Good News

(8 of 11 in a series)

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  It is a basic premise of this blog, as well as the message of Jesus, that truth exists and that it can be known.

When I leave my home in northwest Houston, I am faced with the concrete reality of a maze of roads that lead to my downtown office.  These roads are literally a concrete reality.  That is, if I want to travel safely from point A to point B, I must travel the roads where they are.  If I decide the highway system is not “truth” for me and head off cross country, I have absolutely no hope of reaching my destination.  Even with a four-wheel drive SUV, I will drive into a house, get stuck in a ditch, or hit a light pole if I drive off willy-nilly.  It would be absurd to say the highway system is truth for you but not for me if I hope to reach my destination.

Concrete reality exists all around us.  Two plus two equals four, you are looking at black print on a white page, and George Washington was the United States of America’s first president.  Concrete reality can be verified by our senses, our experience, and eyewitness testimony.  Abstract reality also exists just as surely as the concrete variety.  Abstract reality is just as real but is not part of our sensory experience.  Concepts such as you are created in God’s image and we all have a sin problem that affects our behavior are abstract, but I believe just as real as the square root of nine is three.

The first step of belief is this.  Because truth exists and because it squares with the reality that we observe around us, we can know that the Christian message is true.  Because we see the message verified in what we can observe, we can trust its truth beyond our senses.  Or put another way, if what I observe about the world around me is adequately and reasonably explained by the Christian message, then can I trust it to explain the more abstract reality of how I can be set free from my sin problem?  If so, what is the Christian solution?

The Christian message proclaims that the solution to our sin problem is wrapped up in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The person of Christ?  Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be divine, the Son of the Living God.  The work of Christ?  His death on a cross on a specific day in history paid the ransom to free us from our “sin” prison.

Jesus said in the gospel of John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  When we read the rest of John’s gospel, literally “good news”, we learn that Jesus is referring to Himself as the way, that is, the only path to God.  He is calling Himself the truth, that is, the essence of all that is true.  He is the embodiment of truth, truth that can be known, discovered, and understood by the human mind.  He claims to be the life, the source of eternal life (freedom from the penalty of sin) and the abundant life (freedom from the power of sin) that can be ours today.  If Christianity is the answer, how do we embrace its life-giving message?

The Shoe Fits

(7 of 11 in a series)

The depravity of man has become in our day a compelling argument for the truth of the Christian message.  Modern man, when he is thinking, knows he is sick.  Recognizing our desperate condition is not the problem.  A large portion of the pop music of my generation was summarized in Steely Dan’s, “Any world that I am welcome to is better than the one I come from.”  In literature, music, and art, nihilism is a common theme; we know something is amiss.  Unfortunately, our “sickness” has clouded our vision and blinded our eyes to the true solution.

It is my contention that when we embrace the “good news” message of Jesus Christ, the blinders come off and a whole new world opens up to us.  We finally see that the Christian message “fits” the world we observe and inhabit.

In the story of Cinderella, the mysterious young woman and new love of the prince loses her glass slipper running from the ball.  The prince, desperate to find the girl, goes on a country wide search for the foot that fits the slipper.  In the story’s climax, the lowly Cinderella is discovered to be the true owner of the slipper and the cry goes out across the land, “The shoe fits!”  The mystery woman has been discovered.

Though the illustration is a simple one, may I submit that when we compare the world we observe and experience and move and live in with the message of Christianity, the shoe fits.  The Christian explanation of who we are is the one that fits the facts of our own experience.  Not only is it intellectually satisfying to find the “fit” to our observations, it more importantly sets us on the path to be healed of our “sickness” by uncovering the truth that sets us free.  A truth we will explore next time.

Summarizing the Data

(6 of 11 in a series)

It is time to analyze our collected observations.  Let’s review our “data” to this point.  Observation one:  The incredibly complex and orderly universe we inhabit implies a creator.  Observation two:  Man has a desire for a relationship with a supreme being.  Observation three:  Man has an innate bent toward moral and artistic beauty.  Observation four:  Man has an incredible capacity for cruelty.

In fitting these “data” into a religion, belief system, or philosophy, I believe that the most thorough and reasonable explanation for these observations is found in the message of Christianity.  But in order to make this connection, we must set aside any preconceived notions or caricatures of what is meant by the word “Christian”.  In this blog, the Christian message has no political agenda.  It has no social agenda.  It has no theological agenda.

The Christian message that fits the reality of our experience is the simple, unadulterated message of truth as explained in Christianity’s holy book, the Bible.  In a world of political wrangling, consumerism, and mixed messages, we can easily forget that the Christian message, at its heart, is a gospel meaning a message of “good news” for all people everywhere.  It is a message of truth, goodness, and beauty.

How does the Christian message explain the reality we observe?  Let’s take them one at a time.  Observation one:  The incredibly complex and orderly universe we inhabit implies a creator.  The Christian explanation is found in the first chapter of the Bible.  “God created the heavens and the earth.”  The Bible goes on to explain the creation of the natural world, our planet, our place among the stars, our sun and moon, the plants and animals, and of course God’s crowning creation, man and woman.

