Atheist Arguments: What About Evil?


Christianity and atheism, which of necessity requires belief in evolution, are two contrasting worldviews, not only because they have opposing views about God but also because they have opposing views about humankind. While the focus of discussions and debates often concentrates on the existence of God, it is the view of humankind that leaves atheists with an unanswerable question.

There are two specific ways that Christians and atheists view humankind differently. First, Christians believe that humans are unique from animals because we have an eternal soul. Atheists believe instead in the “common descent” principle:

In evolutionary biology, a group of organisms have common descent if they have a common ancestor. “There is strong quantitative support, by a formal test”[1] for the theory that all living organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor.[2]

Charles Darwin proposed the theory of universal common descent through an evolutionary process in On the Origin of Species, saying, “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one”.[3]

Second, Christians believe humans, though created in God’s image, have a fallen, or sinful, nature passed down through Adam who turned his back on God when he intentionally disobeyed Him. The only way to change society is to point individuals to Jesus Christ who provides a way of escape from sin, guilt, the law, and death.

Atheists, on the other hand, believe humans are morally neutral at worst and might even be considered “good” by virtue of the fact that what exists has survived.

Right and wrong, good and evil, then, according to this view, are not existent apart from the perception of a group or community. Hence, homosexuality is wrong until the group determines it is right.

Infants come into the world as blank slates or even as good slates and only turn toward evil if they are influenced by societal patterns (racism, for example) or errant views (such as religion). The way to change society is simply to re-educate people.

One atheist puts it this way:

So if we are determined, then how do we define evil? If our minds come from our brains, and our brain circuitry is out of our control, then is anyone responsible for anything – no matter how courageous, no matter how innovative, no matter how good or evil, that the person is? (“An atheist’s view of evil”—link no longer available.)

Another atheist discussing evil concludes with this:

For atheists, a better explanation for the presence of evil in the world is that God does not exist. (“Atheism”).

A number of others discuss evil only as an argument against the existence of God. But here’s the question that atheists can’t seem to answer: where did evil come from? If life has a common descent, if we’re born with no natural bent toward evil, what injected evil into the equation?

Seemingly, the atheist scenario is one that would seem to result in utopia: humans, evolved from a common and not evil descent, growing toward their full potential without any negative force to intercede.

Except for society. Which teaches gender differences and racism and encourages belief in mythical gods which motivate people groups to hate.

But in truth, society is nothing more than people interacting with one another. So how and why did humans start acting in hateful ways toward people who were different from them? Why did the strong decide to take from the weak instead of using their strength for the greater good?

In other words, where did evil come from?

This is the atheist’s unanswerable question, not the Christian’s.

As I mentioned, a number of professing atheists lay evil at the feet of God, then declare that its existence proves He couldn’t possibly exist: that he doesn’t eradicate evil shows either that he’s too weak to do so (and therefore, not God) or too evil himself or too undiscerning to know evil from good (and therefore not God).

The argument, of course, ignores what God Himself has to say about evil and its existence. But more so, it offers no alternative, no explanation for the virulent presence of evil in the world.

In fact, some atheists deny the existence of evil:

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins claim that evil doesn’t actually exist. In his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life Dawkins writes: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (David Robinson, “The problem of evil is a bigger problem for atheists than Christians,” Christianity Today)

Of course such a view collapses the argument that evil disproves the existence of God, because something that does not exist cannot itself be used to disprove anything. So either evil exists, or it doesn’t. And if it exists, but there is no God, then where did it come from? How did it come to be included in this mix of materialism?

Actually the atheist I quoted above, was on the right track. Evil comes from the absence of God. He does exist, but He doesn’t force Himself on our lives. Humankind, having chosen to leave God out, now experiences the world with the absence-of-God component a reality.

This post, second in the Atheist Arguments series, is a revised version of one that appeared here in January, 2015.

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The World Divided


The world’s always been divided. I understand that. In Europe under the medieval system there were serfs and knights, lords and clergy, barons and kings. Essentially divisions were along economic lines which in turn created social lines. That’s why a royal marrying a commoner was pretty much unheard of.

