So, I have been on this journey of scholarship for about fifteen months now. A series of events woke me from a slumber of low personal expectations, and decided to embrace the concept of life long learning. But I am always seeing gaps and assumptions in my knowledge, or fuzzy definitions of words that I hold. Today I was struck by C.S. Lewis’s definition of pantheism in Mere Christianity (Ch1, Bk 2) and it has served to make the concept clearer.
“People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject. One of them is the idea that He is beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything good or bad, and the more clearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether. We call a cancer bad, they would say, because it kills a man; but you might just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view… The first of these views—the one that thinks God beyond good and evil—is called Pantheism.”
I had always held that pantheism was just a sort of universalism, that we all just sort of die and go into a blender of spirit and consciousness. I hadn’t really considered it with respect to its beliefs on good and evil. Lewis’s words really impacted me because I had just written here about the pantheistic ending of the movie Brave. I was thinking more of the final spiritual blending when I labeled it pantheistic, and then raised questions about it’s implications on any final judgment for humanity. This ending is absolutely pantheistic, according to Lewis. This movie is teaching us that, at a higher spiritual level, Mor’du was neither good nor evil.
If you have read Book 1 of Mere Christianity, you will have read Lewis’s case for the Moral Law that is installed in all of us.
“Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first.”
“You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built. Now, from this second bit of evidence we can conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.”
He shows that we all have a certain sense of right and wrong that we can see working in our consciousness, a Moral Law, and that behind that Law is a Somebody. At this stage of the book, he has not addressed religion yet, just that throughout history there has been moral teachings seen in the writings of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans.
The movie Brave is set in the highlands of ancient Scotland. Perhaps if it was William Wallace looking at the spirit of King Edward I of England’s ghost, rising from his corpse, would he have accepted that nod as Merida did from Mor’du? I wonder if these Highlanders, being so systematically oppressed over the years by the English, would ever really hold to this pantheistic worldview. If so, would Wallace have ever fought for Freedom?
I started getting Kevin DeYoung’s blog delivered via email, and I wanted to repost and comment on his blog today. Words do matter, and communicate ideas, and those ideas do have consequences. I suggest you read it here.
DeYoung focuses on the word “brokenness” in a way that is extremely illuminating. I have always thought of this word as describing our sinful nature, and I think it still does. But DeYoung has helped me to see that, when used to describe sin, the term appears to fit in more with the deterministic and naturalistic worldview that I have been learning about lately from Francis Schaeffer’s works—that man is merely machine, a product of random natural forces. The word in this context suggests that “I am not responsible; I sinned because of my fallen nature. Yeah, I did it…but it’s not my fault.” If we blame the sinful nature, it becomes the cause, not the individual. At that point, I cease to be the cause, or at least I have far less culpability.
“…as a metaphor for sin, “brokenness” is seriously limited. The term does not convey a strong sense of moral culpability. If anything, it suggests a helplessness in the face of external forces and circumstances. It gets nothing of the Godward direction of sin. In fact, the term “brokenness” sometimes feels like a safer, less-offensive euphemism for sin. Instead of confessing rebellion, disobedience, guilt, or moral evil, we only have to acknowledge that somethin’ ain’t right. We don’t work the way we should. We’ve been wounded before. We’ve had a hard go of it. I’m not suggesting those who use the term “brokenness” are trying to avoid their sins or the minimize the sins of others. But the language can have that effect.”
“In Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck examines the different Hebrew and Greek words for sin. The list of definitions is daunting: missing the mark, departure from the right way, twistedness, wrongness, deviation from the right direction, crossing a set of boundaries, breaking a covenant, apostasy, rebellion, deviant conduct, godless behavior, offense, unfaithfulness, infidelity, betrayal, disobedience, violation, lawlessness, guilt. “By far the majority of these names, Bavinck maintains, “describe sin as ‘deviation, a violation of the law.” In citing 1 John 3:4, he concludes that “Scripture consistently views sin as lawlessness” (3.129-30).”
