Monday, June 10, 2013

Do The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few?

      "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one." Any self-respecting science fiction enthusiast is familiar with this oft-quoted line from the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; it was spoken in one of the most memorable, emotionally packed scenes in science fiction. Mr. Spock, having just saved the Enterprise from destruction, is dying from a lethal dose of radiation he received in doing so. The line is spoken to his best friend, Captain Kirk, and within moments, he dies (though he is resurrected in the next film, which takes away some of the emotional impact of his death, in hindsight). At this point you may be tempted to write me off as just another pathetic fanboy, a sci-fi nerd who spends too much time with his head in the clouds of some fictional future of space travel and technological advancement. I must confess, you are partly right. However, I have no desire to give you my take on the film, my thoughts on space travel, alien species or the future, or any other such pointless pursuit. My focus today is the phrase itself; what it is saying, what it implies and its pervasiveness in the world today.
       We won't waste any time discussing the socio-political overtones of the Star Trek franchise (which was socialistic and  held the goodness of human nature in too high regard) nor the religious and political views of its creator, Gene Roddenberry (who was a humanist, an agnostic and a socialist), but this statement deserves a great deal of discussion from a Christian perspective. On the face of it, this maxim is a powerful call to self sacrifice; that is the context in which it was spoken, and its full emotional force is easily felt when one is a fan of the series and films. It almost seems reminiscent of Christ's proclamation that,"Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends."(John 15:13). Here was a "man" who recognized that sacrificing his one life, however precious it may have been to him or to his friends, was the only viable option if he wanted to save the hundreds of lives on the ship. In such a context, it is a most noble sentiment.
       However, the maxim, within the continuity of Star Trek "canon", was not a call to self-sacrifice. It was one of the pillars of the Vulcan worldview, and as such was applied to all decision making processes. You may ask,"What does the worldview of a fictional alien race have to do with anything?" Well, the word fictional is pivotal to that statement. Yes, this species, who builds its worldview around logic and the above maxim, are fictitious, but the words themselves were written by a human author, and are therefore indicative not only of his worldview, but, I believe, the worldview of a great deal of western society. I myself, must confess, that when I first heard this line uttered, I was emotionally moved and instantly agreed with it. However, I agreed with it because I myself have always believed in doing the greatest possible good, and desired to give my energies and my very life to see it achieved. That is the drive to self-sacrifice. After reflection, I have come to reconsider my initial reaction, not because I no longer desire to give myself for the greatest possible good, but because that is not what is being said here.
       You see, Mr. Spock's maxim is a moral judgement, and an alarming one at that. He is not saying that self-sacrifice is noble, or that it is logical, or that it is the greatest love we may exhibit; he is stating that the greatest good is that the greatest number of people have their needs met. This is a variation of the utilitarian ethic. Utilitarian philosophy teaches that the canon against which we should measure our options in ethical situations is this question: what option will produce the most pleasure and the least pain? For the utilitarian, the ultimate goal is to experience more pleasure than pain in the course of one's life; every decision we make should be towards the maximizing of pleasure and the minimizing of pain, no matter how insignificant the difference may be.  As I am not a trained philosopher, I am unable to give you a full critique of utilitarian ethics; for that, I refer you to the Reformed Theological Seminary iTunes page, specifically the course on Christian Ethics, taught by the late Dr. Ronald Nash. For the purposes of this article, I will merely point out that the utilitarian ethic is incompatible with orthodox Christianity for two reasons:1) it provides no objective basis for morality (it devolves into "situational ethics", or the belief that there are no objective principles by which to make decisions since an action maximizing pleasure in one situation could maximize pain in another) and 2), "maximizing pleasure" or "minimizing pain" could require one to perform any number of sinful actions (lie, steal, murder, etc.)
            Now, there is a type of utilitarian ethics that states that the greatest possible good is, through our actions, to maximize the pleasure (or minimize the pain) of the most possible people (a statement that lamentably sounds like a good and noble thing). While this is a vast improvement over the more narcissistic and hedonistic varieties of utilitarian philosophy, it brings with it a very troubling corollary, which is the devaluation of the minority and the individual. This is the objection I bring against Mr. Spock's maxim, which I believe is prevalent in western society today. Just look at some of the popular movements of recent years, particularly the Occupy Wall Street movement. The purpose of the Occupy protesters was  forced wealth redistribution, and they preached this in moralistic terms, vilifying those who had earned great wealth for not doing their "fair share" (incidentally, no one has ever given a coherent definition of what that "fair share" is). However, the true motives of this movement are clear as the noonday sun: they resented the wealthy for their wealth and wanted it for themselves. They did not want everyone to be equal, they wanted to punish the wealthy for their wealth by taking it for themselves. There was no talk of rising to the level of the wealthy, but of bringing the wealthy down to the level of the poor.
           Why does this matter? Because it proposes that the rights of the individual (in this case, the right of  the wealthy minority to keep the money they had earned) be stripped for the improvement of the majority (in this case, the majority being the poor and middle classes). In the current socio-economic climate, that probably does not sound so terrible, but it has potentially horrible implications. According to the maxim, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. This means that any and all rights of an individual or minority (be it political, economic or racial) can be stripped by the majority; not only can they be, but it is a moral imperative that they should be. In this view, it is immoral for the minority to possess any right that may be detrimental to the majority in society, so it is the duty of society to strip that right away. When talking about redistribution of wealth (or the removal of the right to private property), it doesn't sound so the poor and middle classes. However, this principle does not stop with something as insignificant as money; it extends into all possible scenarios.
