The Faith of Mary and the Doubt of Zechariah

This is going to be a short post, but I thought it was worth sharing.  Today I started re-reading the “Gospel of Luke” and something stood out to me in the first few pages.

The account begins with two big announcements. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah first and tells him that he will have a son to be named John. After Zechariah manages to calm his nerves from the shock of seeing an Angel in the temple he says the following:

“How can I be sure of this? I am and old man and my wife is well along in years?” – Luke 1:18

The answer he got is kind of humorous:

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” – Luke 1:19

zechariah

“I’m a freakin’ Angel Zechariah, what more proof do you need?”

Because Zechariah doubted he was not allowed to speak words until the time the baby was born.

The next big event is almost exactly the same situation, but with totally different results. Gabriel appears again, this time to a young virgin named Mary, and tells her she too will have a son. Gabriel reveals many wondrous things that will be said and done by this child and he instructs Mary that his name is to be Jesus.

Mary responds in a way that at first glance seems a lot like Zachariah’s reaction. After overcoming the fright that angels seem to cause in people she responds by saying:

“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” – Luke 1:34

Mary’s question, however isn’t met with any punishment or penance. She just get’s a pretty straight to the point answer.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35

So what is the big deal? Why does Zechariah get the punished and Mary just has her question answered? Well I think there is a subtle, but important difference to note in the two questions.  Zechariah wanted to know how he could be sure God would act. Mary knew God would keep his word, she only wished to know how he would keep his promises.

Zechariah, though he was a high priest, saw an impossible obstacle and wondered if God could move it. Mary, though she was young, saw an impossible obstacle and wondered how god would move it.

We should all strive to be more like Mary in our faith.

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“40 Questions To Ask A Christian” – My Response

So I came across and article entitled “40 Questions To Ask A Christian” which was meant to be a thought exercise on behalf of the Atheists to be taken up by Christians. As the author wrote:

“Asking a difficult question can achieve better results because it taps into the Christian’s desire to share the wisdom they perceive themselves to have. Any reflex for angry disagreement is quashed and replaced by an obligation to think their answer through. Ultimately, thought is what an atheist should be trying to elicit. By asking the right questions, one can determine the direction that such thought takes.”

So I have copied the article’s 40 questions below and I will attempt to answer them to the best of my ability. I have not prepared or done any research before or after reading these questions. I wanted to be as genuine in my answers as possible, and try to respond as I would if I were asked these questions by a random stranger on the street.

40 Questions for Christians

  • (Global Religion)

If a hundred different religions have to be wrong for yours to be right, does this show that people from all over the world like to invent gods that don’t exist?

Not necessarily. Let’s look at it this way, if a hundred different accounts of a historical event have to be wrong for yours to be right, does that show that people all over the world like to invent historical events that don’t exist?  The answer would be no. Most all cultures have some grasp of God or gods no matter how isolated they may be. The problem is usually not “Does God exist” as much as it is “What is God like.”   Having said that I don’t think anyone has to be wrong for something else to be right. I believe Christianity to be true, and by saying that I am also saying that what contradicts Christianity is not true. If a Muslim or a Hindu were to come and say something about God that contradicts Christianity then I would assume they are false. If they says something that is not contradicted, or even perhaps supported by Christianity then I would say they are true. I think that other religions may have false beliefs and an incomplete view of God, but I don’t think thousands of different cultures all over the world just made up God on their own.

If your parents had belonged to a different religion, do you think you would belong to that religion too?

Maybe. It’s really impossible to say since I did not grow up in a home of another faith. I would certainly hope that someone would present the Gospel to me and that I would accept it no matter what religion I was born in. I can say that I believe I would probably always seek after God regardless of what culture I was born into. I would certainly hope that God would not allow me to return from my quest empty-handed.

If people from the five major religions are each told conflicting information by their respective gods, should any of them be believed?

Yes. Just because there are conflicting views on something does not negate that one of them could be true. If I say grass is green and four other people disagree with me we shouldn’t just assume that none of us can be trusted.

  • (Communication with God)

How can you tell the voice of God from a voice in your head?

Does this voice ask you to do anything that would conflict with the teachings of Christ and the Apostles? Does this voice move like a holy fire through your very soul? Does this voice point you towards more loving service or spreading of the Gospel, or is it more self-serving or pointing to sin?

How can you tell the voice of God from the voice of the Devil?

My answer is the same as the above.

Would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed God supported you in the act?

