Saturday, May 7, 2011

Infinite God or Infinite Regress: Dawkins' Main (or Only) Argument

As I mentioned last time, Richard Dawkins’ main argument in The God Delusion against the “probability of the existence of God” comes in chapter four of his book, which mostly has to do with his rejection of the argument from Intelligent Design. Dawkins bases his rejection on just one argument, which is this: If the complexity of this universe demands an intelligent designer, such a designer would have to be even more complex than the universe he designed, and so would likewise require a designer. To put it simply, “Who created God?” Dawkins asserts that Intelligent Design or theism does not answer the question of what or who caused order, but simply removes it to another place, time, or realm:

“Seen clearly, intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem. Once again, this is because the designer himself (/herself/itself) immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin. Any entity capable of intelligently designing something as highly improbable as a Dutchman’s Pipe (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman’s Pipe. Far from terminating the vicious regress, God aggravates it with a vengeance.” (120)
“Indeed, design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?” (121)
This is called the “infinite regression argument,” which refers to the need to regress backward to an infinite number of designers of the designer. In other words, if something as complex as the human brain points to an intelligent Designer, than the Designer must be even more complex, which points to another Designer, ad infinitum. As silly and as unsophisticated as this argument may seem, it is Dawkins’ main, and really only, argument against the existence of God, “indeed the premise of the whole discussion we are having” (143).

Ironically, however, it is Dawkins’ atheism that results in the infinite regression, while theism is the only way out. For example, unable to explain the origin of the universe, Dawkins resorts to multiple universes (“multiverses”). Since he fully admits that there are no laws or principles known in our universe that could account for the origin of order out of disorder or everything out of nothing, he is forced to speculate that our universe sort of inherited the order and design from other universes that came before ours. The problem is, however, that this “oscillating universe” theory has not only been largely abandoned by cosmologists, but any prior universe would have the same problem—where did that original ordering principle (and that universe) come from? You either have to finally stop and say this series of universes had a beginning point, or you are stuck with the infinite regress. 

The very concept of an infinite number of oscillating universes however, is impossible, because the actual existence of an infinite series of anything is impossible. It would be like trying to count to infinity. Similarly, it is impossible to pass through an eternity of time, for “if an infinite number of days existed before today, today would never come because one can never traverse the infinite” (William Lane Craig). Therefore, there cannot be a beginningless series of events. This is precisely why the universe had to have a beginning. But that gets us to the question of what caused it. Where did it come from?

In the end, Dawkins just gives it all over to “luck.” He states that the anthropic principle (“We are here, so we must have got here somehow”) “entitles us to postulate more luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.” In other words, “We don’t know how the universe began and cannot even postulate it, but we are here, so maybe it was just luck even though we don’t believe in luck.” Now there’s a scientific statement for you!  Yet he “hopes” that a solution will be found. Sounds an awful lot like faith. But, unlike Biblical faith, his is a faith and hope in the impossible, and with neither evidence nor even a plausible theory.
The Intelligent Design argument, on the other hand, does not rely on an infinite regression. On the contrary, it is the only way out of it. All scientists now agree that the universe is not eternal, but had a beginning. And anything that has a beginning has a cause. So the universe must have had a cause. A “first cause” is necessary, for how could absolute nothingness have created everything? That first cause must transcend the material/physical realm, it must have the ability to create complex order out of disorder and everything out of nothing, and it must be eternal.  Whatever caused time/space/matter/energy cannot be another inanimate, impersonal, materialistic entity, as that would force us back into an infinite regress and thus an impossibility. The only possible explanation for a “First cause” is an eternal, intelligent, transcendent, personal Creator—which is exactly what the Bible teaches: “In the beginning, God….”  And this God is not an infinite regress, he is simply infinite.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dawkins’ Faith in Blind Luck (or Blind Faith in Dumb Luck)

Richard Dawkins’ strongest argument against the probability of God (as if God’s existence were based on a probability) comes in chapter 4 of his book The God Delusion. He himself states of this chapter that it is the “central argument of my book”  (157) and concludes at the end the chapter “God almost certainly does not exist” (158). So one might expect some strong arguments in Chapter 4. If so, you’d be either disappointed or pleasantly surprised, depending on your point of view. This chapter also reveals that Dawkins’ atheism is really a matter of faith rather than science, and, in fact, that he has a stronger faith and hope than most theists. His, in fact, is a blind faith in luck.

