Testing Ourselves

“In ordinary times we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is. If, now and again, this remote and academic problem is so unmannerly as to thrust its way into our minds, there are plenty of things we can do to drive the intruder away. We can get the car out or go to a party or to the cinema or read a detective story or have a row with a district council or write a letter to the papers about the habits of the nightjar or Shakespeare’s use of nautical metaphor. Thus we build up a defense mechanism against self-questioning because, to tell the truth, we are very much afraid of ourselves.”

– Dorothy Sayers in “What We Do Believe?

This is the opening paragraph in the second essay in “Letters to a Diminished Church.” In this essay Sayers goes phrase by phrase through one of the ancient creeds, expanding a bit on the meaning each phrase contains.

Before beginning the phrase by phrase discussion, she describes those moments when we are forced to come face to face with what we really believe, those moments of crisis where all the fluff is burned away and the real questions of life are forced to the front. Since this essay was written during World War II, the circumstance she uses is sitting in a cellar with a gas mask waiting for the bomb to drop. She says this about faith. “What we in fact believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on.”

Her point here is that what we really believe is proven by the way we act when the crisis comes. What is it that we do without having to think? This is the kind of test that Paul had in mind when he told us, through the Corinthians (II Cor. 13:5), to check and see if we are really in the faith. Sadly, we have far too many people populating our churches today that are practical deists or atheists.

I pray that, painful though it may be, God will purify his church, and begin with me.

Dancing on the Edges of the Cultural Abyss

One of the big news items of the past few days has been the debate in the US Senate over the proposed Constitutional amendment defining marriage. There has been a lot of noise about how the senators took the chicken way out by killing the issue before they would have to declare themselves in a specific vote. There has been an equal amount of noise labeling those in favor of defining marriage “traditionally” as being between one man and one woman as bigots, homophobes, etc. Shrill voices on both sides. Angry name-calling and lots of angst have been stirred up by this issue.

Just to be clear, I believe that one man and one woman is the absolutely right formula for marriage as defined by our Creator. But I see all the energy exerted to decry views on both sides as dancing around the edges of the real abyss. This issue, along with many others that the current evangelical culture seems willing to go to its death over, is peripheral to the real core issue. What we are facing is a clash of worldviews, and it’s even more basic than the debate over the truth or falsehood of Christianity that is raging, most recently as a result of the DaVinci Code book and movie. The first issue is whether God exists or not; the real fundamental argument is between the theistic and the non-theistic worldview, and this is the essential abyss that separates the sides on all these questions.

What all this boils down to is whether there is any source of absolute right and wrong. It is the root of the epistemological question post-modernism raises: is there truth and is it knowable. Until we address this fundamental issue, all we are doing on the issues of gay rights (including the definition of marriage), abortion, faith in the public square, etc. is shouting at each other across the barricades. There can be no real, meaningful debate, because we aren’t even agreed on the terms we use. Truth, right, and wrong mean different things to the two sides, so even though we think we’re having meaningful discussions, they are meaningless, as if one person is speaking English and the other an obscure tribal dialect from the deep Amazon jungle.

Until we in the evangelical Christian culture wake up to this and make the attempt to get at the real issue of whether and who God is in our culture we will continue to shout meaningless threats across the barricades, dancing on the edges, rather than begin the long, hard work of breaking them down and using the pieces to build a bridge across the abyss.

Where do we live?

My wife Lisa had picked up an old note pad of mine, about 15 years old (!), to use up the paper in it before going to buy a new one. As she used it the other day, she ran across a piece I had written sometime in the late 1980s, and suggested that it was worthy of posting here. As I read it again, I had to agree. Although not directly related to my recent theme of how big God is, it does speak to our life in Him.

This was probably written in December or January of whatever year it was. Beth Hallel is a Messianic Jewish congregation in North Atlanta.