Of course there were the natural barriers created by oceans that divided people groups. Then there was the development of nationalism and racism that divided people based on where they lived and what were their physical traits.

In the last 50 years the world has become smaller and smaller. The old dividing lines have melted away, but a new line is replacing all the old ones: worldview.

What do you believe? That’s the new dividing line. Of course nationalism, economics, social standing and race play into creating a person’s worldview, but I’m realizing a bigger aspect that forms the way we look at the world is our view of God.

People who don’t believe in God see the world one way, those who do believe in God, see the world in a very different way.

The discussion of the day at the FB atheist/theist group centered on the role of women. We are divided. Christians for the most part reflect the Biblical view of gender differences. Atheists think submission is a dirty word. One member even said that he would not EVER submit to ANYONE.

Which underscores the divide.

Christians first submit to God. Atheists, I believe, see the issue of obeying Someone who is over them in authority as the reason they reject God.

Christians submit to government. Atheists submit to government if they agree with it, if they have a say in creating it.

Christians believe in gender roles that involve love and submission. Atheists believe in “partnership,” which is destined to be unequal or contentious.

I know these are simplistic generalities, but I do think this divide—believing in God or not believing in God—is growing, at least in the US.

The fact is, our worldview dictates what we believe about various other issues, and ultimately what we do.

Lakers fans are Lakers fans. No one asks what your worldview is when you cheer for your favorite basketball team. But who smashes windows in the “celebrations” of a team’s successes? I don’t think anyone has ever taken a poll, but it seems hard for me to believe that someone who fears God would act in a destructive way. I mean, I’m not even saying, “Christian.” But someone who believes they either have to answer to God or they have to behave a certain way to please Him or they live by the command to love their neighbor, isn’t probably going to start fires, smash store windows, and loot local businesses.

Take that same idea to life in general. Who commits fraud against senior citizens, people who believe in and fear God or people who reject Him? Who hijacks cars? Steals purses? Shoplifts? Shoots people en masse?

I’m not saying there are no criminals who believe in God. As I noted earlier, this is a broad brush, painting generalities. But it makes sense to me that people who believe in a moral law, a Lawgiver, and a Judge, are much more likely to be law abiding than people who think law is whatever we make it and there is no one watching them 24/7, there is no just judge who will hold them accountable.

What’s the point?

I guess I think, there is no governmental answer that will bring us back into harmony. We can’t pass enough hate-crime laws or ban speakers or curb free speech in a way that will fix the great divide. I mean, telling one side to shut up and sit down is not fixing things in the first place. And a look at history will show that belief in Jesus has done well when the other side tries to stop the spread of His message.

The answer, I believe, is the one Jesus gave when He returned to heaven. We are to make disciples. The more disciples, the more people who learn to love God and love their neighbors as themselves.

It is a little surprising that so many look at Christianity as dangerous. And I mean, not just theism, but Christianity. I understand, for example, there is once again a crackdown in China on the unregistered house churches. And even of some of the registered ones. Specifically crosses have been eliminated in one area.

Why?

I can only think of one reason: Christians see the world differently.

Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (7)  
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Accusations Against Christians — A Reprise


There’s quite a litany of accusations against Christians these days, from both non-Christians and others who call themselves Christians. Those charges include things such as Christians can’t do art or create good speculative fiction. More seriously, some say Christians are greedy and hypocritical and hateful.

Sadly a selection of very visible individuals or groups claiming the name of Christ have reinforced some of these ideas—pastors who end up having affairs, televangelists who preach health-and-wealth rather than sacrificial giving, sign-waving funeral crashers who condemn rather than present the good news.

But then there are individuals like the owner of Chick-fil-A who became the brunt of accusations because of his stand for monogamous, heterosexual marriage. He too was accused of being hateful.

Recently, as I was reading Scripture, I realized, we might as well get used to these sorts of recriminations. All the way back in the Old Testament, people proclaiming the truth about God and man’s sinful condition were tarnished with the brush of accusation.

