Compelling Morality

Are Christians better than everyone else? Are they more moral? Are they more likely to do the right thing, the good thing? Are people compelled to believe in God because Christians are moral people? The world may not find the moral performance of Christians to be compelling, but the fact of morality is compelling. The very fact that everyone can come up with an opinion on the above questions points to the existence of God. How so? Let’s take a look.

The Bible teaches that there is a moral lawgiver. Last week we looked at Psalm 19 and how the universe points to the existence of God. Some Bible scholars believe that Psalm 19 is actually two Psalms because there is a sudden shift following verse 6 from speaking of planetary systems to speaking of morality:

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes; Psalms 19:4-8

But is it actually a shift?  We read about the sun following its course in verses 4-6. Though written, of course, from the perspective of the Psalmist standing on earth, we know from scientific discoveries that the planets and the sun are following the laws of physics. God created these laws so there could be a well-functioning, life-permitting-and-sustaining universe. Verse 7 then turns to another kind of law which is given by God for a well-functioning, life-permitting-and-sustaining universe; the moral law. When the sun and the planets follow God’s laws of physics, it works well for everyone. When we follow God’s moral law, life works well for everyone.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if the sun and earth did not follow the laws of physics. It would be catastrophic. We do not get very far into the Bible before we discover what happens when people do not follow the moral law. Had Cain kept to God’s moral law, it would have gone so much better for Abel. It would have gone so much better for Adam and Eve. It would have gone so much better for Cain also! Experience confirms what the Bible teaches; life just does not work well without morals. The vast majority of people know that morals are important and good for the well being of humanity, even if they do not like certain ones. The laws of physics point to a Creator. The laws of morality do also. As Psalm 19 points out, both are part of God’s life sustaining universe.

Philosophy confirms that there is a moral lawgiver. Consider that if we say there is no God, then we can not speak of objective morals existing either. You might not balk at that at first. After all, don’t different cultures have different moral standards? However, do you think there are certain things which would be wrong for all people in every place and time? Is murder on a whim ever okay? Most of us would think not. Either objective morality exists, or morals are just subjective and are determined by social norms and personal preference. Either murder on a whim is truly wrong, or we prefer it not happen so that society can function well. When ancient peoples conducted the practice of “exposing” a child, that is, leaving an unwanted infant to die, was that wrong? If God does not exist, if there is no lawgiver, then it was not objectively wrong. Some atheists are willing to admit that morality is subjective, a matter of preference from society to society, but not too many of us would go that far. If human rights are real, then so too is the existence of God. You can watch a short video that explains all this much better here.

Are Christians better than everyone else? Perhaps not. There are atheists who live very moral lives, and there are Christians who live very immoral lives. However, the very fact people have opinions on the question is compelling evidence that objective morality is real. It is therefore also compelling evidence that God is real. If you find the fact of morality compelling, then so too is God.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here).

Advertisements

A Compelling Cosmos

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

You can imagine the Psalmist looking up to the stars in awe, praising God for all creation. But do the heaven’s still declare the glory of God in our day? Do the skies still proclaim the work of his hands to a people as sophisticated and learned as we are? The heavens would compel the ancients to glorify God as Creator. But are we compelled by them today?

It turns out that the heavens still speak. Philosophers and scientists do the talking, but through the study of “the heavens,” the cosmos, we can learn something about the existence and nature of God.

Let us look to three questions inspired by the heavens. Please note that this is all very introductory.

What is behind the beginning of the universe?

Beginning in the last century a majority of scientists have been won over to the view that our universe had a beginning. While some Christians balked at the “Big Bang” theory, others saw the implications for theology. After all, we people of the Jurdeo-Christian tradition have long been saying that the universe had a beginning. William Lane Craig lays out what he calls the Kalam Cosmological argument in this way:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Further, the cause “must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, and powerful.” Sound like anyone you know? God, as revealed in the Bible, fits this cause of the universe perfectly. But then you might object with “who created God?” Consider the first premise, and then note that God does not begin to exist, therefore we do not need to consider what caused his existence. Again, this is all very introductory, but here is a short video from William Lane Craig which explains it in a much better way.

