Everybody is making New Years Resolutions – those things we make as a fresh year begins, then don’t do after a month or two. I’m as bad as anyone else (I don’t even remember what I resolved last year), but can’t help making some every year.
Since a few years ago when I read how young Jonathan Edwards made a long list of life resolutions which he would read frequently as reminders, I made a list of my own. I would add more resolutions as lifed happened and I learned more things, regardless of what time of year it was. But that list has since become rather dusty – haven’t even glanced at it in almost a year. It’s a new year, so what a good time to resurrect the whole idea!
I won’t post them all here, but here are a few ramblings that have been hard on my mind this past week. I will turn into resolutions on my list when I figure out how to say it more succinctly!
Humility. There is too little of this in the world – it’s lack in my own life not excepted. Reject one-upmanship. Don’t make people feel inferior to you. If you suspect this happened, do and say things that will remove this.
Build Trust. Lately I’ve been thinking of a concept I heard from Marvin K. Mayers. In our interactions with others, Mayers talks about something called “the prior question of trust”: Is what I’m doing, thinking or saying building trust or undermining trust? Trust is a heavy thing. We all need people in our lives we can trust, but too often they can’t be found, or could be but we don’t know it. I hope for people to trust me – and I be trustworthy enough not to let them down. So this year I hope to build more trust with every person I meet.
Be present. Don’t dwell on the past, which is done, or suffer angst over the imaginary future. Every moment of life is a sacred gift to be kept. But don’t forget the past or ignore the future. Everything in balance!
Read more. That explains itself after looking around this blog a bit. I love to read and even review books here, but I keep starting books without finishing them. I’m in ten or so now. Time to get cracking on this! Many new books await me besides.
Who God is. It’s amazing to me how we believe in God, but lack in seeking to find out more of who he is. This is the Supreme Being here. He’s more intriguing than everyone else on earth combined, because he’s the source of it all. He formed the universe. He made you and me. He invented love, or is love. Fascinating. I’ve got to get to know this Person better.
We’ll see how this goes. What are your New Year’s resolutions?
The late Anthony Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was a philosopher and something of a genius. He was an atheist philosopher for most of his career and a notable one. By notable, I mean he even invented new arguments against God’s existence, writing many books. However, with increasing advances in science and philosophical arguments for God’s existence, Flew changed his mind to become something of a Deist. This book is the story of how this happened.
Flew’s oft-repeated matra is “follow the evidence wherever it leads” and maintains the importance of being open to changing your mind if the evidence blows that way. I appreciated his candor on this.
The book begins somewhat autobiographically with good bits of philosophy thrown in, an aspect I really liked. I had some schooling on philosophy and philosophers reading this book. He has great discussions on free-will and determinism, as well as some overview of his past debates and writings, all telling the story of his intellectual journey.
Then he launches into the reasons why he changed his mind: His first reason is mainly the argument from design. The new findings of science on the complexity of life and the ultimate rationality of the universe seen in the laws of nature were major proofs of a rational Designer for Flew. Another was the so-called fine-tuning argument. This says that the universe and its laws are specifically designed and tuned for human life on earth. He then goes on into the problem of the origin of life and the complexity of the DNA molecule and how impossible it is for life to come about by itself. He proceeds from there to the cosmological argument (that due to the law of cause-and-effect, the universe must have a cause, a starter for the big bang would most reasonably be God), and its further development by philosophers David Conway and Richard Swinburne that he found very sound. Flew wraps it up defending the coherency of God as an explanation and a few conclusions.
The two appendices are excellent. One is by Roy Abraham Varghese, who helped Flew write this book (Flew was in his eighties at the time), interacting succinctly and powerfully with the “New Atheists” arguments. This alone is excellent and he broke some new ground for me. The second appendix is by N.T. Wright on the arguments for the self-revelation of God in human history through the resurrection of Jesus. Flew doesn’t believe that God has revealed himself in any way (Deist), but he thought Wright’s argument was fascinating and “the one to beat.” While Flew dismissed it as deficient for him at that time, he was still open to the possibility. But again, Wright had a very hard-hitting article for how short it was.
I’m being vague though – it’s better just to read it. It impressed me enough for a 5/5. This is among the top-ten books I’d recommend to anyone (not just eggheads). It’s only a 213 page simple, yet complete, sum-total of the arguments for God’s existence. Before people make definitive decisions about theism and atheism, this sort of book is the minimum that should be read on the pro-God side, and may be all you need for this side (The door-stop books Swinburne and Plantiga write simply cannot be read and understood by everyone… or rather, your average person just won’t). It also won Christianity Today’s book award, so I’m not alone.
