All posts by Amor Dei

I am a Christian who is interested in drawing others to Christ through love and truth. I value continued growth in all areas of life. Most of my free time is spent working out, reading books, writing, and reaching out to people not a part of the Church. The book genres I enjoy the most are apologetics, theology, philosophy, classics, and lighthearted fiction.

The Problem with Protesting

The first thing I do every morning is look at my iPhone. I read my emails and check for any messages or phone calls that I might have received through the night. But I also look at the headlines of various news outlets. A day rarely passes by that I do not read an article about people protesting over one social affair or another. Modern civility has cracked the door open to hear the voices of groups who are devoted to various issues. But there is a problem. Once the door was cracked open, many social advocates stuck their foot inside and forced their way into the home.

I am all for constructive dialogue carried out through civil attitudes which respects the person even when their ideology is opposed to my own. But that is not what I see happening across America. Instead there seems to be a very hostile and hateful movement of tearing down people who do not hold to the same opinions as the protester. I see a movement which does not care about their fellowman when they differ than them in politics and moral values. It is an intolerance masquerading as tolerance. And it is a major threat to democracy and free speech.

It should be said that I do not find protests altogether ineffective or unprofitable. A proper protest is comprised of people who are in full control of themselves instead of radicals who overwhelm any opposition and aggressively impose their agenda. But as this article will clarify, the latter mood of protesting has become the norm.

Emotionally Charged Protests

Protests have taken on a new disposition that is grounded in unbridled emotion and sensationalism. Advocating for the rights of others has become more about feelings shared and proliferated by mobs than well-reasoned and mature conversations. The protests of today are best characterized as groups of people who shout down one another and attack those who do not agree with them.

I argue that most protests today are an outlet for people to release built up tension at the expense of those who disagree with them. The fundamental reason for protesting does not seem to be championing a particular cause, but instead to expend a surplus of negative emotions upon other people. It has also occurred to me that people engage in protests because it gives them some sense of purpose in life. They may assume that they are doing good work that will be immortalized in the history books. And so any so-called notions of fighting for the rights of others is merely an unconscious pretense for self-serving exploits.

It is not that people are not passionate about certain issues, but those issues may be secondary to their own sense of purpose and self-worth. I of course would never make this claim for certain and for every person. But it must be recognized that many people join these mobs to feel like they are doing something important in life more so than fighting for a good cause.

Attitude of Protests

This behavior has reached far and wide all across the nation and in every institution. I continue to read and hear about students who voice their conservative opinions on college campuses only to be shut down by their professors and heckled by their classmates. The spirit of protesting today has taken the role of bullying others who do not assimilate and concede to their values and beliefs. Many people who protests are aggressive and belittle and demean others who hold to different politics or moral ideas.

Is this the kind of attitude that we have reached in this great nation? Are we now going to stonewall anyone who does not assent to the views of popular culture? America used to be a place where different ideas and points of view where discussed in a way that valued the person if not the view expressed. But now we are in the business of dehumanizing anyone who thinks differently than us.

Take for example the numerous cases where secular society has imposed their views on the religious rights of others. Many men and women have suffered at great costs for politely turning down their services to support gay unions. In every case that I have read, the business owners served both heterosexuals and homosexuals without distinction. But when it came to a wedding ceremony, they could not in good conscience offer their services to gay couples because it violated their convictions related to God’s plan for marriage.

In one such case, an elderly woman had been serving a gay man who she considered a friend for ten years. But when her friend, Robert Ingersoll, asked her to arrange flowers for his same-sex wedding, she very politely, and very lovingly declined. As she retells the encounter, “I put my hand on his and said, ‘I’m sorry, Rob, I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ We talked a little bit, we talked about his mom [walking him down the aisle]… we hugged and he left” (Anderson, 97).

Barronelle Stutzman was nevertheless sued for discrimination. The state attorney requested that she pay $2,001.00 and concede to arranging the flowers for her friend’s wedding. And in a very pointed and thoughtful response, she wrote the following letter explaining why she could not agree to those terms:

As you may imagine, it has been mentally and emotionally exhausting to be at the center of this controversy for nearly two years. I never imaged that using my God-given talents and abilities, and doing what I love to do for over three decades, would become illegal. Our state would be a better place if we respected each other’s differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences. Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is most important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.

I pray that you reconsider your position. I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets” (Anderson, 97-98).

This aggressive mentality reflects how protesting is out of control. It no longer strives to win equality, but strives to force everyone to assimilate to a given ideology through aggressively imposing certain views upon those who do not agree with their agenda. It does not matter if people show compassion and love like this elderly woman who befriended and employed people from the LGBT community. It only matters that people who do not fall in line are ostracized and broken. In other words, these are not protests of peace, but protests that convey a message which requires people to join them or die.

Violence of Protests

The truth about protests in our modern era is that they are violent and take on the persona of a bully. Just because people do not use their fists does not mean that they are not violent in nature. Whenever someone robs another of their right to speak freely, they are committing a psychological and verbal act of violence which hinders people from understanding one another in the pursuit of truth. This attitude is spiritually violent because it strips people of their voice and right to express themselves in positive ways.

But let us not pretend that physical violence is not a problem in these protests either. All you have to do is look at the violence which happened at Berkeley. Most of the scheduled events were peaceful until organizations like Black Bloc and Antifa showed up carrying weapons and dressed in all black—including masks to hide their identity. The violence and property damage that ensued was clearly premeditated which solicited the police to use rubber bullets and tear gas. I believe that it is clear that these premeditated acts of violence prove that most protestors are simply unwilling to listen to others. They will champion their ideology at any means necessary. It truly seems that these protests are simply a guise for riots.

If the case is made that peaceful protestors cannot be blamed for the violence of others, I must disagree to some extent. It is not about the peaceful inclinations of a few that matter, but the violent and terrible results which occur regardless of such sentiments that must be addressed. Recently, a woman was killed at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Too often protests end with someone getting hurt or killed. Such gatherings only seem to escalate tension and hatred which creates a dangerous environment.

Coercion of Protests

Any headway made through these protests is completely devoid of enlightenment or an organic transcendence of morality. All ground gained through the majority of protests today are made through coercion, manipulation, aggression and fear. I say this because politicians and businesses cater to the popular view of their constituents and consumers. When looking at what happened with Phil Robertson from the Duck Dynasty show, who publicly stated his conservative position on marriage, this bending to the loudest voice is vividly apparent. Both A&E and Crackle Barrel reversed their decision to cancel the show when they realized that their customers were conservatives who held the same position as Phil Robertson and were upset with their decision.

When laws are reversed by merely nine lawyers on the Supreme Court, comprised of eight out of nine people from the east- and west-coast States, and no one from the south or a Christian worldview, it can hardly be said that the American people have had a fair representation (Anderson, 75). Any change to the law is not because people have a better moral code and are now embracing such a standard. It is because politicians and businesses feel threatened through vehement protests which puts their careers and profits at risk.

We can hardly say that the morality and thinking of the American people as of late is a natural progression fueled by justice or truth. It has been propagated and forced through coercion and fear. The problem is that when drastic change is suddenly imposed upon people without due process, they feel alienated and ignored and therefore are less likely to accept change.

The Truth About Protests

I am sure that if things continue on this path, that the history books will put pen to paper how men and women stood up for justice and liberty. But these books will paint a false and embellished picture that ignores the bullying and violence that forced a cultural and moral shift. It will be a book of lies that is the privilege of the prevailing ideology instead of the truth.

The truth about modern day protests is that they are more emotional than reasonable, are characterized by aggression and bullying, propagate violence, and are only effective through coercion and fear. This is why I cannot subscribe to the mentality of protesting. When children don’t get their way, they throw temper tantrums. When adults don’t get their way, they protest. There is very little difference.


References

Anderson, Ryan T. Truth Overruled: the Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom. Regnery Publishing, 2015.
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The Difference Between Christian Boldness and Aggression

In these changing times, it has become imperative for Christians to stand their ground by articulating their faith in powerful and effective ways. The values of the world have never been the values of the Church. The difference is that the belief system of secular society is gaining ground because Christians have become too lazy and passive in their witness for Jesus Christ.

Now that we have realized our error, there seems to be an overzealous reaction to set things straight. Many Christians have seen the writing on the wall, and have subsequently answered the call to arms in hopes of salvaging any lost ground to the enemy. Instinctively, we may eagerly respond to the pangs of guilt for neglecting our responsibilities by witnessing to others with newfound passion and vigor.

The problem is that sometimes our zeal gets the better of us and we approach people in the wrong spirit. I encourage all Christians to take their faith more seriously, exemplifying a boldness of conviction which takes morality, duty, and salvation seriously. However, I believe that it is imperative for Christians to understand that there is a proper way in which to engage people when entering into constructive dialogue. The goal is to be bold which is often confused with aggressiveness. In this article, I will be explaining the positive and negative differences between the two attitudes.

PASSIVE CHRISTIANITY

The ideal behavior for Christians today is a tenacious boldness seasoned with love. Unfortunately, too many people of faith feel that being passive is a position of humility. But as we will see, there is a stark difference between passiveness and humility.

The Google definition of passive is accepting or allowing what happens, or what others do, without active response or resistance. This attitude is actually unbiblical. It takes on the notion that we have no right or means to spread the beautiful message of the gospel or to help those in need. When people embrace this philosophy they often mistake it as being meek. I argue that many people adopt this way of thinking because it gives them an excuse not to put themselves out in the world in such ways that may garner criticism from secular society.

God clearly calls Christians into action. James tells us to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (1:22). Jesus tells us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” and “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:21, 24).

Faith demands that we live out our newfound lives in Christ by taking certain action. Our actions and works will not ensure that we have a seat by Jesus Christ in the next life, because He alone has accomplished the work for salvation. But when we take our identity as children of God seriously, our lives will ultimately transform through grace, and we will sincerely desire to help and love others.

This all boils down to the fact that we can no longer sit quietly in our pews and wait for Jesus to come back. Hiding behind the doors of our churches is sheer selfishness. It is like we are content with our own salvation and unmoved by the multitudes of people dying in their sins.

The world is now a dark and scary place for Christians. It may seem like a daunting task to be so bold as to approach people in the name of Jesus Christ. But this is exactly what we are called to do—not just pastors or specific kinds of Christians—but all people who march under the banner of Heaven.

BOLD CHRISTIANITY

I believe that people often miss just how bold Jesus Christ was in His earthly ministry. We zero in on his gentleness and love and completely ignore that Jesus was a rebel who challenged the religious leaders of Israel.

