Flatland: A Short Post About Understanding Human Limitation

Have you ever heard of a novella known as Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott? It’s a really interesting concept of a world that exists in only two dimensions. It is the story of the inhabitants of a universe that is completely flat where the notion of anything with depth is utterly foreign to them. The story features a square who comes in contact with a strange sphere that exists in three dimension. At first the square thinks the sphere is merely a circle who is pulling tricks on him since the only part of the sphere that square can see is a growing or shrinking circle that exists in two dimensions as seen here:

Despite all his efforts the sphere can neither explain nor convince to the square that the third dimension exists or what the third dimension is. When the sphere moves in and out of the second dimension the square thinks he is a magician doing tricks to make himself grow and shrink. When the sphere rolls across the dimension the square can feel him, but not see him and does not believe. When the sphere looks onto the flat dimension of square’s house he is able to tell square what is in all the rooms before square is able to open the doors:

Eventually, though square cannot even begin to conceive of the third dimension, he comes to believe it exists and wonders what other dimensions exist that he could never imagine.

It’s an interesting concept that was meant to open up people’s minds, but I see it as quite an elaborate and easily understood way to discuss human limitation. We perceive space, depth, and time, but any other dimensions are out of our range of perception. Even in this universe we inhabit we are limited to experience only in five senses (taste, touch, smell, feel, and sound). Just as a blind person is handicapped in perceiving and experiencing the universe, so might we be without knowing it. Had no human being ever tasted could it imagine what it would be like to taste a steak?

So when limited beings like square encounter something beyond our comprehension it seems normal to assume something is amiss. Square rarely questions the notion that something could exist that he cannot see.  How silly we are to stay in the mindset of square, to think that because we cannot sense or understand something it cannot be. Until square met sphere he thought he was the ultimate judge of truth in the universe, but he soon became aware of his own limitations. So too must we become aware of our limitations and not be so hasty to dismiss the impossible.

If God exists he is surely much more complicated and transcendent than sphere, and if he does exist I can guarantee that our ability to grasp the eternal, omniscient, all-powerful, alpha and omega in all his splendor will be much more beyond us than it was for square to understand sphere.  It’s something to think about.


You Are Quite Absurd: Kierkegaard, Camus, Nietzsche, King Solomon, and The Quest For Purpose

Have you ever actually considered the possibility that you serve no purpose whatsoever. Has it ever occurred to you that you came into being by chance and regardless of what you do in life you will not have achieved anything that will be of use to you the moment you die. Has it crossed your mind that more likely than not you are going to be completely forgotten within a few generations, and that even if you become some great hero or villain the memory of you will eventually fade into myth and then into nothingness as if you never walked the earth at all… Quite depressing isn’t it. Welcome to the world of Absurdist Philosophy.

In philosophy an “Absurdist” is one who recognizes the conflict between the human tendency to seek meaning and value in life alongside the human inability to find any. Let’s face the facts Jack, you are a tiny little speck of carbon, on a tiny little planet, in a tiny little solar system, in an outer rim galaxy residing in the  boondocks of a universe that (as far as we know) is simply floating around in a sea of infinite nothing. You can never hope to be more than that and since medicine can only go so far you will only truly “exist” for maybe 70-100 years (if your lucky) before you cease to be forever.

Strangely enough, human beings have been constantly searching for truth and meaning in a universe that by all logic has none. So during this small time gap that you have to live you really only have four options:

