Friday, June 30, 2017


There are many things in the Old Testament that we find perplexing and even troubling. There is the institution the “avenger of blood” (Numbers 35:19-29), something like a bounty hunter. And then there are the institutions of polygamy and slavery, not to mention the destruction of the Canaanites.

How do we reconcile these practices with our modern intuitions regarding justice and even with the New Testament? In “Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal,” Richard F. Lovelace explains this tension through the need to “disenculturate” Israel from the culture of Egypt and from various Canaanite cultures by giving them their own culture:

·       One of the first effects of spiritual decline among the people of God is destructive enculturation, saturation with the godless culture of the surrounding world as we saw in Judges 2:11-13. When men’s hearts are not full of God, they become full of the world around like a sponge full of clear water that has been squeezed empty and thrown into a mud puddle. (IVP, 1979, 184)

How would Israel become “full of God?” Lovelace argues that if a sponge is soaked with oil, it will not absorb anything else. God therefore wanted to saturate Israel with His laws and rituals so that they wouldn’t absorb anything from the surrounding cultures, which Israel had been eager to do.

They had demanded a golden calf they had known and esteemed while in Egypt, even though God had manifested His faithfulness to them in so many ways:

·       When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1; ESV)

They had also demanded a king, so that they could be like other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). However, even though a king wasn’t God’s first choice, Mosaic Law condescended to Israel’s desires and demands. But for their own good, God had demanded that their choice of kings had to be regulated by His guidelines, and the king also had to be careful to abide by the Law, just like all his subjects (Deuteronomy 17).

Perhaps this is how we have to understand many of the prescribed institutions of Mosaic Law, God’s Law. To some degree, the Law was a concession to Israel’s desires. Therefore, divorce, polygamy, the avenger-of-blood, and many other human practices were allowed but divinely regulated.

Because of Israel’s desire to be like other nations, it even seems that Israel’s prescribed rituals and offerings superficially resembled those of the surrounding cultures. Lovelace explains that, because of this desire, God had to oil the sponge accordingly:

·       The protective enculturation in the Jewish lifestyle was an accommodation to the spiritual infancy of Israel. When we study the near-Eastern people, we discover law codes, taboo systems and other socioreligious patterns which duplicate and closely resemble those of Israel. Some critics have concluded from this that the Judaic cultic [religious ceremonial] system was merely humanly derived rather than God-inspired, but it is also explainable as a simple adaptation designed to give Israel a safe and uncontaminated cultus of its own. (184)

Even though Israel’s religion was not entirely different from those of its surrounding neighbors, it was still God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17) in its entirety (Matthew 5:17-19). As such, it is like a language using the same alphabet as other belief systems. However, the letters are arranged distinctively so that they convey an entirely different message. For example, the Israelite Temple was similar to its Egyptian counterpart. However, it was arranged to convey an entirely different message. While the Egyptian temple contained cots for their gods, there was no such thing in the Israelite Temple, conveying the idea that God did not sleep there. Instead, His abode was far more expansive.

Therefore, even though the Israelite Temple and offerings reflected those of pagan cultures, these were, nevertheless, entirely a revelation of Israel’s God. Consequently, the Law was holy, and “the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).  It, therefore, conveyed a revelation that was able to lead Israel to grace in Christ (Galatians 3:22-24), even if it was symbolic.

In light of this, the Mosaic Covenant was just a temporary covenant until “the fullness of time,” when it would be replaced by the New (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hosea 2:18-19). Consequently, as Paul explained, there was no going back:

·       And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross… Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:13-14, 16-17)

According to Peter, the Law was “a yoke…that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10). Therefore, Lovelace explains that:

·       The message [of the OT] must therefore be disenculturated [from the OT culture], freed from its protective shell, so that it may take root in a thousand different cultural and political soils… The oil must be wrung out of the sponge, in order that it may be filled with wine. (186-87)

While the Pharisees clung to the old wine, Jesus argued that He had come with new wine, even though this wine had been prophesied in the OT (Romans 3:21) and argued for new wineskins, which would be able to contain the new – something that would enable Christianity to spread abroad, as the second-century Epistle to Diognetus affirmed:

·       For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country, language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.

In light of this, the Old Testament Law is an accommodation to the desires of Israel and the temptations posed by other cultures, but it is still completely the Word of God.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


If you are interested in doing dramatic presentations to highlight key social, religious, and philosophical issues to jump-start some meaningful conversations,  you might want to take a look at this one.

