Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Puritan Mission

You have got to see this. I found it amazing. There has been, of late, a move to revise history. The goal seems to be to eliminate or tarnish the Christian origins of the United States. Many of us know that. What I didn't know was that this revision process has occurred before.

We've been told that the Puritans left Europe to escape persecution. I'm sure, to some extent, this was true. What we were not told was the missionary thrust of their journey. That's right. The Puritans were a group that were aiming at purifying the Anglican church. They were pressing for "reforms" which, if you know me at all, is shorthand for pressing for Reformed doctrine. There were none more "Calvinistic" than the Puritans. Having encountered nothing but hatred for their efforts, they looked elsewhere -- America.

Now, many people think that Reformed theology -- specifically the doctrine of Election -- terminates mission work. It's not a leap, really. Much of entrenched Calvinism had metastasized into hyper-Calvinism in Europe in the 18th century. When William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement, told his elders he wanted to go to India to take the Gospel, they told him "If God wants to save the heathen in India, he will do it without your help or mine!" Carey, a Calvinist himself, disagreed and went. Well, the Puritans disagreed as well ... and went.

I had never heard this before, but, as it turns out, one of the primary reasons for choosing America to which to go was precisely that purpose -- missions. We have been told that they went to America and ran roughshod over the natives, and some of that was certainly true in history, but the Puritans saw themselves as missionaries to the native people there, not conquerors. Here, take a look at this.
This is the Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In this seal there is a picture of a native garbed in the same shame-clothing as Adam and Eve after they sinned. He is saying, "Come Over and Help Us." One website would have us believe that this was a demonstration of "the superiority of the English and the inferiority of the Indian people. Yeah, right. According to the Massachusetts state website, the seal "featured an Indian holding an arrow pointed down in a gesture of peace, with the words 'Come over and help us,' emphasizing the missionary and commercial intentions of the original colonists." The quote, in fact, is from Scripture, taken from Acts 16:9 when Paul had a vision of a man in Macedonia asking him to "Come over to Macedonia and help us."

One case in point was John Eliot, known as "the Puritan Missionary to the Indians". According to Cambridge University, "He is no longer regarded as an isolated missionary, a gifted and saintly man who stood quite apart from his environment; and entered upon a work which the men of his time did not appreciate; but rather as one who sought to carry out in definite and practical ways a missionary idea, which the Puritans had long before accepted, and which number of other men among the Colonists were also seeking to carry to successful results." Eliot started his mission work among the natives at the age of 40. By the age of 59 he had learned several of their languages and had translated the Bible for them into their own language. He was "best known for attempting to preserve the culture of the Native Americans by putting them in planned towns where they could continue by their own rule as a Christian society."

We are told that the Europeans in general and the Christians in particular were cruel, selfish, greedy folk who came to America to escape persecution and steal all they could from the natives. It isn't true. Some of that happened, to be sure, but the original intent of the immigrants to America was a missionary intent. This is all the more confounding when you consider that these folks were dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists who believed that God did the choosing. Their job wasn't to sit back and watch God work, but to obey the Great Commission and participate in God's work. They did. Don't buy it when you are told otherwise.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

God and the Poor

In Deuteronomy, God makes a truly astounding promise to His people:
"There will be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today" (Deut 15:4-5).
The promise is truly monumental, but it is only made more remarkable as the chapter continues, because God assures them in the same chapter of this:
"For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land'" (Deut 15:11)
Both sides of the coin. On one hand obedience to God would have insured that they would -- it's amazing to even think about -- have no poor. On the other hand, God knew they would fail at that and "the poor would never cease to be in the land."

It begs the question. Do we have a problem with so many poor in the world -- even in our country -- because of sin? Oh, maybe not their sin and certainly the proper response if it is the case is to "freely open your hand to your brother", but I have to wonder. How much of the problem of poverty is a problem of sin? If that's the case, while giving to the poor is mandated, how much will it solve?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Fable

You know what a fable is, don't you? It's a brief allegory to illustrate a point. Well, here's a fable.

Four friends got into a boat and rowed out in the lake. This would be wholly unremarkable if it weren't for the fact that none of the four could swim. But they were safe enough. They had their life jackets on and were just fine. That is, until Timothy and Bob decided to throw off their jackets and jump in on a dare. Well, it quickly became ugly. Greg and Jeremy worked to save their friends. They grabbed lifesavers and threw them to Tim and Bob. Bob grabbed the ring thrown his way and held on, but Tim ignored the one that came to him and before anyone could do any more, Tim had drowned.

Once ashore, they bemoaned the loss of their friend. "Poor Tim," Jeremy said, "he died because he didn't grab the lifesaver." Later, this was nagging at Greg. Really? Tim died because he didn't grab the lifesaver? Greg was analytical, so he went to the local high school and asked the coach if he could do an experiment with the boys in the gym. So he took a lifesaver and went to work. The instructions were simple. Don't take the lifesaver. Nothing more. So Greg threw lifesavers to every boy in the junior gym class. None took the lifesaver. None died. Very odd. Was it possible that Tim had died of something else?
___________

Someone said the other day what I've heard multiple times. "People go to hell because they don't accept Christ." Really? Is that the reason? So I did an experiment. I looked through Scripture, and I didn't find it. I found that the wages of sin is death. I found that the soul that sins will surely die. But I didn't find anything that said that the cause of eternal punishment was the rejection of the remedy.

Tim didn't die from not taking the lifesaver. Tim died from inhaling water, or possibly a heart attack, but not from failing to grasp the thing that could have saved him from it. Indeed, at the root of it, Tim died from his own stupidity. No one made him jump in the water without a life jacket when he couldn't swim.

By the same token, let's not get confused about eternity. Some people will spend eternity in the presence of the King in wonderful bliss. Those who do will do so because they received the remedy prepared by God in the form of His Son's sacrifice on our behalf. Those who do not will not spend eternity outside the presence of God for failing to grab that remedy. They will spend eternity outside the presence of God because that was their choice. They chose to defy God. They refused to submit. They determined to be god in their own lives. It was their doing. Don't get that confused.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Gospel is More

We know. We know the Gospel. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." Simple. But if we stop there, we're selling the Gospel short. The Gospel is so much more.

John wrote, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). We get the "forgive us our sins", but we often miss "cleanse us from all unrighteousness". That stuff you confessed? Forgiven. That stuff you forgot? That, too. But you're not just "even" with God. You're completely cleared of all sin, past, present, and future.

We know about the "work out your salvation" and we are even vaguely aware of "with fear and trembling". Behind that, however, is the amazing reality that it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.

We know about "saved by faith", but the Gospel includes a process, a metamorphosis of colossal proportions in which we are "conformed to the image of His Son." Imagine that! We, sinners without a hope, are being shaped into a reflection of God the Son!

It isn't just getting square with God and sin forgiven. It is "dead to sin and alive to righteousness." It is the passing away of the old and all things new. It is being led into all truth. It is the presence of the Spirit of God in you.

Don't stop just inside the door. Don't be satisfied with free admission. Don't settle for "made it." Indulge in the Gospel -- the whole Gospel.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

God Wins

Years ago when one of my teenage sons asked me, "Dad, how can I know God's will?", I answered at first somewhat flippantly. "Well, what's ahead is not so easy, but I can tell you without a doubt that whatever happened yesterday was God's will." Yeah, funny, Dad. Now, how about a useful answer?

Flippant? Yes. Useless? Not at all. As it turns out, that answer has sustained me through some of the toughest times of my life. When I would question the way I raised my children, I could know for sure that whatever happened back then, God had planned it and would use it for their best interest, whether or not I had been a "perfect father". When I lost a job or lost a family member or moved from my home or married (because all such events can easily be questioned after the fact), I could rest assured that God had planned it and would use it for the best. Whether I had done well or had failed miserably, I could rest assured that God was Sovereign, that He works all things after the counsel of His will, and that, whether or not I could see the evidence of "success" (whatever that might mean), I could know beyond Satan's accusations or any of my doubts, God had succeeded every time.

Flippant? Perhaps. But not useless. Never useless when it reminds me of how great God is despite my certain shortcomings or even occasional successes. He always wins.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Unprayed Answers

Thinking back over my life, I wonder how many folks would have prayed for me to receive the blessings that God has given me?

I think back to my younger days. I was working in my chosen profession and was moving up. I wasn't just a security guard; I was a security supervisor. I had a wife and I was making more money than I had ever made before. All was going well. Then a coworker that decided he didn't like me started spreading false stories about me. Eventually I was fired ... days after my wife told me she was pregnant. Oh, good! Hunting around for a quick answer, I landed in an Air Force recruiting office and took off with a job I would never have chosen for myself, but that ended up my actual profession and the best thing I could have done -- electronics.

I think about the time when I left the military with a golden opportunity for work. I traveled across the country with family in tow to accept the position promised me. When I got there, there was no job. Well, I muddled about and searched for whatever I could find and called one in a newspaper. They invited me for an interview. During the interview, they asked, "Where did you hear about us?" I told them I had answered a newspaper ad. They told me they hadn't put an ad in the paper. I worked for that company for 14 years. The job started me as an electronics technician and took me to test engineer with the skills I needed to have the position I now have.

I think about the time my I came home from work and my wife told me she was leaving me for another man. I argued and wept and cajoled and fretted, but she left. I was packing up the house to move to smaller quarters and came across some stuff I had written years before. God handed it to me to remind me that He was in charge, that nothing happened that He hadn't planned, that He would see me through. My wife divorced me because I was boring, but I am married now to a woman who loves me for who I am, perfectly suited to me. We fit together like hand and glove. I couldn't even imagine someone better.

