Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt: The Passover as a Foreshadow of Christ

Some weeks ago, I posted a blog entry on the Abraham affair as a foreshadow — a prototype — of the Gospel. As with most of the arguments for Christianity, the evidence from Old Testament foreshadows and prophecies is most compelling when taken as a cumulative argument. In other words, it becomes most convincing when many different examples are considered together. In this blog entry, I want to consider another well-known example of this category of evidence: The Passover, an event which has been celebrated by Jews for thousands of years.

What is the Passover?

The festival of Passover is the retelling of the story of the nation of Israel, whereby they were redeemed by God from the harsh enslavement of Egypt. The full story can be read in the book of Exodus in the Bible. The focus of the celebration is a remembrance of the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed in order that the first born of every house might be spared from the wrath of God — which was death — as the Lord passed over the houses during the last and final of the ten plagues of Egypt. The slaughtered Lamb was to be eaten, and its blood smeared onto the doorposts of the houses as a sign of faith.

Exodus 12:5-13 describes the instructions God gave to Israel thus:

“The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

The Fulfilment of the Passover Lamb in Christ

In the New Testament, Jesus is described as our Passover Lamb (John 1:29; John 1:36; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11). God specifically stipulated to Israel that the Lamb that was to be slaughtered was to be a “male without defect” (Exodus 12:5), which is the very same description given of Jesus (e.g. 1 Peter 1:18-19; Hebrews 9;14). Jesus was without sin (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:9) and perfect in every way. Indeed, he had to be if he was going to atone for the sins of Israel by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 7:27).

When the lamb was roasted and eaten, none of its bones were to be broken (Exodus 12:46). It was customary during an execution by crucifixion to break the legs of the victim so that they were no longer able to push up against the cross and draw in breath, thus hastening their death by asphyxiation. But, in the case of Jesus, though they broke the legs of the other two men, they did not break Jesus’ legs because he was already dead (John 19:32-36).

Five days before the lamb was to be sacrificed, it was selected. It is thus significant that Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem five days before the lamb — the Passover sacrifice — was slaughtered in the temple. Jesus hence enters into Jerusalem on lamb selection day — for he was the ultimate Lamb of God, to whom all of the others pointed.

On the day which we now celebrate as “Good Friday”, Jesus fulfilled the role of the Passover lamb. It also so happens to be the very day on which the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed. At the time of the sacrifice, the priest would traditionally blow his ram’s horn (known as the shophar) at 3pm. At this moment, the lamb would be slaughtered and the people of Israel would pause to meditate on the sacrifice for sins on behalf of God’s people. At 3pm on Good Friday, from the cross Jesus was heard to cry “It is finished”(Matthew 27:46-50; Mark 15:34-37; Luke 23:44-46). At that instant, the veil of the temple, which demarked the entrance to the Holy of Holies where the presence of God dwelt, was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45), symbolizing the removal of the separation between God and man erected by our guilt and sin. It was torn from the top to the bottom to represent the fact that it was God — and not man — who had removed the barrier. According to Acts 2, fifty days later, on the anniversary of the giving of the Law (i.e. Pentecost), God left the earthly temple to inhabit believers through His Holy Spirit.

At sunset on the Friday, the festival of unleavened bread began. The Jews would take some of the grain — that is, the “first fruits” of their harvest — to the Temple to offer it as a sacrifice, thus offering God all they had and placing faith in Him to take care of the rest of the harvest. It was at this very point that Jesus was buried — planted in the ground — as he predicted just before His death (John 12:23-24). In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul writes that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In so doing, Jesus symbolizes the fulfilment of God’s promise to provide the rest of the harvest — that is, the future bodily resurrection of those who are saved.

But it gets even more interesting still. Even the practices of the Passover dinner are loaded with symbolism. The Trinity is symbolized by the three matzahs which are put together. Jesus’ death and subsequent burial are symbolized by the breaking of the middle matzah (Jesus, recall, is the second person of the Trinity), which is subsequently wrapped in a white cloth and hidden. John 19:40 tells us, “And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” Following the meal, the “buried” matzah is “resurrected”, thus symbolizing Christ’s resurrection.

At the end of Lord’s supper in which He instituted the communion ceremony, Jesus takes the unleavened bread and breaks it, stating that it is symbolic of His body. He says of the cup of wine (which would have been the third cup in the Passover meal) that it represents the new covenant in His blood which has been “poured out for you” (Luke 20:22).

 Evidence for Jesus’ Death at the Time of Passover

How confident can we be that Jesus’ death did indeed occur at the time of the Passover? Firstly, a distinctly non-Christian source (the Jewish Talmud) states that,

“On the eve of the Passover, Yeshua was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and pleased on his behalf. But since nothing was brought forward in his favour, he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!”

As an aside, many scholars believe that the Talmud is being sly at this point, deliberately misleading the reader while avoiding any outright prevarication that might run the risk of exposure. The Talmud does not state that Jesus was stoned, but states that He was hanged. This is a reference to the actual mode of execution. Acts 5:30 and Galatians 3:13 suggest that ‘hanged’ can be used synonymously with crucified. Why does the Talmud do this? Crucifixion was a mode of execution which the Jews under Roman rule never used, but which their overlords used routinely. The Romans were viewed by the Jewish populace as traitors, whereas their ancestors who had resisted Roman rule were hailed as heroes. The Talmud thus sidesteps any mention of crucifixion, not wishing to portray Jesus as a victim of the Romans, lest anyone view Him with sympathy and admiration. Conversely, there is no wish for the Jewish leaders to be portrayed as having resorted to collusion with the Romans in order to take him out.

We also have implicit support from Paul’s writings for the placing of Christ’s death at the time of Passover. Not only does Paul describe the Lord’s supper (which is, in effect, the Passover meal) in 1 Corinthians 11, but he also states in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8,

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

In addition, all four gospels also mention that Jesus was killed at the time of Passover. Some readers may be wondering about the apparent discrepancy between John’s gospel and the synoptics concerning the specific timing of Jesus’ death. But this conundrum rapidly disappears when one considers that John writes in Roman times of day, whereas Mark wrote in Jewish times of day. The Roman times of day are just like English times (so the Third Hour is literally the third hour from midnight). The Jewish day, by contrast, begins at about 6pm of one day to 6pm of the next day.

Conclusion

To conclude, the Passover represents a profound prototype in the Jewish Scriptures which points — in virtually every dimension — towards Christ and the Gospel. Is this incident merely another fluke of “happy coincidence”, or could this be a pointer, set out by God Himself, as a sign by which we will know that He is the author of Scripture and the Grand Architect behind salvation? I encourage readers to view this excellent video, which summarizes the above points.

Does Isaiah 53 Speak About Jesus? A Response To Critics

I have always viewed the exquisitely detailed Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53 as one of the most powerful and compelling reasons for thinking that Christianity is indeed true. Written some 700 years before Christ’s life on earth, this prophecy details the suffering and redemptive purposes of the Messiah. Moreover, the presence of the entire book of Isaiah in the Qumran scrolls gives us confidence that this prophecy pre-dates the first century by at least a couple hundred years. Its presence among the Jewish Scriptures precludes any possibility of Christian tampering anyway, and such a possibility is uniformly rejected among contemporary scholarship.

So what does this passage say? Can there be any doubt that this passage refers to Jesus? I have entered the full passage below, and followed it with a brief discussion of common attempts to evade this powerful argument. The relevant text begins in Isaiah 52:13, and continues to the end of chaptier 53:

“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being

and his form marred beyond human likeness— so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on himthe iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days,and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Some might argue that contemporary Jews argue against this passage being messianic. However, having read the conventional views among them, I think such a view is untenable. Firstly, if the passage — as most contemporary Jews maintain — is really a personification of the nation of Israel, then the passage makes no sense when it says “…for the transgressions of my people [i.e. Israel] he was striken…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” The term “the servant” is also used of the messiah in other parts of the Bible, such as in Zechariah 3:8 (“I am going to bring my servant, the Branch”)

Moreover, most contemporary Jews are simply not familiar with the chapter – it is curiously avoided in the synagogue readings. We can, however, settle the issue of the passage’s historical Judaic interpretation by going to the ancient sources. Jonathan ben Uziel (early 1st century), for example, in his Targum (an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible), paraphrasing Isaiah 53, wrote: “My servant, the Messiah, will be great, who was bruised for our sins.” Furthermore, the Talmud (in the Midrash Tanchumi) states with reference to Isaiah 52:13 that “He was more exalted than Abraham, more extolled than Moses; higher than the angels.”

Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees in John 5, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:10-12, ”Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”

Could this passage really refer to anyone besides Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Is all this just one big happy coincidence? You decide!

The Multi-Dimensional Nature Of Biblical Genealogies

Don’t you just love to read these before going to bed? The genealogical records certainly make for excellent reading for those struggling to get to sleep at night. Sarcasm aside, these texts reside among the most skipped-over chapters in the Bible. As with many things in the Bible, however, lurking just below the surface is a wealth of treasure waiting to be uncovered.

Have you ever wondered how the Hebrew names recorded in the genealogy of Genesis 5 translate into their English counter-parts? Let’s take a look.

1) Adam: Man

2) Seth: Appointed

3) Enosh: Mortal

4) Kenan: Sorrow

5) Mahalalel: The Blessed God

6) Jared: Shall Come Down

7) Enoch: Teaching

8 ) Methusaleh: His Death Shall Bring

9) Lamech: The Despairing

10) Noah: Comfort

Stringing the meanings of those names together, we get the following:

Man [is] Appointed Mortal Sorrow. The Blessed God Shall Come Down Teaching. His Death Shall Bring The Despairing Comfort.

Could this be the product of happy coincidence or happenstance? Or is there something more profound going on here? Readers are, of course, free to judge for themselves. When taken as a cumulative argument, the numerous foreshadowings and prototypes which point so decisively towards Christ and the gospel — an event separated from the pertinent Jewish books by centuies — represents a potent argument which cannot readily be explained away with the shrug of a shoulder.?

You Need The Box Top To Make Sense Of The Jigsaw Of The Old Testament: The Abraham Affair

When asked for what I consider to be the most compelling argument for the truth of Christianity, I often offer the cumulative force of the argument from prototypic foreshadowings of Christ and the new covenant which are so delicately interwoven into the Old Testament fabric.  Just as one needs the Box Top to make sense of a jigsaw puzzle, so one needs Christ in order to properly understand what’s going on in the Old Testament. In this article, I present one of those foreshadows.

First, some background. Abraham, the progenitor of the Hebrew race, is said in Genesis to have had two sons. The sons were distinct in a number of ways. For example, they had different mothers. One son, Ishmael, was born of a slave woman (Hagar), whereas the other, Isaac, was born of a free woman (Sarah). Hagar was the Egyptian slave of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Many years after God first promised a son to Abraham, Sarah had not yet borne him a son. Not wanting Eliezer of Damascus to be his ownly heir, he cried out to God in request for a son to be his heir, a request that resulted in God’s re-affirmation that “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”

The years went by, and Abraham had still not conceived a son by his wife, Sarah. Sarah thus decided it was time to take matters into their own hands, and induced Abraham to father a child through her female slave, Hagar. Hagar thus conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. Abraham’s second son — the one that had been promised by God — was later conceived through his wife, Sarah.

The Apostle Paul explicated this event in his epistle to the church in Galatia. Our text is taken from Galatians 4:21-5:1:

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

In what sense was Ishmael (the child born through Hagar) born in the ordinary way? The answer lies not so much in the physicality of the conception, but rather in the fact that he was conceived through human scheming and planning — the way of the flesh: the way of works and self-effort. In contrast, Isaac was born by the free woman, Sarah. His conception was supernatural because the Holy Spirit had miraculously enabled Abraham and Sarah to conceive a child after she was far beyond the age of childbearing. When Isaac was born, his father was 100 and his mother 90 (Genesis 17:27; 21:5).

The conception of Ishmael may be considered analogous to the way of religious self-effort and works-based reighteousness. The second is analogous to the way of trust in the promises of God, and God’s imputed righteousness. While Ishmael typifies those who have been born naturally (that is, those who place their trust in their own works and merits), Isaac typifies those who have had been born of the spirit through trusting in the promises of God and in the completed work of the Lord Jesus.

Paul then tells us that the two women (Sarah and Hagar) represent two covenants. Hagar represents the covenant of law and works, while Sarah represents the covenant of grace and faith.

The Old Covenant of law was given at Mount Sinai to Moses. Because the terms of the covenant were not possible for humanity to keep, it produced a type of religious slaves, bound to the master of the law from whom they could never escape. The descendants of Hagar (through Ishmael) eventually moved into the desert areas to the east and south of the Promised Land, and eventually came to be known as the Arabs and their territory as Arabia. It is highly significant that Mount Sinai is located on what is known today as the Arabian Peninsula. It was, in fact, between the sons of Sarah and Hagar that the modern Arab-Israeli animosity began, producing a perpetual conflict and tension between the two groups of people who trace their ancestry back to Abraham.

Paul notes that Hagar and Mount Sinai correspond to the present city of Jerusalem. He speaks of the first Jerusalem as present, showing he has in mind the earthly, historical city by that name. In the same way God chose Mount Sinai to be the geographical location in which he would deliver the Old Covenant to Moses, so he also chose Jerusalem as the geographical location in which to the Old Covenant would be propagated and exemplified. In this type, both locations are intended to represent the Old Covenant of law and works and the bondage and slavery that they produce.

The city of Jerusalem is also the city in which the New Covenant is established in the death and resurrection of Christ. But the New Covenant of grace was rejected by the Jews, and so — much like Mount Sinai in Arabia — Hagar still figuratively dwells in slavery with her children. In Paul’s day, most of Jerusalem’s inhabitants were in deep bondage and slavery to damning legalism, ritual, ceremony and self-effort.

Conversely, the spiritual descendants of Sarah (through Isaac) live in the Jerusalem above and are free, because she is our mother. The inhabitants of this heavenly Jerusalem are free from the slavery that comes from legalism and works-based self-righteousness. As Jesus said in John 8:36, “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”

Paul continues, by quoting from Isaiah 54: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

Originally, these words were penned by the prophet Isaiah, to cheer up the Jewish exiles in Babylon. In our present context, they are applied to Sarah, the barren woman whose barrenness seemingly stood as a barrier to the fulfilment of God’s promise. As freedom came once again to the nation in Babylonian captivity, so it would come to the people in captivity to the law and its death penalty.

