Tag Archives: human-rights

Bad for Business? – Greg Laurie

 

The whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.— Matthew 8:34

You would think that after the miracle of casting out demons from two men who had violently oppressed them, the people in the area would have said, “Jesus, You are the man! We love what you did! Now we can go back to the cemetery and pay our respects to our loved ones and put flowers on their graves. We wouldn’t even go near there before. These guys were scary. Thank you, Lord, for coming to our community.” But that is not what happened. Instead, they wanted Him to go away. Why? It was because Jesus was bad for business.

Jesus had cast the demons out of the men and into a herd of swine that went over a cliff. I don’t know if those who kept the herd were Jewish, because if they were, this was not a kosher thing to be doing. They had been making money off the pigs, and there was no more bringing home the bacon for them. It was the end of that story. So they thought, We don’t like this. This is bad for our economy. Go away.

For some people, Jesus is bad for their business. It is typically the kind of business that preys on human suffering—even contributes to it. And if you have discovered that Jesus is bad for your business, then you need to get another job.

In the region of the Gadarenes, the people realized that Jesus wasn’t good for what they did, and therefore, they wanted Him to go away. Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “The whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region” (Matthew 8:34). So guess what Jesus did? He left.

Jesus won’t force His way into anyone’s life, including yours. Have you invited Him in?

Insane or In Person? – Ravi Zacharias

 

“I’m inclined to suspect that there are very few atheists in prison,” notes Richard Dawkins.(1) In his book The God Delusion, the Oxford biologist sets forth the staggering estimation that post-Christian secular societies are far more moral than societies that operate from a religious foundation. He recounts the horrors carried out in the name of God, moving past the monstrosities of the 20th century at the hands of atheist regimes by claiming their atheism had nothing to do with their behavior. When it comes to behaving ethically, he is insistent that believers are worse than atheists.

British statesman Roy Hattersley, himself a fellow atheist, disagrees. In an article published some time after Hurricane Katrina hit U.S. shores, Hattersley makes some observations about the kind of people doing disaster work long after the disaster has been forgotten. “Notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs and atheists’ associations—the sort of people who not only scoff at religion’s intellectual absurdity but also regard it as a positive force for evil.”(2) His words are bold, even if strewn with typical condescension. He continues:

“Civilised people do not believe that drug addiction and male prostitution offend against divine ordinance. But those who do are the men and women most willing to change the fetid bandages, replace the sodden sleeping bags and—probably most difficult of all—argue, without a trace of impatience, that the time has come for some serious medical treatment.”

Those who confess the truthfulness of Christianity—and so choose to embody its message—have confounded the world for ages. Throughout the second century there emerged a great number of rumors regarding the curious beliefs and practices of Christians. After all, the leader these people claimed to follow was a criminal executed by Roman authorities. There was thus a great deal of suspicion surrounding the motives and behavior of Christians. Why would anyone follow a man who had been crucified? Why would they choose to die rather than renounce their faith? Why would they treat those who hate them with kindness?

A Greek philosopher and opponent of Christianity named Celsus was particularly convinced that Christians were, in fact, insane. The Nativity story, the Incarnation of God in Christ, among other things, seemed to him completely irrational. “What could be the purpose of such a visit to earth by God? To find out what is taking place among humans? Does He not know everything? Or is it perhaps that He knows, but is incapable of doing anything about evil unless He does it in person?”(3)

Similarly buried under insult, Celsus nonetheless had his finger on the very quality of Christianity that makes Christians as curious as the philosophy they profess:  Their God came in person. In fact, they profess, as Celsus claims, God had to come near; though not because God couldn’t speak to us otherwise nor because God was incapable of touching the world from afar. As a Father who longs to gather his children together, God came near because each child matters. God comes to earth—God comes in person, in body, in flesh—because bodies matter, because the Father longs to be near, because one lost, or one hurting, or one in need was one God would not ignore. Insanely in fact, God comes near enough to lay down his life for each of these reasons.

Christmas is about remembering the one who came in person. It is this God who came near and reordered the world, calling us to see life and each other in startling new ways. It is this God who stepped into an ordinary stable to show us God in the ordinary, who touched the unclean and claimed the untouched, whose broken body is given again and again for broken bodies that we might be whole. Our morality, our countenance, our lives are wrought by his coming among us. In each ordinary moment, forgotten victim, and broken soul and body we see the face of God because God first saw us.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 229.

(2) Roy Hattersley, “Faith Does Breed Charity,” The Guardian, September 12, 2005.

(3) As quoted by Origen in the apology Against Celsus.

What God Can Do – Greg Laurie

 

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.— Colossians 1:13

Our society doesn’t really have answers for all the problems we are facing in our country today. Ironically, our society seems to do everything it can to undermine the only one who can help us, and that is Jesus Christ.

There are people caught in our legal system as repeat offenders. There are judges who make the wrong decisions. There is the breakdown of the family. And all of these elements combined produce a society that can do very little to change a person’s heart, if anything at all. Rehabilitation efforts largely fail. In fact, the only real programs that seem to produce lasting change are faith-based, and more specifically, are being operated by Christians who are calling people to faith in Jesus Christ. Society doesn’t have the answers.

Jesus met two men whose lives had been controlled and ruined by Satan. Society didn’t have the answers. Enter the Savior, Jesus. What did He do? He sought them out in their graveyard and offered them hope. In fact, Luke’s account of the story tells us what happened to one of the men who was delivered: “Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid” (Luke 8:35). Why were people afraid? They didn’t know what to make of it. He was so transformed it frightened the people. They couldn’t even imagine a guy like him could be changed in such a dramatic way.

It is such a glorious thing when Christ so transforms someone that you can’t even imagine that person being what he or she used to be. You realize that it is the power of a changed life. And that is what God can do.

Jesus—His First Appearance – Charles Stanley

 

Romans 8:28

Some situations in the Bible may seem perplexing to us, but none of them were mere happenstance. God, who knows all things and sees the end from the beginning, was sovereignly working out all the details of His redemption plan.

For example, it may strike us as strange that a government census inconveniently caused Mary the discomfort of having to travel in her ninth month of pregnancy. Caesar Augustus may have thought this census was his idea, but the reality is that he was being sovereignly overruled: God was moving this family to Bethlehem in fulfillment of a prophecy about the Messiah’s birth. Centuries earlier, Micah wrote, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (5:2).

