Saturday, September 10, 2011

My 9/11 Memorial: Christianity Offers Authentic Hope In The Face Of Suffering

Terror's Aftermath
Today, we will be remembering one of the great tragedies in the history of our nation.  Ten years ago, a senseless act of violence turned tools of travel into tools of terror.  Many people died.  Some instantly, some slowly and in much pain.

Like many, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the first plane crashing into the WTC.  Even more vividly, I can recall watching the second jet aim at the second tower. I had hoped, watching the 2D television screen, the plane would pass behind the building, that it would miss.  Instead, pieces of ceramic, metal, and plastic shot out of the other side of the building intertwined in flames.  When I remembered to breathe, I realized I had not felt so much pain in my relatively young, sheltered life.  I was across the continent, but I mourned with all who experienced this act of terror.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to make sense of what I had witnessed.  The world hadn't really changed much.  There were always people who wanted to hurt others, but the reality of evil was much more tangible, more pungent even.  Before, I had been able to ignore evil when it occurred to others, but this had hit home.  This showed me the reality of pain and suffering all over the world.

I was struck by how futile our efforts at comfort can be.  When tragedy strikes, people often ask bigger questions than they have before.  But who, if anyone, has the answers to give authentic hope?

Failed Answers
Mary Baker Eddy believed
evil was an illusion.
Every worldview must have an answer to pain and suffering.  Any worldview that ignores the true human need to make sense of the world of evil we live in rings hollow and disingenuous.  Unfortunately, some worldviews seem to pretend there is no such evil, but only how we react to situations (Atheism).  Other worldviews may say that evil is just as powerful as good, or even, just another side of the same coin (Pantheism).  In the specific instance of 9/11, many followers (though not all) of Islam would contend the falling of the towers was actually a good, and not in fact an evil act.
William Provine believes there
is no God, and thus, no ethics
(or ways to measure good and evil).

All of these answers are found lacking in the face of the horrors of suffering.  As people jumped from the burning buildings, falling to their death, not a bone in my body did not react in shock at the evil of it all.  Later as the buildings collapsed, trapping thousands in a dusty, fiery grave, it was clear evil was and is real.

A Better Answer
Christianity's answer to suffering and evil does not insult our intelligence or emotions.  It does not pretend we are too dumb to understand the reality of evil, nor does it pretend evil does not exist and sweep it under the rug.  Christianity knows that evil is a very real problem.  Though evil and suffering are real, Christianity contends justice and good will triumph in the end.  Christians have an authentic hope in seeing the end of evil and suffering.

The hope one has is only as good as the object in which the hope is placed.  Psalm 146:5-6 sums up the source of hope for the Christian.  Our hope is in the God of the universe, the Creator.  We believe God will keep his promises regarding the future.

But what has God actually promised to do about evil and suffering?  Although there are many passages which may give a Christian hope, two passages stand out to me.  The first passage is Revelation 21:3-5.  This passage promises that God will make his living place with man.  As he dwells with his people, he will "wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."  God is making things new again, and he promises "these words are trustworthy and true."  This passage resonates with anyone who longs for the end of unnecessary pain.  We know there is something wrong with this world.  All is not as it should be.  But the Christian is waiting, yearning, longing for the day in which all things will again be new, and the glory of God will be revealed in its fullest nature.

Similarly, Romans 8:18-25,  is another passage a Christian looks to for hope..  This passage is one of the most memorable of all of Paul's writings.  He contends that present suffering is not even worth comparing to the future glory of God's people. In fact, all of creation is waiting for the unveiling of his children in their final form.  God has promised that we will see justice, glory, and goodness.  This outcome is so assured, so great, it isn't worth even considering the sufferings of this present age against it.  This is a grand promise to give a great hope.