           Take, for instance, the Nazi policy of euthanizing the mentally ill or severely physically handicapped. From the utilitarian perspective, the elimination of these people would "maximize pleasure" for the most possible people (pleasure is a poor term, but it is the terminology of the philosophy). By "maximize pleasure" I simply mean that the elimination of the mentally ill or invalid produces the most tangible benefits to the most people. Without them, family members and doctors who spent their time caring for them could be put to more productive uses, and the stress and strain of said care would disappear. The financial and material costs of caring for one who could not be "productive in society" would also be eliminated. Thus, the largest number of people would be benefited by the murder of the weak, ill, elderly or unproductive.  Even writing these words is horrifying and reprehensible to me, but these are the implications inherent in utilitarian philosophy. We have to follow the maxim to its logical end, and the end of this maxim is one of the most violent, objectively evil regimes in world history.
           We may also consider the African slave trade to be an outworking of this philosophy, though to be historically accurate I feel I must state that the slave trade was the result of blind avarice more than any philosophy. Nevertheless, it is logically valid, when viewed through utilitarian lenses, that slavery "maximized the pleasure" of the most people by stripping the right of self determination from a minority for economic ends. Though the suffering of the slaves was extreme, and millions died from horrific maltreatment, the economy of the western world was built on their backs. Thus, when presented with the moral question, "What will benefit the most possible people: slavery or no slavery?", the utilitarian must reply,"Slavery." This is what it means for the "needs of the many to outweigh the needs of the few."
          Utilitarianism, as a philosophy, is open to enormous criticism, and many excellent philosophers have lambasted it. Yet, for all intents and purposes, it seems to be the reigning moral theory in popular thought, as exemplified by the line which was the catalyst for this discussion. We are constantly told to "do what feels right", "do what makes you feel good", or "do what makes you happy", often with the addendum "as long as you don't hurt anybody" (which is an appeal to an objective morality that does not exist for the utilitarian exercising their situational ethics, for my maximum pleasure may require actions harmful to others). The guiding principle of the mass of western society is to "maximize pleasure" and "minimize pain", to take the path of least potential pain or suffering. It is true that different individuals of this age have different moral value systems, and it is also true that very few would consider genocide or slavery to be acceptable actions even for the "benefit of the most people"... at this moment. But the scenarios I have described have happened; they are not hypothetical, they are historical fact, and as such we cannot assume that such a destructive philosophy won't be carried to such extremes again.
          Contrast this with what Christianity offers: immeasurable value for each individual. It cannot be denied that Christianity is (or, rather, should be) by nature self sacrificial and communal, where each and every individual is encouraged to help their companion in tangible, even sacrificial, ways, the individual is never forced to do so. It is a choice which we are all free to make (though the genuine Christian would not withhold when a need was made known). Christianity never states that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"; on the contrary, it can be said that Christianity "never leaves a man behind" (I speak of the whole, for there are many instances of shameful deeds perpetrated by Christendom, or the institutionalized variety of Christianity that has wielded political power throughout the ages). The philosophy of Christianity (whether each individual member practices it or not) is that each individual soul is of such value that the Son of God died to secure their salvation from eternal damnation, and for this reason, Christians must not neglect a single soul. Christianity can never lay claim to an individual's right "for the greater good". Their rights are objective, they are endowed by the Creator, and while the call to self-sacrifice has often been made and responded to nobly, it cannot be forced by man (though wicked men under the guise of the church have done this, it is inexcusable and incompatible with true Christianity).
         In summation, Mr. Spock's maxim, while seemingly noble, is an unacceptable moral principle. Even as a motivation for personal self-sacrifice it is inferior; while we may rightly say "for the needs of the many (or the few, or the one), I will sacrifice my own", we cannot state that their needs outweigh our own in any sense of moral value. This, in fact, cheapens self-sacrifice; the highest sacrifice is knowing that you are just as valuable as any other, and choosing to give yourself for another anyway.  There is no acceptable hybrid in which we are able to combine this utilitarian ethical statement with an objective morality. For the Christian, the demands of the Savior outweigh all other considerations, and the Savior has already established the infinite value of the individual, and this value cannot be effected whether the individual be alone or one of one million. When we firmly establish the value of every individual, then we will never write off a single person or minority as "inferior" or "expendable". There is no such thing as an expendable human being, not evangelistically (meaning that there is not a single people group that we can neglect in our effort to spread the Gospel) and not materially (meaning that there is no situation in which a Christian can neglect the physical well being of a person or group). (I hope my reader will not misunderstand my meaning: I am not addressing the need for military leaders to make choices regarding who will be sacrificed for the continued survival of the whole; the soldier has already made this a form of self-sacrifice by vowing to give their lives in service to their army and nation.) In the end, we may regard the needs of others as worthy of our own sacrifice, but we may never regard the majority as having a higher moral value than the minority or the individual. In terms of moral value, the majority's value can be found exclusively in the value of its individual members, or else it has no value at all.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


