Looking and Seeing

Our world is incredibly complex.  There is so much going on around us that we only can grasp a small portion of it.  That is part of what it means to be finite.  Our inability to comprehend the entire world means we select the portions of the world we want to observe.  What we do not select, we do not observe.  David Matheny, in writing about an aviation related matter, states a truth that applies to all of life:  “You have to look to see, and you won’t see what you’re not looking for.” [1]

If we Christians do not look for problems in our belief system, we will not see them.  If we do not see them, we will not resolve them.  Why would we not want to resolve problems in our beliefs? Each of us must answer that question for themselves for problems do exist in the Christian belief system and we have listed several of them in this blog.

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[1]   David Matheny, “The Deer in the Headlights”, EAA Sport Aviation, Vol. 62, No. 10, October 2013, p. 32.

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Why God Made Us Finite

Why did God make us finite?  The lack of knowledge has caused and still causes so much suffering and hardship in our world.  Three examples will suffice.

First, we are lacking in our scientific knowledge of our world.  In the book The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan describes the effect changes in climate had on civilization between 1300 and 1850 but the book also describes other causes of the famine and disease that killed millions.  The other causes were the lack of knowledge and the lack of coordination among the people of that time.  It was not until humans developed new agricultural methods that increased the yields of crops, imported new crops from other lands, and shared that knowledge with others that most farmers moved beyond substance farming and began to produce a surplus which they could sell.  Methods of transportation were developed and used to move food stocks from country to country which helped eliminate famine when one country’s crops failed.  Governments began to coordinate relief efforts during times of crisis. [1]

Second, many people lack the knowledge of personal finances.  Dave Ramey has built a multi-million dollar company helping people understand how to structure and greatly improve their personal finances and wealth.

Third, we humans obviously lack knowledge on how we relate to each other—just read any newspaper.  Also, the Bible has much to say about how we are to treat each other—the Golden Rule, Jesus’ summary of all the Law and Prophets as love God and love your neighbor as yourself, and the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  We would not need all this instruction if we already knew how to properly relate to each other.

The only reason I can think why God made us finite is because he sees a need to put us into certain situations to teach us lessons about ourselves and about life.  If our knowledge was complete, we would not be in many of the situations in which we find ourselves.  Exactly why God structured our lives in this fashion I cannot explain.  It makes life somewhat strange as is expressed in the German saying:  Too fast old, too late smart.  But I guess this is all strange because we are only looking at this one life; we are not looking at eternity; we are not looking at the person we can become.

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[1]   Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age (New York:  Basic Books, 2000), pp. 106-112.

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Ignorance

The French writer André Gide tells us to:  “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.”  I’m sure most Christians would object to his statement since they believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and is the source of all truth.  Christians are very vocal in claiming to know what is true; they firmly believe Christianity is the only way to heaven.

However, as we have often said in this blog, while God’s word is infallible, our interpretation is not.  All the different Christian religions and denominations demonstrate there are very different interpretations of the Bible and they all cannot be right.  One would think that most Christians would aware of this aspect of the human condition—that we are limited in our ability to know what is true.  The books of Job and Ecclesiastes both have much to say about this topic. 

The problem is, as John Mark Reynolds notes, that knowledge and awareness of one’s own ignorance is both the easiest to learn but the hardest to acknowledge. [1]  It is so difficult for us to admit that our knowledge might be incomplete, to acknowledge that our “facts” might be in error.  It is our egotistical self; it is our sinful nature that does not want to recognize we have so much left to learn, that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

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[1]   John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem, Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2009, p. 98.

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Rules and Principles

I recently read an article by Robert Eschauzier in which he promotes living our lives by principles rather than rules.  Although he did not intend it, he has some important things to say concerning how we Christians should live our lives.

Principles are developed internally through logic and objective reasoning. Principles motivate me to voluntarily do the things that I know are good and right. Well defined principles (e.g. non-aggression) are absolute, not subject to negotiation or debate. Principles tend to be quite simple, often requiring no more than one or two words to be expressed without ambiguity. Principles are to philosophy what natural laws like gravity are to physical nature.

People who live by principles have in doing so acquired an internal (moral) compass to guide them in all decisions about right vs. wrong. Having full confidence in this compass, they tend to easily develop the discipline to use it constantly in daily life. Rarely will they need more than half a dozen principles to make up the entire compass.

