PleaseConvinceMe Podcast 206
In this podcast, Jim considers an appropriate response to false teachers and prophets in light of the Harold Camping episode (from his radio interview with John and Kathy from WORD FM). He also answers listener email related to irresistible grace and our duty to examine other theistic worldviews.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
PleaseConvinceMe Podcast 206
Monday, May 30, 2011
A search for the truth. To a prosecutor, this is the essence of a criminal trial. This theme – of searching for and finding the truth – is woven into every successful closing argument. Sadly, it seems that Bugliosi, for all his career success, has gotten things precisely backward as he approaches the most important question any mortal – anyone who knows for a certainty that this life will end – must confront. Dispensing with what he once did as a prosecutor, Bugliosi today stands before a “jury” of readers urging them to not reach a verdict – despite the abundance of evidence - but to be content endlessly criticizing the source of the evidence, and the proponents of faith. In the process, he sets up countless strawmen, only to use ridicule and hyperbole to knock them down. Because perfect knowledge can never be had - because some questions will always remain - Bugliosi urges us to throw up our hands, give up and be smug about knowing that by never reaching a conclusion, we can always appear above it all. His book is a celebration of ignorance and indecision, of never being able to discern truth.
Ironically, this book is not at all the approach that a prosecutor would take. First, a prosecutor would know that some questions will always remain, despite the strength of the evidence presented. The key inquiry is whether the questions relate to what is really at issue, or whether they are "red herrings." Second, a prosecutor would have an open mind as he or she went about preparing the case. Bugliosi, by contrast, has concluded from the beginning that matters of “faith” – by which he means religious truth claims –are simply not knowable. Ignoring the mountains of literature that establish the necessary existence of God, he claims that neither the theist nor the atheist has a single fact to support its position. (p. 4). The book proceeds downhill from there. Using endless rhetorical questions and mocking accusations to belittle anyone who claims to have formed some conclusions about faith, Bugliosi ends up where he began – believing that no one can know what Bugliosi chooses not to accept. But his questions are not new, nor are they that difficult to answer. But they must be approached with an open mind, which he plainly does not have. Perhaps he never did.
Doubt can only be a starting point for the acquisition of knowledge. As he certainly once admonished his juries, doubt gives way to the force of the evidence presented, leaving an “abiding conviction of the truth of the charge.” Opening the “door to knowledge” makes sense only if one intends to enter and explore. To stand on the outside, as Bugliosi does, and insist that nothing is knowable of the other side, is not a triumph of intelligence, but an admission of failure, or of apathy. Contrary to his assertion, faith does not recede with knowledge – it becomes greater. One’s faith in the ability of an airplane to fly increases as one’s knowledge of the physics grows; it does not decrease.
As a prosecutor, Bugliosi would have railed against such facile rhetoric. He would have rightly been disappointed in jurors who returned a verdict of “no one can really know the truth about what you’ve presented,” and seen it as an abdication of their duties, especially if he had presented evidence as substantial as that which supports a conclusion that God is.
And what is that evidence? After all, the question Bugliosi tackles is not proof that Christianity is true, but the simpler question of whether it is “rational” to believe in a creator-God. While he correctly notes the limitations of our ability to “comprehend” God, knowing that a creator must be there is the only rational conclusion that is consistent with the evidence. For countless centuries, these arguments from reason have persuaded not only the vast majority of people who have ever lived, but the greatest scientific and philosophic minds among us. (Books like Alvin Schmidt’s “Under the Influence” chronicle the contribution such believers made to Western culture.) These arguments build on and reinforce each other, enhancing the cumulative effect of the proof. These arguments - from causality; the existence of the universe; the fine tuning in the universe; the existence of intelligent life; the fine tuning of life as seen in DNA; the existence of morality, of music and math and the exquisite order which abounds in nature - provide rational support for the conclusion that an intelligent Creator is at work. Bugliosi never takes on the core of the case. Instead, we are treated to conclusions like: the vastness of the universe is a waste, since human beings can never access it all, so an intelligent Creator is not possible. Does he not recognize the illogic in assuming that he knows God’s purposes, or that physical size means anything to a Being of limitless power?
Unfortunately, this book has the potential to do much harm, as Bugliosi’s rhetorical skill is clearly on display. But unlike a prosecutor on a search for truth, Bugliosi has become a defender of ambiguity and indecision, as he seeks to persuade his jury that, in spite of the evidence, the only smart choice is to remain hopelessly deadlocked.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Much effort has been expended in trying to escape it, minimize it, hide and run from it. But it cannot be escaped. It serves as warning and reprimand. It is relentless in its pressure, its insistence, often impelling, paradoxically, the guilty to confess to obtain freedom from it. In the end, it must be faced and dealt with, and the best way to do so is apparent.
But many still refuse to recognize what guilt really is - a message from an intelligent mind. A guidepost and reminder as to what this mind wants - expects - from us. Many insist instead that it is simply an observation, as this recent comment to my last post expressed:
"I think the problem is the assumption that guilt is a message, and -- in particular -- a message from a unified source. But, if guilt were a message from a unified source. Everyone would feel guilty about the same things. No, morality is more an observation. As a result most people have (mild) variations in the perception."
