Insights from the movie The Grey

The Miami heat are on a 26 game winning streak. That’s somewhat impressive but lost in all the media hype is the fact that this Sunday marked the longest preaching streak of my young “career” at 4 weeks in a row. Now Lord willing this will pale in comparison when our new church plant gets going, but some people have begun to compare these two amazing streaks (at least one person has….). 

Yesterday I alluded to a movie where a band of Alaskan plane crash survivors are picked off one by one by a pack of wolves. The movie is called The Grey. It is a quite disturbing film, but one also jam packed with deep existential questions and competing philosophies.

One of the closing-though not final so this is not a spoiler alert-scenes depicts a hardened and formally agnostic Liam Neeson yelling at God, if He’s there, to do something, deliver him, and reveal Himself. He releases a number of expletives directed at God, not referring to Him as a father, but as Mother ________ (and we’re not talking about the mother hen gathering her chicks imagery-Matt 23:37) demanding that he prove Himself.

The scene is moving. It really is. He has just uttered his first prayer in the movie crying out to Jesus to help him with a task and Jesus says, “no.” You want to hear an answer. At least I did. It seems, “Ok God, here’s your chance!” But there is no response from the heavens. Perhaps God doesn’t respond to expletives? After all, everyday there are crazy winged creatures flying around His throne declaring Him, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6). 

Perhaps, but the answer is much more complex than that. And much more simple. Now I don’t know the director’s intent, but this non-reponse from God is actually quite biblically consistent. I don’t think this director leaves us with a movie devoid of God. There is much more than the plethora of “f-worded terms of endearment” behind God’s non-response. Here are a number of them.

1.) Jesus never responded to “prove yourself” demands. He didn’t do it with Satan. He didn’t do it with folks who demanded signs. That is just not how He rolls in the bible, so we should not think it should be any different in the real world, or in the cinema for that matter.

2.) Miracles in and of themselves, never, by necessity, lead or have led to a person believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Never. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, the Pharisees saw that miracle and wanted Jesus dead. Immediately. They wanted Lazarus dead too! But it is not just a Pharisaic response, but also a Gentile response. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas heal a crippled lad. The country folks don’t turn to immediate faith in Jesus, but consider Paul and Barnabas to be Hermes and Zeus respectively. They can barely stop the locals from offering sacrifices! Likewise, God speaking audibly or doing a crazy miracle today will not make anyone by necessity, become a Christian. Data has to be interpreted through the grid of a worldview. A “proof” of God’s existence doesn’t make someone repent, rest upon on Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Miracles were/are never sufficient in and of themselves to produce saving faith.

3.) God has already revealed himself in Creation and Conscience. According to the bible, the existence of this physical world tells some of the story. Psalm 19 reminds us that the heavens declare God’s glory and something about Him.  Romans 1 reminds us that the existence of the invisible God can be discerned from the visible world. Ecclesiastes 3:11 explains that God has put the idea of “eternity” in the hearts of men.

4.) God has already revealed himself through the person of Jesus, who is the “image of the invisible God.” Now of course only one generation in a small part of the world actually laid eyes upon this Jesus. But those eyewitnesses of his resurrection didn’t just risk life and limb to spread this news, all of them lost life and limb with only one exception. Regardless if you believe Jesus is who he says He is, God’s answer to the demand he prove Himself will always be the same: I already have. Don’t miss it.

 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….Hebrews 1:1-3

So when you’re tempted to demand God prove Himself, and then base your faith upon whether He does or doesn’t prove Himself to you satisfactorily, remember He already has proved Himself in Jesus.

When did the canon really develop?

