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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Week Revisited

I wrote this way back in 2007. I have a whole set of new readers and thought I'd put it out there again for the fun of it. If I'm right, instead of Good Friday being the day of His Crucifixion, we'd be celebrating it today. Not that it makes a big difference, but ...

Mind you, this is just a theory of mine. It is my goal to try to correlate Scripture. If any of this upsets you, I don't find it anything worth fighting for, so, please, simply let it go. On the other hand, if you enjoy trying to piece together puzzles and are willing to set aside some long-held ideas that may not be right, well, this might be fun.

In Matt. 12:40, Jesus makes a statement about His death and resurrection:
"For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
Now, the normal person, when asked when Jesus died and rose again, will tell you that He died on Friday and rose again on Sunday. This is a problem for me because this isn't "three days and three nights." I know, I know, the standard answer is "Well, the Hebrews measured days from sundown to sundown, so Friday-Saturday-Sunday would be three days." That's all well and good ... but it's not three nights by any measure. So I'm a little bit confused.

So I took a different approach. What do we know? We know that the women found Him alive on "the first day of the week." Okay, good, a time reference. Jesus was discovered alive on Sunday. Funny thing. Beyond that, we know very little. There are references to "the next day" in a variety of places regarding the last week of Jesus's life, but there are holes in the time line and little is certain. The primary reason that we believe that Jesus died on a Friday was that it says that they wanted to bury Him before sundown because the Sabbath was the next day. That's about all we have to go on. So I tried to piece together a possible time line taking into account what we do know.

Working backward from Sunday, we know that "the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment" (Luke 23:55-56). They prepared spices then rested on the Sabbath. Mark says something different. "When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Him" (Mark 16:1). So, it appears that women bought the spices on the day after the Sabbath, prepared them, then waited for the Sabbath. That means that there would be a Crucifixion and burial, a Sabbath, a day after the Sabbath, a Sabbath, and the first day of the week. That would mean that Jesus died on a Wednesday, not a Friday.

This is reasonable. This gives us three days and three nights. He died on a Wednesday afternoon and was buried by the evening. Wednesday night is night #1, Thursday is day #1, Thursday night is night #2, Friday is day #2, Friday night is night #3, and Saturday is day #3. Jesus rose the sometime after sundown Saturday evening. This fits. Unfortunately, this pushes back "Good Friday" to "Good Wednesday". It puts the Triumphal Entry on a Friday rather than a Sunday. Well, it moves "Holy Week" to "Holy Week and a half".

But, wait, is there any reason to think that there would be a Sabbath, a day, and a Sabbath? Well, indeed, there is. Biblically, the Passover falls on the 14th of Nisan. That is, the paschal meal (which we know as "the Last Supper") takes place on the 14th of Nisan. This starts a 7-day feast called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Oh, and, as it happens, the day after the 14th of Nisan is "a High Sabbath" (Lev 23:5-7). Now, if the 14th of Nisan falls on a Wednesday, Thursday would be a High Sabbath, Friday would be the second day of the feast (but not a Sabbath), and Saturday would be the normal Sabbath. There we have it -- the exact combination needed to account for Mark's and Luke's accounts and give us exactly what Jesus said would happen.

What changes if we do this? Well, as far as I can tell, just a few traditions. Oh ... and Scripture aligns and agrees. Yeah, that's a good thing. I like it. It's just a theory, but I like it.

As a side note, commenters back then pointed out that April 6th, 30AD would be a Wednesday and would exactly align with all that I wrote here. Just interesting ... nothing more.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Politics as Usual

I was talking to someone the other day -- someone I barely know -- and heard come out of his mouth one of the strangest things I've ever heard. We simply touched in passing on the health care reform that was just passed and he said, "Yeah, Republicans will vote against anything that is Democratic." Now, mind you, he's not the first. I've heard it from the mouths of members of Congress and even from the President himself. You know the idea: "Politics as usual." What is really interesting and, therefore, ultimately stupid about the idea is that it seems, when they say it, to only go one way. That is, "Republicans will always vote against the ideas of the Democrats, and only Republicans do that. Democrats, on the other hand, vote for what is good and right and principled regardless of whose idea it is."

What nonsense! When you look at that truly historic vote (understanding that "historic" may mean "historically marvelous" or "historically catastrophic") on health care reform*, it is quite remarkable that not one single Republican voted for the plan. Is the only possible conclusion "Republicans will always vote against the ideas of the Democrats," or is it possible that there are other factors in play here? Since there actually were Democrats who voted against the bill, I would have to assume that some Republicans may have agreed with the Democrats who voted against it and did not vote solely on the basis of political affiliation. I mean, obviously those Democrats who voted against it didn't do so because they would vote against any Democrat's idea, right? So they had another reason. What other possible reasons are there?

There is the possibility of one's constituents. If a representative comes from a group of people obviously and overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, a good representative will vote against the bill. You know, "the will of the people" and all that. Oh, sure, maybe that's idealistic, but if people are going to keep insisting that ours is a government "of the people", it has to remain a possibility. (Interestingly, it appears that most of the Democrats who voted against the bill came from traditionally conservative places.) It is not possible to conclude that the bill was just so perfect that there was not the slightest possibility that anyone could be opposed on the basis of principle, is it? Or, to reverse that, it is certainly possible that some might vote against a bill because, well, they genuinely think it's a bad idea. If a representative of the people genuinely believes that a bill before him or her is bad for the people, it is incumbent upon him or her to vote against it, regardless of its political source, isn't it? And this might lead to another possibility -- ignorance. It is possible (especially in the case of a bill the size of this one) that a government representative does not understand the bill well enough to support it. In a recent interview by Chris Matthews with Vice President Biden, Matthews asked whether or not the President had effectively communicated with the American people and, if so, why there was such resistance on the health reform bill. Mr. Biden responded with an explanation about how complex the bill is. We were left with very few logical conclusions. Either the answer was, "No, the President had not communicated effectively with the American people because the bill was so complex" or "Yes, the President had communicated effectively, but the bill is so complex and the American people (let's face it) are mostly too stupid to understand that we're left with this large resistance to the bill." (In other words, the President can't effectively communicate with the people because we're not smart enough to understand a complex bill.) Now, there are other possibilities, but these seem the most obvious and likely and they illustrate what could be a reason to vote against the bill. It's too hard to understand to actually support it.In one paragraph, then, I've offered several possibilities as to why people may have voted against the health care bill without including "politics as usual" as one of them. I'd like to think "I'm opposed on principle to that idea" would be a viable possibility, also, but I don't know how many of today's politicians (on either side of the aisle) are principled people.

All of this is aimed at that initial and irritating concept of "politics as usual". Is it possible that some Republicans will vote against anything that the Democrats might cook up? It's possible. But it's not remotely possible that all Republicans will vote that way. And, on the other hand, it must be admitted that there is very likely a close correlation of Democrats to Republicans who will also vote against anything that Republicans favor. I would love to find out who they are (on either side) and eliminate them because that's no way to run a government, but it is my conviction that 1) they wouldn't admit it, 2) they would be replaced by some of the same, and 3) they, like so many political ideologues on both sides in the country, might not even recognize it in themselves. All I'm asking, then, is can we please drop this nonsensical accusation and get along with the issues?

* Please note that this is not a commentary on the bill itself, but simply uses this very obvious, recent event as an example of the issues I'm addressing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Up in Arms

There are those who are getting so agitated over the whole health care reform thing that there is talk of armed rebellion. Now, I can't personally fathom that concept, so I'm not able to characterize what that looks like, but it does make me think. What conditions in my country would push me toward armed rebellion? At what point would I advocate the overthrow of the government?

Well, perhaps I'm an odd one, but this question would never occur to me. And here I am about to step into uncharted territory and mark myself as a lunatic ... again. You see, assuming that I held the same views as I currently do, if I had been around during the American Revolution, I would have been opposed to it. Okay, I know that places me on the fringe, but, hey, I'm used to being there. Still, let me explain why so, while you may not agree with me, at least you'll understand my thinking.

I believe that my worldview ought to conform to God's worldview, and I believe that the only way I can approach that is to conform my worldview to Scripture. Thus, it is always my goal to 1) properly understand Scripture and 2) allow that understanding to shape my views (rather than vice versa). I try, then, to operate on biblical principles rather than personal preferences. So, what biblical principles do I find that relate to this question?

I keep telling Christians this, but they don't seem to believe me, but from what I see the Bible is quite sparce on information about human governments. We read in the Old Testament that human government gets to take the life of a person that kills a person. Fine. That's helpful. And we see this:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Rom. 13:1-7)
Now, this passage is pretty clear and, if you take it as it is written, somewhat disturbing. This is why I needed to address all that stuff about Sovereignty and suffering before. You see, according to what Paul wrote here the governments that exist "have been instituted by God" (v 1). Get that? This is saying that Barack Obama has been put in place not by foolish Democrats or wayward Americans, but by God. Our Congress, no matter what you may think of it, has been put in place by God. And if you oppose these, you oppose God. (Again, remember all that stuff about Sovereignty and suffering and "My ways are not your ways" and such.)

