Sunday, January 26, 2014

Discussion with a Skeptic

Sometimes my non-Christian friends manage to save my bacon when I haven't posted to the blog for a while and feel either uninspired, or have been just too sick or busy to write anything. I had a Facebook discussion today with a friend who is a skeptic, and this post is based on points I made in that discussion. 

My friend brought up many of the usual objections that get raised, i.e. the authority of God's Word, "why should I believe in a God who wants me dead if I work on Saturday etc." A lot of superficial knowledge and criticisms, but no real understanding of Christian theology, biblical history, biblical authority, criticism (in a positive sense) etc. I replied to his points as follows. 

The same the objections and criticisms have been raised by skeptics and critics of God and the Bible for centuries. The objections/questions come out of a foundation of the usual faulty presuppositions about God Himself and Scripture. These objections and questions been answered in quite a lot of meticulous detail by MANY able scholars, but the willful skeptic will NOT be satisfied by ANY answer. In truth, fallen man just simply does not want to believe and submit to his Creator or to acknowledge His sovereignty. Right at the outset, they dismiss biblical authority by calling it "ancient texts written by men with political motives often hundreds of years after the purported events." (As an aside, the biblical text "dating" issue has been addressed adequately, and there is enough manuscript evidence, although we do not have original autographs with the possible exception of the Ezekiel Stones http://www.jpost.com/.../Features/Dating-the-Ezekiel-plates">And here is a Jerusalem Post link if you haven't heard of those). My friend said he "chooses to believe in a God that . . . etc." That statement is revealing. Man wants a God of their own imagination and design rather than the One who is the great I AM, and who reserves the right to reveal Himself and define Himself as He chooses. He has revealed Himself through direct revelation (theophany), through what He has created, and by the Holy Spirit's inspiration of the 66 books written through 40 different authors. Plenary Inspiration is the name of that doctrine. 

Even assuming the caricature of God's command about the Sabbath (given at a specific time for a specific reason), we have to deal with one central truth that man finds most unpleasant. Put bluntly, God as Creator has the absolute right to do what He wills with His creation, and as Creator, has the absolute right to DEFINE good and evil, right and wrong etc. We begin at that point. "Who is man to offer complaint in view of his sins?" (Lamentations 3:39). Man has no right whatsoever to argue with God about whatever He does, and would be foolish to do so since He is infinite and we are finite. So where does one go from there? 

For those who are genuinely interested and want to understand, and really want to know God and His eternal purpose, the answers lie within Scripture's pages, but it takes the power of God to open the human heart and mind to get it due to the impact of man's fall. God has an overarching eternal purpose revealed from Genesis to Revelation-a purpose revealed in progressive stages of human history. His purpose and revelation culminates in Jesus Christ, God Incarnate. He is the central figure of all of Scripture - the very One in whom everything culminates. Prior to His incarnation in human form (for a purpose) the Adamic Covenant had a purpose. The Noahic Covenant had a purpose. The Mosaic Covenant (and Mosaic Law) had a purpose. Then came the Incarnation. Subsequently the New Covenant now has a purpose. "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." (Hebrews 1)

Finally, a word about the attributes of God that were hinted in my discussion, i.e. all powerful, all loving. God's love is much more than the "warm fuzzies" most people think of when the word "love" is used. God has many attributes—omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, perfect love, perfect righteousness, perfect justice etc. He must have those attributes or He would not be God. His love and His justice require Him to act in certain ways consistent with His sovereign character. That means He has every right to punish men when they disregard His commands, even though He extends them a great deal of grace, patience, and mercy. If God did not punish sin, evil, and wickedness, then he would not be loving. He punishes in a temporal sense, and eventually in an eternal sense. But the way fallen man interprets is, "God, if you love me, you'll let me do what I want to do whether You like it or not." 

