God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Defending Truth or Relieving Suffering: Which Should Be A Christian's Focus?

Why should Christians spend so much time and energy debating true theology when people are dying every day? 

I don't know!

The Current Suffering In America

In the last year America has experienced a crazy amount of unrest and carnage (or at least that is what is put in front of our eyes every single day). And the opportunities for Christians to minister to those who are suffering due to the evil continue grow by the day. While these existential issues are piling up and many Christians are on the front lines of tending to physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual wounds, many other Christians continue to have, what seem to be, abstract and less important discussions and arguments over theology. A friend of mine expressed his concern on social media when we were discussing a particular theological issue (but his concern can be aimed at any of the numerous theological debates). He states: 
"I’m confused, why is it so important to show that your understanding of how old the Earth is, is the correct one? When people are destroying businesses while the police are told it’s okay because we need to let them vent, I’m thinking there are more important things Christians could be doing right now, than trying to prove to each other that their version of how and when God created our world, is the correct one. But I could be wrong...For the record, I do think it’s important to understand scriptures correctly, but some things like how and when God did certain things, are not as important to be understood correctly. In fact, I can imagine God being displeased with people on both sides of the age issue, because they lose sight of what the entire Bible is really all about. That doesn’t mean God didn’t stick some cool science answers in there, but OECists are correct when they object to how many YECists make it so important and I believe I’m correct when I complain about OECists seemingly making it so important too."
He is not the only one who I have heard express similar concerns. 

Many Christians believe that the reason that we see so much evil in America today is because, as a culture, we have forgotten God. As a culture, we have intentionally removed Him from our education and legal systems, and as a result we have removed any objective standard by which to judge what is morally good and logically valid. This has led to several generations of Americans who are never taught of objective morality or even proper logical reasoning. As a result they feel free to do whatever they want, to whom ever they want, to get whatever they want. There is no consideration for what actions and what goals are objectively, morally good and objectively, logically justified. Our culture has devolved into a struggle for and demonstration of physical, legal, and rhetorical power over those who have different understandings of reality than our own. And as long as Americans feels that they are justified in continuing to reject God, there is no hope in sight for this sad state of affairs to ever change. 

Testing Christianity
Many unbelievers (and some Christians) see the first chapters of Genesis as a litmus test for the truth of the rest of the Bible, including its claims of objective morality, man's objective sinfulness, and the claims of the New Testament regarding Jesus Christ's life, death, resurrection and their power to transform man and reconcile him to the morally perfect God. Whether this test is reasonable or not, it is still one that has been applied in the past and, due to improper interpretation of these first chapters, has seemingly justified America's rejection of God as the Creator. Augustine of Hippo described this very thing happening in his time: 
"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."- Augustine, “The literal meaning of Genesis”, Book 1, 19.39 (circa AD 415)
Reinterpreting God's Word
While it is definitely important for Christians to address the issues of the day in practical ways, it is just as, if not more, important to address the foundations that had led to the development of the issues that need to be addressed in practical ways. When a non-believer states that Genesis is in error regarding its claim about the world in which we live and thus justifies their rejection of the rest of Scripture and its claims, it is imperative that a Christian demonstrate how either the interpretation of Scripture or the interpretation of nature is in error. As Christians, we understand that God's actions (creation) will never contradict His Word (the Bible), yet we understand that our interpretation of either or both could contradict either or both. It is important that the Christian recognize that when their interpretation of one is incorrect and adjust that interpretation. In adjusting our interpretation, we are not adjusting God's Word or God's actions; we are only adjusting our understanding of them to reflect what the Author intended (truth). A reinterpretation of the Bible is not necessarily a bad or wrong thing. If our original interpretation is false and if that falsehood can be demonstrated as so by testing that interpretation against God's actions, then it is bad and wrong for us not to reinterpret. (See the post "Deconstructionism, The Constitution, and Biblical Interpretation" for more on this.)

