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A Troubling Landscape

A survey I read some time ago of 35,000 Americans indicated that large numbers of Christians do not believe that their faith is the only way to heaven. Even among Evangelicals this proved to be true as 57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life. Of course, surveys are notoriously misleading especially when semantics are in doubt. For example, by the word “faith” or “religion” do responders mean various denominations within Christianity who differ on some things yet hold fast to central Christian assertions (e.g., justification by faith in Jesus Christ)? Or are they meaning that Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and African Animistic religions are all different sides of the same egg?

But I suspect that the survey in question wasn’t far off the mark (it’s very efficient as a rule). So if American Christianity has become as convoluted as all that, what does it mean? And does it matter? Rabbi Gary Huber of the Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington (Ohio) says, “Nothing could be more American than the idea that we each forge out our own path” (reported by Meredith Heagney of the Columbus Dispatch in her article “Most Americans believe many religions lead to heaven”, June 23, 2008). Even as Huber lauded open-mindedness and inclusiveness, it occurs to me that we’ve rendered moot the role of faith in the life of Americana if we can’t possess it with any degree of confidence and surety. And as you might suppose, if one has no conviction about what one believes, than the by-products of faith are eroded away as well. There is no anchor, for instance, for morality if it cannot be moored to absolute truth: “right and wrong” will drift anywhere popular opinion takes them.

That same report said that 80% of Americans believe that religion is somewhat important to their lives, but the question arises, “Why?” If it’s merely because religion gives them some encouragement for every day or makes them feel good about themselves, why do they really need religion? Why not get a dog? Or join a coffee club? Or read a Robert Frost poem every night?

Of course, it may be that those who believe that each religion is a different way to God are simply ignorant about the worldviews that they espouse. “The findings can be taken… as disturbing evidence that Americans dismiss or don’t know fundamental teachings of their own faiths,” said Eric Gorski, Associated Press writer (in his article “Believers see more than one way to eternal life”, June 23, 2008).

One can hardly deny that dismissal of a truth that we prefer to ignore does not in any way diminish the fact that it is truth. Nor does ignorance of truth remove its power over one should one step too far beyond the boundaries of safety. If one drinks well water contaminated with lead or C8 or DDT (pick your poison), denying that it is foul water does not alter the fact of its presence nor quell its capacity to harm those who unknowingly drink it. This is no less true of spiritual matters.

And because this is true, men and women everywhere are again and again confronted with the challenge of Elijah on Mount Carmel. “Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him’” (1 Kings 18:21 ESV).

I realize that making claims about the exclusivity of truth is unpopular, but saying that all religions lead to God (aside from not even making sense) is a cop out. Making a commitment to follow truth takes courage and I wonder if folks aren’t just a wee bit cowardly about following God.

Well, I suppose that people can continue in their ambivalence (at least for as long as God continues to tolerate it as He gives us a season of grace in which He extends to people an opportunity to accept His gift of salvation). But truth is truth and if one has placed himself at the feet of that truth, embracing it and discovering as he does so that it has given him the only assurance for eternal life that can be had, then he is not only bound to that truth, but he is bound to share that truth as well. This is why my heart echoes the words of Joshua in Joshua 24:15, “…Choose this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Obviously my hope is that each reader of this article will surrender his or her heart to the love of the God, manifested in His Son’s laying down of His life. I hope that you will consider trusting Him as your Lord and Savior. But, at the very least, don’t play games. If God is God, then follow Him. If you aren’t interested in taking such a “radical” or “close-minded” stance, remember that everyone who sits on the fence is going to be knocked off sooner or later onto one side or the other. Instead, why don’t you “choose this day” to receive Jesus as Lord of your life. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I recall once watching an interview by ABC’s Diane Sawyer of Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist and author of several books including, A Brief History of Time and The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe and being intrigued by the philosophically contradictory statements and problematic assertions that Hawking maintained not only in the interview but consistently throughout his various venues as a past professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, best-selling author, and pop-culture icon for rationalism.

In the interview, for instance, Hawking, who prides himself on his atheism, made the statement that “there is a fundamental difference between religion which is based on authority, (and) science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

On the one hand, I thought it significant that Hawking indirectly acknowledged that there is an ongoing conflict between “religion” and “science”. I do not want to read too many things into his remarks, but taken at face value, his statement clearly voiced a personal conflict that he himself has with the idea of a personal, loving, and all-knowing God (facts notwithstanding). When he said “science will win,” he was saying, “I will win.”

That aside, however, he was simply mistaken in his statement regarding the fundamental difference between religion (by which he may have meant all religions but most certainly meant the Christian religion) and science (by which he seemed to mean a rationalistic perspective which irrationally denies the existence of God, since, rationally speaking, even Hawking cannot disprove it). He said that the difference is that religion is based on authority and science is based on observation and reason.

His fundamental mistake was how he perceived religion (the Christian religion at any rate). It is not based on authority as he claimed, but on something entirely different, something that is actually akin to observation and reason. That something? In a word, it is “revelation”.

