God’s Dilemma

So, use your imagination here for a minute. Think about this eternal, immortal, all-powerful Being. God. In the traditional sense, whatever that might mean to you. Here He is, floating along in eternity, thinking about creating a universe, and thinking about including in that universe a race of creatures in His own image. He wants to give them free will so that they can choose or not choose to love Him and enjoy Him. But He knows that if He does this, they will inevitably choose the wrong thing. They’ll be separated from Him, and they will die. Where there is sin (the wrong choice) there will be (must be) death. It can be no other way. It’s not so much that He would punish them for their wrong choice, it is that the wrong choice produces death. So here is the problem God faces: He wants to do this thing, but He knows that death and separation from Him will result. He’s willing to pay the price for their wrong choices; He’s willing to die in their place. But He is God. How in the world is God going to die? He is all-powerful, but He is also immortal. What a dilemma.

 

Oh, He certainly can solve this dilemma. But what would you do in this situation? Come on! Add a comment or two. It will be fun.

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Cause and Effect

Like most people, I have experienced some deep disappointments in my life. Visions, dreams, and hopes that I pursued with gusto as a young man have largely vanished. The goals and plan that I articulated for my life when I was in my 20’s have had their ups and downs. When I dwell on the “downs,” I easily become discouraged and disillusioned. “Where did I go wrong?” I ask myself. Can I blame someone else? My wife? My children? Why did these disappointments happen? There must be a cause-effect relationship between my decisions, or behaviors, or attitudes and the hurts and frustrations I’ve experienced. So what was the cause? What did I do wrong?

 

I sometimes spend way too much time analyzing this troubling question. Maybe I am subconsciously thinking that I can prevent future disappointments by avoiding the causes.

 

But then I am brought back to reality by considering some people who suffered in response to no fault of their own. The Apostle Paul was stoned and left for dead outside the town of Lystra simply because he proclaimed the good news about Jesus Christ and gave a lame man the healing power to walk. He did nothing wrong; certainly nothing to deserve what he received. If he were given a do-over, I am sure he would change nothing. Jesus himself suffered an agonizing death, and we know that he lived a sinless life. With these as my examples, why am I so easily tricked into thinking that I brought my troubles on myself?

 

I think I am infected by the scientific worldview that permeates the age in which I live. Everything has a cause, and every cause is logical. So goes one of the foundational principles on which scientific analysis rests. This worldview is so pervasive that I have absorbed it, simply as a result of living in the culture in which I live. The unspoken and non-reflective belief is that any suffering or disappointments that a person faces must have been brought about by something that person did or did not do to prevent them.

 

I have come to believe that this proposition is false. Yes; many, if not most, things that happen can be directly attributed to a logical cause. But God is sovereign. He chooses a path for our lives according to his own purposes. Sometimes he chooses to interrupt the logical chain of cause and effect. He has the absolute right to do so, and when he does so, it is right and just. He has good ends in mind. This is the essence of faith, and faith must be exercised in times of doubt and trial. If it were any other way, it would not properly be called faith.

 

May I receive God’s help to turn my disappointments and disillusionments into testimony’s of God’s faithfulness.

Wondering About Persecution

How is it that Christians are often persecuted for their faith? Let’s restrict our consideration to persecution that comes from governmental sources. As an American citizen who came of age in the second half of the twentieth century, I never imagined that I would ever have to be concerned about being persecuted for my faith unless I left the country. I was taught that my faith, along with a whole range of other aspects of my life, was protected. I was free. This was the land of liberty. Glory to God!

 

But I have seen a sea change in terms of my government’s disposition toward people of the Christian faith. I have seen a hostility and a threat that I never thought I would see. Can this develop into persecution? I believe that it can.

 

It seems to me that the two spheres of authority represented by “the church” and “the state” have had varying amounts of overlap throughout history. When Christianity was brand new, there was no overlap between the two spheres of influence. Governmental authorities had the ability to arrest, punish, and even kill Christians. (As we see in the book of Acts, chapter 12 when Herod puts James to death and imprisons Peter.)

 

Later in history, the Christian “church” and the “state” in most of Europe were joined to the point that they appeared inseparable. The overlap was virtually complete. State authority depended on church authority for its legitimacy, and the church essentially used the state as a tool for power and influence.

