In the Present Tense

October 25, 2010

First Principle: The Tree of Liberty

Filed under: Christianity and Politics, Present Truth — edoutlook @ 2:34 am

We are so accustomed to certain things that we lose sight of how remarkable they are. For example, this short passage in Genesis 2.

“Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.  And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

God planted the garden. It’s His. Why does he put a tree of the knowledge of good and evil in that garden? If we believe the Bible, we believe God knows the end from the beginning. He knew that Adam and Eve would eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He knew the sin and suffering that would come from that, knew that the only remedy would be the sacrifice of his Son, that a member of the Godhead would have to become a part of humanity forever.

Knowing all that, God went ahead with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Why? What can we conclude from that?

I conclude that liberty, the right to make choices, choices that matter, must be very, very important. C. S. Lewis says that God gave to humans “the dignity of causality.” That is, we can make choices that alter the course of history.

In fact, that’s exactly what Adam and Eve did. They made choices that plunged the world into sin, that introduced suffering and death. Real choices. Real consequences.

Having made that choice, all humankind became sinners. That is, we could not longer choose good. All our choices would be evil.

Christ died to restore our ability to choose good.

We can still choose evil. Indeed, every time we sin, we misuse the liberty Christ died to give us, for in him “we live, and move, and have our being.” Again, C.S. Lewis says that every sin is at base an act of sacrilege, because we take something sacred, the power of God that sustains us, and use it for profane ends.

And despite all that God and Christ have done, they still allow us to choose to be lost, to choose evil and death.

Then we have the millennium, where the books of Heaven are opened and we get to audit God’s actions. God allows us to decide whether He was just or not. It’s amazing.

What we see throughout the Bible is that God will not coerce our will, nor will he allow Satan to do so. We may surrender our will to the Evil One– and God will respect that choice.

So I conclude that liberty, freedom to choose and act, is one of the most important things in the universe. If it’s that important to God, if it would lead him to sacrifice His own Son to preserve it, it must be one of the most sacred things in the universe.

When the Declaration of Independence cited liberty as an inalienable right which comes from our Creator, they got it right. The Bible makes it clear that God granted us choice from the beginning, and continually seeks to preserve and respect that right.

October 12, 2010

First Principles

I apologize for the long delay between posts. I’ve been unbelievably busy.


This blog is for believers. If you don’t believe in God, there are other posts I’ll write just for your consideration. My friends know I don’t insist people believe what I do, but welcome honest questions.

But this one is just for those who believe in God, specifically the God of the Bible.  And I don’t intend to argue fine points here. Quite the opposite. I’m interested only in talking about broad truths. Not details about the six-day creation, or exactly the role of women. Though they are important, that’s not what I want to discuss.

My dear sister reminded me recently of something I shared with her some thirty years ago. She said it had spared her from many a strange doctrine. I know it has always served me well, so I share it here.

Many of the debates and issues which rage in the church through the years can seem quite confusing. Often both sides of the debate appear quite reasonable, or at least plausible. Sometimes neither one seems clear. Time and again I have found refuge in “First Principles.”

Jesus demonstrated this approach in the question regarding divorce. He was asked if men could divorce their wives, as Moses said. Note the subtle trap. “Do you agree with Moses? or are you heretical?” Rather than taking the bait, Jesus resorted to first principles. “In the beginning it was not so.”

If we believe in God, and that He communicated the important things to us through the Bible, then we cannot go wrong with first principles. Belief in first principles comes down to something this simple: When God created human beings and the earth they lived in, He knew what he was doing. Whenever we are confronted with a teaching that says to us, either implicitly or explicitly, “God didn’t know what He was doing,” then we know something is wrong with the teaching.

Let me give you another example. More than thirty years ago, a bunch of cassette tapes were circulating (for those under 25, think of them as podcasts) which declared that we should eliminate all oil and oily foods from our diet. Lots of conscientious and health-conscious people went about doing just that.

As a teacher and school principal at the time, a number of church members asked me my opinion. I said, “It can’t be right.” That surprised them. Some wanted to know my credentials as a dietitian or nutritionist– I had none. Many wanted to know how I could be so certain. For me it was a simple case. Fruits and nuts were part of the diet God gave man in Eden. Few things contain higher percentages of oil than nuts. So, “Did God know what He was doing when He gave us nuts to eat?” My answer had to be yes, God knew what He was doing, and that meant that the teaching about eliminating all oily foods couldn’t be true.

Another quick example. In grad school, Education students had to take a course titled “Comparative Education,” which explored the similarities and differences of education in various cultures. Since I was at Andrews University, my class was itself very international. One student was from Hong Kong, another from Egypt, a third from Thailand, yet another from the West Indies– and so on. One day during discussion, our Egyptian student, a young man, began to declare that the problem with education in the US and most of the West was “co-education.” Educating young men and young women in the same classes, he maintained, could only lead to immorality and corruption.

Since this was the late 1970’s (I know, I know, I’m really old), and the remnants of hippie culture dominated American campuses, it was hard to argue with the fellow. After his verbal volley, the teacher, instead of answering him, asked the class members to answer.  As each of my fellow students answered, it became increasingly clear that the main arguments they had were cultural– in other words, “In my country, we do it this way.” The debate was hardening, not resolving. Finally, the teacher looked at me.

“All I know to do is to go back to the Beginning,” I said. “In Genesis it’s clear  that Eden was the first school, Adam and Eve the first students, and God their teacher,” I continued. “That sounds like co-education to me. If that was God’s ideal design in the beginning, I don’t see how it can be ‘the problem’ today. We humans are sinful, and we have problems, so those problems show up in all our institutions. But unless we have clear direction otherwise, it seems to me that God’s first plan is still the best.”

I still believe this. If Eden was the perfect plan, then the closer we can approach to it, the better.  I believe in all things, God knew what He was doing. And so many, many questions of today that seem perplexing to some, seem much simpler to me. I will mention one are that I will take up in the future, and that’s the environmental movement. First principles have a lot to tell us about that.

As always, I welcome comments and questions. I have offered this because it has literally spared me many an anxious moment, and helped me navigate some of the trickiest currents we encounter in life. I commend it to you.

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