Space, Steve Miller, and a Good Christian Time


 

About forty years ago, my friend and I sat excitedly as the diamond needle made its way from the edge of the vinyl disc toward the center. Reliably, the turntable rotated at 33.3 RPM until the needle made its way to the grooved section with the song we most wanted to hear: “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band.

bald-eagle-521492_1920As Miller’s melody filled the air, we experienced many feelings; disappointment wasn’t among them! The instant the “space intro” began to play, we were transported from our south Louisiana homes into a far-away world of rhythmic delight.

More recently, in a different small town in south Louisiana, scientists were likewise transported into a far-away place of audible fascination, but theirs was not a musical adventure—at least not technically. Scientists detected a faint chirp from deep space, instantaneously affirming Einstein’s century-old prediction that gravitational waves permeate our universe.

Writing in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye describes this chirp as music to the scientist’s ear,

“If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.”

On September 14, 2015, scientists at two different LIGO[1] facilities in Washington and Louisiana achieved the milestone discovery of GW150914—the first directly observed gravitational wave in space. Lasting only 0.2 seconds, the chirp of this wave reverberated around the world to the delight of scientists everywhere. Though discovered in September 2015, the wave was not announced until February 2016. Scientists ever since have been heralding the wave detection as a major achievement in science. Bruce Gordon of the Discovery Institute calls this discovery “the real thing,” while Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University says it is one of the major breakthroughs of physics. Eric Katsavounidis (LIGO team member) says, “This is the end of the silent-movie era in astronomy.”[2]

Astronomers are ecstatic about this discovery for more than one reason. Sure, Blog universe-2368403_1920GW150914 affirms an important aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Perhaps more importantly, the detection of this gravitational wave means an entirely new dimension of exploration is unfolding. In the past, scientists studied the universe mainly by observing light. Now, gravitational waves can be studied throughout the cosmos, further clarifying aspects of motion, time, and origin of the cosmos. Adding gravitational waves is like adding sound to the light of the universe.

Years before my friend and I even heard of the Steve Miller Band, scientists had already begun working to observe gravitational waves. LIGO began as a dream in the 1960’s with scientists like Kip Thorne at Caltech. These scientists persevered through funding issues, research setbacks, and technology deficiencies for forty-eight years before their dream of detecting a gravitational wave was realized. If nothing else, the achievement stands as a testimony to human perseverance.

In 1916, Einstein first proposed finding gravitational waves. The search for these waves began in earnest about fifty years ago. Construction of super-technical, super-sensitive equipment began two decades ago. Over the last two decades, more than two hundred million dollars were invested in upgrades to the two LIGO observatories, culminating in a final round of intensive upgrades over the last five years. And just about a year ago—before the equipment was officially ready to launch—it happened. The chirp sounded (listen here). For two-tenths of a second, the earth surfed across a gravitational wave. Scientists worldwide rightly applauded.

Gravitational wave GW150914 was produced by the final collapse of spiraling, binary black holes. These spiraling black holes were once massive stars which collapsed into themselves, then into each other. Each of these black holes began as stars with a mass thirty times that of our sun. The collapse of the two stars, and the consequent merger of the two black holes, happened 1.4 billion light years away in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.

No one on earth felt the gravitational wave. Without the sophisticated, ultra-sensitive LIGO equipment, no one would ever have known that such a wave existed. But because of LIGO scientists who were able to split laser beams and send them through 2.5 mile long vacuum tubes 90 degrees apart in Louisiana and Washington, the world now knows for sure that gravitational waves are rippling through the cosmos like intergalactic whirlpools. It’s easy to see why physicists are so excited.

Christians should join their applause. LIGO is a monumental achievement. Christians might be tempted to conflate this discovery too quickly into an argument for design (against evolution), or to question the assumptions of origins (for fiat creation against Big Bang cosmology). Scientists do tend to leave a number of metaphysical questions hanging like the ill-fitting apparel we put on the discarded clothes rack in fitting rooms. Charles Q. Choi explains it this way:

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang. Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.”[3]

blog galaxies-connectedWhy is the universe expanding? To what end is the universe expanding? Is there a purpose built into the expansion? Where did the energy and mass derive from which the Big Bang occurred? Why should there be a Big Bang in the first place? These and many other questions remain unanswered. In truth, GW150914 answers some questions, refuses to answer other questions, and reveals still more fascinating questions waiting to be asked.

One such question in my own mind is how does this discovery affect our understanding of time and history. Ostensibly, the experiment had little to do with time; it was an experiment designed to detect gravitational waves in space. Yet everything about the experiment extols the virtues of linear time.

Think back to the song “Fly Like an Eagle.” The song wished for a revolution to eradicate poverty. Steve Miller wished he could fly like an eagle until he was free from the suffering in this world. Miller hoped for progress over time. One of the more memorable lines from the song is the confident refrain, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”

Like those of us whose cognitive formation took place in a western tradition, Steve Miller assumed that time is linear—that time progresses toward a defined point which we call the future. Does the notion of linear time correspond to the reality of the cosmos? Eastern religions doubt linear time. Even in the West, some have begun to doubt that time has a fixed beginning and a linear progression into the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche may be the most influential philosopher in the West to argue against linear time. According to Nietzsche, time occurs in a series of endless loops, a system he referred to as eternal recurrence. In this system, time is more like a wheel, turning round and round but going nowhere. Human action is rendered insignificant because whatever is has already been and will be again. In eternal recurrence, human action is pre-determined by the cycle of time. Thus, no human action ultimately changes history. The future is swallowed up in the past. So Nietzsche explained in Zarathustra, “The soul is as mortal as the body. But the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again.”[4]

Nietzsche was comfortable with—if not excited by—this loss of future meaning, but not everyone shares his zeal for embracing (and thus defying) the meaninglessness of human existence. Philosopher Ron Nash points out that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence robbed history of meaning: “In order for history to have significance, it must have a goal. Without a purpose or goal, neither history nor individual human lives can have significance. Without a goal, there would be no basis by which mere change could be identified as progress.”[5]

It’s easy to see that the LIGO scientists pay close attention to history—especially the last 100 years. Not only history, these scientists are serious and sober about the future. They believe they are making progress, but they know they are only scratching the surface. They are determined to learn as much as they can before they die, leaving a knowledge trail for future scientists. In other words, these scientists believe in progress. LIGO scientists believe in the future.

