Saturday, March 29, 2008

Internet Infidels Preach on Second Coming

In a lengthy piece of prose (which contains mostly scriptural quotations) titled The Lowdown on God's Showdown, former Christian Edward Babinski lays out his case that the Apostles and Jesus Himself had to be mistaken about the "close" return of Christ. He writes:

If Jesus and his apostles, for whatever motives, were mistaken in a matter of this consequence, how could I be certain that any one of them may not be mistaken in any other matter?

and also,

So, exactly what is the lowdown on God's showdown? Is it that Jesus, the "false prophet," may not have been "neurotic" after all? No. The lowdown on God's showdown is that it never took place as predicted. And how likely is it to occur in our era, when the most "inspired" believers, living and writing in Jesus' era, including Jesus himself, were certain that it was going to occur in theirs? Believers in an inerrant Bible should wonder why the Bible's error's concerning this matter are so plainly visible. But then, as Arthur Koestler once pointed out, "Faith is a wondrous thing; it is not only capable of moving mountains, but also of making you believe that a herring is a race horse." Indeed, how can Christianity compete for world-wide approval against the host of faiths and non-faiths that now litter the earth, when its own holy book informs whomever reads it that the race to demonstrate the superior truth of Christianity ended 2000 years ago by Jesus' own admission?

It is commonly understood that the early Christians believed that Christ would return to earth in their lifetime. Babinski claims that Jesus had a similar expectation of His imminent return as well. It is true that their expectations went unmet. He even quotes a couple of theologians, including C.S. Lewis, that such an expectation was a mistake on Jesus' part (on account of his limited human knowledge of end-times events).

However, do the internal thoughts of the apostles affect the integrity of the Christian faith? Is a certain eschatology a fundamental? Was Jesus speaking out of ignorance and vulnerable to mistake? Is this, in fact, a "matter of this consequence?"

Even if I were to admit that both Jesus and the Apostles were mistaken, it makes little difference that they expected something that did not occur. Of the Second Coming, Jesus Himself states, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matt. 24:36). An imminent return is nonspecific. To put things into perspective, the imminent arrival of the Messiah was also an unwavering expectation of the Jews throughout their history. Yet, from the time of the first prophecy in Genesis 3 until the actual time of the birth of Messiah was no less than six thousand years (depending on one's chronology).

Babinski may have a point worth debating, but unless it's the year 10,083, I think he's jumping the gun.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dear Mr. Skeet

Every so often, I receive Christian chain e-mail from a dear aunt of mine. Most of them are innocent sentimental stories. Some are twit-filled propositions from the mines of Christian subculture. And some, like this one, just beg for a bulldozer.

The e-mail that I received actually comes in two parts. The first part is commentary from a secondary, tertiary, or quaternary sender (I am unable to discern which applies). The second part is a letter from "Skeet," recounting his (or her?) impressions of a recent trip to Egypt and Israel. About 3/4 through the letter is a paragraph about how Barack Obama is really a Muslim.

Now, I believe the matter of the religious affiliation of Sen. Obama has sufficiently been laid to rest for most Americans. But that doesn't prevent outside influences from reviving and sustaining a low level of Christian gossip chatter about a worse case scenario electing a potential closet Muslim to the Presidency of the United States.

Here is the first part of the e-mail, followed by my reply:
Subject: Israel/Egypt
I don't know how much of this is true, but I still do believe Obama is muslim. This is a note from a person from Lubbock who just returned from Israel / Egypt . Certainly gives us lots to think about.

My aunt has been sending me chain e-mails for years now, and while most of them go directly to the trash, I do occasionally open them. This is one such e-mail, and I am disappointed by its contents. I am fully aware that this e-mail did not originate with you, so you should send this on back up the chain to its author, Skeet.

The e-mail message is unethical and misguided. However, you are guilty of promulgating it, even if you did not write it. I do not appreciate you trying to mislead her, and in turn, mislead anyone else she forwards the message to, including myself. Please do not forward any such e-mails to my aunt again.

