Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Called for a Purpose

One of the reasons I continue to be a follower of Jesus Christ is because the call God has placed on my life is a call to purpose. Just as Jesus called His first disciples away from fishing to become fishers of men (Matthew 4:19), we are called to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Calling isn’t just about believing certain things and hold on to core doctrines but it is about how we live life. Ultimately God has called us to make a difference in our world and at the very least this difference is about meeting the basic needs of people (Matthew 25:31-46). The apparent fact that many American Christians don’t live their lives this way doesn’t mean that we haven’t been called to be agents of change and the bringers of good in this world. The follower of Jesus is to make a positive difference in our families, communities, countries, and in our world. The body of Christ, the Church, is to show God’s love to the world.

Consider for a moment the evangelical atheist. To what does he/she call people? They call people away from God but what do the offer in His place? Do they believe that without God that this world will be a better place? If so what evidence do they have to support that belief? Where will the appeal to be good and loving come from when the author of good and love is removed?

Here is what I consider to be the fatal flaw of atheism: it cannot call people to live for a greater cause than self. This is not to say that many atheists don’t live to something greater than themselves. It is to say that they don’t have any means to call other people to live to a cause greater than themselves. They cannot appeal to any authority greater than their own belief of right and wrong in order to encourage people to do good. If you ask me that is very shaky ground to be own because one thing humanity has demonstrated is that we look out for self even when it causes pain for other people.

I think it is also worth noting that atheism, by its very nature, is calling people away from something instead of to something. Their call to people is away from God. They might tell us that they are calling people to reason, knowledge, education, and truth, but these things are also offered in a life following Jesus. Atheism lacks the mechanism to call people (as well as expect people) to live out their potential (which I would describe as God given).

This is what makes the life of faith in Jesus Christ superior to a life of no faith. God expects and demands that we live for others. This expectations is found throughout the New Testament. It begins with Jesus’ example and teaching, especially seen in the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40), and continues in the letters of Paul (Romans 12, Galatians 6, Ephesians 2:10), James (James 1:27), Peter (1 Peter 3:9), and John (1 John 3:16-18, Revelation 2:19). The Follower of Jesus Christ can encourage (Hebrews 10:24-25) people to live lives of love and service because he/she realizes that is the type of live that is expected of us. God has made it very clear that He has called us to a life that is not focused on us.

Another exciting aspect of this call is that it takes into account our unique talents and passions. If all that we can call people to is our own belief of right and wrong and to what we think is important then what will be demanded is uniformity. The person with a concern for the environment will expect everyone to be concerned. The person concerned about suffering in Africa will expect everyone to be concerned. The person concerned about poverty in inner city America will expect everyone to be concerned. The result is that we become overwhelmed by the extent of evil and suffering and conclude that we can’t do anything about (this is assuming that we agree that something needs to be done in these situations because if there is no standard for right and wrong we may not agree what is evil and what is acceptable).

In Christianity not only do we have a standard for determining what is wrong and right and a call to give ourselves away to loving God and loving others, but are also encouraged to bring our own uniqueness to the situation. This is found in the metaphor of the Body of Christ that Paul uses for the church (Romans 12:3-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31) and the appeal of the New Testament writers to use the specific talents we have been given (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Peter 4:7-11). God has designed the Church to meet the evils and suffering of the world by giving the individuals of that body with different talents, resources, and passions. This is the calling that God has given us, to give ourselves away to something that we could never do on our own.

I remain a follower of Jesus, in spite of my doubts, because God has placed a call on my heart. That call has both a personal aspect (to serve and love those around me) and a corporate aspect (to take the love of God into the world). By living out this call I discover the live God created me to live, and that is what I want other people to discover as well.

