Worldviews, Worship, and Wineskins

The Gospel at Work in Every Context

Archive for the tag “God”

Objections: The Bride Has a Black Eye

Hypocrisy, greed, immorality and corruption all serve to keep the eye of Christ’s Bride perpetually blackened in the public opinion of America.

It’s trite and it’s cliché.  It’s so very mainstream in Christian circles.  But the Church in America is losing ground.  She is under attack.  Statistics show us a very clear, very disheartening picture.  Kids that grow up in church are leaving Church the minute they have the choice.

There are a number of reasons for this, and the intention here isn’t to list all of them, but to highlight one and offer one *partial* response.  It’s obvious that the climate of our culture has become hostile, aggressive, angry and caustic toward Christians.  Some of the anger is warranted: pedophilia in the Church is outrageous and good reason for an emotional response.  Hypocrisy, greed, immorality and corruption all serve to keep the eye of Christ’s Bride perpetually blackened in the public opinion of America.  But the critical thinkers among us (Christian or not) must admit that the behavior of someone’s children doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of the parents.  Some parents have rotten children.  Including God.  This shouldn’t be a barrier for people to get to know Him.  Our message (and lifestyle!) needs to be able to cut through the noise and present Biblical truth beyond the context of 21st Century Evangelicalism.

This is why Worldviews, Worship and Wineskins will feature an apologetics series called “Objections”.  Each post will focus on a major mainstream objection to the Christian worldview and offer a Biblically based response.  Some people that might find this helpful are those who have never really questioned their faith and are encountering difficult questions at work or school, those who have grown up in a Church environment and are experiencing real doubt, or those with loved ones who are facing doubt.

Difficult questions can be a good thing.  Though they are usually painful, a season of doubt can end up strengthening someone’s faith.  God is not threatened by difficult questions.  In Isaiah 1.18, He offers this appeal to Israel: “Come, let us reason together.”  The book named after Job features that man’s extended questioning of God’s methodology and motives.  In the end, Job was vindicated as having done no wrong.  The minor prophet Habakkuk was also confused about God’s methods, and makes his discomfort openly known to the Lord!  Questions are good.  There are no new questions.  People have been asking the same questions for thousands of years, and there are many good answers.  Does the Bible have all of the answers?  No.  God restored Job’s wealth and cured Job’s disease.  But He didn’t answer Job’s questions.  Sometimes God leaves questions unanswered for unknown reasons, probably so we will exercise trust in that area.   The Bible doesn’t have all the answers.  But it has the right answers to the most important questions.  “Objections” might be able to point you or someone you know toward the right answers that believers have found for thousands of years.

“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.”

One word of caution: we mustn’t kid ourselves into thinking that the right answers alone will effectively convert the unbeliever.  1 Peter 3.15 gives us God’s foundation for apologetics: “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.”  Those are instructions: what to do.  Verse 16 tells us how and why: “However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”  Peter understood that good reasons won’t always convince hard hearts.  Jesus expressed it another way in Luke 16.31: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”

In fact, many people don’t even really care if the central claims of the Bible are true.  For most of us in the “first world” today, Jesus represents the cure to a disease that we don’t have.  Jesus offers forgiveness of sin before death and eternal life afterward, along with fellowship with God on both sides of the grave.  Sin is an archaic, draconian concept, to be dealt with by using guilt management techniques.  Eternal life and fellowship with God are irrelevant because our material comforts have blinded us to our glaringly obvious spiritual needs.  So the conversations swirling around faith can have little meaningful impact if the Holy Spirit has not done the work of preparing hearts for the gospel message.

Why, then, should we bother?  If the anti-Christian world will not be persuaded to follow Jesus with good reasons, what is the point of providing good reasons to follow Jesus?  Let’s circle back around to 1 Peter 3.15–“so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”  Not only are we commanded to have good reasons, we are commanded to conduct ourselves in such a manner that our aggressors will seem shameful to themselves and others.  For those who come armed with examples of corruption and hypocrisy in the church, our respectful response needs to include sound Biblical reasons to be faithful in spite of the behavior of others, and a Godly example that counteracts the shameful lifestyles of others.  This may serve to bolster the faith of others whose faith might otherwise be withering under the hostility of a world that hates God.