Christ is the answer to all of this. He is the key to the door, the way of true knowledge, and the exact representation of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in physical form. Only through Him will you ever get it. You have to come to know who He is, what He did, and why He did it (thank you, Pastor Cliff, for that very user-friendly phrasing). If you can get that far, you'll have come a long way. I make no pretense at having all the answers. Even in eternity, we will still be finite and He will be infinite. Even in the glorified state in which a believer will be in eternity, we will still not be able to comprehend God in toto. I do not doubt Him or His goodness at all. If I have any "existential question," I wonder why the Creator of the Universe —knowing in advance what would happen after Creation—would have bothered doing it the way He did it. Why did He create knowing both the angels and man would fall? Why would He plan to come to earth in human form, allow His own creation to spit on Him, scourge Him, mock Him, pull His beard out, and all else the Lord suffered? I would have vaporized everybody on the spot had it been me. But He did not. He had a different purpose. 
But back to now, and back to the present earth. He HAS revealed Himself, He HAS made His will and purpose known, and as Romans 1 tells us, mankind has no excuse, and will have no excuse. I would rather trust in Him, be obedient, love Him and love others, and try to be His ambassador in this fallen world the best that I can, rather than scorn Him and turn my back. I am thankful He saved me. Why, I don't know. I know my own capability for sin and evil. But He saved me. And I am thankful. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Death Penalty: Endless Debate

When I think of subjects on which to write, I can think of many more pleasant subjects than the death penalty. It's been a subject debated for centuries, with both sides having fervent advocates. You will rarely convince one side or the other to change its mind. It is one of those subjects that I think has to be a matter of individual conscience. But I would like to make some observations about it. First, read this article about a botched Ohio execution that fired up the debate again—both over the death penalty itself and the method used.

Okay, here are my comments. One, it ultimately does not matter WHAT method a state chooses to use, and there are several. There will be litigation filed to stop it on the grounds that said method is "cruel and unusual punishment." Lethal injection has been increasingly opted by states as it's been seen as more "humane" than past methods: electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, shooting, decapitation, etc. It's been compared to putting a pet to sleep, which concerns some because the process has been so sanitized that the point has been lost—that the death penalty is just that— a PENALTY. Or better yet, a PUNISHMENT for heinous crime.

But now, lethal injection is being challenged. Curious that all the drugs used to carry out lethal injection are made overseas, so that now other countries or drugmakers are able to force their particular moral qualms on the United States' legal system by refusing to ship their drugs here for that purpose. Whatever the case, no matter what the drug, no matter how quick and ostensibly painless, someone will litigate.

The main thing I suppose that irritates me about these arguments here on this side of the water is the same thing that irritates me with other "constitutional" arguments put forward by lawyers and activists. Consider with me the following fact. The men who WROTE the Constitution of the United States were ALIVE and WELL when executions were carried out in their respective states. The men who wrote the Constitution—if they had objections to execution—would have stated clearly and without reservation that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment had they thought so. They did not. They also did not seem to object to the methods used at the time to carry out executions. In those days, hanging or shooting were the most common methods. But the Founders did not consider those methods or the DEATH PENALTY ITSELF "cruel or unusual punishment."

To me, that sort of ends the matter. If one does not like the death penalty, fine, advocate for its repeal. But do not call it unconstitutional, or call it cruel and unusual punishment. It is not, by definition. It is not, keeping in mind the views of the men who did the defining and the writing of the Constitution. Now, society may well have changed in its attitudes toward certain matters, and that is expected. Even the authors of the Constitution recognized that there may be need to make changes down the road, so they incorporated an amendment process—a process that was purposely made very difficult. But even without making constitutional amendments, a state has the right to make its own laws about its criminal justice system and related penalties when its laws are broken. If a state decides that it no longer wants a death penalty, it is perfectly within its rights not to have one. It is also within a state's rights to have a death penalty without running afoul of the Constitution.

Next point. I also have enormous problems with those who try to argue that the death penalty somehow violates Christian ethics, morality, Scripture etc. It does not. Romans 13 makes it very clear that the state bears the sword for a purpose—to restrain evildoers. Swords are not used to administer spankings. Swords are used to kill. There are numerous other Scriptures that could be cited. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. God Himself ordained the death penalty. Of course, one must make the distinction between the Law of Moses, its intent, and acknowledging that as Christians, we are not under the Law. But the PRINCIPLE is there governing justice carried out through human agency. A key problem (or debate) we have is between the principles of "retributive" justice vs. "rehabilitative" justice. The answer is that both are appropriate within certain guidelines.

