Faithandthelaw's Blog

The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

Atheist Group Objects to Class Creation of Cross Memorials as Part of City’s Remembrance of Fallen Veterans

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on December 10, 2017

The nation’s most conspicuous professing atheist organization has expressed objection to the creation of cross memorials at a Georgia high school as part of a city effort to remember fallen soldiers.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter earlier this year to the attorney for Catoosa County Public Schools to assert that the crosses, made at Ringgold High School, were unconstitutional.

“We write to request assurances that, in the future, Mr. Elliott nor any other district employee will include religious messages in student assignments, allow school-sponsored religious activities, or otherwise promote or endorse religion in their official capacities,” it read.

The organization also took issue with another school in the district, as it had learned that Heritage High School’s leadership class had partnered with a Christian missions organization to build a school for the poor in Nicaragua. The district’s director of students services had recommended the group Nicamerican Missions after Principal Ronnie Bradford suggested the class partner with a school in the third world.

FFRF’s correspondence has just now come to light.

“It is laudable for the district to encourage students to become active, charitable, and involved in their community by volunteering and donating, but the school cannot use that goal as an avenue to support a religious organization with a religious mission,” the letter read in part.

“Partnering with any one of the numerous secular charities doing important work throughout the world would serve HHS’s purpose without running the risk of the district sending a message of religious endorsement,” FFRF asserted. According to the Times Free Press, students raised $20,000 last December from area businesses in just two days, and a student-faculty basketball game was also held in February as a fundraiser for the effort.

In regard to the crosses, which were made by construction classes at Ringgold High School for the biannual Festival of Flags event, FFRF requested that the district direct teacher Tim Elliott to discontinue the project with his students.

The crosses, which bear the names of fallen soldiers, are placed in the ground throughout the city for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. American flags fly atop each small memorial.

“Public school teachers may not assign students to create religious symbols,” the letter from the Church-State separation group read. “… This assignment violates the principle that ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and choice committed to the private sphere.’ It also sends a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not other non-Christian and non-religious soldiers.”

Catoosa County Public Schools has just now responded to the controversy, explaining in a recent press release that while the district attorney is researching the matter, officials are supportive of the projects at issue.

“Catoosa County Public Schools supports students’ participating in service activities,” said Superintendent Denia Reese. “The flag holders that the RHS construction class built to support honoring our veterans, and the money that our HHS students raised to build a school for underprivileged children, are examples of our students working to serve others.”

“The system’s attorney is thoroughly researching the allegations from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and when he has completed this research he will respond to them explaining how our students can continue to participate in these service activities,” she explained.

In his 1823 book “Letters to a Young Man Commencing His Education,” Noah Webster, also known as the father of American education, wrote, “Let it then be the first study of your early years, to learn in what consists real worth or dignity of character. To ascertain this important point, consider the character and the attributes of the Supreme Being. As God is the only perfect being in the universe, His character, consisting of all that is good and great, must be the model of all human excellence, and His laws must of course be the only rules of conduct by which His rational creatures can reach any portion of like excellence.”

Courtesy of http://christiannews.net/2017/12/09/atheist-group-objects-to-class-creation-of-cross-memorials-as-part-of-citys-remembrance-of-fallen-veterans/

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Judge Gives FEMA 3 Weeks to Change Policy Banning Churches From Receiving Disaster Relief

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on November 12, 2017

A Houston federal judge has given FEMA three weeks to decide if its going to change its policy of denying disaster relief to religious institutions, rejecting FEMA’s attempt to delay a challenge by three Texas churches.

Since the devastation by Hurricane Harvey in late August, FEMA has denied houses of worship access to federal disaster aid grants due to their religious status while allowing other nonprofits and businesses to apply, but Judge Keith Ellison has given the agency until Dec. 1 to change that policy.

If FEMA fails to change the policy within the deadline, the judge said he would issue a ruling.

“Christmas may come early for hard-hit houses of worship in Texas — the court has set the clock ticking on FEMA’s irrational religious discrimination policy,” Daniel Blomberg, counsel at Becket, the nonprofit religious liberty law firm that represents the churches, said in a statement. “It can’t come soon enough.”

(PHOTO: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA/FILE PHOTO)A Federal Emergency Management Agency employee waits for the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump during a visit at FEMA headquarters in Washington, U.S., August 4, 2017.

Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle and Rockport First Assembly of God, which were among the first to respond in Harvey’s aftermath and continue to provide aid to their communities, sued FEMA in September.

Last month, a Roman Catholic and a Jewish group submitted friend-of-the-court briefs siding with the three evangelical churches.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston pointed out in its brief that FEMA’s policy is “especially unfair,” given that many houses of worship are often at the “very forefront” of providing “immediate aid to persons in need, regardless of faith, in the aftermath of serious tropic storms and other natural disasters.”

The Congregation Torah Vachesed synagogue of Houston noted that Hurricane Harvey was “particularly unforgiving” to the city’s Jewish community. “Despite this, Jewish institutions have been greatly involved in relief efforts throughout Houston. FEMA’s policy against funding otherwise qualifying religious institutions, however, would deny these same institutions equal access to public assistance to repair flood damage,” it wrote.

Secular groups, such as the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said earlier that FEMA’s policy should remain as is. “The government can help many individuals and nonprofits rebuild, but not churches. It is a founding principal of our nation that citizens may not be taxed in support of religion and churches,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor argued.

“Discriminating against houses of worship — which are often on the front lines of disaster relief — is not just wrongheaded, it strikes at our nation’s most fundamental values,” said Blomberg.

In September, four Republican senators introduced a new bill, Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act, which is aimed at giving houses of worship the right to receive federal assistance in the wake of natural disasters.

Courtesy of https://www.christianpost.com/news/judge-gives-fema-3-weeks-change-policy-banning-churches-receiving-disaster-relief-206253/

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Dabbling in Darkness: Harmless or Not?

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on October 30, 2017

By Leslie Ludy

Today we have Halloween coming up this week, and it inspired me to take a fresh look at where our culture is at in the area of darkness and death.

One thing that I have noticed, and you’ve probably noticed it too, is that in the past decade or so – especially in the past five or six years – the culture has really escalated in celebrating death and darkness and glorifying things that are evil; even trying to make things that are dark, evil, and demonic attractive, trendy, popular, and cute.

THE CULTURE’S PREOCCUPATION WITH DEATH

Leslie Ludy: It’s really easy for us, I think, as Christian women to overlook that and not take it very seriously. But there’s a Scripture in Proverbs that is so interesting to me. It’s talking about true wisdom and it says, “… those who hate me [meaning the wisdom of God] love death.” (See Proverbs 8:36.) Those who hate God’s wisdom love death! That’s what you see when you look around our world today. There is a love for things that are representative of death. You see sculls and skeletons everywhere. When I was in high school it used to be on the t-shirts of kids who were really into heavy metal bands, rode skateboards, and had long, shaggy hair. It was sort of a sub-culture of people who loved skeletons and skulls, and now it’s absolutely everywhere. It’s got sparkles on it and it’s on scarves and jewelry. I even remember a few years ago, I bought a pair of swim trunks for one of my boys. He was probably three or four years old at the time, so they were little kid/toddler swim trunks, and I grabbed them off the rack thinking that they had a beach scene on them, and when I got them home I took a closer look and this “beach scene” was actually in the shape of a skull! Here is clothing actually made for little kids that celebrates darkness and death, and you see these little babies wearing skull and skeleton t-shirts. You see girls wearing sequins, skulls, and skeletons on their purses and bags. There are even aisles that my kids and I have to completely avoid in the toy store because the toys in those aisles are so demonic. You just walk down the aisle and it’s like you’re assaulted with violence, blood, and gore – and that’s in a toy store! So that just shows you how far our culture has come in this area of celebrating darkness.

DRESSING UP DARKNESS: BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES FOR WALKING IN LIGHT

Leslie Ludy: We did an article in the Set Apart Girl Magazine several issues ago called “The Dangers of Making Darkness Cute,” or making evil cute. And that’s really what you see. All the trendy, fun accessories and clothing in our culture even all the way down to little baby clothes trying to make evil and darkness cute. It’s easy to overlook this because we think, Well, it’s just everywhere. It’s just a trend right now. But really, this is not a light or casual thing in God’s sight. It’s something that we need to be taking very seriously as well, especially in a week like this where you see the culture rallying around a holiday like Halloween, which is a celebration of darkness.

Many women that I know are very stymied in moving forward in their spiritual life because they’re being constantly hounded by the enemy. Maybe they’re plagued by fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, confusion, family problems, financial problems, spiritual defeat – whatever it is, the enemy oftentimes has today’s Christian women under his thumb, and his goal seems to be to keep us totally preoccupied with our own emotional problems and really unable to live out the glorious, set apart life that God has called us to live. A lot of women today spend most of their time stumbling through the darkness instead of truly being the light of the world. So many of us are hounded by the enemy, and I’d like to explore some of the reasons why that might be happening.

Christ said in Luke 10:19, “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” That if that is the reality that Christ purchased for us on the Cross, why are so many of us living helpless to Satan’s schemes and his control?

I love this quote by Tauler, he wrote, “A pure heart is one to which all that is not of God is strange and jarring.” That is such a convicting statement because so many of us are too careless towards darkness and evil. The things that are not of God that are all around us don’t seem strange and jarring to us. They’re just completely normal and some of us even go out of our way to purchase and accept those things and treat them as normal.

Pop-culture is flooding our minds and our senses with things that are truly not of God. There is glamorized sin and darkness all around us, but if it’s not strange and jarring to our soul, then that’s a good indication we’ve become too comfortable with the things that are not of God. We’ve accepted them and treated them as normal and some of us even spend a lot of our time and money on those things. We allow those things – those images, sounds, and sights of the world – to capture our mind, our emotions, and our attention, and then we wonder why our lives are filled with fear, anxiety, defeat, and depression.

The Bible says that “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly … who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from seeing evil: he will dwell on high, his place of defense will be the fortress of rocks; bread will be given him, his water will be sure” (Isa. 33:15-16). God provides incredible strength, blessing, and freedom for each of us, but in order for us to truly walk in this pattern, He requires us to live by a sacred decorum – to come out from the world, to be separate, to touch not the unclean thing, to ruthlessly remove all uncleanness and darkness – no matter how small from our lives. As women seeking to be set apart for Jesus Christ, seeking to be free from the enemy’s control, there is not to be even a hint of darkness in our daily existence. We aren’t to go out of our way to participate in those things.

It says in Deuteronomy, “There shall not be found among you anyone … who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD…” (Deut. 18:10-12a). Now most of us who grew up in church probably don’t consider ourselves vulnerable to things like witchcraft or Satan worship, but sometimes we overlook things of darkness that seem harmless but really they’re associated with the very same things – the kingdom of darkness instead of the Kingdom of Light.

The Bible makes it clear that there really cannot be any fellowship between light and darkness. In the book of Acts when the Gospel of Christ was preached, the people who believed, it says that they came and openly confessed their evil deeds and a number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly (Acts 19:19 NIV). That’s incredible! They realized that they could not walk in cooperation with the kingdom of darkness and embrace the Kingdom of Light at the same time. They realized they had to completely destroy the things of darkness that they were harboring in their lives. Those books and things, they totaled up the value and it was extremely valuable, so it was very sacrificial, but they still chose to burn them publicly as a statement that they are no longer associated with the kingdom of darkness.

Really, the same principle applies to us as set apart daughters of the King. If there is any object or activity in our life that’s associated with darkness, the only appropriate way to deal with it is to destroy it completely just as those Christians did in the book of Acts. Even though the culture tries to glaze and gloss over darkness and tries to tempt us to treat it very casually, I think there’s a good rule of thumb that says, “When in doubt, don’t mess with it.” If it even hints as being part of the kingdom of darkness, it really doesn’t belong in our lives. I encourage you, especially as we go through this week and we see the culture reveling in darkness, that you would take some time to ask God to reveal anything in your life – maybe past or present – that could be associated with darkness or satanic activity. Now let me get specific with some things that could be stumbling blocks in this area of your life that you may or may not have ever thought about before.

WHICH KINGDOM ARE YOU REFLECTING: DARKNESS OR LIGHT?

We mentioned earlier things like jewelry, clothing, or bags that somehow promote death and glorify evil. Maybe they have skulls, or skeletons, or other symbols of darkness on them. Just because you put a little bling on them, or they’re covered in sequins, or they have glitter or gloss on them, or they’re pink doesn’t change the fact that it’s still glorifying and celebrating death. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that … more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).

Now though we will all experience a physical death unless Christ comes first, we have passed – spiritually – from death to life when we give our lives to Christ. Even when we die, our spirit will live forever with Him. He has conquered death on the Cross. His Word says, “Where, O grave, is thy victory? Where, O death, is thy sting?” (See Corinthians 15:55.) Clearly, death is not something to celebrate and parade about, it’s been conquered by the blood of Jesus. We are to celebrate life – our life in Christ – not death!

BEWARE: DECOR TRENDS

There are a lot of other things that symbolize pagan religions like Buddha statues and a lot of things that have to do with the Buddhist religion are very popular in household decor today. You see symbols of zen and New Age all over the place. Our culture has glossed these things over so that they seem to promote this idea of tranquility, peace, harmony with nature, but in reality, these things represent a demonic stronghold, a false religion that has deceived millions of people throughout the centuries. Why would we decorate our house with those things and celebrate those things in our daily lives?

BEWARE: HOROSCOPES, FORTUNE-TELLING, AND GAMES THAT CELEBRATE DARKNESS

There are also horoscopes, which again seem harmless and fun, but they’re basically a form of fortune-telling, and they allow the enemy to access your heart and your mind.

BEWARE: ENTERTAINMENT THAT GLORIFIES DEATH

Probably one of the biggest areas that many of us stumble over are books, movies, and TV shows that glorify demonic spiritual activity. They become stumbling blocks for us all the time.

Several years ago a lot of women were really into the Twilight books and movies, and if you study the history of vampirism you realize how absolutely satanic and horrific it is! Probably the biggest danger of some of the newer movies or books like Twilight in relationship to things like vampires is that they make the evil character into a desirable hero rather than an evil villain. A few years ago, when those books and movies were popular, you would even see magazine covers promoting this “vampire” as somebody who was desirable and attractive to women. The line between good and evil is being so blurred today by Hollywood, and we know things are twisted when something so dark and so demonic becomes the object of desire and becomes the hero of a movie.

You can’t exclude light-hearted or funny movies, music, and books from this area as well. Even if those shows seem light-hearted and they make light of things like witchcraft, fortune telling, and things like that – they might seem ridiculous and maybe you don’t take them seriously, but they still portray messages of darkness and ungodly spiritual power. If you’re going purposely to watch these things, or allowing these things into your life, or reading these books thinking, Oh, it’s not a big deal. It has a little bit of weird, spiritual stuff in it that I’m going to overlook that. You’re really opening yourself up to the enemy to have access to gain territory in your heart, mind, and soul.

CLEANING OUT THE DARK CORNERS OF OUR LIVES

I would encourage you if you’ve been participating in these things, if you have decor in your house, if you have jewelry, clothing, or other accessories that glorify death or false religions, I would encourage you to ask God to forgive you and to cleanse those things out of your life. If you’ve been reading and participating in ungodly books that glorify darkness or watching movies or shows that glorify darkness, I would encourage you to make those things right with God, cleanse those things out of your life, and take back any ground that you may have given to the enemy by your participation in those things.

One time I was counseling with a young woman who was constantly having nightmares, and she was plagued by fear. Casually, one day she mentioned that she had just come from a movie, and it was a horror movie that she had just watched, a really dark movie about an ax-murderer or something like that. I began talking to her about it, and she didn’t even realize that watching those kinds of movies could have any correlation with the fact that she’s having all of these dark dreams and nightmares. I encouraged her to not only cut those things out of her life but to repent and ask God to cleanse her from her participation in those movies. As she did, those nightmares and that depression and everything that she was struggling with went away because the enemy no longer had that access point into her life.

One of the ways to live a truly, God-honoring life is by allowing Him to completely transform us from the inside out and cleanse the darkness out of our lives. It’s not about becoming a nun or living as a hermit in the backwoods somewhere and cutting ourselves off from this world. It is very possible to be in this world but not of this world. We can walk into a store and turn our eyes away from the things that are dark. We can avoid the books, the movies, the clothing, the paraphernalia that is celebrating darkness. We can be lights in this dark world by submitting ourselves completely to His transforming work, taking every thought captive, and meditating on the things of Light rather than darkness, then we truly can become His lights that shine in the midst of a perverse generation as it says in Philippians (see Philippians 2:15).

When we yield ourselves to become the holy, undefiled dwelling place of the most High God, He makes His home within us. When we allow Him to remove everything that is carnal, dark, sinful, or selfish that stands in the way of us being His light, that’s when we are able to live a strong and fortified, victorious Christian life unharmed and unhampered by the enemy.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

This week I encourage you to fix your eyes upon Jesus, cleanse anything of darkness out of your life, and celebrate the life of Jesus Christ. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, for more on this topic, please visit us at setapartgirl.com and consider subscribing to our magazine which is a bi-monthly, ad-free resource that can strengthen your walk with Christ with every page that you read! I pray that you have a blessed and Christ-centered week!

http://setapartgirl.com/podcasts/dabbling-in-darkness

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Southern Poverty Law Center Should Rename Its “Hate Map” to “Groups We Hate Map”

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on September 1, 2017

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The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) admitted its fault and removed a town from its “Hate Map” this week. That map irresponsibly mixes religious organizations with violent hate groups. This time it included the town of Amana, Iowa because an unknown source alleged some people who might have been associated with The Daily Stormer met once in a restaurant for coffee. This is one of many inaccuracies and gross over-characterizations that can be found on SPLC’s map.

Amana, an innocent town, was blacklisted by the SPLC. People living there were brought under a cloud a suspicion because of the improper, sweeping accusation of the SPLC. The SPLC makes wide generalizations and then seeks to harm those within its self-proclaimed classification of others.

