“We Have Lost the Vertical.”

“When you think of it, really there are four fundamental questions of life. You’ve asked them, I’ve asked them, every thinking person asks them. They boil down to this: origin, meaning, morality and destiny. ‘How did I come into being? What brings life meaning? How do I know right from wrong? Where am I headed after I die?'”—Ravi Zacharias.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I AGREE WITH RAVI ZACHARIAS: There has been a drastic impact from man’s decision to look within for meaning, purpose, and morality. We have lost our vertical orientation toward God. The battle between theism and atheism is the oldest philosophical  debate known to man. The greatest battles over the course of history have been over control of the heart of mankind, which is the basic currency of politics and culture. Zacharias believes, “Right from the start the question was not the origin of species but the autonomy of the species” (1). We say No one is going to tell me what to believe! Our inner turmoil is rooted in the fact that we are a worshiping people, with an innate desire, an instinct and impulse hardwired into us, to seek and understand God. Yet we debate whether the concepts of origin, purpose, morality, and destiny should rest with us (relative to culture, history, circumstance) or with God based upon ontological truth.

“What has happened? The answer is clear. The discussion in the public square is now reduced to right or left, forgetting there is an up and a down.”—Ravi Zacharias

The remarkable harmony Adam and Eve enjoyed with God and the whole of creation, the peaceful dominion they were given over it, was broken the moment they decided to look within for meaning and purpose; for the definition of right and wrong. Chandler writes, “While the earth was once wonderfully subdued, it now yields grudgingly. Where it was once only fruitful and abundant, it now offers the challenge of thorns and thistles” (2). God’s very first commandment issued in the Garden—Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—does not mean God wants to subdue us and is unwilling to share His “knowledge” with us. To the contrary, He is aware of the insurmountable task of systematically evaluating right and wrong, good and evil, true and false, from a human perspective. We lack the ability to perceive and handle the thousands of nuances involved in determining ethics, justice, judgment, and equality. It’s so easy to become embroiled in arguments relative to these issues. Some of the most infamous broken relationships in history have been over arguments gone wrong.

Most biblical scholars  agree that God gave us free will. What they cannot agree on is how to best define the concept of free willexactly how it operates in our lives. Sadly, our desire to know and control things cost us dearly. Adam and Eve enjoyed a glorious relationship with God: walking with Him in the cool of the day. God provided our First Parents with the freedom to choose. I believe He wants us to choose Him rather than be forced to believe and obey. Accordingly, God said to Adam, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:16-17, NRSV) (emphasis mine).

Essentially, our First Parents staged a mutiny. A tug-of-war began between man and God at the very beginning. Chandler believes this cosmic argument with God has left a “shalom-shaped hole in our hearts, and no matter how much we throw in there, and no matter how long we try filling it, nothing will satisfy but shalom itself” (3)Zacharias believes the moment Adam and Eve chose to look within for purpose, meaning, and knowledge, mankind headed down the slippery slope of secularism, humanism, and moral relativism. Secular and humanistic worldviews say, “We don’t need God!” Moral relativism says, “That might be true for you, but it’s not true for me!” 

“Faith gives the understanding access to these things, unbelief closes the door upon them… A right faith is the beginning of a good life, and to this also eternal life is due. Now it is faith to believe that which you do not yet see; and the reward of this faith is to see that which you believe.”—Augustine of Hippo

The Enlightenment

Skepticism and doubt reign supreme in Western civilization today. When the Enlightenment emerged in Europe in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, emphasis was put on reason and individualism rather than doctrine and tradition. Leaders during this era ( Descartes, Locke, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau) taught that reason was the power by which humans can understand the universe and improve their own condition. Enlightenment involved the use and celebration of reason, the power by which mankind attempts to understand the universe and improve the condition of man here on earth. Immanuel Kant sought truth through “pure reason.”

Enlightenment stressed both reason and independence, and elicited a pronounced distrust of authority. For the Enlightenment thinkers, the most important human attribute was rationality. This sounds like a fairly innocuous term: the quality of being based on or in accordance with reason or logic. The difference between man’s logic and God’s is this: Christian rationalism attempts to strengthen not only the physical body, but the spirit as well; enlightening human beings by means of the spirituality it defends. It focuses on spiritual evolution, without prejudices or dogmas. Specifically, the Christian rationalist believes Scripture is the foundation upon which all good reasoning is built. It is the only reliable foundation for all logic and good judgment; the only trustworthy basis for the beginning of thoughts, ideas, actions and practices. The Word of God is intended to be the mind’s bedrock, its compass. This is an a priori argument: relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience. This is akin to saying we cannot trust what we see.

