Like Button

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallows Eve

What is this thing called "Halloween"? And why are Christians either deeply outraged or having anything at all to do with it?

Well, as it turns out, the early Christian church celebrated an "All Saints Day", a remembrance for martyred Christians. And, of course, since all church holidays have an "eve", the day before was "All Hallows Eve", a holy time set aside to prepare for All Saints Day. Well, as is our wont, "All Hallows Eve" shortened over time to "Hallow-e'en" to "Halloween", effectively removing all connection with anything hallowed ... or eve-ish. (Wait a minute! Does this sound like another complaint about words? Well, maybe, but you can fill that in yourself.)

Over time, the church took pains to "redeem" their world. So, for instance, they "redeemed" December 25th from its pagan origins to make it the day they celebrated Christ's birth. This same approach was taken with the All Saints Day celebration. Druids celebrated the Samhain festival from October 31 through November 2. The church decided to "redeem" that event by placing its All Saints Day in the middle of it, and, presto-chango, October 31st became "Halloween".

Here's the problem, of course. While perhaps the church was somewhat successful in redeeming December 25th from the pagan rituals of its day, they failed to do so in the case of Halloween. While the Celtic people celebrated darkness and death in their festival, the Christian version of Halloween didn't seem to change at all. While the pagans celebrated the occult, Halloween seems to have retained that celebration. So "bobbing for apples", a call for a blessing on a couple's romance, was retained. Jack o'lanterns originally placed outside to scare off wandering spirits are still placed outside to beckon wandering children. The practice of offering gifts to haunting spirits in order to send them on their way is retained in the "trick-or-treat" practices today. In fact, nearly all Halloween practices today are derived from pagan rituals. Rather than redeeming the day, they succumbed to it.

Today, Halloween serves as a unique "holiday". It is the opportunity to celebrate everything evil. Even the liberal Huffington Post includes stories about the sexualization of little girls in Halloween costumes. Death, gore, zombies, vampires (Did you know that a "vamp" is defined as "a woman who uses her sexuality to entrap and exploit men" and comes from "vampire"?), skeletons, even evil clowns -- all of this is fair game and normal stuff on Halloween. Adults find the celebration a unique opportunity for revelry. There is typically no "family" involved on this holiday; it's a "friends" thing. You're not buying gifts for people, so its just the opportunity to be outlandish and self-centered. While most won't actually think in terms of real demons, they will certainly celebrate the concept. Indeed, since the concept of "real demons" means nearly nothing to most people, it simply serves to 1) tie them to the concept while 2) immunizing them against it.

So, what's a thinking Christian to do? Lots of churches today offer a counterpoint. They might plan a "Harvest Festival" so your kids can dress up without dressing up as demons and witches and still get their jack o'lantern-and-trick-or-treat fixes. It's a good night to invite non-Christian friends and sneak in a tract or a Gospel message. Other churches engage in "Hell House" evangelism. They'll make an alternative "haunted house", replacing demons and witches with abortions and the consequences of sin.

Others respond almost militaristically. "No! We will not take part in any way on this demonic night of revelry!" I've had some tell me that this particular night belongs to Satan. The fact that actual Satan-worship-related crime is no greater on Halloween than any other time is irrelevant. The fact that God remains just as Sovereign on October 31st as He was on October 30th is beside the point. Some just don't participate at all with the idea that we are to "come out from among them and be separate". Still others participate with the Gospel, handing out tracts to kids rather than (or, perhaps, in addition to) candy.

Others just go along. They reason "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). They figure there is nothing intrinsically sinful about dressing up your daughter as a princess or your son as Spiderman and visiting neighbors and getting some candy. Sure, pagans used to carve pumpkins to ward off evil spirits, but not all carved pumpkins are for that purpose. What's the big deal? All in good fun.

I've read my Bible cover to cover. For some reason I can't find a single command, "Thou shalt not participate in anything related to Halloween." Odd, isn't it? So what do I conclude? Well, there are things we are to avoid. Involving ourselves in the occult -- witchcraft, divination, necromancy, etc. -- is specifically mentioned. Don't do it. We are expected to be distinct, separate, apart from the sins of the world, and revelry and celebration of evil is clearly not part of that. Don't do it. And we are commanded to be lights in a dark world, to share the Gospel in word and deed. Do that! How you apply all that is up to you. Whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23). Don't violate your conscience for this. Conversely, Martin Luther, the great Reformer, said "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn." Running from Satan on a night that does not belong to him is not a good idea either. You decide what a good idea is within the bounds of biblical command, keeping in mind that we belong to God and are His representatives in this world. Let that be your guide.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Perfect Storm

On September 11, 2012, a group of armed assailants attacked and overran the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including the ambassador, died in that attack. As the smoke from the attack drifted off, Hillary Clinton and then the president informed America of the assault and the deaths. It was, we were assured, the result of protestors-gone-bad over an anti-Muslim Internet video. A small group of bad people. Others tried to help, even carting the dying ambassador off to the hospital. "We’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video," Hillary assured us.

Of course, it didn't take long for that story to collapse under the weight of the lies. It turns out that the embassy was warned in advance by the Libyans that the attack was coming, that requests for more security before the event were denied, that the attack was not due to the video (although the president via the American media did an effective job of notifying the rest of the Muslim world that such an offense existed about which they could riot), that the government knew all this, and that there was even military force available that was denied during the attack.

Let's see if we have all this, then. 1) The White House lied ... and then ran off to Vegas to campaign. 2) An American has been arrested (and, oddly enough, his bail hearing is set for 3 days after the election) for a video that did not cause the events. 3) The State Department knew about the event in advance and didn't act. 4) Military relief during the attack was denied by some authority higher than the CIA. (Hmmm ... who is higher than the CIA?) Still, the Obama campaign has fallen back to bayonets, binders, and Big Bird as its primary offensive without responding to all this.

Hurricane Sandy has been dubbed "Frankenstorm", another "perfect storm". Lots of rain and damage and such. How is this stuff from Benghazi not the "perfect storm" here at the edge of electing a president? (And, remember, "Pay no attention to that looming $16 trillion debt behind the curtain!")

Monday, October 29, 2012

Confident and Judgmental

Recently Denny Burk, an Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, wrote a response to Rachel Held Evans on the Today Show. Good response. All well and good. What was interesting was the comments. One commenter said, "I’m reminded of Paul saying in Acts 20:30 that 'from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.'" Another commenter responded to that comment with "That’s an intense verse to hurl at your sister in Christ. ... Please search for grace in the Bible you love before condemning your sister in the faith." To which another commenter commented, "'Sister in the faith?' What makes you think this woman is saved? ... She needs to repent of her blasphemy against our Lord and ask forgiveness from the Christian church and recant from the lies and slander she has spread across the internet." From there it devolved into a fight rather than a discussion of the post or its merits.

I don't offer Burk's post as a standalone argument. I offer it as an example. I've heard it a lot myself before. Too judgmental. Too arrogant. "We don’t get to judge others and decide when they need to repent." One thing that is universal, it seems, is that it is wrong to be sure.

And then I read this:
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth (1 Tim 6:3-5).
Wow, Paul, I mean, wow! Apparently you didn't get the memo. We don't get to judge others. It is wrong to be that judgmental. Your confidence is commendable, I'm sure, but, look, you're only human, right? What makes you so sure you're right and they're wrong?

Christians, like all humans, can tend to be abrasive when they're sure. (Don't be deceived into thinking it's a "Christian" or even a "religious right" thing. Atheists and liberals are just as confident about their views and just as judgmental of those who disagree.) However, based on Scripture (and reason), it seems as if there certainly is a time for us to be sure, to be confident, and even to be condemning of false teaching and false teachers. Anything else would not be biblical ... or loving.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Unique Sovereignty

Anyone who has, for much time, read what I write knows where I stand on the Sovereignty of God. I capitalize the term "Sovereignty" because this sovereignty is in a category all its own. I use the word in a sense that exceeds our standard usage. We have "sovereigns". We understand "sovereign powers". In human existence, there are people who are "in charge" -- "sovereign". Their charge is limited, of course. Their powers are limited. Their domain is contained. And, let's face it, even within these limitations they are only just "sovereign". An absolute monarch of the realm, for instance, couldn't actually dictate all the actions of his subjects. He could try, but they would always be free to violate his commands. At best, they may disobey simply out of ignorance. Nor are we ourselves ultimately sovereign over ourselves. We do things that violate what we want. Maybe it's physical. I mean, when I suffer from heartburn, it's not because I choose to. Maybe it's feelings. I know each of us has feelings we don't want. And I've never met a Christian who is satisfied with his or her own Christianity. We want to be much more, but we are not absolutely sovereign even over ourselves, so we fall short.