In a similar manner, the SPLC targets anyone who disagrees with them on issues related to the LGBT agenda. Then it claims civil disagreement as “evidence” for falsely classifying a peaceful organization as “hateful.” This is just as wrong and even more harmful than the SPLC’s mischaracterization of the city of Amana. If the SPLC were intellectually honest, it should re-title its “Hate Map” into “Groups We Hate Map.”

We have complied a comprehensive answer to SPLC’s false name-calling of our non-profit Christian ministry and its pro bono work in the legal field. In addition to our many ministries, Liberty Counsel has a humanitarian relief program and had been providing help to victims of Hurricane Harvey, regardless of their beliefs, status, background or actions.

“As a pastor, before becoming an attorney, my heart then and now is for hurting people,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. We exist to help other people. Right now, we are focusing resources on helping victims of Harvey. We believe that every person is created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. We are putting those beliefs into action in Texas.

In direct opposition to the SPLC’s false campaign, we are reaching out with kindness and truth to all Americans.

Courtesy of Liberty Counsel

Lc.org

 

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Altars Against God

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on August 5, 2017

Excerpted from Jesus Among Secular Gods by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale (Nashville: FaithWords, 2017). Used by permission of the Hachette Publishing Group.

It was years ago when I was speaking at an openly and avowedly atheistic institution that I was fascinated by a questioner who asked what on earth I meant by the term God. The city was Moscow; the setting was the Lenin Military Academy. The atmosphere was tense. Never had I been asked before to define the term in a public gathering. And because I was in a country so historically entrenched in atheism, I suspected the question was both hostile and intentional. I asked the questioner if he was an atheist, to which he replied that he was. I asked him what he was denying. That conversation didn’t go very far. So I tried to explain to him what we meant when we spoke of God.

It is fascinating to talk to a strident atheist and try to get beneath the anger or hostility. God is a trigger word for some that concentrates all his or her stored animosity into a projectile of words. But as the layers of their thinking and experience are unpacked, the meaning of atheism to each one becomes narrower and narrower, each term dying the death of a thousand qualifications. Oftentimes, the description is more visceral and is discussed with pent-up anger rather than in a sensible, respectful discussion. More than once I have been amazed at the anger expressed by members of the atheist groups at one or other of the Ivy League schools in the United States to which I have been invited to speak, anger that I was even invited and that I had the temerity to address them.

In theory, the academy has always been a place where dissent serves a valuable purpose in helping thinking students to weigh out ideas and make intelligent choices. And, dare I say, had I been a Muslim speaker, there would have been no such dissent as I faced. Evidently, being able to instill fear in people has a lot to do with how much freedom of speech you are granted. But alas! For some, at least, civil discourse is impossible. To her credit, at the end of a lecture, one senior officer in one club stood up and thanked me, a veiled apology for the resistance vented before the event. I did appre­ciate that courtesy.

This unfettered anger on the part of some is quite puzzling to me. I was raised in India where I was not a Hindu and, in fact, never once gave it any serious consideration. For that matter, I’m not sure if I even really believed in God. I was a nominal Christian but never gave that much thought, either. Most of my friends were either Hindu or Muslim or Sikh, with a few others of different faiths. I never recall feeling any anger or hostility toward those who believed differently than me, no matter how ludicrous their beliefs may have seemed to me. Nor do I remember ever being on the receiving end of such anger and hostility because I did not have the same belief.

But the likes of Richard Dawkins are renowned for their bully­ing and mocking approach toward opposing views, an attitude from an academic that makes one wonder what is really driving such an intense temperament. A questioner at a gathering in Washington, DC, once asked Richard Dawkins how one should respond to a per­son who believed in God. “Mock them,” he actually replied. “Ridicule them.” When someone at an event asked me what I thought of that response, I reflected that, were Dawkins to practice that same method in Saudi Arabia, chances are he would not need his return ticket. One thing is for sure—he would at least find out that not all beliefs in God are similar and not all imperatives, equal.

But his “ridicule them” posture remains unchanged. In an inter­view in The Independent with Maya Oppenheim (May 23, 2016), he said, “I’m all for offending people’s religion. It should be offended at every opportunity.”1 Really? Is this how one arrives at whether or not a belief is valid? He went on to add, “In the case of immigrants from Syria and Iraq, I would like to see special preference given to apostates, people who have given up Islam.”2 If Donald Trump had said the same, there would have been a session in the British Houses of Parliament to decide whether or not he should be allowed into the country anymore. But Dawkins says it and it’s acceptable, because atheists who love him and his style of atheism have their own absolutes and their own legitimized prejudices.

Intolerance, prejudice, disrespect, hatred, and offense are all within the fruit of Dawkins’ philosophy. In creedal form, his philos­ophy is hate, discriminate, judge, mock, castigate, eliminate, stop…do whatever you need to do to put an end to belief in God. Ironi­cally, he condemns God for being prejudiced, hate-filled, egotistical, judgmental, and demeaning to those who don’t agree with Him. He derides the attributes of God by making a caricature of Him, but justifies the same attributes in himself without caricature. I would rather trust the judgments of a good and gracious person than one who spends his time and energy in mocking people and their sacred beliefs. And he is not alone. The hallmark of the so-called “new athe­ists” is the anger and ridicule that is hurled toward anyone’s belief in the sacred.

Need I add, not all atheists have the same disposition. In fact, many find the hostility of the new atheists an embarrassment. I have met many a cordial conversationalist who is atheistic in his or her belief, and we’ve had the best of conversations. Many have remarked that they have been able to take only so much of Dawkins and his followers and then stopped even reading them. Whatever worldview we espouse, dialogue and debate should take place with civility and courteous listening. But our times make that ideal so elusive. Hold­ing a supposedly noble belief and reducing it to ignoble means of propagation makes the one who holds that belief suspect.

To be sure, many in the so-called “religious” category have pro­voked strident responses. The pulpit can sadly be a place of bullying people into guilt and remorse and other emotions that make them want to escape from the voice hammering away at them, to say noth­ing of the anti-intellectualism among Christian ranks that brands even a hint of philosophy or science heretical.

History has taught us to beware of extremists in any camp that sacrifice cordial conversation at the altar of demagogic enforcement. Views and opinions are aplenty in our world of tweeting and Insta­gram, but civil discourse is rare. And rarer still is the ability to defend one’s beliefs with reason and experience. I sincerely hope that as my colleague Vince and I examine the differences among secular belief systems (that are, in fact, also religions), we will be able to effec­tively demonstrate where these differences really lie, and that the Judeo-Christian worldview has the most coherent answers to the inescapable questions of life that we all have, regardless of our beliefs.

Questioning the Question

The story is told of an Indian sitting in a plane next to Albert Einstein. To pass the time, Einstein proposed that they play a game. “I will ask you a question, and if you can’t answer it, you pay me fifty dollars. Then you ask me a question, and if I can’t answer it, I will pay you five hundred dollars.” The Indian knew he was no match for Einstein but figured he had enough philosophical and cultural knowledge to be able to stump Einstein sometimes, and with a ratio of ten to one, he could manage to stay in the game.

Einstein went first and asked the Indian how far the earth was from the moon. The Indian was not sure of the exact number and put his hand into his pocket to give Einstein fifty dollars. Now came the Indian’s turn, and he asked, “What goes up the mountain with three legs and comes down with four legs?” Einstein paused, pon­dered, finally dipped his hand into his pocket and gave the man five hundred dollars. Now it was Einstein’s turn again. He said, “Before I ask you my next question, what does go up the mountain with three legs and comes down with four legs?” The Indian paused, dipped into his pocket, and gave Einstein fifty dollars.

Like that Indian, we often ask questions that are manufactured to trip up the other person, while having no answers to the question ourselves. In his book The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom, Robert Morey points out the seven leaps atheists have to explain: How…

Everything ultimately came from Nothing

Order came from Chaos

Harmony came from Discord

Life came from Nonlife

Reason came from Irrationality

Personality came from Non-personality

Morality came from Amorality3

But more than that needs to be asserted. The questions in life are not just in the sciences. They are not just of mathematical or empir­ical measurement. Two people sitting next to each other in a plane may both be going to the same destination. They may know how many hours the journey takes and how many miles they may cover. One may be going to give a talk on science and the other may be going to bury his grandson. But think about this. The scientist may have his subject well in hand, but still have unanswered questions on the meaning of life, while the person next to him may have unan­swered questions on the value of the constants in the early formation of the universe, yet have the knowledge of what life really means. He may have in his heart the deep conviction that this present sorrow is only a punctuation mark because eternity awaits. One discipline may answer “how” in a material explanation, but the most import­ant question answers the “why.” Why is it that we are here in the first place, and who will see us through the anxieties and pains of life itself? These questions are different yet equally relevant, but for dif­ferent reasons. Life requires some understanding, and the struggles we face need explanatory power. It is when we get the two subjects and their reasons for existence mixed up that we end up with verbal attacks and needless hostility.

Many an atheist asks questions for which he or she admittedly has no answers or believes the answers to be “on hold,” but we are expected to give credence to the whole worldview for merely raising the question. I understand. As a young man I was like that, think­ing that putting another person down automatically justified what I had said in response to his position. This book is about examining the “gods” secular thinkers “worship” and how repeatedly they leave their own questions unanswered.

The points of tension within secular worldviews are not merely peripheral. They are systemic. Indeed, they are foundational. I have dealt with the philosophical debate on these matters in other writ­ings. Here, I wish to examine their answers to questions about life and its meaning in distinction to the answers Jesus gives to the same questions. That’s where our philosophical rubber meets the road of life. But hopefully, more than that, we will state why the answers of Jesus have stood the test of time, truth, and coherence.

Remember the insight of G. K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy that, for the atheist, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, while for the follower of Jesus, joy is central and sorrow peripheral. The reason that statement is true is that for the atheist, the foundational questions remain unanswered while they have answers for the peripheral ques­tions; hence, sorrow is central and joy peripheral. For the Christian, it is reversed: The foundational questions have been answered and only the peripheral ones remain in doubt.4 Hopefully, as the content of this book unfolds, Vince and I can sustain that claim.

Life Seeks a Balance

My favorite essayist, F. W. Boreham, has written an essay enti­tled, “A Baby’s Funeral.” Anyone who has read Boreham knows the beauty of his language and the depth of his writing. He has authored over fifty volumes of essays. In this particular essay, which I have references in two of my previous books but in this new context per­fectly illustrates how all of life must be grounded in truth, Boreham begins by describing the scene of a distraught woman he saw one day walking back and forth outside his home, pausing as though wanting to enter his garden and then backing off.

Finally, Boreham stepped out of his home and wished her a good morning. She asked if he was the pastor of the church nearby and he admitted that he was. She entered the house at his invitation and struggled to pour out her story. She had had a baby, born terribly deformed, who had died shortly after birth. She desired for the baby to have a proper burial and wondered if he would do that for her.

Boreham promptly responded that he would. He took out a pad to get the information. Did the child have a name? Who was the father? So went the questions. She answered them and the date for the funeral was set. The woman left and Boreham and his wife con­tinued with their plans for a picnic that morning. Throughout the day the woman was on his mind and he told his wife that there was something that didn’t quite sound right about her narrative. He did not know what it was but hoped he would have more clarity before the day of the burial.

When they returned home, the woman was standing outside their home and asked if she could come in. She sat down, rubbing her hands nervously, and said, “I have not been honest with you. The baby was born illegitimately, and I have given you a made-up name for the father.” The story unfolded and Boreham comforted her as best as he could.

The day of the burial came. It was pouring rain, and to add to the desolate reality, the cemetery was a new one and this was to be the first body interred. Boreham remarks on the total feeling of alone­ness for this poor woman. An illegitimate, deformed baby. Pouring rain as the three stood under their umbrellas, the grave digger stand­ing by ready to lower the casket into the soggy ground. A tiny body about to be buried in a place where no other had ever been laid to rest. No one else, just the minister and his wife and the bereaved mother present for this tragedy, and they too were strangers.

Boreham suddenly switches the scene and begins to write about being on a train journey years later with a superintendent in his denomination. It was a whistle-stop trip where, at every station the superintendent would step out, meet with a group of his ministers, listen to them, pray for them, and then would leave these parting words with them, “Just be there for your people. Be with them in their needs, in their hurts, in their pains. They will never forget your presence and your kindness.”

Boreham continues that as he listened to this advice being given to the younger pastors, his mind flew back over the years to the day a young woman walked distractedly back and forth in front of his home, a woman whose child he had buried in a lonely cemetery. He realized that through the years, rain or shine, every Sunday since then that same woman had been in his church and lived a life in a quiet relationship with her Savior.

This very type of story was reinforced just two days ago. I had just finished speaking to a full church in Jakarta, Indonesia, and there was a silence as the music played softly for the closing moments. I was near the platform, having stepped away from the lectern, and my eyes caught sight of a young mother with two little children. Her arms were gently bent at the elbows, palms open, reaching outward while the two little ones, one on each side of her, held on to her skirt. As soon as the benediction was over, the two of them ran up the stairs to give me a hug, though I had never met them before. And as they left, my interpreter said to me, “Almost exactly to the day, a year ago their father was murdered. The little boy looks just like his dad.”

What a statement that suddenly changed the context and my emotions from witnessing a young family at worship, absent the father, to realizing a young single mother reaching out to her heav­enly father and raising her two children without bitterness or anger. I spoke to her afterward and my heart still recalls her words. “Yes, I’m alone now, but my God is with me.”

You see, there is an intellectual side to life but also a side to life where deep needs are experienced. We falsely think that one side deals with truth and the other with fantasy. Both need the truth, and the elimination of one by the other is not the world in which God intends for us to live. A mockery of the sacred reveals an animosity that staggers not just the mind but shows the character flaw in one such as that. The words of Blake are appropriate here:

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;

Mock on, mock on, ’tis all in vain!

You throw the sand against the wind,

And the wind blows it back again.5

It is my hope that the reader will stay the course with an open mind to judge fairly how unique and splendid is the message of Jesus Christ, reaching to the deepest hungers and questions of the heart and mind. To be truthful, I wouldn’t waste a solitary moment in this task if I didn’t truly believe that as the world is skidding out of con­trol—politically, socially, economically, and racially—Jesus’ answers are unique and true and provide the only coherent worldview, combining truth with relevance to bring hope and meaning.

Every day, the news carries stories of tragedy and atrocity. News is thrust into our consciousness whether we want the information or not. Behind many an act and behind all responses is a worldview that filters reality. The follower of Jesus sees what is happening through the lens of how Jesus describes the human condition and the answer He gives. The contrast with the secular gods of this age is huge. A fair-minded person must at least give a hearing as to why that is so and, if indeed the answers of Jesus open up vistas for one’s own individual life, see the world through a different set of eyes. With that goal in mind, I enter into this journey of thought.

Your Worldview Matters

The Great Books of the Western World, published in the 1950s, gave the longest space to the theme of “God,” addressed by the most notable Western thinkers of the day. When Mortimer Adler, the edi­tor, was asked why that theme occupied such length when many other notable themes were given less space, he answered without hesita­tion, “Because more consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from any other basic question.”6

The questioner was silent and nodded.

Yes, indeed, more consequences, on every matter of value and relationship, follow from one’s genuine belief or disbelief in God than from any other issue. This alone ought to remind us just how critical is the foundation to every life when it comes to God. The follower of Jesus Christ must take serious note of this. That belief has meaning and must make a difference.

I will never forget talking to a former Muslim who had com­mitted his life to Jesus Christ and who gave me a fascinating word picture. He drew two circles and put a small dot in each of them. Pointing to the first, he said, “As a Muslim, I believed the circle to be my faith and the little dot to be my life.” Then he pointed to the next circle and said, “Now, as a follower of Jesus, I have seen the differ­ence in the cultural tension. To many Westerners, the circle is his life and the dot is his faith.”

In other words, a Muslim believed that life was expendable, his faith paramount. The Westerner, he charged, regards his life more important than what he believes. “That is why,” he added, “the West will ultimately be overrun. Faith, in the West, is sort of an extracur­ricular interest and a mere aspect of life for the sake of inner peace. But faith seldom enters the conscience as a conviction.”

That was truly a sobering revelation of just how faith is viewed by most in the West, let alone the plurality of faiths that exist. In fact, the very word faith is now used in less than flattering terms. The real world is considered intellectually rigorous, and the world of ulti­mate reality—faith—fanciful, not to be entertained in factual terms. How fascinating that is. So the values by which we live are parked on the shifting mix of quicksand the skeptic calls “faith,” while the world of pragmatic and real understandings is supposedly built on the bedrock of the sciences called “reason.”

Is my friend right?

If he is right, I will go so far as to say that the West is on the verge of collapse at the hands of its own secular intellectuals. It is only a matter of time. The Christian faith brings with it convictions by which to stand and build a moral framework. The secular thinker, with his implicitly amoral assumptions, imagines that knowledge without a moral base has enough sustaining power. It simply doesn’t.

Watch Europe cower under the heel of Islamists who have not forgotten that they were stopped from overtaking Europe and beaten back by Charles Martel thirteen centuries ago. Now, with patience and the clever control of demographics and a gullible media, they stand by, ready to one day take over the structures and edifices built by a different ethic and a different belief system. It is only a matter of time, and they are in no hurry. Thirteen centuries ago, Europe was able to stop the theocratic Islamic tidal wave because it had a faith to defend. The value-less culture of today will not be able to withstand the attack.

Years ago, while Hitler was making plans to overrun the world and some were attempting to placate him in order to save themselves from having to make a moral justification for war, Winston Chur­chill made a telling speech in the House of Commons on October 5, 1938. (“The Munich Agreement” is also known by the title “A Total and ‘Unmitigated Defeat,’” referring to the mollifying treaty brought back by Neville Chamberlain.) Quoting from Scripture, Churchill declared, “You have been weighed in the balances and found want­ing” (Daniel 5:27). Then he ended his speech saying, “And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recov­ery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”7

After Hitler visited Paris in 1940, André Boulloche, a courageous member of the French Resistance, penned a letter to his father, say­ing: “The country can only be saved by a complete moral resurrec­tion, something that will require the work of all men of good will.… I think I can contribute a great deal. And if more troubles lie ahead, isn’t my duty present?”8

Indeed, the preservation of a nation’s ethos is at stake at all times. This is especially true of a nation such as America whose values of trying to balance liberty with law were clear from the beginning. That balance is easier stated than done. John Adams said it well: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”9

So I ask: Should one’s belief in God and destiny be more import­ant than life itself?