Thank you,
*Letitia (last name withheld)*

This is the letter from Skeet, followed by my letter in response:
Dear Friends,
We are home. I am home with this flu that is going around. I had it before we left and got it again in Eygpt. I have really been sick. Sure is a waste of time.

Our trip was physically very hard. I lost 10 pounds and got sick. I am glad I went, but would not go back to Egypt . It is a dirty, ungodly country. The smog in Cairo Egypt was terrible. There are 17 million people in that city and they just throw their trash in the streets. The Nile River is polluted. I don't know how such a people who built the pyramids regressed like they have. If the Arabs take over America , we will be a slum. And the noise pollution was terrible. They chant their muslim prayers all day.

Our tour guide was a Christian, and he was a fine young man, but the ungodliness of the population is everywhere. It was a real example of the difference of 'light' vs 'darkness.' Jesus is truly the Light!

Israel was clean and wonderful. We could eat the food and drink the water. They were kind and loved us. They may not believe in Jesus but you can tell that God is in that land. It snowed in Jerusalem while we were there and it was cold, but we still toured. The Sea of Gallilee was stormy and we went out on a boat a short distance, but came back to shore. The Bible is absolutely true about the fact that you cannot be out on the Sea of Gallilee in a boat without the danger of dying. We were amazed at the big waves and wind on that Sea or lake.

The weather cleared in Israel at the end of the week and we went to the Temple Mount on a beautiful morning. It was a time with the Lord. We stood at the Golden Gate where Jesus will return. It is sealed because the Muslims are concerned He will return! They even have one of their graveyards outside the gate thinking no King will come through a graveyard. But Jesus is coming! It shows the muslim are concerned and may believe there is a possibility He will come. I stood and looked at that Gate,and was very moved to think I was standing at the very place where Jesus will enter Jerusalem again!

We did go into Bethlehem . We had to let our Jewish guide out of the bus, and our Arab bus driver drove us through the security gate. That high wall that you have been hearing about on TV is there, dividing Palistine and Israel . We then got a Christian guide when we got into Bethlehem . I was there twice before, once in l980 and again in l999 and there is a stark difference in Bethlehem since the arabs have taken it over. There were hardly any tourists. We ate in a cafe on the square where I ate before which was packed with tourists, but today it was vacant except for us. They have killed their tourist trade. The Christians in Bethlehem asked us to pray for them, because they had no income now. The Arab men on the manger square glared at us. We did not feel safe and clung together. There were begger boys everywhere. They hate Americans and Israel !!!!

There is so much I could say about this trip. It has changed my life in some ways. I look at the lostness of the arabs and the darkness. I look at Israel ; that tiny country amidst such turmoil. If America does not continue to support, Israel I believe God will judge us severely as Americans. The Israelite soldiers were such fine young men and women. They are clean and disciplined and have great love for their land which is something that is missing in America among some of our youth. I rode back to Lubbock from Dallas on airline with an American Air Force career soldier. He said the Israelite pilots were the best in the world. They can fly planes like no one else!

Lastly, we were asked everywhere about the Presidential race in America . There was great interest. The Jews came up to us and asked us many questions. They said they do not want the Clintons again. They warned us that Obama is a muslim, not a Christian. In Egypt , the Arabs said the same thing to us; they said Obama is muslim and they are amazed that Americans would consider electing a muslim President of America!!

I came home loving America even more! Our country is a 'light on a hill.' Our streets are clean. There are no chants all day. People are kind and take their turn. People over there pushed into line and were rude. They have never heard of the Golden Rule. They will stomp all over you if they want to get in line. I can see now why Jesus' words of loving your neighbor and doing unto others, what you would have them do unto you, were strange words to the lost. We take our Christian heritage for granted here in my opinion. We have sanctity of human life. In Egypt , the Arabs don't have any hope so I can see why they would bomb people and commit suicide. They smoked cigarettes everywhere! I could not breathe in Egypt and I think that is why I came down with the flu again. The smog was so bad at the pyramids, I could tell I was getting sick. I would gag on the fumes.

We need to pray for America and this election every day.