When that happens; when followers of Jesus can face, with grace and poise (sometimes by saying “I don’t know), the objections of seekers and scornful alike, we become one small voice in a growing chorus.  We say, together, “I don’t have all the answers.  But I have enough.  And I know the One who can fill in the rest.  Would you like to meet him?”

 

Everyone Worships Something

We were made to worship. Everyone worships something whether they realize it or not. Even people who don’t subscribe to any particular religion with a formalized system of worship…they worship too. Want to know what you worship? What is the first thing you think about when you wake up? What do you spend your spare time on? Where does your expendable income go? That is what you worship.

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” So says the Westminster chatechism. If this statement is true, men and women attain their highest human potential in an ironic fashion: by the willful abnegation of self and exaltation of another.  This is true worship.  This is where the irony of the human condition is most clear: we are most fully human when we abdicate our perceived right to self-worship, and spend ourselves worshiping God.

It’s Time to Kill that “Soulmate” Myth

This post will start off sounding really cynical to some of you, but please hang out until the end, because this is an important idea to grasp if you want to succeed in romance.  First let me tell you what I’m NOT trying to say.  When I was fresh out of high-school, I experienced something very common for people fresh out of high-school: a breakup.  I had moved far away from my girlfriend and the distance was killing it.  Not only that, but all of the dramatic life changes that people experience at that stage were killing it.  Many of you have been there.

I have a dear aunt who was newly divorced at the same time.  We commiserated often.  She listened to Sarah McGlachlin and we mourned our losses.  It was foolish for me to consider that our pain was similar: she had three children and well over a dozen years from her ex-husband.  I had teenage infatuation and a few months.  But my aunt was gracious to me.

One day she commented something to this effect: “At least you still believe in true love.”  To which I responded, “I’m not sure I do believe that.”  It was a foolish thing to say, in retrospect.  I had no idea what I was talking about.  But my views on love have changed since then, and I’m glad to report that this post is NOT a polemic against romantic love or even a cynical rant against the saccharine emotion that Hollywood tries to pass off as love. Those are good things that are too-often understood in distorted ways.

Take Jerry Maguire, for instance.  In the climactic scene typical of romance movies, Jerry confesses his feelings for Dorothy with the unforgettable line, “You complete me.”  This is the downfall of popular beliefs on romance.  The pressure that was placed on Dorothy at that moment was a burden too great for any mere mortal to bear.  It is unfair.  We aren’t made to complete each other or to find completion in any human relationship, not even marriage.

That’s why the myth of the “mail-order” soulmate needs to die.  The idea that somewhere out there is your perfect match who will share all your interests, laugh at all your jokes and put up with all your baggage without any fuss is setting people up for failure.  Soulmates like that are earned over a lifetime of heartbreaking compromise, sacrifice and plain old hard work.  Not predestined in the stars.  They are cultivated intentionally, not granted automatically.

I think this is one reason that so many long-term relationships never lead to marriage and so many marriages fail: Person “A” doesn’t “complete me” a-la Jerry Maguire, therefore, he/she must not be my soulmate.  Time to look for my soulmate in Person “B”. Obviously that is a sweeping generalization, but one that I believe has real traction in our romance-infatuated culture.

There is an underlying spiritual dysfunction that is associated with the soulmate myth.    In a world that has very little use for God, the impossible pressure to “complete me” has been taken off God and placed on human relationships, especially romantic relationships.  This is idolatry, plain and simple.  So not only are we setting ourselves up for failure by placing too much pressure on our romantic counterparts, we are robbing God of the deep, soul-adoring worship that He deserves.  I may have just lost some of you who aren’t concerned with religious affection.  (Dorothy from Jerry Maguire might say, “You lost me at idolatry.”)  But I’ll stand by my claim: what human relationships can never attain in terms of emotional satisfaction, a “sacred romance” will.

That isn’t to say that romance isn’t a good thing.  That isn’t to say that there is no place for romance in healthy marriages.  To the contrary: without romance, intimacy and bedrock commitment, marriages will wither on the vine.  Every time.  But the elevation of romance to the end of all relational emotion is detrimental to our thinking.  Here’s why:  God designed the marriage relationship as an means to an end, not an end itself.  In other words, He didn’t invent marriage just so we could get married, there is a purpose to it.  Besides procreation.  Besides sexual fulfillment.  Besides companionship.