The answer truly depends on what that belief is and whether it is true. The irony is that for the atheist, the answer can only and ultimately be found in one’s political theory or, by default, in one’s cultural cradle, and cannot be mandated by a supervening world­view that pursues truth as an objective fact over and above all else. Every other discipline is dismissed as being outside truth, reflecting merely cultural and career desires. That’s all life is about. The natu­ralists control truth and then give license to other disciplines to live without absolutes. That is the deadly fallout.

In a commercial I saw recently, a couple of bandits are hold­ing the tellers at a bank at gunpoint and demanding money. All the customers are ordered to the floor. One man whispers to a security guard, “Do something, you’re armed!” The security guard replies, “I am on duty not to do anything but only to determine if a robbery is underway.” Then he pauses and reassures the customer, “Yes, indeed, this is a robbery.”

The naturalist is somewhat like that. Unable to respond to where the truth leads, he is useless to a person hungering for rescue and safety for life itself. He just states what is and does nothing about what should be.

Why do I make the connection between a nation, a people, and a culture? In the current climate, the political arena is fraught with language and views that are scary and disorienting. In one instance, a trail of lies makes no difference to the electorate, proving that the most valuable thing in human discourse, truth, is an expendable value if power is obtained. In another instance, even extreme and sometimes pejorative statements on people and views don’t seem to matter, and the dignity of office is replaced, once again, by the quest for power.

Candidates coming to the fore propound ideas that are creat­ing anger and protests that make the future very fearsome. For one, “dishonest” sums it up. For the other, “disrespectful” or worse, “prej­udice” is the charge. Whether these are legitimate assertions or not is secondary to the assumption that morality matters.

Ironically, the protestors protesting the candidates themselves resort to injurious means. But what is obvious is that statecraft has become soulcraft, and a nation that formally wishes to deny God finds its imperatives in a deadly mix of conflicting worldviews and hate-laden words on a path to power. What has happened? The answer is clear. The discussion in the public square is now reduced to right or left, forgetting there is an up and down.

These matters alone remind us that we had better understand this philosophy called atheism and why it leads where it does. Strange, isn’t it, that atheists in the West want the term marriageredefined while their counterparts in Russia and China will have nothing of that redefinition? Both have their own reasons, and there is no common point of reference. That’s precisely the edifice built on the bedrock of naturalism. Each person is a law unto himself.

Remember in the Old Testament when people wanted a king and God said that He wanted to be their ruler? The people fought back and said they wanted to be like every other nation and, in fact, have somebody else to fight their wars while they could go about their lives. They got what they wanted and found out that the greatest battles were ultimately for the rule of one’s heart. Once that becomes autonomous, culture and politics become lawless. And when those battles are lost, the war that looms is of huge proportions. This is, at best, the unintended consequence of atheism.

As Old as the Hills

We think atheism is some kind of newfangled thinking, that sci­ence and its bequest gave way to autonomy and our solitude in the universe. That is simply not so. The formalization of it and giving it intellectual respect may have taken time, but the question goes back to the beginning of time. Right from the start the question was not the origin of species but the autonomy of the species. We are more prone to quote from the Wilberforce/Huxley debate or the Galileo/Church conflict than to look back and see where such real tensions began.

We think Darwin buried God, but in fact, in Genesis 3, the very first in the created order wished to bury Him too. All the way to Calvary, the first attempt at death was the death of God. The kill­ing of God was followed by the killing by Cain of his brother, Abel. The Bible addresses this conflict from the pre-Mosaic era. After all, the battle in Genesis was really based on two questions. The battle between theism and atheism is the oldest philosophical debate. It didn’t take the French philosophes or the British empiricists to get it all going.

What are the two questions that existed for humanity from the beginning of creation? The first salvo hurled against God in the Gar­den was “Did God really say?” In the gospel story, the temptation of Jesus resurrects the same question, either by questioning a text or by wrenching it free from its context. The test brought to Jesus in the desert, the same test brought in the Garden, was “Has God said?” and “Is it true?” Those questions implicitly asked whether there was an up and a down. Is there a prescriptive backdrop to life? Can I not be my own definer of good and evil? Am I subject to some higher non-tangible authority?

In his article on “Religion,” Thomas Paine picks up this tension as if it is something new and makes some incredible statements questioning whether one should actually believe that God reveals and speaks. Here’s what he says:

As to the bible (sic.), whether true or fabulous, it is a history, and history is not revelation. If Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, and if Samson slept in Delilah’s lap, and she cut his hair off, the relation of those things is mere history, that needed no revelation from heaven to tell it; neither does it need any revelation to tell us that Samson was a fool for his pains, and Solomon too.

As to the expressions so often used in the bible, that the word of the Lord came to such an one (sic.)…it was the fash­ion of speaking in those times…. But if we admit the suppo­sition that God would condescend to reveal himself in words, we ought not to believe it would be in such idle and profligate stories as are in the bible.… Deists deny that the book called the bible is the word of God, or that it is revealed religion.10

That is a fascinating mix of prejudice and perversion. One feels he must ask if Paine was present in the Garden right from the begin­ning. He takes the stories of Solomon and Samson and puts them in a “history” category. Would he do the same with the crucifixion and the resurrection or does a different kind of narrative now take place?

The key here is that he simply does not believe God would reveal Himself in propositional truth. Paine didn’t invent that predica­ment. It existed from the beginning. Revelation was not in a vacuum of belief. Revelation was sustained by evidence and propelled by a reality check, time and again. The very means by which we ascertain truth is not merely an inner voice but the rationale of why we are here in the first place.

The question should really be why we even think of a supreme being. Why do we ask if there is a sovereign power over the universe?

Is it because we are deluded into thinking there should be, or is it because reason demands a cause and a purpose? Is it possible that deep within our hungers is this quest to know why we are here in the first place, and the naturalist’s cavalier dismissal of that question falls upon questing souls that search for a reason as much as the body yearns for water?

There were no professors of science in the original created order to question revelation. From deep within the human soul arose the challenge for autonomy over against a boundary within which to live. So let’s get over two blunders—the one that thinks this is mod­ern man in revolt, and the other that thinks intellectuals disbelieve in God and only the naïve or stupid continue to believe in God. I have met intellectuals on both sides of the issue, and it is not merely an intellectual struggle. It is a struggle of bridge building, of trying to tie theoretical structures to heartfelt and heart-hungering realities. 

As Real as Now

The second question that originated in Genesis came in the form of a challenge: “You will not surely die! You will be as God, defining good and evil.” For Darwin, as for our polite modern thinkers, hell is anathema. Why would any self-respecting human being think up hell? Interestingly, these who challenge the existence of God are the very ones who are willing to punish others for their beliefs. “Destroy the livelihood of those who believe in the sanctity of marriage!” “Don’t give them a place in academia if they really believe God exists!” Such is the retribution of self-worship, imposed by those who call God vengeful, a “joy-killing monster,” and “a freedom-re­stricting tyrant,” if you don’t give Him His due place. Fascinating how we wield power when we own it and then mock others with power for giving in to the same expression.

The enemy of our souls basically counters the claims of God, not merely by questioning them, but then by asserting that by dis­obeying God’s commands one will actually be promoted to taking God’s place. Once again at the heart of all temptation is the desire for autonomy and power. The human scene was steeped in the battle for autonomy and power right from the beginning. Did God speak? Is it true what He says about good and evil? Are we going to believe the truth, or are we comfortable with the lie because of the power it promises to give us?

It seems as though the ultimate destination point, then and now, is the power to control culture and destiny. Very recently, a Russian business tycoon gave Stephen Hawking one hundred million dollars toward his endeavor to find extraterrestrial intelligence. Hawking has opined that it is critical for us to find them before they find us, saying that if we don’t find them before they find us, they could wipe us out of existence. After the slaughters in San Bernardino, Belgium, Paris, the Boston Marathon, Turkey, Baghdad, Orlando, Dallas, and the list goes on endlessly, we want to get to other planets without fixing our own and destroy them also?

I found his comment fascinating. My first reaction was cynical. Yes, I thought, since we don’t see much intelligence on this planet any more, let’s go looking for it elsewhere. Then another thought kicked in. It is fascinating that the “world’s brightest mind” thinks an intel­ligence possibly exists out there that could destroy us, but no intelli­gence exists as Creator.

Then yet another thought. Professor Hawking himself, had he been left at the mercy of a pragmatic “life is not human in the womb,” or not worth saving by virtue of a degenerative disease, would have been destroyed and we would never have seen the likes of his genius. It would have been our loss. You see how intrinsic value decisions are in the choices we make? The scientific single vision does not give us values; it gives us only what is and cannot give us what ought. Is it any wonder that in this scenario where science is our single vision, existence is the circle and what we believe—our values—are merely a dot, as described by my friend?

Another personal note, from having lived in Cambridge in the early nineties: Hawking’s first wife, Jane, was and is a devout Chris­tian, an intellectual in her own right. Hawking himself has paid her the finest compliments. Living side-by-side with one of the brightest minds in the world did not take away her deep belief in Jesus Christ and in the created order. That alone should tell us that what is at issue is not as simplistic as an intellectually determined faith. Much more goes into this.

So then, right from the beginning, in the face of choices, two questions determined the future: 1) Did God say? 2) Do you really think you’re going to die or can you become like God, determining good and evil? 

The Theoretical Backdrop

What does it mean to be an atheist? What does the “ism” of the atheist hold? Is it monolithic? Are all atheistic systems the same in political theory? How did that philosophy become a formal system, and how does one respond to its claims?

Let’s go back to the philosophical and categorical roots of this so-called belief, to its philosophical and cultural viewpoint. The very Greek word from which we get atheism is really a simple conjoining of the negative with the divine. The alpha is the negative and theos is the word for God. At its starting point, from the very structure of the word itself, the philosophy of atheism means no personal, self-existent, autonomous, intelligent first cause of reality.

Ironically, in particular cultural milieus the word gets watered down so that in the days of the early Church, Christians were called atheists because they denied the existence of the gods of Greece and Rome. By the seventh century, Muslims branded Christians polytheists because of their cardinal doctrine of the Trinity. One can readily see how important it is to understand, from the orthodox point of view, what the beliefs really are rather than attributing cultural nuances to a system.

In two of my previous works, I have quoted the standard texts and definitions that provide the starting point for this discussion. I would like to refer back to that before I move forward and bring the positions up to date. Frankly, in a subject such as this, there really is ultimately nothing new under the sun. People such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Krauss, and others who promote the aggressive side of this belief muster not a single new argument to defend their position. That is why even other prominent atheists or agnostics con­sider them an embarrassment and say so. In fact, Dawkins’ remark on Harris’s explanation in The Moral Maze—that he provided the last strand against theism—is embarrassing to other atheists, to say the least. I doubt he truly believed that.

The well-respected Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Paul Edwards defines atheism as follows: “An atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God, that is, that the sentence ‘God exists’ expresses a false proposition…a person who rejects belief in God.”11 In his book on atheism, Étienne Borne says, “Atheism: the deliber­ate, definite, dogmatic denial of the existence of God.”12So while the bottom line of the view is a denial of God’s existence, in fairness it is really within the spectrum of agnosticism that ranges from a soft-boiled agnosticism where one claims not to know whether God exists to a hard-boiled agnosticism that postulates that one simply cannot know. The next stage is a rigorous denial of the existence of this Being we call God. That is the hard-nosed idea that God is not in the realm of meaningful statements, and that if He/She/It does indeed exist, it is up to the theist to prove it.

Now this latter assumption is terribly prejudiced by culture and, one might dare say, flies in the face of how philosopher Alvin Plantinga, a longtime member of the faculty at Notre Dame, would describe belief in God—a “Properly Basic Belief” so common and so self-evident to the masses of humanity that, to them, no defense is needed. Of course, other philosophers take issue with that and say that in any debate this description would not stand the test of argu­ment. Plantinga contends that the masses of people are not in the arena of debate; they intuitively believe that there is a power greater than themselves, and they seek ways in which to connect with that supreme being. Raised in India, I have seen this firsthand. Though it was not my personal belief, it was indisputably intrinsic to the main­stream of life, both for the unsophisticated and the highly educated.

It is important to recognize that the Greeks, who really are the forerunners in systematic philosophical thought in classical philos­ophy (and as an extension of that came democratic government), attempted to define ultimate reality in abstract terms. Their musings and ponderings on ultimate reality cause some to even argue that Plato was probably moving toward a high monotheism. Whether one accepts that or not, what is important is that in their view, ulti­mate reality was inseparable from virtue and ethical norms.

For many in Greek thought, the power of reason was supreme, and the freeing of philosophy and science from the mystical was a deliberate and purposeful discipline. But, I repeat, for the Greek thinkers, though they did not posit a God, one thing was certain—virtue and harmony were the emergent implications for life.

There is a striking similarity between our so-called doctrine of tolerance and the early Greeks. For example, the oration at the funeral of Pericles gives fascinating insight into the hub and spokes of their reflections on life and destiny. We owe to Thucydides the reconstruction of that eulogy. Here it is:

[J]ust as our political life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with each other. We do not get into a state with our next door neighbor if he enjoys himself in his own way…. We are free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law….

When our work is over, we are in a position to enjoy all kinds of recreation for our spirits…in our own homes we find a beauty and good taste which delight us every day and which drives away our cares….

Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extrava­gance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft…. As for poverty, no one need be ashamed to admit it: The real shame is in not taking practical measures to escape from it.

We make friends by doing good to others, not by receiv­ing good from them. This makes our friendships all the more reliable…. [E]ach single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person, and to do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility.13

Tolerance the New Virtue

Actually, that philosophizing would fit into Buddhism, Hindu­ism, Jainism, and the new tolerance of Western Secularism. That is the new god of this age. One look at this and you can see how a politi­cal framework addresses the soul of a people when God is not known or sought. We can readily see how critical it is that values be upheld for the public good. In reality, this is possibly the basis of a noble humanistic credo, but we shall deal with that later.

For now, we see how the early Greek philosophers and early non­theistic spirituality or mystery religions believed in a structure of vir­tue for one’s individual life and destiny. There were, however, very important differences in terms of why they thought this way and what they believed the purpose of life to be. That, to me, is key. As I have travelled for some four decades and have literally met with thousands of individuals, either one-on-one or in small groups after the public forums, there are really a handful of questions that emerge.

The first question is of life’s purpose and meaning: What does life and living really mean? Then there comes the question of plea­sure and enjoyment: How do I fulfill my desires? The pursuit of pleasure is at the core of our existence. We work, we earn a living, we return to our homes, but then we make decisions for our enjoy­ment: Are there any boundaries for pleasure? Then there is the third question: What does one make of all the suffering and pain we see in this world?

There you have it. Meaning, pleasure, pain. And all of these hang on the hinge of the fourth major question, a very defining one: How and why am I here in the first place? This was the very bedrock of questioning that Solomon pursued. He was not raised a Greek. He was raised in David’s family, a Jewish family with a definite belief in a personal God. There had to be a father-son disjunction here for Sol­omon to live as a hedonist but be regarded as a moralist, renowned for his wisdom.

That defining question is answered confidently by the atheist that we are here by accident. Turn back the clock and try the same thing again and it will never happen once more. Our presence is a cosmic accident for which there is no script for life or preassigned purpose. But let us be absolutely clear: The atheist has placed all other definitions of life’s imperatives on this one hinge, that we exist on this earth and struggle with human personality, morality, and reality without a personal, moral, or real first cause. That’s the leap of faith—to believe that ultimately life is matter and that it therefore doesn’t really matter. If you submit to the first conclusion, you are inextricably bound to the rest that follow.

Take for example Stephen Jay Gould:

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial crea­tures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dino­saurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise avail­able (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never literally froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa, a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a higher answer—but none exists. This answer though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must con­struct these answers ourselves—from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.14

Gould states unequivocally that meaning is not decipherable by us. No higher answer exists, he says, and we have to find the answers on our own terms. This incredibly answerless answer is what sends Western values on the slippery slope of nihilism. But there is more. If meaning is not within the purpose of our existence, the second struggle is whether to seek a boundary for pleasure or eliminate all boundaries.

The difference between a nontheistic religion and an atheistic worldview is literally worlds apart. The difference comes from the explanation for theistic thinking. Both the realities of pleasure and of pain demand answers and explanation, whether life has meaning and whether there is a solution to the problem of pain. To arrive at a formal and creedal denial of a supreme being opens the door to all kinds of debates and arguments on the entailments of such a hope­less foundation.

From that starting point the remaining three answers are liter­ally up for grabs, so let’s see how the religious nontheist and the sec­ular atheist deal with the entailments of their starting points. When you start off with “no god,” you end up with the strangest of mental manipulations to keep you from the logical arc of reasoning. And the first mistake for the atheist is to position science into doing what it was never supposed to do.

Scientists themselves question their fellow authorities in this field. The agnostic physicist David Berlinski has written a trenchant critique of Dawkins in his book The Devil’s Delusion, a challenge to Dawkins’ The God Delusion. On the inside flap of the book, intro­ducing his subject, he writes,

Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence?

Not even close.

Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe and why it is here?

Not even close.

Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life?

Not even close.

Are physicists and biologists willing to believe anything so long as it is not religious thought?

Close enough.

Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral?

Not close enough.

Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good?

Not even close to being close.

Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences?

Close enough.

Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational?

Not even ballpark.

Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual con­tempt?

Dead on.15

One has to commend Berlinski and others like him for call­ing the bluff of those hiding behind science and making sweeping assertions against belief in God. In fact, there is so much contradic­tion even within the exact sciences that anyone who speaks for all obviously does not respect the different disciplines within science. I know scholarly thinkers in the field of chemistry who have issued challenges to others, asking them to show evidence from chemistry that the move from primordial slime to Homo sapiens is even theo­retically possible. Professor James Tour of Rice University is one such scholar. In fact, cosmologist John Barrow said to Dawkins, “You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a sci­entist. You’re a biologist.”16

Interesting, isn’t it, how the methodology and implications vary between the disciplines? It was this very challenge that caused Chan­dra Wickramasinghe and Fred Hoyle to postulate that an earth­bound theory explaining origins is mathematically impossible. But that is the foundation on which all the debunking of religious belief takes place. My colleague in this book will be dealing more exten­sively with the hazards of a scientific single vision. For my purposes here, let us agree that the extension of the discipline takes it outside its range.

