What if God is part of an elaborate story we’ve created to comfort ourselves in the face of mortality? This is an important question, isn’t it? Because if indeed the existence of God (and everything else that is foundational to Christianity) is something we have made up, then all we do and think as Christians is an imaginary game and we are to be pitied. So how is that we can know that God is real and not a figment of our imagination? Well, I will be the first to admit that I cannot prove him to be real in some modern scientific sense. But I also think that a person is equally pressed and probably more so to prove that God is not real.
When it comes to God many ask for certainty; they want proof. But that is not the way we act in much of life. Before you sat in the chair you are sitting in today you did not demand proof that it would hold you up. Or perhaps you are married. Did you demand proof that your spouse would always love you? If you did, I would like to know how that happened! No, rarely in our daily lives (even in our biggest decisions) do we demand proof. Instead what we do is connect the dots of observation and experience, and once there is enough data that is sufficiently lined up, we accept things often with so much confidence that we are willing to risk our lives based on our conclusions, even if indeed we can't prove them to be true.
Now when I connect the dots of what is around me, I have great confidence that there is a God. For example, when I look at the universe and our place in it, I recognize that there are a number of constants such as the speed of light, gravitational pull, and nuclear forces that all must stay in very narrow bandwidths for life to exist. Even Stephen Hawking, the great physicist who is hardly a Christian, has said when looking at these constants that “The odds against a universe like ours emerging…are enormous.” He goes on to write, “I think there are clearly religious implications.”
Or take, for example, the existence of a sense of justice, the longing for love, and the concern over our own mortality that can be found in all of humanity in every generation. I suppose I could conclude that each of these are only the result of some DNA-imprint. These feelings of anger I have towards a mother who drowns her children or the love I have for the woman we are about to marry or the tears I shed when someone dies are nothing more than an impersonal chemical reactions. But for me, the existence of these human commonalities points to something beyond. Just as hunger gives an indication that food exists and sleepiness indicates that sleep exists and the desire to know and be known indicates true friendship exists, so it makes sense to me to connect the dots by saying that my hunger for justice, my longing for love, and my desire to keep on living exist because there is a God who satisfies them all.
Even my disdain of evil and all the bad that goes on in the world leads me to the conclusion that there is a righteous God who cares about what is happening in the world. You see, if there is no God--if we are but by-products of some eternal cosmic soup--then there is no such thing as objective good and evil that demands our allegiance. The napalming of children, the raping of women, and the slavery of men mean nothing. They are but part of the evolutionary course. No doubt, we wonder where God is when there is evil, but for me the only way to make sense of why I even wonder is to believe that there is a God who does not like what he sees and has built that same disdain within me.
None of the examples I have given prove there is a God or that we haven’t made up the whole God story as some sort of cathartic exercise to ease the finality of death. As I said in the beginning I don’t think that there is a way for us to prove it. But as far as I am concerned the dots line up so well they have given me great confidence in the reality of God and the hope he gives for life everlasting.
Yesterday was Mother's Day, which for my wife, Ann, always means getting in some good exercise and downing at least a little chocolate. The first desire was fulfilled by 100 plus laps in the gym pool and the second with a later jaunt to the frozen yogurt shop. And, of course, since moms don't want to cook on their big day, and no one is clamoring for dad's culinary delights, a local eatery was bound to find our presence. With gift card in hand, Chili's got the nod.
There was nothing unusual about our meal: ordering, waiting, and eating, with a few attempts by the kids to entertain each other and ourselves. Not long after we sat down, a Latino family of six occupied the table next to us. Though we couldn't understand a word that came from their direction, it was clear that they were enjoying the occasion and one another's company. As our meal progressed, Ann (quite out of the blue) declared, "What I would like for Mother's Day is to pay for that family's dinner."
