John Bradshaw - The Selfishness Paradigm
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. There are few things more beautiful, more peaceful, or more relaxing than a place like this. Botanical gardens are a feature of many major cities, and if you've ever visited somewhere like Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island in British Columbia or the remarkable 300-acre Kew Gardens near Richmond in southwest London in England, you know how spectacular they can be. And gardens like these are typically kept immaculate. They're orderly, everything in its place, manicured. But look closely and you'll see that things are not as they appear. It's not all beauty. Things certainly aren't orderly, and they're definitely not peaceful, at least not on a biological level.
Let me show you what I mean. Take a closer look and you'll see a life-and-death drama playing out. Bugs or insects are going about their rather ruthless business, hunting, preying on other insects or spiders. Wasps attacking spiders. Ants hauling away other bugs or insects. And often these little things are locked in a battle, the outcome of which isn't always sure. And it isn't pretty. These aren't sanitized battles that are taking place. You've got little creatures injecting venom, paralyzing their victims, and then taking the victim, still alive, heart still beating, but unable to move, back to its nest where it might even lay eggs in the victim. In some cases, the eggs hatch, and the paralyzed victim becomes a living food source. To advance its own interests, one little creature takes the life of another.
Look at a rosebush and you'll often see aphids, which make their living by piercing the tender young bark of the plant and drinking the rich sap. These aphids are, in turn, hunted by a voracious creature that we've somewhat romanticized: the ladybug. A ladybug can eat dozens of aphids in a day. It can actually bite humans. It doesn't feel like much more than a little pinch for us, but for aphids, different story. A ladybug is an aphid-eating machine. Basically, she takes their lives in order to advance and further her own life. That's how she, or he, for that matter, goes about his or her business. And there's no peace in the soil underneath the beautiful bushes.
The soil is alive. In a handful of soil are billions of microorganisms. And they're at war with each other. Opposing armies of different types of microorganisms are almost continually at battle, and the winner eats the loser. The opposing sides employ some pretty sophisticated strategies and counter-strategies, including mimicry, camouflage, and chemical warfare. Let's call it what it is. In a handful of soil, there plays out a hellish scenario of war, strife, and death. And what's happening in the soil under our feet is not so different from what's happening in the grass and the bushes and the trees and the water all around us. In fact, from the bottom of the oceans to the tops of the mountains, we see the same pattern repeated throughout nature, where creatures survive by taking the lives or the resources of other creatures. By taking. Selfishness is a fundamental part of the planet's operating system.
In fact, the organizing principle of much of the natural world is selfishness. And that principle isn't confined only to the natural world. Selfishness is the organizing principle for most human endeavors, our global society, our industry, and our economy. Economists will tell you that Wall Street can't really operate without it. In fact, pretty much the entire world, from all of nature to most everything humanity does, operates on a selfishness paradigm. Or, in other words, on a selfishness-based system. And for Christians, that's a real problem. In fact, it's a huge problem. But at the same time, it's a fitting way for us to start to talk about the prequel of the Bible. Now, like any prequel, the prequel of the Bible is the back story, the story behind the stories that you know. But once you know the prequel, it makes everything else you know fuller and deeper and more meaningful. And in our case, it helps explain a world based on selfishness.
So, back to the question of the selfishness paradigm and the way nature and human society operate. Here's the problem for Christians: The Bible says that God created the world. More than that, in the book of Genesis, the Bible gives a detailed account of God's creation, of how He systematically built up the fundamental systems of the world, our atmosphere, our, our hydrosphere, our soil system, and how God added life forms to populate each completed system, birds, fish, plants, and animals. And then when all the systems were complete, He added humans. The Bible describes creation as a very intentional and systematic process undertaken by God. It also says He was pleased with each component system as He finished creating it. And that He was very pleased with the final result, where all systems and life forms worked together in one flawless, balanced, intermeshed whole. But what kind of world would God create? What kind of world did He create? I'll have more in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Now, the Bible says that God is love. He is the very definition, the very distillation of love. He's also a lot of other things. He's nurturing; He's caring; He's generous; He's kind; He's supportive; He's creative. But God is love. Now, thinking about this logically, if God is love, then those things that He creates wouldn't be, in fact, I would say couldn't be, in opposition to His character. But just by observing the world around us, it's obvious the organizing principle of the world is not love, but selfishness. That is, the organizing principle of the world is the exact opposite of what God says He is.
