Monday, June 25, 2012

Atheism and the Problem of Pain


One angry atheist responded to me:

  • So he [God] makes people suffer so we will ask for his help. Seems demented. Like an abusive relationship, so he disciplines people with disease, poverty, hunger, murder, rape, genocide, and natural disasters? Why follow such a sadistic?
The atheist – I’ll call him “Rob” – is making a charge that many atheists make:

  • If God is entirely good and all-powerful, we shouldn’t experience any pain or at least pain that seems to be unreasonable.
When I sense that there is no openness to discussion – no give and take – I might graciously extricate myself from the discussion. However, if this charge is made in a public forum, walking away might suggest that Christianity has no answer – an impression I would not want to give.

Therefore, if the atheist is militant, I will put the burden of proof back on him:

  • What evidence do you have that if God allows suffering, it is “unreasonable?”
There is no evidence! Therefore, the atheist will usually resort to an emotional appeal:

  • Well, everyone knows that genocide is evil, and that it can serve no possible good.
Here again, the atheist is unable to bring a rational charge against God. He may appeal to what is “evil” or “good,” and then claim that the God of the Bible has violated these standards. However, he has no basis for his charge. The atheist is a moral relativist and a materialist. He believes that there is nothing out there apart from matter and energy. Therefore, there is no moral “truth” apart from what we personally decide upon or create for ourselves; it’s all personal (subjective), changing (evolving), and culture-specific (non-universal).

Consequently, without moral absolutes, there is no means to judge another culture, let alone another Being – the Creator of all things. Therefore, when the atheist judges God (and the Biblical conception of God), he is acting hypocritically. He knows that he has no objective measure or standard, but he’s judging as if he has one.

It’s like a math teacher grading a math exam, while she knows that there are no right or wrong answers.

At this point, don’t be surprised if your atheist becomes frustrated and starts to attack you. If instead, he is somewhat receptive to your response, you can then begin to share lessons from your own life.

For example, I’ve learned that I need hardships and humbling circumstances to teach me God’s Word and to trust only in Him. The Bible affirms this truth in many ways. Paul confessed that he had despaired of himself, but this happened for an all-surpassing reason:

  • We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
This principle even works itself out interpersonally. I am sad to confess that when I am broken and hurting, I tend to value my wife far more than I would without my humbling circumstances. I have also learned how to be more compassionate and patient with others through my own failures.

However, I must add that if my life had been about failures alone, I suspect that instead of compassion, I would have learned bitterness and jealousy. However, in seeing the compassion that God has for me through the ever-greater awareness of my own unworthiness, I am encouraged to extend this compassion to others.

Consequently, even though I have suffered tremendously, I can now look back and say along with David, King of Israel:

  • It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71)
I would even take this analysis a step further and argue that we even need death! How jaded we become to our relationships. Often it is prospect of death that revives us from our slumber – our distorted priorities.

We’ve all seen footage of victims pulled alive out of the wreckage amidst tears of gratefulness. Their love and thankfulness were palpable. How hardened are we that we don’t respond to our loved ones in this manner without impending disasters!

I think that we are quick to denigrate God because we fail to see that depth of our spiritual illness. If we know that we have a life-threatening cancer, we willingly submit to the surgeon’s knife to remove the threat. We even financially reward the surgeon for cutting us in pieces.

Our Savior is our spiritual surgeon. However, only those who know Him will perceive this:

  • The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:9-10)
Those on the outside will see only the blood and gore. It is like an uneducated Eskimo beholding a cancer surgery for the first time. He will be repelled by the pain and invasiveness of the surgery. He might even think that the patient who had submitted to such treatment had to be crazy or masochistic.

He is like a color-blind person who insists that there is no difference between red, green and blue. However, this analysis is far too gracious regarding the depth of human sin and hatred. The color blind man didn’t choose to be color-blind. However, those of us who have rejected God have made this choice:

  • They are darkened in their understanding [and this is the way we all were] and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. (Ephes. 4:18-19)
Can we truthfully say that this isn’t a good description of how we had all been? And if this is our true state, then perhaps we might begin to recognize our need for radical surgery?


   


   



   





   

Friday, June 22, 2012

Certainty: Its Reality and its Rejection



Whenever I write, I write with the unavoidable taint of certainty. Why else should I write if I cannot instruct. This requires a high degree of certainty! (Some write simply to express themselves, but I have little interest in this.) Nevertheless, I earn the disdain of many by speaking authoritatively about truth. However, I would be tolerated if I’d simply write, “Christ seems to work for me.” However, once I claim that Christ is the truth, gentility vanishes, and I become the object of scorn.

Today, many Christians are joining the chorus against certainty. One evangelical castigated the church for speaking out publicly and authoritatively on social issues, claiming that we really can’t be that certain. Curiously, she was certain enough to speak up against the church.

At an apologetics forum, another evangelical, a professor, defined “certainty” as “objective uncertainty appropriated with passion.” In other words, what seems like “objective certainty” is really a matter of our passion getting the best of us. He tried to prove that certainty wasn’t really a part of the Christian life by citing 2 Corinthians 5:7 – “We live by faith, not by sight” – apparently unaware of his absurd position that he needs a high degree of certainty in order to prove that a high degree of certainty isn’t possible.

In addition to this problem, the Bible never pits faith against certainty. Although there are indeed things that defy certainty – for we only see in part - there are also spiritual truths that we can bank on, truths that we must bank on!

The professor also cited the account of Peter walking on water as proof that we shouldn’t expect to walk in the light of certainty. He claimed that Peter sank into the waves because he required a guaranteed certainty, when he should have been content with faith and uncertainty. However, this lesson can’t be justifiably derived from Scripture. If anything, Jesus castigates Peter for his lack of certainty:

·        But when he [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:30-31)

Peter’s problem was a lack of faith and not a demand for certainty. Initially, he had been willing to follow Jesus into the water, but then got cold feet.

In fact, the Bible not only recognizes certainty - and our assurance and confidence in the faith depend upon certainty - as a precious and almost indispensable gift:

·        My purpose…so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ. (Col. 2:2)

Clearly, faith is not opposed to a “full assurance”:
·        Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)

·        That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (2 Tim. 1:12)
  
·        For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. (John 17:8)

Scripture informs us that we can be certain:

·        So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:4)

·        For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephes. 5:5)

·        Then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:13)

It is pointless for me to point out these verses. Everything that Scripture says, it says with certainty. There is no suggestion that “perhaps the Gospel might be true.” However, I must confess that for many years I struggled with debilitating doubts regarding God and His Gospel. However, I am now thankful that I had experienced this horribly painful ordeal. It led me to devote myself to God’s Word (Psalm 119:71).

