Sunday, May 11, 2008

On God's Love, Nature Mumbles

I hope that you are blessed with a preacher who gives you sermons each week that are not only Biblically faithful, but also thought provoking. Mine does. He was preaching this evening on Ecclesiastes 9:1 "But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him." (ESV)

If you look out at the world, at the evidence that life provides to the observant, the reflective and the morally serious, it is clear enough that there is a God, whether you get it from the intelligent design of the universe or the unavoidably moral sentiments we feel in the face of evil. But whether that God loves us or hates us is hard to determine from what we see.

Yes, there is sunshine and friendship and compassion and self-sacrifice and the beauty with which the lilies of the field are dressed. But a quick survey of today's headlines (I did not have to dig for these) leaves a muddled message from nature. “Hezbollah rocks eastern villages.” “Violence threatens Darfur camps.” “Zimbabwe police arrest activists.” “Gaza mortar attack kills Israeli.” Even in non-political news, we read “Minivan flips on western Pennsylvania interstate; 6 killed” and “Incest Dad Was Addicted to Sex With Imprisoned Daughter.” It is all so horrifying. And natural disasters easily match the deeds of men for their human devastation. Consider the recent cyclone in Burma. “Aid agencies estimate that 100,000 have died and warn that this figure could rise to 1.5 million without provision of clean water and sanitation.”

When I lived in the small town of Walker, Iowa, there was a bitter old man there who When confronted with a local Christian apologist's "argument from nature" responded, "I could make a better world with a rough cut saw." Christopher Hitchens looks at the world and concludes that if there is a God...well, what he says is not flattering. In the Hitchens-D'Souza Debate that The King's College hosted last October (see my post, "Debating Christianity? Debate Hitchens!"), Dinesh D'Souza tried to prove by natural reason observing the natural world that Christianity is true, or at least that it is not a problem. But that approach itself is a problem, and the inspired writer of Ecclesiastes confirms this: "...the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him."

And better minds than these have found the world either fundamentally puzzling or ambiguous or even meaningless. Plato found that life under sun was fraught with tensions and unanswerable questions. Machiavelli, Bacon, and Hobbes abandoned the search for meaning in favor of comfort and security, and perhaps glory. Nietzsche proclaimed the whole thing fundamentally irrational, and suggested that we craft out of nothing whatever meaning we think that robust human existence requires.

The final word on the subject, however, belongs not to nature and history and the judgments of men, but to God. What the writer of Ecclesiastes knows to be true he knows not by sight, but by faith.

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:11-14)

God created the world good, and he pronounced it so (Genesis 1:31). But sin brought the universe into disorder. Why should it be any wonder that the natural theology it proclaims is incoherent, or at least ambiguous? But the gospel--the good news--is that God in the person of his son Jesus Christ invaded our history. Through his death and resurrection, his grace transforms nature and perfects its message. He is re-creating the world one soul at a time, and one day the entire heaven and earth will be a new creation. The new creation is where we see the goodness of God, and we see it most unambiguously in the first fruits of that work, the Lord Jesus himself. Ecce Homo. Behold the Man. Whether you are a grumpy old man in rural Iowa, a brilliant essayist with Vanity Fair, or just a longing soul confronting your world in a search for meaning, you will find your answer not in the newspapers or in the ups and downs of your life, but in The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

1 comment:

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