Archive for the ‘Morality’ 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”. The Importance of Being Earnest, commonly believed to be his best work written at the height of his career, is more subtle and nuanced, but continues the same theme, as do all of the works of Oscar Wilde. (See Wikipedia)

We know much of Wilde’s private life, ironically, from a much publicized court case that publicized his private life when Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel. Queensberry was also an outspoken atheist. 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”. 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 for 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 former Shakespearean performer. 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. God gives us the ability to experience pleasure and pain. In that sense, God gives us both pleasure and pain. Neither one is intrinsically good or bad. CS Lewis implies this when he says that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but He shouts to us in our pain.

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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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Are Christians Hypocrites?

July 14, 2018


The charge that Christians are hypocrites is a common one. Many people cite the hypocrisy of Christians as a reason they don’t go to church or consider themselves Christian. According to Webster, a hypocrite is “a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion” or “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings”. As a Christian, I take this charge seriously, and so I feel compelled to address it.

In this world of fake news, we seem to be on hyper alert to what is fake. If Christians claim to be virtuous or religious, but they act like everyone else, most people would consider them “fake”. If Christians have ascribed to certain standards of morality and conduct, but don’t live up to those standards themselves, most people would call them hypocrites.

As I survey the Christians that I know and have known in my life, I find myself having to concede that Christians are guilty as charged. In fact, I need look no further than myself to come to that conclusion. I fail in my life on a regular basis to live up to the standards I believe in, though I recoil at the thought of putting up a false front about it.

Still, the answer is clear and obvious: Christians are hypocrites.

We are religious. It isn’t a pretense, for most of us. We try to be virtuous. That usually isn’t a pretense either, but we fail to live up to the standards we hold out. There can be no doubt of that.

Calling Christians hypocrites is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s that easy. You literally can’t miss.

But, that isn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot. It’s only the beginning.

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Judging the Old Testament God with New Testament Morality

May 29, 2018


I am a fan of Perry Marshall, the author of Evolution 2.0, and a champion of the integration of science and faith. I don’t necessarily agree with him on his conclusions about evolution, but (frankly) that is only because I am not a science guy. I don’t disagree with him either. Perry Marshall, Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, and Francis Collins and BioLogos all present reasoned and evidence-based views on science and faith, as do others, and they don’t all agree.

Such is the character of being finitely human. We see in part. We know in part. We just don’t have the kind of perspective to be able to get our arms around the big picture to any degree of mathematical certainty. I enjoy reading them all, and I even listen to and read the atheists and agnostics from time to time.

One of the main objections to “the God of the Bible” is on the basis of morality, not of science. Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein both shared difficulty understanding a God who could/would allow so much pain and suffering in the world. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, what gives? So the thinking goes.

The recent post by Perry Marshall, Isn’t a Deist God a Little Less Troublesome?, deals with this issue. In the article, Perry responds to a someone who rejected Christianity on these moral grounds, but who could not get past the evidence that life could not have just happened the way it exists in the universe with such order without some Help.

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What the Gospel Means to the World

February 19, 2017
depositphotos Image ID: 19311001 Copyrightt cdp

depositphotos Image ID: 19311001 Copyrightt cdp

What does it mean to take up the cross and follow Jesus? Maybe it means being willing to be vulnerable and willing to be weak for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe it means putting the Gospel first and my desire to preserve myself last. Maybe it means being more concerned with the spread of the Gospel than my own reputation.

We hesitate to be outspoken about the Gospel because the Gospel means something different to the world that is perishing than it means to us. For those being saved, the Gospel (the message of the cross) is the power of God for salvation. But for the world, it is received much differently.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom[1] of the wise,
and the discernment[2] of the discerning I will thwart.”

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly[3] of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.[4]

God is about the business of destroying “the wisdom of the wise” and “the discernment of the discerning”. If that is God’s business, and if we are following after God, this should be our business as well. How then is God destroying the wisdom and discernment of the world?

The Jews demanded a sign, and Jesus dying on the cross was not the sign sign they expected. They expected a savior that would overthrow the Roman government and set up a self-governing Jewish state in the Promised Land. Jesus didn’t meet their expectations and became a stumbling block to them.

The Greeks wanted sophistication and clever philosophy. Their standard was Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics who developed systematic philosophies. The Gospel to them was foolishness, dull and lacking in the sharpness of thought that the Greeks expected of their thinkers. the Gospel seemed like foolishness to them. .

The world today wants tolerance, acceptance, validation and normalization of every form of thinking, affection and lifestyle. Anything goes, and the world demands validation of any identify, affection or behavior that someone wants to embrace. The Gospel that embraces self-restraint over self-love and which carries the message that following Jesus as the only way is seen as intolerance to the world.

Wisdom and systematic philosophy is out. The world doesn’t believe in signs anymore. The standard today is tolerance, acceptance and pluralism, sacrificing the truth on the altar of individual rights, freedoms and the license to be or do whatever one wants with no moral constraints.

In this world today, people who hold stubbornly to the Gospel are considered Neanderthal, provincial and vulgar. Taking up our crosses today means being accused of intolerance and “bronze age” thinking.  Black has become white. The Gospel is seen as moral depravity in this world that values the morality of man over the righteousness of God.

The Gospel is the word of an Infidel to the Muslims who bow only to Allah and are instructed to convert, subject or kill those who will not also bow. Yet our modern pluralistic society gives the Muslim world a pass while blaming the Christian church for intolerance.

In any age and in every age, the Gospel runs counter to the prevalent norms and worldviews of the times. The Gospel stands apart, and the followers of Christ stand with it.

