Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

27 Dresses and The Great Story

June 1, 2008

   My wife and I watched “27 Dresses” the other night. As usual, several times during the movie I was moved to tears. Afterwards, my wife asked me what I liked so much about this movie in particular, and this genre of movies – romantic comedies – even more in particular.

   I had to think about it. I’ve seen a lot of RCs over the years, from “Pretty Woman” to “Working Girl” to “Must Love Dogs” to “Music and Lyrics.” In fact, if there’s one out there that I haven’t seen, sometimes many times, it’s probably because everyone on earth told me it was a dud. If only one person out of a thousand, said, “Yeah, I liked it,” I’m there.

   So how to answer my wife? She suggested, “Is it the pretty girls with big you know whats – is that it? Them wiggling around and hanging out all over?”

   I laughed. “Not really. I have you for all those things.”

   That made her smile. But then I said, “You know, I think it has something to do with seeing a girl triumph in the end, get the man, win, succeed, all that.  I think women have been so beaten down by the world that it’s good to see one of them win, at least on the screen.” 

   She scoffed. “But you know nothing about real women, how we think, how we feel inside. Why is it that you love watching these women so much in contrast to reality?”
   Was I that much of a dolt? Sheesh, I’m only a guy.

   Yet, it was a good question and I said, after much thought, “I think it’s kind of that on the screen you have a simple structure. Men can ‘get’ the woman in a way that doesn’t happen in real life. You know probably within the first few minutes of the film what she really wants, what she’s going after, what she’s all about. There’s no guessing. There’s no looking at her face and trying to figure out if she’s angry, or frustrated, or totally in love, or what. You know by the way the movie unfolds everything she’s thinking and feeling. And I think some men like that. Like me. For once, we feel like we understand and even know this person. In contrast to most of our encounters with women in real life.” 

   She had to think about that. But I had more. “I think there’s a bigger explanation, though.” 

   She gave me those deep, green, mysterious eyes for a second. “Hit me with it.” 

   “Well, I think human history is the Great Story of all great stories. God is writing this incredible story with twists, turns, knock-downs, horrible sins, and so on. But God has shown us in the Bible that there’s a happy ending. That the good guys – and girls – win in the end. That evil does not triumph. See, when directors try to do movies that are ambiguous, or where evil wins in the end, or where no one wins, they usually fail. We as people intrinsically want to see good triumph. We want to see the good people win. We like getting there, too. Seeing them down at the bottom with nowhere to look but up. We like to see them pounded down a little. But in the end, we want a win.” 

   She nodded and sank down on the bed. “I guess it makes some sense.” 

   “Of course it does. I always make ‘some’ sense. It’s the archetypical story. It’s why so many stories are like that. Person has a problem. The problem gets worse. He or she can’t solve it on their own. People reach out to them. They join forces. At some point, it looks so bleak, you think there’s no way. Then they pull the rabbit out of the hat, and everything is perfect. For the last few seconds of the story, anyway.” 

   She laughed. “So what you want is simple women you can understand, and a happily ever after ending, and you’re happy?” 

   “Yeah, and usually crying too.” 

   “Well, it’s a pretty standard Hollywood formula. Books, novels, too, as you said. The archetype. I guess God has built that desire, conviction, whatever you want to call it, into us. And we react to anything not like that with rejection and sometimes even anger. I get that. I think really almost everything relies on that principle at some point. Except people like Oliver Stone and the weirdo movie directors and writers who insist on telling us the world is a horrible place, there’s no good, and we all lose in the end.” 

   “Right.”  

The Great Dilemma

May 29, 2008

   Whenever I talk to people about God, Jesus, the Bible and so on, I often ask them what they think God is like. Several answers pretty much cover it all. 

   “He’s loving, forgiving, and very understanding.” 

   “He’s angry at us and can’t wait to send us all to hell.” 

   “He’s out there somewhere, but I don’t think anyone can really know for sure.” 

   And, “I don’t think he exists. If he did, our world wouldn’t be so messed up.” 

   Those are honest answers, but I wonder if many people, even Christians, have really thought this through. For instance, if you take the God revealed in the Bible, one thing you will find out quickly is that he’s just, righteous, and holy, holy, holy. What do those things mean? 

   That he’s just means he must deal justly every person who has ever done anything wrong – stealing, lying, killing, committing adultery, cursing his name, etc.  – and ultimately to mete out justice for the crimes they’ve committed. Nothing can be overlooked. Everything must be considered, including that person’s situation in life – “he stole because he couldn’t get a job and had to feed his children and he had no money.” “He committed adultery because his wife hated him and cut him off.” Or, “He was a nasty guy and hated everyone and decided to kill people for no good reason.” And so on. God, being just, would consider every variable, nuance, problem that the person had, and so on. Only then would he pronounce sentence. 

