Posts tagged Theology
We have all had those moments where we know what is coming out of our mouths is dumb, but it just keeps coming. It’s like the world moves in slow motion and you can see the looks on people’s faces, but it is past the point of return. People say dumb stuff. Some people say dumb stuff more than others, but we are all guilty.
We recently starting talking about the dumb things Christians say. Those little catch phrases, dumb platitudes, and theologically poor utterances that tend to keep popping up in Christian circles like a zombie that has been mowed down over and over. I am sure you will recognize a few of them.
1. Everything happens for a reason. Do some things happen for a reason? Sure they do. God ordains some things to come about with exact precision. All things can also have a positive end. God can take a bad situation and use it for something good. Negative circumstances can even have a profound influence in our lives. But does everything happen for a reason? EVERYTHING? Did the fact that I got minty toothpaste instead of cinnamon happen for a reason? Does the fact that I watched Duck Dynasty instead of American Idol have some ultimate purpose in the cosmos? Did my dog wake me up at 3:34 A.M. to go out happen for an ultimate reason? I doubt it! Maybe sometimes things just…happen. Some things happen for a reason. Some things are ordered. God can use bad situations. But not every detail of life happens for a reason.
2. They’re in a better place. This is the platitude that Christians often offer when someone loses a loved one, or you may get the slightly cheesier version, “God needed an angel.” When death occurs, maybe people don’t need us to say anything. Maybe they just need our love and support. Most people know where their loved ones are and don’t need to be reminded. God doesn’t need anything. He is complete within His own Triune nature. So let’s just encourage, love, and support those that mourn and maybe talk less.
3. Forgive and forget. When done wrong, do you forgive? I know sometimes it can be hard, but Christians are suppose to. Otherwise our lack of forgiveness scorches our souls and we stop to enjoy our lives. Yet, when was the last time you forgot? Sure, some things happen and time goes on and you do forget, but some hurts stay with us for life. I can remember things from 20 years ago that happened, and no matter how hard I try I will never forget. Those flash-thing memory erasers from Men in Black haven’t made it on the market yet. I think this phrase comes from Bible verses like Jeremiah 31:34 where God says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” What God is saying is that He will no longer bring up these sins. They are “forgotten” in the sense that he is erasing them and not holding us in debt for them any longer. God can’t “forget” about something because He is all knowing. While sometimes we do forget, many of the hurts inflicted by others stay with us. Just because we can’t push them from our memory does not mean we haven’t forgiven them. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It is freeing someone from what they took from us. They no longer owe us. We choose to let it go and never bring it up again. We should forgive, but some things are not easily “forgotten”.
As Christians, we should THINK before we speak. How does what I am about to say represent Christ? How will it affect someone else? Am I saying this because I have heard it somewhere before or because it is meaningful and beneficial? We all say dumb stuff, but we should try not to.
Said something dumb before? Heard something dumb before? Then tell us about it!
Walk good. Live 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.
Christians. Who do they think they are? Thinking they hold the market on truth. Who made them the arbiters of truth? They are all just a bunch of intolerant bigots. I think we have all heard claims muttered like this from time to time. This is not to say that there are no crotchety, bigoted Christians that spew vitriol with every other word. I see the people from Westboro Baptist church on the news like everyone else, and what I see is pathetic. True Christianity must not be confused with abuses committed in the name of Christ.
I am not sure exactly how it happened, but somewhere along the way people are no longer entitled to hold dissenting views. If a person has a view different than someone else it is interpreted as “well you hate me.” It is certainly possible to hold a divergent view and still affirm and accept the other person. Is it not? Disagreement and respect are not mutually exclusive.
Everyone in our culture loves to use the word tolerance. Everyone should be tolerant. It is repeated over and over. It would behoove those that use the word to first understand it’s meaning. Should people be tolerant of the beliefs of others? Yes. Should Christians be tolerant of other people’s beliefs? Absolutely. But tolerance does not mean accept or affirm the beliefs of others. If this was the definition we could simply use the word “accept”. It means to tolerate what you feel is wrong or illegitimate.
