Tuesday, June 15, 2021

If Jesus Is the Only Way to God, What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Him?

Shipshewana, Indiana (photo by Linda Piippo)

How about some theological discussion as we come to the end of 2018? The question: If Jesus is the only way to God, what about those who have never heard of him?

Imagine this story. John does not believe in Jesus. But Jason does. Jason tells John about Jesus, and John is interested. 

Jason feels God wants him to get back to John soon, but does not find time to get back to John. John dies without hearing more. What was John’s status before John died? To be saved, did he need more information about Jesus? 


Paul Copan asks: “Was his eternal destiny in the hands of [someone] who happened not to respond to an inner prompting? Could it be that God is more interested in a person’s spiritual direction or responsiveness than in his spiritual ‘location’ on a continuum?”


Theistic philosopher Copan does an excellent job of presenting the issues and suggesting answers to the question: what if someone has never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? The points below are from Copan’s book True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith. Read the book for more detail and explanation, especially regarding Copan’s “middle knowledge” position.

Here are the relevant points. 


1. God’s desire is that all be saved.


2. All who desire to be saved will have the opportunity to be saved.


3. We can trust that God is loving and just. We can trust that the eternal outcome of every person is in the hands of a loving and just God.


4. Persons who have self-inflicted “transworld depravity” will not want God, or God in Christ. So God is not unjust in applying eternal justice to them; viz., everlasting separation from his presence. (1 Thessalonians 1)


5. God has given persons free will. This is risky. Some will likely freely choose to reject God’s offer of salvation, and his revelation in creation and the moral law within (Romans 1 and 2). As C.S. Lewis wrote, re. this, there are two kinds of persons: one who says to God “Thy will be done,” and one to whom God says “Thy will be done.”


6. If God has middle-knowledge (knowledge of future choices) and knows that John will reject Him in any possible world, then God is not unjust in not presenting John with the opportunity to be saved.

 
Here are five views on the question "What about those who have never heard?"

1. The Agnostic View.


a. Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer are agnostic on the matter.


b. If God really loves the whole world, and if Christ died for all without exception, and if God commands all to repent, and if God does not want any to perish, “then it follows that his initiating grace, though resistible (Acts 7:51), is directed toward all without exception. This would include the unevangelized.” (Copan)


c. We can trust that God has the question of the unevangelized figured out.


d. Further, God has done so much to reach us all, even to suffer with us in a world filled with evil and misery, that we have good reason to believe the unevangelized are in excellent hands.


e. We can trust that God is loving and just. So God won’t condemn anyone for being born at the wrong time and place (viz., in a time and place where the message of the Gospel of Jesus was not known).


f. God is able to reach people in ways we don’t expect. For example, he can reveal himself – and has done so – through visions or angelic messengers. Copan cites examples of Jesus appearing to Muslims who had never heard of him.


g. In the end we can trust in a good God to do no wrong. “We should not think about the unevangelized apart from God’s character, motives, and good purposes.” (Copan)


2. The Inclusivist (Wider-Hope) View 


a. In Romans 2:7 Paul writes: “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, [God] will give eternal life.”


b. Could some unevangelized people fit in this category?


c. Inclusivists say: Salvation is exclusive in its source – Christ alone as God’s full, final revelation. Salvation is available to every person – even those the missionary can’t reach.


d. One criticism of this view is that accepting it would diminish missionary zeal. Why bring Christ to the nations if the nations can be saved without hearing of Christ?


e. The inclusivist responds by asking why anyone’s fate should solely depend on evangelists who are not always available and/or faithful?


f. Belief in the sovereignty of God makes us think God will not really leave the destiny of unreached people in the hands of imperfect, fallible missionaries. Can’t God work beyond the boundaries of the gospel’s proclamation and our expectations?


g. What about those in the Old Testament who didn’t know about the historical Jesus and his death and resurrection? “Clearly they were saved on the basis of what Jesus would eventually accomplish (Rom. 3:25; see Acts 17:30).


h. And what about infants and those who are mentally incapable of grasping the gospel message?


i. The inclusivist believes that human beings are guilty and helpless before God, separated from him, and cannot be saved apart from Christ.


