Saturday, August 28, 2010

BURIED TREASURE

In the year 2000 a builder friend in Scotland was commissioned to construct a millennium cairn for a small town. The villagers placed a time capsule inside this finely crafted stone memorial marker before it was sealed. I don’t know what’s in the capsule, but if it were opened in, say, a few hundred years from now, would posterity find anything of real and lasting value in it? Perhaps, there’s a small sample of currency in it. However, we tend not to think of time capsules as buried treasure; just ask Long John Silver. Yet one is reminded of the old adage ‘One man’s trash is another’s treasure’.

There was a buried treasure of sorts discovered during the rebuilding of King Solomon’s Temple in 621 BC. It was ‘the Book of the Law’. Some scholars believe that this Book, (also known as ‘the Book of the Covenant’) was the complete Pentateuch, i.e., the first five books of the Bible. Very possibly it was the original written by Moses’ own hand some seven or more hundred years before. How much would something like this fetch today? But let’s not get too carried away. The reality was that those who found the Book became far more interested in its inner contents than its outer casing. The Pentateuch contains not only God’s Moral Law for all mankind, but also, for example, the History of Creation and the Fall of Mankind, not forgetting the Gospel Promise of Salvation.

It excites the Christian when he reflects on the fact that this Book rescued that society at that time from its state of moral corruption. They looked again to God and re-implemented His teaching as laid out in the Pentateuch. This teaching is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments; summed up again in that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and our neighbour as ourselves.

Now, as Christians we know that the Old Testament Temple beautifully represented Jesus Christ who was the Promised Messiah to come. He is the true Temple of God. He said of His own body, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days’. His ‘Temple’ was destroyed on a cross but was rebuilt in the miracle of His resurrection. Hence it’s in the destruction and rebuilding of Christ our Temple that we discover the ‘buried treasure’ of everlasting life. And it’s in Him that we rediscover God’s Law and re-implement it in our lives with the knowledge that it all is completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. For Jesus is our ‘Book of the Covenant’, God’s new covenant (e.g., Isaiah 42:6).

Also, we discover that we too are being rebuilt as part of ‘the Temple of God’ on account of His Spirit who indwells us (1 Cor. 3:17). And finally in the temple of our body, we discover that His new covenant law has been written upon our hearts (e.g., Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12; 10:16).

Therefore I believe that every time capsule ought to contain the Holy Bible so that future generations might continue discovering the buried treasure found only in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A QUESTION OF MORALS

If we live in a world with no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, a world of nothing but blind, pitiless indifference then whence come morals? How do we account for the individual conscience that either accuses or excuses us? There is also a collective conscience in which whole nations have a guilty conscience (such as Germany after WWII).

According to the Bible God created man from the beginning as a free moral agent, held accountable to God for his all actions good or evil. Man rebelled against God and is still in a state of rebellion, and as such, as a whole, has some notion of guilt, with a collective fear of its own death –attested to by an inherent desire to preserve the species. To be sure the Nazis wished to preserve only that portion of humanity that it deemed to be its purest form, in which eugenics plays a major role.

That morals exist among humanity is attested to by the judiciary systems society puts in place. Think of the post war Nuremberg Trials. Indeed, Western civilization has been built upon the revelation of God, i.e., the Moral Law also known as the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue. Each of these Commandments has been and still is applied contemporarily by Western societies to a greater or lesser extent. The collective term for this is the ‘Judeo-Christian ethic,’ meaning simply that Western morality is Biblical morality. The struggle in the West is to keep on holding justice and mercy in equal tension.

Western morality therefore comes from the whole Bible which teaches that each human being is to love God and his neighbour as himself. To do so is good. Not to do so is evil. As individuals our own conscience attests that we do not love God and our neighbour as we ought. We are guilty of being and acting evil, i.e., of acting immorally as individuals. The carnage of human history attests that collective humanity is evil, and acts immorally collectively.

However, the anti-Christian representative neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins, for example, using Darwinian presuppositions takes a stab at trying to explain how morals have come about in a world in which according to him and his ilk there is no good or evil. He spends a chapter trying to do this in his book (with the immoral title!) The God Delusion. After going on at length, Dawkins comes up with four Darwinian reasons for morality,

"We now have four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other. First, there is the special case of genetic kinship. Second, there is reciprocation: the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback. Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness. And fourth, if Zahavi is right, there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising."

Dawkins here does indeed lend credence to the Biblical teaching that the tendency of fallen man is towards selfishness! Regarding a chapter of The God Delusion Dawkins says,

"The next chapter will demonstrate that, in any case, people who claim to derive their morals from scripture do not really do in practice. And a very good thing too, as they themselves, on reflection, should agree."

