Category Archives: Theistic Thoughts

Thoughts on Prayer

Kristin’s recent “Drive-By Faith Healing” has lead to me thinking quite a lot about prayer, faith and healing. As a committed Christian I am convinced that God is real, and that prayer is effective as a means of communication with God. I have also experienced God’s answer to prayer, and am convinced that God can and will answer prayer. That said, I think we need to be careful in our attitude to prayer, and what our expectations are. We cannot just treat God as a genie and expect that he will do what we want just because we ask.

It is important to remember who God is and who I am. In particular considering how mighty and powerful God is, and how small in comparison I am. God is the originator of the complexity of our universe. He is the creator of all the sciences and mathematics that people can devote years to trying to understand. A PhD student will expect to end up being the expert in their specialisation – only knowing a sliver of the information that God created. God’s knowledge is so much more complete, and it is to this mighty, knowledgeable, and powerful God that I pray. Compared to God, my knowledge is negligible and my understanding is frighteningly limited. It is then to this mighty and powerful God that the Christian comes with prayers and petitions. A big reason that we pray to God is because of this power and wisdom. It only makes sense to ask for things from someone who is able to provide. If God isn’t strong enough or powerful enough to answer prayer, then what is the point?

With this as a background, it is amazingly presumptuous for us to demand things of such a powerful entity. God the creator of the Universe is present and in control. He is powerful and wise and knowing, and so can make much better decisions and work things out in ways that are beyond our understanding. Just as I cannot presume to understand everything that a PhD student has spent years learning, I cannot presume to understand everything that the powerful God does. I certainly need to be careful in demanding things from such a God.

The nuance in praying to the Christian God is that God also loves us, and wants what is best for us. We are told that God is a God of love, and that we are to bring before God our prayers and petitions. God will then answer them in the way that is best for us. Not necessarily how we want, but in the way that is best.

This brings us back to the topic of faith healing. God is certainly capable of healing people. There are clear cases where God has healed people in the past, but, God is God. We can’t expect God to do things just because that is what we want, or because they happened that way in the past. We have the privilege of asking God for things and communicating with God, but need to treat God with the deserved respect and honour. As we pray for healing we just need to remember that the answer that God gives is not always the answer that we want.

If God is the Christian God of far superior knowledge and boundless love, then when we pray for healing we can take great comfort in knowing that his answer, be it yes no or wait, really is theĀ best answer.

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker– An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’

Online Sermons

  It's been a very long time since I've posted anything in the Theistic Thought category of this blog.  Long enough that people might not have ever seen one :).

This isn't so much of a Theistic Thought, as more of a sharing of a resource.  I've just come across The Gospel Coalition website, which has a great set of sermons from good preachers available for people to download.  What I've heard so far, and seen is great, and well worth a listen if you are that way inclined.

I stumbled across the site while looking for recent sermons from Don Carson, and was stoked to find a list of Don Carson sermons, which it looks like they will keep up to date.  This list on it's own is great to see, but combined with the other people it is awesome.  I'm particularly stocked to see the inclusion of the sermons from funniest, most challenging bible based preacher I've heard, Mark Driscoll.  (Mark Driscoll views preachers and stand-up comics as the professions that he can learn the most from, with Chris Rock being one of the important people that he tries to learn technique from).

The resources form a great portal for how to get to good biblical resources.  I'll be using it as a starting point to listen and learn more about God.

Web Service Every Church Needs to Know About

First I apolagise to all the hard core technical and Java people for making you read the title of this post.  I know that church related things are pretty off topic for this blog, but I just found a really awesome SAAS web-based application that I had to talk about.

Almost all churches use CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) to handle their copyright requirements.  It is a pretty good service that centralises the management of copyright for music.  I was looking at some software to help make the data projector at church run better (EasiSlides looks promising), when I went across to the CCLI site.  They have released the coolest addition to the standard CCLI offering, SongSelect.  Song Select is a great resource that provides online access to the CCLI songs including all the features you would hope for (like chord charts, lyrics, a music player and automatic transposition of songs).  I was initially just looking for something to help me get the words into a form suitable for data projection, but this looks like a product which will be much more useful.

Technologywise, SongSelect is running as a Flash App.  and is just all round cool.  It is stuff like this that gets me excited.  It's really IT that helps makes peoples lives work better.  Even if I wasn't a committed Christian (and I am), this would be cool, because it does everything that a bunch of people need it to do, and makes peoples lives better and more fun.

