“An Act of Pure Evil” – Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas

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Hi TD,

With heavy heart over what’s transpired, I urge you to read Dr. Al Mohler’s response to the massacre in Las Vegas.  The truth of the matter is this, if God does not exist, then there’s nothing truly wrong with what happened in Las Vegas.  We cannot, as a nation, straddle both sides of the fence, wanting our cake and eating it too.  And we cannot as Christians either … and too many of us are.  Let us pray and then let us live hard the life God wants us to live, being who God wants us to be, doing what God wants us to do; and put the world be on notice that there is a real God who will provide real salvation, and grant real victory. – Arthur

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15

“An Act of Pure Evil” — Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas

by R. Albert Mohler

Evil points to a necessary moral judgment made by a moral authority greater than we are — a transcendent and supernatural moral authority: God.

Today, most Americans awoke to news from Las Vegas that is nothing less than horrific. For so many in Las Vegas, Sunday night must have seemed like the night that would never end.

In the face of such overwhelming news, we naturally seek after facts. We want to know what happened, and when. We want to know who did it. By mid-morning the facts were staggering. More than fifty people are dead and hundreds wounded after a lone gunman opened fire on a music festival from a perch in a hotel room 32 floors above. The attack was deadly, diabolical, and premeditated.

The shooting is already described as the worst in American history. The gunman, believed to be Stephen Paddock, killed himself as police prepared to storm his hotel room, from which he had aimed his deadly gunfire. The facts emerged slowly, and are still emerging. Paddock had no notable criminal record. He had worked for a defense contractor, owned two private aircraft, and was known to own guns. He was reported to like Las Vegas for its gambling and entertainment. No one seems to have considered him a threat. His brother, contacted after the massacre, said that the family was beyond shock, as if “crushed by an asteroid.”

In Las Vegas and beyond, hundreds of families are crushed by grief and concern. More than fifty human beings, very much alive just hours ago, are now dead, seemingly murdered by random order.

The facts will continue to come as investigations continue. We need facts in order to steady our minds and grapple with understanding. We must have facts, and yet we can be easily overwhelmed by them. Some “facts” will not be facts at all. National Public Radio helpfully and honestly ended its news coverage of the massacre with these words: “This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities. We will update as the situation develops.” I count that as both helpful and honest.

But the facts of who and what and where and how, still unfolding, point to the even more difficult question — why?

Why would anyone kill a fellow human being? Why launch an ambush massacre upon concertgoers listening to country music? Why premeditate a mass killing?

Was he driven by some obsession, fueled by some grievance? Was he sending a signal or political message as an act of terrorism? Is the answer psychiatric or pharmacological? Our minds crave an answer.

Why do we ask why?

We cannot help but ask why because, made in God’s image, we are moral creatures who cannot grasp or understand the world around us without moral categories. We are moral creatures inhabiting a moral universe and our moral sense of meaning is the faculty most perplexed when overwhelmed by horror and grief.

The terror group known as ISIS or the Islamic State claimed that Stephen Paddock was a “lone wolf” attacker who had recently converted to Islam. Law enforcement authorities said there is no evidence of anything related to ISIS or Islam.

Clark County (NV) Sheriff Joe Lombardo told reporters that he was not sure if the massacre was sending a message as a terror attack: “We have to establish what his motivation is first. And there’s motivating factors associated with terrorism other than a distraught person just intending to cause mass casualties.”

So far as we now know, Paddock left no note and communicated no clear message. The gunfire tells some story, but we do not yet know what the story is. We may never know.

That troubles us, and so it should. Knowing the story and determining the motivation would add rationality to our understanding, but we will never really understand.

A massacre by a lone gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. Another killed 27, mostly children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Yet another killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016. We really do not fully understand any of these attacks, nor countless other outbreaks of evil around the world.

One of the main theological insights about evil is that it is so often absurd. It is ultimately inexplicable, unfathomable, and cannot be resolved by human means.

