Archive for January, 2014

Explaining Our Existence

Creation HandsI recently came across two articles – both dealing with gender concerns – that caught my attention.  The first article is by Lisa Wade of Salon and addresses the deep friendships – or the lack thereof – between men.  Wade opens her article:

Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships. When men get together, they’re more likely to do stuff than have a conversation …

When I first began researching this topic I thought, surely this is too stereotypical to be true. Or, if it is true, I wondered, perhaps the research is biased in favor of female-type friendships. In other words, maybe we’re measuring male friendships with a female yardstick. It’s possible that men don’t want as many or the same kinds of friendships as women.

But they do. When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to say that they want intimacy. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is strongly correlated with the level of self-disclosure.[1]

Men want friends, Wade contends – real friends, with whom they can share real cares, concerns, and fears.  But most do not have these kinds of friends.  Why is this?  Wade chalks it up to society’s assertions concerning what it means to be a “real man.”  She explains:

[Real men] are supposed to be self-interested, competitive, non-emotional, strong (with no insecurities at all), and able to deal with their emotional problems without help. Being a good friend, then, as well as needing a good friend, is the equivalent of being girly.

Real men, our society says, keep their emotions hermetically sealed.  This is why so many men eschew forming deep and abiding friendships.  But as many men seek to be really masculine through sensitivity sequestration, they only wind up being really isolated.

The second article I found interesting is by Sarah Elizabeth Richards of the New York Times. Richards tells the story of Andy Inkster – a woman who underwent surgery and took testosterone to become a man, but has now stopped taking testosterone because she wants to get pregnant.  As it turns out, Andy had trouble getting pregnant and sought fertility treatments from Baystate Reproductive Medicine.  Baystate denied her request.  She received help from another clinic and got pregnant, but sued Baystate for discrimination.

Such a desire of transgendered people to have children is not unique to Andy:

One study published last year in the journal Human Reproduction of 90 transgender men in Belgium found that 54 percent wished to have children … Other research, published in 2002, by Belgian fertility doctors with Western European transgender women found that 40 percent wanted to have children, and 77 percent felt they should have the option to preserve their sperm before hormone treatment. As fertility technology improves and becomes more widely available, transgender people are realizing that they will have more options in the future.[2]

Transgendered people apparently have a strong desire to have children in biologically traditional ways despite their deep reservations with their biologically assigned genders.

At first glance, these two articles seem to address phenomena on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.  The first has to do with entrenched machismo while the second has to do with blurred gender identity.  But for all their differences, there exists a common theological root:  the divorce of human existence from divine creation.

Foundational to the Christian conception of the cosmos is the belief that everything came from somewhere.  Or, to put it more precisely, Christians believe that everything came from someone.  We do not just exist.  We were created.

It is from the Scriptural story of creation that we learn not just that we are, but who we are.  We are creatures and not the Creator (cf. Genesis 3:5).  We are fashioned in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27).  We are fearfully and wonderfully made (cf. Psalm 139:14), which is to say that God intentionally and lovingly fashioned us to be a certain kind of person, the corruption of sin notwithstanding.  In the old “nature versus nurture” debate, the story of creation tells us that nature does indeed shape us, but not by naturalistic means.  Rather, we are shaped through nature by the One who made nature.

Both of the articles above exemplify with a convicting candor what happens when people forget this story.  Men who try to play the role of the sturdy and strong lone ranger forget the part of the story where God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  People who undergo surgeries and treatments in an effort to change their gender forget the part of the story where God revels in how He has created us “male and female” (Genesis 1:27).

The apostle Peter warns there will come a time when people will “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed” (2 Peter 3:5).  They will forget their existence is a product of God’s creative word.  And they will forget their existence is to be guided by God’s sacred Word.  May it never be so of us.  May we always be able to say:  “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth…and of me.”


[1] Lisa Wade, “American men’s hidden crisis: They need more friends!Salon (12.7.2013).

[2] Sarah Elizabeth Richards, “The Next Frontier in Fertility Treatment,” New York Times (1.12.2014).

January 27, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Angry At A God Who Isn’t There

God - MichelangeloThe other day I heard the story of a distressed parent.  Their son had gone away to college as a Christian and had returned as an atheist.  They wanted to know what they could do to bring their son back into the fold.

Honestly, hearing this boy’s story distressed me.  After all, nothing less than this young man’s very salvation is at stake.  I was tempted to break out into a rant about how far too many colleges and universities deliberately and relentlessly undermine faith while uncritically peddling a deluded vision of a far-flung utopian secular humanistic paradise, but I stopped myself and instead asked a simple question:  “Why?  Why did your son become an atheist?  Was it because of something he heard in some class from a professor, or was it because of something else – something deeper?”

Many atheists like to present themselves as cool and collected, calmly examining empirically verifiable data and coming to the inevitable and emotionally detached conclusion that there is no God.  But the reality of atheism is far less viscerally clean.

