Friday, March 27, 2015

As She Spake to Joseph Day by Day

In the picture of purity, we see with the life of Joseph, there are many routes in which he is tempted to commit sin, or tempted to just get angry. This is not a shocking revelation to most of you.

But perhaps the part that seems so crazy about Joseph's life is the way the situation happened with Potiphar's wife. It just seems rather odd that after trying to sleep with Joseph, apparently his denial was a reason to get revenge upon him by accusing him of attempted rape. That doesn't really make sense to me.

But regardless, it was the intention of Potiphar's wife to lie with Joseph, and she was persistent in that purpose. She spoke to him asking for him to commit this sin every single day. As Genesis 39:10 says,
"And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her."

I don't know, but I think it would be hard to continually say no to a sin when it is placed before you each and every single day. I can only imagine that Joseph began to understand that this woman would ensure secrecy of the event.

Yet as that verse speaks, he continually hearkened not unto her, and stayed strong in the faith. How could he withstand such  temptation for so long? Nothing would have kept him faithful except reliance upon his God.

But even after this resistance, how might he have felt after he loses his position in Potiphar's house by refusing to sin. Had he just said yes to Potiphar's wife, he would likely have remained in that position. So how come at this point he didn't decide that serving God was counter-productive and served him no purpose?

Instead of coming to denounce his service, we see Joseph in the text doing in the prison exactly what he did in Potiphar's house - serving faithfully.

So, know these couple of things. Temptation will be persistent, and you might find yourself in a difficult position at times. Also, know that serving God may not always come with physical rewards, but then that's not the point. The point of serving God is to please the one who loved you enough to die to take away your sins.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Secession: Not Just for the Civil War

Secessionist movements seem to be spreading throughout the land we call the United States. South Miami wants to create a South Florida because North Florida is preventing them from acting to decrease their climate footprint.

Rural groups in Colorado, Maryland, California, and Oregon want to secede to form the states of North Colorado, West Maryland, and Jefferson (northern California and southern Oregon) because the current state legislatures are out of touch with the rural communities. 

And there is always the counties in New York that want to secede and join Pennsylvania because of lax fracking regulations. 

So it would seem that there are many movements right now to restructure the way in which our political system is currently organized. How many of them will actually succeed is unknown. Indeed it seems highly unlikely that we will see a 51st state or drastic redrawing of state borders within the near future.

But I agree with Ron Paul that these secessionist movements are an indication that Americans are willing to put in the work to ensure that their voices are heard. When the state legislature (or even the federal government) is not being representative of the people, conservatives and liberals alike will do anything to let their voice be heard. Even secession is an option. 

Though I disagree with Ron Paul that this secession will take hold and lead to the collapse of the United States and am much more pessimistic about my outlook of what a US collapse would entail for the US and the world, I think Dr. Paul is correct that these new movements are a step towards better individual representations. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Punished for "Refusing to Tempt the Lord"

It's an interesting thing, how that the Bible repeats the command that you are not to tempt the Lord thy God. I spent some time unpacking that idea here over one year ago.

The idea of not tempting the Lord quoted in Matthew 4 by Jesus was originally referring to the idea of asking for additional signs in order to confirm the Lord's call in one's life, or to just better understand the will of God more generally.

This interpretation probably immediately brings to mind the story of Gideon, or the Pharisees, who kept asking for signs, but was told that "there shall be no sign given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas."

But today, we're going to look at Ahaz as he refuses to ask the Lord for a sign because that would be tempting to the Lord. Surprisingly, within this context, Ahaz is rebuked.

Here's the context: Ahaz, the King of Judah, is a little distressed because Syria and Israel have combined their armies against Judah. At this point, Isaiah informs Ahaz that the Lord will not allow the plans of these armies to stand.

But immediately after these words, the book of Isaiah records this dialogue in Isaiah 7:10-13, 
"Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?"

It would seem that Ahaz had the right sentiment about not tempting the Lord for further confirmation about what the Lord had already said He would do. However, at the point, where it was directly against what the Lord had told him to do, it was disobedience and the nice sentiment didn't matter.

