No One Can Know

In a review of the TV movie Resurrection, a critic states that the idea that “no one can know” is an erroneous platitude and criticizes the movie for a character who expresses the view that John the Baptist was correct in asking whether Jesus was truly was the Messiah because no one can truly know where Christ came from.  The critic emphatically states that every Christian should know exactly where Christ was before he came to earth.  [1]

The only way we can know where Christ was before he came to earth is from what the Bible teaches us.  It is no question that we can know how someone interprets what the Bible says about where Jesus was but how do we know that interpretation is correct?  Just because some interpretation is widely accepted, does that automatically mean it is true?  There are plenty of examples in history where the majority was not correct and that includes the history of Christianity.

It is a fact that God created us finite.  The implications of being finite include the fact that in certain areas it is true that we cannot know.  Paul tells us we see in a mirror dimly and what we know is only part of reality (I Corinthians 13:12).  The entire books of Ecclesiastes and Job teach us about our limits.

The task for us is to discern between what we can know and what we cannot.  And just because an idea is included in the doctrines of our particular faith does not make it true.

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[1]   Megan Basram, “Signs of Life”, World, April 5, 2014, p. 28.

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Suffering for Our Faith

In our last blog, we quoted 1 Peter 2:18-24 within the context of our relationship with human governments and authorities.  In this passage Peter tells us if we suffer when do wrong it is of no benefit to us.  However, if we suffer unjustly it is a gracious thing (other translations say it is commendable) in God’s eyes.  Peter uses Jesus as an example.  Jesus did not retaliate when he was persecuted but endured his suffering.

What kind of God do we serve who thinks it is commendable to suffer?  Why does God think that suffering is good for us?  It almost sounds as if God is sadistic.

However, focusing on the suffering aspect is placing the emphasis in the wrong place.  Notice that he does not say we will suffer for our beliefs but for our actions.  What God requires of us is that we live our lives in a certain way.  He requires that our soul is changed so it becomes like him.

When we live our lives as God would have us live, we will encounter those who do not follow God’s way and this will produce a conflict.  If these individuals have power over us they can do things that are detrimental, or at least not beneficial, to us.  The normal human response is to retaliate in some fashion.  If we retaliate then we become like those who persecute us and we become less like God.  However, God desires that we continue to do what is right even when we encounter opposition.  If we suffer as a result, our actions and the resultant suffering we endure are commendable to God.

The only way this world will change is if we each practice our faith even when it costs us.  How many of us have suffered because of our faith?

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The American Revolutionary War

This week we in the United States will celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Was the signing of the Declaration and the war that followed justified according to the Bible?

Ecclesiastes 8:2 tells us we to obey the rulers of the land for God’s sake.  Romans 13:1-2 also says we are to be subject to the ruling authorities because they have been appointed by God.  Paul says to rebel against authority is to rebel against what God has established.  Titus 3:1 says we are to be obedient to rulers and authorities.  I Peter 2:3-17 commands us to submit to every authority established by men.

The colonists of the American Revolution did not submit to the authorities in existence—the British government.  The reason was because the British government was unjust—the Declaration is a list of grievances.  In I Peter 2:18-21, immediately after the passage on submitting to every authority, Peter tells servants to submit even to unjust masters.  He uses Jesus as an example of someone who suffered unjustly and states that this is commendable to God.

Does the Bible ever say it is permissible to rebel against unjust authority?  The only time the Bible instructs us to do so is when the authority demands we take an action which is contrary to God’s command (Acts 5:29).  Read through the Declaration.  While the British government was most definitely unjust, did they require anything of the colonists which would cause the colonists to take an action which was contrary to God’s requirements of them?

Just something to think about and debate this July 4th.

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Infallible Doctrines

Any religion such as Christianity has certain core beliefs that define that religion.  How do we Christians determine the validity of the doctrines we hold?

We have no evidence for most of our doctrines.  While we have very good evidence that Jesus was a historical person and that he was killed for his teachings, we cannot prove Jesus was God and that he died for our sins.  We must take most of our doctrines on faith.

We base our doctrines upon what the Bible says.  How do we know our doctrines are correct?  How do we know we have correctly interpreted the Bible?  One way is to learn from others.  Roman Catholics depend upon the pronouncements of its Popes and councils. Protestants depend upon the beliefs of the denomination or church to which they belong.

