My Search for Meaning:

September 3, 2012

Pete’s Personal Philosophy Paper

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment; including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.   -Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ever since I began to think for myself, I’ve been searching for some kind of meaning in life. Coming from a modest but comfortable background, I was never spoiled by material things, but I never really knew what true poverty was either. Life was often mundane, so I found myself escaping through imagination and comics and later through horror and suspense novels. My parents had taken me to church when I was a child, but as soon as I was allowed to, I stopped attending, rejecting what I considered to be a dead religion. I never stopped believing in God, even in one who was good, but I felt that each person must find their own way to Him. In high school, I rebelled against most forms of authority and became involved in drugs. I was heavily influenced by music and poetry, and I continued to search for meaning through these new outlets. Jim Morrison, of the Doors, led me to William Blake and Fredrick Nietzsche and I eventually found Fyodor Dostoevsky. I began to see life as absurd and meaningless; however, I felt that it was our responsibility to give it some kind of meaning; I felt we all had a piece of God in us that called us to find our place in the world. Thus, I began to look for mine.

Around this time a very good friend of mine stopped getting stoned with me. He said that it was all about meeting Jesus. I laughed about it at first, but we continued to be friends and I saw that he really was different; he had acquired some inner peace that I couldn’t relate to. We had many deep talks and debates, and I began to read the Bible again to search for answers. It wasn’t too long before I no longer had the need to self-medicate. I found my own inner peace with Jesus. I discovered that Christianity is dead when it is seen as a religion, but that when you discover the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you, it opens up an entire life of possibility, of adventure, of love, and of meaning. My relationship with Jesus is what determines how I view human nature.

I believe that everyone is conceived in a state of conflict. We are all made in the image of God: We have a desire for purpose; we want to be good; we want to love and to be loved. Yet, we all also possess a sin nature that we are conceived with: We are all selfish; we are all about pleasure, even at the expense of others; we deny responsibility and pass the blame along to someone else. These two aspects of human nature, what the Bible calls the spirit and the flesh, are constantly at war with each other. Which one wins out on a daily basis is determined by individual choice. At any given moment in life, we respond to our environment either through that God-like part of man, or we respond in selfishness and self-preservation.

Our choices are the result of both nature and nurture. I believe we are born with the personality tools and talents to fulfill a genuine need the world has. We have purpose, we even have some kind of destiny, but we also have the free will to deny our purpose. When we seek to fulfill that purpose, when we put the world’s, or others’, needs before our own, we are responding in the spirit. When we choose to only serve our own means, we are responding in the flesh. Even though we are born with this purpose, our environment is usually what teaches us what to do with it. Many people are born into hostile situations in which survival becomes their highest priority; others are born into healthy families that live and teach selflessness and purpose. So, we are born with gifts and talents and leanings toward certain beliefs, but our environment shapes how we decide to use what we are “given.” Environment doesn’t, however, have to determine who we are. We still can choose to be good (or bad). One of my favorite lines is from a children’s movie called The Iron Giant. A large robot falls from the sky, but has lost its memory. It is, at first, benign, and it befriends a boy. However, the robot was designed for warfare, and when it is attacked, instinct kicks in, and the robot begins to destroy everything in its path. The boy is able to get its attention and at a very emotional moment he states plainly: “You don’t have to be a gun. You can choose who you want to be.” The robot begins to fight his natural instinct of war, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the community (1999). In the same way, we have the responsibility to follow the spirit (selfless nature) rather than the flesh (selfish nature) no matter what environment we are shaped by. There are multiple examples of persons who have overcome adversity to become heroes and others born into all the comfort and support one could ever need who live at the expense of others. The choice to “do the right thing” is a daily struggle for all people.

Metaphorically speaking, we are all three people in one. There is our selfish and base nature that seeks only pleasure. There is the godlike selfless part of us that seeks to fulfill our purpose through serving others. And there is the person existing in the here and now caught between the two. Every time we make a choice out of selfishness, we move closer to our base instincts, yet pleasure is only momentary and can never be fully satisfied; therefore, if we seek to fulfill life through pleasure we will never find peace. Every time we make a selfless choice, we move closer to the spirit and fulfillment; true fulfillment is found in giving and having a purpose that meets the needs of others. However, no one can be good all the time, and often the attempt to be a good person can lead some to feel guilty when they make mistakes, or some will justify their bad choices and become judgmental of others; either way, they are in a state of dissatisfaction. It is impossible for a human to exist in a constant state of fulfillment. The closest we can get is a simple satisfaction while we all experience the highs and lows of existence. The key to consistent satisfaction is accepting that we have the potential to sometimes go to the highest level of goodness, yet we are also faced with the truth, that under the right (maybe wrong is a better word) circumstances we are no better than the worst of criminals. We need to always strive to be our best, but always be aware of our weaknesses so we can avoid them. We need to live in the moment, and decide for the here and now what choice we will make. The more we practice making good choices, the easier they become and we find a greater sense of fulfillment. The more we practice making bad choices, the easier they become, and we find ourselves never filled, never satisfied.

It is my personal belief that there is only one way to find true peace between the flesh and the spirit, and that is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Believing in the power of his self-sacrifice for humanity enables us to live under grace, so when we do choose to be selfish and serve the flesh, we can be easily forgiven, and quickly move back into living for our purpose in life. Believing in the power of Christ’s self-raising from the dead gives one the advantage of receiving the Holy Spirit of God which empowers the human spirit to deny flesh and make the right choices. A nonbeliever can live righteously and practice good choices and find some times of fulfillment on earth, but as stated earlier, none of us can be fully good. Only God can be good. Without Jesus, we can’t reach our full potential in this life, and we won’t make it to everlasting peace in the next life.