For many of us, growing in assurance/certainty is a long and painful process. However, this process in no way should suggest that certainty isn’t a possibility. I must also admit that there were times when it would have been comforting to acquiesce to uncertainty. If uncertainty was the norm for the Christian life, then I wouldn’t have to feel that there was something wrong with me because it didn’t have certainty.

Besides, why should we rule out certainty? After all, I am certain that I am now typing at my computer. If I can be certain about this, why not also spiritual things? Weren’t the disciples certain that Jesus had appeared to them? Of course, and this certainty gave them the necessary courage to live according to their faith.

However, uncertainty is a social lubricant. The uncertain are perceived as less rigid and socially responsive. They seem ready to accommodate themselves to others and their experiences. We tend see to them as having a humble, inquiring and scholarly disposition. However, true uncertainty cannot say anything. While our professor expounded upon the virtues of uncertainty, everything he said required a high degree of certainty.

Jesus conducted Himself with certainty, not as the Scribes and the Pharisees. After Him, His Apostles also conducted themselves with certainty. However, they did offend many and lost their lives because of it. Therefore, social approval should not serve as the final arbiter of truth or even the way we present ourselves.

Someone asked our professor, “How then can we know for certain that we have the truth?” He answered that we can’t:

·        “There are no neutral facts or argumentation. We cannot objectively weigh evidence because we cannot get on the outside of ourselves, our biases, and presuppositions in order to stand on neutral ground. Consequently, biblical interpretation will always be a matter of uncertainty and disagreement.”

However, if we can never stand on neutral ground and, consequently, everything depends upon our subjective interpretation, how then can he make such an objective, certain and sweeping statement?

Indeed, there are some biblical teachings that are very difficult and uncertain. Consequently, there are legitimate differences, which we will probably never resolve in this life. However, there are much clearer and more certain Biblical assertions, like “Christ died for our sins.”

When I was uncertain about this, I lived in constant torment. I am certain that the church would not have endured had it not been delivered from its doubts. In fact, it was in destruction-mode until Jesus’ resurrection appearances.

I think that there are many ways that we can know the truth. Have you seen the series of books called “Magic Eye?” They include many computer-generated designs that contain a secret, yet discreet image or picture. Some people are unable to see it. However, for others, the picture is seen with certain clarity. If you wonder whether it is your mind that constructed the image, well, it’s easy to resolve this question. The books have an “answer sheet” containing the hidden image. Consequently, we can be sure that what we see is real.

The Bible contains many discreet, hidden “images.” When you see them, you will know that you are not inventing them.

It may be temporarily comforting to reject the idea of certainty. However, it is also the way of almost certain torment. Instead, continue to ask our Lord to make His revelation real to you. He has promised to bless those who seek Him!

Suffering and the Will of God



It is hard enough to deal with our painful and prolonged trials. However, we tend to complicate matters when we interpret our pain and frustration to mean that God doesn’t love us enough.

What makes matters worse it that we’ve been praying for years for something that is clearly consistent with God’s will – for instance, an emotional healing that would conform us more perfectly into Christ’s image. Consequently, we find ourselves struggling with two things:

  1. The painful trial and
  2. Our resulting doubts about God.
The first issue is complex. Even though it clearly is our God’s will to conform us into the likeness of His Son – and this He is always performing (Rom. 8:28; Phil. 1:6) – He also uses our weaknesses and infirmities to accomplish this (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Surprisingly, He informs us that “when we are weak, it is then that we are strong [in Him].

Consequently, we don’t know if a particular healing is consistent with God’s will, and if it is, when He will do something about it. However, it is certain that we will all die without receiving all of our prayed-for healings. We will continue to struggle against sin until His return (Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:25). Life isn’t supposed to be too comfortable here. If it was, we wouldn’t cry out, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

The answer to the second issue is more important and more straight-forward. Hardships, even the most intense forms, aren’t proof of God’s displeasure. If anything, they represent the opposite:

·        Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?...Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

(I know that you are aware of these things, but sometimes it is helpful to here them from someone else.) Job was the most righteous man on the entire earth, yet God subjected him to the greatest trials. Paul would become the greatest missionary the church has ever known, but God promised that he would have to suffer profoundly, saying:

·        “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." (Acts 9:16)

Suffering is not a sign of God’s displeasure. King David was arguably Israel’s greatest king and a man after God’s own heart. Nevertheless, he suffered greatly. We need only to read the Psalms to see this.

For years, I experienced intense doubt about God’s love for me. I suspected that even if I did make it into heaven, God would only open the doors to me reluctantly. Therefore, I would become the heavenly street-sweeper. I felt as if I was displeasing to Him. I had become keenly aware of my own sins, and so it seemed very plausible to me that I couldn’t be one of His favorites. Clearly, I deserved nothing from Him. As a result, I resented those who I suspected were in His better graces.

What changed? I think that the real change came from God making the truths of His Word very real to me. And as these verses (and others) illuminate for me, I cried copious tears of joy and relief:

·        Galatians 2:20:  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

·        Romans 8:1: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

·        John 6:37: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

·        Ephes. 3:17-19: And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

There were also many other verses that spoke to through the tsunamis of depression. They assured me that our Savior is truly who He said He is, and that makes all the difference in the world. I trust that as you continue to seek Him, He will likewise deliver you.

Although knowing who God is is almost everything, it isn’t everything. There is the knowledge of God, but there is also God Himself. If knowledge alone could deliver, we would find little need for God! This would tend to create arrogance and self-sufficiency. Therefore, He requires that we wait patiently for deliverance:

·        I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

Waiting is a constant reminder that it’s not about us – not even merely about our faith and knowledge – it’s about our merciful Lord!   

