The Price and Cost of the Ultimate Freedom

The cost of freedom and free will

Unless you’re an accountant, you’ve probably never thought about the difference between price and cost.

I didn’t until today.

But while we may use the words interchangeably, there is a notable difference. Cost is what it takes to produce something; price is what someone pays for it.

This is straight forward when we’re talking about gadgets and gizmos. It becomes more interesting when we start talking about less tangible things.

The 4th of July is a celebration of independence for the United States. It’s a time when we reflect on all the costs that have gone into the freedoms we enjoy. It is also a time to reflect on what price we are willing to pay to maintain it. Freedom, as the saying goes, is not free.

It has a cost. And a price.

This is true for the freedom of political sovereignty, and it is true for the most foundational freedom we possess.

The cost of a country’s freedom is high. So is the cost of divine freedom: free will.

Free will, it seems to me, has messed up a lot of things. It has unleashed war, poverty, cruelty, and confusion. It has allowed evil to run rampant in our world. It has allowed people to make terrible decisions that led to terrible consequences on personal and global scales.

It seems like we have unwillingly paid an awful price for our free will.

Yet, there must be something more. When God created us, He could have created automatons that would always do his good, perfect and pleasing will. But He didn’t. He gave us free will.

Even now the question remains: why does God allow so much evil to run rampant? Why doesn’t He step in and stop it?

The first answer is: He did.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. “But take heart. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

God paid the price of sin so that we can enter a peaceful eternity with Him. He did stop the evil. But we don’t get to see the full manifestation until we get to heaven.

Perhaps that should be enough of an answer, but if you wrestle with questions like this as much as I do, then you might also wonder why we have to wait. Why doesn’t He step in and just stop the evil here and now?

The second answer I see is: free will.

In order for evil to be removed, God would have to prevent humans from acting on the evil impulses we have. The loss of free will is the price that would have to be paid for God to erase the suffering from this world. We might say, “Fine! It’s worth it. Do it!”

God says, “Not like that.”

This makes me look differently at free will. What could possibly be more important than world peace? What could possibly be more important than the elimination of cruelty and suffering and insert your list of world horrors here __________________.

The answer I hear is: free will.

God values free will so much that he will not remove it for a quick fix of the world’s woes. He knew the costs before creation began. He knew the price that he himself would pay on our behalf.

God gave us free will anyway.

God continues to give us free will today.

If God values free will that much, then I’m beginning to think that I should too. And I probably ought to learn more about it. What exactly is free will? How do we glimpse its value amidst the darkness of its price? And most importantly, how do we use it for good and not for evil?

I hope this post stirs up your desire to wrestle with these questions, too.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed this reprint!

A Red Pencil Trail

My arsenal was my Bible and a red pencil.

I didn’t think about how long it would take or the rationality of my approach. I wanted to know: what does it mean to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength?

If this is the greatest commandment, which it is clearly stated to be, then I was determined to uncover the answer. My method was to underline in my Bible every occurrence of the word love.

This approach is not speedy, but it uncovers some fascinating Bible trivia.

Like, do you know the first occurrence of the word love in both the Old and New Testament?

I’ll give you a shortcut, because you have to read 22 chapters to get to the first one. It’s that infamous passage where God tells Abraham to “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there.”

This is the first occurrence of love in the entire Bible, and that is the scene.

Yeah, it gave me pause too.

But it doesn’t stop there. Skip ahead several hundred pages and nearly 2000 years to the start of the New Testament. You don’t have to read far, but if you’re paying attention, the words in Matthew 3 will be eerily familiar:

And a voice came from heaven and said, “This is my Son, whom I love, in him I am well pleased.”

Big Horn Sheep Mom & Baby

It is the start of Jesus’ ministry and the path that ultimately leads to his sacrifice on Calgary. This time there will not be a ram caught by his horns in a thicket; Jesus is the lamb.

That, when you come right down to it, is how God loves us. But it still left unanswered my initial question of how we love God.

I sharpened my red pencil again.

There are hundreds of verses on love in the Bible, but my main take away from my two-year rabbit trail through the Bible reached its zenith when I read 1 John 5:3. “This is love for God: to obey his commands.”

There it was.

I set my Bible on my lap with a satisfied sigh. Finally, the definition I was looking for! Right here is how you love God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You love God by obeying his commands. And his command is to…

I paused, and my sigh was not so satisfied. My rabbit trail had suddenly become cyclical.

Red heart.

