Dr. Ralph Blair’s 2012 connECtion Keynote
Let’s hear God’s word.
“God’s wrath is revealed against all godless suppression of God’s truth. For what can be known of God is clear. God has made it clear. The visible has always been evidence of the invisible – God’s Power, God’s Person. No one has an excuse. For, aware of God, they refused to recognize God and they refused to be thankful. Self-obsessed and lost in the darkness of their speculations, they claim to be wise, but they make themselves fools. They exchanged God’s glory for sticks and stones they shape into idols – mere images of people, birds, bulls and snakes. Exchanging God’s truth for a lie, God gave them over to the worship and service of their distortions of creation instead of an appropriate awe and gratitude to their Creator – forever blessed!
Since they refused to be mindful of God, God relinquished them to their mindlessness. Assuming God’s irrelevance, they turn to self-centeredness: greed, injustice, arrogance, sex rituals and abuse, deceit, slander and murder. And they reap the results of their delusion. Puffed with pride, they conjure up cruel schemes and flaunt transgression. They hate God. They cheat and lie, brake promises and fail to love their families. Ruthless and self-asserting, they’re unconcerned with the needs of others. Yet, aware of God’s judgment – that all who do such things deserve to die – they not only do them, they applaud all who do likewise.” (Romans 1:18-32)
Beginning with the pagan past, Paul reviews human rebellion against God and the concomitant wrath of God. This wrath is not well understood by people these days. It’s not a heaven-sent hissy fit nor is it impersonal karma. The wrath of God is the wrath of God – God’s determinedly compassionate opposition to our killing ourselves with our idolatrous self-worship and pretentious self-righteousness over against the awe and gratitude that fits what we owe to God for our very life and for God’s very Presence.
Before being brought to faith in Christ, the Gentiles at Rome had bowed to idols that left them as empty as were the idols. Yet, in that experience of emptiness, God’s wrath graciously exposed their suppression of truth, revealing the folly of their relying on idols among which God had allowed them to wallow at will, which was their wont.
This is what Paul was writing about. What he was not writing and could not have been writing, were “clobber” verses against what we now know as homosexual orientation and same-sex couples. Nobody in the ancient world could have imagined a loving same-gendered romance between social peers – let alone same-sex psychosexual orientation. N. T. Wright, no apologist for same-sex couples, nevertheless states: “Paul could not have envisioned … ‘monogamous’ same-sex relationships between persons of homosexual preference.” As Westminster Seminary’s Moises Silva cautions: “We must be very careful not to read into the text present-day concerns that are not really there.”
What specific sex abuse Paul did have in mind isn’t clear, though it may have included males who penetrated women anally to avoid procreation (the inference of church fathers for 400 years). He probably was thinking of pederasty and other sexual abuse of subordinates, especially of slaves (who constituted a considerable part of early Christian assemblies). There’s no doubt Paul had cultic prostitution in mind, especially as he was thinking in terms of false worship and writing from Corinth where over a thousand self-castrated priests served Kybele in orgiastic rites. F. F. Bruce sees “the idolatry and fornication of Baal-peor” in 1:27 and, in 1:30, he says Paul means, “humiliating arrogance to those who are not powerful enough to retaliate.” But, whatever examples he had in mind, he saw all of them as the “consequences of the pagans’ abandonment and suppression of the true God.” (C. E. B. Cranfield)
The moral corruption was not the cause of God’s relinquishing them to idols. It was the result of their rejection of God. In the words of the venerable Charles Hodge of Old Princeton: “The moral degradation of the heathen was a punishment of their apostasy from God.” So, God let them have it their way – with all the corruption intrinsic to having it their way. And that curse is worldwide.
But, some preachers today use Romans 1 against homosexuals and miss Paul’s point. Reading homosexuality, as such, into suppression’s consequences, they overlook the direction of Paul’s argument. They invert his sequence. For Paul, it’s first suppression, then consequences – all the consequences. Whatever Paul’s examples of consequences, they’re all subsequent to suppression. This clear sequence is crucial. And, in zeroing in on a projected “homosexuality”, they overlook the profusion of consequences that reach into every expression of fallen human nature. This clear diversity is crucial. And, in pastoral care, missing either the sequence or the diversity can be cruel and even tragic.