Reasons for Hope
I know many who read this will not be satisfied with the explanation of hope for the Christian.  They may say, "If Christianity was true, these passages would give me hope, but I am not sure Christianity is true."  The  Christian should not be found speechless in cases like this.  1 Peter 3:15 tells us to be ready to give reasons for our hope to anyone who asks.  As such, here are some reasons why I believe in God. And here is a post on the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, showing the truth of Christianity in particular.  Many other people have even better posts about the reality of Christianity.

However, the most compelling reason for me personally has been my transformation through Christ.  I grew up in a Christian home, and accepted the Messiah at an early age.  He is my Lord and Savior, and He has consistently worked upon my heart a desire to serve Him better and more fully.  While many have not tried or explored Christianity openly and decide it is false, I have tried it, and found it true.

So, I will yearn for Jesus to make all things new, I will groan for the future glory.  I know my redeemer lives, and hope for the day when there will be no more pain, suffering, tears or 9/11s.  I will remember 9/11/01, and all other pain and suffering, with a longing for the promises beyond.

This post is part of a coordinated effort on the part of Christian apologist bloggers.  I hope my post has been helpful, but for more perspectives, check out the following:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Letter to the Editor

This week I wrote a letter to the editor of the USA Today opinion section in response to an article by Dr. Jerry A. Coyne of the University of Chicago.  I do not know if it will be published, but I had a great time writing it.


Dr. Jerry A. Coyne
I found Dr. Coyne’s article, As Atheists Know, You Can Be Good Without God, to be a fascinating and engaging read.  His story about instinctively helping the Federal Express delivery man was instructive as well as heartwarming.  The article was articulate and I found much of it impressive.

However, I do not think Dr. Coyne has adequately critiqued the theist’s view of morality.  While much of what he writes is emotive and seems to be true at first glance, he has either chosen to ignore, or has not fully understood the theist’s true position.  Either way, the position he has so thoroughly knocked down has turned out to be a straw-man, while the true nature of the theist’s argument is alive and well.

A Misunderstanding of the Theist’s View
Coyne begins by explaining that many theists point to instinctual morality as evidence for God’s existence.  He then argues the theist says evolution could not give instinctual morality, “for if we were merely evolved beasts, we would act like beasts.”  He explains how many theists believe immorality is “laid at the door of Charles Darwin.”

While Coyne is right in his assertion that theists believe morality comes from God, I think he has attacked a straw man in saying theists believe immorality is the fault of Darwin, and that beasts would act like beasts.  Some theists may believe that people would behave as beasts without God, and that may be true, but Coyne has taken on a very weak position here.

Thinking theists do not argue that atheists, like Charles Darwin, are immoral, but instead that if they are right that there is no God, that everyone, atheist and theist alike, is ammoral.  See, our view is that there is no such thing as morality if there is no transcendent grounding for these things we call morals.  It is not that all atheists are bad, or that we would behave immorally if we evolved from beasts, but instead that none of us would have a standard to argue about what is right and wrong and wouldn’t know the difference between behaving “red in tooth and claw” and not, because there would not be any standard to differentiate between the behaviors without God.  

A False Dichotomy
Dr. Coyne uses a familiar example in his attempt to show God is not necessary for the existence of morality.  Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma, as it is often called, tries to show a problem in God’s commanding of morality.  One side of the dilemma is that if God arbitrarily picks how we should behave, then he can change this anytime, meaning the good behavior was never truly good to begin with. On the other hand, if the morals we should follow are truly good and even God himself is subject to them, then they are to be followed, not God.  According to Coyne, this dilemma shows that God cannot be the ground of morality.  At first glance, his idea seems to be hard for the theist to overcome.

However,  Plato’s dilemma is a false dichotomy.  There are more than just the two options Plato has given us.  A third option is that God has given these moral commands, not arbitrarily, and not because he is subject to them, but instead because morality is completely wrapped up in his character and personality.  In other words, morality is the way it is, because God is essentially the way he is.  Morals cannot change because they are an essential part of his nature, nor are these morals more important or essential than he, because they are wrapped up in his existence.

