Archive for the 'Thoughts about God' Category

Sons of Thunder

February 15, 2014

His hands were tied up behind him.  A soldier knocked him to his knees.  John tried to stand back up, but another soldier held him down, stepping down on his legs and brandishing his sword in front of John’s eyes.  The soldier shouted at him to stay down and that John and his brother were being arrested for disturbing the peace.  John could not move, and he could not stop himself from trembling.  He saw his brother, James, 10 feet in front of him.  The soldiers were also binding him and holding him down.  James was shouting at the soldiers.  “Just be quiet Jame,” John thought, trying to make eye contact with his brother, “and maybe they’ll let us go.”

He kept on shouting, in his loud, thunderous voice.

“If you repent, even now, and believe in Jesus, that – .” One of the soldiers next to James hit him on his face with a hilt of a sword.  James fell sideways, his face hitting the dirt.  James slowly opened his eyes, looking dazed, his eyes searching for something, for someone and finally saw John.

They had always been together.  When they were growing up, people who first met them thought they were twins.  People of their village thought of them as pranksters, as rascals who would be good fishermen but not much more.  John and James had never studied under a house of a teacher.   Once, a rabbi told them to follow him, except this rabbi did not have a house.  So John and James followed this itinerant rabbi, as they walked across deserts and dry places, the rabbi’s feet stirring dust that would cover them as they followed behind him in awe.

John couldn’t breath.  He could not talk.  He looked at his brother, pleading through his eyes to be quiet and to go along with the authorities.  James, smiled, shook his head, and closed his eyes.  The soldiers grabbed him and set him up back on his knees.

James kept on shouting.  “Believe in Jesus, whom you have crucified, has been raised – ” A soldier kicked him, and again James was sent to the ground.  The soldier pressed his feet on James’s head.

They had followed the rabbi for three years, and they had seen miracles.  They couldn’t fathom what it all meant.  Surely, this rabbi was the one who would overthrow the Roman oppressor, restoring the glory of the Israel nation.  But the rabbi seemed disinterested in politics.  And for being a rabbi, he seemed disinterested in religion, or at least the religion that they knew about.  The rabbi didn’t wash his hands.  They were more than okay with that.  The rabbi befriended the outcasts, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners.  The Samaritans.  John and James didn’t understand, and yet they recognized that they too were commoners.  The rabbi taught in perplexing parables.  “Look at this great temple, teacher!” John once marvelled as they entered the temple.  The reply was not what John had expected.  “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it.”  They looked at each other to see if the other knew what it meant but they were both puzzled.  But now, it was beginning to make sense.

With the soldier’s heels pressed against his head, James shouted all the more.  “That he has been raised from the dead, then you will be saved!”  The soldier raised his sword above his head and swung down. As blood gushed out of James’s open wound, as life slowly faded from his eyes, he looked one last time to his brother.

The rabbi had taken them and a fellow fisherman Peter up to a mountain.  It was pitch black.  As they steadily climbed their way up, they were suddenly blinded.  The light was brighter than a midday sun.  And the Rabbi.  He seemed to be the source of the light.  He was discussing something with two other men, whose names were ….  Moses. Elijah. The law-giver.  The prophet.   John and James didn’t understand the significance of it all.  And days later, when the Roman soldiers crucified the Rabbi, they thought he was just another prophet, just like Moses and Elijah.  But then the Rabbi came back, and they understood.

As tears rolled down John’s face, James gave a weak smile and looked at John while slowly drifting into unconsciousness.  “It’s okay,” James whispered, “I am going to be with our Rabbi.”

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Korean-American New Calvinism and Reformation of Korea

April 2, 2013

Christianity is like a divine flame that the winds of history have been unable to blow out. Christendom, however, is never sustainable. Korea, i believe, is fast approaching the state of post-Christendom,. The youths are allured by external beauty, and the church has been more concerned with building up monolithic churches rather than speaking into the culture.

Across the Pacific, Korean-Americans have along with the Christianity at large, have either embraced or were challenged by New Calvinism. With this rediscovery of our theological heritage, the faith of our grandfathers, we were able to speak into, both critique and affirm the churches our parents, the first generation, has established.