Rejecting God In America
When an unbeliever raises a legitimate challenge to a particular interpretation of the Bible, it needs to be considered that it is, at least possible, that that interpretation of the Bible is incorrect, lest that challenge logically be more than just a challenge to the interpretation but a challenge to the truth and authority of God's Word, itself. If that challenge is logically a challenge to God's Word and not just a challenge to an interpretation of God's Word, then there is logical justification for rejecting the claims of objective morality, man's objective sinfulness, and the claims of the New Testament regarding Jesus Christ's life, death, resurrection and their power to transform man and reconcile him to the morally perfect God. 

Such rejection necessarily leads to the struggles for and demonstrations of physical, legal, and rhetorical power over those who have different understandings of reality than our own. And the sufferings and evils that we see today, no matter how much we address them in the here and now, will continue and our efforts will necessarily fail. Such doom is to be expected in such a world where God does not exist to give man intrinsic value, anchor objective morality (including justice), or ground logic. 

Defending The Foundations
When Christians defend a particular interpretation of Genesis (or any other book in the Bible, for that matter), we are addressing the issues of our day. We are ultimately saying, "Your rejection of Scripture is based upon a misunderstanding of Scripture, and that misunderstanding is what has failed the test of reality, not the actual Scripture. The truth and authority of God's Word still stands strong because the proper understanding of Scripture has been tested, and it has been shown to be true." We have not lost sight of what the Bible is really about; we are showing that what the Bible is really about is reality and that it accurately describes reality. What the Bible is really about is the very reason that we "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor 10:5a). 

We Are One Body
As Christians, we have to be extremely careful not to denigrate the work of other Christians. Whether those other Christians are gifted to address the needs and sufferings of those in the present or are gifted to address the foundations that lead to the sufferings and the value of addressing those needs, they are all important. While it is biblical for all Christians to be concerned with both foundations and current suffering, God has gifted each person differently, and one of those may be more prominent in the life of a particular Christian. I believe that this is why the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, cautioned Christians against individualistic thinking and acting within the Church:
"But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don’t need you!'" 1 Cor 12:18-21
If our actions and behaviors have no foundation in reality, then they are ultimately meaningless and purposeless. But if our foundations don't lead to action then our thinking is in vain. Christians are stronger and more effective in our world when we work together as one body. The meaning and purpose of the work to alleviate suffering stand on the foundations defended by our brothers and sisters who study and discuss the correct meaning of God's Word (theology) and defend the correct meaning against supposed falsification. 

Our world and its problems are complicated. We have lived in the past; we live in the present, and we will live into the future. All of reality —the "has been," the "here and now," and the "not yet"— must be addressed from numerous directions and perspectives. In creating us in His Image, God gave all humans of all eras intrinsic value and ultimate purpose, and His work on the Cross demonstrates His love and desire for us to be reconciled to Him so that we can spend eternity with Him, and the Resurrection demonstrates the truth of this fantastic claim. The evil and suffering that are tended to may very well be an avenue by which God brings more to the knowledge of Him and the saving acceptance of Christ's sacrifice and forgiveness. 

The existence of the foundations give our relieving suffering meaning; and our relieving of suffering gives the discovery of those foundations purpose. Both have meaning and purpose in the present and into the future. 

Paul explained that the truth of the Christian worldview (and thus our reason for the existential work we do) rises or falls on the Resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15). So, while the evidence for the Resurrection should be the proper test that unbelievers apply to Christianity (then from there test the rest of Scripture's claims), they have many interests and concerns that may not be the historicity of the Resurrection at that time. By the logical connectors of God's authorship of the whole of Scripture and His inability to lie, if one passage not about the Resurrection (but about something else) is false, so could be the claim about the Resurrection. And if other claims in the Bible are the source of stumbling blocks between them and their Savior, we would be negligent in our evangelical duty to not address them and "provide a reason for the hope that we have" (1 Peter 3:15). 

Despite the evidential and philosophical detour, because Christianity accurately describes the whole of reality and because reality is logically consistent, it doesn't matter which feature of reality someone is willing to grant, we can always get them logically back to the Resurrection. When we debate theology, we are debating the proper interpretation of the passages of Scripture that do concern the unbeliever so that they can test the actual claim of Scripture (not a strawman), can see that Scripture passes the test of reality, and they can get to the truth of the Resurrection, the Image of God, and the foundation for the work of relieving suffering in this world.