Paul also discusses the result of being a spiritual descendant of Isaac. Just as in that time, when there was resentment of Isaac by Ishmael, those who are spiritual descendants of Isaac are still persecuted by the spiritual descendants of Ishmael. Indeed, when Abraham held a feast to celebrate Isaac’s weaning, Ishmael mocked the occasion. And so it is now also. Those who hold to salvation by works hate those who proclaim salvation by grace alone without works.

Paul concludes by noting that just as the Scripture says “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son,” so the persecutors and slaves of the law will be thrown out of Abraham’s spiritual household.

Paul concludes by remarking that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” In other words, Paul is asking, “Why on earth would anyone want to go back to being a slave like Ishmael, in view of the freedom made available in Christ?”

The question thus arises, is all this tightly interwoven symbolism explicable as the result of happy happenstance? Or is it too much to be attributed to blind coincidence? I don’t think these deep theological meanings are being imposed on the text, nor do I think the text is stretched or strained by Paul’s analysis. It is also significant that, while Isaac was the ancestor of Jesus Christ himself (who opened the way of salvation through grace, thus freeing us from obligation to the law), Ishmael was the ancestor of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was of Arabian descent, and the Islamic religion is based around Arabia (where Mount Sinai is to be found), and based on a legalistic system of salvation through one’s meritorious deeds and works, and keeping the Law.

Note also that Isaac is the one ultimately laid on the alter in Genesis 22, and spared by the slaughter of a substitute, in the form of a ram caught by its horns in the bush. Note that the supplication of the Ram implicates that the ultimate Lamb of God (as had been promised on the way up Mount Moriah: “God will provide Himself the Lamb for the burnt offering”) was still to be provided, hence Abraham names the mountain “The Lord Will Provide”, saying “On the Mountain of the Lord, It Shall Be Provided” (note the future tense). Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain, in a fashion similar to the manner in which Jesus carried his own cross for his ultimate sacrifice for sins. And The mountain on which these events unfolded is also thought to be the mountain on which our Lord was crucified.

When one considers this foreshadow of the gospel, in conjunction with the other mass of cumulative evidence from multi-disciplinary sources, I think one has very strong reason to think that the Christian worldview does indeed add up. Such intricate weaving of gospel threads throughout the fabric of the Old Testament is something which only God could do.

Could God's Moral Commands Be Improved?

When we don’t study the historical and literary context of a passage, we often draw the wrong conclusions.  Such is the case with some atheists who complain about the apparent immorality of God’s commands in the Old Testament.  Dr. William Lane Craig answers several questions about this (and his debate with atheist Sam Harris) on his website (ReasonableFaith.org).  His succinct response is worth repeating here:

Question:

I recently watched your debate with Sam Harris, and had a few questions for you.

First, If morals are determined by God’s edict, then it seems to suggest that they are non negotiable. I say this because a being who is defined as all good would not give us a faulty moral stance and expect us to follow it. So, how do we improve our morals if it is an obvious improvement to not follow the bible? I make claim to the old testament where frivolous crimes carry the punishment of death by stoning. Wouldn’t it be more moral to not stone homosexuals to death, and instead allow them to contribute to society?

Second, In the question and answer section, you make the claim that the bible is a good moral foundation because you can think of no alternative from an atheistic perspective. Is that not a fallacy of an appeal to ignorance?

Lastly, tying the two together, Would you not agree that it is morally reprehensible to refuse to adopt a more moral world view? It seems that the biblical Christian moral foundation can be improved by ignoring bible passages (such as stoning to death for homosexuality), and atheists are just as capable of obtaining such a moral foundation (which incidentally is an improvement on the bible).

William
United States

Dr. Craig responds: I think there are some fundamental misunderstandings lying behind your questions, William, which vitiate their force. Nevertheless, I believe that questions of this sort perplex many. So let’s take them in order.

1. On a Divine Command theory of ethics such as I defended in the debate, God’s commands to us are non-negotiable in the sense that we have a moral obligation to obey God’s commands. To disobey His commands is to fail to discharge our moral duties.

It does not follow from this that moral improvement is impossible. For God’s commands can be contingent upon the realities of the human condition relative to the times and places of the recipients of those commands. Real people in the circumstances in which they exist may not be capable of receiving or carrying out God’s moral ideal for them and so are given commands which may be much less than ideal but nonetheless suited for the reality of their situation.

This is not just a hypothetical possibility. This is what the Bible teaches about God’s commands. One of the clearest examples of this is Jesus’ teaching concerning the Mosaic law on divorce. “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been that way ” (Matt. 19.8) Here Jesus says that the law of Moses did not represent God’s ideal for marriage established at creation but was historically conditioned due to the moral callousness of the persons to whom it was given.

One of the positive features of Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster?, to which I referred in the debate, is his emphasis that Old Testament laws were historically conditioned to a particular people at a particular time and a particular place and were never intended to be timeless ethical principles that would govern all peoples at all times under all circumstances. God gave ancient Israel laws that were suited to their historical circumstances, even if they didn’t express His moral ideal.

Moreover, another important factor you overlook, William, is the distinction between moral law and civil law. Ancient Israel under Moses was a theocracy: God was the head of the government. We don’t live in a theocracy, so many acts which are deeply immoral (like adultery) are not illegal. No such distinction existed in ancient Israel. So adultery was a capital crime. (You’re mistaken, by the way, in thinking that homosexuality as such was a capital crime; what was criminal was sexual activity outside of marriage, whether heterosexual or homosexual.) In our sexually promiscuous society such an assessment of adultery’s immorality seems just inconceivable. But I take that to be a measure of how far short we fall of God’s moral ideal for marriage and how seriously He takes chastity and marital fidelity. Even though adultery is not illegal in a non-theocratic society, it remains a sin that that is deeply immoral in God’s sight. Since we live in a non-theocratic society, we should not try to make everything that is immoral also illegal.

2. I’m confident that I made no such claim as you ascribe to me. In the first place, the claim seems to blur the distinction I was underlining all night of the difference between moral epistemology and moral ontology. The question of the foundation of moral values and duties is a question of moral ontology. So the Bible is just irrelevant to that question. The Bible would become relevant only if we were asking the epistemological question as to the content of our moral duties. On that question I do think that the Bible is a useful guide, so long as one uses it correctly (for example, not taking commands issued under a theocratic state out of their historical context and interpreting them as timeless ethical principles). Second, I most certainly do not adopt the Bible as a guide to moral behavior just because I can think of no alternative from an atheistic perspective. I have given evidence for thinking that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Son and the personal revelation of God, so that one ought to believe what he taught, including his ethical teachings. Finally, third, I can think of lots of atheistic alternatives (like Sam Harris’s view); I just don’t think they’re tenable.

3. I’d agree that if a person is informed about the moral adequacy of competing views and chooses a less moral view over the view he knows to be superior, then that person has acted immorally. But the proper comparison here will not be between Christianity and atheism. For as I argued in the debate, the atheistic alternative is incapable of furnishing a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties. That’s why, in response to Sam Harris’ remark, “if there is a less moral framework than the one Dr. Craig is proposing, I haven’t heard of it,” I exclaimed, “The less moral framework is atheism! Atheism has no grounds for objective moral values or duties.” Until you answer the Value Problem, the “is/ought” problem, and the “is implies can” problem, William, you have no grounds for thinking atheism to be capable of securing such a foundation. Now that puts you in a difficult moral situation. For in the absence of answers to those objections, you are by your own lights rejecting a more moral worldview and therefore acting in a morally reprehensible way.

So if there is a comparison to be drawn here, it will be between competing forms of theism. Is Christianity, for example, a moral improvement over Mosaic Judaism? Yes; I have already affirmed that the moral system in ancient Israel was inferior to the revelation of God’s more perfect moral will by Jesus.

What's the Truth About Hell?

On “CrossExamined with Frank Turek” on American Family Radio on June 4 Frank discussed the topic “What’s the Truth About Hell?” With Rob Bell’s recent book, “Love Wins” the questions about eternity and punishment have been “hot” topics in Christianity. A number of these issues were addressed in the ratio show. The audio archive will be posted as soon as it becomes available. However, in the meantime, we found the following video response to “Love Wins” that we thought you might be interested to watch. Matt Slick, of CARM.org gives his analysis of Bell’s book. 

Is Intelligent Design Science?

 

The purpose of this post is not to prove that Intelligent Design is true, nor that it is superior to naturalistic alernatives, but simply to raise awareness over some of the lines of evidence where Intelligent Design seems to be science. Let me also reject in advance those who dismiss ID with casual comments like, “There is no evidence whatsoever for ID,” “ID is creationism in a tuxedo, but still has no ticket for the party,” or “ID is no more scientific than astrology” or the like. These aren’t necessarily ridiculous positions to hold, but they require a lot more substance than most claimants (that I’ve encountered) are usually willing to muster. ID does not necessarily deserve credit or acceptance, but if satisfies the criteria for admission into scientific consideration then one cannot in good-intellectual-honesty dismiss it out of hand and still claim to be science minded.

First, ID employs a theory drawn from science, namely, information theory (see, Dembski’s The Design Inference)–information theory is a staple in SETI, Forensics, Archeology, Cryptology, Anthropology, etc.

Second, the problem with ID is not whether information theory is scientific, but whether astronomy, biology and chemistry are valid fields of applying information theory. Properly casting the nature of this debate is key to understanding the lines of argumentation. Those rebuking ID for elaborating “information theory” should instead focus their argument on the illegitimacy of applying information theory to fields like astronomy, biology and chemistry.

Third, ID does achieve claims that are, at least on a low level, falsifiable. For example, the Bacterial flagellum may be irreducibly complex if no more basic alternative-use formulations such as a (Type III secretory system [syringe type rod]) can be found which are constitutionally older than the flagellum. Applying ID theory to the flagellum renders a testable prediction, namely the falsifiable theory that if the flagellum is irreducibly complex then there will never be discovered a simpler same-function form nor an older a lternative-function form.

Fourth, neither naturalism nor materialism has been, historically, a necessary precondition for doing science, given the preponderance of religious scientists throughout history. It may be argued, weakly, that if one allows for supernatural causes one is discouraged or distracted from the hard task of finding natural, reliable, or material causes for natural phenomenon. While that possibility makes sense, it has not been the reality. Despite there being many non-theists (ie: no kind of God-belief) in the sciences, there are still a host of theists who have little trouble employing a methodological naturalism for much of their work while suspending that assumption where it might bias the data (such as, dismissing evidence for a miracle claim simply because naturalism demands dismissing all miracle claims). Stephen Jay Gould’s Non-overlapping Magisterium is a nice theory to safely quarantine religion and science from effecting each other, but both make metaphysical claims on history, humanity, and the natural world. And many scientists exist in the overlap for, despite the claims of casual anti-ID theorist, these science minded theists can readily admit the possibility of an active God without descending into a “magical” irrational view of nature.

Fifth, ID does bear fruit in further predictions and study. We can, for example, study and apply irreducible complexity theory anywhere in biology to see where it fits and where it does not. At minimum, such applications of ID force evolutionary alternatives to mount a more comprehensive/compelling set of unintelligent mechanisms since the known unintelligent mechanisms fail pretty badly on many cases. Pure evolutionary theory, for example, has the difficulty of explaining the reality of “true belief” given the non-intelligent mechanical causes of newtonian forces as it’s only physical forces, or, natural selection and genetic variations as it’s overriding biological forces. Sure one can appeal to conceptual models and thought experiments to argue for an evolutionary answer to this problem Plantinga calls “the Evolutionary Argument Against naturalism,” but that effort is bound to circularity, begging the question, since naturalistic answers ostensibly presuppose that intelligence arises from non-intelligence though that is precisely the premise needing defense.

For another example, ID predicts that the more irreducibly complex and higher specified complexity of something, the less capable we will be at demonstrating a viable evolutionary account. By testing evolutionary mechanisms against a given object–such as the Giraffe’s neck or the woodpecker’s tongue–we can see, according to the prediction, whether the known mechanisms of evolution easily explain it or not. If the Giraffe’s neck, which supposedly is irreducibly complex, then there would be no immediate and demonstrable explanation from naturalism for its appearance. If the Giraffe’s neck is slightly or greatly complex, and irreducible in either case, then evolutionary theory will have an easier or harder time, respectively, providing a viable account from natural causes that does not betray the kind of incrementalism espoused by Darwin nor, if one is okay with being in the scientific minority, the punctuated equilibrium espoused later. Remember though, that both sets of theories have their own burden of proof whereby they ought to exceed the (low) test of “explanatory” sufficiency and reach some kind of testibility.

Still a third example of how ID is fruitful with testable predictions, ID predicts that high-information content within organisms can devolve, but does not greatly evolve. Hence, we can subject microrganisms to generations of forced mutations to see if any give rise to sustainable gains in specified complexity. Fourth, ID presents tremendous applications for the search for extra-terrestrials (ie: non-human intelligences), and reapplication of information theory in forensics, cryptology, computer programming, Artificial Ingelligence, and archeology. Fifth, and implied above, ID also presents a valuable frame of reference for critiquing the monopoly of evolutionary theory (such that many evolutionists are not aware of any explanatory gaps or weaknesses within evolutionary theory). And what is science if not a free-exchange of alternative theories and findings achieving the market-capitalism of ideas whereby poorly framed hypotheses can be honed and improved, or ground down into oblivion.< /p>

Sixth, it is not very scientific to put faith in evolutionary theory to IN THE FUTURE resolve present ignorance. Evolution-of-the-gaps is no less dogmatic and faith based than is God of the gaps. And frankly, a great deal of force behind the rejection of ID is fueled by faith in evolutionary theory to explain aspects of nature that are yet unknown. Though evolution, according to typical evolutionists, has been well verified on many accounts, scientists pride themselves on respecting no authorities and refraining from all faith or dogma in place of their science. Where evolution has not been DEMONSTRATED to explain a certain phenomenon it remains a theory, or, at best a hypothesis. But any use of said hypothesis prior to experimentation risks being philosophy or even theology. Scientists are more than allowed to do philosophy, they just have to sacrifice the authority and credibility of “Science-says-so-and-so” when they are philosophizing.

Seventh, NO scientific claim is DEDUCTIVELY verifiable–as that would entail the kind of certainty achieved only in logic and math. It would not be fair to demand of Intelligent Design a degree of certainty that the rest of science rarely if ever achieves. All scientific claims, even the strongest ones, are limited to INDUCTIVE probability never deductive certainty since they are fundamentally empirical (not rationalistic or formalistic in their metaphysics or epistemology).

