I have lost track of how often I have stated to people: Rule #1, God is sovereign; Rule #2, don’t forget Rule #1!
I believe the God I serve often allows humanity the opportunity to catch a brief sliver of insight into His mind and perhaps—to an incredibly infinitesimally small degree—also gain some understanding regarding His love and relationship with people.
Because I am a pastor, I have many friends who are in the funeral home business. While it is a business, what they offer is service through a compassionate and loving relationship which will end up impacting every member of your family in one way or another.
Almost without exception, a good funeral home is built around a family who view the services they offer as both a calling and a responsibility they have to the community in which they live. For the vast majority of the population, the whole idea of caring for the dead and preparing bodies for burial is just, well, creepy.
Yet this is where I as a pastor, sees how God wonderfully gifts different people with distinct gifts and abilities which meet the needs of everyone. Those who are in law enforcement, those who serve fire departments, doctors, lawyers, plumbers—these individuals are working in an area in which they have been given a unique set of skills and abilities, which enable them to meet the needs of society.
The men and women who serve in these funeral homes live, work and many times they may even know the people who have died. They provide services for people they have just met, for friends, for neighbors and sometimes even for their own families. Again, I believe it is a calling from God which enables them to serve their communities so faithfully. Yet they also earn their living doing what they do.
The fact that their “services” are also a business often causes stress and difficulties to arise. Those in this business that I have been granted the gift of a relationship find it extremely unpleasant in having to become “insistent” regarding their fee and their ability to be paid.
Because of the nature of the relationship they have with their clientele, and the fact their services are always needed in emotionally sensitive circumstances, there is always extra stress and effort when they must be much more straight-forward regarding the payment for their services.
I have watched the verbal hurdles they face as they attempt to find a way to express the need and necessity for payment while at the same time being sensitive to the raw emotional state these families are experiencing.
While they have a moral responsibility to make sure they receive payment for the services they have rendered (this is true of all businesses—the employees expect those who own their business operate ethically, with integrity and do not do anything which would endanger their livelihood), they also desire to be sensitive to the needs of their clients. Yet as many of us know and understand, there are some people with whom we must become very terse regarding these things.
As I have observed these service providers endure these difficulties, when they finally secure payment, there is never a sense of “having won.” They are never jubilant over avoiding the financial difficulty of providing a service in which they will have to take a financial loss.
Quite the contrary; they are almost bewildered by the necessity of the confrontation. Given the choice, they would have preferred to avoid all confrontation regarding the matter. This kind of encounter seems to take the joy out of their calling to serve. It makes them uncomfortable because they actually know this is part-and-parcel to business, but it is an unpleasant necessity which they make every attempt to avoid.
The Lord God is the great Undertaker. While there are some who desire to teach that everyone will go to Heaven—or no one will—the Bible is very clear: “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). For those of us who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the Bible also says, “The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the LORD’S sight” (Psalm 116:15).
Yet for those who are separate from the Lord, He says, “’For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.’ This is a declaration of the Lord GOD. ‘So repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:32). God does not wish anyone to die apart from Him, this is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God must be true to Himself. He is both holy and just. If God looked at humanity, and chose instead to pat people on their proverbial heads and say in a grandfatherly way, “Oh that’s okay, if you don’t want to pay the price for rebellion, I’ll let it pass!”
One of the main reasons my friends who run funeral homes cannot allow people to simply “not pay” is because they have responsibilities to others; their families, their employees and even to their communities. If they do not follow good business practices, who would then be able to serve their communities in these instances?
If God did not maintain His holiness, His just nature, what would this then mean regarding the sacrifice of His Son? The death of God for mankind demands that the value of the gift—in this case, the gift of salvation—be upheld and be protected.
If God chose not to punish man’s rebellion, the gift of Christ’s death on the Cross would be rendered worthless. No longer would it be the greatest act of love mankind has ever seen. It would be nothing more than another senseless death at the hands of a cruel people.
If God had did not occasionally give humanity some insight into His nature, how would we then understand the necessity of collecting debts? How would we be able to understand grace and mercy?
