Thursday, December 8, 2016

TRUSTING HIM TO ILLUMINATE MY UNDERSTANDING





Interpreting the Bible is not simply a lot of hard work. It is also a matter of trust and reliance upon our Lord. This is what Paul communicated to Timothy:

·       Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:7; ESV)

It wasn’t enough for Timothy to merely “think over” the Scripture Paul had written (1 Thess. 2:13). He also had to rely upon the Lord who would illuminate Scripture to give him understanding.

This was the very thing that our Lord had done for His fearful Apostles:

·       Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. (Luke 24:45-46)

We need our Savior to impart His truths to our minds. I, therefore, pray for this before I teach and write. There is no greater joy than knowing that we are walking in His light.

I no longer trust myself to understand His Word. Instead, I trust in Him to correct me when I am going astray:

·       Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:15)

Knowing that I cannot provide the light to illuminate my path, I gladly trust in Him.

ARE WE SELF-CONDEMNED?





An angry skeptic brought this charge against the God of the Bible:

·       A god who damns forever would have done us all a much greater service and shown real love if He had NOT started this eternal nightmare in the first place by forcing His abomination of a will on people who were not seeking it and would NOT have joined up if they knew such an sentence was the outcome--if the tradeoff for his decision is their damnation…No one twisted his arm to say "let there be light"… So every lost person is ultimately his responsibility and his fault…If the God of the bible really does damn people forever, I want nothing to do with Him. He is a monster--and I wouldn't want to spend two minutes around Him.

But what if, instead, we are self-condemned, perhaps condemned by our own standards, the very standards we use to condemn others? Jesus taught this:

·       For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2; ESV)

Therefore, we cannot blame God for judging if we too do the same. Besides, the very standards that we use to judge will judge us. It is noteworthy that our skeptic is also judging. Paul echoed the same teaching:

·       Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. (Romans 2:1)

Complaining about God’s judgment of us, while we judge in the same way, is hypocritical. However, it seems that God is still judging us, right? Well…perhaps not. Jesus enigmatically taught:

·       If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:47-48)

How does the word judge? For one thing, created in the likeness of God, He has written His word on our hearts (Romans 2:15-16). Therefore, we know right from wrong and we judge according to this imprinted law.

The skeptic claims that he never asked to be created or judged. Therefore, God has no right to judge him. This is like saying, “The credit card company sent me their credit card, and now they want to bring charges against me for using it.”

However, we have a choice to use the credit card or not. Likewise, we have a choice to judge or not. However, when we judge, we have consented to God’s program, and must make the required payments.

However, the skeptic will continue, “The payment that God requires is just too severe!” But is it? Perhaps it is we and the implanted word that condemn. It seems that this is what Jesus is teaching:

·       For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment [or “condemnation”]: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:17-20)

Jesus repeatedly denies that He will condemn, but yet those who do not believe are “condemned already.” But how? They are self-condemned. How have they condemned themselves? They have chosen the darkness and rejected God’s light – our only source of hope. As Adam and Eve hid in the darkness from God after they had sinned, so too do we. We have chosen exclusion from His Kingdom.

Does this apply to eternity? Seemingly! If Jesus doesn’t condemn, then it seems that we – the implanted word causing us guilt, shame, and flight – will be doing the condemning. If we cannot tolerate His light here, we will not tolerate it in the next world, where it is even more intense. Notice how the skeptic condemned himself:

·       If the God of the bible really does damn people forever, I want nothing to do with Him. He is a monster--and I wouldn't want to spend two minutes around Him.

The skeptic had charged God with creating an “eternal nightmare.” However, if the skeptic is truly concerned about this, he need only confess his sins and turn to the One who can change his nightmare into a glorious reality.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

ARGUMENT FOR GOD FROM THE CONSCIENCE



For many, the moral argument for the existence of God doesn’t work. They are willing to say that there is nothing objectively wrong about rape, even genocide, and are willing to live with the consequences of moral relativism. However, many of these same people will, nevertheless, claim that we have to live according to the dictates of our conscience. The “Argument for God from the Conscience” might, therefore, speak to them.

In “Handbook of Christian Apologetics,” Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli (K/T) observe:

·       Isn’t it remarkable that no one, even the most consistent subjectivist, believes that it is ever good for anyone to deliberately and knowingly disobey his or her own conscience? Even if different people’s consciences tell them to do or avoid totally different things, there remains one moral absolute for everyone: never disobey your own conscience.

Remarkably, they deem the conscience to have absolute authority, but what would instill within it this authority? K/T list four possibilities and then show the problems with the first three:

1.    From something less than me (nature)
2.    From me (individual)
3.    From others equal to me (society)
4.    From something above me (God)

They show that the first three fail to provide a basis to absolutize our conscience:

1.    From something less than me (nature) K/T write:

·       How can I be absolutely obligated by something less than me..?

Certainly, a TV show or the song that my neighbor is singing cannot obligate me.

2.    From me (individual) K/T again write:

·       How can I obligate myself absolutely? Am I absolute? Do I have the right to demand absolute obedience from anyone, even myself? And if I am the one who locked myself in this prison of obligation, I can also let myself out.

Clearly, there is no reason for my words or decisions to be absolute. If I make them, I can also break them. And why not?

3.    From others equal to me (society) K/T write:

·       How can society obligate me? What right do my equals have to impose their values on me? Does quantity make quality?