Why are the conditions just right at the beginning of the universe for it to be life permitting?

Scientists tell us that certain physical constants, like the force of gravity, are so very specific, that if they were just slightly different at the beginning, the universe would not exist as we know it. It would not be life permitting. This is commonly called the Fine Tuning Argument.

Just how specific must these constants be? The web resource godandscience.org quotes Dr. Hugh Ross from his book, The Creator and the Cosmos, on one such constant, the ratio of electrons to protons:

One part in 1037 is such an incredibly sensitive balance that it is hard to visualize. The following analogy might help: Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles . . . Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037. (p. 115)

Did this degree of fine tuning happen by necessity, chance, or by design? Design can be shown to be the most reasonable alternative. I am only scratching the surface, but here is another short video from William Lane Craig to give you a better handle on the fine tuning argument.

Why does anything exist at all?

Looking up to the heavens above on a starry night, we might ask not just how this all began, or how it ended up being so delicately balanced for life, but why is there anything at all? Gottfried Leibniz asked “why is there something rather than nothing?”. He then went on to show how God is the answer. William Lane Craig has formulated Leibniz’s thinking using the following premises:

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. The explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

This can be a tricky one to wrap our minds around, but basically the idea is that the universe is contingent, that is, something else was required for its existence. We experience this in daily life as we see that all things have some cause behind them. There is a computer here in front of me because someone built it, and I bought it. This computer did not need to exist, nor did I have to buy it. Its existence and placement is contingent on many things. However, God exists necessarily. Nothing caused God to exist. The only way a contingent universe could exist is if something which existed necessarily caused it to exist. This is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

Here is one more short video from William Lane Craig to help you better understand the Leibniz contingency argument.

Some observations.

  • Some might wonder why not just read the Bible and not concern ourselves with such philosophical pursuits. However, the Bible itself says “The heavens declare the glory of God,” therefore it is worth hearing what the heavens declare. We do this through science and philosophy.
  • The fact that science and philosophy can be found to be in sync with theology reminds us that we need neither leave our brains at the door of the church, nor leave our faith in the parking lot of the university. This in itself is something compelling about Christianity. Many of us would find an “everything you know from anywhere else is wrong” kind of attitude to be off-putting.
  • Each of these arguments from philosophy and science are not a knock down argument for Christianity on their own. However, they are part of a larger cumulative case for the truth of Christianity which goes well beyond thinking about the cosmos.
  • You may feel like you can’t wrap your head around these arguments. As J. Warner Wallace points out, jurors in murder cases make decisions that affect the future of an individual in drastic ways, yet they don’t need to be experts. The jurors listen to the testimony of expert witnesses and consider all the evidence without becoming experts in any one part.

It is compelling that what was written so long ago in the Bible should provide answers consistent with what is being learned in our day. Christianity provides compelling answers to philosophical questions inspired by the cosmos, but far more than that, it speaks about God who loves! May you have confidence that Christianity is true. May you have confidence that God loves you in Christ!

Compelling Truth

How can you know that anything is true? If Christianity is not true, it is not truly compelling. So if we can’t know anything to be true, how can we be sure Christianity is true?

The idea of truth permeates the arrest of Jesus in John chapter 18. We have Jesus appealing to truth in verses 19-23, Peter denying the truth in verses 25-27,  the religious leaders lying in verses 30-31, and Pilate trying to get to the truth in verses 33-37. This is all capped off with Pilate’s famous words:

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:37-38 (emphasis added)

What was Pilate’s tone of voice when he asked “what is truth?” If you were an actor how would you portray it? Would you make Pilate sound like a philosopher on a quest for knowledge? “Hmmm, an interesting question I would love to spend some time pondering.” Or would you make Pilate sound like a busy man who wanted to get back to his own plans for the day? “What does your version of truth matter when I’ve got so much more to worry about?”