  1. Embrace Death: Upon realizing that life truly has no meaning, purpose, or real reason to continue other than it just does one can simply vote not to participate anymore. I’m not condoning suicide at all, but unfortunately this is the response many who come to realize “the Absurd” choose in order to escape this game. It’s definitely the darkest option available.
  2. Ignore The Absurd Reality: This is the most popular option, but also one of the most unsatisfying. You can simply ignore the fact that you are meaningless, insignificant, and fading fast into oblivion. You are perfectly free to go about your daily grind of work, rest, pleasure, and whatever else floats your boat ignoring the ever looming truth that everything you love and work for will one day be a pile of nothing quickly forgotten and destroyed.
  3. Embrace The Absurd Reality: This is the philosophy of Albert Camus which can be read about in “The Myth of Sisyphus”.  In short, if one embraces the absurd he can eliminate all moral constraints and  accept that meaninglessness as inevitable. If purpose exists then we cannot find it and so in the mean time we should just make up our own purpose for ourselves. Camus argued that doing this leads to a true freedom and an ability to live out your life unhindered. Camus would argue that purpose is what you make it and that true freedom comes in being able to decide for yourself what is true and what is not.
  4. Embrace “Spiritual” Purpose: This is the philosophy of Kierkegaard (and this author) which argues that there is, in fact, a purpose and meaning to all of this but it cannot be found in the physical realm. It is the rather unscientific belief in the existence of a reality and truth beyond The Absurd. Now this belief does require one to accept the intangible and empirically unproven (a.k.a. “Faith”) but it is the only way one can ever truly hold on to anything in life as being eternal, lasting, true, or meaningful. It is the only way one can ever fully fulfill the unquenchable desire for purpose.

Now needless to say these views are often in conflict with each other. Kierkegaard though that “embracing the Absurd” was a form of madness that leads one to rage against purpose rather than seeking it as man clearly was meant to. Camus, on the other hand, saw religion and the embracing of spiritual purpose as “philosophical suicide.” Then there were those like Nietzsche who look down on the notion of “purpose” as a tool for the weak who are too afraid to truly “look into the void.”

For those of you keeping score at home it breaks down a little something like this:

Is there such a thing as meaning, purpose, or value: 

  • Kierkegaard: Yes, but one can only find this through faith in a Higher Power. Logic cannot find it on its own.
  • Camus: Maybe, but we can’t find it so we might as well go with whatever feels right to you.
  • Nietzsche: No.
**If you want a more elaborate description please feel free to read up on these three, I’m oversimplifying for the sake of time and space.** 

What is interesting is that “the Absurd” was a problem that scripture dealt with long before Kierkegaard, Camus, or Nietzsche ever set foot on this earth. King Solomon himself (the alleged wisest man on earth) also struggled with this:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

““Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

– King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 1)

King Solomon was all about that doom and gloom stuff. You see King Solomon struggled with the idea of purpose just as we have. If you continue to read Ecclesiastes you see that he found everything from pleasure, to wisdom, to wealth, and honor utter pointless in the face of what would later be called “the Absurd.” He knew his time was limited and fleeting, and he could find no reason or purpose in anything man could do or achieve.

Eventually he comes to the conclusion that in the end no man knows what purpose God has laid out before him:

When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
– Ecclesiastes 8:16-17

It’s a really depressing book when we get right down to it, but in the end the only things that King Solomon could think worthy of our time is to enjoy the work and life that God gave us, because regardless of any reason we can determine were put here for some purpose.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

Or at least that’s what wise old King Solomon deduced. Christianity offers a little more in the way of purpose than what King Solomon envisioned. We just so happen to exist on the other opposite side of the cross, and we have already begun to see God enacting his plan for the renewal of this world.

King Solomon would have never been able to dream that God would come down and take the weight of sin away from us. He never would have been able to comprehend that one day the gap between God and man would be bridged and that all of history has been moving back towards restoration ever since the fall of man.

Solomon would have never have thought to hope for renewal, resurrection, and restoration of all things to their former glory as we understand them today. As Christians we can look “the Absurd” in the eye with full confidence knowing that all is not in vain. Where Nietzsche stared into the void and saw the void staring back, we can stare into the void and catch a tiny glimpse of the mind of a great creator and planner that has more in store for us than we have dreamed.

God is ultimately glorified and we are steadily moving towards a day where pain and suffering will cease to be and all of creation will exist in perfect harmony as when it first began.

