An Investigator Examines the Resurrection

Ross on the street working a sex offender compliance operation in North Carolina

Tracking Down a Fugitive

I was confident that if we were patient enough, we would snag our fugitive in a mobile home located on the outskirts of the Piedmont-Triad area of North Carolina. I had been tipped off by an out of town Deputy U.S. Marshal that a “case” he was working was most likely in our area. After looking over the documents sent to me from my out of town partner, I began developing my own sources of information. Not only did I look at documentary sources, but I also began interviewing witnesses that I believed knew the fugitive.

Now it was time to conduct the surveillance. After playing a ruse on the fugitive, I was certain he was in the mobile home we had under surveillance. After a little back and forth conversation through the front door of the trailer, my investigation came to fruition. I came face to face with the fugitive after gaining entry into the home. We took the fugitive into custody even though he had tried to get out of the web we had woven for him.

Using Accepted Principles of Evidence

In working my case, I had used principles of evidence to uncover the location of this non-compliant sex offender. I had relied upon documents to develop other leads which led to interviews. In turn, after conducting interviews of persons associated with the fugitive, I was able to come up with certain information that gave me a likely address and telephone number for him. After obtaining the likely address, I began my surveillance of the mobile home. Eventually, after gaining entry into the house, I visually identified the fugitive.

Corroboration

All along, even though I was not consciously thinking about each step of the investigation, I was using accepted prinicples of evidence to hone in on my target. I was using documents to gain valuable information. I was employing the principle of corroboration from these documents as I strengthened my evidence not just from one source, but from many sources. I further corroborated the documentary evidence for the location of the fugitive by interviewing witnesses who told me about their relationship with him. They informed me about the type of vehicle he drove and other pertinent information as well.

Direct and Indirect (or Circumstantial) Evidence

Finally, I witnessed not only the fugitive himself, but I also viewed his North Carolina identification which helped me to prove an element of a new crime (violation of federal sex offender registry statutes). In addition to corroborating my evidence, I also utilized the evidential principles of direct and indirect (or circumstantial) evidence. Seeing the fugitive myself and viewing the driver’s license he handed me was direct evidence that he was in fact residing at the residence in violation of the Adam Walsh Act.

When looking at his driver’s license (and other docs including pieces of mail, etc,) I utilized indirect or circumstantial evidence to infer or reason that my suspect had violated the Adam Walsh Act by illegally residing at this residence without registering as a sex offender. Welcome to the world of investigations! The most humorous moment in the investigation came when I realized that he was actually wearing a piece of evidence. The shirt he was wearing had his name and phone number on it (helping to prove his illegal residency-ha). The fugitive and I both laughed at this even as I took a picture of it to use against him in court.

The Resurrection By the Evidence

So, what does this have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ? What happens when we apply the same accepted principles of evidence that I used to track this man down to the case for the resurrection? It turns out these biblical accounts of the resurrection and surrounding events are supported by principles of evidence!

We have the account of John standing at the foot of the cross when Jesus died (Jn. 19:35). He, along with Peter, encountered an empty tomb where the body of Jesus had been lain (Jn. 20:1-8). He also experienced Jesus in a very personal way after Jesus died and he wrote about it (Jn. 21:4-7, 12). Matthew was part of the group of disciples who experienced Jesus after his death and wrote about it (Matt. 28:16-18). We have historical documents that were penned by those who witnessed these events.

Skeptics: No One Saw the Resurrection

Some skeptics say that the disciples never eyewitnessed the resurrection itself. This is a fair point. It is always desirable to have a witness that can say that he saw the crime being committed. However, another form of direct evidence, intermediate direct evidence, can be used to answer this concern of skeptics. Intermediate direct evidence is often used in criminal cases. Sometimes, eyewitnesses provide testimony that does not prove the entire crime.

For instance, a witness may not have observed a suspect commit the heist of a particular car. However, if a witness observes the suspect driving the stolen car, this fact, along with other evidence, could lead a jury to convict this particular suspect of stealing the car. If additional witnesses come forward who provide other evidence, then this intermediate direct evidence can be used to establish that the suspect committed the crime.

Let’s say a second witness sees the same suspect loitering near the car with a crowbar before she hears the sound of breaking glass. She goes to call the police and when she returns to the window, the car is gone. Both witnesses did not observe the car actually being stolen but they did witness the suspect doing things that would be consistent with him stealing the car. An inference can be made that the suspect stole the car.

Intermediate Direct Evidence and the Resurrection

In a similar way, there is intermediate direct evidence reported in the Gospel accounts that can lead us to the conclusion that Jesus Christ arose from the dead. In fact, there was an eyewitness who wrote about the death and burial of Jesus Christ (John). There were also eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus Christ who wrote about it (Matthew, John, Paul). We have these accounts in authenticated documents today that were written within only decades from the events they describe. Moreover, the resurrected Jesus Christ was witnessed twelve times by numerous persons in different scenarios. This strengthening of evidence displays the evidential principle of corroboration.

Resurrection Investigators: Mark and Luke

Looking at the resurrection accounts of Mark and Luke, we have two investigators who interviewed witnesses of the resurrection. They were in a position to talk to eyewitnesses by virtue of their close relationships with them. We know from documents outside of the New Testament that Luke was a close associate of Paul and that Mark was closely associated with Peter (Peter also calls Mark “my son” in 1 Peter 5:13). In certain instances, police reports are allowed into court proceedings to augment the understanding of a certain facet of a case. The accounts of Mark and Luke are in line with this sort of investigative reporting. They are historical investigative reports taken from actual witnesses to the resurrection and surrounding events.

Still More Circumstantial Evidence

In the investigation that I referred to before, I concluded (or inferred from the evidence) that a sex-offender was in violation of local and federal registry statutes. I made this inference after looking at pieces of mail and the fugitive’s driver’s license. This sort of evidence can also be categorized as circumstantial or indirect evidence. From circumstances, you can infer that a crime was committed. We can look at various circumstances that show us the resurrection accounts can be trusted. One of these pieces of information is the conversion and ministry of Paul. How is it that one of the chief antagonists of the early Christian church becomes its chief missionary? An inference can be made that Paul actually encountered what he believed to be the risen Jesus Christ.

Another piece of circumstancial evidence that affirms the authenticity of the resurrection comes from the martyrdom of Thomas. This disciple was the very first skeptic of the resurrection. Confronted with the risen Jesus, he makes his proclamation of belief. Early Indian Christian tradition informs us that he was later martyred for his belief in the resurrected Jesus Christ. What accounts for this change from skeptic to missionary-martyr?

Summing Up

By using the same principles of evidence that I employed in my law enforcement career, we can be confident that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually occurred in space and time.  It is the best conclusion that can be made considering all of the evidence we have today! With that being said, what are the implications for us today if we have the very words of the risen Jesus available to us in the Gospels?

He Is Risen!

BECAUSE HE CAME, JESUS LED FROM THE FRONT

Adoration of the Shepherds, Matthias Stomer, 17th Century, Public Doman

Recently, I was sent a video link to a “TED talk” given by Simon Sinek. Sinek very ably discussed his views about “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe.” Even though I didn’t agree with his evolutionary foundation of Darwinian mutual trust and cooperation (there are some chilling historical examples of evolutionary trust and cooperation), I really did appreciate his emphasis on what good leadership really is and how it can profoundly impact an organization for the good.

As his centerpiece example, Sinek tells us the story of the heroism of CAPT William Swenson of the U.S. Army who displayed his bravery while conducting ground operations in the Ganjgal Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009. As a result of a Taliban ambush, Swenson’s unit came under heavy fire and sustained numerous casualties. During the battle, Swenson had repeatedly disregarded his own personal safety to go into the fray of battle to retrieve the wounded and the fallen. He was eventually awarded the highest military award, the Medal of Honor, in October of 2013 by President Barack Obama (see link below).

https://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/swenson

Sinek was struck by a video clip (see link below) captured by a helicopter corpsman where Swenson is seen  placing one of his wounded soldiers on the medevac helicopter. Swenson then leans over and kisses him on the forehead. Sinek goes on to discuss the passionate servant leadership of Swenson in that he cares so much for the men under his charge that he repeatedly risks his life trying to make sure that he is safe. If that is not enough, Swenson is observed displaying his affection outwardly on the video. Sinek further discusses how business leaders can foster a truly warm and nurturing environment for their employees that enables them to excel in their business endeavors. So what does this have to do with the Christmas Story?

CAPT William Swenson receiving the medal of honor

As I was contemplating Swenson’s heroism, I realized that it didn’t happen by accident meaning that Swenson (and many thousands of soldiers for that matter) made the  decision that placed him in a position to eventually display his heroism. Swenson made a decision to join the military and complete the required training to become an active duty military officer. He made the decision to board a plane that took him into the theater of battle. In other words, if Swenson had not made these decisions, he would not have been in the position to rescue his fallen comrades on that fateful day. He decided to go. Isn’t that true of Jesus Christ? More on this a little later.