Consider the fact that Jesus made the bold claim to be God. He knew full well how the people would react, but He was still compelled to tell the truth. Also remember how Jesus disregarded the warnings of the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath Day, flipped over the money changers’ tables, and rebuked the Pharisees and Scribes by calling them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “full of greed and self-indulgence,” “white-washed tombs full of dead bones and everything unclean,” and finally “snakes and a brood of vipers!” (Matt. 23:13-29).

These are not the actions of a passive person who is afraid of offending people. These are the actions of someone who is confident in their understanding of morality and absolute truth. Jesus made it a point to tell people the truth knowing full well that many would be offended. He did not consider the backlash of the ruling class relevant when it came to living out His ministry. And Jesus spoke boldly about the truth in order to give new life to a world dying through sin and separation from God.

But understand that this boldness of Jesus exhibited the demeanor of someone in complete control of their faculties. Jesus never once doubted or questioned Himself when teaching those with ears to hear. He always carried Himself with absolute and unwavering surety in all that He said and did. These are of course the marks of the Divine. But the life of Jesus is also our example for interacting with a hostile and blind society.

Boldness is an intrinsic characteristic of Christians. It is this very boldness that led Jesus Christ to the cross at Calvary and subsequent martyrs to their deaths. Many people die for their beliefs and actions. But Christians are often murdered or treated poorly for actively living out their faith knowing the risks. The findings of the Center for Studies on New Religions showed that 90,000 Christians were killed worldwide for their beliefs last year. The Clarion Project discovered that 600 million Christians were unable to practice their faith due to persecution in 2016.

This caliber of boldness is a testimony to those who critically observe Christians. It is this kind of tenacity that compels unbelievers to consider the gospel message more carefully. Christian boldness reminds the world that believers are fully convinced in their minds of the biblical claims. And this ultimately reveals to the world that if so many people are so bold as to profess the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then such claims cannot be carelessly dismissed if people are to approach the subject with honesty.

When the Pharisees and Scribes arrested Peter and John for preaching about Jesus Christ, they were amazed at their boldness:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus (emphasis mine, Acts 4:13).

After they were released they immediately began to pray to God. In their prayers they asked for sustained boldness to preach the good news: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). We need to be praying for newfound and sustained boldness too.

The truth of the matter is that if Christians truly believe in their faith then they will profess it with eagerness and boldness. They will trust in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to put words upon their lips when they speak boldly in the name of Jesus Christ. If we are going to live out our faith, then we must remember that Jesus calls us all to pick up our crosses and follow Him. This is not figurative language pertaining to our daily burdens. It means that we must be bold and witness to people regardless of the consequences.

CHRISTIAN AGGRESSION

The negative aspect of boldness is when it takes on the form of aggression. Lucifer likes to take something good and create a counterfeit and evil version. This is exactly what happens when Christians go from being bold to being aggressive. The underlying difference between the two is that boldness is characterized by being firm and courageous, but aggression is an emotional attack that values the argument more than the person.

I often see this when Christians view atheists as the enemy instead of lost sheep who need a Shepherd. Christian aggression is often used to belittle and demean people who are outside of the faith. Whenever we reduce people to irredeemable heathens who have no hope we are playing at God.

The same aggression is also shown among Christians who differ in theology. I have noticed an unholy bitterness between many Liberal and Conservative Christians. It is all good and well to show a righteous anger over something that is against the will of God. But the problem arises when we arbitrarily judge those who think differently from us as ignorant and damnable people.

It is a shame and disgrace when Christians become aggressive over matters of theology to the point of condemnation and finger pointing. When we find a brother or sister who has a theology at variance with the Bible, our response should not be ridicule, but education through compassion.

In this day and age, I believe one of the most important verses in the Bible is Ephesians 4:15: “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Paul reminds us of two central objects of Christian character and purpose.

It is imperative that we speak the truth to a world drowning in lies. And it is also imperative that we show love to a world shrouded in darkness and crippled by loneliness. The problem is that some Christians only do one of these commands. There are those who propound biblical truth in an aggressive spirit because they are concerned that sin will become commonplace in the Church as much as the world. Then there are those who ignore the truth of the Bible in order to focus on love.

We must learn to show both truth and love because the two are married to one another. You cannot separate them. When Paul writes so eloquently about love in the first letter to the Corinthians, he writes “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (Emphasis mine, v.6). Love and truth are intertwined to one another and cannot be from God if they are separated.

To ignore the truth is not loving at all. It only coddles a generation of selfish pleasures, and ushers people into a life of sin which causes them to be separated from God. And to neglect to show love misses the point of the gospel entirely. Jesus always spoke the truth boldly in a spirit of compassion and love. This is as apparent as the warmth of the sun. Anyone who reads the Scriptures carefully will come to the same conclusion. Consider this explanation from William Channing, a nineteenth-century humanist:

How calm was His piety! Point me, if you can, to one vehement, passionate expression of His religious feelings. Does the Lord’s Prayer breathe a feverish enthusiasm?… His benevolence, too, though singularly earnest and deep, was composed and serene. He never lost the possession of Himself in His sympathy with others; was never hurried into the impatient and rash enterprises of an enthusiastic philanthropy; but did good with the tranquility and constancy which makes the providence of God (McDowell, 162).

Jesus was never aggressive. His emotional equilibrium was well balanced even in the face of ridicule and death. The Pharisees illegally arrested Him and proceeded to belittle and taunt Him. Pilot threatened His life and imposed his supposed power upon Him. The thief on the cross jeered him with many observers in the crowd. Yet not once did Jesus retort with an emotional warning or threat. Instead He prayed for them because that is the kind of Savior we serve.

It is time for us to stop this nastiness of being aggressive. It is good to embark upon the business of our Father. But we must stop being forceful. God has already made the truth plain to people through His own witness and moral law which is written upon the hearts of mankind (Rom. 1:18-20). We must give people time and space to thoroughly understand the beckoning of the Holy Spirit. And we must be patient with one another in the midst of our differences. It does no good for anyone to be pushy and forceful through an autocratic attitude.

Jesus told us that the truth will set us free. Let us take comfort in the fact that we serve our Lord, and let us serve Him with unapologetic boldness that conveys the message of the gospels in a spirit of love.


REFERENCES

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. T. Nelson, 1999.

The Origin of Reason

It is widely agreed upon that reason exist. The problem is that you cannot defend reason by reason without finding yourself in a circular argument. But the origin of our reason is an important question to ask ourselves. When we look at the animal kingdom it becomes apparent that human beings are the only species to use reasoning at such a capacity to rule over the earth. Many other unique anomalies occur due to our reasoning e.g. Human beings have shown a remarkable proclivity for progress, possess a moral code, and are self-ware.

When considering all that we have achieved in our onward march, the question arises, “How is all of this possible?” It seems that there are two popular positions for our unprecedented capacity to reason: evolution and design. In this article, I will briefly explore these two positions.

EVOLUTIONARY REASONING

It is often argued that evolution is a perfectly sound means of achieving the depth of reason that human beings have today. The argument coincides with the general premise of evolutionary advancement which claims that the fittest survive and continue to make progress. And therefore, reasoning is simply an evolutionary trait that effectuates progress and human flourishing.

People must be able to reason in order to make decisions that are conducive to their survival. This is self-evident and not up for debate. The theist and the atheist agree upon this point. The conflict arises when we begin to explore the origins of reason.

Those who boast that the evolutionary process is the best answer claim that there is no need for an intelligent Designer. But the theist sees a problem with this line of thinking. In fact, even the father of evolution himself saw the same problem. In an honest and sobering moment of reflection about what natural evolution ultimately suggested, Charles Darwin once wrote:

But then arises the doubt, can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions (Darwin, 443).

This lingering doubt is further expressed in a letter to a philosopher named William Graham:

But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? (To William Graham July 3 1881).

This has become known as Darwin’s Doubt and has profound implications for an evolutionary worldview. If one is to surmise that the origins of life did not require an intelligent Designer then the concept of reasoning must be questioned. Herein are a few problems worth considering.

Random Reasoning

How can people trust a mind that has been formed by random events with no purpose? If matter came from nothing, then matter thinks and feels nothing. But somehow, by nothing short of a miracle, the universe created itself and formed human beings who have the capacity to think and feel. Keep in mind that we as intelligent and self-aware agents are capable of doing what the universe cannot. We have transcended our maker, in other words, by having the capacity to understand the universe around us—something the universe itself cannot accomplish. Yet we cannot create something out of nothing even though some people desperately cling to the belief that such a thing is possible.

It seems to me that this is a philosophical position more so than a scientific position. And this philosophical position is grounded in contradictions that makes it untenable. The counter argument that an intelligent Designer created the orderly and reasonable world around us seems more plausible.

Animal Kingdom Reasoning

Why should we assume that reasoning is an evolutionary trait? The positive claim is circular reasoning. The premises are (1) evolutionary reason helps people survive and (2) mankind has survived for millions of years, so therefore we can trust evolutionary reasoning. The problem is that the two premises assume the validity of one another. But a close look at the animal kingdom explicitly reveals that extensive reasoning is not necessary for survival. This is why the slogan for evolution is “Survival of the fittest” and not “Survival of the most reasonable.”

It is true that wolves and lionesses will lure their prey and orchestrate the most opportune moment for a lethal strike. But most animals are actually utilizing their instincts instead of profound reasoning. Animals have a propensity to survive through information they have inherited in their genes i.e. animals are programmed with an intuition for a proper diet, procreation, migration patterns and so forth. On the other hand, human beings are the only species to show a singular and unparalleled capacity for reasoning. Insomuch that there are various and nuanced levels of reasoning that we often use to understand reality and the world around us:

  • Abductive Reasoning: the process of creating explanatory hypotheses.
  • Analogical Reasoning: relating things in the form of an analogy.
  • Cause and Effect Reasoning: showing causes and the resulting effects.
  • Comparative Reasoning: comparing one thing with another.
  • Deductive Reasoning: starting from a general rule and moving to specifics.
  • Inductive Reasoning: starting from specifics and moving to to a general rule.
  • Systemic Reasoning: considering the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Modal Logic: arguing about necessity and possibility.
  • Traditional Logic: assuming that premises are correct.

This list is only a sampling of the various means and methods in which humans reason. Any reasoning accomplished in the animal kingdom is negligible in comparison. And yet we see that many animals have survived alongside humans for millennia. These animals seem to survive quite well without the depth of reasoning that we possess. It cannot even be stated that we as human beings survive in a more peaceful and enjoyable way due to reason. We have our own problems and wars despite this profound ability to think things through before acting. Not to mention that animals seem to be quite content with a simple life of ignorance.