Please feel free to hijack this dialogue. I just ask for feedback – How did it go?

This one builds upon the fact that most of us believe in being true to ourselves and to our conscience. However, we differ regarding what this entails.

HITCH: “To your own self, be true!” You believe this, don’t you, Christian?

CHRISTIAN: Of course, I do.

HITCH: And so you believe that it is right for me to follow my own conscience? Even for an atheist like me?

CHRISTIAN: Yes! For an atheist, Hindu, Jew, or even a Nazi!

HITCH: Okay, let me try to restate this. Then you are agreeing that I am my own standard of truth, the captain of my own ship. And you are admitting that I have the right to navigate my ship into any port where I want to navigate it.

CHRISTIAN: Certainly, you have that right, and the law is even on your side.

HITCH: I am really surprised at you, Chris. I thought that you believe that there is one moral law and that everyone has to live according to this law?

CHRISTIAN: You are right again, Hitch. I do believe that there is one moral law. Consequently, we shouldn’t rape, abuse others, torture babies, or take what doesn’t belong to us. To be true to ourselves is to acknowledge these internally perceived truths and to live accordingly. When we fail to live accordingly, we damage ourselves and others.

HITCH: I certainly agree with you, Chris. But I don’t need your daddy-in-the-sky to know these things.

CHRISTIAN: I agree, and that’s why I agreed with you when you quoted Shakespeare. When we are true to ourselves and what is written in our conscience, we recognize the same moral truths.

HITCH: Well then, you believe that it is enough to follow our own conscience?

CHRISTIAN: This is only the beginning, although inadequate in itself.

HITCH: This is what turns people off to your Christian faith. You are always moralizing for others, telling them how they should live. Don’t you see how offensive this is?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, but then the law is also offensive. It also tells us how we should live. Are you also offended by the laws of the law?

HITCH: Perhaps I am. We should live and let live as long as the other guy isn’t stepping on our feet.

CHRISTIAN: Then you too are telling them how to live.

HITCH: Perhaps, but I think that there is great wisdom in evolution which has taught us how we need to live in harmony with one another and how to build community.

CHRISTIAN: Well, it seems that evolution has also taught us to believe in God. After all, the great majority of humanity believes in God.

HITCH: True, but we have evolved from that primitive belief. Clearly, it is no longer necessary.

CHRISTIAN: Then evolution isn’t the basis of your morality.

HITCH: I don’t understand what the heck you’re talking about.

CHRISTIAN: It is clear that you are unwilling to believe in the “wisdom” of evolution because it is always evolving. Here today, gone tomorrow. Besides, there are many “evolutionary” human traits that neither of us would want to embrace, like denial, zenophobia, warfare, murder, rape, lust, jealousy, bitterness, unforgiveness… Therefore, there has to be a higher standard by which you decide what it means to be “true to yourself.” You certainly do not agree with everything evolution has handed down to you. You don’t believe that you have to be “true” to your resentments and lusts, do you?

HITCH: Of course, not. But being true-to-yourself involves a lot of other things like the accepted values of society.

CHRISTIAN: Hitch, if being true-to-yourself is just a matter of conforming to an assortment of socially created standards, then you are not true-to-yourself but are merely conforming to society. If society tells you to hate blacks or whites, will you conform to this also?

HITCH: Of course, not! I’ve already told you that there are many factors involved, not just evolution and social values. There is also a matter of intelligence and freewill.

CHRISTIAN: Well, what kind of role do they play?

HITCH: Intelligence tells me that racism is not right and freewill gives me the ability to go against the crowd.

CHRISTIAN: I’m certainly glad to hear that. You are, therefore, claiming that intelligence is more authoritative than evolution and social standards. I am also assuming that you are referring to the inner moral light, the “intelligence” of your conscience?

HITCH: Exactly!

CHRISTIAN: However, if your moral intelligence is simply the product of evolution and social standards, then there is no compelling reason to live according to this “intelligence.” For one thing, it is no more than a product of biochemistry, according to your worldview. Besides, it is evolving. Therefore, even if it is wrong to kill your wife today, it might conceivably be right tomorrow. Why then not get ahead of the trend and just kill your wife today?

HITCH: You’re being ridiculous. I know where you are going with this. You are building a case that your sky-daddy is the only answer.