Even Elijah. He prophesied during the reign of one of the most sinful kings Israel would know. Ahab married a pagan and proceeded to lead his people into idolatry like no king before him. He built temples and altars and assigned priests and made sacrifices to these false gods, all the while persecuting those who were faithful to the Lord God who lead them out of Egypt.

As judgment on the nation, God, through the prayer of Elijah, withheld rain from them for over three years. Needless to say, they suffered severe drought and famine. Ahab apparently conducted an extensive search for Elijah, thinking perhaps to force him to beseech God for rain. His search failed because God kept Elijah safe and supplied with food and drink.

When at last God told Elijah to return to Ahab, his first assignment before dealing with the drought was to confront the prophets of of the false god Baal. But before he could propose a showdown, Ahab accused him of troubling Israel.

Elijah didn’t let the accusation stand. Rather, he turned it back on Ahab:

He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals. (1 Kings 18:18)

Of course today such a statement would be seen as further evidence of a hateful, intolerant, unloving attitude.

I think this is why New Testament writers like Paul and Peter were instructing Christians about how to handle things like false accusations and suffering. Peter in his first letter makes a strong case for suffering for the sake of righteousness, not for wrong doing:

and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. (1 Peter 3:16-17 — emphasis added)

In the end, it seems the only thing we as believers in Jesus Christ can do is live godly lives. Earlier Peter said

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:12, 15)

Apparently Jesus flipped the script, and Scripture says we are to follow His example:

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23).

“Hypocrites! Hateful! Greedy!” The accusations will come. The key is to silence our critics, not by taking a defensive stand, but by exhibiting good behavior with which the accusers cannot argue, then trusting God for the results.

With some minor revision, this article is a re-print of one that appeared here in November, 2012.

Published in: on November 26, 2018 at 4:43 pm  Comments (7)  
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Gratitude, Day 15—Thanksgiving Day


I’ve said more many years that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are just so many things that are right about the day.

For example it’s a celebration of those early thanksgivings our forefathers held because they lived to bring in a new harvest. I mean, life was not something they took for granted. So they wanted to express their gratitude for life and food.

What’s more they invited native Americans to join them, not as guests but as contributors and participants. They recognized the role their new friends played in making it possible for them to have success in their endeavors.

And of course they were thankful to God because they recognized that without Him, they would not have survived the ocean crossing or had the encounters with people who would help them or received the rain and the sunshine they needed to grow their crops.

With that thought, I want to share a meditation on Thanksgiving which I wrote here in 2013.
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My first observation about thanksgiving in general is that it is a responsive action. People give thanks because they have first been given something or have benefited from some condition or in some other way have experienced favor or provision. In other words, we don’t start out being thankful. We become thankful as we realize what we have received.

Thanksgiving, then, requires a level of humility. If we think we have earned all we have, if we aren’t acknowledging the fact that we received from another’s hand, we won’t be in a mindset to give thanks.

In that regard, Thanksgiving also requires a measure of reality. We need to see the truth about our circumstances. We need to have clarity of vision so that we realize both what we have received and what we would be like if we hadn’t received.

True thanksgiving, having been properly caused, seems to erupt from within. As someone on another site noted, thanksgiving can’t be mandated. No one can be thankful by order of the President, even if that President was Abraham Lincoln. Rather, thankfulness flows from a heart of love and relief and appreciation, not only for the thing received, but for the person who made it possible.

Third, thanksgiving is expressed. Real thanksgiving has legs. It moves from being an emotion to being a demonstration, through words or actions. People giving thanks aren’t silent and they often aren’t still. Thankful people give smiles and hugs; they pack bags and fly hundreds of miles across country; they send cards and presents; they sing songs; they put offering into the plate at church; they get up a half hour early to pray. The cook dinners and bake pies. In short, thanksgiving is not passive.

I can’t help but think of the story Jesus told Simon, the Pharisee who hosted him for a meal.