I might decide to follow a given law but not because it possesses absolute authority. Instead, we recognize that our laws are evolving and can be challenged. If they were absolute, they could not be challenged or amended. If we could challenge them, this would suggest that we are doing so from a more authoritative, superior, or absolute basis.

If these first three possibilities for a rational foundation for our belief that our conscience absolute is absolute and should never be violated fail, there remains only one other rationale – that our immutable and all-wise God provides that foundation. Only He can provide the rationale to regard our conscience absolute.

It is ironic that the very Being we seek to avoid pops up despite all of our efforts to hide from Him. Of course, when we see that we, once again, are looking into the face of God, we will de-absolutize our conscience and think that we have escaped Him. However, this is His world, His values, and His workmanship. To escape Him is to escape life itself.

Besides, when we reject Him, we also reject ourselves – the ones created in His likeness. How? When we reduce ourselves to mere animals, albeit sophisticated ones, and then reject the fact that we are morally responsible – many deny freewill and objective morality for this reason – and finally reject the sanctity of our conscience, we narrow our lives.

The negative repercussions are numerous. Psychologist James Hillman has written about one:

·       We dull our lives by the way we conceive then…By accepting the idea that I am the effect of…hereditary and social forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents.

Instead, when we fail to embrace God, the One who has given us food, drink, family, identity, and life, we fail to embrace ourselves, dooming ourselves to a life of endless wandering, looking for our place, which we have already rejected.









4.    From something above me (God)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

FROM WHERE DO WE OBTAIN AN ACCURATE ROADMAP FOR LIFE?





Why do some people seek out God? They understand that the secular, materialistic worldview cannot account for their experiences and perceptions; it cannot explain the facts of our lives. Nor can it provide an accurate roadmap for life. In “Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical,” Timothy Keller wrote:

·       One of the world’s most prominent philosophers, Jürgen Habermas, was for decades a defender of the Enlightenment view that only secular reason should be used in the public square. Habermas has recently startled the philosophical establishment, however, with a changed and more positive attitude toward religious faith. He now believes that secular reason alone cannot account for what he calls “the substance of the human.”

For one thing, materialism is unable to provide a basis to believe in the things that we must. It cannot provide a basis for objective moral law. Consequently, with the rise of irreligious states, there has also been a rise in genocide:

·       Habermas tells those who are still confident that “philosophical reason . . . is capable of determining what is true and false” to simply look at the “catastrophes of the twentieth century—religious fascist and communist states, operating on the basis of practical reason—to see that this confidence is misplaced.” Terrible deeds have been done in the name of religion, but secularism has not proven to be an improvement.

Secular humanism is unable to provide any moral basis for our indignation for the surrounding evils. The poet and atheist, W.H. Auden moved to Germantown in NYC from his Ireland in the early 1930s. While he was watching a news clip in the movie theater about the Nazi invasion of Poland, he was horrified to see the audience rise to its feet, applaud and cry out, “Destroy the Poles.” Auden wanted to take a strong moral stance against their response, but he realized that, as an atheist, his values were merely self-constructed and, therefore, lacking in any persuasive value. This sent him into a moral tailspin, resulting in his becoming a Christian.

Materialism could not give Auden what his heart demanded – objective moral truth to combat evil. There are also many other things that materialism cannot provide. Keller writes:

·       Habermas writes: “The ideals of freedom . . . of conscience, human rights and democracy [are] the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. . . . To this day there is no alternative to it.”

Nor can science provide the ideals that are so essential to human thriving, like the concept of human equality. Keller writes:

·       In 1926 John T. Scopes was famously tried under Tennessee law for teaching evolution. Few people remember, however, that the textbook Scopes used, Civic Biology by George Hunter, taught not only evolution but also argued that science dictated we should sterilize or even kill those classes of people who weakened the human gene pool by spreading “disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country.” This was typical of scientific textbooks of the time. It was the horrors of World War II, not science, that discredited eugenics.

When we find that our roadmap will not take us where we need to go, it is time for find a better one.

MESSAGES FROM BEYOND



We are surrounded by the creations of God – those on the outside but also on the inside. We experience a taste of God when we apologize for having caused pain and then are forgiven. We also sense His presence in other ways. In “Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical,” Timothy Keller wrote:

·       Leonard Bernstein famously admitted that when he heard great music and great beauty he sensed “Heaven,” some order behind things. “[Beethoven] has the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish: something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.”

For me, it was Rachmaninoff. Having struggled for years with depression and self-loathing, the type that drives us to the highest bridge, Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony preached to my aching mind a sermon of hope, peace, and love. It actually reassured me that there was something beyond the pain, a place of love and warmth, a place where I’d be cared for.

At that time, I was not ready to hear a sermon about God, but this piece of music preached a sermon I needed to hear.  Somewhere, there was a rest, and I believed in what it preached. It encouraged me to hold on.

How did this work. It wasn’t just a matter of a set of beautiful melodies, which touched my heart. It was more than that. It communicated to my heart that there was another reality, a place that guaranteed me relief.

But aren’t these just feelings? Can they be trusted? Sometimes they cannot be trusted. They sometimes are merely the product of dreams or fears. They are not constructed grammatically with coherent sentences. However, my experiences came to me with the completeness and authority of chapter and verse.

Perhaps Bernstein failed to embrace the content of the message that Beethoven had passed on to him. However, by the grace of God, I had no other options. Even though I had little understanding of the hope that had been communicated to me, my burdens wouldn’t allow me to forget about it. It was only later that the nature of this hope was revealed:

·       “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:27-30)