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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Core of Being

Sister Ann Shields spoke about a time when she was living in Steubenville, OH. One of the streets of the city was lined on both sides by rows of beautiful trees. When a tornado came through, both rows of trees were uprooted. Upon analysis, these particular trees were very shallow rooted. Their support system below ground was not strong enough to stand up against the force of the wind. She likened this picture to the difficulties we sometimes face in our spiritual lives. She concludes that if our faith is not deep rooted, we may face the same situation when difficulties hit us. We will be unable to stand firm in our faith.

Dallas Willard, in his book "Renovation of the Heart" says much the same thing. He states: “Our life and how we find the world now and in the future is, almost totally, a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our being – in our spirit, will and heart.” He observes that what is really important in our lives is the reservoir deep inside the core of our being. When we face crises in our lives, it is the well spring deep in our souls that carries us through and sustains us. It has a huge impact on our faith in God.

Both authors, from slightly different perspectives, come to the same conclusion that Jesus does in his comparison of the wise man who built his house on the rock with the foolish man who built his house on the sand. What is, (or is not), in the depths of our soul will determine how we respond when the storms of life buffet us. Without deep spiritual roots, we can easily feel hopelessness and despair in the times of crisis. Like the trees facing the gales, or the house built on the sand, our faith can be easily toppled and destroyed.

Unfortunately, today’s culture does not focus on depth. We are surrounded by shallow sound bites. We go from one to the next. This has infected the church as well as society. Many have described church members as being a mile wide and an inch deep. Others describe us as desiring Christianity lite. Our spiritual roots are very shallow. We often don’t want to take the time and effort to grow deeper. We spend minimal time in studying God’s word and in prayer. We end up with an inferior, inadequate understanding of God. As Willard says, this affects our worldview. It becomes easy to lose confidence and trust in God.

The solution, according to Willard, is to be spiritually transformed so that all of our thoughts, feelings, choices, interactions, and relationships are all in tune with God. This requires us to seriously examine our lives and our priorities. It requires both dedication and discipline. We must spend quality time in God’s word and in prayer. We need to seek to live holy, God pleasing lives. God and his word must be central in the core of our being. The voice of the Holy Spirit must be active in our hearts. Only then will we find ourselves able to withstand the onslaughts that will surely come from time to time. Only then will we have a reservoir when the dry times come upon our souls.

The transformation begins with conviction and desire. We must first become convicted that it is important for God to dwell in the depths of our soul. Then we must desire for this to occur in our lives. The process begins with a self examination. What is in the core of my being?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Science God

We have a new God! Science! President Obama has implicitly said so. In his statement reversing the administration’s policy on embryonic stem cell research he said “that we should make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." Because Science has been given the role of deciding what is right or wrong, it has become, de facto, our God.

Throughout the history of our world, whether looking at the pagan religions of Greece and Rome, or at today’s major religions (Buddhism, Islam, Judaism or Christianity, etc.) one of the roles of their gods is to dictate what is morally acceptable and what is not. In all religions, ethics and morality are seen to have come from the outside. They are not democratically decided upon. They have religious dimensions. We are expected to conform to them, not them to us.

But in President Obama’s statement, Science has now become the aim of and the key to everything. It has been given the role of deciding what is morally acceptable. It will now make the decisions. Therefore it has become our new god whom we must all worship. Science has replaced God. But unfortunately, it is a false god. It cannot fulfill this lofty goal. It will never tell us what is right or wrong. As we shall see, it is incapable of making such decisions. Science, in itself, is morally neutral. While there may be good science or bad science, science in its essence deals with empirical data and facts.

