Tuesday, June 28, 2011
After 30 years, the Cambodian people are now hoping to see justice done to the still-living leadership of Khmer Rouge (Reds), the perpetrators of the “killing fields”:
• Led by the late Pol Pot, the regime [the Khmer Rouge] was responsible for the deaths of millions of ordinary Cambodians during a four-year reign of terror…Its aim was to create a Communist utopia but instead the regime forced Cambodians into a living hell.
I’m hoping that this event might lead to a much needed re-assessment of the impact of Communism. Perhaps it’s no accident that some of the greatest genocidal butchers of history – Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot – were all committed, idealistic Communists. By some estimates, Communist idealogues murdered 100 million of their own people.
This raises the question: “Is there something endemic to Communism that leads to genocide?” I want to argue affirmatively:
1. According to them, the problem wasn’t to be found in human nature and our rejection of God, but only in certain humans – the rich and the ruling classes. The Communists divided the world into two classes of people – the good guys (the workers) and the bad (the capitalists). With this simplistic analysis, a “clear” solution emerged – change or eliminate the bad guys. However, changing people is difficult; eliminating them is easier and cost-effective.
2. Communist regimes inevitably turn dictatorial. “The Party was always correct,” and “nothing was more criminal than differing with the party leadership.” (The Tragedy of Cambodian History, D. Chandler). Consequently, there could be no accountability or examination of their policies, or any consideration of the things of conscience.
3. Communism adopted an unrealistic optimism. They convinced themselves that they could do “away with all oppression, exploitation, socioeconomic inequalities and class distinctions…in a single absolute stroke.” (Chandler, 280) If a permanent utopia could be achieved so easily, the murder of vast numbers of people to achieve this goal became justifiable. Lenin had been asked, “What is morality under Communism?” He answered, “Anything that promotes the Revolution is good. Anything that holds it back is bad.” Likewise, “In the early stages of the [Khmer Rouge] regime it was said, ‘those who stand in the path of revolution will be crushed beneath it.’” (Chandler, 254) Consequently, “violence became a virtue. Waging war became prestigious. So did smashing the enemies of the party.” (Chandler 242)
4. One of the things holding back the Revolution was religion. Therefore, God-based religion had to go, at whatever the price. However, with the elimination of religion, the human being was relegated to a mere pawn – an expendable object – to achieve the goals of the glorious Revolution, a greater good than any group of expendable individuals. The Transcendent, which imparted unalienable meaning to the individual, didn’t exist. Humanity was merely the product of evolution along with the pig, cow and mosquito.
5. Along with the destruction of religion, because of the surpassing value of their vision, Communism also sought to destroy other institutions that might have exerted a moderating influence on the violence. The family was systematically undermined. “Cambodians thirteen and fourteen years old were often taken from their homes in liberated areas and subjected to short indoctrination courses from which they emerged…’fierce in their condemnation of the old ways, contemptuous of traditional customs, and ardently opposed to religion and parental authority.’” (Chandler, 243)
6. They had convinced themselves that they were the vanguard of something great. “The Red Khmers stressed that Cambodia’s revolution was pure, unprecedented and autonomous.” (Chandler, 249) This conviction enabled them to justify all sorts of horrors – whether lying, manipulation or genocide.
Today, Communism has assumed a new persona. They no longer sound the call for violent revolution and have become more relational. The bad guys are no longer the capitalists, and the good guys are no longer simply the workers of the world. Instead, the new bad guys are the exploiters (the religious and the “ruling bureaucracy”) and the good are the exploited. Here’s how one Marxist Humanist newspaper puts it:
• “We stand for the development of new human relations, what Marx first called a new Humanism…to all who struggle for freedom…It is our aim…to promote the firmest unity among the workers, Blacks and other minorities, women, youth and those intellectuals who have broken with the ruling bureaucracy of both capital and labor.” (Constitution of “News and Letters”)
The sides have slightly shifted, but the solution remains the same – intimidate and silence those opposed to change until the good guys come to power. And then we’ll have our utopia!
Monday, June 27, 2011
With an air of assurance, Claire declared, “I don’t believe anyone can know the ultimate answers, but I also don’t think the ultimate answers are important. We can find peace and our meaning in life in the fact that we’re living our lives the best way we can!”