Today, we know that even grade school kids – even those who’ve already given their hearts to Jesus – can sense their growing same-sex attraction and get scared. Who thinks that such kids have so deliberately suppressed God’s truth that these unsought, unwanted distractions of same-sex attraction are consequences of their having chosen to suppress the truth of God? What these kids are trying to suppress are their unwanted same-sex attractions! Instead of turning from God, they’re turning to God: “Please, God, make me straight.” But that’s a prayer that “clobber verse” preachers should pray. It’s they who don’t get things straight: Suppressing God’s truth precedes whatever consequences Paul had in mind – and whatever pet perversions preachers read into Paul’s mind.
Of course, some gay people do turn from an alleged “god” that preachers use to footnote antigay rhetoric. But this “rejection” comes out of the pain of being told they’re rejected by that “god”, and out of their being lied about by those preachers.
And Christians today take Paul’s Hellenic concept of para physin, “against nature”, and tack it, too, to all things gay. Do they not realize that Paul calls circumcision “against nature”? Jews weren’t born circumcised. Do they not know that Paul says God’s grafting of wild pagans into Israel’s cultivated olive tree was “against nature”? Gentiles weren’t born under the Jewish Covenant. To Paul, what’s simply “against nature” is sometimes good, sometimes not. Paul says the sin of idolatry is “against nature” – i.e., we’re not born idolatrous; we turn idolatrous. And our idols can be of sticks and stones, sex or systems, proof-texts of scripture or blatant skepticism, but, at bottom, they’re all about our would-be autonomous self.
But Paul’s argument in Romans 1 could not, specifically, have been against homosexuality as we understand it today. Nor is Paul’s dispute in the other “clobber” verse (I Cor 6:9) about such homosexuality. In line with Jesus’ teaching against retaliation (Matt 5), Paul writes to the church at Corinth and registers his disgust with Christians’ suing other Christians. Ironically, Christians still file lawsuits against other Christians – especially in property disputes over gay issues. Paul’s point was not about whatever he might have meant by a now indecipherable term tossed into a list of abusers he took to be just as bad as the Christians who sue each other. Yet, his clear words against such lawsuits are now obliterated in order to “proof text” against homosexuals in these lawsuits between Christians today.
Moving to Romans 2, Paul traps the self-righteous Jews (and whoever else condemns others). From his own background, Paul can identify with Jewish disdain for pagans. But now, he says: “You who condemn others, whoever you are, you’re without excuse, for in condemning them, you’re condemning yourself, for you do the same sorts of things.” (Rom 2:1)
Jesus had told them: “The way you judge others will be the way you’ll be judged. The standard you impose will be imposed on you”. That’s put in a verbal construction that reminded Jews of their ultimate Judge – the Lord. (Matt 7)
President Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary opposes same-sex marriage. But, aware of such warnings against condemning others, he recently told fellow Southern Baptists: “We have fallen short of biblical fidelity on marriage. We have no credibility to say that we’re going to address [same-sex] marriage now.”
Jesus spoke of a speck some sinner spies in another sinner’s eye. The faultfinder had to strain to see it, since his own eyes were log-blocked. So, to self-righteous Jews, looking down their noses at Gentiles, Paul cites their prophet, Hosea, on the Lord’s word on Gentiles, spoken to Jews: “I will call them ‘my people’ whom you call, ‘not my people’; I will call her ‘my beloved’; whom you call, ‘not my beloved’.” (Rom 9:25; Hosea 2:23) Paul cites another word of the Lord – this, from Isaiah: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us [Jews] descendants, we’d have become as Sodom and Gomorrah”. (Rom 9:29; Isaiah 1:9)
Self-righteousness expresses suppression of God’s truth. It’s worth seeing self-righteousness today in the self-righteousness then – especially if we include ourselves with the self-righteous today. But, besides seeing ourselves within a community of self-righteous – which can aim to dilute our guilt – we must see ourselves as self-righteous individuals. This would be for our good and for the good of others – psychologically, socially and spiritually.
But before we bring it all home, let’s look at self-righteousness that’s all around us. Besides, our model is Paul’s in Romans: first the set up, then the take down.
In Paul’s exposé of self-righteous Gentile suppression of God’s truth, we see our own elite. Rome’s elite dismissed peasants’ polytheism and Jews’ dearth of gods, just as postmodernists today self-righteously dismiss the faith of “flyover country”.
Yet, even some atheists see dangers in such disdain. Lesbian, social critic and atheist Camille Paglia almost paraphrases Paul when she writes: “Totally secularized society, with contempt for religion, sinks into materialism and self absorption and gradually goes slack.”