j. The inclusivist believes that God wants all to be saved. This seems to imply that he makes salvation available to all.


k. The inclusivist claims that salvation through Jesus’ “name” doesn’t necessarily imply knowing the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth. While Jesus is ontologically necessary for salvation, he is not epistemologically necessary.


l. Natural revelation may have a positive role and may be used by God’s Spirit to show the unevangelized their need for him. For example, Romans 1:20 and Romans 2:14-15 may give us two ways persons can be saved without hearing of the Jesus story. Here inclusivists are optimistic about the role of “general revelation” through the creation, and the moral law within each human heart. Millard Erickson, who is not an inclusivist, says: “If they [persons who know about God through his self-revelation in nature (cf. Romans 1:20) but still reject God] are condemnable because they have not trusted God through what they have, it must have been possible somehow to meet this requirement through this means.If not, responsibility and condemnation are meaningless… Perhaps there is room for acknowledging that God alone may know in every case exactly whose faith is sufficient for salvation.” (In Copan)


m. The Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10) seems to be an example of someone who seems to display the working of God’s Spirit and grace in is life.


n. John Stott summarizes the inclusivist argument: “What we do not know, however, is exactly how much knowledge and understanding of the Gospel people need before they can cry to God for mercy and be saved. In the Old Testament, people were certainly “justified by grace through faith,” even though they had little knowledge or no expectation of Christ. Perhaps there are others today in a somewhat similar position. They know they are sinful and guilty before God, and that they cannot do anything to win his favor, so in self-despair they call upon the God they dimly perceive to save them. If God does save such, as many evangelical Christians tentatively believe, their salvation is still only by grace, only by Christ, only by faith.” (In Copan)


Copan presents an argument against the inclusivist position.


a. Inclusivism can blur important distinctions, which can result in disastrous affirmations. For example, some inclusivists hold that Muslims whoa re seeking Allah can be saved.


b. Romans 1 seems to argue against the inclusivist position. Paul has a pessimistic view of humanity’s ability to turn to God because of God’s revelation in nature.


c. There are people who don’t respond to general revelation yet respond to the preaching of the gospel.


d. Inclusivism dampens concern for missions. “It seems doubtful that inclusivism would actually increase evangelistic fervor.”


3. The Accessibilist/Middle Knowledge View


a. God judges the unevangelized based on their response to natural revelation, which his Spirit can use to bring them to salvation. “Natural revelation doesn’t damn anyone without furnishing genuine opportunities to be saved (Romans 2:7) God’s initiative offers them prevenient (“preceding”) grace to respond. All they need to do is humble themselves before him and repent. God is not only just in his judgment, but also gracious in genuinely offering salvation.” (Copan)


b. God can’t make people freely choose to respond to the gospel. “Some might be like NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel, who said, ‘I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.’ Indeed, with every new indication of God’s reality, a person might come to resent or hate him even more.”


c. God knows all future possibilities and free choices of human beings, and whoever would want to be saved will find salvation. God knows all truths – even future ones. God knows all possible future events and human choices – what free creatures could do in various circumstance and what world-arrangements are feasible.” For example, Jesus knew (from the Father) that Peter would deny him three times. God knew that Peter would freely choose to deny Christ under certain circumstances.


d. God takes human free will seriously. Copan says: “No one will be condemned as the result of geographical or historical accident, lack of information, or failure of a missionary to “get there.” All who want – or would want – to be saved do find salvation. Those who would always refuse salvation get their way in the end.”


e. Perhaps there’s no feasible world of persons who all freely choose Christ; this God creates a world containing an optimal balance of fewest lost and greatest number saved. Sometimes people ask: “Why didn’t God create world in which everyone freely chose to love him?” But if humans are truly free, then there’s guarantee they will use their free will to love him. Remember that God does not create out of any need. God desires that none perish; he wants us to embrace him and live. Copan writes: “So it’s reasonable to believe that he wants a maximal number of persons saved and a minimal number condemned. He wants his renewed creation – the new heaven and earth – to be as full as possible and hell as empty as possible. The only thing preventing hell’s being completely empty of people is the human will’s resistance to his loving and gracious initiative. God isn’t less loving because some people are condemned for rejecting him. So why couldn’t this world be the one that achieves this optimal balance?”


f. Some persons possess self-inflicted “transworld depravity” or “transworld damnation”; they would have been lost in any world in which they were placed.


g. Missions motivation isn’t diminished, since God has also providentially arranged fort human messengers to bring the gospel to those he knew would accept it if they heard it.


h. Some individuals may seem “so close” to salvation in the actual world without finding it. But perhaps this actual world is the very nearest the transworldly depraved ever come to salvation.


