Tuesday, August 1, 2017


The Problem with Love

The final word I wish to speak about is unquestionably the most universally celebrated. We write countless novels, paint pictures, sing endless songs about it. Love. It is, in a sense, the motivating aspect of the previous four words we’ve discussed. When rightly pursued, a cry for justice, a word of truth, an act of faith, and an expression of happiness are all things done in love. But what what do we mean when we say this word, “love”? If I asked 50 people what love is, I would likely get 50 different answers. I’d probably hear some describe it like a complex version of emotion, others would liken it more to an action, some might have very specific stipulations, while other may be completely liberal with their definition, and still others might be skeptical that it’s anything more than a chemical reaction. So, instead of revamping my grouping system from the first to essays and giving you 50 different goofily-named groups to remember, I'll simply begin by taking a look at what the current dialogue of our culture is saying about how we define love.

Love vs Infatuation 

Let’s begin by looking at the stories being told in our day. What are some of the themes that appear throughout our media? If we look at the lowest hanging fruit of movies and television, we’re likely to see love portrayed as purely emotional. Like some instantaneous, primal reaction, love is painted as this inescapable state that suddenly befalls an unsuspecting victim—and any attempt to fight it is seen as both unnatural and self deprecating. Love just “happens” and there’s nothing that can or should stand in between the one stricken and the object of their desire. 

I’m sure you can feel my eyes rolling through your screen, but it’s not simply because I think this is a spectacularly shallow and selfish perspective on love; I don’t think they even got the word right. No, the thing all these movies, dramas, and sitcoms are describing is not love. What they are describing is infatuation. 

Call it “falling head over heels” or “love at first sight,” but this intense desirous reaction to someone is actually more about oneself than it is about the other person. It’s a temporal state of “I want that,” and if it becomes the basis on which you form a relationship, it will leave you both reeling when that feeling dissipates. Infatuation has no chance of sustaining through the rigors of sacrifice and deep dedication that comes with loving someone. 

Where infatuation finds its root in emotion, love is a matter of will. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t an emotional component to love. Emotions are a excellent motivator of loving actions, but emotions are by no means required. In fact, I’d argue that one is, in a sense, acting even more loving when they chose to love even in the absence of emotion. 

However, selflessness isn’t sexy and commitment is boring, so our tv screens are filled with sensuality that’s marketed as “love.” They paint a picture of love as being this effortless thrill ride that you just both sit back and enjoy—the preverbal happily ever after—like marriage is some kind of finish line that you both reach and from there on out your relationship is in some sort of suspended state of marital bliss that never requires maintenance or effort. So, when the emotional aspect wares off and the relationship suddenly feels more like work than fun, then you assume you must have just “fallen out of love,” like it’s some unfortunate event you had no control over. And once this state befalls an individual, the perceived next logical step must be to find someone else who will bring back that thrill again. 

Can we all agree that love goes much deeper and far beyond the short reach of emotion? Good, because I’m not really interested in talking about romance in this essay. Rather, I’d like to speak about love in how it pertains to our position towards all others—not just those we are sexually attracted to. 

Defining Love

So, lets talk about this position for a second. I’d say the majority of us would agree that acting lovingly towards others is a good thing, correct? Some might even go so far as to call it an obligation. But as I’ve argued in previous essays, unless you appeal to an ultimate authority that says human life is valuable and should be treated in a loving manner, you really have no basis for you actions except for your own personal feelings. But regardless of where you get your motivation from, what exactly do we mean when we say we are “loving” someone?

C.S. Lewis has defined loving someone as “a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” I feel like this is a pretty solid description of what the majority of us think of when we think of love. So, if there is in large part an agreement on what loving someone is, then why do we see such disagreement when it comes to enacting this love? Throughout the social and political realms, we see groups with distinctly different ideologies passionately warring over what (hopefully) would be the most loving action to take in a particular scenario. Yes, there are definitely those who couldn’t care less about love when weighing it against their own personal gain, but to those who truly have noble intentions, why is there such discord when all of you are wishing for that persons “ultimate good?" I don’t think the problem necessarily lies with how we define “love” but rather how we define “good.”

Here is where we see the roads diverge. What is good for a particular person? I assume all would agree that that person needs love, but how do we go about loving them? What action would do the most good? 

Today’s culture would argue that an individual’s freedom to act as they please is the ultimate good. “Let them be. Live and let live,” they say—and to suggest another way is decried as ignorant and oppressive. However, this brings us to the same argument that has come up in previous essays. I know I sound like a broken record by now, but to suggest that all ways of living are valid and shouldn’t be criticized, is itself a criticism, and an attempt at invalidating those that do not think all ways of living are valid. Plus, like the “moral relativists" of the Justice Essay, I really don’t think there are many, if any, adherents to this “everyone’s right in their own way” mentality. We all have established a set of morals that we live by, and that we either consciously or unconsciously impose on others. 

Besides, you almost never see this “live and let live” mantra played out in real relationships. In fact, the closer you are to someone, and the more invested in their life you become, the more willing you are to “violate” their freedom to choose for themselves. If you see a friend or family member making a decision that seems potentially harmful, you would rather offer your advice at the risk of offending them, than stay silent and risk their suffering. When you think about it, to “live and let live” is actually an attempt at avoiding relationship—essentially saying, “I don’t care enough about that person to invest in their situation, even if I see them heading toward destruction.”  

So, if we all have morals by which we offer suggestion and correction in an attempt to love someone, who’s to say we are actually point them toward that “ultimate good,” rather than simply offering our own opinion? Here’s where that notion of a Moral Authority comes back to make people uncomfortable again. I’m telling you, get used to this whole faith thing. It’s the only way a person can act with any confidence outside of their own dim volition. "Good” cannot be left to the individual to define, because there would undoubtedly be as many contradictions as there are individuals. There must be definite parameters to deliniate what is indeed “good,” otherwise the concept would carry no weight and pursuing it would be pointless. 

Love in Christianity

It’s this "defining good” part that frustrates so many people when it comes to Christianity. They don’t see it as a belief predicated on love, but rather a religion of do’s and don’t’s. They see Christians as the proverbial moral police who can’t wait to tell you what you’re doing wrong. And in many ways, that’s understandable, because oftentimes that is the experience. For some of you, when you hear the word evangelism, you cringe. It might conjure up images of red-faced, megaphone wielding, fire and brimstone slinging, street corner insult-preachers. You know the kind. From their soapbox doubling as an ivory tower, they dowse the unclean masses with their get-on-my-level-or-get-out-of-my-face brand of dogma. 

But before you go labeling that sort of thing as “Christian,” let’s take a look what The Bible says about goodness and love. And let’s see if it sounds like anything you’ve heard coming from one of those megaphones before.

Before we dive in, I want to preface things a bit. When it comes to reading The Bible, everything must be put in context. Eugene Peterson calls this context the “meta-narrative.” It's the larger story that every syllable in the sixty-six books comprising this great anthology speak to. To quote Peterson, “it takes the whole Bible to ready any part of The Bible.” Yes, there are still many passages in The Bible that I wrestle with, and some I simply don’t understand, but every passage, especially those that are difficult to swallow, needs to be viewed in context of this meta-narrative. What is that meta-narrative you might ask? Well it goes something like this:

God created the universe and everything in it out of his goodness and power. From nothingness, he made all that exists, including mankind. He shared an intimacy with his creation and even says he made humans “in his own image.” However, those humans rebelled against God and severed that intimacy they shared by choosing to disobey Him. From that point on, the world was cast into brokenness, corruption, death, and decay, and no effort of mankind could restore the broken relationship. However, God showed his great love for humankind by sending his Son, Jesus, to become a man on Earth and live the perfect life each of us were meant to live. Jesus would then die as a sacrifice for the past, present, and future sins of all of mankind. Jesus then rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven and now sits at the right hand of God. In order to receive the pardoning of sin, and ultimately restore their relationship with God, a person must simply confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that He rose from the dead. Eventually, Jesus will return to earth and judge both the living and the dead. To those that reject His Son, God will eternally cut off from His provision, and they will exist in the agony of separation from Him forever. But to those that have received Jesus as their Lord and Savior, God will restore the perfect relationship between Himself and His creation, where they will live in blissful community for all eternity. 

THAT is the message of Christianity. Funny how when you look at it, you notice how little it has to do with your moral behavior, and how it all has to do with Jesus. So, why do so many Christians focus on the behavioral part instead of Jesus? 

I say, we should blame the parents. I know, how millennial of me isn’t it? But seriously, what is usually a child’s first experience with Christianity? Sunday morning church, right? And what’s the number one rule for little children at church? They must sit still, be quiet, and not embarrass their parents in front of some of the more prominent members of the community. So, when that pew seat starts getting a little uncomfortable and the preachers voice has about as much intonation as an air conditioner, little Jimmy starts to squirm and murmur. Quickly, his protest is met with a threat—and that threat is often the very gates of Hell. It is on this threat that Jimmy will build his view of reality—a reality, as he is told, that little boys and girls who behave go to Heaven, and the ones that don’t, are destined for eternal torment. Enough to scare any kid straight, am I right?

Let’s flash forward a decade or so. Jimmy is now a teenager, and depending on how his upbringing has gone, that threat of Hell Jimmy heard as a kid has affected him in one of two ways. 

On one hand, Jimmy may have decided to rebel against the threat. Growing up in a household built on do’s, don’ts, and because-I-said-so’s, he’s decided to buck the system altogether. He thinks if God is anything like his parents, he’d rather just go it alone. Jimmy figures if he can’t live up to his parents’ lofty standards, what hope does he have in living up to God’s?

On the other hand, Jimmy may have decided to internalize his parents’ threat. Now, everything he does is an attempt to be that "good little boy" that goes to Heaven. Anything short of perfection is simply unacceptable in Jimmy’s eyes. When he falls short, he is devastated, and vows that more effort is simply required in order to avoid faltering the next time. If he comes to find any stretch of success in his behavior, he holds it over those he sees as merely “less disciplined” than he. Jimmy thinks, “If only these people knew how dirty and weak-willed they are. They need a good old fashioned threat to help wake them up. Now, where’s my megaphone?”

Now, what if Jimmy’s first lesson he learned all those year’s ago, as he sat squirming on the hard wood of an old church pew, wasn’t about the threat of Hell, but about the Love of Jesus? What if he was told, even before he got to church on Sunday, that there was this man named Jesus who knew that we all did bad things, and misbehaved, and didn’t listen to our parents from time to time, but He loved us anyway? In fact, He loved us so much that He decided to be punished in our place, even though He didn’t do anything wrong.

Then, as Jimmy grows up, the magnitude of this love he is continually hearing about begins to grow along with him. Jimmy's actions are now based on appreciation rather than obligation, and when he does mess up, he knows he is still loved in spite of his mistakes. And when Jimmy sees other that are struggling, or just don’t seem to care, he thinks, “If only these people knew the power Jesus’ love, like I do. They need to experience this love. Now, how can I help them?”

Herein lies the difference between what many people perceive Christianity to be, and what the Christian message actually says. The Scriptures, as they often do, perfectly sum up this difference. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:18-20)

What About Hell?

So, now that we understand that love is the theme of the Gospel message, what to we do about this notion of Hell? For most people, the message of the Gospel sounds pretty great until this whole “Hell” concept comes up. “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” is the objection I hear the most. And in response, in some ways, I can only say that I don’t know. However, I will submit to you an explanation by C.S. Lewis that may help shed some light on the conundrum:
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they've got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (...) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”

We have all chosen to rebel and side with evil, and if a just and holy God is to abolish this evil that we've invited into the world, then He must do away with it once and for all—and with it will go anyone and anything that continues to side with it. There must be a line in the sand to delineate which side we stand on. That line is perfection—of which we all fall on the wrong side of. And God would be perfectly justified to sentence us all to eternal punishment, because frankly, He is God and He has set the standard. The fault lies with us.

But as the Gospel tells us, God has chosen to give us redemption. And it wasn’t by means of some magic snap of His fingers saying “Tah-dah! All your sins are forgiven!” No, it was costly act—a brutally, heart-wrenching act—that gave us another chance; that saved us from the eternal torment of the Hell we had chosen. Only by the death of God’s only son do we have the hope of a restored righteousness and an eternal relationship with our Father. Yes, Hell is a ghastly reality, but it’s a reality that God has gone to every length to allow us the opportunity to avoid. As a pastor of mine used to put it, “Yes, a person can go to Hell, but Jesus says to that person, ‘You’re going to have to walk all the way around my dead body.’”  

A Transforming Love

Knowing a love like that, you can see why Christians are obsessed with this Jesus person, and you can see the dire importance of telling others about him. But, we must speak from a place of gratitude, knowing our own brokenness, and point to the loving redemption of Jesus Christ. Yes, obedience is vastly important. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) However, obedience is a product of our salvation, not a condition for it. As Romans 8:5 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (emphasis added)

I cannot think of a more loving act than to point someone towards the very thing that will full restore their brokenness and give them life everlasting; give them a wellspring of love and relationship that will not run dry. This is the stuff the soul yearns for, what it was built for. As you come to follow Jesus, oftentimes you think you came to the decision using your head, but you’ll soon find out that all along you were lead by your heart. I’ve tried to be thoughtful and logical in my presentation of these 5 essays, and I hope you've found some use of them. But I’ll tell you right now, once you’ve tasted the electrifying love of Jesus Christ—I mean, the indescribably blissful embrace of the God of All Creation—all those “issues” you once had with Christianity that seemed insurmountable, will immediately fade way when they are overwhelmed by the infinite grander of the Love you now experience. 

We are creatures that love to search for answers, because answers allow us the illusion of control. However, the biggest answer—the answer to every question we could ever possibly ask—stands right in front of us. It’s not found in some research journal, or on top of some mountain top in the Himalayas. It’s not something we find within ourselves. No, the biggest answer is on display for everyone to see. And it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s downright ugly. It comes in the form of a broken, disfigured man hanging on a cross like a criminal. A crown of thorns on his head and a spear wound in his side, he is the answer to our biggest question: “Am I loved? And if so, how much?” With nails in his hands and outstretched arms The God of All Creations says, “This much.”
"Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
—Romans 10:9-13

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


The Problem with Happiness

The next word I want to address is a severely personal one. Up until now, you’ve probably been able to bare with me as I poked and prodded around your stances on justice, truth, and faith. Hopefully, you feel I’ve made some points that you might consider. And, hopefully, you are open to further discuss them one day. But, I’m afraid this next topic might cut a little deeper than the rest. It’s a word so closely held to the life of an individual that to part with it would be to suffer a kind of death. It is something considered so sacred that it’s even mentioned as one of three unalienable rights that form the pillars on which this country was founded. People will put up a fight for justice, they will contend for truth, but I’ve seen more men and women lay down their lives in the pursuit of happiness than any other cause. 

When it comes to the word happiness, I think most of us could accurately describe the concept. And I’m sure many would say they’ve experienced it at some level or another. Some may say happiness can be found in family or friends, others may find happiness in their hobbies, or, for some, it may be a particular place that holds fond memories. Most would agree money can’t buy happiness, but they’d also confess that it wouldn’t hurt to try. No matter where a person claims to find happiness, I’d say almost all would agree that the predominate characteristic of happiness—at least as they’ve experienced it—is that it is hard to hold on to. 

Seemingly the most ephemeral of the words we’re discussing, for many happiness is an ever-moving target. Like a toddling 3 year old chasing an oversized rubber ball, as soon as we feel like we have it in our grasp, our chubby little over-zealous foot swings too far forward, perpetually punting it further out before us. And so on we go, our face reddening with frustration as we look for something to accuse as the perpetrator of our woes. Why the cruel cycle? Why is it, when it comes to happiness, it feels like we are chasing the wind? 

Aiming Too Low

It is my argument that although we may have at some point defined the word properly, the paths we often take in pursuit of happiness are, in fact, destined for something different—something much smaller. Oftentimes, in our seeking we set our sights on things like pleasure or purpose, giving them the entire weight of our expectations, when they are merely parts of a greater whole. Sensing this insufficiency, many people decide to shrink their definition of happiness until it fits what they are experiencing. Then, they make it their goal to get the most pleasure into their lives as they possibly can, or they wrap themselves up in their work or a particular cause, to the point that if that work or pleasure ever ended, it would mean the end of themselves as well. 

Whether it’s money, success, adventure or sex, each carries a smaller banner of “comfort,” “peace,” and “accomplishment,”—all of them promising to lead the devout to that much bigger, more elusive word: “happiness.” Yet, despite their attempts, the pursuer is quickly frustrated when their satiation is woefully fleeting. Still, they keep feeding themselves the same things over and over until their hearts are drowning in a sea of pleasure and projects, yet more starved for happiness than ever before. Jim Carrey is famously quoted as observing, "I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.” Think about it. Money, sex, power, fame, that’s not what our hearts truly desire. It’s the tragedy of the addict: the more you get, the more you begin to want--yet still somehow knowing it will never be enough. 

If true happiness were able to be attained through things like careers, relationships, hobbies, or finances, then happiness would require one's entire life be devoted to the apprehension and defense of such things. But what happens when tragedy strikes? When the market crashes and the company folds? When the cancer is inoperable? At the death of dreams does the hope of happiness go with it? In such times, it may feel that way, but my hope is that no one actually believes happiness could be so fragile.

It's About Identity

So then, if the smaller pursuits of pleasure and purpose aren’t the answer, by what grounds can we properly pursue happiness? I believe the key isn’t found in what we do, but rather who we are. If we are ever to grasp any sense of sustainable happiness we must come to a proper understanding of our identity. 

Now comes the point where I might step on some toes; and it’s about how we come to realize this identity. I’m here to argue that an individual does not possess final authority on their own identity. I know our hyper-individualized culture recoils in horror at such a thought. We like to get all “Hemingway” and think that every man and woman is captain of his or her own soul. But how’s that going for you? I don’t know about you, but this is the first time I’ve ever lived a life before. This whole “being captain” thing feels like I’m winging it most of the time, and it seems like there’s a constant blanket of fog off the bow. And as I look around me, I see a lot of other captains with the same confused look on their faces as their ship is being battered up against the rocks, or is stuck spinning in circles without a rudder. Yet they wear that captain's hat proudly, by golly. 

Of course, you are perfectly within your rights to believe that we are all just blind captains directing our ships to and fro--though as I argued before, you would have to forfeit any hope of meaning in this existence. But, might I suggest that we were never meant to be captains in the first place? In fact, I’d say even the most seemingly "self-reliant”  of us aren’t even the acting captains of our ships now.

I know it’s a popular thought that happiness essentially means having the “freedom” to do what we what--to define the self however we please. But let me ask you. When is the last time you’ve acted completely out of your on volition? When is the last time you’ve acted without the influence of the thoughts, words, or actions of another? If you've answered anything other than “never” you deceive yourself. From birth, we are bombarded with objects and ideals bearing banners and slogans promising us a better this or a more fulfilling that, all they simply ask for in exchange is our allegiance. Not a single one of us is the sovereign, untouched individual that we think we are. Be it advertisements, politics, friends, enemies, parents, or simply the societal norms of our day, every action we take is in response to some other’s suggestion. To those we reject, it is rebellion; to those we accept, it is submission; and to those we find our worth in, it is worship. 

Look around us. Look within yourself. We are not self-defined. We are creatures of worship. We like to think we are in control, but how often do we attach our identity to things like success and status, pleasure and opinion. Even the most avant-garde individual is still a product of a response to the perceived status-quo. Without a social norm to contrast themselves against, they would lose the framework of their self-proclaimed identity. To quote Ecclesiastes, "What has been is what will be, / and what has been done is what will be done, / and there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV)
Notice, however, that up until now, I have been referring to identity as something acted upon, something wielded or influenced but not quite possessed. Much like our genetic makeup or the time and place to which we were born, there are certain inalienable aspects about ourselves that we do not, and cannot, have any authorship over. Our very personhood and the dignity that we perceive as inseparable from our humanity, we had nothing to do with—it is nothing that can be earned, nor is it anything we can truly take from another. Yes, our particular likes, dislikes, quirks and idiosyncrasies that make us “us” are all expressions of the unique self, yet the essentials of this self are not of our own making. So, to whom do we owe authorship? Answer this correctly, and we find the source of our identity--and with it, the path to true happiness. 

Where Do We Look?

In our search for such a source, one of the better clues we’re given, ironically, lies in our unhappiness. This seemingly ubiquitous baseline of discontentment in the individual experience, I believe says something profound about our true nature: that this great dissatisfaction is actually the distance cries of a wholeness we once enjoyed. We many not have any conscious memory of it, but the collective heart of the human race, on some level, remembers and longs for a time when it used to beat in perfect relationship with its Creator. Our unhappiness is a symptom of that longing. As a former pastor of mine used to say, “the reason we’re so dissatisfied is because we are walking around in this fallen world as deposed kings and queens,” or as C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

What if our unhappiness served a purpose? What if our dissatisfaction with what we've seen in and around us, causes us to look for that other world? What if that other world actually existed, and upon finding it, we discover a familiarity and completeness beyond anything we have ever experienced? 

Otherwise, unhappiness is a rather cruel trick being played on us. If our dissatisfaction doesn’t point to an eventual reconciliation--and there is no hope of that other, better world--then unhappiness is utterly pointless. Any experience of suffering would be merely arbitrary, if not unfortunate, and the afflicted individual would gain nothing from it except further motivation to escape from the feeling or situation and take greater efforts to avoid it in the future. A person’s happiness would rely solely on their ability to maintain it, and all other people would be reduced to mere objects or obstacles. At any given point, a person would be seen as either something that will help an individual obtain happiness or something that is preventing it—making it impossible to fulfill a need I believe to be fundamental about our humanity: the need for genuine, reciprocal community. 

For the Christian, there is no such pressure to generate our own happiness, nor is its maintenance so fragile. We are able to endure hardship with patience and contentment knowing our greatest happiness is assured--and yet to come. As Paul puts it, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18 ESV)  Not only that, but we are promised a comforter in the Holy Spirit who “...helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26 ESV) We are able to endure because our happiness does not depend on us or our circumstances. 

We see evidence of this all the time: those individuals that, for all intents and purposes, should be the most miserable, embittered people, given their desolate circumstances—their extreme poverty, their failing health, their dead end job—yet they are often the most kindhearted, appreciative, and joyous individuals you’ve ever met. They’re quick to put your needs in front of their, despite their needs being noticeably greater. What allows them this strength? This joy amongst the strife? As another former pastor of mine used to put it, They know who they are, and more importantly whose they are.”

An Enduring Happiness

What if we decided to give up the struggle of trying to defining ourselves, and instead simply let ourselves be defined--not by our fellow man, but by the One who knows us with an infinitely deeper intimacy than we know ourselves, and can make of that self something far more beautiful than we could ever imagine? What if we traded the pressure of leading a “successful” life for an immovable sense of acceptance and belonging--where success is something innate to our identity, rather than something we must attain? In discovering this, pleasure and purpose are suddenly no longer circumstantial. We have an enduring pleasure because our hearts are responding to what they were created for, and our purpose is now eternally linked with who we are, rather than what we can do. And people become people again, with their own identities and their own happiness waiting to be revealed to them. And those that have found happiness along with you, now become compatriots rather than competitors. Happiness is no longer this scarce resource that needs to be hoarded and defended, but rather a never-ending wellspring within us, of which we can continually draw from and give to others.

So, what’s the hangup for most people? If a true, enduring happiness stands readily available, why do so few come to find it? I believe it’s because most are so desperately holding on to whatever small, paltry sense of happiness they do have, they refuse any suggestion of giving it up in exchange for something better, out of fear of loosing what is currently in their grasp. As I mentioned in the beginning of this essay, to part with such things is to suffer a kind of death. But such a death is necessary, if we are ever to realize the true nature of our identity. As Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 NIV)

Yes, this kind of death is painful, but with it will go the deceptive sense of control we had been claiming over our lives--a sense that has been secretly oppressing us ever since it was first birthed in our minds. And yes, it may feel like a huge risk to believe this way, but as we live more and more into our identity, and come to understand the joy that is knowing Christ--knowing a Love that feels more real, more indescribably right, than anything we’ve ever experienced--we realize it is a risk worth taking, and one taking to the fullest. Only after tasting such a richness as this, can we see the how muted the pleasures were that we once sought, and how they will never be able to satisfy us again. In fact, we come to find they never did.

In this transformation, many Christians like to use the word "joy" rather than "happiness" to describe what they are experiencing. "Happiness” tends to connote a kind of contrived, one-way experience that is only enjoyed by the recipient. The word simply falls flat when we speak it. Whereas “joy” emanates; it is received and also given; it overflows and spills out in unfettered lavishness. Joy is the experience and expression of the spirit, as opposed to simply the emotions. And joy is evidence of an assurance in things to come. It is something untouched by trials and circumstance. It stands the test of any hardship because its hope is not in things of this world--which are temporary and ephemeral--but rather it is anchored in the eternal--the promised. 
"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."   
1 Peter 1:8-9 ESV

Thursday, June 1, 2017


The Problem With Faith

Let’s say you’ve settled on a conclusion about what’s true, and you feel pretty solid about it. You’ve done some research--done some deep thinking and spiritual housekeeping--and you’re committing to believing X or Y. Now, I ask you, what would you call the stuff behind your decision? What led you to make the choice that you did? I’d venture to guess you’d use a word like “reason,” “rationale,” or “logic”—something that makes your decision sound like it was simply appropriate, even obvious, given the evidence. But I’m here to argue that no matter what decisions you’ve come to make about reality, the more appropriate word behind your actions is “faith.” 

“Woah, there buck-o. You may not have heard me, but I'm a decidedly card-carrying scientific naturalist. Don’t go lumping me in with all those hand-raising, kowtowing religious folk.” 

Oh, don’t worry, I heard you loud and clear hypothetical-objector-guy, and my argument remains the same. No matter how science-based your stance may be, it is still one that is rooted in faith. In fact, if you stop and take a thoughtful look at your own actions, and what you base them off of, you’ll recognize you’re acting as a man or woman of faith way more often than you care to admit. 

I’d say almost all but the most paranoid take it on faith that the decided “laws” of our universe such as gravity or nuclear bonds will persist to the next day. We don’t go around wondering if the atoms in the chair we’re sitting on will continue to hold their structure, or if in the next moment the chair will suddenly become a cow, or be ripped from existence entirely. It would be ridiculous and extremely counterproductive to continually question every aspect of our reality all at once. So, we subconsciously agree to simply trust that there are constants in this universe that give order to things. However, our culture has a peculiar way of drawing a line between what is acceptable to put faith in, and what is not. 

It Comes Down to Testimony

But first, lets look at the word “faith” for a second. I feel like we, as a society, have given faith a very narrow connotation. We reserve faith for the traditional religions. We say that faith has more to do with feelings than facts, while words like “reason" and “logic” are more fit for the field of science. But what if, for the sake of this argument, I substituted “faith” with the word “trust?” Trust isn’t that scary of a word, now is it? It’s a word that can play nicely in the context of both religious and scientific communities. One can trust a religious text, just as one can also trust scientific data. And when you boil it down, that’s essentially what faith is: trusting in a testimony that’s being told. 

“Cool, so faith and trust are essentially the same thing. Great. Well, it’s pretty easy to trust in something that’s a proven fact,” I hear someone now saying. 

And to that I say, where are you getting your "facts?" Believe me when I say I am not one of those, “we faked the moon landing; Elvis is still alive,” type of conspiracy guys, but I really do think we need to seriously consider how we come to conclude something is a “fact.” I can almost guarantee none of my readers have much experience with subatomic particles or have witnessed another galaxy with their own eyes, but these are things we accept as common knowledge nowadays. But why?

Testimony. We trust the testimony of the scientists that study such things. We trust that they have put in the effort to make an informed conclusion on something. Thus, we give them credibility in our minds and accept their words as factual. For the most part, this goes on without much of our noticing. This is due to the fact that many claims largely already appeal to a personal schema that we’ve been developing in the context of our culture and place in history. At this particular time, in this particular culture, the concept of atoms or the existence of other galaxies all seems plausible in most people’s accepted view of the world. So, when new claims surrounding such subjects are made, we shrug our shoulders and say, “Huh, makes sense to me!” 

Even when a scientist makes a claim that goes against our current thoughts or feeling, we often still allow them credibility, even if (sometimes especially if) we can’t comprehend their claim. Why do we do this? It’s because we recognize our own ignorance, and trust in the expertise and the work put in by the one making the claim. Even if it means changing one’s own behavior, a person will often heed a new study claiming that fish is the new smoking, or that egg salad sandwiches cause cataracts. 

But what about when that same person comes across a religious or moral claim that confronts them? The script is often flipped. Now, it doesn’t matter how much work or dedication went into the assertion. If it means changing their behavior in the slightest, that person suddenly become an expert on the matter and pins the ignorance on the one making the claim. Yet, unlike the dime-a-dozen scientific studies that claim and counterclaim on a seemingly daily basis, oftentimes statements of religious nature cannot be definitively dismissed. 

Bridging the Gap

Now, why is that? Why, no matter how narrow-minded a religious claim may sound, can we not definitively disprove it’s assertion? It’s because there remains this veil, this distance, between ourselves and full knowledge of reality—something that no amount of research and experimentation can traverse. Regardless of what conclusions you’ve made about reality, a measure of faith is still required to bridge the gap. Still not convinced? Let me explain what I mean through an illustration.

Let’s say that in this illustration you have your typical illustration man (we’ll call him Tim for short). And let’s say Tim is going on his preverbal morning stroll when he suddenly notices this nondescript red object high up in the branches of a nearby tree. Now, Tim isn’t a botanical expert, but drawing from his local context and previous experiences with red objects in trees, he makes an assumption that it must be an apple hanging up there. Given the evidence presented, it seems like a pretty reasonable assumption, right? 

Now, lets say a second person comes along and he just so happens to be a botanical expert. He applauds Tim for the valiant effort, but informs him that this particular tree is actually a red pear tree, and the object is, in fact, not an apple but a pear. Convinced by this fellow’s background, Tim decides to believe his new friend’s claim and begins to call the object a pear as well. 

Soon, a third person comes along. He quickly assesses the situation and proclaims, “Nope, you’re both wrong! That thing up there is definitely a tomato.” Tim is skeptical. He’s never seen tomatoes grow on trees before. Then again, there may be some special variety that does and he’s simply never come across it before. He confers with his new botanist pal and eventually decides to reject the tomato hypothesis. 

Finally, a fourth guy stops by the base of the tree. “Would you look at that!” he proclaims as he looks upward. Before he even has a chance to listen to the tomato, pear, and apple theories, he continues, “my friend told me his red yo-yo got caught up in the pear tree and I just had to come see it for myself!” 

Now, lets break down where faith comes into play in Tim’s experience with this mysterious red object:

When he first comes to notice the object, Tim develops a statement about the object based on what he sees, and any relevant previous experiences he’s had. He probably employed a very logical process. Something like: This object is in a tree; apples grow on trees. This object is red; many varieties of apples are red. However, due to the distance between himself and the red object, Tim still has to rely on a certain level of faith to conclude that it is an apple. In other words, the reasoning Tim used only got him far enough to make a statement of faith, not a statement of fact. And in this case, the testimony Tim’s putting his faith in is his own. He trusts his own experience and subject-knowledge is viable enough to make a trustworthy statement. 

Then along comes the botanist. After learning about his new friend’s expertise and hearing his explanation, Tim decides to replace his apple hypothesis with the new red pear theory. He trusts his friend’s testimony over his own because he admits his own knowledge is limited and he sees value in the words of someone with greater experience. And, just as importantly, Tim trusts that this new acquaintance is being honest with him and not willfully deceiving him. However, despite this new found expertise, the distance between the two of them and the red object still allows for the unknown. An amount of faith is still required to conclude the object is a pear. But now, Tim’s faith is no longer so much in his own testimony, but that of his new friend. 

Next, comes Tomato Guy and his claim. This time, Tim is unconvinced. In this case, Tim's reasoning first references his own personal experience, but then differs to the credibility of his new friend. Tim’s rationale looks something like: This man’s claim doesn’t describe anything I’ve experienced before; his conclusion isn’t trustworthy. This man doesn’t have the credibility of my new botanist friend; this man’s explanation isn’t as viable as my new friend’s. In this decision, Tim’s rationale caused him reject the tomato theory, but it is still his faith that keeps him adhering to the notion that the object in question is a pear. Tim is trusting that both he and his botanist friend are not ignorant of some rare species of tomato that Tomato Guy is correctly identifying in the branches above.

At this point, Tim is probably feeling pretty confident in his decision about the red object. All the parameters seem to line up in his mind. He has the backing of an expert, and he’s even successfully defended his theory against a naysayer. But then, this fourth gentleman comes along with an outlandish claim. 

"I mean, why would a yo-yo be in a tree?” I sure Tim is thinking. "That just sounds so farfetched." Yet, Tim cannot say with any certainty that the notion is impossible. Unable to climb the tree, Tim cannot prove that this man’s friend didn’t at one point send his yo-yo flying up into the canopy for them to now come across and ponder its existence. Tim now has a decision to make. Does he remain adhered to his botanist friend’s hypothesis or does he now accept this story of a red yo-yo? 

Everything was so neat and tidy with the pear theory. The botanist had explanations that made sense to Tim, it was a safe guess that no one would ridicule him for. And if he turned out to be wrong, he could simply blame the bad information on the botanist. But, now this new man comes along and offers not facts and figures, but a testimony. Yet, there’s this confidence about him that Tim cannot overlook. This man seems to know and trust the owner of this yo-yo, he even calls him his friend. But Tim doesn’t know this man’s friend. How can he trust that he’s telling the truth? Who plays with yo-yos anymore, anyway?

This is the great risk of faith. Yet, what many don’t recognize is that there’s risk on all sides. The botanist could have all of his facts right. He could have correctly identified the bark of the tree, the climate and soil type and region could have all lined up to say that this is in fact a red pear tree. In fact, it could actually be a red pear tree. But if the object in question is a yo-yo that happens to be stuck in a red pear tree, he would still be wrong. 

An Element of Hope

Hopefully, you’re still with me after all the fruit and dollar-store toy references. I admit that was a rather exhausting illustration, but I feel it's an accurate depiction of the world of beliefs we live in. When it comes down to it, faith is required of all of us. It’s unavoidable. At some point, we are trusting in somebody's testimony.

Now, I know I said that faith is essentially trusting in a testimony. But, if we take a closer look, this thing that we find within ourselves goes much deeper than mere trust. There’s an element of hope involved. We don’t just think something to be true, we hope something to be true. That is the type of faith I see in most people; the faith that something will come of all this; that there is meaning hiding somewhere, just waiting to be found. Something as simple as the inkling that our thoughts are being listened to--that the cries of our heart are somehow being heard--describes the faith I mean.

Whether we label it “faith” or not, I’m here to argue that this hope--this longing--exists in some form or another within all of us. It just so happens that those for which the necessity of hope is most prevalent, are often those whose circumstances require it most. The choice of non-faith is the religion of the privileged—those so insulated by wealth, comfort, and status that they see no need to hope for better. But for even the most well off, a day of need will come. Tragedy strikes and crisis comes to rich and poor alike. And it’s often through such trails that one’s faith makes itself known. But it’s not just one’s own faith that is revealed, but also the object in which faith is placed. Which begs the question: Can the object of your faith uphold the burden you are placing on it? 

A.W. Tozer in his book, Pursuit of God, describes faith as “the gaze of the soul upon a saving God.” What in your life is your “saving god?” Is it comfort? Is it success? Is it the love and approval of another human being? Will not these things ultimately be crushed under the weight of expectation you’re placing on them? Or are you the only thing you choose to place faith in? That way, the only thing you have to answer to is yourself. But, what if the day comes where your self is the very thing that is crumbling? 

Required Humility

"So, what? You want me to believe in this all-powerful God who will just one day come and make everything better? I'm supposed to just sit back and believe in Him and not question anything? That’s easy for you to say, everything already conveniently lines up with your own preferences. I didn’t grow up in the church, how do you expect me to trust in something like that?”--I expect some of you are saying at this point.

Yes, I did attend church from a young age, but as I said before, I say that I really only became a Christian my sophomore year of high school. And that’s because it was the time I actually did begin questioning things. I wrestled with my faith to the point of tears more nights than I can remember. Those days were undoubtedly the most difficult time of my life. Yet, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Because through them I came to truly know what I believe in, and why I believe it. 

And no, my statement of faith is not simply my own personal feelings. In fact, there are some Biblical concepts that directly go against my personal feelings, or at least what I’d prefer. There are things in the Bible that I simply cannot wrap my head around--things that I cannot justify in my own mind. But, I readily recognize that I am not the one who justifies--or even the one who comprehends--the workings of this world. 

Think about it. If the God I worshipped could be completely comprehended by my own simple, finite mind, what kind of God would he be? Yet we see people act on this notion all the time. They decided to withhold faith in God because they don’t understand a particular aspect of Him. They would rather continue on in their own comfortable, little world where the only viable governing principles are the ones that happen to make sense to them at the time. They invent this quasi-personal force they call “the universe,” and speak to it like a TV that’s acting up—hoping somehow it will listen. If things somehow end up favorably, they thank it. But they are careful to never give it enough personhood to where it might ever ask something of them in return. 

Yet, unless you are comfortable with labeling yourself the end-all-be-all of all existence, something will be asked of you regardless of what you believe. And that something is to admit that in and of yourself, you cannot--and will not--bridge the gap between your personal understanding of things and complete reality. Faith must be placed in something, or someone, in order to fill this gap. And whatever you decide to have fill this gap, now becomes the authority to which you submit your life. It’s this submission part that our North American culture has a tough time with. However, we are already doing it whether we recognize it or not. 

For those who have decided to profess faith in God, I ask you: Does your God ever ask anything of you that you do not what to do? Does He ever disagree with you? I’d venture to say, in this culture especially, a significant portion of those calling themselves Christians are actually more closely following a deified version of their own self-centeredness, rather than the teachings and person of Jesus Christ. If trust is the root of faith, then one could say that humility is the soil. To have faith in something greater than oneself requires that the self assume the role of the lesser. And if we, as Christians, confess that we have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God--and that such a God is infinitely righter and more knowledgable than ourselves--then we should expect ourselves to have gotten some things wrong along the way, and subsequently need to be guided and corrected in some, if not many, areas of thinking. 

Assumed Risk

I can here a certain someone now saying, "That’s all just great, but you Christians are all in the same faith-boat as the rest of us. There’s a chance you are deceived by your own speculation, as well. Why do you insist on shoving your beliefs down everyone’s throat like you know something the rest of us don’t?”

First of all, I’ll admit that we Christians are taking a risk in our belief. Paul, in a letter to the church in Corinth, says, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) We are staking our lives on the fact that Jesus is who he says he was. However, if you think about it, all others are staking their lives, and their eternities, on the very same premise. They’re just hoping Jesus was wrong. The one option Jesus did not leave for us, is to ignore him.

If Christianity proves to be true, convincing someone of the Truth of Jesus’ message means the difference between eternal life and eternal death. Given this, you can understand why we can be pushy sometimes. I’ll address this more in my essay on “Love” but if evangelism somehow becomes more about winning an argument than saving a life, then I believe we have gotten away from the very Gospel message we aim to convey. 

For the scientific naturalist, however, any motivation to proselytize would only come from a personal distaste of other religions or the self-satisfaction of seeing more people join their own side. In fact, in the end there would be no way of knowing if they were actually right in their thinking, because when the time came for the big reveal, they would already be dirt just like everyone else. But, they would definitely know if they were wrong.

So, can we all agree to get comfortable with faith? Again, we employ it every day. We have faith the sun will rise tomorrow instead of exploding and whipping out our entire solar system, we have faith that the banana we ate this morning is actually good for us and not some carcinogenic nightmare-fruit that the scientists of Big Pharma have been marketing as a “superfood” for decades in order to keep the public dependent on their medicines. Faith is innate in all of us. Some are probably just not used to calling it “faith.” 

It seems to be that the grander questions draw us out into areas of faith many of us aren’t comfortable with. When the stakes get higher, many try to force them lower by refusing to trust in anything outside of what they perceive they have control over. However, the stakes of reality aren’t set by the individual, they are set by the highest claim in existence--and that claim was made by God Himself. He set the bar at eternity--and eternity must be addressed before an individual can look to any other claim. 

Again, I return to the question: What is the object of your faith? Or should I say, what is the object of your hope? Can he/she/it withstand the weight you place on them? And what does that faith offer you? What does it say about eternity? 

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  
— Matthew 11:28-30

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


The Problem With Truth

The second point of evidence I want to address in this series is our approach to the concept of truth. Now, when I say truth, I mean Truth with a capital “T”—as in the stuff both science and religion aim to describe; the ultimate fabric of reality; "that which has existence apart from any idea any mind may have of it, and which would exist if there were no mind anywhere to entertain a thought of it.” (The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer)

Every day, we are inundated with statements marketed as “truth.” Take your Facebook feed for example. Every few scrolls, there’s some generic absolute emblazoned in a sleek, san-serif typeface over an heavily filtered image of some inspiring vista. There might be a well-dressed 20-something strategically placed in said vista; looking thoughtful, possibly in a yoga pose. Either way, their back is turned to us, or they're obscured by silhouette as they somehow both listlessly and contemplatively survey mountain tops, or a wheat field, or an avant-garde alleyway. And below it, in the comment section, you read “TRUTH” coming from scores of followers. 

Then there’s the much more subtle truth statements that permeate our lives lived outside the caricatured world of social media. They come to us in the form of television shows and water cooler talk, song lyrics and celebrity interviewsall affecting our actions and discourses often without our noticing. We find ourselves speaking of concepts like karma, poetic justice, and the golden rule with the assumption that they are correct indicators of reality—our actions predicated on general assumptions that we both make and project on others without giving any thought to their base. Whether consciously or not, we all stand on some sort of ground when it comes to The Truth.  And like justice, I’ve noticed three general stances.

I can hear you groaning already, “Oh great, here come the three groups again!” And I admit, it wasn’t my intention to structure this essay like the last one, but it seems like that’s the route we’re taking. However, this time I feel like we should give each group a name. Group 1, Group 2, and Group 3 are bland and confusing, especially when you have to keep referencing the top of the essay to remind yourself what description goes with which group number (looking at you Justice Essay). 

We’ll call the first group the Intuition Truth-ers. Their derivation of Truth is based solely on their current perspective or feelings. When confronted with a notion, they quickly assess whether or not they agree with its implications and then judge its validity based on that assessment. 

Next, are the Broad Truth-ers, they are the ones who say that The Truth is relevant or even unknowable, so they take the pluralist approach and put all attempts at Truth into the same category. They say, "who are we to discredit someone else’s truth or impose our own on others? What’s true for some people may not be true for others.” 

Finally, there are the Concise Truth-ers, those who say that The Truth is totally knowable, and that there are concrete, consistent, and immovable facts about our reality that we can ascertain. However, what those facts are, as well as the methods by which to ascertain them, may differ from group member to group member. 

Now that we all have team names, I’m sure you’ll find yourself at least partially leaning toward one of these three groups. So, let’s begin to dive into each’s approach.

Intuition Truth-ers

First of all, I doubt many readers will readily admit to being card carrying member of the Intuition Truth Club, but almost all of us find ourselves attending one of their quarterly potlucks from time to time. However, if through careful reflection you discover that your perspective on Truth noticeably lacks any kind of reference to anything beyond your own thoughts and experiences, then you have not only bought the t-shirt and bumper sticker, you may actually be leading the next month’s bake sale. 

Intuition Truth-ers, I’ll give you the same words as I did the feeling-based justice seekers from the previous essay: Unless you are the supreme arbiter of truth, how you happen to feel about something doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not it is true. Again, all of us are guilty of making a snap judgement on something simply because it disrupts our current perspective on things (e.g. anytime you scroll through a social media feed), but this disruption must occur and be thoroughly investigated if we are to ever grow in our pursuit of Truth. 

Think about it. Any one of us will readily admit that we don’t know everything, correct? Then why, when met with some idea that’s surprising or offensive to us, is our first reaction to automatically discount it as foolish and ridiculous? Obviously, that’s not to say that every offensive idea is true, but it’s only after intentional consideration that we have any solid grounds by which to personally judge the validity of a notion. Yet remember, unless you are an ardent Solipsist, don’t think your personal judgements on things have any effect on their actuality. 

Which brings up a peculiar trend becoming more an more popular these days: the choosing of a set of beliefs based on what “works” for a particular individual. They say the tenants of Buddhism “work” for them because they provide a nice spiritual outlook on life without all the close-mindedness of some of the other religions. Or they say it’s fine that Christianity “works” for their friend at school, but they just don’t see that type of lifestyle "working" for them. Or even more so, they decide to make their own custom designer-religion by borrowing all the pleasant sounding aspects of various beliefs and conveniently ignoring all the constraining parts. Please, tell me you see the absurdity in all this? Since when does whether or not something “works” for a person have any bearing on it’s validity? You don’t see people walking around saying, “you know, gravity’s fine for some people, but it just doesn’t work for me” and then they go floating away all pretentiously. 

Broad Truth-ers

Again, I will borrow from the previous essay on Justice. To make the claim that there is no such thing as ultimate truth—or at least it is unknowable—is, in itself, an attempt at stating an ultimate truth—a truth you are claiming to, in fact, know. And, again, to say that no one should impose their understanding of truth on another is actually imposing an understanding of truth on another. 

In describing their view on Truth, Broad Truth-ers may reference the popular parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant. In this parable, a group of blind men each go about feeling around different sections of an elephant. They then attempt to describe the creature before them:

One man, feeling the leg of the animal, says "It’s thick and sturdy, like a tree."

Another man, feeling the tail says, "No! It’s thin like a rope."

While still another, touching the side, argues "It’s big and broad like a wall."

This is supposed to represent how the differing beliefs of the world are only seeing part of a larger Truth. However, there’s a flaw to this argument that I will let a much more learned man explain:

“...I remind the hearers that the only way this parable makes any sense, however, is if the person telling the story has seen the whole elephant. Therefore, the minute one says, 'All religions only see part of the truth,' you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And they are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance they so often accuse Christians of.  In other words, to say all is relative, is itself a truth statement but dangerous because it uses smoke and mirrors to make itself sound more tolerant than the rest. Most folks who hold this view think they are more enlightened than those who hold to absolutes when, in fact, they are really just as strong in their belief system as everyone else.  I do not think most of these folks are purposefully using trickery or bad motives. This is because they seem to have even convinced themselves of the ‘truth' of their position, even though they claim ‘truth' does not exist or at least can't be known.  Ironic isn't it? The position is intellectually inconsistent." (Tim Keller in Pluralism as a Religious Philosophy by Tim Keller and Charles Garland)

Concise Truth-ers

Now, on to those that believe there are real, concrete truths behind all that is. I admit, this is a very large group, and most of you probably consider yourself part of it. But within this group there are two distinct sub-groups. 

In one group are those who put great value in the stuff of religion. They argue that faith and testimony are paramount in ascertaining the truths of our existence. 

In the other group, are those that will only respond to the empirical. They say the only truth worth pursuing is that which can be scientifically proven. 

Quick Caveat

By now, you may have a guess as where I’m going with this argument, which is why I am addressing this now. 

In this essay, it is not my intent to debunk any current claims made by the scientific community, nor is it my intent to provide an airtight argument for the Christian creed. Rather, I am more so writing to shed some light on the unfair standard by which we have come to judge truth, by exposing the overvalue placed on the empirical based discipline of science and the unwarranted dismissal of the more faith-based assertions of religion.

Science vs Religion

To start, I want to address this prolonged and arduous battle between science and religion. Personally, I think it’s odd, and at many times counterproductive, pitting the two fields against one another when, at their root, they are asking two entirely different questions. You see, at its most basic, the field of science is centered around the question of "how?” while religion is centered on the question of “why?” Let me provide an example to explain what I mean by this. 

Say you are standing on a sidewalk and witness a car drive past you. How would you go about explaining the reason for this car’s driving? 

Science would say it’s driving because the accelerator has been pressed down, causing combustion in the engine, moving the pistons, which turn the crankshaft, which turns the drive shaft and eventually the tires, and due to the friction between the rubber and the ground, the vehicle is either pulled or pushed along. 

Religion would say the car is driving because the driver has some place to go. 

I’m sure you’ll agree that both answers can be considered correct. The former is simply more concerned with how the process of driving works, while the latter is concerned with why the driving is happening in the first place. You could say that science is focusing on the car, while religion is focusing on the driver. 

You can see how this example addresses the classic science and religion argument over the origin of Earth. Now, you can call me ignorant, you can call me stubborn and a science-hater, but I admit that I believe that the earth was created by God in the way Genesis depicts it, because I like the beauty of the creation story and it's something I’ve decided to put faith in. However, there are also Christians who believe that it’s possible the Earth is billions of years old and that the story of creation written in Genesis is intended to be a poem depicting the events of creation, rather than a literal timeline. I would argue against them, but would the foundations of my faith be shaken if their argument proved to be true? Not at all! Because the Bible wasn’t intended to be an instruction book on how to build a universe. Rather, it’s a centuries-long collective narrative that tells of a God who created a universe out of love, and why He would go to any lengths to win back the hearts of His creation after it rebelled against Him. 

[Update 05/26]

Again, I believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God and supremely true. And, I also believe there are plenty of important "how" questions that The Scriptures directly answer (e.g. How our broken relationship with our Creator can be restored [Romans 10:9]). And these are definitely questions we should be asking. (Please, I beg of you, ask these types of questions!) 

But, all too often I see us getting hung up on much smaller "how" questions, about subjects so relatively inconsequential, and we are getting frustrated because the Text is answering with a “why.” And that “why" is: “I love you, just trust Me.” We don’t have the perspective to see what’s at work on a grander scale. Otherwise, we would be asking very different questions. 

[End Update]

And what about the questions we are asking science? Of course there are some “why” questions we can ask science like, "Why is the sky blue?" or “Why does the earth rotate around the sun?” and it could very well answer them with nice, logical conclusions. However, the “why" questions science is capable of answering still only deal with function as opposed to intent. You could very well reword the previous questions as, “How come we perceive the sky as blue?” and “How does gravity work?” 

Intent and Meaning

Which brings us to a shortcoming of science that a lot of people would rather not admit; and it’s a jumping-off point for many who are too uncomfortable with the requirements of faith: In order to address any sense of intent behind existence, one must leave the territory of science and submit to the confines of religion. Why is this such a hard leap for many of us? It’s because empirical evidence is comfortable; things are testable, repeatable. The control remains firmly in our hands. However, testimonial evidence—the stuff behind intent—requires faith in the message, and places control in the hands of the teller.

Now, I’m not saying empirical evidence isn’t valuable, I’m saying it’s not complete in describing the world we live in. We still have this glaring hole in our experiences that no matter how hard we try, we cannot fill by means of scientific experimentation. This hole is “meaning.” Like the man driving the car because he has some place to go, his reason for driving can only truly be ascertained by direct testimony from the driver, otherwise any other assertion of meaning would be mere speculation. 

“Meaning, eh?” you might say. "Meaning is just a construct of our survival instinct. We invent significance behind our existence to promote stronger familial bonds, or to comfort ourselves against the starkness of this world. Yes, the car is driving but have you ever thought that there is no driver? That there is no intent?” 

This is the stance I see many of the more science-minded taking when it comes to the religious affairs of meaning. However, I don’t see many adherers practicing what they preach. In fact, I think believing that meaning is a myth requires just as much, if not more, faith than believing there is a distinct purpose behind our universe and subsequently our actions. 

I’ll get into this more in the next essay, but to those who believe meaning is just a human construct, can you really tell me you honestly believe things like love, and kindness, and friendship are all based on illusions? The stuff behind the greatest works of art, music, and literature throughout the ages—do you really profess that all of it is simply a product of our own deception? And do your actions reflect your belief? 

When a novel causes you to burst with excitement at the long anticipated reunion of lost lovers or when a film makes you weep with joy as the pain riddled protagonist finally finds the hope he’d so desperately longed for, do you think to yourself, “Wow, this story has really triggered an instinctual empathetic response in me. What a neat artifact from my ancestors! I can see how this would really promote the survival of the species.” No! When the bride finds her true love, or the missing child finally returns home, something inside you wells up and proclaims, “This is right! There is something true about this!"

How cruel would it be to spend our entire existences searching for meaning, longing for true relationship, only to have the universe turn out to be this cold, aimless thing where any attempt at significance is left incomplete, unresolved; our hearts left chasing only shadows where we thought we saw something real. 

Yet, you are free to buy into this dismal perspective, and the bitter anguish that comes with it. But don’t think that somehow your suffering will produce any sort of merit. If you’ve decided to give up on meaning, then you must also give up on any idea of your stance being more “noble” than others.

However, if you allow yourself the hope that meaning exists, you must submit to the realm of religion. Even if you don’t attest to a “god” of sorts, and rather suspect some sort of “natural law” is behind our sense of meaning, you must still enter a world of faith. Again, the intentionality required to inject any actual meaning into our existence can only be ascertained through testimony provided by the intentional force itself.

So, what do I want you all to take from this? Besides obviously wanting you all to become Jesus-loving Christians, I want you to recognize the indispensability of religion when I comes to explaining our reality, and that science isn’t the end-all-be-all that people make it out to be. Again, science it great at what it does. I don’t want to belittle the benefit of all the countless discoveries made through its processes. I just want to remind people that if we wish to pursue any sense of purpose in our lives, or purpose in the world around us, we must enter the realm of religion. 


At this point, I’m guessing a few of you are saying, “Okay, so you want me to be a Christian. Great. But God coming as a man? People rising from the dead? Angels? Demons? Heaven and Hell? It all sounds so farfetched. How do you people actually believe this stuff?” 

First of all, strangeness has no bearing on the validity of something. On the contrary, it is my experience that strangeness is often the calling card of new information. I’ll admit it is hard to do, but try imagining being told some of the established norms of our universe for the first time. Imagine hearing about the concept of gravity or where babies come from all over again. I mean, try explaining to someone what the heck a Portuguese Man of War is. Jellyfish are weird enough creatures as it is, but then to learn that this thing isn’t even a jellyfish—that it isn’t even an singular animal—but a "colony of specialized, genetically identical individuals called zooids with various forms and functions, all working together as one.” (National Ocean Service NOAA) There are many aspects of reality that we undoubtedly first thought bizarre that we have now come to know as commonplace. 

Actually, I believe the “strangeness” of the Christian message helps legitimize it’s credibility. In the Bible, specifically the books that comprise the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the crux of Christian belief—there are certain oddities and nuances that are included in the testimonies that, I think, point to its authenticity. The text of John 20 for example, recounts the initial discovery of Christ’s resurrection:

"1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.' So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” (John 20:1-4)

There are two things that jump out as strange in this passage. The first is the inclusion of John (the other disciple) outrunning Peter on their way to the tomb. The fact that John (commonly believed to be the author of this particular Gospel) decided to include that he outran his friend—a detail so anecdotal and seemingly superfluous—in the retelling of the scene, gives his testimony that certain intimacy and familiarity that gives a story credibility. The other oddity is having a woman as the first witness of the empty tomb, and the first person visited by the resurrected Jesus. In an time and culture where a woman’s testimony was commonly dismissed and not even viable in a court of law, if someone was attempting to fabricate such a story, they would have surely made a man the premiere witness of arguably the most crucial event in the story’s telling. And yet, we have Jesus himself commissioning a woman—a former prostitute at that—to be the honorary messenger of the greatest news in the history of mankind. 

"16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.' She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!' (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God”' 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord' — and that he had said these things to her. (John 20 16-18)

On What Grounds?

Regardless of what you choose to believe, we all hold on to a truth statement of some sort. It could take the form of a long-held religion, or simply be a personally curated set of beliefs, but we proclaim such a statement most loudly with our actions, rather than our words. The question I challenge you to ask yourself is: What is the foundation of the truths I profess? 

Do you have a storied, diverse body of believers—some much wiser and committed to truth than you—agreeing with you saying, “Yes! I see these things too!” Is your foundation soaked in the blood of those that came before you? —those so committed to this truth that they would see themselves tortured and brutally killed in order that the message live on? Would you, yourself, stand ready to die for the truth that you profess to believe in? Or is your foundation only yourself? Is it a foundation haphazardly formed by a concoction of intuition and personal experiences? Is the truth you believe in something you’ll go to the grave for? Or will you only offer a strongly worded argument, but nothing much further? 

Of course, the truth does not depend on how many people believe it, nor how fervently they defend it. A former pastor of mine used to say, “You can be totally sincere about something and still be be sincerely wrong." However, I feel assured in the Text that I, and countless individuals before me, have personally wrestled with, shed tears over, some their own blood over, and have all eventually come to submit to the Truth that it conveys. I am much more assured in a Text like that than some personal canon amassed from movie quotes and cultural norms—something carefully crafted to never question or challenge you, something you can comfortably project into the unforeseeable future without much maintenance. That is until tragedy or crisis strikes and you’re left with nothing to uphold you, as the chosen foundation of yourself is the very thing that is crumbling. 

Let yourself be challenged in your approach to Truth. Ask questions. Surround yourself with those you see running harder after this thing than you are. Be honest with yourself about what you believe and why you believe it. As we say about our Holy Scriptures: Don’t just read the text, let the text read you. Yes, there’s a lot of mystery to it all, but that’s the beauty of it. I can think of no nobler task, no greater adventure, than the pursuit of The Truth and God himself.

“Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.” 
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis