. The people said that the city’s corrupt chief judge, Eustathios, had condemned three innocent men to death. "If you had been in the city, these innocent men would not be handed over to death,” said the townspeople. Nicholas and the generals rushed to the scene, and found the three men about to be executed. The executioner raised his sword, and Nicholas fearlessly ran up and grabbed the point of the sword, tossing it to the side. He then proceeded to Eustathios's office, and shouted at him "You are an enemy of God. You have committed a very great crime by condemning three innocent men to death!" The charges were dropped. The three Roman generals moved on, and reigned in their rowdy troops.

The three generals were successful in their mission to Phrygia, and put down the revolt there with no bloodshed. Upon their return to Constantinople, the new capitol of the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine rewarded them richly and promoted them. This caused some of their rivals to become jealous, and they bribed the Imperial prefect, Ablavius, to accuse the generals of not only failing to destroy the Phrygian rebels, but actually aiding them in a bid for power. Ablavius took the bribe, and told Emperor Constantine of the charges against the generals. A furious Constantine ordered them executed for treason.

The shocked generals, who had served Constantine loyally, were locked up and were to be executed the next day. Remembering how Bishop Nicholas had saved those three innocent men from death back in Myra, the three generals prayed together, "Lord, God of our Father Nicholas, who saved the three men of Myra from an unjust death, come, Lord, and do not forget us who are in danger of our lives. Free us from the hands of our enemies. Do not delay, for we are condemned to die tomorrow."

That night, as Constantine slept, a man appeared to him in a dream, threatening him with death in a terrible war if he should execute the three innocent generals. Constantine asked him who he was, and he replied, "The Bishop of Myra, Nicholas; God has sent me to tell you to free these men without delay." When Emperor Constantine woke, he sent for Ablavius, who said he had had the same dream. The two summoned the generals, who again protested their innocence. Constantine asked them who they had turned to for help, and they replied that they had turned to Bishop Nicholas and his God. Constantine was convinced, and freed the generals, who sold their worldly possessions and became monks, devoting their lives to God.

Nicholas also travelled to Constantinople to ask Constantine to lift the heavy taxes that were crushing the people of Myra. Constantine agreed, and a century later the people of Myra still attributed their low taxes to Bishop Nicholas.

Not long afterward, in A.D. 337, Constantine died peacefully in his bed, leaving the Empire to his three sons. The three sons followed the way of Christ like their father, but were divided as to whether they supported Arianism or Trinitarianism. Ultimately, greed for power took them like so many others before them, and they fought wars against one another for sole control of the Empire.

Six years after Emperor Constantine's death, in A.D. 343, Bishop Nicholas of Myra died as well, one of the very few Catholic saints who died of old age. He was entombed in Myra, where great numbers of pilgrims came to pay homage in the years following. But that is not the end of his story.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Bill hung on for dear life as the rope swayed in the wind, sending him spinning in mid-air. He glanced down and quickly looked back up; the dizzying height made him nauseous. His hands ached from holding on to the nylon cable, but he couldn't let go to stretch them. He shuddered to think of the result. On second thought, he didn't shudder -- shuddering might cause him to lose his grip.

"Bill, get moving, I don't want to be here all day!"

Instinctively, Bill looked down at the source of the voice. It was Helen, the woman from the tour group. And beyond her the busy Toronto streets, a thousand feet down, crawling with ant-sized people. Bill shut his eyes tight and tried to imagine he was in gym class, climbing that rope they'd hung from the gym ceiling. Actually, that didn't really help either. Gym class had terrified him, too.

"If you don't climb the rope, we're both going to fall!"

Bill kept his eyes closed and shouted a reply.

"Hey, I'm lucky I'm still holding on! I was never good at rope climbing!"

"Oh, this is just great! Dangling off the CN Tower on a rope, below the one guy who can't climb ropes!"

"Hey!" Bill shouted back. "I'll have you know I was an accomplished track-and-field athlete in my high school days! I just happen to have a little bit of a fear of heights!"

"Fear of heights? Then what were you doing in the CN Tower?"

"Well I certainly wasn't expecting to get wrapped up in a gun battle with men in black masks, and then thrown off the roof during a fist-fight with their leader, I can tell you that!"