I believe, then, that armed rebellion, especially on the part of those who call themselves Christians and wish to allow their reality to be shaped by God rather than the world, has no place in our thinking. Now, I know that I'm not in the majority here. I know that the founders of our nation disagreed with me. Still, I cannot begin to imagine how I would fit "Overthrow the government" with "he is God's servant for your good" (v 4). I don't see how I put together "armed rebellion" with "one must be in subjection" (v 5). It just doesn't fit in my head. And suggesting, as some of our founding fathers did, that the government isn't what it is supposed to be doesn't seem to excuse it for me.

I do find room for civil disobedience. There is a distinction here. Civil disobedience, by definition, is non-violent. It is simply the refusal to obey a law because the law is immoral. If I were a pastor, for instance, and the state mandated that I perform same-sex marriages, I would be forced to refuse. When the government commands me to violate what God commands me, I have an obligation to refuse. Likewise, if the government forbids what God commands, I am forced to break that law as well. But here is the main distinction. In civil disobedience, I am being accountable to God (as opposed to the government, society, etc.), and in civil disobedience if I break the law either by omission or commission, I accept whatever punishment is meted out. That is, I still agree that the government has the God-given right to enforce their laws with the "sword" if necessary. It's just that I have to be responsible to God for my conscience.

I can see the possibility in the not-so-distant future of Christians having to engage in civil disobedience. There are those who would like to restrict our right to practice the faith as we must. (There is, for instance, a city near me that actually has a ban on holding Bible studies or meetings for prayer in your own home, believe it or not.) There are those who would like to require Christian organizations to recognize as moral things that God has deemed immoral. It doesn't seem too far away. And if it comes to it, I will have to stand my ground and take whatever punishment I must. But I cannot for the life of me find any way I can observe Romans 13 and still advocate the violent overthrow of the government of my country. And note that the passage won't even allow me to balk at paying my taxes based on this health care bill because he plainly writes, "Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed ..." (v 7). How do I get around that? So ... you might think I'm on the lunatic fringe, but here I stand ...

4/5/2010 - It was interesting to read Dr. Albert Mohler's blog on the topic. He agrees with me that we need to obey the government and pay our taxes even if it means paying for the health care bill. I may be wrong ... but I'm not wrong alone.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

God the Father

Anyone even vaguely familiar with Christian jargon knows that we refer to God as "the Father". There is also "the Son" and "the Holy Spirit". We use these terms to differentiate between persons of the Godhead because, in truth, "the Son" is also God and "the Holy Spirit" is also God, so we can easily get confused. Thus, we apply to the God of the Old Testament the term that Jesus applies to the God of the Old Testament: "Father".

Viewing it from a primarily idealistic approach, the term has various connotations. Fathers are not primarily nurturers. In human experience, that's generally the mother's job. In theological terms, the Holy Spirit is known as "the Comforter". Instead, fathers are typically the ones who provide the discipline. They are the providers. They are the model of manhood for the male children and the model of manhood for the female children. I differentiate because male children would typically emulate the male model while female children would see in their fathers the model for a husband. Fathers are normally the protectors, the front line of defense for a family. A good father is devoted to his family, although that devotion may look a little odd. He is away during the day, for instance, not because he wants to be away, but because he is working hard to provide for the family. He appears to be the stern one at times not because he's mean, but because he cares about the discipline of the children. He allows his children (especially boys) to do things that Mom would consider reckless not because he doesn't care if they get hurt, but because he's trying to expand their abilities and train them to handle tougher situations in life. And so it goes.

In what sense, then, does God refer to Himself as "Father"? Well, the term is used to correlate our concept of "father" with some of the ways in which He relates to us. You know ... go from the known ("father") to the unknown ("God"). So God as Father is the one, according to Hebrews 12, that disciplines His children. He does it, as a good father does, not out of anger, but out of love. As Father, He is the provider. What we tend to forget, in fact, is that He is the only genuine provider. We have all heard the term, "providence". The term means "to be provident". (I know ... "Thanks, Stan ... we wouldn't have known that.") It means to provide for future needs or events. When capitalized, Providence means the provision of God. Simply put, Providence simply references God's provision for us. That comes in the form of providing what we need as well as providing guidance and correction. In Gen 22:14, Abraham named a place after Him, calling it "Jehovah-jireh" -- "the LORD who provides". One of God's key characteristics is Providence. And, of course, God serves as our model. We are told, "You are to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." He is holy and expects holiness of us. And the Bible refers to God as our security and salvation. He is described in the Psalms this way: "God is our strength and refuge in the time of trouble" (Psa 46:1) and "The LORD is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped" (Psa 28:7) (just to show a couple verses). There is no better protection than that of the Sovereign God. Of course, there are many times that we may think that God is not going about this role correctly, but that's simply because we don't understand ... like human fathers.

It is little wonder, then, that Satan has "fathers" on his hitlist. If he can demean and denigrate "fathers", what do we conclude about God the Father? If a child grows up without a father, what does "God the Father" mean to him or her? If a child grows up with an abusive father, what does he or she know of God the Father? Twist the image of "father" in human life and you can twist the intent of the term "God the Father" in spiritual life. Satan has been so effective here that you might start to wonder about the wisdom of using the term as it relates to God. If fathers have become such a poor example of what fathers should be -- being either absent or abusive -- is it wise to tell people that God is our Father?

It's a funny thing. No matter how far out fathers get, it seems like most of us have this ingrained, innate sense of what a father should be. You all felt, I suspect, that even while I was describing the idealistic father earlier, you knew that fathers weren't good at that to a large part. Nonetheless, you all could relate to the concept of the ideal father. Whether or not you had such a father or knew such a father, you all knew that these are some of the traits of a good father. Thus, while Satan has succeeded in a large part in subverting fatherhood in humans, God has retained in our hearts what a good father looks like. And that ideal, whether our own fathers came close or not, remains as a valid, viable image of what God the Father is ... taken to perfection.

Children need fathers. They need good fathers. They need mothers, to be sure, but the balance of father and mother is key to a child, so much so that mothers who are without husbands are encouraged to find male role models for their children. And it is undeniably clear that the optimum arrangement for a growing child is a loving mother and father. Fathers are essential. Satan has worked to diminish that, but it can't be completely removed. And God, despite all our modern difficulties with faulty fathers, shows Himself to be the ideal Father. He disciplines and trains, provides and protects, models and molds us. It's a good thing in this world to have a genuine, good Father.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

It's a given in physics -- Nature abhors a vacuum. Aristotle suggested it. Experience proves it. The natural world will do anything it can, it seems, to fill in empty space. It is, for instance, the basic premise of a pump. Instead of following gravity, liquid will actually rise to fill a vacuum in a pump. It's also the basic premise of the straw you use to drink that soda. Still question it? Then consider this. Try putting a running vacuum cleaner next to a sleeping cat. Oh, yeah, that won't be a sleeping cat anymore. (Get it? "Nature abhors a vacuum." Never mind.) Okay ... bad example. But you see how it works. So, how about this? Think of kids with nothing to do. That's a type of vacuum, and they hate it. It's also the reason that our world has become over-stimulated and under-fulfilled. As television and entertainment has gotten larger and larger and free time has increased, we've felt the need to fill the empty spaces with more stuff, events, stimulation, and whatever else we can find. It's the reason for "rebound romance" when someone suddenly terminates a long-term relationship. It's the reason that so many people are seeking self-fulfillment. It's the reason for the mid-life crisis. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Consider, then, the suggestion of the New Atheists (no, I'm not making up that term) who are currently on the scene. You know the ones. They're actually fairly well known names like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris along with a host of smaller but equally beligerent voices. They stand for "Intolerance of ignorance, myth and superstition" and "disregard for the tolerance of religion." Again, not my words; theirs. They are suggesting, sometimes quite loudly, things like the indoctrination of children into religion is child abuse.

What do they offer instead? The idea would be to replace the existing freedom of parents to teach their kids about their own faith with the "absolute certainty" of naturalism. Specifically, they want to remove such things as teachings about heaven and hell or any idea that a Divine Lawgiver is the source of morality. What would replace these things? Well, actually, nothing. Truly magnificent morality, they say, is when you are good simply because you choose to be rather than because you either hope to gain heaven or fear to fall into hell. Religion, they hold, leads to bigotry because you are taught that you are correct and those who disagree are wrong. Replace that with ... well, nothing ... you know, so you won't be bigoted. To be fair, some would wish to teach ... everything. They'd like to place the "Jewish creation myth" alongside the "Babylonian creation myth" as they compare to Darwinism so kids could see for themselves that Darwinism is right while those others are wrong. On teaching children ethics, Dawkins writes, "When the religious education class turns to ethics, I don't think science actually has a lot to say, and I would replace it with rational moral philosophy." So he would ask them questions. "Should we value human life above all other life? ... When, in our evolutionary descent from our common ancestor with chimpanzees, did the fence suddenly rear itself up?" And they would carefully replace any underlying value of human life with ... nothing.

