Pattern of Behavior

How do we know who we actually are?  How do we know what our soul is like?  If salvation is the renovation of our soul, it would be a good idea to know what sort of renovation is necessary.  As a general rule, we do not start the renovation of a house or office without some idea of the nature of the work that is required so why would we start an even greater task without some knowledge of what our soul is like?

One way to know what our soul is like is to determine our pattern of behavior.  Our pattern of behavior is how we typically act or react given a particular situation.  For example, if someone treats us badly, do we retaliate and treat them badly?  Or do we, as the Tao Te Ching suggests, treat with goodness both those who are bad and good because the nature of our being is good? [1]

Jesus gives us an example from the material world of what our pattern of behavior is:

For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:44-45) ESV

Knowing our pattern of behavior is critical because God says that is how he will judge us.  Ezekiel 33:13-16 states that if a righteous person turns to injustice, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered and he will be judged by the injustice that he does.  If a wicked person turns to what is just and right, none of his wicked deeds will be remembered and he will be judged by his just and righteous deeds.

Our actions are the result of who we are.  By looking at our pattern of behavior, we can see who we really are.  And should not that provide some motivation for change, to begin the renovation our soul?

___________________________

[1]   Jonathan Star, translator, Tao Te Ching (New York:  Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2001), p. 62.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Who We Are

“Sin is not primarily a matter of what we do but of who we are.” [1]  It is because of who we are that we sin.  We tell untruths because we are the type of person who does not have a problem deceiving others so we can gain an advantage or benefit.  We gossip because we are the type of person who does not have a problem destroying another person’s reputation if that will make us look better.

If the above is true, then attempting to deal with our sin (lying or gossip) is treating the symptom and not the actual problem.  What we must confront is the type of person that we really are.

Also, one would expect God, in his relationship with us, deals with the root cause of our problem (ourselves) rather than just our symptoms (our sins such as lying or gossiping).  God’s plan of salvation is not just a matter of belief.  Salvation is not just acting like we think Christians should act.  Salvation is a change of who we are.  Salvation is nothing less than the renovation of our soul.

 _________________________

[1]  Janie B. Cheaney, “The heart of the matter”, World, June 1, 2013, p. 16.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Charity

In this blog, we have consistently noted that we must read and follow what the entire Bible says about a subject and not just pick and choose verses that agree with our particular viewpoint.  We have emphasized this point in regards to salvation and God’s sovereignty/human free will.  It also applies to our beliefs in regards to charity.

The Christian religion has always taught that we should help those who are in need.  In Matthew 25:31-46, which describes the Day of Judgment,  Jesus said that feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the needy, and visiting the sick and those in prison are the necessary actions to gain admittance into heaven.  Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) teaches us we should provide help to anyone in need.

However, the Bible also tells us that if someone does not work, they should not eat and that we should earn our own living.  Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 states:

. . . If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

It seems that the Bible is giving us contradictory information.  This seemingly contradictory information gives some the opportunity to choose one side, to ignore the other teachings, and then to criticize those who espouse a different belief.  However, ignoring certain passages of the Bible that do not agree with our doctrinal beliefs is essentially telling God we know this particular subject better than he does.

So what should be our position on helping others?  The general principle is that we should help those in need but giving someone charity when they could earn it with their own effort is just as detrimental as not giving someone charity who truly needs it.

In this short space, I cannot resolve this issue nor do I think I should attempt to do so.  In fact, God does not resolve this issue for us.  It is apparent that he wants us to develop our discernment in this matter.  Two books that have provided assistance in developing my approach to charity are listed below.

 ___________________________

Marvin Olasky, The Tragedy of American Compassion, Washington, DC:  Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1992.

Robert D. Lupton’s Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life, Ventura, CA:  Regal Books, 2007.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can We Be too Spiritual?

Jacob Needleman, in his excellent book Money and the Meaning of Life, raises the question posed by the above title.  Can we be so focused on the hereafter that it is to our detriment?  Can we lust after spiritual things?  Avarice, one of the capital sins or vices, often cloaks itself as a virtue. [1]  Being spiritual is definitely a virtue but can we be so consumed by the spiritual that we ignore other aspects of God’s plan for our lives?

