Wednesday, September 30, 2009

God-Actualization vs. Self-Actualization

What’s life about? For many, it’s about proving that they are a “somebody.” Some call it “self-actualization.” The late and influential psychologist Abraham Maslow made this term into an emblem for the “me-generation.” According to psychiatrist Sally Satel, Maslow maintained that, in order to flourish,

"Human beings must first satisfy their basic needs for food, water, shelter, and safety. As soon as these basic needs are met, a new set emerges: “belonging needs” and “esteem needs”…Individuals who felt safe, loved, and confident…could then move on to a higher state of creative or ethical being…"(One Nation Under Therapy, 60)

This is Maslow’s arduous ladder of success to self-actualization. It’s essentially up to us. However,

"Maslow claimed that only a small percentage of human beings, no more than 2 percent manage to reach this higher stage of being."

Not very encouraging to those of us who want to be the “somebodies.” Nevertheless, Maslow continues to remain popular among the multitudes, all assured that they are the 2 percent! Such is human arrogance and denial!

In contrast to this, in Christ, we are all important and beloved (Ephesians 3:17-20). We don’t have to worry if we’ll make it because we’ve arrived (Galatians 2:20)! It’s no longer about us, but about Him (Romans 8:31-32)! He has taken charge of our lives, and we represent His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). We don’t have to worry whether we are good enough for this honor—and we aren’t!—because He has given us the gift of His righteousness:

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)

What a relief to be God-actualized!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Problem of Suffering and the Existence of God

The Word of God is an offense. It was to Charles Darwin. He rejected the Scriptures because he couldn’t fathom how perfectly good people would have to endure eternal judgment just because they had rejected Christ. Bart Ehrman, head of the religion department at the University of North Carolina, similarly rejected the Word and God because of suffering. He balked at how a God, who is supposed to be all-powerful and all-loving, could allow the Katrinas and tsunamis.

Rejecting God because He fails to conform to our tastes or preconceptions has always been a common human response, especially among the privileged and educated. Naaman had been the “commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy” (2 Kings 5:1). Consequently, he swallowed his pride and journeyed to Israel to see a healer-prophet named Elisha, who gave the proud Naaman instructions to bathe in the muddy Jordan river seven times to heal him. This angered Naaman. Not only had Elisha snubbed him, but his instructions seemed ridiculous. Naaman reasoned that if he was to be healed, it should be in a clean Syrian river and not in the muddy Jordan! He now prepared to return to Syria, cursing the day he condescended to visit the prophet.

How we desire to be in control, maintain our “dignity” and live according to our own understanding, albeit limited! And how we scorn any of our needs that reveal our insufficiencies and insecurities!

Naaman’s wise servant reasoned with his master: "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'" (2 Kings 5:13)!

These words of wisdom convinced Naaman to take the plunge and receive the healing for which he had come. How were the words of the servant so wise? They reflect the fact that we have needs that we cannot meet and powers that we lack. They also suggest that laying aside our “dignity” in the face of our predicaments might be the most appropriate response, instead of stubbornly clutching to our own ways and understandings.

In conclusion, we are all Naamans! We all face dying, death and many other painful limitations and infirmities. It is the height of arrogance to face down the forces pitted against us with the defiant assertion that “I’m the captain of my own ship, and I can navigate it just fine, thank you!” Indeed, we might be the captain, but ours is a ship that won’t stay afloat for long if we cling to self-trust and narrow judgments.

Scripture never asks us to park our mind by the door, but it does require that we become fittingly humble about our limited mental powers (1 Corinthians 8:2). In the midst of his inexplicable suffering, Job began to think that he had a great enough grasp of his situation to bring accusations against God. In the end, God didn’t show Job that he shouldn’t try to make sense out of his painful situation, but that he had to temper his indictments by the fact that he understood so little about God’s glorious creation and His sometimes inscrutable ways. God did this by asking Job a series of provocative questions, none of which Job could answer.

Darwin is long dead, but many Darwins still live. I think we can do them a great service by “modernizing” God’s questions:

1. Can you understand how everything came out of nothing?
2. Can you account for the origins of life, or even how just one of its many cellular machines came into being?
3. Can you account for the origin of the physical laws of nature or what maintains them, or why these laws act uniformly throughout the universe?
4. Can you count the stars or see to the end of the universe?
5. Can you even define life or light?
6. Do you understand the sub-atomic particles that comprise this material world? Can you predict their movements?