I can’t pinpoint one psychological theory that supports my view of human nature on its own, but there are a variety of characteristics from a few that can easily be integrated together to form a solid base for me to work from. Of the theories I’ve studied, Adlerian Theory was the first one that really appealed to me as something truthful. I fully agree that the conscious is far more important than what is going on in the unconscious. I believe that exploring the unconscious can be a useful tool, even a doorway, into understanding what a person’s issues may be, but it is in a present state of consciousness that we live and deal with our issues, and that should be where we find practical solutions to cope and find healing.  I also agree that what we do with what we are born with is central to getting better. We do not have to be defined by our past. Additionally, I believe that all behavior is goal oriented, but we may not be fully aware of what our goals are, or the best way to achieve those goals. I think Adler’s theory of our need for significance and social connection is probably his most important contribution. I believe the two are dependent on each other. When we master a skill that is needed in society we feel valued and important. That leads to self-confidence, and others respect us for our abilities and for who we are, so we develop a social network we belong to which gives us a sense of meaning.

The search for meaning has been such a large part of my personal journey, there is no way I can ignore Existential Therapy. Much of my favorite literature was written by existentialists, but most of the literature focuses on the absurdity of life and states that life is essentially meaningless. It was very refreshing to find that Victor Frankl used the same ideas in his work to help people find meaning. I love his statement: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked…by life” (1963). This puts the responsibility on us to find our meaning, to find our purpose. We can look into the past to see what brought us to this point, and we can consider where we want to be in the future, but ultimately it is the right here and right now that we are exist in, and we need to be the ones who put meaning into this very moment: Carpe Diem.

Showing someone they need to find meaning in life is relatively simple. Most people already consciously year for meaning. Finding out how one individually fits into the great scheme of things can be a bit more complicated. Because so many of us live in a state of selfishness, there are many of us walking around damaged and unable to take risks. How can people find their place or purpose in life and additionally find the confidence to take the risks needed to achieve mastery and social connection? The answer may be found in combining Rogerian and Reality Therapy. The need for genuineness and empathy is essential for any real relationship; since all people have a need to become socially connected, we must find someone who is an example of a genuine, caring and understanding person. He must be a safe and trustworthy person. This is the most difficult in life, isn’t it? I have personally found these relationships in the church through Jesus. It is important to realize, that no human is perfect and able to be fully trusted, but we must learn to both accept grace and forgiveness and offer grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others. It is only through a relationship with Jesus (the only man who was and is perfect) and following his teachings that I have been able to do so.

It isn’t until an individual learns to trust, that he will be able to truly find meaning. This is when the techniques of Reality Therapy come into play. Each individual needs to focus on current behaviors and learn to see the consequences of those behaviors. This most often occurs through open and honest relationships with those we can trust. The next step is for the individual to understand that his behavior is chosen, and therefore, he can choose to behave in a way that will more effectively reach his goals of finding meaning. It must be emphasized that we can control our thoughts, and our thoughts lead to our actions and feelings. I believe the most important part of Reality Therapy, however, is making a plan. Once we see a need for change, we can be at our most vulnerable, and that is the time we need someone to help us step up to make the changes. However, it must be a plan that the individual takes ownership of. If others are over involved, the individual is not really taking responsibility for his life. Once he finds small successes in a few areas he will begin to develop a new pattern of thinking, and begin to make good choices on his own that build purpose and contribution to the world.

Although I often fail at my attempts to make good choices, I try to live my life by the values I have been taught by Christ through his Word and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I set forth on a path of self-discovery through the renewal of my thinking. As I began to deny my desires to put myself before others, and I sought to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39), I was able to see how the gifts and talents I possessed could fill needs in our world. Once I stepped out and took risks to help others, I began to develop stronger relationships and now have many concentric circles of friends and family that I can trust in and rely on when the randomness and seeming meaninglessness of life can drag me down. I am always striving to do my best, but it has been a long arduous journey and many of my choices have not always been positive. When I do fall into selfishness, I rely on God’s mercy, and I get up and continue on my way. Life is a refining process. The Bible states that “we move from glory to glory, and little by little the veil is removed from our faces” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, when we make the choice to live righteously, by God’s grace we are able to become better people and gain more understanding of our purpose in life through our ever-increasing knowledge of our Father and Creator.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”   -Jesus Christ (The Gospel of John 3:16-21)

Peter L Richardson
10/16/2007

References:

Brothers, Warner. (1999). The Iron Giant. Burbank: Time Warner Company.
Christ, Jesus. (~30). The Gospels of Matthew and John. Judea: The Holy Bible.
Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Washington Square Press.
Paul, The Apostle. (~55). The Second Epistle of Corinthians. Some Roman Jail: The Holy Bible.
Solomon, King. (~930 BC). Ecclesiastes. Israel. The Holy Bible.

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He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

Every one of us loves to play the game of “what if?” whether we like to admit it or not. We have all thought back on choices we’ve made and thought about what our lives might be like had we made a different choice. Your life could be drastically different even from something as small as spending an extra five minutes brushing your teeth in the morning. Imagine the ripples through time our tiny minute decisions make. Then imagine millions upon billions of ripples throughout time and across the world touching and running into each other and creating waves moving and tossing in seemingly chaotic directions. God sees every ripple individually and can write his story of redemption from beginning to end threading it in and out of each our lives as he calls out to us to hear his voice and read his love letters of forgiveness. Movies like The Adjustment Bureau attempt to explain this phenomena; movies like Sliding Doors pose the question of “what if?” and make us consider the possibility of another fate; and countless science fiction works explore the idea of alternate time streams and parallel universes.

