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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes
Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Saturday, October 03, 2015
September's most popular topics blog posts took a bit of a turn with a late entry based on a New York Times article of all things! There, we read that more and more people are Googling for answers about the questions or doubts they have about God; it's a tacit admission for the need for blogs such as this one.
Other popular pieces include how nicely the Gospels fit into ancient biography, a refutation that a false religious belief is a by-product of evolution, and a video clip asking a provocative question. Without further adieu, here are the top five apologetics posts for September.
Friday, October 02, 2015
Yesterday I was invited to a Southern California community college by one of the on-campus Christian clubs to answer questions on God' existence. Near that same time a man burst into classrooms at an Oregon community college and began shooting. He specifically targeted Christians, asking them to identify themselves as such. The news of the tragedy quickly spread that afternoon; ten people were killed and at least seven more injured. The horror of those actions is still shocking. I mourn with those who have lost loved ones in the attack.
Wanton evil like the Umpqua Community College leaves one speechless. It seems hard to even wrap your head around the callousness of a person who would murder others in cold blood. But human beings are far more capable of this kind of evil than we normally consider. In my discussion yesterday, an atheist asserted that he believes people are basically good. They become bad due to circumstances in their lives. I think history has proven that view to be a false one. From the beginning of civilization, people have been warring with one another motivated by a lust for power, greed, or the simple fact that someone else is different.
Christianity holds that people are not basically good. Christians believe that all people are marred by original sin and things like selfishness, greed, and even bigotry come naturally. But it doesn't end there. Christianity also teaches that there is a God who can redeem us from our worst inclinations and that he stepped into history to do that very thing, at the cost of his own beloved son. While Christians recognize that people can naturally be evil, they also recognize there is a solution to the evil that we see.
Where's the Solution to the Evil in the World?That's a key point, I believe. Some may wonder where God was when all these people were being slaughtered. If God is real, why wouldn't he protect his own? Does the fact that Christians died prove the Christian God is not real? No, it doesn't. It only proves that evil exists and needs to be answered. But, as Hamlet would say, there's the rub. What is the answer to evil if God doesn't exist? Was the murder of Christians an example of natural selection allowing the stronger to weed out the weaker? Was it just another act in nature where life comes and goes without any meaning whatsoever? We don't assign much meaning to how black widow spiders kill their mates or how mammals such as lions or chimpanzees will kill offspring other than their own to avoid competition. This is nature "red in tooth and claw" and no meaning other than that's the way it works can be assigned to it.
Those Christians on the UCC campus understood that any evil we find in this world isn't the end of the story. Those who were shot for their faith knew that whatever evil may be inflicted upon them here would be more than made up for in the life to come. They had confidence that evil will in the end be met with true justice. Trusting in God does not mean that he will deliver you from all harm. As I have written elsewhere, God is not "Our Genie who art in heaven." To treat him as such belittles him and diminishes our concept of God within ourselves. Because of the fact of the resurrection, we can know that God has conquered death and sin. We can know the problem of evil is only a temporary one.
Denying the Reality of Natural EvilI feel more sorry for the non-believers at UCC as well as those on the campus with who I was conversing. There is no way for them to make any real sense out of this tragedy. They may hold that mankind is evolving and getting better, but the empirical evidence doesn't argue for that. ISIS doesn't argue for that. The looters who appear any time police presence in a community is restrained don't argue for that. Their claim is unfounded; it's a wish but not reality. They must believe it in order to hold out hope for a brighter future. The only other option is nihilism--the idea that there is no meaning to our existence at all and therefore nothing really matters. That's why I believe it's better to be a Christian even at UCC where one is in danger of being harmed for one's faith than it is to have no faith at all.
Sometimes the truth comes at a cost but the wise man will still seek it out. That's what wisdom means.
Thursday, October 01, 2015
"Thou shalt not judge" is a phrase that Christians hear over and over again. Even those who don't believe in Jesus will cite his teaching in Matthew 7:1 to try and say that Christians shouldn't tell others certain actions (things like abortion, homosexuality, and the like) are wrong. But that's a bit too cavalier. We must take Jesus's words in their proper context to understand exactly what he meant.
In this passage from his web site, Dr. J.P. Moreland gives a great explanation on the different types of judging and why Jesus did not say moral judgments were out of bounds. He explains:
We need to distinguish two senses of judging: condemning and evaluating. The former is wrong and is in view in Matthew 7. When Jesus says not to judge, he means it in the sense that the Pharisees judged others: their purpose was to condemn the person judged and to elevate themselves above that person. Now this is a form of self-righteous blindness that vv. 2-4 explicitly forbid. Such judgment is an expression of a habitual approach to life of avoiding self-examination and repentance and, instead, propping oneself up by putting others down.I agree with J.P. To not be allowed to make any moral judgments is insane. We rely on people such as whistleblowers to come forward if they see corporate executives who are embezzling funds. In the same way, we rely on whistleblowers to call out Planned Parenthood when they are taking live-born babies and cutting them up for their parts. Both serve the same purpose, to help diminish the amount of evil in the world.
But there is another sense of judging that is central both to moral purity/holiness and to showing tough love to another: evaluating another’s behavior as wrong, pointing that out to the person with a view to their repentance, restoration and flourishing. This form of judging another may bring short-term pain in the form of guilt, embarrassment and a experience of the need to change, but its long-term effect is (or is supposed to be) the flourishing and uplifting of the other.
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for another is to tell him or her something hard to hear. This form of judgment is absolutely biblical. In fact, in Matthew 7:5, Jesus basically says that after one has appropriately engaged in self-examination and personal repentance, he/she is now in a position accurately and helpfully to evaluate another. This very same form of judgment is commanded in Galatians 6:1-2. It is moral confusion and cowardice to eschew evaluating other’s behavior. It is moral clarity and courage not to condemn others.
Today it is more important than ever for the church to recover and proclaim judgment as evaluation gently yet firmly. 1
Image courtesy hobvias sudoneighm - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Yesterday, I wrote about an article chronicling how Google searches for God have been changing. While searches for churches have been declining, questions about God's existence and the problem of evil are increasing, making them the first and second most commonly asked questions about God on Google.1 These aren't really that surprising as the culture moves further and further away from its Christian worldview.
While questions one and two were familiar, it is the third most popular search that caught my eye. Over 1900 people a month are asking Google "Why does God hate me?" Looking beyond that specific phrase, Google's AdWords tool reports that "god hates me" is queried 880 times and "does god hate me" 590 times per month. That's over 3300 times each month people are desperate enough to go to Google and search for an answer as to why God hasn't helped them out of their problems.
These searches about the person's problematic lives are not only due to event-driven factors. The New York Times article I referred to above also notes that the most common search term to complete the phrase "Why did God make me ___?" is the word "ugly" by a wide margin.2 So, either difficult times or difficult features of one's life can prompt people to search for resolution as to why their lives are not easier than they are currently.
God Doesn't Hate You and He Proved ItFirst, let me say to those who are asking this question that God doesn't hate you. He really doesn't. I know exactly how it feels when life is crashing all around you and you see a glimmer of hope that somehow vanishes into thin air. You can get bitter very quickly. You see no way to escape and you become frightened. Perhaps you've prayed for a miracle, for that's all you can fathom to alleviate your suffering, but that miracle never comes.
In such situations, it's easy to turn and blame God for not rescuing you. After all, he has the power to do so. What would it cost him? But I think you know such a view is a little too easy, a little simplistic. God is not a genie in a bottle to be summoned when life gets hard. Such a God is unworthy of worship; he becomes the slave of the petitioner. Instead, God desires that you know him. Sometimes he uses the difficult times of our lives to get our attention. It was C.S. Lewis who said "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."3
You may ask "but how can I even trust God when he allows me to hurt so much?" That's a fair question, one that deserves a thoughtful answer. One of the ways you can tell how much a person values another is by counting what it costs him or her. In marriage, a person will sacrifice his time, his comfort and his finances for the sake of his spouse. A man who is unwilling to sacrifice his desires for his wife is selfish and a cad.
What could a relationship cost an all-powerful God? Quite a bit, actually. In order to reconcile you to himself, God sacrificed his own dear son who was crucified on a cross. As a father, I know that this is the ultimate cost; I would much rather die myself than give up my innocent child to be put to death for the sake of someone else. That means a lot. It shows that God is serious. How serious will you be about getting to know him?