That, then, brings the implications of the existential struggle into the no-man’s-land of meaninglessness.

A Rootless Culture

In Western cultural speak, we have basically gone from being a rootless society to a ruthless society. In America, we say that we are a nation of laws. That sounds fascinating. Are we implying that other nations are nations without laws? No culture on earth has more laws than the Islamic world. Their laws extend to what you eat and when you eat, how you marry and whom you marry, how you bank and with whom you bank, when you fast and how much you give, which way you face when you pray and how many times…laws ad nau­seam. They pride themselves on it.

So we are a nation of laws. Let’s move further. To use a meta­phor, law forms the roots from which our culture is built. The trunk then becomes the political system; the branches and the leaves or the fruit of the tree become the expression of the culture. That’s the figurative description of how we build a culture. When you think about it, it is actually circular. We act as if law just came into being and is self-evident. The question should really be, what holds the law in place?

The laws that legitimized slavery were railed against by a moral intuition that this exploitation and dominance of a people was morally wrong. Ironically, in their songs both the slave and the slave owner called upon God to rescue them or validate them. They weren’t calling upon nature to do so. Even in the context of the dominance of the Indian people by the British, Bertrand Russell, of all people, said that it was doubtful the plea from reason would have succeeded against the British except that it appealed to the con­science of a Christianized people.

This is where worldviews come into play. What holds the laws of a nation? It is the moral soil that must hold the roots. As G. K. Chesterton put it, lawful and legal do not mean the same thing and the moral soil is indispensable to aesthetic flourishing:

We are always near the breaking point, when we care only for what is legal, and nothing for what is lawful. Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as mar­riage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions with no rules. There will be so many hard cases that everything will go soft.17

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art, any more than anything essentially reasonable has ever arisen out of pure reason. There must always be a rich moral soil for any great aesthetic growth.18

Recently I saw a movie titled Irrational Man. The well-known actor Joaquin Phoenix plays the role of an esteemed and atten­tion-drawing professor of philosophy. Before he arrives at the school at which he will be teaching, he already has a reputation as a bit of a loner and an eccentric. As the story line builds, we become aware that his goal is to influence his students toward the ethical system he subscribes to, built on the existentialists.

One day he overhears the story of a woman who was wrongly victimized by a judge’s ruling and becomes irate over that injustice. He ponders how to set this right and decides to kill the judge. That accomplished, one of his students discovers that he is the killer and, aghast, gradually pins him down with the truth. He has one option left, to kill her as well, even though he was romantically involved with her. In the end, in a struggle near an open elevator shaft, she gets the better of him and instead of her, as he had intended, he is crushed under the weight of the elevator.

It is interesting that though reason was his discipline, he was crushed by the weight of the immoral reasoning he had justified in his own heart as the right thing to do…until he was found out and had to explain it.

Law, philosophy, love, education, justice…all are built not on reason alone but on moral reasoning. This is the discipline under which atheism fails, and the ideas of atheism will be crushed under the very system constructed to make the one who points the guilty finger ineffectual.

The hunger of the human heart is for meaning, reason, purpose, and value, and atheism simply does not have either the answers or the explanatory power to make it possible to build a life on the foundation it offers. That is why some of the best of them discover at life’s termination point that their philosophy was reasoned into irrationality and their temporary victory, pyrrhic—it cost the victor more than it cost the vanquished.

To wit, Antony Flew and A. N. Wilson, two prominent thinkers who climbed the tree of atheism to great renown, only to concede that its trunk is hollow and its branches, deadly. The unanswered questions made Flew question the philosophy. An Easter Sunday walk to church with his family where he observed the followers of Jesus and heard the truth claims of their resurrected Lord made the difference for Wilson, the difference between life and death, sub­stance and hollowness, purpose and meaninglessness, love and hate, living a lie or living by the truth.

The chapters to come show the difference between Jesus and secular “isms” in the why of life itself. Our first comparison will be a deeper exploration of atheism—the general “ism” underlying all other secular worldviews. Then we proceed chapter by chapter to confront the secular gods that guide our neighbors and our nation. So far we have glimpsed only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s see where the differences really take us.

 

__________

Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

 

Maya Oppenheim, “Richard Dawkins: Atheist academic calls for religion ‘to be offended at every opportunity,’” The Independent (23 May 2016), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/richard-dawkins-atheist-academic-calls-for-religion-to-be-of­fended-at-every-opportunity-a7043226.html. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

2 Ibid.

Robert A. Morey, The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1986), 98.

4 G. K. Chesterton observes, “It is said that Paganism is a religion of joy and Chris­tianity of sorrow; it would be just as easy to prove that Paganism is pure sorrow and Christianity pure joy…. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsa­tion of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity.” G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 236–237, 105. Also available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16769/16769-h/16769-h.htm. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

William Blake, “Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau” in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Third Edition, general editor M. H. Abrams (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), 1338.

6 Mortimer Adler, The Synopticon: An Index to the Great Ideas, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Britan­nica, 1952), 543.

7 Winston Churchill, “The Munich Agreement,” http://www.winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1930-1938-the-wilderness/101-the-munich-agreement. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

Charles Kaiser, The Cost of Courage (New York: Other Press, 2015), 51.

9 “Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798,” in Revolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1848), 266.

10 Thomas Paine, The Theological Works of Thomas Paine (London: R. Carlile, 1824), 317.

11 Paul Edwards, ed., Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 175.

12 Étienne Borne, Atheism (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1961), 61.

13 Thucydides, “The Funeral Oration of Pericles,” History of the Peloponnesian War, M. I. Finley, editor, translated by Rex Warner (New York: Penguin Classics, 1972), excerpt online at http://teacher.sduhsd.net/tpsocialsciences/world_history/dem_ideals/peri­cles.htm. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

14 Stephen Jay Gould, quoted by David Friend and the editors of Life magazine, The Meaning of Life(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991), 33.

15 Citation from book jacket, http://www.davidberlinski.org/devils-delusion/about.php. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

16 John Barrow quoted in Julia Vitullo-Martin’s “A Scientist’s Scientist,” http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/barrow-to-dawkins-youre-not-really-a-scientist/. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

17 G. K. Chesterton, As I Was Saying, ed. Robert Knille (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984), 267.

18 G. K. Chesterton, “A Defence of Nonsense” in A Defence of Nonsense and Other Essays (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1911), 8.

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Liberty Counsel Condemns the Inhuman Treatment of Unborn Children

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on March 16, 2017

ATLANTA, GA — Today Liberty Counsel files an amicus brief in the case of West Alabama Women’s Center v. Miller defending the Alabama law that prohibits dismemberment abortions of live unborn babies, known as Dilation and Extraction (D&E), based on the medical evidence of their ability to feel intense pain.

Liberty Counsel’s brief lists ample evidence that unborn babies feel pain. “[I]t is entirely uncontested that a fetus experiences pain in some capacity, from as early as 8 weeks of development.” testified Dr. Maureen Condic before U.S. legislators. Early on in fetal development pain transmitters in the spinal cord are abundant, but pain inhibitors are sparse until later, according to Dr. Colleen Malloy. This medical information shows that premature infants have greater pain sensitivity than do full-term infants. Another demonstration of this is how premature babies actually require greater concentrations of medication to maintain effective anesthesia during surgery than full-term babies, as explained in the book Neonatal Pain.

If the vilest criminal has human dignity that protects him from an inhuman, painful punishment, then how much more should our laws protect an innocent unborn child that science proves is inherently human and experiences significant pain? Dr. Condic states “[I]gnoring the pain experienced by another human individual for any reason is barbaric.”

Doctors performing the D&E abortions are acutely affected by the child’s humanity and experience deep emotions and even nightmares. One deeply pro-choice abortionist was brought to tears when her own unborn child kicked at the exact same time that she severed another’s foot in a D&E abortion. “Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes” said Dr. Lisa Harris. “It was an overwhelming feeling – a brutally visceral response – heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics.”

“We give our pets greater legal protections than we provide to the future citizens of America who have proven their humanity and their sensitivity to pain,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel.  “Alabama’s law is a common sense solution to a barbaric and gruesome procedure,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.

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Examining Religions

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on January 6, 2017

truthBy Ravi Zacharias

It was years ago when I was speaking at an openly and avowedly atheistic institution that I was fascinated by a questioner who asked what on earth I meant by the term God. The city was Moscow; the setting was the Lenin Military Academy. The atmosphere was tense. Never had I been asked before to define the term in a public gathering. And because I was in a country so historically entrenched in atheism, I suspected the question was both hostile and intentional. I asked the questioner if he was an atheist, to which he replied that he was. I asked him what he was denying. That conversation didn’t go very far. So I tried to explain to him what we meant when we spoke about God.

It is fascinating to talk to a strident atheist and try to get beneath the anger or hostility. God is a trigger word for some that concentrates all his or her stored animosity into a projectile of words. But as the layers of their thinking and experience are unpacked, the meaning of atheism to each one becomes narrower and narrower, each term dying the death of a thousand qualifications. Oftentimes, the description is more visceral and is discussed with pent-up anger rather than in a sensible, respectful discussion. More than once I have been amazed at the anger expressed by members of the atheist groups at one or other of the Ivy League schools in the United States to which I have been invited to speak, anger that I was even invited and that I had the temerity to address them.

In theory, the academy has always been a place where dissent serves a valuable purpose in helping thinking students to weigh out ideas and make intelligent choices. And, dare I say, had I been a Muslim speaker, there would have been no such dissent as I faced. Evidently, being able to instill fear in people has a lot to do with how much freedom of speech you are granted. But alas! For some, at least, civil discourse is impossible. To her credit, at the end of a lecture, one senior officer in one club stood up and thanked me, a veiled apology for the resistance vented before the event. I did appreciate that courtesy.

This unfettered anger on the part of some is quite puzzling to me. I was raised in India where I was not a Hindu and, in fact, never once gave it any serious consideration. For that matter, I’m not sure if I even really believed in God. I was a nominal Christian but never gave that much thought, either. Most of my friends were either Hindu or Muslim or Sikh, with a few others of different faiths. I never recall feeling any anger or hostility toward those who believed differently than me, no matter how ludicrous their beliefs may have seemed to me. Nor do I remember ever being on the receiving end of such anger and hostility because I did not have the same belief.

But the likes of Richard Dawkins are renowned for their bullying and mocking approach toward opposing views, an attitude from an academic that makes one wonder what is really driving such an intense temperament. A questioner at a gathering in Washington, DC, once asked Richard Dawkins how one should respond to a person who believed in God. “Mock them,” he actually replied. “Ridicule them.” When someone at an event asked me what I thought of that response, I reflected that, were Dawkins to practice that same method in Saudi Arabia, chances are he would not need his return ticket. One thing is for sure—he would at least find out that not all beliefs in God are similar and not all imperatives, equal.

Need I add, not all atheists have the same disposition. In fact, many find the hostility of the new atheists an embarrassment. I have met many a cordial conversationalist who is atheistic in his or her belief, and we’ve had the best of conversations. Many have remarked that they have been able to take only so much of Dawkins and his followers and then stopped even reading them. Whatever worldview we espouse, dialogue and debate should take place with civility and courteous listening. But our times make that ideal so elusive. Holding a supposedly noble belief and reducing it to ignoble means of propagation makes the one who holds that belief suspect.

To be sure, many in the so-called “religious” category have provoked strident responses. The pulpit can sadly be a place of bullying people into guilt and remorse and other emotions that make them want to escape from the voice hammering away at them, to say nothing of the anti-intellectualism among Christian ranks that brands even a hint of philosophy or science heretical.

History has taught us to beware of extremists in any camp that sacrifice cordial conversation at the altar of demagogic enforcement. Views and opinions are aplenty in our world of tweeting and Instagram, but civil discourse is rare. And rarer still is the ability to defend one’s beliefs with reason and experience. But we do well to examine the differences among secular belief systems (that are, in fact, also religions). We do well to examine where these differences really lie. I continue to find that the Judeo-Christian worldview has the most coherent answers to the inescapable questions of life that we all have, regardless of our beliefs.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

See RZIM.org

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America Relies on God: Public Days of Fasting and Thanksgiving During the American Revolution

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on November 24, 2016

god_bless_americaAs America has humbled herself before God and been obedient to His commandments, He has poured out His blessings upon this nation in innumerable ways. It was by God’s hand and for His purposes that America came into being as the world’s first Christian republic, but it was through the people who covenanted themselves with God that He was able to do His work. Almost all the people who colonized America, though they were from different denominations and Christian persuasions, embraced the Puritan doctrine of Divine Providence, seeing God in history as “directly supervising the affairs of men, sending evil upon the city . . . for their sins, . . . or blessing his people when they turn from their evil ways.”1 Looking to the Scriptures for the source of their law, both personal and civil, they firmly believed God’s blessings would come upon those who obey His commands and curses would come upon the disobedient (see Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26). This is why during times of calamity or crisis both church and civil authorities would proclaim days of fasting and prayer; and when God responded with deliverance and blessing, they would proclaim days of thanksgiving and prayer. From 1620 until the American Revolution at least 1000 such days were proclaimed by governments at all levels, and many more by various churches.2 This continued during our struggle for independence, through our first century as a nation, and, in some measure, even up until today.

The First Great Awakening Beginning in the late 1730s and continuing for about two decades, a great awakening occurred in America. This revival of Christianity set on fire the hearts of the people all over the colonies, which in turn produced a greater morality and godliness than before existed in this nation. This was quite phenomenal for virtue had always permeated America.

One example of this is attested to by historian James Truslow Adams, who said, “I have found only one case of a colonial traveler being robbed in the whole century preceding the Revolution.”3 The Great Awakening had such an impact upon the colonies that in some towns almost the entire populace was converted to Christ. Benjamin Franklin wrote of this time period that “it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”4 This revival of Christianity in the hearts of the people had “expression not merely in church attendance, but in all the activities of life.”5

Universities such as Princeton, Rutgers, Dartmouth and Brown were founded in order to supply all the colonies with learned and influential clergy. These universities produced not only Godly clergy but Godly leaders in civil government, business, and every other aspect of life. Providentially, this awakening occurred while our future Founding Fathers were young men. The men who won the Revolutionary War, formed our Constitutional Republic, and set our nation properly on course were thus equipped with the virtue, morality, self-government, and Biblical worldview necessary for their future stations.

Even the non-Christians, as Franklin and Jefferson, were affected in this way. Franklin said he “never doubted . . . the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His Providence;. . . that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter.”6 The ideas upon which our nation was birthed — the right of man to life, liberty, and property— had their origin in God. As they originated in God, they were also secured due to His blessings upon this nation. He blessed not only individuals, but the entire nation. As America humbled herself before God by obedience to His Word and acknowledgment of her dependence upon Him for success in the Revolutionary War and the formation of the new nation, God not only provided wise and virtuous leaders, but also supernaturally intervened on behalf of the American army on many occasions. From the initial conflict with Britain, the American Colonies relied upon God.

George Washington’s words to his wife upon departure to take command of the Continental army, reflected the heart of the American people: “I shall rely . . . confidently on that Providence, which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me.”7

To punish Massachusetts for its action at the Boston Tea Party, England closed the Boston port on June 1, 1774. The response of the colonies revealed in Whom they looked for help. The Virginia House of Burgesses, in resolves penned by Jefferson, “set apart the first day of June as a day of fasting and prayer, to invoke the divine interposition to give to the American people one heart and one mind to oppose by all just means every injury to American rights.”8 On that day large congregations filled the churches. This occurred not only in Virginia but throughout the colonies. Action followed this prayer as the colonists began to voluntarily provide aid and encouragement to Boston as that city’s commerce was cut off by the British blockade. This voluntary and universal action revealed that “beneath the diversity that characterized the colonies, there was American unity.”9 The American people recognized this unity came from a common Christian bond among the people of all the colonies.

In response to the charity that flowed into the city, the Boston Gazette of July 11, 1774, responded by writing, “my persecuted brethren of this metropolis, you may rest assured that the guardian God of New England, who holds the hearts of his people in his hands, has influenced your distant brethren to this benevolence.”10 A few months later, in September of 1774, the first Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia. The first act of the first session of the Congress was to pass a resolution calling for the opening of Congress the next day with prayer by Rev. Duché. The next morning Rev. Duché did pray and read from the thirty-fifth Psalm, as Washington, Henry, Lee, Jay and others knelt and joined with him in prayer. John Adams wrote about this scene in a letter to his wife: “I never saw a greater Effect upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that Morning. . . . It has had an excellent Effect upon every Body here.”11

God’s involvement in the founding of America is again seen on April 19, 1775. This day marked the battle of Lexington, of which Rev. Jonas Clark proclaimed: “From this day will be dated the liberty of the world.”12 It was his parishioners who shed the first blood of the Revolution, and it was on his church lawn that it occurred. God made certain that on this day His people had proper support, for on April 19, the entire colony of Connecticut was fasting and praying. On March 22, when the Governor of Connecticut, Jonathan Trumbull, proclaimed April 19 as a “Day of publick Fasting and Prayer,” he probably did not realize the significance of that date; but the One who rules heaven and earth and directs the course of history undoubtably knew and was able to direct the humble hearts of the colonists to pray. In part, Trumbull’s proclamation asked, “that God would graciously pour out His Holy Spirit on us, to bring us to a thorough Repentance and effectual Reformation, that our Iniquities may not be our Ruin; that He would restore, preserve and secure the Liberties of this, and all the other British American Colonies, and make this Land a mountain of Holiness and habitation of Righteousness forever.”13

Connecticut was not the only colony to lay the foundations of the War for Independence in prayer, for on April 15, 1775, Massachusetts officially proclaimed May 11 to be set apart as a “Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” — a day where all their confidence was to be “reposed only on that God who rules in the Armies of Heaven, and without whose Blessing the best human Counsels are but foolishness — and all created Power Vanity.”14 America continued to humble herself before God and show her reliance upon Him throughout the war. Frequent days of prayer and fasting were observed, not only by individuals and local churches, but also by the Continental Army, and all the newly united States of America.

