By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:3 (NIV)
St. Augustine said famously, “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”[i] No better application of that principle can be found than in the realms of cosmology and anthropology. If one rejects God, one rejects the ability to see the true origin of nature, including man.
This verse comes at the beginning of what is popularly called “the faith chapter.” It is not called “the blind faith chapter,” for its examples involve God’s revelation. God called Abraham (Hebrews 11:8). The Israelites stepped into a sea He had divided before their eyes (Hebrews 11:29). God validated Gideon’s mission by dampening a fleece (Hebrews 11:32; Judges 6:36-40). He is a God of evidence; His fingerprints are there to see.
So it is with creation. Through the centuries, Christian apologists have employed the teleological argument for God’s existence. They reasonably and confidently point to the exquisite order in nature, a sure sign that a wise and benevolent Creator is responsible. As English philosopher William Paley observed in 1802, if one finds a watch on the seashore, he properly concludes that it had a watchmaker and that it did not just occur by accident. Similarly, when one sees the intricate working of the eye, the procession of seasons, and the rounds of the honey bee, he should note this as handiwork, not happenstance.
Skeptics claim Hebrews 11:3 is perfect evidence that science can have nothing to do with religion. Religion, they say, has to do with blind faith and trust in things that cannot be seen, while science works with observable facts. But can any scientist say this with integrity? Although he may sometimes see the object under study, sometimes he does not. Especially in an age of quantum physics where quarks[ii] are both unpredictable and practically undetectable, it is an odd claim to limit knowledge only to what one can see.
Believers such as Abraham walked by faith because they trusted in the reliability of the God whom they served. Scientists trust in their craft because they believe in law. The reliability of law, however, has to be grounded in something. The Bible offers a perfectly sensible explanation: everything we see or experience was put in place by a personal lawgiver. Creation by the command of God is ex nihilo, out of nothing but His will. In contrast, human creation is simply rearranging the basic material God made outright. The most original human painter is simply applying God’s colors in God’s medium to a surface made of God’s material.
The world dismisses creationists as backward and irrational; God puts them in the company of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The faith chapter concludes with the note that some of the faithful endured “jeers and flogging,” that they were “persecuted and mistreated.” Today, it continues in the university classroom, the local museum, and the popular media—a clear sign that the world is still “not worthy” of the faithful. But faith is no slave to the world’s opinions and no victim of the world’s illusions.
In Romans 13, Paul commands “every person” to “be subject to the governing authorities.” But what happens when the authorities themselves refuse to obey the law? It may sound farfetched at first blush, but that’s exactly what has been happening in America. Consider the following:
Rogue County Clerks. In New Mexico and Pennsylvania, county clerks issued marriage licenses to gay couples even though gay marriage is not legal in either state. Pennsylvania, in fact, has a state law banning the practice. Nevertheless, a county register of wills handed out licenses to gay and lesbian couples before a judge ordered him to stop. New Mexico, which has no state law permitting or banning gay marriage, had eight counties issuing gay marriage licenses, and the state’s Republican governor didn’t go to court to try to block the rogue county clerks.1
Illegal Laws. The federal government said it would not challenge laws legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington, even though the drug is illegal under federal law. Going beyond the 20 states that allow marijuana for medicinal use—which is also against federal law and not to be confused with the legitimate use of regulated, cannabis-based drugs—Colorado and Washington approved laws in 2012 that legalize possession of less than an ounce of the drug. President Obama said the federal government has “bigger fish to fry” than prosecuting small-scale recreational drug users, but the fact remains that federal officials, state officials, and voters have simply disregarded a federal law banning a drug that contributes traffic accidents, school dropouts, and family instability.2
Unregulated Abortionist. Perhaps most notably, the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell brought to light a state government’s failure for years to enforce abortion regulations that might have saved the lives of women and unborn children. The grand jury report on Gosnell said that “the medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels—and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.” Still, the Pennsylvania Department of Health inspected his clinic infrequently at first, then decided in 1993 to stop inspecting abortion clinics altogether, concluding that doing so would be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions.3
Of course, some laws should not be enforced. In Pennsylvania, for example, motorists driving down rural roads at night are required to stop every mile and shoot off a flare. And in Salem, West Virginia, it’s illegal to eat candy less than an hour and a half before a church service.4 Such laws are outdated, worthy of repeal, and just plain silly—a far cry from serious laws regarding marriage, illegal drugs, and abortion that ought to be enforced. There may be a gray area where it’s unclear whether certain laws ought to be enforced, but these recent examples are clear cases of governmental negligence. When officials refuse to enforce duly enacted, just laws, a nation risks deteriorating into either anarchy (where there is no standard of justice and morality) or tyranny (where the laws are arbitrary and reflect the whims of leaders rather than God’s absolute moral standards).