No. I don’t think I could ever kill easily even if there was a divine command behind it. Killing should never come easy.  Also I don’t believe I would ever be commanded to kill another human being by God. In the Old Testament Israel and God’s people were used as a human representation of God’s judgement and so God did use them to kill. The thing is that God’s wrath and judgement on sin was completely poured out on Christ at the cross. We are in a new age of mercy where the old is fading and the new is coming.

If God told you to kill an atheist, would you?

I already pretty much answered this in the previous question.

  • (Morality)

When an atheist is kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart, is his behavior more or less commendable than a religious man who does it because God instructed him to?

Yes and No. An atheist who does a kindness in order to get a warm and fuzzy feeling or to feel good about themselves is really no different in motive than a religious person who does good simply to please his God. Christians however don’t believe in doing good to appease God, but rather we do good because we are so filled with love for what God has already done that we cannot help but let that love overflow onto others.

If you are against the Crusades and the Inquisition, would you have been burned alive as a heretic during those events?

Maybe. It depends on how vocal I was.

If your interpretation of a holy book causes you to condemn your ancestors for having a different interpretation, will your descendants condemn you in the same way?

I’m pretty loose in what I consider a Christian. If they believe Christ was fully divine and fully man, the messiah, and that he died and rose again for the sake of sinners so that they would be forgiven then I consider them a Christian. Any other interpretations are secondary and are not “deal breakers.” I don’t know the beliefs of my ancestors. I also don’t know whether they would condemn me.

Rape wasn’t always a crime in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Is that why `do not rape’ is not part of the Ten Commandments?

Well it was. Also if you notice a lot of things weren’t mentioned in the Ten commandments. I would say that the 7th commandment “Though Shall Not Commit Adultery”, the 8th Commandment “Thou Shall Not Steal” and the 10th “Thou shall not covet” could all be applied to condemn rape.

Do lions need `god-given’ morality to understand how to care for their young, co-operate within a pack, or feel anguish at the loss of a companion? Why do we?

No. Morality can exist in a secular sense. My problem with secular morality is not that it doesn’t exist, but rather that it is entirely dependent on the individual and the ever-changing opinion of the mass. Secular morality is dangerously close to mob morality. This doesn’t mean it cannot be right or true, but I simply don’t find it sturdy enough for me.

If organized religion requires a civilization in which to spread, how could this civilization exist without first having a moral code to make us civil?

I’m not sure I understand this question. I think religion is one of the first steps any primitive people experience before forming a civilization. Historically civilizations tend to come from and form around temples and religious structures.

  • (The Characteristics of God)

An all-knowing God can read your mind, so why does he require you to demonstrate your faith by worshiping him?

He doesn’t. Worship is a means for us to show gratitude. He knows our heart, but we enjoy celebrating what God has done. Worship is a mutually beneficial act.

If God is all-knowing, why do holy books describe him as surprised or angered by the actions of humans? He should have known what was going to happen.

When we tell stories we are limited by our language. There re truly no words that I believe can accurately encapsulate God. For the narrative structure to work God must be humanized to an extent so that we can fathom what is happening. We anthropomorphize God to better relate to him.

An all-knowing God knows who will ultimately reject him. Why does God create people who he knows will end up in hell?

Hell is the result of man’s free will. God desires that all men would be saved, but he forces no one to follow him. Apart from God there can be no good and complete rejection of God is the absence of good, or Hell. God wants you in heaven one day, but he doesn’t force anyone to come home. God created us to love us and be loved by us, love however requires a choice, and a choice means that it must be possible to reject love.

If God is all-knowing, then why did he make humans in the knowledge that he’d eventually have to send Jesus to his death?

All things for the glory of God. Jesus was not plan B. Jesus was plan A so that God could tangibly demonstrate his love for us and show us grace and mercy while remaining true and just.

Why did a supposedly omnipotent god take six days to create the universe, and why did he require rest on the seventh day?

It’s a narrative story. It’s meant to show the passing of time. In English the word “rest” usually is the result of becoming tired or exhausted. This is a translation problem. The original Hebrew text used a word which simply meant that on the seventh day God stopped creating. It is not that God was tired after six days of work, but rather that his creation was complete.

Is omnipotence necessary to create our universe when a larger, denser universe would have required more power?

As I stated in the previous answer, when the creation was complete God stopped working. I don’t see how a larger or more dense universe would be any more or less necessary than the one we live in. I’m still a little confused by what this question was supposed to be saying?

  • (The Bible)

Why are Churches filled with riches when Jesus asked his followers to give their wealth away?