Eighth, ,any theoretical streams within science are deemed “scientific” though they conceptually and practically defy testability (whether verification or falsification)–just as Theoretical Physics like String Theory.

Ninth, whatever else “science” means, there would seem to be something inherently unscientific about disqualifying what may be true and treat any related questions as uninteresting since they are not bound by naturalism. Science should not be too proud to investigate the mating habits of insects nor the possibility of a non-human intelligence.

Tenth, science itself could not exist without philosophy of science to establish it’s nature and parameters. Truth be told, ID tests the demarcation problem for Science though many scientists themselves may have never known there was any problem demarcating Natural Science from other fields of study like theology or philosophy. Scientists hate to admit this, as there is a generally negative view of metaphysics entire even though every scientist is, by the nature of the field, a part time metaphysician. To illustrate, it was philosophy of science that gave birth to the scientific method which gave birth modern science. This point is relevant because the natural sciences rightly incorporate under the title of “science” things that were never purely “science. The scientific method was not hatched in a lab but in the mind of philosophical-theological-scientists. We would sacrifice too much if we cut off any “philosophy” or “theology” as non-science simply because it is not testable in a lab as that would forbid the scientific method itself–which is philosophy, and not itself testable within the parameters of science.

Eleventh, it is a genetic fallacy and a fallacy of association to fault ID for having young-earthers, religious people (who are presumed “biased”), or otherwise unliked characters among its members. We should remember that early chemists are largely indistinguishable from alchemists–yet we would not want to dismiss their work as “unscientific” just because they were still dabbling in pseudoscience. We would not want to morally fault science for its association among Nazi experimenters in WWII. Abuse does not bar use. And if ID is abused or genetically tainted by some of its practitioners we still have the theory itself to deal with lest we mistakenly burn the message because of the messenger. Conversely, we cannot rightly fault the findings of atheistic humanists in science because they, perhaps, have an anti-theological bias or might be “swayed” by their irreligion or humanism or atheism. Biased people can still do good science provided there’s is not an overriding bias.

In conclusion, a compelling case can be made that ID is indeed science and therefore it deserves a hearing among science minded people.

Jesus, Christians and Politics: Why They Go Together

The United States Congress was in a rare joint session. All 435 representatives and 100 senators were in attendance, and the C-SPAN-TV cameras were rolling. The members were gathered together to hear a speech by a descendant of George Washington. But what they thought would be a polite speech of patriotic historical reflections quickly turned into a televised tongue-lashing. With a wagging finger and stern looks, Washington’s seventh-generation grandson declared,

Woe to you, egotistical hypocrites! You are full of greed and self-indulgence. Everything you do is done for appearances: You make pompous speeches and grandstand before these TV cameras. You demand the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats wherever you go. You love to be greeted in your districts and have everyone call you “Senator” or “Congressman.” On the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness! You say you want to clean up Washington, but as soon as you get here you become twice as much a son of hell as the one you replaced!

Woe to you, makers of the law, you hypocrites! You do not practice what you preach. You put heavy burdens on the citizens, but then opt out of your own laws!

Woe to you, federal fools! You take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, but then you nullify the Constitution by confirming judges who make up their own laws.

Woe to you, blind hypocrites! You say that if you had lived in the days of the Founding Fathers, you never would have taken part with them in slavery. You say you never would have agreed that slaves were the property of their masters but would have insisted that they were human beings with unalienable rights. But you testify against yourselves because today you say that unborn children are the property of their mothers and have no rights at all! Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed in this country. You snakes! You brood of vipers! You have left this great chamber desolate! How will you escape being condemned to hell!

Of course such an address never really took place. Who would be so blunt and rude to address the nation’s leaders that way? Certainly no one claiming to be a Christian. Are you sure?

Jesus said something very similar. What? Sweet and gentle Jesus? Absolutely. If you read the twenty-third chapter of Matthew you’ll see that much of my fictitious speech is adapted from the real speech Jesus made to the Pharisees. Contrary to the spineless Jesus invented today by those who want an excuse to be spineless themselves, the real Jesus taught with authority and did not tolerate error. When people were wrong, Jesus corrected them and sometimes he got in their faces to do so.

While Jesus was often more diplomatic, he knew that sometimes you need to be blunt with people.  Sometimes you need to be direct instead of dancing around the issues.  In fact, if you fail to be direct, you risk enabling people, allowing them to continue on their merry way, destroying themselves and the nation.

“Oh, but Jesus wouldn’t say that kind of thing to politicians,” you say.  “He wouldn’t get involved in politics.”

Think again.

Who were the Pharisees? They were not just the religious leaders but also the political leaders of Israel!  You mean Jesus was involved in politics?  Yes! Paul was too. He addressed the political leaders of his day and even used the privileges of his Roman citizenship to protect himself and advance the Gospel.

But didn’t Jesus say, “Give unto Caesar.”  Yes.  So what?  We all ought to pay taxes.  But that doesn’t mean we ought not get involved in politics.  In our country, you can not only elect “Caesar,” you can be “Caesar!”

Jesus told us to be “salt” and “light,” and he didn’t say be salt and light in everything but politics.  Christians are to be salt and light in everything they do, be it in their church, in their business, in their school, or in their government.

That doesn’t mean establishing a “Theocracy.”  Christians should be great protectors of liberty, including freedom of religion. In fact, having Christians involved in government happens to be advantageous for even non-Christians.  How so?

It is only the Christian worldview that secures the unalienable rights of the individual in God— rights that include the right to life, liberty, equal treatment, and religious freedom.  Islam won’t do it.  Islam means submission to Allah and Sharia law.  It doesn’t protect individual rights.  Neither will Hinduism (the Caste system) or outright secularism, which offers no means to ground rights in anything other than the whims of a dictator. Only Christianity grounds the rights of the individual in God, and also realizes that since God doesn’t force anyone to adhere to one set of religious beliefs, neither should the government.

I often hear Christians claiming that we ought to just “preach the Gospel” and not get involved in politics.  This is not only a false dilemma; it’s stupid (how’s that for direct?).   If you think “preaching the Gospel” is important like I do, then you ought to think that politics is important too.  Why?  Because politics and law affects your ability to preach the Gospel!  If you don’t think so, go to some of the countries I’ve visited—Iran, Saudi Arabia, China.  You can’t legally “preach the Gospel” in those countries—or practice other aspects of your religion freely—because politically they’ve ruled it out.

It’s already happening here. There are several examples where religious freedoms are being usurped by homosexual orthodoxy. This summer a Christian student was removed from Eastern Michigan University’s (a public school) counseling program because, due to her religious convictions, she would not affirm homosexuality to potential clients.  A judge agreed (a similar case is pending in Georgia).  In Massachusetts, Catholic charities closed their adoption agency rather than give children to homosexual couples as the state mandated.  In Ohio, University of Toledo HR Director Crystal Dixon was fired for writing a letter to the editor in her local newspaper that disagreed with homosexual practice.

More violations of religious liberty are on the way from the people currently in charge.  Lesbian activist Chai Feldbaum, who is a recess appointment by President Obama to the EEOC, recently said regarding the inevitable conflict between homosexuality and religious liberty, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.” So much for tolerance.  The people who say they’re fighting for tolerance are the most intolerant, totalitarian people in politics.

Getting involved in politics is necessary if for no other reason to protect your religious liberty, and the liberties of us all.  So if you’re a Christian, follow the example of Christ—call out hypocrites and fools, and vote them out on Tuesday!

Oh, I almost forgot. If you’re a pastor and you’re worried about your tax-exempt status, please remember two things:  1) you have more freedom than you think to speak on political and moral issues from the pulpit, and 2) more importantly, you’re called to be salt and light, not tax-exempt.

If you’d like the complete case for Christian involvement get Jesus Is Involved In Politics!  by Neil Mammen.

(This article originally appeared at Townhall.com on Oct. 31, 2010.)

Is God Good? (A Short Film)

Here is animated short film called, “Is God Good?”  In less than two minutes, it succinctly addresses how human freedom relates to the problem of evil (with some brilliant animated imagery).

This 2-minute video is a kind of animation known as kinetic type. This genre allows the artist to get a little crazy – words become designs, not merely carriers of information. My goal in producing this animation was to have fun – which I did – and to creatively express this idea: the presence of evil in our world does NOT mean that there is no God; rather, it means that he’s up to something. This is a short video so it only scratches the surface – but at least it introduces the concepts and, hopefully, encourages further thought on the subject.

Whenever I think about deep stuff like evil and suffering, I find it helpful to remember two aspects of God’s nature. First, he is perfectly just. So all evil will eventually be punished perfectly and appropriately. Second, he is perfectly loving. Thus, God extends himself sacrificially to forgive those who do evil (all of us) and provide an escape from punishment. What’s amazing to me is how both of these sides of God, his justice and love, collide on the cross with Jesus Christ. You know someone truly loves you if they are willing to die for you. But when God forgave us, he did not simply ignore our evil thoughts, choices, and actions. That wouldn’t be justice, would it? All of our crimes, big and small, were punished perfectly, but the punishment was re-directed toward Jesus Christ. The punishment that Jesus took upon himself demonstrate God’s love and God’s justice.

This video also touches on another cool idea: God is a gentleman. That is, he doesn’t force his love on the objects of his affection (all of us). He is persuasive – not coercive. He allows you to turn your back on him if you prefer to be the captain of your own ship. You may not want to acknowledge a higher authority to whom you must answer. You may not want to admit that you don’t have your act together. He allows you to make that choice. On the other hand, you might realize that God’s relentless love is what you’ve been searching for all of your life. It’s like this: a gentleman does not force a woman to marry him. He becomes vulnerable. He expresses his love to her by his words and actions. Then he asks her to make a decision: “Will you marry me?” At this point, the ball is in her court. She can either accept or reject his offer. In the same way, each of us can accept or reject God’s offer of a life-giving connection through Jesus Christ.

God and Birth Defects

As recorded in John Chapter 9, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Australian Nick Vujicic– born without arms and legs– is a living example of that passage. We say the man has a birth defect. But after viewing this, I think I have a far more serious attitude defect.

Christians and Atheists Seeking the Same Thing?

Evangelical author Skye Jethani makes the insightful observation that some so-called Christians and some atheists have quite a bit in common when it comes to control.  While some atheists (like Hitchens and Dawkins) want control without God, some evangelicals want control over God.  He writes:

“The great irony is that while claiming submission to God, those advocating a life under God are actually seeking control over him through their religiosity. Pray X, sacrifice Y, avoid Z, and God’s blessings are guaranteed. They have reduced God to a predictable, controllable, even contemptible formula. Some evangelicals condemn the atheists for exalting themselves over God without realizing they are guilty of the same sin by other means.”

Tozer said the most important thought you have is the thought you have when you hear the word “God.”  Indeed, many people are worshiping or rejecting a God of their own making.  They have false notions of the one true God–He’s either a finite, moral monster who needs a cause (Dawkins and Hitchens) or a cosmic candyman who owes us if we behave a certain way (the “Word of Faith” believer).  They set up a straw God and then easily knock him over or loose their faith when he falls down and doesn’t come through.  That’s why I often ask people who don’t believe in God, or who are disappointed with God, “What kind of God don’t you believe in?” After they describe their God, the response is often, “I don’t believe in that God either.”

Jethani’s entire article is worth the read here.

Caroline Lois' Story: A response to suffering.

by Caroline’s Dad, Neil Mammen

My sweet daughter Caroline Lois died in my arms last week. She was nine days old. We will bury her this week.

This is Caroline’s story, starting with the reflections my wife and I gave at the funeral. Afterwards I’ve included some of the emails sent to our friends and relatives to show the progression of our family’s journey through the darkest hours we’d yet to walk through. We pray that ultimately Caroline’s short earthly life will serve to encourage both Christians and non-Christians to further engage their own beliefs in relation to eternity.

 

Caroline’s Memorial Service

Venture Christian Church, Los Gatos, CA

Saturday December 5, 2009 

Anna

On behalf of our entire family we want to thank you so much for being here today to honor our little girl, Caroline Lois Mammen. We’ve been tremendously strengthened and encouraged by your generosity of spirit and love. We can literally feel the prayers being offered up in this time and again we thank you!

Since most of you didn’t get to meet her, I wanted the chance to tell you a little about Caroline.

Her Story.

Caroline’s due date is actually today, Dec. 5th. She surprised us and was born two weeks early on November 22 at Good Sam. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I fell in love with her. While it was similar with Mary Katherine three years ago, there was something special about Caroline. When I saw her, my heart instantly went out to her and I immediately burst out in tears- which didn’t happen with Mary Katherine. Looking back I think it was because, while we didn’t realize or know anything was wrong at the time, she was a special needs child and these beautiful children have a way of capturing your heart.

Almost immediately, the doctor recognized that Caroline had a cleft palate (a small hole in the roof of her mouth) and she had to be taken to the NICU. They assured me she’d be back soon as it wasn’t serious and they weren’t even admitting her in there. They just needed to monitor her and teach her to eat using a special bottle. I visited her and was so grateful she wasn’t as sick or tiny as the other babies. In fact at 7lb. 3 oz and 20 inches long she looked like she didn’t belong in there.

But things got worse. I don’t consider myself to be a nervous “new mom” but it seemed every few hours that I’d go to visit or get a phone call –the news would be worse than the last time. First, it was the feeding tubes, as she wasn’t eating as much as they hoped. A few hours later, she was on an I.V., as she couldn’t keep her food down. The next day it was the shock of going to visit her and finding her in a complete incubator with tiny purple goggles on her little eyes and lights, as she was jaundice. I couldn’t hold her anymore because she needed the light therapy.

A few hours later, a cardiologist came to visit me in my room. Caroline had two holes in her heart. Even this news I felt I could manage as the condition is relatively common and my best friend’s one year old Ruthie has a hole that is in the process of growing shut. They were fairly sure Caroline wouldn’t need surgery at all. Still I cried as I was exhausted and just really wanted to hold ……and smell…. my baby again. I missed that newborn baby’s breath smell as it’s one of my most favorite things.

After that, while in my hospital room I got another, more serious call. While in the NICU Caroline had “crashed”… There were apparently other heart problems that hadn’t been seen at first – among them a small aorta and as a result her blood supply had failed starving her of oxygen until they were able to restart her blood supply. At two days old, they were transferring her to the Stanford Children’s Hospital in anticipation of giving her heart surgery. I was discharged that night. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I went home with no baby. And Neil followed the ambulance to the hospital.

