Monday, December 26, 2011

Questions of Faith: What We Believe & Why? Question Three… Is Christianity the only True Religion, all others False?

First let’s clear up a misunderstanding.  This happens a lot between Christianity and people of other religions.  When Christians claim that Jesus is “the Way,” the presumption is that all other religions are 100% false and Christianity is 100% true.  This is a mistake.

All religions have truth in them.  For example, just about every religion teaches very similar practices when it comes to right living and good moral behavior, such as being honest, having courage, being faithful and loyal, or to learn patience and develop self-discipline, things like that.  All religions also teach that people should regularly practice a form of Spiritual Discipline, things like praying, fasting and meditating.  So, in this sense Christianity is no different than most other religions.

In fact, this would be true on the negative side as well.  That is, all religions, including Christianity, can become stale, legalistic, and rigid with regard to their relics and their traditional practices, and become out of step and out of touch with the issues and challenges of a modern contemporary society.  So, not only do all religions have truth, all religions can also cause a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion among its followers.  This is also true with Christianity.

So, what IS unique about Christianity?  The uniqueness of Christianity is in the Person of Jesus. The person of Jesus is the dividing point between Christianity and all other religions.  Jesus is unique in the history of humanity—who He is, what he did, and… more.  Jesus is received and experienced as unique among all human beings.  Jesus stands out as a one-of-a-kind figure in human history.  There is no other like Him, ever.  He was born special.  He lived uniquely.  He died.  But most significantly and extraordinarily important of all, eye-witnesses claim that He Is Risen!   He did not stay dead, as all other humans who have ever lived on the face of this earth have.

So, it is not the religion of Christianity as such that is special or unique.  It is the Person, Jesus who is special and unique.  Christians believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures, the unique and specially Holy Anointed One of God.  Jesus the Christ is what is uniquely special about Christianity: Jesus, the Living Resurrected Lord, and as such, the unique bridge between humanity and God.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Questions of Faith: What We Believe & Why? Question Two… If God is Good, Why Do We Suffer So?

If there is a God and God is good, kind, merciful, and loving, why does God allow humans to suffer so—sickness and ill health, poverty, hunger and thirst, crippling deformities, and finally, death and dying?  It’s that age old question, “why do bad things happen to good people”?

Simplistically speaking, there are two quick possible answers to this question: one answer is to conclude that God is actually not all that good.  We might call God unreliable, fickle, inconsistent, even unfair; the point being is that we could say that God is good one moment and unfair, mean spirited, and careless or uncaring the next.  This would be a ready explanation as to why some seem to suffer terribly and others seem to have a great time in life with no rhyme or reason as to just desserts or fair-play involved.

Or, another answer is to say that God is limited in power and ability.  That is, we can conclude that God IS a good God but is unable to prevent bad things from happening for lack of absolute power.  This answer presumes that God is up against an equal but opposing force to His goodness.  Sometimes God wins (Goodness triumphs) but sadly sometimes the opposing force wins (Evil triumphs).  It’s just the way it is.

In effect, the whole Biblical narrative is an attempt to answer this question, why we suffer, why do bad things happen to us, etc.  And Biblically speaking, neither of the above two answers are acceptable.  For Biblical Revelation makes it very clear that God IS indeed a very good God and is ALL powerful as well.  So, why DO we suffer?

We blame God.  We hold God responsible.  We accuse God of being this and that, and everything else, unreliable, untrustworthy, inconsistent, fickle, cruel, mean, abusive, hard-hearted, cold, distant, and uncaring.  But that’s US!  Not God.  We humans are the problem.  We are the selfish ones.   We are the haters.  We are the cruel, spiteful, in-your-face, ego-centric, proud and arrogant, torturing war-mongers, and doers of evil in this world.

God is love.  God is good.  God is kind, merciful, and gracious.  God is patient and longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, says the Bible.

It’s called Free-Will.  And the human raced has chosen against the goodness of God.  Without choice there is no free-will.  And without free-will we cannot be authentically human.  We are fallen.  Our character is tainted.  We are in rebellion.  We are effectively waging war against God.  And we are suffering for it.  This is the Biblical explanation.