You should come visit my church. But on a serious note all things are for the Glory of God. Wealth used to honor and glorify God is a way to put God above money. We are to give to all who are in need, and most churches do. Also I’ll point out that those elaborately decorated cathedrals this question was probably pointed to are usually built by donations from the poor that the church supports. If churches never ran shelters, food and clothing drives, hospitals, or orphanages then I could see the problem, but that is not the case.

While in the desert, Jesus rejected the temptations of the Devil. He didn’t censor or kill the Devil, so why are Christians so in favor of censoring many Earthly temptations?

Christ did not openly embrace or allow the devil to prosper either. He tolerated evil only so far before he shut him down. What good could possibly come from allowing evil to go unchecked.

Given that the story of Noah’s Ark was copied almost word for word from the much older Sumerian Epic of Atrahasis, does this mean that our true ruler is the supreme sky god, Anu?

No, but perhaps Anu the supreme sky god and Yahweh are the same God seen through different cultural lenses. Remember my point about how different religions can still all testify to the existence of God? It’s a similar thing going on here. The story of Noah is particularly interesting because it occurs so often in so many different cultures and legends from around the world. It’s a really fascinating tale that seems to have roots all over the world, leaving me to believe that there is truth to it.

  • (Religious Conversion)

If your desire is to convert atheists so that they become more like you; do you think that you’re currently better than them?

My desire to convert atheists is so that they can be with me in heaven one day and come to know the joy and peace that comes from knowing Christ and having a relationship with the father. I do not think I am better than atheists, in fact I don’t know how a Christian could. Any holiness seen in Christians comes not from their own work or merit, but from the holy spirit and the gifts and blessings from God the father. To God be the glory.

If religious people don’t respect their children’s right to pick their own religion at a time when they’re able to make that decision, how can society expect religious people to respect anyone’s right to freedom of religion?

Well that’s a loaded question. A Christian parent should not respect their child’s rejection of Christ because that is the most hateful thing a parent could possibly do. That is literally tolerating someone right into the gates of Hell (God forbid).  Any Christian who actually believes Christ meant what he said cannot easily allow any loved one to reject the truth without putting in a great deal of prayer effort to convince them otherwise. If I love my child I must hate what is harmful for them, and nothing should be hated more than the complete and total rejection of all things good. Notice this is not me saying the child should be hated, but the parent should do whatever is in their power to dissuade their child from what they know is a path away from what is good.

If missionaries from your religion should be sent to convert people in other countries, should missionaries from other religions be sent to your country?

That’s up to them to decide. I’d love to talk to them.

If children are likely to believe in Santa Claus and fairies, does this explain why religion has been taught in schools for thousands of years?

Not really. Religion was taught because it was believed to be true. Although there have always been atheists, the cultural movement has only really been around since the 18th century. For most of history there was not secular education. Churches were the centers of learning and the Priests were the educated people of the day. The shift of separating religion and education and religion and politics is a pretty recent occurrence in the grand scheme of history.

When preachers and prophets claim to be special messengers of God, they often receive special benefits from their followers. Does this ever cause you to doubt their intentions?

I’m not sure what you mean. I know of no rich prophets.

  • (Miracles)

When you declare a miracle, does this mean you understand everything that is possible in nature?

No. When I say something is a miracle it means I cannot see how God was not involved in this. Even if I know how something happens it can still be a miracle.

If a woman was cured of cancer by means unknown to us, and everyone declared it a miracle, would the chance of scientifically replicating this cure be more or less likely?

This is a strange question. If we didn’t know how it happened then I don’t know how science could hope to replicate it.

If humans declared fire to be a miracle thousands of years ago, would we still be huddling together in caves while we wait for God to fire another lightning bolt into the forest?

Fire is pretty miraculous when it is really though about, but I say no. The scientific method was invented by a catholic priest. Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, and Galileo were all deeply religious people who believed in miracles. These men were spurred on to discover because they believed that God created an ordered and understandable universe. Miracles doesn’t mean science stops. Miracles means that God still works, whether we understand how or not.

If God gave a man cancer, and the Devil cured him to subvert God’s plan, how would you know it wasn’t a divine miracle? What if he was an unkind, atheist, homosexual?

God has worked through the Devil (see the book of Job) and he has worked through non believers countless times in the Old Testament. If God gave a man cancer and then chose to remove it then it doesn’t really matter to me how it was removed.

  • (Hell)

Should an instruction to convert to your religion upon the threat of eternal torture in hell be met with anything other than hostility?

