Thursday, October 28, 2004

Where does faith come from?

What is happening in the soul of a person who becomes a Christian? What is happening when someone who once doubted God or even His existence; who once could read a page of scripture and discern nothing of its full meaning; who in the past could see believers acting out their faith with unexplainable enthusiasm, love, and courage, and conclude only that those people must be unbalanced, desperate, weak, or half-crazed—but who now loves God and fully trusts Him in every area of life? What has happened to change that person, and why does it happen to some and not others?

Whatever profound mystery is taking place, whatever miracle is occurring at that moment that we can never hope to fully grasp, I understand at least one thing and would have to be shown otherwise to conclude otherwise. I do not believe that the source of true saving faith can be found in a human decision or prayer. I do not believe it is a quality that can come from a fallen human heart.

But don’t just take my word for it: The Bible says this about that saving moment: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

To me, the passage seems clear: faith is a gift. But some maintain that the “this” I’ve emphasized refers only to grace and not at all to faith. I’m a little puzzled why someone would understand the verse in that way, unless it is because they don’t like the idea that faith is a gift. But the interpretation doesn’t really work. It would be such an exaggerated case of stating the obvious as to touch on absurdity. The whole idea of grace is “not from yourselves,” so it would seem a bit silly for Paul to be stating such a self-evident truth. A gift is a gift, we’d be left with. Really? Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Paul.

Even if an eloquent case is made for the “grace not of yourselves” reading of Ephesians 2:8, it doesn’t accomplish what is hoped. For we only have to turn a page or two farther in the Bible to read an even clearer passage: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…” (Phil. 1:29).

At least to the church in Phillipi, the source of faith was understood and accepted well enough that Paul could make a mere passing reference to it. But today we don’t have Paul around to send out another letter when we question what a text means, or overlook another, and so maintaining that faith must ultimately come from God is at times controversial.

To give a little bit of context to the question, we can go back to that question of what is going on at the moment when salvation takes place. That moment is often referred to as “being made alive in Christ,” or “regeneration.” We could ask this about that wonderful starting point in the Kingdom of God: Is it necessary for an unregenerate sinner to place faith in God in order to be made alive, or is it necessary for the hardened sinner to be made alive (or regenerated) in order to respond in saving faith?
Some look to a familiar passage in Revelation 3 for the answer to the question. There we are told that Christ stands at the door of our heart and asks to come in. Because this invitation is universally given, we could prematurely conclude that we can, in our spiritually dead condition, be moved to open the door ourselves, and ask Jesus in. But in a different passage where we are given an inner glimpse at salvation taking place, that’s not what happened. In Acts 16, a merchant named Lydia was listening to Paul preach, and at the moment she had a sincere response to his message, we’re told that, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” It wasn’t Lydia opening the door, then, it was God. By the time Lydia knew that she wanted salvation above all else, her eyes were already opened.

Another passage that makes this clear comes just a few verses before the well-known Ephesians passage above: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.”

Some attempt to get around the problem by seeing a little bit of both sides present in conversion, and they would hold that God’s Spirit works within a person, convicts them of their sin, and helps them as much as He is able, but then leaves the person to respond the rest of the way on their own.

This may be seen as an attractive stance, but I’m uncomfortable with it. If I am brought to the same level of conviction as my neighbor, if we’re both moved by the Spirit and helped to the same degree, then what was different about my heart that I repented and my neighbor did not? In what way was I better than my neighbor that I took the true path and he rejected it? All of a sudden, I’m now looking at my heart as if it contained some small crumb of righteousness. As if I made some tiny contribution to my own salvation. As if my heart, however bad and normally immovable, could be impressed and wooed and helped to make the right and good decision.

No. God’s salvation is the last thing we want. “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). We are enemies of God, we “all have turned away” (Romans 3:12). “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). We have hearts of stone that could never sincerely respond to the offer of salvation unless changed by God, as the book of Ezekiel mentions: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Whether it offends my pride to think about or not, I brought no contribution to my salvation. All I could do is respond to God with the faith he granted me, follow God with the eyes that He opened, and love Him with the heart that He changed. If there had been any possibility that I could’ve rejected God, I would have. We all would have, down to the last person. Anything other than that eventuality introduces works into salvation, and we know that works properly belong only to sanctification, or in other words, everything that happens after being born again.

