Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Iraqi Elections 

DarkSyde and I, who could disagree about whether the sun rises in the east or not (He's wrong, BTW, got no epistemological basis for saying it does), have found something to agree on.
I'd like to ask a favor: Regardless of one's political inclination, irrespective of your confidence in the electoral process employed, or the decision to invade and occupy Iraq, no matter what the outcome, let us all stand united in our admiration for those courageous Iraqi's who will brave gunfire, RPGs, bombs, and reprisal, to determine their own fate? For they choose to do so in bold defiance of promised violence and certain intimidation.

I absolutely agree. And he's written a fine article on the subject.

One criticism I have heard frequently from the left is that you can't create a democracy with bombs. And on that score, they're correct. But we did give them an opportunity to do so. Whatever all the possible pros and cons of going to war; whatever all the positive or negative consequences this war has for us or for the War on Terror or for our European alliances or for the Middle East; whatever all the moral ramifications of the choices we made; the Iraqis now have a chance to create a democracy for themselves, and it is truly only they who can do so.

I am optimistic. Real progress has been made in Afghanistan, who for all the problems that remain there, have had a real election. Even the Palestinians had an election. It would be an act of courage and hope for an Iraqi to go out into the streets tomorrow and risk death in order to try to create something more hopeful, more free, than has been present in that sad corner of the world for a long time. I am hoping that this last year of insurgency and violence has taught the Iraqis that the Jihadists and Islamists do not have their good in mind, but rather desire to bring them back into the brutal slavery they have endured for so long. Opinion seems to be divided on how positively the Iraqis view us. But that's not all that important to me in the long run. The main question is, how do they view themselves?

If it fails, it will be because people let their hatred of the other overwhelm their desire for the good of all; and as ultimately irrational as such an impulse is, it has destroyed many societies before.

I'll add one thing I know DS wouldn't agree with: May God bless them, and may He work His will in that place, giving them peace and a chance to build a nation that is safe and free.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Something Must be Done 

I was reading a couple of articles on overpopulation, linked from Instapundit. One of them makes a fascinating suggestion:
Governments must also relieve parents from having to pay into social security systems. By raising and educating their children, parents have already contributed hugely (in the form of human capital) to these systems. The cost of their contribution, in both direct expenses and forgone wages, is often measured in the millions. Requiring parents also then to contribute to payroll taxes is not only unfair, but imprudent for societies that are already consuming more human capital than they produce.

I feel this very strongly right now, having just filed my taxes. As a self-employed person, I pay all of my own Social Security taxes, whereas most workers have the true cost of those taxes hidden because the government forces employer to pay half of those taxes (But of course the workers pay those taxes as well whether they realize it or not). At the same time, my wife stays home to raise productive members of society, at high cost to us, who will go a long way toward making up the "baby deficit" from others who have no kids, occasionally by necessity but mostly by choice.

Throughout history, younger workers have paid for the retirement of older workers. Previously, those younger workers were the children of the older workers they were supporting. This gave those older workers tremendous incentives to bear children and train them to be productive members of society. Now the system works on a society-wide basis instead of on an individual basis. That is to say, all of the nation's younger workers are paying for the support of all of the nation's older workers. When we changed that system from working on an individual basis to working on a society-wide basis, we created tremendous moral hazard. We created the opportunity for many to benefit tremendously at relatively little cost. Just like it used to be the case that wealthy, more productive people gave charity to the poor, but on an individual voluntary basis; now they do it on a society-wide, compulsory basis.

This has been the pattern of the welfare state, to take actions that used to occur on an individual basis and nationalize them; and actions that used to occur voluntarily and make them mandatory. And the result has been moral hazard. With no accountability to the individuals providing the support, many many millions abuse the system, profiting from it while giving almost nothing back. And it is disproportionately falling on the backs of those who produce the most. Of course, this is why those who support such a governmental system must constantly castigate and attack those most productive people as greedy and selfish, so that the rest of society will continue to vote to rob them.

So often, in so many ways, rich cultures use their wealth to break the causal chain between one's actions and the effects of those actions, thinking we create a better society by doing so. But reality always catches up. It's just that if you dodge reality for long enough, when she finally catches up to you, she's really mad, and by then is carrying quite a bill for you to pay. Anyone who doesn't think Social Security is just completely busted should come take a look at my tax return.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Morals without God? 

That's a simple subject to take on in a blog post, right?