Gay British journalist Matthew Parris is more explicit. Cambridge and Yale educated and once a Conservative MP, he’s an atheist, too. Yet, he confesses that, there’s “an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.” Parris says that what he finds so disconcerting is this: “The enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa.” He says that, quite beyond the welfare provided by both secular and Christian agencies, “Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. … Far from having cowed or confined its converts, [Christian faith] liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others … something changed in [their] faces. … Christianity had taught them about ‘man’s place in the Universe’.” Parris says Christianity “smashes straight through [the] crushing tribal groupthink, [the fear] of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of tribal hierarchy [of the] big man [of urban Africa’s] gangster politics.” He argues and warns that, for Africa to “walk tall amid 21st-century global competition … removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.” His insight is applicable far beyond Africa.
Historian Will Durant observed: “The greatest question of our time is… whether [we] can live without God.” Durant was echoing Nietzsche on even lost delusions of the divine. In his 1882 book, The Gay Science, Nietzsche reran Romans 1, though without Paul’s full perspective. Nietzsche declared: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
But, God is not dead. And recent psychological research suggests that children are born with a natural ability to believe in God – and it’s a phenomenon that differs markedly from their believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. (Justin L. Barrett)
The study of history and cultural anthropology also evidences human awareness of God. Even the new militant atheism and Richard Dawkins’ conjured “god” memes and all the other efforts at pushback against the truth of God attest to what they suppress: God is! An agnostic and mathematician, David Berlinski, calls the awareness of God, “the instinctive default position of the human race”. He suggests: “There may in fact be a connection between the importance of religious belief … and the existence of the Deity in reality. Not a logical connection, no. But a connection nonetheless, and so a clue.”
Berlinski illustrates some of the dire consequences of denying this clue when he writes: “What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the [KGB] did not believe … [and on and on Berlinski goes, listing atheist regimes and what they did not believe] … that God was watching what they were doing. … That [very assumption of the death of God, this agnostic declares] is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.”
What would prove to be the most violent century in history was not the 19th century’s forecast for the 20th. Duped into naïve optimism akin to their children’s obsession with Pollyanna, turn-of-the-century Protestant liberals, as well as some postmillennial fundamentalists, welcomed in the 20th century as, “The Christian Century”. On the other hand, as an historian notes, the “‘progressive’ view was expecting that a secular society, purged of the pernicious influence of religion by the cleansing gales of scientific reason, would by its nature prove to be just, peaceful and humane.” (David Bentley Hart)
But history lessons that expose our fallen nature fall on defensively deaf ears. Atheist Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist, fast-forwards the Stone Age brain into what he claims, since the secularism of the 18th-century’s Enlightenment, brings “decline of violence [that] may be the most significant and under-appreciated development in the history of our species.” But Pinker plays statistical tricks that minimize the all-too-faceless multimillions murdered by 20th century atheist regimes. With no scientific evidence, he boasts that, human brains have now evolved into organs of enlarged empathy and are now increasingly attuned to seeing things from others’ points of view. The Selfish Gene is in shock! But, of course, even Pinker isn’t seeing things from others’ points of view – especially from Christians’ points of view. So, whose brains does he have in mind? Christopher Hitchens’, Richard Dawkins’, Stephen Hawking’s or Che’s, Castro’s, Qaddafi’s, Mao’s or Kim Il Sung’s? Or, Ann Coulter’s and Michael Moore’s?
Pinker’s title, The Better Angels of Our Nature, is, ironically, taken from Lincoln’s first inaugural address, a failed attempt to woo the South from seceding. Denying reality, Lincoln orated: “We are not enemies, but friends.” Granting reality, he orated: “We must not be enemies.” He went on: “Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Well! Shall we impose a Pinker notion of human nature on all those who suffered in that “Civil” War and Reconstruction and Jim Crow and Segregation and race riots and all who still suffer race hustlers and malingering resentment of racism? Send wake-up calls to the belligerent Left and Right! Enlighten pro- and antigay agitprops? Alert all the litigious! Apprise Angry Atheists! Give a heads-up to the Habitually Offended Community. Tweet Occupy and May Day anarchists. Twitter talk radio’s loudmouths and their fans and advise all the verbally violent online. Contact capitalist corrupters. Break the news to bullied gays, battered wives, beaten children, broken families and the victims of over a billion abortions around the world in the past 30 years. Tell it to targets of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Mafia, Mexican drug cartels, Crips and Bloods and Latin Kings. Secularism saves!
We can now disarm the Defense Department, shelve the CIA, fold up the FBI, call back the National Guard, fire the cops, unlock prisons and your own front doors and disconnect 911. But beware of all of the defriended at Facebook. They’re plotting their revenge even as we speak.