Now, I ask you. The suggestion here is to replace religion with naturalism, replace any future hope or fear with oblivion, replace ethics with personal choice, and replace the value of human life with nothing. If nature abhors a vacuum and human nature is included in that, what do you suppose will be the next step? If today's kids operate on the theory that "Anything I can get away with is legal", what foundation will that generation work with? In a world without a Lawgiver, on what basis can you possibly suggest morality? The suggestion is that it would be an improvement. It seems to me that replacing what is, shaky as it can be, with nothing will simply promote anarchy, and that can't be called "improvement", can it?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why Ask Why

One last thought on this series on suffering and God's Sovereignty. Well, okay, one last thought for now. There is a bottom line thing going on here that should help illuminate the problem.

First, remember the problem. God claims to be Sovereign and God claims to be good. To disprove, therefore, that all that happens is ordained by God for His good purposes, you would need to disprove either His Sovereignty (which too many Christians try to accomplish when they try to absolve Him) or His goodness (which is generally the aim of the skeptic in these questions). It isn't really possible to disprove His Sovereignty, so what about His goodness? The question, then, is "Is God good?" I've tried to explain that He is, at least for believers.

So, here is the situation. Do you recognize it before I point it out? What we have here is the standard, age-old question, "Did God say ...?" We're looking, once again, at Satan's standard attack on God. "Did God say He was Sovereign?" "Yes! Undeniably, yes!" "Did God say He was good?" "Absolutely! No doubt about it!" "Oh, yeah? Well, God is not surely good. He knows that if you consider His standards against your own He'll be found wanting." Isn't this exactly the process that Satan went through with Eve? Question what God said and then question God's goodness. Eve listened and decided that God wasn't being fair. He was trying to keep them down. He didn't want them to be like Him. The fruit, she decided, was "good to make one wise." Mean ol' God.

When you examine the question of suffering and the goodness of God, keep in mind that you're playing in Satan's yard. He wants us to apply our own limited and derived standards to Him and find Him wanting. He wants us to elevate the creature over the Creator. It's his plan. We generally ask God "why" because of rebellion. You see, God did claim to be the only Sovereign. He is good. He has His own plan in mind and it is good and it is not primarily about us. Oh, sure, we're intimately involved, but it isn't, ultimately, about us. And He did say, "My ways are not your ways" (Isa 55:8). So, while it is perfectly acceptable to ask "why" of God for enlightenment, when we ask because He fails to meet our standards, you can be quite sure that the source of the question is not God. Care to guess who?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

God and Evil

All week I've been on this topic of God's Sovereignty and human suffering. The accusation is that a good God would not allow all the evil (either moral evil or simply unpleasant events) we see in the world. I've worked at pointing out 1) that God is Sovereign and claims for Himself both good and evil, and 2) there is value in suffering. Still, I'm sure the accusation hangs in the air.

If there was ever a case for gratuitous, capricious suffering being imposed by God, it would be the case of Job. According to the biblical account, Job was "blameless". At first glance it appears that Job suffers the loss of all he owns, his own family, and his very health to what seems to be a silly bet between God and Satan. "Have you seen my servant, Job?" God asks. Satan responds, "He only serves you because you've protected him." So God allows (it is important to note that every step of the way was permitted and limited by God) Satan to intervene in Job's life. Sounds gratuitous, doesn't it? Well, we can debate it from our own perspectives, but I would think that the best source of evaluation would be the participants. What did Job think?

When Job lost everything, what was Job's response? It is the very famous, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away." Job ... get this ... "fell on the ground and worshiped." And when he was sitting in ashes scraping at sores and his wife urged him to curse God and die, what was Job's response? "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" Contending with his friends he said, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." But he was pushed to the limit. He rose up and demanded an audience with God. He accused God of being unfair. The pot demanded of the Potter, "Why have you made me thus?!" And God answered. Except God didn't answer the accusation. God simply (yeah, right, "simply") asked Job, "Where were you when I created everything?" Part way through this Grand Inquisition, Job raised his hand. He didn't say, "Look, God, you're not answering the question. All this is well and good, but it's still not fair." No, his response was, "I lay my hand on my mouth." God's series of questions showed the difference between Man and God, that Man was finite and God infinite, that Man was creature and God Creator. More importantly, when it was all over, here's Job's conclusion: "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You." You may call it capricious if you like. You may say it was all a silly bet between deities. But Job concluded that he knew God in a way he never did before. Argue all you want about the evils of suffering. Deny the goodness of God to your heart's content. When people like Job go through intense suffering that some would call "capricious", "gratuitous", or "non-redemptive" and come out the other side better off in their own view, it makes it impossible for me to argue that suffering is, by definition, evil. And that's just looking at it from the view of the benefit to humans.

There are a few possible positions to take on suffering. One far side says, "The evil in the world proves that there is no such being as God." There is a fundamental problem with this view. If there is no such being as God, then there is no valid, overarching means with which to measure "good". We're left to our own opinions of good and bad, and all without any solid basis. The more middle ground would say, "If this is what God is like, then I want no part of Him." This is perhaps a more startling and frightening position to take. "Yes, I admit that such a being exists. He simply doesn't measure up to my definition of God. I have weighed God in the balances of my sense of right and wrong and found Him wanting." Seriously? I wouldn't want to be around when, standing in front of the Judge of all the Earth, you try out that defense. The other side, then, would be to start with God. God is good. All that happens is under His control. Therefore, God ordains all that happens for His good purposes. What about all that stuff we don't really understand and can't really explain? In these cases, we would have to defer to the infinite God. We would conclude that humans have neither the ability nor the right to pass judgment on God. We would conclude, instead, that if we still see these things as evil and wish to bring an accusation against God, it's because we are faulty in our perceptions, not God. The choice is yours.

There is one thing that you should consider when coming to your conclusions on God, His Sovereignty, and the existence of evil. If you are going to accuse God (not question, but accuse), you are going to do so from your own opinion. The atheist or the one who wants nothing to do with "that sort of God" are drawing conclusions from personal opinions. It's not from hard facts ("Here is the clear core of moral values") or basic, verifiable, universal morality. A Supreme Lawgiver alone has the ability and right to present basic, verifiable, universal morality, and to decide against that Supreme Lawgiver requires that you do so based on your own opinion, not on anything solid. Are you going to decide that your opinion is infallible or are you going to rest on the certainty of God? Yes, yes, that would be an "opinion" as well, I suppose, but it is an opinion based on a much broader footing than "my personal viewpoint". But if you decide to trust God and wonder about the accusations of others, remember ... they're offering personal, human opinions against the Sovereign of the Universe. You decide how much weight you give them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Are you calling evil good?

What possible purposes could God have for evil? Why would He allow suffering? The accusation is that all suffering is bad and any suffering at all is capricious, gratuitous, unnecessary, and, of course, wrong. Is that so? Well, first, in answering that question, you have to realize that the accusation is wrong-headed, assuming that humans are the ultimate value. In truth, all creation is contingent. All creation is based on God, is held together by God, derives any value it might have from God. If we make the mistake of applying our standards (which, by the way, seem to be varied and arbitrary), then we stand in judgment of the Creator to whom we owe our very existence. But is there any reason to think that suffering and evil is anything but capricious? Is it possible that there is actual value in suffering?

I think we can suggest a few possible gains from suffering, but I need to start with the reminder that, in the final analysis, it's not about us. The question comes from the perspective of "Why would God make a world that includes evil?" and the answer is in God's hands. If God is Sovereign and if God is good, we can trust that this is the world God intended to accomplish His purposes, and some of those purposes are not about us. Still, I think we can find some value on our end.

One of the top reasons that we should appreciate suffering in this world is that it keeps us from getting too comfortable. It's a real problem with humans, actually. We get comfortable in life and we, oh, so easily, tell God in word or deed, "It's alright, God. I can take it from here." I mean, think about it. If all we had was happy all the time, who would need God and who would want to leave? Heaven would be almost moot.

Another value in suffering is that it seems to bring out the best in people. We may be bickering and fighting and pounding the table for having things our way, but have someone in the room suddenly cry out in pain and all of our selfishness seems to slip away. We want to help. Look at the horror that is the earthquake in Haiti and look at the response from a world that is intrinsically evil. Help came from everywhere because people, normally bent on their own interests, suddenly found a good reason to help others.

