Category Archives: Apologetics

Miracles

I suppose that a great many things could be said about miracles.  We could describe a great many events in Scripture where the miraculous occurs.  We could investigate the reasons for their occurrence or find little tidbits about their causes.  But to begin to understand the idea of a miracle we must begin with the admission that miracles seem ever so uncomfortable to the Christian Theist.  Often I feel awkward as I discuss topics of worlds being spoken into existence, diseases being cured by a touch, and dead men coming to life again.  All this comes off rather suspicious to the modern listener who has only heard of rumors of healings being done by bizarre preachers who oddly walk away with millions and no hard and fast evidence of such miracles ever being accomplished.  A miracle, to my friend at Starbucks, seems too farfetched and other-worldly to be imagined and is rejected for that reason.

At first the rejection bothered me.  After all, why would someone reject miracles as bizarre?  But then I considered my own inhibitions about the whole notion and I had to admit that I too held my own inhibitions.  Sure, I believe the Bible, but wouldn’t a Bible without all the miracles and other-worldly concepts be somewhat easier to believe?  I do not suppose that other Christians have ever had such inhibitions because most Christians have more faith than me.  My faith has always been something of a struggle, or, as the Apostle Paul often says, a battle.  I don’t have big faith.  I shudder often at difficult things and feel the giant of despair in my life because I so often walk by sight so as to avoid seeing the key in my pocket that would free me from the dungeon.  I often find myself sympathetic to the man who cried out that he believed, but that he needed Jesus to help his unbelief.  Ultimately my faith is not the object of my faith.  My faith, albeit something of a mustard seed variety, rests in Christ and His work on my behalf.  So when I am pierced with doubt, I return back to the Gospel and begin reminding myself of where my faith rests and then working outward to the other things.  And it is in this outworking that I stumbled across the idea of miracles.

As I considered miracles it seemed to me that they must be considered at face value and given at least a fair shot at consideration before anyone should reject them out of hand.  So as I consider the idea of a miracle I find myself considering what the substance of a miracle is.  Perhaps if we understood this it would make much more sense.  Take, for example, the story where Jesus was welcomed to a wedding party where the poor bride and groom ran out of money for wine.  Jesus arrives on the scene and turns water into wine.  In the midst of the mundane of the mundane I read that the most other-worldly sort of thing has happened.  Water turned into wine.  It would seem that the rules of the universe as I know them have been suspended.  Herein we have arrived at something of our first conclusion in regard to miracles.  Miracles are an intervention into our world.

Horton Hears a Who!

What I mean here is that the little blueberry that we know as Planet Earth has been touched by something quite unknown to the specks on the blueberry.  We are made uncomfortable by miracles for this very reason, namely, that they intervene with our world but that we do not understand them.  It is like someone attempting to explain the color yellow to a blind person or an iPad to a caveman.  Without the ability to see what these things, explanation is impossible.  I’m often led to the neat little Doctor Seuss story of “Horton Hears a Who” as I think on this point.  In the neat little story, Horton tries to convince all the big animals that a speck he has found contains an entire world of strange little creatures.  Everyone around him thinks he’s lost it because he talks to a speck.  Meanwhile, on the speck the mayor of Whoville talks with Horton and finds out that the entire city is merely a tiny speck.  He tries to tell the Whos about this, but they laugh at it because they see it.  Ultimately, the Whos end up believing that they are a speck when Horton is able to interact with them and the big animals end up believing that the Whos are real when they are able to shout loud enough for the animals to hear.  Miracles are God’s way of shouting into our world.  They crackle like fireworks to tell us that there is something else out there.  Miracles are the explosion of the infinite crashing into the finite.  The real matter at hand now seems to be not a question of who so simple as to accept the existence of miracles, but a question of who is so arrogant as to believe that no other realm has interacted with our own.  Miracles are God’s way of reminding His creation that He exists.

