Category Archives: Questioning Your Way to Faith
Some Personal Thoughts on Tim Keller’s Exposition of Matthew Chapter 11
My Journey to Timothy Keller
I realized during the waning months of the Covid-19 pandemic lock-downs, that I had lost two significant Bible teachers who in the past had greatly influenced my thinking. Since I missed their teaching and influence very much, I prayed to find someone whose teaching could fill this void in my life. I came across Timothy Keller’s podcasts and they have gone a long way to filling my lack.
Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11
I had not realized before these messages by Keller (the Spotify links are at the end) how detailed and rich is Matthew Chapter 11 in which Jesus describes who he is, and where he calls for people to come to him individually and unreservedly.
Chapter 11 begins with the imprisoned John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus asking:
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”Matthew 11:2-3 (ESV)
But this is the very question (whether Jesus is the promised Messiah, the anointed one) Jesus’ audience was discussing and debating among themselves. However, they believed the Messiah would rescue them from the Romans, so Jesus answered the question, not by saying a misleading “yes” but rather by citing facts and data about his ministry. In essence he was saying “Yes, I am the Messiah, but not in the way you think.”
4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers[a] are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.Matthew 11:4-5 (ESV)
But Jesus is This Curious Mixture of Attractiveness and Offensiveness
What could be more attractive to Galilean culture than someone who could heal diseases, raise the dead, and give good news to the poor? So Jesus’ next statement is unexpected (or at least it was to me). Indeed, in the next whole section Jesus says things that will offend Galilean ears. Jesus warns them what he will say next is offensive, but urges them to listen and to think about what he’s about to say, and not take offense,
6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.Matthew 11:6 (ESV)
As Keller points out, in Galilean society everyone had to work hard to survive, but there were two seminal events in community life: marriages (where celebrations lasted a week) and funerals (where the mourning and wailing lasted a day). So it’s perfectly natural that children would use these very happy and sad occasions in their play. Jesus uses this childish metaphor to underline the complaining and muttering that accompanies the crowd’s adoration for him and John the Baptist.
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
And Now Comes the Offense
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”[a]Matthew 11:18-19
Finally, he says something that would be deeply offensive to the Hebrew mind:
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[a]27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.Matthew 11:25-27
When Jesus says extraordinary things about God the Father such as: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” it seems he’s saying to me:
“Peter, you can’t just make me into a good teacher, an encourager of the poor, or a doctor. I am, of course, all those things too. For us to have a working relationship, a true friendship Peter, you have to remember who’s God in our relationship and its not you. To think of me in any other way, to forget that I am of the triune God, is to make me into a partial or imaginary Jesus.”
Now We come to the Culmination of the Whole Chapter–What Does Jesus Want of His Audience
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I imagine Jesus calls me to himself individually, not as a member of a crowd. I stagger up carrying an impossible burden. He places my load into a cart and the two of us, side-by-side pull it using a yoke. All the time he speaks gently and humbly to me and teaches me how to pull the cart, doing more than his fair share. In that companionship I have his full attention, and he has mine and he teaches me how to walk and work.
Links to Dr. Keller’s Spotify Messages
Coventry 2091 Trade Paperback Arrived: Updating My Author’s Bio
I’ve reached a milestone with the publication of my fifth book, Coventry 2091. It’s time for me to revise my author’s bio. Here is a preview of the changes.
Long before I became a fiction author, I was an avid reader. Books in general and novels in particular influenced me greatly. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings , C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of the Narnia , and Stephen R. Lawhead’s trilogy, Song of Albion are among my favorite and best-loved novels.
I also very much enjoy classic science fiction classics such as Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky.
The stories I most enjoyed were not only entertaining, but they taught me something about all that is good and excellent in ourselves and the world around us. They inspired hope without glossing over the fact of evil
I began writing The Halcyon Dislocation in response to a challenge of sorts. I was meeting with friends in our small book club when I began musing about how much I would like to write a novel. One of my friends, an accomplished author in her own right, looked me in the eye and said, “Why don’t you do it then?” After many conferences and contacts with other authors, my first book was published.