God's Sovereignty, then, falls in a different category. It is His Sovereignty in which I rest, His genuine Sovereignty that gives me hope. In a world where our political choices are "bad" and "worse" (and don't kid yourself; they've always been thus), the comfort that God is, in all cases, ultimately Sovereign is comfort indeed. When terrorists strike or criminals accost or disease causes dis-ease, knowing that a good and powerful Sovereign is in charge is the only place to go for any real peace. Many try to strip off God's absolute Sovereignty. I won't go there myself.

The problem, of course, is that this kind of Sovereignty -- the one with the capital "S" -- doesn't exist elsewhere. What makes me think it exists in God? Here's what Paul said to Timothy. He told him
to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will display at the proper time -- He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, Whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen (1 Tim 6:14-16).
Do you see that? When it comes to Sovereignty, Paul says that there is only one. He is the "only Sovereign." We have heard of "the King of kings and Lord of lords", but often miss the impact. There is none higher. There is none other that is absolute. There is only one.

To Him, then, be honor and eternal dominion! Amen!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

This Just In ...

According to Campus, "The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill has removed the word 'freshman' from official university documents, citing as their reason an attempt to adopt more 'gender inclusive language.'"

Fascinating. Once again the necessity to not hurt anyone's feelings instead of using language and concepts as intended has resulted in further foolishness. Now, to be fair, it's not some deep devotion to the term "freshman" that has me commenting on this. It's just an illustration of uninformed stupidity.

You know, if I were going to eliminate a term from "official university documents", it wouldn't be "freshman". I mean, really ... who cares? No, for me it would be "sophomore". Apparently no one knows what that one means. Rooted in Greek, it comes from sophos, "wise", and moros, "foolish, dull." (Hint: moros is the root for our word, "moron".) That's right. A "sophomore" is most literally someone who thinks themselves wise but is actually foolish. Nor am I being outlandish. What does "sophomoric" mean? What do we mean when we describe something as acting like a sophomore? It means "conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature." That is what it means to be a sophomore. But that isn't offensive. "Freshman" is.


In other news, who does the world want to win our election? According to the BBC, the world favors Obama over Romney by an unbelievable margin. Interestingly, the biggest support from Obama comes from the socialist nation of France. Huh. Now, when I consider that most of the world hates the U.S., that gives me pause. Would we be wise to elect the guy that those who would like to see us fail prefer? I'm just sayin'.

I love this ad from a local candidate. (And what a candidate! She is on public record as declaring that stay-at-home moms are leeching off their husbands or boyfriends. She favors every possible tax increase and new spending. Okay, not every possible increase; only for those who make $75,000 or more. The New York Times lauded her as a leftist extremist. Beyond this, two special groups are hoping she wins. She would be the first Congresswoman in office as a openly-avowed bisexual and an openly-avowed atheist.) So what is it that is so interesting in this ad? Here's what she says: "I sponsored this ad so I can change Washington and get things done." That's it. There you go. Those are her goals. What change? Oh, she's not saying. Get what done? Nope ... nothing. Indeed, I have to admit it's the first time I actually believe a campaign promise. If she does get elected, her presence will be a change in Washington (because she hasn't been in Congress before) and she will have gotten that done. Whoopee! A success! No ... really ... what?

I do have to wonder sometimes when ads cross the line from "attack" to slander. One local ad against a Republican congressional candidate is a classic example. "He's fighting for his principles," it begins. "He is trying to eliminate what is bad." So, what is bad? They show you a picture of a little school girl. Yeah, that's what he's up for. They move from "He wants to eliminate the Department of Education" to "He wants to destroy your children's education." Now, wait! I'm not really following that particular race and I'm not really up on that particular candidate, but I'm pretty sure it is not his goal to destroy education. Pretty sure. But, then, "truth in advertising" laws, sadly, don't apply to political ads. So, don't slander laws?

You know, if I were to judge by the news, I'd have to conclude that "who gets elected president" is moot. Fortunately, my world is not defined by the news media.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is God Sovereign?

I have long asserted that God is Sovereign. Not merely sovereign (lowercase "s"), but Sovereign. I believe that the Bible teaches that nothing happens by chance or accident, but that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). Oddly, I believe that because, well, the Bible says it. As a huge example, the indisputably worst sin of all time -- the false arrest and subsequent cruel and wanton murder of the Son of God -- was ordained by God. It was His plan before Jesus was ever born and was carried out be evil men who were anointed by God "to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:28). It's a fine line. The claim is not that God causes sin, but that God intends sin to achieve His good purposes (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28). Thus, sin is still evil and sinners are culpable for their sin, but God remains Sovereign and works all things after the counsel of His will.

I'd have to guess, however, that the entire unbelieving world and, likely, the vast majority of the believers in this world disagree with that assessment. Here, test yourself and see. In a debate this last Tuesday night Indiana GOP U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock made this statement on the question of abortion:
You know, this is that issue that every candidate for federal or even state office faces.

And I, too, certainly stand for life.

I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view but I believe that life believes at conception.

The only exception I have for – to have an abortion is in that case for the life of the mother.

I just – I struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen.
Romney's camp, who has endorsed Mourdock, offered this statement: "Mr.Mourdock's comments do not reflect Gov. Romney's views." The press has practically taken up arms at this "extremist" remark and seem ready to hang the entire GOP for it. The president has called on Romney to fully disown Mourdock for his "rape comments".

I was interested at the delivery, myself. Mourdock was clearly disturbed by his own statement. That is, he knew when he was about to make it that it was hard to swallow and wouldn't go over well. And I looked carefully to see what he claimed. The statement was about life, not rape. Using standard English, the subject of his statement "it is something that God intended to happen" is not rape, but life. Still, it's not clear if anyone actually heard that.

So we're left with a dilemma. Apparently it is not the position of Mitt Romney that life occurs by God's intent. Nor is it the position of Obama (quite clearly since he is by far the most pro-abortion president we've ever put in office). Nor is it the position of the unbelieving world or, apparently, most of the believing world. Therefore, it can only be concluded that life occurs by accident. "No, that's a leap." No, that's the only possibility. Surely you can't argue that life occurs by God's intent when it's not rape, but by accident when it is. That's as crazy as Rep. Todd Akin's stupid comments that women's bodies prevent pregnancy in cases of rape!

What is your response? Is life an accident or is it God's intent? Does life that occurs in a rape occur by God's intent or is it an accident? Does justice demand that we imprison the rapist and murder the victim of that rape, the unborn child? But the broader question is the one I started with. Is God Sovereign? Or is He only mostly sovereign, kind of handcuffed, tied down to His creation and sometimes overwhelmed by sinners? Mourdock's statement is that God is Sovereign and life occurs by His design. Is that false, or do you stand with the "extremist"? More to the point, is it more extreme to say that God is Sovereign even in matters of sin or that He is not sovereign?

As a postscript, I need to address the question I did not address in the post. By his words and by his subsequent clarifying remarks since, Mourdock did not intend to say that rape was God's will. I've been asked, however, "Do you see how that is offensive to rape victims and their loved ones, to hear someone saying, 'You know, don't you, that your rape is part of God's will ... that God's desire was for you to be raped, so that even that wrong could be used for God's glory?'"

First, this tells me that people (not just the questioner, but apparently a lot of them) were not listening. Mourdock argued that life is God's will, even if it occurs by means of rape. I don't actually believe that Mourdock believes in the Sovereignty of God. He just believes in a bigger view of God's sovereignty than most. Most would argue that pregnancy by rape cannot be God's will, so murdering a baby who is a product of rape is not wrong. So be it. If your view of justice allows for the imprisonment of a rapist and the murder of one of his victims, then you have, from my perspective, an odd view of justice.

But in response to the question, I would first point out that I stated at the beginning that Scripture quite clearly states that God intends to use the evil that men intend for His good purposes. It was undeniable in the case of Joseph. It was undeniable in the case of Christ. Should I then conclude that these are the exceptions, and that all other cases occur outside of God's control? Do I conclude that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" ... except when bad things happen?