God designed the marriage relationship to be a reflection of the relationship he desires with us.  In the New Testament, the church is called the “bride” of Christ.  It’s brilliant, really.  Sheer genius.  God uses a universal human institution as a relational metaphor, so we will understand just what He is getting at.  He wants an exclusive commitment.  He wants adoration.  He wants emotional closeness.  He wants us to grow in our understanding of him over the long-term.  He wants us to work hard to not offend Him!  He wants our relationship to bear fruit.  He wants to be our soulmate.

So if we kill the soulmate myth, where does that leave marriage?  Does it lessen the emotional impact of romance?  Just the opposite.  What could be more romantic than realizing that your closest human relationship is modeled after an eternal, all-powerful being who literally died just so he could be with you?  What could have a more powerful aphrodisiac effect than knowing that the person who stretched out the heavens and laid down the foundations of the earth wants–no, COMMANDS you to make love to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7.3-5)?

The effect of killing the soulmate myth DOES take the pressure off of your significant other to be and do for you what only God can be and do.  Soulmates aren’t assembled on some conveyor belt, ready to go, right out of the box.  I’m convinced that God isn’t waiting for you to find THE ONE, but one of potentially dozens.  Although He does know which one you will choose–which poses several more questions about free will and God’s sovereignty, none of which bear addressing right now.  All of that to say, when you and your romantic interest decide that you are in it for the long-haul, be prepared to do the work and build your own soulmate.

Jesus and the Book of Eli (part 2). OR, Four reasons Jesus is Way Better Than Whatever Else You Could Worship

“Jesus Christ stands alone, unique and supreme, self-validating, and the Holy Ghost declares Him to be God’s eternal Son. Let all the presidents and all the kings and queens, the senators and the lords and ladies of the world, along with the great athletes and great actors–let them kneel at His feet and cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!'”

  1. A. W. Tozer

jesus

The first installment of this post (found here: https://worldviewsworshipwineskins.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/jesus-and-the-book-of-eli-part-1/) discussed the Post-Apocalyptic film, “The Book of Eli” and explored the implied meaning of the film.  My argument is that the interpretation of the film is left to the viewer, to an extent.  However, the final scene shows a newly copied King James Bible placed on a shelf alongside the Q’uran and the Torah, which strongly suggests religious pluralism: the idea that every religion is valid.  The goal of this post is to demonstrate the uniqueness of Jesus, and more.  Not only is Jesus unique (aren’t we all, really?) he is superior to every person who ever lived and makes curious truth claims with serious implications.  If Jesus is who he claimed to be, what then?  How should we approach other religions with contrasting truth claims?

In what sense is Jesus unique?  Many people throughout history have laid claim to profound wisdom, insights which might lead us to the fulfillment of our ultimate spiritual purposes.  These include eastern mystics such as Gautama the Buddha, Muhammed the founder of Islam and more recently Joseph Smith, who claimed to add on to the Christian faith.  In one sense, we can learn all that we need to know about a religion, philosophy or worldview by examining the lives and values of it’s founder or founders.  Without going into detail on anyone else, I believe we can learn all we need to know about true religion by learning the Person of Jesus.

Jesus is unique.  One-of-a-kind.  A human singularity.  There was never anyone like him before, and no one will ever be like him again.  Here are four specific reasons why:  1. Jesus is sinless.  2. Jesus is Divine.  3. Jesus embodied fulfiflled prophecy. 4. Jesus is alive.

(1) Jesus is sinless. Not only does scripture tell us that Jesus never broke the moral law, (Hebrews 4.15), but the illegal court that convicted him and sentenced him to death had a contrived charge because none of the witnesses against him could describe a time when he transgressed! Can you imagine anyone else on trial for their life, against whom no charge could be brought?  Joseph Smith?  No.  Gautama?  No.  Muhammed?  No.  Mother Theresa?  No.  Jesus is the only person that ever lived who never violated the timeless moral code.

(2) Jesus is Divine. The New Testament indicates Jesus’ divine nature many times over. Here are three compelling passages that show us not only that the eyewitness authors believed he was divine, but Jesus himself believed he was divine.  In Mark 2.1-12, Jesus meets a paralyzed man in a crowded room.  Before the crowd, Jesus forgave the man’s sins.  Verses 6 through 12 speak for themselves:

But some of the scribes were sitting there thinking to themselves: “Why does He speak like this?  He’s blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’?  But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”  Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. 