I absolutely love Sci Fi! When I was younger, the idea that there might be another me out there somewhere who didn’t completely screw up his life brought me comfort. Parallel universes, in a way, offer us second chances, or maybe even endless chances and possibilities: Maybe somewhere I am a famous rock star! But maybe somewhere some ancestor of mine made different choices and I don’t even exist. Parallel universes are fun to imagine, but if they do exist, am I truly an individual? Do my choices even matter? No, I believe this universe and this age is all we have to work with, but the concept of parallel universes can help us to understand how predestination might work.

We all know that our universe is multidimensional, but the average human is only aware of three dimensions. However, some scientist theorize there may be endless dimensions (which would result in the possibility of parallel universes), however most put the number somewhere between 7-11 (at least that was numbers the last time I read up on the issue). Most consider time to be the fourth dimension which is how we can imagine the possibility of time travel in science fiction. If time is simply a dimension of the created universe, then that would mean that God, the Creator, exists outside of time. This is why he calls himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. It something beyond our comprehension, but God has no beginning or ending. He just exists, that’s why he calls himself “I AM.” If God exists outside of time, that would mean when he looks down on his creation, he can see all points of time at the same time. When he looks at you, he can see the moments of your birth and your death at the same time. What does this have to do with parallel universes and predestination? I think this is one possibility of what God means when he speaks of individuals being predestined to do certain works, and how his prophecy continually comes to pass over thousands of years despite human free will. God, before he spoke the Word of creation, saw all the possible outcomes of the different realities of existence should he create beings with free will. In his wisdom, love, and mercy; he chose the one with the best possible outcome for his children to become reconciled to him after giving them the ability to freely rebel against him. We can still ask, why bother with existence if even one person ends up suffering? Alas, we must trust that God is good and knows what he is doing. While I’ve had my fair share of suffering, my personal experience leads me to believe he is just in his ways. Paul puts it this way:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
      How unsearchable his judgments,
      and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
      Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
      that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
      To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

The truth of God’s inherent goodness helps me to understand some of the more difficult passages that support predestination. Consider King David’s prayer to the Lord:

For you created my inmost being;
      you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
      your works are wonderful,
      I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
      when I was made in the secret place,
      when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
      all the days ordained for me were written in your book
      before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

And later the Lord himself says to the Prophet Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
      before you were born I set you apart;
      I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

We use these scriptures to expose the sin of abortion, and rightly so, but if we take them in the most literal sense of predestination, and apply them to all humanity, could we not conclude that God is really the one behind the abortions? In this sense, he created all the lives who were aborted and purposed them only to die. But why stop there? If he preordained every single moment of our lives doesn’t that mean he designed, created and purposed every evil thing that has ever happened? And if that’s true, doesn’t that mean God is ultimately the author of evil as well as good? It is no stretch to imagine from here that this God could create and purpose some to be saved and create others with no choice but to be bad and fated for eternal damnation, even though they had no choice in the matter whether or not to rebel!

I believe God uses and manipulates sin and evil for his purposes, consider the stories of Job and Joseph, and consider Paul’s famous statement in Romans 8:28, but he does not initiate or design it. That is against his nature. When God delivered the Law to Moses, he proclaimed of himself: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). And later the Apostle John simply declares, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). You may ask why God would punish children for their parents’ sin? But I don’t think that he punishes anyone for anything they didn’t do. This is a proclamation of love. Think about how many times you said you would never turn out like your parents, but how often do you really act like them? The influence of our fathers is strong. I think it just takes three to four generations before the sin that gets passed down can really be rooted out once a man decides to follow God. God is also stating to us that while he forgives sin, he will not allow it to continue for very long. We humans confuse discipline and training with evil. We think that anytime we experience discomfort there are demons behind it, when usually we are simply paying the consequences of bad choices. There is a war in the heavens that we are caught in the middle of, but it is not until you truly begin to do good for the Kingdom of Heaven that Satan takes any notice of you, and we can ultimately trust that, like Job and Joseph, God will use the evil that others bring upon us “for the good of all those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

This brings us back to the concept of parallel universes. God had the option of creating a multitude of different realities before he chose ours and spoke it into existence. I believe he chose the one with the optimum amount of good for as many of his sons and daughters as possible. He knew creating beings with free will would inevitably cause pain and suffering once these beings began to rebel against his ways, yet he determined that having true relationship with his created beings was worth the risk of rebellion. He knew sin and rebellion would separate us from him, so he designed a way for us to be reconciled to him through his plan of the cross, and he gives us each the opportunity to accept his gift and enter into intimate relationship with him and allow him to develop our character into the true potential of our callings, or we have to choice to reject his gift and stay eternally separated from him, continue to live selfishly and pay the consequences of our actions.  Because he exists outside of time, he knows the end game, and he knows every choice we will make, and being a loving father, he is deeply and intimately involved in our lives, but all our choices are still our own to make.