Richard at Philosophy, etc. has posted a thoughtful response to some thoughts I had in my recent interaction with DarkSyde. Richard is concerned to try to establish some objective basis for morality other than religious beliefs, and I applaud him for at least recognizing the dilemma and trying to come to some conclusions. I believe his conclusions to be inadequate, but I'm sure that's hardly surprising that we would disagree, him being an atheist and me being a theist.

Richard first of all questions my assertion that the existence of a soul renders men equal:
As I understand the rest of his post, Matt seems to be asking for some ability or descriptive/substantive attribute that all people have in equal proportions. But people vary according to just about any measure one might care to imagine. So he suggests we all have equal 'souls'. I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. Perhaps the 'soul' is our innermost self; the part of us that makes difficult decisions, engages in moral deliberation, etc.? If that's the case, then it just doesn't seem true that our souls are any more 'equal' (in the descriptive sense Matt is after) than the rest of us. Just like some people are faster runners than others, so some make better decisions, are more morally developed, and so forth. So if 'soul' means anything like what I suggested above, it cannot do the work Matt demands from it. (And if it doesn't mean this, then I'm not sure it means anything substantive.)

The Christian concept of the soul is something a good deal more than what Richard suggests, although it certainly means at least that. Our soul is what separates us from the animals. Its mere existence in us is what determines our equality. The fact that I can reason; that I can make moral decisions; and that I can do all the other things that no mere animal can even approximate, demonstrates that I bear the divine stamp on me, and it is on the basis of that divine stamp that I am declared equal. Not because that image of God is equally regarded by others or equally present in all, but because God has commanded that His image be regarded, and that all human beings therefore are regarded as morally equal.

Richard talks about this concept of moral equality, and does a clear job of defining it:
But of course, when we talk about people being 'created equal', we're not talking about any such descriptive equality. Rather, it is meant as an affirmation of moral equality. This might be best understood not as a substantive property possessed by others, but rather a claim about how we ought to treat them. Everyone is (prima facie) worthy of equal consideration. It would be wrong to discount someone else's interests just because they're of a different race or religion from you. More succinctly: all count in the moral calculus.

Although very abstract, I think it's a simple enough concept for any moral agent to understand. It's not about how fast we can run, how rationally we can think, or any other ability or descriptive property we may possess. It doesn't require that we have some internal organ that is literally identical or 'equal' to our neighbour's one. So it doesn't require God-given 'souls' - indeed, it doesn't require religion at all. It's simply about morality, and how we ought to treat others.

But again, that fails to answer the central question, which is why we ought to treat others that way? My assertion is that in a world in which there is no ultimate authority to say "Thus says the Lord", there is ultimately no basis on which to make such a statement.

To his credit, Richard has written a post which also seeks to address this issue head-on, here. I read it as central to his thesis that moral value, like other values, may be relative, but that doesn't mean they're pure matters of opinion. For example, "up" and "down" are relative matters, but that doesn't mean that it is a matter of opinion whether Everest is higher than Pikes Peak (I hope I'm understanding you right here, Richard). Given a particular value, there are defininte and fixed ways of achieving that value. But he is still a relativist insofar as he says that those values don't come from anywhere outside of me- there are no "mind-independent" values.

Richard then defines moral values as those which address not the individual perspective of one person, but that of humanity as a whole. If you are choosing to pursue moral values, this means that you choose to do things in such a way as will benefit all of mankind, not just yourself. So it's relative, in the sense that which values you choose to pursue are entirely up to you, but it's objective, insofar as once you have made that decision, there are choices which will definitely advance that objective and others that will detract from it.

It's a well-thought out position. But there seem to be some serious difficulties with it, nonetheless.

1. Richard has still not established why anyone should be asked to consider the point of view of all mankind, instead of just his own well-being. Perhaps he would say that nobody needs to, it's just a choice you make. But that fails to answer the reality of why we feel the way we do about people who fail to consider the viewpoint of humanity. I don't feel outrage when someone does not do things for my benefit. I don't expect the butcher to give me the meat for free. But when someone acts in such a way as to hurt all mankind (or all of mankind that he's able to hurt) for his benefit, I feel outrage at that, and pretty much everyone else does too. Where does this compulsion to hold myself and others responsible to consider the wider welfare come from?

2. This view of morality cannot avoid the dilemma of minority rights. If it simply is the welfare of the many over the welfare of the few, doesn't that imply that it would therefore be moral to take away the rights or well-being of a few if many would profit by it? It's hard to see how you would avoid things like eugenics with such a moral system.

