Advent Gratitude

There are many people who have explored this idea in better ways than I, (most notably, Ann Voskamp) but I have been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. As a manager in the restaurant industry, it is hard not to become a utilitarian manipulator who encounters your staff members as a means to an end: running a great shift. When someone calls out and we know we can get Susie Q. to cover it for us if we ask just the right way, we can lose our sense of engaging a person. We say “thank you so much!” and we mean it, but it can become just a part of the transaction. If we don’t make them feel appreciated now, they may not do A, B, or C for us later.

This mindset ends up eating its own tail as we begin to view people’s interactions with us as merely a means to an end. We go out of our way to help someone who is useful to us and we ignore the needs of those who ask too much or don’t benefit us in any way. Even with your friends, people who entertain us or encourage us are foremost amongst our friends and those who annoy us or are “needy” are held at arms-length. True gratitude and a realization of that which Advent teaches can help turn this utilitarian model on its head.

In Advent, we encounter the brokenness of the world before Christ came to enact God’s plan of redemption. God made the world good and beautiful, but we perpetuated brokenness and evil. We created the world of “might is right” and took advantage of our fellow man as often as helping him. We ran from the loving embrace of God and were self-centered above all else. The truth of Advent is that even in the midst of a world filled with suffering and widespread oppression, Jesus became one of us to emphasize and fulfill the value of every human being.

Jesus came to be the “human face of God and the Divine face of man.” Every man was embraced at the cross where a political torture device was used to kill a man who had done no wrong but was condemned by the religious crowd who had stripped him of his humanity as they used him as a scapegoat for their own guilt and shame. The irony was that Jesus still encountered each individual on his way to the cross with love and gifted each of them value.

Advent shows us that no matter how useful or useless we are, no matter how oppressive or oppressed, no matter what our origin, we are all sought after and valued as a “pearl of great price.” Where does gratitude come in? Well, we must be grateful for each person we encounter. We must learn to look in the eyes of our enemy and see our brother. We must see the world as God saw it when he sent Jesus. We must see through the eyes of God during the Advent before Jesus. The world was groaning and yearning for the true, the good and the beautiful. The world was broken and people were perpetuating that brokenness. Into this, God looked and He loved. He looked and he was grateful for our existence. He looked and he sent Jesus to restore relationship with those broken individuals whom he adored. So now, we must see Jesus in every man and woman, in every situation and system. Jesus came for the redemption of the world.

So now, we must see Jesus in every man and woman, in every situation and system. Jesus came for the redemption of the world. He came to strengthen the feeble knees and make glad the faint hearted, to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives. If we are not encountering people with this heart, if we are not truly acknowledging from whence we came and to where we are going, if we do not live out of gratitude for every  person we encounter, then we will not be living the kingdom Jesus established.

Let’s be grateful. A simple moment of showing someone that you are truly grateful for them as a person can make all the difference. Let’s acknowledge every person as the pursuit of God in Christ Jesus. And let’s enjoy the anticipation of the coming of the redemption of the world this Christmas and in eternity to come.

Episode 2 – Pastor Brian Carlson

Hello! This week I spoke with my current pastor, Brian Carlson. It was a great conversation and in it Brian recommended the book, The Longest Bridge Across Water, which is about developing friendship with Jesus. Check it out at: https://www.amazon.com/Longest-Bridge-Across-Water-Encounters-ebook/dp/B00HKN18HO

Enjoy the show and subscribe to my podcast on Itunes or Stitcher:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-unfamiliar-name/id1118467057

http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=91391&refid=stpr

The Discipline of God

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)

The opening verse of Hebrews chapter 12 give a vision and a context for the writer’s discussion of God’s discipline. First, we must see that sin is the weight that keeps us from running the race to the fullest of our ability. Sin here is not addressed as shame to be hidden or fearful of. You can hear the heart of the writing: “put away your sin, it’s weighing you down, it’s holding you back from what God has for you.” Our call against sin is only Godly and effective if it is an invitation into God’s best and not a condemnation into God’s worst. This is mandated because, “There is now, therefore, no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)

The second highlight in the verses above is the communal aspect of our life in Christ. We are never alone, but are “surround by so great a cloud of witnesses” and “looking to Jesus” we are able to run this race. Not only are we called to be a part of the body of Christ on earth which practices the gifts of the spirit for the building up of the faithful, but we are also surrounded by a heavenly witness. I am reminded of the powerful story in the Old Testament when Elisha and his servant are surround by a great army who has come out against them. Elisha is as calm as Jesus sleeping in the bottom of the storm tossed boat, but his servant cries out, “What’re we gonna do?” with the echo of the same desperation from Jesus’ disciple, “Don’t you care that we are gonna die?” Elisha simply prays that God will open the servants eyes to see that, “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (1 Kings 2:16) Do we really live our lives like this? Do we confront our personal mountains with confidence and faith that we are surrounded by a powerful heavenly host?