Suffering is a good tool for building appreciation. Every parent that has ever taken small children to the mall likely knows how this works. For a moment you lose sight of that little one while you're distracted. Whether he or she is actually missing or only missing in your mind for a moment, that little one is suddenly of supreme value. Shopping, entertainment, exercise, all that you might have gone to that mall for are gone. And when you find that that little one, you are so grateful. Expand that to so many other applications and you'll see what I mean.

One thing that suffering certainly does is make us dependent. We must not say, "It's alright, God. I can take it from here." There are too many problems in this world to chance that. We need to be connected to a higher power to get through these difficulties.

I know in my experience painful events have served as a purification process. So often I've lost things dear to me only to discover that they were more dear to me than they should have been. I've allowed them to come between me and my God. Or perhaps it is a process of correction. Sometimes suffering is a result of judgment, what the Bible refers to as chastisement from our heavenly Father. That correction, the Bible says, isn't pleasant, but "later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Heb 12:11).

Another useful outcome of suffering is what is called by some "a pool of pain". As an example, a parent who has never lost a child is not as well equipped to comfort a family who has lost a child as a parent who has. Or, here's how Paul puts it:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (1 Cor 1:3-4).
Suffering, then, builds sympathy and actually can serve to connect us to people with whom we may not have been connected.

One of the clear biblical reasons for suffering is that it associates us with Christ. In 1 Peter 4 he writes, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12-13). When we suffer for being Christ's followers, we share in Christ's suffering. According to Peter, this is the will of God for us (1 Peter 4:19). Paul considers suffering for Christ's sake a gift (Phil 1:29).

I'm just scratching the surface here, and these are just about benefits to us. God has designed this world to accomplish His purposes. Because He is gracious, even when others intend it for evil, He intends it for good. The world may not like it and we certainly won't be able to always point to good reasons, but the bottom line is always the same. God is good. God is Sovereign over all that happens. Therefore, all that happens is good. If you don't see it that way, the problem isn't God; it's your (or my) perception.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Problem of Evil

Remember the syllogism:

God is good.
God ordains all that happens.
Therefore, all that happens is good.

The problem we face is that God is Sovereign. Everything that occurs does so by His will. He may cause it directly or allow it to occur, but it is all by His counsel. That means that we have to answer a tough question. What about evil? The options we have, then, are to either deny God's character as either good or sovereign (or both), or examine the possibility that all that happens is good ... including evil.

First, there are two senses of the word "evil". One is "moral evil". The other is "bad things that happen". Now, we don't have a really big problem with the latter. I mean, we all know that bad things -- uncomfortable, unpleasant, painful things -- happen. But they're not evil in the sense that we normally mean it. So what about evil? This use of the word suggests intent. It requires that bad people do bad things. And surely that doesn't come from God, does it? Yet, if we hold that God is Sovereign, there is no way around the position that evil itself is either caused by God or allowed by God for His good purposes. Now, that's a hefty claim, isn't it?

Understand, first, that I'm not the one making it. It is required by the logic of the situation. That is, either God ordains moral evil for His good purposes, or God is not the Good and Sovereign God the Bible claims Him to be. Beyond that, the Bible makes the very same claim. When Job was tormented by Satan (with God's permission), he told his wife, "What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" Lest you think Job was mistaken, the writer affirms the concept in Job 42:11 when his family came out and "comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him". God Himself makes the claim in Isa 45. "I make peace, and create evil" (Isa 45:7). Now, we'd like to say that this is the "bad things" use of the term, but we're still faced with biblical examples like Micaiah who affirms that "the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets" (1 Kings 22:23) and the author of 1 Samuel tells us "The Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him" (1 Sam 16:14). We know that "God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one" (James 1:13), but this does not preclude ordaining evil to be used for His good purposes. So we have a logical requirement and a biblical requirement to conclude that God either allows or causes evil (of both types) for His own good purposes.

According to the Bible, then, God is good, God is Sovereign, and all that occurs does so by the will of God. That would logically and biblically include anything unpleasant, painful, or even downright evil. Anything else is an abandonment of very clear Scripture. Trying to dodge it won't help. Am I saying, then, that evil is good? No. But I am saying that God can (and does) use pain, suffering, and even evil for good. Tomorrow we'll look at how.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Danger of Sovereignty

The Bible is pretty clear on the topic of God's Sovereignty -- it needs a capital "S". Okay, nothing about capitalization, but you get the idea. Human sovereignty is always lower case. People have limited sovereignty. God's Sovereignty, on the other hand, is unlimited. According to the Bible, everything that happens is according to the will of God. He determines all that occurs. It's as if every decision and every possible event goes across His desk and He approves or denies it. Way too crass, I know, but it's not an overstatement. Beyond that, anything that does not happen that He wants to happen He will certainly bring about. Here's how one well-known source puts it:
God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch III:I.
This statement, of course, is inadequate to encompass the biblical version. Yes, He ordains all that comes to pass. But according to God, "I make well-being and create calamity" (Isa 45:7). In 1 Kings 22 we have the story of Ahab and Micaiah. In that story the prophet Micaiah tells Ahab, "The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets" (1 Kings 22:23). In other words, in all things at all times, "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps" (Psa 135:6).

There is a problem with this position. If, in fact, God is actually that Sovereign (you know, with a capital "S"), then what do we do with all the bad stuff around us? When my sister-in-law's fiancé was in an accident and she asked, "Why would God do this?", her sister answered, "God didn't do this; Satan did." But if we are going to affirm that God is indeed Sovereign, this dodge won't work. Whether God actually causes or merely approves unpleasant things, the bottom line conclusion is that God is ... well ... ultimately responsible. There, I said it. If God works all things after the counsel of His will, then at the end of the day He is the one that holds the final responsibility. Now think about that for a moment. That's quite an accusation. I mean, what about Hitler? Sure, sure, Hitler did what he did and is responsible for what he did, but underneath it all God approved the rise of Hitler to power and allowed 6 million Jews to be murdered. Or closer in time, how about 9/11? Either God knew about and intentionally allowed those terrorists to fly airplanes into buildings, or He's not God.

Of course, for a large segment of Christianity, this isn't acceptable. That's why a large segment of Christianity has taken the extraordinary step of siding with Scripture ... unless, of course, you're talking about this concept of Sovereignty. No, no, God isn't that sovereign! (See how it went to a lowercase "s"?) No, He has allowed Man's Free Will to dominate. He has intentionally tied His own hands and allowed Man to do as He pleases. (See how that "H" went to uppercase?) No, no, we'll not be laying Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 or the death of my friend's newborn baby at God's feet. He wouldn't do it! It's not Him! It's that ol' devil, Satan! He's the one. God wouldn't allow it. And we're at the problem of Sovereignty again.

You see, if we allow Man's Free Will (I hope by now you're paying attention to capital letters) to reign over His plans, then the Bible lied when it said that God works all things after the counsel of His will. If God has tied His own hands for anything at all, then the Bible lied when it referred to Jesus as "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords." If we're going to move anything into the place that God claims alone in Scripture, then the Bible was wrong and God is not God.

This is the standard move of so many Christians. Absolve God and blame it Man or Satan or "chance". The move is fatal. It puts to death the biblical God. It ignores the claims of the Bible, the claims of His people, and His own claims. Yet, without it, where are we? We have a very difficult question to face. If God is actually Sovereign like the Bible says He is, what are we to do with all the bad things that happen in the world? How do we explain that a good, omnipotent, loving God actually allowed if not caused these things?

And that, dear readers, is the final danger of Sovereignty. Either you can deny it and terminate the biblical version of God or you can embrace it and then figure out what to do with evil and suffering. What are you going to do? I'll give you a little hint. Here's a logic sequence:

God is good.
God ordains all that comes to pass.
Therefore, all that comes to pass is good.

It is what the world of logic calls a "valid argument". That is, it doesn't violate any laws of logic. So all you have to figure out is how is all that comes to pass good? There ... that ought to get you started, right?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Celebration of Sovereignty

A sampling of passages on the topic of God's sovereignty ...
[God] works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11).

... one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:6).

... He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen (1 Tim 6:15-16).

For the kingdom is the LORD'S And He rules over the nations (Psa 22:28).

The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it (Psa 24:1).

Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases (Psa 115:3).

I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things (Isa 45:6-7).

Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth? (Lam 3:37-38).

"Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him (Dan 2:20-22).

For the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof (1 Cor 10:26).

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will (Prov 21:1).

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations (Psa 145:13).

