Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: The Shack

I read The Shack by William Young over the weekend. If you haven’t heard of it, it is a very popular book at least in Christian circles, and beyond. I found it to be a very fascinating eloquently written story about an everyday man in the face of a great sorrow and his journey to come to terms with the great sorrow. It is a book that, with creative license, takes a rather fresh approach to many of the questions everyone struggles with concerning God. Some compare it to the classic Pilgrim’s Progress; however, as much as I love reading a good classic, this book surpasses the former at least in today’s culture. I was intrigued to find a lot of the questions we grabble with on this site wrestled with in the book in a way I cannot due justice. There is something to telling of truth in a story that can capture the mind and heart in a way straight up facts fall short. I would say The Shack is a parable of sorts that has a very beautiful message. I recommend it to Christians and non-Christians alike, including the most ardent skeptics. Further, if there is even the smallest of embers flickering in your being of desire of knowing God's love you may find some hope in settling back and reading this book. If nothing else, you will have enjoyed an amazing story eloquently told.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Feed The Desire To Know Truth

Man hungers after truth in such a way that it is greater than a desire for mere abstract intellectual knowledge yet at the same time we seem to reduce it to such a thing. Our drive for inquisitive curiosity into the questions of purpose and meaning seems tantamount to something more satisfying than the abstract. I propose that our desire for answers is not satisfied by intellectual propositions, but only by tangible relational experience with the embodied Answer.

We have all encountered factual answers to our questions whether we see those presentations of facts as valid or not. We experience it only with our minds. What if it were possible, as C.S. Lewis aptly illustrates, metaphorically, to “taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom?”

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce he tells a fanciful supposal story of a journey towards heaven. In one of the scenes a person of intellect is talking to a person who has already experienced heaven. The person of intellect is explaining his journey of inquiry and his desire to always have inquiry for he believed the journey better than the satisfaction. He asks the heavenly person if he would still be free for the pursuit of inquiry to which the person responds, “Free, as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is still not free to be dry.” Then he elaborates, “Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth.” The man who was from heaven was trying to show the man still earthly minded that his hope for answers could find ultimate fulfillment in a greater fashion than only factuality, but the Great Answer Himself. Despite the offer the man of intellect went away satisfied to be pursing without ever finding that which invoked his pursuit.

Are we truly satisfied with factual knowledge? Or is there something deeper, grander, more spectacular that is at the heart of our desire to know? Do we want to know just to know more facts in our minds? Or do we want to touch the Answer? Do we want to taste the satisfaction of something eternal or are we doomed to contentment of abstract systems of intellectual propositions true or otherwise. I think the pursuit for intellectual knowledge is noble and has great merit, but if it stops there I think it is lacking something vitally fundamental. In the depths of our being we yearn for knowledge, understanding, truth, answers, purpose, meaning, unity in diversity, community etc. These left divorced from their eternal nature are unsatisfied and hopeless. There is nothing of substance in these desires unless they are properly married to the eternal One.

People think that they will find satisfaction in wealth and then upon attaining it they find there is no satisfaction to be found there. Some think vows of poverty will bring satisfaction to the soul and yet they don’t find it there either. Some think being academically knowledgeable is the key to fulfillment and yet it leaves them discontent. Others think if only they could be the best at their career, or have the best family, or the be the champion in their field of sports, and yet when the day is over they experience the same yearning for something beyond that they just can’t put their finger on. I propose to you that we are all searching whether we do it with a pursuit of knowledge or a pursuit of wealth we are looking for the eternal satisfaction. If we follow that desire and seek the truth, I do not refer to intellectual facts, but the Truth that satisfies the soul we will find the Truth.

In saying this, I am not diminishing the importance of thinking, of reason, of logic, of intellectual knowledge. Obviously if there is a Truth like that of which I speak it would need to be one in which satisfies on that level as well as on the spiritual eternal level. It wouldn’t make much sense as truth if it violated epistemology so damagingly. Logic, reason, thinking, desire, all of these things are tools to attaining the Truth, thus Truth will not violate them. It may violate the way we currently think these tools work depending on how far off our thinking is to reality, but it won’t violate logic and reason itself. It won’t violate nature; it will affirm the natural world. It will complete the picture, not destroy the picture. We live in the real world so certainly the Truth about the real world will make what we may see in black and white come into full HD color. Follow your desire for Truth and you will find something more magnificent than you thought possible.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Absolute Truth Disclaimer

I have come to realize rather recently that Christians have been careless with their usage of the term “absolute truth.” It appears that this translates to a claim of infallible absolutism of which is in the very least seen as arrogant and at the most is seen as having the potential for religious terrorism. I will not deny that a very small percentage who use the term may have some issues of self-righteous arrogance and a few of those may have a mindset that may cause militancy. I give to you though that either use of the term would be in stark difference to the person of Jesus and is not indicative of His message.

