Tug of War Titan

Let us imagine that I was to join a “Tug of War” league where an enormously sophisticated artificial intelligence divided people of all ages into equal “teams” based on their potential pulling power.  After being evaluated, the AI assigns me to 1 of 20 teams and we compete for a full season.  Having lost all of our matches, I go to the AI to tell it just what I think of it and the following conversation ensues.

So Hal, I thought you were supposed to be this very sophisticated AI and that you were supposed to divide our teams equally in terms of their potential.  My whole team worked their hearts out and yet we lost every match.  Are you sure your systems are running correctly?

I don’t like being called Hal, Rob, and my systems are running fine.  You are correct that all of your teammates worked enormously hard.  I calculate that they collectively realized approximately 95% of their potential.  According to my calculations, you were the reason that your team lost every match.

That is not possible Hal.  I pulled harder than anyone else on my team, so how could it possibly be my fault that we lost every match?

Rob, you weigh 350 pounds and leaning back on the rope you would pull more than any other member of your team.  This level of effort, however, represents a tiny fraction of your potential.  Had you taken the time to do some training and laid off the donuts, you could have pulled up to 4 times as much and had you met even 50% of your potential, your team would have won every match.

Ouch!  Would I want to go to my teammates with that assessment?  Would I be proud of the fact that I had pulled more than any of the eight year old girls on my team or ashamed that I had let everyone else down?

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.  (Luke 12:48)

This is one of the most terrifying passages of the Bible because it tells us that we will not be judged according to what we did, we will be judged according to our potential.  Do you think you are doing fine as compared to other people?  That is not the measure by which you will be judged.  You will be judged according to what you could have done had you been doing all that you could.  This is a terrifying thought for those of us who have been “given much”.

These thoughts came to me after I watched a video by a “theistic agnostic” who calls himself “Black Pigeon Speaks” (BPS).  During the video, BPS made a claim that will be familiar to anyone who follows internet atheists.  “Now I know that there are many of us who don’t need God to be good, but 86% of the people out there do.”  As I already demonstrated in my post, “Answering the Christopher Hitchens Challenge“, I think the standard that atheists are using for “living a good life” is far too low.  As a person who has wrestled with things from their perspective, however, I know how it is possible to think you are doing okay.  It is the same error that I was making in the fictional account of the “tug of war” team above.  Atheists think that they are doing great because as gifted members of affluent societies they are doing better than most of the people in the world.

The truth is, however, that our global society is on the road to ruin and failing badly.  If our society is to be healthy, it needs gifted and intelligent atheists to do more than pay their taxes and take their neighbor’s garbage out every once in a while.  Instead of destroying the only basis of hope that human beings have by attacking faith in Jesus Christ, gifted atheists need to be pillars of their community helping others to bear their burdens and make the world a better place by their example.  Imagine their surprise when they find out that far from being one of the reasons why our societies had any success, their failure to live up to their potential was the reason for our demise.

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The Evil and Anti-Science Teaching of Sam Harris

So the other day, I watched a video where Sam Harris talks with Joe Rogan about free will.  As I watched the video, I became infuriated.  In teaching what he does about free will, Sam Harris is spreading a teaching far more evil and anti-science than anything that he has ever criticized.  Evil in its potential to cause horrific damage to numerous human beings and society itself.  Anti-science in that he straight up ignores findings of science that he is aware of as a neuroscientist.  How he can say what he says and still be able to sleep at night is a profound mystery to me.

To see why I get so angry at Sam Harris, let us imagine a fitness instructor who was tremendously famous as a professional athlete and went around the country “educating” teenagers that physical exercise was totally worthless in terms of changing your body.  “Don’t worry about exercise guys.  I am a professional athlete and let me assure you that exercise and healthy eating are totally overrated.  The only thing that matters in terms of how healthy you are is your genetics and your environment.”   If this person was taken as seriously as his fame would warrant, he would ruin countless lives and do permanent damage to an enormous number of people.  His teaching would be evil in terms of damaging large numbers of gullible young people and anti-science in that it contradicted mountains of evidence that exercise and diet are vital to health.

