Thursday, August 16, 2018

CAN LOVE CONQUER ALL?




While love can overcome evil (Romans 12:21), often it doesn’t. To think otherwise is to minimize the power of evil and to neglect the lessons of history.

David had shown unmatched love to his oppressor, King Saul, in many ways. However, Saul had become very jealous of David and had even convinced himself that David was trying to usurp his crown. Therefore, on many occasions, he sought to kill David. On one occasion, as he pursued David, he grabbed some shut-eye in cave where David and his men were hiding. They counseled David to take Saul’s life. However, David explained that he wouldn’t touch the “Lord’s anointed.” Instead, he cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

After Saul arose and walked to the other side of the valley, David called to him and explained that he could have killed Saul. When Saul saw that David had merely cut the corner his robe, instead of thrusting the sword through him, he was moved to tears:

·       He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the LORD put me into your hands. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the LORD reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Swear to me therefore by the LORD that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” (1 Samuel 24:17-21 ESV)

It seems that love had conquered evil. However, to believe this is to minimize the power of evil. In just a short time, Saul was again pursuing David’s life without the slightest provocation. On this occasion, David and Abishai sneaked into Saul’s encampment as they slept. Once again, instead of killing his enemy, David merely absconded with Saul’s sword. Once they reached safety on a distant hilltop, David called to Saul holding the evidence of his good intentions – Saul’s sword:

·       Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake…Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” (1 Samuel 26:21, 25)

Certainly, after this occasion, Saul had learned the lesson love, and love had conquered evil? There is absolutely no evidence of this. Instead, David continued to flee King Saul, even though he was now more occupied by the invasion of the Philistines, which had resulted in his death.

The life of Saul demonstrates the overwhelming power of sin to those who willingly succumb to its seductions. Saul had no excuse. He had been a good king, chosen by God, and abundantly blessed. On many occasions, God’s Spirit had rested upon Saul. He had even prophesied as one of the Prophets of Israel. However, Saul later became aware that the Spirit of God had departed from him, because of his rebellion against God, and had been replaced by an evil Spirit (1 Samuel 16:14-16), which tormented him. However, he never repented of his consistent pattern disobedience against the Lord.

These accounts also display the limitations of love, even the most persistent and self-sacrificial love. Since love can fail, these accounts also demonstrate the need for something else – God’s justice and judgments.

Today, there is a growing disdain for judgment and punishment along with the idea that God will judge, even with a judgment that carries eternal consequences. Many now refuse to believe in such a righteous God, preferring a god of their own making, a soft-cuddly god, on with whom they feel comfortable, whose medicine chest only contains love. However, as any parent can tell us, love also requires discipline and punishment.

Because the West tends to believe that enough love will conquer all, therapy and rehabilitation have displaced punishment as the treatment of choice. The West no longer has any patience with the concept of “evil.” Instead, we have adopted the therapeutic model that claims that we are merely a product of our environment, and products do not deserve punishment. However, we should not forsake the club for the sake of the carrot. When we find that love cannot conquer all, we also recognize that both have their place.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

THE HOPE OF ATHEISM




An atheist just sent out a message to advertise a talk. I thought that it was very reflective of the faith of atheism: 1. There is no evidence of Intelligent Design, and 2. We humans are great because we are able to navigate a design-less world with a body containing “so many design flaws”:

·       As professor of biology…explains how our evolutionary history is nothing if not a litany of mistakes, a big pile of compromises. But that's also a testament to our greatness -- humans have so many design flaws precisely because we are very, very good at getting around them.

In order to make room for “our greatness,” God must be dethroned from any place exulting His greatness. According to the atheist, our bodies are filled with “design flaws.” However, these flaws show off our heroism in persevering despite these “imperfections.”

I don’t want to challenge the first part of atheistic faith. So many have already demonstrated, far more ably than I could do, that we are a wonder of coordinated design. Instead, I am more interested in examining what atheism puts in the place of God.

Ultimately, their hope is a vain attempt to invent meaning in a world that they regard as meaningless, purposeless, and godless. However, our nature requires that we believe in a world of meaning and purpose. If our lives have no purpose, then we must invent a purpose, one which we find pleasurable, as when we assert our greatness. However, such a hope will fail us. It had failed the late and great novelist Norman Mailer:

·       “I think we are all healthier if we think there is some importance in what we’re doing. …When it seems like my life is meaningless, I feel closer to despair. I like life to have meaning.”

Well, what’s the matter with a diet of endless sex, cruises, gourmet foods, and thoughts about our greatness? The pleasure just doesn’t last for very long, like the whiff of a rose whose scent can only be enjoyed for a brief moment.

King Solomon had everything that anyone could ever desire – endless power, money, women, and any other pleasure he wanted. Yet he was miserable and despaired of life:

  • Ecclesiastes 1:8-9 “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

·       Eccl. 2:17-18 “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.”

Even though he was reputed to have been the wisest man in the world, his wisdom wasn’t able to provide the very thing that he longed for – meaning and purpose. Nor did he ever consider the possibility that his wisdom or power could create them or his money buy them.

Nor can we find this fulfillment by merely stroking ourselves with the assurances that we are great, even if we call ourselves “brights,” “freethinkers,” or other grandiose terms. Such a hope is a vain and self-centered hope and looks as appealing as someone playing with himself in the street.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

IS IT ARROGANT TO BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN GOD’S HEART?




The late and much esteemed atheist, Christopher Hitchens, never hid his contempt for religion:

  • “I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with 'you' in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.” (“Hitch 22: A Memoir”)

Well, perhaps the universe was designed with us in mind. To believe so is no more arrogant than saying, “My wife loves me above all other men.” Besides, I like the idea that the universe was created with me in mind, more so than if it had my turtle in mind.