 

At the founding of America an exciting and interesting experiment emerged that we now call “separation of church and state.” The founding fathers specifically tied the hands of their new government to prevent it from empowering any specific church (or inhibiting the free exercise of religion). At the time of this official “separation,” there were small differences in worldview between the Christian and the secular. Because of the way European history had developed, the “secular” looked a lot like the “Christian.” The overlap between church and state was still substantial, but with the adoption of the US Constitution, this overlap was no longer a legal requirement.

 

Both Christians and secularists saw the separation of church and state as a wise and beneficial move. It would benefit the church by ensuring that faith was a legitimate act of the will. It would benefit the state by ensuring that a democratic republic would be built on freedom and opportunity for people of all faiths or none.

 

In the time since our country’s founding there has been a slow, gradual shift (until recently) in which the secular worldview (which our government represents) and the Christian worldview have drifted apart. In recent years the two perspectives are rapidly diverging. Where these two spheres of influence and power diverge, we have areas of law that do not originate in the Christian worldview. Some laws are designed to permit things that the Christian would prefer not to permit. These laws pose no threat to the Christian, although they may make the Christian uncomfortable. There is a natural evolution of law however. Laws that emerge in order to permit an activity often evolve into laws that encourage that activity. Laws that encourage an activity sometimes evolve into laws that require that activity. At that point, laws that require Christians to engage in activities that are against their faith lead to persecution of Christians. And this is the reason that I am concerned for the future of Christians in America. I see more and more evolution of laws that trend in the direction of forcing Christians to behave in ways that their faith does not permit.

How Much Does It Take?

“If I had some more faith,” I said, “I’d be much more capable of dealing with this problem.”

I got the same reply that He gave to the disciples: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.” It felt like a gentle rebuke rather than instruction. But after some prayerful reflection I now realize it was instruction. It was more instructional than I had ever realized before.

I had always taken His simple statement about faith as merely an analogy. I don’t typically see pastors and missionaries (people who presumably have great faith) moving mountains around. Even Jesus didn’t literally move mountains around. So it had to be an analogy, pure and simple.

But I started thinking about the literal moving of mountains. I have seen this sort of activity taking place, but it comes about as a result of a lot of hard work, planning, intelligence, and machinery. I focused my attention on the “hard work” part of this equation. Then I heard the scripture that refers to “work produced by faith” (I Thessalonians 1:3). I realized that it is faith that inspires us toward the work that we do. Most of my life I have been seeking God for guidance about that big question: “What should I do?” What should be the work of my life? I have lived my life believing that God responds to that question and that He directs us to the works that He has prepared for us to do. (See Ephesians 2:10).

Suddenly it all fit together. God has prepared in advance, works for us to do. He stands ready to communicate with us to let us know what those works are. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes from the word of God. The instant we hear what God has in mind for us to do, we receive faith for the doing of those things. It is a very tiny seed of faith (mustard seed size), but it is all we need. Once we know what God wants from us, what He has prepared in advance for us to do, we are then empowered and equipped to begin the process of doing it. The response from Jesus about needing only mustard-seed sized faith to move mountains doesn’t say anything about how long it may take to move the mountain. It may take years. It doesn’t say the mountain will move immediately and only in response to our telling it to move. It may take planning, intelligence, and machinery. The point is that the mountain-moving project begins with a tiny inspiration of faith.

Wow.

So my prayer changed. Instead of asking for more faith I am now asking for His direction. I know that when He speaks His direction He will also provide a tiny seed of faith, and I will be able to do what He wants in faith. And it doesn’t take much.

I Changed My Mind

For most of my life I believed that we lived in an open, intellectual environment in which competing ideas were being aired and debated. I believed that people generally listened to one another’s ideas in order to find and build their lives on the best ideas. Not too many years ago I was startled to find myself rejecting this fundamental belief. I started experiencing situations in which smart people did not even seem to be listening to ideas with which they disagreed. They were simply mocking the people who voiced those ideas, often without actually reading or seeking to understand the positions. I found myself among intellectuals who were using their intellect to engage in cynical and sarcastic protection of their previously-developed worldviews. I was shocked to discover this!

