Posted by: Billy Marsh | August 14, 2008

A Devalued Life?

Last week I interacted with some atheists on an atheist’s blog on a post that wasn’t necessarily antagonistic towards Christianity, or Christians in general for that matter. The topic was the familiar atheisitic observation that most of the world’s major religions, specifically Christianity, disdain the present life and our current dwelling place, namely earth, due to the fact that we are “only passing through” and are eager to be the catalysts for setting off “the End of Days” or the Apocalypse. I responded trying to communicate that, though there is some truth to those ideas, at least for Christianity’s sake, the Bible does not allow in any way, shape, or form for believers to look at this life with contempt. One man replied to my comments with a general assertion that anyone who holds to the view that there is an afterlife will inevitably devalue his or her life on earth, and thus, would soon view this present state as nothing more than a waiting room for the “main event”.

The implications, if such a perception were in fact true, would lead Christians to definitely withdraw any type of serious concern or involvment from issues such as the environment, the society, the government, and really anything else that would not fall under the priority of a basic evangelical, or rather “Christian” agenda. Knowing that the theme of my blog, which is an overflow out of my philosophy of life, is the “journey” or “Sojourner” motif, this has been something that I’ve tried to prevent others from assuming, since it would seem at a very surface level to be true. Looking at Christianity in particular, do our doctrines of heaven, hell, and eschatology leave us no choice but to devalue the life we now live? Do the Scriptures guard us from having a divine license to trash this world because something better is to come? Well, though you all may already know all the answers to these questions, I’ve been meditating on this issue, and I wanted to compile a brief and concise, though by no means exhaustive, list of reasons why the Bible does not permit Christians to devalue this life, despite the fact that some of us may in fact do.

  1. Genesis 1:31 – And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” We see this positive affirmation from God in response to his divine creative activity in making all that exists before the Fall in Gen 3, but never see him retract it once sin enters the world. The Lord was pleased with the physicality of the universe, and though we see in Scripture his extreme displeasure towards a contaminated world and humanity, God still expects his people to tend and to care for his creation, even our own bodies, despite the truth that one day he will remove the curse and make all things new.
  2. Exodus 20/The Ten Commandments – With commandments from the One True God like “You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet” it would be rather difficult for God’s people to trivialize the importance of living rightly on this earth. Moreover, these commands, if kept, benefit more than just the obedient individual; they are a blessing to everyone else also. In addition, the admonition for one to honor his or her father and mother does not in any way permit a person of any age to reduce his or her relationship with one’s parents to something of insignificance. This is, of course, a very special commandment insofar as the Apostle Paul points out in Ephesians 6:2 that “this is the first commandment with a promise.”
  3. Matthew 6:19-21 –Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Taking into account the reality of an afterlife, especially one as glorious as the eternal future that awaits us in heaven with God and the saints, our earthly lives have a direct effect on the welfare of our heavenly ones. To say it another way, in the words of Maximus Decimus Meridias from Gladiator, “Brothers, what we do here in life, echoes in eternity.” Obviously, I don’t have the space nor the time to flesh out exactly how “treasures” ought to be defined, but what we can recognize immediately from this text is that what we do in life now will have a lasting effect on the one we will have in the age to come. Not much room for any devaluing here.
  4. Romans 13: 1-7 (cf. Matt 22:21ff) –Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have benn instituted by God (13:1).” Point blank, Christians are to be the best of citizens. I am more than aware that this is both a broad and controversial subject; however, Scripture is clear here in Rom 13 that as part of this life, we are subject to those whom God has set in place. This not only says we are to stay out of trouble with the law, but that we also ought to have a genuine concern, interest, and involvment with the state of political affairs wherever we may live. Once again, there isn’t much room for Christian passivity in this case as we wait for the heavens to open and the trumpets to sound.
  5. Romans 12:1; 1 Cor 6:19-20 (cf. Rom 6:4) –I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. . . . So glorify God in your body.” As I mentioned earlier under Genesis 1, though corrupted by the Fall, there is still an element of worth retained in God’s creation, even our bodies. These two verses communicate clearly that we are still capable of using our physical bodies in a manner that glorifies God. This is true especially in light of the early part of 1 Cor 6:19-20 where Paul asks rhetorically, “Or do you know know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, . . .?” Any Christian who would slip into some form of modern Gnosticism thereby hating one’s material body has completely missed the point of an extreme amount of the purpose of the Cross and redemption in itself. There is no excuse for believers to devalue this present life in light of these truths.
  6. Mark 12:29-31 – Ah yes, the first and second greatest commandments. We most certainly must not leave these out. For as Jesus said in Matt 22:40, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” However, not to neglect the immense implications of the first greatest commandment for our study, the second one is purely fundamental for this topic. Who is my neighbor? Well, I think the answer is everyone. The interesting thing about the use of the term “neighbor” here in Jesus’ teaching is that it never stipulates as to whether your “neighbor” is friend or foe. But what is certain is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and this task can only be fulfilled by someone who is doing quite the opposite of devaluing his or her earthly life.
  7. The Incarnation/John 1:14 –And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Wow, what a verse! This has to be one of my absolute favorite passages of Scripture. How often we forget the immediate implications of the Incarnation. I think too that we have neglected to meditate upon the nature of the Son of God in a post-resurrection state. Jesus never ceased from being the Incarnate Word. That truth speaks volumes with respect to how we ought to view and to treat our fleshly lives now and our time on earth in these bodies. Jesus most definitely valued his life while in this world. He treasured his opportunity to enter this realm, to love his disciples, to heal the masses, to recline at the table with others, to fellowship with the little children, to stand for God’s truth, and to endure the cross and the shame for the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:1-3). Christians must not belittle their privilege to take up their crosses and to walk in the paths of the Savior who humbled himself in the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men to be crushed by the Father so that all of the universe may be restored and renewed and that his wrath and justice might be satified, and then, his creation, in perfect holiness, may ascribe to him the glory that is due to his name forever (Phil 2:5-11; Rom 8:18-25; Isa 53:10; 1 Chron 16:29).