Many of the biggest and best things that have happened to me in my life have been, on the face, unpleasant events. They turned me to God first and, from there, to better things than I could have dreamed. They pushed me out of my comfort zones and into God's marvelous plan for my life. The thing is, I am relatively certain that no one would have prayed for these things for me. "Dear Lord," someone would have prayed with earnest, "please take away Stan's good job. Please get him falsely fired. Please strip away any underpinnings he might have and move him on." "Dear heavenly Father," another would have said, "out of your great love for my friend, Stan, please take him out of the security of the military, move his family across country with the promise of a good job, and disappoint him bitterly." Or how about, "Jesus, I lift to you my brother, Stan. He is married with children. Please take that away. Teach him to cling to you by stripping off the mother of his children. Because of Your mercy and love, in order to honor your Name, break up his family and home. Thank you, Lord."

My life is full of unprayed answers, twists and turns that looked horrible but, as promised, worked together for good. I don't expect that anyone asked for those things for me, even remotely. Nor would I hope that anyone would. But it is very heartwarming to know that God is Sovereign, that every event in life is orchestrated by His command, and that He, not I or even my well-meaning friends and family, is the King.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Didn't I Blow Your Mind?

It is a given that the finite cannot grasp the infinite. It is a certainty that God, the Creator, is so far above Man, the creature, that we will never fully understand. So it shouldn't be a surprise that we come across things that simply boggle the mind when we think about God. No, more than that, it would be expected. If your God is tame or tepid, I suspect you might not be looking at the real God. Let's look at some of my examples.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey'” (1 Sam 15:2-3).
This one so baffles people that some have decided it never happened. Some look at it and stop believing in God entirely. “If God is like that, I don't want anything to do with Him.” The advocates of God try to defend it. “God said that He was punishing them for what they did to Israel.” Yeah, sure, but surely the women and children and sheep didn't do anything to Israel. Others go further. “God said that Israel was in Egypt until the sin of the Canaanites was full.” Okay, I'm good with that ... but women, children, infants, and donkeys? The best I can do is say, “Well, God is good and He always does what is right and this was right.” But I can't really give a full explanation.
The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil (Prov 16:4).
This one is hard to dance around. It gives a primary cause – the LORD. As Creator, He has made everything. He has made everything for a purpose. And, it says, He has made the wicked for a purpose. Wait, wait … God made the wicked? I thought the wicked made the wicked. Well, I'm sure in a sense that's completely true, but here it says that God did, too. It's kind of like the story of Abimelech in Genesis 20. God tells Abimelech that he is in danger because he has another man's wife. Abimelech says, “In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” And God tells him, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me.” It appears, then, that Abimelech acted in integrity … and it was God that made Him act with integrity. Thus, any good that we do is from the Lord and any wickedness that we commit is ordained (not caused or forced or the like, but ordained) by the Lord.

There's a lot of other stuff out there that I don't get. God tells us that He chooses whom He will save according to “His purpose of election”, but that's all we get. If it were according to our choosing Him, that would be easy – and very human. If it were according to our righteousness, that would be easy – and very legalistic. But He tells us it's according to His purpose. That's all we're going to get. And I don't fully grasp it. Then, of course, there's the Trinity, a concept seemingly designed to blow your mind. Three in one, distinct but not separate, coequal in power, of the same essence, on and on. Scripture tells us that Jesus shed His blood for us and God shed His blood for us (Acts 20:28). We're very aware that the Spirit is the Spirit of God but seem to barely notice that He is the Spirit of Christ (Gal 4:6) as well. Yeah, that Trinity is a big mind-bender.

Here's what it comes down to. We can settle for a simple, comprehensible, tame God that fits in our thinking and categories and reasoning capacities, but defies the very essence of an infinite God. Or we can accept at face value the God who presents Himself in the pages of Scripture as One who cannot be fully grasped, completely understood, neatly categorized or compartmentalized, or even easily reasoned through. The former makes for a God much like Man, easy to grasp but not very God. The other makes us uncomfortable with His infinity and “otherness”, but is God to the extreme as He describes Himself. You decide which you'll go with. I choose the bigger one. To put it another way, if you have a God that makes perfect sense, that carries no mystery, that seems quite reasonable and offers little that shakes up your thinking, you may be looking at the wrong God.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What's Up With That?

Okay, here I am, baffled again. America voted President Obama into office partly on the promise to get us out of Iraq. After taking office, the president was loathe to commit more troops to the conflict in Afghanistan. He ended up sending troops, but considerably less than were requested. The latest news was from Rasumssen that said that 52% of Americans wanted all the troops out -- both Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan was always "the good war", the one we should have gone into because of the direct threat from al-Qaeda to America. Iraq wasn't so popular, even though the majority of the government believed that there was a high threat of weapons of mass destruction there. No, that wasn't a good reason to go into Iraq.

So what has me so confused? Here we are blowing up Libya. What's up with that? It is abundantly clear that Libya is not a threat to our country, and, in fact, no one is saying that it is. No, the prima facie reason we are bombing Libya is a protection of "innocents". Now, wait, when the Sudan was inflicting genocide on its people, the U.S. did nothing. We didn't send armed forces. We didn't stop the attacks. We didn't defend the innocent. So why now in Libya? When the freedom fighters from Iran begged for our assistance, we ignored them. No help for the innocents there, either. "No, no," we are told, "the official position is that 'it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go.'" Oh, okay, so it's time for a regime change ... which was the wrong thing to do in Iraq, but is right now. Huh? I'm sorry; I'm not getting it.

Now, I'm not in favor of a dictator blowing up his people, but I'm also wondering about the advisability of the U.S. flying into Libya and forcing a change in government. When did it become our mission to force democracy on all nations? And if we remove Ghadafi, what will replace him? I used the term "innocents" above in quotes because the "innocents" we are protecting are armed and fighting. What's that all about? We don't like Ghadafi, sure, but when did it become right that we attack a country because its government is trying to end a rebellion? If France, for instance, decided that Wisconsin was being unfair to its unions, would it be fine with us if they bombed Wisconsin? When we went into Afghanistan and then into Iraq, many proponents tried to hoist the "Just War" theory. No one with any sense likes war, but there are times when it is necessary -- just. Under what possible application of "Just War" theory could this whole thing in Libya be considered just? This isn't making any sense to me.

Really, I'm just not getting it. The president has been "anti-war" from the start. "Let's get out of Iraq. Let's not send more troops to finish the job in Afghanistan. In fact, now it's time to leave Afghanistan. Really, we shouldn't be fighting at all." Unless, of course, it's a dictator he doesn't like? Or is it our job to make every nation a democracy? (The ramifications of that line of thinking are staggering.) On what basis can we do this in Libya? When did it become our job go overthrow a dictator? If there is such a mandate, what about our allies like Saudi Arabia? What are we trying to accomplish? On what basis, with our attacks on Libya in mind, can we abandon Iraq and Afghanistan? How is this consistent with President Obama's prior stances, promises and statements? I don't know. I don't get it.

(I would have posted this earlier, but 1) I've had limited Internet connection since I'm on vacation and 2) I really needed to do that "Hell" series -- it's important. So if you've all already thought this stuff through and figured it out, relax. Me? I'm still not sure.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Must I Do to Avoid Hell? Part 5

Subtitle: What does Hell mean to me?

That subtitle has been hanging over these posts for days. What's the answer, then? What does Hell mean to me? I've explained what would be required to remove Hell. Thus, the existence of Hell means a lot to me. It means that God is Just as well as merciful, Holy as well as gracious. He has righteous wrath for sin and genuine love for those who trust Him. He is good through and through because "good" requires both doing what is right and not doing what is wrong and He does both.

It means that there is justice and there is a real basis for morality. The existence of Hell assures me that sin is not just an anomaly or a fluke or a mistake of DNA, but an affront to the God of Heaven. It assures me that the Bible is reliable (again) and offers the Church back to me for support. It gives real substance to the Gospel. It provides genuine, no, ultimate value in the Cross of Christ. And it puts Man back in his proper place as creature rather than god.

Can you be a Christian and deny Hell? If "Christian" means "follower of Christ" and Christ taught the reality of Hell (and He did), then the answer should be clear. If you redefine "Christian" to mean "the follower of some group of people that consider themselves loosely connected with some guy named Jesus of Nazareth, but only in the way in which each individual envisions it, not necessarily in any concrete way", then of course you can be a Christian and deny the existence of Hell. And since we're apparently in the business these days of redefining terminology, I suppose that's not a problem. I mean, we've redefined "male and female", "marriage", "fornication", "integrity", "homosexual", right and wrong, and so much more. Why not "Christian"? So in that sense it's perfectly reasonable to be a Christian (defined as "someone who calls himself or herself a 'Christian'") and deny Hell. Easy!

None of this proves the existence of Hell or the doctrine thereof. Nor does it offer my views on the nature of Hell. These weren't the intents of the posts. But perhaps, if you can see what's at stake, you, too, might take a serious look at this rising attempt at mediating Hell. It may sound benign, even friendly. It's not. And welcoming it would be a serious mistake.

