God, where are you when an earthquake swallows up unsuspecting people? Where are you God when fires ravage homes that displace thousands? Where are you when hurricanes pound the coast and inflict pain on countless lives? Where were you when tornadoes struck Oklahoma and demolished house after house? What about the kids, God? Why did innocent kids have to suffer and die? You are all powerful. You could have stopped it. Why didn’t you?
This is a big question. One that we all have wrestled with at times, struggled with, and either worked through or pushed to the back of our minds. Yet, when tragedy strikes it pulls the question back to the forefront of our minds. Why does God allow suffering? Why does he allow tragedy? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Many refer to these phenomena as natural evil, as opposed to moral evil, which requires some agent that inflicts pain. Moral evil is when a drunk driver kills an innocent child or a person abuses another. When it comes to moral evil we know that cause is due to sin. A person has the freedom to choose to abuse his free will and harm others. Yet, natural evil, or agentless evil, there is no person or agent that chooses to hurt others. It is the result of the natural order. It is a physical phenomenon that no one, per se, caused. These events happen without a causal agent. Yet, the question lingers, why does God allow it?
Before we seek an answer to this question from a Christian perspective, it is important to understand that every worldview must answer this question. From an atheistic perspective, it is bound to happen at some point. In our world, people will get hurt. It’s an accident we are here to begin with. So when natural disaster strikes, you simply lose the lottery. Someone had to get hurt, and your number was up. Incidentally, it ends there. Life is cut short. Life has no meaning or ultimate purpose. Hopefully you enjoyed the years in the sun you had. Then there are the pantheistic religions that say the tragedies we experience are the result of negative Karma. That is, the bad things you do create negative energy and you must pay off this negative energy by experiencing difficulties. So essentially, you are the reason that bad things happen to you? They might also say that suffering is an illusion, but last time I suffered it felt pretty real. None of these answers seem satisfactory or easy to live out consistently.
So what does Christianity have to say about natural disasters? Every now and then someone like Pat Robertson will pipe up and say that God directly causes natural disasters as a punishment for sin. We see evidence of this in the Bible in limited places. Yet, we are not qualified to make such judgments, and to do so is completely insensitive and downright narcissistic. Furthermore, God using natural disasters as punishment seems limited to a specific socio-cultural context, that is, theocratic Israel.
While God does not cause natural disasters, the question still must be asked why does He allow them? Many question, if God is all-loving and all-powerful, then why doesn’t he stop tornadoes from ripping across Oklahoma? While I believe God is both all-loving and all-powerful, does this mean that God is under compulsion to shield us from all pain and suffering? To fully answer this question man would have to assume the mind of God. God has knowledge of every possible contingency and our knowledge is limited. As Charles Spurgeon once explained, “When we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.”
Though we cannot assume the mind of God, we can make some observations. First we know that when God created the world, it was good. Suffering and evil were not present. When sin entered the world, death and suffering also did, and this applied to creation itself. Paul reminds us of this, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.” (Romans 8:22, HCSB). So natural disasters are tied to the fall itself.
We could also discuss how God uses pain in our lives, though this is often less than satisfying when we are in the middle of tragedy. Yet, sometimes God uses pain our lives for multiple reasons. At times it is to get our attention, build character, or to keep us from greater pain and suffering by exposing us to a smaller amount of aversion. Again, we do not know the mind of God.
This question has been examined from many different angles, but I would like to approach it from a different perspective. Often natural disasters are referred to as “acts of God.” We must ask ourselves, however, are “acts of God” limited to natural disasters? Might we remember that the very fact that we have life to begin with was an “act of God”? Creation from nothing was an act of God. The suffering of Christ was an act of God. The daily sustaining of the universe is an act of God. The very fact that my lungs continue to breathe in and out at this moment is an act of God. Let us not limit acts of God to the tragedies that strike.
We must also ask, is death underserved? Due to the effects of sin, everyone has an appointment with death. We think that we get some say on when that appointment should be. We deem it unfair when people die before the average age, but say nothing when people live past the average age. Every day we get is solely due to God’s grace. We have no claim on our lives. Because God is the creator of life He can give and take when he sees fit, often for purposes that are beyond our immediate understanding.
Death will come to us all at some point. While it is hard for us to let go in this life, death is not something to be feared for those that know Christ. Death is hard on the survivor, but for the person that dies, they enter into bliss. Yet we forget this when disaster strikes because our emotions are greatly shaken, and rightly so. Yet we blame God for something that would happen at some point regardless, and when it does happen the person lost is in a better state than before. It is hard for us, the survivor. Yet, God gives us the capacity to overcome our grief.