Now, a God who would make a world based on selfishness, where the things He made would torture and kill one another, is not a God of love but is a monster and isn't a God that is worthy of our worship. Let me say that again: A God who would intentionally create a world so that what He made was designed to torture and to kill one another, that God is not worthy of our worship. So this question: Who is God? This other question: What did He make? They are very important.
As we look at who and what God is and grapple with the difference between who God says He is and what we see in the world around us, we can run through several possible reasons for what really is a massive disparity. And I can think of four. One: Maybe who God says He is and what we see in the world are different because the Bible is false, and God is actually a monster who tortures the things He creates. Number two: Maybe there's no God. Maybe the Bible's just a book of fables. That would explain it. Number three: Perhaps the Bible is true, and God is who He says He is, but something happened to change the world from the way He created it into what it is today. And maybe there's a fourth reason: Maybe God created the world it actually is right now, but we simply don't understand it or Him.
Now, each one of these four possibilities touches directly on the character and the existence of God. As we start talking about the state of the world, we're also thinking about and talking about the character of God. So we have four possible reasons for the disparity between who God says He is and what we see in the world around us. God says that He is love. But the world around us isn't based on love, but selfishness. So let's look at those four possible reasons and see if we can narrow down that list. What was our first reason? Maybe God actually is a monster who tortures the things He creates. Well, the entire Bible says otherwise. "God is love," 1 John 4, verse 8. "I have loved you with an everlasting love," Jeremiah 31:3. "The thoughts I have towards you are thoughts of peace and not of evil". Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 11. "God so loved the world that He gave..." John 3:16. So we can reject that first proposition.
Now, what was our second reason? There's no God, and the Bible is a book of fables. Well, this is It Is Written, and not "It Is Proposed" or "It Is Speculated". So we'll scratch that one off the list. Now, let's look at the fourth reason. God created the world just like we see it, but we simply don't understand it or that or Him. Well, undoubtedly, there's a lot that we don't understand, but God gave the Bible so we could understand it. Jeremiah wrote, "And you will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all [of] your heart". God wants us to know Him. So, no.
Now, that leaves one more possibility to explain the disparity between who God says He is and what we see in the world: The world changed after God created it. The book of Job helps us with this, especially Job chapter 38. There's a conversation going on between God and Job where God says to Job, "Where were you when I [created the world]?... When the morning stars sang... and all the sons of God shouted for joy"? Now, there's a lot going on between Job and God in this passage, but what God said was very important in relation to the question that we're pursuing. Did the earth change after God created it? Those morning stars God talks about are angels. When God created the earth, it was so special, so beautiful, so amazing that the angels sang and shouted for joy.
If God had created a world that was contrary to His character, if it was a world where the natural and the biological systems didn't operate on love, on universal giving and nurturing, the angels would have responded with shock and confusion. But they sang, and they celebrated, indicating that the world as it was originally created was really different from what we see around us now, and it was completely consistent with the character of God. Its organizing principle was love. So can we be sure about that? Well, yes, we can.
In the first part of Isaiah chapter 11 Jesus is foretold, including His character and His ministry. And then, a few characteristics of His restored kingdom are described, including that a lion will lay down with a lamb and that snakes will not be a threat, even to children. In verse 9, Christ is quoted in the first person and says of the re-created earth, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain". Which means the re-created earth will be very different from the one in which we live. It'll be so different, in so many ways, that it will require a different organizing principle. Its entire system of operating will be different. How does this assure us that God didn't create the world the way it is now? Two things. First, in that same chapter, Isaiah 11, it says in verse 7, "The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox".
So bears will graze like cows, and lions will eat straw. This is so different from the reality we now see around us. We know that the world just doesn't work that way, at least not right now. What the Bible describes is foreign to us; it's almost unbelievable. But let's go back to the book of Genesis, towards the end of the first chapter of this amazing book. God is giving instructions for His newly created earth. There's a passage describing what humans and animals are supposed to eat. And in verses 29 and 30, the Bible says this: "And God said, 'See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.'"
What the Bible is saying is that everything God created, humans and animals, ate plants. They didn't kill other creatures to survive. Now, that kind of world would require an entirely different system of operating from what we see around us today. But then that's exactly what the Bible says existed. When God created the world, it was profoundly different from what we see around us today. And here's the thing; God will return the world to His original model when the earth is made new. And something that wasn't changed doesn't need to be restored.