Tolerance means you can disagree with an idea, worldview, or lifestyle and still affirm, respect, and value the person. Many will say that Christianity is intolerant because it does not accept the beliefs of others, but one would be a fool to accept or affirm what one believes to be blatantly false, wrong, or immoral.
Those who claim that Christianity is intolerant do so on the grounds that Christianity claims exclusivity. Yet, at some level, every single worldview claims some amount of exclusivity. Somewhere, lines of demarcation will be drawn, regardless of what one believes. Even the inclusivist excludes the exclusivist. It cannot be helped.
Those that try to accept all beliefs to be true end up destroying all beliefs, because to affirm everything as true is to denounce anything as true. Every one worldview, religion and belief system cannot be correct because they all hold some amount of exclusive doctrine. Now, everyone could potentially be wrong, but they cannot all be right.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with testing the claims of every worldview, seeing which one best corresponds to reality, and then embracing that view as truth. This is why I hold to Christianity. But, just because the Christian disagrees with other people does not mean that he hates or devalues the other person.
We should also note, that just because a Christian believes Christianity to be true does not mean that the views of non-Christians are absolutely false. All truth is God’s truth. Truth is truth wherever it is found. Christians can agree with non-Christians on certain matters of morality or ethics. The golden rule is true regardless of what religion it is found in. The Christian only disagrees with ideas or principles that stand in opposition to Christianity.
Just because the Christian disagrees with others does not mean he hates them or devalues them. It means he is simply following what he feels best corresponds with reality. After all, as G.K. Chesterton said, “Tolerance is the virtue of men who don’t believe in anything.” I prefer to have beliefs that I have thought through myself. Others are entitled to do the same, but if they are different from mine I will not accept them unless I see compelling evidence to do so.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Has God ever made you sick? Literally, I mean. Have you ever disobeyed God until the point where He suddenly struck you down with an illness? Does God do that? Is illness, sickness or disease a punishment for misbehavior? There has been many times where I have overheard people say, “I wonder what they did to deserve that?” “They must have really made God mad.” Is a health problem always the result of sin or disobedience in a person’s life?
I think the starting point in addressing this question is to remember that God never intended for people to suffer with disease. In the beginning, everything was perfect. Originally, Adam and Eve never caught colds. They never worried about cancer, heart disease, or dementia. Eve didn’t have the hassle of getting mammograms. Yearly physicals and blood work (my dread) weren’t a part of life. It must have been nice! They were in perfect health, sustained by God. But death followed sin into the world. The moment Adam and Eve chose to disobey the one rule God had given them, they immediately started the dying process.
Sickness and disease are inextricably linked to their decision to break their relationship with God. Today, we suffer the effects of mankind’s separation from a perfect relationship with God. Paul captures this idea vividly in Romans 8 when he says that creation is in “bondage to decay.” Due to sin, we will all die one day. Sickness will be the vehicle that leads to our death. So, in a global sense, sickness is the result of sin, but does that mean just because someone is sick or dealing with a debilitating disease they must have sinned in their life? The answer is a resounding no.
We can look to the life of Job. Scripture says that “this man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Yet, Job was stripped of everything he held dear, save for his life. His immediate circumstances in no way reflected his relationship with God.
Jesus sheds a tremendous amount of light on this question in John 9. He and his disciples encounter a man that was born blind, and his disciples asked what people often do, “who sinned,this manor his parents?” Why was he born blind? Jesus responded by saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Just because a person is suffering, dealing with pain, or is sick does not mean they are paying off some form of debt for past sins.
Illness is not necessarily God’s means of delving out discipline. God often has other purposes for allowing pain in our lives. In the previous situation it was in order for God to receive the glory. Other times it is God’s means to get our attention and speak to us when we might not be listening. As Lewis so eloquently put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Sometimes illness or pain is simply God’s way of shouting into our lives. Sometimes God even uses our pain to prepare us for a specific purpose or to use us in a certain context. We might not always know the reason why. Sometimes we are left with unconnected dots in this life that will not be strung together until the next. Yet, God has his ultimate reasons for allowing certain things to come into our lives.
