The Teleological Argument for God’s Existence

The next step in evidences that seem to support the existence of a God is the Teleological (try saying that five times fast) Argument. Most famously argued by Thomas Aquinas, this argument has become vast and the Intelligent Design movement puts a lot of focus on this argument. The name of the argument comes from the Greek “Telos” which means “reason” or “purpose.” The basic idea is that the universe appears to have a purposeful design that would be highly unlikely and even mathematically impossible to have come about by random chance. To illustrate the principals behind this arguement I will give an example that is my own telling of an story that has seen countless permutations in other apologetic works.

Imagine that an astronaut was stranded on Mars, but instead of the incredible journey depicted in the recent film, The Martian, the astronaut walks over one of the hills to find a space-house. He walks to this house and finds it fully stocked with his favorite foods and a special garden outback with apple trees, tomato plants, and all sorts of vegetables. He finds that in this building the O2 levels are exactly what is needed to sustain human life. He finds a bed that is tailor-made for a person of his height and a copy of his favorite novel, David Copperfield, on the nightstand. On the home stereo system he finds the entire U2 catalog and several other of his favorite bands. He then lives in great comfort until he is rescued by NASA.

One would never argue that this space house was built on Mars by random chance. One could argue from the evidence that somehow this space house was made for our astronaut. Another example comes from the real world work of archeologists. Archeologists are constantly looking for evidence of human intelligent design. There are rocks that are found to have been shaped very crudely and archeologists can find that the rocks were shaped for a purpose, that the shape of the rocks were intelligently designed. All of this is merely to show the persuasive power of such evidence. When we look at the teleological argument, we are looking for clues that the universe may have been “made for us.” None of the following evidences prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer, but it does make the argument that somehow random forces in nature caused the existence of the Universe, the Earth, and Life seem pretty far-fetched.

First, the fine-tuning argument takes an expansive look at the balance of forces and constants in the universe that make life possible. Everything from the strength of gravity (too little and no solar systems form, too great and the universe would collapse in on itself) to the specific combination of factors that create the conditions found on Earth are seen as combining to reduce the likelihood of a natural explanation. The mathematics of the fine-tuning argument are astonishing. It is simply amazing how many factors had to line up in order to create the stable universe and the fertile hot-bed of life that is Earth. You may understand some of what is meant by considering the work of some scientists that focuses on finding planets that meet the minimum requirements for life. There are no planets that come anywhere near the minimum requirements for any ecology that we have seen on earth. There are certain theorists who have considered non-carbon based life forms that may have an entirely different set of prerequisites for life and there are so many planets we have not gathered enough information on (including planets not known about at all) that there is still plenty of room for the possibility of another life-filled planet.

All told, when one takes the mathematical likelihood that all of these conditions come about by chance (and I have met a brilliant mathematician who has written books that center on this math) we find that the odds are mathematically impossible. One number showed that the odds were such that they were 1 in 10^10^123 (Penrose, 2005) That number is so vast that it greatly surpasses the number of atoms in the universe. The argument basically concludes that the universe is less likely to have occurred by random chance then by an intelligent designer.

The other most persuasive evidence comes from the amazing miracle of life, specifically DNA. The information contained within DNA is unbelievably complex and is effectively the blueprints of all life. The idea that the remarkable consistency and complexity expressed within a strand of DNA could have developed in absence of any design or intent seems extremely unlikely. The current scientific theory of evolution claims that all of this develops over a great amount of time by random chance acted upon by natural selection. There are a few issues that I feel have never been fully answered in anything I have read or heard.

First, how did life begin? This is an extremely difficult point because there is no way to “study” this beginning. Scientists have been able to synthesize protein in a lab, but they had to intelligently design the conditions and materials in order to make that happen. And even then, it has not created a living organism. There is no mechanism or system for the generation of life in nature aside from other life.

