Tag Archives: Philosophy

Can We Find God in Terrible Acts?

There is an argument made by a moral philosopher long ago.  He pondered, “Suppose there was a button, and pressing that button would bring untold riches, peace, and prosperity to the entire world.”  Sounds great, right?  The only cost, says the philosopher is that one “Chinese peasant would drop dead.” He then asked, “Who among us would press that button?  And who among us would want that button in wide currency?”

For the sake of argument, take that question and apply it to the issue of rape.  If I could press a magic button that would miraculously erase all rapes, past, present, and future, should I press the button?   At the face of it, the answer would seem to be an overwhelming, “Yes!” However, once one lets emotion subside, and begins to think rationally, it is clear that pressing this button, despite having good reasons for pressing it, would have unintended consequences.

I would NOT press the button–nor would I want such a button in wide currency. Yes, I know that sounds incredibly heartless. After all, why wouldn’t I want to erase all the evil and tragedy caused by rapes?  Quite simply, If I could erase ALL rape, hundreds of thousands of human beings would drop dead.   They would cease to exist. Many human beings owe their existence to being the result of a horrific rape.

This includes my son.  My precious 2-year old son is the product of a horrific rape.  While I mourn the reality of the rape that took place, I am indescribably thankful that he exists!  He is my son and he is of immeasurable value.  I love him.  God created him, and made a plan for his life.  Part of this plan included being conceived in iniquity.

Let me state this for the record, when it comes to the button:  I would not press that button.  Let me repeat that again:  I would NOT press that button.

Simply put:  in a fallen world, there are NO solutions.  At best, all that exist are trade offs.  A solution here, causes unintended consequences there.  What one person considers a solution, another man considers a negative.   It is unwise to act as if solutions do exist.  They don’t.  If we have learned anything in human history, we have learned that.

But, in terms of  pressing the button to erase all rapes, I couldn’t do it.  The death of a human being is too great a cost to me.  It is an unintended consequence that I am not willing to inflict.  While I find rape to be equal to slavery in the lecherousness and horribleness of what it entails, I find murder–the ending of a life created in God’s image–to be worse.

Remember this point:  Humans cannot create human beings.  They cannot do this.  Humans are created by God.  If human beings are created by God alone, and God allows a child to be the product of a rape (the product of two human beings with free will), does this in any way negate the fact that this child is created by God?   Of course not.

Let us see it another way:  f I could press a button right now, as many would like to do, and make Down Syndrome disappear, I would NOT.  Since magic doesn’t exist, eliminating Down Syndrome would necessarily mean eliminating people with Down Syndrome.  It would entail murder.  It would mean genocide.

How about another example:   If I could press a button right now, and make all racism, past, present, and future disappear, would I do it?  Well, since magic doesn’t exist; to remove all racism would mean to remove all racists.  This would involve the murder of human beings.  This cost is too great. As much as I despise racism, I despise the murder of human beings more.

A last example:  I find Islam to be a horrific religion.  I hold to the position that an accurate reading of Islam does neccesarily lead one to embrace jihad.  Be this as it may, I would not press a button that would erase Islam, past, present, and future from the face of the earth.  Since magic doesn’t exist, this endeavor would mean removing those who practice Islam.

Though I disagree with Muslims and hold many of them in contempt, I value their lives.  While the prospect of eliminating all traces of Islam may be intriguing, the cost is too great.

For the Christians among us,there is something incredible about these words: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”

It is sobering and hard to accept this at the face of it, but God can even use something as despicable as a rape to bring Himself glory. God is in the world, using its successes and its failures for His glory.

Think about that.  God’s sovereignty is such that your past is not a direct indicator of what your future will be.  God decides your path.  Our lives are in His hands.  He can take an unmitigated disaster and make a symphony out of it.

The rape of a woman should never end in the murder of the child. God can use that child for great things.  History provides much evidence to support this.  The testimony  of a child of rape can change the lives of millions.

I believe my son, the product of a horrific rape, will be a great man of God.

I wouldn’t press the button. I would destroy the buttons.

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Theology with a 6-Year old!

Every night after dinner, my family and I read a passage of Scripture and then go through a devotion that is based on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Tonight, our passage was from Exodus 34 and the topic of discussion was the character of God.  Let me just say that there is nothing more fulfilling, even amidst your 2-year old son wreaking havoc and being a perpetual source of sound effects and noise, than being a part of your 6-year old daughter engaging with real theological concepts.  Each lesson ends with a series of questions.  Ava, my 6-year old looks forward to this portion.  It warms my heart.

Exodus 34 picks up with Moses getting the second copy of the 10 Commandments.  He was on the mountain for the second time, you remember, because he smashed the original copy at the sight of the idolatrous outrage that was taking place at the feet of a golden calf.

The devotion very quickly moved to its main point:  Moses prayed that God would have mercy on them.  God is fully merciful yet fully just.  We often read that with little regard for what it actually means.  This is a difficult concept to comprehend.  Imagine for a moment,  Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being found guilty of something horrific:  In Hillary’s case, exposing top secret info that was shown to have directly caused the death of 4 Americans in Benghazi.  In Trump’s case, evidence showing his willful colluding with the Russians in order to help them hack the DNC so he could win the election.  Imagine they went to court and were found guilty.  Instead of imposing a sentence, the judge says, “You are free to go.  Forget it even happened”  How would you feel about that?

When justice collapses in a society, hope collapses with it.

Total mercy comes as the expense of total justice.  Total justice comes at the expense of total mercy.  If someone was fully just they could not be fully merciful.  If one were fully merciful they could not be fully just.  Unless…well, we will get there in a moment.

Surpassingly enough, my 6-year old daughter, Ava, was able to grasp this paradox.  I believe I put to her a hypothetical situation in which she did something wrong, and rather than punishing her, I told her it was ok–that she could forget that it even happened.  Initially, she was ok with that.  Who wouldn’t be?  You could take something that isn’t yours, and then get no punishment.  But then it became more real:  I asked her, “What if someone did something very wrong to you; perhaps they stole your favorite toy, and I told their parents, ‘its ok, don’t worry about it–let your kid keep the toy?'”  She understood that my being overly kind would mean that she would not be getting a fair shake.

For her, justice would have been denied.  Complete mercy necessarily denies complete justice.

On the other hand, if I were fully just–If I called the police and reported the child for theft–what would that teach my daughter?  My lack of mercy would in the long run damage not only the kid who stole Ava’s stuff, but also Ava!  Would that be right?

No.  At times, justice must be bore by someone not involved.

This concept was strange to her.  It is strange to all of us.

One of the things we have been talking about lately in our home is the nature of sin.  Many Christians wrongly believe sin to be merely the wrong things that we do.  I remember hearing this as a child.  I was more concerned with whether I was doing the right or wrong things, that I defined sin as some sort of barometer for bad behavior.  There is perhaps nothing more absurd in all of Christendom than to believe that.  It took me a long time to be delivered from that way of thinking!  Heck, I am still being delivered from it.   While behavior is a part of sin, it is not sin in its fullest and most sordid sense.  Sin is more than just bad behavior.  Bad behavior is a symptom of something else–something more sinister.

In fact, if Jesus’ death on the cross only cured our sinful behavior, we would still go to hell. Yeah, read that again:

“If Jesus’ death on the cross only cured our sinful behavior, we would still go to hell.”

As I described to Ava, sin is like a perpetual cancer.  When we get the sniffles or the couch, it isn’t the sniffles or the cough that is making us sick. As Ava described it to me, “Its the germs that make us sick.”  Absolutely right.  Sin is like a disease that controls our being and dictates how we live. It is our moral compass.  Unfortunately, the byproducts of sin run the gamut from speeding to lying to rape to murder.   The New Testament refers to sin as a power that controls us.  Paul talks about knowing what he ought to do, but instead doing the opposite. If Paul had to struggle with sin, what does that say about you or me?  It is a power that influences us.  It can enslave us.

I asked Ava, “If sin separates us from God, and our sinful behavior was instantly cured, would we still go to hell?”  She thought about this for a few moments, and answered “Yes.”  I think she understood that sin is more than just bad behavior. If Jesus death on the cross was simply done in order to make us do good deeds, would that really be worth His death on the cross?  Isn’t that just some sort of moralism?

Jesus has brought us something more wonderful than just some sort of pragmatism.

I agree with Ravi Zacharias, “Jesus did not come into the world to make bad men good.  He came into the world to make dead men live.”  That, my friend, is worth shouting about.

We talked about that cosmic courtroom that is in session not because of our bad deeds, but because of our cancer–our sinful nature–the nature that caused human beings to crucify the Son of God.  The cancer that caused human beings to wonder, “Did God really say…?”

Because of our cancer–our sin–we deserve to go to hell.

Fortunately, God is fully just.  He is also fully merciful.  What is He to do with us?  We deserve death, but His character grants mercy, right?

This is where I was able to share with Ava the most incredible news of all:  Yes, we deserve hell, but instead of God banging down the gavel and sentencing us to death, Jesus entered the courtroom and volunteered to pay the price for our sin.   He intermediated on our behalf.  He had a direct influence on God’s wrath.

He went to hell in our place.

God was fully merciful:  he let us go free.  Yet, he was fully just:  Our sin was punished.  Jesus took our punishment.  He lived so that He could die.  He died so we could live.

Without Jesus Christ, none of us could escape hell.  We would all be there eventually.

God’s being fully just and fully merciful would be a paradox…unless…Jesus hadn’t come to be our propitiation.

I pray my sweet 6-year old can grasp that.  Full disclaimer:

I pray I can grasp that.

 

 

 

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GK Chesterton, TRUMP, CLINTON, the 2016 election, and the Medical Fallacy

TRUMP and CLINTON (hey, it was in the title).

Throughout the presidential campaign of 2016 we have heard a recurring theme:

“Our country is sick.  It needs to be made well.  Vote for me and I will provide the remedy it needs.  I will bring the healing that our country needs.”

There has been no shortage of rhetoric like this on either side of the political divide.

According to the inimitable G.K. Chesterton, however, this is a fallacy.  He terms this the Medical Fallacy.  How can politicians pontificate about what ‘well’ is in absolute terms, if the idea of well is of the most disputed issues in all of academia?  One side of the ideological divide defines well in one way, while the other defines it differently.

What is seen as a remedy by one side of the political spectrum will be seen as an exasperation of the original problem to the other.  This whole business of talking about “well” and “sick” is patently absurd.  It is play on emotions.  It is like invoking balls and strikes when talking about football.  Only in medicine and science can this terminology be used.

Why you might ask?  In medicine, we agree on what a well body looks like.  We agree on what good is.  The disagreement comes when it concerns malady.  In politics and social science, we agree on what bad looks like—we disagree on what constitutes the good.

That is a profound problem.

To give you an analogy, Chesterton makes this grand point:   It is a fact that a man may have pain in his leg and walk into a hospital, and due to medical necessity, come out with one leg less.

BUT HERE IS THE CLINCHER

Never will that man find himself under the scalpel of a doctor, and in a moment of creative rapture, walk out of the hospital, having being given one leg more.

Don’t fall for fallacies.  Nonsense doesn’t cease to be nonsense just because it is uttered by an “intellect” or a “smart” politician.

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Abortion, Morality, and Common Sense

One of the questions that is incessantly asked today by the young and old alike is, “Can I afford to be moral?”  To Christians the answer should be simple; however, if you used today’s entertainment as your guide, the answer would be “No way!”  Just this morning, I read an article on a movie coming out in a next few days.  In a 100 minute movie, it offers nearly 30 minutes of explicit sexual content.  To make matters worse, the trailer for this film has made its way to the advertisements between your child’s Saturday morning cartoons.  The reason you see movies like this and the reason that the cost of morality is too high for many is because they have a warped view of what freedom is.  Many feel that freedom means being able to do whatever you want whenever you want however you want to do it.  This is wrong.

Do you remember 9/11?  I am sure you do.  Juxtapose that with the Enron debacle.  After the Twin Towers fell, the stock market crashed.  It was revived only days later.  When the Enron scandal happened, on the other hand, it devastated the world economy for much longer.  Apologist Michael Ramsden is correct when he notes that,

“Stock markets fell further and faster after the Enron and WorldCom scandals than they did after the terrorist attacks of September 11, telling us that what the market fears most is not a terrorist attack from without but a moral corruption from within.”

True freedom is a moral concept.  When you remove moral standards you have a collapse of virtue.  In a immoral society—where people do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want to—you have anarchy.  And societies which are ruled by anarchy are marked out by a loss of freedom, not an increase of it. Benjamin Franklin was right when to say,

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

 

So to the question, “Can I afford to be moral,” I would answer simply that the cost of compliance is high, but the cost of failure is catastrophic.