The second question I would ask appears to have no answer. If we assume that God has no intent when evil occurs -- that evil occurs completely outside of God's will (with all the attending troubles with Scripture that such a position would include) -- then what are we to tell the rape victim? "Yes, very sad. No, no, God didn't intend it. It wasn't His will. Oh, sure, He could have intervened and stopped it, but He didn't. Sorry. Bad things happen. God was either unwilling or unable to prevent it in your case. Take comfort in that." Is that really the best we can offer? Is that really a superior position?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

No Disassemble

Some of you may recall the movie, Short Circuit, where a robot gets shocked into living. He learns, in time, that they plan to disassemble him to figure out what happened and he also learns that "disassemble" to a robot is the same thing as "dead" to a human. "No disassemble!" he cries. And I would ask for the same thing in some areas of language.

Take, for instance, "marriage". I've complained about this for years. To today's speakers I say, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Originally the concept had content that is today not only lost, but causes offense if brought up. It included a "man of the house", the "head of house". He was the one responsible for providing, for decision making, for defending, for training. His wife was responsible to him and carried out all sorts of legitimate responsibilities, but under the protective umbrella and guidance of her husband. Children weren't an option; they were expected. They were a key components of this concept called "marriage". And something that was not to happen in this venue was the end of marriage because lifelong commitment was paramount.

Today, of course, there is hardly a vestige of that concept remaining. Men are no longer to be manly in any sense, but to "get in touch with your feminine side" and your "inner child". Any suggestion of male leadership or primary responsibility is sexism at its worst. We've moved so far from that original concept that there are those arguing for the elimination of males entirely when science provides a reliable way to reproduce humans without them. All that's bad in the world is from males. And children? No, thanks. Not now. Maybe later. Maybe. If I can fit them into my busy schedule of getting ahead for myself. Submission? What, are you crazy? "Lifelong commitment"? Don't be naive. Marriage? What's that?

Another painful example of this disassembling of language is the perspective in Christendom known as "Evangelical". Now, let's not get that confused. Evangelism is where we share the good news. Good. But "Evangelical" is its own concept. From the webpage of the National Association of Evangelicals,
Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

* Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a "born-again" experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
* Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
* Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
* Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity.
Evangelicalism is a movement that began in the 17th century and was renewed in the 19th century as a response to the decline of a classic understanding of Christianity. While the liberal perspective shifted to an "many roads to heaven" perspective, Evangelicalism pointed to Jesus's claim to being the only way. As the "hyper" community eased up on spreading the gospel, Evangelicalism called on a renewed missionary effort. While satanic forces hewed away at a high view of the Word of God, Evangelicalism called for a stand on that Word as a viable and valuable and reliable source on matters of faith and practice. "Evangelical", then, meant all those things. It was primarily a counter to the liberal shift of Christendom that tends to crop up repeatedly.

Now meet Rachel Held Evans, the author of a new book entitled A Year of Biblical Womanhood and the poster child for the new Evangelical. She was seen on NBC's Today Show recently talking about how ludicrous conservative Christians are and how the Bible cannot be trusted to provide up-to-date input on living. She "proved" it by spending an entire year living a "biblical womanhood" life. She spent her menstrual periods in a tent, held up signs at the entrance to town to tell people how wonderful her husband was, made her own clothes, all the things that the Bible requires of women. Oh, you missed those parts? Yeah, well, her point is made, then, isn't it? She (and her interviewer) classifies herself as an "Evangelical". She considers herself a "lousy Evangelical because she discards "inerrancy" and admits "As a woman, I’ve been nursing a secret grudge against the Apostle Paul for about eight years", but still an Evangelical. She argues for inclusivism, the notion that people will be saved apart from Christ, and argues against exclusivism, that silly notion that Christ is the only way. (You know, that silly idea from the lips of Christ Himself.) (She assures us that Evangelicalism "doesn’t mean exclusivism.") As for Scripture, well, it's all well and good, but neither Old nor New Testament are really authoritative now. No, what she does it looks for ways that help her love her neighbor as Jesus commanded and ignores the rest. Subjective, self-canonical, subjugating.

Now, mind you, I'm not saying that Rachel Held Evans is wrong. That's not my point. My point is that the term "Evangelical" has meaning ... or, more precisely, had meaning. It had a point. It had a purpose. It was a concept, like "marriage", with content. Now? Now it has been disassembled. Now identifying an "Evangelical" is pointless because the term is meaningless. "Christian"? Another example. I remember when I was young the question they used to ask was "Are you saved?" After awhile that phrase became meaningless, so they switched to "Are you born again?" After awhile, that phrase became meaningless so they switched to "Do you know Jesus?" Of course, that one is long gone, too. We keep having to reinvent terms to say what we mean because the terms we've been using get stolen, mangled, twisted, and discarded.

To Johnny 5 of Short Circuit, "disassemble" meant death. We have been disassembling important concepts ourselves for some time, and we can't seem to put them back together at all. It started with "Did God say ...?" and we've been at it ever since. For concepts like "marriage" and "Evangelical", it spells death. We're losing important concepts. At some point communication becomes tedious at best. Not a good thing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Advantages of Suffering

Okay, here's what we know. We know that there is a God who is both good and loving. We know also that He is omnipotent. All of that together suggests that God could have created a world where His creation was comfortable, good, undisturbed. No one suffers. No one dies. A happy, pleasant world. Indeed, it is the world we anticipate once this life is over for those who believe. So it must be possible.

The skeptic, of course, will point and say, "See? Your God could do it but didn't, so if He exists, He's evil." This, of course, is a logical leap. First, a universe without a God cannot have anything defined as "evil" to start with, so it's a circular failure. Second, it makes assumptions not supported. The primary assumption is that it's always bad for anyone (apparently any creature at all) to suffer. And I think this is a problem.

Is it possible that pain and suffering could have positive values? We would, of course -- all of us -- balk at that. But is it possible? I would suggest that it is. For such a possibility to exist, the first thing that would be required would be pain and suffering administered by a good, loving, omnipotent being so that it is the right pain and suffering. That has to be a given. Unplanned, unaimed, uncontrolled pain and suffering isn't good. Random pain and suffering is random. But it is possible that, planned and controlled, it can serve a good purpose. That requires a Being that can control what we creatures cannot.

The Bible has more than a little to say on the subject. What does the Bible suggest about suffering?

1. In a general sense we are told "that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). In that claim, "all things" would include suffering. In a specific example of brothers who sought to kill and then to enslave their brother, Joseph told them, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result" (Gen 50:20). That is, the evil was real and intended, but God intended for it to produce a good result ... and it did. God, therefore, intends suffering to produce good results.

2. Paul says, "If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation" (2 Cor 1:6). Why? Paul says that God "comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor 1:4). Suffering, then, equips us to help others deal with suffering.

3. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about his famous "thorn in the flesh", a "messenger of Satan to torment me" (2 Cor 12:7). Paul repeatedly begs God to remove it and God does not. The result is interesting. God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). Paul's response is not a heavy sigh and the certainty that God just doesn't understand and isn't fair. No, his response is, "I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Cor 12:9). True strength is found in our weaknesses met by God's strength (2 Cor 12:10).

4. James, perhaps on the edge of lunacy, tells his readers, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials" (James 1:2). Ummm, yeah, Jim. Thanks. Now, perhaps you need to see a doctor. No, he explains further. Why should we count it all joy when we suffer? Because when we suffer and rejoice we do so "knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:3-4). Suffering, guided by God, produces completion in the believer. Ultimately, there is great reward -- the Crown of Life -- to those who persevere in suffering (James 1:12).

5. The Book of Hebrews has a somewhat startling statement on suffering. About Jesus, the author says, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Heb 5:8). Now, Jesus was God incarnate. But Hebrews says He "learned obedience from the things which He suffered". That is, Christ learned what it meant to suffer, what it meant to represent us. He experienced our pain and our temptations without succumbing to either. We, too, learn obedience from suffering.

6. Part of suffering is "striving against sin". Scripture says, "Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him" (Heb 12:5). Indeed, "The Lord disciplines the one He loves and chastises every son whom He receives" (Heb 12:6). Sure, "for the moment all discipline seems painful," "but it later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it" (Heb 12:11).

No, we don't like suffering. We don't like pain. Death is unpleasant. But simply because we don't like something doesn't mean that it's bad, and simply because we don't currently see the value in something doesn't mean it has no value. The Bible says the reverse is true. Suffering is to our benefit when administered and controlled by a loving God who intends it for good. Instead of something to complain about and worry over, it is a gift granted by God (Phil 1:29) to those whom He loves. It isn't merely a worldly concept -- "no pain, no gain." And in the hands of the Almighty, the gain is great.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

After All The Talking

John Piper recently wrote a piece entitled "I Am Going to Vote". In the piece he said, "It seems to me that the good that can be done, presumably by the protest of not voting, is mainly done by talking about not voting rather than by not voting. Then it also seems that this same good would be accomplished if those who thought they would not vote did all that talking, but then voted."