In 1966, as a Penn State chaplain, I directed Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. The Brooklyn Academy recently revived the play – if “revived” is the right word for anything Beckett. The cynical old Krapp was still there – entombed Everyman – hunched over his reel-to-reel tapes, or “spooools”, as was his passing pleasure to pronounce. He’s listening again to his long ago self, pontificating his long ago aspirations and resolutions, all now lost – too tiresome, too timed-out – but still useful for suppression’s distractions.
Of course, the play is really Beckett’s turn to pontificate his point of view: Emptiness – the epitome of existence, meaninglessness – manipulated as meaning, purposelessness – postured as profound. A New York Times reviewer applauds these “wordless moments that seem to stretch into eternity”. (Charles Isherwood)
But, is Krapp trapped in a void where no Eternal Word was ever made flesh to dwell among us, no still, small voice ever heard? Is there really nothing beyond wordless boredom? The void of avoidance would seem to do for the suppression of God.
Beckett’s play begins with Krapp’s long, silent blank stare at the audience and ends with Krapp’s long, silent blank stare at the audience. Purposelessness is his purpose; pointlessness, his point. This passes for profundity when God is dead.
I presented this Krapp one Friday evening, along with The Sandbox, an Edward Albee nod to absurdity. Then, one Sunday afternoon at a bench under the great elms along the Penn State Mall, I presented Albee’s earliest work, The Zoo Story, a bitter play of purposeless lives and pointless death.
My purpose was to facilitate after-the-play conversations on deeper purpose, deeper meaning over against these sophomoric secular pieties that were just then creeping across campuses as anti-God avant-garde.
Now de rigueur – secular piety expects Christians to be closeted. As Yale Law professor Stephen Carter critiques this prejudice in his, The Culture of Disbelief: “Those who believe in God are encouraged to keep it a secret.” Secular piety means to tell us all, that, for us all, there is no divine truth at all, while, it tries its damnedest to push its secular “truth” as the truth for us all. Railroading a doctrinaire relativism that’s anything but relative, it aims at abolishing all bias but its own, devotes itself to diversity, except diversity of opinion, trashes individual conscience and free speech for the sake of its own selective mass inclusion, pontificates and polices what’s politically correct, protects a favored few from “hate speech” but to hell with all the so-called “haters”, and touts tolerance of all but those it judges “intolerant” of its twist on “tolerance”, i.e., absolute and dogmatic scorn of all dogmatism and absolutism that’s not its dogmatism and absolutism.
Well, Beckett’s kicked the bucket but Albee’s still here – in his 80s now. Jerry Tallmer, a Village Voice founder, recently interviewed Albee about his play, The Lady From Dubuque. While buttering up the playwright, Tallmer smirked: “With all the Grand Guignol Republican Iowa Caucus still warm in memory – you ever been to Dubuque?” Albee smirked: “No. Is there such a place?” He went right on: “My plays are all about the same thing, actually: People lying to themselves and each other about the truths in their lives. Pinter did it. Genet did it. Ionesco did it. We all did it.”
There are, then, “lies” and “truths”, Mr. Albee – albethey plural! But they’re concocted for suppression. They lie about both God and us – the two sides of the same coin of reality: Creator and creature, Sovereign God and usurper gods, Life and death. And the lies manifest the wrath of God.
Newsweek calls David Wolpe: America’s “No. 1 Pulpit Rabbi”. He’s at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. He once spent a day at Oral Roberts University where he addressed the faculty, staff and student body. Years later, he wrote about this in The Washington Post. He recalls telling the ORU faculty that, while he was growing up, whatever The New York Times “took seriously, [he] took seriously. What The New York Times did not cover did not exist.” During discussion of the secular establishment, he says Oral Roberts, “with a genuinely anguished look”, asked him: “Can you explain why they hate us?” Wolpe writes: “There was a stiffened silence. At that moment I decided that such a direct question deserved an honest answer.” So, he told them: “They don’t, by and large, hate you. It is worse, in a way – they hold you in contempt.” He adds, in the Post: “That was the truth then, and for many is the truth now.”
Disbelief in the God revealed in Scripture and attacks on basic tenets of Christianity are found even among ordained clergy. A Free University of Amsterdam study has found that 1 in 6 ministers in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands is either an atheist or an agnostic. Says atheist Don Cupitt, who’s also an Anglican priest: “No external object can bring about my inner spiritual liberation … only I can free myself.” Cupitt preaches “fully autonomous spirituality” in which no God is necessary. He advocates what he calls, incoherently, “Christian Buddhism”.