But does this rediscovery create a positive obligation to reform the churches in Korea? Or do church in Korea already possess all that New Calvinism identifies as what distinguishes it from Old Calvinism? Korean churches are already known for being missional and being spirit-filled (with the exception of the most conservative churches in Korea).

Perhaps the churches are not so good at working outside of denominational lines; the problem is that the denomination lines are not drawn at all or are drawn institutionally instead of theologically. This then should be the first input New Calvinism can have in Korean churches, that theological beliefs matter. Korea’s cultural and national urge for unity may have over time blunted the theological rigor. New Calvinism, then, should challenge the Korean churches to take theology seriously, to define what it believes.

From theological beliefs, then New Calvinism can speak into the culture. The failure of the Korean church to speak into the secular culture stemmed largely from, I believe, its lack of theological rigor. Otherwise, the Christian’s opinion remains mere personal opinions.

Perhaps the fire will not be rekindled in Korea. But for Korean-Americans, who are heading back to Korea amid the tough job market, they do have a positive obligation to reform. And may the winds of the Spirit blow through them anew.

The moral value of the secular world

February 4, 2013

I’ve changed my mind.  I do not think that the secular world lacks moral convictions.  The world is just as convicted as the church, if not more so.  The difference lies in the fact that they have a smaller set of moral values to draw from.  In particular, in the US, it seems that the secular society has only one moral value left to speak of, specifically that of autonomy.  Focusing on any one moral value to the exclusion of all others has a distorting effect on moral judgments of specific issues.

Take, for instance, incest.  Vast majority of people will agree that it is wrong.  However, if we only take the one moral value we have left, the one of autonomy, and make our moral judgments using that alone, then some instances of incest would appear permissible.  Again, this result highlights a distorting effect of our moral judgments due to the lack of proper set of moral values to draw from.

As a society, I think we can all agree on other moral values, if not relative weight of these values in any particular issue.  For instance, courage or honesty or integrity or solidarity or kindness are values that even the secular world would agree to promote in any given society.  Should not these other moral values be part of our rationale in thinking about the wrongfulness of an act?

The Christian alternative, of course, isn’t to impose the Christian mandate to non-Christians.  We can only fulfill our Lord’s commandment to love others as we love ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot expect non-Christians who do not have this Aid to live up to this standard that we ourselves fail to live up to even with the help.  But we can and should work to reintroduce to our society moral values that can be gleaned from general revelation.  The Church, after all, is the salt and the light of this world.

Pleading for Grace

January 22, 2013

In this post, I would like to examine the proper attitude of the offender towards the victim when asking for grace and forgiveness.  Here the term “offender” is used generally to represent anyone who may have committed any wrong either actively or passively towards anyone else.  Sinner, debtor, etc. are all categorized under offender for our purposes here.  Likewise, the term “victim” is used here generally to represent anyone who has been wronged by the offender and is in position, specifically, to dispense such grace to the offender.  The “offence” is used here to mean any wrong doing committed by the offender including sin, unpaid debts, any criminal or civil crimes, etc.  My hope is that this description of the attitude of the offender will fit the model of grace that is found in the scriptures in describing our relationship to God as well as to each other.

We can examine the proper attitude of the offender by examining the nature of grace.  Grace is something that is given, not earned; the giver of grace has no duty, no obligation to dispense it to the offender.  Therefore, the offender can not demand grace from the victim.  Such demands would require a wrong understanding of what grace entails.  The offender can, however, plead for grace.  Such pleadings can not have any coercive force of persuasion upon the victim.  Rather, the pleadings may appeal to the benevolent and forgiving nature of the victim, who will be able to absorb the costs of the offense by being gracious to the offender.  The pleadings may also appeal to the pitiable nature and situation of the offender, any remediating circumstances such that the victim dispensing of grace would itself not be a great a injustice and possibly a great virtue.

