Friday, January 13, 2006

God Is Not A Pessimist!

John 16:33 - "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

I dropped a real spiritual/intellectual bomb on my Debate class today. It was not planned. We were talking about Judge Alito and the Supreme Court and the division between Republicans (cheerleading Alito) and the Democrats (opposing Alito for all the wrong reasons). When asked about my view, I said that if it was not for Jesus, I would be a discouraged pessimist - or something along those lines. But since I have Jesus, I reject all notions of pessimism. Somewhere in there, I implied (either directly or indirectly) that pessimism is a sin.

And did that ever provoke a response! Several of my students proceeded to debate with me for the next half an hour about pessimism. I thought it was a great teaching opportunity, so I let the debate go. They were trying to say that pessimism is not a sin, that it is a personality, that God created us with different dispositions - some to be optimistic, some to be pessimistic, etc. They were not really accepting the truth that pessimism is sin.

And this was coming from the "more studious" kids in the class. Not that I have favorites. I don't. But it is a fact that some of my students work harder and do better than others. It was the "better" students who were engaged in this discussion contending that pessimism is not wrong. The "less studious" students did not say much.

Obviously (at least to me), despite the fact that these kids are being raised in "Christian" homes and going to a "Christian" school, they are missing a whole lot. I think this has something to do with the fact that you can't merely go to church and go to Christian school and attach a Christian label to your church, your school, and your family and think that that makes everything cool. My students need to seriously encounter my God. I mean, the way Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, and Paul encountered God, I pray that my students will encounter God. They have "religion." They have all the right answers (well, not all of them, as was all too obvious today). They have the "lingo." And many of them, no doubt, have a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus - even with screwed up worldviews that need to be exposed and dealt with.

I think that many of these kids naively think that by honest open-minded thinking, they will come up with good conclusions. The assumption here is that they are fundamentally good. Oh, they know well that they have sinful natures (at least in their heads), but they are certainly influenced more by "American thought" than they are by Bible truth.

American thought says, "Think for yourself. Trust your own opinions and have the courage to state your own opinion right in the face of authority figures who think you are wrong. It is your right, yea, even your duty to do so!"

Americans would do well to consider this: 2 Peter 2:19-20 - "They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity - for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning."

So, maybe Americans would do well to humbly confess that their own minds and their own opinions are not always trustworthy, and so maybe putting our trust in the Lord and in His word is the wise course of action. Hmmm... Of course, this means that you can't think it through all the way before making a decision, because then you are still trusting in yourself and in your own ability to think. You should think it through and love God with all your mind, but in the end, you should trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not in your own understanding.

And once you do that, then you have to beging to obey God in how He has commanded us to view ourselves. If says that hopelessness is wrong, then it is wrong. We must repent of hopelessness. If God says despair is wrong, then it is wrong. We must repent of despair. If God says, "Take heart!" then we must take heart! If God says, "Be joyful always." We must be joyful always.

And God has said all those things.

In Philippians 4:4-8, we are encouraged and commanded to do certain things: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

So, we are always to be rejoicing n the Lord. We are to be gentle - and that gentleness is to be evident (something which I must do more and more - and please everyone forgive me and be patient with me in this area). God is near! That means that we have a constant companion and friend - a God who will encourage us and comfort us. It also means that we must walk in reverence at all times. God is holy and worthy of worship. He punishes wickedness, and He is near, so we need to be reverent. We do not need to - indeed, we need to not be anxious about anything. As we pray and give thanks, God will take care of us. He will give us peace. Our hearts and minds will be guarded. Finally, we are to think about those things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. We should regularly be thinking about these things, It is our privelege, right, and duty to do so. We have the freedom to think about these things. We also should do this as a discipline.

Let us then think about that which is lovely.

What is lovely? My wife is lovely! It is lovely to come home everyday to a lovely lady who respects me and cares for me and loves me. It is lovely to live with such a wonderful woman of God - a woman of noble character.