I am now the author of five books. As a futuristic novelist, I started my writing journey by creating a complex, parallel world in The Halcyon Dislocation. And so I began my speculative fiction series, The Halcyon Cycle. My second novel, The Battle for Halcyon, describes the fate of the displaced University of Halcyon as it seeks to return to its own space-time. The third in this series, The Dragons of Sheol, published in 2019, takes the reader to Abaddon, a continent ringed by mountains with the main land mass six kilometres below sea level.
In 2021 I have published the first book in a new series, The Coventry Chronicles, called Coventry 2091. These stories, naturally enough, make some assumptions about what life will be like seventy years from now. Although, I foresee some troubling and deeply unsettling changes ahead, I am at heart an optimist and believe that whatever evil we may face, it cannot forever triumph over good. As a reader you might be surprised at how that manifests itself in the story.
In writing these stories I have been able to pursue a life-long dream of writing fast-paced novels that explore the intersection between adventure, science, faith and philosophy.
My book, The Battle for Halcyon, won a 2016 Word Award in the Speculative Fiction category. Previously The Halcyon Dislocation was short-listed as a finalist in The Canadian Christian Writing Awards – Futuristic Fiction Category. I am grateful for the recognition I received as relatively new and unknown author.
I am currently working on the first draft of Coventry Peril. This story follows the travails of the Coventry Penal Colony and their hope for freedom and a place of safety.
What I learned from Tim Keller’s Message on Guidance
In these days when, by government edict here in Canada, churches are deemed “non-essential services,” I find myself searching the internet for inspiring and thought-provoking messages. A few weeks ago, I listened to a 2004 message by Timothy Keller on guidance. See the link below:
For a transcription of the talk, check out the link below:
Keller talks about three forms of guidance:
“We’ll find out by answering, by looking at these proverbs and understanding first of the guidance God does, secondly the guidance God gives and thirdly the guidance God purchases for us.”
- Guidance God does
- Guidance God gives
- Guidance God purchases for us
He further subdivides “Guidance God does” into:
- Paradoxical guidance God does
- Non-obvious guidance God does
There is so much in this message that I can only talk today about what spoke to me about “Paradoxical guidance God does.” When I think of guidance I think of help in decision making. Keller points out there are two contradictory views about decisions. One view is a deterministic view that decision making is really an illusion. Our brain chemistry, our hormones, are appetites so completely determine our decisions (if you’re a Materialist) that our decisions don’t matter. There is also a theological version of this: God makes our decisions for us, so again they don’t matter.
The second, free-will view, is that our decisions completely determine everything. Keller astutely points out that both points of view, if thought through to their logical implications, can’t help but lead to despair. Absolute determinism logically leads to complete passivity. My decisions don’t matter, ever. But free will leads to paralysis since I know so many of my decisions will not only be wrong, but devastatingly wrong that second guessing and doubt will paralyze me.
Keller correctly points out that, not only Proverbs, but he New Testament itself asserts both individual Free Will and God’s Sovereignty (Determinism) simultaneously and the two together are essential for hope and confidence in the future.
Since Free Will exists and is operative, my decisions matter a lot, so I cannot be passive. Yet since the God who loves me still is sovereign, he can smooth over my many poor choices, so in the end I will be okay. Keller uses the Genesis historical account of Joseph where many people made terrible decisions with some good ones thrown in, but God, made everything work together to good purpose and save Jacob and his family from a killer famine.
How to Come to Terms with this Paradox
As a scientist, I am no stranger to paradoxes. The one that springs immediately to mind is the wave-particle duality that is particularly pronounced in small particles. One knows this paradox is intrinsic to particles. One also understands the quantum nature of very small particles is so different from what I encounter in the macroscopic world, that I should not be surprised the properties characteristic of the quantum realm appear as paradoxes to me.
The way a physicist handles these paradoxes is instructive. One knows when to treat an electron as a particle and when to treat it as a wave to solve a particular problem. For diffraction one treats an electron as a wave; for collisions as a particle.
Some years ago I read Roger Penrose’s book The Road to Reality. Much I did not understand but his explanation of the arrow of time always stayed with me. Of the four dimensions (x, y, z, t) only time is unidirectional, that is to say time always moves from the present to the future. Indeed, our world is what it is, because of time. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that for any process, the entropy of the universe must increase. To go back in time is to return to a lower entropic state of the universe and so contradicts this law. As a human being, I am remorselessly and relentlessly bound in time. At one point in time I am deciding cereal or eggs for breakfast. Twenty minutes later that decision is irrevocably set in the past. Within time I made a decision.