God bless, Skeet

Dear Mr. Skeet,
Welcome home from your trip to Egypt and Israel! I found your assessment of life in the Middle East both fascinating and troubling at the same time. I urge you to think aboutthe impact of what your words have on all those who have had it forwarded to them from a friend or family member. Your letter does double duty. It serves to both accuse Barack Obama and disparage the Arabs you encountered on your trip.

First, I do not believe for one moment that Barack Obama is a Muslim, for the simple reason that he is not a Muslim. You might make a better case branding him as a black liberation Marxist, an image that he seems unable to reject.

If people in other countries believe that he is Muslim because there are Muslims in his family and that he lived in Indonesia for a time, they have a right to be mistaken. But we do not. It is decidedly a very unethical (and hence, un-Christian) thing to do to bear false witness about any person, especially to mislead another to vote a certain way. The truth is enough to warrant alarm about Barack Obama's aspiration to be President. We do not need to add falsehood to bolster the chances of his defeat at the polls. That is another politician's realm, and she is doing a fine job of lying without anyone's help.

Next, while I appreciate your observation of the poor living conditions and what I interpret as visible spiritual depravity in Arab-controlled territories in the Middle East, you assign motive for bombings as "Arabs don't have any hope so I can see why they would bomb people." That is very poor logic indeed, and erroneous, as the primary motivation for terrorist bombings comes from a particular understanding of jihad, a far cry from hopelessness.

As Christians, we ought to see that their greatest problem is not that they smoke cigarettes, pollute, and hate Israelis. They do not know the love and grace of God. Aside from the shock and disdain for the Arabic parts of your trip, I detect little pity or compassion for the Arab people in your letter. While they may look as depraved asthey are, we must not forget but for our external trappings (generally clean streets and orderly public behavior, as you have pointed out) we are equally as dark and depraved and in dire need of grace ourselves.

Finally, I hope during your days overseas that you were able to show some kindness to a Muslim man and give him a reason to rethink the general attitude toward Americans. I would hope that no illness, fear, or hostile looks from Muslims would prevent your great faith and evangelistic zeal, if not for their sakes, for the Lord's. What a shame it would have been to miss so many potential opportunities to be Jesus to people in such need of Him.

Remember that the comfortable life you now appreciate to a greater extent is by blessed circumstance only. Consider if God were to send you to Egypt to live for the remainder of your life. Would you love it then?

Yours truly in Christ,
*Letitia (last name withheld)*

Now, I did consider that "Skeet" is possibly trying to punk me, in which case, I would not have bothered to restrain myself from unleashing the satirical monster in me. Note that even the sender also expressed doubt in its authenticity. Nevertheless, there are many unsuspecting Christians like my aunt who would take this e-mail seriously, and so I felt I must keep a reply on the level as much as possible.

Feel free to discuss.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Laugh Rack -3-: Shaolin Soccer a la Matrix

As you know from my profile, Shaolin Soccer is a favorite movie of mine. Here's one little tribute via a superb YouTube video. (Note: it won't make tremendous sense unless you've seen the movie.)

(Credit: YouTube user Tsulvan1984)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Please Passover the Salt

I had the rare opportunity to attend a Passover Seder on Palm Sunday with some good friends. Although Passover isn't officially for another month, Resurrection Sunday (Easter) is unusually early this year, and it makes some sense to observe Passover at this time rather than afterward. To any of my Orthodox Jewish acquaintances out there who might take offense, I am currently accepting invitations to attend your Passover observance and will happily discuss it with you then. :)

So I was there for four hours. This from the post-Baptist person who is used to hour-and-a-half services and 45 minute weddings. Curiously, with all the Haggadah reading, song singing, and FOOD, I hardly noticed the time flying by. I found the clear symbolism of the Passover Seder to the Christian faith extraordinary on both historical and spiritual levels. Few Christians have the awareness or the opportunity to experience a Seder and connect the divine rescue of the Hebrew people from Egypt with our own spiritual rescue from sin. Chalk up another blessing God has sent my way.