I just looked up lovely. Here is what Webster says lovely is.

lovely - charmingly or gracefully beautiful; very pleasing; delightful.

It is lovely for students to be eager to learn. Imagine: A classroom of students thinking, participating, longing for knowledge, understanding, an wisdom. Rejoicing over a new nugget of knowledge. Applying that knowledge to something useful. Seeking to use that knowledge to help justice be established in the world.

Imagine - A team going to New Orleans to share with people in need. Helping to rebuild that which has been broken down. Bringing order, peace, and hope to those who have been devestated. Lovely.

Imagine - Family with relatives. Gathering around the table for Thanksgiving dinner. Giving thanks. Eating some good turkey. Being loved and loving other people.

Imagine - Broken marriages being healed as each person seeks to serve their mate in humility. Imagine someone listening to you, understanding you, having compassion on you, empathizing with you, encouraging you, supporting you, rejoicing with you in your success, mourning with you in your losses.


See, when you start thinking about that which is lovely, your thinking changes. This is not rocket science. If you think about that which is lovely, then you will not be focusing on that which is depressing. You will not be despairing, because you will be too busy thinking about that which is lovely.

Now, for some people, to think about that which is lovely is a real stretch. Perhaps they have been so hurt, so devestated, so broken, that they just can not bring themselves to think about that which is lovely. Their lives have been too messed up. They have always received the short end of the stick. As Marco put it, for them, life is like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. And falling and being humiliated time after time after time. Negative thinking begins to control this person.

That's where Jesus comes in with His mercy, love, and grace. God gives faith. For those who have seen hell on this earth, I encourage you. If you will just reach out to God by faith, even just a mustard seed of faith, and ask God to help you and to change you, God will do it. Let His love set you free of your mental prison of despair. Begin to praise God for His greatness, His holiness, His compassion, and for coming to this earth to redeem all who would put their hope in Him.

Isaiah 61:1-3 says, "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has annointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestown on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor."

Jesus is the annointed one. The gospel is GOOD NEWS! Those who walk by faith are set free of the "spirit of despair." For Jesus has overcome the world.

It is vital for people to get this. Romans 1 warns us of the consequences of rejecting the truth of God.

Romans 1:21 - "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles... They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised. Amen.... Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."

It is my conviction that in those words we see the cause of many of the modern day psychological and psychiatric problems. People who have continually rejected God and who have continually insisted on being negative and pessimistic and without faith have been given over to a depraved mind. They have been made prisoners of their own depraved minds. They need a Savior. Meds will work for a while for some. I am not against all meds all the time. I myself had a seizure disorder as a child. I was put on low doses tegretol (a very mild medicine for my mild seizure disorder). So, I am not against meds in all cases. But I do think that many mental disorders are misdiagnosed and overly dianosed. Worse, I think that believing a false diagnosis can lead into negative self-fulfilling prophecy. The false diagnosis might cause the disorder. Also, there are probably legitimate mental disorders that are happening, because that is the natural thing that happens when people continually reject God. For example, if I go years not doing exercise and eating fast food, my abs will probably experience atrophy. Those, who refuse to use their God-given minds to think about those things which are "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy" may experience a kind of atrophy of the mind. Of course, there are things going on in the spiritual realm that are way beyond my understanding - even for me to begin to speculate about.

We need a complete cultural transformation. Doug Wilson says that it must begin and end in worship of God. We have been created to worship God. As we worship God, God sets our lives right. If God is not our central focus, then our lives are "out of joint."

On this point, it is worth quoting Doug Wilson extensively:

"A Christian worldview is not a matter of having an opinion about everything, with all those opinions being interconnected or, as some might say, entangled. Our lives are supposed to go together a certain way. Parents who have labored over assembling a child's Christmas present, one with multiple parts, know that it is not sufficient to throw all the parts together into a box and call it a tricycle. Neither is it adequate to throw all our opinions into a box and call it a worldview.