Miraculous Species

Another problem for evolutionary reason seems to be how we as human beings are the only species to transcend into a state of self-awareness and logic. Today taxonomists boast that we have approximately 1.8 million known species on our little blue planet. Each year there are around 15,000 species reported. And if this is not enough to impress upon you the significance of life around us, consider that researchers have now calculated that there may be 1 trillion species in the world when factoring in the unclassified micro and macro species. Yet we are expected to believe that human beings are the sole species to transcend ignorance and reach the pinnacle of reasoning.

I find it difficult to believe that after millions of years of evolution, only one species has reached such a significant place in the animal kingdom. The very definition of miracle is something that transcends nature—it is something supernatural. Mankind is certainly a miraculous species that transcends the natural order and thereby points towards an intelligent Designer.

REASON FROM INTELLIGENT DESIGN

Now it is time to consider reasoning from a theistic perspective. But I must be fair and present the argument against intelligent design. Much like Darwin considered whether he could trust a mind that evolved from lower animals, theists must grapple with the notion that an all-powerful God could create minds to think and reason in a particular manner.

If God created mankind with a mind hardwired to love and believe in Him we would never be the wiser. We could assume that we have used logic and sought out the evidence for God, but it could merely be a delusion outside of our grasp like the madman who claims to be Napoleon Bonaparte and is fully convinced in his mind.

Earlier I wrote that trying to defend reason by reason is a circular argument that provides no answers. What I mean by this is that we cannot know for certain whether our minds have been compromised by evolution or creation. The only way to derive the truth from this dilemma is to follow the evidence to the most logical and self-evident conclusion. We do this every day when we make decisions without all the answers or data to insure that life goes on uninterrupted. We make the most rational conclusions possible and go on living. This is the same method the court systems use when jurors reach a consensus that is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here I would like to spend some time presenting an accumulative case for the origin of human reasoning by intelligent design.

Free-will and Denial

Let us consider the implications behind the gift of free-will. Mankind has been blessed with the gift to think and make decisions on his or her own. The Scriptures reveal a loving God who wants people to come to Him on their own accord. When we consider this biblical description of God and His plan for humanity, free-will makes a persuasive case for reason being a reliable gift from God.

The first point that needs to be understood is that many people do not use their reasoning to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. If God truly was pulling the strings to make people think a particular way then we would expect everyone to bend a knee to God.

The second point is that the torture and sacrifice of Jesus Christ would have been futile and needless if God were simply manipulating the minds of people.

The third point is that if God were so willing to manipulate the minds of others, then He would have no reason to create life as we know it today. He could have simply created people to love Him in His heavenly Kingdom from the very beginning.

I Think Therefore I Am

In the seventeenth century, a philosopher by the name of René Descartes questioned whether he could know anything for certain. He surmised that it was possible that he could be completely delusional about reality, or something to the effect that a demon was manipulating his mind. And he was finally able to reconcile this doubt by a philosophical formation known as Cogito ergo sum. This is Latin for “I think, therefore I am.”

What Descartes came to understand is that the ability to question and doubt whether he could trust his mind, at the very least, proved that he had a mind and did exist. I find this important regarding our trust in God as the Giver of reason.

If people suspect that God may be deceiving them, then the so-called deception is not complete. The inability to completely deceive a person would further bring into question the omnipotence of God. But we should expect Him to have the power to control the minds of people if He were powerful enough to create life and reasoning in the first place. And so, it is with this that I believe the very means to question and doubt whether or not God has hardwired our minds is evident that He has done no such thing. Indeed, God has done quite the opposite by giving us free-will which is the foundation for reason.

Good and Moral Thoughts

It is worthwhile to consider the role reasoning plays in moral thoughts. Mankind is not a sterile species that is unconcerned with the well-being of others and the planet. Every day we are surrounded with situations where we must make moral decisions. It is like a proverbial crossroads where we calculate the pros and cons and moral ramifications for the choices we make.

Most people would agree that everyone makes moral decisions. But the question we must ask ourselves is how that is possible with an evolutionary origin for reason. Natural evolution has no need for a stringent moral code to ensure survival. It may be argued that a morally grounded society is an evolutionary necessity to foster progress. But from a naturalist perspective what we call morality is merely a genetic disposition to propagate the human species and survive.

Consider a man walking along a dirt road who hears a child yelling for help. He looks to the nearby lake and notices that the child is unable to swim and therefore drowning. Immediately two thoughts arise within himself: do I put my life at risk and save the child, or do I continue walking down the path to ensure my own safety? Now let us say that this man decides to put his life at risk to save the child’s life.

Richard Dawkins explains such a principle as “The selfish gene.” The essence of this argument is that people protect their communities to ensure human flourishing. But the very premise of this argument inadvertently destroys any notion of morality. The man who saves the child from drowning is doing so out of a selfish desire to pass on the genetic structure of his species. The child is not seen as a person of intrinsic worth, but merely a vehicle to propagate the species.

Admission to this naturalistic position gives license for stronger communities to overwhelm and takeover weaker communities. We see this take place in nature all the time. When resources become scarce or territory is threatened, one community will eliminate another and take what is theirs. If people are to be consistent with this position then there can be no argument against stronger countries killing off the citizens of weaker countries in order to ensure the progress of their own citizens.

Ethical morality, on the other hand, requires a person to put themselves at risk when they have nothing to gain. It requires people to do the right thing regardless of any advantage. It is selfless, and goes against any notions of survival of the fittest. The morally upright man saves the child because he values the child for the person they are, and if necessary, is willing to give up his life for theirs.

Morality in the sense that we understand it today is not compatible with a naturalistic worldview. If we are to champion the notion that human beings are moral creatures, then we must look beyond the natural order and towards a Creator who has made mankind in His image. It is only then that we can claim to have moral reasoning. We simply cannot subscribe to evolution as the origin of our reasoning if we claim to make moral decisions.

EVOLUTION OR INTELLIGENT DESIGN?

It is my opinion that there are too many problems with an unguided evolutionary worldview when it comes to explaining the origin of our human reasoning. If mankind has evolved without divine intervention then our intelligence has no positive trajectory and has evolved from unintelligent animals. It is much like the assertion that the universe was created out of nothing and for nothing.

How can I trust a mind that is born out of chaos? How can I trust a mind that is related to crude animals that do not seem to need such profound reasoning to survive? And why are human beings the only species capable of such thinking and logic when this planet abounds with a striking number of other species?

However, everything falls into place when I consider the argument for an intelligent Designer. I can trust my reasoning based on free-will, the ability to question, and how I observe people making diverse and contrasting decisions around me. I also know that mankind has great moral potential which is not possible in a naturalist worldview. It is for all these reasons that I suggest human reason derives from intelligent design.


References

Darwin, Charles, and Joseph Carroll. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selections. Broadview Texts, 2003.

To William Graham July 3 1881

Was God Good Before Creation?

About a month ago, I had a perplexing thought that I could not reconcile. I had been listening to an apologist debate an atheist on the radio about the goodness of God. As I listened intently, it was not long before I drifted into my own musings and began to break down the argument of God’s goodness.

Here I began to consider the implications of God’s eternal goodness. It is well known that Christians champion the infallible and perfect goodness of God. But another axiom of the Christian faith is that God’s goodness is infinite and eternal. In other words, the quality of God’s goodness has always existed. This is true since this quality is not a part of God, but in fact who God is as a divine being.

The dilemma is that not everyone will so readily agree to this philosophical position. Most Christians understand either theologically or intuitively that God is the very essence of good. But for those who do not subscribe to the Christian faith and engage in the finer points of philosophy, this claim needs to be substantiated.

In Eastern philosophy, namely Chinese philosophy, there is something called the principle of Yin and Yang. This is a concept that claims everything is understood through necessary and contradictory opposites. Consider the following illustrations:

  • You would not know what cold was unless you have experienced being hot
  • You would not know happiness unless at some point in life you experienced pain
  • You would not know darkness unless you knew light

The reason I bring this up is because there is some truth to this philosophy. C.S. Lewis once wrote about his musings pertaining to his understanding of justice before he became a Christian:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? (Lewis, 30).

And with all this, I arrived at the question, “How could God be good before He created anything in and outside of time?” Allow me to explain the thrust of this question.

Before God created anything at all—including angels, and predating the creation of the universe and our humble planet—God was a standalone Being. So how was God considered good? In order for good to exist something evil must exist. If there was no potential evil, then there was nothing to compare goodness with and therefore what we understand as goodness could not exist in the same sense.

If there were no agents of evil then the goodness of God would have been a universal quality that could not be elevated or have moral substance. Goodness would simply be the normative state since there was nothing else to compare with or define it as something better or ideal.

Let us return to C.S. Lewis and his analogy of a straight line. If goodness existed without evil when God was completely alone, then a proper diagram would be that goodness was a straight line. But without anything to compare goodness with it can only be a neutral straight line that does not allow for paradoxical moral ideas such as goodness and evil. And thus the concept of goodness is seemingly impossible without an opposing quality to give it substance and definition. So, it becomes philosophically problematic to deem God good since evil did not exist when He was the only entity in existence, and His goodness was simply a neutral quality that could not transcend anything.

Now, as a Christian, I believe that God is the embodiment of good and His goodness does not need to be defined outside of Himself. Nevertheless, I offer two logical answers, that must be understood together, in order to answer this conundrum for those who need to substantiate this claim.

God has Always Known About Evil Through His Omniscience

The first thing that should be understood is that God is omniscient. This means that God is outside of time and sees the past, present and future simultaneously. He knows what is going to transpire even before it happens. Therefore we should understand that God has always known about evil since it would occur in the future through the rebellion of the intelligent creatures He created.

This means that God knew about evil even before it began to exist. It stands to reason that God has always been good since He knew about the presence of evil that would one day exist and oppose His very nature.

The Triune God Showed Himself Goodness

I believe that we sometimes forget that God has always been involved in an eternal and loving relationship with Himself. God is one Being with three Persons. A being is what a person is i.e. humans are beings, so what we are is humans. But a person is who someone is i.e. I am a distinct and unique person created in the image of God. I have a unique personality, history, purpose and so forth. In the same way, God exists as one perfect Being comprised of three holy Persons: God the father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.

God did not create human beings because He was lonely or somehow could not express love without us. It was because God wanted to share the love and goodness that He has always known within Himself.

This means that God has ultimately shown Himself the quality of goodness even before the creation of any other creature. This also means that goodness and love have always existed even without evil because God has shown Himself these qualities for eternity.