The only thing that is meant genuinely by most who venture to advocate that absolute truth exist is that there is such a thing as a universal truth that is true for all people in all time. For example, if Jesus is God that is true not only for those who believe it, but for all. Or if love is the most excellent way, that is universally so and not simply so for those who think it is. It means generally that truth is that which lines up with reality. We don’t create truth, we discover it. As such, truth isn’t something to be levied upon another by force or manipulation or any other covert or reprehensible means. The existence of Truth does not give license for the injustices of absolutism.

Most of the world sees claims to truth as grounds to assume power over others. To the followers of Christ, this is a misuse of truth and not the way of truth. In Jesus day, His followers who were still thinking like the common culture thought He would rise up and overthrow the government and establish a physical Kingdom upon the earth. They saw that this is how rulers rule, by power and force. He told them the Kingdom of God was going to be established through the hearts of man and not the swords of man. He told them to put away their swords. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter when He was crucified for He did not resist as He did not seek to build a Kingdom by force. He could have commanded all the angels to come to His rescue. He could have rescued Himself, but His sacrifice for a higher purpose. Jesus was always toppling the paradigms of man and turning them upside down. Where men thought mighty force was the way to establish God’s Kingdom, Jesus points to the children and says the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Jesus said to love one another even ones enemies and be kind to those who are unkind to you.

Furthermore, when Christians speak of absolute truth, we do not mean that we have all knowledge or even a complete picture of reality. We know that one exists, but that we only have a part of it one that is seen as through a glass darkly. We peak through with our fallible minds and senses to the infallible and we see glimpses of the greater reality than that in which we live. We see that glimpse of His Truth and we journey towards Him seeking a closer look. We can’t stare at the sun because it is too bright for us, but by the sun we can see the world around us. We might not be able to see God directly, but through the glimpses we gain of Him we can see our world more clearly. That sight is always in part, and not in full. It is always a journey of truth and not a stationary position of absolute knowledge. When we say we have found truth, it doesn’t mean we’ve attained all truth, but we have seen enough to know that our journey is in the right direction.

Likewise, when I write articles and answer questions with confidence. I don’t mean to communicate that I’m infallible or have the corner on truth. There is much I don’t know even about what I believe I know. I’m learning how to communicate what I have learned on my journey to help others along in their journey. I’m of the conviction that it’s a good thing to help others out and that others who have learned things along the way that I haven’t learned yet or haven’t seen in their perspective can help me out too. Some may have seen more glimpses than I and I’d like to learn from them. Some may have seen different glimpses than I and we can put those puzzle pieces together to see more of the big picture. I am writing from the perspective that there is this grand reality to glimpse and if you haven’t glimpsed it yet, or you are questioning those glimpses as something more natural than supernatural I’m okay with that. I am hoping we all still have a desire for truth even if we aren’t in agreement about where that is found. And I am hoping that we can be an aid to each other even in our disagreements in that journey gaining perspective and gaining understanding of each others worldviews in a manner which values the person over their way of thinking so that there is never any cause for condemnation, arrogance, militancy, manipulation etc.

I hope by now most of you, if not all, have seen my heart in these discussions and know that I see myself as someone along side everyone else searching for knowledge and understanding of this life and our purpose in the grand story of life. Yes, I am forthright that I believe that Christ is both the way to the answer and the answer Himself. But others propose that way of naturalism is the proper journey of truth and freedom of thinking. These are two of the many truth claims in the world. The many doesn’t mean there isn’t a One. Some may walk through many before finding the One. And others may start with the One. And still others may embrace the many roads. We are all on journeys and there is no road that we can travel that God can’t find us and show us the road of Himself. The glimpses of truth show through with amazing creativity no matter where we are in life. There are always signs along the way and I trust that some may see some of the things I write as signs pointing towards truth and others may find other signs. Some may need philosophical answers and others may need tangible experiences, and most I would imagine need both. No matter, my confidence is not in myself, but in Christ. The answers are not in me, but in Him and that is why I use the name answer bearer. Not because I have all answers, but because He who I believe is the Answer lives in me and I bear Him. I seek to glimpse Him and to share what I see as best I know how.