I've done more than just a little talking about my problem with voting for Romney (or not). In the end, I agree with Piper. I voted.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Informed by Faith

In the Vice Presidential debate, Paul Ryan was asked about the role of his faith in his thinking. When John F. Kennedy was asked, he assured the American public that faith was private and public service was public and each was distinct. Ryan, on the other hand, did not. "I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do."

This, of course, is outrageous today. Adam Gopnik in a piece for The New Yorker considered it "genuinely disturbing and scary". He considered it "a mullah's answer". And that, of course, couldn't be more disturbing or scary. All who answer to a higher power with any real force of obedience and submission are as terrifying as the suicide bomber. You're entitled to believe, but not in public. (Note, by the way, that Ryan's answer differed largely from that of a mullah. Ryan's answer said that faith "informs us in everything we do", not "directs us".)

I started, in my own imagination, a thought experiment. Given an atheist and a Christian and, say, a Buddhist as president, how would it look in decision making? Obviously I would stylize and generalize, but the goal is to examine how one's frame of reference -- one's faith -- would affect public decisions. Take, for instance, the question of abortion.

The Atheist: "Well, there is no fundamental 'human worth' to consider. The only rational determination of what is or isn't good would be what the individual perceives is good. Therefore, if a woman perceives that it is good to end the life of her unborn child for whatever reasons she sees fit, it's good."

The Buddhist: "It's wrong to destroy life so generally I'd think it was wrong to abort an unborn baby. However, since I'm quite sure that the next step for that child would be rebirth as another child, it's not cut and dried. If the pregnancy would produce a child with adverse medical conditions, suffering is bad and terminating that child's life would be good."

The Christian: "Humans are designed in the image of God. They are assigned, by God, the value of being in His image. Therefore, all human life has value and, generally speaking, intentionally terminating that life at any point in the continuum of life from conception to death would be wrong. Abortion, then, would necessarily be wrong."

Or how about questions about sexual morality?

The Atheist: "Really, morality is whatever you think is good. There is no overarching, all-encompassing moral code. Therefore, engaging in sexual activity when you want to is a good idea if you want to do it. Contraception, premarital sex, adultery, or whatever other issues you might consider are all a matter of individual preference. Now, about that 'gay marriage' question ... what was the question? Like all other questions, if it feels good, do it."

The Buddhist: "While Buddhism does not teach that reproduction is a high priority, we do favor sex in marriage. We don't consider having children a religious duty. We oppose contraception that terminates a life because we opposed killing, but contraception that prevents life in the first place is fine. We are not in favor of pursuing pleasure, though, so sex for pleasure isn't particularly moral in our way of thinking. Indeed, to be the best you can be, loss of all sexual desire would be a good thing. On the 'gay marriage' question, marriage is a social institution and should align with whatever the social institutions desire. Besides, we don't actually believe in anything like 'sin'. There is 'wholesome' and 'unwholesome', but we have no god to whom we must answer. Buddha, actually, didn't seem to oppose any sexual relations including bestiality, necrophilia, or pedophilia. They may not all be equally wholesome and the ultimate goal is to eliminate all desire, but they aren't classified as sin."

The Christian: "God designed marriage and sex for reproduction. In doing so, He designed it to be pleasurable. When sex is outside of the marriage covenant, it is not a beautiful thing and should be avoided. When sex is included as part of marriage, it is a beautiful thing to be thoroughly enjoyed by husband and wife, generally with an eye toward reproduction. Oh, and I think that clearly answers the 'gay marriage' question as well."

A couple of examples of how one's faith "informs us in everything we do." It doesn't matter what your "faith" is. The real question, then, is "What is your faith?", not "Can you separate your faith from your public life?" The ridiculous notion that one's faith can be set aside in matters of public service is nonsense and even detrimental. Our faith or even the lack thereof informs the kind of person that we are. Or, to put it another way, you always act on what you truly believe. Conversely, then, if you are able to separate faith and practice in public or private life, you don't actually believe.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


One of God's attributes, by virtue of His omniscience, is His foreknowledge. What is foreknowledge? Well, that's easy. It's knowing in advance. Or ... is it?

The biblical use of the term is interesting. Every reference in the New Testament to God's foreknowledge is in terms of people. Never events. Now, why would that be so? If God is omniscient, He would know every event in advance. Foreknowledge, right? As far as it goes, it is true. But apparently Scripture means something slightly different, slightly more.

In Acts 2:23, Peter speaks of "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Christ is the object. In Romans 8:29, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son." That "whom" is "those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). In Romans 11:2, Paul says of Israel, "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew." Israel is the point of that foreknowledge. Peter writes to those "who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:1-2). Biblical foreknowledge is not about merely knowing things in advance; it's about God's relationship with people in advance.

Even the unbelievers know the concept "to know someone in a biblical sense". You remember how that works. Some time after Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden, "Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived" (Gen 4:1). It's a repeated phrase. This use of "know" is not merely knowledge, but intimacy. Jesus uses it in a similar way in Matthew 7 when He speaks to the false prophets who claim to be His followers, "I never knew you" (Matt 7:23). Well, of course He knew them. He's omniscient. But He never had a relationship with them.

That's the biblical concept of God's foreknowledge. It isn't knowing events in advance. It's not a prior knowledge of what you will or won't do. Oh, He has that information, to be sure, but that's not what's in view. The concept is that God has a relationship with His own before they have one with Him. His love extends to the elect before they share theirs with Him. And this foreknowledge -- this prior relationship -- was "before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4) ... just as Jesus "was foreknown before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20).

Listen, that's all good news. God chooses whom He will. He does it based on His own purposes and plans. He does it aside from your merit. "It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Rom 9:16). That is such good news!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Rise of the Nones

Have you seen this? (Probably.) According to the latest Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study, there is a growing number of "nones". That's their term. According to the study, some 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation. (See? "Nones.")

Of course, you need to be careful there. Of the unaffiliated, less than 30% are atheist or agnostic. The rest are ... spiritual but not religious. (Reminds me of Steve Taylor's It's a Personal Thing, a song premised on a politician giving speeches as he runs for office -- kind of appropriate these days:
It's a personal thing, and I find it odd
That you'd question my believing in a personal God.
I'm devout, I'm sincere, ask my mother if you doubt it.
I'm religious, but I'd rather not get radical about it.
The old-time believers had timidity and grace
But this new generation doesn't know its place.
You're entitled to believe, but the latest Gallup Poll
Says you mustn't interfere -- that's the government's role.)
Of the unaffiliated who were not atheist or agnostic, 41% saw religion as somewhat to very important and 62% identified themselves as either religious or spiritual. (How is it possible that 8% of those affiliated with Christianity considered religion unimportant and considered themselves neither religious nor spiritual? Very strange.)

Looking at the "religious" versus the "spiritual", nearly 40% of Protestants classified themselves as spiritual, not religious. Some 32% of the "spiritual, not religious" crowd were of the "nones" group -- no affiliation -- while a full two-thirds were religiously affiliated. Slightly less than half of those who said they were neither spiritual nor religious were affiliated with a religious group.

What do we learn from this? Well, of course, you could assume that religion in general and Christianity in particular is on the decline. Perhaps. You might infer that the (literally) ungodly number of Christians who classify themselves as neither religious nor spiritual indicate hypocrisy in Christendom. Maybe. But what I see is a growing number of Americans who do not think about what they believe. They are happy to hold a "Christian but not spiritual" position (utter nonsense) and find some sort of dichotomy between "religious" and "spiritual" as if being spiritual is good and being religious is bad. There is a growing number of self-identified Christians who do not know what "Christian" means. There is a larger and larger gap appearing between genuine Christian and ... tares.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. We've had it tough for a long time trying to answer critics of "Christianity" because they're looking at so-called "Christians" doing things in direct violation to Christ. The farther these embarrassing counterfeits get from rationality and coherence, the easier it is to both tell others, "You can clearly see what they believe doesn't fall within the concept of Christianity" and to tell them, "What you believe isn't Christianity; you need a Savior." Not all bad. But sometimes it's painful to watch.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Money Will Fix It

One of the big things I keep hearing is that those dirty rotten (whichever side you're not) want to cut educational spending. It's wrong! Consider the children! "We're not a special interest group," says a child on a commercial for a bill that will increase taxes to increase spending for education. An interesting infographic from USC gives some interesting points.
U.S. Education versus the World via Master of Arts in Teaching at USC
Via: MAT@USC | Master’s of Arts in Teaching

Of the 12 nations listed, the United States spends the most on education. In total, the U.S. spends $809 billion on education with Japan a distant 2nd with $160 billion. Per child, the United States spends $7,743 per child per year. In second is the U.K. with $5,834. Sadly, America ranks 3rd in literacy above age 15 after Finland ($5653/child/year) and ... get this ... Russia, which spends a paltry $1,850 per year per child. The U.S. is fifth in school life expectancy at 16 years. Australia (third in spending per child) leads with 21 years of school. We are 10th in math and 9th in science.

