Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Blog ... at least for this year!

I'm not sure why, but I just can't let this year close without a parting comment. Maybe it's a numbers thing--I want to hit 20 for the year. I've already exceeded the 2007 total, although posts-per-month is down.

Anyway, here goes the final thought for the year...

We were talking a while back about whether the things that happen to us are caused by God, allowed by God, or just happen without God's involvement in any way. I think your beliefs in this regard have a lot to do with what you think God is like, and how much you've thought about where your beliefs lead you.

If you believe things happen to us without God's involvement, and perhaps without any special interest on God's part, then I think you don't believe in the God of the Bible. God is clearly portrayed in both OT and NT as being actively involved in creation. The stories of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and Paul, Peter, and countless others show that God directly influenced their circumstances and that they were not surprised by this.

The other two possibilities are a bit more difficult to deal with if we are to be honest. The problem is that some of God's attributes are not easy to reconcile with each other and our experiences. God is all-powerful (omnipotent), meaning that God can to anything that can be done. God is all-knowing (omniscient), so the smallest detail is not overlooked or forgotten. God is also the definition of love, loves us, and wants the very best for us.

The problem this causes is we have difficulty answering the question, "Why do bad, unpleasant, downright nasty things happen to us?" God surely knows they are happening, could take action to prevent them, and loves us. So why do they happen? It actually matters less whether God actively causes them to happen or passively allows them to happen. In either case they happen because God intends them to happen. I actually prefer the active explanation because I think God is in direct control of all of creation, not just some portion.

I think our difficulty with this question comes from our unspoken belief that we're at the center of the universe. From that viewpoint, good things happening to us are good and bad things are bad. But maybe there's another viewpoint. Maybe we're not the center of the universe. Maybe it's good for bad things to happen to us. I don't claim to understand how or why that might be so, in fact I find it appalling that God could want it that way.

I'm left with the belief that God is good and loves me more than I can imagine. I don't see how having bad things happen to people is "good", and I guess I'm OK with that. God is God and I'm not.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Thought I Can Call My Own?

Have you ever come up with an idea you thought was truly original? It seems to me that this has happened to me more frequently than normal in the past few months. The problem is, the Internet stands ready to show me how unoriginal and outdated my "original" thought actually is. Even this potentially-original blog topic has been endlessly discussed (for example, here, here, and here). There's even a seven-step process to have your own original thoughts.

Of course, this is not an Internet phenomenon. Have a look at Ecclesiastes 1, especially verses 9 and 10:
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
Wow, talk about a lack of originality! My "novel" topic was discussed thousands of years ago. It's almost enough to make a person surrender to the sound-bite mentality of our modern world. Almost.

We don't spend enough time on any one topic to really think deeply. Most of our understanding of things is superficial, even of the important issues of our day. How many people in this country spent more than 15 minutes thinking about how they were going to vote? How many Christians have thought much about abortion, euthanasia, war, salvation, predestination, the nature of God, or any of a dozen other thorny issues? Not enough of us discipline ourselves to make the time required for deep thoughts.

Paul warned Timothy about this tendency in us in 1 Timothy 4,
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
So, I guess I'll continue to search for my original idea even though I know it is unlikely to exist. The purpose is the looking, not the finding.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

We Survived Ike!

Not an especially spiritual title, but an intensely spiritual event nonetheless. God is good, and he has preserved us. Events like this are a wonderful reminder of what is really important. Our family is growing closer as we work together to deal with the remnants of this storm. We have been very fortunate, and we pray for those facing greater challenges than ours.

I expect to hear stories of God's provision and protection in the coming days. It's not prophecy on my part (more about that in another post) merely a belief in God's goodness.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Creating Humans

My wanderings along the roadways between home and work have taken me into another of the Modern Scholars series of recorded lectures. This time it's "Creating Humans: Ethical Questions Where Reproduction and Science Collide." I picked it up because it covers the ethical aspects of some recent advances in the science, but I pretty much already knew what I thought about all that (not an unusual attitude for me, I'm afraid). I don't know that the lectures changed my mind a whole lot, but they did make me think more about the real complexity of the issues that I so easily paint black or white.