Omniscience of the Triune God

It is no longer difficult to concede that God has always been good when you understand the two aforementioned concepts. God has always known about the opposing immoral quality of evil that goes against His nature in every possible way, but chose, and still chooses, to show every Person within the triune Godhead unadulterated respect, goodness and love. This dilemma can be resolved once we understand that (1) God exists outside of time and therefore had the foreknowledge of evil before it came into fruition, and (2) because God exists outside of time, He has always existed in tandem with the presence of evil in the past and present.

The point is that God’s goodness can be measured through His knowledge and existence alongside evil since His infallible nature of goodness has never been tainted. Further, this is true because despite His omniscience of the future and co-existence with evil outside of time, God has shown Himself goodness for eternity.

Thus there has always been both good (God’s nature) and evil (the absence of God understood through God’s foreknowledge or an impending reality) that could be compared in order to establish one or the other. I therefore find it logically sound to propound that God has always been good even before there was any entity, or creation to give shape and substance to the moral claim.


References

Lewis, C. S., and Kathleen Edwards. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.

The Errancy of the Progressive Christian Label

I have always heard the pen is mightier than the sword. I am inclined to believe that is true. There is an unquestionable power in words that carry serious implications and shape the way we understand reality. In the field of semantics, linguists study the definitions of words, and how people understand words in various and nuanced ways. Whenever we as people consider particular words, we may unconsciously color the meaning of words with our personal desires or human experience. That is why it is vital to consider the objective meaning behind words when we use them in our everyday conversations.

In this article, I aim to take a closer look at the truth behind the Progressive label many Christians have associated with their beliefs. I argue that this label is an inaccurate term that is deceiving in its biblical thrust. I would like to point our three ways that I believe the label Progressive is inaccurate due to being at variance with the Scriptures.

A Self-Avowed Label

It is important to understand that Progressive Christianity is a self-avowed label of which people boast. In other words, the term progressive is merely a description that some Christians have bestowed upon themselves based upon how they view their cause, and not because society saw it befitting to champion the movement due to a positive direction of the Church.

The ramifications of mislabeling a movement is that it gives license to continue in the destructive direction in which it is headed and causes confusion. Men and women of faith are easily convinced that they are making progress for the Church and people. And therefore very little introspection may occur as it is assumed that the revisionism of the modern Church has become a deus ex machina.

I would never make the claim that every person under the umbrella of progressive Christianity is completely ignoring the precepts and commands of God. But I do believe that many morals of the Progressive Church and secular society have become so interwoven insofar as to be indistinguishable from one another. And so I cannot in good conscience accept the label Progressive.

Humanity is not Morally Progressive

The second problem I have with this misuse of labeling is that it assumes humanity is progressing in a morally positive direction. But a cursory observation of world history in the 20th century alone is enough to pull the rug from under such a delusion. In an era when we are supposed to be more intelligent, humanitarian, informed, and compassionate, more than one-hundred million people were murdered in response to three evil men. As Dinesh D’Souza writes in What’s So Great About Christianity?:

In the past hundred years or so, the most powerful atheist regimes—Communist Russia, Communist China, and Nazi Germany—have wiped out people in astronomical numbers. Stalin was responsible for around twenty million deaths, produced through mass slayings, forced labor camps, slow trials followed by firing squads, population relocation and starvation, and so on. Jung Change and Jon Halliday’s authoritative recent study Mao: The Unknown Story attributes to Mao Zedong’s regime a staggering seventy million deaths… Hitler comes in a distant third with around ten million murders, six million of them Jews (D’souza, 218).

If that were not enough, there are still other staggering statics such as the amount of innocent unborn babies murdered since Roe vs Wade. The amount of babies murdered through abortion worldwide are 1,464,832,514. As I sit here at my computer watching the website that records live statics on abortion, there is one to two infants murdered every second. By the time I finish writing this sentence, twenty-five infants will have been aborted.

Though we should not be so surprised about the lingering evil in the world. A close reading of the Scriptures reminds us that even the chosen people of God rebelled against Him during their long history through a repeated pattern of progress and regression. The book of Judges tells us:

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands. Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, He was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways (2:16-19).

The kings of Israel and Judah were no exception. There were thirty-nine kings other than Saul, King David, and Solomon. Of those thirty-nine kings only eight were deemed righteous. Time and again we read about the Jewish people turning their backs upon God to worship idols and give themselves up to every lust and passion of the flesh. We have not experienced any real progress from this kind of rebellion against God. It is true that there may be times of peace and progress, but let us not delude ourselves into thinking that this kind of prosperity is lasting and an actual reality in the present.

I know that my understanding of morality differs from many Progressive Christians, but there are some facts that are simply indisputable. Again, this is why I cannot accept the label Progressive.

Progression of the Church or the World?

The final issue that I want to address is the motive behind this idea of progression. The thought seems to be that the Church and the world are making positive progress. And here we come once again to semantics. In order to make the claim that progress has been reached we must first define what kind of progress—or more importantly—whose progress we are talking about.

The idea of progress has no positive meaning in and of itself e.g. mankind can make progress towards destruction. The word progress merely means forward or onward movement towards a goal.

Earlier I said that many morals of Progressive Christianity and secularism have become indistinguishable. Here we must ascertain if the progression of the aforementioned Christians is actually the kind of progression that is in alignment with the Scriptures and God. I would have to argue in the negative considering the lack of biblical morality that is so often propagated from the liberal side of Christianity.

The scope of this article is not to show a categorical comparison of every position of the Progressive Church with the Bible. The conflicting views of both liberal and conservative Christians are well known. Instead I will conclude this thought by repeating that I believe the ideology of this kind of progression can only be true if the connotation refers to the secular world far removed from the will of God. By aligning the morality of Progressive Christianity with Secular Humanism you will find little difference. This raises concerns about a biblical and Christian worldview because we have been called to change the world through Jesus Christ—not conform to the world.

It is for this reason that I cannot get on board with the self-avowed label, Progressive Christianity, when it comes to the morals and positions of the associated theology.

I would be remiss if I did not emphasize that I believe there are good Christian men and women who identify as a Progressive. I believe that many of these men and women are doing good in certain areas that are in accord with God’s will for mankind. The object of this article is not to demean or belittle people. I have merely set out to explain why I believe the label Progressive is misguided when it comes to the Christian movement to revise biblical morality by condoning and even embracing sins that have been clearly rebuked in the Holy Scriptures.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great about Christianity. Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.

Idolizing Love

It may seem strange that I dare to suggest that love can become an idol. Certainly, love is championed in every culture and religion to some capacity, and it is something especially sacred to the Christian faith. For all believers glory in the fact that God is both the Author and Giver of love. In fact, the greatest commandments given to us by Jesus Christ are to love God with all of our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and to further love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).

But often times it can become easy to confuse a misconception with the truth when we neglect to analyze our theology. Our human nature motivates us to adopt ideas and views that align with our wishes. In other words, our preferences inspire us to forge a theology to justify our positions instead of allowing our positions to be derivative of our theology. We have it backwards, and too often it goes unnoticed.

This is dangerous grounds for the Christian. Here we can unknowingly allow ourselves to fall prey to the wiles of the wicked one, and thereby do his bidding in lieu of the Lord’s. A careful reading of the Scriptures makes us aware that Lucifer uses means of counterfeiting the goodness of God to create snares for humanity. Truly, there is no greater lie than misconstruing a truth and using it against itself. By placing a component of the truth at the surface, people become deceived of the lie that lurks beneath.

There is a reason that Paul warns us that Lucifer masquerades as an angel of light, and that his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Though even the servants of the Most High can become deceived when the flesh overcomes the spirit.

It is for this reason that we must always be alert and sober-minded to God’s holy love. If love in and of itself goes unchecked, we may unknowingly embrace a darker love masquerading as righteous love.

Being in Love with Love

It is time that we realize that love is only an attribute of God. I have heard many people express that God is love when in fact He is much more than love. We cannot reduce God down to a single emotion and deprive Him of His full character. By doing so we champion love instead of God Himself, and this simply will not do.

Glorifying love may sound half reasonable at first, but there is a danger here in assuming that love is synonymous with God. A.W. Tozer explains it well:

Equating love with God is a major mistake which has produced much unsound religious philosophy and has brought forth a spate of vaporous poetry completely out of accord with the Holy Scriptures and altogether of another climate from that of historic Christianity.

Had the apostle declared that love is what God is, we would be forced to infer that God is what love is. If literally God is love, then literally love is God, and we are in all duty bound to worship love as the only God there is. If love is equal to God then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical. Thus we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all His attributes save one, and that one we substitute for God (Tozer, 103).

Misunderstanding love as being God Himself instead of an attribute of God creates several problems. The fundamental problem is that God is supplanted with love. If love is thought to be God and God love, then we have created for ourselves an idol to worship because love has been put on the throne of God and made equal with Him.

This of course creates numerous conflicts and inaccuracies in how we understand and love God. And how we understand and love God impacts every facet of our faith. It is detrimental that we have a proper understanding of the fullness of God less we propagate these errors and allow them to breed in the Christian community.

The first problem that occurs once we put love on the throne of God is that we begin to view the world through the eyes of love instead of the eyes of the Lord. To be sure, there is no doubt that love is good, and that God loves all of His creatures and children. However, our Lord views the world through a lens of holiness, justice, righteousness, and mercy just as much as love. To ignore this fact is to become blind to the Lord’s expectations for us. We begin to assume that love is all that matters, and therefore we ignore our responsibility to seek holy justice instead of worldly justice, holy righteousness instead of self-righteousness, and a mercy which prepares people for the next life instead of a mercy that coddles sinful nature.

Reducing God to love is a prevalent reason that the doctrine of antinomianism first emerged. In this view, there is no longer any regard for the righteousness of God since grace is thought to cleanse all sin by default, and forevermore, regardless of the actions of Man. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace since it assumes holiness without human participation and takes advantage of God’s goodness. 

Paul warns us not to adhere to this theology when he explained, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1-2).

God commands us time and again to be holy people. He would not go through such pains to admonish us in this way if He did not expect us to participate in the process of sanctification. This does not mean that we earn our salvation through legalistic means. It merely calls us to action by surrendering ourselves to God. By surrendering, Christians invite the Spirit of God to empower us so that we might overcome temptation and sin which thereby leads to sanctification through grace.

Jesus also tells us that we must obey the commandments of God:

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. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:16-19).

The two great commandments given to us by Jesus to love God and neighbor are laws themselves that must be followed. Notice that Jesus used the word “greatest” for said commandments which implies that other commandments must still be obeyed. This is also inferred when Jesus says that all the other laws are hinged upon these two. He also says, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matt. 23:2-3).

