The Importance of Understanding

Back when I was writing my unread (and for good reason) blog “The Bitter Christian”, I used to wonder if my efforts to understand and explain Christianity were a waste of time.  I finally concluded that having a solid understanding of what we believe is a part of the Great Commission of the church.  If we do not understand the Bible, then how can we explain it?  If we find our own explanation unsatisfactory, how can we be confident or enthusiastic when it comes time to share with others?  Attempting to understand and explain Christianity, therefore, was an act of service even when it didn’t seem like it was doing any good.

The advantage that I have when it comes to explaining things to others is that I am a very simple guy.  If I come across an explanation that is simple enough for me to understand, chances are that other people will find it helpful as well.  This coupled with the fact that I won’t claim to understand issues if I don’t understand them means that I have accumulated easy to understand explanations on a variety of topics.   Just for fun, I thought I would share a couple of simple examples that have nothing to do with Christianity.

Understanding the Two Coin Paradox

So imagine you have two coins as pictured below and you want to roll the red coin around the black coin such that it is always touching the black coin.  How many times does the red coin rotate to get back to its starting position?


When I first saw this problem, I thought, “That is easy.   The two coins have the same circumference, therefore one rotation of the red coin should take it completely around the black coin.”  This turns out to be incorrect.  The correct answer is that it takes 2 rotations for the red coin to make a complete circuit around the black coin.  Try it for yourself.

Now this really threw me for a loop and I didn’t understand it at all.  As I read other people’s explanations, I became more and more confused.  I kept thinking and thinking and nothing made any sense.  I finally understood it when I asked a simple question.  What happens if you move the red coin along the perimeter of the black coin without rolling it?


Moving the blue dot along the black coin without changing the orientation of the red coin results in the blue dot moving only the circumference of the black coin.   It is not, however, at all the same as the case of rolling the coin.  If you compare the diagram below with the one above, it is clear that the blue dot has travelled further for the rolling case then for the case where the coin does not change orientation because it ends up further away.


Understanding Countable Infinity

The concept of infinity is very difficult to grasp.  This can be illustrated by a simple example.  For infinite sets, the number of integers has the same number of elements as the number of integers divisible by 5.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . .

5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 . . .

This didn’t make any sense to me until I was looking at multiplication of infinite sets.  Imagine multiplying every number in the first set by a factor of 5.

1*5, 2*5, 3*5, 4*5, 5*5, 6*5, 7*5, 8*5  . . .

What is the result?

5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 . . .

Writing it that way, it is obvious that every element in the first set corresponds to exactly one element in the second set and therefore that the sets have the same number of elements.

Understanding Buoyancy

So a while back a friend with a daughter came to me and said he did not know how to explain how buoyancy works to his daughter who was covering the topic in school.  At first, my reaction was, “Buoyancy?  That is easy.  It is just the force that result from the displacement of water.   What is the big deal?”  His answer ways, “Everybody knows that but how does it work?”  As I went over how you could explain how buoyancy works, however, I realized it was not so easy.  After thinking about it for a while, I came up with an explanation that I hoped would be helpful.


The key to understanding buoyancy is to understand that pressure comes from the weight of all the stuff above you.  For the air, this means that there are 14.7 pounds worth of air above a given square inch of surface at sea level.

PAir = Weight of Air / Surface Area = 14.7 pounds per square inch

Again, the pressure of the water is just the weight of the water divided by the surface area. Using standard relationships between volume, area and density we can show the following:

PWater-ocean = PAir + Weight of Water / Surface Area Water

PWater-ocean = PAir + Volume * Density of Water/ Surface Area Water

Volume = Depth * Surface Area Water

PWater-ocean  = PAir + Depth * Density of Water

Now it is a fundamental characteristic of fluids (liquids and gases) that they tend to translate force applied in one direction into all different directions.  This has the consequence that the pressure of the water under the boat is the same as the pressure of the water at the same depth in the ocean.

