Tiger's Opportunity

Ever wonder how to start a conversation about God with someone who, you know, doesn't believe? It used to be known as "witnessing" or "sharing your faith." These activities seem so 20th century, so Campus Crusade-ish. Nowadays most Christians prefer to talk about God in a way that is more about water cool conversation than door-to-door proselytizing.

We're fine with that. In fact, we think it's a much better way to go. Sure worked for Jesus. When people like Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the rich young ruler asked him questions, Jesus didn't twist any arms. He conversed, asked questions, left them wanting more.

The thing with this preferred method is to find those cultural touch points that most people can identify with or at least know about, and then develop the art of asking really good questions with the intention of engaging in conversations about the bigger spiritual issues at stake.

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God's Gift-love

The love of a man for a woman (or a woman for a man) can be of the noblest sort, and to those two people it may be the greatest thing of all. But what about the love of a man for a dog, a car, or a sandwich? Are those noble loves? Of course not. Those are what C.S. Lewis describes as "Need-loves," as in "I don't have any friends, so I need a dog," or "I need to be seen in this car," or "Right now I need a sandwich."

There's nothing wrong with loving something you need. Most close relationships are based on Need-love. We need the companionship, the warmth, and the love of other people, so we reach out in love. "Our whole being by its very nature is one of vast need," Lewis writes. Even our love for God is based on our need to be connected with the Creator of the universe, who himself is love.

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Does God have a purpose for evil and suffering?

We will be the first to admit that we don't have some kind of special insight into the mind of God and know why he allows evil and suffering. We just believe that as a holy, loving, all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God, he does have his reasons for allowing evil--both human and natural evil--to exist in our world and inflict the suffering it does. Here are some possible purposes God may have for allowing evil and the suffering it produces. See if you identify with one of more of these.

Suffering Can Make Us Stronger

You've no doubt heard the expression, "No pain, no gain." We're not trying to trivialize the nature of pain and suffering, but there's truth in that slogan. Something about hardship, difficulty and pain can sometimes strengthen us. Suffering and setbacks can also bring us closer as families, friend and communities. Dare we say, in the wake of the earthquake in Haite and its horrible aftermath, the global community has come together in extraordianary ways to provide relief on a massive scale. There's an incredible amount of work yet to do, but there is hope that Haiti and its people will one day be stronger.

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God With Us

"Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us')."

One of the most important--if not the most important--question anyone can ask is this: "How does God relate to the world?" If you were to ask that question yo a random group of people, say at a mall or a public gathering of some kind, you would get all kinds of answers.

Some would say that God created the world, then withdrew--and isn't all that interested in what's going on.  Others would say that God may have been powerful enough to make everything, but he certainly isn't strong enough to stop all the suffering and evil in the world. Still others would say that the question is irrelevant, because there's really no God anyway, although it's okay to believe in some sort of "cosmic power" if it helps you sleep at night.

Made for another world

If you believe in an immortal and immaterial being beyond our ability to measure, it's not such a stretch to believe there is such a thing as immortaity.  To put it another way, if you have good reasons to believe that an immortal God exists, then you also have good reasons to believe that immortality exists.

The arguments from God's existence (which we considered in our last column) are great if you already believe in God.  But what if you don't buy into Christian theism?  Or what if you just have doubts about an eternal life with God in heaven beyond this mortal life?  Is there any empirical evidence for such a belief?

In their book, Beyond Death, J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas consider several pieces of evidence, moving from experiential to philosophical to empirical evidence.  In the category of experiential evidence for immortality, Moreland and Habermas cite documented cases of near death experiences (NDEs), such as the vivid description offered by Don Piper in his book, 90 Minutes in Heaven.  Honestly, we're not big fans of this category of evidence because it's based on the experience of the person having the NDE.

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Evidence for Immortality?

Immortality is in the news this week with the release of Dinesh D'Souza's newest book, Life After Death: The EvidenceEveryone from Rick Warren to Dallas Willard is endorsing the book, which attempts to build a case on empirical grounds for life after death.  Even the atheist Christopher Hitchens, who has debated D'Souza, calls him a "formidable opponent." 

D'Souza directs his arguments to the skeptic, who generally has trouble believing that God exists.  Discounting the existence of God pretty much gets you off the hook in terms of immortality, because if God doesn't exist, then there's no such things as life after death.

But if immortality doesn't exist, then why do we think about it so much?  Why do even the most skeptical people like to think there's a heaven, especially when someone they love bites the dust?  Christians have a fairly straightforward explanation for this preoccupation, and it's found in the book of Ecclesiastes:  "I have seen the burden God has laid on men," the writer of Ecclesiastes observes.  "He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men" (Eccl. 3:10-11).

