Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 3
Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.
Question #3 embodies two typical atheist objections to Christianity, which I’ve answered in my reply to God is Imaginary here and here. DGS asks:
If you believe your God has phenomenal cosmic power, and is able to sustain the universe, why do you have savings accounts, pension plans, insurance, college funds, stock portfolios and locks? Just in case?
DGS links to his previous article on that topic, which I will now specifically address. The post talks about how a church had armed guards in place, and one managed to halt a tragedy in progress (see this news item).
DGS says that when churches put things like this place, they are not acting as if God exists. Kind of like the sarcastic picture on the right. More to the point:
Stores and business put locks on doors. We would say that is wise of them to do so. But is a Christian demonstrating a lack of faith by doing the same thing the world does?
I don’t think that the Christian is. I think that the Christian is displaying good stewardship. More on that in a minute; first, let’s take a look at the so-called biblical support that DGS feels refutes some possible counterarguments.
Christians might say we aren’t called to be stupid. To that, DGS says:
Every church I have ever attended had locks on the door. Every church I attended in the past two decades also has an alarm system.
If God was in control—why would there need to be locks? Oh, we can claim God doesn’t want us to be stupid, and we should use common sense and wisdom, yet this flies in the face of 1 Cor. 1:20-21 which says the wisdom of the world is foolishness.
First Corinthians 1:20-21 is part of a larger argument (1:18-2:16) and isn’t a call to reject all wisdom of the world. It is an argument for accepting Jesus as Messiah despite the fact that he died the most shameful and disgraceful death that a person could die. In the ANE, a crucifixion all but guaranteed a type of public humiliation that we have no equivalent for in the modern world: everything the crucifixion victim did and everyone he was related to suffered disgrace, humiliation, and was ostracized from society. Paul was arguing that God often uses foolishness to shame the wise and worldly. Therefore, I don’t find that this verse particularly supports DGS’s argument that churches shouldn’t need door locks if the faithful who worshiped there truly trusted God.
Just what is God’s wisdom on protecting earthly things, then? Jesus very often told parables where a rich landowner trusts possessions to a steward (usually a servant of some sort). The rich landowner represents God, and the servants (stewards) represented humans. Using this imagery, Jesus is teaching us to be good stewards. Ultimately, everything belongs to God, and he will ask for it back some day. Better to return in better condition than we found it, for God won’t accept it in the same condition (and that probably means he will be outraged if it is worse condition!).
The Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30) is a good illustration. Here, a landowner goes on a journey and entrusts talents to three different servants (v. 15). The first two invest the money wisely and return the original talents with dividends to the landowner (vv. 20-23). The third, however, buried his and thus was only able to return the original talent (vv. 24-25). This enraged the landowner. He told the servant he should have at least put the talent in the bank, that way at least it would have accumulated interest (v. 27).
The point is that God expects us to be good stewards of what he has given us–and it all comes from him, the spiritual (Eph 1:3-4) and the material (Jms 1:17) blessings. In order to fulfill that calling, we must take measures to protect what God has given us; not burying it like the slothful servant in the Parable of the Talents, but locking the door and alarming the building.
Accidents do happen, and therefore the church should take an insurance policy out for fire, theft, or other contingencies. Could the God of the universe stop a fire from hitting a church? Of course he could! But trials come (Jms 1:2-4), and it is through those trials that our faith is made stronger (Jms 1:12). We are just fools if we don’t think it could happen to us.
This isn’t showing a lack of faith in God’s ability to protect us, but is showing our obedience to him in safeguarding what he gave rightfully to us to use. We are the servants who are investing our talents and paying God back the original plus dividends.
Ever attend a church which has a building project? Perhaps needs a new roof? The same thing—a chart is put up in the lobby in the form of a thermometer, with each “goal” of contribution being a mark, and as the money comes in from the members, it is slowly filled in with red. Does the church say, “We need a new roof—don’t worry—God will provide”? Nope. The church says, “We need a new roof. Let us pray, and pass the plate.”