President Trump has demonstrated little interest in academic disputes over moral philosophy so he probably did not intend to wade into deep theoretical waters when he called the massacre “an act of pure evil.” But he called it right, and he expanded on his judgment. “In times such as these I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness.” He went on to say: “The answers do not come easy. But we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope.”

That is exactly how a president should speak, and underlining the “act of pure evil” as evil is exactly how a morally sane person should think. The judgment of evil here, real evil, should be beyond dispute.

Evil is a fact, too. And evil is a theological category. The secular worldview cannot use the word with coherence or sense. The acknowledgement of evil requires the affirmation of a moral judgment and a moral reality above human judgment. If we are just accidental beings in an accidental universe, nothing can really be evil. Evil points to a necessary moral judgment made by a moral authority greater than we are — a transcendent and supernatural moral authority: God.

College professors tell us that moral relativism has produced a generation of Americans who resist calling anything evil, and even deny the existence of moral facts. Justin P. McBrayer, who teaches at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, wrote in The New York Times that “many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts.”

That’s truly frightening, but McBrayer argues that by the time students arrive at college, they have already been told over and over again that there are no moral facts — that nothing is objectively right or wrong.

Only the Christian worldview, based in the Bible, can explain why moral facts exist, and how we can know them. Only the biblical worldview explains why sinful humanity commits such horrible moral wrongs. The Christian worldview also promises that God will bring about a final act of moral judgment that will be the final word on right and wrong — as facts, not merely speculation. The Gospel of Christ points us to the only way of rescue from the fact of our own evil and guilt.

Our hearts break for the families and communities now grieving, and we pray for them and for those even now fighting for life.

It is both telling and reassuring that secular people, faced with moral horror as we see now in Las Vegas, can still speak of evil as a moral fact — even if they continue to deny moral facts in the classrooms and courtrooms. No one can deny that the horror in Las Vegas came about by an act that was evil, pure evil, and evil as a fact.

I think of the Prophet Isaiah’s words: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” [Isaiah 5:20, ESV]

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Churchgoer

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Introducing Jill to Almond Green Milk Tea with Boba (or bubble tea, as they say in Atlanta)

Hey TD!

The old maxim says, confession is good for the soul.  As I was reading today’s A Slice of Infinity by my friend, Jill Carattini, I must confess that I too share the same shortcomings that she references in her Slice. Read on, fellow churchgoer, and see if you do too. If so, let’s confess, repent, believe, and let God continue His redeeming work in our lives, so we can share the greatest confession of all:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

– Arthur

Confessions of a Churchgoer

In a world of finger-pointing, Tetsuya Ishikawa paused instead to confess guilt. After seven years at the forefront of the credit markets, he took the idea of a friend to write a book called How I Caused the Credit Crunch because, in the friend’s analysis, “it sounds like you did.”(1) In the form of a novel that discredits the notion of the financial sector as a collaboration of remote, unthinking forces, he admits in flesh and blood that he believes he is guilty, too. Though reviewers note Ishikawa does not remain long with his admission of responsibility, he succeeds in showing the financial markets as a reflection of human choices with moral dimensions and, ultimately, the futility of our ongoing attempts at finding a better scapegoat.

Whenever the subject of blame or fault comes about in any sector of life, whether economic, societal, or individual, scapegoating is a far more common reaction than confessing. Most of us are most comfortable when blame is placed as far away from us as possible. Even the word “confession,” the definition of which is concerned with owning a fault or belief, is now often associated with the sins of others, which an outspoken soul just happens to be willing to share with the world. We are interested in those confessions of a former investment banker/warlord/baseball wife because the “owning up” has nothing to do with owning anything.