Is this a matter of arrogance? Of all people, I’m surprised that Hitchens would demonstrate such contempt against this questionable “display” of arrogance. I didn’t invent the idea that humanity is God’s greatest and most beloved creation. However, I must admit that this revelation of God’s love fills me with gratefulness.

DOES THE GROWTH OF EDUCATION MEAN THE DECLINE OF CHRISTIANITY?




Does Christianity feed off ignorance? Nicknamed "The Great Agnostic," Robert G. Ingersoll (1833 –1899) was a lawyer, a Civil War veteran, and politician. He had written:

·       As people become more intelligent they care less for preachers and more for teachers.

Today, many find this stance believable. After all, our universities are now populated by agnostics and atheists, suggesting that education is opposed to the Christian faith.

Well, it depends upon the nature of the “education.” Today’s Western Universities are committed to Darwinism, secular humanism, moral relativism, naturalism, materialism, free sex, multiculturalism, Marxism and other worldviews or religions that vehemently oppose Christianity. However, Western education wasn’t always this way.

Alexis de Tocqueville, French statesman, historian and social philosopher, wrote “Democracy in America” (1835). It has been described as "the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written." Tocqueville notes that the philosophers both of his day and of the 18th century also believed that the most enlightened will become the least religious. However, he argued that the facts did not support their glib assessment:

·       Unfortunately, the facts are by no means in accordance with their theory. There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equaled by their ignorance and their debasement, while in America one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world fulfils all the outward duties of religion with fervor…In America I found that they (freedom and the Christian faith) intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country. (202)

Tocqueville concluded that religion and education go together:

·       In the Eastern States the instruction and practical education of the people have been most perfected, and religion has been most thoroughly amalgamated with liberty. (212)

This agreement between education and Christianity should not take us by surprise. Although secularism has been able to remove the crosses and Bibles from public places, it has not yet been able to remove hospital names of the likes of “St. Mary’s” or “Methodist Hospital” or “Presbyterian Medical Center” -- a remaining testimony to the fact that Christianity and education are married. Perhaps the only reason that our Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Brown still retain their names, is because their names do not reveal their Christian origin. All were started as Bible schools to train pastors and testify to the integral role that education plays in Christianity.

Ironically, today’s universities have washed their hands of their parents and pretend that they were the sired by secularism. They scornfully proclaim that the West progressed in technology and science because it succeeded in shedding its religious mantle. However, historian Rodney Stark offers a very different assessment:

·       “Rather, the West is said to have surged ahead precisely as it overcame religious barriers…Nonsense, The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.” (“The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success,” xi)

Nevertheless, many of the new atheists proclaim that Christianity can’t do anything right. While they charge that Christians can’t do science, since our minds are already made up, the facts protest against this indictment. British scientist Robert Clark sums up the evidence this way:

·       “However we may interpret the fact, scientific development has only occurred in Christian culture. The ancients had brains as good as ours. In all civilizations—Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, India, Rome, Persia, China and so on—science developed to a certain point and then stopped. It is easy to argue speculatively that, perhaps, science might have been able to develop in the absence of Christianity, but in fact, it never did. And no wonder. For the non-Christian world believed that there was something ethically wrong about science. In Greece, this conviction was enshrined in the legend of Prometheus, the fire-bearer and prototype scientist who stole fire from heaven, thus incurring the wrath of the gods.” (“Christian Belief and Science,” quoted by Henry F. Schaefer, 14)

Likewise, secularism likes to boast that it is the author of equality and justice. However, the renowned secular philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, reminded us that:

·       “Christianity and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source.”

The belief that Christianity feeds off ignorance is a relatively new belief in the West. However, it is being promoted with evangelistic zeal  and driven with the hammer of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.

IS OUR FAITH IN JESUS A BLIND FAITH?




For some, faith in Jesus might be blind. They might not choose to “make it their own” by evaluating reasons and evidences. However, this doesn’t mean that faith is always blind, although many claim that faith is opposed to reason and the evidences.

This idea is commonly promoted by atheists. The late cosmologist, Carl Sagan, had stated:

·       You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep-seated need to believe.

This is certainly not the position of the Bible. The Apostle John had written about the need for supportive evidences and reasons-to-believe:

·       Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 ESV)

What John had written reflects the posture of the rest of the Bible, which NEVER teaches that we should just believe with any evidences, even if they are very personal reasons. Jesus even taught that He shouldn’t be believed unless there were evidences for belief:

·       “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.” (John 5:31-32)

Jesus then cited the corroborating testimonial evidence of John the Baptist, the Father, Scripture, and His miracles. Later, He taught:

·       “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)

Admittedly, Jesus castigated His disciples for not believing, but His criticism wasn’t based on any lack of evidence but on the very presence of mounds of evidence.

Besides, many of us have embraced Jesus because we had become convinced of the evidence for Jesus. I had been a Zionist, committed to my Jewish identity and the State of Israel. The idea of becoming a Christian was not only foreign to me. It was actually repugnant. Nevertheless, I embraced Jesus because of the undeniable evidences.

Consequently, there exists no opposition between the facts and the Christian faith. It’s not that the facts oppose the Christian faith but rather friends, family, and society. Our commitment to follow Jesus will eventually put us at odds with the world.

Admittedly, there are times when the light of reason alone will fail to adequately light our path. King David was overwhelmed by his many enemies and cried out to God for His deliverance. The evidence alone would not sustain His faith that God would deliver Him. Why not? Eventually, we all succumb to the inevitability of death. Instead, David had to trust in the Lord. He therefore recalled how God had rescued him in the past and found the confidence to proclaim:

·       And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant. (Psalm 143:12)

However, even in this, David wasn’t left to exercise a blind faith. Instead, he knew His God, His promises, and what God had done for him. As a result of this knowledge, he was comforted.