It should be noted though, Flew was not a Christian or a believer in an afterlife. Nonetheless, Christians find it useful (not surprisingly), as would Muslims, Jews, Zoroasterians, etc. But really, I think anyone would find it thought-provoking on life’s most important question – is there a God? It’s worth the investigation.
“Progress in philosophy is different from progress in science, but that does not mean it is therefore impossible… To the extent that these things are accomplished with better reasoning and greater effectiveness, progress will be seen – even as consensus and persuasion remain elusive and incomplete.” 41
“I therefore put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?'” 88
“Science spotlights three dimensions of nature that point to God. The first is the fact that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter. The third is the very existence of nature.” 88-89
“The important point is not merely that there are regularities in nature, but that these regularities are mathematically precise, universal, and ‘tied together.’ Einstein spoke of them as ‘reason incarnate.’ The question we should ask is how nature came packaged in this fashion. This is certainly the question that scientists from Newton to Einstein to Heisenberg have asked – and answered. Their answer was the Mind of God.” 96
“Those scientists who point to the Mind of God do not merely advance a series of arguments or a process of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, they propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable.” 112
Introducing Wright’s article: “I think that the Christian religion is one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul.” 186-187
The basic premise of the book is that there are five “postures” of life in relationship to God: Life over God, life under God, life from God, life for God, and life with God. He details everything wrong with religion (including Christianity) with the first four prepositions in relation to God:
1) Life over God is an attempt to make life controllable – follow certain principles and God will automatically bless you. “The mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes.” The “Church is a business” mentality fits nicely into Life over God. 2) Life under God “sees God in simple cause-and-effect terms – we obey his commands and he blesses our lives, our families, or nation.” Just find what God wants and do it so God will do good things for us. 3) Life from God is essentially an interest in God only to gain benefits from Him, not God Himself. How God can bless me is the first concern. Health and Wealth/Prosperity Teachers view God like this. 4)Life for God is a posture bent on serving God in some way, working hard for him and being “expended accomplishing great things in God’s service.” God himself is lost for the sake of the work.
The book points out the flaws in making these four postures the primary postures in life toward God, and advocates for the fifth posture – life with God. Adam and Eve were created to be with God, but the fall severed this. Then the whole story from Genesis to Revelation is God reconciling humankind back to being with Him as companions again. Jesus died and resurrected for us that we may be with him. Revelation ends with God dwelling with his people forever. Life with God is the point.
The fundamental premise of the book is so appealing: God wants a relationship with us. This isn’t something a posse of postmoderns cooked up; it’s a very ancient, biblical idea. It is amazing how frequently “with” and God are coupled together in the Bible. I noticed this little preposition more in my Bible reading since starting this book, and God “with” people is definitely very common.
At one point in the book, Skye spends some time on the “New Atheists,” writing that they’re really attacking these other religious postures, but refuse to grapple with the idea that God desires to be with us. Many objections to the Christian way and oddities in the Bible are given a hearty rejoinder when you have this perspective (as I’m finding from reading The Christian Delusion alongside With, but that’s for another day).
So many parts of this book are just beautiful. I loved the chapter “Life with Hope.” He brings out the ancient imagery of the sea representing darkness, chaos, and evil — then how God demonstrated His power over these forces, whether by saving Noah’s family from the flood or opening up the Red Sea for the people of Israel.
This book is more than about the various postures people have toward God and the one you should have. It is a book about what God is like. It portrays God as an incredibly Grand Character, whose love is big, whose desire for a real friendship with us is deep, who is the kind of friend we really need. And when you see what an incredible Being God really is, the correct posture – with God – is easier to slip into.
I think he left out some qualifiers in discussing the various postures. Some of them are clearly found in the Scripture – people are to live lives for God (2 Corinthians 5.15), and under God (1Peter 5.6). Those are completely valid prepositions to describe human relationship with God. Yes, God’s goal may be “life with God,” but this is accomplished to its fullest by living our life on purpose for God, submitting under God, etc. I wish Skye made this clearer.
For example: the “Life over God” people’s focus on principles. He criticized the view that if we follow xyz principles found in the Bible, God will automatically bless us. He contends the Bible is NOT a book of mere principles. Skye is right, but the Bible does contain principles! Cursory reading of Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Pslams reveals this. Principles aren’t bad. The problem becomes when we make it all about principles and not about God. God has ordained reality to be a certain way, and many principles are generally true even when practiced by pagans. For instance, the Bible contains principles for a strong family. The early Roman Republic didn’t have the Bible but still gained a great and strong empire, in part because they so happened to follow good family principles.