Not only was the travel a hardship, but once Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, the only accommodations they could find were rather unglamorous. A stable with a feeding trough for the baby’s crib was hardly what we would think of as a setting fit for a King. But the Father had purpose in mind for that as well. He wanted the Lamb of God to be born in a lowly setting, alongside other lambs.

What difficult circumstances are you facing? Do you wonder why God would allow such trials? Rest assured, your heavenly Father sees all and has a good purpose beyond what our finite minds can grasp. Choose to trust Him, and rest in His promise to work everything for His children’s good.

The Real Story – Ravi Zacharias

 

The foreign magi arrived in the little town of Bethlehem, not as three lone men as many songs and nativity scenes suggest, but likely in a large caravan of many travelers, equipment, and servants—a convoy fit for a long journey bearing great wealth. The magi were learned men disciplined in the field of astrology, who saw in the very stars something that moved them to take a long and difficult journey. They came seeking to pay homage to the newborn and promising king that the skies predicted.

Like the shepherds in the story we know from pageants and figurines, the magi were not looking for a savior. They were attending to their work when they found themselves startled by what they saw in the heavens. Coming from a land far away from the news and beliefs of Israel, they would not have known the ancient promises of Israel’s prophets; they would have had no language to articulate a messiah born to save a people or all nations. They simply saw a star and understood it was the sign of a unique and momentous birth they had to see for themselves.

When they arrived in Jerusalem, they would have stood out from the local crowds in their foreign garb and well-traversed caravan. Seeking a king, it made sense that their first inquiry would be to the place of authority, to Herod’s palace, the present king. Matthew reports, “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” What the magi likely did not know was that Herod ruled not in greatness of kingship but with great paranoia and deadly tactics of power and destruction. He is described as a madman who put to death many of his own family members, including two of his sons out of fear of their disloyalty and rise to power. Needless to say, when Herod learned of the magi’s journey to behold the birth of a new king, he was angry and threatened by the news. Matthew reports, “[Herod] was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” The people of Jerusalem were well acquainted with Herod’s murderous tactics when fear and paranoia reigned in his kingdom.

The story of the nativity, the shepherds and the wise men, the gifts and the star, is one many receive with warm and happy ritual, often regardless of religious affiliation. Whether we hear it merely culturally, with ceremonial nicety, or as the bold story of Christ’s Advent, it is a story we have deemed fit for children’s pageants and music at shopping malls. Yet here, in this story we tell with rightful merriment, a story of joyful news and memorable characters, is also a dark tale of tears and fear and sorrow. Even Christians who thoroughly love the story and believe the accounts of the infant’s birth often forget the costly plot of the magi.

When Herod discovered that the magi had tricked him, leaving town without reporting where they found the child king, he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. At this decree, Matthew recalls what was said through the prophet Jeremiah long ago, now sadly fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:16-18).

Herod’s violent reaction to the news of a newborn king casts a very sad shadow on a beautiful story. We remember with delight the magi outsmarting Herod by leaving for their country on another road. We remember with triumph that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are able to escape to safety despite the murderous arm of a powerful ruler. But at what despairing cost? For the little town of Bethlehem, Herod’s command brought about excruciating sorrow. In fact, the inclusion of this frightful story at all is a grim and curious addition in an otherwise joyful telling of the beginnings of Christmas. It is no wonder we seldom reflect on it.

But what if its inclusion is precisely what can move us to believe that the story of Christ’s birth is about the world we really know and not a world of fanciful stories, pageantry, and nicety? For here, in the very account of God’s reaching out to the world is an account of humanity’s despairing and destructive ways, as well as the deep and painful suffering of the very real world into which Jesus came. The grave offense of humanity, the pain of the humanity, and the agonizing need for a radically different hope, is all a part of the story.

For the wise outsiders who first paid him homage, it was not wealth or power or significance of a throne that moved them. They carried gifts past Herod the Great to a far greater king with good reason.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Same Old Thing – Ravi Zacharias

 

Milton! thou shouldest be living at this hour:

England hath need of thee: she is a fen

Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,

Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,

Have forfeited their ancient English dower

Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;

Oh! raise us up, return to us again:

And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;

Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:

Pure as the naked heavens, majestic free,

So didst thou travel on life’s common way,

In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart

The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

 

This was the cry of William Wordsworth early in the nineteenth century as he saw the demise of English culture underway. The Church, the state, the home, the writers and shapers of society were called to task, for the nation had lost its soul and was hurtling headlong towards moral defacement. “Milton!” he cried, “England hath need of thee.” I wonder today who we would cry for to be alive again, to lead us through the wilderness.

But where do we look and to whom shall we go? In American politics the name of Lincoln looms large as a symbol of honor and courage. In racial strife the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. still echoes in our streets, pleading for the end of hate. Do we cry out, “Lincoln, we have need of thee!”? “King, we have need of thee!”? Yet, as I thought of them and of what they stood for, I was struck by the realization that both of them were silenced by assassins. The crimson tide of violence, the best voices notwithstanding, has never been stemmed since Cain drew the blood of his brother Abel.

The thundering question emblazoned in newspaper and on many of our minds—”WHY?”—looms rightfully large again. And yet, as one who stands before audiences all over the world facing hard questions I am sometimes tempted to ask a question of the questioner, “Do you really want a solution or is the constant refrain ‘why’ a way of escaping the responsibility of the answer?” The Bible tells us, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Jesus wept over his own beloved city and said, “If only you knew the things that belonged to your peace, but now they are hid from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). Their problem was not the absence of answers, rather, the suppression of them. Our predicament, I believe, is the same. There are some clues we already have—enough to bring correctives within our reach. But do we really want the truth?

There are issues in our society that we must have the courage to address, though they are not popular and never will be, for they stare at us in the face. Our societal indicators are important because they are pointers to the malady. At the root of our cultural rot is a wanton failure to admit our contradictions, and contradiction is to reason what evil is to life. When our reasoning is contradictory, the argument breaks down. When evil invades a life, life breaks down. When hope dies in a life, life is embodied loneliness awaiting escape. We have given our children contradictory assumptions about life and are then shocked at their evil behavior and the disintegration of their lives. This cultural breakdown did not happen overnight. When moralizing reaches the front page in a society that denounces moral moorings, the aberration occurs not when one lives in keeping with that theory but when one smuggles in values while denying that values exist. In a soul-less culture the real question is not why violence, but why do we weep at it?

