Christianity 201

May 17, 2018

Can Science and Religion Be Anchors for the Soul?

by Clarke Dixon

We threw out the anchor, but nothing changed. At the age of thirteen it was my first year as a sailor in an old wooden sailboat which we bought with everything needed including an anchor. Except that it wasn’t really an anchor. More of a tin of beans filled with concrete and a hook. We threw it out as a last attempt in too strong a breeze for inexperienced sailors. It didn’t help. Yes, we remembered to tie a rope to it, but it didn’t help. It was not a good anchor.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . ” Hebrews 6:19 (NRSV)

The Bible describes hope in Jesus as a good anchor. But is it? Are there other anchors, or even better anchors, for our souls?

Can science be an anchor for the soul? On the one hand science provides good reason for hope. Having a son with Type 1 diabetes, I am very hopeful that a cure will be found someday. I am also hopeful that the technology will get better while scientists work toward that cure. My hope in both these things won’t be realized without scientists doing their thing! On the other hand, hope in science cannot be an anchor for our souls for at least two reasons.

First, nothing kills hope like what we learn from scientific discovery. Centuries of scientific observation tells us that we will not be alive for very long. Even as we attempt to extend our lives through better medical care, scientists tell us that the universe will not always be life permitting. Ultimately there is no hope for humanity if science is all you can base your hope on.

But more importantly, science cannot tell us everything about everything. Science has its limits. For example, scientists cannot teach us the facts of history. As a scientist, if you knew nothing about airplanes, you could, by observation, figure out how they work. However, you will never know about the many people, engineers, designers, and test pilots for example, who were behind the evolution of the airplane. Scientists can tell us a lot about how things work, but we rely on historians to teach us about the who behind things, the creators throughout history.

Science cannot teach us about things beyond the reach of the telescope, microscope, or any other instrument used to “observe” things. It cannot discover spiritual realities. Going to a scientist to learn about spiritual realities is like going to an auto-mechanic for heart surgery. Sure, the mechanic may know something about the heart, but heart surgery is not her or his expertise. Going to science to learn everything about reality is like buying a house off the internet based only on photos of the outside. There is much that can be learned from those photos, but there is so much more to learn. Science provides too narrow a view. There is so much more that cannot be seen or measured. Science cannot be a good anchor for the soul, for it is far too limited in the truths it can discover.

So religion is the anchor for our souls, right? Well, not so fast. Perhaps I might start my own religion. Let me begin with the promise that you will live forever if you give me $1000. Will you buy in? Why not? You know you will die and I will be $1000 richer! Placing your hope in my made-up religion is unreasonable. Placing our hope in any made-up religion is unreasonable. Every man-made religion, even though it may contain elements of truth, is not going to be reliably true in the things that really matter. The religious leader may point to things the scientist could never discover. But the religious leader may be far from the truth in what he thinks and says. Mere religion cannot be a good anchor for our souls, for it can be unglued from reality.

In what can we anchor our souls if neither religion, nor science, provide good anchors? The question turns out to be not “in what” but “in Whom?” Hope in Jesus Christ provides a good anchor for our souls for it is grounded in realities that science cannot discover, and reality religion cannot reasonably point to.

Hope in Christ is grounded in realities that cannot be observed, and which therefore scientists could never discover through science alone. There is no hope of finding just the right camera or instrument to be able to see God. But God has revealed Himself to us throughout history, to the patriarchs, people, and prophets of Israel, then supremely though Jesus. Through scientific discovery we may infer the presence of a creator, but we cannot discover the truth about the fall of humanity and God’s rescue operation. However, God can reveal it.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:18 (NLT)

But how do we know that all this Jesus-talk is not just more made-up religion divorced from reality? Unlike man-made religion, hope in Christ is grounded in realities that have been observed. It is based on real events experienced and observed by real people, many people. For example;

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,  and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

The call to trust in Jesus is not a call to believe what one man claims to be true without providing any evidence for its truthfulness. It is a call to trust what many eyewitnesses were testifying to and willing to die for. It is a call to trust that the New Testament exists for good reason, not because a few people were trying to create a religion that would get them killed, but because so many people were responding to the events around Jesus, including his resurrection. It is a call to trust the reality of God as experienced through His presence as recorded in the Bible. It is a call to study history. There is a long history of God revealing Himself and people experiencing Him.