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Abstinence Ed vs. Sexual-Expression Ed


We are entrenched in a vicious culture war, and the question of sexually seems to be at the front lines. While one side wants to retain traditional Judeo-Christian values, the other seems to want to sexualize the children. Therefore, everyone is training their cannons on sex-education. Should abstinence programs be promoted to reduce STDs and teen pregnancies or their opposite? However, a recent study has just added its voice to many others in favor of abstinence ed:

  • Researchers observed more than 1,100 ninth graders in Georgia who used the Choosing the Best (CTB) curriculum in 2009-10. The abstinence-based curriculum delayed the onset of sexual activity.
According to the study’s authors:

  • “Data demonstrated significant impact of CTB at the end of 9th grade on commitment to abstinence, pro-abstinence beliefs and attitudes, intentions to maintain abstinence, and lower onset of sexual intercourse, and at the beginning of 10th grade on pro-abstinence attitudes…abstinence from sexual activity until marriage is the best way to avoid teen pregnancy, disease, and possible negative emotional consequences, and is the best way to help students focus on academic and other future-oriented goals.”
  • The study’s success reassured Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). “This new study adds to 22 other peer reviewed studies showing SRA [Sexual Risk Avoidance] education has a positive impact on student sexual behavior,” she said. “This rigorous research design adds an important exclamation point to the efficacy of abstinence-centered education.”
The stakes are high for both sides of the conflict, and so politics often trumps truth and the welfare of the children:
 
  • Meanwhile, researchers say the Obama administration stonewalled releasing another report that showed abstinence attitudes positively impact teens…“Their anti-abstinence position is just as political, if not more so, than the pro-abstinence position of conservatives,” [Peter] Sprigg [FRC] told LifeSiteNews. “The liberals often claim it is conservatives who are anti-science, but when the research and the science goes against their ideological position, they are very eager to suppress the findings.”
The power to suppress findings means that science and scholarship have become tools to be manipulated by the powerful. However, the findings in favor of abstinence education seem to have escaped the censor’s scissor:

  • “Anyone who opposes SRA abstinence-centered education must be honest in their antagonism,” Huber stated. “They can no longer say that the approach ‘doesn’t work,’ but must admit that their opposition is simply an ideological distaste for programs that encourage teens to wait for sex.” 
However, will the elite now listen or will their “ideological distaste” lead them to “normalize” any form of child sexual expression, to their very obvious detriment?

Human Rights and Gay Marriage


My Response to a Bi-Sexual Woman who claimed that we are depriving her of her “human rights” to marry:

You complain that religious people are depriving you of your “human right” to marry whomever you want. However, you are free to marry your SS partner, albeit without government sanction. But this is what the gay community is after – not marriage but the removal of any sense of guilt, shame, public disapproval, or even anyone expressing any disfavor with the gay lifestyle, a virtual social/sexual revolution.

However, where does your human right for SS marriage come from? It’s certainly not guaranteed by the constitution, any more than the right for me to marry my dog.

It certainly doesn’t come from the laws of the land. In fact, gay supporters have nothing but disdain for the laws, namely DOMA, until the laws favor their own cause. SS marriage has never even been approved by the majority in any state. In fact, SS marriage supporters even disdain the majority vote as demonstrated by Prop.9 in Calif.

It doesn’t come from religion. All the major religions proscribe this lifestyle. I think we need to consider why. This lifestyle has been tried many times and always found wanting.

It certainly doesn’t come from reason. All of the stats point to its inherent risk factors and even abbreviated lifespan.

The only reason that SS marriage is now even considered as a “human right” is because of elite sponsorship, media propaganda, intimidation, and the slander of anyone who opposes.

When you find yourself buried in sorrow, please remember Jesus’ promise:

·        "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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

However, His yoke does entail repentance. I will be praying, dear correspondent!


   

When the World Hates Us: What to Do?



The West is plunging into anarchy and sexual pleasure seeking, and the church has become the fall-guy. Preaching our biblically-based message against sin is no longer tolerated. Military chaplains are even warned against invoking “God” – let alone “Jesus” -in their prayers. The Apostle Paul wrote about these times:

·        But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)

What does the church do in these times, especially in light of the growing intolerance and persecution? For one thing, we have to be mentally prepared. Paul counseled the church that persecution was inevitable:

·        In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Tim. 3:12-13)

Jesus also warned about the inevitability of persecution:

·        "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also (John 15:18-20)…in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (16: 2)

While it is so distressing to see the younger Christians re-making the church into a “kinder and gentler,” more indulgent, and socially acceptable “Christianity,” we have to remember Jesus words: “If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”

These are the “compromisers.” They understandably feel the sting of social censure of the church. However, they are willing to compromise in order to achieve social respectability. They try to show the world that they are not like those “mindless evangelicals” who reject Darwin and the other things that the educated, upwardly mobile gladly embrace. For them, to be hated by the world is a sign of our narrow-mindedness. Consequently, they feel that we deserve the disapproval that we are receiving.

However, there is another group that believes that the church can sidestep the persecution and still remain the church. These are the “silencers.” Although they are reluctant to modify any major Christian doctrine, they believe that we can keep our offensive doctrines to ourselves and not offend the prevailing culture. They may argue that we are called to preach the Gospel and not opposition to our cultural ills. However, preaching the Gospel – the Good News – also entails an understanding of the bad news, sin and its consequences.

Others talk in terms of forsaking the “culture wars.” Blogger and self-confessed evangelical, Rachel Held Evans, is a good example of this:

·        We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.

·        So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it? Is a political “victory” really worth losing millions more young people to cynicism regarding the Church? Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as LGBT?...And is a political “victory” worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks—what if we get this wrong?
   
Evans is understandably concerned about “alienating” the sinner. But whenever we preach against sin, we run the risk of alienating the sinner! What then do we do, especially as society turns so angrily against the Gospel message? Also, Evans wonders “what if we got it wrong?” Well, there’s no better authority than the Bible. Here’s Paul’s advice to Timothy:

·        But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:14-17)

Scripture cannot be compromised; neither should it be silenced. The Gospel is still the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). But perhaps we have to keep it in-house so as not to offend? Perhaps we need to abdicate the public arena for a while? Not according to Paul:

·        Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:2-4)

The myths – culture and moral relativism there is no absolute moral truth), evolution (everything coming uncaused out of nothing), materialism, naturalism (there is no design or intelligence outside of this world), one-world-consciousness, create-your-own-religion -  have certainly proliferated, along with an inexhaustible smorgasbord of teachers. However, nowhere does Scripture even suggest that when we see this happening, we should cover ourselves with silence. We are to be the “light” and the “salt” “in season and out of season.”

Paul admits that already, he is “being poured out like a drink offering” (2 Tim. 4:6). His end is at hand. However, he never counsels that other Christians should do their best to avoid such a fate, shutting their mouths.

John and Peter had been forbidden by the ruling court – the Sanhedrin – from publicly preaching Christ. Although they had been beaten:

·        The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:41-42)

The Apostles were a far cry from our compromisers and silencers. Oh Lord, let us have such conviction!


   



   



   





   

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Confessions of a Recovering Anglophile


I believe that Winston Churchill played the greatest role in the 20th century. Almost single-handedly, he opposed Hitler. Chills still go up and down my spine when I see movies about how he and the nation he was leading bravely resisted the National Socialist onslaught. I am still profoundly moved as I watch documentaries of how common British boats-men raced to Dunkirk to save their stranded British army from certain destruction, allowing them to fight another day.