Chance or Natural Selection? Before developing his arguments against God’s existence, Dawkins firsts attempts to refute the Creationist argument that belief in atheistic evolution is a belief in mere chance or luck to explain the complex design we see in the universe. According to Dawkins, Creationist and Intelligent Design proponents see only two alternatives for the origins and development of life: “chance” or “Intelligent Design.” Since theists see it as counterintuitive to attribute highly complex order and design to mere random chance, there must have been a Designer.  Dawkins counters that the two mutually exclusive alternatives, however, are not “chance” and “design,” but rather “Natural Selection” and “design.” Natural Selection (NS), not chance, is the mechanism for creating order out of disorder. Natural Selection is the metaphorical “crane” that directs the process.

But does natural selection remove all random chance from the equation. First, Dawkins himself fully admits that NS is only applicable to living systems. It does not apply to the origin of life to begin with, nor to the order we see in physics and cosmology (e.g., Why is the universe controlled by ordered laws?). I’ll deal with the very important issue of origins and cosmology later. For now, Dawkins’ faith in Natural Selection as the mechanism that makes the improbable occurrence of highly complex systems probable, is something to be admired (he has amazing faith in this “solution of stunning elegance and power” 121). But Dawkins’ argument has at least one major fault. Dawkins believes that NS is the mechanism by which new, complex systems arise.  He states, in essence, that NS is the only solution because NS is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces (e.g., improving the vertebrate eye, or perhaps the hand bones being mutated to act more like the prototype of a wing). “Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so. When large numbers of these slightly improbable events are stacked up in a series, the end product of the accumulation is very very improbable indeed, improbable enough to be far beyond the reach of chance.” (121). Natural selection, by breaking the process into tiny bits of evolution at a time, turns the very, very improbable into the probable.

The fault with this solution is that NS does not produce any new material. Dawkins sees it is a mechanism, but NS can only act on material that is produced by some other process. He completely ignores that needed other process, at least in this book—for good reason, I believe. The only proposed source for new genetic material upon which NS can act is genetic mutation. The thing is, mutations are almost exclusively caused by injury (think of radiation exposure) or random copying errors in the DNA duplication process—both of which are negative processes. Has anyone ever observed a beneficial birth defect in humans, for example? Mutations are almost always harmful. But what evolutionists need are beneficial genetic mutations upon which NS can act by favoring the mutated progeny over the already existing populations of a species. Are we to believe that the incredible, well-working complexity we see in the world today was all caused by accidents and random mistakes?

We have to believe that random mutations, not just a few but millions upon millions upon millions, will prove beneficial to a species. This is like believing that randomly changing the inner workings of a supercomputer by closing your eyes and clipping some wires or soldering in some new circuits in a random location will improve the workings of the computer. Or that making continual, small copying errors in copying a short poem like “Roses are red, violets are blue…” will eventually result in writing War and Peace. Where NS would come in is when such a random change actually does prove to be beneficial you keep that computer and base future designs on it—only to randomly change those as well, perhaps by mistakes in the manufacturing process. Now, if you made such random changes enough times, you might get lucky once in a while and produce a better computer. But how many changes will you have to make before you get lucky enough to make one minor improvement? And what happens to the computer while you are making all those bad changes before you get a lucky good mistake? And how many of the lucky good changes will have to occur to turn a 1970’s-era calculator into 21st century supercomputer that can beat the all-time best players in a game of jeopardy? Of course, in this illustration we started with the calculator already in place. To parallel real life, however, we would have to start with a something even more simple, like an abicus perhaps. No, we’d have to go further back and start instead with a random collection of minerals and elements, but now with no mechanism either for reproducing or selecting better mistakes. Dawkins completely ignores all this. But no matter how he tries to remove chance from the process, he cannot. And Dawkins fully recognizes this. Next week I’ll talk about origins, and we’ll see just how desperate Dawkins gets.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Richard Dawkins and "The God Delusion"

Last week we began to take a look at some of the arguments used by Richard Dawkins and the “New Atheists” who are gaining such a voice lately as popular writers and speakers. As I read Dawkins’s The God Delusion, I am struck with several things. First, there is a contempt for religion and religious people that seems far beyond reason. Even his fellow atheists criticize Dawkins for his exaggerated ridicule and caustic insults. For example, fellow atheist and Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse, said, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist…” (from Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against Godby Scott Hahn, Benjamin Wiker, pg.4). Dawkins has been likened (again, by his fellow atheists) to the most rabid, fundamentalist preacher spewing out a diatribe against the pagans. When one has a good argument, however, there’s no need to resort to such tactics. Whether, then, Dawkins’s vitriolic rhetoric is an indication of the weakness of the atheist position in general or just of Dawkins’s inability to argue reasonably on the subject is open to debate, but Dawkins lets his emotion rule.