What Claire is saying in effect is that “I know that you can’t know.” How can she say she can know and deny that possibility of knowledge to the other person! A simple question might prove helpful at this point – “Do you know that other people cannot know the ultimate answers?” If Claire answers “yes,” then you can ask, “How is it that you can know, but others can’t know?” If instead, Claire admits that she really doesn’t know, then she might be open to searching. In regards to this, Jesus promised:
• "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Whenever a statement is logically incoherent, it also cannot line up with the evidence. If Claire was to be asked, “What evidence do you have that these questions can’t be answered,” she would be unable to provide any. To make this assertion, she would first have to survey every claim to ultimate truth and then prove that all of these claims are baseless – something impossible to do!
More seriously, she denies that “ultimate answers are important.” However, when we lack these answers, we suffer. Jewish philosopher and theologian, Abraham Heschel wrote:
• “It’s not enough for me to be able to say ‘I am’; I want to know who I am and in relation to whom I live. It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for”
Similarly, the novelist Norman Mailer wrote:
• “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. That is not to say you have to jump into meaning and find it where there is none.”
Claire might agree that we need meaning, but she evidently thinks that she can establish her own meaning “where there is none.” However, life’s purpose, which can infuse the Christian so effortlessly, is beyond reach of those who don’t know the God of the Bible. If God cannot be known, then His purpose for our lives is going to remain uncertain. In contrast to this, Jesus claimed that He derived His ultimate nourishment by serving His Father:
• "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)
Christians can attest that there is real satisfaction in knowing that they are serving their Savior. However, it’s not just Christians who recognize the necessity of living in concert with our values. Author Karen Wright wrote approvingly of this need,
• “Eudemonia refers to a state of well-being and full functioning that derives from a sense of living in accordance with one’s deeply held values.” (Psychology Today, May 2008, 76)
I would imagine that Claire agrees with this broadly-accepted principle. However, she believes that she can establish her own meaning and purpose for her life, but this isn’t easy. For one thing, if she hasn’t answered the “ultimate” questions, her created purpose will feel arbitrary and empty and will not give her the sense of meaning which she desires.
Besides, we need assurance that this meaning is connecting us to something greater than ourselves. It isn’t sufficient to merely imagine a purpose. It’s like telling someone who wants to get married to simply imagine the ideal spouse and to enjoy this spouse in her mind. Instead, we crave what is real.
In addition to these problems, Claire thinks that “We can find peace and our meaning in life in the fact that we’re living our lives the best way we can?” However, if she can’t answer the ultimate questions, she has no standards to determine when she is living at her “best.” Doesn’t ascertaining what is “best” require that we answer at least one “ultimate question!”
Despite her skepticism, we all have an inner sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, even if our minds will not agree with what our heart is yelling. However, with heart and mind divided, we condemn ourselves to a schizoid and dissonant existence. Even worse, we know that we fall far short of our internal standards. The Apostle Paul explains:
• “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of Moses], do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” (Romans 2:14-15)
What do we do when our hearts condemn us, and they will? If we know the truth about our merciful God, we can confess our failings and trust that He will forgive and help us in our weakness. However, if we lack this knowledge, we have only two choices. We either lapse into depression after getting a painful eye-full of who we really are, or we wage a never-ending battle to deny the truth and convince ourselves and everyone else of our goodness and worthiness.
We need these truths of God. Without them, we remain destitute. Peter explained that all forms of blessing are locked away within the transformational mental nuggets of knowing God:
• “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Initially, it usually feels good to believe that we are the captain of our own ship. However, this places a weighty responsibility on our faltering shoulders. We have to live up to our standards and inflated expectations, and it’s more than we can bear!
Friday, June 24, 2011
Through the parable of The Good Samaritan, Jesus gave us a portrait of sacrificial love. While a rabbi and a priest failed to help a victim of a mugging, a foreigner was willing to give all for the sake of the victim. Jesus didn’t specify why the rabbi and the priest avoided helping the victim. Perhaps, this is because we invoke many possible excuses to not help.
Some might use the excuse of “karma.” According to this reasoning, the victim deserved what he received. Perhaps, he should never have been on that dangerous Jericho road, or perhaps his bad karma has just caught up to him. According to this reasoning, “We need to allow them to reap their deserved karma and not interfere.”