Immediately after the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, they appointed chaplains to Congress as well as ordering chaplains to be provided for the army. These chaplains were paid with public funds. As God’s people and the nation humbled themselves and prayed, He moved mightily on their behalf. He gave wisdom to America to know when and how to respond to the injustices of Britain. He worked Christian character into the American people, her leaders, and her army so they could endure many hardships and not give up their fight for liberty, even in seemingly hopeless situations. He also controlled the weather and arranged events to assure eventual victory for the new nation.

One such miraculous event occurred during the summer of 1776. During the Battle of Long Island, Washington and his troops had been pushed back to the East River and surrounded by the much larger British army. Washington decided to retreat across the wide East River, even though it appeared doomed to fail. If it did fail, this probably would have marked the end of the war. Yet the God in Whom Washington and the nation trusted came to their aid. He caused a storm to arise which protected the American army from the enemy, then stopped it so as to allow the Americans to escape. He also miraculously brought in a fog to cover the retreat. In addition, He directed a servant, sent to warn the British, to those soldiers who would not understand him— German-speaking mercenaries. Thanks to God, 9000 men with all their supplies had miraculously retreated to New York. Here we see, as American General Greene said, “the best effected retreat I ever read or heard of.” This event was so astonishing that many (including General Washington) attributed the safe retreat of the American army to the hand of God.15

On October 17, 1777, British General Burgoyne was defeated by Colonial forces at Saratoga. Earlier, General Howe was supposed to have marched north to join Burgoyne’s 11,000 men at Saratoga. However, in his haste to leave London for a holiday, Lord North forgot to sign the dispatch to General Howe. The dispatch was pigeon-holed and not found until years later in the archives of the British army. This inadvertence, plus the fact that contrary winds kept British reinforcements delayed at sea for three months, totally altered the outcome at Saratoga in favor of America.16 In response to the victory, the Continental Congress proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and praise to God. In part, they stated, “Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God, . . . and it having pleased Him in His abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of His common providence, but also to smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war for the defence and establishment of our inalienable rights and liberties, particularly in that He hath been pleased . . . to crown our arms with most signal success: it is therefore recommended . . . to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December, for solemn thanksgiving and praise.” They recommended for everyone to confess their sins and humbly ask God, “through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance” and thus He then would be able to pour out His blessings upon every aspect of the nation.17

This is the official resolution of our Congress during the Revolutionary War! No wonder the blessings of God flowed upon this nation. Similar resolutions were also issued by the Commander of the American army, George Washington. When Benedict Arnold’s treason was providentially discovered in September of 1780, both Congress and Washington acknowledged it was by the Hand of God.

Congress declared December 7, 1780, a day of Thanksgiving in which the nation could give thanks to God for His “watchful providence” over them. In a letter to John Laurens, Washington wrote, “In no instance since the commencement of the War has the interposition of Providence appeared more conspicuous than in the rescue of the Post and Garrison of West Point from Arnold’s villainous perfidy.”18 In Washington’s official address to the Army announcing Arnold’s treason, he stated, “The providential train of circumstances which led to it [his discovery of Arnold’s treason] affords the most convincing proof that the liberties of America are the object of Divine protection.”19

This Divine protection of the liberties of America was seen over and over again during the Revolution — at Trenton and the crossing of the Delaware; during the winter at Valley Forge; in France becoming America’s ally; during the miraculous retreat of the Americans from Cowpens; and at the Battle of Yorktown.20 Throughout all these events America consistently gave thanks to Almighty God, humbled herself before Him, and sought to obey Him in all spheres of life. This released the blessings and grace of God upon this nation which enabled America to be victorious in her struggle for freedom.

Some years later, God’s grace provided wisdom to establish the United States Constitution, and in so doing provide a Christian form of government through which the Christian spirit of this nation would effectively flow. For America to continue to be a citadel of liberty and prosperity, we must continually humble ourselves before Him who gave birth to this nation and acknowledge with George Washington in his first inaugural speech of April 30, 1789, that “no people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished, by some token of providential agency.”21

In 1787, a committee of all the states of the United States of America, gratefully looking back over all the preceding years, set apart October 19, 1787, “as a day of public prayer and thanksgiving” to their “all-bountiful Creator” who had conducted them “through the perils and dangers of the war” and established them as a free nation, and gave “them a name and a place among the princes and nations of the earth.” In that official proclamation they wrote that the “benign interposition of Divine Providence hath, on many occasions been most miraculously and abundantly manifested; and the citizens of the United States have the greatest reason to return their most hearty and sincere praises and thanksgiving to the God of their deliverance, whose name be praised.”22 God is the One who laid the foundation for America and the One Who assured her birth and growth as a nation. Apart from His continued influence, we cannot expect our nation to be maintained.

Stephen McDowell

End Notes 1. W. DeLoss Love, Jr., The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895), 41.

2. See Love, pp. 464–514 for a list.

3. James Truslow Adams, A History of American Life, Vol. III, Provincial Society, 1690-1763 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1927), 161.

4. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: Walter J. Black, Inc., 1932), 217.

5. Adams, p. 284.

6. The Autobiography of Franklin, p. 182.

7. William J. Johnson, George Washington the Christian (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1976, reprint), 69.

8. The Christian History of the Constitution, Verna M. Hall, compiler (San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1980), 336.

9. Ibid., pp. 338-339.

10. Ibid.

11. The Book of Abigail and John, Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), 76.

12. They Preached Liberty, Franklin P. Cole, editor (Indianapolis: Liberty Press), 39.

13. Copy of proclamation in The Christian History of the American Revolution, Consider and Ponder, Verna M. Hall, compiler (San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1976), 495.

14. The Christian History of the Constitution, p. Id.

15. See Mark A. Beliles and Stephen K. McDowell, America’s Providential History (Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 1991), 158-161.

16. America, Great Crises in Our History Told by Its Makers, A Library of Original Sources, Vol. III, Issued by Americanization Department, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Chicago, 1925, p. 211.

17. B. F. Morris, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864), 531.

18. Beliles and McDowell, 163-164.

19. America, p. 285.

20. See Beliles and McDowell, America’s Providential History, Chapter 11.

21. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, James D. Richardson (Washington: Bureau of National Literature and Art, 1910), vol. 1.

22. B.F. Morris, 542-543.

 

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The Truth Of God

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on October 31, 2016

truthJust before giving in to the pressure of the crowd and ordering the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, Pilate asked one of the most tragic questions of the Bible:

37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him” (John 18:37-38).

Because Pilate’s question is a response to the words of our Lord, it is even more disturbing. When Pilate asked Jesus if He were a king, Jesus said He was. He could not answer otherwise because of His nature. Jesus was “the truth” (see John 14:6), and He could not answer Pilate’s question untruthfully. But Jesus went on to indicate that His claims, while true, would not be accepted by those who were not “of the truth.” Those who were “of the truth” would hear His voice and receive Him as their King.

Pilate’s response is distressing. He was serving as the judge who was to pass judgment on our Lord. Was Jesus a dangerous revolutionary who intended to overthrow Roman rule and establish His own kingdom? Judgment must be according to truth:

16 “‘These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates’” (Zechariah 8:16).

How sad to hear the judge himself disdain the truth. Worse yet, although he discerned Jesus’ innocence as the truth, he allowed the mob to crucify our Lord. His judgment was most surely not according to truth.

Pilate’s words show that he was not “of the truth.” Notice he does not ask, “What is thetruth?” Asking this question would have indicated a desire to know the truth and to act accordingly. Instead, his question, “What is truth?” indicates his cynicism. Pilate seems to doubt that one can know the truth or even that truth exists. Truth for Pilate was whatever one wished to believe is true. Jesus believed He was a King; the scribes and Pharisees claimed He was a fraud and a traitor, a menace both to Judaism and to Rome. Pilate doubted that the truth could be known or that it really matters.

One wishes Pilate’s view of “truth” was only his own, or at least limited to the people of his day and culture. Sadly, we must acknowledge that it is also the viewpoint of our own age. Recently I have been reading on the subject of “truth,” and my findings are far from encouraging. David Wells has authored an excellent book, No Place For Truth subtitled,Whatever Happened To Evangelical Theology. Another excellent work is Michael Scott Horton’s Made In America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism,97 from which I have cited several distressing quotations. Horton reminds us that the secular world has come to trust more in science than in the Scriptures when discerning truth, but that science can never fulfill the task of answering the deepest questions for which men need to learn the truth:

Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer in brain research, observes that science, in trying to answer questions beyond its competence, becomes reduced to superstition. ‘Science,’ he says, ‘cannot explain the existence of each of us as a unique self, nor can it answer such fundamental questions as: Who am I? Why am I here? How did I come to be at a certain place and time? What happens after death? These are all mysteries beyond science.’ With the Enlightenment, science displaced Christianity as the intellectual authority, but when science failed to provide ultimate answers itself, relativism replaced science.98

Relativism has now replaced the absolutism which was rooted in confidence concerning our ability to know the truth from the Scriptures. This relativism is especially evident in the realm of education:

‘The purpose of education’ nowadays, says Bloom, ‘is not to make scholars, but to provide them with a moral virtue: openness. There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of,’ according to Bloom: ‘almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.’ Students ‘have causes without content. Reason has been replaced by mindless commitment, consciousness-raising and trashy sentimentality.’ Can we not say the same of contemporary evangelical subculture?99

‘On the portal of the university,’ writes Bloom, ‘is written in many ways, and in many tongues, “There is no truth—at least here.’” In a culture of narcissism, ‘truth has given way to credibility, fact to statements that sound authoritative without conveying any authoritative information.’100

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. refers to current public education as ‘cafeteria-style education.’ There is no longer a generally accepted core of knowledge or belief. In skimming current catalogues for evangelical seminaries and colleges, one discovers a striking similarity to ‘cafeteria-style education.’ If evangelicals cannot come up with a common core of convictions, and defend them, how can we criticize the world for the same? Remember Marty’s remark about evangelicals who ‘pick and choose truths as if on a cafeteria line.’101

It is not surprising that the secular world has reached a point of despair in knowing the truth, or even whether there is such a thing as universal, unchanging truth. But Horton points out the tragic truth that even evangelicalism has succumbed to cultural pressures and now views truth in the same relativistic way as the secular world:

Francis A. Schaeffer noted, ‘T. H. Huxley spoke as a prophet . . . when he said there would come a day when faith would be separated from all fact, and faith would go on triumphant forever.’ After all, this is what Immanuel Kant proposed and Soren Kierkegaard acted out—the famous leap of faith. ‘This is where,’ Schaeffer cautioned, ‘not only the liberal theologians are, but also the evangelical, orthodox theologians who begin to tone down on the truth, the propositional truth of Scripture, which God has given us.’102

The majority of evangelical college and seminary students—more than half, according to James Davison Hunter—believe that ‘the Bible is the inspired Word of God, not mistaken in its teachings, but is not always to be taken literally in its statements concerning matters of science, historical reporting, etc.’ Furthermore, ‘One cannot speak of ultimate truth per se, only ultimate truth for each believer. In other words, most of the students at evangelical institutions have already accepted the relativism of their culture, and with that, the liberal and neo-orthodox concession that faith in Christ is a spiritual matter, not dependent on external, objective facts of history.103

The Reformation occurred because a few good men were firmly convicted that the Word of God is the truth, and that the views of individuals, of cultures, and even the church cannot and must not profess or practice any “truth” other than that which can be defended from the Scriptures. The weak-kneed, emasculated preaching so typical of our own time was also the norm in the days just before the Reformation. Horton’s paraphrasing of Luther and Calvin, and his reference to Calvin’s assessment of the preaching of his day, are amusing:

Martin Luther and John Calvin, paraphrased, put it in these words: ‘The Bible itself isn’t ambiguous about these subjects we’re addressing—the church is!’ Reluctant to be vulnerable to the dangerous teaching of Scripture, the church refused to take theological stands—until the Reformation left it with no option. In fact, on the eve of the Reformation, there were twelve theological schools of thought competing for control at the University of Paris. Calvin said, ‘Seldom did a minister mount the pulpit to teach.… Nay, what one sermon was there from which old wives might not carry off more whimsies than they could devise at their own fireside in a month?’104

We need another Reformation. We need a renewed commitment to the truth as found in the Scriptures and as summarized in theological and doctrinal propositions. Truth finds its origin in God, its incarnation in Jesus Christ, and its present manifestation in the written Word of God, the Bible. Our lesson will consider the fact that truth comes only from God, because God is truth and the source of all truth.

The Truth of
God and the Fall of Man

I have always thought the fundamental issue underlying the fall of man in the Garden of Eden was authority. Authority does play a significant role in the fall, and both creation (1 Corinthians 11:7-10) and the fall (1 Timothy 2:9-15) do serve as the basis for God’s principles of authority in the New Testament. God’s “chain of command” was clearly reversed in the fall, for the creature (the serpent) led the woman, and the woman led the man. Nevertheless, I now see that the foundational issue in the fall of man in the Garden of Eden (for Eve at least)105was the issue of truth. Who spoke the truth, God or Satan? Who was to be believed? Who was to be obeyed? The answers to these questions depend upon who was thought to be speaking the truth.

How incredible that Eve would believe a serpent and not God! In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, the account of creation is given with the repeated expressions, “And God said, . . .”followed by, “and it was so” (or similar words):

9 Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so (Genesis 1:9).

Satan took the form of a serpent, a created being. He began by questioning God’s command regarding the eating of the fruit of the trees of the garden. He distorted the command, and in so doing implied that God was withholding much that was desirable. By inference, He raised a question concerning the goodness of God. “How could God be good and withhold so much that is good?” Finally, he virtually calls God a liar by assuring Eve, “You shall surely not die!”(Genesis 3:4). And so Eve must choose who to believe—who is telling the truth. Eve made the wrong choice. God is the source of truth; Satan is the source of lies and deception.

We find at the very beginning of the Bible a lesson to be learned. God is true, and He always speaks the truth. Satan is a liar, who can be relied upon to lie. Satan is the great deceiver, who from the Garden of Eden onward has been seeking to lead men and women astray, turning them away from the truth, and deceiving them into believing his lies.

The Old Testament
Law and the Truth of God

In the Old Testament, God seldom spoke to men audibly and personally. When He did speak, time proved that His promises were true and reliable. Abraham and Sarah did have a child in their old age, just as God had said (Genesis 12:1-3; 13:16; 15:1-6; 17:1-8; 18:9-15; 21:1-5). Israel did spend 400 years in Egyptian bondage, just as God had indicated to Abram (Genesis 15:13-14; Exodus 12:40-41).

Shortly after their passing through the Red Sea, God gave the nation Israel the Law. This Law was revealed to men as God’s truth. Man’s response to this truth was a matter of life and death (see Deuteronomy 30:15, 19). When God revealed His glory to Moses, He proclaimed that He was the abundant source of truth:

6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6).

Thus, when the Law was given through Moses, it was given as truth from God, and this is the way godly Jews viewed it:

142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Thy law is truth. 151 Thou art near, O Lord, And all Thy commandments are truth. 160 The sum of Thy word is truth, And every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting (Psalm 119:142, 151,160).

13 “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Thy truth” (Daniel 9:13).

God’s Law is His truth, revealed to His people. The prophets were sent from God, not just to give further revelation concerning future events, but to interpret the Law and to show men how the Law was to be applied. Satan, the great deceiver, also had his spokesmen, the false prophets, who sought to turn God’s people away from the truth by perverting God’s Word. Moses warned the Israelites about such false prophets. Indeed, he indicated that the response of the Israelites to false prophets was a test of their love for God:

1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

It was assumed that some false prophets would have the ability to perform false signs and wonders. One might conclude from this that the prophet must be a spokesman sent from God, but Moses indicates this is not necessarily so. Not only must a prophet be able to fulfill the things which he promises, his revelation must conform to the Law which God had already revealed. Prophets may indeed give new revelation, but it must always conform to the old, that which God had already revealed. In fact, the Law provides the broad outline for God’s program in history, and the later prophets simply filled in further details. If a prophet’s word contradicted the Law, he was a false prophet and must be put to death. No prophet who turns men from loving and serving God is a true prophet, and no true Israelite dare fail to see that a false prophet be put to death. Those who truly love God with all their heart and soul will hate falsehood, and all those who proclaim it in an effort to lead the people of God astray from Him. Love for God means a hatred of evil (see Romans 12:9).

A little later in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses has more to say about prophets. God had revealed truth through Moses, the great prophet through whom the Law was given, but God was to reveal even greater things though the Messiah, a prophet like Moses, who was yet to come:

14 “For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so. 15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And it shall come about thatwhoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:14-22).

Listen is a key word in this passage. The pagans listen to their false prophets, and they are led astray. The people of God are not to listen to false messengers. And how are God’s people to know the difference between the false and the true? In verses 21-22, Moses says the test of a prophet is whether his words come true. Those whose prophecies do not come true are false prophets. If a prophet’s words come true, this does not prove he is a true prophet, for his words must also prove consistent with the revelation of God’s truth in the Law (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

The central person of this passage is our Lord Jesus Christ. His coming is foretold by likening Him to Moses, His predecessor. Just as Moses was the one through whom God revealed His Law and through whom He established His (Mosaic) Covenant, God will speak through the Messiah, who will introduce and implement the New Covenant. He is the One who is even greater than Moses. When He appears, raised up by God, people are to listen to Him.

This Deuteronomy 18 passage is fascinating. Moses reminds the Israelites of what their father had requested at the base of Mount Sinai. They were not only afraid to see the glory of God (as manifested in the great fire, 18:16), they were even afraid to hear God, lest they die. God’s words were indeed powerful and awesome to this people! They requested that they not hear God speak and that Moses be their intercessor. Let Moses speak to God face to face and then tell them what he had heard. I am amazed that God commended the people for making this request (see 18:17) and then proceeds to tell of the coming of one like Moses, who will speak in His name and to whom men are to listen (Deuteronomy 18:15, 19).