If you haven’t ever heard of Bart Ehrman, you probably should have an idea of who he is. You can read about him here. In short he is a professor at UNC-Chappel Hill specializing in textual criticism of the bible. He’s written several books at the popular level, which unfortunately have become fairly popular. I’ve read Misquoting Jesus but haven’t read Jesus Interrupted. He is currently an agnostic, though once claimed to be born-again Christian. Now he spends time leading people to abandon any confidence that they may have once had in bible. 
The problem, amidst his pre-supposition that the bible is NOT God’s Word-you can read about his tragic journey to disbelief in Misquoting Jesus-are some of his facts. Fortunately there are lads much smarter than I, who have time to spend researching, and who use this study and research to equip the church.
Sometimes Ehrman’s tactics aren’t simply textual. He and others like to reinforce the idea that the early Church really didn’t have any sort of canon (meaning rod or standard) of inspired books. In fact that wasn’t decided upon until the 4th and 5th centuries, at least folks argue. The problem as Dr. Micheal Kruger points out, is that this is misleading. We actually have a Muratorian fragment which many scholars believe reference a list of accepted books dating to 170 AD. Most of the books we currently have in our bible are listed. This shows that the early church did know which gospel accounts were inspired (there are a number of others that aren’t), as well as Acts and Paul’s epistles among others. 
While only the Spirit’s internal witness can convict someone that the bible is God’s Word, as the Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us CF (I.5), we should be ready to challenge the pre-suppositions, misinterpretations, and “facts” of those who cast doubt on God’s Word.

Do yourself and your neighbor a favor by spending 3 minutes watching Dr. Micheal Kruger explain how the early canon of the bible was actually formed. You’ll be glad you did.

Some helpful tidbits for defending the bible

Most of the bible related questions I receive deal with location: where is such and such verse or passage in the bible. On other occasions, primarily when I’m dealing with youth and “non-electronic” bibles, the question is not asked but needed; many times the N.T. epistles will be sought in the O.T. So must of the time it is a question of where something is.

Sometimes it is a question of why it’s there, or what does it mean? The rarest question I get is how can we be expected to believe what’s there? In other words, can the bible be trusted?

For some of you this question may come up more regularly with your kids, parents, co-workers, classmates, neighbors. Or it may come up with you. And all of these are OK. That’s a good question to ask. We don’t question the authenticity (though some folks do) of Shakespeare or the Iliad or Odyssey all that much. And we shouldn’t because most people don’t find truths in these ancient documents that they base their whole existence upon. The bible deserves more scrutiny.

But the good news is that we have great reasons to believe that what we have today is what was inspired so long ago. Ed Stetzer discusses reasons for placing confidence in the fact that what we have today is what was passed down to us from the good old days.

Sometimes we need to hear this. Sometimes others need to hear it from us. Unless you regularly engage in apologetics defending the bible, you probably forget some solid evidences for why we can trust that what we have NOW is what they had THEN. I know I do. If you go here, you’ll be able to see 12 reasons for trusting the bible from the Holman Study Bible. 

Two struck me as particularly apropos:

Eighth, the so-called hard sayings of Jesus support their authenticity. If the Gospel writers felt free to distort what Jesus originally said in order to increase the attractiveness of Christianity, why would they preserve unmodified His difficult and easily misunderstood teachings about hating family members (Lk 14:26) or not knowing when He would return (Mk 13:32)? The fact that they let these teachings stand indicates their faithfulness to recount true history.

Ninth, the fact that the NT does not record Jesus speaking about many of the topics that arose after His earthly life, during the time of the early church, supports its historical accuracy. For instance, early Christians were divided over how or whether the laws of Moses applied to Gentile converts (Ac 15). The easiest way to settle the controversy would be to cite Jesus’ teachings on the matter, but the Gospels record no such teachings. This silence suggests that the Gospel writers did not feel free to play fast and loose with history by putting on the lips of Jesus teachings that could solve early church controversies.

Neither of these prove that a God inspired their writings. But one pre-supposition that has often been used to discredit a God inspired bible is the role of individual agents with individual agendas, recording specific events that fit the writers intent. I’m fine with that. I don’t expect writers like Ellie Weisel, who lived and wrote about his concentration camp Hell in Night, to record anything but that which expresses the evil of the Nazi regime. We don’t question his account because of his bias.

But another pre-supposition made popular by German scholarship in the early 1900’s was that of sitz im leben (“situation in life”). The accounts of the gospel were crafted so as to address a situation in the early Church. As a result, we shouldn’t accept these accounts as “gospel.” However, this Ninth “reason” or “clue” as Tim Keller may call it, addresses and challenges that pre-supposition. It would have been fairly easy to include Jesus’ teaching on every issue that came up in the early church-particularly since some of the gospels were likely written after some of the epistles (which addressed problems in the early church). Why not include Jesus speaking to these issues? It would have been quite helpful. I mean Paul wouldn’t have had to say, “to the rest, I (not the Lord)” in regards to different not divorcing your unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:12).  It would have made life much easier for church leaders to insert Jesus addressing circumcision, food offered to idols, baptism, etc…They didn’t insert Jesus saying those things because he obviously didn’t say them (or no one was inspired to record them).