     One of the central themes of the New Testament, and especially the epistles of St. Paul, is the vanquishing of the doctrine of salvation by works by wielding the doctrine of salvation by faith. By this I mean that the writers of the New Testament sought to make clear that the Gospel of Christ was no Jewish sect, no mere update to the Old Testament, but a radical new way of relating to God. Previously, God had outlined a very specific prescription for how people were to worship Him. This order of worship included very precise methods of animal sacrifice and, of equal importance, a system of 613 laws and commandments that the Israelites were never to break. These laws ranged from sacramental laws regarding sacramental cleanness to practical laws for how to till your land, and they were all inextricably tied to each other. As James wrote,"For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all."(James 2:10)
     As you can imagine, no one ever managed to live an entire life without transgressing, in some way great or small, intentionally or unintentionally, the demands of the Law. That is, until Jesus Christ came onto the scene of the world. Christ, the Son of God, lived that humanly impossible perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was resurrected by God the Father, thus establishing the good news that all sins could be forgiven by grace through faith. In one fell swoop, through the sacrifice that was once and for all, the Mosaic Covenant of laws and sacrifices was fulfilled and superseded by the Law of Grace. This earth shaking event completely altered the way we relate with God; rather than having one man come into the presence of God once a year, all could now know God intimately and personally through faith.
     This gave rise to a significant biblical doctrine, which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews outlines in Hebrews chapter 4, verses 1-13, and that is the doctrine of rest. Rest in Christ became, not merely an option to the believer, but our birthright and requirement, and as such is of first rate importance. I want to focus on this vital subject, defining the terms the writer of Hebrews uses and answering some central questions about works, rest, faith and disobedience.

Definition of Terms
        Rest: In verse 1, the unknown author of Hebrews brings in the central word of the chapter: rest. That cornerstone of the preacher's library, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, states that the Greek word used in this verse is "katapausis", and it means "reposing down". It is derived from the word "katapauo", which means "to make to cease". Please keep both of these words and definitions in mind, as they are the hinge on which the entire passage turns.
         Faith: Faith (verse 2), as the passage clearly states, is the means whereby we enter into God's rest. So what did the author mean by "faith"? Strong's says that the Greek word is "pistis", and it means "persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction".Give special attention to the phrase "moral conviction", because it is not what most modern people, particularly evangelicals, mean when they use the word faith. Far to often (and quite erroneously) we think faith is verbal confession or mental assent to the truth of the Gospel. If that is your what our faith is, it is not biblical or saving faith. I do not wish to belittle anyone's faith, but I also do not want us to walk in deception; verbal confession and mental assent  are not, by themselves, marks of saving faith. We will revisit this truth shortly.
         Works: Works (verse 10), in the Greek, is "ergon" (from which is derived the English word "ergonomics", which is the science of designing things to work more safely and efficiently), and it means simply "toil". It's uses in this passage raises the question: To what end were the Hebrews, and even us in the modern age, toiling?
         Disobedience: Disobedience (verses 6 and 11), which is the word used in the NASB, from which I read, is translated as "unbelief" in the KJV, and I believe in this case the KJV is the more accurate of the two. The Greek word in Hebrews four is "apeitheia", meaning "rebellious and obstinate disbelief", and it is a derivative of the word "apeithes", which means "unpersuadable". This does not indicate someone who is disobeying the Law, but one who is unwilling to believe. Again, this distinction is key.
         These definitions, though they may seem tedious, are of the utmost importance in studying this text because without them we may be led into confusion by the complexity of the writer's statements. Let us now then turn our attention to the passage itself, and seek to gain understanding of the rest that is the requirement of our faith. To this end, I want to ask and answer these four questions: 1) To what end to we toil?, 2) What does it mean to rest?, 3)What prevents us from resting?, 4) What is the key to finding rest?

To what end do we toil?
        The nature of human life is one of work and toil. We are simply hardwired, from our very inception as a race to the present day, to set goals and work to achieve them, whether they be fame, fortune, security, power, etc. However, this attitude, which can be so noble and lead to magnificent things in practical life, is terrible in religious experience. At that you may object and say," But are we not to labor for the Lord?" To this I respond yes, we are to labor for the Lord, but so often our labors are not to the glory of God, but to gain his approval. We may cloak our labors in spiritual language and garments, but their iniquitous purpose will always shine through.
          You see, the whole thrust of the Law was that the Israelite's were to obey the Law to gain God's approval. "If you will obey my commandments, I will "fill in the blank". That was the arrangement, only the law-abiders  were insufficient in keeping the law because they were born in sin and conceived in iniquity, so that failure was inevitable. For this reason, Christ came to reconcile us to God, and has offered the free gift of salvation to all who will believe. This means that when we try to earn God's favor through doing good works, we are essentially working for something we already have in Christ. This makes our toiling an insult to God, for we are in essence claiming that His gift is insufficient and that we have to add to it, or even worse, that we cannot accept the gift due to our unworthiness. This would be a slap in the face to any earthly gift-giver, much less to the Creator of the universe. Thus, to toil for our own salvation or for the approval of our heavenly Father is not good work at all, but rather the grave sin of unbelief.