But in order for our lives to cohere rightly, in order for the parts to go together in that certain way, the point of integration cannot be down here "under the sun." Solomon taught us that under that sun everything is vanity. He taught us that only way for the fragments of this vain world to come together. Only God can draw straight with crooked lines....

The posture of the worshiper in Scripture is to kneel or lie prostrate. For many moderns a worship service should be a cozy place. But for sinners, even justified sinners, true worship is anthing but comfortable....

And worship is not a retreat from the world. Rather, worship opens heaven to us in such a way that the earth comes into focus. And this is why worship is relevant to education in the classroom.

True worship is incarnational. If we want to understand how transcendence and immanence intersect, we have to come to understand these things in Christ. And we cannot understand the incarnation of Christ by sitting in neat rows in a classroom, doing push-ups with the brain. We have to have water applied to us in the triune name; we have to heart the Gospel preached and learn practical obedience to the Word declared; and we ahve to take and eat. In short, we have to learn how to worship. And then, having worshipped, we are sent out into the world to study it, subdue it, replenish it. But education and learning follow worship and proceed from it." (Wilson 64)

Psalm 100 is a good psalm to begin to learn how to worship.

"Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations."

In short, begin to worship God in the manner that Scripture commands us to worship God, and He will order our lives according to His Sovereign will. But reject God, and He, in His Sovereign will, will give you over to a depraved mind.

Jesus Christ came and died so that we might have life - abundant and eternal. That life is a gift. This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Wilson, Doug. The Case for Classical Christian Education. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2003.


Blogger Dan said...

Concerning the complex and mysterious connection between theology and psychiatry:

This is certainly a major issue facing our culture. I don't know the stats, but it seems that a huge percentage of the adults in this nation are on meds. As you can already see, I am highly suspicious of people running to meds.

I am starting to do some research on the internet. Check out this website:

This guys' medical credentials seem impressive. But, I am not convinced that he has a worldview that is thoroughly rooted in the Bible.

2:10 PM  
Blogger MarcoConley said...

Lots of intriguing thoughts. I'll touch on just three:

Issue One:

I have a hard time believing any thoughts can be sins. Pessimism may be unhealty, it may be unwise, but how can a thought be sin? A thought might ultimately lead to sinful behaviour, but the thoughts themselves don't seem to me sinful or virtuous.

Why? One because thoughts don't directly hurt anyone else. But two, I for one don't have any control over what thoughts comes into my mind. I look at a cloud. It would be nice if I think the cloud looks like something happy-- a funny elephant. It might be sad if the cloud looks like something awful-- a car accident. But don't blame ME for what it looks like to me. I have no control over it. I look at a cloud and something pops in my head. How can something I have no control over be a sin?


Issue Two:

"Despite the fact that these kids are being raised in "Christian" homes and going to a "Christian" school, they are missing a whole lot."

But couldn't they just as easily judge you and say "Despite the fact that someone is a 'Christian', is a teacher at a 'Christian' school, and is well-studied and intelligent.. he is still missing a whole lot".

I;m just always so amazed with the confidence you have in your ability to discern God's will and Truth. I don't trust myself any further than I can throw myself (and with my bad knee, I shouldn't throw anyone). If I see that the sky is blue and someone tells me it's green, I first walk outside to double-check, and I next wonder if I have some sort of retinal disorder, and finally wonder if cartesian dualism means my color blue really is green.


Issue Three:

Medicines are funny. I've known a lot of people who really truly truly are mentally ill, and whether the apropriate medicines exists yet or not, they clearly need some sort of medicine. And I count myself among them.

On the other hand, i have known a few kids in my day whose teachers have sent home messages saying "This child need to be on Ritalin", and I am confident, in a few of the cases, the child is nothing but a healthy energetic child who wants to be out playing instead of sitting in a cramped classroom memorizing facts. While it might be in his teacher's best interest to have the child on meds, it's not in the child's best interest.

