Strange New Thoughts

The place where I slam down gauntlets and pick up the pieces.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

St. Pinocchio


I'll just come right out and admit it - I love challenging conventional wisdom, especially when such wisdom is more conventional than wise. Same goes for conventional morality - it's fine with me, as long as it's biblical. "Wait a minute!" you say. "Isn't the Bible where we get conventional morality?" Well, yes and no. Just because God and His Word are eternal doesn't make either of them conventional. Jesus routinely blindsided everyone from His adversaries to His followers by proclaiming such counterintuitive ideas as love for one's enemies, or the last being first (and vice versa.)

Some biblical morality is more intuitive than that, though. We automatically feel guilt (or "conviction", if we're born-again types) when we do something shady or unkind. Hopefully, anyway. And then there's lying. Inherently evil, right? "Stop lying to one another," Paul tells us in Colossians. 3:9. Okay, we won't do that. We'll never lie again, under any circumstance.

Any circumstance? We've been warned all our lives about white lies, half-truths and the like. One problem, though. The Bible, on closer examination, seems to rely on an even higher law than any rigid legalism. To make matters worse, God blesses people in the Bible for . . . lying?

Don't take my word for it. Check out, for starters, Exodus 1: 19 - Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives to kill any baby boys they deliver among their own people. The midwives disagree with this lousy idea and let the baby boys live. Pharaoh calls them on the carpet - "Why have you done this thing and let the boys live?" The midwives look sheepish and confess their crime.

Wait, I guess they don't. No, they lay it on thick: "Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them." Wow, not only do they lie to Pharaoh, but they even dare to suggest to him the superiority of Hebrew women over their Egyptian counterparts. Well, if you're going to lie, you might as well be as brazen as possible. And so what happens to these early ministers of disinformation? "So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty." (Ex. 1:20)

But that's just the beginning. Joshua 2:4-6 relates the adventures of Rahab the harlot, and her creative approach to harbouring Hebrew spies: "Yes, the men came to me," she truthfully tells the king's minions, "but I did not know where they were from." So much for truth; now check this out: "It came about that when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them." Uh, sure, Rahab. Send the goon squad on a wild goose chase while the Hebrew spies hear the whole spiel from their hiding place on the roof. Don't you know what God does to liars?

Rahab didn't know, since she had never read the Bible, and there was no pagan scruple in Jericho about deception tactics. The real truth was that God was on the move, and Rahab knew that nothing would stop Him. Clarifying this principle during World War II, Sir Winston Churchill said (referring to the many counter-intelligence programs used to protect the D-Day invasion), "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." In keeping with this principle, the oft-maligned Pope Pius XII directed his bishops to issue fake baptismal certificates to Jews seeking to escape the death camps.

I'm not saying that we should look for ways to lie, or to justify lying. For a highly principled person (read: not Rahab), lying may be out of the question for any reason at all. In Corrie Ten Boom's wartime classic The Hiding Place, in which Corrie and her family are sent to a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews from the SS, Corrie's sister Nollie finds herself face to face with Nazis who demand to know the whereabouts of a young Jewish girl suspected to be hiding in the Ten Boom household. Nollie stands her moral ground and defiantly tells the Nazis yes, she is here, and God will protect her! "The truth shall set you free," Nollie believed wholeheartedly. The Nazis retreat, confused. Of course, later in the story, the Gestapo rounds up the Ten Boom family and some of the Jews they hid, and only Corrie ultimately lives to tell the story. Suffice it to say that God clearly honors Nollie's refusal to lie under any circumstances (the Nazis released her within days, and the Dutch Resistance freed the Jewish girl), and we are left to contemplate His unfathomable goodness and power.

My moral is simple: God is not limited by our theology of truth, nor is He honored by a pedantic death grip on factuality. I remember playing guitar in the pit orchestra in a production of Godspell, when "Jesus" accidentally skipped a verse of the song we were performing. The band caught on right away and followed him (oops, sorry, "Him"!) All, that is, except the bass player. A good reader, he stubbornly stuck to the written score, plowing grimly through to the end of the song, in glaring contrast to what the rest of us were playing. He chose to put technical "truth" (i.e., we're supposed to be on measure 64) over a higher truth (i.e., Love, which covers a multitude of sins and bears each other's burdens). And I can't even judge that bass player, since I myself would often rather be right than nice. Mea culpa maxima.

This is true freedom. Anybody who's listening to the Holy Spirit (or even his own conscience) will eventually find that a Pharisaical devotion to factual truth (i.e., "I 'm sorry, but I really can't stand you!") will lead eventually to the loss of one's own soul. The highly enlightened and principled bishop in Les Miserables who tells the police that he had himself given the silver to the wayward ex-con Jean Valjean (who had in fact stolen it from him) is used by God to bring Valjean to Himself. The unprincipled Tom Sawyer likewise saves Becky Thatcher, guilty of tearing a page of the teacher's favorite book, from a cruel thrashing with his heroic (albeit untruthful) outcry, "I done it!" And this at the time when she least deserved his sympathy. Tom puts his own tail on the line, literally, and scores innumerable points with Becky, and with the reader.

"I am the Way, the Truth (emphasis mine) and the Light", says the Savior, but His word also says that "God is love" (not "Love is God"). So let's tell the truth, as long as love lets us. I doubt whether many of us will ever really be able to justify doing otherwise during our lifetimes. Meanwhile, we'll leave such circumstances in His supremely capable hands.