What must I do to avoid Hell? Well, there are two options. I can deny its existence based on "the love of God" who I then render no longer God, remove justice and morality, defang sin, erase Scripture, the Church, and the Gospel, and build up an unreal picture of Man. Of course, if Hell is real and simply denying the existence of something that is real and terrible doesn't protect me from it, I might need a new strategy. The other option is to avoid it by acknowledging its reality and place my faith in the finished work of Christ who died for me on the cross and rose again so I can have life -- the highest example of love there is. As it turns out, we need Hell. As a clear representative of justice and a stark contrast to Heaven, it's necessary.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Must I Do to Avoid Hell? Part 4

Subtitle: What does Hell mean to me?

My how the mighty have fallen. With the simple removal of the doctrine of Hell, we've begun the slow demise of Christianity. But surely it is salvageable, right? I mean, how about "the Gospel"? That's a good thing and everyone likes "good news". That can stay, right?

I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but another casualty in this new concept of Hell is the Gospel. For as long as there has been a human in relation to God, the threat of punishment for sin has been hanging around. It started with Adam -- "the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." It hasn't let up. Jonathan Edwards was famous for his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. That whole "fire and brimstone" style of preaching was a big deal in lots of periods of Church history. Threat of damnation was the horrible counterpoint to the sweetness of salvation. "You can go to eternal torment, but Christ offers you a way to get free!" That, in essence, has been the Gospel Call. Now, strip off the first phrase, and all you get is "Christ offers you a way to get free!" Free? Of what? The Philippian jailer cried out, "What must I do to be saved?" to which Paul should have replied, "Ah, don't worry about it! No one is in jeopardy of damnation here!" Strip off the "bad news" -- sinners earn eternal damnation -- and you don't have much good news -- "Place your faith in Christ and you can avoid ... well, never mind."

However, after all these casualties from this removal of Hell, there is a "gain". Remember, the problem with Man is "I will be like the Most High." The problem with Man is that we worship the creature rather than the Creator. The problem with Man is that we tend to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.

So along comes the biblical concept of Hell. And we don't like it. No, we don't. Man deserves better than that! God ought to do something about it. Look, quite frankly, if God allows people to go to eternal torment because of sin, well, He's not a very bright God, after all (at best), because we are pretty important. Or, at least, that's how it would seem.

Stripping away the biblical doctrine of a place of eternal torment for those guilty of Cosmic Treason, as I've already pointed out, will strip away many of God's fundamental character traits. It will destroy Justice in general, remove the rationale for morality, minimize the problem of sin, and undercut the reliability of Scripture as well as the Church. But the "good news" is that it makes Man a lot more important, a lot better off. It feeds his worship of the creature. By removing the penalty of sin, it makes God more amenable to seeing our true importance. We finally get what we deserve! Oh, wait ... that was Hell, wasn't it? Well, see, we get better than we deserve! No, wait ... that can't be right. Say, is this real gain, or is it an illusion?

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Must I Do to Avoid Hell? Part 3

Subtitle: What does Hell mean to me?

I've been reviewing the effects of removing the doctrine of Hell. So far we've managed to view the assault the character of God. The damage there would call into question Justice in general. The injury to Justice would minimize Sin. And the hits just keep on coming.

I need to say that the doctrine of Hell isn't a fabrication of Man. I mean, that's a nasty idea no matter how you cut it. And, to be honest, we generally identify more with Man than with God, so it just wouldn't be something we'd want to make up. So where did the Church get the idea for an eternity of damnation? Well, it's in the Bible. I did a quick check in a Naves Topical Bible and found these two listings. The first is on the topic of "Wicked, the Punishment of" and the second is on the use of the term "Hell" as a place of torment. (Note: The Bible also uses the term "Hell" or "Sheol" as a reference to the place of the dead. That's why Revelation 20:14 says that "death and hell" are thrown into the lake of fire. The temporary place of the dead is thrown into the place of eternal torment.) I know, I know, it's too long; you won't read it. But, at least, you have a reference ... and a sense of magnitude.

The Punishment of the Wicked
Genesis 2:17; 3:16-19; 4:7; 6:3,7,12,13; Exodus 20:5; 32:33-35; 34:7; Leviticus 26:14,16-39; Numbers 15:31; 32:23; Deuteronomy 7:9,10; 11:26,28; 28:15-68; 30:15,19; 31:29; 1 Samuel 3:11-14; 12:25; 2 Samuel 3:39; 7:14; 22:27,28; 23:6,7; 1 Kings 21:20,21; 1 Chronicles 10:13,14; 15:13; 28:9; 2 Chronicles 15:2; Job 4:8,9; 5:3,14; 8:20,22; 10:14,15; 11:20; 15:20-24,28-30; 18:5-21; 19:29; 20:5-29; 21:7-33; 27:8-23; 31:3; 34:22; 36:12,17; Psalm 1:4-6; 2:4,5,9; 3:7; 5:5; 7:11-13; 9:5,17; 10:15; 11:6; 18:14,26,27; 21:9,10; 28:4,5; 32:10; 34:16,21; 36:12; 37:1,2,9,10,13-22,34-38; 39:11; 50:22; 52:5; 55:19,23; 56:7; 58:6-9; 59:5,8; 62:3; 64:7,8; 68:1,2,6,21; 73:2-21,27; 75:8,10; 78:1-67; 89:10,31,32; 91:8; 92:7,9; 94:13,23; 97:3; 101:8; 104:35; 106:18,43; 107:17,34; 109:6-19; 119:21,118,119,155; 129:4; 139:19; 145:20; 146:9; 147:6; Proverbs 2:22; 3:33; 6:12-15; 10:3,6-8,24,25,27-31; 11:3,5-8,19,21,23,31; 12:2,3,7; 13:2,5,6,9,21,25; 14:12,19,32; 16:4,5,25; 18:3; 19:16; 21:12,15,16; 22:5,23; 24:20,22; 26:10; 28:14,18; 29:1,16; Ecclesiastes 2:26; 7:17; 8:12,13; Isaiah 2:19; 3:11; 5:11-14,24; 9:18; 10:3; 11:4; 13:8,9,11; 24:17,18; 26:21; 28:18-22; 33:11,12,14; 40:2; 48:22; 50:11; 57:20,21; 64:5-7; 65:12-14; Jeremiah 8:12-14,20-22; 9:1; 13:14,16,22; 14:10,12; 16:18; 21:14; 25:31; 36:31; 44:23; 49:12; Lamentations 3:3; 4:22; 5:16,17; Ezekiel 3:18-20; 5:4,8-17; 7:4-6; 9:5-7,10; 11:21; 18:1-32; 20:8; 22:14,20,21,31; 24:13,14; 25:7; 33:7-20; Daniel 12:2; Hosea 2:9-13; 5:4-6,9; 7:12,13; 9:7,9,15; 10:8; 12:2,14; 13:1,3; 14:9; Joel 2:1,2; 3:13-16; Amos 3:2; 5:18-20; 8:14; 9:1-5,10; Jonah 3:9; Micah 2:3; 6:13; Nahum 1:2,8-10; Zephaniah 1:12-18; Zechariah 5:2-4; Malachi 3:17,18; 4:1; Matthew 3:7,10,12; 5:19-30; 7:13,19,23,26,27; 8:12; 10:28,33; 11:23; 12:34; 13:12-15,30,38-42,49,50; 15:13; 16:26; 18:7-9,34,35; 21:19,41,44; 22:13; 23:14,33; 24:50,51; 25:30,32,33,41,46; 26:24; Mark 4:12,25; 8:36,38; 9:43; 11:26; 12:1-9,40; 14:21; 16:16; Luke 3:7,17; 6:49; 8:18; 9:24-26; 12:4,5,46,47; 13:3,5-7,9,24,27,28; 16:22-28; 17:1,2; 19:26,27; 20:18; 22:22; 23:30,31; John 3:15,16,18,36; 5:14,29; 7:34; 8:21; 12:40; 15:2; 17:12; Acts 1:18,25; 3:23; Romans 1:18; 2:5,8; 5:12,21; 6:16,21; 8:2,6,7,13; 9:22; 11:22; 14:23; 1 Corinthians 3:17; 5:5,13; 6:9,10; 9:27; 10:5-11; 15:21,22; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Galatians 3:10; 5:19,20; 6:8; Ephesians 5:5,6; Philippians 3:18,19; Colossians 3:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9; 2:8-10; 1 Timothy 1:20; 5:24; 2 Timothy 2:12,13; Hebrews 2:2,3; 6:8; 10:27-31; James 1:14,15; 5:1-3,20; 1 Peter 3:12; 4:17,18; 2 Peter 2:3-9,12-17; 1 John 3:14,15; Jude 1:5-7,11-15; Revelation 2:22,23; 3:3; 6:15-17; 9:4-6,15,18; 11:18; 14:9-11; 16:2-21; 18:5; 19:15,17-21; 20:10,15; 21:8,27; 22:19

"Hell" in the Bible
Isaiah 5:14; 14:9,15; 28:15,18; 57:9; Ezekiel 31:16,17; 32:21,27; Amos 9:2; Jonah 2:2; Habakkuk 2:5; Psalm 9:17; Proverbs 5:5; 9:13,15-18; 15:24; 23:13,14; Isaiah 30:33; 33:14; Matthew 3:12; 5:29,30; 7:13,14; 8:11,12; 10:28; 13:30,38-42,49,50; 16:18; 18:8,9,34,35; 22:13; 25:28-30,41,46; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 3:17; 16:23-26,28; Acts 1:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6-23; Revelation 2:11; 9:1,2; 11:7; 14:10,11; 19:20; 20:10,15; 21:8; Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6

So what is my point in providing these vast lists on the topic of Hell? Well, quite simply, if "no Hell", then "no Bible". You can't strip out a fundamental biblical truth without ripping the reliability out of Scripture.