I was humbled when I first realized this. Understanding that God did not wait for this little lamb to come to Him, but went to that desolate place where I was stuck and carried me home, filled me with gratitude. The crowns that in eternity are cast at Jesus’ feet, that are given to the children of God who then return them to their proper source, is the most fitting gesture to God’s grace I could imagine.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Quotes from L.A. Story:

"Half-double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon."
—Steve Martin, ordering coffee

"When I'm around you, I find myself showing off, which is the idiot's version of being interesting."
—Steve Martin

"A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true."
—Steve Martin

"Let me read you from this book of poems. 'O Pointy Birds, O Pointy Pointy, Annoint—'"
—Steve Martin

And an interesting footnote on that last quote is this page dedicated to the wonderful poet John Lillison.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Still on the subject of politics, Slate highlights an artist who has made politics into art.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

From a review of Fahrenhype 9/11:
If you haven't seen "Fahrenheit," then you haven't seen how lovely Moore paints Iraq before the U.S. invasion began. Kids flew kites in the streets, played on the merry-go-round, went for haircuts and laughed all the way home. But then, the bombs dropped. Moore would have you believe that those bombs landed on children when in fact they were hitting Saddam's bases. It's a strategy Moore repeatedly uses, and hardly is there an opportunity for people to see that technique exposed.

"HYPE" couldn't show that footage owned by Moore's production company, but it does show the tape Moore used of President Bush speaking to a crowd at the Al Smith dinner, an annual tradition since 1946 that raises money for Catholic hospitals. In Moore's film you hear Bush tell the crowd that while others call them elite he calls them his base. Dirty, huh? But "HYPE" shows the additional footage that Moore conveniently left out; footage of Al Gore in attendance, and others there to raise millions of dollars for charity. Hardly a speech to his rich constituents.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Awhile back, I made comments about President Bush's actions immediately following the attack on the World Trade Center, and the treatment of those actions in Fahrenheit 9/11. But even as I made comments, I did have some underlying doubts. What was Bush thinking in those minutes? And would it have been better to handle the situation differently?

I recently had a chance to watch Fahrenhype 9/11, which was carried by my local video rental store. This documentary presents another side to the events and allegations presented in Michael Moore's movie, and below is a partial transcript from the section on Bush's response while at Emma E. Booker Elementary School:

“I was very pleased with the way it was handled, that he took a few moments to gather himself. And it seems like this huge amount of time. It wasn’t this huge amount of time.”

I actually have an uncut tape of the photo op, which starts with President Bush walking into the room; he remained in the room for five minutes, not seven. And we all remember this piece of footage when Andy Card breaks ranks from the side of the room in the middle of a presidential photo op, which in itself is quite a breach of protocol, walks up to the president, bends down, and whispers into his ear the terrible words that will transform his presidency: “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.”

Ari Fleischer, the president’s press secretary, was standing directly in front of him. He actually pulled out his legal pad and discreetly wrote on the back, “Don’t say anything yet,” and he maneuvered himself into such a position that the press couldn’t see it, basically telling him not to do anything yet because his staff was trying to find out what happened.

The president saw the sign, nodded almost imperceptibly as if to say he understood.

“I didn’t vote for him, but on that day, at that moment in time, I very easily could have…He made a good decision to stop and think and respond, rather than react to the terrorism.”

The media who was there that day—not one person commented the president did the wrong thing…This is really revisionist history three years after the fact. Perhaps a small point, but to me anyone who says it’s seven minutes, can’t get the little details right, I’m suspect about their getting the bigger picture.

I actually interviewed the president about this and asked, “What was going through your head when you got the news?” His answer was he could’ve basically deepened the national panic, which was already considerable, by jumping up in front of a bunch of second graders and bolting from the room, or he could sit there and collect his thought process. He said that he didn’t know who did this but that whoever did it, it was an act of war.

In all accounts, he was on the phone immediately to the Vice President, with Condoleeza Rice, the cabinet officials, directing what had to be done, in full control.

