Saturday, January 3, 2015

Fading Fire

"I can feel a sorrow linger in my mind.
And the dark that follows
Makes me falter in my life.
There's a darkness, there's a light,
A narrow path and a wide...
"...There's a fire fading deep within,
Lost its spark, its will to be.
There are seven doors within my dreams,
I've found them all, but still no key."
-Excerpts from Mind Maelstrom 

I'm going to break with my long-standing tradition of not writing posts that deal with me personally. Thus far, I have tended to choose subjects outside of myself, and deal with them in a more or less impersonal manner. Perhaps I just don't want to let people see me, see what is going on in my mind and heart. Or maybe its because I haven't been selfish enough to throw myself out there and waste several pages of text upon myself. Who knows.

Nevertheless, I'm finding that it is a work of dishonesty to write about subjects as if I'm pretty much stable in my thoughts and soul. Why? Because my thoughts, my emotions, my whole psyche it seems, are currently in a very unstable state. Those who know me best see this rather clearly, and maybe you've realized this with my lack of posting lately. 

So, what is going on? Well, many things. Primarily I am frustrated with where I am at. I'm currently stuck in a rut, seemingly going nowhere in my life. My life pretty much consists of sleeping, surfing the web, reading, going to work, and going to church on Sunday. Maybe there is nothing wrong with this routine, but it seems rather, well, lackluster. More and more often I am feeling that all of it is rather in vain. Who is helped by my life? Who's arms are strengthened, whose hearts are mended? Are the hungry being fed, the orphans and widows being encouraged? Are the weak and innocent protected? Basically, am I really making any worthwhile impact upon anyone?

Now, I'm not completely ignorant of things I could do. I could go back to college, learn more of this world and of the Lord, and go out and touch more people's lives in a more effective manner. I could start a charity, become a political activist, do more effective blogging and writing. I could do any number of things in theory. But there is something really missing at this point: motivation.

You see, recently I have gone through a massive tearing down of so many things I once believed in. Doctrines which I held dear have crumbled before my eyes. For those who knew me a couple years back, I was an extremely opinionated, zealous individual who tenaciously held to his beliefs, and tore away at all beliefs which were opposing to my own (sadly, I am still that individual oftentimes). And guess what, I alienated and hurt so many people, people whose love for me was far greater than my love was for them. I tore down many of those who are lost, and just as many who were my brothers and sisters in Christ. But I was blind to it all. Blind to the pure stupidity of my own thoughts, blind to the falseness of what I believed in, blind to my arrogance and lack of love. Blind. Blind. Blind.

Suddenly though, I have now come to the realization of my own blindness. And it has hit me like a Boeing 747 at five-hundred miles an hour. I've been crushed by my own stupidity, and it has torn me apart.

I admit it: I've been (and oftentimes still am) an intellectual and theological snob. I love being right, because I see myself as being extremely smart. And because I am so obviously smart, I'm always right... Well, that's what I thought. Do you now see how having my own stupidity flung directly into my face would scar me in the extreme? 

I've been losing my trust in my ability to think, to reason, to discern truth. I don't trust myself (which is a good thing, but it does hurt), and thus I don't really trust many of the things I've held onto for so long. And you know what, I've been forced to take almost my whole entire worldview, and scrutinize and rebuild it from the ground up.

So, my beliefs are in a state of extreme change and slight disarray right now. If it was frustrating to see just how confused and incorrect my ideas were before my eyes were opened a bit, then you can imagine that it is far more frustrating for me to see how confused and unsteady my beliefs are after this little explosion. I am making progress, and some things are beginning to cement in my mind. Nevertheless, it is so disheartening to see that so much of what I believed was all a lie. And my belief in that lie caused me so much hardship. But we do not live unto ourselves, and thus my firm belief in falsehood caused so many people whom I truly do cherish and love (as faulty and messed up as my love is) so much more hurt and pain. The harm I've caused saddens me deeply.