The aim of life is a better understanding of our self and God.  The material world was built to nourish and provide for us in our efforts to do that.  If this is the case, then, as Needleman states:  “The part of ourselves that must act and live in the material world needs to be embraced with the same attention that seeks contact with higher forces and ideals.” [2]

However, as Evgeny Barabanov points out, this is not how the church interacts with the world.

These two aspects of the Christian attitude to the world, active participation in its transformation and renunciation of its temptations, turned out to be extremely difficult to reconcile.  Heavenward aspirations often went hand in hand with execration [a detesting, loathing] of the earth.  Too often the ideal of salvation was built on a foundation of inflexible renunciation of this world.  Thus salvation itself was understood as an escape from the material world into a world of pure spirituality.  This gave rise to contempt for the flesh, the belittling of man’s creative nature. . .  [3]

Instead of working for the transformation of both our spiritual and material worlds, the Church has focused solely on the spiritual.  The result is that we have no point of contact with a world that sees only the material.

If we want to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, we must recognize our material needs and aspirations are not evil merely secondary. [4]  God placed us in the material world for a reason and it is to be utilized to the fullest extent possible to aid us in our journey back to God.

_________________________

[1]   Catholic Encyclopedia, www.newadvent.org

[2]   Jacob Needleman, Money and the Meaning of Life, New York:  Currency Doubleday, 1991, p. xi.

[3]   Evgeny Barabanov, “Schism Between the Church and World”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ed., From Under the Rubble (New York:  Bantam Books, 1975), pp. 180-186.

[4]   Needleman, p. 58

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

God’s Sovereignty

Fred Luter, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has stated the doctrine of the sovereignty of God and the free will of mankind is threatening to divide the denomination. [1]  Why cannot Christianity resolve an issue that dates back to at least the 16th century when Calvin and Arminius debated this issue?

The Bible is our ultimate authority on our beliefs.  Part of the reason for disagreements in matters of our beliefs is because we pick out certain passages to emphasize and ignore whatever disagrees with our theological bent.

So what does the Bible say about God’s sovereignty and the free will of humans?  There is no question the Bible teaches we have free will.  Erasmus states that there are over 600 verses in the Bible where God requires something of us.  If we have no free will, if God controls everything that occurs on this earth, why does he give us these requirements? [2]

There is also no question the Bible teaches God is sovereign and that he controls events on this earth (e.g. Genesis 45:4-8, I Samuel 2:6-7, Job 42:10, Lamentations 3:37, Matthew 6:25-34, Romans 9:17-21, Romans 12:3-8, Philippians 4:19).

The one fact in this debate that no one seems to acknowledge is the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty and our free will.  If both are true, then we must reconcile these seemingly conflicting beliefs.  Is it really that difficult to do?

Look at our everyday lives.  Parents do not control every event in their children’s lives but if they are good parents, they exert control over their children.  Managers do not control all of what their subordinates do but if they are good managers they do have control of the organization.  Parents and managers do not need to control every aspect of their children’s or subordinates’ lives to accomplish their goals.  Neither does God.

Being all-powerful means God can still accomplish his purposes even if we act in a contrary manner. [3]  We humans are so limited we think God must control all of our actions in order to guarantee a particular outcome.  But God is bigger than our idea of him. I like William James’ analogy when he compares God and us humans with an expert and a novice chess player.  The moves of the novice chess player will be unpredictable to the expert chess player but because of his/her superior knowledge of the game, the expert chess player will win every time. [4]  In the same way, God has a superior knowledge of us and our tendencies which enables him to give us free will and still accomplish his ends.

If God had to deny us free will to accomplish his purposes, he would not be all-powerful.  It would mean he needs to stack the deck in his favor to win.  Is this God we read about in the Bible?

___________________________

[1]   Bill Sherman, “Baptists cope with differing theological approaches”, Tulsa World, May 4, 2013, A13.

[2]   Ernst F. Winter, ed., Discourse on Free Will (New York:  Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, Inc., 1961), p. 59.

[3]   Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 2000), pp. 68-69.

[4]   William James, “The Dilemma of Determinism”, The Will to Believe (New York:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1956), p. 181.

