It was the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, who once espoused the theory that people invent religion out of of a fear of nature. We feel helpless before an earthquake, a flood, or a ravaging disease. So, said Freud, we invent a God who has power over the earthquake, flood, and disease. God is personal. We can talk to Him. We can try to bargain with Him. We can plead with Him to save us from the destructive forces of nature. We are not able to plead with earthquakes, negotiate with floods, or bargain with cancer. So, the theory goes, we invent God to help us deal with these scary things.
What is significant about this scriptural story (Mark 4:35-41) is that the disciples’ fear increased after the threat of the storm was removed. The storm had made them afraid. Jesus’ action to still the tempest made them more afraid. In the power of Christ they met something more frightening than they had ever met in nature. They were in the presence of the holy. We wonder what Freud would have said about that. Why would the disciples invent a God whose holiness was more terrifying than the forces of nature that provoked them to invent a god in the first place? We can understand if people invented an unholy god, a god who brought only comfort. But why a god more scary than the earthquake, flood, or disease? It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or to fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Stories like the one below illustrate the love people demonstrate even to strangers. So many nurses excel in showing love to those they barely know.
As a pastor, I spend more time in hospitals than most people with the obvious exception of health care workers. One group of people I am so thankful for is nurses, volunteers, doctors, and many others who show compassion when caring for people.
Last night, NBC news ran the story of a lady, Amanda Scarpinati, who was severely burned as an infant in 1977 when she was only 3 months old. A photographer took a picture of a nurse caring for baby Amanda.
Anyone who sees the picture can recognize the love the nurse is showing for a baby she had not previously met. The nurse is caring for this little baby like you would want someone to care for your baby if she was badly burned.
Because of her burns, Amanda went through many operations. Other children were mean to her. But, even as a child, she was comforted by the picture of the nurse caring for her.
Yet, she did not know the identity of the nurse. Only recently did she show the picture on Facebook and ask for help finding the nurse.
We hum some songs across decades. It is worth asking why they strike a chord.
When I was a freshman high school (think late 70’s), England Dan and John Ford Coley recorded a song written by Rafe Van Hoy, “What’s Forever For?” But the song was by no means done after its first appearance. It soared to number 1 in the 80’s when Michael Martin Murphy covered it. “What’s Forever For?” got our attention again in 2000 when a young Billy Gilman sang it for the movie Pay it Forward.
Thirty-seven years later many could sing along with the lyrics if they heard “What’s Forever For” on the radio (or IPod or whatever people listen to now).
If you know the song, then you know the central question the song raises is, “if love doesn’t last forever then what’s forever for?” The musicians ask, “What’s the glory in leaving?” The artists point is that love is not glorious if does not last.
So why do we keep singing, “What’s Forever For?” Who has the best explanation for that song? Does the idea that we are a collection of biochemical impulses explain our commitment to love? Of course not. Christians know why we (or at least some of us) keep humming, “What’s Forever For?” Deep down, we have a God given intuition that true love lasts. A commitment to lasting love reflects the God who created us in His image: the one true God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – – eternally giving and self-giving in relationship. True love is forever because it reflects God who is forever.
But the recognition that love lasts should also remind believers that there is an urgency to our call to glorify God by making fully devoted followers of Christ. Those who do not know Christ, and do not enjoy his lasting love, will not know the glory of living with Christ and other believers for all eternity. So whatever songs about love we enjoy, we should be asking ourselves even as we sing, “Have I shown love to people around me by inviting them to enjoy the love of the Savior that ‘lasts forever’?”
If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of atoms, I cannot understand how the thoughts of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees . . . But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. C.S. Lewis
Tomorrow (D.V.) I’m preaching on Matthew 5:10-12 in which Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Jesus later amplifies this teaching in Matthew 10:16-42. Below, Ryan T. Anderson’s treatment by Piers Morgan shows what those willing to stand for truth in the public square can expect in the years to come.