Brad Inwood said, “The Enlightenment devalues prejudices and customs, which owe their development to historical peculiarities rather than to the exercise of reason. What matters to the Enlightenment is not whether one is French or German, but that one is an individual man, united in brotherhood with all other men by the rationality one shares with them” (4). We can see in this statement that the authority of the church and of Scripture began to be questioned. A period of objective inquiry concerning the world and mankind ensued as a result of this philosophy. Of course, reading between the lines reveals an attitude that subjective inquiry (no matter the subject matter it pursues) is “illogical.” Inwood added, “Beliefs are to be accepted only on the basis of reason, not on the authority of priests, sacred texts, or tradition.” Alas, this was the Age of Reason.

To its credit, Enlightenment believes in some immutable Truth waiting to be discovered by experience, unbiased reason, or the methods of science. The downside of this worldview is its tendency to define such ontological truth through human reason, or on empirical evidence alone. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality. It is part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics. Skeptics of this school of thought believe that “truth” is always relative to cultural, group, or personal perspectives. This is essentially known as moral relativism. Further to this is the concept that we interpret our experienced reality through a pair of conceptual glasses—situation, personal goals, past experiences, values, the body of knowledge we possess, the nature of language, the zeitgeist, and so forth.

Theological determinism is a form of predestination which states that all events that happen are preordained or predestined to happen, typically by a divine will. Some call this “destiny.” Friedrich Nietzsche was against determinism. He said, “Every man is a unique miracle; we are responsible to ourselves for our own existence. Freedom makes us responsible for our characters just as artists are responsible for their creations.” Nietzsche and other Enlightenment thinkers believed if man lives according to the morals or the will of a divine being, then he is a slave. They believed everyone who wishes to be free must become free through his or her own endeavor. In other words, freedom does not fall into anyone’s lap as a miraculous gift.

The Most Important Question

Rationalism, empiricism, agnosticism, idealism, positivism, existentialism, and phenomenology are all part of the discipline of epistemology: the study of how we know. It is certainly helpful to ask “how,” but it is the why that contains the basis for existence. Why are we here in the first place? While science is equipped to answer the how of life, it is not qualified to answer the why. Zacharias believes the points of tension within secular worldviews are not merely peripheral. They are systemic; they are foundational. For example, for the atheist, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, while for the follower of Jesus, joy is central and sorrow peripheral. There is an intellectual side to life, but there is also a side where deep needs are experienced. Sorrow often occurs when we fail to understand why things are happening to us.

More consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from any other basic question.—Mortimer Adler

I am most impressed by how succinctly Ravi Zacharias expresses the four fundamental questions of life: Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Where am I going? These questions fall into four basic categories: origin, meaning, morality, destiny. Regardless of our worldview, each of us longs to answer these fundamental queries. Moreover, how we answer them has a direct impact on our actions! For instance, relativism says, “That might be true for you, but not for me.” Whatever is of significance is reduced to value according to the preferences and biases of this or that person, culture, or point in history. This is actually an offshoot of naturalism. If nature is all there is, then there can be no transcendent or absolute source of moral truth, and we are left to construct our own morality. By definition, morality would be contingent upon the person, situation, or moment in time. Obviously, this makes for a rather murky and ambiguous existence!

According to Thomas Hobbes’s concept of empiricism, “mind” is nothing more than the sum total of a person’s thinking activities. Chemical signals received in the dendrites from the axons that contact them are transformed into electrical signals, which add to or subtract from electrical signals from all the other synapses, thus making a decision about whether to pass on the signal elsewhere. Electrical potentials then travel down axons to synapses on the dendrites of the next neuron and the process repeats. Based on this basic neuroscience, Hobbes denied the existence of a “non-material” mind. Accordingly, he concluded there are no objective moral properties or concepts. Instead, there is only what seems good and pleasing for the individual.

Thinking “Christianly”

Nancy Pearcey introduces the concept of thinking Christianly in her book Total Truth. She addresses this idea under the heading “Divided Minds,” indicating that many Christians today are dual-minded, caught up in the fact/value, public/private dichotomy, restricting their faith to the so-called “religious sphere” while adopting whatever secular views they’re exposed to in their daily lives. Harry Blamires, in his seminal book The Christian Mind, makes a very troubling and profound statement: 

There is no longer a Christian mind!

What does that mean? Blamires believes Christians often lack a proper biblical worldview. Certainly, as spiritual beings most Christians continue to follow a biblical ethic of prayer and worship, studying Scripture, and sharing the gospel with others. But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has fallen prey to secularism. I realize that sounds strange, but it is no less true. Unfortunately, many believers tend to hold a secular point of view in everyday matters. They get sucked into conversations laden with secular or scientific principals and participate mentally as if they are not Christians, espousing concepts and categories typically held by non-believers. Ravi Zacharias says, “Christianity is a belief grounded in freedom. It is also, and here is where it contrasts most sharply with humanism, a belief in an absolute” (3). Secularism and humanism are tied to a relativist viewpoint regarding truth and morality—all value is reduced to value according to the preferences, biases, and circumstances of a particular person, culture, or age.

According to Pearcey, “Thinking Christianly means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality; a perspective for interpreting every subject matter.” Augustine of Hippo said, “Moral character is assessed not by what a man knows but by what he loves.” This puts a new perspective on these words spoken by Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, NRSV). Paul said, “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17). Christians like to focus on the latter part of verse 17—the promise of glory. Spiritual growth demands that we do not jump ahead. Growth requires baby steps; increments of progress. Just like academic programs in college, there are prerequisites for each level.

Our sanctification as Christians begins by suffering and dying with Christ. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). There is a specific order to our sanctification: we must first die to this world in order to live with Christ in His resurrection. It is only through dying to self that we can live through Christ. This is how we are able to live our theology and not just learn it. Martin Luther said, “It is through living, indeed through dying, and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.” Pearcey believes it is nearly impossible for non-believers to  accept Christianity solely in the abstract. As believers, we know what the gospel looks like when lived out in practice. Hart says theology, far from being esoteric and inaccessible, must be rooted in basic elements of human existence (4).

True theology must be a lived theology or it is merely a collection of information. Close study of the Pauline epistles reveals a subtle movement from the indicative to the imperative; from theological theories to practical applications. This is at the core of Paul’s remark, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is only through Scripture that we learn how sin corrupts our very interpretation of reality. John Henry Newman draws a very smart conclusion in this regard: “Christianity is dogmatical, devotional, practical all at once; it is esoteric and exoteric; it is indulgent and strict; it is light and dark; it is love, and it is fear.” Kevin Vanhoozer believes as Christians we must learn doctrine in order to participate more deeply, passionately, and truthfully in the drama of redemption. Intellectual apprehension alone, without the appropriation of heart and hand, leads only to hypocrisy.

Concluding Remarks

I think one of the most profound statements contained in Scripture is “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (MSG). There are fewer powerful hindrances to spiritual growth than pride and self-sufficiency. The hardest lesson I learned during four decades of active addiction was thinking I was unique; smarter than the average bear. Every time I tried to manage my addiction, it kicked me to the gutter. Not only did I end up getting drunk or high, I betrayed the very tenet of Christianity: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV).

It is pride that led to disobedience in the Garden. Adam and Eve decided to look to themselves for meaning, purpose, and morality rather than to God. This is when man lost his vertical orientation and chose to define good and evil from a secular or humanist perspective. The result has been constant posturing and arguing over ethics, justice, judgment, and equality. To the secularist, morality is contingent upon circumstance. However, Scripture is the only reliable foundation upon which all good reasoning is built. It is the basis for logic and good judgment; the only trustworthy basis for the beginning of thoughts, ideas, actions and practices. Scripture is intended to be the bedrock of existence; mankind’s compass. Christianity provides the truth about the whole of reality; a perspective for interpreting every subject and every situation. We can only become grounded in truth by thinking with the mind of Christ. This is what Nancy Pearcey means by thinking Christianly.

Footnotes

(1) Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods (New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2017), 15.

(2) Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 112.

(3) Zacharias, 162.

(4) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995), 79.

 

 

Disturber of the Peace

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

Lucifer Cast Down.jpg

WE HAVE HEARD OF many names for Satan. He started as Lucifer—his name is derived from the Hebrew word (helel), which means “brightness.” In Latin, it means “shining one, light-bearer.” This is also the Latin name for the planet Venus, the morning star in the ancient Roman era, often used for mythological and religious figures associated with the planet. The name “Satan” is derived from Hebrew, meaning “adversary.” He has been called Beelzebub, Belial, the tempter, god of this world, prince of the power of the air, and the father of lies. I’d like to propose one more: disturber of the peace.

The following is the legal definition of the term disturbance of the peace:

Disturbing the peace, also known as breach of the peace, is a criminal offense that occurs when a person engages in some form of unruly public behavior, such as fighting or causing excessively loud noise. When a person’s words or conduct jeopardizes another person’s right to peace and tranquility, he or she may be charged with disturbing the peace.

