Learning to Love Learning

There are a number of different critiques of the state of American education. Some are most concerned about the lack of discipline in the schools. Others decry the dumbing down of the standards. They point to the decline in scores on standardized tests such as the SAT. A lot of that decline has been hidden by the trick of “centering” the scores. For instance, a 1200 on the SAT today means a whole lot less than it meant in 1963.

Then there’s the grade inflation technique, powered in many instances by adherence to self-esteem philosophy. We wouldn’t want our students to feel bad about their lack of knowledge. We need to understand, however, that eliminating the idea of failure also undercuts success. How do you measure the latter when the former is not allowed? All of this has led to a dumbed-down society.

The problem is deeper, though. It has to do with the desire to learn. Most students, at least in my personal experience, have never developed a love of learning. This malady has multiple causes: broken families, uninspired teachers, an educational bureaucracy more concerned about its perpetual existence than the good of students [this includes the teachers’ unions], and loss of purpose in teaching. When we dismiss the Biblical worldview, we no longer have a reason to learn beyond the mundane desire to make a living. We become earthbound creatures with no vision of the heavenly.

I have a “truism” I share in class that goes like this: “Ignorance can be corrected, but apathy makes learning impossible.” I was sadly amused recently when one of our culture’s iconic comic strips captured the spirit of apathy perfectly:

One of my goals as a professor is to help students develop that essential love of learning. Christians should have it naturally. After all, who created the mind? Who gave us the ability to reason? If God went to all that trouble to make people who aren’t simply marionettes, shouldn’t we explore the grand design He established? Some of my favorites Scriptures along this line come from the book of Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Fear—reverence—of God is the starting point for all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. If we have that reverence, it opens the door to a wide field of knowledge, a proper grasp of the significance of that knowledge [understanding], and the application of that knowledge to one’s life [wisdom]. What better rationale could ever be provided for developing a love of learning?

Most education in America ignores God. By doing so, it robs the individual of any solid basis for wanting to learn. Only by restoring reverence for God in our education will we have any hope of restoring education itself.

John McCain: A Reflection

John McCain died on Saturday evening from an aggressive brain tumor. His death was announced not too long after the family informed the public that he had decided to stop the cancer treatments.

McCain, in some ways, was a controversial senator, not always in agreement with the Republican party in which he served. That’s why he earned the nickname of a “maverick.”

I have no problem with mavericks as long as they are standing on the principles they espouse and are doing so with integrity.

Often, I disagreed with McCain on specific policy issues, but in my many years of watching him, I rarely disagreed with the manner in which he carried himself. Many who are commenting on his death have said something similar: he was a gentleman respected by others in the Senate even when they opposed his latest vote.

No one can adequately analyze John McCain without spending some time remarking on his time as a POW during the Vietnam War. His plane was shot down, he was captured, beaten, and nearly died. When the North Vietnamese discovered that he was the son of an American admiral, they sought to use him for propaganda purposes, promising to release him.

So McCain could have been freed from that camp if he had chosen. Instead, he refused to be used for propaganda and also felt it would be wrong for him to receive special treatment that the other POWs wouldn’t get.

That angered his captors even more, and the beatings became worse than before. Yet McCain suffered it all willingly.

Five years he spent in that horrid camp. He didn’t come home until after the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. President Nixon met with him to show his appreciation for what he suffered.

Some people think that if a man is captured in war, he is not a hero. I reject that categorically.

Others will point to his divorce after his return and chastise him for that. I agree that he wronged his first wife. It’s also instructive, though, that later, when asked if he had any regrets, he cited his divorce. Whether that was a true repentance or simply a regret, I cannot know, yet one wants to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who will publicly acknowledge a moral failure like that.

His nomination for the presidency in 2008 was ill-timed, coming as it did on the heels of the bank bailout and recession blamed largely on Republicans. Although McCain was not my candidate of choice for that nomination, I had no problem supporting him in the campaign. I don’t have to agree with everything a candidate does. In McCain, at least I saw someone who sought to halt the oncoming Democrat onslaught.

And he was solidly pro-life.

What about McCain’s faith? Was he a Christian? An article by Ed Stetzer and Laurie Nichols on Christianity Today International‘s website states the following:

McCain was a man of faith and talked about his faith when he had little, and quietly practiced when he had much. He has been attending North Phoenix Baptist Church for years. His experiences might have pushed him away from God, but he quietly engaged there at the church. When Rick Warren asked what being a Christian meant to Senator McCain, he replied, “It means I’m saved and forgiven.”

My sincere hope is that this testimony is real and that McCain is now with his Savior.

It’s only right to take the time today to honor the service of John McCain.

Feel-Good Beliefs vs. Dying to Self

“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false,” C. S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity. “Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years,” he continues, but concludes, “but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever.”

The problem is that most people don’t want to think that seriously about things that matter. When it comes to the most important part of life—the issue of eternity—they would like to fall back on the various “feel-good” beliefs: “I’m not any worse than that person”; “The good I’ve done will outweigh the bad”; “A God of mercy surely wouldn’t send anyone to hell.”

The list may be endless.

Lewis would have none of that fuzzy, baseless thinking:

A vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach.

But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.

People avoid the hard issues: the presence of sin in one’s life; the guilt that accompanies it; the nagging sense that no matter what one does to push away that guilt, nothing is sufficient.

We want an easy, accountability-free existence. But that’s not reality. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to empty Himself of his Godhead and live as a man. There was nothing easy about what He suffered on our behalf. He had to go through the portals of death (physical) and a crucial moment on the cross when He was, for the first time ever, separated from the Father.

He had to die in order to be resurrected and give us the hope of eternity with God. There’s a principle here that applies to us; Lewis explains it succinctly in his “Membership” essay:

A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.

There’s no getting around it: we must die to our self-centeredness. We hate the idea, but once we do it, we realize that’s where true life resides. As Lewis so poignantly puts it in “The Weight of Glory,”

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

It’s time to stop being ignorant children.

By the Bible or the Bayonet?

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was a Dutch lawyer, scholar, theologian, and author. His most noteworthy work, The Law of War and Peace, made him famous as the foremost authority on the law of nations, which we now tend to call international law.

There is a statement attributed to Grotius that I wish I could document as actually emanating from him, but I haven’t found the source. I’ve read some of his Law of War and Peace, and the statement certainly sounds like something he might say. If anyone knows for sure if he said it, or if not, who did, I would welcome that information.

However, I’ve decided that even if Grotius didn’t write this, it’s so good that it needs to be shared. As I tell my students, if he’s not the author of this thought, then I’ll claim it for myself.

Here’s how it begins:

He knows not how to rule a kingdom that cannot manage a province; nor can he wield a province that cannot order a city; nor he order a city that knows not how to regulate a village.

Notice the progression. The concept is that one should not be given a greater realm of authority if he cannot handle a lesser realm. One must prove himself at a lower level before being granted more responsibility.

The statement continues:

Nor he a village that cannot guide a family; nor can that man govern well a family that knows not how to govern himself.

The principle keeps getting extended downward. Yet how many men and women in our day, particularly in politics, are awarded by the people with high office when they cannot even govern themselves?

Shall I insert here Senator Ted Kennedy, who drove a car off a bridge and swam away while the woman with him in the car (not his wife) was left to drown? The people of Massachusetts, in their electoral wisdom, made him a senator for life. Should that have been?

You would think the statement might end where I’ve already ended it, but it goes even further:

Neither can any govern himself unless his reason be lord, will and appetite her vassals; nor can reason rule unless herself be ruled by God, and be obedient to Him.

Will and appetite refer to desires/emotions—they need to be servants to one’s reason. Desires and emotions cannot drive one’s actions. Yet even reason, as we know, can go astray. Autonomous human reasoning is a mini-god itself. Therefore, our reason also has to submit to God and His loving rule.

I call this the principle of self-government, and I’ve devoted a chapter to it in my book, If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government.

Proverbs 16:32 tells us, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”

There have been many “great” men in history, at least by standards other than God’s. On the outside, they may look like “winners,” but God looks at the heart.

A society with Biblical self-government at its roots, and that looks to place people in positions of civil authority whose lives reveal that self-government, will be a society substantially free from oppressive rules and regulations. Only a people not self-governed under God will turn to a strong civil government to hold themselves in check.

In truth, the people of a nation receive the type of government that their level of self-government deserves. What does this say about modern America? After all, our representatives, from local officials to congressmen to the president are merely a reflection of us.

One more quote—this one documented.

Robert Winthrop (1809-1894), who served as speaker of the House of Representatives and also as a senator, gave an address to the Massachusetts Bible Society in 1849. What he said in that address is a fitting conclusion to the thoughts I want to share today:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they rely on private moral restraint.

Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without [outside] them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.

May we be controlled by the Word of God and show ourselves worthy of self-government.

Rejecting God-Ordained Reality

As a Christian, I believe what Scripture tells me about mankind—that sin abounds. Even if I were not a Christian, the testimony of man’s sinfulness is everywhere, and that, in itself, should be enough to convince anyone of the truth of what Scripture says.

Sin is heinous. It’s also stupid. Its stupidity manifests itself in many ways. Some would not call what I’m about to highlight “sin,” but I insist it is because anything that goes against God’s created order stems from man’s rebellion against Him.

I’m about to begin another academic year. Thankfully, I don’t teach at a university that has succumbed to the erasure of God-ordained truth. I don’t have to worry about this, for instance:

Man, woman, he, and she are still allowed where I teach. The God-ordained reality remains as a cornerstone of my university’s culture.

The environment is one of God’s gifts to us. We are to be stewards of this gift. Yet, even something as good as the environment can replace God in people’s estimation; they can sometimes turn it into a mini-god of its own. This results in some rather silly concerns:

If there is a problem with toxic waste, let’s take care of that. But to place so much blame on straws??

The media often considers itself another one of those mini-gods. It can create its own reality, promoting what it believes to be true while ignoring God-ordained truth. Self-defense is a basic human right given by God. Yet some would seek to overthrow such common sense and replace it with their own version of reality. The media’s role, all too often, is as a filter against reality:

As is obvious, false worldviews bleed over into politics rather easily. Principled arguments in favor of one position or another would be the reasonable, God-ordained way of figuring out the best policies. There is another way, however, that dominates our politics, and it’s based on pure selfishness of personal gain:

Accuse anyone you don’t like of racism—as one example—and you can “win.” When “winning” is everything, and you have no scruples with regard to how you “win,” you actually lose. Tossing aside principles is not the God-ordained way to live.

We currently have a revived trend toward the false religion of Marxism. Yes, I called it a religion, and for good reason. Although Marx rejected God, he still had his own god—himself. He claimed to be working for the common man, yet was not acquainted with too many of them. He spent most of his time immersed in his own thoughts in libraries. He never really had a long-term job or provided for his family; he sponged off of others his entire life.

Yet for many today, he is an icon. They still try to fashion their politics around his vision, but often without any real understanding of God-ordained reality.

Bottom line: man wants to reject God and his ways, and always sets up his own mini-gods (all false). The consequences are all around us.

Hell Cannot Veto Heaven

One of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is The Great Divorce. This fanciful account of a busload of occupants of hell getting an opportunity to visit heaven allows Lewis, through conversations between the passengers from hell and heavenly denizens, to discuss all the objections to the faith raised by those who reject it.

In one such discussion, Lewis deals with those who say it’s unfair that those who enter into eternal bliss should be so happy when the rest have to endure eternal torment. In the words of one of his characters, he provides this rejoinder:

What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved. . . .

That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it. . . .

The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

Although we will mourn for those who selfishly chose to follow their own path rather than God’s, that cannot diminish the utter joy of living in the very presence of the Lord. Those who are hellbound have no grounds to demand we be miserable. They have made their choices; we have made ours. In one very real sense, God sends no one to hell. Here’s how Lewis expresses it, again in The Great Divorce:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”

All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

It all comes down to our choice. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we live a life apart from Him. And that earthly choice will go with us into eternity.

Appreciating the Love, Patience, & Mercy of God

Our God is a righteous God. His righteousness demands that sin be punished; it’s only “right,” “just,” and “fair” that each person is treated according to his deeds. Yet He is also a God of mercy, another aspect of His righteous character. The Cross is how God is able to be both just and merciful at the same time.

Some people emphasize God’s wrath over sin; others go in the opposite direction and see only mercy, thereby downplaying judgment.

I want to be balanced in my view of God’s character. From both my Biblical exegesis and my personal experience in relationship with God, here’s where I’ve arrived on the issue of balance.

God seeks to be merciful whenever He can; He judges when He has no other option in order to uphold His righteousness.

Why do I think this is the proper perspective? My study of Scripture has led me here. Let me explain.

While some think the Old Testament is just one long harangue against sin and God is eager to bring judgment, I disagree. He would have wiped out the entire human race, yet He was willing to start again with Noah. He would have cast away the children of Israel and restarted His plan with Moses, except Moses prayed He would not do so. God was willing, in answer to that prayer, to continue working with a disobedient people.

In Ezekiel 18:30-32, we get a glimpse into God’s heart when He says to His people,

“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Does that sound like a God who is eager to bring judgment?

When we turn to the New Testament and see Jesus as the embodiment of the Godhead—the One through whom we understand better the heart of the Father—we see again a desire to show mercy. Only man’s rebellion stands in the way. As Jesus looks over the city of Jerusalem, we’re told in Luke 13:34-35,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”

Nearly everyone is familiar with John 3:16, which makes the point that “whoever believes” will have eternal life, but it’s the next verse that once more highlights the heart of God:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Judgment wasn’t the inspiration for the coming of Jesus; salvation was.

And in 2 Peter 3:8-9, we see why the Second Coming hasn’t yet occurred, and the reason is God’s desire that as many as possible will be saved.

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

He doesn’t want anyone to perish; He earnestly desires all to come to salvation and is providing as much time as He deems appropriate to bring more souls into His Kingdom.

So, yes, God judges. One day that judgment will be fierce, without mercy, total toward those who have stubbornly rejected His love and commands. But until then, He is the Shepherd who seeks the one lost sheep while maintaining the ninety-nine.

Personally, I am deeply grateful—let’s make that eternally grateful—that He showed mercy to me when He could just as easily have condemned me in my sins. He gave me time to come to my senses and repent.

He is a loving God.