If we can’t answer these very basic questions, how can we condemn both God and Scripture for not agreeing with our assessments? Indeed, we can judge God, but it might bring down on us heaven’s laughter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Cosmological Proof

“Well, who created God?” he asserted defiantly, after I had presented him with several lines of evidence in favor of an Intelligent Designer. Although this is a good question, it is also unfair. When I ask the naturalist (Darwinist), “Who created the natural forces or laws,” he usually responds, “This isn’t a concern of science!” If this is a legitimate answer, then it’s also legitimate for me to respond, “God’s origin and His eternality don’t concern me either! It’s enough for me that the existence God explains everything around me, and so parsimoniously!”

The notion that we don’t have to provide an explanation for God’s origin isn’t merely a flippant response. Apologist and president of Stand to Reason, Greg Koukl, explains,

“If you see shoe-prints in the sand, you don’t need to know the manufacturer of the shoe in order to know that shoes made the imprints….An explanation can be a good one even if you do not have an explanation for the explanation.” (Solid Ground, May/June, 2008)

Koukl argues that our arguments for God, from the design we find around us, are still valid even if incomplete. However, there’s a more satisfying answer that comes packaged in the cosmological argument for God’s existence. It argues that something or Someone has to be eternal because the alternative—everything jumped into existence uncaused from nothing—is an affront to both science and our observations. Things just don’t happen; they have causes.

If we can agree here, this leaves us with just two possibilities:

1) The universe is eternal and without cause, or
2) A Supreme Causer (outside of time and space) is eternal and without cause.

The first possibility is surrounded by insurmountable challenges. First of all, science has largely abandoned the “steady state” theory, which claims that the universe always existed, in favor of the Big Bang theory, that the universe, including time and space, had a beginning. According to Steven Hawking, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning in the Big Bang.”

Secondly, if the universe always existed, there can be no adequate explanation for anything. Whatever explanation is offered requires its own explanation to account of it. This goes on infinitely, each cause passing the buck to the prior cause (the problem of infinite regress), and therefore becomes absurd. We can never arrive at any ultimate cause. You can argue that God isn’t an explanation either, but it’s more logically coherent to base the ultimate explanation in Someone who doesn’t require an explanation than in a matter-energy universe, which always does require explanations. (Matter-energy events just don’t happen without causes!)

Lastly, the idea of an eternal universe is logically unsustainable. If we can’t count up to an eternal or infinitely numbered year in the future (and we can’t), we can’t do this going back into the past. If this is so, then it is logically impossible to ever arrive in the present by passing through an infinite number of years in the past. If this is mind-boggling, then so too is the idea of infinite time!

We are left with God, however uncomfortable this might make us. OK, we can’t get our mind around the fact that God always existed, but the alternatives are unacceptable, at least if you think about them for a bit.

“God Doesn’t Exist! He’s Just a Childish Idea?”

Usually, I advise Christians to turn the tables on the atheist and ask, “What evidence do you have that God doesn’t exist?” However, there are some proofs that are just so succinct, beautiful, and elegant, that you should have some of them in your tool box. Take the formula for the gravitational attraction between two bodies:

Gravitational Attraction = 1/ (distance separation between two bodies)²

Here’s how it works. Let’s say that we weigh 100 pounds here on the surface of the earth (4,000 miles from the center of the earth). If instead we were twice as far from the center (2x²), we would weigh 25 pounds! About this, Donald DeYoung wrote:

“Scientist have long wondered about the factor of [superscript] 2 in this expression. It simply looks “too neat.” In an evolved universe, one would not expect such a simple relationship. For example, why isn’t the distance factor 1.99 or 2.001? The gravity force has been repeatedly tested with sensitive torsion balances, showing that the factor is indeed precisely 2…Any value other than 2 would lead to an eventual catastrophic decay of orbits and of the entire universe” (Astronomy and the Bible, 137-38)