We aren’t threatening you with hell anymore than the person who sees an eighteen wheeler bearing down on you is threatening you with the eighteen wheeler. We simply see the danger and wish to save you from it. To do anything else would be extremely cruel.

Can a mass murderer go to heaven for accepting your religion, while a kind doctor goes to hell for not?

Yes. No man deserves eternal paradise and communion with God, yet God saw it good to give us admittance into his family free of charge. If a kind doctor rejects this offer and chooses hell then his decision will be honored. If a mass murder chooses repentance and grace then God is good to forgive.

Did the mass murdering Crusaders and Inquisitors make it into the Christian heaven?

I certainly hope so. I also hope their victims have found a home in paradise along side them.

How can we know what is right when we don’t know for sure who makes it into heaven and hell?

This question is written as if good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. There are no good or bad people. There are only redeemed and unrepentant people.

If aliens exist on several worlds that have never heard of your god, will they all be going to hell when they die?

That’s not my call to make, but I would assume no. The reason a man goes to heaven or hell is because of his eternal soul. Unless and alien was given an eternal soul by God I’d assume their fate is the same as a dog or a whale.

  • (The Promises of Religion)

If someone promised you eternal life, the protection of a loving super being, a feeling of moral righteousness, a purpose for living, answers to all the big questions, and a rule book for achieving the pinnacle of human potential… and all in exchange for having faith in something that wasn’t proven, would you be suspicious?

Yes. I was very skeptical before I became a Christian. I was a very difficult person to convince.

If someone promised to give you a billion dollars after ten years, but only if you worshiped them until that time, would you believe them? If someone promised to give you eternal life upon death, but only if you spent your life worshiping a god, would you believe them?

Worshiping a man for money is not a worthy endeavor. Maybe, obviously I said yes to Christianity though I still think you misunderstand the point of worship though. I also think these questions focus way too much on the next life and not enough on the life we have now. Christianity is not just a religion of the future, it is a life to be lived out now.

Why does religion appeal more to poor, weak, vulnerable, young, ill, depressed, and ostracized people? Could religious promises be more of a temptation to these people?

It appeals to these people because they understand what it means to need grace, mercy, healing and a savior. A person who is extremely blessed in this world has many things he can make his God, whether it is money, power, influence, pride, approval, or what have you. The poor and needy are closer to God because they know what it means to cling to him for their needs.

God’s Wonderful Plan For Your Life Might Not Be Comfortable

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Jeremiah

It’s getting to be that time of year again when high school and college seniors are graduating from their respected levels of education. It’s a time to to reflect on the past years, to look forward to the times ahead, and to take Jeremiah 29:11 completely out of context.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

I feel like I almost didn’t even need to include Jeremiah  29:11 in this passage. Modern Christianity has made it one of the most popularly quoted passages of scripture of all time. I get the appeal. This verse is a guarantee that someone up there is looking out for us. It comes with a promise of prosperity, a higher plan, and hope that all things will work out for good. The verse doesn’t ask for much of us when read by itself and it creates this image of a vague benevolent force that’s got your back.

I do believe that God does have a plan for you, and that he has given you hope and a future. I also believe that God’s amazing and wonderful plan for your life is probably not going to be the wish-fulfilling prosperity and comfortable life we tend to imagine.

For starters, let’s address the book this passage is taken from. Jeremiah was known as “The Weeping Prophet” and for a good reason. God sent Jeremiah to warn the people of Israel against the coming disaster that they were heading towards because of their abandonment of God. Jeremiah loved his people and devoted his life to winning them back to God, only to be hated, abused, and mistreated for most of his life. Jeremiah did his job by warned the people, but on this side of eternity he never received what we would call a “prosperous life.” Jeremiah put his heart and soul into his ministry, but at the end of the day he hardly saw any fruits from his labors.

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The Death of an Early Christian In the Gladiator Games

He is far from the only person in the Bible to end up on the seeming short end of the stick. Jumping ahead to the New Testament church leaders, we see that Paul spent the majority of his life in prison while Peter, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Thaddeus, and Simon would all eventually be crucified for spreading the good news of Christ. Others were burned, speared, stabbed, stoned, tortured, and left for dead due to exposure. Does that sound like a prosperous life?

I guess what I’m getting at is when we use Jeremiah 29:11 out of context we can easily stray off into a border line prosperity gospel message, and that just isn’t Biblical. God’s wonderful plan for your life, if you choose to actually pursue it, will probably not be a comfortable one. We as Christians today are so big on comfort. We don’t want to inconvenience ourselves or others with sharing the gospel because it might get awkward.