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matt 28:18).
Say what you will, I think it is clear that the Bible claims that God is the ultimate sovereign. And think what you want, I am personally very happy that He is.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Traits We Value

What are the character traits you find admirable in a human being? I'm sure there is a list. We certainly admire integrity. The quality of compassion would likely be on that list. We do like bravery. Generosity is always a plus and, its overarching form -- selflessness. While we may admit a great lack of it if we're honest, honesty is really admirable, at least in others. And who doesn't like kindness, gentleness, humility ... you know, a lot of those biblically-listed things. There's something about a joyful person that just lifts your spirits. And, of course, being a loving person would rank up there very near the top.

I have only begun to list, but here's something that may be a little ... jolting to think about. Are you aware that almost all qualities that we admire require adversity to be valuable? Think about it. The character traits that we appreciate are only really worth anything when they are difficult to do.

Consider courage. Bravery is not the absence of fear, but the ability to face situations that cause fear. If there is no fear, there is no courage. One of the overarching traits is integrity. What is integrity? It is, in the most literal sense, "undivided". It is, then, adhering to moral and ethical principles as a whole. If that was second-nature, if there was no temptation, no concern about failing to adhere, then it would be meaningless. The generous aren't admired because they don't care about money (as an example), but because they know the value of it and consider others important enough to share it at their own expense. If there is no option for deceit, honesty isn't impressive at all. A crime suspect who is faced with overwhelming evidence against himself doesn't gain any admiration because he admits what is already known. And while we appreciate joyful people, it is really only those people who are joyful in difficult circumstances that really stand out. I mean, seriously, anybody can be happy when times are pleasant.

Consider, then, a world without adversity. No suffering, no problems, no hard times, no temptations. How nice! Except in this world you'd find no room for bravery because there is no fear. Compassion would be absent because compassion is the deep sympathy we feel for another who is stricken by misfortune. And so it goes. We may (out of compassion, ironically enough) long for a world where suffering and hard times don't exist. On the other hand, surrendering the best of human qualities to gain it might be a price too high.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Battle of the Hitchens

I thought this was interesting. Apparently Peter Hitchens, brother of the famous anti-theist, Christopher Hitchens, has written a book titled The Rage Against God and subtitled, "How atheism led me to faith." He even says in the introduction that it is intended to counter and undermine his brother's book. It looks like it might be an interesting book.

Christianity and Politics

Why is it that Sarah Palin (as an example) is evil for bringing her Christian beliefs into politics and George Bush Jr is evil for bringing his Christian beliefs into the realm of government, but when Jim Wallis or some other liberal Christian group pushes for "social justice" and demands the redistribution of wealth and privilege they're doing a good thing?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is this the best possible world?

I guess my "Ten Signs" post caught someone's attention because I've been having a discussion with a commenter who calls himself/herself (I can't really know, can I?) "Cobalt" about whether or not God actually owes us anything. He (I'll just assume gender) is quite sure the Creator does owe His Creation and assures me that human suffering is proof that God is not good (and, therefore, I assume, does not exist). One of the earliest questions he asks is this: "Is this world the best such a God could do?"

The question deserves attention, but I'm answering it here for Christians to read because there is a different angle from a Christian perspective. I mean, we Christians have some standard answers we might try. We might say that evil is necessary for the greater good. You know, "No pain, no gain." The response, of course, will be a demand to explain "the greater gain" in, say, the destruction of the twin towers or the famines of Somalia or the like. Our certainty that we can't know everything doesn't appear to be an answer here and we're at an impasse. We might try to absolve God by saying that evil is caused by Man's sin. That may cover some things, but what about natural events like hurricanes or earthquakes? Or we could say that this is the best of all possible worlds that God could have provided. Of course, that one won't solve anything because lots of people can imagine lots of "better worlds" (although proving that these are actually better is impossible).

There is, in all of this, a missed point. The question and its standard answers always revolve around human beings. The reason the question is even able to be asked is because human beings suffer. No one is asking, for instance, about animal suffering or plant extinction or the like. No, the problem is that humans suffer. Or, to put the question more correctly as it is asked, "Is this the best possible world for humans?" The question itself, then, elevates the importance of the creature and diminishes the importance and rights of the Creator. The only valid question here is not about what's best for creation. The only valid question is what's best for God. The only question here that has real value would be "Is this the best possible world for God to accomplish what He intends?" Let's ask that question, then, in reverse, with the proper focus. "Do you think that God, who can do anything, designed this world to be less than He intended to accomplish His own goals?"

Now, don't be confused. This is not a satisfactory answer to the skeptic. When all answers begin with the assumption of God, His existence, His character, His goodness, and so forth, no skeptic would stop, doff their cap, and say, "Thank you! I see it now." This answer only works for genuine theists, real Christians. But the next time you see the question raised by skeptics, look at the approach. The questions are always couched in, essentially, "What's in it for me?" "Can you explain how suffering is good for me? Can you explain in terms I accept how suffering is for the greater good? Can you give me answers that I find acceptable to defend God's use of hurricanes and the like?" And so it goes. In other words, these challenges start from the premise, "I will be like the Most High." (And never mind that dismissing the existence of God eliminates any rational basis for calling suffering "morally evil".) The real answer for Christians is "Is it possible that God could not do what's best?"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Defining Terms

Just a heads up at the outset. Nothing deep or meaningful in this post today. I'm just defining terms. I've used some terms lately and I think it would be prudent to define what I mean because, as my wise mother taught me, communication is difficult at best.

We all know the terms "atheist" and "agnostic". I've also used the term "anti-theist". A lot of people might wonder what I mean. Do these terms mean the same thing or something different? I intend distinctions, and without even trying to make an argument about these terms, I thought I should explain.

"Agnostic", in my terminology, references someone who doesn't know if there is a God or not. They make no claim. Truthfully, I believe that most humans fall in this category. I know, I know, if you directly question Americans, statistically something like 94% will claim to believe in God. Now, if I told you, "There is a bomb in this room" and I made no effort to do anything at all, what would you conclude? It would be a reasonable conclusion that I may not actually believe what I said. That's all I'm suggesting. When statistically 94% of Americans claim to believe in a God of some sort, but only 15% actually do anything about it, it leads me to question what they actually believe. So I would classify them as agnostic.

"Atheist", in my usage, would reference those who believe there is no God. There are practical atheists -- people who claim to believe in God but live as if there is none -- but I generally reserve the term for those who claim there is no God.

That leaves us with this less familiar third term, "anti-theist". An anti-theist would be either an agnostic or an atheist who has decided to make it a cause. An agnostic or atheist alone would claim to believe whatever they believe but leave it up to you to believe whatever you want. It's not their concern. I work with quite a few atheists, working in a university science department. They don't believe in a God and they know I'm a Christian and they don't really much care. To each his own. An anti-theist, on the other hand, would want to take me to task for my beliefs. They would not only disagree -- they would vocalize it. Opposing my theism would be their mission.

Again, I'm not making an argument here or even a judgment call. I'm just defining terms. I hope this clarifies any confusion I might have caused by using that less familiar word. It isn't a reference to atheists or agnostics. It references only a small group of people who make opposing theism a mission in life.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Too Many Fingers

There isn't a genuine Christian in America that I know of who isn't concerned about the moral quicksand into which our country is slipping. The more we struggle, the faster it seems to slip. What was abominable two generations ago is absolutely expected as "good" today. (I did not use the wrong term there. It is not only accepted as good; it is expected. As in, "Who doesn't live with their potential spouse before they get married? It's the only wise thing to do!") And while we continue to raise the cry and work against this decline, we don't seem to be holding any ground at all.

As I've examined over the years the question of "Why", I've found something interesting. Why, for instance, is it that a term like "gay marriage" makes perfect sense in 21st century America when in mid-20th century America it wouldn't have had any meaning at all? Why are more and more children of Christian homes previewing marriage with cohabitation? Why is divorce on the rise and radical feminism leading the charge? And more importantly, why is it, when we rush to staunch the moral hole here or there, we can't seem to make headway? As I've examined these types of questions, I've come up with a disturbing answer. I have met the enemy and the enemy ... is us. No, I'm not talking about Satan. Sure, he's our enemy. But in terms of the moral decline of America, we have only ourselves to blame.

Why is that? Well, I'm quite sure, for instance, that we don't leap from "marriage" clearly meaning "man and woman" to "whatever two people you wish it to be" without some obfuscation in between. Before you can make that leap, you have to obscure what "marriage" means at all. Marriage is the fundamental building block of society, comprised of a committed husband and a committed wife who are dedicated to having children, to forming a family (and it is assumed that they will typically have more children than is required to replace them). Look at that sentence and tell me how much of it has changed today. Hillary has assured us that the fundamental building block of a society is ... the village (a contradiction in terms), and we were okay with that. "No fault" divorce erased the "committed" term from marriage. Now couples approach their upcoming nuptials with plans for the future that include divorce. They sign prenuptial agreements. They decide not to have kids because "What guy wants to marry a girl with kids?". They actually invite other people (generally via videos) into their bedrooms to spice up their marriage because, after all, commitment can't be enough, can it? And children? Oh, no! Well, maybe one. Two at the most. We don't need large families. Those folks with more than two are a matter of entertainment to us because, well, it makes no sense! No, no, children are optional ... at best. So we -- yes, even we Christians -- have stripped off commitment, dedication, and offspring ... and then wonder, "Why are we having to work so hard to defend marriage against this homosexual invasion?" We've contributed to that.

