What is the impact of bad sermons? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Most every speaker has had a bad presentation at times. They have had something happen where they didn’t know what to say or where they said something outright stupid. Unfortunately, when that happens in ministry, the results can be disastrous. Reviewing what I highlighted in chapter 11 where we start today, I saw one pop up immediately and as soon as I started it, I remembered how it ended because of how terrible it was.
Even worse, this took place at a funeral with the wife and kids right there. A funeral is worse not just because the people are grieving, but weddings and funerals are two of the times you are most likely going to have lost people in the church. Your average person who doesn’t want anything to do with a church can come to one of these out of deep respect, and personally, a funeral usually has the closest to a sermon.
So what does the vicar say here?
Terrible though it is to us, God grants the same freedom to cancer cells that he grants even to the most noble and virtuous of us.
Humphrys is right in pointing out that cancer cells are not intelligent agents that can move and make decisions. Of course, Christians need to be able to have a place in their worldview to explain cancer, but this is not a valid parallel at all. God does allow bad things to happen, including deaths from cancer, but are we going to put cancer cells on the same level as human beings?
Fortunately, Humphrys I don’t think sees all ministers like this, but too many will remember this. Sadly, we will have people easily remember the worst things we did to them. “Think of someone who hurt you.” Right now, most all of you have the image of someone in mind immediately.
Moving on from here, Humphrys asks about prayer. Isn’t it a pointless exercise? Isn’t the main emphasis asking for something? Well, no. The main emphasis should be worship and glorification, something I admit I need to work on as well. There is also thankfulness and the asking is not just health and material objects and items like that, but also forgiveness.
Humphrys also says in the Bible, God was performing miracles all the time. Hardly. You have an abundance of miracles in only three time periods, the Exodus and the conquest, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and the apostolic age starting with the ministry of Jesus. Miracles are recorded not because they are common, but because they are exceptional.
Getting back to prayer after all of this, Humphrys says God hears every prayer that is offered up, and yet doesn’t bother to intervene. I daresay Humphrys knows a lot of people who can speak of an answered prayer, yet will he say that is a coincidence? It seems that he has to.
What about something like Craig Keener’s works on miracles that show miracles specifically coming after prayer? Humphrys and others who do this have a unique method. If you pray for something and it doesn’t happen, that proves God doesn’t answer prayers. If you pray for something and it happens, that proves that coincidences take place.
Rabbi Sacks thankfully does deal with Humphrys well in an interview style saying that Humphrys seems to have this idea that the world ought to be just. This is ironically where C.S. Lewis began as well. Humphrys then says it needs to be like science where we test something again and again and it is proven and religion is asking the opposite.
Well, that’s just false. Having something happen again and again in science doesn’t mean “proof.” It means that it is incredibly likely, the same as in history. It can be so likely it would be nonsense to try to do some things again. If I stick my hand on a hot stove and I burn it, I’m not going to want to try it again. If I drop something and it falls repeatedly, I’m justified in thinking, contrary to Hume, that that is what will happen every time, all things being equal.
Sacks also rightly says that Humphrys buys into a sort of soft scientism where something should be scientifically established before it is acceptable. Much of our knowledge does not come about that way, such as our moral judgments and the rules of math and any number of other ideas we hold. Most of the claims we hold dearest are those that are NOT scientifically proven, such as that our loved ones love us, or that something is good to do, or that beauty is real.
Humphrys lists a lot of things he considers evils and said this would not happen in a just world. Well first off, who said the world is just right now? In a just world, the Son of God would not be crucified when He did no wrong. God promises justice, but He never promises a timeframe to it for us. Justice delayed is not justice denied.
Briefly, Humphrys talks about biblical interpretation with the idea that we are supposed to take the texts literally, though not stating what that means. I contend you should always take the text literally, but not literalistically. If something is written as a metaphor, taking it literally is reading it as a metaphor. If something is taken as a straight forward account, taking it literally is doing just that. Literalistic reading says there can be no inflection or change in language and no stylistic ideas of hyperbole, sarcasm, etc.
So ultimately as we conclude this part, it still looks like again all Humphrys really has is evil. This has just never really struck me as a strong objection to Christianity, especially since Christianity by necessity has an evil action right at the center, the crucifixion of Christ. Christianity is about dealing with the evil in part, so how is evil a defeater for it?
(And I affirm the virgin birth)