Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why I am not a fatalist...

You hear it in the phrases people use:

“It was just meant to be…”

“It is what it is…”

“That was inevitable…”

“There ain’t nothing you can do about it”

“Everything happens for a reason…”

The seeds of fatalism are every where. Should this surprise us? Perhaps not.

Increasingly, however, I notice people of faith (inadvertently?) using the same language. People may not realize what they are doing, and I don’t mean to suggest that because someone uses a phrase (in passing) that it makes them a hard core fatalist. But, I suspect it might serve us well to raise our awareness. Because, in the end, words do mean things. We are shaped by the things we say.

At the heart of fatalism, we find (in practice) the removal of personal responsibility. Choices are inconsequential and fate controls life’s outcomes. I can see why this may have appeal on some level, but personally I can’t go there. I have concluded that the image of God (that I bear) is inextricably linked to my freedom of choice. I am where I am because of choices I have made (by at least 51%). Therefore, even when it is hard to accept that reality (because of painful consequences) I am simply not ready to give away the essence of what it means to be human.

But, perhaps more importantly, why does this matter on a practical matter:

1. If my choices are the primary contributing factor to what I experience in this life than I have a reasonable hope for change. I – and the world – can be different, because we all bear the image of God and have this amazing capacity to choose. However, if fate (destiny, disease, and dysfunction) carry most of the weight of what I know in life; then my choices will never have enough leverage to move me in a different direction. In fact, no one can ever really change, because the trajectory of life is set. All we have is what we have always known. Redemption, then, is but a cruel joke.

2. It really gives me something to celebrate next weekend, because those places that have been broken by my poor choices can find forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ. And his bodily resurrection unleashes a power in the realm of the Spirit that energizes my choices with a persevering capacity that I could never muster on my own. If fate is the most significant variable influencing my life’s direction than Easter doesn’t ultimately matter. It may have happened, but it doesn’t really mean anything! And if it doesn’t mean anything, why celebrate it at all?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pantheism vs. Environmentalism

The movie Avatar got a lot of attention as a film. Obviously, much of the attention came as a result of its cutting-edge 3D technology and its financial dominance as the highest grossing film of all time. However, many Christian groups expressed concern over its pagan message www.movieguide.com But, the real question in my mind is: “Does any of this really matter?”

I think it does. It does to the degree that we can discern the line where responsible environmentalism ends and pantheism begins.

In Genesis 1:26, we read:

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

Therefore, implicit in the creation of humanity was the clarification of our purpose. God has given us a role. We are to rule/care for creation in a way that honors and respects the one who created it. John Stott, a highly regarded evangelical scholar, wrote about conservation long before it was “hip” to do so.

If we think of the earth as a kingdom, then we are not kings ruling our own territory, but viceroys ruling it on the king’s behalf, since the king has not abdicated his thrown. Or if we think of the earth as a country estate, then we are not the landowners, but the bailiffs who manage and farm it on the owner’s behalf. God makes us, in the most literal sense, ‘caretakers’ of his property.

John Stott, Involvement: Being a Responsible Christian in a Non-Christian Society

Therefore, being “environmentalists” in the original way the word was defined, actually best reflects what is asked of us in the creation mandate. According to Webster’s Dictionary, here is the definition of Environmentalism.

Advocacy of the preservation, restoration, or improvement of the natural environment; especially: the movement to control pollution.

Now, there are those that want to make the word mean a lot more than that, but I am not ready to give the word away. I think what is often promoted as “extreme” environmentalism is actually pantheism revisited.

What is pantheism? Here is what we read on the World Pantheism website:

Are you searching for a path that focuses on this Earth rather than some imaginary beyond, that makes saving the planet its focus not saving your eternal soul, that respects individual choice rather than pushing prejudice down people's throats, that values reason rather than fanaticism?

Do you find it impossible to believe in supernatural beings, and difficult to conceive of anything more worthy of reverence than the beauty of Nature or the power of the Universe?

Do you feel a deep sense of peace and belonging and wonder in the midst of Nature, in a forest, by the ocean, or on a mountain top? Are you speechless with awe when you look up at the sky on a clear moonless night and see the Milky Way strewn with stars as thick as sand on a beach? When you see breakers crashing on a rocky shore, or hear wind rustling in a poplar's leaves, are you uplifted by the energy and creativity of existence?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you will feel thoroughly at home in the World Pantheist Movement.


Interestingly enough, CS. Lewis (that great Christian apologist) thought that pantheism was more corrosive to Christianity than atheism. And anyone who is paying attention understands that it is a movement that is regaining momentum – certainly with the Hollywood elite.

My own sense of this is that perhaps part of the reason that pantheism is gaining a fresh hearing is because we have fallen short on our own commitment to responsible environmentalism – which is certainly promoted and assumed by what we read in Genesis 1:26. Therefore, as serious students of scripture we only have ourselves to blame if some other group takes up the banner that we were given (and misapplies it in a way that undermines our own faith).

Therefore, instead of being wholesale critiques of what is being proposed, perhaps we can link arms, get creative, and be leaders in a way that champions the cause as God meant for it to be understood.

May the Lord help us to do that together!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A little Facebook survey...

Last week, I did a little informal survey on my FB page, and asked the question: “What does it mean to you (personally) knowing God as the creator of the universe (if anything at all)?

I was actually overwhelmed by the responses. I received dozens of replies and many of them took note of the importance of purpose. Let me share the essence of what I read:

When I think of Him as creator I can’t help but think of people. He made us sooooo specifically & intentionally. It increases my confidence about our value, which then raises the whole matter of stewardship and why we should care for ourselves and each other…

My faith in God (as creator) gives me hope ... it gives me a sense of purpose in life that I cannot imagine living without. It keeps me from giving up!

I think that our being made in the creators' image gives us our creativity, and it gives creativity value in all its forms whether artistic or scientific. Appreciating the created order and being “in it” gives meaning to life on so many levels whether that's through smearing some paint on a canvas, writing some computer code, or analyzing a string of DNA...

On my drive to work every morning I notice the colors of the early sunrise and KNOW that my God created this! If there is this beauty “out there” then that same kind of beauty must also be “in here.” What does that have to say about all of us?

Knowing God is my creator gives me a sense of security - if He can create all this then he can surely protect me, care for me, and love me… I have peace, joy and love all because I know the One who made the sunrise and sunsets, the mountains and the ocean, the laugher of a child, and the timely touch of a friend who knows you are hurting…

It keeps me in constant awe of my experiences. I cannot not be in awe, no matter how much I would like to contain it :-)

I would say I'd be a lot more afraid living in a 'chance' world. Chaos is violent and frightening. There is no place for mercy in a world ruled by chaos and chance. In a naturalist world “the strongest always wins'” and, being one of the not-so-strong, I would be left unprotected.

God being the most incredible artist, having created all we know, is comforting to me, because if He made me in His image, then I am more than I often think I am.

I was overwhelmed in reading these responses. In fact, I was so intrigued by what I read I wanted to ask another (larger?) audience. Do you have thoughts on this? Does knowing that there is a personal creator God behind the beauty of creation mean anything special to you? Why/why not? Please feel free to email me through this site or message me through my social media sites.

Thanks for sharing!