Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Who is God? Part 2

"Corrie and Betsie were taken to Ravensbruck concentration camp. This was worse than any other prison they had been in. The first two days they had to sleep out in the open. It poured with rain, and the ground became a sea of mud. Then they were packed into a huge barrack-room. It had been built to house 400 people, but there were now 1400 prisoners in it. They had to sleep on straw mattresses filled with choking dust and swarming with fleas. Even the guards did not like going into the barrack-room because of the fleas.
Roll-call was at half-past four in the morning. There were 35000 women in the camp, and if anyone was missing they were counted again and again. So it often went on for hours. If the prisoners did not stand up straight the women guards beat them with riding whips.
The work was extremely hard. Corrie and Betsie had to load heavy sheets of steel on to carts, push them for a certain distance, then unload them. All the time the guards shouted at them to work faster.
If the prisoners became ill, the guards took no notice of them unless their temperature was over 40C, which meant they were seriously ill. Then they had to join the long queue for the camp hospital. But nothing was done for them when they finally got there. When the hospital was full, the weakest prisoners were put onto lorries and taken to gas chambers to be killed. Then their bodies were burned. The tall chimney above the ovens in the centre of the camp was always belching grey smoke. This was the "hell on earth" to which Corrie and Betsie had come.
All this time Corrie had been giving Betsie a few vitamin drops each day because she was so weak. But there were so many other needy prisoners that she began giving drops to them also. She gave them to more and more people. She knew the bottle must soon be empty. But every day more drops came. Nobody could understand it, until Betsie reminded them of the story in the Bible of the widow's jar of oil, which did not run dry for many days.
Gradually, however, Betsie became weaker and weaker. It was bitterly cold, for it was now November. In the end, Betsie was so ill that she was admitted to the hospital. Corrie was not allowed to visit her sister, but each day went to look at her through one of the hospital windows. Finally, one day Betsie's bed was empty.
Corrie was heart-broken. At first she did not dare look in the room where the dead where placed. Then another prisoner called her. There was Betsie. Yes, she was dead. But her face had changed. Instead of being full of pain and suffering as it had been, it was now beautiful, like the face of an angel!"

Taken from: Corrie Ten Boom: The Secret Room

World War II. Millions of people died, be it in the concentration camps or on the battle field. Both sides had casualties. Hitler rose to power, declared war on Poland, France, and many other countries. Nearly 6 million Jews died in concentration camps. With a broad look at the entire war, it was pure evil.

Fast forward to September 11, 2001. I remember this morning as my dad was at home, recovering from back surgery. He received a phone call from his boss; my brother and I had begun our school work. My dad turned the TV on and we all watched. The World Trade Center was hit by planes. We watched the news intently all morning. It was a world away to us, but I couldn't believe that it was happening. Seeing people jump out of buildings and then ultimately the towers collapsed!

I am not going to debate whether the Government was behind it the whole time, or any other conspiracy theory. For me, people died. Innocent people who had families, wives, husbands, children; they died on that day! And they died only because they worked in a building that had been targeted.

If God is so good, why does He allow evil? Better yet, if He is the Creator of everything, then He must have created evil, so why couldn't He stop the 9/11 disasters or ended the world war Himself?

When we are hurt and angry, we look for blame. Who did it, why did they do it, who could have stopped it. 9 times out of 10 people will blame God for all the bad things in their life. Why? Because God is all powerful, all knowing, creator of everything!

So the questions remain: Did God create evil? Could he have stopped the bad things from happening? Is He responsible for all the hurt and pain we endure on this earth?

Skeptics claim that since God created everything, that He must have also created evil. Bible verses are also cited to prove this point:
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things (Isaiah 45:7)

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? (Amos 3:6, KJV)

Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
(Lamentations 3:38, KJV)
Note, however, that the KJV is problematic since it uses an archaic version of modern English, which doesn't necessarily mean the same things today as when it was translated over 400 years ago. Take Isaiah 45:7 in the NKJV version:
I form the light and create darkness,
I make peace and create calamity;
I, the LORD, do all these things.’
Isaiah 45:7 contrasts opposites. Darkness is the opposite of light. However, evil is not the opposite of peace. Obviously, "calamity" is a better antonym of "peace" than "evil"

But there is one thing that needs to be considered. Evil is not a "thing". You can't have a jar of evil. You can't see it, touch it, feel, smell, or hear evil. It is not one of the fundamental forces in physics, nor does it consist of matter, energy or spatial dimensions. Evil has no existence of its own. It is really the absence of good. It is true that in everything God created, it was good. One of the things God created that was good was creatures who had the freedom to choose good. In creating this freedom, there had to be something besides good to choose. So God allowed the free angels and humans the choice to either choose good or reject good (evil).