Contempt of this kind is found in religion departments in universities as well as in historically church-related colleges and seminaries. When Anne Rice began her research for a novel on Christ, she says she was shocked to discover how much religion professors view Christ with what she terms, “outright contempt”. In her words, she dealt with “New Testament scholars who detest and despise Jesus Christ.” She says: “I’d never come across this kind of emotion in any other field of research.” Yet, she observes, that their arguments “lacked coherence [and] were not elegant. Arguments about Jesus himself were full of conjecture. Some books were no more than assumptions piled upon assumptions. Absurd conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all.” She saw that, “the whole picture which had floated around the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years – that case was not made.”
The contempt she found among these teachers is the suppression of God’s truth. They see very well that Jesus’ claims aren’t like those of any other religious figure and they can no more tolerate the tremendous implications of this than did Jerusalem’s 1st century religious elite.
Ravi Zacharias observes: “In all of the [other world religions], there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn; it is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammad who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you. By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message.”
Moving to the fields of science, Berlinski notes that Christians “are right [to] suspect that the scientific community holds them in contempt.” In his book, The Devil’s Delusion, he exposes the science elite’s unscientific atheistic nonsense.
This animosity was on display at a recent atheists rally in Washington, D.C., where the popular atheist proselytizer, biologist Richard Dawkins, exhorted the crowd to “ridicule Christians with contempt.” The aroused crowd cheered wildly!
Yet, even Dawkins admits he has a real problem with all the “complex design” in nature. He writes: “The complexity of living organisms is matched by the elegant efficiency”, and he declares, in frustration: “If anyone doesn’t agree that this amount of complex design cries out for an explanation, I give up.”
Now before proceeding here, let’s recognize that, as noted by an evolutionary biologist with a second Ph.D. in evangelical theology, “evolutionary creation” is neither unbiblical nor unscientific. (Denis O. Lamoureux) The American Scientific Affiliation, of which I’ve long been a member and a consulting reviewer, is a national association of evangelical Christians in various fields of science. And, as the editors of Christianity Today have put it: “We don’t need another fundamentalist reaction against science.”
But scientism isn’t science. It’s metaphysics. Not being well versed in logic, though, most folks tend to miss this mistake. And yet, scientism’s contempt for Christian truth is so persistent, so pervasive, that it really can be evidence of reaction formation, that visceral defense mechanism to what’s sensed to be true but feared to be too true for comfort. Noting the anxious anger with which secular scientists face theistic implications of the Big Bang, one astrophysicist writes: “Perhaps the best argument in favor of the thesis that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists.” And he notes that this contempt prompts alternative fabrications “with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper.” (Christopher Isham) No doubt. And one can suspect even deeper spiritual forces – all in the service of suppressing God’s truth.
Over against such suppression, Nobel laureate Arno Penzias, discoverer of the Big Bang’s cosmic microwave background radiation, testifies: “The best data we have concerning the big bang are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.” A fellow physicist agrees: “Indeed”, says Victor Weisskopf, “the Judeo-Christian tradition describes the beginning of the world in a way that is surprisingly similar to the scientific model.”
Well, astronomer Fred Hoyle, the atheist who coined the term, “Big Bang”, was not at all happy that the universe, as he put it, looked “like a put-up job”. When he was asked who did this “put-up job”, Hoyle came up with aliens from outer space (or, from out of thin air).
However, as physicist Paul Davies observes: “Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient ‘coincidences’ and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.” He says: “The impression of design is overwhelming.”
Of course, design suggests a Designer. So, cosmologist Stephen Hawking denies the need for a Designer. He says: “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” The universe … from nothing … because there is the law? “Is” does not mean “nothing” “Is” means something. Is this a reworking of another rationalization on “is”? Hawking is talking tautology: law of gravity as Lawgiver. He’s also talking theology, for both gravity’s law and gravity’s Lawgiver are posited as governing the universe while not being governed by it. So, no matter what he pretends, Hawking’s not escaped the dilemma.
Of course, neither Hawking nor anyone else ever does escape a faith-base. In a New York Times essay, Davies astutely explained that, “science has its own faith-based belief system”. But, as this physicist notes, this is “a fact that makes many scientists squirm.” He rightly concluded: “Until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.” On cue, as it were, many atheists quickly and publicly registered their enraged reaction formation – showing that Davies, indeed, has their number.
