Risky Living: Jumping from the Ultimate Precipice

I have briefly explored the idea of good risks and bad risks in relation to the corona virus threat we have been facing over the last year. Using that as a springboard, I will explored the idea of tempting death, something, which we can’t avoid, regardless of how carefully we live. Now, I want to talk about the good risk of jumping from the ultimate precipice.

Some people gravitate toward risky behavior like a moth to the flame, and others impulsively withdraw into bubbles of protection for fear of sickness, injury and ultimately death. As one who gravitated naturally a little closer to the flames than the bubble, I lived a somewhat reckless youth. The precipice of physical danger, however, brought me to a more metaphysical precipice. The reckless attempt to find fulfillment in corporal, temporal things, led me far enough down that path to rule them out as the missing thing I really wanted.

As I read the Gospels for the first time in a college class, I recognized the truth in the statement that we should not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth. I could see that earthly treasures promised no lasting fulfillment. I had tested their capacity for fulfillment and found them wanting. I could see far enough down that road to know it contained a dead end.

Those experiences, eventually, led me to another precipice – a spiritual one. If God is real, I was on the outside looking in. I couldn’t see “in”. God stood behind a curtain to me, shrouded in mystery that I couldn’t penetrate.

I didn’t realize, then, that would find what I was seeking behind that curtain, but I was propositioned one day with the task of explaining God why He should let me in to His heaven…. That question brought me to the brink of that spiritual precipice.

His heaven… I realized in that moment that heaven (whatever heaven might be) was God’s place. He didn’t have to let me in. I was treading on His turf there, if indeed God existed, and He was under no compulsion to let me enter.

And why should He?

The answer that came from my mouth rang hollow in my heart. “I am trying to do better.” Better is a pretty relative term, but was my effort good enough? Was my effort even the best I could do? …. I knew it wasn’t.

If my best wasn’t enough, I was sunk, and I “knew” in my heart that it wasn’t enough. I knew in my heart I hadn’t even given my best.

When my questioner offered (finally) that heaven is a gift that God gives us, and we can’t earn it, I was dumbfounded.

My entire life was about earning something – earning attention, earning respect, earning grades, earning my own self-acceptance – and I was always falling short. I couldn’t even live up to my own expectations of myself. I wasn’t who I thought I should be!

My recklessness for seeking attention and acceptance and achievement turned to recklessness (for a time) in my abandonment to drinking, doing drugs and risky living. I saw that I was incapable of living up to my own dreams, so I abandoned those dreams for a time to the numbness of a narcotic stupor. Yet, I couldn’t escape the longing, and it only deepened the gap to realization of it.

I had turned back from the inevitable dead-end of a self-induced stupor to a purposeful seeking, but that which I sought I couldn’t exactly define. It wasn’t in me, but it seemed attainable. It was elusive, but I could almost taste it.

I stood at a new precipice that day, when I realized that a God who created the earth controlled whether I might enter His heaven. At the prospect that He offered it freely to me, if I would take it, I jumped.

(I have been to other precipices since that day for which the jump wasn’t as easy, maybe because I wasn’t as reckless, maybe because I took the jump more seriously, counting the cost more completely.)

I had jumped from other precipices, physical ones, in my life in attempts to find the right combination of thrill and daring that would make me feel better about myself, earn the respect or (at least) the attention of my peers and help me fit in to the world I wanted to live in and the person I thought I wanted to be. Those jumps had not brought me any closer to anything that was really satisfying, but that metaphysical jump I took when faced with the prospect of a God who “owned” heaven changed my life.

I accepted the offer. I “accepted” Jesus as my Lord and Savior (not knowing nearly well enough what that really meant). Fortunately, God took me at my word (little, though, that I knew what I was doing).

When I started this piece, I was reading The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith by Sy Garte. He was a third-generation atheist, born to Russian immigrants who are members of the Communist party. He studied science and became a scientist. Along the way, the science that he was learning led him to question the philosophical naturalism and materialism that he had assumed was reality all his life.


I will end be telling the story of the precipice to which Sy Garte came. The landscape of this precipice looked different than the one to which I came many years earlier, but the decision to jump was no less momentous.

Continue reading “Risky Living: Jumping from the Ultimate Precipice”

My Answers to Questions about Christianity

Good questions are maybe more important than answers


A recent blogger posted the following challenge: Questions about Christianity, do you have answers? I am not sure I have all the right answers, but I feel compelled to respond, nevertheless. Good questions are maybe more important than answers. This blogger asks some good ones, so I will attempt some answers.

Question 1: The Christian religion portends God knows past, present, and future, and only a select group of people will go to heaven. The rest, whom he gave their own ability to think for themselves are condemned to hell for eternity. If God allows people to be born he ultimately already knows [sic] will reject Christianity and are destined for hell [sic] would this not preclude God’s love and benevolence?