It’s in this context that God’s discipline is addressed. It is not addressed in a spirit of condemnation and it is in no way addressed as God punishing a lone individual who is expected to overcome sin on their own. The last major point I want to address in this verse is the image of Christ going to the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” Now here I find it necessary to make one very important distinction that will help us to understand God’s discipline in our own lives. I do not believe that the cross was God’s divine will in the sense that God orchestrated and caused the cross to occur so that we might be saved and Jesus might, “learn obedience through the things he suffered.” Rather, I believe that it was God’s divine will to allow our free choice of the rejection and crucifixion of his son. God sent Jesus to preach the way of peace, knowing full well that we would reject him and his teaching and crucify him by our own sin. “He took on him the sins of us all,” is more literal in this image as our sin literally condemned him to the cross. So we see the distinction here is that God can use our sin and the results of that sin to save the world and teach obedience in Christ. Now, Christ was perfect, and yet he was learning obedience. This is the mystery of incarnation and it is so good for us because we do not have a high priest who does not know our suffering and temptations. Jesus can teach us obedience in suffering because he learned the same way. The important point to remember throughout is that Jesus did all these things for the “joy that was set before him.” The key to growth through God’s discipline is to remember that it is for the joy that God has set before us. Discipline’s purpose is to remove that which keeps us from joy and fulfillment in Christ.

One last note on this seeming paradox about enduring suffering and giving up sin in exchange for joy… There is a parable Jesus tells that seems to sum up what is meant by these things: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) This is what the discipline of God calls us into: joyful surrender of all that we have. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’” (Heb. 12:5-6)
This is so powerful. God is using the trials and tribulations in our life to train us in the way we should go as a father would for his children.

So what does this Godly discipline look like? It looks like bringing everything that we experience before God in humble submission to him. Are you experiencing financial difficulties? Bring it before God, get counsel from a wise brother in Christ. Maybe God desires to teach you to trust him, to steward your finances well, to rejoice in all things. Are you experiencing relational difficulties with your spouse? Bring it before God, get counsel from a wise father in the church. Maybe God is teaching you how to prefer others before yourself, maybe God is teaching you to build your house on the Rock instead of on your own ability to maintain yourself. Are you struggling with a sin pattern in your life? Bring it to the Lord, submit yourself to a leader in your church. Maybe God desires to teach you grace and humility and the life-saving power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s discipline is not an act of punishment that seeks to cause pain, rather, it is the transformation of the tribulations in this life into the life changing lessons of how to be like Jesus. God takes our earthly suffering and uses it like fire to forge us into people who can enjoy perfect freedom and communion with him. Simplest definition of the discipline of God is this: God’s miraculous ability to transform the suffering resultant in the effects of sin (our own sin and that of others) into the lessons that shape us into who he has called us to be. Even the effects of sin and a broken world are used by God to meet us and heal us and change us. Does this mean that you must look for sin whenever you experience tribulation? No, instead look for God and what he has provided you in this time for your benefit and sustenance. The ultimate result is the kingdom of God in your heart, a kingdom that cannot be shaken. The result of God’s discipline is “the removal of things that are shaken… in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:27-29) What then remains? “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

The Problem of Evil

To conclude my series of blog posts with an apologetic theme, this post will wrestle with one of the classic objections to the Christian faith, the Problem of Evil. It can be stated as follows:

If God is all-powerful and all-good, there would not be evil and suffering in the world.

There is evil and suffering in the world; therefore, God is either not all-powerful, not all-good, or non-existent.

This argument is probably the most compelling argument I have heard and most people I have engaged with seem to find their biggest issues with Christianity here. I think this is because we are hurting and something in us knows that the world is not how it ought to be. Even if you believe in Christianity, you must answer this objection. First, I will layout the philosophical answer to the problem of evil and then I will give the uniquely Christian answer to this problem.