CHRISTIAN: You’re right.

HITCH: However, Socrates had put the kibosh on your “Divine Command Theory.” In Euthyphro’s Dilemma, he decisively asked: “Is a thing pious because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because it is pious.” In either case, his dilemma does away with your pious theory. If it is good because your god wills it, then it is arbitrary. If your god wills it because it is good, it means that there is a higher standard of good than your god, making him irrelevant.

CHRISTIAN: Hitch, you are forgetting one thing – that there is another alternative, the biblical one. Morality is good because morality and moral law are God Himself, the foundation of all reality, including even you and the moral law written upon your conscience.

HITCH: You have no right to talk for me. I didn’t give you that right. Being true-to-myself also involves the fact that I am in charge. I can simply decide what morals I want to follow.

CHRISTIAN: Well, you can simply decide. You have that ability. However, rather than God being arbitrary and subjective, it is you who are then arbitrary and subjective. If you can decide how to live, you can also un-decide. What then makes your decisions any more decisive or weighty than what you don’t decide to do?

HITCH: That’s my freedom, and it’s what it means to be me.

CHRISTIAN: Excuse me for observing this, but it seems that what you are advocating is like playing chess without any rules or only with rules you dream up at the moment. Isn’t this meaningless and utterly unsatisfying, even if you are being true to yourself?

HITCH: Let’s consider this conversation officially closed.


It is human to project. If we hate ourselves, we also think that others hate us. If we feel guilty or shamed, we automatically feel that we are also shamed in the eyes of others. And when we accept ourselves, we also feel that others accept us. Even if they don’t, it isn’t going to crush us.

Why then the push to convert everyone into “sex-and-sexual-identity-is-a-choice” and “gayness-should-be-celebrated?” And this push is all around us. Drag queens are brought into elementary schools to normalize all forms of sexuality. Gay Pride parades exhibit nude genitilia, arguing that this is even good for children to see.

There is a mistaken and unspoken assumption underlying all of this:

·       If the external voices of non-acceptance can be silenced, then the internal voices will also be silenced.

However, the internal voices are far louder and persistent. Besides, they do not depend on the external voices. Even as we celebrate our sexuality before the world, the world within is in shame and unceasing protest. We can shake our fist at the world, but the real battle is being waged within. The world can pass laws in our favor, but the internal verdict remains the same.

We know that there is something wrong. We are wired for morality, and this includes sexuality and sexual conduct. When we violate our moral wiring, alarm bells sound. If we have ears that hear, we will perceive our desperate reactions – rationalizations, denials, inner struggles, and our rejection of those who disagree with us, those who are preaching the same sermon as our conscience. We hate ourselves, and so we hate them – projection. If we truly accepted our conduct, the world’s non-acceptance wouldn’t bother us, but it does – terribly!

Why do we take drugs? To silence the voices, to drown them out! We wonder why turmoil reigns in place of peace, illness instead of health.

If we are at peace within ourselves, our conflicts with others becomes secondary. However, to be at peace within requires us to make peace with ourselves. How do we do this? The same way we make peace with anything around us! We care for our car by putting gas in the gas tank and oil in the oil reservoir. If we put oil in the gas tank, our car will sputter and fail to function.

We are the same way. We too have a nature that requires the right nurturing. We cannot live long on Twinkies; nor can we jump off the tops of buildings.

We also have a moral nature that requires the right care. We cannot kill and rape and then expect to feel good about ourselves. Instead, we have to live according to our nature. We have to play the hand we have been dealt and not the hand we wish to have been dealt.

Now I must say something even more offensive, but please bear with me. We were made for relationship. Sexuality was intended for relationship. Yes, it can be exercised without relationship, but this was never its intended purpose.

Instead, we were intended to be part of a community, headed by our Creator. We were never intended to live independently, although we can. Instead, we were designed for a relationship with our Creator who knows us and can give us the ultimate in affirmation and meaning as we walk in harmony with Him, as Jesus had promised:

·       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 11:28-30)

Instead, of self-hatred and my endless manipulations to prove myself, Christ has proved me, forgives me, and loves me. He has therefore equipped me to live at peace with Him, myself, and with others.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


A college student who stutters and experiences intense self-hate, now fearfully avoids social situations. The stoic blogger, Massimo Pigliucci, advised:

·       Seems to me the thing you need to focus now is your self-hatred. Stoicism is a philosophy of acceptance of imperfection, both in others and in ourselves. Here is Epictetus:

·       “An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.” (Enchiridion 5)

However, how can we accept ourselves when we fail ourselves so painfully? Pigliucci provides some positive reinforcement:

·       So, no, you are not a coward. Far from it. You have had the courage to take on your condition and trying to do something about it. You made valiant efforts, and a lot of progress. But you have not achieved all your goals. That is okay. The next question is how to move forward.

