Archives For Pantheism

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the seriesTwo Things No One Can Deny

Yesterday I wrote about the existence of the external world. This is something that every person has to wrestle with. We can’t deny the existence and the form of the world around us, though some have tried. Even those who deny the external world are still forced to live within it. This unflinching reality is an absolute that all people must take into account. They can believe what they want, but they still have to account for the world’s existence and form.

Vitruvian ManIn this post I will explore a second reality that no one can deny—a concept that Francis Schaeffer referred to as the “mannishness” of man. As ridiculous as that phrasing sounds, all Schaeffer was saying is that human beings are unique. We know we are. There’s something special about us, and we have to wrestle with what makes us special and why we can’t shake the feeling that we are somehow qualitatively different than the rest of the natural world.

As an example, take the human personality. What exactly is a personality? Why do we each have one? Why are we able to relate to one another in a personal way? If this world were nothing more than the product of time plus chance, then there would be absolutely no way to account for the existence of personality. There is simply no way to get something personal out of something impersonal. It doesn’t matter how much time you give it or how creative you believe chance to be.

Nor can personality be accounted for in a pantheistic worldview. If God is everything and everything is God, then God is ultimately impersonal. We may well believe that everything is connected, that we are all part of the “infinite everything,” but if we choose to believe this we are forfeiting any hope of explaining human personality. The best we can do here is believe that personality is an illusion that must be overcome.

Unless our worldview adequately explains the personality of mankind—his ability to relate personally with other personal beings, his ability to love, to show compassion, his moral motions, his will, etc.—then our worldview does not fit the world that exists.

From a Darwinian perspective, it has been said that personality can be accounted for in terms of survival of the fittest. People developed emotions because they saw that this would help them survive and master the other creatures. But this is a stretch. It is not at all clear that the first person to develop emotions would have an evolutionary advantage. In fact, if you developed compassion in a world in which no one else felt compassion, you would be at a huge disadvantage. If you developed the ability to love, but no other being on earth possessed the ability to love you in return, you would be digging yourself a whole. Personality simply cannot be accounted for in a Darwinian framework.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, offers a satisfying explanation of the unique nature of humanity. This world began with a personal God, and this personal God created personal beings according to his image. Man is a created being like everything else in creation. But the Bible is clear that man is unique in that he alone is made in God’s image. This explains the indefinable qualities of human beings, and it perfectly explains the existence of personality.

As I said in yesterday’s post, this undeniable “mannishness” of man is on our side, working on our behalf in the minds of those we are reaching out to. We want them to see the world as it truly is. They can choose to believe in a non-Christian worldview, but they still have to live in the world that God made. This means that at every turn they are living in a world that was formed by the God of the Bible, and they find in themselves and in the people around them an undeniable quality that cannot be explained apart from the personal God who exists and lovingly formed them. They will attempt to suppress this truth (see Romans 1), but it will continue to fight its way into their consciousness, like a thorn in the brain that points them always to the Truth.

 

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the seriesTwo Things No One Can Deny

Francis Schaeffer liked to talk about two aspects of the human experience that every person has to wrestle with. These are constants—every person who has ever lived has encountered these two things. The first (which I will explore in this post) is the existence of the external world. The second (which I will explore tomorrow) is what Schaeffer referred to as “the mannishness of man.”

The World 2We live in the midst of a world. We can’t deny it. We keep bumping into it. It’s everywhere we look. Try as we might, we can’t see beyond it, nor can we quite manage to see it differently than it is, though we often try. We can’t get its smell out of our nostrils or its feel away from our nerve endings. It’s just there. Unavoidable. Undeniable.

Of course, people being what they are, some have tried to deny the existence of the external world. Or at least cast doubt upon its existence. Renee Descartes’ famous dictum “I think therefore I am” was the conclusion of his experiment of systematic doubt. How do I really know anything at all? How do I know I even exist? Could not my senses or some evil spirit be deceiving me about everything I’ve ever known? The only thing that Descartes could not doubt was the fact that he was doubting.

Some of the eastern religions teach that this world is nothing more than an illusion. The trick is to call it out and realize that all of the distinctions we make between individual objects (I am not you, you are not a tree, the land is not the sea) are misguided. These distinctions are illusions. So we must let go of the illusion of an external world and mindlessly meld with everything.

How do I know I exist? How do I know you’re not a figment of my imagination? We can certainly ask ourselves these questions.

But at the end of the day, we’re still living in the real world. Go ahead and believe that this world is an illusion. You still can’t escape it. You still have to follow the dictates of gravity. You still come into contact with real people. You still see things like beauty and understand things like truth. Believe what you want, but we all know—truly and deeply—that the external world is real.

Literally every thing points to the reality of the external world. As Christians, the inescapable reality of the external world works in our favor. We can have a discussion with a Buddhist, for example, about the whole world being an illusion. And we can try to convince him intellectually. He will argue against us, but then he must go about his day living as though this world is a real place. In other words, he can say what he wants, but at this point—if he wants to function in the world that exists—he must live inconsistently with regard to his stated beliefs.

Or talk to the person who denies the existence of a Creator. She will explain that the existence of God is improbable or even impossible. But then she has to face the fact that this world is here. Why should it be here? She can appeal to concepts like “deep time” and talk about what could happen when time and chance work together over billions of years, but still—something is here! Where did it come from? That question must persist like a thorn in the brain when the only available answer is, “Well, who knows what could happen when you give it enough time and chance?”

