The Power of Simplicity (abstract)

I was shaving, using an old-fashioned boars hair brush, and homemade farmer’s market shaving soap that smells like sandalwood and lavender, listening to Sinatra, and slowing the haste of the world with my breathing.

This idea of transcendent purpose has affected me as of late, a clinging to a purpose I can serve, one that is larger than the vanities of our day. King Solomon told us that “All is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2). If not but for God, it would seem that Solomon ended up a nihilist. He felt what we all feel eventually, that the toil of life mixed with the purposelessness found in the perfunctory grind of our daily action is the legacy of dead men walking.

We work diligently in thought and deed for great swaths of time towards goals we find give us a sense of relevance. These are different for all. Maybe you are saving the manatees. Perhaps you follow the political battles of Washington D.C., working hard each day to know and understand your platform, so you can defend it, prepared to forgive the trespasses on your side, and militantly oppose the other. You may march with signs. You may work towards a financial goal, or strive to build a business. Perhaps you pursue love, and escape in the delirium of intense desire. You build a world around a hope, an earthly hope that has no choice but to crumble under the weight of your expectations. No matter your interest, as it pulls you from ecstasy to the depths, and back again, any achievement or reciprocation received is short lived, and leads only to bitter unrest at the knowledge that any joy it brings will not endure.

Does this foreknowledge of failure make you negative? A pessimist? Being able to see the collapse of hope in the distance, and unable to stop it often makes us even more dedicated to our dream. It could even be stated that doubt and uncertainty are part of a recipe necessary for coveting that which we cannot live without. It is shocking the violence that takes place in the mind when our desires and fears mix. Compulsive daydreams infect how we perceive reality, and despite the real understanding that all will burn, along with the knowledge that we are helpless to stop it, we choose to run headlong towards an ecstatic finale we know is not there.

So then, what purpose transcends this inevitable disappointment? Further, what transcends our lives? Fame? Sex? Power? Glory? We would need a purpose that exists beyond our time here. One that makes us part of something much grander than our accomplishments. Robert Lewis wrote: “A transcendent cause must be truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful.”

Upon reflection, there is only one thing in the universe that qualifies. That is Jesus Christ. And lo and behold, He has offered to make us a part of His transcendent story.

So these items we cherish, wine, love, money, they as blessings cause enjoyment in one who’s focus is on Christ. They are merely things He has placed in your path as you live and grow in sanctification. But, as idols, they take, and they keep taking, and no permanent  satisfaction will ever be attained from them. The idols like those I have sought to validate me, instead have devoured me, and refusing to admit they were there, it was to the depths I went. “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (Psalm 32:3)

But to acknowledge this? How good I perceived myself as being versus how broken my actions had become? So twisted that God had to actually save loved ones from me? Deliver them from me, as I had become a catalyst for pain and lack of peace?  Who was this man I never meant to be? My heart desired what I dare not speak aloud, much less pray for. I coveted. I had false idols. I wished to steal (not just material things, but love, dignity, respect of others, time, freedom, for the most dire things stolen are not things at all). I am angry. I lust. This all means I bear false witness. A liar, especially to myself. One then who is blind to sins known since childhood, sins known to have been written by the very finger of God. What a pretty picture of a Christian.

And the result? Distance from God. Silence in prayer life. Anxiety. Inability to properly love others. Self-loathing. To be the clanging cymbal that has no love in his heart. Despair. And how much more, in these depths, did I rail against the world for my causes, or grasp harder for my purpose, my secular validation? Or, how much more did I escape, self-medicate, choose negligence, indifference. Has the man who militantly blames society for his pain examined his character?  Do the high ideals in the public square extend to his wife and kids? Does he bring the whole of himself home each night, as priest of it? Does he grab his wife’s hand and pray with her, or teach his son or daughter why the bible is true, or how to love? Does the daughter witness from him what she should expect out of a husband someday, or is this not a consideration the father should concern himself with? Can he put himself last and still hope for fulfillment when all the magic he desires is rationed to the fortunate unworthy standing in the wake of his life’s disintegration? Look in his eyes; he is simply not there.

Unfortunately, recognition of who we truly are must proceed change. When we all started this journey, we thought to ourselves, I will be this type of Christian, or this type of spouse, or this type of parent. My intentions are to be purposeful and knightly, and full of honor. But all is vanity; and distractions erode us; and idols fill us; and it isn’t long before we have forgotten how to love, because we have forgotten who loved us first.

The simplicity of life: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) The Alpha, the Omega, and your transcendent purpose. It need not be more complicated then this. All else, blessings to be enjoyed, or not.  In a world of distractions, and the great whirlwind of lives to compare and contrast yourself with, and the pressure of forcing idols to answer wishes for love and money, what if we take Christ at His word. What if it is enough? And in this power, as it allows you to love properly again, you live out the life you were meant to?