In his cynical way, Malcolm Muggeridge reminded us that all new news is old news happening to new people. He was right. The parents of the first family in Eden questioned whether God had really spoken. Here autonomy squared off against the revelation of God. A value-free society was introduced. Second, the son in turn questioned whether the altar really had any worth. Secularism evicted the sacred and planted the void within. Denying the place of a moral law and thwarting the legitimacy of worship built the first cemetery at Eden. And so it is that we all agree with Muggeridge’s unhappy reminder that atrocities are not new, only the victims are. We would do well, however, to remember another piece of news, which is equally old. In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters a senior devil is training a junior devil on how to destroy faith in God from the hearts of people: “Work on their horror of the same old thing. The horror of the same old thing is the greatest passion we have put into the human heart.” How appropriate that warning is. We ask why, while we have an aversion or horror for the same old solution. But the story of Newtown or Littleton or Virginia Tech, in an extraordinary way, brings to light the power of the same old thing.

The Bible only speaks of one remedy: the transformation of the heart by making Christ the center. He is the one who takes us from paradise lost to paradise regained, calling Miltons among us who will likewise walk where the hurting walk and embrace as the hurting tremble. The world has need of him; the world has need of them. Those who mock the simplicity of the remedy only make evil more complex and unexplainable. Every heart has the potential for murder. Every heart needs a redeemer. That is the message of Christmas. The world took that child and crucified him. But by his triumph over death he brings life to our dead souls and begins the transformation within. Unto us a child is born and he shall save us from our sins.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Into the Dark – Ravi Zacharias

 

There are stories that emerge from the life of Jesus before he was old enough to tell stories of his own. Some are more familiar than others; some are always written out of the school plays and pageants. The prophet Isaiah told of a child who would be born for the people, a son given to the world with authority resting on his shoulders. Hundreds of years later, in Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, this prophecy was being fulfilled. The angel had appeared. A child was born. The magi had come. The ancient story was taking shape in a field in Bethlehem. But when Herod learned from the magi that a king would be born, he gave orders to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under. At this murderous edict, another prophecy, this one spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, was sadly fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping; Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:16-18). While the escape of Mary and Joseph to Egypt allowed Jesus to be spared, the cost, as Rachel and all the mothers’ who didn’t escape knew well, was wrenchingly great.

Of the many objections to Christianity, the one that stands out in my mind as troubling is the argument that to be Christian is to withdraw from the world, to follow fairy tales with wishful hearts and myths that insist we stop thinking and believe that all will be right in the end because God says so. In such a vein, Karl Marx depicts Christianity as a kind of drug that anesthetizes people to the suffering in the world and the wretchedness of life. Likewise, in Sigmund Freud’s estimation, belief in God functions as an infantile dream that helps us evade the pain and helplessness we both feel and see around us. I don’t find these critiques and others like them troubling because I find them accurate of the kingdom Jesus described. I find them troubling because there are times I want to live as if Freud and Marx are quite right in their analyses. I am thankful that the Christmas story itself refuses me from doing so.

The story of Christmas is far from an invitation to live blind and unconcerned with the world of suffering around us, intent to tell feel-good stories while withdrawing from the harder scenes of life. In reality, the Incarnation leaves us with a God who, in taking our embodiment quite seriously, presents quite the opposite of escapism. The story of Rachel weeping for her slaughtered children is one story among many that refuses to let us sweep the suffering of the world under the rug of unimportance. The fact that it is included in the gospel that brings us the hope of Christ is not only what makes that hope endurable, but what proves Freud and Marx entirely wrong. For Christ brings the kind of hope that can reach even the most hopeless among us, within the darkest moment. Jesus has not overlooked the suffering of the world anymore than he has invited his followers to do so; it is a part of the very story he tells.

In a poem called “On the Mystery of the Incarnation,” Denise Levertov gives a description of the Christmas story with room for the darkness and a mystery that reminds us that the light will yet shine:

It’s when we face for a moment

the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know

the taint in our own selves, that awe

cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:

not to a flower, not to a dolphin,

to no innocent form.

But to this creature vainly sure

it and no other is god-like, God

(out of compassion for our ugly

failure to evolve) entrusts,

as guest, as brother,

the Word.

The story of the Incarnation presents a God who comes near to the whole story, not merely the parts that fit neatly in pageants. This God speaks and acts in the very places that seem so dark that no human insight or power can do anything. God comes to be with us in our weakness, with us in despair and death and sorrow, with us in betrayal and abandonment. There is no part of the human experience that is left untouched by God’s becoming human. And there is no part of human experience that God cannot redeem and heal and save. There are many Rachels who are still weeping—the poor, the demoralized, the suffering, the mourning. With them, we wait and watch, looking toward the God who comes into the very midst of it.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Hope in a Seemingly Hopeless Situation – Greg Laurie

 

It’s Christmas time.

Parents bundle up their children for another day of school before Christmas vacation starts in the small town of Newtown, Connecticut. There’s shopping to do and errands to run before they pick them up. Then the worst imaginable scenario takes place.

A young man walks into Sandy Hook Elementary School and begins shooting. When the horror finally stops, 20 children and 6 adults have been shot and killed. 12 little girls and 8 little boys had their lives cut short.

This is just heartbreaking.

What can be said at a time like this? The experts will opine on why this happened. All I can say is, this was pure evil. The heartlessness and wickedness of this man that did the shooting is really unimaginable.

I know from personal experience that the pain of losing a child is a fate worse than death for a parent.

At times like this we must reflect on the essential message of Christmas, which is Immanuel has come. Immanuel means God is with us.

I know God is there, ready to bring His comfort to those grieving right now in Connecticut. I know He is here right now to bring comfort to all of us who are heartbroken to hear such news.

At times like this, we need perspective—an eternal perspective.