The issues that stand out as most difficult to resolve are these:
  1. At what point, exactly, does a person exist having not existed prior to that point?
  2. What are the acceptable methods (processes, procedures, whatever) we can use to create new people?
  3. How much are we allowed to interfere with the development of another person in order to produce characteristics we desire in them?
The lecturer came at most of these issues from a non-spiritual direction, so there were lots of things I could take exception with in his thinking. Nevertheless, uncertainty remains in my mind.

At what point does a person come into existence?

I thought this was one I was fairly certain about. Life begins at conception. Easy. The problem is, that position works best for the "normal" mechanics of reproduction, and even then there are some questions. For me as a Christian, a person exists when God creates one. I think that's when the person has a soul, but I can't find much in the Bible on the mechanics of soul-body connection. One problem with this occurring at conception is that that at some point after conception and embryo can either divide into twins or remain a single individual. Before this point it's not clear whether there's one soul or two, so perhaps there's none?

So I guess I'm left believing that a person comes into existence some time after conception but well before birth. That's why I don't think that a woman ever has the absolute "right to choose" abortion. This is not just a question about her right to control her own body. The life of another human being is involved, and the woman does not have the absolute right to take that life. It's the same reason parents aren't free to kill their children.

In terms of abortion, the issue of twins doesn't have much practical impact because it happens so early in the pregnancy (it does affect the ethics of day-after pills). It has a bigger impact on some of the other issues though.

What are the allowable methods of creating new people?

I already knew there were issues here, and the lecturer didn't help clear any of them up for me. Here are some of the ways new people might be created:
  • The old-fashioned natural way. (Ask Griff about it if you must.)
  • Artificial insemination (AI) - mostly the normal mechanics with a bit of an assist at the beginning. Some issues of parentage (who's the father?).
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) - conception occurs in a petri dish, the rest is the normal mechanics. More parentage issues (father and/or mother).
  • Surrogacy - either AI or IVF followed by growth and delivery by a 3rd-party. Lots of parentage issues. The parents may not be involved at all!
  • Reproductive cloning - make another one just like me. Luckily, it doesn't work yet except for sheep.
My thinking on this is that it doesn't matter much HOW we make new people. As far as I'm concerned all of the above-listed methods would result in real people, souls and all. I think some of these methods involve a lot more risk of problems resulting from our incomplete understanding of biology, so they should be avoided, but all make people.

There is a thorny little problem with IVF and the notion that life begins at conception. The normal process of IVF involves the creation of many fertilized embryos, one of which is selected for implantation. So what about the rest of them? They are typically discarded. Part of the debate over stem cell research involves the use of these "discarded" embryos as a source of embryonic stem cells. I don't know quite what to think about IVF, but it bothers me some.

How much can people interfere in other people's development?

Parents do this all the time, in face we demand it of them. Mothers try to eat right during pregnancy. We expect parents to provide stimulation so their children develop thinking skills. They teach them to share their toys. They don't let them eat too much junk food and get fat. It goes on and on.

So, should people be able to use IVF to select only male embryos to implant? Should they be able to abort a pregnacy if the embryo's sex is wrong? What if antenatal screening identifies a serious condition like Down's Syndrome? Can that pregnancy be terminated? All of these are unacceptable to me as a life-begins-at-conception guy, but all are commonly practiced and accepted by our society.

The final issue, and we're just approaching this as a feasible technology is genetic enhancement. It will soon be possible to "adjust" the genes in an embryo to change the characteristics of the person who will be born. These changes might be trivial, hair color, eye color, etc. They could also be more significant characteristics like intelligence, musical aptitude, physical strength and size, and so on. If we are able to make these adjustments, should we? In a sense we do this already in that we tend to choose mates with characteristics we find desireable. Is there anything wrong with being more efficient in our methods? I think I'm OK with this, but I suspect it comes with some risks we don't understand just yet. I don't think we can avoid learning how to genetically enhance ourselves, but I hope we do it carefully.

So, where are we going?