Richard certainly faces the problem squarely, and has clearly done a lot of thinking about it. I think his formulations fail, but not for lack of trying. They fail because morality without the author of morality really is an unsolvable dilemma.

Phony Spiritualism 

I've spent my whole life in Reformed circles, and serious and sedate ones at that, apart from a little time with Inter Varsity in college. And I'd read some things and heard some things about the dismal state of the church today and especially a lot of the outright fraud, stage magician stuff that goes on, but whenever I'd hear so many in Christianity dismissed as charlatans, my reaction very often would be charitable. I'd say, well, they mean well. We have some different views, but to judge them as out-and-out liars and bunko artists? Well, that's a little harsh, isn't it?

But I just now stumbled across this post at Feeble Knees. Read the one from Messy Christian that Feeble Knees links to as well. Just anecdotal, I know. But it confirms much of what I'd heard in my life, from those who warned me in my childhood of the importance of doctrine, and the importance of judging things by the Scriptures. I remember being confronted once by someone questioning my skepticism and saying, How can you question the experience of so many of your Christian brothers and sisters around the world? And the voice of my father came up in my mind, and I said, "I build my theology on the Bible, not on stories." Facile, I know, but how many seem to have forgotten it.

These posts remind me of just how many have forgotten the principle of judging all by God's word, and not the word of any man or any experience. Lies dressed up in Christian Spiritual garb are still lies. Lies that make us feel closer to God are still lies. Only the truth can set us free.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Reading for Pleasure 

This was a good idea. A resolution I have kept, and enjoyed keeping.

I've picked up a number of books that people have suggested, including book five of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Wolves of the Calla. I'm about halfway through, and for Stephen King readers, you know that means I've already burned through about five hundred pages. I almost forgot what it's like to read something you can't put down. Non-fiction never does that. There are of course a lot of books I've really enjoyed, but any non-fiction gets me tired after twenty or thirty pages at a stretch. But a really good story- Like I said, I'd almost forgotten.

I think Stephen King is a fantastic storyteller, and the funny thing is that despite the fact that he's known as a horror writer, most of his best stuff is not horror. I think his best stuff of all is the Gunslinger series, and thank you brother Josh for reminding me to finish it. Josh told me he thought it was good for people to branch out, read lots of different kinds of things, keep the old synapses firing in new and interesting ways. I think he's right, and I think that was kind of the feeling that led me to make the resolution. It's nice to get a break from theology, counseling books and blog articles on the war. Really nice.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

God Says So 

In response to my previous post, DarkSyde has posted another article on UTI on the question of morality and revelation. In that article, he attacks the premise that I have attempted to bring to bear against him on a number of occasions, the premise that all morality must be based on revelation.
The premise, even if true, is of questionable value in determining what is 'right' and what is 'wrong' in gray areas ... unless the deity gets off its ass and speaks up, eh? Otherwise, perception of right V wrong winds up depending on where you're standing. And BTW, we need to be able to do more than just interview the deity for answers. We need to test it continuously to make sure it's really what it claims it is. We don't want just any sleazy, lowlife, land-squid from Vega 3, sneaking onto the earth behind a dazzling array of hi-tech gadgetry, and fooling the primitive humans into thinking it's God by way of a Cosmic version of the Wizard-of-Oz con, do we?

But I am saying "God says so" does not give us anything in the way of absolute morality, let alone an absolute code of anything else. Because it's not "God says so", it's "I claim God says so" and those two items are not even close to the same thing. Religion is flexible enough that it can be used to justify or condemn damn near anything. It has been so used and continues to be.

He is of course exactly correct. “I claim God says so” is not an authoritative statement at all, and “God says so” is no more authoritative a statement of itself. If God did not actually say so then my claiming that He did does not affect anything other than perhaps my own credibility.

But DS is in the first place not addressing my original challenge, which is the question of how any statement at all can be made about right and wrong, if it’s not based on some authority to make such statements? How can any standard of better or worse be derived in a universe made up purely of material? If everything just “is”, how can we talk about what “ought” to be?

DS frequently compares the acquisition of moral perspectives to the acquisition of language, but that still doesn’t tell me what morals are. And we don’t send people to jail for bad grammar.

But there’s another aspect of DS’ claim that I am most interested in addressing here, and that is the “God says so” question, the revelation claim. The point of DS’ statement is that if God is the determiner of right and wrong, then wouldn’t he have told us very clearly and repeatedly what right and wrong is?