Removing the reliability of Scripture like that has its own ripple effect directly related to the doctrine of Hell (or its absence). It begs the question. If the Scriptures are so unreliable -- they're quite wrong about all that "eternal torment" stuff, after all -- then what does that say about the Church? The doctrine of Hell has always been a component of Church doctrine. Historically, it was never in question. Now, fortunately, we're coming around to the truth that no such thing ever existed. That means that, just as we can't have much confidence in Scripture, we can have little confidence in the Church. Yeah, yeah, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, and He did! It just took Him a really, really long time. So it would be unwise of anyone to rely very much at all on the Church, its historical accuracy, or the vast numbers of believers who went on before. Genuine truth is what we make it today. And the Church goes down in the flames of rabid individualism.

By simply removing a little and unpleasant concept -- the idea that there is a Hell, a place of judgment for sinners -- we've managed, so far, to topple God, justice, sin, the Bible, and the Church. And ... we're not done yet.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What Must I Do to Avoid Hell? Part 2

Subtitle: What does Hell mean to me?

(Note: I know. I usually try to post something more uplifting on a Sunday. A part of a series on Hell doesn't seem so uplifting. I think, when all is said and done, it is, so bear with me.)

Of course, since God is the Judge of All the Earth and we've managed to strip God of that attribute, I think we would need to look at Justice further.

Back in the 18th century, Immanuel Kant wrote Critique of Pure Reason in which he appeared to argue that there is no God. In truth, he was arguing that you can't prove the existence of God, not that there is no God. While Kant was closing the front door on God, he was opening the back window when he argued about the necessity for the existence of God. Kant said that there must be a God or morality had no basis. For there to be any basis for morality, there must be justice. This justice would require a Judge. And the characteristics of this Judge just happen to match the characteristics of God. It's called the Kantian Moral Argument, and it makes sense. It doesn't prove the existence of God, but it certainly begs for it. You see, if there is no Hell, Kant's argument goes away. Without eternal punishment for an eternal crime, there is no justice. Without a judgment in the afterlife, there is no justice. If everyone gets saved and no one gets punished, there is no justice. You've heard and likely even felt, "You'll get yours someday" when someone seems to get away with some bad thing. Well, if no Hell, don't count on it. There is no justice. And, if no justice, neither is there any rational basis for morality. Consider that for a moment.

Now, having stripped off justice in God and justice in general, followed by morality, that would have to bring sin into question, wouldn't it?

Did you ever see the movie, The Bad Seed? It's a 1956 movie about a concept. The concept was a question then, but almost an assumed certainty today. The idea was that bad people inherent their "bad". In the movie, cute little 8-year-old Rhoda Penmark turns out to be a vicious killer. She murders a schoolmate for a penmanship trophy she thought should have been hers. She murders a handyman who threatens to turn her in. Her mother tries to end the evil by giving her daughter an overdose of sleeping pills, then kills herself ... but Rhoda survives. What was the source of such awful darkness? Well, it must have been her maternal grandmother who was a serial killer. You see, "sin" isn't really our fault at all. Today it's a mistake, a chemical imbalance, a genetic deficiency, a product of a bad environment. It's "the bad things we do" and it's mostly excusable to some degree. Really, it's not so bad at all. So while Scripture describes sin as pernicious and pervasive, we're moving it out of the realm of an assault against God -- Cosmic Treason -- and moving it toward the magnitude of a social faux pas. If there is no Hell, how bad can sin be?

And we're not done, yet.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Must I Do to Avoid Hell? Part 1

Subtitle: What does Hell mean to me?

(Note: This is a multi-part series since it's a lot bigger than I originally thought.)

Rob Bell has been in the news quite a bit lately. His new perspective is all the buzz. Bloggers and even mainstream news like MSNBC are talking about his position that Hell is a myth. Since Hell has been a component of Christian theology since the beginning, this is big.

The doctrine of Hell has always been an unpleasant one. The notion that there is somewhere that an apparently large number of souls exist in torment for eternity is, to any caring person, a nasty proposition at best. The idea that sins committed in a lifetime should be punished forever seems like overkill. And, really, is it nice to think that God would save just those who have faith while not saving all the rest? What kind of narrow-minded, mean-spirited God would pick that arbitrary concept? So it should not seem odd to us that it is under attack these days not only by atheists and skeptics, but by those who call themselves Christians and even Evangelicals. What might seem odd, though, is that anyone (like me) would think to rise to its defense. I mean, seriously, if we could figure out that the Church has been wrong all these millennia and there really is no place called "Hell" or the like, wouldn't that be a good thing? Well, for me, the answer is "No." You see, Hell has meaning to me.

It is not possible to shift the doctrine of Hell into oblivion without having a major impact on all sorts of other areas. The first and foremost is the assault on God's character. Since God is supernatural, the primary, most reliable, best method we can have of knowing God's character is to simply know what He tells us about Himself. So what does God tell us about Himself? Well, we know He is Holy (really, really Holy ... since it is the only attribute of God that is not only repeated twice in Scripture, but repeated three times in those two places). We know that He is Just. We know He is gracious and merciful. We know that the Bible is full of references to God's wrath. We know that He is good. We know that "God is love". (I put it in quotes because it is ... odd. He isn't "loving" or "lovely" or the like. He is love. That is, whatever love is is defined by God.) We know a lot about God because these are the kinds of things He has told us about Himself. Now ... strip off that whole "eternal damnation" thing. What do we know now about God? Well, He would certainly be merciful (where "mercy" is defined as "not getting what you deserve") and gracious (where "grace" is defined as "getting what you don't deserve"). So far, so good. Of course, we'd have to remove that whole "Just" thing. That's out the door. And the whole "wrath of God" thing would have to go, too. He's a friendly God now. And what about "Holy"? No, not so much. Having stripped off any sort of punishment for sin, that one doesn't work so much either. Of course, since all of these have been dismantled, we will certainly call into question His reliability and, with that, His faithfulness. I mean, there are all those things about "wrath" and "justice" and the like which we can't really hold, so what else is He lying about? And, of course, that would also terminate the idea of God being good. Oh, this isn't going well, after all, is it?

This is just the beginning. While we don't like the concept of Hell, the first and foremost impact if we strip it from the pages of Scripture is the impact on the character of God. Don't believe, however, that this is the last impact.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Evangelical

When Rob Bell hit the news with his new take on Hell, there was a tag hung on him that was confusing to me. He was labeled "evangelical". Seems like a problem with definitions again.

According to every source I can locate, "evangelical" has a definition. It refers to Christians with four basic commitments:
1. The need for personal conversion (or being "born again")
2. Actively expressing and sharing the gospel
3. A high regard for biblical authority, especially biblical inerrancy
4. An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus.

According to scholar David Bebbington in The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody (History of Evangelicalism), "conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism." There you go.

So ... why is it that people like Rob Bell and so many more want to nullify basic definitions of evangelicalism but want to be connected to evangelicalism? Why do people who deny biblical authority, who deny the biblical gospel, who set aside the death and resurrection of Jesus want to be called "evangelicals"? What's up with that?

I'm not talking at this moment about Rob Bell. I don't know Rob Bell. I'm just talking at this point about the concept. How many times have I seen it? A particular concept has a particular definition, a specific meaning. Others move into it without accepting the definition. And before you know it people are saying, "I know some of you whatever-you-call-its and you believe x." And particular group is in, so others "become part" without actually doing so and subvert the group. America stands for limited government and individual rights, and then power-mongers sneak in, cloak themselves in "American", and subvert it to extended government and limited individual rights. Christianity has lugged around the Crusades, false teachers, and non-Christian cults who name themselves "Christian" for centuries and we can barely see "Christian" anymore. Indeed, in some places in the world, "Christian" is a political party, not a belief with Christ at the center.

In fact, Evangelicalism was a response to this problem. The liberalism of the 19th century caused a backlash in Christendom. "You can't discard the need for rebirth, the need for the Gospel, the centrality of the Scriptures, or the absolute centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ and call yourselves 'Christian'. We are standing apart from that heretical view." So, with care and, later, with ease, Evangelicalism has been infiltrated and co-opted.

Why? Well, I can only think of one enemy of Christ so fully capable of such subterfuge. Funny thing. It seems to start with the same basic question. "Did God say?" Once it was about God's right to define morality. In the 19th century it was about God's Word itself. Of late it has been about the sin of homosexuality. And now it's back to fundamental doctrines, biblical distinctives that make Christian "Christian". Same question. "Did God say?" Now, let me think. Who originally said that?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Idolatry

My beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Cor 10:14).
What is this thing called idolatry? Well, we know what it is. It's that crazy things pagans do when they make a statue of some sort and then bow down to it. Nuts! We know better. Idolatry is dead.

Well, one might think. And then you read this:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3:5).
Wait, wait ... covetousness (greed) is idolatry? So how does "a statue you make and bow down to" fit in with "covetousness"? And, of course, the answer is, "It doesn't." The problem is we've failed to properly define "idolatry".

