Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dead Atheists: All Dressed Up & Nowhere to Go

The following is a correspondence with a grieving Christian. He and a friend had recently lost a mutual neighbor to a sudden death. His good neighbor, Sylvia, was a devout Christian woman who faithfully attended and worked for the church. His friend is an avowed atheist. Here is the request from our dear, crestfallen brother.
My atheist friend who lives right across the street from her and they were very close…asks me tonight, ‘If there's a God, why would He let her die alone? While doing God's work??’ I didn't have an answer for him. Help me understand.
The following is my reply. I pray it will bring comfort and greater understanding to you; for we all must face --and most of us already have faced--death. When we face it we need answers, comfort, and hope. We find all of these things in Christ. May God bless your reading.
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As for your friend's question and our need for understanding: several things come to mind. First, we cannot know, with specificity, why God does what He does. Even in scripture, we see God acting in the lives of the saints; but He rarely if ever explains Himself. (For example, Stephen in Acts 7. He was murdered while he was preaching Christ--doing God's work. With the exception of John, every single Apostle of our Lord was martyred--doing God's work. And Jesus told the people that they had killed all of the Old Testament prophets, as well. Jesus Himself was murdered--doing God's work.)

Certainly, God has revealed Himself and His moral will in scripture; but when it comes to saying "why" God does what He does--especially outside the content of scripture--we really lack solid warrant. In other words, it is presumptuous of us to speak for God apart from the revelation of scripture. [Unfortunately, this doesn't stop many folks from doing so--Pat Robertson and the like.]

Second, Jesus was confronted with "why do bad things happen to good people" in Luke 13:1-5. I would encourage you to read this passage. Notice, Jesus doesn't say "why" tragedies occur. His twice stated response was, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (3,5). When tragedies/deaths occur, they should not provoke us to anger towards God but to repentance before God.

That is, we know why humans die (Rom 5:12). The physical and spiritual death of man resulted from Adam's sin. We know that because of sin, Adam's and our own, we will all die in due time. Yet, to this point, God has mercifully given us life and opportunity to repent. When we are confronted with death, we are reminded of this. This is how Jesus instructs us to contemplate such things.

Third, your friend's questions [Which are actually statements to the effect: There is no God!] are not rational but emotional. That is, he is not questioning God's existence rationally, but emotionally. And this is understandable. He loved Sylvia. Anger is a common emotional response to pain. Your friend's pointed statements in the form of questions [though I don't want to be insensitive to his genuine need] reminds me of what Vox Day wrote in his book "The Irrational Atheist." He says the atheist's creed goes something like this: "1)There is no God and 2) I hate Him."

The fact is, there's just no rational reason to see human death as evidence for the non existence of God. The atheist wants to have his cake and eat it too. The atheist who insists that human life is NOT evidence for God's existence; is the same atheist who insists that human death IS evidence for God's non existence. (This is true of human life and death in general, and in particular. Was Sylvia's exemplary life evidence for God's existence? Your atheist friend is obliged to say "No." Was her seemingly untimely death evidence for God's non existence? Your atheist friend says "Yes.") One simply cannot have it both ways--not if one wishes to think rationally and consistently.

As for the question: “If there is a God, why would He [God] let her die alone?” First, I would insist that Sylvia died “alone” only if your friend’s worldview is correct. He knows there were no other people around, but he ASSUMES there was no God around. But we do not concede his assumption. The scripture is clear: To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2Cor 5:8). It is impossible for the believer in Jesus to die “alone.” Upon death, the believer is welcomed into the immediate presence of the Lord. The scriptures are abundantly clear concerning this.

From the Christian worldview, no believer in Christ dies “alone.” However, from the atheist worldview, all people, in the final analysis, die “alone.” Many times I’ve been around death and dying. Most of the time family members have been present. And yet, when the final breath was taken--the gathered family remained while the loved one departed. From the atheistic worldview--who was with the departed upon their departure? Not God, not anyone.

In fact, from the atheistic worldview, upon the death of the loved one, there is no loved one. They have ceased to be entirely. According to atheism, the deceased have no more being. No soul. No self. No consciousness. According to atheism, death must be “alone” and is the absolute loss of being. Thus, the question now is: According to atheism, what does it really matter if one dies “alone”?

