100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

We’ve all heard the phrase “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t...” We say this when we find ourselves faced with two courses of action, neither of which are desirable. It causes me to wonder, are there really any situations in this world we might find ourselves in where, no matter what course of action we take, we will be forced to sin in some way? Some theologians have said “Yes, in a fallen world we can find ourselves in such a situation.” That is, because sin permeates every aspect of this world, there may be times when we simply cannot escape sinning. That’s what we should expect in a fallen world, and we should just choose the lesser of two evils and call upon the mercy of God to forgive us. And when we wonder how a perfect world will be different so as to alleviate this problem, I suppose we have to just throw our hands up in the air and say “It is just beyond the capability of our imaginations to even imagine how God might design a perfect world...” And fair enough, I suppose. But there’s one thing that bugs me about this idea... Jesus lived in this fallen world, and yet was without sin. How did He manage to remain sinless even in this fallen world of ours?

Consider how in Luke 4, at the start of Jesus’ ministry, He spoke in a synagogue and what He said upset the people so much that they essentially formed a lynch mob and took Jesus to a cliff, intending to throw Him off. If Jesus had let them He would have remained an innocent victim of violence. But Jesus had a mission ahead of Him, according to God’s plan of salvation for the world. And rather than fighting them off and becoming guilty of violence, the Bible says that Jesus simply passed through their midst and went his way. This certainly sounds like the supernatural intervention of God. I don’t imagine that the people of that lynch mob suddenly found that their muscles stopped working so that they couldn’t grab Him. And I don’t imagine that Jesus suddenly became like a ghost so that He physically walked through the people. I don’t really know what happened, but to many there it may not have looked overtly supernatural at all. Perhaps, rather, all of those involved who were intending to throw Jesus off the cliff suddenly lost their nerve. And I wonder whether, maybe, this kind of thing doesn’t happen all the time? Like maybe when I’m walking down a dark alley past some guy standing against the wall, what I don’t realize is that this guy is a desperate drug addict who, for the past 20 minutes has been psyching himself up to mug the next passer by... but then, as I walk past him within striking distance, he suddenly loses his nerve. And neither of us are ever aware that it was God who intervened in that way.

So this is how I see not only a perfect world working, but our own world too. No world created by God doesn’t involve God interacting with it. The Bible says that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3). Whilst I think people usually see that as God being responsible for the forces which bind matter together, I think it goes beyond just interactions between particles and covers every aspect of the system, and includes even our social interactions. We also read in the Bible that:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

If God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability”, He must be intervening in every aspect of our reality to control the situations you find yourself in. And the reason there is probably never really a genuine case of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”, where no matter what you do you will end up sinning, is because God intervenes to prevent situations like that. And in a perfect world, for example, there might be no car accidents because God would always intervene to prevent them. And there may not even be any disagreements amongst people, because God may intervene in our minds to create empathy and understanding, taking away pride and envy, and so on and so forth.

People should see this relating somewhat to the “problem of evil”. If God is intervening in this world, He doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job... there are car accidents and major disagreements all over the place! But this is a fallen world according to God’s plan. God put it in its fallen state and He will restore it from it’s fallen state, according to His plan and in His time. He has made the world fallen because He has good reason to. Let’s not forget that, while God intervened in Luke 4 to save Jesus’ life, He later allowed men to lay hands on Him and torture Him to death on the cross, all according to His perfect wisdom and plan. And whereas I might be saved from a mugging, another man passing down that dark alley might not. But why God might allow a mugging is a topic of discussion that can go for hours... But possibly God allowed evil so that He could demonstrate His love in sending Christ and saving the world from it.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:11)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Our Only Hope

I recall my parents, as a teenager, were often warning me about the dangers of drinking, and of drugs, and of sex and pornography. Of course, I drank and did drugs and had sex. And I often remember my parents saying “We tell you these things over and over, and we wish you’d listen but you just do what you’re going to do anyway!” It made me feel like I was more rebellious than most teens. But over the years I’ve discovered that so many people I’ve spoken to have this same memory of their parents saying the very same thing... “We’ve told you over and over, but you’ll just do what you’re going to do anyway!” You see, it’s just a plain fact that you cannot constrain the sinful nature in others, no matter how you try. Not even the sinful nature of your children. As a parent this causes me so much anguish... to think that my children are going to grow up and do all of these foolish things. When I look at my life I know for a fact that there is nothing anybody could do or say that would have stopped me from doing what I wanted to. I even did things that I myself abhorred, and I thought to myself “Well, I expect this is just something I need to get out of my system and I’ll grow out of it.” But I didn’t. The only thing that finally put an end to my wicked deeds was Jesus Christ.

