Can An Atheist Be Right?

I was in a debate today on the nature of politics online with someone responding to a Christian who posted a message about someone prophecying about seeing a spirit of violence coming out of Barack Obama and how we need to stop him. Now I’ve made it clear I in no way support Obama. However, I thought a message like this was just nonsense. Even if he really is a violent person like the poster thought, I don’t give much credence to such prophecies today.

Neither did the atheists that saw it.

Unfortunately, the only reply was to point out that this person is an atheist and somehow, their opinion is automatically false.

This concerns me for two reasons mainly.

First off, an atheist can be right about some things. If I go to a doctor, my first question isn’t “Are you an atheist or a Christian?” Now I like my doctors to be Christian as there’s that common bond we share in Christ, but if they’re not, that’s fine with me also. I’m not going to look at the prescription they give me after I leave and say “Geez. He says to take this, but he’s an atheist. Maybe I should go back to my workplace and think it’s not as contagious as he says it is.”

Now are there times I think an atheist could be more guided by his worldview and so at those times I take it with a grain of salt? Of course. I would think they’d do the same with me and expect it. I am saying though that just because an atheist says something, we don’t need to automatically assume that what they are saying is false. Now it could very well be, but it wouldn’t be false because they’re an atheist. If what they say is not true, it’d just as much be false if a Christian or Muslim said it or any other faith. (Excepting personal statements of course relating to them as individuals.)

The other thing that concerns me is our appearance to the world. It seems when I go into a dialogue with a non-believer, they already have an idea of what a Christian is and push that idea on me. It’s usually a bad one. They’ll often say that I’m one who believes that God is talking to me at night. Well, no. I’m not. I think the Almighty doesn’t need to discuss his personal plans with me.

However, whenever a remark is made of the type I mentioned at the start of this blog, that further increases the stereotype. Telling someone they’re an atheist and thus invalidating their opinion because of it only leads to that person invalidating Christianity more. I was told when I called this person out on that that the sword cuts both ways. True. I realize the way I live gives an impression.

Hopefully, that impression is that you can be intelligent and be a Christian. Hopefully it’s that Christianity is not about an emotional experience but growing in grace and knowledge. Hopefully, that impression is that you can be tough if you have to be but you can be soft for those who are really seeking truth and need someone to talk to. Hopefully, that image is someone who does enjoy discussing ideas and especially with those who disagree.

Hopefully. Maybe we won’t even have to ask this question as much if many atheists could see Christians who would give them something to embrace instead of a brain-dead stereotype.

I Think You’re Wrong

Yesterday, a news story broke about how some kids in Tennessee had had a plan to try to assassinate presidential hopeful Barack Obama. While I am a strong McCain supporter, I can say that thankfully, the plan did not succeed. I don’t want Obama in the White House at all, but this certainly is not the proper way to prevent that from happening. Murder is always an evil.

I’m also on the Facebook application. Several of you are probably on there as well. I’ve found many of my high school class who have, unfortunately, drunk the Obama Kool-Aid and one of them put up a link about the story. What was most amazing though was that in her comment on the story, she was blaming the religious right.

I read the story that she put up and it said nothing about religious beliefs. (Well, it did say they shot out the window of a church. Last I checked, religious people don’t normally do that.) What was said though was that we all know what happens when the religious right starts acting with literal interpretations of Scripture.

I’ll also point out that what I’m saying is paraphrase and there is no intention to misrepresent what was said. Unfortunately, it looks as if the comments that I made aren’t there any more. However, I was told in reply that we’re from different worldviews so there can’t be any discussion and that this poster has a real beef with the religious right.

My reply was simple. If you have a real beef with the religious right, that’s just fine. It doesn’t mean though that they’re to blame for every evil out there. However, if we also have different worldviews, the thing to do is to meet in the open marketplace of ideas and discuss them. We can find out which, if any, of our views are true. As much as we should be eager to share beliefs we think are true, we should always be open to the possibility that we’re wrong. I also stated that my Facebook IMs were open for such a discussion. The reply I got was simple:

“Ugh.”