Yet if I believe that God created everything including time, then I have to believe he exists outside of time as well as within it. This to me is the whole explanation why Free Will and Determinism can co-exist. Within time (the only realm I comprehend), real decisions are being made and have consequences. Outside of time, in some way there is some multidimensional present where all of infinity is seen (I want tot say simultaneously, but that would be a symptom of my incurable compulsion to always drag time back into God’s timeless realm).
This brings me to my final point. I can’t understand God’s Sovereignty without dragging time into his timeless realm and so making him responsible for all actions and destroying Free Will. I can’t understand his sovereignty, but at least I know why I can’t understand it.
As Keller points out, having free, meaningful choices and a sovereign God superintending all is the only way of avoiding paralysis on the one hand and passivity on the other. Like the scientist, I apply my imperfect models to the problem at hand. When I am making a decision, I decide knowing that this is my responsibility. When I have second thoughts and wonder if I my decision has been a huge mistake, I am confident that God in his sovereignty will make it work out, despite my flawed choices.
A Christian SF Writer Comments on the Challenge: God is Either Loving or Weak
Is there a contradiction between the theological claims that God is omnipotent and that He is love?
A short time ago my teaching pastor, Bruxy Cavey was teaching on Three Beautiful Words (God is Love) from I John 4:8 (if you’re interested in this critical message you can download the podcast for free).
After the message, as is the custom in our meetings, the floor was opened up for questions. A query was texted in by Peter (not yours truly) and from memory the gist of the question was:
A speaker on TV said that God being loving and being omnipotent was a contradiction. If God were loving, he would fix the world to take away evil and suffering. Since he doesn’t that means either he can’t (therefore he’s not omnipotent) or he won’t (therefore he’s not loving). This has bothered me a lot. How would you answer this?
Now when I encounter challenges like this, I like to think through them and this is the reason for my post.
Thinking about the definitions
Omnipotence is a theological term that describes God’s power as creator and sustainer of all things. I don’t believe it is ever used in the bible but rather is used by theologians to describe the sum of the teaching on God in the bible on the subject of His power and sovereignty.
Before one can examine the claimed contradiction, I think it is useful to understand the word “omnipotent.” The TV speaker and I likely agree that omnipotent means “all powerful” but does that mean that there are no actions that are inherently impossible even to an all-powerful being?
I think the answer to that question is “no;” there are actions inherently impossible even for the omnipotent.
For example, the following actions are inherently impossible or necessarily limit the scope on omnipotence:
1. Actions that violate the law of non-contradiction: God can’t make it rain and not rain on the same spot, in the same sense, at the same time. Choosing to make it rain means He has already chosen against making it “not rain.” The decree and its complement come as a single package.
2. In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision. After that, all future decisions are constrained by what has already been chosen. Often subsequent choices are impossible because they violate earlier choices.
3. Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do.
Allow me to elaborate on points 2 and 3.
In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision
As a writer I see this principle in effect whenever I start a novel. When my page is blank I may write anything I like. Perhaps:
“In a galaxy far, far away …” or
“He found the body after midnight on the moor.” or
“When Dolores opened the letter, she knew her life would never be the same again.”
After the first line, my omnipotence as a writer has shriveled enormously. I can no longer do what I want. Everything I write afterwards has to be consistent with what I wrote before. I think God faces the same limitation of particularity. When he chooses a certain course in creation, the contingent choices have to be self-consistent. When He steps into time, what He can do now, is constrained by the choices already made.
Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do
Omnipotence argues that God could lie. What prevents Him from doing so? He could put the lying words together, but choses not to because of His character. We have the same kind of power: we can all formulate a lie, but in our better moments we chose not to. This argues that there are some things God could do, but does not do them because they conflict with His essence or character.
Okay so why doesn’t God end all wickedness and suffering right now?
I think this is really the heart of the question that bothered the texter, Peter, and I don’t have a full answer. Here is what I have: what would God need to do to fix all wickedness and suffering right now? I think we would have to change the role we currently play on this planet and wrest from us all impulses and desires contrary to His will whether we want to give them up or not.