“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

Jesus didn’t say, which will be more thankful? He said, which will love him more? Thanksgiving isn’t passive. It turns into love and service and shameless adoration. At least, real thankfulness does–the kind that recognizes the great gifts which have been bestowed and receives them in humility.

In the end, I guess that explains why we so often take time on Thanksgiving Day to think about the things we’ve been given. An awareness of what we have that we did not earn puts us in a place where we can experience thankfulness and then respond.

So let the count begin of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. Let’s not forget the things God has revealed about Himself that are treasures in and of themselves: He is infinite in love, His mercy extends to the heavens, He is abundantly trustworthy to the point that He will never fail us or forsake us, He is righteous in all His works, His goodness is untainted with even a shadow of wrong doing.

And the list goes on!

Published in: on November 21, 2018 at 4:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 14—Places To Go; Things To See


I’ve purposefully been avoiding the things we so commonly include on a list of “what are you thankful for?” No profound reason. I just assume everyone already knows I’m thankful for friends and family, clothes and food, a roof over my head.

I almost broke that resolution to write about my parents, specifically about my dad because today would have been his birthday. I’ve put off writing that post for a long time, but I’m getting close to the point where I will be ready to put some thoughts down. But not yet.

Instead I want to write about how thankful I am that God gave me the opportunity to travel. I never expected to do so. I didn’t even want to do so. After all, I’d moved so often when I was a kid, I didn’t see the desirability of moving to a different country or of living out of a suitcase.

Little did I know what God had in store for me.

My first move outside the US was to Tanzania, East Africa. I know. Not a typical travel spot. Living in the small town of Korogwe, between the capital of Dar es Salaam and the tourist town of Arusha at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, changed me. I saw people in new ways—rich or poor, African, English, Indian, or American, they are people. We all laugh and get hungry, have a sense of curiosity, work hard, bleed, fall in love, love our children, and on and on.

I also saw that the US is not a place to take for granted, that there are wondrous sights in the world, that traveling can open eyes.

Well, it sure did mine. I wouldn’t have articulated this then when I was just seventeen, but I had a greater understanding of what God meant when He said He loved the world.

I could do a post on Tanzania alone and what I learned, but that was just the first.

Not so long after, I had a friend invite me to spend the summer in Mexico attending summer school at UNAM—a university in Mexico City. I went. From that short trip, I learned that I had an affinity for the Hispanic culture. Except I thought it was for the Mexican culture. I knew some Spanish, loved the people, the architecture, the history, the life style. So I determined to go back.

I applied to a mission organization to be a teacher at a missionary kids’ school. Instead of going to Mexico, however, I decided on a school in the country just south: Guatemala. After all, what could be different?

Well, everything!

OK, people still spoke Spanish, but the country is poor, the terrain is rocky, the land ringed with volcanoes. But there were still wondrous sights, and adventures to experience. There was history right in our backyard. There was paganism lived out on the steps of a church and on a high place outside of town.

Again my eyes were opened—surprisingly, more about myself than anything. I lived through a devastating earthquake and survived a bike accident that gave me a concussion that wiped a day or so out of my memory. I flew in a prop plane for the first (and hopefully, last) time. I spent Christmas eve worshiping in a little out of the way church, accessible only by foot.

I haven’t mentioned the trip my sister and I took when we returned from Africa, that took us to Athens and Rome and Switzerland and Amsterdam and London.

There’s also the two weeks I spent in Tokyo one Christmas vacation—a humbling experience when you can’t even read a street sign or a menu and you can’t ask a story clerk where the tuna is or how much the bananas cost.

Each of those experiences changed me and changed my worldview in ways that are impossible to explain or enumerate. But one thing I never imagined when I first began to travel: I have a wealth of information about other people and other places that I can use in my fantasies. The fantasy world of Efrathah where my protagonist goes, has a little of Tanzania, a little of my home state of Colorado, a little of Guatemala, a little of this place or that. What a treasure trove my travels have become.