Emergence

I picked up a copy of the book Emergence a month or so ago while browsing a local bookstore.  It's about emergent behavior, and complexity theory, not (as my wife seems to think every time I mention the title) about coming out of the closet.

I've found it to be quite interesting read, filling in many of my missing bits of understanding around the world of complex systems.  I've read about it before, spending a fair amount of time at QUT working with a guy who is doing alot of work in Security Risk Simulation and modelling in complex systems.

It's interesting because Computers on their own are becoming increasingly complex.  I'm not going to say that a web application is a complex system, but the interactions between browsers, operation systems and JVM's does seem to cause behavior which is at least approaching emergence.

Thinking in these terms can be useful when doing bug-fixing.  The bizarre side effects and bugs that can happen in different configurations can be thought of emergent behavior, removing some of the blaming that can happen.  So perhaps sometimes the bugs aren't Sun's/Microsoft's/Mozilla's fault, rather behavior that has emerged from the way in which the agents (browse/operating system/jvm) have interacted.

This then makes bug fixing  a case of preventing agents from getting into situations that cause the bad behavior to happen.

Some of the interesting examples are the ant colony studies, which have shown how the ants interact to create the behavior which is like the ants are all working under a centralized controller.  Long term studies of the ant colonies show the colony displaying properties which are greater than any one ant does. Basically the idea is that the collective behavior is not controlled centrally. This type of reasoning is often used to remove the need for a creator/God figure in control of things.

People who make these statements normally skip over the fact of the need for the initial behaviors to be initialized in the first place.  While these behaviors are relatively simple, each ant does still have some quite intricate (almost designed) rules that are being used.

As the book says of a computer simulation of emergent systems (specifically talking about modelling the behaviour of slime cells), "Of course, on the most fundamental level, StarLogo is itself a centralized system: it obeys rules laid down by a single authority — the programmer.  But the route from Resnick's code to those slime mold clusters is indirect.  You don't program the slime mold cells to form clusters; you program them to follow patterns in the rails left behind by their neighbors.  If you have enough cells, and if the trails last long enough, you'll get clusters, but they're not something you can control directly.  And predicting the number of clusters — or their longevity — is almost impossible without extensize trial-and-error experimentation with the system." and continues "Systems like StarLogo are not utter anarchies: they obey rules that we define in advance, but those rules only govern the micromotives.  The macrobehavior is another matter."

This matches my current view of the world.  I don't think that emergent behavior acts to prove or deny the existence of a creator.  It would be possible to match most (if not all) belief systems with Emergence, which for me means that I am happily able to be a Christian and someone who uses and applies the principles and lessons from emergent behavior throughout my life, especially while coding.

Minor Updates

After gentle feedback from Suzanne (OK so she laughed at me, not with me), I've made some minor updates to the wording above, to improve the readability.

Volunteering IT Skills to a Christian Organisation

Not so much of a Theistic Though… more of a practical working out of the things I believe as truth ;).

Kevin from Chicago asked about my experience in working with a Christian Organisation…. like how and why did I do this, and are there needs for Software developers.

From what I could see, there are real needs for programmers in a Christian Organisation. Most of them are working on a shoestring budget, and so cannot afford to hire programmers. The place where I was working had heaps of work that could be done. All the things that are taken for granted within a corporate environment don’t get done quite so easily.

Specific needs where I was would include:
Intranet — at least for within each national office.
   database — people had lots of ideas that they would like to see done, but not the time or skills to do things
      so either Excel or Access ends up being the solution.
Internet — this isn’t too bad, but they always need developers/designers
Networking — putting together and supporting networks

I ended up doing a combination of these things for a short three week period. It was a good time, pretty rewarding work. My wife and I were planning a trip overseas with the organisation, when it fell through, and we ended up working on the home end. It was a great experience, that I would highly recommend.

A Theistic Thought

One of the more defining things about myself is that I am a Christian.

This means different things for different people. For me when I say it I mean:

I believe in God
I believe that the historical person Jesus Christ is the son of God.
I believe that the Bible contains the history of God working through time, and is God’s words to us.
I have a personal relationship with God.

Here you will find my thoughts and musings about God.

For now — take a look at Two Ways to Live