"Hey, don't blame that on me! I wasn't the one who called him a 'cowardly sissy'!"

"He was pointing the gun at you! What was I supposed to do, let him shoot you?"

"Better than falling to our death because you can't climb a rope!"

Their arguing was cut short when, all of a sudden, the rope dropped about a foot. Bill looked up, horrified to find that the rope was beginning to fray.

"This isn't fair!" he yelled. "This is like some cheesy movie! Ropes don't actually do that in real life!"

"What? What is it?" Helen called.

"The rope, it's fraying! It's going to give way!"

"Then climb, you idiot!"

"If I climb, I'll make it fray more!"

"If you don't climb, it'll fray anyway, and we'll both die!"

"I can't move! I can't let of the rope!"

"You have to, or we'll wind up splattered all over the city!"

"No, I mean, I literally can't let go! My hand is paralyzed with fear!"

"All right, that's it, I'm coming up!"

"What?" Bill looked down, to see Helen climbing up the rope toward him. "What are you doing? Don't do that! We can't both hold on to the same part of the rope!"

"I'm not stopping! If you don't climb, I'm going to climb right over you!"


What should happen next, dear readers?
--Should the rope snap and send the duo plummeting to their inevitable deaths?
--Should Bill let Helen try to climb up over him?
--Should Bill somehow work up the courage to climb up?
--Should they be rescued by some sort of deus ex machina?
--Should something completely else happen?

Write your answer in the comments below!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Lions and Tigers and Cats, Oh My!

I've spent quite a bit of time recently thinking about the ways in which we classify things and describe the world around us. For instance, the various classifications we use to label books and movies and other stories: Romance, Western, Science Fiction, and the like. I'll have more on that subject in an upcoming blog (hopefully). What I'm interested in now is the classification of animals, specifically, the classification of animals in terms of a creationist world view, and even more specifically, cats.

In creationist terms, a baramin is a "created kind". When God created the animals, he told them to reproduce "after their kind". Therefore, a baramin would be all the animals decended from that original created pair. All bears, therefore, would be descended from one original bear pair; all elephants would be descended form one original elephant pair. Classification of animals should therefore be easy: all animals descended from an original created pair would be one baramin.

In practice, however, it's not so simple to tell which animals are descended from the same pair. Just as different human family groups have developed different skin colours and such since Creation and the Flood, animals have also developed certain family differences. Take the dog family, for instance: the Chihuahua and the St. Bernard are very much different in size, colouration, and just about everything else, but they are still both dogs. If it were not for the size difference, they could mate and produce offspring. Wolves and coyotes have also been known to mate with dogs and produce offspring, meaning that wolves, coyotes, and dogs were all descended from one wolfish-doggish animal pair, making them all part of the same baramin or kind.

The easiest way to tell if two animals are part of the same baramin is if they can hybridize or mate and produce offspring. However, the opposite is not true: just because two animals can't mate, doesn't mean they're not both descended from one original pair.

Which brings me back to cats. Last weekend I went home to visit my parents, and came back with a box full of cards, each card having a different animal on the front, and a whole bunch of facts about that animal on the back. I was looking through the cat section, and sorting them. There are two main divisions of the cat family: the big cats like the lion and the tiger, etc., and the small cats, like the house cat and the ocelot and others. I knew that the four main big cats (lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar) could all interbreed -- you always hear about ligers and tigons and such. That meant they were all the same baramin, descended from one ancestral pair. But what about domestic cats? It seemed strange that they should seem so similar and yet not be related. And yet I had heard somewhere that they weren't. I decided to find out.

I went to the Internet (the repository of all knowledge known to man, if you can figure out the right search words) and looked around for hybridization experiments involving cats. The first thing I found was that my vague memory was correct: there had never been a successful interbreeding between a domestic cat and a big cat such as a lion or a leopard. There were, however, some other interesting hybridizations: a mountain lion (or cougar or puma or whatever you want to call it) had successfully interbred with an ocelot, which is a much smaller cat. And a leopard had successfully interbred with a mountain lion. This made me think: if a mountain lion and a ocelot are from the same baramin, and a mountian lion and a leopard are from the same baramin, doesn't that mean that the leopard and the ocelot are also from the same baramin, even though they can no longer interbreed? And if so, what other animals has an ocelot been able to interbreed with?

