Summary of “The God Who is There” FRANCIS SCHAEFFER

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One of the most influential Christian thinkers of the latter 20th century is Francis Schaeffer.  His works I’ve found to be thought provoking, uncomfortably challenging, and deeply personal.  The wisdom with which he writes on ultimate issues and cultural contexts is refreshing.

So for the next few months I’ll be posting summaries of his writings that I trust will strengthen, challenge and transform the way you think and live.

In his first book The God Who is There, Schaeffer starts with the issue of absolute truth.  He argues that absolute truth is grounded in the “God Who is There.”  Thus to deny His existence has resulted in a despair that has decimated the West for the last 120 years or so.  This despair is visible in the areas of philosophy, art, music, general culture, and even in theology.

Shaeffer says that this line of despair  arises when absolute truth is jettisoned.  According to him, this truth is grounded in God, and when he is denied, there’s an “upper and lower story” that unfolds.  First, there’s the Upper Story or Above the Line where faith that is not open to verification resides and this “faith” gives meaning to ones life.   Second, there’s the  Lower Story or Below the Line where rationality resides.  Here the world of facts exists where reason and knowledge are attained through science by man’s ability to reason.  Thus, man as the measure of all things, is reduced to being a chance machine without purpose or meaning in life.  This view of knowledge and human nature results in despair.

Shaeffer notes that the Christian Worldview radically differs from the mechanistic worldview that brings despair.  For it answers man’s deepest longings and needs consistently with how his “mannishness” expresses itself.  This is not a world of wishful thinking, but one of reality for God exists!  This means that mankind is not here by chance, but by design for they bear the image of God.

Shaeffer goes on to explain, that because of man’s alienation from God, self, others, and nature, humanity has true guilt.  God’s solution to man’s plight is Christ Jesus who rescues from God’s wrath.  This work of Christ purchased our redemption in real space, time history and is not a a myth, but a reality.  Depending on man’s response to Christ Jesus, either joy or despair is increasingly deepened in the human experience.

Therefore, the Christian’s approach in life when relating to others must be one of understanding the human plight and compassionately championing absolute truth which is grounded in God.   There must be the awareness that to “take the roof off” or demonstrate the irrationality and contradictions lived by a modern person is very painful.  And yet, the believer is to compassionately allow the existential impossibility of living out the modern person’s worldview be felt.

Shaeffer moreover holds that true biblical Evangelism must start in Genesis 1-3 which is the basis for understanding the Gospel of Christ.  For it is here that the Bible says, “In the beginning God…”.  That is, we must start with God to understand all of reality for He, not humanity, is the measure of all things.  From here, the believer must then be prepared to clarify what true-truth is; what real guilt is; that Christ must be truly treasured and that disciples must be truly made. 

Shaeffer, thus encourages believers to be in word and prayer, to be in community with outsiders and insiders—God’s people.  And to remember the indispensability of being in a community where the Bible is being faithfully taught as objective truth rather than some twisted theology foreign to the text of scripture.     

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 11-12: A WORD TO THE YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE

 

“Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” (11:5)

The context of this passage is somewhat unclear to me.  The Preacher begins with the command to “cast your bread upon the water…” (v.1) and “sow seed” (v.6) as perhaps an allusion to the cycle of sowing and reaping which is realized ultimately through God’s activity as the sovereign over all creation.  This is the wonder of life which is designed not accidental, it’s purposeful not meaningless because God is there.  This activity is as much marvelous as it is mysterious, like the formation of a child in the womb or the course of the wind.

It seems that somehow the Preacher commands us to walk in wisdom by trusting in God’s power to multiply our efforts even if we don’t understand all the details.  He continues:

Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. 10 So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.

 In America, there seems to be little rejoicing in today’s youth.  Instead there’s much anger, confusion and despair in a culture given over to self-indulgence, leisure and entertainment.  A life lived for others is increasingly not the norm, the pied pipers of sex, drugs and rock n roll have not helped but rather aided this cauldron of foolishness and we are not the better for it.  Included here are professing followers of Jesus who neither know his book nor his pleasure.

The point the preacher is making is that your Creator is going to personally judge your fleeting life so what are you living for?  The same applies to adults and the old who often refuse to think again in light of eternity.  Throughout this book the Preacher has emphasized the futility of life…if God does not exist.  He concludes chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes with sobering words:

In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. 10 The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.  11 The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.  13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

In the midst of his nihilism, the Preacher comes to the conclusion that God really does exist, therefore the way we live really matters for every act whether hidden or not will be judged by Him.

The way we live does truly matter, the motives of our hearts are actually laid bare before the Creator and all is therefore not vain for God as the author of all life and existence gives these meaning.