One of my favorite fantasy book series is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®. In it a group of gifted people, called channelers, have enormous powers over their fellow humans. One power they have is called compulsion. With compulsion they can make subtle changes the thinking in the ungifted or even the gifted they have overpowered. For example, a channeler might compel a highly competent general to make subtle mistakes in a battle that to lead to disaster. On the other hand, compulsion can be used to completely take over a person’s mind so that the compelled must worship the compeller and be willing to kill or give up their lives for him. In the books, compulsion was rightly seen as a great evil in all its forms because it turned humans into automatons.
If my memory serves me correctly, there was a vision in the last book in which all people were compelled to be kind, productive, generous etc. But their humanity was sacrificed to make them that way against their will. They were no longer human. The protagonist saw this compelled change as a great loss to evil.
I think this is the fundamental flaw in having God fix things right now—it would have to be done against our will and our nature and that action itself would be an evil even if the end were good.
So where does that leave me?
I believe God is fixing things (perhaps it might be more correct to say He has fixed things in Christ) but the full effect of the cure has not fully spread through the system yet. The need for the means and the end to be true and good means the process will take some time, but it encourages me enormously that God in Christ came down into creation as a man and suffered right along with us. He was born into a poor family, of an oppressed people. His father likely died when he was a young man. Finally, he was crucified as an innocent man, while dying for His enemies who did not value His death at the time. This gives me great hope that God deeply cares about our (and my) condition in this flawed and marred world filled with flawed and marred people.
One of my favorite pictures is the one shown at the head of this blog taken of a framed print in my home. In Michelangelo’s fresco of The Creation of Adam, God is seen as touching Adam’s finger ever so slightly. Through this lightest of touches, He is communicating His love, but also His gift of independence and free will. The touch is there so Adam can choose to move toward Him or away from Him. Alas, we have moved away. He pursues us, but the touch continues to be light to preserve our free will. It is always my choice whether I move toward the touch or away from it. If I have to choose between becoming automaton or having God work the process to bring us home when we are willing to move towards Him, I choose His timing and process.
A final comment on theologically-skeptical snipers
I must end this blog with a protest about theologically-skeptical snipers. I can’t directly complain about texter Peter’s TV speaker because I never saw the program, but I have seen many others like it. The speaker, in criticizing theism or Christianity trucks out some challenge and then leaves it hanging. In my experience, they never go on to say: “This is my world view and this is how I answer this question that I have just asked.” That would reveal that their own answers are at least as problematic as the Christian’s and thus leave them open to challenge. In other words, these skeptics are often not skeptical enough because they don’t challenge their own views along with the Christian’s.
In my mind, these speakers are like snipers who are happy to lie hidden in the brush taking pot shots at their opponents. As long as their own position is undiscovered they can happily fire away without taking any return fire.
If you are interested in these kinds of questions and you find the musings of a non-theologian, Science Fiction author helpful, why not check out my book Questioning Your Way to Faith? In story form, it discusses questions I have wrestled with, in the context of a respectful conversation between friends who profoundly disagree on the answers. ©Peter Kazmaier 2018
Bad News – The Audio Version of THE HALCYON DISLOCATION Won’t be Coming Out Anytime Soon
I received some bad news yesterday. I learned from my publisher that the vendor that was producing the audio version of The Halcyon Dislocation has declared bankruptcy (I don’t even know the vendor’s name). This is particularly unfortunate since the editing of the audio edition was 98% complete (as I understand it, even after the audio editing is complete, there was still a good deal of post editing processing to do before it would be ready for download and sale). The only significant piece missing was an audio list of the dormitories at Halcyon University that were all named after famous philosophers. Unfortunately many of the unusual names were mispronounced in the last audio mp3 and needed to be corrected.
In all of this, I must say my partnership publisher Word Alive Press has acted with grace and integrity. I appreciate this very much, since this was their loss as much as it was mine (perhaps more so). Going through this painful experience has underlined for me why I remain a loyal partner of Word Alive Press.
I’m going to go through my various bios and descriptions to look for places where I had promised that the audio version of The Halcyon Dislocation will be coming out soon so that I can delete those expressions of hope and avoid raising unrealistic expectations. I will do my best to be thorough, but if I miss one or two, I hope my readers will be understanding.