And I am absolutely sure that DS would know my answer to that question, but here it is anyway- He has. But what kind of message would you expect? Fifty foot high letters of fire on a mountain somewhere?

In the first place, sometimes people attacking Christianity will point out that the moral code prescribed by Christianity is very similar to that prescribed by most other religions, and they’re right. Jesus’ Golden Rule looks a lot like Confucian ethics and like the Kantian categorical imperative. This is the basic rule that every mother teaches her child – when your son pushes someone over on the playground, you say to him, “Now, would you like it if someone pushed you over?” As I expound in more detail here, rather than any kind of assault on Christianity, this should instead be seen as justifying it. The Bible teaches us that it is God that has implanted our moral character in us and therefore the moral code that we all hold is substantially the same. This is a constant testimony to us of God’s will for our lives. So if you were going to expect a deity to give His creation an understanding of right and wrong, what more effective way is there than to hardwire that sense right into people?

We express this understanding whenever we express revulsion at someone who violates this moral code. Everyone, even an atheist, is disgusted at the murder of a child. Why is that? Why do different people with radically different philosophies still feel the same revulsion at crimes against the innocent? Why do such different people feel the exact same indignation at crimes against themselves? If ethics are derived from philosophy, then our ethics ought to be very different when we hold such radically different philosophies. But I have never heard an atheist just shrug his shoulders and say “well, that’s survival of the fittest, I guess” when he gets mugged. So God has spoken, and he’s spoken undeniably and clearly and in a message that is far more compelling than anything He could have written or spoke verbally. We have His holiness written throughout our very being.

Further, if you’re looking for a verbal revelation, again we have to start with the question, what would you expect? What standards would such a revelation have to have?

It would have to be clear.
It would have to be detailed.
It would have to be understandable to us humans in the context of what we humans go through.
It would have to tell us humans what God has done in the past, what He’s doing now and what He will do in the future.
It would have to be preserved without error throughout history for all mankind to see.
It would have to be obviously the word of God, so that it contains within itself the proof that it was in fact the word of God.

This is precisely our doctrine of Scripture. DarkSyde would argue with me about many of these points, no doubt. I never said that everyone would agree that the Bible is what it is, and the Bible itself recognizes that many will refuse to hear it. But if human beings have any measure of freedom, then it must follow that some will refuse to hear. If they have no measure of freedom, then there’s no point in the whole thing anyway.

But if it’s posited as a flaw in my moral philosophy that there is no undisputable revelation from God regarding right and wrong, then it must be accepted as an answer to that flaw when not just one but two such revelations can be produced. The atheist may choose not to accept those revelations as valid, but he could say that about anything. And he still hasn’t answered the question of where his own rock-solid moral convictions come from, which in their basic elements are the same as everyone else’s, if we are all just purely physical products of a blind natural process.

So it’s true, that the statement “I claim God says so” is not authoritative, and neither is the statement “God says so”, since the second claim is really substantially the same as the first. I claim no authority based on either of those statements. If I tell my congregation “God says so”, and they look up in the Bible and discover that God has not said so, they can and will tell me that I am wrong.

But if God has actually said so, then it is an authoritative statement, and all are bound to listen. This is the question before us- has God actually said so? And if there is no God to say so, then there is no good or evil, no right or wrong, and DarkSyde will have to just accept it if someone knocks him down and takes his money some day. It's just survival of the fittest.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Playing it Both Ways 

DarkSyde, from Unscrewing the Inscrutable, has posted a really interesting post today. It starts with the famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."- I have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Why is this interesting? Well, it’s interesting because DarkSyde is an atheist. I know this because it’s practically all he ever talks about. I know that he likes Pink Floyd, because of his net handle, but otherwise, I know he’s an atheist. Here’s a fun quote to support my characterization:
I too, have a dream, a vision of mankind's destiny. I dream that one day we will throw off the last vestigial illusions of supernatural beings meddling with humanity, and that we will take full responsibility for our own future. No longer will we helplessly huddle in the cave from the lightning Gods and the spirits of wind and rain. No more will we rely on the peculiarities of imagined invisible deities for direction, nor look desperately to miraculous salvation which will never come. We are embedded, for better or for worse, in a physical universe unimpressed and unaffected with the ancient rites of a bronze aged near east mythology. This supernatural artifice of our cultural childhood must be discarded, if we are to attain true liberty and cultivate a desirous future.

