Scientific Findings and Achievements in Drug Abuse Research for 2018

From the Blog of Dr. Nora Volkow, Director
National Institute on Drug Abuse
January 7, 2019

Dr. Volkow noted, “As we enter 2019, it is a good time to take stock of what NIDA accomplished over the past year. As always when I look back at the research being done by NIDA grantees and partners, I am amazed at the wealth of knowledge being created from our investments. Here I want to highlight just a few of the many outstanding developments in basic science, new therapeutics, and epidemiology and prevention research from the year that just ended.”

Basic Science Advances

Recent years have seen major advances in the understanding of receptor functioning. In March 2018, a team of researchers at NIDA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) reported in Nature Communications on an advance in understanding G protein-coupled receptors (GCPRs), a large family of receptors that play an important role in the brain’s response to drugs. These receptors often assemble into larger complexes, but it has been unknown whether those complexes are merely the product of random collision between signaling molecules as they move across the membrane or whether they pre-form into complexes that serve specific functions.

The IRP team found that two common GCPRs in the reward pathway, adenosine A2A and dopamine D2 receptors (along with their G proteins and target enzyme), assemble into preformed macromolecular complexes that act as computation devices processing incoming information and enabling the cell to change its function based on that information. This knowledge could facilitate the development of more precise medication targets.

In June 2018, a team of NIDA-funded researchers at the University of California–San Francisco, along with colleagues in Belgium and Canada, reported in Neuron magazine that they had developed a genetically-encoded biosensor that can detect activation of opioid receptors and map the differences in activation within living cells produced by different opioids. The fact that opioids bind to receptors on structures within the cell—and not just on the cell membrane—was itself a novel finding, but the team also discovered striking differences in how endogenous versus synthetic opioids interact with these structures.

While endogenous peptides activated receptors on membrane-bound compartments within the cell called endosomes, synthetic opioid drugs activated receptor sites on a separate structure called the Golgi apparatus (which acts as a hub for routing proteins to various destinations in the cell). These very different patterns of activation within the cell may lead to greater understanding of why non-peptide opioid drugs produce tolerance as well as the behavioral distortions seen with opioid misuse and addiction whereas the body’s endogenous opioid peptides do not.

The same month, a team led by neuroscientists at UCLA studying narcolepsy reported research in Science Translational Medicine based on their discovery that postmortem brains from individuals who had been addicted to heroin show greatly increased numbers of neurons producing the neuropeptide hypocretin. Hypocretin helps regulate wakefulness and appetite, and a diminished number of cells in the brain producing it is associated with narcolepsy. The researchers went on to conduct a study administering morphine to mice, which as observed in the postmortem study produced increased numbers of hypocretin neurons. The results suggest that increases in these cells and in brain hypocretin could underlie the complaints of sleep problems in patients with an opioid use disorder (OUD). Since insomnia is a factor that contributes to drug taking in OUD and other addictions, strategies to counteract hypocretin signaling might have therapeutic benefits.

Prevention and Treatment

Last year, NIDA-funded research resulted in new therapeutics and apps for opioid use disorder. In May, the FDA approved lofexidine, the first medication approved to treat physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal. In December, the FDA cleared the first mobile health app intended to help retain patients with OUD in treatment, called reSET-O. It uses interactive lessons to deliver a community reinforcement approach therapy and enables users to report cravings and triggers to their health care provider between office visits, along with whether or not they have used Suboxone. NIDA funded the clinical trial that led to this app’s approval. A version called reSET was approved in 2017 to help with behavioral treatment of several non-opioid substance use disorders.

NIDA-funded research in epidemiology and prevention also added greatly to the knowledge of new drug trends in 2018. Last month’s striking findings on monitoringthefuture.org alerted us to escalating use of vaping devices among adolescents. Although most adolescents in 2017 claimed they used vaping devices only to vape flavors, this year most reported they used them to vape nicotine. Alarmingly, there was also an increase in vaping of cannabis.

Several other studies published in 2018 increased our understanding of factors that may lead youth to experiment with vaping. For example, a longitudinal cohort study by researchers at Yale and reported in Addictive Behavior found that exposure to ads for e-cigarettes on social media sites like Facebook significantly increased the likelihood of subsequent e-cigarette use among middle and high school students in Connecticut. In another study published in Preventive Medicine, the researchers also found that higher socioeconomic status was associated with greater exposure to e-cigarette advertising (which in turn was associated with increased likelihood of use)—important data that can help with targeting prevention efforts. Other work by UCSF researchers and published in Pediatrics found that e-cigarette use in adolescents was positively associated with being a smoker of conventional cigarettes, lending further support to the view that these devices are not diverting youth from smoking cigarettes but may be having the opposite effect in some users.

Looking To The Future

This year the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study successfully completed recruitment of 11,874 participants, ages 9-10, who will be followed for 10 years, through young adulthood. The study, which is being conducted at 21 research sites around the country, is using neuroimaging to assess each individual’s brain development while also tracking cognitive, behavioral, social, and environmental factors (including exposure to social media) that may affect brain development and other health outcomes. The first release of anonymized data was made available so that both ABCD and non-ABCD researchers can take advantage of this rich source of information to help answer novel questions and pursue their own research interests.  Last year alone, the data resulted in more than 20 publications.

 

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General and Special Revelation

Christian theology asserts, based on Scripture and the confirming acts of God, that divine revelation is the first, last, and only source for the theological. Without this firm base, theological discussion seems random and pointless. We have knowledge of God because of His initiative and activity. We see what He has done; we see that it is good. God is the author and initiator of revelation and we are the recipients. He discloses what would otherwise be unknown. He uncovers what would otherwise be hidden. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may follow all the words of His law” (NIV).

