Why did God bless Jacob, the deceiver?


In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob, the younger twin, uses fraud and cunning to take Esau’s birthright from him. The significance of the birthright in Old Testament times cannot be overemphasised. The end result was Jacob becoming the ancestor of the Israelite people, blessed by God and Esau becoming the ancestor of some of their mortal enemies, rejected by God. On the face of it, this preferential treatment might seem unjust, if it derives from Jacob’s use of subterfuge.

But perhaps therein lies the mistake, assuming that the blessing flows from the deceitful act, rather than from a prior or independent choice of God’s. If we look back in the story, even before the birth, God had said to the boys’ mother, Rebekah:

23 …Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.

Genesis 25:23 (New International Version – UK)

And why did God choose Jacob over Esau? We may never know the full reasons, but here are a few thoughts:

  • God’s decision to bless Jacob is made prior to the children’s birth and prior to their ability to commit a sinful act. In this way, God provides an early demonstration of the principle that his favour is not based on our works.
  • God foreknew the events that would unfold. Remember that prior to Jacob deceiving his father, it is said of Esau that he “despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34). He had sold it to his brother for some stew (probably not realising that Jacob was in earnest about taking the birthright).
  • It is possibly implied that Esau would not have honoured his bargain pertaining to the transfer of the birthright, hence Jacob’s need to take it by deception.

Whatever the real reason behind God’s choice, there are a few scriptures that cast light on his mode of operation. Firstly, the divine right of God to dispense special grace as He sees fit:

19 … I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Exodus 33:19 (New International Version – UK)

Secondly, the attitude we are expected to maintain with respect to God’s grace:

21 … The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.

Job 1:21 (New International Version – UK)

Amd thirdly, lest we be in any doubt, our position in respect of deserving God’s favour:

10 … There is no-one righteous, not even one;

Romans 3:10 (New International Version – UK)

In short, Jacob could not have earned God’s blessing. Furthermore, we can take some comfort from the fact that God blessed him despite his behaviour. And finally, we can see that in His glorious timescale, God’s purposes will be fulfilled, even though we and our enemy try our hardest at times to defeat those purposes.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

The “NIV” and “New International Version” trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Biblica.

Isaac – Brancoveanu Monastery image copyright © Fergal of Claddagh, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

A Holiday Message From Rob Pomeroy: Why I’m not an Atheist

Ricky Gervais

This year, Ricky Gervais strayed some distance from his usual field of comedy, posting a Christmas message for the Wall Street Journal, entitled Why I’m an Atheist. Within a week, the article had attracted nearly 6,000 comments.

A colleague brought my attention to the article and I’m glad he did. It was an interesting read. I commend Ricky for his honesty in expressing the reasons for his belief system at a time where personal belief seems an increasingly taboo subject.

Concerning belief, he makes a good point: “People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary.” He’s right in observing the tendency to become entrenched in one’s beliefs and fearful of challenge to those beliefs. That is profoundly disappointing to me. I do not want to believe in something false, even if (as Plato observed) some good might come from that belief. No, I want to believe in something real and true, so far as such can be established. Therefore I welcome challenge to my faith. If the things I believe are true, they will stand up to any scrutiny and to the extent that I might be wrong or misguided, I want to be corrected.

Not all Christians feel the same way.

Where Ricky misses his own point is in neglecting to observe its application to him. In my experience, it is just as true to say, “People who don’t believe in God don’t need proof of his non-existence and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary.” Vast swathes of literature reporting miracles and the transforming effect of a personal relationship with God are dismissed out of hand. Let’s be clear: God, if He exists, is a spirit. What kind of evidence are you expecting?

But I agree with Ricky. When Christians (indeed believers of any persuasion) utter post-modern mantras like, “This is true for me,” or, “This is my reality – show me yours,” I cringe inwardly. Truth is not like that. In fact no one believes that, deep down. No one believes that the sofa that I’m sitting on has the capability of disappearing into non-existence in Schroedinger’s world between sofa and non-sofa. With the exception of a few very esoteric thinkers, we do all believe in the factual absolute truth that the sofa is not in my head.

If Jesus existed (and no serious historian now doubts that) then He was either truly God’s son or a lunatic. Let’s not be wishy-washy about that. There is overwhelming support for the fact that He made this claim. He had a reputation of performing miracles – this reputation was not confined to sympathetic or “Christian” writers. Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. There is no room in that view for half-hearted truth claims. Either Christ is the way for everyone or He’s the way for no one.

As an aside, this is where an accusation of intolerance is falsely levelled at Christianity. All world views have similar truth claims. Crusading atheist Richard Dawkins for example famously believes that parents teaching their children the truth of the Gospel are effectively committing child abuse. There’s tolerance for you. But I digress.