We need to remember this life on earth is not all there is. There is an afterlife where earthy wrongs are righted. There is a final judgment for this man and others like him that commit these heinous crimes, and they will have to face God.

There is also great safety for those beautiful children, who I believe are all in Heaven right now, resting in the arms of Jesus. No harm will come to them again. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

And there is comfort available to their parents, who are in the deepest valley of pain and grief right now. Yes, even at a time like this, there is hope. The hope is this: If that parent will put their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord they can have the assurance they will see their dear children again.

As King David said when his child died, “I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).

In the busyness of this season, I hope we all will take time to count our blessings. To let our children know that we love them and not take them for granted.

And I hope that we will remember that Jesus is there, Immanuel. He will bring His comfort to us as we trust in Him.

The Message of the Manger – Charles Stanley

 

Luke 2:1-7

Sometimes it is difficult to see how God can bring good from our bad situations. But He draws value from even the most disastrous of circumstances, such as when the conquering Romans (the bad) literally paved the road for the gospel (the good).

Before the rise of Rome, the predominant world power was Greece, whose attractive culture led many to desire Hellenization. In addition, as Alexander the Great conquered lands, he forced subjugated men to serve in his military. So they could understand orders, he made conscripts learn common Greek. On discharge, these men took the new language home, thereby helping to create a shared tongue between people groups. This was the perfect set-up for spreading the revolutionary message that would erupt from Israel a few centuries later.

The Romans paved roads throughout the territories they had conquered and then guarded land routes and seacoasts from encroaching enemies. Doing this ensured the relative safety of early Christian missionaries who carried the gospel.

Perhaps Joseph and Mary traveled one of those roads on their trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Whether they did or not, God again turned hardship—a forced census—into blessing: Jesus the Messiah was born at precisely the time and place prophesied.

From the moment in Eden when Satan’s defeat was promised until the instant Christ fulfilled that prophecy on the cross, the Father continually brought good from bad situations. He was advancing His plan to save the world. The Romans made the roads, but God paved the way for a Savior.

The Property of Tears – Ravi Zacharias

 

Five year-old Samantha was the victim of a cruel and tragic murder, and her own tears were the evidence that sealed the case against her abductor. “[S]he solved the crime,” said her young mother. “She was her own hero.”(1) DNA in the form of teardrops was found on the passenger-side door of the killer’s car, irrevocably making their mark on the crime scene and everyone who imagines them.

It is impossible to hear stories like this, of heinous murders, of calculated school shootings, without retreating to the deepest whys and hows of life. The abrupt ending to these lives is another wretched symptom of a sick and desperate world. The problem of evil is a problem that confronts us, sometimes jarringly. The problem of pain is only intensified by the personal nature of our experience with it.

The first time I heard Samantha’s story my numbed mind was startled by this property of tears. I had no idea that our tears were so personally our own. Samantha’s tears solved the case because there were none others like hers. They were unique to the eyes they came from, intricately a part of Samantha herself. In the pains and joys that cause us to weep and to mourn, we leave marks far more intimate than I ever realized. We shed evidence of our own makeup, leaving behind a complex, yet humble message: I was here, and my pain was real. There are a lot of really bad and unhelpful things that people say in the face of tragedy and particularly to those who mourn. For me this brings new meaning to the wisdom of being silent with the grief-striken, sharing tears instead of advice.

There is no doubt something deeply necessary about the Christian hope that pain will one day be removed and tears will be no more. We are rightly comforted by the image of heaven as the place where God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of the weeping. There is much hope in the promise that there will one day be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.(2) But perhaps there is first something deeply necessary about a God who has marked our tears so specifically even now, declaring that our pain is far from a generic or empty occurrence.

There is a line uttered by the psalmist that was comforting to my grandmother through many years of loss and life. To God the psalmist confesses, “You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle” (Psalm 56:8). Tear-bottles were small urns of glass or pottery created to collect the tears of mourners at the funerals of loved ones. They were placed in the sepulchers at Rome and in Palestine where bodies were laid to rest. In some ancient tombs these bottles are found in great numbers, collecting tears that were shed with great meaning to the ones unique to them.

How assuring to know that our pain is not haphazardly viewed by the one who made tear ducts able to spill over with grief and anguish. God keeps count of our sorrowful struggling, each tear recorded and collected as pain steeped with the life of the one who wept it. Like a parent grieving at a child’s wound, God knows our laments more intimately than we realize.

But also more than a parent wiping eyes and collecting tears, God has shed tears of his own, taking on the limitations and sufferings of creation personally, declaring in body that embodiment is something God takes very seriously. In her book Creed or Chaos, Dorothy Sayers writes:

“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine… He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”(3)

I know of no equal comfort in the midst of life’s sorrows, no other answer within the problem of pain and evil. God has sent a Son as unique and personal as the very tears we shed crying out for answers and consolation. Every tear is marked with the intricacies of a Creator, every cry heard by one who wept at the grave of Lazarus, every lament collected in his bottle until the day when tears will indeed be no more.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) “Justice for Samantha,” People, June 06, 2005, Vol. 63, No. 22, pp. 73-74.

(2) Revelation 21:4.

(3) Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949), 4.

The Road to the Manger – Charles Stanley

 

Galatians 4:1-7

The manger scene captures one of the most pivotal moments in history. But when we see a Nativity, we often forget the long road that led there—not simply the wearying trip Joseph and Mary took to be counted in the census, but also the trail blazed through history by conquering rulers and displaced peoples. As countries erupted into political turmoil or arose with new ideals, God was carving a path to the Holy Land, the perfect cradle for the Messiah.

The route began in Eden, where blood was first spilled to atone for sin. The temporary solution—animal sacrifice—would suffice until God enacted His permanent plan in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Establishment of the nation and delivery of the law marked Israel as God’s people; these, too, were steps toward the destination, as was the taking of the Promised Land, where Christ would be born.

As the Israelites turned to false gods, the Lord’s patience waned, and He withdrew His protection. They were conquered and taken captive to Babylonia, where in time, they developed synagogues—local places to worship God. The Medes and Persians defeated the Babylonians 70 years later and let Israel return home. The ones who did brought the adaptations of Judaism they’d been practicing, including synagogues.