I could go on with other illustrations, but that's the idea. When Satan came knocking at the underpinnings of morality, we didn't think it was that important as long as the top level looked fairly clean. Christians in the first half of the 20th century, for instance, would have been horrified at the thought of contraception -- and it wouldn't have just been the Catholics. But, thanks largely to the '60's, most Christians today are horrified at the suggestion that contraception may not be God's idea of good. Sex, after all, is all about pleasure, isn't it? (You know that one didn't come from God.) Sex is about satisfying our own desires, right? (That one surely didn't come from God.) "So what are you suggesting ... we should engage in ... self-control and selflessness? Oh! (Shudder) You're asking too much!!" I don't know about you, but in the echoes of that protest from Christians I can almost hear, "Did God say ...?"

I know Christian wives who are deeply concerned about our culture's moral decline. They are anxious to vote on important moral topics, happy to send their husbands on men's retreats to be godly men, and outraged at the sin at their front doors (and sometimes closer). They home school their children to keep them safe from the evils of the world. Yet, when you watch them for any length of time, it turns out that they don't love their husbands and refuse (yes, refuse) to respect him. "Respect has to be earned" they tell me despite God's direct command to the contrary. And when marriages collapse and the world sees the death of the family in the Church, they're baffled and confused. "These things ought not be!" No, they ought not. But when you point a finger at a problem, you have more fingers pointing back.

I know Christian husbands who are doing the very same thing. They are angry and frustrated with the moral decline of our nation. They will campaign to stop it. They demand that their wives respect them and beat them (emotionally, mentally, verbally or otherwise) for failing to live up to God's command. They are leery of women's retreats because they might lean toward the evil of feminism. And they can't figure out why the world around them can't find a light shining in the darkness illustrating what biblical marriage and biblical manhood looks like. "It's Satan's fault!" they complain with accusing finger outstretched. But when you point a finger at a problem, you have more fingers pointing back.

I wonder if we don't just have too many fingers on each hand.

Or could it be that, when we rightly recognize a problem in our society's moral fabric, we're not looking in the right place for a good part of the problem. Could it possibly be that we've bought the world's lies about what is right and wrong and not even know it? If that were the case, then it would simply facilitate a faster moral decline in our society ... which, oh by the way, seems to be what we see, doesn't it? Maybe we need to check our fingers more carefully.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Social Justice

I am not a fan of Glenn Beck. I've probably heard 10 minutes of his rants ... total. So I'm not going to defend Glenn Beck. However, have you heard the latest controversy? It showed up on Time Magazine's website with the question, "Why Does Glenn Beck Hate Jesus?" It even made Christianity Today. What has everyone in such an uproar? Here's what Mr. Beck said last week:
I beg you, look for the words "social justice" or "economic justice" on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.
I'm not defending the statement. I'm not supporting the call to leave. But folks like Jim Wallis of the liberal Sojourners have called on Christians to boycott Beck, and I'm not going with Wallis, either. Then there was the ridiculous report from the local news. "Glenn Beck associates a just society with totalitarianism." Okay, now I think I have to say something.

First, Glenn Beck is a Mormon. In that sense, I don't classify him as a Christian. He is not speaking for Christianity. Oddly enough, though, we have a Mormon who is better able to identify a problem than a so-called Christian. The Sojourner crowd identify themselves as dedicated to "social justice", but it was Beck who identified this as "a perversion of the Gospel". Now we have something to discuss.

Lets look at the term that is causing the controversy: "social justice". Various sources provide various definitions. Just asking Google for a definition, I found a couple. One says, "the concept of a society that gives individuals and groups fair treatment and an equitable share of the benefits of society." Another is clearer: "The fair distribution of advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of a society." So while, at the face of it, the term seems a given (Wikipedia says, "Social justice is the concept in which a subjective notion of justice and/or equality is achieved in every aspect of society."), perhaps you can begin to see where Beck gets the idea that these are "code words". They are indeed code words. Back up. If I asked you for a word to match this definition -- "The fair distribution of advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of a society." -- what would your likely term be? I suspect it would closer to "socialism" than connecting it to justice of some kind. In other words, in a society built on capitalism, we would not define "equal distribution of assets" in terms of "justice".

In truth, then, while a lot of people mean a variety of things by the term "social justice", it turns out that Glenn Beck is more accurate than his detractors when he points at it as code and warns that it is closer to Communism than Christianity. More disturbing to me, of course, is that a Mormon who doesn't actually know the Gospel is more accurate than a so-called "Progressive Evangelical" like Jim Wallis when he points to the fact that the concept is a perversion of the the Gospel.

The Gospel is very simple. Paul said,
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Cor 15:1-5).
Hmmm, I'm looking, I'm looking ... nope, not a single thing about redistribution of assets, feeding the poor, bringing down the rich. Not a hint at social justice. Not even a glimmer. You see, God is not in the business of making good people out of bad people, of fixing people or making life better. We are commanded to care for the poor, aid the sick, visit prisoners, and that sort of thing as a product of the Gospel, but those are products, not the Gospel. And somehow I'm not finding anything in the Bible at all about the government forcing redistribution of wealth on its people. That would simply violate any sense of biblical morality as a product of changed hearts. It is, in fact, what Jesus said. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 6:1). When you do what is right because you have no choice and everyone knows about it, there is no reward. There is no reason.

Am I suggesting, as Mr. Beck does, that you bail out of your church if it leans toward "social justice". Not at all. For the reasonably rare genuine Christians who are still in churches of that type, perhaps there is still hope that you can be a light in the darkness that is that church. For the rest, well, if "social justice" is your gospel, then you've missed what Christianity really is. That is, if they're happy there, they're already outside of the Christian realm regardless of the name on the front of the building. What might be necessary, in fact, is that genuine Christians provide the genuine Gospel to these dead churches. Of course, most of them are so thoroughly inoculated against the truth that it is a losing proposition, but, on the other hand, it is God we are trusting, not our skills, rhetoric, or efforts, right? I hope so.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Is Worshiping God Boring?

R.C. Sproul writes about Becoming a Worshiper of God in a series of posts. In this one he addresses the point we've likely all heard and maybe even said: "Church is boring."

Imagine that! When Israel stood in the presence of God in Exodus, they had various reactions -- mostly abject terror -- but not one of those reactions was boredom. What about you? Are you bored in church? Why do you think that is? Could it be that you're not getting it? Or do you actually think that being in the concentrated presence of God could actually be boring? What do you think?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Child Rearing

My kids are all grown and gone, so it's not a question I have to really worry about, but I'm wondering about all the parents today raising children today.

Times, they are a'changin'.

When I was young we didn't have computers. We played outside. We did our homework. We expected to get a spanking if we were disobedient. We had no "stranger danger" rules. And when I was 17 my parents thought I was responsible enough to drive the family motor home at night on the highway ... and I was. Fast forward.

I raised my own children with many of the same kinds of values and techniques with which I was raised. I required respect and obedience. I gave love. I raised them to be responsible adults, hard workers, good people. Still, there isn't one of them who, when they were 17, I would have trusted with a motor home on the highway at night. Mind you, mine are good kids. I'm proud of them. They're more responsible than most of their generation. Still, they weren't my generation.

Times, they are a'changin'.

What's the difference? Well, kids today have more information at their fingertips than kids of my generation, but less demands. They know more than we did at a younger age, but they mature more slowly. They have been largely raised on video games and television and the Internet. Earlier generations had family as the Number One influence. Today's kids have the media as their Number One influence. When I was young (and, I know, this was even unusual in my day), my parents decided that competing with television was a losing battle, so they eliminated that influence entirely. Imagine going through high school without TV! Oh, the horror! But instead of having to constantly undo the lies of my culture, they simply made sure I was fed the truth. I, on the other hand, had to spend a lot of time correcting error.

The real problem with today's generation is the Evolutionary Effect. No, I'm not talking about the theory of Evolution. I'm simply talking about the creeping shift in cultural mores that time, TV, society, and the Internet bring about. What would have been considered an abomination to my father's generation was perhaps a little odd to mine, but acceptable. And so it goes. You know ... the whole boiling frog concept. Little changes over time get accepted as normal. One generation is abundantly clear, for instance, that marriage is for life and no one even asks if it's only between a man and a woman, and before you know it marriage is a temporary condition that could be between anything living ... you know, as a broad example.