   That he’s righteous means God himself would never commit a sin, or do something wrong and against his own laws, himself. He would never cheat, obfuscate, deceive, or manipulate, no matter how exercised he might have been at the time over Lucy’s incessant talking late into the night in prayer, or whatever.

   That he’s holy means he is utterly separate from all evil, sin, and unrighteousness. He can’t even look at a person who is sinful or evil. He has to hide from that person and go somewhere where he doesn’t have to see them, because if he did, he’d immediately have to destroy them and wipe every vestige of them off the face of the earth. 

   Now look at that rather short list: God has to judge human sin, would never commit sin himself, and can’t even look on a human who sins. So the question is how can he have anything to do with us? 

   Okay, you see part of the problem. But let’s go the other way for a second. God has other characteristics that seem to negate some of the above. For instance, the Bible explicitly says, “God is love”(see 1 John 4:8 and 16). He is loving. He loves everyone, everything equally, without partisanship or partiality. He doesn’t prefer Jennifer Aniston because she’s better looking than Phyllis Diller. God doesn’t bless George Clooney because he’s the coolest guy in the universe, and shun Jerry Stiller because he plays idiots on TV. No, God loves them all deeply, totally, and forever, because that’s who he is, love itself. 

   He’s also merciful. That means he wants to show mercy to anyone and everyone, whether they ask for it or not. He wants to let them off the hook, give them a free ride, overlook the latest drunkenness spree, and flush the nasty pictures out of his mind. In other words, he wants very much to give all of us a big break, and especially if we do ask for. 

   Another thing: he’s forgiving. He has forgiven people when they repented of their sin and asked for it(all of the disciples), when they didn’t(the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-8), and when they didn’t even expect it or want it(the Romans who nailed Jesus to the cross). God wants to forgive us more than we’re even willing to ask.

   Most of all, God is gracious. That means he wants to give us everything he has, can make, and be to all of us. Every blessing. Every good thing. Just pile it all on. That’s his nature. He literally wants to give us the greatest birthday party every day for eternity.

   Okay, all that’s very encouraging. But do you notice the dilemma? 

   If God’s just, righteous and holy, he can’t forgive anyone, love anyone, be merciful or gracious. No, he has to judge them and send them off on a permanent vacation in a very dark place where they won’t be able to inflict themselves on anyone ever again. 

   But if he’s forgiving, loving, merciful, and gracious, he wants to shower us with every good gift.

   The dilemma is: How does he do all that and not compromise his character in any way? In other words, if he’s just he has to be absolutely just and can never forgive anyone. On the other hand, if he forgives, he can no longer be just. 

   It’s a pretty big problem, don’t you think? But the reality is, God solved all this rather simply: He sent us Jesus. 

   What did Jesus do? He lived a perfect life, satisfying God’s requirement to be perfect. Then Jesus died on the cross, paying the penalty for every sin that was ever and will be committed, and satisfying God’s justice, righteousness, and holiness. 

   Do you see it? Jesus lived the perfect life in our place and by faith gives it to us so when we exercise faith in him. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see us – sinner, foul-up, idiot, jerk, genocidal maniac, serial killer, or whatever – no, he sees Jesus in us by faith and he treats us as if we truly were perfect.

   At the same time, he takes all our sins and puts them on Jesus. Jesus pays for every one of them, and when we accept that payment by faith, God forgives us forever, releases his mercy and grace, and loves us perfectly. 

   How can it be that simple?

   Why shouldn’t it be? Think about it. No matter how much you might try to be good, righteous and perfect for God, you could never do it. Sooner or later, you’ll foul up. So God says, “Believe in my Son; he’ll pay for your sins, and you get his perfection. All by faith in him.” 

   Some people say, “Well, why doesn’t God just forgive us all and leave it at that?”

   That’s the dilemma: he can’t just forgive us all because someone or something has to pay for those sins. If God’ just says, “I forgive everyone,” he has seriously compromised his justice and all those great truths about his greatness, goodness, and holiness.

   You might say, “Well, I guess he should just punish us all.” 

   Sure, but he’s loving, remember? Gracious? Merciful? He doesn’t want to punish any of us. 

   So he made a way for him to be himself completely and for us, by faith, to get everything he wants to give us: forgiveness, eternal life, heaven, and the resident Spirit.

   Some will say, though: “You mean, Jesus had to die that horrible death just so I can be forgiven?” 

   Right. That’s the price of sin. That’s the price we should pay ourselves. If God was to be just with us, he’d put us on that cross and leave us there until every sin we ever committed was paid for. God wants us to see in Jesus’ death just how bad our sin is.

