Archive | September, 2014

The same ole’ song and dance

26 Sep

A few years ago, “Batman:The Dark Knight” was released into theaters. In this film, Gotham City was being terrorized by a sociopath named the “Joker”, a psychologically scarred murderer with a penchant for anarchy and clown make-up. He challenged Batman to reveal his identity and “incentivized” the hero by promising to kill someone every day until his demands were met. The villain made good on his covenant, the city responded in fear, and betrayed their once beloved savior, demanding he capitulate to the Joker’s wishes.

In a particularly wise rebuttal to the city’s terrified re-activity, Harvey Dent (Gotham’s District Attorney), called the people to repent. He said that while Batman was guilty of being a vigilante, and will have to answer for that “crime” at some point, that should happen in the due course of the law and not in response to a madman. The people unfortunately didn’t listen and demanded the Batman give in.

It all works out in the end, but this scene, and a post of Jeff’s addressing gun control got me thinking about how we, as Americans, in this day and age (with all the kids and their loud music) decide to solve our issues. These issues can range from the disobedient child in our home to crazed gunmen in our streets or schools, and I believe we often come up with solutions that almost address the real problem, while ultimately missing the point.

In the past few years, gun control has become something much more polarizing than it once was. Increases in (or increased awareness of) public acts of gun violence have begun to swim through the “waves of the cathode rays” in greater frequency and many are calling for increased restrictions on firearms as a result. Some would prefer that privately owned guns go the way of the dinosaur or the Chia pet, but for now, there is too much political opposition for a total public disarmament.

I am not here to say that one is more right than the other. Europeans seem to be happy without them, and they are somewhat worthy of emulation. Then again, we did leave England for a reason and we don’t have to follow their in their footsteps if we don’t want to. I have my opinions about this, but that isn’t why I am writing. This post isn’t really about gun control. It’s about solutions. Notice ours: Gun violence occurs – media coverage – call for action/response – petitions for increased gun control. In other words, increased gun control= solution to gun violence. It does logically follow that no access to the cookie jar means reduced instances of unsanctioned desserts, but overeating doesn’t occur because food is available; it occurs because of lack of self-control. In a like manner, Gun violence doesn’t happen because people have access to guns, but rather because people do not love one another, and that is a problem that increased legislation will never be able to address.

We need to be new people. After all, if all people loved one another, cherished life, and the freedom to protect it, we wouldn’t have gun violence. Many reactions to this thought process would undoubtedly be, “Sure, that would be great. But it isn’t a reality and we need to take steps to reduce the chance of evil happening.” And, therein, lies the real reason I am writing this.

This worldview is built on the premise that people cannot change. When I look at what the Lord did through Jesus, I have to say this is inherently untrue. Jesus didn’t come to give us new ways to avoid the possibility of neutral things becoming tools for sin. He came to make us new people (2 Corinthians 5:17). In short, God’s way of eradicating evil isn’t found in reducing freedom, but rather through showing His people what freedom actually is. God’s method isn’t creating new laws. That was what the Pharisees got in so much trouble for. It’s the same old song and dance.

I see similar patterns in the way our culture handles failing marriages. Oppressive husbands? The proposed solution is often to attack the Biblical command for wives to be “submissive to their own husbands” because that view creates the environment for an oppressive relationship. The real issue, however, is the fact that husbands do not love their wives “as Christ loved the Church.” This is not a post condemning a wife to submit to the fist of a domineering husband, nor is it calling for husbands to sit silently under the constant drip of a nagging wife (I cannot stress that enough. If you are in a bad relationship or are in danger, get to a safe place, and get help.) But I also don’t think the problem is submissiveness, or marriage itself, which is what our proposed solutions ultimately undermine.

Let me put it this way: Some parents are jerks. They may be domineering, or neglectful, or abusive. I do not believe, however, that the answer to bad parenting is the abolishment of the command for children to honor their parents. I believe the solution is found in parents being made new creations in the Gospel, and then teaching them how to love their children.
In short, concerning gun control, bad parents, or unhappy marriages, I don’t have a problem with safety. I do, however, take issue with unbelief. These remedies illustrate an underlying premise of God’s impotence in human affairs.

This hits me close to home in my natural tendencies toward legalism. I very often see myself as sinful, recognize God’s holiness, and immediately try to make myself more righteous through performance and self-legislation. This is futility. The Bible clearly teaches us that salvation is in Christ alone, not in my works (Titus 3:3-8). So while I may have good intentions for self-improvement, I am essentially turning my back on what God wants to do in me through His son; another solution that almost addresses the real issue. When I look to myself for righteousness I am telling God that I don’t believe he can change me.

My issue with increased gun control is that it assumes people cannot or will not learn to love one another, and therefore we need more restrictions. My problem with more accessible divorce is that is assumes that our spouses cannot change; ere go we need an out. Jesus said in Matthew 19 that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of our hearts. I think this is what He meant by that. We assume God will not work, and take “precautions”.

