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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

"I once asked the Lord why so many people are confused, and He said to me, 'Tell them to stop trying to figure everything out and they will stop being confused.' I have found it to be absolutely true, reasoning and confusion go together." ~ Joyce Meyer

Last Friday, I came across a YouTube video by someone calling himself the "Quiet Atheist" in which he criticized Joyce Meyer for her statement quoted above (hereinafter, the "Confusion Quote"). In his video entitled "Christian Joyce Meyer: "Reasoning And Confusion Go Together,'" this particular atheist opines that she is telling all Christians to be "dumb." Specifically, he says that Ms. Meyer is telling people:

According to her, we should all, as I said, remain dumb. We should stop asking questions. We should stop being curious about everything there is out there on this planet or in the universe. We are just going to be confused. ... Questioning isn't good. Being skeptical isn't good. Wanting answers isn't good.

Now, I know next to nothing about Joyce Meyer - who she is, what she preaches or what she believes. I located her website, but I don't have either the time or the energy to spend much time searching through pages and pages of material to even begin to understand her theology.  Still, other Internet searches allowed me to determine that the Confusion Quote apparently comes from her book, Battlefield of the Mind, however, I could not find the chapter online so I also admit to flying a little blind on what exactly she meant. However, for purposes of this post, I don't think I need to know much about Ms. Meyer to be able to note that the Quiet Atheist's criticism is ill-founded. I think that there is ample reason to believe that Ms. Meyer was not saying that God told her that there is no place for reason at all. Moreover, even if Ms. Meyer were saying that there is absolutely no place for reason as a Biblical truth, the Bible leaves no doubt that she is incorrect. But first, I need to express my concern over whether Ms. Meyer really heard from God.

The form of Ms. Meyer's statement makes it a prophesy. Note that she says that she asked God a very specific question, i.e., why are so many people confused? She then says that God "said" to her something which is the answer to that question. Now, I take the claim that God spoke very seriously. If Ms. Meyer is saying that God said something to her when God did not speak to her then she may have done something quite shameful -- she may have lied about what God has said. To me, this is a major problem in the Christian Church. Too often in the church, people use the phrase "God spoke to me" to express something about a feeling or a urging that they had. I understand that. I have had such feelings and urgings myself. For me and according to what I understand from speaking to others, God's speaking usually arises as a strong senses that God desires something to be done and is urging me (or the person receiving the urge) to do that thing. Sometimes it arises as a small thought that percolates up in the back of the mind and challenges me. Is this something from God or something from my own mind? That's always the question.

While both the urging or the small thought could be the result of the workings of my subconscious (as I am certain that that the non-theist would contend), 1 John 4:1 tells us that we should test the spirits "to see whether they are from God." Now, I use a two part test to determine if the urge or small voice are from God or from me. First, does the thought or feeling challenges me? I ask, if the thought is comfortable to me then why would God have bothered to send me the message? I'm already prepared and comfortable doing those things that I want to do, and if I am already doing God's work God would not send me an urge or thought to look at it a different way. Second, is the thought consistent with the Scripture? I can also have thoughts or urges that are clearly unbiblical. Those, by definition, cannot come from God. Thus, it is the thought or urge that both challenges and is consistent with the Scripture that I take to be truly the Word of God speaking to my subconscious.

Let me apply this thinking to the Confusion Quote. First, what she says meets the description of something that challenges me. I tend to not want to let things go. I want to understand everything. That's human nature. Heck, even the Quiet Atheist claims to want to know things (even if he has closed his mind to the entire supernatural world). And what this calls me to do, giving Ms. Meyer the benefit of the doubt, is to recognize that reason will not answer everything. That is challenging me, and therefore appears to meet the first part of my test.