Perhaps like many of us in our own confessing, Charles Templeton’s 1996 book, Farwell to God, and the confessions of a former Christian leader, is filled with moments of confession in both senses of the word—honest commentary and easy scapegoating. In his thoughts that deal with the Christian church, it is particularly apparent. Pointing near and far and wide, Templeton observes that the church indeed has a speckled past: “Across the centuries and on every continent, Christians—the followers of the Prince of Peace—have been the cause of and involved in strife. The church during the Middle Ages was like a terrorist organization.”(2) He admits that some good has come from Christian belief, but that there is altogether too much bad that has come from it. He then cites the church’s declining numbers as evidence that the world is in agreement; people are losing interest because the church is failing to be relevant. Pews are empty; denominations oppose one another; the church is floundering, its influence waning—except perhaps its negative influence, according to this confessor.

Paul Klee, City of Churches, pen, pencil, watercolor, paper, 1918.

Of course, many of these confessions regarding the church are indeed riddled with difficult truths that someone somewhere must indeed own. Other assertions are not only difficult to posit as relevant, but are simply dishonest attempts to point blame and escape the more personal, consistent answer. As Templeton determinedly points out the steady decline of attendance in the church as reason to disbelieve, it is unclear how this supports his personal confession that Christian beliefs are untrue. Does the claim of the church’s decline (the veracity of which is debated) say anything about whether Christianity is based on lies, lunacy, or fact? Jesus spoke of those who would turn away, churches that would grow cold, faith that would be abandoned. Moreover, if one is truly convinced that Christianity is an outlandish hoax, isn’t it odd that so much energy is taken in criticizing the church in the first place—as if one had a vision of what the people of God should look like?

Of course, responding to Templeton’s darker admissions regarding the church, I am at times tempted to make a scapegoating confession of my own. Specifically, if I could reasonably judge God by some of God’s followers, I would surely say farewell as well. Like Templeton, I have seen so many lives badly wounded by the pulpit, people trampled by those who call themselves Christians. I have been more disillusioned within the church than I ever have outside of it. Templeton confesses in his book that the church “has seldom been at its best,” and on this point, I couldn’t agree more.(3) But I would also have to add a critical addendum; namely, that I am rarely at my best. I am a part of this church who fails to love well, who says things that hurt, and falls short of its best on a regular basis. But if the church is truly meant to be the place where followers learn to become more like Christ, then I also can’t imagine a better place to be holding such a confession. Failings and all, it is the community that communes with the one who longs most for our human flourishing, who embodies God’s hope for humans at our best. Of the one who meets us in this human place, it was once confessed: “The righteous one shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:12).

It was with such a conviction that G.K. Chesterton responded to a newspaper seeking opinions on the question “What’s wrong with the world?” in one sentence. “Dear Sirs,” he replied, “I am.” In confessions of dark or disappointing realities, can our own hearts really be excluded? It was with visions of war and brokenness around him that David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”(4) It was before the cross scarred body of the human Christ that Thomas confessed, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” This, I believe, is humanity’s best confession.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Sathnam Sanghera, “Confessions of the Man Who Caused the Credit Crunch,” The Times Online, April 20, 2009, http://timesonline.co.uk, accessed April 21, 2009.
(2) Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996), 129.
(3) Ibid., 127.
(4) Psalm 51:10.

A Story I Won’t Stop Sharing

Hey TD!

Well, V4V is underway and it’s been a huge blessing for many of us already!  The energy is live! In that spirit, I wanted to share with you this riveting essay (and video), written by an adoptee from Holt International (the agency that we are working with to adopt our two girls). Once orphaned, her adoption changed her life … but she still was curious about her birth mother …   – Arthur

A Story I Won’t Stop Sharing

For most of her life, Holt adoptee Molly Martin viewed her adoption as something that just “happened.”  But after traveling to Thailand to meet her birth mom, she developed a completely different outlook — and a deeper understanding of how loved she truly is. Molly’s story was a finalist in Holt’s 2016 adoptee essay contest. 