I don't find many prohibitions in the Bible regarding the acceptability of scientific reproduction methods. I do hear a clear message that God thinks people are extremely important. I think we need to worry more about how this technology affects the the relationship between people, and make sure that we place as high a value on himan life as God does.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lord of All Creation

I've been listening to a series of lectures entitled, "Astronomy: Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe" and it's got me thinking about the size of things. It's hard to get a real feeling for how amazingly big the universe is. You've heard people talk about the Earth being 93 million miles from the Sun, the closes star, Proxima Centauri, being about 4 light-years away, and the closest galaxy, Andromeda (pictured here, courtesy of NASA Images), being 2.5 million light-years away. Maybe you don't remember the exact distances, but you've likely heard something like this before. The numbers have no real "feeling" to them. How far is a light-year anyway? It's hard to get a sense of the size from the numbers themselves. (1 light-year = about 6,000,000,000,000 miles)

The lecturer, Professor James Kaler (info here, or here), did something that helped a lot, and I thought it was worth some thought time.

The first steps along this path are some "local" sizes. The Sun is about 100 times the size of the Earth, and the distance from the Earth to the Sun is about 100 times the Sun's diameter. That means you could line up about 10,000 Earths between here and the Sun. Already this is a pretty big number to imagine!

Going further, imagine that the distance from the Earth to the Sun was one inch. On that basis, the Earth would be about a tenth of a micron, far too small to see, about the size of a large bacteria. Our solar system, out to the little rocks beyond Pluto, would be about six feet across. On this scale, the nearest star would be a little over four miles away. Beyond this, the numbers quickly get too big to absorb again. If the distance to the Sun is one inch, our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 100,000 miles across--half way to the moon. Our galaxy is one of billions that we can see and is unremarkable. Remember, this is a galaxy containing hundreds of billions of stars I just called unremarkable!

The universe is unbelievably large, staggeringly large, mind-numbingly large. It's B-I-G. Mankind is proud of the fact that we've gone all the way to the Moon, but that's about the diameter of a strand of a spider's web in our modified scale. Almost too small to see!

One of the things we tend to do as Christians is to underestimate God. We see him as a slightly larger version of ourselves, maybe without the little imperfections we have. But God is the creator of this stupefyingly large universe we've just been looking at! We make a serious error if we see God as just a "big person." We contemplate God, we argue about his existence, about the extent of his power, about his character. What we should be doing is standing in awe, unable to grasp his size, but yet overwhelmed by what we can grasp.

In Isaiah 55:9 God says, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

I should say so!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Children and Perspective

We had the grandkids over for a couple of days this past weekend, and I'm reminded again of the difference between my normal view of the world and theirs. Somehow the things that worry me are invisible to them. I don't have a lot of profound wisdom to share on the topic, but here are a few random observations:
  • Right now is really all that matters. Regret about past sins or worries about tomorrow's problems doesn't mean much.
  • The world is a generally interesting and amazing place with lots of cool things to do.
  • Some of the really great things to do are completely made up in your head. No "stuff" needed.
  • Some things are funny every time you do them, over and over again.
  • Surprises are often fun.
  • Making people laugh is something worth working at.
I don't know if much of this has anything to do with Jesus' assertion that "...the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:13-15).

Just thinkin'.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Laminin - Gimme a Break!

I threatened to write this post last week, but resisted fearing it would be just another rant. I can't resist it any longer so please don what ever flame-retardant materials you use while surfing.

As I was preparing for the lesson, I came across the suggestion to use this video by Louie Giglio. The reasoning was that it illustrated the point that we are sustained and supported by Jesus, the Living Water. The video describes a molecule called "laminin" that forms a major part of the supporting structure of our cells. It's sort of a "scaffold" on a molecular level. He then goes on, in dramatic fashion, to reveal the shape of the molecule. It looks like a cross. A quick Internet search will turn up dozens of links to this topic. This basic building block of our bodies is cross-shaped, and this is a sign of the divine in us because Jesus dies on a cross.

What a load of trash!

