Pain From The Crucified One: And You Claim There Is A “GOD”

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One of the most frequently posed question to the Christian believer is the question of how an all-good, all-loving and all-powerful God can co-exist with evil. Simply put, it does not really make sense to say that a being with such great qualities will permit so much pain and suffering in this world. This is termed as The Logical Problem of Evil.

I must confess that I do struggle a lot with answers when it comes to the idea of a Supreme Being not really doing anything about the bad things we encounter in this world. ‘If you say you are all-powerful, get rid of this evil right now!’ This is how the early Greek philosopher Epicurus puts it (The Epicurean Paradox):

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing?
Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him God?

In other words, if evil exists then God ceases to be God because He’s unable to take care of that which brings intense pain to us. He’s probably a liar who has none of the qualities His followers blindly attribute to Him. Maybe, He’s just a Marvel character stronger than Superman and just a little bigger in size than The Hulk. We are his die-hard fans who hero-worship Him as if one day He will fly out of that ancient book called “The Bible” into reality. Interesting imaginations. Keep on dreaming! If you look at the argument the first time, it sounds convincing enough to destroy the foundations on which the existence of God rests upon. At the second and tenth and more number of glances, you cannot help but to notice some question marks concerning the argument itself.

Doesn’t it sound as though the asker of the question has some knowledge of that which is not evil? He or she assumes in a way that there is such a thing as ‘good’. As I mentioned in my DEEP LONGING post, if you tell me my shirt is dirty, you probably have an idea of what it means to be clean. To say that such and such is ‘good’ or such and such is ‘bad’ definitely requires a third factor that rises above both and has some kind of higher authority in the first place to make the clear distinction. In his book titled “Mere Christianity”, Clive Staples Lewis tries to explain this phenomenon by using the idea of the piano. He says that if you have a sheet of music, it gives you instructions concerning which keys to play on the instrument at each point in time. However, the music sheet itself does not constitute one of those keys you see on the instrument. It merely gives you directions as to what to play and what not to. That is the third factor here. That thing which rises above musical keynotes and determines with some kind of authority what needs to be done.

In the world we live in, you can’t help but see people react negatively towards “evil” practices like murder, torturing, rape etc. We are more than quick to label them as “wrong”. We rather view these acts in the light of moral absolutes instead of relative terms making whatever standard we look to make our judgments more objective than subjective. The truth is we don’t agree to the reason of a personal taste and preference when one murders a baby for instance. Let the so-called guilty one talk about how his personal interest in doing what he did granted him well-being and just watch out for the kind of headlines the TV and radio stations would broadcast. To him, he did what was right to bring him happiness but at once, you realize that subjective opinion totally rules that reason out. In my local dialect, we may say of the offender, ‘Ne tiri mu y3 sum papa’ literally meaning ‘there’s total darkness in his head’—He’s evil and does not value the worth of a human being.

Moving on, you notice again that this objective standard law (Moral Law in this case) has some level of authority it carries which seems to over-rule all our personal appeals. You want to do something but this law tells you what really has to be done. Left to us, we would want to pursue our own self-interests but this rule or law thinks otherwise. Though we are at liberty to go against it, it still carries ultimate authority when we weigh it against our personal feelings. This law as we know it is objective rather than subjective and has more authority than any other human preference. It simply tells us that no human being could have established it considering how we are full of personal views and opinions. In other words, whose say would have been regarded as the final word for the rest of generations (even till now) to follow suit? Forget it!

Who or what established the moral law then? Whatever or whoever established it is somewhat in a different class extending beyond man’s limited capabilities. But another question is “do we necessarily have to attribute this ‘moral law’ to a moral lawgiver?” Well, I don’t know about you but if these promptings within me “thinks” or “purposes” that I live a certain kind of life and not another, then I can assume that it has a mind to like one thing and dislike another. From experience, we know that human beings reason or think on a high scale of intelligence. I wish I could speak for vegetables or chairs or fishes but I can’t because I’m not one. I can’t tell exactly what goes on in the inside of them and just observing them externally wouldn’t give me the best of results. Let me explain. If I hit my friend on his head and he returns it with a hard blow to my tummy, I may think that is the feedback to expect anytime I do such a thing (that is if I only observe from the outside). Does it mean that it ought to be the right or expected feedback? What if he had a prompting within (just as we do all the time) to just let it go and not repay evil with evil? All I’m saying is I happen to be a human being so I can speak better from that angle since I can dig into myself for relevant information. Now, if a human like me with a mind also reasons and I find this law which ‘thinks’ I should conduct myself in a certain manner to be above human establishment, then I’m tempted to assume a super-intelligent mind behind the establishment of this moral law. The issue is if we take that super-intelligent Mind (God in this case) out of the equation, then we also take out the possibility of a moral lawgiver. Without the moral lawgiver, there is no moral law. If that which makes the distinction is absent, the two words (good and evil) lose their meaning. We end up with no good or evil so the question self-destructs leaving us with nothing to even start our argument. We have no basis to talk about what is just or unjust because as Fyodor Dostoevsky said:

Without God, everything is permissible.

It is interesting to note that the Christian account of God from the Bible describes a Supreme Being who is not only the creator of this universe but is also very concerned about the behavior of men hence setting out certain instructions to follow. The Bible goes ahead to inform us that God who is very interested in right living has graciously created humankind to reflect His very image on earth. It then makes sense to say that we possess that ‘inward moral compass’ too because of the kind of personality that made us. The super-intelligent mind creates men with minds intelligent enough to recognize and freely obey the law he finds himself under. However, we do make mistakes sometimes when we read the compass though just as we sometimes make some errors with our addition and multiplication in mathematics but it does not rule out the fact that the compass is still present and always directing.

I personally believe that the problem of evil rather affirms the existence of God even though it stands as one of the greatest objections to His existence. Without God, a hopeless life awaits to welcome us because we hit against the wall with no solution to the problem. God is the only answer to the evil in this world. He has promised us that a time will come when we would live far from pain and suffering. Cinderella and Snow White may be living happily ever after but our tale would be realer than theirs. We will live far above the description of ‘happily ever after’, enjoying uninterrupted fellowship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, GOD. If you reject His existence together with everything that makes it visibly clear that He actually does exist, please what is your other alternative?

To be continued…

Whose Image Is On You?

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“Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Matthew 22:16-17 NLT

Before we begin, bear in mind that you wouldn’t find anything here about whether Jesus endorsed tax paying or not. I meant to talk about something much more interesting, much more important than tax paying so to speak.

“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” That sounds friendly and harmless, right? Some “sincerely clueless” people just want to know whether it’s lawful or not to do something. Well, if you know anything about the Pharisees and the Herodians, you will quickly notice their schematic plans to pit Jesus against Caesar, which apparently fell through in the end. Today, I want to look at Jesus’ counter-question together with its response because it holds very vital information about our very nature. An understanding of who we are and where we come from is of great importance since it spells out our purpose on this Earth. In response to their question, Jesus first requests for a coin. Now listen to the carefully constructed words of Jesus—and please do take note of every italicized word. “Show Me the tax money (or coin)…Whose image and inscription is on this? …Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” then the rather unusual follow-up statement, “and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:19-21 NKJV). Why stop there? They should have gone ahead to ask—I would have been much glad if they had done so—“What belongs to God?” Then Jesus would have posed the obvious question, “Whose image is on you?”

The word image comes from the Latin word “imago” which simply means, “imitate”. There are quite a number of definitions for the word image. An image could be a picture produced by a camera, artist, mirror, etc. It could be a mental picture that is, a thought of how someone/something might look like. Whatever the case, there is a form of semblance (be it physique, behavior, impression, etc.) that links an image to its original source. Let me tell you something brief about the denarius coin you see up there. The Denarius coin, 14-37 AD, also known as the ‘Tribute Penny’ shows a portrait of Tiberius Caesar with the inscription “TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AUGUSTUS,” which stands for “Tiberius Caesar Divi August Fili Augustus,” meaning, “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the god, Augustus.” The coin was about 3.9 grams of silver and roughly worth a day’s wages for a common laborer. This was the currency used  in paying the government’s officials, suppliers and soldiers. I was so amazed to find out that in ancient history, it was a serious crime to carry a denarius coin to the bathroom. You dare not! You just couldn’t make that mistake because the coin bore the emperor’s royal seal; it represented his power, wealth, “deification”, and subjugation. It tells you an awful lot that the coin was no ordinary piece of silver material that bore some cheap, anonymous image on it. It reflected the authority and worth of the Ruler as well as his influence upon the people under him.