PWater-ocean = PWater-boat

The same is not true of solids.  If the ocean was made of concrete, for example, the pressure under the boat would not be the same  as the pressure further away.  You can see how fluids transmit force by filling up your cheeks with air and popping them with your hands.  As you apply pressure to the air in 1 direction, the air applies force in another direction.  This is the principle by which hydraulics work.

So the pressure pushing up on the bottom side of the boat is the pressure of the air combined with the pressure of the water at the same depth.  The pressure of the boat is just due to the weight of the air and the weight of the boat.

PBoat = PAir + Weight of Boat / Surface Area Boat

If the pressure applied by the boat is greater than the pressure applied by the water, the boat sinks until the pressure increases enough to support the boat.  At this point, the two pressures are equal.

PWater-ocean = PBoat

PAir + Weight of Boat / Surface Area Boat = PAir + Depth * Density of Water

Weight of Boat = Depth * Surface Area Boat * Density of Water

Weight of Boat = Volume of Boat in water * Density of Water

Weight of Boat = Weight of Water displaced by boat

To understand buoyancy, therefore, we have to understand that it is a phenomena that is caused by pressure and the way liquids transmit force.  As shown above, the force transmitted to the bottom of the boat is the same as the weight of the displaced water.

What can be calculated for a simple rectangular boat can be generalized to a large number of tiny rectangular boat slices and integrated together to yield a result for a boat of arbitrary shape.

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A Thoughtful Christian on Politics

I normally try not to write on politics.  Politics are, by their very nature, tremendously divisive and I am trying to appeal to everyone with the love of Christ.  Paul taught us to be “all things to all men that we might by all means save some” and I try to emphasize agreement whenever I can so that I can share with others the love that has transformed my life.  Unfortunately, the work of religious political activists who have bad theology and think that you can save a country through political activism make this impossible.  If I don’t discuss politics to some degree, then people will assume that I am a right-wing conservative because I am a Christian and I don’t see it that way.

I was brought up by liberal parents and I have the distinction of having voted for Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Bill Clinton all in the same year.  As Feinstein and Boxer were both Senators from California, those who do not remember the election of 1992 might think that this was impossible, but they would be wrong.  Feinstein won an off-cycle election for the Senate seat vacated by Governor Pete Wilson.  For this reason, I can honestly say that I voted for one of the most liberal tickets in the history of California.  Not only that, but I am also tremendously environmentally conscious having done my Masters degree thesis at UCLA on environmental modeling because I thought that taking care of our environment was one of the most important priorities of our day.  I have, in short, always thought that liberals have very important contributions to make to society and our political discourse.

As I learned more about the world, however, my natural conservatism came to the fore.  As I think any honest person with a knowledge of history must admit, totalitarian governments are the greatest scourge humanity has ever known.  This fact must temper the fervor that liberals have for ubiquitous government intervention.  My positions are, therefore, a blend of the desire to keep government small and efficient while at the same time realizing the economies of scale that are necessary to address larger issues.  To make it clear where I am coming from on various political issues, I offer my take on various issues of importance.


I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19 ESV)

I believe that God has given us a free will and the ability to choose.  Further than that, in the New Testament, when Peter speaks about imposing the law on Christian believers he explicitly states that the church should not impose the law as a burden on new believers.  For these reasons, I believe that women and homosexuals should have the right to do as they choose.

On the other hand, abortion mills that make an enormous amount of money providing abortions are often the only counselors that a young woman who is confused and scared has before she makes a consequential decision.  She does not know of the research that indicates that many women have psychological issues as a result of an abortion.  She does not know that there can be health consequences to deciding to have an abortion.  She does not know that there are resources that are available for her to give her child up for adoption.  All she knows is told to her by people who have no qualms about abortion despite its health and psychological risks.