It is much easier for me to believe that God lit the spark of creation aware of the suffering that rebellion against him would cause, and therefore designed a way out to be saved for those who would choose to seek him and follow him. I believe that God gives every human being ever conceived the opportunity to make the choice for salvation, because he deeply loves every one of us enough to experience death for us. Paul instructs his protégé, Timothy that “God our Savior…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson, 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God had not told what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”  -C.S. Lewis, “The Practical Conclusion,” Mere Christianity

He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

This whole series on Predestination came as a result of someone inviting me to his church. I met the Lord through a nondenominational congregation, and I’ve always been aware of the tension between the doctrines of predestination and free will, but I always chalked it up to another paradox beyond my comprehension. I had no idea that there have been church splits over this issue. This man called me a name I frankly never heard of before (Arminian), and challenged me to begin attending his church and Bible study to find out the truth of his Calvinism, so I did. Most of the people who attended the church obviously had a deep love for the Lord, and they even were very active with evangelism (a bit of a contradiction, it seems to me; why evangelize if God has every one who gets to be saved picked out already?). It is not my intention to criticize anyone who believes in predestination; most are my brothers and sisters who will be with me in heaven someday. However, when taken to its extreme, Calvin’s teaching on predestination is a doctrine I cannot accept. I essentially ended our debate with this statement: “If Calvin is correct in this matter then I stand with Satan!” In my defense, I was thinking of John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost who claims his rebellion is a result of God’s tyranny.

I simply cannot worship a God who creates humans with supposed free will knowing they will rebel and sin and deserve punishment, and then he creates a way out, but only provides the way out to a randomly selected few. My problem is not that only a few can be saved, we all deserve death, but that God chooses the few by allowing them the revelation of salvation while the rest of mankind doesn’t even get the opportunity to really know and accept that way. This is a God who creates human beings who have no other destiny than to burn in hell for eternity. They are not even given the option to say yes or no to God’s salvation because he chooses who can and can’t believe. Was Christ’s sacrifice not sufficient to truly cover the sins of all mankind? No, the God I worship is not cruel, he is just and merciful. His justice demands payment for sin, but in his mercy he took the sins of all mankind upon him, not just a select few. The way to salvation has been paved by Jesus, but we make the choice to walk the path and take up our cross to follow him, or to walk the path of selfishness that leads to hell. If I am wrong and Calvin is right, what does it matter? I have no choice but to believe what I am destined to believe.

In Matthew’s Gospel, he testifies of Jesus rebuking those who refuse to believe in his message and warning them of the coming judgment. Jesus ends his rebuke with this statement:

               “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

                Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:27-30)

Jesus first says that no one can know the Father unless Jesus chooses to reveal Him to them (presumably in order to be saved from the coming judgment). This seems to support Calvin’s doctrine of Predestination, but the problem is Jesus immediately says: “Come to me ALL you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Does this not imply that if you choose to follow Christ, he will not reject you but rather “will give you rest” (i.e. salvation)? He doesn’t say come to me all you who are weary, and I’ll pick and choose who gets rest by some standard that I won’t tell anyone how to meet. No. These verses seem like a contradiction, but they are not so difficult to understand with an open mind, or more appropriately, an open heart. Is it so hard to believe that those whom Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to are simply the ones who choose to follow Jesus?

Later, in Matthew 13, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Weeds in which an enemy plants weeds among a “good” crop of wheat. When the crop comes in, the Master tells his workers to wait until the harvest to separate them because pulling the weeds might harm the growth of the wheat by pulling the good stalks up also. We learn this parable means there are many in the church who are hypocrites; those who claim to follow Jesus and know the Father, but in fact, only serve themselves and their own desires. We humans cannot know a man’s true heart, but God does.

I believe emphatically that God chooses those who choose him. He knows our hearts. He knows those who are truly committed to him, and he knows those who are only pretending to follow Christ for their own means. He knows those who are seeking for the Way, the Truth and the Life, and he knows those who are only seeking to please themselves. He knows those who follow his example of sacrificing their lives for even their enemies, and he knows those who commit murder every day in their hearts by taking as much as they can at cost of others in need. To those who commit to living righteously, he says “If you seek for me with all your heart, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29, Proverbs 8:17, Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7). Those who do not truly know the Father are in danger of being thrown “into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13: 42). They are left in the dark, not because Jesus chose not to reveal himself, but because they choose not to seek after him. God leaves signs pointing his way all over our lives, it up to us to follow.

All humans have free will and can act in and therefore manipulate the march of time. We are each responsible for our choices, both good and bad, and we will pay the consequences for those choices unless God intervenes with grace and mercy and we accept his work in our lives. But there is also a danger of taking the doctrine of free will to extremes as well. Open Theism is a belief that God is not omniscient out of choice because He chooses not to know the decisions of free individuals ahead of time. This is not something I support or believe in. The next logical step from Open Theism is Agnosticism. If God doesn’t know our fate, even out of choice, how can he ensure our security in the end? Is this a God we can put our trust in? And if this God has no real understanding of our fate, how can we be sure he even cares? The next step from Agnosticism is Atheism. How then can we be sure that he even exists? But if you listen closely, you can hear his call to you, and if you answer his call and begin to seek after him, he will begin to work in such a way in your life that you cannot but help to bow before his omniscience, omnipotence and love.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“PROVIDENCE is the doctrine that God orders events in history so that His purposes are achieved. The challenge is doing this while respecting human freedom. Some theologians abridge God’s providence; some curtail human freedom. A better way is to say that God takes human free choices into account in His planning. He does this by knowing how every possible person would freely choose in whatever nondetermining  circumstances God might place him in. By creating certain persons in certain circumstances, God knows exactly how they will freely choose and can plan accordingly. On this view everything that happens is either directly willed by God or permitted by God, including where and when people are born.”  -William Lane Craig, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” On Guard

 

He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

“You can’t beat free!” Those used to be my favorite words. When I was younger, I used to love getting free stuff. I would take things I didn’t even need if they were being offered for free, but as I’ve grown older and wiser and more jaded, when someone is offering me something for free my first thought now is, “What’s the catch? There’s nothing in this world that’s free.” The more I interact with humans, the more I learn there are only a few I can really trust; however, there is one thing in this life I’ve discovered is truly free. So fully free; in fact, that we humans have trouble accepting it or even grasping it. In Galatians 5:1, Paul proclaims: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The free gift of salvation is one of a kind. It is offered to anyone who desires it, and God freely gives it out at any time you make the request no matter who you are or what you’ve done. What happens after that seems to be another matter for many people. Make no mistake, if you were sincere in receiving and believing God’s grace, your place in heaven is secure, but the experiences of the Christian life has as much variety as the individuals living them out. Some may be called to torture and death as witnesses for the name of Jesus while somewhere around the world there are others, just as sincere, to whom God pours out riches so they can use the resources for his good will. Both are giving their lives to God, and both will receive honor from Him in the next age. The path for such honor and trust from the Father is never an easy one.