Second, when I have heard scientists defend evolution’s ability to create the marvelous, functioning diversity seen today they laud Natural Selection as the answer to all questions. It’s not random, it’s natural selection. Natural Selection is a contradiction in terms. Nature is not an entity that can select anything. Random mutations (even over billions of years) cannot make “progress” in any of the ways that word is traditionally used. Natural selection claims that the most successful mutations will succeed in procreating and those mutations will be passed on to an even more successful generation. The famous example that seems to defeat this theory asks us to imagine monkeys with a type writer. How long would it take for them to write Shakespeare? For the sake of the illustration, let us assume that they are actually pressing the keys (when tested in real life, this experiment seldom resulted in keys being pressed unless the monkey was taught to do so). Then let us assume that they are using a computer which will take the full words they type and lift it out of the endless stream of random letters. Even were these conditions met (two conditions that required intelligent intervention) the monkeys or a random letter generator would not type more than a single line of Shakespeare in the entire time the universe has existed. Again, I will say that there are books written on this subject that defend these claims mathematically. One such work is Understanding Intelligent Design and I would highly recommend it as a good entry point for all of the ideas in this post.

As an alternate proposal that may make sense of some of the problems raised in this post, let us imagine that there were a powerful force or being that intelligently designed the universe to match the criteria necessary for stability and life. Then that being or force also manufactured organisms with DNA that was programmed to mutate and develop successfully into greater and greater viable diversity. This seems a much more reasonable postulation than solely relying on random chance to develop the universe we see today. Mathematically, it seems improbable or even impossible for a purely physical “closed” (without the influence of any external force or being) universe to have developed to the place we live in today.

One other response to these arguments is the multi-world hypothesis that I addressed last post. Depending on which model of the multi-world hypothesis that is being used, this would undercut the argument by saying there are an infinite (or near infinite) number of universes in all variations and ours would have to be one of them because of the necessity of infinity. The problems I have with these hypotheses are two-fold: first, it seems to fail the test of Occam’s Razor. We have an infinitely complex answer that has limited explanatory power and raises more questions than it answers. The questions of the origin of the universe become multiplied in these models. It also seems to have no evidence beyond theoretical mathematics. Even in that realm, multi-world hypotheses only have limited success in mathematical models of the universe. Secondly, the logical problem with the idea of an actual infinite verses a theoretical infinite looms again. Even if you had a multi-world generator constantly generating an infinite number of universes, how would we have arrived at this point in history in this universe. Also, there would have to be a universe generated which encroached upon all other universes and we would have to see evidence of these infinite encroaching universes. Infinity cannot exist, but only be theorized (which is why we can have any success with infinite universes in “theoretical” mathematics).

These evidences seems to take us from a force that had the ability to generate the universe to an intelligent force that could design functioning systems and complexity and even create life. This does not necessarily lead to a Judeo-Christian God and these arguments do no necessitate such a force or being; the arguments exist solely as issues that seem to be most adequately explained by a force as I just described. Thanks for reading.

Children of the Promise

More than any other thing, the past 5 years since I left home for college has been a journey of learning about the promises of God. Our whole faith is based on the promises of God. The Bible is framed in the context of covenant (can be read as promise). God’s interaction with His people in the Bible is always framed in promises. If you look at our world, you will see that in our very nature is a need to worship. Bob Dylan sings, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody…” What is the basis for our worship? Our subservience? The basis is in promise. Money promises security, power, and freedom. Religion promises redemption, self-worth, and community. Sensuality promises escape, connection, or significance. Self-help gurus promise impact, effective change, a banishment of insecurity. Really, anything that we worship finds, at its root, a promise to fulfill something we seek. This is because we were made to be a people who live by promises. The ultimate promise, of course, is love. All of these things we seek are rooted in our desire to be known and loved by our Father.  This desire can often be twisted and is linked to our desire for significance, impact, security, etc. The problem comes when we are “looking for love in all the wrong places…”