But the heart surgery was put on hold. While at Stanford, they discovered the lack of oxygen had done damage to her kidneys, liver, and possibly brain. We’d have to wait and pray. And we did. We sent out emails and messages and heard back from so many of you. And we were hopeful and encouraged by them. We believed that God COULD do a miracle. He’d created her (and everything else), He could heal her. But WOULD He? What was the plan for her life? We prayed desperately for her and visited her in the NICU everyday. She was on a morphine drip for the pain, but we sang to her and sat with her and talked to her and touched her as much as we could and took pictures with her. And we loved her. One of her many wonderful nurses said we’d set a record for the number of bows, hats and clips brought in for a little girl in such a short time span.

Throughout the past two weeks there were two moments that were the worst. Obviously one was when Caroline was dying in our arms. The second worst moment was what I call the “Dress Rehearsal” of her death. It was when –one week ago today– we got the phone call telling us she’d likely die.

The call came at 9:00 in the morning. Neil had me leave the room while he talked to the NICU doctor. Then we sat on our bed as he tried to “soften” the most awful news possible. The doctor was “very worried” as her kidneys were putting out mostly blood and the damage seemed severe. She wouldn’t qualify for a kidney transplant, as her heart wasn’t strong enough. Caroline’s death was now a very real possibility. I remember everything turning black and feeling like the bed was going to open up and swallow me. I felt my heart had been ripped from my chest and that I was free falling into the blackest abyss I could imagine. And I didn’t know what to do. I kept asking, “What do I do? I don’t know what to do? How can this happen?” I also remember saying, “How will we go on? How will I raise Mary Katherine?”

Neil held me and we cried and I sobbed. And then my mom came in and she cried with us and I sobbed. And we prayed. And then my mom left us alone and I sobbed some more.

And then Neil started feeding me a life rope. Feeding me lines of truth. He gently said,

“She’s not ours.”

“We don’t deserve her.”

“This happens everyday all over the world.”?“We’re not special.”

“We will go on. We will have more kids. We will not let this harden us.”

And I was comforted.

You may think those are strange things to say and to take comfort in, but let me tell you why it wasn’t for us. You see when I met Neil he had two passions that stood out. One was for something known as apologetics. Apologetics is the logical, rational, scientific study and approach to God and Christianity. It’s the investigation to questions such as, “Is the Bible TRUE? I mean REALLY, capital “T” TRUE? Or is it full of errors?” “Is it a book of fairy tales and wishful thinking?” “How can you trust that it’s accurate? Isn’t it just a copy of a copy of a copy?” “Is there solid evidence that Jesus ever even lived at all much less died and rose again?” “Are the places and people in the Bible real?” “What sources outside of the Bible can back up Biblical accounts of history?” “Is there enough evidence to be convincing? Would it hold up in a court of law?” “How does evidence for the truth of Christianity compare to evidence for other religions?” As many of you know, this is something that Neil writes and speaks on. Why I’m bringing this up is because in that moment -up until that time the worst in my life- I was so thankful that I didn’t have the added burden of questioning my belief and faith in God. And that’s because I hadn’t made the decision based on tradition or emotion. I had a faith that stood
upon reasonable evidence.

Secondly, Neil and I both grew up in homes passionate about theology. For the nine years we’ve been married, we’ve enjoyed discussing the tough questions of life and death and God and reality. Questions like, “Is God good? Uninvolved? Indifferent?” “If God is good, why does He allow suffering in the world?” “Why do BAD things happen to ‘good’ people?” “What about miracles? Who gets them and when and why? Are they only for the REALLY good people? How does my faith play into miracles?” “Does God punish his people?” We read and chew-on and discuss and argue and go to conferences and listen to podcasts on long road trips about these issues because we find them interesting and worthwhile. And they are a part of the diet of our lives. So, when I found myself face to face with that black Abyss, Neil fed me the statements of solid conclusions we’d already thought through …and it stabilized me. I know that for me personally cherubs and clichés of guardian angels and some fuzzy picture of an old man in the sky with a long beard wouldn’t have been enough as my daughter lay dying 30 miles from my house. All of those notions wash away. In fact, even tradition and my religious up-bringing instantly vanished and couldn’t have been less important. But Neil reminded me of these Truths and I grabbed hold of them. They were my lifeline.

“She’s not ours” – He meant that she’s God’s. She, like you and I, were made in His image with a purpose and a set number of days and has a life beyond the 9 months (growing in me) and 9 days on this earth. While we pray she touches your hearts and she changes us– makes us more sensitive, softer and loving– makes this world a better place. Beyond all that, she is a soul eternal. She isn’t a concept or past tense. She’s her own precious person still existing right now.

“We don’t deserve her” – We are fallen, imperfect people who fall short of the glory of God, yet He’s saved us. Every good gift, including the 9 days with Caroline, comes from Him. Throughout our marriage, Neil has made comments whenever blessings have come our way that we are undeserving of them. We’d get a new car and he’d at some point say, “You know we don’t deserve this.” When we bought our house, at some point he’d comment “We’ve been so blessed, you know we don’t deserve any of this” and I’d respond, “I know, I know… you’re right.” When Mary Katherine was born he said the same thing. So when he said we don’t deserve Caroline I knew exactly what he meant. And I agreed. And the blessing of our coming to the conclusion that we don’t “DESERVE” something – that we aren’t owed or entitled anything by God- is that it stops the root of bitterness and anger from taking hold and growing.

“This happens everyday all over the world. We’re not special.” — Again, that’s TRUE. While in one sense we’re all special in that we’re made in the image of God and incredibly valuable to Him, in another sense Neil and I are no more special than any of you. No one escapes suffering or death. When I look out across this room, my heart aches for what I know many of you have gone through and are going through in all kinds of scenarios. And even now- with our daughter right over there- throughout the course of this week we’ve heard from some of you the tragic stories of your lives- and we’ve commented to each other, “How are they surviving that?” “Now that would have been so hard.” I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to lose your mom, to face cancer, to suffer abuse, to manage chronic pain day in and day out.

This is not the last of our suffering. And whatever you’ve been through, it’s not the last of yours either. We aren’t special.

Finally, Neil also said, “We know where she’s going. And we’ll see her again.”

Our daughter, Caroline Lois, is in heaven. She has been HEALED completely. She has a new body. We will be reunited and we can’t wait to see her again. 

Caroline’s Memorial Service

Part 2: Neil

Our daughter, Caroline Lois, is in heaven. She has been HEALED completely. She has a new body. We will be reunited and we can’t wait to see her again.  

To an analytical, logical, skeptical engineer like me this would seem like just a nice sentiment. A nice myth. But the reality is that it may not be true.

“Ah” we may think, “so what if it’s not true, at least it makes us all feel good, and prevents pain, how can it hurt us, it will comfort us. It’s a comforting myth.”

But it struck me that that’s perhaps the mildest of the scenarios. I realized that there is a worst case scenario. What if it’s a lie and the real truth is something completely different, something that by believing a lie results in a terrible terrible fate. A terrible fate that I could have prevented had I studied the evidence. For if it is a lie, I have not only no hope for Caroline but I may be dooming myself and my entire family by believing this myth. It occurred to me that surely it’s worthwhile to look into this. I likened it to someone telling me the bridge has a huge section broken halfway out. Where I can’t see it. Now I may not care when I’m NOT driving towards the bridge. But say, one day I find that I do indeed need to cross the bridge. Even if I don’t believe the reports of the bridge being out, surely it’s worthwhile to look into it.

With my sweet Caroline’s death I am reminded that one day we all need to cross the bridge. We are staring death in the face today. We are in the middle of the storm. And one day all of us will face it.

So I for one, want to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that what I believe in, is true. That it’s not just a useful myth. But that it is factually TRUE.

Our daughter, Caroline Lois, is in heaven. She has been HEALED completely. She has a new body. We will be reunited and we can’t wait to see her again.  

What my wonderful, patient, longsuffering, gorgeous and loving wife said is true. I believe this about Caroline because our Apologetics (the factual evidence for our faith) proves our Theology.

That apologetics allows me to prove using science that God really exists.

That apologetics allows me to prove using historical evidence, facts and logic that Jesus Christ was a real person and that he physically rose from the dead proving that He was God.

If this IS true then it’s also true that Christ is the grave robber.

For as 1 Corinthians 15 says, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is our faith. If Christ has not been raised then we Christians are fools to be pitied more than all men.

But as we can prove Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first risen fruits of those who have died.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Our mortality will put on immortality; our perishable will put on the imperishable.  Death will be swallowed up in victory. Then we can say:

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”

Thanks be to God for He has given us the victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Can I get an Amen?

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Grave Robber who comes to steal us away.

And thus, now once our Apologetics has proven and verified our Theology, then can our Theology strengthen and direct ou
r Hope. And yes though we are sad and cry and miss our sweet little Caroline, that verified Hope can lead our emotions and give us security, peace, comfort & joy in this wonderful season of Christmas. This season of God’s promise of life.

And that’s why we can truly say: Our daughter, Caroline Lois, is in heaven. She has been healed completely. She has a new body. We will be reunited and we can’t wait to see her again. And what’s great, I can prove that to be the most reasonably, most logical TRUTH.

Some have asked how we manage to be so joyous in these circumstances. It is these things that we have proven. It is these things that we stand on. It is these things that give us a solid ground for our faith and our hope.

Our Apologetics verifies our Theology. Our Theology directs our Hope and our Hope guides our Emotions.

That and the love of a wonderful gorgeous woman who believes in me and believes in us. With her and our dear supporting families who are always close, we can take on the world. I am truly blessed and deserve none of it.

Yet still, many of you have asked me what you can do for me. You’ve asked how you can help us. Can I collect today on that request? You can indeed help us make Caroline Lois’ life more meaningful. Here’s my request. You see one of my passions; one of my purposes in life is to explain this to you.

To show you the scientific evidence that I believe conclusively and reasonably proves that God exists,

The manuscript evidence that proves the Bible is accurate and the historical evidence that proves Jesus Christ rose from the dead showing us he was God.

To show you how and why our Apologetics verifies our Theology. Our Theology directs our Hope and our Hope guides our Emotions.

So here’s my request. Here’s what you can do for us: Let’s go out to lunch or coffee or dinner. Let me show you my evidence. I have five major points. I won’t force them on you. Feel free to disagree every step of the way, it will make it more interesting for one. But let me show you those 5 points. Hear me out. That’s what you can do for me. Those conversations with you will make our friendship stronger and my Caroline’s life that much more meaningful to me, because her life is what allowed us to talk about these normally taboo subjects. Will you do that for me? You don’t even need to pay for lunch. I’ll buy.

I want to close with one thought, if I may. For a while as she lay dying, I thought while I know I will see her again, oh what sorrow that Caroline will never get to live her life here on earth. She lost out.

Many times we think our purpose in life is what we do here on earth. What we do for others. These are all important. But I realized that I’d forgotten that we are not created primarily for the earth. We are created primarily for eternity. You see as the Westminster Confessional says: The Chief purpose of Man is to Glorify God and Enjoy Him forever.

Let me say that again.

The Chief purpose of Man is to Glorify God and Enjoy Him forever.

If we think our chief purpose is to Glorify God here on EARTH we have only a minute fraction of the picture. For if my Theology which is proven by my apologetics is true, we will spend more time in Eternity in the presence or the absence of the Almighty God, than we will ever spend here on earth. Amen.

My dear friends, who have so honored us by being here today, our sweet Caroline’s chief purpose is to Glorify God and Enjoy Him FOREVER. She has not lost out. She has not missed out, she is not lost. She is in fact doing precisely that. Enjoying God.

My sweet kind friends, I wish oh so much, for you to enjoy God as well, for I fear that if we don’t we will lose out. We may not lose a mere 80 years on earth that we thought Caroline had lost, but we may lose something far more permanent and eternal.

Something that Caroline has right now and can never lose.

Thank you.

For those interested in a more detailed account of the progression of Caroline’s story and the journey we took through prayer and a bit of the  emotional processing, we’ve included emails and some facebook posts in sequential order. 

November 22 at 6:45am 

Chris Kent: My sister Anna is in labor! Hopefully baby Caroline will make her grand entrance this time!

Anna Mammen: is thankful for my “Sweet Caroline!” who arrived this morning at 10:40am (13 days early! YAY!!). She is 7lb. 3oz and 20 in. long and we are in love . Definitely is resembling her sister at this point. -Pics to come.. but I need a nap !

November 22 at 2:06pm

 Chris Kent: A proud uncle yet again. Caroline Lois was born to Anna Kent Mammen and Neil Mammen today. Congratulations, world!

November 22 at 6:34pm 

Anna Mammen Our early Christmas gift. Caroline Lois Mammen

 November 23 at 8:08pm 

On Tue Nov 24, 2009, at 5:58 PM, Neil Mammen wrote:

Hi family and friends an urgent prayer request.

Our second daughter Caroline Lois Mammen was born this past Sunday, Nov. 22 at 10:40 am. She was 7lbs 3oz and 20 inches. However, she was immediately admitted into the NICU as they found that she had a small hole in the roof of her mouth and two holes in her heart. Normally this is not a problem and can easily be treated. However after 2 days she was not thriving, today she “crashed,” they think she may have an aorta that is too small and is unable to provide enough oxygen for her. They’ve given her some medicine that will alleviate the problem. If it does not work she’ll be taken to Stanford Medical at Stanford University to a cardiologist for immediate surgery. If it does work she’ll still go there but it won’t be as critical.

There’s lots of good news in this. First if this is the actual problem, it can be treated and the operation itself is relatively simple. Second, I’m glad we don’t have socialized healthcare and as a result have some of the worlds most advanced (and expensive) medical services. Third, like my wife reminded me, we’ve always dreamed of having our kids go to Stanford, all expenses paid. J But most of all we are reminded that God is able and He is in control.

Please be praying that the medicine works to remove the urgency and after that she survives the trip there, that she does not catch any infection (hospitals are notorious for that) and that she has no other problems i.e. no development problems. She is also learning to suck/eat with a special bottle to compensate for the hole in the roof of her mouth, which has proven difficult for her. We serve a mighty God and whatever He wills is fine with us at the end of the day of course our heart’s desire is for a full and quick recovery.

Please forward this to family and friends. We will start updating people on facebook shortly.

Neil and Anna Mammen

November 24 at 7:36pm

Anna Mammen is asking for your prayers as baby Caroline is on her way to Stanford hospital for heart surgery tonight. She had trouble breathing all day and was put on a respirator and feeding tube. We are trusting her to God and His perfect will for her precious life. But it’s still hard.