 

Not only was I shocked to discover this, I was also deeply un-nerved by the discovery. I had built my career and most of my life commitments (I was a teacher) on the premise that people who could think well and who had more knowledge would be sure to come closer and closer to finding the Truth. Since Jesus has declared Himself to be “the Truth,” I thought that I was serving a divine mission by devoting myself to this pursuit. To discover that people were generally not really pursuing Truth, even when they were well educated, was devastating.

 

So what is a more Biblical view of the way in which people come to pursue the Truth? I still think being able to think well and having knowledge can be a part of the picture. But when I look at a very striking Biblical example of a man who experienced a radical repentance, I do not see much involvement of the intellect. When Saul of Tarsus met up with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, he experienced a powerful and inescapable intervention from God. He was blinded and knocked off his horse. This was spiritual activity rather than intellectual activity.

 

I realize the story of Paul’s conversion is only one case, and it is not possible to generalize from this one extraordinary case. But I do know that something more than intellect and knowledge is necessary in order for people to come to a genuine knowledge of the Savior. I believe I should devote myself more to prayer than to my former pursuits if I truly want a divine mission of seeing people find the Truth.

 

How Would You or I Respond?

I’m curious about two things in a single story.

 

The story is found in Acts chapter 8, and it is about a man who had been practicing “magic.”  He was called a sorcerer. He had been able to perform things that looked like miracles, and people followed him. That is, until he heard about Jesus. When he heard about Jesus, he became a follower of Jesus. Then Peter and John showed up, and God brought a whole new dimension to the picture. God gave the new converts the Holy Spirit. I know from my own experience that when the Holy Spirit enters the scene everything changes. Evidently this former sorcerer was pretty amazed and impressed by the Holy Spirit as well, because he asked Peter if he could purchase the ability to bring the Holy Spirit to people. Peter had an immediate, repulsive reaction to this suggestion. He basically told the man that he and his money could go to hell.

 

Now here are my questions. First of all, why did Peter have such a violent reaction? This fellow was a new convert to Christianity, he had come out of a life of counterfeit spiritual power, and you would expect him to need some time to change his understandings and perspectives. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that he offered to buy the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit. I can even detect the possibility of a good motive behind his request. Perhaps he just wanted to help people find and experience this new Christian life that he himself was discovering. What’s wrong with that? Did Peter really have to bully him like that? I’m curious.

 

I’m also curious about what happened to this man next and in the rest of his life. After Peter’s rebuke, Peter also told him that he was full of bitterness and was captive to sin. The guy had what I think is a wonderful reaction to this indictment. He asked Peter to pray for him. He didn’t dispute Peter’s judgment. He didn’t get angry and walk away and call the Christians haters and hypocrites. He apparently agreed with Peter and asked for prayer. And that’s how the story ends. So what happened next? Did Peter pray? Did the man sweeten up? I’d like to think so. But I am curious.

Can We Fix This?

I heard of a man who was said to be full of grace and power. Grace. And power. Nice words to use to describe a person. I would love to have those words used to describe me. But that’s not all. He also is said to have performed miracles. That really sets him apart as a very special person. Full of grace; full of power; performer of miracles. I’d really like to be able to see this fellow in person. I’d like to be able to spend time with him. I’d like to be able to learn from him and follow his example. He sounds to me like an admirable role model.

 

If it were just “power” and miracle working that set this man apart, I could imagine that it would be possible that he could have been somewhat offensive. It’s possible. Nothing about power or miracle working, in and of itself, indicates that a person must be a “nice” person. But when he is also described as being full of grace, it is clear that he was not an offensive person. He was powerful and nice.

 

In spite of this, it is not his grace nor his power that put him in the history books. The man I’m speaking of is the man who became the first Christian martyr. Opponents of this man’s testimony about Jesus Christ stoned him to death. These opponents had to bring false charges and false witnesses against him in order to put him on trial. While on trial he gave a stirring and comprehensive history of the works of God and the failures of the people of God. This true history so infuriated his listeners that they reacted by stoning him to death. He committed no crimes.

 

So why did such an admirable man find himself facing such opposition? Goodness should not be met with violent opposition. The fact that it was, and is, should tell us something about the condition of the world in which we live. We should interpret things like this carefully. Such reactions to goodness are not rare or unusual. What does it tell us about the human condition that goodness and purity provoke violent opposition? Can we fix this?