But does it pass the second test, i.e., is it consistent with God's word? Well, that depends upon exactly what Ms. Meyer means. If Ms. Meyer means that we should never use reason (as the Quiet Atheist loudly complains), then it is without question unbiblical. The Bible makes it clear that we are to use our reason. God tells us that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength - and loving God with your mind means using your reason. We are told in Proverbs 2:6 that the Lord gives wisdom, and out of his mouth come knowledge and understanding. We are called to renew our minds in Romans 12:2. In fact, Jerry Solomon makes the point quite clearly that the mind and reason are part and parcel of the Christian faith in his online article, The Christian Mind. There, he notes:

Reason is a term that is descriptive of the Christian mind. This does not mean that a Christian is to be a rationalist, but rather he is to use reason based on the reason of God found in Scripture. For example, on one of several occasions Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus to test Him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus responded by referring to their ability to discern signs of certain kinds of weather. Then He said, “Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3)? Obviously He was noting how people use reason to arrive at conclusions, but the Christian mind would conclude the things of God. The book of Acts indicates that the apostle Paul used reason consistently to persuade his hearers of the truth of his message. Acts 17:2-3 states that “according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned [emphasis added] with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead.” For two years in Ephesus Paul was “reasoning [emphasis added] daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). In light of the fact that our contemporary world attempts to reject reason, such examples should spur us to hold out for the possibility of reasonable dialogue with those around us. After all, those who reject reason must use reason to reject reason.

So, if I believed that Ms. Meyer was saying that we should abandon reason, I would have to reject her statement as being entirely contrary to the Bible and therefore a false and condemnable prophesy. Fortunately, I don't have to believe that Ms. Meyer is arguing against the clear Christian principle that Christians should use their minds. In a short clip of a longer sermon by Ms. Meyer entitled "God is Not the Author of Confusion", she says, "I believe it's okay to ponder things. It's okay to think about things. I think it's even okay to ask God to show you things. But if it's not His time to do that and He's not doing that yet, then you have a choice of being miserable or trusting God." Clearly, what she is saying in this short video clip is that is that God has given us minds and we can use them. This quote alone completely destroys the ill-informed rant of the Quiet Atheist. However, what it appears Ms. Meyer is saying is that there are certain things that we cannot understand, and what God wants us to do in those situations is trust Him. This is entirely Biblical.

Now, let's be clear about what types of things God asks us to trust him. Is Ms. Meyer talking about science? Is she saying we should bury our heads in the sand about the way the world works and "be dumb" as the Quiet Atheist accuses? I don't see any reason (sorry, there's that word again) to believe this is the type of thing that Ms. Meyer is suggesting that we should not use our reason to understand. Is she saying that we should simply say, "Suffering exists and I don't know why, but I trust you God"? I don't think that she is saying that we cannot use our intellect to understand how the existence of evil can be consistent with a totally good and just God. Rather, what she seems to be referencing, quite clearly in fact, is when we cannot understand why suffering happens in a particular situation. Because God has not revealed it to us, we cannot understand through our reasoning why thousands of people are dying of Ebola in parts of Africa. Because God has not revealed it to us, we cannot understand why a newborn baby is born without a functioning brain. Because God has not revealed it to us, our reasoning will not lead us to understand why we lost a job that we needed, why our best friend had to die, or why a particular divorce had to happen. These are the types of things that we cannot understand because we do not have the omniscience that the divine perspective brings.

Does the fact that we cannot understand mean that we strop trying? Absolutely not. When my eldest sister died as a young adult, I spent many days wondering why God had chosen to take my sister from me, her husband and my family. To this day, I have not determined the reason and nothing in my reasoning will give me the reason. Atheist don't see the reason - they say that there is no reason. The only way I will ever understand why my sister died at such a young age is if I can see things from God's perspective or if God chooses to tell me. I don't have His perspective and I don't expect Him to give me an explanation. So, I have a choice: continue to fret and try to figure out why my sister had to die or trust in God that there was a reason - a reason that I cannot see and cannot fathom. In faith, I choose the latter.

I want to make it clear that I don't know if Ms. Meyer is a false prophet (as some websites assert). I don't know if she preaches the heretical Prosperity Gospel (as other websites assert). To a certain extent, Ms. Meyer doesn't matter, and no one should take away from this post that I am giving a general approval of the teachings of Ms. Meyer. I don't know enough about her to do so. However, because I think that there is some Christian truth in the Confusion Quote that the Quiet Atheist completely misses out of his ignorance, I felt it appropriate to point out that I do agree that there are things that we will never understand and that's okay.