Rules (aka “laws”) are externally and arbitrarily developed by others. Rules coercively compel me, through force or threat of punishment, to involuntarily do the things that someone else deems good or right. Rules are arbitrary, frequently subject to negotiation and endlessly debatable. Rules tend to be extremely complicated, usually requiring many lengthy paragraphs and highly convoluted language for their definition, resulting in massive ambiguities. Man made rules and laws are to philosophy what weather is to a solo sailor in the South Pacific.

People who live only by rules are essentially rudderless. They have little or no internal ability to distinguish right from wrong. They mostly distinguish only legal from illegal. Problem is, there are literally hundreds of thousands of laws and regulations. Having no or limited confidence in their knowledge of all these rules, they rarely develop a consistent discipline and instead follow or break on an ad-hoc basis the rules they are aware of, living in constant fear of error.[1]

In this blog, we have established that God has given us the freedom to live as we please.  The Bible teaches that we are to live by just two principles—love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 5).  The problem is that many Christians do not use this freedom.  Instead they live their lives based on rules.  They depend upon someone else to interpret the Bible for them and to tell them how they should live.  The world would be an entirely different place if Christians lived by God’s two principles instead of our “Christian” rules.

We follow God’s principles because we want to.  We follow man-made rules because we must.  It should be obvious what the superior moral position is.

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[1]   http://lewrockwell.com/orig10/eschauzier3.1.1.html

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Accommodations

In his history of the Christian church from the 4th to the 14th centuries, Fletcher points out that organized Christianity targeted the most powerful individuals in a society first.  The reason they did so was because they needed protection, monetary support, status, and access to royal power of coercion.  [1]

The first question we must ask is why Christianity needed all this help from the secular world.  Was not Christianity able to survive based upon its own merits?  Why did Christianity need help from the political, financial, and cultural elements of a society for it to be accepted?  Or did those Christians just want quick success without all the hard work of convincing people of the validity of Christianity and of actually putting Christianity into practice?

Because of our limits, it is understandable why Christians would band together and use all the elements of a society to accomplish some purpose such as fulfilling the Great Commission.  However, once we form any organization, there is the temptation to consider the organization as more important than the mission; to make accommodations to our belief system and actions to promote, preserve, and grow the organization.

In the 11th century, the Archbishop Wulfstan of York told the king of England Canute that he should express his gratitude to God for his good fortune and remorse for the blood he shed by lavish gifts to the church and acts of piety. [2]  Did Jesus ever say such a thing to the political leaders of his day?  No, Jesus was more interested in a change in the life of each individual he met.  The existence and maintenance of any organization was secondary.  We like to think that Christianity is growing when more people join more churches or when we build more churches, bible schools, seminaries.  Is that really true?  Or is Christianity growing when we see a change in peoples’ lives, when they become more like Christ?

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[1]   Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion, New York:  Henry Holt and Company, 1997, p.236-237.

[2]   Ibid., p. 408.

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Comanche

In his book Empire of the Summer Moon, S. C. Gwynne describes the Comanche’s world on the Great Plains.  They were a no-name tribe until the arrival of the horse.  For some reason, the horse and the Comanche clicked and they became a very powerful military force.  In fact, the US military of that time considered them to be one of the finest light cavalry forces in the world.  They controlled an area, and the other Indian tribes in that area, from Kansas to Texas and west into Colorado and New Mexico.

The Comanche’s obtained their wealth and influence through raids on other Indian tribes and then on the white men who entered their area.  The treatment of the people they captured varied greatly from adopting them into the tribe to torture, gang rape, and killing.  Their actions were shaped by their view of the world.  They had no unified religion and no belief in one God.  Life had no meaning because life was just a set of isolated episodes; there was no ultimate good because life was just a set of actions and their consequences. [1]

The Comanche were not savages, at least not any more than the rest of humanity.  Within their family there was a deep and abiding affection. [3]  As mentioned above, some of their captives were treated like family.  They were also free in a sense that we in this “modern” society long for but cannot obtain.  They had no official chief.  If someone wanted to mount a raid, they had to convince enough warriors to go; there was no majority vote that determined if the entire tribe went on the raid.  There was no one to tell them what to do—no God, no religion, no religious leader, no tribal government.