Let's be frank, there is no "pleasant" way to die. Death is ugly. It's a tragedy. It is horrific. I don't want people to die. I also don't want people to murder, rape, and commit other evil acts that require punishment. As the ultimate punishment that can be inflicted by a state, the death penalty needs to be administered with great care. As fallen human beings (all the more so outside of Christ), our justice system will never be perfect. But we must have justice systems. There are evil people out there who must be restrained, even at "the point of a sword." Final justice will be meted out at the throne of God.

I pray that day comes sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Poverty, Politics, the Pope, and Scripture

Yeah, I know. "Scripture" didn't fit with my "P" alliteration. Oh, well. You get the drift.

I want you to have a peek at this Forbes article and hone in on the debate over Pope Francis' true views on capitalism vs. socialism, and what constitutes "charity."

Charity that is coerced by government through law or confiscatory taxation is not charity. Charity is a matter that comes from the heart, and should. Biblically, "God loves a cheerful giver," and note it says "GIVER." If your money is being taken from you by force and redistributed to those without your consent, and to those who might not handle that money responsibly, there is no "gift" about it.

At one time, churches, rescue missions and other charities handled this and did just fine without the government poking its nose into things. The government officials pushing the "War on Poverty" type programs were able to play their violins and guilt-trip the population into having tax money appropriated for these purposes, but the studies have been clear (at least to me) that turning poverty into a government entitlement has only exacerbated a serious problem, not made it better. God WANTS His people to learn and show compassion, and expects them to do so as He provides. He said that "the poor will always be with us." Scripture also directs us to exercise discernment as to how we render assistance. Those who are truly needy through no fault of their own need help, but the help is to be temporary until they can manage to work their way into self-sufficiency. The lazy, indolent types who aren't willing to work or make the effort to improve themselves are not to be on the receiving end of such help. But with a one size fits all government approach, it's hard to be discriminating on who gets what, and the corruption is endemic.

But we have a problem, and it's a serious one. Once a government entitlement is created, it's near impossible barring divine miracle to end it. And you will always have politicians who benefit through the votes of the poor using every guilt-tripping, political trick in the book to sustain the programs that keep them in office. And those who work for the agencies who dole out the assistance have a vested interest in keeping the government funds running. People ACTUALLY GETTING OUT of poverty and being self-sufficient is the last thing they want. I think sometimes they purposely make it more difficult for those on welfare to get out of it, because they get benefits cut if they manage to land a job—and they can't survive on the minimal income that comes from some of those jobs. They make more money on welfare than they do working. Is that by design? I hope not, but after a lifetime of covering and observing politics, it's hard not to be very, very cynical.

My even writing a post like this will get me called heartless and mean-spirited. I may have studies and statistics thrown at me trying to tell me that my views are completely bogus. And of course, those who think as I do have studies and statistics of our own that we could throw right back. The argument goes on, everyone talks, and no one listens. And people like me get very, very weary if not downright irritable. We live in a fallen world, where even the best of intentions can get out of control if they're not ridden with a curb bit and spurs.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Holiness: It's Not What You Think

Time to recommend another author's blog post today. This one is by Rev. Kevin DeYoung on the subject of holiness. Not only thought-provoking, but a good reminder about an often misunderstood biblical word.

Yes, there is a behavioral aspect to holiness. But it's by no means dour and joyless. Do a biblical study on it sometime. It's very rewarding and instructive.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Introducing Griffin Tucker

I am so thankful on this cold early January day to have a bright bit of news to share with you, and in so doing, I'd like to introduce a young musician to your attention. The reason I do this is because I love to be able to use the biblical Barnabas-like gift of encouragement. I love to encourage young musicians to hone their craft and God-given abilities, and to share their gifts with the rest of us.

This artist's name is Griffin Tucker (age 12), hails from Texas, and is a bit of a prodigy. A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, he was chosen out of many young musicians to tour last summer with Zendaya. He loves the Beatles and has recorded several Beatles covers. He loves the classic rock sound rather than the robotized, mechanized, Auto-Tuned stuff being released by the major labels today. (The latter half of that sentence was my own snarky editorial comment, not Griffin's. A lot of music being released today sets my teeth on edge and my hair on fire. All three of them.

