The Source

By Elaine Knudtson

where does my help come from

 

“I lift up my eyes unto the hills.  From whence does my help come from?”  Ps.121:1-2

God’s ultimate purpose is to restore us to fellowship with him so we can live in the fullness of joy intended for us at creation.  We lose our focus by the unpredictability of life’s circumstances.  Sin and unbelief make us susceptible to alienation from our source, but Jesus came to reconnect us to the eternal and invite us back into joy.  When we look at the faithfulness and love or our unchanging God, we can delight in the beauty of this life and experience his pleasure. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:36)

ice

The Source

Ice floats under the bridge, escaping the snow-capped Rockies on its journey to the ocean,

Ever changing, ever the same, the flow of time from the source to the destination;

Alpha and Omega eternally linked by the living water.

I stand at a single moment, susceptible to the forces of change,

Helpless to affect the flow.

“I lift my eyes unto the hills from whence does my help come?”

Time scars the riverbed and distracts my focus, but at this moment,

I stand above the circumstances, delighting in the privilege of being present in the now.

 

mountains.jpg

Cure for Anxiety – A lesson for Martha

Dr. Paul Knudtson

marthaLuke 10 contains a well-known passage about the sisters Mary and Martha welcoming Jesus into their home. In this gospel vignette, we see how Martha becomes irritated when Mary sits listening to Jesus, leaving her to do all the work. She complains to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me” (10:40). But instead of telling Mary to help her sister, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (10:41-42).

I have always liked this passage of scripture. Perhaps I have liked it because I have especially identified with Mary rather than Martha. I am naturally quiet and reflective, and like sitting still. But I must also admit that I have a lazy streak and so often find it easier to do nothing instead of laboring at burdensome tasks. How easy it is to simply sit in my easy chair in the evening and watch hours of mindless television! To my shame I must say that in weaker moments I have seen myself like Mary, and my energetic, hard-working wife, Elaine, like Martha! Yet this gospel account can hardly be used to praise laziness and to denigrate hard work.  Furthermore, countless scriptures can be cited that extol the value of work. The apostle Paul admonishes believers in Thessalonica “to keep away from believers who are living in idleness” (2 Thess 3:6) and even bluntly says that, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (3:10). Jesus is not promoting laziness in his comments to Martha.

worriedMore recently I have begun to see Luke 10 quite differently and now see how I more naturally resemble Martha than her sister Mary. That is, like Martha I am “worried and distracted by many things.” Jesus is not criticizing Martha for her industriousness, but for her worry and distraction. My dictionary (Wordsworth) defines worry as, “to be unduly anxious, to fret.” I so often fret and am unduly anxious. When this happens, I often find it hard to care about others the way that I should. I need to learn to become like Mary and sit quietly at the feet of Jesus, listening carefully to what he has to say to me. To do so I must surrender the grip that my worries and distractions have on me.

Evidently welcoming Jesus into our lives has a bearing on how we deal with anxiety. Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus speaks about anxieties that may arise from poverty. He says, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25). Jesus indicates that worries are related especially to the future, saying, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matt 6:34). Jesus invites us to a life in which we give up our worries! What a concept!—worry-free living.

I recently read on a website that P.T.S.D. (post traumatic stress disorder) is often characterized by persistent experiences of anxiety, fear, and depression. Apparently life’s traumas often heighten feelings of anxiety and fear. As I read what was on this website, I wondered if my ongoing struggle with such feelings was due to various traumas that I have experienced in my own life. This may be the case, but I also understand that such emotions are common to all people, and that Jesus’s words apply to me nonetheless.

anxietyReadings from various Christian theologians, along with scriptural passages such as the one in Luke 10, help me to consider the relationship between anxiety and my life with Jesus. In his book, The Nature and Destiny of Man (vol. I), Reinhold Niebuhr (referring to Søren Kierkegaard) describes anxiety as the precondition for sin. That is, anxiety is not itself sin, but is a condition in which one is especially vulnerable to sin, especially the sin of unbelief. When we are anxious, we are tempted to give up on God, to turn away from God, to even commit the sin of despair as we surrender completely to our worries. As we see in the gospels, fear and faith do not easily coexist. After calming a storm which threatened to destroy the disciples, Jesus asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

Niebuhr says, “The freedom from anxiety . . . is a possibility only if perfect trust in divine security has been achieved” (p.183).  Ted Peters puts it this way: “the person who trusts has what it takes to render anxiety powerless. Faith as trust provides us with a sense of security even if the situation seems threatening. . . . Faith manifests itself in us as courage” (Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society, p.66).

faith2

Anxiety is a universal human experience. It derives strength from our creaturely vulnerability and mortality. It can either lead us away from God to unbelief, or else it can lead us to God as the only reliable source of peace and joy—or as Peters says, of courage.