The Christian ultimately finds his place in the universe absurd, not because he is a purposeless creature seeking a purpose he cannot obtain, but because God so loved sinners that he would take suffering upon himself for our sake. God does not love us because we are good, but he is Good and as a result loves us and has a purpose for us. We are not alone, nor are we abandoned. We have a higher purpose that exists outside the mental capacity of men. It is not a conclusion hard to make when one realizes that:

1. We deeply desire purpose and meaning.

2. In spite of our best efforts we cannot seem to find it.

Or as a wiser man than I once put it:

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

-C.S. Lewis

The Theology of Superman

So I’ll come out and admit that Superman is my favorite superhero. I love that big blue boy scout who always flys in at the last moment to save the day. What I find strange is that in spite of the immense impact that Superman has left on pop-culture, I often find that Superman fans are in the minority now. Whenever the favorite superhero question comes up the usual answers are Batman, Spider-man, or one of the X-men or Avengers. Superman is sort of the Elvis Presley of Superheroes in that everyone knows who he is, but there aren’t that many people today who would say he’s their favorite anymore.

The Last Son of Krypton, may be just a little too old fashioned for a modern audience. Not to mention he is not exactly relatable to most people. In a lot of ways he seems just too good to be true,  and in a world where “dark” and “edgy” are seen as the norm Superman sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s stronger than anyone, faster than anyone, and on top of this he is selfless and merciful to the point where it can make you roll your eyes. Superman is too good for anyone to relate to, he’s borderline perfect. So what’s the appeal and why do I like Superman so much?

Here’s a short independent film that I really think helped capture more than it probably meant to:

In the film a young girl who has run away from home is asked ten questions by Clark Kent (Superman) in exchange for a lighter she lost. The questions expose a troubled past and (whether intentional or not) get down right theological within the confines of the Superman mythos.

The girl in this film who goes by “Sarah” reveals in the interview that she doesn’t believe in Superman. When asked why she replies:

“There is no Super-Man, I mean there’s no one like that. If someone that powerful really existed why is the world such a horrible place? Wouldn’t he do something about it? They just make up this perfect hero we can all look up to… but in the end of the day nothing happens and people like me don’t matter.”

Clark Kent asks Sarah if there’s anything he can do to help, but she turns down the offer. When he again offers to give her a ride, she says refuses again saying that “you will just drag me home.” Clark replies by saying:

“If Superman were real, and I’m not saying he isn’t, but if he is… I don’t think he would drag you home.”

When asked why Clark thinks that he replies:

“Well if he just forced you to do what he wanted you to do, he wouldn’t be much of a Superman now would he.”

Now maybe this is just my over analytical mind at work, but I couldn’t get around drawing an analogy to God in this little exchange.

Now I’m far from the first one to draw an analogy between Superman and Christianity.  People SM660have been drawing connections between common Christian themes and Superman for decades. I mean it’s almost too easy.

A savior comes from the heavens to show us the way. He was raised in humble beginnings and grew up among the lower class. He looked just like one of us but it is clear from his incredible works that he is something more. He is given opportunities to rule over people or to use his abilities for his own gain, but instead he choses to remain selfless and uncorrupted, allowing people to choose right and wrong rather than forcing anyone to conform to his will. In the end of the day he knows his life’s mission was to save people no matter the cost.

Hopefully by now you get my drift of how these connections are pretty easy to draw. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Superman is a fictional “Messiah” figure, which I think is what always draws me to him. Sometimes it’s good to believe that an incorruptible force of good does exist out there.

As Sarah learned in the aforementioned film, it is important never to give up on the idea that something good, pure, and incorruptible can exist. “Too good to be true” doesn’t have to be the case all the time, and hope is not always a lost cause.

Now I’m not holding my breath for an alien in spandex to come and fight all my battles for me, but I am of the idea that sometimes Messiahs are real, and sometimes God gives us a gift greater than anything we deserve.

As a Christian I believe that all men are sinful, but that God loved us so much that he humbled himself in the form of Christ to come and show us the way. I believe that Christ did not just come and die, but that he willingly gave himself up to take on the full weight of sin and death so that we could be saved. I believe that Christ truly saved us all and that he continues to offer redemption and saving grace to all who seek it. For many maybe this story seems “too good to be true”, but for me I think sometimes stories are too good not to be true. The God I worship knows what it is to be both king and rebel, rich and poor, invincible and broken, and I believe that all things work together for good.

