Archive | June, 2010

Why is God So Silent?

If I were in charge of the universe, I would most certainly do things differently. Hey, this is a given. God already said that his ways are not my ways. I also know that his ways are better than my ways. I would just do some things differently.

I doubt there is anyone who has ever escaped the subject of “divine hiddenness.” Maybe you have not termed it as such, but you have often wondered why God does not reveal himself in a way that is more satisfactory to our longings for experiential intimacy with him. “With him” may not be the right way to put it. A better way would be to say that we long for experiential intimacy with “the other side.” As someone has once said, “One out of every one people dies.” These are pretty good odds. We know that one day we will die and experience that which awaits us beyond death. Yet this life is virtually void of “signs” from the “other side.” In a way, all we have to work from is what Phillip Yancey terms “rumors” of another world. There is quit a bit of mystery, even for Christians, as to what exactly “the other side” will be like. This can scare us. In fact, it can scare us so badly that we avoid death at all costs.

Of course, as Christians, we do have faith that this “other world” is real and that heaven is an actual place where God awaits us. We also have faith that God, from this “other world,” has spoken to us through Scripture. Yet we long for an experiential intimacy that parallels the norms of our lives today. We want to hear the voice of God. We have questions for him. We desire a sense experience that is often referred to as “empirical.” We want to see vivid signs of the other side that will solidify our faith and alleviate any residue of doubt that might does exist.

As Christians, God’s silence—God’s hiddenness—should not come as any surprise. Yes, I might do things differently. Were I on God’s board of directors, I might give him some gentle encouragement to be a little more open to showing himself, especially to his own children. But the fact is that we will not see God, hear God, or touch God in the way we so desire. If we did, the Christian worldview would be compromised as the Scripture tells us we should not expect to have our faith experienced though such empirical means.

Peter says, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1Pet. 1:8-9)

You see, Peter here assumes that we have not seen Christ (or God or the Holy Spirit). At least visually. Peter’s point would be moot if he did not mean to include all other forms of experiencing God empirically. The fact is that when Christ ascended into heaven, that was the last we have seen or heard from him in such a way. The door to the “other side” was shut.

Please note: I did not say “That was the last time he was active in an evident way.” Big difference. The point is that we do not and will not directly experience God through our eyes, ears, or hands until Christ returns. 

Why does God stay so hidden? Continue Reading →

Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology – An Introduction

The Discipline of Archaeology fits nicely with the world of the Bible. At its root the word archaeology consists of two Greek words: ἀρχαῖος and -λογία Archaeos means, “Ancient” and “ology” is “the study of.” The word Archaeology lexically refers to the study of the ancients. Since the Bible is an ancient book it makes sense for Archaeology to have something to say regarding its claims.

Modern Archaeology developed in Europe in the 19th century. Since then the land of the Bible has been given a growing amount of attention. Why so much attention? The Bible is not only an ancient book, but a detailed historical document. The sixty-six books of the Bible consist of nearly 5,000 locations along with many people, events and cultural details…all of which can be analyzed through Archaeology.

Our Top Ten Discoveries will fall into three main categories.

1. Words of the Bible

Archaeological discoveries can either support or refute the words of the Bible. Has the exact wording of the Bible become corrupted over time? What has archaeology shown regarding the trustworthiness of each word of the Bible? Some of our top ten items will speak into this category.

2. Land of the Bible

Some discoveries will focus on the land of the Bible. Are the cities, rivers, mountains, geographic features mentioned in the Bible accurate? The Bible paints a detailed picture, is the picture accurate? What does our top ten list suggest?

3. World of the Bible

Some of our top ten discoveries will focus on the world of the Bible. Are the political, economic, agricultural and social details mentioned in the Bible accurate? Was a certain king from a certain land really the king at the date suggested from the biblical book? Some of our top ten Discoveries will speak into the accuracy of the World of the Bible.

What makes an archaeological discovery significant?

Primarily, there are two criteria. Continue Reading →

Things I Used to Believe, but Now I’m Not So Sure

You are either 100% correct in doctrine or you are not correct at all

I believed this for a long time. A pastor I loved and admired once told me this. But if this is the case, we are all up creek skubalon –pardon my French. All of us have some things wrong. I am studying Romans right now and I am under the opinion that chapter 2:1-16 Paul is addressing self-righteous Jews and not self-righteous Gentiles. I might be wrong. It makes sense either way. But if I am wrong about this, does that really mean I am wrong about everything? Really? We need to be 100% correct only about those things that are the most important: Who is Christ and what did he do?

If its not in the Bibe, its not true

Sounds good, but has a terrible track record in real life. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture to equip us with spiritual truth. I also believe in the Scripture’s ultimate authority. But there are a lot of things that God expects us to know that are outside of Scripture. For example, and most fundamentally, you have to learn how to read before you can even know what the Scriptures say. The Scriptures don’t teach you about subject-verb-object relationships. God expects you to know these things beforehand. The same is true when it comes to the laws of logic, the physical benefits of eating and breathing, and how to walk (one foot in front of the other).