So today, I want to say how grateful I am that God gave me so many varied places to visit and so many experiences to shape me. That He also has given me the opportunity to put what I learned into my stories is beyond great. I mean, when I got on the plane heading for Africa, I had no intention of writing fiction. I had no idea how writing journal entries or character sketches of the people I met would put me on a path toward fiction. Only God could plan and prepare me for such a thing so far in advance.

He’s great, and it is really Him I am thankful for in all these varied topics I’ve included in the Gratitude posts.

Published in: on November 20, 2018 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Gratitude, Day 13—Prayer


I’ve written from time to time about prayer (other articles include this and this, but there are more), but I still don’t really understand it.

My atheist friends keep asking about answered prayer, as if getting what we pray for would prove that God exists. I’ve tried to explain that asking God for stuff isn’t really what prayer is about, but I haven’t been able to articulate it clearly. It always sounds so nebulous.

And still, I’m so thankful for prayer.

I have to wonder, what would I do for a friend who is having surgery if I couldn’t pray for her? What would I do for a family that is in danger from the California wildfires, if I couldn’t pray for them? What would I do for someone who just lost a loved one if I couldn’t pray for him?

I am so grateful I don’t have to find out. The very idea of prayer means I can bring all the stuff I’m concerned about to God. Somehow, trusting Him to work, however He chooses, is far more important than “getting what I want.”

Then Sunday, the pastor who preached, gave a wonderful example from our study in the book of John, tying it with 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

The incident recorded in John relates the first known public miracle Jesus performed—turning water into wine. In this case the “prayer” was Mary’s as she came to Jesus with the problem. Someone else’s problem, our pastor added; she wasn’t just praying for what she needed but for what others needed.

The “prayer” itself was simply a statement of the problem. Mary didn’t precede to tell Jesus how she thought He should handle the circumstance. “They’re out of wine, Jesus. Do you think you could have a couple of Your disciples take a cart to the farm down the road and buy some wine from them. Of course, we’ll need to take up a collection first so that we have enough money to pay for it. Maybe you should send two others to the farm just beyond that neighbor, just in case. After all, we want to be sure it’s enough this time.”

No, Mary, left the problem in Jesus’s hands so that He could solve it as He saw fit. What He chose to do was surprising and abundant and beyond what the steward expected: the wine was the best of the feast—far better than was usually served at the end of such an event.

How often do we Christians dictate to God what He should do for us when we pray, rather than presenting Him with the problem and letting Him work as He will? I know I do that. But we also have Jesus’s model when He prayed in Gethsemane. There He gave a specific something He wanted His Father to do: “Let this cup pass from Me.” But He didn’t stop there. Instead He submitted to His Father’s will.

These were not words He indiscriminately tacked on as part of religious formalism. Jesus actually was giving the Father control, even if it meant NOT saying yes to what He’d just asked. Actually, He knew His Father was not going to say yes. I mean, He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for sinners. So why did He bother to ask? Because that’s what He wanted. He didn’t want to suffer. He didn’t want to die. But He wanted to obey His Father more.

I think that’s what is lacking in a lot of our prayers. We don’t actually want what God wants if it means we don’t get what we want.

So why am I thankful for this kind of prayer that is . . . not really procuring what I need? Well, what I actually need is submission to God. So it is precisely what I need. And it is communion with the Living God, which is precisely what I need. And when He assures me that He hears my cry, I am so moved, so humbled, that He would listen to an insignificant, low-on-the-totem-pole believer like me. I’m not even the chief of sinners (Paul already claimed that place). I’m not the chief of anything. I’m just a little flower, here today for only as long as the number of days ordained for me last. I’m not the chief hostess or the chief apologist or chief writer or chief evangelist. Not chief anything. And God still listens to me. Actually He loves to listen to me. He longs to listen to ME! I have no idea why except that He is God.