What does it mean to rest?
         To answer this question, think back to the definition, "reposing down". Frankly, it is almost unnecessary for me to unpack that; it is rather clear. You cannot work if you are lying down; you cannot build anything, or fix anything, or impress anybody, you are lying down and vulnerable. Nobody can be impressed when you are lying down, nobody will exclaim,"Look at how well he lies!" To rest, in the Christian experience, is to recline at the table with the Father, fully aware and convinced that you are loved unconditionally, accepted for who you are and at what stage of life you are, and forgiven for all your sins. It is to know will moral conviction that the Gospel is as true and real as the ground beneath your feet, and that no sin of yours makes it less real and no amount of good works makes it more real. It is to stop thinking in terms of making restitution to God (besides, the payment for your sins is death, not good works, so either you accept Christ's atoning death or you must die for yourself; God's word is not "karmic", you will never balance the scales by doing good works). It is to stop thinking that by doing a multitude of good works we will earn God's love and acceptance. We rest when the work is done, and beloved reader, the work is  eternally done!

What prevents us from resting?
           The obvious answer would be that we keep working, but there is an underlying motivation for our perpetual labor. The motivator which compels us to work harder and do more is the unpleasant truth that we do not possess the moral conviction that the Gospel is absolutely true. Unbelief, not works, is our ultimate problem, and the reason that we, and the Israelites before us, fail to enter into God's rest. We simply do not believe that the Gospel is true, or that it applies personally to us, even if we desperately want it to be true. We say things like "it's too good to be true", or that it "doesn't make any logical sense". This is why the author of Hebrews enjoins that we "... be diligent to enter into that rest..."(Hebrews 4:11) True faith, that profound moral certitude, does not come to the nonchalant or flippant, but to those who earnestly seek to obtain it.  We must labor, not to be approved, but to believe that we are, and we must pursue it with the focused diligence of a bloodhound on a hot trail. If you despise your unbelief, if you are not obstinate in your doctrine of works and your labors to build a facade of holiness to hide the death in your soul, rejoice!! There remains hope for those who want to believe. God rewards those who are diligent to enter into His rest. He will in no wise cast out those who cry in agony, "Father, I believe but help Thou my unbelief!!"

What is the key to finding rest?
        I have already given it away, but absolute, abandoned faith in the truth of the Gospel of Christ. Living daily in light of the promises, not as abstract facts to be accepted, but as moral truths to be relied upon. We must possess moral certitude that all of God's promises are toward me, all His love and acceptance for me, for I have repented and started on the path of faith. Moral conviction is the only gate into the land of rest for your soul.
        In conclusion, I (though I am but a beggar, and barely inside the gate myself) would like to offer some tips for obtaining that moral conviction. Be advised, you must be radically transformed in order to possess the moral conviction of which I have spoken, and it is a supernatural work of God. You cannot earn it, but you can prepare your heart for the work that God will  do. He will not fail to visit those who turn their heart and focus upon Him, and He will set that moral conviction in the heart eternally. Here are the ways in which I have been led, step by step, into rest: 1) Saturate your life in the Word of God, day after day, as much as you possibly can, 2) Pray fervently and constantly for God to persuade you hard heart of the truth, 3) Read the writings of the wise and godly men who have come before, and 4) Listen to and heed the sermons of godly preachers (the internet is replete with them). Do these four things, and do not lose heart if it takes time, and you will watch your life and walk with God become one of sweet peaceful rest.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why I Believe In Unconditional Election