Fortunately for America, there is another institution that can step up and speak to matters of justice and morality: the Church. When the government enacts ungoldly laws, when officials defy just laws and look the other way when citizens break the law, the church must proclaim that offenders are accountable to a higher authority and endanger the wellbeing of society. Indeed, this tragedy is an opportunity for the Church to shine. God has placed His people in America for such a time as this.
- Alex Dobuzinskis, “County Clerks On Front Lines of U.S. Gay Marriage Battle,” Reuters Website, September 21, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/21/us-usa-marriage-clerks-idUSBRE98K09720130921 (accessed September 30, 2013).
- Brady Dennis, “Obama Administration Will Not Block State Marijuana Laws, If Distribution Is Regulated,” Washington Post Website, August 29, 2013, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-08-29/national/41566270_1_marijuana-legalization-attorney-general-bob-ferguson-obama-administration (accessed September 30, 2013).
- See Kairos Journal article, “What Ever Happened to ‘Safe, Legal, and Rare’?”, http://kairosjournal.org/Document.aspx?QuadrantID=4&CategoryID=12&
TopicID=33&DocumentID=14749&L=1 (accessed October 11, 2013).
- Stephanie Paul, “Top Craziest Laws Still On the Books,” Legal Zoom, October 2007, http://www.legalzoom.com/us-law/more-us-law/top-craziest-laws-still (accessed September 30, 2013).
Last year, while visiting some missionaries in Japan, I was struck by the homogeneity of Japanese culture. We spent a day at Tokyo Disneyland, and I don’t think I saw more than 25 non-Japanese all day long among the thousands of park visitors. This made for some serious cultural insularity, and I couldn’t help wonder how in the world one would gain a foothold in presenting the gospel there. But then I visited the National Museum of Western Art, a short walk down from the Tokyo National Museum, with its samurai swords, lacquerware, Buddhist statues, and delicate painting superimposed with calligraphy.
Any fair representation of Western art is full of references to the Bible, including, in this instance, Cranach the Elder’s Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26), Brueghel the Elder’s Wooded Landscape with Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22), and separate sculptures of Adam and Eve by Rodin. I could easily imagine bringing a Japanese non-believer to this museum for an orientation to the work of artists from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Modern periods, and then explaining the connections to Christian Scripture. It could open doors for witness.
And this is not unique to Japan. In our increasingly post-Christian American culture, biblical literacy is at a low point. And I couldn’t help thinking of similar teaching opportunities in our land. This past week, on an extended road trip, I stopped by a range of museums I’d not yet visited, and in each I found items pointing to God and His Word. Some were taken from Scripture, others from Church history, where doctrinal explanations could naturally arise. Here’s a sampling:
The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Jesus with Nicodemus (John 3) and Benjamin West’s Death on the Pale Horse (Revelation 6)
Yale University Art Gallery: Several versions of The Peaceable Kingdom (Isaiah 11) by Thomas Hicks.
Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum: John Singleton Copley’s Samuel Relating to Eli the Judgments of God upon Eli’s House (1 Samuel 3) and Benjamin West’s Saul and the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28)
Utica’s Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute: Puritan Maiden by George H. Boughton and Thomas Cole’s four paintings in The Voyage of Life series, with several depictions of guardian angels (Psalm 91; Matthew 18).
