Letters from lockdown: The dangerous games we play

Clearance required to travel outside your suburb. No work given to anyone without the government supplied injection. One hour of outdoor time is allowed daily. No more than one person in a household allowed out at a time. Faces are to be covered in public at all times. Helicopters and cars will patrol at random. A curfew of 9pm to 5 am is necessary for problem people. This sounds like a scene from a dystopian novel. Yet here we are in Sydney, August 2021, in the midst of the COVID19 delta pandemic. In efforts to control the spread of the virus, the government has pulled and tugged at every straw.

They’ve tried to become the hero the people want, rather than the one they need. I don’t know whether these Herculean expectations come from the people or from the politicians presuming to be the new patheon on Olympus. I suppose it’s a bit of both. After all, I don’t remember governments ever being blamed for failing the eradicate the spread of a virus. I mean… did people blame the king for the bubonic plague? Like Medicare, if something’s broken, people want the government to fix it. And in trying to fix everything, they inevitably make everything else… well, worse. Vaccines be damned.

The truth is it’s the world that’s broken. So being the hero people want is a dangerous game to play. I don’t fully blame them. The people made it necessary. This government has had to enforce and coerce and infringe on as many freedoms and privileges it can, short of a riot, just to cajole citizens to obey the advice they were giving before. ‘I strongly advise you to have no more trips to Bondi.’ It’s sad that we’ve come this far.

The limits of a scientific imagination

The government’s not without sidekicks. Their best one is “what the science says.” Scientists? Which ones? It’s often portrayed in the media as though science is a uniform term with enshrined dogma no one can disagree with. That’s not how it works though. Especially not in a postmodern age. Modernity’s fetish for rationalism keeps coming back. But it’s bunk with the people. All they’ll see are politicians playing power monopoly.

Is listening to science, even if it was unanimous going to work? By making eradication of COVID the measure of a healthy society, I think the government inevitably misses things. Like the effects on the economy. Like the widening gap between rich and poor. Like the mental health stress of the vulnerable whether elderly, ill, female or child. Going with what the ‘science’ says assumes that science also defines the good life. From a scientific point of view, this is no less than life without death, without viruses and illnesses.

We’ve yet to see the full cost of pursuing a solely scientific mindset to addressing this virus. One would think that now would be a good time for Plato’s philosopher king to make an appearance. Because many scientists a wise man does not make. Science as it is, tries to look at the world objectively, to make detached judgments, focusing on empirical data, to the expense of all that is natural and human; to the expense of life itself. Listening to “the science” under the pretense of objectivity actually makes people and society more detached and less human. NSW after all isn’t a laboratory and people aren’t lab rats.

The relationship between a government and its people

The biggest thing it has missed here is the relationship between power and responsibility. Uncle Ben was right. With great power comes great responsibility. The more the government tries to lockdown the virus and its people with science, the more it’s taking responsibility both for the virus and the welfare of its people. I wonder if it’s up to the task of making people happy. If it has the power to lock anyone and anything down, it should also be able to reimburse forced closures. It should be able to reimburse mortage debts. It should compensate for suicides and abuse under lockdown. That’s a tall order the people will ask for. It’s like what 1 Samuel says, the people will cry out for their king to deliver them but he will not hear.

People say that the lockdown brings out the worst in us. But I think it reveals what’s in us. We’re seeing where everyone’s faith was placed (or perhaps misplaced). That’s why the government is under so much pressure. It’s where our faith’s been all along. We’re desperate for order in a disordered universe. We need someone or something to blame so that we can at least pretend we’re in control. And our government happily plays along to be the hero in our darkest hour.

Every disaster requires a sacrifice to the gods believe will save us. Whether it’s mortgages or mocha takeaways, we’ll find an offering to plead the gods we believe will take COVID from us. But people don’t sacrifice their livelihoods easily. They don’t do it without requiring a return — one that’s eternal. The question is — is the government’s treasury big enough?

See the Joker was also right. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. The heroes we want, like science or the government, won’t save us. Because what the hero we need is the one who’ll save us from ourselves. So when the gods we put our faith in, inevitably reveal that they’re human and all too human (vaccine rollouts perhaps?), then there’ll be a clamor for new gods on Mt. Olympus. But trying to replace a society’s gods never goes smoothly.

Letters from Lockdown: Faith, Hope and Love

What will get us through a lockdown, pandemic and Afghanistan

1 Corinthians 13:12–13 (ESV): For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

When lockdown started I wondered how I was going to cope with isolation. Well it’s been two months now. And the result is: pretty well. That’s not to say I’m thriving. But I’ve been able to use it to recharge and focus on my responsibilities. Daily tasks have been more convenient. And though it’s a struggle to be self-disciplined, I’ve had a wonderful wife who helps me structure my life more effectively. Most of all, I’ve had more time to enjoy her. Excluding our Sydney elites and the professional middle class, I would say that I’m okay. Not good or great, just okay.