13 comments:

homar said...

i respect you faith but i totally disagree with you. your so-called being called for a purpose is totally arbitrary and does not prove that god is real. faith is very subjective and unreliable. religion is popular simply because it answers a basic psychological human need for security but it does not mean that it is based on objective reality. otherwise, there won't be any conflict of beliefs. even christians disagree with regard to specific doctrines.

on the other hand, atheism, as a philosophy, also calls people for a purpose. this purpose is to achieve their full potential without the mental baggage imposed by superstitious religion. what benefit has theology has done for humanity? virtually nothing! theology has not provided cure for diseases or alleviated suffering. theology teaches arrogance in claiming knowledge of absolute truth without any evidence. this same arrogance is the cause of the many diviseness throughout human history such as the crusades and reformation. today, religion is still a menace to society, especially in extreme form such as practiced by the moslem suicide bombers and christian fundamentalists who bomb abortion clinics.

science may not have all the answers but at least it does not offer false hope the way religion does.

homar said...

i thnk people should do good simply out of compassion and not out of fear of damnation in hell or anticipation of eternal life in heaven. christians are the most selfish people i know. atheists help other people not because they are compelled to be good. atheists help people because of the great value they put on other people regardless of creed.

Stan said...

homar,
I know that you hold that faith is "subjective and unreliable". I believe that faith is something different than what you think it is. Further, while Paul here has faith in God, you have faith in science and atheism. Both are forms of faith.

I'm trying to figure out your statement here. "atheists help people because of the great value they put on other people regardless of creed." Since people are merely products of Evolution, the current end point of natural selection and random chance, on what do you base this "great value"? For instance, why would this particular point of Evolution be more valuable than an earlier one? Why shouldn't monkeys and dogs and lizards and ants receive the same value? It seems as if you're valuing humans arbitrarily.

Christians value humans because we believe they are unique, made in the image of God. You don't have that luxury. Nor is it true that Christians do good to avoid hell or gain heaven. You've missed the message. Perhaps you ought to find out what that message is before you discount it. Just as suggestion, really.

"Science may not have all the answers" is right. It offers no hope for the sick and dying. It offers no hope for anything beyond birth and death. It provides no meaning to life, no explanation of suffering, no comfort in death. It offers no "false hope" -- that is true. It offers no real hope at all except, perhaps, if it is really diligent, to alleviate some suffering in this brief, ultimately meaningless life before you die and become part of the Earth again.

It's always offensive to atheists when religious people misrepresent or argue against them without comprehending their view. You have misrepresented and failed to comprehend true Christianity. Taking no personal offense, may I suggest that you look into it further before you try to argue against it?

Paul said...

Homar, thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments. I think you missed the point of what I wrote. First I wasn't offering a proof that God exists. I was simply offering one reason why I choose to continue to follow Jesus.

Second, this idea of purpose is one of the difference between atheism and those who place their faith in Jesus. Not only does atheism lack a standard by which to judge morality, but they also lack the expectation that people should be agents of good in the world. One of the expectations of a follower of Jesus is that he/she will bring good into the world. I guess it goes back to the fact that atheism has no standard which help people understand how they are to live. It all boils down to personal preference.

homar said...

well, even with your so-called "standard", most christians still prefer to live basd on their personal prefereces. if there is indeed a standard christian way way of living, why are christians so widely varied in their beliefs on what indeed is the standard? for instance, some christian groups would be tolerant about homosexuality while others would vehemently condemn it. if christianity offers a standard of morality, so as other religions. you are right in saying that atheism, in general, has no standards. but when it comes to rational atheism or even evangelical atheism, the standard is simple and more direct, i.e., human compassion. this standard is devoid of any supernatural or mystical psychological baggage.

homar said...

stan, on the contrary, i have deeply examined christianity but i found it full of contradictions. hence, i was converted to atheism. i have read the whole bible at least five times since high-school and the more i read it, the more i was convinced that the god of the bible is an evil god and not very different from the tribal gods of other ancient people, although i was in denial for very long time. i think most christians fail to realize or refuse to realize that god as described by the bible is an evil god. i think the character of satan is more noble and comparable to promentheus. nonetheless, god, satan, angels, and even jesus (to some extent) are all mythical characters. please do not over rely on the bible. objective history is more credible.

Stan said...

Dear homar,

You may have read the Bible, but if you believe that Christianity is about doing good "out of fear of damnation in hell or anticipation of eternal life in heaven", then you missed the point entirely. No insult intended.