I'm not getting it. If we're spending so very much on education, why aren't we the top? Why aren't we the best educated people on the planet? Why do we keep trying to throw more money at it as if that will fix it? If throwing more money at it has not improved education, why do we continue to think that's the answer? Or is that a learning problem, too?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Who's Talking?

"It seems as if the only good ideas I ever have are the ones that either originate from or are approved by you. It seems as if it is not possible for me to have a good idea without your agreement, that you are the ultimate arbiter of what is good and anyone that doesn't agree is stupid ... or worse."

Who is talking and to whom? Well, obviously there's not enough information there. It sounds like it could be just about any husband to his wife ... or wife to her husband. It could be any employee to his boss (or even, possibly, vice versa). It could be in all sorts of interpersonal situations. But the one that comes to mind for me is none of the above. I could very easily imagine God saying that ... to His creation.

When it's put in that light, coming from the Creator to the created, from the Sovereign to the servant, it takes on something of a frightening aspect. Like, "Oh, my, is that how I come across to You, Lord?" At least, to me. I suppose there are those who would say, "Yeah, what of it? It's true. I am the ultimate arbiter of what is good and no god has any right suggesting otherwise." That is perhaps more frightening to me, at least on their behalf.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fun with Numbers?

According to CBS News, the national debt has increased more under President Obama than under President Bush. According to the U.S. Treasury, President Bush increased the public debt by $4.9 trillion in the 8 years of his presidency. That would include all that spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iran as well as the new Department of Homeland Security on top of all the other stuff as well as the costs incurred by the dDmocrat-controlled Congress from 2006 on. President Obama hasn't yet served out his first 4-year term, but in the time he has served (about a 3 years and 8 months) the national debt has climbed $5.5 trillion. According to the White House, in 2011 the government took in $2.3 trillion. The good news, of course, is that they only spent $3.6 trillion, so there's that. For 2012, they estimate another $2.5 trillion coming in and $3.8 trillion spent. Looks like they're headed in the right direction.

Now we're hearing about Romney's horrendous plan to cut taxes by $4 trillion in order to improve this condition. Understand that the "$5 trillion" is not a straightforward number. I mean, it can't be, given that the government doesn't actually take in $5 trillion in a year. No, that number is over 10 years. Romney's plan would cut something like $500 billion a year. A much more reasonable number.

Or, let's do it the other way. Let's go with the 10-year forecast concept. Under Romney's plan, in 10 years the government will have lost $5 trillion. Fine. Under Obama's plan, based on the current rates, the debt will have increased $18 trillion.

So, which plan is the better one? Well, it's my guess that neither will solve the problems we're facing, but comparing a $5 trillion decrease with an $18 trillion increase and calling the latter "better" seems inane.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Positive and Negative

Sometimes we use "positive" to mean "good" and "negative" to mean "bad". I'm not using them that way here. I want to talk about positive and negative government.

The Bill of Rights illustrates what I'm calling "negative government". This type of government primarily takes a "hands off" role. The purpose of this government is to allow freedoms without restrictions. It defends rights already in place. This view of government doesn't have the government giving rights, but recognizes rights already in place. So if the government does nothing and I have the right to the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the right to bear arms, that's a negative. The government didn't positively act to give me those rights nor to restrict them. In this mode, then, the role of the government to act is to protect rights. If a person or an entity tries to infringe on those rights, the government would step in and stop the infringement. But in terms of individual rights and freedoms, that would be a "negative". From the individual's view, nothing happened. The government acted outside the individual do defend existing rights.

Well, of course, the concept of "rights" has greatly expanded in our day. While the originators of the Constitution had 10 amendments on the subject of rights, Americans have vastly overgrown this list. We used to have a right to freedom of religion and speech and bearing arms and such and now we also have a right to healthcare, education, and much, much more. As this list and the concepts behind it grow, the government has to shift modes. It needs to step away from a negative operation and into a positive operation. If the people have a right to quality healthcare, then the government will need to secure it. It will do so by forcibly taking funds from citizens to ensure this right is satisfied. And the "positive" sense here is that it applies funds where funds were not before applied. The government is supplying what was not supplied before. The same is true for education. While education was once thought of as a privilege, it is no longer thus. It is a right. Today's youth are arguing that a college education is a right. More money taken from the people applied to the problem. And, of course, everyone has a right to a living wage and food and housing, so ... you guessed it. More money.

Gradually we have shifted from a negative government, a small entity put in place to secure rights we already had, to a positive government, a large and growing entity responsible for the care, feeding, and nurturing of its people in so many aspects. At some point, considering the growing list of "rights", it will become necessary to remove all money from all people and allow the government to distribute it as needed to satisfy the rights of those with less. Of course, at this point, "those with less" will be moot. That's a government operating in the positive.

No, we're not there. But it doesn't seem like we're headed away from such a structure. Indeed, it seems not only that we're headed toward it, but headed toward it with vigor. At this point it isn't so much about which candidate will get us there. It's the people that are flooding in that direction. It's the "rich" who are the bad guys and those with "less" who are not being afforded their "rights". Those with more are not doing "their fair share". This is the popular language of the day. And personally I don't think that's a positive thing.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Obey the Gospel

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering -- 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, 10 when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed (2 Thess 1:5-10).
(Sorry about the lengthy quote. It was a single thought, two long sentences. Talk to Paul about his run-on sentences.)

Paul uses this strange phrase as he warns about unbelievers. The phrase is found in verse 8 and warns that God will inflict "vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." So not obeying the gospel is a bad thing. Peter uses the same phrase in 1 Peter 4:17 and uses it to differentiate between "the household of God" and "those who do not obey the gospel of God". And, again, it's about judgment.

Wait. Tell me again what "the gospel" is. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, "I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you" -- good, that's where we can find out what "the gospel" is -- and goes on to explain that the gospel he preached was how Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again (1 Cor 15:1-8). Ummm, okay ... so, how do we "obey the gospel"?

Paul uses the same phrase elsewhere that might help answer that question. "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?'" (Rom 10:16). In this verse, Paul links "obey the gospel" with "believed what he has heard". Indeed, the context of Romans 10 is about hearing and faith. He assures his readers that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom 10:13), but goes on to ask, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?" (Rom 10:14). He concludes, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17). Obviously, then, "obey the gospel" begins with belief.

Does it end there? No, not at all. Belief produces repentance. To "obey the gospel" requires, if you believe, that you repent. Indeed, we are not invited to repent. We are commanded to repent and believe (Mark 1:15; Acts 17:30). And it doesn't end there. If faith produces works (James 2:14-26), then obeying the gospel means that you submit to Christ.

Obedience to the gospel, then, entails belief, repentance, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Obeying the gospel doesn't save you -- God does that by grace through faith -- but it does mark you as part of "the household of God". Failure to believe, repent, and subsequently do the "works of faith" is labeled not obeying the gospel and indicates you are outside the household of God. And let me just say, that's not a good place to be.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Worship honors God. No, that's not just a statement; it's a definition. Worship is that which honors God. It may be a formal ceremony, a specific task, or a lifestyle. The word is rooted in the Old English for "worth - ship" and recognizes God's worth. Now, if that doesn't give you pause even to hear, you aren't paying attention. How do we recognize "God's worth"? How do we recognize the infinite?

There has been a lot of complaints for quite a long time, actually, about modern worship. It's too light. It's too fluffy. It isn't serious enough. It's too "seeker friendly". It's too ... well, you get the idea.

Imagine, then, the impact it would have on churches -- say, your church -- if "worship" actually aimed at recognizing and realizing God's worth. What would that look like?

Well, it wouldn't be a singing session. Oh, it might include it, but it would need to be much more. And it wouldn't be a performance, except in the sense that it would be a performance for the Almighty. It would be difficult to find the depth of language required to aim toward that goal. Lyrics lite and preaching lite and even light emotions would seem to be out of place in this venue. The worth of God becomes a really, really big concept.

I think it would affect a lot of things we don't even think about right now. What would our churches look like if the goal was to point to the supreme worth of God? What would we look like? How would we dress? How would we conduct ourselves? Here, let me try this. Can you imagine being in the presence of the Almighty God focusing attention on His worth and having your cell phone go off? I don't know. Seems like that wouldn't even be a possibility. And you must see that worship could not be boring.