“This time of year, at least for me, is always a time for reflection on where I’ve been and what I’ve done in the last twelve months. During a visit to our brethren at Beth Hallel, Rabbi Solomon made a comment in his sermon about mountains that got me thinking. Upon reflection, I realize that I have been doing a lot of walking in the ‘valleys’ of life. It has been pretty comfortable, and pretty easy; but not where I, or any Christian, should be spending most of the time.

We Christians ought to be mountain climbers. Walking through valleys is not our place; living in valleys is not our destiny. Our lives ought to be measured, not by the valleys we’ve walked, but by the mountains we’ve climbed.

Moses is perhaps the clearest example of this in scripture. Moses’ life in the Lord began on ‘the mountain of God’ called Horeb in Midian. Moses met God on the mountainside and his life was forever changed. On Mount Sinai, Moses came to know God in a way no other man did; he came, literally, into God’s presence and spoke with him. On the final mountain, Mount Nebo, Moses saw the fulfillment of God’s promise and the culmination of God’s purpose for his life and was taken into God’s eternal presence.

These three mountaintop experiences were connected by a lot of climbing. It is here that Christians are called to live. The Jews knew this principle; they had to live it annually as they ascended to Mount Zion to worship at the temple. As they climbed, they sang the Songs of Ascent, preparing themselves for the mountaintop experience of worship. The climb challenges us and strengthens us. The summit exhilarates us and gives us perspective on the world.

Yes, we must cross the valleys, but having come from the mountain we can share the wonder of the summit and bring along other climbers. Valleys are for passing through, not for staying. Mountains are where we belong. ‘Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord…'”

Face Down

In my recent contemplation of the bigness of God, I was thinking about the creation story. This has been in the news some recently, associated with the whole Intelligent Design debate in the scientific community. When you think about it, our attitude a Christians is often too passé about God and creation. We read through the first few chapters of Genesis pretty quickly, not stopping to think about the significance of what the writer is saying. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We Christians sort of go past this pretty quickly most of the time, along with the verses that follow, all beginning with God saying, “Let there be…and there was.” Let’s just slow down for a minute and hang out in these verses.

The more we learn about the origins of the universe, the more awesome, breathtaking, and incomprehensible it becomes. Isn’t it often true that the more we learn about a subject, the more we understand how little we really know? How our universe came to be is one of those, and in that light, Genesis 1:1 could probably be safely described as the most colossal understatement in the history of the universe. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Wow! Given what we now know, or think we know, about how the universe got started, there a lot of stuff that happened inside those ten words.

First, God was there already. God is the only being that always lives in the present tense. No matter when God is, he always “is.” He never was or will be existentially. I have read just enough of William Lane Craig’s book Time and Eternity, which I think is the light version of a more academic work, to understand that part of what he is trying to grasp is that God is outside our experience of linear time and reaches into the timeline to do things like create the universe. You know, the little stuff. This is the kind of stuff that makes my head hurt to try and get hold of, but God is like that. His bigness is beyond our ability to reason it out. God’s very existence, not that He does, but how He does, is unexplainable in human terms.

God created it all. It was His conscious choice. It was an intentional act. It was no accident. Creation was not a random event, driven by a wildly improbable convergence of circumstances. God had something in mind when he created our universe. Our existence and that of the Earth we live on, and the solar system of which it is a part, and the galaxy of which it is part, and so on, has a purpose. That purpose is to please Him. More about this in a minute.

As God executed all the steps of creation as outlined in Genesis 1, He spoke everything into existence. Think of that. To be able to say, “Light, be” and have it happen is a level of power that we can’t even measure. Our most brilliant scientific minds can’t even describe how light really works except in a rough way. The knowledge that it takes to even conceive of light where it had never existed before, and then to create it with a word… Words fail.

On and on through this abbreviated story, God speaks a few words and amazing things spring into existence that had never been before. Fully thought out. Well ordered. Just what he wanted. And at the end of the six steps, including the creation of man in his image, which is another thing to think through on another day, he pronounced it not just good, but very good.