It is very easy to fall into a trap of thinking you're doing just fine because you have a good sentiment behind what you are saying, but to actually deep down be ignoring the command of the Lord altogether.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Idea of God: Why Descartes' Model of Epistemology is Preferable to those of Locke and Kant

Little did Descartes know about the influence that his model of epistemology (philosophy of how we obtain knowledge) would have upon the course of philosophy. After Descartes’ rationalism, Locke responded with his own empirical model of epistemology. In response to the later radicalization of Locke’s view, Kant articulated the constructivist view of epistemology.

But of these three primary views, which had the best model of epistemology? To be fair, they each have their strengths, but the most important element to consider is which one best understands the reality and idea of God. After all, as all three men believe, God is necessary for any epistemology (also see Proverbs 1:7), no matter how nuanced, to work.  Therefore, if one cannot properly account for God, this poses a difficulty for any attempt to obtain knowledge through their epistemology. Through analysis, it becomes clear that Descartes’ view of epistemology is the one which can most accurately account for God.

(Of course, absent the Bible, none of these men (or any men) will be able to come to a full nuanced understanding of who God is and what his attributes are. General revelation as discussed in this paper can bring us to a god, but not necessarily the God of the Bible.)

Descartes started our controversy with his Meditations. Unsettled that his understanding of the world is based entirely on the accounts of others, Descartes attempts to doubt everything that he has ever thought to know. But he finds there is one proposition indubitable: that he doubts.  As R,C. Sproul brilliantly puts it in his book The Consequences of Ideas, "To doubt doubt is to doubt."

From this, Descartes draws two conclusions. First, he exists (cogito ergo sum) as in order for doubt to exist, someone must exist. Second and more importantly, Descartes reasons that the only way he can doubt is if he has an idea of God.

Descartes understands that to doubt is to discern imperfection. Since imperfection can only exist in contrast to perfection, Descartes reasons he must have an image of perfection. From here he reasons that the cause needs to be as strong as the effect. To illustrate, when you get slapped in the face, there must be an equal amount of muscular strength (cause) as the force of the impact (effect).

But as imperfect finite beings (alleged cause), we cannot create an image of a perfect, infinite being (effect). Further, since we have never perceived God either, we must have innately held this notion since birth. Ultimately, that means that God exists and placed in us the idea of perfection, more accurately known as the idea of God.

From this innate knowledge, Descartes builds the rest of his epistemology declaring that the things which we clearly and distinctly perceive  can indeed be trusted because a perfect God could not be a liar.

One might question how Descartes’ proof for the existence of God fits within the parameters of Romans 1:20, which states that, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that were made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” It does not seem like Descartes is explaining that God exists based on what is seen in the “creation of the world.”

However, as reported in the A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, the Greek word translated here as “Seen,” – kathoratai (from kathoraƍ) – is most literally translated “perceive, notice, also of inward seeing.”  Thus, it would seem that the scripture is not making a case that our sensory experiences allow us to find the truth about God, but natural revelation more generally.

Further, it is important to note that our minds are part of the “creation of the world,” as well as the “things that were made.” Thus, when Descartes examines his mind, he is basing his idea of God on that which he sees in the creation of the world and understanding from the things that were made.

Then comes Locke. According to Locke, all people were born as a tabula rasa – blank slate – with no innate knowledge. Instead, Locke opines that we learn about the world exclusively through our sense experiences. Locke points out that children and the uneducated do not seem to understand these so-called “innate truths” until someone explains it to them. But if a statement must be learned, it cannot be innate.

While this argument may be compelling for those things which Descartes describes that we “clearly and distinctly perceive,” this argument does little to confront the origin of the idea of the perfect and infinite being that we call God. In order for Locke’s epistemology to form an understandable picture of the world, he would have to show that God exists purely from our sense experiences.

This poses a problem for Locke as no man has actually observed God.  So Locke must argue that we get the idea of God by observing all these attributes God is said to have. We do not see perfection in this world, but we do see goodness; we do not see omniscience, but we do see knowledge. For Locke, all we must do to find God through our senses is to take our sensual perceptions of good character traits and imagine them as infinite.

But this cannot account for our idea of God. For one thing, God is not a cumulative being; he is not just a combination of all these various character traits. Rather he is the perfect encompassment of all these traits in one being. We perceive these traits individually and cannot comprehend them together unless we were given that innate knowledge from the start.