But God is merciful and gracious, not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  And for this, God sent a Savior (yes, the meaning of the Christmas story), that we might be saved from ourselves, saved from the end result of our rebellion against God—which is judgment and final condemnation.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“Sinners,” a word fast becoming outdated and meaningless in common speech, ignored at best, laughed-at or ridiculed at worst.  But that’s what we are, who we are.  And it is why we suffer.  It is also why we need a Redeemer, a Savior.

The contrast is striking.  God’s patient, enduring, and longsuffering compassion toward “sinners” is profound.  God chooses not to destroy us in righteous indignation but to provide a means of escape.   This is God’s mercy at work, the provision of grace—the provision of undeserving love and salvation to a rebellious and recalcitrant people—to us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

So, the next time you experience a deep loss or undergo much sorrow and grief, turn toward God, not away from Him.  He is a God of comfort and compassion.  God is love.  And He promises that soon, one day, he will wipe away every tear and all sorrows.  Until then, trust Him and believe.  God cares.  The proof is in the Person, Jesus, who is called the Christ/Messiah.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Questions of Faith: What We Believe & Why? First Question… Why believe in a God at all?

Our scientific knowledge continues to expand.  We are learning great things about the universe, the stuff it’s made of, and how it works, even possibly how it all started, which the Big Bang Theory and Evolution teaches us.  So isn’t belief in God childish at best, like believing in a Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny?

Yes, Science teaches us a lot.  Science is good, informative, useful, and makes us smarter about the world and the universe that we live in.  Thanks to science we enjoy all the hi-tech gadgets and gizmos that make our life easier (or more challenging as the case may be).  However, Science in and of itself can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.  That is, the Scientific Method cannot be used to determine whether or not there is a God.  Therefore, strictly speaking, asking whether or not God exists is NOT a scientific question, nor can science answer such a question.

Secondly, the belief or non-belief in the existence of God is also not a matter of intelligence or a question of having or not having a higher education.  Some of the greatest minds and best educated individuals in the history of humanity have held a deeply committed faith in God.  Thus, NOT to believe in God’s existence does not necessarily make one smarter and does not mean that one is more highly educated.  Indeed, there are many modern day scientists who believe in God and continue to make excellent scientists. 

But, since the existence of God cannot be proven scientifically, one way or the other, the question can still be asked: why should one believe in God as opposed to not believe, or why not be an agnostic (which means one who believes that “God’s existence” remains unknown and is unknowable)? 

Well, now it comes down to initiative, and personal, experiential, historical evidence or accounting.  By “initiative” I mean this: if God does exist then it’s clear that the initiative must come from God Himself to make His existence known to us humans.   Why?  Because by definition the God-ness of God puts God beyond our ability or capacity to directly know God or realize God on own terms or in our own power.  God must stoop to our level in order to “connect” with us.  That is, God must take the first step and reveal Himself to us.  (Note: I use the pronouns, “He, Him, His, and Himself” as a matter of convenience; for the truth is that God is not simply the equivalent of a human male, as if “He” literally means “the man upstairs”).

So, being that the only way we can possibly know that God does exist is for God Himself to reveal Himself to us, we are dependent on His Revelation.  And here is why Christians believe that there IS a God.  Christians believe that God has and does reveal God’s Self to us and that there is an abundance of personal testimony, eye-witnesses, personal experience, and historical evidence for this.  So, from the Christian perspective, given that God has pro-actively revealed Himself to us, there is no place for agnosticism.  We believe that God has “contacted” and “connected” with humanity.

Furthermore, undergirding the principle of “Revelation” is the premise that God is a Living Sentient Being.  That is to say that God is NOT simply an Impersonal Force in the Universe—as if God were merely part of, and one with—the essential energy and substance of the Universe.  So, by “Sentient Being,” I mean this:  God is Self-Aware.  God has personality.  God knows and understands.  God has a will, which is to say that God acts with purpose and intent.  God feels things, or to put it in human language, God has a heart.  And, God makes choices.  So we are dealing with a Person, not a thing or a force like some kind of mindless power or energy force.

So, when God chooses to make God’s Presence known to humanity, we call it Revelation.  Christians believe that God has in fact actually revealed Himself to us and that the story or account of how and when God has revealed Himself to us is what the Biblical record is all about.  Summarily, the bottom line for Christians is this: Jesus Christ is the supreme Revelation of God’s Existence and of God’s Presence in the life of humanity.  So, in a nutshell, Christians believe that we are not alone in the Universe.  We confidently believe that there is in fact a God out there.

