Book Plunge: Time and Despondency

What do I think of Nicole Roccas’s book published by Ancient Faith Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Sometimes when I have been struggling with something, I will talk to my wife’s priest. While I am not Orthodox, that is not a problem with us as he’s more than happy to help me with things. I also think wisdom can be found outside of one’s own tradition (And even religion) and if we as Christians ever think it’s only people of our theological heritage that have true wisdom worth gaining, that is a very sad state.

Right now with some present circumstances, I have been in normally a state of seasonal depression. When I mentioned the word depression to him, he turned it into despondency. At that moment, I remembered I ordered for my wife who is a catechumen in the Orthodox Church the book Time and Despondency. I decided to get it out and give it a try.

Let’s start with one excellent thing about this book. The author does not come out as someone high and holy and thus you read the book and think “I will never reach this level.” Nope. Roccas is a fellow traveler on the journey and she too would prefer at times to do something like binge watch Netflix.

She definitely writes from an Orthodox perspective, but that does not overwhelm the book so much that others won’t benefit. As a Protestant, I found much of the advice helpful. The advice of great saints is found as there is wisdom to be found in many places.

She also writes of goals that are doable. She never tells you to go and pray for an hour or so. Instead, just work on matters bit by bit and learn and grow in them. There’s even a place advocating quick prayers. Those are fine many times. When I am out in public and I hear sirens and see a first responder going by, I always pray for that situation. (Definitely not with eyes closed if driving.)

Her advice to deal with despondency is also not just purely spiritual matters. She talks about St. Antony who was scolded by someone for playing with his fellow monks when surely he should have been praying and how Antony responded to justify his actions. She talks about the use of humor, which at this point, I couldn’t help but think of Harry Potter and the spell to deal with boggarts.

For those who don’t know, boggarts are creatures that take on the image of your worst fear. The way to deal with them is to use a spell with the word “Ridiculous!” and turn them into something you can laugh at. I think Rowling at this point hit on something with the nature of fear.

Roccas also shows that this is a problem that is not just modern in nature. Monks from well over a thousand years ago dealt with this. They had times they didn’t want to pray either or work on the Scriptures. Apparently, some could have even committed suicide from sorrow. It was even called the noonday demon. The condition is the same, but today we probably have more means to encounter it.

There is also definitely good theology in here. Roccas brings out the reality of the resurrection and what it means. God being the God of all time is there to redeem every moment of time, including the moment that we are in. Again, just like before, none of this though is spoken in terminology that is over the layman’s head.

If you’re struggling with depression, or despondency if you prefer, this is a really good book to read. The advice is practical and doable and not over your head. Most of the chapters are short enough to read in one sitting and even the longest one can be broken down into manageable pieces. Give it a try. It beats living in despondency after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Your Will Be Done

What does it mean to do God’s will? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So many Christians today want to find God’s will for their lives.

Should I get married? Who should I marry? What job should I take? Should I go to college and if so, what should I major in? So many decisions are about finding the will of God.

Is this what the Bible means when it speaks about the will of God?

No. This is a highly personalized idea. Let’s consider the first one about marriage. Assuming marriage is even for you, the Bible in a book like Proverbs lays out criteria. Since one should marry in the Lord, a Christian should marry a Christian. When speaking of a wife, the book mentions the kinds of qualities to look for. Don’t marry a nagging wife is one example. Marry a woman who fears the Lord. (Or a man if you are a woman)

Somehow, we got this strange idea that when we got to the New Testament, God decided to jettison wisdom and was going to tell us all what to do and we needed to find a way to get these secret messages from God. We are to look for clues, often ones that reside in our feelings and emotions, and from there try to determine what God is telling us. Scripture may be used, but apparently, it’s not as reliable as those feelings and emotions.

As you can imagine, I think this is a bunch of bunk. I see nothing in Scripture about it and it only showed up in our time of individualism. This kind of thinking really makes us very self-centered Christians.