If no debt were ever collected, would anything have any worth?
Is there such a thing as Post-Christian?
Back in 1964 (yes, we must enter the WABAC Machine from Sherman and Mr. Peabody), there was a musical duo Peter and Gordon who were a part of the British Invasion of the early 1960’s. Their fame came after their song, A World Without Love rocketed to the number one chart position in both England and the United States.
It wasn’t necessarily the message of the song A World Without Love that “struck a chord” (this is where the “Unrepentant Pun Alert” should go) with the musical populace, but the gently flowing music and pleasant harmonies of Peter and Gordon. The song lamented a complete rejection of any desire to live in a world where love doesn’t exist.
Now as quickly as I just referenced 1964 and a song over fifty years old, I will now reverse course and take us screaming into the proverbial future! I read a tremendous amount of Science Fiction. Very few of these stories contain any reference to the Judeo-Christian God, yet they all find within their plot arcs the concept of love.
Of course, this doesn’t surprise me. I’m not really expecting them to mention God but I have been conditioned to expect some kind of mention or obsession with love. I enter the story understanding I am entering a humanistic, naturalistic and even atheistic worldview, so I am prepared for the onslaught of a philosophy which runs counter to my worldview.
Whether I am watching Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Jean Luc Picard or James Tiberius Kirk in the various iterations of Star Trek or merely being wildly amused by Guardians of the
Galaxy, I find it interesting that all references to “God” or any supreme being has been scrubbed from these stories, yet the concept of love, its pursuit and sometimes its attainment is included and even celebrated. Why is that?
A book I initially read many years ago but have reviewed recently, is Meaning by Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch. One of the most striking statements these authors make in this book is “That freedom of thought is rendered pointless and must disappear wherever reason and morality are deprived of their status as a force in their own right.” They continue:
When a judge in a court of law can no longer appeal to law and justice; when neither a witness, nor the newspapers, nor even a scientist reporting on his experiments can speak the truth as he knows it; when in public life there is no moral principle commanding respect; when revelations of religion and of art are denied any substance; then there are no grounds left on which any individual may justly make a stand against the rules of the day. Such is the simple logic of totalitarianism. A nihilistic regime will have to undertake the day-to-day direction of all activities which are otherwise guided by the intellectual and moral principles that nihilism declares empty and void. Principles must be replaced by the decrees of an all-embracing party line.
Polanyi and Prosch have made an incredible observation: science, culture and government do not have the ability to provide meaning and fulfillment to the human existence! One of the reasons I leave many movies thoroughly entertained but completely unfulfilled has more to do with life’s meaning and purpose than whether or not the movie’s star happened to win and live to see another sequel. Even more stark is the concepts of love found in Hollywood productions are often an odd mix of humanistic desires (“What’s in it for me?”) and compassionate empathy (“What can I do for you?”).
Even when we find ourselves experiencing all the emotions and angst of the characters on the screen, our brains are making moment-by-moment judgments regarding what is right and wrong, what is just and fair and what is real and true. This is why we cheer when the “bad guy” gets atomized because he was thrown into a particle accelerator by the movie’s protagonist!
This is also why we recognize physical attraction between the characters, why we connect and become invested in the relationships we see building within the plot. Even though we are entering a world, or a universe, in which there is obviously no God and even fewer moral compunctions, we still expect there to be a “right” and a “wrong.”
Yet if the movie producers want to sell the movie, the “bad guy” must lose and the “good guy” must win; unless, of course, you’re John Wayne in The Cowboys—yet John’s entourage won on his behalf!
Here’s the opening “bottom line” to this series of discussions: if there is truly no God, if absolutes do not really “morally” exist, if “love” is something which can be defined moment-by-moment pragmatically, then why is there a winner and a loser? Why doesn’t everyone just kill a bunch of people and then everyone just go home and enjoy themselves? Why do people place so much importance on the concept of love?
Why do we insist on reflecting the characteristics—and love—of a non-existent God?