When I think of peace in a generic sense, I tend to scratch my head and wonder from where does this lovely ideal come? Why, if it exists, why do we failed to find “peace?” Why, instead, do we find conflict, turmoil, frustration, agitation, disharmony, distress, fighting, and a deep sense of personal angst? In Psalm , David cries out to the LORD seeking the opposite of turmoil, persecution, anxiety, and fear he sometimes felt. He previously stated in Psalm 3:1, “LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me” (NIV). He said this after fleeing from the murderous intent of his own son! He makes this wonderful proclamation in Psalm 4:8: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Jesus With Open Arms

With the peace of Christ, we feel a sense of quietness come over us. Its meaning in Hebrew (sâlôm) is quite comprehensive in its meaning: “wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity.” It is a favorite biblical greeting, is used as a dismissal to or cessation of war, relationship between friends, and man’s relationship with God. The prophet Isaiah describes the fruit of righteousness as peace, stating “its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” and that God’s people will “will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest” (Isaiah 32:17-18). The prophet also wrote, “‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked'” (48:22).

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, RSV). The Greek word used in this verse is eirênê, which refers to the peace that is the gift of Christ. It is also used many times in the New Testament to express Christ’s mission, character, and gospel. The purpose of the incarnation of Jesus was to bring spiritual peace with God through reconciliation. Luke 1:79 says, “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (NIV). Christ’s life depicted in the Gospels is one of majestic serenity (Matthew 11:28; John 14:27). The very essence of the gospel can be expressed in “peace” (Acts 10:36; Ephesians 6:15). As Christians, we have countless blessings that are grounded in peace.

The mystical writings of the Zohar (a mixture of the mystical aspects of the Torah, secular mysticism and psychology) teach that God is peace, His name is peace and all is bound together in peace. In post-Talmudic Jewish thought, Isaac Arama paraphrased this idea by saying:

Peace is a positive thing, the essential means by which men of differing temperaments and opinions can work together for the common good. Pearls of individual virtue would be dim in isolation were it not for the string of peace that binds them together and so increases their luster. That is why peace is a name of God for it is He who gives unity to the whole of creation.

The Opposite of Peace

Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17). Perhaps the opposite of peace is rooted in our failure to adhere to Paul’s admonition?

Anxiety 01.jpg

Truly, anxiety is antithetical to peace. The American Psychological Association defines anxiety (in a general sense) as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. In clinical terms, anxiety may become quite pronounced. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), anxiety disorders include those that share features of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioral disturbances. Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent danger, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future peril. Panic attacks feature prominently within the anxiety disorders as a particular type of fear response. A few decades ago, I began to experience overwhelming anxiety. It seemed no matter what I did, I could not escape the thought that something drastic was about to happen. This unfortunately led to panic attacks. On one occasion, I was nearly done shopping for groceries when I became overwhelmed with debilitating panic and fear. It was so pervasive that I left everything in my cart (milk, ice cream, cheeses, meats, and all) and ran from the store. 

So what are the deciding criteria for panic disorder? According to the DSM-5, a panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur:

  1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
  2. Sweating.
  3. Trembling or shaking.
  4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
  5. Feelings of choking.
  6. Chest pain or discomfort.
  7. Nausea or abdominal distress.
  8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint.
  9. Chills or heat sensations
  10. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations).
  11. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).
  12. Fear of losing control or “going crazy.”
  13. Fear of dying.

If a panic attack is followed by one month (or more) of the following: persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences (e.g., losing control, having a heart attack, “going crazy;” a significant maladaptive change in behavior related to the attacks (e.g., behaviors designed to avoid having panic attacks, especially avoidance of exercise or unfamiliar situations). Not surprisingly, many people who are in the throes of a panic attack believe they are actually having a heart attack.

The Story of Satan

Satan Attributes

In Ezekiel 28:14-15 we hear God speaking of the fall of Lucifer: “You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you” (NIV). Isaiah writes, “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.’ I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High'” (Isaiah 14:12-14, NIV).

Some theologians have refused to apply the prophesies of Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-15 to Satan under the contention that these passages are addressed solely to the king of Babylon (in Isaiah) and the king of Tyre (in Ezekiel). Others believe these scripture passages refer to Lucifer for two important reasons: first, these prophecies far transcend any earthly ruler, and, second, Satan has a close connection in Scripture with the world system. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (RSV).

Revelation 12 describes the casting down of Lucifer: 

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him… Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short (12:7-9, 12, NIV).

Tempted (Apple)

Satan, as the “serpent,” caused the fall of the human race (Genesis 3). His judgment was predicted in Eden (3:15) and accomplished at the cross (John 12:31-33). It’s been said by theologians that the number of demons who roam the earth in service to Satan is so great as to make them practically ubiquitous. Satan, although adjudicated “guilty” at Calvary, continues to usurp authority. Second Corinthians 4:4 tells us, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God” (RSV). Satan tempts and accuses us daily, intending to steal our peace and destroy our relationship with Christ. Believers are reminded of this in Ephesians 6:11-18, which contains specific and powerful instructions for how to defeat him.