Is there a difference between a message and an observation?
I think there is and that difference lies in the source of the information.
An observation is something internal. If I feel hungry, I am motivated to eat. If I am angry, I am motivated to lash out. Threatened? I may react by flight, or by fight. Feelings of guilt can be observational in nature, to the extent that I am aware, or becoming aware, of a disturbance in my process of thinking. But what is that disturbance? It is an awareness that there is a disconnect between what I have done, or I am planning to do - on the one hand - and what I ought to do - on the other. It is that conflict that I am experiencing as guilt.
Does this not require some explanation? If, after all, these are solely internal to ourselves, why the struggle? When I am hungry, I am not at war within myself as to what to do. My urge - my instinct - is to eat so as to satisfy the hunger. But when I eat too much, when I realize I am becoming a glutton, I begin to realize that I really ought not act that way. The former is internal - an observation and perhaps an instinct - but the latter is coming from outside of the person and is seeking to change what he in fact does.
The skeptic claims that, if guilt were a message, we would all feel guilty about the same things. Generally, of course, we do. No one feels guilt over a good deed done, or angst in trying to help someone. No one feels pleased when they betray a friend. But this is not really the point. While there are variations as to how we receive the message, and what we do with it, the point here is that it is a message, originating from a source external to us. Like a transistor radio, we may have variations in the clarity of the signal received, but we are not the source of the signal.
In my earlier post on guilt, the line from a recent Madmen episode served as a quick summary of current thinking about guilt: the character opined that it's all about what I want to do as opposed to what's expected of me. But if the skeptic were right - if morality is just an observation - it wouldn't be that hard to turn off the voice that is calling us to something better. We would simply do what we want, or what the stronger instinct impelled us to.
What we are left with is this: there is a law external to us that we did not create, and that we are somehow liable to. We want to follow it, but in the end we never do - at least not fully. We then suffer the consequences.
Christianity has an adequate explanation for this state of affairs. We feel guilty because we are guilty. We know the law that God has placed in our hearts and we strive mightily to ignore it. What answer does Naturalism have?
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The Christian worldview makes perfect sense of what is occurring with Don. His conscience, though seared, is still functioning, fulfilling its role in trying to get Don’s attention before it is too late. Though Don is achieving all he sets out to do, happiness eludes him, as he spirals ever downward, leaving human wreckage in his wake. As Paul says in Romans, we are all without excuse because the knowledge of God, and of his law, is written on our hearts - in a universal language, it would seem, as it is apparent that feelings of guilt and remorse are common to all cultures, all peoples, through all of recorded time.
Non-believers don’t accept this, of course. They acknowledge that guilt is there, but view it as a negative, or bad, thing. They look to modern science – psychology or pharmacology or a combination of the two – to help people finally rid themselves of this vestige of our primitive and superstitious past. But guilt is simply proof of the moral law that is operating and that we are all aware of. God is the source of that moral law, and try as we might, we can’t escape it.
The secular effort to explain away the moral law that fuels our feelings of guilt goes something like this: what we recognize as morality is really just the product of evolution. It is a trait that somehow serves the community and is thereby passed on. We are, in this view, operating on instinct. As used in this sense, instinct means more than just a powerful impulse as contrasted with the product of reason; it refers to an inborn pattern of behavior which is shaped by biological necessities such as survival and reproduction. In Darwinian terms, this instinct – of a moral law - confers an advantage of its holder so that it is passed effectively, and in large numbers, into the next generation.
But this explanation misses a few key points. The first is the origin of the behavior. Why would early man benefit from recognizing a moral law and feeling guilty? And whose moral law would he adopt? If anything, ruthlessness – the absence of morality and of guilt – would allow him to be more effective as a hunter, and thereby be more likely to survive. Moreover, the explanation does not explain enough. Regardless of how they originated, it is apparent that we do indeed have instincts that appear to involve morality, such things as maternal love or running from danger. But how is it that people choose between competing instincts, such as the urge to run from danger versus the urge to stay and help?
There is a selection process as to what one “ought” to do. And it is not simply the stronger of the two instincts that carries the day, since it is often the weaker of the two (eg. the urge to stay and face danger to help a friend) that the moral law encourages us to strengthen. The very desire to strengthen one instinct proves that this thought process is something different than the instinct. As CS Lewis analogized, instincts may be notes on a keyboard, but something else serves as the music to select which note to play.
Finally, if the moral law were a part of a “herd” instinct, we would be able to point to some instinct within the set that is always “good." But on reflection, it is clear that all instincts derive their good or bad qualities from the situation. Even seemingly positive instincts, like mother love, must be tempered by competing considerations, or a bad result might ensue. The "right" course of action is never as simple as following a single instinct, like the instinct to eat when hungry or run when threatened. The purpose of the moral law is to instruct us as to how to choose among possible courses of action in a given situation. Some of the choices may involve instinctive urges, but much more is at play than mere instinct.