The beauty of this whole thing is that the God who gave us the gospel is also the God who fashioned the external world. And he knows what he’s talking about. So when we speak to people about the truth of the Christian worldview, we can have full confidence that our worldview matches the world that exists completely. No one else has this advantage. So we have both truth and reality on our side—both working together to point people to the truth and power of the gospel. But even more powerful than the existence of the external world is “the mannishness of man”—a concept  that we will explore tomorrow.

EnvironmentalismThe environment can be a polarizing issue. Talk too much about caring for the earth and you risk being branded a liberal, as though recycling is the equivalent of compromising the gospel. I have heard well-known Christian leaders that I respect advocate depleting the earth’s resources and polluting with gusto because God is going to destroy the world anyway.

A college student once asked me after a church service if the church recycled its bulletins. I explained to her that, no, we don’t recycle the bulletins, and that we don’t need to go crazy caring for the environment because we know that the world will end when Jesus returns. I wish I could have those words back.

The simple truth is that our stewardship of creation matters. Francis Schaeffer used to explain that environmentalists were misguided in appealing to pantheism in supporting their cause. Why? Because they really should be appealing to the Christian worldview!

Pantheism would seem to be a good foundation for environmentalism. If everything is God, then we honor the divine by treating the grass, trees, and animals well. But Schaeffer explains that pantheism is an impersonal religion. If everything is God, then God is nothing more than an impersonal force. So why try to appease an impersonal force? There is no motivation to adjust our actions based on the existence of an impersonal entity.

Christianity, on the other hand, teaches us that this world was created by God. Every leaf, every ant, every drop of water was lovingly crafted by the Maker himself. And having created it all, he declared our world “very good.” Sure, it has been stained by sin, but sin is just that: a stain, not the fabric itself. In fact, Paul explains that the creation is groaning under the weight of sin and longs for the redemption that will come at Christ’s return (see Rom. 8). So the stain of sin is no reason to treat the environment badly any more than it is a reason to treat unredeemed people badly.

If you’re not convinced that God’s creation is still worth caring about, take a lesson from the incarnation. By taking on flesh and becoming a human being, Jesus was again validating the essential goodness of creation. If creation had become evil at the fall, then Jesus could not have become a part of it. So Jesus affirmed the goodness of creation and made clear his intention to redeem it.

If Christians are going to care for the environment, then we have to subscribe to the right kind of environmentalism. Some pursue a biocentric environmentalism, in which the natural world is said to have intrinsic value and therefore is to be protected. Others go for an anthropocentric environmentalism, in which the environment is protected and/or utilized in whichever ways best serve human ends. But neither of these approaches should satisfy the Christian. Rather, we should go with a theocentric environmentalism, in which we view the natural world as the good creation of God and therefore steward it appropriately to his glory.

Not only did God create a good world, but he specifically placed human beings in the midst of it and tasked them “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:5, 15). If part of God’s intention in creating humanity was to have an under-ruler who could care for his world, then we’re missing the point pretty badly by trashing his world rather than stewarding it. So let’s be environmentalists. But let’s also make sure we’re being the right kind of environmentalists.

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesOn Sin

The world is not the way it’s supposed to be. We know it. We’ve always known it. People throughout history have tried to identify exactly what is wrong with the world—lack of information, a few evil people who oppress the innocent, a struggle between the classes, an unfinished evolutionary process—but we have always known that something is off.

In most worldviews, it is inconsistent to believe that something is wrong with the world. In eastern pantheistic religions, for example, where this world is an illusion and everything is all part of “the one,” it simply won’t do to call some things evil and other things good. Hence the yin and the yang. Love and cruelty are both equally part of “the one,” so making distinctions between good and evil is a regression. If the goal is to avoid all distinctions and mindlessly acknowledge that all is one, we have no basis for identifying a problem with the world.

Or consider secularist worldviews. If there is no God, or if He plays no active role in the universe, then there can be no evil. If, as Carl Sagan famously asserted, “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” then all we can do is describe what is, not what ought to be. In other words, there can be no evil, and there is no problem with the world as it is. The world is simply what the world is, and that’s all we can ever say about it. Though atheists will often push Christians to answer “the problem of evil” (God is good, God cares about humanity, yet evil exists), the atheist cannot properly claim “the problem of evil” because the recognition of evil requires the existence of a moral standard.

The Christian worldview is the only one that can adequately explain the problem we see in the world. Why does every person find in himself the desire to live in a good, sinless world? Because that is the type of world God created us to live in. Why do we all believe something is wrong with the world? Because ever since man rebelled against God and thereby invited evil into the world, our experience of the world is marred. How can God be both good and caring in light of evil’s existence? Because man brought sin into the world through his rebellion, and God is actively fighting against evil.

In the next four posts, I want to explore the reality of sin. (Depressing, I know, but don’t worry—the end of the story is pretty amazing.) Sin is our great enemy in the world. You could say that we battle against the evil people or forces in the world, but they are evil because of sin. Or perhaps we battle against ourselves, but again, this is the result of sin (though we are not passive in entertaining sin). Or you could argue that our enemy is Satan, but while that is true, he is evil because of sin.

Here’s how a Puritan named Ralph Venning put it 1669 (in a book entitled Sin, Plague of Plagues, and re-titled The Sinfulness of Sin):

“In general, sin is the worst of evils, the evil of evil, and indeed the only evil. Nothing is so evil as sin; nothing is evil but sin…No evil is displeasing to God or destructive to man but the evil of sin. Sin is worse than affliction, than death, than Devil, than Hell. Affliction is not so afflictive, death is not so deadly, the Devil not so devilish, Hell not so hellish as sin is.”

Sin is awful. But I don’t think that we are all that convinced of how bad sin really is. Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.” Can you say that you hate sin? If you’re not sure, stick around for the next few posts.

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