In fact, Dawkins seldom resorts to reasoned argument, the second thing that really strikes me about The God Delusion. Often he seems to just ramble about points that seem unconnected to his argument. But more importantly, he shows an utter disregard for even the most undeniable facts. One of his most amazing statements has to be this: “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca—or Chartres, York Minster or Notre  Dame, the Shwe Dragon. the temples of Kyoto or, of course the Buddhas or Bamiyan.” (pg.249). Seriously? Dawkins is either utterly ignorant of the history of his own time, or just plain dishonest. Has he ever heard of Stalin or Mao Zedong? Last week I previewed the history of atheist regimes and their 110+ million murders in the past 100 years. And the truth is, Stalin bulldozed plenty of Greek Orthodox churches. As recent as three or so years ago the atheist Chinese government bulldozed a church building that was being used by a growing church.

Ahh, but there is no evidence that Stalin’s atheism motivated his brutality (pg. 273)! Again, can Dawkins be serious? Does not the brutality of every atheist regime point to a connection? But Dawkins cannot think of a single war fought in the name of atheism (278). I guess it depends on what you call “war.” Ask the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of believers who were (and are still being) imprisoned by atheist regimes—imprisoned because they had the audacity to practice their faith!

Finally, I am struck with how Dawkins mostly uses the worst examples of religion. Sometimes it is difficult to argue with him simply because what he passes off as representative examples of Christian faith many believers would reject also, myself among them. An awful lot of evil and no little amount of foolishness is done in the name of so-called Christianity. Makes one wonder why there aren’t more atheists.

Conveniently, however, Dawkins not only neglects to distinguish between so-called Christianity and what is a true expression of it, but fails to mention the inestimable good that has been done in the name of the “religion” of Christianity. In the first centuries after Christ, Christians stood out for their compassion and sacrificial love in a world that was noted for its cruelty and indifference. Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, writes: “The willingness of Christians to care for others was put on dramatic public display….Pagans tried to avoid all contact with the afflicted, often casting the still-living into the gutters. Christians, on the other hand, nursed the sick, even though [some] died doing so….Even in healthier times, the pagan emperor, Julian, noted the followers of the Way ‘support not only their poor, but ours as well.’”

Jesus taught his followers not only to love one another, but to love the poor, and even to love their enemies. And they are still loving their enemies, even if they are atheists who hate God.    

Friday, April 1, 2011

Imagine No Religion

Richard Dawkins—evolutionary biologist, Oxford professor, accomplished author, famous atheist, anti-religionist, and anti-creationist—is perhaps best known for his latest book, The God Delusion, a 2006 Bestseller. In The God Delusion Dawkins takes all of religion to task, laying upon its shoulders the blame for much of the evil in the world, especially wars. In the Preface of the book, Dawkins draws upon John Lennon’s famous song, “Imagine,” which includes the line “Imagine no religion.”  By imagining a world without religion, we are told, we can imagine a world without 9/11, 7/7 (London bombings of 7/7/2005), the Crusades, witch hunts…you get the picture. The suggestion is that religion is the cause of most, if not all, wars and violence. In fact, Dawkins is on a personal crusade to wipe out religion from the world.
In the weeks ahead, I’d like to take a look at some of the arguments of Dawkins and his fellow “New Atheists” as they are called, starting with this idea of religion being a major cause of wars and violence. For starters, let’s try to imagine a world without religion, or at least without Christianity (Dawkins refuses to distinguish between violent and non-violent religions). R.J. Rummell, political scientist from the University of Hawaii, has extensively researched historical data on wars, compiling estimates of government-caused deaths (i.e., deaths from wars, genocides, persecutions, etc.) throughout history (what he calls democide)( He estimates the total number of deaths from democide in the past 100 years alone to be 262 million, which is about 50% of the total number killed throughout history! My, how far we have evolved! Of those, the number killed in the name of “Christianity” (including the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and witch hunts) on the most liberal count is about 264,000. Now, that is 264,000 too many, to be sure. Even one single death performed at the hands of man in the name of Christ would violate the consistent teachings of Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament. Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5.9) and love your enemies and pray for them (Mt 5.43-47). He told Peter to put away his sword, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Mt 26.52). And he told Pilate that if his kingdom were of this world, his servants would be fighting, but his kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18.36). The apostles similarly taught followers to be peacemakers (Rom 12.17-21; 1 Pet 3.8-12).  So while some religions could well be characterized as violent and hateful, in no way do the teachings of Christ even remotely justify wars and killing in the name of religion—beyond, perhaps, defending the defenseless against such murderers.
But let’s continue imagining. Imagine a world without religion, and thus an atheistic world. Actually, we do not have to imagine, for we’ve seen it in our own lifetime. Consider the worlds of Soviet Russia, Communist China, and the Khmer Rouge, for example. According to Rummell, Atheistic Communism alone in the past 100 years has wrought 110 million deaths. That’s one third of all deaths by democide in all of history! And that’s 1000 times more deaths in the past 100 years than those caused by so-called Christians supposedly in the name of Christianity over the past 2000 years. And we haven’t even considered the regimes that strongly discouraged religion (Nazi Germany, WWII Japan, Vietnam, North Korea, etc.), which would bring the total to 141 million—almost 50% of all people killed in all of history! We could add to that the 100 billion abortions, which Christians have consistently opposed. So imagine! And these were just short-lived regimes covering only a portion of the world. It makes one wonder, if there was an entire world without religion, how long would it be before there weren’t any people left at all? Imagine!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Being Like Those Who Dream