Such a request certainly wasn't out of character for my giving wife, but not much was immediately said about her request. When the tab came for our meal, however, I asked our young African-American waiter if I could have the bill for the other table as well. He was a bit surprised but soon came back with their check. After running the credit card, he returned with this inquiry: "Would you mind asking me what made you do this?" For a moment, I paused, but then said with a shy grin, "Love does." It was clear he didn't quite know how to interpret that answer, so I went on. "The way I look at it, God is good enough to give us a lot of things we don't deserve, and I figure we ought to pass it on." He smiled and we left the restaurant.
A little visit to Ann's own mother was next on the agenda, followed by a chocolate fix at Orange Leaf. Our road home would take us right past the same Chili's, so I asked if anyone wanted to run inside to ask our waiter how the gift was taken. Ann quickly volunteered and in no time we found ourselves back at Chili's for the second time.
It took a few minutes for Ann to locate the young man and inquire about the outcome of her Mother's Day gift. He said he had a hard time explaining to the family what had been done for them and in the end just declared, "Think of it as angels looking out for you." I like that thought. I am not sure all that angels do. But it doesn't seem too far off to think of them as bringing messages of God's grace and goodness, whether that message is wrapped up in swaddling clothes in a manager or in a meal at Chili's.
Besides, perhaps it wasn't us who played the role of angels, maybe it was the family that received our gift. Hebrews 13:2 states: "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so people have entertained angels without knowing it." Now, that's a pretty good Mother's Day--a day we get to act like angels and perhaps entertain a few along the way.
From Watergate to Fast and Furious much has been done to erode our confidence in those who lead us and those we willingly follow, but the recent revelations surrounding Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o have escalated the erosion process. Who would have thought that Armstrong would be able to pass hundreds of drug tests and maintain a web of deception at the highest level of an international sport? Likewise, could we have ever dreamed that a Heisman candidate from vaunted Notre Dame would tell a nation about the death of his girlfriend only to find out later that the girl never existed?
What is sad about these stories is not just that two men were caught in a web of lies (whether they be their own or that of others’), but that the whole scene chews away at a foundational element of belief—human testimony. Alvin Plantinga the renowned American philosopher (who happens to also find his home at Notre Dame) suggests that the vast majority of beliefs on which we build our lives are not based on well-reasoned argumentation or a grand preponderance of evidence but rather on more basic foundations like memory, sense perception, and testimony. We simply do not demand proof that the remembrance of our childhood is accurate, that the flower we see is something that is really there, or that our mother’s words about how long to cook the chicken is trustworthy. Each and every day, we build beliefs upon ground-floor sources of belief such as these.
It has long been recognized that beliefs based on memory, testimony, and our physical senses can be fallible, but imagine if we did not have these sources of belief at all. And imagine particularly if we could not trust human testimony. You could not believe a teacher who taught you want sounds the vowels make. You could not believe your parents when they told you to stay out of the street. And you could not believe the woman who says she loves you. A world without trust in human testimony would be a hellish one indeed. And herein lies the great damage accelerated by the Armstrong and Te’o debacles.
When such public and prominent deception occurs it gives us less reason to believe in human testimony at all levels of society. For some this might be seen as a blessing; they are skeptics and think we ought not to believe so much of what we hear. I will not argue where the line is between what we should and should not believe of what others tell us, but I will say that the further the line is pushed towards distrust the more life and life together is strained. We should be able to trust what a teacher tells us about history or science or grammar. We should be able to believe a friend when he tells us how great a new restaurant is. We should be able to have confidence in the FDA when they tell us a new drug is safe to use. And we should be able to trust these sources without completing weeks and months and years of independent research.
The question I ask is: what will be the response to the actions of those who propagate Armstrong-sized lies and Te’o-proportioned dupings? Will we see the liars write books on their escapades and watch us send them to the top of the best seller lists? Will we paint them as heroes who beat the system and then think of our own creative ways to deceive for personal gain or game? Or will we from the upper echelons of the sporting world to the little league diamond (and in every arena outside of sports) call for honesty and integrity? Will we turn the tide on the dismantling of human testimony as an epistemological foundation? If we do the latter, we will do much to save not just a nation, but a civilization.
We are not far from another four-year cycle of American history marked by the election of a president. With each cycle there are cases made that a vote for one candidate or the other will irreversibly change the country. While this is often alarmist language, it is language which is at a fever pitch today.