General Revelation

God draws the veil back for us in two ways. First, there is what has been called general revelation. This refers to God revealing Himself in nature, history, and in man as made in His image. The association of God’s revelation with nature, by which people have an intuitive knowledge of God’s existence, is long-standing. It’s been said that when people deny God, as with the atheist, it is actually a forced effort against an inner yearning to find truth and meaning about our origin and meaning. Paul expressed this to the Athenians, expecting them to agree with him based on the proclamations of their philosophers and poets. He said, “For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring'” (Acts 17:28, NIV). It is universal in scope. In other words, no one can claim ignorance relative to God’s general revelation.

Because of the natural knowledge of God (scholars like Thomas Aquinas termed it natural theology to distinguish from that which was revealed by God directly through Scripture), which confronts humanity on every side through that which is created, Paul can say that people are “very religious” (see Acts 17:22). It is not a case of identifying God and nature, but rather recognizing that the natural knowledge of God is deeply ingrained in humanity’s own nature and in the natural realm. Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies declare the works of his hands” (NIV). The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible notes a four-fold confirmation of God’s existence:

  • The heavens declare God’s glory. The Hebrew word saphar means to recount, to mark as a tally, number out, inscribe as a writer (Psalm 19:1; 75:1; Job 12:8)
  • The firmament shows His handiwork. The Hebrew word nagad means to front, stand boldly out, manifest, certify (Psalm 19:1; 111:6; Micah 6:8)
  • The days utter speech. The Hebrew word here is naba, which means to gush forth, belch out, pour out, utter abundantly (Psalm 19:2; 78:2; 145:7)
  • The nights show knowledge. The Hebrew word for show is chavah, meaning to declare or indicate (Psalm 19:2; Job 15:17; 32:6, 10, 17; 36:2)

If the heavens number out the glory of God and inscribe the infinite works of the Creator; if the firmament manifests His handiwork and certifies His existence; if days constantly pour forth teaching; and if nights declare the very knowledge of God, then God’s existence is everywhere confirmed. Paul notes in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (NIV). Paul is clear: General revelation provides everyone with evidence that God is real.

Natural knowledge of God does have its limitations. Because it confronts mankind with the fact of God’s existence on a cerebral level, the individual engages in point-counterpoint discussion—from his or her own worldview. Moreover, general revelation does not provide information regarding the Gospel. Information about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus can only be found in the Bible. Accordingly, where general revelation deals with the existence of God and generic morality, special revelation, the Bible, and the person of Christ, give specifics regarding sin, salvation, heaven, hell, the nature of God, the Trinity, the incarnation, death, the Fall, redemption, and other spiritual matters.

Special Revelation

Nature is not the sixty-seventh book of the Bible, but a signpost pointing to the existence and character of God. The book of nature should be studied and understood in the light of the book of Scripture, not the other way round. To know God from His revelation in nature, however, still leaves Him and His gracious purposes completely unknown. This is true because the things of the Spirit are foreign to the mind of mankind. In Isaiah 55:8-9, God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (NIV).

God desires to share His ways with us. We would certainly know nothing of His heart or His plans for our redemption had He not revealed it through Scripture. Before the Fall, communion between God and man was direct and uninterrupted. With the earliest patriarchs and prophets—Noah, Abraham, Isaiah, Elijah, and others—God’s revelation came by means of words articulated directly in a supernatural way. At other times, He spoke through angels (as when they appeared before Abraham, see Genesis 18:1-15), in the burning bush (see Exodus 3:1-22), in the cloud (see Exodus 34:5-7), or the fire and cloud over Mount Sinai for Moses and the people of Israel (see Exodus 19:18-21). God made His mind and heart known through Moses. God also used dreams and visions.

In addition to speaking to His prophets and apostles, God also inspired them to record His thoughts, words, promises, and covenants to be retained for all time. The Bible is a sacred collection of writings through which God has revealed His thoughts and intentions toward humanity. The prophets and apostles were prompted to recount key historical events. Revelation and inspiration are necessary counterparts to God’s disclosure of His character and will. R.C. Sproul, author, theologian, and ordained minister, said this of general and special revelation:

I believe firmly that all of truth is God’s truth, and I believe that God has not only given revelation in sacred Scripture, but also, the sacred Scripture itself tells us that God reveals Himself in nature—which we call natural revelation. And, I once asked a seminary class of mine that was a conservative group, I said, “How many of you believe that God’s revelation in Scripture is infallible?” And they all raised their hand. And I said, “And how many of you believe that God’s revelation in nature is infallible, and nobody raised their hand. It’s the same God who’s giving the revelation.

The ultimate form of special revelation is Jesus Christ. God became a human being (see John 1:1, 14). Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (NIV).

Concluding Remarks

General revelation is important because it represents effective communication regarding the existence of God, His moral character, and all that He has created. However, general revelation itself does not reveal the Gospel. Special revelation provides specific communication involving God’s will and His plan for redemption. The most compelling element of special revelation is the incarnation of God in the flesh as Jesus Christ. The scribes who penned the Scriptures received special revelation in physical manifestations, dreams, angels, and through witnessing the events they recorded. Those who wrote the Bible were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ we meet the fullness of the revelation of the Father, and it is only through Scripture that we meet Christ.

 

God, Science or Both?

WHEN YOU PONDER THE vastness of the universe, the wonder of the natural world, or the mysteries of the human mind, what do you think? Some of us see nothing but a material world, machinations of which we believe are best explained by the logical reasoning of science. One of the world’s most famous and endearing scientists, Stephen Hawking, did not believe in God or heaven. Hawking invoked the name of God in his seminal book A Brief History of Time, writing that if astrophysics could find a “theory of everything”—in other words, a comprehensive explanation for how the universe works—they would glimpse “the mind of God.”

However, in later interviews and writings, such as 2010’s The Grand Design, which Hawking co-wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking clarified that he wasn’t referring to a creator in the traditional sense. “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist, he wrote, adding, “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” In other words, Hawking was perfectly at ease with believing something came from nothing.