In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul exhorts us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” This scripture tells us we have to work out our faith; we have to put effort into believing and trusting in God’s salvation. “With fear and trembling” implies that our faith is something that needs to be very well protected, to be in awe of, and something we need spend time developing and working on. However, immediately the scripture tells us that it is actually God doing the work. Some interpret this to mean we are left out of the equation—that we take no part in our salvation and the development of faith whatsoever. Even the act of believing in God can be made only if God decides to give the revelation of the truth and therefore let you in on the secret that Jesus is the way to salvation. They claim that if it is the individual who chooses to follow God after hearing the Truth, it would be works that saves him and not God’s grace. I do not believe it has to be so black and white.

Obviously, we are saved only by grace. There nothing more clear in the New Testament than that truth, and we find the same theme throughout the Old Testament: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Even our ability to believe in God’s salvation is dependent on his grace. But the key word I use here is ability. Every human being from Adam to the last child conceived before the Lord’s Second Coming has the ability to believe. There comes a certain age, and I believe it is different for each person according to their genes and experiences, when we must make a choice: Follow God, or follow “Me” (the self). Once we reach this age of accountability and the choice is officially offered to us, we have every breathing moment after to decide to follow God’s path or follow our own way. There is a place in our journey where choosing to follow God leads to our salvation, but making that choice does not add anything to God’s work in our lives and in our hearts. We have not taken anything away from his sovereignty; for in his sovereignty he chose to give us free will. Before creation he already knew the consequences of our rebellion, yet he chose to do it anyway.

To be clear: The act of, the moment of, the birth of our salvation, of the new life being sealed in us is all done by the Lord and there is nothing we can do with it except to say, “Yes, Lord! I believe.” Working out our salvation simply means that after our first submission to God we continue to make the same choice over and over again to let God in and do his work in us. We cannot renew our minds without the Holy Spirit; we cannot become new creations or have our hearts washed clean by our own will; we are dependent on God to do it all. But we must make the choice to submit to God’s work in us by following the principles he teaches in his Word and spending intimate time in prayer and worship with him, so we can learn to hear his voice and follow his guidance and wisdom. God does not force salvation on anyone; neither does he turn away anyone who desires it. It is a free gift, but in order for the gift to take effect, the gift must be received. If a man comes to me and says, “Pete, I have prepared a great banquet in your honor! All the work is done: the food is prepared, the guests are invited; I have even booked all your favorite bands to play. All you have to do is show up.” I can choose to trust this man and come with him to the party. Or I can consider him a fool who is trying to play me and walk away in disbelief. Can’t you see that all the work has been done by him, but the choice is still mine to receive the gift? God’s free gift of salvation works the very same way.

When the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt and presented his Law to them through Moses, he offered them a choice: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). The Law was brought to us to reveal two things: First, God’s expectation of righteousness with the promise that if we could manage to live up to it, we would have nothing but blessing flow into our lives. Secondly, we could never really live up to God’s expectations because we are too morally weak and frail. Bringing the Law set the stage for humanity to understand our need for salvation. Today God offers us the same choice; only instead of following a complicated and impossible law, we only have to commit to entering into relationship with Jesus and follow his principles by accepting his free gift of salvation through the cross and his resurrection.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them—but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.” –C.S. Lewis, “The Trouble with ‘X’” God in the Dock

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage, and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

Andree Seu, writer for World Magazine, begins one of her columns with an anecdote from the Old Testament: “It just so happens that the unraveling of Haman’s plot began when the king could not sleep one night. This is the point at which things began to run in reverse—when the gallows erected for Mordecai were turned on his own neck, and the annihilation of the Jews became the annihilation of their enemies. Everything hinged on the reading of the records of the chronicles of the king on the occasion of a touch of insomnia.” She later declares “I can do nothing to direct my path or to ensure my own well-being or prosperity or happiness, because I cannot see around corners; therefore I will obey the Holy Spirit all my life” (World Mag, 2/25/12).

Many Christians like to quote the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, which is often interpreted as, “If you love God, everything is going to work out okay!” But the question is how and when? If you keep on reading, this verse is set in the context of predestination, and some conclude that the “okay” really only happens after death in heaven and it is only for those select few God has randomly chosen to accept through Jesus. But is God really that limited?  Here is the verse with the next two that follow:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)

The key word here is “foreknew.” At the moment God decided to create this existence we are a part of, he, being omniscient, knew the outcome of it all. He knew that Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit, he knew Cain would kill Able, and that much of mankind would reject him and choose to live wickedly. Therefore, he wrote into the story, into history: His Story, the plan of salvation through the Godhead person of the Son, Jesus. He predestined, or predetermined, a way out of judgment for the human creations he loves. He knew beforehand every human being who would reject or accept him, yet he still considered creation worth the trouble. Now, the scripture says those he foreknew he predestined–> those he predestined he called–> those he called he justified–> those he justified he glorified. I believe it works like this:

Predestined: God has a predetermined plan for every human being’s life. Before you are born he has laid out the blueprint of your life, and has called you to fulfill a plan and purpose. This plan and this purpose will be discovered when you begin to seek out truth, wisdom and love.