So I am beyond grateful for prayer. It is an awesome, awe-inspiring privilege to pray.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues from Pexels

Published in: on November 19, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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Gratitude, Day 10—The Shepherd And Guardian Of My Soul


I suppose since I’ve already said I’m thankful for salvation and for God’s kindness, it’s probably apparent that I’m thankful for God Himself. But today I’m specifically thankful for these two aspects of who God is—my Shepherd and the Guardian of my soul. I learn about these characteristics of God from 1 Peter 2:

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Years ago I read A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller. It gave me a much deeper understanding of that metaphor. The shepherd isn’t just hanging out watching the sheep graze all day. The sheep really do stray, and the shepherd really does hunt them down, steer them away from danger, rescue them from the holes they get in, check them closely for critters that get into their wool, protect them from snakebite, from predators that would carry them off and eat them alive.

The Shepherd of my soul looks out for me spiritually in much the same way.

He also stands guard, the way a watchman does from a city wall. He is ready to sound the alert because he is ever vigilant.

Consequently, I can get a good night’s sleep. I don’t have to worry or anxiously look about, wondering if the next cultural trend will irreparably harm me or my faith. I don’t have to wring my hands at the latest election results or what the new atheists are saying or the progressives who pose as believers, but are not.

Because I have a Guardian of my soul who will not let the evil tear down my faith.

It’s really peaceful to put my trust in the Shepherd and Guardian of my soul. I’m still concerned about the way the world is going, the way western culture is moving into a post-truth way of thinking. I pray for revival. But one way I know I have a Shepherd and Guardian of my soul is that just today I heard another radio sermon in which the pastor talked about praying for revival. He is not the first! Other believers, other pastors, are praying, too.

So yes, I pray. And I do all in my power to be an obedient sheep, following my Shepherd, not one of the other stupid creatures who jump at any loud sound and go running off to hide. I once was straying, but not any more. Now I want to get as close to the shepherd as I can get. I’m that thankful for Him.

Published in: on November 14, 2018 at 6:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Gratitude, Day 6—Thanking God


Sunset on Fields near City

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

I grew up “saying grace,” before meals. To this day I don’t know how that euphemism came about, and in our house, I’m not sure we used the term. I understood our prayer before each meal to be us offering thanks for the food.

By and large, however, it was a formality, though we didn’t use a formalized prayer. Despite the fact that there were lean years in my family, I was too little to realize how tight money was and how iffy our next meal could be. By the time I was in school, our “financially tight years” were behind us.

Consequently, not having known want, I didn’t have the overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from receiving something you needed but had no means to acquire.

In other words, I mostly took my meals for granted. Not to the point of wasting food, certainly. My parents, especially my mother, saw to that. How could I, being so fortunate, throw away food that the poor children in China would be so happy to have. Didn’t I realize that they were starving and I was abundantly blessed?

Well, actually, I didn’t realize the abundance I enjoyed. Until I was seventeen. That year my family moved to Tanzania, East Africa, to a small town named Korogwe where there was a teacher-training college and a good road to Tanga. My dad, being a professor of education, took a position at the college, and I learned, among many other things, what abundance I had.

In Tanzania I saw most people walk barefoot or ride bicycles. Only the rich had cars. We had a car.

In Tanzania I saw men walk around with tee shirts so holey they barely had enough material to stay on their backs. I asked why people would bother to wear shirts like that which certainly had little function. Because, I was told, it was better to have a shirt, no matter how many holes or how big the holes, than to have no shirt at all. I didn’t own a single item of clothing with holes and I had many changes of clothes.

In Tanzania I saw children throw rocks and use sticks to knock unripe mangoes from a tree. They would rather have the unripened fruit than no fruit at all. I had the choice of whatever fruits and vegetables were in the market, all of which we could afford to buy.

In Tanzania ugali, made from cassava root, was the staple for most people’s diet. They pounded it into a flour and made a kind of thick mush they rolled into balls and dipped into broth. I enjoyed three meals a day, including a main meal of meat and vegetables, often with fresh, home-made rolls.

In Tanzania I saw sick children with runny noses a parent never wiped or distended bellies, some carrying bundles of sticks on their heads as they walked in the red dust of the African roadway. I had received a multitude of shots to keep away such diseases as typhoid and yellow fever, and I received a booster to protect me from the various forms of dysentery that plagued the African people.