Whichever you would choose, these are two approaches to truth today. There are those who get all philosophical about truth and say “We cannot be sure of anything, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Then there are those who could care less; “It just doesn’t matter, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Are they correct?

Can we know the truth?

How do we know that the entirety of our lives is not just some big dream and we will wake up some day to an entirely different world? How do we know we are not stuck in some sort of matrix kept alive by machines or aliens in state of dreaming as in the Matrix movies? Can we be 100% sure Christianity is true if we cannot be 100% sure anything is true? Can we be certain beyond all possible doubt?

Here’s the thing; we do not live as as if we cannot know anything. We live as people who know stuff! We are never 100% sure of anything before we make decisions. Even Pilate, after he asked “what is truth?”, immediately went to the people to report what he knew to be true:

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. John 18:38

Pilate knew enough to be able to form an opinion and make a decision. This is how we live. I had a scary experience many years ago. The roads were icy and I lost control of my car causing me to be on the wrong side of the road. I did not take the time to ponder if in fact it was all a dream, or that possibly the truck bearing down on me was just a hallucination, or a trick being played on me by aliens. After all, anything is possible. I knew I was in trouble, I made the right decisions and got the car under control again. This is how we live, not knowing things beyond a possible doubt, but knowing them beyond a reasonable doubt. We make decisions all the time, not because we can be 100% certain we are correct, but because it is reasonable to assume that we are.

Now consider that ordinary people experienced the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure about him as I could be sure about my situation in a skidding car. With the exception of Paul and his Damascus road experience, those who experienced Jesus experienced him in the same way they would experience anyone. This is true before Easter, when ordinary people heard his extraordinary teaching and witnessed his extraordinary miracles in ordinary ways. This is also true following Easter when people saw Jesus alive again. Yes, he was even more extraordinary that before, but again, ordinary people were experiencing his extraordinary presence in normal ways. They were not having visions or dreams, they were living life, but there was Jesus in front of them. They could see him and touch him. They knew him to be real, just as they would know anything to be real:

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. 1 John 1:1-4 (emphasis added)

All those who saw Jesus risen from the dead were ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure of him as they could be sure of anything. Sure you can always say “it was possible that the risen Jesus was actually an alien imposter,” for anything is possible. But we don’t live that way. Neither did people 2000 years ago. They knew beyond a reasonable doubt that this was the risen Jesus. The truth of Christianity continues to be beyond a reasonable doubt in our day. We will be looking at some reasons to think so in the weeks to come.

So can we know anything? Yes, we reasonably know things to be true, but . . .

Does truth matter?

We live as if truth matters, a lot. Back to my scary experience in the car. I knew that moment could have changed my life for the rest of my days, if I had any more days left in this life. Reality matters! What is true with respect to Jesus matters incredibly. Grasping the reality of Jesus is not the same as forming an opinion on whether Coke is a better cola than Pepsi, or whether the Boston Bruins are a better team than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is more like grasping the reality of a truck bearing down on you. It impacts every moment of your future. Why do people often live as if truth matters, but when it comes to spiritual things, it suddenly does not? You could say it matters more! Truth matters and spiritual truths matter, a lot.

Why has truth been challenged in our day? 

Deceit and deception are at the heart of the Fall as described in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve were deceived, and in that deception sinned creating a wedge between themselves and God. There are deceptions today which keep that wedge in place. For example, that knowing truth is impossible or does not matter. Deceit and deception also run through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate was being deceived by the ones who wanted Jesus dead. Pilate was not totally deceived by them, knowing that Jesus was innocent of their accusations. However, he failed to recognize that the deception mattered. He thought his relationship with the people under his charge was more important the his relationship with the one now under his judgement, the One under whose charge he himself was.

Ironically, while the crucifixion of Jesus happened because of failure to apprehend the truth, it is a clear window into the truth, that

. . . God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:8-10

Deception ran through the Fall. Deception ran through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t let deception run through your life! God is love. That is a truth which can be known and which matters more than anything!

(All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast here).