Last, I think we need to make the distinction between punishment and discipline. Punishment is an act of inflicting a penalty for an offense committed. It is retribution for wayward acts in the past. The sin of disbelief will one day be punished eternally in a place set aside for those who choose to reject Christ. Discipline is another thing entirely. The purpose of discipline is corrective. The end goal is to grow maturity into the person. It is future oriented. When I discipline my son it is because I don’t want to see him hurt in the future. Discipline is an act of love. God reminds us in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” God disciplines those that know Him. Discipline does not always seem like an act of love, but it is; because if we continue on in our sin unabated we are choosing to embrace more, often greater, suffering.
God uses a multitude of ways to discipline us. It might be loss of relationships, our finances, or even our health. God did not spare His own son’s life in order to have a relationship with us, why would he hesitate to do whatever it takes to maintain the health of that relationship?
More often than not, the discipline that God delves out is simply allowing us to experience the full weight of our decisions by enduring the consequences that follow. Much of the time, our discipline is a direct result of the choices we have made.
So why is sickness here? Because death entered the world through disobedience and none of us can escape it. Yet, just because a person suffers from disease or pain in no way indicates that it has been due to previous sin in their own life. God allows and uses pain in our lives for a multitude of purposes. Though, we should take into account that, at times, he will use our health to discipline us and draw us near to Himself.
Regardless of our situation in life, we must be reminded that, “all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” When life is good we must choose to continually walk close to God. When hard times come, we must lean further into God.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
This was the fifth most popular post of 2012 and was originally published on February 15th. We often hear the phrase “you shouldn’t judge.” Most people are familiar with Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” This passage is often used as a justification for our own actions. “Who are you to judge me?” Recently, I was discussing a minister’s teachings that I believe to be inaccurate when held up to the rest of scripture, and was told “judge not.” Is that accurate? Is it wrong to judge? Well, that depends on what you mean by the word “judge”.
When someone tells us not to judge, are they not judging us for judging? Essentially they are saying, you are doing wrong for saying someone else is doing wrong. Evaluating the correctness of what others say and do is unavoidable. If we read further down from Matthew 7:1 we run into verse 6 which states, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” That sounds like a judgment. In fact, Jesus makes judging statements all through scripture. He reminds the religious leaders that outside they look nice, but on the inside they are dead men and filled with corruption (Matthew 22:35).
So what does it mean when we are commanded not to judge? I think we can draw several things from this verse. First, we don’t judge what others do or say by our own standards, instead we hold others to the same standard all Christians are held, God’s word. Judgments aren’t to be based on our own preferences or opinions. They should be made according to what scripture teaches. We must be reminded that we are held to the same standard. Jesus, in fact, told us to look at our own lives first. In Matthew 7:5 we are told, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” We have our own stuff to be dealt with, as well, that is in conflict with what scripture teaches. Let’s make sure we are examining our own lives and not pointing out what others do wrong so we can become self-inflated and minimize our own sins.
Judgment does not mean condemnation. It is never done to belittle. It is done out of love. As with anything, we must treat others the way we would like to be treated. There have been times I needed someone to inform me that I was doing wrong, and I was receptive to that correction because they addressed me with respect and kindness. We must also challenge what people say if it is incorrect and has potential to do damage. I certainly would want someone to point out to me if my teaching was incorrect and could potentially cause harm. We must not shy away from making moral evaluations. If something is wrong, it is wrong. Yet, we must remember that love cannot be divorced from judging.
Remember, making judgments only includes behavior and what others say. We are not to judge other people’s motives for we cannot see their hearts. We do not know for what reason others do certain things and should not doubt what they tell us.