Now, I am in a very uncertain place. I once had my life planned out. I was going to head to seminary, work in the local ministry, teach the Bible, move into more direct church leadership, and ultimately become a pastor. Thinking back upon it, this was a rather ridiculous notion. I was not, nor am currently anywhere close, to being ready for any of this. Moreover, if I am honest with myself, my life is meant for something different than this. I'm just not meant to go to seminary and become a pastor. I do love the Church, I do desire to understand theology, I do want to make an impact for good among the Brethren. But my passion is for philosophy, political science, justice for the weak and oppressed, aesthetics, and personal relationships with others. My path in life just is not meant to be towards the pastorate, and that is okay. I once felt that being a pastor was the height of usefulness to the Lord, and that it was the most influential, the most impactful, the most helpful and valuable position. And in my arrogant selfishness, I desired that position and ignored those nagging thoughts in my mind which told me otherwise.

When I look at all these plans I made, all the roads I tried to walk down, I now realize just how vain they were. They got me nowhere but into trouble. I once had a clear vision of what I was "meant" to do and where I would go. And now, I'm completely at a loss.

Right now, I've been stripped of those things that gave me comfort and a sense of purpose in my life. Do I still dream? Of course. My dreams are many, as many as the desires which I have. But I'm a man with no real plans.

If someone asked me, "What are you planning to do with your life?", the most I could reasonably say is, "Find someone who can bridge that gap of loneliness in my heart, love and cherish her with my whole being, live a life of love and peace, then go home to see my Lord." Sounds decent, and I guess it is fine. But how do I plan on getting to this goal? And that is the question that plagues my mind daily. 

I have made plans. I mean, I've thought up ways that I might accomplish this goal. But then I ask myself, how can I be certain that I won't just fail again? How can I know that these plans actually aren't foolish and misconceived, just like all my previous plans? Many have and will continue to tell me that I won't know until I try. I understand this, and don't necessarily disagree. But let me ask, how am I to know that I won't hurt people again? I've been the cause of pain to many people, and I am afraid I'll just up and harm everyone around me if I actually try these plans of mine. Honestly, I've no clue what to do, and yet I know that I need to just do something. So, what should I do? Again, I've no clue. 

That's where I'm at. To those who know me personally, this will hopefully help you understand why I do what I do at this point. Maybe it'll just confuse you. I don't know. And to the rest of you, now you'll understand my recent posts, and the posts to come, a bit better. You'll know where I am coming from, and maybe you all can give me a bit of help and prayers along the way.

Now, I want to end with something hopeful, something to show you just how God can change a messed up person like myself into a man of hope, love, and peace. I guess it's just hard for me to do so, since I'm pretty lacking in the departments of hope, love, and peace of heart...

You know what? There are some verses that have been coming to my mind recently, things that have given me at least some sanity, and some hope for the future. So, I shall end with this. Maybe you've already thought of the verse I'm about to post (you probably have), but it is still a dear promise to me.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lonely Solipsists

"The Creator surely made this world too large. This is inconvenient for us small, fearful humans. For all the world’s vastness, we can’t measure the distance between ourselves. There’s six billion of us, yet still…everyone is all alone."
 -Kou Ichinomiya from Arakawa Under the Bridge
I've often heard it said that man is a "social creature", and I agree. Man was by no means created to be a lone-wolf or a hermit in perpetual solitude. One of his deepest needs and desires is to have close relationships with other humans. In order to mature and learn, he needs those who will come alongside him, building him up and joining him in this grand marathon of life. In his deepest being, he requires the friendship of his fellow man. And even more importantly than friendship itself, he requires a helper, a lifelong companion with whom he has the most intimate of all relationships (so intimate in fact that the Scripture declares it to be the uniting of two persons into one).

When the Lord created the world, all was good as He was creating it. The stars dotting the skies were good, the dry land was good, the hills and the valleys were good, the great beasts of the field and birds of the air, from the fragile beauty of the lilies to the awesome might of the supernovas, all things were good. 