In John 8.58, Jesus reveals two important pieces of his identity: he existed before Abraham, and he applied the title that God used of Himself with Moses at the burning bush: I AM.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared many times to his disciples, giving them a deep conviction that he had literally defeated death.  On one occasion (recorded in John 20.28), he appeared to Thomas, who had previously doubted.  When Jesus showed Thomas the scars in His hands and side, Thomas responded in worship: “My Lord and my God!”  For any self-respecting Jew to utter these words to a mere human would have been blasphemy!  Yet Jesus did not correct Thomas, but accepted his worship as though it were appropriate.

Very few people in history have claimed to be God: a handful of kings and emporers, and a handful of crackpots.  None of them had the power to prove their deity and none have made the impact on history that Jesus has, in spite of their enormous political power.

(3) Jesus miraculously fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.  The following is a short list of prophecies concerning the Jewish Messiah that were written hundreds of years before his birth.  Jesus fits the bill for all of them, and more!

From the tribe of Judah: Genesis 49.10, Luke 3.23, 33.

From the family line of David: 2 Samuel 7.12, Matthew 1.1.

Born in Bethlehem: Micah 5.2, Matthew 2.1.

Preceded by a messenger: Isaiah 40.3, Matthew 3.1-2.

Rejected by His people: Psalm 118.22, 1 Peter 2.7.

His death would be roughly 483 years after 444 B.C: Daniel 9.24.

Specific details of his crucifixion predicted in Psalm 22, His resurrection predicted in Psalm 16.10.

All told, there are over 200 Messianic prophecies in the Jewish Old Testament, all of which are fulfilled in the person of Jesus!  What are the odds?  Beyond the realm of possibility.

(4) Jesus is alive! The resurrection of Jesus is the fulcrum of all history. He provided the most convincing proof of his unique, divine and perfect nature by doing what none had ever done: coming back from the dead.  The resurrection made such an impact, that the people who were best suited to evaluate its implications immediately changed the course of their entire lives to follow this man-God.  For the next century, the message of Jesus and his work at the cross, followed by his resurrection spread across the known world like wildfire.  Not only is the resurrection well attested (Biblically and extra-Biblically), it is the only logical explanation for the existence of the church.  Without the resurrection, the church is an effect without a cause.  

Think about it for a moment: if you were one of the disciples who had followed Jesus and seen him crucified, what possible incentive would you have for spreading a fabricated story about his resurrection?  The early Christians (and many still today) faced persecution and death for their witness to Jesus’ resurrection.  They had every reason in the world to NOT embrace Christianity, and no reason in the world to follow a dead Jesus.  Which leaves the early church with no motive whatsoever to fake the resurrection.  A crime with no motive?  I don’t think they exist.

Which brings us back to the newly printed King James Bible on the shelf at Alcatraz.  Perfect.  Divine.  His life prophesied for generations preceding with stunning accuracy.  Resurrected from the dead.  And we didn’t even get into the fact that he could control the weather…Could Jesus have been simply another sage with good, moral advice, to be shelved next to the works of other great religious thinkers?  Could he have been simply an itinerant preacher with commanding presence who stole the attention of the 1st Century Mediterranian world?  Was he a crackpot whose life has been obscured and embellished?  C. S. Lewis is credited with claiming that there are only three real options for what to think of Jesus: either he was a liar, a lunatic or He is Lord.  All things considered, we can rule out the first two options.  And if Jesus is who He said He is, the idea that he is one among a variety of competing options is false.

Of course, all of this is contingent on whether the documents that comprise the Bible can be taken at face value!  Which is a topic for another day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE&sns=em

*Among others, I found Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino’s “Unshakable Foundations” a useful resource for this post, especially their list of Old Testament messianic prophecies.

Robbing God of the Worship He Deserves

The surest way to rob God of the worship He deserves is to beat yourself up over sin that is already confessed and forgiven.