I am equally moved when I read about the 30 year quest of William Wilberforce to lead his nation in abolishing the slave trade and how he won the right for missionaries to be sent into the British colonies to counteract the effect of the exploitation of the traders.

However, I am a recovering Anglophile. Two articles in the latest Salvo Magazine will help to explain my evolution:

  • Some elementary schools in Britain have taken sex ed to a new level by showing students as young as eight a DVD called Living and Growing. Computer-generated images show a man and woman having sex in a variety of positions, while the narrator describes explicitly what’s happening. The DVD also give information about masturbation and orgasms (with an animated sequence depicting ejaculation). (Salvo, Summer 2012, 33)
I don’t wish to pick on the UK. The entire secular West is doing-it! However, Britain is playing the role of our Big Brother – our role model – leading the way. It reminds me of a movie in which sweaty youth jumped out of their clothing ASAP to jump into the ocean. However, in this case, the West is shedding its spiritual clothing – Christianity – to jump into the sexualized unknown. But in the case of the youth, they subsequently and happily retrieved their clothing after their swim. However, in the case of the West, Britain is rejecting its spiritual clothing entirely and is now parading naked.

The next article also demonstrates how secularism has usurped the role of “parent” and “spiritual guide”:

  • In Britain, news broke that girls as young as 13 were given contraceptive implants or injections at their schools as part of a government effort to decrease teenage pregnancy rates. Parental consent was apparently not required, and many parents were upset. One columnist summed it up like this: “School nurses aren’t allowed to apply even a sticking plaster (band-aid) to children in case they have a dangerous allergic reaction, but pumping school-girls full of hormones so they can get at it like brood mares is just dandy” (33)
Why the hypocrisy? Secularism not only wants to bypass parents, it also wants to bypass its Christian roots. Even more, it has buried its clothing as it rushes headlong into the ocean.

I may remain an Anglophile, but my love will not be for what Britain has become, but for what it had been.

Christians have no Right to Speak


My Response to a Respondent Critical of the Christian Message Regarding Homosexuality:

I am glad that we can agree that it is wrong to prevent others from seeking help for their unwanted behaviors or desires. However, I think that you have characterized Christians in a needlessly negative and pejorative way. Personally, I can’t blame you. Western secularism surrounds us with the message that Christians are “bigoted,” “homophobic” and just generally intolerant. (Perhaps instead, it is the prevailing secular culture which is intolerant of Christians!) It’s hard to escape these characterizations. Even many of those raised in the church are now turning away or at least attempting to radically change the church into a form that might be more acceptable to society.

I also feel that pressure. However, as a Christian, my first calling is faithfulness to God and His revelation, even if it means loosing friends and social approval. Primarily, this means that I feel the responsibility to make a defense for the now widely despised faith, and to challenge those ideas that are now competing for the hearts and minds of our youth.

Although you probably genuinely believe what you’ve written, please understand that I have to challenge your characterizations:

  • “Yet the fact remains that Christians (or a certain species of Christian) seems overly interested in the sexuality and sex lives of others and often spread slander and malice – in addition to a good deal of self-righteousness – condemning homosexual people.”
I don’t know of any true Christians “condemning homosexual people.” We are all sinners whose only hope is in the mercy of God. Consequently, we realize that we are in no position to look down on others. Therefore, our mandate to love includes all people, despite their sexual orientation or behavior.

In fact, the Christian faith does more to dignify the marginalized than does any other religion, even secularism. We acknowledge that the gay person is beloved of God and created in His image. In our view, he is, before all else, a precious human being and not someone to be defined by his sexual behavior or SSA.

In contrast to the image that materialistic secular humanism has carefully promoted for itself, it lacks any basis for valuing others beyond the material. The material world has no other basis for evaluation but the superficial and material – a person’s physical appearance, productivity, viability, and contributions to society.

Also, in the physical world, there is only inequality. There are the stronger and the weaker, the smarter and the duller, the educated and the uneducated, the upstanding and the criminal. Consequently, the secular plea for equality and human rights is both insupportable and hypocritical. While they base their claims on human rights, they really have no basis to believe in them. In the secular world, everything is alienable and changeable – merely a matter of molecules-in-motion.

You claim that “Christians seems overly interested in the sexuality and sex lives of others.” This is a charge commonly made against Christians. Instead, of dealing with the issues – and these never seem to find their way into the secular media – secularists find it more convenient, however illegitimately, to attack the person rather than the ideas. (I think that this is a poignant reflection of where secular morality is taking us.)

On another level, shouldn’t we defend ourselves against such charges? When we are called “hate-mongers” and the Bible is called “hate-speech,” shouldn’t we reply? And if we fail to do so, wouldn’t this silence be interpreted as agreement? Wouldn’t our youth then conclude that we have no answers?

When we see Christians loosing their jobs and being expelled from universities because of their beliefs, shouldn’t we speak up on their behalf and also about the truths that govern our lives? However, when we try to do this, we are accused with being “preoccupied with sex!”

You claim that Christians have failed to speak out against the corporate thieves. I think that you are greatly mistaken about this. However, if these thieves or adulterers began to demand an “Adulterer Pride Month,” and required the schools to carry texts and teachings on the “Virtues of Adultery,” I think that Christian protest would be more apparent.

You conclude with these words:

  • “I think it is time for Christians to leave the subject of homosexuality for the time being and put their own house in order, before thinking they have either the right or ability to direct the morality of others.”
I hope you are saying the same thing to the media, to the universities, the public schools and, of course, to our government officials – all of whom are speaking forcefully in favor of homosexuality. I would imagine you have no problem with their talking on this subject. Why then the disparity? Why can’t we also talk on this subject?

I think that this reflects the growing intolerance of society. Only certain people – those who agree with me – are allowed to voice their opinions.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Our Prior Commitments and Distaste for the Divine Foot


Our views are governed by our assumptions, and our assumptions are governed by the desires of our heart. Therefore, the Apostle Paul observed:

·        The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved…and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2 Thes. 2:9-12)

Why will people believe these Satanic “counterfeit miracles?” Because they want to! Paul asserts that “they refused to love the truth and so be saved,” but instead “delighted in wickedness.” Our desires – our loves – determine our thinking and believing, even if it costs us salvation.

We believe what we want to believe. The same principle pertains irrespective of educational attainments. It even pertains to the leading scientists of the West, according to evolutionist and geneticist Richard Lewontin:
   
·        We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism [that nothing exists apart from matter and energy]. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, …Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

The “Divine Foot” opens the door to extra-material explanations – the very thing that many oppose. However, they can’t oppose it on the basis of science, but rather their almost-religious “commitment to materialism.”