This all amounts to the fact that God’s love does not make us exempt from righteous living. Nor does it give us license to condone the sins of others in the name of love. Righteous love holds us to a higher standard. Indeed, it is not love at all to ignore our role in holding someone’s hand through the process of grace, or failing to encourage their own responsibility to live holy lives.

The second problem with idolizing love can be seen in postmodern theology. Today, there is a growing interest in propounding a theology of total and inclusive love which does not admonish. Of course, proponents of this would not use the word admonish, and would rather supplant any form of reproof or warning with a wholesale acceptance of a person regardless of their spiritual condition.

The Church is in danger of confusing worldly love with God’s righteous love. It is quickly becoming the norm to use words such as tolerance and inclusiveness to describe the appropriate way in which Christians ought to love people. The problem is that such terms reflect a theology which promotes love that accepts sin. And the moment other Christians begin to admonish the sinful condition of people they are deemed unloving.

There are two problems with this line of thinking. First, most of us intuitively know that it is quite possible to love people regardless of the sin in their lives. The Scriptures tell us that we have all been born in sin and are by nature children of wrath (Ps. 51:5, 58:3; Eph. 2:3). And we read in 1 John that Christians continue to struggle with sin even after being made into new creations (1:8-9). Even so, Christians share a supernatural love for one another and God’s creatures. Although sin runs deep in our own lives, and in the lives of our biological and spiritual families, we share an unmistakable love for one another.

Further, the Christian does not witness to the world with hopes that they may love unbelievers once their sins have been forgiven. But it is the very nature of righteous love that leads Christians to take such action in the first place.

It should now be clear that it is not only possible to love people regardless of their sinful nature, but something commonly practiced by Christians today. This makes sense once we recall that God first loved us despite our sin, and that we are made in His image. So loving others despite their sins is simply a reflection of our Father. Therefore, the old platitude that we can love the sinner without loving the sin remains true despite any sensationalism that argues the contrary.

But how do we love the sinner without loving the sin? This brings me to my second rebuttal. I would argue that it is actually unloving to embrace a person along with their sin. In order to truly ensure the well-being of a person battling sin, it is our responsibility to help them overcome any sin in their lives in order that they may take hold of the peace and joy God offers them in this life and the next. That is what righteous love is all about.

Righteous love does more than just include people in the Church, but rather helps people become the church. It helps cultivate a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ so that by His Spirit, people are able to grow in grace and overcome the bondage of sin. Inclusive love, in the sense of many in the Church today, merely allows people to be a part of the church. This does more harm than good because it deprives people of a rich relationship with Christ.

This form of worldly love can also be motivated by selfishness which is the third problem with idolizing love. The reason for complete inclusiveness in the Church can be a defense mechanism that protects Christians from bearing the hostile backlash of secular society. The world is at its heart very selfish. And because of that selfishness, the world demands that everyone be allowed to live life however they see fit without any universal moral standards imposed upon them.

At first it may seem that the world values the differences in others. But the truth of the matter is that people want to suppress any brand of morality or truth that condemns certain thoughts or behaviors. It is not difficult to understand why: People want everyone to accept all things so that they themselves will be accepted in all things. This mentality is completely devoid of altruism.

It is important to understand that the world separate from God can possess and express love in many forms. At times it resembles the love of God since the Holy Spirit is present in the world and working on the hearts of both believers and unbelievers. At other times, this love takes on a darker counterfeit form which can be selfish and wicked.

We would do well to remember that Lucifer and a third of Heaven’s legion were banished due to this darkened and selfish love for oneself. History is replete with examples of those who showed love for oneself or something unholy. Adolf Hitler passionately loved Nazi Germany, but harbored hatred for the Jewish people. And beyond individuals, history has witnessed societies and cultures rise and fall which loved the elite and the state, but oppressed the underprivileged and marginalized.

This rings true even today as we watch terrorists wreak havoc on the world due to their delusions of love and fallacious understanding of God. Here we have a vivid example of how love goes awry when it is not grounded in God’s holiness. Many of us make the mistake of solely attributing such acts to hatred. However, even more than hatred, is an unholy love at play here. For hatred can fester up inside people, but love inspires and calls them to take action. To be sure, the love of hatred is far worse than any hatred for love.

A forth problem that arises from idolizing love is the sin of misplaced love. What I mean to say here is that we as Christians can easily focus our love on our blessings instead of God. Instead of selfish love which is self-serving, love is misplaced by putting God in the backseat for other people or blessings. For example, many people do not realize that it is quite possible – and dare I say common – to love their own family in ways that become a form of worship.

This is the warning Paul gives us when he says, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:8). Many apostles thought that they would witness the seconding coming of Christ. But that is beside the point. Paul still means to warn us of the temptation of becoming immersed in our families to the point that we neglect our relationship with God and the responsibilities that ensue. It is not that God does not want us to marry or have families. It is more a warning of priorities: God must always come first.

Anytime we put something between ourselves and God we are in fact committing the sin of idolatry. Many people that fall victim to this idolatry are unaware that they are in the wrong because they mean well. Those in the Church can easily be caught in this snare of idolatry when they love their pastor, responsibilities, building, local church traditions, and so forth more than God.

The Lord must always come first in all that we do and believe. He has not left us any room for compromise – not because He is selfish, but because He knows that there is no greater blessing than to be in love with the very Author of love. In brief, mankind would not have the capacity to love if it were not first expressed to humanity and a fundamental attribute of God’s divine image in which we have been created.

Righteous Love

We too easily forge our own idols. And every person who has made an idol or false god does so out of good intentions – albeit motivated by selfishness – no matter how preposterous and misguided these idols are. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the most beautiful aspects of life can be twisted and abused to the point that it no longer represents the purity of its true nature. God is good. Love is good. And God has given us love to share and use in whatever way our free-will dictates.

The problem is that mankind is corrupt and broken. No matter how much we desire to be wholly spirit, we are still in part made of flesh. For this reason, humanity can corrupt love. And since it is possible for love to be corrupted, we as Christians must scrutinize our theology and spiritual conditions daily. It is only then that we will know whether or not we are living righteously. And to live righteously we must love righteously.

Righteous love is grounded in God’s holiness. It is a love that seeks to glorify God by growing in grace. It is a love that surrenders to the Most High so that His love shines through us in lieu of any other form of love. It is a love that looks beyond the now and towards the future for both our spiritual kin and those who have yet to embrace the forgiveness and sanctification of God. It suffers the world but rejoices in Christ. It bears shame while receiving honor from God. It puts others first and expects nothing in return.

We are all aware of our paradigm for love which is so eloquently written by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (13:4-8).

It is important to notice that Paul makes a powerful statement in this wonderful passage. He says that “love rejoices with the truth.” Here we can understand that righteous love is in accord with biblical truth. It cannot be separate and retain its holiness. For if truth is also an attribute of God then it must align with His love.

And now that we understand that truth and love are married together, it is our responsibility to ensure that our love is an expression of God’s truth for the world and not merely a simple emotion of acceptance. Our responsibility is to love righteously for the glory of God and edification of His creatures and children. If we fail to do this, then we fail to truly love as God would love.


Bibliography

Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1961. Print.

Addressing Misconceptions about Lent

The season of Lent has garnered a great deal of controversy over the years. Many evangelical Christians simply do not see the need to observe Lent, while others feel that to do so is nothing short of sacrilege. If this season is meant to re-center our focus upon Jesus Christ and grow nearer to Him, why all the fuss?

There are several reasons that have been propounded meant to dismiss or vilify those who make Lent a regular observance in their walk with Christ. In this article, I will be addressing each argument singularly in order to bring to light certain misconceptions pertaining to the issue.

The arguments herein are the following: Lent is not in the Bible, Lent is public fasting, Lent encourages repentance and solemnity, and Lent derives from pagan origins.

LENT IS NOT IN THE BIBLE

Perhaps the most common argument that I come across is that God has not commanded us to observe Lent in the Bible. Therefore, to undergo the 40-day juncture from Ash Wednesday to the Day of Resurrection is to invent a man-made season which brings insult to the perfect and holy Word of God.

Though what this argument seems to miss is that Lent is not a mandatory practice aimed at receiving a gift from God. That is to say, it is not a sort of summoning ritual that demands grace as a result. Rather, it is an opportunity to give the gift of ourselves to God by way of making a more concerted effort to bask in His grace. It is a time of vigorous prayer, reflection, biblical study, thanksgiving, and for some, a time of repentance. Indeed, it is nothing akin to a commandment, but merely a time set aside for those looking to deepen their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.

By the same token, Christians by and large attend worship services at a set aside time every Sunday despite the fact such a practice has not been clearly spelled out in the Bible. Do not make the mistake of assuming that such a Christian ritual is commanded by God based solely on the fact that we are to respect the Sabbath. For respecting the Sabbath can take on many connotations and has been understood as a day of rest more than a day of gathering.

The reader may remember that Jesus tells us that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (NIV, Mark 2:27). In addition, every day is consecrated to God as Paul explains:

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.  Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God (Rom. 14:5-6).

To assert that Lent is a petty attempt to force God’s hand to relinquish a blessing is both an unfounded claim and gross misunderstanding. Most Christians who observe the 40-day period never even contemplate such an absurd allegation let alone proclaim it to others. It is true that we should always be open to receiving grace from God, and that applies to Lent as well. But being open to grace does not imply a sort or reward system. Almost all Christians that I know understand the very basics of grace. Namely, that we have been given grace freely without any means of earning or deserving such a blessing (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9). It would make little sense to take a contrary position for 40 days out of the year.

Here some may make the comment that the sacrifices and commitments of Lent are things Christians ought to be doing every single day. And to this I whole-heartily agree. But let us not deceive ourselves into assuming that we are in fact displaying this kind of ardent obedience at all times. If, however, you are one of those rare individuals who has reached a state of perfection and the fullness your faith, then you will have nothing to gain from observing Lent.

But perhaps what needs to be considered is how a heartfelt effort to thank, praise, and grow closer to Jesus Christ can be such a bad thing. The Bible clearly encourages us to take time to reflect upon our lives and our faith. Further, we are told to pray, fast, repent, and offer thanksgiving to the Lord for receiving redemption and new lives. All these components of our faith draw us ever nearer to God, and serves to deepen our relationship with Him.

Just because Christians dedicate a season to exercise the power of the Spirit over the flesh in a disciplined and focused way, does nothing to diminish their daily walk with Christ throughout the remainder of the year.

But what about implementing a practice not commanded in the Bible? First, we have to make the distinction between a command and an endorsement. Just because God has not commanded something does not negate an action meant to glorify Him assuming that it is biblical in spirit.