A couple of years ago, Joe Carter penned an article for First Things titled, “When Atheists Are Angry At God.”  In it, he notes a strange phenomenon: many people who do not believe in God find themselves angry at God:

I’ve shaken my fist in anger at stalled cars, storm clouds, and incompetent meterologists. I’ve even, on one terrible day that included a dead alternator, a blaring blaring tornado-warning siren, and a horrifically wrong weather forecast, cursed all three at once. I’ve fumed at furniture, cussed at crossing guards, and held a grudge against Gun Barrel City, Texas. I’ve been mad at just about anything you can imagine.

Except unicorns. I’ve never been angry at unicorns.

It’s unlikely you’ve ever been angry at unicorns either. We can become incensed by objects and creatures both animate and inanimate. We can even, in a limited sense, be bothered by the fanciful characters in books and dreams. But creatures like unicorns that don’t exist – that we truly believe not to exist – tend not to raise our ire. We certainly don’t blame the one-horned creatures for our problems.

The one social group that takes exception to this rule is atheists. They claim to believe that God does not exist and yet, according to empirical studies, tend to be the people most angry at Him.[1]

But why is this?  Why would people who don’t believe in God become angry at God?  Carter goes on to cite Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University:

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

In other words, atheism is not as viscerally clean as many atheists would like to have you believe.  Atheism is not always the product of cool, clean, detached observation of empirically verifiable date.  Instead, atheism is often the product of not disbelief in God, but rebellion against God because a person feels slighted by God in some way.  Atheism, although it may hide between a veneer of intellectualism, is also heavily emotional.  It’s hardly a wonder that the Psalmists says of the atheist:  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).  Atheism is not just a matter of the head.  It’s also a matter of the heart.

I never quite did get to the root of the atheism of my friend’s son.  But I suspect it was more than just some smooth-talking college professor that led him down the road to unbelief.  That’s why, when sharing my faith, I not only try to speak to a person’s head; I try to minister to his heart.


[1] Joe Carter, “When Atheists Are Angry At God,” First Things (1.12.2011).

January 20, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

It’s Not Tricky … It’s Really Not

Hebrew Text 2It seems like it’s been happening to me a lot lately.

The other day on the radio, I heard a commercial for “The Biblical Money Code,” a program that claims to be able to make millions for the person who follows it:

Imagine if you had a secret code for making money … a code buried deep within biblical text.  A code that certain investment titans have quietly exploited to amass billions.  And what if this code could be used by you, today, to unlock vast amounts of wealth — safely and ethically.[1]

Now, forget the fact that what the Bible has to say about money is about as straightforward and sharp as it can be.  For instance:  “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).  Forget the fact that God nowhere promises that you can or will amass billions.  Forget the fact that the Bible doesn’t even find it particularly desirable that a person would amass billions.  All of what’s in this program has to be in the Bible.  You just have to unlock the code.

But that’s not the only biblical “code” I’ve run across recently.

The other day, I received an email from a friend claiming the prophet Muhammad was identified by name in the Old Testament.  Where?  Song of Songs 5:16:  “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.  This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”  How does this refer to Muhammad?  The Hebrew word for “altogether lovely” is machamadim, which sounds like “Muhammad.”  Now, forget the fact that, in context, this is a statement by a wife about her husband.  Forget the fact that machamadim is a Hebrew word and Muhammad is an Arabic name.  Forget the fact that there is nothing in this verse that would indicate this is a prophetic statement.  These two words sound similar, so they must be related.  You just have to unlock the code.

But that’s not the only biblical “code” I’ve run across recently.

I remember a conversation I had with some Mormon friends about the kingdoms of glory in the afterlife.  “We can enter a telestial, terrestrial, or celestial kingdom,” my friends explained.  From where do they get this?  1 Corinthians 15:40 (KJV):  “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.”  Now, forget the fact that Paul’s point here is not to talk about afterlife destinations, but to speak of the kind of body we will receive at the resurrection of the dead, as he makes abundantly clear at the conclusion of his argument:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

Forget the fact that this verse doesn’t even mention telestial bodies.  Forget the fact that no one in the Church interpreted this verse in this way before Joseph Smith.  Paul has to be talking about different afterlife destinations.  You just have to unlock the code.

With so many so-called “religious experts” peddling so many biblical codes, it is worth it to remind ourselves of the principle of perspicuity.  Perspicuity is from a Latin word meaning “clearness.”  And classically, the Church has ascribed this characteristic to Holy Writ.  The Lutheran dogmatician Francis Pieper summarizes biblical perspicuity thusly:  “The perspicuity of Scripture consists in this, that it presents, in language that can be understood by all, whatever men must know to be saved.”[2]  Pieper goes on to note that Scripture testifies to its own perspicuity in places like Psalm 19:7:  “The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”  One can be simple intellectually and still gain wisdom from Scripture, for Scripture is clear.  Understanding the Good Book does not take a Ph.D. in theology.