Now, we can go even further with this. In Revelation 11:18, where John writes about the very end of days and the condition of the earth, God says that He will "destroy those who destroy the earth". So not only is the earth fundamentally changed, not only did God not change it, He's unhappy about it, and He will bring to justice those who did the changing. He will destroy those who did it. So, based on what the Bible says, we can be sure that the earth was changed dramatically, fundamentally from the way God created it. We can also be sure that it will be restored to what it once was. Now, in a moment, I will introduce you to a friend. Well, not a friend exactly, but a scorpion is a good example of just what I'm talking about. Back with more in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. Now, here's a major question that we really need to answer. It baffles a lot of people. How did the earth get changed from what it was to what it now is? What happened to God's earth, the earth He specially created, the earth that reflected His character, the earth that dazzled the angels? This is the question that the prequel of the Bible answers, and we'll find that both the question and the answer are incredibly important.
Now, think of the implications of what we're talking about. This is God we are discussing. He is the distillation of loving-kindness. How did the world, the world made by God, become something that does not reflect His character? Think through some of these questions: Can anything happen that's contrary to the will of God? How could it, if God is all-powerful? And if it did happen, then how did it happen? And think about Jesus and His life and ministry. How does Jesus play into all of this? We've answered some important questions, but a critical question remains. How did the earth become something that operates according to principles that are inconsistent with the character of God?
Now, let's think for a moment about the scorpion. You can find them right here in the desert. They're plentiful, actually. You can find them very easily. The scorpion is an intimidating creature. Look at that stinger on its tail. They're dangerous things. But even apart from the stinger, its claws are imposing as well, and it uses its stinger and claws together to deadly effect. It's a predator that grabs other small creatures and injects them with excruciating poison, a venom specifically designed to overwhelm the nervous system.
Now, the venom works in a couple of different ways. The prey is overwhelmed with excruciating pain. Before long, it cannot coordinate its movements, and it's incapacitated. And then the scorpion will eat its prey, whether it's dead or alive. And female scorpions will, at times, actually eat male scorpions during or after mating. Some scorpions, not this one, fortunately, can actually kill people with their sting, scorpions such as the deathstalker. That's one that you'd find in the Middle East.
Now, this one wouldn't kill me if it stung me, but it would hurt, something like a bee sting, maybe a little more. So I would treat this one with a great deal of caution and respect. Altogether, the scorpion was cunningly, it was brilliantly designed for its purpose and for its environment. But the question the scorpion raises is this: Does it reflect the character of God, that is, as we know it now? And if it doesn't, how did it come to be this way? The prequel of the Bible answers this question, and the prequel takes the form of a hidden story in the Bible, an intentionally hidden story, actually. And it takes some real diligence to track it down. It's scattered across books of the Bible that were written over a period of some 1,500 years. And it's non-linear.
By that, I mean it doesn't appear in order in the Bible. One writer has part of the middle of the story, let's say, while another writer hundreds of years later fills in part of the beginning of the story. The fact that it's non-linear is actually quite important because the Bible treats some key material this way, as in the book of Revelation. As non-linear Bible stories go, what we're going to look at next is probably the prime example. And when we unlock the story, you might find it profoundly alters your understanding of why there is death, disease, suffering, and injustice in the world. It also explains why this creature exists. So what do we know about God? We know that God is love. John wrote those words twice in nine verses in the book of 1 John. Here's what we know. Out of this chaos, God is going to create something phenomenal.
Revelation 21:4 says that "God shall wipe away all tears... and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away". In Isaiah 65:17, God says, "I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind". John wrote in Revelation 21:1, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away".
One day, no more bugs paralyzing other bugs. No more toxic venom. Better yet, no more crime, no more murder, no more injustice. You know, Peter noticed what we notice. He noticed a dysfunctional world coming apart. He noticed the world filled with death and hate and pain, and he wrote in 2 Peter 3 in verse 13, "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells". And we do. We look for that.
Are you looking for that? If you are, I can tell you where you can find it. You can find it in Jesus Christ, who left heaven and came to this earth gone astray to show you that in spite of what you see, in spite of what you don't understand, that God is love, and that the God who is love loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him. Next time on It Is Written, we'll delve deeper into the prequel of the Bible. We'll find out how it came to be that the earth was so radically changed from what it was to what it has become. And we'll begin to answer some of the most important questions that have ever been posed.