Long story short, I came up with the following sequence:

The lion, tiger, jaguar, and leopard are all able to interbreed.
The leopard has been bred with the mountain lion.
The mountain lion has been bred with the ocelot.
The ocelot has been bred with the margay.
The margay has been bred with the domestic cat!

This means that, when God created the world, he made one pair of cats. After the flood, this one species/baramin split off into many different groups and many different sizes.

It also means that, when your cute little pet cat prowls around looking for all the world like a miniature tiger, you're not all that far off the mark.

More information on creation biology can be found at Answers in Genesis and the Baraminology Study Group. That second website I just found today; it has some very interesting articles on this very topic.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Familial Links

Some of you reading this blog may know my brother, Benjamin. The one who can draw like a banshee. Actually, I don't know how well banshees can draw. Probably not very well. But never mind, you know who I'm talking about. What some of you may not know is that he has a blog, in which he showcases many of his nifty drawings. You should check it out, if you haven't already, and if you're not uninterested: .

Also, my other brother Jeremiah has a blog too: . His blog features colourful, rambling narratives about his new life in Alberta. Did I mention that he's Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce for Crossfields, Alberta? I probably did. I can't get over how awesome that is.

As far as I know, my other brother Caleb doesn't have a blog. If he does, he sure didn't tell me. I don't think Mom has a blog, either. I would be very surprised if Dad had a blog.

Bruce Willis has a blog. But he doesn't say much on it.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Free Will and Chaos Theory

Predestination, foreknowledge, and free will.

These are subjects I've spent a lot of time thinking about. In fact, I've come to regard free will as my "signature" topic of contemplation, since so much of my theological inquiry centres around it. It's a vast and fascinating subject.

So anyway, one night just before I fell asleep I turned the light back on and jotted down a few notes. I had been wondering how exactly it is that God works in our lives. How involved is God? Does he directly control every aspect of every thing that ever occurs (the hyper-Calvinist position)? Or did he wind the world up at Creation, then sit back to let the world run itself (the Deist position)? When a tsunami or a hurricane or an earthquake hits and people die, is it because God steered that disaster to that particular city, or is it just a random result of the natural effects God set in place?

Well, to start off with, it seemed pretty clear to me that God doesn't directly control our choices. God, being omnipotent, is able to make whatever he desires come to pass. Since, according to the Bible, God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4)," and since this is manifestly not the case, God must be allowing us to make our own choices in this area, choices which might conflict with what God wants. It also seems reasonable to me that if God is allowing us to make our own decisions in this most important of areas, then he probably is allowing us to make our own decisions in the rest of our lives, as well.

Why, you might ask? If you'll allow a bit of a digression from the main topic; even though I have no real proof on the matter, the most reasonable explanation it seems to me is this: without real choice, there cannot be real love or loyalty. A robot who cannot choose is not loyal, it is simply programmed to obey. The world was created to further God's glory, and clearly it is more glorious to be worshipped by people who do so willingly, than by a bunch of puppets on strings.

So how, then, does God work his will in our world, if he can't (or rather won't) force us to do things? That he does, in fact, work his will in our world is obvious: beyond the fact that we haven't all killed each other yet, the Bible says that "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." That's Romans 8:28 -- I know there's more verses that could demonstrate this point, but I'd rather not spend half an hour looking for them, and I'm pretty sure people (most Christians, anyway, I don't care what you other guys think about this topic) will agree on this one. God's will is done on Earth, but how can that be when so many people won't go along, and God won't force them to go along?

I think the answer is a combination of things, really. First and foremost is God's knowledge. He knows every thing that has been, is, will be, could have been, could be now, and could be in the future. He knows every possible thing about every possible thing. Therefore, God knows exactly what we will choose to do in any given situation, and why we will choose that. He knows all the factors that led up to that choice. He knows what events will result in what choices, and can work to create the events that will lead to the choices he wants. It's chaos theory: a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo creates a chain reaction that results in a thunderstorm in New York that would not otherwise have happened, and all that. The only difference is, God knows what will cause what, and how it's all connected.