In the first part of the Bible, which is titled “the Old Testament” (also translated Old Covenant), we see Israel attempting to obtain God’s promises through the Law. This leads to a truth that we are all very aware of: none of us are perfect. The promise is unattainable through the law. Throughout this Old Covenant, God is constantly promising a Messiah who will fulfill His promises towards the people of Israel. We see the out working of this in the life of Jesus and the theological out working in the writings of Paul. Paul begins with the story of Abraham, the original father of promise. He uses the story of Israel’s journey from Abraham to Jesus to show that all along God’s focus was on clinging to the promise and not on the power of the Law. “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:18, 22 Paul has shifted the focus from the Law to the promise and shows that our inheritance is by faith in the promise of Jesus.  “This means that it is not the children of the flesh (or children of the Law) who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭9:8‬ ‭ “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”‭‭Galatians‬ ‭4:28‬ ‭So we see that we are called to be children of the promise; the promise of God to Abraham, the promise of God through Jesus. In fact, when we face opposition or tribulation in our life, we are to come running to the promises of God. It is by the promise that mankind receives salvation.

To bring this concept to bear on our own life, the question arises, “How then shall we live?” How do we live as children of the promise? First, ask yourself, “What has God promised me?” If nothing comes to mind, then think on these promises made to all of His people. He has promised abundant life, adoption as His sons and daughters, eternal life, all the fruits of the spirit, power to fulfill every good work, power to perform miracles in His name, a provision for every need in your life. If any of these promises seem to big for you or too impossible for God, then there is room for growth. They are all found as promises in Scripture. How do we begin to believe these promises? First, knowing the promises of God is important and we have a whole book based on the promises of God and the story of His fulfillment of those promises: the Bible. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 Further, God has specific promises for us. Ask him. Take a pen and some paper and write, “Father, what promises do you have for me?” Then write, “[Your name] I have promised you _______” and just let God speak to your life. Do not be afraid of Him not speaking, because we see throughout Scripture His longing to communicate with His sons and daughters. And do not be afraid of hearing Him wrong; if what you write comes from a place of love and encouragement and aligns with God’s heart in Scriptures, then it is probably God.

Next, have faith that the promise will be fulfilled. “And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6:15 God’s promises in Scripture are doubly guaranteed by the fact that anything God speaks is true and He swears by Himself (the greatest thing on which to swear). This is found in the following Scripture although Paul’s wording can be difficult to understand on the first reading, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…” The key to holding on in the midst of difficulties in our life is to “hold fast to the hope set before us,” which is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…” This is the key to Christian living. This is how the great saints and martyrs who have gone before us faced their trials and were “more than conquerors.” They held onto the promise and, as Jesus, “for the joy that was set before [them]  endured the cross despising shame…” And so we pray,  “Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:41‬ ‭And, “Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” Psalm‬ ‭119:49-50‬ ‭

So, whoever you are, wherever you are at, remember that our faith is a faith of promise. It is not by our works (thank God) that we receive the salvation and joy of the Lord but by holding fast to the effective promise of God. This extends even to our identity as perfected coheirs with Christ. Read the word, journal with God and get the promises inside of you. Then let them change you as you cling to them in spite of all that you see and experience. By the power of God’s promise, we can participate in the redemption of the world as His kingdom comes on earth as it is in Heaven (the realm of the promise fulfilled).

“And all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well when the tongues of flame are in-folded into the crowned knot of fire and the fire and the rose are one.” T.S. Eliot

Freedom

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about freedom. Freedom is the promise of America. The land of the free. Freedom is the promise of money. If only I had enough money, I would be free to do whatever I want. There is some truth to these promises: America has radically changed the world by offering freedom of religion, speech, etc. in a time where that freedom was not guaranteed and we often take this for granted today. Money will allow you to be free to give to charities, spend less time working, have more choices of where to live or what to do with your life. Ultimately, freedom is not about these things and the promise rings hollow for many who should be the most free. Ancient Greek philosophy will help us understand this.

