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?
Those familiar with American television most likely are also familiar with the television series CSI which appears on the CBS television network. The show premiered in October 2000 and has enjoyed incredible ratings success ever since.
One of the most recognizable aspects of the show is its theme song Who Are You performed by The Who, a powerful rock band which formed in London, England in 1964.
The Who, by any measurable standard, is considered one of the quintessential rock bands of the 20th century. Even using the term quintessential adds to the already loaded measurement of this group. The Greeks acknowledged there were four essences in their observation of humanity: earth, fire, air and water. Yet to describe something as possessing a quintessence acknowledges an experience which is beyond our observable senses. This is a great description of the music of The Who.
The song Who Are You begs the question of comparative meaning of one woman compared to any other. The singer bemoans his inability to ever again find satisfaction in any other love after such an existential experience. The song as a whole depicts the devastation left behind in the wake of such immeasurable love.
I realize there are real people (not that Roger Daltrey isn’t real, but we must recognize the song is a performance for an audience) who longingly wish for an experience of love like Daltrey describes. While the song is directed outwardly (who are you?), it accurately communicates the raw despair we feel as people when we have lost something we did not know we had; when we have not realized the value of the relationship we have been given.
In our culture, our society, living in the world in 2015, the question isn’t really “Who are you?” nearly as much as it is “Who are we?”
Some of you who are perhaps much more introspective may think, “I do not really struggle with this question in my life.” Yet if we really examine our lives and our lifestyle, we do struggle with who we are!
For the vast majority, we define ourselves through comparison with others things or people. While we may be suave enough to not directly reference another person, our self-definition is shaped through our desires and interaction with others. There are many people who define themselves by external things—clothes, cars, houses, jobs and jewelry! Yet do we really grasp the fact we are defining ourselves by the temporary and the transient rather than the eternal and the permanent?
At no moment in time do we as a people gain an immediate, visceral understanding of our situation than when we are sitting at a funeral. At that moment we find ourselves struggling with a deep longing for the eternal; we crave, hunger and long for another moment or a touch from the person who has died. We find ourselves wishing we could have told them again (to reassure ourselves more than the one who has passed) how much we loved them and enjoyed their presence. All of the “things” in this world become meaningless and worthless because we would trade everything for another brief moment or touch.
It is then we wonder who we really are. We are sobered by the fact life is so short. We long for the relationship which at that moment we may have felt we have squandered foolishly. What is it that gives us value and meaning? Is it the material goods of this world? Is it a designer’s name written on our clothes and jewelry?
At that moment when the world has seemingly stopped and we struggle to breathe again, we come to the shocking conclusion it is not reality which gives us meaning but rather relationships! A person who knew us, who understood our idiosyncrasies and our obsessions, they were familiar with our pettiness and shallowness, yet they extended friendship and love to us anyway.
In that same moment, we struggle with the longing for eternity, for a time without time, where what is begun will never end. It is in times exactly like these the philosopher and theologian C. S. Lewis observed, “God often whispers during the times of enjoyment, but He shouts through the times of difficulty.”
I realize there may be some who read this and have no concept of the experiences I am describing; yet there are others who have experienced these very same feelings and they continue to resonate in your life.
What gives humanity value is not what we do (pragmatism) nor what we wear or own (mercantilism, commercialism) and it’s not even what we think (philosophy); what gives us value is who we are.
The Bible says we are “made in the image of God.” Because God has shared some of His characteristics with us, we have value. God then chose to demonstrate His care for us and our intrinsic value by sending His very Son to give each of us the opportunity to live with Him forever, eternally.
The very thing we long for—eternity and unbroken relationships—is available to us because “God loved this world so very much.” And for us to realize our true value we merely have to accept the gift He freely gives!
A Marriage of Convenience
There are some things I do not believe I will ever understand.
I went into a McDonald’s a while back and there was a sign hanging on the wall: “Braille menus available.”
Who is that sign for?
There were a couple of songs on the radio in the early seventies which have always given me fits. One was MacArthur Park: “someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.”
Seriously? Forget the cake; what about the hash brownies the writer obviously inhaled before writing this jingle?