Imagine a perfect world where no-one ever does anything wrong… Did you come up with an image? If you did, it was probably grey, sterile or even boring and oddly futuristic. Maybe that’s not what you thought of, but because of our over-saturation of dystopian films and literature, we are often given a view of the issue that occurs when someone in power tries to eliminate all evil and suffering from the world. Equilibrium, Divergent, 1984, and even Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Winter Soldier are wrestling with the trade off between eliminating suffering and eliminating freedom. The focus of the debate on the problem of evil has always been whether God could, in His infinite power, create a world where evil did not exist but freedom of choice did exist. It truly seems impossible for such a world to exist. It seems that in order for human beings to have the ability to choose to live by love, they have to have the ability to reject the same. If God were to have created the world without that freedom, then we would be robots following our programming and functioning well, but we would not be humans loving well and creating community. While this is a much-repeated response, it seems to solve the philosophical dilemma. God is all-powerful and all-good. In his goodness and power, he created humans with an ability to choose freely (thus choosing to limit his power by his goodness) and God is constantly drawing humanity towards himself and towards love. This may seem like a sterile philosophical answer that does not go into the depths of suffering, but the next section of the blog will explore the uniquely Christian response that does not shy away from this tension.

Every worldview wrestles with the problem of evil. Some Buddhists claim that suffering is illusion, Hinduism claims that suffering is the result of Kharma, Muslims claim that God is ineffable and unquestionable in his absolute power but also balances his own scales of justice, Secular Humanists claim that innovation and progress will free us from incorrect thinking or the imbalance of power, Naturalists really have no grounding for what evil is but tend to cry out against injustice all the same. Amidst thousands of answers, Christianity tells the most compelling story in response to evil in the world.

God created the world and it was beautiful and good. He created humans and they were very good. Humans, in their freedom, chose pride and control over relationship with God. Since that point, God has been pursuing humanity throughout the ages. First he spoke to a small backwards tribe, the Hebrews, and constantly met them in their evolving understanding of God and the world. His message was communicated in poetry and power, in beauty and story and it was always an invitation to return to God. Instead, they chose to kill the prophets he sent and worship other gods (gods of power, money, and debauchery). The Hebrews were a microcosm of the problem with humanity in the entire world. We all needed healing from the cultural, systemic sin that demanded sacrifice and violence. Rene Girard spoke of the mimetic desire that describes human tribe’s need to find a scapegoat for their own guilt and difficulties in life. There is a famine, sacrifice a virgin. There is a murder, kill the murderer. A woman will not have you, take her anyways. There is a land dispute, go to war. Always moving towards violence instead of relationship with the Creator and the Created. Throughout all of this, God kept calling the Hebrews towards the beautiful and the good. He still saw the beauty that humanity could be and create. The world was broken but good and man would occasionally respond to challenges with singular acts of love and beauty. Yet still the cycle of violence and hatred remained.

Finally, at the time when his message could be heard and spread, Jesus came and entered into our suffering. God, the God of the universe, did not shun the world that was marked by suffering and evil. He dined with sinners and healed lepers. He lost loved ones to death and he experienced betrayal. God-as-man was tempted in every way as we are, but Jesus resisted and learned obedience through what he suffered. The uniquely Christian answer, and the one answer that truly gets to the core of the problem, is that God took upon himself the pain and suffering of us all. We demanded sacrifice, He provided the Lamb. All of our brokenness and systemic sin took Love personified and nailed him to the cross. God did not demand Jesus’ death, we did. God did not fear our darkness, he entered into it and the light overcame that darkness. Jesus entered into the depths of Hades and returned victorious over death.

He then returned to the close friends he had invested in (because it’s always a relational transformation) and empowered them with the knowledge and peace of the risen Christ. God’s answer to evil was submission to the effects of evil and victory through that submission. He then began with a small group of Hebrew fisherman and transformed the world by their lived message. Many of them were persecuted and killed, again conquering evil by giving themselves up in love. “Greater love has no man then he that lays down his life for his friends.” So when we consider the philosophical problem of evil and are faced with the reality of evil and suffering in our lives, God has an answer and it is Jesus. Because of Him we can be transformed into people who are free from systemic sin and healed from brokenness. A people transformed conquering the world through love and not violence. A people who do not have to fear injustice or even death, but can embrace all men through the power of the resurrection. The problem of evil has been answered, the challenge for Christians is to be a part of the solution.

The Historicity of the New Testament

The next step in the series on the evidences for the existence of a God will finally bring us to the arguments for a Judeo-Christian God. If you look at my previous post you will see an argument for the existence of a being who is outside of space and time who can begin material existence. Then the argument in the next post claims that from the complex and amazingly functional nature of the universe in general and life specifically it seems that we need an Intelligent Designer. The last post argues that without a God we are left with no adequate support for morality. This post will attempt to briefly address some of the chief evidences for the historicity of the New Testament.

First, when we are discussing historicity, we are merely trying to establish that the New Testament was written by first century Jewish individuals who believed that what they wrote actually happpened and that what we have today is extremely close to the texts that were originally written. So then, if we find that the writers were faithfully communicating their experiences and that our texts today match what was communicated originally we can move towards the questions of whether we should trust the testimony of these writers.

