Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why Is There Evil and Suffering?

The Reason for God-Why Evil and Suffering

Where is God in the midst of our pain? Why doesn’t He do something about the evil and suffering in this world?

David Hume: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is cruel. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

This serious objection against the existence of God is sometimes called the Archilles’ heel of the Christian faith. How would you answer? It becomes a profoundly difficult question (both intellectually and emotionally) if you believe in a biblical vision of God as holy, loving and all-powerful. For people who experienced terrible tragedy, this is a personal issue not just philosophical. Empathy and pastoral care are more appropriate. Remember Job’s friends.

The first thing to note is this: The Bible recognizes, allows, and even invites such questions. If you are troubled by the reality of sin and suffering in the world, you are not alone. Listen to the wailings of suffering Job, the laments of prophet Jeremiah, the angry complaints of Habakkuk or Psalm 22; leading to the climax of Jesus’ cry on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” You can hardly find any faithful saint who does not wrestle with the why questions. The Bible recognizes, allows, and even invites such questions.

While we cannot explain the detailed purpose behind every specific case of suffering, the Bible gives us clear answers on two other important questions that help us to trust in God’s goodness and power:

1) “Does God care? Where is He in our pain?”
God is with us when it hurts: He is not far away, looking indifferently at our struggles. Rather he has come in the person of Jesus and suffered personally on the cross on our behalf. The answer cannot be that God doesn’t care. Only the Christian faith shows us a God who suffers injustice, rejection and pain with us and for us.

Albert Camus, the existential philosopher: “The god-man (Jesus) suffers too, with patience. Evil and death can no longer be entirely imputed to him since he suffers and dies. The night on Golgotha is so important in the history of man only because, in its shadows, the divinity ostensibly abandoned its traditional privilege, and lived through to the end, despair included, the agony of death”

“Jesus of the Scars” (a poem by Edward Schiltoff)

The other gods were strong. But Thou wast weak.
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to Thy throne.
And to our wounds, only God's wounds can speak,
and not a god has wounds but Thou alone.

2) Will evil and suffering be resolved one day?”

God will renew the heaven and earth: We despair with the question of whether evil will eventually be overcome because it appears so powerful and pervasive. But Jesus promised that God will intervene and stop evil one day. He will wipe the tears from our eyes and turn weapons of war into instruments of peace. There will be future resolution when relationships will be restored, all creation restored and healing justice in society.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the ultimate sign that God’s righteous rule will eventually prevail over sin and death. Evil shall not have the last word.

What God has done in Christ on Easter morning, He would do on a cosmic scale for the entire creation, including us! In the meantime, we are to live today as if the future is already present. The way we live should point forward to what God’s kingdom in its future fullness would look like (like a movie preview). Therefore we have every reason and motivation to be His agents of healing justice in a sinful and suffering world.

Perhaps our need is not to have evil explained. A more urgent question is:

What are we doing about the evil and suffering in our world? It’s a call to action, not just reflection. Are we actively working as individuals and church to alleviate suffering of the poor and marginalized? 

Read the attached article in Scribd for more details on some Christian and non-Christian approaches to theodicy


CFM Media Statement - Protect & Defend Right to Use Alkitab 30.03.11

We are grateful to Almighty God for bringing together Christian leaders from across churches in Semenanjung, Sabah and Sarawak to address the current controversy surrounding the impounding of Bahasa Malaysia Bibles, the Alkitab, at Port Klang and Kuching. This decision weighs heavily on us because of the implications not only for Christians but for all Malaysians.

We are united in our reaffirmation of the freedom of religion and worship. Therefore, our position is that there should be no restrictions, proscriptions or prohibitions whatsoever on the Bible or the use of the language of our choice in the practice of our religion, as it was in the days before and after the formation of Malaysia.
Christians, like any other Malaysians, are not demanding for anything beyond our constitutional and fundamental human rights as enshrined in Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The current controversy surrounding the Alkitab is just one of many issues that concerns Christians. There has been a systematic and progressive pushing back of the public space to practice, to profess and to express our faith. For example, the wearing and displaying of crosses and other religious symbols, using religious words and constructing places of worship have been restricted.