Speaking of morality…

Here we are 41 years after the egregious Supreme Court case, Roe versus Wade, and the World Health Organization reports that as of this moment for the year 2015, there have been 2,468,131 abortions worldwide. I have written elsewhere about the logic of the pro-life vs the pro-abortion position, and there is no need to rehash that here.  What I want to do instead is just offer the sobering numbers.  Abortion is the most common medical procedure performed today.  It has become, as one journalist referred to it, “As American as apple pie.”

The first thing to ask is, “What counts as an abortion?” An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus from the uterus, resulting in or caused by its death. Abortion as a term most commonly used- and in the statistics presented here – refers to the induced abortion of a human pregnancy, while spontaneous abortions are usually termed miscarriages.

Each year, according to the WHO, there are nearly 40-50 million abortions. This means that each day there are approximately 125,000 abortions each day. 

What about the USA? In our country, almost half of the pregnancies that occur are unintended.  Of these unintended pregnancies, 40% are terminated by abortion.  Each day, there are about 3,000 abortions in our country.  Of all pregnancies in the United States (not including miscarriages) 22% end in abortion.

Nancy Pelosi, just the other day, said:

“The fact is what we have said. The life and the health of a mother is what is preeminent when a decision is made about a woman’s reproductive health…It isn’t an ideological fight…It’s a personal health issue. This is up to women — their conscience, their god their doctor, their health, their fate, survival.”

One of the frequent reasons for abortion that is commonly presented is that there are cases where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother.  The other one typically  used is, in the case of rape or incest.

  1. Everett Coop, the former Surgeon General said this of his experience with protecting the woman’s health:     “In my thirty-six years in pediatric surgery I have never known of one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life.” I guess his experience is not worth our taking serious?

Coop went on to say, “When a woman is pregnant, her obstetrician takes on the care of two patients—the mother-to-be and the unborn baby. If, toward the end of the pregnancy complications arise that threaten the mother’s health, he will take the child by inducing labor or performing a Caesarian section.”  In continuation, Coop noted that in this situation the doctor has the intention to, “ Save the life of both the mother and the baby.”  Now of course, if this occurs, “The baby will be premature,” but even then, “The baby is never willfully destroyed because the mother’s life is in danger.”

What is most troubling is when a doctor knows that a child could survive (a natural birth or a botched abortion), and that the mother’s health is in no way threatened; but cowing to societal pressure and the demands of the mother, they admit to performing abortions because it is what the patient wants them to do.  Even our current president, Barack Obama, four times before he was elected president, voted not to save a baby that was born in the wake of a botched abortion.  Because the mother intended abortion, if the abortion fails and the child survives, the legislation Obama supported makes it legal to kill the baby.  How is this not murder?  Do the wishes of a mother override the rights of a living, breathing, human being?

When it comes to abortion, there are only a few logical situations possible.

The first is that either the fetus is a person or it isnt a person.

There are two possibilities about whether or not a fetus is a person.

  1. Maybe you know that it is a person.
  2. Maybe you don’t that it is.

To this, there are two possibilities—either you are right or you are wrong.

So—from here ,there are four logical outcomes:

  1. The fetus is a person, and you know it. You’re right.
  2. The fetus is not a person and you know that. You’re right.
  3. The fetus is a person and you don’t know that. You think it’s not. You’re wrong.
  4. The fetus is not a person and you think it is. You don’t know the truth. You’re wrong.

Now these are the only possible scenarios (Like a Pascal’s wager, two chances of being right, two chances of being wrong).

The question is, what would you call abortions in each of these instances? These are the only four possible situations logically. What are they? Murder is case number 1. Manslaughter is case number 2. Criminal Negligence is case number 3.

In reality, only the fourth case justifies abortion.

That is the thing about abortion.  If the fetus is a human being, abortion is wrong.  If it is not a human being, then it isn’t wrong.  When my daughter is behind me and says, “Daddy can I kill this,” my response is dependent on what “this” is.  If “this” is her baby brother, the answer is “No!”  If “this” is a cockroach, the answer is, “I will do that for you!”

So, when does life begin?  We know what progressives tell us (with not a speck of evidence mind you).  They say that life begins at birth, or when a child becomes aware of its surroundings, or when it can anticipate pain.  Even Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins say that a newborn baby is less viable than a baby pig.  Most Zoologists and biologists will say that life is a continuum from fertilization until the organism dies. They apply this to birds, dogs, snakes—every organism.  Why should it be different for a human?

I love what Ravi Zacharias says concerning the beginning of life:

“Vice-Presidential candidate Al Gore was debating Vice-President Dan Quail. They were arguing on the abortion issue. Dan Quail, a very committed man, was very devoutly committed to the preservation of the unborn and risked his entire political career on that…At a moment, Gore really pinned him with his back to the wall… And Gore was very sharp, he was brilliant. They teach you in debate ‘if you can’t give your own answers, learn to question the opposition.’ And Gore looked at him, eyeball to eyeball, and says “Sir, Dan, would you repeat after me that ‘a woman has the right to her own body’. Would you repeat that after me, Dan? That ‘a woman has the right to determine the destiny of her own body’.” Three times he slammed him with that comment, “Repeat after me, Dan…”

Ravi continues,

“And of course poor Mr. Quayle could not really come back at that kind of an approach. He came up with a very meaningful answer but did not satisfy the taunt.  He said “Well, every time you abort a baby you stop a beating heart.

What I think would have been an ideal response would have been something like this, I think.  Senator Gore had already said he was personally against it but politically he felt it was the right of the person to make the decision. So the response should have gone something like this, I believe: 

Senator Gore, would you first repeat after me that ‘the life within that mother’s womb is a human life.’ Would you repeat that after me? Because if the answer to that is yes, what are you doing obliterating life? If the answer to that is no, why are you personally against it? If the answer to that is ‘I don’t know’, how many more decisions are you going to make on an agnostic platform?”

 

Many on the side of abortion say that they are pro-choice politically, but they are personally opposed to abortion.  You might hear it put this way:  “I am against abortion.  I would never have one.  On the other hand, I do not feel like the government should make a woman give birth.  For that reason, I am pro-choice.”  Such a statement sounds fair enough.  The problem is, when you really think about what they have said, you realize just how evil that is.

Here is the question:  For what other reason could someone be opposed to abortion besides their compulsory belief that a fetus is more than just a blob of cells—but a life?

How have we gotten a place where the medical community allows itself to be pushed by social planners into being both caregivers and executioners?  Mark my words, an abortionist is an executioner.  What about infanticide in ICU units?  This is murder as well.  The slippery slope keeps going too.  One day, what prevents societal pressure and political correctness from demanding that the doctor become the executioner of the elderly?

The immediate access to abortion is horrific as well.  A husband has nothing to say regarding the matter now.  A husband cannot legally stand up for the life of his unborn child.  All choice is given to the mother.  When it comes to minors who want to have abortions, their parents have no right to say anything.  A child can have an abortion without the parent’s approval, but cannot go to the mall and get her ears pierced without parental consent.

Of course, to look at the story of the incarnation of Christ gives us reason to pause.  The story of Mary becoming impregnated with the Son of God leaves no room for doubt.  The angel told Joseph, “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” From the moment of conception God had entered human life. The soul that I am has also existed from the moment of conception.

We have to be educated.  We have to talk to our friends and family about the origin of life.  Even before a woman knows she is pregnant, 21 days into it, the baby demonstrates a heartbeat.  By the sixth week the adrenal gland and the thyroid are functioning. A child’s fingerprints are indelibly in place by the twelfth week. Abortion kills a developing human being! No matter how old or how large the organism is when he/she leaves the womb, that emergence—by whatever means—is still a birth.

If the developing fetus isn’t a human being, then what is it?  A dog, a pig, or something else?

What is wrong with forcing a woman who seeks an abortion to look at the sonogram of her baby?  Why shouldn’t she have to wait a period of 24 or 48 hours after giving consent for the abortion?  If it is really about informed choice, why not give her all available information so she can make that choice?  Show her the data.

The left doesn’t want her to know the truth.  It doesn’t want her to think it over.

What will come next?  I think it is arguable that we are horribly close to being in 20th century Germany—here in the United States of America.

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Kurt Eichenwald and his presuppositions

500-Newsweek-cover

With the coming of Christmas and other Christian-observed holidays often come the obligatory Christianity-bashing articles that seem fit to be printed by publications like Newsweek, The Huffington Post, and Patheos.com.  No one should be surprised that these types of articles are written.  What should be of surprise is the lack of scholarship that is being used in writing these critiques.

I for one long for the days of Bart Ehrman’s informed criticisms (though they are far from right).  You have to hand it to folks like Ehrman who write polemical work aimed at Christianity:  At least the guy knows where the library is.

The article in question appears in the latest issue of Newsweek Magazine.  It is written by Kurt Eichenwald who is very well known inside the readership of the New York Times and the Vanity Fair publications.  He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and it is safe to say that this guy is no slouch.  His area of expertise seems to be in the areas of business or financial topics, and especially covering business scandals.

The cover story here isn’t about a scandal in a Fortune 500 company.  Instead it is titled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” and unfortunately, in this particular instance Eichenwald seems to be far removed from his area of expertise.  I cannot stress that enough.  It is amateur hour at best.  He tries to establish his credibility by claiming to be standing upon the work of mainstream biblical scholarship; however, when one investigates this further, it is clear that he only cites critics of evangelical Christianity–and even in this–he fails to accurately portray some of their views.

This essay doesn’t come across as an objective piece of scholarship.  Instead, it comes across as a hit piece.  When he does cite scholars, it is only those on the critical fringe of Christianity.  I cannot locate a portion of his essay where he cites any scholar who works within the orthodox Christian tradition.  For those who say Fox News is biased, at least they have Juan Williams and Bob Beckel.  Eichenwald doesn’t want a debate.  He wants to remove the need for debate.  Eichenwald doesn’t waste any time getting to the point, either:

 “They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.”

Now, to be fair:  I do know some folks that fit perhaps most of that description.  They do exist.  I concede this without reservation.  The problem is, they are as far to the fringe of evangelical Christianity as pro-lifers are to the Democrat party.

Why only talk about the thought that is going on at the fringe?  How in the world can surveying the fringe thinking be considered objective journalism or scholarship?  Shouldn’t like Matthew Arnold said, we look at things by examining the best and brightest that has ever been said or thought?  Isn’t it a mistake to judge a worldview by looking at its worst representatives?  Why not cite those who are well respected by both critical and orthodox scholars?

When I think of the greatest thinkers in modern Christianity, I don’t think of the notorious Fred Phelps, or the guy at the breakfast joint who has a Scofield Commentary on the table, a “South Will Rise Again” t-shirt on, and a God made “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” trucker hat on.  I think of men like the late Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul, William Lane Craig, John C. Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Eleanor Stump, Michael Ramsden, Alister McGrath, Paul Copan, Gary Habermas, and Stephen C. Meyer.  None of them are on the fringe, but all of them are respected.  This angry fundamentalist riff that Eichenwald gives us doesn’t seem to reflect reality.  Does Ravi Zacharias sound angry at homosexuals here?  Hardly.  Take William Lane Craig.  Does he sound like he is sympathetic to anti-science views? Not a chance.  What about Alister McGrath?  Does he sound like the fundamentalist anti-evolutionist that the author would make him out to be?  Not even close.  I mean, I can find atheists like Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, or PZ Meyer who say some pretty acerbic things about Christians—does that mean I dismiss them flat out and refuse to take any of their arguments seriously?  Hardly.

What this author is attempting to do is take the whole of evangelical Christianity and lump them into a straw man at whom he can toss fiery darts.  It doesn’t work.

I do however think his criticisms are worth looking at.  Many Christians cannot interact with an essay like this and make a lucid rebuttal.  If it were up to the guy at the breakfast joint, he’d reply with—“Well, my pastor says different.”  This is not the way to “give an apologetic.”  We are commanded to be able to provide answers.  Therefore, we must already in our pre-evangelism begin to look at what the questions are.  There are no new questions, only new people who ask them.  There have been several outstanding rebuttals already made elsewhere on the internet(Michael Kruger, Al Mohler, Daniel B. Wallace), and for those reasons, rather than focus on Eichenwald’s egregious attempts at exegesis, I am only going to focus on a few of his assumptions.

One of the first of his assumptions that is almost ubiquitous in the writings of the anti-Christian worldview adherants is the univocal contention that if you believe in God, this somewhow means you believe less in science.  I am reminded of C.S. Lewis who noted, “I believe in God like I believe in the sun.  Not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  He also noted more specifically, “Man began science because he expected law in nature.  He expected law in nature because he believed in a lawgiver.