Friday Night Mystics: A. W. Tozer

Tozer

Last week’s “Friday-Night Mystic” was Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection: a simple man who was madly in love with God.  Is simplicity an ideal of mysticism?  Would the one who wants to draw near to God jettison his intellect?  A. W. Tozer (among others) shows us this is not the case.  Passion for God is not the opposite of excellent scholarship and thinking.  In his writing and speaking, Pastor Tozer shows a consistent and thoughtful interatction with the world’s philosophies, arguments and pitfalls, as well as the church’s.  For example:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

“The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.  Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

“For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart concieves God to be like.  We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.”  (from “Knowledge of the Holy”)

Tozer was the Pastor of Southside Alliance Church in Chicago from 1928 to 1959, but is probably best known for his devotional classic, “Pursuit of God”.  In that work, the church is called out for her apathy and God is exalted as worthy of passionate pursuit.  His indictment on the state of the church rings as true today as it did fifty years ago:

“Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies of the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church.  Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb.  To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and it its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’  This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.”  (Tozer’s preface.)

This modern mystic spent much of his energy lamenting the impotence and apathy of the church of his day.  But don’t be fooled.  He wasn’t just another angry critic (after all, Jesus’ bride is an easy target.)  Tozer’s chiding was the result of a sincere burning passion for the living Christ and a desire to see Him receive the worship He deserves:

“The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration our whole being senses its kinship to God and leapus up in joyous recognition.  That is the heavenly birth without which we cannot see the kingdom of God.  It is, however, not an end, but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead.  That is where we begin, I say, but where we stop no man has yet discovered, for there is in the awful and mysterious depths of the Triune God neither limit nor end.

Shoreless Ocean, who can sound thee?

Thine own eternity is round Thee,

Majesty divine!

“To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.”

Friday Night Mystics: Brother Lawrence

Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen

There are a handful of authors who have really influenced me by their passion for and devotion to Jesus. I want to share some of their insights with you, in single-sized portions. I plan to upload a short segment each Friday night, so keep checking in!

Tonight will feature Brother Lawrence, who was a French monk in the 1600’s. I encourage you to find his book entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God”.

This passage comes from a collection of notes taken by someone who interviewed Brother Lawrence due to his reputation as someone with a deep love for God. In the introductory paragraph, the writer states, concerning Brother Lawrence, “he told me”. Each subsequent paragraph begins with the word “That”.

“That in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of GOD, which had never since been effaced from his soul. That this view had perfectly set him loose from the world, and kindled in him such a love for GOD, that he could not tell whether it had increased during his more than forty years he had lived since.”

“That the greatest pains or pleasures of this world, were not to be compared with what he had experienced of both kinds in a spiritual state: so that he was careful for nothing and feared nothing, desiring only one thing of GOD, viz., that he might not offend Him.”

“That all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to GOD; that we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, with freedom and simplicity.”

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother_Lawrence

In Praise of Negativity (Sort of)

Ok, not really.  The word “negativity” used to mean basic, street level pessimism.  No one really likes that.  It doesn’t do anyone any good.  The kind of negativity I want to praise is actually more in the center of the spectrum between pessimism and optimism.  Let’s call it…realism.

The reason this conversation even needs to be had is because of a trend in the church for people to condemn realism and call it negativity.  The prosperity gospel movement has made it a point to make positive thinking a central tenet of their teaching, to the extent that speaking anything “negative” (such as condemning sin as outlined in the Bible) is taboo.  Some people make the bold claim that our actual words have power over our situation, and say things like “words have the power of life and death.  Speak life over you situation.”  Or “Get your mind going in the right direction, and your life will go in the right direction.”  One example of the many applications of this is in overcoming addiction. I read about a person who wanted to stop smoking, and was told to claim his victory over addiction daily, by saying “I don’t like cigarrettes.  I don’t like their taste or their smell.”  According to the testimonial, several months later the person had quit!

There are a couple of problems with this spiritual teaching, the main problem being the Bible.  While there IS scripture that supports maintaining something like a “positive mental attitude”, (Philippians 4.8, for example), the mechanism for our victory is not in our mental posture or our speech, but in the blood of Jesus.  His victory is ours, and it is a victory over sin, not necessarily suffering.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the testimonial about the smoker who quit was true, and positive affirmation can certainly have a powerful affect in anyone’s life. But we are called more often to obedience than to grand declarations or positive affirmations.  We are called to persistence in prayer, not to “speak life” over our situations.  To shift the focus of our hearts away from Christ and his completed work, and to reduce the wonderful, difficult discipline of prayer to a trite formula of speaking your desired outcome is a cheap substitute for New Testament discipleship and ultimately amounts to old fashioned animism: performing spiritual rituals in order to manipulate the spiritual realm to your own advantage.

