Categories
Christian living Politics Scripture Theology

The Lamb of God

This morning in prayer, I read John 1:29 where John the Baptist sees Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” I thought about how so many people are alarmed about recent changes in the world that I think can be characterized as an increasing manifestation of sin in the world. I don’t think that people suddenly got a lot more sinful, but that there is in an increased boldness as if certain forces are confident that now is a good time for them to come out of hiding and make their move. That is why I say there is an increasing manifestation of evil rather than an increasing evil. Regardless of how we describe it, many people of good will are alarmed at what they are seeing.

I hear a lot of talk about what should be done to combat this evil, and that is a good thing to do, but we must keep at the forefront of our thinking that it is Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. While he may call each of us to do a particular thing as partners in his work, the solution to sin in the world is his, and it was accomplished on the cross two millennia ago. Indeed, I see the current “unmasking” of evil as a prelude to a significant response by God. It may be cataclysmic, but I think it will end a growing rebellion that has been 500 years in the making. Whether this response is the final judgment or the initiation of a kind of second Christendom, I don’t know, but I think it is becoming clear that the rebellion is not sustainable.

Of course, I may be completely wrong about the timing, and a minor pendulum swing away from the present craziness might allow things to be drawn out much longer. Nonetheless, we must still look to the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, and ask him for wisdom and strength to do our part along with him.

Categories
Philosophy Theology

The First Cause

Science finds explanations for how things work in the world. In other words, it finds causes. Each cause that is found leads to more questions because of the nature of the discovered cause is not self-explanatory. Let me illustrate with some examples.

The first example has to do with levels of explanation, which are represented by various scientific disciplines. If I want to understand how my body works, that is explained in terms of modern medicine and biology. If I want to understand why biology works the way it does, that is explained in terms of chemistry. If I want to understand the reason for the laws of chemistry, that is explained in terms of the laws of physics. So physics explains or causes the laws of chemistry, which causes the functions of biology, which explains the workings of the human body.

What is the cause of the laws of physics? While we may find more laws of physics that are more fundamental than what we currently understand, those laws will provoke more questions about why they are the way they are.

Another set of causes has to do with events. Why do I exist? The reason is because my parents conceived me. Why did they exist? The reason is their parents. We can theoretically trace a chain of causes back to the origin of life. Why and how did life begin? We don’t know right now, but we might figure that out someday, but any causes that science discovers for the origin of life would be some set of events that themselves require a cause. We can keep tracing these causes all the way back to the Big Bang. Why was there a Big Bang? Science might be able to someday determine a cause for the Big Bang, but where did that thing come from?

What do we do now? Do we say that there is an infinite regression of causes? Is it turtles all the way down? An infinite regression of causes is impossible because without a starting point, none of the causes can happen. To understand this, think about a hanging chandelier. What is holding up the chandelier? A link of chain. What is holding up the link of chain? It is a second link of chain. We can keep adding links of chain, but the chandelier will fall unless the chain is attached to something besides another chain link. We can add an infinite number of chain links, but eventually the chain must be attached to a different kind of thing that is capable of supporting the chandelier.

The causes that we can discover in our universe are like those links of chain. They are what philosophers call “contingent causes,” which mean that they are causes that come to be because of other causes. The existence of the cause is contingent on something causing its existence. To anchor this chain of causes, we need a first cause that is completely different in nature than all of the contingent causes. We need a being that is not contingent, and the term that philosophers use for this being is that it is a “necessary being.” By necessary, we mean that the nature of this being is such that it must exist. Since it must exist by nature, it does not require a cause, so that means it can be the first cause.

Such a necessary being is strange to think about because nothing in the universe is like it. It is radically different from everything else we know about, but we can reason some things about it.

First of all, this necessary being must be eternal. Since it is required to exist by its nature, it must have always existed and must continue to exist forever. There is no possibility for it not to exist. If it ever did not exist, then we would have to find a cause for how it came to exist, so it is no longer the first cause.

The second thing about this necessary being is that it cannot be made up of parts. If it was, then some other thing would be required to put it together, and now we are back to looking for more causes. Therefore, the necessary being must be simple, not composite.

The third thing about this necessary being is that it must be unchanging. It cannot develop over time because such development would require a cause, so it must be eternally perfect.

Another thing about this being is that it must be infinite in power and in scope since it is the cause of everything else.

Finally, the universe that we study is amazingly intricate and beautiful, with ordered behavior that can be described through sophisticated mathematics that can only be understood by the greatest minds of our race. It is reasonable to conclude that the cause of this universe is an even greater mind.