Aristotle taught that the truly free were the self-disciplined. True freedom lay not in the multitude of choices, but the mastery of one’s desires. A man who can do or have anything he wants, but cannot control his desires for money, power, or physcal pleasure is enslaved by those very desires. In fact, the more choices one has, the harder it might be to restrain those desires and achieve freedom. Many philosophers have followed this line of thinking and the stoics and ascetics focus there energy on mastering oneself by self denial. We can all see the truth of this in our own lives, but we can also see that simple self discipline can become it’s own enslavement as one begins to idolize one’s own control. This can lead to pride and an inflexibility that is equally binding.

So where does true freedom come from? Materialists argue that freedom is an illsuion, existentialists argue that “carpe diem” and a rejection of delusions regarding the semblance of meaning is the answer, Neitsche argues that the will to power is the path to freedom. The answer lies in a seeming paradox. True freedom comes when a life is wholly submitted to the God of the universe. We have already seen that freedom as a multitude of choices does not satisfy. In an essay by C.S. Lewis, he likens that version of freedom as trying to play a board game while disregarding any rules. It would be ultimately unsatisfying and pointless to play a game without any structure. In contrast, as we submit to God’s will, we learn self-control and self-denial, but neither become our obsessions. Neither self-control nor self-denial are a goal in themselves, but the path to Love, to serving God.

In my own life, I have seen a particular struggle play out as I have gotten married and become a restaurant manager in the same year. I have less free time than ever and I often find myself desperate to be “free” during my time off. The mistake I make is to think of freedom as the ability to choose to do whatever I desire at that time. I find myself trying to follow every whim to read or watch tv or eat or buy something. Each of these things are then feeding the idol of false freedom. I have found that when, instead, I ask God what He wants me to do with my time or I spend that time serving my wife (by cleaning or spending quality time with her, etc.) I feel truly free. In submission, in serving, in giving up my time, I find life. That hour I spend in devotions, or cleaning the apartment, or loving my wife multiplies my energy and releases me from my fears of not having “enough time.” God has freedom for us all. In our time, in our self-control, in our decision-making, God knows what we need and He pursues men and women who will say yes to Him and fully give up their freedom only to find it resurrected. Whoever seeks to save his freedom will lose it, but he who gives up his freedom for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.

Moment of Surrender


There once was a man who flew to Rome to meet Jesus. He had been told my a close friend that Jesus wanted to meet him there. When he got there he skipped the tourist sites and went to a basement chapel in one of those storied cathedrals. As he walked towards the altar he saw a man kneeling in the dust in unremarkable clothing. Jesus knelt before him and despite his promises not to ask anything stupid, the man asked, “What are you doing?” “Praying,” Jesus replied. “For what?” the man asked. “I gave man free will and I will never take that away, but I pray always that the hearts of man would be surrendered to my will.”

The most powerful moments in the Bible are characterized by the weakness of surrender. Abraham who surrendered his comfortable life to become a nomad with a promise. Moses who left his dessert home to return to certain death in Egypt as a prophet declaring freedom without hope of success. David who was so surrendered to God’s will that he would not kill Saul even as Saul hunted him. Mary who said let it be, disregarding the scandal and death that might await her if she was found to be pregnant. The ultimate moment of surrender as Jesus prayed, “Father not my will but thine,” in a garden; the very opposite of the first sin in the Garden.

The first sin of man was to reject God’s will, not to surrender. Ever since then, the battle for men’s hearts has been fought with the goal of surrender. The mystery of Christianity is that our surrender does not lead to the abolishment of identity or efficacy, in fact it leads to the very opposite. We surrender to God and become more truly ourselves. We surrender to God’s will and find ourselves more in control of ourselves than ever before.

Nevertheless, we continue to seek control in our lives. We are an anxious and striving people. We find the illusion of control in many ways. We try to get money which symbolizes the power to control our lives. We buy shiny things to distract ourselves from the lie. We build ourselves little kingdoms which are characterized by addictions, escapes from reality, self-loathing, or a false sense of holiness. The call of Jesus denies all these things. Our plans for our lives, our guarantees of success, our dependence on substance abuse, our media-insulated isolation… all of these things are obstacles in the way of surrender. Bonhoeffer writes that the call of Jesus can be summarized, “Come and die.” Everything in our fallen outlook screams at us to run from this invitation and clean to our false sense of control.