Rather than being held a hostage to my worries and cares like Martha, I wish to give these up as I with Mary choose the one thing needed and sit at the feet of Jesus.

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Winter Retreat

By Elaine Knudtson

Snowflakes float on the breath of winter like dandelion fluff in spring.

Puffs of white blossoms collect in the fingers of naked branches.

Mountains, obscured by the curtain of white, enclose my silent retreat.

The wooden crucifix, oblivious to the cold, hangs as a sentinel, suspended between heaven and earth.

Behind the framed window, protected and warm, the page elicits reflection like the snow entices footprints.

Why am I here?

To hear the breath and pulse of God in the silence.

Vulnerable,

Responsive,

Open to the Spirit,

Fear melts as willfulness dissolves into trust.

Romans 8: Faith’s Response to Trauma

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

 In my last post I discussed the theological challenge presented by unexpected defeats or setbacks in life. I used Psalm 44 as the basis of that discussion, a psalm containing Israel’s prayer of bewilderment after suffering military defeat at the hands of her enemies. The psalm ends without an explanation of Israel’s plight. The final verse of the psalm is simply a cry to God for help: “Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” (44:26).

In Psalm 44 God is said to be treating Israel like sheep to be slaughtered. “You have made us like sheep for slaughter. . . . Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (44:11, 22).  Evidently Israel’s recent bitter defeat involved much loss of life, and raised the poignant question, Why didn’t God rescue his people? The Psalmist cries out to God, “Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” (44:24).

Many centuries after this psalm was written, the apostle Paul quotes it (in Romans 8) as he deals with a similar theological problem, the problem of human suffering. Paul is here referring to both the suffering due to the persecution of Christians, as well as to the suffering endured by humans generally. Suffering due to persecution is indicated by such words and phrases as, “suffer with him (Christ)” (8:17), “persecution” (8:35), “sword” (8:35), and by the quotation from Psalm 44: “For your sake we are being killed all day long” (8:36).  The general suffering of humanity is referred to in Paul’s discussion of the troubles inherent in all of creation in Romans 8:18-23.

What is surprising in comparing these discussions of suffering in Psalm 44 and Romans 8 is the different tone of what Paul says in comparison with the psalm—even though Paul quotes the psalm (44:22) in what he says (Rom 8:36). In contrast to the psalm, what Paul writes is not at all somber or dark, but is thoroughly positive, even triumphant. Psalm 44 gives voice to one who is disheartened and bewildered following defeat at the hands of enemies, while Romans 8 exudes a confident spirit that proclaims victory over all actual or potential foes. Paul takes a verse from Psalms that sounds bleak and pessimistic (“we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered” – Ps 44:22 in Rom 8:36) and places it in a context that is thoroughly positive and hopeful.  Paul introduces the Psalm quotation with rhetorical questions—“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?” (8:35)—and then follows it with a resounding “No!” He writes, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (8:37).

Psalm 44 highlights the problem of the suffering of the righteous by posing unanswered why questions of God (44:23-24), while Romans 8 responds to the problem of suffering with a series of confident assertions. Paul’s principal assertions are the following:

  1. coming soonPresent suffering is offset by future hope (Rom 8:18-25). Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). Paul says something very similar to this in 2 Corinthians 4:17. The supreme goodness of our future hope in Christ outweighs by far the troubles of this present life. Our Christian hope puts sufferings in proper perspective.

 

  1. prayerWe meet present sufferings with prayer (Rom 8:26-27). Prayer is God’s provision for us to deal with suffering in our lives. Further, Paul defines as prayer here as that which transcends the sort of prayer that involves verbal petitions in which we ask God for certain, specific items. That is, this prayer consists of our expressions of pain and need that cannot be adequately expressed in words. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).