In addition to Swenson’s heroism, I think of the fallen heroes around us. I think of the many first responders who have repeatedly put themselves in danger for the good of others. As we well know, many of them have given the ultimate sacrifice out of love for their communities. I think of my comrades with the U.S. Marshals Service who have displayed their gallantry by dying in the line of duty. Deputy U.S. Marshals Chase White (2018), Christopher Hill (2017), Patrick Carothers (2016), John Perry (2011), and Derek Hotsinpiller (2011) all gave their lives protecting their communities. These courageous lawmen made the decision to join the USMS and to undergo the required training.  Next, they made the decision every day to place their lives in jeopardy by going out in the field and hunting for dangerous criminals. Each one of these heroes made the decision to go into our communities to protect us from those who would victimize us. So what does this have to do with the Christmas Story?

In Philippians 2:5-8, the Apostle Paul, describes how Christ Jesus emptied himself. Even though he was God, he humbled himself taking on the likeness of man (v. 7). If taking on a lower form was not enough, Jesus humbled himself “by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! (v. 8).” Jesus Christ came as a baby in humble circumstances. He made a choice to come to the earth in this way. If He had not decided to do this, then he would not have been in the position to live a perfect life, to minister like he did, and also to give the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of humanity. As a songwriter once penned, “he was born to die.” In that he made this decision to come, Jesus led from the front. Not only does Jesus secure our eternal destinies, but he gives an example of how we can selflessly lead those around us. I appreciate Sinek’s talk on authentic and self-sacrificing leadership. I appreciate CAPT Swenson’s wartime heroism and the sacrifice of our first responders. I am also so grateful that Jesus took on the form of human flesh for the good of so many for whom he died. Even as we celebrate Christmas today, I recognize Jesus because he led (and still leads) from the front!

Merry Christmas! Ross

Getting Rich: A Way to the Good Life?

Epstein 2013 Mugshot (Wikimedia Commons)


INTRODUCTION

Recently, Jeffrey Epstein, a well to do businessman/investor was in the news when he committed suicide after being indicted by federal prosecutors on sex-trafficking charges. Epstein, an investor and financial manager, socialized in elite social circles, amassed an enviable fortune, and lived a lavish lifestyle.  One would think he “had it all.” However, what would lead one “who had it all” to seek inauthentic and criminal forms of sexual pleasure (if what the government alleges is true)? Surely, if Epstein found true contentment through his luxuriant lifestyle, it seems he would not have engaged in this alleged criminal activity (if the allegations are true).  Does gaining wealth automatically bring contentment? Does Jesus discuss wealth and contentment? Are his words, recorded over 2000 years ago, still relevant to 21st century American culture? We’ll briefly discuss wealth and contentment, look at some scholastic articles, see what Jesus had to say on the topic, and then make some conclusions.

A BRIEF BIO

Jeffrey Epstein, by all accounts, was living the American dream. He grew up in a working class family from Brooklyn, NY, and went from obscurity to a position of prominence in the financial and investment industry. He amassed a fortune of over $500 million dollars over four decades and his real estate holdings included an upscale residence on his own private Caribbean island as well as one of the largest mansions on the island of Manhattan. In addition to his noteworthy financial assets, Epstein also hobnobbed with many of the social elites of our day to include Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and England’s Prince Andrew, to name a few.[1]

Even though all seemed to be going well in life, Epstein was beleaguered by reports of inappropriate sexual behavior with under aged women going back to the early 2000s. He eventually pleaded guilty to “soliciting for prostitution” as he was alleged to have had sex with juvenile females. In 2008, Epstein was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for these sexual encounters.  New accusations began to swirl again in 2017 when the media reported his alleged continuing sexual abuse. These rumors were eventually seconded by a federal grand jury charging Epstein formally with numerous counts of sex trafficking. Only several weeks ago, Epstein ended his life in a New York jail facility. Why wern’t his successful financial ventures and his close circle of elite friends enough to give him happiness? Let’s look into some research on wealth as it relates to contentment to see if there are any enlightening answers.[2]

BRIEF RESEARCH ON CONTENTMENT

In a recent four nation survey (China, Canada, Japan, and India), researchers asked a younger audience “What is it that brings contentment to your life?” The qualities the test subjects indicated what brought the “good life” were: 1) having close and enduring friendships 2) having a happy and healthy family 3) having had a positive impact on others 4) a state of well-being and contentment 5) having had a good, loving marriage or romantic partnership 6) a lot of wealth or assets. It is interesting that “wealth” came in sixth when the results from all four nations were tabulated together. It is easy to imagine that if you had Aladdin’s lamp and the genie appeared to grant one wish, one would think that “lots of money” would be the first thing requested.  The reality is that most of us value something else greater than the amassing of wealth. When analyzed separately, notable were the Chinese (10) and the Indians (8) who viewed wealth as less important than the Canadians (4) or the Japanese (2).  It is informative that the most important qualities bringing satisfaction to one’s life are centered around relationships with others instead of money and prurient or base experiences. Would deep and meaningful relationships have stopped Epstein’s path to self-destruction?[3]

TOLSTOY AND HAPPINESS

,Leo Tolstoy is a person from whom we can glean some good advice regarding contentment. When examining the life of Tolstoy, Noah Tenai shares that the literary great came from a modest family and experienced extreme hardship from a very early age due to the death of both his father and mother. Although Tolstoy became a giant in the literary world garnering both fame and fortune, he slipped into a deep depression, later in life, that robbed him from enjoying his success. In his quest to discover what truly brings meaning to life, Tolstoy ended up finding out that it is not the amassing of wealth itself that brings happiness. Rather for him, it was hard work and simple living amidst the struggles of life that brought true happiness. Tolstoy eschewed the accumulation of wealth as it would obscure the “purity of the soul, the life of the mind, the cohesion of the family, or the common good.” Other pursuits Tolstoy found important were his faith/religious devotion, artistic creation, revolutionary politics (to the 19th century Czarist elite), humanitarian interests, and ecological concerns. At the core of Tolstoy’s keys to overcoming his depression were relationships; to God, to family, to his fellow citizens, and to the world around him. Could Epstein have found contentment outside of his reported glamorous lifestyle? Would Epstein’s later life have been different had he tapped into Tolstoy’s emphasis on relationship?[4]

HAPPINESS EXPERIENCED IN COMMUNITY

In similarity to Tolstoy, a related theme of rejection of the accumulation of material possessions as a pathway to contentment is also observed in the words of “the preacher” in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.  Jonathan Sacks observes that the word usage of “happiness” in Ecclesiastes implies that it comes as a member of a community. Sacks zeroes in on the second chapter to show the futility of the preacher who continually references himself by using the pronoun “I.” He observes that at this point in his life, “the preacher” is quite unhappy despite all of his “acquisitions and accomplishments.” They are all meaningless. Sacks then shows the context of the word “happiness’ refers to a corporate relationship. The Hebrew word for “happiness,” “simchah,” is used seventeen times by the “preacher.” Furthermore, it only has meaning in the collective or covenantal sense and is something that is always shared together. For the “preacher,” “simchah” is communal and is a quality we experience only when we leave our solitude behind and become part of a community. Could it be that Epstein was not experiencing this covenantal form of happiness?[5]

JESUS ON REAL CONTENTMENT

After gaining insight from these writers/researchers about the importance of authentic human relationships and the rejection of wealth accumulation as a means to happiness, I am interested to see what Jesus has to say on the topic. Are his words still relevant 2,000 years later? In the prelude to telling the parable of the “rich fool,” who was merely concerned about gathering more and more “stuff” for himself, Jesus warns that good living is not all about having a lot of things (Luke 12: 15). In his telling of the parable, Jesus discusses a man who was already wealthy but seemingly was only interested in accumulating even more things. Jesus shows the futility of the man’s greed as building larger facilities to warehouse his things will not help him throughout eternity. Rather, giving of one’s wealth to the poor and needy will in reality be a way in which one can truly invest and receive eternal dividends (12:16-34).

-In addition to this parable, we also see in the conversation of Jesus with a rich man that giving to the “less fortunate” is a way to truly be wealthy (Luke 18:18-29). If this man would only heed the advice of Jesus he would gain “eternal treasure.” Further highlighting the importance of sacrificial giving as the means to true prosperity, Jesus marvels at how much a poor widow gives even though it does not appear to be much (Mk. 12:41-43).  In giving her pennies out of her poverty, she is far out-giving many who are giving out of their abundance. True prosperity is not based upon how much you have in your bank account. Rather, it is based upon the status of your heart as evidenced by how willing you are to give of yourself to others. This does not seem very surprising as God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, came to serve others even though as God, he already possessed everything, Moreover, if you really think about it, giving to someone else is truly a relational event that is filled with encouragement for the giver and the receiver.