Psalm 126.1-2 says, "When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion
                                 We were like those who dream.
                                 Then our mouth was filled with laughter
                                 And our tongue with joyful shouting;
                                 Then they said among the nations,
                                 'The LORD has done great things for them.'

When the Israelites had returned from captivity, it was like a dream come true. Well, not like a dream come true. It was a dream come true. For 70 years while in Babylon they had dreamed of returning to the Promised Land. But that wasn't just their dream. It was God's dream as well, for he had promised it to them 70 years earlier through the prophet Jeremiah in another passage that is often quoted today when talking about God's dreams for our lives (Jer 29.10-11 -- "...For I know the plans that I have for you...."). They were dreaming God's dream, God's plans for them. And in doing so, their mouths were filled with laughter and shouts of joy.

God didn't stop dreaming when Israel returned to the Promised Land. Nor did he stop when Jesus came into the world, nor when he died and rose again on the third day, nor when the Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2. He didn't stop dreaming when the Bible was completed. These were all part of God's dream. But God still has a vision for this world. He has dreams and plans for it and for us and for his kingdom. The question is, are we dreaming God's dream with him? Do you have a vision for your life, for how God will use you to fulfill his dream? Does your church have a vision for its future? Is it dreaming God's dream for the kingdom of God and for who he wants them to be? Can you describe the dream in a few words?

To live our life with vision means to never be satisfied with the status quo. It is to have a holy agitation that refuses to live with mediocrity. It is to refuse to simply exist, to just go with the flow, to just go through the motions, to just try to fill up 24 hours in a day every day. To live with vision is to see God's plan not only for your life, but for his kingdom and for this world, and to give yourself wholly to it. It is to become part of something much greater than yourself.

Prov 29.18 is often quoted in regard to vision, usually from the King James Version which says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." That's one possible translation. The NASU says "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained." And actually the word "vision" here probably means "revelation," as from God through the prophets. So perhaps the verse is taken out of context when used to refer to vision in the sense I am talking about in this article. Nonetheless, it is true that to live without vision is to perish. For to live without vision means to stagnate, to go nowhere, remain at a standstill. And to do that is to die.

Athletes commonly use a technique called "visioning" in which they visualize themselves successfully going through each step or motion of their sporting event, whether it is skiing a downhill race course or pole vaulting higher than they ever have before. Studies have proven that visioning greatly improves an athlete's performance. Likewise, to envision God using us to achieve his dream and imagining ourselves reaching it is imperative to success. The alternative is not only to fail, it is to not even try.

Heuser and Shawchuck, in their book Leading the Congregation: Caring for Yourself While Serving the People, state, "A vision is the 'impossible dream' that God is dreaming in the hearts of those who are called to serve others."  Have you dreamed an impossible dream for your life in terms of serving God and serving others? If so, maybe it is God dreaming in you. And if so, then it is not impossible at all.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Patience is Hard

As the name of this blog and the picture up top suggest, I love adventure in the mountains. I also love winter. In fact, it’s my favorite season. There's backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and ice hockey. These are probably my favorite things to do. But we are now into March, which means winter is winding down, and though that excites most people, it saddens me. But this year, though it is March, winter is hanging on and the powder is still piling up in the mountains and there's still ice on the pond for hockey and ice in the mountains for climbing! The only problem is, an injury has me out of commission for a few weeks, and it's killing me! Worse, I was impatient and pushed it when I shouldn't have, setting back the healing process even more. So now I have to be more patient. I confess—sometimes I’m not very patient. Patience is hard for me, especially when I feel like the opportunities are slipping away with time.