In perhaps a more benign form, some make use of “Christian karma” to justify walking past the victim. Recently, I posted an essay on my blog and various Facebook pages – Religious Persecution: A Letter to President Obama – asking the President to intervene on behalf of persecuted Christians. One respondent wrote:
• Daniel, President Obama, or any other human being, can't do anything about what has been prophecied. We're in the end times-though, the time isn't ending as soon as some think - and those are signs of the time. This is just the beginning of sorrows.
The respondent was essentially stating, “Christian persecution is inevitable, and therefore we are not required to try to intervene.” The same logic could also be applied to the Good Samaritan – “It was fated that this man be victimized. Therefore, I don’t have any responsibility here.” It can also be applied to helping anyone in need.
However, this solution just doesn’t work Biblically. When Mordecai heard about Haman’s plan to destroy the Jewish people, he could have told Queen Esther, “Well, that’s sad, but we know that the Jewish people are destined to experience persecution. So let’s just allow the chips to fall where they may.” Instead, Mordecai influenced Queen Esther to intervene, resulting in the salvation of the Jewish people.
Indeed, God’s plans will prevail, but this fact shouldn’t detract from our responsibilities, which are very clear and unequivocal:
• James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
• 1 John 3:17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
• Matthew 25:35-36 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
In fact, God accomplishes His plans through our prayers and deeds. So please don’t hesitate to speak out against injustice and oppression. Such is pleasing to our God:
• Isaiah 58:6-7 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
In this regards, I’m deeply troubled about what is happening once again in South Sudan:
• On July 9 the Republic of South Sudan is set become the newest nation in the world. But rather than capping a six-year peace process…the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) launched attacks in mid-June in the Nuba Mountain area of central Sudan…In Kadugli, the state capital, eyewitnesses reported two churches burned…At the Episcopal church, according to a witness, a guard stationed inside the church was dragged outside and murdered. SAF soldiers also went door to door in search of suspected members and supporters of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which fought the North for over 20 years, and reportedly executed them. Meanwhile, aerial assaults by MIG jet fighters and Antonov bombers have left mud and grass huts burned to the ground and villages destroyed. One eye-witness estimated…that over 1,000 had been killed in only a few days of attacks. (WORLD, July 2, 2011, 10)
Prior to this, genocidal attacks food blockades by the Islamic North had reduced the population in this one region “from over 1 million to less than 400,000.” If all we can do is exercise mouth or tongue, then let’s do it (James 4:17)!
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Many confess that they are confused. They are confused about their feelings, their decisions, and especially their relationships, and they obsess on them, trying to find answers.
Why are they confused, and why can’t they see their way through the fog of their confusion? In other areas, we can see with almost perfect clarity. We can get into our car and make thousands of decisions – when to brake and turn – with perfection. What then happens to our minds? Scripture identifies sin as the culprit.
• But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. (James 3:14-16; NKJV)
How does sin cause confusion? When we sin, our internal alarm system – the conscience – is activated. We then have only two choices to silence this disturbing alarm. We can confess our sins and receive complete cleansing and forgiveness (1 John 1:9), or more commonly, we handle the sin in our own way. We cover it, deny it, and finally defend it (Genesis 3). However, in doing this, we have to harden our hearts and close our ears to the alarm bells.
Consequently, a mind that had once been at peace is now a mind battling against itself, attempting to deny and suppress the obvious. It’s like trying to look through a telescope as someone is shaking it violently. Perhaps more illuminating, when we observe a pond at rest, we observe how perfectly it reflects the rocks and the trees on the other side. However, when the winds blow and the pond is no longer at rest, it can no longer reflect the world around it. This is also the case with our minds. When they are not at rest – when they are embattled by denial and suppression – they cannot mirror or take in the surrounding reality. Consequently, there is too much mental turbulence to allow us to understand ourselves, let alone our relationships.