The following is a partial list of Passover symbols that I found to have direct application to faith in Jesus Christ:

The roasted egg, "HaGigah"
[from the Haggadah] For Jewish people, the egg is a sign of mourning, and a symbol of hope for spiritual restoration and resurrection. Just as the paschal lamb is free from blemish, pure and holy, so is the egg. White is a color that means purity and holiness. But we have sacrificed the lamb, the egg has been roasted, now brown, made dirty by our sins. But in the egg is the hope for spiritual restoration, as we peel away the brown shell, revealing the white egg underneath, again made pure and holy, resurrected.

For Christians, the peeling away of the brown shell is act of Christ as He redeems His believers, removing their sin. (Thank you, Rabbi Parviz, for redeeming the "Easter egg" for me!)

Parsley, "Karpas"
[from the Haggadah] Parsley on our table, this was hyssop in Moses' time. And our bowl of salt water represents the basin of blood (Exod. 12:22-23)...We remember that it was hyssop that King David cried out to be cleansed with (Psal. 51:7)...And it was hyssop that a sponge filled with wine vinegar was put on and lifted to Y'shua's lips (John 19:28-30).

[from the Haggadah] Hyssop is a green leafy plant with a long stalk. Symbolizing life and cleansing, the hyssop was dipped once into blood and lifted up to a wooden post for salvation from death, and once into wine and lifted up to a wooden post for salvation eternally. The raising of the hyssop to Y'shua was the last act of man before the last death of the Lamb.

[from the Haggadah] We now turn to a mysterious tradition. The Matzoh Tosh is one linen, with three compartments. A sheet of matzoh is placed in each of the three compartments. No one truly knows from where this tradition comes, but our rabbis teach that the Matzoh Tosh is a picture of Israel's patriarchy, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Some also teach that it is a picture of Temple worship, with the priests, Levites, and the Israelites. However, neither of these explanations are satisfied by the tradition. The middle matzoh is taken from the linen and broken...This then becomes the afikomen. A strange word whose origin is also unknown, "afikomen" is Greek and means "that which comes after," or "that which is come." This is traditionally interpreted as the last piece of food which may be eaten at the Passover."

At this point, Christians might recognize that the three Matzoh curiously symbolize the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the middle one symbolizing the Son is broken and hidden away in the realm of humanity. Later, when the afikomen is found and after the meal portion of the Seder has ended, the afikomen is broken into pieces and distributed among everyone present.

[from the Haggadah] (During the meal, the "afikomen" is found and the one who finds it is rewarded. Traditionally, this is when the child [who finds the afikomen] receives their [sic] first Hebrew Scriptures. That gift is given at the Festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost, 50 days after Passover.)

It is at this point during Jesus' last Passover that he breaks the afikomen and says to His disciples "Take and eat, this is my body." (Matt. 26:26)

[from the Haggadah] Y'shua takes the matzoh and says "take and eat, this is my body." He is being very literal. Matzoh is prepared in a very special way. It is rolled out into big sheets and a large wheel with pins in it is rolled over the dough. It pierces the bread so that heat will rise through the bread and bake it very rapidly. It is baked for 18 minutes, 18 being the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word "Chai," which means life."

[from the Haggadah] There is no yeast, it is sinless. It is the bread of life, and it has been pierced. The baking process also leaves marks or stripes.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. (Isai. 53:5)

[from the Haggadah] Y'shua knows that in a very short time, he will be taken from his disciples, he will be beaten and striped 39 times with a lash. His body will be pierced, but by his death comes our healing.

The third cup of wine, "The Cup of Redemption"
Then [Jesus] took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matt 26:27-28)

[from the Haggadah] Y'shua was being very literal. Now the wine not only represents the blood of the lamb that was shed at the first Passover, it now is the blood of the Lamb that is to be shed at Y'shua's last Passover. His words could not be missed. This is Jeremiah's prophecy coming to pass! After all, whose body is it that is removed from the middle of a three-part unity, broken and wrapped in linen, hidden away only to be found again? And for those who would find him, resurrected, they would receive the gift of the Word, not just words on paper, but the Word written on their hearts and in their minds, the Word of the Holy Spirit, 50 days later at the festival of Shavuot, Pentecost.

The fourth cup of wine, "The Cup of Sanctification"
[from the Haggadah] I believe it was this cup that Y'shua was speaking of when he said, "I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." He is promising us that we will have a full cup of Sanctification awaiting us when we join him at that great feast in our heavenly home. Moses brought us through the waters of the Red Sea, into the wilderness, where God provided for us, sustained us, and gave us his Word, and finally led us into the promised land. And Y'shua has led us through the waters of our baptism, into the wilderness that we call life, that is both bitter and sweet. And God sustains us and provides for us, giving us his Word by the Holy Spirit, and promises that we too will enter the promised land, our heavenly home, where a banquet awaits with a full cup of wine to be shared with Y'shua.

The last part of the Haggadah describes the final cup of wine, reserved for the prophet Elijah
[from the Haggadah] And this final goblet, a full cup of wine for someone whom we have invited and pray will come, this is Elijah's cup. Every year, Jewish families will pour a cup for Elijah and leave the door ajar, hoping that he will come. Our tradition says that Elijah will come at Passover and will announce the coming of Messiah. [see Mala 4:5-6] And every year the people wait, losing their faith and not knowing that Elijah has already come.

Jesus told His disciples, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. (Matt 17:11-13)

[from the Haggadah] May you go forth and tell this story to the children of many generations, that they would come to believe and be saved by the blood of the Lamb, Y'shua HaMashiach.

I marvel at how many aspects of Jesus Christ's passion week on earth contains images of God's covenant with Israel at the Exodus from Egypt, aspects that many might think of as coincidences until one sees that there are too many of them happening in symbolic order to be purely coincidental. Of course, Passover makes incomplete sense without the Resurrection, which believers will celebrate this Sunday. And for me, the Resurrection takes on a deeper meaning through experiencing the symbolism of the Passover at which Jesus Christ's became its sacrifice.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Christianity is Incomprehensible

So it was my turn to lead a coffee-house discussion for The Journey's Midrash ministry last night. In the runup to our official start time, I chatted with one of our regulars who is an Orthodox Jew beginning with why he perceives that Christians don't follow the 10 Commandments and ending with the Christian worldview contrasting the Jewish worldview.

"Christians always say that it's important to follow the 10 Commandments! But you don't observe the Sabbath. Sabbath is from Friday night to Saturday night. You still think 'Do not murder' is nonnegotiable, don't you? Jesus never told anyone that they could change the day of Sabbath. He never did. Paul never did. Then why don't you follow the fourth commandment? Why don't you eat kosher?"

(He might as well have asked me if I'd stopped beating my kids yet or when I'm going to return the stolen money to the bank. Of course, if I even thought he was halfway serious about a reply, I would have gotten into more details as I will here.)

Believe it or not, the issue he is tapping on is as old as the time when Jesus walked the earth. Not that his questions aren't important; they are. But here I can either smooth out a wrinkle in understanding Christian ideas or I can make the wrinkle deeper. I only rest thankfully knowing that I do not determine that outcome.

Essentially, my discussion buddy wants me to explain the whole Christian paradigm and relationship between the Christian and the Law of God. Fine, if you have two years to devote to it, like the Apostle Paul did after literally getting knocked off his high horse and quit his job persecuting Christians. Otherwise, my brief explanation cannot do the subject enough justice, just to let the reader know. But you'll get the broad idea, hopefully.

Why don't Christians follow all the 10 Commandments as they are stated in scripture? This question bears much qualifying, so here I qualify away. This question really comes in two parts: the following of the 10 Commandments and as they are stated in scripture.

As to the first part, 'the following of the 10 Commandments,' I'll first reaffirm what I said to him last night. I don't think anyone on the planet ever follows the 10 Commandments--no Buddhist, no pagan, no agnostic, no monotheist of any variety (including Christian), no one. And that goes for everyone that has died as well. The correct response isn't "That's astounding! How can you pretend to speak for everyone on the planet?!" but "What the $%&@?" Because for 1), I'm not pretending. And 2), I didn't say it. This belief is one of the vertebrae in the backbone of the Gospel, the central theme of Christianity.