That’s the problem of contemporary life though isn’t it? We live in these self contained silos. It just serves to reinforce whatever we already think life is like. No wonder the protestors hate the anti-protestors and the vaccinators the anti-vaxxers. If self-righteousness wasn’t a problem in the past, it’s unavoidable now. It wasn’t until I encountered the stories of how others were doing through close friends and family and those they work with that I realized that I had become a cold-hearted chad. I mean I was burnt out. Maybe this didn’t make me any less selfish. It just revealed my self-centeredness more. Enjoying Amazon deliveries and Ubereats while people protested on the streets was solipsism at its finest. If a man killed himself during COVID and I wasn’t around to see it, then he wasn’t really a man.

In the nursing homes, the lockdown is taking its toll on the elderly. Isolated from family, some have stopped eating. They would rather die. Some have faked illnesses to draw attention even from staff because they’re so lonely. Others have become a shell of themselves and lost all personality. My wife cried as she performed a physical assessment of an old man with dementia. As she checked on him, she held a phone to his trembling face. And as he heard his daughter’s voice, he couldn’t stop weeping. He was blind and mute.

I watched as hundreds of Afghanis flooded Kabul’s airport attempting to escape the Taliban. I watched as many clung onto the wheels of the airplane, knowing that it was certain death. And I watched as they fell hundreds of feet from the air. They were in such fear from the Taliban that they would rather have dropped to their deaths. I watched as the president of the most powerful country on earth turned his face away from a country his nation had shaped for 20 years. He blamed his predecessors. And he explained that his motives came from a desire to protect American lives.

I listened as a relative of mine narrated her struggles through the lockdown. I felt her loneliness, her anger and her question of “why?” I saw that such isolation for her was torture. And the longer it went on for, the dimmer her hope grew. Because life as she knew it, was disappearing from her eyes. Though she was doing all she could to stay home and stay safe, in her heart, she was there with the protestors, fighting for their homes and businesses and livelihoods and freedoms. And yes even amidst the anarchists and conspiracy nuts.

But all I could do was #staysafe. What I realized is that we need to face the reality of the situation. Lockdowns benefit those who can work from home. They drive up property prices. They increase debt to those who can ill afford it. And they increase the gap between rich and poor drastically. So with the courage of honesty, maybe we need to explore some ways of navigating through this together at a community and state level rather than just muzzle dissenters, professors from UNSW included, to claim that “the experts are on their side.”

This is not an anti-lockdown rant. But maybe it’s a plea. I don’t know to who. To God perhaps? I doubt Gladys would see this. With some help from the apostle Paul, we need to think about the state of the world as it is. We need it to drive us to seek the knowledge of both God and ourselves. And we need that knowledge to transform this world, in faith, hope and love.

What we need to stop doing is pretending that hiding in our homes, ordering take out, and online shopping are moral badges to be proud of while we blame the pandemic on everyone outside today. The ones outside are the ones delivering our food and parcels. Faith in God, hope in Christ and love for him and our neighbor. After all our toys and things, and our skills and competencies, that’s all that remains. Those are the essentials. So in earnestness you can pray for the lockdown. But pray more for the elderly, for the vulnerable and most of all for yourself. Because how we’re responding is showing us who we are.

Climate Change: A Loss Of Secular Hope?

Kids say the darndest things. And in 2019, its things like “how dare you” and “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” We young people are pretty good at grabbing attention. But the attention we often grab paints us as little more than loud mouthed nuisances. I should know, as the person who wouldn’t stop telling others that I would be an NBA player (I’m still waiting for the call up). At the same time, kids have something that adults don’t have – an utter lack of blandish. And no amount of wheedling will convince your child that the sky isn’t blue or that circles aren’t round (I hope). So when climate change protests and groups like Extinction Australia turn out to be comprised mainly of young people what does that mean? I think it can suggest that they’re being manipulated. But I also think its an honest acknowledgement of a problem by a generation that doesn’t quite know what to do. The problem isn’t the climate. It’s far deeper. The protests are a demonstration for life over death. Young people want to live! And they’ve had to come to an honest acknowledgment that being itself is oriented towards death. Honesty is a good thing.