          I suppose the short answer to my title would be that unconditional election is Scriptural, but I am not interested in being coy. This is a serious subject, and worthy of a stronger intellect than my own, though I still offer my own simplistic understanding in the hopes that it will lead some to a deeper understanding of and love for this doctrine. Though it seems unnecessary, in view of my opinions on our subject matter, I wish to make clear at the beginning that my theological predilection is Reformed. In light of this, I am assuming that anyone reading this is at least open to the discussion of election and willing to read the opinions of a lowly Calvinist layman. That being said, I will not make any inflammatory remarks, and I will brook no inflammatory comments. Let our discussion as Christians be marked by the humility of our Savior and the great saints that have come before us, and speak to one another softly and in love.
           Let us dispense with these introductory remarks and get to the weighty subject before us. First, let me define what I mean when I say "unconditional election". Unconditional election is the biblical doctrine stating that God has chosen who will be saved from the beginning of the world, not based on any meritorious conduct or worth, but based only on His loving, holy, perfect will. This is not a popular doctrine, and indeed has never been. From the Pelagian heresy that St. Augustine so famously opposed and debunked to the relatively more modern teachings of Arminianism, it has been vigourously opposed, be it from the standpoint of free will or accusations of such election being unjust. I will not go off into the apologetics that reformed theologians have employed to discount these objections (partly because I am not well enough versed in them, partly because it is immaterial to my purpose). Suffice it to say that spiritually, intellectually and scripturally, I have been persuaded in favor of Calvinism. (If you want a good introductory study of Reformed theology, you can read "What Is Reformed Theology?" by Dr. R.C. Sproul.)
            My belief in unconditional election is founded on one of the foundations, not only of Reformed theology, but of universally accepted Christian doctrine, and that is inherent sinfulness. Inherent sinfulness is the biblical doctrine stating that every single human being is conceived, born and raised in sin. Original sin states that man is inherently sinful, that we sin because we are sinners, not that we are sinners because we sin. Our hearts are wicked, and at enmity with God. All theologically orthodox Christians agree on this doctrine. To Calvinists, it is referred to as total depravity, and it is the basis of unconditional election. You see, it is our inherent sinfulness, our total depravity, that makes the atoning sacrifice of Christ necessary, and without the atonement, there is no debate on election. The opposing views on the process of salvation are these: on the one hand, the Arminian believes that man's salvation is entirely dependent on man's choice (commonly, though I believe incorrectly, referred to as "free will"). Man is presented with the Gospel, and then chooses to accept it or reject it. On the other hand, the Calvinist believes that, prior to Creation, God chose all who would be saved, and those "elect" are then called and irresistibly drawn by God's grace to be saved. To be sure there is a choice to be made, but faith has been planted and the spirit awakened so that the choice is essentially inevitable.
              My problem with the Arminian view is that, if man alone is responsible for his choice, then only morally superior beings could choose to be saved. This would effectually eliminate total depravity altogether, since to be a doctrine it must apply to all equally. The Arminian may here counter,"No, it does not mean that, it just means that he has chosen to respond favorably to what he has been offered." My question is, how? How was he able to choose this treasure he has been offered, if he is irretrievably opposed to, at war with, at enmity with, God? What made him able to choose in favor of a God he hates? His "free will" is  undeniably bound by and to sin, so with what power does he choose against his nature? He would have to be morally and spiritually "less dead" than those who choose against God. This would not, as the Arminian believes, make salvation more fair, but less. For who would determine how one is made morally superior? Is it genetics, or upbringing, or social status? No, this simply will not do.
             Contrast with this the sovereign election of a holy, perfect and omniscient God. What could be more fair? It makes salvation truly unconditional, independent of our merit or worth. Some would say,"But to extend mercy to one and not another is unjust." I would refer you to Romans 9:18-19. Who's definition of justice are we using? Mankind's? I think mankind has weakened any moral authority it may wish to claim by its many atrocities, from the Holocaust to the Rwandan genocide to abortion. How dare we cry foul when confronted by election, when we cannot be counted upon to treat members of our own species fairly. God is perfect, righteous, just and holy; in what better hands could our eternity be left? Here the question arises," But how is it fair that Smith be chosen and Jones be not chosen? By what standard does God choose?" In short, God chooses from his own unfettered and uninfluenced will. He is not influenced by any outside forces; His will is not like our will. ( I recommend that you peruse A.W. Pink's "The Doctrine of Election" for a better treatment of this subject.) We make choices based on external factors, while He, in perfect omniscience and justice, simply wills that this or that be. We cannot apply justice as we understand it, for God in His sovereignty and omniscience is not bound by our short-sighted, incomplete perceptions. We cry injustice at the thought that not all men get a chance to be saved, but are we not faced with that fact everyday? Even according to the Arminian view, there is "injustice", for what else would you call any person who is never afforded a chance to hear the Gospel? If God, according to that argument, were to be totally fair, then all people would be born into Christian cultures. Yet this is not so.
              Here again arises an objection:"Does not everyone deserve a fair shake? How would you feel if you were the only human being not chosen to salvation?" How would I feel? Despondent. But how I feel does not have any effect on whether or not my condemnation is just. Am I a sinner, a hater of God? Have I broken His laws? If yes, then I am worthy of my judgement. To be granted a pardon is the prerogative of the King, not my right. I can lay no claim of right to His pardon; I am at His mercy. And what injustice is there in that? We will receive our day in court, we are all guilty, we are all condemned. To be extended His pardon is something beyond justice. It is forgiveness. It is mercy, and, as the Scripture I referenced above so clearly states, He shows mercy to whom He wills. The demands of justice have already been met; we have all sinned, we are all guilty, we must all be judged. To be granted a pardon has nothing to do with justice at all, but to His mercy. On what grounds do we question the will of our Creator? Based on what rights? That we exist? We exist for His purpose and His pleasure, and at His command. So to be pardoned or not to be pardoned is none of our concern, for we cannot influence it anyway.
               This is why I believe in unconditional election: 1) without it, I have no power to choose Christ, 2) to be pardoned is up to my Creator, my Judge and my King. Justice dictates that I pay for what I have done and what I am, but mercy grants me pardon, not based on good behavior, but based on the perfect will of my perfect King. If that does not satisfy you, then I have nothing more to offer. You must face these questions on your own, and answer them on your own. May God in His mercy and grace guide you to the right destination.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Power of Sin