He didn’t post the MLK quote in order to fisk it. No, he posted it in order to praise it, and use it as a jumping off point for his own statements.

DarkSyde thinks racism is bad. I do too. But I think it’s bad for precisely the same reasons that MLK thought it was bad- because it was a self-evident truth that all men are created equal.

That “created” part is kind of an important part of the statement. MLK’s belief in God was kind of an important part of his belief system. Without his belief in God, MLK’s beliefs in equality cannot be understood. It is precisely his “imagined invisible deities” and “supernatural artifice” that provide the foundation for MLK’s dream. Therefore, the quote is a little bit problematic for a jumping off point for an anti-religious rant.

Some people think that “self-evident” means “obvious”, which it doesn’t. “Self-evident” means that the idea is self-attesting, or carries its truth within itself, without the need for external proof. But to an atheist, nothing can be self-evident. Everything must be tested, proved, disproved, doubted, suspected, and only very carefully and tentatively accepted. This is because there is no authoritative revelation. The atheist can trust only his own senses and reasoning, and these are notoriously unreliable. If something is “self-evident”, it is a matter of faith. So nothing can be self-evident to the atheist.

In particular, how could it be “self-evident” to the atheist that all men are created equal, when the atheist does not believe that all men are created at all? He does not believe in God, so how could man be said to be created? The best DS could agree with is the statement, “We believe these truths to most likely be correct, that all men are equal.”

But then what is the basis for believing that truth, that equality is something that can be predicated of all men? Our equality is not based on genetics, is it? If so, if someone could prove to DarkSyde that, say, Polish people were genetically inferior to Chinese, would DarkSyde then accept that all people were in fact not equal?

All men are not obviously equal. Some are poor, some are rich. Some are strong or smart or beautiful, and some are weak and stupid and ugly. Some people are born with terrible deficiencies that make rational thought practically impossible for such a person and likely curtails their lifespan quite a bit. Some people have tremendous political power, so that they can command the deaths of thousands at a whim. Some, on the other hand, will be one of those thousands.

Intelligence? Not equal. Power? Not equal. Strength? Beauty? Goodness? Independence, either in a political or biological sense? Not equal.

There is simply no criteria that science can establish by which people can be regarded as equal. If DarkSyde then claims to agree with MLK’s statement, which of course is from our Declaration of Independence, on what basis does he judge that claim? On what basis does he believe that men are in fact equal? What characteristic of man, which must override all other characteristics, is equal in its degree in every single instance of the species “human”? (and by the way, at what point in the womb of their mother does such an instance attain that magic predication of equality, DS?)

Within an evolutionary context, there seems to be no basis at all for the absolute adherence to the creed that racism is bad. If different segments of human beings were largely separated from each other for a period of time, why is it difficult to believe that some races developed more quickly than others? The worst you could say is that racism is a flawed scientific concept, but why should it be castigated as evil?

In MLK’s cosmology, and in mine, all men are equal because all men have souls created in the image of God. That is our source of equality. Take away the soul, and the equality is gone.

So I will ask you, DarkSyde- on what basis do you believe men to be equal? And what scientific evidence could I provide you with to prove to you that different races of people might in fact be unequal?

If there is no scientific evidence that I could provide you with to make that case, then that sounds a lot like religion to me.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Theophilus on Armstrong Williams 

I haven't been following the Armstrong Williams deal very closely. But I know that he is accused of promoting the "No Child Left Behind" act in exchange for undisclosed money from the Education Department. It seems like a pretty indefensible thing to do.

Theophilus agrees, and he's done a lot more thinking than I have about it.
All this week, I've read and listened to various tortured attempts to defend the indefensible -- in this case, Armstrong Williams and his deal with the Education Department to shill for the No Child Left Behind Act in his columns, for money, without feeling the need to tell anyone he was doing it. Some defenses have been more tortured than others, but just about all of them have logic, reason and common sense up there on the rack and are pulling on the wheel.

Well said.

Aiding and Abetting the Enemy 

Here’s a great article, via Powerline, by a lieutenant colonel in the Army in Iraq. He accuses the press of aiding and abetting the enemy, and he makes a great case.