The Greek word used in both instances is eidololatreia. (Sound it out. You almost end up with "idolatry".) It is a two part word with eidolon meaning "image" and "latreia meaning "worship". "Okay, now," you (and I) say, "isn't that where we started? It means to make an image and worship it! Come on!" So where did we go wrong? Our error was in limiting the "image" that we worship to "statue". "Image" is simply "anything that represents reality" ... but is not that reality. To say, "He's the image of his father" is to say that he greatly resembles his father, but even the "spittin' image" is not his father. An image, then, is a representative of something without being that something. Idolatry, therefore, is the worship of an image in place of the real God. I would suggest that the most common "image" that we worship is the creature made in the image of God.

We know false images. We know that a statue is an image, but it is not "God". We know that money can be worshiped as that which will sustain us ("greed"), but it is not "God". But if "image" is not the actual thing, then it can be a lot more subtle -- and a lot more prevalent. We can form an image of God that is false. If God, for instance, is sovereign, and the "God" you worship is at the mercy of His creation, then your "God" is a false image of the real thing. If we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, and you experience things that you are certain do not work together for good, your "God" is a false image of the real thing. It is, in fact, the easiest, most natural thing for us to do -- drop God down a peg closer to our level. But when we do, we end up with a false image -- an idol.
We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols (1 John 5:20-21).
Or, "Beloved children, we know the true God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, avoid false images."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Inverted Arrogance

In Romans 12 Paul writes, "I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment." Now, I am one of those who tends to think less highly of himself than he ought. Those who know me know that my tendency is to denigrate myself. I'm typically ugly, stupid, incompetent, and basically useless. Lies, of course, all lies, but that's the kind of stuff I tell myself ... far too often. And I've always applied Paul's statement above not from the "more highly than you ought" perspective, but the "sound judgment" approach. I figured out the other day that I was wrong.

Consider this. I am what God has made me. I have skills, abilities, tendencies, predilections, and all that were handed to me by God. He didn't skimp on that stuff. Before I was born He laid out the design and made me to be what He wanted me to be, shortcomings, strengths, and all. Now me, in my wise and thoughtful arrogance, have decided that God sold me short. He didn't do a very good job. I should have been _____-er (fill in the blank) and I'm not. I'm not smart enough, not competent enough, not good enough. Basically, I'm telling God that He really messed up when He made this sack of skin because He made something without a lot of use. Nice try, God. Fail!

On the surface, then, I am self-effacing, even, some might say, humble. Underneath, though, I'm passing judgment on God's design ... and I find Him wanting. I have inverted my arrogance, cloaked it in false humility, and made it sound more pious. My emperor -- the god of my own poor self-image -- has no clothes.

Now, I know lots of people who suffer from an ego. They suffer from thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. And Paul was speaking to them. But I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in my end of the problem. I'm reasonably confident that some of you have these same feelings of inadequacy, this same sense of "not enough". I would encourage you to reconsider. God made you. He made you with the abilities and talents that you need. If you didn't come into this world with them, He has built them in. If you don't have them now, He is working on it. But at no time has He failed. For you to think otherwise is inverted arrogance, or, to be more clear, genuine arrogance. You and me, we ought to reconsider that position. Shaking our fists in the face of God reprimanding Him for His failure in our design isn't the wisest position to take. Perhaps repentance is needed. Perhaps often.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

That None May Boast

Someone I know objected to the doctrine of Election this way: "If that's true, then I'm joining the KKK." You understand, I hope, the objection. You see, the idea is "If you believe that God chose you, then you must think you're better than anyone else" or, at least, better than anyone who is not chosen.

The truth is that no matter where you fall on the question, someone is better.

In the Arminian, "free will" perspective the only possible conclusion is that I am better because I made the right choice, summoned up the faith required, did the right thing in repenting. All those other folks who didn't? Well, they apparently didn't have what I had. Better information? Perhaps. More spiritually aware or spiritually wise? Maybe. Maybe I just got it and they didn't. Whatever it is, I have to start out as a somehow better model of human being than those who do not get it.

Of course, from the view that God chooses apart from anything in the one being chosen, the outcome is indeed that they are better. They are better off. They are destined for better things. They are going in a better direction. It cannot be argued that it's just as good not to know God as it is to know God. The Elect are better. The difference, of course, is that the Elect are not better at their core. They are better because of what God has chosen to do. Biblically,
God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God (1 Cor 1:27-29).
As such, then, a claim that God chose me on His own basis, not on the basis that I chose Him, is a claim that I am among the foolish, the weak, the base, the despised. My "qualifications" for being chosen would be that I have none. Just a great need.

Someone is better off who is in Christ. From one perspective it is my free will that got me here and so I'm better to start with or it is God's will alone that got me here and I'm just better off for it. If the aim is "so that no man may boast before God", you'll need to decide on your own which fits better.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Neither Do I Condemn You

John 8 carries a very popular story of a woman caught in adultery.
3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" 6 This they said to test Him, that they might have some charge to bring against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 And once more He bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:3-11).
There are key elements here. The woman is accused of being "caught in the act". The call is to the letter of the Law. And, undeniably, it is a test. But Jesus doesn't fall for the trick. No, no. When they all slink away, Jesus tells her, "It's okay. What you did was fine. Don't worry about it."

If you didn't protest that last comment, you weren't paying attention. People today love that Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you," but very few take the time to examine what really went on in this "tolerance" passage. Let's dig into it a little, because there are layers of things here.

At the surface, please note that this passage (John 7:53-8:11) doesn't exist in the earliest versions of John's Gospel. On that basis alone I would be wary of taking a position statement from the text.

Assuming, however, its accuracy, there are other considerations. Note that, according to the Pharisees, "This woman has been caught in the act of adultery." Now, the Law was explicit. "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death" (Lev 20:10). If she was caught in the act, the adulterer would have been present and, as such, should have been here as well. Thus, while seeming to call for the letter of the Law, the Pharisees are, in fact, violating it. To me it brings into question that their accusation was genuine. At best, they were disingenuous.

Assuming, however, that she actually was caught in adultery, I would like to point out that there was no Law of Moses that called for stoning. Did you know that? Adultery was punishable by death, but it wasn't by stoning. According to John Gill, the standard method of death was -- get this -- by handkerchief. They were strangled. There was a stoning law for fornication, but not for adultery. So the Pharisees were standing on a lie.

Assuming, however, that it was a mere slip of the tongue, note that there are other problems. The Law did not allow Jesus to stone (or kill) the woman. It was traditionally required that the accusers do it (thus the "cast the first stone" comment). And it was to be done at the gates of the city, not some back street where they found Jesus to test Him.

Okay, so there are lots of problems here with the situation and the test in progress. So, what was Jesus's response? Was His response, "It's okay. What you did was fine. Don't worry about it."? No, indeed! Jesus didn't condone her sin (else He wouldn't have said, "Go and sin no more."). Because of the fact that He was not the accuser, He did not catch her in the act, and He had no authority to condemn her, He told her, "Since they don't condemn you, I don't either." That is not tacit approval. Nor is it "judge not".

Lots of people like that passage. We shouldn't be so "tuned to sin." "We shouldn't be so judgmental, so intolerant. Jesus didn't condemn the adulteress. He didn't cast the first stone." This all sounds well and good, but it's not in line with the text. We need to be careful not to approve of what God disapproves. We need to be careful not to malign what is approved in Scripture. Calling sin "sin", exhorting, rebuking, calling to repentance, these are all biblical recommendations, even commands. To strip Scripture of its meaning to encourage "tolerance" is not a wise approach.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

I know this woman who is married to ... I have to say it ... a louse. He's not a good husband. He's rude to her and unkind and uncaring. Oh, he's not hitting her or anything, but it's just unpleasant to watch. Much of the time when I think about this guy I want to figure out how to straighten him out, to correct him, to get him to see the error of his ways, to treat his wife with honor and love. I think these things are important and I won't likely stop thinking that way. But the other day a different thought struck me.

It was almost unrelated, but not. You see, this woman whose husband is ... shall we say ... not the best husband on the planet is ... happy. She is contented. I hear him say things that would make a grown woman cry and she doesn't flinch. Ask her aside from him if she's happily married and she'll tell you "Yes!" and be shocked at the question. It's not that she's unaware of his errors. It's that she isn't relying on him to be happy.

This woman has a completely bizarre perspective on life. Unlike most of us normal, wise folks, she thinks that joy is not dependent on pleasant circumstances. While every woman I know would tell this wife, "Run, don't walk to your nearest lawyer and start divorce proceedings," she adorns herself with a gentle and quiet spirit, submits to him even though he does not obey the Word, and puts her trust in God. Crazy, isn't it? It turns out that she has a secret -- a secret of contentment. And, it turns out, she has a secret stash of strength to go with it. You see, as it turns out, for her, the joy of the Lord is her strength.

You and I have been told a lie. And, for the most part, we've bought it. We've been told that if we want to be happy in this life, we must pursue pleasant circumstances. If we want to be fulfilled, then we must demand that people treat us with respect. If we want to have joy, it requires comfortable lives. We've been lied to. As it turns out, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. If your treasure is in comfort and respect from others and pleasant circumstances, then you, too, will likely find joy in this life hard to come by. On the other hand, if your treasure is the surpassing value of knowing Jesus, well, then, I suspect you'll find that the joy of the Lord is strength, that you can have true contentment apart from pleasant living, that there is a peace that passes understanding. Of course, you can continue to pursue all that through common means, but I have to ask. How's that working for you so far?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What's the Fix?