I’m a Christian and I love Superman, not because he is relatable, but because he reminds me that there is a champion of good out there who has overcome every evil this world could muster, and that because he lived it is ok to hold onto hope.

Lets Talk Opium: A Philosophical and Theological Slug Fest!

So I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with the famous quote of Karl Marx “Religion is the opium of the people.”  It is arguably the most famous atheist quote of all time, and though it is a misquote it still manages to become circulated pretty often among Communists, Socialists, and Anti-Theist circles. The message seems clear, Religion is simply a tool used to control people and make them dormant. Opium, after all, is still used today as a pain remover in most medical practices. The original quote doesn’t stray far from the purpose of the popular misquote:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
– Karl Marx

You can see that the original quote needed to be shortened a bit, because when used in its proper context it tends to lose its sting. In this version, religion is nothing more than a means for oppressed and purposeless creatures to find solace and comfort. Religion in this view is a means to heal the pain of the reality many find themselves.

While this is a very morbid way to look at Religion, it is actually not as harsh as many have made it out to be. If we truly are, as Marx stated, creatures of a heartless world living in a soulless condition then I’ll freely admit that I am clinging on to hope and purpose with all I have. If in the end Marx is right about Religion, then the choice you make to accept or deny religion really doesn’t hold any weight. It seems the worst thing a religious person could be would be someone clinging to a false hope, and the greatest thing an atheist could be is a creature living in a heartless and soulless world that has simply become aware of its own insignificance.

But what if Religion is not the Opium in this allegorical scenario? What if it was the Atheist who was the Opiate hooked on a false reality and seeking solace through denial?  This is the view of the Lithuanian poet Czesław Miłosz who replied to Marx with the following words:

“A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged.”
― Czesław Miłosz

Now we are faced with the strange conflict of views, two ideals each convinced the other is no more than an Opiate abuser trying to deny reality through a comforting fantasy they have crafted. The only difference is where Marx’s version places the Atheist and the Religious on the same level (both pointless beings living in a pointless world)  Miłosz’s scenario illustrates the severity of the situation from the opposite point of view. If the Atheist is correct then we all run around on this little planet for a while and then are no more, but if the Religious person is correct then this time we were given will have been of much greater importance than we have dreamed.

The French philosopher Pascal, summed it up this way:

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is….

…”God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

“That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.

– Pascal

Now Pascal has basically made religion a gambling game with a cost vs reward angle applied (of which I am not a fan) but he does make some very valid points in favor of why Religion may in the long run prove to be the safer of the two sides. Now those that hold to the Atheist point of view will often counter with something called the “Atheist’s Wager” which seeks to map out all the possible outcomes of living a good/bad life paired with the existence or lack of a benevolent god. It goes as follows:

  • You may live a good life and believe in a god, and a benevolent god exists, in which case you go to heaven: your gain is infinite.
  • You may live a good life without believing in a god, and a benevolent god exists, in which case you go to heaven: your gain is infinite.
  • You may live a good life and believe in a god, but no benevolent god exists, in which case you leave a positive legacy to the world; your gain is finite.
  • You may live a good life without believing in a god, and no benevolent god exists, in which case you leave a positive legacy to the world; your gain is finite.
  • You may live an evil life and believe in a god, and a benevolent god exists, in which case you go to hell: your loss is infinite.
  • You may live an evil life without believing in a god, and a benevolent god exists, in which case you go to hell: your loss is infinite.
  • You may live an evil life and believe in a god, but no benevolent god exists, in which case you leave a negative legacy to the world; your loss is finite.
  • You may live an evil life without believing in a god, and no benevolent god exists, in which case you leave a negative legacy to the world; your loss is finite.

Now while this seems all fine and dandy, it doesn’t really fit very well into Christian thought (which I obviously subscribe to) because it hinges itself on the presupposition that living a good life is the standard upon which a soul is judged. While this may be the way we as humans judge ourselves, those of Christian mind find this view lacking.