The optimism of this work affirms in three ways the linear concept of time: First, that this universe has a single point of origin. Second, that this is an orderly universe which remains intact over time. Third, that the work done presently matters (has enduring significance not just now but in the future). These scientists share a belief in the progress of knowledge (preservation and advancement).

Christians, too, believe the universe has a single point of origin. We proclaim the significance of human life now with great confidence toward the future. We believe, for instance, that Christ died for our sins once in history for all time, and the benefits of that death endure to the future.

Christians should join the celebration of GW150914. The discovery of this wave affirms the way we see the universe. Christians and physicists agree that time is significant for human beings in the past and present. This discovery also means that we can keep singing Steve Miller, as time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                [1] LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. There are two observatories, one in Livingston, LA, the other near Richland, WA.

[2] As quoted by Robert Naeye, Sky and Telescope, February 11, 2016, accessed [on-line] 27 January 2016: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/gravitational-wave-detection-heralds-new-era-of-science-0211201644/

                [3] Charles Q. Choi, “Our Expanding Universe: Age, History, and Other Facts,” Space.Com (January 13, 2015), accessed January 30, 2017, [on-line] http://www.space.com/52-the-expanding-universe-from-the-big-bang-to-today.html

 

                [4] As Quoted in C. Ivan Spencer, The Tweetable Nietzsche (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 104. Originally, this quotation is found in Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra [III, “The Convalescent”].

[5] Ron Nash, The Meaning of History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 38.

Who Is Persecuting Palestinian Christians?


No one needs to ponder whether Christians in Palestinian territories are suffering terribly. They are. Who’s to blame?

Christian persecution middle eastThere are very strong voices in the media and in political circles who point out that Israel is the country doing all the killing. Sure, Hamas is firing hundreds of missiles into Israel, but they don’t end up killing anyone because of Israel’s advanced “Iron Dome” defense systems.  Meanwhile, Israel’s rockets do reach their targets, and, so, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in recent fighting. Palestine has been an area of Christian influence for centuries. And Israel has been an unwelcome occupier of the land since 1948. Protected by her western allies, Israel is responsible for exerting its disproportionate force in such a way that Christians in Palestine are the ones who end up suffering.

Against this view, there are those who argue that Israel has done no wrong. They point out that Hamas—a known Islamic terrorist organization—has been in control of Palestine since 2007.  In the last decade more than 4,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza.  The rockets are fired by Hamas, Al Quds, and others, who launch the rockets from hospitals, elementary schools, and apartment buildings in order to prevent Israel from fighting back.  If Israel were to fight back, she would inevitably kill civilians, which would then create “martyrs” for media manipulation.  The entire affair is as cynical as it is sordid.

What if—instead of being sucked into the bi-polar, geo-political warfare being waged from both sides—what if we could hear directly from Palestinian Christians? Maybe we can. They have been speaking out for the past couple of years.  From a 2012 Gatestone Institute report,

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

Most of us are not experts on the political machinations of the Middle East. We rely on news reports, testimonies, and research we hope we can trust. And we must do our best to make sense of a situation that always seems to inflame passions more than light the way of truth. It isn’t easy. But here’s a thought.

Given the fact that these Christians are living in Hamas-controlled Palestinian territories, they would be applauded by their government and by the sentiments of the general population if they blamed Israel. Blaming Israel would be the most natural, most agreeable, and most simple statement for them to make.  But they have been doing the opposite. They have been protesting the treatment they are receiving at the hands of Hamas and their own leaders.  They have been saying that their people are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. And they have said this publicly at their own risk:

The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.

Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help. 

It seems to me that it would take much more courage for them to speak against their own Muslim (Hamas/PA) leaders than it would for them to Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christspeak out against Israel. Thus, I tend to believe that Palestinian Christians are in fact being persecuted by and, consequently, have been suffering at the hands of Hamas and other Muslim radicals in Gaza.

I’m not saying that Israel is always right. I don’t believe that. I don’t even believe that the land and geopolitical entity we now call Israel is particularly favored by God (as I have explained here).  There is no doubt that Israel’s wartime mentality is creating a terrible hardship for many, even if Israel has taken the unprecedented step of announcing ahead of time where and when she will strike. (See here for particular stories with varying degrees of blame toward Israel).

What I am saying, however, is that Palestinian Christians have been persecuted by the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. And at least some Palestinian Christians have been trying to speak up about it.  They feel that the media are punching the mute button toward their voice-boxes because their complaints don’t fit the typical political script.

At the end of the matter, of course, it does not matter who is to blame as much as what will we do? Will we help them with our prayers (1 Cor 1:8-11)?  Above all, let us pray that Christ Himself would be their strength, their hope, and their refuge through this awful storm in which they seem to have lost all their earthly allies.

For Krauthammer’s take on current Israel-Palestine crisis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-moral-clarity-in-gaza/2014/07/17/0adabe0c-0de4-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html

 

 

 

Imagine Living as a Christian in Nigeria


Just this past weekend, my family and I hosted a World Cup party. About 25 people crowded into my living room to enjoy the epic battle in which the U.S. Men’s National team fought against the highly-touted, Ronaldo-led squad from Portugal.

Religious Freedom down Hostility Up

Freedom Down, Hostility Up

Yes, the last-second cross from Ronaldo to the head of Varela sent shockwaves down all 25 spines in the room, causing us—at least momentarily—to lose both our will and our ability to speak.  But, all in all, we enjoyed the football, the food, the fellowship, and the fun of the World Cup event. Many people around the U.S. enjoyed similar parties in similar settings.

But World Cup parties played out differently in Nigeria. Nigerians—including Nigerian Christians—also had World Cup viewing parties. Sadly, in the Mubi area of Adamawa state, Muslim extremists bombed a party of football watchers gathered (just as we were) to enjoy this global spectacle that, by design, hopes to bring the world together.

According to this Reuters report, the attack left 14 people dead and 12 injured, some of those are critically wounded.  Most people suspect Boko Haram, a terrorist group working to rid Nigeria of all but the purist form of Islam. In April of this year, this terrorist group kidnapped 200 schoolgirls possibly to keep as brides for Muslim men. The girls are still being held. And, since the kidnapping, Boko Haram has killed more than 500 innocent civilians in settings similar to World Cup watching parties. The majority of those being targeted by Boko Haram are Christians.

We have taken much for granted in the U.S.  Even while our freedoms are shrinking daily, we still have not come to a place where bombs are expected at “futbol” parties. We can be thankful for that, of course, but we also can be more sober about the world in which we live.