I was shaving, using an old-fashioned boars hair brush, and homemade farmer’s market shaving soap that smells like sandalwood and lavender, listening to Sinatra, and slowing the haste of the world with my breathing. Starting at the center of myself, and working out. The parts I could control. I could be thankful for the music, and the steam, and be blessed to feel the satisfaction of a proper shave, and the calm in which this romantic chore took place. Like an artist who paints a leaf, there was beauty in the smallness of the moment, and I was “allowed” to be part of it. From here, what man would I chose to be? I could step out and complain about money, or Washington D.C., or be anxious for investment returns, or escape into a fantasy of love never actualized. Would these actions help me love others the way they needed to be loved? The way they deserve to be loved by me?

Or can I step outside the walls of my bathroom and be a different man; a simpler man, and not concentrate on the periphery of the world, but on my walk down the hallway, the embrace of my child, the prayer that my loved ones deserve, the health and wellness my body deserves, the study of scripture that my God deserves. I could ask God to teach me to love others better, and then make efforts to do that. Imagine it! Edifying others without seeking gain!

But I wanted them all to think I was smart, and special, and attractive. I wanted to be worth something to everyone.

But would my worth, according to them, change at all how I could love them, if I was loving them properly? Can I change that? No. I can change only me.

This will change my home. Which will change my church. Which may change my town. Which may change the state. Which may change the country. Which may change the world. But I leave this to God. I won’t yell at you about who you are supposed to be. I will do better at what I should have been doing. Overtime, perhaps I can be forgiven for having loved so badly, and so selfishly. But, it was coming from my flesh, not Christ, so it was bound to an inherently faulty foundation. If I can truly make Christ first, then how I see the world, how I love the world, everything changes. And everything is simplified into one transcendent purpose. Suddenly, I feel blessed just to be allowed to enjoy any of this silly old world at all.

Micah 6:8 – He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

Hebrews 12:1 – Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

Isaiah 49:4 – But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.”

And so, I was just shaving, using an old-fashioned boars hair brush, and homemade farmer’s market shaving soap that smells like sandalwood and lavender, listening to Sinatra, and slowing the haste of the world with my breathing. And I thanked God.

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How Geisler Defeated Skepticism

The great apologist, Norman Geisler, was battling the growing philosophy of skepticism back in the mid-sixties, made popular by David Hume over 200 years earlier. Hume’s skepticism regarding truth led other philosophers to follow suit, to expound on his ideals, leading to the pervasive skeptic movement that still exists today in academia. Hume’s assertion was that things were only actually meaningful if, and only if:

  1. The truth claim is of abstract reasoning, such as 2+2=4, or all triangles have three sides;
  2.  the truth claim can be verified by the 5 senses.

According to his book, if it does not have reasoning concerning quantity or number, and it does not contain experimental reasoning, it should be “committed to the flames” as an illusion.

This of course does away with almost everything forensic in nature, not to mention relegating every religious book to usefulness only as fuel for a book burning.

God within philosophy was hard hit, and it opened up avenues for skeptics that are alive and well even now.

We have discussed The Law of Non-Contradiction, a self-evident first principle of philosophy in the previous article linked here. As a review, the law of non-contradiction states that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time, e.g. the two propositions “A is B” and “A is not B” are mutually exclusive.

This Law gives logical ammunition to those who know how to use it as Geisler did, and in a college professor’s class at the University of Detroit in the ’60’s, he did just that. Hume’s philosophy was called ’empirical verifiability’, and was the second chapter of the subject matter being taught during this 14 week course. The professor, a professed atheist, allowed Norman to give his presentation on a chapter. He chose the empirical verifiability chapter.

That morning, the professor said to keep the speech at 20 minutes, so there was room for discussion after. Norm didn’t need that long. He stood up in front of the class, and stated this:

“The principle of empirical verifiability states that there are only two kinds of meaningful propositions: 1. those that are true by definition, and 2. those that are empirically verifiable. Since the principle of empirical verifiability is neither true by definition, nor empirically verifiable, it cannot be meaningful.”

He then sat down, and the class and professor both were silent.

Just like that, Norm had shown concisely, that the principle contradicted itself, and was not internally logical. It was self-defeating. The professor later blamed the train wreck of a semester, and all of its volatility on that one statement.

When we are faced with these world views, notice often that the writer or espouser always wishes to be excluded from his or her own statement. This occurs again with Kant, when he claims that no one can know the real world. In this premise he himself claims to know something about the real world.

