Tag Archives: faith

You Cannot Trust What You Can Understand

Recently a friend was diagnosed with cancer. She told her friends she would think positive thoughts and asked them to do the same. Later, she sent an email describing the biopsy, the treatment alternatives, and the likelihood that healing would be complete and her life back to normal in two months. The email ended with these words: “I love science.”

Having traveled the road of diagnosis and treatment for cancer with more than one friend, I take the information about her prospects with a grain of salt. Having seen science do its best to apply human understanding to medical treatment for cancer and many other assorted diseases, my respect for science us undiminished, but my confidence in the ability of human intelligence to conquer all diseases is flavored with considerable caution about its boundaries.

Disease of any sort in general and cancer in particular powerfully demonstrates a good reason not to put all your faith in science. Science is always by definition a temporary state of human knowledge, truth right up to the moment a flaw in its findings is discovered. Science takes us to the limits of human understanding. If we count on human understanding, we must always be prepared to find ourselves standing on a precipice at the edge of an unbridged crevice in human understanding.

My friend may love science, but science does not love her. Science is implacably neutral toward everything and everyone. If the physician who performed her biopsy failed to obtain a good sample of the tissue, if the pathologist who read the sample missed a crucial variant in color, texture, shape or etc., if the oncologist fails to account for one or several things, known or unknown at the time, or if any of a dozen other possible events go the wrong way, science will not lovingly cover the problem anyway and make her well anyway.

Science has no commitment to my friend. She is committing everything to science, but science is not committed to her. Whether she lives or dies, to science she is the solution to an equation. Humans know only a few of the variables in the equation. Their knowledge of variables and constants alike is limited by their ability to measure. The humans insert values they can measure into the parts of the equation that they think they know, blind to an uncounted number of factors they do not know and cannot measure. Whether treatment is a success or a failure for my friend, to science, it is simply the answer produced by the values inserted into the equation. Her doctor may care, but science doesn’t.

Before my friend went for her biopsy, I visited with her. We talked briefly, and I gave her a card on which I had written, “praying for you.”  She smiled and assured me she would prefer I just think positive thoughts toward her. She is convinced that a positive attitude will fill any gaps in scientific knowledge. I know what the writer of Proverbs knew—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) We cannot trust human positive thinking any more than we can trust the limits of human understanding. We can only trust the Lord.

My friend believes in science so much that she entrusts everything to science. For her, life ends when her body ceases to function. If the solution to her equation during cancer treatment is physical death, she believes only the particles of her physical body will endure, consistent with the law of the preservation of matter and energy. She consistently has rejected the news that her Creator made her and all other human beings with an eternal dimension. She does not realize that Creator God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastical 3:11). She chooses to ignore God’s voice in her life, a voice that loves her and cares for her as no doctor or scientific discovery ever can care for her. The voice of eternity is always speaking, but she covers it up with the positive thinking bounded by her own understanding. Where will she turn if her treatment equation turns out to be a solution for the end of her time/space body?

I am praying for my friend to open her eyes and put her trust in the God whose equations always include eternity. I pray fervently fir her to learn that it is better to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” than to “lean on your own understanding.” When science’s equations solve for 0, God’s equations still solve for eternity.

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Can a Christian Learn Something From a Survivalist?

Be a survivalist.

If you are a survivalist, some people will think you are amusing, and some will think you are a threat. There are enough people in our world who believe the world might end tomorrow that most people have spoken with at least one of them. Survivalists hoard certain things, and the motivation for their hoarding is the desire to be prepared to live and thrive when there is a disaster of such proportions that even the federal government is powerless to help. Survivalists don’t stop at collecting piles of food and bottled water. They also learn skills such as fire without matches and the proper way to make pemmican. They prepare this way, because they intend to survive whatever disasters befall them.

Christians can take a lesson from the survivalists. As long ago as the days of Jesus’s life in the flesh, he warned his followers to be prepared for the day that the followers of Christ would suffer. He foretold that the world would always hate people who followed him, and he foretold that there would be times of great danger. History is filled with evidence of the truth of his warnings. In fact, the daily news is filled with evidence that such times are already upon Christians in many places, and the evidence is clear that Christians in the USA need to prepare for real danger.

Christians who see threats to faith increasing in frequency and intensity need to learn from the survivalists. Christians need to prepare to live through some experiences unprecedented in the USA. The language of law which protected people of all faiths for more than 200 years is being re-interpreted and redefined to mean that all religious speech and actions must be confined to religious spaces, and the principle behind “conscientious objection” is being dissolved in acerbic legal conflicts. If Christians are serious about being Christians, they will need to prepare for the coming disaster.

In what ways can Christians learn from survivalists?

First, Stash the one resource without which no Christian can survive for long.

When a young pastor went to China to learn how to help Christians there, he was surprised. They did not ask to be rescued from persecution; they asked for Bibles. They considered that rather than be rescued, they wanted to live powerful testimonies to people who desperately needed to know Jesus. Who needs Jesus more than someone who is trying to arrest, imprison, torture, and kill Christians? What prepares a Christian to tell about Jesus better than a Bible?”