Islam is a force of intolerance with no equal right now. A couple of Islam scholars I have read have argued that groups like Boko Haram spring up in countries where Islam is almost a majority. Their hope is that through violence and intimidation and an appeal to Islamic heritage they can tip the Lady Justice Judge othersscales nationwide toward Islam and Sharia law.

I’m certainly no expert on these matters, but I will say that Nigeria fits that description. Nationwide, they are 50% Muslim and 50% Christian or traditional African religion.  The area targeted in this recent attack is a Fulani area (I think). That would make sense because Boko Haram has been slaughtering Christians and any who don’t appear Muslim enough. The Fulani people, I believe, are mostly Muslim, but they hold to a tradition all their own.

Regardless of the particulars at play in Nigeria, the case is certain that it is not safe to be a Christian there, especially in the northern parts of the country like Adamawa state (where this attack occurred).  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria need our continued prayer and support. Our concern for humankind and for individual liberty calls us to care for the fate of the Fulani people in Nigeria, too.

To contemplate the reality that while we were joyfully watching a game for its entertainment value other people were being mercilessly slaughtered in the name of religious conformity is, at the very least, sobering. It is an almost unbearable reality.  We can’t just ignore it for that would make us cold, indifferent, and almost culpable.  We also can’t be debilitated by it. We must continue both to express our own freedom and work so others can enjoy theirs. Both in Nigeria and in California, people should be free to watch the World Cup together without fearing an Islamic invasion.

More thoughts about religious liberty

 

A Simple Way to Share Your Faith


The hardest part of sharing the gospel (for me) is starting the conversation. Like most Christians, I love to talk about Jesus and the truth of the Scriptures, but it is hard to get the conversation going. So, I’ve tried to identify easy “connections” between the Bible and everyday life. One of the most natural connections to everyday life is found in John 3:16.

Share Christ Christian Evangelism Salvation PersecutionJohn 3:16 is a great place for starting gospel conversations because it is easily remembered. Most Christians memorize John 3:16 early in their Christian walk. More than a few pastors, scholars, and teachers have recognized how clearly the gospel is present in this simple verse:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

To begin with, John 3:16 gets immediately to the heart of the human problem: Perishing. From birth, we are perishing apart from the life-giving, resurrection power of Jesus Christ. This concept of perishing operates as a great connector from the mundane world of human existence to the heavenly glories of Christ and His kingdom. Here’s how to make that connection plain.

Have you ever heard your friends talk about their problems? Have you ever had family members dump their emotions on you, venting about their frustrations? Have you ever heard your colleagues bemoaning some injustice in the world? Yes, yes, yes! Of course, you have. Each of these experiences exists on account of the Fall of humankind from peace with God.

In other words, all problems are ultimately rooted in the singular problem of our being at odds with God: the Fall. Because of the Fall, we are all mired in sin, stuck in a web of deceit, sinfulness, and death. The problem, ultimately, is that we are perishing. We are in the darkness and hating the light because of our own evil deeds (John 3:19-20).  We are living as human beings in the world, but we are under the curse of death. That is our problem. We are perishing.

God’s provisionto remedy the curse and reconcile us to Himself, giving us life instead of death, is nothing less than Jesus Christ. God so loved…that He gave Christ to be a payment for our sins. The problem is that we are perishing under the curse. The Provision from God is Christ Himself, who came to satisfy the payment price for our sins and purchase for us the remedy for death.

The problem is that we are perishing in our sin under the curse of death. The provision is Christ who came to pay the price for us. And now there is a promisefrom God. The promise is eternal life. God so loved that He gave with the purpose and intent that whoever believes will NOT perish, but HAVE eternal life. Christ remedies the curse of death with the sure, purchased promise of eternal life in His name.

In this simple way, this one common verse is able to move you from a perennial problem (sin, death) to an eternal solution (eternal life in Jesus’s name). You are likely already familiar with John 3:16 so there is no need to get anxious about “what should I say” or “how should I start”? Just start with John 3:16 and cover the problem (perishing); God’s provision (Christ); and the promise of a new life (eternal life).  Problem, Provision, Promise. There’s the gospel from John 3:16. Now, let’s go share it!

How Have We Kissed the Son?


Psalm 2 famously states, “Kiss the son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way” (2:12, NKJV).  But there is more than one way to kiss the son.

Luke 22 tells the story of Jesus’s arrest. Jesus was handed over to his captors by a kiss from Judas Iscariot: “Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’”

The irony of such a kiss is captured by Michael Card in his song, “Why?”

What Kind of Kiss World Vision PersecutionWhy did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That’s not what a kiss is for

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain…

Card goes further in the song to explain that the world cannot offer a true kiss, just as the world cannot truly crown Christ as king. Christ’s demands of allegiance are too great. His love is too pure,

Because in this life that we live

For all who seek to love

A thorn is all the world has to give.

Christ offers himself in love. The world crowns his love with thorns. Judas Iscariot indeed did kiss the Son, yet he perished in the way. The kiss of Psalm 2 was never meant to be merely a kiss. A kiss of genuine affection and devotion was the one intended by the psalm.

A kiss of mere lip service is never enough, as though the action itself were all that was demanded. Spurgeon reminds us to be on guard “when the world puts on a loving face, for it will, if possible, betray me as it did my Master, with a kiss. Whenever a man is about to stab religion, he usually professes very great reverence for it.”

Our kiss must stand the trials of time. When pressure builds to affirm same sex marriage, will we still offer our affectionate embrace of God’s Son, or, as with World Vision, will we seek favor with donors or those wielding political clout? When we are called hateful bigots because we think homosexuality is sinful, will we still kiss the Son?  When we are ostracized, outcast, and persecuted, will our kiss endure?

We must kiss the son, but not like Judas.

Can Watching a Horror Film Save Your Soul?


William Peter Blatty, the son of Lebanese immigrants from New York, won an Oscar and three Golden Globes for his famous movie, The Exorcist. Before this film, Blatty’s success was limited. Most likely, the success of The Exorcist exceeded even his wild imagination. It turns out, the success of that movie extends beyond the material world and into the spiritual. God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.

Exorcist Salvation While Blatty was touring and doing interviews about his movie, a street kid from Los Angeles was studying martial arts. Mr. E grew up in the city, in a home which included daily beatings from his dad for both him and his mother. Mr. E was cruelly made tough. He could take a hit. And he learned to deliver one as well.

Nevertheless, the streets were hard. So, Mr. E decided that he could not yet match everyone on the streets. He had been fighting since he was a kid in grammar school. And he knew there were kids tougher than he was. Sort of foreshadowing the MMA/UFC movement, Mr. E decided he needed the extra advantage martial arts could give him.

