Loneliness and God

IT WAS THE SIXTH DAY. God had just finished creating all the living creatures that move along the ground. As He had at each stage of creation, God paused and evaluated His work. Genesis 1:25b says, “And God saw that it was good.” Only one more task remained. “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7, NIV). Here was God’s only creation that would not live its earthly life in total ignorance of its Creator. Rather, made in God’s image, Adam would fulfill a role no other creature could—he would walk in fellowship with God as the object of His love.

After placing Adam in the garden, God realized there was still something missing. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'” (Genesis 2:18, NIV). God recognized Adam’s need for human companionship—a need He built into Adam. More than just a fellow inhabitant of Eden, Eve would be the object of Adam’s love and would love him in return. She and Adam would share the wonders of creation and the responsibilities of stewardship. When God created Eve, Adam’s intimate relationship with God was actually enhanced by communion and companionship with someone like himself.

By design, we are social animals. God wanted it this way. Society is not something merely “added on” to our overall existence; rather, it stems from an important dimension intrinsic to human nature itself. In fact, we can only grow and attain our calling in union with others. We are called to exist for each other, but this is more than “co-existing.” It involves serving and loving one another. Jesus provided the ultimate example. He said, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26b, 27, 28, NIV).

Struggling With Loneliness

If you are struggling with loneliness, you are not alone. Everyone experiences seasons of isolation for one reason or another. Usually, we are able to overcome our loneliness by meeting new friends, expanding our social circle, or making changes that help us re-engage with society. But a multitude of personal and other factors can sometimes short circuit our ability to connect with others. For example, it can be rather uncomfortable sometimes to meet new people. Relocating to a new area can cause a tremendous sense of homesickness.

Loneliness does not develop overnight. It can, in fact, be the result of a lifetime of influences that impact our personality. Happiness depends on intimate bonds. We need to be able to trust, confide, feel like we belong. Loneliness, as you might expect, comes in a variety of types. There is “new situation” loneliness, “I’m different” loneliness, “I have no sweetheart” loneliness, “I don’t have a pet” loneliness, “no time for me” loneliness,” “untrustworthy friends” loneliness, and “quiet-presence” loneliness.” Identifying the source of our loneliness goes a long way to figuring out how to address it. Introvert versus extrovert, sensing versus intuitive, thinking versus feeling, perceiving versus judging—each orientation presents its own unique approach to (or causes of) loneliness.

Jesus and Loneliness

Have you ever thought of Jesus as being lonely? Certainly his moments in Gethsemane and on Calvary were uniquely and terribly lonely, but what about the rest of his life? In some sense, he may have been the loneliest human in history. Loneliness is what we feel when we’re isolated from others. Loneliness often has less to do with the physical presence or absence of others, and more to do with feeling disconnected or alienated from them. It is possible to feel lonely in a room full of people.

Being misunderstood by others can cause us to feel lonely, as can being despised or rejected. This is precisely how Isaiah prophetically described Jesus in Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hid their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (NIV). Given who Jesus was, this experience would have begun decades before his public ministry even started. Jesus is able to sympathize with our loneliness far more than we might have previously thought (see Hebrews 4:15).

Being without sin, Jesus had to live among those who were full of sin: his parents, siblings, other relatives, neighbors, countrymen, foreigners, disciples, not to mention the sinful spiritual entities he encountered on a nearly daily basis. No one on earth could identify totally with Him. No one could put an arm around Him as he sat in tears and say, “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

What is Loneliness? How Can We Deal With It?

Loneliness is a complex and generally unpleasant emotional response to isolation. It stems from unmet social needs. Interestingly, the isolation can be self-imposed. This often occurs when we feel we cannot relate to others. Loneliness can have a negative impact on our emotional and physical health. The existentialist is quick to point out that when it comes down to it, we’re all alone at the end of the day.

Loneliness has an inner dimension. It is a thirst of the spirit, and the roots of loneliness are within each of us. But when we are in Christ, we have Him as our Lord and companion. As a follower of Jesus, we are part of God’s Kingdom and have a role to play. When we’re sad and lonely, or feel so alone, we need to remember that we are called to connect people with God. Intentionally living into our calling will help us overcome chronic loneliness. Being part of the Body of Christ means that each of us is connected to God and with fellow believers.

Concluding Remarks

At its root, loneliness is a spiritual issue. We don’t need to get more friends. We don’t need to write poetry or learn to paint. We need help with what makes us feel incomplete. We need a Savior. An Advocate. We need Jesus. Our emotional cry should not merely be, “I do bad things because I’m lonely, so someone come keep me company and make me feel better.” We need to understand we’re lonely because we’re sinners in a dark and fallen world and in need of God’s help. Sometimes what we call loneliness is actually what Scripture refers to as longing for unhindered intimacy with God. We start thinking other people can provide what only God can provide.

Everyone experiences loneliness in life. No one is exempt. We were created for togetherness, which is why, even before the Fall, God declared that man being alone was not good (see Genesis 2:18). Loneliness is an indicator that something is missing; something that is found only in Jesus Christ. He completes what’s missing, that thing we identify as “loneliness,” beginning from the moment we are joined to Him in faith and brought to completion in glory. In other words, the primary reason we are lonely is that we aren’t home yet. God created us for communion with Him, and therefore loneliness will be fully eradicated only when we get to heaven. That’s why everyone—young or old, single or married—experiences loneliness. Relief comes only as we acknowledge our loneliness and turn to God and his Word for the help and understanding we need.