Dr. Coyne also accuses the Christian and Jewish God of sanctioning, even ordering, “immoral acts in the Old Testament.”  He furnishes numerous examples of God’s immorality.  Lack of space and time prevent a thorough defense of all of these examples, but it is not true that “Christians and Jews pass over” these passages with “judicious silence.”  There have been numerous Christians who have endevoured to answer these types of objections.  Not the least of which is the recent work by Paul Copan in Is God a MoralMonster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.  I refer Dr. Coyne to this work for many of these answers.

In response to Dr. Coyne’s idea that “religiously based ethics have changed profoundly over time,” I fail to see this as evidence for his point.  The followers of God can be wrong about ethics just as much as anyone else, thus when someone misinterprets the Bible to defend immorality, it is not the ethics that have changed, but instead our understanding.  Thus, when God’s people truly follow God’s moral system, many of them fought to see justice (i.e. William Wilberforce and others in regards to slavery).  Coyne then makes the assertion that “secular improvements” forced religion to “clean up its act.”  What were these improvements?  It is easy to assert this, but he does not provide any evidence of such occurances.

A Rocky Conclusion
In conclusion, Coyne explains that evolution and secular reasoning aresupposedly enough to account for the morals we exhibit and follow.  He explains our “big-brained” animals have reasons to behave nicely towards other like minded, bodied, and specied individuals.  He explains that we need to throw out trivial ideas about what we “eat, read or wear,… or whom we  have sex with” for more important “matters of genuine moral concern, like rape and child abuse.”  After all, “isn’t it better to be moral because you’ve worked it out for yourself—in conjunction with your group—the right thing to do?”

Unfortunately, Coyne has fallen into a very common problem here.  He has confused epistemology and ontology/metaphysics.  He has explained very well that we can know what needs to be done, and that there are certain things that are really wrong (rape and child abuse), but he has not given a satisfactory reason for why this is the case.

I agree, rape and child abuse are wrong.  However, Coyne has said we get it by evolutionary genetics, and maybe by figuring it out in conjunction with our group.  While these explainations might be adequate in explaining how we know what is right and wrong, they are woefully inadequate in explaining why these actions are actually right and wrong. In other words, while he has shown reasons we might recognize rape and child abuse as wrong, he has not given us a reason that this recognition is the truth. 

The examples of evolution and secular reasoning are not capable of grounding true morality.  For example, if my group comes to the conclusion through secular reasoning that rape is wrong, but another group decides it is not only ok, but a preferred action to propagate their lineage, how can I argue against their idea?  I might just be able to say “my group does not prefer rape,” but can I actually argue that it is wrong according to evolution or group consensus?

On the other hand, if rape is wrong because it contrary to the way God created the world, in accordance with his nature, then we have a universal grounding as the source for the knowledge that rape is actually wrong.  The idea that we can figure this out apart from some such source is wrong.

Because God is needed as the ultimate ground for morality, if he does not exist it is not clear that anyone, atheist or theist, can be good without God. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Resurrection-- Quick Defense

As a High School teacher, I spend a lot of time around students who have a lot of questions.  In my 10th grade Bible class, we recently spent almost two weeks learning about the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and why other theories do not fit the evidence we have.

While in the middle of teaching this to them, I started to think about very quick ways to defend the reality of the Resurrection, in case one does not have the time to explain to someone all of the nuances of the arguments of Gary Habermas, or Mike Licona (Mike Licona has recently written a book on the resurrection that is 718 pages.)  So, if a friend does not want all of the evidence, or like me, you might just have an audience that wants things short and to the point, then here is my attempt at a very quick defense of the Resurrection.  Hopefully this can be like hitting the easy button for the resurrection.

Prophecy-Circumstantial (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Dan 2:44, Mt 12:40, Jn 10:18, Mk 8:31, etc)
There are many different forms of evidence.  The OT prophecies concerning Jesus' death and resurrection, as well as Jesus' own prophecies that he would die and raise again are all forms of circumstantial evidence.  Circumstantial evidence is evidence that is suggestive of a specific thing, but it is not proof of the event itself.