I was simply making a suggestion for your benefit. If you have concluded that the God of the Bible is evil and the Satan of the Bible is good, you missed the point.

I'm not suggesting you change your mind. I'm simply pointing out that you are arguing against something you don't yet understand. I mean no coercion or disrespect. I'm simply offering a friendly observation and suggestion.

Paul said...

Homar,
Thanks for stopping by again. The fact that people have ignored the standard (God's Word, the Bible)or have different interpretations (some legitimate and some just plain wrong) doesn't mean that the standard is there. So I can encourage people in my congregation to love, serve, and help others based on the expectations God has for us found in Scripture (it is their choice whether or not they will do it).

Yes, I agree with you that Christians have failed to live up to those standards, I would also point out that the ones who have given their lives to live up to God's expectations have had a positive impact. Your argument doesn't prove that the standard is non-existent, it just proves (as all of human history does)that man is self-loving and will even twist Scripture to justify his/her position.

And to what can the atheist appeal to encourage people to help the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, starving people in Africa, or abused and abandoned children throughout the world?

homar said...

sorry for some of my comments. i admit, i have been a bit disrespectful and have been carried away by the discussion. thanks stan for the suggestion. but can you please be more elaborate what exactly is the point of christianity. i was a christian once but now i think christianity or any religion for that matter is just a psychological coping mechanism. people can still hae meaningful and morally upright life even without subscribing to religion. i must disagree that atheism is a belief, atheism is the opposite, atheism is just a result of rationally examining the reality of things. i think reasonable doubt and not faith is the best way of examining the truth. i am just wondering if you have already examined your faith from a critical perspective? i do not mean to offend or be a heckler here.

homar said...

paul, i think simple human compassion is enough for people to help other people. the UN and the US government are not motivated by the divine when they strive to make the world a better place. if god is indeed good, why then he allows senseless tragedies such as the hurricane katrina?

Stan said...

Homar,

I would first like to comment on your statement, "i must disagree that atheism is a belief, atheism is the opposite, atheism is just a result of rationally examining the reality of things." When I say it is a belief -- a faith if you will, here is what I mean. You believe that things can be rationally (by that you mean materialistically, physically, in-the-natural-world) examined and their core reality discovered. The belief presupposes two things: 1) It is not rational to believe in a God or even the supernatural -- those things which might exceed the natural world -- and its corollary, 2) all that is consists only in the natural world. It is, therefore, a "faith" of sorts. Theism is a belief that there is a God and precludes the idea that all that exists exists solely in the physical realm. Atheism is a belief that there is no God and precludes the idea that anything exists outside of the natural realm. Both are beliefs, faiths.

Faith to me is radically different than what you (no disrespect intended -- I mean most people) think it is. It is not blind belief. It is not believing something with no reason to believe it. I have reasons to believe what I believe. I have evidence, logic, rationale. Given that pile of data, I can come to conclusions beyond the data ... called "faith". The biblical concept of "faith" is "to be convinced" and the word used in the New Testament Greek includes "to be convinced by the evidence". The word, as it is used today, simply means "belief", but the word in its original intent means "to become convinced" which requires reasons of some sort. As such, I have spent a great deal of time examining -- no, critiquing my beliefs. At one point I tossed them all out. Since then I've built them back in because of the evidence I've found along with modifications to them required by the evidence I've found. I dislike intensely the concept of "blind faith" and wish those who held to it would, as you suggest, give it up in favor of actually examining the truth.

Finally, your first question. "What exactly is the point of christianity?" Every other religion out there teaches "Be good and go to heaven (or some such); be bad and go ... somewhere unpleasant." Christianity doesn't teach that. Christianity teaches "All have sinned" -- that every human being has already failed to meet the "be good" part and every human being has qualified themselves for the "somewhere unpleasant". So Christianity doesn't teach "be good". Christianity teaches "It's hopeless on your own. YOu can't be good enough." The answer offered by Christianity to this crisis is not "be better", but "give up." The message of what we call "the Gospel" is that God took on human form in the person of Jesus, lived a sinless life, and voluntarily died in our place so that people who had no hope could be forgiven and offered a relationship with God. The "be good" of all religions is the cause by which you get to heaven. The "be good" of Christianity is the result, not the cause. Christianity teaches that people who have a relationship with God like this want to "be good" not to avoid hell or gain heaven, but out of gratitude. Radically different. Christianity isn't offering a 12-step program to avoid hell. You don't earn heaven in Christianity.