Every Christian needs a Bible, and that Bible should be worn and tattered. Christians need to read their Bibles. They need to ask questions about what they read and seek the answers. They need to memorize texts from the Bible and be able to share specific information from the Bible with anyone who needs it. The Bible is, according to Jesus, as important to us as daily bread. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus, God himself, quoted God’s words (His words) and indicated that Scripture is the food we need most. We need it every day, just like meat and milk.

Christians also need to study commentaries and devotionals and other Bible helps if they have access to them; most people should have such access online if not in their own hands. Maps, dictionaries, and many other books can help Christians see the biblical texts more clearly, or may help them unravel complex ideas, rather like carving a turkey and eating it a slice at a time rather than trying to gobble down the whole thing at once. But Christians who do not have helps, have the best helper of all given to them freely as Christ promised – the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth(John 16:13).

The earliest Christians did not have the New Testament. They only had the Scriptures we now call the Old Testament. That is fine. When Jesus met the disciples walking to Emmaus after his resurrection, he talked with them and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Holy Spirit taught the earliest Christians about Jesus as he is revealed in the Old Testament. After the New Testament became available, it provided much more material, but the Holy Spirit is able to use the Scriptures, all the Scriptures to nourish, sustain and inspire a believer.

Second, Pile up the promises of God.

Look at them often. Separate them and pick through them to remind yourself what God says. Make lists of them. Memorize them. Sort through them and count the repetitions. Know your inventory of the promises of God like the back of your hand. Write them down and look at them frequently. Say them to yourself when you go to bed at night and when you get up in the morning.

Third, Put all your hope in God.

It just makes sense, if you believe God’s promises. If God had promised nothing and delivered nothing over the thousands of years recorded in the Bible, then why would anybody hope in him? The Bible shares God’s promises, and the Bible demonstrates how he keeps them. You may come to understand that when God keeps his promises, the fulfillment may not look the way you imagined. God is not in the business of fulfilling your orders; he is in the business of fulfilling his plans. Therefore, you may need to exercise hope in the face of what looks like a failure. Abraham was told that all nations would be blessed through his descendants (Genesis 12:3), but at the time of God’s promise, Abraham had no children. Abraham tried to force God to fulfill his order, and Ishmael was born to Hagar, but that was not the promise God had made, and that was not the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when God finally fulfilled the promise and Isaac was born. Abraham learned that if you hope in God, even the worst looking outcome can be the best possible outcome.

When Jesus died on the cross, all the disciples went home and locked the doors. It looked as if the worst possible outcome had befallen them. Jesus was dead. Gone. The great adventure was over. Kaput. Then on Sunday morning, they found the empty tomb. The worst possible outcome wasn’t the outcome at all. The real outcome was better than anything they had imagined.

Fourth, Start looking at things God’s way.

When you look at things with eyes full of hope in God, then you can see things God’s way. After Jesus had fed a lot of people with a little bit of food, he and the disciples left that place and kept traveling. One day Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about him. Jesus might have been a circus sideshow. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28) The people were confused about Jesus, because they did not see things God’s way. They looked for a sideshow, and that is what they saw.

Then Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29a) The disciples had a chance to look at Jesus up close. They saw things the other people did not see. Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29b). Peter was able to see things God’s way, and he saw the Messiah God had promised over and over in the Old Testament Scriptures. Of course, Peter would simply have said that the Messiah fulfilled “the Scriptures,” because those were the Scriptures he had. Everybody else had those Scriptures, too, but they did not recognize Jesus in those Scriptures.

Fifth, Build relationships.

Jesus knew how crucial it is for humans to have strong relationships. Human beings who are isolated from other humans too long become mentally ill. They are not strong in the face of pressure or pain. They are weak and needy. They want to be with people and be liked by people so much that they will do some terrible things in order to try to earn the fulfilling experience of human caring. People don’t even need to be truly separated to feel deeply needy. They simply need to be convinced that nobody likes them. That experience cuts off the fulfillment of friendship and sharing, and a needy person cannot face persecution and pain with strength.

The most important relationship is the relationship between a human being and God, and many people have survived horrific separation and agonizing torture nourished by the presence and power of God.  Still, people who have the option to live around family and/or friends are wise to build relationships with the people in their lives, even if those people are very different or even indifferent. Joseph, for example, was thrown into a prison where the only way out was at Pharaoh’s order, and Pharaoh did not know that Joseph existed. In that depressing state of affairs, the Bible says, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (39:21). Joseph’s relationship with God bore fruit when God made Joseph look good in the eyes of the prison warden. Joseph was able to build and nurture a relationship with the man who could make his life in prison miserable. That relationship sustained him for many dark years before Pharaoh found out about Joseph.

Sixth, Refuse to be a victim.