I am not going to go into a lengthy discussion about faith vs. science here, I have done it elsewhere.  What I am going to say is that the conflict doesn’t lie between faith and science.  It lies between two opposing worldviews, theism and naturalism.  Theism on the one hand says that all matter is derived from a purposeful agent; atheism on the other hand says that all matter is the end product of a mindless unguided process.  Let me ask you a question:  If you knew that the computer that aids the flight of a jumbo jet was the product of a mindless unguided process, would you trust it?

Secondly, this assertion that anyone who posits an intelligent agent as the creator of the universe is just absurd.  Let us look at it one way:  If I walk onto the beach and see giant letters that spell the name “Barack Obama,” do I suddenly deduce that this is the result of chance?  No, I posit a person.  Why?  Because words carry semiotic meaning.  Why is it then when the longest word in the history of man (the human genome) is seen, we suddenly posit chance and unguided process?

David Berlinski says it well:

I imagine this story being told to me by Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires cafe.

His voice dry and infinitely ironic, the aging, nearly blind literary master observes that “the Ulysses,” mistakenly attributed to the Irishman James Joyce, is in fact derived from “the Quixote.”

I raise my eyebrows.

Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.

“The details of the remarkable series of events in question may be found at the University of Leiden,” he says. “They were conveyed to me by the Freemason Alejandro Ferri in Montevideo.”

Borges wipes his thin lips with a linen handkerchief that he has withdrawn from his breast pocket.

“As you know,” he continues, “the original handwritten text of the Quixote was given to an order of French Cistercians in the autumn of 1576.”

I hold up my hand to signify to our waiter that no further service is needed.

“Curiously enough, for none of the brothers could read Spanish, the Order was charged by the Papal Nuncio, Hoyo dos Monterrey (a man of great refinement and implacable will), with the responsibility for copying the Quixote, the printing press having then gained no currency in the wilderness of what is now known as the department of Auvergne. Unable to speak or read Spanish, a language they not unreasonably detested, the brothers copied the Quixote over and over again, re-creating the text but, of course, compromising it as well, and so inadvertently discovering the true nature of authorship. Thus they created Fernando Lor’s Los Hombres d’Estado in 1585 by means of a singular series of copying errors, and then in 1654 Juan Luis Samorza’s remarkable epistolary novel Por Favor by the same means, and then in 1685, the errors having accumulated sufficiently to change Spanish into French, Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, their copying continuous and indefatigable, the work handed down from generation to generation as a sacred but secret trust, so that in time the brothers of the monastery, known only to members of the Bourbon house and, rumor has it, the Englishman and psychic Conan Doyle, copied into creation Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and then as a result of a particularly significant series of errors, in which French changed into Russian, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina. Late in the last decade of the 19th century there suddenly emerged, in English, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and then the brothers, their numbers reduced by an infectious disease of mysterious origin, finally copied the Ulysses into creation in 1902, the manuscript lying neglected for almost thirteen years and then mysteriously making its way to Paris in 1915, just months before the British attack on the Somme, a circumstance whose significance remains to be determined.”

I sit there, amazed at what Borges has recounted. “Is it your understanding, then,” I ask, “that every novel in the West was created in this way?”

“Of course,” replies Borges imperturbably. Then he adds: “Although every novel is derived directly from another novel, there is really only one novel, the Quixote.”

All kidding aside, this is where his presumptions begin:

The first is that truth cannot be known.  This is a pervasive view in the academy today.   It used to go something like this:  “Look, What is true for me is true for me, and what is true for you is true for you—let’s all have our own truths and just be happy that way.”  This fell out of fashion a while ago because quite simply its absurd.  If someone were to make that statement, they aren’t only wanting you to believe it, they are wanting you to consider it absolute truth.  What they are saying is, “You should think this way too.  This is how all enlightened people think.”  The problem is, if that is true, then it is not the case that what is true for me is true for me and what is true for you is true for you.  If it is true for everybody, it isn’t just true for me.  This is a problem.

I am reminded of a talk I heard a guy give—he said that after engaging with a group of skeptics at a major university, a professor who was in attendance came up and challenged him to a verbal duel.  They ended up going to lunch the next day, and the professor began to tell this particular guy how he had greatly mistaken what Eastern logic is all about (the speaker happened to be from India though).  The professor had a problem with the idea that something is EITHER true OR it is false.  Something cannot be BOTH true AND false at the same time.  This is the law of the excluded middle or the law of non-contradiction.  So, this professor, in the middle of lunch began to regurgitate all his vast philosophical ideas about the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic down onto the placemats around him.

When he was finished, the professor began to cut into his food.  The man who had sat dumbfounded by all this then said, “So what you are telling me is that something cannot be EITHER true OR false?  It must be BOTH true AND false?”  The professor nodded and answered in the affirmative.  It was here that the professor was trapped.  The other man kindly said, “But if something can only be both true and false, rather than either true or false, aren’t you telling me that when looking at the world, EITHER I use the both/and view OR nothing else?”

At this point, the professor who had just put a piece of congealed halibut into his mouth uttered begrudgingly, “The EITHER/OR does seem to emerge doesn’t it?”  Something is true or it isn’t.  There is no alternative.

This is where things have begun to change in the last 20 years or so.  Now the common line is, “It isn’t that truth is relative to people; on the contrary, truth doesn’t exist.”    The view is that everyone thinks they have truth, and everyone is looking for it—but no one has it—which is good news because it is liberating.  The problem with this view is that when someone says, “There is no truth,” they are telling you that they believe the statement, “There is no truth” to be true.  Here is the rub:  It if were true that there were no such thing as truth, then what they are saying isn’t true.  But if it isn’t true that there is no such thing as truth, then what they have said is false.  But if there is no such thing as truth, then they have said absolutely nothing but in a very complicated way.  This is why British philosopher Roger Scruton says, “When someone tells you there is no such thing as truth, they are asking you not to believe them—so don’t.”

But you see, this presumption is even more sticky.  Today, the view has shifted to this idea that truth can be known, but it can only be known—but it can only be found in science.  Science alone can lay claim to truth.  The problem with this is obviously, it is a self-defeating statement.  If only science can make truth claims, it is false.  That isn’t a scientific statement, and science doesn’t say anything.  It is a method.  Hume said that all truth must be either self-evidently true or empirically verifiable—if it is neither—toss it to the flames.  Well, is his statement self-evident or empirically verifiable?  No. Toss it to the flames!  It was poor logic like this that caused ardent atheists like AJ Ayer and Antony Flew to reconsider their views.

But from this, the view has become that anyone who believes in God believes in something that cant be empirically tested—therefore they are believing in something that isn’t there.  Today, the politeness around this area of conversation has all but disappeared.  I used to hear things like, “John, I am happy that you believe what you believe.”  What they mean by that is “I can see that you are genuinely fulfilled as a Christian, and that your belief excites you, and that it has given you meaning.  I am happy that you believe this, and I wish I could believe it too, but I cant!”  I have heard that almost word for word over the years and I started to think about just what they were saying.  What they are saying is:  “Look John, I am happy that you are happy, but the reason you are happy is because of your faith (which they understand is believing in things that aren’t there). “  Now what do you call people who believe in things that aren’t there?  Crazy People!  What they are saying is, “John you are insane, but the main thing is, that you are happy and insane.  I am happy that you are happy, and I wish I could believe what you do, because I would like to be happy, too…but I simply cannot embrace such insanity and join you!”

The second assumption that Eichenwald holds is that faith is a positively bad thing.  It isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for society.  It is best demonstrated by people who go around blowing things up.  So the above politeness has turned into, “I am not happy for you.  I am against what you believe.  Faith is dangerous.”  I was reading something right after 9/11, and one of these atheist writers basically said, “Do you know what Christianity and the 9/11 hijackers have in common?  They fuel their fanaticism at the same holy gas station.”  The attack is on the idea of faith itself.  The problem is, there is a lack of understanding about what faith is that is prevalent today.

This idea that faith is blind belief in something absent of evidence, or even contrary to evidence, is a definition that goes against 2,000 years of Christian thought.  Of the hundreds of thousands of books written on the idea of faith, you will not find a definition of faith that sounds like that.  Likewise, faith is not believe in something that makes you happy, or is convenient, or fulfills your wishes.  Faith isn’t fantasy.  The word faith, when used in the bible (pistis), is always used in response to something that us true and real.  In other words, it would be like me saying, “I have faith in the President.”  By my saying this, I am acknowledging that he exists, that he is trustworthy.  It doesn’t matter whether or not I want him to exist—if he exists, he exists whether or not I wish for him to or not.  Secondly, I am acknowledging that he is dependable and keeps his promises (perhaps the current president is a bad example here).

This is the sense that the Bible speaks of faith.  It talks about knowing that he is, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  That is a statement about his truthfulness.  In Hebrews it talks about being “certain (fully persuaded) as to things that are not seen,” or talking about a full and complete assurance that something is real.  Notice, that this use of the word faith is completely different than saying, “I hope the Lakers win tonight,” because this cannot be guaranteed.  Christianity claims to be rooted in reality and truth.

The third assumption that Eichenwald holds is that many Christians are arrogant because they are certain.

Now, to set this up, we have to realize that many people find Christianity to be offensive because it claims to reveal things as they really are.  If I were to say to you that there is a book on the table—and you look and there isn’t—then my statement claims to reveal something that is wrong.  It doesn’t reflect any reality.  Either I was mistaken, or there is moral issue of deception at play.  It is the revelatory nature of truth that makes people uncomfortable.

Aristotle wrote a book titled, Politics which sheds light here.  In the book he asks for you to imagine a perfect society—and in this perfect society, a perfect person suddenly shows up.  They are so perfect that they are considered to be a god amongst men.  Aristotle asks, “What would a society do with such a person?”  He is very clear in the answer:  They would be killed.  Why?  A perfect person, if he ever did show up in our midst; his very presence would reveal our faults and all our imperfect, and even the imperfection of our society.  In other words, would you want it to be openly revealed, who you are?  Who you really are?

This is what Jesus claimed to be—a God amongst men—a being without fault.  Do you see the problem?  When Jesus himself stood before a judge, he proclaimed, “Everyone who is on the side of truth believes in me.” To this, the judge replied, “What is truth?”, and then walked away.

If you knew the moral complications that were happening inside of the man examining Jesus, you would understand—but interestingly enough, the man proclaims to the crowd that he finds no fault in Jesus—that is to say, nothing deceptive or morally wrong.

It is the idea of certainty that makes many of our contemporary friends upset.  In fact, this is what Eichenwald is driving at.  “How can you be so rude as to be so certain?”

I remember talking with a friend who happened to be a Buddhist.  She had a problem with what I was saying about Christianity.   She said to me, “Christianity is so arrogant.  It claims to be the only right way.  How can you hold to such a morally abhorrent view?”  I replied to her, “Do you follow the teachings of the Buddha?”  To this, she replied in the affirmative.  I asked her, “Didn’t the Buddha, after leaving Hinduism to start his own system, say that he rejected the Vedas?  Doesn’t this fly as an insult in the face of millions of Hindus?  How can you believe such an abhorrent view?”  To this, she said, “Uhh, John, I don’t like where this is going.”

Here is the thing, whenever you say that something is true, you are saying that any contrary statement is not true.  Further, when you say that Christianity is true, and that those who follow God are going to heaven, many people take offense to this.  It is as if they think you are saying, “I know I am going to heaven—I am better than you—you aren’t going.”  That isn’t at all what the Christian faith says.  What it says is that those who trust in God will inherit the Kingdom of God.

But this is where the idea of certainty gets uncomfortable to people.  They will say, “Surely being good is all that matters.  If I am good, and God is loving, how could he send me to hell?”  The interesting thing is that in the Bible, Jesus addresses this very question.  A guy asks him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No-one is good, but God alone.” (If good people are going to heaven, and only God is good, then who is going to heaven?  We need help.  In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a story that is pertinent to our situation, which shows us that there are only two possibilities as to how a person can become righteous, either (1) we make ourselves righteous or (2) someone else makes us righteous.

So the question persist:  “How can you be so certain, when it all seems so fuzzy?” Now, my first answer would be, “On what grounds am I certain that my wife loves me?”  If I asked this of my Dad, he would reply, “After 30 plus years of marriage, I am absolutely certain that she loves me.”  You know, I think God wants for us to be certain.  It is no mistake that in the Bible we are told, “These things are written so that you may know…”  You see, there is a basic issue with the question itself.  Here it is:  When people ask me, “How can you be so certain,” they are presuming that I am coming to believe in God because of all the reading I have done or all the high power arguments that I can give.  In truth, nothing could be further from reality.  Of course the arguments are important—but, think of my wife again.  I can’t prove to you through mathematics that she loves me.  Even the certainty we get in mathematics cannot be found in science.  We can’t get it in medicine; we can’t get it in biology.  What we can talk about is evidence.  I would say that I am an evidence based Christian.  There is no difference, except that when it comes to eternity, there is more at stake than in science.  My faith in God is based on evidence just as the doctor has faith in medicine.  Neither can be proved in the mathematical sense of proof, but evidence can be given to support the veracity of what we believe.