Although our desires and commitments control us, this doesn’t rule out objective truths or answers. It should simply alert us to our powerful underlying motives and how they pervert our conclusions.

Of course, many will turn this around upon the Christian: “You believe because you need a crutch.” While this is true, Lewontin admits that he too has his crutch – materialism.

While the idea of God will comfort some, the idea of no-god (materialism) comforts others. One atheist friend admitted that he is an atheist because it helped him to deal with his guilt and shame. He understands that if there is no God, then there are no higher standards to which he is accountable. This thinking also gives the atheist some insulation against the fear of eternal judgment.

Even though what we believe is a very personal thing, they also might have an existence apart from what we think about them. I might believe in Christ for very personal reasons, but this doesn’t mean that I lack objective, evidential reasons for my belief.

However, as Lewontin seems to acknowledge, there is absolutely no evidential support for materialism. While we all believe that there are material explanations – there a the laws of physics that allow us to predict – this doesn’t mean that this is all that there is. In fact, these very laws point powerfully to the extra-material:

  1. There are unchanging. They impact everything in the universe, but nothing seems to be able to impact them.
  1. They are universal. They act uniformly throughout the universe.
  1. They seem to arise from outside of the universe. All sources of power/energy are localized within the universe. Consequently, the closer to the source, the greater the force it exerts. Those closer we are to a bonfire or radio-station, the stronger the waves. The laws of physics do not loose their force. There is no issue of proximity. It’s not an issue. Instead, the laws seem to originate from outside of this created order.
  1. They are elegant and can be described by simple formulae, suggesting that they were intelligently designed.
All of these considerations should argue persuasively against materialism. However, the “Divine Foot” is not in favor with our secular elites.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Western Intellectuals, Shame and S&M



We all want to be happy! Why then do we resort to masochism, a form of self-punishment - sadomasochistic sex, self-denial or even self-mutilation? However, masochism is not restricted to those forms we usually think of as “pathological.” In its many manifestations, it actually has gone mainstream.

Masochism seems to be at work when we silently endure painful relationships, ones we need not endure. How does this work? We feel guilty about something and therefore want to atone or compensate for this guilt by enduring the discomfort. Strangely, there seems to be a subconscious life-script, an inner logic that requires us to transact a cryptic deal with ourselves. We pay the price of enduring some discomfort, and then we entitle ourselves to receive a reduction in guilt.

Similarly, according to this hidden contract or “logic,” after having paid the price of a few lashes, we have “bought” the right to enjoy the things that are more important to us, like sex. Of course, this sexual satisfaction we derive from the lashes is predicated on deep-dwelling shame that regularly requires this “sacred offering.”

More commonly, armed with masochism’s inner logic of or “contract,” we punish ourselves when we fail to perform up to our standards and reward ourselves when we succeed. Likewise, I had my own internal script that specified what pleasures I could enjoy. Since “over-consumption” would make me feel guilty, I would restrict myself to three minute showers. My internal reward system signaled me that I was not worthy of longer showers. If I exceeded the limit that my legalistic script imposed upon me, I’d have to compensate with some form of saving-the-planet activity.

Similarly, when I’d get an “A” on an exam, I’d feel worthy and entitled to buy a chocolate milkshake. However, if I failed to receive the “A,” the milkshake wouldn’t have felt quite right going down. Somehow, I understood that my coveted sense of worthiness came at a price. Either I would have to earn it or if I couldn’t earn it, I would have to suffer for it.

Others, when they feel that they have achieved a certain scripted level of “worthiness,” feel entitled to take a vacation. Meanwhile, others who have a more stringent script never feel worthy of taking a vacation.

In many religions, self-denial and/or self-flagellation have become the staples for everyday righteousness or feelings of OK-ness. Sometimes they take the form of puncture wounds or walking on hot coals or even knives. As an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther endured walking on his knees, walking barefoot in the snow and long periods of sleeplessness in a vain attempt to prove himself to God. The faithful prove themselves by what they suffer.

In other religions self-denial is accomplished by making costly sacrifices, sometimes human, in order to earn the favor of their deities. As the plague stalked Europe in the 1300-1400s, a flagellant sect arose. They thought that the plague was a sign of God’s displeasure and punishment. Therefore, the flagellants paraded through Europe whipping one another, convinced that this would earn God’s favor. And for this, they received high grades from their admirers.

Masochism takes many forms. Benedict XVI writes about another form of masochism. He notes how Western culture, en masse, has turned against itself and its own Christian heritage:

  • This case illustrates a peculiar western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure…Multiculturalism, which is so constantly and passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own heritage. (Quoted by Jean Bethke Elshtain, First Things, March, 2009, 36)
Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali Muslim turned atheist, shares this insight:

  • In certain countries, "left-wing," secular liberals have stimulated my critical thinking and that of other Muslims. But these same liberals in Western politics have the strange habit of blaming themselves for the ills of the world, while seeing the rest of the world as victims. To them, victims are to be pitied, and they lump together all pitiable and suppressed people, such as Muslims, and consider them good people who should be cherished and supported so that they can overcome their disadvantages. The adherents to the gospel of multiculturalism refuse to criticize people whom they see as victims. Some Western critics disapprove of United States policies and attitudes but do not criticize the Islamic world, just as, in the first part of the twentieth century, Western socialist apologists did not dare criticize the Soviet labor camps. Along the same lines, some Western intellectuals criticize Israel, but they will not criticize Palestine because Israel belongs to the West, which they consider fair game, but they feel sorry for the Palestinians, and for the Islamic world in general, which is not as powerful as the West. They are critical of the native white majority in Western countries but not of Islamic minorities. Criticism of the Islamic world, of Palestinians, and of Islamic minorities is regarded as Islamophobia and xenophobia.
Self-castigation is subtly and subconsciously understood as a reasonable payment for self-validation, a necessary defense against shame. It works something like this: “I am a good and worthy person if I champion the interests of others and am willing to criticize my own traditions.” (It is not my intention to devalue good deeds, but rather their self-righteous motivations!)

Can we ascribe all of these phenomena to pathology or to the idiosyncrasies of a limited number of cultures? Obviously, there is something more global taking place. Ordinarily, it would have been more in keeping with our pleasure-seeking nature to believe, “I make my gods happiest with me when I’m thoroughly enjoying myself”? However, this type of hedonistic religion is always replaced by more masochistic forms. Why? Why haven’t we become more proficient in rewriting our scripts to eliminate the necessity for pain and to maximize pleasure? Why has this mysterious script proved itself so impervious to editorial “improvements,” especially in view of the encouragement given to hedonism by our permissive, pleasure-seeking age? Evidently, there is something else indelibly taking place in humanity’s game-plan. This is why human history consistently testifies that we are more than ready to pay the price of self-mutilation or self-deprivation.