Many would say that natural disasters are undeserved. Again, when we make this appeal we also forget about the good things that are undeserved. Do we, as unrighteous people, deserve anything? Yet, God is faithful to allow good things in our lives. If we make the argument that the bad is underserved we must also be consistent and say that the good is underserved.
In other words, the good that God allows in our lives we accept without thought or question. Yet, when tragedy strikes, God has allowed undeserving bad things into our life, and He is horrible for having done so, and even then, we don’t know His reasons for doing so.
Is it perhaps possible then, that in a fallen world that groans under the weight of sin, that God works in a way where the best possible and loving outcomes result? Is it possible that we focus too heavily on this life at the expense of remembering we were created for another world? Is it possible that we miss all of the blessings and provisions of God and focus only on the seeming injustices and tragedies? Is it possible that amidst tragedy, God is right there with us? Is it possible that God holds our hand through the eye of the storm?
God created the world knowing that we would botch it all up. He knew as a result of this that He would have to send His Son to die for the sins of mankind, that all of humanity might be restored. Would a loving father make a decision that would involve the death of His Son? In the midst of loss we might remember that God is no stranger to our plight.
These questions are not easy, yet; only Christianity offers an explanation that comes close to satisfying. Either the universe is indifferent when tragedy strikes, we brought it on ourselves, suffering is an illusion, or God is in control even when we don’t complete understand it. He loves us, blesses us, and seeks our ultimate good. So much, that He suffered greatly be sending His own son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. We should point out that the reason this answer does not seem fully satisfactory is because we don’t allows get to know the why or connect the dots. We have a low tolerance for cognitive ambiguity. Yet, at this point, we simply have to trust that God is all powerful and all loving and He is in control.
Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31, HCSB)
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Recently, I was having an initial conversation with a fellow believer. We were doing the usual guy-get-to-know-one-another chat. Inevitably, when two guys meet for the first time, the question always comes up, “What do you do and what is your background”? I explained I was a minister and psychotherapist, and that I was studying Apologetics. “Oh, your one of those”, he said.” I was confused, “One of those, what?” “You are one of those guys that feel like God has to be defended, but He doesn’t. God doesn’t need anyone to defend Him.”
Is that true? Is apologetics just a waste of time? Well, my newfound friend is right. God does not need anyone to defend Him. I am pretty sure God has it covered with his legions of angels, not to mention all of His attributes like omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and the like. God holds the market on power and can easily defend Himself. He doesn’t need me to do anything for Him, but He does allow me to be a part of His plan.
God does not need defending. His truth also stands on it’s own. God’s truth is true regardless of whether a person wants to accept it or not. Yet, Apologetics is not about defending God. I will let God take care of Himself. Apologetics is about giving reasons for the hope that we have. Apologetics is about tearing down false ideas that obstruct people from coming to know the truth about God. Essentially, apologetics is about removing blindfolds that keep people from seeing who God is.
I am often dumbfounded when I hear Christians make the statement that Apologetics is an unnecessary discipline because God can take care of Himself. Of course God can take care of Himself. That is not up for debate. Yet, if apologetics is unnecessary, then why does God command the Christian to engage in Apologetics? Notice what scripture has to say about giving reasons for what we believe.
I Peter 3:15 is the hallmark verse commanding an apologetic lifestyle, “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 we are commanded to “demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God.” One must be able to give reasons why Christianity is true instead of the many false ideologies. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus states that we are to love God “with all of our minds.” How does one do that? By being informed about competing worldviews and employing logic to show why Christianity is the most compelling belief. We should also note that Jesus and the apostles employed Apologetics. Jesus repeatedly gave evidences and reasons, such as miracles and fulfilled prophecies, as to why people should trust His claim to be the messiah. The apostles did the same. Paul’s address at Mars Hill in Acts 17 is a brilliant apologetic!
We are commanded in Matthew 28 to go and share our faith with those around us. We are directly commanded to evangelize the world and present the good news to all we can. Apologetics is pre-evangelism. It removes obstacles so the good news can be heard!
God doesn’t need defending, but people need help making sense of the many competing ideas. We have been commanded to give a reason for the hope we have. It is only the lazy Christian that cannot give reasons for his faith. Evangelism doesn’t happen within a vacuum. It happens amidst many different subcultures. People’s background, experiences, history, education, etc. effects how they relate to the gospel. While we can never be completely prepared, we can do our best to have an understanding of our own beliefs and be able to offer a reasonable explanation of them.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Have you ever paused to consider the importance of words? We take them for granted, don’t we? Thousands of words pour out of our mouths on a daily basis. Sometimes they are well crafted and seasoned, while other times they are impulsive and frivolous. The use of language plays an immensely important role in our daily lives.