The lie is shown in the reaction that follows excess, the emptiness that succeeds our attempts at self-fulfillment. “There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every man.” That moment of emptiness is when the call can be heard. “Pain is God’s megaphone to an unhearing world.” That is why Jesus says, “It is harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven…” When we fill ourselves with the shadows of God’s goodness, the earthly things that fade, we cause ourselves to believe in our own control, our own sufficiency apart from God. When that rug is torn out from under us we have two responses before us: we can proclaim all is meaningless and eventually cycle back into the illusion of control (whether through suicide or less extreme sedative) or we can embrace the moment of surrender. The invitation is always there, He stands at the door and knocks. It is an invitation into a “condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”

The most powerful moments in history are when humans give back the gift of free will and find themselves truly free. God is always calling us to give up that thing that we need to be happy, that thing that you cannot live without. That is why it is a call to die, a call to die and experience resurrection. The result is love, joy, and peace if we will only let go. We need the moments of surrender, because it is only in our weakness that Christ can be strong in us.

Halloween aka All Hallows’ Eve aka Samhain

seasons

In our secular age, there is no battleground as hotly contested as the argument for or against the sacred. Churches opt to meet in gyms or community halls instead of a “sacred space.” A man photographs a crucifix placed in urine as a statement of art. The idea of the supernatural is categorized as an antiquated concept from a backwards era.On a more disturbing level, couples are refusing to get married because they don’t see the use in a piece of paper or a meaningless ritual. The power of the sacred spaces, times, celebrations, and relationships (parental, marital, communal, priestly) was an enriching part of everyday life. Every people from the beginning of history revered these relationships and highlighted their significance in the mythos of that culture. The pathways of ideas that have led to Western society’s secularism can be traced all the way back to Classical Greece, but the most powerful evidence of our current dichotomy between faith and reason (with an emphasis on ditching faith altogether) is the way people live their lives as a result of these insidious ideas. Halloween especially, but other religious holidays as well, is an important cultural bastion against the materialistic ideology.

Originally, the 31st of October marked the Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced: sah-win) which was characterized by a celebration of what was termed a liminal time (a time when the otherworld was in closest proximity to our own, a time when the veil was thin). The holiday is about halfway between the autumn and winter equinox and was a time of slaughtering cattle to store up for the winter. The symbolism of the provision of saving life through death is rich in this tradition and many others. Every culture since the beginning of history has celebrated liminal times and they have all had holidays based on the movement of the seasons marked by phases of the moon. There seems to be something real here to the marking of the seasonal changes of life. God gave the Jewish calendar to move along similar lines and the early Christians had no problem with the sharing of holidays with their pagan neighbors. In fact, and this is the important point, the early Christians regularly reclaimed pagan holidays as shadows of the true times that God had given to men to draw near to Him. All truth is God’s truth, all time is God’s time, and if the myth of Christianity were true, it would make sense that it contained elements of all the other religions in the world of men who are programmed seekers of meaning.

If one looks at the various elements of early religions, you see that in the broadest sense they have a lot of similarities. There is the myth of the dying and the rising God, often symbolized by the transition from autumn to winter and winter to spring. There is the fertility of summer, the celebration of life’s transition in the fall. There is an idea of the nearness of divinity and the sacred nature of the life we live and the earth we inhabit. There is the idea of fire and light representing life and joy and salvation. There is the glory of a man and a woman together in the physical, communal, and ritual union as the king and queen of creation (this is seen in many marriage traditions to this day). All of these things and more are themes throughout the religions of the ages and Christianity contains the echoes of them all in the fullness of a true myth. We need not be scandalized by this, Paul wrote about how God has made Himself known through all of Creation and these ideas were used for the Christianization of many cultures and tribes. Halloween itself went from Samhain to All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day on November 1st due to the Christian acknowledgement of the natural rhythm and truths represented by pagan holiday. The chief lie of the our age, “what you see is what you get,” rejects all of these themes in a hubris that leads to an empty life.

We are told now that the longings we have for transcendence, for a relationship to a supernatural being or God-figure is merely an evolutionary bi-product or a social construct. We know this is not true. There are times, liminal times, holidays or memories of holidays, pangs of longing, the beauty of a seascape reached around a bend unexpectedly, of a waterfall when the light reflects the full spectrum of color, an old friend seen for the first time in years, the completion of a project that turned out better than expected and took your all… these moments take our breath away and are gone in an instant. There is something that calls to the deepest parts of our being and we know that secularist is wrong. Halloween reminds us of these things. Christmas reminds us of these things. We need holidays lest the dreariness of this life–so often devoid of the sacred symbols, times, relationships and spaces–smothers the flame inside us. As the church we need to be the beacon of the ultimate sacred light that is Jesus, the true Myth Himself. We live the sacred story of Creation and redemption through the practice of the church calendar, of holidays, of the liturgy of last rites, baptism and marriage. We live it individually and corporately.

God constantly exalts and sanctifies, only humans profane and devalue.

 

21

the ocean breeze breathes through

the march to death

the ground, sandy and shifting, beneath the knees

o, sweet earth!

Free, at last.

in the Name of Love

Rachel weeping bitterly

refuses comfort

my brother who loved and laughed and lived

is lost

a sword piercing my soul, also

“he is free!”

no bridge spans the chasm of grief

the emptiness that consumes

my God, my God…

died too, once

Jesus wept at a tomb

no stranger to grief

Comforter, comfort me

defeater of death, bridge the chasm

breathe life, set me free

Musings on Baptism and Foreshadowing

Baptism IconReading in Joshua today I noticed a trend that is repeated throughout the Old Testament: the crossing of the Jordan as symbolism of God’s salvation and His presence with the crosser. It’s been taught throughout Church history that the crossing of the Red Sea as the people fled Egypt foreshadowed our salvation through the waters of baptism. We also see Elijah fleeing King Ahab after calling down a drought on the land by crossing the Jordan. When David is warned of Absalom’s betrayal, he and his people cross the Jordan which becomes a barrier of protection for them. So we see the salvation symbolism in the crossing of the Jordan and, by extension, in the waters of baptism. We also have the story of Naaman, the commander of the army of Syria, who comes to Elisha for healing from his leprosy. He is told to wash in the Jordan. When his servant convinces him to humble himself and follow Elisha’s instruction, he is cleansed through the waters of the Jordan. It’s amazing to me how all these stories are weaved together to provide the backdrop for the institution of Christian baptism. The final way we see the crossing of the Jordan as a symbol of baptism is in the confirmation of God’s anointing.

When Moses has died and Joshua is taking command of the children of Israel, God commands Joshua to have the bearers of the Ark of the Covenant stand in the center of the Jordan river. Joshua tells the people that God will confirm his anointing and presence with Joshua by parting the waters for the Israelites. We see distinct foreshadowing as Moses brings the people through the Jordan the first time but does not bring them into the Promise Land. Joshua confirms his anointing by the parting of the waters and takes the people into the promise land. Later in Scripture we have a similar occurrence as Elijah is on his way to be taken up into heaven. The path to this taking up into heaven lies through the Jordan and he parts the water with his cloak rolled up on his staff. Elisha asks him for a double anointing and Elijah promises it to him if he sees him taken into heaven and takes up his mantle and staff. This happens. The confirmation for the elders of Israel who are waiting back on the other side of the Jordan is Elisha’s return and parting of the waters with Elijah’s mantle and staff.

Joshua, the one who leads into the Promise Land, and Elisha, the inheritor of the double anointing, both have their ministries confirmed and began in the power of God shown through the crossing of the Jordan. John is the second Elijah, preparing the people of Israel through the waters of the Jordan for Jesus. Then we see Jesus come and His ministry is confirmed and began through a display of God’s power in the Jordan! God is a masterful story-teller.

