How should Christians think about gender?
How should Christians think about gender?
How should Christians think about gender? This is an important and controversial topic. This is merely one post but hopefully the beginning of a grace-filled, loving, and humble pursuit of the truth. We won’t be able to cover everything here but I hope this will be a good first step on a productive journey.
As we begin, I want to read a quote from Andrew T. Walker, he was one of my professors and he has written a book on this topic and I just love this quote from him. He asks: How would Jesus talk to us about this topic?
“He would listen to us, and he would love us, and when he disagreed with us, it would always and only be out of compassion, never oppression. There is no hurting person he would mock, or shun, or insult, or sneer at. He is so determined to pursue what is best for all of us that he died—excluded, mocked and rejected—to secure it.”
That is the heart we want to have as we approach this subject. We want the best for others. And when we disagree we still want to love. Jesus modeled this and He calls us to imitate Him.
What is gender dysphoria and what does it feel like?
Dysphoria means “a state of dissatisfaction/anxiety.” So, gender dysphoria means “a state of dissatisfaction or anxiety having to do with one’s gender.”
“Gender dysphoria is the medical term for the experience that one’s gender identity and sex, or how one was biologically identified at birth, do not match, resulting in conflict.”
People with gender dysphoria feel like the body they were born with doesn’t match the way they feel. They don’t feel comfortable with their gender. They feel like something is not right. And so, people with gender dysphoria may not dress in a way that is typical. They may also take medicine or have surgeries to look different.
Have you ever been in a setting or in clothing that you didn’t feel comfortable in? I remember singing a song from The Sound of Music in front of a bunch of people at the fair with my sisters. If you know much about me, you know I can’t sing. So, me singing in front of a bunch of people was not comfortable (for anyone!). But, perhaps the worst part was the silly outfit I had to wear. I felt and looked so goofy.
I had to do that quite a while ago and thankfully it only lasted a few minutes. But, I remember it. And not fondly.
Imagine feeling out of place in your own body. Actually, I think a lot of people can relate to that to some degree. But, imagine you felt so uncomfortable that you felt like your body was not the right gender. That’s how some people feel. One person expressed it like this: “Dysphoria feels like being unable to get warm, no matter how many layers you put on. It feels like hunger without appetite…. It feels like grieving. It feels like having nothing to grieve.”
Greg Eilers says it this way: “I was crushed with gender dysphoria. I had grown to hate myself. I could not look at myself in a mirror. I despised being a male and loathed wearing men’s clothes. I longed to live as and be recognized as a woman.”
This, I hope, stirs our compassion and empathy for those suffering and struggling. Jesus, Scripture says, sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15); we too should sympathize with the struggles of others.
With our desire for the good of others in mind, are you familiar with pica, the eating disorder?… It is a compulsive eating disorder in which people eat nonfood items; things like dirt, clay, flaking paint, and even bedding from hamster cages and metal; things that clearly are not good for you and can be very harmful.
In this example, we see that our desires are not the litmus test for what is right or good for us… Some things are harmful even if we have a desire for them…
Where then can we go to know what is good for us? Where is our guide for life? This is the issue, this is really what it comes down to when we consider gender… Where do we locate authority, knowledge, and trustworthiness? Our feelings and desires? Society? Or from somewhere or someone else?
How do we know what is good for us? How do we know what will lead to our health and thriving?
If Christianity is true, and God created the world and loves the world, then we want to hear what He has to teach us on this subject.
Christians find their direction, bearings in the world, and authority on the firm foundation of the crucified Creator. “He may not always agree with out feelings or our reason—but he can be trusted, and he knows what he’s talking about, and he has the right to tell us how to live.”
1) God’s Creation and Gender
God tells us what the blueprint is for us to function to our fullest in the book of Genesis (Gen. 1:26-27) and Jesus reiterates that same truth (Matt. 19:4).
“He [Jesus] answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female’” (Matt. 19:4).
Scripture shows us that “men and women are different. Our differences extend to the deepest levels of our being: chromosomes, brains, voices, body shapes, body strengths, and reproductive systems. What our bodies are designed and destined for are different. How our bodies are designed bear witness to the difference that reflects God’s creative will for humanity.”
I think it’s helpful to make a few observations from this passage. (1) We see we are created people. (2) We are created male and female. And amazingly I’ve read that scientists are able to tell if a person is male or female by looking at a single cell from anywhere in their body. (3) And so, I think it follows that what God the Creator does, people should not seek to undo. He, as the Creator, knows how His creation is supposed to function.
God’s good intention for humans when He created them is that they be male and female. In this way, human unity and diversity images Him (notice, however, that it’s not unity in chaos).
God made man first so as to emphasize something: man’s need for woman. The Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” That’s not how it’s supposed to be. How it’s supposed to be is there is to be a “helper” fit for him (Gen. 2:18).
That’s God’s good plan for humanity: male and female; “equal, and different; intended, not interchangeable.” That, of course, does not mean that women are one ounce less important than men because they are called to be a “helper.” In the Bible God Himself is described as a helper (Ps. 54:4; 118:7). Women are certainly not less important! God’s a helper but He’s not less important!
God could have designed things differently. But, He didn’t. And after God made Adam and Eve, as male and female, He said that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Therefore, we see God has a particular good purpose for His binary—male and female—creation.
If it is true that God exists then it’s true that He knows what He’s doing.
If God doesn’t exist or He doesn’t know what He is doing then we are left in a big mess. That would mean we have no guidance in how we are to function. It means we are in the forest without a compass. We are traveling through complex roadways with no GPS. It means there is no guidance whatsoever. That not only do we not have guidance about gender; it means we don’t have guidance regarding any moral issue.
It means we make our own way. We make our own meaning. No one has the authority to tell me or anyone what to do. I have no basis to tell you not to be a jerk…
If, however, God exists then we have guidance. We have reason to think there are ways that are good to live and treat people and ways that are not good to live and treat people. It means we are more than evolved animals with animal impulses.
And if God knows what He is doing then it would make sense to listen to Him. He is the Creator. He knows how we are supposed to function.
Back when God originally made humans, when everything was still very good (Gen. 1:31), Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25). “Imagine that: a world where everyone is at ease with who they are and how they’re made; and feels good about how they look, rather than embarrassed or awkward or deeply disturbed about it; where people are able to completely trust those around them, so that they are able to be open with them. That is a wonderful world.”
So, the first thing we’ve seen that Christians believe is that there is a good God that actually exists that has a good plan for His people. God knows the best way for people to live and because He loves us He wants us to live in that way (Kind of like how parents don’t want their kids to just eat cotton candy all the time. It’s not because they don’t love them. It’s because they do love them. In the same way, God wants what’s best for us and He knows what’s best for us).
2) Rebellion and Ruin and Gender
God wanted the world to be a certain way. He wanted us to live and thrive. But, we know that life is not always that way. We all have struggles and temptations. Why is that?
The Bible tells us that something tragic happened with humanity. Humanity disobeyed God. Humans failed to function according to the “Owners Manuel,” so to speak.
I had a friend that was having some trouble with his car. It just didn’t have the power it used to have and should’ve had. My friend couldn’t figure it out so after a few weeks he took it to someone who knew what they were doing, a professional mechanic, to have it looked at and the mechanic right away knew the problem.
The car was not supposed to be driven for miles and miles, day after day, week after week, with the parking brake on. That was not the intention of the car creators. And when the car is operated in that way it cannot fulfill its purpose to the best of its abilities.
Since the fall of humanity in Genesis 3, humans have struggled with following the “Owners Manuel.” We often do what we think is best. We often don’t notice that it causes a lot of problems.
We all have brokenness. I, for example, struggle with anger. We all have struggles.