This stuff comes straight from Jesus Himself.
1) Take the bourgeois nobleman who approached Jesus asking what he must do to be saved: Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:16-26, NIV)

Jesus sized up this young buck who thought he had heaven all sewn up and with one arrow hit him in the heart, where he kept the glaring target of his affections and exposed that not only did he love his possessions more than even God Himself, young master had failed to follow even one commandment from the time he opened his mouth to speak.

2) Jesus, who spoke to multitudes of people, told them this bold statement about who is acceptable to God: For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20, NIV)

And the Apostle Paul, one compelled to believe in Jesus even as he was persecuting Him.
1) No one follows the Law of God perfectly or even imperfectly: For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:3-8 NIV)

2) He even draws from the Jewish scriptures the state of the human heart that makes it impossible to follow the Law: What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."
"Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit."
"The poison of vipers is on their lips."
"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
(Romans 3:9-19 NIV)

I could toss out several more examples, but this suffices for now. All people are God damn sinners, says the scriptures (check Romans 3:23), and I'm not being profane by saying that. The entire Christian paradigm is utterly unnatural. The idea that human beings are endemically, pervasively, and permanently sinful and unable to follow even one law, let alone ten, let alone 613 from five minutes after waking in the morning is an idea that is uniquely Christian and uniquely radical. It's outrageous. In fact, I believe the average Christian person probably doesn't even believe this on a day-to-day level. Yet Scripture says nothing else about the human condition except for this.

Second, Christians actually do follow the 10 Commandments even though it seems we don't technically appear to do so (or 'as stated in the scriptures'). Again, our first example comes from Jesus:
1) At His encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, the woman protests the supposed elitism of the Jews and of a correct place of worship of the Almighty, claiming that the mountain of the patriarch Jacob is the true historical place of worship. Jesus responds, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:21-24 NIV) Here, Jesus sets the precedent that ritual worship of correct time and place give way to worship in earnest, in spirit and truth.

2) Jesus even instructs the Pharisees, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:13 NIV) Jesus calls up a Jewish verse, Hosea 6:6, to point out that God (note that Jesus here stands in the place of God to speak about what His purpose is on earth) desires the inner self in worship, not simply ritual observances.

And again, more by the Apostle Paul.
This is what it means to live under the law as a Christian: Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:23-25 NIV)

What does this all amount to? God wants his worshippers to worship in earnest, in spirit and truth. With the advent of Jesus, worship will not only take place collectively, but individually as well, not on just one day of the week, but constantly. Muslims make much ado about praying five times daily and worshipping at appointed times more often than Jews or Christians. They don't take into account that Paul commands Christians to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and that "whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with [Jesus Christ]." (1 Thessalonians 5:10). Life itself is worship and prayer, not just the span between sunsets on Friday and Saturday.

Are the 10 Commandments ignored then? Again, Paul writes, Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! (Romans 6:15 NKJV)

Ah, grace. The one word at the plumb core of Christianity. Now, people who have not experienced the specific grace of God that leads them to believe in Jesus Christ will have difficulty understanding the exact concept of grace. In a nutshell, grace is the mercy and forgiveness of all our sin, from the innermost being to the most superficial carelessness, bought by God placing judgment onto Jesus Christ Himself instead of onto us. Grace is for the undeserving, and all of humanity is undeserving; that is the whole idea of grace. We need it, because nothing else will do.

For the person seeking to understand Christianity from the outside, this is incomprehensible: God gives us grace to worship Him with our hearts first and then with our hands and doesn't demand it the other way around. God even approaches the Hitlers of the world with grace, and accepts such unworthy souls into the kingdom of heaven. If you're tracking me at all at this point, you might well be thinking "God, that is heinous! There is no blinking way that a person like Adolf Hitler would ever be acceptable!" Like I said, grace is unnatural and evades our comprehension, because it is divine.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:20-30 NIV)

Still looking for some "rule" for Christians to follow, perhaps to validate the 10 Commandments? Jesus condensed them into two: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV)

And for those of us whom God has not (yet) knocked off our horses and met in a divine face-to-face throwdown, the grace of Christ is strange, even offensive to those who have thought of God differently and is foolish to the cynical world at large. Incomprehensible? Exactly.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Before Even Asking About God and Evil

Inevitably, talk about atheism gives rise to questions about God and evil, specifically "If God exists, why does evil exist?"