Griffin and his family have a deep love for the Lord, yet choose to release their music in the secular world—a world that needs a Christlike example more than ever these days. He has already released several songs, and today his newest song was released, called "Gotta Get the Girl." You can check it out and download it here. For the original songs, Griffin writes the music and his mother, Kimberly, writes the lyrics.

So let me offer a fedora hat tip to Griffin and family, and recommend that you download his available music. I think you'll love him, and by God's grace, I think the future holds wonderful things in store.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Opining on O'Reilly

There have been occasions on The Seventh Sola where I have discussed Bill O'Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor." It's consistently been the top rated program on cable television, and Bill and crew deserve credit for the hard work that no doubht has contributed to their success.

Having said that, I would like to look at O'Reilly through the lens of someone (myself) who has been involved in broadcasting in one form or another for more than 30 years. I want to look at this analytically, and praise what I can, yet also do a little gentle chiding.

The things that will bring my chiding are things Bill has addressed, usually in his "letters" segment at the end. He rightly says that his program is an "opinion" show, news and situation "analysis," and is not what you would call objective, hard news. While Bill has reporter/anchor experience, that is not the Factor vein. He is quite up front about that, and many of Bill's critics (along with critics of Fox in general) do not seem to understand the distinction between the network's hard news reporters/anchors who operate under journalistic objectivity, and the prime time "opinion" programs where a point of view is expressed.

I often find myself—even the majority of the time—in agreement with Bill's take on issues. I think his analysis is often keen and incisive, but sometimes he shows some shortcomings in other areas —geopolitics, history, and theology—and the depth of the shortcoming depends on the specific issue.

My main problem with Bill is his mode of interviewing. In the nearly 20 years I did a radio talk show—one where we had both guests and, for a while, phone call participation, I had a manner of interviewing. It was probably more in keeping with the late Bill Buckley's "Firing Line" where he would ask probing questions, and then let the guest have their say. Bill is an incorrigible interruptor. It seems like the program is more about what he thinks rather than what his chosen guest thinks, and if that is the case, why not just do a monologue like Rush Limbaugh and then have call-in guests to argue with? In my view, it is rude to ask someone to come on the program to be interviewed on an issue, ask them a question, let them get five words out of their mouths and then you're cutting them off and not letting them finish their point. He will defend this by saying he wants to stay on point or he has limited time, but I don't think that's the case when you take things in toto. Often it seems like he doesn't like the answer they're in the process of giving, but rather than letting them make their case and then rebutting, he cuts them off before they can even make their point. In my book, that's a no-no. It's one thing if you have a guest that begins filibustering. In those cases, it's quite right to intervene and get control of your interview. But you don't shush a guest five words into his/her answer.

I would not make a good guest for Bill, although I know quite a bit of history, geopolitics, and certainly theology. I would give him better theological answers than many of the guests he's had on, and I could certainly give sound biblical refutations to some of the things he has posited himself. But I would insist on being allowed to answer the question asked me without interruption. If I got interrupted, I would give one warning. If it happened again, off would come the microphone and out of the studio I would go.

And that's a shame, really. As I said, I agree with Bill far more often than I disagree. But don't be rude to me, and don't cut me off in mid-sentence. Don't talk over me. I did my best not to do that as an interviewer myself, and I found that even guests who were initially gun-shy about coming on my program later enjoyed the experience very much. So did our listeners, who liked listening to a real, civil, in-depth fleshing out and discussion of an issue.

But—perhaps I am a throwback to another time. He has high ratings, so he must be doing something people like. That's probably because he is a populist of sorts, and does air issues that the mainstream media try to ignore. Kudos to Bill O'Reilly for that. I just wish he would allow his guests to talk more. An interview program is supposed to let the guest shine a bit. If the show is about you and not your guest, then monologue. Lecture. If your program is a debate, then by all means, debate. But allow equal time and be fair.

And one more thing. Bill has a stock line at the end of an interview - "I'll give you the last word." Check and see how many times he actually does indeed give the guest the last word. I'll be interested in your tally.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy 2014!

Happy New Year in the Lord. Read Psalm 65.