So, is the New Testament historically reliable? For this question, I will attempt to outline some of the main arguments without getting bogged down in citations and specific studies. I will humbly refer the reader to books like Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Evidence Revisited by Josh McDowell which are extensive works of historical investigation that engage this topic comprehensively. There are many questions that can help a historian determine whether a text is reliable. How many original manuscripts are there? If there are copies of these manuscripts, how similar are they to each other and how close are they to the original? Are the sources bridging to other sources or are they eyewitnesses? Are the events recorded independently corroborated? Is the setting accurate (the timeframe, who was in political power, reflective of the culture at that time)? What was the purpose of the text? Was it meant to be a historical document, a report to a governing body, or propaganda for a political figure? Would the author have gained from the distortion of truth?

All of these questions and more can be taken to our study of the Biblical texts. Beginning with the question of manuscripts, the New Testament has over 27,000 partial manuscripts to compare and study. While none of them are the original penned manuscripts, their remarkable similarity and consistency is a huge mark in favor of the NT’s reliability. To put these numbers in perspective, the closest other text from the ancient world is the Illiad which has around 500 surviving partial manuscripts. The New Testament, particularly the Gospels, are also written based largely on eyewitness testimony. This is not a story that has grown in the telling, the writers are writing about their own personal experiences. They are also writing to an audience of fellow eyewitnesses. When most of the texts in the NT began to be circulated, the people who lived and experienced the events recorded were still living. If these texts were deceiptful, the hundreds of people who were present at the sermon on the mount or the feeding of the 5000 or the crucifixion could have denounced the writings as false. Now maybe there were dissenting voices that have not survived 2000 years because they were not part of a text that quickly obtained sacred status in the original Christian community, but the movement grew in the midst of people who could have easily denounced many of its claims and would have had no reason to join if they thought the disciples were teaching falsehoods.

The events in the NT are also extremely consistent with other sources of that time and what we know of the timeframe politically, culturally, and historically. We have sources from the ancient world that confirm Jesus’ crucifixion, the census at the time of Jesus’ birth, all of the political figures and the timing of their reign/influence, and that confirm the growth of a small sect of Judaism in the midst of persecution from their fellow Jews and eventually the Romans as well. The Gospel of Luke is extremely helpful in this regard as Luke is careful to note the historical and political context and timing of his texts. Luke is helpful for another reason as he states the purpose of his texts at the beginning of his Gospel: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Here we see a classic introduction to a historical text that were often addressed to an individual in ancient times. We see that the purpose of the writer here and the writers throughout the NT were attempting to tell true stories that reflected their experiences.

If we look at these evidences and are able to accept that the NT was communicating what the authors believed to be the historical truth and was faithfully communicating their experiences, then we have to ask if we should trust these sources. I am fully aware that I am not addressing many of the nuances and fullnesses of the arguments summarized above, but this is merely a brief sketch of the main arguments. So why should we trust these people? First of all, none of the Gospels would have benefitted the authors. In fact, the authors and disciples of Jesus are often portrayed as stubborn and dense. If these authors were looking to invent a religion with themselves at the head, then why would they portray themselves as slow to understand, stubborn, and even deniers of Jesus throughout the stories? Also, and I believe this is the most powerful argument for the reliability of their testimonies, the disciples were imprisoned, beaten, and killed for what they preached. Unless you truly believe what you are saying, it does not seem possible that a man would die for a lie. What is gained if a man is killed for something that he knows never even happened? We have to remember here that the disciples were eyewitnesses to the events they spoke of. They were not convinced of the truth of these things second-hand. I think that we must accept that the disciples believed that what they were saying was true.

In following posts I will address the question of miracles and whether we can take the Bible seriously even though it makes claims that may seem impossible.

The Teleological Argument for God’s Existence

The next step in evidences that seem to support the existence of a God is the Teleological (try saying that five times fast) Argument. Most famously argued by Thomas Aquinas, this argument has become vast and the Intelligent Design movement puts a lot of focus on this argument. The name of the argument comes from the Greek “Telos” which means “reason” or “purpose.” The basic idea is that the universe appears to have a purposeful design that would be highly unlikely and even mathematically impossible to have come about by random chance. To illustrate the principals behind this arguement I will give an example that is my own telling of an story that has seen countless permutations in other apologetic works.