But the loss of hope is not. When I see Greta Thunberg speak, her eyes are fiery, her face is contorted and mouth is aghast. It’s as though she can’t quite believe that the world isn’t taking her seriously, beyond those coddlers in front of her. Honesty without hope only breeds despair. And despair is an ugly black dog. But what do you do if you grow up believing in the imminent end of the world? If that wasn’t bad enough, if you’ve grown up with a secular worldview, then you’ve also believed that this life is all there is. So you stuck between 2 walls. And the walls are closing in. On one side is the climate and on the other is your own mortality. And both are growing increasingly shorter, squeezing the life out of your young body, leaving you trapped and grasping for the air of transcendence which is no longer there. As William Lane Craig paints it, the universe is continuously expanding. And as matter gets further and further apart, life grows colder and colder. Far from the sun, life will cease to be, vacating the premise for decay to set in. Until one day there will be no life in the universe. All galaxies and the stars will be extinguished, leaving only a void that is endlessly expanding outwards on itself. Everyone and everything you have ever loved will be for naught.

I think Dylan Thomas has captured the most popular solution to our demise in our time:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

The end of the world kind of forces you to grow up doesn’t it? Climate change has aged these children as they grapple to deal with matters that one used to do in their death beds. The children rage because they think their time is short. But you will rarely see Christian children or their parents amongst the protesters. And its not because they’re all climate change deniers. Nor do they believe the universe will continue on as it has for infinity. We know the world is ending. But our honesty to face reality has been transposed to the plane of hope. And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts1. This hope is the hope of a world to come, a world where God has made all things new, a world where a child may pluck an apple from the tree of life and eat and live (does that affect her carbon footprint?). This hope is a physical hope, verified by the resurrection of Jesus, the first fruits of that world. No wonder that it is written “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable2. And Greta and all those Extinction Rebellion kids sure look miserable.

No Dylan Thomas, this is the song we should sing:

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.

Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas,

though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil.

There is a river—its streams delight the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High.

God is within her; she will not be toppled. God will help her when the morning dawns.

Nations rage, kingdoms topple; the earth melts when he lifts his voice.

The Lord of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.3

  1. Rom. 5.5
  2. 1 Cor. 15.19-26
  3. Ps. 46. 1-7

People Of The Han: Are We Free Yet?

Why the Republic?

Last week marked seventy years of the People’s Republic of China. Seventy years since Mao Ze Dong declared “this Government is the sole legal Government, representing all the people of the People’s Republic of China. This Government is willing to observe the principles of equality, mutual respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty.” A lot has changed in seventy years. A generation has come and a generation has gone. Wars have been fought and wars have been lost. And the Chinese people, once starving subjects of foreign countries, have become a full bellied population of 1.4 billion and masters of their own fate.

What was most significant for the Chinese people was that the people’s republic represented an end to a century of humiliation and chaos. Within the 20th century, China had lost vast amounts of land and control over their own people. Hong Kong was leased off in exchange for stopping opium. Taiwan, Mongolia and Manchuria became Japanese colonies. And throughout the east coast of China, cities like Shanghai and Tsingtao became home to British, French and German territories. The Second World War fractured the country at its foundations. While Chinese immigrants had already found homes overseas in many places such as San Francisco, the war led to the explosion of the Chinese diaspora over the Western world. By and large the common people saw the People’s Republic of China as a relief from war and the beginning of unity and freedom.

Do the Chinese have more freedom under their own people?

“Seventy years ago, China put an end to a period in modern history in which the country was torn apart and trampled upon,” China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, told the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. “We stood up and became true masters of our country.”

While hindsight is said to be 20/20, the past can be understood differently depending on what lenses you were wearing. For me, it doesn’t appear the Chinese have any more freedom under their own people than foreigners. While extreme poverty has been abolished, the gap between the rich and poor has grown. Tibet, Xin Jiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong are no more unified than a slave who hates his master is. And if I turn the pages of the People’s Republic back even further, the mass starvation of millions in the 60s and 70s hints that maybe the Chinese have simply exchanged the hair color of its oppressors.

True freedom is willful service

The right of reactionaries to voice their opinions must be deprived and only the people are allowed to have the right of voicing their opinions…To the hostile classes, the State apparatus is the instrument of oppression. It is violent, not benevolent. (Mao Ze Dong)

What I’ve learnt is that true freedom is willful service. True unity gathers around a shared truth. As Tacitus once wrote of the peace of the Roman Empire, “they make it a desert and they call it peace.” The loyalty of the Chinese to their government seems to have been traded like farms for mansions. But as Hong Kong’s protests show, they have not won their hearts. As the People’s Republic flexed and strutted its might around Tian An Men square, I was reminded of what Orwell once said:

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

― George Orwell, 1984

But my prayer and hope is that the Chinese will one day see that only when the law of God is established in each of their hearts and the scepter of his kingdom rests on the merciful shoulders of his son that it is then that they will truly be free and united beyond the color of their skin. Until then, China remains trapped by what my history teacher would warn us about: ‘those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.’