An excerpt:
As a recent example, the operation in Fallujah delivered an absolutely devastating blow to the insurgency. Though much smaller in scope, clearing Fallujah of insurgents arguably could equate to the Allies' breakout from the hedgerows in France during World War II. In both cases, our troops overcame a well-prepared and solidly entrenched enemy and began what could be the latter's last stand. In Fallujah, the enemy death toll has already exceeded 1,500 and still is climbing. Put one in the win column for the good guys, right? Wrong. As soon as there was nothing negative to report about Fallujah, the media shifted its focus to other parts of the country. Just yesterday, a major news agency's website lead read: "Suicide Bomber Kills Six in Baghdad" and "Seven Marines Die in Iraq Clashes." True, yes. Comprehensive, no. Did the author of this article bother to mention that Coalition troops killed 50 or so terrorists while incurring those seven losses? Of course not. Nor was there any mention about the substantial progress these offensive operations continue to achieve in defeating the insurgents. Unfortunately, this sort of incomplete reporting has become the norm for the media, whose poor job of presenting a complete picture of what is going on in Iraq borders on being criminal.

It's long, but well worth your time.

Friday, January 14, 2005

This Earth 

Yesterday I was in a bank depositing some checks, and the teller saw that one of the checks was from Providence Reformed Church. So he asked me about that, and I told him about it, and that I was a pastor. He said he was too.

"Oh, really?" I said. "Yes. Well, I might as well be, anyway. I'm involved in ministry at Calvary Chapel".

Might as well be. I just let that pass.

"Calvary Chapel? Over near Austin Bluffs, right? They're the ones who meet in that big building, that used to be a sporting goods store, right?" I said.

"Yes," he replied. "God has really blessed us. We started with 75 people and now we have about 4000. Like New Life."

Something about this conversation really didn't sit right with me.

This morning at breakfast we read this in Ecclesiastes 9:
2 All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath.
3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

I think the point that the Preacher is making is that you cannot look to events on this earth to discover God's plan for anything. From the perspective of this earth, it's all madness and vanity. We tell ourselves that we should ask God for our daily bread, and yet we get no more of that bread than those who do not pray. We ask God for health, and we die at the same rate as unbelievers. If there is any difference in the lifespan of religious and non-religious people, attributing it to God's active intervention seems to me very problematic. God's active intervention is only worth a couple of extra years? And then when Aunt Jane dies of cancer, is that because I didn't pray hard enough?

Likewise, a church will look on the fact that it is growing very rapidly as proof of God's blessing. But very often the wicked prosper in this world even more than the righteous. Mormon churches grow. Muslim mosques grow. So how can I take the growth of my church as any proof of God's blessing? How can I, in fact, take any event at all on this earth as proof of God's blessing? The same things happen to the wicked and the unbelievers. Vanity and madness.

Only by casting my eyes out farther than the temporal horizon which is visible to me can I have any hope of seeing purpose in this life. It is only in God's eternal plan for my life that things can make any ultimate sense. Because whatever happens in this life, we all go to the same grave, where all our works are forgotten by this cursed and mad world.

The good things that happen to me in this life should certainly be recognized as coming from the hand of God. Of course, so should the bad things. I must learn to be thankful for all that God does for me. But so often, we call something a blessing when it may very well be a punishment, and at the same time call God's sanctifying trials on us a curse. A man becomes very rich, thinks he is therefore blessed of God, is consumed with arrogance and is destroyed. Another man loses his wife to cancer and believes he is cursed of God, but God sanctifies him and draws him closer to Himself through the trial.

Only the context of eternity can teach me the truth of what happens on earth. Trying to understand the events of this world without an eternal perspective is like using a tape measure with no numbers on it. You might know which dash the end of the board falls on, but you don't know what the dash means, or how it relates to anything else. When we measure the world without the eternal perspective, all we're left with is the judgments of man, and so we think a church with 4000 people in it is more blessed than the one with 75.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Lord's Pity 

I got about two hours of sleep last night, and it was totally avoidable; completely my fault.

I drank way too much coffee at Bible study last night, ignoring my wife's concerned looks. I'm not 18 any more, and more than 1 small cup of coffee after about 6 in the even will cause me problems. I had 4 (I think).

About four in the morning, I was reminded of Psalm 103, where it says "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear Him." I remembered how sorry I felt for Katie when she would make her own life miserable by being so obstinate, refusing to submit to us, and getting punished as a result. I'd look at her crying, and think to myself, If only you'd just do what obviously needs to be done, or not do the obvious stupid things you're doing right now, you'd be so much happier.

I'm pretty sure that's what the Lord was thinking in re: me, at about four in the morning last night.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Another January 12th birthday 

Another special person has my birthday too- Moxie!