Together, prophecy and history reveal how God continued to pave the way from the manger to modern faith. Synagogues hosted men like Paul, who preached and sent letters about the Messiah born in Bethlehem. And today missionaries still use his epistles—and all of Scripture—to lead unbelievers to faith.

Cynical Christmas – Ravi Zacharias

 

It is the task of marketing departments of all varieties to keep a calculating finger on the pulse of culture, particularly when it comes to consumer trends. The entertainment industry alone has a multi-billion dollar reason to keep their fingers close—which means their research into the entertainment needs of the world is essential. For those of us fascinated with cultural studies, it also means their research into what the public will respond to favorably or unfavorably offers an interesting glimpse into the current cultural landscape.

But even the researchers are getting confused, and especially during the holidays. They find we are sending mixed signals. An article in The New York Times quotes one researcher describing “a curiously widespread contradiction in modern American pop culture—the desperate, self-negating need to be both cynical and sentimental at the same time.”(1) Film historian David Thomson notes of film in general, “One of the main problems in the industry is that young kids do not take the story material seriously. They think it’s mocking.” As a result, “the things we once took very seriously, we half-mock them now.”(2)

 

By and large, the cultural trend marks a growing distrust and rejection of story and meaning and a general embrace of cynicism. And yet, in recent market research, executives found that audiences of all ages reacted badly to advertising that too sharply dismissed or disrespected the notion or story of Christmas. There is quite measurably a greater desire for storylines with hopeful implications in December. Apparently, we want to joke about life’s meaninglessness, but only 11 months out of the year. The typical cynicism governing the production and marketing of motion pictures is entirely toned down at Christmastime. It seems we want to argue the cake doesn’t exist and eat it too.

I have always appreciated the brave confession of C.S. Lewis that he was once living in a whirl of contradictions. This is a difficult thing even to notice of one’s life, let alone to admit it aloud. Self-deception is always one of the more powerful forces of interpretation; the general human ability to see the lives of others far more critically than our own is another. Yet Lewis observed of himself, “I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.” Our own contradictions often exist glaringly amongst our thoughts, even as they go unnoticed.

Yet there is a promise for those who will seek, for those willing to confront their own contradictions, and it comes near in the Incarnation we celebrate in December—the event remembering God’s willingness to reach humanity by becoming human, exaltating humanity into the life of God. Indeed, this exalted one who knows what it means to be human is continually at work flattening our altars of inconsistency, uncovering our contradictions, urging us into eyesight, and leading us into humanity as God intended. The child we welcome in December remains among us every month thereafter. In the momentous words of a hymn that speaks much to the hope Christmas:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King…

Let men their songs employ…

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make his blessings flow

Far as the curse is found.

Perhaps we are right to exchange cynicism for hope this Christmas. Might we learn to employ its songs long after the season.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) As quoted in the New York Times, (Dec. 14, 2004).

(2) Ibid.

True Seekers – Greg Laurie

 

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  —Matthew 2:1–2

The story of Christ’s birth is one of the Bible’s most famous and loved stories, probably one that most people who are not even familiar with Scripture have heard at one time or another. And certainly a story we hear repeated every Christmas is the account of the wise men being led by the star to the place where the King was to be born.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us these wise men came from the East (see Matthew 2:1). Skilled in astronomy and astrology, these men were highly revered and respected in their culture and were especially noted for their ability to interpret dreams.

Because of their knowledge of science, mathematics, history, and the occult, their religious and political influence grew until they became the most prominent and powerful group of advisors in the Medo-Persian and Babylonian empires. More than just soothsayers and magicians, they were dignitaries. And though they weren’t kings, they were men of tremendous importance.

But even with all their knowledge, these wise men still had not found the answers they had been looking for in life. You might say they were seekers. We know they were true seekers, because God revealed himself to them in a special way when the star led them to the place where they could find Jesus: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (Matthew 2:10). Then they offered Him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

God tells us in Jeremiah 29:13, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” If you are also a true seeker, if you want to know the true God, then He will reveal himself to you too.

Entrusted with the Gospel – Charles Stanley

 

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Imagine standing by a pool, watching your children get ready to swim. The youngest asks you to hold something—a dirty plastic pail. The oldest makes a similar request, and then hands you an heirloom opal necklace that had been her grandmother’s. Most likely, you wouldn’t worry too much about protecting the toy, but you’d probably guard the jewelry with great care. The way we handle a possession reveals the value we attach to it.

We see this principle in Jesus’ parable about the master who, before going away, entrusted his workers with various sums of money. The two who invested theirs were later commended for wise use of the funds. Their efforts showed that they valued both the treasure and their master. A third worker, however, simply buried his portion in the ground, and all he “earned” was a harsh rebuke and loss of what little treasure he had.

Like these men, we are responsible for something of great worth—far greater, in fact, than money. God has placed in our keeping the most powerful and precious message in existence, the gospel of Jesus. And we are accountable for what we do with it. Our “investment” involves both how we apply its truth to our own life and whether we share it with others.

Do you feed on God’s Word daily, and are you obeying all that He says? He has commanded us to share His life-saving message with a hurting and needy world—and to make disciples in every part of the globe. Whether we listen and obey reveals how much we value the gospel.

Is There a Cure? – Ravi Zacharias

 

The “doorknob phenomenon” is an occurrence many physicians know well. Doctors can proceed meticulously through complete examinations and medical histories, taking care to hear a patient’s questions and concerns, but it is often in the last thirty seconds of the appointment that the most helpful information is revealed. When a doctor’s hand is on the doorknob, body halfway out the door, vital inquiries are often made; when a patient is nearly outside the office, crucial information is shared almost in passing. Many have speculated as to the reasons behind the doorknob phenomenon (which is perhaps not limited to the field of medicine), though a cure seems unlikely. Until then, words uttered on the threshold remain a valuable entity to the physician.

If I were to speak on behalf of patients (and perhaps I’ve been a perpetrator of the phenomenon myself), I would note that the doorknob marks our last chance to be heard. Whatever the reason for not speaking up until that point—fear, discomfort, shame, denial—we know the criticalness of that moment. In thirty seconds, we will no longer be in the presence of one who offers healing or hope. At the threshold between doctor’s office and daily life, the right words are imperative; time is of the essence.