Christian though reverses this logic and instead asks the question of “Why do we suppose that we deserve heaven?” Now if heaven is truly eternal and contains no evil whatsoever, it would seem that in order to be worthy of such a prise one would need to also be completely lacking in evil. On this standard each person fails because, as most people eventually realize, no man is fully good or fully evil. Each of us is a various mixed bag of redeemable and shameful qualities. Are we to suppose that being a good person some of the time deserves eternal reward?

It is because of this that the Atheist’s wager falls apart in Christian perspective because no amount of goodness makes us worthy of eternal bliss, it can be assumed that if any man obtains eternal bliss it is due completely upon the mercy and grace of God. This thought is accepted by Christianity and it is believed that God gives such grace and mercy freely to those whom accept it. In this scenario (as Jesus said) it is only God who is good.

In the end one of these views will prove to be right. Either we will all perish into nothingness, leaving only a fleeting legacy of our deeds behind us, or we will go on to face something more. It’s a belief that can be put off only so long before a man must make his choice. But who is the opiate, and who sees the world for what it is?  This question is ultimately up to you.

I have made my choice and I’m siding with religion on this one. With religion this chaotic world I live in begins to make sense and this strange desire for purpose and meaning become fulfilled. With religion I can strive for something and grasp on to something real, absolute, and lasting. The universe makes sense for me in the presence of a living God, and for those who believe it does not seem such a far-fetched notion that there does exist something absolute and true:

“The atheist can appeal to nothing [philosophically] absolute, nothing objectively true for all people, it is just mere opinion enforced by might. The Christian appeals to a standard outside himself/herself in which truth and qualitative values can be made sense of.”

-Peter Huff

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such a violent reaction against it?.. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

-C.S. Lewis

Then again perhaps it is I who is taking the Opium of religion to ease myself through this painful and utterly coincidental journey of life. Perhaps it is all hopes, dreams, and hog-wash that I indulge in so that I never face the reality of my insignificance. Even if this were the case, which I truly doubt is, would I be better off living without my religion? Would I be a better person if I truly believed that after I am dead nothing I did will have any significance on me, that I am here for no greater purpose than something I can fantasize or dream up, than I am a coincidence that occurred for no other reason than that I did and that I only continue to live because life for some reason wishes to continue (though there is on ultimate reason or goal to be achieved). Would nihilism or hedonism really suit me better? I think not.

My religion is my grand love affair. It spurs me on to improve myself and to selflessly give for others. It is my hope, my dreams, and my greatest passion. It is my all-consuming fire and my light that guides my way. If all of this is founded upon nothing more than lies and false hopes, then I can still think of no better way to spend my short life here on earth than living in the hope and beauty of the reality of a loving God.

Martin Luther King’s Bible: A MLK Day Post Featuring Dr. Cornel West and President Obama

So today is Martin Luther King Day, a day in which we remember the late great Rev. Dr. King.  Doctor King was Baptist preacher, a civil rights activist, a philosopher, and living symbol of non-violent protest all rolled up into one man. He is remembered primarily for his civil rights work, but he also stood for social justice and the long held belief that all men are created equal in God’s image. His death was tragic, but in both his life and death he spurred racial and social progress forward and for that he is fondly remembered today by most.

Now I tend to avoid talking politics (and will continue to do so in the future) but recently news broke that President Obama was going to swear into office for his second term using the Bible of Dr. King.  Now when this news broke it didn’t sit well with me because in my mind it was taking Dr. King’s legacy and using it as a prop to celebrate President Obama’s second term.

Now President Obama and I disagree on many issues but that’s not the point of this post. Like Peter once said:

“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” 

-1 Peter 2:17

Though I disagree with many of Obama’s policies this is not about him or his administration. This is about the Legacy of Dr. King.