Posted in God's Sovereignty | Leave a comment

Chasing after the Wind

C. S. Lewis’s book, Till We Have Faces, is very similar to another one of my favorite books, Ecclesiastes.  The reason I like both is they so eloquently describe the human condition.  To understand the world and our place in this world, it is critical that we understand ourselves.  As Lucian of Samosata says, “the only study of mankind is man”. [1]

One lesson both books teach us is that we most often pursue what is unimportant.  Orual states that we do and do and do but then asks:  Does all our doing really matter? [2]  We learn and learn and learn but does it really change anything?  We acquire and acquire and acquire but are we any happier?  If we honestly look at our lives, much of our lives are a “senseless repetitions of days and nights and seasons and years”. [2]

As Ecclesiastes says:

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?  It has been already in the ages before us.  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. [3]

The author of Ecclesiastes discovered we humans consistently chase after things that do not matter.  We seek pleasure, wisdom, wealth, and honor but ultimately they are immaterial.  We are so good at ignoring what is important and emphasizing the irrelevant.

We pursue advancing our technology because it can and has helped to relieve so much suffering in our world but it has also brought so much pain.  Through our technology we can eliminate starvation in our world but through our technology we kill millions in our struggles for power.  Our technology is not the answer; it is just a tool.  What matters is the use to which we put our technology and that is determined by the type of person we are.

After the Preacher had heard and experienced all, his conclusion was that our main duty is to “Fear God and keep his commandments. . .” [4]  It is our moral choices that determine what type of person we are and will become.  And who we are will determine the world in which we live.

____________________________

[1]   H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Works of Lucian of Samosata, Vol. 1, Public Domain Books, Kindle edition, Location 375.

[2]   C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (San Diego:  Harcourt Brace & Company, 1956), p. 236.

[3]   Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 ESV

[4]   Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Till We Have Faces

In the last blog, we discussed Orual’s complaint against her gods in C. S. Lewis’ novel, Till We Have Faces.  We noted that her complaint very accurately described the problem all of us face.  That problem is God only provides us with hints and does not give us certainty about his existence.  God made us finite but yet he expects us to believe in something that occurred 2,000 years ago.  And what he wants us to believe is something extraordinary that only occurred once in human history—Jesus dying and being resurrected for our sins.  And if we do not believe, he will punish us for eternity.

Now Greg Koul, an adjunct professor in Christian apologetics at Biola University, makes a valid point that no one goes to hell because they do not believe in Jesus; people will be sent to hell because they break God’s law. [1]  However, Christianity teaches the only way to receive forgiveness for breaking God’s law is to believe in Jesus and his work for our sins; Jesus is the only way of salvation.  So while what Mr. Koul says might be true, in reality, it is just semantics.  Regardless of how you look at it, according to Christian doctrine we must believe in Jesus and his death for our sins to be saved and go to heaven.

C. S. Lewis’ resolves Orual’s complaints against her gods by concluding we must develop into beings to which the gods can relate. The gods cannot speak openly to us because we babble.  We must learn to speak intelligibly.  Until we have faces, how can the gods face us? [2]

Is C. S. Lewis’ resolution of Orual’s complaints so far from what we have discussed in this blog?  How can we relate to God if we have little in common with him?  God will not change.  If we want a relationship with God, it is we who must change; our soul must become like him.

 ___________________________

[1]  Greg Koul, “What about Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel?”, CD, Christian Apologetics Program, LaMirada, CA:  Biola University.

[2]   C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (San Diego:  Harcourt Brace & Company, 1956), p. 294.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

My Complaint against God

One of my favorite books is Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis.  I have read it at least four times and it is very rare that I read a book twice.  One reason I like this book is that I can relate to Orual, the main character.  Orual, who has seen the highs and lows of life as the ruler of a small kingdom, issues a complaint against her gods that includes the following.

 

The gods do not answer us or if they do it is with terrors and plagues.

 

If the gods really intended to provide guidance for us, why is their guidance not plain?

 

The gods hide themselves and torment us with glimpses.

 

The gods ask us to believe what contradicts our senses.

 

The gods give us no clear sign even if we beg.  We must guess.  If we guess wrong, they punish us.

 

The gods will neither go away and leave us alone nor show themselves openly and tell us what they want.