Most people’s view of Christians is that they want you to be saved because otherwise you’ll go to hell. Of course, that’s true; but more often than not the desire to see you saved is so that you’ll know the joy of knowing Christ right now! And also that you’ll be saved from your own sinful ways right now, in this life. Christ gives us a new heart which, by nature, hates sin and will turn away from it. Though you possibly don’t see it this way, your sins are causing damage to your life right now. This is precisely why our parents tell us not to do these things... it’s because they probably did them as teenagers and discovered for themselves that they all ultimately lead to pain and hurt.

In order to keep our children from sin we might try to prevent them in various ways, either by penalising them when they do wrong or by restricting their access to certain activities, whether that’s a curfew for going out or an Internet filter for web sites, or whatever. But as hard as you try, children will find a way around these measures. You cannot keep them from the world; it’s simply not possible. Let’s consider what Paul says here...

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
(Colossians 2:20-23)

That is to say, if you claim to have “died with Christ” (which is a term synonymous in the Bible with having been “born again”), then why would you adopt this “rule book” of asceticism? Rather, the Spirit of God in you would naturally make you hate what is sinful and avoid it of your own accord, rather than because some rule book says so. Because we know that whether we have a rule book or whether it’s our parents constantly telling us what we ought not to do, it won’t make any difference. The only hope of keeping ourselves from sin is for Christ to change our very natures.

This leaves me feeling totally helpless. I am helpless to change my own sinful ways... as I already experienced in my own life, I could not “grow out of” certain habits, or keep myself from giving in to temptations because, even if we do all we can to avoid them, we cannot escape them altogether. It also leaves me feeling helpless towards my family. I know that I cannot stop my children from doing what they’re going to do as they grow up. This is also true of my wife, or my brother, or my best friends. Our only hope is in Christ. Only Christ can change our hearts, and only a change of heart will keep us from sin. This means that my only hope in trying to keep my family from sin is to appeal to Christ in prayer on their behalf... to pray for their salvation.

But I’m not suggesting that we just give up and do nothing but pray. I think this is what a lot of parents have done when they say “You’ll just do what you’re going to do anyway...” with the implication of “why should I bother telling you anything?” That’s not right at all. Jesus said...

Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)

But when we’re “doing them and teaching them” we are, in fact, pointing people towards Christ. More than that, we should be explicitly teaching them about Christ also. Christ is their only hope. The Bible is clear - the Law will not change your heart, but we need the Law to show us our need for Christ. The rules our parents lay down for us do at least restrain sin in us. I certainly didn’t do any hard drugs because my parents and school teachers educated me and gave me a healthy sense of fear about them. And so we teach the law to others, but essentially it’s in order to reveal each person’s need for Christ. Through the teaching of the law (and by that, I don’t necessarily mean the Mosiac Laws as they are in the Bible, but simply what we know to be wrong in God’s eyes), we teach our loved ones of their need for Christ as they live through the very experience I have outlined in this post... that, as I said in the beginning, no matter what my parents told me I basically did what I wanted anyway; and that the only way I could ever stop sinning was when I received the Spirit of God. It’s heart-breaking, but it’s true; you will not save your children from sin. You can only trust in Christ. We are all dependent on Him for salvation from sin. This is “by God’s design”... that in everything we are dependent on Him. This is why, as parents, or simply as people who care for one another, we need to be continually pointing people towards Christ. It’s not enough to say “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that”... the only way a person will adhere to these willingly is if Christ literally changes their will. This is why we need to teach what the Bible says to one another and to our children.

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)