Such precision can’t be the product of chance, and this formula isn’t unusual in its beauty and elegance. The whole world of physics is constructed to point to a Designer. Take for example our most famous formula—-E = MC² (Energy = Mass x Speed of Light x Speed of Light)—which enables you to calculate how much energy you have in your very impressive body:

Here too, we find the same elegance and precision—the speed of light must be precisely squared. These formulas also demonstrate the amazing interconnectedness of various physical elements—energy, mass and the speed of light. Such harmony defies the idea of a random creation by a explosion we call the “Big Bang,” and also has long prompted scientist to find that one unifying force or factor that unifies all the otherwise disparate elements. (For many of us, God is the only possible hub for all the spokes, but He’s also the very hub that others have rejected!) Furthermore, as DeYoung pointed out, these forces are calibrated just right for the continuation of an orderly universe.

Big explosions and tornadoes tearing up junkyards can’t produce this type of order as astronomer, Fred Hoyle, had reasoned:

“The chance that higher life forms arose by evolutionary processes is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the material therein.”

Nevertheless, intelligent people continue to believe in the “junkyard to Boeing” theory? Why? Paul has a perfectly reasonable explanation for this:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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 men are without excuse“ (Romans 1:18-20).

The problem isn’t a lack of evidence; but a matter of preference.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Blessings of Enlightened Self-Interest

Atheist Victor Nuovo, professor of philosophy at Middlebury College, believes that we don’t need God to be good ("Rutland Herald," Oct. 4, 07). Instead, “self-love” will guide us into all goodness:

“This principle transforms itself into a rational desire for community. We cherish and enjoy this life for others as well as ourselves; we care for each other as parts of infinite nature; we become persons and lovers of nature; and we endeavor not only to preserve each other in being but also to promote a shared happiness through acts of kindness, through friendliness, and also through laws [call them laws of nature] and institutions that foster and promote life.”

According to Nuovo, if we’re truly selfish, we’ll selfishly want the best for others. Indeed, selfishness might lead us to be kind, but it also seems to breed jealousy, revenge, theft, lying, gossip, and even warfare. At this point, the atheist might respond, “Wait a second. I’m talking about enlightened selfishness! If we really pursue our ultimate self-interests with wisdom, we’ll act in loving ways towards others! If we don’t, we’ll pay a high price in the long run.”

Although selfishness and far-sighted wisdom may lead us to live in harmony with conscience and society, they still leave us far short of Nuovo’s loving community. Just look at our multi-national corporations. They are certainly self-interested and far-sighted. They must be in order to protect their extensive investments, and they may do some good public-relations work and build a few schools. However, they still need require regulations backed by stiff sanctions to keep them “honest.”

However, even if enlightened self-interest is adequate to produce heaven on earth, the atheist is still in serious danger of encountering God. As the rays of light are traceable back to our sun, all truth points back to God. If the atheist is true to his principle of enlightened self-interest, this too should lead him into God’s embrace.

Just think of it--- self-interest made us say “Yes!” to Christ’s call. It would have been pure foolishness to reject life in favor of misery. In God, the Evidence, Patrick Glynn asserts that those with religious belief do far better physically and emotionally:

“Religious belief is one of the most consistent correlates of overall mental health and happiness. Study after study has shown a powerful relationship between religious belief and practice, on the one hand, and healthy behaviors with regard to such problems as suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, depression, even, perhaps surprisingly, levels of sexual satisfaction in marriage, on the other” (pg. 61).

Does Nuovo truly believe in enlightened self-interest, or did he merely expect it to provide a safe haven from God? If he is sincere, he needs to do some praying.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The True Hunger of the Self

Psychologist James Hillman understandably insists that we have to recover a glimpse of our true destiny from the deadening materialistic ways we usually interpret our lives:

“We dull our lives by the way we conceive then…By accepting the idea that I am the effect of…hereditary and social forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents.” (The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, Random House, 6)

Hillman so clearly recognizes the emptiness of a life built upon merely genetics and “societal accidents” and reminded me of my own self-despair. Years of psychotherapy had stripped me of any conception of dignity, meaning, honor, value, or purpose. I had become nothing more than a result, and the only source of value or purpose left open to me was that of enjoying my now painful and dysfunctional life, something far outside of my grasp.

Although my Jewishness seemed to give me some sense of meaning, I couldn’t identify how! Was my connection to the Jewish people merely a matter of being a part of a long-persecuted people? Did Hitler make me feel Jewish? And should I allow Hitler to have the privilege in shaping my identity? Wasn’t this pathological, and wasn’t I supposed to be aiming towards a wellness-identity? Certainly my Jewishness transcended my own pathetic circumstances and connected me to 4000 years of history, but everyone else’s ethnic history took them back this far. Although they might not be able to attach a name to their ethnicity as I could, I seemed to be no better off for it. An ancient pedigree might mean a lot to a brewery, but how would this help me?

Hillman’s own answer points beyond this life:

“As explained by the greatest of later Platonists, Plotinus, we elected the body, the parents, the place, and the circumstances that suited the soul…This suggests that the circumstances, including my body and my parents whom I may curse, are my soul’s own choice.” (p. 8)

Is this biography or identity an improvement over the genetic and “societal accidents” biography most of us are stuck with? I don’t think so. Although it might broaden the scope of our lives chronologically, it fails to broaden them meaningfully. Life, identity, and biography are still centered upon the depressing and bungling god of self! Instead, our deepest longing envisions a connection to something greater than self, to the Source of all meaning and truth, to a Place where we can find rest for our weary souls:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-30).

When we fail to find ourselves through Christ, we condemn ourselves to chase after the autographs of the rich and famous, or to affiliate with the in-groups, or to recover our “past lives,” because our present one just ain’t enough.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

God's Evidences

In Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, David Klinghoffer writes,

"The Talmud states that from forty years before the Temple's destruction and onward, there were supernatural omens of the disaster to come--that is, starting from the inception of the Christian religion following the death of Jesus. The eternal fire of the Temple altar would not stay lit. The monumental bronze Temple gates opened by themselves. Josephus confirms the Talmud's account of the inner Sanctuary's east gate and its mysterious openings. He adds other portents from these years: a bright light shinning around the altar and the Sanctuary at three in the morning, a cow brought for sacrifice giving birth to a lamb, apparitions of chariots and armies flying through the sky above the whole land of Israel." (pg. 117)

Why would someone trying to debunk Christianity make such an incredible admission? Klinghoffer adds, "Was God not warning the people of the disastrous course some [the Jewish Christians] had set out upon?"
But the Christians had fled to safety across the Jordan to Pella! According to Klinghoffer, it was the Christians who should have been penalized for their heresy. However, it was the Jews who didn’t believe in Christ, who were left to pay the price.

What is even more striking about this confession is the timing of the omens. They began, according to Klinghoffer, at approximately the time of the Crucifixion (30AD) and lasted for forty years until the destruction of the Temple. Omens are warnings of doom which culminated in the destruction of the Temple, when all the signs stopped. But what were the people doing that warranted God’s warning? Klinghoffer asserts that the warnings were directed towards the Jewish Christians who had gone astray. However, if this had been the case, calamity should have fallen on them. Instead, it fell upon the nation of Israel. Why? Israel had refused to repent of their sins and seek God’s mercy, as Jesus had warned:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Bible on Trial

One of the headlines of the Sept. 9, 2009 edition of WorldNetDaily reads:

“'Gay' man sues Bible publisher for 'mental anguish'
$10 million sought for 'negative connotation' toward homosexuals”

Why “mental anguish?” The claimant says “the company published Bibles with a negative connotation toward homosexuals.” Were these Bibles different from others? No! They simply contained the standard verses against the practice of homosexuality.

I certainly can’t doubt the fact that the Bible has caused him anguish. (It has caused me some degree of anguish on occasion!) Nor do I want to be insensitive to the claimant’s struggle. However, I do think that it is unreasonable to try to silence every voice that might bring us some discomfort. After all, I would suspect that he is bringing some anguish with his suit against the Bible publisher. If not anguish, at least some discomfort over the expense of a protracted court battle.

In order to illustrate the absurdity of this type of claim, let’s look at a few examples. Should our Bibles also remove reference to the sins of adultery, theft, and bitterness because these denunciations might be causing someone some discomfort? Well, it seems like there is a place for a bit of discomfort, especially for those causing others pain.