One of the many names for God used by the writers of Scripture is the Great Physician. It is curious to think of how the doorknob phenomenon might apply. Perhaps there are times in prayer when the prayer feels as if we are moving down sterile lists of conditions and information. Work. Finances. Mom. Jack. Future. Of course, where bringing to God in prayer a laundry list of concerns with repeated perseverance is both necessary and helpful, perhaps there are times when we have silenced the greater diagnosis with the words we have chosen to leave unspoken. Can a physician heal wounds we will not show, symptoms we will not mention?

Thankfully, yes. The Great Physician can heal wounds one cannot even articulate. The Scripture writers speak of a God who hears groanings too deep for words. On the other hand, choosing to leave out certain toxic symptoms is hardly helpful before any doctor. Can God begin the work that needs to be done if we refuse to come near as a patient? Is there a cure for those who do not seek it?

The prophet Jeremiah once cried, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? No healing for the wound of my people?” Jeremiah lived during one of the most troublesome periods of Hebrew history. He stood on the threshold between a people sick with rebellion and the great Physician to whom they refused to cry out in honesty.

“I have listened attentively,” the LORD declared, “but they do not say what is right. No one repents of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle” (Jeremiah 8:6). His words are weighted with behavior a doctor might recognize. A patient who complains of a cough while a fatal wound is bleeding will neither find respite for the cough nor her unspoken pain, and of course, a good physician would not treat the cough until the bleeding has been stopped.

In Jeremiah’s day as in our own, the promise of a painless remedy was not left unspoken. Of these prophets of deceit God uttered, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (8:11). Their promises are easy to stand beside but crumble under the weight of us. To stand in honesty before the Great Physician is more difficult. It is to admit we need to be made well, however painful the remedy or costly the cure.

The great Christmas hymn places before us a powerful resolution:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground

He comes to make His blessing flow

Far as the curse is found,

Far as the curse is found.

The woundedness of humanity is serious. It cannot be bandaged as anything less than a mortal wound. Let us not wait until we have reached the threshold of life and death to address the indications of our illness. But let us in hope and honesty come into the presence of one who imparts healing. In the coming of Christ, God offers a cure that extends as far as the wound has festered.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

A Name and a Face – Ravi Zacharias

 

In our contemporary world, a great deal of cultural discussion revolves around the nature of human dignity and human rights. Sadly, there is not a day that passes in which news concerning human trafficking, gross negligence, or large-scale violent oppression/suppression of human thriving arrests attention. International organizations like Human Rights Watch make it their mission to expose and bring to justice all those who would jeopardize the rights of the weakest members of human society. They act, in part, as a result of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948 as a result of the experience of the Second World War. This Declaration called the international community to a standard that sought to prevent atrocities like those perpetrated in that conflict from happening again.

Unfortunately, conflicts and atrocities committed against the citizens of the world continue in our day. Yet, this standard assumption of basic human rights enables the international community to act when those rights are violated. And indeed, human rights—for most people—are a basic assumption in the concern for and treatment of others. One might ask from where the deep concern for human rights comes? How is it that the concern for human dignity has become a conversation—welcomed or suppressed—in all cultures? Is it simply the result of the Second World War?

In seeking to answer these questions, many would be incredulous if the suggestion came that the Judeo-Christian tradition grounds the concern for human rights today. After all, the pages of the Bible are filled with narratives of slavery and oppression, bloodshed and violence. How could this tradition be the ground for human rights?

Sadly, even those most familiar with the pages of the Bible often fail to see the significance of commands to care for the “foreigner and stranger” issued to the people of Israel. Sojourners or strangers in Israel were included in the law, and they were not to be oppressed or mistreated.(1) Given the brutalities present in the ancient world, these commands to care for strangers and sojourners are most remarkable. Indeed, Israel was to be distinctive in its treatment and care for the least in their midst: orphans, widows, and slaves.(2)

In the Roman world of Jesus’s day, slaves and servants of any kind, men and women, were classified as non habens personam—not having a persona, or more literally, not having a face.(3) Before the law, a slave was not considered a person in the fullest and most proper sense. Author David Bentley Hart notes, “In a sense, the only face proper to a slave, at least as far as the cultural imagination of the ancient world went, was the brutish and grotesquely leering ‘slave mask’ worn by actors on the comic stage: an exquisitely exact manifestation of how anyone who was another’s property was (naturally) seen.”(4) Simply stated, anyone without a noble birth was not given consideration with regard to human dignity or fair treatment as a fellow human being.

Given this reality for the weakest members of societies in Jesus’s day, it is striking that the gospel writers would record the name of a poor, blind beggar as in the case of Bartimaeus. Furthermore, a concern for human dignity shows up in the choice by the gospel writers to detail the immense grief and remorse of Peter—a common fisherman—over his betrayal of Jesus. This event is recorded in not just one, but all three Synoptic gospels.

Whether we like it or not, our modern world assumes and has inherited this Judeo-Christian morality. As a result, we moderns often miss the significance of the gospel writers caring to name a blind beggar or give such intimate details of grief from a common, uneducated fisherman. “To us,” Bentley Hart argues, these details “ennoble it, prove its gravity, widens its embrace of our common humanity….To the literate classes of late antiquity, however, this tale of Peter weeping would more likely have seemed an aesthetic mistake; for Peter, as a rustic, could not possibly have been an object worthy of a well-bred man’s sympathy, nor could his grief possibly have possessed the sort of tragic dignity necessary to make it worthy of anyone’s notice….When one compares this scene from the gospels to the sort of emotional portraiture one finds in great Roman writers, comic or serious, one discovers…the image of man [sic] in the highest and deepest and most tragic sense.”(5) In contrast to the prevailing norms of the ancient world, the Judeo-Christian tradition gives dignity to the weakest, lowest members of society. Here, in the pages of the gospels, we find a revolution in human rights. Naming beggars, detailing intimate portraits of the grief of a rustic fisherman, keeping company with prostitutes, tax-collectors, and others among the “undignified” tells the story of human value and worth.