The thing I'm getting at here is the conditions under which godly parents are raising children today. Protecting kids from the lies of the world back when was a lot easier. Now they're often part of the very fabric of the family these kids are in. We all suffer from lies we're not aware of, accepting as normal what is actually horribly wrong. So how do conscientious parents today face this massive task? Is it better to withdraw, to protect young children until they're better able to handle it? Or do they spend huge amounts of time fending off lies and correcting error? I know a lot of Christians have switched to homeschooling because it's the only way they can be sure of what their kids are learning. But a lot of these homeschooling parents still allow the television in the home, for instance. What is the best way to raise kids in this twisted culture today? The whole idea would terrify me if I was just starting out today. What do you do?

Friday, March 12, 2010

More on Ten Signs

I have given more thought to the whole Ten Signs thing and wanted to take a different approach. I've already pointed out some overall problems with the list and I've already pointed to those who are directing specific answers to the items on the list -- all well and good -- but there is another angle here. What about the places that they're right?

Okay, now, hold on. Don't get your knickers in a twist. Often times, in a discussion, an opponent will point out a valid problem with your view. It may not invalidate your view, but it is a valid problem that you must address. Our knee-jerk reaction would be to dismiss or defend, but if you are going to remain reasonable and protect integrity, it is a good idea to address those things. And this list actually has some of those things.

My first point is a general one. I commented in my earlier post that there is a lot about overreaction. According to the list, if you are a Christian you will "vigorously deny", "feel outraged", "feel insulted", "laugh", your face will turn purple, you will "spend your life looking for little loopholes", and so it goes. Now, I objected because it's an ad hominem, but it's a good idea to check yourself. Is that you? Here, think of it this way. You say, "2 + 2 = 4" and someone else says, "No, no, 2 + 2 = 5." Is it necessary at this point to "vigorously deny", "feel outraged", "feel insulted" or the like? No. They're wrong. There's no need to get animated about it. The right response is to work through the problem, not start yelling. If your response is more emotional than rational, it is likely that you're feeling threatened and there is no need for that ... you know, since you know the truth ... right?

The second thought is also a general one, and related to the first. What is your response to the list itself? Are you feeling confronted or defensive? Or do you have answers? If Christianity is the truth, then there should be answers, shouldn't there? So when we have detractors (as we are promised to have), we should be able to defend the faith and not need to go to war, so to speak. The biblical phrase is "stand firm". We should be able to take up the arguments against us, examine them, and figure out answers. No need to be defensive while we defend the faith.

There are, in fact, points made in the list that ought to be acknowledged. Item 3 says, "While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor 'speaking in tongues' may be all the evidence you need." The premise that modern science has proven the non-existence of God is foolish, but there is some truth in some cases to the accusation that some Christians find proof in things that are not proof. I've heard people argue that they were "slain in the Spirit" and, therefore, were quite sure of what they believed. I've asked, "Where does that come from?" I've received no answer because it's not in the Bible. The phrase does not appear. The event does not occur. The only thing remotely related was when God knocked Saul off his donkey. You'll find no such event anywhere else in the New Testament. So when did this kind of extra-biblical event become a biblical certainty? Or take the ever-so-popular story about NASA's computers that discovered Joshua's missing day. "Proof!" we cry. Except it's not. It's a hoax -- nonsense. And despite the fact that it has been demonstrated repeatedly by both believers and non-believers to be a myth, I still hear the argument made. All I'm saying is that we need to be careful about the evidence we admit.

Another sad point is the final (or #1) argument: "You actually know a lot less than many Atheists and Agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history -- but still call yourself a 'Christian'." In far, far too many cases those who call themselves Christians are ignorant about Christianity. They don't know their Bibles. They don't know doctrine. They don't know Church history. The point is true. Far too many people who call themselves Christians today like the verse, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" without actually knowing the truth. Studying is too much work. Digging into that stuff is too hard. Doctrine is pointless. History is meaningless. They hang on "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion" (manifest nonsense) and ignore so much stuff that the Bible affirms (like the importance of doctrine, the communion of the saints, etc.). Now, I still say that a Christian is not a Christian based on how much they know about Christianity. And I heartily question the assertion that "many atheists and agnostics" know more. Still, we ought to examine the accusation. If God commands "Study to show yourself approved, rightly handling the Word of Truth" and you say, "No, that's too much work", you're standing on the side of the atheists and agnostics, not God. And if "you shall know the truth" and you don't and refuse, perhaps there is reason to question whether you are indeed a Christian. I'm not making accusations here. I'm just suggesting self-examination.

It is said that "That which doesn't kill you will make you stronger." Well, okay, maybe. These type of things, like these "Ten Signs", need to be addressed because we are commanded to defend and contend. If what we believe is true, there are answers and we ought to 1) know that there are answers and 2) look for them. On the other hand, if we receive an accusation with truth in it, that ought to serve as an aid, a helpful redirection. You know, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith" (2 Cor 13:5).

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It's not a word we use a lot these days. It means primarily "contentedly confident of one's ability, superiority, or correctness" (although it used to mean more at "trim or smart in dress"). At first glance it sounds like a good thing, right? I mean, we are told that we should have self-esteem, that we should be confident in our own abilities. Being sure that you're correct is a good thing, right? Okay, maybe confidence in your own superiority isn't so great, but surely smug is a generally reasonable goal to aim for ... right?

Of course, we all know better. "Smug" is never used in a positive sense. It is bad. However it is defined, we all understand that smug is equivalent to arrogant. What is interesting about the concept of being smug is that it doesn't mean that you are wrong; it simply means that you are over-confident and displaying it. It says, "I'm right and I know it and I don't need anything else on this topic." The opposite of this type of "smug", then, is "humility".

Here's my problem. "Smug" isn't used a lot these days, but it sure is experienced a lot. Look at Hollywood's contribution to society, for instance. They have used their platform to transform our culture to their perspective, whether it is sexual mores, homosexuality, politics, or religion. They haven't approached it with humility. "We're right and we know it." Rarely do you see a product coming out of Hollywood that has questions attached. No, no, they are sure they are right and they'll make the point in such a way that infers "only an idiot would disagree".

Look at politics. The president and the Democrats are smugly certain that the reason there is a fight over health care reform is that it is about politics, not principle. The Rush Limbaughs of this world are equally smug on their own conservatism. I don't mean they're right or wrong. I simply mean they're contentedly confident of their own superiority. They're arrogant. The Liberals are dismissive of the Tea Party and the Conservatives are dismissive of the progressives and we generally end up folding our arms, smug in our political views, baffled why everyone else can't see it.

Look at too many in churches. Denominations are borne on smug theology. "We're right and you're wrong and the conversation is over because it can't be any other way." It doesn't matter what those differences are. Maybe this side things that "contemporary music" is the key and that side is quite sure that "traditional music" is more sacred. Really? That is the debate? Maybe this side thinks that only submersion is valid baptism and that side thinks that the sprinkling will suffice. That's the reason for the division?

Christianity, of all things, has no room to be smug. As I said, smug has nothing to do with being right or wrong. It has to do with attitude. And one of the defining characteristics of a genuine Christian ought to be humility. I could go lots of places to show this (e.g., Eph 4:2; Col 3:12; 1 Peter 5:5), but the clearest one is Christ Himself. If there was anyone ever in the history of mankind that had the right to be "contentedly confident of one's ability, superiority, or correctness", it was Jesus. He had ultimate ability, ultimate superiority, ultimate correctness. But just about the whole world today knows that one of His defining characteristics was meekness. He was confident of His ability, superiority, and correctness, but He wasn't arrogant. Here is what Paul says about it:
3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more important than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:3-8).
The secret is right there. Humility is not humiliating yourself; it is counting others as more important than yourself. It doesn't diminish you; it elevates others. And it is the command to every Christian.

Of course, we don't have the room for complacent confidence in our own superiority or correctness. We all have room to improve and all have room for error. Still, even while being correct, we need not be arrogant. If we approach others as important rather than irrelevant, it changes our attitude. We don't need to be smug. We can be right and still elevate others ... can't we?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Answers in Genesis

No, this is not about the organization of the same name or evolution. Just for clarification at the outset.

A lot of Christians like to think that the Old Testament isn't as valuable as the New. They tend to think the Old is replaced. I mean, when we have it all so clear in the New Testament, why bother with the Old? I'm here to tell you that it's just not true. I'm currently reading through Genesis and I was fascinated to see so much of basic Christian doctrine built into the first 10 chapters of the first book of the Bible.