The words of this book come from Solomon, noted for being the wisest man to have lived apart from Jesus of Nazareth.  Life without God is meaningless, but because God is there, it is absolutely meaningful even though we don’t understand many things in it.

For the believer in Christ Jesus, this is a wake-up call to follow the Master even when life becomes difficult and pain starts drowning out the truth of God’s revelation in scripture.

For the nonbeliever, this too is an alarm to bend the knee to Christ who will judge the living and the dead.  Understand that the love, comfort, justice and peace you deeply long for can only be found in the Righteous One who perfectly executes justice and mercy and that…righteously!

So LORD, help your people live in light of your existence.  Tenderize our hearts to your promptings, open our minds to your thoughts, empower our lives with your strength, so that we may live this short life apportioned to us with passion, ardor and increasing resolve for the kingdom of God and your righteousness, so that it may truly be said of us when our time is done here on earth that we were people who loved God and neighbor.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 10: A WORD TO NOT BACK DOWN

A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool. If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.”  (Vv.2-4)

 To be a fool is not difficult, but to be wise that is another reality altogether.  When I considered verse 4 at first glance immediately I thought of the subject’s intellectual view which the ruler at first impulse vehemently rejects.  Here, the Preacher encourages the subject to stay his ground, to not back down from his ideational position.

Here, the characteristic of courage before a sovereign (these are King Solomon’s words) can affect the outcome of a subjects request in his favor.  Perhaps that is an aspect of what this text is teaching.  Again, another angle here may be the battle field for to panic in the midst of lethal peril assures defeat, but where cooler heads prevail (generally) victory is within grasp.  Assuredly many other angles can be applied here that I have missed perhaps even misinterpreted the text.

Nevertheless, as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I note the following: First, for the Christian who loves Jesus, the Truth must be prized above the approval of men even a raging king.  Here, courage is necessary for the power a ruler has to wield us harm is real, not an illusion for you might meet your death.

Second, courage under fire is not easy, but is nevertheless the high road to victory under opposition from powerful people, not the converse.  Third, whether an actual battlefield or a metaphorical one of ideas is raging, don’t back down even though you be outnumbered.  Fourth, persuasion does not come from a slothful soul but from the diligent who is trained in righteousness for the watching world to consider and does affect both enemies and allies.

LORD, give us courage under fire when it comes to living out the truth of what it means to be in this world but not of it as your ambassadors.  Whether we be outnumbered and are dwarfed by our enemies resources, grant us boldness before those who mock, blaspheme and hate your name.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 9: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS AGAIN

 

 

“For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.  It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.  (vv1-3)

The depths of despair and meaninglessness of life is once again emphasized by the preacher’s view that all human beings die.  It seems that in his view thus far, he doesn’t think there’s an afterlife but extinction.  Whether one is a blasphemer or a bastion of righteousness death equalizes them both and its certainty makes our deeds worthless, insignificant, useless and futile.    

Whether one is devoted to God or to self in the end it doesn’t matter.  This view is dark and utterly horrific to my soul, for it leaves me only to meander pitifully in this existence until I finally am no more.  What despair! what hopelessness, what a tragedy if in fact the preacher is correct.  Now if God does not exist then he is “dead on!”  There is no ultimate meaning in life.

LORD, help me live today as if it were my last one.  Make me a vessel of honor, season my lips with salt and keep my eyes fixed on you LORD so that I may boldly and graciously capitalize on given opportunities.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 7: IT’S BETTER TO MOURN THAN IT IS TO REJOICE? 

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There’s nothing new under the sun which includes our bent to avoid the issue of death.  Whenever I talked to my father about death he almost always side-stepped the conversation by changing the topic to one that was more “happy”.  The Preacher’s instruction here is hard to swallow for a society that worships wealth, health, entertainment and the absence of pain.  Death simply decimates those aspirations and reminds us that our appointment with it is looming:

A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
(Vv.1-2)

The house of mourning says the Preacher is “better than” or “preferable to” the “party” because it lurches us into questioning the meaning of life and forces us to confront our inevitable death.  A funeral, not a feast wakes us up to the ultimate issue of life after death which the naturalist denies (ala atheism), or the monist attributes as illusory (ala Buddhism or Hinduism), but Christian theism explains so well in the Gospel accounts and in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

LORD, help us and teach us to live our lives in light of our appointed death today in word and deed.  May we hold on to things loosely in light of eternity as we serve our fellow man for your NAME’S sake, and may we be vigilant.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 4: THE PREACHER’S DOWNWARD MUSINGS…Continued

The Preacher is quite pessimistic and the level of seeming despair is evident when he reasons after beholding the defenseless oppressed and those crushed by the strong and mighty:

“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.(Vv.1-4)

The oppressed and their tears exacerbates the Preacher’s experience as he considers the lack of comfort the downtrodden receive, “…they had no one to comfort them…” and the power of those oppressing them.  The weak ruled by the mighty, the defenseless overcome by the strong, and bitterness is the soup of the needy.