The Advent Season anticipates the coming of the One who is the King of all Creation. Yet, this king wore the robes of human weakness and dependence. His “wearing” of human flesh shows the value and dignity of human life. Jesus is, Emmanuel, God with us. Indeed, as Christians around the world live into the reality of Advent, all are invited to honor this King—born a tiny baby, born to poor peasants—who gave dignity and upheld the rights of those who would otherwise remain nameless and faceless. We are invited to honor those whom God has honored recognizing that being made in the “image of God” is not just an abstract concept, but has a name and a face.

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

(1) Deuteronomy 24:14. See also Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33–4; Deuteronomy 23:7.

(2) See for example Exodus 21:1-6, Deuteronomy 23:15-16, Exodus 22:21-27; 23:1-9, Deuteronomy 15:15.

(3) David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 168.

(4) Ibid., 168.

(5) Ibid., 167.

Image and Incarnation – Ravi Zacharias

 

Malcolm Muggeridge is remembered as one of the most notable figures of the twentieth century. The wit and style of the self-dubbed “fatally fluent” journalist made him as endearing as he was controversial. His presence was a decipherable entity in print, over the radio, and on television. With over fifty years in the public eye, Muggeridge knew well the effect of publicity on the human ego. In the words of one biographer, Muggeridge was troubled by “the strange metamorphosis that turns an individual into an image.”(1) He once confessed, “There is something very terrible in becoming an image… You see yourself on a screen, walking, talking, moving about, posturing, and it is not you.  Or is it you, and the you looking at you, someone else? […] Once, sleeping before a television screen, I woke up to find myself on it. The experience was quite terrifying—like some awful nightmare to which only someone like Edgar Allan Poe or Dostoevsky could do justice.”(2)

In our media-saturated, celebrity-producing culture, the warning may well be appropriate. Though I do not think it is only the televised that find themselves in danger of becoming an image.

Of course, some of the images we may have of ourselves obviously come with the territories. New parents learn to see themselves as parents; a journalist sees herself as a journalist. Muggeridge was speaking of images beyond this—namely, a journalist who starts to see herself as an icon, the father who starts to see himself as an image of success or humility, or the woman who sees herself as the image grief or helpfulness. This is perhaps where many of us can relate.

God once asked the prophet Habakkuk, “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.”(3) The most dangerous thing about becoming an image is that we start to believe that we created that image: I am the maker of my success in this company. I am the one who has molded myself to be this flourishing employee, parent, or Christian. But such images only teach lies. Interestingly, God spoke these words to the prophet after Habakkuk had uttered a complaint, questioning the image and identity of God: “O Lord, are you not from everlasting? … Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”(4) God replied by asking Habakkuk to look again at the images he had fashioned and the Image before him.

For the images we create, even our images of God, must be crushed by the creative God who moves and speaks, the one who spoke creation itself into existence. We are not the images we think we are.

But we are being made into the image of one who is. Thankfully, though sometimes painfully, God is continually at work shattering the images we fashion of ourselves and of God. The Incarnation is the greatest example. This is not the Messiah those who were waiting for him expected. It’s not the Messiah we would expect either. This is not at all what we imagined he would ask of us. Yet this man who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweat in blood at Gethsemane stands and asks us to consider it. Coming as an infant, Jesus brings us more of what it means to be human than we are yet able to emulate. Coming as God, he silences our questions of who God is—with a face, a hand, a Cross. We can no more mold ourselves into lasting icons than we can mold a lump of clay into a god that speaks. But we can be molded into the image of the God who lives, when shaped at the hands of the God who sent him.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Gregory Wolfe, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), xi.

(2) Ibid., xi.

(3) Habakkuk 2:18.

(4) Habakkuk 1:12-14.

The Sustaining Power ofChrist – John MacArthur

 

“[Christ] upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3).

We base our entire lives on the constancy of physical laws. When something like an earthquake disrupts the normal condition or operation of things even a little, the consequences are often disastrous. Can you imagine what would happen if Jesus Christ relinquished His sustaining power over the laws of the universe for it is He in whom “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17)? We would go out of existence, our atoms scattering throughout the galaxy.

If He suspended the laws of gravity only for a brief moment, we would lose all points of reference. If any of the physical laws varied slightly, we could not exist. Our food could turn to poison; we ourselves could drift out into space or get flooded by the ocean tides. Countless other horrible things could happen.

But the universe remains in balance because Jesus Christ sustains and monitors all its movements and interworkings. He is the principle of cohesion. He is not the deist’s “watchmaker” creator, who made the world, set it in motion, and has not bothered with it since. The reason the universe is a cosmos instead of chaos–an ordered and reliable system instead of an erratic and unpredictable muddle–is the upholding power of Jesus Christ.

The entire universe hangs on the arm of Jesus. His unsearchable wisdom and boundless power are manifested in governing the universe. And He upholds it all by the word of His power. The key to the Genesis creation is in two words: “God said.” God spoke and it happened.

When I contemplate Christ’s power to uphold the universe, I’m drawn to the wonderful promise of Philippians 1:6: “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” When Christ begins a work in your heart, He doesn’t end there. He continually sustains it until the day He will take you into God’s very presence. A life, just as a universe, that is not sustained by Christ is chaos.

Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask God to remind you of Christ’s sustaining power when you endure your next trial.

For Further Study:  Read Job 38-39 for a greater appreciation of what Christ does to uphold the universe.

A World Asleep – Ravi Zacharias

 

In a major newspaper, full, as newspapers are, of active images, lively debate, and the steady buzz of daily life, a seemingly out of place essay brought my own morning routine to an introspective halt. It was a short article found in the editorial section, though it seemed out of place even there. It did not suggest a refutable opinion, or a thought to stir action, but a silent picture of our frail existence—a quiet look at sleep-needing humans. The writer described the nightly scene on a commuter train, after workday armor has been mentally laid aside, and one “can see pajamas in homebound eyes.” The author’s conclusion was as unassuming as the passengers he described: “As long as I’ve been riding trains into New York—some 25 years by now—I’m still struck by the collective intimacy of a passenger car full of sleeping strangers.”

It was for me a picture worth many words. Something in this scene that easily transported me beside napping strangers also brought me to my own weakness that morning, to life’s frailty, to my need. Something as simple as our bodies demand for sleep is a bold reminder that we are but creatures. “I am poor and needy,” says the psalmist.  “Remind me that my days are fleeting.”