If God commands us not to do something and we ignore that command, then we are guilty of disobedience e.g. if someone engaged in fornication as part of a ritual instituted to glorify God, then it would be erroneous since the Bible clearly condemns sexual immorality. But the Lord says nothing of forbidding a dedicated span of time to grow closer to Him. In fact, it would make more sense to conjecture that the Lord endorses any means of grace and fellowship.

The Old Testament is replete with festivals to remember the saving works of God:  Passover (Exod. 12), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod. 34:18), the Feast of Firstfruits also known as Easter (Lev. 23:19-14), the Feast of Weeks (Exod. 34:22), the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:34; Num. 29:1-6), the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27-28), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut. 16:13).

Moreover, these festivals point towards the redemptive work of Jesus Christ since He arose on the Feast of the Firstfruits, provided atonement, and made us into the new tabernacles of the Holy Spirit. Lent is inspired by the festivals of old and Jesus’ preparation in the desert for His immanent ministry.

I acknowledge that although God does not change, He may change the way in which we serve or worship Him. So, some may point out that we are no longer required to practice certain Old Testament traditions and laws. For example, Christians are no longer required to sacrifice animals for atonement, and to do so would be a costly sin since it disregards the final redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

Though at the same time, the new covenant does not negate the old covenant since it is a perpetual narrative. Point and fact, although we realize that it is impossible to earn salvation through obedience does not nullify the command to be obedient.

This all amounts to understanding that if an action lines up with what we know about God, then even if it is not directly commanded or specified in the Scriptures, it will receive His blessing.

After all, the Bible did not disclose how to compile the inspired books which compose the Holy Book. The Holy Spirit inspired men to discern which books were divinely inspired. So, it would make little sense to assert something along the lines, “The Bible says nothing about which books are inspired, so it would be sinful to read the Bible.” We understand that such a statement is absurd. The reason for that is we intuitively know that the Bible is from God since the Spirit testifies to us in such a way. Similarly, when our hearts are set on God, the Spirit leads us in ways that honor Him — even in ways that are not plainly directed in the Scriptures.

Consider these observances and practices that the Church by and large endorses which are not commands of Holy Writ:

  • Advent
  • Christmas
  • Easter
  • Altar Calls
  • Substituting real wine with grape juice
  • Acknowledging the cross as a Christian symbol
  • Weekly Gatherings i.e. we are commanded to gather together, but the Bible does not disclose how often
  • Weekly Sermons: sermons are needed for edification and conveying God’s message to His people. But again, this is an arbitrary practice of the church that is not specifically described in the Bible as to how often. Indeed, one might propose that some people may need to hear sermons more or less often than others, and that the Holy Spirit does not speak to every minister at the same time, or on the same day, every week, every year, but as is needed for the edification of the Body of Christ.

So, if some Christians are hostile against the practice of Lent, then why are they not holding the same standard for the other practices of the church which are not clearly found in the Bible? There has to be a consistency in theological assertions if one is to broach the issue with integrity.

To reproach someone for striving to grow closer to Jesus because Lent is not expounded upon in the Bible is dangerous, and akin to legalism. To be sure, it may even be likened to acting as a stumbling block. We would be wise to remember these words found in the Scriptures pertaining to such erroneous judgement:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day (Col. 2:16).

LENT IS PUBLIC FASTING AND BOASTING

Another argument that I often notice is that Jesus rebuked those who drew attention to themselves for their fasting:

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matt. 6:16-18).

The argument goes that since Lent is recognized at the same time every year, it is a public display of self-sacrifice likened to the very act Jesus criticized.

The reason that this argument falls short is because it is understood on a superficial level. For example, the key theme in this passage of scripture is the condemnation of hypocrisy, not to be misunderstood as the condemnation of public fasting in and of itself. True, a conscious effort to fast in public denotes hypocrisy. That sort of fasting is an intentional effort to attract attention from mankind rather than God. But what we are talking about is biblical fasting with righteous intentions.

A more scrutinized reading of the first half of Matthew 6 reveals that each point Jesus makes both warns us not to seek glory for ourselves, and teaches us how to do good for the right reasons. It is a matter of motives. In verses 1-4, Jesus commands us not to give to others with the intention of seeking praise for ourselves; in verses 5-8, Jesus warns us not to pray with the intention of being recognized and respected; and in verses 16-18, Jesus explains how fasting for attention is also hypocritical and futile.

Particular attention should be paid to Matthew 6:6 when Jesus says, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” If we are to be honest with ourselves, how many of us do this? Most of us pray in the presence of our church and home families. We do this because there is a spiritual instinct that compels us to pray together as a unit. If some strive to demean those who fast because someone has become privy to their sacrifice, then they must take the same literal approach with prayer, and ensure to keep their time spent with God secret at all times no mater the cost.

The crux of Jesus’ teaching on fasting is to “not be obvious to others that you are fasting” (Matt. 6:18). Of course it is always good practice to be as private as possible when fasting as not to draw attention to yourself. But sometimes it is not possible, and the most important practice is to ensure that you are not sullen or telling of your sacrifice.

Certainly, there are inferences that Jesus and the disciples may have fasted in the presence of one another. Consider the following passage of Scripture:

For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting (NASB, Matt. 17:20).

What is important to note here is that Jesus had just left the mountain where He was transfigured in the presence of the Inner Circle (Peter, James, and John). Upon leaving the mountain, He finds His way to a crowd where a man pleads with Him to heal his son who is possessed by a spirit. Since the disciples cannot heal the boy themselves, and Jesus explains that this kind of healing requires prayer and fasting, one may assume that Jesus had in fact been fasting while with His disciples.

Moreover, it can be further inferred that the early church fasted openly by taking a close look at the book of Acts. At the church of Antioch, we read that “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (emphasis mine, NIV, Acts 13:2-3).

Again this takes place in the proceeding chapter as Paul and Barnabas appoint elders for the church “with prayer and fasting” and “committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:23).

It is no certain fact that Jesus or the early church fathers fasted in the presence of one another. It could be argued that they lodged in separate rooms and kept their fasting private. But considering the emphasis put on the Christian community, it seems more likely that this was something shared or known by those within the covenant of faith.

For example, all other sacraments and traditions were usually shared and practiced in the presence of the church community: baptism, the Eucharist, prayer, singing, worship, study, and service. It seems rather odd that fasting would be excluded from communal harmony while these other means of grace were not.

I bring this up because some accuse Ash Wednesday as being a counterproductive service that invalidates the purpose of Lent since everyone present is aware of the shared dedication each Christian makes in preparation for The Day of Resurrection. But isn’t engaging God as the Body of Christ what you would expect from a community of faith? God did not create us to be grow in faith alone (Acts 1:14, 2:46-47; Heb. 10:24-25).

Another point worth considering is that most believers do not know exactly when their brothers and sisters are fasting during Lent. The only thing known is that fasting is encouraged. In saying that, there is no difference between the general practice of fasting, and the fasting that takes place during Lent. We know that Christians are fasting somewhere in the world at any given time. So, does that awareness invalidate their sacrifice? I should hope not since fasting would be fruitless. Yet, we know that fasting can be good by remembering that Jesus endorsed it and is our paradigm.

LENT ENCOURAGES REPENTANCE AND SOLEMNITY

It is often posited that Christians who observe Lent embrace a self-sacrificing attitude that takes the joy out of salvation. The charge compares fasting and repentance with something akin to mortification of the flesh. All of this leads some to surmise that the Lenten season erroneously promotes guilt instead of thankfulness.

But the truth of the matter is that Lent does not focus upon repentance. In brief, the focus is solely on Jesus Christ which in turn provides renewal, grace, joy and thankfulness. The means of both deepening and strengthening that relationship comes from repentance, sacrifice, fasting, prayer, biblical study, worship, service and mediation. So, Jesus is the reason and cause, the spiritual experiences are effects, and the practices are the means.

It is the same throughout the year and life of any believer. However, since it is unrealistic to be steadfast in our faith at all times, Lent provides an opportunity to slow down, delve into introspection, and analyze our walk with Jesus. From here, the season can take on different shapes depending on the person and their spiritual condition. Nevertheless, people become closer to Jesus and thereby restore or magnify the joy of their salvation, which reaches its culmination on the Day of Resurrection.

Now, many have a hard time understanding how sacrifice and repentance often draw Christians nearer to the Lord. It is often incorrectly assumed that repentance is evoked to summon guilt or superficial piety. But repentance is prioritizing the Spirit over the flesh. Although Christians have the means to reach perfection through the Holy Spirit, the power of the flesh becomes a snare which often causes us to disappoint God. By repenting we show the Lord our desire to overcome the flesh due to our love for Him. In that moment, the light of Jesus Christ so shines within us that all guilt and darkness are inevitably dispelled, and our joy is renewed.

And it is through sacrifice that we are reminded that there is nothing we need more than Jesus Christ. Further, through such spiritual exercise and discipline, the Christian becomes stronger by learning to surrender to the Lord. It is an acknowledgement of our weakness and invitation to the Spirit to work within us (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Sacrificing denotes surrendering, not to be confused with an offering to appease God in order to glean a special blessing from Him. Oswald Chambers explains it well:

Our Lord replies in effect that abandonment is for Himself, and not for what the disciples themselves will get from it. Beware of an abandonment which has the commercial spirit in it — “I am going to give myself to God because I want to be delivered from sin, because I want to be made holy.” All that is the result of being right with God, but that spirit is not of the essential nature of Christianity. Abandon-ment is not for anything at all. We have got so commercialized that we only go to God for something from Him, and not for Him (Chambers, March 12).

Repentance and sacrifice are not selfish endeavors meant for the glory of the Christian. They are means to glorify the Creator by telling our flesh “No, I will not stand for it any longer. I will continue to cut you out until there is nothing left but the Spirit who lives within me.”

And can there be any greater joy than putting the Spirit at the center of the Christian life? It takes a lifetime to mature in our faith and Lent is but one part in that process.

LENT DERIVES FROM PAGAN ORIGINS

The most complex misconception to diffuse is the charge that Lent is a Christianized pagan tradition. The difficulty discussing this allegation is due to conflicting historical documentation and varying conclusions based on the data.

A couple of comments before delving into the historical accuracy of this issue:

It should be noted that there are similar allegations against the Christmas and Easter seasons. In fact, I would argue that these allegations are more prevalent, and yield more connections to pagan rituals than Lent. Therefore, again, it is not just to condemn observing the season of Lent on one hand, while continuing to celebrate Christmas and Easter on the other. If one of these seasons is to be criticized based on similar pagan dates and rituals, then you must do away with the whole lot less you find yourself embracing ignorance and hypocrisy.

