Thursday, August 9, 2012

Something God Cannot Do

Something God can't do?  Them's fightin' words in evangelical Christian circles.  What do I mean?  Well, God cannot break the rules of logic.  It is often heard in Christian churches that God's ways are far above our ways, so far in fact the He transcends our ways of thinking.  The rules of logic are man's inventions, and God is above all that.

I want to point out the problems with that view.  First, let me describe one of the most basic laws of logic, called the Law of Non-contradiction.  This law states that a thing (call it "A") cannot be not-that-thing (call it "non-A") at the same time and in the same manner.  "A" can't be "non-A."  It's as simple as that.

For example, the statements, "My apple is round" and "My apple is square" cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way.  Maybe I cut my apple into a square shape later, but that's not at the same time.  Maybe by square I meant to say that the apple is healthy and is part of a "square meal," but that is not in the same manner.

Second, let's apply this to the Christian God.  Consider the statements, "Jesus is the only way to God" and "Jesus is not the only way to God."  Now if God is above "man's" Law of Non-Contradiction, then both of these statements could be true of God at the same time.  But clearly this is not what we believe, and it's incoherent.  Should I believe in Jesus or not?  If not, why did he bother to come?  This Law is written into the fabric of the universe, not because we made it, but because we discovered it.  Without this Law, our faith would be worthless, and life becomes incoherent.  The only possible way that we can pursue evangelism and the making of disciples is if Jesus truly is the only way to get to God.

In summary, even God cannot break the laws of logic.  They flow from His character and are not arbitrary inventions.  Life cannot be lived otherwise.  As Ravi Zacharias has said, if I step into a busy street right in front of a bus, it's either me or the bus, but not both.

That's the logic of reality.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Less of a Man?

In this year's London Olympics, a runner by the name of Oscar Pistorius, who is a double-amputee and runs with prostheses that look like blades, attempted to qualify for the 400-m men's final.  He did not make it to the big race, but Oscar will go down as an unforgettable character in these games.  A little controversy surrounded him initially as critics wondered if his prostheses would give him an advantage.  In the end he was allowed to run.

This situation got me to thinking about what it means to be human.  Here's why.  The materialist message we get from our culture, especially from the scientific community, is that we are nothing but matter, meat and bones all the way down.  No soul or spirit that can't be accounted for by the firing of neurons or shifting of chemicals.

Here's the thought I had in relation to Oscar and this materialist message: if it's true that all we are is ultimately meat robots, then when a person loses a limb and becomes an amputee, then it is absolutely true that he is less of a man.  He is not the man he was before.  His body has changed, and since all he is is a body, then he's not the same.  He is less.  But this doesn't seem to match our own sense of ourselves. 

What if the materialists are wrong and we are more than sum of our parts?  Then Oscar's body has indeed changed, but he is not less of a person.  Notice I used the word person here and not man as used previously.  If we have souls then our bodies may change, but our person-hood remains unaffected.  By the way, this accounts for a phenomenon that we all notice as we age.  Clearly as we advance in years our bodies change: we get shorter, greyer, heavier, ricketier, and more forgetful.  But we still have this sense that we are the same person.  This body that we animate gets older, but we "still feel like a teenager," as older folk are often heard to say.

All of this to say that if we are nothing but physical stuff, we do indeed change and become less over time.  This materialist diminution of ourselves plays right into the hand of the euthanasia crowd.  If we are less, why keep us around?  But if the theists are right (those of us who believe in a God), then we can account for personal continuity regardless of how our outer shell is affected by the world.  God has created us not only with a body, but also a soul that animates that body.

So maybe Oscar the man is not less of a person after all.

Is Truth True?

We often hear in our culture that there is no such thing as truth.  Something may be true for you, but not for me.  The next time someone says to you that all truth is relative and no absolute truth exists, just ask them, "Is it true that there is no absolute truth?"