 

Paul has said that just as “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains,” so we too

“groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23), a

“groaning” that may be another way of referring to our prayers consisting of “sighs too deep for

words.”

So prayer is the prescribed way for believers to find relief from the pain of their sufferings. Elsewhere Paul refers to the way in which God comforts us in all our affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-11), the principal means of such comfort likely being prayer (note 1:11).

3. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe can have confidence in God’s ability to bring about good in the end (Romans 8:28-30), that is, to bring good out of bad. Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (8:28).  (Some ancient Greek manuscripts indicate that Paul may have written, “God makes all things work together for good” or “in all things God works for good,” making God’s role in bringing about the good more explicit.)

Paul’s subsequent discussion of God’s plans for the people of Israel in Romans 9-11 provides an example of how God may bring about good from a bad situation. The bad situation concerns the failure of the vast majority of the Jews of Paul’s day to accept Jesus as their messiah and the salvation offered through him. It is clear that the Jewish rejection of the gospel of Christ has caused Paul considerable personal anguish. Paul writes, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Rom 9:3).

It is surely impossible for non-Jewish (gentile) Christians today to appreciate what the Jewish rejection of Christ would have meant for a first-century Jew like Paul. It was a situation that was unthinkable. If God was accomplishing his plan of salvation for the world through the Jewish people that climaxed in the coming of the Jewish messiah, what sense did it make if Jews as a whole had failed to accept Christ? This seemed to suggest at some level that God’s plan had failed, or that God had failed (see Rom 9:6).

In what follows in Romans 9-11, Paul shows how God’s good purposes are being accomplished even when it may appear otherwise. For example, he writes, “Just as you (gentiles or non-Jews) were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their (Jewish) disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (Rom 11:30-32).  As Paul sees it, human disobedience and unbelief are ultimately unable to thwart God’s good plans for humanity. Even Paul must admit, though, that in the end the working out of God’s good plans will always transcend human comprehension. “O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33).

  1. anchor05122018-2Paul confidently affirms that nothing in our present lives, no matter how horrible or bleak, is able to separate us from the love of God (8:31-39). Paul gives a list of potential threats—such as, hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, things present, things to come (8:35, 38)—and proclaims that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (8:37).

 

While Psalm 44 described the horror of defeat at the hands of one’s foes, Romans 8 boldly proclaims that through Christ we are “more than conquerors” such that nothing, absolutely nothing in heaven or on earth, will be able to bring about our ultimate defeat. This is because nothing will succeed in cutting us off from “the love of Christ” (8:35), that is, from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39). Bad things may indeed happen to us, but Paul assures us that we will be just fine because the love of God will always keep us and remain with us. Evidently the love of God is such a powerful force in the lives of believers that no imagined or real horror of this life can undo its effects. If God’s love for us is the most fundamental truth of our lives, if it is the bedrock upon which we build, and if this can never be taken from us, then we will be alright no matter what life may bring our way.

Negative human experiences, especially those that involve tragic events, not only cause sorrow and anguish, but for people of faith raise theological questions, questions about God.

Why did God allow this to happen?

Where was God?

Does God even exist?

Psalm 44 deals with the tragedy of defeat in battle by raising theological questions, questions put to God. “Why do you forget our affliction?” (44:24).

Romans 8 illustrates how Paul’s faith in the crucified and risen Christ (see 8:1-17) has transformed the way he views suffering.

Suffering:

can never remove us from the realm of God’s love (8:31-39),

is endured through prayer (8:26-27),

is relativized by the realization that present suffering cannot be compared with the goodness of our future hope in Christ (8:18-25),

and believers holds onto the confidence that God is even able to bring about good through seemingly tragic circumstances (8:28).

