Eternity On Our Hearts, VI.

And we have reached the end of this mini-series. Some further conversations and thoughts have prompted other ideas since writing this, and I may revisit them in the future. But consider this the finale for now. Thanks for reading, and I welcome any thoughts or feedback!

Previously:

Part I: An Existential Crisis
Part II: What Pontius Pilate Asked
Part III: Assumptions, Axioms and Authority
Part IV: In the Beginning was the Word
Part V: The Word Made Flesh

Part VI: Beyond Wishful Thinking
What is faith?

Many modern, psychological views of faith see it as wishful thinking we commit to and internalize. Hence religion is also seen as a ‘crutch’ for the needy, people who want to believe in a God and greater power to get them through life. (The cheeky Christian response to faith being a crutch is, “Well, who says you aren’t limping?” Or even better: “Actually, it’s a life support system. Cause we’re basically dead.”) The wishful thinking explanation seems to make rational, human sense. But I think our society has a way of and proclivity to explaining everything psychologically, and just because they can overlay a framework on a phenomenon, doesn’t nullify that there is a greater spiritual reality they can’t explain.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Assurance and conviction extend beyond wishful thoughts—there is a solid sense of certainty there. Faith is not the same as feelings, and it is only as good as the object of that faith. We can be very sincerely wrong about things.

The Bible gives numerous examples of faithful men and women, parables of what faith is, and principles for a life of faith. It’s hard to summarize succinctly when we need all of them for a full picture of genuine faith in the genuine God of the Bible.

But it is also crucial to get faith right. The Bible teaches that we are saved and justified before God by his gift of righteousness in Christ, and we receive that righteousness through faith. During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers identified three key aspects of saving, biblical faith, so I will defer to that and present them here:

Notitia: intellectual awareness 

There must be an object to our faith, whether content or a person. Our faith must be informed, and genuine faith must be informed by truth. Sincerity isn’t enough to make the cut – if I believed Satan is God, that’s not going to save me.

Assensus: intellectual assent

We need to know the truth first, but then we must believe it. There must be an intellectual assent to the truth claims of Scripture – that I am a sinner, that Jesus is God and came to die for my sins, and the He rose from the dead.

Fiducia: personal trust

The Bible says that even Satan and the demons intellectually assent to the fact that Jesus is God, and they know the Word of God is true. That assent doesn’t save them. A crucial element of true faith is personal trust in Christ, in who He says He is, and trust in Him alone for salvation. This encompasses the mental and intellectual, but extends to the heart and will also.

The Bible teaches faith is not just a posture of the mind and intellect, but of the heart before God. It is an exercise of intellectual belief, but it is also a posture of the heart before God that acknowledges our intellect is limited, our desires are selfish, and our works are futile before a holy God. It acknowledges our faith is easily shaken because we are weak, but we know deep in our hearts that we are made for more. Logic and reason will present a strong case for Christianity, but it will not give you everything because we are called to faith.

What about doubt?

“Christ never failed to distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is can’t believe; unbelief is won’t believe. Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness.” –John Drummond

I think one of the great stories of faith wrestling with doubt comes in a very simple cry a man makes to Jesus. He brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus and asks for healing, after Jesus’ disciples are unable to castle the spirit out.

“And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:21-24)

This man came to Jesus with faith. If he didn’t believe Jesus could do anything, he might as well not have shown up. But his initial request, if you can do anything, also reveals the weakness of his faith—of course Jesus can cast out the demon. Christ gently rebukes him, and the father very honestly, very humbly, with genuine but imperfect faith, says, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

No one has “perfect faith.” Nowhere does the Bible give a percentage, or bullet points, or ratios of head knowledge to heart acceptance, to indicate how much faith is enough faith. Faith does not believe perfectly, but it does believe humbly. We do not pick and choose what we like from God’s Word, but we accept it wholly. And the Word teaches that there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved except through Jesus Christ.

