Text Box: July, 2002
A Basket of Figs
Dedicated to the idea that the decree makes the difference.  Jeremiah 24:2,3






Joining the Human Race

Moral Equivalency?

A New Morality

A God of the Gaps?

Joining the Human Race


Self-Conscious Christianity

I remember when it happened to me.  I regret that it came so late in life, but it was in October 1987, when I was fifty-three years old.  For the first time I came to see that God showers the entire human race with gifts and blessings that are beyond our comprehension.   I “knew” it in my theology, but the truth had never gripped me.  For the first time, I felt a part of the human race.  Until then I had been an observer and critic.

My youngest son was on the sixth floor of Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs.  He was thirteen and attended the eighth grade at Evangelical Christian Academy.  He had been diagnosed with a seventy-five percent spondylolisthesis.  His legs were going numb and the only remedy was surgery.

The specialist who was going to do the surgery had come to Colorado Springs, brought here for the specific purpose of doing this kind of surgery.  He was one of the most skilled in the United States.  A few years before, my son would have been doomed to a crippled existence or death.  Even so, the surgeon had never performed this procedure on one so young.

He was connected to tubes and monitors.  The blood lost through the surgery would be vacuumed up, cleaned, and recycled through his body.  Blood had also been drawn earlier and saved, so that he would not need any transfusions.  We thanked God for that because the blood supply in those days was regarded with suspicion.

With nothing to do but wait and pray, I took the elevator down stairs to get a cup of coffee.  In the lobby of Penrose Main were many large plaques with the names of sponsors, donors, benefactors—people who over the years had contributed to the hospital foundation, including Spencer Penrose, who had made a fortune in the gold fields and became a major benefactor and developer of Colorado Springs.

My boy would soon to be going under the knife.  Looking at all the names of men and women who had made all these services possible, I thanked God for all the sophisticated equipment and the skills of doctors and nurses, for my employer where I kept books, who had put me on a medical insurance program a few days before my son complained about the numbness.  All the bills would be paid.  I thanked God for all the medical schools where the surgeons, anesthesiologists and others had received their training. It seems that the resources of the whole world and the medical knowledge of centuries of progress were being concentrated in Colorado Springs to cure my son. 

I cannot describe the well of emotion and gratitude that gushed up in my heart during those moments that I stood looking at the names of those who had contributed the millions and millions of dollars to make this moment possible.

At that moment I did not care whether the donors were male or female, Buddhists, Jews, Baptists, Hindus, or Presbyterians.  I didn’t care if they were straight or homosexual.  I didn’t care if they were trying to atone for sins in their past by giving away money or whether they were trying to buy favor with God.  I didn’t care what their motives or their agenda was.  In that moment all I cared about was the fact they all had made it possible for my little boy to be well.

The reason I could be thankful for all of them was not because of their religion or their character.  My gratitude wasn’t toward them, although I might have acted foolish if the Penroses had come into the room, for reasons other than the fact that they have been dead for a number of years.  I was thankful to God.

As far as I was concerned God had used all of them to gather the resources and the skills together to make it possible for my son’s infirmity to go away.  Although many of them might not have given God glory, yet I could do so in my consciousness, so that God was consciously glorified for His gifts through them.  I felt that it all had happened for my son.  God’s love is focused on the proper nouns, not the common ones.

That’s what I mean by joining the human race.   I joined that night.

I saw that a man does not have to give glory to God consciously for an act of his to be glorifying to God.  Others may do so.  I can be thankful for the policeman who keeps order in my community, even if he is not a believer and blasphemes God.  I can pray for him, for he is also a servant of God even if he does not know it.  I was thankful for each person in the operation room that night, and they were not all Presbyterians.

My entire life was changed that night in the lobby at Penrose Hospital.  I have not spoken much of it, because the experience was so personal and enlightening.  For the first time I realized what Paul meant when he said, “All things are yours.” [I Cor. 3:21]. 

It is true that the “plowing of the wicked” is sin, because if a man does not live for the glory of God, to him it is sin.  But that does not mean that I cannot buy the grain that he grew and give God thanks for it.  All good things come from God, and it is a good thing to eat and be filled.  Paul said that even the meat offered to idols may provide a good nourishing meal for a thankful Christian.  An idol is nothing in the world.

I know that everything comes to me from God, for He is my heavenly father.  I rejoice in the city I live in and am thankful for the people who live here.  I am happy that there are good libraries, hospitals, dentists and doctors.  I am sorry if many do not live for the glory of God, but I can still be thankful for the gifts that He has given to men.  It would do some sour Americans good to spend a few years in Afghanistan in a cave.

A man can be a Christian and a good dentist, but he can be a Christian and a bad dentist.  I do not look in the “Christian Yellow Pages,” to find Christian merchants and professionals.  I have been burned too many times.  When I go to the dentist, all I want to know is whether he is a good dentist, that his crowns don’t fall off, that the fillings stay in, that he doesn’t hurt me more than is necessary, and that he doesn’t gouge me with his bill.  I am not concerned to know whether or not he glorifies God, although I will try to witness to him.  I will take care of the glorifying of God, for I will praise God that He has given me a dentist whose crowns don’t fall off, whose fillings don’t come out, who doesn’t hurt me much, and who doesn’t gouge me with his bill.  A self-conscious Christian is an annoyance if he pulls the wrong tooth or gouges me with the bill.