I hope you can see that this simple question points out the obvious: the statement, "There is no truth," is itself making a truth claim.  You can't avoid truth.  It's like playing Whack-a-Mole.  If you pound it down over here, it pops up somewhere else.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Quote of the Day

JP Moreland:

“God maintains a delicate balance between keeping his existence sufficiently evident so people will know he's there and yet hiding his presence enough so that people who want to choose to ignore him can do it. This way, their choice of destiny is really free.”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Problem of Evil

When I was in 12th grade, I took my high school’s AP English class, and during the course of the year we had to read the book of Job (rhymes with “robe”) from the Old Testament.  Because this book deals with the undeserved anguish and suffering of a man who loses his children, wealth, and even physical health, one of the topics of class was the classic “problem of evil.”  My English teacher presented this argument to our class:

Premise 1: If an all-good, all-powerful God exists, he would be both able and willing to deal with evil, and so evil should not exist.
Premise 2: Evil does in fact exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, either God is not all-good, or all-powerful (or perhaps he doesn’t exist at all).

This challenging argument was completely new to me.  I had very little idea how to respond, and neither did the other Christian students in the room, as I recall.  I remember, however, not being satisfied at all with the result of our conversation.  I just knew that there had to be a better way to deal with this challenge to God’s character.

And there is.

This argument, known more formally as the logical problem of evil, attempts to disprove the existence of God, or at least some of his more traditional attributes, by logical deduction.  And it seems to make sense.  How can a God who claims to be good and powerful also allow evil to exist in a world that he created? 

Evil seems so prevalent in this world.  As I write this in August of 2012, we have just had a horrific shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  Twelve people were shot dead and many more wounded in a senseless, selfish act.  Syrian rebels are holding 48 Iranian hostages.  Another shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee.  Spouses beat spouses, parents beat and abuse children, children beat and abuse each other.  Human beings are capable of so much atrocity toward each other.

Yet pain and suffering does not only come from our own species.  The drought of the century has a chokehold over the entire middle part of our country.  Crops are dying, and rivers are drying up.  We’re heading into hurricane season, and assuredly a few of these natural terrors will destroy somebody’s home, somebody’s livelihood, somebody’s life.  The “good” world is often not so good.

Should we conclude that no good, powerful God could possibly exist?

The Christian’s answer to this challenge relies on this actual existence of evil that every normal-functioning human being is capable of sensing.  And this will be discussed in the next post.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Principled Response

A blog post by a gentleman named Matthew Paul Turner that made the rounds Thursday asserts “5 Reasons Why the Church Failed Yesterday” in supporting Chick-fil-A’s Appreciation day.  On the face of it, the article seems to make a lot of sense: Christians didn’t show love, but on the contrary demonstrated hate.  We (the Church) put an issue above people, and built walls of separation between us and “them.”  Finally, we didn’t prove that we didn’t hate gay people.  It is entirely true that many of us in the Church do not demonstrate love toward others, including those in the “GLBTQ” community. 

My first response is just a quick observation: Mr. Turner deals so heavily in abstract concepts throughout his piece that it’s hard to get a handle on what he thinks we, as Christians, should do.  We didn’t show Love, we demonstrated Hate, we were focused on an Issue, we built a Wall by not showing Peace, Grace, Hope and Love.  The problem with dealing strictly in abstract concepts like Love, Hate, Peace, and so forth is that they are hard to nail down.  They mean different things to different people and so it’s an easy way to critique something without having to get specific.  My question to Mr. Turner: What does it look like to show love to the GLBTQ community?  You seem to imply that I have to agree with their point of view for this to be possible.  What concrete suggestions do you have?

Second, this CFA appreciation day cannot be ripped from its context.  We all know that there is tremendous debate about whether the government should promote same-sex marriage.  Mr. Turner clearly thinks that “loving the sinner” and taking a stand against same-sex marriage and “gay people adopting children” is mutually exclusive.  I disagree.  Many people, not just Christians, have taken a principled opposition to this issue, having considered the wider cultural ramifications of changing the definition of marriage.  By going to CFA on Wednesday, many were using this meal choice not just as a support for a Christian-run company, but also as a vote proxy.  They were voting their conscience by buying chicken from a company they esteem.  Mr. Turner considers this to be placing an Issue above people, but the knife cuts both ways: the sometimes un-Christlike attitude of Christian supporters of same-sex marriage can be accused of the very same thing: placing their Issue above loving their brothers and sisters in Christ.  The point is both sides have taken a principled stance, and we do both sides an injustice by just brushing aside their objections with slogans.