What about us too? The human being itself? The scriptures tell us that we are images of a Greater Image. There is an expensive label on us, and I don’t mean we have some price tags or registered trademarks on our chests or any part of our skin. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that God made man in his image and after His likeness. That is, to be like and to represent Him in this world. The human nature clearly images who God is and this we do in many ways (this is not an exhaustive list though): We are personal beings with unique characteristics, different talents and skills that distinguish us from one another. We have within us the capacity to reason, learn and make sound judgments in our everyday living. We are not individualists; we do relate to people and other things around us. There is also inherent in us some sort of moral code we live by, which presses upon our hearts that we ought and ought not to do certain things even if it is against our personal desires. Even with that, we show some sort of free will that makes us choose to obey or disobey those codes. In other words, we are not hard-wired robotic organisms walking upon the surface of this Earth under some automated processing technology. The laws of nature don’t make decisions for us—we do. Intrinsic in us are these qualities (arising from a deliberate purposeful plan) because God is the source of it all. That sounds too simple, right? Real things are not simple, as C.S Lewis would say: These are real and of course, you don’t expect them to be that simple. Pinch a brother on his cheek and the scientific deduction to the resultant pain would tell you how an impulse travels along nerves of cells and crosses some synaptic junctions to send messages to the brain and back. All we see or probably hear in that short space of time is Ouch! There is a hidden complexity behind that simple pinching exercise—so is the relationship between God and man.

Nevertheless, let’s look at something much more observable. What do you say when you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you marvel at the elaborate design of your entire bodily make-up? Do you even know the intricate steps it takes for certain functional processes to occur within your system? Take blood circulation for instance. You will be greatly amazed if I should take you through this sophisticated process which, according to science, takes place in about one minute. One cycle occurs in a minute! Again, Science would tell you that a resting adult breathes 10 to 15 times per minute, inhaling about 500 milliliters of air during the ‘breathing in’ and ‘breathing out’ process. Both eyes of the human comprises about 130 million photoreceptor cells and each single cell has about a trillion of atoms all coordinating carefully to help us with our vision! Don’t get me wrong. I love Science. I really do love Science. The more science makes discovery in the field of human anatomy, the better we appreciate how uniquely the body is designed to work in such correct, precise, meticulous way. However, I don’t marvel at these stunning workings and attribute them to some random natural occurrence. I don’t look at the latest technology and wonder if an accidental collocation of irrational atoms took place to produce such a complex design. It certainly does not make sense to look at the complexity of our make-up, the careful coordination of every single cell in our bodies, the beautiful working of our consciousness, and then count ourselves as emerging from some dead, purposeless, random, insentient matter. Common sense tells me that things that exhibit complex, functional design demands an intelligent being with a purpose and a plan. It urges me to find out the “WHO” behind it because there’s too much order and beauty for it to have happened by chance. Behind every book there is an author; behind every building there is an architect; behind every gadget there is a designer; behind this wonderful creation there must be an intelligent grand designer.

WHO could it be then? I know! The Psalmist knows too! “I praise You (GOD), for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul KNOWS it well” (Psalm 139:14). Oh my! Look at how our inward parts have been carefully knitted together, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. “You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something (Psalm 139:15).” My Goodness! I will never rob My Maker of His Praise! I join the saints today in reverential worshipful fear with all my heart, my mind, my soul and my strength to proclaim boldly, I’M MADE IN THE IMAGE AND AFTER THE LIKENESS OF THE IMMORTAL, and WISE GOD. This is who we are. We are no fluke of nature. We belong to God. We are the image of God.

UNITY IN DIVERSITY; WHAT ABOUT DENOMINATIONS?

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Have you ever heard of this story?

Two men met some years ago at a convention. To their mutual surprise, they discovered that both had formerly been completely blind and that Jesus had opened their eyes and recovered their sight.

“Jesus is just awesome. Can you believe he spat on the ground and made mud, put it on my eyes and told me to go wash in a pool? Voila! I see so clearly”, said the first man.

“Oh yeah? That’s quite strange because He just spoke a word, and that was it for me”, said the other.

“Hmm, Jesus does use mud, I can tell you for a fact!”