If you smoke, you must not be a good Christian

Really? Is it the addiction or health problems that cause us to say this? If it is the addiction, are we ready to give up coffee? If it is the health, are we ready to exercise daily and stop eating fast food? Otherwise, I think we need to calm down.

All sins are equal in God’s site

Really? Well then what do we do with John 19:11? Do I really believe going 36mph in a 35 is the same in God’s site as child rape and molestation? I think I better reconsider. Maybe I could put it this way, “While not all sin is equal in God’s site, all people are equally depraved; we just act it out in various degrees”? Where did I come up with such a notion? Continue Reading →

In Defense of Hymns (Performed in a Classic Way)

I went to a church the other day and it was not much different than a rock concert. Might I say, it was a very well done rock concert. Electric guitars, drums in their own sound area, smoke, lights, and two or three people singing the latest in contemporary worship music. There was a part of me that enjoyed it and another part of me which sighed. Another church I attended had a mixture of some of the classic hymns along with some contemporary worship. No smoke. No flashing lights. But the sigh was still there. It just had a different sound. It was lacking something.

There is hardly a place you can go anymore and hear the classic hymns of the faith sung in a classic way. Nine out of ten times, churches have quietly changed their tune. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against contemporary worship music. In fact, I really like it. But more and more the great hymns of the faith are being ushered out. Now, even when they are played, their sound is contemporary. It is not really the same. The best way I can express it is that hymns are epic and epic songs need an epic sound. 

I like the word “epic.” It fits when it comes to the great hymns of the faith. Hymns are epic as God is epic. Hymns played in a traditional way, with the traditional sound, are even more epic.

I don’t wish to beat this thing to death. I am 37 years-old. I just caught the tail-end of the transition to contemporary music. Think of this as an opinion piece rather than an informed theological argument. I am not saying that God is more pleased when we play hymns. I am not saying that this is the “right” way to worship. I am just saying that there is a defense that can be made for hymns.

Hymns enter the church into a saga. While I think church can and does take these kind of things to far, there is something to be said for tradition. When I attended an Eastern Orthodox church not too long ago I remember thinking about all the things that they did wrong to the detriment of the Gospel. However, there is something that I believe they get right: they allow people to experience the church. No, not the building they are in or even their congregation, but the historic church. Because of their liturgy, which goes back thousands of years, they join hands with all the saints of the past.  Other traditions do this as well in their own respective ways. This is one aspect of the value that the great hymns of the faith sung and played in a classical way have. Of course most of them don’t go back to the earliest church. In fact, most only go back a few hundred years. But when we sing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” (pipe organ, trumpet, choir and all), their is a sense in which we take the hand of Martin Luther and the reformers expressing our solidarity with them. Continue Reading →

Seven Reasons Why Christians Doubt

I want to briefly give you some of the more “mundane” causes of why we, as Christians, might experience doubt, whether it be doubt in the existence of God, doubt in his love for us, or doubt in our salvation.

Personality causes: Some people are prone to doubt because it is in their DNA to doubt. Just as some people are more outgoing and some more socially reclusive. Many of us have a hard time believing anything due to the skeptical nature of our personality. In this case, it is fairly easy to discover if this is a contributing factor to your doubt. Are you skeptical about everything in life? Do you have problems in your marriage due to a lack of trust that is not warranted? Do you find it hard to trust people, even your closest friends? Are you afraid to get on rides at the amusement park that others believe are perfectly safe? There are strengths and weaknesses to this type of personality. The solution is to rationally pursue the truth so as to make a sound judgment and let your thoughts adjust accordingly. Don’t give your personality undue control. Use it to your advantage. (And lay off your wife!)

Historical causes: Like the previous, this affects our ability to trust in general. Unlike the previous, this breach of confidence is brought about by past experiences. Some people have had traumatic experiences in the past that keep them on the edge. This “edge” tempers their ability to trust. It may be something in your childhood or something very recent. Those who have had abusive situations growing up, whether sexual, mental, or physical, find it hard to trust in anything. When one experiences a trauma in their life or a series of traumas, these take their toll on a person. If you have been through this, even though your theology may allow for such, the impact that it has from an experiential standpoint can take its toll and make people “nervous” spiritually and therefore more prone to doubt.

Medical causes: Often people experience chemical imbalances in their brain. This could be genetic or brought about by difficulties, stress, and normal unattended depression. Once the seretonin levels in your brain become imbalanced, people find that they experience all sorts of changes that does not represent who they really are. When the way you think is impacted in such a way, it is sure to have effects on your spirituality. Many people who have gone through such find that their ability to believe God suffers as doubt replaces what used to be certainty. Normally, when the chemical balance is restored, people return to their former self with regard to their faith. This does not make their faith any less sincere as Christians should be able to accept the reality that there is a vital connection between the brain and the soul. One cannot be affected without the other.