The broader context of Deuteronomy helps explain the prophecy of verses 15-19. InDeuteronomy 18:15-19, Moses is referring back to the events described in Exodus 20:18-19, the things in Israel’s history of which Moses reminded the second generation of Israelites inDeuteronomy 5:23-27. But in both of these earlier texts, nothing is said of a “prophet like Moses,” whom God will raise up. And yet Moses indicates that God had spoken of Him at that time (Deuteronomy 18:16-19). Here is yet another example of progressive revelation, even within the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Moses’ words in chapter 18 shed much light on what we read in Deuteronomy 5:29, and later, in chapter 30, verses 1-6. It is the Lord Jesus Christ, the “prophet like Moses,” who will “circumcise the hearts” of God’s people, and who will give them a heart to fear Him and obey His commandments. This we shall now see fulfilled as we pass over the rest of the Old Testament and focus our attention on the coming of Jesus as the promised Messiah in the New Testament.

Jesus Christ,
The Truth of God Incarnate

As we approach the formal presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, let us bear in mind several specifics concerning Messiah, which Moses and other Old Testament prophets indicated would describe the One whom God was to raise up as a “prophet like Moses.”

(1) He was to be a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15).

(2) He was to be a prophet like Moses (18:15)

(3) Raised up by God from among you (Deuteronomy 18:15).

(4) He would be a mediator between men and God, speaking to men of God of what he heard when in the presence of God (18:16-18).

(5) He would give the people of God a new heart, to love and obey God (Deuteronomy 5:29; 29:4; 30:1-6).

(6) He would not abolish the Law, but rather would write the Law on men’s hearts (5:29; 29:4; 30:1-6; Jeremiah 31:31-34).

(7) He would introduce and implement a covenant with God (Exodus 34:10ff.; Jeremiah 31:31-34).

(8) Men would recognize Him by the fact that what He said would come true—by signs and wonders accomplished by His hand (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

(9) He was One to whom men must listen (18:15, 19).

The Lord Jesus perfectly fulfilled all of these prophetic requirements. Consider some of the parallels which the New Testament draws between the Lord Jesus Christ and Moses:

(1) Moses was divinely delivered from death in his infancy, as was the Lord Jesus (Exodus 2:1-10; Matthew 2:1-15).

(2) Both were brought forth from Egypt (Exodus 12-14; Matthew 2:13-15).

(3) Moses also went up on a mountain and received the Law and then taught the people its meaning (Exodus 18:19-20); Jesus also went up on a mountain and taught the meaning of the Law (Matthew 5-7).

(4) Through Moses, God gave the Israelites bread to eat; Jesus spoke of both bread and water, which would give eternal life, and performed the sign of feeding the 5,000 (Exodus 15-17; John 4:1-14; 6:1-14).106 When Moses came down from the mountain, his face glowed with the glory of God (Exodus 34:29-35); when Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration, His entire body was glowing with the glory of God (Matthew 17:2). On the mount of transfiguration, who should appear there, with Jesus, but Moses and Elijah? (Matthew 17:3).

Consider in somewhat greater detail other ways in which the Lord Jesus clearly fulfilled the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18. Moses told the people that when the prophet like him appeared, He would be raised up by God. The accounts of the miraculous virgin birth of our Lord make it clear that Jesus was raised up by God. The apostle John wants us to know that Jesus is the truth, who was sent from God:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name wasJohn. 7 He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. 9 There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ “ 16 For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (John 1:1-18).

Jesus is the Word of God, the Word who existed with God from eternity past, and who then was sent to men by God. He is the Creator of all things. He is the source of life. He is the “light.” I take it that “light” is a symbol for truth. John the Baptist was not the “light,” but a witness to the fact that Jesus Christ was the “light” of the world. Men did not receive Jesus as the truth because His “light” (His truth) revealed their character. Sinners love the darkness (error, falsehood), because they suppose it conceals their sin. Though He made the world, the world does not recognize Him because men are evil and despise the light of the truth, which reveals our sin. It was the Lord Jesus, John testifies, who personified “grace and truth.”Though no man has seen God at any time, God appeared in human flesh, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is He who explains or reveals the Father to men.

When Jesus went out of His way to pass through Samaria (John 4:3-4), He met a Samaritan woman at the well where He stopped to rest and refresh Himself. He spoke to her about “living water,” but she really did not understand nor grasp who He was. And then Jesus spoke these words:

16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” 19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet” (John 4:16-19).

What made this woman look differently at Jesus? Why did she now perceive that He was a prophet? It was because Jesus had told her something which He, as a stranger, could not possibly know. He knew the truth about her, the whole ugly, sordid truth. Prophets spoke the truth, and Jesus spoke the truth about her. Jesus, she rightly reasoned, was a prophet. And so He was, the Prophet.

A little later in His conversation with this “woman at the well” Jesus spoke about truth:

23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).

Jesus told this woman that God was seeking “true worshipers.” True worshipers must worship the Father “in spirit and in truth.” God is Spirit, and He is truth. God requires that men’s worship be compatible with His nature. Thus, men must worship God in the Holy Spirit and in accordance with truth. And since Jesus is the Son of God, since He is divine, He, as God, is also the truth:

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

No one can come to the Father—for salvation or for worship—except through Jesus Christ, who is the Truth of God Incarnate.

As Moses spoke to the Israelites, communicating to them what he had heard from God while in His presence, our Lord Jesus is the only One who has been with God, in His presence, and He speaks to men for God of what He has heard from the Father:

25 And so they were saying to Him, “Who are You?” Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning? 26 I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” 27 They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 Jesus therefore said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” 30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. 31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” 39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:25-47).

Central to the message of these verses is the concept of truth. Jesus is a child of His Father. He is, by nature, truth, and thus He speaks only truth. His opponents have the devil as their father. The devil is a liar, and no truth abides in him, so they are predisposed to lies and not the truth. They oppose Jesus because He speaks the truth, and they disdain the truth. Jesus’ works accredit His words, which are the words of His Father and words completely consistent with the Law. He did not come to set the Law aside or to annul the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

As Moses gave men commands from God, so the Lord Jesus gives commandments as well:

34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12; compareMatthew 28:20).

Jesus told His disciples that after He departed from them He would come to them through His Spirit, the Spirit whom He identified as the “Spirit of truth” (see John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). By means of His Word and His Spirit, men will be converted and brought to maturity in Christ.

The New Testament writers, without hesitation, declare Jesus to be the source of truth; thus the gospel is the truth, the truth to which men must listen or neglect, to their eternal peril:

25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth (Acts 26:25).

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:25).

7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation (Romans 2:7-8).

11 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit (Romans 9:1).

8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers (Romans 15:8).

10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia (2 Corinthians 11:10).

5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you (Galatians 2:5).

13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).

21 If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21).

5 Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth (Colossians 1:5-6).

12 In order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. 13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:12-13).

Conclusion

God is the source of all truth. His Son, Jesus Christ, Personified the truth. What does this have to do with us? Moses told us long ago:

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

God did raise up a prophet, like Moses. This “prophet” is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The implications of this are clear and simple: we are to listen to him. And if we do not listen, we shall reap the consequences which God will require of us.

When the Lord Jesus was transfigured, God clearly stated to the three disciples who witnessed this event what it meant for them:

2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:1-5, emphasis mine).

When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His absence, He gave them a commandment concerning His Word:

31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).

15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21).

23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. (John 14:23).

10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. (John 15:10).

The writer to the Hebrews stresses the importance of heeding the Word of God, along with Peter and John:

1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:1-3a).

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:1-4, emphasis mine).

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:16-19, emphasis mine).

6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6).

We are to listen to God as He has spoken through His Son and continues to speak through His Word, the Bible. We are to listen because God has instructed us to listen. But we should also listen because we realize that God’s Word, His truth, is vitally important to every aspect of our daily Christian walk. Consider some of the ways the truth of God’s Word impacts our daily lives.

(1) The truth of God’s Word is the message which we must believe to be saved (See Psalm 31:5; 57:3; 61:7; 69:13; Proverbs 16:6;107 Colossians 1:5-6; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 10:26; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22).

(2) The truth of God’s Word is the basis for our faith (see Romans 10:8; Hebrews 11).

(3) The truth of God’s Word (of the gospel) is the message we proclaim to lost sinners in order that they might be saved (Romans 1:16; Galatians 2:5; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Peter 1:22-25).

(4) The truth of God’s Word is also the basis for the condemnation of those unbelievers who reject the truth of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:12-13).

(5) The truth of God’s Word is essential to our sanctification (John 17:17; Ephesians 4:14-24; 2 Peter 1:4).

Abiding in God’s Word

Abiding in God’s Word is essential to discipleship, and it results in knowing the truth, which sets us free. We must elaborate on this vitally important principle. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth will make us free; it tells us how we may be free from the power of sin and the penalty of death. But how do we“know the truth”? Allow me to point out a rather obvious but often neglected fact: John 8:32begins with the word “and,” which indicates to us that John 8:32 is a continuation and conclusion to John 8:31. Let us look at these verses together:

31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

How do we know the truth? By abiding in the Word of our Lord, by abiding in the words of Scripture. In so doing, we are truly His disciples, and we are free. Peter says virtually the same thing:

4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:4).

And Paul says virtually the same thing:

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:17-24, emphasis mine).

(1) The truth of God’s Word describes life as it really is (see Proverbs 20:14).

(2) The truth of God’s Word is the content which edifies the saints (Zechariah 8:16; Ephesians 4:15, 24-25).

(3) The truth of God’s Word is the basis for worship and praise (John 4:23-24; 1 Corinthians 5:8).

(4) The truth of God’s Word is the source of wisdom (Psalm 119:98-100, 130).

(5) The truth of God’s Word is the primary means by which God guides us (Psalm 25:5, 10; 26:3; 43:3; 86:11; 119:105).

(6) The truth of God’s Word is a primary weapon in the spiritual warfare (Psalm 40:10-11; 2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 6:14).

(7) Truth is what God desires to find in us (Psalm 51:6).

(8) The Christian life is called “the way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2). We are to “walk in the truth” (2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3-4).

(9) We are not to lie; we are to speak the truth (Ephesians 4:15).

(10) The Holy Spirit, who indwells us, is the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), and lying or deceiving the saints is “lying to the Holy Spirit”—a most serious offense (Acts 5:1-11).

(11) Arrogance is called “lying against the truth”—it is not living according to reality (James 3:14).

(12) Godliness is closely associated with a knowledge of the truth (Titus 1:1-2).

(13) The truth is the one basis for the unity of all believers—”one faith” (Ephesians 4:5).

(14) Knowing the truth frees us from legalistic prohibitions and enables us to enjoy life more fully (1 Timothy 4:3).

(15) The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:5).

With this, we can see that the truth of God’s Word is our lifeline; it is vital to our salvation and to our daily walk. It is the bread of life to those who will eat of it.

Finally, let us consider several important characteristics of the truth and their implications for us.

TRUTH IS ETERNAL

2 For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:2).

35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Truth does not go out of fashion, it does not change with time. Dispensationalists in particular must be careful not to think of the Old Testament, including the Law, as something obsolete, no longer applicable. The New Testament writers make a great deal of use of the Old Testament, including the Law (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 9:8-11; 10:1-13; 14:34; Romans 15:4). It was Paul who told Timothy that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable . . .”(2 Timothy 3:16). God’s truth is never out of date. It is as applicable to us in the twentieth century as it was to men centuries ago.

TRUTH IS UNIVERSAL

17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17).

Some would have us think that when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the role of women in the church, he was speaking only to those saints in that culture at that time and place. This is not what Paul indicates in chapter 4, verse 17. He tells the Corinthians his teaching conforms to his practice, and that this is consistent no matter where he goes.108

Having traveled a bit over the years with the opportunity to observe a few churches in Europe, Asia, and Africa, it was not at all surprising to see New Testament teaching, principles, and practices everywhere I visited. Truth is universal; it is applicable anywhere, at any time, and in any group of people. When I hear teaching or methods which work only in certain places and among certain people, I know I am not dealing with truth, but with a passing fad. A book which will not sell on the streets of India, but only in places like North Dallas, is a book which contains human ideas. The Bible works everywhere, any time, and among any people, because the Bible is truth. We spend too much time and money on books which do not deal enough in truth.109

TRUTH COMES FROM GOD

The only absolute truth comes from God and is conveyed through the Bible, the Word of God.

We are told, “All truth is God’s truth.” There is a sense in which this is true. There is no truth which is contrary to God or for which God is not the author. Having acknowledged this, the only truth I know for certain to be truth is the truth God has revealed in the Bible. All other “truths” are apparent truths, and I must conclude that because they are not found in the Bible, they are not essential to “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3; see also 2 Timothy 3:16-17). These truths are therefore secondary and subordinate to biblical truths. Why then do so many Christian leaders speak of “integrating certain secular theories with biblical revelation”? Especially popular is the concept of “integrating psychology and theology.” I will have no part of such talk. Who would dare to call psychological theories “truth”? And who would dare to speak of these theories as though they were on a par with Scripture? It is time to subordinate all non-biblical truth to God’s truth, the Word of God.

TRUTH NEEDS TO BE INTEGRATED WITH OUR LIVES

The Bible calls upon us to integrate theology (God’s truth) and morality. There is a very close link between truth and morality. Immorality blinds us to the truth. Truth binds us to morality.Truth and righteousness are closely intertwined. Those truths which do not have practical, moral implications are somewhat suspect, for God did not reveal His truth to fill our notebooks, or even our minds, but to transform our lives (see Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-24).

THE TRUTH IS INFINITE

10 For Thy lovingkindness is great to the heavens, And Thy truth to the clouds (Psalm 57:10).

4 For Thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; And Thy truth reaches to the skies (Psalm 108:4).

This means the pursuit of truth is never ending. It means that we will never know all the truth in this life. We only scratch the surface of the vast ocean of truth, which is yet unknown and unrevealed. But let us know that the truths we need to know have been revealed, and beware of all else. These are the truths we should seek to learn and to implement.

29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).

We are to seek to learn that which God has clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly revealed in His Word, and not to become side-tracked by speculative and theoretical pursuits:

5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:5-7).

7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).

4 And will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:4).

14 Not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth (Titus 1:14).

THE TRUTH IS CENTERED IN CHRIST

When we stray from Christ, we stray from the truth.

21 If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21).

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:1-8).

THE TRUTH IS EXCLUSIVE

Here is one significant difference between Christianity and polytheistic or pluralistic cultures. Other religious systems have no problem with incompatibility of truth. They will often embrace different “gods” and allow the individual to embrace whatever truth system he or she prefers. Biblical truth, God’s truth, is exclusive. It is incompatible with any alleged truth which contradicts Scripture. Christians may be labeled “intolerant” for such a conviction, but there is not more than one truth system.

THE TRUTH IS DOCTRINAL AND PROPOSITIONAL

If God’s Word is truth, then truth can be put into words and should originate from the Word.We dare not learn our truth existentially, apart from the written Word of God. And we dare not disdain doctrine nor theology. Truth is a system; it is not just a compilation of random facts.

Consider this illustration from a contemporary event. Recently, the O.J. Simpson case has been aired daily. People really want to know the truth; they want to know what happened. The police have gathered a great quantity of evidence, some of which will be accepted by the judge and some of which will be rejected. But all of these pieces of evidence do not explain what happened to these two human beings. The prosecution will present its case, which they will represent as the “truth” to the jury. The defense will take the same evidence and give an entirely different explanation, an entirely different attempt to explain the truth of what happened. Ideally, one side or the other conveys the truth. Practically speaking, neither side will have the full truth. The task of the jury is to determine, as best they can, what the truth is.

The Bible is like this. It is not just a listing of facts about God and men. There are a number of propositional statements, but these must be harmonized, put together, so that we gain an overall sense of what the Bible teaches. The truth of Scripture therefore results in some kind of doctrine. There are different doctrinal positions (each of which likes to think it is the closest approximation of the truth), and we may differ with the conclusions of others. But you cannot think or speak of truth apart from doctrine.

We sometimes hear someone say, “We don’t worship doctrine, we worship Jesus.” Which Jesus do you worship? Remember, you must worship God “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). The discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well was over doctrinal differences, and Jesus made it clear that this woman’s doctrine (the Samaritan’s doctrine) was wrong. Paul says that one may come, preaching “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:4). Doctrine describes and defines the “Jesus of the Bible” so that we may worship in Spirit and in truth. You cannot have truth apart from doctrine. To disdain doctrine is not only foolish, it is dangerous.

14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14).

6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following (1 Timothy 4:6).

1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against (1 Timothy 6:1).

3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness (1 Timothy 6:3).

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3).

9 Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9).

1 But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).

7 In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified (Titus 2:7).

10 Not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Titus 2:10).

The truth of God, revealed in Christ and in the written Word of God, the Bible, should be a priority in our lives. Let us seek, by His grace, to be people of the Word, people who love truth and who search the Scriptures to find it. And let us be those who incarnate the truth, putting it into practice in our daily lives, to His glory.

By Bob Deffinbaugh

Courtesy of https://bible.org/seriespage/16-truth-god

Posted in Faith Issues in Our Times, Tim's Blog | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Must the Moral Law Have a Lawgiver?

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on August 21, 2016

imageBy J.M. Njoroge

Atheists don’t believe we need God to understand what is right and wrong. Yet Christians point to a moral law that is written on our hearts by God, and our conscience testifies either for us or against us with regard to morality.

Before I respond directly to the question raised in the title of this article, let me say a word about what I take to be the place of arguments for God’s existence. To the person who has walked with God for any length of time and who has experienced firsthand the reality of God’s work in his or her life, offering arguments for God’s existence can feel as awkward as planning a surprise birthday party for Auntie Jenny in her presence. I suppose most people do not believe in God as the end result of logically airtight conclusions built upon indisputable premises; they are first confronted with their own sinfulness and the need to be reconciled with a Holy God as encapsulated in the gospel message and then build a rational case for their newfound faith as questions, and sometimes doubts, arise.[1] We should be careful not to overemphasize the intellect at the expense of the will. Just like any other good thing our Lord has freely given to us, we can use reason to conceal our flight from Him. When it comes to making a decision either for or against God, the defining issue is the deceptively simple question Jesus asked the disciples of John the Baptist who expressed interest in following Jesus, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). Doubt and skepticism are valid postures as long as they are motivated by the search for truth rather than a repudiation of it. What we want to be the case can keep us from accepting what is in fact the case, in spite of the amount of evidence at our disposal. Elsewhere, Jesus puts it this way, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17, emphasis added).