How do we know our church’s doctrines are correct?  Do we take that on faith?  Is it valid to have faith in fallible humans?  On some doctrines, there are disagreements within the Christian faith—that is why we have so many different Christian religions and denominations.  For example, some Christians debate the validity of the doctrine of the trinity. [1]  This debate is based upon different interpretations of what is said in the Bible.   So who decides which interpretation of the Bible is correct?  As we have stated many times in this blog, we are finite.  Being finite means while the Bible is infallible, our interpretation is not.

We Christians agree we are finite beings yet when it comes to our doctrines, we act as if we were infallible.  Why?

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[1]   Anthony F. Buzzard, and Charles F. Hunting.  The Doctrine of the Trinity.  New York:  International Scholars Publications, 1998.

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Compartmentalizing

Does Christianity impact all areas of our lives?  Evidently some Christians believe that it does not.

For example, there are plenty of Christian business persons who follow Machiavelli’s rules in business instead of Christ’s.  One illustration is given by Joel Belz, the founder of World magazine and concerns following the Golden Rule in business.  Specifically he concluded that paying employees the minimum wage is essentially telling them “If I could legally pay you less, I would”.  Is that treating your employees as you would want to be treated?  Should not a Christian business owner or manager work to maximize their employees’ compensation?  A business owner or manager definitely wants to maximize their own compensation.  Of course a business must take into consideration the other financial requirements of a business such as the need to provide a healthy return on investment for the shareholders, the need for capital to reinvest in the business, and paying their vendors on time. [1]  However, the principle of treating one’s employees as one would want to be treated remains valid.

Another example of compartmentalizing Christianity is Christian churches and denominations suing each other over church property instead of following Paul’s teaching of resolving such issues with the Christian community (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).  Why do we ignore this teaching while we criticize the world and other Christians for ignoring other teachings of the Bible?

Can we compartmentalize our Christian faith so it only applies to certain areas of our lives and not others?  If the answer is yes, how do we decide to which areas we apply the teachings of Christ and which areas we do not?  Did Jesus ever compartmentalize his teachings?

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[1]   Joel Belz, “Upside-down Golden Rule”, World, February 22, 2014, p. 3.

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What is Christianity?

Alan Watts in his book The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are asks if there is more to Christianity than doing good and imitating Jesus.  He maintains that we need to discuss the universe and our place in it, who we are, life, love, pain, death, and does our existence have any meaning. [1]

Now Christians will say Christianity addresses all these issues.  The problem is that we are finite.  Given that, how do we know we have correctly interpreted what the Bible says about these topics?  How do we know we have properly thought through these facets of our existence?  As we have stated before, our beliefs are similar to scientific theories—they are based upon what we currently know but are subject to revision as new evidence surfaces.

What we do know for certain is how we should live our lives (John 16:7-11, Romans 2:12-16).  Why did God give us certainty in this area of our lives?  The reason is that God’s purpose for our lives is the change of our soul so it becomes like him.  The universe, our place in it, who we are, life, love, pain, death, and the meaning of our existence are just tools he uses to accomplish that task.  While we should learn all we can about the universe and our existence, they should not divert us from the main task of renovating our soul so it becomes like God.

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[1]   Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are, New York:  Vintage Books, 1989, pp. 4-5.

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Money and Possessions

Derrick McCarson has written a book on Ecclesiastes called Journal of a Mad Man.  He makes one point that I have not seen before.  He states:  “our use of money and possessions may be the single greatest indicator of our spirituality”.  He backs up this statement with the following facts about what the Bible says about money:

  •    Sixteen of the 38 parables of Christ deal with money
  •    More is said about money than prayer
  •    There are over 500 verses on both prayer and faith but there are over 2,000 on money and possessions. [1]

Now McCarson is not advocating a prosperity gospel.  He only says how you use your money and possessions is an indicator of your spirituality.  Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrates this (Matthew 25:14-18).  Before he leaves on a journey, a man gave one of his servants five talents, another two, and another one (note the Bible says this distribution was made according to the servant’s ability).  When the master returned, his concern was what each servant had done with the talents given them.  If the servant had put his talents to good use he was praised.  If he did not put his talents to good use, he was harshly criticized.  The master’s concern was not the total amount of money the servant had made but how servant used whatever was given to him.

Money and possessions are like any other ability God has given us.  As we have previously stated in this blog (May 8, 2011) the Bible lists the use of our abilities as one aspect of our salvation.  It is therefore vital that we best utilize whatever abilities we possess.

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[1]   Derrick McCarson, Journal of a Mad Man, Eugene, OR:  Resource Publications, 2014, p. 88.

