In His Image

Four families I know recently announced new additions on the way! They are their first, second, third (grandchild) and fourth, but all have the same joy.  Our natural response to such precious news affirms the intrinsic value of human beings, though these babies have accomplished nothing yet.  They just exist, safe and oblivious in their moms.

We love, care for, train, and educate children because of a truth expressed by the Psalmist, “You formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13-14).  Created by God, human beings are valuable.

Why do we think of a life as wasted if not lived well or if it ends in suicide? If a tree fell in the woods, it is nothing; but why is it horrible if it falls on a person?  Why does the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibit “cruel and unusual punishments”?  Why do the Geneva Conventions protect prisoners of war, regardless of how they fought?  The answer is that human beings have intrinsic value, and we know that even if we refuse to admit it.

Where does this value come from? Scripture says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).  Francis Schaeffer wrote, “If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity.  There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special.  Human life is cheapened.”  If the universe is impersonal with chance origins, no evidence would exist for intrinsic value of people.  But a natural awareness of that value makes sense if there is a Creator who set us apart from the rest of creation.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization – these are mortal… But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” Even an immortal horror has value as Jesus calls to him, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36-37.

To the Christian, a person has value and is worth saving; hence we present the gospel as revealed by God and experienced in history that Jesus saves. As Creator, He values and loves people and invests his likeness, creativity, and reasoning ability in us.  To be completely human, to be an everlasting splendor, is to connect with the God who, while you were yet in your mother’s womb, created you in His image.

God Is Fixing This

If the intent of the NY Daily News is to provoke, it succeeded with the headline “God Isn’t Fixing This” in the aftermath of the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino. If that wasn’t enough, they continued by calling prayer “meaningless platitudes.”

After the shooting, many politicians issued calls for prayer. The Daily News intended to goad these politicians into passing gun control laws. In dissing those who offered concern to hurting people, the tabloid implied that you can’t pray and act, that God either doesn’t exist or is indifferent, and that it is nobler to enact gun control laws than to pray.  Overreach, perhaps?

Franklin Graham jumped in with, “Prayers are not ‘meaningless platitudes.’ Prayer is direct access to Almighty God and is the most powerful tool a Christian has.”  Russell Moore labeled it the “Don’t just pray there, do something” meme.  In the Washington Post, he wrote, “For religious people, prayer is doing something.  We do believe that God can intervene, to comfort the hurting and even to energize ourselves and others for right action.”  For sincere believers, prayer is more than just another way to express concern.

But rather than defend prayer as others have done eloquently, my interest is the difference in worldview between secularists and Christians in the background of this brouhaha. The Humanist Manifesto (1973) states that “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”  If there is no God, then prayer is just speaking to the wind, and we are left with an idealism that hopes in removing every gun, something that will never happen.  But without God, we can’t even agree on what’s evil.  That shooting wasn’t evil to the terrorists that did it.

We Christians have our own idealism, that if the hearts of people are changed, gun possession is irrelevant. More to the point, if evil didn’t exist, the issue wouldn’t either.  Yet evil does exist, and hence our prayers as Jesus taught us, “deliver us from evil.”  But is God somehow complicit when it happens again?  Billy Graham once wrote, “God is not the cause of evil and we should therefore not blame Him for it.  Man chose to defy God, and it is man’s fault that evil entered the world.  Even so, God has provided the ultimate triumph of good over evil in Jesus Christ.”  As Scripture says, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8).  His work is already done but the result is not yet fully realized.

So, provocative headlines notwithstanding, we pray. We thank God that He has defeated evil.  We pray for compassion and civility in a hateful world.  And may God deliver us from the evil of gun violence and terrorism.  Victory in Jesus!


Fine Tuned Arrangement

Suppose that you were the intended victim of a firing squad and thousands of attempts were made to dispatch you, but instead you walked away unharmed. Wouldn’t you be inclined to wonder if something had been arranged on your behalf?

Such is the question raised by astrophysicist Martin Rees. In his book “Just Six Numbers,” he describes vital parameters in the universe and how they must be precisely fine-tuned for it to exist.  For example, he explains that if the expansion of the universe were too slow, gravity takes over and it collapses; if too fast, it’s just a gas with no complex chemistry and no possibility of life.  But somehow, it’s arranged to be just right.

Astronomer Fred Hoyle remarked, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” Notably, he also admitted that his atheism was shaken.

I can see why. Scientists calculate that the chances that such fine-tuning would happen randomly are 1 in a million billions.  These chances are roughly the equivalent of looking for a specific single grain of sand from among all the beaches on the earth. Given that miniscule chance, the elephant-in-the-room question is could the universe arrive at these finely-tuned parameters with no arranging?

If it did, then outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins would be right. He wrote that in a universe without a Maker, “some people are going to be hurt, some will be lucky, and you won’t find any reason in it, or any justice.  The universe we have is what you would expect if there is no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”  Note the absolute hopelessness for the human condition.  No arrangements.

Christianity makes sense of the world as we experience it, answering questions raised by science. “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that (people) are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).  Oxford mathematician John Lennox said, “God is not an alternative to science as an explanation. He is not to be understood merely as a God of the gaps. He is the ground of all explanation: it is His existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.”

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) and not meant to be lost in the chaos of a pitiless existence. We identify with our Maker through Jesus Christ, the best arrangement of all!

Faith for the Future

What will 2016 hold for you, your family, the world? The turning of the year seems to be a natural time to reflect on what is possible, probable, and hopeful.  With so much chaos in the world, how else can we face it, but with faith?  As Queen Elizabeth said in her Christmas message, “It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope… ’The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ “

This year voters will elect a new President of the U.S., but the two political parties will remain polarized with starkly varying visions for the country. It is unlikely that pols will agree on what the problems are, much less the solutions.  The world will reel as Islamists advance their violent agenda for a worldwide caliphate.  Refugees will flee looking for peace; but will the violent hide among them?  Closer to home, births, graduations, weddings will delight.  You will encounter success, but also failure. Accidents, sickness, and death are possible, as this is the way of the world.

If you knew precisely what the coming year held, you would be mixed with fear, excitement, anger, anxiety, and joy. These are natural human emotions that can dictate your response to the known and unknown.  I submit to you that faith in God displaces emotional chaos and uncertainty.  I’m not speaking of faith that just hopes that things will work out, or that the worst won’t happen.  Faith is not the fatalistic surrender that “it was just meant to be.”  Authentic faith centers on God Himself, as He providentially accomplishes His good purposes in you and our world.  The faith that brings peace agrees with Joseph that what his brothers intended for evil, God intended for good; and with the three in the fiery furnace that God can deliver me, but even if He doesn’t I still trust Him alone.

Max Lucado says, “Jesus gives us hope because He keeps us company, has a vision, and knows the way we should go.” His challenge is to “Meet your fears with faith.”  Since God has already considered your future, and since he has a plan for your life in Christ, it only makes sense that you respond by trusting him with it.

“He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold I am making all things new’ ” (Rev. 21:5). So, with great anticipation and faith, let the New Year begin!