However, the essential element of a pleading is the “sorry.”  The offender must acknowledge the nature of his own acts as have been morally wrong before the victim.  The offender who pleads for grace cannot do so without to a certain degree admitting his own faults; when he asks for grace, he is asking for forgiveness.

There are then a number of different characteristics of the offender who pleads for grace.  These attitudes of one who pleads should be different from that of one who demands for grace.  These inner attitudes should be observable by outer, observable actions and demeanor.  Comparison of the attitudes of the offender who pleads for or demands grace highlights the proper versus the improper attitude of the offenders who ask for grace from the victim.

The one who pleads must first of all be humble.  The pleader may appeal to the benevolent and magnanimous nature of the victim and to his own pitiable situation.  The pleader is placing himself in a lower moral status, the only position from which he can receive the grace he hopes to receive.  The pleader is also asking for forgiveness, and as such is admitting his wrongfulness.  He cannot admit his wrongs without an attitude of humility.

By contrast, the one who demands grace may be arrogant. (or more precisely, “must not need to be humble.”)  The demander, who imposes upon the victim the duty to forgive, switches his position with the victim.  The demander is judging the victim for not being forgiving, and thereby positions himself on the judgement seat, on a higher moral authority.  The demander is not so much asking for forgiveness as for acknowledgement that he did no wrong at all.

There are other characteristics.  The pleader’s demeanor is marked initially by willingness, and throughout the pleading by hesitancy and even a sense of duty.  Since the plea itself must contain some form of an admittance of wrongdoing, the pleader must feel as though he must expose his own offense and yet take no pleasure in doing so.  Much as a person who takes out a log from his own eyes, he goes on with the task though he does not enjoy it.

The demander’s demeanor, on the other hand, is marked initially by denial and throughout the demands by dignity and appeals to higher moral standards.  (There may be a better word to summarize this demeanor.)  The demander wants to avoid admittance of wrongdoing and therefore does not want to acknowledge the log in his eyes.  His appeal to higher moral standards (though it condemns himself, Matthew 7), he seeks to divert attention away from his own, more glaring wrongdoing.  These demeanors are nearly the exact opposites of those of the pleader.

The pleader must be sincere and honest; he hopes to change from the received grace.  A necessary component of admittance of wrongdoing is the acknowledgement that any similar future acts by the offender would be likewise impermissible and that the offender affirms the moral judgments made upon him.  Conversely, the demander hopes to remain the same.  Because he avoids the admittance of wrongdoing, he can likewise avoid affirming and denouncing the moral judgments made upon him.

In summary, the offender may only plead for grace and not demand it.  The one who pleads must be humble, willing initially yet dutifully applying the moral standard upon himself, sincere, and reformative in his outlook.  The one who demands is arrogant, in denial, insincere, and stubborn.

Oh that our hearts may plead for grace of God and not mistakenly think that He owes us anything!  Oh that we may be on our knees and not defiantly on our feet!  Our attitudes towards each other is more complex than with God; for with God, we are the offenders and he is the “victim.”  And yet with each other, we are all offenders and victims.  I think that is why “counting each other better than ourselves” is so crucial in communities; for from the initial position of humility, we are better able to come to an admittance of wrongdoing from our own end, as well as to dispense grace to others (for in humble hearts we can better plead for God’s grace, which is the source of our grace to others).

In a future post, I would also like to examine the proper response of the offender in the event of becoming a recipient of grace and also in the event of the refusal to receive grace.

Argument from Desire

December 27, 2012

I. The Weight of the Argument

There are many arguments for God, but perhaps the most useful one in our society today may be the argument from desire.  This argument may particularly resonate with the growing “nones.”  Some of the “nones” have found themselves in their position after floating through ambivalence of spiritual matters and by the continually increasing distractions of our materialistic society.  And maybe the endless consumption of fleeting status updates and tweets have deadened their hearts from the pull, the weight of the argument.  But the gravity of the argument can be fully appreciated if we could just stop refreshing the website and checking for a text message.  Why did we go out in the desert?  What were we hoping to see?  We were all along looking for beauty and grief.  We were looking for something that will break our hearts all along.