Imagine that an astronaut was stranded on Mars, but instead of the incredible journey depicted in the recent film, The Martian, the astronaut walks over one of the hills to find a space-house. He walks to this house and finds it fully stocked with his favorite foods and a special garden outback with apple trees, tomato plants, and all sorts of vegetables. He finds that in this building the O2 levels are exactly what is needed to sustain human life. He finds a bed that is tailor-made for a person of his height and a copy of his favorite novel, David Copperfield, on the nightstand. On the home stereo system he finds the entire U2 catalog and several other of his favorite bands. He then lives in great comfort until he is rescued by NASA.

One would never argue that this space house was built on Mars by random chance. One could argue from the evidence that somehow this space house was made for our astronaut. Another example comes from the real world work of archeologists. Archeologists are constantly looking for evidence of human intelligent design. There are rocks that are found to have been shaped very crudely and archeologists can find that the rocks were shaped for a purpose, that the shape of the rocks were intelligently designed. All of this is merely to show the persuasive power of such evidence. When we look at the teleological argument, we are looking for clues that the universe may have been “made for us.” None of the following evidences prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer, but it does make the argument that somehow random forces in nature caused the existence of the Universe, the Earth, and Life seem pretty far-fetched.

First, the fine-tuning argument takes an expansive look at the balance of forces and constants in the universe that make life possible. Everything from the strength of gravity (too little and no solar systems form, too great and the universe would collapse in on itself) to the specific combination of factors that create the conditions found on Earth are seen as combining to reduce the likelihood of a natural explanation. The mathematics of the fine-tuning argument are astonishing. It is simply amazing how many factors had to line up in order to create the stable universe and the fertile hot-bed of life that is Earth. You may understand some of what is meant by considering the work of some scientists that focuses on finding planets that meet the minimum requirements for life. There are no planets that come anywhere near the minimum requirements for any ecology that we have seen on earth. There are certain theorists who have considered non-carbon based life forms that may have an entirely different set of prerequisites for life and there are so many planets we have not gathered enough information on (including planets not known about at all) that there is still plenty of room for the possibility of another life-filled planet.

All told, when one takes the mathematical likelihood that all of these conditions come about by chance (and I have met a brilliant mathematician who has written books that center on this math) we find that the odds are mathematically impossible. One number showed that the odds were such that they were 1 in 10^10^123 (Penrose, 2005) That number is so vast that it greatly surpasses the number of atoms in the universe. The argument basically concludes that the universe is less likely to have occurred by random chance then by an intelligent designer.

The other most persuasive evidence comes from the amazing miracle of life, specifically DNA. The information contained within DNA is unbelievably complex and is effectively the blueprints of all life. The idea that the remarkable consistency and complexity expressed within a strand of DNA could have developed in absence of any design or intent seems extremely unlikely. The current scientific theory of evolution claims that all of this develops over a great amount of time by random chance acted upon by natural selection. There are a few issues that I feel have never been fully answered in anything I have read or heard.

First, how did life begin? This is an extremely difficult point because there is no way to “study” this beginning. Scientists have been able to synthesize protein in a lab, but they had to intelligently design the conditions and materials in order to make that happen. And even then, it has not created a living organism. There is no mechanism or system for the generation of life in nature aside from other life.

Second, when I have heard scientists defend evolution’s ability to create the marvelous, functioning diversity seen today they laud Natural Selection as the answer to all questions. It’s not random, it’s natural selection. Natural Selection is a contradiction in terms. Nature is not an entity that can select anything. Random mutations (even over billions of years) cannot make “progress” in any of the ways that word is traditionally used. Natural selection claims that the most successful mutations will succeed in procreating and those mutations will be passed on to an even more successful generation. The famous example that seems to defeat this theory asks us to imagine monkeys with a type writer. How long would it take for them to write Shakespeare? For the sake of the illustration, let us assume that they are actually pressing the keys (when tested in real life, this experiment seldom resulted in keys being pressed unless the monkey was taught to do so). Then let us assume that they are using a computer which will take the full words they type and lift it out of the endless stream of random letters. Even were these conditions met (two conditions that required intelligent intervention) the monkeys or a random letter generator would not type more than a single line of Shakespeare in the entire time the universe has existed. Again, I will say that there are books written on this subject that defend these claims mathematically. One such work is Understanding Intelligent Design and I would highly recommend it as a good entry point for all of the ideas in this post.

As an alternate proposal that may make sense of some of the problems raised in this post, let us imagine that there were a powerful force or being that intelligently designed the universe to match the criteria necessary for stability and life. Then that being or force also manufactured organisms with DNA that was programmed to mutate and develop successfully into greater and greater viable diversity. This seems a much more reasonable postulation than solely relying on random chance to develop the universe we see today. Mathematically, it seems improbable or even impossible for a purely physical “closed” (without the influence of any external force or being) universe to have developed to the place we live in today.