God says love people and treat them with respect. I sometimes want to yell at people, or worse.
We all struggle in various ways (James 3:2). Some people, like me, struggle with anger issues. Some people struggle with same-sex attraction, some people have gender identity struggles.
The Bible explains the fact that we have struggles. And God understands that we have struggles.
But, the cold hard reality is “we have neither the authority nor the ability to rewrite or reconfigure how God made his world. It’s his creation; we’re just living in it.” The truth is “when we as creatures reject the Creators blueprint, we are both rebelling against the natural order of how things objectively are, and (though it may not seem like it) we are rejecting the life that is going to be the highest good for us.”
I do think it’s important for us to realize that even after the fall of humanity we are still “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). So, there’s a lot of ruin, but we are not ruined. Your body is still good.
“The Fall of Adam has led to disorder in all aspects of human existence, including in how humans form in the womb. Recognizing that we are all subject to the brokenness of sin can help us have compassion toward those whose physiology falls outside the norm.”
Rebellion leads to all sorts of ruin. But, thankfully God doesn’t leave us there.
3) Jesus’ Rescue and Gender
As I’ve said, I struggle with anger. I’ve acted out in anger before and hurt people. That’s not God’s intention. God takes sin seriously because it’s damaging. Because of sin, I deserve punishment but Jesus offers peace. Look at Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Therefore, through Christ, there’s no condemnation. I’m even a new creation (2 Cor. 5:21)! That, however, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I do. I will, I’m sure, until I die.
But there will be a day when my struggle will be gone! Look at Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”
Sometimes when we have a particular sin, temptation, or struggle we can identify ourselves in that way. But, the reality is, who we are in Jesus is our truest self. Our deepest identity as Christians is to be found in Christ.
Jesus is the most important thing that any of us have in common. Jesus is the most crucial aspect of our identity. He is more important than where we’re from, our race, status, or sex. Listen to what Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences. It’s saying the biggest most important thing is that all Christians—no matter who we are or our background—are all “one in Christ Jesus.” But, differences when carried out in holiness are beautiful. The Christian Church is to be like a beautiful mosaic rather than a drab old musty basement wall.
So, even with male or female we shouldn’t push unbiblical stereotypes, partly because stereotypes are often just based on the changing cultural climate and not in the objective truth of Scripture. Consider, for example, that pink has not always been considered a “girly” color or consider that men in the 14th century were basically the first to wear yoga pants (i.e. hoses that were sometimes quite colorful).
By this, I’m not saying that we should disrespect societal norms (cf. Deut. 22:5). I’m saying that the stereotype that men aren’t supposed to cry is wrong. Jesus Himself cried. What about dancing and poetry? Is dancing and poetry more feminine than masculine? Well, King David who killed wild beasts, slew a giant, and was one of the most elite soldiers that walked the earth also danced and composed poetry. So, just because someone is different from society’s stereotypes does not mean that that person should rightly be a different gender. God, not the ever-changing culture, should be our guide.
How should Christians think about gender? As we consider the rescue of Jesus and the topic of gender there are a few helpful observations for us to make.
1. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.
Sometimes people say something like this: “If you’ve met one Steelers fan, you’ve met them all.” What people mean by that is that all Steelers fans are the same. I love what Preston Sprinkle says in his book, Embodied. He says, “If you’ve met one transgender person, you’ve met one transgender person.” The reality is, every transgender person is different. Even every Steelers fan is different. It’s important that we understand that every single person has a different story and has different struggles.
2. Jesus cares more deeply than we can imagine.
Christ cares deeply. And calls Christians to too. “How Christians treat transgender persons matters. Christ is not served when we simply spout Biblical bullet points rather than delve deep to understand the crushing condition that is gender dysphoria and help ease the pain of those suffering it.”
3. Jesus, as the Creator, knows what’s best for us (John 1:3).
4. Jesus calls us to welcome, love, and listen as He Himself does.
I agree with Andrew T. Walker:
“A church should be the safest place to talk about, be open about, and struggle with gender dysphoria.”
“A transgender person ought to feel more loved and safe visiting a Bible-believing church than in any other place in the world!”
5. Jesus calls us to a life of sacrificial discipleship.
We’re all called to suffer and sacrifice for our Savior.
“Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’” (Matt. 16:24–25).
This will look different for all of Jesus’ disciples but will also be worth it for all of Jesus’ disciples. Further, Jesus promised that the Helper would be with us to help us.
How do we go about in the real world with this? What are some practical ways we need to navigate this issue in real life?
“Unless you celebrate then you are bigoted and unloving.’ But, is this true?
It’s not bigotry to believe that biology determines one’s sex/gender. Throughout at least the vast majority of history humans have understood there to be just two sexes/genders. Does it not instead seem potentially more prejudiced to hold to potentially innumerable sexes/genders when the world over, throughout most of history, disagrees? Should that at least cause one to be respectful of those who see it differently since, after all, they hold the majority position by a long shot? Not that the majority is necessarily correct but the person that screams the loudest is not necessarily correct either.
Preston Sprinkle gives a very helpful overview of the arguments in his book Embodied but he advocates for “pronoun hospitality.” I agree with Andrew T. Walker though, when he says “The best solution is to avoid pronouns altogether if possible. Calling a person by their legal name or preferred name is more acceptable because names are not objectively gendered, but change from culture to culture.”
What about intersex?
“’Intersex’ describes someone born with atypical features of their sexual anatomy or sex chromosomes. Depending on which conditions are counted, estimates of the proportion of people who are born intersex vary greatly, from 1.7 percent to 0.018 percent. The higher estimates include people with any kind of disorder or difference of sexual development (who may not even be aware of it), while the lower estimates restrict intersex to describe people whose sex organs are not classifiable as either male or female or whose chromosomal sex does not match their anatomy.”
It should be understood that intersex people
“exist and will most often go through significant hardship as a result. The presence of intersex people represents a biological aberration rather than a biological norm or additional third biological sex. But there is much more to be said. As we have already seen, all of us, irrespective of any biological challenges we may face, of any kind, have been fearfully and wonderfully made. There are no exceptions… our bodies are all fallen; we all encounter a measure of bodily brokenness. But that does not take away from the care with which God has made us.”
There are different intersex conditions but people can serve, love, and glorify God with those conditions. In Acts 8, an Ethiopian eunuch saw the good news of Jesus for the first time and was baptized as a disciple (v. 35-38). We don’t know the specifics of what it meant for him to be a eunuch. Was he intersex, castrated, or something else? We just don’t know.
What we do know is that his identity could rest securely in Christ. Christ got at the core of who he was. And he went from not being able to go into the inner courts of the temple because of his condition, to being able to go boldly (through Christ) to God His Father (cf. Is. 56:3-5).
Jesus welcomes all people at great cost to Himself (Rom. 15:7) and He calls those same people to walk in holiness, whatever their particular struggles, and to be on mission to share His love with others.
 Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 15.
 Greg Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians: A Resource for the Christian Church, 42.
 “A person with gender dysphoria has intense and persistent feelings of identification with another gender, and a strong discomfort with one’s own assigned gender. Gender dysphoric individuals might experience distress with their body, with being perceived and treated as their assigned gender, and with the expected role of their assigned gender” (Greg Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians, 42).
 Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims, 96.
 Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians, 16.
“To those whose biological reality is painful and confusing, Jesus gets it… The biological complexity some might have to face is… part of the bodily brokenness that all of us have to reckon with in one way or another. For every single one of us, our body is imperfect and causes us some amount of suffering. Such suffering varies hugely from person to person, but no one should feel somehow in a category of their own. Your experience may be very different from that of other people. It may seem that no one else, however much they try, truly gets it. That may be true. But Jesus sees all and knows all. He has lived as a human on this earth and suffered the extremities of physical pain. He is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses… (Heb. 4:15)” (Sam Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, 53-54).