On Tues, Nov 24, 2009, at 7:10 PM, Neil Mammen wrote:

Thank you all, and praise God. Caroline is looking better. She’s pink again (sorry Indian relatives, another very un-Indian looking baby Mammen – but she does have black black hair so far). The medicine they gave her seems to be working. From my limited understanding it seems to confirm the problem is what they suspected. As we speak the EMT’s are
here getting her ready to move to Stanford. It takes quite a while. So she’s out of danger as much as we can tell. PTL. I will go with her to Stanford and will follow with more info at some point.

Meanwhile here’s a website that tells you what I think is happening. I have not talked to the doctor so this is just my own research. It looks very promising but as we all know the problems are the ones that we don’t anticipate like side effects, infections etc. So please do not stop praying. Caroline is a trooper and will give her older sister a run for her money we pray.

http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/heart-encyclopedia/anomalies/iaa.htm

Wed, November 25, 2009 1:43:53 AM

Caroline is at Stanford/Packard Children’s Hospital, they are stabilizing her and trying to bring her back to fully normal before any surgery is done. It may be a few days. The doctor confirmed that my research was correct, it’s either an interrupted aortic arch or a “skinny” aorta (I haven’t found any info on the latter yet).  They will confirm after all the tests are run tonight and tomorrow.

The biggest prayer need now is to pray that that there was no long term damage done during the time when her blood was not flowing fully. There are lots of things that could have been damaged. Keep praying please and thank you all so much for all your responses. Keep them coming. While we many not be able to respond individually, each one has been a great encouragement.

Thanks again.

Neil

On Thursday Nov 26, 2009, at 11:54 AM, Neil Mammen wrote:

Hi family and friends,

Baby Caroline is getting more stable by the hour. She’s on morphine so she’s out of pain and sleeping steadily. All vital signs have stabilized or seem to be getting there.

They confirmed that there was some liver damage and some kidney damage when she had a short supply of blood/oxygen. But they said these are usually all reversible and that’s what they are working on. We will know more in a few days. All other scans showed there was no genetic issues with her organs or brain. They are doing a few more tests. We are praying that baby Caroline had no brain damage either. Normally the body maintains supply to the brain at the expense of the other organs so please pray that there is no damage there. The nurse said “We see a lot of babies with lack of oxygen here and usually they recover quite well.”

We are praying that they can do the heart surgery next week as that indicates that she’s strong enough and well on her way to recovery.

Do keep praying. We are thankful for you, your prayers, emails of encouragement and all the blessings we have this Thanksgiving. 

Neil and Anna Mammen

Caroline Lois is not improving

November 28, 2009 

Today was a very tough day for us. The doctor called and said that though she has stabilized, our darling Caroline’s kidneys are not improving and he is concerned that there is permanent damage to them. Due to her heart condition he said she may not be a candidate for a kidney transplant. They are increasing her medicine to see if she will respond. He also confirmed that the MRI did show some brain damage that was caused when her blood supply stopped due to her hypoplastic aorta. However, he said that they they don’t know yet if it’s permanent or recoverable. Kidneys can recover naturally; or supernaturally if God wills.

As you can see our optimism suffers compared to the last update (see below). We do know she is the Lord’s and His to take to heaven whenever it is her time, we know that as with Paul and King David, sometimes the Lord chooses not to heal according to his Sovereign will. Yet please pray with us for a miracle of healing. We have seen the Lord act supernaturally before in our life with Mary-Katherine (ask me about this sometime); and pray for Him to do so again if He wills. We have been given so much and don’t deserve Caroline, or anything for that matter, but selfishly would like more time to know and love her and see her grow up to be a powerful force in ministry and apologetics (of course).

As I write this we are here at Stanford Medical at the NICU, she is sedated and sleeps so peacefully. We love her so dearly. It’s tough for me as an engineer as I can’t “FIX” it. But she is first and foremost the Lord’s not mine. Not ours.

Frankly this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to faith, doesn’t it? God exists, I can prove that to be reasonable and logical using science and facts. Christ physically died and rose from the dead, I can prove that to be a reasonable and logical conclusion with a case that could stand up in a court of Law. (If you haven’t heard me talk about this, ask me for my scientific and historical and logical evidence). So if Christ rose from the dead, the accounts of His ability to heal then fall in place naturally. More so His promise of our resurrection. Faith must be based on truth and facts. Our Apologetics (the evidence for the faith) proves our Theology, our Theology strengthens and verifies our Hope and our Hope leads our Emotions. That way when trials come we can be assured and we can say: Sickness has no chance if He wills us to be healed. And if not to be healed, we can truly say: Oh Death where is your victory? O Grave where is your sting? In that glorious day God will dry the tears from our eyes, pain will end and we will never die.

In my discussion with my atheist friends they have looked at pain and said: How can God exist if there is so much pain and suffering? I look at pain and say: Thank You God, that You do exist and provably so. For without a God, pain and suffering would be a cruel heartless cold ending. For how can my atheist friend truly comfort anyone? In his worldview it is all for naught. There is no happy ending.

In the same way, my friends who do not know, or blindly hope, or only guess what maybe beyond our limited physical and natural four dimensions, can only wish that what is out there really exists and “will” themselves to believe that perhaps it is better than what we have here. But what if they are wrong? Where is their assurance? What is their hope based on? Facts or feelings?

Yet, I know emotionally and can prove intellectually that nothing can stop me from spending eternity enjoying Caroline as much as I enjoy Mary-Katherine, her big sister. The only question is if we have to wait a few years to start spending time with Caroline. At this point in her frailness, we pray we don’t.

The battle is not over. Keep praying. God exists and He is able. We now pray that His Sovereign Will is to heal her.

Neil

Please forward this to family and friends not on the list. 

Caroline Lois is going home

November 30, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009 about 3 PM

Caroline Lois is going to go home to her Lord and my Lord very soon. Perhaps tonight.

We are selfishly trying to keep her here a bit longer, here in 4D space, perhaps an hour or two. But do not be sad for us or worry about her or us for that matter, as we have full assurance that she is going to far greater place than she has ever been before and we too will meet her there one day. To tie a few famous phrases together:

“It’s a far better thing I do now than I have ever done before, it’s a far better place I go to than I have ever been before. Father into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

While we are sad and distraught at the temporary separation, it is with joy that we can release her soul to the great healer who again physically and factually proved He was able to resurrect from the dead. We are left behind for we have a lot of work to do here before we meet her there.

Do remember that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not ev
en Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. For if Christ did not physically rise from the dead then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. And worse, those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. Yes, if Christ has not been raised then we Christians are to be pitied more than all men.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

When this has happened then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”?“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ the Grave Robber.

1 Corr 15.

One of my favorite 80s song was by Petra. Here’s a link to it with the lyrics.

http://popup.lala.com/popup/576742257649335055

Grave Robber by Petra Hebrews 9:27, John 4:14, I Peter 1:24, Romans 8:11, I Corinthians 15:26, 51-55, Revelation 7:17 Words & Music by Bob Hartman

There’s a step that we all have to take alone. An appointment we have with the great unknown. Like a vapor this life is just waiting to pass. Like the flowers that fade like the withering grass

But life seems so long and death so complete. And the grave an impossible portion to cheat

But there’s One who has been there and still lived to tell. There is One who has been through both heaven and hell

And the Grave will come up empty handed that day. Jesus will come and steal us away

Where is the sting tell me where is the bite. When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night

Where is the victory where is the prize. When the grave robber comes. And death finally dies

Many still mourn and many still weep. For those that they love who have fallen asleep. But we have this hope though our hearts may still ache. Just one shout from above and they all will awake. And in the reunion of joy we will see. Death will be swallowed in sweet victory

When the last enemy is gone, from the dust will come a song. Those asleep will be awakened – not a one will be forsakened. He shall wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears. There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain or sorrow

Where is the sting tell me where is the bite? When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night

Where is the victory where is the prize? When the grave robber comes, And death finally dies.

If you are interested in why I am so confident about the physical, historical and scientific truth about the Ressurection of Christ and the existence of God my I direct you to this web page:

www.noblindfaith.com/sermon/sermons.htm

Thanks. Neil and Anna

Caroline Lois Mammen is home

December 1, 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009 12:41 PM

Today Caroline is with her Lord and my Lord.

This morning at 1:10 AM, I held her, as she went from our ever so limited four dimensional space, to the multidimensionality* of eternal life where there are more colors, more sounds, more tastes, more senses and everything is so far far more wonderful that this dim world pales in comparison. Tis truly a far better place that she is now. She was 9 months and 9 days old counting from when she became human in the womb. She was born on November 22nd, 2009.

She went from me, her dad’s arms, to her Father’s arms.

We are planning a memorial service on Saturday, most probably at Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos. We will post details as we know them.

We praise God in all He has given us. We do miss her greatly and feel the sorrow of parting, but do not despair for us or for her. Mourn instead for those who do not know our Lord and lead them gently to Him. Use words.

Thanks so much to all of you who have written or called or posted on our facebook. It truly shows us how much we are loved and cared for. Neil

www.NoBlindFaith.com

*If you are wondering what all the multidimensional references are about, please see this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Who-Agent-Proving-Science-Rational/dp/1448626196/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260246977&sr=8-1  

Anna and I hope Caroline’s story will be an encouragement and a witness to others.

As of today I have over 20-30 offers to do “lunch” and talk about God and Christ from my friends who do not believe, who were either at the memorial service or have heard about our journey and just as importantly, who were very reluctant to talk about these issues before. 

To some atheists this may seem “different” but think of Amber’s family who when Amber was killed, decided that their daughter should not die in vain and was responsible for creating the Amber Alerts to protect other children. There are many similarities here, if my atheist friends are really going to hell for all eternity and my daughter’s physical and temporal death can be used to save them from that eternal consequence, surely this is a noble legacy to her life. Surely it’s a nobler legacy that something as excellent and as needed as the Amber Alerts. Amber Alerts may save a child from immediate harm, but it cannot save a child from eternal death.

 This is what we are calling Caroline’s Legacy.

 

 

 

 

Why Do Christians Worship God? Part IV

(Author’s note: This is the fourth and last installment in a series discussing why Christians worship God. On this blog, the first installment may be found here, the second here, and the third here. On the author’s blog, the first installment can be found here, the second, here, and the third, here.)

Intimate Worship: Our Response To God As Companion

It was very difficult to write this last installment about intimate worship. Imagine trying to explain, after 30 years of marriage, exactly why you love your wife. It’s hard to say, exactly; and then, you can’t express it without exposing a part of yourself that’s usually reserved only for her. Worse, you feel certain that some who don’t understand will belittle your description, because it will be difficult for them to understand how such a relationship is even possible. That’s what I’m facing here. I’m exposing an intimate part of my soul with the expectation that it will be despised. Worse, I know my expression is going to fall far, far short of the reality, because it simply can’t be expressed in words. This is not easy.

There is far too little written of the individual Christian’s relationship with God. So little is written, and it’s often so vague, that people who have not experienced it have little idea what we even mean by it. Not only that, but I have only a small idea that what I mean by it is similar to what someone else means by it. I know there are elements I have in common with other believers, because I hear them speak of it from time to time — answers to prayer, conviction about particular weaknesses, encouragement in various forms. But there seem to be some parts of my relationship with God that not all other believers experience; and likewise, there are some things others say about their relationships with God that go deeper than what I experience. It seems that because everyone is different, God addresses each of us individually. It seems that some parts of our relationship depend on our willingness to go there.

And yet, this is the central fact of Christianity — that each of us may draw close to God through the agency of Christ, and become His friend, confidante, and disciple.

All of us Christians have in common that God addresses our character, and changes it dramatically. He arranges the combination of events and information in such a way as to identify changes we must make to our character, and He causes us to change by way of circumstances. This is a long-term process; it begins on the first day one becomes a Christian, and continues unabated for decades; or at least, that’s what has happened to me.

God also provides encouragement at intervals along the way, letting us know how He feels about us. It’s not just information that we apply to our particular circumstances; reminders of particular lessons arrive at the moment when they’re most needed, and we become aware that God knows how we’re feeling, and knows precisely what we need to hear. He sends friends to us when we need them, and assistance. The man who has the skills to repair our stove appears just when we need him; a job comes open at just the right time; we hear a chance word that settles the secret worry of our heart. Most Christians that I know experience this providential timing of events, and divine provision for their needs.

Underneath all this, we learn general truth from reading the scriptures, and from interacting with other believers, and come to understand the framework within which we live in Christ. There are moments when what we read is precisely the thing we needed to remember, but most times we’re just building gradually on an existing foundation of truth and understanding.

And then, there are individual quirks regarding how God gets our attention and communicates, and these are different for everybody. My wife, for example, sees significance in colors. When God has something to say to her, she notices a particular color that stands out, and over the years she’s come to associate specific colors with specific meanings. Also, when God wants to get her attention, she loses something; she might misplace her car keys, for example, and whenever she finds them, the location where she finds them and the nature of how she misplaced them will give her insight into some problem she’s facing at the moment. I don’t experience either of those things, although because I know her, I pay attention when she loses something. I know God’s trying to get my attention when I hear the same phrase several times during the same day, and the phrase usually indicates the general tenor of the message. I had a friend a while back who was a pastor, who used to know he was supposed to call a specific individual if he heard that individual’s name three times on the same day. As soon as the man’s name came up the third time, this fellow would drop what he was doing, pick up the phone, and call; invariably, the answer he’d get would include “How did you know I needed to talk to you?” A lot of Christians tell me of this sort of interaction between them and God in their lives, but it’s different for every individual, and some do not experience anything like this.

All of the interaction I’ve described goes on subtly, without fanfare. God is seldom ostentatious; He does what He needs to do to get His point across with a bare minimum of disturbance, and He leaves no tracks. Nature is the stationery on which He writes His notes to us and the pen with which He writes them, so communication almost always occurs as something about which one could say “It’s just a normal event” or “It’s just a coincidence,” and it never comes with an audit trail. So those who never experience it, think we’re just making fanciful illusions about ordinary events; and yet, for those who do experience it, God’s communication is constant, persistent, unmistakable, undeniable, and always, always deeply meaningful.

In all of these things, the Christian life is like a marriage. God is present at all times. One learns to speak to Him constantly, and in turn, He speaks periodically to specific items that need adjustment. The constant interplay of prayer and answer gradually becomes a backdrop to life that is very much like the companionship of a spouse or a beloved friend. One becomes used to a constant undercurrent of conversation with God. One comes to rely on it. One falls in love with Him.