Scientism tries to wiggle out of our fine-tuned universe’s clues for God by conjuring cosmic inflation’s creating innumerable universes with different laws of nature. My, what a godsend is a guess that’s un-testable! Yet, naturally, for any life to emerge in that multiverse, multiple components and mechanisms, there too, must be fine-tuned. Merely kicking the origins question out beyond their physics still leaves them just as mired in their metaphysics.
Or, more to the point, does their desperate guesswork reveal the outworking of God’s wrath? Refusing to own up to the truth of the Creator, they’re lost in inner space, projecting it out beyond outer space. Their notions get them nowhere, “no-place”: their not-so-fine-tuned U-topia! There’s literally no “there” there. But, they prefer such a “no-place” to any place in God’s universe – or, even, in God’s multiverse!
One biologist is so enraged about the God of creation that he can’t avoid mixing up even his metaphors. He labels Christians, “super-ghost [fans] guided by a little angel [in] the divine jumping disease … dig[ging themselves] into ‘faiths’ like a blind leech into flesh.” They’re nothing but “offensive little swarms of insects.” (Emile Zuckerkandl) Now, there’s a reasoned scientific rebuttal!
Yet, on Darwinism, this furious atheist reluctantly admits that facts about evolution don’t match all the hype: “The general foundations of the evolution of ‘higher’ from ‘lower’ organisms seems so far to have largely eluded analysis.” His inserting, “so far”, betrays his abiding faith and hope in Darwinism, even if, so far, he’s lacking in charity.
More straightforward is an evolutionary molecular biologist at the NIH. Against the popular notions of evolution, he explains: “Sudden emergence of diverse forms at a new level of complexity [is what’s seen] instead of Darwin’s original proposal [that] remains the dominant description of biological evolution. … In each of these pivotal nexuses in life’s history, the principal ‘types’ seem to appear rapidly and fully equipped with the signature features of the respective new level of biological organization. No intermediate ‘grades’ or intermediate forms between different types are detectable.” (Eugene Koonin)
The faith behind the suppression of God is illustrated inadvertently, but precisely, in a frank admission by a Marxist evolutionary biologist who writes: “It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create [what] produce[s] material explanations … Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” (Richard Lewontin) Now, that is the fundamentalist faith, creed and dogma of scientism, materialism, secularism and atheism.
“We cannot allow a divine foot in the door!” No God need apply! No Christian apologist could better expose suppression’s pre-theoretical, pre-scientific presupposition of faith than does this brazen God-suppressive Marxist biologist at Harvard.
But one atheist who did finally “allow a divine foot in the door”, was C. S. Lewis. In his own words, he finally “gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” And there have been many other atheists who’ve turned to God: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, Ravi Zacharias, Anne Rice, Joy Davidman, Edith Stein, A. N. Wilson, Richard Wurmbrand, Marvin Olasky, Whittaker Chambers, Allen Tate, Lee Strobel, Richard Morgan, Mark Eastman, Norma McCovey, Bernard Nathanson, Cicely Saunders, Czeslaw Milosz, Peter Hitchens, Richard Lumsted, George R. Price, Allan Sandage, Jennifer Fulwiler, Holly Ordway, Kirk Cameron and many others.
What God-suppressors detest more than the theistic clues in the Big Bang and our universe’s fine-tuned design for life, more than all the evidence of humanity’s fallen nature in their credit card passwords and the keys in their pockets, more even than Dubuque and all the rest of “flyover country”, is having to recognize that God is God and they are not, that the truth is God’s, not theirs. And it’s turning from that accursed arrogance of autonomy to the blessed reality of the living Christ that makes all the difference – now and forever.
One critic of the smug, Christophobic feedback loops in secular society is Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. He grants he’s “not particularly religious”, but he says he “stand[s] in awe” of all the evangelical Christians he’s seen “risking their lives … on the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide”. He also observes that, “Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities.” That’s why, he confides, “It sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.”
But Kristof misses the motives behind evangelicals’ “good works” and behind secularist mocking when he muses: If only Christians and secularists “could bridge this ‘God gulf,’ we’d make far more progress on the world’s ills.” But, only the Gospel of Christ’s cross can bridge the “God gulf”. And that cross is and always has been utter foolishness to secularists. (I Cor 1:18)
Then, we can’t all work together on the world’s ills? As Christians, we should! There is no restriction on our Golden Rule living with everyone. But, we can’t “just all get along”? Oh, as Christians, we’re called to do so much more than “just all get along”. We’re called to love as Christ loved us – a tall order. We’re called to love all other suppressors, – a tall order. We’re called to love enemies, to do good to our persecutors – a very tall order. So, yes, we must learn to work along side any who work against the world’s ills!