And then He created a man, named Adam. And for the first time in the history of the world, something was not good. Did God make a mistake? Of course not. Nevertheless, something was not good. Out of all things God created, the only thing that was not good was the loneliness of man. Man was alone, without human relationship, and specifically without a life-companion. It was this status of loneliness that was not good, and this alone.

Therefore, God created the woman from man's own body, and brought her to Adam to be his wife. Hence the first and most important inter-human relationship was realized. No longer was man alone, a solitary spirit left to wander and work the Earth for all eternity. Now, the Lord God could say that everything He had made was good. But not only was it good, it was very good.

Several thousand years after this declaration of the super-goodness of the world, mankind is once again alone. As was said above, there is an innate distance between us all*, and no matter how hard we try, we cannot bridge the gaps between us. There are billions of us, and yet we are each living in solitude.

How is this possible?

Ever since man fell, it has been his nature to be a practical solipsist.** Man in himself is a selfish creature, and tends to see himself and his own welfare as the primary purpose of life. Even the wisest of us must fight the tendency to seek after his own interests rather than seeking after the interests of others.

And therein lies the problem. Intimacy in a relationship requires love. The more you love someone, and the higher the form of love, the deeper is your relationship. Of course, a relationship is not a one-way street, and no matter how much you love someone else, you may still be held at arm's length away from them if they do not love you in return. Nevertheless, a relationship is based upon love for one another at its core.

God declared in His Word that love is not self-seeking/self-centered. Rather it is self-sacrificing. Instead of asking others to give something up for your sake, love demands that you give all of yourself up to others without even considering the idea of getting something in return.

In our flesh, there is no good thing. Love (which is the highest of all that is good) is foreign to man's fallen nature, and when love is found anywhere (be it in Mother Theresa, an atheist husband to his wife, or from St. Paul to the Corinthian Church), it is by the grace of God. Again, we are practical solipsists by nature, and we tend to live for ourselves.

This is where our loneliness comes from. Being truly alone when you are in the midst of billions of other souls requires that you be forced into literal, physical solitude, that you be separated from all persons that love you, or that you be spiritually confined in a mental prison of your own making.

For most of us, and in most circumstances, we live in a prison in our minds. By our selfishness, we separate ourselves from the rest of our fellow man, living unto ourselves. We walk down the crowded streets, go from store to store, house to house, school to school, always seeking for someone who will bridge the gap and release us from our solitude. The longer we are left alone, the more desperate we become. We take lover after lover, throwing aside each when they don't fulfill that desire which we have (hence the rise in the divorce rate). In their mad search for someone with whom there will be no distance, some give in to despair and end their lives. 

And the loneliness continues on. Man as a whole has still not been able to end their spiritual confinement. For all their vain striving, the answer to their problem is simple: love the Lord with all your being, and love your fellow man as much as you do yourself. And this love comes only from a complete sacrifice of yourself unto God and the good of others.

*Note: I am speaking of the fallenness of mankind and the brokenness of his relationships. By the grace of God, some relationships still grant men the closeness that they inherently need with others (for example, there are even happy and close marriages among the most avid atheists). Nevertheless, man's relationships have been fully ravaged by the consequences of sin, and unless the Lord mitigates this problem, they render each man alone in this world. 

**By solipsist, I mean the person that believes their mind (or whatever they consider to be the core of their selfhood) is the only reality, and that all things which seemingly exists outside their minds are merely outward representations of their minds. Thus he believes that he is the only thing that truly exists. I am not referring to all persons who hold to any form of philosophical solipsism.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Can Philosophy be Trusted?

One thing that I've noticed is how people oftentimes place an undeserved amount of faith in the perfection of the observational sciences (e.g. biology, chemistry, archeology) and mathematical sciences, and yet have a complete distrust of the philosophical sciences. They seem to think that those sciences which deal with the purely physical, "concrete" evidences are the only ones that can be afforded any measure of trust.