Language flows out from God. The world was brought into existence by divine fiat through the spoken word of God. The Genesis account repeatedly says, “Then God said.” Whatever God spoke came springing into existence. John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Later, the Word, the second member of the Trinity, would become flesh and walk among us. The Good News itself is communicated to us through language. Words are the vehicle for understanding and communicating truth.
Yet, in our postmodern times, the deconstruction of language is one of the greatest ways that truth, good, and morality have come under attack. In fact, the dismantling of language is the hallmark of the postmodern worldview. We are told truth can’t be known and words carry no meaning. Mankind has used language in attempt to eradicate God, personal moral culpability, and attain autonomy and sovereignty over his own life.
Think about the ways language is twisted, distorted, and mutilated in attempt to redefine morality. Think about the ways people use language as a means to mask their agenda and motives. Hitler was a very skilled lingual craftsman. Government has used language as a tool for manipulating people throughout history. For example, taxes are redefined as “sacrifice” and health care a “universal crisis.” Hitler redefined murder as “ethnic cleansing” and it was justified as being a “health issue” for the rest of mankind. Words are powerful and they help define the way we think about ideas.
What about morality? The twisting of words is commonplace here. Suicide has become “death with dignity.” Murder is simply “a woman’s right to autonomy” or “terminating a pregnancy.” Prostitutes are “sex care providers”. Homosexuality is “an alternative lifestyle” or “being true to who one is.” Pornography is labeled as “adult entertainment” or is said to be “provocative.” Sex outside of marriage is always called “an act of love.” My, how language can be sanitized to mask mankind’s moral transgressions. We have become good at twisted words.
Under Sharia law murder is called an “honor killing.” Terrorists are often called “freedom fighters.” Illegal aliens are now “undocumented residents.” The cavalier teaching in many universities is redefined as “academic freedom.” The trend in culture to replace the sacred with the secular is called “democratic liberalism.” Even the atheists now want to be called “brights”. We have become good with toying with the meaning of words.
It was G.K. Chesterton that once said, “When somebody wishes to wage a social war against what all normal people have regarded as a social decency, the very first thing he does is to find some artificial term that shall sound relatively decent.” He captures the spirit of our day remarkably well. Truth itself is under an attack and is being murdered under the knives of our words.
People no longer use the word “sin”. It has become obsolete as well. Instead of sinning, people make “mistakes.” We are no longer sinners, simply “mistakers.” If we are no longer sinners, then we no longer have anyone to answer to. We have become our own God. Sin itself has become sanitized in attempt to free ourselves from answering to a higher power. But surely deep down we know that a mistake is forgetting to pick up that item from the grocery store, not carrying the one when handling numbers, or knocking the vase of the counter. Sin is our moral transgressions. Sin is what we do wrong. Sin is all the evil we act upon which ultimately ends in death.
The Christian must be honest. We must call things what they are. A spade must be called a spade. Sin must be called sin. We must be honest in our use of words. We must speak truth in the context of love. We must look in our own lives and not attempt to sanitize the most hideous facets of our sinful nature. Instead of trying to deny the problem, as Adam and Eve did when they covered their naked bodies with leaves, we must look to Christ to cover our sin with His blood.
We must also be reminded that another attack on language involves those that say “words have no meaning.” That is, words don’t carry their own meaning. Instead we give meaning to words. In this sense, language becomes pointless.
I was recently watching a question and answer session with a well-known academic. He has published extensively and has had several best selling books. He stated that, “Words don’t mean anything, people ascribe their own meaning to words. Truth is thus unknowable.” Then someone with some sense in the audience asked, “Then why should we buy your books if truth is unknowable and words don’t carry any meaning. What could they possibly tell us?” That is the price my fine, academic friend. Your words have killed your very argument.
Words have meaning. We don’t get the luxury of defining words in a way that is convenient for us. Language carries with it an original meaning whether we understand it or not. Scripture communicates truth to us. The original author is presenting a specific meaning. The author transmits the meaning. It is not the reader that applies his own meaning to the text.
When we attempt to deconstruct language and reconstruct it in ways that suits ourselves, we do so at a price. We are paying the price now socially, morally, and spiritually. We have torn down moral fences without giving pause to ask why they were put there in the first place.