The second thing that I want to point out is that regardless of whether or not pagan rituals spurred the church to replace them with more meaningful Christian holidays, does nothing to invalidate the sacredness of the seasons we have come to love in the name of Jesus Christ.

To claim that Christians are dishonoring God because there might be pagan influences pertaining to the dates we celebrate Jesus Christ, is to belittle the majesty, power, and grace of God. For no pagan date or connection can tarnish or usurp the mighty power of the Lord. It would be a different argument if the contention had to do with honoring a pagan god or goddess, but that is not what takes place on Lent regardless of any influences that may be attributed to its origins.

Let us take this line of logic a little further. Every day of the week is named after a pagan god and yet everyone has adopted those names as an authentic description. Thus, if celebrating a season based on pagan influences or dates bothers you, then you might want to consider that every day you worship God, Monday through Sunday, you are worshiping Him on days that have been dedicated to pagan gods. So, whenever you mention that you yearn to worship God on Sunday, you are essentially saying, “I long to worship God on Sun’s Day,” a day primitively dedicated to worshiping the sun or pagan gods of the sun.

Now most us should be able to see the silliness of this line of thinking. Of course we are not worshiping a pagan deity merely because a day of the week happens to be named after said god or goddess. But in saying that, it should be equally understood that we are not worshiping a pagan deity simply because possible dates or practices seem similar. Every day is the day God has made (Ps. 118:24). And therefore every day dedicated to Him takes precedence over any supposed pagan origins.

The Bible actually reveals this truth to us through example and teaching i.e. embalming has been attributed by some as a pagan practice since it interferes with the word of God by hindering the natural process of returning to dust. Yet in Genesis we read that Joseph participated in the custom of embalming the dead practiced by the Egyptians:

Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days (50:1-2).

Paul explains the matter clearly in the New Testament. Indeed, this passage alone should suffice in rendering the pagan argument as misguided:

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? (1 Cor. 10:27-30)

The point Paul is making is that regardless of any supposed pagan attribution to the life of the Christian, it is rendered meaningless in the face of God. No longer do such sacrifices or rituals hold special meaning. The Lord is perfect and holy, and cleanses everything that is offered with a heart of thanksgiving.

Nothing pagan can hold any power over us and our faith unless we allow it to have power. God is supreme, and what is important is that we seek and love Him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

Now, the claim that Lent borrowed from a pagan ritual stems from a Mesopotamian religion. In particular, from a season known as The Weeping of Tammuz dedicated to a Sumerian demigod named Tammuz. The mythology of Tammuz eventually influenced other cultures and he took on different names: in Egypt he is attributed to Osiris, and in Greece as Adonis.

The Babylonian myth portrays Tammuz as a beautiful shepherd who caught the eye of a fertility goddess by the name of Inanna (also known as Ishtar). Several accounts diverge here as the story takes different shapes depending on the source. One tale spins that Tammuz was killed by a boar. Inanna, mourning and in despair, descended to the underworld to liberate her love from death.

Another popular account suggest that Tammuz and Inanna had a falling out. Meanwhile, Inanna ventured to the underworld to commandeer the throne of her sister Ereshkigal. However, found lacking, she was sentenced to death by the judges of the underworld known as the Anunnaki, and her corpse was hung on a stake by a nail or hook. However, since she was the goddess of sexuality, all sexual relations ceased on the earth, and Tammuz’ father Enki had to resurrect her on the condition that she found a replacement. As she scoured the land for someone who had neglected to mourn her, she found her husband Tammuz who seemed impartial to her absence, sitting on her throne.

Inanna opted to have Tammuz take her place and unleashed her demons to bring him to the underworld. However, she eventually felt remorse, and an agreement was made to allow Tammuz and his sister Geshtinana to alternate places in the underworld for six months at a time.

For the sake of brevity, I will not go into the symbolic meaning of the mythology of Tammuz. Our interest is to compare the similarities and differences to Lent, so now we turn to the ritual that ensued in response to this myth.

The Cult of Tammuz celebrated two festivals: the first to commemorate the marriage of Inanna and Tammuz, and the other to commemorate his death and captivity in the underworld. The latter has become known as the aforementioned Weeping of Tammuz.

During this time, followers of this cult summoned up tears in a state of sorrow and wept for the loss of Tammuz since he was recognized as an agricultural god. It was believed that it was imperative to mourn him as he returned to the underworld or else he may become indignant and refuse to bless the upcoming crops. It has also been suggested that the tears produced from weeping watered the seeds in a mystical and symbolic ritual acknowledging the death and rebirth of Tammuz.

In the Bible we read Ezekiel recording how angry God was at this practice:

Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this” (Ezek.8:14-15).

It is clear that God wants nothing to do with worshiping Tammuz. But is that what Christians are really doing during Lent? Some seem to believe so, and in order to understand this argument more fully, alleged historical accounts that may have led to the mythology of Tammuz should be considered.

Many trace the story of Tammuz and Inanna to Nimrod from the Old Testament. Eusebius (an early church father and historian) wrote that Semiramis (Inanna) was the wife of Nimrod. The reader will recall that Nimrod comes from the lineage of Noah’s son Ham who received a curse in lieu of a blessing. He eventually established the first empire after the flood and became the ruler of Babylon.

Tradition suggests that Semiramis and Nimrod were married and ruled the kingdom together. However, Nimrod eventually died and Semiramis grew concerned she would lose her esteem and power over the kingdom. Subsequently, she had an illegitimate child, either due to an affair prior to Nimrod’s death, or intentionally to propel a cleverly devised plan. The child’s name was Tammuz.

Semiramis brazenly asserts that her conception came about from rays of sunlight, and that Nimrod (Tammuz) had been resurrected as the sun god. Nimrod is described as a mighty hunter – unfortunately for Tammuz he fell a little far from the tree and was killed by a boar as mentioned earlier.

The argument is made that Tammuz died at the age of 40 and his wife (and mother) instituted a 40-day period of weeping for him in the underworld. Each day of the 40-day ritual was meant to represent a year of Tammuz’ life. In time, it is said, this became the Christianized adoption known as Lent inaugurated by Rome in order to either oppose a pagan holiday, or assimilate heathens into Christianity.

If you endeavor to research this topic, you will find prolific accounts stating this pagan heritage as a matter of an unquestionable fact. But what you will not find is well documented and scholarly sources to authenticate their claims. In fact, nearly every source seems to trace back to a book written in 1858 by a Scottish theologian by the name of Alexander Hislop. The book is titled The Two Babylons: Or, the Papal Worship Proved to Be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife. 

It is important to first address the title of the book. The mention of two Babylons is in reference to both the historical Babylon and the Roman Catholic Church. It is clear that Alexander Hislop wrote his book with a parallel agenda to critically accuse and condemn Catholicism. Indeed, one may assume that this was his primary objective. The reason this has bearing on the issue is due to the fact that any conversation that is emotionally charged risks propagating biases that lend to an unconscious fabrication of facts which in turn leads to premature conclusions.

Many are now coming to understand that Hislop’s assertions are unfounded. Indeed, it seems that it was only through pseudo-archaeology and whimsical conjecture that he reached the conclusions propounded in his book. I have yet to find any historical text that discloses the age of Tammuz or the institution of a ritual lasting 40 days. If the contrary is brought to my attention, then I will promptly amend this article.

There are also discrepancies in the dates that The Weeping of Tammuz and Lent fall upon. Lent is always 46 days before The Day of Resurrection (40 days excluding Sundays). This means that Lent typically begins sometime around the middle of February or March. But The Weeping of Tammuz does not clearly line up with this time of the year.

It is true that there is an account that this ritual took place from March to April. But other sources date The Weeping of Tammuz taking place in June through July in Assyria during the 7th century B.C.E. This would seem to be more accurate dating considering the agricultural season was ripe for harvest in the second half of May or early June.

The Hebrew month of Tammuz also takes place at the same time. Moreover, the 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of The Fast of Tammuz (Shivah Asar B’Tammuz) which is a period of national mourning for Orthodox Jews known as “The Three Weeks of Sorrow.” The Fast of Four Months is mentioned in Zechariah 8:19:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace.

This time of fasting was meant to recall tragedies that resulted from idolatry, and to move the Jewish people to repent and re-center on the one true God (much like our common day observance of Lent). It would seem that based on these facts, that The Weeping of Tammuz may have been infringing upon this biblical time of fasting and mourning rather than leading Christianity astray by encouraging the adoption of a similar ritual.

Since it is common for Christians to have a cross placed upon their foreheads during Ash Wednesday, it should be noted that the cross of Jesus Christ is likewise charged as deriving from the pagan god Tammuz. As shocking as this may seem, the issue has been bitterly vociferated with no short supply of condemnation for cross bearers.

The accusation is again spearhead by Alexander Hislop in his book The Two Babylons. Therefore, the reader will excuse me from broaching the subject no more than necessary as his credibility has been found wanting.

It is first alleged that the cross predates Christianity as a religious symbol, therefore it loses its power and credibility. Hislop argues that “there is hardly a Pagan tribe where the cross has not been found” (Hislop 361). He then goes through pains to convince his readers that the early church grafted the pagan worship of Tammuz in their recognition of the cross of Jesus Christ. By explaining that the original Babylonian letter “T” used to take the shape of a cross, which just so happens to be the first letter in Tammuz, he interprets the connection as the incorporation of pagan symbolism into the community of faith.

The problem with this premise is that he undermines himself by asserting that the cross is both a universal religious symbol and at the same time derivative of Tammuz. Conversely, many symbols can seem similar when their very shape is of a simple nature. The cross is a modest two strokes of a pen, and can be seen as an “X” or a “+” among other things depending on the culture. So is it really so hard to imagine that such a simple symbol can be found throughout history in reference to different religions without connection or possessing the same meaning?

What is more, the letter associated with Tammuz is tau, and had the form of the Greek “T”. But tau is derivative from the last letter of the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet known as taw (Pflughaupt 119). And the letter taw either took a cruciform shape of the Christian cross, the modern day plus sign, or in some inscriptions the shape of an “X” (Sacks 305). The Maccabean period has provided scholars with coins which confirm that tau originally took the cruciform shape (Stookey 111). So here we can understand that the symbol of the cross actually predates the symbol of tau.

This carries profound significance when you juxtapose the history of the cross symbol with the Scriptures. Paul tells us that when we believe in Jesus Christ, we have received the seal of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). A seal is a mark of great importance and evidence of approval e.g. kings would seal documents with their signet rings.

The Old Testament offers several occasions in which a seal was used for the purposes of God, such as the mark given to Cain, and the marking of the doorframes during the Passover (Gen. 4:15; Exod. 12:7, 12-13). The New Testament also reveals the sacredness of being marked with the seal of Christ (Rev. 7:3, 9:4, 14:1).

In particular, in Ezekiel 9:4, God instructs the prophet to “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” Here God is enacting another Passover event where the righteous are spared the punishment of the wicked. The similarity of placing of a cross on the foreheads of Christians during an Ash Wednesday service should not be lost on the reader.

It is also interesting to note that the definition of taw is mark in Hebrew, and has the shape of an “X”. The seal of the cross on the forehead bears a double Christological meaning:

The sign of the cross in its Greek form is employed; this indicates even more the importance of incorporation into Jesus’s death. The Greek cross, having four arms of equal length, is an “X” turned on its side; thus it is also an abbreviation for XPISTOS, the Greek form of Christ (Stookey 111).

Hence, when Ezekiel marked the foreheads of the righteous for their protection, he was unknowingly placing the mark of God upon them — that is, the name and cross of Jesus Christ. It is awesome to read the unfolding of God’s grand narrative which began in the Old Testament and culminated in the New Testament through Jesus Christ.

But there is yet another reason the early church incorporated the cross for its symbolic power during sacraments such as baptism:

The name [and cross] of Christ imposed on the forehead at baptism was related to the fact that Christians frequently assumed new names of their own at baptism. Those coming from pagan religions were particularly urged to change their names and to assume the name of biblical persons, or of Christians of previous generations (Stookey 111).

So early Christians did not assume the symbol of the cross to pay homage to Tammuz or other pagan deities, but instead, for the purpose of abolishing paganism from Christianity! Keep in mind that there are biblical references to receiving new names found in Revelation (2:17; 3:12).

Moreover, for Rome to institute crucifixion which happens to mirror the so called cross of Tammuz is a coincidence that is too fantastical to take serious. That is to say, the early church fathers did not assume tau to appease pagan converts, but due to the awesome reality that Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be crucified upon a cross so that the world may be saved.

More importantly, the underlining difference is that Christians do not worship a symbol, they worship the Lamb crucified on said symbol. Indictments can be made until the Second Coming of Christ and it would make no difference because God judges the heart and is rich in mercy.

But what if Jesus was crucified on a stake instead of a cross? This has been purported by those who hold the theory of pagan influences in the Christian Faith, and is a particular tenet of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Joseph Franklin Rutherford (the second president of The Watchtower Bible and the Tract Society of Pennsylvania) propounded that the Greek word which we use for cross (stauros) was inaccurately translated, and in fact means a stake or pole used for capital punishment. He claimed that the commonplace rendering of the cross was introduced 300 years after Christ by Constantine due to a prophetic dream he claimed to have had.

First let us address the historicity of this claim. In the first century B.C.E., a Greek historian by the name of Dionysius of Halicarnassus described crucifixion as a method of execution in Rome:

Upon this the senators were filled with fear and everyone was speechless with astonishment, being at a loss to guess what the god’s message meant, and who was the leader of the dance in the procession who appeared unacceptable to him. At least one of them, recalling the incident, related it to the rest and all of them confirmed it by their testimony. It was this. A Roman citizen of no obscure station, having ordered one of his slaves to be put to death, delivered him to his fellow-slaves to be led away, and in order that his punishment might be witnessed by all, directed them to drag him through the Forum and every other conspicuous part of the city as they whipped him, and that he should go ahead of the procession which the Romans were at that time conducting in honour of the god. The men ordered to lead the slave to his punishment, having stretched out both his arms and fastened them to a piece of wood which extended across his breast and shoulders as far as his wrists, followed him, tearing his naked body with whips (Dionysius 7.69.1-2).

It is important to note that the slave was carrying the patibulum (horizontal part of the cross) to his place of execution. This account brings to mind an undeniable similarity to the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ on His day of crucifixion.

In addition, Irenaeus of Lyons provides a second century C.E. account by explaining that, “the very form of the cross, too, has five extremities, two in length, two in breadth, and one in the middle, on which the person rests who is fixed by the nails” (Irenaeus 395). The fifth extremity supported the one being crucified at the feet in order to prolong the grueling death.

So it is owing to these documents among others, that we can confidently acknowledge that our common understanding of the cross is corroborated by history, and more than 300 years before the birth of Constantine.

If that was not enough to be convincing, perhaps our archaeological records will serve in settling the matter. During the years 40 B.C.E. to 135 C.E., many Jewish people used stone containers called ossuaries as secondary means of burying the dead by enclosing their bones within the receptacle. Numerous ossuaries have recently been discovered which contain Greek and Hebrew names along with the symbol of the cross, and at times the name of Jesus. The significance of this discovery is that no orthodox Jew would associate with the cross. Therefore, it stands to reason that the discovered ossuaries contained the remains of Jewish Christian believers. In fact, one ossuary has been found with the inscription “Jesus Christ, the Redeemer,” and still yet another referring to Jesus as “Jehovah” or “the Lord” (Grant 86, 89).

The dating of these ossuaries are important to our argument. It has already been stated that Jewish ossuaries were typically attributed to 40 B.C.E. to 135 C.E. But we have ossuaries with very specific dates from the first century:

During the fall of 1945, the famous Jewish archaeologist, Professor Eleazar L. Sukenik of Hebrew University, excavated a first-century burial cave discovered near the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot on the road to Bethlehem, just at the southern end of the Kidron Valley that lies between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount… He found many ossuaries with the sign of the cross, two occurrences of the name “Jesus,” Greek inscriptions, and a coin minted in A.D. 41 for King Herod Agrippa I (Grant 88).

The minted coin is evidence that the cave had been sealed between 41-42 C.E. For this reason, it is without question that the cross had been associated with Jesus Christ with a marginal lapse after His death and resurrection. It is interesting to note that it was the false goddess Inanna who was actually killed upon a stake.

Although skepticism related to the cross has been addressed with history and archaeology, let us now turn to our most authoritative and definitive source: the Bible.

In the Gospel of John, the disciple Thomas expresses his doubts connected to the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. He tells his brothers in the Upper Room, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (emphasis mine, NASB, 20:25).

This verse records nails in the plural form making it clear that two nails were used, one for each hand. Bearing this in mind, holding to the view that Jesus was killed on a stake makes it difficult to imagine a need for two nails in overlapping hands. Consequently, this account lines up with what history says about the method of crucifixion on a cross.

Further, in the Gospel of Matthew we read the following description pertaining to the titulus (sign) fixed upon the cross: And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (27:37). The titulus fastened to the cross is described as being placed above the head of Jesus Christ. If our Lord had been killed at the stake, then His hands would have been nailed above His head, and the sign would have been placed above His hands.

The last accusation to set straight has to do with ashes being a pagan symbol. It should be evident by now how easy it can be to assume connections due to the breadth and long history of religions and Christianity.

However, there are ample examples of ashes being used in the Scriptures which acknowledge their place in Christendom. Here are a few to be considered which should serve the reader in gleaning biblical meaning:

  • We are but dust: Abraham exclaims that we are nothing but dust and ashes when he appeals to the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:27, realizing that he is a mortal man in the presence of a holy and immortal God. This is mentioned once again in Ecclesiastes 3:20 as Solomon says, “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
  • Ashes were used to repent: The king of Nineveh and his kingdom heeded the warning of God proclaimed by Jonah. To repent, the king and his people put on sackcloth and sat in the dust (Jon. 3:6). Job also repents in dust and ashes when confronted by God for being self-righteous and belittling His good nature (Job 42:6).
  • Ashes were used to mourn: In the book of Esther, Mordecai learns about Hamon’s plot to destroy the Jews, and “tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly” (Esth. 4:2). Tamar likewise mourns with ashes after Amnon raped her (2 Sam. 13:19).
  • Ashes were used to seek succor from the Lord: Upon understanding that the desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years, Daniel pleaded to God in “prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3).
  • Ashes were used for purification: In Jeremiah we read, “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them” (19:17).
  • Jesus also seems to imply that using ashes for a righteous sake is accepted when He chastises Chorzain and Bethsaida by explaining, “if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes” (Luke 10:13).

In light of the evidence, the reader can confidently acknowledge that Lent is not derivative of paganism. It would make little sense for the church to condone pagan practices while understanding the grave sin of idolatry. Similarly, it would make little sense for a new convert to embrace a monotheistic religion only to cling to polytheistic tenants or rituals. Indeed, this is especially evident when bringing to mind the relentless persecution of Christianity until the meeting of Bishops in Milan (313 C.E.) fostered by the rule of Constantine. If a convert was so bold to face persecution for his or her faith, they would accept Christianity unconditionally.

CONCLUSION

This article has sought to address the prominent misconceptions about Lent. Indeed, it is beyond the scope of this article to cover all arguments in their entirety. Even so, it should be evident that the church has instituted many practices that are not specifically commanded or directed in the Bible making Lent no different. Nevertheless, there is no direct conflict for such practices as they are biblical in spirit. The Bible provides rich examples of how to live in accordance with God and man which believers can draw from. Conversely, the Holy Spirit often endorses and leads the Body of Christ in ways that honor Him.

The reader can also rest assured that he or she does no disservice to God simply because someone may be aware of their dedication to fasting during the Lenten season, given the heart of the believer is fixed upon the Lord instead of personal recognition. Moreover, the expostulation that Lent ignores the Christian spirit of gratefulness and joy has been explained and shown to be mistaken. And finally, the assumption that Lent stems from paganism has been exposed as folly.

Lent should never be mandated by the church. However, seeing as many Christians strengthen their faith and grow closer to Jesus during the preparation for Pasch, it should not be condemned either. In saying that, I conclude by suggesting that the reader take into account the following passage of Scripture found in Philippians. Here we are admonished to support one another in brotherly love regardless of our differences:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (2:1-4).


References

Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Uhrichsville: Barbour, 1963. Print.

Dionysius, and Earnest Cary. The Roman Antiquities. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1939.  Print.

Hislop, Alexander. The Two Babylons: Or, the Papal Worship Proved to Be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife. N.p.: Filiquarian, 2007. Print.

Jeffrey, Grant R. Jesus, the Great Debate. Toronto, Ontario: Frontier Research Publications, 1999. Print.

Pflughaupt, Laurent. Letter by Letter: An Alphabetical Miscellany. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2007. Print.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, A. Cleveland Coxe, Allan Menzies, Ernest Cushing Richardson, and Bernhard Pick. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1885. Print.

Sacks, David. Letter Perfect: The A-to-Z History of Our Alphabet. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004. Print.

Stookey, Laurence Hull. Baptism, Christ’s Act in the Church. Nashville: Abingdon, 1982. Print.