Additionally, Locke’s view is that we have placed all of these qualities together to form our idea of God, but how did we know which qualities to put together? Without an innate knowledge and idea of God, then we are left with no way of knowing what is and is not godly. Hence, at the very best, Locke has smuggled in his own view of God, or put another way, he has smuggled in his innate idea of God.

Perhaps most damning of all, Locke argues from the basis of imagining certain observable traits infinite, but we cannot observe infinity through our sensory perceptions. Indeed if we are going to have the idea of infinity, it must have been some form of innate knowledge.

Seeing the pitfalls of Locke (and Descartes to a degree) Kant attempts to bring Descartes’ rationalism and Locke’s empiricism to a synthesis. It is then Kant’s contention that Locke is correct in stating that we have no innate ideas, but Descartes is correct that we have innate structures or categories.

In other words, we have certain axioms, such as the law of causality and the concepts of space and time that allow us to draw conclusions from our sensory experiences. Without either our innate structures (reason) or our sensory experiences, we would have no truth.

It is then that Kant realizes that epistemology without God is meaningless because we would have no reason to trust our senses or our reason without the Lord. Yet Kant understands that we have not perceived God and cannot prove God from our experiences even with innate structures. Thus, Kant argues that we must postulate God’s existence.

Since God does exist, it is not obvious that this would pose difficulty. But as aforementioned, Romans 1 indicates that either through our reason, our senses, or both, we should be able to prove God from general revelation alone (though not necessarily all attributes of the Christian God). Therefore, when Kant argues that his epistemology has to assume God, it does not account for the reality that God has revealed Himself to man through His creation.

Further, to postulate God’s existence, we need to have an idea of what exactly it is that we are assuming exists. Locke’s attempts demonstrate that we cannot reach the idea of God through our sensory experiences. After all, no matter how many innate structures you have, your sensory experience cannot go from time to infinity or from place to omnipresence. As a result, without the innate idea of God, we are unable to postulate that God exists. In other words, the only way we can get at the idea of God – the foundation for all epistemology – is if we accept Descartes’ epistemological distinction of innate knowledge.

Ultimately, both Locke and Kant’s epistemological models fall short for the same reason – they are unable to account for our idea of God. This is the foundation of all epistemology, and so without this foundation, Locke and Kant’s models simply cannot bring us to any knowledge. In contrast, Descartes’ model, because it accepts the idea of God as innate knowledge, provides the foundation for knowledge. Consequently, it is the better model of epistemology.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Boasting Ax

The Bible has some interesting words to describe those who claim recognition, glory, and credit for their own actions in fulfilling God's plan. He describes them as axes boasting against the one that uses it.

Ok, so I guess I should be a little more clear. The Lord calls the King of Assyria that in Isaiah 10 for how he will boast of his inevitable destruction of Jerusalem.

The Lord of course used the wicked to punish the wicked, but then the ax that he has wielded decides to boast itself against Him. Listen in on the Lord's rebuke In Isaiah 10:12-15, 
"Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man: And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped. Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood."

 Hey, the Lord is sovereign, and He is able to empower men to do His bidding. But after we have done His bidding (either willingly or unwillingly), we tend to take all sorts of credit for the good that we have done.

But how is it that the ax is boasting itself against Him that is using it? or the rod against Him that is lifting it?

It's not as if the rod is suddenly going to jump up and lift itself. Neither are we going to be able to accomplish anything without God. So maybe just maybe we should give Him the credit, and not be like this wicked King of Assyria.

Monday, March 9, 2015

One should Probably Obey Most Unjust Laws

How should a Christian respond to laws that are unjust? Is the mere fact that the law is unjust make it permissible for a Christian to break that law? 

It is of course commonly known from Acts 5:29 (among other places, such as the book of Daniel) that government laws that would cause Christians to violate the law of God, should be ignored and disobeyed by Christians. 

But what if there's a law that is unjust but does nothing to cause a Christian to sin? Is it still permissible for the Christian to refuse to obey said law? 

Um... Well... I don't see any biblical support for such an exclusion. What we do see is several places where Christians are commanded to obey the government. Here is a sampling: 
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour."  ~Romans 13:1-7

"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king."   ~I Peter 2:13-17

"I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou? Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment."  ~Ecclesiastes 8:2-5

Against the backdrop of these verses, it seems hard to argue that we should "resist the ordinance of God" by disobeying a law just because we find it to be unjust. Perhaps this makes us a tad uncomfortable, but I doubt this is the first command in the Bible that makes you feel a tad bit uncomfortable.