While the thermometer picture is overused, that’s not really the point here. The tithe is frequently brought up as a lack of faith in God. In reality, the tithe is a test. It is often said that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). This is true, and we (as Christians) aren’t giving 10% compulsively, under duress or penalty of hell. Rather, we are giving as an act of worship some of which God has given us so that the wealth can be spread. And we don’t have to give 10%; we may give what our hearts (and budgets) allow, proportionate to the wealth God has given us. We could give less, or (better) we could give more.
I’m not Pat Robertson or Paula White. I am not suggesting that giving more than 10% will give you yet more wealth in return. That isn’t promised anywhere in the Bible. Instead, I want to unequivocally say that I believe that the tithe isn’t limited to 10%, nor is it a 10% minimum. Giving what we can afford is the mark of responsible stewardship. This isn’t to reap a material reward, but to reap a spiritual one.
Churches do more than just build buildings: they fund missionaries and assist needy families in the area. All of that is made possible by the tithing of the faithful.
Yes, churches also pay bills and staff members’ salaries out of that tithe, but those are necessary and worthy expenses. The bills enable the building to have heat, running water, and other amenities that a person would expect from a quasi-public building. Which could work to bring in people, and in some cases (as is egregiously demonstrated in a TV spot for a church local to me) keep people coming. (My wife and I were both struck by this TV ad, which asks members of that church why they come to services. Only one of the half-dozen or so interviewees mentioned Jesus. One touted the fact that the church has a rock-climbing wall!)
As for staff salaries, the staff members are domestic missionaries, charged by God with spreading the gospel. Even Paul agrees that paying a church minister is a worthy use of the tithe (1 Cor 9:1-14; yet he himself does not by choice vv. 15-18).
While DGS sees health insurance and requests for tithe money as faltering on the part of the faithful, I believe that both are examples of the faithful’s obedience to God. We give tithes not out of compulsion or fear of hellfire and damnation, but out of love for God–to see the work of the gospel, spread by faithful ministers, continue to touch lives in our local community and abroad. Insurance of all sorts protect what we have, showing that we are good stewards in preparing for the inevitable destruction of earthly goods.
Much more could be said about stewardship. It is a lifestyle, not a formula for managing money. Time, talents (like singing, not the money in the above parable)–everything that is a gift from God should be used for his glory, proportionate with what the Christian can give. This is true obedience, not cowering in fear and lack of faith.
Posted on January 13, 2011, in Apologetics, Bible Thoughts and tagged DaGoodS, Dave Armstrong, faith, health insurance, lifestyle, Pat Robertson, Paula White, tithe, Worldview. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.
The problem becomes: What precisely do you mean by “trusting” God? If by “trust” you mean that you have some sort of faith that whatever happens is somehow for the best, then how is this sort of trust anything but vacuous?
I trust (to a certain extent) the government and the police, I trust (to a certain extent) the money system. I therefore behave differently than I would if I didn’t trust these things: I go out of my house and I’m *not* armed to the teeth; I go to work and allow them to pay me in dollars. If I didn’t trust the police and the money system, I would be armed to the teeth and I wouldn’t accept dollars for work.
In other words, what does the believer who says he “trusts” God do differently from someone such as myself who does not believe in any God to trust?
Subscribed. (Nothing to add to The Barefoot Bum’s Comment)
Larry, the Barefoot Bum asked “what does the believer who says he “trusts” God do differently from someone such as myself who does not believe in any God to trust?”
That is a very good question, and I suppose it is one that could be asked corporately but is probably better asked individually. In fact, you’ve made me think about my own life and I ask myself that question. As a believer, who says he trusts God, what do I do differently than someone who DOESN’T trust God?
When I was twenty years old, I was about to get married and I faced a very important decision. My wife to be said she had heard from God that we were supposed to move out of state to a small town to be youth pastors at a church we had affiliations with.
I was, at the time, living with my parents still – of course, I planned on moving out when we got married. In Dallas, where we lived, had a good job (nothing amazing but I made good money and had the ability to make more if I wanted). Our friends were there. She had a good job. We had our church family. Everything was there.
In the small town, she had family that we knew were about to move away. There, we did not have a job. The church already had a youth pastor. There, we did not have friends.
The advice of spiritual peers, parents, etc was to stay and not go into ministry – at least til we’d adjusted to married life for a while. And that made sense to me. I hadn’t heard God either, and had to TRUST my wife.
In the end, God did reveal to me that it was His will for us to move. My trust caused me to go against all recommendations and logic. We found an apartment. We found good jobs (tho mine wasn’t as well paying as before). And we ended up becoming the youth pastors – volunteer (at the time… now part-time).
It all worked out BEAUTIFULLY. It really strengthened our relationship. I’ve learned a lot from my new job. We now have our own home and children. We’re still happily married! And I believe it’s all because we trusted God (and I trusted my wife).
On a regular basis, my trust in God does NOT lead me enough. You’ve made me realize that. But one way it does move me is in giving. It moves me in giving to causes even when it’s outside of our budget. It leads me to give in tithes (as mentioned in the article). It doesn’t lead me enough. I should trust God more…
But when I lock my door at home, I know that a thief could easily break in still. My trust doesn’t go in the lock. I trust God that He will take care of me – hopefully by taking care of my belongings, but even otherwise in their loss.
As an atheist, I’ve done many similar things myself. Sometimes I trust my intuition. Sometimes I do things for purely emotional reasons. A couple of years ago, my (now ex-) wife and I quit our middle-class jobs in California and moved to Colorado. All the “logical” reasons said to stay in CA, but we were just in some sense unsatisfied with our lives, and wanted to change. So we moved. And This is not the first time I’ve done something apparently “illogical”. So, what have you, the believer, done differently from me, the atheist?
Second… we are descended from a long line of survivors. We have these (relatively) big brains, that have been selected for our ability to solve physical, logistical and social problems. You, like me, seem reasonably smart, capable, educated, and capable. We have a society, culture and civilization that devotes considerable time, effort and energy to helping people fit in, and giving them opportunity to exercise their natural skills and abilities. Few people — and very few moderately competent people — starve or freeze. We have a culture and society where most people will do all right on *any* choice of minimally sensible options.
And what if your move *hadn’t* turned out wonderfully? I don’t think that would have altered your trust in God. As I mentioned in my first comment, trusting that everything will “work out for the best” is vacuous. “I trust God that He will take care of me – hopefully by taking care of my belongings, but even otherwise in their loss.” That seems a lot less like trust and a lot more like fatalism.
Let’s talk about my *first* wife (yes, I’m 0 for 2). I trusted her not to lie to me. She lied to me. After that, I didn’t trust her any more. Part of trust is that someone will conform to your expectations. When they fail to do so, they forfeit your trust. Another way of looking at it is that trust, at least in the prosaic sense of trust between human beings, is a *mutual* relationship. If my first wife lied to me, if she betrayed me, even if she actively worked for my harm, even if she tried to kill me, and I still did whatever she asked me to do, you would (I hope) laugh at me if I said I “trusted” her. You would, I hope, call me a fool, a doormat and a slave.
Frankly, I think any Christian who does not do as Jesus explicitly says and give *everything* he has to the poor — everything but a loincloth and a begging bowl — and follow Jesus has no business saying he “trusts” the Christian God. You may be trusting your highly evolved intelligence, intuition and our advanced civilization, but you ain’t trusting your God. But hey, I’m not a Christian. If you’re satisfied with your wishy-washy, half-assed “trust” in God, it’s no skin off my nose.
Your last paragraph is based on your interpretation of the Bible (discussion of which, I believe is really a different topic).
But yes, as I said before, my trust does not move me as much as it should… Therefore, I do not trust God as much as I should. I’m not satisfied with that. I want to give more of myself to Him.
When I HAVE trusted Him (and trust me – I was trusting Him, not my intuition in my story), He has rewarded my trust.
Just like a child may trust a parent to have their best interest in mind (even though they often don’t agree with their decisions or adamantly disagree that the decision IS in their best interest). Often the child simply does not understand yet.
You even said it yourself… You trusted your wife, but you didn’t trust her fully, not enough to jump off a cliff if she said it’d be ok. You didn’t trust her fully for good reasons. I don’t trust God fully, in my opinion – for bad reasons (in your opinion I assume – for good reasons).
As far as the “Locks” go… Satan asked Jesus to jump off a building to prove He was God – and even used Scripture to back it up (Lk 4:9-12). Jesus replied that you shouldn’t tempt God. “If you really trust God, turn off your alarm and unlock the door…” If you’re interested in the “Christ-like” response – I think they’re quite similar.
Sorry – That turned out way longer than I meant it to. You can delete it if you want.
I am uncertain how your story indicates Trust in God at all. You wanted a position (youth pastor at a particular church) and worked to achieve it. (Move locally, obtained other employment to sustain your needs in the meantime, and positioned yourself strategically [volunteering] to obtain it.)
Frankly, how is your story any different than “small town girl goes to Hollywood, works as a waitress, and becomes a star”? Of course we forget the numerous misses and remember the hits. Like all the small-town girls who don’t make it. Or all the people who strive for positions while “trusting on God” and end up unemployed.
You’re making assumptions about my intentions there. I wanted to stay in Dallas. And, now, if I didn’t trust God (at least somewhat) I would stop being a youth pastor. You can try to say that my reasoning was different, but you can only guess without being inside my head. You’re better off assuming that I was demented in trusting “God” and just got lucky.
“Your last paragraph is based on your interpretation of the Bible ”
What of it? I’m not claiming that’s what Christians have to do to be Christians, I’m saying that that’s what they have to do to impress me. If your trust in God consists of expecting ordinary, prosaic results from ordinary, prosaic efforts, I’m going to see your supposed “trust in God” as at least trivial, if not vacuous.
Which is fine: It’s been my position for a long time that when you unwrap all the mysticism and baloney from Christianity, it’s a trivial religion. There’s nothing wrong with triviality per se; everyone — myself included — has trivial, superficial interests and pursuits. I just consider it kind of… er… puzzling… when I see Christians elevate what seems to me essentially trivial and ordinary to some lofty, metaphysical heights.
Stuff happens, some good, some bad. We do what we can, but we have limitations, so not every outcome will be good. We push on and do the best we can nonetheless. That’s what *everyone* does. You don’t need an invisible man in the sky and you don’t need Jesus. You just need a brain and a little help from your friends.
… And that’s really all I’m seeing on this blog. Y’all have your little World of Warcraft fantasy land, and it pleases you to play your little fantasy games, and that’s fine. It’s your life, live it how you please; I have no more objection to Christianity as y’all are talking about it here than I do Dungeons and Dragons, Second Life, WoW, deconstructionist literary criticism or analytic philosophy. It’s a game, it gives people pleasure, good for you.
But Christianity and religion in general not a game I myself have the slightest interest in playing; it’s a game that is forbidden by law from being supported by the government (due to an unfortunate history of too many players taking the game entirely too seriously); and, to be honest, while I’m willing to tolerate fantasy games, a lot of people take them seriously enough that I have a degree of pity tinged with a not a little contempt. The world of reality is magnificent, fascinating, compelling and deep; if these people put the kind of effort and attention into the real world that they put into their fantasy worlds, we could build a Utopia in a couple of generations.
Yeah, purely secular societies have done a marvelous job of building Utopia. Or do I have to mention Stalin and Pol Pot?