--Statements in quotations given by Gwen Tose-Rigell, Principal of Emma E. Booker Elementary School

I strongly feel that anyone who watches one of these documentaries should watch the other as well, and then sort between the two. Any time we only give attention to one side of an issue, only listen to one side when partisan motives are clearly involved, we are at real risk of believing
anything from omission of key points to exaggeration to pure propaganda.

A couple of the people featured in Fahrenhype 9/11 actually appeared in footage from Fahrenheit 9/11 making statements, and in the former documentary they explain the full context of what they said, why they said it, and how they feel about being used in the Moore documentary.


Thursday, October 07, 2004

It would take a miracle of faith to accept that a single cell evolved from non-life. With all of the advanced understanding of scientists in labs with perfect conditions and concentrated efforts/intelligence, they haven’t been able to do it. The best they’ve achieved is basic proteins, never the spark of organic life. But we’re supposed to accept as credo that it happened with no intelligence, lab environment and so on, merely because long stretches of time are thrown into the equation. Time isn’t that magical. What is impossible to conceive of doesn’t suddenly become conceivable merely by adding extra zeroes to the time factor.

And by the time we get to trees, sound, crystals, nebulae, consciousness and so on, the religious faith of atheists is astounding. I just don’t have that much faith. "It all just happened" is the mantra. Really? It sure as entropy doesn’t look like it. John Cage should have been so lucky.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Basically, evolutionists are telling you that there’s this process out there that created the first one-celled animal, fully functional from second one. No chance of its parts arriving incrementally, because with the first organism, it’s either one-cell or no cell. It’s either viable, or soup. And a single cell is more complex than the monitor you’re staring at. So anyway, this mousetrap sprang from the soup fully formed.

Then this process began to change this cell, not towards chaos, a principle on which the rest of the universe seems to run, but towards greater order. Nature getting better and better and better. But at least it is a *little* easier for the process to work now, because it might be possible that some simple mutations could occur gradually without killing the organism.

Now the most important thing for your faith in this unproven process, is to remember that while it happens in the present so slowly that we can’t see it, in the past it happened so quickly that we missed it. But it happened, mind you, and it made millions of incredible creatures from that single cell, which came out of that mixture of elements.

No one fully understands the process, no one can prove it, no one can recreate that original moment when that cell came to being, and our current understanding of the universe we live in represents about .005% of total knowledge, but your entry badge into the scientific world is signing off on the absolute validity of the theory.

They will help you believe. From museums to cereal boxes, they will repeat this theory. When you turn on the nature channel, it will be discussed with hushed reverence. They will give you three-dimensional models and glossy illustrations. Really, really intelligent people will tell you that there’s little to no chance the theory is false, and will treat you like a child if you question them. They will tell you that their beliefs are science, while yours are religious. They will tell you its okay to believe in God, as long as God accomplished things using their theory. Then when some religious people go along with it, you’ll be told, "See? Christians don’t have to be creationists! They can be evolutionists too!"

Friday, October 01, 2004

Picture evolution as a river, down which every animal has traveled. Picture fossils as a camera on the riverbank, snapping a photo every now and then of the travelers. Evolutionists are asking me to believe that this billions-of-years journey was missed by the camera guy.

Now comes the talk: "Well, fossilization has to have perfect conditions, and most things just disintegrate before fossilization can occur, blah blah blah." Whatever. We have *billions* of fossils. If we had even a single transition fossil—just one, if it isn’t too much to ask—for every species of which we have hundreds and thousands of near-identical, non-transitional fossils, evolution might have some reputability on its own apart from it being a zealously protected part of establishment thinking. One minute scientists are talking about what good evidence we have of evolution, and the next minute they’re making excuses for why we have so little.

With as few fossils as we are asked to admit as proof of a billions-of-years process of change, it’s much more likely that the interpretations of those purported transitionary fossils are incorrect, or that the fossils don’t prove as much as its worshippers hope. Round them up, consider them shrines, start an evolutionary Mecca. People can come by and do obeisance. Kiss the ring of evolution, or be banned from the scientific community. Free thinking, in the subject of origins, is not allowed.

Someday those who didn’t bow to the sacred cow of evolution will be seen as the visionaries. That’s how new ideas are possible. The establishment only holds to one view, with no deviance allowed. As the idea outlives itself, the evidence can seen to be lacking. But it takes awhile for cherished ideas to finally breathe their last.

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