***
My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church


I am now writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Addressing Progressive Christianity

 

                                                               (Gatlinburg aquarium)

Linda and I strongly recommend Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity.

I am doing two workshops on Deconstructing Progressive Christianity. The first is Wednesday, June 30, Green Lake (Wisconsin), at our HSRM conference.

The second is at Redeemer, Wed., July 7, 6:30 PM. (If you are coming please let me know.) 

And, I am submitting a manuscript of my book on Progressive Christianity, Aug. 15, to a publisher who has shown interest. (This does not they will accept it. But, they are encouraging me to submit it.)

Doing Worship Reps In the Spiritual Gymnasium



"Practice makes perfect" - Hezekiah 2:1.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
- Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

"Train yourself to be godly."
- Paul, 1 Timothy 4:7

Linda and I are spending time in Gatlinburg today and tomorrow. The deck of our hotel room looks directly down to a mountain stream. with the rushing waters as background, we are doing the things that connect us to Jesus. We are in "strict training, competing in the spiritual Olympics." We're not spiritually exercising to gain God's love. Rather, it is because we are God's son and daughter that we "train ourselves to be godly." For us, this is how we abide in Christ. It is our lifeblood!

Let me explain.

The Greek words of 1 Timothy 4:7 are: γύμναζε δὲ σεαυτὸν πρὸς εὐσέβειαν. The first word of this phrase is gymnaze. We get the words "gym" and "gymnasium" from this word. Paul instructs Timothy to exercise in the spiritual gymnasium. Do worship reps and prayer reps and Scripture reps (AKA meditation on Scripture).

In Christian spirituality, repetition (AKA "meditation") is good. We learn to pray and learn about prayer as relationship with God, not primarily by reading books on prayer or attending conferences on prayer, but by actually praying, and praying a lot.

"They all joined together constantly in prayer" - Acts 1:14. (Not: "They all read books about prayer." And not: "They believed in prayer but didn't have time for praying.")

Wanting to pray without engaging in lots of prayer means nothing. Desire without discipline is an illusion. Intentions minus actions = nothing.

Serious weightlifters and bodybuilders do lots and lots of reps to build muscle. Analogically, constant praying builds spiritual strength. Contrast this to a little McPrayer, which only builds up spiritual cholesterol. McPraying hardens the spiritual arteries. But many prayer reps in God's Gymnasium makes for a strong heart.

Constant repetition forms habits. Habits create new neural connections in the physical brain. I am pleased to see N.T. Wright writing about such things: "When people consistently make choices about their patterns of behavior, physical changes take place within the brain itself... Parts of the brain actually become physically enlarged when an individual’s behavior regularly exercises them." Wright, N. T., After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters,  p. 37). 

The physical brain is "plastic"; it is malleable. It changes. This is good news for anyone who want to change. For example, if you are a guitar player and want to play like Joe Satriani, then practice scales in the Lydian mode - over and over and over and over and... ad infinitum.  When you can play them without striving over them, that is the sign that, neurally, your physical brain has morphed into Satrianilikeness..

Paul, without knowing a thing about contemporary neuroscience, would be pleased. Exercise unto godliness! Choose to go apart to pray and meditate on Scripture today. Then, choose this tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. God, by His Spirit, will morph your heart into a praying, Scripture-loving heart. Prayer and Scripture meditation will become "second nature." At this point striving and rule-keeping disappears. N.T. Wright refers to this as the development of Christlike "character." Wright writes:

"Jesus... speaks repeatedly about the development of a particular character. Character—the transforming, shaping, and marking of a life and its habits—will generate the sort of behavior that rules might have pointed toward but which a “rule-keeping” mentality can never achieve. And it will produce the sort of life which will in fact be true to itself—though the “self” to which it will at last be true is the redeemed self, the transformed self, not the merely “discovered” self of popular thought... In the last analysis, what matters after you believe is neither rules nor spontaneous self-discovery, but character." (Wright, N. T., After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, p. 7).