Beyond this, one develops a deeply seated sense of gratitude, because God is so constantly meeting our needs in such profound ways. This affects different people differently, but their expressions about it all have a ring to them that’s similar to all the other expressions. In my own case, I have a strong sense of what my life would have been like without His intervention. I’m a recovering sex addict; I doubt that I would have lived as long as I have, or else I would have become a hopeless pervert and ruined myself and others. I can’t think about this without tears of gratitude, so I keep it in the background most of the time.

Those who have not known God, or those whose experience of the Church has been completely about practicing religion and religious habit, have no idea what I’m talking about. For those of us who have experienced God in significant degree, though, our love for God is very much like our love for our parents, or for our spouse, or for a lifelong friend; only, coupled with those feelings is the additional feeling of gratitude, because this friend, this spouse, this parent, is infallible. He’s always right, always accepting, always trustworthy, and always profound. We owe everything to Him.

To speak of commanding our love is absurd. For the Christian who has learned to love God, there’s no question of command. We offer our love and gratitude unstintingly. How could we do otherwise? He’s our whole life. What else is there?

It is this constant, inner gratitude and affection for God that constitutes the last sort of worship I’m going to write about; this is the intimate communication and devotion between God and His beloved. To know and to adore are the very center of God’s being, the thing that identifies Him most accurately, the thing that He does simply because it’s who He is. Those who come to know Him, adore Him back in like manner. To know fully, even as we are fully known; this is heaven, and the eternal life, and true worship.

Why Do Christians Worship God? Part III

(Author’s note: This is the third installment in a series discussing why Christians worship God. The first installment can be found here, and the second, here.)

Battle Worship: Our Cooperation With God As Liberator

There’s a fascinating scene in The Two Towers, the movie based on the second book of JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which Frodo and Sam are being led through the Dead Marshes by Gollum. There’s a narrow path through the marsh that only Gollum knows, but there are ghostly men in the water all around them, giving off ghostly lights that entice and entrap. Gollum advises them sternly, “Don’t follow the lights.” But Frodo, enchanted by the cursed ring he’s carrying to its destruction, allows himself to be distracted by the lights, and finds himself falling into the water beside the path and seeing the dead as though they’d come to life. Gollum, seeing him fall, hauls him out of the water and exhorts him, “Don’t follow the lights!”

Christianity posits Earth as enemy-occupied territory in a celestial war. Humans, once granted dominion over the planet, invited demonic domination by sinning, and surrendered the planet into the hands of spirits rebelling against the reign of God. Every place in history where God intervened in the affairs of men constitutes a beachhead where God’s dominion has been re-established in some measure. Around those beachheads — the kingdom of Judah under righteous kings, the prophets, the Son of God and all those places where the Son’s followers obey Him — hover the unclean spirits as an occupying army, deceiving and destroying the souls who are their captives.

In ancient times, those who would follow and obey the true God and escape the influence of the occupying demons were given a task similar to Frodo and Sam’s journey through the Dead Marsh: don’t leave the path, keep your focus on God. This is the first of the Ten Commandments:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before Me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,

but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Exodus 20:2-6

The Ten Commandments, as the opening instructions in the Law of Moses, were commands to an ancient people in the peculiar position of being God’s first major beachhead on the occupied planet. There’s a metaphor here that’s particular to their situation — “a jealous God” — aimed at emphasizing the central importance of keeping their practices free of distracting elements. They didn’t realize how different they were, but God insisted on their unified focus to the exclusion of other gods for their own protection; every glance at other gods constituted a breach of their martial perimeter. (Imagining that God is literally jealous in the manner of ancient deities is like imagining, upon reading in the Psalms that God “will enfold you under His wings,” that God is a giant chicken. It’s a metaphor.)

It’s as though ancient Israel was Frodo’s and Sam’s fellowship in The Two Towers. Worship is the natural impulse of the soul, as we discovered in Part I. With the eyes of the soul fixed on the Almighty, one consistently remains on the path through the marsh. There are distractions to either side, but those distractions are demonic, like the souls of dead men in the Dead Marsh, and to be distracted by them is fatal. Don’t follow the lights; keep your focus on God, and on God alone. Unless you do this, you will eventually become unable to obey the other rules, as you become increasingly dominated by demonic influences.

When one’s focus shifts to some object of worship other than God, says the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, one worships demons (see I Corinthians 10:20). Paul was not speaking by analogy, but explaining truth as understood by Jewish theology. This explains why when humans worship lesser objects — statues of earthly objects and animals, heavenly bodies like the sun, moon, and stars, or imaginary beasts — they tend toward horrible practices, beginning with mindless, OCD-like repetitions, but at the extremities leading to the sacrificing of human beings, the drinking of human blood, burning children in the fire, and so forth.

With the coming of Christianity, the role of worship shifted. Whereas under Judaism the focus was simply keeping a besieging army at bay and protecting a tiny beachhead, under Christianity the task was invasion and re-occupation. The intent of Christianity was to push the demonic influences off the planet altogether, and establish the dominion of the Kingdom of God. In our Lord of the Rings analogy, it’s as though Christianity came to the Dead Marshes intending to drain them and clear them for building. Never mind “don’t follow the lights;” extinguish the lights. Bury the dead out of sight. Make the whole thing safe.

Here in the West, the sorts of demonic practices that usually characterize the worship of other gods died out a long time ago. It’s easy to take it for granted that such things are artifacts of a less enlightened past, but that’s just a Western conceit. Those practices died out in the West specifically because Christianity, the religion of the West, abhors them. They still go on in other places less influenced by the West, and as the West increasingly abandons the Christianity that built her, those sorts of practices will gradually reassert themselves.

This is why Christians denounce practices like Wicca. Wiccan rites seem relatively harmless, as the worship of false gods goes, but that’s because they were formulated in a culture still influenced by the habits of Christianity. As the Western knowledge of God recedes, the practices of those who worship other gods will become less and less harmless, and more and more demonic. They’re ceding ground to a vanquished army. They’re permitting a wedge that will become a breach.

I call the worship of God aimed at keeping us out of the demonic traps “battle worship,” recalling the fact that as servants of God, we’re engaged in recapturing the planet from the demonic warlords that occupy her. Wherever the worship of Christ displaces the worship of other things, God has influence to establish righteous behavior. It’s not an accident that the civilization built by Christianity is the one that abolished human slavery and introduced universal literacy and self-government. The knowledge of God pushes back the influence of the demonic; and while all Christian practices have the effect of establishing God’s influence here on earth, the first and foremost weapon for achieving God’s dominion is the worship of God. Worship has impact in the unseen world of spirits, pushing back the dark influences. Once the means by which humans could remain on a narrow path — “don’t follow the lights” — worship is now one of the primary tools for establishing God’s presence.

Why Do Christians Worship God? Part II

(Author’s note: This is the second installment in a series discussing why Christians worship God. The first installment can be found here.)

Instructional Worship: Our Response to God as Parent

Children, when they’re born, naturally love their parents and look to them for provision, but that gets challenged. As children grow, they begin to test their independence, and they also begin to respond to their parents’ personalities, learning some ways and responding negatively to others. Life also creates opportunities along the way for children to distrust or disrespect their parents. A child falls into a swimming pool and nearly drowns, and then wonders “Why wasn’t Mommy there to stop me?” The other children treat them cruelly, and the parents don’t notice to protect them. And so forth.

Parents who take seriously the responsibility to train their children have to manage their children’s responses to these, so they can continue to learn from their parents well into adulthood. A child who hates or disrespects his parents cannot be taught. Parenting is the art of gradually releasing responsibility, but only when the child can handle the next level of responsibility, and if the child comes to disrespect the parent at any point along the journey, he grabs too much responsibility too soon, and can hurt himself badly. Thus, wise parents work to protect their children’s attitudes toward them, both by acting in a sensible manner before them at all times, and by stamping out the slightest disrespect as soon as it appears.

Some modern parents have completely lost this understanding, choosing instead to treat their children as equals over whom they have no authority, only the power to persuade. This is polite insanity. While granting that sort of latitude in some things is wise, one does not have the luxury of time to explain to a four-year-old why they should restrain their impulse to visit the bunny on the other side of the busy street; if the child hasn’t learned to respond to your voice by that time, you’re likely to lose the child. I recall watching a documentary in which the narrator recounted the experience of having his six-year-old struck by a car when he pulled free from his hand and ran out into the street. The fellow recalled how brave his son was during recovery, but I couldn’t help thinking that the man had probably failed to train his son properly, and that his failure had cost the child a great deal of pain.

Plus, it’s not good for the child to think they have some inherent right to buck their parents; such a child never learns humility, which is a necessary virtue, nor does he learn appropriate respect for law. Good parenting grants as much respect to the child as possible, but without relinquishing the right to command, which is a natural and necessary right.

The Ten Commandments, at the beginning of the Law of Moses, articulate the most basic rules for civilization, and their order is not accidental. Before the basic behavioral rules — don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t covet, don’t violate marriages or lie about your neighbor — come several relational rules that secure the citizen’s respect toward God. These first few rules establish the basis for the others; without these in place, the other commands simply would not be obeyed. Critics ignorant of the Old Testament suggest that these were created by priests to retain control for themselves, but that’s just a mindless prejudice; the commands don’t even mention the priesthood. They mention God Himself: worship God and no other entity, don’t make statues and call them “god,” don’t claim God’s authority where He has not given it, surrender your time to His control. And they mention parents: honor them.

The connection between honoring God and honoring parents is organic. The purpose of life is growth, with God as parent. Some amount of awe for God comes naturally, having been designed into ourselves and into creation, just as love and trust for the parent are designed into the parent-child relationship. However, ordinary life and growth present opportunities to learn to distrust God, just as with parents; life is difficult, and often hurts. If at any point in the process we lose respect, trust, appropriate fear, or love for God, we lose the ability to learn and grow as we ought, and then, like unruly children, we can do ourselves great damage. And these affect each other; if a person rebels against God, they tend to rebel against their parents as well, and vice versa.

For this reason, it’s necessary to command people to worship God, just as it’s necessary for a parent at times to command their children to show respect. Parents — good ones, at any rate — never insist on respect for the purpose of pleasing their egos, although it’s easy for the child who lacks perspective to think so; it’s always for the purpose of maintaining the ability to train the child. Likewise, God insists on worship, because He has to protect our ability to learn from Him.

This often becomes difficult at times of crisis. When a man has lost his wife to illness, for example, the deep grief naturally includes the question, where was God? Facing this sort of crisis requires a titanic struggle, and while God is always present through the crisis, He’s often silent, allowing people to work through their grief and come to a new understanding. This is a dangerous time in which faith can be lost; and it might be lost, if there was not a standing command to honor God, and an already-existing relationship. The conflict between grief and love for God produces tension; the tension eventually produces new growth, trust with a more mature understanding. The obligation to worship is the lynch-pin that keeps the believer tethered to his salvation when life makes little sense.

Thus worship must be commanded, in order for the believer to continue to learn from God in a difficult world. I call this “instructional worship,” and it’s the reason why worshiping God is most important specifically when we don’t feel like it. It’s not that God needs to have His ego stoked — not even good humans fall into that pit — but rather that the tension between hard life and worshiping God produces maturity.

Next: battle worship, our response to God as liberator in a world under siege.

Why Do Christians Worship God? Part I

In the world of Christian apologetics, the question “Why do Christians worship God,” comes up usually as a challenge from scornful atheists who view God as a narcissistic megalomaniac who demands attention to feed his weak ego. Of course, their idea is anthropomorphic (it assigns human characteristics to God) and therefore invalid. However, discounting the unwarranted scorn, it’s a fair question, and one that I’ve had difficulty answering in the past, other than to say “Because God says to do it.” So, I examined that part of my life a bit more carefully, and developed a more robust answer.

There are actually several reasons why we worship, all arising out of different parts of our relationship to God. Since our relationship to God changes as we mature, our reasons for worshiping change over time as well. The categories I’ve discovered are:

  • Natural worship, or the natural response to God as creator;
  • Instructional worship, or the required response to God as parent;
  • Battle worship, or the necessary response to God as liberator;
  • Intimate worship, or the voluntary response to God as intimate companion.

The first and last are natural responses of the individual, and are not commanded by God; the second and third are commanded by God, but for our benefit, not His.

Today I’m going to describe Natural Worship. I’ll follow up in the coming days with separate installments explaining what I mean by each of the other three terms.

Natural worship: the response to God as creator

A little after 3 PM on January 15, 2009, US Airways flight 1549 took off from Laguardia airport in New York only to fly through a flock of geese, rendering both engines mostly inoperable. Without enough lift to stay aloft in the wake of the freak incident, pilot Chesley Sullenberger turned the plane around, determined that he would not make it back to Laguardia, and after checking unsuccessfully for alternative runways on which to land, laid the plane gently onto the Hudson River in one piece, at a point within easy reach of three major docks. Because of his level-headedness, preparation, and flying skill, 155 people were rescued unharmed who could easily have been involved in a fatal crash. The nation responded by making “Sully” a hero for a few weeks, and properly so.

Why is it, do you suppose, that we all automatically praise excellent performance, as we did Captain Sullenberger’s? This is clearly a human characteristic, not a cultural trait; every culture on the planet has some form of recognition for jobs done well, as they count jobs done well, and for the people who do them. It’s so much a part of us that we never wonder about it. Of course we praise those who do well. Doesn’t everybody? This is as natural a part of being human as are eating and sleeping.

Every one of us has experienced the same feeling while looking at a sunset, or at a vista of enormous mountains, or at a storm on the horizon over the ocean. The power of nature is awesome, and the recognition of it is a common human theme, a stock topic for poetry and song. I submit to you that this is the same impulse as the impulse to praise those who have done well; we recognize what is excellent, and we respond by first feeling, then expressing its excellence. The only question is, whom or what are we praising?

Praising nature itself is like praising a remarkable feat itself without knowing who performed it. When we see something remarkable take place, we naturally want to know who, what, and why. While the feat is remarkable, it’s the person who performed it that deserves the praise. And by the same token, Scientific Materialists speak of praising the excellence of nature as an end in itself, but the Christian does them one better; the Materialist can feel awe at the creation, but the Christian feeling the same awe knows Whom to commend. It’s great to enjoy a work of inspired engineering; how much better, to enjoy close friendship with the Engineer?