Here are my thoughts on this issue.

Philosophy is just as concrete and trustworthy as the observational sciences. God created man with the ability to think conceptually/abstractly, able to logically build off of conceptual foundations, creating (for lack of a better word) "systems" of thought.* We are capable of rationally understanding and manipulating concepts so as to gain knowledge of new concepts. And since there are such abstract entities as concepts, and since such entities may be studied and understood by the process of human thought, Philosophy (conducted properly) is just as concrete as the observational and mathematical sciences.

And yet I must give a condition. Although the sciences themselves (e.g. mathematical, observational, philosophical) are useful for seeking after and gaining many kinds of knowledge, they are by no means foolproof. Every science requires a scientist to utilize it, and scientific discoveries, theories, and conclusions are all made by men. And this is where the problems begin.

Man, by virtue of his fall from perfection, is depraved. As such, his reasoning is at best often misguided, at worst completely broken and confused. And since men are the ones conducting their scientific search for knowledge, they can (and do) err. Therefore, the declarations of "science" and "philosophy" (which in fact are mainly the declarations of "scientists" and "philosophers") are not flawless.

Yet, in spite of their flaws, true knowledge (true as in factual) can be gained through the sciences. For instance, we know about the existence of DNA, and we have gained a great amount of concrete, factual knowledge about it. We also know that two plus two equals four, and we know that proper philosophy demands that we believe in the existence of God and the perfection of His Word. Nevertheless, there are still instances where all of these sciences necessarily err, since the scientists behind them are by no means omniscient or perfect.

Scientific and philosophical discoveries may be continuously made, and our understanding of the world around us will continue to grow as time goes on. We may find that many of the "common" scientific beliefs that we hold to at this point may actually be incorrect on one level or another. In spite of this, the Lord is never wrong. All knowledge is found in Him. Therefore, the only one that we can fully place our trust in is the Omniscient God, and the Word which His Spirit revealed to us.

*Note: I am not speaking here primarily of "systems" as in Utilitarianism or Stoicism, wherein they have completely different foundations, and are diametrically opposed to one another. Rather, I am speaking primarily of systems that have the same conceptual foundations, but have different "middle" concepts and conclusions. In Theology, we might say it is like Covenantalism and Dispensationalism, not Unitarianism and Trinitarianism. Thus, I am speaking primarily of Biblical systems of philosophical thought, not unbiblical.

Addiction and the Search for Life

Today I was sitting down doing some studying. For one reason or another, my mind strayed to my studies on substance abuse during College, and I got to thinking. I considered the addicts, people who are hooked on one drug or another, and I decided to (as much as is possible for someone who's never been hooked on drugs) try to place myself in their shoes.

The first thought I had was that these addicts are men and women, some are even young boys and girls. They are real people, with real lives, real family (unless all their family members are dead), real friends/relationships. They have desires, needs, beliefs, and pain, real-life pain.

And then I thought, why do they do drugs? What would drive them to this? Sometimes it is because they want to look cool, become a part of the "in-group" that they see. Other times they have some deep-rooted pain in their souls, pain that they want to escape. Others just want to escape from reality, from this crazed, vain, fruitless world. Others still just want to live life riding higher than the clouds, partying hard, hanging with their home-boys, maybe finding love on the side.

You know what? The drugs seem to do it for them. One fix finds them riding higher than a kite, floating beyond this world. Those who wanna party, well they definitely party. Those who want to escape, they leave the realms of reality and float in their waking dreams. And those who want to be cool, they are now "in". Everything is as they wanted.

But not for long.

You see, drugs have a crazy way of messing with you. First they tease you by giving you a bit of what you desire. And they call to you, offering you even more than first. But soon they take your mind, your body, and your soul. Everything you are becomes dependent on the drug, and rather quickly you find that all your thoughts are arrested by just getting that next fix.

