Monday, June 29, 2020

Thoughts on faith, or the lack thereof

This was originally written as a response to a family member who shared that the questions posed by the lead singer of a prominent Christian band, admitting he had questioned his faith for years and finally abandoned it in great relief, were questions she shared. I know others share the same questions and doubts. And while it feels like the social dialogue has suddenly changed, it's my belief that it really hasn't--that these issues are so basic to the Christian worldview, and much could be remedied by proper knowledge and understanding of what the Bible actually says, I decided to make my response public. I welcome questions--but reserve the right to delete unhelpful comments.

So if you have questions about the faith and feel that no one has ever adequately addressed them--this is for you. I pray you find a deeper understanding, and ever-deeper trust in the only One who can ever make sense of all the madness.

First … questions are normal. Doubts are normal. It’s what you do with them that makes the difference …

I just had one variation of this conversation with one of my kids yesterday about the guy from Hawk Nelson. How Christian entertainers and artists need prayer because they’re as visible, maybe more, than people in ministry, and thus even more of a target for the enemy. But I’m not sure that approach is what you need, personally.

Last night I went to that guy’s Instagram account and read everything he had to say, and then later lay awake for a couple of hours thinking about it all. It’s ironic because I’ve been reading through the book of Job, and then teaching the youth group out of Ecclesiastes, and both books grapple with these same questions. Where is God in the face of injustice? Why do the same evils happen to everyone, regardless of how they live their lives? If you know anything about the story of Job (and I wouldn’t be surprised if not—that one gets ignored by “faith” teachers because it doesn’t line up with their theology), then you already know that God never, this side of heaven, answers Job’s questions. He basically shows up, asks Job if HE was the one who set the stars in place and laid the foundations of the earth, etc. etc. etc., and brings Job to a place of realizing that hey, he’s really in no position to question things that we aren’t capable of understanding in this life. Sounds really unfair of God, doesn’t it?

So let me tell you another story. This morning, after sleeping only half the night because, well, Big Questions about Life, the Universe, and Everything, I got up, threw on my bathrobe, and after just a sip of coffee went out to feed the chickens. I needed to make sure first thing that they were all right after the door to the coop was left open all night—last fall we had trouble with a mink or some other predator getting in behind the high fence of their yard and killing 1-2 each night, and I’d been scrupulous about making sure they were safely shut in at sundown every day, until last night. The chickens were fine, though, just very hungry! I tossed them a can full of scratch over the fence, then went into the coop via the storage room to fill their regular feeder and set that out in the yard before turning back to begin the task of gathering eggs. That’s when the rooster—right after I’d fed him, the ingrate!—decided to sneak attack, and I was so startled, I tripped and fell in the floor of the chicken coop. (I am fine, too. LOL) Fortunately I had a hoe to hand and used that to fend the silly critter off so I could get back on my feet and push him back long enough to pull the coop door closed to let me gather eggs in peace.

Dumb bird. Humans feed him, every single day. And still he sees us as a threat to his harem. I mean, he literally turned from pecking at pellets, to throwing himself at me as I was “retreating” with the empty feed can.

How often, though, do we do that with God?

I have no way of communicating to this rooster that I’m not a threat—quite the contrary, I’m a good part of why he’s even still alive. We at least have the advantage of some communication, however limited, with God. But even so, there’s so much we don’t, and can’t, understand. Think about how limited we are sometimes even as parents to explain to our own children why we have to do what we do! How much greater is that divide between us and the Creator of the Universe??

Even so, there is much He gives us. Going back to our questions and wranglings over evil and injustice. If there is no God, why do we even care? What’s the basis of our indignation over wrong, if there is no Absolute to define what good is, to start with? Why is abuse such a big deal, including wrongs that have been done us, personally? And what about music and art? How can we even recognize and appreciate beauty? C.S. Lewis made the comment that every physical human craving is met by something: are we hungry? There’s food. Are we thirsty? There’s water. Tired? Sleep, or at least rest. But emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, we find ourselves craving something that this earth holds no answer to. That in itself, he says, is proof we’re made for something outside this world. I was thinking last night how all of history holds questions and dilemmas that will not, cannot, be answered this side of eternity. All of humanity, literally all of creation, is holding its breath and waiting for the culmination of all the answers.

But … we are not there yet. We’re still caught in the agonizing grind of the day by day, where life is full of questions and contradictions and paradoxes and ironies. Like stupid roosters who can’t recognize the being who provides them food. And then bigger things that seem impossible to get past.