In Hawking’ s Brief Answers to the Big Questions, his last book before his death March 14, 2018, he said, “People have always wanted answers to the big questions. Where did we come from? How did the universe begin? What is the meaning and design behind it all? Is there anyone out there?” (p. 3). He states the big question in cosmology: Did the universe have a beginning? He notes that many scientists were instinctively opposed to the idea, because they felt that a point of creation would be “…a place where science [breaks] down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God to determine how the universe would start off” (pp. 12-13). He clearly states in Brief Answers, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.” He added, “If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: What role is there for God?”

To Hawking and many like-minded scientists, the combined laws of gravity, relativity, quantum physics, and thermodynamics could explain everything that ever happened or ever will happen in our known universe. He said, “If you like, you can say the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence.” Hawking’s number-one “big question” is definitely a big one: Is there a God? Trying to prove God does not exist is basically impossible. How does one prove a negative?

CHRISTIANITY AND REASON: THE THEOLOGICAL ROOTS OF SCIENCE

Christianity helped form the heart of Western civilization, shaping ideas and institutions that have persisted for two millennia. Yet there seems to be an inherent antagonism between science and theology. In fact, militant atheists are prone to portray an ongoing war between the two. The conflict, Sam Harris writes, is “zero sum.” Zero-sum basically means if one party gains an advantage, another party must suffer an equivalent loss. In economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the loss or gain of the utility of the other party.

It is worth noting that science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose in human history in Europe, during the period of civilization called Christendom. Pope Benedict XVI argues that reason is a central distinguishing feature of Christianity. An unbiased look at the history of science shows that modern science is an invention of Medieval Christianity, and that the greatest breakthroughs in scientific reason have largely been the work of Christians.

Sam Harris said, “If God created the universe, what created God?” His sentiments are echoed by several atheist writers: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan, Steven Weinberg. They argue the problem of infinite regress—a sequence of reasoning or justification which can never come to an end. Certainly, they say, there has to be a chain of causation, but they ask, “Why does it have to stop with God?” Dawkins makes the further point that only a complex God could have created such a complex universe; but he said we don’t have the luxury of accounting for one form of unexplained complexity (the universe) by pointing to an even greater form of unexplained complexity (God). Consequently, Dawkins concludes that “the theist answer has utterly failed” and he sees ” no alternative [but to] to dismiss it.”

CHRISTIANITY AND THE INVENTION OF INVENTION

Nicolaus Copernicus wrote, “So vast, without question, is the divine handiwork of the Almighty Creator.” Lists of the great ideas of modern science typically contain a major omission. On such lists we are sure to find Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, Kepler’s laws, Newton’s laws, and Einstein’s theory of relativity, yet the greatest idea of modern science is almost never included. It is such a big idea that it makes possible all the other ideas. Interestingly, the greatest idea of modern science is based not on reason but on faith. Consider the scientific method for proving a hypothesis. A scientific hypothesis is the building block of scientific method. Many describe it as an “educated guess,” based on knowledge and observation.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard argued that scientific method could neither prove nor disprove any religious belief. Instead, religion requires a leap of faith. He said, “You either believe or you don’t believe. But you’re never reasoned into or out of any religious tenets.” Faith, however, is not a highly acclaimed word in the scientific community. Physicist Richard Feynmand wrote in The Meaning of It All, “I do not believe that the scientist can have that same certainty of faith that very deeply religious people have.” Astronomer and Carl Sagan protege Neil deGrasse Tyson complains that “the claims of religions rely on faith” and boasts that “the claims of science rely on experimental verification.” But where is the scientific verification that something came from nothing? Physicist Eugene Wigner has said that the mathematical order of nature “is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.” Feynmand confesses, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery. The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”

There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. Yet the universe seems to be ordered. It does seem to follow rules. Without this irrational faith that the universe simply “knows” to follow a certain order, modern science is impossible. Dinesh D’Souza asks, “Where did Western man get this faith in a unified, ordered, and accessible universe? How did we go from chaos to cosmos? My answer, in a word, is Christianity.” Men such as Thales, Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Pythagoras posited a universe that operates through discoverable rules of cause-and-effect. Prior to this, much was based on mythical cosmologies chock full of ideas of an “enchanted universe.”

CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE

Churches began to build schools in Europe during the tail-end of the Medieval period, starting first with elementary and secondary grade levels. Eventually, they began to establish universities in Bologna and Paris. Oxford and Cambridge were founded in the early thirteenth century, followed by universities in Rome, Naples, Salamanca, Seville, Prague, Vienna, Cologne, and Heidelberg. These institutions were affiliated with the church, but they were independently governed and operated. The curriculum was a mix of secular and theological, leaving plenty of room for the study and advancement of new scientific knowledge. Interestingly, many of America’s earliest colleges and universities—Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Northwestern, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown—began as Christian institutions.

Francis Bacon—a devoutly religious man who did expository writing on the Book of Psalms and on prayer—used the inductive method to record experiments. He is considered by many to be the founder of scientific method—the “inventor of invention” if you will. It was under the supervision of the church that the first medical research institutions and the first observatories were built and supported. From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, a period of several centuries, the church did more for Western science than any other institution. Agnostics and atheists are prone to believing science was founded in the seventeenth century in revolt against religious dogma. In reality, science was founded between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by great leaders in their fields who were theists.