Now, this is not to say that every verse of the Bible is equally easy to understand.  No less than the great preacher Chrysostom explains that some parts of the Bible can indeed be difficult to interpret:

Let us suppose … rivers … are not of the same depth.  Some have a shallow bed, others one deep enough to drown one unacquainted with it. In one part there are whirlpools, and not in another … Why then art thou bent on drowning thyself in those depths?[3]

Chrysostom compares different parts of Scripture to different rivers.  Some parts are shallow and easy to navigate.  Other parts are deeper and more difficult to wade through.  But though some parts of Scripture are richly deep, none are nefariously tricky.  In other words, the biblical authors are not trying to hide things from us with a code, but reveal things to us under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

The long and short of biblical perspicuity, then, is this:  finding codes, mysteries, and secrets that cater to our sinful lusts like greed, play “sound like” games with words across languages, and rip words out of a text and shoehorn them into meaning something which, contextually, they clearly do not and cannot mean are not only not biblical, they’re evil.  God wants us to understand and follow His Word – not be confused by it and misinterpret it.

So the next time you open your Bible, don’t pull out your decoder ring, pull out your reading glasses.  They’ll work much better.  And you’ll be much more edified.


[1]The Biblical Money Code,” newsmax.com

[2] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1 (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 320.

[3] John Chrysostom, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, series 1, vol. 13, P. Schaff, ed. (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 507.

January 13, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

For Fathers Only

Father and Son“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

These famous words from the apostle Paul are meant to call fathers to Godliness as they raise their children.  Negatively, fathers are not to “exasperate,” or anger, their children needlessly or vindictively.  Positively, they are to “bring them up,” or rear them, in the Lord.  The Greek word for “bring them up” is ektrepho, meaning, “to feed.”  Fathers are to feed their children.  But this means much more than simply “bringing home the bacon,” as it were.  This also means feeding children’s souls with time, affection, discipline, and grace.

Sadly, this call to fatherhood is lost on far too many men in our society.  And the effects are devastating.

Kay Hymowitz, writing for the City Journal, a quarterly affairs journal for Manhattan, recently published an article titled “Boy Trouble”[1] in which she attributes much of the dismal performance in school, in jobs, and in life of a great number of boys to absentee fathers.  In other words, fathers who fail to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord because of their non-presence have a profoundly negative impact on their children.  Hymowitz expounds:

By the 1970s and eighties, family researchers following the children of the divorce revolution noticed that, while both girls and boys showed distress when their parents split up, they had different ways of showing it. Girls tended to “internalize” their unhappiness: they became depressed and anxious, and many cut themselves, or got into drugs or alcohol. Boys, on the other hand, “externalized” or “acted out”: they became more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Both reactions were worrisome, but boys’ behavior had the disadvantage of annoying and even frightening classmates, teachers, and neighbors. Boys from broken homes were more likely than their peers to get suspended and arrested. Girls’ unhappiness also seemed to ease within a year or two after their parents’ divorce; boys’ didn’t.

Since then, externalizing by boys has been a persistent finding in the literature about the children of single-parent families. In one well-known longitudinal study of children of teen mothers (almost all of them unmarried), University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank Furstenberg, a dean of family research, found “alarmingly high levels of pathology among the males.” They had more substance abuse, criminal activity, and prison time than the few boys in the study who had grown up in married-couple families.

Hymowitz goes on to consider some of the ways in which societies have sought to compensate for absentee fathers.  Some societies have tried to provide robust social support programs, ensuring single mothers have all the financial resources they need to give their sons opportunities that will serve them well.  But these social support programs have not stemmed the tide of troubled, fatherless boys.  Others have tried to encourage male role modeling in the form of coaches, teachers, and even stepfathers.  But the problem remains.  Indeed, Hymowitz cites one study done on boys who were raised by their stepfathers and notes that these boys were “even more at risk of incarceration than the single-mom cohort.”

Finally, Hymowitz reaches an inevitable, even if unsurprising, conclusion:  “Girls and boys have a better chance at thriving when their own father lives with them and their mother throughout their childhood—and for boys, this is especially the case.”  A household needs a father.

Please understand that I do not mean to belittle or disparage the contributions that mothers – and especially single mothers – make to a household.  Indeed, I know and have known many faithful single mothers who do all they can to raise their children faithfully, compassionately, and evangelically with great success.  To them, I say, “Thank you.”  I am saying to men, however:  You are needed.  The stakes are high.  You cannot afford you to be derelict in your duties toward your families. 

So get with it.  Heed the call of the apostle Paul.  You have more influence than you may ever know.  Which means you have more responsibility than you could ever dream.  Take that responsibility seriously. Little eyes are watching.


[1] Kay Hymowitz, “Boy Trouble,” City Journal 23, no. 4 (Autumn 2013).

January 6, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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