In the end, what we recognize as the moral law is a message to us, a set of rules or instructions that someone, it seems, wants us to follow. Like all messages we encounter, this one must have a mind - an intelligent source - behind it. That source is the Creator who placed us here and who gave us a purpose and ultimate destiny from which we can’t escape, no matter how hard – like Don Draper – we may try.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
PleaseConvinceMe Podcast 205
In this podcast, Jim addresses the false prophecy of Harold Camping and answers a number of listener emails related to numerology and hidden codes in the Bible, Ray Comfort and the Way of the Master Ministry, Calvinism and election, and the reliability of the Gospels as eyewitness accounts.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
1) The Bible claims Jesus is unaware of the exact date that the world would end.
This is the most apparent problem with Camping’s teachings, and the one I hear most from Christian friends. Matthew 24:36 reads, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (NASB). If Jesus is unaware of the exact date it’s difficult for us to say that we can ourselves know. However, it might be argued that the exact date was revealed after Jesus’ time on earth, and could then be found in books written after his ascension, i.e. The New Testament. However, that leads us to a problem: Camping claims the dating of the end times is exactly 7,000 years after the time of Noah. Camping claims that there is a 7,000 year gap between the time of the flood and the end times, according to Genesis 7:4. However, Jesus had access to the book of Genesis during his lifetime; if the exact timing of the end times could have been deciphered since the time of Moses then it is hard to believe that Jesus would have been unaware of it.
2) Camping uses the genealogies found in the Bible to determine when the flood occurred and when the Earth was created.
Camping claims that the flood recorded in Genesis occurred in 4990 B.C. To come up with this, Camping and his followers use the genealogical records found in the Bible to gage how much time has transpired since the time of Adam. However, the Biblical genealogies are incomplete. The purpose of the genealogies in the Bible is not to compile a complete list of people but rather to show that a certain person is a descendant of another; the genealogies were certainly never intended to be used to construct calendars or timelines. Because the genealogies are not complete, it is impossible to use them to come up with a reliable dating of the flood or any other historical event. As far as the date of creation, whether you believe in a young earth or an ancient earth one thing is clear: the Bible is ambiguous as to how long ago creation occurred and how long the creation of the universe itself took.
3) If it was important to God that his believers knew the exact date of the end times he would have made it explicit.
It’s important to remember that many early Christians owned only a few pieces of scripture, if any. Early Christians and many Christians around the world today, did not and do not have access to the complete Biblical record, and so could not make the calculations that Camping says are required to find out the exact age of the earth. The apostles and early church fathers did not claim to know the date of the end times, nor how to decipher it. The fact of the matter is that the knowledge of when the end will come is not necessary to be a Christian. The Bible is clear that, in the end, all the believers in Christ will be in Heaven with God. So we don’t need to concern ourselves with discovering when the world will end, or worry about our fate.
Friday, May 20, 2011
In one episode from season four, a character interacting with executive Don Draper explains how her study of psychology has freed her: she now realizes that everything comes down to "what I want versus what is expected of me." This makes perfect sense to Don, who has already been quite successful in suppressing what remnants of conscience might be operating within him. He seems intrigued by the simplicity of the statement – and no doubt by its allure.
The underlying philosophy predates the 60's, of course, and it is still going strong today. The modern version no doubt adds the standard caveat "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone," as if we can actually know the long term effects that immoral conduct will have on ourselves or other people. But that's not my point. What struck me, instead, was what this philosophy is seeking to escape. What is it that presses down upon us, demanding our attention and causing feelings of guilt when we don't live up to expectations. What is the source of these expectations and why are these expectations so difficult for people - of all cultures through all time apparently - to escape? After all, as the show depicts, most people seem to need help trying to make good their escape into the selfish pursuit of self-interest, leaning on crutches like alcohol, drugs or other addictive behaviors to distract them or to numb the pain.
Could it be that, as Christianity teaches, these expectations are in fact a message that comes to us from an intelligent source? Could it be that the God who made us has left within us a set of rules that, try as we might, keep pointing us back to Him? That we depart from at our peril?
CS Lewis makes this argument quite effectively in Mere Christianity. His review of culture and history convinced him, a former atheist, that there there are not multiple moralities throughout time and place, but one general one that is apparent in nature. While different cultures may disagree on the specifics, many commonalities persist. For example, running away in battle has never been admired and double-crossing a person who had been kind is never a cause for pride. While some cultures allowed for multiple wives, all agree that a man cannot simply have any woman that he wants.
Now it is true that people break these rules all the time. But it is also true that they inevitably develop feelings of guilt when they do. Despite the best efforts to justify behavior, or to shift blame away from themselves, guilty people generally feel increasing torment by their guilt. This is one reason why so many criminals confess their crimes, even though doing so may be against their own best interest.