Here is a partial list of leading scientists who were Christian:

  • Nicolas Copernicus—Mathematician
  • Johannes Kepler—Astronomer
  • Galileo Galilei—Astronomer
  • Tycho Brahe—Astronomer
  • Rene Descartes—Philosopher, Mathematician, Scientist
  • Robert Boyle—Philosopher, Chemist, Physicist
  • Isaac Newton—Mathematician
  • Gottfried Leibniz—Mathematician, Philosopher
  • Pierre Gassendi—Priest, Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer
  • Blaise Pascal—Mathematician
  • Marin Mersenne—Mathematician
  • George Cuvier—Naturalist, Zoologist
  • William Harvey—Physician
  • John Dalton—Chemist
  • Michael Faraday—Scientist in electromagnetism and electrochemistry
  • William Herschel—Astronomer
  • James Prescott Joule—Physicist
  • Charles Lyell—Geologist
  • Antoine Lavoiseir—Chemist
  • Joseph Priestly—Theologian, Philosopher, Chemist, Educator
  • William Thompson, 1st Baron Kelvin—Mathematician
  • Georg Ohm—Physicist
  • Andre-Marie Ampere—Physicist
  • Nicolas Steno—Scientist in anatomy and geology
  • Louis Pasteur—Chemist, Inventor
  • James Clerk Maxwell—Mathematical Physics
  • Max Planck—Theoretical Physicist
  • Gregor Mendel—Geneticist

A UNIVERSE WITH A BEGINNING

Do latest findings in modern science support or undermine the Christian claim that there is a God? Carl Sagan once said, “…the cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” Interestingly, in a stunning confirmation of Genesis, modern science has discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light. Not only did the universe have a beginning in space and time, but the origin of the universe was also a beginning for space and time. Space and time did not exist prior to the universe. If you accept that everything that has a beginning has a cause, then the material universe had a non-material or spiritual cause. Atheists are unwilling to accept that the creation of the universe was, in fact, a miracle.

Ravi Zacharias, in his book The End of Reason, says “nothing cannot produce something.” He adds, “Not only is there something; the laws of science actually break down right at the beginning.” The very starting point for an atheistic universe is based on something that cannot explain its own existence. The scientific laws by which atheists want to account for the beginning of the universe did not even exist as a category at the beginning of the universe because according to those very laws matter cannot simply “pop into existence” on its own. Atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell said that the universe is “just there.” Obviously, that is not a scientific explanation. In fact, according to science, nothing that exists (or that is) can explain its own existence.

I don’t mean to pick on atheist theories, but read the following thoughts from Stephen Jay Gould

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a “higher” answer—but none exists… We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves—from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.

Ken Ham made a very interesting statement during his February 4, 2014 debate with Bill Nye on the merits of creationism versus evolution:

Non-Christian scientists are really borrowing from the Christian worldview anyway to carry out their experimental observational science… When they’re doing observational science using the scientific method they have to assume the laws of logic, they have to assume the laws of nature, they have to assume the uniformity of nature.

Mr. Ham made the point that creationists and evolutionists really have the same evidence when discussing the topic of origins. We have the same Grand Canyon, the same fossils, the same dinosaurs, the same humans, the same radioactivity, the same stars and planets, and so on. So the issue is not about evidence, but is rather an argument about how the evidence is interpreted in relation to the past. Frankly, its about one’s worldview. Accordingly, this becomes a worldview/religious debate. It is our worldview, based on our starting point (God’s Word or man’s theories), that drives the interpretation of evidence. This is especially relevant when the discussion is about the origin of the universe.

Sire (2015) said a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts, but a fundamental orientation of the heart. Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) clarify this even further, stating, “A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis of our decisions and actions.” (p. 8) Assumptions and biases affect data interpretation. What we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see. Successful homicide detectives never approach a crime scene with a preconceived notion of what happened.

IS THERE AN END IN SIGHT?

Stephen Hawking gave a lecture in 1996 called “The Beginning of Time.” He discussed whether time itself had a beginning, and whether it will have and end. I assume this means Hawking did not accept the biblical concept of eternity. He said, “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago.” Regarding whether the universe will end, he said “…even if the universe does come to an end, it won’t be for at least twenty billion years.” For me, coming to a conclusion such as this requires a great deal of faith and a pinch or two of conjecture.

Many astrophysicists and theoretical physicists seem to hold the scientific opinion that we live in a closed universe, which means there is sufficient matter in the universe to halt the expansion driven by the Big Bang and cause eventual re-collapse. In other words, the Big Bang caused the universe to burst into existence, and it has been gradually expanding; however, gravity will supposedly pull everything back in, leading to another Big Bang. I read a post on howstuffworks.com that explains a closed universe this way:

Tie one end of a bungee cord to your leg, the other end to the rail of a bridge and then jump off. You’ll accelerate downward rapidly until you begin to stretch the cord. As tension increases, the cord gradually slows your descent. Eventually, you’ll come to a complete stop, but just for a second as the cord, stretched to its limit, yanks you back toward the bridge. Astronomers think a closed universe will behave in much the same way. Its expansion will slow down until it reaches a maximum size. Then it will recoil, collapsing back on itself. As it does, the universe will become denser and hotter until it ends in an infinitely hot, infinitely dense singularity.

An open universe, on the contrary, means the universe will continue to expand indefinitely. Those holding to this theory believe galaxies will run out of the raw materials necessary for making new stars. Stars that already exist will burn out. Galaxies will become coffins filled with dust and dead stars. At that point, the universe will become dark, cold and, unfortunately, lifeless. Creation.com discusses whether the Bible supports the theory that our universe is expanding. We have been told, since Hubble’s discovery in the late 1920s, that the universe is expanding. Hubble found proportionality between the red-shift in the light coming from relatively nearby galaxies and their distance from Earth.

Hubble initially interpreted his red-shifts as a Doppler effect, due to the motion of the galaxies as they rushed away from our location in the universe. Later, Hubble became disillusioned with the recession interpretation: “… it seems likely that red-shifts may not be due to an expanding Universe, and much of the speculation on the structure of the universe may require re-examination.” He said that what became known as the Hubble Law could also be due to “some hitherto unknown principle of nature,” but not due to expansion of space.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

Psalm 104 presents a description of the biblical account of how the universe was formed. Verse 2 says, “The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (NIV). Verse 5 says, “He set the earth on its foundation; it can never be moved.” We must remember that God did not provide the Scriptures as a “science” book. Rather, it is a love letter to His creation. Science certainly attempts to explain the how and God explains the why of creation. Regardless, the Bible does not attempt to make strict scientific pronouncements. You won’t find a verse that says, “Thus says the LORD: The universe is expanding at X rate.” God says in Genesis 1:6-7, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse, and it was so. God called the expanse heaven” (NASB).

