(now the pulpit minister of the Tompkinsville church of Christ, Tompkinsville, KY)
With countless opinions and information out there, God is just another “option” and the Bible is just “good advice to follow.” Dave Mustaine summed up how many people feel when he said, “The Bible and several other self help or enlightenment books cite the Seven Deadly Sins. They are: pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth, and gluttony. That pretty much covers everything that we do, that is sinful… or fun for that matter.”
Is the Bible just an ancient “self-help” book that tells us not to do anything fun? Questioning God is not something new. Even Epicurus said, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?” I truly believe that you can understand who God is just based on scripture. When He gave that book to man, He gave us a piece of Himself.
God wants a relationship with us (I Peter 5:6-7). This is why He has purposefully informed us about Himself. People need God whether they know it or not. I’d encourage you, as an individual, to put the Bible on trial. Put the accuracy of its pages to the test. It has withstood hundreds of years of accusations and doubt. Often we are able to grow in our faith and belief as a result of seeking and searching. As His church, we have a responsibility to proclaim the excellence of our creator. We do it by our love for others, exposing the evidence of His existence, and introducing Jesus every opportunity we have.
There is one teaching of Buddhism that I have looked upon favorably, that our problems stem from earthly attachment and desire. I cannot argue with principles I also find recorded in the pages of the Bible, after all. Yet, despite the growing popularity of Buddhism in the West, I find Buddhism wholly deficient in addressing the spiritual needs I have. In a nutshell, Buddhism lacks two essential things I believe are needed to save.
First, it does not embrace the only name given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4.12). I recognize this is not an insurmountable obstacle for a nonbeliever. The nonbeliever secularizes the Christ and strips Him of His Divinity. Or he or she might declare Jesus of Nazareth to be a mere fabrication of men. Interestingly enough, though, since I am considering Buddhism, there are those co-opting Jesus as One influenced by the teachings of the Buddha. The theory is that Jesus was in India, learning Buddhism somewhere between the ages of 12 and 30. (That would be a fantastic departure for One Who proved His knowledge of Scripture on par with rabbis many years His senior at the age of 12, wouldn’t it? –Luke 2.46-47. This supposed abandonment of Moses’ Law also ignores His stated purpose of being the living embodiment of the same –Matthew 5.17.)
Second, it foolishly looks within oneself to find salvation. Buddha claimed to be an ordinary man. Thus, Buddha implied anyone could achieve “enlightenment” as he had done. Buddha said that you find salvation looking within yourself. Perhaps it sounds like an oversimplification of a system of faith, but that is a distinct difference. Within Buddhism, one does not need even the existence of gods, let alone the True and Living God, since he or she attains enlightenment all alone. Meanwhile, the great monotheistic religions acknowledge that man is incapable of saving himself. Those traditions maintain that despite being created innocent and pure, we utilized our free moral agency to serve the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2.15-17).
Which of these ideas are more consistent with observation? Outside of the innocence of youth, do people tend to be motivated by selfishness or altruism? There has been a long-standing debate as to whether humans are born inherently good or bad. Few are those attributing good as the default position of the mature heart. Indeed, a child left to his or her own devices, without proper guidance, will become subject to the corrupting influence of those three avenues to sin previously identified above. Thus, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all encourage parents to guide children properly regarding morality, to mold them into the servants of principle.
In contrast, the Holy Bible teaches that there are ways seeming right to us, leading to our destruction (Proverbs 16.25). Jeremiah, the prophet, confesses to God that man cannot even order his steps (Jeremiah 10.23). These two truths ensure as Jesus taught that the vast majority of people are traveling the broad, highway to hell (Matthew 7.13-14).
To allow for such blind groping in the dark, Buddhism has to allow for a continuous system of rebirth. In other words, few, if any, are they who manage to attain enlightenment on their first try through life. He or she will more likely fail only to be reborn and try again and again. And that is the greatest tragedy of the belief that you can look within yourself to find salvation. You get stuck on this Ferris wheel of rebirth. Paul tells the Athenians that even those who are groping can easily discover God since He is not far from us (Acts 17.22-30).