In Scripture, we discover that God is present in our loneliness. He is there in times of grief and in times of discouragement. He is there when others forsake us, and when our hopes are disappointed. He never leaves us, not even when our loneliness springs from our sin and bad choices. Ultimately, those who belong to God through Christ Jesus are never really alone, and because that’s true, loneliness does not have to characterize us. Isn’t that a relief?

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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.

 

Is Your Faith Based on Circumstances?

“Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Matthew Henry tells us in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, “A truly religious life is a life of constant joy” (p. 1175). Paul was a living example of this. While under house arrest, he wrote his letter to the Philippians. Although he was living at home, he was chained to a Roman guard around the clock and was not able to go anywhere. He knew his trial was likely years away. Given that God had called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, he was stuck in Rome unable to plant new churches or visit with those he was nurturing by letter. Certainly, he had every right to complain. He’d been beaten, shipwrecked, and persecuted for Jesus. Instead, his letter to the church at Philippi was filled with rejoicing. He wrote, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel” (Philippians 1:12, NIV).

Eugene Peterson puts an amazing focus on Philippians 1. In essence, Paul is saying, “I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah” (v. 12-14, MSG).

Paul essentially said his sufferings for Christ had furthered the Gospel by provoking others to zeal for Him. Paul focused on preaching the Gospel no matter the circumstances in which he found himself. He wanted nothing more than to worship God in Spirit, rejoice in Christ, deny his flesh, forge ahead toward the prize, looking only toward the Savior, striving to be an example for others. He added, “As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other” (v. 22-26, MSG).

TRUST REQUIRES PATIENCE

Trusting God always requires patience, because God doesn’t work on our timetable. Patience allows us to enjoy life while we wait. No doubt this is a difficult proposition. We are, after all, only human. We measure success and failure, happiness and disappointment, in terms of emotion first and then in actual results. When we feel bad, especially when we really, truly hurt, we want a way out right away. For many, including me, that can include drugs and alcohol. I ran from hurt and pain for decades. I simply had no concept of or capacity for patience.

Quite often the reason God is requiring us to wait is simply that He is using our difficulty to work patience in us. Learning to be patient is important enough to God’s plan—for us and for those whom we will touch with our lives—that I believe he ordains everything we go through. He is not going to short-change His plans by giving us what we want the second we want it. Sadly, however, the desire for instant gratification causes many people to make snap decisions. Some get high or drunk. Some spend beyond their means. Others have sex without thinking. Some marry someone who is wrong for them because they’re not willing to wait for the right someone. The false belief that we should have instant gratification is at the root of our unwillingness to suffer through the bad times.

It’s not easy being a Christian in today’s pluralistic society where moral relativism, hatred, distrust, bigotry, and fear run rampant. There seems to be an increasing tension between Christians and non-believers. When we focus on others rather than Jesus, we see them as enemies instead of children of God worthy of our love and respect. Admittedly, culture has taken a dramatic shift recently. Religion is no longer seen as a social good. Instead, it is considered an old, awkward, worldview that is no longer relevant.

GOD’S VOICE IN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES

As Christians, we all want to hear from God. I’ve often dropped to my knees and begged Him to say something—anything—as long as it was aloud. I wanted to know if He was there. Was He listening to me at all? Did He care about what was happening to me? What did He want me to do? It is even more challenging to determine what God is not saying in any given situation. He spoke to the prophets in the Old Testament. He appeared before non-believers. He sent angels. He told people what to do. He even told them what not to do. And He often accompanied these directives with promises—blessings and curses. He was often extremely clear about His wishes.

Today, we tend to expect the grandiose voice of God—and sometimes God speaks that way. More often, though, His voice comes through more subtly. God often speaks to us through the quiet moments, through other people, and through life’s circumstances. It can be difficult to distinguish His voice from the chaos of our situation. In order to decipher what God is saying, it is important to know and understand His Word. Spending time in the Scriptures will help us hear His voice. He will never contradict Himself. He will never speak to us through our circumstances in a manner that goes against His written Word. The Bible must be our yard stick. And when He puts others in our path to guide us, we need to distinguish between those who practice seeking the heart of God from those whose ambition is to control and manipulate others.

It is extremely important to remember that one incident is not necessarily indicative of God’s intent for our entire life. One swallow does not a summer make. (Google it!) Never make a life-changing decision on one event or one set of circumstances because God may or may not be speaking through this particular event. We need to look over the span of months and years. It is critical that we ask ourselves, Where is God leading me? He chose us and ordained our lives even before we were formed in the womb. I met a recovered addict last summer while serving as on-site manager for a motel. He was working as an itinerant electrician at a new gas-fired power plant being built in my area. He said, “God wants me to tell you something.” My ears always perk up when I hear someone say that! “God says everything you’ve been through from the moment you were born until you met me right now, all the good and the bad, was ordained by Him to help make you into the man He needs you to be in order to fulfill your calling.”

We must never put God in a box. He is much more infinite and all-knowing than we can ever grasp. No matter what the dire, dreary circumstance, God can turn each into a hopeful future. He can reverse, restore, revive, and renew. We need only look for His plans that are already in motion right now, even in the midst of our difficult time. Trust Him. He can take any circumstance and use it for our good and His glory.

Offense Kills!

 

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As humans, we’re easily offended. We fail to understand, however, that offense can become resentment; this, in turn, can lead to anger. Ultimately, unresolved anger can morph into hatred. Hatred, if left unchecked, can destroy us.

Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.