 

Modern atheistic worldviews cannot resolve the tragic dimension of human life. If there is no God, life in the end is a tragedy. But while the scriptures of the old and new testaments acknowledge the tragic element within the human story, they also bear witness to a message of hope grounded in a God of steadfast love who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Such news is about one who delivers from every evil, including sin, death, and the power of the evil one. Those who hear and believe this gospel find comfort in sorrow, hope instead of despair, and hearts buoyed up with an unmistakable and uncanny sense of joy.

all shall be.jpgFaith in such a God affirms the words of Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

 

 

 

 

Enlightened

By Elaine Knudtson

Morning sun drenches the gullies with an amber glow.

The waterfall of light cascades down the hill as the sun takes its place overhead.

Soon the colours fade into the predictable background of green and beige and gray as the cars crawl up and down the ribbon of road like ants leaving the colony.

When they return at day’s end, the light will again appear for a moment, to those with eyes to see, casting shadows on the hill until the darkness descends like a shade.

What is the true color of that hill?  Amber, green or black?

Where does its essence lie? 

Moments of brilliance followed by hours of shade;

The promise followed by the unexceptional,

Potential followed by the mundane,

Illumination dependent on the Son to reveal her beauty.

Can I be content to wait in the shadows for that brief moment of enlightenment?

 

 

 

Psalm 44 -Life: Meaningful and Incomprehensible

By Paul Knudtson

ps 44

 

In a recent post I protested against the modern, secular idea of the absolute randomness of everything that renders life absurd and meaningless. Christian faith affirms that life is meaningful since it is defined and determined by God. Yet, as the Christian scriptures also bear witness, humans are often unable to perceive the meaning behind much that happens in life. This failure to discern God’s purposes and providential involvement in all that takes place can shake one’s faith in a good and trustworthy God.

Many of the Psalms in the Bible express the existential crisis arising from situations that do not make sense and in which God seems absent. Psalm 44 is just such a psalm that expresses consternation at the apparent absence of God.

We have heard with our ears, O God,
    our ancestors have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
    in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations,
    but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
    but them you set free;
for not by their own sword did they win the land,
    nor did their own arm give them victory;
but your right hand, and your arm,
    and the light of your countenance,
    for you delighted in them.

You are my King and my God;
    you command[a] victories for Jacob.
Through you we push down our foes;
    through your name we tread down our assailants.
For not in my bow do I trust,
    nor can my sword save me.
But you have saved us from our foes,
    and have put to confusion those who hate us.
In God we have boasted continually,
    and we will give thanks to your name forever.

Yet you have rejected us and abased us,
    and have not gone out with our armies.
10 You made us turn back from the foe,
    and our enemies have gotten spoil.
11 You have made us like sheep for slaughter,
    and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You have sold your people for a trifle,
    demanding no high price for them.

13 You have made us the taunt of our neighbors,
    the derision and scorn of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations,
    a laughingstock among the peoples.
15 All day long my disgrace is before me,
    and shame has covered my face
16 at the words of the taunters and revilers,
    at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.

17 All this has come upon us,
    yet we have not forgotten you,
    or been false to your covenant.
18 Our heart has not turned back,
    nor have our steps departed from your way,
19 yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals,
    and covered us with deep darkness.

20 If we had forgotten the name of our God,
    or spread out our hands to a strange god,
21 would not God discover this?
    For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22 Because of you we are being killed all day long,
    and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
    Awake, do not cast us off forever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
    Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25 For we sink down to the dust;
    our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up, come to our help.
    Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

 

This Psalm begins by recounting divine acts of love toward the ancestors of old in rescuing them from their enemies and in granting them a land of their own. But in 44:9-16 the writer describes the present situation of military defeat at the hands of Israel’s enemies. Such a situation does not make sense theologically. Though those described in the psalm have remained faithful to God, God has abandoned them.

8In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever. 9Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies.” Verse 11 goes on to say this to God: “You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations.” The Psalmist protests to God, “All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant” (44:17).

Israel had learned to expect that God could be trusted to protect and keep her so long as she in turn remained faithful and obedient towards God. Moses had said, “If you will only obey the LORD your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the LORD your God will set you on high above all the nations of the earth . . . . The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 7). The blessings for obedience extended beyond matters of military security to include prosperity in a fruitful, productive, and peaceful land (28:4-6, 8, 11-12).  There was a logic to Israel’s faith; it granted meaning to life. Obedience to God brought abundant blessings; disobedience to God brought terrible curses.

