Category Archives: Theology

Faith Matters

I’ve met one honest atheist in my life.

As I recall, we sat at his dining room table when we got into a conversation about beliefs. He said to me, “Honestly, the theory of evolution as an origin of life explanation really doesn’t make a lot of sense.” In his view, there were too many variables, too many things to account for, and too many things that depended upon exactly the right set of circumstances to occur. In the end, it really came down to what you choose to put your faith in. He shrugged and said, “I choose to put my faith in science.”

When I have honest, non-charged conversations with atheists (and some agnostics), I find that it really boils down to two issues: the problem of evil and the answers of science. The answers they find in science trump the questions provoked by suffering in their mind. To be fair, I do not intend in this blog post to answer either of those questions. William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, to name two, do a fairly good job of articulating the concept of middle knowledge to such a degree that many professional philosophers and theologians have ceded that portion of the argument to them. At the popular level, the battle continues to wage; at the scholarly level, the generals have left the battlefield and fight to take a different hill.

My atheist friend recognized something that most atheists I encounter refuse to admit: that it will always come down to faith. I’ve never met anyone who has actually seen an atom. I believe atomic theory because one of my teachers, whom I trust, taught it to me. They told me to read a book that provided eyewitness testimony, narrative exposition, and speculative analogies. Between my reading and their explanation, I choose to believe in a world that runs on the interactions between tiny objects. Why? I trust my teachers, I’ve had experiences that validated their teachings, and those teachings fit my understanding of the universe and its inner workings. I have faith that these things I believe but cannot see correspond to the reality I experience and perceive.

I would say the same thing about my belief in God.

One can respond in many ways to the problem of evil and the answers of science. The essential answer comes down to this: you will never fully understand, now what will you trust? Let’s not kid ourselves here. If God appeared to us and gave a full, detailed explanation and answer to the problem of evil that answered all of our questions, one of several things would happen. (1) Some would assert that God was not worthy of worship since the explanation was too simple. (2) Others would explain the explanation away and reject it. (3) The true believers would still believe. The problem is not one of questions, it’s a problem of trust. The problem is not one of choice, it’s a problem of trust.

Will you trust what you do not understand?

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Submission and Sensibility (with apologies to Jane Austen)

I recently stumbled across and article (or blog, can’t really remember) arguing that κεφαλὴ, translated as “head” in most Bibles, is better translated as “source” in Ephesians 5:22–33. I had vague understanding of this argument so I read the article in more detail and then went to look at the associated verses myself. At the end of my study, I came to the following conclusion: who cares?

Paul opens Chapter 5 with the admonition to live in holiness (Ephesians 5:1–5), then reminds the reader not to participate in the “deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:6–14). Immediately, he calls his readers to submit to one another as a wise way of living (Ephesians 5:15–21). In this context, Paul gives his (near-infamous) instruction for wives to submit to your husbands as unto the lord (22). As many will (and should) point out, the Greek sentence doesn’t have submit in that verse; the word submit appears in the previous verse (21) in the command to “submit to one another.” In a somewhat literal translation, the verse reads, “wives, to your own husbands as to the Lord.” He then goes on the the husband is head/source as Christ is head/source.

Some want to soften the submission aspect by clinging to the source translation, while others want to reinforce male authority by emphasizing headship. Firstly, it seems to me that, whatever the translation, Paul is using a metaphor here, and we should therefore avoid a wooden one-to-one analogy. Secondly, the head/source analogy comes as a clarification of “wives to your own husbands [submit]”, implying that regardless of what you may understand κεφαλὴ to mean, wives must still submit to their own husbands.

I wonder if Paul has the not-uncommon orgies in mind when he makes the qualifier in 5:22 (and as he clarifies later for husbands to love their wives). Consider: in a culture where a group orgy is a possible reality and where someone of his audience had likely participated in such an orgy, Paul commands them to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I can see how he might see an immediate need to clarify.

Paul: “Okay, so before you take this too far, let me give you some more details: wives, submit to your own husbands. Just like Christ is the κεφαλὴ of the Church, so husbands are your κεφαλὴ. In the same way the church submits to Christ, wives, do the same to your husbands. You husbands, love your own wives just like you would love your own body. If you love your body, you love yourself, so take care of your body, just like Christ takes care of his church. By the way, do you see what I did there? Body of Christ/body of husband? See, I’m really talking about the church/Christ relationship.”

All I’m saying is that I can’t see how we can avoid the wives submitting to husbands part, but I would also point out in the same way that all Christians submit to one another, this is the way in which wives submit to their husbands. So if you’re going use this verse to say that husbands have the “final say” in marriage, then you also have to say that other Christians have the “final say” as well.

Please, lets have some sense as we continue to consider male and female within the church.

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What is Just (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few weeks, the George Zimmerman verdict (acquittal) has caught your attention. Commonly, you’ve probably heard (or seen) “It’s not just,” or “Justice failed,” or even “Justice wasn’t served.” You’ve probably also heard people counter that justice, by definition, was served in this case. This led me to wonder what, exactly, justice means.

  • Dictionary: According to Mirriam-Webster online, justice is, “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments,” and, “the administration of law; especially: the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.” Related definitions include, “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action; conformity to this principle or ideal (righteousness),” and, “the quality of conforming to law.”
  • Philosophy: According to Wikipedia, the philosophical concept of justice is, “Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, equity or fairness, as well as the administration of the law, taking into account the inalienable and inborn rights of all human beings and citizens, the right of all people and individuals to equal protection before the law of their civil rights, without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, or other characteristics, and is further regarded as being inclusive of social justice.” Both Plato and Aristotle see justice as harmony, both in and between the individual and as a quality of the state. Locke, on the other hand, sees justice as an inherent quality of the universe similar to the laws of physics. By implication, law is an attempt by humanity to quantify that which God wrote into the fabric of creation.
  • Virtue: Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues, and is the proper tension between selfishness and selflessness. In some sense, it is giving to everyone what is due and as such, seems to be the pivotal virtue of the four as one can view the other virtues as expressions of justice.
  • Theology: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “The original Hebrew and Greek words are the same as those rendered “righteousness.” This is the common rendering, and in about half the cases where we have “just” and “justice” in the King James Version, the American Standard Revised Version has changed to “righteous” and “righteousness.” It must be constantly borne in mind that the two ideas are essentially the same.”