The Preacher saw acts of oppression which caused him to conclude that the “dead” (v.2a) are better off than the living.  That’s pessimism on steroids, to congratulate the dead over against the oppressed, but the Preacher is not yet finished.  Not only are the dead praised for not being in the muck of life, but those who have never come into existence are better off than the dead.  How can one be better off than the oppressed and the dead if they aren’t or never have been?  In his view, to behold the evil his eyes have witnessed and the damage inflicted on the soul is so severe, that seemingly what can’t be—a knowing and non-existent knower—is better than the alternative of existing and thus suffering horrible ills.   

While there’s oppression and evil, there’s also liberty and goodness, but then again the gloom that looms over a life without God is acutely unbearable.  I have not experienced the evils many have through the annals of time, but I have experienced despair and wrestled with dark thoughts of suicide because of suffering.  For the follower of Jesus, under such circumstances, Paul reminds us that God is working on our behalf behind the scenes:

28 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.29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”   (Romans 8:28-30)

So, when despair seems to be swallowing you up believer, know that it is momentary and that the heavenly Father, has not abandoned you, but is rather working through the pain to make you more like Jesus.

To the non-believer or skeptic, my suggestion is for you to investigate the claims of Christ to see whether or not they make sense to you.  For of all the authorities that command us how to live, only Christ Jesus claimed to be the uncreated creator who is self-existent and conquered the grave through the resurrection.  To dismiss his claims, which came through eyewitness accounts as mere fantasy, is not only pedestrian but a brazen refusal to behold the immense evidence to support his claims.

LORD, when darkness comes remind us that you truly are our light, that a life without you truly is meaningless, ugly, cold, and gray.  Teach us to look to you when suffering seems too unbearable and grant the grace required for us to finish the race set before us as we look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 3: THE PREACHER ON TIME & ETERNITY

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven__” (3:1).  This chapter doesn’t feel as gloomy as the first two but he considers the issue of “time”.  What is time in this context?  According to the Preacher, time is a successive series of events which begin and end (e.g., a time to give birth, a time to die 3:2).  There are several aspects I want to consider.

First, there once was a “time” I did not exist, then came the time of my birth, and a day awaits when I will finally die.  One day, life as we experience it and know it will no longer be.  But will “I” or “we” cease to exist?  There are some who would concur that eventually we go out of existence.  However, according to the Scriptures and especially in the Gospel accounts (i.e., Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) you and I will either live forever in the blessed presence of Christ or in the eternal wrathful presence of God called hell.

Second, the Preacher acknowledges that God has made all things appropriate in their time (v.11) and He has also set eternity in the hearts of men (v.11b).  What’s interesting to me is that God, “in” time, which will never end, has placed eternity into men’s hearts.  I’m not altogether certain why that is but the purpose seems, “so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (v.11c).

This beginning and end seems to refer to “everything under heaven or the creation”.  Eternity here can very well be the state in time where man will forever gaze into the works of God, eternally beholding the Master’s handiwork in order to marvel at the immensity and the intricacies of His glory.

Third, the preacher knows that rejoicing and, doing good in one’s lifetime is the ultimate goal for existence (v.12).  This after all is in the contexts of eating, drinking, and laboring.  The one who recognizes that these activities are good must then acknowledge that they come from God.  This is not luck, fate, karma, nor destiny.  Instead, it’s the kindness of the Creator toward the creature who too often does not give honor nor give thanks to Him.

It’s been my experience even as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, that I have not found any delight in work but rather loathed it.  I often have not been thankful nor appreciated the skills for earning wealth I possess.  Perhaps you can relate friend to this kind of experience.  We need to pray that these three activities are seen for what they are—good.

This is important because too often, we tend to miss the splendor of the mundane by longing for the splendor filled day.  According to the Preacher, (v.22) “…nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities because that is man’s lot….For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?” The three activities (of eating, drinking, and laboring,) apportioned to us (by God) are our lot.  Enjoying them now is all that we are assured.  For when we die these activities, like our lives will cease.

What a challenge to be in the moment and maximize our joy in these activities, rather than squander the opportunity “in the time” allotted to us.  These are all gifts from God.  Today LORD God, give us your people the wisdom to live in light of eternity in this present fleeting life.  Teach us LORD to be happy in the lot you have determined for us to experience by keeping us from forfeiting said delight through actions and thoughts that dishonor your name.