I’ve been taught at various Christian meetings that praise is commanded, with reference to the Psalms, vis: “Praise God in His sanctuary! Praise Him in the power of His creation!” (Psalm 150) I think the ministers who teach this are misreading the Psalms. This is no more a command to praise than a dinner bell is a command to eat. This sort of praise is not commanded because it does not have to be. It’s a natural response. When one sees greatness, one praises it.

The only part of natural worship that requires anything approaching a command is the exhortation to notice. Allow me to illustrate: I find that I enjoy road trips, driving excursions that require me to drive on the interstate highways in the US, particularly on clear days when the traffic is not too heavy. I enjoy it because it’s an occasion where I get to view the horizon. During ordinary days when I’m not driving, my focus is on a computer screen, on my lawn, on cooking utensils, and so forth; it takes a special occasion, like a road trip, to force me to look at the horizon and remember the exquisite world I live in. In the same manner, the Psalmist encourages us to look up and notice; and once we notice, praise comes naturally.

What I’m calling “natural worship” progresses as the Christian gains maturity. It begins by recognition of nature, but as the Christian grows, his or her awareness of God’s acts grows as well, and praise naturally follows. Thus Christians with a little more experience will find themselves praising God because, for example, a check arrived in the mail at a moment when it was particularly needed. The natural response to good fortune (“sweet!”) converts into gratitude (“Thanks, Jesus”), and with gratitude comes recognition of God’s sovereignty (“God is amazing.”) And then, as the Christian matures even more and this sort of interaction becomes the norm, comes a sort of intimacy with God that I will discuss later in this series as intimate worship. Natural worship grows in proportion the Christian’s awareness of the work of God in his or her ordinary life; it never needs to be commanded.

It appears that this sort of praise is designed into us for the purpose of identifying and recognizing God. If that’s true, then atheists’ questions on the order of “If God exists, where is He?” are at least partially answered by nature.

We can infer from the design, from the natural impulse to praise and from the naturally-occurring objects that evoke praise, that God recognized that we humans would be plagued by what I call the “Fish Problem.” The “Fish Problem” arises when one considers how difficult it would be to explain to a fish in the ocean that there exists such a thing as an ocean. The fish has a problem understanding (suspending such obvious problems as language and intelligence, of course) not because it cannot see the ocean, but because it has never experienced anything but the ocean. There’s no background against which the ocean appears in the foreground. By the same token, humans cannot see God in our universe because there’s no part of the universe that is not an active, ongoing work of God. God is never the foreground in our universe because everywhere, God Himself is the background. It’s not that God is nature (that would be Pantheism,) nor is it that God started nature and then stepped away (that would be Deism,) but it’s more that God wears nature, like a glove on His hand (this is an analogy; God is not a spatial being). Every event in nature that is not touched by human will is an act of God in some sense.

Thus, the literally correct answer to “Where is God?” is “Where isn’t God?” But because we have this foreground/background problem, God designed into us and into our world both the impulse to worship naturally, and the natural object of that worship; looking up, noticing, and offering praise to the creator of what we see is a natural response, as natural as eating or sleeping. So the correct answer to the atheist who asks “Where is God?” should be, “Look up and take notice,” because the atheist is someone who has somehow lost the natural ability to wonder at the immensity of nature and praise Whomever made it.

Next: Instructional worship, our response to God as parent.

The Passion Reconsidered

 This column is posted this Easter at http://townhall.com/columnists/FrankTurek

Nearly 45 years ago, medical doctor C. Truman Davis felt he had grown too callous to the agony Christ suffered at Calvary. His callousness disappeared after he researched the crucifixion and wrote an account of Christ’s Passion from a medical perspective.  I’ve  adapted his account slightly here for your consideration this Easter.

The whip the Roman soldiers use on Jesus has small iron balls and sharp pieces of sheep bones tied to it. Jesus is stripped of his clothing, and his hands are tied to an upright post.  His back, buttocks, and legs are whipped by two soldiers who alternate blows.  The soldiers taunt their victim. As they repeatedly strike Jesus’ back with full force, the iron balls cause deep contusions, and the sheep bones cut into the skin and tissues.  As the whipping continues, the lacerations tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produced quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.  Pain and blood loss set the stage for circulatory shock.

When he is near death, the half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with his own blood.  The Roman soldiers see a great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be a king.  They throw a robe across his shoulders and place a stick in his hand for a scepter.  They still need a crown to make their travesty complete.  A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long thorns are plaited into a shape of a crown and this is pressed into his scalp.  Again there is copious bleeding (the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body).  After mocking him and striking him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from his hand and strike him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into his scalp.

Finally, when they tire of their sadistic sport, the robe is torn from his back.  The robe had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal—just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage—causes excruciating pain, almost as though he were being whipped again.  The wounds again begin to bleed.  In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans return his garments. The heavy horizontal beam of the cross is tied across his shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution party walk along the Via Dolorosa.

In spite of his efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too much.  He stumbles and falls.  The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders.  He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance.  The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross.  Jesus follows still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock.

The 650-yard Journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed.  Jesus is again stripped of his clothes except for a loincloth which is allowed the Jews. The crucifixion begins.  Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild pain-killing mixture. He refuses to drink.  Simon is ordered to place the cross beam on the ground and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood.  The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist.  He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood.  Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexibility and movement.  The beam is then lifted in place at the top of the vertical beam and the title I reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The victim Jesus is now crucified.

As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves.  As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places his full weight on the nail through his feet.  Again, there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.

At this point, another phenomenon occurs.  As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain.  With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act.  Air can be drawn into the lungs but it cannot be exhaled.  Jesus fights to raise himself in order to get even one short breath.  Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream and the cramps partially subside.  Spasmodically, he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.  It is undoubtedly during these periods that he utters the seven short sentences which are recorded.

Now begin hours of this limitless pain, cycles of cramping and twisting, partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber.  Then another agony begins.  A deep, crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.  It is now almost over — the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.  The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain.  His mission of atonement has been completed.  Finally he can allow his body to die.  With one last surge of strength, he once again presses his torn feet against the nail, straightens his legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters his seventh and last cry . . .  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus went through all of that to afford you and me the opportunity to be in God’s presence forever.  Thanks be to God for His gift of sacrifice!

Worship, God, and Egomania

“God must be an egomaniac to command all humanity to worship Him and then send anyone to hell who doesn’t worship him enough, right?”

Perhaps you haven’t heard the issue raised quite like that, but this objection is common and forceful. Surely God doesn’t need us to worship him, yet he demands it and punishes us if we don’t. Why can’t God mind his own business and just let people be happy. Or, so the logic goes. Phrased like this, God sure sounds like an egomaniac. There is an issue worth addressing here, so let’s put the question more respectfully and extract some of the presumptions to keep us from getting sidetracked by loaded lingo.

Let’s try this, “Why Worship God if he actually exists?”

This question is a classic and important issue, for it seeks direction at the crossroad between idle theologizing and the religious relationship of faith. Where does “knowing about God” become “Knowing God?” Where do thoughts about God become thoughts towards God? One of the strongest possibilities is that our speculative “God” becomes a personal savior precisely at the point of worship. And so, we are left wondering “Why choose the road of religious worship when we can safely theologize without commitment?”

First, we should remember that worship is worth-ship, it is attributing worth to something. If God is who the Bible says he is, then he is the most perfect, holy, good, necessary (etc.) being in existence. If anyone deserves worship it is God. If that is who God is then our worship of him is kind of like recognizing that gravity pulls us to the ground, the sun is bright, 1 + 1 = 2, sunsets can be colorful, and babies cry when they are uncomfortable. This is just how things are. We can fight reality, or we can submit to the truth where we find it. God is the most worthy being, so we are right to recognize his worth in worship.

Second, worship is not for God’s sake. Again, if God is who the Bible says he is, then he doesn’t need anything from us, especially not worship. He doesn’t need “a few good men,” or “a willing heart,” or “the prayers of men.” He just doesn’t need at all. Of course, he may choose to work in all sorts of relational and cooperative ways, and his worthiness may be demonstrated in all of it. But there is nothing that can add to God’s greatness for he’s already infinitely great. Nor can anything fill a gap in God since a perfect God has no gaps or lacking whatsoever. Worship does not satisfy any longing or need in God.

Third, all human activity is towards God. In the Psalms, King David says “Against you alone have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4) even though he’d sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, and all Israel. Ultimately, he knew that his sins were against God more than anyone else. Later, Jesus forgave people of sins committed against other people, which the Pharisees interpreted as a claim to divinity saying, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk. 2:7). Elsewhere we see instructions to love and worship God in everything we think, say, do, believe, etc (Deut. 6:4-6; Matt. 22:37; Mk 12:30; Col. 3:17). The cumulative witness of Scripture is that everything we do is towards God. The only question is whether it’s for or against God, whether it’s worship or blasphemy.

Fourth, worship is for our own sake. Yet again, if God is who the Bible says he is, then he is the most perfect and infinitely beautiful being in existence. But if beauty is as Thomas Aquinas defines it, “that which perceived pleases” then God is pleasing to perceive. God, of course, is not seen with mortal eyes, but, Aquinas was not talking merely about looking but also contemplation. We can “perceive” God by recognizing Him, thinking about Him, and, in short, worshipping God. And since God is not just beautiful, but infinitely and perfectly beautiful, then there is no limit to how much pleasure can be had by getting lost in his beauty.

So, we are seeing that worship is about God’s worth, but it’s for our benefit. We can top this off with Augustine’s famous, and perennial quote, “our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (Confessions 1.1). Our desperate want of joy (eudamonia), the joy for which everyone seeks, cannot be satisfied with the short-lived pleasures of this world. The good and decent pleasures of this world, at best, are appetizers to whet our desire for the one true God who alone satisfies our souls through worship.

True, we are commanded to worship God alone (Exod. 20:3), but this is the practical equivalent of having a healthy diet of filet mignon and cheesecake, or getting a seven-figure salary for doing light chores around the house, or having to come home to a perfectly beautiful, rich, and loving spouse. The command to worship God alone is a command to be happily fulfilled. Settle for nothing less than God. We are instructed to seek the greatest satisfaction our hearts can handle. All the “no’s” and “thou shalt not’s” in Scripture are  to preserve our deepest capacity and fulfillment in the worship of God alone. Worship is not so much our duty as it is our pleasure.

Returning to the original question, “why worship God if he actually exists?” Worship doesn’t have to be the static recitation of qualities and facts about God but can be a deliberate and personal relationship with God–and a relationship is naturally more appealing than mandating formalities. On a lesser scale, I can compare it to praising my wife. Talking about how great she is is nice, and its moderately pleasing for both of us. But, it is profoundly more satisfying to speak, even sing, my praises to her. Why talk about her when I can talk with her? Why settle for merely acknowledging the truth, when I can live it interactively? Worship is most naturally relational, it should be the personal and relational recognition of God’s unique glory. And it can be done in everything properly ordered to glorify the creator. I testify to God’s generous provision by drinking my morning orange juice. I testify to his marvelous creative order when by body heals from a cut. I witness to his gracious love when I forgive other people as He has forgiven me. Understanding worship like this, it only makes sense to worship God. Why worship God?!!! Why wouldn’t I!

Who Do You Say I Am? A Look at Jesus/Part Two

Continued:

Given these issues, it is important to examine the issue of Jesus and blasphemy in ancient Judaism.”Blasphemy in ancient Judaism was regarded as ‘stretching out one’s hand against “God” by impugning God’s honor and holiness (Sipre Deut 221 on Deut 21:22). God was blasphemed when, among other things, one ascribed divine powers to oneself or laid claim to dignity and position. A person might be a fool for claiming to be the Messiah, but not a criminal. This was demonstrated by Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Second Jewish Revolt (A.D. 132-135), who openly proclaimed to be the Messiah and was believed to be the Messiah by Rabbi Akiba (see Shurer: The History of the Jewish People).  Despite Bar Kokhba’s claim to Messiahship, as far as we know, he was never accused of blasphemy for making such a claim.  After Bar Kokhba died another failed Messiah in the history of Judaism, it was clear he did not meet the messianic expectation for the Jewish people.  And when the Messiah dies, you move on to another one.  In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day,  for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

As N.T. Wright says,
“If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his explicit or implicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian, see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and to regard him as the Messiah. There were several other Messianic or quasi-Messianic movements within a hundred years either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by authorities, or by a rival group. If your Messiah is killed, you conclude that he was not the Messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family (But note: Nobody ever said that James, the brother of Jesus, was the Messiah.) Such groups did not go around saying that their Messiah had been raised from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless they were telling the truth.” (John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright. The Resurrection of Jesus. Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press. 2006, 71).

So the Jewish authorities did not find Jesus’s claim to be the Messiah as blasphemy. So something else triggered the accusation of blasphemy in the trial scene of Mark 14. In other words, it was not just Jesus’ affirmation of being  the Messiah. According to Mark 14:62-Jesus affirmed the chief priests question by saying He is the Messiah, the Son Of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world . This is what is called the “self-understanding of Jesus.” This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone.  Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself. Jesus’ claim that he would not simply be entering into God’s presence, but that he would actually be sitting at God’s right side was the equivalent to claiming equality with God. And of course, we see the chief priest accuses Jesus of blasphemy  (Mark 14:63-65). (see James R. Edwards, Is Jesus the Only Savior, pgs 90-91).

There is a comment about this issue in the late third century. Rabbi Abbahu says: If someone says to you, ‘I am God,’ he is lying, ‘I am the son of man’ he will regret it: ‘I will ascend to heaven,’ he said it but will not carry it out.” (Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anith 2.1 65b, quoted in Hengel, Studies in Early Christology, 181).  If this is correct, this rabbinical saying (admittedly dated from over 150 yrs suggests the Jewish leaders also understood Jesus’ words “I am” to be the claim of God. Of course, Jesus is also accused of blasphemy in by asserting his authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:7). Scribes did not forgive sins. Forgiveness was a divine prerogative of the God of Israel.

Robert Gundry has lent support to the authenticity of the Jesus’ reply to the high priest’s statement. (1) The combination of sitting as God’s right hand and coming in the clouds of heaven appears nowhere in the NT except on Jesus’ lips;(2) the Son of Man in nowhere else associated with the notion of sitting at God’s right hand;(3) the saying exhibits  the same blend of oblique self reference and personally high claims that characterizes other Son of Man sayings (Mark 2:10,28; 8:38:13:26); (4)  even though Psalm 100:1 concerning sitting at the right hand alluded to frequently in the NT, the substitution of “the Power” for “God” though typical for Jewish reverential usage occurs nowhere else in the NT; (5) Mark is unlikely to have created such a prediction to the Sanhedrin which they did not, in fact, see fulfilled- (See Robert Gundry, Mark, A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, pgs 917-918); cited in William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith: 3rd edition, pg 318.