Our wondrous and prosperous life is living in the reality that our sins have been forgiven and we get the honor and privilege of sharing that good news with the rest of the world. God doesn’t promise each of us riches, comfort, earthly pleasures, a nice house, or even a loving spouse. The american dream is not exactly what Jeremiah 29:11 was talking about.

We really have only two ways we can conduct our lives. We can either live our lives for something eternal or something fading. I don’t think we truly grasp just how amazing it is to consider the fact that we have a purpose at all. The universe certainly doesn’t owe us one, and if we approach reality form the view that we were nothing more than a chemical reaction and chance, then we really don’t have a purpose. Life outside of God is an empty and meaningless endeavor.

Instead God promises us that there is a plan and a purpose behind all of this. Our lives are not without meaning and we aren’t just random accidents in a chaotic universe, we have a plan and a purpose to our lives. Not only do we have a purpose, but we are promised prosperity. Our lives may not seem like successes by worldly standards, but even the “worst” life that follows God is better than the “best” life pursing fading, empty, and pointless passions that will never leave any eternal impact.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mourns the pointlessness of life. He was a man who had every pleasure and desire imaginable. He was prosperous and lived in excess by almost every human standard. He had any food he desired, more money and riches than could be spent, more wives than he could ever need, and anything his heart desired… and in the end he found it all empty and useless.

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

– Ecclesiastes 1:2

King Solomon needed a purpose. He needed a reason for everything, or else nothing he did or obtained seemed to matter.

God gives us a purpose, he gives us a plan, he lets us play a part in his redemptive story. He gives us a reason to live, a goal to strive for, and the guarantee that it is not all in vain. Nothing else on earth can guarantee that. There is no cause, fight, goal, or achievement apart from God that can give you the guarantee that in the end it will not be forgotten and made worthless by the ever ongoing annuls of time. Only God can give us a purpose, only God can help us truly prosper, and only God can give us something eternal.

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

– C.S. Lewis.

God knows you. Come as you are.

self-deception

It can be difficult and frightening to truly examine your heart and soul.

Great courage is required to look at your own reflection and see yourself for who you truly are. Not for who you hope to be, or who you make yourself out to be, or who you wish you were, or who you convince other people you are, but rather who you truly are at your core. Unbiased. Unfiltered. Unedited.

It takes bravery and strength to look yourself in the soul and see every aspect of you. It takes a strong will not to casually justify yourself by saying “I’m only human”  or  “nobody’s perfect” as if that could excuse any wrong. It takes courage to examine your life without any self bias or bending the standard so you look better in comparison to everyone else. To look all your faults, failures, sins, and weaknesses and see them for what they are, that takes real bravery.

It takes bravery because, if we are honest, no one really wants to face up to the person at their core. We want to present our best and gloss over our worst. We want to be judged on a low standard where everyone passes. We want to convince ourselves that the easy road we so often take still gives us room to be a “good person.” We don’t want to face the fact that we spend much more time in sin or apathy than we do actually pursuing goodness or holiness.

One way I like to explain this to people is by asking them to picture their entire life as a movie. When I say this, I’m not talking about your life being presented in some uplifting heavily edited film that captures you in the best light as the conquering inspirational hero. I’m talking about a film that shows every single sin, thought, action, inaction, every deed good or evil, and all the motivations behind everything you’ve ever said, thought, or done. I’m talking about a completely unbiased film that captured every aspect of you. For most people I’d venture to say that this is a scary concept.

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

– John 3:20

No one would ever want that film shown because no one wants their true self exposed to the world. We’re afraid and we prefer the favorable lie. We don’t want other people knowing the things we think, or the decisions we make when we know no one is looking. We don’t want to own up to the truth that a lot of the good things we do are just here to give us some self-serving sense of satisfaction or as a means for us to justify our desire to come off as a good person. We would hate that.

Here’s the thing though, God has seen your film.  God knows every thought, action, inaction, and deed you have ever done. He knows what was done out of pure and loving motivations, what was done out of selfish vain conceit,  and what was not done because you just didn’t care enough to do something about it. He knows every cruel thing you’ve ever done, every moment you passed on an opportunity to do good, and every time you did good so others could see or so you could brag about it later. God knows you better than you know yourself, and what’s even more incredible about all of this is the fact that he loves you regardless.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. The scriptures are clear about this. God loves us even though we can be completely unloveable.

Really take some time to ponder the Prodigal’s Son parable. Think about the patient father who, when he sees his arrogant, defiled, and filthy son hobbling back to beg for forgiveness, runs to embrace him and welcomes him home before he can even utter an apology.