A really good illustration that is well known may help to explain further. I want to ask you the question, "Does cold exist?" At first thought many will answer with a "yes". But that is the incorrect answer. Cold does not exist, it is the absence of heat. Just like darkness does not exist, it is the absence of light. Evil is the absence of good. God did not have to create evil, but rather only allow for the absence of good.

So God does not create evil, but He does allow evil. Think of it this way: If God did not allow for the possibility of evil, both humans and angels would be serving him out of obligation and not choice, thus what would the point of free will be? God allowed for the possibility of evil so that we could genuinely had the free will and choice to decide whether or not we wanted to serve Him. We can choose to do good, or we can choose to do evil. We can choose to help, encourage, love one another or we can choose to steal, destroy, or kill one another. This is free will.

So if God didn't create evil, why does He allow it? Many will ask a similar question when a baby dies in a car accident, when a loved one dies in a natural disaster, when families are destroyed by war.

We have emotions and we get hurt by what happens around us, whether directly or indirectly. Whether we realize it or not, we care for one another. I saw a video of a nanny who abused an 18 month old boy. I couldn't believe what she was doing to the poor child! Grabbing him by the arm and tossing him into the play pen. While the child was sitting, she kicked him! Threw a ball at his face, tossed him on the couch, threw towels at him! The child did nothing to this nanny! He was an innocent victim, being abused by someone who his parents trusted to care for him while they were at work. This boy cannot defend himself. He doesn't know why he's getting kicked and things thrown at him. I cried! I did not know this child, I did not know this family, but I cried! Perhaps it is because I am a mother myself that I cared about this boy. But nonetheless this was not good. This was evil, a varied form of evil. This nanny CHOSE to do these things to this poor boy. She CHOSE to grab him by the arm, CHOSE to throw the child, CHOSE to kick him. She was not forced or coerced into doing it. She CHOSE to do these things. All we can do is pray that God protects the child.

God can't intervene when evil occurs. Because if He does, where is free will? The nanny chose to do the things she did to that 18 month old. She could have chosen to say "You know what, parents, I can't do this" or "I will put this child in a safe place and take 5 minutes for myself". She didn't have to do what she did. But that is what free will is. It is the choice to decide what we want to do with ourselves. Do I want to hit this child, or can I place him in a safe place and give myself 5 minutes to cool down? If God were to intervene than that would nullify the free will that we have. It is our choices that allow for evil to be. It was the choice of Hitler to allow the Jews to die, it was the choice of the terrorist groups to take over the planes and crash them. Humans create their own destruction, it is not the fault of God. We choose to do the things we do to one another.

God IS capable of preventing evil, He desires to rid the universe of evil. So why does God allow evil? I want to consider some alternative situations for how some people might have God run the world:

1. God could change everyone's personality so that they no longer sin. This, however, would also mean that we would not have free will. We would be "programmed" to do right. If God chose to do this, there would be no meaningful relationship between Him and His creation. God made Adam and Eve innocent, but with the ability to choose between good and evil. Because God did this, it allowed Adam and Eve to respond to God's love and trust Him, or to choose to do their own thing. As we all know, they choose to do their own thing. We live in a world where we can choose our actions, but not our consequences and when Adam and Eve sinned, their actions affected the rest of mankind. Our decisions to do good or to sin have an impact on us and those around us, be it directly, or indirectly. And it is the consequences of our actions that we cannot have any control of.

2. Another choice would have God intervene through supernatural intervention 100% of the time when evil happens. Many examples can be given, let's use the nanny example. In the case of the nanny who abused the child, God would somehow have to stop the nanny from ever making it to the home where the child lived, be it she became sick or what not. Or another example, a mother who is addicted to drugs and spends all of her money on this habit. God would have to miraculously provide food and social needs of the children so they would not be affected by the evil of the mother. In such a world, God would be a bad parent who enables a wayward child's destructive behavior. There are no consequences for one's actions and because of this, no one would learn integrity, honor, responsibility, or self-control. There would be no good consequences and there would be no bad consequences, what would people become except for more sinful and defiant?

3. Yet another choice would be for God to judge and remove all those who commit evil acts. Heh, there would be no one left with this possibility. God would have to remove everyone! We all sin and commit evil acts, from lying to stealing to murder. We all make choices that are not good. While some of us are more evil than others, where would God draw the line? Because ultimately, no matter the severity of evil, it causes harm to others.