Also, there’s repetition and a great bit of overlap between the four postures. A lot of times the chapter on “Life over God” sounded a lot like the chapter on “life from God.” But this is not a big deal. He’s using these phrases as a simple but powerful teaching tool, and there is a good bit of overlap in these concepts anyway.
Last, some parts really could have used more interaction with the biblical text. For instance, he has a marvelous section on how eternal life’s experience starts now, not when we die. He could have looked at John 5.24 or 11.25, or at least put it in parenthesis to back it up.
But in the end, I highly recommend reading it. I got this as an e-book for free from Nelson Publishers through the Booksneeze.com program, in exchange for a review of it on this blog. (I wasn’t required to give a positive review). If you have a blog, you can apply to get the e-book free. If not, get it anyway. It’s a book you will want to read.
Included here are a few of many great quotations. I cannot provide a page number due to the format of the e-book, but I’ll note the chapter.
“Fear and control are the basis for all human religions.” (Ch. 1, Life After Eden)
“Although fear and pain were not originally part of God’s creation, he nonetheless uses them to call us back to himself. These unpleasant realities of our world make us long for something better; they make us search for a beauty behind the shadows.” (Ch. 4, Life From God)
“God may be shouting with his megaphone through our pain, but consumerism would have us put on our headphones and crank up the volume on our iPods.” (Ch. 4, Life From God)
“This call to dwell or abide is an ongoing state of being, not an invitation to chat once in a while.” (Ch. 6, Life With God)
“Identity is not something that can be fully revealed in this age, and it is not a quest that we can complete on our own. Identity is something that our Creator alone can bestow on us. As we journey through this life, we may catch glimpses of who we are – sinner, servant, manager, or consumer – but these are only broken images in a dim mirror. Our true selves cannot be discovered by living under, over, from, or for God. It is something that will only be revealed when we are fully with God.” (Ch. 9, Life With Love).
Sometimes, it strikes you how much you don’t know. It’s humbling. I look around and wonder at how much there is to the people around me, my surroundings, and the metaphysical world, yet how little of it I perceive.
In a conversation between two people, do you ever contemplate how much is going on? Two people. Each thinking of things to say. Saying them. And listening to the other person — all in the same time period. They think and talk at the same time. How amazing is that? Most of the words we say are not completely pre-planned in our minds. We do both at once. Out of these electrical impulses in the brain, thoughts burst out, spoken in sentences. This is a mystery psychologists still don’t understand.
Then there’s nonverbal communication: some intentional, some subconscious. Dr. James Borg claims that 93% of a human communication is nonverbal. We move our eyes, eyebrows, and mouth in various ways that communicate what’s inside us. We hold our head at a particular tilt, put our hands somewhere, stand or sit, turn our body a certain way, etc.
But how much of this do we realize when we talk? I can’t comprehend everything that is going on in one conversation! I wish I was more perceptive. One time I heard a portrait artist talk about how much she can tell about a person’s character by looking at their face as they interact. I hardly ever notice how a person tilts their head, but she does. Again, more I don’t know. I can’t understand the fullness of the information coming at me when I have a conversation, or all the nonverbal messages I’m giving without realizing it. Can you?
Lately, in verywhere I look, in everything I do, I’m struck by my ignorance. I’m living in the Asian continent. What a different culture. I see people do and say things, but I don’t know the language and the culture is so foreign to me I don’t know why they do it. I can only make educated guesses.
Even what I look at a wall, what do I know? There is so much there I don’t see, or what I see is different from what others see. I’ve heard it said every person sees a color differently. I see a light brown wall, but another may see it a few points darker or lighter. The wall has a history — it was built and painted and glanced at by men I don’t know, who probably spoke a language foreign to me. I don’t know how it was built. The wall is currently covered with microbes I can’t see. It is made of atomic particles yet smaller.
Forgive me if this seems a mundane, ridiculous exercise, but I think it’s healthy to think about all you don’t know. We are truly very, very small creatures, even the strongest, brightest, and most beautiful of us. This is why God makes so much sense. There is One who does know everything there is to know. And if He exists, the existence of things and our limited knowledge of them is not meaningless.
And God. There’s a mystery. How can finite beings know an infinite being? We must need his help. What’s more, who are we to question God’s wisdom? It makes no sense to pass judgment on a Being who has all knowledge due to conclusions you’ve made based on your profoundly minute knowledge. But I do it anyway. I judge God all the time. This little know-nothing.