Now Dr. Cornel West is a man who by all accounts I should not like, but I do immensely. He is pretty much my political opposite (He’s a Socialist and I’m a Libertarian), but his ongoing desire for social justice and human rights for all fueled by his love of Jesus Christ makes him one of my favorite radicals. I bring him up because I found his take on the whole President Obama/Dr. King story enlightening:

I think we can all take a lesson from Dr. King’s example today and remember to stand up against injustice and practice love towards everyone. Let us not use his legacy as a prop that does nothing but give us a feel good vibe. Instead let us use his legacy to inspire us to stand up for those who are being oppressed today. Perhaps God has called you to stand up for the homeless in your town, the millions of unborn victims of abortion, the shamed and abandoned homosexuals and transvestite without families, the mentally handicapped or physically disabled, the poor and starving around the world, or the innocent victims of war and violence.

This world needs heroes to stand up and be a voice for those who have none. This is what Christ did with his time on this world and it is that legacy that Dr. King took up and passed on to us. Now it’s our time to take the legacy of those who came before us and do something with it. So let us be inspired by this man’s legacy and have it drive us to be better, to love better, and to fight the good fight. Otherwise we have resigned his legacy to a mere prop, never spearing us onward towards anything greater, never igniting a desire for justice, never inspiring us to love and fight for those who need our help.

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

– Matthew 25:34-40

Happy MLK Day, let’s make it one that Dr. King would be proud of.

“Sure, Why Not”: How We Enslave Ourselves Over and Over Again

So this past Sunday I was teaching a lesson on Moses and how God used him to free the enslaved Hebrews from Egypt. It’s a classic tale that most people (even those without a religious background) are at least somewhat familiar with. What inspired me to write this post was not the lesson I taught, but the strangely revealing interaction that happened as the lesson was wrapping up. My lesson was just a basic summation of the Exodus story and I tried to end the lesson by drawing a connection to Christ. The obvious metaphor I came up with was that just as God delivered the Israelites from physical slavery, God today delivers us from the binds of slavery to our sin. When I asked the question “Now that God has freed us from sin, should we go on sinning since we know that God will always redeem us?” I expected a chorus of “No” to echo out, but instead I got a “Sure, why not.”

“Sure, why not” took me completely off guard. I asked for the youth to clarify what he meant, hoping that he had mispoken or that I had misinterpreted him. I don’t remember exactly what he said word for word, but it was on the lines of “If God forgives us then why can’t we keep on sinning?”

For a moment I couldn’t understand how this young person could have gotten that after I had just taught for forty minutes about God’s amazing gift of liberation, then I realized exactly what was wrong here. This young person had come to love his prison. He didn’t want to be free, he was happy living in whatever sin he was going through. All he wanted was for God to leave him be, and in his mind as long as he was forgiven he was ok staying where he was.

As twisted as that seems to me, this young person is really not all that different from many people. He saw the hollow, temporary, and empty satisfaction sin gives us and had gotten so deeply hooked that he had forgotten what it is to be free. Like a prisoner who has spent too much time behind bars, he had learned to love his self-inflicted chains.

Let’s be clear right away that sin is always a destructive thing. Sin can only bring you further from the God who loves you and knows what is best for you. The pornographer may learn to love his solitary prison of loneliness and synthetic human connection if he forgets what it is like to be free and living in the real world. A substance abuser may learn to love his crippling addiction if he forgets what it is like to be free from the constant hunger for more. The unhealthy over eater may learn to love his fatty idols if he forgets what it is like to be able to exercise and operate in a healthy body. Regardless of the sin, we often become so enthralled with our demons that we no longer remember what it is like to be truly free.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

– C.S. Lewis.

Sin is always contrary to a healthy life, and freedom from sin is life as it was meant to be lived. To live a life of purity and freedom from the ever consuming and destructive passions of sin is a joy that very few live to know on this side of eternity. This is primarily because we love to sit in our own filth and pretend that it will someday make us happy. We give up on the gifts God has to offer us for the garbage of this world simply because it is easy.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-”
– Colossians 1:21-23

Sin makes us the enemy of God. It alienates us and takes us away from the good and pure natural order of creation. Sin only leads to more rage, lust, violence, selfishness, laziness, gluttony, greed, and other contaminating filth that poisons the soul. We poison ourselves daily to the point where we have come to love the poison. We are addicts who cannot free ourselves from our own downward spiral. Yet in spite of our lost state, Christ offers us freedom and redemption.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
– 2 Corinthians 3:17