That said-- Mental illness in INCREDIBLY prevalent. Suicide is a major killer in America. For people aged 15-30, the third leading cause of death is suicide. Not heart attacks, not cancer, not strokes. Suicide is more prevalent than all of them for people under 30.

80 people in america kill themselves every single day. 580 a week. 2,500 a month. 30,000 a year.

In the time US soldiers have been in Iraq, about 2,100 solidiers have been killed. During that same period, 82,500 americans have killed themselves. 2,800 americans died on one horrible day, Sept. 11th. Every single month, nearly that many die from suicide. Last month. This month. Next month. More people kill themselves than are killed by murder or by war.

The suicide statistics aren't even counting the many many many who are depressed but nonsuicidal. So we need medicines. We need better medicines. We need them badly.

:) I know what you'll say. You'll say these people don't need medicine or therapists, they need Jesus.

There was a story that in World War II, the Nazis had occupied a small French village. One night, some of the villagers killed a Nazi soldier. The next day, the Nazi commander announced that he would kill 30 villagers in retribution for the killing of the soldier. As the Nazis started to pick out the thirty to be executed, the village priest got down on his knees and began to pray aloud. The commander turned to the priest and said,"I wish I had your faith. But after these years of war, after all the solidiers on both sides who have died, I have learned this: God isn't here today". After saying this, he gave the order to fire, and the thirty villagers were killed.

I'm skeptical the story is true-- it seems a tad too melodramatic. But the Nazi commander's point is a good one:

God may free a people from slavery once in a blue moon. God may take human form and heal a few lepers. God may even reveal his existence to the minds of some.

But the rest of the time, God isn't getting involved. Six million people died in the holocaust, and I bet almost every single one prayed for God to save them. Almost everyone trapped in New Orleans prayed to God to save them. In my short lifetime, 24 million people have died from suicide, and I bet every single solitary one prayed and prayed and prayed for God to save them-- I know I have.

God isn't going to save us-- not from these types of things. God isn't going to heal us from the diseases in the world. God isn't going to protect us from natural disasters. God isn't going to save us from the Nazis. That's up to us to do.

It's up to us to cure diseases. It's up to us to develop new medicines that will cure mental illness. It's up to us to fight tyranny and protect the innocent. God isn't going to do that for us.

This doesn't disprove God, this doesn't say anything bad about God. Jesus came to save our souls, not our lives. And compared with eternal salvation-- who cares about dying in a hurricane or a lifetime of depression-- it's an utterly trivial thing, in the "Big Picture". Maybe God couldn't stop the holocaust because Free Will is just that important. Maybe God doesn't stop disease or natural disasters because there's some big plan that we just don't understand, and maybe Ebola somehow saves souls.

But God isn't going to miraculously heal our ills. Do you really think even one, even one person who committed suicide didn't first desperatly pray to every God he'd ever heard of for help? Do you really think they haven't tried as hard as possible to open their heart as wide as possible.

Jesus may save their souls. Jesus may provide them with eternal rewards in the afterlife. But if we want to save their lives, if we want to stop their pain... we need some better medicines, we need some more psychologists, we need some better brain scans, and we need them soon...

7:24 AM  
Blogger Lindsey said...

I began reading The Case For Faith yesterday, (I figured I shouldn't have told you to read it if I myself hadn't yet), it's very good by the way.

Maybe you've started reading it, your mention of "a bigger plan" leads me to think you might have. If not, Stroble gives what I think to be an interesting anaology as to why there is suffering in the world:

Imagine you are a hunter walking through the woods and you come across a bear that has been caught in a trap. This bear immediately things you are the one who is causing him this pain and lashes out at you. Since you know that you will not be able to get close enough to him to help him, you shoot him with sedatives. Then, in order to get him free of the trap, you must first push him further in (it's a spring trap). If the bear were fully concious right now he would of course thinking you were trying to hurt him even more, when in fact you are trying to save him.