Then, there was a change to this one saying they were being personally attacked in describing their activity. This really stunned me. Personally attacking? I was simply stating a divergent viewpoint. (If anything was an attack, it was insisting that the religious right were the ones behind an attempt by neo-nazis to assassinate Obama.)

It makes me think we’ve lost something in our world today. It’s getting to where you can’t tell anyone that they’re wrong about anything. This is something especially evident in political circles today. Thomas Sowell has written a great article telling how presidential candidates back in the 1800’s got called far worse things than anything McCain or Obama have been called.

Some people might find my stance on negative campaign ads odd. I’m all for them. If someone goes too far, the public will see it. However, I think it’s perfectly legitimate for any candidate to call his opponents view into question. Let me see his record. I want to see that. I don’t want to just hear the good things being promised today.

It’s what Sowell refers to as record vs. rhetoric. If someone has a problem with someone on an issue, it’s perfectly all right to say so. This is the way ideas get sharpened and improved. I have my own stances on theology. If I meet a Christian, I’m more than wiling to discuss our disagreements. (There is one exception. If that disagreement becomes a point of fellowship, I no longer want to discuss it. It seems that what divides us has then been put above what unites us, our faith in Christ.)

If we live in a society where we can’t even say someone is wrong without considering it an attack on the person, there’s a problem. I’m not saying I’m against cold hard truth at times either. If someone is honestly being an idiot, I have called them on it before. I don’t prefer to beat around the bush. There are several people though I don’t use the tactic on. The ones that get the toughest treatment are the ones I believe are not really seeking truth but simply to destroy the flock.

Either way, they do have a right to raise questions though and we should answer them. If we have reached a point in society though where we cannot call something into question though, then we definitely need to take a second look. Anyone of us could be wrong and we dare not try to play God and act as if we can’t.

What Is Hell?

If you’ve ever seen the list of church bulletin bloopers, you know about the one that says “Our pastor will be preaching tonight on ‘What is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice!”

Don’t you feel sorry for that church choir? (Then again, if it’s true, you might want to feel sorry for the listeners!)

Tonight though, I would like to address that. Some of you might be disappointed to hear that I don’t hold to a literal interpretation of Hell. If you think of Hell as a literal raging inferno where people will be continuously burned and eaten by worms, then I’m going to disappoint you. I think Billy Graham had a great insight on this though when he said “If Hell isn’t a raging inferno, it’s worse.”

I think if we have a fiery furnace view of Hell, we, in fact, miss the real pain of Hell. The real joy of Heaven is everlasting joy in the manifest presence of God. If that is the case though, then it would seem that the suffering of Hell would be the opposite. It would be having to receive the everlasting wrath in the presence of God.

Now my view on Hell is a bit unique and I get it from thinking a lot about Lewis’s idea in “The Great Divorce.” There have been theories on maybe Hell being an alternate dimension of reality of some sort. Now that could be the case. I’m one who is willing to change my view if I think the evidence is strong enough to change it. Perchance someone who is more skilled in the astronomical aspect could answer any questions I might have. 

My idea is that it could be that those in Hell are in the re-created cosmos as well, but it is not the reality that is different but their interpretation of it. They are surrounded by the manifest presence of God forever and while we experience that as the love of God, for the unbeliever, it is instead experience as the wrath of God.

The unbeliever is one who has lived their life avoiding God and not wanting to have anything to do with him. God though is love, goodness, beauty, truth, etc. The Psalmist said there was no way to escape from God and even if unbelievers are in another dimension or unaccessible area of the cosmos in some way, they would still have the presence of God around them.

The love of God to one who wanted nothing to do with it would be experienced as wrath. Now I do believe there are still degrees of suffering. One who hardened his heart more will be more hardened in the afterdeath. They will experience the love of God as more wrathful than one who did not harden themselves so much.

Also, as I believe God values the choices of people and does not snuff them out as that would be treating their good above his good, then he lets those people live. It does not mean he likes it, but he lets it happen and seeing as they still reflect his nature insofar as they have being, then there is still some good and God loves that good.

Again, if I am wrong on this, I am wrong. It’s something I’m willing to accept. I leave this view for your consideration.

Why Not Just Forgive?

The question we ended with last time was if a loving God could allow anyone to go to Hell. As believers, it must be said that our Scriptures do teach this. It’s a sad reality and one that we shouldn’t take any delight in whatsoever. I will also add that I think Ezekiel 18 is quite clear in that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. 

Yet, it happens.

Couldn’t God just look the other way? It’s not that big a deal now is it? After all, if I wrong you, you might be willing in yourself to look the other way. If you can do that, then surely a God who is all love could do the same? If that’s the case, then it must be that God will not let anyone go to Hell for he is more loving than we are, but yet, they go.

And God is still more loving?

How?

The analogy with human beings being able to forgive fails because our natures are different from God. To sin against us is to sin against a finite being. To sin against God is not only a sin against an infinite being, but it is a sin against love itself. This is why when we answer this question we must start from who God is. 

If Christianity is true, God is the greatest good and indeed, goodness itself.. Keep in mind that aspect “If Christianity is true.” The question of Hell is about an internal conflict within Christianity. It’s not saying Christianity isn’t true because there’s no evidence Jesus rose from the dead, something that would be based on an external criteria. It’s saying Christianity isn’t true because the system itself is incoherent. When arguing against a system like that, one accepts the premises of Christianity for the sake of argument and then examines those premises to see if the worldview is consistent.

If God is goodness itself, and he is also perfect in all he is, then he treats everything in reality as it is. He cannot treat a lesser good as a greater good, which in fact was the sin of Satan. If we have a sin against goodness itself, God must treat it the way it really is. He must treat it as a wicked and heinous act and he cannot deny his goodness.

What would be the goal of just forgiving someone? It would be exalting their good over his own good. God, again, cannot do this for he cannot treat the lesser as if it was the greater. God is the only being in the universe who can properly seek his own glory for he alone is glorious and awesome by nature. For us, it would be egotistical. For him, it’s simply affirming his own nature and being true.

If God treats it as if it doesn’t matter, then what he is saying is that he doesn’t matter. If he doesn’t matter, then can he really be called God? The only way to bypass this is by grace. That is what repentance does. It is affirming that God is God and we are not. The cross fits in here in that that is the means whereby sin is punished, for God must punish also if he is to treat himself as the greatest good. Any affront to his nature must be treated seriously.

It does not mean that God delights in it. I can’t say he does and this blogger certainly doesn’t either. It is a sad reality that people go through life and reject God. Of course, I have a different view of Hell than some people do. At this point, I am hoping that many of you are wondering what exactly I have in mind when I think of Hell.

I guess you’ll have to wait till the next blog won’t you?

Why People Go To Hell

Readers will hopefully recall that in a recent blog, I mentioned a co-worker who had asked me about Hell and how I insisted on starting at the beginning. The reply I got going into a doctrine of God as basic as can be done in a couple of minutes is “That still doesn’t answer my question.” Well, I didn’t get to answer him there, but I can say something here.

The first question that is to be asked though is simply “Why do people go there?” The answer many of you would probably give is that they do not accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness of their sins. That is an understandable answer, but as one who can tend to disagree with some points, I must say that I do disagree with this one.

Let us examine it more closely. Notice that they do not accept Christ’s forgiveness of their sins. What is that last part but forgiveness of sins? Suppose we had a sinless individual who lived who never wronged God once. (I know Christ did that, but for sake of argument, suppose there was another.) Would that person need forgiveness? No.

The sad truth is that we’ve all seemed to fail at that plan for salvation. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that God instituted what we would call a “Plan B.”

If they do not have Christ and Christ is what provides forgiveness of sins, then it follows that they do not have forgiveness. For those who are wondering about my earlier post on those who never heard, I would say God knows what such people would have done if they had had the knowledge of Christ. It can simply be said that in the end, the judge of all things will do right and in Christian thought, no one will be able to say “It wasn’t fair.”

Let us suppose then that we are at the judgment day and we see the books being opened and there is someone there who does not have Christ, which will sadly happen. What are they going to be judged on? It will not be because they did not accept Christ, although if they had the knowledge of the truth and denied it, I would say that certainly counts as sin. Instead, it will be the same way any good and fair judge would judge them.

God will judge them based on their works. You want to weigh your works out on the balance against your sins? Go ahead. Some of you might be concerned I’m getting into an Islamic ideal here. Note though what I said about the goodness of God. To go against all that in every sin is indeed a great evil. Can there be any good that can overcome denying goodness itself? I know not of one for even that good could be seen as wanting to replace God.

Thus, God judges someone based on their works and if they are found wanting, which they are, then they receive the just penalty for their works. It is not simply that they got the wrong answer on a theological exam. It is that they spent their lives living in rebellion against that which is good and this is the culmination of their lives. The same is true for believers. It is not that they just got the right answer on a theological exam. The demons could ace the theological exam better than we can. It is that they saw that and they lived accordingly.

Now some of you might still be wondering if this is fair really. Why can’t God just forgive everyone and let them all in? How is it that a loving God can allow anyone to go to Hell? For those people, I say at this point, stay tuned.

The Treason of Sin

We’ve been taking a look lately at the doctrine of God and when it comes to discussing what sin is, this makes it all the more clearer. Now I realize that not all have this concept of God, especially not those of the atheistic persuasion for even if they believe that this is the doctrine of God that is found in Christianity, they do not believe that doctrine is an actuality. Nevertheless, sin still exists for them for what sin is does not change regardless of the person though the consequences could be greater for one who has greater responsibility.

Our loss of the awe of who God is has led us to a loss of what sin really is. When God is seen as small, sin is like a mere trifle. It is this innocent little act that harms no one. We must realize the truth though that it does harm. Does it harm God? Not at all. We can’t hurt him nor can we do anything to improve him. It harms us though and quite often, those around us. In fact, I’d say it will always eventually harm those around us.

Let me explain that. Let us suppose that we have a young man who watches internet pornography. Unfortunately, many are caught in this cycle and the church needs to be open to helping such people as many want to quit and do not know how. The church needs to be there to hold up the great gift of sexuality and point out that the reason this is sinful is that it makes sexuality to be something less than it is. Sexuality that is less than holy simply becomes a cheap thrill instead of the exulting joy it was meant to be.

Now this young man may think he is only harming himself, though I would also think he is harming indirectly all those women he is looking at by treating them as mere objects for his pleasure and not as persons. However, is he harming others? I think he is eventually because each look gets into him a certain idea. Each time he cheapens his view of women and eventually, he will act accordingly to a woman if he does not stop. Let us not forget that he is cheapening his view of the good, the true, and the beautiful as well, which means he is also harming his view of God.

If the view of God given is accurate, though I will also say highly inadequate as all descriptions of him are, then what does that make sin? If you sin, you are denying all of them. Let us look and consider some examples.

You are denying omniscience for you are saying God does not know what he is talking about when he says “X is evil.”

You are denying omnipotence for you are implicitly saying that you will be able to get away with such an act.

You are denying God’s goodness for you are saying this act that contradicts his nature is better than he is. 

You are denying God’s truth for you are saying that that which is true is actually not true.

You are denying God’s sovereignty for instead of having him be the Lord of your life, you are saying you will be the Lord of your own life.

You are denying God’s love for you are saying that you believe that God is withholding some good for you and you must get that outside of the standard he has given.

In essence, you are making God less than he is and that will damage your view of him. Do a sin enough and it will become a habit and with that habit will come a lesser view of God. A God that is less is a God that will not make much difference in your life. Not only that, it will change you from being a person after God’s own heart to being more a person after your own desires.

Sin ultimately is divine treason. It is wanting to take God off the throne and be Lord of your own life. Now I grant God has given us tremendous freedom in our lives in that there’s not one career path or one person for you to marry, but we are supposed to do all that we do in a godly manner. Committing sin though is wanting to do away with all “restraints” and take control of all things in your life.

Keep in mind again my readers that I speak to myself as much as you and realize there are many things about me that need to be cleaned up also. This is also where the gospel comes in. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Even while we were wanting to knock him off the throne, he loved us and even when we want to keep knocking him off the throne, he still loves us. If he loved us, we ought to love one another and build one another up to godly living.

Are you living godly today? Are you helping your neighbor to?

The Problem of Evil: A Perspective From The Dentist’s Chair

Okay you health nuts out there. The Deeper Waters blogger is not the best in the area of health and today, I spent my first visit in the dentist’s chair to get some cavities filled today. It had been awhile since I had to got to go to a dentist when I moved and when I did, I found out that I had eight cavities. Joy! Four of them were filled today.

Greg Koukl has written about saying before that the dentist’s chair is a great place to think about the Problem of Evil. Apparently, it runs in the history of apologetics. C.S. Lewis even once said that people say they believe in a God of love and don’t understand pain. He wanted to know if any of them had ever been to a dentist.

So there I am sitting in the chair and frankly, I have no idea what’s going on. I thank God for the numbing agent they give beforehand, but I see my dentist trying to tell me to open as wide as I can and honestly, I don’t think I can open any wider. Finally, something was used to make sure my mouth would stay open. The same commands were repeated to look a certain way a number of times and I’d realize after awhile that I had tensed up.

It’s amazing how many motives you can question at that time and it is clear to me then that my reason was not in charge but my imagination was. Blaise Pascal once said that you could take the most astute man of reason you could find and place him on a plank of sufficient size and put that plank over a huge chasm and you can be sure, his imagination will take over his rationality. 

There were many times I’d see all these tools and some of them gave the impression of “I’m not getting a filling! I’m getting that tooth yanked!” Had my reason been functioning properly then, although one could have interpreted the scene that way, I would have realized that having a tooth yanked instead would have led to a huge lawsuit and no dentist would risk that. The reason is not kicking in though. It’s all fear.

One thing that makes it difficult is that I had no idea what my dentist was doing. I saw all these implements being stuck in my mouth and not sure what they were all doing. I am quite sure that at one time I had four things stuck in my mouth and here I can’t even see what they all exactly are or what they are all exactly doing.

Yet I’m allowing it and sitting here. (Okay. A part of me wants to jump up and run, but I didn’t.)

Could it have been explained? Maybe, but it’s not likely I would have understood the terms of modern dentistry. All that I had to do was realize that I had come to have a service done and that I should trust that that service would be resolved properly. Do I have any reason to think that my dentist doesn’t have my best interests at heart. The only reason is the present pain and awkwardness.

Notice something in our dealing with the Problem of Evil there. I had to look at something outside of the pain as an explanation. In dealing with the problem of evil, if all I had to deal with was evil and pain, then yeah, I can see how someone would be an atheist. I live in a world though of pleasure, beauty, and goodness. A world that is designed. I find other arguments for God’s existence and I find the evidence for the resurrection of Christ compelling.

Just like being in the dentist’s chair, I can’t let the pain I experience when evil strikes be the only aspect I consider. I have to look and see if there are aspects I’m missing. It is at this point that I look to the nature of the one who I have come to and have to think “Even though I don’t have a clue what he’s doing and he’s not telling me and it hurts and feels awkward, I have to trust.” (For those concerned, the hurt was not screaming in agony pain, but more a sensation that wouldn’t be considered pleasant, but numbing agents do work!)

One final aspect I would like to mention was what I was thinking about and asked my dentist about afterwards. I asked if he the reason he was drilling also was that the hole that needed to be filled had to be made bigger before it could be filled. He said “Yes.” I realized then that I truly had a blog I could write about tonight.

There are times that our problems are allowed to get worse. There are times the darkness is allowed to get darker. There are times the situation is allowed to get more grave. That’s often though so a greater good can come. Lazarus was allowed to die so that God’s glory could be revealed. Christ himself was allowed to go to the grave so we could all be sure we wouldn’t stay in it either.

In conclusion, as I consider it, I am well today, although still a bit numb and avoiding that side of my mouth for meals, but I realize I can trust my dentist. I don’t have to understand all he did or why he did it, but I realize that I must keep the goal in mind. It was the greater good.