Lastly, consider the opposite option.  If there is no God, then all that exists merely exists by chance or by accident, which is to say that our existence, my life and your life, has no purpose, no plan, and no reason behind it.  Life is what it is because things fell together that way, a mere chance happenstance.  And, if there is no Creator and our lives have no personal intent, then everything that we experience, everything that we think or do or feel is also a chance accident of the Universe with no rhyme or reason to it.  Without God, nothing has any meaning or purpose.  In that case, even my writing and your reading of this blog has no real meaning or purpose to it, other than it happens to be a mere extension of our accidental existence.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why This Beautiful Ugly Depressing World Needs Christmas Hope

What a Wonderful World!

Know that song?  It’s a hit song by the late great jazz artist, Louis Armstrong: I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world….

But is it?  The world, I mean.  Is it really all that wonderful?  After hearing the song by Louis Armstrong, we’re convinced that it is.

This world is bad.  That should be the title for another song.  Maybe it already is.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that, as beautiful as this world is, there is also a lot of pain and suffering going on in the world.  Those of you without a job know what I’m talking about.  Anyone with loved ones battling cancer and other life threatening illnesses, know what I’m talking about.  Those going through painful divorces or have lost close loved ones or have sad broken relationships with parent or child or sibling or significant other, know what I’m talking about.  Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen…words to another song, a Gospel song.  Life is hard.  This has been known since the beginning of time.

Life is hard not only because of broken relationships or life threatening diseases.  It’s hard because we must survive the harsh realities of nature.  We are vulnerable.  We have basic necessities: food, water, and shelter, to begin with.  However, except maybe for the homeless person, our high-tech modern city lifestyle has removed us several steps from the immediate challenge of survival, challenges that our ancestors dealt with daily in order to survive: If the men didn’t hunt, there would be no dinner, if the women didn’t carry buckets from the well or stream, there’d be no water.  If the children didn’t milk the cows, till the ground, gather wild berries, there’d be no milk, no fruits and vegetables.

Living in the cities as most of us now do, we’ve forgotten our dependency on Mother Nature.  Few of us have a clue as to how to survive in the wilderness.  We have supermarkets and warehouses, locomotives and tractor-trailers that supply us.  We don’t think of nature.  We don’t think of nature’s cycles.  We don’t think of the earth’s thin crust or the sky’s thin ozone layer or the interconnectedness between trees, plants, water, weather, climate, and life sustainability.  We should.  It’s a matter of survival.  Mother Nature can be very harsh and unforgiving at times; we must nurture nature, take care of what she gives us.

Silly humans we are.  We are our worst enemies.  We cut off our nose to spite our face.  We will ruin this earth.  We have and we are.  For example, global warming is a reality and its prognosis is not good.  Yet the international community, including the U.S., can’t agree on a collective and unified approach to protect us from its inevitable consequences.  We see our water-wells closed and sealed-off, wherever there is heavy duty fracking and drilling going-on, and we call it a financial boon for the economy.  We see industrial pollution of our air and water ways leading to global warming and we call it a natural cycle of nature.  We see the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and we call it Fair Trade.

We humans can be cruel and unjust.  We are greedy and selfish.  We are quick to fight and kill.  We are haughty and presumptuous.  We are short-sighted, self-destructive, and indulgent.  We can be mean, insensitive, uncaring, cold-hearted, and belligerent.  To be bad is cool.  To be cold and hard is hot.  To succeed at the expense of others is smart.  To win by beating others down is admirable.

This is why we need Christmas.

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son.  And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

We need a Savior.

“Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

This Christmas season think of the contrast.  All the pain and suffering, all the heart-ache and agony, the loneliness and sorrow, and ask, where is God.

God’s answer is Jesus: I AM the bread of life.  I AM the light.  I AM the Good Shepherd.  I AM the resurrection and the Life.  I AM the way, the truth, and the life.  Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was born, lived, died, was raised from the dead.

Someday there will be an accounting and all will answer to God.  We will finally have what we’ve so longed for, a world without war, a world of peace, justice, righteousness, and glory.

Until then, keep the faith, turn to Jesus, and hold on to His promise.

Jesus Saves!