No matter the option we create or attempt to come up with, God has chosen to create a "real" world in which our choices have real consequences. Our actions affect others. There will come a day when God will judge the sin in this world and make all things new, but He is purposely delaying that day in order to allow more time for people to repent so that he will not need to judge them. Until then, however, He IS concerned about evil. The Old Testament laws were established by Him to discourage and punish evil. He judged the nations and kings who disregard justice and pursue evil. In the New Testament God states that it is the government's responsibility to provide justice in order to protect the innocent from evil (see Romans 13). God promises severe consequences for those who commit evil acts, especially on the innocent (see Mark 9:32-42)

To conclude, we live in a world where we have free will to either choose good or evil actions that will have direct and/or indirect consequences to ourselves. God desires that for all our sakes we would obey him that it might be well with us. But instead we choose to do things our own way and then we blame God for the outcome and for not doing anything about it when in reality it was our own choice that led to the hurt, or someone else's choice led to the destruction. God has given us the ability to choose good and evil, He allows us, and those around us, to suffer the consequences of evil. If only we could learn from the evil deeds and go about choosing to do good instead.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Is Christianity really a Religion?

Dictionary.com defines religion as follows:
"a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."
In my experience, many who do not believe in God state that religion is the reason for the wars and bad things that happen on this earth. Granted some things have happened in the name of religion, such as the religious wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan, even the September 11 attacks. Let's also not forget about the crusades either.

Granted, I can see their point. It makes sense. However, I believe God did not intend for a belief in Him to be a religion or agency of beliefs. Personally, religion is a man-made word, with a man made definition. This word generalizes all beliefs into one word: Hindu Religion, Buddhist Religion, Muslim Religion, even Christian Religion. If there is any mention of a God, then those beliefs are a religion. Regardless of the beliefs, as long as there is mention of an afterlife, a God, things of this nature, it is automatically categorized as religion.

God did not intend a belief in Him to be categorized. God intended to have a personal relationship with us. Specifically, Christianity is not really a religion; rather it is a relationship with God. Now, what is a relationship? Dictionary.com defines "relationship" as:
1. a connection, association, or involvement.
2. connection between persons by blood or marriage.
3. an emotional or other connection between people: the relationship between teachers and students.
Notice how none of those definitions reference a belief system, or an agency, or even ritual observances?

How can you say Christianity is not a religion but a relationship? Some may ask this question. This is why I say Christianity is not really a religion:

1. Christianity is trusting in Jesus and what He did on the cross for you and me, not what you can do for yourself.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14:6
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
2. Christianity is not about ornate buildings, flamoyant preachers, or traditional rituals. Muslims have mandatory prayer times. In the eastern religions, rituals need to be performed at certain times of the year. This is not what being a Christian is about. What is more pleasing to God -- religious rituals or a right relationship with Him? What God desires most from us is a right relationship with Him! If our focus is always on doing rituals and traditions than seeking to know God we miss out on what Christianity is all about.

Jesus Himself showed us what exactly it is to have a relationship with God. He was in constant communication with God through prayer. His prayers were not like the Pharisees or like the religious leaders of His day.
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matthew 6:5-7
Prayer was so intimate it it even touched the disciple's hearts
Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1
The relationship that Jesus modeled on earth was one of closeness, oneness, and love. There was an intimate factor not seen in the religious leaders of His day. Jesus' life was one marked with a passion for His Father and an intense desire to do and accomplish the Father's will upon the earth.
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. John 4:34

I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. John 5:30

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38
Religion has long been the enemy of God when traditions and man-made ideologies are imposed into the relationship between God and man. Jesus even spoke of this to the Pharisees in His day:
“Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Matthew 15:3-6
These Pharisees and Scribes put human tradition about God's divine word and their relationship with Him. They took the Sabbath and put more laws and restraints on it when it was to be a day of rest and worship, not "You can only gather this much wood" or "you can only walk this far". Please note that Jesus was not condemning all tradition in the above passage of scripture. Only tradition that conflicts with God's word. All tradition or rules MUST be based upon corresponding truths in Scripture. Religious traditions, human wisdom or contemporary customs which are exalted above the Bible must be resisted.

God has made provisions for mankind to respond to His love through the scarificial atoning death and resurrection of His son. God has always wanted a relationship with man from the very beginning. Immediately after the creation of the first man and woman, God would come down in the cool of the day just to be with them (Genesis 3:8). But this relationship was ruined when Adam and Eve sided with the serpent, disobeying God. The relationship was marred and sin became the ruling force of man's dominion. Yet God did not give up on His creation; He loves us enough to make provision for man to still approach Him, albeit on a limited level.