Against the background of faith’s assertions of meaningfulness, Psalm 44 protests that Israel’s present military defeat at the hands of her enemies contradicts the promises of her scriptures and raise fundamental questions regarding God and the meaningfulness of faith.

Can God be trusted?

Is God reliable?

Does the life of faith make sense?

Near the end of Psalm 44, the question of meaning is raised as indicated by the threefold use of the word “why.” Verses 23-24 are addressed directly to God:

23 Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!

24 Why do you hide your face?

Why do you forget our affliction and oppression.”

The word “why” is asking for an explanation regarding the meaning of what has happened. To say that our faith (the Christian faith) makes life meaningful is to say that we reject any assertion that life is merely random and without meaning, that is, absurd.

What is significant, though, is that Psalm 44, like many other Psalms (see, for example, Psalms 10, 22, 74, 88), does not provide God’s answer to the question, “why?” What we may conclude from this, I suppose, is that while faith does make life meaningful and does answer many of the deepest questions and hungers of the human heart, there will also be faith-testing times in our lives in which questions will go unanswered and when the nature of God’s involvement in our lives will remain hidden from us.

Psalm 44 is prayer to God awaiting God’s answer. I suppose many of our questions in life will remain open-ended prayers to God. Such prayers will be characteristic of the life of faith, and may either be answered throughout our lives in a multitude of ways, or may await God’s final answer in the age to come. While this Psalm expresses the faith-challenging questions of present troubles, it ends with a faith-affirming reference to God’s steadfast love. “Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” (44:26).

faith before understanding

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginning Without God

By Elaine Knudtson

earth.jpg

“. . .  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, . . . “ Gen. 1:2

Beginnings:  formless, empty, dark.

Infinite, random possibilities.

One wrong move and I could cut myself off from ultimately winning the game of life.

Every choice limits outcomes until I’m left with the consequences of being the master of my own universe.

Eliminate God from the equation and this is all we are left with.

 

 

My daughter had a dialogue with my husband that illustrated this point.  She had been listening to an atheist speak about the freedom of seeing the universe as random.  Hence illness and suffering were simply inexplicable events devoid of meaning.

Kristy:

I heard an author speak about the randomness and probabilities of life.  He is talking about how people want to make meaning in life, actually it is just very random. I think that our search for meaning has to do with our search for God.  What do you think?

Paul:

I agree with you.  I think our longing for meaning is itself telling.  Human longings may correspond to the object of our desires, just as physical desires correspond to that which satisfies these desires (C. S. Lewis).  It seems to me that if randomness and purposelessness define all that is, then life is totally absurd and tragic.

The gospel affirms a good and joyous message which addresses the deepest longings of humans.  Atheistic materialism faces profound problems of its own. Popular atheists have not been honest and upfront about the essentially tragic and gloomy character of their worldview.  As I see it, it does not provide the basis for fundamental and enduring happiness and joy.

Kristy:

Exactly.  If there is nothing more than random moments, why bother living?

Genesis 1 without God.  

At the beginning of a new year, I renew my understanding of grace as revealed in scripture:

Creation  – Extravagant love

The Fall –   Brokenness and Alienation

The Promise – God will make it right

Christ – God with us: birth, death and resurrection

The Future – Return to the Garden

I choose to begin the new year by including God in Genesis 1.

genesis one.jpg

 

“If we really trust God, we don’t have a care in the world.”   (Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O.)

Why?

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. . . And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. . . What then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. . . For I am convinced that neither death or life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:22-23, 28, 31-32, 35, 38)

This is not mindless optimism.  There are good and sufficient reasons to believe in God.

 

Arguments with Materialism   by Paul R. Knudtson, Ph.D.

It seems to me that contemporary atheists are generally materialists; that is, they typically define reality in purely material terms. For them, nothing exists outside of the material realm; only that which is material, that is that can be perceived with the senses (or technical instruments of some kind), can be said to exist. There is nothing besides matter (“stuff”) in the universe. The existence of a spiritual realm—including God—that can be distinguished from the physical, material realm is denied.

