Monthly Archives: January 2019

 
 

Hard-Wired to Seek God

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent….” (Acts 17:22-30; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.)

How can we know God? How can we know that there is a God? And, if there is a God, how can we know what He/She/It is like?

These are important questions, from which many of the other great questions of life spring forth. These questions lay below the surface of many of our cultural debates. Later this week, I will attend the March for Life, because I believe abortion is immoral and should be illegal. Likewise, I believe homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, murder, stealing, and racism are sins. I believe that such actions and attitudes are completely opposed to God’s will for humanity. I believe they contradict the two great commandments spelled out by Jesus Christ: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). If there were no God, then perhaps survival of the fittest, as described in the theory of evolution, would be the greatest virtue. In that case, it might be okay to murder anybody who brings inconvenience into our lives, to have sex with anybody or anything (whether they are willing participants or not), or to pursue our own desires regardless of how it affects other people.

Likewise, if God was different from how I believe He is, my moral values would be different. What if the Lord of the entire universe was more like what the Bible calls “Satan” or a being from Norse or Greek mythology? Would my ideas about right and wrong be different?

Thus, the existence and nature of God are among the most essential questions all people must face. I will share a few thoughts in the next few posts about this. In a blog like this, it may not be possible to give a perfectly satisfactory answer that will address every possible proof or objection. Entire volumes of theology and philosophy have been devoted to this subject, yet great minds find themselves disagreeing about the existence and nature of God.

However, I will state from the beginning that I believe it is possible for a rational, intelligent human to believe in God. We can know God through a process that theologians call “revelation” or “illumination.” There are two broad kinds of revelation. General revelation is available to all mankind and allows us to know that there is a God. Special revelation (particularly, God’s Word, the Bible) lets us know what that God is like; it assures us that the One True God is the one revealed by Jesus Christ, not something similar to Satan or pagan deities.

Nevertheless, I will begin where C. S. Lewis began his proof for God’s existence. He and several other authors believe that human instinct can lead us to believe in God. In his classic book, Mere Christianity, Lewis began by showing that humans tend to believe in notions of justice, fairness, righteousness, and other moral and ethical ideals. We seem to assume that there are certain ideals that all people should accept (whether different cultures or religions agree about those ideals is a different question). We even cling to certain ideals when evidence might lead us to doubt them:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” (Mere Christianity, p. 6)

Why do we believe in notions like kindness and cruelty, justice and injustice? Why do we think one is better than the other? Why do we believe that everybody should accept our conviction as the one true ideal? I mentioned the two great commandments of Matthew 22:37-40 a few paragraphs ago. Modern American culture has replaced Jesus’ command with a new value to cherish over all others: tolerance. We are told that you must tolerate diverse viewpoints and lifestyles, and it seems like most Americans cannot comprehend how someone can think other values take precedence over “tolerance.” In fact, they simply cannot tolerate anybody who will not worship at the altar of tolerance! Even when rejecting the biblical “intolerant” God (or, at least, rejecting the intolerant people who say they worship Him), they offer a godlike idea in His place.

Such craving for an object of faith seems essential to our being. It seems “hard-wired” into our psyches. In Acts 17:22-30, St. Paul observed that this instinctual spiritual craving had driven the residents of Athens to build an altar “to the unknown god” (apparently the numerous ones they already had names for and myths about did not seem sufficient). In 2004, geneticist Dean Hamer claimed to have discovered that humans carry a “God gene” which predisposes us to spirituality and mysticism. While it was a controversial theory—religious thinkers like theologian/physicist John Polkinghorne believe faith cannot be reduced to genetics and biochemistry—Hamer claimed his theory is consistent with the possible existence of God. In an article in the Washington Post, he said:

“Religious believers can point to the existence of God genes as one more sign of the Creator’s ingenuity — a clever way to help humans acknowledge and embrace a divine presence.”

(Before you jump to the conclusion that Dr. Hamer is a Christian, I must point out that he is also partially responsible for promoting the common belief that homosexuality is a genetic trait. In the coming weeks, I may quote scientists whose statements suggest the possible existence of a supreme being or creator; not all of them believe that supreme being is the God of the Bible.)