I should have seen this from the start. After all, I ended right where I began. To love God is to obey his command, and to obey his command is to love God. It was a long trip for a circular answer, but I’ve come to see that the journey was part of the lesson. You see, we can follow any rabbit trail we want, but we can never travel too far for God’s love to reach us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. That’s in the Bible too.

Maybe I haven’t plumbed the depths yet of what it means to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. But the more I study what it means to love God, the more I see what it means for God to love us – for God to love me. And that, my friends, is the first step.

You don’t need a red pencil in your hand to see it, but it’s not a bad path to try if you aren’t sure where to start. Love created the world, love sacrificed for the world, and love continues to change the world. Every day.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed.

The Great Cheese Inquisition

Every once in a while when I am studying something in my Bible, I get distracted and go off on an interesting tangent. (Actually, this happens frequently.) The other day as I was looking up references to the Ten Commandments (more on that later, maybe), I came across 1 Samuel 17:18, which in the English Standard Version (ESV) states: Also take these ten cheeses to the commander…

And it suddenly struck me that I had never noticed the word cheese before. (As you may recall, I am a big fan of cheese, so this was a significant discovery for me.) This led me to wonder, how often is cheese mentioned in the Bible?

A simple enough question, though not so simple an answer. There is, for example, the fact that different translations may not always translate the original languages the same way. And even within the same translation, original languages that may be translated as “cheese” in one instance may in fact be translated differently in another instance. Thus began a rather serious tangent. Also known as The Great Cheese Inquisition. (With thanks to BlueLetterBible.com for their handy online tools of interrogation.)

First stop, the Cheese of First Samuel.

The Hebrew word used for cheese in 1 Samuel 17:18 is “chalab.” This word is most commonly translated as milk (44 times in mot versions). But it is only translated as cheese this one time in the whole Bible.

Further investigation shows why this translation is different. It’s not only that translators decided that taking ten cheeses made more sense than taking ten milks. There is another word in the original Hebrew that gets lost in translation. The full phrase is “chariyts chalab” – cuts of milk. Hence the interpretation that what David carried to the commanding officers was cheese. It would, after all, be rather difficult to cut milk in its liquid form. (As an aside, the word “chariyts” only appears two other times with the word iron instead of milk and is commonly translated as “harrows of iron.”)

This explained the mysterious 10 cheeses of 1 Samuel, and I learned that this particular usage exists no place else in the Bible, but were there other references to cheese using different Hebrew words? Yes!

The Cheese of Second Samuel.

In 2 Samuel 17:29, when David is fleeing from Absalom, some supporters brought “honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”

The Hebrew word translated here as cheese is “shaphah.” This is the only time this Hebrew word appears in the Bible. The meaning is somewhat dubious, but it comes from a root meaning “to scrape off” or “to cleanse.” According to the Targum, which I don’t know too much about except that it is an Aramaic translation and commentary of the Hebrew Bible written a long time ago, the meaning of cheese comes about from the idea of filtering and cleansing from dregs during the process of making the cheese and separating it from the whey.

So that’s two cheeses down, both single appearances.

The Cheese of Job.

Our third and final cheese appears in Job 10:10, “Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese?” Here the word translated as cheese is “gĕbinah,” and this, too, is the only place in the Bible this Hebrew word is used. The word is more literally curdled milk. Cottage cheese, anyone?

The Quasi-Cheese: Curds & Butter

A more common word than “cheese” is “curds” or “butter” – both of which are translations of the Hebrew word “chem’ah.” Curds is the more common ESV translation, while the KJV always translates this word as butter. This word appears 10 times in the original Hebrew texts. Another word (machama’ah) is commonly translated as “butter” and used negatively in Psalm 55: “His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart.”

Interestingly, cheese, curds, nor butter appear in the New Testament.

Closing Cheese Statements

So in summary, the word “cheese” appears just three times in the Old Testament, each time represented by a different Hebrew word. A more common word can be translated as curds. This suggests there was something different about each of these cheeses. To determine exactly what is different, you probably need to be an ancient languages scholar or a master cheesemaker (or both), but that doesn’t prevent me from speculating.

First, David was a shepherd, which probably means that his cheese came from the sheep he tended. Our second cheese expressly states it is a “cheese from the herd,” which is a reference to cattle (and yes, I checked that assumption against the original language). So the second cheese would have been made from the milk of cows or oxen. Our third cheese is more literally curdled milk, and while there is no indication of animal, the picture for me at least is of a softer, moldable cheese. Finally, the curds are the most popular cheese-like item mentioned. This suggests a more common and raw form of cheese, similar to the cheese curds of today.