Words have meaning. Let us not toy with them. The Christian must stand firm on truth.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
For the Christian, Apologetics is a necessity. In the pluralistic, hodge-podge-of-beliefs culture that we live in, one must always be ready with an answer. The Christian is ever presented with ideas that attempt to challenge the credibility of theism or cast Christianity in a disparaging light. Indeed, to say that apologetics is important would be an understatement. It does much to bolster the faith of the believer, while empowering them to share their faith. It also serves as pre-evangelism because it tears down false ideas that might obstruct the truth in someone’s mind.
Granted, some believers feel a greater calling to invest themselves more heavily when it comes to defending the Christian faith, but all believers should be prepared to give an adequate defense of their faith in Christ, theologically, historically, and philosophically. If one cannot articulate and defend their own beliefs, it places them on uneven, or even shifting, ground when it comes to sharing their faith with others. Worse, their own faith may be shaken when presented with evidence by skeptics or when life deals them something unsettling.
Yet, when it comes to developing one’s defense it is easy to be lazy. Giving a strong apologetic requires much study, thought, and discussion. I think we can all say that it is easy to be lazy in this area. Yet, thankfully, many Christians rigorously devote themselves to defending the truth of Christianity. It is here, that we need to be reminded that the hard working apologist that is diligent to study can also find himself being lazy, relationally lazy.
Sometimes, it is hard to find the balance. Apologetics is not just a cognitive endeavor; it is intended to be a highly relational pursuit. The idea behind apologetics is to know truth, understand that truth to one’s best capacity, grow in the faith (both intellectually and experientially), build close relationships with others, and present that truth to them within the context of that relationship.
In many ways, Christianity has gotten relationally sloppy. We make evangelism a cognitive exercise. “Just present the truth.” “If they don’t like the truth that is there problem.” “They just don’t want to hear the truth.” These sorts of phrases smack of laziness. Sure, sometimes the truth is uncomfortable, but it is bearable, even if disagreeable, within the context of a close relationship. Within apologetics, one is forced to walk a tightrope between truth and love. We are reminded in Ephesians 4:15 to present truth, coupled with love. Truth and love are inextricably linked together and find their ultimate expression within the confines of close relationships with the people around us.
The apologist will find that his efforts yield meager results outside of sharing truth with love within close relationships. As a matter of fact, 71% of individuals who come to know Christ say that it was due to the efforts of an individual, and less than .05% came to know Christ through tracts, radio, or television. We cannot strictly make apologetics a cognitive endeavor and marginalize the relational significance.
The apologist has much to overcome if he wants the precious truth of Christianity to be heard. In 1996, 15% of unbelievers said they had a bad impression of Christianity. In 2007, those who viewed Christianity unfavorably leaped to 38%! That is a tremendously large shift in just 10 years!
We should note that 85% of non-church goers view Christianity as hypocritical while, get this, of people that do go to church, 47% say they believe Christianity is hypocritical! Only 20% of non-Christians believe that churches are loving environments, while less than 50% of church goers believe their church demonstrates unconditional love! This is a problem!
No one will listen to our truth unless they first see our love lived out daily in their lives. As Christians, and apologists, we have a lot to overcome before the truth even gets a hearing. And it is interesting, because people never had a problem with Jesus’ attitude or behavior, but there were certainly those who had a problem with his teachings and convictions. Today, there are those that resist Christianity due to the moral limitations it places on their lives, but I dare say a great many people push back due to the attitude and behavior of the Christian! Is it possible that Christianity needs an attitude adjustment and a reminder that Christianity is relational to its very core?
Here we should again look to the Apostle Paul. He writes in the familiar I Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” We may be well versed in scripture, be familiar with the right questions, and have our philosophy perfectly logically valid, but if we don’t have love for other people then we are just making noise. If we aren’t seriously investing into the lives of people around us we are just making a sound.
A cymbal sounds wonderful when crafted into a drum solo or song, but played repeatedly by itself it becomes increasingly annoying. As Christians, if our truth isn’t crafted into the context of strong relationships and presented with love, then we become annoying and affirm what many say about Christianity. That is a tragedy.
We must walk the tightrope well. Apologetics is certainly highly cognitive, but it is also incredibly relational! People will not care what we know until they legitimately believe that we care. Invest in people and speak the truth in love.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
The Barna Group recently published some new findings that we as Christians should be privy to. While 7 out of 10 Americans identify themselves as “Christians”, one can quickly see by looking at the research that there are some deep theological and lifestyle problems. While many label themselves as Christians it seems apparent that it could be in namesake only. You can read the full article here.
What are your reactions to these figures? Let us know!