Judge not by your own standards. Love others. Evaluate the accuracy of what others say and do in light of scripture, but evaluate your own self by that same standard first.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
We are counting down the most popular posts of 2012. We are down to the sixth most read post. It was originally published on April 18th. We must remember that presenting good arguments for Christianity is not the same as arguing. Giving a defense does not mean we get defensive. Apologetics is not about coercion, it is simply present the facts in a persuasive manner and tearing down obstacles and strongholds that block or distort the truth. I hope this post serves as a reminder that we are to present the truth with a healthy heaping of love. I hope you enjoy.
Sometimes, we as Christians approach apologetics and evangelism with the mentality that we can argue someone into becoming a Christian. So we get on our soapbox and we argue for Gaw-Duh (that is said with my best televangelist accent). Recently I heard someone say, “If you can argue someone into believing in Christ, then an atheist can argue them out of believing in Christ.” It is hard to dispute that statement.
So, where exactly does that leave apologetics? Isn’t apologetics about arguing a point so hard that unbelievers are forced to raise the white flag and surrender their Christ-resisting worldview? Well, actually no, that isn’t the case at all. Apologetics is about making a case for the evidence that supports belief in God. It is about showing that faith in God is reasonable. It consists of sharing who Jesus was and why His truth claims are valid.
I Peter 3:15 is the staple verse on what apologetics entails, “But honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Apologetics consist of knowing what you believe, why you believe, and the evidence to support it. It is a call to engage the mind, but it also consists of answering questions with intellectual clarity when non-believers want to inquire about our faith.
Some people have intellectual or emotional barriers to belief in God, and the use of reason and personal testimony can do much to traverse these barriers. Some people, however, do not want to consider belief in God as an option. No matter how much evidence is presented their mind will not be changed and their resolve will not be budged. Some simply are at cross purposes with who God is and want nothing to do with Him. Those who have no desire to submit to God’s authority will not be budged by any amount of evidence. John Milton, in Paradise Lost, said speaking for Satan, “It is better to rule in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” Sometimes people willingly choose to remain rebels until the end and hide behind their intellectual facade.
Jesus gave some advice for dealing with people who want nothing to do with Christianity. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” In other words, don’t consume your energy trying to argue people into believing in God. Instead, be prepared to give a reason or defense for the hope that is in you. Some people are willing to listen. Some just need more information or evidence to overcome objections. Some are willing to follow the truth wherever it leads. This is where apologetics is of great import.
There are thousands of false ideas and philosophies that compete in the marketplace of ideas. It is the Christian apologist’s job to fight for truth and dispel false teaching because many are looking for answers. Some are desperately hungry for the truth and it is the job of the Christian to make sure they receive it.
It is also extremely important to remember that the apologist’s motivation is always love. Generally, I find that those who “argue for Jeeezus (again with the televangelist voice, sorry)” are more concerned about being right than they are about sharing the love of Christ. Sharing the reason for the hope that is within us should always be done with “gentleness and respect” (I Peter3:16) or we are wasting our time. We may have all the answers and be brilliant philosophers, but if we don’t have love for others we are just making noise like an old, out of tune piano.
We should never give up on people that are resistant or adamantly opposed to Christianity, but we must keep in mind that we cannot argue people into belief. We can only provide evidence and give reasons for what we believe and we can reflect the love of God.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear! -Matthew 11:15
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Recently, someone asked me, “Why is it that you worship Jesus? What separates Him from the thousands of other gods one might pick?” What a great question! This is also an incredibly important question. While there is much to say about Jesus, one cannot do justice in adequately describing the greatness of this man/God. The things He did as he walked this globe leave one with a sense of wonder and fascination. “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) His life stands in sharp contrast to any other historical figure. He lifts our Spirits, but also reminds us of our shortcomings. His life drips with beauty, grace, humility, and majesty. Many people do not understand the life of Jesus and relegate his life story to the piles of fiction. We would do well to remember the words of G.K. Chesterton, “Truth is stranger than fiction because we have made fiction to suit ourselves…What we need is not a religion that is right where we are right, but one that is right where we are wrong.” This is exactly what the life of Jesus does. It shines light into the dark hearts of men and reveals to us who we really are: broken people.