So there you have it. A blogful of three cheeses and some potential cheese curds. The Great Cheese Inquisition rests its case.

Biblical Hebrew: Week 1

Allow me to tell you what I think I know about the Hebrew alphabet.

There are 23 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  Some people say there are 26.  And immediately we come upon the main lesson of Week 1: In Biblical Hebrew, there is an alternate opinion, spelling, symbol, and/or pronunciation for just about everything.

Of the 23 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, six of them, when they appear at the beginning of a word, have a dot known as a dagesh.  For three of these letters (bet, kof, pey), this dagesh changes the pronunciation.  (These are the three additional letters some scholars consider part of the standard alphabet.)

Five letters in the Hebrew alphabet  (kof, mem, nun, tsadeh, pey), when they appear at the end of a word, have a different symbol known as a “final form.”  Pronunciation does not change.

The Hebrew alphabet contains no vowels.  Three letters (heh, vav, yod) were, at one point in the history of Hebrew, used as both consonants and vowels.  Later, a series of dots and dashes were used to represent vowel sounds, but because the written text was considered sacred, these consonants-used-as-vowels could not be removed, and two of these letters (vav and yod) were simply incorporated into the new vowels.

Hebrew alphabet

From http://www.jewfaq.org/alephbet.htm. Just for the record, about half the names of these letters are spelled differently than how I learned them. There are also 27 letters here (The 5 final forms are listed and shin is listed as one letter rather than two like I learned.)

There are 12 standard vowel points. Three of these (hireq, tsere, holem) have two forms either with the historical consonant or without.  There are several names for each form.  Of these, one of them (at least as we are going to learn in this particular class) changes sound.  Hireq plene (a.k.a. hireq yod), which is a yod with 2 horizontal dots under it, makes an “ee” sound; hireq (a.k.a. hireq defectiva), which is the two horizontal dots without the yod, makes a short “i” sound.

I could go on for a long time about the intricacies of Hebrew vowel points, but let me shift to one final piece.  in addition to vowel points, there is also something called Shewas (pronounced “shwahs”) represented by two vertical dots under the letter symbol.  There is a vocal shewa that makes a slight grunting sound, and a silent shewa that makes no sound at all, but represents the “closing” or end of a syllable.  I think there’s something else that represents the end of an open syllable (one that ends in a vowel) but I haven’t gotten that far yet.  There are five letters in the Hebrew alphabet (ayin, aleph, heh, het, resh) that do not take regular shewas.  They take composites that contain both a shewa (two vertical dots) and either a patah, segol, or qamatz (which are three of the standard vowel points.)

So in summary, The Hebrew alphabet contains approximately 23 letters, 6 alternate beginnings (3 which change sound), 5 final forms, and 5 that take composite vowel symbols.  There are 12 vowel points, 2 shewas and 3 composite shewas.  There are duplicate sounds, duplicate symbols, and alternate names and pronunciations.  But once you get that down, you’ve got the Hebrew alphabet.

Piece of cake.

There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me (1 Corinthians 14:10-11).

God’s Letter to Me

I wrote a similar idea on the new resources page, but I keep thinking about it.  And thinking for me is one step short of writing.  Which brings me here.  (Lucky you.) 

One of the habits I try to uphold is to read something Christian every night before I go to bed: the Bible, a devotional, an apologetic or theological book, a Christian biography.  Some nights I read chapters; some nights, a single verse.  It’s a habit I highly recommend.  But it is also a habit I have to be careful of.  Because sometimes I can spend too many nights reading the biographies and devotionals and apologetics, and not enough nights reading the Bible. 

Christian reading is good.  It gives me different perspectives and causes me to think about scripture passages in ways I might not otherwise think of them.  It is also inspiring to read about the lives and struggles and triumphs of some of the leaders of our faith.  But I need to always remember that none of this is a substitute for actually reading the Bible.  Reading only Christian books would be a bit like talking to someone about a mutual friend when there is a letter from that friend sitting unopened on my table.  Why on earth would I do that?  Letters are meant to be read.  And re-read.  (And in this day of electronic communication, probably framed and hung on the wall to be gazed upon with awe.) 

The Bible is God’s letter to me – and to you.  Hearing second-hand perspectives from others can be helpful, but it should never stop us from reading what God has to say directly to us.  We should never leave God’s letter sitting unopened and gathering dust. 

Take some time today to read what He has to say to you.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).