But if the Bible is going to remove its uncomfortable references to homosexuality, how about its references to the various people-groups that fall into its scope? Frankly, the Bible doesn’t have much positive to say about any peoples—not the Jews, Egyptians, Babylonians, Canaanites, or anyone else. After all, it shouldn’t, since we are all sinners who need a Savior. That’s the Biblical message. So we shouldn’t expect the Bible to flatter our tender egos.

Let’s look at this another way. If we are to remove the offensive references from the Bible, shouldn’t we also remove them from our law books and our psychology texts. The criminal code books make us all look like criminals for not fully paying our taxes or putting quarters into our parking meters. The psych texts make us all out to be mentally ill. (Which one of us hasn’t seen himself represented in one or all of those hideous texts!) Should our books only contain pleasant references?

I don’t wish to dismiss anyone’s feelings, but it should be clear that there are more important things to consider. Occasionally, we need someone to hold up a mirror to our face to show us our faults. There is such a thing as constructive criticism. Going through the day without anyone getting into-our-face might be comfortable, but it might not be what we need. Occasionally, we need someone to speak truth to us in love, and I can think of no better source for this than the Bible.

Sadly, the young man who is bringing this suit is not alone in thinking that it’s not right for anyone or any book to bring him anguish. We have become a people who are convinced that we are entitled to feel good. Ironically, the very Book that they are assailing is the Book that provides the perfect antidote for their woes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Who Needs to Feel Guilty?

We all do! In a New York Times article of August 24, 2009, John Tierney wrote:

"Guilt in its many varieties - Puritan, Catholic, Jewish, etc. - has often gotten a bad rap, but psychologists keep finding evidence of its usefulness. Too little guilt clearly has a downside - most obviously in sociopaths who feel no remorse, but also in kindergartners who smack other children and snatch their toys.

In Dr. Kochanska's latest studies, published in the August issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she and colleagues found that 2-year-olds who showed more chagrin during a broken-toy experiment went on to have fewer behavioral problems over the next five years. That was true even for the ones who scored low on tests measuring their ability to focus on tasks and suppress strong desires to act impulsively."

These findings aren’t unusual. Nevertheless, Western civilization continues to anesthetize itself against guilt feelings in a variety of ways. Most obviously, we have a wide variety of designer-drugs to choose from and professional practitioners who are more than happy to help us experiment.

If this doesn’t scratch the itch, we can always resort to moral relativism. This is the belief that the guilty indictments emanating from our conscience aren’t really anything to be concerned about. Why? These impulses are just a matter of how we were raised and how we evolved—no big deal! This “wisdom” says something like this: “If you were raised in Irian Jaya instead of the USA, you wouldn’t feel this way. So don’t take it so seriously!”

If these strategies fail to work, there’s always the psychologist who is ready, according to his sliding-scale, to tell you that “You’re really a good person.” In any event, all of these modern strategies fail to appreciate the role of guilt feelings as one of the glues that holds us and society together.

Why has our modern “wisdom” missed this very obvious fact? I think that part of the answer is attributable to our arrogance. We Westerners assure ourselves that we know so much better than the ancients, and we therefore can safely toss aside whatever spiritual heritage they have left us.

Remarkably, our Bible has anticipated what we moderns are just beginning to re-learn. In so many ways, it has warned us to not shipwreck our conscience, instructing us that there is objective moral truth. Why had we turned aside? Perhaps because moral truth is an inconvenient truth?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Happens when the Jews Admit that Great Miracles Surrounded the Crucifixion

Adversarial testimony is particularly impressive, even more than death-bed testimony. The anti-missionary Rabbi Tuvia Singer responds to the question, “Why didn’t the red ribbon on the head of the Scapegoat turn white in 30 CE (AD)?” on his website, He reluctantly admits that:

“In Tractate Yoma 39b, the Talmud quotes a Baraisa that discusses numerous remarkable phenomena that occurred in the Temple during the Yom Kippur service. More specifically, the Talmud states that there was a strip of scarlet-dyed wool tied to the head of the scapegoat which would turn white in the presence of the large crowd gathered at the Temple on the Day of Atonement. The Jewish people perceived this miraculous transformation as a heavenly sign that their sins were forgiven. The Talmud relates, however, that 40 years before the destruction of the second Temple [approximately 30 AD] the scarlet colored strip of wool did not turn white. The text of the Talmud which missionaries quote states,”

“’The Rabbis taught that forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple [approximately from the time of the Crucifixion, 30 AD] the lot did not come up in the [high priest’s] right hand nor did the tongue of scarlet wool become white [signifying God’s forgiveness of Israel’s sins].’”