Anyway, it is good to remind yourself of the many clues pointing to the authenticity of today’s bible. Provided you don’t insulate yourself from non-Christians or struggling Christians with honest doubts and questions, you never know when you may have the opportunity to defend the scriptures. So brushing up on your apologetics (defending the faith) is always a good idea.

A God in Hurricane season

A few weeks ago, this article on the CNN belief blog came out, claiming that even “religious” people don’t necessarily look to God to explain why such storms happen. The conclusion was that for the most part, people understand such storms happen because of a variety of atmospheric conditions, and happen NOT as a result of the hand of God. Here’s a snippet:

Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans—including the overwhelming majority of American Christians—believe that when God has something to say He speaks in less dramatic ways, including the still small voices in our hearts and the slightly louder voices of the preachers in our pulpits. When it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, however, our authorities are geologists and meteorologists. Most of us interpret these events not through the rumblings of the biblical prophet Jeremiah or the poetry of the Book of Revelation but through the scientific truths of air pressure and tectonic plates. As a result of this sort of secularization, we are much better at predicting the course of hurricanes…… 
So we are better prepared, thank science. Our stories are far less dramatic, however. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God. But their God no longer acts out his fury as in Bible days.  Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has.

When we believe in some sort of “clockmaker” Enlightenment-esque type God, who winds the world up, and then lets it go, we will obviously interpret things differently through this lens. Here are some thoughts.

1.) People don’t regularly blame God for Hurricanes. Hurricanes aren’t de facto judgments (not saying that they can’t be-we just don’t have access to that info and shouldn’t ASSUME) on sinful cities. That is positive I guess. Because we obviously don’t need “prophets” telling us this storm was for that reason because they don’t know. Instead we react to disasters like Jesus told us: not with judgment on others but as opportunities to repent ourselves (Luke 13:5).

2.) But if Hurricanes and Tornadoes have only a natural origin and God plays no part in it, then that’s obviously not only unbiblical (Gen 50:20), but it makes God irrelevant to any level of suffering. A God that plans and ordains all things is the God who can do something with the mess of the storms and with the mess of our lives. We need a God who doesn’t have to say, “Oh crud, now what can I do to help these people out, now that this has happened?” I write this now as theological truth, not as counsel to someone in the wake of tornadic activities.

I had to think a bit after reading this article. Does a secular world-view really help prepare us for hurricanes whereas a biblical worldview hinders? What part does God really play in storms? Should our science and knowledge of how storms arise and go forward really put God into a different part of our world in a sort of Descartesian duelism (science in physical realm; God fits into the personal/moral realm)?

A skeptic could say (and I have skepticism within me-I think most of us do at some level), the reason that storms are ascribed to God by the ancients is because they had no other explanation. So now we can observe wind patterns, sea currents, barometric pressure and such; we’re beyond that biblical point of view.

But the cool thing is that the bible doesn’t only ascribe to God unexplainable phenomenon (at the time), but also very the very observable. For instance, even morally evil things like vicious unjust wars.

The Babylonians were an instrument of judgment upon Judah, just as the Assyrians were instruments of judgment upon Israel. Both empires were quite evil and both chose to attack, and go “too far” in their wartime atrocities. Yet God declares that he raised up the Babylonians to come and open up a can of, well, judgment, upon His people (Habakkuk 1).

Why did these people come and invade Jerusalem? On one level, they wanted to do so because they liked killing and conquering (secondary cause). But on another level, God ordained them to do it (primary cause) as part of His plan. The same thing goes with tornadic (probably not a word, but I like it) activity and hurricanes. The weather systems, barometric pressures, ocean temperatures and currents, all have a part to play. But these mere observations don’t tell the whole story, just as observing war time atrocities in 586 BC didn’t tell the whole story. There is still a primary cause: God.  

God still speaks through His Word today. He still speaks through His creation and our consciences as they are consistent with His Word. We don’t need him to speak clearly (as specific judgments we can understand) through Hurricanes, I’ll grant this lad that. Scripture is sufficient. But we cannot afford to assume that He has nothing to do with Him. We will miss the redemption and restoration which come from both figurative and literal storms in our lives if we ignore the one who is Lord even over storms (Mark 4:41).