Let’s address the central point in Ricky’s world view: “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe.” This reveals that he has bought into the “enlightened” spirit of the age which wants us to believe that the only route to truth is through science. Since when did science acquire the monopoly on truth? For instance, ethics can tell us a lot about how we should practise science, but science can tell us nothing about how we should practise ethics. Science is a study of the observable universe, so it stands to reason (yes reason!) that it is in no position to comment on something unobservable or non-corporeal. If God exists, He is spirit.

I’ve recently been hearing about the Kalām cosmological argument which briefly states:

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  • The universe began to exist.
  • Therefore the universe has a cause.

Modern science does not take issue with this line of reasoning. Most cosmologists, Stephen Hawking included, believe that the universe is not eternal, that it “started” at some point in time. But we know from experience (don’t we?) that things do not just spring into existence out of nothing. It never happens. Why should the universe be any exception?

This then leads us to account for the existence of the universe: at this point we have a choice which faith statement to accept since it becomes impossible by any known method (including scientific method) to prove something beyond the sphere of our own universe. Do we believe in magic? A supreme being? Or some other idea which science is bound to hit upon eventually? At this metaphysical level the most elegant and yes, logical, account for the existence of the universe is an eternal being with will and intent. That being has to be eternal since the being cannot itself have come into existence (that would stick us with an infinite regression). That being can’t simply be matter since we know that matter has a beginning.

So the definition of God, far from being a “logical impossibility in this known universe” is a logical necessity and remains the best explanation we have to date of the fact of existence.

“Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate.” Here Ricky is confusing science with scientists. Science is practised by scientists and, I flatter myself, I have enough experience of them to detect a tendency towards arrogance, bias and discrimination. That is not unique to scientists; we all are like this.

I don’t follow why Ricky believes the burden of proof for God’s existence is on the believer. Be that as it may, believers have been demonstrating the existence of God for millennia and can hardly be blamed if non-believers refuse to accept that demonstration.

Keeping it real, Ricky’s account of the loss of his faith is poignant and saddening. He felt that his mother’s imposition of faith upon him was a sham to encourage him to behave “properly”. Darkly ironic. You see the biggest hurdle for belief in God, for many, is the poor way that believers behave. This is inconsistent with the stated underpinnings of love. Jesus when asked what the greatest commandment was replied, “Love God. And love people.”

But far more serious than Christians failing to comply with their own requirements is atheists following through the logical consequences of their belief system. If the universe is impersonal and amoral, there can be no logical defence of an absolute moral standard. Atheists can defend a moral consensus as much as they wish, but there can be no particular logical reason why a Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler or Genghis Khan should not rise up again and genocidally attempt to accelerate evolution.

If it doesn’t suit me for you to live, why should you live? The universe doesn’t care. If I’m stronger than you, why should your genetic material be given a chance to outlast mine? No moral reason. The universe doesn’t care. We all die anyway.

You say you’re trying to live a moral life. Good for you. But why should your morals have any impact on me? You’re in my space. So I’m going to kill you. That this reasoning is perfectly legitimate in the absence of an absolute moral standard cannot be disputed. You may not like it, but we’re not talking about like/dislike. We’re talking about right/wrong.

In my life I have experienced God’s intervention and known his love in a way that has surpassed coincidence and landed firmly in the realm of truth. I have tested this belief system and it has stood up to every challenge. When Christians talk about standing on a rock, this is what they mean. I embrace my faith and I embrace science. There is one important proviso: where my faith and science disagree, I have learnt to let faith preside over science. Experience has shown so far that science eventually catches up with faith, a trend I fully expect to continue, if science is indeed as honest as Ricky likes to believe.

Ricky Gervais photo copyright © Nadja von Massow, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Kindle Fire: Pretender to the iPad’s Crown?

Kindle Fire showing InsensateWhen last week I read about the new $199 Kindle Fire released in the States, my first thought was, “This is a loss leader for a content delivery system.” Amazon has recognised it can make so much money out of selling ebooks, it doesn’t need to make a profit on the reading units.

In the Fire, Amazon has produced a unit that can in all important respects compete with most of the other tablets/pads out there, apparently (but not actually) for a fraction of the cost to the consumer. Obviously, Amazon wants to be positioned ready for when that 50:50 ebooks-to-print-books ratio tips to 75%+. And of course it’s not just ebooks, because Amazon can deliver audio, video and apps to the Fire, positioning it squarely in Apple/iTunes territory.

How is Apple going to challenge a $199 contender to the $499 iPad’s crown? I think we can be certain that Apple will respond forcefully – it can’t afford to take a drubbing in its most strategic consumer sector. Nevertheless, this looks to me like a very smart move on Amazon’s part and I’m not sure which (if any) large company is in a position to challenge this move.