Feeling relatively secure with his fighting abilities and martial arts training, Mr. E was beginning to trust himself more and more in the concrete jungle of inner-city LA.  Drugs, violence, and a cock-of-the-walk swagger characterized the young man’s life, until his friends took him to see this “bad” movie (Bad meant then what sick means now). The movie, in his words, “literally scared the hell out of me.”

The young man wasn’t scared because he realized the demonic powers might really exist. He knew such forces of evil were real. He was scared because of how much sense the movie made to him. He was scared because he felt like he knew these demonic powers. The movie made Mr. E realize that no amount of martial arts sophistry—no degree of toughness or physical power—could enable him to stand against the forces of evil.

The next Sunday—not knowing what else to do—Mr. E went to a local church and asked someone there to tell him whether God had the power to overcome the forces of evil. Can you imagine stepping out of Sunday school and being asked such a question by a troubled young man? What glorious Providence!

The young man went home after the service and devoured the Bible he was given, reading the gospels with such a liberating force that he knew he was saved before he reached the Great Commission of Matthew 28. His life was transformed, and his soul secured in the rest of Christ.

Today, this street kid no longer fights with his fists and his feet. He no longer needs the empty crutch of martial arts to protect him. He no longer craves the drugs that once drove his fleshly desires—he flushed two bags of dope the day he read the gospels. And he never went back.

Mr. E has earned college and seminary degrees and pastors a church in a growing suburb outside of LA. His life has been surrendered to fight the good fight of faith, a fight which has love as its aim and eternal security as its prize. Blatty may in fact be glad to know his movie played a part , but I doubt he ever expected The Exorcist to lead to the saving of a man’s soul.

Can Christians Read Pagan Literature?


Should Christians read pagan literature? The question is a fair one, considering that more than one place in Scripture expects the believer to renew his mind and do everything he does to the glory of God. It’s hard to see how Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be considered mind-renewing. It may be even more difficult to place The DaVinci Code in a category anywhere close to “devotional.”

Christianity pagan literature glory GodYet I’m wondering if we might be asking the wrong question when we ask whether we can read pagan literature. The question can we—as though we really hope we get permission to do something that might be bad but we really want to do it anyway because everyone else is doing it—sets us up for a yes-or-no, up-or-down decision. But maybe the answer is not yes-or-no. Maybe there is a better question for us to ask regarding pagan literature:  How are Christians to read non-Christian literature?  There are two reasons that asking how is better than asking if we can.

First, in a very real sense, there is no way to avoid reading pagan literature, if one reads at all.  Think about the non-Christian writing that makes up our daily lives: Billboards, advertisements, newspapers, owner’s manuals, textbooks, school reading assignments, and terms of agreement (you do read those, right?).  As Paul told the Corinthians, we would have to go out of the world to avoid contact with unbelievers. There is no way to avoid some pagan literature.

So, second, asking how are we to read pagan literature makes better sense because it focuses the responsibility on the individual Christian to practice discernment, rather than pretending there is some inherent righteousness which makes the abstaining Christian superior to the Homer-reading one. Asking how means the Christian takes seriously the task of renewing his mind and doing only what can be done to the glory of God.

When it comes to asking how to read pagan literature, perhaps no Christian has explained the dynamic better than Peter Leithart. His two books—The Brightest Heaven of Invention and Heroes of the City of Man—are practically guidebooks, complete with “walk-along-beside-me-and-hold-my-hand-while-I-show-you-how-to-do-this” instructions. Leithart makes two simply profound statements beneficial for all who wrestle with this important question.

  • 1.  Leithart acknowledges that there is no imperative for Christians to read non-Christian literature. As he puts it,

Christians have no more moral duty to read and study Greek and Roman literature than ancient Israelites had a duty to study the myths of Baal and Asteroth [sic].  Nor should Christian schools or homeschoolers think that they can have a good Christian education only if the ‘classics’ are prominent in the curriculum. The goal of Christian education is to train a child to be faithful in serving God and His kingdom in a calling, and certainly this goal can be achieved by a student who never cracked the cover of a Homeric epic.

And he continues,

Given the appalling ignorance of the Bible among evangelical Christians today, mastering Scripture must be an overwhelming priority in all Christian education. If one must choose between studying Leviticus and Livy, Habakkuk or Homer, Acts or Aeschylus, the decision is, to my mind, perfectly evident, and the point holds even if the non-biblical literature were Christian.  The genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-9 are vastly more important to study than Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, or Dickens….

And we could add Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games.  How are Christians to read pagan literature? The Christian imperative is first to understand all that Jesus has commanded. The Christian who has not yet mastered Scripture does not need to ask the question “can I read pagan literature.” Instead, he or she would need to ask, “How can I read pagan literature…when I am still so ignorant of what I claim is most important?”   The how question, in this case, answers itself.

  • 2.  Leithart explains the how question another way. “Assuming a student has a strong grounding in Scripture, there may be good reasons for taking up a study of other literature… Daniel and his three friends learned the language and literature of the Chaldeans (Dan. 1:4).”

Likewise, Paul quoted pagan poets to make theological points which called unbelievers to repentance.  Leithart offers a number of biblical examples, then concludes,

God, in short, calls us to war against the idols…. With ideas and literature, the confrontation between the Bible and paganism will be more intense, but with great care and wisdom, we can plunder even pagan literature and make it work for us. As Proverbs says, the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous (Prov 13:22).

Asking the how question concerning non-Christian literature puts the perspective back on redemption. How can this literature glorify God? There is a way, but it takes hard work, wisdom, and great care. Those unwilling to engage in the difficult work of redeeming fallen literature—those wishing only the entertainment value of paganism—have not yet learned how to read pagan literature.

But I think Leithart is right, there is a way to read pagan literature to the glory of God. We just have to learn how.  How do you think Christians can read pagan literature to the glory of God?

Jesus Christ’s Invincible Church Growth Strategy


Books abound on church growth strategy. There are books to grow your church from the inside out. Other books teach church growth from the outside in. One book wants you to grow your church by learning from unchurched Americans. Another book says Christians just need to become contagious (in a good way, of course).

Christ church prevail persecutionEach of these books has the right heartbeat: Christian churches ought to grow and bear good fruit. Jesus Himself said,

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples, John 15:8.