As Richard Bauckham says in his book God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, that while Greeks focused on philosophical matters of the nature of the divine, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with God’s divine identity. The God of Second Temple Judaism was identifiable by three unique attributes: (1) The God of Israel is the sole Creator of all things (Isa. 40:26, 28; 37:16; 42:5; 45:12; Neh. 9:6; Ps 86:10; Hos. 13:4; (2)The God of Israel is the sovereign Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35); (3) The God of Israel is also the only the only being worthy of being worshiped (Deut. 6:13; Psalm 97:7; Isa. 45:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). Jesus’ divine identity is affirmed by the fact that He is given the same attributes as God.

Through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus comes to participate as God’s sovereign Ruler over all things (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:44;26:64; Acts 2:33-35; 5:31; 7:55-56; 1 Cor.15:27-28; Phil. 2:6-11; Eph. 1:21-22; Heb. 1:3; 1 Peter 3:22). Jesus is seen as the object of worship (Matt. 14:33; 28: 9,17; John 5:23; 20:28; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8-12). He is also the recipient of praise (Matt. 21:16-16; Eph. 6:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev. 5:8-14) and  prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17,21; 22:16,19;1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor.12:8). Jesus is also the Creator of all things (Heb 1:2; John 1: 1-3; Col. 1:15-16; 1 Cor. 8:6). The divine identity of God is seen in Jesus’ suffering, death, and glory.

The worship of Jesus by Jews in the first century was not the same as “apotheosis,” which can be defined as accepting a human figure as divine-read Paul and Barnabas’ rejection of being worshiped in Acts 14. Thus for non-Jews, “pagans” a proper conversion to the early Messianic faith meant a radical break with their previous religious groups and practices.  As Larry Hurtado says, devotion and worship of Jesus was not prompted by the apotheouis traditions of divine heroes- Jesus was not fit into a pantheon of Gods (see Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry W. Hurtado). And for Jews, in 1 Cor 8:6, Paul  gives a reformulation of the Jewish monotheistic creed-the Shema (see Deut 6).. but he now includes Jesus in context of Jewish monotheism.

Who Do You Say I Am? A Look at Jesus/Part One

Who Do You Say I Am? A Look at Jesus/Part One-Eric Chabot 

 Now when Jesus came into the district of  Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17). As of today, people are still trying to answer the same question  that Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago. 

 In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says if you search for Jesus at Amazon.com, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history. As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.”   Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.  In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine.  Some of the other non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn and Richard Bauckham.  Some of the Jewish scholars include Geza Vermes, and the late David Flusser and Pinchas Lapide. (see W.L. Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition- pgs 294-95).

   In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.” (Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, pg 191). 

 Both E.P. Sanders and James Charlesworth say “the dominate view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first- century Judaism.”  (E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985, pg 2: cited and endorsed by James Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, New York: Doubleday, 1988), pg 205   A Few Things To Consider: Jesus’ Speaking AuthorityOver the years, I have had the opportunity to have several conversations with my Jewish friends about the differences between Christianity and Judaism. If I talk to one of my more Orthodox Jewish friends, they have told me on several occasions that any view that the Messiah is God is viewed in many cases as blasphemous and idolatrous. Of course, the same goes for Islam- to worship a man as divine is blasphemous.

What approach should one take in looking at the identity of Jesus in light of Judaism in the first century?  I think we can learn a lot from a specialist named Oskar Skarsaune- a specialist in church history at Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology in Oslo, Norway. This May, I get the opportunity of sitting under his teaching for a whole weekend. Skarsuane is a specialist in early Christianity and its relationship to Judaism.  I am going to using a lot of his quotes in this link. His two books that I will be using are Light In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity and Incarnation: Myth or Fact?  

For starters, in approaching the incarnation, Skarsaune says, “A point of view that seems to be gaining in scholarly research is that the oldest incarnation texts of the New Testament are not Hellenistic but Jewish. It means that if one is going to understand the concept of incarnation historically, one needs to understand it has arisen in a Jewish environment in which one was accustomed to differentiate sharply between the Creator and the created (Romans 1:25).  I have no doubt already implied that obviously (at least for me) the doctrine of the incarnation cannot be explained at all just by referring to a certain milieu. To put it another way, we will not go to some “early primitive congregation” or to a later form of Christianity to discover the origin of the dogma of the incarnation. We must go further back, to the disciples experience with Jesus Himself. In one way or another, through being with Jesus, the conviction that Jesus burst all categories of Judaism must have been impressed upon the disciples.” (Incarnation, Myth or Fact? Pgs 35-36). 

 Did Jesus speak as any other rabbi, prophet, or teacher? I have a Jewish friend who believes that Jesus is the Messiah. I once asked him how he viewed Jesus before coming to faith in him as the Messiah. He told me he was taught Jesus was a good Jewish teacher, but certainly nothing more than that. Anyway, this leads to an interesting comment by the Swedish rabbi Marcus Eherenpreis. He says,“A difference appears immediately that from the very beginning constituted an unbridgeable wall of separation between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus spoke in His own name. Judaism on the other hand, knew the one I, the divine Anochi (the Hebrew word for I) who gave us the eternal commandments at Sinai. No other superhuman has existed in Judaism other than God. Jesus sermons began, “I say to you.” Here is a clash between that goes to the inner core of religion. Jesus’ voice had an alien sound that that Jewish ears had never heard before. For Judaism, the only revealed teaching of God was important, not the teacher’s personal ego. Moses and the prophets were human beings encumbered with shortcomings. Hillel and his successors sat where Moses sat.” (Light in Shadow of Temple, pg 330). 

 It seems Eherenpries is right about this: Jesus spoke in a manner that placed him above the highest category allowed for humans in Judaism, that of the prophet, to say nothing of that of a rabbi. The rabbi may say, “I have received as a tradition from Rabbi A who heard it from Rabbi B,” thus authenticating his halakic ruling by the authority of tradition, ultimately deriving its authority from the oral Torah from Moses. The prophets spoke more directly from God when they say, “Thus says the Lord.” But the prophet also is only a representative of God.  He speaks in God’s name, not in his own. He wants to restore or strengthen the people’s relationship with God, not their relationship with the prophet. His own person is not important. He does not have God’s word in himself, it “comes to him”; sometimes he has to wait for it.  Jesus never authenticated his teaching the way the rabbis did. He never said “I have received as a tradition.” “He taught as one having authority, and not the scribes’ (Mark 1:22).  Nor did he speak like a prophet. He never made himself a representative of God by using the prophetic formula “Thus says the Lord.”  He spoke God’s word, he said God’s Law in his own name: “ You have heard that it was said  [by God] to those [at Sinai] ,..but I say to you.” (Matt 5:21-22; 27, 31, 33, 38). (Light in Shadow of Temple, pgs 330-331). 

 Furthermore, the rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2) ; Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them” (Matt 18:20). The rabbis could speak about being persecuted for God’s sake, or in his Name’s sake, or for the Torah’s sake; Jesus spoke about being persecuted for and even loosing one’s life for his sake. 

 Remember, the prophets could ask people to turn to God, to come to God for rest and help. Jesus spoke with a new prophetic authority by stating, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). In Mark 10:37, a wealthy individual asks Jesus what must I do to have eternal life? For the rabbis people were perfect according to their degree of Torah observance. Jesus instructed the man not to turn to Torah, but instead to sell his possessions and “Come, Follow Me.” (Mark 10: 17-22). So it is no wonder the Jewish people looked at Jesus’ teaching and healing authority in a significant way.  If we look at the Old Testament for role models of this characteristic of Jesus’ behavior –this I beside God, speaking and acting as if this I were God’s own- we find only one: God’s Wisdom (see Prov 1:20—33; 3:13-26; 8:32-36; 9:4-6). (Light in Shadow of Temple- pgs 331-332). 

As Skarsuane says, “Jesus appears in roles and functions that burst all previously known categories in Judaism. He was a prophet, but more than a prophet. He was a teacher but taught with a power and authority completely unknown to the rabbis. He could set his authority alongside of, yes, even “over” God’s authority in the Law. He could utter words with creative power. In a Jewish environment zealous for the law, only one category was “large enough” to contain the description of Jesus: the category of Wisdom.” (Incarnation, Myth or Fact? Pg 37)     

Religion Spoils Everything, Jesus Revives the Spoiled

As I drove back to Colorado Springs from Denver today, the fog was so thick I could barely see the car ahead of me, much less the usual splendor of the Rocky Mountains to the west.  I was listening to Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, who made some interesting points about the nature of faith.  In the ongoing dialogue between theists and atheists that permeates society today, theists are often said to rely on faith while atheists rely on reason in the formation of their respective worldviews.  Yet, such a stark dichotomy is too simplistic and out of touch with reality. 

Adherents to both views arrive at their beliefs through a combination of faith and reason.  Neither the atheist nor the theist relies solely on reason.  Both rely on a component of faith.  For that matter, there are very few beliefs any of us hold that do not involve faith to some degree.  The simple act of driving through a green light requires faith that nearby drivers who are faced with a red light will actually stop. 

Oxford biologist and author Richard Dawkins suggests that religious “faith” is a “virus of the mind.”  In his 1991 article entitled “Viruses of the Mind,” he states that, “Like some computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect.  If you are a victim of one, the chances are that you won’t know it, and may even vigorously deny it.”  So, sufferers of the memetic virus of religious faith may not even know they have been affected by an outside agent.

Conversely, the apostle Paul wrote of non-believers that, “their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.” (2 Cor. 3:14)  According to Christianity, Richard Dawkins may have been similarly blinded; a viral virgin infected by a God who disdains his arrogant air of superiority.

But here’s the rub.  It wasn’t the fact that faith exists within all of us that beguiled Dr. Keller; it was how each of us expresses our faith that captured his imagination.  Think about it.  By virtue of our various worldviews, each of us discovers a sense of belonging.  Whether you are a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu or a Freethinker, you will find other people who share your belief system.  You will also soon appreciate that there are many more people who disagree with your beliefs and consider them simply wrong.  What is common to all of us is the tendency to marginalize those who don’t believe as we do; to consider ourselves better than those who haven’t been similarly enlightened. 

In this sense, we can’t help but agree with Christopher Hitchens.  Religion does spoil everything.  And he certainly made that point clearly in his debate with Frank Turek.  Christopher emoted, “Isn’t it as plain as could be that those who commit the most callous, the most cruel, the most brutal, the most indiscriminate atrocities of all, do so precisely because they believe they have divine permission?”  In many cases, we must humbly admit, he is correct.  However, wasn’t Pol Pot cruel and indiscriminate?  Wasn’t Joseph Stalin callous and brutal?  Stalin was also indiscriminate.  He copiously murdered people of all religions.

Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, suggests that while these men were indeed atheists, it wasn’t their atheism that drove them to commit such atrocities.  Stalin’s atheism may not have led him to murder had it not been that his atheism first led him to marginalize the masses.  His atheism led to self-supremacy and the marginalization of others, which in turn led to his genocidal acts.  In his Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx described religion as the “opiate of the masses.”  Supremacist thoughts would come easily to someone convinced that everyone else is walking around in a metaphorical drug-induced stupor.  When it comes to atrocities, all religions, and even atheism, are in a dead heat.

But why is this so?  The bottom line is that people are not led to commit atrocities by either religion or atheism, but rather by the insidious seduction of power and the serpentine invasiveness of pride.  These lead to a misguided sense of moral superiority.  When an individual of one group sees himself as superior to those of another group – as more deserving, more enlightened, more noble – he is bound to subjugate outsiders mentally, verbally and eventually physically.

This process of self-aggrandizement is fueled to an even greater degree when one’s holy book(s) specifically encourage the mindset of supremacy.  Consider the writings of Muhammad in The Koran:

You [true believers in Islamic Monotheism, and real followers of Prophet Muhammad] are the best peoples ever raised up for mankind… And had the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) believed, it would have been better for them.  (Surah 3:110)

Verily, those who disbelieve (in the religion of Islam, the Qur’an, and Prophet Muhammad) from among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)… will abide in the Fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures.  (Surah 98:6)

Is it any wonder that radical Islam seeks the subjugation of outsiders? Their holy book tells them, in no uncertain terms, they truly are superior.

When religion leads people to view others as lower than themselves, then it does spoil everything.  Consider these sentiments from Richard Dawkins in his Preface to The God Delusion:

Being an atheist is nothing to be apologetic about.  On the contrary, it is something to be proud of, standing tall to face the far horizon, for atheism nearly always indicates a healthy independence of mind and, indeed, a healthy mind.  (The God Delusion, p. 3)

The supremacist leanings of Dawkins’ analogy are rather obvious.  Atheists have healthy minds, whereas theists have been infected by a virus that causes a form of psychopathology.  Sam Harris, in Letter to a Christian Nation, writes:

While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society.  (Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 67)

The clear implication in Harris’s words is that “faith in God” should not hold prestige, but rather, should be considered a mark of madness or stupidity.  Both Harris and Dawkins project an air of superiority by insinuating that the religious, and especially Christians, are ill, mad or stupid.  Some people who claim the title “Christian” may indeed deserve these labels, such as those whom Harris claims sent him hostile emails and letters after the publication of his first book, The End of Faith.  Yet, hostility from those who disagree with you is par for the course in this day and age.  I, too, have received my share of hostile communications from atheists subsequent to my rebuttal of Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation: Counter Point.

So, it would seem the score is tied.  Or is it?  We’ve considered the writings of leading atheists and the words of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.  But what does Christ himself say?  While there are self-professed Christians who hold supremacist views, do they come upon these notions through a reliable study of the Bible?  Is supremacy consistent with the teachings of Jesus?  Consider His words:

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  (Matthew 5:39, 43, 44, 47)

Jesus commands His followers to love their enemies.  And the apostle Paul encourages Christians to:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:15, 16)

The dictates of Jesus and Paul, when followed by professing Christians, mitigate against superiority and thoughts of supremacy.  Christians the world over, who live consistently with the mandates of Jesus Christ, find a joy and a peace they long to share with others… all others… for they realize that they are recipients of grace and mercy.  The recognition that they are no more deserving than the next person of that blessed grace leads them to humbly look upon others as greater than themselves.  Religion may indeed spoil everything, but Jesus Christ came to redeem the spoiled.