THE QUESTIONS PROJECT: God, are you out there??

 

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For all the questions we could explore, none of them mean a thing until we come to an honest answer to this one.  Does God exist- true or untrue?

The ironic thing about this question is, it is often approached as a preference and not truth.  People would prefer there was no God, or, they’d prefer God was “not like this” or He was “like that.”  The thing is; perception can be mere preference, but truth cannot.  Truth is what is real, like it or not.

A foundational qualification for God to be God is that He is the designer and sustainer of creation.  That being said, here are some realities to consider:

  • The complexity and uniformity of the cosmos.

We have developed theories of what holds the universe together, and how and why it is expanding.  But what’s behind our theories?  The ageless predictability of basic physics.  Science claims that our solar system is 4.6 billion years old.  And since its formation, our planet has been following the same orbit around the sun.  As far as consistent laws, that’s a pretty solid track record.

The universe is said to be 13.7 billion solar years, and it too, has followed the same laws of physics.  Even as we look into theoretical physics, and alternate laws, we can only consider the alternate because the consistent has remained so consistent.  If we ever discover an alternate reality where 1+1 doesn’t equal 2, it’s only because we have known that in our physical experience, 1+1 has always equaled 2.

Speaking of the universe, with the growing convictions on dark matter and dark energy, we are beginning to understand how the universe as a whole, is connected.  The fact that our planet is at just the right, miniscule distance from the sun, isn’t just a consequence of our solar system.  It is an effect of the entire galaxy, which in turn is the consequence of all the galaxies neighboring our galaxy.  How humbling to think that a thousand, thousand stars are just where they need to be so we can be here!

  • The phenomenon of life.

And life itself consists of thousands of lines of genetic code that work by producing their own energy source as they produce bio-code and pump out the right sequencing over and over.  Not only that, they have a built-in time clock dictating when it is time for life to stop.  The chance of that happening randomly, is about the same as the computer code of your device just falling into place to produce the software you are now using.  As we so painfully know; get a few lines of code wrong and nothing works!    …The cosmos operates in systems.  Systems point to a design.  Design points to a designer.

  • God Himself, we ourselves!

But perhaps the greatest evidence of God, is ourselves.  From the dawn of humanity we haven’t been able to abandon the idea of God.  The atheist turned God-seeker, Marilyn Adamson puts her personal experience like this:

“I didn’t realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God’s existence, my prayer began with, ‘Ok, you win…’ It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.”

It makes sense that if an entity so far beyond us remains a constant question, it’s not because we have reached up and formed the question; it’s that He has reached down and placed the question in us.  Of course, that’s no new revelation.  Some 5,000 years ago, a very wise king wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Eccl. 3:11.

~Anyway, it is certainly food for thought to a very important question.

BEING REAL

VelvetRabbitAt a get-together of pastors, one of my colleagues offered a great devotional.  He reminded us of a classic children’s story with a profound message.  With his permission, I am offering a version that was shortened to fit our local community paper.  Enjoy!

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An important verse that guided my heart in ministry is what Paul says 1 Thess. 2:8.  “We love you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”

The phrase, “share… our lives” can be translated… soul to soul. …I have no desire to live a hidden, isolated, unaccountable [unreal] life.  I think this explains why I love the story of the Velveteen Rabbit so much because it describes how toys become “real.”

Rabbit and the Skin Horse are talking.  “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.  “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.

“When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become. It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit.  And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.  But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said.  “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again.  It lasts for always.

“The Rabbit sighed.  He thought it would be a long time before this magic called ‘Real’ happened to him.  He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad.  He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

…As the Skin Horse says, “It doesn’t happen all at once.”  Our main task is to keep on becoming more and more REAL, and the moment we think we are somehow finished with the process, is the moment we start to regress in our spiritual growth.

Anyway, it’s certainly food for thought.

By Pastor Barry Tucker, Bainbridge Christian, used by permission. 