Bad things happen.  Joseph had been a victim several times over by the time his brothers showed up in Egypt looking for food. By that time, several good things had also happened to Joseph, and he was the second most powerful person in Egypt. If Joseph had wallowed in victimhood after his brothers beat him up and sold him to slave merchants, he would likely have died in the slave market before ever getting to Potiphar’s house or to jail or anywhere. He could have whined and cried so much along the road to Egypt that he might have been beaten to death before they got there. Joseph, however, did no such thing. He trusted God. He looked for the opportunities God put in his path. He built relationships with enemies. He had a real life. In fact, he had several great life stories to tell by the time ten shepherds arrived at the grain warehouse where Egypt was able to sell food when all other nations were starving.

Nevertheless, there are many, many people who would have told Joseph that those ten men owed him big time. They would have said that the passage of time had healed nothing, and that there was nothing short of extremely painful restitution and reparations that could possibly heal the breach. We see exactly such attitudes in real life every day. The Balkan Peninsula and the Arabian Nights are full of stories where the key element is skillfully crafted revenge. A recent popular novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, centered on one man’s sick, gruesome notion of revenge. The culture of the USA is currently in full-blown warfare over the righteousness of a hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, because some people who prefer victimhood to blessed relationships say that the words “all lives matter” are not fair to people who feel the need for revenge.

Joseph, however, had a different outlook. He had had twenty years to decide what he would do if he ever saw his brothers, those rats, again, and his decision was — forgiveness. Joseph chose not to be a victim. He chose not to be tied in knots over the past. He chose to look at the good God had done with the bad that his brothers had done. He might even have humbly recalled that he was no prize at the time, either. Joseph abandoned a cry for sympathy and safe space and comforting words and apologies and revenge and reparations. Joseph simply said, “do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). Because Joseph trusted God when things looked hopeless, willingly viewed the world God’s way, and cared about his relationship with his brothers, Joseph was able to forgive. He pulled the poison injected into the family by his brothers’ dastardly deed. He made it possible for the family to heal.

When Christians today encounter hardships, feel danger, or endure persecution, they are experiencing exactly what Christ promised would come their way. If they gather up the things they will need ahead of time, and if they practice the skills they need ahead of time, then, like survivalists, they will be prepared when hard times come. How do you prepare for persecution? You might learn something from a survivalist.

 

More Than Survival

I just finished reading a long essay by a man who believes that everyone should acquire the knowledge that enabled people to survive and thrive before electronic technology existed. I agree. Electronics are seriously vulnerable, but the ways of pre-electronic society can and will enable a good life to anyone. God’s earth will still be here, even after the EMP or a hurricane or a world war.

People in today’s world need another “tool” in their “survival kit,” too. They need faith in Christ who redeemed humankind and all creation when he died and rose again.

Many people believe that it is “all up to me” and there is no help other than their own wits and strength. Self-sufficiency is an important and valuable character trait that keeps us from being needy and dependent on our fellow man and on government, but it is not enough to give us real health and long life. Only faith in Christ and a life lived in relationship with him will enable us to thrive in utterly destructive circumstances.

The first principle of a successful life before, during, or after disaster is to put all your hope in God alone.

Contemporary culture rejects the existence of God, and that stance means that one must be completely self-sufficient. God cannot help a person who denies his existence. God sends rain on the believers and the unbelievers alike, but only believers see God’s hand at work in the blessing of the rain. Unbelievers see a water control problem that they must fix. Unbelievers see no blessing in the seeming randomness of the rain, or in the gradual increase in the size of a desert, or in the transitions of natural climate change. Unbelievers see Inequality in the difference in rainfall, paychecks, or intellectual gifts. Unbelievers think that only equal pay, equal rain, and equal intellect is equality, and therefore unbelievers are always at war with God’s diversity and inclusiveness. God loves all people equally, but his gifts are distributed according to his perfect plan, not according to the ability of humans to measure equality.

To put your hope in God alone is to accept his work and his administration without fear. If you hope in God alone, for example, then when voters choose a tyrannical president as wicked and faithless as the ancient king Ahab, you do not lose faith in God. You recognize that a purpose and plan bigger than yourself is at work. When that godless tyrant begins to disassemble legal and moral structures that were God’s gifts delivered through leaders obedient to God’s direction, you recognize God’s judgment on people who chose the tyrant who hands out bread and circuses rather than a Godly leader who focuses on protecting opportunity for all. God has not stopped caring about the nation; the nation has stopped caring about God.

If you put your hope in God alone, then you trust God’s guidance and care for the nation and for you as an individual. You don’t despair when God’s will for the nation results in pain for you; rather, you give thanks to God for the privilege of suffering for His Name’s sake, in the same way the disciples suffered from human evil: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  (Acts 6:41)

This is why Christians who mourn the collapse of Constitutional government and the moral rot perpetuated by government mandate in public schools do not, nevertheless, despair. The church, Christ’s body on earth, was not made for the easy times; it was born of inhuman suffering and it thrives in the most inhospitable times and places.

Christians thrive and bear the sweetest fruit when nourished by being like Christ—despised and rejected by men.

It is wise for Christians to prepare for disasters. A wise person will be ready for war, civil unrest, hurricanes, or whatever hard times he can foresee. However, all that common sense wisdom can be made worthless by disasters nobody could have foreseen. When that happens, it is good to be able to testify with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Only those who put all their hope in God alone will thrive in times like that.