We live in convoluted times, where we’re supposed to believe what is up is down, what is black is white, and where the only thing we can say is wrong are people who say things are wrong. This is especially true when it comes to the issues of sexuality in Western culture. Here we’re supposed to believe that something called “sexual orientation” is hard wired into our DNA and can never change, but that our sex (or gender in a less than helpful modern term) is malleable. Whatever you do, you are encouraged to be “true to yourself,” unless of course that means claiming such assertions are lies. If you do that, the dominant secular liberal culture will declare you a hater and a bigot.
I recently saw this title to an article and it instantly got my attention. One of the great shortcomings of the modern Evangelical church is it’s lack of focus on the Old Testament. When I ask friends and family if they have read the Old Testament, all of it, I get hemming and hawing, and excuses. I’ll hear that it’s confusing, or hard to understand, or they imply it’s not really relevant to their faith. They are wrong on all counts. This points to a massive failure on the part of leaders in the Church. Commenting on a book about the dying Old Testament, the author of the piece confirms this:
[M]ost American Christians are relatively ignorant of basic truths about the Bible, particularly the Old Testament—and that trends in sermons and worship are contributing to the problem. For the most part, the Old Testament is ignored, and even when it isn’t, only a narrow selection of familiar texts are read, sung, or taught.
Why is this such a huge deal? Because without an understanding of the Old Testament we can’t understand Jesus! Our Lord himself rebuked his disciples after the resurrection with these words from Luke 24:
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
I bet those are two words you’ve likely never encountered in church before. What in the world do indicative and imperative have to do with Christianity? You won’t find the words in the Bible, but you will sure find what they represent, and if they get mixed up all kind of problems will creep into a Christian’s life. First let’s start with definitions, and we’ll do it in order because it matters very much which one comes first and which second in the Christian’s life.
Indicative: of, relating to, or constituting a verb form that represents the denoted act or state as an objective fact
Imperative: of, relating to, or constituting the grammatical mood that expresses the will to influence the behavior of another, expressive of a command, entreaty, or exhortation
In short, the indicative states something that has happened, e.g., Jesus died for our sins, and the imperative exhorts us to do something, e.g., be holy. In Christianity the former always comes before the latter because the fundamental fact of Christianity is the gospel, the good news that we are saved apart from obedience to the law. If we let the indicative come first, the law for us becomes like an unpleasant drill sergeant.
Atheists are fond of accusing Christians of believing they can’t be moral or good just because they are atheists. Christians don’t believe this, and atheists can be moral or good, but that doesn’t keep them from saying it. Atheists can be as good and moral, or bad and evil as any other human being because they are made in God’s image and so capable of good, and are fallen sinners like the rest of us and so capable of evil. It seems, though, that even many atheists think atheists are immoral, according to a recent study. One headline on this study put it this way, “Atheists more likely to be seen as immoral, finds report.” The article chalked this up to “anti-atheist prejudice,” but it is only a valid, and inevitable, logical deduction, and not prejudice at all. According to the study, even more atheists believed this than not.
The reason people believe this?
The study found people ultimately viewed god as holding the power to be a moral buffer to deter immoral actions.
Maybe so, but thinking about the issue logically, if all we are is lucky dirt, why should we feel compelled to be moral? Why would any one piece of material reality, say a rock, be of any more moral value than another, say a human being? We all know intuitively that it’s wrong to torture babies for fun, but from a purely materialistic point of view (that the material is all there is) babies have no more moral value than the rock. If there is no standard outside of the material itself, then no standard can be appealed to for us to adjudicate the difference.
This is what is known as the moral argument for God’s existence. Where does the sense justice we all feel come from? If we think of the most heinous acts of evil, like the holocaust of the Jews by Nazi Germany in WWII, every normal non-sociopathic human being knows that such evil is absolutely wrong. We feel it viscerally: this wrong must some how be judged! But according to materialism, and thus atheism, those six million plus murdered Jews were just a bundle of atoms and molecules who for no reason at all just came to exist. So why would it be wrong to kill them all? If atheism is true, these people had no more value than six million rocks.
Of course, all rational people are repelled by such an assertion, as they should be. But this only highlights the logical poverty of atheism, and the logical power of theism. The former gives us no logical reason for moral values, the latter does. Oh, philosophers and thinkers through the ages have tried to get to morality from dirt, but they just can’t do it. You can’t get ought from is, no matter how hard you try. It seems that even many of those who hold a materialist worldview agree.
I recently saw this headline at Real Clear Politics: “DNA Contradicts the Bible on Canaanites.” Of course I had to click on it. What I found, no surprise to me, was that DNA did no such thing.
For the last 150 plus years, skeptics have declared over and over again that that Bible has supposedly been disproved by one discovery or another. And over and over again the claims of the skeptics have been proved bogus. Such is the case with this latest DNA finding. The title on RCP site was blatantly false, and I e-mailed the editors to let them know. But the title of the actual piece is only slightly less deceiving: “DNA vs the Bible: Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites.” Whoever wrote this is obviously ignorant of what the Bible actually says, and that’s how lies spread in our modern popular culture, especially among those who automatically doubt the Bible’s authenticity. An accurate title would be, “DNA Confirms the Bible.”