Fellow Christians, when we devalue this life, we devalue the cross and the person of Christ. Let us not be so careless nor that over zealous. But let us still continue on in the journey to a better country.

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Responses

  1. I have, on a couple of occasions, been confronted with the same question/problem posed by your atheist blogger. Even within the church this has been a problem. There are those brothers who are sooo against Christians getting involved in the political realm that it sickens me. One reason for a lack of involvement is that none of these earthly things matter. Similar problems come from those opposed to Christian involvement in the arts.

    Then there is the exact opposite problem of those who try to make heaven on earth with either exclusive, cult like societies, or with Liberal politics that discounts the sinfulness of man.

    I think we should try to affect every area of this world and our society with the truths of Scripture, but realize we all remain sinful. Occupy til the King returns.
    Bryan

  2. […] https://abettercountry.wordpress.com/2008/08/14/a-devalued-life/ […]

  3. I don’t think your case arguing for Christians to value the world is particularly convincing, but even it was, it mostly misses the point.

    The real question is whether valuing the planet even matters. You briefly acknowledge, but fail to discuss, the widespread Christian belief in Jesus’s imminent coming. If the world is going to be washed away within a generation at most, then doing anything to help it is a needless exercise. But it gets worse! According to many Christians, the very fact of war, disease, poverty, and disaster is powerful confirmation of this Return. This perverse logic is what drives many of the most influential American Christians in their unconditional support for Israeli expansive and provocative aims. When Israel makes moves toward peace, these Christian Zionists are among the first and loudest critics.

    I chuckle at how Christians demonize this tiny minority of atheists, when the real threat lies within their own house.

  4. Robert,

    Your comments would hold more water if they at least were reflective of my post. However, it seems you were simply looking for a platform to spout off about one particular issue. Acknowledging that you weren’t “convinced” by my post means little after reading the rest of your comments due to the fact that it is obivous that you paid little attention to the details of what I wrote.

    First, I must redirect you to the introductory part of my post where I made it clear that this was to be a “brief and concise, but by no means an exhaustive, list.” So in that regard I did not “fail to discuss” anything. This is a blog not a book.