     If we are  honest with ourselves (and we usually are not), we would admit that, even well into our Christian lives, sin has a strong attraction, and even, dare I say, has a certain power over us. If you are one of those fortunate souls who are never tempted, you are lying to yourself; you may not be tempted by the outward vices, but you have already fallen into the first sin: pride. But if you are a normal Christian, you are tempted regularly, and from time to time you fall. I have no interest in condemning the honest believer who makes mistakes ( if, however, you are gleefully living in sin, I will certainly not make you comfortable in it), but I do want to take a look at the power of sin in our lives, and the best method, in my opinion, of combatting it. In keeping with my theme as of late, I will be speaking mostly from recent experience, so think of this as a report from the trenches, so to speak, rather than the ramblings of an armchair philosopher. I have been bloodied, figuratively speaking, in the battle against sin, and I share this as intelligence from behind enemy lines, in the hopes that you, dear reader, can avoid the land mines Satan has placed in your path.
    Before we can discuss our tactics in opposing Satan, we must first examine wherein, exactly, lies sin's power. In contemplating this, I have determined that sin's power is like a pyramid; it is founded upon a single premise, and builds upward. I believe there are four levels to sin's power: enjoyment, shame, fear, and condemnation. This "pyramid" has been carefully constructed by Satan; he is not omniscient, so he has developed his methods of temptation over the course of history, yet all temptation is founded upon this pyramid. His first temptation is the best example of his work, because he had nothing to oppose him; mankind was ignorant of sin, and so his temptation was simple. Yet, though millennia have passed, and his means of temptation have increases a hundredfold, all temptation is still modeled after the basic approach which he used in the Garden of Eden. It is imperative to note at this point that this is not an essay on temptation, but on sin. The two must be kept distinct, because with Eve, Satan had to tempt, but now sin already lies within our hearts; we have already tasted the forbidden fruit, and so it already has a pull on us. Satan's efforts at temptation are an order of magnitude easier.
     Let us now consider the individual attributes of sin's power layer by layer. Remember, pyramids are built from the ground up, so I listed the levels of the "pyramid" from foundation to crown. The base layer is so powerful for a variety of reasons, not least of which is our sanctimonious denial of its truth. That truth which forms the pyramid's foundation is this: we enjoy sinning. Don't bother denying it; any sinner will tell you that sin is fun, sin feels good, and sin is gratifying (at least, in the moment). This is sin's foundational (and, I would dare say it's strongest) power. Even though Eve did not know that sin was enjoyable to the flesh, Satan still reeled her in with that temptation; Scripture says she saw that the fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. Those are all words describing pleasure. And today, thousands of years later, we have become even more driven by desire for pleasure than she was. It is this awareness that sin is enjoyable that pulls us back to it; it is the essential power of sin because if sin is not pleasant, if it does not feel good (at least temporarily), we will not want to commit sin. Do not underestimate your desire for enjoyment, for pleasure; that desire is the basis for all sin.
    The second level of our "pyramid" is shame. This is the effect of sin that we always think will help us resist "next time", but it has just as much power over us as enjoyment. This is the part Satan relishes, this under the surface consequence of sin that gives us the false hope that now we will be able to resist, next time all I have to do is remember that I felt (take special note of that word, we will come back to it) so ashamed of my actions, and I will never do it again. This is the enemy's great ruse, the false deliverance of shame. Shame is a smokescreen to hide from us the fact that deliverance is out of our hands, and in the hands of God. Satan wants you to think that shame is the great motivator out of sin, but that is a lie, for when you are facing the pleasure of sin in the eye, that shame will be quickly forgotten. There is no power in shame to deliver; Christ never told the sinner,"Go and be ashamed, so that you will sin no more." This deception of the enemy seeks to prey upon our consciences, and so manipulate us into self reliance. Putting trust in shame is an affront to the power of Christ; it, in essence says,"I don't need Your help, I have shame to drive me." What a disgusting lie! Do not fall into that trap as I have so often. Shame is a ball and chain, not a key; your self reliance will get you nowhere, and Satan will sit back and watch in uproarious laughter as you try to free yourself from the power of sin while chained to a source of that power.
     Thirdly and fourthly , the power of sin builds upon the previous levels to the most powerful tools of all: fear and condemnation. Fear and condemnation are Satan's favorite tools, his special tools, because we humans respond to them most easily. The fear of which I am speaking, as far as I can see, is threefold: fear of discovery, fear of judgement and fear of rejection. At the most basic level, this fear is directed at God ("And he said,'I  heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.'" Genesis 3:10). Adam knew that discovery meant judgement, and judgement meant rejection, and so he hid himself from God. Now, in this day and age, our threefold fear is now directed both vertically and horizontally; meaning, we hide our sins from God and from our fellow Christian. How do we seek to hide our sin? Under the cloak of religious behavior. We can't confess our faults one to another, we will be judged as a dirty hypocrite, and we may even be removed from our precious church offices, (part of the reason we fear this is that, in condemnation, we already believe it to be true). What rubbish!! If this is truly the case, then I must question the spiritual maturity of your judge. I am not saying that there are not consequences to sin, and even to confession, but if you are rejected by your fellow believer because of your flaws, then it is high time you found a new church. God has never rejected a penitent sinner, and, as the body of Christ, if we reject one of our members then we have sullied the name and image of Christ.
       Little children, let us love one another. To show love for a believer who wants restoration is not tolerating sin, it is showing the love we have been shown in Christ. These fears, though basically directed toward God, have now been exacerbated beyond belief by the judgement of the self-righteous, of whom I have been the chief culprit. Let us confront these fears, and confess our sins to one another so that we find strength in numbers. There is no reason to face temptation alone when all we have to do is confess and ask for help. Do not be a fool, as I have been, and think you can break free on your own. Do not be fear driven, be grace driven. The way to overcome sin is to desert your island in the sea of humanity and open yourself to others. Transparency is the key to overcoming sin; we need the strength of one another, it is the only successful tactic. It took me far too long to understand and believe this, but when once you prove it to be true, the liberation is instantaneous. Do not fight alone when you have a band of brothers eager to fight alongside you!! United we stand is more than a feel-good slogan, it is a fact. We succeed or fail as a body, as one. Let us not seek to separate ourselves from the body, for alone we will die. To the fallen, I plead with you, I implore you, don't walk alone, don't try to win alone, don't separate yourself from your only hope!! To the strong, bear the burdens of the weak; put away your gavel and open your arms to receive those who want so desperately to be free, who wish in every waking moment that they could confess to someone, and ask for their help. We are our brother's keeper, so keep him well, for one day, he may be fighting for you.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hell's Lullabye