The completion of this thematic arc is found in our own baptism. The symbolism is depended as we are told in the New Testament that we are “buried with Christ in Baptism, and raised again to newness of life.” We participate in the heritage of God’s anointing, presence, resurrection, cleansing, and salvation as we are baptized ourselves. We are embodying a mystery thousands of years in the making. Praise God!

Come and Die

Forest Fire

A couple months ago I began reading the Bible all the way through. In order to get manageable chunks, every day I read 2-3 chapters from the Old Testament (beginning with Genesis), a Psalm, a chapter in Proverbs (following the day of the month; February 6th I read ch. 6), a chapter in the Gospels, and a chapter in the New Testament (beginning with Acts). It’s been awe-inspiring to see the consistency and arc of Scripture this way.

Through the thousands of years and several authors, God weaves a story of redemption, Love and Truth, cultural history, poetry and wisdom, genealogies and miraculous testimony that brings life to its readers even 2000 years after it was written. The Old Testament often gets a bad rap from Christians. It’s amazing! It was only in the context of the Old Testament that Jesus taught the Kingdom of God and the New Testament writers understood His message. I ran into this series of verses in Deuteronomy that got me really excited. It’s amazing the foreshadowing and revelation that comes when reading the Old Testament in the light of Christ and the New Covenant.

When the Lord came upon the mountain to speak to the Israelites in the desert after He had rescued them from the Egyptians, they had the appropriate reaction:

24 “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?” (Deut. 5:24-26)

They understood the awesomeness and holiness of God and were rightly fearful for their lives in His presence. The Lord was pleased with their response, “All that they have said is right.” They ask Moses to be their intermediary and go up to the mountain to receive what the Lord has for them. Maybe you are already seeing the connections. In the new Kingdom, Christ has brought God to restored relationship with man. God has made his dwelling with man and men have heard his voice.

However, God has not changed. He is still the “all-consuming fire.” The difference lies in the invitation of Jesus. Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The Israelites asked, “why should we die?” Jesus response, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25) The call of Christ is to be consumed by the fire that the Israelites witnessed that day. This is a painful process! God is purifying us and making us into who we truly are. T.S. Eliot wrote of this journey in his poem, “Little Gidding”:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Thousands of years before Pentecost, the Israelites saw God’s  fire and new it was death to be in His presence. Now God’s fire has fallen on us, His presence dwells in us, and we are called to die that we may truly live. Let us all be consumed by this Great Fire.

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: Freedom

michelangelo_-_the_creation_of_man1

Last post I detailed my thoughts on how sin and goodness work in our lives, how sin bends our souls and we are all crooked. The post before that talked about how sin affects every one of us because of the Fall. This week is the best yet. What is Christianity’s unique solution to what is wrong in the world? Jesus. So here is a basic outline of God’s redemptive plan for this broken world He loves so much.

While we were dead in our sins, God sent Jesus to be sin and to nail our sin to the cross. Through this death and resurrection, Christ defeated sin and offered us a way of new life. This new life is given freely to us with the forgiveness of sins and the freedom from the slavery of sin. Jesus bought our lives by his death from the slavery of sin. By His resurrection He made the way for us to rise to new life and live free from sin.

Because every command of God is motivated by His character, the new life is not about avoiding sin, but about becoming more and more of the person whose character reflects the love of God (the result being sinlessness). Before Christ, we are marred images of God and we cannot help but sin by our very nature. As new creations in Christ, we are being straightened out or transformed into the type of people who cannot sin by their very nature.

Let me clarify, I believe that man can do good without being Christian. I believe the Bible teaches that the law of God is written on our hearts, represented in nature, and is a part of our nature as broken images of God. People like Aristotle have developed the idea of virtue, that goodness is like working a muscle, the more you do it the more it becomes a part of you and a habit. In this we can all make choices that are good or sinful and these will be reflected in who we are. But without Christ, we would still be slaves to sin who would eventually become so twisted and broken by sin that we would die (and continue into eternity walking away from Love and all goodness, i.e. hell).

With Christ, we are being transformed into His image and will walk through death into eternal life. This process takes a lot of surrender, a lot of self-discipline, and yet is wholly born out by Christ’s work in us. As Christians, we can participate with Him in changing us or we can resist this process. The consequences of resisting that process include suffering. By God’s grace, our suffering of the consequences of sin leads to further obedience and life. Let me emphasize this point: suffering is NOT God’s punishment for sin, but the natural consequence of sin. God does not prevent suffering because that would be an invasion of our freewill, but instead sends the Rescuer to change us into ambassadors of compassion and transformation in this world.

So if sin is a lifestyle contrary to the nature of God which leads away from life, joy, and peace and into death, brokenness, and fear then why would it not be loving to speak the truth about sin? It is absolutely loving to encourage people to live towards standards of right and wrong. This must be done with love, humility, and discernment: see my post on ToleranceBut let us continue to dialogue with each other and the world about what is right, because life and death are in the balance.

A hymn printed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and called Christ our Passover summarizes some of these concepts by mashing together verses from 1 Corinthians and Romans:

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,

Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.

The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: Crooked

Crooked

Last week I posted my first post on the nature of sin which discussed the Fall. This week I am going to argue that we often think incorrectly about what sin actually is. Most often people associate sin with breaking the arbitrary and antiquated rules of the Bible. Some people think that sin is a made up concept used in church to manipulate people into conforming or to scare people with the consequence of hell. I am going to argue that “sin” is anything that is contradictory to the nature of God.

“Sin” means in Old English to “miss the mark” as when an archer is shooting at a target. In our lives, sin is to miss the standard that God has set for us. Now one crucial thing here: God did not command certain things as wrong “just because”, He actually grounds Goodness in His very character.

In this way, we avoid the Euthyphro Dilemma: is good merely commanded by God or a standard above Him? (both are seen as logically problematic). The Christian God falls into neither category by existing as the standard in His character for what is “Good.” To use a C.S. Lewis example, God is the straight line by which we measure all other lines to perceive whether they are straight.

This brings up another important aspect of sin. Sin is not breaking the rules God has given us,although not following God’s command is sinful because God commands goodness by nature.. Jesus said it best when giving the greatest commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” These commandments embody God’s character because He is Love. Anything contrary to God’s holy love is sin.

So what about all of those commandments in the Bible? According to the logic above, every commandment in the Bible originates and hangs on love. When Paul writes to avoid sexual immorality, lying, slander, etc., it is because those things are not loving to God or our neighbor. Further, we see throughout the New Testament that the wages of sin are death, that when we sin we become enslaved to sin, and that sin warps our soul. Therefore, sin is also not loving towards ourselves because freedom only comes through avoiding sin and doing good.

This is where we get to the meat of the matter. Not sinning = conforming to God’s character. This makes not sinning a positive matter and not merely prohibitory. As we choose to love, we become more like God. As we sin, we further bend and twist the image of God within us. As I mentioned in my last post, due to the fall the image of God within us was marred. The process of redemption consist in restoring that image within us. This is what makes sense of heaven and hell for me. As we choose goodness, goodness becomes a part of our character and becomes our default and vice versa. Heaven is the eternal progress from glory to glory, constantly choosing good and becoming more fully human. Hell is the opposite, constantly choosing self-love and obliterating the marred image of God within us. Hell is not a prison sentence, it is a choice.

Lots of worldviews have a similar view of sin. Maybe their views aren’t grounded in God but the concept of virtue vs. vice has been around since Aristotle. Most of those worldviews then give you a process by which you will be able to master yourself and choose goodness until you reach some level of paradise or enlightenment. The problem with this process began with the Fall. We no longer have the power within ourselves to save ourselves. We are already twisted beyond self or even communal redemption. We need new life. Otherwise, we are already on the path to the eternal choice of sin which leads to evermore death. If we examine all of our efforts and the efforts of those around us, I think we will see that this is the case. Next post, we will look at the unique solution offered by Christianity.