Apart from sin, wisdom comes easily. It’s all around us and is there for the taking (in the same way that our eyes can see the traffic around us):
• Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. (Proverbs 8:1-4)
The problem isn’t the unavailability of wisdom, but rather our unwillingness to receive it:
• The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
Why would we – and we were all once fools – reject something that is so beneficial? It sounds so unlikely. This is because, in the short run at least, wisdom is painful. It must begin its work by revealing to us the truth about ourselves, the truth we’ve long denied:
• The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility. (Proverbs 15:33)
To have wisdom is first to be humbled by the spectacle of who we really are. We are the lens through which we see the rest of the world. If this lens continues to be distorted by our internal battles to suppress sin, we cannot see anything else with clarity. Therefore, Jesus had reasoned that before we could correct anyone else, we must first correct ourselves. Otherwise, we cannot see clearly enough to operate on the other person (Matthew 7:1-5). However, honestly examining ourselves is the very thing that we are unwilling to do:
• Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies. (Proverbs 1:29-31)
Wisdom carries a sharp personal “rebuke,” in fact, many of them. These rebukes are so uncomfortable that we generally rely on the strategies of darkness to rationalize away our sins, and consequently to reap their negative fruits.
The Bible gives us a poignant illustration of the deceptive power of sin. Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect peace, both with themselves and God. They even felt completely comfortable with their nakedness. However, after they succumbed to temptation and ate the forbidden fruit, all of this changed. Instead of enjoying the presence of God, they hid from Him and foolishly covered themselves with fig leaves. Instead of confessing their sins and trusting in His mercies, they resorted to their own means to handle their exploding guilt and shame.
Today, we resort to other fig leaves – achievement, money, power, popularity – in a vain attempt to polish over our sins. However, this feverish cognitive cover-up leaves us in confusion, and we resort to endless defensive strategies to insure that we remain covered. Adam and Eve could no longer tolerate the light of God or even His presence. The first couple resorted to half-truths and blame-shifting instead of true repentance. One lie begot the next. The initial sin was eventually covered by so many layers of subsequent defensive sins, confusion was guaranteed.
Similarly, the Apostle Paul confessed, “For sin…deceived me, and…killed me” (Romans 7:11). We too have been deceived and devastated by many years and layers of sin. Extricating ourselves is no longer a possibility. Insight therapies will not work, since we don’t want insight, but instead, insulation from discomfort. We need something far more potent. We need to be born-again and to grow into born-again truth:
• Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32)
Only in time will the confusion give way to clarity and wisdom. The cross-purposes of our confused sin-ridden minds will eventually be revealed, but it’s a process. Meanwhile, we have to commit our entire life to Him, abiding in His word and trusting in His love. In our blindness and confusion, we have to leave the driving exclusively to Him.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Messianic prophecy delights my soul. They not only reveal my Savior but also the intricate needlework that unites all Scripture through the revelation of a single Person. And the delights seem endless. Just last week, I was reading,
• See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him--his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. (Isaiah 52:13-15)
The Hebrew word for “sprinkle” is a word that is only used in conjunction with the Temple ritual of sprinkling for cleansing of sin with either water or blood. Here, it is used in conjunction with the “servant[’s]…disfigured…marred” appearance, seemingly caused by being “pierced for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
This event would be so awesome that “kings will shut their mouths because of him.” They will be left speechless in the face of His glory. (It’s usually the commoners who are left speechless by the glory of the king!) But was it really His surpassing glory that they would now behold?
• He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted (52:13).
What is the significance of this passage? And how could this “servant” be “highly exalted” and “disfigured... [and] marred” at the same time?
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah had a life-changing encounter with his God:
• In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:1-2)
The appearance of “the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted” was so glorious that the holy seraphs had to cover their faces lest they might see Him. Likewise, Isaiah declared that “I am undone,” because He beheld the glory of the Lord “high and exalted.” (John tells us that
“Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him” (John 12:41)). Interestingly, these two latter terms are the same Hebrew terms used in Isaiah 52:13 for “raised and lifted up!”
Apparently, the same glory that attended Isaiah’s overwhelming encounter also pertained to the “servant,” who would be “disfigured” – hardly a thing of glory. However, Scripture seems to tell us that the glory of the “disfigured” Servant surpassed the glory of the “the Lord sitting on the throne.”
In Isaiah 52:13, the “servant” is not merely “raised and lifted up,” He is also “highly exalted,” as if to indicate that the glory that the kings would see (Isaiah 52) would surpass the glory Isaiah had beheld (Isaiah 6)!