Many people will follow the Freudian path and say, “You know, you Christians, you have just constructed God.  You need an idea of God in order to be happy.”  The problem with that, besides the fact that if God does exist, this very argument can be turned around at atheism; is that Christianity and its veracity has nothing to do with my intellect or my desires.  Christianity isn’t about man looking for God, it is about God looking for man.  The central claim is that God became a man in Jesus and that through Jesus God was revealed to us.  Let’s supposing I wanted to get to know you.  I could submit you to a PET scan and put all kinds of microbes and wires on your head, and even monitor your heart—It might be true that I could learn a lot about you this way—but I could not know you this way.  To know you, you have to reveal yourself to me.  We have to talk.  I can begin to develop, based on our relationship a high level of confidence in you.  I have a high degree of confidence in my wife because I know her.  What gives me the confidence?  She does.  It isn’t that within myself, I have to come up with all this confidence—no.  The power of my faith lies in the object that I place my faith in.  God gives me the confidence the more I get to know him.  I am confident in Christ, but this confidence has nothing to do with myself.

In fact, only the Christian faith is set up this way.  If you look at every other belief system, you will find that it is either based in knowing, feeling, or doing.  You must master a certain set of thought, experience something specific, or follow a list of rules.  In philosophy we would call this epistemology, existentialism, or pragmatism.  The Christian faith does not rest on any of these three.  The Christian faith isn’t a system of knowing, even though there is no knowledge more important than knowing Jesus as Lord.  It isn’t an existential system where one must engage with feeling—even though, there is no feeling greater than coming to know the Lord.  Finally, it is not a system of pragmatism, even though Jesus said you will know true Christians by what “They do.”

The Christian system is a system of being.  It has to do with Christ’s being in us.  You can take every religious system and remove its founder and it will still stand.  Remove Muhammad, and Islam can still stand.  Someone else could have been the prophet.  You can remove Buddha from Buddhism and it can still stand.  In Christianity, if you remove Jesus you have nothing.  In fact, Michael Ramsden quips, “If you remove Christ from Christian, you are left with Ian and Ian cannot help you.”

When people follow these other systems, it is as if they are basing their faith on a merit system, and ultimately in their abilities.  The question, “How can you be so certain,” then has a more stinging meaning.  It is as if they are saying, “Who are you to be so confident that you will be accepted by God?  You are a human like the rest of us.”  To this I say, “absolutely—I am just like you.”  The secret is, my relationship with God isn’t set up on a merit system.  It isn’t like a university system.  In school, how you do you know you will get a degree?  Well, honestly you don’t.  If you told your professor on the first day, “I am absolutely confident I will ace this degree program,” I am sure he would reply, “Yeah?  We will see.”  You cannot be certain here.  Not only that, but the professor himself cannot guarantee you that you will get a degree.  Why?  It is a merit based system.  Either you meet the requirements or you fall short (there is that either/or again).  The problem with God is that many people think that he works in the same way.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When I met my wife, what if I had decided the minute I met her, to propose marriage?  What if I brought her a cookbook, and in the cookbook it stated, “These are the laws for making Cherry Pie.”  The law says, “Thou shalt take 100 grams of flour, and 40 grams of cherries…., and so much sugar and water…and heat it up to such a temperature,” and so on and so forth.  What if I then told her, “Do you understand how to follow these laws?”  She replies in the affirmative.  Then I reply with, “Of course I wouldn’t dream of accepting you now, but if you will keep the rules in this book for the next 30 or 40 years I will think about accepting you—will you marry me?”

Unfortunately this is how many people think about God.  We wouldn’t begin to insult a human being with this type of thinking, yet we gladly subject God to it.

The last thing I want to say comes by way of Isaiah Berlin.  Berlin was a 20th century polymath who lived in the United Kingdom.  He was a brilliant thinker and he wrote on a variety of topics.   One of the things he wrote a lot about was the idea of freedom. He asked often, what does it mean to live in a free country?  He talked at length about monism—or the view that there is only one form of truth. He equated this with the despotic regimes of Hitler and Stalin.  Unfortunatly, Berlin saw tyranny first hand and they bothered him.  He began to say that if you want a free society, pluralism must be allowed to live.  Now, keep in mind, his definition of pluralism is different from the way a postmodernist would define it.  What he wanted was a free, loving, and just society.  The essence of this is pluralism.  There are multiple truths.  We are back at where this essay began.  Here is what Berlin said:

“The enemy of pluralism is monism — the ancient belief that there is a single harmony of truths into which everything, if it is genuine, in the end must fit. The consequence of this belief (which is something different from, but akin to, what Karl Popper called essentialism — to him the root of all evil) is that those who know should command those who do not. Those who know the answers to some of the great problems of mankind must be obeyed, for they alone know how society should be organized, how individual lives should be lived, how culture should be developed. This is the old Platonic belief in the philosopher-kings, who were entitled to give orders to others. There have always been thinkers who hold that if only scientists, or scientifically trained persons, could be put in charge of things, the world would be vastly improved. To this I have to say that no better excuse, or even reason, has ever been propounded for unlimited despotism on the part of an elite which robs the majority of its essential liberties.

Someone once remarked that in the old days men and women were brought as sacrifices to a variety of gods; for these, the modern age has substituted the new idols: isms. To cause pain, to kill, to torture are in general rightly condemned; but if these things are done not for my personal benefit but for an ism — socialism, nationalism, fascism, communism, fanatically held religious belief, or progress, or the fulfillment of the laws of history — then they are in order. Most revolutionaries believe, covertly or overtly, that in order to create the ideal world eggs must be broken, otherwise one cannot obtain an omelette. Eggs are certainly broken — never more violently than in our times — but the omelette is far to seek, it recedes into an infinite distance. That is one of the corollaries of unbridled monism, as I call it — some call it fanaticism, but monism is at the root of every extremism.”

This is a sobering thought. After reading this, I found myself struggling with it.  I believe that there is one truth—am I really like that?  I think the answer to this question is answered simply: Can one hold truth and at the same time extend grace?

I think what Eichenwald and Berlin and many who hold this view would say is: How can you dare to know truth—you will judge everyone else with it!  Instead, we need to love.

Here is the problem: Love discriminates, love judges, love fights.  Love does not exist in the absence of judgment, but only in the presence of it.  Have you read the brilliant treatise written by modern day philosophers, “The Black Eyed Peas?  They have a song called, “Where is the Love,” and in the song it says at one point, “If you never know truth then you never know love” I don’t know if they wrote that lyric themselves, but it is exactly right.

Peter Kreeft says it this way,

“Love fights. Love cares. Love discriminates. And therefore there is in Scripture, very clearly, a thing called the ‘wrath of God’. God hates all enemies of love as the doctor hates the cancer that’s killing his beloved patient. If you really love a human being you will hate all the dehumanizing forces that are harmful to that human being.  If on the other hand you don’t really love a human being but just tolerate a human being, then you will hate nothing, so, love and hate go together. Love of a human being, no matter who he is, and hate of a human being, no matter who he is, are exact opposites, they are black and white. But love of all humans and hate of all sins – that goes together.”

Consider for a moment—what is mercy and what is justice?  Well, for humans, we always extend mercy at the expense of justice, and we exercise judgment at the expense of mercy.  If your sister is raped, and the judge lets the offender go free, saying, “we must be merciful and understanding of those who rape,” then where is the justice?  In Christianity alone, do we see a God who exercises mercy not at the expense of justice, but through the exercise of his justice.  This is the justice of the Cross.

A friend once asked me, “Don’t all roads lead up the mountain, to God?”  The issue is this, if you stood at the top of a mountain, could you see all the paths at once?  Where would you have to be to have such a perspective?  Answer:  In multiple places at once—omniscient.  So, when a person says that all paths lead to the top of the mountain, they are saying that they can see all the paths.  If only God has that type of view, who are they claiming to be?  I think Jesus answer to the question, “Don’t all paths lead to God” would be, “There are no paths that lead to God, only the path that God has made in coming to us.”

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The Limits of Science

I was talking with some new friends who are ardent atheists and believers in Darwinian evolutionary theory.  They continuously call my position (I’m a Christian) a faith-based proposition.  Yet, when I pressed them and noted that their very belief in science as a legitimate means to finding truth (can’t be proved in a lab), their assumption that the universe is rational, their assumption that the universe is governed by laws, and the fact that we assume that our minds correspond to reality…are all necessary to even begin to do science—they overwhelmingly accused me of playing tricks and word games. No.  Word games is when I say, “If you like your plan you can keep your plan.”  We all know the truth there.

When I talked with them about evolution and the problems with it, they seemd like I was speaking from some manual of holy dogma.  For example, I asked them:

“Suppose a group of French Cistercian monks began to copy Don Quixote from Spanish to French…keep in mind that they don’t speak Spanish, but only French.  Would it be plausible than in their accidents while copying the manuscript, and through a process of a certain amount of time, that the manuscript would randomly change and become War and Peace?”

I followed that up with this question:

“We know that to turn a Buick into a submarine would be an extraordinarily complex engineering problem.  At my most basic estimates, I would say that such a project would require at least 50,000 changes.  How many intermediate forms of the car/sub would we expect to see?  If i told you that we had in the record, 49,999, that would lead you to one conclusion.  What If I told you we had seven?  What would that do to the theory?  What if instead of a car, we had a cow, and instead of a submarine, we had a whale?  What would have to change?  Well, you would have to add a diving apparatus, a breathing mechanism, change the skin to make it watertight, change the intestinal tract to make it conducive to the sea–and these are just estimates on the surface.  How many changes would you expect?  How many intermediate forms?  49,999?  Maybe so.  Do you know how many intermediate forms we have between the primitive cow-like creature and the whale?  Seven.”

Further, when I asked them how on an evolutionary paradigm, they could believe that truth was worthwhile—they looked confused.  I told them that on an evolutionary view, survival is more important than truth; therefore, one must reject truth outright if it means it will give them a better chance at survival (keep in mind these Darwinists don’t typically believe in absolute truths–well except that one).  Perhaps the most articulate atheist of our time, John Gray (professor emeritus at the London School of Economics) says in his book Straw Dogs, that all that matters is survival.  He goes on to say that morality is only something to be used in times of comfort, and when it comes down to it, morality is a means to being exterminated.

Now—What about the truth of what would happen if I jumped out of a building?  If I were in a 20 story hotel room, and I looked out the window, the truth is—jumping out the window will hurt or kill me.  On the other hand, if a nerve agent were released in my room, or if a man with a gun came in and started shooting—or if by some chance occurrence, the entire building became engulfed in flame; I would have no choice but to go against what I know to be true and jump out of my window in the name of survival.  Survival is more important than truth to the Darwinist—and this is true even if our actions will only ensure a few more moments of survival.  On a Darwinian view, this must happen.  Survival is the predominant ethic.  It just is, and as Dawkins says: “we dance to its music.”

The final straw was when I asked them if they came to believe their views on Darwinian evolutionary theory because they weighed the pros and cons and listened to arguments—or if they were determined to hold these views.  I asked them, “Based on the evidence and the pros and cons, would you say that you hold to smooth evolutionary process or punctuated equilibrium theory?”  One of them replied, “I haven’t looked into Punctuated Eq yet…I have no opinion.”  Wow!  This is stunning.  They are actually asserting that there might be a choice!  When I pressed that point,  they again said that I was engaging in asking trick questions and resorting to metaphysics.

Are their objections true?  Notice that in their replies, they never took my arguments on.  Instead, my arguments are rendered as faith based or illegitimate.  They aren’t interested in debate, they want to remove the possibility of debate.   And I’m the narrow minded one they tell me.

Let’s talk about the belief that science is a legitimate endeavor at finding truth.  If we only take things to be true based on evidence and proof, what proof is there that the statement, “Science is a legitimate endeavor at finding truth” true?  How can this be demonstrated in a laboratory?  It can’t.  It is presumed before science can begin.  What about the assumption that the universe is rational?  Why is it that our universe is governed by an extremely accurate and fine-tuned set of numerical constants?  Why is it that if we changed the expansion rate of the universe by one part in a hundred thousand million million, we would have no universe and no life?  Why?  We assume these things to be true, but can’t even begin to answer the question why.  The truth is, there is no reason for these things to be.  They just are.  We have to assume them to engage in science.