QUESTIONS PROJECT: Would a loving God cast people into Hell? (part 2)

Hell_2

In our previous article, we explored the nature of God.  The underlying quality of God is that He is perfect.  He isn’t simply loving, but perfect in His love.  He isn’t simply wise, but perfect in His understanding.  He isn’t simply fair, but perfect in His justice.  How does such a being restore a fallen humanity while remaining in harmony with His perfect nature?

Let’s start with this disturbing Bible passage on hell:

Revelation 20:14-15
14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

Let’s quickly give a Biblical context to a few words: Death is the absence of life.  Hades is basically, the grave, and the lake of fire is “hell.”  But have you ever asked yourself, why a lake of fire?

That involves a little history.  In one of the darkest periods of Old Testament Israel, the Hebrews erected a statue of the bull-god, Moloch.  The statue was actually a furnace set up in the Kidron Valley to the southwest of Jerusalem.  The fires below heated the metal statue and children were placed as a sacrifice on its red hot arms.  The screams of the children would be drowned out by the singing of the crowd.

After the reform of Israel, the valley was seen as a cursed place.  For centuries, it was only used as a trash dump.  The smell and the smoke of the smoldering refuse rose day and night.  The name of the place was “Gehenna” which is also the ancient name for hell.  The New Testament imagery of hell is based on this; the vilest period of Jewish history.

To be cast into Gehenna is to be removed from the presence of God.  Since God is life, it is to exist in a type of “non-life.” (The second death Rev. 2:18)   So the bottom line is this; hell is hell because God is completely absent.

As for the torture of hell; Scripture says that ultimately “every knee shall bow” (Phil. 2:10-11, Ro. 14:11).  That’s to say, believer and atheist alike, will see God fully.  They shall see Him as He really is.

There is a lot of discussion about this, but it seems reasonable to say that the torture of hell will not be fueled by our guilt or by literal flames.  The real flames of hell will be the burning remorse of experiencing the direct glory of God only to see it gone forever.  Worst of all, it will be a tragedy of our own making.  Hell is hell because God is not there.

On the other hand, the throne of God is the central theme of “heaven.”  There is not even any need for a sun, since God Himself is light. (Rev. 21:23)  Heaven is heaven because God is there; His presence being fully manifested.

The gates of hell are where perfect love and perfect justice merge.  We are all fallen, and twisted.  So how is it that just God, loving as He is, can allow any of us into His perfect Kingdom?

There’s a simple verse we teach our children, “John 3:16- For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  We are given the opportunity to substitute God’s own perfect innocence for our guilt.  …But there is another side to it, “John 3:19- This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light.” We are saved or lost by what we choose.

Could a loving God cast people into hell?  If it is true that God’s Kingdom is a state of perfect innocence and that God wishes to restore creation to Himself- how could He possibly do anything else?  Keep in mind: He is only casting people into the ultimate end they’ve already chosen for themselves; God’s absence.  It is certainly food for thought.

Questions Project: Would a loving God cast people into hell? (Part 1)

Hell_1Our question for this article is: Would a loving God cast people into hell? (Part 1)

This is a very large question.  To answer it thoroughly would involve a good deal of history, theology, and Scripture.  Even a decent short response entails more than a short article can hold, so we’ll divide it into two articles.

In PART 1 this week, let’s just qualify a few concepts that the question demands:

  1. Who/ what is the God of the Bible, and what is His deepest desire?
  2. Who/ what is humanity, and what’s our part?
  3. What is the most foundational element that makes hell, hell and heaven, heaven?

There are additional questions we could ask, but let’s limit ourselves to these.

Since God is at the center of the question, let’s start there.  How does the Bible describe God?  In a nutshell, here are a few truths the Bible claims about God: He is spirit, He is called the designer, creator and sustainer of all creation.  He is light and life.  He is perfect; He is perfect in understanding, love, and justice.  He cannot become imperfect in one virtue in order to satisfy another.  That raises an interesting dilemma, doesn’t it?  What happens if perfect love and perfect justice come into conflict?