So, this must be the question: is sin something I actually decide to do, or not? Am I in control of my body, or not? Am I really taken off guard, seemingly all the time, by lust and pride and anger and envy…? Am I really just a reed in the wind, blown this way and that? If it is habitual sin, am I responsible for making effort to break this habit, or not? It is either my nature doing it, or I am doing it. Which one?
“The present Christian culture gravitates toward language that is inner-directed and therapeutic. We prefer the language of brokenness and woundedness, even though these words in the Bible tend to describe physical pain or divine punishment (Isaiah 30:26). Sin is almost never, if ever, described as personal malfunction. It is, instead, seen as an offense to God, a violation of his law, and liable to punishment. We may be broken, but that doesn’t describe the half of it. We need a Savior, not just a Handy Man.”
This is a scary thought. Is that what we have today in the church? Are we looking for a first aid kit, a fix it kit, or a true relationship with the Creator? I know that I have thought like this—God, please just fix me! Those are the times I felt as if I am just trying to impose my will on God’s, like I was just using Him. It is also tempting to blame my sinful nature for the despair and hopelessness that sin produces, and in essence blame God. Those are the times I don’t want to be asked about my sin, nor do I want to ask anyone else. Those are the times I feel locked in determinism, the ultimate instance being my life before Christ. Then, there was only a prison of habit and a life devoid of love and meaning. DeYoung is so correct in saying we need a Savior to unlock this determinism.
I have read that Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and atheist, has said that criminals should not be held morally responsible for their crimes because of this determinism in the natural world. Actions are only a result of chemistry and socio-economic factors. Humans are not to be blamed; it’s our environment and DNA. I am not saying Christians go that far in our thinking…but if we really extend this logic of “brokenness” to its final conclusion, it leads to a world without any fault or responsibility, as DeYoung said in his article. It leads to world of “I’m ok, you’re ok,” a church of Christian moral relativism.
Here is an example of what I am thinking, using 1 Cor 13:4 “Love is patient”:
Using the concept of antithesis, there is the law (love = patient) and it’s opposite (hatred = impatience). If I say I hold to God’s view on sin, I will realize that when I am impatient, I am sinning against God and probably another person (i.e. my kids). I can choose to take moral responsibility, apologize to God and child, and think through the reasons for my impatience. In repentance, I should then be on my guard against those factors may cause this impatience.
If is simply attribute my impatience to my sinful nature (“I am broken”), or just nature (“I was just hungry.”), and go no further in repentance, I destroy God’s law. There is no longer an absolute right (patience) and an absolute wrong (impatience). The two are mixed so that the average becomes the standard. Now it is ok if you are somewhere in the middle of patience/impatience. In this way, thinking of oneself as “broken” can lead to Christian moral relativism.
I recently wrote about this teacher in Texas who was fired from a Christian school for pregnancy out-of-wedlock. I was so focused on her situation that I totally missed this question! A lot of people are upset at this school, but where is FATHER??
We are only left to wonder about him. It took two to make that baby. If he were in her life, wouldn’t he have been on the video supporting and defending her? Wouldn’t there have been some mention of him? Instead, there is just a lawyer. If the father had been a man of integrity, wouldn’t he have done the right thing and married her, committing to her and the family he chose to create with her?
But he is totally missing.
Why get married anyway, though? Since the divorce rate floats around 50%, chances are they would just get separated anyway. Why bother? But the point of marriage, a Christian one at any rate, isn’t to just get married so you can then do whatever you feel like doing. The idea is to commit, first to God and then to your partner. When I say commit, I mean constrain. When I constrain myself to God’s commands, I am not committing to just following a bunch of rules, like I’m in a prison. It is faithfully committing to the total truth of the Bible, trusting that it will lead to abundant life.
For instance, when God says, “Love is patient,” He means that when I am not patient, I do not love, and therefore I am wrong. No excuses. When I am impatient, I need to recognize that something is wrong in my heart, and it usually involves selfishness. What if I’m just tired? Is that an excuse to be impatient? Does it take away the hurt from impatient words? Do I get to say, “Yeah, I just lost my temper, but I’m tired”? As a Christian, no.