   Some say, “But I just curse a little. I don’t get drunk. I’ve been faithful. I haven’t done a lot of sin.” 

   Maybe you’d better ask your family about that one. If you really examine yourself, you’ll probably see a lot more sin than you ever imagined – in thought, word, and deed. I have never met a person who truly was perfect. Nice? Sure. Decent? Of course. But perfect? Can you name one besides Jesus? 

   God solved the Great Dilemma in Jesus. That’s why he’s the way, the truth, and the life. No one else did what he did. 

   Ultimately, you can take him or leave him. But remember one thing: if you do reject him, God will have to deal with you in perfect justice.

    Are you sure you really want to take that doorway when forgiveness, eternal life, joy, love, peace, and every good thing comes with faith in Christ, who is the Door to all of it and more?  

The Atheists Are Coming!

April 26, 2008

             I’ve been reading with much interest the books and ideas of various atheists: Richard Dawkins, the renowned evolutionist; Sam Harris, the atheist Christianity-slayer; and Christopher Hitchens, the spouter of all things horrible against religion. It was with some trepidation that I picked up Sam Harris’s book first at my local Borders, called, “Letter to a Christian Nation.” His stated purpose was to pound the final nails into Christianity’s coffin. He seemed very confident he had the arguments, logic, and facts to finally put the whole Christ-myth into the dirt for good.

            As a Christian, I read with some anxiety. What would he say that might derail my faith of more than thirty years?  I’ve always worried somewhere in the back of my mind that someone would come along who would blast Jesus to pieces.  They’d find the real tomb he was buried in and his bones would still be there with his coat – “Jesus” stitched over his chest pocket. Or some “gospel” that had the true story of him being just a regular guy who did nothing but hang around with fishermen, but who told such great tales that the fishermen had to write him up and embellish the book. 

            Nothing like that has ever happened, although a recent movie documentary and book tried to show someone had found Jesus’ bone in a crypt in Nazareth. Sorry, that one didn’t fly, although the media made much of it.

            Yet, as I delved into these atheists’ books, I worried that they’d made some incredible discovery that would do just that: prove the whole history of Jesus was bunk! 

            So I read avidly searching for what it was. Nonetheless, when I put the book down, I sat there absolutely stunned. I said out loud, “This guy doesn’t have anything. Not a thing.” 

            I moved on to Richard Dawkins’s latest, “The God Delusion.” When I finsihed, again I was astonished. “How can these educated men believe this swill?” I asked myself. It really was startling how feeble their arguments and “proofs” were. I’d heard many of these ridiculous arguments in my first few years in seminary and had them debunked years ago.

            For example, Dawkins made much of St. Thomas Acquinas’ argument from causation, that every effect demands a cause equal to or more powerful than itself. Dawkins poses the question, If everything goes back to the first cause—God—then what caused him? Dawkins seems to think this sophomoric argument quite potent. The problem is that Acquinas argued that an “Uncaused Cause” was the first cause: God himself, the one who was never caused, made, or created, but always was. Dawkins seems quite satisfied that he has destroyed Acquinas and God in his little question, but really it’s all quite foolish. Just about anything that exists today had a “first cause” or “uncaused cause” in some sense. The lightbulb’s first cause was Edison. Many of the peanut’s first “inventions” came from George Washington’s Carver’s discoveries. Even Post-It notes has a “first cause,” if you want to look at it that way.

            When Dawkins uses his evolutionary beliefs, he stretches it even further. He admits the “beginning of life” should cause some real “awe” that it happened. Unfortunately, he has no idea how it happened, but he’s sure one day we’ll find out, without the need to invoke God. In the recent movie, “Expelled,” Ben Stein even gets Dawkins to admit that perhaps the first cause of life in our universe was caused by elite beings from another universe, who themselves came about through some evolutionary process! How convenient. Dawkins goes on like this page after page: “they’ll find the evidence” for the tremendous gaps in the fossil record. And, “those gaps will be filled.” And, “we’re seeing more every day that shows the truth.”

            Unfortunately, he never quite arrives at the “facts” so indisputable that everyone would heartily agree to them. 

            I only read a little of Hitchens. He sounded like a cross between a little boy having a tantrum and the Cowardly Lion, screaming, “I won’t believe. I won’t believe. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. “ 

            Nonetheless, these books are big bestsellers. People rip them off the shelves of Barnes and Noble, and Borders like cancer victims in search of the cure. After reflecting on them, my conclusion was that anyone who knows anything of history, theology, and Christian faith, it’s all twaddle, to say nothing of illogical and without any real facts to back up their so-called research. However, I also see that if you know little to nothing about the Bible and the God portrayed in it, these works would be very convincing — especially if you’re just looking for a reason not to read the Bible or pursue the truth or not repent of the sins you know to be sins but would be happy to learn from the atheists that those are “just choices we all make, nothing wrong at all.” 