If the atheist is correct and death is the total loss of being, not only does it NOT matter how one dies; but ultimately, it does not matter how one lives. Which brings us to the quandary of God’s allowing Sylvia to die while she was “doing God’s work.” Doing God’s work is not a matter of dying but of living.

Sylvia was doing exactly what she wanted to do. She was serving the Lord. I can think of a plethora of things I could be doing just before dying. None of them are more significant or rewarding than serving Christ. Sylvia met her Master whom she had just seconds before been actively serving. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15).

Some die young and others die old. Some die very quickly and others so very slowly. If I had my way I’d die old and very quickly--and painlessly with all of my mental and physical capacities. These things are not in our power, but God’s. But we do know that if we live in Christ, we shall die in Him and resurrect in Him. This is our great comfort in this life and our assured hope for the life to come.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's An American?

Hakim attends the local mosque and is formally educated in the neighborhood madrassa. He devoutly prays five times a day and religiously reads the Koran. He harbors a deep-seated resentment for the United States’ involvement in the Middle East and it’s preferential treatment of Israel. Furthermore, he feels the culture--or lack thereof--of the U.S. is pure poison, infecting young Muslims with Western ideals.

Adriana is Roman Catholic, really, for no other reason than she was paedo-baptized into the faith. Like Hakim, she too resents the United States for what she considers to be injustices past and present. It is her firm conviction that her people’s birth rite has been stolen; that nearly all of the southwestern United States rightfully belongs to Mexico; that her people have languished under U.S. conquest and exploitation since the Mexican-American war.

Then there is Leah. Leah’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors. She is ethnically Jewish but not religiously. Were she to label her spirituality she would choose “agnostic,” because she has no idea of what or who God is and quite frankly doesn’t deem the subject worthy of much contemplation. As a secularist she is philosophically--and for the most part politically--progressive and contra Hakim, she very much supports the United States simply because the United States supports her beloved homeland, Israel.

Finally, we have Qeshawn. Qeshawn was raised Methodist (AME) but is entertaining notions of converting to Islam. Within Qeshawn burns a smoldering passion. This too, stems from perceived injustice, unabated suppression, and exploitation. Qeshawn believes, with every fiber of his being, that his people have been victimized by the U.S. for two hundred years; that the U.S. government, with it's racist, genocidal policies, is responsible for his personal pain and poverty.

What do these fictitious, but real to life, individuals have in common? They’re Americans. And so I ask you: What’s an American? Obviously, being American has absolutely nothing to do with ethnicity; for Hakim is Iraqi, Adriana is Mexican, Leah is Jewish, and Qeshawn is African. They--but not necessarily their parents--are bonafide Americans. Why or how is this so? It’s quite simple: They were born in the United States.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is clear: “All persons born…in the United States…are citizens of the United States.” I honestly can’t think of a lower common denominator, a lower standard for citizenship, than: “I was born in the USA.” Can you? How can one conceptualize an American, in any meaningful way whatsoever, if the only thing which makes for being an American is reduced to nothing more than having been born in the United States? This is our one essential quality?

 Some would offer, “Well, ‘American’ has nothing to do with nationality but everything to do with ideology. We are ‘American’ because we all believe in the American ideal or the American dream.” Really? And what would this “ideal,” this nebulous “dream” entail? What is this common or shared American vision? Perhaps you’re thinking the American ideal is liberty and the pursuit of happiness; “freedom” if you will.

But are Americans agreed as to what constitutes liberty, freedom, and happiness? I think not. Every American is screaming for their particular tribe’s “rights” and nobody seems to know what their rights are or from whence they come. Thus Americans have the right to kill their babies but not to make them fat.

Adriana enjoys the right to pursue happiness by “marrying” Leah but nobody has the liberty to say they’re living in sin. Hakim exercises the freedom to make money and Qeshawn feels entitled to claim it as his own. And so on.

Watch the news. There is no single American vision or shared ideal. Some worship in the cathedral of free market capitalism while others zealously preach socialism in the high church of Marx. The "Tea Party" pledges to the flag while "Occupy Wall Street" poops on it--literally. What of the Constitution? Is there a common commitment to the Constitution? No.