Paul preached only Christ and him crucified to the Greeks who thought it was foolishness and to the Jews to whom it was a stumbling block. So we preach Christ who is the way the truth and the life to those who think we are intolerant, to the Muslims who think we are infidels, to the scientists who think we are ignorant and to the modern moralist who thinks their own morality surpasses the righteousness of God.

Significantly Paul, who’s ministry was to the Greeks and the Romans, did not eschew knowledge or philosophy or the signs the Jewish world was looking for. It wasn’t as if Paul was not a learned man, full of knowledge of Jewish history and scripture. He was trained up in the finest school of the Pharisees run by Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of the time.

It was not as if Paul was an ignorant or unlearned man in Greek philosophy. When he addressed the people in Athens, he cited by memory Greek poets and philosophers. It’s just that Paul did not buy into the Jewish interpretation of scripture that missed the very Son of God among its pages. Paul did not buy into the knowledge and philosophy of the Greeks because knowledge and philosophy cannot save a man from his sin.

So today, it’s not as if Christians are intolerant. Jesus has instructed us to welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, to love those who are unlovely and even to love our enemies. Still, Jesus is the way the truth and the life and there is no other way to the Father but through Jesus.

It’s not as if Christians are not intelligent in the ways of science. Until very modern times, Christians led the world in science. In the last couple hundred years, Christians have abdicated the realm of science to the atheists and agnostics. The atheists and agnostics, in turn, have shut the Christians out by defining science narrowly, excluding any thought of god from it. Yet, people of faith are still involved in the sciences. We may even be going through a Renaissance of faith-based science today.

It’s not as if Christians are immoral. Far from it, Jesus called his followers to a higher morality even than the Jewish Pharisees, rooting out even thoughts that are sinful and serving others to the point of self-sacrifice. Jesus exemplified that morality because Jesus, the exact representation of God on earth, is the standard. .

It’s not as if there is any other way to salvation. Muhammad lived and died and remains buried. Jesus rose from the dead. There is no other Messiah. There is no other person in whose name is the power of life and salvation. Jesus is our bread. He is our water living water. Everything boils down to Jesus. As it was in Paul’s day so it is now in our day.

Taking up the cross and following Jesus, holding out the Gospel, will be met in much the same way as it was meet in Jesus’ day. The world that is perishing will not receive it, but it is salvation and life to those who will receive it. Even if no one receives it, still we carry the cross because there is not other Messiah and are no other words that give life.

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[1] Sophia means “wisdom” and supplies the root of the English terms “sophistication” and “philosophy”. In this sense, the Gospel is contrasted to the sophistication and philosophy of the world.

[2] Sýnesis is translated discernment or cleverness. Literally, it means holistic understanding by joining facts together; synthesized reasoning by bringing implicit (indirect) truths together. In short, it means a worldview. Thus, the Gospel is contrasted to the prevailing worldviews.

[3] Mōría means folly; literally, dull (lacking sharpness).

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Have Christians Lost the Moral High Ground on Immigration?

January 26, 2017
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Photo by Tim Butterfield


“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger[1] and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [2]

The parable of the sheep and goats and the explanation of it given by Jesus is relevant to the issue of immigration. This is not in the Old Testament, but the New Testament. This isn’t God talking to the nation of Israel (as if what God said to the nation of Israel has no bearing on us), but God talking to all of us through Jesus.

The bottom line is this: we will be judged by how we treat people.

A case can be made that God’s instructions to the Israelites on the treatment of strangers (aliens, foreigners, immigrants) doesn’t apply to us today,[3] like ceremonial and dietary laws don’t apply to us today as followers of Christ. At least, that is the position taken by James K. Hoffmeier in the article, The Use and Abuse of the Bible in the Immigration Debate, December 2011.[4]

Hoffmeier argues that conservative Christians should not take a position in favor of immigration. He says that only secularists and liberals hold to that position, and they misquote the Bible to support that position.

Before diving in to the issue, we should note that the discussion isn’t about whether immigration should be allowed, or not. We already allow immigration and always have. Few people are arguing that we should open the borders wide with no controls at all, and few people are arguing that we should shut the borders tight and not allow any immigration at all.

The issue is the extent of the immigration we should allow and the terms and conditions that we should attach to it. But, the debate sounds as if people are lining up completely in favor of open borders or completely in favor of closing them off. Neither view is accurate of most people, and assuming that it is counterproductive.

Another issue we need to contend with is the notion that the secularists and liberals have staked out the ground in favor of immigration. This notion is also false. Who is against immigration?! Who would refuse any immigration at all? Everyone but Native Americans are descendants of immigrants in this country.

But, what if those “secularists and liberals” are “right” in their policies that favor more compassionate immigration? Do we oppose things just because secularists or liberals ascribe to them? These are questions I ask myself as I consider the issues. Are we just reacting? I believe we should be guided, not by our opposition to positions taken by unbelievers, but by our own reading of the Scriptures and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I am neither a secularist nor a liberal. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and I believe that we are responsible to God whose Word is preserved in the Bible. My reading of the Bible leads me to take the position that we have a holy responsibility to welcome strangers, immigrants, into our land because that is the heart of God.

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Can You Be Good Without God?

October 18, 2016

Theists claim that people could not do good without God. But, people do good things all the time, even without believing in God. Atheists, agnostics and people of all stripes can do good things and they do good things.

Obviously, believing in God is not a prerequisite to doing good things. A better question, is whether good can exist without God?

If God does not exist, what basis exists for determining good or bad? Right or wrong? (more…)


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