Another example of the importance of relationship rather than the accumulation of wealth, is observed in the parable of the “hidden treasure.” In this parable, Jesus recounts a story of a man who finds a hidden treasure in a field.  Knowing  that there is treasure hidden there, the man sells all his earthly possessions so he can be the sole possessor of the treasure. The man is overwhelmed with joy to be able to obtain it and readily jettisons all of his assets in order to become unbelievably rich. In telling this parable, Jesus reveals that relationship with God is to be valued more than any of our possessions. It is worth everything that one has to obtain this most prized of possessions. When someone comes into relationship with Jesus Christ, he must be willing to give up everything in order to receive the “kingdom of heaven” with all of its temporal and eternal benefits.

In regard to the primacy of relationships over wealth, Jesus discusses himself as the “bread of life (John 6:35)” and that his body is that bread which guarantees a believer’s eternity. Jesus further shares the closeness of the bond between him and God, the Father. Jesus does the will of the Father out of love for him, and is also the catalyst for the “eternality” of all who believe in him (6:35-40). By virtue of his bond with all of the believers, they will live forever with him. A foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Jesus is observed in his words as he discusses the intimate nature of believers becoming one with him. They will symbolically partake of his body and blood. This reveals not only the close bond of Jesus with the Father, but also the bond between Jesus and his believers.

THE TRINITY AS THE FOUNDATION OF AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIPS

A final example of close relationship comes from the Trinity itself. Of course, the word “Trinity” is never used in the Bible.  However, the persons of the Godhead are observed as they relate to each other in several places within the New Testament. One great example of this is the discourse Jesus gives as he prepares his disciples for his soon coming departure. In one of the most moving of these interludes, Jesus reveals the importance and power of love; a self-sacrificial love. One that is shared between him and the Father and also between him and each of his disciples (John 15:9). But he goes further in instructing his disciples that they must love each other with the same love that Jesus has loved them. What? It seems impossible for them to love each other as powerfully as Jesus has loved them. But for emphasis, Jesus “commands” them to love each other (actually he commands them twice). One further example of the Trinity is the arrival of the Holy Spirit after Jesus dies who will indwell the believers (15:26).  It seems to me that you cannot get closer in relationship than that. It is also here where we see the joy of authentic relationships. Jesus expresses his “joy” is complete in this intimate bond and that their joy will be also be complete if they remain in relationship with Jesus and also love each other with a Godly love (v. 11). Here is the secret to contentment! Authentic relationships with God but also with each other as well. You will be truly content if you allow yourself to be nurtured by God and also participate in this God inspired, selfless love to those around you.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In my concluding thoughts on contentment, it appears that Epstein and others like him, who seemingly have it all, are not really happy. This is exemplified by their self-destructive behavior that ends up hurting others. If he were truly satisfied with his lot in life, then he would not have engaged in these alleged ongoing sexual crimes that damaged so many in order to provide him some form of inauthentic pleasure that he craved. Rather, what is found by research and life experience is the key to “the good life” is meaningful and healthy relationships. I submit to you that the foundation of these healthy relationships is found In the words of Jesus. We should be willing to give up all of our stuff in order to obtain something of much greater worth than anything we can get here in our present existence. A relationship with God that nourishes us here (“bread of life”) and also extends into eternity. Moreover, the Trinity provides a foundation for intimacy in relationships as the persons of the Godhead are intertwined with a relational unity as God and serve each other constantly. Even as we read about the loving relationship between the members of the Trinity with each other, we also read about how Jesus implores,  even commands us to love each other. As the creator of all human beings, he is quite familiar with the basic need of humans to receive and give an authentic and selfless love in order for them to flourish. Even in this ultimate act of selfless giving, Jesus saw the cross that he bore as a “joyful’ event because of how it would inure to our eternal benefit (Hebrews 12:2). So, if at some point you find yourself with too much stuff, just give it away and find out how satisfying it can be!


[1] Goodread Biography: Famous People Biography Database. Jeffrey Epstein Biography. https://www.goodreadbiography.com/jeffrey-epstein-biography/ accessed Sept. 24, 2019.

[2] Goodread Biography: Famous People Biography Database. Jeffrey Epstein Biography. https://www.goodreadbiography.com/jeffrey-epstein-biography/ Date of access Sept. 24, 2019.

[3] Tafarodi, R. et al. 2012. What makes for a good life? A four nation study. Journal for Happiness Studies. 13:783-800.

[4] Tenai, N. 2016. The simple living of Leo Tolstoy and the slippery slope of consumerism in a context of poverty: A pastoral guide. HTS Theological Studies (online 2072-8050):1-10

[5] Sacks, J. 2014. Happiness: A Jewish perspective. Journal of law and religion (29, no. 1): 30-47.

The Evidential Problem of Evil: An Investigator’s Perspective

Photo by Lanare Seve via Wikimeida Commons

As you may imagine, first responders observe many horrendous things. Things that can leave an unwanted imprint in one’s mind for years. It is common knowledge that many first responders are traumatized by what they see when they work accidents and crime scenes. Fortunately, other than several calls that I responded to when working as a uniformed police officer, I did not see that much gore on the streets. This was the case because I spent the majority of my time with the Portsmouth Police Department as a narcotics detective whose main task was to stem the drug trade in at risk communities. I was not responding to calls where dead bodies or critically injured patients were present.

However, by virtue of this sort of work, I did see another type of destruction that was present in neighborhoods and individuals. I did observe an evil of sorts (i.e. deprivation of the good of holistic/healthy living) present. A vivid example of this was when our squad patrolled on foot when groups of adults were spotted loitering in high crime areas. Oftentimes, these groups were composed of drug dealers and drug buyers transacting their business in broad daylight.

In addition to the buying and selling of illegal narcotics in these groups, some indiscreet addicts would use their narcotics in plain view as well. In order to lessen the risk of being arrested with drugs on their person, the street dealers would often secrete their drug supplies inside of random containers such as crumpled cups, discarded bags or even a nearby downspout. Because of this, we would often search in nooks and crannies for their stashes of dope near these groups. Many times, we were rewarded for our rummaging when a stash of drugs was found. We always had a mini-celebration when we were able to get one of these caches of drugs off the streets. I mention this because one of the heart-rending memories I have of my time patrolling these at-risk neighborhoods was observing little children trying to play. I would see the streets and common areas littered with used hypodermic needles and crack pipes that had been left on the ground. The kids would ride their tricycles and play with their toys in this sort of environment. Innocent children playing intersecting with the cruelty of drug abuse troubled me. It truly reminded me that there was not only the good of innocent children playing here, but also the presence of “evil” (or deprivation of good) in these communities.

We all have had brushes with the problem of evil whether we see it as such. A loved one whose life disintegrates into a death spiral of drug dependence or a friend whose life is snuffed out too early by the recklessness of someone else. These are examples of evil that we have seen and have experienced ourselves. There has been/is a long-standing philosophical debate about “the problem of evil” that has lasted for centuries. Skeptical philosophers (those who believe that the existence of evil in the world disproves the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God) state that if God really possesses these qualities, then He would not allow evil to persist in a world that He created. One of these arguments against the existence of God is known as the “evidential argument of evil” that is based upon what can be observed in the world and making inferences from these observations. If this argument is in fact based upon what one observes, then it seems to me that accepted principles of evidence/legal argumentation would apply to this discussion. It is my contention that bringing in these long accepted principles would substantially assist in this ongoing debate.

One example of a well-known “evidential argument” against the existence of God was given by a prominent philosopher, William L. Rowe. He offered a hypothetical scenario where the confluence ( or combination) of two chance events results in the unnecessary intense suffering of a fawn:

“Suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in agony for days before death relieves its suffering. So far as we can see, the fawn’s intense suffering is pointless. For there does not appear to be any greater good such that the prevention of the fawn’s suffering would require either the loss of that good or the occurrence of an evil equally bad or worse evil so connected to the fawn’s suffering that it would have had to occur had the fawn’s suffering been prevented. Could an omnipotent, omniscient being have prevented the fawn’s apparently pointless suffering? [1]”

The chance events of Rowe’s scenario are the backdrop for the evil observed in the fawn’s pointless suffering. Why would God allow these random events to result in the suffering of the fawn? If there was some reason for it that would lead to the greater good, Rowe reasons, there may be a good explanation why the fawn had to suffer. Let’s apply the aforementioned principles to see if they are beneficial to our discussion.