One other response to these arguments is the multi-world hypothesis that I addressed last post. Depending on which model of the multi-world hypothesis that is being used, this would undercut the argument by saying there are an infinite (or near infinite) number of universes in all variations and ours would have to be one of them because of the necessity of infinity. The problems I have with these hypotheses are two-fold: first, it seems to fail the test of Occam’s Razor. We have an infinitely complex answer that has limited explanatory power and raises more questions than it answers. The questions of the origin of the universe become multiplied in these models. It also seems to have no evidence beyond theoretical mathematics. Even in that realm, multi-world hypotheses only have limited success in mathematical models of the universe. Secondly, the logical problem with the idea of an actual infinite verses a theoretical infinite looms again. Even if you had a multi-world generator constantly generating an infinite number of universes, how would we have arrived at this point in history in this universe. Also, there would have to be a universe generated which encroached upon all other universes and we would have to see evidence of these infinite encroaching universes. Infinity cannot exist, but only be theorized (which is why we can have any success with infinite universes in “theoretical” mathematics).

These evidences seems to take us from a force that had the ability to generate the universe to an intelligent force that could design functioning systems and complexity and even create life. This does not necessarily lead to a Judeo-Christian God and these arguments do no necessitate such a force or being; the arguments exist solely as issues that seem to be most adequately explained by a force as I just described. Thanks for reading.

The Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence

This post marks the beginning of a new series of posts about some of the more convincing evidences for the existence of God. Not all of the arguments lead directly to a Judeo-Christian God, but they will each support each other and paint a picture of what a “God” might be like. The principle of Occam’s Razor claims that the simplest explanation that has the most explanatory power is the best explanation. These posts will show that the Judeo-Christian God seems to have the most explanatory power for what we know of reality. These posts point to God, they do not prove God. I do not cover the breadth of philosophical thought about these arguments, but hope to give an introduction to the basic tenets of these arguments.

The cosmological argument has been articulated many ways for many years. My articulation in this post is meant to be an accessible summary of the argument as I understand it. None of these thoughts are wholly original, but I want to present this argument to you as it has encouraged my faith in a God who is the Logos, the grounding of logic and existence.

In the cosmological argument, you have a series of simple premises that lead you to some of the characteristics that may be attributed to a God. Aristotle’s “Immovable Mover” is a direct result of the cosmological argument in one of its earlier shapes. The first premise is that the physical universe (everything that physically exists) had a beginning. Scientists and philosophers have believed for a long time that the universe had a beginning. There are many, many reasons to believe that this is true. Below I will explore a few of these reasons very briefly.

First, if the universe is eternal, then we would never have arrived at what we call the “present.” If time did not have a finite beginning, then it would take an infinite amount of time to get to this point. The problem with an infinite universe is that you cannot have a real infinite in the time-matter-space bound universe. There is no possible way to traverse an infinite number of days. However, we can have a potential infinite. In the Christian worldview, the soul will continue to exist for eternity. That means that the soul has the potential to live from the point of its creation until infinity days. It will never “arrive” at infinity, because the very concept of infinity is endless. All of this suggests that time must have had a beginning. Now, in standard models of physics, you cannot have space without time, matter without space, or time without matter. There cannot be a material existence without the presence of these three things. Therefore, if time had a beginning, it seems to follow that space and matter also had a beginning.

Second, because the universe is expanding in all directions and there is only ever a fixed amount of matter and energy in the material universe, the universe had to have a beginning where time, matter, and space began to exist. This is a little more difficult to explain, but the basic ideas (as I understand them) are that there is only so much matter and energy in the universe. If the physical universe were eternal, then at some point in the infinite past we would have run out of energy. Because matter is neither created nor destroyed, there is no possibility of an ever-expanding or an ever-expanding and contracting universe. If you were to rewind time and watch the entire universe, it would all begin to shrink back into a single point where all the matter and energy in the universe began and exploded outward. This is the Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang is an unexplainable (scientifically speaking) event where all matter and energy began as a single point and exploded into existence. There are many ways of describing how this may have happened and theoretical physicists such as Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene have a myriad of fascinating explanations, but none of them account for the necessity of a beginning. Each theory attempting to account for the beginning of our universe merely pushes the problem back to an early point at which their theoretical “mutli-world generators” must have begun. I will address that again later. So, while there may be objections to this first premise, “the universe had a beginning,” I cannot address them all here.