Wright gives, as an analogy of how God forms the human heart into Christlikeness (Gal. 4:19), the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and Flight 1549. When Sullenberger's Airbus A320 took off from New York's La Guardia Airport everything was fine. But the Airbus flew into a flock of Canada geese. Both engines were damaged and lost their power. Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot had to make several major decisions instantly. Wright describes them:

"In the two or three minutes they had before landing, Sullenberger and his copilot had to do the following vital things (along with plenty of other tasks that we amateurs wouldn’t understand). They had to shut down the engines. They had to set the right speed so that the plane could glide as long as possible without power. (Fortunately, Sullenberger is also a gliding instructor.) They had to get the nose of the plane down to maintain speed. They had to disconnect the autopilot and override the flight management system. They had to activate the “ditch” system, which seals vents and valves, to make the plane as waterproof as possible once it hit the water. Most important of all, they had to fly and then glide the plane in a fast left-hand turn so that it could come down facing south, going with the flow of the river. And—having already turned off the engines—they had to do this using only the battery-operated systems and the emergency generator. Then they had to straighten the plane up from the tilt of the sharp-left turn so that, on landing, the plane would be exactly level from side to side. Finally, they had to get the nose back up again, but not too far up, and land straight and flat on the water." (Ib., pp. 19-20)

How was Sullenberger able to pull this off? Wright says it was due to the "power of right habits." "You might say it was the result of many years of training and experience. You could call it “character,” as we have done so far in this book. Ancient writers had a word for it: virtue." (Ib., p. 20)

"Virtue, in this strict sense, is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”—and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say." (Ib.)

Consider this. When Jesus was hanging on the cross he looked at his torturers and asked the Father to forgive them. They don't know what they are doing. Here, in Jesus, was a heart of compassion. Jesus was not wearing a "WWID" bracelet, asking himself, "In this situation, What Would I Do?" On the contrary, his heart was compassionate and cruciform; his heart was love-shaped. Jesus actually loved (= felt love + acted on it) his oppressors and enemies. This is the amazing love of Jesus!

Another amazing Jesus-idea is found in Paul's hope that Christ might be formed in us; i.e., that our hearts might be Christ-shaped. If we have cruciformed hearts we will not have to ask "What Would Jesus Do?" We simply will act as Jesus acts. How does such a heart-transformation happen? Paul's answer is found in Romans 12:1-2.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed [meta-morphed; change of form] by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Choose to move your whole being (this includes your physical body) to a quiet place and pray. Choose to pick up Scripture and eat God's Word. Tomorrow, choose these things again. The day after tomorrow, choose these things. And the next day. And the next. Wright describes what happens like this:

"Virtue, in this strict sense, is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”—and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say. On that thousand and first occasion, it does indeed look as if it “just happens” but reflection tells us that it doesn’t “just happen” as easily as that. If you or I had been flying the Airbus A320 that afternoon, and had done what “comes naturally,” or if we’d allowed things just “to happen,” we would probably have crashed into the Bronx. (Apologies to any actual pilots reading this: you, I hope, would have done what Captain Sullenberger did.) As this example shows, virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become “second nature.” Not “first nature,” as though they happened “naturally.” Rather, a kind of second-order level of “naturalness.” Like an acquired taste, such choices and actions, which started off being practiced with difficulty, ended up being, yes, “second nature.” (Ib., 20-21)

Dallas Willard has been writing about such things for years. In Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul, Willard describes a "disciple" of Christ as one who chooses to follow after Christ. A real disciple engages in the kind of spiritual disciplines Jesus engaged in while on earth. A Jesus-followers chooses to pray, chooses to get alone with God (solitude), chooses to fast as God leads, and chooses to memorize Scripture. God wants us to choose these spiritual behaviors so that, by the Spirit's power, the spiritual benefits of doing lots of prayer reps come to us. In this way spiritual strength and muscle is formed. Willard writes:

"What is discipline? A discipline is an activity within our power--something we can do--which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort. Discipline is in fact a natural part of the structure of the human soul, and almost nothing of any significance in education, culture or other attainments is achieved without it. Everything from learning a language to weight lifting depends upon it, and its availability in the human makeup is what makes the individual human being responsible for the kind of person they become."

