Archive for the ‘Faith’ category

The False Promise of Pleasure

August 12, 2018

Statue of writer and playright Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square in Dublin, Ireland.

“Meaninglessness does not come from weariness with pain. Meaningless comes from weariness with pleasure….  No one is more fed up with life than one who has exhausted pleasure. Some of the loneliest people in the world are those who have lived indulgent lives and emotionally and physically drive themselves to impotence.”

This is a quotation from Ravi Zacharias in a talk he gave titled, the Problem of Pleasure. If you listen to Ravi Zacharias much, you will note that he returns to this theme often, and he often mentions Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish poet and playwright. He was a brilliant writer and thinker who was an outspoken atheist and lived a hedonistic lifestyle. Wilde is described as “the supreme individualist”. The Picture of Dorian Gray, is described as a “novel of vice hidden beneath art” tinged with “self-conscious decadence”, while The Importance of Being Earnest, commonly believed to be his best work written at the height of his career, is more subtle and nuanced. (See Wikipedia)

We know so much of Wilde’s private life, ironically, from a much publicized court room drama played out in real life when Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel. Queensberry was also an outspoken atheist, and Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, was the person who introduced Wilde to “the Victorian underground of gay prostitution”. Queensberry’s defense was to prove his statements true by hiring private investigators to uncover the “salacious details of Wilde’s private life” exploring that Victorian underground. The trial that Wilde initiated left him bankrupt as the defense proved the truth of Queenberry’s statements.

Wilde, the “colourful agent provocateur in Victorian society”, spared himself no pleasure and wasn’t shy about his lifestyle. Like Solomon, though, he retained a sort of wisdom borne of experience. Having been baptized as a child, he often used biblical imagery and characters in his writing, though his use was, perhaps, sacrilegious.  During a two year prison sentence of homosexual actions, he requested the Bible in multiple, languages, Dante’s Divine Comedy and other works with Christian themes. When he was released from prison, the Catholic Church turned down his request to spend six months at a monastery, and Wilde wept at the news.

As I sit here thinking of these things, I am also thinking of the unfolding story of a friend, a very enthusiastic and committed believer in God. He is a lover of the stage, a Shakespearean performer in his past. In that sense, he shares something in common with the playwright, Wilde. My friend is in the ICU as I write, having suffered a series of strokes that could leave him incommunicative and paralyzed. Even in his desperate physical situation, he and his family have experienced the presence of God sustaining them in faith. They exhibit a transcendent joy and peace even in the middle of the difficulties they face.

We are naturally attracted to pleasure and pull back from pain, but sometimes the pleasures we seek cause us pain. We tend to think that pleasure is good and pain is bad, if not in a moral sense, then certainly in an experiential sense. Neither one is intrinsically good or bad, in my opinion. CS Lewis says that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but He shouts to us in our pain.

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Stairway to Heaven

August 9, 2018


Stairway to Heaven is, perhaps, my favorite song of all time. I was a big Led Zeppelin fan growing up. A case can be made that Stairway to Heaven is the greatest rock song of all time. It has all the elements of a great song. It has great melody. It has thoughtful, poetic lyrics. It rises and builds from a delicately unforgettable introduction to a crescendo of orchestration that matches the sweep of the lyrics with one of the most iconic guitar solos ever performed.

I am not one of those people who listen to music first for the lyrics. I hear the music first. I may never really learn the lyrics. Sometimes, I can’t even remember the song title. So, as I listened to the song recently, some 45 years or so after I first heard it, I realized that the song is about inspiration and hope. I hadn’t really thought about it much before. I just liked the song.

Like many rock songs, Stairway to Heaven was written with the seemingly eternal exuberance of youth and youthful energy. Though I am much older now, it, still resonates. It’s still sits in the pocket for me. It’s still a song of hope, ultimately, but I now have a different perspective.

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The Fibonacci Sequence: Common Descent or Common Design?

August 1, 2018


 

Ever heard of the Fibonacci sequence? It is a sequence of numbers where each one is the sum of the previous two numbers. The sequence runs 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. What’s fascinating about the Fibonacci sequence is that when you make squares the size of the numbers, […]

via A Spectacular Sequence — God does not believe in atheists

I spent the weekend at a booth at a fair talking to people about science and faith. While some believe the two topics are incompatible with each other, I beg to differ. The compatibility of science (and math) and faith is the theme of the article I have reblogged here.

The article got my thinking about some conversations I had or overheard at the fair. We usually post a question and invite people to vote on it. The question on Sunday was this: Do humans and apes share a common ancestor? The question draws people who want to weigh in, and sometimes it sparks conversation.

In more than one conversation triggered by a “yes” vote on our question, people cited for support the commonalities between apes and humans for evidence of common origin. Indeed the commonalities can be seen at almost every level, from body design to DNA.

It’s a reasonable argument, but common ancestry isn’t the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the evidence. The evidence could be explained by common design.

The article observes:

The “Fibonacci spiral” is found everywhere. It is to be seen in plant leaves, pine cones, seashells, pineapples, ferns, daisies, artichokes, sunflowers and even galaxies. It’s in the arrangement of seeds on flowers. It’s in starfish. It’s in the cochlea of your inner ear, which is not simply a spiraled shape, it’s the actual Fibonacci spiral, with the exact number sequence.

The Fibonacci spiral is present in our bodies, as it is present in things as diverse as plants, shells and galaxies. So it seems fair to ask: is the Fibonacci spiral evidence of common descent? Or is it common design?

Justification by Faith

July 28, 2018


In a previous blog post, I observed that Scripture reveals a progression from law to relationship to faith. In Habakkuk, the prophet said, “The righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) This statement in Habakkuk is the second half of a verse that contrasts “the proud one” whose soul “is not upright to the righteous one who lives by faith. The implication is that the righteousness is linked to faith and is contrasted to pride.