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
“I was born this way”, a phrase that continues to drum louder and louder in these postmodern times. Two years ago the infamous Madam Monster, Lady Gaga, wrote a song by the same title. She sings, “Ooh, there ain’t no other way, baby, I was born this way.” This echoes the ideology of our day, that we are somewhat trapped by our biology. That is, you are who you are, and you act the way you act because you were biologically determined to do so. J. Reid writes, “The whole culture is metaphorically awash in genes, which are depicted as pervasive and powerful agents central to understanding both everyday behavior and the secret of life. Foraging through countless specialty periodicals and mass-culture sources, [one uncovers] references to selfish genes, pleasure-seeking genes, violence genes, gay genes, couch-potato genes, celebrity genes, depression genes. Everything but the kitchen sink gene.”
Not too far in the distant past, the field of psychology continually emphasized the idea that we are products of our environment. Our upbringing, social history, tragedies, and trauma was the impetus to our behavior. Yet now, we are locked in by our genetics. So which is it? Quite frankly, whichever allows us to eschew personal responsibility for our actions. Society clings to whatever explanation of human behavior that will strip them of their moral culpability.
It is imperative that we keep in mind that our biology is but one facet of our behavior, as is our social environment. There are incredibly diverse networks of factors that contribute to our many complex behaviors. To reduce human behavior to mere biology strains the limits of credulity and reduces man to an animalistic automaton. We are bigger than our biology. Nor can our choices be reduced to respondent conditioning within our social environment. We are able to override our biology when it comes to our decisions and behaviors. Neither does our social past define our future. To argue to the contrary one must be comfortable with the ramifications of such a statement.
If we are slaves to our genetics, then can anyone be held responsible for any action? Can society be reformed? What is the purpose of law and prohibiting certain behavior? Would change even be possible? Will people one day be genetic liabilities that must be managed by society, government, or law enforcement?
Gaga gets it. She understands the results of her argument. She says, “Don’t hide yourself in regret, Just love yourself and you’re set. I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way.” In other words, don’t worry about your moral transgressions. You’re a slave to the way you were “born”. It is here that I will affirm her lyrics, yet not in a way that is consistent with her intent. We are all “born this way.” We are all born into sin. Actually, we are all slaves to sin at birth. Paul reminds us in Romans that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” We are all born dead thanks to the very first man choosing to turn away from God. Now, we have no choice but to serve sin because we are born as slaves to that sin.
Yet, just as sin entered through that one man, grace came into the world through another, Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that we no longer have to live as slaves to sin, though sometimes we choose to because we have become so use to living in bondage.
Mankind is not a slave to biology, we are slaves to sin. Yet, we can freely choose to overcome our enslavement through Christ. Mankind has the ability to discern right from wrong because God has written a universal, binding, moral law upon the heart of every living soul.
We can know right from wrong. We have a choice. Biology does not control us. Our environment does not determine our actions. We are “born this way” as slaves, but we can choose to overcome through Christ.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
This is a sad week. Tragedy has visited us once again. Life has been taken unjustly, pain inflicted without cause. Evil has shown its face as the world looks on in horror. It was as if the world stopped for a while Monday, as everyone watched the events unfold at the Boston Marathon. Our hearts and prayers go out to all who have been touched by this maleficent act of villainy.
During times such as this, it often forces people to ask questions. Why did it happen? What does it mean? We want to connect the dots and have a certain degree of understanding. We watch the media coverage hoping to find answers. What was the motive? Who did it? Will justice be served?
Yet, there are even deeper questions. There are questions that flow deep beneath the shallow waters of our culture that must be delved into. Where is God in the middle of this tragedy? Why does He allow evil and pain? What does this say about mankind’s very nature? These are big questions that deserve everyone’s reflection.
The tragedy in Boston reminds us all that we live in a world that is broken. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” We see the effects of evil daily because we live in a world that bears the weight of sin. In the beginning, mankind was afforded a choice. We were given the option of choosing to trust in God’s goodness or to do life our own way. Man was given complete freedom, with a single rule to obey.
Man could choose life through abiding by God’s edict or destruction by going against God’s divine law. With this freedom came the potential of evil. It could be no other way. At this point many will ask, “Well, why didn’t God just force man to do right so we could avoid the consequences of evil?” This is not possible with the freedom of choice. If mankind has free will, then evil is the natural byproduct of man choosing poorly. I often enjoy asking people whether they would choose losing their freedom of choice to have a perfect life or have the freedom to choose and face the negative consequences of their actions. I have never had a person choose to give up their freedom when I pose this question. We all want to make choices for ourselves, be they good or bad, and with this capacity to choose comes the potential of evil. This is why these tragedies take place. Because mankind choose long ago to sin, and on the coattails of sin comes death and destruction.