Is the ability to believe in God or the desire to know Him hard-wired into our nature? It seems that humans by nature are disposed to religious conviction. Most human cultures have a religious tradition. Although Western society is drifting from a common belief in the biblical God and traditional religious faith, seeds of religiosity abide. I mentioned the almost religious deification of “tolerance” earlier. in addition, many people have adopted a faith in “the universe” as their higher power. Others adopt a faith inspired by the spirituality of the Star Wars movies, worshiping an impersonal “Force” that manifests itself in a light and dark side. In an age when many people claim humanity has become “too enlightened for faith in God,” many merely replace the God of Scripture with other “gods” of our choosing. We cannot seem to escape it. To quote lyricist Kerry Livgren from the 1970s progressive-rock band Kansas, “Everyone needs something to believe in” (from the song, “On the Other Side“).

This religious instinct helps inspire many people to seek Christ. I know many Christians (myself included) who say they came to faith in Jesus as a result of a spiritual-searching phase. Something inside us compelled us to seek answers to questions like, “Why am I here? What is the purpose of {my} life? Is there a God? Can I know Him?” I cannot honestly say that I chose to seek God; rather, I felt something compelling me to ask these questions. The Bible tells us that nobody comes to Christ without being drawn by God (see John 6:44). Perhaps He does that by somehow tapping into Hamer’s “God gene.”

In a way that might be difficult to understand or explain, God seems to find a way to reveal Himself to people even when they have no knowledge of His Name or Scripture:

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:12-16)

Something inside all of us gives us the opportunity to seek God. Another aspect of general revelation helps us to see His hand in action. We will see His witness in creation in a forthcoming post.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Writing With Purpose Part 2

In my previous post, I shared some thoughts about Luke and John’s reasons for writing their Gospels. They were not alone in their mission and purpose. Peter likewise wrote with a mission. After reminding his readers about some characteristics associated with spiritual growth, he wrote:

And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (II Peter 1:15–21)

First, he wanted them to be able to recall the things he taught them. Second, he assured them that his teaching was grounded in facts, not opinions or guesses. Jesus was not just an abstract concept, an idealized character to represent noble virtues. Peter knew this Man. He had seen Him. He had a personal relationship with Him. He knew Jesus was the Son of God because the Transfiguration was a real, unforgettable experience. Peter had experienced the humanity of Jesus, and he had beheld His divinity. He had denied Jesus, and he had received words of forgiveness from Him. Peter’s teaching was genuine and real because it was grounded in a historical experience with a real God-Man, not a fantasy.

Such an orderly, structured understanding of Scripture remains as necessary as ever. It has been nearly 2000 years since someone walked on planet Earth who could say with absolute certainty, “I knew Jesus when He was ministering in the villages of Galilee.” We are left with His Word, the Holy Spirit, and the teachings that have been passed down through the church over the ages. In 2018–19, it is tempting to replace certain, orderly biblical truth with opinions and feelings. Many Christians say they follow the Bible, but they choose to follow only those parts that they like. Or, they use the Bible to justify their feelings, opinions, biases, and desires.

Over 20 years ago, I began to compile a concise summary outline for Bible studies that would guide people from the basics to a more in-depth knowledge of Scripture. That outline has evolved over time and is now about 20 pages long, summarizing 25 major topic sections, each with multiple subsections. (Each of those subsections may require several blog posts to cover.) I think it will take years to complete it, but if I succeed, readers will be able to learn about some of the key teachings of Scripture and see them in a broader context.

I say “if I succeed,” since life, ministry, and the Holy Spirit can be full of surprises. I may find myself led by circumstances or passion to change directions and cover a different topic. Also, after years out of pastoral ministry, I am in postulancy to be considered for ordination as a deacon in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Seminary classes and other studies may take priority. I may share insights from such studies on these pages.

One can spend a lifetime studying God’s Word. I have been a follower of Jesus for almost 35 years, reading the Bible heavily all of those years. I am still learning. There is a lot to learn, a lot to reflect upon, and a lot to study.

I look forward to sharing this journey through 2019. May God’s Word and these meditations bless you as we continue along this journey together. Over the next few weeks, we will examine what it means to know God, how we can know Him, and the Bible’s role in this.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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