See also this exchange at a forum held at Stanford.
Help me fairly understand the worldview which says that moral values are a function of cultures rather than a transcendent standard. I am not trying to be insulting. I assume that most people who believe that morals are rooted in culture believe that adult incest is wrong. What I am trying to understand is the secular basis for saying that something which takes place between consenting adults is wrong if there are no moral absolutes. What I am most looking for in the comments is a fair presentation of the secular position.
I am preparing to speak at a conference on the church and culture in a few weeks (More on that in the video shown at the end of this post). As a part of my preparation, I am working hard to understand secular thought and a discussion on the New York Times site has gotten my attention.
In a recent NY Times Article, Justin McBrayer (who I know neither personally nor professionally), expressed his concern that children are being taught that we cannot say that it is factually true that cheating is wrong. McBrayer summarized curriculum exercises in which children are asked to evaluate if the following statements are “facts” or “opinions.”
— Copying homework assignments is wrong.
— Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.
— All men are created equal.
— It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.
— It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.
— Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.
— Drug dealers belong in prison.
In each of the above cases, children are taught that these statements are opinions rather than facts. McBrayer is, rightly in my opinion, concerned. He concludes:
We can do better. Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.
Last time I checked 1,836 people had responded to McBrayer’s position. I didn’t tally responses, but many were not impressed with McBrayer’s concerns that we are not giving our children a proper moral foundation. The comments most approved by the Times staff and the readers (thereby making the top of the comments section) argued that morals can not be facts. Here are a few examples:
. . . Ethical statement are not facts, they are conclusions. They are principle-based judgments. So, it is a sound conclusion that one should not lie or steal if one bases one’s ethics on Kant’s categorical imperative or the Golden Rule more generally. To call such a conclusion a “fact” is to conflate facts with reasoned inferences.
The fact is there are no moral facts. Morals are relative to the culture that created them. The problem is how they are being taught to ignore the morals of our society. . .
So the problem is not that they are teaching that there are no moral facts, its that they are teaching kids that they can have their own opinions on things that are not socially acceptable in the society and culture they live in.
. . . The GLARING flaw of this article is that the author assumes moral fact is not only true but preferable. Not only does he over look a pretty significant realm of philosophic thought but he also offers no evidence to support his assertion that moral truths should be taught in school. Ultimately you are free to take whichever view you like but the problem with moral absolutists, people like the author, who believe things are right or they are wrong is that those views are not absolute. Exceptions can be found to every rule imaginable.
Ultimately, the author discounts the power of personal morals. I do not need to believe that killing another person goes against nature on a cosmic scale to believe it is wrong to do it myself. Yes it is an opinion that cheating is wrong, I share that opinion. But I see no evidence to suggest that is a fact.
If there were such a thing as a moral fact it would be consistent throughout the ages, different cultures and species.
Morality is in a stage of flux. Our Opinions and Morals have changed drastically in the last few years towards homosexuality, in the last few decades toward racism and sexism and in the past centuries towards slavery.
. . . We all understand that a society needs a moral structure that we can all (or at least most) agree and act on but this moral structure is not carved in stone and will constantly adapt to the needs and opinions of its society.
In my mind, these questions raise an obvious question. If morals are rooted in the beliefs and feelings of people – – then are we saying that polygamy is a legitimate option for cultures? Bestiality? Someone might respond, “But our culture does not believe those options are okay.” Understood. But what if a majority did?
1. Help with Harmonizing – Anyone who has closely studied Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John knows that at times it is difficult to see how the accounts fit together. For instance, compare the difference in wording of what was written above Jesus’s head on the Cross (John 19:19, Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38). Kostenberger and Taylor not only offer a harmonization, but they also give a wonderful explanation of how to read the gospel accounts responsibly and charitably (p. 19-20).
2. Parallel Gospel Accounts Brought Conveniently Together – The Final Days of Jesus is organized so that the Scripture for the events of each day is included in the text. Readers who want to read parallel accounts without flipping back and forth in their Bibles will benefit.