Loss of Meaning or Purpose

One of the main reasons I have decided to follow my undergraduate degree in psychology with a master’s degree in theology is because I see a tremendous loss of meaning or purpose today. Especially in Western society, we tend to seek definition for our lives—what makes us joyous or happy or believewe have a sense of worth—through “things.” From a materialistic standpoint, this can be anything from the car we drive to the type of cell phone we carry conspicuously as we walk through the supermarket. For others, it is determined by the size of their bank accounts or the overall accumulation of wealth. We seem to have forgotten that none of these things will provide a true sense of worth, purpose, or peace. In the extreme, this approach becomes a form of idolatry.

Ravi Speaking.jpg

I have been following the ministry of Ravi Zacharias for several years, and enjoy watching his lectures and debates. I’ve read several of his books, including The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists and Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend. I highly recommend both books. (For further information concerning Ravi’s ministry please click here.) 

Ravi Zacharias says questioning life’s meaning and our purpose is quite normal. We are, after all, sentient beings. Unlike any other animal in God’s universe, we have capacity for morality, justice, beauty, meaning, love, and hatred. We’re hardwired to ask, debate, challenge, and search. He notes four great questions for which we seek answers: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Where am I going? I honestly know no one over my years that has not contemplated these questions. The result of a sense of meaninglessness in America and across the world has caused a myriad of social and personal consequences, ranging from addiction and other excesses to mental illness and conflict. Pluralism and moral relativism have led to a loss of any sense of “the vertical” view between heaven and earth, God and man, right and wrong. The great lie being taught today is there are no absolutes—that everyone’s worldview is correct. This is simply not true.

According to Zacharias, there is an immense difference between a worldview that is not able to answer every question to complete satisfaction (the Christian worldview) and one whose answers are consistently contradictory or arbitrary. There is an even greater difference between answers that contain paradoxes and those that are systemically irreconcilable. The Christian faith stands out as unique in this test, both as a system of thought and in the answers it provides. Christianity does not promise that you will have every question fully answered to your satisfaction before you die, but the answers it gives are consistently consistent. There may be paradoxes within Christian teaching and belief, but they are not irreconcilable.

Emmanuel Kant said, “Thought without faith is empty. Faith without thought is blind.” A genuinely critical Christian theology will be firmly rooted in the tradition of faith while open to the inevitable and necessary reforming of its traditional thought through critical reflection and interaction with new sources of knowledge, new ways of seeing things. A great example is the adjustment made in Christian thought when it was demonstrated through empirical evidence that the sun does not revolve around the earth (geocentric), but that the earth revolves around the sun (heliocentric).

The fact that truth is never available to us in any direct or absolute manner does not mean that we may not pursue it, or that we are unable to lay hold of it at all. The realization that our knowledge is inevitably mediated by some perspective or other does not lead automatically to the despairing conclusion that all points of view are equally useful in answering the question of truth.  Believing that there is something real out there to be known, therefore—that there is a truth to be laid hold of—yet recognizing nonetheless that our particular viewpoint is precisely that, and that the “view from nowhere” is unavailable to us, our concern will be to ensure that we stand in the place which offers the best view available.

Concluding Remarks

Not since the end of World War II has mankind felt afloat on menacing seas. The events of 9/11 (this generation’s Pearl Harbor) plunged us headlong into constant fear and loathing. Hatred, especially as it pertains to racism and violent terrorism, has created a tremendous loss of the sense of safety and security, and has given rise to ever-increasing claims that there is no God; or, if there is, that He is a violent heavenly despot. We see things from “left to right” with little-to-no concern for the middle. We are turning on one another in the name of ideology.

God wants us to be still and know that He is God; that He will be exalted in all the earth (Psalm 46:10). The Hebrew word for still comes from a word meaning to “let go” or “release.” He will make wars cease to the ends of the earth. He will break the bow and shatter the spear. Be still is a call for us to stop fighting and be quiet in Him. It comes from the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God.

We will find no true sense of meaning or purpose until we let go of the reigns, stop trying to be “right” (especially through might), and return to a vertical orientation (up-and-down.) We are all made in God’s image. We’re expected to look toward Him for the answers to Ravi Zacharias’ four great questions. Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Where am I going? Further, as Christians, we are commanded to give an answer for the reason for our faith, and to do so with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, RSV). The true path to finding the meaning of life lies in the “community” of believers. Without first putting down our weapons and taming our tongues, we will not discover a comprehensive, cohesive worldview, nor will we be able to come against the true disturber of the peace: Satan.