As the protests and revolutions have stormed across the globe from Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya to Wisconsin and New Jersey, a repeated question has been banging at the back of my brain. "So, if not that, what?" When Hosni Mubarak resigned, I wondered, "So, now what? What do you want instead?" When the protesters occupied the Wisconsin capitol building, they clearly didn't want cuts. I wondered, "So, what do you recommend?" And "Leave us without cuts" isn't an answer because the problem isn't them; the problem is that the state needs to cut somewhere. "Leave us without cuts" doesn't answer the problem. It is the case so often, actually. "We don't like this!" is cried from all directions, but "Here's what we recommend to solve the problem" is rarely heard.

A very common complaint today is our government. We don't like the president or we don't like his opposition or we don't like the liberals or we don't like the conservatives. A lot of people are more general -- "We don't like our government at all." We don't like what's going on or not going on with health care, what's happening or not happening with job growth, what's being spent or not being spent on this program or that. We just don't like it. We certainly don't like a $14 trillion deficit. Now that something on which all sides agree. "We don't like this!" And I want to know, "So, what do you recommend?"

I ask because I don't have any suggestions. You see, lots of people think, "If we can just vote 'our folks' in there, then it will get fixed." I don't share their optimism. I don't think there is a particular set of "right people" who could accomplish such a task. I don't think the fix is in the government, so a better government won't help.

Years ago I had the pleasure of having a guy from China live with us for several months. In a conversation with others once, someone asked him if he was a Communist. "No!" he said quite emphatically. "Why would you think that?" "Well," the questioner responded, "China is a Communist country." "Oh," he answered, "we didn't put the government there." And I got it. You see, we put the government there; the Chinese people did not. That is, if you want to know what Americans are like in general, you can simply observe their government because their government reflects the people. And that is where, in my humble opinion, the problem lies.

We're facing lots of tough problems. People suffer from lack of health care, jobs, food, adequate housing ... lots of things. In Arizona the state is out of money and needs to cut people from the Medicare program to survive. "No!" we cry compassionately. But that doesn't solve the problem of "out of money". "Borrow the money" simply puts off the inevitable. "Take it from the rich" simply creates a new money problem. "Find it somewhere else" would simply mean firing teachers or closing schools or eliminating road maintenance or cutting back fire and police or a host of other cuts that we're equally unwilling to take. You see, the problem ... is us. We've decided that the State is required to be our caretaker. Right alongside that, we've decided that life should be much better than it is. Bad stuff isn't supposed to happen. And that's where the State is supposed to come in and solve the problems. It doesn't have that capacity.

There was a time in this country when no such belief existed. The "needy" were cared for by family. If they had no family, then the church would step in. (You know, "widows indeed" (1 Tim 5:16) -- that sort of thing.) We've moved on, grown up, "progressed", gotten better. Now we're independent ("I don't want anyone to interfere in my life") and demanding "equality" (without even knowing anymore what that means). "Nuclear family? Are you kidding? That's crazy!" So we have built up a list of demands without any means of meeting those demands and can't figure out why the Democrats or the Republicans (depending on who is in power at the time) can't meet them. There is no fix for this.

What is needed is not better government. What is needed is not even more money, a better economy, bringing down "big government" or "corporate greed", or taking from the rich to give to the poor. What is needed is changed hearts. No politician has that capability. I won't be putting my hope in a better outcome next election. I don't see the answer there. I do know the One with the answer to that problem. I'll put my hope in Him.

Friday, March 11, 2011

U.S. Military Too White, Too Male

According to the Associated Press, an independent report for Congress says that the military is "too white and too male at the top and needs to change recruiting and promotion policies and lift its ban on women in combat." Apparently diversity in military leadership (racial and gender diversity) is a key ingredient for an efficient, properly functioning military.

Why is it important for the military to lift its ban on women in combat? Well, that's obvious. "Promotion and job opportunities have favored those with battlefield leadership credentials." Since women don't have battlefield opportunities, they don't have promotion and job opportunities, and that's bad. What we really need, you see, is to give women the opportunity to match what is worst in men. Now that will make a stronger military.

But, seriously, what is the problem, the goal? According to the report, "despite undeniable successes ... the armed forces have not yet succeeded in developing a continuing stream of leaders who are as diverse as the nation they serve." Success, then, would be defined as a military leadership that has the same racial and gender composition as the nation does. And I'm sure you can see the logic of that. I mean, how could anyone expect proper military leadership, effective strategies, and so on? According to the Army Leadership Manual, leadership in the military is "the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization." And what right-thinking individual would think that this is even remotely possible if the gender and racial makeup of the upper echelons of military leadership don't match the gender and racial makeup of the nation? Ridiculous!

We've bought the lie. Men and women are equal. I am not questioning "equal in value" or "equal in importance". But we've bought the lie that there are no differences in gender. Well, not quite. I think there is a growing sense not that women are just as good as men (because they are), but that women are better than men. The idea, though, is that the only difference between males and females is primarily anatomy (and, oh, by the way, the transgender community will tell you that that can be changed as well). When it comes to the military, however, I find it really odd. I highly value the military. I respect what they do for this country. I appreciate their sacrifice and dedication. But I don't think (and I don't think many of them do either) that killing for the cause is a "good thing". It's a necessary evil, something that must be done. It cannot be done without damaging the one doing it, even for the best of reasons. It is indeed some of the best of men operating on the worst side of mankind. So the claim appears to be "You know, women can be just as bad as that. They should be allowed to absorb the same damage, engage in the same horror, indulge the same 'necessary evil' as men. They should not be protected or defended." It seems like a race to the lowest common denominator.

Look, what's the goal here? According to Mary Kassian on International Women's Day,
The message is that "true equality" requires that women be treated exactly the same as men. Women will not be equal until the sexes have interchangeable roles, interchangeable jobs, interchangeable responsibilities . . . and even an interchangeable identity. Equality means interchangeability. The sexes will not be "equal" until a man can metaphorically "cross-dress" as a woman, and a woman as a man—until husband and wife, mother and father are superfluous terms, and the world reflects a socialist, gender-neutral 50/50 division of labor in every sphere of life.
(Just a question, here. Why is it that men aren't trying to become "equal" with women? Why are no men suing to get onto women's sports teams? Why aren't parents lobbying to get their little boys into Girl Scouts? If it's all interchangeable, what's up with that? I'm just asking.)

Of course, as for the ridiculous idea that the military is "too white" and "too male", until someone can offer a reason that race or gender makes for better military leadership, I would just beg them to please stop talking. (Because, of course, when they do make that argument, it will either be racist or sexist.) And who was it that decided that "diversity" was, in itself, such a grand thing? I see where we're going from here and I don't like it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Ever Happened to Hell?

Recently I had a commenter go all silly on me explaining that there was no hell and any such thought was crazy. I didn't even post the comment. Too much nonsense. Imagine my surprise, then, when days after I wrote this piece about "nothing to say", Rob Bell releases a video promoting his new book entitled Love Wins in which, from all appearances, he plans to explain that "love wins" and there is no hell. And the Internet exploded with the conversation.

Dr. Al Mohler, in an essay entitled Doing Away with Hell, has begun his response. He starts with this:
Whatever happened to hell? What has happened so that we now find even some who claim to be evangelicals promoting and teaching concepts such as universalism, inclusivism, postmortem evangelism, conditional immortality, and annihilationism — when those known as evangelicals in former times were known for opposing those very proposals?
Now, I know there are some who were hoping to hear what I think about hell (it's a real place -- there, you have it) or maybe what I think about the controversy (see "it's a real place") or make some arguments on the topic. I'm not. At least not here. What I am wondering is ... what's all this then? What are these horrible things being included that Dr. Mohler finds so evil? I asked, of course, because I frankly didn't know. So I had to find out.

Universalism is easy. It is the belief that everyone goes to heaven. It is the belief that salvation is universal. Such a belief is, of course, problematic since there is so much in Scripture that contradicts it. Jesus Himself spoke more about hell than heaven. It wasn't some narrow-minded, mean-spirited, modern right-wing nut job who said, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt 7:13-14). This idea of universalism finds pitiful support in Scripture and vast contradiction. But there are those who hold to it.

Conditional immortality was new to me. I had to research that one. Turns out that it is closely related to annihilationism, so let's do that one first. Annihilationism is very popular in certain sects. This idea holds that no one goes to "eternal torment". Those who don't go to heaven simply cease to be. And, as it turns out, this is the basic concept behind conditional immortality. The idea there is that souls are not inherently eternal. Those to whom God has given eternal life will continue eternally, and those to whom He has not will not. Simple! This idea is not limited to the non-Christian Jehovah's Witnesses or the more Christian Seventh-Day Adventists. Names like Greg Boyd, John Stott, and Clark Pinnock are flaunted as supporters. This view, of course, requires the re-definition of clear biblical statements about the eternal torment of those who do not believe. It also represents a failure to properly understand God's definition of "life" (John 17:3).

I can figure out postmortem evangelism even if I've never really heard of it. The idea is "second chances". Christ can give everyone a second chance after they die. "Here you are, faced with an eternity of heaven or hell. Which do you choose now?" The fact that this is favored largely by people I consider dangerously heretical and the glaring lack of any suggestion of such a possibility in Scripture renders this one as nonsense to me.

Inclusivism was a new term to me (in this context). Pluralism sees all religions as valid. "All roads lead to heaven." That kind of thing. On the opposite extreme, exclusivism claims that only by faith in the finished work of Christ can anyone be saved. You know, standard historical orthodox Christian teaching. Inclusivism would fall between these two. Some forms lean toward pluralism -- "It's not the religion you believe, but the God you worship that matters. God can save anyone regardless of their religion." (I hope you can see the distinction between that view and pluralism. It is different ... slightly.) Leaning away from "regardless of their religion", others might say that Christ is capable of saving whom He will however He will. That is, while the only way to heaven is through Christ, it doesn't necessarily require mental knowledge of the story of His death and resurrection and all to be saved. This, then, would be a means of including dead infants and the like who never get the chance to hear or decide or those fabled pygmies in Africa who never hear.

