This page is mostly for personal and spiritual posts (a.k.a. non-fiction).
My fiction-only blog, about my novels and other similar examples of popular art, can be found here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jesus Calms the Storm

When I think of Hurricane Irene now on the morning after, with my “cup half empty,” I am regretful that we canceled our church service today. That decision was really out of my hands, however, because the building where we meet was closed and a number of families said they would not be coming anyway, or at least didn’t want to. That is very understandable because of the possible flooding, blocked roads, and power outages that we were warned about. But now after the anticlimax of last night (our power didn’t even go off), it seems like this may have been another example of the media “manufacturing news.” I just finished watching Andersoon Cooper on CNN ask his weatherman “What happened to the hurricane?”—he seemed a bit embarrassed or even regretful that it turned out to be more of a speedbump for New York, the city where he was “on location” in his deluxe windbreaker. (But I won’t judge…)

On the other hand, when my “cup is half full,” I can look at it this way: Jesus calmed the storm! It could indeed have been much worse, but he spared us from that by His gracious providence. The weatherman’s answer to Cooper was that North Carolina “got in the way,” meaning that area took the brunt of the hurricane’s force and it diminished after that to a mere tropical storm. And that itself is an illustration of what Jesus did for us on the cross…we still have to face some troubles and trials in this life, but we never have to worry about the horrible hurricane of hell, because He bore that penalty in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:10-14, 1 Peter 2:24). So we have many reasons to worship the Lord today, by ourselves or together with our families, which would be especially good to do if your church didn’t have a service! Here are a few suggestions for how you could do that…

Even though the storm did not affect us as badly as was feared, we still had to face our fears of the storm, so you could start by listening to or watching a video for the song “Praise You in this Storm,” by Casting Crowns. You can simple google it to find the audio, or better yet check out one or more of the nice videos for the song on YouTube. Then you could read Luke 8:22-25 and other parallel passages about Jesus calming the storm, and listen to my friend Dyke Habegger’s message on those verses, appropriately called “Jesus Calms the Storm.” The message can be found under July 13 on this page: Finally, spend some time in prayer, thanking God for His gracious providence that keeps us from disaster in this world, and His gracious provision of Christ that keeps us from ruin in the next. And ask God to give you the opportunity to be His “hands and feet” to provide help and hope for others, both physically and spiritually. Pray for those you know who have needs in one or both of those areas.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Problems with Christianity and Atheism

I came across a quote in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash recently, which will be offensive to most Christians and also to most atheists (what fun!). It said, "Ninety-nine percent of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later, and they conclude that the entire one hundred percent is bull___, which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds."

I think "ninety-nine percent" is hyperbole or overstatement, but the basic sentiment is true. As always, Christianity is in dire need of reformation, though many of its adherents don't seem to notice. Recently I've had a number of conversations with or about young people who are "disappointing" their very sincere parents by not following in the traditions of their faith. And it occurred to me that in these situations this difficulty only exists because the traditions they are rejecting are not even found in the Bible! If only the older generation would not invent or perpetuate "standards" that originate from man rather than the Holy Spirit, the consciences of the believing younger generation would not have to conflict with what they have been taught so often. On the other hand, parents who are careful to draw the line between what are scriptural convictions and what is mere wisdom and preference find that they share a sweet fellowship with their grown children, because the main thing is the main thing and that is what bonds them together. (I'm not saying it's easy, my own case I have had to say, "I wouldn't do it that way, but he has freedom before God and I'm determined to not be legalistic about this.")

The quote above also waylays atheists, in case you didn't notice the subtle implication. The character in the novel says that intelligent people can see there is a lot wrong with "Christianity" as it is commonly practiced, so they reject the whole kitten caboodle, and thus atheism has become associated with intelligence (wrongly, because atheism only goes "halfway" toward a more thorough intellectual investigation that would reveal true biblical Christianity to be reasonable). A friend said to me recently that she discovered by reading the New Testament that Jesus was not nearly as concerned with "right-wing politics" as many of his followers are today, and so she was also questioning "the whole Son of God thing." But these are apples and oranges. The connection between Jesus and right-wing politics is not one that can be made by a careful exegesis of Scripture, but nothing is more clear on its pages than Jesus' own claim that He was the Son of God. Christians do misrepresent what the Bible says (because we are all sinners, as the Bible says), but that doesn't mean the Bible itself is wrong. That widespread leap of logic is understandable, but fallacious nonetheless.

Another example of atheism being "halfway intellectual" is Penn Jillette, who has a new book out called God, No! in which he says that atheists (shouldn't it be agnostics?) are humble and Christians are arrogant, because the latter claim to know the truth about God. "I don't know," he says, "so I'm an atheist." Well, I don't know would need someone greater and more knowledgeable than myself to tell me what the truth is, like someone who made the universe and then condescended to communicate with us by inspiring human literature that could then be available for people of later generations to study as an objective source of truth. And therefore I am not being arrogant when I say I believe something to be true based on those books, I am actually being humble because I am admitting that I do not have the ability in myself to determine what is true. In fact, I not only am incapable of observing or comprehending enough to discover or discern truth on my own, I am very likely to misunderstand it because of my many biases. So I am utterly dependent on outside revelation and supernatural illumination. This is hardly self-aggrandizing, in fact it goes against my natural pride to admit that I am so pathetically helpless without God's grace.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly, and The Meaning of the Universe

I've been going through some of Philip K. Dick's fiction catalog lately (I won't call it science fiction, because it defies categorization), and I read A Scanner Darkly completely for the first time (I guess my tastes have matured enough that I could finally get through it). I also watched the movie adaptation, which I found to be unique and interesting (I have an edited version that omits the completely unnecessary nudity).

If the term "God-haunted" fits anyone, it fits Dick. Even before he ended his career, and life, with a trilogy of "theological mysteries" (Valis, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), he invented the religion of Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for the movie Blade Runner) and named this award-winning novel after the verse in the Bible that says, "We now see through a glass darkly" (I Cor. 13:12, KJV). A Scanner Darkly has too much rambling and seemingly random content for me to call it a favorite (my favorite Dickian titles are Androids, Ubik and the early Vulcan's Hammer). But there are some classic passages in it, like the one below, which captures well the truth about how the universe started out and what has happened to it since. It's toward the end of the novel, when Donna is bemoaning the fact that her employers in the narcotics division have manipulated her fellow undercover agent Bob Arctor not only to investigate and inform on himself (!) but also to become addicted to Substance D and fry his mind so he could be their mole in the New Path recovery program, which they suspect of producing the very drug that they are treating (!). (And, of course, because it's Philip K. Dick, neither Donna or Bob know that the other is a narc, even though they are "dating.")

"How can justice fall victim, ever, to what is right? How can this happen? She thought, Because there is a curse on this world, and all this proves it; this is the proof right here. Somewhere, at the deepest level possible, the mechanism, the construction of all things, fell apart, and up from what remained swam the need to do all the various sort of unclear wrongs the wisest choices has made us act out. It must have started thousands of years ago. By now it's infiltrated into the nature of everything. And, she thought, into every one of us. We can't turn around or open our mouth and speak, decide at all, without doing it. I don't even care how it got started, when or why. She thought, I just hope it'll end some time...I just hope one day the shower of brightly colored sparks will return, and this time we'll all see it. The narrow doorway where there's peace on the far side. A statue, the sea, and what looks like moonlight. And nothing stirring, nothing to break the calm.

"A long, long time ago, she thought. Before the curse, and everything, and everyone became this way. The Golden Age, she thought, when wisdom and justice were the same. Before it all shattered into cutting fragments. Into broken bits that don't fit, that can't be put back together, hard as we try."

As I've always said, people without a Christian worldview can see what's wrong, very astutely at times. Unfortunately Dick, like many such astute observers, did not seem to find the answer. Here are some passages from an even better Author, which contain both the problem and the solution:

"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned....Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death....For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body....And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (excerpts from the book of Romans)

Now we do see through "a scanner darkly," but one day we will see "face to face" with the One who bore the curse for us (Gal. 3:13)! My prayer is that all who share Dick's observations about this fallen world will not only see what he saw about its disease, but will also learn about the only true cure.