The Comanche existed for hundreds of years on the Great Plains.  Their belief system and the actions that followed from that system, like ours, had its good points but its problems as well.  What we know for certain is that they knew nothing of Jesus and his death for our sins.  If Jesus is the only way to salvation, why did not God send someone to tell the Comanche of Jesus?  God let the Comanche remain in their beliefs and made no effort to change them.  Why?

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[1]   S. C. Gwynee, Empire of the Summer Moon, New York:  Scribner, Kindle edition, p. 45

[2]   Ibid., p. 51.

[3]   Ibid., p. 107.

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Small Deeds, Great Deeds

Peter Marshall has stated:  “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned”.  Actually doing something is greater than speculating or dreaming about something.  Is our salvation any different?  Is it not greater to make small changes in how we live our lives or in the way we conduct ourselves than to just believe the incredible story that Jesus died and rose again for our sins?  This is not to minimize the gospel story for it is profound but not putting that story into practice is to denigrate it.  It means we think the gospel is so inconsequential that it is not even worthy of spending any effort to participate in the new life about which it teaches.

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Christian Creeds

I was at a wedding a few days ago.  While I was waiting for the ceremony to begin, I looked at the hymnal this particular church had selected.  In the back of the hymnal they listed several Christian creeds.  There are many creeds of the Christian faith such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Creed of Nicaea, the Athanasian Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, and the Nicene Creed.  I am sure there are others.

The word creed comes from the Latin term credo which is translated as “I believe”.  It is a statement of essential or core beliefs.  These multiple creeds raise several questions.  If a creed is an essential belief, why are there so many different creeds?  Which creed should one believe?  How does one know which creed is valid?

While the various creeds have much in common, there are differences.  For example, the Nicene Creed mentions baptism and the Apostles’ Creed does not.  Is baptism an essential belief?  Will our belief on the topic of baptism determine where we spend eternity?  If not, why is it listed as an essential belief?

Jesus said all the Law and Prophets were fulfilled in one simple sentence:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:40).  Should not our creeds be equally brief?  Why do we want to make Christianity so complicated?  I think God has made things much simpler.

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God Becoming Human

Reading about the tenants of Christianity or the rational for the doctrine of the trinity, we often hear about how God in the person of Jesus fully participated in this experience we call human life.  God took upon himself our human nature and identified himself completely with us.

Why would God need to become human?  Does this not imply that God was lacking in some aspects of his knowledge, particularly his knowledge of us?  Does not that contradict our belief that God is all knowing?

The human condition teaches us that we need to personally experience something for ourselves to truly understand it (see our blog of May 16, 2012).  In understanding other people, it is often said we should walk in another’s shoes before we criticize them.  Did God need to walk in our shoes before he could understand us?

Asserting that God needed to become human to fully understand or identify with us is just our attempt to make God in our own image.  Once again we try to reduce God to our level.  If God is who we say he is—he is all knowing—then he would be able to totally understand us without becoming human.  We might not understand how he could do that but our lack of understand does not mean he is unable to do so.

Let us not make God in our own image.  Let God be God.

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Computers

There has not been a post to this blog in two weeks because of the truth of the following statement:  It is not a matter of if your computer hard drive will crash, it is only a matter of when.  A hard drive crashing is not a major issue provided you have properly backed up your files.  However, in my case my computer was eight years old so it was time to upgrade.  Deciding what computer to purchase, deciding what software to install, and then doing both took some time.

It is incredible how dependent we have become on computers.  My life felt totally disrupted because for a short period of time I could not access the information upon which I had become dependent.  But in spite of the positive impact computers have on our lives, it is important to remember the words of Pablo Picasso:  “Computers are useless.  They can only give you answers.”

Computers can serve many important functions such as provide us with virtually limitless information.  However, computers cannot tell us what information we should acquire and they cannot tell us if the information we receive is valid.  That we must decide and we do so by questioning the information we receive.  The importance of asking questions is greater now than it has ever been but unfortunately asking the right questions is a lost art in today’s world.  We want to skip all the hard work of asking questions; all we seem to want is the answers.

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