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The Devil’s Advocate

The definition of a devil’s advocate is “a person who champions the less accepted cause for the sake of argument”.  This function was established by the Roman Catholic Church in 1587 by Sixtus V and involved a Roman Catholic official whose duty was to make arguments opposing an individual being recognized as a saint by the Church.  The purpose was to ensure the candidates for sainthood were truly deserving.

The importance of such a process is illustrated by the fact that when Pope John Paul II reduced the power of this office in 1983 it enabled him to canonize around 500 individuals as compared to only 98 canonizations by all the 20th century popes combined.  If one does not need to deal with contradictory information, one can do whatever one likes.

Having to deal with contradictory information concerning our Christian beliefs is troubling.  Having to critically examine the evidence for our beliefs is problematic. The easy way to avoid all these problems is just to ignore the evidence that contradicts our position.  As Christians this is easy to do because we can justify problems with our belief system by saying God’s ways are incomprehensible to us finite creatures and therefore we must believe even if it does not make sense to us.

However, God has not structured our existence like some Alice in Wonderland world in which we must believe in a half a dozen impossible things before breakfast [1] if we want to be saved.  God made us rational beings and we should use that facility to ensure our beliefs conform to what the Bible teaches, not to what traditional Christianity teaches.  The function of a devil’s advocate still has its place in our Christian culture.

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[1]   Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, Mahwah, NJ:  Watermill Press, 1983, p. 187.

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Living Out Christianity

Two articles in World caught my attention.  The first was about Christians in Africa.  The Transforming Nations Alliance (TNA), a Christian project in Uganda, states:  “while many Sub-Saharan African countries boast of large Christian populations, their impact or influence is hardly seen or noticed in the real world.  The Church in these nations has largely lost credibility and is accused of being totally irrelevant in society.” [1]

Is the rest of the Christian world any different?  Where does Christianity have a major impact of a society; where does Christianity have credibility?

Another article was about one family’s struggle with a child who has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Their pastor comments about the impact Christianity has had on the family:  “It’s amazing to see someone not just talking about it, but living it out.  You can read a book or an article about it, but it’s not the same as when you see a life actually living it.” [2]

Why is it amazing to see someone living out Christianity?  Should it not be the norm for Christians to live as Christ lived?

The reason for both the issues we have raised above is because we have made Christianity solely a belief system.  All we need to do is say a few words to gain admission into heaven and then we continue to live our lives the way we always have lived them.  But that is not what Christianity is about.  It is fundamentally about a change of our soul so it becomes like God.  Until the Church realized that, it will continue to be irrelevant for most people in this world.

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[1]   Marvin Olasky, “Africa’s Hinge”, World, February 8, 2014, p. 39.
[2]   Sophia Lee, “Saving Seth”, World, February 8, 2014, p.49.

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Capacity for Evil and Good

Unbroken is a book about Louis Zamperini.  He was a track star before World War II.  Some thought that he would be the first to break the four minute mile but WWII intervened.  Instead Louis became a bombardier on a B-24.  He survived several bombing raids including one that left 594 holes in his airplane.  But while searching for another downed airplane in the Pacific Ocean, his plane was lost.  He survived over 40 days on the ocean with no food and water other than what he could gather.  Unfortunately the ocean currents took him to Japanese held territory and he was captured.  The torture he endured in various POW camps is unbelievable.

After the war Louis’ life was chaotic as he turned to alcohol because of what we now call post-traumatic stress syndrome.  He was converted to Christian when his wife essentially brow beat him into attending a Billy Graham meeting.  He forgave those who abused him and turned his life around.

Any philosophy of life must take into account the experiences of the Pacific POWs of WWII.  “They had an intimate understanding of man’s vast capacity to experience suffering, as well as his equally vast capacity, and hungry willingness, to inflict it.” [1]  I would also add it must explain why some Japanese guards resisted the mistreating of the POWs often at the cost of physical harm to themselves.  The same applied to the local villagers.  Some mistreated the prisoners while other helped them. [2]  Why was there such a different response to the POWs?

The motivation of some Japanese to help the POWs but others to harm cannot be Christianity because the Japanese guards and villagers were not Christians.  So what caused them to do what is right even at a cost?  Some would say this is an example of God’s common grace.  Then why do some respond to God’s common grace and others do not?

The answer is that God has given various amount of light to different people.  God will judge us based upon how well we live up the light he has given us.  Becoming a Christian will not necessarily get us into heaven.  What is necessary is that we respond to God when he convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).

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[1]   Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken, New York:  Random House, Kindle Location 5608.

[2]   Ibid., Kindle Location 3134, 3146, 3777.

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