So back to the question: was the George Zimmerman verdict just?

It seems unjust to me that an armed man can chase a boy for several minutes and then shoot that same boy while claiming no culpability in that boy’s death. Zimmerman’s actions appear both reckless and negligent. While Zimmerman may have broken no law (or did not commit murder) as he was charged, it does not remove from him the responsibility for Trayvon’s death. The tragic, and unjust aspect, is that the law supports him in killing Trayvon.

And that is, by definition, injustice.

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When is a Boy not a Boy?

Parents sue South Carolina for surgically making child a female – CNN.com.

I have to confess: transgender issues break my paradigms. Here’s the question: does a boy (or man) stop being a man once you cut off his genitalia? In reverse, does a girl become a boy when you add a different body part? What determines sex or gender?

Definitions: As usual, a lot of this depends on your definition. Wikipedia describes gender as the social, behavioral, and cultural concept of male/female as based on the World Health Organization. Gender, essentially, is what everyone else says about you and how you should be have as related to your sex. Gender identity, then, is what you say about yourself (and note that this is related to, but not the same as, sexual orientation) as related to your sex. Discussions regarding gender are really discussion of societal, social, cultural and even theological norms as they relate to male/female roles.

Sex, on the other hand, refers to the biological/physiological side of things. According to the wikipedia article, sex is determined by which gametes the organism produces: if you produce sperm, you are male, if ova, then female. Alternatively, we can determine sex on a genetic level based on inherited genes.

Implications: Technically, we lack the ability to reassign sex. Even if you cut off male genitalia and give hormone therapy, you cannot change the genetic makeup of the individual. As such, sex cannot change, because the biological factors that make one male or female cannot change. As an extension of that, I don’t see how we can attribute sex to sexual preference. While there are theological implications of same-sex attractions, it seems difficult to me to assert that attraction to one sex automatically equates to self-identity as the opposite.

The talk about “Biblical manhood or womanhood” seems misplaced to me. While we might develop a theology of gender roles, we have to remember that (1) theology is always contextualized, (2) theology is humanity’s response to what God has revealed, meaning God may not have explicitly stated thoughts about manhood and womanhood, (3) we can discern ideas about manhood and womanhood consistent with the rest of our understanding of divine revelation and (4) whatever conclusions we come to regarding gender (as opposed to sex) are by necessity mediated through our own understanding of culture, our own family experiences, and our own personal growth and development.

Conclusions: When is a boy a boy? My son is a boy because his chromosomes include my “Y” in addition to his mother’s “X”. He has (eventually) the ability to produce male gametes (sperm). He is a boy because I tell him he is a boy, based upon my understanding of family history, societal norms, theological principles, and cultural expressions (not necessarily in that order). His boyness may be somewhat related to whom he will find attractive (and I have definite ideas of what that should be) but these are not linked by necessity.

My son is a boy because he is a boy; I (and the rest of society), help him to understand what that means.

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On Bombings and Burials, Part 2

Last time, I wrote about the imago dei as a reason for Christians to step up and help bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev. At the time of this writing, it appears that someone else had the same idea. That said, let me put forth another reason as to why Christians (and the United States) needs to step up and bury Tsarnaev. First, a few questions:

  1. Do you believe the government acted rightly in attempting to arrest, and ultimately killing, Tsarnaev?
  2. Do you believe, assuming his guilt, the crimes Tsarnaev committed justified the actions taken against him? In other words, did he deserve death as a response to bombing the marathon, resisting arrest, and attacking the police?

If you answered ‘yes’ to those questions, then you’ll probably agree that justice was served in this case. We can define justice in many, many ways to define justice. From a legal standpoint, it seems to me that Tsarnaev’s death satisfied the principles of retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, reparation and denunciation in jurisprudence. It did not satisfy rehabilitation. The state’s response created harmony (as in Plato’s Republic), it followed divine command (see the just war theory and Augustine’s argument’s in favor), and is fairly consistent with natural law. By most common measures, Tsarnaev’s death brought justice.

And yet, we still resist the idea of granting his body a final resting place; we reject the idea of his innate human dignity, even in death. A question: if justice occurred, if we truly believed that his punishment fit his crime(s), if he received his just desserts (both here and in the hereafter) then shouldn’t we accept that satisfaction? I suspect that, for all of our lip service, we actually don’t believe that justice was served. If we did, we would respond to him as an image-bearer, not as a ‘monster’, or ‘walking garbage pile’ or ‘human fecal matter’ to use just three of the terms bandied about.

Admittedly, I believe that we will not experience true justice until the eternal state. All things will not be right until the King makes all things right. I also believe that we have a taste of justice in the form of good government and law in this present age—an appetizer for the main course to come. In that light, I believe Christians must cease our insensitive and contradictory vitriol toward criminals who received punishment for their crimes and instead, treat them as if justice has been served. This doesn’t mean a blanket open arms—God forgave Adam and Eve, but He didn’t let them back into the garden—but it does mean we should act according to what we believe.

So, Christian, do you believe that God is just and good? Do you believe that He can and does act through others to enact His will? Do you believe that He will make all things right? If so, then let that belief permeate all you do.

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