I close with the words to a song that I heard for the first time today at the funeral of a dear friend, Dr. Joan Eyring, a Ph.D. in psychology. She was (and is) a brilliant, beautiful, loving Christian woman who spent all of the eight years I knew her in a broken body. There was not a time that she was not suffering from heart disease and breathing problems. She underwent multiple surgeries and it was never clear if her body was strong enough to withstand the procedures that the doctors recommended. Much of her beloved family died prior to her own death. Her life was one of continual physical and emotional suffering. Did she know why God had allowed her body to be broken? Did she know why she had to witness most of her children die before she did - one of the most difficult things for a parent to do? I don't. No one does. She certainly didn't. But despite it all and through it all, she trusted God. At her funeral, she asked that the song "Bow the Knee" be played. It is a fitting testament to how she accepted what she could not understand and a lesson in what I view as the true meaning of the Confusion Quote.

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev’ry step we take.
There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us,
As we try to understand each move He makes.
When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.

Bow the knee; Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.
Bow the knee; Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.
And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall,
The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow.
And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel;
We are tempted to believe God does not know.
When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.

Bow the knee; Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.
Bow the knee; Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.
And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.
~ Lyrics by Chris Machen and Mike Harland

Today's USA Today ran an article entitled "Pope says evolution, Big Bang are real" in which he seemed to give a pretty strong statement of support to Theistic Evolution. The Pope reportedly said:

"When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so," Francis said.
"He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment."
I am certain that there are some who will witness this as a caving in of the Vatican to the arms of scientific naturalism. They will note that the Pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, acknowledged that the Biblical account of creation found in Genesis 1 and 2 has been proven wrong by science.

Of course, that view is short cited. It assumes that there are only two ways of understanding the evidence for the universe. The first is a straight-forward reading of the Bible as the universe having been created in seven consecutive twenty-four hour days - a view commonly referenced as "Young Earth Creationism." The second is the view backed by those who believe that science is the only way to know anything and who believe that the universe was created by purely naturalistic processes in an completed unguided and random way - a view commonly referred to as Naturalism.

The problem, of course, it that this is the fallacy of a false choice. The Bible is not quite so black and white as those who set up this dilemma seem to suggest.  There are a myriad of ways to understand the Biblical accounts. One of the most popular is that of Old Earth Creationism which largely agrees that the universe is 13 1/2 billion year old and with many of the other scientific discoveries over the past 150 years. Another is Theistic Evolution which goes further than Old Earth Creationism and holds that God used his omnipotence and omniscience to set up the laws of the universe in such a way that it would ultimately result in the universe we see today - including man and all of the other animals and plants. This latter view seems to be very close to what the Pope is debating.

Regardless of what the Pope said, it certainly does not end the discussion or the debate for several reasons. First, as I understand Roman Catholic teaching, not every statement by the Pope is equal to the word of God. That only happens when he speaks ex cathedra about a subject. But even if he has spoken in that way about creation and evolution here, the Pope only speaks for the Roman Catholic Church - not for Christianity writ large.

Moreover, the Pope made it clear that God had to be part of the picture. The article notes that, "Francis said the beginning of the world was not "a work of chaos" but created from a principle of love. He said sometimes competing beliefs in creation and evolution could co-exist." It also noted that the Pope made a very strong commentary that showed he did not believe the Naturalist viewpoint. The article noted, "Pope Francis has waded into the controversial debate over the origins of human life, saying the big bang theory did not contradict the role of a divine creator, but even required it." Yes, the Pope appears to be siding with those of us who make the point that Naturalism does not and cannot explain the universe and all we see in it.

Now, I am not a fan of Theistic Evolution. It is way too similar to the idea of the god of Deism, and I think that the Bible makes it clear that God had an active hand in how the universe was created. I think that science also supports the idea that the universe had a designer behind it. Several good books have been written about this subject which make the case based upon such things as the existence of information in DNA, the Cambrian Explosion and the complete failure of science to come up with a viable theory of the origin of life itself. I don't think that God started the entire process and let it run out based upon his original plan, but at the same time it isn't beyond the possibility that he did. So, while I don't agree that Theistic Evolution is the best explanation, it is certainly a possible explanation and an explanation that works better than Naturalism.

Consequently, while Pope Francis seems to go out on a limb and push a much more worldly agenda than Pope Benedict XVI did, he has not abandoned the idea of a creator behind the universe. And there is no reason that any other Christian, including Roman Catholics, need to follow him even as far as he goes.

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