 “Would it be kind to tell someone suffering from anorexia that their self-perception of being overweight is correct simply because that is how they perceive themselves?” (Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 72).
 “An (imperfect) analogy might help. Color-blind people find it either hard or impossible to distinguish between green and red. Color-blindness is not uncommon—you may in fact experience it. And, thankfully, there are lots of work-arounds to keep it from being too much of a hindrance to daily life. But it is nevertheless a reality for many. But just because some struggle to distinguish red from green doesn’t mean that the colors red and green do not actually exist. They clearly do. They are objective realities. That some confuse one for the other does not change that. In fact, when we drive, our lives depend on the fact that these two colors really do exist and are not subjectively determined. Yet the fact that these colors exist doesn’t mean that there is no confusion or difficulty for anyone. There is” (Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, 53).
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 45.
 Rebecca McLaughlin, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity, 136.
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 45-46.
 “Jesus affirms both the binary of male and female in creation and the binding of male to female in marriage” (Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims, 103).
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 56.
 Cf. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 59.
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 57.
 “According to many ancient philosophies, men were more important than women. But the Bible tells a different story. God made humans—“male and female”—“in his own image” (Genesis 1:26–28). Men and women are equally important. But they are also importantly different” (McLaughlin, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity, 136).
 In some ways, I think this implies the vast importance of women! Men need women. Men cannot do the work God’s called them to on their own!
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 60.
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 51.
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 52.
 Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians, 58.
 “Jesus was the perfect man. But he was no gender stereotype… No follower of Jesus need hold to rigid gender stereotypes, in which men make skyscrapers and women decorate their walls. Instead, we must cling to our Savior. He is the one who knows us to our core and loves us to death and beyond. He made our bodies, and he holds our hearts. Our deepest identity lies in him” (McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims,109).
 See McLaughlin, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity, 150-51.
 “Some people think real men don’t cry. But Jesus cried. Some people think real men sleep with lots of women. But Jesus never even had a girlfriend. Some people think real men don’t stand for insults. But Jesus took insults all day long. He defended the weak, but he wouldn’t fight back to defend himself. Some people think real men don’t cook or care for kids. But Jesus did both these things. If we want to know what it means to be a perfect man, we must look at Jesus.
Women are called to copy Jesus too. He is the perfect human, so all Christians—male or female—are called to imitate him. But the ways in which Jesus used his strength and power for others, not himself, is a particular model for men, who often have more physical strength and have traditionally had more power (Philippians 2:1–11)” (McLaughlin, 10 Questions, 138).
 Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians, 124.
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 121.
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 122.
 Preston Sprinkle, Embodied, 205.
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 157.
 McLaughlin, The Secular Creed, 102.
 Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, 50-51.
What are humans?
What are humans?
Are we mere mammals, slightly more evolved than monkeys? Are we ourselves divine, known or unknowingly gods ourselves? Or are we made to know and reflect the Creator God? Are humans nothing more than evolved hydrogen? The chance outcome of random processes with no significance?
Do humans have spirits that go beyond or are we merely matter in motion? Simply an ocean of cause and effect? Do humans have a choice and a voice or are we just in a cosmic Ping-Pong game?
What explains the nature of humans? What are we and why are we what we are? Why are humans capable of almost unbelievable feats of both good and wickedness? What explains our dignity and degradation?
The philosopher Blaise Pascal lamented, “What sort of freak is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!”
Nick Bilton said, in an article about the eccentric and amazing Elon Musk, “when we eventually end up on another planet, humanity is most likely to do there what we’ve done here: destroy whatever wonder we have built. Nowhere is that more on display than with Musk himself. Humans are capable of great things. Every once in a while, a human comes along and propels us forward by leaps and bounds. A human like Musk. But, at the same time, those humans are imperfect, even if we don’t want them to be.”
So, once again, what explains humanity’s propensity and desire for perfection but yet our inevitable and abysmal imperfection? What view of the world or philosophy makes sense of this? What hypothesis explains the conflicting nature of humans?
There seem to be three main options. We’ll look at each. You can decide which view you think makes the most sense.
Are we divine?
One view of the world is that “we are saved not by trusting a transcendent God who reaches down to us in grace but by realizing that God is within us, that we are God. Salvation is not a matter of recognizing our sin; it’s a matter of raising our consciousness until we recognize our inner divinity.”
There are a number of people and sources that say that we ourselves are divine. Shirley MacLaine, for instance, asserts: “You are everything. Everything you want to know is inside you. You are the universe.”
This type of view often posits that there are no ultimate distinctions. When it comes down to it there is no true differentiation. All is one. Everything is divine. You too are divine.
This brings up a few questions.
If we—each and everyone—are divine, why do we all not know of our own divinity? What accounts for our cosmic amnesia? “If, when I was asleep I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly, how do I know when I am awake, I am not a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” How can one distinguish between fact and fantasy?
Is the tragedy of the human race that we have forgotten that we are divine? Is that what’s wrong with the world?
Also, if distinctions, whatever those distinctions are, are illusions, then how do we know what is real? Further, how can we actually say that there is right and wrong? We can’t. There is then “no basis for human dignity and meaning… No basis for morality. If God is in everything, God is in both good and evil; therefore, there is no final difference between them.” Helping and healing and maiming and murdering would all be the same.
Can we take seriously a view of the world that denies the existence of good and evil? That does not distinguish between death and life, between pain and pleasure? Can we do away with scientific discoveries so easily? Can we sore 35,000 feet in the air while googling arguments in favor of vegetarianism on our iPhone and also say logic has no real bearing on life?
How do we know we are divine? We cannot reason our way to this conclusion because it is beyond reason. Therefore, it would seem clearly unreasonable to hold this view, would it not? There can literally be no reasons or arguments in favor of this position.
I get the appeal of the view of enchantment that we are all gods. I get the appeal of spirituality without the ties of restrained morality or doctrinal commitment. But, are there actually legitimate reasons to believe the view that we are all gods? That question is often not asked.
We also have the question of why humans pivot towards perfection in one area and then revert to a pale and poor reflection of what we could be in other areas. Perhaps it’s because we just randomly mutated into our present form?
Are we evolved?
What can “explain the phenomenon of mind, consciousness, reason and value?” Where did consciousness come from? Do we inherently matter or are we just matter?
There have been countless books arguing for and against the claim that humans are merely evolved matter. Various topics could be considered. It is not the place here to go into the merits of those arguments; although, I encourage you to check out some books on those topics.
Here, instead, I want to ask what follows if we are evolved? What implications does it have for us if there is no enchantment? No beyond? No meaning?
If we’re evolved and we just follow our inner urges because that is what made us fit to survive does it mean there’s any meaning in what we do?
Yuval Noah Harari is a naturalist and popular author. In his book Sapiens he says there is no meaning if we as humans are evolved. “As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose… Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion.”
Is there a basis for morality? Is there a basis for logic? The late William Provine, once historian of science professor at Cornell University, apparently didn’t think so. He said, “no inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life.”
If we are merely evolved then that perspective seems correct.
“If there is no God, then any ground for regarding the herd morality evolved by Homo sapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. Human beings are just accidental by-products of nature that have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time.”
If we are no more than evolved animals, is all life no more than a match struck in the dark and blown out again?
If we’re not magnificently divine is it right to say we’re merely dirt? What explains the complexity of the human character? Courageous and caring conquers and quivering and cranky cowards? Why the walking talking contradiction called humans? What explains our glory and gloom?