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For someone who was adopted at a young age, being adopted seems, for lack of a better word, normal. For as long as I can remember, except for a few blurry memories, being adopted is all that I have known. I don’t really remember what it was like not to be adopted, so being adopted has always seemed somewhat natural and definitely not really anything worth talking about. However, at the same time, being adopted isn’t normal. While I can’t speak for all kids that have been adopted, I think a lot of us, at some point or another, have entertained the thought that our situations aren’t normal. Surely, not looking like my family wasn’t normal and the thought that my biological family did not want me was always in the back of my mind. But those aren’t exactly things that most kids want to talk about.

Because of the seeming normality of my adoption, it was never something that I felt compelled to talk about or share with others. It didn’t feel important or like it was a part of who I am. People would often ask me where I am from and I would instinctively respond, “Raleigh, NC” when the real answer they were looking for was “Bangkok, Thailand.” Telling people “Yeah, my parents are white” in response to questioning looks they gave me after meeting my parents became the norm and I would typically zone out when people found out I was adopted and gave me the, “Wow, that is so amazing!” spiel. Because honestly, to me, being adopted wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t great. It was just something that happened that I had no control over (don’t get me wrong, I am SO thankful to have been adopted by my amazing family!). It was just a part of my past that I did not care to talk about.

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However, recently, that has all changed. Over Christmas of 2014, my adoptive family and I traveled back to my homeland to meet my birth mother for the very first time. A few years prior, I told my parents that I wanted to meet my birth mother if at all possible. I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to make such a request; I think I was just curious to know more about my heritage and my background. My adoptive parents very graciously took my request in stride and contacted Holt to see if it were possible. After years of planning and being in touch with the social workers in Thailand, they had contacted my birth mother and set up a date for me to meet her. And before I knew it, I was boarding a flight to Bangkok, Thailand for what was going to be a life-changing experience.

Going into the meeting, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Meeting the woman who gave birth to you for the first time at 19 years old isn’t exactly a common experience. I couldn’t exactly go up to my friends and ask them, “So, what was it like meeting your birth mom?” And secretly, I thought my birth mother was selfish. I knew from my records that my birth mother had given me up for adoption because she was too poor to properly care for me. To me, that just meant that she was too selfish to work harder or to get a better paying job. While that sounds extremely harsh, I just couldn’t understand her reasoning for putting me up for adoption, and I definitely didn’t want to accept it.

 

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I don’t think anything could have properly prepared me for that experience. As I stood in a private room with my adoptive family, waiting for the Holt social workers to bring my birth mother into the room, I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. When they finally brought her in, I was shocked. The woman standing in front of me was the spitting image of me, only aged by a couple years, and crying. And she cried for what seemed like forever. It was extremely awkward, as I didn’t know whether to hug her or just stand there. One of the social workers prompted me to give her a hug and when I did, she clung onto me, with tears still streaming down her face.

Eventually, my birth mother was able to stop crying long enough to talk to me (through a translator). She told me that for the past 19 years she had carried with her so much guilt, hurt and sadness for putting me up for adoption. When I was born, she knew that she was too poor to give me a good life. She gave me up hoping that I would get adopted by a family that could give me the life that she would never be able to give me. It wasn’t a lack of love that made her put me up for adoption, but it was her abundance of love.

Meeting my birth mother completely changed my outlook on my adoption. Rather than being something that just ‘happened,’ it is something that has shaped every facet of my life and my identity. Instead of growing up without a father, I have an incredibly strong and loving father. Instead of growing up without an education, I am excited to say that I will be graduating in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. And instead of believing that I am unloved, I know that I am incredibly loved — by a birth mother who gave up being able to see me grow up and have me call her ‘mom,’ by my adoptive family that has loved me even when I’ve had nothing to offer them, and by an amazing adoption agency that worked so hard to give me a forever family. Adoption will forever be a part of who I am and a story that I won’t stop sharing.

Molly Martin | North Carolina

After meeting her birth mom, Molly created a video about the experience, which she gave us permission to share:

To learn about birth search assistance and other post-adoption services available to adoptees, visit Holt’s Post Adoption Services website!