The prophets of the Old Testament knew that God had stretched out the heavens—a description that bears an uncanny similarity to the theory of an expanding (or open) universe. According to science, what was often considered a metaphorical, poetic expression turns out to be more literal than ever thought. An expanding universe does not negate the biblical account of creation. The great majority of scientists would say that matter is not eternal—that matter did not exist prior to the Big Bang. In fact, the prevailing theory is that nothing at all existed prior to the Big Bang, including time and space. At the moment of the Big Bang—the moment of creation—time began. Space began. Matter began.

McDowell and McDowell (2017), in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, describes what they call “concordist interpretations,” which are driven by what some believe are remarkable agreements between Scripture and modern science. Astronomer Robert Jastrow has said such instances of concordance are significant: “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation… That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact” (Durbin, SCBTF, 15, 18).

Zoologist Andrew Parker was so struck with the consistency between the sequence of creation events in Genesis 1 and the modern scientific understanding of these events that he wrote The Genesis Enigma, in which he describes this consistency and concludes as follows:

Here, then, is the Genesis Enigma: The opening page of Genesis is scientifically accurate but was written long before the science was known.  How did the writer of this page come to write this creation account? I must admit, rather nervously as a scientist averse to entertaining such an idea, that the evidence that the writer of the opening page of the Bible was divinely inspired is strong. I have never before encountered such powerful, impartial evidence to suggest that the Bible is the product of divine inspiration.

Perhaps you will find the following excerpt from the Afterword of Nathaniel T. Jeanson’s Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species, rather powerful:

In the beginning, around 6,000 years ago, God created “kinds” of creatures—the original min. Representing creatures somewhere between the rank of subgenus and order, these min contained millions of heterozygous sites in their genomes. As they reproduced, shifts from heterozygosity to homozygosity led to diverse offspring. Less than 1,700 years after the creation of these min, their population sizes were dramatically reduced. At least for the land-dwelling, air-breathing min, their population sizes were reduced to no more than 14 individuals. In some cases, their populations declined to just 2. However, because this population bottleneck was so short, the heterozygosity of the Ark passengers would have been minimally effected. For sexually reproducing min, a male and female could have possessed a combined four copies of nuclear DNA. These copies could have been very different, preserving a massive amount of speciation potential.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Whenever I bring up science and faith, my secular friends either go mute or they try to start an argument. Not the “forensic point-counterpoint kind,” but the “You’ve got to be crazy! What is wrong with you?” kind. They say, “With the advent of modern science, how can you still believe that whole “creationism and the Earth is only 6,000 years old” garbage. They’ve decided miracles cannot happen. They’re convinced that the creation story of Christianity is nothing but an “enchanted” fairy tale. But scientists cannot escape the question of God. Nature is well-ordered and follows the laws of gravity, relativity, quantum physics, and thermodynamics. Nature bears the marks of a designer. Finally, science is only one source of truth.

Science cannot exist without the assumptions of a stable creation, with meaning, purpose, or the laws of nature to govern it. Without the assumptions brought about by Christianity, modern science would have no footing whatsoever. If nature were inherently self-serving and motivated merely by survival rather than to the giving of life, the stability of natural laws would be unknowable. Nature itself would be a moving deception. We would not have the ability to even perceive such a reality if it existed.

 

References

Hawking, S. (1988). A Brief History of Time. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Hawking, S. (2018). Brief Answers to the Big Questions. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S. (2017). Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For a Skeptical World. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making sense of your world: A biblical worldview, second edition. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

Sire, J. (2015). Naming the elephant: Worldview as a concept, second edition. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

Zacharias, R. (2008). The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Press.

The Power of “And” in God’s Promises of Blessings and Curses

When we make a promise we essentially give an assurance that we will engage in or refrain from a specific form of activity. These commitments are typically made between individuals, and can include quite a range of activities. Simple promises can be written or oral, and may be temporary or lifelong. Such gestures are often sealed by a gesture, such as a simple handshake or a solemn oath. Complicated situations often require a witness and legal ratification. However, a covenant should be distinguished from a contract because it is a personal relationship into which people voluntarily enter. 

Promises may also be between groups of people. Where important bodies are involved, such as government entities, such promises generally assume the form of treaties. Among honest individuals a promise includes an expectation that the promisor is both willing and able to fulfill the commitment to the promise, with the undertaking being accepted on the basis of good faith. Where groups of people are involved, litigation is often resorted to in order to resolve the damage occasioned by the failure of the promisor to fulfill the stated obligations. In the case of broken international treaties, appeal may be made to an international judicial body for some type of redress. In some instances, military action might even be undertaken by the aggrieved party.

Scripture records agreements between individuals in the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia. A classic example is noted in Genesis 31:43-55 regarding Laban and Jacob when Jacob was seeking his independence. A covenant was established between them in which the two men agreed not to act aggressively toward one another. Each man swore an oath by his god, and erected a stone marker to commemorate the occasion. On his deathbed, Jacob promised his twelve sons that the future would hold certain prospects for them, and according to contemporary custom this statutory declaration to each of them gave the pronouncements legal force (see Genesis 49:1-33).

“AND” IS NOT JUST A CONJUNCTION

So let’s take a few minutes to discuss conjunction. My 9th grade English teacher told me a conjunction is a word used to connect clauses or sentences or to coordinate words in the same clause. We all know the usual suspects: and, but, if. Fine, but why “conjunction?” Actually, these clauses are called conjuncts of the conjoining construction. Okay, right. We can take it a step further, noting coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and correlative conjunctions.

…and who could forget this?

God has made it clear that “and” is not merely a conjunction. He is not interested in grammar. Rather, He is intent on setting the operating principles for His many promises and covenants.

A promise meant to bring great blessing to humanity was made by God to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God said, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (NIV). Abraham, although childless, was to become the progenitor of a great nation. God repeated this promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:5. By faith, Abraham believed God’s utterances. God brought His promise even closer to fulfillment by stating that Sarah would have a son (see Genesis 18:10). Thereafter, Abraham rested his confidence in God’s divinity, and lived to see the Lord’s assurances implemented in what Paul, millennia later, was to call the “covenants of the promise” (Ephesians 2:12; Galatians 3:6-17).