Is that possible?  Let’s take a look at God’s deepest desire according to Scripture.  The entire Bible is a love story.  It is the story of creation’s fall from God’s design because of man, and God’s plan to restore both.  From the first page to the last, Scripture is God’s story of restoration.  In a restoration to perfect innocence, love and justice are in such opposition that only God can resolve them.

 

So what does the Bible say about humanity?  We were made in the image of God.  That is to say, we are self-aware, able to create, to love, commune, and to exert our will.  The Bible says humanity fell from God’s design.  The divine image wasn’t totally lost but distorted by the fall.  We are ALL distorted images of our intended selves.  That is the essence of sin.  Sin is to be distanced from God, and since God is life, there can be only one outcome to sin, all things remaining the same- the final outcome will be the absence of life. (“The wages of sin is death.” Ro. 6:23, Gen. 2:17; Prov. 10:16; Eze 18:4)

Man is a three-fold being; body, mind, and spirit (or soul).  Our destiny is set by all three.  We are mortal, yet we have an eternal destiny.  The soul is the seat of conscience and human will.  We know our willpower can’t control everything, but we have enough free-will to choose.  We don’t know everything, yet we know enough to be held accountable for our choices.

And finally, since God is spirit and we are spirit, there is a means by which we can connect with God… if we so choose.

If we can process these realities about God and about ourselves, we’ll be in a place we can appreciate the most basic realities of hell and heaven which we’ll cover next week.  But I will share this spoiler; the most basic essence of hell and heaven is not punishment and reward, it is something far more profound.

In part 2, the perfection of God meets the imperfection of us all.  That’s where we’ll resolve this question of a loving God and a horrific hell.  Hope to see you then as we complete this food for thought.

The Questions Project: Does God exist?

Questions_GodExistTHE QUESTIONS PROJECT: How can we know that God actually exists?

If we started with information that already assumes there is a God (i.e. religious texts) we’d quickly find ourselves in a circular argument.  Although, ultimately we end up there for details.  But we really need to start somewhere else.

Let’s start with what we can observe.  Science has opened up an amazing vista of the universe for us.  We have peered into the expanse of galaxies, and even gazed on the birth of stars.  Thanks to advanced physics and space telescopes, we’ve wrestled with dimensions and numbers of heavenly bodies that defy human comprehension.

We have also looked inward, we have found the human brain has more neurons than there are stars in the heavens.  The genetic strands by which the simplest cell is composed contain specific information more precise than the most complicated computer program.  What’s more, the microscopic “factories” that replicate this complex information are even self-powering!

How did we even discover these things?  Science relies on constant laws and systems.  Under given conditions, the same result will occur every time.  If you follow the laws of optics, we can build a space telescope.  By observing those laws we can You can focus on an object, by the constant laws of physics, you can determine the distance and size of that object.

A definition of “design” by Merriam-Webster is: the arrangement of elements or details in a product or work.  It’s an indisputable observation: the universe works.  According to science, for billions of years.  Astronomy understands it as a collection of functioning systems.

The idea of all the particles and parts of the universe organizing themselves into systems wouldn’t be a big deal if we hadn’t discovered another law of the universe called, “entropy.”  Quantum physicists like to talk about it as energy dissipated in a closed system.  But for us regular folks, it really plays out in the simple fact that everything tends to flow from order to disorder.  Just don’t clean your house for a month and see what happens. Entropy is a physical truth of the universe, and yet something drives the universe from disorder to order.

The greatest reality that flies in the face of entropy is life.  Nothing is a more ordered system of systems than life.  Even the simplest cell is a miniature factory.  Like your TV or car, all parts have to be working or it doesn’t work at all.  So for life to exits; not only must there be working systems, they must all come into existence at the same time.

Whether we are talking about constellations or human bodies, we are talking about functioning systems.  Functioning systems are by definition, the product of design.  That raises an assertion that just won’t go away.  If there is a design, there must be a designer.

Design also implies others things like intentionality and purpose.  We can be sure that whoever designed the first mouse trap definitely had a purpose in mind.