For the Christian, the interpretation explodes as dramatically as a volcano. Following the Crucifixion and its fulfillment of the Temple offerings, God was putting Israel on alert that He was no longer willing to accept animal sacrifices! (The scarlet wool would no longer become white!)

How does Singer explain the incredible coincidence of events? He claims that various miracles were gradually disappearing after the death of the High Priest, Shimon HaTzaddik, because Israel’s “dedication to the golden rule slacked off.” Singer writes,

“Sadly, we can now also understand why 40 years prior to the destruction of the second Temple this auspicious miracle ended. It was during these calamitous four decades when Isaiah’s words of condemnation were personified.”

However, this divine coincidence still remains! If God had been so angry at Jesus for deceiving the people, as Singer maintains, we’d have expected Him to grant signs of His approval at the Crucifixion instead of a sign of disapproval—that He no longer honored the scapegoat, and it would no longer take away Israel’s sins. God’s timing couldn’t have been worse, at least for Singer!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Fact of the Resurrection

While many insist that Christianity is just a matter of mindless faith, the Bible itself speaks of evidences and proofs. Let's just take the example of the resurrection:

“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)

It is by virtue of these proofs that Paul suggested that his skeptical readers to check out the validity of the resurrection claims with the many eyewitnesses still alive: “He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:6).

Although the eyewitnesses are no longer alive, we do have their highly credible accounts. I’ll lay out a few:

1. All the Church Fathers, many of whom knew the Apostles and saw them die the death of martyrs for what they believed, are unanimous about the resurrection.

2. There are the 27 books of the New Testament that all affirm this reality. These include many impressive eyewitness accounts. Some of these books had been written by people who had previously not believed in Jesus but were later convinced by the evidence of the resurrection. Paul had actually been persecuting the Church. James and Jude were brothers of Jesus who had not believed.

3. The Book of Acts records many thousands of Jewish people coming to a faith in Christ after the crucifixion. This isn’t understandable apart from a resurrection. Likewise, many people who had previously been opposed to Christ came to faith after the crucifixion. This turn-around can only be understood from the perspective of the resurrection, as Paul detailed (1 Cor. 15:1-8).

4. The Apostles, who were fleeing for the lives and had given up their faith after the crucifixion, were turned around by their experience with the resurrected Jesus who appeared to them for 40 days. These same men all became martyrs, never compromising their testimony even when offered their lives to do so. (Seldom if ever do we hear of two or three co-conspirators willing to die for a story they concocted.) Furthermore, the Mosaic Law demanded death for anyone who would teach novelties.

5. Jesus’ Apostles are regarded as highly credible for other reasons. For one thing, they never tried to portray themselves in a positive way, but were self-deprecating. They clearly had no motives to promote their own interests. They reported what they did because they genuinely were convinced of the truthfulness of their report. Even the agnostic, Bart Ehrman admits that “the oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus…are the four Gospels of the NT…This is not simply the view of Christian historians…it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity…it is the conclusion that has been reached by every one of hundreds (thousands, even) of scholars.”

6. The post-resurrection transformation of their lives, proves that the Apostles were convinced that they had seen the resurrected Jesus. The evidence for this is so compelling that “Even the atheist [Gerd] Ludemann conceded, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” (Strobel) Why then does Ludemann remain an atheist? He prefers to believe that the claims of Jesus’ appearances were all based upon 40 days of mass–hallucinations.

7. Without a Resurrection, it would have been next to impossible to account for the growth of the Church. After all, who would invest their lives in a religion where its God had been put to death in such a disgraceful way, unless there was a final and decisive chapter to this story?

8. Following the reports that Jesus had risen, both Romans and Jews were unable to produce the body. A Roman guard had been placed at the tomb to prevent the possibility that Jesus’ disciples would steal the body and claim that He rose and He had said He would. Nevertheless, the Jewish authorities had claimed that the cowardly disciples had stolen the body. However, no reputable historian takes this position. In view of this, historian William Ward, claims, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor [of the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific evidence.” (Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus) Had there been a body, the Christian assertion of the Resurrection could easily have been put to rest.