As Madmen unfolds, it is apparent that Don, and the others, need a new philosophy. But a worldview that helps them ignore their guilty knowledge - that lets them focus on what they want rather than what is expected of them - is not it. No, what they need is to get in touch with the true source of knowledge and of goodness, and to start to find out what He rightly expects of them.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17 ESV)
I think it's fair to say that Simon Peter was, in the days before Christ was crucified, more enthusiastic than spiritually mature. He's the apostle who tried to walk on water like Jesus, but lost faith and sank. He's the one who wanted to erect tents for Moses, Elijah and the transfigured Christ. He's the one who wanted Jesus to wash his hands and head, not just his feet. He's the one who cut off the high priest's servant's ear. And when he vehemently told Jesus that he would never be offended by him nor deny him, but was ready to die for his sake, I think he zealously believed that what he was saying was true. But Jesus knew the condition of Simon Peter's heart. Peter did deny his Master to save his own life, and the Bible says he wept bitterly when he realized Jesus had rightly predicted it of him.
That isn't the end of Peter's story, though. After his resurrection, over a meal of fish and bread that he had prepared, Jesus restored Simon Peter to himself. It was at that time that we see Peter humbled, and acknowledging that if he was to be the kind of shepherd that Jesus wanted him to be, it would be a work that God would do in him, not something he could accomplish in his own strength. Do you wonder where I got that idea?
In the passage quoted at the top of this post, Jesus and Peter are using two different words for "love." Four Greek words for love are: érōs (sensual love), storgē (family love, as parents for their children), philía (good friendship or brotherly love), and agápē (definition forth coming). "Love" in the New Testament is usually translated from some form of the last two, a fact we may miss it if we simply read the New Testament text in modern English.
In their conversation, Jesus asks twice if Peter loves him with agápē love and Peter answers that he loves Jesus in a philía way. The third time, Jesus and Peter both use philía. Had Peter not been devastated by the cock-crowing event, he may yet be telling Jesus that he DID love him in an agápē way. Instead, he humbly admits the truth of the nature of his love for Jesus and Jesus' perfect understanding of his heart. Jesus, in turn, doesn't attempt to make Peter feel worse than necessary. He recognizes Peter's repentance, He forgives him, and He promptly calls Peter back away from being a fisherman/businessman, and into His service as a steward who can at last be trusted.
Earlier in their relationship, Jesus had renamed his apostle "Peter", which means "rock" or "stone." I believe Jesus was naming him for what He would make him, not for what he already was. And we see it happen, don't we? Once Peter loses faith in himself and knows that Jesus is God in the flesh -- because Jesus showed Himself resurrected -- he becomes a different man. In the book of Acts, boldness and humility have replaced his weakness and self-esteem. He has died to himself, and has become a vessel through whom the Holy Spirit can act to the glory of God. We see him speaking in tongues and publically declaring the gospel (Acts 2), healing a lame man and preaching the gospel (Acts 3), standing up to the high priests and proclaiming the gospel (Acts 4), healing the sick, casting out demons, being thrown into prison and sharing the truth of Christ.... and finally, he is crucified upside down for having lived for Jesus. But it appears that from the point in time of this "love" conversation, Peter is walking in Christ's footsteps, absolutely adamant that it is not in his own power that he does so, but by the power of God.
Did Peter have agápē love for his Savior? I think in the second half of his story, he did. But to solidify this idea in our minds, let's look at how the apostle Paul defines agápē love, in 1 Corinthians 13. He says:
"[Agápē] Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant; does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered; does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things; love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8 NASB)
I think that Peter did gain the kind of love he once only thought he had for Jesus Christ.
In Galatians 5:22, the word that has been translated "love" is this same word agápē. Is it obvious, by way of Peter's transformation and the definition in 1 Corinthians, that Paul is not talking about a good feeling we get for a moment? I hope we have seen that people, who have learned to deny themselves, have taken up their crosses and have followed Christ with an eye single to His glory, are those who are showing this type of spiritual fruit. The life of the transformed Peter, lesser but like unto that of his perfect Lord Jesus, is an example of Galatians 5:22 "love."
In previous posts (here and here), I wrote about how the LDS church misuses Galatians 5:22-3 as proof text for their position that the Holy Spirit gives good feelings as witness to truth. In my next post, I will discuss the concept of "joy" Paul wrote of in the same verse of scripture. It is my hope that these studies will encourage the Mormon reader to reconsider the LDS doctrine, and also to look closer at the Bible in an effort to learn God's truth.