John Bevere, in his book The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense, tells us the issue of offense is often the most difficult obstacle an individual will face in his or her life. Jesus wisely told His disciples, “…if your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Luke 17:3, NIV). Bevere writes, “Often when we are offended we see ourselves as victims and blame those who have hurt us. We justify our bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, envy, and resentment as they surface. Sometimes we even resent those who remind us of others who have hurt us” (p.10). Hatred actually walls us off—from God and from others. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

THE WALLS WE BUILD

We build walls when we are hurt to safeguard our hearts and prevent any future wounds. We become selective, denying entry to all we fear might hurt us. This could not be more true when it comes to romantic relationships. We’ve all heard the phrase, “He comes with a lot of emotional baggage.” Perhaps you’re married and have spent the night on the couch after offending your spouse. Unfortunately, without our knowing, these walls we construct become a prison. We guard our rights and personal relationships carefully. But there is a huge trade-off here. If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. We avoid the hurt, yes, but we inadvertently cut off the good as well. I’m a huge Garth Brooks fan. One of my favorite songs by him is The Dance, which brilliantly and poignantly touches on this topic.

Bevere believes when we are offended and in unforgiveness and refuse to repent of this sin, we fail to walk in the knowledge of the truth. We are deceived, and we confuse other Christians and non-believers with our hypocritical lifestyle. We become a spring that spews forth bitter waters. You see, those who are planted in the love of Christ and the will of God will flourish. But those who harbor resentment, anger, and hatred will isolate. They will begin to avoid those with whom they are angry. Social connections will begin to die off. Wither on the vine. They become miserable and their prayer life begins to suffer. The unavoidable result is a faltering relationship with Jesus. This can only lead to a diminished capacity to forgive and to love. This is nothing less than a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Worse yet, offended people begin to believe everyone is out to get them. With this attitude it is difficult for them to see areas in their own lives that need to be changed. God simply did not create us to live alone on an island. We are to love and care for one another. We are social beings. We are flesh and blood, but we are also spiritual. If we stop confronting our own character flaws, we fail to grow. Spiritual perfection is not about being perfect—never making a mistake. If you’re attending a church where that message is taught, it’s time to find a biblical church. Spiritual maturity is about growth. It’s about maturity. When we blame everyone else, we stymie our growth. We fail to see the plank in our own eye. In this regard, we are literally hiding from reality.

THE THREE MOST HARMFUL EMOTIONS

In her book Living Beyond Your Feelings, Joyce Meyer addresses the topic of anger. She says the three most harmful negative emotions are anger, guilt, and fear. She believes anger is number one. When a crime is described as being one of passion, that means it was incited by anger. Anger is such a dangerous emotion that people end up in prison because of what it causes them to do. This begs the question, “Is hate instinctive?” What I do know is unconditional love—true, God-like agape love—comes only from God (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In the flesh, we have no capacity for this kind of love.

Nothing justifies an attitude of hatred. I must admit I’ve hated in the past. I did not get along with my father. I allowed my anger to boil over into hatred. It poisoned my relationship with him. It created a dark film over my eyes; I saw everything he did through that distorted view. It robbed me of the opportunity to learn from him. It caused me to fear and avoid him. Hatred will change your worldview. We see the world not so much as it is but as we are—as we are conditioned to see it. You see yourself and the world in a particular way, mostly based on environmental factors. This is both paralyzing and empowering. It is not uncommon to find yourself wondering How did I get here, to this place, at this point in my life?

Anger shows up in many ways: it criticizes, withdraws, ridicules, humiliates, teases, puts down, strikes out physically (against people and property); it causes poor concentration, bad decisions, a miserable life, depression (when turned inward), drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, passive-aggressive behavior, disrespect. It causes a spike in adrenaline and cortisol, which creates anxiety and the sensation of fight-or-flight. It can lead to headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, high blood pressure, skin problems, heart attack, or stroke.

WHAT ABOUT RECONCILIATION?

Jesus told His disciples, “What you are in your heart is how you really are!” That is quite an accusation. Humility and meekness were paramount to His ministry. So was gentleness and kindness; forgiveness and compassion. He illustrated the importance of letting go of anger and bitter offense. He indicated that not dealing with anger can lead to hatred. Reconciliation was far more important than being right. Obviously, there are limitless scenarios for offense. Maybe the person who offended us was truly wrong. Perhaps we’re convinced of the reasonableness of our anger. We feel justified. However, Jesus exhorts us to reconcile even if the offense is not our fault. It takes maturity to walk in humility in order to bring reconciliation. This is what is meant by being a peacemaker. Romans 14:19 says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (NIV).

Reconciliation involves a change in a relationship, either between you and God or between you and another person. It assumes a breakdown in the relationship and a need for restoration. Of course, reconciliation is the objective work between God and man through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:19). Reconciliation is also the subjective work between a man and his wife; between a brother and his sibling; between a supervisor and his or her subordinate; between two best friends. We are to pursue that which makes for peace between us. We need to remember that pride is anathema to this process. Pride defends. Pride blames others. Humility agrees, and says, “You’re right. I should not have acted that way. Please forgive me.” This takes Godly wisdom. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 that we are to imitate God.

THE WAR WITHIN

We often feel like a war is going on within us. Our renewed inner man wants to do what we know is right. The apostle Paul fought this battle. He wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the Law is good… for I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 16, 19, NIV). The key is learning to understand the difference between flesh and spirit. We need to practice crucifying the flesh daily, walking instead in the Spirit. In newness of life. Scripture tells us that when we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, He gives us a new nature (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). He imparts to us His nature. He grants us access to a spirit of temperance. He gives us not a spirit of fear but of sound mind (see 2 Timothy 1:7).