It's ideas like this that give Christians the reputation of being fanatical wackos. (Just check out the Wikipedia talk page for laminin.) There's nothing spiritually significant about the shape of a cross. It's not a magic shape. Attributing spiritual meaning to the fact that laminin is mildly cross-shaped is the same as concluding that waking up at 7:47 one morning means that God wants me to fly somewhere. We are very good at seeing patterns and reading meaning into them, even when there is no meaning.

I firmly believe that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that we continue to exist from moment to moment because God actively wills us to exist. However, I don't think that a particular oddly-shaped molecule is a "message from God."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


We've launched into a new series called "It's In The Name" that will take us through the names of Jesus. The first name we talked about was "Deliverer" and our discussion got me to thinking (of course). Most of what we talked about revolved around deliverance in a broad people-of-God kind of way. Being basically self-centered, I was thinking more personally about deliverance.

We talk a lot in the church about "getting saved," and I think most Christians have at least some idea what that means. We don't generally communicate it too well to the rest of the world, but after you've bounced around a bit in church you get a pretty good notion of what salvation is about. I wonder if we lose something in the process of getting comfortable with the idea. Of course, we're saved from sin. We say it so often using church-speak terminology that it loses its meaning and impact. (Here is a good example.) We get used to it like we get used to the heat in Texas. After a while it doesn't bother us as much. Sin, I mean. But sin is serious business and I need to be bothered by it a bit more than I am.

That's where Jesus the Deliverer comes in. Jesus delivers us from sin. Our sin. My sin. Me. That's really the bottom line I think. I need to be delivered from myself. When I'm left to do what I want to do I sin. It's in my nature to sin. (A church-speak phrase that means, "I do bad things because I want to.")

I need Jesus to deliver me, to retrieve me, to save me from myself. For me, that's what "Deliverer" means.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spending Money

Did you ever notice, that one of the fastest ways to end a conversation with someone you don't know well is to ask them:
  1. How much money did you make last year?
  2. How much money did you give to the church last year?
  3. So, what did you pay for this house anyway?
We're very touch and private about money stuff. We're fine talking about it in general, but not the specifics. Most of the time when we're like that it's because we're hiding something. Most of the time because we're ashamed of our behavior. So what is it about money that we're ashamed of?

I think we all have a standard that we're not living up to...
"I know I should give 10% to the church, but I've got so many bills to pay I just can't manage it right now."
"I know I shouldn't be eating out 12 meals a week, but it's just so much easier than shopping and cooking and washing dishes."
"I know I should be helping those less fortunate than me in _______, but I'm a little short this month."
I think maybe you get the picture. Can you really tell what my priorities are by looking at my bank records?

Would you be comfortable if the church posted the giving records of its members?

Why or why not?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Prayer - Transaction or Relationship?

I was listening to Philip Yancy's "Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?" in the car today and was struck by his comments on viewing prayer as a transaction with God. You often hear people talk about the problem of unanswered prayers. Why does God seem to ignore us when we ask him for something? Doesn't the Bible say that if we want something we should simply ask God for it? The truth is, God's response to our prayers seems almost random at times. Sometimes he does a miracle, sometimes there's no response at all.

People will answer these concerns with assurances that God does hear our prayer and answer, and sometimes the answer is "No" or "Wait." Others will tell you that God knows better than we do what we need and gives us what's best for us rather than what we ask for in our prayers. Both of these answers seem to have have a nugget of truth in them but I think they miss the mark. I don't actually think either of them is a true picture of what's going on.

The fundamental problem is this view of prayer as a transaction... I give something to God (faith, service, belief, etc.) and he is thereby obligated to give me something back (what I ask for). If I don't get what I asked for then either there's a problem with my prayer technique, or God is somehow cheating me out of what I deserve. The first conclusion spawns how-to-pray books and sermons, the second brings my whole belief in a good and perfect God into question.

A better view of prayer is that it's part of the relationship between me and God. I don't want a "networking" relationship with God, the kind where I get his email address and keep in touch because he might be useful to me some day. I want the close, personal friendship kind of relationship. In this kind of relationship, sharing the details of my life, whether struggles or triumphs, gives God pleasure. He really wants to hear all about what's going on with me, not because he's trying to find out what to do for me, but simply because he's interested in me.