Monday, May 16, 2011
PleaseConvinceMe Podcast 204
A Loving God would love all of His creation, right? Wouldn’t He make sure that everyone goes to Heaven (regardless of what they might believe in this life)? A loving God would never limit Heaven to a select few and allow billions of people to suffer in Hell, would He? Jim responds to these objections and answers listener email related to Christian “essentials”, the appropriate response to fallen teachers, the nature of “debate” as it relates to Richard Dawkins and William Lane Craig.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
That philosophy, of course, was largely shaped by a Christian worldview, one in which our rights, and our equality under law, were grounded in a transcendent being who made us for a purpose. Our Founders certainly understood this when they recognized that all men are created equal, and that this equality finds its roots in the “Creator,” who endows each person with rights that are inalienable. As the familiar phrase recites, among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Many secularists today, however, mistakenly believe that this concept also applies to God. They fail – or refuse – to see the distinction between the Creator and the created, as they put God "on trial" for everything from genocide, “ethnic cleansing” and murder in Old Testament times to every instance of suffering in the modern world that God “could,” but fails, to prevent.
A moment’s reflection should make plain that God need not answer to us – He, indeed, is the one thing “above the law” for He is the law. He is no more subject to it, or answerable to us, than the computer programmer is to the rules he writes into a computer simulation. While God’s apparent indifference to the human condition may cause us to speculate about his nature, or his will, none of our opinions or our accusations will ever “make out a case against him.” This is simply nonsensical when one realizes what the concept of God entails.
Most people understand this intuitively. Take the prevailing view of abortion in many circles today: a majority of Americans apparently still support the notion that a mother can choose to end the life of the baby growing within her. Christianity holds, to the contrary, that it is always wrong to take innocent human life. Since the developing child is “innocent” and since he or she is “human life,” that should end the discussion. The reason it doesn’t is that many people recognize that the baby’s life is different – the baby lacks self-awareness or developed intelligence and the baby is “dependent” upon his mother’s body for continued life. These factors, skillfully manipulated through the rhetoric of “choice,” lead many people – who refuse to think through what in fact is at play – into serious error.
Think of it this way: human beings, regardless of their age, level of intelligence, or degree of dependence on others are in a horizontal relationship with each other. We are all the same kind of creature. While we each possess distinct and different talents, and while opportunities for development differ, we are equal in the nature of our being. Though many wish to view the mother as “superior” to the child, in reality she is not. The mother of the child did not “create” the child she is bearing; the child was “begotten.” This may sound like mere semantics, but it is not. For it is the power to “create” from nothing – as God did in the Big Bang event – that gives the right to dictate to those that were created. Men and women, when they “procreate,” are but a link in the chain of life that God set into motion thousands of years ago. They take part in the process; they are not the source of it.
If science ever leads to the creation of intelligent robots, men will be the “creators” and will have the right to do with those robots what they will. Having created them from raw materials, whatever rights they are eventually given will be dependent entirely on the will, and wishes, of those who created them.
As the Bible teaches, in God we live and move and have our being. This is literally true: the sum total of what we are is grounded in God’s creative power. If he were to stop thinking of us for even a moment, we would cease to exist. Our relationship to Him is not one of equals, as we are entirely dependent upon him.
I’d say that gives him the power to define morality, and to not be subject to second guessing by us. Better that we stop pointing the finger of guilt at Him and start listening to what he expects of us.
Friday, May 13, 2011
“You think that was bad,” says the young man, “you have no idea the pain I endured. My mother was a drinker, and she kept drinking just about every day. It was day 73, no, wait, maybe day 74, when she took a bad fall. I think she was in a supermarket by the sound of things, and she landed right on her belly. I shook so hard I didn’t think it would ever stop. I was sore for days.”
“That is bad,” his petite companion replied. “Wow, I had no idea. I just remember feeling hungry all the time. And scared. My mother was poor, and my dad left her just after I was conceived, so food was in short supply. Sometimes I thought I wouldn’t make it to delivery. The nights were the worst. I could feel my mother sobbing. And then, then, there was that time – mid second trimester I’m going to say – when she came down with some kind of flu. At first I was just a bit tired, but once it got through to me, I … well, let’s just say I didn’t know what real hurt was until that.”
“Yep,” her friend commiserated. “I knnnooowww what you mean. But look, you had it made. Your mom went full term. Man, what I wouldn’t give to go back. I can still remember how safe and warm I felt most of the time, even when she was in the sauce. I didn’t ever want to leave. I mean, you couldn’t have pried me out, if it was up to me. But she delivered me almost six weeks early – all that alcohol I guess. If only I could get those weeks back....”
Strange, right? A conversation you’ll never hear. And it’s not just because we can’t remember what occurred while we were in utero. It’s because, in a real and significant way, it no longer matters to us. Where we are now is not just different than where we were; it is orders of magnitude different. It is so different that it is foolish to even try to compare, or to think about, or to, well, engage in conversations like the one imagined above.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course, what happens to a developing baby matters very much. The baby must be protected and nourished while in his mother’s womb. But not so that the baby has a good time or great memories. Pregnancy is simply a part of the journey that we must all experience to achieve that next level of development – the one that really matters. If a fetus could talk to you, he would probably tell you to leave him alone. He’s got everything he needs, and trying to entice him with promises of fabulous sunsets, romantic love or the thrill of water skiing won’t simply fail to persuade him – they will make no sense to him. But knowing what you know, if you could talk to one, you would try to assure him, to welcome him to his new world, to work to allay his concerns. There really is something better on this side.