What happens as a result is "soul reformation." Willard says: "It is in union with these activities that God "restores my soul." The result is that I walk in paths of righteousness on his behalf as a natural expression of my renewed inner nature. Now my experiences and responses are all "hooked up" correctly. To develop a thorough understanding of this process and outcome on the basis of factual studies would be a major step toward attaining a genuinely Christian psychology or theory of the soul."

"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training." Do you want to compete in life? If yes, then do many sets of prayer reps and worship reps, and then do them tomorrow, and train the day after that, and the next day, and the next...  It is precisely as Christ is more and more formed in you that the striving and self-will ceases.

***
For more on prayer see my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

For how cultural and religious liturgies shape the human soul see James K. A, Smith's excellent book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

Monday, June 14, 2021

Inner Peace Is Not Circumstantial (Solitude Is a Deepening of the Present)

Anderson Gardens
Rockford, Illinois 


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"Solitude is not found so much by looking outside the boundaries of your dwelling as by staying within them. Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present; and unless you look for it in the present, you will never find it.
- Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, 262

Years ago a friend of mine whose inner being was tormented  decided to go alone to a cabin in the north woods and spend time with God. He went to an isolated cabin in Canada. The setting was pristine and beautiful. He lasted a couple of days before he came home. He had brought all his inner agitation plus his physical brain with him and couldn't handle it. He could not be alone with himself.

A change of geographical location will not heal the troubled heart. 

The idea that "If I could only be elsewhere, then I'd be better" is a delusion. 

This is good news. If our inner well-being was a function of our outer physical space we would remain forever in bondage unless we travel.

Contentment and peace are not functions of our physical environment or life circumstances. In solitude, where you are right now, God can "deepen the present." 

Jean-Pierre de Caussade, in his classic book The Sacrament of the Present Moment, writes: 

"Divine action cleanses the universe, pervading and flowing over all creatures. Wherever they are it pursues them. It precedes them, accompanies them, follows them. We have only to allow ourselves to be borne along on its tide." (3)

The apostle Paul wrote: 

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Phil. 4:11-12) 

Inner peace is not circumstantial. The marketing strategies of our world tell us otherwise. The reason is: God is now with you. If you are a Jesus-follower, Christ, the hope of glory, is within you. Christ-in-you is not now in a panic room. He is not agitated. He is not freaking out. His peace is not determined by our situatedness. 

In John 14:27 Jesus instructs his disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." How do we access the peace of Christ? Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

As we abide in Christ we gain his peace. This world's pseudo-peace is conditional on our circumstances. The peace that calms the agitated seas of our hearts is conditional on connectedness to Christ. As I abide in Christ, I experience his peace. 

This is fully available now. In the present moment. You won't need move to access it. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Understanding People Is Superior to Judging People



When Linda and I counsel people, our first goal is to understand them. Understanding precedes evaluation. This is true for your doctor, as well as your auto mechanic. It's Rule #1 when it comes to dealing with conflict in relationships.

This has been a good, and hard, life lesson for me. Because I have judged people, at times, wrongly. This has taught me to go slow when it comes to understanding another person's heart.

I am asking God to free my heart from being quick to judge the hearts of others. I don't want to spend the hours of my life doing that.


What about judging behaviors? We can, and will, do that. We can make judgments about many things without being judgmental. Here, for example, is a moral judgement: It's wrong to rape people for fun. I judge this statement to be true.

When it comes to people, one cannot make a reasonable judgment without first understanding. It is foolish to judge without understanding. 

Here things get tricky, because it is about the hearts of other people. So Linda and I go slow here. We barely understand the complexities of our own heart. How can we think we have access to the inner workings of another person's heart and mind? Yet this is what the judgmental person claims. They say, "I know what you are thinking!" Or: "I know why you did that!" Which makes us want to respond by saying, "Just who are you - God?"