If we’re merely evolved how can we account for the fine-tuning of the universe? For example, why is the earth we inhabit inhabitable? Like Goldilocks’ potage why is it not too hot or too cold but just right to allow for life (also consider gravitation, the nuclear force that binds proton and neutrons, and the electromagnetic force)?
And what about the existence of matter? Where did it come from? Doesn’t it make sense to say that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence? And hasn’t it been shown that the universe had a beginning? What is its cause for existence? How did it happen?
Are we created in the image of the Creator?
What explains what seems to be the dual nature of humanity? Humanity is simultaneously great and wretched. What explains this paradox? We all innately sense it, but why is it here?
Christianity teaches that humans have dignity because they are made in the image of God but that they also can be devilish because they are rebellious (humans don’t always live and love according to God’s good design). “Our being made in the image of a personal and good God enables us to affirm objective goodness and reject evil.”
As much as we are great, we bear God’s image. As much as we are wretched, we bear Satan’s. Human greatness split the atom; human wretchedness uses the same to kill millions of people. A great, though wretched, leader, Adolf Hitler, will lead a nation to slaughter millions. A great leader, Winston Churchill, will lead a nation in their defense. Ashok Gadgil, with his intelligence, will fight for cures; others will inject poison.
Humanity is fallen, however. So we cannot neatly divide the line between good and evil. We cannot say all the bad people on the left and all the good people on the right. We’re all mixed together. We are made in God’s image and thus can do fantastic things and fantastic good but we have been marred by the Fall and often reflect Satan so we can also do acts of unbelievable wickedness.
Thus, sin is not good because it wreaks havoc on our greatness, our image of God, and distorts it to evil ends. How sad that we who are capable of exploring the limitless expanse of the sea, the mind, space, and biology so often content ourselves with razing and rioting. How sad that though we as humans are capable of such good, there is such grave injustice. I’ve read, for example, that a woman born in parts of South Africa is more likely to be raped than to learn to read. This surely should not be!
The world is a weird place. And, if the Christian view is the correct view, it must account for the weirdness of the world. It must best describe “the contours of the world as it actually exists.”
Again, the world is a weird place. Did you know it’s not just the Christian scriptures that say the first humans were made out of mud? Also, the Bible isn’t the only account that explains the origin of diverse languages connected to a huge tower. Why is that?
Why is the world so strange? And what accounts for that strangeness? And why are humans so conflicted?
One hypothesis alone makes sense of who we are: “creation in the divine image followed by the fall, explains our predicament and, through a redeemer and mediator with God, offers to restore our rightful state.” Sin, resulting in the fall, explains humanities wretchedness and yet greatness.
The Bible does not teach that we are gods but that we are to be like God. We image God. For the Christian, “Everything is not the result of the impersonal plus time plus chance, but that there is an infinite-personal God who is the Creator of the universe.” The Bible gives us a reason for believing in a lot inner in us. And a lot out there in the otter world. So, if you sense you have a lot of untapped ability, if you sense that the world is enchanted and spiritual, you’re correct.
It’s hard to consider these questions without also asking whether or not God exists. So, it’s important that you consider that all-important question: does God exist?
If God created the universe, what created God?
We, as sentient and at least somewhat intelligent humans, exist. That’s not debated by most people. How, however, did we get here? Where or who did we come from? And if God created us, who or what created God?
Some have speculated that we got here through panspermia or even directed panspermia. Panspermia is the hypothesis that microorganisms were seeded to our planet through meteoroids, comets, asteroids, or even from alien life forms. That just moves the question back. Where then did life come from (to say nothing of matter)?
Interestingly, some have speculated what it would take for us to seed life to another planet by blasting off a rocket with microorganisms onboard. Some believe we could carry out a “Genesis” mission to an uninhabited planet within 50 to 100 years.
Of course, the mission would require a lot of really smart people working in coordination with a lot of really smart people. And it would cost a lot of money and use things like ion thrusters and really advanced robots. So, starting with life and intelligence, it may be possible to seed life to other planets (assuming they are fine-tuned to support life). But again, this just pushes the question back and proves the need for intelligent design.
Multiverse or many worlds hypothesis
Another hypothesis to explain the origin of life on earth (specifically intelligent life on earth) is the multiverse theory. Yes, this should remind you of all the crazy stuff that happens in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This theory is interesting and problematic for a number of reasons. It’s more science fiction than fact.
- It is, by far, not the simplest explanation. This is problematic (see: Occam’s razor).
- It’s nonsensical. One could then postulate that there is a near-infinite number of you, or of Loki. Loki was a cool show but the questions multiply as the “Lokis” multiply.
- There’s nothing that we have observed that would lead us to logically conclude that there is or is likely a multiverse (it seems, rather, that those arguing for this position are just frantically trying to get away from the reality of the existence of God).
If God created the universe, what created God?
Here are the options:
- The universe somehow sprang from absolute nothingness completely on its own.
- The universe inanimate has existed eternally and that something somehow exploded and eventually led to the life forms we have now.
- The universe was created by a powerful and eternal Entity.
Each of those options is honestly hard to fathom. Which makes the most sense?
The universe somehow sprang from absolute nothingness completely on its own.
This is not something we really observe. In our experience and observation, something does not come from nothing. If even a simple pool ball is rolling on a pool table we assume it was set in motion by something. We don’t assume it moved although no force whatsoever acted upon it (What about quantum particles?).
There’s a story about a scientist making a bet with God. The scientist bets God that he can create life. The scientist grabs some dirt and sets off to work. When a voice from heaven said, “Get your own dirt!”
“It is a vain hope to try to give a physical account of the absolute beginning of the universe. Not only must the creation event transcend physical law, it must also,… transcend logic and mathematics and therefore all the scientific tools at our disposal. It must be, quite literally, supernatural.”
The universe has eternally existed.
If the expansion of the universe were an old VHS video that you could reverse, you’d see the contraction of the universe into an infinitesimally small singularity—back into the nothingness from which the universe sprang. Thus, the Big Bang actually matches with what Scripture says. That is, the universe—all the matter that is—came into being at a finite time, ex nihilo, out of nothing.
The universe has not existed eternally.
The universe was created by a powerful and eternal Entity.
It makes sense to say, doesn’t it, that anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence? I think that makes a lot of sense. I mean a pool ball on a pool table isn’t going to move unless someone or something causes it to move.
This is especially the case when we consider the extreme fine-tuning necessary to allow for life, especially intelligent life. “On whatever volume scale researchers make their observations—the universe, galaxy cluster, galaxy, planetary system, planet, planetary surface, cell, atom, fundamental particle, or string—the evidence for extreme fine-tuning for life’s sake, and in particular for humanity’s benefit, persists.”
God is the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover. God is. He is the Creator.
But then, who or what created God?
Anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence. The thing with God is, He did not begin to exist. He has always existed. Therefore, He needs no cause or creator. He is the Creator.
“The Cause responsible for bringing the universe into existence is not constrained by cosmic time. In creating our time dimension, that agent demonstrated an existence above, or independent of, cosmic time… In the context of cosmic time, the causal Agent would have no beginning and no ending and would not be created.”
This is, in fact, what the Bible says about the LORD God. It says, “the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Is. 40:28) and it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1 cf. Ps. 136:5; Is. 45:18; Col. 1:16).
The universe has not always existed. Instead, “the universe was brought into existence by a causal agent with the capacity to operate before, beyond, unlimited buy, transcendent to all cosmic matter, energy, space, and time.”
God revealed Himself to Moses as: “I Am who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). God is the One who Is. He is the Existing One. He is the One who is beyond and before time and matter. And as such, He is able to create time and matter.
If God’s existence doesn’t need an explanation then why should the universe’s existence need an explanation?