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Something's Missing

One the saddest verses in the Bible concerns the strongest man in the Bible:  "But he didn't realize the Lord had left him" (Judges 16:20).  In our pursuit of the abundant/full/enjoyable/overflowing life Jesus promises us (John 10:10), we often run full speed along the wrong path, choosing to rely on our own strength and abiltities--like Samson did--rather than the Lord's.

You'll remember that when Samson was captured by the Philistines, he was tied up, his eyes were gouged out, and he was put to work grinding grain.  In other words, he lost his power, he lost his vision, and life for him was a grind.  Samson's condition describes how many of us feel as rely on our own power rather than the Lord's.  We stumble around, searching for the abundant life that seems to elude us.  We have no spiritual power, we have no spiritual vision, and our life is a grind.

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The Promise and the Paradox

Many Christians see nothing wrong with being the captain of their own ship, charting a course in search of meaning and purpose. Whether it takes 40 days or 40 years, we know for certain that a life of substance exists because Jesus himself promised it to us: 

"Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life" (John 10:9-10, NLT).

For purposes of clarification, a "rich and satisfying life" does not imply riches (despite how proponents of the prosperity gospel might interpret this verse).  Christ did not come to earth to make us financially wealthy (sorry, Joel Osteen).  Neither did he come to make sure we were comfortable and safe.  Just ask any of the first-century Christians.  Oh, wait--you can't ask them because they're dead, having been tortured to death because of their allegiance to Christ.  They took that whole "take up your cross and follow me" directive seriously.  

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Is There Such a Thing as Immortality?

It seems like a lot of people are dying these days.  In fact, the death rate is pretty constant, about 150,000 people per day worldwide.  But it does seem like an unusual number of famous people are dying, including one whose televised memorial service attracted an audience of around a billion people.  

What do you think about when you think about the death of someone you know, whether a personal acquaintance or a public person?  Probably a variety of things.  You think about death itself, which usually brings out sorrow because the person you know or admire is no longer here.  But you also think about life and all of the good things the person did.  This is where sorrow gives way to joy.

If you're like most people, you also think about life after death, also known as immortality.  Even people with no formalized belief system have this nagging suspicion that there's something beyond this life.  Others are confident that immortality is a given.  But does anyone really know?  How can you possibly prove something that is immaterial and beyond our ability to measure?  To put it another way, is it possible to find evidence for immortality?  Actually, it is. Maybe not hard evidence, but evidence nonetheless.

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Advice for Atheists Who Want to Engage Theists

Atheists recognize that taking a strong position--absolutely, positively, there is no god--comes across as dogmatic and intolerant.  Although many atheists espouse the strong position, the leaders of the atheism movement prefer the weak definition--there is no credible evidence showing that God exists--not only  because the strong position appears intolerant, but also because "it does sound rather untenable."  They acknowledge that the most persistent objection to the strong position of atheism is that it sounds dogmatic and unscientific.  Advancing the strong position in public debate forces all atheists (both strong-position and weak-position) to prove the nonexistence of God, invoking the burden of proof. 

Atheists are quick to acknowledge that the strong position has disadvantages in public discussions at the popular level because it is easy to portray as dogmatic, unreasonable, and thus unscientific. To avoid public relations and marketing embarrassments, the atheism movement tries to show that the strong position of atheism, far from being the only form of atheism, is the rarest among atheistic positions.  Instead, they advance the weak position of atheism.  From this perspective, they shift the burden of proof to the theists.  Here is how Positive Atheism magazine describes the ideal sequence when an atheist talks to a theist about the existence of God.

  • It must be realized that we are dealing entirely with claims -- claims that various deities exist.
  • In discussing such claims, it is always the person making the claim [the theist] who is responsible for providing evidence and strong argument. 
  • The person listening to the claim [the atheist] need not make any argument at all. 
  • The listener [the atheist] does not need to disprove a claim in order to reject it. 
  • If the person making the claim [the theist] fails to make a convincing case, the listener rightly rejects the claim as falsehood (or suspends judgment, based upon the strength of the claim).   In either event, the listener ends up lacking a belief in the object of the claim.
  • It is never the negative [weak-position] atheist's responsibility to prove or disprove anything. That job belongs to the person making the claim, which is the theist.
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Christianity 101 is a collection of books and digital resources by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz that talk about God in a way that encourages people to grow in their faith.

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