So why on earth would you want to return to the filth and garbage you once were a part of? I’m just as human as you are and as a result I am prone to sin. God is not shocked that we fail and his grace and mercy are sufficient to forgive us and purify us whenever we fall and return to him with repentance, but that does not excuse us to return to our own filth any time we please.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
– Galatians 5:1

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
– Galatians 5:13

Every time we indulge in sin we are poisoning the pure, beautiful, and wonderful life that God envisioned for us. We are like slaves who have been liberated and then return back to their old masters at the first sign of trouble. Like Israel who often complained about freedom being too hard and wanted to return to slavery in Egypt, we in our weakness choose sin and death over life.

So should we go on sinning? Heck No!  We should hate our sin with a fiery passion!  We should despise our old chains and fight with all our ability to remain free. When we fail (as we all will eventually) we should be quick to return to the feet of God and repent. We should never feel at home wallowing in our muck and grime.  We are the freed children of God and this reality is one that needs to be embraced. God made you for so much more.

The Seemingly Sexist Epistle: Why History Is Important In Studying Scripture

So before we even look at the issue of sexism in Paul’s writings, let’s establish right here and now that patriarchy was the norm for a very long time. The Old Testament was chock full of dudes (as is the New) and significant women were often portrayed as evil (Jezebel), doubtful (Sarai), easily tempted (Eve), and stumbling blocks for men (Bathsheba).  And while there were plenty of important female figures in the Old Testament that weren’t a reflection of old world sexism (Deborah, Esther, Rehab) it was mostly a man’s world. This can be seen as a consequence of sin. In Genesis 3:16, God lists the patriarchal “husbands shall rule over you” as a consequence that had to be lived with as a result of the broken world.

Now the question for us today is what we do under the New Covenant. We know that Christ set us free from the binds of sin and law. We also know according to Galatians: 

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

– Galatians 3:28

So there should be no class, race, or gender distinction between those who are children of God. We are all one body and we can all take equal part in receiving the salvation that comes through Christ.

So what the heck is this about:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

– 1 Timothy 2:11-15

This is a favorite passage for Anti-theists to point to as proof that Christianity is sexist. Now when taken out of context this passage makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. How can Paul say that women cannot teach and must remain quiet when in Titus he says that:

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

– Titus 2:3-5

Now granted this is in the context of women’s ministry, but it is still clear that it is the women who teach in this instance. How can a woman be expected to teach if she is not permitted to even speak in church? Now nay sayers may come back and say that this passage was not meant to be seen in a church setting, but that older women should mentore younger women in the home. It could be interpreted either way, but that’s not where the trouble for this passage ends.

You see, Paul actually encountered and praised several women in ministry positions throughout his time on earth as recorded in both Acts and his Epistles.

  • Priscilla – Along with her husband this woman helped instruct others in teaching the gospel, lead a house church, and is mentioned as one of Paul’s coworkers. (Acts 18:26; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3) The fact that she is mentioned alongside her husband rather than just her husband being named shows that she probably took equal part in their combined ministry. 
  • Phoebe – Is described as a “diakonon” which was a term reserved for church elders, and where the term Deacon came from. This shows that a woman was capable of being a church elder even as far back as the first century church. (Romans 16:1).
  • Junia – Is referred to among the outstanding Apostles, a title that Paul proudly used to describe himself and his own ministry.  (Romans 16:7)
  • Nympha – Is mentioned as a leader of a house church in Laodicea (Colossians 4:15)
  • Euodia and Syntyche – Worked at Paul’s side to help share the Gospel (Phil. 4:31)

So where on earth did 1 Timothy 2:11-15 come from? For that answer we turn to a fancy little tool I like to call “historical context“.

We should first understand what the book fo 1 Timothy is. None of Paul’s epistles were written to be systematic theology or scripture. Each and every one of these was a letter that Paul wrote, usually to a church or an individual. These letters were usually responding to a crisis or trouble that the early churches were facing, and as a result the letters contain occasional theology, practical advice, and encouragement designed to deal with specific problems and issues.