Called: As you grow, you discover your desires and your talents through nature and nurture. Some things are written into your DNA, while others are born out of life experiences. No matter what time and place you were born into, God has “written” in signs pointing to him and his plan for your life. All of it is a part God’s greater plan for the universe of this age; however, you make the choice of how closely you follow the plan. (I should mention that God’s plan may at times come with great risk and peril for your life; however in general, he will call you to do the very work that you find yourself passionate about and naturally skilled for. The trick is using your gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God in service to mankind instead of just for your own pleasure and means. This service comes in many forms and sizes.)

Justified: We all have the seed of rebellion planted in us. It is passed down from generation to generation, and it is only through the grace provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection that we are able to be made justified. If you choose to follow God and his principles; he will work on your behalf in order for you to do the work and follow the call he has set before you. When your will begins to line up with God’s will, he “levels your path” and answers your prayers. Salvation from eternal death is the free gift of God, but once that gift is accepted; your action of obedience is required for God to be able to complete the work of developing your character and leading you to discover your destiny.

Glorified: Beginning here on earth and continuing later in heaven, God will honor and reward you for choosing to be obedient to the plan he predetermined, or predestined, in your life. (This honor is often not as the world considers honor to be; most of God’s greatest saints pass through history without fame, but they are certainly written into God’s book of life and learn to live their time on earth with a joy and contentment few humans fully understand.) Some would say at this point that God is no longer sovereign if we can stray from the plan and that if we have such free will it diminishes his power. To quote Paul: “by no means!” In my opinion this is where the paradox that is beyond human comprehension comes to light. The fact that God is still accomplishing his plan and purpose despite the free will of billions of humans throughout time just proves how omnipotent and omniscient this God of ours truly is!

This concept also works in the negative. Paul continues to discuss in his letter to the Romans God’s sovereign choice of hardening the hearts of the Jews during Jesus time and the early church so that the gospel would be spread out among the entire world and offered to the Gentiles. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh’s standoff with Moses during the Exodus. Scripture says that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart in order to display his might and power to the Israelites, and later to the world through scripture, in order to build up their faith in him. However, this does not mean that he blocked Pharaoh’s will at any time. God can look into the deepest areas of our souls, into the very essence of our being. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Consider the analogy of a parent who has a good relationship with his child. I know my son pretty well, I know what to say to calm him down when he’s upset, and I also know how to get him excited when he’s feeling down. I could also use that knowledge to push his buttons and provoke a negative reaction in him. True, that is manipulation, but I ask, is manipulation wrong if a greater good will come of it? Perhaps so, considering we are limited to a human perspective, but when it comes to God, who defines himself as love, who claims to be good, can we trust him to manipulate “the clay” at his disposal for the greater good of mankind? Your answer depends on whether or not you believe he is really good.

That is a matter we all need to settle in our own individual hearts. What’s important for this argument is to understand that God did not possess Pharaoh’s heart or use mind control on him for the Exodus. He just knew how to push his buttons. God simply (fore)knew that if he called Moses to stand up to Pharaoh, his pride (and perhaps the threat of losing his cheap labor) would cause him to say “No; absolutely not!” God could have broken the Israelites free right then and there with his power and glory, but the Israelites probably weren’t quite ready for freedom at that point. God knew a hard response from Pharaoh would serve to develop their character and faith, both as individuals and as a people. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” Consider how a watercourse is directed and manipulated by men. We cannot actually cause the water to flow, but we can manipulate where and how it flows by putting up barriers and dams and obstacles and digging ditches. In the simile here, the water is the desires and fears flowing from the heart of the king, and God puts up barriers and dams and obstacles and digs ditches to get the king’s heart to flow in one direction or another.

If God needs to put up obstacles and/or level our paths to develop our character and bring us blessing, doesn’t that mean that our minds and hearts are still our own to make choices and respond how we want? Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just use mind control and force us to go one way or the other? God knows our hearts through and through and he knows our thoughts before we even make them; however, it is still our own will and mind that makes the thoughts that make choices as we respond and react to the world we live in. This is just one example of how God is able to work around and despite our free will. This is how he is still sovereign, yet we are still responsible for our choices and the consequences we bear for them whether good or bad.

God used the 10 plagues of the Exodus to harden Pharaoh’s heart and to reveal his power to the Israelites, but Paul uses this story to explain why God might harden the hearts of the Jews in order to bring salvation to all mankind. He also tells us that God desires for all men to be saved, and this includes the Jews. He almost rebukes his Gentile audience as he explains that God will eventually “graft” the Jews back into his kingdom. We see today more and more Jews coming to salvation as they realize the messiah they have been longing for was Jesus, and the promised kingdom is a spiritual kingdom that includes all peoples. Not even Judas, who was so important to God’s plan of salvation, acted outside of his own free will; yet it was God’s sovereignty that caused all things to fall into place at the chosen time in order that we who would choose to follow God’s way would be saved. Andree Seu ends her column with this thought: “Line up your ducks in a row, if you please. But God sees beyond your row, and it will be better in the end, every time, for the person who yields to the still, small voice of the Spirit. For God is the Lord of the ‘just so happens.’”

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“It is logically impossible to make someone do something freely. That is as logically impossible as making a round square or a married bachelor. God’s being all-powerful does not mean that He can bring about the logically impossible…Some goods, for example, moral virtues, can be achieved only through the free cooperation of people…The idea here is that given human freedom, God’s options are restricted.”