But there’s more. Jesus promised that, with the unbelieving world watching, if we’d love as he says we should, the world would conclude: These really are the followers of Jesus! (John 13:13-35) And Paul picked up on this: “With every opportunity, let’s do good to all.” (Gal 6:10)
Apologist Francis Schaeffer called such love: “the final apologetic”. It’s the clincher for folks outside the faith. Love wins a hearing! But, how many are the loveless reasons we, Christians, give to others, amounting to no reason for them to have anything to do with Jesus! For instance, the sad findings of George Barna’s evangelical pollsters reveal that, “the perceptions that Christians are ‘against’ gays and lesbians – not only objecting to their lifestyles but also harboring irrational fear and unmerited scorn toward them – has reached critical mass. The gay issue has become the ‘big one’, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. … Outsiders say our hostility toward gays – not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals – has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.” (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons)
See, self-righteous, self-centered atheists and secularists aren’t any more adept than we are at self-righteous, self-centered suppression of God. We, in our arrogance, push back against the light we have from God. (John 3:19f) Christians do this. And, of course, so do Christians who happen to be gay or lesbian.
Yet, our suppressing is the greater ingratitude and, therefore, the greater offense, the greater guilt, the greater shame. For we Christians push back, not only against the light of God’s common grace all around us and the imago Dei within us, not only against the light of the first testament, but against the light of the New Testament and the greater Light in Christ Jesus and God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.
We may say we’re grateful for God’s grace, but how do we live it? In the Light of the One in Whom and by Whom we say we see ourselves and all else, how does his Light shine through us into the lives of others? It was not for nothing that Jesus said: “To whom much is entrusted, much is expected”? (Luke 12:48)
Do we take for granted our being born? Do we, as Christians, take for granted our being born again? We’re here, we’re cleared, we’re used to it, hmm? We’re here because God so finely tuned this universe, that it was fit for our arrival and our survival. We’re cleared because God in Christ laid down his life to save us, his enemies (Rom 5:8), who were also “the joy set before him”, for whom he endured the cross. (Heb 12:2)
Do we realize that, even, as it were, before God created space-time, you were there and I was there – in God’s Mind, in God’s Heart? Jesus invites us to inherit God’s Kingdom, prepared from the foundation of the world. (Matt 25:34) Paul told Ephesians: “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be set apart, holy and blameless in Christ, in love.” (Eph 1:4) John spoke of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev 13:8) Logically, if not temporally, before the world was, Love found a way to right every wrong we’d ever do, bringing justice and mercy together at the bloody cross-beams of Calvary in AD 33, where, as Paul says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us.” (II Cor 5:19)
And we were there, too, at “Let there be light!”, in a speck, a split second after the Big Bang, when and where our universal data began, some 13 billion years ago.
And after all those billions of years, each of us was there in one sperm cell out of some 300 million in that one ejaculation of each of our dad’s. And each of us was there in just one of our mother’s ova that had reached maturity out of some 2 million egg-follicles she’d had all her life. That one little sperm cell sped ahead to fuse with that one little ovum.
Do we realize, with the Psalmist, what Providence “knit us together in our mother’s womb” ? (Ps 139:13) And, each of us was brought safely through – without miscarriage, without an abortion. Do we realize what Love preceded us through years of dependence on others, leading us, way upon way, and with gifts of which we were not always even aware and for which we were not always thankful? Then along many risky roads, when we might have lost our way – we were brought through to today by God’s amazing grace, forever with us, forever going ahead of us. Indeed, are we oblivious to the grace of God behind our being here on this mountain this morning?
Even atheist Richard Dawkins says: “We are staggeringly lucky to find ourselves in the spotlight. However brief our time in the sun, if we waste a second of it, or complain that it is dull or barren … couldn’t this be seen as a callus insult to those unborn trillions who will never even be offered life in the first place?” Now look, if an atheist calls it callus to be ungrateful for life, what is it if we are less grateful than he? He has no God to thank. Don’t we?
Evangelical elder statesman J. I. Packer says: “It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through the world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side.”