Now, perhaps you've read this, heard something similar, don't care, or can rebutt it, but it was an analogy that I found interesting. Of course it all comes back to the bottom line- one must have faith.

9:08 AM  
Blogger elvisfromeurope said...

having faith is one thing, thinking "random thoughts" are sin, that "worldly things" (whatever that can possibly mean) are sin, that if you like something that is not "Pure faith in jesus" (or whatever) you have "idolatries" and are of a sinfuly natural is a completely different thing. As I said it all boils down to the fact that Dan's version of religion is a perfect mental trap, it actually gets reinforced by it's own or any contradictions and even if you debate his view he will always find some kind of vague general formula that can silence you and therefore his views get further reinforced. One thing I find strange is that his religion is very lenient towards "science", now that is very odd.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Are "bad" thoughts sins?

Marco says, "No."

I say, "Yes."

We do what we do because of those things which go on in our hearts and minds. Certain actions are sins. For example, murder is a sin.

So, some might think, "Well, I'm not a sinner. I don't break the 10 Commandments. I have never murdered anyone." But this person fails to realize that in their hearts and minds, they have murdered people, committed adultery, and have worshipped other gods besides Yahweh.

I suggest reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Again, Jesus said, "Anyone who is angry with his brother (without cause) will be subject to judgment."

It seems obvious that Jesus is not trying to merely reform our behavior, but he is insisting that we have a complete heart and mind transformation. This is impossible to work up in our own sinful, wicked selves. We must be born again by the Spirit.

Let me be clear. Temptation is not a sin. When a thought of temptation comes into our minds, we then have a choice. It is about attitude. We can cultivate a Christ-like attitude, or we can cultivate a sinful attitude. But the temptation itself is not sin. Jesus was tempted, yet without sin. The Scriptures teach us that when Jesus was tempted, He quoted Scripture. See, the Scriptures were not just a nice cozy idea for Jesus. He was utterly dependent on the Scriptures to deliver Him from His temptations. Being fully human, He was tempted in every way, yet without sin. By that I mean that when tempting thoughts came to mind, he CHOSE to take authority over those thoughts. He CHOSE to be obedient to the Father - not just in His actions, but in the deepest parts of His heart and mind.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Men, it is time to be men. Ladies, it is time to be ladies. By God's grace, it is time to reach out by faith and to take control of your minds. Don't say, "I can't do it." Don't say, "You don't understand." Don't whine and complain. Reach out to God by faith. Be a prayer warrior. Take captive every thought and make them obedient to Christ. Cultivate a Christ-like attitude.

Be patient with yourselves and others in this process. God is so very patient. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come into repentance. He is patient with us.

Here is how to overcome the prison of your mind: With Scripture, prayer, fasting, obedience, training, and faith. I am telling you that this stuff works. I have known people who's lives were messed up on drugs. They prayed to God for deliverance. They put their trust in God. They meditated on the Scriptures. And they were delivered from their addictions. That is the kind of God we serve.

The book of James talks quite a bit about the power of the tongue. "When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."

Be careful about what you speak - whether it be about others or about yourself. Certainly be careful about what you say about God. We all need to confess with our mouths our need for God. See, with our tongues, we speak that which is in our hearts. Jesus said, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." So, what is needed is a heart transformation. But that can't happen without faith. But God gives faith. Once our hearts are made alive by God, then we speak out of faith.

Consider the entirity of the book of Romans when you get the time too. But, in particular, check out Romans 10.

Romans 10:5-13 - "Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: 'The man who does these things will live by them.' But the righteousness that is by faith says: 'Do not say in your heart,' "Who will ascend into heaven?" (that is, to bring Christ down) 'or "Who will descend into the deep?"' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? 'The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.' For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lordd will be saved.'"