Nevertheless, there is indeed a place for taking a step back to consider the nature of the rational evidence that may be marshaled in defense of our faith. The process of loving God with the entirety of one’s being, including the mind—a major part of the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-8)—is not only commanded in the Scriptures, but it is also integral to spiritual growth. Moreover, it is true that a rational presentation of the gospel routinely serves as the catalyst that propels many to faith in God. For some people, the way to their heart is through their mind. And when the will is right—when what we want is to submit to a reality not of our own making—we find that God has really put us in a world fraught with clues of his holy pursuit. Among other things, we are rational beings, and it stands to reason that our minds, properly chastened, should not be at war with the truth, wherever it may be found. To quote the legendary scientist Galileo,

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.[2]

So, what do our senses, reason, and intellect tell us regarding the existence of God? There are many different strands of evidence available to us in answer to this question. We could, for example, consider the origin and complexity of the universe, the presence of information in the DNA, the origin of life and consciousness, biblical history, including the resurrection of Jesus, and our immediate experience of God. In this article, I will concentrate on the moral nature of our universe, which I take to be one of the peskiest pointers to God for anyone who is intent on turning his or her back on Him.

In what follows, I will offer some of the reasons why I believe we cannot make adequate sense of our experience of morality without God. My goal is not to focus on the moral argument as a whole but on the obligatory or normative aspect of the moral law that I will argue cries out for a moral lawgiver. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant noted several centuries ago, morality is largely constituted by categorical imperatives: nonnegotiable rules of behavior to which every human being must conform. I will argue that such a demand makes sense only if there exists a moral lawgiver who made us as moral agents capable of apprehending an objective moral standard external to us and applying it to ourselves. We exist in a world that comes packaged with a moral law that we did not invent. We discover it and once we do, we find that we are bound by it. This is, indeed, our Father’s world!

THE MORAL ARGUMENT

Like hundreds of other young men and women I have met in my travels around the globe, my first foray into systematized philosophical thinking as it applies to Christian apologetics was occasioned by a “chance” encounter with the spellbinding lectures and messages of Ravi Zacharias, especially his 1992 Veritas Forum lectures at Harvard University that eventually found their way into his provocatively titled book Can Man Live Without God. I was barely out of my teenage years, and I had traveled to the US to study medicine. But God used Ravi’s messages to lead me on a different path as I came to terms with the infinite value of God’s Word, properly communicated. The rest, as they say, is history.

One of the points Ravi emphasized in his lectures, one that I found to be quite persuasive, was the fact that there is a very compelling link between morality and God. Here is a succinct summary of his argument in response to a question:

When you say there is evil, aren’t you admitting there is good? When you accept the existence of goodness, you must affirm a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But when you admit to a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver.[3]

Now, anyone who may be unfamiliar with the academic literature on the source of our moral intuitions might be surprised to learn that most philosophers who teach ethics, including atheists, accept almost each one of the claims Ravi makes in the above quote. In popular culture (and in a few academic circles as well), there are various attempts to explain morality in terms of evolution, social contracts, relativism, etc. [4] Much of the interaction on moral issues tends to take place at that level in popular circles. And because there exists a gap between the academy and the so-called masses (and we are all members of the “masses” outside our professional or academic disciplines), addressing these topics in the manner in which the masses grapple with them is vitally important. But academic ethicists realize that morality is too central and binding a reality in human experience to be relegated either to individual or collective human will, desires, or beliefs. Nor can it be adequately understood on the basis of social contracts or evolution.

That morality is objective, binding, and inevitable is most evident to us when we are either the victims of injustice or when our sympathies for the helpless are awakened. Everything within us cries out against such experiences. A number of years ago, I read a story about a woman who had given birth through C-section in a certain country. In the process of the delivery, something went horribly wrong. The doctors, one would hope inadvertently, inflicted deep wounds on the baby’s face. The baby could not breathe and breastfeed at the same time. The doctors assured the mother that the baby would be fine in a couple of days and encouraged her to take the baby home.

Well, the baby got worse. When the mother took the baby back to the hospital, she discovered that, to her horror, the hospital staff had purged all the records of her ever having been to the hospital. They told her that if she ever set foot in that hospital again, they would call the police on her because of what she had done to her own baby. It is impossible for me to imagine any morally healthy person reading such a story without reacting strongly against the injustice. An unabashed craving for justice is deeply woven into the very fiber of our being, and it is strongly awakened in such moments. But as Ravi notes, such a reaction betrays the fact that we are very much aware of the existence of a moral law that applies to all of us. We can’t complain about evil without at the same time invoking the primacy of good, and to do so is to acknowledge that morality is objective.

For most people, what we have said so far is enough to establish the dependence of morality on God. All the pieces we need to build that puzzle are not only present but in their rightful places. We know that some things are really wrong. Other things are really right, and there is an objective moral standard that helps us differentiate between the two. We also sense quite strongly that this can only be true if God exists. Morality is indeed grounded in God. Once one begins to realize that morality is not relative, that it cannot be grounded in biological evolution, and that it cannot be fully explained on the basis of social conventions or individual taste, one immediately feels drawn to the conclusion that God must exist.

In my travels, I have discussed the claims I’ve made so far with a lot of people, including atheists. I find that most people accept our thinking thus far. They believe that there is something rationally duplicitous about claiming that there is an objective set of dos and don’ts imposed upon human beings while denying that God exists.

“That is simply preposterous!” one self-proclaimed atheist friend said to me. “Only a person who just wants to avoid God would grant the objectivity of morality while rejecting God. If there is an objective moral standard, then there is a moral lawgiver, which means God exists.”

We both laughed out loud when I uttered a hearty “Amen!” in response. As an aside, you may be wondering how my friend could still describe himself as an atheist if he believed morality points to God. Sadly, he chooses to deny morality. He agrees that if you accept that morality is objective, then you must believe in God. But, he reasons, if you reject morality, then you don’t need to worry about morality pointing you to God. As we will see later, my friend is not alone in this. But yes, I did let him know that denying morality—denying that some things are really evil and some things are really good, regardless of what anyone says—is just as preposterous. That conversation reminded me of the following quip by GK Chesterton,

If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can make one or two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.[5]

Our experience of morality, especially when we are the victims of injustice, is too powerful to be illusory. To deny that there are things that are right, and others wrong, is as absurd as denying the cat as in Chesterton’s example. But if the point is so obvious, and if so many have turned to God on the basis of the pressure morality puts on their unbelief, how is it possible that some of the leading ethics professors in the best of our universities around the world can affirm the objectivity of morality while rejecting God? How do they manage to have their cake and eat it too?

DENYING THE CAT: OBJECTIVE MORALITY WITHOUT GOD

If you are reading carefully, you will note that I said that most ethicists, including atheists, accept almost each one of the claims Ravi makes in the quote above. So what part of the argument do they dispute? Unfortunately, the most hotly debated part of the argument also happens to be the most important, i.e., the direct link between morality and God. The controversy is centered on the last line of Ravi’s quote: the claim that it is not possible to have a moral law without a moral lawgiver.

For reasons such as the ones we’ve already talked about, most philosophers are unwilling to deny the reality of morality. They agree that acknowledging that good and evil exist invokes an objective moral law, but they also think that the moral law stands on its own without any need for further justification. In other words, one does not need to appeal to a moral lawgiver to acknowledge that there is indeed a moral standard that is independent of human decisions, will or desires, and that helps us differentiate between good and evil. For example, atheist philosopher Louise Anthony writes,

I take it that theists and atheists will agree about what it means to say that morality is objective: first, whether something is right or wrong does not depend on any human being’s attitudes toward it, and second, moral facts are independent of human will.[6]

Similarly, Erik Wielenberg, also an atheist, writes, “[My view] is non-theistic in that it implies that objective morality does not require a theistic founda­tion; indeed, the view implies that objective morality does not require an external foundation at all.”[7] Other examples could be given.

To understand how someone can accept that morality is objective while rejecting the existence of God, we will look at two of the best arguments for the position. These arguments are (1) we can make perfect sense of objective morality without God, and (2) invoking God in discussions about morality actually creates more problems than it solves.

Before we delve into the arguments, let’s first say a word about “arguments” in logic. An argument in logic is not a quarrel. It is the juxtaposition of statements in such a way that the truth of one of those statements (called the conclusion) is entailed by the other statement(s), which are called premise(s). Logical consistency is one of the tests of the truth of a worldview, so logic is extremely important. But logic calls for clear thinking, which can be hard at times. Like Apostle Peter, I invite you to “gird up the loins of your mind” and join me on a mental adventure. It will be rough going in places, but I promise you the trip is more than worth it. As followers of Jesus Christ, logic is our friend, not our enemy.

1. Can we really make sense of objective morality without God?

The first argument for morality without God is fairly easy to grasp. It is simply the claim that morality is not different from other truths that we grasp about our universe without having to appeal to God. It is not different, for example, from our grasp of logical and mathematical truths. Consider the following argument, one that is found in many logic textbooks. Suppose you were given these two premises,

All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
You know immediately that you ought to draw the following conclusion:

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
You know immediately and instinctively that the conclusion follows from the premises. In addition, if you pardon the pun, you know immediately that 2+2 is equal to 4. These are truths that are simply a part of reality, truths that we employ in our day-to-day lives without invoking God, or so the argument goes. According to this thinking, moral truths work the same way. They are just there as part of reality, and we apprehend them and use them in the same way we apprehend and use truths of logic and mathematics. We do not need God to apprehend and apply these truths to our lives.

However, I hope you can spot a move that has been played on us, which makes this argument seem much more compelling so far than it really is. Namely, we have switched from talking about where morality comes from (what it is grounded in) to talking about how we know about morality. To use some fancy philosophical terms, the former is an ontological task (concerning the nature of reality), the latter an epistemological one (concerning the nature of knowledge and how we acquire it).

Even if it is true that we apprehend moral truths in the same way that we apprehend logical and mathematical truths (which I believe is true), it does not follow that morality is not grounded in God. It could be the case that God made us in such a way that we are in fact able to apprehend laws of mathematics, logic, and morality immediately. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures teach that this is exactly what happened, specifically with regard to the moral law. In Romans 2:14-15, the apostle Paul writes

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

The requirements of the law are written on our hearts, and our conscience testifies either for us or against us with regard to morality. That is why God judged Gentile nations in the Old Testament for their evil behavior, even though they did not have the Bible. They ought to have known better. That is why God judges people who have never read the Bible and who may not care about it. They ought to know better. So, we should not let a skeptic get away with saying that since we can tell the difference between right and wrong without appealing to God, we don’t need God to ground morality. A good number of skeptics think pointing out that we can tell the difference between right and wrong all by ourselves is enough to dissociate morality from God. It is not enough. How we learn about morality and what morality is grounded in are two very different questions.

But if that were the only reason given for the claim that we can make sense of morality without God, the argument would be too weak to convince professional ethicists to accept morality while rejecting God, though it regularly works at the level of the masses. So we must now consider the second step taken in defense of the argument. Philosophers proceed to point out that logical, mathematical, and moral facts are necessary truths. When philosophers say that something exists necessarily, they mean that it has always existed and it will always exist. It is not possible for it not to exist. That, we should note, is what we believe about God. He is from everlasting to everlasting. His existence is uncaused—He simply exists.

The argument follows similar logic in maintaining that, in addition to God who is a necessary Being, there are other necessary entities, and they include the laws of mathematics and the laws of logic. Laws of mathematics and logic simply exist. Even God, who is a rational Being, must follow these laws. He cannot violate them, the argument continues, and it makes no sense to ask where they came from or what they are grounded in.

Now, if the laws of logic and mathematics can exist without any need for a logical or mathematical lawgiver, the argument continues, why can’t the laws of morality exist in the same way? Why do we need a lawgiver for the moral law but not for logical or mathematical laws? Those who insist on uncoupling morality from God obviously insist that we should understand the laws of morality in the same way that we understand the laws of logic and mathematics. The moral law also exists necessarily and it therefore doesn’t need to be grounded in anything.

I hope you can now appreciate the reason why so many philosophers find this argument in support of the claim that we can make sense of morality without God compelling. But before we offer a response, let’s review the argument briefly. We are simply aware of the laws of morality in the same way we apprehend the laws of mathematics and logic. We responded by saying the question we are answering is not how we come to know about these laws but what they are grounded in. The part of the argument we are considering now is the claim that since these laws are unalterable, non-negotiable, and they exist necessarily, we therefore don’t need to ask where they come from or what they are grounded in. They have always existed, and they will always exist. Even God cannot change them. Now we must respond to this second strand of the argument.

In response to the argument, we begin by noting a couple of things. First, we are now well beyond the boundaries atheists normally draw around the ultimate nature of reality. We are regularly told that all of reality can be fully explained by matter, energy, and the interactions that take place among or within material particles. With the argument we are now considering, the story shifts dramatically. In addition to material particles and energy, we now have an entirely different realm of reality—a reality that consists of abstract entities that exist necessarily and to which human beings are subject. That is no small shift. We now have one foot in the unseen world, where God lives. Exit materialism, to which much of the modern atheistic movement is intricately wedded.

Secondly, the claim that the laws of logic, mathematics, and morality do not need to be grounded in anything since they exist necessarily needs to be defended, not just asserted. Showing that something exists necessarily is not the same thing as showing that it needs no explanation for its existence.

To state the point differently, something can exist necessarily and still require an explanation for its existence. As far as I know, there is no good reason to think that once one shows that something exists necessarily, questions about what explains its existence become irrelevant. As a matter of fact, argues William Lane Craig, such a position can be shown to be false. He writes,

The assumption here seems to be that necessary truths cannot stand to one another in relations of explanatory priority. Not only do I see no reason to think that assumption true, but it strikes me as obviously false. For example, “States of consciousness exist” is necessarily true, since “God exists” is necessarily true. That is to say, the fact that a personal, metaphysically necessary being like God exists explains why it is necessarily true that states of consciousness exist. To give a nontheological example, the axioms of Peano arithmetic are explanatorily prior to “2+2=4”, as are the axioms of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory to the theorems thereof.[8]

Consequently, it is not enough for one to point out that the laws of logic, mathematics, and morality exist necessarily. One must also offer valid reasons as to why we should think that they do not need to be grounded in anything and are not in need of any explanation. As Craig puts it, “…if necessary truths can stand to one another in asymmetric relations of explanatory priority, then there is no objection … to holding that moral values exist because God exists.”[9]

Thus one can argue that the laws of mathematics, logic, and morality are all grounded in God. They exist necessarily, but they are also in need of explanation, and that explanation is God. Although much more could be said about this, I would like to pursue a different line of thinking in order to show that the moral law does indeed require a moral lawgiver. I will argue that, even if we grant for the sake of the argument that we don’t need to appeal to God to explain the laws of logic and mathematics, morality is sufficiently different from logic and mathematics to demand a moral lawgiver. Specifically, my claim is that the fact that morality contains within it a normative or obligatory character does indeed presuppose the existence of a lawgiving, transcendent Personal Being. In other words, morality is agent-centered—it requires a thinking being with the authority to issue commands. But before we look at that response in more detail, let us examine briefly the second argument given for the claim that morality is not grounded in God.

2. Does invoking God in morality create more problems than it solves?

At this point, the skeptic has another weapon in his arsenal. For someone who is not philosophically inclined, the subtlety of this argument can easily make it seem quite abstract and irrelevant, not to mention bewildering. So, once again, I implore you to gird up the loins of your mind. We’ve come too far—it’s too late to turn back now!

Here is the argument: If we say that moral obligations are commands that God issues and which He requires us to obey, we must be assuming that we are already obligated to follow God’s commands even before He issues any command at all. In other words, the fact that we have the obligation to obey commands issued by God is itself an obligation that is simply true—it is not one of the commands God issues. You obey God’s commands because you already have the obligation to obey God. God cannot make it the case that you ought to obey the commands He issues if it weren’t already the case that you ought to do so

An example might be helpful here. Suppose you are made aware of the command that you must set aside Wednesday as a holy day and you are to do no work on that day. You ask who issued that command. Would you really feel obligated to do so if you found out that the order to keep the Sabbath on Wednesday came from your next-door neighbor, Bill? I suppose the answer is “No!” You are under no obligation to keep any commands issued by Bill. So, why think that we have the obligation to obey God’s commands but not Bill’s? J.L. Mackie stated the objection as follows:

The commands of a legitimate human ruler do not create obligations: if such a ruler tells you to do X, this makes it obligatory for you to do X only if it is already obligatory for you to do whatever the ruler tells you (within the sphere in which X lies). The same applies to God. He can make it obligatory for us to do Y by so commanding only because there is first a general obligation for us to obey him. His commands, therefore, cannot be the source of moral obligation in general.[10]

We could respond by saying that God has the authority to issue commands, yet a human being, like Bill, doesn’t. Given who God is, I am under his authority and I must obey his commands. The crucial point here is this: Just as Bill cannot make it the case that you ought to obey the commands he issues just by issuing that as a command, God cannot make it the case that you ought to obey Him just by commanding you to do so since, if you are not already obligated to obey Him, you would not need to worry about this command either. You obey his commands because there is an antecedent, independent obligation owed to Him simply because of who He is, whether He has issued any commands or not.

But that creates a problem for our original claim that our obligations are commands issued by God. We have said that God doesn’t need to issue any commands for it to be the case that I am obligated to obey his commands. But if I am already obligated to follow God’s commands before He issues any commands, then it follows that there is at least one obligation that is just true, namely, the obligation to follow any command God issues. Here is the linchpin of the argument: if it is possible for there to be just one moral obligation that is simply true, i.e., one that is independent of any commands issued by God, why can’t we say the same thing about all the other obligations, especially if we concede that moral truths exist necessarily?

