Hope

Hope Because It Says So

While I agree with the sentiment I still don't appreciate snarky billboards like this one.

While I agree with the sentiment I still don't appreciate snarky billboards like this one.

Those who know me well realize that I'm not particularly a fan of Christian culture. There I said it. Some of you may think less of me now and I am truly sorry to disappoint. But please, for your own safety, don't suggest to me that Facing the Giants is great cinematography or even good theology. It's neither...and I happen to take it a bit personally (which is another story). Likewise I won't be offended but neither will I be impressed if offered Testamints as opposed to secular Altoids. There are no Jesus fish on my bumper. Christian t-shirts with messages like "God said it. I believe it. That settles it!" aren't really my thing either. In fact since I brought it up I find that particular slogan especially disagreeable. The more accurate statement is "God said it. That settles it." I am that picky.

Honestly the real reasons I am so persnickety are my unfounded pride and self-righteousness. But I also hope (there's that word again) my pickiness has something to do with a particular reverence for what God has chosen to make known about himself. In spite of my aversion toward Christian propaganda I am in fact one of those nuts who thinks that the Bible, the whole thing, was ultimately authored by God.  I don't recall reading anything in it that is only validated by my belief. Whether I choose to believe it or not the Bible still makes the same claims. One of the most prominent of those claims is that the Bible in all its parts is in fact divinely inspired (2 Tim. 3:16). Thus the Bible is God's Word...because it says it's God's word.

Yes, I do realize what I just wrote. It's God's word because it says it's God's word. What else would skeptics rather hear me say other than I admit this is circular reasoning and therefore will end this whole charade right now? But as God's word the Bible possesses authority the likes of which belongs to no other written document; ultimate authority. Thus the only manner in which to prove the Bible's authority is to refer to more Bible. Maybe it would be nice if I could point to a half dozen other ancient documents attesting to the truth and authority of the Bible. Skeptics and believers alike might appreciate that. But if I could do it then the Bible wouldn't be the ultimate authority; those other documents attesting to the Bible's authority would be the ultimate authority.

We are in some deep weeds here. But before you are tempted to insert a mind-numbing Christian movie into your disc drive, hold on. We do this whole "self-attestation" thing, albeit to a lesser degree, with other documents all the time. Consider for a moment the Constitution of the United States. It is for all intents and purposes the ultimate authority with respect to the laws and governance of the United States of America. This authority is derived from the Constitution's authorship by "We the People." Clearly not every citizen of the United States participated in composing the document. Rather a select group were so inspired by the people as to create on behalf of the citizenry a democracy as described within the Constitution. There is no other legal document by which one can prove the authority of the United States Constitution. If there were such a document it would have more legal authority than the Constitution. The Constitution of the United States of America has authority as the Constitution of the United States of America simply because "We the People" in our authorship of it said that it does.

I think that's a pretty good analogy, except for the fact we are able to amend the Constitution. I don't believe we get to amend God's word. But if one were to protest that there are a bazillion different ways in which to interpret the Constitution I would agree that is true. The Bible suffers from the same problem. One might protest that the courts sometimes mishandle, misinterpret, or ignore the Constitution altogether. Churches, regrettably, do the same thing to God's word all the time and it rarely ends well. Individual American citizens may choose not to recognize the authority of the Constitution. When they do the result is, generally speaking, either imprisonment or a very lonely, isolated existence in someplace like the wilderness of Montana. Individuals may also refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Bible and like any decision that one will have its own consequences.

Things being what they are there exists a whole host of other issues associated with understanding and interpreting the Bible. But all this really boils down to one pivotal question: Can you trust it? That's the real question on the floor. There is a direct corelation between the depth of one's trust in the Bible and the depth of one's faith in Christ; and it's believing in Christ, his death, resurrection, and the forgiveness of sin that is the crucial thing. For all of the Christian ghetto's cheesy slogans, self-help gimmicks, and attempts to pass off propaganda as art, the Church's hope is not in any of that drivel. Our hope is in nothing less than the good news of Jesus Christ contained within the pages of what we believe to be God's word, the Bible.

Tim's preparing for a mission trip in the near future. Then he's going to take a little vacation time with the family. After that high school football season begins. Otherwise there is some classwork to be wrapped up. All this is to say that the blog is going on a little summertime hiatus, but it will be back...probably near the end of August. But don't let that keep you from posting comments, posing questions, or throwing rotten tomatoes at your own PC or other device as you read this or previous posts. Enjoy the summer!