The word covenant is of Latin origin (con venire). It means “coming together,” and involves two or more parties who agree to an arrangement—promises, stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities. In Christian theology, it is similar to the word bond. The generally-accepted idea of a bond between two parties in a covenant implies that the arrangement is not unilateral. There are of course pronounced similarities between biblical and secular covenants. God is the originator of the concept of covenant. He used covenant relationships in His creation activity and handiwork. Covenant is an integral part of the patchwork of human life; it is God-implanted.

The basic elements of a covenant are embedded in the Genesis account. God, in His revelation of creation, presented Himself as the Creator. The historical record of what He has done was outlined in Scripture. He created His image-bearers by means of which He placed and kept man and woman in a close relationship with Himself and had them mirror and represent Him within the created universe. God clearly provided man with various stipulations or mandates. This makes perfect sense; as image-bearers, man is to maintain an intimate and obedient fellowship with God. The Sabbath was to enhance this. Humanity was to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth; this was to be done by establishing families; a man was to leave his parents and cleave to his wife (see Genesis 2:24). Becoming one flesh, they would bear offspring.

As families increased, communities were formed. This was the social mandate aspect of God’s covenant. The cultural mandate essentially involved man and woman cultivating (“subduing,” NIV) and ruling over God’s creation. When God saw all He had done, He confirmed it so, but not by expressing an oath or performing a ratifying ceremony. Rather, He declared all to be very good (see Genesis 1:31). He confirmed this by ceasing all aspects of creation and establishing the seventh day as a day of rest, sanctity, and blessing (see Genesis 2:1-3).

WHAT ABOUT THE TWO-WAY STREET?

God did more than just “create” and sit down. He spoke of assured blessings. He blessed Adam and Eve, giving them the authority to serve as His covenant agents. He provided for their sustenance (see Genesis 1:28-30). He also spoke of the possibility for disobedience if they ate of the fruit of the Tree Knowledge of Good and Evil (see Genesis 2:17). God clearly focused on the idea of blessing (life) and curse (death). God’s covenants were all-inclusive stipulations. Basically, He said, “Here’s what you can have if you obey my covenant.” God clearly wanted it understood that His covenants are two-way streets. We cannot pick and choose which aspects we’re going to obey.

His covenants were never terminated. Paul said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV). I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this verse: “For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself” (MSG). Jesus was quite clear: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18, NIV). Frankly, God’s covenants are similar to a lateral contract. When you buy a house or vehicle, you enter into a contract that is essentially a two-way street. You get to keep driving the car or living in the house until all agreed-upon payments (terms) have been met. Title of ownership then transfers to you. You reap the benefits of upholding your end of the agreement. Miss a lot of payments (default on the covenant) and the benefits of ownership will not pass to you.

A PRIME EXAMPLE

Jesus told us in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others of their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (NIV). I’m aware that this doctrine causes many to doubt, stumble, question God. The going argument is this: But I thought all my sins were forgiven when I accepted Christ, and that He removed my sins from me as far as the East is from the West. It’s clear that the death of Jesus Christ was ransom enough to cover a multitude of sins. By God’s grace we are saved. Yet we remain in a fleshly body and are, therefore, prone to carnality. We’re likely to stumble, but hopefully we do not intentionally disobey God. To do so is a slap in the face of Jesus.

Believers are rather enthusiastic about grace. We’re quite excited about having been forgiven through God’s grace, extended to us through Christ. So why do many of us have a difficult time extending this same grace to those who have sinned against us? Bevere (2004), in his book The Bait of Satan, notes that there are two types of people: Those who have been offended, and those who think they have been offended. Forgiveness goes much deeper than merely receiving it for ourselves and going about living our lives. We’re commanded to forgive others. This should be part of our testimony. We’re to shower others with forgiveness even as we have been forgiven. Peter was concerned about how many times we should extend forgiveness: “At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’ Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven'” (Matthew 18:21-22, MSG).

The true meaning of forgiveness is cancelling a debt. C.S. Lewis (1984) said, “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it all in its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.” Forgiveness means releasing resentment. Frankly, suppressed resentment will never go away. It lies in wait, like a subtext, tainting our relationships and convincing us we’re right. It blinds us to seeing whatever part we might have played in a conflict. It’s like a smoldering fire inside a house. It can break out anywhere at any time.

Forgiveness means choosing love. When we choose to not forgive, we construct walls to safeguard our hearts and prevent future wounds. Remember the adage, Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me? Nearly all of us take that axiom to heart. This rationale causes us to become selective, denying entry to all we fear will hurt us. Unfortunately, these so-called walls of protection become a veritable prison. Our focus becomes, well, rather self-centered. Our focus is inward and introspective. It’s all about what the other person did to us. Our energy is consumed with making sure no one else hurts us. Bevere (2004) said, “If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. Unconditional love gives others the right to hurt us” (p. 16). Of course, that sounds rather counter-intuitive doesn’t it?

 Love does not seek its own, but hurt people become more and more self-seeking and self-contained. They do this in the interest of self-preservation. The offended Christian is one who takes in life but, because of fear, cannot share life. As a result, even the life that does come in becomes stagnant within the walls we build to avoid getting hurt. Bevere (2004) adds, “When we filter everything through past hurts, rejections, and experiences, we find it impossible to believe God” (p. 17). Let’s remember this: A minister or a Christian is what he lives, not what he says. If we are offended and in unforgiveness and refuse to repent of this sin, we have not come to the knowledge of the truth. We are deceived, and we confuse others with our hypocritical lifestyle.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

God clearly focused on the idea of blessings and curses. He was quite specific that His covenants are all-inclusive stipulations. He told us what we can have if we obey His covenant. He wants us to understand that His covenants are two-way streets. We cannot pick and choose which aspects we’re going to obey and still expect to be blessed. One of the best examples of this is His position on forgiveness. Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NIV). He forgave the Jewish mob who demanded His crucifixion. He forgave the Roman soldiers who beat Him and nailed Him to the cross. He even forgave Judas Iscariot. He made no threats. Instead, he entrusted Himself to Him judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

We have to come to the place where we trust God and not our flesh—our emotions. We need to understand the quid pro quo of God’s covenants. Of His promised blessings. We must become willing to forgive, even as we have been forgiven. Only then can we walk in the freedom and the joy of God’s blessings.