She's right about Capricorns, you know. And Moxie, I am a member of the VRWC, unlike the other Capricorns you mention.

The Darn Floor about the Darn Tsunami 

Drew from the perplexingly named Darn Floor links and quotes a William Safire piece about the tsunami and God's involvement in it, and comments on it.

I wrote a post
about the book of Job a while back which you might find relevant as well. Drew points out the fact that Job's trust in God is a much more important element of the story than the happy ending, and he's right. But I don't think it's just tacked on- it shows that God has good things in mind for His people, but we have to learn to trust Him first. In the story of Job, we see that played out in terms of earthly blessings, just as the curses that came on him were earthly curses. But it points us to a spiritual truth, that God brings suffering on us for His own purposes, but that when we learn to trust Him with all things, we see that He works our good through everything that happens.

Must Read 

Just on the offhand that you read me but not Instapundit, check this out at Iowahawk. One of the best comic pieces I've read in a little bit.

Happy Birthday 

Today is my birthday. Happy Birthday me!

Other people born today-

Rush Limbaugh
Rob Zombie
Kirstie Allie
Jack London
Charles Perrault
Jeff Bezos
Edmund Burke
The Amazing Kreskin
Herman Goring
Howard Stern

So there.

More Babyblogging 

Yesterday Katie (2 1/2) was playing out by the TV, and I was in my office working. She came in to ask me to put on a movie for her, which I did. I came out, put the DVD in the player, and turned it on.

Katie then said, "Need the controller?" I said yes. She was pointing at it on the coffee table. So I picked it up, and immediately the cover for the battery compartment fell off. The tab that holds it in had been broken, and it had just been placed back over the compartment.

Katie put on a very surprised face, and immediately said, "Oh, is it broken?"


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Power of Language 

Little Katie is learning the power of language. Before, if she didn't want to do something, she'd just yell "NO!" and run away. Now, she'll say "I can't! I'm too little." Then if you say "You're not too little" she says "I'm too big."

"I'm too grumpy" is the new one. Who told her how to make excuses? She probably learned a lot just by watching her parents.

Also, now instead of saying she wants something, she always says "I need it." "I need a piece of candy". She has discovered that "need" is a more powerful concept than "want", and uses it to try to get her way. And if we tell her no, or spank her, she tells us "we have to be nice."

Two and a half years old, and already language is something used primarily to manipulate others into doing what you want them to do. She's a walking illustration right now of the sinful use of language.

But she also knows her Lord's Prayer, Apostles' Creed and the first question of the Heidelberg. Hopefully we can teach her the right use of language as well.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

US Army to put women in close combat proximity 

The US Army, apparently not realizing that a war is perhaps not the best time for social experimentation, is skirting the law to put mixed-gender support units in direct proximity to combat areas. Elaine Donnely comments on NRO:
"Under current regulations, women cannot be forced to serve in smaller direct ground-combat units such as infantry or armor battalions, or in companies that collocate with them. If the Defense Department wants to change these rules, law requires that the secretary must notify Congress no less than 30 legislative days in advance, when both houses are in session. Despite the "collocation rule" and the congressional notification law, the Army is unilaterally assigning women to previously all-male forward-support companies in its new "unit of action" land combat teams, which are key to the Army's "transformation" to a lighter, faster force."

I sincerely hope that this action gets all of the negative attention that it deserves.

God and the Tsunami 

Dad responds to George Will's latest column:

The fact that you, Mr. George Will, do not know the God of the Bible, does not mean that the God of the Bible does not know you. What December 26 did was show the world that our sentimental and shallow view that God as a benevolent grandpa that will rush to serve up whatever we want, in spite of our denial of His Word and appointed Savior, is sadly out of tune with reality. It never was true and it isn't true now. It is humanism and humanistic sentimentality that is exposed.

Read it all.

US Generosity 

Many are making much of the fact that while the US disaster relief is the highest in the world, it is not as high as a percentage of GDP.

One question you might ask of someone making that point- what choices did the US make to become the biggest economy in the world, to put itself in a position to give far more money than anyone else? We made the decision to allow most problems to be solved by private decisions, not federal or statist solutions. And as a result, we don't have the bloated governments of Europe which are sucking their countries dry. Will they still get credit for being so generous for giving a larger proportion of their GDP for disaster relief, after their GDP's have shrunk to nothing? Will their "percentages" feed any orphans (to paraphrase a commenter on Moxie)?