But it’s worse than merely averting our eyes? In our suppression of Golden Rule truth that demands that we love and understand other people, as we want to be loved and understood, we not only don’t avert our eyes and pass by, we fix our stare of superiority on them and label them especially sinful. We call them enemies. Aren’t we called to love all the other sinners as we love ourselves? Aren’t we called to love our enemies, too – as Jesus loved us and died for us while we sinned against him and were his enemies? (Romans 5:8)
Though Packer notes a lack of love in some other orthodox Christians, he asserts a strange antipathy when it comes to same-sex couples. While he’s long opposed fellow Anglican clergy who’re avowed atheists and who’ve repudiated the most basic of Christian doctrines, Packer never separated from them ecclesiastically. But Anglican endorsement of committed, monogamous same-sex couples, he said, violated prime doctrine of the very “first order”. And he walked out on them. He said there’s no room for debate on this matter, no time for tolerance of this heresy. He declared that those couples “don’t qualify for Christ’s salvation in terms of the Gospel.” Don’t qualify? Whatever happened to Christ’s qualifying on our behalf? Whatever happened to sola gratia and sola fide of which Packer once wrote: “Christ’s vicarious righteousness is the only ground of justification, and it is only by faith that we lay hold of Christ, for his righteousness to become ours.”
But, bringing it on home – how are we ourselves suppressing God’s truth in failing to love others in need, as we should love them?
Do we gang up with LGBT lobbies to distort what’s merely ignorance or even a Christian’s honestly sincere disagreement with us, and delight in our postured “outrage” over what’s labeled, that person’s “hate speech”? When CNN’s Piers Morgan pushed his calculated, but irrelevant, gay marriage question at Kirk Cameron in a live interview about the actor’s new documentary, Monumental – a film that’s not at all about anything gay – Cameron was caught off guard. He, nonetheless, replied politely and honestly. And his surprisingly savvy presuppositionalism flew right over Morgan’s head. Predictably, the national media, Twitter and LGBT lobbies raged on and on over what they twisted into: “God told me to hate you”.
Well, I wrote to him to say that, as a Christian who’s gay and who doesn’t agree with him on his understanding of homosexuality, I nonetheless support his right, even his duty, to reply honestly to an interviewer’s question. I told him I certainly did not think that his reply was hateful. I reminded him that we all must be true to conscience and patient with one another, with respect and love. He wrote back right away, saying: “Your note has been a great encouragement to me this morning. I thank God for your kind words of support, the time you took to write it, your clear insight regarding my intent, and your mature thinking about our differences. May God bless you.”
We all want to be heard, don’t we? We all want to be loved, right? That’s what makes our call to love, as we want to be loved, so simple. A friend and pastoral care professor at Fuller Seminary says this: “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they’re almost indistinguishable.” (David Augsburger)
If we’ve met Love Himself, there’s no excuse for our not passing his love along, to listen enough to hear enough to love appropriately. Whether we agree with her or not, whether we like him or not, really doesn’t matter. And, at any rate, we’re all so easily misreading each other, – distracted as we all tend to be, absorbed in our own short-sighted and self-serving agendas.
What are we missing, what are we suppressing, of God’s truth and God’s love, that we can be so readily resentful, so given to grievance, so hyped up on taking offense, so quick to complain and blame? We fail to confess that we, ourselves, so readily suppress the truth of God’s providence, mercy and peace.
Running after fantasy affirmations, seeking self-worshipping self-esteem, sex appeal, celebrity, status, money, more and more of more and more of whatever we trick ourselves into thinking will do the trick – we’re all our own tricksters. Was not each trick we’ve ever tried but an idol that tricked us in return? By God’s grace we’ll see this for what it is and turn back to Him, our Source and our Sovereign Savior.
See, that’s God’s wrath: the deadly despair of our arrogantly assumed autonomy. But God, in Christ, absorbed the wrath on our behalf. We’d exchanged God’s glory for a lie; God exchanged God’s glory for the cross.
In vanity that’s in vain, we fixate on image. We need to stop such pitiful imagining of images that cannot begin to imagine what Paul says, “no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Cor 2:9) Our dreams cannot rise to the realms of dreams our Creator and Redeemer has for us. Says John: “We’re already God’s children. But, it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. Still, we know that when Christ appears, we’ll see him as he is, for we will be like him.” (I John 3:2) Until then, we get to live as redeemed children of God, loving God and each other and looking forward to the arrival of our Elder Brother, our Savior and Lord.
Do we see? Do we hear? There are none so blind as they who will not see; none so deaf as they who will not listen. Jesus’ coming separates all who open their eyes to see him and serve him, from all who shut their eyes tight against him. (John 9:39) Pray with the psalmist: “Open my eyes that I may see.” (Ps 119:18) Sticking fingers in our ears to singsong, “I can’t hear You”, means a sound of something – or Someone – is coming through. Says the writer to the Hebrews: “Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart.” (Heb 3:15)