And things get worse. Your body begins to crumble, your health deteriorates. Depending on the drug, your whole body can undergo massive, and nasty-looking changes, marring the physical image of God's beauty which your body is to represent. And as your mind breaks down, you can begin dreaming crazy, twisted dreams, your mind taking you on nightmarish trips to worlds that can only be described as demonically conceived.

If this wasn't bad enough, your friends, your family, your girlfriend/wife/husband/boyfriend (depending on the situation you are in), these people who are dearest to you begin to leave. In your headlong, irrational pursuit of that next high, you push away all those who love you. Who knows, those people may be pursuing their next fix as well, and they also push you away in return. And society itself has turned its back on you, so its not like you can go to anyone else for relationships (if you even want something other than that next high).

Yet, the drug is there beside you, and it is laughing in your face. You just can't get as high as you used to, and you may just be taking those drugs in order to keep yourself from dying from craving them. Maybe you tried to stop, tried to get out of the mess that you are in. But unless you were extremely blessed, the cravings for that drug consumed you, wracking your body with intense pain, uncontrollable spasms, and crazed nightmares.

They have consumed you now. And you are left alone and dead in a world of hatred, sin, violence, submission to the reign of the Devil and his Angels.

And why did you do it? What drove you to leave your life behind, leave all the blessings that God has graciously granted in common to all men? Why did you throw away sanity, love, stability, and any sense of a decent life? Why did you reject the God of Heaven, and turn to the madness of hellish addictions?

You wanted life. Yes, you wanted life.

You wanted a life of love, a life of peace, a life of joy, happiness, success, stability. You wanted fulfillment. All you wanted was to live.

And yet, you didn't find life. All you found was death, and what a horrible death it was. You sought after the riches of the world, and you were given them: pig slop. No, that's just not cold enough to describe the depraved, absolutely disgusting filth that you were granted. You were given pig dung.
And so it is with all who seek for life apart from Christ. You may not be doing drugs, but you are living for money, fame, an easy life, a happy life, a wonderful marriage. Some of these desires are not intrinsically evil. I mean, it is good to want a loving marriage, a happy life, fulfillment, to live a life of influence, to have good relationships. But I will tell you this: all of it is in vain apart from Christ.

This world is passing away, along with all its riches, its temptations, its promises. To all who have not submitted in love to Christ, repenting of your sins and placing all your trust upon Him, I beg of you to realize just how short this life is. In vain do you get up early, work all day, party all night. In vain do you seek after life's meaning, accumulate knowledge, search for truth. All is vanity in your life, and all that you do is in vain. With all of your desperate grasping for the true life, all of your crazed straining, all of your cold sweat, your burning blood, your bitter tears, you are merely trying to grasp the wind between your fingers. All is vanity for you. Utter vanity.

Nothing in this world will satisfy you for eternity. No matter what you can gain or accomplish, no matter what you do, it is all worthless in the end. When you stand before the Almighty, He will not at all be impressed by your useless efforts. And without repenting and believing in His Son, you will burn in the Lake of Fire for all of eternity, suffering under the vengeance of the Perfect Judge. Nothing in this world is worth enduring the horrific torment with which the Lord will torment those who refuse to believe.

I beg of you, repent and believe upon Christ. If you do so, you will escape the wrath to come, and escape living in vanity. For true life is found in Him, and Him only.

Some Quick Thoughts on Philosophy

Proper philosophy must culminate in a life well-lived. If your philosophy does not cause you to live a life of love, joy, peace, grace, kindness, and all other Godly virtues, then it is worthless. In fact, the primary goals of proper philosophy are threefold: to marry faith with understanding, marry understanding with Godly living, and explain and defend these three elements to those who do not believe. If these goals are not sought after, we will inevitably fall short.