Church planting and evangelism are similar. I want things to happen now. Or I want to tell people about Jesus or about our vision for our church as soon as I meet them, even before building a relationship with them. But things like church planting or bringing others to faith in Christ do not happen quickly. They take time, and that requires patience. I have to learn to wait on God. Patience is hard.

The other day I met a couple in the coffee shop. Before you know it I’m telling them about our church plant. They don’t know me at all. Why didn’t I wait and look for future opportunities to get to know them better? I’ll tell you why. It is because I got impatient. Anxious might be a better word. Sure, I’m excited and passionate about my faith and our vision. But I really don’t think that is why I’m sometimes too quick to tell people what I’m doing or to share my faith. I think it is a lack of trust in God. If I had waited, trusting God for further opportunity in the future, I might have gotten to know them better and then shared my faith more naturally. But once again, I was impatient. Patience is hard.

The reason patience is hard is because it means waiting on God to act. And that takes trust. Patience is about faith. It is about letting go and letting God be in control of my life. It’s about trusting God to act in his timing instead of me acting in mine.

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah says to the people of Israel:

            Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
            ‘My way is hidden from the LORD
            And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’?

Israel was impatient as they suffered oppression. They thought God didn’t care. So Isaiah answers:

            Do you not know? Have you not heard?
            The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
            Does not become weary or tired.
            His understanding is inscrutable.
            He gives strength to the weary,
            And to him who lacks might He increases power.
            Though youths grow weary and tired,
            And vigorous young men stumble badly,
            Yet those who wait for the LORD
            Will gain new strength;
            They will mount up with wings like eagles,
            They will run and not get tired,
            They will walk and not become weary.” (Isa 40.27-31)

Is there anything in your life right now that is testing your patience? Maybe your teenagers. Or maybe you’re looking for a job. Or maybe you’re struggling with an illness or disease or injury that you’ve prayed to God about but he hasn’t seemed to answer. Maybe it is a spouse that is cold and unresponsive. Or maybe it’s someone you’ve shared your faith with but they haven’t responded positively. In these kinds of situations, patience is hard because patience means you let go and wait on God to take care of it. It’s out of your hands. And that takes trust. But God promises strength and endurance to those who wait on him.

I’m feeling pretty good today, the sun’s out, and it’d be a great day to hike up the mountain. But I think I’ll go for a walk instead. Patience. It's hard. But so much better.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Seeking Forgiveness

Last night I finally got to see the movie Get Low starring Robert Duvall, with supporting roles by Sissy Spacek, Bill Murry, and newcomer Lucas Black. What a powerful movie with a powerful message! The acting, the characters, the photography, the story--everything about this movie is tremendous. Duvall plays Felix Bush, a mysterious Tennessee hermit in the 1930s who is feared and rejected by the townspeople who tell stories about him. But Bush is old and knows his time is short, so he sets out to plan his own funeral, with him in attendance--live! That's all I'll reveal, but this is one of those "must see" films. The acting is incredible, the story compelling, and the message universally resonant.

Get Low reminds me of another very different movie with a very similar theme, The Ultimate Gift with James Garner, though the latter story comes from the opposite end of the spectrum--an extremely rich and highly respected businessman. What both of these two great movies have in common is the dual theme of forgiveness and redemption. One looks for it just before he dies, the other after he is dead (posthumously via a video, because he didn't get it before--forgiveness, that is).Another theme common to both movies, by the way, is transformation, though in The Ultimate Gift it is not the one seeking forgiveness but the one giving it who is transformed. Regardless of which side of forgiveness you are on, forgiveness is transforming.  Both of these movies resonate with us because of the universal experience of failure.  We have all failed. Some worse than others, but all nonetheless.

Who of us has lived very long without at some time experiencing the pain of having failed someone, having committed some terrible mistake, having hurt a loved one, having caused someone else irreparable harm, or having sinned a grievous sin? Who of us doesn't carry burdens of the past with them? For sure there are folks who have lived relatively good lives and have always tried to do the right thing, but I suggest they are few and far between. Most of us have not always tried to do the right thing. And even those who have still have failed from time to time. As it says in Romans, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3.23).