But as I understand it, materialists (atheists) have difficulty accounting for the following:

  1. Human thought and consciousness (including self-consciousness). Though there is obviously a direct connection between what is happening in the brain (neurons and synapses) and thought, human thought and especially consciousness transcend material categories. The human mind (and brain) differs in this regard from a computer. A computer is not conscious, and does not perceive itself as an “I” (a person), while humans are conscious of themselves as individual persons who have thoughts, desires, self-awareness, memories, feelings, and certain unique traits, and so forth.
  2. Human will and the ability to make decisions. Materialists (like Richard Dawkins) tend to embrace a deterministic view of human decision making. That is, according to these materialists, what appears to be a freely made decision is actually the result of minute chemical and electrical events in the brain that determine what a person will do or think. But again, it would seem to me that humans really do make decisions and can even exercise a degree of free will. This challenges a materialistic worldview which seeks to understand everything in a material and mechanistic fashion.
  3. Good and evil. How can materialists (atheists) legitimately classify human behaviors as good or evil? “Good” and “evil” are non-material concepts. And I would argue that these terms accurately describe reality, and that “good” and “evil” are more than individual judgments or social conventions. For example, I think it is self-evidently true that the holocaust was an evil event in human history and that such a characterization is not simply a personal opinion or the opinion of many people, but that this event is rightly and properly and necessarily described in this way. For example, the holocaust really was evil. It is as if we appeal to some non-material, objective category when we say that something like this was “evil.” But on what basis can a materialist say that Adolf Hitler’s attempt to exterminate all European Jews—men, women, and children—was morally wrong, that it was really and essentially and undeniably evil? How can a materialist/atheist argue about what “should” or “should not” have been done?  Is not the claim that something is “good” or “evil” a claim that uses non-material categories?

And if the theory of evolution is based on the reality that the stronger survive, does this not suggest that “might makes right,” that whatever the strong are able to do to the weak is simply the way things are and therefore legitimate?  Yet, even modern people, in line with the ethic of Jesus and the prophets, sense that it is wrong to disregard or abuse those who are weak and lowly in society, the widows, orphans, and foreigners.  How can materialists (atheists) make a convincing case regarding the full equality of all people—without regard for their gender, intelligence, or ethnicity?  On what basis can a materialistic atheist say that what Hitler did was morally wrong, or that it is ever wrong for the powerful to oppress the weak? On what basis can a materialist say that such action is “wrong”? “Right” and “wrong,” it would seem to me, are non-material categories.

  1. Beauty is another non-material category that catches my attention and seems to call into question materialistic assumptions, as do human emotions like love or sadness or joy. Nature continues to evoke feelings of wonder and awe in us, reactions which are difficult to reduce to merely material categories.
  2. The Anthropic Principle: the laws of nature (constants, such as gravity) provide exactly the right conditions for the emergence of life. The anthropic principle has been described by people such as John Polkinghorn (see below*) as a kind of “Goldilocks Principle” such that conditions are “just right” in our universe for the kinds of biological and human life that thrive on earth. Dawkins and company appeal to the idea of a multiverse in order to explain how it is that our particular universe has evidently been hospitable to biological life. Since it is unlikely that any single universe should just happen to provide the precise conditions necessary for the emergence of life, it is reasonable to think that there were many universes (thousands? millions?) in which at least one provided the precise conditions necessary for the emergence of life. But such an idea—for which there is no empirical evidence as far as I am aware—seems to me like grasping at straws. The anthropic character of the universe (and especially of our world) implies design, a category that transcends what materialism will allow.

   [*The Rev Dr John Charlton Polkinghorne (born in 1930) is an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer, and Anglican priest.]

The items listed and described above (1-5) are intended to challenge or raise questions regarding the worldview known as “materialism.”  Clearly this matter has great significance for those who believe in God. If materialism is right and there is indeed nothing more to reality than physical, material stuff, then there is no God. Now it is not necessarily the case that the alternative is true; that is, it is not necessarily the case that if one can speak of a non-material dimension to reality that God (or, a god) necessarily exists. But if one allows for any kind of non-material aspect to what is, then one has at least opened the door to a spiritual dimension that may include God.

What I have written here should be considered in relation to such scriptural passages that indicate that God’s reality has been made known through creation. See, for example, Romans 1:19-21 and Acts 14:15-17.