Sadly, for far too many people today, this world is the “final” destination. They try to soak in as much adventure and stimulation and experience as they possibly can, grabbing for all the gusto they can get, hoping that somehow they can hang on to at least some of it for long enough to make it all seem worthwhile. But it slips through our fingers all too fast. While we run from thing to thing, someone on the other side is knocking. He’s promising that His side is, well, orders of magnitude greater than anything our side has to offer. But we must trust in Him, because not only can we not see it….we wouldn’t understand it even if we could.
Jesus paved the way for us to that other side, and we must place our trust in Him to make this present journey work. Just as a mother protects and nourishes her unborn child, Jesus’ work on the cross safeguards our transition to the other side. We remain safe and secure in His arms, if we just accept the gift He offers.
Of course, this view doesn’t fully answer the problem of human suffering. And it's not meant to trivialize the suffering that occurs here day after day. Something bad happened to man in the fall, something that translates for us into pain. Perhaps we had mental or physical powers that once protected us, but no longer. And for many – no, for all human beings – pain is a reality that we each must grapple with, day in and day out. But if this analogy I offer is even close to being true, what will matter for us will not be what pain we suffered here, but whether we were successful in making it to the other side. This present suffering will pale in comparison to what is to come; it will seem as the blink of an eye, when compared to an eternity spent in God's presence. In the end, perhaps, the pain will simply be forgotten, part of a necessary foundation but not something we will need to think about, or care to.
Once there, I don’t think we will be looking back, worried about any of what we suffered… or all of it. Freed from that pain, we will be glad that we made the journey, and above all filled with the joy that comes from finally returning home.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Since I last wrote on whether or not our feelings can be trusted to tell us the truth -- a post written because of Mormon belief in this idea -- the official LDS website I referenced has been overhauled to become more image-friendly. Because of this, the links I had given go to new pages which do not now display the LDS misuse of Galatians 5:22-3. However, it only took a little more digging to find evidence that the passage is still being employed to teach this false doctrine. Take a look at these selections:
- from a 2009 outline for teaching LDS children:
"My family is blessed as we follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost... Have [a] child read Galatians 5:22. Tell the children that the Spirit is the Holy Ghost. Testify that we can know that we are feeling the Holy Ghost when we have these feelings. Have all of the children look up Galatians 5:22 and Mosiah 4:3. Invite the children to mark the words joy, peace, and faith, and explain that these are also fruits of the Spirit... remind the children that joy, peace, and faith are fruits of the Holy Ghost."
- from a talk addressing LDS young women:
"Finally, live to be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. When we helped Caroline, looked for the good around us, and even sang Primary songs, we invited the Spirit. We felt love, joy, and peace, which are fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22). You will need that peace and assurance when Satan tries to confuse you with winds of doubt, when you are tempted to take another path, or when others are unkind or mock you for your beliefs."
- from a 2009 Ensign (adult LDS magazine) article:
"When a stray thought enters our mind, we can use the Spirit to help us discern whether it is a true thought from God or possibly a lie planted there by Satan... We can tell a true thought because it will carry with it the sweet fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22)."
As a Mormon, I was taught that if I sincerely and undoubtingly prayed to know whether the church, the current prophet, or the Book of Mormon was true (for example), that the Holy Spirit would give me positive-feeling emotions as a "yes" answer. Conversely, negative-feeling emotions, like those felt when talking to someone who had evidence against the church, meant that the Holy Spirit was warning me of the evil nature of what I was being told. Galatians 5:22-3 (particularly the "love, joy, and peace" portion) was used as the supportive passage from the Bible, and as we can see, it is still being used to validate the claim today.
In my former post, I showed how the LDS use of Galatians 5:22-3 is erroneous because of its context, and because the nature of the claim itself. In my next few posts, I intend to further dismantle the claim by demonstrating how the love, joy, and peace are describing the godly characteristics of persons who have submitted their lives to the control of the Holy Spirit, rather than emotions given by Him to declare truth or falsity.
Monday, May 09, 2011
PleaseConvinceMe Podcast 203
If God is all-loving, why doesn’t he “reform” people rather than simply “punish” them in Hell? Skeptics sometimes argue that a God who simply punishes his children in Hell is a sadistic and vengeful God, unworthy of our worship. Jim responds to this objection and answers listener email related to the nature of “election”, the evidence for “annihilationism”, and a political quote related to same sex marriage.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
This is standard fare, of course, in science fiction circles. Shows like “Battlestar Galactica” explore the philosophic issue surrounding this scenario, and play out possible expected, and some unexpected, outcomes. Let’s do the same from an apologetic's standpoint.
A major stumbling block for non-believers – and for many Christians as well – is the doctrine of Hell. How, they ask, can an “all-good” God consign his creation to a place of torment? Don’t we have a right to continued life, as we want it to be? Rights talk such as this flows readily from the American mind and temperament. As beneficiaries of a system of ordered liberty, with resort to the courts to settle our grievances, we seem to easily slip into thinking that man is autonomous, a force onto himself, with rights that spring from his desire for control.