One of the thornier issues facing Christians in general and myself as a pastor in particular is same-sex marriage. Over the years I have heard some very good men make some incredibly gifted attempts to claim the existence of same-sex marriage undermines the existence and value of heterosexual marriage. One pastor used the image of marriage being a boat and the proponents of same-sex marriage were doing the equivalent of boring holes in the bottom of the boat. In other words, if any other definition of marriage is allowed to occur, the whole of marriage would be destroyed.
I cannot more vigorously disagree.
Heterosexual marriage, in practice, doesn’t exactly have a “moral high ground” in this matter. The divorce rate in America still hovers around the fifty (50) percentile mark; those who identify themselves as Christians are not far removed from this mark. Yet it seems some of the more strident voices against same-sex marriage emanate from those claiming to be Christians—and some of the verbiage they are using gets pretty ugly!
As a pastor, I teach the entire Bible. Some believers have been trotting out the passages in Leviticus which describe the results of “men being with men” (my paraphrase) and “women being with women.” Those words are there and God was serious when He wrote them—He still is. The Bible states homosexuality is sin—along with many other activities as well. I also realize there are many people, some of whom I am friends with—who are homosexual.
If you are reading this and have chosen this lifestyle, then I most likely have hacked you off bad enough for you to throw your computer across the room! I would not recommend that action.
I do not dislike homosexuality any more than I dislike divorce, lying, over-eating, greed or any other sin. In fact, I can state along with the Apostle Paul, “I am what I am by God’s grace.” If there is anything I or anyone would consider good in my life, it’s not because I’m better or smarter, it’s because God is good.
Same-sex marriage is going to be what “is” in our country. Christians are going to have to come to grips with this. It doesn’t change what God’s Word says, it doesn’t change my responsibility to be obedient to God’s Word. We live in a democracy. If the people in this country decide this is okay, then believe it or not, God isn’t shocked one bit.
Allow me to channel my father’s words to me when I was ten years old: “I don’t care what the neighbor kids do—you belong to me!”
Our responsibility as believers is to love people with the love given to us by God and demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the Cross. This “love” is not sex, the “warm fuzzies” nor are we to embrace the definition our culture demands and then has called “good” what the Bible calls “evil.” True love is lived, it is demonstrated through our action and obedience to Jesus Christ in our lives. We do not and cannot demand obedience from those who are “not part of our family.” They may do as they choose. We are called by God to demonstrate truth through obedience.
The normalization of same-sex marriage is an opportunity given by God for us to prove the truth of our God and demonstrate our relationship to Him through our obedience. Christians should strive to have marriages so everyone who sees them would desire a marriage just like them! This is the whole point of living for Christ: demonstrating the love Christ has for this world through our obedient love for Him!
God has placed American Christians in America. He understands democracy and the great freedoms it gives. He also understands the human heart. When people reject His commands and His offer of salvation, believers should not react in hate and anger. People who reject the tenets of Scripture are not rejecting Christians or our sensibilities (so we need to get over ourselves): they are rejecting God.
Of course, the demand by the proponents of same-sex marriage who say I must state their cause is just and right are just as unfortunately wrong. I am not called to approve actions because of social pressure; I am called to be obedient to the Lord. Just as in first century Rome when the Church was in its infancy, Christians were not persecuted because they believed in Jesus Christ or Yahweh-God. Christians were persecuted because they refused political correctness and would not call Caesar “Lord!” Our obedience to Christ will always make us incredibly unpopular.
For far too long Christians have allowed Satan to get them off task by focusing too much on what those who are outside of a relationship with Christ are doing. Should sin be identified? Yes it should. But the identification of “sin” should be motivated by the same love a mother has for the child who gets too close to a hot oven: the warning is clear, it’s strong and its concern is for the safety of the child. It’s because the mother loves her child.
If we speak out against the sin in this world, let us make sure it’s because we love people like Jesus does. Our responsibilities are the same as they have always been: to love others.
This isn’t convenient.
It’s love and obedience.
Is there Acceptable Collateral Damage?