The Primacy of Love

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist ...on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
(1 Cor. 13)

This chapter is one of my personal favorite passages in Scripture, and also one that makes me extremely uncomfortable at times. It gives us a perfect description of what love truly is and what it looks like, and yet it makes us realize just how far short we fall. The demands of love are impossible for us to perfectly attain. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, our efforts to love others are pretty, well, lame. At our best, we have some selfish motive behind our acts of love almost all the time, and it is so hard to love selflessly. And yet, it is still commanded.

But how can we not love selflessly? Look at what our Lord did for us! How can we not give grace and love to others unconditionally, when Christ unconditionally gave his life for all? (1 Tim. 2:5-6, 1 John 2:2)

And yet this isn't the point I want to make. Rather, something I was caught by when I read this is that love is the greatest of all virtues. Love is greater then faith, greater than hope, greater even than knowledge alone. In fact, faith without love is useless, hope without love is useless, and correct doctrine without love is useless. Really, everything is like a hill of dung if love is not present.

And that is what we must be careful about. We must study the Word, work to gain a fuller knowledge of God, be charitable, have all faith. And yet in doing so, we must never neglect love. Ever. The instant we do, we've become useless.

I Study Philosophy

I study philosophy.

Yes, I said it, and I mean what I say. I study philosophy. And most controversial of all, I am a Christian.

To some of you, this statement may seem rather uncontroversial, and maybe a bit silly. I mean, what is wrong with philosophy, or a Christian studying it? If those are your thoughts, thank you for your support of (or at least lack of hatred towards) this greatest of all human sciences.

But let me tell you, the idea of a Christian studying philosophy is quite unthinkable for many Christians, and for others it causes no small amount of concern. It is argued that the Bible itself condemns philosophy in no uncertain terms (for example: Col. 2:8, 1 Cor. 3:18-20), and that it is merely the ramblings of foolish men who attempt to rid this world of God and His Laws. All philosophy is dangerous, undermining one's faith in Christ and His Word, shaking the very foundations of True Religion. Or maybe the word "philosophy" itself just makes someone uncomfortable, for reasons unexplained.

Yet, with all the flak that philosophy has garnered, everyone who is hammering it actually engages in philosophy by doing so. Admittedly, they are engaging in bad philosophy, but it is philosophy nonetheless.

How can this be possible? How can it be possible to engage in something while claiming to have nothing to do with it? Easy, they have a bad definition of the term itself.

So, before we go any further, let's give philosophy a definition (now, I do realize that the definition of philosophy itself is intensely debated by philosophers and anti-philosophers alike. But I personally believe that this debate is mostly unfounded.).

Philosophy is the fundamental science. What do I mean? Philosophy is the study of the most fundamental problems of reality. It looks at ourselves, our world, our reality, our very existence, and attempts to make sense of it all. It asks questions like, “what is reality, how can we (and is it possible to) differentiate between reality and non-reality, what is knowledge and how can we learn such knowledge, what is absolute truth and how can we be certain of it, is there a God, do we have free wills or is our will dictated to us by something outside of us, what is goodness and evil, what is proper reasoning, what is the greatest government, and how can we be sure of any of this?”

Just looking at the above may not make you feel any better about philosophy. It seems as if it is critical of everything, second-guessing even the most basic of realities. But you engage in this science, don't you? If you are a Christian pro-lifer, when someone asks you, "Why is abortion evil?”, do you say, "Because all human life is valuable, since man was created in the image of God"? When asked whether stealing is wrong, or about any random moral problem, have you ever referenced the Bible and declared that something was right or wrong because God said so in His Word? Have you joined the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, or the Creation vs. Evolution debate? Do you study and utilize Christian apologetics? Do you have an IQ greater than that of a peanut, and actually utilize your intellect to try and understand the world around you? If any of these are so, you've engaged in philosophy, whether you acknowledge it or not.

As I hope to explore in later posts, it isn't philosophy that is bad, rather certain systems of thought that philosophers have created are false.