And, quite obviously, worship wouldn't fit in a quick hour and a half on Sunday morning. An entire Sunday morning wouldn't be sufficient. If worship -- God's worth -- was in view, how could we not fill a Sunday evening service, a Wednesday night service, and several more in between?

But beyond the worship services, the recognition of God's worth would need to exceed even those opportunities. It would need to be a daily activity, a constant process. It would need to shape your thinking, color your every action, alter your behavior and attitudes. God's infinite worth would require a life sacrificed, kind of like Paul's words in Romans 12.
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service of worship (Rom 12:1).
Well, look. It's Sunday, a day of worship. How about this? Why don't we each check ourselves? Are we going to church (or not going to church) as a recognition of the supreme worth of our Lord? Do we do what we can today to recognize that? Is our aim and motive God's glory? Or do we have other things in mind? Well, you can figure that out for yourself. I'd recommend a personal evaluation. The worth of God is no small matter.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What If God

The complaint of the skeptic is often "God isn't fair! People die!" Okay, that's shorthand. But even Christians find themselves lost in this argument. If God is good and God is powerful, why do bad things happen?

There are answers, of course. Sure, the skeptic will toss them aside, but it's not like they don't exist. But I got to thinking. What would the world look like if the God that people complain about existed rather than the God that actually exists existed. I mean, what if God was what they wanted God to be? What would it be like? Of course, I can only guess because most skeptics (or even hurting Christians) are able to tell you what they don't like but not what they would actually expect. But I think I can make some reasonable guesses.

The first thing you'd notice if you stepped suddenly from this universe to a parallel universe where the-God-that-people-approve (TGTPA for short) existed would be that everyone was happy and no one was sad. Of course. This TGTPA being wouldn't allow any sadness. No cause for it. No one ever suffers. No one ever dies. It's all good, quite literally, I suppose. There would be no sickness, no losses, no aging. Now, I have to admit I'm not sure how any of that would work. I mean, isn't aging essential to happiness. "Oh, come on, now, Stan! What kind of stupid ...?" No, really! I would hate it if I never aged beyond fetus stage. That would make happiness elusive. Apparently, then, there would be aging, but only to some sort of optimum stage, as if happiness cannot occur before or after that stage? "Growing old together" wouldn't happen since too much aging is sad and, of course, leads to death. I don't know. Sounds complicated to me.

Someone else will have to work out the mechanics of a universe where no one and nothing ever dies. How soon does it become too populated? If nothing ever dies, what do they eat? What do they wear? How does this universe support itself given that no one and nothing ever dies, so the draw on resources only increases? I don't even have a hint of an idea of how any of that could possibly work.

Before long, however, you'd start to notice some ... problems. Apparently the people that inhabit this universe don't have free will. They can't, since they do not have the capacity to choose anything that would produce sadness, sickness, sorrow, or sin. I suppose you could call it some measure of "free will" in that they can choose only those things that make them happy, but it has to be limited.

If you talk to these people, you find a complete loss of certain commonly understood concepts from our universe. They have no conception of "justice", for instance, since no one ever faces it. No one does anything wrong, so no one has to be made right. Their TGTPA God isn't holy, righteous, merciful, or gracious. Well, if He is, they'd never know it since these concepts require contrasts to be grasped. "Good" requires "bad" to be known. If "mercy" is the quality that doesn't punish and no one ever deserves punishment, mercy cannot be grasped. No pain, no gain? No way.

And this is just the beginning. Just a few paragraphs. This "ideal" world would lose many of the things we consider "ideal" such as justice, free will, mercy. The task of taking up where others went before would be lost since they'd still be there. And a God who wished to demonstrate all of His attributes of justice, mercy, grace, holiness, omnipotence, and so on would not be capable of doing so in a world without contrasts. This kind of universe run by the-God-that-people-approve wouldn't be much like paradise. At least, not to me. It seems to me that we gain a lot from the contrasts of sin and salvation, trespasses and justice, death and birth, suffering that strengthens and so on. Say, skeptics, are you sure you know what you want from the God that people approve?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Comparative Religions

People are often lumping Christianity with other religions. "They're all the same," they say. Many, even among Christians, are pretty sure that Christians and Moslems worship the same God, just under different names. (It's not true, but many say it is.) Many (most?) say that there are many ways to the same place and likely all religions are true to some extent.

Religions tend to believe in deity or deities. Atheism (the worship of the material against the divine) would be an exception. Buddha denied the existence of a deity and worshiped human contentment in asceticism instead. Over against the non-theists are the polytheists who find a god around every bush, so to speak. The pagan world might see god in every bush in some pantheistic religions. Hindus have to deal with a lot of gods. Mormons don't have to deal with a lot of them even though a lot exist and the goal is that we would become more of them. But religion, by its nature, entails something higher than self, whether it be the laws of nature or the supernatural.

Religions are a search for truth. They aim to answer life's deepest questions. Why are we here? What is good and bad? Where did we come from? How then must we live? And, of course, the ever-present question of evil and what to do about it. Some see a commonality to religions while others see vast and irreconcilable differences. It has been suggested that all religions are comprised of the two basic foundations of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of Man. Of course, this is problematic in Christianity since Jesus warns of "your father, the devil" and the Bible speaks of a select family, the family of the redeemed.

In the end, most people conclude that all religions are about morality. That's the primary concern in all cases. Religions teach people how to live moral lives. Of course, they may vary widely in that moral structure. One teaches severe self-denial and another teaches murder (jihad) as a lifestyle and another teaches supreme self-interest as the highest value, but it is true that religions teach people how to live.

Christianity stands out from others in a couple of very important points. First, Christianity is not primarily about morality. All other religions teach people how to live in such a way to achieve the end they hope for, but Christianity teaches that we cannot. The standard is perfection and the possibility of any human meeting that standard is zero. Christ alone met that standard. The penalty -- all religions include penalties -- is death but Christianity offers "the free gift", an answer to our problem provided by a Savior not on the basis of our successful moral efforts, but on faith alone in His successful sacrifice on our behalf. This is not standard religious fare. This is unique.

There is another aspect that is unique. While Christianity is not about moral living, moral living is obviously part of Christianity. In other religions, it is the means. In Christianity, it is the result. Other religions obey their moral mandates to achieve something. Christians do it out of gratitude. There is, however, another aspect of this aspect that is different.

We are told in Scripture that we are saved "not of works". So, we do "works of faith" -- the works that faith requires -- but there is no credit, no merit in them. We aren't earning God's favor here for being good or, contrarily, earning His displeasure when we fail at being good. How is that possible? Christianity is unique on this point as well. According to the Bible, Christians obey because "it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). The ability and desire for doing good is provided by God. Paul writes to the Thessalonian church,
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess 1:11-12).
Did you get that? It's really astounding. All other religions demand obedience to obtain something. Paul says that God makes us worthy of His calling and God, who gives us the resolve and desire for good works, fulfills that resolve by His power! Wait! It gets better! In this way, we take part in the grand panorama of glorifying our Lord Jesus and we get glorified as well!!

Not all religions are the same. Don't let people tell you they are. Religions, on their surface, carry similarities. Maybe there are deities. Maybe they answer life's questions. Maybe they offer moral guidance. Maybe. But Christianity alone answers the problem of sin, answers that problem without the nonsensical "if you work hard enough at it you can be good enough", and offers rewards for obedience that is powered and provided by God. These are unique. I'm fairly certain that the deeper you dig, the more you'll find Christianity is not much the same as others at all. In fact, if you do not find that to be so, I suspect you're looking at it wrong.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Shellfish Controversy

Whenever the topic of "the Bible on homosexual behavior" comes up, it will almost always be argued that "You Christians don't worry about shellfish. Why do you still worry about homosexual behavior?" That, of course, will be offered in various formats. "You pick and choose which Old Testament laws to keep and which to ignore." "The Old Testament is no longer applicable. Why are you making a big deal about it?"

That last is the most typical. While you might reasonably suspect that I'm about to launch into a support for the Old Testament prohibition of same-sex sexual relations, the real reason I'm writing this is that last position. Is it true that the Old Testament is no longer applicable? Let's examine that.

There is a valid reason for the question. Not too many Christians today are concerned about eating lobster or shrimp or pork. The vast majority do not concern themselves with sowing different seeds in a plot of land, squaring their beards, or wearing clothes made from two fabrics. See? No longer applicable! End of discussion.