“Christmas: Celebrate the Humble King” (Robert)

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Merry Christmas, TD!

On this Christmas Day, Robert shares an article he wrote for a local paper.  It’s an appropriate read for this special day.  Thanks, Robert!

Christmas: Celebrate the Humble King by Robert Chan

Last year in our home we celebrated our first Christmas together as a family of three. Our baby daughter had just turned four months old. She couldn’t do much except let out gas and look adorable, and yet her presence during that special season opened our eyes in a fresh way to the wonder of Christmas.

It wasn’t because the piece of real estate underneath our Christmas tree was much more crowded than usual; and, no, it wasn’t because our daughter received the most gifts out of anyone in our family. (She received toys and clothes that she probably won’t be able to wear or really enjoy until after this year’s Christmas celebration.) The fresh wonder came as we held in our arms a living reminder of the heart of this holy day. Beyond the lights, trees, songs, and scents—even beyond the shepherds, angels, and animals—the heart of Christmas was laid in a feeding trough two thousand years ago as a baby boy in Bethlehem.

Now this wasn’t what many expected when they were waiting for the fulfillment of God’s Word from the prophet Isaiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV) With those credentials, shouldn’t this king be born in the palace of the greatest existing empire? Instead, he was born in a feeding trough in a very small town of Israel, which in turn was a conquered nation under the rule of the Roman Empire. The all-powerful God did not send His Son to overwhelm the world with might and glory; instead He sent his Son in the weakest form of humanity: a baby. My wife and I could only catch our breath in wonder when we fed our daughter so that she would not starve, changed her so that she would not rot, and carefully bathed her so that she would not drown.  She was totally dependent on us; and it floored us to think of why someone who is used to having everyone dependent on him would willingly place himself in such a position.

The Bible tells us why God humbled himself to such a point: Jesus became human like us in order to stand in our place before God. We all have sinned against our Maker and no amount of sacrifice or penance we can make on our own would overrule the rightful justice we deserve. And so Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) He took no shortcuts in living the life we could never live—from birth to death, Jesus lived in perfect obedience and with perfect love for God the Father. He used his human eyes to see needy; he used his feet to move toward the hurting; he used his hands to lift the lowly; and he used his lips to praise his Lord.

But his body was not formed only to do good in our place; it was also formed to be broken for our evil. “When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.” (Hebrews 10:5) Jesus himself would be the perfect sacrifice. The hands that God the Father fashioned in the womb of Mary were made to be pierced. God made that heart knowing that it would stop beating for the salvation of many. He breathed air into those lungs so that they would one day collapse under the weight of Jesus’ body hanging on the cross. He wove that skin knowing it would be wrapped in grave cloths only to burst out from them in the triumphant defeat of death. Truly, “God so loved the world that He gave His Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This Christmas, take time to marvel at this humble King and the costly peace bought by the sacrifice of the Prince of Peace

“Christ as One Shrouded in Mystery” (Judy)

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Hey TD!

Heading into Christmas, here’s a piece Judy has written for us to think upon as we fight to keep Christ in Christmas.  Thanks Judy!

Christ as One Shrouded in Mystery by Judy Wu

It is needless to describe how the Christ has been taken out of Christmas in this nation. What was once a sacred time where folk would count down in Advent to celebrate the coming of the Lord into humanity has been turned into explosions of lollipop red, glittery sparkles, and blasted commercialism in every direction. “Happy holidays” becomes more commonly proclaimed than “Merry Christmas.” But if Christ is not at the center of the holiday, then what is?