“This popular objection is based on a misconception of the nature of explanation. It is widely recognized that in order for an explanation to be the best, one need not have an explanation of the explanation (indeed, such a requirement would generate an infinite regress, so that everything becomes inexplicable). If astronauts should find traces of intelligent life on some other planet, for example, we need not be able to explain such extraterrestrials in order to recognize that they are the best explanation of the artifacts. In the same way, the design hypothesis’s being the best explanation of the fine-tuning does not depend on our being able to explain the Designer.”
How should we respond to the One who created the universe?
That’s a big question. But, I’ll take it further, how should we respond if the Christian understanding of God is correct? What if the Programmer coded Himself into the program like the Bible talks about?
If what Scripture says of the Creator entering His creation is true, as I believe it is, then I think it clearly follows that we should be amazed and submit to the One who has shown Himself to be the Lord.
We must all, however, make that choice on our own. I can’t make it for you. But I, for one, am awed and astounded that the Creator would enter His creation to rescue His creation.
Not only that but the Creator was crucified (see Col. 1:15-20). As Jesus was making purification and propitiation for sin by bearing our sin on the cross, He was simultaneously upholding the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:2).
How should we respond to the One who created the universe and yet loves us?! I believe we should respond in reverent worship:
 E.g. Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Nature and Origin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981).
 See: https://reasons.org/explore/publications/questions-from-social-media/is-the-existence-of-a-multiverse-a-problem-for-christianity
 “The many worlds hypothesis is essentially an effort on the part of partisans of the chance hypothesis to multiply their probabilistic resources in order to reduce the improbability of the occurrence of fine-tuning” (J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003], 487). Ironically, “the many worlds hypothesis is no less metaphysical than the hypothesis of a comic designer” (Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 487).
 “There is no basis for the claim that quantum physics proves that things can begin to exist without a cause, much less that [the] universe could have sprung into being uncaused from literally nothing” (Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 469). Even if one follows the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, “particles do not come into being out of nothing. They arise as spontaneous fluctuations of the energy contained in the subatomic vacuum, which constitutes an indeterministic cause of their origination” (Ibid.). This very brief explanation is helpful: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/quantum-field-theory-what-virtual-particles-laymans-terms-javadi/ and also see: http://atlas.physics.arizona.edu/~shupe/Indep_Studies_2015/Homeworks/VirtualParticles_Strassler.pdf
 David A. J. Seargent, Copernicus, God, and Goldilocks: Our Place and Purpose in the Universe, 114.
 A better illustration would actually be a balloon losing its air. When considering the expansion of the universe it’s amazing to consider that eventually the universe will grow dark because the speed of the expansion of the universe will eventually be too great for us to observe our cosmic surroundings.
 “Everything restricted to the cosmic timeline must be traceable back to a cause and a beginning” (Hugh Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 132).
 Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 124. See e.g. Hugh Ross, “Fundamental Forces Show Greater Fine-Tuning” https://reasons.org/explore/publications/connections/fundamental-forces-show-greater-fine-tuning, Fazale Rana, “Fine-Tuning For Life On Earth (Updated June 2004)” https://reasons.org/explore/publications/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-on-earth-updated-june-2004, and Seargent, Copernicus, God, and Goldilocks, 121-127.
 Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 132.
 Ibid., 131.
 Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 487.
*Photo by Tyler van der Hoeven
Is the world enchanted?
Is the world enchanted? Or merely natural? Deterministic? Are we just chemical processes that have been wound up and will wind down? Or, is there a “ghost in the machine”?
Is there something before and beyond? Can everything be coolly explained or is there an Unexplainable? Could it be that fantasy and fiction are tapping into something true? Something fantastic and far beyond us?
Are there spells and spirits, or are we mere decomposing skulls with sinews?
The world we inhabit: is it wondrous, consisting of beauty, mystery, as well as sad irony? Or is the world a mere and meaningless blip before the heat death of the universe?
Is “the cosmos,” as Carl Sagan has famously said, “all there ever was and all there ever will be”?
If so, what explains the wonder and wild nature of life? What explains the science fiction like rhinoceros and the beauty and rapture of art? What explains those moments, those brief moments, with family or friends that feel so right?
Most people today, believe it or not, believe in some form of Higher Power.[i] Yet, that should bring up various questions. Like who or what is this Power? Is the Higher Power good or bad or indifferent and are their other powers? I believe we’d be wise to ask and pursue answers. This seems especially true for those who do believe in some form of Higher Power. If such a being exists, or may exist, wouldn’t it make sense to care?
I believe there are subtle hints all along the road of life that point us to something out of sight. Markings or tracings of something; distant echoes of a not distant presence; the quiet speech of the spirits.
Those moments of silence under the glow and vastness of the sky, the moon reflecting the glory and splendor of the sun, speak. Those moments speak not to our heads but reverberate in our hearts. Those moments awaken. They call us beyond, they say there is more.
We must ask: what if there is more? If so, what good, what beauty, and yet what hideous evil might there be? And, if there is more, if there is the equivalent of witchcraft and evil, what spells might be possible and cast?
Perhaps a sort of blindness? A dullness to what is real?
If there is more, and evil, beyond the great beyond, might there be a battle? A cosmic battle? A Saruman and Sauron? A Voldemort? A Frodo? An Aragorn?
Could our lives have cosmic significance?
Is the world enchanted?
There are many ways to contemplate and answer this question. And we all answer it one way or another. We just may not think it through as intentionally as we should. I propose we that’s not a good way forward. If the world is “enchanted” in some way, it would be good to know. Perhaps very helpful to know. Because, to use The Lord of the Rings as an example, what if we are in the equivalent of Hobbiton, but there is a hoard of raging orcs on their way?
The Bible says the World is Enchanted
If the world is enchanted, it is more wondrous and wonderful than we could possibly know. But it may also be more dangerous.
That’s actually what the Bible teaches about the reality of the world we live in. It is, so to speak, “enchanted.” It is “placed under a spell.” Like the witch in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia that made an enchantment over the whole country so that it was always winter and never Christmas. What if there truly is “an evil power loose in the world, independent of human beings, a power that has an agenda of its own, and this power can only be defeated by another power greater than itself”?[ii]
What if there is a spiritual realm? What if there is more than the merely physical? Curiously, Christians talk about fiction made real. Christians talk about a hideous dragon set to destroy and deceive. They talk about an enemy that is crouched low like a lion ready to pounce and attack (1 Pet. 5:8). And they talk about a “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) that is subtly influencing the world to lead it astray (Rev. 12:9). Satan’s influence is often less perceptible than the wind but with all the devastation of a furious tornado.
Isn’t it True that the World is Filled with Wonder?
The world, not just the hills, are alive with the sound of music. The universe roars with echoes of life. Sometimes we are just not quick to notice, perhaps we’ve become callous to the call of creation. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”
A quick google will return wonder: Walakiri beach sunset, Halong Bay, Huangshan. Most images will do. Or think of the amazing ability of a chameleon or the weird wiggles of an octopus or just look at a peacock spider. What a world we inhabit! What a surprising and often beautiful world we live in. C.S. Lewis wisely said, “Reality is very odd, and… the ultimate truth, whatever it may be, must have the characteristics of strangeness.”[iii]
There are some things in nature that you would never expect to happen and yet they do. Wildly, wood frogs freeze and die, then thaw out and come back to life. Or consider this, someone in a one-dimensional reality would have trouble conceiving of a two-dimensional reality, let alone what that reality would be like. Someone in the two-dimensional reality would have a greater likelihood of conceiving of and pondering a three-dimensional reality because they already know that there are more than one-dimensional realities. They know things that seem impossible to the one-dimension reality are very much possible.
We live in reality that sometimes doesn’t feel like reality. Should we speculate that there may be a spiritual reality; something different than the dimension that we are so used to? And what if that reality is more real than our current reality, and what if that reality is actually more present than we can conceive?