We see this theme continued in the New Testament:

“The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)


“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)


“[M]y righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:37)

And the reason that salvation is by faith (in the grace of God) is so that no one can boast.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

When Jesus summarized all the law and prophets in just two statements (love God and love your neighbor) he whisked us past the academic details of the law to the simple heart and spirit of the law. (Luke 10:25-27) If we think this simplification of the law makes it any easier on us, however, we should think again. At the same time Jesus simplified the expression of the law, Jesus upped the ante on us when he said that, if we even lust in our hearts, we have committed adultery. If we have even gotten angry in our hearts at our brother, we may have committed the sin of murder. (See Mathew 5:21-48)

Jesus made the law simpler and more difficult to follow at the same time!

Maybe this is because our ability to follow the law (to maintain God’s standard of morality) isn’t the key point. In fact, the point is our inability, in ourselves, to live up to God’s standard! Until we realize that we can’t measure up, we don’t measure up, we are depending on ourselves and our own efforts to “be right with God”. But we never can. Whether it’s 613 laws or just two principles, we fall short.

Our focus shouldn’t be on the laws and other people. On this horizontal level, we compare ourselves to others, and we judge ourselves and others in comparison. This is where pride and self-righteousness dwell, and the focus is, ultimately, on ourselves. Rather our focus should be vertical, on God and our relationship to him.

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When the Why Questions become Rhetorical

July 26, 2018


I am not sure that I am up to the task of writing what I want to write, but I’m going to attempt it anyway. These thoughts occurred to me as I was listening to Justin Brierley interviewed by David Smalley. Brierley hosts the British show, Unbelievable! on Premiere Christian Radio, while Smalley hosts the atheist counterpart, Dogma Debate.

Both men are cut from the same cloth in the sense that they usually host people with opposing views, and they do it in a refreshingly even-handed, civil manner, giving deference and respect to both “sides” and both individuals. They are shining examples of open, intellectual discourse. I much prefer the informal, civil discussion to the formality and contrary tone of a debate.

Much of their discussion focused on the “problem of evil”. If God is all-good and all-powerful, why does He allow bad things to happen to people? Either He isn’t all-good, or He isn’t all-powerful. This is the classic problem of evil. For David Smalley, the answer is either that “God doesn’t care, or God doesn’t exist”, and if God doesn’t care, then David Smalley concludes, “God isn’t worthy to be worshiped”.

Many very smart people, like Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, have run their faith aground on these rocky shores.

As the two men discussed their respective views, and as Smalley questioned Brierley (because Brierley was the guest of Smalley in this show), I listened with interest and some mild frustration and disappointment. To paraphrase (and very poorly, I’m afraid), Smalley repeatedly asked unanswerable questions, and Brierley repeatedly tried to answer them.

I don’t blame either man. This is the condition of our finite beings. How can we know what we don’t know? We have a lot of unanswerable questions and insufficient answers.

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Christianity and Society’s Ills

July 23, 2018

Heroes Square Budapest Hungary

A social media friend recently responded to a blog article I wrote, Are Christians Hypocrites, by asking whether I thought that “higher religious subscription correlated to fewer societal ills”. I think the answer is clearly, yes! (For a skeptic who agrees, see this dialogue on the podcast Unbelievable!) But I know what he was getting at. Intermixed with that “progress” in the Western world are deep grains of corruption and evil in which the Church was not only complicit, but intimately involved.

My friend is a skeptic and an atheist. He believes that the world is better off without religion. He is critical of Christianity, and let’s face it: “the Church” has created its share of societal ills!

People are often critical of Christians and Christianity with some basis in fact for its checkered past. Christians often view that history differently than non-Christians, but a candid person must admit that corruption in “the church” at different times in history is undeniable.

For skeptics, this vein of corruption running through the history of “the Church” spoils the whole thing, undermines the truth of Christianity and justifies their rejection of it and the God Christians profess. The fact that popular history focuses on that corruption, to the exclusion of all the good that Christianity has brought to the world, doesn’t negate the fact that such corruption exists.

When my friend posed his loaded question to me, I suspect that he sees a correlation between religion and societal ills, and I can’t deny it. But there is much more to the analysis. From my cursory perspective (I am no historical or ecclesiastical scholar), that corruption correlates strongly and directly with the “marriage” of church and state power. I think that Lord Acton was right: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When the church becomes intertwined with kings and kingdoms, the influences of power, wealth and all that goes with it colors the church. The church is inevitably corrupted by it.

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Jesus and the “God of the Old Testament”

July 11, 2018


I began a two-part series on The God that we Judge with a little introduction. In reading and listening to people who judge “the God of the Old Testament” (or, more universally, “the God of the Bible”), I am shocked at how little understanding most people have about what they are judging and rejecting. My goal is to provide a little context and understanding, albeit it is very little.

For starters, the biblical narrative is the story of an infinite God revealing Himself to His finite, limited creation. That creation (humankind) has capacity to learn and to understand, but the limits in knowledge, experience, understanding, perspective, etc. must be overcome. The revelation is progressive, little by little over a long period of time. That perspective and understanding is developed through one people group that God tries to work with to a point when, at that right time, God introduces Himself into the creation/story in human form – Jesus.

Many of the people who judge “the God of the Old Testament” consider Jesus to be a wise man, like Ghandi. Jesus is the universal religious figure. All religions claim Jesus and acknowledge him, but many of them don’t consider Jesus to be God. Many people believe Jesus was just a wise man. Many people also believe Jesus to be very different than the God of the Old Testament. And that is where I will start in this second half of this two-part series.

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