But though we resist thinking about this notion, we are in fact created beings. We did nothing to bring ourselves into existence and the basic equipment with which we encounter the world was given to us at birth. However much we wish it to be otherwise, we cannot for long escape the realization – especially as our bodies age against our will and betray us – that we are on a journey in which this good Earth is simply a way-station. However much we assert our independence, utilize our intelligence, and demand our “rights” to do what we want, we must, if we are honest with ourselves, realize – perhaps with a bit of alarm – that whatever left us behind may intend to reckon with us for what we have done while here. He may, we must acknowledge, require an accounting.
Most people who think through the implications of our contingent nature eventually realize that whatever did create us and leave us here retains the right to do what he will with the fruit of his labor. After all, no one condemns the potter when he smashes the pot that does not meet his wishes, or the painter that slashes a painting if he so chooses. In the scenario painted above, we realize that the scientists would be within their rights when they “unplug” or otherwise disable their creation. Having made them, the scientists retain the right to do what they will – even by putting them to forced labor or by dismantling them for parts. There is no moral outcry when, for example, the Air Force cannibalizes broken planes for parts that keep other planes flying.
But when we move to the arena of man and his Creator, our bias leads us to a totally different conclusion. But we are different, aren’t we? We think, and reason, and have free will that allows us to plan, to dream, to set goals. We form relationships that are meaningful to us. And most importantly, we feel. Pain is a constant threat and common companion. Does this not give us the right to “do what we want?” Especially if we mean well and don’t want to “hurt” anyone? To be “good,” God must simply get out of our way and let us … what, be God?
Actually, He doesn’t. Nothing changes in this analysis when the creatures under consideration are us. Having formed us – and everything for that matter – from nothing, God can do what he wants with us. In fact, it appears that in the natural order of things, God has established rules that we violate at our peril, so that what He wants for us can be seen not only in his Revelation, but in the natural law. What changed is our perspective. Our bias in wanting our way is what leads us to cry foul when God’s created order bumps up against our plans and desires. As in the Garden of Eden, modern man insists on not serving God, but on replacing him… or displacing him, at the very least. Insistent on having our way, we see God as a nuisance, or for many of us, the enemy. We shake our fist at him, insisting that He move out of our way, and that he justify Himself to us.
Unlike the robot analogy, God does not fear us or where our freedom may take us. We present no threat to him. But that does not mean that He must accept us into His fellowship, for to do so would be inconsistent with His holy nature. So, He reveals Himself to us, in a way that is substantial but not overwhelming, so that He does not overcome our freedom to choose. And most importantly, He provides a way for us to reunite with Him, but on His terms. That many people will use this freedom to remain in rebellion is not something for which He must explain.
None of this is easy for us to fully comprehend or to accept. Set in our rebellion, without God taking the initiative, all would be lost. But when we insist that God must bend to our will, that our freedom to choose must be accepted by Him despite His contrary view, well, then we are living outside the order which God has created. And in the end, He can – and will – do what He, in His wisdom, deems right.
Better for us to begin to see that clearly than to persist in a notion that we can imagine God out of existence. He may seem largely hidden to us, but He is there.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Take for instance the doctrine of Hell – the concept of eternal punishment. Many atheists take this doctrine as evidence that primitive men “invented” Christianity, because they believe that any God who would punish someone for failing to worship him would be unworthy of worship.
Consider this challenge from a recent blog post:
“According to christian beliefs, their god requires extensive ego-stroking, and will throw anyone who does not provide it into hell. Everyone can see that this is wicked. Some openly call it 'just' for the purpose of stroking their god's ego…. Now, you could try to challenge my assessment. You could try to show there are people (according to christian beliefs) who don't stroke your god's ego but are not sent to hell. If there are people who refuse to call your god 'good,' 'holy,' 'just,' and 'righteous' throughout their entire lives and still are not sent to hell (again, according to christian belief) then you will have shown my assessment to be incorrect."
Looking past the mocking tone of the challenge can be difficult, but since the challenger’s position may be based simply on ignorance, it may be worth the trouble. Let’s take a closer look at the challenge.
It is simply mistaken to assert that God “requires ego stroking.” This is more an expression of emotion than an argument, as it completely misses God’s true nature. As a perfect being, God requires nothing. As used by the writer, “ego” refers to self-esteem, and can be defined as “somebody's idea of his or her own importance or worth, usually of an appropriate level” or it can mean something more pejorative, as in: “an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a feeling of superiority to other people.” Either way, the term cannot be applied logically to God. God lacks no knowledge, including self knowledge. He doesn’t have an “idea” of his worth; quite the contrary, he “knows” with certainty that he has infinite worth. He can’t have an “exaggerated” sense of self-importance because one cannot add to infinity. He literally is the most important thing possible. To the extent that he feels superior to his creation, it is because, well, He is. His knowledge of that fact is not arrogance, because it is factual.