It looks like PC Pro agrees with me. What do you think?

Cannot save photos on jailbroken iPhone 4 camera roll: FIXED

iPhone 4 A few applications recently started failing to save photos to the iPhone camera roll. A quick dig around via SSH confirmed this; it was not that they were saving but were somehow hidden – they were not there at all.

It seems that some kind of permissions error had crept in over time. Connecting via SSH and issuing the command “chmod -R a+rwx /var/mobile/Media/DCIM” fixed this.

NB: Be aware that this grants all users/applications read/write access to the photo directory.

iPhone 4 image copyright © ji young YOON, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Windows: keyboard layout has changed spontaneously

keyboard I’ve recently noticed that the keyboard layout on my Windows XP PCs is spontaneously changing from UK to US. I suspect that this is linked to a piece of software I use called Input Director (which allows you to control several PCs/monitors from one keyboard/mouse).

Whatever the cause, from time to time my UK keyboard starts operating in US mode (so, for example, the following symbols are all swapped around: ", ', #, £). This is inconvenient, to say the least.

The logical place to look would be in Regional Settings/Languages, within the Control Panel. Nothing had changed there however: UK was the only layout showing as installed. Advanced Text Services were switched off and all the relevant keyboard shortcuts were disabled.

In my search for a solution, I came across this page, which describes a similar situation. Within the comments on that page, one contributor has posted:

Try holding ‘alt’ and pressing ‘shift’ three times.

The mysterious Jim doesn’t explain why this works – and I have yet to find any documentation, but, sure enough, Alt-Shift-Shift-Shift does indeed reset the keyboard layout back to UK. Further repetitions of the keyboard combo have no other effect, so this is a reset rather than a toggle.

Office has a mind of its own

Microsoft Office products can exhibit a similar behaviour. If you’re finding that some MS Office product is using the wrong keyboard map (but other programs are fine), try this: First click on the Office program, somewhere you can enter text. Then press the left shift and alt keys together. You should be returned to your default keyboard mapping.

You can actually remove the unwanted keyboard layout from Office – note this is separately managed from the Windows keyboard layout, for some reason. In one of the Office programs (for 2010 onwards), click File -> Options -> Language. If you see more than one “Editing Language” in the list, select any you don’t want and click “Remove”.

Keyboard image copyright © yum9me, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

How can a good God allow the innocent to suffer?

It’s perhaps one of the most significant questions asked of Christians, both in the frequency with which the question occurs and in the size of the hurdle it represents to the questioner. The challenge is in reconciling two apparently conflicting statements: firstly that God exists and he is loving, all-powerful and good and secondly, that suffering exists and can be seen in people who we consider don’t deserve to suffer.

Listen to the podcast for one approach to this vexing question.

Note to broadcasters: please do contact us to obtain higher quality audio and a licence to broadcast any of these podcasts.

podcast iconHow can a good God allow the innocent to suffer?

Install Ubuntu from floppy + network; no CDROM

Ubuntu Logo This blog entry brings together instructions from various other source on the internet, for a particular scenario:

  • Compaq Evo N1015v laptop (“the Laptop”) – should work on many other machines though
  • CDROM drive is faulty – cannot boot or read from it
  • Network card/BIOS cannot natively boot from the network
  • Cannot boot from USB
  • The Laptop does however have a floppy drive
  • Windows is currently installed on the Laptop
  • Another Windows-based computer (“the PC”) is available and both machines are networked and connected to the internet

The objective was originally to have XBMC running on a now-defunct laptop. Unfortunately it transpired that the graphics card was too old and obsolete to be supported by XBMC. Nevertheless, we can still use the Laptop for many other purposes.

The steps

  1. Find out what network card is installed on the Laptop. In my case this was easy – within Windows, the device manager told me it was a Realtek RTL8139 something-or-other. Otherwise, Google can help.
  2. Still within Windows on the Laptop, use the gPXE ROM-o-matic to create a bootable floppy disk for this network card. Very easy. Select the most recent “production release” >here<. Choose the correct NIC type (in my case “rtl8139”) and click “Get Image”.
  3. Still within Windows on the Laptop, write that disk image to a floppy disk using RawWrite.
  4. Following the instructions on the Ubuntu documentation site, download the appropriate netboot files for your architechture and set up tftpd32 on the PC.
  5. With tftpd32 running on the PC, reboot the Laptop from the floppy (set BIOS to boot from floppy first). This should automatically boot into the Ubuntu installer – select “install” and proceed with Ubuntu installation over the internet. This will take a long time, even over a fast internet connection!
  6. If the installation is on an older machine, it would be worth selecting “Xubuntu desktop” (rather than “Ubuntu desktop”) at the software selection screen. This installs a leaner desktop system. After the installation is complete, run aptitude from the command line or Synaptic Package Manager from the desktop to choose any other software packages required.