This battle also applies to forgiving those who have offended us. Many people—believers and non-believers alike—decide forgiving others is just too hard. They choose avoidance instead. They wallow in unforgiveness. They stew. They allow resentment to build. They become callous. They build walls. Stop making friends. After all, they’ll only get hurt again. People suck, right? But deciding not to forgive can be spiritually crippling. The Bible clearly says that if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us (see Matthew 6:14-15). If we allow this to happen, we’re permitting sin to stand between us and God. We will find it difficult to hear His will for us. We won’t be able to sense His presence. I know firsthand that harboring resentment robs us of peace, restful sleep, happiness, relationships, contentment, joy. It affects our physical and mental health. It robs us of our spiritual well being.

Do you have someone in your life that has wronged you? Have you been harboring anger, resentment, unforgiveness? Speak to God about it. Ask Him to forgive you of your unforgiveness. Seek His guidance on how to best approach that individual. Then, when you feel led by the Holy Spirit, go to him or her. And whatever you do, give that person the freedom to be themselves in the same manner you expect to be given the freedom to be you. We’re all children of God. Love and forgive others in the same manner that He loves and forgives you.

References

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

Meyer, J. (2011). Living Beyond Your Feelings. New York, NY: Faith Words

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the King James Version.

Are You Living For Jesus?

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When done right, an article like this blog post is not easy to write. By definition, this is a difficult topic. It takes incredible soul-searching and an honest and thorough moral inventory. The truth can hurt, but it’s bitter medicine that could save your soul. Self-appraisal is vital to navigating through life. An honest assessment of our goals, priorities, behavior, relationships (especially how we interact with and treat others), ultimately enables self-improvement. Coming clean with your errors and learning to forgive yourself for them must become a lifelong habit. But self-appraisal can be a treacherous undertaking.

Christian Self-Appraisal

Paul addressed Christian self-assessment in Galatians 6:3-4: “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (NIV). Although I agree with Paul, I can see potential for this type of exercise to go to our heads. Eugene Peterson, in his translation The Message writes, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (Galatians 6:4-5). Peterson is saying we must know who we are within the context of who we we are in accordance with the work we’ve been given by God. Accordingly, there is no self-pride.

The reason self-assessment is so daunting is because it is extremely difficult to honestly, effectively see ourselves as others see us. Each of us is blind to certain parts of our character even when we’re most brutally honest. Paul Tripp writes, “Sin lives in a costume, that’s why it’s so hard to recognize… in order for it to do its evil work it must present itself as something that is anything but evil.” When it comes to assessing our morality—indeed, our motives and overt behavior—we’re more skilled at looking for our own wrong and seeing only good. We’re much better at seeing the sin, weakness, and failure of others. Jesus said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5, NIV).

I believe acquiring self-knowledge is impossible without the revealing light of the Holy Spirit. Incomplete self-assessment is a threat to our Christian witness and our relationship with Christ. If we’re not careful, we’ll tell ourselves a “different” Gospel; one that serves the devil and not the Lord. I’m failing at everything. I don’t like the way God made me. Jesus cannot help me. My service is worthless. My spiritual gift is worthless. Growth is impossible. I should just give up. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Any practice that detracts from faith is an evil practice, but especially that kind of self-examination which would take us away from the cross…” Watchman Nee, in his seminal work A Balanced Christian Life, wrote, “The truths to be found in both the New Testament and the Old can be grouped under two categories of truth: the subjective and the objective.” Objective truth can be confirmed by physical evidence, whereas subjective truth depends on one’s opinion or truth and may be true or false.

My Own Introspection

Thankfully, after 40 years of active addiction, I have been able to stay away from alcohol and street drugs since 2008. Unfortunately, I secretly abused opiates from 2008 until 2016. I was using tramadol and oxycodone, which were prescribed by my primary care physician and a pain specialist. I also started taking Flexeril and Soma. I developed a tolerance for these medications. In fact, I truly enjoyed the euphoria. Ultimately, I would run out of pills before I could get a refill. I was living with my parents at the time. My mother had undergone radical spinal fusion, and was taking oxycodone, morphine, Flexeril, and methodone. I started stealing her medications, and eventually got caught.

It was rather deceptive and two-faced that I was also attending church every Sunday, going to several AA and NA meetings a week, and teaching Bible study at two local county prisons while getting high on opiates I stole from my mother’s medicine cabinet. I prayed, read the Bible, told my “story,” and acted as though all was well while living a lie. I also began online undergraduate classes in psychology at Colorado Christian University at the time. Classes were taught from a Christian worldview. My discussion posts were less-than-honest given my nefarious pill habit. There were times I felt rather guilty and hopeless, and even considered driving my car into the icy-cold Susquehanna River. Admittedly, however, I usually took a deep breath, decided I’d quit tomorrow and just took another handful of pills.

Despite a 21-day stay in rehab, I continued to abuse opiates. My mother confronted me about stealing her medication and was willing to forgive me. When it happened again in August of 2016, she had me arrested. I entered a guilty plea and served a year on probation. I was estranged from the family for 20 months, missing birthdays, two Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the birth of a grandchild, and loss of a job that required a clean criminal background. My attitude slipped and I blamed everyone else. It became easy to be unforgiving of my family’s unforgiveness. Lost and bitter, with nowhere to turn, I decided to go back to the church where I was saved and baptized at 13 years old. This was no doubt the greatest decision of my life. I reached out to the pastor and the elders. I chose a mentor and allowed the men to love me until I could learn to love myself.