The Legitimacy of Hope

Rainbow over Belvedere Plantation at the start of " Slopsylvania 2014 ."      Photo: Jo Habecker

Rainbow over Belvedere Plantation at the start of "Slopsylvania 2014."      Photo: Jo Habecker

All of us routinely hope for a variety of things. We don’t think about it. We just do it. We roll out of bed each morning hoping, that is confidently expecting there will be enough hot water for a shower; that the coffee is started; that one’s running shoes are where they were left the night before. Most of us expect with a reasonable degree of certainty that the car will start and we will head off to a relatively good day of work, school, running errands or whatever else may be on the docket. We hope the trains are running on time or that we possess enough savvy to avoid traffic. Our expectations are based upon the fact that we have done this hundreds of mornings before. Usually we don’t think of it in terms of hope but generally speaking our past experiences dictate the degree of confidence we have in being able to meet our own expectations in the course of a typically mundane morning routine.

Hope in God however is a little different. Last week, after defining hope as expectation seasoned with a bit of confidence, I described a few things that the people of my particular church and Christians in general can be reasonably hopeful about. The list included among other things the confident expectation that God speaks and is at work in our midst. But these expectations represent a giant cliffhanger that I intentionally left unaddressed.

The cliffhanger is that in order to have any hope in God’s speech, work, or for that matter goodness, one has to believe that God exists in the first place. Thus the skeptic among us attempts to chisel away at hope by pointing out that the expectations we may have of God are based on nothing more than a giant presupposition for which there is no proof positive. Thus offended the religious typically doth protest, appealing to personal experience and maybe the Bible. But in doing so it seems the skeptics’ point is only further proven. The Christian understanding and perception of the world rests on a presupposed house of cards while the skeptic stands on the terra firma of cold calculation and scientific fact.

Well…okay. Who created science?

But never mind because the truth is that we all routinely operate on the basis of presuppositions every day. Every morning many of us operate under the unquestioned assumption that the water heater will safely and properly work in such a manner as to provide enough hot water for our showers. We don’t even think about it. Just turn the knob. There it is. But should the hot water heater malfunction, explode, and shoot a hole through the roof of the house (as the All-State Insurance Company’s “Mayhem” commercial depicts) it might be cause to reflect upon the validity of one's previously held assumption...about water heaters.

What if Harry Homeowner is having such a miserable day that, gazing toward the heavens through the hole his water heater just left in the roof, he is caused to contemplate his relationship to the cosmos? If he subscribes to belief in God's existence, in other words if he is a theist, he may respond in a wide variety of ways. Perhaps Harry may reason darkly that God is exacting judgment upon him and his house for something Harry's been feeling guilty about for years. Or Harry may simply conclude that God wanted him to have a skylight.

Conversely if Harry denies the existence of God, and is thus an atheist, he may be able to explain the explosion of his water heater scientifically just as he could if he believed in God. But he will likely still be compelled to come up with a philosophical explanation for the misfortune that's befallen him; something like what goes around comes around, my number was up, it just isn't my day, or the like.

In this example God-fearing Harry's responses to the event are not really any more well reasoned than those of God-less Harry. The point is that they are both drawing conclusions based upon a previously held set of beliefs and assumptions. A belief in the absence of God is no less based on a presupposition than a belief in the existence of God. This being the case the atheist has no right to claim the argumentative high ground over the theist...or the Christian. While the Christian worldview builds upon the presupposition of God’s existence, the alternative relies on an equally if not more precipitous assumption that there is no God.

This leads to the bottom line: Which is more hopeful? I don’t mean to minimize the very real pain and heartache that malfunctioning water heaters, traffic congestion, and delayed trains can cause. But when real disaster strikes and senseless tragedy occurs the Christian's theistic presupposition has more to offer in terms of hope. At the very least Christianity allows for the possibility that such events are able to fulfill God's purposes as opposed to being random and devoid of meaning. That is to say that the theist can at a minimum hope, confidently expect, that there is meaning in suffering regardless of whether or not that meaning is readily apparent. The atheist is left with no such possibility of hope.

Of course Christianity goes several steps beyond simply assenting to God's existence and deriving some faint hope from that. Christianity asserts that God is completely just in all his judgments yet merciful, gracious, and loving as well. In the minds of Christians God is in fact a worthy object of faith. This is just too much for many people. It is one thing to advocate for God's existence. But one may ask how anyone can claim to have knowledge of God's character. Furthermore in light of circumstances ranging from water heater blowups and traffic to famine and war, what is it about the existence of God that we may find to be so hope-inspiring? The Christian's answers to these questions rest in a book by which they believe God has revealed himself, namely the Bible.