II. Misapprehension of the Argument

Perhaps C.S. Lewis expressed the argument most clearly in his book Mere Christianity, when he wrote “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical conclusion I can make is that I was made for another world.”  This desire was a common theme for many of his writings; he wrote of the fleeting fragrance of forgotten countryside, the half-remembered melody of a lullaby.

Note that this argument is distinct from the wish-fulfillment, which says that “God exists because I want him to exist.”  This wish-fulfillment argument is rightly criticized, and some claim that it actually disproves God’s existences.  I can’t agree with either line of reasoning.  If I want God to exist, how does that in any way prove or disprove God’s existence?  My desires for a God doesn’t prove or disprove His existence.  But if a personal God did exist and wanted to know me, then I would suspect I would very much have something like a desire for God.

III. Formulation of the Argument

But that isn’t the argument at all; it does not proceed by saying “You want a God. therefore there is a God.”  Rather, it goes on saying “You have this unsatisfiable desire, namely one for some unknown beauty and pain and love and joy.  Based on what you know of other desires, namely that they can be satisfied, this yet-unsatisfiable desire must have something that can satisfy it.  Yet nothing in this world as of yet has satisfied it.  Therefore, there must be literally something out-of-this world that must satisfy this desire.  And this something-out-of-this-world should be consistent with the characteristics of the desire itself, namely that it must be beautiful, lovely, joyful, to the point of pain and truth, and quite figuratively out-of-this-world.”

IV. Experience of the Desire

But the argument from desire is more broader, more human than that.  The argument appeals to what brings us to tears when we hear a beautiful melody, or the awe we feel looking at a great artwork.  Such moments of awe and beauty and grief inevitably fades as time goes on.  Such moments do not ultimately fulfill us nor explain our human condition.  But God does.

So if you have experienced this moments, this hankering, this yet-unsatsified desire for the “other,” then maybe this God, this Jesus as described in the Christian tradition, fits that description of such desire.  Your desire was sometimes temporarily satisfied by others; the Christian God lives in unity within the trinity.  Your desire was sometimes temporarily satisfied by beauty; the Christian God is supremely beautiful.  Sometimes your desire rested on truth; this also can be found in the Fountainhead.  The best explanation for the cause of your human desire is found there.  So if you’ve drifted to where you are, perhaps it is time to look upstream.

All things that rise must converge or fall

December 15, 2012

All things that rise must converge or fall.

Every good deed must turn divine or forgotten.

A hardened heart is no heart at all.

Every egg must hatch or else become rotten.

 

A seed must be buried to truly live.

Selves need point outwards or become it.

One will only have the things one gives.

For all things must under one name be collected.

(Apologies to Ms. O’Connor)

Wrong Values

November 7, 2012

As our society becomes more and more secularized, the vocabularies and the categories we use to describe our values have become shallower. Optimism replaced hope.  Tolerance replaced love.  Pleasure replaced joy.  Privacy replaced peace.  And a trust in the collective knowledge replaced faith.

The former values – hope, love, joy, peace, and faith – were of different quality than these newer ones – optimism, tolerance, pleasure, privacy, and trust in collective knowledge.  What does an optimist know of the eternal hope we have in Christ?  What does an optimist who only thinks of the glass of half full, know of the glass that will overflow with the love that the Father has poured out on us?  How great is the love that God poured out on us that we should be called the children of God! For that is what we are!

And what of love?  Tolerance knows nothing of love; tolerant were the pharisee and the teacher of the law who passed by on the road to Jericho and ignored the one who was beaten by robbers.  Tolerance lives and let lives; it also lives and lets the neighbor die.  Love, on the other hand, dies so that the other can live.  Love takes on the burden so that the other can flourish.

And joy!  What does this world and all its pleasures know of joy!  Oh if only a carnal mind can with all its powers taste the smallest joy of the divine life!  Then all its former sweetness will taste as sand and bitter as weeds.  This world that takes its temporary pleasures as the ultimate end – how can it know that these lesser joys are but means to know the author of all good things?