The human condition is inescapable; it is something we all share. Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who devoted his life to tracking down those responsible for the mass murdering of Jews in World War II, announced at age 94, that he has ended his search. In an interview, he told reporters, “If there’s a few I didn’t look for, they are now too old and too fragile to stand trial.” What a bold indication of our days. “All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane, minutes before incarnate Christ would be in the grip of those who would hand him over to die, the disciples were sleeping. He was sweating blood, but they felt the heaviness of their eyes instead of the heaviness of the moment—or perhaps because they felt the heaviness of the moment they could not escape the heaviness of their eyes. He asked them to stay awake and pray, but they could not. It’s a sincere look at humanity, not unlike sleeping commuters and dying regimes: weak and unaware, asleep, unseeing, and in need.

The Christian calendar is patterned in such a way that we remember this condition throughout our days and counter-culturally declare it to the world. The ashes of Ash Wednesday unmistakably remind us of the dust we came from and the dust to which we will return. The expectant waiting of Advent comes with the cry of John the Baptist to stay alert in our sleeping world for a God who takes our embodiment quite seriously. And the crushing weight of Holy Week pleads us to seek a hope far beyond ourselves and our weakness. “Day by day,” instructs the Rule of Saint Benedict, “remind yourself that you are going to die.” Within a culture generally terrified of aging, uncomfortable with death, and desperate for accomplishments to distract us, the instruction would likely be unpopular. And yet, to keep this reality of our weakness in mind need not be a source of despair, but a means of seeking and seeing God. “As for me,” the psalmist writes, “I am poor and needy, but the Lord remembers me.” The apostle Paul cries likewise: “‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”(1) Our condition is fatal, but it is far from without hope.

It might seem odd to think of death in a season remembering the birth of the Christ child. But from the beginning, it was apparent that this birth was accompanied by death. The young couple was forced to flee at Herod’s edict to slaughter all the boys in and around Bethlehem two years old and under. Elsewhere, an aging prophet told the young mother that the child cradled in her arms would cause the falling and rising of many, and that a sword would pierce her own heart too—and at simply seeing this sleeping infant he himself was ready to die. The darker side of Christmas is as real as the parts we hold close.

Minutes before his last breath in this life, Jesus was asked by the criminal beside him to remember him. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” There are perhaps no words more human, no prayer by the dying that can be more sincerely uttered—however close to that last breath we might be. Remember me. As Christ responded to the one beside him, so he responds to the needy, sleeping soul, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” To a sleeping world, Advent calls us to wakefulness. It also thankfully introduces the one who neither sleeps nor slumbers.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Psalm 40:17, Ephesians 5:13-14.

A Good Story? – Ravi Zacharias

 

In publishing his godless Bible for those with no faith, A. C. Grayling may have expected a mixed reception. The ‘religious Bible’ (as he calls the Christian original) often sparks controversy, so one might have assumed that his would prompt a powerful reaction.(1)

But although there have been eyebrows raised, support given, and criticism leveled, I can’t help feeling that there is something a little flat about it all. Perhaps it is because we are in the midst of celebrating the 400-year anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible with its majestic impact on the English language, that one struggles to muster any strong reaction to this book. One of the repeated observations made about Grayling’s moral guide for atheists is that it just doesn’t seem to be as good or interesting as the original.

Jeannette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, had this to say:

I do not believe in a sky god but the religious impulse in us is more than primitive superstition. We are meaning-seeking creatures and materialism plus good works and good behaviour does not seem to be enough to provide meaning. We shall have to go on asking questions but I would rather that philosophers like Grayling asked them without the formula of answers. As for the Bible, it remains a remarkable book and I am going to go on reading it.

Perhaps it has something to do with what seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding on Grayling’s part: the Bible is not merely a book containing moral guidance, as he seems to think it is. While Christians would say that it does contain the moral law of God and shows us how to live our lives, the actual text of the Bible is much more besides.

It is the history of a people and a grand narrative of redemption for all people. At its heart, it is the story of a relationship, and not a collection of platitudes. As the New Testament opens with God coming in human form, we encounter Jesus walking the earth, not simply to restate a moral code, but to offer us peace with God through himself. It’s about a personal God to encounter, not a set of propositions to understand or laws to follow. This is drama with a capital D.

The Bible also contains narrative history, at its most fascinating with well-preserved accounts recording personal perspectives on historical events. Whether it be a prophet like Jeremiah, writing in the 7th century BC, or the gospel writer Mark in the 1st century AD, this is compelling writing whatever our religious convictions. Who could not notice the honesty and detail of Mark’s turn of phrase when he recounts that “Jesus was in the stern sleeping on a cushion, the disciples woke him and said to him ‘Teacher don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38). As history alone the Bible is compelling.

In as much as Grayling’s ‘Good Book’ cobbles together some of the finest moral teaching from our history, it will surely be useful to some. But from an atheist perspective is this really a legitimate task? Without God what is morality other than personal perspective or social contract? Do we need Grayling’s personal perspective any more than our own? And is he really in a position to tell us what a socially agreed set of morals should be? Great atheists of the past, like Bertrand Russell, rejected religious moral values arguing against overarching morality—do they really want Grayling to reconstruct one? “I don’t think there is a line in the whole thing that hasn’t been modified or touched by me,” he says. While his own confidence in his wisdom is clearly abundant, will others feel the same way? Readers might also note that from the 21st century, his is the only voice to make the cut and be included in the work.

In calling his worthy tome The Good Book, Grayling, perhaps unwittingly, references the story about a rich young ruler found in the Gospel of Mark. The man approaches Jesus and addresses him as “Good teacher.” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” Jesus preempts centuries of philosophical debate about the nature of morality and locates goodness as an absolute in the being of God. We are challenged to question: “Without God, what is goodness?” As the debate over his book continues it will be intriguing to find out how Grayling knows his godless Bible to be a benchmark of “goodness.”

In the meantime, no doubt the Bible will continue to top best-seller lists, and engage audiences spanning all ages, backgrounds, and cultures. I for one will keep reading it.

Amy Orr-Ewing is UK director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Oxford, England.

(1) Originally printed in Pulse Magazine, Issue 8, Summer 2011, 10-11.