Why do I do this? I guess I don’t know…
Sometimes, a day seems like a chess match. You versus the day. Or maybe better, you versus the devil. He is someone much more skilled than you at this game. A superior thinker and strategist, smarter in every way. As hard as you play the game, as hard as you think, you’re always behind. You can’t think ahead as well as he can. You make dumb moves. Your pieces thin out on the board, or, perhaps, they stay and you’re lulled into a false sense of security as he lures you into his trap. And a chilling “checkmate” rings in your ears before you know it. You’ve been had. You tried, but it wasn’t good enough. You sit there mouth agape, dumbfounded, as this devilish dude laughs and scorns you in wicked delight. Checkmate.
But you know how when a master and a rookie play chess, there’s often some third guy watching it? He’s kind of an adviser to the rookie, an older, kinder master bent on helping the rookie, much to the chagrin of the other master-player. If the rookie listens to his adviser more often than not, he’ll win.
I think God is a lot like that Master Adviser. He knows. You don’t. He (literally) wrote the book on how to do it. He tells you how to play the day. He makes clear what are the dumb moves and what are the right moves. He cares deeply about you and you being victorious in this game. If you listen to what he says, you’ll win. If you ignore his advise, or drown it out by the loud droning of your own feeble ideas, you’ll lose.
This analogy isn’t perfect, but for sure I’ve been losing one game too many. It’s about time for me to become a better listener to the third man. How about you?
I was struck by something while reading in I/II Kings. You know that in every story you have the protagonist – the hero, the person(s) you identify and sympathize with. The antagonist is the one(s) who opposes the protagonist and does bad things – the villain. For those of you who’ve read the Book of Kings, it is very short on heroes, and very high on villains. It’s very depressing. Israel is divided into two kingdoms, evil reigns, kings follow injustice and evil, foreign powers keep attacking and oppressing the Isrealites, the men of God are persecuted, and the population has forgotten God to follow perversity and idols. The characters are mostly either bad guys or really bad guys. The good guys are few and far between, and prone to failure themselves.
What surprises me throughout is that God frequently helps wicked Israelite kings for the sake of His own Name. He helped Ahab win military victories over the Arameans because they were diminishing the God of Israel, so that they will know that He is who He is (1Ki 20). He helped Israel yet again under the wicked Jeroboam II because He saw all their afflictions and desired to show mercy (2Ki 14).
It struck me that the hero of this story isn’t Elijah, Elisha, and the other men of God in these stories. God is the hero. The prophets are just sidekicks. But God is the one doing the action, and powerfully working despite the vicious sins and failures of His people. He is the one who’s honor is on the line, who shows mercy and delivers people from trouble, causes kingdoms to rise and fall, and meets out justice to the wicked. God coolly deals with rebellious humanity with their salvation and His glory in mind, in total control of the situation.
God is the hero of your story too. Your life story isn’t about you. God is the one who gives your life significance, who delivers you out of trouble, forgives your sins, and befriends you in the best and worst of times of your life. By faith in Christ, all of this is granted to us. But too often we don’t live like this. Our life story was ordained by God, but we live as though it’s all about us. If that isn’t ridiculous I don’t know what is. Recalibration is necessary. Let’s recognize God as the champion — then our story will go as it’s supposed to go.
God tells us He forgives to the very depth of our soul, covering the worst outbursts of our depravity:
“… Through His name, everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” – (Acts 10.43)
“If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, Oh Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord. My soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Psalm 130.3-4)
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. . . . If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world.” (1 John 1.9, 2.1-2).
Introspective hearts will ask, “Will this really work yet again? Will God forgive me today, just like yesterday? He can’t forgive me again. I can’t ask His forgiveness now. He’s bound to be angry. Maybe later when I’m doing better.”
This thinking is absolutely wrong! God will forgive you every day of your life! Every moment of your life! To say that God can’t forgive us because we’re “too bad,” to delay going to God in order to make ourselves “good” again — all is a kind of pride. That’s saying God isn’t gracious enough. Let’s be humble enough to accept God’s forgiveness! HE is God and has the right to forgive, and fortunately for us, He does. His Word guarantees it. God is immensely gracious, beyond anything we can comprehend! All because of the cross of Christ satisfying the penalty for our guilt, believers in Him go free forever, and when we sin now we can come to God and ask forgiveness to receive renewed fellowship with God.
Not that we deserve it. We never merit forgiveness, nor can we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and be good by ourselves, or atone for our own sins by asceticism or self-punishment or doing some kind deed. Let God be God. The cross of Christ atoned for every last ounce of your sin.
Let’s seek God for forgiveness when we’ve done wrong. This causes us to revere God, and therefore glorifies Him. And isn’t that what God wants? What else does He want you to do: to stay away from Him? Punish yourself in some way first? Our Lord is clear: He has been punished for us; so every time we sin, the only thing Christ desires is our rush back into His love and grace – and stay there.
If you believe this, you can take on anything in the world.