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

– Luke 15:11-32

We don’t worship a God who waits for us to get clean before he embraces us, we worship a God who runs to us and loves us in all of our filth and failures. He doesn’t wait for us to make the long journey back to him, he runs out to meet us as soon as we are ready to come home. Nothing compares to the love of God.

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The Prodigal Father and Son

This is one of the things that I find most beautiful bout Christianity. We don’t worship a God who expects us to become righteous in order to come to him, he wants us to come to him so that he can make us righteous. God is a God of second chances, new beginnings, and fresh starts. His mercies are new every morning and his desire is that his children would come home.

I can’t stress enough the simple and profound truth that no matter who you are, what you have done, where you are coming from, or how broken you feel you are, God still loves you and is patiently waiting for you to come home.

Book Review: “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton

“People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum and safe. There never was anything so perilous or exciting as orthodoxy”

-G.K. Chesterton

151836 “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton is quite easily one of the greatest Christian works of the 20th century although from reading it you get the impression that Chesterton had no clue that his work would ever be seen as something influential. He writes as one who is only doing so on a whim, and that tends to work for the books advantage. Chesterton’s book is a joy to read, but if you expect this book to be anything more than enlightened ramblings you may be disappointed. By this I mean that, while the book is a wonderful read, it reads as if Chesterton were merely flowing from one thought to the next without really any end goal in mind. Most all of his chapters will inevitably end up connecting back to the beginning of the Chapter in some means as a sort of loose circle of thought, but the author feels free to go wherever his thought or the spirit leads.

As a result of this you should be prepared to simply enjoy the ride and allow your mind to wander with Chesterton as you read this book. By doing so you will hear very interesting and thoughtful contemplations on evolution, buddhism, Frederich Nietzche, suicide, materialism, politics, martyrdom, mythology, and the absurdist human desire for meaning (just to name a few). Chesterton is an intellectual giant who, upon contemplating life, meaning, purpose, death, and the philosophy of self realized that Christian Orthodoxy was one of the few things that was successful in actually making complete sense of the world around us and our place in it. He elaborates heavily on the Christian view of the world and how vastly distinct it is from the other theologies and philosophies of the world.

It is also worth noting that Chesterton was a wonderful wordsmith. His thought flow very smoothly and his writing comes off natural, like an old grandfather recalling a tale he has told a thousand times. Nothing feels forced here and (thought I do not fully agree with all of his conclusions) I can easily follow how he reached every conclusion he states. He puts as much logic into Christianity as is possible for a “faith” to have, and I would be a terrible reviewer if I failed to mention that this is easily one of the most quotable books I have ever come across. The book is riddled with “Chesterton-isms” that are both enlightening and occasionally humorous. His writings are reminiscent of Lewis or in style, but with the mental and philosophical strength of Kierkegaard or Bultman, and the lucid and free roaming nature of Donald Miller. Very well done, and highly recommended.


If you want a free copy of Orthodoxy, you are in luck because it exists in the public domain:

Faith Within Reason: The Closed Minds of Free Thinkers

So one of the most hilariously mislabeled groups of all time are the “Free Thinkers.” You may know them by different labels, but the best way to identify a “free-thinker” is that they will deny any claim that cannot be backed up by empirical evidence. So heavily confined to their own logic are they that the will outright deny any reality that contradicts their ability to comprehend and logically sort out. Free Thinking is ironically one of the most binding, limiting, restraining, and mentally crippling schools of though. I can hardly think of a more close minded view than the one that says “If I cannot understand, it cannot be so.” This worship and deifying of the human mind is not only limiting in its ability to fully appreciate and comprehend life, but it is also extremely (and ironically) un-logical in its approach to denying the miraculous.

I always come across the same two arguments when ever I find myself in a discussion with a free-thinker. They love these arguments wield them like faith smashing sticks ready to bludgeon any feeble religious mind they come across. It is always kind of humorous to see these arguments flipped on their head and see their own weapons of choice used to poke holes in their own philosophy. Let me explain:

Argument 1: 

  • Premise: Those that testified to the miracles in scripture are unreliable because they are superstitious and unscientific.
  • Reasoning: They are superstitious an unscientific because they attest to miracles.
  • The Problem: If testifying to a miracle disqualifies one form being credible, how then could one credibly attest to a miracle if one were encountered?