What about proof itself?  Why is it that people who call themselves ‘scientific’ often ask for proof of God?  My dear friends, proof is only found in pure mathematics.  In science we can give explanations.  The problem is, science is not the only means of explanation, and in many ways it falls short.  If I were to ask you to explain the boiling kettle on the stove, science would say:  A heat source warms the container with water to a point where the molecules become agitated and turn to steam.  Another answer would be, “I wanted a cup of tea.”  Both are correct.  Neither is a better explanation.  What explains a Ford car?  Internal combustion, chemistry, and engineering…or Henry Ford?  You tell me.

What about the presumption that the universe is governed by laws?  Joel Primack asked an interesting question. He asked what compels the electron to follows the laws of nature.  What compels it to stay in its orbit? Good question. I don’t know. But Heinrich Himmler, who had presided over the destruction of churches and synagogues throughout Europe and was the mastermind behind the extermination of the Jewish people, asked a very similar question in 1944. When confronted with the onerous treaty obligations the German state had adopted with respect to its own satraps, he asked insouciantly but pregnantly, “After all, what compels us to keep our promises?” Moral relativism is very often derided as an unhappy consequence of atheism. I don’t think moral relativism is a particularly deep issue, but I do think the issue of what compels us to keep our promises is very relevant.  But, in the universe what compels anything to follow laws?  This cannot be demonstrated in the laboratory.  We don’t even know what gravity is.  We don’t know what energy is.  Try this experiment—ask a quantum physicist what energy is.  Then correct them:  “Sir, I didn’t ask you to describe the effect of energy, I asked you to tell me what it is.”  Just because we don’t know what something is doesn’t mean it ceases to exist.  We should be more humble.  The universe abides by laws, and we assume them to be there.

What about the existence of the mind and its ability to adjudicate the world as reality?  How can this be proven?  Many will tell you that our minds are merely grey matter that includes the random firing of neurons and so forth.  Really?  They will tell you that the brain is a product of time plus matter plus chance—and that what we think is hardwired in.  Ok—if I told you that the airplane you were flying on—that the onboard computers were the products of time matter and chance—would you trust the plane enough to fly on it?  Obviously not—survival remember?  Then why would you trust the pilots who have a brain that comes from the same process?  Further, if our brains are really randomly evolved things, why should we trust anything we think is true?  I mean, if I am predetermined to think the things I do (as is the view among Dawkins, Dennett, and their ilk), it follows that I don’t come to know things based on evidence or pros and cons.  I believe it because I am determined to believe it.  But the question is deeper yet.  This view of determinism, and that the brain is hardwired—have I come to know that based on evidence and pros and cons?  Or have I come to believe it because it is hardwired in?  How can one trust this?

Finally, what about the fact that words and semiotics carry meaning?  If matter is all there is, how can ink on a typed page carry information?  Why is it when we go into a cave and see a 30,000 year old marking on the wall, we instantly assume it is an ancient Chinese character rather that the product of time plus matter plus chance?  Further, why is it when we see the letters, “ILOVEYOU” written on the beach, we assume an intelligence?  Why don’t we assume intelligence when we look at the longest word in the world, namely, the human genome?

I love science, but one must have just as much faith to believe in a purely naturalistic view of the universe as the theist does to believe in an all-powerful God.  The conflict isn’t between religion and science; on the contrary.  It is between theism and naturalism.

I am reminded what the Nobel Laureate Peter Medwar said in his book, The Limits of Science:

 “The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike questions having to do with first and last things—questions such as: ‘How did everything begin?’; ‘What are we all here for?’; ‘What is the point of living?’”

Science leaves too many things unanswered.  If matter and science were all that existed, we might as well tear down the literature, music, art, and history departments.  They can tell us nothing.  As John Gray says, “A purely naturalistic view of the universe leaves no room for secular hope.”  I fully agree.  We can make the moral case for science, but we cannot make the scientific case for morality.

Consider a story:

I have in front of me a rather remarkable button. If you should press it, yours would be untold riches, everlasting life, all the wishes you want, and whatever else you desire. The only consequence to pressing it beyond your happiness is the death of an anonymous Chinese peasant. Who among us would you trust with this button?

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God’s Character

Have you ever known you were called to do something, and you were good at it?  As assured as you can be that you are right for this particular thing, we cannot escape our human instinct that manifests itself in a performance mentality—which is usually judged by numbers.   I remember Michael Ramsden, who is the European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, once admitted that he had lived by this rubric, and then at some point had retreated from it.  Though his ministry was based around this numbers system, he says a turning point came when he was preaching in South Africa, at a golf club.   A prominent member of the club had arranged an evening meal. Hoping for 60 people to come, it turned out that 137 came. There were more non-Christians than Christians. The group was comprised predominantly high class business types.  Michael says that he was extremely excited about the meeting, but then minutes before it was time for him to speak, a colleague approached him and said that the meeting was a mistake—that this audience would not be receptive.

He said that he went on to give the worst sermon he has ever preached.  None of his points seemed to connect—no one seemed to be moved at all by what he had to say.  At the end, Ramsden gave an invitation—and he also handed out cards for people to critique what they just heard. 

He asked them to mark their card, on each respective question:  A to E. These people would essentially grade his sermon. 

Grade it:

 A = one of the best sermons you have ever heard

E = The worst.

The card also had a place for them to circle a statement.  From “I became a Christian tonight” to “Never invite me again.”  Ramsden says that after the meeting he couldn’t sleep.  He was intently concerned about what had just happened. 

The next morning at 7:30, the organizer called him.  Michael said his wife answered the phone and told him who was on the line.  He was hesitant when he put the phone up to his ear:

46 people ticked box A – ‘I gave my life to Jesus.’

48 people ticked box B – ‘I want to go to the Bible study.’

4 ticked box E.

Weeks later, most of the people from box B became Christians.   2 from box E did too.

Ramsden said he learned valuable lesson.  He decided that from that day forth,  to always give people the opportunity, no matter how I feel. He said, “My feelings are not a strong basis to operate this ministry from!”

He’s right you know.  It’s about trust—Trusting God.

 

There is a problem though.  Many Christians are not sure if they can morally trust God.  Non-Christians like Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, would say our God is morally abhorrent.  He even goes on to say that the theology of the cross is abusive and sickening. Here is the thing—and I am not trying to exculpate Dawkins—but—if you don’t know God is trustworthy – you can’t trust him.

 

Well, is God trustworthy?  What is his true character?

In the book of Jonah, which is arguably one of the oldest pieces of Biblical literature we have, we see a remarkable story about God’s compassion. The whole city of Nineveh was saved.  Who was Nineveh?  Just know that they were considered an enemy nation to the Israelites—if for no other reason than they enjoyed using the skin of Israelites for lampshades.  Isn’t this remarkable that God would have mercy on them—and use an Israelite to bring the message to them?  You’d think that was encouraging.  Mass salvation of an enemy nation. So, just how does Jonah the preacher feel about it?

Chapter 4:1 – it displeased Jonah greatly – (literally gut wrenchingly exceedingly upset) and he was angry.

As Christians, we get displeased that revival doesn’t come.  Here is Jonah made that it has come.  He hated the people he was preaching to, but he knew God was gracious and compassionate.  In fact, you could say it this way:  The kind of God he was, is Jonah’s problem.

Often we can get angry and upset when we see the people who are our enemies forgiven and restored.  Doesn’t it sometimes seem like God is schizophrenic?  One the one hand he is loving and nice, and on the other, there is fierce wrath.  We need to not set them in opposition to each other, but see them in the light of each other.

In Jane Austin’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, there is a scene where Mr. Darcy says he loves her (Elizabeth) against his will, his better judgment, and his character. (Unsurprisingly she rejects him!)  If there are some people who know you (everything- the real thing), YET they love you – those are the most valuable relationships. To be known warts and all – and loved.  What could be better?

Here is the truth of the matter:  True love does not exist in the absence of judgment – but in the presence of it.  Think of a marriage where as you get to know each other and in the face of flaws etc., you healthily grow in depth.  As they get to know you and your faults better, the love gets stronger.

God really knows you. Do you have emotional stability that comes from knowing that God loves you despite your flaws? (Tis doesn’t mean God is happy with them or that we should excuse them). He knows it. God is not interested in covering things up. That’s not the path to true relationship.

 Have you ever said something stupid to a friend and made them upset or hurt them?  Lets supposing the next day you go to them to apologize.  It’s great when they forgive you.  All is well in the world, right?  But, consider if they say, “It’s nothing” – and walk away, and you know – it’s something! And now there is something between you. It’s not the same.  Things are estranged.  Or suppose we try to make up for it. We make a fuss. We try to serve them in some way to earn the forgiveness rather than look at the problem. We no longer have real relationship. Covering up wrongdoing (in that sense) becomes a barrier to relationship.

Isn’t that what we are after?  Restored relationship?

The word Compassion – comes from ecclesiastical Latin. It literally means ‘With Passion.’ It means to make a moral judgment and be moved from the depth of your being to do something about it. You have compassion when you say, “That’s wrong – we have to DO something!”

 

God is compassionate in this way.  He looks at the world and all its sin, and he is deeply moved to step in.  He goes to a cross, NOT to cover our sings—but to justify us by publically dealing with it.  He has to deal with the wrath of God.  God is fully merciful but also fully just.  He cannot extend mercy while at the same time undermining justice.  Justice isn’t served despite merry, it is served through it. 

Through Christ on the Cross.

The message is nothing other than that while we were still sinners, he found us! He had already paid the price, he has moved! He knows exactly what we are like, and what was required. And he’s with us.

We hear the phrase, “God loves you” so much, it becomes meaningless.  The truth is, God loves you and me because he knows exactly who we are—and what we have done.  He isn’t deluded.

We don’t have to pretend to be someone we aren’t with God.  He is already fully aware.  It isnt any help to myself or God to refuse to be transparent with him.  It also gives me transparency with others. I know I have been forgiven – because he forgave me.

There is only one basis for me to be forgiven:

If I have done wrong to someone – I should not be able to say ‘I’m forgiven’ – except and unless the other party is willing to forgive, and offers it – and through repentance I have received that forgiveness.

If that’s the case, it is not arrogant for me to say, “I am forgiven.”

We are dependent on him, his promise. God has said it! It’s dealt with. So I can be secure, whatever other insecurities I might wrestle with.  Are you totally assured as to the character of God? Are you utterly sure of him?  Are you utterly sure he really means his words of love and assurance? That he has chosen, called and loved you? That’s the reality!

Are you prepared to fail on that basis?

The basis on which I know I can fail, is that I know it’s not about me. I do and can blow it. When preaching or leading worship, it’s not about how many respond etc. I am okay of others reject me on the basis that God has accepted me.

We need confidence – to trust the God who transforms lives.

In all other worldviews God can be merciful, by passing over his justice. For us, it’s not at the expense of his justice, BOTH operate together.

 

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Yeah you know that whole Tony Dungy thing?

With just a few words, the great coach and football analyst Tony Dungy has literally found himself in a red hot imbroglio.  It’s really a shame too.  Let’s look at his comments:

Dungy noted in an interview, that if he were still coaching today, that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam “(n)ot because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth…things will happen.”

I cannot for the life of me see any problems with this statement.  Let’s take something a bit less controversial.

What if a player was drafted in the 7th round who actively campaigns for the KKK?  What if he had made numerous comments in interviews that included the “n word,” referred to blacks and other minorities as less than human, and was regularly on the cover of white supremacy literature?

What if a player was drafted in the 7th round who was an ardent supporter of the 9-11 terrorists?  What if he said that he was going to use his platform in the NFL to bring attention and provide support to al Qaeda terrorists?  What if numerous interviews found him denouncing Americans and calling for jihad on our soil?

If either of those were the case, would you have a problem with Tony Dungy saying, “I do not believe ________’s (white supremacy) (Islamic faith) will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization,” like he said in a statement on Pro Football Talk.com? What if he went on to say about the two cases, “I do; however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction? Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction. I wish __________ nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.”

You have to admit, considering those two egregious hypothetical situations, that is an extremely benign statement! In this case, we have a known racist or supporter of terrorism and Dungy still wants the guy to get a “shot” and to “show what he can do on the field.” I think people would argue for a more vociferous critique by Dungy! “This isn’t enough…he is a Christian, and a man of character. He must stand against racism against blacks.” “How can he support the 9-11 attackers? He must not allow this to be swept under the rug!”

So, now—let’s look at the situation as it really is. We have an openly homosexual Defensive player named Michael Sam drafted in the…7th round by the St. Louis Rams. Upon his draft, leading up to it and following it, he has been the recipient of lavish media praise. In fact, Oprah was in talks to make a television show about him, but it was subsequently nixed because it was decided by his drafting team to be a distraction!