Not only that, if God has a specific will for our lives like that, we’ve already screwed it up definitely. Also, if any one other person has screwed up their lives, they’ve ultimately done it for everyone. If you are to marry one specific person, then that means that if you marry the wrong one, both of your intended spouses have to marry the wrong one and then all their intended spouses have to marry the wrong one and on and on it goes.

It also causes the wrong focus. What we should be looking at the most is what kind of spouse we are going to be. What kind of employee are we going to be? What kind of student are we going to be?

“But how will I know what God wants for my life?”

It’s very easy. I can tell you definitely what God’s will is for your life and I have no hesitation in doing so. God’s will is to conform you to the likeness of Christ. The best thing to do when examining an action and if you should do it is to ask if it will conform you to the likeness of Christ.

When we pray for God’s will to be done, we are not praying that we will find some specific individualized will, or at least we shouldn’t pray that. We are praying that God will make the universe the way He wants it to be. How He wants us to be is to be conformed to the image of Christ. He wants us to be like Jesus.

You have plenty on that in Scripture.

Go try following that instead.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Who Are In Heaven

What difference does it make where God is? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When we pray, we pray to our Father in Heaven. What difference does that make? What is Jesus wanting us to think about when we say that we pray to our Father who is in Heaven?

Let’s start with the dangerous extreme. That would be Islam. Most sects of Islam have a version of deity that is so extreme that God is totally transcendent. The thought of Him interacting in a way such as in the incarnation is repugnant.

This is something we experience when God seems distant in our lives. Consider the idea of the saying that, “If you feel far from God, who moved?” It sure wasn’t God after all. That message could have been brought by one of Job’s friends to “counsel” him.

Of course, in suffering there is nothing wrong with examining our lives and seeing if there is anything we need to repent of. That’s something that we should be doing regardless. The point here is that our emotional experiences are not indicators of where we are in our Christian walk and too often, we make them just that.

So if that’s not what is meant, what is meant? Why not think that Jesus is trying to remind us who is in charge of this story? Heaven is the base of operations. It is where God reigns from. To pray to God is to remind yourself that He is in charge and He rules.

This is something we easily forget. Too many people think that if God is ruling right now, why is there so much evil and suffering? As we go through Matthew and look more at eschatology, we will see that that is issued directly. This is also a mistake Jewish readers often go with thinking that if the Messiah came, then shouldn’t there be love and world peace throughout the Earth as a result?

No. If anything, in Scripture we see just the opposite promised. YHWH says in Psalms 110:1 that the Messiah is to sit at His right hand while His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. The Messiah will have enemies during His reign and it will take time for them to be made a footstool.

Today, saying our Father in Heaven is meant to be a source of comfort. Whatever is going on, God is in charge. That He asks us to pray to Him tells us that He is not distant. He really cares about us. Not only that, we have the incarnation where the Son dwelt among us. God in human flesh walked around us and one day we will be with Him forever.

When you pray, pray to your Father who is in Heaven. He does hear. He does care. He will respond.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father

What does the start of the Lord’s Prayer mean? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve blogged before on the Lord’s prayer and it’s always interesting. Going through the Sermon on the Mount, this one cannot be missed. So let’s take another in-depth look at the Lord’s prayer.

Jesus starts off by telling us how we should pray. The prayer starts off with an address. The proper recipient is our Father. Okay. That sounds pretty basic. You start the prayer and you are talking to God.

Sounds basic, but it really isn’t.

Notice that Jesus at the start immediately assumes a communal activity. His followers were to come together and pray to God together. This is not to say that individual prayer can never happen. It is most certainly can. It is to say that Christianity is not meant to be experienced as an individual event.

Too often we have what is today Lone Ranger Christianity. Me and Jesus can just figure everything out today. I always go back to this story. It was a lady in a small group I was in once who said “I’m saved. My children are saved. Just sit back and wait for Jesus to come.” What an awful thought! How do you know your children will stay in the faith? What about other people and their children?

The community aspect is one thing, but there’s more. The community is to address God as Father. This is not some out there and distant deity. This is one who asks us to approach Him as if He is a parent. Jesus regularly makes this kind of analogy in the sermon and elsewhere.