Even Though God Loves You, He Won't Rescue You from All Your TroublesI don't really fault those who seek to blame God for difficult circumstances in their lives. Many people today simply don't know enough about God to have a clear picture of him. Pain is never a pleasant thing but as I said above God is not going to come to the rescue of everyone who is in a bad situation. Any father who bails his child out of all their difficulties spoils the child and diminishes his own role. If God is shouting to us in our pain, perhaps we should look to see what we can learn from our situation. Do we place a higher value on looks than on the character of the person we should strive to be? Did we ignore God while success was easy or perhaps ignore his commands on how to live? Or did we simply ignore God until times got tough?
Every story is different, but I guarantee God wouldn't allow you to go through this period of pain unless there was a reason, even if that reason is to learn how to endure. Corrie Ten Boom had to suffer the loss of her family and the horrors of the Nazi Concentration camp Ravensbruck for saving lives of Jewish refugees. She was doing good and yet she still suffered greatly for her actions.4 She said even there she found a purpose for her suffering while in the barracks, claiming "in darkness God's truth shines most clear."5
God doesn't hate you. He gave up everything for you and wants you to draw closer to him. If you would like to do so, simply use this form to get in contact with us. We would love to hear from you.
2. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
3. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001). 91. Print.
4. "Corrie Ten Boom." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10006914.
5. Ten Boom, Corrie, John L. Sherrill, and Elizabeth Sherrill. The Hiding Place. Washington Depot, CT: Chosen, 1971. 183. Print.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Last week an interesting article appeared in the New York Times looking at Google searches about God and religion. The article stated that search trends—how people look up things on Google and other search engines—is another piece of evidence showing the slide away from religious belief.
Writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers several examples in the piece:
Despite the rising popularity of Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013, Google searches for churches are 15 percent lower in the first half of this decade than they were during the last half of the previous one. Searches questioning God's existence are up. Many behaviors that he supposedly abhors have skyrocketed. Porn searches are up 83 percent. For heroin, it's 32 percent.1If that wasn't disheartening enough, Stephens-Davidowitz tried to broaden his examination to include concepts such as how to treat one's neighbor:
"Love thy neighbor" is the most common search with the word "neighbor" in it, but right behind at No. 2 is "neighbor porn." The top Google search including the word "God" is "God of War," a video game, with more than 700,000 searches per year. The No. 1 search that includes "how to" and "Walmart" is "how to steal from Walmart," beating all questions related to coupons, price-matching or applying for a job.2
What Does It Mean?As Stephens-Davidowitz notes, one cannot assume too much from the data. People Google things all the time that they may be partly confused on or even things that they do believe, but don't quite know how to explain. In fact, the article even stipulates that in more spiritually active areas of the country should show an uptick in searches about God. "If people somewhere are searching a lot about a topic, it is overwhelming evidence those people are very interested in that topic. Jambalaya recipes are searched mostly in Louisiana; Lakers statistics are searched mostly in Los Angeles."3
I think it's interesting what Stephens-Davidowitz uses as a comparison to the declining searches for God: neighbor porn, how to steal from Wal-Mart, heroin. It's as if the author was trying to correlate the increase in lasciviousness with the decline in religious belief. Perhaps, but it simply could show that without religion people become more self-absorbed. With no deity to believe in, you aren't ultimately accountable to anyone but yourself.
The Opportunity for WitnessThe key to the article, though, isn't that smut searches are on the rise. It is that the people who have questions about God are taking them not to a pastor but online:
The No. 1 question in the country is "who created God?" Second is why God allows suffering. This is the famous problem of evil. If God is all powerful and all good, how could he allow suffering? The third most-asked question is why does God hate me? The fourth is why God needs so much praise.4Stephens-Davidowitz is correct when he explains "People may not share their doubts with friends, relatives, rabbis, pastors or imams. They inevitably share them with Google." That means ministries that give good answers to these kinds of objections need to not only be online, but need to be Google-friendly. That's why I've been doing online apologetics and evangelism since 1996. The mission field is now a digital one. That's where people are looking and that's where those who wish to topple Christianity are trying to capture the seekers. We need to be there, too.
Of course, it's difficult. This ministry runs on an extremely limited budget and we could use more help to reach even more people. If you'd like to help support the online efforts of Come Reason to provide real answers to those who are questioning God, just click here. We greatly appreciate your support.
2. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
3. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
4. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
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