Monday, March 16, 2009

God Heals Today

Saturday I was instant messaging back and forth with my sister-in-law. She asked me to pray for her as she had a pain in her head all day. It was early afternoon when we were exchanging instant messages. I asked her if it was akin to a headache or something different. She said it was different. I asked her to put her hand on where it hurt and to tell the pain to go in Jesus name. I waited for her response on the instant messenger. Then I saw “it worked.” Actually surprised, even though I believe in healing, it never ceases to amaze me, I wrote to confirm and asked her if there was any pain left. She said no. She said she did what I asked her once and almost all, but a small twinge of pain instantly left. Without any instruction from me, she did it a second time and all the pain was gone. She said it hadn’t stopped all morning until just then. We continued to talk for another twenty minutes on the instant messenger at which point she had to go. I asked her once more before she signed off if all the pain was still completely gone. She said yes, it was just fine.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Atheism: A Religion?

Atheism seems to have evolved over the years. Ironically, the first atheists were those who rejected the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods for the monotheistic Judeo-Christian God. Thus, its first use was not in the context of being a non-theist, but a non-polytheist. Later, about the time of the Reformation, atheism was birthed out of a reaction to the injustices of the Church. From this reaction a philosophical atheism was developed largely by Nietzsche and other prominent atheists of his day. . .

This is the first paragraph of an article written for Helium. If you are interest in the rest please click here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Righteousness Reflected

Sometimes the right thing at the wrong time can be the wrong thing. Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father doing and only said what He heard His Father saying. This means He was walking in a present reality of His Father’s will. He wasn’t doing what His Father was doing yesterday, but what He is doing today. God is righteous and when we are in Him, we are made righteous and we can share in a righteous nature by which we are enabled to live righteously.

The normal tendency is to divorce right living from righteous being. We then structure rules to follow to make our own self-righteousness. Sometimes those rules are things He has told us in a moment that we take as a law. He leads us to hug a homeless person and we turn it into a rule that we have to hug every homeless person and make everyone else do it too. It’s easier for us, we think, to find a structure of rules to obey then to have relationship with the one who is righteous. He does the work for us, and yet we try to keep doing the work on our own strength for our own merit. He says give me your burden and I will exchange it for something lighter, for something better. And yet we hold on to our burdens and struggle under the weight of things He is ready and willing to free us from.

What if when we get married our spouse gives us a list of things to do that they believe will be good for the marriage. What if we then work at the list and try to fulfill it day after day? Maybe that list even has really good things like spending time together or loving each other. But all that is being done is to honor the list to keep the law. All becomes rigorous duty instead of the actions of love. Would it not be better, for the husband and wife to serve each other out of a relationship of love instead of duty? It is the same way with God; Christ frees us from the law of obligations and duties. He came to open the door so that we don’t need external guidance from a set of laws.

When I profess that Christ frees us from the law, I am not saying that we are given license to sin, far from it. I am saying that we are freed from needing the law to keep us on the right path. We have something better; the door to the Father has been opened to us without our earning entry. The price was paid by Jesus and we can enter into full righteousness through Jesus. Also the Holy Spirit guides us in all truth. We learn to listen to the voice of God and allow Him to direct our path. It’s not a control thing, it’s a relationship thing. When you are in relationship with the Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Almighty God, the Perfect Father, the Loving Friend, you soak in His love and righteousness and from that place you desire to live as He and reflect Him. He doesn’t hold the puppet strings and make us conform to Him, but the more we get to know Him the greater our desire to shine Him in all we do.

When we accept our inheritance from Him, He saturates us with Himself. He dwells within us and us within Him simultaneously. We take on a new nature because He is giving us His nature. This does not mean we become God. But it does mean we become like Him in our identity just as a son is like his natural father. He isn’t his natural father, but he can be like him. The Bible equates our union with our spouse – our oneness – to give analogy of the oneness we can have with God. The husband doesn’t become the same person as the wife, but they become one. It’s a mystery of unity. In the earliest days of the Church the followers of Christ were dubbed “Christians” as a derogatory term meaning “little Christ.” The irony is that there is great truth espoused even when it was done to be derogatory. The truth is, as believers, our lives are to be a reflection of Him. What was intended as an insult was really a testimony of the witness of the early Church and how they were living lives that mirrored their Savior.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Addendum To "More Thoughts On God's Goodness"

In the comments of my post “More Thoughts on God’s Goodness” it is asserted that morality is either arbitrarily dictated by God or it exists outside of God and consequently God is bound by an external moral standard. First of all, those are not the only possibilities, but let us examine the latter assertion first.