“He does not. I was blind but after He spoke a word, BAM! He opened my eyes!”

“Where did you get this doctrine from? Can you really see? I ask because the use of the mud is very fundamental to our faith. I wonder how you can see without it.”

Next thing, the dawn of the “The Muddites” and “The Anti-Muddites” movement. These two groups spent their whole time in bitter rivalry while the blind all around them groped through life not knowing that the True Light had come to bring light to all who walked in darkness.

Good grief! How easy it is for trivial issues to cause major discrepancies within the Christian church.

Ultimately, you and I are not Christians by the denomination or the abomination that we belong to, says the author and famous apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias. That is true because what ultimately defines Christianity is that the person of Christ dwells in a person’s heart and influences that entire being.

Differences of opinions have given rise to the many denominations in Christianity. We find ourselves in different denominations because we blend with people of common convictions on certain matters of the Christian faith—especially on the non-essentials (peripheral doctrines).

The scriptures do not label these non-essentials as sin in itself. They are, however, viewed as either “right” or “wrong” based on our personal preferences. This right vs wrong criticism has greatly harmed the growth and maintenance of the Christian community. Our petty squabbles repel the very people we wish to introduce into the family.

Romans 14 records Paul’s dealings with the Roman church on the various conflicts that arose during his time of office. The apostle seems to handle the problem so maturely by showing how possible it is for Christians on opposite ends of a matter to glorify God in what they do. Do you mean all matters? Absolutely not! Adultery, fornication, idolatry, sorcery, stealing, jealousy, strife, drunkenness, covetousness, and other fleshly desires (or fruits of the flesh) cannot glorify God. In the same way, it is a non-negotiable matter on essential doctrines such as the Deity of Christ (Both God and man), Bodily resurrection of Christ, Salvation by grace through Faith, The atoning work of Christ on the cross, Monotheism (there is only One God), the concept of Trinity. Denial of one or more of these central doctrines places one’s faith in something else. It could be another great being or creature but it ends there; just another creature NOT the Creator!

Now, if both the one who esteems one day above the other and the one who esteems everyday alike or the one who eats only vegetables and the other who freely eats all things or whatever the non-essential may be—that which does not destroy the work of God—do so in a truth-honoring, God-exalting and God-pleasing way, why lift the rod of judgment against another man’s conviction? “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own MASTER he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for GOD is ABLE to make him STAND” (Romans 14:4).

There will definitely be disagreements on non-essential matters and you have to make a decision. There’s no sitting on the fence or anything goes in such matters. Paul in his letter to the Roman church issues a command, not a concession that each one must be fully convinced (persuaded, satisfied) in his own mind about the nonessential scruples. (Romans 14:5). It is very necessary to have a strong conviction for your actions because whatever is done apart from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Be fully convinced that your abstention or involvement in practices on food, baptism, festivals, music, or any other non-essentials is in honor and gratitude to God our Father and our dear Lord, Jesus Christ. After all, if we live, we live for Him and if we die, we die for Him.

C.S Lewis describes Christianity (more like ‘Mere’ Christianity) as a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. Once you reach the hallway, you must decide which room to lodge. You do not stay in the hallway forever; it is in the rooms that one finds the fire, chairs, and meals. In the hallway, your criteria for choosing a specific room should be based on questions like, “Are the essential doctrines scriptural? Is holiness here?” not “I like their kind of service” or something not linked to the central truth of Christianity. It is very crucial to enter the right room, very crucial. It is for this reason every soul needs to offer heartfelt prayers for spiritual illumination. We do need guidance to enter the right room. It is imperative we lodge in a room where form (style) is not a god but rather a means of directing the congregants to worship the true substance (essence), God. There, our hearts tune magnificently to the sweet, melodious rhythm of the infinite, uncaused, independent Being who alone is worthy to receive our praises!

Love across the fences, despising or judging none. Peacefully, we may agree to disagree on non-essential matters but our vertical commitment to Christ must remain unsullied. Don’t go about boasting that I am of this church and I am of that church and all that because it is forbidden (1 Corinthians 1). Take time to pray for the recovery of them that may have strayed into the path of darkness. You-n-I-ted in Diversity? That’s right! Let’s make it happen. The Trinity longs to see it take place. The world needs to see it manifest among believers. Let that sink in deep.