That churches ought to grow is not as difficult a question to answer as is the question, how are churches to grow.  That question begets much opinion with copious emotion.  The vast array of such opinions and emotions has generated wave after wave of church growth movements. Pastors and laypeople alike may, at times, feel swept away by the waves of change mandated in the latest church growth stratagem. How can we grow the church?

In response, I offer this reminder of a simple, helpful, strong, and encouraging message embedded in the Scriptures, one which is also being demonstrated in real-time through the persecuted church.  The lesson?  Jesus Christ will build His church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against her.  Consider the scenario unfolded in Acts 8.

A very bad thing happened in Acts 8. A great persecution struck the church. Christians had to flee Jerusalem (in the same way they are having to flee the Middle East today).  The ones who thought they might stay and maintain some form of normalcy in Jerusalem were dragged off to prison (Acts 8:3). It was all bad. All their dreams of family comfort were shattered as a crystal glass shatters on a granite counter—instantly broken into scattered pieces.

And what of the decimation to the Jerusalem church? After whom would the persecutors go? Persecutors typically attack the leaders first. So, the great persecution unleashed in Jerusalem decimated the church, chasing even some of her leaders far away and out of reach. And yet, the bad news had a divinely-empowered good result. As Acts 8:4 reports, “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”  And the people in the places they went to ended up rejoicing. The bad the persecutors were producing ended with the good news of the gospel spreading.

In a similar way, a very bad thing happened in China in 1949.  Communism took over in China, and, among other changes, the Christian Church China PersecutionCommunist government expelled all missionaries from the land. And that wasn’t all:  The Communist government immediately began putting in prison Christians who could not swear first allegiance to the Communist party.  The blood-bath was immense through the 1960’s, as government officials announced “the death of God.” The situation was very bad indeed.  But God was not dead. He was as alive as His Word.

Without foreign missionary aid, without government help or support, without any serious infra-structure or property or resources in the country, the Christians of China did not die. The church grew.

When Communism took over, there were 870,000 Christians in China. Today, after a 60 year assault on the Christian church, there are an estimated 90 million Christians in China. There may in fact be more Christians than there are Communist party members! That growth happened—as it happened in Acts 8—through the promise from Christ that He would build His church–that His word would continue to increase and go forth empowered by the Spirit to the ends of the earth.

The point for us to remember is simply that Jesus is the one building his church, and the work cannot fail. Indeed, Paul tells us that the work we do in the name of the Lord will never be done in vain (1 Cor 15).  So, by faith, preach the Word. Strategize. Seek to fulfill the Great Commission mandate, but, even when persecution and unexpected setbacks come, take courage:  Jesus Christ has not lost control of heaven or earth, and He will build His church.  That’s a strategy with a 100% durable success.

Why Give a Definition of Christian Persecution?


Tryon Edwards, great grandson of Jonathan Edwards, once said,

Most controversies would soon be ended, if those engaged in them would first accurately define their terms, and then adhere to their definitions.

Edwards was perhaps too optimistic about the end of controversy, but he was right to note the power of definitions to bring clarity and, perhaps, unity. Definitions are important things. A trip to the local reference section of a library or bookstore proves beyond doubt that we think definitions are important things.

Christian persecution definitionConsider the prevalence of English dictionaries. There are dictionaries for synonyms, dictionaries for war terms, for business terms, legal terms, theological terms, psychological terms. A seemingly endless stream of dictionaries flows from the ocean of words which break upon the pages of our literature and, thus, land upon our minds, enabling and empowering our thoughts. Our thoughts ride and move upon the surf of words.

But words do not always come as docile tides bathing a white sand shore. Words break upon our ears and often crash into our minds challenging our very existence. As the existentialist Sartre declared, “Words are loaded pistols.” And that is often true. Defining words can be a dangerous game because words are the means by which reality takes its shape.  Consider, for example, how the Nazis defined treason and loyalty. And consider the implications for Germany and the world.

In our own culture, consider how important it is to define the word person. It has become a deadly word for babies developing in the womb because they have been excluded by definition from the semantic range of the word person. So, you see, subtle changes in the definition of words can have cataclysmic long term effects for us. Definitions are exceedingly important.

Two particular words Christians must define in our own day are marriage and persecution. The first is necessary because the word is being redefined.  The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has fallen on notoriously difficult times, and marriage is now successfully being redefined to include same sex unions. In fact, as I’ve noted in prior posts, the new definition of marriage demands no boundaries on the basis of avoiding all discrimination. A recent federal case in Utah may now allow group marriages (read about it here).

Because marriage is now redefined, Christians will be tested on whether or not they believe what they have been saying about their own definition.  Do we as Christians believe God’s monogamous design for heterosexual marriage? Will Christians stand on these convictions? What if group marriages, gay marriages, or even bestial marriages become matters of civil rights? Will Christians remain steadfast in their biblical convictions? Will we pay the price in persecution? What if churches will lose their tax exempt status as a result of monogamous marriage commitments? What if pastors are convicted of civil rights crimes—or hate crimes—and sent to jail for refusing to marry a small group of lovers?

Persecution will likely flow from the deluge of court decisions against traditional marriage. Thus, Christians ought to start defining persecution so we understand what and why we are suffering.  Persecution means many things to many different people. I read an article recently which stated that wild birds were being persecuted in northern England.  Whatever the journalist covering birdcrime in Great Britain meant by his use of the word persecuted, the Christian must understand it much differently. Both Christians and birds of prey can be hunted and threatened with extinction, but Christians alone are human beings created in the image of God and charged with witnessing to His glory. Birds are not people and, thus, not created in God’s image.  Persecuting birds is not the same as persecuting Christians. But Christians will be persecuted. Thus, persecution is a concept which needs to be properly defined. Here is a good, biblical definition of persecution:

Persecution is a retaliatory action against the revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ which is represented or proclaimed by the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The definition is helpful for Christians so we can test ourselves (as Peter commands) to make sure our suffering happens because of Christ and His righteousness, not because of our own stupidity, arrogance, or offensive behavior. The definition is also helpful so we can experience the full joy of the blessings of Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). Finally, the definition is important because we will likely be facing persecution of a more intense nature than at any time in America’s history.

Here we return to Edwards’s point. Definitions do provide clarity and can lead to unity. Often, however, the clarity itself leads to controversy.  Such controversy by no means argues for de-emphasizing the need for definitions. Rather, the controversy serves further to clarify where to stand, when to stand, and how to stand. And if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. If you do stand for something as a Christian, you will face persecution. Define your terms so you will know why you suffer.