That, of course, would be a serious error. First, in almost all cases those making this assertion are doing so by rote, not by study. They heard it somewhere, thought it supported their present viewpoint, and continue to throw it out without examining it. Further, I don't think it can be asserted that the Old Testament is no longer applicable if you simply stop long enough to note that Jesus's repeated command to "love your neighbor as yourself" comes directly from the Old Testament. We mostly agree that adultery is still a sin and we certainly concur that child sacrifice is not moral, and so it goes. It must be admitted that at least one Old Testament command is still in effect. So, if one (and quite obviously that's a minimalization of the truth) is still in effect, then we have to ask the question, "What others are still in effect?" Or, perhaps we'd go the other way. "If one is no longer in effect, what others are no longer in effect?"

The answer to these questions, however, needs to have a basis. That is, at the bottom level, the position is "If the Bible says it, it's true." So on what basis would anyone suggest that any of the Old Testament is no longer applicable? Didn't Jesus say, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:17-19)? That's serious. He praised the Pharisees for keeping the minutia of tithing and castigated them for missing "the weightier matters" (Matt 23:23). Paul denies that law-keeping saves anyone, but affirms that the law is "the embodiment of knowledge and truth" (Rom 2:20). He asks and answers, "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Rom 3:31). We need to ask, then, on what basis we set aside any of the Old Testament.

Some of the Old Testament is "set aside" not because it isn't applicable, but because it is complete. The entire sacrificial system is not abrogated, but completed by Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. It isn't gone; it is present and necessary. An incomplete system was fulfilled in Christ's perfect death and resurrection. That is still in effect.

Some of the Old Testament is specifically mentioned in the New. In Mark 7:19 we read that Jesus declared all foods clean. The message, in fact, is repeated in Acts 10. There God orders Peter to eat things previously forbidden. When he refuses, God says, "What God has made clean do not call unclean or common" ... three times. At the Council of Jerusalem they determined this minimal requirement: "That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality" (Acts 15:29). In this they specifically refute the need for circumcision (a key component of the controversy). (Later Paul specifies that meat sacrificed to idols is not an issue either.)

We have, then, a basic system of laws in the Old Testament. A key principle regarding these laws is to ask which of them are specifically addressed in the New Testament as fulfilled or no longer applicable. Christ fulfilled the sacrificial system. Dietary laws are not necessary. That's what the Bible says.

There is a third category of Old Testament commands. These are the special commands. These commands were not given as "law". Adam was commanded not to eat the fruit of a particular tree. That tree is no longer available for us to comply (or fail to comply) with that command. Noah was told to build an ark. There is no reason why any of us would think we were obligated to do the same. Israel was given commands specifically designed to make them distinct, separate. Commands given for that purpose are applicable to Israel, but not to all.

This isn't a simple answer like some try to make it. It is not true that "The Old Testament is no longer applicable." Neither is it true that Christians are required to live by Old Testament laws. Some are still applicable and some aren't for various reasons. The New Testament is full of affirmations of Old Testament laws starting with loving God and loving your neighbor, going straight through prohibitions of all manner of sexual immorality (including homosexual behavior), and so on. The real problem is not that it's unclear or unknowable. The real problem is that it takes time, effort, thought, reading -- work. And that's something that too many modern American Christians aren't really keen on doing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The President and Christianity

An interview back in 2004 with the then senatorial candidate Barack Obama has surfaced again. It offers some insights into a America's self-identified "Christian" president.

Obama claims "a deep faith" with primarily Christian views while admitting "Eastern influences" and some vague Muslim connections. (Don't go there, people. He sees them as vague, not genuine.) "I’m rooted in the Christian tradition," he says followed by, "I believe that there are many paths to the same place."

Obama was raised by his mother and grandparents mostly. Of his grandparents he said, "By the time I was born, they were, I think, my grandparents had joined a Universalist church." Of his mother he affirmed, "She wasn't a church lady." Mostly just Easter services, then. Instead, his mother inculcated him with "books about the world's religions" and "her view ... that underlying these religions were a common set of beliefs about how you treat other people." Actually arriving at "Christian", then, was a product of becoming "good friends" with Jeremiah Wright and joining his church.

After that, he considered himself "born again" ... sort of. When asked specifically, he said, "I’m not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others. I’m a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt. I’m suspicious of too much certainty."

The interviewer asked, "Do you believe in sin?"


"What is sin?"

"Being out of alignment with my values."

"What happens if you have sin in your life?"

"I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment."

You can read the interview for yourself. I just hit the highlights. Nor do I know where the president stands on these things now. This interview was back in 2004. Don't draw too many conclusions about President Obama without newer information.

I am just here pointing out, as I am wont to do, the problem of words. Our president classifies himself as "Christian" with "a deep faith" and "rooted in the Christian tradition" while disavowing simple, standard, necessary realities required to be a follower of Christ ("Christian") such as Jesus's claim that "No man comes to the Father but by Me." The opening argument of the Gospel is that we are all sinners, but in this interview he redefined "sin" as "out of alignment with my values" (which is an astoundingly horrendous concept -- "I determine what is sin"). The outcome of the Gospel is that we can be saved from our sin, but he considers a failure to be true to his own beliefs "its own punishment".

Lots of people claim to be Christians. Lots of people lie. Others are confused or deceived. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 7:21). Determining whether or not Mr. Obama is among those who will enter the kingdom is not your job. Making sure you are is your job. Obviously, it's very easy to be deceived by common language and misconceptions. Check yourself. "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Cor 13:5). "Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." (1 Thess 5:21-22).

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Pleasing God

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more (1 Thess 4:1).
If you are a believer, a follower of Christ, then this verse ought to make you salivate, so to speak. Paul is about to tell his readers "how you ought to walk and please God", and, frankly, for true believers there is nothing more glorious than pleasing God. Thus it would be that we should hang on every word on the subject that follows.
2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification (1 Thess 4:2-7).
Okay, good! Now we have something to examine on the Bible's view of how "brethren", the people of God, can "walk and please God". Excellent!

Let's see. Well, first, clearly it is our calling to be sanctified. That is a key function of the Christian life. It is the goal. Paul says in Romans that we are to "present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification" (Rom 6:19). We begin the Christian life by being sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18; 1 Cor 6:11). After that begins the process of sanctification. That is, having been set apart ("sanctified"), we begin the process of becoming holy ("sanctified"). Or, as Paul puts it in Philippians, we begin the process of living up to that which we've already attained (Phil 3:16).

Okay, so far, so good. So what does Paul specifically prescribe here for our sanctification, our becoming holy? In verse 3 he starts with "this is the will of God, your sanctification" and then follows by a sort of synonym. He uses the phrase, "that is", which means "sanctification is". What is it? "Abstain from sexual immorality."

Hold on a minute. Isn't that rather ... minimal? I mean, isn't that kind of limited? Surely holy living is defined as much more than sexual purity? And, of course, that's true. We are to love the brethren (1 Thess 4:9), "make it your ambition to lead a quiet life" (1 Thess 4:11)(Try to make that case in today's world), and "behave properly toward outsiders" (1 Thess 4:12) by working with our hands (1 Thess 4:11). That sort of thing. But apparently this particular facet of holy living -- that of sexual purity -- is much bigger than most of us realize.

It is true that in Paul's time sexual immorality of all types were not regarded as immorality by the society at large. It was, in fact, encouraged. It was part of daily life, part of social life, part of religious life. It was mostly common place and acceptable. People in Paul's time would have argued that sex between friends was fine or that "loving and committed relationships include sex" or that "We should all be allowed to pursue that which makes us happy; sex makes us happy." You know, just like you might hear today. So when Paul told them to abstain from all matters of immorality that revolve around sex (Eph 4:19), it was a pretty big deal. Paul, then, was warning them off of a huge error common in their day which they may not have seen. The enemy of this holiness, then, would be "lustful passion" and the opposing position would be "sanctification and honor".

Paul gives an additional warning and I wonder how often we are guilty of it. I've often heard it yanked out of context and, in so doing, it loses its meaning and force. Paul warns in verse 6 "that no one go beyond and defraud in the matter his brother." "See," I've heard, "you're not to cheat your brother!" Well, okay, that's true enough, but that's not what this is talking about. This is talking about defrauding your brother in terms of sexual immorality. How do we defraud someone in those terms? Well, you could do it by encouraging your brother or sister to engage in sexual immorality. You know, the direct method. You could do it by covetousness, wishing you had their sexual immorality rather than helping them to stop it. You could do it by example, presenting sexual immorality as good, causing them to stumble. You could do it with speech, talking about things that shouldn't be talked about. "What's the harm? We're not actually encouraging sexual sin. We're just talking." (Compare that with Phil 4:8 and Col 3:16, for instance.) You could do it by lack of self-control in one area, encouraging lack of self-control in others in that area. Women can do it to men by their dress or attention. Men can do it to their sisters in Christ by their attitudes and unwarranted attention. Indeed, sexual immorality, especially in our day, is so prevalent that it takes genuine vigilance to avoid encouraging it in others by example, word, or attitude.