Cornell University’s Johnson Museum of Art: John Constable’s Netley Abbey and Gari Melcher’s The Communion (Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11).
And the discoveries didn’t end with art. I also managed to visit the three sports halls of fame, where Christian connections were plentiful. At the basketball “museum” in Springfield, Massachusetts, I saw James Naismith’s New Testament; at Cooperstown, New York, I saw the bust of devout Christian pitcher, Christy Mathewson, who was in the hall of fame’s first group of inductees, which included Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb; at Canton, Ohio, I watched the induction video of Seattle Seahawk Steve Largent, who spoke freely of Christ and the grace of God.
So if you think museums are musty or arcane or elitist, you might give them a fresh look, along with a non-believing friend. You might well find the conversation turning to the gospel.
Aristides of Athens was a second-century Christian author who wrote an apology addressed to the pagan Roman emperor Hadrian (or Antoninus Pius). The purpose of Aristides’s treatise was to defend the Christian faith against false accusations during the time when the Roman government persecuted Christians. Among other things, Aristides argues that the Christian moral code surpasses the highest ethical ideals of pagan philosophers, especially as manifested by the Church’s concern for the poor and socially vulnerable.
They [Christians] help those who offend them, making friends of them; do good to their enemies. They don’t adore idols; they are kind, good, modest, sincere, they love one another; don’t despise widows; protect the orphans; those who have much give without grumbling, to those in need. When they meet strangers, they invite them to their homes with joy, for they recognize them as true brothers, not natural but spiritual.
When a poor man dies, if they become aware, they contribute according to their means for his funeral; if they come to know that some people are persecuted or sent to prison or condemned for the sake of Christ’s name, they put their alms together and send them to those in need. If they can do it, they try to obtain their release. When a slave or a beggar is in need of help, they fast two or three days, and give him the food they had prepared for themselves, because they think that he too should be joyful, as he has been called to be joyful like themselves.[i]
[i] Aristides, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs, compiled by Mark Waters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 70-71.
45 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
Deuteronomy 32:45-47 (ESV)
C. S. Lewis’ famous book The Screwtape Letters chronicles the advice from an old demon, Screwtape, to his novice nephew, Wormwood, on how to keep a young man away from Christianity. However, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones pointed out that, as helpful as the book is in analyzing the enemy’s different methods, it has one major defect. At no point does Screwtape instruct his young nephew to keep the young believer away from the Bible. Yet, it appears to be one of Satan’s most successful tactics to retard spiritual development, not least amongst families.
As Moses prepared for his own death and to hand over the reins of leadership to Joshua, he called God’s people to take seriously all the words he has preached to them (Deut. 32:45, cf. 31:30-32:44). Far from being “empty” (idle, vain, or unprofitable), these words were the people’s “very life.” Although Moses was at the end of his life, he knew that the people would continue to live long in the land the Lord had promised them if they clung to God’s word of life (Deut. 32:47, cf. Deut. 4:1).
Moses instructed the people to “take” (lit. “put” or “set”) these words “to heart” (Deut. 32:45). In the Hebrew mind, “the heart” did not refer to a person’s emotions, as most modern people understand the term. Instead, the heart meant the very religious center of a person’s being. And so Moses implored the children of Israel that words of warning were to be buried deep in their hearts, lest they be forgotten. One cannot be a follower of the one true God without his inner-most existence being saturated by the word of God. Moreover, the current generation was charged to pass on His words to the next generation. And they were to do so in such a way that their children might diligently observe (“be careful to do,” Deut. 32:46) them. Parents, of course, will only fulfill this duty if they remain convinced that such words are the very words of life for their offspring.
In the first extensive study of Bible literacy undertaken in America in recent years, the surveys reported that many American teenagers “lack even the most basic working knowledge of the Bible. Almost one out of ten teens believes that Moses is one of the twelve Apostles. About the same proportion, when asked what Easter commemorates or to identify Adam and Eve, respond ‘don’t know.’” Without doubt, Satan has been spectacularly successful in ensuring that, whilst many men and women hold the Bible in high regard, believing it to be inspired by God, and owning several translations, they never read it. Many parents—committed Christians and pillars of their local churches—are starved of God’s word and, therefore, spiritually retarded. Busyness, tiredness, and not knowing where to begin are often cited as excuses for not getting into the Scriptures. And yet, ironically, these prevent parents from the very source of spiritual growth and nutrition that God has provided.