So, why Jesus? First, He was an actual historical figure. He actually dwelt among us. (John 1:14). During His time spent on earth, Jesus made the audacious claim that He was God. This is a statement that anyone in His culture knew would very well carry a death sentence, yet He made the claim repeatedly. The very fact that Jesus is a historical figure who claimed to be God separates Him from the vast majority of other “gods”. Many gods have been conjured up by the minds of men to account for certain phenomenon when they lacked an explanation. Some are created by the hands of men into various graven images. God’s such as Marduk, Zeus, Vishnu, etc fall into this category. There is no historical context with which to give credence to the existence of such gods. We also have historical figures, such as Guatama Buddha, who never claim to be god but are venerated as such after their death. Jesus stands out having been a historical figure that also claimed to be God, even under the threat of certain death.
The life of Jesus rests on a bedrock of historical evidence. Mike Licona takes a “Minimal Facts” approach when it comes to examining the historicity of Christ, which considers only data that meet the following two criteria: 1. The data are strongly evidenced and 2. The data are granted by virtually all scholars on the subject, even the skeptical ones. He then goes on to show that the following are unanimously accepted by scholars, even those hostile to Christianity: “Jesus died by crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them, The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed, The skeptic James, brother of Christ, was suddenly changed.” Licona also demonstrates that the tomb of Christ was empty, though this does not meet the first two criteria. Yet, there is strong evidence for it with roughly 75% of scholars accepting it as historical fact. As we can briefly see, Jesus was very much a historical figure, and one that claimed to be God.
Jesus is also creative. In the beginning, He created the heavens and the earth. He is a God of action. He is an imaginative artist. The vastness of space. The brilliant stars slung across the galaxy. Pristine blue waters housing colorful fish. Two million different varieties of insects (by conservative estimates). Beautiful landscapes. Each snowflake and fingerprint having their unique design. What about the complexities of human relationships? The act of procreation between husband and wife. He could have designed us to pollinate one another, but instead He chose this wonderful expression of intimacy. Jesus is creative. Not only in His initial act of creation, but also in how He lived His life on earth and the words that he spoke.
Second, we should notice that Jesus is the culmination of ancient prophecies. In Christ, over 300 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled. This alone shows Jesus to be distinct from any other deity.
Third, we also find that Jesus is personal. He is not aloof and detached from creation. He did not wind up the world and leave it to function on its own. He desires that we seek community with Him. He wants to talk with us and have us share the most intimate details of our lives. He relates to us as His children. John 15:15 states, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Who are we that we should get the privilege of being the designer of the universe’s friend? “What is man that You are mindful of him.” (Psalms 8:4) Our relationship with God is uniquely and immensely personal.
Fourth, we would do well to be reminded that God is love. Not that God simply loves, but that He is love. His very nature gives meaning to the word. What does a person in love do? They give. I loved my wife, so I put a ring on it. God loved, so He gave us His son. Jesus loved, so He went willingly to the cross. John 3:16-17 reminds us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Love does not slap heavy burdens on people, it frees them. This is what Jesus has done for us. Through his death we live. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Fifth, through Jesus we find redemption. We are not stuck. He has made a way for us to have second and third chances. When we do wrong, we can make it right. When we fail, we are not doomed. When relationships are broken, they can be restored. No other worldview offers a person redemption. The concept of grace, redemption, and restoration are inextricably linked to the person of Christ.
Jesus. Unique. Creative. Loving. Relational. Powerful. All knowing. The fulfillment of ancient prophecy. The defeater of death. The designer. The bringer of order from Chaos. Friend of sinners. God.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. -C.S. Lewis
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
There is so much more that could be said. Why don’t you tell us Why Jesus?
Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. You probably recognize these words penned by late Beatle, John Lennon, who emotionally sang the words with its haunting piano accompaniment. Have you ever tried to imagine life without Heaven or Hell? What would life be like if we erased the fingerprints of God from the universe? What are the ramifications of life without God? The answer can only be absurdity, hopelessness, and as Lennon pointed out, “Living for today.”