 

 

 

 

“Is My Life Worth Living?”

“The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5, RSV).

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, RSV).

IT IS OBVIOUS THAT purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning. For some, meaning is defined by what they do—doctor, lawyer, construction worker, teacher, welder, chef. Others seek meaning through spirituality or religious beliefs. Unfortunately, some never find meaning for their lives. I cannot think of a more sad state than existing without knowing why you exist, or where you’re going.

A Matter of Worldview

We are talking about worldview. Everyone holds a worldview, which Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) define as “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.” Sire (2015) says a worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. [Italics added.]

I agree with Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) that truth is absolute; if not, then nothing is true. They consider (p. 64), “If a worldview is true, we can expect to find at least some external corroborating evidence to support it. This does not mean that something is true because there is evidence for it, but rather evidence will be available because something is true.” [Italics added.] It is critical to note that evidence is always subject to interpretation, and interpretation also can be subject to bias. As it’s been said many times, worldviews function somewhat like a pair of eyeglasses. When you begin wearing glasses, the rims can be quite distracting. In a short while, however, you lose your awareness of the rims and even the lenses. You forget you’re wearing glasses.

Accordingly, we can lose perspective on our assumptions, presuppositions and biases, especially with the passage of time. Entwistle (2015) warns us that assumptions and biases affect data interpretation. He said, “…what we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.” (p. 93) Our ability to know is both dependent upon and limited by the assumptions of our worldview. In my Christian worldview, I recognize God as the unique source of all truth, and that this truth is absolute. In other words, it is not relative, but it is universal and unchanging. Truth is not absolute on its own merits; rather, it derives ultimately from God. I do not believe, however, that the Bible contains all that we need to know: e.g., we don’t consult the Bible to understand how to change a tire or perform brain surgery. Scripture does contain everything we need to know regarding God, the spiritual life, and morality.

We begin developing our worldview as young children, first through interactions within our family, then in social settings such as school and church, and from our companions and life experiences. Increasingly, our media culture is playing a key role in shaping worldview. We are a culture saturated with powerful media images in movies, television, commercials, music, gaming, and social media. What we watch, listen to, and read, impacts the way we think.

The lack of a sound basis for the meaning of life can cause a gnawing sense of being unfulfilled. This perception underlies everything we do. For example, we can be “busy” with many things, yet wonder if what we’re doing makes any real difference. Life, by its very nature, presents itself one day at a time: a random and unconnected series of activities and events over which we seem to have little or no control. If a sentiment of disconnectedness develops in our everyday existence, boredom sets in deep within our soul. To be “bored” does not mean we have nothing to do; it means that we question the value of the things we are so busy doing. Here is the great paradox of life: Many of us are busy and bored at the same time!

Symptoms of a Lack of Purpose

Interestingly, boredom might be rooted in resentment. If we run around all day like a crazy person, doing this and that, yet wonder if our busyness means anything to anyone, we easily feel used, manipulated, or exploited. Is this not often how a parent feels when he or she is constantly doing for their children, but the children appreciate nothing? In this state of mind, we begin to see ourselves as victims pushed around and made to do things by people who do not acknowledge us or take our contributions seriously. An inner anger starts to well up inside us—an anger that eventually settles into our hearts. Left unresolved, this anger leads to resentment, which has an effect on us much like a poison.

Perhaps the most damaging expression of our looming sense of unfulfillment is depression. When we start to believe our life has little or no effect on those around us, we can easily fall prey to sadness, depression, and regret. This can morph into guilt. It must be our fault that no one appreciates us, right? Perhaps we don’t do enough. Maybe we did the wrong thing. We begin to think it’s all our fault. This guilt is not always connected to just one event; sometimes it is connected with life itself. We feel guilty just for being alive. The realization that the world might be better without us becomes a sort-of “sub plot” to our life. We look in the mirror and, “Is my life worth living?”

Boredom, resentment, and depression are all symptoms of our sense of being disconnected. We cannot help but see life as a broken connectedness. We feel as though we don’t belong. Not surprisingly, this often leads to loneliness. This is what is meant by being in a room full of people at a gathering but feeling all alone. We experience this  because we don’t really feel like we’re part of the community. And it is this paralyzing sense of separation from others that establishes the core of much suffering in the world. When in this state of feeling cut off from the community, we quickly lose heart. Ultimately, if we don’t address this sentiment, we see ourselves as passive bystanders. We tend to live life “on the bench.”