What is “wicked” is for a created being to demand what he does not deserve. God, on the other hand, deserves recognition of what he is, for such recognition is an accurate reflection of the way reality is. I naturally recognize when someone or something is “superior” to me; I naturally feel awe and a desire to praise something excellent, outstanding, virtuous, awesome. If I am honest about it, I will not refuse to acknowledge such recognition. Moreover, for something truly amazing, one will feel the response that is due in such settings – awe. Getting one’s mind around what God entails would result in a recognition that praise and worship of this being is indeed appropriate, not because he needs it but because our refusal to correctly assess him hurts us. In other words, knowing but rejecting God means we are living a lie, that we are living outside the natural order of things. This harms us, not God.
Yes, recognizing God’s perfection is “just,” but not because we wish to “stroke” his ego. It is just because it is fitting and due, a proper response to the fact of his perfection.
Are there people who “don’t stroke god’s ego but are not sent to hell?” Yes, of course. Those who place their trust in Jesus and accept the gift he offers avoid separation from God. Christian’s refer to this as the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Jesus takes our place, accepting the punishment we rightly deserve, while we share in his divinity and receive the grace we need to be reunited with the God against whom we have rebelled.
Will you find people who refused to call “your god "good," "holy," "just," and "righteous" throughout their entire lives” in heaven? Probably not. Such a person is refusing to recognize reality. Beholding perfection, he refuses to see it for what it is and instead persists in his rebellion.
Which of course leads us right back to the doctrine of hell. We live in a free society, one that at least in principle provides for justice. A person who spends his life rebelling against authority, and insisting on doing whatever he pleases, following no rules other than what he wishes to do, will eventually find himself in jail. He will have identified himself as someone who cannot handle freedom, who cannot live in society, for he does not respect what it entails. He will find himself alone and separated. But this separation will have been his own fault, based on his insistence in doing things his way. It will not be because he failed to say the right things, but because the just response to rebellion is punishment and separation.
We see this as human beings, though our sight is far from perfect. A perfect God sees this with perfect clarity. And this indeed is the kind of “bad news” that should prompt one in rebellion to give a closer look to the long term consequences of his choices.
I wanted to post this really great resource from Stand to Reason's Alan Shlemon and the Oregon Right to Life.
This is a quick and concise training that will help you remain focused on the most important question, "What is the unborn?" when discussing abortion.
HT: STR Place
Monday, May 02, 2011
PleaseConvinceMe Podcast 202
Isn’t it unfair for God to penalize people who are otherwise good, just because they haven’t heard about Jesus? A good God would not send good people to Hell. Jim responds to this objection and answers listener email related to the Craig/Harris debate, pre-existing mythologies that are similar to Jesus, and the difficult, exclusive nature of “election”.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, May 01, 2011
As the story progresses, the aliens offer to take people to their home world, which they promise is a veritable paradise. Many sign up and soon embark on the alien ships to begin their adventure. And why shouldn’t they? After all, everything the aliens did was pleasing and helpful; there was no immediate evidence that they would, or could, hurt anyone.
Many people today have adopted a worldview that looks only at the short term pleasure, and not the long term harm, of their pursuits. They believe that they can – perhaps even should – do whatever they like, as long as it doesn’t “hurt anyone.” Where Christians once derived their morality from the teachings of Scripture, many – some would say most – have adopted this humanist worldview, confident that their notions of what “not hurting” someone means are similar to God's. This willful blindness to God’s law is not new to our culture; it has been practiced throughout history. But where once Christians sought to be "salt and light" in their culture, today’s increasingly intolerant public square is making such efforts increasingly difficult.
Which brings me back to the Twilight Zone. Not everyone was convinced that the aliens were benevolent. Several sought to crack the code of their alien language, so they could translate a book which was left behind. The book’s title – To Serve Man – seemed consistent with the aliens'actions in providing near-miraculous service to mankind, such as restoring the fertility of the soil and rendering nuclear weapons harmless. The story ends with a shocking, albeit too late, discovery: “to serve man” is actually the title of a cookbook. The aliens had come to turn people into food.
While not seeking to literally consume us, our adversary the devil "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:7) He does this by lies and deceptions, for he is the father of deceit. And the oldest lie of all? The same one told in the Garden - you don't need to follow God's rules, for you too can be like God.
And so we must be cautious. A philosophy that tells us to do whatever we want as long as it doesn’t “hurt anyone” is a highly seductive philosophy, one that “tickles the ears” of listeners. (2 Tim. 4:3) But how can we truly foresee the long term effects of our choices? How can we know, when we give in to our temptations and embrace them as good, what ultimate harm will come to us, and to those we say we love? As Jesus taught, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Seduction comes camouflaged, and it comes in many forms. Behind it is always a lie, a promise of short term pleasure that seeks to conceal the long term harm. Staying true to God’s will requires us to know and follow his law. Trying to substitute a “do no harm” philosophy may seem enlightened, but in the end it will not serve – neither man nor mankind.