Leanne Payne shares an interesting thought,
Our eyes cannot see cosmic, gamma, or X-rays, nor ultraviolet, infrared, radar, television, or shortwave radio waves—not to mention other known and unknown wavelengths of light… Man’s other sensory organs are just as limited. What we ordinarily speak of as ‘the supernatural’ may consist of those parts of creation beyond our narrow sensory capacity.[iv]
The True Fantasy?
The Christian story—the true myth—is similar to many amazing myths in literature. But with a big difference: The Christian story claims to be true. “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history.”[v] Similarly, Nancy Pearcey says, “The great events of the New Testament have all the wonder and beauty of a myth. Yet they happen in a specific place, at a particular date, and have empirically verifiable historical consequences.”[vi]
And is it not clear, that in most myths the evil person/force of the story would be happy if people thought that evil did not really exist? It seems to me that would be a worthy goal of evil, to make people think evil and enchantment weren’t real. Imagine the spell one could wield on the world if the world couldn’t imagine that there was such a thing as spells?! As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
The world is enchanted. In the original use of the world enchanted. The world is ‘under a spell;’ ‘bewitched,’ ‘utterly delighted,’ ‘captivated,’ ‘fascinated,’ and ‘charmed’ by someone or something. I believe this someone is Satan, and the spell is sin. The curse and fall of humanity have long since happened. The fall was not just the fall of humans but encompasses the fall of angels. We are in a cosmic story. The Christian Bible tells us that the myths are not magical enough for the reality of the truth.
We may not wish for the world to be this way. But that is not for us to decide. As Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Of course, that’s not to say that all is bad. The story of the Bible is a wonderful, almost unbelievable story, that starts with a beautiful couple in a bountiful garden paradise and ends with a host of their descendants in an eternal paradise. The Bible is a comedy, not that it’s funny—though it has its funny parts—but because it has a U-shaped plot. That is, it starts out great but then a terrible seemingly insurmountable problem is introduced, but thankfully it doesn’t end in that sorry state.
As in any good fantasy there is a hero. And, as any good hero, He has many names: Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Son of God, Immanuel, Redeemer, Alpha and Omega, First and Last, Good Shepherd, Creator, Great High Priest, Holy One, King of kings, Lamb of God, Light of the World, Prince of Peace, Savior, and Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the truemythic hero. He is Aragon and Frodo. He is Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. He is Aslan and Ransom. He is Iron Man, Black Panther, and Captain America. He is Avatar Aang. The God/Man, the Hero, offers rescue to the whole world.
The Bible is a big, amazing story. It surpasses Marvel and the Lord of the Rings. It tells us about God making the universe. It tells us about angels rebelling against God and starting a cosmic battle. It tells us about deception and romance.
It tells us that God became man and that this GodMan—Jesus Christ—had superpowers. And He used His superpowers for good. He fought the evil enemy, He defeated and cast out the great dragon’s evil henchmen.
It looked like the GodMan was going to win. He was going to defeat all the bad guys and even rule the world. He had a large, loyal following.
But, something happened. The GodMan, the all-powerful One, died. He died. He that brought people back from the dead, died.
That, that was unexpected.
damp, dark, cold, and silent
enveloped in a shroud in the earth
the Life lay lifeless
the only thing that truly is,
the Life lay lifeless?
the Immortal Infinite slain?
With the GodMan’s death, hope died. The GodMan’s followers fled in fear. They didn’t know what had happened… they hid in fear, hid for three days.
But the GodMan returned. He defeated death. He rose from the dead.
damp, dark, cold, and silent
from life’s surmise
but from a different gaze
outside of life’s maze
Life lay not lifeless
but death is now dead
in violence He brought victory!
enveloped in mystery
the great God of history
was slain, for you, for me
the foil was sprang
it brought Him great pain
our sin is the hand that bore it
yet He took our blame
to purchase our name
He bore the frame of our cross
through vile, the victory
in wrote woe, to wonder
The Bible claims and shows us that this really happened. It’s not a “once upon a time” story. Although, for all those who trust Jesus as the Hero and Lord that He is, they will live “happily ever after.”
From Genesis, the very beginning of the Bible, through Revelation, at the end, we see one unified true cosmic story. We see God making a very good and beautiful world. But we see the serpent enter the scene and humans depart from God’s good plan and we see the devastation it brings. The world is torn in two. Relationships are ruined and rebellion spreads. The whole world whirls.
But, as God promised, He was not done. He loved the broken world and would be broken Himself to fix it.
The Bible tells the story of a terribly fierce dragon set to destroy the entire world. It’s really not so different from the Marvel myths in some ways. But it claims to be true, and it recounts the tales of one hero. A hero that loves the planet, the whole world, so much that He died for it. He, however, didn’t stay dead. He was so great and powerful that even death itself couldn’t defeat Him.
The story of Scripture is different from Marvel and other myths in various other ways. For one, it claims repeatedly to be true.
So, is the world enchanted? If you have suspicions that what you see in the physical world is not all there is, the Bible says that your suspicions are correct. The Bible says there is more. A lot more.
Jesus’ resurrection proves to us, the world is indeed enchanted. There is more to the world than we can see with our mere eyes.
But, just as there was fear and trepidation by the first brave souls aboard a boat, there is a healthy type of fear that we should have. These are very uncharted seas.
Life is not something to take lightly. There are spirits, and angels, and fallen angels. There is a dragon set to defeat us all. We may not see him breathe fire, but what comes out of his mouth is deceptive lies.
The enchantment of this world is all the more dangerous because it’s elusive. We don’t see the spell. Many disbelieve. But the reality is, there is more than meets the eye.
Christianity gives an answer for the strangeness that we sense in the world. Christianity gives a solid reason for believing in the spiritual realm and for us ourselves having a spirit.
Humans are not robots or automatons. At least that’s what the Bible says. Our actions matter. Our lives and decisions matter, even eternally. They ripple through the corridors of time. There was and never will be a meaningless moment.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Friends, our lives matter, our actions matter, our voices matter. That, at least, is true from a Christian perspective. If, however, as Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos is all there ever was and all there ever will be,” then this world is not enchanted and meaning is limited to what you make it.
I believe, however, if we knew a millionth of the magnitude of our lives, we’d be moved to wonder and crippled by the significance of it all. Our lives, every action, has significance because this world and this life is not all there is. So, friends, let’s live fierce, purposeful lives because we have purpose. Our lives matter more than we can fathom.
If there is more than the material, more than meets the eye, then what are we? What then are humans?
Are there Reasons to Believe in Enchantment?
Yes, beyond the fact that most people think there is more to the world than meets the eye,[vii] there are practical reasons for believing in enchantment. There are good reasons for believing in the existence of God. As the philosopher Alvin Plantinga has said, there are some very good arguments for believing in the existence of God, “arguments about as good as philosophical arguments get”[viii] (see chapter 3 on God). “If God is, what he is has far-reaching consequences for our lives—who we are, how we live, and what happens after death,”[ix] and I would say, what’s possible.
In other words, if God exists, then it seems clear that spirits and thus the spiritual realm exists. If this is true, as it seems to be, then there is a lot unseen and unknown that can act in and on the world, as we know it. This, at least in some ways, is a rather frightening reality.
There are different ways of being on a beach. If you confuse them, it won’t be good. Taking the day off to play in the sand and the ocean with your kids calls for relaxation, a good book, boogie boards, and sand toys. Being on the beach on D-Day during WWII is obviously a much different experience. War and relaxation are very different. If the two are confused it won’t turn out well. The Bible tells us that the earth we are on is not just for rest and relaxation because we are also at war. We have an enemy seeking to kill, steal, and destroy (Jn. 10:10).