The result of this decision is that I have been clean for over two years, I am 3 weeks from finishing my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and will be starting my master’s degree in professional counseling (with a concentration in addictions) at Lancaster Bible College in January. I have been welcomed back into my family and just spent Thanksgiving with everyone. I am currently sharing a 3-bedroom ranch with my mom and my younger brother.

How Do You Live For Jesus?

Jesus gave His life for us, so that we might live our life abundantly. He covered our sins, paying a huge debt we could have not satisfied on our own. I know you’ve heard it said that it is reasonable for us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. Readily realize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings out the best of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2, MSG).

Living for Jesus is more meaningful than living for ourselves. Certainly, following in His footsteps helps assure that many are saved through our example because of His intervention in our lives. When the early disciples encountered Jesus, they were willing to literally drop everything—including their very livelihood—to follow Him. Similarly, we’re called to make sacrifices for Jesus—to show others love by giving, praying, and investing in them. In Jesus’ eyes, belief and actions are intricately interwoven; you cannot have one without the other.

Jesus is No Mere Optimist

Jesus doesn’t try to pump us up with empty promises or sunny predictions about the future, or tell us that a life of following Him is full of nothing but reward. He always tells it like it is, never shying away from hard realities. If He were always trying to “spin” reality for us, we’d quickly descend into fear, because mere optimism has no real power to change our reality. In Matthew 10:25-28 He paints a picture of reality for His disciples. He says they will face hard times as they go forth in His name to bring the Gospel to others, but He encourages them to move in boldness rather than fear.

Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message: “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands” (Matthew 10:26-28, MSG).

Have You Made a Decision For Jesus?

Have you made a decision for Jesus or have you committed yourself to Jesus? There is a difference. There shouldn’t be, but there is. Many have made a decision to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow Him. The Gospel allows for no such distinction. Biblical belief is more than mere mental assent or verbal acknowledgement. Many fans of Jesus have repeated a prayer or raised their hand or walked forward at the end of a church service and made a decision to believe, but there was never a conscious decision to follow Him. It is vitally important to realize this distinction: Jesus never offered such an option. Ever. Not to anyone. He is looking for more than words of belief; He’s looking to see how those words are lived out in your life. When we decide to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow Him, we become nothing more than fans. We tend to define belief as the acceptance of something as real or true.

But biblical belief goes far beyond mere intellectual acceptance or heartfelt acknowledgement; rather, it is a commitment to follow. It is adherence that goes beyond mental assent—it calls for movement. One of the reasons our churches can become “fan clubs” is that we have unfortunately separated the message of believe from the message of follow. This tends to put the Gospel out of balance. A pastor friend of mine who was raised in a family of pastors takes issue with today’s megachurches that seem to be about “coffee klatches” and “entertainment” rather than preaching the Gospel and serving God’s people. He worries that no one wants to talk about Jesus and sin anymore.

Does Your Life Reflect What You Say You Believe?

I took a class on World Views last year at Colorado Christian University. What I was most surprised to discover was how much of my worldview was hidden to me. It was difficult to admit that I had God in my head but not in my heart. My professor asked a rather challenging question during the third week of class: How would your behavior change if you actually acted in a manner consistent with what you claim to believe in your heart? It reminded me of a comment from a previous pastor who told me he didn’t think I had God in my heart. Ouch!

Sire (2015) said a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts, but a fundamental orientation of the heart. It is critical to acknowledge what I truly believe in my heart as well as what I think I believe in my head. Sire indicates that the Christian worldview is not so much a matter of theoretical thought expressed in propositions as it is a deeply rooted commitment of the heart. 

Worldviews are as divergent as mankind itself. What makes this issue more complex is that worldviews are not limited to matters of culture or science, nor do they reside solely in the intellect. Rather, they are typically of the heart, not the head. A person’s worldview serves as the foundation or infrastructure for their values, which determine their behavior. Out of the abundance of the heart.

We are saved by God’s grace when we believe in Jesus and put our faith in Him, but biblical belief is more than something we confess with our mouths; it’s something we confess with our way of life. So a fan of Jesus might say, “Lord, Lord,” but a fan doesn’t live, “Lord, Lord.” You say, “I am a follower.” I hear you, but when is the last time you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner? You say, “I am a follower,” Well, that’s great, but what do you do when you get in an argument with your spouse? I want to know if you’re the one who reaches over and puts a gentle hand on the back of your husband or wife and and says, “I’m sorry.” What do you do when a neighbor starts to gossip about a friend? What do you do when the movie you’re watching continues to take God’s name in vain? A belief is more than what we say.

James addresses this. “What good is it my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Jesus has defined the relationship he wants with you. He is not interested in enthusiastic admirers who practice everything in moderation and don’t get “carried away.” He wants completely committed followers.

References

Sire, J. (2015) Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, 2nd Edition. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

 

 

 

Challenges From Atheism

Atheism remains an important challenge to faith throughout the Western world, especially in the United States. Many of its critics believe that the movement has lost its way and that its intellectual credentials and cultural appeal have dwindled in recent years. I completely disagree. Atheism is, of course, a “godless” worldview under which nearly every claim and nuance of “faith” is ridiculed as nothing less than a centuries-old fairy tale. As a matter of course, atheism has typically meant a lack of belief in gods. Although this might sound like mere semantics at first blush, atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; rather, it is a lack of belief. Some older lexicons define atheism as “a belief that there is no god.” Atheism has not gone away. In fact, it has morphed into a militant attack on Christianity itself.

Diagoras of Melos

Who created atheism? Atheism—or at least the idea that would today pass for atheistic—seems to have begun in the 5th century when Diagoras of Melos (ancient Greek poet and sophist) declared that there were no gods. Atheism contrasts with the word theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists. Etymology of the Greek word ἄθεος (atheos) means “without gods.”