   In the Bible there are numerous references to the Church (or individual, local churches) being "asleep". This state is universally negative; the "sleep" referred to is not a "rest in the Lord", but an ultimately fatal spiritual stupor. Christ, in the book of Revelation, accused the church of Sardis of being dead, and then admonished them to,"Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die..."(Revelation 3:2 NASB). The death Christ spoke of was not a final death, as evidenced by His admonition to the church of Sardis, but it has the potential to be final. I do not know that this death means that one loses their salvation, but that is beside the point. Spiritual death has a profound impact on the vitality of your faith and the quality of your Christian service. You may yet believe in Christ, but you will be spiritually impotent. I will return to this verse later on, but first I want to focus on the cause and danger of this state of spiritual slumber.
    Let us consider the cause of this deadly slumber. I entitled this essay "Hell's Lullabye", and I would be hard pressed to find a more apt title. In short, Satan expends an enormous amount of effort into putting God's people to sleep. His entire plan of attack is crafted around this purpose. It is often taught that Satan desires to destroy the believer, and while this is true of his ultimate goal, the frontal assault is not the best tactic to achieve this objective. All out attack often has the effect of strengthening the faith and resolve of a group or individual (one need only look back to the Battle of Britain in the Second World War to see an example of this truth). This is also true of the Christian; many a believer has come through intense battle much the stronger, for nothing refines the faith of a believer like extreme pressure from the enemy.
    No, Satan, being more subtle than any other beast, prefers the easiest and most effectual method of all: subversion. You know, the ancient city of Babylon was, by all historical accounts, seemingly impenetrable by direct assault. It's walls were fifty feet thick, it had a consistent water source in the River Euphrates, and had supplies enough to weather a long siege. Even as the empire was in decline and being conquered by the Persians, the inhabitants of the capital could rest safe and sound. Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede were not fools, and so they ignored entirely the direct approach. Instead, somewhere upriver, they diverted the river, and so marched their armies through the now dry culverts under the "impenetrable" wall and conquered the unconquerable city in a single night. In much the same way, Satan will not waste his time and resources attacking us in front. No, he will be subtle, he will be sly.
    How has Satan sought to subvert, and ultimately, conquer us? By putting us into a spiritual stupor. How does he do this? It's so simple, it may disgust you (as it has disgusted me): he puts before us those things that satiate our human desires. Dear reader, Satan's plan, "Hell's Lullabye", are the things of this world. Comfort, money, entertainment, food, possessions... these things will always dull our spiritual senses. Satan knows that once we taste of the pleasures of this world (and not even overtly sinful pleasures, at that; the innocent pleasures, the common pleasures are what he uses) our flesh wants more and more, until our spiritual vision and acuity slowly fades away, and we fall asleep, or more accurately, into hibernation.
    Antarctic explorers in the early 20th century were constantly aware of an imminent danger in their endeavor to reach the South Pole. That danger is the threat of falling asleep. The human body, it is true, needs rest and sleep, but when traversing the treacherous and lethal frozen desert of Antarctica, at no time could the entire expedition be asleep at once. There must always be a watch kept. Exhaustion was a constant companion of these brave explorers, due to the difficulty of the terrain and conditions, and it was always so tempting to just lay down and close their eyes for a moment. But that proved lethal, every time. Once they fell asleep, if there was no one to wake them, they would surely freeze to death; they would never wake up. You see, rest is a good thing, and there are times that God will give us rest from the struggle that is the Christian life, but that rest is always temporary and meant only to restore our strength. It is a simple matter of spiritual inertia: a spiritual body in motion tends to stay in motion, and vice versa. If God did not rouse us from our rest by bringing us new challenges, we would never wake up. That is the danger inherent in spiritual slumber.
    Now, I have drawn a distinction between "safe" slumber and "lethal" slumber, and illustrated it, for a reason. Rest, as I have said, is necessary, but Satan does not lure us to rest; he lures us to sleep the sleep of death. God gives us true peace and true rest when we need it. Satan on the other hand, satiates our desire for other things. God envelopes us in Himself, Satan snares us in the pleasures of this world. We must never confuse the two. How, then, do we distinguish between them? Well, do you feel at perfect peace and is your faith strong? Or is there some underlying anxiety and angst, even when you are surrounded by material "blessings"? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself. Do you enjoy God's presence, or do you want to be entertained both night and day? I am speaking from bitter experience, for I have been sleeping the sleep of death for well over a year, and am only now, by the grace of God beginning to rouse myself from my slumber. Do not allow yourself to be ensnared by earthly pleasures, for though they will satisfy you for a while, they ultimately leave you alone and empty.
   I said at the beginning that I wanted to return to Revelation chapter three, and so I shall. The latter half of verse two states,"Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die, for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of  My God." Though you be asleep, and have been asleep for perhaps many years, you are not finished, God still has deeds He wishes you to perform. You have wasted much time, but God restores the years that the locust have eaten (see Joel 2). He is not angry or disappointed, He seeks only that we repent and set ourselves once again on the field of battle. Cast off Hell's Lullabye, those things that will force and have forced you to sink into a stupor, and do not pretend you don't know what particular verse Satan sings to you. You know, you simply do not want to let go; trust me, I have been, and in some ways, still am in that same position. But cast them away, and allow Christ to give you good things, sweet things, eternal things, that will give you rest, not stupefy you. Satan offers the false rest of a narcotic, Christ offers the inner peace and rest of a parent's embrace. Consider this the hand of God extended to you to rouse you from your slumber and urge you on to incredible victory on the field of battle.