If there is no God life is devoid of any ultimate purpose. You are born, you enjoy a few good times, you propagate your DNA, and then it is all over. One might even accomplish something worthy of a Nobel Prize, but to what avail? Eventually the universe will die of cold death or some other such fate. There will be no life or light. The universe will continue to expand into the abyss of nothingness. All of man’s accomplishments will amount to nothing. Imagining no heaven, no hell, no God, comes with a price tag. One gains the freedom to indulge their baser desires freely but loses any amount of significance, value, or purpose.
Without God, man also loses hope. This is all there is: greedy, broken, selfish people crowding a planet that is gradually winding down. There is no hope that things will get better. Lennon’s song is a mantra for peace. He hoped that eventually the world could live in harmony, but why should they? Why should man not live for today the life that he desires most? Why should he care about anyone else? Eventually no one will know the difference anyway.
Lennon got it right when he said, “imagine all the people living for today.” That is the result of life without God. The only solace one can find is to do what makes them happy in the moment without regard to who it harms. One must grab whatever pleasure is available for the immediate taking, but eventually even pleasure cannot bring fulfillment, much less significance, value, or purpose. King Solomon pondered life without God and arrived at the same conclusion. He writes in Ecclesiastes 1:
Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go…All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun…No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.
Life without God does not lead to peace and respect for others. It leads to the devaluement of human life. It strips the objective basis for morality from humanity. This is not to say that a person who does not believe in God cannot value others or live morally. I know many pleasant atheists who live moral lives better than some Christians, but they have no objective reason for doing so. The logical, but unpleasant, conclusion one must draw from naturalism is that life does not matter. It is a random sequence of pointless events. People do not matter. One must do whatever it takes to make life meaningful at the expense of others.
To summarize the conclusions of John Lennon’s suggestion to imagine life without God, you simply do not matter. Nothing you will ever do could possibly matter. There is no greater significance. You might as well live for today and do whatever you like. If that means hurting others then get to it, because there is no objective reason to be concerned with issues of morality. You have no hope, so build your life on what Bertrand Russell referred to as “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”
But, if there is a God, life is given back its breath of hope, meaning, and value. If God exists we have value because we were created in his image. Life has meaning because what we do does carry eternal significance and also consequences. Last, we have hope that this is not all there is. There is more to life than the current circumstances and problems that we face in this existence. One day all will be made right and people can live together in peace because they are inherently worth something.
These observations are by no means making the case that Christianity is true, and were not intended to do so. There are compelling evidences that Christianity is true, but we can save that discussion for another time. Yet, these are reasons to think deeply about life and consider the evidences for God.
Last, let us also suppose that the evidence for God and evidence for the absence of God lay balanced equally on the scales. It would seem that the rational person would prefer a life of meaning, hope, and value. The alternative does not sound pleasant.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
By the way, Paul was always my favorite Beatle. What about you?
Christian families raise Christian children. Muslim families have Muslim children (or at least they better be or it is serious trouble). If you are born in India then you are a Hindu. If you are born in America you are a Christian, in Arabia a Muslim, on a university campus an atheist. That is how it works, right? That is what Richard Dawkins suggests. He states in the God Delusion, “If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.”
Are beliefs overwhelmingly determined by ones’ family of origin, geographic location, and social influences? Or should we take it even further and add a genetic component as a deciding factor in the belief systems that we form? As renowned behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner once put it, “My behavior at any given moment has been nothing more than the product of my genetic endowment, my personal history, and the current setting.”
There you have it. Location + family + society + genes = belief system. Do you find that formula convincing? No? It has a serious flaw. It does not take into account man’s capacity to freely choose or articulate and assimilate new information.
I grow weary of arguments in this vein. When Dawkins makes a statement like this he assumes that it applies to everyone’s beliefs but his own. He would have the Christian believe that their worldview is invalid and not thought through because it happens to be the same as their parents or because they were isolated to a certain geographic region. The atheist also has the same factors at work within his life. Professor Dawkins statement is completely narcissistic. The “rules” for forming a worldview do not apply to him. He was able to cogently think through the big questions while other people are not. They just swallow whatever they are fed in the corner of the world.