Let me explain this "provision" that God put in place. After the fall of man, God had instituted a set of rituals and laws through the Levitical system, which was passed down by Aaron's sons with the sacrifice of bulls and goats which could never take away sin. (Leviticus chapters 1-9; Hebrews 10:1-4). The rituals and the Old Testament law were provided because of sin and were top be used as a school-master to bring us to Christ. The sole purpose of the Levitical system was to point to a time where God would liberate men from their sins and once again enjoy the presence and fellowship of God. Thus, by Old Testament rituals, religion was birthed!

Someone has defined religion as man's attempt to know God. But God could not be known without revealing Himself to us! Jesus Himself said:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:44
Man is totally incapable of entering into a right relationship with God through religion. Religion could not and can not restore the broken relationship mankind entered when we fell into sin. It takes God's initiative to bridge the gap between God and man:
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6
The gap of sin can ONLY be restored through a relationship with God's only begotten son. He came to seek and save that which was lost. He became the propitiation for our sins:
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2
God never intend for us to just hold a pattern of religious rituals. The book of Psalms states:
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
My ears You have opened.
Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:6-8
And God said:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:31 – 33
There is one occasion in the Bible where Jesus encountered a Samarian woman who desired to debate the place of worship. Jesus had informed her that the hour is coming and now is that the true worshipers of God will not be concerned about the place of worship but they will worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:21-24). I want to consider the significance in what Jesus told this woman. Everything was related to the rituals of worship, formulated in the Old Testament law. However, Jesus redefined worship not in terms of rituals, but in relationship. It was unusual to approach God in a relational manner as a Father, much less to suggest that the Father is seeking such worshipers. When Jesus died on the cross, He restored this relationship to the Father, along with doing away with our sins.

We do not need religion in order to accomplish a right relationship with God. We do not need useless rituals. All we have to do is come to the Father through Jesus Christ, open our hearts, and pour our devotion and love to Him.

Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with God, through Jesus His son. Christianity is not based upon evidence, but is backed by evidence. Obviously, anyone could claim to be God but the difference with Jesus is that His life completely backed those claims of being God. Jesus fulfilled over 300 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Thanks to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the reliability of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, both of which have been proven to exist prior to the time Jesus walked on the earth, it can be assured that these prophecies were not "conspired" after the fact.
No legitimate scholars today will deny that Jesus lived about 2,000 years ago, was a great teacher and doer of good works, and that he was crucified on a Roman cross for the crime of blasphemy among the Jews. The only dispute is whether Jesus rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion and that He was, in fact, God incarnate. This is where everyone must test the evidence for the resurrection, examine their hearts, and make a decision about who Jesus really was.

Christians do not go around saying Christianity is the only way because they are arrogant, stupid or judgmental. They do so because, based on the evidence, they believe what Jesus said. Christians believe in Jesus, who claimed to be God (John 8:58; Exodus 3:14), who forgave sins (Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20; 7:48), and who rose from the dead (Luke 24:24-29; John 2:19f). Jesus said that He was the only way. Jesus is unique. He was either telling the truth, He was crazy, or He was a liar. But since everyone agrees that Jesus was a “good man,” how then could He be both good and crazy, or good and a liar? He must have been telling the truth. He is the only way.

Buddha didn't rise from the dead, nor did Confucius or Zoroaster. Muhammad didn't fulfill detailed prophecy. Alexander the Great didn't raise the dead or heal the sick. And though there is far less reliable information written about these “religious” leaders, they are believed in and followed by millions.

From: All About Religion
Part of me is the prodigal
Part of me is the other brother
But I think the heart of me
Is really somewhere between them
Some days I'm running wild
Some days we're reconciled
But I wonder all the while
Why you put up with me, when...

I wrestle most days
To find ways to do as I please

I always have, I always will
You saved me once, You save me still
My longing heart, Your love alone can fill
You always have, always will

I was born with a wayward heart
Still I live with a restless spirit
My soul is so well worn
You'd think I'd have arrived by now
I'm caught in the trappings of
My search for lasting love
I've made mistakes enough
To last me a lifetime

I still slip, I still fall
But I'll always run back to you

I'm gonna keep trusting You
I see what You've seen me through
I'm goin' where You have gone (yeah)
I'm letting You lead me on
All my days (always and forever)
Never far (never leave me never)
Here I'll stay (ever love me ever)
Here's my heart
I'll always love You, love You (yeah)

Oh You always have, You always will.

Avalon -- Always Have, Always Will