If we are on the “beach of life” and we see it merely as a vacation and a day in the sun but it’s actually D-Day, then we will get utterly destroyed. If we are in an unseen battle then we should anticipate opposition and adversity. We should expect subtle and sneaky attacks.
The problem is not just out there, however. Yes, it’s in the world but it’s also in our own flesh. Sin is “bred in the bone,” it’s in our DNA.[x] And there’s also a devil. There is an external evil acting in the world, acting on our hearts. So, it seems we must “take a fearless inventory of our own hearts. No one is free from the Power of Sin and Death. No one has power in himself to help himself. No one can say to herself, well, I’m not a murderer, so I’m not so bad.”[xi]
We are very likely to be outwitted by Satan and his fellow conspirators when we are unaware of their schemes, let alone their existence.[xii] We live in a magic world. Satan lies, hinders travel (1 Thess. 2:18), and even appears as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). At least, that’s what the Bible says. The Bible says we are in a world where sinister evil lurks. But it also tells us about God’s rescue mission in Christ Jesus.
The world is at war. There is an enemy always seeking to do harm. We are in a world of magic, good and bad. As C.S. Lewis has said, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.” But the Bible says that the boss of the universe is good. And that’s a good thing. The Bible says that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (Phil. 2:10-11). The sinister Satan will finally and decisively be defeated, never to work his woe again.
What do you think? Is the world “enchanted”? Is there an unseen spiritual realm? And if so, what ominous evil might lurk and unknowingly influence the world? If there are unseen evil spiritual forces at work, are there good forces at work as well? And what side are you on? Who or what are you being led by?
Questions to Consider
- Are there things that lead us to expect that the world is enchanted?
- What if the world is enchanted and “a great dragon” actually exists?
- If it’s possible the world is enchanted, is it also possible that our lives have significance beyond our physical lives?
- Fleming Rutledge, once said, “Unaided human beings can make no lasting headway against evil.”[xiii] What do you think about that? Is that true? How does history seem to answer that question?
[i] Jeffrey M. Jones, “Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low” June 17, 2022
[ii] Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, 93. Eerdmans. Kindle Edition.
[iii] C.S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture.”
[iv] Leanne Payne, Real Presence: The Christian Worldview of C.S. Lewis as Incarnational Reality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988), 23-24.
[v] C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” 58 in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970).
[vi] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 211.
[vii] Jeffrey M. Jones, “Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low” June 17, 2022
[viii] Alvin Plantinga, Knowledge and Christian Belief (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015), x.
[ix] Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 17.
[x] Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, 96.
[xi] Rutledge, Advent, 97.
[xii] See 2 Corinthians 2:11.
[xiii] Rutledge, Advent, 93.
*Photo by TOMOKO UJI
How can we refuse to bow like Daniel’s friends?
How can we refuse to bow like Daniel’s friends? How can we as the Church in exile stand strong and share the love of Christ?
I was reading about and thinking about dandelions the other day. I want to warn y’all, what I’m about to say is a little controversial and some of you may disagree. But, I think dandelions are cool. And actually pretty.
Dandelions, and this may not surprise you, have one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant. And, did you know, every part of the dandelion is useful? The root, leaves, and the flower. They can be used for food, medicine, and dye for coloring.
Dandelions have had quite an impact and have actually helped a lot of people. Birds, insects, and butterflies consume the nectar or seed of dandelion. Dandelions can be used to make wine and used as a substitute for coffee.
There have been times when dandelions have been appreciated for what they are, but that is not the season we’re in right now in America. We’re in the season of trying to kill dandelions and we spend a lot of money collectively on pesticides to do so.
But, as we know, dandelions are very resilient.[i]
In some ways, church history parallels the history of the dandelion. The church has had its season when it’s been celebrated. When people have seen the benefits of the church. The church, however, has also had its seasons when people have wanted to kill the church, even willing to use pesticides.[ii]
The Church in America is in exile. And more and more that is being made empirically clear. Of course, theologically it’s always been clear.
The book of Daniel has a lot to teach the Church in exile. How can we stand tall and bright like a dandelion when the whole world bows?
How can we be like dandelions? How can we be like Daniel and his friends? How can we stand when many want to cut us down? How can we adapt and even populate and grow in this often hostile climate? (Timothy Keller has some very helpful thoughts on that question here)
How are we, as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to be faithful in a faithless world? Answering these questions is one of the main purposes of the book of Daniel.[iii]
How can we refuse to bow like Daniel’s friends?
Romans 15:4 tells us that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.” Daniel has a lot to instruct us about living in exile. We’ll particularly be considering Daniel chapter 3 here.
In Daniel 3 we see the King, Nebuchadnezzar, sets up a huge idol. It’s ironic because God, the true King, is the one who sets up kings. We see 8 times in Daniel chapter 3 that the king “set up” the idol (Dan. 3:1-3, 5, 7, 12, 15, 18). But in Daniel 2:21 we see that it is God, the real King, that sets up kings:
“He changes times and seasons;
He removes kings and sets up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding.”
So, the first lesson for us if we are to stand is to see that it is God, the true Lord, who is Sovereign.
Second, we must see the prevalence of idolatry.
We may not see actual idols all over in America, but they are there. The truth is: an idol is most massive and mighty when never mentioned. Satan, the father of lies, would like to cover our eyes to our culture of idolatry. We’ll continue to bow if we don’t know we’re bowing.
So, we must see that idolatry is the cultural air we are breathing. We are not immune. We are not untouched. Idolatry is not just out there. It is very often in our own hearts. Therefore, we must search and destroy every idol in operation in our hearts.
What even is idolatry? The New City Catechism says, “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.”
Four questions to help you find your idols:
- What brings negative emotional responses?
- Where do you put your hope when things go well and when things go wrong?
- Who do you compare yourself to?
- How have you turned good things into ultimate things?
Third, be present to bless.
Notice Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to comply with idolatrous practice but they aren’t wholesale against Babylon. They worked hard in the government and were a blessing to Babylon. That’s us too. We need to “come out of Babylon” as it says in Revelation 18:4. But, that means we need to not partake of Babylon’s value system. We’re not to partake of the sins of the world as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:10, we are not to leave the world.
We’re in Babylon, to bless Babylon. We have different values than Babylon but were not to always just bash Babylon or the Babylonians.
Fourth, die rather than partake in idolatry.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are explicitly commanded to bow an idol, which is a clear violation of the 2nd of the 10 Commandments (Ex. 20:4-6). Listen to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response: “Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (v. 18).
They were willing to die rather than take part in idolatry. Very often I’m afraid we might be closer to the opposite of that. We’re more than willing to die for our idolatry.
We, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, should die rather than partake in idolatry. As it says 1 Corinthians 10:14, “Dear friends, flee from idolatry”!
Fifth, we may face various fires.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced literal fire and each remained strong in the Lord. You have or will face fire as well—mockery, judgment, or various other obstacles—but as Christians, we can stand because we know Jesus stands with us.
We can stand when we stand in Him. We can refuse to bow, when we bow to Him.
Further, our fellowship with Christ is often nearest and dearest in the furnace of affliction; I suppose that is because all distractions are burned away. In those moments we can know, deeply know, the One who matters most.
But, sixth, no matter what we face, we know God is with us.
Over and over we may be cut down but because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can stand tall like a dandelion; strong, resilient, and bright. And point to the One who is the One True Lord of the universe.
Dear Christian brothers and sisters, remember: God doesn’t promise that He will necessarily keep His people from the fire. But, He does promise that He will be with His people in the flame (Ex. 3:12; Is. 43:2; Matt. 28:18-20; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pet. 4:12-14). Ultimately we see Christ faced the ultimate fire so no matter the fire we face, we can face it with hope. We can face it standing on His promises. God’s promise to be with us finds its fullest fulfillment in Jesus, who is Immanuel—God with us.