3. A Glossary and Reference Guide – If you are new to the Easter story, then simply the task of keeping track of the various Marys can send you over the edge of confusion. This is not to mention recalling who Caiaphas is or the Sanhedrin or Joseph of Arimethea. An alphabetized glossary and reference guide at the end makes it easy to look up anyone in the cast.
4. 21 Charts, Diagrams, and Maps – There is so much to “picture” when reading the Gospel accounts of Holy Week. Where did everyone sit at the Last Supper? Why was Peter motioning for John to ask Jesus who would betray him? Charts, diagrams, and maps provide resources that can quickly be reviewed.
The Final Days of Jesus (page 59)
5. Succinct Summaries – Kostenberger and Taylor blend depth and accessibility. Consider, for instance, their summary of Peter’s denial of Jesus.
Peter’s denial of Jesus stands as one of the most poignant and memorable events that transpired during Jesus’s final day. One of Jesus’s closest friends, a man who hours earlier had sworn to stand by Jesus no matter what the sacrifice or cost, denies even knowing Jesus and abandons him in his darkest hour. Pathos drips from the Gospel accounts— the tragedy is palpable, and Peter leaves the scene a broken man.
6. The Most Important Question Ever Asked is Directed to the Reader at the End – The first 202 pages of The Final Days of Jesus all lead up to the most important question about the most important person who ever lived, “Who do you say that he is?”
7. Holy Week is The Most Important Week of the Most Beautiful Person – Christ is the only true King. He deserves all our worship. There is nothing we could imagine that we would want in a savior that we do not find in Him. Nowhere is the beauty of Christ seen more vividly than in the biblical accounts of Holy Week. Seize this opportunity to look deeply at our Savior. The remaining items in this list are only miscellaneous observations. But this is the heart of the matter. Let’s think deeply of Christ.
But Billings does not stop with the problem of evil. Even though he has cancer, Billings also points out that there is a “problem of good.” As much pain as there can be in this world, there is also so much beauty and goodness. The problem of good considers the questions, “How can we explain so much beauty?” Our worldviews must explain “goodness” as well as pain. Billings writes:
The incredible goodness of creation, including the hope in new life – – in a marriage, in children, in creation as a whole–exposed me to what some philosophers and theologians have referred to as the “problem of good.” I’ve reflected already in earlier chapters on the problem of evil. But there is a “problem” (if one does not believe in a good God) explaining the goodness in the world that goes far beyond the banal. “If the world is the chance assembly of accidental phenomena, where is there so much that we want to praise and celebrate? Why is there beauty, love, and laughter? God’s creation is drenched with wonder and goodness: lush waterfalls and sandy deserts; children who can blow bubbles and wear crazy wigs: material bodies that can dance, play sports, and express sexual intimacy in the secure freedom of marriage. Who are you going to thank for it? If you have no one to thank, then you have not done justice to the “problem of good.” The beauties and delights of creation point beyond themselves; they cry out to thank someone–a Creator. Indeed, apart from the specific philosophical “problem of good,” Scripture indicates that God’s creation is not just good–it’s very good!
For the materialist (who believes that there is nothing more than random collisions of molecules) the problem of good is insurmountable. Is it really possible that Beethoven’s 9th symphony is the product of a mass of meat?
You can watch J. Todd Billings talk more about his book below:
Calvin on the sensus divinitatis (or sense of the divine):
There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty . . . Therefore, since from the beginning of the world there has been no region, no city, in short, no household, that could do without religion, there lies in this a tacit confession of a sense of deity inscribed in the hearts of all.
Someone may object that non-religious households exist. But it would be easy enough to demonstrate that these apparently non-religious households are ordered around some object whether it is sports, entertainment, power, or materialism. As Bob Dylan said, “You’ve got to serve somebody.”