And peace.  We seek nothing from others; we wish to be left alone.  Our homes have become our own domains.  It is as if our homes are our kingdoms, and how could this be if “the kingdom of God is here!”  How can we claim privacy as a great virtue when our God lives always in community?

Finally, faith.  The world trusts in the collective knowledge; it places trust in what someone else knows.  We slide gently into the amnesia of this blind trust, and thereby vaccinate ourselves from the saving faith.  Oh what hubris!  For in mistakenly thinking that we know everything, we have forgotten the only knowledge that can save us!  What good is it the gain the whole world, only to lose your own soul!

As our values become shallower, so does our appreciation of morality.  We are less able to discern right from wrong.  It is the final curse of the fruit of Good and Evil; the very taste fades away and we begin to think that there is no such thing as morality.  We see ourselves as soul-less and thereby we literally lose our souls.

The only antidote is worship.  For only revelation, only in recognizing that there is another dimension outside our own, are we able to get the fuller picture of these values.  The only saving measure is humility.

On the right side of history

October 19, 2012

Have you heard or said the words “I got here first?”  Kids say this all the time: in playgrounds claiming the right to use a particular swing or other equipment, or in daycares where they argue for the right to use a certain toy.  It’s a very logical argument, really, especially in regards to some limited resources.  In regards to truths, however, getting there first isn’t really a good test for its veracity.  Some truth claims may be older but not true.

A while back I went to a debate between an atheist and a Calvinist.  The atheist was recounting how he was a Christian earlier in his life but lost his faith when he found out that Hinduism was much older.  He thought that older truth claims were right, while the more recent ones were false.  But why should that be?  If truths are objective, then it does not matter when that truth claim was first claimed in so far as its veracity.  Christianity claims that truth is objective; therefore, given that premise, Christianity being a “younger” religion than Hinduism does not detract from Christianity’s truth value.  This type of reasoning really is childish, and I do not mean that pejoratively.  It’s childish because that’s the way children argue about things.  It’s rather innocent in a sense, if somewhat unexamined.

A far more insipid type of reasoning is the very opposite.  This reasoning says that newer truth claims are truer.  And I even hear this among Christians.  “Stand on the right side of history.”  This “newer-the-truer” type of reasoning isn’t childish.  Rather, it stems from our relativistic culture.  Instead of the Gospel shaping our mind, the culture at large is shaping our mind.  But if we believe as Christians that truth is objective, that it exists outside of ourselves, that truth really is timeless, that God we believe in is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then we cannot use such arguments.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, Tuesday isn’t better than Monday just by virtue of being Tuesday.  Progressivism does not apply to objective truths.

A truth claim isn’t truer because it’s older.  A truth claim isn’t truer because it’s newer.  (of course this does not mean that every truth that claims to be an objective truth is therefore true.)  There is no “right side of history.”  God claims to be both alpha and omega.  He stands outside of history.  This is doubly the case if we believe that Jesus is the only hope for all of humanity, for those who came after him historically, and came before him as well.  On both sides of history people are saved by grace and grace alone.

Christian Family Values vs. Mormon Family Values

September 26, 2012

Mormons, regardless of their claims to being part of Christianity, believe in the value of family. Some Christians may mistakenly think that this emphasis on the value of family is a common ground that they share with Mormons. However, the reasons for valuing family by both religions are entirely different. The reasons being divergent, the extent to which family values are emphasized also diverge.

What are the reasons Mormonism values family? They believe that when a Mormon dies, he and his wife (or wives) will be transported to another planet and have many celestial babies, thus replaying how their version of god created us. (and let us not forget that their version of god is no god at all, having been created, lacking omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience). Thus, since families will be eternal, (although given the finite size of the universe, I don’t see how they believe this model will be eternal), families have infinite worth. Family values, therefore, should be emphasized in this life to the extent through which families should be protected above all else (except in opposition to the Mormon faith, because without being part of their church, you can’t go have babies in your own planet in the first place.)