I don’t think we’re ready to answer this question until we have expanded our inquiry to include the sister of self-denial—self-indulgence! They both address the identical problem of shame and feelings of unworthiness. Although seeming polar opposites, they are kissing cousins. Writer and psychotherapist, John Bradshaw, points out that these opposite responses are both shame-generated:

  • The most paradoxical aspect of neurotic shame is that it is the core motivator of the super-achieved and the underachieved, the Star and the Scapegoat, the “Righteous” and the wretched, the powerful and the pathetic. (Healing the Shame that Binds You, 14)
Interestingly, both self-indulgence and self-denial are closely associated in the practice of Eastern religions. Some of their practices attempt to dry up desire and lust through the fires of self-mortification, like rain evaporating on hot Florida asphalt. By extinguishing desire, they hope to transcend the “world of delusion.”

However, the opposite teaching of self-indulgence is often taught as a more appealing alternative. Instead of trying to burn away their desires, some gurus teach radical self-indulgence. As one Hindu mystic commented, “Fasting will only increase desire, and you will only think about food. Instead, consume as much honey as you can, and you won’t desire it anymore.”

The Doors’ Jim Morrison had a similar outlook. As is the case with all of us, his sense of shame wouldn’t be silenced by self-denial. Instead, he believed that it had to be saturated by self-indulgence until it fell apart, like a soggy paper towel. He was convinced that this would result in freedom and spiritual purification:

  • “Sensuousness and evil is an attractive image to us now…It’s like a purification ritual in the alchemical sense. First you have to have the period of disorder, chaos, returning to a primeval disaster religion. Out of that you purify the elements and find the new seed of life.” (Quoted from Hungry for Heaven, Steve Turner, 96)
How do we explain self-mutilation and self-indulgence in the same breath? Is there a common thread connecting them? All humanity experiences guilt and shame. Counselor John Bradshaw claims that these feelings are so powerful that they are life-controlling. Guilt and shame tell us that there is something the matter with us and compel us to do something about the disturbing alarm they sound. We therefore resort to denial, self-mutilation, self-indulgence, drugs and even workaholism to convince ourselves that we’re really worthy people in the face of our persistent shame. We cut ourselves and for a few moments feel that life, once again, is good. (Clinical studies have shown that after an act of self-mutilation, cortisone production, directly associated with stress, is reduced.)

We deprive, afflict, and sacrifice ourselves for good reason. But why should self-castigation make us feel better? We are created in the image of God. Therefore, we are highly moral creatures, and we are painfully aware when we violate our internal God-infused rule book. In addition to this, we also have a sense that there must be retribution for the infractions. We’re then confronted with two choices: either we confess and seek the mercy of the One who created the rules or we deal with the problem ourselves. If we have a problem with God, we usually deal with the problem ourselves. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did. They covered their sin and shame with fig leaves—hardly an adequate solution. We, however, do the same thing. Instead of fig leaves, we cover ourselves with good deeds, accomplishments or self-affliction. We convince ourselves that we are fully able to pay the price for our guilt and shame. And we often do such a good job of this that we actually become convinced of our own righteousness, superiority and entitlement.

But an entitlement mentality is a lethal poison. Because of their self-inflicted punishments, the flagellants convinced themselves and others that they were even more spiritual and entitled than the priests. Consequently, they entered the cathedrals, driving away the “less worthy” presiding priests, sometimes even beating them.

Guilt and shame cause such psychological turmoil that we can’t ignore them. We feebly erect a wall of denials and self-righteous rationalizations in a vain attempt to shield ourselves against their indictments. However, we find that they are like inflated beach balls in the ocean, which inevitably resurface no matter how valiantly and persistently we fight to keep them submerged.

Are we condemned to vainly pursue an unattainable freedom from these slave-masters? Have we become servants of denial and image management to hide the painful truths about ourselves? It would seem so. If we need to feel that we are significant and worthy people and our unalterable script tells us we’re not, we have a problem—a fatiguing quest after the transient feeling of worthiness.

The Biblical faith affirms that we do have a very real problem—God (and even our God-given human nature) has been offended by both our sin and our inadequate, self-absorbed attempts to atone for our sin through self-righteous acts and justifications. We have covered ourselves with fig leaves in the form of accomplishments hoping that this would obscure the offense and silence the guilt and shame. When this failed to work, we ran from God and refused to meet Him in the light of true confession. And we have been running ever since.

However, He paid the price through mutilation by our human hands so that we wouldn’t have to suffer mutilation at His hands or even our own. If we are convinced that Christ has paid the price for our sins in full and that nothing will separate us from His love and forgiveness, then the sense of guilt and shame and the need to continually prove ourselves is neutralized.

Bradshaw claims that “By being aware of the dynamics of shame, by naming it, we gain some power over it” (23). He’s right if by “being aware of the dynamics of shame” he means understanding that we have a real-live sin problem that only God’s grace can adequately address. We do have to “name it” by confessing it, not in denying it or by covering it over by self-atonement or good deeds. Good deeds do play their very vital role, but not as a ploy to deny our guilt. As rain falls from clouds, so must forgiveness come from God. Any attempt to forgive ourselves is nothing short of masturbation and a refusal to grapple with the objective offense of our sins.

Martin Luther subjected himself to the most extreme and painful disciplines trying to earn God’s love. However, in the midst of his studies, the concept of grace and reconciliation through Christ suddenly came alive as never before. In his Commentary on the Book of Galatians, he wrote,
  • Although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would satisfy Him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather murmured against Him…Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement, “The just shall live by his faith” [Rom 1:17]. Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. Therefore I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through the doors into paradise.”
Luther discovered something that many of us have discovered—the Word of God is transformational! It (and the God who gave it) is the necessary antidote for masochism in its various forms. I still don’t enjoy taking long showers, but I no longer experience the need to prove my worthiness by keeping them under the three minute limit. In contrast to the reassurances of many psychologists that I was a “great guy,” it was only the Word of Christ that was able to convince me of this and free me from my internal shackles.

When we reject the gift of God’s righteousness procured on the Cross, we condemn ourselves to endlessly pursue our own righteousness, like Sisyphus self-condemned to push his boulder. When we fail to receive this payment for sin, we likewise sentence ourselves to lives of masochism, endlessly trying to pay off a debt that is far beyond our means to ever satisfy. Consequently, we are always paying, always pushing, always trying to prove ourselves.