But isn’t God equally glorious wherever we might behold Him? Yes, but certain events tend to highlight His glory as when the Apostles beheld the glory of Christ on the Mt. of Transfiguration (Matthew 17). Also, Jesus talked about the coming time of His glory:
• "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" John 12:27-28
• "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” (John 13:31-32)
The time of His ultimate glory was the time of His utter humiliation, the time when He would die for your sins and mine, the time of the desertion of those closest to Him, the time of the bloody and disfiguring Cross. How can His disfigurement and rejection by the Father be the time of His glory?
What better testimony of love could there have been? While all His disciples abandoned Him, He did not abandon them. While they sought to save their own lives, He abandoned His own and saved theirs. And the world had to behold this:
• But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (John 14:31)
Out of love, He endured the judgment of the Cross for those who deserved judgment. This was His glory, the time that He would be “raised and lifted up and highly exalted,” the demonstration that would shut the mouths of kings and put the entire world to shame. It would also prove to them that there was salvation available through the One who had paid the highest of prices for rebellious humankind.
Does “raised and lifted up and highly exalted” really mean this, or are we illegitimately reading into this passage our New Testament perspective? Although today’s rabbis make strenuous denunciations that Isaiah 52 and 53 are Messianic, this wasn’t always the case. Perhaps the most famous interpreter of the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses Maimonides (“Ramban”) understood this entire passage as Messianic:
• “…The text continues, referring still to the Messiah, ‘As many were astonished at three’ [52:14]. Their astonishment was shown by mocking him when he first arrived, and by asking how one ‘despised’ ‘meek’ and riding upon an ass’ (Zech. 9:9), could conquer all the kings of the world who had laid hold upon Israel, and rescue him from their hand: so acted Pharaoh towards Moses, when he mocked him, as he says ‘How will Pharaoh listen to me’ (Exo 6:12)…’The kings will close their mouths’ [52:15}, and even in the chamber of their heart will be afraid to speak of him…(What the Rabbonim Say about Moshiach, Douglas Pyle, 47)
More to the point at hand, Rabbi Naphtali Ben Asher Altschuler (16th C.) had expressed his disapproval of several rabbinic exegetes who had wrongly abandoned the Messianic interpretation of the passage:
• “I am surprised that Rashi and Rabbi David Kimchi have not, with the Targum, applied them to the Messiah likewise…The prophet [Isaiah] say he shall be ‘high and exalted and lofty’ [52:13], expressing the idea under various forms, in order to indicate that his exaltation will be something extraordinary. It is proof that the Parashah refers to our Messiah, that alluding to the future Deliverance, the prophet said before, ‘Break forth into joy, you waste places of Jerusalem’ (52:9), and ‘How beautiful on the mountains,’ etc. (52:7), and immediately afterwards continues, ‘Behold my servant shall prosper’ [52:13; “Act wisely” NIV] etc.” (61)
The Lord knows that we are weak in faith and has abundantly provided for those who will seek Him out through His Word.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I may not be able to touch or taste it, but it’s just as plain that I exercise freedom of choice as it is that I breathe! Nevertheless, a growing chorus of atheists deny it exists. The renowned biologist Francis Crick states, “It seems free to you but it’s the result of things you are not aware of.” The equally renowned E.O. Wilson writes that “the hidden preparation of mental activity gives the illusion of free will.”
Why would such intelligent scientists deny something that is so obvious and so foundational to the way we live? Atheism (or materialism) has no room in its world view for something that isn’t totally material and totally determined by chemical-electrical processes. Atheism correctly perceives that free will requires an additional element—something that is beyond the material and reeks of the Transcendent—a horrid stench that no faithful atheist will endure.
But the atheist must pay dearly for his denial of the obvious. For instance, another renowned atheist Steven Pinker writes,
• “The self…is just another network of brain systems…The evidence is overwhelming that every aspect of our mental lives [including free will] depends entirely on physiological events in the tissues of the brain.”
This means that everything that we think and do has been pre-programmed by “physiological events.” Nevertheless, Pinker also writes, “happiness and virtue have nothing to do with what natural selection designed us to accomplish…They are for us to determine.”
Here, he seems to indicate that there is a distinction between “us” and our chemistry/physiology, whereas, before he had stated that we are entirely our physiology. Pinker adds,
• “Well into my procreating years I am, so far, childless…ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes….If my genes don’t like it, they can jump in the lake.”