Take, for instance, the "bad news" that makes the Gospel so much "good news". In Romans Paul spends almost 3 chapters telling how sinful mankind is. Genesis does it in a much space. We start with paradise, the perfect opportunity for human beings to never ever sin. Adam has a perfect relationship with God without any knowledge of evil. God walks with him in the garden. He has a purpose and he has a wife and life is as perfect as it gets. He has no guy friends urging him to "go off track" and no society pressuring him to deviate from holiness. He is without excuse. So when the first opportunity arises to do the only thing he could possibly do in violation of His Maker ... he does it. That does not bode well for mankind. The result is that in one generation there is murder and by chapter 6 God describes humans this way:
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).
What an accusation. Every intention was "only evil continually". That's what we have come to. Even after saving Noah and his family we read God's certainty about mankind that "the intention of man's heart is evil from infancy" (Gen 8:21). That's what Paul explains in Romans. The natural condition of Man is only evil.

The Gospel, of course, responds to that problem with two key aspects of God: Grace and mercy. Are these found in Genesis? Very much so. We start with the Creation and in that process is the creation of Man. God bestows special favor on Man, selecting him above all other creation to be in His image and giving him dominion. There is nothing in Man that merits that favor, but God bestows it. And of course there is the clear statement, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen 6:8). Don't buy that "Well, he earned it; he was blameless". "Blameless" doesn't mean "sinless" because we know "all have sinned". That just meant that he acknowledged his sin to God. He didn't deserve favor.

Next comes mercy. Mercy (not applying punishment when punishment is deserved) cannot occur until punishment is deserved. So when God warns them not to eat of the fruit and " in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die", what does justice demand when Adam and Eve eat the fruit? Obviously it is death. While Adam and Eve surely died spiritually, God extended mercy. They didn't die on the spot. And although they faced consequences (Gen 3:16-19), God's first act after pronouncing those consequences is an act of mercy. He made covers for them (Gen 3:21). (Remember, the first thing that occurred to them when they sinned was that they were naked. God remedied that.) After that, well, it's more mercy. God didn't put Cain to death for murder, but sent him away and protected him (Gen 4:9-16). Instead of putting Noah to death with the rest of sinful mankind, God saved him and his family. Mercy. And even though God knew that Man's intention was evil from childhood, He promised to "never again curse the ground because of man." Mercy.

God's grace and mercy are the two characteristics that form the basis for the Gospel. The means by which God provides grace and mercy is, of course, Christ. Now, we don't find Christ in Genesis, do we? Well, yes, we do. It is, in fact, right there in God's first declaration after Adam and Eve have sinned. God first addressed the serpent, and in that address He made a promise.
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15).
Before Adam and Eve have even finished digesting their sinful fruit, God has made the promise of a Messiah, a man who will suffer injury at Satan's hand, but will crush Satan's head. The promise of a genuine remedy is right there at the beginning.

So in the first chapters of the book of Genesis we have all the makings of essential Christian doctrines. We have the Fall (Original Sin) and we have the plan of salvation. We have God's grace and mercy and His promised Messiah. We see the Trinity laid out in its earliest forms (Gen 1:2 - the Spirit of God; Gen 1:26 - the plurality of the one God ... "Let us make man ..."). And we're just beginning.

There is a lot of good stuff right there in Genesis. Some people find the Old Testament boring or unnecessary. I would suggest otherwise. Read about Abram and you cannot avoid the doctrine of election. Read about Joseph and you are hit between the eyes with the doctrine of God's sovereignty. Read about Ishmael and Isaac and you already have the makings of the conflict that still exists today in the Middle East between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Read about Jacob, the usurper, and see God's amazing grace and mercy at work in a scheming, conniving man who ends up the father of God's chosen race. There's hope for you there. And that's just in Genesis. Don't miss out on a lot of excellent truth and life lessons that you'll find there in the Old Testament. It was, after all, the "Word of God" that Jesus endorsed.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Sky is Falling

I've talked to believers who are alarmed at the condition of the Church today. Various ones have various concerns, but there are a lot of concerned Christians. Some are deeply troubled about the direction of worship. It seems to be more about entertainment and performance than it is about God. There seems to be a thrust to engage us emotionally without ever working on the mind. And no one seems to be asking, "What does God think about all of this?" It's almost as if He's the Mikey of the old Life cereal ad: "Give it to Mikey; he'll eat anything." And lots of devoted believers are deeply concerned about that.

Others are distraught over the loss of the Word in church. Too many pastors in too many seminaries are being taught to minimize the Bible stuff and go for the "relevant" stuff. You can actually go to churches today in which you never need to open your Bible at all. If there is a verse used, it is brief and likely shown up there on the screen for you, so don't worry about bringing a Bible. Expository preaching is the systematic exposition of the Word. These types of preachers will unpack passages for you in detail, explain all it has to say, feed you the meat, and lead you to a deeper understanding. This kind of preaching is in serious jeopardy in the Church today. Most like topical preaching and will either ignore the Word or sprinkle in a few verses that make their point on the topic of the day. And there are lots of devoted believers who are deeply concerned about all of that.

The whole "seeker-sensitive" thing is perhaps a topic of its own. Many Christians are aghast at its prevalence. I mean, doesn't the Bible say, "There is none who seeks for God" (Rom 3:11)? And the primary function of the Church is not to make converts, but to build believers in maturity (Eph 4:11-14). So why are churches slipping into this mindset that tends toward business models, marketing schemes, and competition with the world? In so doing, they often strip off the problem of sin, for instance, because, well, seekers don't like that topic. Worship needs to be more "up-beat" because, well, seekers are used to the world's music. Minimize preaching and maximize those things that get their attention because that's what will get seekers in the door. Well, it seems all wrong to a lot of believers and they are deeply concerned about the direction of the Church.

Some have expressed foreboding. "Can the Church survive?" "Are we looking at the end of the Church?" "If things don't turn around, the Church won't last much longer ... and things aren't turning around." There are echoes of George Barna who told us that if Christianity didn't reinvent itself in the 21st century, it would go away. Of course, most of these people are opposed to Barna's views, but they share the same concern. If things go on as they are, Christianity is going to disappear.

All of this fear and worry comes from a misguided view. The root idea is that we are the ones that build, manage, and maintain the Church. Let me clear this up. Like the deists who see God as spinning off the universe and then letting it go, too many of us see Christ as spinning off the Church and then leaving it in our hands. It just isn't so. It was Jesus who said, "I will build My church" (Matt 16:18). Notice two things in that statement. First is ownership: "My church." It doesn't even belong to us. He bought it; He paid for it. It's His. Second is initiative: "I will build". We are, certainly, His means, but we are not the end. He uses believers to accomplish His will, but He's not stuck if we fail. He's just not that incompetent or powerless. And there is more to the statement. He completes the sentence with this: "... and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Understand the concept of gates. They are to keep out invaders. They are not offensive weapons. Jesus is saying that He will be able to invade death itself to build His church, and nothing can stop Him. The Jews believed that various demonic beings guarded the gates of death (Hades), and Jesus was telling them that nothing can stop Him.

I can agree with a lot of those who are concerned about the direction many churches are taking these days. I believe them to be unwise, misguided, and even unbiblical. I am quite certain that going against God to build God's church is a fool's errand. But I want to reassure all of you who dearly love the Lord and His people that the Church is not in any danger. It's not up to you and me to build it or maintain it. We might participate in Christ's work, but it is Christ's work and we don't build His church ... He does. Stand firm, but rest easy. His arms are not too short (Num 11:23).

Monday, March 08, 2010

Ten More Signs

I commented the other day on Ten Signs You are an Unquestioning Christian. I also pointed you to the good folk over at Pyromaniacs who are addressing each of these points logically. I got to thinking that there is another issue here. The suggestion of those "ten signs" is that "We're right thinking people and you are not." I got to thinking that it might be interesting to turn the tables and point out, in similar format, that it's just not the case. So here are my "Ten Signs You are an Unquestioning Anti-Theist". Some of them track their points. Some don't. I've tried to avoid the problem of ad hominem and am not trying to ridicule. It just seems that logic demands that the other side be examined as well.

Ten Signs You are an Unquestioning Anti-Theist

10. You cannot recognize the simple, logical, undeniable fact that if there is one, true God, all other gods would be false.

9. You find ultimate value in creatures you are quite sure evolved by chance from a pool of chemicals.

8. You reject any evidence and logic that is contrary to your view because you are a person that only accepts evidence and logic.

7. You make Christian beliefs a matter of ridicule without subjecting other religions or even your own beliefs to the same standards.

6. You are confident that you know more about Christianity than the average "Christian".

5. You are quite sure that science, history, geology, biology, and physics have disproven the existence of God.

4. You have comfort to offer in times of death and suffering even though there is no overarching basis for such comfort.

3. You believe that faith in science is reasonable, but faith in God is believing something when there is no reason to believe it.

2. You are comfortable claiming that life is meaningful when you're convinced that humans are biochemical bags who cease to exist at death.

1. You hold that there is no "Supreme Moral Agent", but affirm that there are moral atrocities that occur and moral values that all of us should have.