Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gun Control, Mental Health, Chaos, and Oppression

So here we go again, just yesterday, a young man shot and killed a number of people in south Florida. I could be writing this post after the Columbine school shooting, the Sandy Hook school shooting, the Texas church shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, or any number of other shootings or human caused tragedies. One side immediate calls for gun control as the solution, while the other side talks about mental health issues. Each side probably has some valid points, and this post is not going to advocate for or against any specific policies. Rather, I want to try to point to some deeper truths that contribute to the chaos in our society that do not get mentioned, but that unless we as a people address these issues, the inevitable result will be chaos and/or enforced peace which will lead to loss of freedom and oppression.  

Now what I am going to say are not thoughts that are new to me at all. In fact, many of the American founding fathers were astute political philosophers and understood these truths, which they likely got from thinkers before them. Therefore, I am simple going to reiterate them here and try to show how these basic rules of life explain what is happening now. 

Ideas Have Consequences

I believe that in many of these cases what we are seeing is the natural consequences of bad ideas being lived out. I like the phrase, that I hear on the Breakpoint radio show, "Ideas had consequences and bad ideas have victims." What we believe about the world and ourselves impacts how we will live, and over the last couple of generations in America the basic understand that majority of people had about the world has changed and that is impacting how we behave. 

American founding father and second President, John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." What most Americans still understand is that our society and system was set up to be by the people and for the people, with a focus on freedom for individuals. The founders believed that when power accumulated in anyone's hands it would lead to abuses, so they wanted a system that put a check on the power of the state. This would lead to the most liberty for the people in the society, but what Adams and other understood was that the only people that can remain free are those who are responsible (moral) enough to use their freedom for good things and not to abuse their freedom by hurting others. 

An Example

Gun rights and mass shooting are a perfect example of where freedom and the abuse of that freedom show the need for a moral people. The second amendment was clearly written not for hunting rights, but as a way to make sure deadly power was not just accumulated by government, which could then become tyrannical because no one had the power to resist. Citizen were given the right and responsibility to own very deadly weapons so that they did not have to rely on the government for regular protection and so that the government could be resisted, but with that right comes the need to be very responsible with that power. What we are seeing more and more is that people do not act responsibly with their freedom, which leads to great hurt for others.

How Do You Get Moral People?

Now the problem for any system, is how do you get people to act morally and responsibly? One way is through force, and frankly that is the typical way societies are and have been ordered throughout history. If situations get too chaotic and too many people act irresponsibly, the majority of people will give up their freedom for stability. Frankly, many people would rather be ruled by a bad king than live with total anarchy. At least with a bad king or totalitarian state you know who to please and what to avoid, but in a chaotic system you live in uncertainty all the time. If someone else lays out the rules and enforces the rules, you may not like them and you may not have any power, but at least you have a measure of safety within the structure of the rules.

Religion Provides Motivation

The western / American way to get people to act responsibly (morally / cooperatively) is to help them become the type of people that will naturally want to do the right thing on their own, which means they have an internal motivation rather than an external motivation. What though creates an internal motivation to be good? To become a good person, you have to system of belief that defines good behavior and that gives you a personal motivation for acting on those beliefs. Although not all the founders were strict practicing Christians, they understood that the Christian religion provided the kinds of beliefs and motivations that made people responsible enough to handle freedom. 

Christianity is unique in that it encourages personal faith and personal growth, but that growth is not just for the individual, but should be focused outward. Furthermore, because we believe in the value of every human and that we are called to love God and others, when we become better Christians we should become more responsible citizen who care for those around us more and more. Our primary motivation is love because God first loved us, but a secondary motivation is also that we understand that all of our actions have consequences and that everyone will be judged if not in this life than the next.

I am by no means claiming that all Americans and American leaders were or are Christians (even those who claim it), but until the last 30-50 years there was at least an implied societal agreement that the Christian ideals of morality were the ideals that should be the standard for everyone. When you thought of right and wrong, you likely were influenced by Christian ideas of right and wrong, whether you knew it or not. Because we had this consensus, most people at least tried to be better people and they generally knew what "better" meant. In striving to be better people we became better citizens and were able to have a free society. Often, when there was chaos or evil that happened in the world, the first impulse was not to look to the government for a solution, but to examine our own hearts or to call for those who caused the evil to become better. Government solutions were only needed when people refused to become better on their own.

Even large societal evils that have existed in our country like slavery and segregation were able to be challenged, because those who opposed them pointed to the Christian standard and showed how we were not living up to that standard.

No God, No Standards

Unfortunately, the change that has happened in our society over the last 30-50 years is that we no longer believe in the Christian standard because we no longer believe in the truth of the Christian story. Therefore, we no longer have a united standard of what is right and wrong. Now many might say, that most people still claim to be Christians, but that claim does not reflect what many actually believe about the world. In many recent studies, it has been proven that many people who claim Christianity cannot define basic Christian beliefs and do not regularly practice it. Furthermore, many of the same people have actual beliefs and practices that are opposed to the old, traditional Christian practice. In other words, many people are Christian in name only, and no longer even know what Christian morality is. 

Frankly, this is not surprising as the source for where people get their ideas, namely the universities, have long since gone away from Christianity and adopted a different set of beliefs about the world. Ever since the beginning of the Enlightment in the late 1600's thinkers have been proposing an understanding of reality without God, and since Charles Darwin in the late 1800's a purely natural understanding of the universe has become more and more dominant in the colleges and universities. This influenced politicians and creators in Hollywood who were trained in those schools so that gradually the vast majority of media we consume pushes a different understanding of the world. The last couple of generations have been trained by their schools and media to believe in a secular, godless understanding of the world.