Aside from the ridiculousness of our ignorance comes another form of absurdity in its recognition. Frederick Buechner describes the Incarnation as “a kind of vast joke whereby the creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers… Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.” It is almost blasphemous to proclaim so boldly that the Lord of the infinite galaxies chose to lay in a foul-smelling, rank animal habitat in order to give a new definition to humanity. And yet we set up euphemus nativity scenes with a placidly smiling Jesus, a Jesus with a perfectly spherical halo around his head, a clean and glowing Jesus, when in reality, his birth was a literal physical manifestation of being born into a world terribly tarnished by sin. As Frederica Mathewes-Green writes “We grew up with the Jesus story, until we outgrew it.1

There is much mystery in the Incarnation, and the more knowledge acquired about Jesus and the drawing close of the relationship does not detract from the enigma, but rather adds to it. How could someone so great choose to be so small? How could someone so far above the confines of space and time want to reside in me? As we understand more about the vastness of God, the more mysterious the Incarnation becomes. And mystery is heaven’s soft whisper that this is not all that there is.

Let us never outgrow the Jesus story. It is our natural inclination to be familiar and therefore, lord over our surroundings. But with something so absurd yet beautiful, it is impossible to truly grow accustomed with it. Like a diamond, it reflects new colors at every turning of the facets. It is only until we reach the source of heaven’s beckonings that we will ever understand. But until then, may our numbness of the birth of baby Jesus be turned into mystery with our every drawing close to Him.

1 At the Corner of East and Now, Frederica Mathewes-Green

Who Are You God? The God of Love

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Hey TD,

A few years ago I wrote an essay for the Who is God? series that we’ve been posting over the last year.  My focus was on love.  If you could use a boost in your understanding of your “love life,” read on.  I hope it helps you towards becoming a better lover, as you learn from the One who loves best. – Arthur

Who Are You God?  The God of Love

“Do you love me?” Jesus repeatedly asked Peter in John 21 … and for good reason.  Prior to Jesus’ arrest, “trial,” sentencing, and execution, Peter, the emotionally charged and flamboyant disciple boldly, repeatedly, and confidently professed his love and allegiance to Jesus.  Relying on the emotion of the moments, and his strong “feelings” of love, Peter would make daring claims of loyalty.   So self-driven was he that on one occasion, he rebuked Jesus after He informed His disciples of the manner in which He would die, promising the Master that he would never let that happen to Him.  This prompted Jesus to return the rebuke, saying to Peter, “Get Thee behind me, Satan.”

On that terse Thursday evening, shortly before Jesus was to be arrested, Peter assured Jesus, “Even though all may fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  Jesus informed him that before the rooster would crow that very night, Peter would deny him three times, to which Peter insisted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.”  Such was Peter’s confidence in his own love.  The rest, as they say, is history.  When presented with the opportunity to align and associate himself with Jesus, while Jesus was on trial, Peter’s “love” took a leave of absence, and indeed, as Jesus stated, Peter denied any association whatsoever with Jesus … three separate times, even cursing and swearing at one point for emphasis! (Matt. 26:74)

One of the most poignant, dramatic, and chilling verses in the New Testament, to me, comes soon after, when Luke records, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61)  Imagine the piercing guilt and shame Peter felt when their eyes met, knowing that he had done the unthinkable: he forsook His Master.  No wonder Peter couldn’t answer Jesus’ question any other way than to say, “You know I love you.”  You may be scratching your head a little, asking, “Wait.  What do you mean?  Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him, and Peter answered in the affirmative.  What’s the issue?”  Let me explain.

There are at least two keys to better understand this intense relational exchange between Jesus and Peter.  The first has to do with what is meant by “love.”  The word Jesus used in His question was the Greek word agape, which is translated “love” in English.  This represents the highest form of love, God’s love, the love of unwavering fortitude and commitment to another’s best, even at personal expense.  Unfortunately, three other Greek words are also translated as “love” in English, so something gets lost in the translation.  There’s storge – a familial kind of love, as family members would have; there’s eros – a romantic, sensual, feeling type of love; and then there’s phileo – a brotherly, friendship type of love, as good friends would share.  Jesus asked Peter, “Do you agape me?,” to which Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; You know I phileo You.”

