Friday, September 25, 2009

Charles Colson's The Faith: God Is

“I was seeing God’s magnificent creation as if it were newborn. There was no explanation for what I was seeing—the intricate details of nature, genuine beauty—apart from a creator God. This could not be an illusion, an accident, or the result of some random process.” So says Chuck Colson in Chapter two of his book, “The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters.”

Titled simply, “God Is,” this chapter looks at three options of what to believe when it comes to the origin of the universe: A Godless material universe; a God-is-present-in-all-things Universal Mind theory; and a personal God.

In the first theory, Colson writes that one must accept the premise that “life must be considered simply the product of blind, unintelligible chance, when a single cell popped into existence in the primordial sea. The material theory leaps from nonexistence to intelligible existence to information-based life on the basis—literally—of nothing.”

The second theory’s contention is that “life’s origin is based in reason or a Universal Mind.” Colson writes, “This is one of today’s prominent ideas, not only among scientists but among those interested in Eastern religions…Believers in the Universal Mind usually see their god and the universe as synonymous and assume an attitude of reverence toward creation; they join environmental groups and even flock to mountain tops to experience the “harmonic convergence” of natural forces…Often they see the world’s evolution as the way in which this universal intelligence comes to consciousness. This view leaves the human mind without any real purpose. Scientists who believe in a Universal Mind, as Einstein did, are strict determinists—they don’t believe people make their own decisions…(Einstein) thought human beings were no more responsible for their own actions than a chicken laying an egg.”

The third theory, that of a personal God, is explained by Colson this way: “Christians believe that the most likely explanation for a reasonable universe and one in which we experience ourselves as free can be found in a reasonable, personal God. Christians see the creation as an indicator of God’s character.”

I would like to stop here and interject that this view is not to be limited to creation in a let’s-go-hiking-in-the-woods only sense. I like to expand this to an entire Christian worldview that sees everything as created by God, not just the majestic sunsets and pretty flowers that God’s creation abilities are so often limited to. I see God’s creation in the ability of a brain surgeon to operate on a human being, or an engineer’s knowledge to build complicated and intricate highway structures, or a chemist’s insight into molecules. Think about peoples’ apparent “knack” for whatever it is they excel at. People ask me why my son plays bagpipe so well and how was he able to learn it seemingly without effort in just one year. I always respond: “God.” That’s the only way to explain why he plays bagpipe so well or why another person can ride a snowboard down a mountain at 50 miles per hour and do tricks as he goes. God is behind all of it: it is His sovereign design.

Ultimately, Colson says, “The choice we make among these three options as to the universe’s origin is the most important choice in life. Everything else follows from it. It’s the place where the search for the truth begins.”

So what are the roadblocks to seeing God as the one through whom all things came to be? Colson says, “Few people actually think through these choices; rather, most are influenced by cultural prejudice.”

He shares an experience he had when, at a prayer breakfast, he was seated at a table next to a man who was an atheist. Colson asked this man, “An atheist believes the existence of God can be disproved. So please, tell me how you’ve done that.”

The man, after an awkward silence, said, “Well, perhaps I should say I’m an agnostic.”

Colson then asked the man, “When did you give up studying about God?”

The atheist/agnostic admitted he’d never really tried to study about God. Colson said, “But an agnostic is one who says he doesn’t think God can be known, and you can only be an agnostic if you’ve tried to know Him and exhausted the search.” Colson finished with, “So I would say that while you appear to be a very well-educated person, you’ve made an unsupportable statement.”

I, too, was, at one time, a non-believing believer in a vague god. That required a blind, human-based, conjured-up-by-pure-imagination faith that was completely exhausting and self-defeating because I could never trust it. How could I trust a faith I came up with myself when I didn’t even trust myself?

The chapter goes on to look at the evidence of intelligent design (much thanks to God-created DNA and the scientists gifted by God to reveal it), the transformed lives of people who found faith in God through Jesus Christ, and a fair and well-reasoned puncturing of Richard Dawkins’ (author of "The God Delusion") claims.

Colson re-emphasizes at the close of the chapter that what we believe about how the universe and everything in it was and is created “determines the kind of life we make.”

I would expand that to say it determines whether or not we have hope, joy, and confidence, and the attitude we carry regarding death. One of the many God-given reasons I have hope is that I no longer fear death for me or anyone else who has put their faith in God through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. That frees me up to live fully here on earth, to serve motivated by God—not pride, and to remember joy even in pain. I know that God is the Intelligent Creator who is always in control. And that has made all the difference.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Speaking the Truth in Love, sort of...

It’s never an easy thing to go into that dark night of speaking one’s mind. But when push comes to shove, go we must. I, the proverbial introvert, would rather not sit in a room, say, with public school administrators, a teacher, a friend, or even a pastor, and air a grievance. But the sooner we understand that disagreements with others are not a matter of if, but when, the better. As certainly as the sun shines, they will arrive, and arrive with all their attendant emotion and conviction. And as uncomfortable as it is to wear one’s true thoughts on one’s sleeve and get what’s bothering us out into the open, it sure beats trying to ignore the problem, which only breeds resentment.

Because I tend to be an “amiable” in temperament: the kind of person where everything’s okay until it’s not, I’m learning—slowly--the Biblical precept to speak the truth in love. And it’s tough going, the “in love” part! When you go from simply agreeing with people all your life because you never want to disappoint them or are afraid of being judged, to suddenly speaking an opposing viewpoint, it can go poorly at first! I tend to blurt things out or steamroll right over diplomacy, leaving the people who were used to my undying compliance confused at this sudden turn of events!

For me, it’s been an arduous process of finding that exceedingly delicate balance between sticking to my convictions and remaining gracious. But as sloppy as speaking up can be (and learning what battles are worth picking and when is a huge part of it) it gets us where we need to be: out in the open with our comments, constructive criticisms and opinions so that we are no longer giving people the wrong impression and misleading them as to what we think. The more consistent we are in this, the less and less we’ll blurt and steamroll, because we’ve been honest all along. I also don’t have to kick myself later because my false amiableness allowed people to walk all over me in their beliefs and opinions. This nips resentment against others, and me, in the bud.

When we speak truthfully, and the powers-that-be don’t see it our way, or a relative, co-worker or friend is offended at our honesty, at least we’ve gotten it off our chest in the interest of speaking the truth in the best love we know how to muster at the time. Though our voices and hands shake, we are beginning to set the boundary of honesty. We are beginning to grow up.

Do I wish I could stand firm in my Christian convictions every step of the way and calmly, graciously, gently and kindly share a concern or confront a problem? Absolutely. I fail at this miserably. But to expect to do it perfectly with little or no practice means to continue to be compliant and say nothing at all. I’m a firm believer that we have to start somewhere (the beginning is a good place) and, with practice, we will get better. The Holy Spirit will let us know where we held God’s grace and where we dropped it in our frank discussions with another person. That’s been true for me every time. It’s very clear in my post-game review of conversations where I could have spoken less and listened more, and spoken more kindly when I did speak. It’s good to review when the Holy Spirit is our coach.

My advice to myself when I’ve had a run-in or tough confrontation is to learn from it, repent of where I went wrong, forgive others where they went wrong and move on. Stewing over past conflicts only makes them grow more dramatic in retrospect. When I next see the person, I hold my head high (while inwardly trembling), and attempt to show the graciousness of God that may have been lacking in my last meeting with that person. If they aren’t interested in smiling back, then forgiveness and holding a grudge becomes their issue. And I can, in compassion, understand them, because I myself have been unforgiving and grudge-holding. But as a born-again Christian, I am not my own: I was bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). I must forgive as Jesus forgives me.

It is my prayer that one day I will look back on some of the bumpier discussions I’ve had and appreciate how far I’ve come, just like I’ve been able to do in other areas of my life since becoming a Christian. I can go forward in the confidence that "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” But “When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4