Pigliucci realizes that positive reinforcement is not enough. The college student needs some tangible reinforcements to prove to himself that he is not contemptible, along with therapy and support groups.

Well, what if the problem continues or others appear? The stoic answer is to focus on the effort and not the outcome. Pigliucci therefore concludes:

·       But even if none of the above works, you are not a coward. You are just a human being with a condition that he did not ask for nor cause, and who is trying to do his best to overcome that condition, or at least live the best life he can, given the situation. That takes courage.

In other words, “You are not as bad as you think or feel. Therefore, accept yourself.” In essence, Pigliucci and stoicism have the ultimate standard by which to judge, and the student should see himself in terms of this standard, rather than his own inclinations.

However, this raises several questions. For one thing, why do we even need a standard? Why not just believe that there are no objective standards of judgment? Postmodernism tells us that there are absolutely no objective standards. Instead, our standards or values are all humanly created and, therefore, arbitrary and evolving. So just forget about them or create your own.

However, this just doesn’t seem to work. Seemingly, we are not free to create our own standards. Instead, we continue to live by standards that cause us pain. Guilt, self-hatred, and shame are universal, and we spend our lives in an unending struggle to pacify these painful realities.

Where does our embedded web of judgments come from? While some have been inculcated through our socialization, the universality of others, like the capacity to even experience guilt and shame, tends to argue for a universal cause – DNA.

If so, who wired us to have moral standards and our painful, life-controlling feelings? Many argue that evolution did it. These feelings insured necessary group cohesion, but they are no longer necessary. We have grown beyond our need for them. Therefore, they should be eliminated or reduced through therapy.

In contrast, the Bible would argue that they are still needful, lest we become amoral sociopaths. Instead, we have been wired by God for morality and even for the knowledge of God.

Our troublesome moral evaluations and feelings are so deep and integral to our being that they have resisted medication, re-education, and therapy.  Rather than relics which had only once conferred upon the human race a survival advantage, they continue to play a vital role.

We are moral creatures, and moral standards are part of what it means to be human. To nullify them is to make ourselves less than human. Despite our postmodern denials, our embedded moral circuitry insures some semblance of morality. More importantly, they lead us to their ultimate Author and cure, the forgiveness of God, that is able to counter all the feelings that result from the absolute and unavoidable standards He has planted within us.

I know that this is an extreme and annoying claim. However, I am certain that Christ is the missing piece that completes the puzzle of humanity – the piece that holds all the other parts together in harmony. This is something that can only be seen from within, but let me try to illustrate.

Not only does Christ forgive and cleanse me from all my moral failures, He also has made following His implanted moral code – and we find it spelled out in His Scriptures –a thing of joy, as the Prophet Isaiah had portrayed the Messiah:

·       And his delight shall be in [serving] the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:3-4)

When we embrace the moral law, which we find written on our conscience, as truth, we also embrace ourselves, who we truly are. Therefore, I find great delight and liberation in living in harmony with this embedded code. This gives me a powerful rationale for resisting my destructive impulses and the satisfaction in knowing the truth that exceeds all other claimants. It is like completing a 1000 piece puzzle and seeing how all the shapes and patterns fit together. It is also like standing on a mountaintop and seeing how all the towns are connected together by their roads. There is joy in truth as well as in morality.

There is also freedom. Before, I had been obsessed with trying to prove my value as a person. Now this has been fulfilled in Jesus, as Paul had commented:

·       …I count everything [I had trusted in for my self-esteem] as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)

Guilt and shame are unforgiving taskmasters. They can never be satisfied, no matter how much we sacrifice. They will always demand more accomplishments and recognition. However, in Christ, we have all the validation we will ever need.

Admittedly, I am over-simplifying. There are also potholes in the roads and even obstacles. Sometimes, the puzzle comes with missing pieces. However, we can trust that the pieces will soon become apparent.