 To put it another way, when we profess and are genuinely immersed in the essence of Christianity, we are saying that what is worth knowing and what gives life meaning is derived from what an otherwise unknowable Creator chooses to reveal about Himself.

Some of that revelation is, of course, unveiled in the complexity and sophistication of the world around us. From the sheer immensity of the universe which is still far vaster than our means of observing it can assimilate for us to the incredibly fragile and infinitely intricate facets of life and its life-sustaining environments, we can perceive, should we care to, a mighty (though invisible) hand at work.

But that revelation is fine-tuned so that life here might even more clearly perceive the One Who sent it. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that a God Who takes such care to create a perfectly hospitable home here on earth for life would also want also to communicate with it? Doesn’t reason also tell us that such communication would be a “written record” so that through it the one life form that had been given the ability to comprehend it might also preserve it down through the ages? Of course it is!

Hawking said, “What could define God (is thinking of God) as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of God. They made a human-like Being with Whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.”

But Hawking, in his statement, tipped his hand. He said, “accidental human life”. God’s revelation (His Word) tells us that your life here is not accidental. And once we have that established, the rest of Hawking’s dilemmas are easily resolved.

For if God created you indeed (which the aforementioned fact of the incredibly complex requirements for the sustaining of human life suggests), then it is perfectly logical to assume that He will also reveal Himself in some manner to His creation. And if He has chosen to reveal Himself so that one can observe what He has chosen to reveal, then we can safely assume that He truly does desire a “personal relationship” with us in spite of its seemingly impossibility to Hawking.

Honestly, science cannot “win” because science has not “worked”. While I am grateful to God that He has provided us faculties to see and appreciate the forces at work around us in physics, genetics, medicine, communication technology, and so on, there have been limits to what these things can do, limits to what can be known (apart from revelation), and limits to what can be done with that knowledge.

Our culture is still reeling from the failed promises of “reason” and “science” which, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were assumed to be ready to solve all of humanity’s problems (ranging from curing cancer to humanely solving social evils such as crime, hate, and war). What science has really done is show us that we know far, far less than we thought. The ensuing disillusionment has naturally left our world hopeless and ripe for all manners of confusion and conflict.

Hawking shared with Diane Sawyer his attempts to give benevolent advice to his children. Among his three admonitions he says, “Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.” I think I understand what he means, but it’s a delusional remark nonetheless. At best, work can only give you a feeling of purpose, but the moment you stop and reflect on it you realize that if you really are an “accidental life form”, then nothing you do, say, or contribute means anything at all. Think about it! If Hawking is right, then a day is coming when all you’ve done, said, and contributed will be forgotten. You are a “nobody” dwelling in the midst of a throng of “nobodies”, all about to become “nothing” except inanimate matter that neither knows anything nor cares that it doesn’t know.

But there is a mightier reality at work than can be perceived with our senses or comprehended by our intellects. It is rational after all to not only believe in God, but to seek Him out and trust that as you do so, He will reveal Himself to you. You will find that He has done so through the Person of Jesus Christ. Hawking’s problem with the Christian notion of God is what actually ultimately supports it. An infinitely powerful God not only created you, but in an infinitely awesome act of love, gave Himself through Jesus to you so you could have that “personal relationship” with Him!

“Without faith it is impossible to please (God), for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him…. (and look) to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 11:6, 12:2 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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There are times in many people’s lives when something is said or done that sets for them a course of pain and regret. Perhaps looking back on your life, you see that you have somehow lost your way and are now somewhere in a valley of heartache, a million miles away from where you always dreamed you’d be. Maybe you wonder how you got into the place you are and have sadly resigned yourself to a fate of hopelessness. It could be that there are images engraved in your memory with etchings of sorrow so deep that you shy from remembering, becoming numb to life and the world around you.

If so, you’re definitely not alone. Mistakes in the past often reap a harvest of bitterness and pain. Materially or physically or even socially, things may be so utterly out of hand or are so rapidly heading in the wrong direction that despair has crept into our hearts like a slow, cold poison.

It sometimes appears on the surface that things seem all right, but when one assesses his or her heart’s condition, he or she can discern that things aren’t really so okay after all. As a result, a sense of being trapped takes hold, making one a prisoner of regret, shame, or pride. Relationships have been somehow spoilt and aren’t what they should be and joy stubbornly eludes one’s grasp.

What is one to do then when it seems that there isn’t any going back? Circumstantially speaking, it is true that when once we set in motion a series of events that we must “face the music” so to speak, harvesting the consequences of past decisions, attitudes, or actions. But it is not true that while we have breath on earth that we can so destroy the bridge of relationship with God that we cannot get back to Him!