When Sam Harris argues about free will, he makes arguments that are very similar to the professional athlete in the above thought experiment.  He argues as though the brain was an inert lump that cannot be changed by human effort.  He argues as if the brain of a violent criminal offender is formed by “experience” and “genetics” but cannot be changed by the efforts of the criminal.   Making these arguments is evil in that it discourages people from attempting to improve themselves and anti-science in that it contradicts mountains of evidence for neural plasticity.

Part of this evidence for the ability of people to improve themselves is our own personal experience.  For myself, I know that I have prayed to be more forgiving while asking God to have mercy on others and that God has answered that prayer and I have become a lot less angry.  I know that I have prayed that I could love women more so that I would not be comfortable seeing them as sex objects, and that God has answered that prayer allowing me to overcome pornography and lust.  I know that I have asked God to help me to have more gratitude and that God has answered that prayer making me far more appreciative of life’s daily blessings.  Sam Harris may believe that changing our attitudes and actions through human effort is impossible, but many scientific studies and our own experience contradict him at every turn.

This issue is critically important to human beings.  Why?  Because every human being wants to live a joyful and fulfilled life.  How can one do this?  Logically, there are two possibilities.  One is that I can die to myself through daily taking up of my cross and learn to love others and be grateful no matter what my circumstances are.  This is learning to be joyful and fulfilled through internal change.  The other alternative is that I can be politically active and seek to change the system so that I will never encounter anything that I don’t like.  If I am a Muslim, I can attempt to enforce Sharia on other people.  If I am a social justice warrior, I can enforce politically correct attitudes on other people.  If I am a socialist, I can change the government and pursue a man made Utopia.  This is seeking to be joyful and fulfilled through external change.  One of these paths leads to the joy and freedom of eternal paradise while the other leads to totalitarianism, evil, misery and eternal suffering.

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Faith in the Triumph of Hope and Love

So for the last 3 and a half hours I have been listening to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens talk about religion.  It is an interesting exercise for a Christian believer, but hardly one I would recommend to those who do not know why they believe what they believe.  Just the certainty with which these men dismiss the possibility of God had me going back and reading some of my refutations of what they were saying.  Fortunately for me, I found myself very persuasive.

One of the things that came up over and over again was the dismissal of the importance of faith, the utility of faith and the benefits of faith.  According to what these men were saying, Christian faith has absolutely no benefits, no utility and no importance full stop.  While I agree with these men that benefits, utility and importance would not demonstrate truth, I very strongly disagree with them that Christian faith has had no benefits, utility or importance in our history.  Ironically, the last statement that Christopher Hitchens made demonstrated why this is.  He said that he believed that their efforts would fail and that the end result of history would be an Islamic theocracy.

The fundamental problem that faith addresses is the defeatism of futility.  If we are going to be honest, then let us admit that evil is very much more powerful than good in our world.  Imagine taking a young man and raising him to love and forgive others, teaching him to read, to write and to become a scientist.  After twenty years he has become an amazing young man with all kinds of potential because numerous people have poured their time and energy into his life.  Now imagine that this young man is killed by a suicide bomber in an amount of time shorter than it takes you to read this sentence.  What was the point of all the love and sacrifice?  Is everything that we do as human beings in vain?  Why bother to try and better our world?  Why not just get drunk or watch some porn?

The reason that Christians cling tenaciously to faith despite any and all intellectual obstacles is that we need to believe that the difficult virtues of love, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, forgiveness and patience are worth it and not merely a waste of time.  It is not merely enough to know that chastity, sobriety, honesty and hard work are the right things to do, we need to know that when all is said and done they were worth the sacrifice.  The dry pride of patting ourselves on the back and saying, “I would, of course, always do the right thing because I am so wonderful” does not appeal to us.   We want to know that goodness works in a real and practical way and that love will triumph in the end.

In a world like this, living a life of hope takes a lot of faith.  Without that faith, societies stop rearing children and turn to materialistic pleasures.  Without that faith, societies stop caring about moral instruction and come to believe in the morass of moral relativism where all paths are equally acceptable.  Without the faith that love will eventually triumph, nothing of lasting value can be accomplished in this world.

For more on the importance of faith, see my post on the “Importance of Faith“.

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Look Up

I am writing this post to confess a sin in the hope that I might help some of my brothers and sisters who are struggling with the same issue.  The sin is the sin of allowing a hopeless attitude to permeate my life, choke my joy and stifle my thanksgiving.  The challenging circumstances that form the context and backdrop of this sin are, of course, common knowledge to all.  Whenever I look at social media or read news coverage of any kind, I am struck by the level of hatred and division in the United States and it seems like this can only end in social collapse, economic collapse, persecution of the church and war.

At this point, the most likely sequence of events seems to start with the Electoral College refusing to endorse the election of Donald Trump.  Shock and anger at the prospect of having someone as corrupt as Hillary Clinton claim the office of President of the United States despite an electoral defeat will lead to widespread civil unrest.  After some trigger event, the government might then “roll out the tanks” and proclaim martial law in various areas.  In the midst of such turmoil, the financial markets will collapse and this will result in an intensification of hostilities.  However it starts and whatever the exact sequence of events, it doesn’t really make any difference.  The anger and hatred in the country right now is a live hand grenade and it is going to go off in one way or another.

At this point, it seems imperative to emphasize the correct Biblical response to a tyrannical government.

For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.  (Romans 8:36)

You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.  (James 5:6)

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  (Romans 13:2)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.  (1 Peter 2:17)

As these verses make clear, the church is not to resist the government through armed insurrection.  Some people might argue that God is commanding us to be obedient to a lawful authority and that resistance to the U.S. government would be legitimate if Hillary Clinton was named the next president.  This is hair-splitting legalism of the worst kind.  The most common cause for a transition of authority in the Roman world was  the assassination of the previous emperor.  If such a context provided a legitimate basis for resisting government authority surely Paul should have mentioned it?  Resistance to a tyrannical government must be non-violent.

Let us be clear that obedience will not be cost free.  The Bible tells us that there will come a time when we are hated by all men for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ (Mark 13:13).  If that time is as near as it seems, then we must all be prepared for the best case scenario.   How do we obey the Word of God and “rejoice in the Lord always and again I will say rejoice”?  (Philippians 4:4)  As I mentioned above, my failure to live a life of rejoicing is the sin that I am writing this post to address.

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:41)

First, foremost and most importantly, we have to recognize that it is a privilege to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ.  It may not seem like a great deal of fun in prospect, but if we remember all that He has done for us in the past and remember all that He is going to do for us in the future, then it is possible to maintain a joyful attitude in the most difficult circumstances and we have numerous historical examples of this kind of faith.

Remembering what God has done in the past would seem like the easier of the two, but we can sin in forgetting the things that God has done.  Just a few days ago, in fact, I was thinking about these things and I thought (shamefully) “But Lord, it would be so much easier to have faith like David if you had delivered me from the lion or the bear like you delivered David.”  Later on, I remembered a number of occasions when God miraculously delivered me from peril of various kinds and I was ashamed.  The first key to maintaining a joyful attitude no matter what happens politically is to remember all the times when God has answered your prayers or protected you from harm.

When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.  (Luke: 21:28)

The second thing we have to do in order to have joy as we see the wind and the waves rising is to look up at Jesus.  Remember who He is and what He has done and the glory of the promises that we have in Him.  This may sound easy, but it can be very difficult as Peter found when he attempted to walk on the water.

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  (Matthew 14:29-31)

The Word of God never tells us why Peter doubted, only that his doubt started when he looked at the wind and the waves.  My guess is that Peter was thinking of all the sins that he had committed against God and doubted because it seemed impossible that God could love him faithfully despite his many failures.  The truth is that if we focus on who we are and what we deserve, we are in a hopeless state.  If God’s blessing depends on me being worthy of his protection, then I have every reason to fear the waves that surround me.  If it seems to you like false humility to believe that we are not worthy of God’s protection, then you should really consider what the Bible has to say.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'(Matthew 22:37)

How can we be good before God when that requires perfect love of God and neighbor?   If we know God and we are honest, then when we examine ourselves we can always find reasons that God should leave us to our fate.  That is why it is so important to focus on who He is and what He has done and His great faithfulness.  These are the only sound foundation for peace and joy.

Of course, we must also ask forgiveness for what we have done and this means that our self-examination needs to be thorough.  I think many Christians are going to be surprised at the course of events over the next few months because they have not been honest with themselves about their failures and their joy and peace is founded on a false confidence.  Instead of relying on God and placing their faith and hope in Him, they have placed their faith in politicians and this can only lead to disaster and disappointment.

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  (1 Samuel 12:23)

As I have wrestled with fear and doubt over the last few months, many of my own failures have become plain to me.  Did I sin against God and fail to pray for my brothers and sisters?  For my coworkers?  For my friends and family?  For the missionaries serving Christ in far off places?  For the church persecuted in North Korea, Iran, Syria, Somalia and other places?  Was I grateful enough for the privilege of being a member of God’s family?  For the provision that God has graciously and faithfully given me for all these years?

At the root of the fear and doubt with which I have wrestled over the last few months, there turns out to be a great deal of sinful complacency.  As I have corrected these attitudes through prayer, repentance, thanksgiving and worship, my peace has returned and I have been able to focus on the goodness and glory of our Lord.


As the purpose of this post is to share how I have been dealing with a despair born of fear and uncertainty, I thought I would mention one other thing that has really helped.  A few days ago, I wrote down a list of all my concerns.  In prayer before God, I gave them to him and I said “I believe these are yours?  They are too big for me.”  The Bible tells us “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7) and I have been casting my cares upon the Lord in daily prayer and this has been an enormous blessing.

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Thoughts on Baking a Cake

Amendment: December 5, 2015

This is an extremely difficult issue and I have modified this post a number of times.  I want to make it clear that I admire a Christian who is willing to stand for the truth of the Bible in the public square.  Standing for the truth of God’s word in love is one of the most difficult things for a Christian to do and it is worthy of the highest respect, encouragement and support.

On the other hand, I wanted to note that it is possible to “stand for the truth of God’s word” with a judgmental attitude that would harm the gospel.  While it is certainly possible that the most loving thing that a Christian could do for a gay couple seeking to get married would be to refuse to serve them, the motivation for this refusal would have to be love for God, love for God’s word and a sincere love for the couple. Any kind of a self-righteous or legalistic attitude would have to be repudiated and rejected completely.  In my own case, my bias would make the love required to refuse service extremely difficult and I would have to pray for the strength of showing them simple kindness and acceptance.


So this afternoon on FaceBook, I expressed the longheld belief that a Christian asked to bake a cake for a gay wedding should bake the best cake that they are capable of and do everything they can to love those people.  As I did so, I thought of some of my conservative Christian friends who might be a bit surprised at this stance.  Homosexuality is clearly prohibited in the Bible and homosexual marriage is clearly not God’s plan for mankind.  How could it be permissible for a Christian baker to bake a cake for a gay couple?

This is a very tough question and we must resist the impulse to oversimplify the issue.  If a drug addict were to come to me and ask me to help inject him with drugs, I would refuse on the grounds that I could not be a part of a behaviour that would hurt him.  How could I come to a different conclusion if I believe that homosexual marriage is not God’s will?

To see why I conclude that a Christian baker could bake a cake for a gay couple, let us consider a Christian landlord.  Should this landlord rent a home to a Muslim couple?  They are, after all, going to use the property to teach their children Islam and most Christians would agree that this is not God’s plan.  Should I, as a Bible believing Christian, facilitate this behaviour by renting them my property?   Where does your obligation to not facilitate sin end?  If the potential tenant is a single man are you obligated to find out if he watches pornography?

If we hold ourselves to a high standard of purity in terms of what other people do with the commercial services we provide, then Christians are really accepting the role of morality police in society.  This is extremely dangerous and contrary to the example of Christ we find in the New Testament.  Nowhere in the New Testament do we find Jesus knocking on the door of a house containing a fornicating couple and saying, “Hey!  Knock it off in there!”  Jesus does not refuse to heal those who obtained diseases while committing sins.  Neither does he refuse to heal those who will commit sins later in their life.  The Bible merely records that Jesus healed all their diseases.

This is an extremely important point that requires emphasis.  The natural tendency for a human being who becomes aware of our failures as human beings and how odious they are to God is to desire to fight sin with everything we are.  How are we to do this?  Jesus Christ only used force against self-righteous and religious people who taught in the Father’s house.  Apart from that, he was a light who displayed gentleness and kindness to everyone he met.  Jesus fought sin more effectively than anyone in history and he did it by being a light, teaching the truth and showing other people how to live with love for everyone.

The simple fact is that sin cannot be fought with anything but love.  The primary commandment is to “Love God with all your heart soul and mind” and obedience to the other commandments is only possible if a deep love for the father is your motivation.  If obedience to lesser commandments is accomplished by force, what good has been accomplished?  The primary commandment has been violated while one much less important is adhered to because of some external condition.  In fact, if a heart has been hardened against the truth of the gospel because of the lack of concern and empathy displayed by an immature Christian, then the net effect is evil.

Now I can easily understand being a little uncomfortable participating in a marriage ceremony that violates the clear command of God.  I well recall how antsy I felt at a Catholic wedding when my friend bowed down before a statue of the Virgin Mary and prayed to her for blessing.  While he was praying to the statue, I was asking God to forgive him.  The only thing one can really do in that situation is ask God to have mercy on those who do not know Him and do not know what they are doing by emulating Jesus.  “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

Now this position would seem to many Christians to be a compromise of our beliefs.  To combat this idea, probably the most effective way is to outline how I think a Christian baker should approach this issue.

In a baker shop there hangs a sign that says, “male and female created He them” (Genesis 5:2).  A same sex couple walks into the shop and is greeted by the Christian proprietor.

Christian Baker:  How are you doing folks, what can I do for you?

Sally:  We are interested in getting a cake for our wedding.

Christian Baker:  Are you sure you are completely comfortable with that?  I am a born again believer in Jesus Christ and  the Bible.  There is a baker down the street who specializes in these ceremonies and he does great work.

Sally:  Yes we are comfortable.  I saw your work at the wedding of a friend of mine and I would like you to do it for us.  Do you have a problem with that?

Christian Baker:  Not at all.  Jesus loves everyone and I do my best to follow his example.

The process of specifying the cake goes on as normal.

Now if the baker prays for this couple and is as kind as he knows how to be, I have no idea on what basis any Christian could say that he has compromised his values.  He has shared his faith and his beliefs and he has loved his neighbor.

It should be noted that Christian pastors are in somewhat of a different position.  A Christian pastor is given authority by God to bless a married couple in His name.  Administering such a blessing on a homosexual couple would seem to me to be a clear violation of their duties as ministers of the Word of God.

Finally, I should make it clear that I believe in free speech, freedom of religion and the marketplace of ideas.  Free speech does not mean freedom to say things in your bedroom and freedom of religion does not mean freedom to pray to God in your bedroom.   Christians do not need a privileged position in the marketplace of ideas to triumph, but the freedom to speak out the truth makes things easier.  The bottom line is that while I believe that Christians should have the right to refuse service to a gay couple, doing so requires a humility and love which is beyond all but the most mature of Christians.


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The Golden Rule is Not Enough

So I have decided to post some of my old YouTube videos.  I won’t be reposting all of them because some of them have terrible audio.  In “The Golden Rule is not enough”, I make very similar arguments to the post “Examining God’s Provision“.

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Abolish vs Fulfill

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  (Matthew 5:17-18)

So the other day I was browsing through some YouTube comments when I came across an atheist using this verse to browbeat some Christian believers.  The Christians were arguing that as believers in Jesus Christ they were not responsible for following the Old Testament law, but this atheist was arguing that Jesus said they were responsible for every jot and tittle.  Who was correct?

In order to interpret the Bible correctly, one must understand the context in which a speaker is speaking.  In this passage, Jesus is speaking to a crowd while sitting on the mountainside.  The crowd has seen many signs and now they seek to understand what Jesus is teaching.  How are we supposed to behave?  How do we please God?  How do we get to heaven?  So in this passage Jesus is making a very careful distinction.  He is telling them that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it?  What is the difference?

If Jesus had abolished the law, that would have meant that everyone was freed from the requirements of the law from that time forward.  You don’t have to believe in Jesus, you don’t have to do anything.  The law is abolished and no longer in force.  But Jesus did not come to abolish the law, he came to fulfill the law on our behalf.  Everyone who believes in him is given the white robes of righteousness denoting perfect obedience to the law as a free gift.

What Jesus is telling this crowd, therefore, is that they have a choice.  They can reject him and fulfill the law on their own in which case they need to be more righteous than the Pharisees or they can believe in him and he will fulfill the law on their behalf.  Now, of course, Christian believers are not to “continue in sin that grace might increase” (Romans 6:1 ) but we are to behave as those who are grateful for God’s gift.  We are not responsible for every jot and tittle of the law, but we should love God enough to seek to behave in a way that is in accordance with his character.

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