In Rowe’s scenario, he presents it as if it happened or could happen in the real world. It is reasonable that such a scenario has happened and even repeatedly throughout “fawn history.” So, Rowe is presenting this problem as a proof for atheism or as evidence against theism (the idea that there is a God who exists and is all-powerful and all-good). In courtroom argumentation, a lawyer first presents his case against a defendant. After this, the opposing counsel is allowed to present a cross-examination against the evidence that has been given through testimony. In cross-examining Rowe’s scenario, it appears that Rowe’s case is undermined by offering evidence of the utility of these “random events” that caused the fawn’s demise. In fact, some of the random events that Rowe offers are actually very important in maintaining flourishing physical life on earth. So, a brief offering of evidence for the utility of lightning as well as the utility of wildfires is offered to cross-examine Rowe’s contention.

THE UTILITY OF LIGHTNING

Staccoto Lightning by Griffinstorm Wikimedia Commons

Even though our pets may not like the rumbling and the flashing of a thunderstorm, I have heard some of my friends and family comment about enjoying the spectacle of a powerful thunderstorm moving through their area as well as enjoying them myself. It is known that lightning traveling through our atmosphere produces a large amount of nitrogen. A 2004 article on the Environmental Health Perspectives page of the National Institute of Health entitled “Global Nitrogen: Cycling Out of Control” describes how lightning “fixes” nitrogen in the atmosphere, and how it is deposited in the soil. Animals and plants receive this essential compound through eating plants and other animals. In turn, the plants obtain their nitrogen from the soil and water. The replenishment of nitrogen in the soil is aided by approximately 3-10 teragrams (Tg) per year of “fixed” nitrogen provided by lightning moving through the atmosphere. The lightning fixes this nitrogen by converting it into a form of nitrogen that can be consumed by plants and animals. This “fixed” or reactive form of nitrogen produced by lightning is then precipitated into the soil. This precipitation of the “fixed” nitrogen into the soil is especially important to eco-systems where certain nitrogen producing plants are scarce. Thus, without the lightning providing this usable form of nitrogen, plants and animals in these nitrogen scarce environments would lack the nitrogen needed for their overall health, to include fawns. [2]

THE UTILITY OF WILDFIRES

Public Domain

There is no need to research the utility of fire for the flourishing of the denizens of our planet as the need for it is self-evident. We all rely on it for mobility, heat, cooking, and the crafting of various materials, etc. Thus, if we did not have fire for all of these purposes, then our world would be severely impacted by its absence.

However, what Rowe discusses is a forest fire which adds a chance element to his scenario. Notwithstanding the addition of this chance element, it is known that naturally occurring forest fires are an important part of the eco-system of a forest. Will Donavan, in his article, “Why Are Wildfires Good for the Environment?” cites Dr. Timothy Mihuc, Professor of Environmental Science at the SUNY at Plattsburgh, who discusses the many benefits of naturally occurring forest fires. Dr. Mihuc lists these benefits of forest fires (that do not impact human development) as 1) being regenerative for the forest 2) renewing the watershed and the forest soil 3) “resetting the clock for the ecosystem. [3]”

In addition to these reasons, Mihuc also explains that forest fires are essential in aiding the germination of a number of tree seeds to regenerate the population of trees in the forest. In addition to these benefits, Mihuc also explains how smaller forest fire sites can also retard larger, more devastating forest fires. He explains that the patchwork mosaic of the smaller sites where younger forest “patches” are located (as a result of earlier forest fires) aid in the defense of larger, more devastating fires that can become catastrophic (when naturally occurring forest fires are suppressed). [4]

In addition to the usefulness of forest fires to flora, they also aid wildlife in several ways. An example of this can be read on a NCSU website publication entitled “Using Fire to Improve Wildlife Habitat. ” In this article, the author shows a number of benefits that forest fires bring to the fauna of a habitat. One benefit observed is the culling of pine type forests. If fires are artificially prevented, then the habitat of birds is disrupted as their food supply and “proper cover” disappear.

In addition to the benefits for birds, the article lists the observation of wildlife biologist Herbert Stoddard who recognizes a number of benefits of wildfires for animals to include: 1) the germination of herbaceous plants, grasses, legumes 2) some of these plants flower after a fire and harbor insects as well as provides seeds that feed quail, turkey, and songbirds 3) New growth provides cover for smaller mammals, young turkeys, and quail 4) Wildlife move into newly burned areas to feed on newly exposed insects and seeds 5) shrubs producing fleshy fruit are more productive after a fire 6) whitetail deer will enjoy better food sources such as young hardwoods which sprout back 5 years after a fire and are more nutritious than the older hardwoods. As you can see even fawns benefit from naturally occurring forest fires.

THE SUFFERING OF A FAWN IN A FOREST FIRE

In his scenario that he uses to support his atheist philosophy, Rowe does offer the proposition that if a greater good for the suffering of the fawn could be justified, then perhaps this suffering could be explained as justifiable in some sense. [6] It seems that there is justification for the fawn’s intense suffering in that there are substantial benefits for the deer population and other wildlife that come from forest fires and lightning which created the fawn’s dilemma in the first place. Even though some animals may become trapped in a wildfire, like Rowe’s hypothetical fawn, most wildlife have the ability to flee from them.

In addition to the suffering of the fawn that may incidentally happen as a result of a wildfire, there are implications of an environment where deer may overpopulate and threaten human well-being. A recent study notes the correlation between increased vehicular accidents and decreased hunting permit purchases. Timothy Hallock concludes that the data coming from his analysis of hunting permits and deer-vehicle collisions in NY state that deer-vehicle collisions will increase if the deer population is not regulated. [7]

In a class I taught where a North Carolina State Trooper was in attendance, I offered Rowe’s “badly burned fawn” scenario as a point of discussion. The trooper immediately discussed his experience with the ubiquity (or prevalence of) of these deer-vehicle collisions and how they threatened human lives. His experience came from investigating many traffic accidents where deer were involved. The experience of the trooper demonstrates the need for culling the deer population in order to reduce risk to humans. Although no one wants to see an animal suffer, it is important to note that the proper maintenance of an animal population is important to human safety. Thus, animals may suffer when hunted in order to bring a population under control or may be culled by a wildfire.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the use of facts and evidence in a cross-examination (accepted principles of evidence/argumentation) of Rowe’s evidential argument for atheism is an effective way to counter Rowe’s evidential argument against a theistic God that allows the suffering of a fawn burned by a fire in the forest. Because the evidential problem of evil is based upon actual or supposed circumstances that occur or could occur, then this opens the discussion up to a cross-examination of his evidence as well as a presentation of evidence against Rowe’s evidence/argument thus weakening his case for atheism. It was shown that both lightning and wildfires have a substantial positive benefit for both flora and fauna, to include the deer population. It is also believed that due to the evidential nature of Rowe’s argument, other legal principles of argumentation could be arrayed against this particular scenario. Even as Rowe has made a positive case for atheism and then a cross-examination has been given that counters Rowe’s claim, a positive case could be given supporting the existence of the “god of theism” to further weaken Rowe’s assertion. In such a case supporting the existence of a “theistic god,” evidence could be given that supports the inference that such a god exists by what is observed by a witness in the cosmos around her. A myriad of examples of design in nature that inures to the benefit of both animals and humans could be offered as evidence against Rowe’s evidential case against theism.

After all, Rowe’s scenario points to purported events that he uses to draw an inference that God does not exist. Thus, in order to counter his inference that he adduces from actual or supposed events that likely occur, then it is wholly proper to offer counter examples observed in the cosmos where inferences can be made that the theistic God exists. However, the scope of such an undertaking exceeds what should be written in a blog post. But for the limited purpose of this blog, it is believed the use of cross-examination and also offering evidence to counter Rowe’s evidence for atheism is wholly appropriate and effective.

[1] This scenario, authored by William Rowe (1931-2015), a former philosopher and professor emeritus at Purdue University, is found in a chapter that was included in the volume, The Problem of Evil, edited by Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams. The chapter is entitled, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism” (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 1990. The scenario is located on p. 129-130.

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1247398/

[3] https://blog.suny.edu/2013/08/ask-an-expert-why-are-wildfires-good/

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/using-fire-to-improve-wildlife-habitat

[6] Rowe, p. 127

[7] Timothy J. Hallock, Jr. 2016. Journal of Environmental and Resource Economics at Colby. “The Effects of the Deer Population on the Number of Car Accidents.” Vol. 3, Issue 1, Art. 14. https://digitalcommons.colby.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1044&context=jerec date of access: 26 January 2019.

When Christmas Hurts…


I’ve written in earlier Christmas blogs about the many fond memories of Christmas as a little guy growing up in Hawaii. Mom and Dad always made it a memorable day for me and my older brother Scott. I have great memories of playing all day with unwrapped gifts such as “Hot Wheels” matchbox style cars and “Rock-Um Sock-Um Robots” to name a few. As I became an adult, the joy of Christmas continued for me through my kids, and the wife and I enjoyed watching them as they played all day with their presents. Our family also adopted from Dad, aka “Pops,” the custom of providing food buffet style that could be munched on all day and included such delights as boiled shrimp, various types of cold cuts, and many other goodies, both sour and sweet. However, on a number of occasions during the holiday season, our celebrations would be interrupted by my career and also impacted by mourning loved ones who had died and would be missed.

As I began my career in law enforcement, I remember working on Christmas Day answering “calls for service” as a uniformed patrol officer. On Christmas Day, citizens full of Christmas cheer would kindly provide food to eat for the working officers. After the shift ended, I would get with the family later to enjoy Christmas festivities. After transferring over to Vice/Narcotics, I remember attending the office Christmas party when our squad was contacted by a neighboring police department about a suspect who was going to try and murder a person in our city. We left the party and set up surveillance waiting for the would be assailant to arrive. Eventually, the suspect showed up to do the dastardly deed. Our efforts to arrest him ended in a vehicle and foot pursuit. As the suspect jumped out of his moving car, I gave foot pursuit and was eventually able to catch this fleeing criminal with the help of others who came to my aid. I learned later from others who showed up to help that they saw this bobbing white ball and realized that it was attached to a Santa hat atop of my head. I HAD FORGOTTEN TO TAKE THE CAP OFF AT THE PARTY! It made for a good laugh. Another fond memory was when eight burly SWAT team members ended up in a movie theater packed with young kids. It was a great experience watching “Home Alone” with them as it turned us all into kids again.

There were other times when my LEO career would put a crimp in the family’s holiday plans. As I started working for the U.S. Marshals Service, on occasion, I would have to work into the wee hours of the morning chasing various fugitives. This would test the patience of my wife as some of our family holiday vacations would start out with an exhausted dad/husband. In addition to working some of these cases, I would also be called out to respond to various emergencies across the country as part of the U.S.M.S. Critical Incident Response Team. You guessed it, a number of these call outs were during the holiday season. I remember being notified on Christmas Day that I was needed for a response the day after Christmas when the family was supposed to be traveling for a Christmas get together. These callouts frustrated our holiday plans more than once.

In addition to having to work on a number of holidays, as I grew older, several family members died leaving a void at Christmas gatherings (Mom and my older brother, Scott). Just recently, we lost our beloved Mother-In-Law, Peggy Jones, to liver disease. This will be our first Christmas without her and we will greatly miss her. Tears will be shed as the family assembles to celebrate Christmas and remembers these departed loved ones.

Upon reflecting on the two opposite poles of grieving loved ones and celebrating the birth of Jesus this Christmas, I am drawn to the Eleventh chapter of John’s gospel. In this passage, the death and raising of Lazarus from the dead is described. In this chapter, Jesus is notified of the death of his friend, Lazarus. After delaying for a while, Jesus travels to Bethany where he encounters the family and friends of Lazarus mourning his death. In response to Mary questioning the timeliness of His arrival after the death of Lazarus, Jesus plainly states that He is the resurrection and the life (v. 25) . This is quite a radical thing for him to say. Before Jesus, who else was able to make such a claim and then give evidence to back it up (v. 43) ? He further explains that anyone who believes in him will not experience death. In verse 33, we see that Jesus is “deeply moved” by the mourners who are weeping after Lazarus and requests to see the corpse.

In verse 35, the shortest yet arguably one of the most powerful verses in the Bible – just two words – reveals the agape love Jesus has for humanity. He weeps as he contemplates the specter of death that has claimed Lazarus. Jesus is not just shedding a tear or two, but weeping on behalf of his friend. I must say that I have not wept very many times in my life. I did weep recently when my beloved mother-in-law died. I also wept when hearing the news of my brother’s death and that of my mother, Suzanne, eleven years ago. Weeping is an intense emotion that expresses a deep loss of the soul. Jesus was grieving the loss of His friend. It seems to me that when Jesus was weeping, he had more than just the death of Lazarus in mind. Perhaps, he was reflecting on the universal pain of death that all humans have to endure at some point. Maybe he was reflecting about the fall of Adam and its awful impact on all still. Or maybe he was thinking about His impending, cruel death where he would give so much for so many. These two words (“Jesus wept”) truly instruct us about God’s compassionate heart for each one of us today. Even as we mourn our beloved friends and family members who have gone on before us this Christmas, we know that Jesus wept like we did. God incarnate is still personal today and mourns with us. He will also relieve us from the burdens that weigh us down today if we give them to him (Matt. 11:28). When Christmas hurts, we can take solace in knowing that the very God who created the universe humbled himself and entered our world as a human baby. When Christmas hurts, we can know that God not only weeps with us, but also assures us that death is not final for those who love him.

It’s All About the One

In this season right after the elections, I think that most of us are tired of the constant barrage of campaign ads trying to make the right candidate look like a saint while picturing their opponent as the “creature from the black lagoon” who will leave its murky environs to menace all if elected to public office. Yes, America has election fatigue. It’s even nauseating to watch candidates that I would vote for saying all of the right catch phrases in the right order for maximum effect. They have all of the right persons fawning over them as they wave to a throng of half crazed supporters (who gets this excited in every day real life?) with every motion and word carefully scripted. Even though running for office of necessity is a popularity contest, it causes me to pause about my personal life and how I relate to other people as someone interested in impacting culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Should I try to gain as many Facebook friends as I can or should I try to become a YouTube channel titan who boasts a multi-million subscriber list? Should I try and say all the right catch phrases in order to endear myself to as many people as possible? I believe that Christian ministries oftentimes measure their success by how much attention they can garner for their pet project or ministry. In this election season, this causes me to see a contrast between election politics and successful ministry. If you truly want to make an impact in the world around you, it’s mainly about impacting one person at a time.

A number of years back, I was involved with a team of law enforcement officers (C.O.P.S.) who came alongside grieving families during National Police Week (NPW). Every May, families, friends, and co-workers descend upon Washington, D.C. to commemorate their fallen heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their communities. During NPW this particular year, I was tasked to be with a particular family who had travelled to D.C. In addition to this duty, I had also auditioned to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the main memorial service. As a vocalist, it would really be great exposure and an honor to be able to sing at the main memorial service where there would be thousands of people and dignitaries present. The president traditionally is in attendance as well and normally speaks to the assembled there and consoles the grieving families too.

However, I did not get the nod to sing at the service that year and concentrated solely on serving the family. I did attend the memorial service though and was able to help a large man in a wheel chair go from the street all the way up to the top of Capitol Hill. This ended up being quite a workout in the warm May weather (dressed in a suit and tie). Reflecting on my time during NPW that year, it hit me that aiding the family and the large man in the wheel chair was much more important than gaining some sort of acclaim for myself. As I look back at it, I believe that I made a greater impact by helping the large gentlemen in the wheel chair grieve his fallen loved one. In retrospect, I actually believe that I was meant to go to D.C. to have the honor of pushing that man up Capitol Hill.

In reflecting upon intentionally ministering to one or just a few people at a time, it is clear that Jesus and his disciples were not in ministry for the notoriety. It is true, of course, that at points they ministered to throngs of people. However, they often were interested in merely serving just one person at a time. I think of Jesus and how he interceded on behalf of the man born blind and gave vision back to him (John ch. 9). I think of how even in the middle of a large crowd, He felt healing virtue go out of Himself for just one person (Mark 5:27-34). I think of Jesus discussing a reborn spiritual life with Nicodemus (John ch. 3). Another obvious example of Jesus’s heart toward just one person is His parable of the lost sheep where the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go after the one that is lost (Luke 15:4-7). There are many more examples of how Jesus, God Incarnate, would minister to just one or a few persons.

In addition to Jesus, the disciples also modeled intentionally ministering to one person with great effect. I Think of Phillip ministering to the Ethiopian Eunuch. How he spent his time explaining the book of Isaiah to the eunuch, leading him on to a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and then on to baptism. I think of Paul’s labor on behalf of the slave Onesimus as he tried to convince Philemon to free him. I think of Peter who travelled a far distance at the behest of God to speak with the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts ch. 10). In the New Testament, we see that God is, in fact, interested in “just one.”

There are some who do have a gift of public speaking and can naturally connect with a large audience. However, the truth is that most of us just do not have a natural charisma that can hold the attention of large groups of people. The truth is that Christians can be most effective in ministering to people when they connect with one person in an authentic way. When we treat another person as an end in themselves rather than a means to obtaining something else. If you really want to be used for good in the life of someone else, the first thing to do is to commit to do it and ask God for opportunities to do it. Even in doing small acts of service for a person in need, God can use you to impact the life of someone else for good. I urge you to commit to being used by God in whatever setting that you find yourself in and pray to the same end. When committing and preparing yourself to be used, I believe that God will use you in His ministry of helping the needy of society and also in going after the “one lost sheep.”

OMG! The Words of Jesus on Anxiety

Public Domain Wikimedia

When I was a young detective working the streets of Portsmouth. VA, I always wondered what the draw was for young men to commit serious crimes. You might be surprised to know that police officers get to know many of these “at risk” teens. There was often a tension within me between showing these young men the love of Christ and also protecting the community from crime. As a result of frequent contact with them, I got to know some of them pretty well. In these times together, I tried to be a friend to them. I tried to reason with them about the futility of dealing drugs, stealing cars, etc. Why were these kids into using and selling drugs? One of these young criminals, whose nickname was “Fatboy,” was one of the worst of these offenders. After spending some time with Fatboy, I realized that one of his major problems was anxiety.

Fatboy’s demeanor was seemingly easy going and he often had a smile on his face. Oftentimes, after arresting Fatboy, I would talk and listen to him. I could tell that he liked the attention and I really liked him too in spite of his terrible record. I remember one pursuit in particular where Fatboy led me on an adventurous chase after he had abandoned a moving, stolen car (that eventually struck a house). As I chased him on foot, we weaved in and out of various backyards in the Portsmouth, VA neighborhood which brought me into contact with several cranky canines. Having been stirred up by the fleeing Fatboy, they would then shift their focus on me which gave me plenty of motivation to increase my speed to clear the next backyard fence. To my chagrin, the large meal that I had recently consumed was working against me. After keeping him in sight for most of our “run,” I rounded the corner of a house and it was as if Fatboy had vanished. But wait a minute… there was a large bush in the center of the field. He had to be in that bush. I was so glad to see several detectives who had arrived to assist me in my chase and with labored breathing I pointed to the bush. I could not help them as they retrieved Fatboy from the bush as I was so winded from the “steeple chase” that had just ended.

I bring up Fatboy because it was clear to me after talking to him on several occasions that what led him to use drugs was a broken home where positive role models were not present. Furthermore, the dysfunction of his home life gave him anxiety that, among other factors, led him to drugs which paved the way to an early life of crime. In a recent article in Psychology Today entitled “7 Reasons Why People Do Drugs,” the author mentions that one of the uses of drugs is to help cope with the stress of anxiety coming from the inability to experience pain, frustration, and fear.1 In other words, many of us try to avoid these negative emotions by chemically dulling them. It is in this sort of scenario where many get trapped by drug abuse. A New York Times article entitled “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety?” also discusses the plight of inner city kids like Fatboy who are trying to cope with abusive families, poverty, and violent streets.2 Not only is anxiety a problem in urban neighborhoods, but also affluent suburban areas as well. In this article, Benoit Denizet-Lewis tracks the journeys of several extremely anxious teens as they seek help to turn things around. The constant stress of online social media, the pressure to excel at school, and social anxiety can be overwhelming for today’s teens in suburbia.

Related to the increasing anxiety in the U.S. a study by Joshua Smith and Sarah Book indicates that illicit drug use and anxiety disorders are linked statistically.3 In other words, if you are having a problem with one, you are more than likely going to have problems with the other too. Moreover, Smith and Book also mention that research indicates anxiety normally comes before drug use. In addition to these two, our featured scripture also links drugs and anxiety as well.

In past OMG! blog posts, (Here, Here, and Here) I mentioned Jesus’s words as being quite relevant to today’s culture.4 In Luke 21:34, Jesus warns us to be careful about not living a life characterized by “carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life.” Not only do we see a problem today with improper sexual advances/addiction, and drug abuse, but we also observe an ever increasing trend of anxiety among both teens and adults. Here in this one verse, Jesus puts his finger directly on several major problems that our culture wrestles with still today. He warns that it is very easy to fall prey to these traps. These vices can very easily overwhelm someone. If Jesus is in fact God Incarnate as he alluded to a number of times in the New Testament, then his words should be great advice about how one can flourish in life and I believe that they are. Luke 21:34 is still relevant nearly 2,000 years after it was penned.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are other words of Jesus that give advice about being weighed down with anxiety. In Matthew 11, Jesus encourages all to come to him with their burdens because “his yoke (another word for a heavy weight) is easy and his burden is light (vv. 28, 30).” If one would do this, Jesus states they would find rest for their souls ( v. 28). In essence, Jesus says if one will heed his words and release their burdens to him, then he will help shoulder these burdens in tense times. Being God, he has the ability to communicate directly with an unlimited number of people and to take upon himself an unlimited number of burdens. Most of us are trying to unload our burdens one way or another. We really don’t do well when we are weighed down. But He wants to carry our burdens! Amazing isn’t it?

When dealing with the challenges and the stressors of modern life, instead of resorting to destructive habits for relief, Jesus encourages us to find solace in Him. In past blog posts, I’ve talked about the efficiency and effectiveness of Jesus’s words. After contemplating about his resurrection, it would stand to reason that the words of Jesus would be in themselves a proof of his deity. After looking at only several verses, it becomes clear that Jesus’s words are every bit as relevant and every bit as needed today as they were when he spoke them 2,000 years ago.

1 Heshmet, S. “7 Common Reasons People Do Drugs.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201711/7-common-reasons-why-people-use-drugs Accessed 16 August 2018.
2 Denizet-Lewis, B. “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety?” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html Accessed 16 August 2018.
3 Smith, Joshua P. and Sarah Book. Anxiety Substance Use Disorders: Areviewhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904966/
4 Other words of Jesus about anxiety that are also germane and relevant to our current culture are Matt. 6:25-34.

OMG!-The Words of Jesus: Great Advice for Avoiding Addiction

Public Domain

As a young policeman, I learned to hate drugs with a passion. In these early days of my law enforcement career, I saw the devastation that it brought upon families, households, and neighborhoods. Drug addiction had the capability to reduce healthy men and women to animals. I won’t describe the walks taken through vacant homes also known as “shooting galleries” where drug addicts would self-administer heroin through intravenous injection or inhale crack cocaine with homemade pipes. But needless to say, if you walked through one you would be stunned with the foulness of the environs.

As a rookie, I remember taking a stroll through one of these galleries and encountering a woman with ulcers all over her very swollen legs and arms. The ulcers were caused by the constant “skin popping” with used needles. Healthy vascularity was impeded by the impurity of the heroin (caused by the “cut” or the powder chemicals used to dilute it), thus the swollen limbs. In addition to my experiences with the de-humanizing aspects of drug abuse, I have been personally impacted by drug addiction through several relatives who succumbed to the siren song of promised happiness even as I observed them spin in a vortex of despondency.

Ross after making undercover drug purchases circa 1989

My disdain for narcotics dealing increased as I transferred into the street narcotics squad after a year of serving in uniformed patrol. I had a pretty good success rate of buying drugs off of street dealers. I guess it did not take too much skill. I just had to grunt, speak unintelligibly, and wave the cash around. That usually did the trick. However, there was one time where I fell for the old “I’ll be right back with the crack; here hold my driver’s license for collateral; I won’t rip you off” ploy. Needless to say, I did not feel brilliant after letting the money walk. Fortunately, my supervisor wasn’t too bent out of shape for losing the twenty dollars. Out of the many times I bought dope, there was one other time I was “ripped off.” However, we did catch up with this greedy street dealer and we decided to charge him with stealing.

Humorous stories abound in the annals of undercover narcotics purchasing. One of our detectives, after “striking out” all night, realized why when someone noticed his badge emblazoned hat perched atop his head. Another rookie detective asked a dealer for “a rock” and was given “a rock of the white quartz variety” in return after he paid the unscrupulous street thug twenty dollars for what he thought was a piece of crack cocaine (this scenario made for quite a laugh in the courtroom at the expense of the detective). On another occasion, our squad came up with the idea of driving around in a dump truck purchasing drugs with the arrest team waiting concealed in the bed. However, on our very first try, the dealer jumped up on the running board of the truck and ogled the team in the bed before refusing to sell to the driver.

There are many more stories of misadventure to tell. Even though I attempted to inject some humor into this blog post, the topic of drug abuse is a very serious matter today. It is astounding to see the meteoric rise in drug related deaths. A USA Today article entitled “Life expectancy is down for a second year: Drug overdoses are a big reason why” shares that the major reason for this slide is due to the dramatic increase in drug overdoses, drug related traffic crashes, and falls amongst younger people. In 1999, the frequency of the aforementioned deaths occurred at a rate of 6.1 per 100,00 compared with 19.8 per 100,000 in 2016. [1]

In addition to this jump in drug related deaths, drug overdoses have quadrupled from 1999 to 2015 with a total of 183,000 deaths occurring in this time span (wow!). Moreover, the burgeoning epidemic of opioid addiction is felt here in North Carolina as well. An article entitled, “Opioid Epidemic Strains Hospital Emergency Room” reports that emergency rooms here in NC are very likely to have patients in the middle of overdoses getting treatment at any time. The article went on to say that since 2012, “ER” visits with a substance abuse diagnosis are up almost 75%. [2]

In addition to this rise in drug addiction, a JAMA Psychiatry study released in 2017 reports that “high-risk” drinking (women 4 or more per day/men 5 or more per day) rose a hefty 29.9% between 2002 and 2013. This same report also noted an alarming 50% rise in “problem” drinking (where it causes recurrent and significant problems in your life/alcohol dependence) in the same time period.[3] Regarding why people are getting into more trouble than before, Dr. Schuckit, an alcohol researcher, opined in a Huffington Post article that one reason for the increase in alcoholism is likely the increased social acceptability of being tipsy (environmental factors comprise half of the risk). [4] After reviewing these studies, it would not be an overstatement to say that the U.S. has a very serious problem with drugs/alcohol dependence. Did Jesus Christ say anything relevant for us to consider today?

In Luke chapter twenty-one, Jesus is discussing his imminent departure from the Earth, cataclysmic events occurring in the future, and the importance of being ready in the event of his second coming. In verse 34, he admonishes his disciples to remain vigilant in the faith during trying times and not to engage in “carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life.” Jesus states that engaging in a lifestyle characterized by these activities will not meet with his approval. Jesus warns us not to be in a state of drunkenness. Even though Jesus does not explicitly address the topic of drug abuse, surely being drunk or carousing would encompass “getting high.” In this one verse, not only is Jesus alerting us to the importance of being sober but also that not being sober has eternal consequences. God wishes us to live our lives soberly, centered on caring for others, and in right relationship with him. Moreover, it is easily observed that Dr. Schuckit’s above-mentioned observation of the increased acceptance of drunkenness in the USA stands in contrast to the warnings of Jesus against living a life characterized by “carousing and drunkenness.”

As the designer of human beings, Jesus knows the consequences of lives that are mainly concerned with the prurient self-interest of escaping one’s problems by drug or alcohol intoxication. His aforementioned words are great advice on how we can live the most fulfilled and productive lives here and now. Furthermore, implicit in this passage is the greater reality of eternal life with Him in opposition to this temporary life with all of its cares and snares.

As observed in past OMG! posts (click here and click here) , the words of Jesus are not only succinct and to the point, but also give great advice on how to live your life moment to moment. God does not force anyone to live a certain way yet advises that there are consequences when you place your selfish desires at the center of your life. Even as Thomas was confronted with the risen Jesus Christ and proclaimed “OMG!,” I can read His words that are still very relevant today and proclaim “OMG!,” these words are truly of divine origin. If we, as a society, would only embrace the words of “God Incarnate,” we could reverse the devastating trend wrought by the blight of drug abuse/alcoholism in the U.S. However, modern pop culture media, which promotes base values such as drug use, alcohol intoxication, and free sex, obscures the simple Christian ethic of pure living with all of its attendant benefits.

1 Painter, K. “Life expectancy is down for a second year. Drug overdoses are a big reason why.” USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/12/21/u-s-life-expectancy-drops-second-year-drug-deaths-spike-cdc/970283001/ Date of access: 18 April 2018.
2 Debruyn, J. “Opioid Epidemic Strains Hospital Emergency Room.” http://wunc.org/post/opioid-epidemic-strains-hospital-emergency-departments#stream/0. Date of access: 18 April 2018.
3 Grant, B. F., Chou, S. P., & Saha,T. D., et al. “Prevalence of 12-Month Alcohol Use, High-Risk Drinking, and DSM-IV Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States, 2001-2002 to 2012-2013Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” JAMA Psychiatry. Date of access: 18 April 2018.
4 Martinez, J.D. “Americans are drinking more, But why?” Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/americans-are-drinking-more-but-why_us_598c9b1ce4b0caa1687a5e6c Date of access: 17 April 2018.

Because of the Incarnation: Hope For Today and Forever

Piero de Cosimo, The Incarnation of Jesus, circa 1485/1508, Public Domain

Atheist, mythicist scholar Richard Carrier claims that Jesus Christ was a mythical person based mostly on the accounts of the resurrection that he views as coming from ancient, pagan gods. In addition to Carrier’s musings, American Atheist President David Silverman quips that The Christmas Story is “Fake News.” What do these skeptics rely upon for their views? After looking into what they are saying about the Birth of Jesus Christ, do they have a rational basis for denying the incarnation of Jesus Christ? For a Christian, this is a very important question to consider. In evaluating the reality of the historical Jesus, we have to start with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. After looking into things, the incarnation of Jesus Christ is something that is reasonable to place my faith in. In opposition to the opinions of Carrier and Silverman, I find that the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ is a reasonable conclusion from the evidence we have.   Furthermore, in contrast to the mythical figures that Carrier tries to join Jesus Christ with, the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ forms the basis of God’s intentional plan to have fellowship with humanity throughout time and also into eternity. Because of the incarnation of Christ we have hope for today and for eternity.

Romulus and Remus by Pietro de Cortona, circa 1643. Public Domain.

Among the mythical characters that Richard Carrier uses to promote his theory of a mythical Jesus are Romulus, the legendary Roman ruler and Zalmoxis, the Thracian mythical god (et al.). He makes comparisons between these “dying and rising gods” and Jesus Christ and based on his comparisons, he makes the leap that these preceding gods must have been the progenitors for the resurrection accounts of the Gospels.[1] The American Atheists are a bit glibber than Carrier in their annual holiday billboard advertisements. In keeping with Trump’s recent campaign against the mainline media, the American Atheists have trumpeted that the Christmas story is “fake news” and encourage people to “just skip church.”   Of this campaign, David Silverman, their leader, suggests that the Christmas story is not true and that religious people ignore the truth so they can enjoy the fellowship in churches.[2]

In my recently completed PhD thesis, I analyzed Carrier’s “mythical Jesus” claim and found that his comparisons do not match up to the data coming from the New Testament about Jesus Christ nor do they match the data coming from the mythical accounts Carrier draws from. Furthermore, I also found that Carrier does not understand what evidence is nor does he realize that his whole thesis is based upon a logical fallacy (post hoc ergo propter hoc- assuming causality just because one event precedes another). In addition to this, I found that the Gospel narratives were actually based upon accepted principles of evidence. It seems that Carrier and Silverman cannot accept the evidence supporting a supernatural yet historical event.[3]

If Jesus is not a reformulated pagan deity, then where does the idea of Jesus, and more specifically the Christmas story come from? We have no further to look than the Old Testament. As borne out in the Old Testament, the advent of a promised deliverer was known for a long time.   In Genesis 12:3, Abram has an encounter with God who tells him that all of the people’s of the Earth will be blessed through him. Even though Abram is recognized as the founder of the house of Israel (and also claimed by the Arabs as their founder), how is it that one man could bless all of the nations of the World? Even though this verse does not mention Jesus per se, two early Christian leaders, Paul and Peter as recorded by Luke point to Jesus Christ as the person who fulfills this promise.[4] Moreover in Acts 3:22, Peter refers to Jesus as the fulfillment of a prophecy given by Moses in Deut. Chapter 18 when Moses foretells of a prophet who will be raised up from Israel. Regarding the widespread blessing of Abraham’s lineage, Genesis 49:10 discusses a ruler from out of the tribe of Judah whose reign includes all nations. Matthew (ch. 1) and Luke (ch. 3) both discuss how Jesus was descended from Judah. Continuing further on in the Old Testament, the eternal aspect of Abraham’s blessing is discussed by Nathan the prophet when he is instructed to tell David that his throne “will be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16, 17).” It is clear that the Old Testament speaks of a future eternal king and that New Testament writers saw the origins of Jesus Christ in many prophetic Old Testament passages, not in pagan gods.

Specifically regarding the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Old Testament gives references to a divine son whose father is God himself. Psalm 2:7 refers to a son born of God whose inheritance is the entire Earth. Isaiah 7:14 is the oft quoted reference to a future and virgin born baby whose name is called Immanuel or “God with us.” Continuing the theme of a child of divine parentage, Isaiah 9:6 refers to a child who will have all authority over the Earth, who will reign forever, and also who has the names of God. As Mentioned in Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this verse (Luke 1:32-33; 3:23-28; Matt. 1:1,6-7). Moreover, Micah 5:2 speaks of a ruler “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” who is born in the City of Bethlehem. Here in these Old Testament passages is envisioned a divine ruler born of a virgin and naming a specific region where he will be born. The idea of a virgin born Son of God comes from Old Testament prophecy and not pre-existing pagan myths.

Not only is it known from Old Testament scripture that there would be a virgin born God in the flesh, but this was also testified to in the nativity accounts of the Gospels as well. We read of the lowly, yet noble birth of Jesus.  Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, and Luke, a close associate of Paul who had access to the early Christian community and several of the original disciples, wrote the Nativity accounts. As with Luke, Matthew, by virtue of his close association with Jesus, would have access to this information as well.

In addition to the Old Testament and the Nativity accounts’ attestation of a virgin born Son of God, it is observed that Jesus clearly viewed Himself as God incarnate. Jesus clearly gains the wrath of the Pharisees when he proclaims that before Abraham was “I Am.” In this short proclamation, Jesus Christ clearly names Himself as God. Jesus also speaks of his unity with God the Father in Matthew 9: 27 and in the same chapter also confirms his status as the promised Messiah (v. 4-6). In Mark’s Gospel (2: 1-8), Jesus heals the paralytic and then forgives the man of his sins. Who alone but God can forgive a man of his sins? Moreover, when Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man (he does this many times) in the Gospel accounts, he is associating himself with God (Daniel 7:13). There are many other examples of his self-proclaimed deity as well throughout the Gospels.

This short survey of Old and New Testament passages reveals the intentionality of God in His plan to enter the world which would eventually lead to the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. These deliberate, divine actions guarantee our future as God’s family forever. The Nativity account is not a rehash of pagan myths but a well-attested narrative of the birth of the Messiah. So, when I go to church this Christmas season, I will not be there to pay tribute to a mythical being whose virgin birth was merely a fable. The American atheists are right in one sense because I will enjoy the fellowship at church. However, I am motivated to go to church not just to fellowship. My main aim for going to church this Christmas season is to give worship and thanks to the one and only eternal God who knowingly humbled himself and took on flesh to give us hope for each day. As the words of a well-known, old anthem state, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.” Not only should I daily strive to follow his example of humility, but I also have daily assurance that God is still with me every moment of every day. Not only does he promise to be with me each day, but he also guarantees my eternal destiny. Because of God’s intentional actions of humbling Himself to take on flesh, dying, and arising from the dead, I have these assurances for now and forever. Because of the birth of that little baby over two millennia ago, I have hope for living each day and hope for eternal life with him.

1 Carrier, R. 2014. On the historicity of Jesus: why we might have reason to doubt [Kindle ed.]. Sheffield: Sheffield University Press (pp. 249, 302). Available: http://www. amazon.com

2 Atheist’s Holiday Billboards Say ”Skip Church” to Avoid Fake News, American Atheist website- https://www.atheists.org/2017/11/holiday-billboards.

3 Hickling, S.R. 2017. An Evidentiary Analysis of Doctor Richard Carrier’s Objections to the  Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Doctoral dissertation).

4 Paul views Jesus as the fulfillment of this promise as Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:16); Peter also recognizes Jesus as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (Acts 3:25-26).

 

OMG! Jesus’ Words in Light of Publicized Scandals

Doubting Thomas, Guercino, First Half of 17th Century, Public Domain

In my last blog post, I reflected on the proclamation of Thomas after encountering the risen Jesus Christ eye-to-eye. His oft-quoted proclamation, in essence saying “OMG,” is a brief but powerful testimony of the reality and world rocking implications of that face-to-face experience. In addition to Thomas’s well-known journey from skepticism to faith, it also struck me that upon looking at the few words of Jesus that are recorded in the New Testament, these words were radical when they were spoken and are still radical today. With the recent sex scandals that proliferate our media today, would following the words of Jesus have helped those who are currently embroiled in these scandals?

In addition to the revolutionary implications of His words, they are also good advice for daily living. When measuring the viability of a worldview or religious dogma, this is an important matter to consider. When followed everyday, does the perspective under study cause the practitioner to flourish in a holistic sense? How does an examined belief system fare when compared to the existential realities of daily life? Paul D. Feinberg offers that any religious system should stand up to “tests for truth.” Feinberg offers a list of these tests to consider when investigating any faith position. Among these criteria, Feinberg offers a test for livability and a test for fruitfulness. Is a belief system livable and is it beneficial when followed? [1] In light of recent media reports, I believe that the words of Jesus as written in Matthew’s Gospel in his fifth chapter (mentioned below) will enhance the lives of all if heeded. So, not only are the words of Jesus a radical departure from cultural norms of yesterday and today, but I believe they also contribute to the well being of the individual and society as well. For these reasons (among others), I believe that Jesus’s words are a convincing argument for his deity.

According to several Internet sources, there are 2,026 words of Jesus Christ recorded in the New Testament. So very few words recorded for someone who had and still has such a great impact on the world. For a moment, imagine the Roman backdrop when Jesus ministered on the earth. The Roman Empire was noted for its decadence. We see from the writings of that time an obsession with sexual debauchery of almost every sort. One author, Paul Chrystal gleans these details from looking at Roman literature, ancient graffiti, and the visual arts.[2] As part of this depravity, Roman cult worship often had temple prostitution as a mainstay of religious rites.   Everett Ferguson observes the widespread use of prostitutes in the fertility cults of that day in areas such as Asia Minor, Syria, and Phoenecia. He mentions the existence of one thousand prostitutes at the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth. [3]  Looking back at this ancient culture with its emphasis on sexual indulgence, it is easy to see how radical it was when Jesus spoke his words.

In recounting the words of the Old Testament, Jesus expands on the prohibition against adultery. He teaches in Matt. 5:27-30 that if one even lusts after someone else, then that person has already committed the sin in his mind. Furthermore, Jesus states in these verses that one would be better off without eyes and hands instead of using them to indulge in destructive, sexual behavior. In addition to this teaching on moral impurity in Mark 7: 21-23, Jesus further discusses that all types of immoral behavior, to include sexual immorality, are germinated within a person’s mind.

With all of the recent focus in the media regarding the various sex scandals, the aforementioned words of Jesus Christ seem now more than ever to be good advice. With each passing day, sordid details of men improperly forcing themselves on women emerge. From Hollywood to Washington, D.C. and in between, there is an ever-growing list of the “mighty” that have fallen. Would a man improperly touch a woman if he had not conceived of doing it beforehand? It stands to reason that if one did not think about ways in which to sexually misbehave, then the improper act would not be committed. Furthermore, if one did not fixate oneself upon a particular person in a sexual manner, then one would not determine in one’s mind to commit a lewd act.

An interlocutor may reply, “It is too simplistic to suggest that one should just not engage in the thought or activity. It is also against human nature to expect one to always be pure in their thoughts and deeds.” In reply, I would agree that being pure in mind and for that matter, being a Christian is not always easy. Furthermore, Christians will often struggle with these issues throughout their lives. But there is a difference between someone who is serious about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and someone who is not so serious or does not follow Jesus Christ.   Those who are committed to Jesus Christ will actively struggle against giving into temptations of this sort (1 Cor. 6:18). It is not to say they will never give in to temptation. Rather, they are fighting against it. Fortunately, when Christians do give in to temptation, they can re-align themselves with these principles and also receive help in time of need (Heb. 2:17-18). In many cases, a person who is not committed to Jesus Christ may not struggle (Eph. 4:19). This stands in contrast to somebody who is serious about abstaining from sexual temptation. When an opportunity presents itself, this class of person (the one not struggling) is more apt to give in to temptation or more willing to exploit a perceived weakness in someone else. It stands to reason that a person who is committed to employing the words of Jesus would be more determined not to succumb to temptation (Eph. 5:5).

In addition to the benefit of a reduction in reported sex scandals, another obvious effect of these words of Jesus is a higher view of women. Instead of thinking of women as merely an object to satiate one’s desire for pleasure, these words guide men to a healthy respect for women. In a holistic and meaningful way, a man and woman can bond in marriage and enjoy each other in a relationship of mutual trust/commitment (Eph. 5:25-33). Men would not be seeking improper liaisons with women if they were not imagining in their minds ways to accomplish them. So again, heeding the teachings of Jesus regarding purity of thought has great implications for not only the individual but also for society in general. Moreover, these few words of Jesus, if followed, would also curb many destructive behaviors (pornography, prostitution, and any number of deviant sexual behaviors that are known to cause, psychological dysfunction or physical distress).

In addition to these benefits, adhering to purity of the mind would also enable a person to lead a fuller life, as they would not always be weighed down with the burden of always trying to fulfill baser desires (1 Cor. 5:17). Rather, if one is more concerned with living one’s life focused on God and his goals for you, then one’s natural impulses will be subject to this higher value. These aforementioned words of Jesus are mentioned in several verses yet if one would only follow them, then men would find that they would be able to live more noble and fulfilled lives. They would not have to worry about the possibility that their thoughts may lead them into troubling circumstances. After observing the positive benefits of maintaining a pure mind, in these words of Jesus I see great advice that could not only transform individual lives but also change culture as well. In a society that glorifies sensual themes today, these words of Jesus Christ are radical, are good advice to follow, and convince me that they are the very words of God.

[1] Paul D. Feinberg, “The Nature and the Case for Theism and Christianity,” in Five Views on Apologetics, eds. Stanley Gundry and Steven Cowen, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 148-155.

[2] Paul Chrystal, In Bed with the Romans, (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2015).

[3] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 64.

Happy Man at the Beach CC0 From Wikimedia