I’m not going to debate whether the process took a literal six days, or some other six-step process over a longer period. Neither position dilutes the fact of God’s awesomeness, or his power, or his creativity. It is no wonder that so many of the characters in the Bible spent a bunch of their time face down before God.

It occurs to me that we Christians need to redefine and rediscover a term that gets used today in the business world when it comes to our interactions with God. It refers to time with a colleague or client in a close encounter. I’m talking about the term “face time.”

We, no I, need more face time with God. And this kind of meeting is not one of colleagues across a conference table, or over coffee, or at dinner. I’m talking about time in the presence of the Creator. Given the nature of who he is, of how powerful he is, there is only one way to really have face time with God, only one posture that’s appropriate. Face down.

"Soylent Green is People!"

Dr. Albert Mohler’s blog today talked about the ripening fruit of relativism in American society today. The main illustration he uses is our attitude toward life and death as borne out in abortion and euthanasia.

As I read the essay, a couple of sci-fi movies came to mind. While we may not be to the point where we can see the Soylent Green scenario on the horizon, there is an aspect of that story that seems more possible by the day. It ties that story to the story in the movie Logan’s Run.

Science fiction is all about looking into the future to what might be possible. While the specifics are often different than the stories, it is eerie how successful some of the writers have been at seeing the future. Laser weapons, particle beam weapons (ray guns) are being seriously studied. Hand held computers, communicators, etc. are common. But it is in the developments in societal attitudes as shown in these two films that is truly frightening.

While the cannibalism of the Soylent Green scenario still seems too evil for our relativistic society, the treatment of the “raw material” group is not that far removed from today. Recall that the raw material for the product came from the elderly and infirm. The only difference between this story and Logan’s Run is the age of the victims.

Logan’s Run required all people over 30 to come to “Carousel.” This was billed as a beautiful release to some heavenly state, but it was in reality forced euthanasia or suicide for the purpose of population control. Mohler’s reference to a person’s “responsibility to die,” quoting some unnamed source is eerily akin to this concept.

As Christians in this culture, we must be firm in our biblically based convictions on the sanctity of life. We must speak clearly and unashamedly about man’s creation in the image of God and the intrinsic value that gives each person’s life, no matter their age or condition. We must speak about the respect due our elderly and our responsibility to protect the young.

We must continue to shine this light in an ever darkening world. The lives of many, both eternal and temporal, depend on it.

The Moral Vacuum

Good Morning, America ran a story today, following up on an article in the May 30 New York Times Sunday Magazine, that made me shudder at its implications. The title of the Times article was “Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall” by Benoit Denizet-Lewis. This article was based on interviews with a group of teens ranging from 14 (!!!) to 18. They talked openly with the reporter about the concept of “Friends with Benefits,” which essentially means sex pals. The range of how far they go is wide, from light necking to full intercourse, but the most tragic part of the whole story is their attitude toward these relationships.

The fundamental behind it all, and what disturbs me the most, is that they don’t see this behavior as morally aberrant. One 14 year old girl, who was apparently trying to be chaste, said that the fact that she has been dating a guy for a couple of months and have not kissed yet is viewed as weird even by her mother.

Do role models matter? The mother in the previous paragraph clearly doesn’t care about what she communicates to her kid. But the role model issue goes deeper. Remember Mr. Clinton’s statements that said oral sex was not really sex? Well these kids have heeded this statement, in fact even quoting the idea to the reporter in the interview.

Our country, and yes our churches, are in the midst of an escalating crisis. The logical consequences of our pluralistic, post-modern culture are coming to maturity. The lines are being drawn more and more clearly between the morality that arises from a Christian world view and that which results from the post-modern. We, as believers in Christ, as his body in the material world, must take an overt, courageous stand for what the revealed word of God says about these things. Unless we do, and soon, we will lose yet another generation.

This is at the heart of the Great Commission.