The life of faith 

Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting.” –Tim Keller

The life of faith is not a life of cheap grace, which says because I am forgiven in Christ, I can now live however I want. Nor does it say, I will try harder to obey God so He will be pleased with me. These mentalities reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel. They reflect a mentality that is still conforming to one of those two paradigms—of moral conformity or self-discovery. Ultimately, it reflects a heart that has not grasped the depth of the love of God, or an understanding that while forgiveness is offered to us freely, it came at a costly price.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1-4)

Jesus Christ, God Himself, left heaven’s glory to walk this Earth and suffer for our sins. When we really acknowledge the depth of our sin, and the cost of our salvation, we begin to understand the boundless love of God. How can we live for ourselves, or anything else for that matter, in light of that truth? Living by a paradigm of fear or control manipulates externalities, but only love transforms the inner heart.

John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace,” also penned these words:

Our pleasure and our duty,
though opposite before,
since we have seen his beauty
are joined to part no more.

S.D.G.

 

Eternity On Our Hearts, V.

Previously:

Part I: An Existential Crisis
Part II: What Pontius Pilate Asked
Part III: Assumptions, Axioms and Authority
Part IV: In the Beginning was the Word

Part V: The Word Made Flesh
What is the Gospel? 

We can talk about objectivity and reality all day, but those are just philosophical underpinnings. In the last few essays, my hope was to provide sound reason and evidence for the integrity of truth, and the truth of the Bible. The ultimate point of it all, though, is the resounding message of the Scripture: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In The Prodigal God, Tim Keller takes a piercing and beautiful look at the Gospel through one of Jesus’ most famous parables—commonly known as the parable of the prodigal son, Keller refers to it as the parable of the two lost sons, and the prodigal, lavish grace of God the Father. (You can read it in Luke 15).

“Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery. Each acts as a lens coloring how you see all of life, or as a paradigm shaping your understanding of everything. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing the ills of the world, and of determining right from wrong.” –Tim Keller

In antiquity and modernity, we see people divided into these two basic frameworks of living. Of course, many people are a mixture in some ways, but we tend to either adopt the worldview of living by good, upright moral standards (and condemning those who turn from them), or we adopt the worldview that we should pursue our own goals and fulfillment according to what pleases us, regardless of culture and convention.

The former can be crushing, because we are never up to par. The latter can be destructive, as our hearts lead us into spirals of greed, addiction and selfishness.

The Gospel of Jesus enters with a denunciation of both these inadequate, hopeless paths, and offers a radical alternative.

The problem of sin

Sin traces its roots back to the Garden of Eden. God created all things and saw that it was good, including Adam and Eve. But when they actively disobeyed God, sin entered the world and affected all of mankind and creation. Because of sin, there is death, disease and decay. Above all, there is separation from God because He cannot tolerate sin. That’s why there were so many rituals and sacrificial laws in the Old Testament about how men had to approach God, because by nature, all were unclean and sinful.

Most of us think sin is breaking God’s rules. But when Jesus came and condemned some of the most religious, moral people of his day, he revealed that sin is more profound than that: it is displacing God in our hearts, and putting something else on the throne. (Adam and Eve’s ultimate sin wasn’t just eating fruit, it was a heart that desired to be like God). We are all worshipers by nature—don’t think you are ‘free’ if you don’t worship God. You can worship self, money, success, relationships, and a host of other things.

That is why Paul says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The character of God

I’ve been asked before: so why is that so bad? Why does God care so much anyway if we worship Him or if we sin?

The Bible begins with the declaration of God as creator. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) As creator, God has the right and authority to tell us how we must live. One analogy used in Scripture is that of a potter and clay. In discussing God’s sovereignty in the New Testament, Paul writes:

“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:19-21)

So why is God’s law and standard so high and impossible? In short, God’s law is reflection of His character. In it, we see his perfect and pure moral standard. God is holy, and He cannot tolerate sin. That sounds harsh, especially to our culture today. But if you even think about human courts of law, we see that they are designed to execute justice, even if it’s done imperfectly. We are rightly outraged if criminals are let off the hook. God cannot be a God of justice if He lets sin slide. That would compromise His righteousness. And because He is God, He has the authority to declare what is right and wrong and execute judgment.