Instead of judging, understand. Strive to understand others and be understood by them. When understanding is the goal, judgmentalism often morphs into compassion.

Time spent judging the hearts of other people is wasted time. Because:
  • First - our judgments can be wrong, and are probably incomplete.
  • Second - judgmentalism has no redemptive value. The point of judging others' hearts is simply: to judge others' hearts. There is an intrinsic circularity, a sick redundancy, to judgmentalism.
  • Third - we can't change peoples' hearts anyway, so why waste time judging them? Years ago God told me, "John, why are you trying so hard to change other people,  when you can't even change your own self?"
I have spent too much "judging time" towards other people. It is non-redemptive, non-edifying, and hateful. I have judged people falsely (even in my own home), with the result being, not corporate household transformation into truth and love, but a deformed, loveless heart inside me.

Spend time with God today.


Ask God to search out your heart. 

Spend your life on being searched-out by God, instead of playing God with the hearts of people.

If God reveals to you some truth about another person's struggle, thank him that he has entrusted you with this knowledge, and pray for that person.

If they should come to you for wisdom, it can be a sign that they trust you. They trust you to understand them. And, out of that understanding, discern the good and perfect will of God for them.



***
My books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Systemic Sin

(Sterling State Park, in winter.)

Are religious people exceptionally evil, more so than atheists? I doubt it. The propensity to do evil is intrinsic to the human condition. Call this "systemic sin." No one gets a statue erected in their honor.

Even if I were an atheist I would agree with the following.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"We cannot dismiss the horrendous cruelties about which we read in the papers as "things we would never do." The wounds and needs that lie behind the wars we condemn are the wounds and needs that we share with the whole human race. We too are deeply marked by the dark forces that make one war emerge after another. We too are part of the evil against which we protest. Here we catch a glimpse of the true sinfulness of our humanity. It is a sin so deeply anchored in us that it pervades all of our lives."
- Nouwen, The Road to Peace, p. 13

Thomas Merton writes: "Who can swear that his intentions are pure, even down to the subconscious depths of his will, where ancient selfish motives move comfortably like forgotten sea monsters in waters where they are never seen!" (Merton, No Man Is an Island, 115)

The atheist psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed that all humans are innately evil and aggression lies within each human as part of their nature. 

And then there is Thomas Hobbes who, in Leviathan, wrote that only a strong government could secure us from destroying ourselves. "Every man is enemy to every man," Hobbes wrote. And "the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Not a very high view of humanity!

The Christian idea is that all persons have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. From this, we need to be rescued.

Here self-reflection, guided by God, helps me. One of my constant prayers is from Psalm 139:23-24.


Search me, God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 
See if there is any offensive way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.

And...

Deliver us from evil...

Monday, June 07, 2021

What It Means to Be a Temple of the Holy Spirit - Sunday 6/6/2021


(Fast forward to 1:01:16.)

God's Presence Supervenes Upon My Sadness

(Our backyard trail that leads to the river.)


Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

As I have stayed close to God I have experienced, often, a comfort that passes my limited understanding. This does not mean I have not mourned and grieved. These words of Jesus do not promise the elimination of sorrow. It does mean that God's presence supervened upon my sadness, like a face appearing out of a dot matrix drawing, like beauty as an emergent property of ashes.



“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. 
Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
The Message (Matt. 5:4)

I mourned when I lost my parents, and Linda's parents, and my baby son. I experienced comfort in the midst of losing them. If I didn't have God-with-me I might have returned to alcohol and drugs. 

New Testament scholar Craig Evans says Matthew 5:4 alludes to a passage like Isaiah 61:1-3. (Evans, Matthew, 105) Matthew 5:4 is rooted in this ancient promise.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

    to proclaim freedom for the captives

    and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - 
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

Things fall apart. Loss happens. God holds me together so I don't fall apart. His Spirit binds me up when I'm about to unravel. 

***
I write about how praying brings comfort in my book - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Sean McDowell Interviews Colby Martin


Linda and I listened, yesterday, to Sean McDowell interview Colby Martin (the "unclobber" guy).

See if you can make any sense of Martin.

A note: I find Martin's dismissal of the importance of what we believe to be absurd and self-contradictory. McDowell gently tries to get Martin to comprehend this.