Saturday, August 15, 2015

Is our faith in God reasonable?

Naturalism as a philosophy pervades our world. What is naturalism, you may ask? Naturalism is the philosophy that what you see is the only thing that is. Naturalism has pervaded our world for many thousands of years, but its focus on our society sharpened considerably after the Reformation. As men learned things like germ theory and watched the star’s march through the universe they came to appreciate that many things heretofore unknown, were actually following regular and definable laws. Some improperly declared that all things must be observable, else they would not be true. People who are a lot smarter than I am have taken that statement: All things must be observable to be true, and asked is that statement observable? Since we cannot see that statement in our world and have no way of testing it, it cannot have the validity of its own words. It collapses totally as a philosophy since we cannot demonstrate its truth using our observations.

Many of our forefathers embraced the idea of strict observation to understand the world around them. Studies of the lives of Franklin, with his many inventions, as well as that of Jefferson, who I understand in his towering intellect, wrote some original calculus that is still admired today, show that we had forefathers who embraced observation of the world around them as a main means of understanding it. Nevertheless, such men, not renowned as Christians themselves, were also men to declare that we have “certain unalienable rights” that are derived directly from our Creator. They were by no means captive to naturalism; instead they boldly stated something never stated before: Man is endowed by rights that come from God, and government has no right to interfere with them. We do not understand the scope of this statement until we realize what it was implying—that justice and liberty come from God, and not from government. It was a statement that implicitly challenged the right of any government to govern apart from due regard to these unalienable rights. For the first time in history, a government was to be built on the premise of God-given rights. Whatever else they may have thought about Christianity becomes eclipsed under these unalienable rights. They were basing the foundations of our very government on the theme of rights coming from God, not rights granted benevolently from our government. Thus, the philosophy of our government was totally against the philosophy of today, that of naturalism.

When we look at many of the things government is trying to do to, and for, the people today, we can see just how far wrong the government has come in commanding what we “ought” to do. But that, as interesting as it is, is not the question I am seeking to answer. Is our faith in God reasonable? The answer to that question might come from naturalism, one of the biggest beliefs of our day. But naturalism has no place at all, properly speaking, since it is illogical and, as we saw above, collapses under its own weight. Life is certainly much more than what we see, and scientists are just beginning to understand how unique we are, in all of the universe. It used to be, in the time of C.S. Lewis, that men thought we were just one of a multitude of worlds, yet now, that idea is being seriously challenged. Our universe cries out for the hand of a designer.

Recently I did some repair work on my driveway, and a new patch of concrete was carefully laid. The name, Dwayne, appeared in a fresh piece of concrete repair to my driveway. When I looked and saw it, I did not assume that accident and mutation and chaos had created the name, “Dwayne” in my concrete. I knew that my grandson Dwayne had scrawled his name in it. I saw a design and correctly presumed a Designer. Similarly, when I was a young man of 17, in my third year of biology, I first observed something which struck me as unique, and perhaps not possible apart from being designed. I did not know it then, but I had been struck by the first cause argument. The first cause argument is one that draws us back to see something that has caused the event to occur. So it was when I was 17, and I first considered the general properties of water. Water, with its freezing point of 32 degrees, and a boiling point of 100 degrees, just fit the world in which we live. Though I did not fully understand the consequences, I could see that a five degree variation in the properties of water would have enormous, if not lethal, consequences on the world. Where would our water cycle be? Rain could become enormously more or less, according to the properties of water. What if water froze at 50 degrees? It would appear mostly as ice in our world, and most likely life as we know it would not be possible. It was the first time, as an adult, that I had looked at something simple in our world, the water molecule, and wondered how it came to be. It was screaming to me that design was in the properties of water—for it was simply incredible to me that it all happened by accident.

I have been reading an excellent book, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”, one of the very best books on Christian apologetics I can remember reading in my lifetime. In it, the authors give an excellent quote from Philip Johnson, “Phillip Johnson serves as the sharp edge of a steel wedge that is now splitting the petrified wood of naturalism in the scientific community. He correctly points out that “Darwinism is based on an a priori [prior] commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses.””1 Materialism, being another synonym for naturalism, is assumed by its believers, and cannot be proved. The evidence, even in the simpler blocks of cell life, screams for a Designer.

It takes much more faith to believe that an accident, with the right chemicals, with just the perfect situation, and with a precise measurement, was what started life on the earth. We have so much in our world, just as I wondered about the properties of water above that screams out that it has been designed. It can therefore be concluded that our faith in a Creator is perfectly reasonable. Notice that I have not got as far as Biblical revelation yet, and so I have not established that the Christian God is indeed reasonable. At this point all that can be concluded is that the evidence of the beginnings of life suggest a complexity that appears impossible for accident and chaos and mutation to work together and randomly create life. At this point, our intelligent scientists are still struggling to create anything like the beginning of life—it appears impossible. But even if it is possible, and they succeed at long last in creating some of the simplest forms of life, all they have done is proven that it takes intelligence to create life.

I have been overly simplistic for the sake of brevity, and again I point you to the book as being well worth your time if you have ever wondered about these basic questions. In my next post, I will try to show that the Bible can be reasonably taken as our sign from this Creator God, and that we can rely totally on its message.