    Second, one of things that has frustrated me the most about dealing with atheist attacks against Christianity is their retreat to the “fringe element.” It would be nice if atheists, who seem to be so militant and informed about their rebuke of Christianity, to actually engage the contours of the Christian faith that are more sound and representative of the whole instead of the fringe extremism that is more popularized. This shows that someone isn’t doing their homework. Christian Zionism is not the make-up of the majority of thinking Christians within evangelicalism, and furthermore, few Christians hold firmly that Jesus is coming back as soon as in one generation. Besides, the Bible teaches that no man will know the hour of his coming, which is the safest and most sound position to hold.

    Third, you said that I missed the main point, that is, does valuing the planet truly matter? Again, it is clear you never intended to have a reasoned conversation in light of my post. I began the whole list with Genesis 1:31, and there is much more evidence than that, which shows that all of creation, not just the world per se, matters greatly to its Creator, and thus, it should also to his people. The validity of this assertion has nothing to do with the unfolding of events in a “last days” scenario. This truth stands simply because God has made it so, it isn’t dependent upon any other factors. This goes also for all of the other charateristics on my list. The point of my list was to show the places in Scripture that spoke directly towards the necessity of God’s people to value this life and his creation, despite the fact of an afterlife.

    If you want to interact with a particular sect of Christian eschatology such as Zionism, then at least do us all the favor of researching your critique of Christianity in more depth, and then build your attacks upon the full system of the orthodox Christian faith rather than compartmentalizing it all as if eschatology has nothing to do with ethics and environmentalism.

  5. Billy,

    You wrote,

    Your comments would hold more water if they at least were reflective of my post.

    My response was not “reflective” of your post because it incorrectly framed the issue as one of misguided Christian contempt for the world. Your acknowledgment of end-times beliefs should have clued you into to the real problem: Christian indifference to the world.

    Second, one of things that has frustrated me the most about dealing with atheist attacks against Christianity is their retreat to the “fringe element.” It would be nice if atheists, who seem to be so militant and informed about their rebuke of Christianity, to actually engage the contours of the Christian faith that are more sound and representative of the whole instead of the fringe extremism that is more popularized.

    If I had a dime for every time this accusation arises…

    Will the real Christianity please stand up? Any time a critic argues against this or that Christian belief, the inevitable response is, “Well that’s not what real Christians believe!”

    You call Christian Zionists a “fringe element”. Yes somehow this “fringe,”–which includes Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland, Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn, James Dobson, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Joe Hagee, and Ralph Reed–manages to:

    1) Regularly interact with and be courted by the country’s major political figures, including up to the President himself.

    2) Control and operate billion-dollar media outlets, which saturate the land with its theological views.

    3) Produce massively popular publications, such as the “Left Behind” series.

    “Few” Christians believe that Jesus is coming back within a generation? Who, then, are the 44% of Americans who believed this in 2000, according to Princeton Research Associates for Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Or the 25% who reported that it was at least “somewhat likely” Jesus would show up in 2007? “Fake” Christians?

    I began the whole list with Genesis 1:31, and there is much more evidence than that, which shows that all of creation, not just the world per se, matters greatly to its Creator, and thus, it should also to his people.

    The operative word, here, being “should.” Christians have been telling each other what they should believe for as long as, well, since there have been Christians. Good luck telling your fellow believers what they should believe.

    No, of importance is what Christians believe. You cite Genesis for why God values His creation? Someone else will cite the Gospels and all the prophecies which are now being fulfilled which point to its destruction.

    You want to cite Mark for why Christians should love their neighbors and take care of them? Someone else will cite John for why they don’t belong in this world (John 15:19), or Peter as to why they should live as aliens and strangers (1 Peter 2:11).

    The ironic thing here is you accuse me of a shallow understanding of Christian Zionism. It’s clear it is you who lacks this understanding.

  6. Robert,

    Ok, I’ve seen enough of these types of dialogues, and they never go anywhere. All they do is escalate, and that’s not what my blog is about, nor is it the type of conversation I enjoy having. So I’m going to be brief, for I know that there are some major elements at work that will always keep you from hearing exactly what it is I’m saying. You presented so many different issues in your comment that in order for me to respond in a way that would appropriately address all the inconsistencies of your argument, I would spend more time writing my comment than I did the initial post.