No one can give you a ‘reason’ why God has this or that particular standard – we tend to ask that when we encounter parts of God’s law that are especially hard to swallow or naturally distasteful to us. But in knowing God’s character, we must understand His love and His law are not set in opposition to each other. Like a child dislikes his parents’ command to not eat all the cookies, we often chafe against God’s law because we fail to see how they are for our good. A child just knows sugar tastes delicious; he doesn’t think about calories or diabetes. In the face of God’s infinite wisdom, we are more limited than a child before his parents. Our asking ‘why’ must stop somewhere, and in short, the end of questioning must be because God has spoken. He does not owe us any explanations.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

The Gospel

This all sounds horribly bleak. But the bad news must come before the Gospel, which literally means ‘good news.’ We can’t fully appreciate how good the Gospel is unless we understand how desperate our situation is: as sinful and helpless before a holy God, rightfully deserving condemnation. If the way of salvation were only by keeping the law, no one would make it. This is where the Gospel comes in – that Christ, who is God, came as a man to live the perfect life that we could not, and die as a substitute in our place, taking the punishment for our sin and satisfying the justice of God.

Probably one of the most famous verses in the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The law will only condemn us, not save; salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

Future glory

The Gospel does not end at the cross. Christ’s death bore the punishment for our sins, but His resurrection gives the hope of eternal life. The Apostle Paul vigorously defends the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ as the cornerstone of Christian faith and doctrine:

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

He goes on to joyfully proclaim the future resurrection believers can look forward to because of Christ’s victory:

“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:52-55)

This, then, is the radical alternative of the Gospel. It does not begin with a call to live better or obey more. It does not begin with meditation or philosophy or trying to reach some higher spiritual plane. We are helpless to reach God, and foolish to try by our own definitions or self-made formulas. The Gospel begins with the lavish grace of God, who sought out sinners that never sought Him.

“Jesus does not divide the world into the moral “good guys” and the immoral “bad guys.” He shows us that everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation, to using God and others in order to get power and control for themselves. We are just going about it in different ways. Even though both sons are wrong, however, the father cares for them and invites them both back into his love and feast.” –Tim Keller

Note (but an important one): I’ve tried to summarize and capture the heart of the Gospel as best I can. A lot of people have condensed it into key bullet points, tracts to hand out, etc. These are all good and helpful, but I think it’s very important to remember that God did not give us the Gospel in bullet points or blog posts. He gave us the whole of the Bible, filled with stories and laws and poetry and prophecy. That is how God chose to reveal Himself, and there’s really no adequate summary for the fullness and depth of Scripture. Otherwise, I think God would’ve delivered that to us.

Next time: What is faith?

Eternity On Our Hearts, IV.

Previously:

Part I: An Existential Crisis
Part II: What Pontius Pilate Asked
Part III: Assumptions, Axioms and Authority

Part IV: In the Beginning was the Word
Can we trust the Bible?

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

Undeniably, the Bible makes sweeping declarations about realities we could never reach through human reasoning or deduction—declarations about the beginning of all things, the eternality and pre-existence of God, and prophetic visions of glory to come. Spoken with authority and finality, the claims of the Bible can never be relegated to merely “good, moral teachings.” The content of the Scriptures can only lead to two conclusions: it is either an insane book that propagates falsehoods, or it is the Word of God.

I’m going to work directly off the second point from the previous essay: why faith in the Bible is not blind. There are massive tomes of apologetics dedicated to these topics, but I will just briefly touch on a few major points.

Falsifiability: the Bible is grounded in history and reality 

Falsifiability is simply the ability to be proven false. Most the world religions are not falsifiable—you have eastern religions that consist entirely of abstract spiritual philosophies, which you either adopt or don’t. They make no historic claims that could definitively render them untrue. You have other major world religions that begin with one leader’s private, unverifiable encounter with God (Muhammad or Joseph Smith).

Christianity, on the other hand, began in a public forum. Christ’s earthly ministry drew thousands of eyewitnesses. The Old Testament itself is also rooted in historical narratives, with genealogies, locations and famous figures. With the advance of science and archaeology, the text leaves itself easily exposed, easily disproved if it proclaims falsehoods.

Christianity stands or falls with the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you think about it, that’s an absurdly difficult lie to perpetrate for centuries. I would not have wanted the job of keeping that façade up. All critics had to do was produce a dead body.

But instead, they never do, and rather you see eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ boldly preach the Gospel in the face of persecution and personal ruin. That’s a foolish, unlikely price to pay for a lie.