Dungy was asked if he would have drafted Sam. I think a succinct, “No” would have sufficed, but the interviewer wanted more. So, we have Dungy’s comments.

Notice in his comments, he didn’t condemn Sam for his lifestyle choice. He didn’t say, “eww gross.” He didn’t say that Sam was less than human. On the contrary, he said that HE wouldn’t have drafted Sam, but that he felt he deserved a chance to prove himself on the field. What is the problem?

Here is the problem:  On Tuesday, Pardon the Interruption’s Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were discussing former NFL coach Tony Dungy’s recent comments that media attention would have pushed him away from drafting Sam. Kornheiser said he was optimistic that NFL players would be personally tolerant of Sam, though.

And then this was said:

“I’m more skeptical,” Wilbon countered. “I think there is a component, a subculture of the religious Right, that is very influential in football — maybe not the other sports, but football — and I don’t see this going as smoothly as you see it.”​

Now, what does Wilbon mean when he talks about the subculture of the religious Right?  Well, he is talking about Dungy!  He is talking about the players who circle up and pray after games.  He is talking about Tebow.  He is talking about Christians.

Christianity makes liberals nervous.

You have to remember, Christianity makes some exclusive truth claims.  First of all, it claims that Jesus Christ is The way.  It claims that all men are sinners and in need of redemption that humans are not in a position to secure for themselves.  It claims that who we are is defined by our identity…in Christ—rather than the things we do, or our biological DNA.

The above is highly controversial to the Left.  The Bible even tells us that it will be controversial.

The first statement, that Christ is THE way—that runs right into the oncoming traffic of the leftist ideology.  The liberal believes that all ways are THE way—well, with a caveat:  They believe they are the most tolerant people on the planet—they say that all ideas are equal—but then comes the clincher:  All ideas are equal, until you disagree with the idea that all ideas are equal (which if you really think about it, necessarily follows. If all ideas are equal, then it would also affirm the view that says “no ideas are equal.”  This contradicts.  It cannot be tenable).  At that point, they become the most intolerant group of people on the planet.  They aren’t interested in debate, dialogue, or Obama’s favorite word, “bipartisanship.”  They are only interested in destroying the opposing view.

Christians on the other hand, believe that all people are equal, but all ideas are not.  It is wrong to embrace Nazi ideology.  It is wrong to embrace ideology that affirms pedophilia.  Liberals believe that all ideas are equal but all people are not.  My evidence:  Read Wilbon’s quote.  They are not attacking Dungy’s ideas—or engaging with the arguments:  They are attacking HIM and this fringe element called the religious right.  Notice, they aren’t saying, “I philosophically oppose the view that all men need redemption from God.”  They are instead saying, “Tony Dungy just admitted that Tony Dungy isn’t a skilled enough coach to deal with the distractions of doing the right thing…”  You even have people saying, “Dungy is entitled to his opinion, he just cannot say it aloud.”  Wow—so now, Dungy, who is a black man…is now a second class citizen who is unable to speak his mind?  My how times have changed.

The second statement:  All men are sinners and in need of redemption.  Well, aside from the obvious objections to masculine pronouns that feminists will bring up, this goes against the entire humanist doctrine.  In their view, all people are good; it is society that lets them down.  It is the culture who is to blame for bad behavior, not the person themselves.  They take away all need for personal responsibility.

Why is it that when crime happens, instead of punishing criminals, they always want to find the root cause of it (by root cause, I mean…the societal cause)?  They are not interested in dealing with the personal responsibility of certain actions.  The person CHOSE to commit a crime.  It doesn’t matter what society has or hasn’t done.  They are only interested in how the crime came to happen.  They don’t care to ask, “Are people flawed,” but rather; “why was he born into socioeconomic conditions that produced this type of behavior?”  It is a very different view of human nature.

The other side of this matter is that the left believes that we are all the product of time plus matter plus chance—and as a result, our DNA dictates to us what we will do.  We cannot be responsible for things that happen at the microbiological level.  We are compelled to behave in this way without any choice.  It is determined.  If that were true though—and everything was predetermined, then does the statement, “He should keep his opinion to himself” have any meaning?  On the naturalistic view, which the left overwhelmingly affirms, I haven’t weighed any arguments, or looked at the pros and cons of that statement.  I am just wired to believe it is true.  Why should that hold any weight?

The Christian believes otherwise.  The Christian believes that man is born flawed—as Kant said:  “From the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was made.”  We cannot resist sin, or doing wrong on our own.  We are drawn to it and consumed by it.  In the Christian view, sin doesn’t just describe something we do; it describes a power that controls us.  Until this problem is dealt with, we cannot escape it.  We will continue to be owned by it.  As a result, we need redemption—and it is a redemption that we, because of our sinful nature, are not in a position to secure for ourselves.

 

Finally, the idea of ontological being.  The humanist or liberal believes that we are defined by what we do. The Christian believes we are defined, by our being—and specifically the being of Christ in us.  If we don’t have Christ in us, we are ontologically dead.  The liberal would say that “I am a homosexual,” or “I am a heterosexual.” Even the liberal Christian will say, “I am a body who has a soul,” or, “I am a social activist—and I believe in God.” It is enough to be those things.

The Christian on the other hand says, “I am a Child of God…and I DO things.”  Being is always before action to the Christian.  Being a homosexual or heterosexual is something that we DO.  Being a social activist is something I do.  What I do flows from my being.  My being doesn’t flow from what I do.  I cannot truly be in a relationship until I decide to ACT.  I have to talk to my spouse.  I have to engage with her.  If I lived in a vacuum, I would not be in relationship.  It requires action.  It requires doing.  Saying, “I am a heterosexual” really has no meaning at all without action.  Likewise, you will not hear any denunciation of homosexuality in the Bible as long as it is contained in the person.  It is the act of doing homosexual activity that is condemned.  After all, the Bible clearly says that Jesus WAS tempted.  It isn’t that he was tempted that is important.  What is important is that he DIDN’T do what he was tempted to do.  His being informed what he did—and he didn’t sin.

Being on the other hand only requires…well, life.  In the Christian view, it is the fact that Christ enters us and gives us life, that our ontological being is changed.  We are no longer only a lump of flesh and DNA.  We are more:  We are no longer a body who has a soul; we are a soul who has a body.  Another way to say it—Ravi Zacharias routinely says, “Jesus didn’t come into the world to make bad people good.  He came to make dead men live.”  Being.

With those things being said, I think it is clear why there is such a negative reaction by the secular journalists when someone like Dungy says what he says.  It isn’t so much his comments, as they were fairly benign.  No—the problem is that his Christianity is seen as his prevailing ideology.  It is the fact that his being (Christ) informs all that he does.  He doesn’t believe it is his DNA or societal conditions that inform it.  He believes in Christ as the only way, he believes in original sin, and he believes that he IS a Child of God—not a football coach or a heterosexual.

Do you see the problem?  It is a matter of truth claim.  Dungy and all Christians are making an exclusive claim to truth when they identify as a Child of God.  They are saying that ALL men are flawed, that Jesus is the greatest who exists, and that it is ONLY through Jesus that ALL men can become, unflawed.

Let me put it into the lens of a personal story—and see two reactions to truth:

I once went to get a haircut, and in the middle of my cut, the lady cutting my hair said to the other lady working, “Business is good, but there must be more to life than this.”  I caught her eye in the mirror and said, “You know, in life, we aren’t made happy by what we acquire, but by what we appreciate.”  She was clearly interested, so I went on:  “The trouble as I see it is, that we often think we have nothing to be grateful for, but I think the real problem is, many times we think we have no one to be grateful to.”  She began to engage with me, and told me that she was very fearful about the future; and specifically, about bringing a baby into such an evil world.  I asked her then, “What is more troubling, the evil out there, or the evil inside?”  She agreed that the evil inside was more troubling, and she said, that it often felt like there was a power that controlled her—and that no matter what she did, she always feel prisoner to it.  I told her, “that power is what we call sin—and it doesn’t describe only actions that we do…but like you say, it describes a power that controls us.”  She nodded, and said, “I sometimes wish there was a way to be free from it…its almost like I need a……..”  I interrupted…”A savior?”  She lit up and said, “Yeah!  A Savior.  That is what I need.  What a great word.” 

A couple of weeks later I went back to check up on her…and she immediately sat me and began cutting my hair.  She told me that after our talk, she went home and told everything to her husband.  I thought to myself, “This will be interesting.”  So, I said to her, “what did he say?”   She said, “he said I was preaching at him!?”

Well of course she was.  Can you imagine coming home for dinner and hearing this:  “Hey honey… I need to tell you something….”  First, “You aren’t made happy by what you acquire, but by what you appreciate.”  “It isn’t that you have nothing to be thankful for, but that you have no one to be grateful to.”  “You aren’t held captive by what you do, but instead by a sin that controls you.”  “The only hope you have of getting rid of this sin is a Savior…and that savior is Jesus Christ.”

Was he ready to hear this?  No.  Why was she?  She had stated a cry of the heart when she told her coworker, “There has to be more to life than this.”  That was my way into the game.  The husband on the other hand was just trying to eat.  We need to be very mindful when we talk to people—and actually listen to what they say—to know when to engage them with the Gospel.

Now, I bring that up to show you how the gospel can be effectively communicated without causing a media imbroglio.  I think the left and seculars in general could take note from such a conversation. I don’t know that what Dungy said is any more offensive than the conversation I had with the woman.  He was asked a question and he responded.  Had he refused to respond, he would have been accused of not lending his moral authority to such an important issue in the NFL.

It brings up the issue of tolerance.  Tolerance as properly defined means existing in peace with those who you disagree with.  It has nothing to do with condoning, celebrating, or affirming.  Instead, what it is about is:  People are equal, ideas aren’t.  Because I see all people as equal, and ideas on a merit based plane, I am able to coexist with those whom I disagree.  I engage with their ideas—I do not engage them as people.  A good understanding of tolerance is:  “Gross.  You actually engage in that?  That is disgusting.  I cannot support such egregious behavior, BUT, I am not going to infringe on your rights to do that as long as you don’t infringe on mine.”  That is a textbook understanding of tolerance.

The problem is, tolerance has been redefined to mean, “You cannot disagree with anyone.”  There is a problem.  In saying, “You cannot disagree with anyone,” you are disagreeing with those who say, “You can disagree with anyone.”  It is a self-defeating proposition—it is meaningless.

Can we live in a fully tolerant, free, and just society?  Can those three coexist IF tolerance is defined in this new way?  No.  For justice to occur there will be disagreement.  For disagreement to occur there must be freedom.  For freedom to occur there must be the right to disagree and justice must exist.  If disagreement exists, then the new tolerance cannot exist in a free society.  Or to say it more poignantly, if the new tolerance exists, then there can be no true freedom.

I may disagree with you, but support your right to state your beliefs—that doesn’t mean I support your beliefs.  That doesn’t mean I celebrate them.  That doesn’t mean I would draft you.

 

What may be the most troubling is this:  “Thank God he wasn’t the coach of the St. Louis Rams…And like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”  Michael Sam is right.  The problem is, there is a priestly class in America who do not really live by that philosophy.

What the media is really saying is, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but we do not agree that all people are equal—and some people should keep their mouths shut.”

Dan Graziano from ESPN said this:  “I’m not here to call Tony Dungy a bigot or to dispute his right to say what he wants to say. My point here is that Dungy has a platform and that his words matter to those who work in and follow the NFL. And on an issue such as this, it’s important for a person in Dungy’s position to understand that and to think about the impact his words have on the world at large. Again, he’s welcome to his opinion. He just needs to remember how many people are listening to it.”

He isn’t disputing his right to say it, but he NEEDS to remember how many people are listening.  Where does this moral objectivity come from?  Dungy NEEDS to…?  I have seen other articles that say, Dungy SHOULD refrain…or Dungy SHOULD have kept his mouth shut…

What gives them the right to stand on this moral platform?  If the fringe religious right and their claim to truth is absurd and dubious—then from what entity do we (read ‘they’) draw objective moral truths and duties?  Those are the questions we should be asking—before it is too late.

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Not another traditional vs contemporary debate!?

Because I am a worship pastor, and I work with musical ensembles, praise teams, choirs, and such; I am often asked this question: “What is your feeling on contemporary versus traditional music?” This is the wrong question to ask, because it is a fanciful way of saying—well, nothing. What is contemporary and what is traditional? In a way, these are relative terms.  When someone says “Do you prefer traditional  or contemporary music in worship,” the only correct response should be, “Contemporary or traditional compared to what?”   The truth is, what is contemporary today will be traditional tomorrow. When using the word contemporary however, one can legitimately mean contemporary to our lifetime, the last 10 years, the last 20 years, the last 5 minutes, the last 100 years—or any length of time that puts that date and the person within a relationship to one another. Traditional on the other hand just means that it is not of today. The problem is that the term traditional faces the question—which tradition?