Many seek to ask what God’s responsibility is when tragedy strikes, but what if we look at our own responsibility. We are always looking for somewhere to pass the buck. Have we not created a culture of death? Are our own hands not stained crimson as a culture with the blood of those fallen in Boston? Those in the ivory towers of the Ivy League consistently tell us that good and evil are but cloudy figments of our imagination. We live in a culture that denies any universal moral principles. Right and wrong are simply mental constructs that vary from person to person and culture to culture we are told. There is no universal truth. The natural law written on the heart of mankind by God is ancient folklore. If this is the case, then why are we surprised when the calamity of evil manifests itself, such as in Boston? “We cannot have it both ways” we are simply not permitted to live as if justice and truth really matter and yet deny that justice and truth are fixed universal referents.”
This leaves us to ask, where is God in all of this? He is not far from any one of us. He stands right along with us in our times of suffering. He weeps with those that weep. He comforts those that seek solace in the cross. We will do well to remember, Christ also suffered. The physical nature of Christ new pain, suffering, isolation, and emotional turmoil well. He is not some aloof deity that is a stranger to the plights of man. He also promises to right every wrong one day. He tells us to keep an eye on the horizon with the expectation of his return, when He will redeem creation. The Apostle Paul asks us to consider, “that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” One day, all will be made right.
Yet, in the meantime, we must morn with those that morn. Make our case for universal moral principles that God has written on the hearts of humanity. And we wait with anticipation for the day that God avenges evil, rights wrongs, and heals the brokenhearted.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed. Pray for Boston.
 J. Daryl Charles, Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things
For God so loved the world…BUT… you had better not do certain things or the deal is off. God loves you, but you better not be homosexual. God loves you, but you had better not fornicate. God loves you, but you had better not judge people. God loves you, but you had better not ________ (lie, cheat, steal, etc).
During a recent conversation, this line of thought was presented as rationale for distrusting God or doubting His credibility. “God says that He loves all of mankind, but then He puts limits on our behaviors and judges us for them. That doesn’t sound like love to me.” So is that true? Does God’s love depend on our ability to abide by the rules? Does God really communicate, “I love you…But”?
I have always found the insight of the famed Gestalt Psychologist, Fritz Perls, beneficial when he stated, “Always listen to what comes after the ‘but’.” You can learn a lot from people by listening to what comes after the “but”. You see, when but is used in a sentence it often negates or minimizes what has been previously said.
When we look at the Gospel, I don’t think we see God saying, “I love you, but.” Instead, we find that He says, “I love you, and”. John 3:16 states, “For God loved the world so much that (or and) he gave his one and only Son.” God’s love is not contingent on our behavior, if it was, none of us could ever be loved by God. Romans 3:10 reminds us, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Yet, in spite of our twisted nature, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Does the Bible offer proscriptions on certain behaviors? Absolutely? Is His love for us based on our ability or willingness to follow these proscriptions? A resounding no. God has always loved us and will always continue to. People often misunderstand why God seeks to restrict certain moral behaviors.
Everything God commands is for humanity’s benefit. He is not a cosmic killjoy seeking to rain on our parade. Disobedience leads to problems in our lives because when we choose to sin we choose to suffer. When we cross moral boundaries we openly invite consequences. Death and destruction are always on the heels of death.
We must also point out, that just because God loves us unconditionally this does not mean that he condones our behaviors. This is how relationships work, at least healthy ones anyway. For example, I love my wife very much. There is nothing that will change how I feel about her, but there are parameters around our relationship. I will not tolerate her stepping out of our marriage to become involved with other men. Love draws boundaries or it cannot be love. To condone abusive behaviors to our relationship or to watch her abuse herself is not love.
Our behaviors have nothing to do with whether God loves us. Our behaviors have everything to do with how much we love God. I do not try and live a moral life to escape eternal suffering. My eternal destiny was sealed when I accepted what Christ did for me on the cross, turned from my sin and we became involved relationally. My desire to live a moral life has everything to do with the fact that I want a close relationship with God. I do my best to follow God’s prescriptions because I trust Him to know what is best for me.
God doesn’t say, “I love you, but.” He says, “I love you, and.” I love you, and I sent my Son to die for you. I love you, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself. I love you, and I am willing to even allow you to reject me.
While God is not pleased with my sin and may discipline me in order to turn me from destructive paths and practices, His love for me does not diminish in any degree. He gave Himself for my sins in their entirety, so that I might have His love in its entirety… Accepting this reality of God’s unchanging regard is necessary for us to make progress in the Christian life. -Bryan Chapell
Walk good. Love wise. Be blessed.