Most Americans have never read the Constitution and those who have, have forgotten it. The few Americans who are conversant with the Constitution are disagreed as to how it is to be interpreted. We’re a corrupt government’s dream come true: A “constitutional republic” in name only.

Where is our common ground? (And no, I’m not speaking of geography.) Is our place of birth (now I am speaking of geography) our only commonality? If so, is that which divides us greater than that which unites us? Have we lost our collective soul? Who are we? What defines us?

What’s an American? I’m not sure anymore.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Problem of Pain

When I consider my crosses, tribulations, and temptations, I shame myself almost to death thinking of what they are in comparison to the sufferings of my blessed Savior, Jesus Christ. (Martin Luther)
Martin Luther is a towering figure of both secular and sacred history. And while the “crosses, tribulations, and temptations” of which he speaks are no doubt unique to his own person and particular calling; each and every Christian, of necessity, must endure their own crosses, tribulations, and temptations. Are we not individually called by our Lord, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mtt 16:24)?

Sadly, many Christians falter in their faith during tribulations because they’ve been duped by the unbiblical, false doctrine of the “prosperity” heretics. These are false brethren who insist that God wants nothing more than to make us happy, healthy, and wealthy. But in the Bible we are not promised a life of ease here and now. Quite the opposite: “In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33).

When we consider the clear teaching of scripture, in both word and example, we find that people of faith are inevitably tried and tested. Thus, though we may naturally wonder why we are faced with seasons of sorrow, we needn’t falter or lose heart.
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings…(1Peter 4:12-13a).
Unlike false world religions and cults, Christianity unflinchingly acknowledges or faces the problem of pain. Biblical faith does not deny the reality of suffering [treating it as merely illusory] as does Christian Science. It does not ignore or pretend to “speak away” suffering as does the “Word of Faith” movement. Nor does it seek to escape suffering through mental discipline, as does Buddhism. Instead, in no uncertain terms, Christianity addresses and understands suffering through the lens, if you will, of the Cross of Jesus Christ. The corrective lens of Christ brings our personal fragmentation sharply into focus.

Like Luther, the Christian may readily acknowledge his “crosses, tribulations, and temptations.” But rather than drown ourselves in a sea of self referential anguish, we must also, like Luther, look to the Author and Finisher of our faith. Luther, when tested, followed the admonition of God’s word.
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Heb 12:2-3)
Notice, the author of Hebrews gives a reason for looking to Christ and considering Him when we are experiencing difficulty: “lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” It is when we give into the natural inclination to become self absorbed in our pain, that we are most susceptible to weariness and discouragement. But when we look to Christ and consider His vicarious suffering, we find in Him the necessary strength and encouragement to persevere.

Though we may be afflicted and heavy of heart, as we look to the Christ of scripture, we are borne of the Spirit. How can this be? How is the suffering soul succored by the Spirit? The answer is in Christ’s sufferings for us. “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Christ has already borne our grief and carried our sorrow and thus the Spirit aids us in all adversity. When our heart is overwhelmed, we must hear the word of the Lord: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you” (Isaiah 43:2).

As we are tried and tested, we must not only look to the sufferings of Christ, but we must also contemplate the mind-set of our Lord. The above passage from Hebrews says that Christ endured the cross and despised its shame because He anticipated “the joy that was set before Him.” This we must not lose sight of: though suffering is necessary, it is not an end in and of itself. There is an everlasting joy that awaits us. As C.S. Lewis quipped, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

But joy not only awaits us. Because Christ is on His throne, and because we are united to Him; we experience joy now, even in the grip of our brokenness. We close with the sentiments of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. “Joy is not the absence of pain. Joy is the presence of God.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Lost Art of Integrity

Integrity: 1) the quality or state of being complete; unbroken condition; wholeness; entirety 2) the quality or state of being unimpaired; perfect condition; soundness 3) the quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)
Conversations concerning integrity [even though the actual word “integrity” may go unspoken] are commonplace these days. And it seems our banter has more to do with the privation of integrity than the possession of it. This has always been the case east of Eden. But when God created man, man was the possessor of inherent integrity. He was complete and unbroken. He was unimpaired and morally sound. Man was the unmarred image of God his Creator. All of this changed with the first man’s first sin.