As it turns out, self-control becomes the key issue in sexual purity. The enemy is lust ... lust of any kind (James 1:14). Sanctification is largely a product of setting aside personal desires for God's desires. Denying this process of self-control and pursuing God's desires rather than our own, according to the text, is not safe. "Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God." I would personally recommend against it.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Columbus Day, 2012

As any school child from my era knows, in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. We all knew that Christopher Columbus challenged the view of his day that the Earth was flat and set out to sail all the way around to India. We all knew that Columbus discovered America. Plain, simple facts for any school child of my day.

Turns out, of course, that a lot of it was wrong.

Oh, sure, there were minor things. Columbus was actually looking for a sea route to China and Indonesia (the Spice Islands). Thus, what he thought he found was "the West Indies" when what he actually came across were islands in the Carribean. (We always referred to the native people of North America as "Indians" because of Columbus's blunder.) Nor did Columbus or his benefactors believe that the Earth was flat. That myth was started by Washington Irving's fictional biography of Columbus. (They were making globes of the Earth when Columbus set sail.) They thought that the Earth was round, but too big to sail around safely. (Columbus's estimate was a circumference of 18,756 miles; reality is 24,861 miles at the Equator.) His original plan was to find gold in sufficient quantities to fund his ultimate goal of starting a Crusade to free Jerusalem. (He had a lot of issues with Moslems.)

Columbus claimed to be bringing Christianity to the savages, but, in fact, sought in the name of the Holy Trinity to enslave as many as possible. (In fact, Columbus was funded by the royalty of Spain that also brought Spain the Spanish Inquisition. Very little at all to do with Christianity.) Some paintings show Columbus coming ashore with a priest. In fact, there were no priests on board for his first voyage.

Columbus Day became a federal holiday in America in 1937, instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to garner the votes from the Italian American community. As it turns out, there is some question as to Columbus's origins. There is no proof that he was from Genoa as most surmise. There is conjecture that he was Portuguese, Spanish, or of Viking descent. What is certain is that Columbus never wrote anything in Italian; he always wrote in Spanish.

Lots of other small stuff, too. Queen Isabella didn't sell her jewelry to pay for his travels. He was sponsored by investors including some towns that owed money to the king and queen. Columbus did not sail with a crew of criminals. His trip was not difficult. In fact, no life was lost on the first crossing and he made it in 5 weeks. Columbus didn't die poor. He was largely forgotten, perhaps, but fairly wealthy.

Christoper Columbus did some amazing things. He found the "West Indies". He even travelled eventually to South America. He introduced horses to the New World and in return introduced Europe to tobacco ... and syphilis. (One of our common myths had Columbus dying of syphilis. Not accurate, apparently.) But Columbus never landed in North America. The closest he got was the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. Indeed, the continent is named for Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer who followed Columbus and first demonstrated that it was not the back side of Asia that Columbus had found. (Apparently North and South Vespucci didn't have the same ring.) And Columbus never new that he discovered a new continent.

Christopher Columbus did some horrible things. He slaughtered natives and enslaved more. He brought "Christianity" to the New World in a form that would be abhorrent to Christ. For many of his atrocities, then, there are those who protest the recognition of Columbus Day at all.

What's my point? Well, it's Columbus Day, of course! I thought some correction of our popular information was in order. Some distance between "Columbus" and "Christian" is important. He did do some impressive things, and that's fine. We can remember those. But I'd like to point out that many things we learned as kids in school (and I went to a Christian school) were wrong. If you have kids, no matter how they are being taught, I hope you are paying close attention and learning the truth yourself. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

What's So Good about God?

If you look around for very long, optimism seems foolish. You can vote for Obama or for Romney. One will drive the country off a cliff at 90 mph and the other at 50 mph, but neither will actually turn. You can see holes riddling churches where their treasures became earthly, either in possessions or in theology, and moths have eaten and thieves have stolen. Education is declining. Sin is rising. More Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. It doesn't look good.
So I say, "My strength has perished, And so has my hope from the LORD." Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him (Lam 3:18-25).
I think this reflects facts, a truthful view of reality. On one hand, "My strength has perished and so has my hope." On the other, "The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease." From my vantage point, things look really bad -- and rightly so. From the vantage point of knowing God, I have hope in Him. To those who wait for Him, He is good.

So we can count our blessings, not setting aside the real problems, but recognizing His real goodness. God can be severe, but it's His kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). God has already "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph 1:3) which includes a long list of marvelous and unequaled delights. We are chosen, adopted, recipients of His grace and mercy, blessed with wisdom and insight into His will, given an inheritance in Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, held as His redeemed possession for the praise of His glory (Eph 1:3-14). We have the Holy Spirit -- the Comforter -- who leads us into truth and gifts us with spiritual gifts. We are called to holy living but not by our own might; we are empowered and enabled by God who dwells within us. And the list has just begun.

What's so good about God? Well, everything, actually. Our problem is typically that our finite and sinful natures keep us from seeing it. But it's a good thing to remember as often as you can. God is good. God is good indeed.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Tough Questions

Stop me if you've heard this before. No, don't.

Here's the question (read "challenge"). Something really bad has happened and animals have died. So have people. A fire, a storm, a tragedy of some sort. Maybe or maybe not human caused. Maybe it's not even a catastrophe. Some poor baby zebra lost its life to a hungry lion. How sad! So ... why would a loving God allow such a horror? (Note that behind the question is "And, oh, by the way, without an answer that I ultimately find acceptable, I will never believe in God.") (And behind that is the obvious, "Oh, and, by the way, that will never happen.")

Okay, so it's clearly a smoke screen. "Can an all-powerful God make a rock He can't lift?" Not a serious question. A smoke screen. "Can a God who can do the impossible make an unstoppable ball rolling toward an impenetrable wall?" Not a seeker; a challenger. And not a challenger to you; a challenger to God.

But, look, we're required to be ready to make a defense. What do you do with it?

Have you ever thought about what's behind the question? Think about what undergirds the question. Where does it start? What are the premises? Well, clearly there is the fundamental "Death is a bad thing." Included in that -- part and parcel -- is the requirement "Life has value." Interestingly, the question typically seems to require that human life and animal life have the same value. It is just as tragic for an ant to die as it is for a baby to die. (And, oh, by the way, there are always babies involved. If the question can't aim to bypass the brain by zinging to the heart, it's not worth being used as a question, is it?)

But there's something else underneath this question that never gets noticed. Let me point it out by giving you some startling statistics. In the history of the world not one single solitary animal that has ever lived has survived life. The death rate of all animals on the planet is 100%. But wait! Beyond that, the death rate for humans is only slightly better. If you ask an atheist, it is the same -- 100%. If you ask a Christian, it's 100% minus three. Three people. That's it. In all of history. Oddly, then, it seems that no one is complaining that people and animals die. Apparently death is fine; it's just "premature death" that is bad. It's not that people and animals die; it's that some die "too early" or, perhaps, that some suffer before they die. That's bad. (Read "evil".)

So, now we're asked to explain our God. "How could a loving God allow for such a travesty of justice? Justice demands that no one ever die! No, wait, that's not right, of course. Okay, so justice demands that no one die until I think it's okay! Yes, that's it!" And people and humans, based on a value that cannot possibly be demonstrated without a God, are being cheated by a God that doesn't exist because, clearly, it's wrong to suffer and die ... which everyone does anyway.

I'm sorry. This question just falls apart to me. It's like the pot yelling at the potter who made it and shouting, "Why did you make me like this??!!" It operates on values stolen from theism and then twisted to make squirrels and humans of equal value. It ignores completely the fact that everyone dies. "Okay, fine, but do you actually approve of this?" I'm surprised they would need to ask. That which God does doesn't require my approval. The trick, instead, is to correct anything in me that would disapprove.

Postscript: After writing this, I came across an article by Randy Alcorn on the subject. He says in part, "Sometimes we make the foolish assumption that our heavenly Father has no right to insist that we trust him unless he makes his infinite wisdom completely understandable to us. What we call the problem of evil is often the problem of our finite and fallen understanding." My point exactly.