This thought leads me to another.  Miracles, as we find described in the Bible, lead us to believe that this God which is worshipped is not aloof from His creation, but cares deeply about it and is involved in and with it in some extraordinary way.  Imagine that you have a son in the 4th grade.  He’s bullied because he’s ugly and has freckles.  When your son comes home from school with a bloody nose, how would you respond?  Would you simply hand him some cotton balls and send him to bed, or would you break into his world, call the teacher or principal, go to the PTA meeting, and do everything you could to rescue him from his sad estate?  In a similar manner, miracles are God’s way of showing us that He cares.  He even cares about the poor couple who couldn’t afford a proper wedding party.  Miracles are a sign, not merely that God exists, but that He cares about His creation.

Beyond this, another obvious point needs to be made (although I think most of this is obvious and I may be wasting many good peoples’ weekends of reading by writing this), namely that miracles speak not only to the fact that God exists and that He cares about His creation, but also to the fact that He is able to do something for His creation.  There are many of us that are happy with a sentimental view of God who hugs us and cares for us, but we don’t like what theologians refer to as an omnipotent and all-knowing God.  This is intimidating.  But this is what miracles speak to.  Miracles scream out that God is able to do something about the mess that we’re in.  This leads me to another point.

Miracles teach us that something is broken.  As we look out in our world we find hospitals full of sick and dying people.  We find earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes that destroy life.  We find that most of the world lives on $2 a day.  We see that 100% of us will someday face death.  Miracles amplify this brokenness because through them we see that there is hope for healing.  You see, Jesus came around teaching people on the hillsides of Galilee and told them that there was a coming kingdom.  In this kingdom everything would be made right again.  By again it is meant that there was once a time when humanity did not experience sickness, hurricanes, poverty, or death.  All this was before man’s rebellion against God.  Jesus spoke of a kingdom where all of this would be no more.  But He did more than just talk about it.  He showed us what this kingdom would look like.  From the eyewitness accounts we hear of numerous afflictions being cured, storms being stilled, the poor being fed, death being reversed, and even the minions of Satan being repelled.  All of the miracles of Scripture resonate with this reality, specifically that humanity is broken, God is there, God cares, and God is able to heal that brokenness.

So as I return to the idea of the awkwardness of miracles in this post-Christian age I am driven to consider that miracles are awkward because they are meant to be.  Miracles have been and always will be otherworldly and strange because hope for humanity’s healing does not come from within.  If we reject the miracles of the Bible then we are left with a humanity with all the answers to the problems of sickness, disaster, poverty, and death.  Call me what you will, but I refuse to believe in such a humanity.  Even a simple glance at the record of human history exposes that humanity is its own worst enemy.  We are broken and our hope must come from another realm.  Someone must break through to fix our problems, but we cannot let Him in.  Our culture cannot allow for such a breakthrough.

Our culture believes in the miracle of naturalistic evolution.  It sincerely believes that billions of years of explosion, mutation, and natural selection made the world and the complexity of the human genome.  I suppose that if my culture can believe something so fantastical and unobserved, then I may go on believing the eyewitness accounts of the man named Jesus who turned the world upside down by the greatest miracle humanity has ever known.  Death was shown to be subject to God.  While all the created order shivers and shakes and groans in its brokenness, the Healer shouts into the world by nothing less than the resurrection from the dead and tells us that He is there, He cares, and He has done something about all the brokenness.  And to this end the Christian prays when he says, “Thy kingdom come.”

Approval: Why we all look for a thumbs up

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Approval is a fascinating aspect of the human psyche.  It seems that we are born with a desire for approval, a desire to have others like us.  From our early childhood, we remember doing things to get our parents’ approval.  We enjoyed hearing our parents brag us up and hated letting them down.  But this desire has not faded over time.  Social media keeps the flame burning.  Facebook is built around the notion of approval.  Good and funny posts will be liked or commented on.  The desire for approval can be instantly gratified by a successful post or a witty comment.  We also find this desire played out as we interact with our peers.  Scholars desire approval from other scholars.  Musicians crave acceptance from other musicians.  People who claim they don’t care to be approved or accepted by society seek approval and acceptance from others who hold the same claim.  Ultimately we all want to be accepted by our peers and superiors.  Approval gives us a sense of belonging and a feeling of significance.