Consistency: the Bible was written over 1500 years, made up of 66 books, and resounds with 1 consistent message 

The 66 books of the Bible were written by 40 different authors—prophets, kings, fishermen, physicians, and more—over 1500 years in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic) on 3 different continents (Africa, Asia and Europe).

For the Bible to be the Word of God, we believe God worked uniquely through these authors so that the books of the Bible were divinely inspired and entirely true. This wasn’t some massive, ancient-day social network collaboration—most of these authors didn’t know each other, and didn’t work together to maintain consistency or avoid contradiction.

Yet the message of the Bible, throughout all of its books, resounds with one consistent message: God’s creation of all things, the fall of man, God’s holiness and wrath towards sin, God’s love and provision of redemption, and a way of salvation through Christ.

Fulfilled prophecy

About 2,500 prophecies foretelling events of the future appear in the Bible, and about 2,000 have been fulfilled (with remaining ones reaching into the future). In the Old Testament, God sets the standard for identifying a true prophet: they must be 100 percent accurate in their predictions (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

If you like math, the probability of 2,000 independent, accurately fulfilled prophesies about very specific events and people is—I don’t know, but extremely, insanely small. If you consider this to all be random and by chance.

Here are just a few examples:

  • In about 700 BC, Micah said Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2). This is fulfilled at the birth of Christ.
  • Before 500 BC, Daniel prophesied that the Messiah would begin his ministry 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25-26). He prophesied the Messiah would be “cut off” prior to Jerusalem’s second destruction. King Artaxerxes of Persia issued the decree in 458 BC, and 483 years later, Jesus began ministering in Galilee. The rest of the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ death and later destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in AD 70.
  • Daniel also interpreted two dreams (Daniel 2 and 7), accurately predicting the course of major empires in the next five centuries: he describes the rise and fall of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. He predicts the rise of Alexander the Great, and the division of his empire by 4 of his generals.
  • The famous prophecy of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, fulfilled fully in Christ: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities… He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:5-7)

Correspondence to reality

We are unable to see the spiritual realm with our physical senses, and we are unable to discover things of eternity past on our own. But we can look at the world around us, and we can look at our own hearts, and see how the Bible explains reality to us.

For instance, what’s wrong with the world? How do we understand why there is so much suffering, evil and brokenness? Apart from God, people are desperately searching for answers and solutions in political systems, economic reform, psychology, social reform, you name it. But do we believe any of these can really save us? Turning to these systems or philosophies for hope implies that we believe they address our deepest need: that our deepest need is political, or economic, or psychological.

The Bible says our fundamental problem is sin, that we are separated from God by it, and that is the cause of all our trouble. No man-made solution will fix this.

A newspaper once posed the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” Renowned Christian thinker G.K. Chesterton apparently wrote a brief response to them: “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

And what about our conscience? Why do we have an innate sense of right and wrong? The Bible says it is because there is a real moral law, and that is written on our hearts. Philosophers can explain relative morality theoretically, but I challenge you to find someone practicing it. Imagine parents letting their kids do whatever they want. That doesn’t happen, does it? But if morality is relative, why enforce some arbitrary standard on your children?

I could go on. But I’ll leave it at that, and leave you with this thought. As I mentioned in the last essay, no one can ultimately prove the Bible to you. No one can prove who the authority on truth is but the truth itself. I believe the Bible because as I read it, the text manifests God’s glory and its divine origin. I read it and cannot believe it was man-made, or resulted out of human speculation and philosophy.

Ultimately, it takes faith. But remember, it also takes faith to hear the message of the Bible, understand the evidence for it, and reject it as untrue.

The beauty of the Bible is that it takes faith to believe, but with faith, you see the truth with deeper and greater clarity. Augustine said: nisi credideritis, non intelligetis. “Unless you will have believed, you will not understand.”

Consider the analogy of getting married: When you marry someone, no one, including you, can prove he/she will be a good spouse. You take a (huge) step of faith in marriage, but its not blind—you’ve seen evidence for his/her good character, kindness, reliability, etc. But it is only when and after you take that step of faith, you accumulate greater evidence, even proof, that he/she is a good spouse. Similarly, the manifestation and reality of God’s promises become more evident and personal as you place faith in and walk with Christ.

And another Lewis quote:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” –C.S. Lewis

That’s all for now, friends. Next time: What is the Gospel?