As it turns out, the biblical concept of Hell appears to be a problem. While the Church hasn't balked at the idea for its entire time and the Scriptures seem abundantly clear on the idea that God may choose to eternally torment those who commit Cosmic Treason against the Most High, many have decided to be more compassionate than God. "That will never do," they assure us and the shift from God's holiness, wrath, and justice begins. "All that really matters," they're quite sure, "is His love. The rest is expendable." Well, no, they don't say it, but it's there.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Moral Autonomy

Free will -- that's the big issue. It's the reason that Arminians don't like Calvinists. It's the major sticking point for people who hear things like "moral inability." It's the objection that arises when I point to Scriptures that say that faith and repentance are gifts granted by God, not something that comes (originally) from us. It really is the objection to this huge, overarching perception I offer of the Sovereignty of God. The standard position on the Sovereignty of God is that God, in His sovereignty, has laid aside His complete sovereignty to give way to Man's Free Will. Anything less is unacceptable.

Free will, then, is the sticking point. It's odd to me because I believe in free will. But, of course, the objection will be raised that I do not. Why? Because I do not believe in absolute free will. I do not believe, for instance, that if God knows all things and knows that Bill over there (I'm pulling a random name out of a hat) will choose to eat Grape Nuts in the morning, then there is no possibility that Bill will not eat Grape Nuts in the morning. And, of course, I read the "cannots" of Scripture and take them to be real. Now, that's not quite fair, I know. Those who disagree with me wouldn't say, "They're not real." But you know what I mean. I take them at face value and others don't. Absolute free will would require that Natural Man is perfectly capable of understanding the things of God, for instance, and I cannot read 1 Cor 2:14 to see that as possible.

What is absolute free will? It is autonomy. Autonomy is a two-part word, where "nomy" refers to law and "auto" refers to self. Thus, autonomy is being self-ruled. It is independence, self-government. In terms of free will, it is the belief that I and I alone determine the choices I will make. When stated that way, can you hear the echoes of "I will be like the Most High"?

There is, in all of us, this problem of sin. Natural Man is slave to that problem. Those of the New Birth have a new nature to go to. But we all suffer from this problem and will until we die. We all have, then, a problem with being under another ... especially God. It is really hard (read "not natural") for us to see God's moral principles as good, pleasant, even freeing. Jesus said, "My burden is light", but, let's be honest -- we don't often see it that way. We generally see God's moral principles as oppressive. What we really want, you see, is moral autonomy. What we really want is to choose what we consider to be good and, as our own independent self-law, it would be good. We do not want people to tell us, "You know, sex outside of marriage is a sin" or, worse, "You know, God intended marriage to be for life." We don't want God meddling in our "fun stuff" because "fun" = "good" and we have free will and we really, deep down, want moral autonomy.

The idea that moral obligation is a cross to bear is a false idea. The Creator of the device that we know as "human" knows best how that device works. We are complicated beings with hidden operations and unseen nuances and only the Maker knows how everything operates. Absolute free will -- autonomy -- is a fabrication. It doesn't exist, not because God won't allow it, but because it is irrational. No one can make choices without influences. Without inclinations, all choices are random choices. Moral autonomy, on the other hand, is worse than a myth. It is dangerous. It assumes "I know what's best for me" and this is not true. Still, it is the demand of most humans that we be allowed to do what we please because "I will be like the Most High." Realizing that cause behind the call for moral autonomy ought to give us pause.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Because I Said So

There aren't too many parents out there who haven't said or, at least, thought to say this response when their dear little one, told to "Clean up your room", responds, "Why?" Of course, in their rational moments, almost all parents are not happy with that response. "We ought to tell them why." But it is the gut response so many times. So thoughtful, wise parents check their guts and try to respond appropriately, with a carefully thought out explanation of the BTUs involved when the stove is turned on and the likely damage to young skin when they put their hand on it, or the fact that visitors are coming and it is good to present a positive image when people come to call, so the room would need to be cleaned. And, as we all know, that works quite well.

I wasn't a proponent of that approach. I had a different view. When my kids were very young, I believed that the best response to their challenge of "why" was exactly that -- "Because I said so." On one hand, you have to know that the typical child who asks, "Why?" is not saying "So, oh wise Mommy, please share with me the wisdom of the ages because my young mind cannot grasp the motivation behind such a command and it would behoove me to learn from you." Yeah, that's not there. No, the child's "why" is a diversion tactic, and most adults know that. So feeding their diversionary tactics is simply feeding their rebellion.

The real problem, however, is not a simple recognition of the problem of a child's diversion. The real problem is the very human problem of rebellion, the very human problem of sin. You see, we would be like the Most High. We would be the authority in our lives ... even at a very young age. But God alone has that right. Jesus wasn't joking around when He said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matt 28:19). My authority as a father, then, comes from God. And the very truthful response to "Why?" is "Because I said so." As a parent, I felt it was incumbent upon me to teach my kids that "Because I said so" is a satisfactory reason to obey. Later, when obedience was learned, genuine questions of motivation could be asked and answered. But not at the beginning.

You see, when we ask, "Why?", there is an implied question of authority. What is being said in this question is "If you can supply me with a reason that I find suitable, I'll do it. If you cannot, I'm not willing." In this question, then, authority changes hands. "You may command me, [God or parent or whatever authority is in play], but I retain final approval."

It's a problem, today. The majority of folk are no longer convinced that there is any genuine authority except themselves. It's even true among Christians. But the issue of authority is key, especially for folks like me who believe in the Sovereignty of God and Election and Predestination and all that. "So," they will tell me, "if you believe in all that, why pray? Why share the gospel? Why do any of that?" And the easiest, most obvious, absolutely truthful reason is, "Because He said so." Oh, sure, there are other reasons, but that one is sufficient. But "Because He said so" for too many today, even in the church, is not enough. It's not enough to push them to defy societal norms, to stand on biblical morality, to believe what the Bible teaches rather than what the world feeds them. And it is predicated on "Why?" with the implied, "Give me a reason I like or don't count on me to obey."

I remember the day when I told my teenage son to do something and he responded with elegance. "Dad," he said, "I will certainly do what you told me to do. I am just wondering, could you tell me why? I'd like to understand." That's it. If I knew what "the cockles of my heart" were, I'd say that it warmed them. It is good to be able to examine why God wants us to do what He wants us to do as long as it is not predicated on a demand. It is wise to teach kids why we do what we do so they can understand, but not so they will submit. It helps when you stand on your own to know why you are doing what God (or what the authority that God has ordained at the time) says to do. We just cannot afford to make it a matter of authority. That question is settled, and we are not it.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Anthropogenic Climate Change

I know. I'd suspect that many of my readers don't believe in it. Some deny that there is any climate change. Others simply deny that it is anthropogenic. And, of course, there is a number of you who ask, "Okay ... what's 'anthropogenic'?" So, is there actually climate change caused by humans? Based on my belief that reality is defined by God, I'd have to say, "Yes!"
"You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes." Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified," says the LORD. "You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?" declares the LORD of hosts, "Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands" (Haggai 1:6-11).
I'd have to say that, biblically, there is such a thing. Well, technically, God does it, but He does it as judgment on human sin.

What was the problem in Haggai that caused God to bring this climate change about as a judgment against His people? Well, they were in Jerusalem, having returned to build the Temple. They were told, "Stop rebuilding the Temple" ... sixteen years before. Since then, Artaxerxes was gone and Darius was in. So, there they sat, fixing up their own houses, without paying any heed to the task for which they were sent. "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?" God asks (Haggai 1:4). It appears, then, that the problem was neglect of God's house because they were giving preference to their own. As a result, they would sow without harvest, eat without satisfaction, drink without sufficiency, dress without enough clothes, and earn money that simply slipped away.

I have to say, it sounds really familiar. It sounds a lot like American Christianity. We're really good at taking care of ourselves. We work hard at getting ahead. We have more than we need to eat, to drink, to wear. And still, somehow, we're not satisfied. Worse, there's a drought!

Now, I'm not suggesting, in fact, that "Global Warming" is God's judgment. I wouldn't begin to rule it out, but that's just not my point. My point is that we -- yes, we -- need to consider our ways. I know it is true with me, and I suspect I'm not alone. It is really easy to get more caught up in comfort than concern for God's interests. "I'll get to it, God," we think. But we're not. "That would cost me more than I can afford," crosses our minds. It won't. What we cannot afford is to place our own comfort over what God wants. No, what we really need is the response God gave them when they obeyed (Haggai 1:12) -- "'I am with you,' declares the LORD" (Haggai 1:13). That is what we need. And that would certainly be a change in the spiritual climate.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

"That's Not Fair!"

When the biblical doctrine of Election comes up (please keep in mind that the doctrine of Election is biblical from the start), there is one, single, most common objection voiced -- "That's not fair!" And, let's be honest -- it can seem unfair.