But we come to the question of our article today.  Why?  Any psychologist or casual observer can tell us that we crave approval, but can they tell us why we crave it?  Is there some sort of reason for which the human being would need such a desire?  Does it make him stronger?  No.  Does it increase his survival skills?  Not directly.  Then why do we go through life fawning for attention and acceptance at every juncture?  As a theist I can propose an answer.  I believe that humans were made to have a relationship with their Creator.  We were intended to have the closest friendship with the greatest Friend imaginable – to walk and talk with Him face to face.  We were made for approval, but something happened.  We didn’t want God’s approval.  We shook our fists in His face and went our own way.  The human race chose the approval of the serpent over the approval of God.  And God let us seek approval elsewhere.  He let us set out on the path to nowhere because that was the path that we wanted to follow.  Because of this rebellion man cannot have the approval of God anymore.

Sometimes I consider what a problem I would be in if I were but a theist.  But, you see, I’m not just a theist, I am a Christian theist.  I believe in the solution to the problem of the rebellion against God.  I believe that our desire for approval has been met.  Here’s how it has been fixed.  God saw that humanity had separated itself from Him.  He knew that they would not make a way back to Him, but that He would have to make a way back to them.  He would have to insert Himself behind enemy lines in order to His reconciliation with humanity.  Jesus Christ, fully God, took upon Himself humanity in order to be one of us and to be part of who we are so that He might restore our approval before God.  But there was a twist.

Humanity did not approve of Jesus and they strung Him up like a common criminal.  But this was already the plan of God.  In a strange twist of fate, God allowed His Son to bear the penalty for our failure to accept God in the first place.  In fact, God even rejected His Son Jesus so that we could be accepted as sons and daughters.  Here is the awesome reality regarding our desire for acceptance.  God has provided a solution to our unquenchable desire for acceptance.  At the cross we find the fullness of God’s acceptance in the present and in the future.  All along our petty desires for our peers’ approval has been but a shadow of the approval that was lost in the primeval creation and has been regained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christianity is a Crutch

Crutch_symbol.svg.

Recently I heard a non-Christian call Christianity a crutch for the weak who can’t handle life’s difficulties on their own.  At first I had a visceral reaction to the statement (which it was designed to evoke).  How dare someone degrade my firmly held beliefs to such a level!  But I pondered the idea a little and began to arrive at a different conclusion.  Here are some conclusions that I have reached in regard to this statement:

First, a crutch admits weakness, inability, and finitude.  The fact that someone needs a crutch indicates that they need external help in order to do some of the simplest tasks in life (viz., standing and walking).  At the core of the Christian message, we find that humanity is screwed up.  We all need crutches because we’re all lame and damaged due to the rebellion that we joined against God.  So when someone says that I use the crutch of Christianity because I am weak, I reply that I am simply being honest enough to admit my weakness.  The real question is if my non-Christian friends are willing to admit their inability to stand on their own.  This leads me to my next conclusion.

Second, we’re all messed up, so we all use crutches to get through life.  Some may call it therapy, medication, or self-help.  Others may revert to alcohol, drugs, entertainment, or relationships.  Even others may seek out education, family, athleticism, or social activism.  Suffice it to say that we all use crutches because we all are weak.  Once again, the real difference between the Christian faith and all other crutches is that this faith explicitly states that humanity is unable to better itself and calls for trust and reliance on God.  Other crutch-users simply fail to admit what they are relying on.

Third, if we all use crutches to get through life, then the question is not whether we rest on a crutch, but how reliable the crutch is.  At this point I have to look at the resurrection.  The Christian faith is founded upon this grand idea of the resurrection.  That Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, died in our place so that we may not have to face the punishment for our rebellion against God.  The evidence of the success of this great exchange is found in the resurrection that kicked off the movement that we know today as the Church.  I know my crutch is reliable because I have undeniable evidence that Someone went to the grave and came back again.  Someone has already defeated the greatest enemy of humanity and I can gladly and confidently put my trust in Him.