    First, as noted in both of your comments, it is clear that you believe that what the Bible, or rather what certain Christians believe, about the end-times necessarily trumps everything else it teaches. This is a very wrong assumption to have about Christian theology no matter what you see in those whom you have listed. What I’m asking for you to do is to step aside from your reservations towards certain leading figures, and come to Scripture on its own terms and see that the Word of God does not present its eschatology as contradictory to the rest of what it teaches.

    Second, the list of names you gave was typical and predictable; they are always the main ones associated with this type of atheistic critique. As I said before, I was hoping to communicate that there is much more to the theological world out there than what the rest of the world watches on TBN. In my opinion, if I was as interested as some of those on the outside looking in are towards Christianity, I would receive it as good news if someone told me that there was a more credible and orthodox Christian faith alive and well in the world, though there are a few names on the list that I would remove. Here is a link to a tremendous ministry that does a great job of uncovering the deception that lies beneath many of the ministries of some of the men you named: Justin Peters Ministries.

    Third, with regard to your statistics, they are straw men to say the least. Statistics are always difficult to respond to since they seem to be so clear cut. I admit that I might have overstated the case somewhat with the usage of the term “few,” I’m just used to being surrounded by people who treat the view you’ve referenced at a very long arm’s length. But even still, after looking at the links to your stat sites, they only tell us very little about the heart of the matter. It is scary when CNN tries to do a survey of Christian eschatology citing Jack Van Impe and a Harvard religious professor as representatives of “evangelical” Christian scholarship. But this, of course, doesn’t surprise me. And the 25% listed in your second poll were “American” in general; not a poll exclusively devoted to born-again, evangelical Christians. Thus the results are going to be muddied and less meaningful. And who said anything about people having different beliefs being “fake Christians”? All I asked for was when atheists decide to play this card, it would be nice for them to discover and interact with some of the more academic and scholarly sources of conservative, evangelical theological material on these issues. I never made any claim as to judge whether or not those people were or were not true Christians. Once again, you seem more eager to read into my words, than reading the actual words themselves.

    The operative word, here, being “should.” Christians have been telling each other what they should believe for as long as, well, since there have been Christians. Good luck telling your fellow believers what they should believe.

    Well, I have a pretty good idea what you’re getting at in this quote, but it is just another straw man. Once again, it is a very broad stroke attack against Christianity that shows a very narrow, surface-level understanding of orthodox Christian belief and tradition.

    And as far as your argument about how one Christian may cite Mark while another will cite John, your understanding of biblical interpretation and theology itself reveals that there is just not enough common ground for us to have a reasonable conversation at this point.

    There are so many points throughout your critique that show only a cursory reading and understanding of my thoughts, it makes it all the more difficult for me to adequately address your concerns. For instance, I never accused you of having a shallow understanding of Christian Zionism. My plea was that if you were going to critique Christian eschatology, then take it from a Seminary student in an academic setting, in order to make a credible case, you really need to at some point move beyond the cliché attack against Christian Zionism.

    Though this ended up being long after all, I just couldn’t help it. You have brought up so many little issues in your comments that require so much untwisting in order for us actually to communicate clearly, that it is hard to respond in brevity. However, as always, I am eager to uphold Francis Schaeffer’s banner, that is, “to give honest answers to honest questions.” So, if you have honest questions and are looking for real, honest answers about the Christian faith, then I would be more than delighted to continue this dialogue via email, where we can talk candidly and at more length. I am curious as to how you became an atheist, especially since you seem to be somewhat familiar with the Christian landscape and certain passages of the Bible.

    Here are some books I would recommend for you to read that would assist you in digging a little deeper with respect to the Gospel, daily Christian living, Christian theology, eschatology, and so forth:

    1) True Spirituality – Francis Schaeffer
    2) Desiring God – John Piper
    3) How Now Shall We Then Live? – Charles Colson
    4) Total Truth – Nancy Pearcy
    5) Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
    6) God is the Gospel – John Piper
    7) Heaven – Randy Alcorn
    8) The Bible and the Future – Anthony Hoekema
    9) Basic Guide to Eschatology – Millard Erickson
    10) The Blessed Hope – George E. Ladd

  7. VOOF!


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