It can be conceded that a host of factors do contribute to the forming of one’s belief system. Yet, a person’s beliefs are adjusted over time as new ideas and information becomes available. A place comes in everyone’s development where they feel the need to examine what they have been taught to see if it best conforms to reality. Some squelch this aspect of development and choose to thoughtlessly hold on to what they have been taught, but a great majority are willing to grapple with the difficult questions.
I was born as the son of a minister dead in the center of the Bible belt. Yet, in early adolescence I began to question all I had been taught. I examined the competing belief systems and found that Christianity offered the most robust case in answering the big questions. This season of questioning my beliefs was greatly intensified in college. My experience is different from no one else. We see people converting from one religion to another all the time. Why? Because they questioned what they were taught. We should also mention that we see atheist and skeptics that become theists. Why? Because they have examined new information and adjusted what they believed accordingly.
People are not automatons. We have the capacity to choose, grow, understand, and learn. We have been endowed with the capacity to think logically. As God beckons in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together.” He doesn’t want us to swallow a bunch of teachings and doctrines blindly. He bids us come and wrestle with our many questions before Him.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
The Bible is rife with accounts of supernatural activity. One can read about encounters with demons, along with angelic host. Scripture clearly promotes the idea that there is a God and angelic beings, and conversely, Lucifer and demonic beings. Many argue that modern psychology has done away with the demonic. Can we really believe demons exist? Are the accounts in the Bible accurate that describe people being possessed and under the control of dark spiritual forces? Were the writers just attempting to make sense out of what they experienced? Could these accounts be describing people with psychosis rather than possession? Is belief in the demonic akin to believing in fire-breathing dragons, elves, and unicorns?
Only meager amounts of information can be found on this topic. There is a lack of credible evidence put forth against demonic possession, we instead simply find musings that mental illness must surely account for what has been labeled as the activity of demons. Why must this be the case? Is there any evidence to the contrary? Having an extensive background in both Psychology and Theology I feel somewhat qualified to put forth some thoughts about this issue.
It is certainly understandable that demonic possession could be confused with psychosis, especially the more severe schizophrenia. Often, psychotic episodes are religious in nature. I have had dealings with people experiencing delusions of grandeur who believe they are Jesus Christ. I have also worked with people that claim they see demons and angels or have communicated with such beings. It is tempting to read the accounts in scripture of demonic activity through modern eyes and attempt to psychologize the text, but we do so to our detriment.
First, we must lay the groundwork and understand what psychosis is. It is a break from reality where the individual has a distorted picture of what is real and lacks the ability to ground himself with an accurate picture of his world. When we examine the DSM-IV’s (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for schizophrenia we find that the following symptoms may be present:
- Delusions – A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary
- Hallucinations – False or distorted sensory experiences that appear to be real perceptions. These sensory impressions are generated by the mind rather than by any external stimuli, and may be seen, heard, felt, and even smelled or tasted.
- Disorganized speech – Language may be difficult to understand. Ideas presented may be incoherent. The person may switch quickly between unrelated topics. The person may be long winded or have difficulty reaching a conclusion. Some may use made up words.
- Disorganized behavior – This could range from child-like silliness to unpredictable agitation. There could be a problem the tasks of daily living or maintenance of hygiene. The person may be inappropriate, unpredictable, or easily agitated.
- Catatonic behavior – A marked decrease in reactivity to the environment, sometimes reaching an extreme degree of complete unawareness, maintaining a rigid posture and resisting efforts to be moved, active resistance to instructions, bizarre postures, or purposeless and unstimulated motor activity.
- Social or Occupational Dysfunction – There is a failure to achieve interpersonal, occupational or educational achievement that is within the grasp of the person. Interpersonal relationships and self care often experience decline.