The thing is … no other religion or philosophy or worldview offers what Christianity does: HOPE. Meeghan and I have been watching this Korean drama that’s part historical, part adventure/intrigue, with what appears to be a thread of romance shoved in there sideways. It has struck me time and again how completely without hope the historical Asian mindset is—and yet such a deep respect for beauty and craving for wisdom and truth. Yes, it gets overlaid and mixed in with all the usual gunk—human ambition, pride, selfishness, greed. And those things are what muck up the basic message of the Good News of Jesus coming to die for us. I read that guy’s questions about that as well—why all the killing, always the killing, even in regards to the Son of God. And again I ask, why would it matter unless there IS a God and He’s woven that longing into our very souls and spirits to look for more? I can offer answers to those questions, BTW, but are the intellectual answers what we really need? Or just a deeper assurance that God really does KNOW, and He’s got it, and all of it WILL BE ANSWERED when the time is right? But in case you’d like my attempt at the intellectual answers as well …

Why the killing? Well, death entered as a result of man’s disobedience. Think about this: God gave Adam and Eve absolute perfection. They lacked nothing. And … it wasn’t enough. The serpent persuaded Eve that God was somehow being unfair or withholding a rightful good by telling them not to eat of the ONE tree. (… sound familiar??) And then … blood was shed to cover the result of that disobedience. (God killed two animals—two of Adam and Eve’s pets, for crying out loud—to provide skins to cover their nakedness. Which, nakedness was not the problem! It was their newfound consciousness of it, and the potential issues THAT was going to cause.)

So, that initial shedding of blood was not just practical, it was symbolic. It was setup for the whole Jewish sacrificial system, which in turn was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice Jesus would make for our redemption, indeed, had to make. Nothing can make payment for our violating God’s law except for blood. Think too of the earliest law—after Cain killed Abel, it says that “whoever sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Why God let Cain off the hook, I don’t know, except that he begged for mercy, and so we see that God is also merciful even though bloodguilt demands payment.

Let’s go forward in time to the Israelites taking the land of Canaan. Mention is made at one point of the sin of the Canaanites not having reached full measure of awfulness—but then, somehow, it was, later. The people of that land were terrible, brutal … parents selling their children into ritual prostitution, other people using those prostitutes without thought—indeed, as an offering to their “gods”—children and babies being sacrificed to appease those same gods. Was all of that okay?

Also, notice that it wasn’t too different from some aspects of our culture today, even though we sanitize it and dress it up in nice clothing. But maybe I digress. God told Israel to go in and wipe out those nations, yes, but they also had instructions that if anyone wanted to follow God—the one true God, who does indeed extend mercy and grace throughout the Old Testament, and anyone who thinks He was just “angry” hasn’t read much of their Bible—then they were brought in and became part of the congregation of Israel. Trouble was, Israel didn’t do that completely, and instead started adopting the ways of the Canaanites, down to the whole thing of child sacrifice.

Was that okay?

Sooo … fast forward some more to Jesus dying on the cross. Did you know He fulfilled every single prophecy in the Old Testament, and then some? (I say this because most people aren’t aware that even the design of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system is a picture and foreshadowing of Him and what He does for us.) And … did you know that God even gave us historical evidences of the Resurrection? There are a handful of facts that even skeptics admit:
  • Jesus was a real person who lived and was killed by the Romans (writings of Josephus)
  • His followers saw something that they believed was the risen Jesus, and it so convinced and transformed them that they devoted their entire lives to the cause of Christ—to the point that EACH ONE OF THEM died for it, or were willing to
  • A confirmed opponent of this Way, Saul of Tarsus, also saw something that he was convinced was the risen Jesus—and he also devoted his entire life to preaching Christ, to the point of being beaten and stoned and shipwrecked and all kinds of other persecutions, and eventually dying for it
[Note: my thanks to former professor Gary Habermas, who has devoted years to defense of the faith, specifically in reference to the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus]

All these together give us some pretty hefty confirmation that Jesus was real and that He died, and that He rose again. What other religion claims that? And other philosophies sometimes convince groups of people to kill or commit mass suicide—but each one of them, separately, dying for it? If it were a hoax, someone would have cracked and admitted it. And then those who didn’t believe would have been all over it.

And why is the Resurrection important? Because without it, we have just another religion. Just another theory about how people should live. Has it been mistaught through the years, or distorted? Of course. Humans are still stupid, even redeemed humans. We still fail each other. We still garble the message, even when our intentions are good. And—you know already that [the representation of faith given us by a particular family member] isn’t a good one, or wasn’t (I can’t speak to where [they] might be right now—and yes, I do pray for [them] even if I still can’t bring myself to resume a relationship with [them]). But those scars go deep, and I’ve found just in the past 2-3 years that I still deal with repercussions of things done to me in my childhood. Which—yes, some things are just plain evil, no matter how you slice it. But again, who’s to judge that, unless God really IS and has laid down a real standard of right and wrong?

Anyway. That’s just a sampling of the abundant intellectual reasons available. But I suspect what most are looking for are the emotional reasons to believe. My Philosophy professor said years ago, when reason and emotion conflict, emotion will win. It’s ironic, really, and more than a bit paradoxical, that people crave the emotional answers so strongly … and yet we can’t throw reason out the door, either.

Ravi Zacharias, who recently went home to Heaven, spoke so much about all this. An immigrant from India, he attempted suicide at 17 and then gave his life to God, and as a result of his study offers some of the best defenses of Christianity I’ve ever heard. Here is a brief introduction of this man and his work:

 

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