Pinker makes a very ordinary claim—he can resist his genes. We do this all the time when we turn down an additional scoop of chocolate ice cream. However, according to Pinker, he is not distinct from his genes. Therefore, whenever he decides anything, it’s his genes that are calling the shots – the very opposite of free will. If we choose against our genetically programmed inclinations, the “we” must stand apart and distinct from these inclinations. Otherwise, it’s merely a matter of the stronger genetic inclination winning out over the weaker.
Pinker can’t have it both ways. Either he can resist his genes because the he is distinct from his genes, which he denies, or else he cannot resist his genes because “he” is his genes, in which case there is no free will involved.
Why does the brilliant Pinker allow himself to fall prey to such flagrant contradiction? Why does anyone remain an atheist? It’s not simply that atheism can’t account for free will. Atheism can’t account for hardly anything. It can’t account for life, the cell, DNA, the origin of our laws of nature, the fine-tuning of the universe, morality, consciousness… Ordinarily, this inability to account for the facts within its domain would disqualify any theory. Nevertheless, atheism survives. Why? The philosopher, Thomas Nagel confessed,
• I want atheism to be true…It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God…I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. (All the above quotes are taken from What’s So Great about Christianity, Dinesh D’Souza.)
Nagel is “free” to choose what he wants, but denial inevitably exacts a price. In Nagel’s case, he has decided that he would rather be a chance conglomerate of chemicals in a meaningless world, bereft of any moral order, than to have his non-existent freewill impinged upon by a God who will censure us for our “freewill” choices.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Many claim that Muslims and Christians serve the same God. Sometimes this is stated in hope of establishing peace among opposing religions. However, the pursuit of any lasting peace requires us to face the problems, not minimize or deny them. Along with the commonalities, there are significant differences between Islam and Christianity, but I think we can learn to love each other despite these differences. My wife and I love each other, not because we agree about everything. Instead, we can love despite the differences.
Even to the Samaritans who shared an important piece of the Hebrew religion – The Five Books of Moses – Jesus insisted:
• You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. (John 4:22)
Despite their similarities with Israel’s religion, the Samaritans didn’t know God and consequently salvation. Instead, Jesus maintained that, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). For the Christian, truth entails believing that God the Son died for our sins and accepting the gift of life that can only come through Him (John 14:6).
Islam also has its exclusivistic claims:
• [Surah 33:57] Those who insult [aa-dh-aa] God and His Messenger [Mohammad] will be rejected by God in this world and the next—He has prepared a humiliating punishment for them— 58 and those who undeservedly insult [aa-dh-aa] believing men and women will bear the guilt of slander and obvious sin. (Haleem)
Denial of the existence of these claims can provide no more than a temporary solution for our problems. Instead, we need to affirm each others’ right to believe in their distinctive beliefs in the face of rising secularism, religious pluralism, and multi-culturalism which manipulatively insist that all religions are essentially the same. This insistence is disingenuous and also represents a stealth religion, wanting to eliminate the other religions from the marketplace of ideas in favor of a Godless, materialistic secularism. Consequently, religious symbols and ideas are being pushed out of sight.
Although I sympathize with your concern about warfare and the historical antagonism between Islam and Christianity, I think that there are better ways to address this concern than to fudge over the problems and differences.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
While the church continually finds nourishment from the streets, the prisons, and from among the poor – for some reason they can hear the Gospel – many of our educated leaders apostatize, abandoning our institutions to unbelief. What has happened to the mainline denominations, the Ivy League schools – Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown, Columbia – so that they now heap abuse upon the Gospel? It is as if we can’t give away our institutions quickly enough.
We also find apostasy among Christian publications. For instance, Christianity Today (CT, June 2011, 61) “counsel[s] patience” in regards to the question of the historicity of Adam. According to CT, we can no longer know that Adam and Eve were historical people. Although this magazine had been committed to the Gospel, it now feels that the Christian faith needs to wait until the prevailing scientific consensus can rule with one voice on the question of the existence of Adam and Eve. However, CT’s gospel of patience and moderation fails to provide the substance, certainty and excitement to support the Christian faith and those who derive nurture from it.