These prophecies suggest that Jesus would die on a cross and live again later.  Again, this does not prove it happened, but it is a building block for the case.

We Know Jesus Died (Mk 15:16-41, Jn 19:1-37, etc) 
Because the Bible is historically reliable, we know that Jesus actually died on the Cross.  He suffered through 39 lashes from a Roman whip, was beaten, forced to carry his cross beam, hung on the cross, stabbed with a spear into the heart.  The Romans were excellent killing machines, they knew when people died and there is no reason to believe Jesus did not die.

Jesus' Tomb was Known (Jn 19:38-42, etc)
Jesus was buried in a place where everyone knew.  He was buried in a rich man's family tomb, sealed in it, and a guard was placed outside.  This is a very important fact, because it means the if Jesus' body was still in the tomb, everyone would know where it was and be able to show it to the people, when the disciples claimed he had risen again.

People Saw Jesus Alive Again After He Died (Jn 20:11-18, Lk 24:34, Jn 21, Mt 28:16-20, 1 Cor 15:3-7, etc.)
The most important thing to remember here, is that the people who claimed to have seen Jesus alive again, were not in the frame of mind to make a story like this up.  The disciples had just seen their Lord executed, and had then hidden for fear of persecution.  These men are not likely to make the story up (because then people just show the body is in the tomb), steal the body (they were afraid already), or hallucinate (hallucinations are not group events).  Instead they experienced something that made them tell everyone that the man who was dead was alive again.

Not only the disciples, but two enemies of the gospel claimed to see Christ as well.  Saul (a persecutor of Christians) claimed to see Christ a couple years later, and James (the unbelieving brother of Christ) claimed to have seen him as well.  The hardest people to convince of any event are the enemies.  To convince Saul and James is very telling evidence.

So, what we know is this.  At point "A" Jesus was alive.  At point "B" Jesus is dead and buried in a known tomb.  At point "C" he is seen alive again, and no one produced his body afterward.

The Resurrection is the only explanation that fits these known events.  The other theories somehow miss on at least one of these points.

Praise the Lord, He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Great Opportunity-- What is Truth?

But doesn’t everyone have different truths?  What if I think one thing is true and you think another thing is true?  Can’t we just believe what we want?
Actually there are two different kinds of truth.  There is subjective truth and objective truth.  Subjective truth is truth inside of me.  It is about preferences.  I prefer chocolate, you prefer strawberry ice cream.
Objective truth is truth outside of ourselves.  It is about the way the world is.  It isn’t about preference, it doesn’t change no matter what anybody thinks about it.  The earth is round even if I pretend or don’t believe it isn’t.
Claims of religions are claims about objective reality.  These claims may be true or false, but they are claims about the real world.  For example, Christianity claims Jesus Christ is God.  Well, he may or may not be God, but this fact doesn’t change based on my like or dislike of him.  Or, Mormonism claims there are many gods, and this does not change based on my preferences either.
Since religions make objective claims about the world, evaluating the evidence for and against each religion becomes very important.  If there is a God who loves you and me and he asks us to live in a certain way, there may not be a more important journey for anyone’s life.  To understand and know the truth is the most important thing in the world.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Great Opportunity-- Does God Exist?