References

Bevere, J. (2004), The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House.

Lewis, C.S. (1984). The Business of Heaven. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Press.

Peterson, E. (2006). The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing.

Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age

Unfortunately, contemporary American culture is increasingly anti-Christian. How should Christians respond to a rapidly changing American culture? Do we resign ourselves to pessimism, convinced that many of the moral foundations upon which our society once stood have collapsed and are now irrevocable? Or do we reassure ourselves with optimism, confident that we can still win the culture war if we’ll just unite together spiritually, personally, politically, and philosophically? Most likely neither pessimism nor optimism is the answer. Instead, realism is.

An Example

The Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor 570 U.S. (2013) (Docket No. 12-307)[5-4] challenges Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The majority opinion of the Court held, “DOMA seeks to injure the very class New York seeks to protect. By doing so it violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot justify disparate treatment of that group. In determining whether a law is motived by an improper animus or purpose, [d]iscriminations of an unusual character especially require careful consideration. DOMA cannot survive under these principles.” The Supreme Court accused Christians who believe the “narrow” teaching of the Bible relative to marriage as bigoted.

Persecution is Worldwide

Of course, such anti-Christian sentiments are obviously not limited to America. Across the world, followers of Christ live in settings that are hostile to Christianity (many of them far more hostile than the United States). After all, Christianity was born into a culture of vehement opposition over two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, and faced tremendous persecution throughout Judea and at the hands of the Romans. The total number of Christians martyred in the early church is unknown. It has been calculated that between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution.

Sadly, the plight of Christians is worse today. According to Jeremy Weber of Christianity Today (January 11, 2017), for the third year in a row, the modern persecution of Christians worldwide has hit an all time high. Interestingly, the primary cause—Islamic extremism—is being eclipsed by a brand of ethnic nationalism. Principally, this is a form of nationalism wherein the nation is defined in terms of a shared heritage, which usually includes a shared language, a common religious faith, and a common ethnic ancestry. Weber notes in his article the 2017 World Watch List released by Open Doors. In 25 years of “chronicling and ranking” the political and societal restrictions on religious freedom experienced by Christians worldwide, Open Doors researchers identified 2016 as the “worst year yet.”

How should followers of Christ today live in an America or any other culture that is intentionally and increasingly anti-Christian? It seems that every professing Christian in any such culture has two clear options: retreat or risk persecution. Sure, we can retreat. But we’d be denying Christ. Peter chose this option (Mark 14:66-72). Certainly, most Christians won’t reject Christ outright and not all at once. Instead, our retreat can be slow and subtle. I see this happening in America today through “progressive” faith, “inclusive” belief, “open” minds, and “ecumenical” churches. This involves trading God’s truth for the changing opinions of the world. The signs of such retreat are already apparent here in America.

Christians might not retreat from Christ; however, they may very well retreat from society. In the face of increasing anti-Christian sentiment and social pressure, many Christians who hold a steadfast belief in the Bible may choose to hide in the comfortable confines of privatized faith. We might stand up and speak with strong conviction—but many do so in the privacy of our homes or at church. We remain silent at work or in our university classes or other public settings. When the conversation at the coffee shop switches to the topic of gender dysphoria or same-sex marriage, or the language becomes rather course, Christians often sheepishly, almost apologetically, stumble  through a vague notion of what the Bible teaches, or probably more likely, might say nothing at all.

Worse, when our boss asks what we believe and we realize that our job may be in jeopardy based on how we answer, we might find ourselves masking, or at least minimizing, our faith. On a smaller scale, I recently started a new job in retail. I completed an “availability” form indicating I was not able to work after 5:00 pm on Wednesday or before 1:00 pm on Sunday in order to attend church services. The store general manager insisted that I change my availability to all hours on those days and initial the changes in order to get hired. I gave in.

The Gospel and Culture

Clearly, the Gospel is the lifeblood of Christianity, and it provides the very foundation for countering culture. When we truly believe the Gospel, it goes from mere head knowledge to something that lives in our heart. We begin to realize the Gospel not only compels Christians to confront social issues in the culture around us; the Gospel actually creates confrontation with the culture around and within us. Of course, it is increasingly common for biblical views on social issues to be labeled insulting. Today it’s considered insulting and “backward” to an ever-expanding number of people to say a woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to another woman should not express love for her in marriage. It doesn’t take long for a Christian to be backed into a theological corner, not wanting to be offensive yet wondering how to respond.

Culture now impacts the church. Ryan Bell, a former Seventh-Day Adventist minister, published an online article on CNN.com titled “Why You Don’t Need God.” You can read the article in its entirely by clicking here. Bell is a writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a year-long journey to explore the limits of theism and the growing landscape of atheism in America. Bell writes, “I had been a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for 19 years. I resigned from my pastoral position the year before, but now I stepped away from my faith altogether. It was gut-wrenching, but I couldn’t see any other way to find peace and clarity. I encountered major theological differences with my denomination and evangelical Christianity in general, including the way it marginalizes women and LGBT people.”

For many, the Gospel’s offense starts with the very first words of the Bible. “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1). Genesis was written in Hebrew and provided the people a foundation for their faith. Certainly, Genesis was not meant to be an exhaustive blow-by-blow account of how God created the heavens and the earth. Frankly, such an account would have caused the Bible to be far too large a tome.