Eternity On Our Hearts, III.

Previously:

Part I: An Existential Crisis
Part II: What Pontius Pilate Asked

Part III: Assumptions, Axioms and Authority
What do you believe in?

There is no such thing as intellectual neutrality for us as humans. Every framework of thinking is built upon presuppositions and assumptions. All thought must first define and explain reality and whether knowledge is even tenable. Skeptics accuse Christianity, and religion in general, as systems of thought built on unproven assumptions. And they are right. But so is math, with its unproven axioms. So is science. It assumes there is some rhyme and reason to the natural world, and it assumes we can discover some of its principles. Even more basic than that, it assumes there is sense to human deduction and experimentation.

We all live by faith, even if we don’t think about it. You probably believe the world won’t fly out of orbit tomorrow, so you plan for the future. You probably believe 1+1=2. You probably believe what you see and experience is reality, and that we don’t exist in some kind of matrix. You probably believe your reasoning and rationality are trustworthy, at least to some degree. And even without thinking about it, each of these beliefs carries out its consequences in the way you live your life.

In his Confessions, Augustine marks this realization before he came to faith in Christ:

“If I took into account the multitude of things I had never seen, nor been present when they were enacted—such as many of the events of secular history; and the numerous reports of places and cities which I had not seen; or such as my relations with many friends, or physicians, or with these men and those—that unless we should believe, we should do nothing at all in this life. Finally, I was impressed with what an unalterable assurance I believed which two people were my parents, though this was impossible for me to know otherwise than by hearsay.”

Out of a backdrop of academics and philosophers who doubted everything and fluctuated between various opinions, Augustine came to this understanding. If we are to doubt all things, we must doubt our doubts as well. Belief is foundational to human thought and life.

Of course, that circles back to the question: What is truth?

What is worthy of belief?

One of my friends recently asked me what the point is of anything having truth-value if we cannot ascertain truth in the strictest sense. Aren’t we in a windowless room with the lights off? And doesn’t that make it impossible for faith to be anything more than wishful thinking?

To begin with, a conclusion that truth cannot be known or ascertained is in itself a truth claim—thus making it self-contradictory. But the analogy of a windowless room is an excellent one in many ways. That mirrors our situation well (though perhaps an even more accurate analogy is a blind man in the room). Left on our own, we are helpless to do more than conjure up continuous, un-answerable questions through human philosophy. But suppose this: someone from outside walks into our windowless room and tells us what is really out there, and what is really true. Then the question becomes, do you believe him?

Truth cannot ultimately be reached by human rationality. Our ability to reason and know is limited by our intellect, our senses, and our finitude. This is where revelation comes in. The only possible way we can know Something or Someone beyond ourselves and our dimension is if He (God) reveals Himself to us. As an imperfect analogy, consider getting to know another person: If you see and observe me regularly, you can figure out some things about who I am and what I’m like. But there’s a lot you would never know unless I told.

With God, there is what we call general revelation; that is, God has revealed Himself through creation. We can look at the universe and creatures in existence and get an idea of what He is like: a God of beauty, order, power, etc., when we see the vastness and complexity of galaxies, or even of a human cell.

But general revelation won’t tell us everything about God. We need specific revelation, otherwise we would never know God’s law, how He relates to us, or the intricacies of His character. The foundation of Christianity is faith in a self-revealing God, who has made Himself known to us, both in creation and in the Bible, His special revelation to mankind.

But how can we know the Bible is actually the Word of God?

Simply put, no one can prove the Bible is God’s Word. That’s why we are called to faith. But I will make two points, the second of which I’ll elaborate more on in the next essay: first, why it is only sensible that believing the Bible must be by faith and not by proof; and second, why it is not a blind or random faith.

Why it must be by faith: No field of study or human reasoning can prove the Bible is true. If the Bible is the Word of God, it is the highest authority in existence. Anything that can prove something else implicitly claims a higher level of authority. For instance, if we say archaeology or science can definitively prove the Bible, we are ascribing those fields higher authority than the Bible (in which case, you have contradicted the “hypothesis”—whether the Bible is the Word of God, and the highest authority—you presume to test). No one can prove who the authority on truth is but the truth itself. Truth must make itself self-evident.

