Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

BUT WHAT ABOUT EVOLUTION?

 

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So far we have argued that the appearance of design in nature points back to an intelligent Designer.  But many scientists will retort that the appearance of design is just that – only an appearance.  They go on to argue that plant and animal life, at least, came about through a blind, impersonal natural process.  The Theory of Evolution, it would seem, has destroyed the argument from design.

But has it really?  Can science really prove that humans evolved from apes?  The answer is, no.

Science, true science, is based on observation and experiment.  Observations are made, a hypothesis is formulated.  Experiments are then conducted under controlled conditions to see if the hypothesis is true.

But evolution, at least not macroevolution, has ever been observed.  No one has ever observed a higher form of life evolving from an lower form of life, and it has never been reduplicated in a laboratory.  Evolution is a scientific “fact” that has never actually been observed.

Part of the difficulty here, of course, is that evolution is alleged to have been a slow, gradual process that has taken place over hundreds of millions of years.  But there were obviously no human observers around hundreds of millions of years ago.  How, then, do we know that evolution actually took place?  We do not.  The theory is largely based on circumstantial evidence – the fossil record, vestigial organs, etc.

But based on what we can actually observe in nature now, evolution does not take place.  All living things occur in identifiable species.  The species reproduce according to clearly defined laws of heredity.  The heredity is determined by DNA in genes and chromosomes.  Granted, mutations and genetic drift do appear, but the mutations almost always result in physical anomalies which are eliminated by the process of natural selection, which does occur.  Genetically it is virtually impossible for a lower form of life to evolve into a higher one, since that would involve simultaneous beneficial mutations in complex organ systems, and the creation of all new genetic material.  It is hard to see how this could happen even in a few isolated cases, let alone account for the appearance of all of the millions of different species in existence.

Moreover the fossil record itself does not really support the idea that all of life has evolved through a slow, gradual process from a single primordial molecule.  What we find instead is that almost all of the animal phyla appeared almost simultaneously during the Cambrian period.  There were several major extinction events and huge gaps in the fossil record.

How, then, can scientists be so adamant that evolution is a scientific fact?  The answer is that they are interpreting the evidence on the basis of an a priori philosophical assumption.  Prof. Jerry Coyne, in his book Why Evolution Is True, put it this way: “The message of evolution, and all of science, is one of naturalistic materialism” (p. 224).  Naturalism, he tells us, is “is the view that the only way to understand our universe is through the scientific method.”  And materialism, he says, is “the idea that the only reality is the physical matter of the universe, and that everything else, including thoughts, will, and emotions, comes from physical laws acting on that matter” (ibid.).  In other words, according to him science is implicitly atheistic.  And based on the assumption of naturalistic materialism evolution would be virtually the only possible explanation of the origin of the species.  But whether or not physical matter is the only reality and the scientific method is the way of studying that matter is the whole question under discussion.  What Dr. Coyne is doing, in effect, is presenting us with a circular argument: he is assuming his conclusion in his premise.  While naturalistic materialism may seem scientifically possible, is raises serious philosophical questions.  Can all of reality and human life really be explained in terms of atoms and molecules?

The bottom line is that Darwinists did not use the scientific method to prove that evolution is even possible, let alone that it actually happened.  It is “science” only in the broad philosophical sense of naturalistic materialism, and it can be argued that naturalistic materialism gives us an inadequate explanation of reality.

Prof. Coyne tells us in his book that

“For the process of evolution – natural selection, the mechanism

that drove the first naked, replicating molecule into the diversity

of millions of fossil and living forms – is a mechanism of

staggering simplicity and beauty.  And only those who understand

it can experience the awe that comes from realizing how such a

straightforward process could yield features so diverse as the flower

of the orchid, the wing of a bat, and the tail of a peacock.”  (p. xvi)

What this statement amounts to is that Prof. Coyne is confronted with nothing less than the evidence of design, and yet he refuses to acknowledge the Designer.  A blind, purposeless natural process cannot produce such a vast array of forms of life.  What we are dealing with here in the Theory of Evolution are not the hard facts of natural science, but mankind’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge God as the Creator.

 

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DOES GOD EXIST?

 

4.2.7

Albert Bierstadt: Yosemite Valley

 

How do we know that God exists?  There are certainly skeptics who will loudly proclaim that there is no evidence for the existence of God.  Can you see Him?  Can you hear Him?  How, then, do we know that He exists?  Faith, they say, is nothing more than belief in something for which there is no evidence.

I reply that the proof for the existence of God is literally as plain as the nose on your face.  Look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and ask yourself this simple question: why is your face symmetrical?  Why should it be?  How did it come to be that way?

The fact of the matter is that when we look at the reality surrounding us, what we see is order, structure and complexity.  In fact, the more that science discovers, the more amazing reality appears to be.  Consider the heavens above.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; / And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1; NKJV).  The sheer immensity of it all, with distant galaxies millions of light years away.  The planets running their regular courses around the sun.  Or look at the complexity of a single biological cell, or an entire organism, with all of its systems working together to sustain a viable living being.  Look at the amazing confluence of factors that makes life sustainable on earth – the right temperature, moisture and oxygen.  Consider the amazing process of gestation that transforms a single fertilized egg into a fully developed human being.   Even now we can scarcely comprehend it all, and yet it all existed since the beginning of time.

And then there is man himself – how different from the animals, a thinking, rational, self-conscious being, full of intellect and emotion, able to communicate with language and music.  “What is man that You are mindful of him, / And the son of man that You visit him? / For You have made him a little lower than the angels, / And You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:4,5).

What we all know from ordinary common experience is that order does not spontaneously arise out of chaos, and life does not arise from non-life.  All of this points back to a First Cause, an intelligent Designer, a Supreme Being who has both the intelligence and power to create the universe as we know it.  “He has made the earth by His power, / He has established the world by His wisdom, / And He has stretched out the heavens at His discretion” (Jer. 10:12).

But there is more to reality than just the physical universe.  There is also the intangible element of human psychology, and in particular our moral sense of right and wrong.  We make decisions; we interact with each other, and unfortunately we are capable of harming each other.  But our decisions involve values, and we have a sense of what we value for ourselves.  But if we do not wish to be harmed by others, can we justify harming them?  Something inside of us tells us that this is not right.  But why?  Animals do not think like this.

What we have is a conscience, and it enables us to make moral judgments.  The apostle Paul, writing of the pagan Gentiles of his day, said that they “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves, their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Rom. 2:15).  We hurl accusations against each other, and are quick to defend ourselves when accused.  Why?  Because we think that there is something shameful about the alleged act itself.  But why?  It can only mean one of two things: either we are just plain delusional, or we live in a moral universe.  But if we live in a moral universe, what is the ultimate source of moral law?  Human government?  The human governments that promoted chattel slavery or the Holocaust?  Our conscience tells us that there has to be a higher law, a law that transcends human government.  But what can that be?  The answer is the Supreme Being who created us, the Lawgiver and Judge of the universe.  “He has shown you, o man, what is good; / And what does the Lord require of you / But to do justly, / To love mercy, / And to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8).

What it comes down to is this: either God exists or He does not exist.  And if He does not exist we live in an impersonal, irrational and amoral universe.  Life has no particular meaning or purpose.  But the universe gives us every appearance of being highly structured.  If it were not so science would not be possible at all.  And the very fiber of our being tells us that life must have meaning and purpose, and that there is a real difference between right and wrong.  God, then, must exist.4.2.7

WHY RELIGION?

 

 

4.2.7

Van Gogh, Man Reading the Bible

In the opening chapter of his book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, the late and controversial New Atheist author Christopher Hitchens made the remarkable assertion that “people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon.”  He then concluded, “Religion poisons everything” (emphasis his).

To most people this sounds ridiculous.  Jesus taught His followers to love others, while the atheists Stalin and Mao slaughtered millions.  It is hard to see how the world’s problems can be remedied by getting rid of the divine Lawgiver and Judge.

But leaving Christopher Hitchens aside, who really needs religion? Why even bother with it?  Let’s face it: in our modern materialistic society few people pay much attention to religion.  To them it is some silly thing that a few people need, mostly older “church ladies.”  The rest of us can get along perfectly well without ever darkening the doors of a church building.  Or so we think.

The fact of the matter is that there are good reasons why religion exists.  As human beings we must all ultimately face the great existential questions of life: Who are we?  How did we get here?  Does life have any meaning and purpose?  What makes the difference between right and wrong?  And then there is the awful reality of death.  Why do we die?  What happens to us after we die?  Do we simply cease to exist, or does some afterlife await us?

The modern materialist never bothers with these questions – his life is filled with the Internet and TV.  He has more urgent and pressing matters to occupy his attention: What’s for dinner tonight?  What’s going on this weekend?  Who’s going to win tonight’s game?  And then he is totally unprepared for death when it finally comes.  But the ultimate questions will not go away; they are lurking there for us, and we cannot ignore them forever.

And then there are some people who try to come up with other solutions to life’s big questions.  Scientists and philosophers try to come up with alternative explanations of reality.  Psychologists try to come up with non-religious solutions to life’s perplexing problems.  Ordinary people turn to sex, sports, politics, money, or alcohol and drugs to fill the void and ease the pain.  But it is all in vain.  The questions are still unanswered (or the proposed answers are unconvincing); the problems still remain.

God is the missing piece of the puzzle.  What makes us different from animals, the reason we are capable of rational thought and moral judgment is because we were created as human beings in God’s image.  Life has meaning and purpose because we were created by God for a specific reason and we have a divinely appointed destiny to fulfill.  Justice and morality are figments of our imagination: they exist by virtue of divine decree.  And there is the possibility of life after death.

In the end atheism has nothing to offer but a meaningless, purposeless existence in an amoral universe followed by the cold silence of the grave.  There has to be more to life than that.

We were created by an intelligent Supreme Being and live in a universe fashioned and ordered by Him.  Our very lives depend ultimately on Him.  We can understand life only in terms of the creative purpose of Him who made us.  “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth . . . so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being . . .” (Acts 17:26-28; NKJV).  Ultimately we are accountable to our Creator for what we think and do.

That is why we have religion.

“For thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart cannot be

quieted till it may find repose in thee.”

St. Augustine, Confessions, I.1

WHAT IS MAN?

 

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One of the greatest riddles in modern thought involves the most intimate of all questions: what is man?  One would think that if we knew anything at all we would what we are – we would know ourselves.  And yet in modern secular thought we are largely a mystery to ourselves.

The problem is that the question of man’s identity is closely tied to the question of man’s origins.  Most modern thinkers believe that we are the product of evolution, a blind, purposeless natural process.  To them there is no such thing as “Intelligent Design.”  But this has created a dilemma for the modern thinker.  On the one hand it has led some to try to explain human behavior in terms of pure biology – we are physical organisms, and our thought processes are purely the result of brain chemistry.  But certain other thinkers, most notably Existentialist philosophers, try to argue that we exist as autonomous individuals, and are thus free to define ourselves as we please.  We exist first and acquire and “essence” or identity as we go through life and interact with other human beings.

But both of these viewpoints represent a radical departure from traditional Western thought.  The ancient Greeks sensed that there was something special about man, that we were rational beings and not mere animals.  We are self-conscious.  We have a sense of right and wrong.  We communicate with each other through language.  And we are conscious of our own mortality.  The purpose of education, moreover, was to help us reach our full potential.  But that, in turn, implied that there was a kind of ideal humanity that we should all strive to become – a sound mind in a sound body.

But human behavior itself is problematical.  We have a sense of what is right, but often we do what is wrong.  There are character traits that we admire and others that we detest.  But why?  Animals do not think that way.  Clearly we are not mere beasts and animals.  But how did we become so different?

The biblical answer is that we were created by God to be special, but then fell from our original state of innocence and became corrupt.  “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26,27; NKJV).

There are several significant things about this passage.  First of all the existence of man is the result of a prior conscious decision on God’s part.  God first conceived of the idea of “man” (‘adam) and then brought him into actual existence.  In other words, contrary to Existentialist thought, man’s “essence,” his defining characteristics, preceded his existence.  And this, in turn, means that man must conform to a divinely ordained purpose.

Secondly, what makes mankind so special is that we were created in the “image” and “likeness” of God.  There is some way in which we bear a resemblance to God himself.  Exactly what this is is not defined in the text, but the text does go on to say that man is to exercise control over the earthly creation (“let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,” etc.).  This suggests that man functions as God’s vice-regent here on earth.

This is both humbling and uplifting at the same time.  David could look at the starry heavens and exclaim “What is man that You are mindful of him, / And the son of man that You visit him?” (Ps. 8:3,4)  On the one hand man is just a mere speck in the vast expanse of the universe.  But then David goes on to reflect on the special position that man occupies in the creation: “For You have made him a little lower than the angels, / And You have crowned him with glory and honor” (v. 5 – the word translated “angels” could also be translated “God” – NASV or “heavenly beings” – ESV).  David then goes on to say “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; / You have put all things under his feet . . .” (v. 6) – the animals of land, sky and sea.   Certainly mankind occupies a special place in God’s creation!

But man sinned and fell – he rebelled against God and gave himself to all sorts of passions and vices.

“The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,

To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.

They have all turned aside,

They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,

No, not one.”

(Ps. 14:2,3)

What this means is that the human race, as it exists today, is a twisted perversion of what God originally created.  We fall far short of the ideal humanity.  What is involved in salvation, then, is the restoration of the original ideal – of God’s image in man.  “. . . since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him . . .” (Col. 3:9,10).

What all of this means in practical terms is that we have purpose and meaning in life – we were created for a specific purpose and were designed to fulfill a specific role.  And thus there is a specific goal and ambition that we should have in life: to become the kind of human beings that our Creator intended when He made us.

This explains the paradox of the human condition: we sense that we are more than just animals, but that we are not what we should be.  Our inward sense of things is correct, and is confirmed by the revelation that God has given us in His Word.

Man, then, owes his special dignity to the fact that he was created by God in His image.  But that means that we can find happiness and fulfillment in life only by submitting to His will, but becoming the human beings that He intended us to be.

THE FOLLY OF SECULARISM

 

4.2.7

Grant Wood, American Gothic

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The world has changed.  The world has changed dramatically, in fact, just during the course of my own lifetime.  The world in the 1950’s and 1960’s looked a lot different than it does today.

Back then most children grew up in stable, two-parent families, raised by their own biological parents.  They knew who their fathers were.  Dad was the breadwinner; mom stayed home and took care of the kids.  People had a sense of right and wrong.  They assumed the existence of a Supreme Being and believed that there were such things as moral absolutes.  People were expected to be polite and courteous, and to look presentable in public.  Profanity was confined to the barnyard.  And there were certain things that one simply did not do – such as cheat on one’s spouse, for example.  People would talk about such things as character, honor, integrity and duty.

Yet today we scarcely hear of such things.  It is assumed that self-interest is what drives human behavior.  Hardly anyone thinks any longer in terms of the common good.  People are out to “game the system,” and their concept of right and wrong is based on what they can get away with.  What happened to change things so dramatically?

In a word, the answer is secularism.  We have pushed God out of our lives, act as though He didn’t exist, and are suffering the consequences.  Young people today come from broken homes, are educated in a thoroughly secularized public school system, and are face with a business culture that is focused exclusively on the corporate bottom line.  Consumerism is the reigning mentality of the day.  But what is conspicuously absent today is religion.  Most churches today are made up primarily of senior citizens, and the majority of millennials are classified as “nones.”

Secularism amounts to practical atheism.  It is not that the existence of God is openly denied, but rather that He is simply ignored.  And the practical consequences of secularism are virtually the same as those of outright atheism.  It becomes virtually impossible to answer the great existential questions of life.  Why do we exist?  For particular reason or purpose.  What makes the difference between right and wrong?  It is all a matter of personal opinion.  What happens to us after we die?  Who knows?

There have been philosophers who have wrestled with the questions, but without coming up with any satisfactory answers.  (Just ask philosopher B what he thinks of philosopher A.)  But for the common, ordinary man who has never read Nietzsche or Sartre, life is a fruitless attempt to find meaning and fulfillment in the fleeting pleasures of life.  One can see the results in the expressions on their faces: the anger and hostility, the bitterness and despair.

What it all comes down to is man’s rebellion against God.  God is our Creator.  He has given us life and health, strength and vitality, and has placed us on a habitable earth.  And yet we have pushed Him out of our thoughts and lives.  But we can never find meaning and purpose in life, we can never find lasing happiness and fulfillment, until we return to our Creator and submit to His will.  We gain by giving; we win by surrendering.  We can reach our full potential only by being what God wants us to be.  “For thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart cannot be quieted till it may find repose in thee.”  (Augustine, “Confessions, I.i).

THE ALT RIGHT AND IDENTITY POLITICS

Adolf Hitler-Der Fuehrer-34

 

This past Saturday we witnessed the horrible spectacle of a riot in Charlottesville, VA between white nationalists and counter-protesters.  The riot was precipitated by a rally planned by a variety of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis to protest the pending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville.  Counter-protesters showed up and the ensuing confrontation turned violent.  At least one was killed when someone drove his car into a crowd of protesters.

Ironically on the very same day the Wall Street Journal published an article in its Saturday Review section entitled “The Liberal Crack-Up” by Mark Lilla, who considers himself to be a liberal.  In the article, which is adapted from his forthcoming book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, Mr. Lilla bemoans the fact that the liberal agenda of fifty years ago has been replaced by the identity politics of today.  Liberal used to think of justice for all, of advancing the common good.  Today the left is splintered into a variety of special interest groups, each trying to advance its own agenda, sometimes at the expense of the rest: African-Americans, Feminists, the LGBT community.  It is no longer about the common good; it is now identity politics.

This had the effect of alienating the Democratic Party from much of its traditional base – white, working class Americans who in the last election turned out to vote for Trump.  The elitism of the party leaders could be seen in Hillary Clinton’s infamous remark during the campaign that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.  The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.”  But many of these people traditionally voted Democratic in past elections.  Now they are considered “deplorables.”

It was only a matter of time before there would be a reaction on the right.  The right wing now has its own version of identity politics: white nationalism – the Alt Right, Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and hence the riot in Charlottesville.

The Alt Right would like to see itself as fighting to preserve the cultural heritage of Americans of European descent.  But is it really?  Western Civilization was built on a Judeo-Christian foundation.  American democracy in particular is based on the premise that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  But the Alt Right offers us a secularized version of American culture – one that is not based on a system of shared values and moral absolutes.  Instead it appeals to a sense of racial superiority.  It is no longer God, but “blood and earth.”  It is no longer justice for all, but us against them.

But each of us as human beings, left or right, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, must ask the same basic questions about ultimate reality: does God exits?  What is the meaning and purpose of life?  What makes the difference between right and wrong?

Long ago the apostle Paul challenged the philosophers of Athens with these very questions.  In his celebrated address on Mars’ Hill (Areopagus) recorded for us in Acts 17, Paul pointed out that God is the Creator and that “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth . . .” (v. 26: NKJV).  Here he points us to the essential unity of the human race – we all descended from a common pair of ancestors.  Evolutionists may question or deny this; but the fact remains that when you scratch beneath the surface we are all remarkably alike.  We laugh and cry.  We hope and fear.  We struggle to survive.  And we all share a common human nature that is prone to vice.  It all points to a common ancestry.

But why did God create us in the first place?  This points to the meaning and purpose of life.  According to Paul it was “that they should seek the Lord, in hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (v. 27).  We are here on this planet for a reason and purpose, that is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” in the famous words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Paul concluded his remarks on Mars’ Hill with a sober reminder that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness . . .” (vv. 30,31).  This points to the existence of a universal moral law.  The entire human race is ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, and His will and purposed are final.  As His creatures we are obligated to conform to His will.

As human beings we all feel a need for self-esteem, for a sense of meaning and purpose in life, for a sense of self-worth.  God intended us to find that in Him.  But in our Post-Modern, secularized society, when we have excluded God from our thinking, there is a psychological void that we will try to fill with something else.  That is what drives identity politics.  It provides us with a sense of belonging to some larger group or movement.  The Alt Right is a false conservatism.  It does not seek to return America to its Judeo-Christian roots.  Rather it lays the foundation for the arrival of a demagogue and dictator.  Will it be another Hitler?  Or the Antichrist himself?

WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD

 

 

 

 

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

One of the most tragic comments ever written about a group of people is found in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.  There, writing to a church made up largely of Gentile converts, Paul reminded them “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12; NKJV).  It is a vivid description of the world without Christ.

It must be remembered that before the coming of the gospel this was the condition in which most of the human race found itself.  God’s dealings with the human race were largely confined to one small group of people – the nation of Israel.  Thus Israel was uniquely in a position to know something about God and about His purposes in history.  He had made a promise to their ancestor Abraham, and that promise gave them hope – hope for a better tomorrow.

But where did that leave the rest of the human race?  They were “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  The “covenants of promise” refers to the various covenants that God had made to Abraham and his descendants the Israelites.  The covenants included promises from God, and the promises gave Israel hope – the confident expectation that God would make things better in the future.  But the Gentiles had none of this.  Theirs was a dark and unpromising world, filled with toil and hardship, strife and conflict, with no hope for a better future.  What you so was pretty much what you got.

Moreover, the Gentiles were “without God in the world.”  They worshipped gods, of course; they were polytheistic.  But their “gods” were very much like themselves – only they lived longer.  What the pagan Gentiles had no concept of was a single, all-powerful Supreme Being, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  And this affected them psychologically.  Without God it is nearly impossible to find meaning and purpose in life.  We simply exist as an accident of nature, left to struggle to survive on our own.  For a while we might convince ourselves that we are doing well – we have jobs and houses and cars and boats.  But does anyone else really care about us?  Does it really matter in the long run?  And what happens when things turn bad?  What do we have then?  We are left with nothing.

You can see it on people’s faces.  Some look sad and depressed; some look bitter and cynical; others are just plain angry.  Few smile and few look happy.  They have eaten the bitter herbs of life without God.

As human beings we can find meaning and purpose, happiness and fulfillment, only by returning to our Creator.  We were created by Him for His purposes, and life was meant to function a certain way – His way.

Our sins stand as a barrier between us and God, and we must find forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s atoning death on the cross.  We must go to God in repentance and faith, and then we can find a meaningful relationship with our Creator.  In his letter to the Ephesians could go on to refer to Isa. 57:19: “And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near”; and went on to say, “For through Him [i.e., Christ] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:17,18).

Does the Christian experience difficulties in life?  He most certainly does.  But he takes his burdens to God in prayer; he comes in complete submission to the Father’s will, and he trusts in God’s unfailing providence.  He finds fulfillment in life by serving God and helping others.  And in the end he dies in the hope of eternal life.  It is a hope worth living for.

A REVIVAL

 

 

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  Owasco Dutch Reformed Church

 

 

                           

Note: The Second Great Awakening was a powerful revival that swept across the country during the early Nineteenth Century. (The First Great Awakening took place during the 1740’s).  The Second Great Awakening began in the 1790’s and lasted until the 1830’s.  Much of it was centered in Northern, Central and Western New York State, an area that became known as “The Burned Over District.”  Here is an account of one small part of the Awakening, a revival that began at a Dutch Reformed church in Owasco, NY, in 1816.  Owasco is a small village located in Cayuga County about 7 miles southeast of Auburn.  This building was constructed in 1815, just before the revival described.  The account also mentions a sister congregation at Sand Beach, located just outside of Auburn.  The account is taken from Accounts of Religious Revivals by Joshua Bradley, originally published in 1819 and republished in 1980 by Richard Owen Roberts.

 

“A most wonderful work of grace commenced in this place in 1816.  Seventeen persons were added to the church in January.  The number was rather unexpected, and produced a more than ordinary excitement in old professors, who generally before this had lain in a state of spiritual torpor.  In February, Rev. Mr. Ten Eych pastor of the above church, visited and preached in that part of his congregation bordering on Skaneateles Lake.  Here the power of God came down, and about thirty mostly young persons were soon discovered to be under the most pungent conviction.  He appointed another meeting for the next week, and then found a very large assembly who in the time of worship appeared to be in tears.  After closing meeting, he conversed with many and found some, under the most awful apprehensions of their ruin and wretchedness, while others were rejoicing in the hope of the gospel.  This induced him to propose to his consistory, the appointment of a meeting for the examination of such as felt the freedom of offering themselves for church membership.  By this time the flame had extended to every part of the society, and almost every day new cases occurred: Conferences were unusually thronged; God’s children were awake to their best interest; additional places for meeting were appointed and generally crowded.  The consistory had two meetings for the examination of candidates, about the last of February and first of March.  Sixty seven came before their first meeting, and thirty four before their last meeting.  One hundred and one joined the church on the first Lord’s day in march and sat down at their Lord’s table to commemorate his death.

“As several young persons from Sandbeach congregation were present, when these candidates were examined, there returned home deeply impressed.  That society had remained in a state of spiritual stupor: but the news of the large accession to the church of Owasco, together with the impressions made on the minds of those before mentioned, operated like an electrical spark: the flame spread with a rapidity unequalled by anything ever before seen in that region.  In the course of a few days there was scarcely a family in the neighborhood, where there were not some, more or less, under serious impressions; and in some families, all who were not church members were anxiously inquiring what they should do to be saved.  Conference meetings were held on every evening in the week, except Saturday evening.

“The Rev. Ten Eych appointed one evening a week for religious conversation.  This he found peculiarly serviceable.  It had a happy tendency to give freedom to many, who were before backward to open the state of their minds: and many received encouragement in hearing the state of others.  In May seventy one were examined and admitted to the communion of Sandbeach church.  The work still progressed in Owasco, and every sermon seemed to have a tendency either of comforting or awakening some present.  In July one hundred and forty were examined and admitted to the communion.  In one year there were admitted into those two churches, three hundred and fifty one. . . .

“In this revival God’s Spirit has operated differently on the minds of sinners from anything seen in some other places.  In relation to three fourths of those, who have been the subjects of hopeful conversion; the time between their first alarm, and their being set free in the liberty of God’s children, has not exceeded two weeks; — and respecting some, not more than half that time.

“Two instances I may here mention worthy of notice; a man who had previously spoken disrespectfully of the work, was with difficulty persuaded by his wife to attend conference, that was held I his neighborhood.  During the singing of the last psalm, he was awakened to a sense of his deplorable condition.  This was on Thursday afternoon.  On Friday morning he was distressed beyond any language to describe.  On Saturday morning he appeared to be the most happy person, on this side the perfect mansions of endless glory.  He rejoiced in the government of God, and seemed fully to approve of God’s plan of saving sinners through the meritorious righteousness of Jesus Christ.

“Another man, of seventy years, whose days had been wholly occupied in accumulating wealth, was awakened to a sense of his danger by a sudden death in his family, and in the course of a few days, was made to rejoice in the glorious hope the gospel presents.

“The whole work has been free from noise confusion and enthusiasm; nay, while distress and anguish of heart were seen depicted in their countenances, they strove to keep the same concealed from others, until constrained to apply to some pious friends to pray for them, or give them some spiritual instruction.

“Three fourths, at least, of those who have joined the above churches, are between the age of nine, and twenty five years, and perhaps an equal number of both sexes.  These have been led to own their unworthiness, wretchedness and entire sinfulness in a state of nature: that salvation alone is by free, sovereign, rich grace abounding to sinners through the atonement.  In about two hundred families, which compose the Owasco congregation, one hundred and eighty have more or less praying persons; and there are several instances where every branch of the family give evident tokens of a change of heart.  Many of these young converts promise fair to be peculiarly useful to the church of Christ.  They manifest sincere repentance, humility, a confident reliance on the all sufficient merits of a risen Redeemer, and a heart glowing with the warmest affection to his cause and interest in the world.”

 

A word on the vocabulary:

A “professor” is someone who professes faith in Christ.  Older writers would sometimes use the word in a negative sense to refer to someone whose profession of faith was weak or insincere, i.e., a nominal Christian.

A “consistory,” in the Reformed tradition, is a group of elders who oversee a church.  It is the rough equivalent to a “session” in a Presbyterian church.

A “society” is a legal entity that would own a church building and pay the pastor.  It would often include a large number of people in a given community.  A “church” is a smaller group of people who profess faith in Christ, are admitted to communion, and are subject to church discipline.

A “conference” would be a gathering to discuss the practical implications of the morning sermon or some other religious topic.

THE REPUBLICANS’ HEALTH CARE DILEMMA

 

Official Portrait

Sen. Mitch McConnell

 

This week Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” as it is also known, collapsed as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to muster the votes necessary to pass the measure.  The problem is that his Republican colleagues are divided over how to replace Obamacare, with some thinking that the proposed measure went too far and others thinking that it did not go far enough.  While the Republican caucus is coming under a lot of criticism for failing to act, it is not all clear what they could have “replaced” Obamacare with.  If the aim is to take the government out of health care decisions, then the objective would simply be to repeal Obamacare and not replace it with anything.  If, on the other hand, the aim is to stabilize the insurance markets, then the objective would be to fix Obamacare, not “replace” it.  It was never clear what the Republicans would have put in its place.

A proposal advance by Sen. Ted Cruz during the debate highlighted the problem.  He suggested that insurers be allowed to market plans that do not meet current ACA standards as long as they were required also to offer plans that do.  But actuaries from two major health insurance associations pronounced the plan unworkable. The insurers’ objections go right to the heart of the health insurance dilemma facing the Republicans today.  If healthier people have the option of buying less expensive coverage, the insurance companies will have to charge older, sicker people more money to pay for their coverage.

In order to make health insurance affordable it is necessary to spread the risk over as wide a base as possible.  You need a large number of healthy people paying into the plan to cover the expenses of those who are sick.  Or to state the matter more crassly, the whole idea behind health insurance is to take money from someone who is healthy and use it to pay the hospital bill of someone who is sick.  If you make the system voluntary you run into a problem known in the health insurance industry as “adverse selection” – only sick people sign up and the insurance company has to charge them astronomical premiums to cover their expenses.  The patients, in effect, wind up paying their own medical bills, albeit through a third party payer.  It defeats the whole purpose of health insurance and makes the individual insurance market unworkable.

The main problem with Obamacare is that even with the individual mandate not enough younger, healthier people enrolled.  Insurers were forced to raise their rates, which caused even more enrollees to drop out.  Remove the individual mandate and the problem becomes even worse.

The main problem with the various Republican proposals is that they would leave a large number of people uninsured, and that in turn raises the question of what to do when the uninsured become sick or injured?  Who will bear the cost of their treatment?  In the past such persons would seek treatment in the emergency rooms of hospitals, and the hospitals then would engage in elaborate cost shifting, overcharging patients with insurance to cover the cost of those without. The U.S. as a whole spent more per capita on health care, but without better health results.  One can hardly imagine a less cost effective way to provide health care.  These are problems that plagued the American health care system for decades, and Obamacare was an attempt to correct.  The Congressional Budget Office has pointed out that the various Republicans proposals would simply take us back to where we were before, with potentially millions left uninsured.

The dilemma, then, for the Republicans, is this: if you make the system voluntary and peal back the Medicaid expansion, you leave large numbers of persons uninsured.  It is a classic case of where individual self-interest comes into conflict with the public good.  But the whole idea behind health insurance is to pool our financial resources to protect ourselves against risk.  And none of us want to wants to get seriously ill just so that we can claim that we got our money’s worth out of the insurance.  Health insurance is something that we pay for and hope that we never have to use.  It is enough just to know that it is there in case we need it.

The goal of any humane and socially responsible health care policy should be exactly what President Trump has stated – to make affordable health care available to all.  It remains to be seen what Congress will do next.  But if Obamacare cannot be fixed is it time to repeal and replace it – with a single payer national health insurance plan?

THE CHRISTIAN IN THE WORLD

 

4.2.7

Van Gogh: Man Reading the Bible

 

In our blog post of June 11 we saw that the Christian’s aim should not be the preservation of America’s civil religion.  But what should its aim be?  How is the Christian to relate to the surrounding world?

In Titus 2:11-14 the apostle Paul gives us a brief summary of what the Christian life is supposed to look like.  It is a different kind of life-style based on a distinctively Christian worldview.

It begins with a historical fact: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men . . .” (v. 11; NKJV).  Here Paul is undoubtedly referring back to the first advent of Christ and His death on the cross that opened up to all mankind the offer of salvation.  This was the great turning point in history.

But what effect does this have on us?  Paul goes on to say that salvation is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age . . .” (v. 12).  Here it will be seen that there is both a negative and a positive side to the Christian life.  On the negative side we are to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.”  The word “ungodliness” might better be translated “impiety” – it is the lack of devotion to or reverence for God.  A good modern term would be “secularism,” the absence of God in our thinking.  “Worldly lusts” are self-centered desires that drive most of human behavior – the lust for pleasure, wealth, fame or power.  We sometimes dress it up as “enlightened self-interest” or “the profit motive.”  These are the things which typically mark human behavior outside of Christ, and the Christian must turn his back on all of this, leaving it all behind.  He has been called to a higher life.

On the positive side we are to “live soberly, righteously, and godly.”  To live soberly means to exercise sound judgment in all of the decisions we make.  It means that we do not go through life pursuing pleasure with reckless abandon, but we carefully weigh the consequences of the actions we take.  We look to promote the glory of God and the well-being of our fellow man.

But we are also called to live “righteously,” which means to live in accordance with God’s law.  God is our Creator, our Lawgiver and Judge.  We can find happiness and fulfillment in life only when we live in accordance with His will and purposes.

And then we are to live “godly” or “piously,” as the word might be better translated.  We are to give God His proper place in our lives, to have a genuine and heartfelt devotion towards Him, and to acknowledge Him in all of our ways.

All of this we are to do “in the present age,” the time in which we are now living.  The Bible often contrasts “the present age” with “the age which is to come”: and the “the present age” is marked by sin and evil.  Nevertheless the Christian is expected to live a godly life now, in the present age.  This will inevitably mean a life of non-conformity to the world.

But why would we want to do this?  Why would we run the risk of social ostracism and financial failure by refusing to conform?  The answer is because we are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 13).  The Christian looks forward to the future, and what he sees is “the glorious appearing” of Christ, His visible return at the end of the age when He comes to establish a new order of things here on earth.  The Christian is conscious that what we experience now will not last forever.  Christ will return and things will be entirely different.  The Christian lives for tomorrow and not for today.

It should be kept in mind that God’s whole purpose in our salvation is to free us, not just from the guilt of sin, but also from its power.  Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (v. 14).  The word “redeem” means to pay a ransom and thereby secure the release of a slave or prisoner.  We were once under the power and guilt of sin.  Christ paid the penalty for that sin by dying on the cross and thereby secured our salvation.  And He did this at enormous cost to Himself: He “gave Himself for us.”

But why did He do this?  What was His aim and objective?  It was not just to forgive us but also to sanctify us: “ . . .that He might redeem from every lawless deed and purify for Himself his own special people, zealous for good works.”  It was sin that got us into trouble; Christ freed us from that condition.  Now we are “His own special people, a people of His own possession; we now belong to Him.  And we are to be “zealous for good works” – we are not to conform half-heartedly to an external set of rules; we are to desire sincerely to do good to others.

The Christian, then, is called to a life of non-conformity to the surrounding world.  He does not have the luxury of living the life of a nice, comfortable, middle-class existence.  He is conscious of answering to a Higher Authority; and that will eventually bring him into conflict with the values of the surrounding world.  This will require personal sacrifice on his part – the possible loss of job, family reputation.  It may even invite on occasion legal prosecution.  But faithful to God he must remain.  The sacrifice is temporary; the gain is eternal.   May God grant us all the grace to live for Him!