1. Geisler, Norman L.; Turek, Frank (2004-03-12). I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Foreword by David Limbaugh) (Kindle Locations 2352-2354). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

What does the Bible mean when it says you are saved?

Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:4

The word saved is not at all foreign to the New Testament, and is used scores of times, but what does it mean? The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost, says the Scripture. To understand the meaning of lost, we have to go back to the place where man first got lost, the book of Genesis. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent, and both give in to that temptation. It is at that point that the “deed” of mankind is turned over to the tempter. Perhaps the whole of earth is included in the transfer, for we know that Jesus refers to Satan as the “prince of the power of the air”, and we certainly know from Paul that the whole of creation is groaning because of its lostness. Isaiah tells us that one day, when the earth is restored, everything will be so different. He tells us that the child will play next to the snake and not suffer harm, that the wolf and the lamb will lie down together, and that the lion will come to eat straw.

Earth will have to undergo radical changes for these things to happen; and there is a plethora of other things that will happen in the final judgment of mankind, the time when Satan will at last be judged for his folly. If you are at all like me, you have to be wondering why all of this unfolded the way that it did, but we are not exactly told the why. We do have a bit of information on what happened, though. If I may speculate a bit, I would guess that we have been used as an instrument to foil the plan of Satan, that God took us, the least of beings, and made us to be that which brought the folly of Satan to light, that all of heaven may see it plainly. In other words, God is using the least of beings to confound one of the highest of beings, and wants to at the same time, put on a demonstration for all to witness. Certainly, the scripture says that “you shall bruise his heel and he shall bruise your head”. From the beginning of time man has waited for the Redeemer, seeing him come at last and allow himself to be put on a cross, to die for all who should receive him.

Receiving him will lead to being “saved”, for we were under the indictment that had stood from the time of Satan’s Garden temptation, and were to be judged. When we accepted the temptation, we became the mirror image of our new father, but what does it mean to be in the image of our father? In Isaiah, Satan purposes for himself five “I wills” that seem to give us a glimpse of what we became. Let’s look at those five “I wills”:
1. I will ascend into heaven (Is. 14:13).
2. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God (v.13).
3. I will sit on the mount of the congregation (v. 13).
4. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds (v. 14).
5. I will be like the most High (v. 14).

Heaven must have shaken on the day that it heard these five “I wills”, and I am not going to look at each of them and try to figure out what they might mean, but this much is evident. The “I wills” are statements of pride lifted up against the Most High. In transferring our ownership from God to Satan, we transferred our likeness from being like that of God our father to that of Satan our father. I would guess that our biggest folly has to do with imitating the last “I will” which says I will be like the most High. In the case of Lucifer, the shining one, there was at least some reason behind the pride. He held the glory of God and was responsible to make it shine for all to see. In the case of men saying I will be like the most High, it is utterly ridiculous, for compared to God we are nothing.

And yet there is a basis for the claim. Somehow when we were created, God breathed his image into us, and we are forever stamped with something of his nature in us. And that image has become horribly marred with our sin. God chose to judge that sin, our sin, in the body of his own Son. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Thus, we are “saved” from the wrath of God, just as we were all condemned in sin through Adam, so we are all made righteous through believing God. Not everyone is saved; only those who believe. “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6). God has saved us from wrath and judgment through faith in what Jesus, his Son, has done.

So in mankind, God has chosen to rescue those from judgment who will believe. But, what, you may ask, does God do about those who do not believe? “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Thus, the saved are those who believe God. In the instant that you first believe, then the wonderful processes of God are put into motion, sealing you forever to Christ. Chafer says it this way: “Being in Christ, they are one in each other in a mystic union which is both incomparable and incomprehensible—a unity like that within the blessed Trinity (John 17:21-23). They are already constituted citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). These blessings are not only as exalted and spiritual as heaven itself and eternal, but they are secured apart from all human merit at the instant one believes on Christ to the saving of the soul.”1 At the point of belief, the work is all God’s, and none of ours.

In giving the gospel, which means literally “good news”, to all of mankind, men have been cunningly creative in missing the message. There is not any “saving” available to any, except to those who will believe. Men and women famously put off this important decision; others when they hear the claim, consider it well, and then go on with their lives, forgetting all about it. That will simply not do. Men and women have thought over the centuries that somehow God will “fudge” things in their favor, and they think that they will not be condemned, because they know of many who are behaving more wickedly than they are. That will simply not do. We are not in a contest, vying with one another to see who is better. Rather, we are all condemned under Adam with the same death penalty. Unwittingly, we placate ourselves with platitudes, thinking that someday we will work it out, and frequently we go to our graves without ever having worked it out. That, too, will simply not do. The day of choice is here and now, and the claims of Christ are the most important claims you will ever consider. Listen to the very words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). No one—not one person will ever come to God under his own power, with his own deeds. We are under a blanket condemnation that can only be removed by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus—sometimes referred to shortly as “accepting Christ”. That is what it means to be saved. Simply, it is the only thing that will do.

1. Chafer, L. (1947). Systematic theology (Vol. 4, p. P.16). Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press.