How I Joined a Cult (Well, Not Quite, But...)

Ever since I committed my life to Christ, I've wondered how so many people in my own culture could commit equally, with equal fervor and certainty, to false religions. (By false I mean belief systems that don't stand up to the test of biblical truth, and that contradict the central doctrines of the Christian faith.) Any Mormon or Jehovah's Witness could easily read and analyze the many scholarly exposés of their particular sect if they so choose. Of course, human nature habitually denies uncomfortable truth, or allows itself to sincerely believe the unbelievable.

Not me, of course. Didn't I have a critical mind with a scientific bent? Hadn't I, after four years of resistance, embraced Christ? I pored over books like Dr. Walter Martin's The Kingdom of the Cults, preparing myself for the weekly visits from the Mormon missionaries I had allowed through my door. And, for my intellectual duals with the irreligious, I had happily discovered the works of men like Dr. Duane T. Gish, whose Evolution: The Fossils Say No! and other books convinced me at once that not only was Darwinism wrong, but that the age of the Earth could not possibly be greater than 10,000 years.

En garde! Everyone I met now had to listen to me rabbit on about how the theory of evolution was nothing more than a huge conspiracy, designed to keep people from accepting biblical truth. There were, after all, enormous difficulties with Darwinism. (To this day, I am patiently waiting to see fossil evidence of the evolution of bats. I've dubbed the yet-to-be unearthed, half-evolved version Semichiroptera.) But to me, evolutionary thought was the chief obstacle to global evangelization, since everybody except for fundamentalists believed in it, didn't they? After all, I'd been an evolutionist ever since the book my grandmother gave me when I was seven posed the rhetorical question, "Which came first, the bird or the egg? Answer: The reptile came first." A quick description of evolution followed, moving me to accept it immediately and uncritically. I knew nothing of the genetic, biomechanical and logical difficulties that Darwinism faced, and when I finally became aware of them as a young adult, I took them as immediate proof that I'd been had. Now armed with Young Earth Creationism, I set forth to lead people to Christ, convinced that the theory of evolution was all that stood in their way.

And guess what? NOBODY got saved! Some couldn't argue with my "science", but not even those people were convinced that they therefore needed Jesus. And those I did manage to lead to faith in Christ came to Him on His own merit, without my dogmatic assertions that a literal interpretation of Genesis was necessary for one to be in right relationship with God. And for years I continued, although I managed to shift my emphasis more toward our need for salvation, instead of some intellectual barrier to faith. But I persisted in my doctrinaire belief in a young earth creation model, which I just knew could be easily proved and accepted by any honest scientist.

Enter Dr. Paul Simms (http://www.iblministry.org/nbod.htm), then-Professor of Nuclear Physics at Purdue University. His daughter and my wife had been friends for many years, and he was quick to note my interest in his field of expertise. One day, as he took me on a private tour of the Purdue particle accelerator, Dr. Simms, a passionate believer in Jesus, gently began to bring to my attention recent scientific data that affirm the hot Big Bang model, accepted almost universally by scientists. He also introduced me to the works of astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross, whose analysis of the ongoing findings about the cosmos overwhelmingly support the declaration of Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Rather than feel threatened by any scientific discovery that might be supposed to contradict scripture, I began to rest easy in the certainty that all truth is God's truth, including scientific data. The light arriving here from stars billions of light years away might in fact have taken billions of years to get here. (Those who assert that God just made it look that way could theoretically be right, but I've never yet been able to believe in such a deceitful, puerile Creator.)

I'm not here to slam those whose Christianity clings to a young earth model, or even those who claim to believe one on purely scientific grounds. I do disapprove of those Christians who tactlessly mock anybody whose beliefs on the subject do not mirror their own. Such people place treacherous stumbling blocks in the paths of many an honest seeker. (Conversely, the irreligious people who mock creationists have no moral basis for respecting others' beliefs, but sometimes they're right about us anyway.) In case anybody had forgotten, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the center of our faith. He will judge us according to His grace and justice, not according to our take on the age of the universe.

So what's my point? Sorry if I hadn't made it clear, but it's simply that I personally had to change my position on something I used to rigidly assert just as unyieldingly as does an LDS missionary who knows that the Book of Mormon is true. I see no particular virtue in my having done an about-face once I decided I'd been intellectually dishonest (even though I'd never meant to be.) But I do see that I can fall prey to bad data (and therefore bad doctrine) just as easily as anybody. Whether we believe that we (and Christ) came from mud or from primordial soup (and when you think about it, there isn't much difference), it must be Him that we declare. It's Christ who changes hearts and lives, not "correct" beliefs about things that will one day pass away. And besides, truth will win out in the end anyway.

So, all you evolutionists out there, next time you make an impassioned plea for responsible ecological policies: Remember that, if you're just an evolutionary accident, then everything we do is completely natural. We're just animals, and mere animals can't ruin the ecology. Global warming, deforestation, greenhouse gases - no worse than flatulent buffalo herds! But if we're somehow more than animals, if we really have a moral responsibility to protect the environment, then let's go for it, knowing that no mere animal's moral compass can lead to the words should and shouldn't. Such words inevitably lead either to God or to hopeless contradiction.

And as for you Young Earth Creationists, you're entitled to your beliefs, but please don't leave them where any honest seeker of truth might trip over them. There's too much at stake.