American Atheists is a movement founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair in 1963. O’Hair filed suit in 1959 on behalf of her son who was forced to attend Bible readings in his school and was a victim of harassment at the hands of school employees after he declined to participate. The Murray v. Curlett case was consolidated into Abington School District v. Schempp and was decided on June 17, 1963. This landmark case held for the first time that state-mandated prayer and Bible readings in public schools were a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. That year, the Society of Separationists (the precurser to American Atheists) was founded.

Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s been 134 years since Friedrich Nietzsche declared “God is Dead” (or Gott ist tot, in German), giving philosophy students a collective headache that’s lasted from the 19th century until today. It is, perhaps, one of the best known statements in all of philosophy. The death of God didn’t strike Nietzsche as an entirely good thing. Without a God, the basic belief system of Western Europe was in jeopardy. Nietzsche was an atheist during most of his adult life, and didn’t mean that there was a God who had actually died; rather that our idea of one had. After the Enlightenment, the idea of a universe that was governed by physical laws and not by divine providence was considered to be reality.

Philosophy argued that governments no longer needed to be organized around the idea of divine right in order to be legitimate, but rather by the consent or rationality of the governed. Philosophers said large and consistent moral theories could exist without reference to God. Europe no longer needed God as the source for morality, value, or order in the universe; philosophy and science were capable of doing that. This increasing secularization of thought in the West led the philosopher to conclude that not only was God dead but that human beings had killed him with their scientific revolution—their desire to better understand the world. Nietzsche wrote in Twilight of the Idols, “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”

Atheism is on the March

As many atheists know, to not replace God with a new philosophical structure providing meaning can be a cause of existential dread. Are we at risk of becoming a society struggling with our own meaninglessness? Are we at risk for nihilism? Are we more vulnerable to ideologies and con men who promise to do what God used to do for us and society? While Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the future, the non-religious are less so than the spiritually-minded. It seems Nietzsche may have been wrong in the long run about our ability to deal with the idea that God is dead. Interestingly, Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

It would seem that atheism has become a religion onto itself.

Richard Dawkins’ international bestseller The God Delusion has been called a “hard-hitting, impassioned” book in which he is said to eviscerate the arguments for religion and demonstrate the “supreme improbability” of the existence of a supreme being. Proponents of his militant atheism believe Dawkins “makes a compelling case that faith is not just irrational but potentially deadly.”

Dawkins, in his Preface to The God Delusion, writes, “If you feel trapped in the religion of your upbringing, it would be worth asking yourself how this came about. The answer is usually some form of childhood indoctrination. If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination. Mutatis mutandis if you were born in Afghanistan.” Dawkins’ militant attitude spills over from mere personal disbelief in God; he attacks Christian parents who, as he puts it, brainwash their children. He writes, “I want everybody to flinch whenever we hear a phrase such as ‘Catholic child’ or ‘Muslim child.’ Speak of a ‘child of Catholic parents’ if you like; but if you hear anybody speak of a ‘Catholic child,’ stop them and politely point out that children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics.”

The Militants

Atheism has not typically been antagonistic to religion. Even Diagoras of Melos simply believed life would be better without a god lording it over everyone. Nietzsche believed God was dead because unbelief killed Him. Psychology Today believes militant atheism is a myth. Not so fast. Julian Baggini, a committed atheist author, summarizes militant atheism rather eloquently. He writes, “Although atheism is not necessarily hostile to religion, there are, of course, some atheists who are hostile to religion, and not just fundamentalist religions… Atheism which is actively hostile to religion I would call militant. To be hostile in this sense requires more than just strong disagreement with religion—it requires something verging on hatred and is characterized by a desire to wipe out all forms of religious beliefs. Militant atheists tend to make one or both of two claims that atheists do not. The first is that religion is demonstrably false or nonsense, and the second is that it is usually or always harmful.”

Richard Dawkins is beyond any doubt the new high priest of the militant atheist movement. Upon release of The God Delusion, he officially declared war on religion in general and Christianity in particular. He has made it clear that he will not rest until he has completely defeated God and religion. Philip Johnson said, “After reading a great deal of this bombast, I have come to the conclusion that Richard has never assumed the duties of a Professor of the Public Understanding of Science—a position he holds due to the patronage of a zillionaire from Microsoft. He seems to lack the intellectual confidence to say anything of substance, so he sticks to the very safe path of appealing to the materialistic prejudices.”

But what of Dawkins’ arguments themselves? The God Delusion is little more than an aggregation of convenient (if not embellished) factoids, suitably overstated to achieve maximum impact, and loosely arranged to suggest that they actually constitute some element of Socratic reasoning. This makes dealing with its so-called arguments a little problematic, in that the work frequently substitutes aggressive, bullying rhetoric for serious evidence-based argument. Dawkins often treats evidence as something to cram into his preconceived theoretical (perhaps theatrical?) framework. Religion is persistently and consistently portrayed in the worst possible way.

Perhaps Michael Caputo gives us some hope in his We Believe in God: The Greatest Artists, Musicians, Philosophers, Scientists, Writers and Poets Believed in God.

Has the Gospel Changed?

THE GOSPEL STORY ITSELF has not changed, but culture and society has. As a result, the Gospel is viewed against the backdrop of current culture. Culture typically evolves over time—changes in demographics, attitudes toward moral issues, drastic advancements in technology. Accordingly, the method by which we present the Gospel today needs to be such that we do not offend non-believers or appear to be holier-than-thou. Only then will people be willing to listen. It has been suggested by modern-day evangelists that when sharing the Gospel we start where and when God did—in the beginning.