In the midst of my greatest trials, struggles, and sorrows I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not.  I don’t have to pretend that I can handle the pressures of life on my own.  I can admit my own weakness and the infinite strength of the One upon Whom I will lean for the rest of my life.

Christian Faith: Not Rational or Existential

The Thinker, Legion of Honor

When I say that the Christian faith is not rational, I do not mean that it is irrational for the Christian worldview is one which, in my view, aligns most agreeably with reason.  What I mean here is that Christian faith is not purely rational.  I cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists.  I cannot prove the reality of the parting of the Red Sea.  My point is that belief, in order to be belief, must be belief.  There must be an element of the unknown in order for faith to exist.  I do not have to believe in the existence of the sun because I observe it every day.  What is seen, known, and experienced does not have to be believed.

As modern science pokes and prods the breadth and depth of the universe, very little belief is required.  Once was a day that we had to believe that the earth was rotating around the sun, but now every child knows this objectively.  Believing that man could fly, that metal boats wouldn’t sink, that a tiny atom could explode, or that people could walk on planets and fly faster than sound was once par for the course, but now these have been observed and do not need to be believed in the same way as before.  To this point, I have dealt with natural phenomena that loosely parallel my point here.   My argument is that we inherently distaste the idea of belief.  We want everything to be observed and rational.  I think Dawkins makes this point well.  When asked what he would say if he met God in the afterlife, he replied, “Why did you hide yourself so?”  The need for belief frustrates us and bothers us.

In a culture where belief is passé, most do not realize that belief is a necessary part of being human.  We may suppress this or misconstrue this, but we really do have an innate need to believe.  To quote a line from the movie I saw last week, “we all believe in something” (The Three Musketeers).  We believe in people.  We believe that they are honest or dishonest.  We believe that they really care for us and are not trying to take advantage of us.  We believe in the character of others.  We believe in love.  We can’t see it, but we marry for it, write about it, promote it, and so on.  We believe in institutions.  We believe in our favorite football teams. We believe that our banks will safely hold our money (or that our governments will ensure it).  We believe in the unknown and unknowable because we believe in people and the organizations and things they make.  To believe makes us human because humans demand relationships with other persons.

So we return to the idea of Christian faith.  Why does it bother us that theism demands belief?  It bothers us because we expect a god to work within the confines of the natural universe.  We expect that our scientists should be able to dissect it and tell us that it exists.  We expect someone to be able to take a photograph of it.  We expect it to do some sort of grand violation of the laws of physics in order to prove itself to us.  We expect it to be something less than us, something completely knowable, and something less than God.  We expect it to be a thing and not a Person.

Persons are unknowable.  Persons demand faith.  I know people who have been married for 50 years and they still don’t know everything they can know about their spouses.  They still have to believe.  They still exercise faith.  I don’t expect things to be very different with God.  As a Person, He must be believed implicitly.  He must be trusted.  As God, He cannot be understood like we can a rock.  I don’t expect my belief to be rational.  If it were then I would have cause for concern, because my faith would be in a thing and not a Person and in an idol and not the God of the Universe.

Someone reading my post so far is probably thinking that because Christian faith works outside the confines of reason that it must, then, be existential.  Christian faith must be a step into the dark or a leap of blind faith.  This idea is at the heart of existentialism.  The idea that we have no proof or evidence of faith drives this sort of response.  I would reply that faith is not a leap in the dark, but a leap into the light.  Faith is not blind, but it looks at the evidence before jumping.  What I’m saying is that God has not given us the answers to every question (so as to eliminate His Personhood and Deity), but that he has enough evidence for us those who care to look.

 The grand example of evidence of faith is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Christianity itself is testimony to the accuracy of the resurrection.  No other reason exists to explain the rise of Christianity from a small band of men with no formal education following a man crucified as a common criminal to a faith that millions from every corner of the globe ascribe to and would die for.  History and reason testify to the resurrection of Christ.

In the resurrection alone we have enough evidence that we are not jumping into the dark.  We have a reason for belief and a hope for a future.  We don’t take a blind leap as followers of the Christian faith, but we make a jump into the light.  I cannot rationalize faith on the one hand, but on the other hand, it is not unreasonable.