But if you deny that there is a God of any sort, then you deny that there is any sort of Ultimate Judge, any actual source of morality. Mankind is simply a pimple in time, a biomass not unlike any other biomass with no real reason or need to "be good" nor any real purpose. Life begins at birth and ends at death and it doesn't really matter, in the final analysis, what you do in between at all. I'm not suggesting that you believe any of that. I'm simply saying that logic requires it if your notion is correct that there is nothing beyond the physical realm. The question, of course, is are you right? On what logical or evidential basis can you support that claim? (I'm not asking for answers to these questions. I'm simply suggesting you ask them of yourself.)

Christianity teaches there is a problem for humans and it's that they have violated the God of the Universe. Their punishment for such Cosmic Treason is eternal death. But God has offered a way to be forgiven of that treason. I would suggest that, before you jettison an entire facet of the universe that you cannot disprove -- the spiritual realm -- you might do well to look into the very real possibility that you might very much need to take advanatage of that means of forgiveness. It's something about which you don't want to be mistaken.

homar said...

Stan, now, you are re-defining what faith means. Biblically speaking, apostle paul defines faith as the evidence of things not seen (HEBREWS 11:1). if this is logically valid, then the faith of Hindus and ancient Egyptians are also true. Atheism is not faith simply because it does not jump into conclusions or create myths just to explain things. What evidence do Christians have for the existence of god? Is god so impotent that he is incapable of proving himself? Gravity is supposedly less important than god but it is more self-consistent and self-evident than god. A simple universal force such as gravity is beyond debate. Why then the existence of god is debatable?

The so-called doctrine of being saved by grace, i.e., through the sacrifice of Christ is not universally accepted by Christians. There are Christians that believe that works also play equally important role (JAMES 2:14-26). When it comes to being saved, faith is required (EPHESIANS 2:8-9). How about those innocent babies? Do you think it is just to punish somebody simply because they do not have faith? How sure are you that you have the right faith? How sure are you that you are saved? Furthermore, temporal crime does not deserve eternal punishment. Even Hitler does not deserve to be punished eternally.

The message of Christianity is false simply because it relies on the combination of threats and misrepresentation of love and sacrifice. Why God requires suffering? Does he enjoy it? He even required the death of his son. If other Christian doctrines/interpretations are to be believed, God and Jesus are one. Hence, God is the one who was crucified. Is he a sadomasochist?

Stan said...

homar,

I believe I accurately answered your question. You choose not to believe my answer which, of course, is your prerogative.

I have to ask, though. Do you actually believe that there is no evidence for the existence of God, or are you willing to admit that there is simply no evidence that you will allow. There is lots of evidence for the existence of God. Normally, however, the atheist will simply deny the right to use such evidence. It doesn't come in test tube or a laboratory or some such, so it isn't "evidence". This, of course, denies the existence of such things as "love" and "freedom" as well. And the demand that God be able to be tested in the laboratory is as ridiculous as if I were to demand that I could measure the wavelength of light on my voltmeter. A voltmeter is no more meant to measure light than the natural is meant to measure the supernatural.

You are absolutely free to choose to dismiss the evidence for the existence of God and the arguments for the truth of Christianity. You are certainly free to toss up smoke screen arguments like accusations that Christians "jump into conclusions or create myths" or strawman arguments like "that's not what all Christians say" or the like. But none of those pertain to me or my beliefs or Paul here and his beliefs or the majority of true Christians. And at some point you ought to consider the arguments for what they are rather than dismissing them because you choose to.

Atheism is a different sort of "faith" than theism, to be sure, but it is not without its serious biases that choose, at times, to ignore the elephant in the corner of the room.

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