How should we respond to the God who is with us through the fire and through the flame? How should we respond to Jesus who waded into the fire of affliction? How should we respond to the One who went through the furnace of the wrath of God completely alone? How should we respond who did all that for us?
We should bow to Him in reverent submission and we should lovingly share the news with “all the peoples, nations, and languages” that He alone is worthy of our worship.
Remember dear brothers and sisters, today the world says bow to every idol, but on the last day everyone—every tribe, language, nation, and tongue—will bow to Christ the King (Phil. 2:10-11).
Let’s bow now. Let’s bow in reverent submission. Jesus is worthy of our worship—of all worship!
So, as you drive around or mow and see dandelions, think about God’s sustaining and persevering power that He gives. He is with us no matter what we face! So, we can stand like resilient dandelions, unbending, pointing to the Creator who alone is worthy of worship.
[i] Most of this was taken from Jen Kerr.
[ii] And actually, in the world today, each of those things is a reality simultaneously depending on where you are. We just happen to live in a place and time in America where “dandelions” seem to be less and less popular.
[iii] The narrations in the book of Daniel of God’s power in the midst of severe opposition serve an important purpose: the encouragement of exiles.
*Photo by Amy Earl
Using songs of ministries you disagree with?
What are your thoughts on using songs of ministries you disagree with?
I was recently asked this question by a dear Christian. I really appreciate this sibling in Christ and I appreciate their desire to honor our Lord. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.
First, this is an important question because music is very important and teaches (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-19).
And those who teach are held to a higher standard and must give an account (James 3:1).
Second, there is a lot I disagree with regarding a lot of different ministries.
I disagree with Presbyterians when it comes to some topics but gladly sing their worship songs and count them as my dear brothers and sisters. We should not, however, sing songs that are not theologically true. I believe all songs that are sung in public worship should be evaluated to make sure they are theologically accurate and beneficial.
Third, I believe we should also note that God speaks through and uses all sorts of people and things.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul rejoices that the gospel was being preached even when it was being preached from envy and rivalry (Phil. 1:15-18). God used Balaam and even spoke through the mouth of a donkey (Num. 22:1ff). Paul quoted secular poets. Israel plundered the Egyptians (Ex. 11:2-3; 12:35-36). They took things that were not used for God’s purposes and used them for God’s purposes.
“All truth is God’s truth.” Augustine said, “let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.”
John Calvin said something similar: “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.” And he says this in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
“Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears.”
This actually happens a lot in biblical scholarship. There is a lot that Christian scholars glean from nonChristians and those who are heterodox and even heretics (e.g. historical studies and grammar).
If there is a place to learn from and quote thoroughly secular writers and artists it seems there is a place to also learn from and quote Christian writers and authors even when we disagree on important matters. I will say, however, that this point should be caveated with the fact that Paul said not to associate with someone who bears the name of brother but acts like an unbeliever (1 Cor. 5:11). So, this is not a carte blanche principle.
Fourth, of course, it would be ideal that all sources be thoroughly orthodox.
It should also be said that sometimes a qualification is in order so that people know that just because a certain person is referenced it does not mean that their whole system of belief or ministry is supported. I believe this is a wisdom issue. Nowhere does Scripture spell out what exactly this should look like in practice.
Fifth, we benefit from a lot of resources we don’t fully agree with.
I disagree with C.S. Lewis on some important issues but I have gleaned abundantly from his ministry. Also, Reginald Heber, the author of the famous hymn “Holy, holy, holy” was an Anglican priest and bishop. I believe that Jesus is our great high priest (Heb. 4:14-16) and I believe in the priesthood of all believers but I don’t agree with the modern-day office of priest. But, I’m still thankful to sing “Holy, holy, holy.”
Sixth, conscience may not permit some people from using resources from some ministries and that is okay.
Regarding issues about questionable matters, I have found these 13 questions helpful.
Lastly, here are some questions to consider.
I have found these four questions very helpful from Todd Wagner:
1. Are you examining everything you consume (sermons, books, music, movies) through the lens of God’s Word?
2. Does the song stand on its own, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word without explanation?
3. Is it possible to separate the truth being sung from the error of its associations?
4. Would using the song cause us to actively support an errant ministry?
So, I personally do not typically have a problem singing songs of ministries that I disagree with if the song that is being sung is correct theologically and will bless and build up the body of Christ.
 For example, there is a lot I disagree with about Bethel. See e.g. “9 Things You Should Know About the Bethel Church Movement.”
 Acts 17:28, Epimenides of Crete (c. 600 BC) and the Stoic poet Aratus (c. 315–240 BC).
 On Christian Doctrine, II.18.
 See John Calvin’s commentary on Titus 1:12.
 On this topic, I found “Plunder Scholars” by Guy Waters helpful.
*Photo by Edward Cisneros
Will sin be possible in heaven?
To answer the question will sin be possible in heaven, there are a number of passages we should look at.
“…the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect“ (Hebrews 12:23).
“…those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Romans 8:29).
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship Him” (Revelation 22:3).
“…nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God…” (Revelation 3:12).
“I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them…” (Amos 9:15).
Christians will be made “made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). They will be “conformed into the image” of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). It may be that Christians can sin, but won’t sin because they will not want to sin.
When Christians see Jesus, they shall be like Him (1 John 3:2). That is the sense in which Christians will be unable to sin (non posse peccare, as Augustine said). Christians will be like Christ!
So, no. Ultimately, Christians will not be able to sin in heaven. But it won’t be from an external constraint but from internal renewal.
Christians will finally completely have their affections rightly aligned with reality. Christians will love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Should Wives Work Outside the Home?
Titus 2:4-5 and 1 Timothy 5:14 talk about young wives working at home, is this the ideal role God ordained for women? Should women not work outside the home?
To answer those questions, it will be helpful to look at five considerations.
Principles from the Bible
First, it is important to glean principles from the Bible to answer this question. The first principle or truth that I think is relevant is that God made humans gendered. The Bible clearly teaches that males and females are both made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and yet males and females differ from one another in some respects to various degrees. Scripture also teaches that within the family and within the church God has given complementary roles and gifts. For example, see the table from God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger:
The way that Andreas Kostenberger says it, is that “Women are to place special priority on their God-given calling as mothers and homemakers.” That, I agree, seems to be a biblical principle. Women are especially equipped for that task (even physiologically).
Priorities from the Bible
Next, it is important to consider priorities from a biblical perspective. We want our priorities to lineup with the priorities of Scripture. If they don’t we will have a problem with Scripture wherever it is at odds with our priorities. Our priorities, however, should be aligned with Scripture; we should not seek to align Scripture with our priorities.
Interestingly, “A 1982 Gallup poll showed that more than eight out of ten respondents (82 percent) assigned top priority… to the importance of family life. Families… rated as more important than the possession of material goods.” Scripture agrees with what was the majority assessment in 1982 (see e.g. Deut. 11:19, 21; Ps. 127:3-5).
What, however, do we value? Fortune or family?
Tacitcus, the Roman historian and politician writing around the same time as the Apostle Paul in A Dialogue on Oratory said,
“Our children are handed over at birth to some silly Greek servant maid… The parents themselves make no effort to train their little ones in goodness and self-control; they grow up in an atmosphere of laxity… they come to lose all sense of shame, and all respect for themselves and for other people.”
Tacitcus had a problem with that approach. And I think Christians should too.
We, however, haven’t answered our above question yet, but we’re getting there. But, it’s vital that we consider our motivation and priorities as we ask the question.