It's what good friends do. We talk. About anything and everything. Not to fix each other, but just to talk. Friends read each other's blogs too. I bet God reads our blogs. I wonder what he thinks!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Failure to Communicate

I've been out of the country for the last week or so. During the meetings I attended I was watching how people interact in a presenter-attender situation. I'm sure you've all been part of a situation like this. One person is presenting information as the rest of the group listens, asks questions, and discusses the topic.

The thing I noticed was how often the communication between two people simply didn't work. These were all highly-educated professionals who were trying hard to both transmit their information and understand what was being transmitted to them. About half the time when one person would ask a question the other person would misunderstand the question completely and answer some other question (at least that's what I inferred from the disconnect between question and answer). Sometimes the questioner would accept the answer and things would move on, and sometimes they would ask another question that was related to the first. Only rarely did the two of them figure out on their own that a communication failure had occurred. Most of the time someone else would point out the disconnect.

I wonder how often this happens when we try to communicate the gospel message to others. It's perfectly clear to us what we're saying, but half the time the other person simply misses the message completely. They shake their heads and figure we're ignorant fanatics, we walk away concluding their hearts are hardened to the gospel. In fact they didn't hear what we said and we didn't notice.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spiritual Gifts

So, here's a small break from heavy philosophical ponderings...maybe.

The Bible says we all have at least one spiritual gift. It gives a long list of gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and a few other places. Most people have taken one of more "tests" to tell them what their spiritual gift is.

So here's the my spiritual gift something I'm naturally good at? Should I be able to exercise it easily? I'm guessing no to both questions based on my own experience. Also, God seems to want us to struggle with most things, so it can't come all that easily. On the other hand, if it's too hard I'll never figure it out.

So, dear reader (assuming you're there), what is your spiritual gift? How do you know what it is? What effect does having that particular gift have on your life?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Nature of Man

The first thing to get straight is the use of the word "man." For most of the history of western society, I think the term "man" has been used to mean all of humanity. It is only relatively recently that we have become obsessed with gender. In my opinion, we have done a disservice to the language by narrowing the definition of this word to mean "male person." When I use the word "man" in these notes, I mean humanity, or mankind, or people in general. I refuse to be politically correct when it is to no good purpose.

Anthropology is the study of humanity; it means literally, "to talk about human beings. " This is the second area of knowledge that leads me to an understanding of what God wants me to do and why. Deciding about the nature of man is important in ethics because to understand what I need to become as a human being requires that I understand where I begin. To know what is "right living" I must first know what I am. What is my essential nature? Am I by nature good, neutral, or evil?

If I'm basically good, then right living will mean somehow becoming aware of my innate desires and then following them. This is the source of the saying, "If it feels good, do it!" An essentially good person needs only to follow their basic nature. Unethical behavior is anything that is imposed from outside. If I'm good, and I do evil, it's because something outside me caused it. All that is needed for man to behave rightly is the removal of external pressure to do evil.

If my basic nature is neutral, neither good nor evil, then I can't look to my own innermost feelings to identify the good. I think this leads to an intellectual view of right and wrong. In an sense I don't really care one way or the other. I'm not on either side in the war between good and evil. I should listen to the arguments put forward by both sides and choose the most reasonable. Society ought to adopt a non-interference position on right behavior. Since we are neutral, we might make different choices about good and evil and that's OK.

Neither of these two ideas seems to fit with my experience of living. I am absolutely convinced that there are things that seem right to me that are absolutely evil. Certainly there are things that feel good, but that I believe are wrong. The basically good model doesn't line up with reality in this respect. Neither does the neutral view. I don't see good and evil as two equally plausible choices. I have a strong preference for good over evil and I can't make that preference consistent with a basic neutrality in my nature.

So I'm left with the belief that I am basically evil. This position means that I can't be left alone to decide what I should do, because my nature will cause me to choose evil. This leads to the belief that society needs to create laws to curb the evil behavior of individuals. The difficulty is, who can make the laws if we're all evil? A society can't be less evil than it's members, so the laws it makes would be evil as well. The other issue I can see is this preference that I seem to have for good over evil. It seems that I should prefer evil if my nature is evil. Why would I prefer good?