In Tanzania I saw Masai children covered with flies, especially around their noses, eyes, and mouths, and they made no effort to brush off the insects, so used to their presence they had become. I slept under a mosquito netting and enjoyed a home with screens on the windows and on the doors. And still we had cans of bug spray and fly swatters.

There was more. That good road to Tanga, the second largest town in Tanzania at the time, which passed through Korogwe, made it possible to go to stores from time to time where we could buy some of the foods we would have considered staples in the US.

In Korogwe we enjoyed an abundant supply of water, no small feature in itself, but the water also made growing fruits and vegetables possible year round whereas in southern Tanzania, the dry season was very dry. People might find the only vegetable in their markets for months was cabbage.

I could go on. But the point isn’t to make a case for how poor Tanzania was or how much better Korogwe was than other parts of the country. The fact is, I could repeat a similar list for Guatemala where I spent three years or for Mexico where I spent a summer or for Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, even England and Japan where I’ve spent some short amount of time.

I could repeat the list for places here in the US, too.

But up until I was seventeen and spent that year in Tanzania, I didn’t realize I enjoyed abundance. I wore hand-me-down clothes and never owned a bike, though I wanted one desperately. My family drove used cars and bought furniture at Goodwill. We weren’t rich, but we had an abundance.

I think true thankfulness might not be possible until you realize what abundance you have. How many of us are thankful for our health . . . until we get sick? Or for our friends until they move away. Or for our jobs until we lose them.

Simple FieldNot having and then having, or having and then not having provides the contrast that wakes us up to abundance. Seeing others not have when we have can do the same thing. Or it can create a defensive, hording mentality—I never want to be without, like those people—in the same way that seeing others have when we do not, can create envy and greed.

All this to say, in our abundance, however great or small that may be, we have the opportunity to thank God for what He has given. Think about what Habakkuk said:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18, emphasis added)

Even in want, there’s cause to exult in God. He remains the source of salvation, and that is God’s lavish provision for sinners who did not deserve His grace and mercy.

Thanks, and praise, and rejoicing are always the right response to God.

It certainly makes sense. If He is great, and He is, and if He is good, and He is, then why wouldn’t I give Him thanks?

This post originally appeared here in July, 2014.

Gratitude, Day 4—Play


I have a neighbor who has a young dog, about two years old now. Another neighbor just recently got a puppy, and those two hit it off. They love to run and chase and play tug of war and wrestle, and then run some more. I have to say, it’s really entertaining to watch.

I remember a time when I was young that our cat had a litter of kittens and as they grew, they loved to play with each other. We used to sit in the living room and just watch those kittens jump and chase each other and wrestle.

Recently I heard someone describing a cruise they went on and this person said a school of dolphins chased them. Well, not chased, I thought. But play? No doubt.

And then it dawned on me. Animals of all kinds play. Mostly their young, but even older pets can play. In other words, play is something God built into His creation.

No wonder we humans like to play: board games and card games and video games. We like to horse around. We invent games like Mother May I or Kick The Can or Hide-and-Seek. We play games we turn into sports like skate boarding and skiing. We play because . . . we were made to love play.

I’ve wondered off and on if play is good. I mean, what does play accomplish for the kingdom of God? Aren’t we to be good stewards of our time?

Well, yes, we are. But “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” or something like that. Yeah, not from the Bible, I know. And I might be tempted to think play is something we should outgrow, except for those dolphins chasing the cruise ship. And the dogs frolicking in the snow. And kittens chasing rainbows. In other words, God gave the instinct to play.

Sure, just like anything else, we humans can misuse God’s gift. We can turn it into an idol. We can become addicted. We can spend time playing when we are supposed to be working or worshiping or serving.

But play when we don’t use it in the wrong way, is a great gift from God. It adds enjoyment and relaxation to our days. It takes our minds off problems and heartaches. It gives us opportunities to laugh and to celebrate and to make memories.