–William Lane Craig, “What About Suffering,” On Guard

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

Just yesterday I got to participate in God telling one of his daughters that he still loves her, despite the overwhelming pain in her life. Earlier in the day my mom e-mailed me and invited me to dinner with her, my father and my brother’s family: fresh caught home fried beer battered fish. Trouble was, they were eating at 4:15. I’m not accustomed to eating so early, usually I’m just getting around to leaving work at that time, but who can resist home fried beer battered fish? I decided to rush through my afternoon duties and go straight to their house. In the meantime, my son called me from his mom’s house and asked for a ride to take his girlfriend out to dinner, and her parents would pick them up. They wanted to catch the early bird special, so they needed to get there before 6pm. My parents are not offended when I eat and run, so I told him I’d take care of him. On my way out of my parents’ neighborhood, there was a woman pulled over with front end damage and a flat tire. As I slowed down, I noticed she had her head down on her steering wheel. I pulled over and knocked on the window. Startled, she looked up with tears streaming down her face. I asked if she was okay, and she blurted out: “I don’t know how to change a tire!!”

She was physically fine, but her day started off bad and seemed to only get worse. Turns out her husband of 21 years had left her that morning, and the day was now ending with an accident. I let my son know I was going to be late, and began to work on her tire. I didn’t have the right kind of jack, so I called my father, and he came down to help. We got her set up to drive home, but advised her to get her car to a mechanic as soon as she could. My son gave up on me, and had to find a ride with someone else. As I drove home disappointed that I had let him down, I realized something. I would not have been there to help her if he had not asked for the ride in the first place, I would not have even been in the area if my mom had not invited me to dinner. Here was this woman, distraught and depressed, really in need of something positive to happen, and it just so happened that I came riding by and felt guilty enough to stop and help her. I’ve been in her shoes before, and I know what a little kindness does. Did God move time and the universe in such a way that I would be there and be willing to help her out? Not that I did anything to really be applauded for, a better man would probably have done more, but how much worse would her day have been if I had just decided to drive past? Because I almost did.

These are the moments when God’s sovereignty and our free will come into contact. I have to admit with shame that more often I choose to take care of my business and find ways to justify. Does God bring others to help when I choose not to? How much control do we have in our own fate? Does God allow us to blow it for others when our free will mostly leads to selfishness? But then, how does he seem to control the pulse of the universe despite us running around screwing things up? The Bible makes it clear that God is all powerful and sovereign, yet it is also clear that we human beings, from the very beginning of creation, have the freedom to make our own choices by which we are judged. The Bible teaches both predestination and free will. Some look at this as a contradiction, and proof that Christianity is a false religion, but there are many other paradoxes in the universe that science cannot explain.  If you choose to believe the Bible, then you have no choice but to believe that both predestination and human free will are true. But how? I am no expert, but these are some of my thoughts on the matter.

In Ephesians 1:3-14, the Apostle Paul states: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

There are those in the church who teach that the predestined in this passage are those humans that God has decided to hand pick for salvation. There is nothing in them that deserves this honor, apparently God in his mercy just randomly chooses who gets to go to heaven and the rest of us get the punishment we deserve. According to this philosophy, if humans make a choice to follow God on their own, that is a work, and we are only saved by grace. I believe the “we” who are predestined here is the collective church, not individuals. In this scripture, Paul says “And you [speaking to individual believers] were also included…When you believed, you were marked…with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Thus, we can conclude that these predestined were not chosen by God until they made the choice to believe in Christ and therefore bear the mark of the Holy Spirit.

When God created the universe and decided to create beings that could think for themselves, he wasn’t surprised when our ancestors decided to do just that and rebel against him by not following the laws he set up in the universe. These laws were created out of love for our protection. It is not like God is up in heaven with a stick waiting to beat anyone who screws up; God’s moral laws are more like his laws of physics. If you walk off a cliff there will be consequences for trying to defy the law of gravity. God knows the boundaries of his creation, and if we are obedient to his principles, we will live happier and more fulfilling lives. However, just as God knew free will would allow individuals to reject him, he also knew many of us would choose to seek obedience to him and return the love that he offers to all humanity. It is when the individual chooses to “believe” that he joins the ranks of God’s people who are “predestined.” Therefore, it is not the individual who is predestined—or predetermined by God to be saved or not saved—but rather it is the way to salvation that was predestined from God’s first thought of the creation of our universe and age. And that way is Jesus.

I tell the story of the woman with the flat tire because this is the proof for me that not only is God  sovereign, but he rules his creation in and through love. I have been that woman more often than I have been the one being used for the rescue. This is why I know that I have free will also. Rebellion is in my heart even though I know following God’s will is better. I know I have a choice because I frequently make the wrong choice, yet I know that God is in control because when I call out to him, he is always there to catch me in my fall and lift me back up again.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

-Peter L Richardson 2011-2012

Something from the experts:

“We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who believes in God must therefore admit…that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with his own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise.”  -C.S. Lewis, “Work and Prayer,” God in the Dock

Bearing the Mark

February 1, 2011

“The most attractive Christian examples I’ve ever met are not nice people running through fields of daisies and throwing candy to children. These are real people held together by their belief in God. They do wonderful things and they do horrible things and they’re sorry when they do them.”  -John Schneider

“Markedness” in linguistic terms is the concept that certain words are more “marked” than others. Words and the objects, actions and concepts they represent fall into categories called “lexical fields.” These lexical fields hold words that are similar in meaning, such as the field of colors which holds red, blue, green, yellow, etc. These colors are all “marked” in that we know they are all a “color.” The more narrow and specific a concept matches its word, the more marked that word is said to be. For instance, within the color “red” exists an entirely new lexical field which contains pink, burgundy, violet-red, magenta, etc. These different fields build a hierarchy of “hyponyms;” specific terms which are subordinate to their more general, less marked terms. “Red” is a hyponym of “color” and “magenta” is a hyponym of “red,” wherein “magenta” is the most marked of all these terms, because the word is the most specific to the concept it represents. The more general a word meaning is, the less marked it is, the more universal it tends to be across cultures.