What does it mean, in today’s world, that the word of God is “life” to human beings? It means realizing that the “real world” means the kingdom of God. For the family, this requires them to sink their roots down deep into the teachings of Christ, an immersion deep enough to weather the scorching and withering counterfeit proposals that threaten from above ground. There is no better place to start than for a family to work its way through every story in the Bible, from the garden to the city of God.
Americans aren’t getting enough shuteye. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that nearly nine million Americans take prescription sleeping pills and such prescriptions have tripled for people younger than 45. Of course, occasional sleepless nights are normal for nearly everyone and sometimes insomnia is caused by uncontrollable factors like physical pain or nightmares. But can a lack of sleep indicate a spiritual problem? Does the Bible say anything to guide us in our sleep patterns? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is yes to both questions.
First, several passages in Scripture’s wisdom literature suggest that inability to sleep may reflect a lack of trust in the Lord. In Psalm 4:8, David is able to sleep amid life’s trials because of his confidence that the Lord alone made him “dwell in safety.” Similarly, Psalm 127:1-2 teaches that the Lord watches over His people. Therefore, we need not “eat the bread of anxious toil” or “in vain . . . rise up early and go late to rest,” thinking our security depends entirely on our frenzied labors. Indeed, God “gives to his beloved sleep.” It brings to mind the time Jesus slept in a boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee. In contrast to His frazzled disciples, Jesus’ sleep was an expression of trust in His heavenly Father (Mark 4:35-41). Of course, there are times when sleeplessness is appropriate given the weightiness of our circumstances, and too much sleep may also reflect a lack of trust in the Lord, as when depressed or worried people sleep to avoid facing their troubles. But finding ourselves routinely unable to sleep due to worry indicates a need to trust God, and not to pop Ambien.
Scripture also says that too much sleep may reflect laziness. Consider Proverbs 6:9-11, which asks sarcastically, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard?” and warns that one who sleeps when he should be working will come to poverty. In contrast, the Proverbs 31 woman routinely rises early to work in her home (Proverbs 31:15). Just as failure to rest can indicate a lack of faith in God’s provision, refusal to work when we’re tired can indicate a lack of drive and work ethic.
Finally, the Bible teaches that there is a time to sacrifice sleep for a greater spiritual good. Jesus regularly rose early to pray and even prayed all night on occasion (Luke 6:12), recognizing that sometimes communion with God is more necessary for His children than physical rest. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, for example, He told Peter, James, and John to pray that they would “not enter into temptation.” When they fell asleep instead, the Lord rebuked them and said there would be other times for sleep (Matthew 26:36-46). Their abandonment of Jesus during His arrest and trial was a result of their choice to sleep rather than seek God.
Where does all this leave us? For one, the Bible doesn’t say how much sleep we should get. Seven to nine hours may be a medical recommendation, but there’s no scriptural prescription for the number of hours we should spend in bed. Still, rest should characterize God’s people. (Not like the Chicago woman who routinely woke up at 1:30 a.m. because of worry over work demands and told NBC News that sleep eluded her because, she “was at wit’s end.” And not like the millions of Americans who throw off their bodies’ natural sleep rhythms by using their computers, smartphones, and tablets before going to bed.) Primarily, the Bible speaks of rest as a condition of the soul, characteristic of believers whether they are awake or asleep (see, for example, Matthew 11:29 and Hebrews 3:7-4:13). But Scripture also teaches that a soul resting in Christ normally shouldn’t find sleep elusive. At the same time, a resting soul should be disciplined to sacrifice sleep when necessary to earn a living or render service to God.
So next time worry keeps you awake or depression makes it hard to get out of bed, consider opening your Bible before you head to the medicine cabinet. There you’ll find the comforting voice of Jesus urging, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).