The next premise is, “Everything that had a beginning had a cause outside of itself.” This is more of a simple logical argument, if a thing had a time where it did not exist, it could not cause anything during its state of non-existence. If a thing came into existence, it could not have caused its own existence due to the fact that it did not exist before. This does not say that something that exist can cause itself to change into a new thing. So if matter, time, space, and physical energy had a beginning, then before that beginning (excuse the time-bound language here) there must have been a Beginner that was outside of matter, time, space, and physical energy. Here is where we find our Immovable Mover. This thing has to have certain characteristics. It is possible that numbers exist outside of matter, time, space, and energy (henceforth referred to as MTSE), but numbers cannot cause anything. I know that the existence of numbers as a thing outside of our social constructs is challenged, but that is unimportant to this point. The point that is being made is that a Thing outside of MTSE must have existed and that Thing must also be a causal force. This Thing must have the ability to cause something to exist, and it must also have the power (some non spacial-temporal energy) to generate MTSE. So if we are accepting the steps so far, there must be a Thing, an Immovable Mover, that can cause MTSE to exist while being separate from MTSE.

The Universe began.

Everything that has begun had a cause outside of itself.

The Universe was begun by something outside of itself.

This is the basic formula for the Cosmological argument. As you can see, we have not gone very far in describing this “Immovable Mover,” but we can draw some indirect descriptions from what we have so far. Whatever caused everything to exist is timeless, creative (having the ability to create something different from itself), powerful, and willful (having the ability to act as opposed to numbers or raw energy). Here I exclude raw energy, because impersonal energy would have no ability to create unless directed into creation.

The multi-world hypotheses presented by theoretical physicists as a way to explain the energy in this world and complex quantum phenomena can seem to explain away the beginning of the universe, but, in fact, they just push the beginning of the universe back to a point beyond our physical reality’s Big Bang. There are explanations for physical generators of the Big Bang,  but they are subjected to the same dilemmas listed above. They still cannot have existed for infinity and they still cannot have an infinite amount of energy. The multiplicity of dimensions does not seem to solve any of these issues, but just continue to push back the problem to some origin of everything.

Overall, this is just the first evidence for a “God” and it is really a very small step, but it should at least get us from a materialist worldview to a worldview that accepts some thing that exists outside of MTSE. This is not to say that these arguments are fool-proof, but that they are evidence for certain worldviews and against other worldviews. That is a crucial first step in the journey.

Story and Just do It.

I live my life as a story. This is not a unique way to live. In fact, I would guess that every human being does too. We all are born with an inherent desire for meaning and connection. This is reinforced by human society which always points us towards the imposition of meaning onto any event. There is a logical fallacy that arises directly from this impulse, “Post hoc ergo propter hoc.” In plain English, “This came after that, therefore this caused that.” We immediately draw conclusions based on the sensory data with which we are presented. We write stories in our minds about what must have happened to cause the events that we experience. When we talk about our lives, we have an order to events and a commentary (internal or external) that connects us from where we have been to where we are. One of the most terrifying experiences is losing that connection, wondering, “How did I get here?” Movies like the Breakfast Club emphasise this aspect of defining our identity. The characters spend their Saturday in detention attempting to discover who they are through the stories they tell about their lives.

This is the power of being human. The power to tell a story so well that it becomes true, the power to engage another person and transmit a piece of your cognitive reality into the mental consciousness of the other, the power to transform events into comedy or tragedy by the context of interlocking ideas drawing real or imaginary connections. There is an immense responsibility as human persons to bestow meaning onto a world that can so often appear random and purposeless or even cruel and depraved. In our own lives we constantly play a narrative the contextualize our actions. One person gets up early in the morning and goes to the gym and thinks, “I love pushing myself to the limits of my physical potential and I love the way working out makes me feel more energized and positive about my day” Another person goes to the gym thinking, “If I work out hard enough and often enough, I will be able to stand in front of the mirror without being disgusted,” or “If I don’t go the gym, I will feel ugly and unproductive for the rest of the day.”
These two examples are over-simplified, but they come from the story each person tells about their lives.
Too often in the “digital” age we are experiencing others through the stories they attempt to tell about themselves. We don’t encounter people, but their images and words meant to portray a certain idea and provoke a specific reaction. Even worse, we only encounter a character in the TV show we binge watch for three days. We are immersed in stories that are shadows of reality. We watch friends playing a board game and making fun of each other or people dating and attempting to connect romantically or applying themselves and beginning businesses or pursuing their dreams. These stories are powerful images because they are echoes of the lives we could, or even should be leading. We live the lives of others from a couch instead of experiencing our lives and creating our stories. Of course our stories about ourselves tend to get confused or mired down in a war of comparisons! We are constantly engaged by other people’s make-believe.
Stories have the power to change the world. Books, movies, TV, theater, images, music, and art are all mediums for the most important and human work being done on the planet. We should be plugged in to the excellent stories that are being told around us, but we should also unplug and live our own stories. Content saturation produces a false feeling of accomplishment, but take a walk in the woods on a brisk winter day and you will immediately begin to quiet your soul and reconnect with your agency. In fact, “agency” is the key to this concept. When you begin to lose your ability to act on the world and affect your story, or when you become too complacent with the half-worlds of portrayed in media to seek change in your own reality, that is when we lose our ability to be the story makers we are meant to be.
There is nothing more insidious than the 9 to 5 job that you escape from by coming home, sitting on the couch with your wine and watching Netflix. This is often accepted as the appropriate way of living our lives. We become the secondary characters in the story of our company or our city or America. We are meant to be focal points of meaning and beauty. This can be done in simple ways. Get together with some friends to have coffee and talk and laugh. Write that blog post that you started and ditched out of fear or busyness or slothfulness or apathy. Go to church on Sunday instead of catching the satelite stream from your home or listening to the podcast in your car. Join a charity or small group or community sport league. Nike has a brilliant slogan that never ceases to engage my theological cogs: Just do it.
Maybe I am ringing an old bell that has been sounded in alarm for years in movies like Fight Club or Office Space or The Matrix, but then why are there still so many people living in a shadowy existence of escapism and apathy or fear and facebook stalking? There is a story out there. There is a story just for you. God is inviting you to co-author it. And your story, it will be apart of the redemption of all-creation. Step one is to get out there and just do it.