Meanwhile, we need to know about the advent of sin and death, the Fall, the 1st Adam, and consequently the work of the 2nd Adam, Jesus. We need to know whether or not God’s original and perfect plan entailed the survival-of-the-fittest or whether instead it had been humankind who screwed things up. If our theological foundation isn’t sound, any life built upon it will wobble. It will be characterized by confusion, doubt, uncertainty, indecisiveness and a lack of joy in believing. I need to know whether I am responsible for my sins or if they are a product of God’s original design of the survival-of-the-fittest, and I need to know if God has truly taken away these sins.
This raises the question of the source of our life script: “What source of revelation should be most authoritative for us? Must our faith and life rest uncertainly upon the changing theories of the prevailing scientific consensus, or can we find some measure of certainty and confidence in Scripture?” (2 Cor. 10:4-5) In regards to certainty, Paul strenuously labored for his church,
• that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:2-3)
CT is concerned about “another fundamentalist reaction against science.” I am too, but I’m more concerned about the denigration of Scripture, condemning it into the nether-world of uncertainly in the face of the claims of evolution. Of course, the theistic evolutionists (Christians who believe in evolution) insist that they hold to a high view of Scripture. However, they often claim that the Bible isn’t an historical or a scientific textbook, and therefore its message isn’t about the physical world, but the spiritual. CT sites one theologian who affirms the “inerrancy of the Bible, but not of interpretations.” In other words, we can be certain that the Bible is inerrant, but we can’t be certain about anything that it teaches. If this is the case, then how can these theologians insist that it’s inerrant apart from their interpretation of Scripture? They can’t have it both ways. If we can’t be certain how to interpret the Bible, then we can’t be certain about inerrancy!
While they often claim that we have to be humble about how we interpret the Bible, they are anything but humble about how they interpret the scientific facts in favor of evolution. Clearly, the prevailing scientific consensus has become their leading authority.
Besides, as Pastor Richard Phillips has rhetorically asked:
• Can the Bible’s theology be true if the historical events on which the theology is based [like the Fall of Genesis 3] are false? (p.27)
Of course, the theology can’t be true without its historical foundation. The theology of the Cross is nothing without the history of the Cross – likewise of the theology based upon the first several chapters of Genesis, as illuminated in the New Testament.
Should this departure, this apostasy, be a cause of alarm? Jude had taught us to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). Should we contend earnestly against theistic evolution? Phillips continues:
• The hermeneutics behind theistic evolution are a Trojan horse that, once inside our gates, must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall.
This is precisely what we see happening, and no wonder. If we can’t take seriously what the Bible teaches about the physical world, why should anyone place any weight upon what it teaches about the spiritual!
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I think that we all experience some disappointment about our perceived lack of spiritual growth. I certainly experience this just about any time I travel. Red lights and traffic jams send me into such a frenzy that I shock even myself, even while I try to control myself with some comforting verses!
I wonder, “Why do I still struggle with this same garbage? Shouldn’t I be further along the spiritual road by now? There must be something desperately the matter with me or at least with my approach to God!”
This isn’t an isolated perplexity. We struggle with the same doubts about our brethren and even the church. In fact, some have become so disgusted with the church that they are trying to revamp what it means to be a Christian and consequently are overhauling the church. Some have even abandoned the centrality of Scripture and theology in favor of simply following Jesus. Out of a sense of desperation, they are simply endeavoring to become good, loving and relational Christians. The more mystically minded are re-conceiving the essence Christianity in terms of “experiencing” Jesus – anything to distance ourselves from our personal and corporate failures.
But perhaps there is another way of salvaging peace and hope in our Christian experience, even in the face of the ugly things that we find in ourselves! Perhaps we’re looking for Christian growth and maturity in the wrong places? While the Bible instructs us that we are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) – and there should be fruit that reflect this fact – the Bible also warns us that the spiritual road is filled with bumps:
• For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17)
Paul also wrote about his inability to do the right thing (Romans 7:20). Therefore, intense struggle characterizes our lives, even repeated failures (James 3:2). Why? In love, God is working overtime to make us like Christ (1 Peter 4:12, 17; Hebrews 12:5-11). These trials teach us that it’s about Him – His strength and righteousness – and not about us (2 Cor. 4:7-11; 1:8-9).