Our hope in Christ is also a hope that neither science nor religion could provide:

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever . . . Hebrews 6:19-20 (NRSV)

The talk about a curtain, inner shrine, and high priest relates to Old Testament symbolism around the presence of God. The temple, the “Most Holy Place” within the temple, and priesthood all symbolized God’s desire to be with people, but also the impossibility of a sinful people being able to approach, and so be fully with, a holy God. So there was a sacred space and a whole lot of rigmarole to teach people about holiness and the Holy One. Enter Jesus, who being God the Son, is the only One Who could dwell fully in the presence of the Father. He became our “high priest”, meaning that He is the mediator between ourselves and God. Through His death and resurrection Jesus did what religion could never do. He also did for us what we will never be able to do despite the wonderful advancements being made through science. He reconciled sinful people to a holy God. Neither science, nor religion, can do that.

As a church we are called to help people walk with Jesus in hope. We do that best by living as people of hope, anchoring our hope in Jesus while always being ready to say why:

. . . you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)

This is part five in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (31 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 

 

December 16, 2017

Provision, Presence, Power

It’s a long story how we got there, but today’s post is from a writer I believe is new to us here, Anne Elliott which she posted back in February, 2010. Her blog reminds me of another Anne, Ann (with no e) Voskamp. Anne has been blogging since 1999, before blogs existed and she also writes homeschool curriculum for two different publishers. Despite the age of this article, she is still writing; click the title below and then click on “Blog” to see what she’s been writing more recently.

The God Who Never Leaves Me

Today we read,

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’

So we say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’
(Hebrews 13:5-6).

Faith doesn’t look at material possessions; rather, faith looks at our Spiritual Provider.

God’s Provision

We are told to keep our lives free from the love of money. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us that we can love money (the Hebrew word is “mammon”), or we can love God — but we can’t love both. We can either depend on earthly treasures to supply our needs, or we can depend on God to supply — but we can’t trust both.

We often forget that when we store up our treasures here on earth, our treasures can very quickly be lost. Moth and rust can destroy. Thieves can break in and steal.

Our pursuit of money, and the security that we think it will bring, becomes idol worship.

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

Faith sees what can’t be seen, which is God’s faithful provision for all our needs. He feeds us. He clothes us.

“I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread”
(Psalm 37:25).

So let’s get practical for a moment. When we worry, are we worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator? We may say that we recognize God is our provider, but to prove that, we have to stop worrying.

“Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves
(Psalm 127:1-2).

God’s Presence

God provides for our needs, but He goes even further and provides us with His very presence. The author of Hebrews quotes from the Old Testament here with God’s statement that “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

This is truly an amazing promise! When God gave this promise to Joshua and the children of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land, they believed Him — long enough to conquer the city of Jericho. Oh, except for Achan, who forgot that God would never leave or forsake him… and so he stole some gold from the city… even though God had told them not to… but he forgot God was with Him… so he didn’t obey… then he was surprised when he was caught….

Hmmm. Do I ever forget that God will never leave or forsake me?

I’m quite happy He’s with me… when I’m having a problem, or I want a quick answer to prayer, or I want to get all emotionally wrapped up in my religious experiences.

It’s not as convenient to have an ever-present God when I don’t feel like obeying Him.

“Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time (1 Kings 8:56-61).

So which shows more faith? Prayer and religious experiences… or obedience to my Heavenly Father’s commands?

God’s Power

The hardest part for me is remembering God’s power. I start looking around at the power of man, and then I start to get afraid. I start to think of all the things that people could do to me, might say about me, might think of me. I’m sorry to say that it’s rare indeed that I “say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?‘” (Hebrews 13:6).

(Well, I might say it — but probably not with too much confidence!)

These verses are a quotation from Psalm 118, where the Psalmist wisely tells us,

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man”
(Ps. 118:8).

Faith sees what can’t be seen. It sees YHWH’s power, His presence, and His provision, and it takes refuge in Him.

I mean really, what can man do to me? I suppose my husband could lose his job… but Who has promised to always feed and clothe me? I suppose I could get sick, but Who gives me breath so that I can praise Him? I suppose someone could persecute me because of my faith, but Who has promised to give me life at the last day? I mean really, what can man do to me?

If you’re ever tempted to skip reading the Bible verses on blogs, don’t skip these. They’re good enough to believe!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28-39).

Those are shouting words! Hallelujah!

If we’ll just have faith to see what we can’t see.


Christianity 201 includes articles from people having a variety of expressions of their Christian faith. Anne and her husband Kraig keep the Sabbath (i.e. Friday night thru Saturday) and you can read more about this in some articles she has written about the Biblical feasts.