If you look back into music history, specifically around the 17th Century, you will see the development of the Sonata. The Sonata for our purposes here, was a dance-inspired instrumental work. In the Baroque era, there were several dance types that were incorporated into nearly every musical idiom. These dance styles included the partita, suite, ordre, ouverture and the air. The way it worked, was in a multi-movement piece like a Sonata, these dance elements were composed as the various movements; meaning, that you had different tempos and time signatures dictated by the dance. These were ubiquitously understood to be present in the Sonata.   The important note to take away is this: Secular Sonatas were called Sonata da Camera while Sacred Sonatas were titled Sonata da chiesa. Here is the rub: In the secular Sonata, the dance forms were unashamedly written into the score with the relevant names for each movement. In the sacred Sonata, the same forms were used, but were given DIFFERENT titles. Instead of using the names of the dances, the different movements were given names like, Adagio, Fuga, Siciiliana, or Presto.

My point: Secular music was informing sacred music. This was being done knowingly by composers and church musicians (who were most of the time the composers as well) used this idiom liberally.   A great example is Bach’s first three violin sonatas. They were written exclusively in the da chiesa (sacred) form—yet they sound like—(gasp)—dances!

What is my point? My point is—this traditional church music was clearly influenced by the secular.   Is the fact that something is traditional or not—a barometer of something’s worth in worship?  I say emphatically, “No.”

What about the person who says, “Traditional music to me is the ‘good ‘ole hymns’ and anything other than that is rubbish?” Well, this is a relative statement, and is indicating that person’s view of traditional and good, more than it tells me about their view on music in worship! Nevertheless, let us look at a few hymns. Let us take one of the most prolific writers of hymns, Fanny Crosby. Francis (Fanny) Crosby was one of the most prolific hymn writers ever, having penned the lyrics to something like 9,000 hymns, including many that are still favorites today including “Blessed Assurance,” “Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior,” and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” One biography of Fanny Crosby adds this tidbit:

“By the early 1870s, she was well on her way to becoming the queen of hymn writers. Fanny often matched her poems to familiar tunes. An example is “We Thank Thee, Our Father,” written to the melody of the famous “Adeste Fidelis.” She set poems to Scottish and Welsh airs and used tunes by Stephen Foster.”

Another prominent hymn writer, William Booth used parodies, too. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, an extremely evangelical organization that did much to help the poor and the drunks in the streets, used the music of popular tunes for hymns (see Tin Pan Alley). In the biography, William and Catherine Booth: Founders of the Salvation Army, by Helen K. Hosier, it states the following:

“Satan would have to be battled within his own strongholds, and any means was justifiable, William decided, if it would attract sinners to listen to the message of salvation … Thus it was that as the work grew, the music and street parades attracted increasing crowds of people who scorned the regular churches. ‘Why should the devil have all the best tunes?’ William replied when chided for appropriating music of popular tunes for his hymns … ” The book goes on to say, “The saying that ‘the devil has no right to all the good tunes’ has been attributed to both William Booth and Charles Spurgeon. But it was George Scott Railton, who was to become William’s lieutenant general in 1873 and was well-known as an author and songwriter, who concluded an article ‘About Singing’ (1874) with this impassioned plea: ‘Oh, let us rescue this precious instrument from the clutches of the devil, and make it, as it may be made, a bright and lively power for good!'” The people in the Salvation Army weren’t the first to use secular music for sacred purposes, though. Note the following: “[The absence of contrast between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ styles of music in the Middle Ages] ‘can be shown simply by the observation that a secular song, if given a set of sacred words, could serve as sacred music, and vice versa. Only recently has it been recognized how frequently such interchange took place, and the more we learn about medieval music, the more important it becomes. The practice of borrowing a song from one sphere and making it suitable for use in the other by the substitution of words is known as “parody” or contrafactum.’”

So, while it isn’t always the case–we see clearly that there is alot of “accepted” music has moved from the secular to the sacred realm. Still, what is meant by traditional or contemporary?  After all, aren’t some traditions practiced in contemporary time, and aren’t some contemporary things traditional in nature?  To me labeling things unequivocally with these terms is dubious at best.

I don’t know if these terms can be empirically defined. I think in a way, when someone makes the critique about music being too contemporary or too traditional, more than expressing anything substantive to the topic of worship, they are exercising the human desire for consumption. This is consumerism at its basic level.   On this view, we go to the worship service to “get something.” Have you heard this before?—“I just didn’t get anything from the service today. I didn’t like the music. It just didn’t touch me.” A statement like this is a statement of consumerism. We as consumers desire a short term lift despite what may be the long term consequences. In a way, even as worshippers, sometimes we exercise what economists would call Myopic Choice.  It is a view like this that would see God as an object to be consumed rather than a person with whom we can have relationship.  We get from God what we want, and then relegate him to the periphery of our lives–unless a topic like this comes up–in which case we will argue emphatically that either traditional or contemporary music is more ‘godly.’  It only seems natural that this would be the case–as this is what is currently seen in the culture.  Why is it that the same feminists (Who stood shoulder to shoulder with Billy Graham) who used to wear signs that said, “I am a person,” are now wearing shirts that say, “I am a porn star?”  People have moved from beings who have relationships to objects who are consumed.  Why would they see God any different?

The sad thing is that this dubious way of living and viewing self has made its way into the church.  The consumerism of aesthetic preference.  I want what makes me happy.  This is drive through theology.  I want to get God, but he has to be my way, right away.  If my burger comes with mayo–I reject it.  We are so focused on the burger itself, that we forget to praise the effort of the one who prepared it!  Even more practically, we buy the music we want–and on iTunes–we even buy ONLY the songs we want.  We are programmed to consume.  We care nothing for the whole–only the part we want!  When was the last time you didn’t fast forward through the commercials or previews?

Let us look at it another way. Take the Lord’s Supper and let us build a framework for worship from this beautiful scene. Before we see the beautiful words of Christ, it is important to give some definitions. For the traditionalist, the past is most important. For the existentialist, the ‘here and now’ is most important. For the utopianist, the future is important.   Keeping this in mind, and with our eye on our topic, we see that Jesus makes an incredible statement to the disciples at the Last Supper. “As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup [now], you proclaim the Lord’s death [in the past], until He comes [in the future].”

Jesus is saying that all of history—past, present, future—are significant and hold tremendous meaning. To overemphasize any point is to become wholly partisan and subservient to an “ism.” This is idolatry.

Think of this statement—there is unity in diversity. Past, present, and future—all unite in the being of Christ through history. Different tribes, lands, and nations—all unite under the headship of Christ. In fact, different churches (who proclaim Christ as deity and resurrected Lord), despite their differences on some theological issues, are the same as well—under Christ.   On a more esoteric level, scientists and philosophers have tried and tried to find one unifying theory for the universe—look into M Theory if you are interested here. The problem is—until we grasp the idea that unity in diversity are found first in the Creator (the Trinity)—we will never understand the unity in diversity found in our universe and in in all of life! Jesus has invited all of mankind into this unity in diversity through a relationship with His son, Jesus.

If one thinks about past, present and future—every point in history has a past present and future—well, except the ‘time’ when God had not yet created. At this point, God merely existed. He is timeless and immutable, by definition. Traditional or contemporary do not apply to God! Traditional or contemporary, I would argue—do not apply to the Kingdom of God! To emphasize any of these three as ‘better’ or more ‘important’ is faulty. There should be a unity in diversity—God is the God of all time—past, present, and future. We can rejoice in this.

I think of the music of Bach—and how it progressed through time to the music of—John Cage. In Bach, we see a musician who was focused on the transcendent. It was evidenced by his music. There was always a great deal of tension, dissonance—but always—and I repeat –always—there came a consonant resolution. There was a unity in diversity.  Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer said it this way:

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was certainly the zenith of the composers coming out of the Reformation. His music was a direct result of the Reformation culture and the biblical Christianity of the time, which was so much a part of Bach himself. There would have been no Bach had there been no Luther. Bach wrote on his score initials representing such phrases as: “With the help of Jesus” – “To God alone be the glory” – “In the name of Jesus.” It was appropriate that the last thing Bach the Christian wrote was “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.” Bach consciously related both the form and the words of his music to biblical truth. Out of the biblical context came a rich combination of music and words and a diversity of unity. This rested on the fact that the Bible gives unity to the universal and the particulars, and therefore the particulars have meaning. Expressed musically, there can be endless variety and diversity without chaos. There is variety yet resolution.”

In the music of the Impressionists—Debussy, Ravel, Duparc—we see a music that goes nowhere. There is only unity—no diversity. In the modern music of Cage we see a music that only has diversity. Much of the music leading up to him—Webern, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky—used a methodical system called the 12-tone row—to mathematically order music. This made the music sound as if it weren’t ordered at all; but instead, chaotic. Isn’t that strange? When humans try to order things—it comes off as chaotic—rather than ordered! In the music of Cage, he used what he called indeterminacy to create music of chance. The problem is, no matter how you frame it—this music wasn’t purely created by chance and a random, unguided process. Here is Cage: “I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly. So I decided that I would not approach them in this way.” Francis Schaeffer comments, “In other words, here is a man who is trying to teach the world what the universe intrinsically is and what the real philosophy of life is, and yet he cannot even apply it to picking mushrooms.”

Obviously, at some point, Cage himself had to inject his will into the music—whether it was to interpret the Chinese cards he used to generate the notes and rhythms, or to know at what point to start his composition! All we were left with was diversity. So we see a progression from unity in diversity to unity only, to diversity only.

So that has been a polemic on looking to the future. Now—I am not arguing that looking to the past is the best way. To focus merely on the traditional is riddled with problems. Perhaps the most powerful indictment of the past comes from Malcolm Muggeridge:

“We look back upon history, and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulated and wealth dispersed…Shakespeare has spoken of the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon. I look back upon my own fellow countrymen in England once upon a time dominating a quarter of the world…I have heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world an establishment of a Reich that would last a thousand years. I have seen an Italian clown saying he was going to stop and restart the calendar with his own ascension to power… all in one life time, all in one lifetime! All gone, gone with the wind…and behind the debris of these solemn superman and self-styled imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person—because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind may still have peace—the person of Jesus Christ.”

I think we can go further with our look at this debate. Consider for example Jesus’ interaction with Satan in the wilderness:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,” ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

In these incredible responses by Jesus, we see something emerge that is helpful. Satan challenged Jesus in three ways. The first is the will. “Feed yourself, Jesus—do a miracle so we can know you are God.” Jesus replies that physical bread is nothing compared to the bread of life. This is the fact that material things are not all that exist. There is another realm that is very real. The will. Secondly, Satan challenges Jesus intellect. He uses a scripture verse to test the intellect. Jesus replies to this verse taken out of context by reminding Satan not to test God. The intellect. Finally—once all the routes of will and intellect are exhausted—Satan enters the back door of the imagination. This is what we must look out for as music ministers and worship teams. The imagination can give way to some of the greatest failures we have as people. Jesus replies that “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

It is interesting that the word used for worship here is prŏskunĕō. This is a different word than we think of in English. We get our word worship in English from the Middle English word ‘worshipe.’ This essentially means ‘worthship.’ Worth implies a consumer. A consumer may not agree with the seller on the worth of something. Prŏskunĕō is speaking instead about giving God His due. This means falling prostrate before the uncaused cause. This means giving to God what he is due—which is everything. Our human intellect, will, or imagination can lead us to believe that we have something due us—or that we are worth more than we really are. This is a great danger that looms always.

The final issue to deal with comes from the book of John. When talking to the woman at the well, Jesus engages her about her life. She says to Jesus,

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

In this wonderful exchange, we see a woman who knows what traditional worship is. It is living by the law. “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain,” says the woman. What she means is—this is how we have been taught to do it. This is what we know. Jesus is saying, “You need a kingdom perspective. You must give up that earthly view of things.”   Jesus is quick to show her—worship isn’t about a musical style, or a place, or a certain type of dress. It is about worshipping Him in “spirit and truth.” Period.

Worship isn’t about a certain thing we must know (epistemology). It isn’t about a certain feeling we must have (existentialism). It certainly isn’t about a list of things we must do and not do (pragmatism). It is about worshipping the being of Christ. That is all!

If I built a house that was made out of wood that wasn’t treated for termites—and put it on a foundation of sand—and despite all this, my house was absolutely beautiful to the eye. What would this beauty matter when the hurricane or flood comes—or when the termites show up? It would matter nothing. On the other hand—if my house was not aesthetically pleasing—but it was built out of treated wood, and put upon a firm foundation—it would withstand any test, but still may not look pleasing to man’s eye.