Though I do not wish to be unfair to those embracing the Buddhist belief system, I have to wonder if the attraction of the Western mind to Buddha’s religion has more to do with the mindset implanted by the liberty afforded to citizens of Western democracies. In other words, do Westerners instead prefer the idea of independence from God, telling him or her what to do to be righteous? I am inclined to believe the latter.
I can speak to my own heart. I know its evil. So, I find myself caught up in that same war with my members, as experienced by the apostle Paul (Romans 7.14ff). Like Paul, I ask who can save me from this body of death (Romans 7.24). And like Paul, I find my Savior to be Jesus Christ (Romans 7.25;8.1-2). For that reason, when presented with the choice, I believe in the Son of Man rather than Siddhartha Gautama. My righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6). A wretch like me can only be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8-10).
Does that question seem strange to you? Mean is a verb defined as “intend to convey, indicate, or refer to” (Apple Dictionary, Version 2.2.2). Postmodernism claims that there is no purely objective knowledge, truth, or norms. Therefore, meaning is what you make it mean. Several years ago, James Sire gave the framework for what we see in ever-increasing, ever-encroaching ways in our society when he wrote that the postmodernist believes “human beings make themselves who they are by the languages they construct about themselves” (181). He continues, “In postmodernism the self is indeed a slippery concept” (182). How does this play out? Science is what scientists say it is. History is what historians say it is. But, morality, law, and so many other pillars of society are influenced by this approach to truth and reality. Abortion, euthanasia, sexual ethics, gender issues, and the like are subject to what institutions and individuals determine about them. Even religion, down to New Testament Christianity, has felt the pervasive tentacles of this worldview. Where does this philosophical mindset end? What’s out of bounds, if truth is whatever you and I each say it is for ourselves? Ultimately, there can be no values, standards, or absolutes. And no one wants to live in a society where those are the “rules,” if you can call them that. And no one can for long. It’s a system destined to collapse.
Winfried Corduan worse, “Relativism plays the role of Zorro in the world of knowledge. It stays in concealment for long periods of time only to suddenly appear at crucial moments, conquer the day, and go back into hiding” (37). In other words, we don’t want relativism on the operating table, when it’s a choice of saline or strychnine in the I.V. (i.e., “What’s ‘saline’ to you is ‘strychnine’ to me”). We don’t want it at our banking institution, when it’s a choice of debit or credit. We believe in absolutes…until we don’t. What’s right or wrong? Again, Corduan helps by defining truth as what corresponds to reality (39). We may have to explore, investigate, evaluate, and test, but we can ascertain it!
We don’t want to live in a world without a transcendent way to determine truth and meaning. We cannot. Meaning is meaningful! Amidst all the wild experimentation of our postmodern world, there is a trustworthy source of truth. It in internally cohesive and universally applicable. It has been successfully tried for thousands of years. But it makes expectations of us. It asks commitments of us. It involves sacrifice, self-denial, and submission. But it is right and it works! It is Divine Revelation. The Bible. May we have the courage to follow it and share it.
Corduan, Winfried. No Doubt About It: The Case For Christianity (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997).
Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1997).
Terrorist madmen shoot up a school in Pakistan and kill over 100 people, mostly children. A politically correct society is close to forbidding biblical teaching on matters that violates its bombastic code. Pluralism (all religious paths are equally valid) and syncretism (blending two or more religious belief systems into a new system) seem to grow more popular in the religious philosophy of a great many. An erosion of morality and ethics seems to daily redefine acceptable norms and boundaries so that things not long ago thought outrageous are now not just tolerated but celebrated. The culture of unbelief and agnosticism spreads while the spirit of humble dependency upon God seems to shrink. When we pause to consider all of this, our head can spin and we can begin to question how this happened and so quickly.