As I wrote earlier, I was given the opportunity to write three short blurbs for the Smart Faith Apologetics conference.  I had an amazing time writing these, and have said I would post them here.  The second one is on the question Does God Exist?  Here is my response to that question:
Does God Exist?
I can fully understand why it is hard to know if God exists.  We can’t see, smell, touch, or hear God. This makes it hard for us to be as certain about God’s existence as we are about the existence of our family, friends, or other people.  It may seem that it would take a lot more evidence to believe in the existence of God.
Can I prove God exists?  I don’t think I can prove it with 100% certainty, but I do think I can show it is completely reasonable to believe in God.  In fact, I think I can show it is more reasonable to believe in the existence of God rather than not believe in Him.
Imagine a huge, very complicated Lego castle.  If you were to come across this castle and wanted to know where it came from, what question would you ask?  You would probably ask, “Who built this?”  Castles don’t build themselves.  They are the sort of things that need creators or designers.  In fact, if we destroyed the castle, and put all the pieces in a box, do you think a castle would ever be created without outside influence?  Even if we shook the box, I don’t think a Lego castle will ever be made without a mind/personality creating it on purpose.
The universe is much more complicated than a Lego castle.   If something as comparatively simple as a Lego castle requires a designer, how much more would something as complicated as the universe need a designer?  The universe is designed in just the right way.  All of the laws of physics are arranged perfectly in order to promote the existence of life and the universe.  These laws were designed by something more powerful and bigger than the universe itself.  In other words, God!
Similarly, life is so complicated only God could have created it.  This is because even the most basic forms of life contain a lot (and I mean A LOT) of information.  Even the simplest cell is many times more complicated than our Lego castle.
The existence of morals also suggests the existence of God.  There are certain things that are just wrong.  Murder, rape, and torturing babies are examples of things that are just wrong.  Anyone who commits these acts has broken a moral law.  But laws need lawgivers.  Just as we saw earlier the existence of the laws of physics is best explained by a designer, so also the existence of the laws of morals is best explained by the existence of a lawgiver.  This lawgiver is God.  Only God has the power and knowledge to create these kinds of laws.
These are only three of the many different arguments for the existence of God.  All of these arguments can give us a confidence that it is completely reasonable to believe in the existence of God.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Great Opportunity-- Are All Religions the Same

As I wrote earlier, I was given the opportunity to write three short blurbs for the Smart Faith Apologetics conference.  I had an amazing time writing these, and have said I would post them here.  The first one is on the question Are All Religions the Same?  Here is my response to that question:

Are All Religions the Same?

Are all religions the same?  The short answer is no.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some obvious similarities between many religions such as loving one another, and belief in some kind of god, but religions often differ in their most important aspects.  Even in religions which seem to be very similar at first glance, there are big differences that are very important.  It really is the differences that define the religion.
Let me explain.  Most people assume all religions believe in God.   However, the existence of God is where a lot of differences occur. For example, there are three major monotheistic (one God) religions in the world: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Although all three agree about the existence of only one God, who they say God is differs. Christians say Jesus is God, Jews and Muslims say he isn’t. Either Jesus is God and Christianity is right, or Jesus isn’t God and the other religions are right. There is no way all three of these religions are correct about who and what Jesus is, and they certainly are not the same.
In the same way there are major differences among other religions as well.  Whereas Christianity believes in one God, Hinduism and Mormonism believe in many gods, and traditional Buddhism is atheistic (no God).  So, there are religions that believe in only one God, some that believe in many gods, and some that don’t believe a God exists.  How can they be the same?  These types of differences distinguish each religion as unique, and this uniqueness cannot be denied.
Although there are some similarities between the religions, it is really where they are different that is the most important.  It is the differences that count.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Great Opportunity

I recently had an amazing opportunity to write three short articles for the website of an upcoming apologetics conference.  This conference will run from June 9-10 in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is a conference aimed at answering many of the questions that youth today have regarding faith.  There will be some amazing speakers there (Brett Kunkle, Mary Jo Sharp, Neil Mammen, and others) speaking on a wide range of topics.

For my part, I was asked to answer three questions in a short conversational way.  These answers would be used on the website to kind of whet the appetite for the sort of answers Christianity has for some of life's greatest questions.  Over the next couple days I will post these answers here, but if you can't wait, head on over to and follow the links to see the answers.

I would recommend any student entertain the idea of attending this conference.  It will not disappoint.