This is the difference between a corruption of substance and an error of form. We can deal with an error of form—even between denominations and age groups—and still worship! What we cannot deal with however, is a corruption of substance.

I think it is faulty to talk about contemporary or traditional in any “right” or “wrong” sense. What we need to talk about is—who we are worshipping, what worship is and how music can be used biblically in it. We need to remember music isn’t worship in itself. It is a tool we can use, but it is not worship by itself. If we make our argument about traditions or newness to be the center of our priority, we are worshipping the methodology of worship, not the object of worship Himself.

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Happiness, The Christian Faith, and Why We Insist on Hurting Ourselves

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Would you say that purpose of the Christian life to ultimately achieve happiness?  Is God ultimately concerned with making us happy?  Think about it like this:  Many Christians will say, “I was unhappy, but when I came to Jesus He brought me joy.” Or, “I have found happiness because I have found Christ.”  I have even heard, “Come to Jesus if you want to find happiness.”  These statements aren’t bad in and of themselves, but, the purpose of following Jesus isn’t to make ourselves happy.  They are means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.  C.S. Lewis, the English writer once quipped that a man can be made happy by alcoholic beverage; he doesn’t need God for this.  If our only reason for coming to God is to find happiness, this is a worship that is based in hedonism.  If we are fixed ultimately on serving ourselves, this is a form of idolatry.

Could you imagine this situation?

Let’s supposing, I have been away for a while on a trip, and when I come home, I stop at a local floral store.  I buy my wife her favorite arrangement of flowers, a card, and chocolates.  On my way home I call a babysitter unbeknownst to my wife and arrange for them to watch our child so that we can go out to dinner upon my return home.  When I arrive home, I knock on the door—and when my wife opens the door, I say nothing.  Instead, I just present the flowers to her.  Her response will be something like, “John, you shouldn’t have!”  She will respond immediately out of happiness.  My reply to this would be, “I know I didn’t have to, but I love seeing you happy. I know how happy flowers make you, so I wanted to get them for you.”  Guys, if you are single—and you haven’t employed this level of gesture, this could be a clue as to your singleness!

Now, let’s consider it this way:

What if I stopped at the floral shop—arranged for dinner—came home—presented the flowers—but this time, I added this:  “I got you these flowers because I know it makes you happy.  I am happy when I see you happy.  In fact, I have arranged for a babysitter so that you and I can go out to eat tonight and spend an evening alone.  There is no one else I would rather be with tonight than you.”

What if her response to my proposal was: “No one you would rather be with?!  Why are you always thinking about yourself?  You are so selfish!”

This is absurd.  I could almost guarantee you that if you employed the same rhetoric and action that we saw in the second example, you would not get that response.

Why?

It is the nature of love to delight one’s self in the joy of the other.  My gleaning of happiness out of the happiness of my wife is not an act of selfishness.  This is the nature of love.  There is a distinction between loving to do something and loving to have something done for you.  If our service to God is done because we delight ourselves in God, we will truly be happy.  If we only find happiness in what He will do for us, the moment His will doesn’t match up with our plan, we will feel estranged.  If our entire faith is based on our own happiness, it will not weather any storms.

So if our happiness doesn’t come from gratification through God serving us, it must come from us serving God—willingly.

Serving is a key theme of Jesus’ own ministry.  The Bible says in Mark 10 that

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

He delighted himself in the joy of the Father.  Look at this:  The Son served the Father.  In the Son serving the Father, He delighted Himself in the joy of the Father.  What was the joy of the father?  That his creation could be freed from sin.

Happiness is an elusive thing when it is an end in itself.  You may be aware of the current state of global financial markets and all that have surrounded economic collapses in the West.  Do you know at the root level why this has happened?  Simply, because people are making myopic choices—or they make choices that are only based on short-term fulfillment.

Think about it—people do what they do because they think it will make them happy.  If someone does what they do because they think it will make them miserable, I think you should seek help for them.  Look—happiness is superficial and temporary at best when it is based on finding things in this world that are meaningful.

Are you familiar with Joseph Stalin?  A story is told by his daughter about when he was the Russian dictator.  Someone asked him once, how he could ensure people would follow him once he had employed all his cruelness on them.  To this, he replied with calling for a chicken.  He took the chicken and plucked out all of its feathers and then returned it to the ground.  He then threw bread crumbs on the ground and the chicken came to his feet and began to eat.  Stalin told the questioner that if you are the source of food for those whom you torture, they will never leave your feet, despite the mistreatment.  Are we any different today?  Now, granted we don’t have Joseph Stalin, but we do have a tormentor.  Sin is anything that we do that deviates from God’s purpose in our lives.  The word sin in the Bible doesn’t only refer to evil things we do, but it also describes a power that can control us and take us captive.  Satan torments us, yet, because we desire our idea of happiness, we are willing to follow him.  How is this analysis incorrect?  It’s not.

Our idea of happiness is completely wrong.  When we desire happiness, at the expense of doing God’s will, we are not seeking happiness.  Instead, we are seeking misery.  Who knowingly does this?  This is myopic choice.  You know, if you look at a modern economy textbook today, it doesn’t seem to say that the idea of a rational consumer exists.  On the contrary, it will say that all consumers today are myopic in nature.  This says a lot.

I was at a hair salon once, and the lady cutting my hair was the owner—I knew this because at one point, she turned to the lady next to her and said, “business is good, but there has to be more to life than that.”  Now—I am a sort of evangelist, and I love apologetics.  This doesn’t mean that I evangelize people and then apologize to them for doing it.  On the contrary it means, I give evidences or reasons for my faith.  This was a golden moment.  I caught her eye in the mirror and said, “If you ask me, we aren’t made happy in life by what we acquire, but instead, by what we appreciate.”  She put down her scissors and walked off.  She came back and produced a notepad and a pen and said, “You couldn’t say that again could you?”  So I repeated myself.  She wrote it down frantically.  As she was writing I went on—I said, “The problem that most people have is not that they have nothing to be grateful for, but instead they live their lives as if they have no one to be grateful to.”  She put down the scissors again and asked me to repeat it.  Now—this turned into an hour-long haircut!  I don’t have an hour-long hairstyle, I just have hair.  This was very interesting.

I then asked her if she had every loved someone but wasn’t able to express it.  She replied in the affirmative and told me how trapped that made her feel.  I went on to share with her what C.S. Lewis says about that very thing.  I told her once we are able to share that love with the other, it liberates us from our own monotony.  She agreed.  We then talked about sin and how it consumes us.  She asked me an interesting question—she said, “Im pregnant.  The problem I have is, how do I bring a baby into such an evil world?”  I told her that she had raised a great question—but then stealing a line from Ravi Zacharias, I said, “You are right when you point out the evil outside, but what about the evil inside you?”  She again affirmed that she was aware of this but didn’t know what to do about it.  She said to me, “Its like I know what I do is wrong, but I do it anyways.  I want to do right, but I can’t.  I just seem trapped in myself.  I need someone else to help me.”  I looked at her in the mirror and exclaimed, “You are saying you need a—savior?”  No lie—she looked at me and said, “oooh that’s a good one.  Savior.  I like that.”  I mean, face it—we don’t go around saying words like savior a lot.  unless you have grown up in the church, when will you use this word?

I then went on to talk to her about God and how he hates sin.  I told her that there will be a time when God will judge the world—and that the ultimate question is what have we done with our sin.  She seemed perplexed.  She asked how we could be rid of sin, if we are trapped by it.  I then told her about Jesus and how God was fully merciful but yet fully just.  I told her about how Jesus paid the penalty of death that we deserved—and has provided a way for us to be free from sin.  Our conversation ended with me saying, “You cant sit on the fence forever.  You have to decide, what are you doing to do with Jesus?”

Now—I went back 2 weeks later.  I have never had hair this short in my life.  As soon as I walked in, she said, “John, I will cut your hair!”  So she sat me down, and put an apron on me.  She asked me, “Do you remember our conversation?”  I told her that I could vaguely remember it.  She then said something interesting:  She said, “I went straight home and told my husband everything you said.”  I thought to myself, “Oh this is interesting—yikes.”  I asked her what he said in reply.  At this, her face dropped.  She said, “He told me I was preaching at him!”

Of course she was.  He gets home from a long day at work and sits down at the table.  She produces a notepad and proceeds to say:

“You know that in life you aren’t made happy by what you acquire, but what you appreciate.  It isn’t that you have nothing to be grateful for, but you live your life as if you have no one to be grateful to.  The reason you feel trapped is because you are incapable of expressing love.  You are both enslaved to and engaged in evil.  The only way that you can get out of this evil existence is to find Jesus.  If you don’t find him, there will be a judgment and you will have to pay for your sin.  I ask you, what will you do with Jesus?”  

Why did she respond graciously, but he responded closed off?  Simply put, because she was asking questions.  He wasn’t.

A fish doesn’t know it is wet, but it is.  You and I don’t realize we are dry, but we are.  People who are apart from God do not understand the concept of happiness in a Christian sense.  It is an idea that is totally alien to them.  They are engaged in sin, and they do not know it.

It is interesting—I read a book a while back by this guy who is the Chichele Professor of Economic History at the University of Oxford. To be honest with you, the reason I read it was because I wanted to be able to say, “I read a book by the Chichele Professor of Economic History at Oxford.” That title alone was worth reading the book!

The book is called The Challenge of Affluence. In it, he basically says that the perpetual flow of new rewards in our Western affluent economy undermines our capacities to actually enjoy them.

In other words, when you don’t have a lot of money, you are limited by scarcity. You can’t do everything you want. You can’t buy everything you want. You can’t do it. Scarcity is a natural regulator.  However, in affluence, scarcity becomes scarce. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want to.  The rub is, no matter what psychometric study you use—and they are all uniform—it doesn’t seem to matter—they all agree: In the presence of affluence, Happiness seems to decrease.

In affluence, the things that naturally limit us, disciple us, and train us, are taken away. The danger is we indulge in everything, we take pleasure in nothing—and we get caught running on a hedonic treadmill.  It seems as if we are running faster and faster to get the same amount of pleasure, and every amount of pleasure that we get must become more extreme just to meet our need for our increased tolerance for pleasure. This pattern becomes self-destructive and some individuals at the top actually lose it altogether from time to time as a result.

In the face of plenty, the well-off increase their satisfaction, not by increasing their consumption but by limiting it—not by increasing the pace, but by slowing it down.

The kind of moral command God has given us for life, provides that very framework.

Now, the thing to realize is this: breaking that framework doesn’t make us happy. There may be a short-term lift, but a long-term problem is bound to follow.  We may experience what seems to be a short-term feeling of happiness, but in the long run—we will eventually lose out.

Now—economists talk about a principle called Myopic Choice. If you look at economics—most models rest upon the ‘premise’ that basically says that the study of economics could be modeled in terms of rational consumers. Milton Friedman, the brilliant economist, said that a rational consumer is someone who is ‘aware of their motives, options, goods before then, and the consequences.’  You could call this being bilaterally and voluntarily informed. The problem is–if you pick up an economy text today in a university, it will basically imply that there is no such thing as a rational consumer. It will say we make only myopic choices.  A myopic choice means we know our choices are bad, but we make them anyways.  We know that printing money is not wise, but we do it regardless.  We know raising a debt limit is fatuous, but we do it.  The short-term gain outweighs the price of the long-term reward.

Why do you think we sin? We are convinced that the short-term pleasure outweighs the price of the long-term reward. “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” It isn’t our pain that lets us down. It is our constant drive toward pleasure that destroys us.

When we break God’s moral law–we get hurt.  We hurt ourselves while proving His law in the process.

Do you know why many people are so unhappy and experience so much hurt in their lives rather than happiness?  Simply ,because they are trying to do the impossible.  They are trying to break God’s moral law.  It  is impossible.

If I asked you to put a cape on, draw a red ‘S’ on you chest and go to the top of a tall building and jump off—would you break the law of gravity?  No.  You would break something else while proving the law of gravity in the process.  It is in this same way we are unable to break God’s moral law.  When we try—we get hurt—and we hurt those around us.  Do you remember what happened to Jonah when he tried to run from God?  Not only did he get hurt, but the innocent sailors around him got hurt as well.  God has warned us—if you continue to live like this, you will break yourself—yet we do it anyways.  Myopic choice.

So, where does happiness come in?  We have to understand that happiness isn’t about us.  Happiness comes from God—and it is a derivative of our willingness to serve Him.  When we learn to disconnect ourselves and our desires from our definition of happiness, happiness will take on an entirely new definition.  It isn’t about us anymore—but it becomes about God.  When we delight ourselves in God, there is no greater measure of happiness available.

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