It would seem to me that we should obey the governing authorities in everything as long as doing so would not force US to be unjust in our dealings, or to otherwise sin against the commandment of God.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Stoned for Picking up Sticks?

Numbers 15:32-36 declares,
"And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses."

 That's a little bit of a tough pill to swallow. Why exactly did this man deserve death because he decided to gather stones on the Sabbath? After all, it seems like such a small infraction of the law, so why the harsh punishment?

Perhaps, verses 30-31 provides us our best answer.
"But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him."

Because he hath despised the word of the Lord and hath broken His commandment....  It would seem that the real reason that this man was stoned wasn't for picking up sticks but because his attitude was troublesome.

He treated the word of the Lord as if it didn't matter, and thus had no difficulty breaking that commandment. If we're truly honest with ourselves, we would note that the idea that this (or any other sin) is just a small infraction of the commands of God is indicative of the same attitude. Apparently, some things the Lord says don't matter as much as other things that we see have a clearer effect upon the world at large.

So here's a reminder for you - there are no such things as little sins. They are all pretty monstrous.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Time? Time? Time?

Well, the routine is very much broken, I suppose.... (I'm still following the other advice in my Friday blog post.)

So for the sake of irony, we will talk today about the topic of punctuality!

How did you feel when you saw how late I posted this blog? Did you feel that I was disrespecting you and your time?

In western culture, that is what punctuality comes down to. It's not just a commitment to being on time; it's a statement that you care about the other's time well enough to not waste it by not showing up on time.

So apparently, it gets just a bit disrespectful of others to consistently show up late for things.

But then, I guess I have the tendency to disrespect your time through the posting of these blog posts. I guess that means that you can attest to the truthfulness of what I said.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Little Warning about Breaking the Routine

The firsts of Spring Breaks will be happening this week. I know it seems early, and yes it is. But there are still those few people who get to have their spring breaks this week. I'm one of those few.

If you have a more standard spring break, know that it is still coming, and you will want this post in a few weeks because this post is a short public service announcement that spring breaks are dangerous times.

When I first started college and getting myself into a regular routine for the first time, I knew to create a time for daily devotions and time for the Lord. It then becomes easier at least to ensure that I adequately invest my time in "alone time" with the Lord.

But then comes the break, then comes the routine that is no longer there, then comes a change of environment. When the routine changes, that can effect all parts of the routine, and make it difficult to stay in the Word of God.

One needs to be very purposeful that as they have a different routine, that that routine as well includes time for a personal and daily walk with the Lord.

So that's my short public service announcement.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Government is not your God

There are two opposite problems in Christian culture when it comes to government today (not to say that these are the only two problems, just two that I can see exist). First is the problem that I often discuss about those who don't seem to care enough about what goes on in the political system.

But the second is equally a problem, and that is simply putting too much stake in what goes on in the political system. Simply, it becomes quite easy to find security in the way current political structures are set up, rather than in the Lord. 

I want to make it clear up front - this is not a big government problem per se. It is just as easy for someone in favor of limited governments, like me, to find too much stake in the political process.

 If my security is founded in the fact that Rand Paul is going to do awesome things and win awesome elections, and then revolutionize this country, then I am placing my trust in the political process. 

This of course is a problem because our trust should be firmly in God and not in the devices that God uses to ensure blessings upon His people (I think it's fair to call good governance a blessing, right?). I should feel secure in the fact that I know who holds sovereign control over all the earth. And to put this in the perspective of our last politics post, I should feel secure in the God who ordained the government, not the God-ordained government. 

But God is under no obligation to work out His plans through the government itself. He can decide to make our government like the government in China, and work to give Himself glory. I mean, it's His sovereign control.

So yes, God is in control, and as much as I care about politics, and love Rand Paul, God > Rand Paul. Rand Paul and the entire political system can only do so much, and it would be foolish to stake your security in that. 

Instead, we Christians need to ensure our trust is in the One who controls not just ALL of the political system, but all other elements that are outside our control too!