First consider that no one at all can approach holy God deservedly. The result of our sin and the price to be paid was the giving of a life… which our God accomplished in the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, thinking that you have ongoing access to the Father because of your faithfulness is falling short of the full effect of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Your faithfulness does not bridge your relationship with God. It is the faithfulness of God that opened the bridge in the first place and keeps it open for you.

Your faithfulness simply produces the happy fruit of allowing your heart and life to be filled with the good things of God: joy, peace, purpose, victory, courage, and love. It is because of grace that you can return in repentance and sweet fellowship over and over again with the Lord of glory!

Consider how God’s people, through the ages, wrestled with this time and time again. Hear a prayer of a servant of God interceding for God’s people: “You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the LORD my God. For after I had turned away, I relented, and after I was instructed, I slapped my thigh; I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth.” (Jeremiah 31:18b-19 ESV).

And listen to the Lord’s reply to this prayer: “Is not Ephraim My dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore My heart yearns for Him; I have great compassion for him” (Jeremiah 31:20 NIV).

So if you feel like you’ve wandered far away from God, remember that it is grace through faith only by which you were saved. Recall to your mind that the way is still open to you even if you’ve departed from the path of walking daily with Him.

“Set up road markers for yourself. Make yourself guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road that you take. Return… return…. How long will you waver?” (from Jeremiah 31:21-22b ESV).

When we are called to walk with God, He calls us in spite of all our imperfections and waywardness in order to demonstrate His perfection: His perfect salvation and His perfectly enduring grace that “keeps us” in His love. Know that He knew what He was getting into when He called you to be His child. So if your feet have wandered away, the way back isn’t closed to you after all. You’ll enjoy, like the Prodigal Son, a reuniting that, while you don’t deserve it, awaits you nonetheless (see Luke 15:11-31). To be once again “caught up in the arms” of your loving heavenly Father, you simply have to turn your feet back towards home.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A long gaze backward over the ages that make up the whole of human history can only really result in one conclusion: that man’s heart condition has not changed. No collective human wisdom has prevailed over our inclinations towards destructive behavior nor has our instinct for selfish indulgence seemingly lessened any notable degree.

In the land of plenty, there is still want. In the age of information there is still ignorance. In a time of incredible advances in medicine, death remains inescapable. And in spite of all the leaps made in technology and space exploration, the inner space of our own souls continues to be unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

Because of the various broken promises of hope made by men and institutions throughout the ages, one might be tempted to give way to depression. Because of the uselessness of seeking hope in politics, social reform, better health, biogenetics, astrophysics, literature, philosophy, material possessions, and even self-improvement, one might utterly surrender to the grim grip of despair.

Let’s face it. At the best of times and under the best of circumstances, our world cannot preserve for us such a sure haven of hope and peace that the corruption of human nature cannot in time invade and defeat it. Whether we are speaking of world conflict as nation continues to threaten other nations with wanton slaughter and mass destruction or if we are considering the tsunami of conflict in homes as husbands and wives separate and divorce or children suffer from various forms of neglect and abuse, signs of our collective moral failure surround us and saturate our culture.

Even education cannot cure the curse of man’s struggle with himself and with his neighbors. At best (and I’m being generous), it is only capable of addressing “how” folks can live life; it cannot supply them with the “want to” for the making of choices that address the deepest needs in their lives.

All we have left then, as we wallow in these realizations, is an empty void waiting to be filled with temporary “fixes” in life as people float from one experience to another in their endless quest for meaning and hope.  Hence, our vulnerability to the lure of drugs, sexual indulgence, and false promises of leaders who promise everything, but deliver nothing.

But there is a “filling” that does not fade away and a “fix” (rather, a healing) that does not wither though the years run by and our flesh grows weak.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV).

The hope that is offered to us by God through Jesus is not a silly promise that life is going to be easy and every little whim that we have is going to be met. Neither is it an ethereal concept that can only be talked about and never experienced. Nor is it even some great reward reserved for “ultra-religious” or “super-spiritual” persons that have somehow achieved it through their own righteous works or self-enlightenment.

No, this “living hope” is reserved for anyone who is humble enough to recognize his or her need for it and willingness to shrug off all the old counterfeits that once had been trusted, to embrace the gift of God’s love, no matter how abysmally he or she has failed in the past. It is a hope that recognizes the price that Jesus paid by dying for our sin, yet chooses to also believe that He has risen from the dead, conquering death not only for Himself but for all who place their faith in Him.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV).

So whatever desperate trial surrounds you now, remember that it is for only “a little while” and that the God Who defeated death by raising His Son again in a glorified body that cannot die again, has established for you a destiny greater than any that this world can offer.

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9 ESV).

You do not need to be a slave to despair. You do not need to feel oppressed by ogres of doom and gloom. God’s Word declares for you an eternally enduring hope that survives the upheavals of the world. God Himself invites you to the peaceful surety that He has an inheritance for all who become His children through faith in Christ. And He welcomes you to walk with Him through the years of your life in victory as you believe that He truly has an eternal place of joy and peace “kept in heaven for you”.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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