I guess this will be the last part of my little trilogy (previous two posts here and here) on the wages of sin, which Paul tells us is death. I made the claim that over the years my conviction of how we are saved has had a powerful impact on keeping our kids Christian. I previously explained the traditional Reformed tradition on soteriology (how we are saved), that we are actually spiritually dead in our sins, and that we unable to believe on the Lord Jesus until God does a supernatural work in our soul to raise us spiritually from the dead. This means that our salvation is not up to us, but to God. It is the unilateral work of our sovereign, Almighty God in Christ for us. He does not ask our permission. And thank God for that! Can you imagine if our salvation was ultimately up to us? As I argued in my last post, our sinful human nature compels us to run and hide from God, like Adam and Eve did, and the Scripture is clear that nobody seeks God.
Why is what I’ll call a God-centered perspective so powerfully persuasive to me, and to our kids? My impression of Christianity for the first six years of my faith journey was that the quality of my relationship with God was primarily dependent on what I did or didn’t do. In a positive thinking phase of my life I learned that, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” While certainly true in many areas of life, I’ve learned it most definitely is not true in my relationship to a holy God. Please note, though, the word “primarily.” The God-focused faith I was introduced into at 24 did not imply that what I did or didn’t do wasn’t important, or that my choices weren’t real. God’s sovereign work with human beings doesn’t destroy their nature, make of their freedom an illusion, or turn them into robots. What it does do, though, is put our confidence in the right place: him!
In my previous post I talked about the wages of sin as it related to the movie Dunkirk. In this post I want discuss how the wages of sin relates to our salvation from sin, and specifically what in theology is called the doctrine of soteriology. Over the years I’ve found that my conviction of how we are saved has had a powerful impact on keeping our kids Christian.
Most Evangelical Christians are not well versed in theology in general, and likely not soteriology. The basic idea taught overtly and implied in most conservative Christian Protestant churches is that we are saved from sin because we believe on the Lord Jesus. This is of course true, as Paul declares in Romans 10:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
But a question arose over the course of Church history about the nature of this belief: Where does the power or ability to believe come from? Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ would think this is if not a silly question, then at least an unnecessary one. Who cares, they might think. We’re presented with the gospel, then we either believe or we don’t. But it’s not that simple.
When we came out of the movie theater having just watched the very intense and entertaining hit movie Dunkirk, all I could think of was the Apostle Paul’s phrase in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” This phrase about sin’s ultimate consequences points back to the Lord God telling Adam in Genesis 2 that he may eat from any tree in the garden, but that he cannot eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that if he does he “will surely die.” We know that when Adam and Eve ate of the tree they did not instantly drop dead, so this death God spoke of was something more profound than just physical death. Yes, physical death entered the human race, but something much more sinister entered: sin, the cause of death, which is spiritual separation from man’s creator, God.
When I read a (long) piece recently titled, “Can We Be Good Without God? On the political meaning of Christianity,” I was reminded yet again that ideas have consequences, and that there is no neutral space where ideas inspired by “religion” do not have implications for life, including politics.
You may wonder why I put quotes around the word religion. I do that because all human beings are fundamentally “religious” in that every person lives by faith. For those uncritically marinated in secular Western culture, they actually believe that only “religious” people require “faith.” And I put faith in quotes because our secular culture defines “faith” as something only “religious” people need. How convenient, for the secularists: only those irrational religious people need faith. And they define faith, conveniently for themselves as believing despite inadequate or no evidence. Now that is doubly convenient!
My daughter recently went to a funeral for a teenage girl who tragically died from meningitis. Also, tragically from my perspective, her family is part of the Unitarian Universalist faith. As such, they don’t believe in a personal God, let alone anything to do with Christianity. The father of the dead girl read a eulogy from a physicist at the service, and it would be hard to find a better example of the power of sinful human self-delusion.
Remember what sin is, and is not. It is not primarily an outward action or inward thought measured against a moral code. What it is, is alienation from a holy God whose nature demands justice against sin. It’s not unlike a nation or state demanding obedience to its laws, and requiring punishment for infractions. Law breaking must be punished or civilization breaks down. Reality is fundamentally moral.
In our fallen state we, like Adam and Eve, do everything we can to hide from God. His wrath against sin must be appeased, and we want nothing to do with it. The nature of sin revealed to us in Genesis 3 is that we, buying into Satan’s temptation, want to “be like God.” We are by nature usurpers, as Paul says, God’s enemies. Elsewhere he declares, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” If you think this is just a Paul thing read the Old Testament and you’ll see where he got his understanding of human nature.
What has all this to do with a eulogy and self-delusion? Let’s read the eulogy by a physicist named Aaron Freeman:
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.
This is one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. How comforting it must be to grieving parents to know their dead child is energy, particles, and photons. That although their child’s particles are “just less orderly,” they are still around.
I could go in many different ways with this “eulogy,” but notice one thing that speaks to the delusion of my title. Mr. Freeman asserts that the parents if they rely on physics don’t need “faith.” The absurdity of such a statement is almost inconceivable, if not for the power of spiritual blindness that envelopes the fallen, sinful human heart. Sinful man would rather do anything, including go to the heights of logical absurdity, than submit to his Creator. All human beings live by faith, even physicists (I spend a good number of words proving this in my book). The assumption behind the assertion (and all assertions are informed by assumptions) is that just because we can empirically prove that photons and particles and energy exist, one doesn’t need faith. To not put too fine a point on it, that’s balderdash!
One other thing stood out when my daughter first read this to me. Mr. Freeman seems to think that personhood is irrelevant. That we are persons isn’t the important thing about existence; the concept of personhood isn’t what gives life and lives their value. No, what gives life it’s value, he implies, is that we are energy, particles, and photons. I say to my wife all the time, I love your energy, particles, and photons! We all know, intuitively, that we are more than the sum of our physical parts. We are persons living in a world filled with persons! And we are persons precisely because we are made in God’s image and derive our personhood from him.