And as you suffer, remember the words of your great Shepherd: “Blessed are you.”  Learn from this Shepherd the definition of being blessed—even when you cannot be united on account of the words you have learned to define.

Noisy Saints Need Ears to Hear


“He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7).

I am a football fan. And I am a Christian. Therefore, as any good Christian ought, I cheer for the Saints!  The Apostle Paul blesses the churches at Ephesus and Colosse because of their love for the saints. So, it is obviously biblical to love the saints  😉

Last week, the Saints had a very rough time in Seattle. They were barely able to escape being scoreless in Seattle. Part of the problem for the Saints was the noise. The crowd in Seattle sought to break the Guinness record for loudest fans at an outdoor stadium. To do so, they had to exceed 137 decibels. They did—mostly during the crucial seconds the Saints needed for calling plays at the line of scrimmage. Congratulations, Seattle, you broke the record, reaching 137.6 decibels—and registering as a small earthquake on the regional Richter scale.

More importantly, this event is capable of instructing us in a serious theological matter. The Seahawks fans made so much noise that the Saints had to wear specially-fitted earplugs in order to hear plays being called at the line of Scrimmage. Think about that. Earplugs (used for silencing) became necessary in order to hear. The earplugs were necessary so that the outside noise (ambient noise) would not overpower the direct-line speech from player to player. The earplugs were designed to “drown out” the 137.6-decibel flood of Seattle Seahawk sound waves. The plugs filtered the noise to allow the team to hear close, direct-line speech.

All Christians–all saints–need ear-filters such as this. Indeed, one of the primary distinctions between “saints” and “sinners” in the New Testament is that the one “has ears to hear” what the Spirit is saying, while the other cannot hear the word on account of its being choked out by the cacophony of words being shouted by the world.

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs, spent 14 years in prison, often in solitary confinement. His book, Tortured for Christ, tells of his response to being free. In short, he states that he was most unimpressed with how those outside of prison squandered their freedom by simply making “noise” with their speech. According to Wurmbrand, even Christians squandered their speech on the noise of talking about sports, the weather, and the amusements of entertainment. After solitary confinement, Wurmbrand discovered that very few things in life were really worth talking about at all.

He also offers another telling story about the proper filtering of noise:

In the homes of many Western Christians, hours are sometimes spent listening to worldly music. In our homes loud music can also be heard, but it is only to cover the talk about the gospel and the underground work so that Ear to hearthe neighbors may not overhear it and inform the secret police.

Wurmbrand learned the real mechanics of noise and how to use it (like specially-fitted earplugs) to make the gospel more clearly, directly heard. Preachers must learn the same lesson. Unfortunately, many preachers spend too much time seeking to sound like the world (for apologetic or evangelistic purposes) instead of intentionally filtering a focused word for the saints, who are in the world but no longer desiring to be part of it.

With all the ambient noise surrounding us on billboards, television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Netflix, and Hulu—we need Christian pastors who are capable of tuning a message to the frequency of the Scriptures and broadcasting it directly through the crowd noise to ears of those who have an ear to hear.

Stop Chronological Snobbery


The lure of chronological snobbery is an almost invincible force which overwhelms us all. Each of us hopes to excel our own pasts and, thus, to excel the generations which gave us birth. So, it is understandable that we are tempted by chronological snobbery.  As a term, chronological snobbery was first utilized by C. S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy.[1] In that work, Lewis described how he had been guilty of making fallacious arguments as a result of his own chronological snobbery:

 

…”chronological snobbery,” [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

Chronological SnobberyThe 20th Century was birthed in chronological snobbery, as the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century brought unparalleled prosperity to the western world, making it possible to be affluent and comfortable without necessarily being moral. Progress was the century’s theme, and progress meant affluence. In other words, economy trumped morality. The old vestiges of Christian virtue were discarded as out of fashion. In the same manner that we threw out bell-bottom jeans in the 1980’s, so, too, Americans threw out chastity in the 20th Century. Now, our chronological snobbery declares that the prudish sensibilities of our sexual past are forever positively usurped.

But notice the two-part definition from C.S. Lewis. In the first part, he mentions that old truths are dismissed as out of date. In the second, he notes that in the place of the old, a new set of “widespread assumptions” arise which are never even questioned. So, the common sense of our age has dismissed the old and blindly adopted the new.  We mock a “puritanical sexual morality,” while, at the same time, we applaud the supposed right of women to kill unwanted babies in the womb. Our chronological snobbery blinds us to the gruesome reality of our own age and robs us of truth which lies embedded in the wisdom of ages past.

As an antidote to the mind-numbing effects of chronological snobbery, the Bible encourages two alarmingly sober lessons. First, the Bible is plain that what has happened in the past is supposed to be remembered for our instruction. Paul says this very thing to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 10:11), urging them to learn from Israel’s mistakes:

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  

The Bible is clear that past generations made mistakes. In that way, the Bible sounds faintly similar to a central concept of chronological snobbery. But the similarity ends there, for the Bible assumes further that the present generation is every bit as capable of making the same mistake as the prior generation. Thus, the present generation is always in need of learning from the mistakes of the prior generation. Otherwise, as George Santayana said, ““Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[2] Learn from the past so that you do not repeat the mistakes from it. This is the first biblical antidote to chronological snobbery.

The second biblical antidote to chronological snobbery is much simpler and, thus, even more profound: Don’t think too highly of yourself.  Paul says in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” 

The reason we must be taught this is that we all tend to hold ourselves in high esteem, while holding others in contempt. We all think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. This principle applies to each person in particular, as well as to humankind in general. Because such thinking is inherent in every person, it is also indicative of all of us. All of us are prone to think that we are advanced and enlightened in ways unfamiliar to the past. But it really is not so. The writer of Ecclesiastes got it right when he said (more than 25 centuries ago) that there is nothing new under the sun. Human nature has not changed.

Let us learn from the past in humility, realizing that the very mistakes which tripped up our predecessors are the same mistakes which threaten us. Let us also in humility humble ourselves, esteeming others as more honorable than ourselves. This means we esteem Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Bunyan, Edwards, and Spurgeon, as though they were actually more intelligent than we (which they were). They each made mistakes from which we can learn, but such learning should be humble and should correct us, conforming our thoughts more to the thoughts of Christ.

Rather than falling prey to Chronological Snobbery, we can learn from the past and be humble. These are the two simple, biblical strategies necessary to combat the error of Chronological Snobbery.


[1] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, pp. 207-208.

[2] George Santayana, The Life of Reason.