ENGAGING AN EVER-CHANGING CULTURE

It is imperative that we refrain from being dragged along by culture. One of the greatest problems that has frustrated the church is the relation between knowledge and piety—between culture and Christianity. In other words, we don’t want to share a watered-down message. We must always be concerned with proclaiming the Gospel—the entire Gospel. Given the audacity of today’s militant atheists, we should expect increasing objection to the Gospel and challenges to the authenticity and inerrancy of the Bible. By using apologetics to give solid answers, we can help people listen and learn about the most important historical document of all—the whole Bible.

The Gospel should point us toward a time when we can see others—all others—truly as God sees us: as one blood, one flesh, as brothers and sisters. Remember that God truly is the Father of us all; that in Christ the division and the divisiveness between men and women, between different national groups, between different economic circumstances are done away with; that all are alike unto Him; and that even those who do not know Him are known and loved by Him.

CHRISTIANITY VERSUS CULTURE

It is common for believers and non-believers to see religion in Western society as Christianity versus culture—two opposing forces of influence. The church stands on one side of the line and culture on the other. Americans are taking notice that their country is becoming increasingly post-Christian, if not outright anti-Christian. They realize that their beliefs on certain theological and moral issues will increasingly be rejected and mocked by the political, cultural, and academic elite.

The bubble of legalism can’t keep sin out of the church, and it hides one of God’s most useful tools—us. 

If we take a literal us versus them stance, we risk turning the church into a “safe haven” where people seek refuge from the quagmire of unbelief and pluralism. Believers tend to unwittingly perpetuate this “sanctuary city” concept by trying to find the balance between immersing themselves in the world and isolating themselves in a sterile “bubble.” Christians who support this approach have good intentions—they want to preserve the church’s purity, recognizing that the church is under attack and that believers need to hold fast to their faith. They understand that a great battle is being waged (Ephesians 6:11-18); a battle that plays out both visibly in the cultural realm and invisibly in the spiritual realm.

Here’s the thing: Taking this standoffish approach tends to externalize godlessness and treats it as something that can be kept out by man-made walls. Godlessness, however, is a disease of the soul that can never be walled out. Godlessness causes rotting from within. It is troublesome to realize that this mindset tends toward legalism, and it tries to restrict interactions between believers and society. In the immortal words of Dana Carvey’s SNL character Church Lady, “Who could be responsible for this? Is it… Satan?” While it is true that the Christian life involves war against the powers of darkness, it wrongly tries to wage that war by withdrawing from the world.

You can certainly find biblical support for a view that pits the church against culture. Believers with this mentality are clinging to the biblical principle of waging war against that which is evil. They rightly recognize that we must put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), resist the devil (James 4:7), and cast down anything that exalts itself against God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Be aware, however, that this mindset still falls short—it’s too easy to see ourselves fighting against people instead of sin. God uses the church in his plan to rescue people, not destroy them. This is only a small part of God’s plan for restoration. Our social and cultural contexts are full of unbelievers—but those unbelievers are not merely enemies of God; they are also drowning people in need of a lifeboat. The church is not only a base for soldiers, but also a hospital for the spiritually sick.

But consider this angle instead. It is actually culture that is beating people up. Left to their own devices without God, people will take blow after blow—perhaps without even realizing that it’s culture delivering the pain. False promises, questionable social norms, distorted morality, and unchecked sin present in cultures across the globe can all appear good to people without God.

CHRISTIANITY OF CULTURE

I must admit that cultural changes occurring outside the scope and influence of the church are not necessarily bad. God has enabled all people—believer and non-believer alike—to make good and valuable contributions to society. The abolition of slavery and the human rights movement brought about monumental positive changes. And a thorough and honest search of the records of history will show there were Christians on both sides of these issues. Some Christians sought to preserve the status quo of “free” labor from slaves, while others fought for complete emancipation of black slaves. It’s appropriate to state that Christians who took up arms against Lincoln and the Union in order to preserve slavery were morally wrong.

I don’t believe that culture alone can set the stage and lead us in the right direction. Granted, not all cultural tenets are wrong. But culture is not always right either. Today, in a postmodern world, especially in America, pluralism is the norm. Behavior is often analyzed through the lens of moral relativism. The relativist believes that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective or universal moral truths. Instead, such individuals make moral decisions relative to social, cultural, historical, or personal perspectives. Under this tenet, truth is subjective. Bottom line: moral relativists believe that moral or ethical judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (e.g., a specific cultural or historical setting), and that no worldview is uniquely privileged over all others. Not even Christianity.

The Body of Christ cannot simply mirror every decision reached at the cultural level in the hope of winning others to Christ. For example, without God in the picture, culture raises up idols in His place—professional sports stars, actors, politicians, the wealthy and powerful. We must ask, Can the church embrace culture without also embracing its idols? Much of Christian doctrine is black-and-white, whereas culture often speaks in “gray” terms. Believers who subscribe to the Christianity of culture mindset rightly recognize that God created and ordered the world in such a way that left room for mankind to make culture, and that said culture exhibits real aspects of truth, generosity, goodness, and beauty. However, this mentality is misguided because it fails to sufficiently see the way in which every culture, indeed every nuance of culture, is corrupted and distorted due to human sin.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “At an early age I came to believe that the life of culture (that is, of intellectual and aesthetic activity) was very good for its own sake, or even that it was the good for man… I was awakened from this confused state of mind by finding that the friends of culture seemed to me to be exaggerating. In my reaction against what seemed exaggerated I was driven to the other extreme, and began, in my own mind, to belittle the claims of culture.” Lewis added, “I naturally turned first to the New Testament. Here I found, in the first place, a demand that whatever is most highly valued on the natural level is to be held, as it were, merely on sufferance, and to be abandoned without mercy the moment it conflicts with the service of God.”