In case that didn’t make sense, the “free-thinker” who uses these arguments to deny the miraculous creates a circular vacuums that makes it impossible for anyone to ever attest to a miracle. Testifying to a miracle makes you lose credibility, therefore no one can credibly attest to a miracle. This is not a very open-minded approach to the proposed question of miracles because it already presupposes that the denier is correct and that the one making the claim is false, as well as setting up a fallacy in which the one making the claim can never move around. It is really only a few steps above sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “I’m not listening because you are stupid and I am not.”

Counter Argument 1: 

  • Premise: Those that testified to love are unreliable because they are superstitious and unscientific.
  • Reasoning: They are superstitious an unscientific because they attest to love.
  • The Problem: If testifying to love disqualifies one form being credible because these properties cannot be empirically tested, how then could one credibly attest to love for those who have  never encounter it?

You see, there are many things in life from theoretical physics to the binding love of a husband and wife that are beyond the empirical. People denied the existence of the Okapi for many years though many people had claimed to have seen it. Why was it denied? Because every credible person knew that no such creature existed. It was clearly the in the realm of fantasy, and yet we now know that it does in fact exist. Miracles by nature can only be observed by those who happen to be there to observe them, and they cannot be empirically explained and prove or else they cease to be miracles. This is not the only argument, however, that is used to attack the miraculous events described in scripture.

Argument 2:

  • Premise: Those that testify to the miracles in scripture are unreliable because they were looking for miracles and were not observing subjective.
  • Reasoning: Those that look for miracles will find them, though they would not have found them if they were not looking for them.
  • The Problem: If looking for something disqualifies one from being credible then are the only credible discoveries those that are found by pure chance and happenstance?

Events of a miraculous nature have been testified throughout human existence from our very earliest records. Some miracles have more documentation to them than many ancient events we consider facts, and even today accounts of miracles in day-to-day life are not unheard of. I myself have witnessed several “miraculous” events in my years on this earth, but of course none of these are acceptable to the free-thinker.  The common dismissal of these claims is to dismiss the ancient man as a superstitious creature who lacked scientific understanding of the universe, but when one questions why we are to assume ancient man was superstitious the answer is usually that he attested to miracles. This logic is used even today every time a miraculous event occurs, one cannot attest to a miracle without being labeled superstitious and stupid based on the presupposition that belief in miracles is superstitious and stupid. This creates a circular logical fallacy where if one was to witness a miracle one could never attest to it because by attesting to the validity of the miracle one was also dismissing his own credibility.

To those people I raise this counter argument:

Counter Argument 2:

  • Premise: Those that testify to the existence of scientific laws are unreliable because they were looking for scientific laws and were not observing subjectively.
  • Reasoning: Those that look for laws of nature will find them, though they would not have found them if they were not looking for them.
  • The Problem: If one never supposed that the universe was bound by laws of nature then would have never discovered any of the laws of physics, chemistry, or many of the mathematical principles.

Is the assumption that the universe is somehow innately bound by physically consistent laws of nature really more logical than the assumption that God could involve himself in history through miraculous means. The only reason I can find that one is readily accepted and one is so cautiously denied is because one is testable and the other is not. We cannot invoke a miracle any time we wish, but to test whether gravity is consistent, one only needs to drop something from a height. To assume that because something is not testable it cannot be true is scientism, which is one of the most closed-minded views a man could take. To assume that his senses and logical reasoning are the only masters of truth in the universe is arrogance to the highest degree. This also becomes problematic when one raises the question of why the universe is bound to certain physical laws of nature. The scientismist (if that is even a world) would most likely attempt to dismiss the question without providing an answer while the monotheist could point to a grand designer.

Notice I am not writing this to attack science, but scientism. Science is a wonderful thing that explores the inner workings of the grand design. Scientism is the denial of all empirically unprovable aspects of life. Where science would look at a miracle and say “We cannot prove, test, or recreate that instance” scientism would look at a miracle and say “This cannot be!”

So why do I claim to believe in the miraculous events attributed to Christ? Because I find the testimony of these events both credible and highly likely. After Christ’s crucifixion the twelve men who had followed Christ (that were said to have run and hid during his death and burial) somehow became so convinced that they had seen the resurrected Christ that they spread his gospel all over the world. These men would rather die horrific deaths (which almost all of them did) rather than deny the truth of the risen Lord. This is not something one does on a whim, these men believed with all their heart and soul that Christ was risen and sin defeated.