Another difficulty with the “no negativity” crowd is a wrong definition of faith, which has the ultimate effect of leaving the faithful in a state of disillusionment.

“Faith is not believing that God can, it’s knowing that he will.”  Are you familiar with this statement?  It is wrong on a number of levels.  First and foremost, it is a direct contradiction to Daniel 3.16 and 17.  The context shows us the three Hebrew transplants, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego facing the anger of King Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to bow down to his golden image.  Pay close attention to their response:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, than He can rescue us from the furnace, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king.  But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”  (HCSB, emphasis mine.)

Ultimately, God rescued them, as we all remember.  However, scripture is full of examples of God’s people who were doing all the right things and God still allowed them to “go through the fire”, so to speak.  (For a great list of examples, see Hebrews 11, not to mention Jesus himself.)  What happens to those who buy into the “positivity” message when things don’t go right?  If you thought that faith meant “knowing that God will”, and He didn’t, what does that mean?  Either you misunderstood God or you misunderstood faith.  The family who prays for healing over cancer but doesn’t receive it…where are they after God takes away their loved one sooner than they wanted?  Or the parent with estranged children who seem to keep building higher walls and running further away?  The wife whose husband never stops cheating on her?  Did they have misplaced faith in God?  Doesn’t he care about their situation?  In contrast, the concept of faith that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego demonstrate is radically different.  Their object of faith (God) was good, powerful and worthy of their obedience no matter the outcome of their situation.  They praised God for who He is, rather than what He does.

Finally, there is an idea that’s married to this redefinition of negativity.  The idea is that we shouldn’t mention the concept of sin, since it is negative and might make us feel bad, which is the opposite of the desired outcome for this pseudo-gospel.  Look at God’s diagnosis in Jeremiah 6.14

“They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” 

When we preach the gospel as though its sole purpose were to bring us comfort, instead of to address sin and grow Christ-like worshippers for the glory of God, of course we will want to avoid sin.  Of course we will ask people not to discuss unpleasant, nasty circumstances.  But that doesn’t square with the Bible, people’s real needs or their real lives.  Avoiding negativity means that we misdiagnose the disease.  Instead of a sinful heart that loves it’s sin, we are dealing with a negative heart that needs psychological coaching to overcome it’s bad feelings.

In medical terms, this type of treatment would lead to a malpractice case on day one.  Doctors cannot avoid negative conversations, otherwise they decieve their patients.  Mechanics cannot gloss over serious mechanical issues (although they sometimes exaggerate them!) and pastors cannot afford to sugarcoat the seriousness of sin.  If that means we need to sound negative, so be it!  Jeremiah preached doom and destruction over Jerusalem for decades.  John the Baptist called his listeners a “brood of vipers.”  Jesus said in John 7.7, “The world…hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”  

Bring on the negativity.  We can’t start the healing process until we know just how deep the wound goes.

A Few Lines About God.

 

Unstoppable. You have such power. Like a deluge in the pass. Let me be swept away.

Masterful. A virtuoso in your field of one. All creation resonates with your song. Let my life ring clear and pure.

Humble. You do not shout your greatness into dull ears. But your whisper can break granite hearts.  Let me be broken.

Love. You are father to the orphan, husband to the widow. Your wild and furious ardor chases the unworthy and makes us whole.  Let me love like you do.

Black Holes & the Penumbras of Belief

The field of theoretical physics has, for quite some time, been in search of a single, “unified” theory that explains the way the universe operates. Albert Einstein discovered general relativity which is able to explain how enormous things relate, and quantum physics accurately predicts the behavior of subatomic particles. The problem is that the two can’t be reconciled.

This problem has puzzled the world’s sharpest mathematicians for decades now. On the quantum front, researchers are able to tinker with atomic particles in laboratory conditions. The Large Hadron Collider is the largest and most expensive research laboratory ever fashioned, and the fruits of research there are impressive, to hear the physics gurus tell it. They have recently confirmed the existence of the Boson Higgs particle, curiously nicknamed the “God” particle, much to the chagrin of some in the physics community. But what of astronomical physics, or cosmology? Mankind is making giant strides in teeny tiny physics, but there seem to be unique challenges facing astrophycisists. Namely, time and space.