(SDG)

 

 

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 2: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS—VANITY Part 2

In my struggle and acquaintance with failure concerning every sector of existence (E.g., moral, practical and contemplative) the Preacher’s outlook is not re-assuring but utterly depressing.

Vanity, futility, empty, meaningless are all man’s endeavors under the sun and thus so is his life.   The Preacher indulged himself with pleasure and came up empty whether sexual, intellectual or acquisitional pleasure, it’s all empty:

“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had home born slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines.(2.1-8)

He became greater than all of his predecessors and still his activities are considered useless (Vv.9-11).  There’s no boasting here but deprecation of all the things worldly men (of which I once numbered) would die for!  Wine, women and song, riches and pleasures galore—empty says the preacher!

He understood that wisdom far excels folly as the light conquers the darkness and yet even this to him is vain because like the fool so the wise man will die and his memorial will be forgotten:

“So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? 13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. 15 Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” 16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! 17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”   (2:12-17)

The herald understanding his plight completely despaired of life, his legacy and his toil, the accumulation of which is vanity (2:18-23).  Yet, he reflects on the good life and considers that its basis is found in God alone and happiness is to be had in Him alone:

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? 26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” (2:24-26)

God gives wisdom to the wise and good person but for the sinner (who in this context is the opposite) their task is gathering and collecting for those God sees as good.  The struggle and restlessness this nihilistic Preacher is enduring is horrible to bear.  The Preacher is saying that existence without God is empty, a breath not worth taking, toil that leads to “nowhere” in the blink of the eye.

What a dark hole his soul sank into, what an empty chasm he’s fallen into, what a dingy dungeon is his abode, the abyss has (almost entirely) swallowed him up.

God and the meaning of life is the question for the man who has wandered from the paths of righteousness.  His plight is a warning to all who do shun God, deny his existence and indulge in fleeting pleasures—emptiness is the reward.  Why?  Because all pleasures in life that put God at the periphery are vain being He is the giver and sustainer of life in whom there is no darkness at all.

The Preacher is warning me to flee all pleasures that have not God at the hub, to consider the vanity of life without Him and to pursue Him in my gloomiest hour for He alone will not disappoint.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 1-4: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS

REFLECTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES

My goal in writing reflections from Ecclesiastes are the following: First, to encourage you the reader that if you will pay attention to the words on the page and listen carefully you will mine a lot of truth for life without the need of a commentary or any secondary source (although I provide a lexical explanation for the word vanity here).  That is, “take up and read” to enrich your soul Christian.

Second, I write to give you a model of how observations can be done in scripture that do not read into the text something foreign to the author’s intent.  This will help you experience the joy of discovery and increase your confidence in your ability to comprehend God’s word.

Third, by doing the above my hope is that you will be able to hear God’s voice all the more clearly and follow Him all the more closer.  For, it is the word of God that is forever settled in heaven, and not our subjective impressions however valid they may be.  That is, we have a more sure word of prophecy according to Peter—meaning the inscripturated word of God—then a glorious experience we may claim to have (2 Peter 1:16-21).  Too often we Christians have bizarre ideas of what “God” is supposedly speaking to us and when it contradicts the Bible, be assured we are not hearing his voice.

ECCLESIASTES 1-4: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS

The pace at which time moves astounds me.  The year is almost up and what was true for Solomon applies to me “A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.” (1:4) It’s a humbling fact—the span of our lives, my life, is ever so slight!  The letter of James in the New Testament agrees:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. ” 

This pessimistic account from the Preacher king, though negative is true.  Nothing is new under the sun but foolish mankind would disagree (1:9).  Of particular interest and serious consideration is the task of exploring wisdom concerning the created order, which from his view is the acquisition of affliction and grief:

12 I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. 14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.(1:12-14)

According to Solomon, wisdom and its acquisition is burdensome, unlike Proverbs, this book hits us with a bombshell affirming life’s futility.  With the acquisition of wisdom there’s much grief and the end of increased knowledge is pain:

16 I said to myself, “Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind. 18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”   (1:16-18)

What a realist view of labor and what a downer for someone who wants to pursue the knowledge of God.  There is however here more than meets the eye.  There’s something the Preacher—Solomon the wisest man to have ever lived other than Christ Jesus—wants the reader to get his angle, but it’s going to require more reading to grasp his thought.

LORD, help us understand this book in light of its purpose and message.

(SDG)

Now Available! Reflections from Ezra, Nehemiah, & Esther

 

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In the Book of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther we can observe that God’s word is central to true acceptable worship before Him.  We also recognize that to worship God as He alone demands is absolutely costly.  And lastly, we see that God’s providence is often demonstrated through even unbelieving rulers in order to accomplish his plans.  So take up and read in order to nurture your soul Christian.  Click REFLECTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF EZRA