The term “collateral damage” was unknown prior to about 1970. The terms specific meaning is tied directly to war and the idea of “elements not directly associated with an intended target being damaged or destroyed as a result of a specific action.” From the first Gulf War until the most recent action in Afghanistan, our military has taken great pains to develop “smart” bombs which are able to pinpoint their targets with a minimum of collateral damage.
A large amount of material, expense and effort is expended to identify what is an appropriate target and what is not. Of course the enemy, knowing America and her allies desire to not harm those deemed to be non-combatants, will often set-in-place their operations in the midst of schools, hospitals and mosques in order to insulate them from attack. Of course, far too often the press overlooks this callous disregard to life and put all the more pressure on those who desire to eradicate the threat.
Perhaps one of the sharpest aspects of the double-edged sword of war is militaries—unless of course they are being utilized by a dictatorship—often find themselves fighting against an antagonistic camera and press as often as an enemy action. Such is the nature of war in our modern milieu.
Christianity is also involved in warfare. Of course, the Bible makes it abundantly clear our warfare is not waged against “flesh and blood” combatants, but rather in the spiritual realm; one unseen and filled not merely with spirits, but with ideas and philosophies. What manifests itself in the physical realm—whether in the form of atrocity, sin, death and immorality—is but a result of what is and has already occurred in the spiritual realm.
One of the scourges of our society is “abortion-on-demand” which has been available since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. I am unashamedly pro-life; the Bible teaches we are made in God’s image and life begins not merely with conception (which is our only means of observation as humans) but life is something ordained by God who is the Creator of all that lives. As a Christian and a pastor, God expects me to not merely believe this, but also to proclaim this through my life and teaching.
People are a complex mechanism. By God’s design no two of us are alike. We do have commonalities which are measurable across the masses of society (a reason for the existence of the disciplines of psychology, sociology and even history) and these provide us with incredible insight into human nature. If my desire is to communicate the message of Scripture—what Christians refer to as the ‘good news” (Gospel) of God’s love for us and His desires for us—I cannot then ignore the reality of human nature.
One of the most difficult things we are faced with as believers in Jesus Christ is our call to “hate the sin” (action, attitude, idea, and philosophy) but also “love the sinner.” I have heard those outside of Christianity scoff and ridicule this concept; they believe it is impossible to separate the individual from what the individual does (there is a whole economy built on the existence of this concept—this also ensures people will always be “defined” and “enslaved” by their sin and issues as well). Again, I defer to what Jesus taught: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Those who proclaim and claim the name of Jesus Christ are capable of getting “caught up in the emotion of the moment” just like anyone else. The difference between those who have a relationship with Christ and those who do not is this: those who have a relationship with God the Father through the work of Christ have both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to constantly judge and check their own actions. One of the hardest to remember is that we are to “love the sinner.”
It is far too easy to simply allow hate to season our speech and actions. Standing outside of abortion clinics with signs proclaiming “Abortion is Murder” and the like makes as much sense as standing outside of funeral homes with signs stating “Sin Kills!” Abortion is murder—I agree completely! Yet is it actually loving to paint with such a broad brush that we alienate those who are captives of their own circumstances and decisions? Oh, and let’s not overlook the incredible sense of love fostered by those holding those signs.
Our churches need to communicate they are more of a place of refuge for the hurting and injured rather than a staging point for those with a desire to be “culture warriors.” We are no more in a war with culture than a fish is at war with water! We can battle ideas and philosophies, we can tend to the wounded and we should confront those who actively engage in what the Bible describes as sin. Yet as we do all of these things, we cannot fail to communicate the love by which we are motivated!
Jesus Christ came into this world as a baby. The Lord of Creation, the One who by His very hand created all there is and by His very existence holds all of reality together, came into a world as one of us. He struggled as He grew; He worked in order to provide for food and clothing for Himself and His family. He formed relationships with those around Him and the Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature” with God and people.
His ministry was marked with compassion, healing, confrontation of sin and wrong and ultimately, He proved His love through His action: He died so those who believe in Him might live forever with Him. The reason His words were accepted is because His love was clearly demonstrated; even the crusty Centurion who stood at the foot of His cross when He died stated “surely He was the Son of God.”
If Christians desire people to take us seriously, we are going to have to seriously love them!