From the beginning God has chosen some. He chose Noah because "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." He chose Abraham and, by extension, Abraham's offspring. In fact, God makes it clear (Deut 7:7) that He didn't choose them because they were great. No, they were meager. He chose prophets. He chose disciples. He chose ... the list goes on and on. So certain are the New Testament writers of this doctrine that they simply assume it in almost all their writings. It's a given. So when Paul brings it up, he faces this question in Romans 9. Having told his readers that God chose Jacob over Esau purely on the basis of His purpose of election (Rom 9:9-13), he assumes the question: "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?" Or, in today's vernacular, "That's not fair!"

One of my great joys for the last several months has been the opportunity to have breakfast on Saturday mornings with my youngest son. It's a time to catch up, to talk, to share, to laugh, to think things through together. It's great. Recently he brought up this very topic. "That's not fair!" He asked himself, then, "What would be fair?" and found no satisfactory answers.

Let's think it through for a moment. Assuming that God does not choose people to save -- that it is purely our own choice and God simply "chooses" those who choose Him -- on what would we base our claim to "fair"? Would we consider it fair that we get to choose? First response, of course, is "Sure!" But wait! So you grew up in a pastor's house and the guy down the street grew up in an atheist home. Now is it fair? What about the guy who gets the gospel message through a botched up message? Now is it fair? What about the proverbial pygmy in Africa who never heard? Now is it fair? "Sure, it's fair. We each get to make our own choice!" Yes, but some are never offered the option of the choice. Now is it fair?

Me? Personally? I don't want fair. I don't want just. I find that we are all people worthy of damnation. I don't see me as better than those who refuse or those who never even get the chance to refuse. And if "fair" was the goal, the requirement would be that all would be damned.

Is it fair? I don't even think we have a method of measuring fair in this case. I don't think we have a valid basis to determine if it's fair. And, most of all, I don't think, when we really get down to it, that we really want fair. Give me unmerited, amazing grace any day. You can keep your "fair", whatever that means. Is it just? Sure. The Bible is certain about that. But you can keep your "fair" and I'll go with sheer gratitude for His mercy, grace, and love in choosing to save anyone at all, let alone me.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Periods

I grew up in California, but I actually got a fairly decent education. Hard to believe, I know. So my grammar is better than a lot today and my vocabulary is better than a lot today and I am more aware of proper sentence structure and such than most today. Oh, I'm not perfect at it, but I try to work at it.

It doesn't take a genius to know, for instance, that Jennifer Hudson's new song title, "Where You At?", is an English nightmare. (Try "Where are you?" or, less correct, "Where're you at?", but not that title.) But the truth is that it's getting much harder to even know what's right anymore. I was taught, for instance, that you never end a sentence with a preposition. (How many of today's American youngsters even know what a preposition is?) Of course, it's fairly common to violate that rule -- so common that it's not likely a rule anymore. That's one that I can think of. (See?) I normally write the possessive form of "Jesus" as "Jesus's" because that's actually the correct way to write it. It's not the common way (and I've even had some complain to me about it), but it's right even if it's obscure. Common usage (read "violations") has negated common rules and what used to be "poor writing" is the new "normal".

Now, if you read that last sentence, you'll find that I did, in fact, violate the rules. It is wrong to put that period at the end of the sentence outside the quotation mark. Yes, that's wrong. Why? Well, according to my reading, it's a question of typesetting. In the old days of typesetting, a period outside of a quotation mark could easily get knocked out of position. (It's the same basic reason that we were originally taught to put two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence.)

The problem for me, you see, is that it's not logical. I mean, I get it when you are writing a sentence within the quote marks.
Tina said, "Bob went to the show."
That period should be inside. I got it. No problem. But what if it's not a complete sentence?
They called themselves "Christians".
That is wrong. It should be, according to the rules, that the period would go inside the closing quotation mark. But that doesn't make sense. The stuff inside the quotation marks was not a sentence. The sentence that the period is ending occurred outside those marks. It's not logical.

Ah, well, such is life. As it turns out, it's primarily an American rule that the commas and periods (almost) always go inside the quotation marks. British English has no such rule. Well, I'm not British, so I guess I can't find solace there. Still, since I tend to think about what I write, perhaps I'll just keep doing it that way. I mean, it's correct somewhere in the world, right? If any of you find that it confuses you -- harms your understanding of what I'm saying -- you be sure to let me know, okay? That's really my aim, after all. You just say so and I'll see if I can get my periods to be conformist rather than logical.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Nothing to Say

I keep running into people with vehement arguments that end up with nothing to say.

Take, for instance, the atheists. Their argument is "no God". So ... what do we do with that? Well, nothing, really. There is no life after death. There is no basis for morality. There is no comfort when we lose loved ones. There is no significant purpose in life. There is nothing beyond the here and now. That's ... nothing. The outcome is not "Therefore you should ...", but ... nothing.

I recently had a comment from someone who wanted to argue that the concept of eternal damnation was not biblical. No one was going to hell. Everyone was going to heaven. God is love and we're all going to be okay. (I didn't post the comment because it was completely off topic, had no merit, linked to a heretical doctrine, and served no purpose to the discussion.) This is another one of those arguments with nothing to say. Never mind that it creates a streamlined Bible with all those harsh warnings of punishment and damnation removed. Set aside the fact that Jesus spoke more about Hell than Heaven. Forget the repeated biblical cautions to "examine yourself" and "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" and the like. In other words, to concur with the argument you'd need to disagree with just about every biblical writer out there. And forget about the fact that every Christian since the beginning of Christendom has agreed with the problem even if they haven't always agreed about the solution.

What you end up with is another argument with nothing to say. Assuming "We're all going to heaven", there's nothing to worry about. There's no need for morality, no need for grace, no function of faith, no point in obedience. You don't need to share the gospel. You don't need to believe in Jesus. Religion is pointless. It doesn't matter what you do in this life. It's okay. We're all going to heaven. Don't worry about it. So, you silly Christians with your ridiculous "gospel" and your foolish concern about "saved by faith" and "repent" and "sin" -- give it all up. Don't bother. Relax! And we're pointed to ... nothing.

Nothing to say. I'm sometimes amused by the people who speak long and hard about things that, in the final analysis, tell us to do nothing at all and offer us nothing at all. Sometimes. More often I'm saddened that people fall down those rabbit holes.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Questions Not Asked

In the many discussions and musings in which we moderns engage, it seems like there is almost as many questions not asked as questions asked. Oh, I don't mean mere questions. I mean pertinent, important questions.

Take, for instance, the discussion some time ago about what Paul meant when he said, "There is none who does good; no, not one." I contended he meant what he said. The more popular convention was ... that he didn't. There were a variety of options. He was engaging in hyperbole. He was speaking about a majority. Shades and nuances, but he did not mean "there is none who does good." The question that was not asked, then, was, "Well, what did he mean?" I mean, assuming the hyperbole conclusion, what did Paul mean by that hyperbole? Hyperbole is a tool of the language whereby we make an obvious exaggeration to make an important point. When Mark wrote "the whole city was gathered together at the door" (Mark 1:33), we don't need to assume that he actually meant that the whole city -- every man, woman, child, horse, donkey, house, everyone and everything -- was there. He simply told us that it was a large crowd. That is, his hyperbole told us that it was a really large crowd -- larger than "a large crowd" would convey. So what did Paul mean? He emphasized "no, not one." What did he mean? Well, that question didn't get asked. And the general conclusion seemed to be, "Well, everybody does some good," which simply served to cancel anything that the hyperbole might have meant.

Consider Jesus's command, "If your hand offends you, cut it off." Most people don't get beyond "Well, He didn't mean to actually cut your hand off" to ask, "So, what did He mean?"

What prompted this musing, however, was not a biblical question. It was a societal question. You see, society today has determined that children are important. No, that's not right. Children are absolutely important. Okay, I'm not saying this right. Here's the idea. A hundred years ago (or less) in America a father would have taught his children, "You do what I say." They would have grown up following their father's instructions. No one would have thought, "What kind of a dictator is he?" In my father's day, his father looked over his list of college classes and asked, "Where's your math? Where's your physics? Where are the engineering courses? Go change it." And a month into the semester without even batting an eye, my college-age father obeyed his father and changed his course of studies from forest ranger to engineer. No one thought that was cruel. My father didn't. His father didn't. They actually believed "father knows best". Well, our society is much wiser now. We realize that the real wisdom of the ages is found in the youth. No good father would fail to consult with his children about what he wanted them to do. No good father is a dictator. He must get permission to tell them what to do. Well, okay, we know that doesn't quite make sense, but you get the idea. Fathers do not tell their children what to do. At least consult with them. It's what a good father would do.

And I wonder about the question not asked. If fathers do not know best -- if parents are not the ones to decide what's best for their children -- who is? It appears that the assumption is "the child". That makes sense, right? This little one -- less than 18 years of experience, knowledge, and wisdom -- knows far better than any adult will know, let alone a parent who loves him. Yeah, that makes sense. I recall to mind the Mark Twain quote.
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years.
He got it. But our society hasn't figured it out. Kids are not the wise ones. But it appears that, once we've determined that father does not know best, we are not going to ask, "So ... who does?" And the only possible assumption with the question not asked is that the kids obviously know what's best for themselves. We are currently bearing the consequences of this position in our schools and our society.

There are more, I'm sure. Lots more. "We are destroying our environment!" isn't followed with, "So, what should we do?" "You shouldn't take away our benefits!" isn't followed with, "So, where do you recommend we get the money we don't have to pay for your benefits?" "We don't want our government!" isn't followed with, "So ... what government do you want?" It seems common. Robert Frost wrote of the road not taken. I'm concerned about the questions not asked.