Impatience is always wrong. Unkindness is always wrong. Lust is always wrong. Hate is always wrong. And so on. It is very important for my wife to see me recognize my own sin, admit that I was wrong, and ask for forgiveness to reconcile the relationship. It builds trust and depth to our marriage bonds as I do this and see the same in her. As Christians, when faced with our imperfections, we don’t get to say “everyone has different interpretations” or “I didn’t do anything wrong.” No, for God says:
If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 Jn 1:8)
If truth isn’t in you, why get married? It really does become a toss-up. This is why so many marriages end, and so many don’t even try, in my opinion. This is why children need to see their teachers and role models following and obeying God, not adopting our culture’s moral relativism or making excuses.
Where is this father? Is he saying, as he left Samford alone and pregnant, “I didn’t do anything wrong?”
As for the Christian school, I do wonder if they could have extended her benefits until the baby’s birth. The story says she disclosed her pregnancy in the fall and was fired, I assume in the fall. It is now April. Perhaps her benefits were extended six months? Usually you can do something like that for a monthly fee. I don’t think we are getting the full story on that.
As for the father, he may be there in the background somewhere. The reporters may have left him out for whatever reason. Even so, I do think this post applies to our culture in general.
I came across this article today, and the headline and first paragraph hooked me:
Former coach of the year fired from Christian school for out-of-wedlock pregnancy
“In an incredibly bizarre situation that appears headed for a legal challenge, a Dallas-area volleyball coach and science teacher was fired by the Christian school at which she worked for becoming pregnant before being married.” (Emphasis mine)
The problem with this woman isn’t that she got pregnant out-of-wedlock. That is secondary, in my opinion. That she broke the school moral code is also secondary. The real problem is that she thinks she “did nothing wrong.” That’s why this sports writer describes the situation “incredibly bizarre.” I mean, what is wrong with doing what everyone else does?
In her own words she said:
“I looked it up and thought, ‘They can’t do this,'” the 29-year-old Samford told WFAA. “We all have different views and interpretations. It’s not necessarily the Christian thing to do to throw somebody aside because of those.”
This is the post-modern relativistic ideas that this teacher has been and would continue to stamp into the minds of all the children at that Christian school. If she would have kept her job, all the children would have learned that it is ok to have sex outside of marriage, to not wait for a faithful marriage partner, that it is ok to disagree with and not follow God’s commands. But the truth is, sexual immorality, impurity, pornography, text “sexting”, and the like is assaulting teens and children and destroying lives. Can we afford to let them think “I did nothing wrong”? No thanks!
Whoah! I just realized that I have totally been judging this woman! Jesus tells me not to judge, right? …but wait, He actually says:
1 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mt 7: 1-5)
Oh, so He is saying don’t be a hypocrite. Look at myself first; judge myself, then help my brother out with his speck…which requires a measure of judgement. But surely it is wrong to judge! Nobody is supposed to judge anybody—that is God’s job!
9 I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. 11 But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves.(Cor 5: 9-13)
Paul writes here clearly about judging. Christians are not to judge those outside the church, but those that are (or call themselves) Christians. Post-modern relativism doesn’t hold up against the Bible, but I hear the “don’t judge” mantras all the time from people. I think it is this very attitude leads to the incredibly bizarre situation of teachers appointed to Christian classrooms who do not have a clue as to their God appointed duty to train our children in God’s divine way.
I also think it bizarre that this “coach of the year” can find nothing wrong with herself. I go with my daughter to her basketball practices and they pick those girls apart, find their weakness and help them improve. Since Samford clearly has no Christian moral compass, I doubt she can seriously guide her players and students spiritually.
In the end, it is sad that this mother will most likely get buried in medical bills. She really doesn’t have a case against the school. But if she could have had even an ounce of humility, and could have even just whispered the phrase, “I was wrong,” perhaps she would be in a better situation. Perhaps the administration would have just put her on probation. Perhaps she could have share with the students what she did wrong and what she was going to do to fix it. It could have been an incredible story of grace, but that would have required some kind of acknowledgement other than “I did nothing wrong.”