That first part is pretty tough to understand, but I think I have a good idea of what it means. I think it means this: God, although way higher than all of us could ever hope to be, is not out of reach. It also means that although Christ died, He is not dead, He rose. God is immanent. Immanuel! God with us!

This is the gospel. This is good news! (which by the way is what the word gospel means). God is high and lifted up! He transcends all human understanding. He is so powerful and majestic. Yet, He came down to earth, and He dwells with us now by the power of His Holy Spirit - with all who call on His name. He died on the cross. But He did not stay dead. He is not defeated; He rose!

This message is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

Now, in Christ, we who believe live and move and have our being. Even those who don't believe live and move and have your being because of God's grace and power. For without God, you would be dead. You are not even able to take your next breath without God. But spiritually, without Christ, you are dead in your transgressions. Dead people can not be made alive except by God.

But when God makes you alive, then you are free! That doesn't mean you don't struggle anymore. But you know, "Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world." And we walk by faith.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

This is great news! You do not have to be a victim to any and every thought that just pops into your head! You don't have to live your life in fear, depression, and anxiety, with a loose hope that things might turn out okay. On the contrary, you can be free. You can have confidence, but not in yourself. You can have confidence in God working with you and in you.

But you must believe and obey the gospel. And this can happen only by God's grace.

Romans 8:5-17 - "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

On that note, I shall let God speak for Himself. He is far more convincing and wise than I am.

6:15 PM  
Blogger MarcoConley said...


I haven't started "The Case for Faith" yet, but I really want to. The last book Elise gave me, "The Myth of Certainty" I liked so much I got giddy and almost wrote the author and everything. So when I got "The Case for Faith", I was like "I'm going to read that cover to cover the SECOND i get home!". But, I haven't started it yet because I'm having a particularly cynical and pessimistic patch of my life right now (have the last few posts been a give-away? :) ) Anyway, I thought it would be better to save it for a time when I'm more receptive and open to wisdom, when my mind is sharper and my heart less hurting.

But I totally agree with the part you quoted and it makes me really want to read it. Which I definitely will when I come out of psychological hibernation.

Of course, I didn't always see it this way. My 'testimony', as it were, consists of several radically different stages:

1. Christian, believing in God in the same way I believe in China-- just obvious, I never even imagine anyone doubted that God exists.

2. Super intense catholic, going to parochial school, choirboy, saying three rosaries a day, reading the bible incessantly. Honestly, truly wanting to be a priest when I grew up.

3. Suspected candidate for exorcism. I am not kidding.

4. Rabid militant atheist. "There is nothing, period."

5. Desperately clawing my way back toward agnosticism and maybe even towards 'skeptical mysticism'.

So, when I was a rabid atheist, I took all the suffering in the world as a proof that an all-good, all-powerful god does not exist. An all-powerful god that doesn't stop the suffering wouldn't be all-good. An all-good God that couldn't stop the suffering wouldn't be all-powerful. But that was long ago, I've mellowed and I've read some good books and had some good conversations. Or perhaps it's just age and maturity-- I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

I didn't make a very good child. I was geeky and philosophical and depressed. I saw how much stupidity, idiocy, irrationality, and craziness there was in the world that I was inclined to believe that there was nothing but irrationality. So many of the answers I'd been given were lies, I was inclined to believe there simply were no answers.

"But where there is certainty, there will be doubt. Where there is confidence, there will be curiosity; where there is assuredness, it will pass away. For we think we know it all and can predict it all, but when wisdom comes, the certainty disappears. When I was a child, I spake as an adult, I understood as an adult, I thought as an adult: but when I became a man, I put away such adultish things."

So, I'm much more open to all kinds of possibilities these days. The suffering in the world does still deeply disturb me. I'm fond of saying that if an all-powerful god has been watching all this suffering and doing nothing, then when I die, he's got a lot of explaining to do.