 

Is There Hope for Russian Adoptions? Tears and Heaven


Original flavor Sun Chips in the bag

Original flavor Sun Chips (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 28, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a life-wrecking edict to stop Russian adoptions. The story below is my attempt to capture the agony and offer some hope.

A bag of Sun Chips broke my heart. I saw the half-empty bag with its twisted, crumpled top dangling gingerly over the side of the white countertop. The bag was unmistakably Misiker’s. It had been held tightly in his little brown fists all evening long.

Misiker is my (now) three year-old son, who came to live with us in Kentucky last March. The Sun Chips episode occurred in his native land of Ethiopia. I share the story because it offers a hint of the agony now endured by 46 adopting parents in the former Soviet Union.

The Sun Chips broke my heart because of what they symbolized: A baby boy trying to hold what tiny bit of life he could in his little two year-old fingers.  My wife and I officially adopted Misiker and his younger brother Jack last December in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. However, because of the quirky immigration policies of the USA, we had to leave Misiker and Jack in Ethiopia and return home to Kentucky, even though Ethiopia had awarded them to us as our children.

We bonded with the boys. Misiker stayed with us throughout the day. He was always busy running around the orphanage compound, playing with the other children, kicking a ball, and talking with anyone who might listen; yet he kept an eye on his mom and dad. He played, but checked to see that we were watching. And we were, until the night arrived for our departure.

When I handed Misiker over to the nanny so she could take him to bed (while the driver took us to the airport), the little boy’s eyes looked scared. His countenance was confused.  His nose crumpled upward, while his smile broke uncontrollably downward, muffling his tearful cries just enough to make them more unbearable for his mom and dad. We had to let him go, but neither he nor we really understood why. Through tears, we prayed, then went back to our room to gather our bags.

In the room, I completely fell to pieces, feeling very much like someone had drilled a hole in my stomach and was slowly pulling out my intestines at a tortuously slow pace—delightfully increasing my agonizing cries. When I thought I could not cry any more tears, I gathered our bags and walked down the stairs. When I turned the corner, I saw the Sun Chips bag his little hands had held.

This two year-old baby owned nothing in this world. Everything from his underwear to his pink slippers was borrowed from the community basket. All he had in this world that he could call his own was a single bag of Sun Chips, and there they sat on the edge of a counter awaiting his return.  Would he remember them in the morning? More importantly, would he remember me in the morning? I would likely be flying over the Atlantic when he awoke in the morning. Would he remember? Would I ever see my little boy again? When would he finally have a mommy and a daddy he could not lose?

From December to March, my life was agony. My wife and I prayed for our boys often, but longed for them even more. We finally were able to bring them home, but I doubt I will ever forget the horror of having to let them go.

I have experienced a small shadow of the pain now clouding the lives of the 46 parents who were in Russia to get their own little boys and little girls, only to be told by a hateful, political edict: You can’t have them!  May God have mercy on these parents and their babies.

For me, the greatest comfort was the thought of Christ’s return.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am,there you may be also.” (John 14:3). As I was leaving to prepare a better life for my little boy, I was also imitating the Lord Jesus Himself, who is returning for us.  Our time on this earth as believers is time spent just like the orphan who is waiting for all to be made right at his father’s return. Christ is returning for us. He will receive us to Himself and take us to our heavenly Father forever to dwell in perfect righteousness where there will no longer be a need for tears.

Is it Evil to Say God Has Purpose for Evil in Connecticut?


To my post Did God Cause Kids to Die in Connecticut, some objected that it did not go far enough. Some believed that it was necessary to say that God actually caused the school shooting for the purpose of judging Americans for kicking God out of our schools. Yesterday, I demonstrated why that position is inaccurate. Today, I look to a different objection, one that says my original post went too far.

The original post argued that Adam Lanza was the immediate cause for the evil. As such, God would hold him accountable for God and Evil School Shootinghis sins. In addition, I argued that God was also active throughout the event, causing it to work together for His ultimate good. In all events, there is both a temporal (immediate) and eternal (ultimate) purpose.  Some disagree, stating that this theological idea goes too far.

Specifically, some say that viewing God as having a purpose to accomplish through evil makes God evil. Some even say it would be cruel to tell a child that God has a cause to accomplish through the school shooting in Connecticut.  So, I ask, Is it evil to say God orders evil for His ultimate purposes? I don’t think so for at least two reasons.

First, if God does not order evil for His ultimately good purposes, who does? If evil exists independently—apart from God’s authority over it—then there is a force (or being) outside of God’s control. If this is true, then God is diminished—He is not omnipotent. God is omnipotent only if he has the power to accomplish all of His will.  If there is a force (like Satan or human free will) which operates independently of God’s ultimate control, then God may not be able to accomplish all of His will (because there would be a force opposing His will which He does not control).  If that is true, then whatever else God may be, he could not be called sovereign or omnipotent. He could not guarantee that His ultimate will would be done. He could only guarantee that He would do His very best to accomplish His will.

Of course, there is the possibility that no one orders evil. That evil is some chaotic, non-directed force inherent in the universe without regard to an ordered will such as God’s (or Satan’s). But, again, I would say that an all-powerful God could not coexist with a force outside of His control. One could argue for a system of gods who are at war to establish good and evil (and authority and power), but one is not able to pretend that God is somehow sovereign but also not sovereign over free will or over evil. That would be like saying you are an unmarried man but you are not a bachelor. Either God is sovereign, or he is not.

Second, if there is no God, or if God is not sovereign over evil–using it to accomplish His purposes–then there would be no purpose for suffering and no hope in times of loss.  It might seem insensitive to tell young people that God has an ultimate purpose for this loss of life. It might seem harsh to suppose that God’s will somehow mysteriously encompasses the loss of twenty children in a Connecticut school around Christmastime. But as harsh as that might seem, it is nowhere near as harsh as saying that the children were lost with no purpose or meaning at all. It would be even worse to say that they were lost to the purposes of evil.

God does not work some things out according to the purpose of His inscrutable will. He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).  It is not cruel to admit that glorious fact in the face of suffering; it is helpful and hopeful. What would be cruel would be to leave people without the hope of redemption. In this world, there will be the heartache of deep loss. Jesus was never unclear about that point.

It does not go too far to say what Jesus says (and what the Scripture teaches): God is sovereign, and now all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).  God is sovereign over evil. It is under His control—even if for a season we do not understand how that dynamic works. We can trust the ultimate hand of God to accomplish a good purpose through all of man’s evil (so Acts 4:28).  And in this world of tragedy, sin, and loss, we have the Word of God to instruct us:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, nasb).