A few years ago, I was asked if we used only Christian textbooks in the Christian school where I worked.  I replied, “No.”  The person wondered how a Christian school could use a non-Christian text.  “Isn’t that denying Christ?”

“Of course not.  The best Christian text is simply the best text.  A Christian algebra text is one that teaches algebra effectively, not one that sticks in Bible verses.  It is Christian to get the right answers and learn the basic skills.  Prayer and Bible reading will not make bad math into good math.  Good literature comes from all nations and cultures, and we can learn from all of them.”

The reason for this is that all truth is God’s truth.  The devil doesn’t have any truth.  Truth is of God and lies are of the devil.  Even the devil has to borrow God’s discipline and order for his kingdom to stay together, for a house divided against itself cannot stand.  The devil cannot even run his own kingdom in terms of rebellion.

Everything that a man has comes from God.  He cannot even shake his fist at God without using the strength and the intelligence that God gives him.  He cannot blaspheme without using the God’s gift of language.

When my gout acts up, I take a pill I got from my doctor, who is a Christian.  I take the pill and thank God for the knowledge represented by the pill and for the relief I get.  It is too bad that Philip II of Spain didn’t have some Allopurinal and Indocin.  He suffered terribly from gout and prayed a great deal, but medicine was of poor quality in those days.  His joints swelled and abscessed.  He was a very self-conscious Christian, though, but he was never able to thank God for Elizabeth of England.  Too bad.  It made him want to conquer England and make them all self-conscious Christians.  He was very bitter when he died.

The truly self-conscious Christian does not draw into a box, pushing away all others who are not “self-conscious” Christians, but he has learned to be thankful for all things, even the reprobate king or the godless scientist or the Hindu mystic.  Each of them will play out the part allotted for them in the great drama of redemption for the glory of God and His Son Jesus Christ.  Not all will be saved, but even Judas Iscariot must play the role assigned to him as the human race unfolds its purpose to glorify God forever.  We shan’t be thankful for Judas, but we are thankful for the redemption.

Moral Equivalency?

Are all sins the same?  I have known Christian school teachers who thought so.  They reasoned this way:  every sin is against the infinite God.  Therefore, every sin has an infinite quality to it and deserves the infinite wrath of God.  Therefore, all sins might be considered equal.  The reasoning appears sound in the abstract.  It is certainly true that every sin deserves the righteous judgment of God.  The devil is in the details, however.

A few years ago a man who was rather well known in Christian circles in Colorado Springs was involved in an adulterous relationship, cheating on his wife.  He decided that his lover should murder his wife so they could enjoy life together.  His justification:  “We have already committed adultery.  All sins are the same in the eyes of God.  We will not be in any more trouble if we murder my wife.”  They did; they are now in prison.

About the same time we had a rule in the school forbidding the children to chew gum.  One day in class I made reference to the fact that some sins are worse than others.  One student objected:  “I thought all sins are the same.”

“Do you chew gum in school,” I asked.    She admitted it.

“Do you know it is wrong?”  She did.

“If you really think that chewing gum is as bad as murder, then you are a dangerous person to know,” I said.  “Trying to make small sin terrible, does not make them terrible.  All we do is trivialize great sins.  You are dangerous if you think that chewing gum is as bad as murder, for I know that you chew gum in class.”

The prophet Isaiah spoke of the ruin of those who magnified small things:   “The scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:  That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.”  [Isaiah 29:20,21]

Jesus condemned the Pharisees, who strained at gnats and swallowed camels.  You can be sure that if someone is overly concerned about gnats, it is because he is choking on a camel. 

Perfection does not belong to the present human condition, and is not promised to Christians.  Christians cannot live without sin; it is sufficient if they live without crime in both the church and the state.  When you encounter those who profess perfection by preoccupation with gnats, you can be sure that they are choking somewhere on a camel. 

The simple truth is that some things are not worth making a fuss over.  If you see a person making a fuss over nothing, it is because there is something else the matter.   Reasonable people recognize it.  My foot may hurt if someone is careless and steps on it; but the person who stomps on it deliberately is a greater sinner even if my foot is not injured as badly.  I won’t react the same either.  A person who deliberately stomps on my foot might need some education.

An old story is told about Johnny, a small boy who captured a wasp on his way to school one day.  He put the wasp in a little metal pill box that he carried in his pocket.  He forgot about the bee, but during class, the lid worked off the box and the bee began to work on Johnny.

It was in the days when children were expected to sit and keep quiet in school, but Johnny jumped and let out a yelp.  “Sit still, Johnny,” the teacher said.  “Yes, Ma’am,” said Johnny.  The bee hit him again, and he jumped again.