The second key is in the timing of the question.  A few weeks earlier, Peter would have answered with a resounding, “You bet!  Of course I agape You, and I always will!”  Now He’s faced with answering the question after having denied Jesus three times.  Though I’m sure he was agonizingly dying to respond in the affirmative, he couldn’t; not with the facts staring him in the face.  He could not tell Jesus, “I agape You.”  He could only truthfully say, “I phileo You.”  That exchange happened a second time.  The third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you phileo Me?”  This deeply grieved Peter.  Many think that this grief is Peter feeling offended and hurt that Jesus would question him on whether he even had phileo love for Him.  That’s a possibility.  I think another possibility is that Peter felt deeply grieved that he couldn’t honestly tell Jesus, “I love you,” though he desperately wanted to.

What if Jesus asked you that same question, “Do you love me?”  Would you be able to say, “Yes, I love You”?  When a servant-girl identified Peter as an associate of Jesus, the Scriptures tell us that he responded with an oath, saying, “I don’t know the man!”  (Matt. 26:72)  Peter lied.  Or did he?  I think it was Joni Eareckson Tada who once commented that this may be the first time Peter actually told the truth!  He didn’t know Jesus!  Not really.

The truth is, no one knows Him, and no one can know Him unless the Lord first loves us, reveals Himself to us, and unilaterally changes our hearts.  Hence, John’s admission in 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us…,” and later in verse 19, “We love because He first loved us.” (emphasis mine)  Remember when Peter boldly confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”?  Jesus reminded him that “… flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

This is what Peter had to learn before Jesus was going to hand him the keys of heaven and build his church upon him (Matt. 16:18-19).  This is what we all must realize before our worship, proclamation, and ministry are to become authentic and mature.  The Lord is sovereign over absolutely EVERYTHING, even our love.  He controls it all. That’s humbling to know.  The Lord wants us to know this deeply, especially those of us who are regularly praised, followed, and admired for our “love for God.”

It’s very easy to get subtly seduced into subconsciously thinking that the reason we’re such “good Christians” is because we love God more than the average person; and it’s tempting to think that the reason we love God is because we believed, we obeyed, and we followed Him.  And of course that’s true in a sense.   But why is it true?  Because we’re so smart and wise?  Well, yes, that’s true too, in a sense.  But how did you get to be that way?  Why you and not your friend?  The reality is that once you weren’t and now you are, and it is God who made you the way you are; without first consulting you, and without using pre-existing “material.”  You were absolutely nothing –  zero, zilch, nada – until God, all by Himself, with no outside influences, unilaterally and lovingly fashioned you.  And that great love for God you have?  It isn’t yours.  It’s His.  He monergistically (by Himself, with no prior cooperation from you) bestowed that gift of faith and love to you (Rom. 12:3), so that through you, He will love Himself.

Peter finally came to understand that, and because of that, God was able to build His church upon Peter and the apostles; a church that is still growing and maturing today, two-thousand years later.   It’s important to note that years after Jesus’ return to heaven, Peter was again put in a position to affirm or deny his association with Jesus.  This time, God’s love, not Peter’s, won out.  Peter and his wife were crucified as lovers of Jesus Christ.  It is said that while his wife was being crucified, he kept reminding her to remember the Lord Jesus.  When it was his turn, historians tell us that that he requested to be crucified upside down, for he was not worthy to be crucified like His Lord.

What a difference God’s love, true love, makes.   If you truly love the Lord today, your potential for powerfully and distinctively loving God is limitless, because His love is limitless; and it is His love which abides in you today.  To the extent that your love is subsumed by His love, the sky is the limit!  So, what are you waiting for?  Love God and keep His commandments like you never have before; and do it with joy, power, zeal, and freedom, for “… the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are NOT burdensome.” 1John 5:3

 – Arthur Hsieh

Who Are You, God? Infinity!