We do very much believe in a God of logic, and who is reasonable. There is objective morality, objective truth beyond ourselves, and this should comfort us. Without it, we could not know anything at all. This is not to say we understand everything, for what kind of God would that be if we could comprehend all His glory. But, I dare say, it is more comforting believing in Him, then filling your worldview with doubt. What hope is there in doubt?

 

You Have Two Choices

There are really only two games in town. Both Christian scientists and atheistic scientists agree that the universe had a beginning. I have spoken with post-modernists who offer up alternatives to these two possibilities, such as a past eternal universe, or mere relative understandings of truth. Without getting into the weeds too much, your main theorists and thinkers on both sides reject these ulterior notions based on sound evidence, such as heat death, entropy, and others.

Biblical creationists already have a Genesis account of a beginning, corroborated by Christ, and many writers of scripture, so this news does not pose issue in and of itself.

On the other hand, when scientists discovered that the universe had a beginning, they were not happy.

Physicist Arthur Eddington wrote: “philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant to me… I should like to find a genuine loophole.”

When Einstein discovered that space-time-matter had a beginning, he was quoted as saying the result “irritates me”, due to its theological ramifications. You could surmise that a multi-verse would somehow change the implications, but it does not. Mathematically (since a multi-verse is hypothetical and un-explorable), a theorem that explains a multi-verse, created by Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin and his scientific team, proves that even if one exists, there is a beginning to them all.

Vilenkin, a believer in a multi-verse rather than God says,  “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning (Many Worlds in One [New York: Hill and Wang, 2006], p.176).”

So to the point: the two games in town are

a) The universe created itself, i.e. nothing created something, or

b) A creator outside of time, space, and matter created it. Therefore He is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial.

We have delved into space travel, the Big Bang, and other related topics on this site, but to now bring up an additional bit of information in the realm of philosophy, there is a self-evident principle of causality with which we must contend. In its simplest form, the law of causality simply states that everything has a cause. A house has a cause, yes, but that is an easy one. But I can go pick a leaf off a tree, and determine its cause, or a rock laid down by an ancient flood, and it will have a cause. Now, we may disagree on what the forensic evidence points to as an initial cause, but we will not disagree that said object does indeed have one.

This self-evident first principle of philosophy is there, along with others such as the law of non-contradiction, identity, and so on, to prevent the need for an infinite regression of explanations. In other words, if you have to explain everything, then you will never get to the end of explanations, and truth ceases to exist. This is why we must stop with certain obvious realities, or these first principles.

Of course a common retort is, who caused God then? But being outside of time, space and matter, being infinite, there is no logical reason to need a cause. Like our first principle, He is self-evident, or the un-caused first cause – Aristotle said, the unmoved mover. Hence why He refers to Himself as I AM. There is no “was”,  there is no “will be”. For us yes, but not for Him. Besides, you cannot have a higher god that is “more infinite” than infinite. This also is illogical.

Now, in regards to anything within the forensic sciences, something repeatable, observable, or demonstrable, we are looking for causes at the most basic level. Science is basically the search for knowledge, or search for causes – causality.

Therefore, one must now ask him or herself, do I abandon the law of causality when it comes to origins? This isn’t about age of the universe, or dinosaurs, all which do have answers according to a biblical world view. But simply regarding the beginning of it all, do I base my life on the natural and material sciences only, dismissing all possibility of creation, and force myself to choose a beginning that happened in eons past against the laws of all I claim to hold dear?

The great skeptic and atheist Christopher Hitchens was debating Frank Turek, and equated the Big Bang to a suitcase about to pop open, “and everything that is ever going to be is inside that;  that was the best I could do.” He went on to say, “And I don’t think many people could do, if I say it myself, that much better.” For such a revered and intelligent man, to state that the historical narrative of the Genesis account, in all of its beauty, and mastery, revered for thousands of years, and preserved through the ages doesn’t compare with this suit case analogy is quite telling. But in the end, an avid atheist will always struggle with how to articulate a result with no definable cause, because to repeat the point, both sides agree there was a definitive beginning.

There are only two choices. Einstein knew this. I commend atheists for being consistent in their take on naturalism, but as we view all manner of explanation and mental gymnastics to explain godless possibilities, and then relegate those possible happenings to the far unobservable past, do we not firmly place it in the category of faith? Faith in that there must not be a God.

Both sides, as human beings will try to identify the three basic life questions:

Where did I come from?

Why am I here?

What happens when I die?

The last two questions are bound inexorably to the first. Einstein was right, it can be irritating, since there is a beginning. But if nothing can cause something, or more than that, everything, then we have undone what is self-evident, and have removed meaning from all we observe.

There are only two choices.