The problem for our society is that secular understanding of the world does not provide a motivation to be good or even a common definition of what it means to be good. Christianity tells us that we were created for a purpose and that our actions have consequences even after this life. Secularism tells us that we both collectively as species and individually are a product of random chance and that this life for good or ill is all that we have. When it is done, there is nothing. So ultimately we come from nothing, we are nothing (other than how we define ourselves), and we are going to nothing. 

The Consequence of the Ideas

So now we are left in a situation where many people are taught that the only meaning and morality is one that they define and they do not know how to do that. This leaves us in a situation like the book of Judges in the Bible that says, "There was no King, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes." Life is already hard, and it is getting harder for more of us as there are fewer and fewer people who believe in a good standard outside of themselves to which they should strive.

If you grow up in a broken home where parents don't act lovingly, go to a school where you get bullied, have some physical problems, or are generally just depressed, then how are you going to define your life and what makes you important. Some people commit suicide just to escape the pain, believing that they are going to nothing and that the nothing is better than the pain. Others dull the pain and commit suicide slowly through addictions. Others find meaning in helping people have a better life now. But others like the Columbine killers, the Sandy Hook killer, the Texas church killer, the Las Vegas shooter, and now the Florida shooter get some sense of purpose by hurting others, and I understand their rationale. I mean if you come from nothing, your life means nothing, and you don't fear hell or judgment, then why not cause others pain if it brings you pleasure or if you feel you have been wronged. For them, why would they not follow their desires? They have been taught they they are animals just conditioned by their environment, so why not do what comes naturally to them?

If we continue to promote a godless, purely natural and secular view of reality we are not just going to get more shootings. We are going to get more of the regular painful events like broken families, sexual assualts, #metoo moments, political unrest, unethical businesses, drug addiction, etc., as other people do "what is right in their own eyes."

Until we recognize that secularism is a bad idea that has bad consequences, no gun control policy or mental health plan will save us from pain caused by bad behavior. Either we will continue to slide down toward more chaos or we will lose our freedoms to a more and more powerful government that will itself create injustices, because it will also be run by humans who will govern primarily for their own benefit. Chaotic ideas create a chaotic world. This poem by Steve Turner expresses this idea perfectly. 

Action Steps

Now I am not saying we should not strive for good laws that protect people, but if you do it without also addressing the underlying bad ideas that help create the problem then you are just trying to put a bandaid on cancer.

Ask yourself if you really know what the word good means? Do other people agree with your definition?  Do you believe there is any real meaning in the world? Is there a God who created the world for a purpose? If not, then what is the meaning of the world and how should people behave? Why should they believe you? In other words, how would you motive people to be good neighbors and citizen?  

Don't just complain about what the government should or should not do. Examine yourself. Examine reality. See if your ideas match reality. See if your ideas can even define what it means to be a better person. See if your ideas can convince others to become better people. Find out if you are becoming a better person. Seek God to find out if He can be found! See if God has already been seeking you (maybe He already came to earth!) If you know God then become the solution for your community. Become His hands and feet so that other people can experience His love. Perhaps through the His love working through you, other people will see why your ideas are true.

A Final Appeal

In all of our communities right now there are people deciding for themselves how to live or whether to continue to live. If your one of those people and you don't know if life has any meaning or if your life has any meaning. Please message me and let me tell you that you are loved. You are important. You are special. You are not an accident, because you were created for a purpose. Let's compare ideas about the world, because I am convinced that if you give Jesus a chance, he will prove himself real to you, and he can change your life and he is changing the world. If you know Jesus, then please show the world and tell those around you that he is the best idea.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

How should you handle suffering?

In my upcoming series on the book of Genesis, I am going to preach on how God made the world good (Genesis 1), but also why the world is broken (Genesis 3). You do not have to read the Bible though to know either of these facts, you simply have to observe the world around you. In it you will see the beauty of a sunset and on the news each night you will see war and heartbreak. 

Each one of us will experience both, but when we experience suffering, pain, grief, and injustice, what would God have us do?

First, the numerous laments in scripture from Job, to the Psalms of lament, to Jesus weeping with his friends make it clear that it is okay to acknowledge the brokenness and pain in the world and in our lives. Sometimes people hurt us, and we need to be honest about the pain and anger we feel. Other times, disaster or illness occur and we don't even have someone to blame, so we need to cry out to God and ask why. Finally, some times we know it was our own sin or foolishness that caused our pain, but shame, guilt and pain are still real. We need to be honest with ourselves and also find safe people who will help us express what we are really feeling. Furthermore, we need to become those safe people for others, who learn to listen and let others cry out to God without trying to teach them or condemn them, especially when they are in a place where their emotions are so raw that they would not be able to hear instruction.

Second, we need to regularly cultivate an eternal perspective on reality. If this world was the final reality then lots of pain would be meaningless and a lot of unjust actions would never be made right. A lot of the hopelessness in our world comes from the idea that right now is all there is, and sometimes our current reality sucks! Paul tells the Thessalonians that while we grieve fellow believers who have died, we do not grieve as those with no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), and the Corinthians that because Christ has been raised we have hope that outlasts this life (1 Corinthians 15:19-20). 

Finally, this perspective that this life is not all there is, also informs us that our lives are not just about our current happiness and avoiding pain. We belong to God and were made by Him for His purposes, and He calls us to live for the good of other people. In a good plan of God, when we learn to live for the good of other people, we take our eyes off of our problems and it actually helps alleviate our own suffering. God calls us to live sacrificially for other people and this often causes us to lose current benefits and sometimes even leads to direct suffering for us, but because we have a purpose beyond ourselves we can learn to endure pain and discomfort. The more we learn to live out of love for God and others, we even learn like Paul to have joy no matter the circumstances (Philippians 4:12).

If we have this perspective, then God will use suffering to create in us a faith that is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7).