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this. Isa. 9.6-7.

For further reading:

China’s National Day: How the CCP revolutionised China through Mao Zedong

China celebrates 70th anniversary as Xi warns ‘no force can shake great nation’ | World news | The Guardian

Link

Mao Zedong proclaims the establishment of the People’s Republic of China – archive, October 1949 | World news | The Guardian

Link

Communist Party of China – Wikipedia

Qing dynasty – Wikipedia

The Unexamined Web: Weekly Wisdom from 11 Aug 2019

The rapid development of the web means that there is an avalanche of information to dig through each day. In light of this and of questions I get from family and friends about what I’m currently reading, I’ve curated a collection of the books and articles that I read each week and found the most enriching from a Christian worldview.

How do we flourish in the 21st century workplace? Link

Comment: “We are the most interconnected we have ever been, but we are the loneliest we have ever been. We work hard to build homes, bank accounts, and identities for ourselves but we still struggle for significance. What is the key to flourishing?” Highlights the 3 pillars needed for ‘flourishing’. The Christian paradox to flourishing in the workplace is to not seek the workplace as the source for it.

We Know They Are Killing Children — All of Us Know | Desiring God

Comment: An article worth resurfacing with the abortion debates raging in the upper house of the NSW parliament this week. A key point of the bill is the termination of a baby’s life after 22 weeks. From the bill it would seem like we struggle to know when life begins or humanity for that matter. But at the end of our lives when we will have to account for all that we’ve said and done, one thing we will never be able to say is, ‘we didn’t know.’

The C-Theory Of Time Asks If Time Really Has A Direction Link

Comment: While it may seem absurd to the everyday person to consider if time has a direction, modern physics considers that things happen backwards just as they happen forwards. We can only perceive of time as directional if we are assume that there are personal agents behind a sequence of effects. That is, Nathan sank a billiard ball into the corner pocket because ‘he’ hit it rather than the ball which simultaneously jumped up from the corner pocket and rolled into the white ball which then hit the cue stick. Link

The Cookie Crumbles Link

Comment: I’ve been enjoying listening to Senator Bernardi over the last few months. It seems that Australia is inching closer and closer to a recession. We would do well for ourselves and our families to prepare for that and to not rely on a government that struggles to repay its debts, create jobs (it can’t) or efficiently build enterprises.

Gillette’s Ad Reveals Our Cultural Confusion About Man’s 2 States

What is a man? Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve been challenged to think more about this. It wasn’t a challenge because the concept of masculinity was previously unknown but because such a clear idea was being undermined. Recently, Gillette released a type of ad that I’ve been seeing more and more of. Rather than featuring a product, the ads center around who the company is rather than what they do. As a men’s razor company, the ad was addressed to all males but it clearly expressed a narrative that Gillette wanted to identify with and would cause controversy — toxic masculinity. Within 2 minutes I was treated to ‘manly’ behaviors from cat calls and mansplaining (someone still has to explain what this is to me) to kids wrestling and dads barbecuing. The message was that this isn’t ‘the best men can get.’ Instead, Gillette called on men to hold one another accountable to behaviors that have long been justified as ‘boys being boys.’ This was obviously a good ad right?

While some applauded Gillette and saw it as an encouragement towards male accountability, many more could do little but roll their eyes. ‘There goes another attempt to demonize men.’ As for me, I had 2 initial impressions of the ad. I didn’t have any idea what the ad had to do with their actual product nor did I feel the urge to buy more of it. So it simply seemed a bad ad from a marketing standpoint. But I’m not a marketer nor a critic so writing about this aspect of the ad wasn’t going to help anyone. My second reaction is what I wanted to write about and it was directed towards a deeper problem — the message of the ad. I was concerned because it reflected the confusion around sex and identity that has engulfed so much of the society I live and breathe in. In life there are certain things that you just have to live and let live. Toothpaste squeezed from the top rather than the bottom? You just have to grin and bear it. But the confusion around sex isn’t one of them. Being confused about sex doesn’t just hurt women but the men Gillette claims to help. Not knowing how to relate one’s self as a man or a woman means not knowing how to relate to each other. It means people without differences, unity without diversity and existence without meaning. Categories are how we understand being and male and female have always been a part of it. As a Christian, being unable to understand my design means being unable to relate my self not just to others but to God. So gender confusion hurts people because it doesn’t just affect lifestyles but existence and meaning itself.