First, a correction: If God exists, then why does He allow evil to exist? This is the real question that we want to ask, not "why does evil exist?" Implicitly, we are accusing God of allowing unjust suffering and victimization. We question His motives for such allowance. We question his benevolence. We question whether he has the ability to intervene. Some of us even surmise that evil exists because God is evil Himself. For those of you who have gone beyond implicit to explict accusations, congrats for moving onto what I call ignorant pontificating.

Why didn't God stop the Holocaust? Why doesn't he stop rape? Why doesn't he stop murder? We also might as well ask why God doesn't stop gangsta rap, corporate theft, cheating on tests.
While we're asking, why doesn't God stop abortion and human cloning? (If you think that's different, I want to know why. Will you defend those things, pulling out pragmatic rationalizations and preach about rights and Moreauean cures?)

What about the husband who just needs a little action on the side? Why didn't God turn him off? In the end, some if not all of us will at some point identify and sympathize with a perpetrator and even defend his/her act of evil. There goes our credibility.

Bottom line, arbitrary human indignation cannot demand that God do something to right what we particularly think is a wrong, precisely because we are endemically fickle. Humans are walking contradictions, spreading our ignorant pontificating about ultimate justice but wanting to exempt ourselves from it. We have lost all credibility to rage against evil or to accuse God of anything. Remember, in this world, one man's racism is another man's right to free speech.

In the Christian perspective, we will see God's intervention but at His appointed time and on His terms, not ours. I could say that it all began with Jesus on a cross, but then you might not tolerate an "unjust" raking of your conscience over the coals to think about the evil in your own life, and wonder why God doesn't stop me.

I have one: Why doesn't God strike all atheists dead? That would certainly remove all doubt and doubters concerning His existence.

New Atheists = Intellectual Lightweights

(Note: this post follows in line with my first post about the "new" atheists back on December 13, 2007)

From The Christian Century, John F. Haught's article, titled "Amateur atheists, Why the new atheism isn't serious" caught my eye from Triablogue.

I've cut and pasted a few choice quotes here:

What is remarkable is that none of the new atheists seems remotely prepared to admit that his scientism is a self-sabotaging confession of faith. Listen to Hitchens: "If one must have faith in order to believe in something, then the likelihood of that something having any truth or value is considerably diminished." But this statement invalidates itself since it too arises out of faith in things unseen. There is no set of tangible experiments or visible demonstrations that could ever scientifically prove the statement to be true. In order to issue the just-quoted pronouncement with such confidence Hitchens already has to have subscribed to the creed of a faith community for which scientism and scientific naturalism provide the dogmatic substance.


By contrast, the recent atheist authors want atheism to prevail at the least possible expense to the agreeable socioeconomic circumstances out of which they sermonize. They would have the God-religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—simply disappear, after which we should be able go on enjoying the same lifestyle as before. People would then continue to cultivate essentially the same values as before, including altruism, but they would do it without inspired books and divine commandments. Educators would teach science without intrusions from creationists, and students would learn that evolution rather than divine creativity is the ultimate explanation of why we are the kind of organisms we are. Only propositions based on evidence would be tolerated, but the satisfaction of knowing the truth about nature by way of science would compensate for any ethical constraints we would still have to put on our animal instincts.

This, of course, is precisely the kind of atheism that nauseated Nietzsche and made Camus and Sartre cringe. For them, atheism of this sort is nothing more than the persistence of life-numbing religiosity—it is religiosity in a new guise. These more muscular critics of religion were at least smart enough to realize that a full acceptance of the death of God would require an asceticism completely missing in the new atheistic formulas.


And if we allow the hard-core atheists into our discussion, we can draw this conclusion: If absolute values exist, then God exists. But if God does not exist, then neither do absolute values, and one should not issue moral judgments as though they do. Belief in God or the practice of religion is not necessary in order for people to be highly moral beings. We can agree with soft-core atheists on this point. But the real question, which comes not from me but from the hard-core atheists, is: Can you rationally justify your unconditional adherence to timeless values without implicitly invoking the existence of God?

Yeah, what he said.