ANTI-CHRISTIAN BIAS IN PUBLIC EDUCATION

Solomon (1996) wrote, “At the close of the twentieth century American evangelicals find themselves in a diverse, pluralistic culture. Many ideas vie for attention and allegiance. These ideas, philosophies, or worldviews are the products of philosophical and cultural changes. Such changes have come to define our culture.” This begs the question, How is a Christian supposed to respond to such conditions?

According to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) standards, “[I]t is clear that the dominant social, economic, cultural and scientific trends that have defined the western world for five centuries are rapidly leading in new directions.” The dominant trends that defined Western civilization are of course the Judeo-Christian worldview. So what does this mean for social studies classes in public schools? The NCSS explains, “The United States and its democracy are constantly evolving and in continuous need of citizens who can adapt… to meet changing circumstances. Meeting that need is the mission of social studies.”

Can it be any clearer? Rather than teach America’s true history and founding principles for the preservation of American liberty and Western civilization, the new mission of social studies is to prepare our children to accept the transformation of America. In fact, the NCSS are missionaries of a new religion operating in the field of American education. Unlike Christians, these particular missionaries have government backing, free reign with captive children, and operate under the guise of “education.” This is pluralism at work. It is a systematic tearing down of the “old” in order to make room for the “new.” It is nothing less than indoctrination with one purpose—to convince our children to reject out-of-hand biblical Christianity and to adopt a secular worldview.

Fiorazo (2012) writes, “Christianity is not the thriving , influential power it once was in America. With a majority of people claiming the Christian tradition, why does our godless culture barely reflect the light of Jesus Christ.” We’re living in sad times when professing Christians know less about the Bible than ever before. We live in a country glutted with biblical material, Christian books, radio and television evangelism, but many Christians are not moving on to spiritual maturity. Additionally, there is a degree of biblical illiteracy in America today. Although surveys indicate that a majority of households report having a Bible, not even 50 percent of those who own Bibles read them regularly. Only 1 percent of young Christians read Scriptures on a daily basis.

There are many whose ultimate goal is to completely eliminate Christianity from public life in America. Militant atheists shout from their lecterns that Christian parents are brainwashing their children; teaching them the “so-called truth” of the Judeo-Christian doctrine. The late Christopher Hitchens said Christian parents are committing a form of child abuse by “indoctrinating” their children with biblical principles. He likened belief in the Virgin birth and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. God’s Not Dead 2 tells the story of a teacher at a public school who comes under fire for answering a student’s question about Jesus. When the teacher refuses to apologize, the school board votes to suspend her and threatens to revoke her teaching certificate. Forced to stand trial to save her career, she hires a lawyer to defend her in court.

We’re faced with sentiment such as this:

“The battle for mankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as proselytizers of a new faith…. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new – the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.” (John Dunphy, 1983)

CHRISTIANITY UNDER ATTACK

Traditional American Christians have long been on the losing end of culture-war contests—on school prayer, same-sex marriage and other issues. But recent events, including the Supreme Court decision overruling Texas’ restrictions on abortion clinics and the mandate that employers provide access to contraception, have added to the sense that religious expression is under attack. According to recent Pew Research reports, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as religiously affiliated has shrunk while the percentage describing themselves as unaffiliated has grown from 2007 to 2014. The percentage who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists fell to 63% from 71% during the same time period.

A new vigorous secularism has catapulted mockery of Christianity and other forms of religious traditionalism into the mainstream and set a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs. In some precincts, the “faith of our fathers” is controversial as never before. Some of the faithful have paid unexpected prices for their beliefs lately: the teacher in New Jersey suspended for giving a student a Bible; the football coach in Washington placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game; the fire chief in Atlanta fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian moral teaching; the Marine court-martialed for pasting a Bible verse above her desk; and other examples of the new intolerance. Anti-Christian activists hurl smears like “bigot” and “hater” at Americans who hold traditional beliefs about marriage and accuse anti-abortion Christians of waging a supposed “war on women.”

Ravi Zacharias said, “The Bible is a controversial book that invokes both devotion and derision. It has inspired some of the greatest thinkers this world has ever known and attracted the hostility of others. It takes a central role in any study of Western civilization and touches the most unlikely of souls.” The current challenges to the Bible are for the most part launched from the postmodern worldview. By its very nature the postmodern worldview is difficult to define. It is an eclectic movement, originating in aesthetics, architecture, and philosophy. A postmodern perspective is skeptical of any grounded theoretical perspectives. Ostensibly, a postmodern theorist believes there are no truly truthful truths. Postmodernism rejects most approaches to art, science, literature, philosophy, and religion. This worldview is about discontinuity, suspicion of motive, and an acceptance of logical incoherence. At the root of postmodernism is a strong denial of absolute authority. Ironically, the belief that there is no absolute truth cannot be true unless there is an absoluteness to the absence of absolute truth.

And we wonder why it’s so difficult to fight pluralism, moral relativism, and militant atheism.

References

Fiorazo, D. (2012). Eradicate: Blotting Out God in America. Abbotsford, WI: Life Sentence Publishing, Inc.

Lewis, C.S. (1940). Christianity and Culture. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0040571X4004023702

Solomon, J. (1992). Christianity and Culture. Retrieved from: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/culture.html