Really...the Bible? Really. That's next.

6 Reasons for Hope

hope-presby-church-logo

The church where I work changed its name recently and is now officially known as Hope Presbyterian Church...and in this particular context (i.e. the blogosphere) I dare to add "of Spotsylvania, Virginia" given that Hope is a rather common moniker assumed by churches all across this fair land of ours. Fortunately no one has changed the locks and thus I've continued coming into the office day after day, using the phones and computers, and shooting hoops with the local riffraff that often assemble in the parking lot after school. We made t-shirts with the new name emblazoned on it and the web address printed across the back. This week my wife and I even painted what will become my office, since I'm being moved to make more room for the youth group. In light of these developments I believe there is reason to hope that my employment here will continue at least a little while longer. I'm fairly confident of that.

Hope, by definition, is accompanied by expectation and seasoned with confidence. When we lose hope, whether it is for something as trivial as the United States to win the World Cup or something serious as for a friend's recovery from a potentially terminal illness, we no longer expect much less have confidence that the desired outcome will actually occur. Thus attaching the name Hope to a church begs the following question: What is it that the people associated with that particular community desire and are in fact confidently expecting? I'm glad you asked.

1. First and foremost, we confidently expect to be people who are transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. That good news is in the Bible and basically it goes like this: God is holy. People are not. God sent his son Jesus to make a way for those previous two statements to be reconciled to one another. This way requires us to do nothing more than receive the free gift of God's forgiveness and grace, by faith. There are a lot more details of course (the Bible is a fat book after all), but that's the good news in a nutshell. None of the following confident expectations are possible without it.

2. We confidently expect that God will continue even in the 21st century to speak to us through his word, the Bible. In the Bible, remember it's a fat book, God shows himself to us. We see him creating the world. Then we are witness to the first coming of his son, Jesus Christ who in turn sends the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us what is wrong and what is right. It demonstrates the ease with which we fall into the wrong as well as the impossibility of attaining the right apart from God's grace. We believe, we hope, we confidently expect that the Bible will continue to guide us still.

3. We confidently expect that God is at work within our midst. That's not to say that we think he is at work only within the confines of our little church building. Quite the contrary in fact. We confidently expect that God is at work in your midst too; in surrounding neighborhoods, schools and workplaces, neighboring counties, Maine, Haiti, Kenya...indeed the whole world in order to accomplish his purposes. Simply put, there's a plan.

4. Given that there is a plan, we confidently expect that we and you are part of it. That being the case we don't intend to sit quietly off of to the side of Leavells Road guarding our hope. We'll cross the road once in awhile to shower the elementary school with pencils, backpacks, and cookies. Some of us will play chess with the students. We'll continue lugging our toolboxes to the homes of widows. We'll always throw a little extra in the oven so we can give it away later. If you have trouble staying warm in winter we chop firewood like nobody's business. If you're from Kazakhstan and having trouble reading this we have people who can teach you English. We intend to initiate relationships with those around us, seeking ways in which we can be a blessing to others and being prepared to answer anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in us. That reason would be number one above.

5. We confidently expect to be able to overcome our differences in light of what we hold in common. See...another not-so-veiled reference to number one above. Like any other group of people we have our less endearing characteristics. We argue over silly things, gossip, ignore, offend, and step on toes...sometimes literally. Sometimes we confuse politics for religion and vice versa. Our kids make too much mess and noise. Our senior citizens can be too crotchety. Those of us in middle age are too self-centered or preoccupied to care either way. We have people who speak and then occasionally put their feet in their mouths. Worse yet we have bloggers who must occasionally eat their words. (And sometimes the speaker and the blogger are the same person...so it gets complicated for him.) But it is all good so long as we constantly remind ourselves of the good news we hold in common and strive to be gracious and forgiving both of ourselves and of others.

6. We confidently expect that others will join us, thus we are preparing to welcome them even if they don't think exactly like we do or act quite the way we think they should.

There is a lot to unpack in these statements of confident expectation. There are some pretty harrowing presuppositions that may throw onlookers and casual observers for a loop. I intend, no...I confidently expect to address those down the road. Those are conversations worth having. But for now, I work at Hope Presbyterian Church (you know...the one in Spotsylvania County, Virginia) and this is what we desire and indeed hope for.