Physical causes: As bizarre as it may seem, our physical condition can have an effect on our faith. Eating unhealthy and a lack of exercise can cause us to have tremendous mood swings and even mental depression. This happens for two reasons: 1) Our minds need good nutrition to work properly. When our mind is not working properly, our faith will suffer. 2) While people come in a variety of packages, being out of shape physically can have an emotional impact that can effect everything from our personal security, to our trust in God. When things are not “the way they were supposed to be,” including our physical condition, we, in some sense, are living outside of the will of God. This can bring us down psychologically and effect our faith in many ways. Often, when people get in shape (relatively speaking—the best shape they are able to be in), their ability to notice and enjoy spiritual pleasures enhances.

Stressful causes: When we place too much on our shoulders, it can affect our relationship with God and cause us to be more prone to doubt. Normally, with stress comes a lack of sleep. Both have tremendous effects on the way we think and how we judge reality. I have been around people who are walking zombies and I have noticed the toll this takes on their confidence in God. I have also seen people who are so worried and stressed about so many projects they have on their plate that spiritual doubt comes easy. Be careful with how much you concern yourself with. It may seem like the right thing to do, but it can be counterproductive to the most important thing—your spiritual life.

Theological causes: I don’t know how many people I have come in contact with who were doubting God and they had every reason to. What I mean by this is that we often doubt God, but it is not really the God of the Bible we are doubting. We assume characteristics about God that are not true. We imagine that God is supposed to protect us and our family from all physical harm. When he does not, we begin to doubt. But the god that we are doubting is not the God of Scripture. When  we believe that God has made promises that he has not, when God becomes the candy machine in the sky, we are setting ourselves up for the fall. Bad theology can bring about so much unwarranted doubt.

Sinful causes: We dare not fail to mention the sinful causes of doubt. When we are not obeying God the way we should, living in sin, we are going to be prone to doubt God at the most fundamental level. Sometimes people use doubt as an excuse for sin, but I think more often, at lease with Christians, people begin to compromise in their lives, taking small yet persistent turns away from God and, because of this, take the exit on the road of doubt. The deeper and more persistent we get into sin, the more we have to pay the piper the heavy cost. Our belief is replaced with doubt before we know it and, so many times, people don’t know how they got there. So often, when people turn away from their sin, they will see the doubts vanish and confidence return. There is a reason God built it this way. You can’t expect to live in sin and not have your beliefs seriously compromised.

“Someone Knows Something I Don’t”

Dealing with Doubt – Part 7: Uncertainty. Please note, this is both an extension on my doubt series but also the promised follow up to the “What if I Missed Something” post.

There are many things that I know almost nothing about but intrigue me nonetheless. Architecture is one of them. Carpentry is another. Forensic psychology is something that interests me, but not enough to make any moves in that direction other than watching the television series “Bones.”

There are some things that I know just enough about to be dangerous. Paleography is one. Playing the guitar is another. If you ever hear me playing, you would understand the danger. Human physiology and psychology are both areas of interest that I have some training in, but if I were to attempt to teach on these things, I would look pretty weak to the trained eye. 

There are some things that I know pretty well, but am still timid about my knowledge. For example, I study exercise and nutrition. I have been certified twice as a weight trainer. However, I have not kept up on these areas well enough to be sure of my knowledge about the latest issues and understandings. I could (and have) held exercise and weight training seminars that were good enough to pass muster with the audience, but would not contribute anything to experts in the field.

Then there are some things that I know really well and feel very confident about my knowledge. Systematic theology is one of these. Church history is another. But there are particular areas of theology which I feel even more qualified for than others. Issues in prolegomena are what I spend most of my time in these days. Also, I don’t think that there are many people who are as well versed in the use of the Greek word huper by amanuenses in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri as I am (and there are probably fewer who care!)

However, even with those things that I know most about and feel qualified to teach on, I am hesitant to call myself an expert. Why? Because I live with the reality that there is more information out there that can further temper my understanding. I also know that there are people who know more than me about the issues who don’t come to the same conclusions I do. You have heard the saying, “I am a jack of all trades and an expert in nothing.” That is how most of us are. We cannot all be experts in every area of life. While some of us may know a lot about many things, there will always going to be someone who knows more.

For some, this reality paralyzes their ability to commit. Due to the fact that there is someone out there that possibly knows more than they do, they are unable to have a confident faith.

The issue is really more complex than it might sound. I fear that what you may be hearing is that people believe they have to be the smartest people on a particular subject in order to believe this or that about an issue. In reality the non-committal attitude is due to the fact that there may be yet-to-be-found information out there, whether discovered or undiscovered, which can change one’s understanding.

I don’t know much about science, geography, cosmology, and evolutionary biology. This makes me very timid when people ask me to be definitive about these subjects, even when they relate to the Bible. I used to spend quite a bit of time in these areas, hoping to orient myself enough to formulate an informed and definitive opinion on the issues involved. However, after a while, I backed off on such lofty goals, knowing that I did not have the time. I also came to find that the “experts” in these fields, whether believer or unbeliever, were following too much of an ideology for my goal of being definitive to be accomplished. There was still too much information yet to be discovered, whether physical or philosophical, for anyone to be definitive. But the fact remains that there are both people who know more than I do and information that has yet to be found by anyone that can disturb conclusions. Continue Reading →