We all yield to one authority or another. If you deny the Bible’s truth claims based on personal distaste or emotion, you essentially announce yourself as the authority on truth. Do you trust yourself? Christians are often accused of dogmatism and arrogance for claiming to have the only true way of salvation. I respectfully but firmly disagree: Christians, above all, acknowledge our complete helplessness to determine truth by human means. We cast ourselves in total dependence on the revealed Word of God—and in that, we humbly submit to its authoritative teaching. We don’t decide what the truth is, but we must be loyal to it at all costs. Consider this: real arrogance is when we pick and choose what truth we like. Real arrogance is when we declare ourselves the judge of truth, and the judge of God.

Why it’s not blind faith: There is a lot of evidence for the veracity of the Bible. I want to spend a greater deal of time on this, so I’ll reserve the meat of this for the next piece. As a preview, here are the major points I want to cover:

  • Falsifiability: the Bible is grounded in history
  • Consistency: 1500 years, 66 books, 1 message
  • Fulfilled prophecy
  • Correspondence to reality

Next time: In the beginning was the Word…

Eternity On Our Hearts, II.

Previously:

Part I: An Existential Crisis 

Part II: What Pontius Pilate Asked
What is truth?

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan tells Luke Skywalker that the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view.

Yes, our natural disposition, upbringing, and culture make certain belief and value systems more appealing to each of us. But does the uncertain, variable nature of our own hearts nullify the existence of an objective truth?

In our post-modern culture, many people think faith and belief are entirely functions of nature and nurture: biological and genetic hard coding, family values, and society. It’s come to be widely accepted that objective truth doesn’t really exist, or doesn’t matter, and you should just believe what works for you and makes you happy. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right?

While I agree that we are shaped by our culture and environment, truth cannot be confined or defined by these boundaries. If you say there is no absolute truth, you just made an absolute truth claim. If you say truth cannot be found, you just made a truth claim you believe you found. A worldview founded on subjectivity—where truth is relative, or every person can have his or her own truth—is fundamentally self-contradictory.

Consider these questions: Where did the universe come from? What happens when we die? Is there a God, and if so, what is He like?

“I like to think God is a kind, fatherly figure up in the sky who gives us an allowance of daily wishes.”

That sounds very pleasant, but unfortunately, that has no bearing or influence on the reality of things.

Ultimately, these questions have objective, factual answers, whether or not we know the answers, and whether or not we accept them. Truth is by nature exclusive—when something is true, it follows that anything contradicting that is false.

We tend to see questions like “What is our purpose and the meaning of life?” as subjective and up to each individual. But the reality is, if there is a creator God who made us for a specific purpose, trying to define our own purpose is empty and foolish. It’s like a potter who makes a cup, and the cup tries really hard to be a chair. No, really, you can sit on the inside! We cannot conform truth to our preferences and desires, but we must conform ourselves to truth. You can insist that 2+2 is 5 because you like that better, but you will be wrong, and on a test you will lose points.

Okay, but does objective truth necessitate the existence of God?

No one can definitively prove the existence of God. As humans, we are limited by our cognitive capacity, our finitude, and our physical and space-bound limitations. How can we prove Something or Someone beyond our dimension and narrow understanding? If we could “prove God,” wouldn’t He be limited and boxed in by the reach of our minds and reasoning power? We would then have a man-made idol, a human conception of god, not God Himself.

Certainly, it takes faith to believe in God. Truth cannot ultimately be reached by human rationality. It also takes faith to disbelieve in God—to look out at the universe and inwardly at our being, and to say everything came from nothing.

Consider you hear this news report: a tornado blew through a junkyard yesterday, and today we found a fully-functional Boeing 747 there, somehow pieced together from the random scraps of metal and trash that perfectly aligned and joined together as the winds swept through. Cockpit, controls, seats, wings, everything. Do you believe it? I mean, I guess it’s arguably a non-zero probability (depending on what kind of junk was in that junkyard), but the chances are so miniscule most of us would dismiss it.

How infinitely more complex is the universe? Or the human body?

This guy sums it up very well:

‎”Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

—C.S. Lewis

Next time: Assumptions, axioms, and authority (because I like alliteration).

Eternity On Our Hearts, I.