Image copyright © Canonical Ltd. All rights acknowledged.

Fine-tuning divert to voicemail for iPhones (and Android, BlackBerry, etc.)

Hi! This is the one of the most viewed (and I hope, one of the most helpful) pages on my web site. Thanks for visiting! If you find the information here useful, please feel free to express your appreciation in the comments or, even better, by grabbing a copy of my novel. 😉 >more info<.

– Rob

Answerphone by jypsygen http://www.flickr.com/photos/jypsygen/3461757736/sizes/l/For some reason, the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 (with the current or recent versions of iOS) have very few options for call diversion. Fortunately, it is possible to set up all the usual diverts using network codes from the keypad. To divert to voicemail, you need to know your <voicemail> number (see the section below).

The instructions below work regardless of phone operating system, so do work for Android
, BlackBerry and other devices. Those phones tend to provide these features in a more intuitive fashion, but if you can’t find the settings, the procedures here should work anyway.

Press the call button after entering the codes below:

Function Dial
Activate divert all **21*<voicemail>#
Deactivate divert all ##21#
Query divert all *#21#
Activate divert when no answer* **61*<voicemail>#
Deactivate divert when no answer ##61#
Query divert when no answer *#61#
Activate divert when not reachable **62*<voicemail>#
Deactivate divert when not reachable ##62#
Query divert when not reachable *#62#
Activate divert when busy **67*<voicemail>#
Deactivate divert when busy ##67#
Query divert when busy *#67#

*You can vary the number of seconds to wait before diverting when there’s no answer. The delay can be between 5 and 30 seconds. Enter that as a two digit number (05 to 30) in place of “<xx>” in the following code: **61*<voicemail>**<xx>#

Voicemail numbers

On the UK T-Mobile network, your voicemail number is usually +44063, followed by your mobile phone number (without the leading 0), e.g. if your phone number is 07123456789, the appropriate voicemail number is +440637123456789. Long-press the 0 key to get the +. BUT! in the voicemail number prefix (+44063) , the ’63’ may be something different for your phone – e.g. for the Fresh sub-network, the prefix is +44060. You can check the correct prefix by entering *#67#.

Voicemail numbers for other networks are more straightforward:

  • O2 901
  • Orange +447973100123
  • Virgin 212, or try prefixing your mobile phone number with +44002 (dropping the leading 0)
  • Vodafone 121

Answer phone image copyright © jypsygen, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Ode to a Wintry Commute

wintry roadOh come on frosty mornings!
Your charms are wearing thin.
I’m weary of commuting in
a car as cold as sin.

It makes me nervous when the engine
doesn’t want to start.
Its coughs and splutters are like a
rhinocerous’s fart.

The wheel has induced frostbite;
the engine’s rattling.
Suspension’s frozen creaking
sounds like chickens have moved in.

The washer jets are iced up
and the roads are slick as grease.
It’ll be a downright miracle if
I get there in one piece.

Jack Frost no longer pleases me
with trees full of dandruff.
So come on frosty mornings,
you’ve held court for long enough!

Winter road image copyright © Thomas Quine, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Cleaning and speeding up slow Windows PCs

stupid computer PCs tend to slow down over time, usually as a result of the increased demands placed on them. The good news is that the situation can often be improved dramatically without having to shell out more money. For sure, one of the biggest wins is to install more memory (if possible), but after that, here are the steps that I personally follow when cleaning up machines for colleagues and friends.

  • Check the list of installed programs and ensure that you only have one internet security suite/virus scanner installed. Remove any extras.
  • Uninstall all software that you know you’re not using. If there’s software you’re not sure about or don’t recognise, feel free to add a comment to this post and I’ll try and offer an opinion. The best option for uninstalling software (this point and the previous point) is to use Revo Uninstaller (Freeware version) instead of the Control Panel. It does a more thorough job than most programs’ uninstallation routines:
  • Use CCleaner. Check the options carefully – you don’t necessarily want to select them all. If in doubt about any item, don’t remove it.
  • Use something like SpaceMonger to track down big files that you can afford to delete. If you look at the “Free Software” tab on the download page, you’ll find the old version 1.4.0, which is perfectly adequate.
  • Defrag with JkDefragGUI or its successor MyDefragPowerGUI (once it’s out of beta). The default options should be fine. If you can find the registry optimization options, use them too.
  • So-called “registry cleaners” usually do more harm than good and are best avoided.

On the subject of installing more memory, I invariably use Crucial for home and business. Crucial’s service is very reliable and there is an online scanner that in most cases does a good job of checking your system and advising you on the upgrade possibilities. I don’t get any referral fees from Crucial by the way!

Image ownership unknown. All rights acknowledged.