“Sit still, Johnny,” the teacher said again.   “Yes, Ma’am,” said Johnny.

The bee hit him again.  “Ouch!” said Johnny, squirming again.

“Johnny, didn’t I tell you to sit still,” said the teacher sternly.

“Yes, Ma’am,” said Johnny.  “But there is something going on back here that you don’t know nuthin’ about.”

It is true that when people are raising a fuss about some trivial matter, it is because there is something else going on that may not come to light until years later.  People raise a fuss about gnats because they hope no one will notice the camel stuck in their gullet.

Jesus said that there are weightier matters in the law, weightier than paying tithes of mint, anise, and cumin.  The tithes of small spices should be paid of course, but more attention should be paid to judgment, mercy, and faith.

All acts are not of the same moral equivalency.  Unjustified anger is wrong, and will receive the wrath of God, but to say that unjustified anger is as bad as murder is madness.  The lustful look will receive its judgment from God, but the man who says, “I looked, therefore I might as well commit adultery,” is a fool.  James says that sin begins in sinful desire, but it is perfected—brought to maturity—in the act.  It is an annoyance to have a baby crocodile in the bathtub; it is a catastrophe to find a ten-foot monster there.  I imagine this is true, although I have never had either in my bathtub.

A New Morality

Have you noticed that a new code of ethics has replaced the Ten Commandments in our country?  People who would never use a racial epithet think nothing of taking God’s name in vain.  “O my G…” has become commonplace.

A man who would shrink from disturbing a rodent is not uncomfortable with putting thousands of people out of work, stealing their livelihood.

People who would be embarrassed to make a Hindu uncomfortable do not mind ridiculing a Christian student in a public classroom.

People who mourn over injustice done to a whale do not shrink from lies and slander to deny a Supreme Court nomination for their political rival.

A man who would insist on a woman’s right to equality will not hesitate to cheat on his own wife, and leave her in poverty in order to marry a younger and snappier woman.

A woman who would not eat canned tuna to protest the dolphins that are caught in the tuna nets murders her own unborn child.

There is a certainty here:  man cannot be without morals.  If he abandons biblical ones, then he will substitute others for them.  He will zealously pursue his revisionist morals, and persecute and defame those who disagree with him, all the while calling Christians hypocrites when they defend theirs.

A God of the Gaps?

“Your God is just a God of the Gaps.”  “God is for superstitious types who drag God into things that they can’t explain.  It was o.k. for the old days, but science is rolling back the horizons of knowledge, and we simply don’t need God anymore.”

Modern man doesn’t like contingent things, things that may or may not come to pass.  Before the age of science people needed God because they did not know what caused diseases, earthquakes, lightning, and such things.  Science has shown us about causes, and we don’t need to think about God anymore.  We have learned that there is a cause for everything.  If we can remove the cause, the thing will not come to pass.

Thus, we have overcome smallpox and polio.  We have solved the problem of production so that no one has to be hungry anymore, and greater days are still ahead.  We have rolled back pollution and solved communication problems.  No one will need to be lost anymore.  Everyone can carry a device which communicates with a satellite and will always know where he is. 

We don’t even need God as a First Cause.  Who caused the First Cause? A Super-First Cause?  And is there a Super-Duper-First Cause who caused the Super-First Cause?  “Christians are just going in circles.  We don’t need it any more.  Science is going to find the causes for everything, and we don’t need God anymore.”   So it goes.

The other day I was reading Albert Borgmann’s article “Contingency and Grace in an Age of Science and Technology,” in the April, 2002, issue of Theology Today, where he is wrestling with the problem of contingency.  If we finally explain the causes for everything, what room will there be in our universe for God?  I was feeling a little low, for we Christian types often feel that we are trying to sweep back the ocean with a broom.

Shortly after I had read Borgmann’s article, I heard on the radio about a bitter disillusioned German boy who had gone into a school and shot and killed almost twenty of his classmates.  I thought of Columbine, 9-11, and other “contingencies.”  As Solomon would have put it, I understood wisdom, a little bit anyway.  Man in control?  You’ve got to be kidding.  Maybe that is why our twenty-first century, jaded, and cynical generation paused a little after 9-11 and thought of God.

What control do we have after all?  Isn’t it just an illusion of control?  We can claim a measure of control if we limit that which is knowable to the physical world.  But how do we control the dark and gloomy spirits that would drive airplanes into buildings, in the service of their dark gods?  What good is all our technology and control if we cannot control the imaginations of a murderer?  How can we put the soul under the microscope and learn its substance, to separate the dark strands from the light?  What about the dark angels that serve God’s purposes?  There are such, you know.  One of them slew all the firstborn of Egypt.  Another dispatched 180,000 Assyrians in one night.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  He has not told us most of what He has decreed so that we might trust and rest in Him.   This is why we are not to boast and say that tomorrow we will go to town and do this or that.  We do not know what a day will bring forth, because we do not know the mind of God.  We labor in the Bible to know what is revealed.  For the rest we trust.


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