I believe that we could record a video presentation by pro-life groups that a woman is required to watch before having an abortion.  This video should be fact-checked in accordance with knowledgeable health professionals so that it is not fear-mongering and would include an appeal along the lines of the one I made in a previous post.  Performing an abortion without showing the woman the video and having her sign an affidavit is illegal.  Many pro-lifers wouldn’t think this would be enough, but I think educating women on the choice they are about to make would eliminate 90% of abortions.  Those who are pro-choice may complain that the video is fear-mongering, but the vetting process is there to ensure this is not the case.  It hardly seems reasonable to advocate that women should make significant health choices without all the facts.

Homosexuality and Gay Marriage

As with abortion above, I believe that homosexuals should be able to choose whatever lifestyle they want.  I believe that the government should allow for civil unions and that churches and other religious groups should be allowed to handle marriage as their conscience and beliefs dictate.  I believe that individuals should have the right to graciously decline to participate in a gay marriage ceremony without being sued or attacked.

Health Care

I live in Canada and the single payer health care system here has always provided excellent care that I have not noticed to be inferior in any way to the health care that I received while living in the United States.  The health insurance model used to provide health care in the United States was horribly broken because insurance is only a viable paradigm when an event is unlikely to occur.  Flood insurance for a house works because a house is unlikely to ever flood.  Car insurance for a horrific accident works because horrific accidents are rare.  Most human beings, on the other hand, are guaranteed to have health care issues as they grow older and the insurance model breaks down.  This being the case, the free market cannot provide a solution and some kind of a government sponsored solution is necessary.

Since only a fraction of the money spent on health care actually makes it to health care providers, eliminating the insurance companies would free up an enormous amount of money to provide health care for those who cannot afford it.  Also, we can use our current information and automation technologies to declare the hospital obsolete and develop mobile medical units that can be used to treat various conditions at home.  Healing at home is conducive to faster recoveries, reduces the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria and reduces costs.

The primary problem of convincing conservatives to agree with this kind of program is the left wing Utopianism that liberals often bring to the table.  If a health care program is presented as a very practical approach to reducing our health care costs while at the same time improving our health care and caring for those who do not have the means, I think many conservatives would get on board.  Sold as a simplistic, Utopian fantasy where leftists want to make everything completely free, however, and conservatives would reject the idea as impractical and undesirable.  Common sense measures such as requiring a small per visit fee to discourage abuse of the system and limiting the provided services to exclude abortion and transgender surgeries (which substantially increase the suicide risk of recipients), therefore, would bring many conservatives on board and ease the process of passage through Congress.

Energy and the Environment

From what I understand, it is widely accepted that using Thorium as a source of nuclear energy could provide cheap, plentiful energy for many generations without creating security risks, accident concerns or hazardous waste.  It seems to me that the U.S. government should invest in developing a Thorium based energy grid that frees us from our dependence on the Middle East, eliminates hydrocarbon emissions and guarantees our leadership in technology and manufacturing for generations.  Jobs are created developing this infrastructure and the cheap and pollution free energy would make manufacturing in the United States highly competitive.

Defence and Foreign Policy

I cannot for the life of me think of a good reason why the United States should be involved in civil wars in the Middle East.  If we do not arm various insurrectionists or kill the leaders of various countries through airstrikes, then the citizens of those countries do not need to become refugees that destabilize Europe and bring terrorism to our shores.  The defence budget should be slashed by 70% and 90% of our foreign bases should be closed.  We should develop a highly mobile force and maintain our substantial technical advantage so that we can support our allies and bring our enemies to the negotiating table.  War should only be a last resort and Congress should have to declare it as specified in the Constitution.

I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.  (Psalm 120:7)


The Common Core initiative is one of those things which seems exactly backwards.  At a time when our technology would allow us to craft multimedia course materials that are highly customized to maximize individual potential, the educational establishment is attempting to come up with “one size fits all” tomes printed on dead wood meant to be used for every student in the country.  The curriculum, for example, teaches multiple different ways to perform simple arithmetic all of which are to be used to teach all students.  Why?  Not every student will find each different approach intuitive.  A more intelligent approach would seem to be developing multimedia course materials that are developed to appeal to children with different innate cognitive abilities.  An approach to teaching mathematics, for example, that is more geared to children that tend to think visually.  We should rethink how to use technology to restructure the classroom and change the role of teachers in the public schools.  We might, for example, have a set of instructional videos which present things to children and have the teachers focus on students who have specific questions about the video presentations.  This would reduce the effective class size and simultaneously improve the quality of education for students of all kinds.


Many Christians believe that right wing policies come from the Bible.  Liberal Christians tend to discount the Bible and base their policies on their humanist instincts. I agree with and disagree with both sides. I think a fully informed theology should be used to guide our political beliefs.

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Triangulating on the Truth

Oftentimes when I am arguing with an atheist, I will abandon one line of reasoning and try to demonstrate the truth of what I believe using another line of reasoning.  When I do this, it is often interpreted as, “Aha!  I proved that you are being irrational with that previous line of reasoning and that it does not demonstrate support for your Christian beliefs.”  From my point of view, however, I switch tactics when I realize that an atheist has closed his mind to a certain line of evidence.  If an atheist cannot see that the evidence does not support the idea that the information in the biosphere was produced by random mutation and natural selection, for example, then maybe they will respond to a philosophical argument?

While switching tactics like this seems like an admission of defeat to an atheist, this actually represents my basic philosophy on determining truth. Since human reasoners are fallible, the more  independent lines of reasoning that point to the same conclusion the more confidence we can have in that conclusion as reliable.  Independent lines of reasoning allow us to triangulate on the truth and live a life of confident faith. What independent lines of reasoning do we have for belief in Jesus Christ?  Let us first list and then discuss the basic lines of argument.

  • The historical argument
    • Truth of the Resurrection
    • Fulfilled prophecy
  • The design argument
    • biological
    • non-biological
  • Philosophical arguments
    • First principles
    • Intelligence, morality and free will
  • The argument from the uniqueness of the Bible
  • Subjective experience

Historical Arguments

When I read what the early church believed in the New Testament and then go to the historical record and see that these early Christians were tortured to death and yet would not deny Jesus Christ, this is powerful evidence for the truth of Christianity.  Given the historical record, the only alternative to believing in the truth of the gospel is to believe that large numbers of people died without violent resistance for a belief system they knew to be false.  That Christianity originally spread without violence and against the headwind of Roman persecution is surely one of the most powerful reasons to believe it.  If those who met John, Paul and Peter and the other disciples of Christ were persuaded enough to die for the faith by torture, then that is good enough for me.

Another powerful argument for the truth of Christianity comes out of the Book of Daniel.  As elucidated in the book The Coming Prince by Scotland Yard investigator Robert Anderson, the Book of Daniel predicts the coming of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on a donkey hundreds of years before the actual event to the very day.  The only way to get out of this conclusion is to believe that early Christians falsified all the copies of the Book of Daniel that have come down to us from Jewish sources.  Given the historical context of conflict between the Jews and Christians at that time, however, this seems incredibly implausible.  Imagine a Christian going into a Jewish synagogue and saying, “Excuse me?  Do you guys mind if I alter your scrolls in order to insert a false prediction about Jesus entering Jerusalem 69 weeks of years after the decree to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem?  I know you think he was a false messiah and everything, but it will really help us deceive 20th century Americans into believing in the gospel.  Thanks.”

Design Arguments

When I consider the problem of the origin of life, I am blown away that atheists can so easily dismiss arguments from biological design.  Before random mutation and natural selection can even begin to work their magic, the enormously sophisticated constituents of the simplest cell have to come about by pure chance.   Even as a person who believes that God’s creation of the living world was done with a “hidden hand” through naturalistic evolution so that faith would be essential, God’s design is obvious if we honestly consider the astonishing complexity and information found in  the artifacts of the biological world.

Even more powerful than the argument from biology is the design argument that comes from physics and cosmology.  Stars, galaxies, carbon chemistry and life as we know it would not be possible if it were not for the finely-tuned values of the various constants of physics.  These highly precise values look like the product of design and the only way to avoid this conclusion is belief in a “Multiverse” where the vast majority of universes are devoid of life.  This takes a great deal of anti-faith in that we can have no evidence for these other universes and no evidence that the constants of physics are malleable.

Philosophical Arguments

As I have argued elsewhere,  it is possible to derive a system very close to Biblical Christianity with nothing but a few assumptions concerning the nature of God and an honest evaluation of who we are as human beings.  This is the argument for Christianity from first principles and it is one of the most powerful reasons to believe in Jesus Christ as far as I am concerned. As powerful as this argument is, however, it represents only a small fraction of the power of the philosophical arguments that have been put forward for Christianity over the years.

How is it possible that a scientist can write down a series of elegant mathematical equations on a 3  x 5 card and those equations will describe the behaviour of quasars, planets, cannon balls, light, magnets and all kinds of physical phenomena to 20 places of the decimal?  Why do human beings experience consciousness?  Why do human beings have such a powerful conscious awareness of choice and morality?  What was the first cause in the universe?  The philosophical arguments concerning the truth of theism and Christianity are extremely powerful and require educated atheists to dismiss most human experience (free will, morality, love, intelligence) as delusion.

Biblical Arguments

In addition to the arguments from fulfilled prophecy, the arguments from the uniqueness of the Bible are tremendously compelling.  If one looks at the history and the accomplishments of the Jewish people, they look for all the world like a people specially chosen by the divine.  From chastity and sobriety to forgiveness, honesty and generosity the New Testament requires the highest standards of conduct of any religion in the world.  At the same time, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross uniquely provides for grace and compassion to those of us who fall short of this standard on a daily basis.  Additionally, the Bible uniquely predicted the expansion of spacetime discovered by Edwin Hubble and is uniquely consistent with what science tells us of the history of the natural world.  (See my post “Jesus Christ the One and Only” for more on these ideas.)

Subjective Experience

While atheists typically dismiss the value of personal experience as evidence, the reality is that we cannot know any truth at all except by trusting our own experience to some extent.  While it is true that subjective experience can be tremendously unreliable, what can I know if I cannot know myself?  Personal experience is the most powerful evidence for the truth of Christianity for a Christian and correctly so.

When I examined myself honestly before I became a Christian, I found that I was a selfish and self-centered person who had done things I was ashamed of and was capable of horrific evil.  This need of God’s love and forgiveness is the primary reason that I am a Christian.  If I am correct in my evaluation that life without the love and forgiveness offered in the Bible is unlivable, then how can it be rational to do anything but believe in the only hope that I have?

Though I am still far from perfect, I have also experienced improvements in enough areas of life that my belief that I am on the right track has been greatly strengthened.  If the Bible tells me that I “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and I am able to overcome lust and anger issues through prayer and perseverance, this serves as a powerful confirmation of the truths of the Bible.  This is especially true when victory in these areas was so hard that I never thought I would make it.  The miraculous nature of these victories is doubly confirmed by the arguments of a neuroscientist like Sam Harris who denies that human beings can improve their behaviour through our conscious choices.

Of course, if my experience of God working within my heart is valid, then the testimonies of countless other Christians are likely to be equally valid.  This tidal wave of evidence can only be dismissed by the most specious arguments where atheists argue that similar claims made by the adherents of other religions invalidate the Christian claims.  Even the most cursory comparison of the Koran and other religious texts to the New Testament, however, will reveal them to be vastly inferior to any honest investigator. What is more likely to lead to inner peace and a genuine  love for others?  The teachings of Jesus Christ or the teachings of the Prophet of Islam?  Do the comparison for yourself.

Independent Paths

All of the arguments listed above are powerful and independent arguments for the truth of Christianity.  Cumulatively, these arguments make a confident faith in the truth of Christianity possible for the Christian who is seeking to love God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind.

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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 to 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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