Recently, I came across an article written by a woman who discusses the fact that her seven year old daughter is an atheist. The mother was once a catholic and now labels herself as a “recovering Catholic.” She seems uncertain about where her own beliefs fall. She labels herself as agnostic but seems to teeter back and forth between belief, or wanting to believe, to doubt, to feeling assured that belief in God is silly. I found her article interesting, but I found myself sad as I read it.
It also made me think about my own kids. God is extremely important in my life. He is a constant companion. He listens to me when I talk. He consoles me like a loving Father and is also quick to discipline me when I need it. It is a relationship that I greatly enjoy. Though I often cause problems in our relationship, get distracted, and place distance or tension in the relationship, He never moves. I am often humbled by His grace. I want my children to experience this friendship as well. I want them to understand that there is someone who loves them even more than I. I want them to know that God’s love extends beyond their shortcomings and failures.
So what if my kids decided one day that they didn’t believe? That would break my heart. Obviously, nothing will ever change the way I feel about my kids. I will love them until the grave overtakes me. But I hope they can have the same thing I have, life. I hope they choose life when the choice is set before them, but I know the choice is theirs. God lets us freely choose whether we want to have a relationship with Him.
But, it does not mean that I cannot educate my kids. I want them to have all the best information possible when it comes to the most important decision they will make. I know some will balk about my saying that having a relationship with God is the most important decision in life, but it honestly is. If God exists, then we are responsible for how we relate to God. If God does not exist, then there are hosts of consequences that result from “Killing God”, to borrow from Nietzsche. It is of utmost import to understand who God is, what He expects from us, and how we are to relate to Him.
I will not take a passive approach when it comes to the most important decision they will make. The article by Carolyn Castiglia, about her seven year old atheist daughter, is fraught with theological and philosophical problems. It almost seems naïve. Forgive me if I am wrong, but the reader is forced to ask to what degree she grappled with her questions about God, and what depth of study she was involved in. She does not seem to really be able to dialogue with her daughter’s questions about God, possibly because she herself has never settled or considered these questions herself. Of course, one does not have to really delve into metaphysical questions, and Miss Castiglia has every right not to, but the tone of her article seems to imply that she does want answers. As was previously stated, the question of God is not one that can be swept under the rug.
In her article she refers to God as “a giant man in the sky with long hair and a big robe” and then as a “notion” and later an “energy.” Her understanding of who God is has changed through her life, but she began with a rather perverse understanding. Her daughter states that she doesn’t believe in God because she “knows too much science”, when in reality there is no conflict between God and science. The mother also seems to view God as a crutch for the emotionally laden or psychologically distressed. While God does offer much comfort, he is anything but a crutch. In fact, Jesus called us to a life filled with difficulty if we truly seek to be a disciple.
We could continue discussing the theological deficits in Miss Castiglia’s article, but my point in writing is not to take her to task. I would love to discuss some of her assumptions with both her and her daughter, but my point here as that believers must spend time in understanding Theology and churches must teach more about Theology. Church should be a place where people can receive information that can be directly applied to daily life, but without the balance of sound theological teaching they will not understand why they should apply what scripture says. There must be a balance between the theological and daily application.
The current statistic is that seven out of ten adolescents leave the church upon graduation. Why is this? Is it perhaps that they are not taught to articulate worldviews, including their own? Are they provided a firm theological foundation at the church? Are they encouraged to read their Bibles and given the tools need to understand it in its literal, grammatical, and historical context? Are the seventy percent of adolescents that walk away the unpaid bills of the church?
Current research shows that only sixteen percent of church goers read their Bible. Upon those that do read the Bible, the average time spent reading is seven minutes, whereas the average American watches five hours of television a night. The television educates us into imbecility, and we do not spend the time developing our understanding of God and how we relate to Him. According to the Barna Research Group, less than fifty percent of Americans can name the first book of the Bible! If one cannot name the first book of the Bible then what chance does one have tackling the bigger questions?
Believers, we owe it to ourselves and our children to grapple with the big questions and do our best to have an answer ready. Some believers don’t like to think and ask questions, they just accept what they know to be true. I caution those that have this mentality to beware, your children might just be thinkers.
“You cannot evade the issue of God: whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him … If Christianity should happen to be true–that is to say, if its God is the real God of the universe – then defending it may mean talking about anything and everything.” -G.K. Chesterton
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Have you ever read someone else’s mail? I know you didn’t do it on purpose because that would be a federal offense. But have you ever gotten someone else’s mail in your box and opened it without looking at who it was addressed to? This happened to me once, and I was completely befuddled. Who is this person and what are they talking about? I have had a similar experience several times when texting other people. Recently, I was texting a friend and somehow I ended up sending one to my wife that I thought was going to my friend. She responded with, “What are you talking about???” Then there was this one time in graduate school that I was emailing my wife and accidentally sent it to my male professor, complete with a gushy salutation at the end. He figured out what happened and sent me back a response, complete with the gushy salutation. Remember that Dr. Combs?