Moment of Surrender


There once was a man who flew to Rome to meet Jesus. He had been told my a close friend that Jesus wanted to meet him there. When he got there he skipped the tourist sites and went to a basement chapel in one of those storied cathedrals. As he walked towards the altar he saw a man kneeling in the dust in unremarkable clothing. Jesus knelt before him and despite his promises not to ask anything stupid, the man asked, “What are you doing?” “Praying,” Jesus replied. “For what?” the man asked. “I gave man free will and I will never take that away, but I pray always that the hearts of man would be surrendered to my will.”

The most powerful moments in the Bible are characterized by the weakness of surrender. Abraham who surrendered his comfortable life to become a nomad with a promise. Moses who left his dessert home to return to certain death in Egypt as a prophet declaring freedom without hope of success. David who was so surrendered to God’s will that he would not kill Saul even as Saul hunted him. Mary who said let it be, disregarding the scandal and death that might await her if she was found to be pregnant. The ultimate moment of surrender as Jesus prayed, “Father not my will but thine,” in a garden; the very opposite of the first sin in the Garden.

The first sin of man was to reject God’s will, not to surrender. Ever since then, the battle for men’s hearts has been fought with the goal of surrender. The mystery of Christianity is that our surrender does not lead to the abolishment of identity or efficacy, in fact it leads to the very opposite. We surrender to God and become more truly ourselves. We surrender to God’s will and find ourselves more in control of ourselves than ever before.

Nevertheless, we continue to seek control in our lives. We are an anxious and striving people. We find the illusion of control in many ways. We try to get money which symbolizes the power to control our lives. We buy shiny things to distract ourselves from the lie. We build ourselves little kingdoms which are characterized by addictions, escapes from reality, self-loathing, or a false sense of holiness. The call of Jesus denies all these things. Our plans for our lives, our guarantees of success, our dependence on substance abuse, our media-insulated isolation… all of these things are obstacles in the way of surrender. Bonhoeffer writes that the call of Jesus can be summarized, “Come and die.” Everything in our fallen outlook screams at us to run from this invitation and clean to our false sense of control.

The lie is shown in the reaction that follows excess, the emptiness that succeeds our attempts at self-fulfillment. “There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every man.” That moment of emptiness is when the call can be heard. “Pain is God’s megaphone to an unhearing world.” That is why Jesus says, “It is harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven…” When we fill ourselves with the shadows of God’s goodness, the earthly things that fade, we cause ourselves to believe in our own control, our own sufficiency apart from God. When that rug is torn out from under us we have two responses before us: we can proclaim all is meaningless and eventually cycle back into the illusion of control (whether through suicide or less extreme sedative) or we can embrace the moment of surrender. The invitation is always there, He stands at the door and knocks. It is an invitation into a “condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”

The most powerful moments in history are when humans give back the gift of free will and find themselves truly free. God is always calling us to give up that thing that we need to be happy, that thing that you cannot live without. That is why it is a call to die, a call to die and experience resurrection. The result is love, joy, and peace if we will only let go. We need the moments of surrender, because it is only in our weakness that Christ can be strong in us.