For many, the initial antagonism of the Gospel is that there is a God—a supreme being by, through, and for whom all things began. “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:28, RSV). Paul clearly stated that natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, “…for they are foolishness to him” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Consider the confrontation created by the reality of God in each of our lives. Because God is our Creator, we belong to him. The one who created us owns us. Honestly, does that not send a jolt through most of us? A tendency of rebellion? Nobody owns me! So we are not the masters of our own fate; the captains of our own souls.

Our Natural Reaction to God

God placed man in the midst of the Garden of Eden and granted him authority over all as keeper of the garden, charging him with naming the animals. The garden was established by God especially for man, planted in a full-grown state. God had just one command. He said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16b, 17).

Zodhiates and Baker (1997) notes that there may be purposes for the existence of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that are not clearly explained in Scripture. They do believe, however, that it functioned as a test of obedience. Adam and Eve had to choose whether to obey God or break His commandment. When they actually ate the forbidden fruit, the consequences of their actions became self-evident. They found themselves in a different relationship to God because of sin. Actually, access to such knowledge was to be based solely upon a proper relationship with God. The real questions which faced Adam and Eve are the same ones that face us today: Which path should be chosen? What kind of relationship do we want with God?

The serpent was crafty to say the least. He said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” Eve said God allowed consuming anything in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She said God warned them, “…or you will surely die.” The serpent said, “You will not surely die… for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-6, NIV). I find the serpent’s ruse to be fascinating given he—as Lucifer—was cast down from heaven because of pride originating from his desire to be God instead of a servant of God. Although he was the highest of all the angels, he wanted more. He literally wanted to rule the universe.

Why do we run from God? John 3:20 says, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed” (NIV). The reason most people run from God is because of their love for the flesh; their tendency to live in sin. This is unfortunately not the only reason: Many run from God because of bitterness. This is often due to a tragic event, such as the loss of a loved one. We tend to place God on trial when adversity strikes. The worse the troubles, the deeper our bitterness. But it is sin that is to blame. Nothing is as God planned. From the time of the Fall, all has fallen askew of what God intended.

Nothing New Under the Sun

When we understand this first sin, we realize that the moral relativism of the twenty-first century is nothing new. Whenever we attempt to usurp (or eliminate) God, we lose objectivity for determining what is good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral. Today’s militant atheists are noted for claiming  that morality is merely a biological adaptation in the same manner as hands and feet, teeth and hair. Dawkins (1995) writes, “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, not any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no other good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, And we dance to its music.”

Of course, the doctrine of the Fall offers an explanation of the imperfection of this world and God Himself, its perfect Creator. This concept does not sit well with many philosophies. Nor does it win any merit with atheists. Launder and Rowlands (2001) are rather vitriolic in their comments in Original Sin: “The term comes from Christianity’s belief that Adam, the first human created by their god, ate an apple from the tree of knowledge, and forever after, all humans have been born guilty of the crime that Adam committed. Original sin refers not just to this particular belief, but to all beliefs that man is born evil.” They argue that this belief is based “on the fallacious view that value is intrinsic.” But we’re not talking about a work of art where the value—the beauty, if you will—is in the beholder. To state that morality or ethics is based solely on interpretation is to suborn moral relativism.

Why is This So?

The Gospel answers that although God created us in His image, we have rebelled against Him in our independence. Though it looks different in each of our lives, we all are just like the man and woman in the Garden. We think, Even if God says not to do something, I’m going to do it anyway. In essence, we’re saying, “God’s not Lord over me, and God doesn’t know best for me. No! I define what’s right and wrong, good and evil.” In other words, morality is relative. This shifts our morality from the objective truth God has given us in His Word to the subjective notions we create in our minds. Even when we don’t realize the implications of our ideas, we inescapably come to one conclusion: whatever seems right to me or feels right to me is what’s right. This amounts to one thing: It’s all about me!

This is why the Bible diagnoses the human condition simply by saying, “All have turned aside, together they have all gone wrong; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12, RSV). Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners” (MSG). Some will argue that Christians are placing “ancestral guilt” on each successive generation. It’s not about being held accountable for what others did before us. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (NIV) [Italics mine].

We turn from worshiping God to to worshiping self. We probably would never put it that way. Most people don’t  publicly profess, “I worship myself. I am my own god.” The dictionary does contain hundreds of words that start with self: self-esteem, self-confidence, self-advertisement, self-gratification, self-glorification, self-motivation, self-pity, self-centeredness, self-indulgence, self-righteousness, and the like. Are these concepts bad in their own right? No. That’s not the point. I can tell you this, however: I struggled with active addiction for over forty years. Nothing I did—no self effort of any kind—set me free. When I left rehab, I thought, Oh, now I understand. I got this! Trust me, whenever an addict says, “I got this,” he or she is in denial. No human power can relieve an alcoholic or addict of their addiction. For me, there was only one true higher power, Jesus Christ, who broke the chains of addiction over my life. And even that took me letting go of self and letting God set me free.

Twenty-First Century Ambassadors

Representing the truth of the Gospel in the new millennium requires three basic skills. First, we need to grasp the basics of the message of Jesus Christ. We must fully grasp the central message of God’s kingdom and understand how to respond to the obstacles we’re bound to encounter. This is not simply a matter of memorizing Scripture to through at the “unbelievers.” Second, we need the kind of wisdom that makes our testimony clear, bold, and persuasive. In other words, the tools of a diplomat rather than the weapons of a warrior. Tactics rather than brute force.

Finally, our character can make or break our mission. My pastor once said, “The number one attraction to Christianity is other Christians; unfortunately, the number one detractor to Christianity is other Christians.” Knowledge and wisdom are packaged in a person. If we do not embody the virtues and grace of Christ, we will simply undermine our testimony. We’ll taint the message of the Gospel. It would be better that we kept silent than bring shame or doubt or controversy to the very thing that has the power to deliver us from a life of sin and death.

References

Dawkins, R. (1995). River Out of Eden. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Zodhiates, S., and Baker, W. (1997). Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.