And like all God’s good gifts, He reveals something about Himself in them. God shows that He has a sense of humor, that He laughs. There are some verses in Scripture that back this up. Sarah, when she learned that in her old age she would give birth to a son, said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

In Proverbs, this: “A joyful heart is good medicine.”

God shows a sense of irony, too, which is actually a type of humor. Take the Apostle Paul, for example. He was bent on chasing down Christians and doing away with them one way or the other. But God, in a great ironic twist, says, No, no, no. I want you, the Christian hunter to be the greatest evangelist FOR Christ in the first century.

There are others. Haman, for example, showing up in the palace to ask the king if he can hang Mordecai, and the king calling Haman to him to ask what he should do for the man he wishes to honor . . . which turns out to be Mordecai! Ironic twist.

One thing I know for sure from the book of James:

Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises.

Praises. Sort of like thanksgiving. So, how grateful I am to God that He has given us play, which leads to laughter and cheer.

If you’re like me, you get a kick out of watching animals play, so here’s a video you might enjoy.

Published in: on November 6, 2018 at 5:48 pm  Comments (5)  
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Gratitude, Day 3—The Kindness Of The Lord


As you may (or may not) remember, I am doing a series of Thanks posts, sort of in protest to the fact that Thanksgiving here in the US is being squeezed out amid the candy and costumes of Halloween and the presents and lights, carols, nativity scenes, and Santas of Christmas.

I actually love Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that hasn’t been overly commercialized. It can’t be confused with any other holiday, the way Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and Flag Day can be confused with each other. But the greatest plus is that the origins of the holiday have a spiritual foundation. The Thanks in Thanksgiving, is directed to God. And that fact gives me a good reason to love this particular day above other celebrations.

So, today, I am particularly grateful for the kindness of the Lord. A particular verse from the Bible came to mind when I thought of God’s kindness:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5)

Clearly, God’s kindness is connected to His work of salvation—something another verse of Scripture spells out:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

So, yes, God’s kindness and love save us, but a great part of the process is His kindness leading us to repentance.

Repentance?

Isn’t that connected to an awareness of our sin? I mean, how can someone repent if they don’t actually think there is something in their life for which they need to regret, to be remorseful about, to wish were different in regard to their actions and/or character? I mean, are people who can only see their strengths ever going to repent?

No.

And that’s actually the human condition. We want to think better of ourselves than we are, but when we can’t avoid the problems, we tend to blame others. It’s society’s fault. I didn’t get a good education. My parents didn’t love me the way I needed them to. It was the snake who deceived me. The wife You gave me tempted me.

All those things are true or might be. But that doesn’t change the facts: whatever the conditions, we gave in and sinned. We made the decision to do what we knew we should not do. We stand guilty. Condemned.

And it is the kindness of God that brings us to that point. Kindness. Because once we’re aware of our need to repent, we can repent. We don’t need to hide any more, to blame others, to carry the guilt.

God’s kindness brings us to the place where we can deal with sin once and for all. Not through works we do. But by accepting the washing, the cleansing, the being made new provided by God.

God is actually kind in so many other ways. He is kind to give us friends and family, jobs and meaningful activity, churches and Bibles, homes and entertainment. But His kindness is greatest when it leads us to Him. Because nothing is more important. Our lives in the here and now are, as James says, a vapor. The Psalmist and Isaiah talk about our lives being like a flower—here today, and tomorrow gone with the wind or the scorching sun.

But only the here and now part. The eternal part of our lives stretches out before us. Nothing could be more important than that we live that eternal part with God our Savior. So how kind of God to invest so much into directing us to repentance for our sin.

He could ignore our need for repentance and make sure that these brief moments are nothing but pleasure-filled. I mean, it isn’t comfortable to think about our sin, to admit that we are the ones responsible, that we have gone our own way and ended up in a mess of our own making. But God’s kindness won’t let us delude ourselves into thinking that we’re OK in spite of our sin.

He is too kind to let us live in that delusion. He’d rather lead us to repentance.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

Published in: on November 5, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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