In consideration of those wider cultural ramifications, Dinesh D’Souza makes a convincing point about how our Western culture has historically included four elements to the definition of marriage.  First, he says marriage involves only two people, not groups of people.  Second, marriage is reserved for adults.  Adults marrying children is anathema to our way of thinking. Third, those adults must be unrelated.  We have a big no-no about marrying our siblings.  Fourth, marriage has historically been between a man and a woman.  I would add a fifth element: in Western culture, marriage has become a consensual arrangement.  We don’t value arranged marriages the way other cultures still do.  D’Souza then offers a poignant argument: the advocates of same-sex marriage want to strike out principle number four, but retain the others.  What principled reason is there to retain the other elements of marriage if we choose to uproot one of them?  This seems arbitrary.  We ought to have an overwhelming reason for changing this one aspect and not the others.  And if we change one, some group in our country will begin to advocate for changing another of these traditional elements of marriage.  It’s only a matter of time. 

Those of us who stand against the cultural tide of same-sex marriage advocacy worry what this will do to our culture.  It has become a cliché to offer this rejoinder to our concerns, “But how will allowing two people who love each other to get married affect your life?”  My response is: it may do absolutely nothing to my family.  But that misses the point.  Cultural movements require analyses on a larger scale.  It is not fair to advocate for a fundamental change in civilization and then focus only on small, discreet, personalized effects.  Analyzing the large-scale, culture-wide outcomes on families, especially on children, must be undertaken.  Discussing those possible effects is beyond the scope of my intentions here, but suffice it to say that cultural changes will necessarily carry cultural consequences.

Finally, the Christian Scriptures do not condemn homosexual attractions, only homosexual behavior.  Men and women who have a same-sex orientation can serve God in the exact same capacities as those with a heterosexual orientation.  Everyone, however, is held to the same biblical standard: holiness and purity in our sexual relations.  I like what Ben Witherington had to say about the relationship between the Church and the gay community.  He says that all are welcome to come to Christ and the Church as they are.  No requirements, just come.  But he then adds that although everyone is welcome to come as they are, they are not welcome to stay as they are.  Becoming a follower of Christ means just that: we follow Christ.  We orient our lives toward him and obey him in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

So, in the end I agree with the force of what Mr. Turner was trying to communicate.  We ought to love and not hate those in the GLBTQ community.  But simply disagreeing with their position does not make one hateful.  That is an unfair criticism.  I don’t have any pat answers or cute responses about how we should demonstrate Christ’s love in a concrete way except perhaps to pray as I often try to do: Lord, open my eyes to opportunities around me to serve others for your Kingdom.  Amen.

The Chick-fil-A brouhaha of summer '12 brought up an issue that I’ve seen several people talk about on Facebook: is it ever appropriate to judge another person?  So many people quote Matt 7:1 (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” NIV) that it seems that’s the only thing the Bible has to say on this issue.  So the informal Facebook consensus appears to be no.

Everything that could be said about this question would require much more space, but I’d like to offer a thought or two about the role of judgment in the Christian life.  First, it is not true that Jesus was all about love, sunshine, and giggles.  There are many times when he pronounced judgment coming on others (e.g. John 5:24-29 and Luke 16:14-5).  He was at times harsh and commanding (remember the clearing of the temple in Mark 11?).  Of course he was full of compassion for the weak and downtrodden, but he was fire and brimstone for the arrogant and hypocrites.  In the classic Matt 7 passage, please note that Jesus a few verses later gave the prescription for judgment: first, deal with your own issues, then you will see clearly to help your brother/sister deal with theirs.

Second, Paul actually gives some teaching on judging others in 1 Corinthians 5.  In the context of associating with sexually immoral people, Paul explicitly states that we are NOT to judge those outside the church (i.e. those who do not claim to be followers of Christ).  But, for those who DO claim to follow Christ and yet live immoral lifestyles (here Paul mentions more than just sexual immorality), Paul makes it clear that those in the local church should judge that person.  For the Corinthians, Paul tells them to put the immoral person out of the church.  This wasn’t exactly “seeker friendly”, but effective at curbing sin the church.

To sum up: Judgment of another person is sometimes appropriate.  Don’t judge someone for something if you have the same problem.  But if a person claims to be a follower of Christ and yet lives in sin, the local church should judge that person, both for his/her benefit and for that of the church.  If they don’t claim to be a believer, then our role is not to judge, but to share the Gospel in a loving manner.

So, these are just a few thoughts for you to chew on, and there is much more that could be said.  Please understand that this is written for those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ.  I welcome your thoughts.