America has not taken the easy road that the European socialists have. They value leisure and security. We value personal responsibility and hard work. Americans work an average of 1800 hours a year, compared to 1400 a year for Europeans, according to the Wall Street Journal recently. So we have a huge economy and theirs are shrinking or stagnant. Lord willing, if we continue to value the same things, then we will continue to be around for years and years to come, shouldering the lion's share of international aid just as we have for so long.

How do you suppose the comparisons would come out, if you measured giving as a percentage of available time in a year, instead of GDP? It takes time to make money, and Europeans have the same number of hours in a day as Americans do.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Another Blog! 

Scofflaw's Subsidy.

Say it again with me:

Scofflaw's Subsidy.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I Feel So Guilty 

One of my favorite tech sites is Ars Technica. It's a well written, knowledgeable site with great articles on a lot of the arcana of computers like "pipelines", "bluetooth" and "caches" and things like that. Also I enjoy the Game reviews.

I haven't visited in a long while, and I clicked on their bookmark today and got some weird error- not even a 404, some internal server thing.

I have been so disloyal. I can't help but think this is my fault somehow.

UPDATE: That's a relief. The site's working again.

Some New Blogs 

I put some new blogs on the blogroll. I don't have a million blogs on my blogroll, but the ones that are there are ones I actually do read and enjoy. So check them out.

I'd call particular attention to Two Edged Sword. Lee's an old pal of mine from seminary, and a great writer. I notice the two times he's mentioned me on his blog, it's been to criticize something I said. I don't infer too much from that, though. Eating your own just proves he belongs to the RCUS. We take that whole "iron sharpening iron" thing VERY seriously. Keep up the good work, Lee!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Relationship Between Works and Grace 

Expanded upon from my sermon on Sunday:

The relationship between grace and works is a subject of continuous controversy within Christianity. One of the primary divisions between Protestantism and Catholicism is this question. The Reformers insisted on sola gratia, salvation by grace alone, while the Catholics believe that our works are a necessary part of our justification before God. Within the Protestant camp, there was further division. The Reformed, following especially John Calvin and the threefold use of the Law, believed that good works are a necessary result of our justification, while they are no part of the grounds for our justification. The Lutherans believed that this placed undue weight on works, and insisted that the only function of the Law was to condemn us and drive us to Christ (with, naturally, some variation within their own ranks in how they expressed this). This partially explains why Luther questioned the canonicity of the book of James, with its heavy emphasis on the importance of good works.

Finally, there have been and continue to be some in the Reformed faith who believe that the Reformers went too far in insisting on sola gratia, and that it is untrue to Scripture to say that works are no part of our justification.

But James never tells us that works are the grounds of our justification, in the way that Paul uses the word justification. The statement "faith without works is dead" corresponds to Jesus' frequent use of the fruit tree as metaphor for the moral life of the righteous and wicked. The righteous produce good fruit, and the wicked produce bad fruit. But the fruit is not what makes the tree one kind of tree or another. The tree already was what it was. The fruit is the necessary result of what the tree is. Tying apples to an orange tree will not turn it into an apple tree. And tying fruit to a dead tree will not make it alive. James is talking about what the necessary results of a true faith will be, and how that faith is demonstrated in good works.

The traditional Reformed doctrine regarding this relationship, then, is that good works are the necessary result of our faith, but are not the grounds of that faith or of our justification before God. And the result of this is that while exhortations to good works are traditionally part of the Reformed ministry, such exhortations should not be seen as exhorting people to do good works, but rather how to do them, and how to do more of them, and how to do them in ways that are more true to God's word. For telling a man to do good works is like telling a man to breathe. If the man's alive, he's already breathing. And if he's not alive, he can't hear you. Likewise, if a man has faith, he's doing good works, according to James. And if he has no faith, he lacks the capacity to understand the word of God anyway (1 Cor 2:14).

The key then, is always faith. If a man's works are lacking, and all of ours are, then the answer to that is not to tie more works onto a dead tree. It is to have more faith. Belief in Christ and in the Gospel will produce the results that Scripture says will always be the result of a true and robust faith in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year! 

My New Year's resolution is to read more. I have well nigh lost any habit I once had of reading for pleasure, due to years of assigned reading in college and seminary. Now that I'm done with all that, I'm going to make an effort to regain the habit.

If anyone has any suggestions for books I ought to read, please post them in the comments.

May God bless you and yours in the coming year.

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