These letters were saved by many churches in order to preserve the wisdom they contained and these writings were later canonized as scripture. The saved writings of Paul (along with Peter, James, and John) would later be added as part of the New Testament canon for their theological, historic, and practical significance each one posessed.

1 Timothy is no exception and so context is important to understanding this very strange passage. This letter was written by Paul to Timothy, the leader of the Church in Ephesus, to convince him not to abandon his church and to give him guidance into how he could overcome some of the problems he was facing (mainly deception, meaningless talk, and false gospels). You see Ephesus was a city whose main religion was focused around worshiping Artemis, the goddess of fertility and child-birth. As a result the temple priestesses were most likely the main opposition that Timothy’s church faced.

The priestesses of Artemis would not have taken kindly to the Christians who were teaching things that would have encroached upon their target audience.

“…But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

This line was not saying that woman would obtain salvation by bearing children, but rather that it was God who protected them through the birthing process. In Ephesus the temple of Artemis got many sacrifices and donations from people who wanted their loved ones to have a successful birth. Infant and mother fatality rates back then were much higher than they are now, and so when a woman was close to labor it was common to fear for both her and the babies safety. When christians came on the scene and started saying that Artemis would not protect them and that only God had that power, it probably caused quite a stir.

So now the passage in 1 Timothy 2 makes a little more sense in context. This was not a means to say that women could never teach or that their position in life was to become quite, unquestioning, subservient slaves to men. This was how Paul addressed a local problem. Women (priestesses of Artemis) were disrupting Christian worship, spreading false doctrines, and making a mess of things so Paul tells Timothy to cut it off completely and let the men do the teaching. Perhaps it is a bit extreme by today’s standards, but it worked.

Also addressing the Adam and Eve reference in the passage, it seems more likely that this analogy was meant to illustrate that women have mislead men in the past, but it is not there to condemn womanhood in general, as many have used it.

So was the Apostle Paul a sexist? I don’t know, I never met the guy, but I don’t think he was. We have to draw our own conclusions, but when all the evidence is examined and context is considered I don’t see a lot of evidence for a vendetta against women.

What about the passage itself, Is 1 Timothy 2:11-15 a moment of ordained sexism that was permitted in order to resolve a local problem? I guess that depends on how you judge the passage. Without a doubt the passage is taking an extreme stance in order to prevent false doctrines to spread in the Church at Ephesus, and though clearly not a universal teaching, there was a moment when Paul told the women of Ephesus that they should stop teaching and speaking in church. Was Paul in the wrong for this?

Shockingly enough I’d say no. Excessive perhaps, but I don’t think Paul “wrong” to take an extreme stance in order to keep the Christian church in Ephesus alive and preaching the true gospel of Christ. We only have two of the letters that Paul wrote to Timothy, so it is unclear if we can really determine how Paul wanted this issue to be resolved in the long run. Perhaps a better and more efficient system would later be put in place at Ephesus, and this was only a temporary measure. We don’t know what the long term plan was or what the Apostle’s intent was other than that he needed to address the problem quickly.

While not allowing all of the women of the church in Ephesus to speak was not fair to the women who did nothing wrong, it seems that (at least for the moment it was written in) it was a necessary measure. If the tables were turned and it was men who were asked not to speak up in Church or banned from teaching, then I would be rather upset too. I would hate being told I was not permitted to speak just because some other guys were screwing up the services with bad theology and lies. In the end though, remaining silent for a time is worth it if taking such a measure means saving the church and allowing the saving message of Christ to spread in Ephesus.

This passage will always be a bit of a controversial one if for no other reason than we are trying to piece together a story that is missing many of its pieces. We don’t really know everything that lead up to this point (though history helps us make educated guesses) and we really don’t know how this issue was eventually resolved. We have a fraction of the conversation that took place and no more. While I’m sure this post will not unravel the issue of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 completely, it is my hope that in writing this I have given my readers a better glimpse and perhaps a clearer understanding of what the passage probably meant for its original audience.