The Dark Side: Thoughts on the Existence of Morality

One of the oddities of the human animal is his sense of morality.  Right and wrong.  Moral compass.  Conscience.  Call it what you want, a sense of morality spans the breadth of humanity.  Over the past few centuries a number of philosophers have attempted to deny or question the existence of this moral sense.  I’ve decided to collect some thoughts (mostly distilled from a number of writers) on the matter.

1. Why does it bother me when someone wrongs me?  I can argue that there is no morality innate within humanity, but as soon as someone harms my wife, loots my home, or puts me out of work I feel that I have been wronged.  Simply put, if there is no right or wrong, why do I get offended when someone hits my vehicle with a shopping cart while I’m in the store and they don’t even bother leaving a note?

2. Why do I not do whatever I want when nobody is watching?  Think of a time in your life when you have done something good (or not done something bad) when no one was looking.  Maybe you found a wallet full of cash and sought out the owner to see that it was returned.  Why did you do that?  There were no public consequences that demanded that you return the wallet.  You did it because something told you that it was right.  Why?

3.  Why do I find certain things inherently evil?  9/11, the holocaust, human trafficking, racism, etc.  Why do these ideas conjure thoughts of anger and a desire that the perpetrators be punished?  Why does it seem unfair that Hitler was able to kill 10-11 million in the holocaust, but died quietly from a cyanide capsule in his teeth?  Why do our hearts cry out for justice beyond the grave for people like that?

4. Why do I experience guilt?  Do you remember when you told your first lie, cheated on your first test, or mistreated your parents?  Do you remember how it made you feel?  Why does it bother you when someone catches you in a lie?  Why do we even tell lies to begin with?  There seems, to me, to be no good biological reason for such a feeling, especially as it often contradicts what would naturally be in our best interests.

5. Why do I make moral judgments about seemingly minor issues?  Your Christian neighbor goes to church and dresses nice, but you can hear him yelling at his kids at night.  We see this and call him a hypocrite.  Your friend cheats on his spouse.  We see this and judge him as a cheater.  Interestingly enough, we avoid judging ourselves by the same standard.  When we play nice to the boss and then waste time on the clock, we don’t see ourselves as hypocrites.  We tell ourselves that we put in enough time this week, so a little personal time is okay.  When we cheat on our taxes, we don’t see ourselves as cheaters.  We tell ourselves that the government has plenty of money and that we deserve our hard-earned cash.

6. Why do I stand in the way of human progress for the sake of morality?  In other words, philosophers and intellectuals tell us that the human animal is all about survival of the fittest.  Anything that does not serve to advance our standing in the community, our personal possessions, our intellects, etc. does not make sense.  In fact, to stand in the way of such progress makes no sense according to this philosophical model.  Here’s where the rubber meets the road: why bother saving the whales (by the way…I’m not saying that this is wrong, I’m using it for the sake of argument)?  If everything is about survival of the fittest, then why not dominate the weaker species?  Why should the “1%” not dominate the “99%”?  If everything is about human progress, isn’t it right for the strong to take advantage of the weak?  Let’s take this a different direction.  Why do I do things that impede my own progress?  Why do I return the wallet when I need the cash?  Why do I give to feed the poor?  These actions only impede my progress and make no sense in a paradigm without morals.

I don’t think I can definitively prove spiritual concepts through rational means, but I would hope to demonstrate that my belief in a moral nature of man at least has some ground in the shared human experience.  As one great theologian of the last century put it, I cannot build anyone a bridge from unbelief to belief, but I can at least lay out the pylons for the bridge.  In my mind, the moral nature of man is one of such pylons.  Why is it so fantastical to imagine that the reason why we have this moral compass is that we were created by a God who has a moral law and that He implanted that law in our hearts?  Why is it absurd to think that the reason why we see so much wrong with the world is that humanity has rebelled against God, shaken their fist at their Creator, and have sought to obscure His moral law?  In my mind, these explanations make for more sense than the humanistic model, which gives me no compelling reason for human morality.