9. There is no contemporary counter-evidence. Instead, Jewish sources acknowledge that Jesus was crucified on the Passover and that He had been a worker of miracles.

10. The Christian rituals of Communion and Baptism both envision a resurrection and go back to the very beginning of the church. This suggests that the ordinary Christian believed in the resurrection even from the beginning.

11. Evidently, the New Testament evidence had been so unimpeachable, that even the writers of other religions (Gnostic Gospels) piggy-backed on their miraculous accounts of the resurrection, as they applied their own errant interpretations.

William Lane Craig therefore concludes, “All the theories, like ‘The Disciples stole the body,’ or ‘Jesus wasn’t really dead’ have been universally rejected by modern scholarship.” (Strobel)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wholistic Psychology

Fear, worry, and anxiety can overload the system leading it to close down (depression). Psychologist and author, Edward M. Hallowell, writes,

"Excessive worry is an exhausting and dangerous problem for millions of Americans. People who worry a lot suffer, as do the people close to them. Some people worry so intensely that worry becomes much more than an annoyance: it hinders their work, their personal lives and both…Like high blood pressure, excessive worry can make you physically sick, it can even kill you.” (Worry, xi)

Hallowell regards much of this thinking as irrational and resorts to cognitive therapy to identify irrational, counter-productive thinking and to correct it:

"As the negative thoughts pour in, you must question them realistically and logically. Instead of blandly saying, “Don’t worry, be happy,” you ask with a critical eye, “How much danger am I actually in? Are these catastrophic outcomes I’m imagining the only alternatives? What am I basing these conclusions on? Is there another point of view that makes any sense?” (257)

This is just good-old-common-sense, the very wisdom that God grants us! However, Hallowell also notes that many engage in demeaning self-talk like, “I’m an Idiot,” or “I’m just going to fail again,” a form of self-castigation (punishment). These too he addresses with cognitive therapy in hope of replacing the irrational thinking with the rational. But is rationality the problem?

Many find relief by inflicting themselves with either physical or mental wounds. Oddly perhaps, there’s an inner logic to this masochistic behavior. The evidence for this is that it can bring temporary relief or even pleasure. Just ask the masochist!

Although rationality is a significant issue, there are deeper issues at play, like pain and pleasure. Simply showing the “irrationality” of hurting oneself fails to address these deeper issues. These must be faced by uncovering the hidden meanings of masochism. Why do we chasten ourselves when we fail or do wrongly? For one thing, we have internal standards that we must meet. We believe that we are worthy of punishment when we fail these standards. After we’ve been punished, we feel we’ve atoned for our sin and can once again enjoy ourselves. But where does this script come from? Why must we pass through the passageway pain and punishment in order to get to the banquet hall?

Perhaps we’re born with a script that says, “If I mess up, I’m not a good and worthy person and must pay a price.” This script does seem to be pervasive and tends to explain why humankind desperately avoids failure, ridicule, rejection, and criticism—anything that might convey a sense of shame and unworthiness. If we don’t pay the price through masochism, there are a wide variety of other techniques available: blame-shifting, denial, repression, self-righteousness, elitism, workaholism, substance-abuse and even compulsive do-gooding—whatever it takes to prove our worthiness and to live with ourselves!

However, this is no more than masturbation. We have a need, and we satisfy it—a lonely, tortured, un-ending process! Instead, Christianity answers that we were never meant to forgive or punish ourselves. Instead, we were created for relationship, through which our psychological requirements can be satisfied. We know intuitively that there must be a payment. It is because of this intuitive understanding that primitive peoples have long realized that they need to make reparations, and they do this through their offerings to their gods.

Hallowell’s ultimate answer for worry is, “The situation isn’t so bad; you can do it!” We can’t do it! Human history is a tearful indictment against this presumption. Ironically, Hallowell has placed another burden upon our shoulders—the weight of our own struggling lives. We have to confront the threats; we have to change our deeply-imbedded thinking; we have to prove ourselves! In contrast to this, Christ offers the very opposite reassurance:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29).