So if this election is so important, on what basis should we consider the candidates? I tend to think that the list of criteria used to select a candidate can appropriately vary from one person to another. For example, I see no problem with two people placing different weight on how a candidate stands on the preservation of natural parks or the amount of money that should be provided to build new highways or travel into space. On issues such as these I do not lose sleep over the variety of opinions.
There are three issues, however, that I believe are weightier than those of any others. If the two candidates are roughly identical relative to these three issues then one’s stance on concerns like those mentioned above may well be the deciding factor. But in the absence of a similar position on these three issues, I find it difficult to even consider any other concerns. So what are the three issues? Stated simply, they are God, Life, and Family.
As one who is convinced of the reality of God and his interaction with human history, I can only stand with a candidate who assumes the same. Such a stance is not just because I seek someone who holds the same beliefs about the immaterial, but because it is God that roots the values that a government is to protect. Without an understanding that God asks his creation to live in a certain manner, justice and tolerance and mercy may still be pursued, but they have no grounding. And without such grounding they can be re-shaped with the social and political winds to mean just about anything. This, of course, begs the question of what image of God I am asking a candidate to uphold. My answer is the one that most reflects the orthodox, Judea-Christian view as revealed in Scripture and interpreted using hermeneutical tools appropriate for the understanding of any literary text.
Secondly, I must choose a candidate who supports the value of life. This seems like a given. Would we want a candidate to do any less? When it comes to understanding one’s support of the value of life, we must look particularly to how a candidate works to protect the most vulnerable. No candidate would have a chance to win if he (or potentially she) campaigned to dismantle the protection of life for the stronger, more vocally able citizens. So the question becomes: how is it that a candidate protects the physically and vocally less able? The unborn are perhaps those that fit most aptly in this category and so consideration of one’s stance on abortion is of utmost importance to me. I fully understand that abortion is not the only activity that undermines the value of life, but as I know of no other that even approaches the number of impacted individuals I find that if there is a difference among candidates on this issue alone I need not look further to other stances on life-related issues.
Finally, a candidate’s stance on family issues is immeasurable to me. I know of no society that has ever thrived that has abandoned what is considered the traditional model. One might say, “Look at Europe, aren’t they thriving and they have in many ways abandoned the traditional model?” I suppose my answer would be that Europe (at least as a distinct European-like culture) is not thriving if for no other reason that it is not sustaining its own population. Islam is fast taking over the continent simply through its much greater population growth, meaning that in time European culture as we know it will cease to exist unless there is a considerable turnabout in the present progression. That is hardly a thriving culture. While family issues are many, the most basic is the preservation and promotion of the biblical one-man, one-woman marriage which provides the foundational structure inside which the rest of the family portrait should be painted. As one who sets family as an essential criterion, the candidate I support will be the one who most vigorously upholds traditional marriages.
So there you have it. From my perspective the most important issues in this and every election are God, Life, and Family. I will be casting my vote accordingly.
Thirty-six years is a long time. The last time I tromped around DC I was ten years old. My parents took the family on a bicentennial trip and I was the happy participant. This time I was the parent with four in tow.
It was a marvelous trip that put us in the White House, the House Gallery, and the Supreme Court and allowed us to gasp at the massive monuments to Lincoln, Jefferson, and MLK. One might say that we set our feet on the holy grounds of freedom.
But something tells me that the freedom that my children now hold is substantially less secure than when I was a child. Oh certainly, we might point to outside threats from which our continental position is no longer protected. But I cannot help but think that what makes our freedom particularly wobbly is not bombs tied to someone's chest, but the ticking time bomb of a virtue-less society.
The founding fathers understood that freedom will ultimately destroy itself without self-restraint as people through the democratic process cast their vote for self-indulgence and then for governmental protection from their very lack of honesty, hard work, and generosity. Freedom was won as the American monuments and seats of power attest, but the question is can freedom be sustained. I do not think I am an alarmist to say that without virtue it cannot.