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Jonathan Edwards believed that of all the forms of knowledge, knowledge of God and knowledge of self are the most important.  After taking a few months off from our Who Are You, God? essay series, it’s back!  Grow your perspective and understanding of the infinity of God with this essay that Kathy wrote back when she was a student in college.  Enjoy! – Arthur

Who can fathom infinity?

In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis ends his Chronicles of Narnia series with a picture of infinity. Three of the Pevensie children have finally entered into the presence of Aslan, the “Great Lion” of Narnia, forever. C.S. Lewis writes, “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Can you imagine reading a book like that—that goes on forever and in which every chapter is better than the one before? You’d never stop reading!

Or, if you don’t like reading, look up into the sky at night. Can you imagine counting all the stars in the universe? You’d never stop counting! Or, for all you chemistry-lovers, can you imagine writing out all the possible amino acid sequences that make up proteins and all the possible nucleotide sequences that make up our DNA? Can you wrap your mind around numbers like 41000000?

Imagine counting the sand from a massive desert sand dune, where the grains are so fine that getting them in your socks and shoes are not bothersome at all, but rather soothing. I’ve tried counting my handful of sand before, and let me tell you, sand is not meant to be counted. Neither are stars and neither are molecules. I think they are meant to give us a picture of infinity, to blow our minds about the greatness of who God is, to blow our minds that He who created and sustains all things knows us intimately, and to blow our minds that we know Him and call Him our Father. Who can grasp such magnanimity? “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is too high, I cannot attain to it!” Ps. 139:6.

The Psalmist has also exclaimed, “How precious also are your thoughts to me O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand!” (Ps. 139:17-18) He says that God’s thoughts are vast, too numerous to count, as sand is, because God is infinite! And we know Him. God says, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23). And Jesus prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Knowing God is eternal life. Furthermore, the knowledge of God can’t be exhausted! There are infinite facets of His love, grace, kindness. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) Just as C.S. Lewis described heaven as a book without an end that contains chapters in which the next is always better than the one before, I think something similar is happening for us when we come to salvation and enter into eternity—we will forever be knowing God, not merely knowing about, but intimately knowing in new ways that we have not known before! When we enter Heaven, intimate knowledge of God will continue to be a perpetual novelty. What blows my mind is that as my knowledge of the infinite God increases, my love and adoration for Him will also increase…forever and fully! It makes sense then that Charles Spurgeon would say that “The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father.” For the Christian, knowing God is no simple and tiresome feat. In fact, we are characterized by who we know God to be, just as A.W Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

We know God to some degree because He first knew us and we love because He first loved us. Our whole life should be a hunger to know and love Him. If that is so, why is it that so few of us can fervently say with David, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1)? Or “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (Ps 119: 20)? Those are intense words, if sincere. We have only to measure ourselves against Scripture to see how far away we are from truly knowing our Savior, and God. Do we desire knowledge of God to the point that we can say we thirst, faint, and hunger for Him? Few of us can declare such truth in our life and use such intense language. Where does David get that passion? This much I know, we can only hunger and thirst and yearn for that which we have already tasted, and seen and known. How can we hunger and yearn for chocolate or frozen yogurt if we have never tasted how good they are? “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps 34:8) Have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good?

Furthermore, our soul can only thirst and our flesh can only faint for God alone if we find and seek our only satisfaction in Him. How can the degree of our yearning to know our Father be like David’s if we are constantly seeking satisfaction and delight elsewhere? One thing He has revealed about Himself time and time again is that He is a jealous God, desiring our full devotion, submission, love, delight, and obedience. God is El Qanna, a jealous God.

If ever I shall thirst, I pray that my soul shall thirst for God. If ever I shall faint, I pray that my flesh would faint for God. He is the greatest Person in the universe to know and love. So, who is this God that David thirsts and faints for?

It will take a lifetime and more to answer that question fully. The Great Story begins now. For “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” (Augustine)

– Kathy