To begin with, astronomical processes often take millions or billions of years. Thanks to Einstein, we understand that, by the time the light from stars in space reaches us, it is already old. Sometimes very old. If you point your telescope to a star that lies 100 lightyears away, the image you are seeing is one hundred years old. Astronomers who witness and study events such as, for instance, a supernova, are watching what happened when their grandfathers were in diapers. Or perhaps when Copernicus first suggested that the earth revolves around the sun, instead of the other way around. The scale of astrophysics also complicates study of the super-big. Whereas elements and atoms are subject to manipulation by human hands, galaxies are not.

The result of this is that astronomers are not able to subject their hypotheses to the same process as normal scientific endeavors. With the scientific process, an idea must be tested in a controlled setting, and must be repeatable in order to be considered an established scientific fact. This is science 101. Does that work for astronomers and astrophysicists? Not exactly. They have to wait for processes to take place, take measurements and observations and draw conclusions. In this sense, astrophysics, astronomy and cosmology, etc. would seem to qualify as deductive sciences, heavily dependent somewhat abstract mathematics and logic. They contrast with mainly inductive sciences which rely on repeatable processes and high amounts of testable data.

A very interesting example of the non-testable nature of astrophysics are black holes. No one can prove that they exist, as of yet. They are not observable, yet no one doubts their existence (can you see where this is going?) The epistemology of (the means by which we understand) black holes lies within the penumbras of real scientific certainty. But the scientific community is effectively unanimous concerning the ontology of black holes. How do we know they are there? Michael Finkel gives us a layman’s explanation in the March, 2014 issue of National Geographic:

“No one has ever seen a black hole, and no one ever will. There isn’t anything to see. It’s just a blank spot in space–a whole lot of nothing, as physicists like to say. The presence of a hole is deduced by the effect it has on its surroundings. It’s like looking out a window and seeing every treetop bending in one direction. You’d almost certainly be right in assuming that a strong yet invisible wind was blowing.
“When you ask the experts how certain we are that black holes are real, the steady answer is 99.9 percent; if there aren’t black holes in the center of most galaxies, there must be something even crazier.”

If the scientific community is content to accept the existence of black holes largely using deductive reasoning (rather than the preferred scientific method of inductive reasoning), skeptics cannot rationally reject the existence of God based on a lack of testable data. In the same way that conditions and events surrounding black holes give scientists a rational basis for belief, Occam’s Razor would seem to indicate that God is the simplest and most rational explanation for the conditions and events we see in the world—and the universe—today. Most conservative Christians who have studied the question would argue that the data in the New Testament and other 1st century writings are compelling enough, but let’s give the community of skeptics the benefit of the doubt for the sake of the argument. Black holes aside, can we find other examples of inconsistency regarding a reasonable threshold of proof?

Consider SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. Researchers have spent millions of dollars creating a listening post whose sole purpose is to intercept and analyze radio and other signals from space. Planet earth is listening. If someone or something non-human and intelligent were to speak, SETI would hear. What might constitute evidence that a radio signal had an intelligent source? If a signal were to have an organized pattern, we can all agree that SETI researchers would have reasonable grounds to consider the source of the signal to be an intelligent being. The study of information sciences tells us that complexity does not arise at random. However, if we turn our attention once again from the macro to the micro, we will notice volumes of highly detailed and complicated messages written in every living cell: DNA. Someone is speaking. Yet for some reason, a certain contingent of the scientific community is committed to explaining how the message came to exist without an intelligent source. While I can not claim to be a professional scientist, this seems intellectually inconsistent to me. How can any rational person accept organized information as reasonable evidence for intelligence in one instance and dismiss it in another?

Please don’t misinterpret my ramblings. I don’t intend to say that the astronomy community lacks epistemic warrant for belief in black holes, nor that SETI should dismiss an organized signal in the event they receive one. What I do want to say is that religious skeptics might take a second look at the bigger question of what constitutes evidence or proof. What would we expect to see if an intelligent, supernatural being existed? To what extent could we logically say such an intelligent being owed us testable data? Has the burden of proof been met? Is it logically consistent to require “hard proof” in the case of God, but be satisfied with the penumbras of evidence for the claims of theoretical physics?

Admittedly, this post falls short of providing any evidence FOR the existence of God (or black holes, for that matter). But that was never my intention. I am simply in the learning process, like the rest of us, and asking questions along the way. The burden of proof has already been met for me, for both black holes and God. What about you?

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