If your head is spinning at this point, don’t worry. The argument will become crystal clear to you right before you go to bed, and then you’ll stay up all night wondering how to answer it! If that happens, just come back to the next section of this article for a brief but, I believe, effective response. The first thing to note about the claim being made here is that it can be applied to any moral theory. If we say, for example, that morality is a matter of human convention, then we must assume that we have the prior, independent obligation to obey the directives of the community. If we say that what is right is determined by the majority, then we must suppose that we are obligated to follow the dictates of the majority. Here is how Mark Schroder states this point:

So if [this] argument successfully shows that not all obligations can be explained by God’s commands, then it looks like it must also show that not all obligations can be explained by self-interest, by hypothetical contracts, by what would maximize the good, by what is in accordance with rules no one could reasonably reject, or any other source.[11]

In other words, we are left with no possible way of offering an explanation for the source of our moral obligations.

The skeptic set out to uncouple obligation from God and ended up making the idea of obligation even more mysterious. The reason this has happened is because the attempt to show that obligations do not come from God rests on an equivocation.[12]

Consider these two statements:

We are obligated to do what God commands.
There exists an antecedent obligation to obey whatever God commands.
In order to make the argument against explaining our moral obligations in terms of God’s command work, the skeptic must assume that the second statement above is true. But the theist is not at all committed to the second statement; all the theist needs is for the first statement to be true. There is no antecedent, mysterious obligation that needs to be explained.

The moral of the story thus far is that even the best of the reasons routinely given for thinking that we do not need to appeal to God to ground morality do not succeed. If there is a moral law, there must be a moral lawgiver. But we can strengthen the argument even further by showing that morality, and specifically moral obligation, is both agent-relative (it can only arise in the case of persons) and objective (it transcends human will). If moral obligation is grounded in a person (or persons) and it is not dependent on human beings, then it must be grounded in a supernatural Person, i.e., God.

MORAL OBLIGATION AS AGENT-RELATIVE

We normally take it for granted that we have obligations to do or not do certain things. When tragedy strikes, our political leaders invoke this sense of obligation to justify the actions they believe we should support. Speaking about the need for the US to take care of its veterans, President Obama stated, “The bond between our forces and our citizens has to be a sacred trust, and that for me, for my administration, upholding our trust with our veterans is not just a matter of policy, it is a moral obligation.”[13] It’s a common assumption that we have the moral obligation to act in certain ways. Morality binds us, leaving us with no choice in the matter. Shame and guilt are the result of disregarding the dictates of morality.

But as far back as 1958, Cambridge philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe argued that the concept of moral obligation in Western philosophy has its roots in Christianity, which conceives of ethics, and especially moral obligation, in terms of laws given by God.[14] With the abandonment of Christianity among many in Western philosophy, Anscombe counseled her fellow philosophers to jettison the concept of obligation as well since its metaphysical foundation was no longer plausible for them and talk of obligation has thus become incoherent.

When we consider what it means to say that we have moral obligations or duties, we quickly begin to see the validity of the point that Anscombe was making. The eminent moral theorist John Stuart Mill described the concept of moral duty as follows:

We do not call anything wrong unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it—if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience…. It is a part of the notion of duty in every one of its forms that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfill it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from a person, as one exacts a debt.[15]

JT-24.3-John-Njoroge-DesignNot only are certain things wrong to do, we are prohibited from doing them. Not only are some things good to do, we are required to do them. As Mill notes, duty is something we owe in the same way we owe debts. One is hard-pressed to make sense of owing duties (and debts) to no one in particular. The best way to make sense of talk of duties is in a social context where duties (like debts) are owed to other persons.

In support of the claim that obligation requires agency, Yale philosopher Stephen Darwall argues that neither the moral “ought” nor practical reason is sufficient to bring about obligation. One can have very good reasons to do something morally right and still not be obligated to do it. Accountability and responsibility are also needed, and we are responsible to someone. Darwall notes that such diverse philosophers as Suarez in the late 16th and early 17th century, John Stuart Mill, and Nietzsche have defended this view. He says,

I think it’s a conceptual truth that what we are morally obligated to do is what we are responsible to the moral community for doing. Exactly who is the moral community is itself contestable. Theological voluntarists might believe it is really just God. You and I might believe it is just persons—people who are capable of holding one another morally responsible.[16]

As is evident from the quote, Darwall defends a secularist approach to morality. Similarly, Susan Wolf, another secularist philosopher, points out that it is not enough to say that moral requirements are requirements of morality; that to follow moral obligations is simply to do what morality requires of us. When we demand of people that they live up to their moral duties, “…we mean to say that we require [them to do so] on moral grounds or for moral reasons.”[17] For Wolf, the “we” that stands behind these requirements is the social community. In other words, human beings are the moral community that gives obligation its normative force.

The point made thus far is that moral obligation is a social concept. Accountability makes sense only if we are accountable to other persons. In the next section, we will see that the Person we are ultimately responsible to is God. Since obligation is not only a social concept but also an objective one, the existence of God makes the most sense of our experience of morality. Human societies or communities cannot adequately account for moral obligation.

But it is important to address a common misconception about the normative character of morality in a more direct way. It is often assumed that reason by itself is adequate to give us all we want in terms of knowing and acting upon our moral obligations. What is moral to do, the claim goes, is what is reasonable to do. But although morality is indeed reasonable, the relationship between the two is not as clear cut as the foregoing claim implies. It is one thing to have good reasons to do something and quite another to be obligated to do it. Having reasons to perform an action does not necessarily imbue one with the kind of obligation morality requires.

An illustration given by C. Stephen Evans might be helpful here.[18] Suppose someone is offered, say $5,000, to deliver a lecture he has delivered several times before on an afternoon when he is free and has nothing to lose should he accept the offer. He would have a very good reason to perform that act. But he would not be considered morally blameworthy should he choose to play golf instead. The point, once again, is that having good reasons to do something is not the same thing as being obligated to do it. Alternatively, violating rationality is not the same thing as violating moral obligation. As Robert Adams puts it,

To the extent that I have done something morally wrong, I have something to feel guilty about. To the extent that I have done something irrational, I have merely something to feel silly about—and the latter is much less serious than the former.[19]

The only time when failure to heed the demands of reason bears serious consequences is when there is a moral component involved. For example, an error of calculation in designing a bridge is more serious than getting an answer wrong on an engineering examination. Moral obligation has a certain, distinct characteristic that gives it its compulsive force with blameworthiness or guilt attached to it. Moral obligation has the unique capacity to override any other reasons we may have to do or not to do something. Such a decidedly law-like character of obligation makes sense within a social context where demands or imperatives and accountability are in force. Moral obligation is a social concept: it is based on the assumption that there are persons involved.

MORAL OBLIGATION AS OBJECTIVE

So far we have seen that we have good reasons to think that moral obligation is a social concept. As already mentioned, many philosophers agree with this conclusion. Some of those who argue that obligation is a social concept claim that human societies can adequately account for it. It is the society, period, that places moral demands on its individual members. But while it is true that we have obligations that are created by the societies to which we belong, the imperatival force of morality makes it doubtful that appealing to the society can account for the entire range of the obligations we acknowledge.

To begin with, societies often err in prescribing behavior for their members. For example, those who obediently followed the laws issued by the Nazis during the Second World War were indeed carrying out their societal obligations. But their society was gravely mistaken about the obligations morality prescribed for its citizens. This suggests strongly that moral obligations are not decided by the society. They are objective—what we are obligated to do transcends individual or the collective human will, desires, or beliefs. Thus unless there is a law above human law, it is hard to see how we can justify our claim that some things commanded by certain societies are wrong.

Philosopher Joel Marks has argued that obligation does indeed require the existence of God, though he sadly rejects morality instead of seeing it as further evidence for God. He writes,

I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander—whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted.[20]

Similarly, Yale law professor Arthur Leff concluded his powerful critique of morality without God with the following words,

All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us, could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.

Nevertheless:

Napalming babies is bad.

Starving the poor is wicked.

Buying and selling each other is depraved.

Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and

Pol Pot—and General Custer too—have earned salvation.

Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.

There is in the world such a thing as evil.

[All together now:] Sez who?

God help us. 21

Secondly, the demands of morality frequently conflict with our self-interests in a way that suggests that they transcend mere individual or societal conventions. If we were solely responsible for assigning moral obligations to ourselves, why would we make them so difficult to fulfill, and why do we keep on trying to meet them when we have proven that we are incapable of doing so perfectly? Why not adjust our obligations to match our practical abilities? Our very struggle in this area shows that we recognize the transcendent, otherworldly source of our moral obligations.

The hound of heaven is ever on our trail. Consider the words of the following poem written by A. E. Housman22

And how am I to face the odds

Of man’s bedevilment and God’s!

I, a stranger and afraid

In a world I never made.

They will be master, right or wrong;

Though both are foolish, both are strong.

And since, my soul, we cannot fly

To Saturn nor to Mercury.

Keep we must, if keep we can,

These foreign laws of God and man.

The speaker acquiesces to the weight of moral obligation that he finds to be undeniable, even though it is foreign to his preferred mode of existence. Morality doesn’t ask for our permission before placing its burdensome demands on us. How is such compulsion to be justified? Why should one yield to such demands? Christine Korsgaard’s statement in this regard is worth considering:

… the question can become urgent, for the day will come, for most of us, when what morality commands, obliges, or recommends is hard: that we share decisions with people whose intelligence or integrity don’t inspire our confidence; that we assume grave responsibilities to which we feel inadequate; that we sacrifice our lives, or voluntarily relinquish what makes them sweet. And then the question—why?—will press, and rightly so. Why should I be moral? 23

In Christian terms, we should be moral because we are moral beings made by a moral God in his image. We find our proper telos or purpose when we become what we were originally intended to be. That process begins in this life and continues on to the next, where it will be fully perfected. Morality doesn’t always keep its promises in this life; not only do nice guys not always finish last—sometimes they don’t finish at all. But if this life is not all there is, then the scales will eventually be evened out, and morality and happiness will one day coincide.

THE REALITY OF MORALITY

I find it absolutely mystifying that some would choose to deny the reality of morality rather than acknowledge the fact that it indeed points us to God. That is their prerogative, though in the end they will find themselves “without excuse”: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Thankfully, there are many others who have found their way to the cross after pondering the implications of an objective morality that is simply a part of the fabric of the universe. After discussing some of the points I have raised here with a seemingly hardened, lifelong atheist university professor, he completely caught me off-guard by confessing to me that the argument makes his atheism untenable. I have seen students give their lives to Christ when they learn how to think clearly about morality and when they consider what the gospel of salvation has to offer them—not just for this life, but also for the life to come, as we will see at the conclusion of this article.

Moreover, CS Lewis’s classic book Mere Christianity has played an incalculable role in leading many to faith. One of the most compelling sections of his book is the section where he deals with the moral argument for God’s existence. In his autobiography, Chuck Colson recounts the impact the moral argument had on him in his journey to faith as he read Lewis’s book,

As a lawyer I was impressed by Lewis’s arguments about moral law, the existence of which he demonstrates is real, and which has been perceived with astonishing consistency in all times and places. It has not been man, I saw for the first time, that has perpetuated moral law; it has survived despite man’s best attempts to defeat it. Its long existence therefore presupposes some other will behind it. 24

Similarly, Francis Collins, former leader of the Human Genome Project and now director of the National Institutes of Health, recalls his reaction to the moral argument as presented by CS Lewis:

The hard part for me [as an atheist] was the idea of a personal God, who has an interest in humankind. And the argument that Lewis made there—the one that I think was most surprising, most earth-shattering, and most life-changing—is the argument about the existence of the moral law. How is it that we, and all other members of our species, unique in the animal kingdom, know what’s right and what’s wrong? In every culture one looks at, that knowledge is there. Where did that come from? 25

The Christian has a ready and compelling answer to the question: morality comes from a God who made us in his image and who makes it possible for us to apprehend and apply morality to our lives. Christianity makes an empirically verifiable diagnosis of our spiritual condition; we have broken God’s law. We are at odds with a system of morality that we did not invent, and we stand condemned. But Christianity does much more. It offers a solution to the human condition through the Cross of Christ. At the cross, God marvelously honors his justice while demonstrating his infinite love at the very same moment. And, finally, the Word of God promises that we will one day be made morally perfect. At that point, morality will no longer be a subject of debate—we will just live it out the way we breathe oxygen today, only without the threat of air pollution. Imagine that: we will one day live beyond right and wrong!

BEYOND RIGHT AND WRONG

In addition to accounting for the objectivity and agent-centeredness of moral obligation, Christianity fulfills and complements morality itself in ways naturalism can never hope to do. When we are honest with ourselves, we all know that we fail to keep the moral law that we know exists. And our failure to keep it is more than just a matter of ignorance; it bears the marks of what the Bible calls rebellion against God. As a result, we all stand in need of forgiveness. The Bible thus offers both an accurate diagnosis of the human heart as well as the solution for our primary malady.

In a chillingly profound passage, atheist philosopher Joel Marks makes the following observation:

Philosophical ethics [has become] the pursuit of grounds independent of either God’s fiat or God’s instruction for telling the difference between what we should do and what we should not do. Thus, ironically, secular ethics seeks to replicate the religious origin of sin (of wresting the knowledge of good and evil from God’s providence).26

Did you catch that? Marks says that the philosopher’s struggle to account for morality without God is reminiscent of the account of the fall of humanity in the Old Testament book of Genesis, which offers an explanation for the origin of human evil. In Genesis 3:4-5, the serpent assures Adam and Eve that they are mistaken to let God define right and wrong for them. He says to them, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

What the Tempter meant was not that Adam and Eve would know about good or evil or that some things were wrong to do. They must have known that already, or the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would not have made any sense to them. What the Tempter meant was that Adam and Eve did not need to let God define good and evil for them; they could determine that for themselves. Marks detects the same spirit in the denial of God’s place in morality in contemporary philosophical ethics. When that happens, we become incapable of appreciating and appropriating the power of the gospel in our lives. This gospel is the forgiveness of sin and the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross—revealing also that human beings are morally at odds with God’s righteousness.

But the hope offered in the gospel message goes well beyond morality. In Christian terms, merely recognizing and even keeping the moral law is ultimately beside the point; one of the key goals of the biblical call to righteousness is to be transformed to become like God’s Son (see Romans 8:29). When we have achieved the status for which we were made, morality will cease to occupy the central place it does in our day-to-day lives. In a world where perfection reigns and where all types of sin are completely absent, talk of “right,” “wrong,” “duty,” etc., would at best be forgotten altogether or be mildly entertaining. As George Mavrodes notes, a theistic view of the world “gives morality a deeper place in the world than does a [naturalistic] world and thus permits it to ‘make sense.’” Perhaps it also “suggests that morality is not the deepest thing, that it is provisional and transitory, that it is due to serve its use and then to pass away in favor of something richer and deeper.” 27

Similarly, CS Lewis penned these profound words:

I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. 28

When we complain about evil, we do indeed presuppose the reality of the good. Good and evil invoke an objective standard of right and wrong. Such a standard in turn points us to the God who made us, not just so we can recognize and apply morality to our lives in this life, but so that we can actually enter into an intimate relationship with God and a process of discipleship in his kingdom that begins to prepare us for the noblest existence possible: being in God’s presence forever. We know that we flout not only God’s standards, but also our own. How wonderful to know that forgiveness and eventually eternal restoration are available for people like us. What an incredible promise: that one day we will be able to live beyond right and wrong!

John Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and wrote his PhD on this subject.

[1] I am convinced the reverse is also true: most people do not reject the faith due to arguments. They develop arguments to defend a position they’ve already accepted on other grounds.

[2] Galileo, Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany Galileo, 1615.

[3] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994), 182.

[4] I should note that in this article I use the terms “morality” and “ethics” interchangeably.

[5] GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994), 11.

[6] Louise Anthony, “The Failure of Moral Arguments,” in Debating Christian Theism, edited by JP Moreland, et. al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 110-111.

[7] Erik J. Wielenberg, “In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism,” Faith and Philosophy, vol. 26 no. 1 (January 2009), 24.

[8] William Lane Craig, “The Most Gruesome of Guests” in Is Goodness Without God Good Enough?, ed. Robert Garcia and Nathan L. King (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), 170.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Quoted in Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan (Grand Rapids: Baker House, 2014), 157.

[11] Mark Schroder, “Cudworth and Normative Explanations,” in Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, vol. 1, no. 3 (October 2005), 4.

[12] For an extended discussion, please see Schroder’s article and Copan and Flannagan’s relevant section in their book.

[13] See https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/26/our-moral-obligation-president-obama-speaks-nations-largest-veteran-service-organiza.

[14] G.E.M. Anscombe, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” in Philosophy, 33, no. 124 (January 1958).

[15] John Stuart Mill, “Utilitarianism” (originally published in 1861), in Hackett edition, 1979, 47-48. It is important to note that duty, or obligation, holds even when no punishment is intended. All that is needed is for there to be a person with the authority to issue a command.

[16] Stephen Darwall, “The Second-Person Standpoint,” in The Harvard Review of Philosophy, vol. XVI 2009, 125.

[17] Susan Wolf, “Moral Obligations and Social Commands,” in Metaphysics and the Good: Themes From the Philosophy of Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 351.

[18] C. Stephen Evans, God and Moral Obligation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 9-10.

[19] Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 238.

[20] Joel Marks, “Confessions of an Ex-Moralist,” http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/confessions-of-an-ex-moralist/?pagemode=print.

21 Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law” Duke Law Journal, Vol. 1979, No. 6, 1249, online at http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3810&context=fss_papers.

22 A.E. Housman (1859-1936), “The Laws of God, The Laws of Man.”

23 Christine Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 9.

24 Chuck Colson, Born Again (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2008), 134.

25 See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/voices/collins.html.

26 Joel Marks, Ethics without Morals: In Defence of Amorality (Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory) (Kindle Locations 412-414). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

27 George Mavrodes, “Religion and the Queerness of Morality” in Rationality, Religious Belief and Moral Commitment: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, edited by Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 213-226.

28 CS Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 132.

Courtesy of http://rzim.org/just-thinking/must-the-moral-law-have-a-lawgiver/

 

 

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