Every culture has the concept of colors, but some only have a concept of two different colors, black and white. So while the term “color” is the least marked of the lexical categories we have been talking about, it is the most universally used. “Red” happens to be the third most universal concept of colors, so red is more marked than black or white, but less marked than, say, blue or green, and magenta would be even more marked than all of these terms. This happens because different cultures and people groups have different needs for their languages. It is the same idea that Eskimos have so many words for snow, while we only have a few and some cultures closer to the equator may have none. The Eskimos have a need for more specific descriptions of the various types of snow.

This concept of “markedness” can be used further than the realm of linguistics. People mark themselves consistently throughout their lives as they express themselves in various ways. We are all human beings, but can be separated into categories of male and female. We also separate ourselves into different races and cultures; depending on where we were born, the depth of color of our skin, the language we use and many other ways. Within the different cultures we categorize ourselves by social status, the type of careers we choose and the kind of lifestyles we live. People are marked by what they look like, how they choose to dress, how they speak, where they work and every action they make. The truth is we are constantly observing and being observed and making judgments about one another all the time; this is human nature. So while my blue jeans, love for rock-n-roll, weakness for fast food and impatience may mark me as an American, my tendency to judge people is a less marked human universal.

The idea of markedness in our personal lives is an interesting concept. I have found myself move in and out of so many social groups, that I used to wonder if I had some kind of identity crisis. I have had people comment on my ability to blend from one group to another without much notice, but as I grow older and settle into a more stable personality, I can look back and see how certain stops on my path stuck with me and have marked me along the way. For instance, back in high school, I discovered the joy and wonder and the destruction of drugs. I had developed a love for the Doors and took on a hippie persona. I was a pretty nice guy underneath my exterior and a few people had figured this out, but I remember developing a friendship with a girl who was of a higher social class; she dressed well and was very stylish. I felt we were getting closer and I approached her about it. She replied that she really liked me and thought I was “hot,” but she just couldn’t go out with a “grit” because of her reputation. So, even though this person had a genuine attraction to me, she refused to respond to it, because she had marked me in a different social class then hers. Of course, my pride being hurt, I spent a few years after that marking females who were well dressed and stylish as “stuck-up.”

There are times we get marked by a group we belong to, but the general stereotypes don’t always apply to us. Not long after high school I became a Christian. I have had some ups and downs in my life, but through all the challenges and doubts I have always returned back to my faith. One thing I have learned to do over the years is to not be as openly zealous about my faith as when I first submitted to God. Not because I am ashamed of it, although perhaps being ashamed of the actions of some who call themselves Christians might be a part of it; however, I have learned that when I express to people I am a Christian early in a relationship, they already have judgments and expectations against me that aren’t always the case. One thing I can’t stand is for someone to act differently around me for fear of offending me or for fear of retribution. For my part, I have my convictions on how I live life, but I don’t wish to place them on anyone if they have not made a free and open choice. I would rather people in my life to be real with me from the beginning. I don’t hide my faith, but when I am more subtle about it, I have found people can discover who I am without judgment and we can be open and honest with each other in all the good and ugly parts we possess. On a positive marking of my faith, I believe that the principles I try to live by do make me a more moral person, and people see that and question it, and that is usually how they learn that my faith is important to me, and often it becomes important to them. So I try to mark myself as a Christian by my lifestyle (which, I confess could use a lot of improvement) rather than by my words or my T-shirt, and I find that people respond to this better and are not afraid to be themselves around me.

The beauty of Jesus is that his mark is so broad it can be found on any person no matter their age, sex, race, social status, or culture. The Apostle Paul states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). However, there are many who claim to bear the mark of Christ who do little more than put on a t-shirt or listen to Contemporary Christian Music. To these people the Church is equivalent to a social club. In the Old Testament, the Lord consistently rebuked the Jews for being more concerned with outward appearances then with really changing their hearts. God made a covenant with Abraham, the father of the Jews, through circumcision to show that he and his descendants would serve the Lord (Genesis 17), but God would often tell his “chosen people” to “circumcise your hearts” (Deuteronomy 30:6, 10:17, Jeremiah 4:4, etc). He tells them their outward appearance or cultural background (the Jewish Law given by God) cannot save them, each person must serve God with the whole heart. There are many in the world who are wasting away because many of us who claim to be in the Church place exterior or general marks of Christianity on ourselves, but when the “hyponyms” of the faith are observed, there is little to show the ever increasing specific marks of faith. Jesus tells us that we will be known by our fruit (Matthew 7:20). In other words, the world should recognize that we are followers of Jesus by our actions. As Christians, we all bear the mark of the Holy Spirit in our spirits. Paul later teaches us “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). If there is no evidence of the mark of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, it must be questioned (by both the individual and the observer) whether he truly has the mark of Christ. Of course, no one can be perfect, but if you truly serve God and follow Jesus, there should be a consistent growth in the quality of your character. Christianity has nothing to do with what you look like, what your social status is, or what your taste in music is. Jesus simply tells us that the world will know us by our love for each other (John 13:34-35). What is the mark that you bear to the world?

Peter L Richardson
December 2003 / revised January 2010