One final step in this path of reason.  Every creation is created by a designer greater than itself.  Whether it’s a mouse trap or the entire universe.  The creator is greater, or “transcends” the thing they created.  What do we call a creative entity that transcends all of reality?  We can use any label of our choosing, but the term, “God” certainly sounds appropriate.

Granted, this is only one line of reasoning that points to a Creator.  The truth is, it only takes us as far as this: such an entity actually exists.  But just the fact that there is a solid line of reasoning that leads to this conclusion should compel us to seriously search.  After all, if everything was designed on purpose and for a purpose, could there be a more fundamental mystery worth exploring?

THE QUESTIONS PROJECT

Questions_1It’s pretty much official, we live in a post-Christian culture.  It is not that we have outgrown the concept of God, we’ve just strayed away from Him.  The result has been a profound loss in understanding the actual teaching of the faith.

 

Even if an individual has no desire to be in the faith, it is a loss of heritage, because like it or not, Judeo-Christianity has been infused in western culture since 200 BC.  That’s a lot of heritage!

 

The truth is, for all the information out there, it is rather difficult to get an honest and balanced answer based on Biblical teaching.  I’m by no means a scholar, but I am an ordained pastor who cares about this community in which I live.  I also have a strong passion for honesty and balance in approaching Scripture.

 

So here’s the deal.  I’m hoping for questions from the community.  Maybe it’s respectfully addressing a spiritually hostile meme or comment, maybe it just something you’ve wondered about, or perhaps it’s a conflict you sense within Scripture itself.  There are lots of honest questions out there.

 

I would love to hear them and do my best to address them.  Even if we can’t settle every issue, perhaps we can wrestle with them together.  I’d love to learn from you, just as much as I’d like to offer a thought that might help in your ponderings.

 

Here’s to looking forward to the community’s spiritual questions.  Just forward them to questions@canaan-church.org.  I’ll do my best to offer an honest, clear, and Biblically balanced response.

3 NAUGHTY THINGS CHRISTIANS CAN DO!

3 Naughty_titleReady to be simply human as you pursue God?  Here we go with the naughty list, you can…

 

Doubt

Following a God who is spirit is a venture in faith, the flip-side of faith is doubt.  They go together like two sides of the same coin.  Seasons of doubt come to even the most devout.  If we look through the Bible, we find people doubting God’s purpose, God’s promise, themselves, and even God!

It is natural to go through seasons of doubt.  What builds or destroys is not the doubt, but what we do with it.  All champions in the faith had a few things in common: They were honest about their doubt.  They faced their doubt.  They continued even as they doubted and they ended affirmed in some way.  That’s how it worked for Gideon in an impossible call, Moses in an impossible mission, Abraham’s impossible age, Peter denying Christ, and Thomas doubting the resurrection.  They were all understandable, but in the end, each was answered.

 

Get angry

Contrary to popular opinion, God says it’s ok to get angry.  It’s not wrong, just human.  The danger is, we usually doing something stupid while we are angry.

God expects us to get angry at times.  But He offers us a few guidelines:

Warning!  –Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.  Prov. 29:11

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.  James 1:19-20

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  Ephesians 4:26, 27

 

Be a hot lover

The Greeks had three words for love; moral love, love of a friend, and erotic love.  Scripture offers wisdom on excelling in all three… yes, even the erotic!

On the steamy side; read the Song of Solomon.  In this intense love letter, Solomon writes:

The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a skillful workman.  Your navel is a rounded goblet which lacks no blended beverage. Your waist is a heap of wheat set about with lilies.  Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. Song of Solomon 7:1-3

Ok, I’m going for a cold shower… be right back…

In today’s mindset, we equate sexual satisfaction in the thrills of novelty.  We see little more than boredom in the long-term or familiar.  But even psychological research is discovering that the most sexually satisfied people are those who have managed to stay in love over the long-haul and enjoy the depths of love that only time can provide.  The trick is, that type of love involves growth in the other two types of love.  (The Greeks had something there.)

So, there are 3 ways that God says, it’s ok to be “naughty”, just be honest about it- with Him, and with yourself.  It is certainly food for thought!