Those failures and sins often entrap us in our own self-imposed prisons.We hold them inside, unwilling to confess to those we've hurt, unwilling to seek redemption. Whether from pride or fear or shame or desire to punish ourselves, we build walls to keep others out and our failings in.

But Jesus came to free us from our inner prisons, to lift the burdens from us. He appeals to us, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light." (Mt 11.28-30).

Nothing is as freeing as forgiveness, both in the giving and the getting of it. That's why the New Testament talks so much about freedom. Galatians 5.1 says "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Jesus desires for us all to experience the fullness of freedom that comes through forgiveness, which ultimately only he can provide.

So lay all your burdens on him. Experience the freedom he offers--the freedom of forgiveness, the joy of redemption, the never-ending adventure of transformation. The greatest adventure there is is the adventure of knowing Christ and all the has to offer.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Walking Alongside Others in the Search for God

It seems like God has been really talking to me today from several very divergent and surprising places, but all with the same message. It started this morning as I was teaching a Bible class from the book of Romans chapters 14 and 15 and the discussion turned to the question of how to relate to people who have different ideas than we do, not only fellow believers, but people from other faiths or of no faith as well. These two chapters are about acceptance and love and consideration, and they raise questions about how far do we go in accepting others. It called to my mind the fact that Christians often are not comfortable with people of different ideas--even, or especially, when we might share a common faith in Jesus but have some different ways of expressing or understanding the faith. And so people are often not comfortable with us.

Then this afternoon I read an article by Grayson Schaffer in ironically entitled "Consumed" about world class kayaker and extreme adventurer Henrik Coetzee who was eaten by a giant crocodile while kayaking the Congo's Lukuga River, one of the most dangerous sections of river in the world not only for its rapids but also for its man-eating crocs and territorial hippos. Coetzee did this kind of thing all the time, and was once even captured by a tribe of cannibals who wanted to eat him for dinner. His life was given over to taking huge risks. He didn't seem to seek the adrenaline rush as much as he was on a search for meaning, something he never seemed to be able to find though he was consumed by this search (both figuratively and literally).  It is a fascinating story, and I think his sense of adventure resonates with every human being. For while we all may not be adventurers in the sense of taking risks, we are all looking for meaning. In a way, and in very different ways, that search consumes every human being.

Finally, God seemed to be talking to me through a a video I watched this evening called "Crave: The Documentary" by Erwin McManus ( I highly recommend it. In the video McManus interviews a cross-section of people in Vancouver, British Columbia, asking them about their views of Christianity, religion, the church, God, Jesus, and spirituality.The upshot of this survey is that while many have negative feelings toward Christianity or God, people universally crave meaning in their lives. They are on a journey looking for significance, a sense of importance, to be loved and have their love accepted, to have a sense of purpose and destiny, to be connected. Perhaps, McManus suggests, all that is really our search for God and a relationship with him. For isn't that what he offers--purpose, significance, importance, love, connection, and destiny? And sadly, the church or Christianity is the last place many people would look for these things, often because of negative experiences they have had with Christians or the church. McManus suggests we change our strategy so that rather than trying to prove others wrong and us right, or using reward/punishment as a motivation to convert people, instead we learn to walk alongside people the way Jesus did with the two men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24--two men whose hearts were burning inside them. People's hearts are burning inside. And while their ideas and views may differ greatly from ours, and may well be misguided or just plain wrong, could God be walking alongside them in their lives as they search for him even if they do not know what it is they truly search for? I think of Paul's statement in Acts 17.27 to the Athenian Philosophers who were seeking for God, how God reveals himself in various ways that "they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." God is working in people's lives as they search for him. He is the source of our cravings.

So coming back to Romans 14 and how we view people of divergent views who are at very different places than us in their walk, is it possible that God may well be walking in their lives anyway, and can we come along beside them (and alongside God) in their walk? Can we be that conduit for God to help people find what it is they are really craving for? Perhaps by genuinely caring about others, listening to them, honoring them, trying not to be judgmental and critical, and loving them we could show them that God is the answer to their search for meaning. And maybe even through them, though they might be far from God (though God is not far from them), God might speak to us, just as God has spoken to me this evening through an extreme adventurer who was tragically eaten by a crocodile as he searched for meaning and ultimately for God.