Look a the life of Saul of Tarsus who by his own account and the account of Luke was a persecutor of the faith and a killer of Christians. Saul has a miraculous encounter on the road to Damascus that convinced him that the people he was so eagerly killing were actually the proclaimers of the true gospel of God. After changing his name to Paul this “Jew among Jews” whom had lived by the Torah and avidly fought against the “heresy” of Christianity, now became its biggest avocate. He planted churches all across the world and did a complete 180 turn form a life of self-righteous legalism to a servant like devotion to God and an advocate of the spiritual freedom found in Christ.

In the first few centuries Christians were fed to lions in colosseums, crucified in the emperor’s gardens, and burned alive or stoned for their refusal to deny the miraculous and life changing power of Christ. Even today there are thousands (possibly millions) of Christians all over the globe who would rather die than deny the miraculous and radical God-man who was Jesus the Christ. Considering that only around 3% of the world’s population outright denies the existence of the supernatural, maybe it is time for Free Thinkers to free up their minds a bit.

 

Faith Within Reason: Charles H. Townes on Faith in Scientific Thought

So I’m currently reading Science and Theology: The New Consonance which so far has proven to be an amazing read. It’s a collection of essays written by theologians, physicists, Nobel Prize winners, evolutionary theorists, a former president of the “American Association for the Advancement of Science”, and even Pope John Paul II himself. Seriously though if you want a good intellectual read pick this book up. I’ll post a book review as soon as I’m done, but I can already tell you that this one’s a keeper.

The book deals with the relationship between Science and Theology from various points of view and is really a profound collection of works. I bring it up because today’s post was inspired by one of the essays found in the book: “Logic and Uncertainties in Science and Religion” by Charles H. Townes (a physicist). In it his essay Townes contributes a very interesting perspective on the notion of “Faith”, that being that even the most coldly logical human beings rely on faith at some point.

“Science and religion not only share common logic; they also share something else, namely, uncertainty. We must recognize that we do not know things for sure. Knowledge, even scientific knowledge, is less than absolute.”

– Charles H. Townes

The above quote came form the man who helped revolutionize the study of light and laser theories. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture:

Charles-Townes1

I told you he was smart!

All joking aside that’s a ballsy thing for a scientist to say considering you make a living based on the assumption that you can understand the universe around you and figure out how things work. He openly admits though that most of what he does as a scientist has grounds in faith at some point.

“The mathematician Godel proved that uncertainty is inherent even in the nature of our logic…. [He] proved that we can never be sure that the assumption with which we started are even self-consistent, let alone true. The only way we may show that they are self-consistent is to appeal to a new set of assumptions…. but of course these assumptions are subject to the same uncertainty regarding consistency, and so on. Logic and uncertainty come together in a single package and to take them seriously, there must be faith”

Charles H. Townes.

For those of you who don’t know Godel was the father of modern mathematics who also supposedly proved the existence of God using math.

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This somehow proves that God exists, but for the life of me it just looks like a bunch of numbers and squiggles. There’s a reason I didn’t major in math.

I don’t get it either, but the point made is that if we question everything, then we eventually reach a belief in nothing at all. Eventually no matter how deep down your thought goes it will eventually have to reside in an assumption. Nothing exists or can be possibly known unless an act of faith is taken at some level, even if it is simply to take on your own words that you are real. Trippy right?

For successful science of the type we know, we must have faith that the universe is governed by reliable laws and, further, that these laws can be discovered by human inquiry. The logic of human inquiry is trustworthy only if nature is itself logical…. This is the faith of reason”

– Charles H. Townes

Have you ever wondered why things always work in the same way over and over. Whether it is subatomic particles or the expansion of the universe itself science seems to be fairly reliable. Do you ever stop and wonder why that is? We assume that because gravity, for instance, always works that it always will work. This isn’t really a reason to believe other than we have no reason to think otherwise. We believe the universe is bound to certain laws and that these laws can be studied, comprehended, and understood by the human mind. If you are religious then you probably attribute the existence of these laws to designer or creator. If you are of the atheist opinion then I guess you assume these just exist because they do (I’m not an atheist so I don’t know what they think). It might just be me but I love thinking about this kind of stuff, the more I learn about the universe and the world around me the more I can see God’s handiwork in even the tiniest details.

[The scientist] must have faith that the problem is solvable, and that there is an inherent logic in nature which his or her mind is capable of reading.”

Charles H. Townes

We are all questing for truth. Some of us choose to look deep inside ourselves and other look outward. There are philosophers, scientists, theologians, logicians, mathematicians, day dreamers, poets, and deep thought thinkers but all of them have faith in something. Faith ties us all together and it is only by having faith in something that we are able to move forward.