But the "bear in the trap" argument is valid. I've never heard the bear trap argument, but i've heard the "Doctor setting a broken leg" analogy. To set a broken leg, a doctor (who for some reason doesn't have any anesthetic around) has to hurt you before you can be fixed. Perhaps we are all broken, and suffering part of being healed. Maybe there is some grand plan we do not yet understand.

After all-- we as humans can see things in the animal world that might be similar. Consider bees and flowers. Flowers, solar-powered, have plenty of food, but no way to transport the pollen that is essential to their reproduction. Bees on the other hand are energetic and agile, but require much food to power their flight. So the flowers produce lots of pollen to sustain the hungry bees. The bees go from flower to flower, collecting the pollen to eat, thereby pollenating the flowers.

We as humans can seen the beauty and the logic and order in this system, and we can understand its purpose. But neither the bee nor the flower will ever understand their dance. The bees could never fathom why they somehow get such excellent free food. The flowers could never grasp how it's precious pollen somehow manages to get from one flower to another. But the system works, and has worked for a long time-- for what "looks like" 80 million years now.

So, surely there could be some reason for all the suffering that we just don't understand. If there was some reason Free Will had to exist, that would necessitate all the human caused suffering. I can't fathom it, but maybe all other kinds of suffering HAVE to exist somehow too.

4:21 AM  
Blogger MarcoConley said...


So, you bring up a good point I haven't been sure about:

Being tempted is not sinful-- because Jesus was tempted. But commiting adultery in your heart is a sin?

When is one the other? If I see someone, I may spontaneously have lustful thoughts, which is adultery in my heart. On the other hand, perhaps I am tempted to try to arrange to commit adultery, but resist, thereby patting myself on the back for resisting the temptation.

So what's a temptation and what's a "in-my-heart sin"?

If I experience lust but do not act on it, have I committed a sin for even having the thoughts? or have I triumphed over sins by refusing to act upon them.

To me, true virtuousity isn't being free of bad thoughts. Of course such a person never sins-- it never occurs to them to. The greatest virtue is to be intensely tempted, to be filled with bad thoughts, but to resist them.

What are your thoughts?

4:28 AM  
Blogger Dan said...


A bad thought "popping into your mind" is temptation. That is not sin. Then the wrestling match begins. You go to war in your mind. Will you overcome that thought and take control of that thought, or will that thought take control of you and own you?

By God's grace, you have the authority and power and motivation and grace and everything you need to demolish any and every argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. But that does not mean that there is not an intense struggle that goes on. The point is this: There is virtue in struggling. The sin is when you surrender to the "bad thought" and begin to entertain it.

So, you are watching TV channel surfing and you see some scantily clad beautiful blonde with some really nice breasts. As any man would be, you are now being tempted. Now, you have a choice. You can choose to obey God and flee sexual immorality (the way Joseph did) or you can keep looking and start to entertain thoughts of lust in your heart. Being tempted is not a sin. Entertaining bad thoughts is a sin.

The line is really blurry, but to think of it in terms of a line separating the world of sin from the world of righteousness is to think in terms of a really bad metaphor. Purity is a direction, not a line. The question to ask is this: How would you look at and treat your sister?

There is great news here. We can choose to overcome temptation.

I recommend reading Hebrews 12. Hebrews 12 talks about the discipline of God. God is treating us as sons. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us in verses 5-7a: "And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord discipline those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.' Endure hardship as discipline: God is treating you as sons."

1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness."

To confess our sins means to speak the same thing about our sins (and we must mean it) that God says about it. So, those who have looked at a girl besides their wives lustfully, has committed adultery in their hearts. But God says he will forive us and cleanse us if we confess it to him. Those who look lustfully at a girl must say, "I did it. And furthermore, it is adultery."

Proverbs says, "Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but whoever confesses them and renounces them finds mercy."

God is merciful. He is ready and willing to forgive and to cleanse. For that, I am forever grateful.

11:24 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home