            More recently, I read Dinesh D’Souza’s, “What’s So Great About Christianity?” another bestseller. It annihilated the arguments of these atheists, showing the logical and factual fallacies in their writings. A fascinating read, D’Souza repeatedly shows that the very foundations of western civilization hearken back to Christianity, from it’s influence in scientific discovery, to education, to health care, and so on. D’Souza shows that if atheists succeeded in their stated mission of eliminating Christian truth from the world, they would be knocking the foundation of human freedom, discovery, and exploration out from under them. This would undoubtedly lead to a world like that under Hilter, Stalin and Mao who used the “truths” of Darwinian evolution and atheism and a rejection of all things religious to murder millions and create a world as backward and evil as any we’ve ever seen.  

            Thus, I’d like to challenge you. If you’re looking for reasons to reject God, Jesus, the Bible, and all things Christian, any one of the atheists’ books will probably satisfy you. They provide just enough supposed “truth” to let you feel you’re okay and don’t have to ever worry about heaven, hell, judgment, God, Jesus, or any fire-breathing Christian cornering you at a party ever again. 

            On the other hand, if you want some real truth and “meat” to chew on for the rest of your life, as well as spiritual grist that may ignite faith in you or bolster your present faith, try D’Souza.

            In the Bible God invites all of us, “Seek me while I may be found.” His promise is that “you will find me if you search for me with all your heart.” But if you really want an out, if you demand, “No, I want nothing to do with you, God, and I want some reasons to justify that conclusion,” then God will let you find it in Dawkins, Harris, and the others.

            God simply will not force himself on anyone.  

The Implications of Darwinian Evolution

April 7, 2008

             I have studied the theory of evolution as set forth by Darwinians like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris for years. Some like Dawkins argue that evolution is “proved.” For him, there is no God, no supernatural, nothing beyond this world. All things happen by the processes of natural selection, survival of the fittest, and random change brought on by mutation. Everything in life, from amoebas to DNA to human emotions and religious impulses can be explained by these mechanisms. 

            Against such a point of view are other scientists who, in frustration with the lack of proof and evidence, have come to other conclusions. Scientists like Stephen Jay Gould(“punctuated equilibrium”), Francis Crick(“panspermia”), and Francis Collins(“theistic evolution”) cannot subscribe to the above views for various reasons.

            I’m not here to argue who is right. What I’d like to do is consider the implications of true Darwinian theory as set forth by Dawkins, whose writings about it are bestsellers.

            To do that, let me tell you about a real life incident concerning a friend whose daughter was gang-raped in her college dorm room by three football players. They targeted her because she was a Christian and a virgin. As they repeatedly raped and sodomized her, they mocked her religious and sexual morals. She now struggles with alcoholism, doubt toward God, and a deep bitterness about life. The culprits, later caught doing this to other women, suffered minimal consequences. One plays in the NFL today for millions of dollars a year.

            What does a Darwinian really have to offer this girl? Just think it through with me for a moment. 

            First, what happened to her happened because she was weak and they were strong. Survival of the fittest. They were more fit than her and by it advanced the species.             Second, if she asks, “How can I get my life back together?” the Darwinian has to answer, “You can try, but since you’re so weak, you’re being weeded out from the herd. Death is all you have to look forward to. And good riddance.” 

            Third, if she says, “Who will make this right for me?” The Darwinian answer again is, “No one. There is no such thing as justice or redemption in this world. There is no God or afterlife. You’re on your own.”

            I cringe at those answers, but I don’t really think a Darwinian would say any of the above. He couldn’t because it’s too callous and horrific even to consider speaking aloud. But really what else does his worldview have to offer?

            In contrast, as a Christian I can unequivocally say to this girl, after weeping with her and just being there, perhaps for a long time, “We live in a fallen world and bad things do happen to good people in it. But you can trust that God will be with you through this. He will comfort you supernaturally through his people. Somehow he will make even this work for good in your life, and show that to you. In the end, if those rapists never repent, he will punish them with eternal hell. At the same time, he will take you to his heaven where you will never experience pain or anguish again. He will wipe every tear from your eye, and help you understand his plan for your life. You will live in the company of those who will love you forever and nothing like this will happen to anyone there ever again.” 

            To me, that encapsulizes the Darwinian view and the Christian view. One might appear nice in theory, but can it work in the real world?

            The other? Well, you be the judge.

            My friend says they’re working through the pain with their daughter. It’s slow going, but there’s a lot of love to go around. She trusts that God will not only get her through this, but her daughter, too. In the end, no matter what happens, she knows this world isn’t the end for any of them, and that is to her strong comfort indeed.