Americans Increasingly Turn to Suicide

There is now a potential for us to believe our past, even our present, no longer carries us to the future. Instead, we go through life worried, cut off, without any promise that things will improve. Perhaps this is at the crux of one’s decision to commit suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide was the tenth-largest cause of death in America in 2017, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 people. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. There were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States in 2017 as there were homicides (19,510).

No Sense of Roots

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless.” I had a t-shirt years ago that had a rather interesting quip written on it: I Have Gone to Find Myself; If I Return Before I Get Back Keep Me Here. Does this not address the very struggle we all face when attempting to define the meaning of our existence. This “rudderless” life leads to our being tossed to and fro on the ocean in search of a port—any port—in the storm. For me, this pervasive sense of meaninglessness and loneliness led to some rather damaging behavior—infidelity, job hopping, geographic changes, and addiction. I learned that when we feel an inescapable sense of disconnectedness we will being to lie to ourselves. Not only about what the meaning of life is (or should be), but about the serious damage our addictive behaviors and activities of distraction are causing—both to us and to those around us.

What is the Answer?

If you are familiar with Scripture, you will likely remember that Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be busy with everyday activities. Instead, His response is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of our focus—to essentially relocate the “center” of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to stop focusing on “many things,” and instead focus on the “one necessary thing.” He does not preach of a change in activities as a means of finding a meaningful life. That would be akin to putting a temporary bandage on a bleeding wound. When we ignore critical wounds in the flesh, we risk developing a puss-filled infection that can spread to our bloodstream, thereby causing a “systemic” infection.

Instead, Jesus speaks of a change of heart. This change is what’s needed to make everything different even while everything appears to remain the way it was. Let me be clear: Many of us are living lives that are in need of drastic change. That’s a given. When we focus on the one necessary thing, we begin to tap into the resources needed to realize an effective change in our direction. This is what Jesus meant by His comment to the disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:25, 31, 33, RSV).

I believe it is only when we understand the importance of Jesus’s urgent instructions to make God the center of our lives that we can better see what is at stake. We will understand who we are, why we are here, and why things happen the way we do. This cannot be achieve through our human wisdom or understanding. We can’t grasp the things of the Spirit while focusing on the flesh. A heart set first on the Father’s kingdom is also a heart that is properly oriented toward the spiritual life. Thankfully, Jesus provided an exemplar for us to follow when refocusing our attention in this manner.

We see that Jesus was not merely a zealot who ran around the Holy Land espousing some “new wave” approach to life. He was not interested in seeking a “self-fulfilled” life. Rather, everything we know from Scripture is that Jesus was concerned with only one thing: To do the will of the Father. From His very first public utterance in the Temple, He made this abundantly clear. “‘Why were you searching for me?’” he asked. “’Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?'” (Luke 2:49, NIV). The footnote provided for this verse at blueletterbible.org says, “be about my Father’s business.” Jesus was quick to tell his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19, RSV). In other words, Jesus wants us to understand that without God nothing is possible. Moreover, with God nothing is impossible.

Consider this thought: Jesus is not our Savior simply because of what He said to us or did for us of His own accord. He is our Savior because what He said and did was said and done in obedience to the Father. Paul expressed this in Romans 5:19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19, RSV). This speaks of an all-embracing love—for the Father and for us. We cannot understand the impact of the richness of Jesus’s ministry until we see how everything He did was rooted in one thing: Listening to the Father and obeying out of the power of a perfect and unconditional love.

When Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life, He was not merely stating that everything He said was true. It was, of course, but He meant something much deeper. He was not speaking of an idea, concept, or doctrine, but He was talking about true relationship. I believe that’s why we cannot quash the nagging sense of meaningless alone; rather, it must be understood through relationship with Jesus and with the Father. It is only by first loving God, then loving our neighbor as ourselves, that we can hope to find the connectedness many of us are desperately searching for day after day. When our lives become a continuation of Jesus’s life and ministry, we begin to see the paramount importance of being connected with Him and the Father in order to experience connectedness to our “selves” and others.

Concluding Remarks

It is in and through the Father’s kingdom that we find the Holy Spirit, who will guide us, heal us, challenge us, and convict us. This is the very mechanism for renewal. Moreover, this is not merely hitting the “heavenly lottery.” The words, “all other things will be given you as well” express that God’s love and care extends to our whole being. When we set our sights on Him. we come to understand how God keeps us in the palm of His hand. We learn not to worry, project, or become hopeless. We avoid the trap of emotional upset, including anxiety and depression. We become lifted up into God’s unconditional love and care. A change in our hearts leads to a change in our perspective, and this is the very meaning of developing a Christian worldview.

References

Entwistle, D. (2015). Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd Ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008) Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, 2nd Ed. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

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

Do You Want To Leave a “Trace” or a “Legacy” When You’re Gone?