Instead of saying morality let us change that to “good.” If goodness is outside of God and God is bound to it, it would be eternal like God and uncreated like God then we would have this metaphysical non-God standard of goodness with no being attached to it that exists independently and outside God. This seems highly unlikely. We would be positing the eternal substance of good without any attachment to any person, being, entity, God. We would be positing something extremely abstract and unimaginable. Furthermore, if God was bound to conform to an outside standard, He would not be an independent self-existent Being for He would have need of adaptability to eternal goodness. He would for all intents and purposes cease to be God and would not be in essence a good God, for goodness is something not found in Him, but found outside Him that while He could measure up to it, He wouldn’t be the measurement of it. Need I explain further how this paradox could not logically exist?

Moving on, to the first proposition that goodness is created by God. This is typically argued that whatever God decrees is good. For instance, He could suddenly decide to decree that “rape” is good and it would be so. This would be an arbitrary and ever changing standard based on the whims of God. In this scenario, people assert that God creates goodness and could just as easily declare evil things good because He decrees it. This does not work as a standard of goodness. For one, for God to be God, He is unchangeable. He is always Himself. If He needed to be whimsically one thing and then another, He would cease being God. For God is the greatest being that nothing greater can be imagined. If there was someone greater than the Judeo-Christian God, then that Being would be God. If no one greater exist and it were possible to be greater than God, then God would not be God. Thus, necessarily being the greatest, He must be perfectly good, pure, holy, worthy, just, merciful, loving, and righteous.

A possibility was not proffered in the assertion about the nature of goodness that avoids the paradox and the whimsical arbitrary dictator. That is that goodness is not eternally external to God, nor created by God as an external created standard, but it is His nature. He is goodness. All He is the perfect standard of goodness. Not a representation of goodness, but in real essence goodness itself. Goodness isn’t an abstract invisible set of laws and rules. It isn’t separate from God. Jesus’ disciples called Him the Good Teacher. Jesus asked them, “Why do you call me good? You know that there is none good, but the Father.” Jesus was asking them if they realized they were accepting Him as one with God. For He knew they knew only God was “good.”

One can argue that this idea makes our use of the word “good” meaningless. Because when we say an apple taste good we are not saying it is God. No, we are saying that it lines up with a high standard of taste as far as apples go. We use the word in many different ways just as we use the word love in a variety of ways that does not communicate the fullness of love. We say we love our child, but we also say we love going bowling. This does not mean that the love we have for our child is on the same plain as the love of a sport or an object. We still know the difference, even though we use the word in both instances.

Christians believe that we become righteous when we receive Jesus gift of salvation. Sometimes we give the wrong impression as if Jesus hands salvation out to us. In reality, He gives us Himself who is salvation. We become righteous because we enter union with God. He doesn’t give us righteousness, He is righteousness. He doesn’t give us goodness, He is goodness. He doesn’t give us love, He is love. We can have shadows and tastes of this reality before we know Him, but the real tangible essence of these things are only found in Him and we only gain them by being in Him relationally. That is why the greatest commandments are to love God and from that place of love of God and being loved by God we can live out the second greatest commandment to love people. When God’s love is within us it naturally overflows to others. This is why the Scriptures say we cannot hate people and claim we love God, for we do not know God’s love if we hate people. This is actually the standard Scriptures say that unbelievers have to judge Christians. Jesus said that it is our love for each other and the world that shows that Jesus is really the Son of God and that it’s all true.

If I do not live a life of love towards you or towards anyone, you have reason to believe I do not know God and I have nothing true to say about Him. Being in Christ is a highly experiential reality. It is more than intellectual belief in the existence of God and the acceptance of the worldview of Christianity. It is not akin to religious service because of that intellectual accent. It is a viable tangible living relationship. Granted there are times when it doesn’t feel like it and I don’t feel that tangibility. However, there are so many times where that relationship is alive and journeys to new depths and new experiences. It is a journey through deserts, valleys, mountains, and sometimes you feel like you’re soaring with the eagles and other times you feel like you’re traveling through a desert. But that joy of having even one day with the Lord is worth more than a thousand elsewhere. However, God delights to spend time with His children and we don’t have to sustain on only one day of tangibly relating with Him. We can have an eternity with Him that begins not when we die, but when we begin to live with Him now.

Just like any relationship it is cultivated by spending time with Him and talking with Him and listening to Him. It is cultivated by love and trust. However, it is His love working in us that enables us to know Him. He does the work. He asks us to rest in Him. All service is done out of a place of that rest. It seems like a contradiction, but it is a beautiful harmony when you see it lived out. It is part of that journey in learning how it all works. I’ve met people that have a pretty good handle on it and they are a joy to be around. I’m still learning, as I am sure are they. The Kingdom of God is a big place. Jesus said His Father’s house has many rooms. There is a lot of exploring to do, and He invites us to explore the deep things of Him. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and it is to the glory of kings to search it out. It is a joy to journey with God. He is totally amazing.