Now that we have a general idea of some of the symptoms of psychosis, we must examine biblical accounts of possession and see if they coincide with a psychotic break. We will also do well to notice how the text attempts to distinguish between the two in its descriptions.
First, let’s focus our attention to passages like Matthew 4:24, “Then the news about Him spread throughout Syria. So they brought to Him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics.” Here a distinction is made between disease and possession. Psychosis is a neurological problem rooted in biology. Though the exact cause of psychosis is unknown, many believe there may be certain genetic factors that predispose one to psychosis along with biological risk factors that may contribute to the onset of the disorder. There is obviously a problem with certain levels or interactions of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, that are part of the problem. We also notice in this passage that epilepsy is contrasted with demonic possession as well. Why would the writers not mistake this as the work of demons?
We find a psychotic disorder present in Daniel 4. This passage is told in first person by Nebuchadnezzar, king of ancient Babylon. He experiences a psychotic break and believes himself to be an ox. He lives outdoors and behaves like a wild animal. He eats grass and his hair and nails grow long. This is a psychological disorder that has been documented in modern times and still occurs today. It is called boanthropy, and the person who experiences this disorder believes they are a cow and act accordingly. Some people are deluded into believing they are wolves and this is known as lycanthropy. Many believe that the legend of werewolves arose from people experiencing lycanthropy. The symptoms that King Nebuchadnezzar exhibits very much indicate that psychosis is present. A delusion is active, disorganized behavior is noticeable, and social and interpersonal dysfunction are implied. He was relieved of his position temporarily and lived in the fields. Here we see no appeal to label his symptoms or behaviors to the credit of demons.
When we examine the interactions of Jesus with those possessed, such accounts as can be found in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 4, we find information that one would consider as aberrant with a psychotic disorder. During the interactions Jesus has with those possessed there does not seem to be any disorganized speech or problems communicating. We find that the demoniacs are rational in their interactions with Christ. This does not seem to line up with psychosis.
It is interesting that the ones experiencing demonic possession have direct knowledge of who Christ is, and it coincides with who Christ claimed to be. They also exhibit special knowledge and superhuman strength, which would coincide with supernatural activity being present.
We also notice in the account of the man possessed by many demons in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8, that when the demons are exorcised they are transferred to pigs, which in turn behavior erratically, run into the sea and drown themselves. Psychosis would not be considered transferable in such a manner. We can note that the pigs act in the same self destructive way as the man did while he was possessed. Would any modern mind be tempted to say that these pigs were schizophrenics? Hardly!
If one does deny that these accounts in scripture are the result of the demonic and ascribe them to diseases of the mind, one still has to account for the fact that Jesus heals them. Or should we now ascribe Jesus as being brilliant in psychiatry?
I would also like to posit experiential evidence, as well, that these accounts are accurate, and that a distinction can be made between psychosis and the demonic. I spent a considerable amount of time working in a psychiatric hospital. I encountered vast amounts of psychosis. Some of the individuals I worked with experienced spiritual delusions and hallucinations. Majority of the time it was simply psychosis. Yet, on few occasions I met individuals that raised an awareness within me that something was present that naturalistic explanations could not account for.
A close examination of the text leaves no room for skepticism about spiritual agents at work. The explicit testimony of scripture is that spiritual beings do exist. When read the accounts of these beings at work in the Bible, and we can see distinctions made between illness and demonic activity.
We would do well to pay attention to these distinctions. Many Christians today see demonic presence where it is not. They see the demons behind depression, psychotic disorders, substances abuse, etc. They find demons hiding behind every door and under every rock. We must have a correct understanding between mental health and spiritual activity. We should seek a correct understanding of reality by not attributing to the work of demons that which we do not understand, but neither using psychology to account for things we also do not fully understand. C.S. Lewis gives us a proper perspective when finding this balance. “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.” We mustn’t ignore the existence of demons, but we err when we see them hiding in every alley way.
Walk good. Love wise. Be blessed.
Have any thoughts? I would very much be interested in hearing them!