The question came up in a recent sermon at my church, “Do you want to leave a trace, basically some small amount of evidence that you were here on Earth, or would you rather leave a legacy.” I immediately thought, A legacy of course. I’d much rather leave a legacy. That would be great, but how do I do that? I’ve left plenty of “traces” of my existence.Some of them were horrible. Things I wish I could erase from my memory. Some I wish could be “pardoned” or “expunged.” But nope, they’re permanent. Indelible. Dirty deeds. Horrific statements. Betrayal. Lies. Bad lapses in judgment. Unfortunately, some of the traces I’ve left are things I am afraid will overpower the good.

Legacy: What It Means and Why It’s Important

The word legacy is generally used to describe property that we leave to our heirs when we die. But every human being also leaves behind a non-material legacy. One that’s harder to define, but often far more important. This type of legacy comprises a lifetime of relationships, accomplishments, truths, and values, and it lives on in those whose lives we’ve touch. The dictionary defines legacy as a gift or a bequest, that is handed down, endowed or conveyed from one person to another. It is something one comes into possession of that is transmitted, inherited or received from a predecessor. It is to cause or allow something originating from an ancestral or prior generational source to spread between people, or provide something freely and naturally.

I encourage you to think about the kind of legacy you want to be remembered for. Knowing how you want to be remembered helps you decide how to live and work today. I’d like to leave a legacy of excellence. In order for me to do so, it is  important that I strive every day to be like Jesus Christ. That I remember the dozens of negative actions I undertook as a teenager, and even later in my life, are no longer who I am. This is paramount to being able to attain even the slightest degree of excellence. When we cease trying to good all by ourself, and instead try to be more like Christ, we inspire excellence in others. This can be accomplished in many ways. Whether you like it or not, you serve as a role model for your children, your friends and your colleagues. People are always watching us. Especially non-believers. If we’re successful and happy, and if we give off a good vibe in our pursuit of excellence, that tends to raise the standards and behaviors of everyone around us. Our new life in Christ is our greatest legacy.

It’s quite simple, really. The way we behave around others can lift them up or bring them down. The Bible instructs us to edify one another. The Greek word for edification in the New Testament is oikodomeo, which translates literally as “to build a house.” The word appears in the King James Bible only about 20 times, and then only in the New Testament. It is translated into phrases such as “building up” in more modern translations. Interestingly, its usage is also found in Paul’s letters. The dictionary definition of edify is “to instruct and improve, especially in moral and religious knowledge.” According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the word indicates promotion of “spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.”

Vine’s definition captures the meaning rather well. Edification is more than just encouragement; it includes any activity that results in more Christlike behavior, either in oneself or in another. Edification may be individual or corporate. Individually, we can edify ourselves by participating in the various spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, worship, etc).

Another component of leaving a lasting legacy is encouragement. Lifting people up rather than putting them down. Twenty years from now when people bring up your name, what do you want them to remember? The way you encouraged them in times of trouble, or how you discouraged them with comments like “it will never work?” You can be that person that someone will call five, ten or twenty years from now and say “Thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

It is also important that we have a sense of purpose in life. People are most energized when they are using their strengths and talents for a purpose beyond themselves. In order to leave a legacy of purpose, you have to make your life about something bigger than you. Although it’s true we are not going to live forever in our earthly bodies, we will live on through the legacy we leave and the positive impact we make on the world. It’s been said that we should be motivated to leave this world in better shape than the way we found it.

Love is a very big part of leaving a lasting legacy. Literally nothing of value can be accomplished unless it is done with a heart full of love. Love is obviously the opposite of self-centeredness. I often think about my ex-wife Gisela, who moved out of the country shortly after we got divorced. When I think about her, I don’t recall her faults, or mistakes, or the disagreements we had. After all, who is perfect? But what I remember most about her was her love for me. She genuinely loved me. (Well, she was my high school sweetheart, and she gave me my first child.) The legacy of love Gisela left me I am now able to share with others. Sharing a legacy of love has the capacity to embrace generations to come.

Legacy creates unity consciousness. It is not an entity, but an ongoing activity, and it is what you do between here and eternity. The lens of legacy gives you a view of your life from a generational perspective, where you become aware of the desire to live beyond yourself, focusing instead on making a difference in the lives of others.

For both young and old, the power of legacy enables us to live fully on in the future. You become aware that you are part of a larger community, a community that must remember its history in order to build its future. This is caring combined with conscience. There is wisdom to be found in each other – linking action and reflection to deal with complex problems. And there is victory to be found in Christ.

Legacy is very much about life and living.