The 2 Natures

In the book of Genesis, the first two human beings are created by God in his image. As his image, their responsibility would be of mediating between God and being, ordering the chaos of creation into the paradisical garden of Eden. But the first two human beings disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The reward of having their eyes opened is for themselves a curse. One of the curses for Eve the first female, is ‘your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.’ One result of that curse was the splitting of humanity into 2 natures – good and evil. So while Adam the first male was designed to order creation, the goodness of that order would now be twisted and perverted. The loving order and stability of Adam would now become the iron fisted ruling of a tyrant and it has continued in this way. In me there exists the wise king. Yet behind him lays the dark tyrant. They both look similar and at times it can be hard to tell who’s who. The courage, strength and aggression of our fighting men have often been the turning tide of wars. Yet these very same traits have caused the rape, pillaging and destruction of whole cities.

It seems to me that men are capable of heroic displays of virtue but are at the same time, history’s most destructive force. But I don’t think such a design was accidental. I have often looked up at the night sky to observe the beauty of the stars. But it was only when the sky was darkest that their light shone the brightest. Augustine himself recognized this when he observed that God would often use prosperity to remind us of his goodness and great calamities to remind us of our need. What we needed was something stable and unchanging. It was a reminder that what we needed was God himself. What men need therefore is true masculinity and the very God who restores them to it. I do not think the present threat in our society is excessive masculinity but rather a lack of it. When men protect those under their care the world is a safer place. When men create meaning rather meaninglessness the world is a truer place. And when men live as men the world is a more beautiful place.

With further reflection, I’ve become more sympathetic towards Gillette’s attempt to address this social problem. Let me be clear – I don’t endorse it. But I think it was their way of saying that there were wrong behaviors that males had justified as being intrinsic to who they were. This was badly expressed through the phrase ‘boys will be boys’. When I think about the encouragement to ‘suck it up’ as though stoicism saved anyone, I can see Gillette’s point. But harmful behaviors that are usually expressed by males does not mean that males usually express these behaviors. And I think this is what confused people and caused the controversy. Sexual harassment is no more a product of masculinity than lying is to femininity. Unless Gillette and those under the sway of toxic masculinity understand man’s two natures, they will only be able to address it by eradicating maleness itself. When you realize that men die on the job more than females, that they are the most frequent victims of homicide and that they account for 97% of war casualties, that’s not a great idea.

Being A Good Person Cannot Make Up For The Wrong We Do: Why I love that God needed to become a man

The weird habit all humans have

We just can’t help ourselves. Like impulsive children, we just can’t help feeling bad whenever we do something wrong. And we can’t stop trying to make up for it. And if we find that we can’t? Well despair sets in like quick cement, our guilty conscience eating away at us like termites underneath timbers. We have a deeply personal knowledge of wrongs, more than just an intellectual assent. When we see wrongs committed against us or others, our hearts cry out for reparation. That’s part of what makes us human. And the reason why it’s a part of being human is because God created humans to be his image, including his justice.

Our weird habit is evidence of a damaged product

Just as every object was created with a purpose, as humans, we were made in the image of God, designed to honor God by obeying and enjoying him forever. But our conscience assures us we have fallen way short of that. We are prone to do what’s wrong, especially when we’re told we can’t do something. The very thought of being prohibited from something itches away at us. Our moral compasses are broken and we’re scrambling around like ants trying to fix it. So when we act selfishly, if we recognize it, we’ll apologize and promise to do better next time, hoping that’ll resolve our guilt. Unfortunately our consciences don’t seem to work that way. Like a bank account, each wrong committed is a withdrawal on our balance, gradually accumulating more and more debt in our account as we age. It is no wonder that old men are some of the most regretful people in the world.

Being good is overrated

But God is a person of infinite beauty and value. Therefore obeying and enjoying him is the highest good. That means every transgression is a cosmic crime of eternal and infinite proportion. It is like choosing to eat your own feces over lobster. If God says not to eat something, we ought not to eat it even at the cost of all the universe and multiple universes more. The penalty for such a crime then is something greater than the whole amount of our obligations. The penalty requires a payment of infinite value because it has been committed against an infinite being. How then can being good absolve our guilt when it is merely being what we were made to be? It seems that the history of ethics has vastly overrated its credit value.

The solution: a bail out by God

Religions are implicitly aware of this, which is why the story of the world’s religions is one in which the debt is attempted to be remedied since they all know the accounts will have to be settled one day. The problem is that with the exception of Christianity, religions rituals, superstitions and self-help practices have worked only to temporarily suppress our guilt. Let’s not kid ourselves. Our selfishness is an enormous crime and if not for God’s restraints, would be hell on earth. No, the only thing that would make reparation for a life lived in defiance of its infinitely valuable giver, is an eternal and infinitely more valuable life than any human being could offer.

If our hope is in ourselves, our will to power, or our ability to create our own meaning with our choices, then we are of all people the most to be pitied. Living the good life by ourselves is the feeble attempt of a toddler to beat his dad in basketball. The dam of our disappointments and guilt will eventually break its banks and crush us with the weight of its condemnation when we realize we cannot live the life we so desperately want to. The end of living for one’s self is despair not freedom. And the end of despair is death, not life.

Only God can give himself something that is more valuable than the whole universe. And there is nothing that is more valuable than all existence but himself. But it is man who owes the debt. So God the author of life, entered life himself as a character – the man Jesus, so that he might pay man’s debt with his own life. It was life that had existed from eternity. And it was life that was infinitely more valuable than anything else. It was a life through whom, to whom and for whom, all things were made. Only the life and death of Jesus could remedy our guilt because only as a human could he represent us, and only as God could his life be of infinite worth. And because he was of infinite worth, his payment is sufficient for every person who desires to have their guilt washed, their conscience cleansed and their life restored – as his eternal image. This is why I love that God had to become man.

Why Hell Must Exist

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matt 5:21-23

When was the last time you thought about hell? If you’re like me it’s probably been awhile. That’s not a surprise because sometime around the latter half of the 20th century, hell dropped out of our culture’s vocabulary. I’m not sure how it happened or exactly when, but I do remember hell being a common phrase as a kid and then it suddenly just vanished. It wasn’t that it was there one day and then gone the next; it was as if adults had ever heard of such a concept. Instead of a common belief around which morality and life was oriented, it became a dirty word associated with fringe groups. Like those Westboro Baptist guys. It wasn’t a teaching you or your church wanted to be known for. Sure people nowadays may believe in a hell, but this concept is vague and it isn’t quite sure who makes it or who doesn’t. What is certain is that you don’t and no one you’re related to don’t. Not to mention most people. Really, the only people who would deserve hell would probably be Hitler…and that’s about it.

The Christian View of Hell

This places modern Christians in an awkward position since they have always believed in a literal heaven and hell from the time of the apostles. More than that, Christians believe that anyone who doesn’t repent and turn to a man named Jesus will go to hell, separated from any good relationship with God and in the full presence of his wrath. In tolerant times like ours, the Christian belief of heaven and hell is like jumping into a frozen pool, a shock to our system of values. This makes it almost incomprehensible and because of that it’s easy for such views to be socially rejected because of its perceived ‘unfairness’.

Can God really condemn people for a lack of belief? What about the ‘good atheist’? What about Gandhi? More importantly what about the everyday people we know and love like grandma who isn’t a Christian but is one of the most kind hearted people you’ll ever meet? If it’s an outrage when a good man gets the same sentence as a wicked one, how much more when God does so with humans. But if you pause to reflect on the nature of justice, you realize that for a perfect God to be just, hell must necessarily exist. More than that, hell must include people just like you and me.

Evil Isn’t Out There, It’s In Here

While technology like social media has readily opened up the world to us in the 21st century, being more connected to other human beings also means being more open to seeing the injustice and evil that exists in this world. When we see a news report of a school shooting, or a woman who had acid thrown on her face for leaving Islam, or that Syria has attacked its own citizens with chlorine gas, our heart cries out for justice.

But if we want the world to be a better place, wanting injustice to be remedied is only the first step. The second one is to realize that all of the evil we see in others is the same that’s present in ourselves. The scariest thing about the Holocaust, were that its soldiers, its prison guards, and its secret services were just everyday German citizens. They weren’t born monsters, they were human and this was demonstrated in the shock of one Jewish man who attended his perpetrator’s trial. As he looked into his eyes, he saw his humanity and he realized that the two were the same.

We are each capable of infinite evil. Like cancerous cells, they lie dormant within us, awaiting their opportunity to entice our souls. So if we want God to eliminate evil and rectify injustice, we must accept that a perfect God cannot tolerate the least bit of evil in the universe. He must deal with all of it and not just some out there in others. And that includes even the judgment of people like you and me who probably may not ever commit a major crime in our lives, but nonetheless harbor the very same dark desires that when fed, lead to widespread suffering.

Why Only Those Who Believe In Jesus Escape Hell

The Christian doesn’t believe that people go to hell because of their lack of belief in Jesus anymore than we believe that lifelines cause the death of people who drown. No, people drown because they asphyxiate underwater but the lifeline was the only thing that could’ve saved them. So too with Jesus. In any court case, justice demands payment. But in the courts of God, the cost of a crime against an eternally perfect being is more than any man can bear. Unless a perfect substitute exists to bear the guilt of the evil that lies within us, all we’re left with is despair – despair that despite our best efforts to scrub off the evil around us, we can never touch the evil within us and despair because we ultimately know that it will never measure up under the eyes of God. But this is the beauty of Jesus:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Is. 53:5

Why Does It Seem Like No One Can Be Sure About Anything?

Certainty is a lack of doubt about something. This exists on a spectrum from relative to absolute. Although philosophers often attempt to differentiate psychological certainty (which is the strength of one’s belief) and epistemic certainty, I believe that reality shows the two to be mutually dependent. What one knows with absolute certainty entails that one believes it wholeheartedly as well. We must have psychological confidence that the certainty we know is accurately represented. For example if I know for certain that my car is parked outside then it I’m able to believe with full confidence.

But can we know anything with absolute certainty? The postmodern zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) would say no. You can see that whenever anything claims to be certain or universal, a general skepticism tends to follow along. Things like grand historical narratives or universal principles are looked at with suspicion by society. This is because we refuse to allow any authority to interpret our lives and give it meaning outside of our self. As humans we like to think we generate our own meaning. It’s not just postmodern or deconstructionist philosophy though, that articulate such ideas. While the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said as humans, we are ‘radically free’, Disney says ‘it’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through, no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.’ But if we ourselves are uncertain people, then so too will our knowledge be. And if doubt has become the default attitude of society then it has also become its virtue. And certainty in the modern world is now the bad guy, the sign of arrogance.

Besides everyday life, this issue can also be applied to a religious context: can we know God with certainty? For Christians, the answer is yes because the Christian belief is that God’s special revelation is certain and therefore we should be certain about it too. While there are things we ‘figure out’ such as science, there are deeper, more fundamental truths (which are articulated in Scripture) that are revealed to us from birth, truths that are unchanging and certain, regardless of who we are. They govern the world and are revealed to us rather than worked out. In such a context, doubt then is more vice than virtue because it is wrong to doubt what God has clearly revealed to us. So the reason the postmodern mind thinks that there is nothing that can be absolutely known is because there is no knowledge that exists outside of the self. Here is why I think this doesn’t work (and certainty is possible):

It is impossible to exclude certainty in all cases

The inescapable fact of life is that even denying certainty requires certainty about it – ‘that nothing is certain.’ But of course, how can we know that? So the argument against certainty itself must be uncertain. Further, any argument against certainty must assume that argument can be a means of finding truth. Someone using an argument to test the certainty of propositions claims certainty at least for that argument. In this case, he claims that he can test whether we can legimiately know things with certainty. But a test of certainty must be certain itself because it would become the criterion of certainty. As the theologian Frame says, an argument that would test absolute certainty must itself be absolutely certain.

Certainty is supernatural

At the same time, we know that we do not have certain knowledge of everything, which is proven to us everyday. We’re frequently contradicted by our own words and actions. Each day little discoveries are made, showing us that the world we knew before wasn’t quite what we had thought. Before space, time and relativity, there was simply an apple falling to the ground. And there is a humility that comes with acknowledging what we do and what we don’t know. After all, no one likes a smart ass. Certainty cannot come from an uncertain source and therefore cannot come from us.

For Christians, God’s word (special revelation) is the ultimate criterion of certainty. What God says must necessarily be true because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore we have a moral responsibility to regard God’s word with absolute certainty and make it our test for all other knowledge. However, our psychological certainty about the truth of God doesn’t ultimately come from our logical reasoning or empirical or even historical evidence (which is useful) but from God’s own authority. As humans we are made with the capability to understand truth and it is to this aspect God’s word is self-authenticating, speaking on its own authority. At the same time, God is a person and therefore he can choose whom to reveal himself to. Certainty is an act of God by his Spirit, often accompanying human reasoning to give us certainty. Yet Christian Scripture never turns away those whom honestly seek to find the answer to such questions.

Conclusion

Secularism ultimately rejects certainty because absolute certainty is supernatural and the secularist is unwilling to accept a supernatural foundation for knowledge. For the Christian, God’s revelation is a wonderful treasure and one that “saves the soul from sin and the mind from skepticism”1. Questioning whether anything is certain is a sign that one hasn’t yet found any sturdy ground to stand on outside of themselves. It is like a blind man, who isn’t sure of the road he is walking on. He feels it in terms of a series of physical sensations, separated by the rhythm of time. A bump here followed by a bump seconds later indicates an uneven road. But it isn’t until that his eyes are opened that he can know that with certainty that it was a road he was walking on all along. So too with God.

  1. Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, 582-587

Easter Would Shake Us If We Knew What It Really Meant

A Strange Holiday

It seems to me that if a man who had lived in a remote jungle his whole life were to enter Western society at this time of the year, he would find Easter quite puzzling and needless to say, absurd. “What a strange people” he’d remark, “they appear to worship a rabbit as their God and make strange replicas of him using only chocolate. And when they have bought these replicas they encourage their children to devour him!” Yet if one really thinks about how Easter is celebrated in this day and age, it really is quite strange to behold. On Saturday, I had the opportunity to have ‘yum cha’ with Sophia’s grandmother and her family at Mt Pritchard RSL. It was a nice catch up but it was busy, as busy as Mt Pritchard RSL can get on a Friday. As we were leaving, I walked past the cafe section of the club which was now suddenly flooded with children and their parents. The children sat or stood, their eyes transfixed towards the front where a projector screen and a well dressed lady with a mic stood. Scores of Easter eggs and prizes surrounded the front. Instead of older folk, it was like bingo for children, and it seemed a winner was about to be announced. At any other time of the year, things like chocolate eggs, bunnies, hot cross buns, prizes and shows would be everyday items, unfit to be objects of such hype. The commotion for such small things, interrupted by usual thoughts and made me reflect. Why did Easter bring such significance to them? What did the eggs mean and where did the bunny come from?

The True Meaning of Easter

There is a tendency for symbols of cultural significance to be taken out of its context and commercialized in a pluralistic society. Easter is no exception. I believe one reason is to allow everyone to ‘participate’ in a cultural safety zone without being confronted by the deeper meaning behind its rituals. After all who doesn’t love night markets and kebabs after Ramadan? The second is because it’s going to be a pretty good money maker. There is a clearly defined target market and regular, predictable demand because of how deeply entrenched these rituals are in their cultures.

Beyond the food and festivities, celebrations like Christmas and Easter come from an entirely Christian context where the birth, death and resurrection of a man who claimed to be the one true God is celebrated. To the Muslim, I am sure festivals like Ramadan are more than mere fasting and feasting. Think Divali is only about lights? There is much more significance behind these festivals than nutritional choices.

Yet if one is to truly appreciate the meaning of Easter and enjoy it fully, one has to place it back into its context. In its origin, Easter was not a holiday. It was a dark hour, the darkest hour for humanity. A stretch of events led to the death of one man who claimed to be God. But unlike every other death, hope rose from the ashes 3 days later. This man’s death was followed by a resurrection, something unique that had never happened in human history. Even 2000 years later, it continues to confound the most astute scholars because no one knows what to make of it. When someone dies and then comes back to life there are obviously going to be a lot of questions. What did it ultimately mean? If we look at the words given to us by the men who spent the most time with this man, then the answer is this –

”The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31

Before the resurrection, death was the norm. No man had ever died and then come back to life, and for good reason. Sin is treason against God and the wages of sin is death. So every man died because he was guilty, having sought to define his life apart from God. Yet death could not hold this man. Though he was condemned because he bore the sin of humanity as a man, he was resurrected because he was God. More than that, his resurrection was vindication of his complete innocence, and that his death was enough to meet the penalty of sin for ever human who ever lived.

Because of his death, the symbol of Easter is an egg to represent new life in him. But the resurrection only brings new life for those who seek it in him. So Easter also comes with a warning. It is a warning that every human heart knows, from the moment a child first feels the pangs of guilt to the old man’s last regrets – that there is a day in which God will judge the world by the very same man that death could not hold.

Easter Is A Bad Holiday To Gamble On

Remember those game shows you watched growing up like Deal or No Deal or Jeopardy? It was always a good laugh watching people take risks and gamble. Losing was never a big deal and most of the time, people could smile knowing they went home winning at least something. But how would the show be if the contestants found out they were actually playing for their lives? If you’re celebrating Easter you’re doing the same thing – gambling a fun family holiday without any significant meaning in exchange for the risk of ignoring the biggest event in history. The consequences of winning – a more comfortable 4 day vacation, the consequences of losing – eternal life. Knowing the true meaning of Easter should make us consider carefully how we see this holiday. It can be the event that drives us to this man, Jesus to take refuge under his wings or drives us to stand apart from his death and be judged for the very lives we’ve lived. Would you choose to have a morally perfect one or yours? I know which one I’d rather have.

Conclusion

Easter is not so much a holiday about eggs and bunnies but a celebration of new life and a remembrance of the cost it took. Easter is confronting because it forces us to think about life and death in a way we’re not used to. Unlike the Victorians who were obsessed with death, we have shoved death to the fringes of society, reserved only for undertakers, cemeteries and medical services. Death is an unwelcome visitor and when one is confronted by him, he is like an unexpected guest at a wedding, and he leaves us utterly unprepared. In a culture avoidant of death, the meaning of Easter is needed more than ever.