I think where I end up on the nature of man is that I am by nature evil, but there is some remembrance of good in me as well. It's almost like good is a normal but dormant state. I am evil but I want to be good. This leads me to believe that I will need to look outside myself for a standard of good, and that's the tie back to ethics.

Right living requires a definition of right that is outside of me because I'm evil. There has to be a standard for good that is outside all of us because none of us is by nature good. If I am to live rightly I will need to obey the instructions of what ever sets the standard that defined goodness. Of course, for me that's the definition of God.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Nature of Reality

According to the dictionary, metaphysics is "a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being." So what does this have to do with living as God wants me to? Well, it's at the very base of the chain of reasoning that leads me to be concerned about God and what he might want of me.

I can't bring myself to believe something unless I'm convinced it's true, even if believing is more convenient or profitable. Blaise Pascal made an interesting argument like this for belief in God called Pascal's Wager. He argues that you should believe in God because it's a better bet. If you believe in God and you're right, you win big, If you don't believe in God and you're wrong you lose big. If God doesn't exist, then it makes no difference whether or not you believe. Since the worst outcome of belief is the same as the best outcome of unbelief, it's a better bet to believe. There are lots of issues with his argument, but in any case I can't make myself believe on this basis.

For me, truth matters. To live as if God existed even if perhaps he doesn't is dishonest. That isn't to say that I can always identify the truth without error or uncertainty as you'll see later. It does mean that attempting to find the truth rather than making a useful choice is important to me. For some people, this isn't an issue. They can simply believe without a lot of soul searching and contemplation. I'm not wired that way.

The specific "world-view" questions that need answers before making any "life-view" progress are:
  1. Does anything exist?
  2. Does God exist?
  3. If God exists, what is his nature?
The answers to these questions will have concrete consequences. They provide the reasons for the decisions I make about how to live my life. I think we all have answers to these questions even if we've never actually asked the questions.

1. Does anything exist?

Yes. Although, as far as I know there is no way to prove this. A little reading on the topic of "existence" leads me quickly into realms of thought I can't even follow. Reading some of the essays on the philosophy of The Matrix makes it pretty clear that nobody has figured out how to prove anything actually exists.

That's not to say I'm going to simply toss a coin, pick a position, and move on. I am a realist. According to metaphysical realism, the world is as it is independently of how humans take it to be. Unless this is so, none of our beliefs about our world could be objectively true since true beliefs tell us how things are and beliefs are objective when true or false independently of what anyone might think. This seems to me to be an obvious truth, and the alternatives seem contrived.

2. Does God Exist?

Again, my answer is yes, and again, I don't think it's provable. C.S. Lewis makes a great run at the topic in Chapter 4 of Mere Christianity. In the first few chapters, Lewis argues that God exists because we all seem to have a very similar set of things that we consider to be "right." He asserts that this must be because there is an "absolute" or objective right, the source of which is God. This is known as Normative Morality and I believe it to be a strong argument.

3. What is God's nature?

To answer this question we will ultimately need to go to the Bible and encounter God personally, so I'll be back to this topic again. For now, there are some of basic questions that seem to be taken for granted by many Christians. One was asked in one of Plato's dialogs called the Euthyphro. In this dialog, Socrates asks Euthyphro, "Is something good because the gods will it, or do they will it because it's good?" Is morality higher than religion or vice versa? I believe the answer is found in the nature of God. God is good. In a sense , God defines goodness. Goodness is God's nature, so both are absolutes.

Here are some of the links on metaphysics I have used:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ethics, Who Knew It Was So Complicated?

On my daily commute I have recently started into a recorded book entitled, Ethics: A History of Moral Thought (having finally grown tired of my SciFi addiction). At about the same time, I started into my umpteenth re-reading of C. S. Lewis' book, Mere Christianity, which also opens with a careful look at something Lewis calls the "Rule About Right and Wrong."