Observation two:  Man has a desire for a relationship with a supreme being.  Again, the Bible offers that God, the creator, is the God we desire.  God has placed “eternity in our hearts” to quote the Scriptures.  We know someone is out there.  And we desire a relationship with Him.  We were created for relationship.  Think for a minute about the father-child relationship.  One of the anomalies of psychology is the difficulty explaining why we have such a strong desire for a relationship with our earthly fathers even when they treat us poorly or are mostly absent from our lives.  Could this be a picture of our desire to relate to our Heavenly Father?

Observation three:  Man has an innate bent toward moral and artistic beauty.  Man’s appreciation of beauty and our worth as individuals derives from another of the Bible’s teachings; our creation in God’s image.  We demonstrate that we carry God’s image when we act in ways that are morally beautiful.  The Bible teaches that God is morally perfect and when we act in beautiful ways towards our fellow man, we, the image bearers, are imitating our creator.

Observation four:  Man has an incredible capacity for cruelty.  Our God-image has been corrupted by sin.  Hence, we no longer operate only in the beauty of our creator.  Instead, we operate in cruel ways that even we have a hard time understanding.  Much has been made about the discovery of an “adultery gene” or other ways in which our sin is somehow genetically predetermined and beyond our control.  Some see this as letting people off the hook for their deviant behavior.  I see it as a confirmation of what God said a long time ago.  We all have plenty of “sin genes”.  It is part and parcel of us being human.

Capacity for Cruelty

(5 of 11 in a series)

When we observe acts of violence that illustrate the moral depravity of our nature, we often react with comments such as “that’s inhuman!”  Unfortunately, man’s inhumanity to man is all too human and is, in fact, an unchangeable condition of man being man.  One of the surprising observations at the Nazi war crimes trials was that the perpetrators of the Holocaust appeared to be normal.  The scary part is that for the most part they were.  Man’s capacity for cruelty is observation number four.

Man is sick and we know it.  From the evening news to the thoughts and intents of our own hearts, we know something is wrong.  What can explain the massacre, some years ago, of Albanians in Kosovo including a toddler with his pacifier still clipped to his winter coat?  I fell to my face and cried at the Newsweek photo.  Something is not right.  What can explain this moral disease?

And this juxtaposition of beauty and cruelty seen across the human race also exists in us, one man and one woman at a time.  Think about this with me.  I find this one of the most fascinating observations about the human condition.

There is one man that I know better than any other and when I look at him, I observe this same dichotomy between beauty and cruelty.  That man, of course, is myself.  I have seen in my own life the positive imprint of a moral code in my desire to be loyal to my wife and children and to set aside my own ambitions for the greater good of others.  However, even in the midst of these laudable goals, I have found myself bullying my family, wishing ill will on competitive co-workers, and practicing contempt for people I don’t particularly like.

Some time ago, my wife was confiding in me some of the challenges she faced in organizing the Stanford Achievement Testing for over one hundred grade school students while at the same time managing her other full time duties.  Being the servant-husband that I am, I offered to help in any way possible.  For the next two hours, Rhonda sat at the computer organizing forms, instructions, etc.  At the same time, looking over her shoulder, I offered my “help” by way of questioning – without any basis of knowledge – everything she was doing as either unnecessary or inefficient.  In a testimony to her patience, she put up with my critical chatter until I came to my senses and realized my incredible demeaning and condescending attitude.  I went to bed (probably on the couch) wondering how I could have been so rude at the very time I was trying to be a help.  Why does my corrupt side, at times, rise up to control my actions?

So when I look into my own heart, I see the same two aspects of man’s nature that I see in the world at large.  We have an innate capacity for true heroism and beauty (observation three) juxtaposed with an incredible capacity for cruelty and harm (observation four).

Artistic and Moral Beauty

(4 of 11 in a series)

When we turn our calculating scientist’s eye on ourselves, we capture observation number three.  Man has an incredible capacity for beauty.  Both in our ability to reflect on beauty and our ability to act in ways that are morally beautiful.

In the first instance, reflecting on beauty, who has not marveled at an incredible sunset or the majestic peaks of a snow-covered mountain range?  In the beauty of the natural world as well as in the work of the artist and musician, collective man does not respond with a shrug and a “whatever”.  Instead, we purchase tickets to the concert or play.  We buy pieces of art that inspire us.  We photograph nature, people, and action.  We celebrate beauty in all its forms.  This capacity completely separates us from the animal world.  What causes us, the human race, to act this way?

In the second instance, our ability to act in ways that are morally beautiful is another hallmark of being human.  Man has a moral code.  Despite centuries of ebb and flow of philosophy and human history, man has not been able to shake this sense of right and wrong that resides inside him.  Even in the midst of a world full of tragedy and disappointment (as we will soon explore), acts of moral beauty surround us.  From well known acts of heroism, courage, and mercy in times of war, famine, and disease to the smallest act of tucking our child into bed at night with an “I love you”, we have a sense of the right thing to do.  Where did this sense of right and wrong come from?  Who put in our hearts what we intrinsically know about being faithful to our wives, or teaching our children not to steal, and the idea that altruism is morally superior to selfishness?

Despite this capacity for beauty, we know that all is not well with the world.  In fact, in one of the most paradoxical observations about man, his incredible capacity for beauty is equaled and sometimes trumped by his incredible capacity for cruelty.  Man’s ability to inflict pain on his fellow man would be almost incomprehensible were it not, sadly, so recognizable.  Man’s capacity for cruelty is observation number four which we will take up next time.