Dear friends and readers: I am beginning a short, 6-7 part series of essays on the Christian faith. It’s a blend of apologetics, explanation, and thought experiment. I wrote it with a casual, conversational tone, and I hope its helpful and thought-provoking to both non-Christians and Christians. I’ll update regularly, since I’ve drafted the whole series. Thoughts and comments welcome throughout! [/end introduction to the introduction]

Part I: An Existential Crisis
What’s the point? 

In high school English class, they taught us to make our thesis clear in the introduction. I remember that all-important statement needed to come in the last sentence of the first paragraph, and it had to exhibit clarity, take a stand, and pave the way for all the trailing paragraphs. (If you wanted to make an A, at least.) A tall order for a single sentence. Anyway, those were the days before we learned that real writers, whoever they are, usually break the rules.

Well, this is my introduction, and since I’ve freed myself from those Scarlet Letter and Shakespeare spark-noting days, you won’t find anything much like a thesis here. It’s more of a philosophical and personal note—a motivation for my writing this series of essays, and a heartfelt hope that you will consider the content.

2016 turned out to be a bizarre year for many people I know, and the world at large. Perhaps it’s this strange conglomeration of farfetched world events, the stage of life many of my friends find themselves in, etc. etc., orchestrated by God’s providence, that opened the door for a number of thought-provoking conversations and correspondences. Conversations about politics, philosophy, purpose. Conversations with friends of different backgrounds and beliefs. They’ve forced me to wrestle with questions of my faith and worldview, and for that, I’m grateful.

Whenever we go beyond the superficial, our questions ultimately converge to a search for truth and meaning. Where did our universe come from? Is this life all there is? What happens when we die?

What’s the point?

In the halls of elite universities, I hear that question reverberate. We are frail, mortal beings, a vapor that appears for a time on this earth, and then vanishes. Sometimes, I desperately want to throw that question at people I know, pushing their kids into sleepless exhaustion and endless SAT prep, wondering if they remember we are all going to die one day. Harvard or community college, prince or beggar, engineer or janitor, at 35 or 90 years old—we are all going to die. And then what?

(My mom reminds me that would not be a polite thing to do.)

So instead, I felt led to write this: a series of essays explaining and defending the Christian faith, the only worldview, I believe, that consistently, truthfully and beautifully answers the deepest questions of humanity. The only worldview that sees the world and the human heart through, maskless and naked, and offers real hope—God-given, and not man-made.

A disclaimer, since this—like a high school English thesis—is obviously a tall order: I’m a poor, young grad student, not a biblical scholar or theologian. (You can probably already tell from my tone and overuse of parentheses, if nothing else). Nothing I say here is really original, but you’ll find it said by better and wiser people than me. (Many of them probably dead for centuries). But I wanted to write this, partly as a reference for myself, since much of this I gathered and learned and reasoned through over years and different resources—books, sermons, late-night philosophizing with friends. I wanted to consolidate the highlights in one place, and a lot of this content was informed directly by conversations with others.

This is also for you: my friends, both Christian and not. I hope it will encourage you. I hope it will make you think, and ask yourself hard questions. And I hope, by God’s grace, this might be a small stepping-stone on your journey to find truth.

Outside of the church, I have grown up and lived most my (short) life in a progressive, secular environment. I have listened to the anthems of post-modernism marching through our world. And something I’ve learned: even in our open Internet, free-speech touting days, we tend to hear what we like. Echo chamber. Donald Trump’s win suddenly made this phrase a phenomenon. But it’s true, there are such things as “Christian bubbles” and “liberal bubbles” and many more. Sometimes, when I flit in and out between the two, I step back and think of how something that can be spoken in passing, taken for granted, in one circle would be so shocking and senseless in the other.

If you are a skeptic, I simply ask you to consider these things, to question your own assumptions, to doubt your own doubts. We should all do that. I submit these thoughts and arguments to you humbly, but not without conviction, because I stand not on my own authority, feeling, or intellect, but on the Word of God.

Here’s an outline of what’s to come:

  • Objectivity and the existence of God
  • Assumptions and axioms we live by
  • The authority of truth
  • How can we know the Bible is true?
  • What is the Gospel of Jesus?
  • What is faith, and what are its ramifications?

 

* I drew the title for this collection from the following verse, which speaks to the eternal longing and God-shaped vacuum in our hearts:

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11