On the other hand, Jesus did not teach that earthly families are eternal. In fact, all throughout the bible, God teaches on the one hand to honor your parents, to love your family members, and to love your spouse, but on the other hand that your ultimate love belongs to God. According to Jesus, there will be no human marriages in heaven. On earth, marriages are only as important to the extent that they shape us to love God and each other, and in helping us to understand the mystical nature of Christ’s marriage to the Church. All relationships, properly understood, are object lessons in God and His people. Family values, therefore, are placed below our own individual sanctification; marriages are not eternal – but we are. Families are not eternal in the same way they are in Mormonism.

What does this mean practically? Christians should not blindly place family values above all other policies and social practices. Yes, family values are important, but so is social justice. Yes, family values are important, but so is helping the poor and loving your neighbor.  Yes, family values are important, but never, ever more important than loving God with every fiber of your being.  All that is actually good about families comes from its reflection of that most holy community, the Trinity.

This also means that we cannot, in good conscience, work with Mormonism in promoting family values.  Our beliefs do not share much common ground with Mormonism, in either the source or the extent of the importance of family values.  Mormonism derives the value of family from the hope that their actual families will be eternal.  Christians on the other hand, value it much less, knowing that the value of family comes by looking back at the Family that was, is, and will be eternal, outside our own.

All idols are cut down, even the ones that looked like angels that we made into gods, Mormonism’s pagan god of family values included.

Reexamining the Incarnation

September 11, 2012

What does it mean for Christ to die “for” us?  Why was the incarnation necessary for God to forgive us?  The following illustration may prove helpful.  Suppose you get hit by a truck.  Not a pickup truck, but a huge 18-wheeler.  You would get seriously hurt.  God is bigger than a truck.  Getting hit by God would seriously mess you up.  Jesus saves us from this by pushing us out of the way, by being hit by God “for” us, on our behalf.

An objection arises from this illustration.  Why couldn’t God just swerved out of the way in the first place?  Why couldn’t He elect not to punish us at all?

There are many ways to answer such an objection, and even non-christian sources provide clues to some answers.  John Austin, in The Province of Jurisprudence Determined, defines the “law” as a command which “the party to whom it is directed is liable to evil (sanction) from the other, in case he comply not with the desire.”  God is the ultimate sovereign, and thus, his laws hold the greatest sanctions if they are not obeyed.  I do not think that the definition is adequate or complete, but even with this basic notion of God, the necessity of Christ’s incarnation for our salvation, the substitutionary atonement becomes evident.  If God’s laws are unchanging, God cannot just elect not to punish us for our disobedience.  For him to do that would go against his own sovereignty.

But why are God’s laws unchanging?  If he is the ultimate sovereign, why can he not make new rules, to make detailed exceptions and allowances?  Why would it be illegal for him to change his own rules?  The answer is that God has revealed himself to be unchanging, to be same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  But does this not reveal that there are laws that are above God, and if there’s a law above God this implies a sovereign above God, a being more powerful than God!  But there are no laws above God, for God IS the goodness that the laws are trying to describe.  The laws are not merely arbitrary edicts by God that are of neutral morality; the laws are in actuality the description of God’s character.  The Euthypho’s dilemma is a problem only for those who have not seen God.

Because God could not have “just swerved out of the way,” we have to get out of the way.  But there is no way for us to do that; we have all already broken God’s laws.  It matters little if you think yourself a good person overall – even today, probably in the last hour, you have broken His laws.  That is why Christ must come to push us out and take the punishment on our behalf.  He takes on our punishment.  But this also means that simultaneously, Christ is trying to push us out of God’s wrath, to help us to sin no more.

Another way to look at it is looking at it as a criminal lawsuit.  God is the judge.  The accuser is satan.  Our defense lawyer is Jesus.  (I hear Moses knows his stuff, but doesn’t do so well in court). Now we can try to settle before the lawsuit, but the victim, who is usually some other person, is unwilling to forgive us.  Or they may not have the time to forgive us or has forgotten about us or doesn’t care to do so.  But that does not matter with satan; he will press charges anyway, using God’s own laws to accuse us.  That is when Jesus steps in and says, “I became the victim.  I forgive Clive.  We are settled.”  But perhaps such a picture is incomplete or not totally accurate.  Must ruminate…..