I don’t like the word, religion. Growing up Catholic, I never felt good about religion. I didn’t feel comfortable in church, and I recoiled from dogmatism. I became a believer in college after reckless alcohol and drug use, becoming a seeker and exploring philosophy, literature, poetry and world religions. I still don’t feel comfortable with religion.

Religion is what people do and how people appear on the outside. Reality is on the inside. God sees the reality of people’s hearts; we don’t.

Religion, I believe, is too much of a man made construct. Not that there is no truth in religion; it’s just that religion is an effort at boxing in metaphysical reality that more or less defies the effort. The box (religion) often isn’t as flexible and resilient as it needs to be.

I think that God knowing past, present and future (from our perspective) flows out of who/what God must be. This gets into cosmological and other “arguments”. Simply, if the universe had a beginning, it had a cause. They cause of the universe could not possibly be the universe. The cause had to be something other than the universe.

The universe that came into being at the point of singularity (the so-called Big Bang) includes all of space/time and matter as we know it. Thus, the cause must be something other than space/time and matter. This basically means a cause that exists “outside” of space/time matter.

At this point, we don’t have the right words or perspective to flesh it out much further. Our perspective is subject to space/time and matter, so we naturally struggle describing something beyond it. The best conception we have is that God knows the past, present and future.

From our perspective, God did set the universe in motion “knowing” how it would play out. It sounds like you grew up in the Reformed tradition. I don’t understand that either. I don’t think God resigns some people to heaven and some people to hell, but what do I know?

I do think that will to choose is a necessity of love. If a man says he loves a woman but rapes her when she rebuffs his advances, no one would think that he loved her. Just the opposite. Love requires two freely willing entities. (Or it isn’t love.)

Did God know that some people would (or might) reject Him and go their own way? Yeah, I think we have to say He did. If He created a universe in which real love is possible, though, it has to be a universe in which there is real choice.

As for hell, I think it is a construct. It’s an attempt to define a particular reality that isn’t good. (Not all Christians believe in eternal flames.) It is the reality of not choosing or choosing not to love and embrace God. If God is love, rejecting or failing to choose God leaves a person without love (at a minimum).

I have come to conceive it kind of like gravity and other laws of physics. It’s just the way it is. I don’t know what hell really is. Some people say that people who reject or fail to choose God just cease to exist, and they have strong arguments from Scripture for that view. I really don’t know, and I am not willing to claim that I do.

CS Lewis, in the book, The Great Divorce, explores the idea of hell being an extension of our existence on earth (as is heaven) in which people are forever moving away from each other and fading into a shadowy existence. We choose the direction we go; and though we are free to choose otherwise, at some point, the inertia of our movement carries us along in the direction we have chosen. It’s not so much a single choice, but an untold number of small ones that can become reflexive over time.

CS Lewis also paints a picture in the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia that gets at the idea that we don’t know what is in the heart of a person, but God does. For want of time and space, the whole world is lined up in front of the Lion (the Christ figure) and most walk past Him. As each person approaches, they are either drawn or repelled.

At that point, they have no more choice left. People have made their choices (the sum of all the choices they made during life). The surprising thing is that some of the people who are drawn and some of the people who are repelled are not what you would expect.

One last thought: the conversation between Jesus and the thief on the cross suggests that a person can make the choice at the very last minute. Despite all the choices or failing to choose during life, if a person turns to God, even at the last minute, God will accept them. This makes sense if God is, indeed, love as Scripture says.

There is so much more to explore here, but time and energy suggest that I more on. Continue reading “My Answers to Questions about Christianity”

Sy Garte: From Atheism to Agnosticism to Christianity

The assumptions of materialism he carried with him into the study of science were challenged by the science, itself


Sy Garte grew up in an atheist household. His ancestors for generations were atheists. His lateral relatives were atheists, and the people close to him in his life were atheists. He assumed atheism was normal. He didn’t question atheism or materialism as the basic assumptions of his life.

Sy Garte earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and BS in Chemistry from the City University of New York. He has been a Professor of Public Health and Environmental Health Sciences at New York University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pittsburgh. He has written over 200 scientific publications in genetics, molecular epidemiology, cancer research and other areas, and he is the author of five book, and numerous articles published in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith (PSCF) and God and Nature.  He retired from a senior administrative position at the National Institute of Health. (See his biography at Biologos)

Wait a minute… articles on science and Christian faith?

He was an atheist and a scientist. So, what happened?

Well, Dr. Sy Garte has written a book about “what happened” – The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith. I haven’t read the book (yet, I just ordered it), but I listened to an interview that I have embedded below, and it’s a pretty interesting story. I also added an interview of Sy Garte hosted by a once professed Christian turned hardcore atheist (the kind who isn’t content to allow other people to remain Christians).

Continue reading “Sy Garte: From Atheism to Agnosticism to Christianity”