In retrospect, I find it so remarkable that Jesus’ death on the Cross is the only antidote for humanity’s obsessions. It’s also the perfect piece to complete the jigsaw puzzle presented by our confused lives. Pleasure seeking, denial, and masochism each had failed to fill the gap. This forces us to ask the question, “Why is there is such an incredible fit between this Bible-centered event that occurred 2000 years ago and my mental well-being?” Perhaps, Christ is the missing piece!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Banning Gay-Lifestyle-Change Therapy


My Response to Someone in Favor of Banning this Therapy:

If I believed as you do that that gay-lifestyle-change therapy (GLCT) was so destructive, forbidding it might make far more sense to me, or at least publishing something about the dangers or possible guidelines.

However, much of this kind of therapy is merely supportive of gays trying to leave a lifestyle that is highly self-destructive, according to all of the stats. (Perhaps the reported negative consequences gays have experienced in GLCT were not due to GLCT, but to the dangers inherent in this lifestyle.)

I certainly agree with you that some of our deepest inclinations are difficult or even impossible to change. Some require a miracle. Consequently, maturity is often a matter of learning how to live with our self-destructive impulses – and I certainly have my share – rather than eradicating them. If some therapists have subjected their clients to extreme measures, like shock therapy, to eradicate these impulses, I would certainly join you in questioning their usefulness.

However, I would remind you that extreme measures have been used – and they are still used – in treating depression. However, would you ban ALL therapies for depression because of these aberrations? Certainly not, and no one else suggests this extreme course of action. Why then do we find this extreme reaction in regards to GLCT?

I think that the answer is one of politics, pressure groups, peer-intimidation and political correctness. In this regards, please see: http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2011/03/politically-correct-american.html

Nevertheless, I have met many ex-gays who have been helped with their same-sex attraction (SSA) through counseling. Some even have subsequently married. Some admit that they still struggle with SSA, while others claim that they are no longer troubled by SSA. Should we believe their testimonies? Why not! All of the studies gauging therapeutic success rely upon self-reporting. Why then just call self-reporting about SSA into question? I think that this reflects the bias of those who oppose this form of therapy.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Contentment: In Mind if not also in Body


Contentment is a precious possession. It chooses to be satisfied with what we have:

·        But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. (1 Tim. 6:6-9)

Contentment understands that if it is satisfied with little, having much will present no problem. However, if we are only content with much, everything that falls short of this standard will produce disappointment and even despair. Consequently, when our expectations aren’t met, this disappointment might “plunge men into ruin and destruction.” Discontentment is also the source of fights and resentments:

·        What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)

Contentment isn’t the same thing as moral apathy and indifference to circumstances. Contentment is certainly willing to forge ahead and improve moral and physical circumstances. However, it is willing to accept setbacks knowing that God’s will must prevail over our own. Besides, God’s will is more to be esteemed than our own very limited understanding. When faced with the terrifying prospect of the cross, Jesus prayed,

·        "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will…My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." (Matthew 26:39, 42)

Contentment understands that God’s will is preferable to our goals and desires. It trusts that God can take better care of us than we can. It despairs of its own understanding and quest for joy and fulfillment. It even recognizes that we do not even know how to pray:

·        In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)

Contentment therefore has learned to not insist in our own ways, but instead to trust in our Savior:

·        Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Contentment is willing to embrace God’s plan for our lives, even though it might be painful. It looks for the good through the tears, assured that God ways are always truth and mercy. We do not trust in our own understanding, because we’ve learned that it has often led us in the wrong direction. We have also learned another critical truth. Our hope is not in this life. Instead, in this life

·        [We] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? (Romans 8:23-24)

Consequently, our ultimate hope for joy, love and peace is not in this life. Instead, the object of our hope is unseen. It is the certainty of this hope that enables us to tolerate this life’s disappointments.

If our expectations are invested in this life, we will suffer disappointment. If we expect a $10,000 dollar bonus at the end of the year and only receive $1000, we will be disappointed. However, if we understand and trust that our Lord has a purpose for depriving us of a blessing that we had pursued, we can remain content even in the midst of our disappointment. Paul claims that he had learned this secret:

·        For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philip. 4:11-12)

If Paul is talking about a feeling of contentment, then perhaps I have yet to learn this secret. It seems to me that in this life, our soul is never completely at rest – never completely emotionally content. We continue to struggle against one disappointment or another. During his lengthy prison stay, puritan preacher John Bunyan confessed as much:

He who is down needs fear no fall,
            He that is low no pride.
How that is humble ever shall
            Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
            Little be it or much:
And Lord, contentment still I crave,
            Because Thou savest such. (Pilgrim’s Progress)

Bunyan had learned to be content with the little he had in prison. However, on an emotional level, it was still something he craved.

Myths of the Sacred


If you reject truth, you create a black hole – a vacuum - and it must be filled. Myth is always a ready candidate:

  • Now having rejected the Bible, the West is trying to find meaning through myths. It is following Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, and James Cameron and inventing and selling myths, as Greece did after it realized that a finite mind cannot know universal truth. Britain gave universities to India to set us free. The West is now giving its youth myths that can only enslave them. (Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book that Made your World, 219
Perhaps Mangalwadi is defining myth too narrowly. There are many other forms of myths – God substitutes, vacuum fillers. The Humanist Manifesto II reads:

  • “Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.”
It is hard to understand how “technology” and “human evolution and cultural development can provide “an abundant and meaningful life.” If anything, technology seems to deprive us from traditional sources of meaning – family, community and shared values. However, once God is rejected, another source of meaning must be created, however fanciful.

New Age guru David Spangler presents a very different kind of myth:

  • The New Age approach is to look at the object, people and the events of our lives and to say ‘you are sacred. In you and with you I can find the sacramental passages that reconnect me to the wholeness of creation.’ It is then to ask ourselves what kind of culture, what kind of institutions – be they political, economic, artistic, educational, or scientific – we need that can honor that universal sacredness.”
However, once you have killed the Transcendent, you are left with nothing more than the physical. What then can be the basis of “universal sacredness?” If nature is sacred, then so too are swine flu and canker sores. It requires a great act of myth-making to find “the sacramental” in pimples, cankers and hives.