This reasoning is not new. The Greek philosopher Aristotle came up with similar reasoning to an unchanging first cause of everything. The medieval philosopher and theologian, Thomas Aquinas, applied Aristotle’s reasoning in a Christian context. Aquinas said that God was pure existence, and the source of all existence, but Aquinas was not the first in the Christian tradition to think of God that way. In a story that is at least 2500 year old of Moses encountering God in the burning bush, God gives Moses a mission to free the Israelite peole from slavery in Egypt. Moses is reluctant and keeps coming up with excuses why he can’t do it.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the sons of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.'”

Exodus 3:13-14

The name that God gives for himself to Moses does not describe God as some kind of thing but as existence itself. The fundamental thing revealed about God in this passage is that he exists. This name of God gets repeated in an abbreviated form throughout the rest of the Hebrew scriptures, and the Jewish people so revered this name that they refused to pronounce it. In traditional English Bibles, this name is replaced with the Lord, but some modern translations try to render the name into English as Jehovah or Yahweh, leading some people to treat it as any kind of name like Zeus or Thor. I submit that such an understanding of God’s name misses the point of the passage.

I like to refer to this passage in Exodus because it shows that the idea of God as the foundation of existence is not some new idea invented to argue against modern atheism, but goes back to the foundations of Judaism and Christianity.

I do not claim that this post is a proof that the Christian God exists and is the creator of the universe, but I do claim that it is reasonable to conclude that there must be something that is completely different from all of the contingent things in the universe that is the first cause of everything else.

Categories
Christian living Theology

Happy Ascension!

In the 21st century, the Ascension of Christ has been one of my favorite holidays. This is because on my way to the Catholic Church, not that I knew that’s where I was heading at the time, I learned the importance of the Ascension. I used to think that it was just the time where Jesus left us to fend for ourselves. Yes, he promised the Holy Spirit, who came to dwell in all of his believers on Pentecost, but still I wondered why he couldn’t have stayed with us on this Earth too.

Then I learned that the Ascension was an essential part of the process of salvation that God is accomplishing through Jesus, which started in the Incarnation, when Son of God joined himself to our human race by becoming a little baby in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary. This union between God and man in the person of Jesus continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in a process to reconcile the breach between God and man that happened when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.

The Ascension is not the departure of Jesus from this Earth, but the elevation of humanity to God. In Jesus, a man is sitting on the throne in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, ruling the universe. Our destiny is to reign with him forever. That is an awesome thought to contemplate, and it gives a totally different meaning to our lives here on Earth. Jesus is reigning in heaven, preparing the universe to be our home forever. We can’t usually see what he is doing, but by faith we can trust him and do our part in his work. This work is not primarily about building earthly institutions, but by allowing God to transform us to be ready for this future he is creating. This article by Constance Hull is a beautiful expression of what the Ascension means for us.

Categories
Politics Theology

People are Complicated

One reason I made my last post about our spiritual adversaries is to deal with the fact that so many people today are demonizing their political opponents. The spiritual beings made their decision for or against God a long time ago, and their decisions are fixed. That is why we can categorize them as angels and demons. This, however, is not the case with humans in this present life. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has a great quote about this.

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either–but right through every human heart–and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.

The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Humans develop and grow in this life, not only physically and mentally, but also morally and spiritually. We develop a sense of right and wrong, which is called our conscience. Every day we make many decisions that have a moral consequence. Sometimes we follow our conscience and do what we think is the right thing, and sometimes we violate our conscience and do what we think is wrong, usually justifying it with some rationalization. These choices affect who we become, and as we move through life, we are a work in progress. It is not until the end of our life that our ultimate choice is made to either embrace God and goodness forever, or to reject Him forever. Until that happens, we are all a mixture of good and evil of varying proportions. Therefore, if we try to divide humanity into the good guys and the bad guys, we will get into trouble. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).

This doesn’t mean that we don’t judge the words and deeds of people as either good or bad. Crimes and lies are bad regardless of who the perpetrator is. The judging that Jesus prohibits is summing up a person as ultimately good or evil because we humans do not know the totality of the person or what he will ultimately become.

It is common now in the United States to divide people according to left and right, and to label one group as good and the other as evil. This can be a problem when dealing with individuals because good and evil exist in both groups, and some people are difficult to put into one of the two groups. Even in the realm of ideas, one cannot always say that a particular idea is necessarily left or right. I primarily identify with the right, and I am very concerned with many of the ideas I hear coming out of the left, but the way I prefer to look at it is that I am a follower of Christ, and I am opposed to ideologies that will drag people away from his salvation. That’s why I wrote in my earlier post that the real enemy is spiritual. We must remember that our enemy is loyal to neither the left or the right. He hates all of us. He will happily provoke the bad elements on one side to do something that plays into the plans on the other side as long as evil advances on all sides. Therefore, we must be careful to not defend bad actions or condemn good actions no matter who does them.