 

Was Connecticut Shooting God’s Judgment?


Thank you for the responses to the post, Did God Cause the Connecticut Shootings. The responses came mostly through Facebook and other media.  Some thought the article didn’t go far enough. Others thought it went too far. So, let’s consider the objections in these two directions.  First we will consider the objection which says my view did not go far enough.

Basically, my argument is that the immediate cause of the deaths is rightly placed upon Adam Lanza, who alone was God's Judgment School Shooting Newtown Conn Sandy Hookresponsible for killing more than two dozen people in Newtown, Connecticut.  He will be held accountable by God for his sinful, murderous actions. However, God was not absent from the horror. Ultimately, God—secretly and mysteriously—was (and is) causing it all to work together for a greater, eternal good.

Objection one says that this argument does not go far enough. Instead, the argument should state not only that God was present, but that He was also present specifically to enact His judgment.  In other words, God caused the event to happen to exact His judgment against America and, especially, America’s schools.

So, the question becomes, was this an action of God’s judgment on American schools for rejecting Him and removing prayer?  No, I don’t think it was.

Here’s why I say “no.” I have no hesitation stating that God exacts His perfect justice against sins.  God punishes the wicked.  He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, but He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (see Exodus 34:6-7).  Every evil action, thought, and deed will face the bar of perfect justice, and our God is a consuming fire! He will, in fact, cast souls into Hell (Luke 12:5), and He will ultimately usher in a new heaven and a new earth for all who believe. Thus, it is always a fitting word to say,

“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).

Nevertheless, God’s judgment is better directed than the bullets at Sandy Hook. God’s judgment is precise and exact—even down to the thoughts and intentions of the individual heart.  So, what evidence is there which suggests these particular kids were guilty of the particular sins God supposedly judged on this occasion? The kids weren’t responsible for prayer being removed from their schools.  They probably had no knowledge of any of the lawsuits which led to the excising of God from student classrooms. Yes, God judges—but not haphazardly!

Consider Christ’s teaching in this regard from Luke 13:1-5,

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The Tower of Siloam

The Tower of Siloam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notice that there were people who wanted to ascribe a slaughter to the judgment of God.  Jesus quickly corrected those justice-mongers who hoped to tie the tragic events of his day directly to the hand of God.  No one knows for sure what event is being spoken of here in Luke 13, but the point is plainly stated. Jesus turns the situation into a rhetorical question of great significance: Do you really think these people died because of their particular sins? No, there was no way to tie their deaths to any immediate sin committed by them. Thus, the deaths could not be ascribed to the judgment of God in any particular sense.

The same is true for the tower of Siloam.  A dozen and a half victims unexpectedly perished in an instant, when the tower fell upon them. Was that the hand of God’s judgment against them? Jesus says, no. Whether slaughter (the Galilean example) or accident (the Tower of Siloam incident)—the lesson from mass tragedies is NOT to point the finger and say, “Those people must be great sinners, for God has judged them.” Rather, the point is for every survivor to point to himself and say, “God have mercy on ME, a sinner.”

Tragedies–whether tsunamis or school shootings–are reminders of the fixed reality of God’s ultimate judgment over humanity.  All are under the curse of sin and death. Thus, any could die at any given moment.  And we all need to seek the remedy God gives us in Christ.

Objection Two moves in the opposite direction and says, “God had nothing to do with Connecticut, and it is unhelpful, if not downright hateful, to suggest that he did.” The answer to this objection is next… stay tuned.

Did God Cause Kids to Die in Connecticut?


Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83.

Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A brother in Christ recently asked, “Did God cause the Connecticut school shootings?”  I am attempting to answer that question with this blog post because I imagine that question—or something similar to it—is on the minds of a lot of Christians.

So, let me begin by clarifying some language. Clearly, God did not cause the evil in the schoolrooms of Sandy Hook Elementary.  The cause of that evil was sin in the heart of Adam Lanza. It was Adam Lanza’s sinful actions which led to the deaths of twenty children, six adults, his mother, and himself.

But the question isn’t so easily answered, is it? While it is true that the cause of these deaths was one man, Adam, the question still persists: Where was God?  Did God have a hand in the evil? So, to clarify the question a little further, we might ask plainly, “Was this God’s will?”

Several passages of Scripture make it plain that God is in charge of all things pertaining to life and death. God is sovereign over life and death and all things good and evil.

Deuteronomy 32:39, See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life.

Amos 3:6, If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?

1 Sam 2:6-7,  The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.

Lamentations 3:37-38Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

Job 2:10But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 37:13, “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.

Proverbs 16:4, The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.

Hebrews 9:27, And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,

In accordance with Scripture, we would have to say that it was God’s will for those 28 people to die in Connecticut last week.  A day is fixed by God for death for all people. After this death, the judgment comes, and no one knows the day or the hour. Some people die at birth. Others die at a hundred and three.  Some die in plane crashes, others of sickness and disease. Some, sadly, will die at the hands of an evil murderer. So, these died on their appointed day.

We do not know how these things are ordered by God, but we know that they are. So, it was God’s will?

That still doesn’t seem exactly right to say, does it? On the issue of God’s will, the Scriptures are clear that murder is wrong: Thou shalt not kill.  It was not God’s will for this man to kill these children.  And yet it happened.  And nothing happens outside of God’s ultimate will.  So how could this happen apart from God’s will, and, if this is God’s will, how could He not be considered the cause of it?

On the question of whether God causes such evil, the answer must have the flexibility to handle both what God reveals as His will and what God ultimately accomplishes as His will.  God spoke through Moses, for example, that it was His will for no one to murder or bear false witness.  And yet, God accomplished the redemptive work of Christ through the murder and betrayal enacted by Judas.  Acts 4:27-28,

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate… to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

So, it seems there is a revealed will of God–that which we should do–and a secret will of God–that which we do not know everything about but must trust God’s hand to accomplish.  There is an immediate cause of sin which brings death, and there is the ultimate cause which God is accomplishing through sin and death.  Adam Lanza caused the deaths. But, ultimately, the cause of all things is God, who is working everything according to the counsel of His own secret will.

In the ultimate reality of eternity (of which we by faith can see only darkly), God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  In the immediate reality of a world filled with sin and death, there will be gross injustice and dire despair. But there will come an ultimate day when all things will be made new and made clear. A day of triumph in Christ when righteousness will finally prevail. Even when we can’t see God’s will, we can still trust His word.