Even as I am writing this, I am confronted with the thought that this is very idealistic, and some even may feel judged or condemned by it. Please know that this is not my intention or desire. Lately, though, my heart has been confronted by the fact that following Christ is not difficult; it is impossible. It is the height of idealism. But he came to make the impossible possible through the power of God (Matthew 19:26). If He has a better way of doing things, that’s what I want to be a part of. I don’t want to settle for less.

At the end of the day, if Jesus Christ rose from the grave, what can God not do? My soul, be quick to respond in faith to the God who has never let you down.

On Scripture, On Loyalty — Part 1

14 Sep

The Psalmist says:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:7-11

What is it of Scripture that makes it such? What is it of Scripture that makes it revive the soul? Makes wise the simple? Rejoice the heart? Enlighten the eyes? True, and righteous altogether? More desirable than even much fine gold? Sweeter than the drippings of the honeycomb? Warns the servant of the LORD? That in keeping them there is great reward?

Surely it is not Scripture in and of itself, isolated from the One who spoke and inspired it! We do not worship a book but an Author! It is that Scripture reveals and relates to us the Character and Person of the LORD that we find the words to be our sustenance, and our bread and water to be insufficient. It is the Character of God and the knowing the Character of God that revives the soul, rejoices the heart, is more desirable than fine, is sweeter than the drippings of the comb!

If I set to godliness by merely reading, memorizing, and even practicing words on a page with no relation to the One who inspired and spoke them, then I am not walking by faith but by sight—by words that I see on the page. If I set to godliness by glorying in the glory of the Character of God, then I find myself to be loyal to Him, even He who is not seen with eyes (yet)—indeed, I walk by faith.

Jesus said of the unbelieving Jews:

“…And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:37-47)

Those unbelieving Jews knew the Scriptures, knew the word of God, but in their knowledge of the word of God, they didn’t know the Word of God, the Logos, Jesus. They knew to esteem the Scriptures, and in their esteeming of the Scriptures, they were able to completely miss the Character of God revealed by those Scriptures. Had they known the God revealed to them in those Scriptures that they did know, they would have rejoiced that the God they claimed to worship was One who calls the lame to stand up and walk; that He is One who comes near to the Samaritan woman and calls her to life, to holiness away from her life of sin; that He is One who takes notice and pity of the blind man, accounted a sinner by the seeing, and calls him to see, even on the Sabbath, which speaks of the rest to which we look forward; that He is One who weeps over the death of friends, but is also The Lord over life and death. They would have seen that the Kingdom of God had come near and that the Jubilee was at hand!

As it was, they missed the Word for the word. They missed the Word not because He isn’t revealed in the word, but because they did not have the Spirit. It’s not that the word of the LORD returned void or empty—its purpose went out to harden hearts rather than soften; they stumbled over the stumbling stone.

Their keeping of the Law that they knew so well was a piling up of filth and condemnation, as they knew not so well the Character of the Lawgiver. They thought Him as being like them, and missed being like Him.

There is no one righteous…not even one

1 Sep

A few years ago, I asked my buddy, Jeff, to refute utilitarianism for me. For those who don’t know, an extremely simple definition of Utilitarianism is “the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons.” (Dictionary.com) It is the guiding light of atheistic evolutionary morality, and it can be a doozie to defend against. After all, there aren’t many people chompin’ at the bit to bring down ideals supporting lots of people being as happy as possible.

Anyway, back to the story. He was a philosophy major and a solid believer so I trusted his knowledge on the subject. Expecting a long, strategic answer, I was very surprised when he turned and said in simple, yet authoritative tone: “It’s ugly.” It was a reminder that truth, goodness, and beauty are inextricably intertwined with one another, and ultimately with the
character of God.

This story surged through my mind along with a plethora of other memories and emotions as I processed the Hunger Games trilogy. I read these books recently, and I felt a very strong response to them. It has been difficult to put it into words. Suffice it to say: Utilitarianism is the ugliest thing I have ever seen… And the Hunger Games paints a very good picture of that.
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I am a stickler for spoiler free communication. There are few things I find more lamentable in the world of entertainment than having a good story ruined. As such, I will endeavor to spare you of unnecessary details pertaining to the plot. I will be as judicious as an old farmer at an old farmers market (note to self for writing development: improve similes). With that being said, a brief synopsis will benefit the reader who is not familiar with the series.

The story takes place in Panem, the fictional, future ruins of North America. Wars and natural disasters have left the country a fraction of its former glory. Now split into 12 districts being oppressed by the seemingly omnipotent Capitol, the majority of the county’s people are mired in poverty. The Capitol came to power roughly 3 generations prior to the events of the first book, and it represents the clear antagonist in the story (at first). The government keeps the general populace isolated in their respective districts, and denies them basic supplies needed for survival. It is unjust of the Capitol to be so oppressive- to keep people mired in poverty – but on top of that, to remind the people that any resistance would be futile, they demand a tribute of 2 (1 male and 1 female) teenagers from each district to participate in the deadly Hunger Games, an annual battle royale (imagine Gladiator but all the contestants are people you might find on a cover of Teen Vogue). “Insult, have you met my good friend, Injury?”

​In these types of stories, most people yearn for a protagonist. Enter the main character, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss’ younger sister, Primrose, is chosen to participate in the games, but in a true act of selflessness (one of the few in the series) Katniss volunteers in her place. It’s a long story from there on, but Katniss survives her experience and inadvertently sparks a rebellion in Panem. Once wind of the rebellion graced the pages of the second book, I was relieved. I wanted the Capitol to be overthrown, for people to be free, for goodness to overcome evil. In our day, however, these types of dichotomies are often considered prosaic and un-relatable. The doctrines of utility would dictate that the evil aren’t actually evil and the good aren’t actually good; they just have competing goals, and it depends on what side of the fence you are on. I was slowly, but surely horrified to find the “good guys” were just as willing to do the same things that the “bad guys” were being condemned for, all in the name of victory. This is the problem with the Hunger Games. It generates and calls out to the desire for justice against the Capitol, but then it gives no satisfactory origin for this justice to come from. When you look to Katniss, or the Rebellion, or, just about anywhere, for something better, it is rarely found.

​It is the same concerning Utilitarianism. Preference and cultural expectations have shaped our ideas of right and wrong. While things like murder, theft, and adultery all seem wrong for their own sake, this is mere illusion. Generations of evolution have taught us that working together helps us survive-therefore it’s probably not a good idea to senselessly murder your neighbor. It is not because their life, or my life, or life itself is inherently valuable, but because they are an asset needed for survival. This essentially says that Hitler wasn’t morally wrong because unjust killing is actually bad – he was simply misled as to the best way to assure the survival of our species. His actions weren’t evil, they were inefficient. This view of morality is profoundly ugly to me. There is no truth. There is no beauty. There is no good. There is only the useful and the counter-productive.

​For the Christian, we are taught that there is a truth that exists outside of our goals. God reveals the truth of His existence through the created order, through His Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ. (Romans 1: 19-20, John 1:1). We are also taught that goodness is inextricably connected to God’s character. In fact, good is simply a word to describe who He is and what He does. If there is good at all, it is Him. If there is evil at all, it is anything that is not Him. With this viewpoint, there are actions that are inherently good because they reflect His nature, regardless of their usefulness concerning human survival or happiness. Thankfully, the Lord does not make a distinction between man’s ultimate benefit and His glory (Romans 8:28). People are benefitted by following God’s laws, but this is a by-product of obedience, not the end goal. I could write a whole ‘nother article on God’s glory and Man’s benefit not being mutually exclusive. Suffice it to say, I believe the Word teaches that if we do what is right, we will be happy (or more specifically, joyful) whereas Utilitarianism teaches us if we do what makes us happy, we will be right.

​Essentially, this is what you get when you come across the verse “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, Psalm 14)- but then don’t read on to find that Christ is the exception (Romans 3:21-24). ​In a Godless, Christless world, there are none righteous. If the atheists are right about God, than utility, preference, and the vox populi is all that you will find in the marketplace of ethics.

This leads me to why the world of the Hunger Games, and the world of Utilitarianism are both so hideous. We see the injustice of the Capitol, and naturally want good to take its place. But when we look to Katniss and the Rebellion for hope, we find that they are two sides of the same coin. We know we should hope for better than the status quo, but when we look at the barren, philosophical landscape for an alternative, we only find something eerily similar to what we turned away from in the first place. Familiarity breeds contempt, and these mirrored images produce a contempt in me that I find unbearable if it is indicative of the way the world really works. In this type of world, hopelessness and despair prevail. It is futility. It is feeling a deep, cavernous hunger, and being told that not only is there no food to satisfy your emptiness but that your hunger is an illusion, thereby robbing it of any meaning or purpose.

After a while, I found myself wondering why the author first put pen to paper if this was the story she really wanted to tell. ​Typically in dystopian novels, the purpose is to point people in a direction; to show the audience the logical outcome of their current philosophies. The audience puts up with the despair of 1984 to learn that Orwell’s Big Brother is truly hideous. Mockingjay, the last book in the Hunger Games series, makes a feeble attempt at a warning like this, a paragraph essentially saying that no one wins in a society who kills its own children. That may be the case, but the world of the Hunger Games long since abandoned God and goodness and therefore, any objectivity in making that kind of statement. If the Capitol has power, and they see the death of children as a means to an end, then who can really argue with them? They tossed aside righteousness and evil in favor of utility, and murdering children logically followed. Why wouldn’t it?

While I don’t think it was the warning the author intended, that was the warning that I received. A world without absolute right and wrong is truly one of the ugliest things I have ever seen, and I refuse to accept a morality that is not beautiful.

If you are looking for something better, look to Jesus. This is what Christ is like- Romans 12: 9-21.

May The Lord give us grace to know His truth, goodness, and beauty so that we will know how to respond to evil without capitulation. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”