But scientists who do the science are not morally neutral. As Family Research Council President Tony Perkins remarked on the decision, "The action by the president today will, in effect, allow scientists to create their own guidelines without proper moral restraints," Scientists make moral, or immoral, decisions all the time. We only need look at the scientific atrocities designed by Josef Mengele and practiced at the death camps of Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Dachau, or at the Tuskegee studies here in the US to observe this. C. S. Lewis speaks poignantly of the dangers of glorifying science in the third book of his trilogy, "That Hideous Strength". It’s a book well worth reading (or rereading). Both history and Lewis’s prophetic voice declare that scientists are not God. Whenever they attempt to play God they fail. We have found ourselves, again and again, having to live with the consequences. Ethics and morality, which greatly impact our moral choices and decisions, are not inherent within us. They must come from the outside.

This is why science can never play the role of God. It can never act as a moral agent because it has no conscience. It also has no criteria to use to decide what is either right or wrong. Anything that can be done is permissible. As Charles Colson noted twenty years ago, “The path from the unmentionable to the commonplace is being traveled with increasing speed in medical ethics.” Science can, and will be acted upon by others. The scientists who do science will make moral (or amoral) choices. As Jacques Ellul noted in one of his seminal essays, for those who reject the truth of God there are no brakes. There are no limits upon what is possible to them. They are the master of everything. This is why it is important for Christians to be involved in the sciences. This is why Christians should actively be involved in all disciplines. We need to be thinking and acting Christianly in all that we do. We need to look to God’s guidelines to set the boundaries beyond which we will not go. It is a matter of being just and pure in our lives.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Non Christian Worldview

T. S. Eliot, in an essay entitled Religion and Literature notes that “the author of a work of imagination is trying to affect us wholly, as human beings…. and we are affected by it, whether we intend to be or not.” He continues to say that most of the reading material written by contemporary authors that we come in contact with today is written by people who have no belief in the supernatural. He states that benefit can be found in reading such literature as long as we recognize the vast gulf that exists between our Christian frame of reference and that of the contemporary authors.

But how conscious are we of this gulf as we live in our post modernist, post Christian culture? Through the mass media and the printed word we are constantly bombarded, as Eliot says, by writers who “are really all working together in the same direction.” And for the most part, this direction is not towards God. Unless we are acutely aware of the tension between the Christian and the non-Christian worldviews, we are in danger of being sucked in by the prevailing culture that surrounds us.

How do we solve this dilemma? Totally avoiding the culture is not the answer. Eliot suggests that as Christians we must know both how we really feel about things and understand our own shortcomings. He says we have “the duty of maintaining consciously certain standards and criteria of criticism over and above those applied by the rest of the world; and that by these criteria and standards everything that we read must be tested.” We can’t take a passive approach to this, or we will be negatively affected. We must actively engage our minds, reflecting upon and evaluating all that our culture brings to us with our core beliefs. Too often we take a lackadaisical attitude towards our faith. We don’t see it as something that we should work at to make it sharper. We don’t, as Eliot states, maintain higher standards than the rest of the world. Therefore we fall under the same indictment as ancient Israel, for as God says “For lack of knowledge the people perish” (Hosea 4:6). Without the ability to test the things we read and see and hear we will be adversely affected by them.

Eliot’s comments also touch on the question of worldviews. Are the standards by which we evaluate things based upon a Christian worldview? Our worldview dramatically impacts how we view everything with which we come into contact. For instance, a Christian worldview makes room for the supernatural, while a materialistic worldview totally rejects even the possibility of the supernatural. Throughout our lives we are constantly developing and refining our worldview. It becomes so ingrained in the core of our being that we don’t even realize how much it is affecting everything in our lives. It affects how we view the world, our relationships with others and our relationship with God.

There is no question but what we are immersed in the world in which we live. We are constantly bombarded by the media, entertainment, the global economy, politics etc. All of these industries are attempting to grab our attention and gain our allegiance. The extent to which they succeed depends largely on how we interact with the beliefs behind their statements. This leads to two questions. What standards and criteria have I developed in my life? How effectively am I using them to evaluate everything I see and hear and read as I intersect with the culture in which I am immersed?