Not that God can always get the choices he wants. Since we do have free will, we can still decide to do whatever we want, despite God's best efforts. We mess up the whole cause-and-effect chain. God influences us, pleads with us, pushes us, disciplines us, all the things one might do to try to move a stubborn donkey, but there are certain people who simply will not obey God's will. And sometimes, even events themselves might conspire to frustrate God's will: if person A absolutely won't do action B, and action B is the only thing which could influence person C enough to accept God's dearly bought rescue from death, then person C is doomed.

And that's where we as Christians come in. We are person A. Our purpose here on Earth is to act as God's agents and assist in creating the situations and factors which will lead to life-saving choices by those still headed to Hell. When we do what God does want us to do, we fit like a piece of a puzzle into the grand scheme of things, bringing about chain reactions that affect the world in ways we can't imagine, but which God has carefully mapped out. When we do what God does not want us to do, then God can't use us in the way he would like, and those chain reactions we would have created will not take place. Maybe God can get person D to do action E for the same effect as us doing action B, but then again, maybe person D won't do it either, or maybe he's not as good at it as we might be. God created each of us for a purpose, and he has an ideal plan in mind for each of us that would result in the maximum possible good being done in the world. Each time we stray from God's purpose for us, and do something against his will, we take away from God's ideal plan, and God is forced to compensate with something less effective (after all, if his backup plan was more effective, then it wouldn't be a backup plan, now would it?).

Therefore, it is our duty as Christians, as God's agents in this world, to seek out God's will and perform it to the best of our abilities. We're not perfect, and we'll probably never be able to live up to God's ideal plan for our lives, but every step closer we get to his ideal plan, the more effective we will be as tools in God's arsenal. The more we obey God in every situation, the more we can be used in carrying out God's plan. The soldier who carries out his superior's orders swiftly and eagerly is quickly promoted up the ranks. Likewise, the better we carry out God's will, the more important the tasks we will be assigned. Why was Moses chosen to lead the Israelites, and not Jim-Bob the scribe? Because God knew that Moses would be more faithful in every situation than Jim-Bob would, and therefore more effective in carrying out God's plan.

Our actions are not inconsequential. If a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo can cause a thunderstorm in New York, then how much more can be caused by a Christian who obeys God's will?

God will do his part. We just have to do ours.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Speaking of Residual Images....

Today, somehow, I ended up at, reading the article on Jesus. They had a few images of Jesus on the side, old paintings and such. It got me thinking: we obviously don't know what Jesus looked like. However, when we look at a painting of Jesus, we immediately recognise who it is. That means we all have a mental picture inside our heads of what Jesus looks like, collected over the years from various paintings and the like. I wondered what that might look like, exactly, a composite of all these different paintings of Christ. Fortunately, I have both the technology and the ability to construct such a composite. So I did.

I scrounged sixteen different images of the Christ from the Internet, from the traditional icon-type images, to the modern effeminate European type images, one from the Renaissance, and some assorted others. Using a morphing program (called, for reasons I have never fully been able to discern, "Abrosoft FantaMorph") I began combining pairs of pictures, and then combined those combined images with the other combined images, and so on. The result was quite effective, and I was surprised with how well it turned out.

So without further ado, here is the final composite image:

And here is a mosaic showing all the different source pictures I used, alongside the result:

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Residual Self-Image

Y'know, there's something I realised the other day when looking at a picture of myself. I perceive myself exactly backwards to how other people perceive me. My self-image is based on what I see in the mirror, but the mirror is backwards to reality. What I see in the mirror as being to my left, other people see as being to their right, and vice versa. When I part my hair on what in the mirror seems to be the left, other people see it on the right. All this time, when I've looked in the mirror and raised an eyebrow, it's been the wrong eyebrow. It's a very disconcerting thing to realise.

I think this is part of the reason why seeing yourself in a photograph or a home video always seems slightly strange. We're used to seeing ourselves in the mirror, so when we see ourselves in the way that other people do, the two images don't quite match.

It seems like such an obvious thing. I can't believe I didn't realise until now.