This is also why Hebrews tells us to boldly approach the throne of grace. If you are the son or the daughter of the king, you ought not be afraid to approach the king. You belong there. You have been invited. You are a child of the king. Live like one.

Epictetus was a pagan philosopher who lived not too long after Christ. In his Golden Sayings, I find saying IX impressive. Change the language to a Christian language and see how it applies.

“If a man could be thoroughly penetrated, as he ought, with this thought, that we are all in an especial manner sprung from God, and that God is the Father of men as well as of Gods, full surely he would never conceive aught ignoble or base of himself. Whereas if Caesar were to adopt you, your haughty looks would be intolerable; will you not be elated at knowing that you are the son of God? Now however it is not so with us: but seeing that in our birth these two things are commingled–the body which we share with the animals, and the Reason and Thought which we share with the Gods, many decline towards this unhappy kinship with the dead, few rise to the blessed kinship with the Divine. Since then every one must deal with each thing according to the view which he forms about it, those few who hold that they are born for fidelity, modesty, and unerring sureness in dealing with the things of sense, never conceive aught base or ignoble of themselves: but the multitude the contrary. Why, what am I?–A wretched human creature; with this miserable flesh of mine. Miserable indeed! but you have something better than that paltry flesh of yours. Why then cling to the one, and neglect the other?

How much better could we see ourselves if we realized that we are adopted into the family. Remember Mephibosheth in the Old Testament? He was invited to feast at the King’s table, something the account says three times. Augustus Caesar was the most powerful man on Earth at one time, and got that way by adoption.

When we pray our Father, we are to realize that we are adopted into a royal family and we have that privilege. It is not just us individually, but us as a community. We all have the Father together and we can all come together as His children.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How Not To Pray

What are some things to avoid in prayer? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Sometimes, I hate public prayer at a church service. I say this as someone who has to do it as well. You never really feel genuine doing it. You know people are watching you to see what you have to say. It’s awkard.

Then there are the people who do these public prayers and they go on and on and on. You can say they’re real men of Jesus, but most of us just find them annoying. I find it interesting that the Lord’s prayer can really be said in under a minute. When the closing prayer starts to go longer than the sermon itself, we have a problem.

Jesus had a few statements about things like this. He never said to not pray in public as He sometimes did this as well, but He did say to watch your motives again. Some people do make a show of public prayers. They pray showing off their eloquence and their devotion to God, which if that is what you’re doing, we can call your devotion into question. Let’s look at verses 5-8 of Matthew 6.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

One of the rules for giving a sermon is to KISS. It has two meanings. “Keep it simple, stupid” and “Keep it short, stupid.” Prayer is done to talk to God. It’s not done to show others how awesome you are.

This is why also your devotion is not meant to be measured necessarily by how long you pray. I know some people who are true prayer warriors and they can pray for a long time. I’m not one of them. I know I need to work on that. Those like me need to start simple as well. Don’t say you’re going to build up prayer and then say you’re going to start with an hour a day. You’ll burn out and give up. If anything, start small. Maybe 3-5 minutes even.

Jesus also tells us our Father knows what we need before we ask. If so, why do we ask? We ask not to make something known, but to show that we are realizing our trust and dependence.

One of the problems I have with many prayer studies is they treat prayer as if the only goal is to get something. It also treats God as if He is obligated to answer a prayer. Many of us were devoutly praying for the healing of Nabeel Qureshi. It never came. Does that prove God doesn’t exist or that God doesn’t or didn’t love Nabeel? Not at all. It just shows for whatever reason we don’t understand, God chose not to heal.

It’s also too easy for prayer to become just a wish list. There’s not enough time spent in thanksgiving and adoration. I remember J.P. Moreland once saying he thinks in a worship service, the music should come after the sermon. Why? Because then we have heard the Scripture and the good news and we are giving thanks and celebrating about what we have heard.

Yet keep in mind, Jesus still points us to the reward. Our true reward is from our Father in heaven. It’s not in the praise and adoration of men. It’s in the approval of our Father. That is the praise we are to have.

Prayer is something important and we need to work on it, but one of the first things to do is to learn what not to do.

Let’s try to get it right.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Praying in the Presence of our Lord with St.Thomas Aquinas.

What do I think of Mike Aquilina’s book published by Lambing Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife got me this book as a gift knowing that I am looking to improve my prayer life and that I’m a big fan of Thomas Aquinas. At the start, this is a book by a Catholic for a Catholic. I am not faulting that at all. Protestants write for Protestants normally, Orthodox for Orthodox, Atheists for atheists, Muslims for Muslims, etc. Naturally, they all write books at times to try to convince others, but books that are more devotional will be more likely to be non-argumentative.

So if you’re a Protestant reading this, no, you likely will not agree with the views of the Eucharist and Mary, but that’s okay. It is quite foolish to say whichever camp you belong to that you cannot learn from the others. Aquinas is definitely someone we can all learn from and not just in his intellectual mind, but in his devotional mind.

Aquilina goes through some of the prayers of Aquinas and breaks them down bit by bit and has a devotional entry on each of them. This could then be a good daily devotional to be read just to have something to meditate on. At the same time, someone could go straight through, like I did, and get some good material out of it.

Reading through also gives the reader something to shoot for. Aquinas was in his day from my understanding a loner and standout from the crowd, but his passion is something not talked about often. Aquilina tells us that when Aquinas had a hard problem, he would go and lean his head on the altar and rest it there hoping to receive solace.

God wasn’t just an intellectual pursuit for Aquinas, although there was certainly a lot of that in his life. God was a being, a personal being, to be desired for His own sake. It is easy to go to God to thank Him for what He has done, which we should, and to make our requests known to Him, which we should do, but too often we do not come to Him for who He is.

Aquilina tells us that adoration is something that should be reserved for God alone. Of course, there’s always the chance that words change meanings and what we mean by adore isn’t the same thing as was meant back then. The attitude would still need to be the same and that would be that only God deserves the highest place. Any Christian knows that sadly, that can be a struggle at times.

So if you want to improve your prayer life and use Aquinas as a model, this is a good one. Areas of disagreement for Protestants do not have to be the focus. Catholics and Orthodox are more likely to enjoy those elements of the work, but we could all bear to improve our prayer life. Aquinas is a great model for that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

It’s Not Your Fault

What is the cause of your suffering? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife and I are part of a group for Christians with Borderline Personality Disorder on Facebook. She has the condition. I don’t, but I am in there to be supportive. Yesterday, I saw a post by someone saying that they were being condemned by their church for having Borderline. They were supposedly making their Borderline an idol and they don’t have enough faith and they need to pray and read Scripture more and similar things. Naturally, if they truly had faith also, they would be healed.

Let’s be clear with some things at the start. We could all bear to pray more and read the Bible more. It also doesn’t hurt to examine ourselves and look for sinfulness in our own lives to work on.

Also, there are times where suffering is your own fault. If you drink alcohol and get in an accident because you were driving drunk, that is your fault. If you smoke all your life and get lung cancer, that is your fault. If you overeat and suffer the effects of obesity, that is your fault.

Yet some things you are born with or born with a predisposition to that are not your fault. A mental illness can be one of those things. While I am sure this is sometimes said to people with diabetes or people in wheelchairs, I am sure it is less often than it is for cases of mental illness, something the church just doesn’t really deal well with.

Mental illness has a stigma around it such that it is even thought to be connected with demonic activity. I do not doubt demons can influence us, but they cannot possess and control us and it’s too easy to blame our problems on a demon instead of realizing it could be something with us. If you have a mental illness, that is not your fault. What you do with the condition is your fault. I have Aspergers. I cannot control that. It is hard to look someone in the eye when I am talking to them, but that is something that I must actively work on.

In the same way, people with Borderline have powerful emotions that seem gripping and controlling. Can they be controlled? Yes. Is that easy? No. It can often require a combination of medication and therapy. It’s the same way with a phobia. One doesn’t just sit down and will through a phobia naturally. It takes concentrated work and effort to overcome it. I am terrified of water and when I get in a swimming pool, it takes a concentrated effort to move where I need to move. It is not bulldozed over.

The church doesn’t help with this when the church demands instant cures. Now, can an instant cure happen? Sure. God can do it if He wants to. I know people who come to Jesus who have addictions like alcohol and drugs and when they convert, they lose their addictions. That can happen. Sometimes, it does not happen. It is foolish and cruel to say the reason someone is suffering is that they don’t have enough faith.

It’s also just bad theology. Sometimes we do suffer for our own sins, as I said. Sometimes we suffer for the sins of others. Sometimes we suffer because this is a fallen world. It is a foolish person who thinks without divine revelation that he can tell you why a certain kind of suffering is taking place like that. We must be very careful whenever we make any sort of claim to speak for God.

What the sufferers often need most is not someone to fix their problems. We should have people who are ready to be good therapists and counselors and work with them, but if you’re not that, don’t try to be one. Here’s something you can be. You can be a listener. You can be a friend.

Try this for the person with mental illness that you know. Pick up a phone and call them. Send them a message on Facebook. Go to their place and visit them. Take them out to eat sometime. Show the other person you’re glad to have them around. Do not do anything to them that indicates that they are a bother. If you think having to deal with someone like that is a bother, it speaks more about you than it does about them.

Many people like this can struggle with thoughts of depression and suicide. How does it help someone like that to pile on to them? Don’t also tell them they’re being selfish or self-centered. In the moment, that is not helpful to them. It only gives them more reason to be depressed and/or suicidal.

Overall, be Jesus to these people. Jesus never turned away people who were truly suffering and in need. He always had the greatest of love for sinners. The people who thought they were alright were the people He had the most problems with. If people don’t think Jesus will accept them, maybe it’s because they’ve met too many people who claim to represent Jesus who haven’t.

I look forward to the day when the church treats mental illness in much the same way they treat physical illness. Of course, some churches are still horrible there, but I think it often gets worse for mental illness. Come alongside those who are suffering. Be a friend and confidant and really listen to them. If you reach out to someone you know with a condition, you never know how much hope that might give them.

You’ll truly be being Jesus to them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: A New Dawn For Christianity Part Two

What do I think of the second part of this book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the second part of this book, we have the contributions from “Rev.” Michael Macmillan. I use the Reverend in quotation marks because I wonder what exactly he is a reverend for. I mean, the first part of this book argued that all gods are human constructs, so why should his construct be treated any differently? Perhaps the authors are saying that all gods are human constructs, except for theirs.

Macmillan lists his problems with supernatural theism and one part is the violence, such as the people God kills in the Bible. It’s interesting to see this in light of the idea that he has a problem with God not always intervening in cases of people with cancer and such. I find this an interesting juxtaposition. If God doesn’t intervene every time in the evil of cancer, He doesn’t exist. When He does intervene when it comes to evil people, He also doesn’t exist. If something is arbitrary, it is when Macmillan wants God to intervene and when he doesn’t.

Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Copan and others who have written on the topic of the God of the Old Testament. It’s enough for Macmillan to say he doesn’t like it. There’s nothing here arguing that God is obligated to keep anyone alive or that He owes life to anyone.

I also think it’s odd to say God is evil because He doesn’t always intervene with cancer. If that God isn’t worth believing in, well what is Macmillan’s god doing about cancer? It’s still going on. People are still dying. Macmillan says that it doesn’t fit with progressive Christianity to do petitionary prayer or intercessory prayer, even if those are natural.

If the Christian God is evil, what excuse does Macmillan’s god have? Could we apply the standard questions to him to ask if he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent? Does this god really care? Why is Macmillan worshipping him? What is this god worth?

He also talks about Paul in Acts 17 as moving away from supernatural theism by saying God doesn’t dwell in temples made by human hands and such. It’s interesting he says this while having Paul say that God is unknowable. To an extent, He is as we cannot know everything about Him, but we can know some things about Him. If He was unknowable entirely, Paul could not even say this about Him.

As for saying in Him we live and move and have our being throws supernatural theism right out the window (And keep in mind I don’t use the term supernatural but Macmilland does so I use it for that reason here), how exactly? He gives no explanation. This is really part of classical theism and has been for a long time.

Macmillan says to ask any fundamentalist and he will tell you that the Bible contains the literal truths of Acts of God. This includes a six-day creation and a worldwide flood. He also adds in the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) and the deliverance of Israel. While I do not agree with young-Earth creationism or the flood being worldwide in reach, I do support the other two. Macmillan shows no interaction with the scholarship on these issues unfortunately.

In talking about Jesus, Macmillan says that the creeds of Christianity, and he has in mind the Nicene Creed, are dangerous since they turn Jesus into a being to be worshipped rather than someone whose life is to be emulated. Macmillan says that is a long road from rabble rouser to true God from true God. Indeed, it would be, but how was this point even reached?

I honestly don’t even know how Macmillan’s Jesus got crucified and for sedition as even Macmillan says. Jesus is apparently going around Israel teaching to give to the poor and have compassion on your fellow man. This Jesus would not be noticeable. He would not be crucified anymore than a Mr. Rogers would be crucified.

Macmillan also says that the message of the Kingdom of God has been lost. This is interesting since evangelical scholars have no problem with the message. Namely among them is N.T. Wright. Perhaps we can forgive Macmillan since it looks like he limit his reading to people like Borg, Ehrman, and Spong. I’m not saying to not read them, but read both sides!

Many of us won’t be surprised when he says how the journey ends. He tells his audience, as these are all sermons given, to point to themselves and say “I am the Christ!” and to point to their neighbor and say “You are the Christ!” and then to say “We are the Christ together!” At this point, it is clear that the deity Macmillan believes in is ultimately himself.

Macmillan’s Jesus will present no challenge to him. He will not call him to die to himself. He will not call him to take up a cross. He will not call him to repent of sins. He will instead build him up so much that he thinks that he is the Christ.

Macmillan further says that through the experiences he describes, we will meet and experience Jesus like never before. Of course, if Jesus is yourself this would follow. Macmillan and his audience will not get a deeper understanding of Jesus, but of themselves. Now we should understand ourselves, but worship is not about realizing who we are but realizing who God is.

Why also should we trust this experience is reliable? What about my fellow evangelicals who experience Jesus as described in orthodox Christianity? Do our experiences not count? How will we determine whose experiences count? What if two people in progressive Christianity disagree?

He also says that one of the greatest crimes and sins is the message of salvation. It is a horrible idea to say we need salvation and has robbed death of its meaning. No idea how this is possible, but it’s amazing that Macmillan will freely list out the sins of God, but when it comes to his own he has no need to be made righteous.

When talking about prayer, he asks what meaning it has if there is no God up there to hear us. I agree. What meaning does it have? Unfortunately, he never really answers that. Macmillan cannot beseech his god for anything apparently. What good does Macmillan’s god do? Better to have the God who heals some people of cancer instead of none. If the God of Christianity is evil for allowing anyone to die of cancer, what about Macmillan’s?

Macmillan in a message towards the end says that anyone who reads his book wins even if they don’t agree, because they know the rest of the story. Now we know about 200 years of science and Biblical scholarship. Well, no. We don’t. We know about a one-sided message that has been given.

He tells me it is likely I have never heard a pastor say the Easter story is metaphorical or that God is a human construct. Well, actually, not pastors, but I have heard plenty saying such things. I have spent years reading the scholarship which is why I’m convinced Macmillan is flat wrong on these issues. He has shown no interaction with the other side at all.

He tells me also that if I don’t believe, what makes me think I know better than the world’s leading Christian scholars? I don’t. The thing is, Macmillan does, because I have read the world’s leading Christian scholars. I think their arguments are far better than those on the other side.

Macmillan may claim the title reverend, but to quote another book, his god is too small. I see nothing in his good worthy of worship. It is rather a sort of amorphous blob who in the end will be made in the image of Macmillan instead of the other way around.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Have We Overspiritualized The Christian Walk?

Is there a danger to putting our best foot forward? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is the kind of post that is really hard to write. It’s because I know there are some readers who will be shocked to realize some things about me, but I hope that if they do, it will bring them comfort. I know I am an answer man to many, but there are many times that I have my own struggles and those are often with the Christian walk.

Sometimes I think we overdo how it is. I know many people who have rich and vibrant prayer lives. I don’t deny that for a moment. For me, this is an honest struggle. I have a very hard time with prayer. It could be because of my Aspergers. It’s hard enough to talk to a person. Make that person divine and in fact a being who is tri-personal and it becomes even more difficult. I more often do minute prayers than long extended prayer times. I find it hard to know what it means to wrestle in prayer for someone. If that’s you, excellent. Not knocking you. I am better at brief prayers throughout the day.

Sometimes I see Christians talking about their Bible study and how awesome it is every day. God just shows them something new that they hadn’t seen before. If that’s you, excellent, but I wonder if I’m more like other Christians want to admit. Sometimes, you’re just reading the text. You don’t get anything immediately. Maybe you can make a connection. Honestly, I seem to get more just doing my nightly Bible reading with my wife. I read it out loud for us together and sometimes I do get things that way.

Church services can be outright boring to me. I’ve grown tired of preachers who just give a text and jump straight to an application and Christianity is all about just being a good person. This doesn’t even get to the music. The music part to me seems more like a concert. I don’t really relate and I can’t remember the last time I sang along. It’s all too awkward for me.

Sometimes I think we put forward a position where we shouldn’t struggle in the church and our lives are full of joy abundantly. Excuse me, but I know I’m rarely at that level. Many times when I am in a crisis, I find it hard to follow James and count all things joy. If anything, I can find myself lashing out at God and accusing Him and asking Him if He remembers His promises or if He even cares about the suffering going on.

Yet when I read the Psalms, I wonder if I’m not the odd one out. The Psalmists seemed to do that a lot. It’s strange that the question the Psalmists normally had was not if the people remembered the covenant, but if God remembered it.

We seem to have this attitude in the church that if we put forward an image of our lives being less than perfect, there’s something wrong with us. We’re not fooling anyone. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re free of struggles. Sometimes a good worship service shouldn’t leave you feeling happy. It should leave you feeling miserable with the conviction of sin. (This doesn’t deny that you could have happiness when you realize grace and forgiveness.)

1 in 3 men are said to struggle with pornography in the church, yet how often at a church service do you hear guys sharing that with other guys? It’s almost like we want to treat sin as if it’s not really real. Our messages at church are more self-help and can be found in any episode of Dr. Phil more often. You won’t get the Biblical text from him, but many times the messages are awfully similar.

Maybe also this idea of putting forth this image is damaging. It damages new Christians who think there’s something wrong with them and it bewilders skeptics who think we don’t take life seriously. Christianity is just a feel-good religion to them. I try to tell them sometimes being a good Christian will mean you feel miserable. You feel the evil in the world or you feel the weight of your own sin or anything else.

I fear we can present the Christian life as just one amazing experience after another. I doubt that’s what it’s really like for most people. On the other hand, some could say I am guilty of intellectualizing matters and focusing too much on that area. They could also be right. Could it be like in most other cases, moderation is what is needed? Maybe the middle ground.

I conclude this wondering what your thoughts are. Maybe you’re out there thinking you agree with me and there’s too much show in our personal lives and very little grow. Maybe you think I’m way off base and want to tell why. Comments are always open. Let me know.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 2.

What do I think of arguments 6-10? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue through Navabi’s book Why There Is No God, we find that the arguments don’t get any better. If anything, they’re getting worse. It’s as if Navabi is just wanting to go after any statement that he can find and make an argument out of it. I wonder if he just tried to fill his book up to get to twenty arguments without, you know, actually researching real arguments.

#6 “God Answers Prayer; therefore, he must be real.”

I don’t really use the prayer argument. For one thing, I find the studies on prayer to be problematic. God is treated like some machine in them where if you do X, then God will do Y. There are so many variables I don’t know where to begin. Are we to say that anyone in the hospital has absolutely no one praying for them? Do we have a method of somehow canceling out the prayers of others who are not part of the prayer experiment? These are many of the questions. I have never found these cases convincing.

What do I find convincing? Accounts such as in Keener’s book Miracles where someone is prayed for in the name of Jesus and suddenly a miraculous healing takes place. That is far more convincing. I also trust when some people tell me they have prayed for some very very specific things and got them. Of course, for that latter one, it’s something that I find curious, but not a final clincher. It’s something good that does back what I already have plenty of reason to believe.

Argument #7 “I feel a personal relationship with God, so I know that he is real.”

Definitely, this is not an argument to use. Remember the old hymn? “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” Yeah. That’s what we need to get past. The lesson that should be got from this is that Christians need to stop relying on their feelings and personal testimony.

On the other hand, Navabi does say we often see what we want to see, but this works both ways. For instance, Navabi doesn’t pay attention to the really good arguments that are out there and for the huge majority, his sources are just people who agree with him. You will not find him interacting with powerful representatives of those who disagree with him. This is a problem I have with many atheist works.

Argument #8 “It’s safer to believe in God than be wrong and go to Hell.”

This is looking at Pascal’s wager and I am sure of one thing. Navabi has never read Pascal. A lot of people have this idea that Pascal was saying to just anyone, “Just believe because you’ve got nothing to lose.” Then they want to bring in the question of other religions and matters of that sort. That’s not what Pascal is saying.

Pascal had plenty of arguments in his day he could use, but he was talking to the man who was tottering between Christianity and unbelief. If you were in a sort of 50/50 position and not sure what way to go, why not just give it a try? Now does this seem like faking? Not really. If you do the behavior required, you can find the attitude follows.

For instance, some wives have a hard time having sex with their husbands because they don’t feel it. The solution given to them many times is to just go along with it. The feelings will often follow once you act. Many of us know many activities in our own lives where we don’t want to do them at first, but then we get into them when we start doing them.

People like Navabi just see Pascal as saying you should just believe anyway. That’s not his position. If you’ve looked at the arguments and you see both sides and you don’t know, why not take a chance with Christ? What have you got to lose?

Argument #9 “God isn’t defined. God cannot be comprehended or described. One must simply have faith.”

Let’s start with the bad faith argument first, as if this one hasn’t been answered ten million times already. Faith is not as is often thought, believing without evidence. Navabi says it’s invoked when a person runs out of rational explanations. In many cases, I don’t doubt that’s true, but we don’t need to see what laypeople think faith is but what the Bible and the leading scholars in the field of Biblical studies say that it is. For more on this, look at my article here.

One aspect of this argument is right.  God cannot be comprehended. Navabi says “If you cannot comprehend or describe something, you can’t possibly have a rational justification for believing in it.” This sounds good, but it’s just bogus. Many great scientific theories today are not really fully comprehended, and yet we believe in them. That’s not to down science, but to show there is always an element of human ignorance.

Argument #10 “There’s no evidence that God doesn’t exist.”

Again, this isn’t an argument I use, but at the same time, when someone does want to establish atheism, in that there is no God and not just that they lack God belief, they need to put forward an argument. The burden of proof really works like this. Whoever makes any claim whatsoever has a burden to prove it. As long as you’re just questioning an atheist without making a claim, you have no burden. Once you make a claim, you have a burden.

Still, looking at these arguments today, it looks like Navabi is dealing with low caliber information. If he really wants to make a case, let him take on the greatest thinkers in theism. Unfortunately, this will not be done.

In Christ,
Nick Peters