With the first man’s first sin, human integrity was no more. Sin caused and continues to cause, man to be broken and impaired, immoral and insincere. This is the universal indictment of scripture.
There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God…There is none who does good, no, not one…There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:10-11,12,18).
While some are certainly better than others, none are upright in the eyes of God. We often hear of the loss of integrity. We know what is meant by this expression. But the truth is this: one cannot lose what one never had. In light of God’s word, none of us, in and of ourselves, has integrity to lose.

Yet, we do speak of certain people as being a “person of integrity.” Here we are not referring to righteousness in the eyes of God, but of a person’s standing among his peers. In other words, when one sinner is compared to other sinners; he may be said to have [or conversely, lack] integrity. Here we are understanding “integrity” in the relative sense of the word.

If we speak of a carpenter as a man of integrity we are saying he does excellent work with fine materials at a fair price. If we mention a store owner to be a woman of integrity we mean she sells her wares without deceit. If we talk of an employer who has integrity, then we believe he pays equitable wages. Clearly, if we speak of a politician of integrity, then we are spinning tall tales or dealing in sarcasm. And so on.

What is troubling to me is that integrity, even in the relative sense of the word [the normal usage], is becoming somewhat of a lost art. Where does one turn to find integrity? I spoke--only somewhat tongue-in-cheek--of politicians. Politicians have never been known for their integrity. Ambrose Bierce defined politics as “The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” And hasn’t this been the case with our government officials? It seems every branch at every level of government is rife with corruption. Very, very few Americans look to our government in hopes of discovering integrity.

There was a time, at least in popular expectation (however right or wrong or naive), that a trusted profession labored to counter, or at least expose, the dishonesty of individuals and institutions. Of course, I am speaking of the field of journalism. Increasing numbers of people are waking up to the fact that journalists and news corporations are far from neutral reporters of fact.

This has always been the case, but yesteryear’s news--if only in pretense--attempted to objectively convey information. But no more. Media bias is so prevalent that I have heard time and again--coming from newsmen--“Journalism is dead.” This is but another way of admitting that a great number of journalists lack integrity, and that this deficiency is now common knowledge. With the advent of twenty-four hour cable news and the internet, the quest for truth has openly devolved into the race for ratings. How often I have asked: Who do I believe? Who can I trust to tell me the truth?

Let’s turn our gaze elsewhere. What of education? Can anyone convincingly argue that government run schools, filled with secularistic philosophy put into practice by godless teacher’s unions, are bastions of integrity? I think not. This is true from top to bottom. The most censored places on this planet are universities. There is nothing more closed than an open-minded professor.

At every level of formal education, intellectual honesty has been jettisoned for political correctness and the progressive agenda--all cloaked in the garb of “academic respectability.” Freedom of thought has been killed so that “free-thought” might live. But to sacrifice intellectual honesty on any altar of the sacred academy is a breach of trust and is grossly immoral.

What has happened to us? In the late 19th century, R.L. Dabney penned, “There can be, therefore, no true education without moral culture, and no true moral culture without Christianity.” I agree with Dabney’s assessment and now I must lament that Christianity itself faces various crises of integrity. It is painfully clear that the church faces crises of integrity in both belief and behavior. And “if the salt loses its savor...?” Our culture desperately needs Christianity and our Christianity desperately needs Reformation.

Indeed, where can our culture and Christianity turn to find integrity? In short, we must look to Christ and His word. When we turn to Jesus we see integrity embodied--not integrity in the normal, relative sense of the word; but integrity in its full and unqualified beauty. Reread the definition of integrity.

Is not our Christ physically, intellectually, spiritually, and morally: complete, unbroken, whole, unimpaired, perfect, sound, upright, honest and sincere? He perfectly practiced what He perfectly preached. In every thought, word, and deed He was and is the epitome of integrity. Thus, we look to Him as our example and we run to Him as our Savior. We find in Him—and only in Him--what we lack and we cling to Him, by faith, to obtain it.

Naturally, because we desire to be His disciples, we too should do our best to live lives of integrity. That is, all that we do we will do to the best of our ability and to the glory of God. Because Christ is Lord over every aspect of our lives, we will strive to ever narrow the gap between our profession and our practice, eschewing the presence of personal hypocrisy. For one thing is certain: We cannot forsake integrity if we would follow Christ.