These events have created in an interest in ethics (some of you will be rejoicing, no doubt). The Internet being what it is, and this blog (and its readers) being mine to abuse, thus results in you being subjected to a complete patzer's rambling and fumbling into the intricacies of moral thought. Don't say I didn't warn you!

At this point in the journey, I am struck by several thoughts that I hope to explore further in the coming days:
  1. I am familiar with the names Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Descartes, and Kant, but yet I actually know very little about what they said.
  2. I was surprised to learn how much of our society's concept of right and wrong has been shaped by these men, and how completely hidden their influence is from most of us.
  3. The opinions about right and wrong held by many of us, and our justification or explanation of those opinions, are simply inconsistent, illogical, and nonsensical. Why doesn't anyone know this?
  4. I was reminded, once again, of how little I am able to remember from one minute to the next. I have a mind like a sieve. Everything passes right through. It's this thought that has motivated this post and the ones that I hope will follow. These are my cheat notes, or my "external brain" for philosophy.
So, on to the adventure!

Ethics is the study of "good," which is the thing desired, the goal, the ideal. It's about what is "right" as defined by some law. It's about "ought," or personal obligation.

The first thing we'll need to get a grip on is ,"What is good?" In order to know if something is good or evil, we must have a clear picture of exactly what "good" means. This seems like such an easy question, but turns out to be surprisingly complicated to answer well.

We all seem to know good from evil. Lewis says, "...human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in." But, why is this so? How do we know? Is good an absolute thing (an objective truth), or is it different for each of us (a subjective choice)?

The professor claims our ethics will flow from our metaphysics (the study of the nature of reality), our anthropology (the study of the nature of humanity), and our epistemology (the study of knowledge).

More to come on this one...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Got An Attitude?

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 1 Corinthans 11:17

I wonder how true this is of the meetings of my church.

I wonder how true this is of me.

Paul is talking about divisions in the church and the harm they cause. Now, on the surface we're all pretty civil and polite to one another. I can't recall the last time a fist fight broke out in the worship service. But are there divisions among us? Indeed there are.

Paul also says that divisions are to be expected, and indeed are one of the ways we figure out what God wants. We "discuss" things, perhaps intensely, and then sort out which of us has "God's approval." That's just spirited debate, and not something we should run from. That's not what Paul's talking about.

It's the other kind of divisions that make church do more harm than good. The ones that tear other people down because I don't like what they're doing/being/saying.

I wonder how much of that attitude I bring to church.

I wonder.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Wisdom in 22 words

I recently came across a blog ( written by Abraham Piper at Desiring God. The interesting thing about his blog, in addition to the fact that he seems to be related to John Piper, is that every post in the blog consists of exactly 22 words. It's amazing what he can communicate in so few words. I often blather on endlessly and say much less.

I think this is especially relevant as we progress through the seemingly endless process of electing our political leaders. What if we limited every campaign speech to only 22 words?

What if you tried to craft every prayer so it was exactly 22 words long? Would your communication with God be any better?

"Father, forgive me for the ways I've failed you again today. Grant me the desire to serve and the strength to obey."

Hmm, that might actually lengthen some of my prayers!

(I've put a link to 22 Words under "Blogland")

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I recently received my copy of a newsletter from Patrick Morley at Man in the Mirror entitled, "How Are Men Doing." He hit on something that I have mentioned in the past, and that has been on my mind recently. Here's a short quote from the newsletter:
The average Christian male is up to his gold cross in debts and duties. He has a “picture” in his mind of what it means to be a “good Christian.” He believes in this picture—it’s what he thinks he “needs” to do to be a “good boy”—to be happy.
  • I need to spend quality time with my wife.
  • I need to be a super dad to my kids and attend (maybe coach) all their activities. My dad did (or didn’t) do this for me, and I’m going to be there for them.
  • I need to make lots of money so my family can live in a beautiful home in a “better” neighborhood, my kids can wear the right labels, there is less pressure on my wife to work, and I can become financially independent.
  • I need to join a men’s small group where I can grow with some brothers.
  • I need to attend a weekly home growth and fellowship group.
  • I need to have a daily quiet time for fellowship with God.
  • I need to keep the Sabbath and have my family in church to worship God.
  • I need to serve God through a personal ministry—probably through the church.
  • I need to be a good citizen and neighbor.
  • I need to be a star at work if all this is going to happen.
  • I need a successful and satisfying career.
  • I need some time for myself.
No wonder men wince when you ask them to do something.
The reason I mention it here is that I think Morley has captured one of the primary problems we face today. There are too many good things we MUST do it be happy. Looking over this list, there isn't one of them that I'd say should not be on the list of stuff I really should be doing. I just don't do most of these things.