Dawkins here succeeds in demonstrating that the Bible is indeed accurate in its description of the immoral things fallen men get up to. The Bible records these, warts and all! In the chapter referred to, Dawkins also demonstrates that he is lousy exegete of Scripture! In the following we see something of Dawkins’ view of Scripture, predictably aligning himself with Shelby Spong, a notorious non-Christian who, for some reason, likes to dress himself up in what he considers to be ecclesiastical garb!

"There are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals or rules for living. One is by direct instruction, for example through the Ten Commandments, which are the subject of such bitter contention in the culture wars of America’s boondocks. The other is by example: God, or some other biblical character, might serve as – to use the contemporary jargon – a role model. Both scriptural routes, if followed through religiously (the adverb is used in its metaphoric sense but with an eye to its origin), encourage a system of morals which any civilized modern person, whether religious or not would find – I can put it no more gently – obnoxious.
"To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other spanning nine centuries. This may explain some of the sheer strangeness of the Bible. But unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living. Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it, as Bishop John Shelby Spong, in The Sins of Scripture, rightly observed. Bishop Spong, by the way, is a nice example of a liberal bishop whose beliefs are so advanced as to be almost unrecognisable to the majority of those who call themselves Christians."

Needless to say, Dawkins here is wrong on his view of Scripture and its origins. However he is correct when he says that the beliefs of John Shelby Spong are unrecognisable to Christianity. Dawkins believes that the Bible is at times weird and at other times evil. This coming from a man who denies that there is any evil in the world!

Christopher Hitchens, a fellow Atheist with Dawkins, complains, as does Dawkins, about some of the "hate-mail" they receive. No doubt Charles Darwin would have received his own share of unhappy correspondence after he published his Origin of the Species. In our present fallen condition human beings are not always gracious when they disagree with one another. Some even take "pot-shots. Says John Calvin, a humble Christian,

"I have lived amidst extraordinary struggles here; I have been saluted in mockery at night, before my door, by fifty or sixty shots from arquebuses. Think how that would terrify a poor timid scholar such as I am."

Another Christian, a man by the name of David Robertson read The God Delusion and responded by writing a series of albeit firm but certainly peaceful letters to Dawkins, which he subsequently published in the form of a book in which Robertson states the following,

"Your absolute Darwinian philosophy cannot logically and consistently argue for morality because, to put it bluntly, there is no good or evil. As you so brilliantly describe in The Blind Watchmaker: ‘In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. That then is the atheist basis of morality – no justice, no rhyme nor reason, no purpose, no evil, no good, just blind pitiless indifference. It is little wonder that atheist philosophers have been desperately hunting round to try and establish some basis for a godless morality. Despite the best efforts of atheistic philosophers such as Peter Singer, Princeton Professor of Bioethics and a leading atheist polemicist, this basis is severely lacking, being little more than a utilitarian ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ without ever defining what ‘good’ is.

"I think you recognise that this is the Achilles heel of atheism and so you go on the attack – ridiculing Christian morality. It has to be admitted that there are many things that have been done in the name of religion, including Christianity, which are inexcusable and that the behaviour of many professing Christians leaves a great deal to be desired. However, you should be careful before denouncing the whole of Christianity on the basis of the behaviour of those who are Christians and fail to be perfect, or of those who, whilst claiming the label Christian, have no more faith than yourself.
"Your major case against Christian morality is the Bible itself."

It is worth quoting Robertson further as he corrects some misconceptions of Christianity as portrayed and propagated by the likes of Dawkins.

"The Christian view of morality is not, as most people suppose, that the Bible gives us a set of laws to live by. Real Christians are not moralists – thinking that if only we offer a reward here, a bit of punishment there, then ‘decent’ human beings will behave better and somehow earn their own stairway to heaven. We know that we can neither legislate nor use religion to make us good. Real Christians realise that the Bible’s teaching is that there is an absolute morality – from which we all fall short. And no amount of religion, good works or pious acts will ever be able to make us right. That is where grace, salvation, the cross and all the wonderful truths of the acts of God in Christ come into their own. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. That is why the Gospel is Good News. Not because it gives me a set of laws to live by, or religious rites to perform, but because it deals with the biggest problem in the world – the problem of the human heart. It is for that reason that every year I religiously watch Schindler’s List to remind me of why I am a minister of the Christian Gospel. I don’t just want to explain the Darkness. I want to defeat it."

Justice tempered with mercy is the teaching of the Bible. It is the teaching of Christianity. It is what helps halt somewhat the evil that resides in our hearts. God’s Law is what tamed the West! It is what made Western Civilization civilized! God’s Ten Commandments demonstrate that we are evil – in that we do not keep them! They also are for restraining evil in society. And they are the rule of gratitude for those who wish to demonstrate their love for God and their neighbour on account of God’s grace to them by forgiving them on account of Jesus Christ and His works.