 

The gods tantalize us with hints but are silent when we question them; it is as if they have no answers. [1]

 

Orual’s complaint is very similar to the questions we have asked in this blog.  God has made us finite which limits our ability to know what is true but God still expects us to believe that he exists.  God has limited our ability to know what is true outside of our space and time but he still expects us to believe that 2,000 years ago Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead for our sins.  And if we do not believe these things, he will condemn us to hell for eternity.  If this is true, then all of Orual’s criticisms of her gods apply to God as well.  Can we respect such a God?

 

Or maybe our concept of what God requires of us and of how God relates to us needs to be revised.

 

 

[1]  C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (San Diego:  Harcourt Brace & Company, 1956, pp. 3, 134, 244, 249, 250.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Solving Problems

Lucian of Samosata, a Greco-Roman philosopher, in his satire “Hermotimus or the Rival Philosophies” discusses the problems of determining which philosophy of his time (120 to 200 AD) he should follow in his quest to discover what is true.  He compares such problems with a person who wants to but “cannot plunge into the depths of the sea at Sicily and come up at Cyprus, or soar on wings and fly within the day from Greece to India. . .” [1]

In his era this was impossible but it is easily done in our era.  Why?  It is because we have worked together to solve the problems of traveling under the sea and through the air.  If we can solve those problems, why cannot we solve our other problems?

Human history is a record of the constant rise and fall of civilizations, and of constant wars between nations.  The atrocities committed on a daily basis on our planet are staggering.  The major problem the human race faces is not in discovering new scientific facts or in developing new technology to improve our lives as is evidenced by the problems that have been solved by science; the problem is in getting along with each other as is evidenced from watching the news.  We are very adept at using science and technology for our wars and terrorists acts.  We have become very efficient in utilizing our technology to destroy human life.  We have developed our agricultural science to such an extent that the issue is no longer having sufficient food to feed the world but whether we have the will to end starvation on our planet. [2]

If we can solve technical problems to make our lives easier, why cannot we solve the human relationship problem?  Why, in the words of Mark Twain, do we humans make “a graveyard of the globe in trying [our] honest best to smooth [our] brother’s path to happiness and heaven”?  [3]  The answer is because we do not desire to solve this problem.  We would rather pursue our selfish interests than solve this age old problem.

 

[1]   H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Works of Lucian of Samosata, Vol. 2, Public Domain Books, Kindle edition, Location 1046.

[2]   Dan Morgan, Merchants of Grain (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1980), pp. 444-445.

[3]   Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth (Greenwich, Conn.:  Fawcett Publications, 1962), p. 180.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Can We Love God?

Jesus tells us the entire Old Testament Law and Prophets are fulfilled in just two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40):  Love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbor as our self

Now, I can understand the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves because our neighbors are very similar to us and the Bible gives us plenty of examples of how we are to love them (I Corinthians 13, Luke 10:25-34, Matthew 25:31-46).

But what does it mean to love God?  Pascal, a Christian philosopher, believes that:

God is infinitely beyond our comprehension, since, being indivisible and without limits, he bears no relation to us.  We are therefore incapable of knowing either what he is or whether he is.” [1]

If God is unknowable, how can we have a relationship with, let alone love, God?  The answer is Jesus tells us and demonstrates to us who God is.  How do we know who Jesus was and that what he tells us about God is true?  We know it through two different avenues:  the Bible and personal experience.

Knowing about God through a book, the Bible, gives us information but does it enable us to have a relationship with or to love God?  Can I have a relationship with Abraham Lincoln by reading a book about him?  Can I love Lincoln?  I might love what he did but I cannot love him because I do not know him as a person.

Christians say they have a personal relationship with God and Jesus.  After all John 16:8 does tell us that the Holy Spirit communicates to us directly and we can pray to God.  Also, Christianity teaches that God is somehow involved with each of us on a very personal level (Matthew 10:29-31).  However, how do we know what we feel or think about a particular subject is God talking to us or is our personal opinion?  How do we sort what God says from the endless chatter of our mind?

God seems to hide himself from us (Isaiah 45:15) or at least we can say that he does not make himself readily apparent.  Most everything we know about God we must take on faith.  Why does God hide himself?  Maybe the purpose of our lives is for us to know who we are.  Only when we know who we are can we determine if we have anything in common with God.  Only when we know ourselves is it possible to know if we want to have a relationship with God.

_________________________

[1]   Krailsheimer, A. J., Translator.  Pascal:  Pensées (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England:  Penguin Books, 1966) p. 150.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment