Tag Archives: cultural conflict

Who Knows You Best?

Open Bible  Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
       in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
                   –Psalm 139:16 ESV

The psalmist firmly believed the story of creation in which God himself formed Adam with his own hands. In fact, it was clear to him that the miracle of life was God’s work from start to finish, and he saw in his relationship with God that human life was on a different level from all other life. He recognized God’s creative work in each human being from before the moment of conception. The psalmist could never have considered carving up the body of an unborn child to sell the pieces, because he saw how sacred was the relationship between God and each human throughout his life.

He did not think that a human was born by accident. He knew that a human was created and born for relationship with God. Elsewhere in this psalm, the writer declares that God never lets human beings escape his attention:

   Where shall I go from your Spirit?
        Or where shall I flee from your presence?
     If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
                                    –Psalm 139:7-8 ESV

He might as well have said that we can run, but we cannot hide from God.

When Jesus humbled himself and came to earth in human flesh, he did not cease being the God who seeks out human companionship and knows humans inside out. In the gospel of John, we read:

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

                                                —John 1:47-48 ESV

Nathanael’s response, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God,” is not a knee-jerk reaction to the statement of a fortune-teller. It is the recognition that knowing human beings is part of God’s character. Nathanael knew the psalms, and he knew about the creation of human beings. He recognized that the “knowing” of Jesus was far beyond the mere knowledge of sacred writings. Jesus knew who Nathanael was far beneath his skin.

By the time John wrote his gospel, he had had a lot of time to think about what he saw during the time he walked Galilee with Jesus. John affirmed what he saw in Jesus. He said, “[Jesus] needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” John 2:25 ESV

When we read that a state has declared that people may end their own lives whenever they wish, or that a government somewhere in the world has authorized doctors to practice euthanasia, or when we read that the UN has declared it a universal human right for a woman to destroy her own unborn child if she likes, we shake our heads. Why do people treat human life so casually? God himself has acted in the creation and development of every human life. He knows each of us even before we are formed, certainly long before we are born. Each of us clearly has a place in God’s infinite and eternal plan. How can anyone presume to end a life before God takes it?

We Christians are accused of utter disregard for the woman whose body has been invaded by an alien being we call a baby. The culture calls it the “products of conception,” or “a blob of cells.” We recoil in horror at the idea that doctors will be motivated to encourage patients to sign “Do Not Resuscitate” orders. We are accused of expecting a family, or a patient’s estate, or even the government to keep paying and paying to keep someone alive long after he or she has ceased to contribute anything to the community. It is not easy to stand up when a cultural steamroller threatens.

How do we stay calm and stand strong in the midst of this chaos and destruction?

  • We must put our hope in God, not in government.
  • We must remember that God is still sovereign and that he has never surrendered any item of his purpose for humankind. The suffering and death of Christ tell us how much God loves the people he creates and knows so well. The resurrection of Christ promises us that the time/space continuum is not the end.
  • We nurture our relationship with God through prayer and Bible study, and we nurture the fellowship of family, church, and friends.
  • Most of all, we refuse to succumb to the temptation to feel like victims. Because Christ lives, we are never victims no matter how things look. We can trust the God who already knows us, the God who has already poured the blood of Jesus over us to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We can pray with the psalmist:

23    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
–Psalm 139:23-24

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Open Bible
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOpen_Bible.jpg
By Wnorbutas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0

Worldviews in Collision

When I was a child, my parents owned a book called Worlds in Collision. I didn’t know what the book was about, but I loved that title. I was fascinated by it. They kept the book on a high, forbidden shelf when I was small, and somewhere in our many moves from highway project to highway project, the fascinating book disappeared. Later, in my adult years, I remembered that book, and I discovered that it was a book that rejected a lot of widely-accepted speculation about origins. I learned that its title was an apt description of the public tumult it inspired. The author held very different views about the origin of the universe and the origin of people than the prevailing scientific views of his day. That tumult is still roiling in the world of science, and it is the same sort of tumult Christians experience in contemporary culture.

That book’s title inspired the title of this blog post. This post is about the way a Christian worldview puts Christians in direct and sometimes confrontational conflict with people who hold other worldviews. In the US, Christians are most often in confrontation with a secular worldview, but as the population and the culture change over time, the rising proportion of Muslims in the population is increasing the level of conflict between Christian and Muslim worldviews. Over the most recent five years, secularism has dominated the scene, but statistics for fertility and immigration make it clear that the Muslim worldview will soon be a more powerful component of the conflict of worldviews.

The announcements of the Supreme Court’s decisions on DOMA and on California’s Proposition 8 fall into the midst of a cultural conversation that is a perfect example of what happens when worldviews collide. (There was an old book called When Worlds Collide, too, but it was a science fiction fantasy, not a discussion of ideas.) Law seldom works the way anyone actually wants it to work, and this situation is a prime example of the problem. The decision on DOMA invalidated a definition of marriage without replacing it with anything. The decision on Proposition 8 threw the civil regulation of marriage back to the states, and simultaneously disenfranchised the voters of the state of California. The rhetoric flying through society resembles the confused seas that erupt when a fierce wind opposes a strong ocean current in the vicinity of dangerous rocks and shoals. There are many issues in the culture which produce similar situations. The challenge for Christians is to navigate the battle between competing forces without battering themselves against the rocks and shoals.

How should Christians respond to the Supreme Court decision? How should Christians participate in the social conversation about marriage and family? What is a Christian to do when personally challenged by some element of this discussion?

It is tempting for a Christian to say something like, “God considers homosexuality to be sin, so the law should forbid that kind of thing.” In a culture with no established religion, no religion gets to be the sole arbiter of morality. Statements that appeal to religious teaching for moral authority don’t hold much water in a discussion of what the nation should do. The nation includes people who look to a variety of authorities. Any argument that depends on religious authority will almost certainly fail. Even people who agree with the standard may reject the basis for its authority.

A Christian could certainly say, “There is no evidence that homosexuality is normal human behavior, so the law should not legitimize that behavior.” Secular thinkers counter that argument by appealing to a recent decision by a professional group of psychologists who no longer call homosexuality a mental illness. While the Christian could argue that their opinion is not substantiated by any real scientific studies, an argument centering on battling scientific studies is not very fruitful, considering the truth that science never really “proves” anything; it only concludes that a phenomenon is highly likely due to the preponderance of observations.

A Christian could also draw on human history. In human history, marriage has universally been a heterosexual union. However, secular thinkers believe that human beings are constantly evolving into better and better creatures who are always learning about new and better ways to behave. They also believe that no truth is absolute, and that each person’s individual truth is what makes that person happy. Hence, the tradition of human history is irrelevant to them, because they have grown past musty old traditions.

Any other argument that Christians may advance in the conversation can just as easily be shot down. Consequently, the political issue comes down to one thing – votes. Christians, and those who agree with their desire to retain the traditional definition of marriage might vote together and accomplish their objective of preserving the traditional definition of marriage, as voters did in California. However, after it all came down to votes, Christians, and all the other voters eventually lost the argument, because a court in California struck down the vote. In law and politics, nothing is ever certain.

What can Christians do about this problem? It is easy to feel that evil is winning the war when the momentum shifts toward cultural standards that Christians reject. Christians need to remember that we are not called to win political arguments or elections or culture wars. We are called to share Christ. Last words of famous individuals are usually quite noteworthy. Christ’s last words before he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of his father, victorious over Satan for all eternity, were these:

“Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

This command was the summation of his work in the flesh. He had one last chance to tell us what was important, and this is what he said. These words must be engraved on our hearts. If we keep these words near, remembering what Jesus came to do, knowing his resurrection power, we can weather the collisions of worldviews in peace and happiness. We participate in a battle for a cultural standard or a political outcome that helps to shape our society in a healthy, godly way without mistaking that battle for the paramount war between good and evil. We can recognize those who hold opposing views in that conflict as human beings created and loved by Christ, people for whom Christ died as he died for us.

This command means that no matter what goes on in the political or cultural discussions, our real mission is to share Christ. We introduce Christ to people who do not know him. We help believers who have wandered away to find their way back. We don’t point fingers at political or cultural opponents; we point our opponents to Christ. An election or a court ruling lasts only for a time. Christ’s victory over Satan is forever.

A Christian traveler once met a man who said, “I believe that I might be your enemy.”  The Christian traveler responded, “Well, my supreme commander teaches me that I must love, bless and pray for my enemies. Will that be okay?” When we find ourselves in a collision of worldviews, we must remember Christ’s command:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28)