Categories
Theology

The Real Enemy

St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (6:12 RSV2CE) The Bible tells us that there are multitudes of spiritual beings that were created by God before man was created. Although most of them are loyal to God and help us, about a third of them rebelled against God. These demons, led by Satan, hate the human race because we are loved by God. They want to destroy us, and they ultimately do that to some of us by drawing us away from God to an eternity in hell. Note that they do not accomplish their goals if they merely kill us and we end up in eternal happiness with God in heaven.

The power of these beings is limited by God. They cannot do anything without God’s permission, and they are usually not allowed to directly touch us, but that protection from God can be forfeited by those who reach out to dark powers through witchcraft and the occult. The usual way the demons attack us is through lies. They can introduce deceptive and untrue thoughts into our heads. We can choose to reject those thoughts, but if we let them take hold, they can lead us into a downward spiral of sin.

Not only do these forces of darkness tempt individuals to draw them away from God, they also try to influence human history to establish structures in the world that will have a corrupting influence on us. I suspect that many of the times people think they see global conspiracies, what they may be seeing instead is coordinated efforts of demonic activity across the world, influencing various people to act in ways that work together for evil ends.

Because of God’s limits on their power, and the resistance of good and holy men and women, their plans do not always come to fruition. Even when they are able to bring about great evil, God is able to turn it into a greater good. This is illustrated most clearly in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the ultimate evil that brought about the salvation of the human race.

Because faithful Christians live in the power of the Cross, we have nothing to fear from these demons if we cling to God’s mercy. Nevertheless, it is good to know that they are at work. Indeed, I think we are entering a time when their operations will be even more manifest to those who have eyes to see. It is good to keep in mind that they are the real enemy. Men and women that may oppose us, although they bear responsibility for their actions, are also victims of the deceptions of the real enemy. This is why Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We never know the power of prayer, but it could lead to very unexpected changes. We should never give up on the most seemingly corrupted person. As long as they still have breath, the powerful grace of God can bring them to repentance. Pray without ceasing!

Edit 1/24/21: Add image.

Categories
Theology

Alternate Realities

There is growing division in our country, and many people have their theories on why that is. I believe an important reason for this division is two fundamentally different views of reality. I do not usually use the political language of left versus right. That division is related to what I am about to propose, but I think the real division goes much deeper than politics.

The first version of reality is what I will call the heavenly reality. It sees God as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Everything exists according to his design and purpose. Everything in the universe has its place, and the universe is full of meaning. Men and women need to seek to know God and how he intends for them to live so that they can be in harmony with their creator, each other, and the world around them. When there is a conflict between the will of a person and God’s created order, the person needs to submit their will to God and conform to his ways.

The second version of reality is what I will the earthly reality. It does not acknowledge God in any meaningful sense beyond a possible psychological construct that must remain a private affair of the individual. It recognizes no creator and no meaning in the universe. Men and women decide their own meaning for their lives, and if there is any conflict between their will and the natural order, they alter the natural order to fit their will.

By the way, Christianity, in addition to affirming the heavenly reality, also acknowledges that man has failed to follow God’s ways and is need of redemption. In Jesus Christ, God reaches down and becomes one of us to restore us to friendship with him and enable us to live according to his ways.

As Christianity spread through what became Christendom, the heavenly reality became the accepted view, even among those who rebelled against it. However, in modern times, many think scientific progress confirms the earthly view, and they hold tightly to it because they believe it gives them freedom to live however they like, not realizing it actually makes them slaves to their own restless desires. This so-called freedom is actually licentiousness.

The earthly minded come into conflict with the heavenly minded because the heavenly view of justice would place some restrictions on the licentiousness they hold dear. A common point of conflict is in the area of sexuality. The heavenly reality has a particular role for sex within the family because sex is the way through which God creates children who are made in his image, so sex is a very holy thing. These children deserve to grow up in a stable, permanent, loving family, so the sexual act that conceives them should only take place between the man and woman who will be the parents in such a family, and those parents must be bound together for life in marriage. This view of sexuality excludes fornication, adultery, and sodomy as violations of the divine order. However, the earthly minded want to engage in sex with whomever they want whenever they want. The fact that a baby may result from this activity is dealt with through abortion. This is why so-called abortion rights are sacred to them.

This conflict was already growing before Donald Trump became President of the United States, and it will continue to grow until it reaches a breaking point. If the heavenly reality is true, at some point either the earthly minded will convert, or God will intervene. It is because God is merciful that he gives us time to repent. I actually think the that earthly view will gain such prominence that the folly of it will become clear and many will repent. If enough people repent and turn to God, he will not have to intervene in an extreme way.

Edit 1/24/21: Add image.