Paul often writes that we are engaged in spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-13; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; 1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:12). While we will witness violence, hatred, gross immorality, an anything goes mentality, and the like, lost sinners are not the enemy. They embrace the thinking and values of the enemy, but Paul says such people are ensnared and held captive by the enemy (1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Tim. 2:26), “caught” (Gal. 6:1), and “subject to slavery” (Heb. 2:15). New Testament writers pinpoint the source of this enormous problem as:
The ruler of this world (John 12:31; 16:11).
The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).
The prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2).
World forces and spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12).
The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19).
Peter simply calls him our adversary (1 Pet. 5:8). In the gospel, Jesus often alludes to him as the enemy. From Christ’s temptations in Matthew 4, we learn that he has been given the power over “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (8). They are his to dispense and disperse (9). New Testament writers pinpoint this domain with its unrighteous thinking simply as “the world” (Jas. 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17). All who submit to living according to the thinking and values of this world are submitting to this ruler, god, prince, force, and evil one. They are pledging allegiance to his way and being guided by his leadership.
We can see the devastating effect this is having on the peace and the practice of the masses. Yet, we must resist it in our individual lives. Perhaps Paul said it most concisely when he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Many of the spiritual problems in our lives can be pinpointed to our following the wrong leader. May God give us the wisdom and discernment to see through his destructive schemes!
This is, in my estimation, the most withering of Job’s comebacks to those miserable comforters introduced to us as his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (2:11). The statement is made by Job in Job 12:2 at the end of the first cycle of speeches by these friends, in all of which are accusations and insinuations that Job was suffering due to sins he had committed. They were wrong, but they were certain they were right.
Aren’t there more than a few Eliphazes, Bildads, and Zophars today? There are those who act as though they believe civilization has been holding its collective, bated breath in great anticipation of their arrival. So many complexities, mysteries, and intellectual quagmires have sat stubbornly, mystifying their forebears, but pliably come forward as mere child’s play for them. Or perhaps they purport themselves to be experts, demonstrating academic or professional credentials in support of such. They may even move or speak with the air of unmistakeable confidence. It might be that they have substantial followings and impressive venues to spout their philosophical triumphs.
But, as the case was for Job, the proof is in the pudding. God’s Word proved these men wrong. Job 42 shows that their claims and theories, however confidently asserted, were at odds with His mind. They spoke words of man’s wisdom. It may have sounded right on the surface, but it wasn’t right.
Consider Paul’s message to Corinth. He speaks of preaching, the foolishness of God, coming in the wake of men’s inability to grasp His wisdom. Then he writes, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:25-29).
Humility, teachability, and submission are three indispensable quality traits we must possess when it comes to the Bible. Our theology must be formed by the latter (the Bible) and our character is formed by the former (the quality traits). Let us forever be less concerned with being judged right by others and be consumed with a desire to be right with God.
As a teenager I once had a Bible class teacher who found it appealing, as a teaching style, to raise questions but give no answers. Some students thought it was cool to keep things theoretical. It is interesting that his class never really arrived at absolute truth but stayed hypothetical. I remember feeling frustrated that he raised doubt and uncertainty for some of my peers who might have entered the classroom sure and certain. Who knew that his sort of “style” would become more popular here in the post-postmodern and emergent age?
It seems that some want in the realm of theology what no one would want in the worlds of auto mechanic-ing, accounting, real estate or medicine—theories and questions in lieu of ironclad, definitive answers. Yet, the realm of theology deals with something more important than automobiles, money, land, or physical health. When it comes to God and the Bible, eternity is at stake depending on the answers given and the practice encouraged.
Before we allow some smug, condescending professor, preacher, or pundit to conclude that there are no conclusions or absolutely tout the non-existence of absolute truth, let us humbly ask, “On what basis should we reject the Bible’s authoritative position or exchange it for the point of view of the theorist or inquirer?” Some religious leaders would like us to join them in “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). When the Bible contains a significant number of statements clearly defining right and wrong, we should be wary of those who seem intent to put question marks where God put periods and exclamation points. That is not to say that there are not “some things hard to be understood” (2 Pet. 3:16), but let us be careful not to toss into that category what God has already explained.