I think majority of us have had experiences like this. Where we either receive a message meant for someone else or accidentally send a message to the wrong person. This can cause some serious confusion. Believe it or not, we also do this sometimes when we read the Bible. We do it in two ways. Sometimes we read other people’s “mail” and try to apply it in our lives, and then sometimes we take our mail and try to apply it to the lives of other people. We have to be careful in the way we read and interpret the Bible or we might find ourselves confused and a bit bewildered.
First, we do this at times by trying to get others to read our mail, and we try to apply what scripture says to people that are not Christians. You see, the whole Bible is not written to everyone. The parts about God loving everyone, and Christ’s death and atonement for sins are written to everyone. The places that mention grace, redemption, and having a relationship with Christ are written to everyone. Passages like these are an open invitation to “whosoever will.”
Yet, the do’s and don’ts, the thou shalt and the thou shalt nots of the Bible are written specially to Christians because we have a relationship with God. The rules and commandments are written to God’s people. A relationship with God must be present first before a person can be bound to the terms of that relationship.
We see this in God’s dealing with Israel. First He established a relationship with Israel, then He set the terms of that relationship and gave them His law at Mt. Sinai. In the same way I began a relationship with my wife before there were any terms of that relationship. I didn’t send her “love notes” before I began a relationship with her, for to do so would be out of context.
So when we try and take God’s commandments and apply them to the lives of non-Christians, it is out of context. When we judge them for not living according to God’s commandments, we do so without warrant because they are not bound by them as believers are. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think people outside the faith can benefit from living by God’s precepts, but we have no business judging them for not abiding by what scripture says. There is no relational precedent for them to do so.
Second, there are times where we approach the Bible as if every single verse was addressed specifically to us, when really, we are simply getting the privilege of reading someone else’s mail because it might benefit us indirectly. I am not saying that we can’t find benefit from every single passage in the Bible. For as we see in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This does not mean that we are to take every verse and attempt to apply it directly to our immediate situation.
To better understand how we sometimes “read other people’s mail” let’s take a look at several verses people often try to apply to their own lives that were meant for someone else.
Here is one of the most misquoted passages in scripture, Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” What an inspiring verse. I understand why many want to claim it. The problem is that it was written specifically to Israel while they were in Babylonian captivity. It was a promise that they would one day return to their land. God certainly knows what plans he has for us, but there is no guarantee that we will not suffer. There have been multitudes of Christians that have suffered and died for the faith. So we can see that this verse is not applicable to us directly. We can still have hope in the life to come and know that we will one day be with Christ, but this was not the immediate intent if the passage.
What about 2 Chronicles 7:14? “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Again, another great verse. I often see signs in peoples yards with 2 Chronicles 7:14 emblazoned across them. It is a reminder to pray for America, and this great nation can definitely benefit from the prayer. We would do well to notice, however, that the context of this passage is again directed at Israel, not America. There is no guarantee of prosperity for America here. It does not apply to our nation as a whole because we do not live in a Theocracy. Yet, there is a general principle here directed to God’s people that by doing right comes blessing.
Then there are dangerous passages that some have assumed were written to them like Mark 16:17-18. “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all.” There have been numerous people die because they read someone else’s mail. What a tragedy. This passage does not imply that every believer will do these activities; instead, these verses described the early church. At times, reading other people’s mail has serious consequences.
There are numerous examples we could continue to look at, but I think these are sufficient for us to grasp the point. We must not take our mail and apply it to others, and we need to make sure that we only apply to our lives directly the mail that is addressed to us. We need to be careful in how we interpret God’s letter.
We need to understand the original author’s intent. Who is doing the writing? Who is being spoken to? Is a specific issue being addressed or a global one? When was it written? What is the historical and cultural context of the writing? What sort of genre is the writing? Are there any literary devices being employed? What message do the verses before and after say about the context? How do the chapter and book the verse is within affect the meaning of what is written? Is there a universal application that we can apply directly to our lives, or is there a specific application that was meant for someone else? If the passage was meant for someone else (such as Israel, the apostles, a certain early church, etc) then what can we learn from it or how does it benefit us?
The Bible is an amazing letter. The more we read it the more we learn about God, ourselves, and our relationship with God and other people. Yet, we must be careful to read it correctly, because if we don’t we can find ourselves confused or mislead and we can do the same to other people.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.