There is a simmering guilt in the background of most of my days. I have a nagging feeling that I'm not really doing enough...of anything. Morley mentions this in the article as well.

I don't have an answer. There isn't one in the article either. I was encouraged to see that it's not just me that feels this way.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Temptation and the "way of escape"

There isn't any temptation that you have experienced which is unusual for humans. God, who faithfully keeps his promises, will not allow you to be tempted beyond your power to resist. But when you are tempted, he will also give you the ability to endure the temptation as your way of escape. 1 Cor 10:13 (God's Word®)
This is a translation of a familiar passage that might not be so familiar. I've often heard the assurance that God will not tempt me beyond my ability, and that he will always offer a way out of temptation if I just look for it. This assurance is based on the way the verse is most often translated. For example, the NIV gives, "But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." The NASB, "...with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." That little word, "so" isn't actually in the Greek text.

The issue here is whether I should be looking for "the way of escape" when I face some temptation. I like the idea that God is going to provide a way out for me because I like to have somebody else do the work and potentially take the blame if I fall. After all, if I end up succumbing to the temptation, then God clearly failed to identify the exit clearly enough. It's not really my fault after all! The other nice thing about this notion is that I get to escape from the temptation. I don't have to continue to resist once I find the exit God has provided.

But what about the idea that the way of escape is the ability that God has already given me to resist temptation. What if that's what Paul meant? If that's the case, then I have a more difficult and less appealing path. God expects me to resist ... continuously ... persistently ... successfully! There is no way for me to wriggle out of the situation. I will be tempted and God expects me to simply tough it out - to endure it. If I fall, it's my own fault. There's no one else to blame.

I think there are several things to learn about temptation from this verse:
  • I am not facing any unusual temptation, only the plain, ordinary, everybody-has-faced-it kind.
  • God knows what I'm able to resist, so the temptation is not too hard for me.
  • The way to escape temptation is simply to bear patiently. The Greek word is hupophero, and it's not one we hear a lot about these days.
The other thing that I find interesting is the role of the translator in determining what I believe about things like temptation. I guess personal study is worth something after all!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Priorities and Compulsion

An appropriate topic for the first post in 3+ months? I think so!

In the time since the last post here, I have often marveled at the people who seem to be able to keep up a regular schedule of updates to their blogs. In some cases it's almost a stream-of-consciousness thing, so perhaps there's not much effort, but for many of the blogs in this sidebar, there is substantive content every time. How do they do it? In 1 Corinthians 9:16-17 Paul says that he is "compelled to preach" and doesn't really do it voluntarily. Maybe that's the blogger's secret as well?

In any case, the central message from the last half of 1 Corinthians is that we need to get our priorities right and focus on what's important. I think this is probably the biggest challenge facing our generation. We live in a time when there is no quiet. Our world constantly SCREAMS at us for attention. We are constantly assailed by good, important, worthwhile things that really need our attention RIGHT NOW!

This is why churches face such difficulty in finding teachers, choir members, and other volunteers. This is why no one goes to Sunday evening worship anymore. This is why so few Christians spend any time in Bible study. We simply do not need another "activity" to fill our time. There are too many things we're ignoring already for us to add one more.

Why would I ever ignore the important and urgent things in my life in order to spend time in Bible study or prayer? There's only one reason I can think of - because I was compelled to do it. I need to understand that this faith I profess makes demands on my behavior.

God has a call on my life and on yours. We are compelled to obey, or admit that our faith is a sham.