Friday, August 10, 2012

When Breaks The Dawn?

 A cry sounds forth in the black of night,
 When breaks the dawn?
 A voice filled with hopeless fright,
 When breaks the dawn?

 Will, on the morrow, peace I find,
 When breaks the dawn?
 A glimpse of paradise in my mind,
 When breaks the dawn?

 Will a beating heart my only comfort be,
 When breaks the dawn?
 Or will loving arms be waiting to embrace me,
 When breaks the dawn?

 This night, it seems, shall never end.
 When breaks the dawn?
 My heart longs for the warmth of my Friend.
 When breaks the dawn?

 The darkness within has broken my spirit.
 When breaks the down?
 When I weep, does anybody hear it?
 When breaks the dawn?

 Because of my tears have my eyes grown red.
 When breaks the dawn?
 It seems in hell have I made my bed.
 When breaks the dawn?

 Will hope in the morning's glory bloom,
 When breaks the dawn?
 Or is the future more of the present's doom?
 When breaks the dawn?

 I have set my face forward like a flint.
 When breaks the dawn?
 I will not surrender 'til my life is spent.
 When breaks the dawn?

 Oh Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
 When breaks the dawn?
 Shall I ever join the triumphant host?
 When breaks the dawn?

 Let Your glory fall on my wearied face,
 When breaks the dawn.
 I will rest in your presence when I have finished my race,
 When breaks the dawn.

 Hope and joy have departed from me now.
 When breaks the dawn?
 But in the morn Heaven's trump shall resound,
 When breaks that glorious dawn.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Letter From Gamma

    The following is a letter that my grandmother, who passed away last week, wrote upon her deathbed. She wrote it with the instruction that it be read at her funeral. It is a fitting testimony to what was important in her life.

     What do we do when life knocks the life out of us? As Christians we turn to our source of comfort, power and peace. I can't imagine what people who don't know God do - because it is hard enough for those of us who do. Don't ever think that you can get ready after the life gets knocked out of you. Be prepared with Scripture in your mind and heart - because sometimes you are just too weak to even pick up the Bible. Know that you have people who are praying for you, because often we can only say,"Help me, Jesus."
     Prayer is the greatest source of power in all of Heaven and Earth. The host of Heaven is watching over us and voicing praise and petition on our behalf. This Father God of ours is hearing His Son, our Saviour, make intercession with Him for us. God and Jesus will remind us of what we have in Him: 1) the promise to never leave us nor forsake us, 2) that nothing can separate us from Him, 3) peace to walk through the shadow of the valley, and even peace and calmness to walk through the actually valley, 4) comfort in the midst of pain, and comfort to our families and those who love us, 5) strength to endure the pain as He reminds us of the suffering Jesus went through for us, and 6) the promise that He was going ahead to prepare us a home in Heaven, a perfect place, a solid foundation; the lights won't go out, there will be no storms to worry about - perfect in every way. God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will keep us encircled with love, peace and joy - and we will never have the life knocked out of us again.
     I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love and the prayers you've offered for me, and I thank Jesus for answering them with peace and calmness.
                                                                                                         Pauline Sayes

     May we all face the cold hand of death with this peace, the peace that only God can give. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how one faces death who has lived a life dedicated to God.