According to another master-myth-maker:

  • One should  beware of evaluating the force of an ideal too little (5)…the Eternal Will…dominates this universe to promote the victory of the better and stronger, and to demand the submission of the worse and the weaker. Thus in principle it favors the…thought of nature and believes in the validity of this law down to the last individual…In its opinion, out of the masses emerges the importance of the person…It believes in the necessity of idealizing mankind, as, in turn it sees in this the only presumption for the existence of mankind.(6)…The new age of today is at work on a new human type. Men and women are to be more healthy, stronger: there is a new feeling of life, a new joy in life. Never was humanity in its external appearance and in its frame of mind nearer to the ancient world [the Greeks and Romans] than it is today. (Adolph Hitler’s speeches, Nazi Culture, George Mosse, 15)
Why myth-making? Well, we need it – anything to provide definition and meaning to our lives! Once we kill God, we have to invent numerous substitutes. Why numerous? Because God fulfills many needs! Here are several:

THE NEED FOR PURPOSE.  We need to know that we are serving truth and not pleasure. The pursuit of mere pleasure is counterproductive. Pleasure becomes elusive when pursued for its own sake. In itself, it is a drug that cannot ever reduplicate its original “high.” Instead, personal fulfillment has long been seen as a by-product of living in harmony with a higher purpose. Even the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “He who has a why [a purpose or rationale] to live for can bear almost any how.” 

However, Nietzsche and other existentialists thought that they had the mental capacity to produce their own purpose. However, such an arbitrary mental creation is no more satisfying than mentally creating the fantasy of having a family when we’re lonely.

THE NEED FOR OBJECTIVE AND ABSOLUTE MORAL TRUTH. Without this, meaning and purpose are impossible. Instead, life is narrowed upon self in the form of moral relativism. Nothing is real apart from our own subjective feelings. Nothing is higher than our own experiences. Instead, of meditating upon a gloriously designed creation, we are self-condemned to obsess about our feelings and evolutionary accidents.

Many plead pragmatism – moral decision-making based upon what works. However, “what works for society” inevitably deteriorates into “what works for me!” Pragmatism degenerates into our own selfish concerns. And why shouldn’t it, if there are no absolute moral standards to keep us to the straight-and-narrow!

We then have to sanctify our feelings to the level of the sacred, because, with the death of the Transcendent, our feelings are left to occupy the vacant throne of our lives and decision-making. Introspection then becomes a sacred duty – a form of worship.

THE NEED FOR VALUES. Without shared values, there can be no community – no sharing. Without God, values become the inevitable creation of culture and history. Why do our laws protect humans? Why instead is not the king or the cow holy? Simply because the West still retains some of its biblical influences! Why do we still cherish the idea of the “sanctity of all human life” or “equality (when by any materialistic assessment we are not equal)?” Why don’t we turn other peoples into slaves or even exterminate them? Because the Bible tells us we can’t.

THE NEED FOR AN ETERNAL HOPE. Without any assurance of an afterlife, King Solomon understandably lamented:

  • The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I thought in my heart, "The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?" I said in my heart, "This too is meaningless." For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die! 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. (Eccles. 2:14-18)
Without the assurance of a final reward, in which our Lord will wipe away all our tears (Rev. 21:4), we too will inevitably “hate life.” Also without this assurance, it is hard to imagine that we would leave the administration of ultimate justice to God. Instead, revenge will become the norm.
   
THE NEED FOR SECURITY. Without the hope in our Savior, His deliverance and His promise to working all of our circumstances for good, we will inevitably take more upon ourselves than we can bear. We then become our own saviors. In order to convince ourselves that we can bear the burdens, we have to develop a grandiose, almost god-like self-esteem to compensate for the loss. This also requires denial of those personal factors that contradict our grandiosity.

Consequently, the objective nature of sin and guilt are denied. Instead of finding forgiveness in God, the therapeutic community teaches the God-myth-substitute – self-forgiveness, a form of masturbation and not the real thing.

THE NEED FOR A SELF-CONCEPT. We all need to define ourselves and to think that we are significant. We can either derive this thinking from ourselves, others or the Lord. However, when we derive it from ourselves, it inevitably entails denial, self-delusion, and self-preoccupation. We can never feel at peace with our self-constructed self-myth, and therefore, we are always trying to prove ourselves and to put on a front for others.

When we try to derive our self-concept from others, we can either become co-dependent or resentful, when they fail to affirm our self-selected self-concept. Besides, in either of these two cases, we place our lives on unstable ground. Failures or rejections become unbearable.

However, when our self-concept is derived from our loving, faithful, unchanging and forgiving Savior, we have a firm, unchanging, trustworthy foundation. We are no longer devastated by failures, rejections or inadequacies because we are assured that He is now our identity (Gal. 2:20).

THE NEED FOR RATIONALITY. Although the secularist can act rationally, he lacks an explanation for it. If the physical world is merely molecules-in-motion, there is no reason to believe that logic and reason should be any different - an unchanging standard or measurement. Likewise, there is no reason to expect that our scientific formulas will still apply to tomorrow. The Marxist Frederick Engels wrote:

  • But if the question is raised: what then are thought and consciousness, and whence they come, it becomes apparent that they are products of the human brain and that man himself is a product of nature, which has been developed in and along with its environment.
According to Engels, the brain has evolved along with the rationality by which the brain functions. This means that rationality and logic should also be evolving along with its source – the brain. It’s therefore a captive trapped within the blood and fibers of our brains. This would suggest that the “rational” laws of science – and their corresponding formulas – are also in flux, inextricably attached to our evolving brains. However, this is not the case. The laws are clearly independent of our brains.

THE NEED FOR BEAUTY. The secularist can enjoy beauty but only superficially. As a secularist, I had seen Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and was moved by Sidney Carton’s act of self-sacrifice. In my heart, I responded to his sacrifice, but in my mind I though him an idiot for surrendering his life because of a transient electro-chemical mental state.

For me life had become narrowed down to a meaningless series of electro-chemical mental states. Such a world has little room for beauty, integrity, courage, dignity and anything beyond animalistic satisfaction. After all, everything else is illusion. Consequently, there were no higher ideals to move or enlighten me, no beauty to illuminate me. This made life drab and insipid.

In contrast to this, God breathes layers of truth into the fabric of His reality. My wife and I saw War Horse tonight, and I was moved when the young man Albert, who pursued his beloved horse Joey through the no-man’s-land of the First World War, was finally reunited with his beloved Joey against all odds.

I asked myself what about God’s reality made me react as I had? What divine truth had I plugged into? Does it represent our eventual reunion with our cosmic Lover? I won’t try to explain it here. However, for the Christian, truth is multi-dimensional, interconnected and living.

Consequently, when you kill God, you also kill the person you have been created to be and are self-condemned to desperately pursue myths, leaving your life bereft of meaning and fullness.