As we undergo this remodeling ordeal, we’re not going to look very pretty. God’s glorious work is not going to be readily apparent:
• Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
I think that John is trying to comfort his brethren that, even though our lives might look pretty disappointing, this is to be expected as part of the process. It is only when our Savior returns for us that we shall look “like Him.” Any remodeling site is a mess. Our hearts will only be put to rest when the work is completed, and the trash is all collected for the dumpster. Meanwhile, what we truly are is “hidden in Christ”:
• For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:3-4)
Only the Master Carpenter can truly “see” the finished product in the midst of hodge-podge reconstruction site. It is only when He returns “in glory” that we shall be able to behold our own glory.
I think that it was C.S. Lewis who stated that our God purposely prevents us from seeing our ultimate glory in Him because, if we did, we would begin to worship ourselves. It is this danger that is antithetical to spiritual growth. Because of this, He will humble the proud and self-confident, and will exalt the humble (Luke 18:14).
It might be offensive to the prevailing culture that we regard ourselves as “children of the light” and “new creations’ in Christ, but this is precisely what the Bible insists that we are! It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in and through us (Gal. 2:20). Consequently, as hidden new creations, our culture is in no position to judge us (1 Cor. 2:15-16) and we can’t even judge ourselves, at least not fully.
Therefore, I think that we need to be patient with ourselves and with others. We can’t judge God’s workmanship in our lives (Eph. 2:10) before the “appointed time”:
• Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:5)
Who we are is hidden in Christ. The inner man – the real you – can’t be seen. Paul made this very distinction about his own life. Although he was a sinner, this wasn’t the real Paul:
• Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:20)
According to Scripture, when we mess up, it isn’t the real “we” who is creating the mess, but the sin in us, which madly struggles for supremacy (Gal. 5:17). Therefore, don’t be discouraged by your many failures. They are a necessary part of the remodeling process.
I pray for the day that the red lights and traffic jams will no longer induce me to go ballistic, but meanwhile, He is humbling me through my failures and causing me to look to Him alone. This is what He had done with Israel:
• He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut. 8:3)
If it requires humbling circumstances to teach us this lesson, then our prayer should be, “Humble me, Lord!”
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The social experiment of Coed dorms took off in the radical 1960s and now has overtaken over 90 percent of American college campuses. However, growth in numbers doesn’t always equate with growth in the quality of our lives.
• Catholic University of America president John Garvey announced in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Monday that he would be changing the school’s dormitories back to segregate the sleeping quarters of men and women in separate buildings.
Why has he taken this counter-cultural direction?
• A 2009 study published in the Journal of American College Health found students living in coed dorms 2.5 times more likely to binge drink than their segregated counterparts. Only 44 percent of coed dorm students said they had been chaste in the past year, compared to 63 percent in same-sex dorms, and they were more than twice as likely to have had more than three sexual partners within the same time frame.
• Garvey noted that students who engage in binge drinking were 25 times more likely to fall behind in school, and also affected negatively the lives of their sober colleagues. The effects of sexual promiscuity are also burdensome, he notes, with promiscuous women twice as likely to suffer from depression, and promiscuous men performing more poorly in their schoolwork.
Same-sex dorms send a message – “Sex should be as normal and casual as eating a Big Mac.” They also provide a convenient context for experimentation by thrusting the sexes together.
We can’t put a fox in a hen house and not expect the feathers to fly. Sociologists Anne Hendershott and Nicholas Dunn warn of serious “psychological, spiritual and physical damages” associated with sexual behavior in college.
• “Sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies and abortions—as well as a long list of psychological costs including poor self-esteem, depression and sadness—have been correlated with the emergence of the hook-up culture on campus,” the authors report in their study, “The Hook-Up Culture on Catholic Campuses.”
Sexual intercourse, as pleasurable and fulfilling as it is, should have contributed to a less stressful environment. Consequently, the findings of Hendershott and Dunn seem to be counter-intuitive. Perhaps intercourse is far more value and meaning-laden than downing a Big Mac? Perhaps it is like a new car, coming with its set of instructions for proper use and maintenance? Scripture asserts that there are dangers inherent in the misuse of sex:
• Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. (1 Cor. 6:18)
The Apostle Paul explained that sexual intercourse is infused with these consequences and privileges because it was designed to reflect our ultimate and intimate relationship with our Savior:
• "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephes. 5:31-33)
The Biblical design for sex has a long and proven track-record. It has produced good results for two millennium, arguably producing the most advanced and stable civilization that the world has seen. It wasn’t broken, and it shouldn’t have been fixed.