When Christians express this concern, we do so not just for ourselves but on behalf of all Malaysians. Our faith forms a critical component of our identity as Malaysians in nation-building as enshrined in the first pillar of our nation's Rukunegara: Belief in God.

As regards the offer made by the government on 22 March 2011, we respectfully state that this does not address the substantive issues. In point of fact, our previous offer made in 2005 to use the term "A Christian Publication" was only honoured in respect of one shipment of the Alkitab. Subsequent shipments were similarly held up and subjected to further arbitrary conditions for release.

In order to move forward, we call on the Government to commit itself once and for all to remove every impediment, whether legal or administrative, to the importation, publication, distribution and use of the Alkitab and indeed to protect and defend our right to use the Alkitab.

This includes revoking all orders made under the Internal Security Act 1960, which have declared the Alkitab as a threat to national security. Neither can the Alkitab be considered a threat to public order under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. We categorically reject the characterisation of our Holy Scriptures in this manner.

Instead, we see our Holy Scriptures as providing enlightenment and direction. In the words of the psalmist, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." (Psalm 119 : 105). In the New Testament is stated the teaching that we hold dear and true : "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (II Timothy 3 : 16)

We remain committed to work with the Government for a viable and long-term solution where the detailed processes and procedures are made clear and unequivocal and so long as our fundamental liberties as enshrined in the Federal Constitution are not infringed.

As for the copies of the Alkitab that have been impounded and desecrated, we reiterate our position that the action of the Ministry of Home Affairs (KDN) in stamping the Bibles amounts to an act of defacement, disrespect and treating with disdain the holy book of the Christians.

Given the unfortunate experience of KDN's tendency of taking arbitrary action without consulting affected parties or respecting the religious sensitivities of the Christian community, any decision to collect copies of the Alkitab which have been stamped and serialised would be with a view to prevent the possibility of further arbitrary acts of desecration, disrespect or destruction being committed against the Holy Scripture of the Christians by KDN and its officers.

We have left it to the 2 importers to decide whether or not to collect the Alkitab, based on their different specific circumstances and level of trust in the authorities and the processes in their local context.
Nevertheless, no matter what their decision is, we remain united in our common stand to uphold the principle of freedom of religion which includes the free availability without hindrance or obstacle of the Alkitab and all sacred scriptures in Malaysia.

We continue to call on all peace-loving Malaysians to pray for a dignified resolution to these critical issues in the life of our nation.

Dated this day 30th March 2011
Bishop Ng Moon Hing
Chairman and the Executive Committee
The Christian Federation of Malaysia

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Isn't the Bible a Myth?

The Reason for God - Can We Trust the Bible?

We had the second discussion based on The Reason for God centering on the question of the Bible and its reliability and interface with science. These are two huge topics which require some careful reflection, and we didn't have time to do them justice.

But I'm glad that some issues surface: That one can never be perfectly neutral or purely objective when it comes to the Bible. The stakes are too high and personal. We come with prior inclination to either disbelieve or believe it.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that people form their beliefs on the basis of three factors:

logos (the rational dimension: we don't want our beliefs to be mere wishful thinking)
pathos (the emotional/beautiful dimension that resonates with our deepest longings)
ethos (the social dimention of persuasion: beliefs influenced by our upbringing and circle of friends we trust)

I believe all three factors come into play whether you are a believer or a skeptic. The notes above are part of our reading material which interacts with the Reason for God DVD. In the video, a participant asks:

"Is there a dichotomy between myth and truth? Does it have to be factually true in order for it to be important? Art is true for the moment and does not need to be authenticated by history. More importantly, does it emotionally true? Does it resonate with your heart?"

At one level, for example ethical teachings in Jesus’ parables, its truth does not depend on whether the good Samaritan is historical or not. It resonates with theological truth even when it is not authenticated by history.

But on another level, Christianity is not just a set of ethical principles but about God acting to rescue his people in space-time events. That’s why some acts of God in history such as the death and resurrection of Christ are important and need to be verifiable. It is not just collective imagination of believers but something that really took place in order for it to have the meaning it claims to have.

Other participants in the DVD think history is important: The resurrection of Christ is a clincher: It changes everything if Jesus really rose from the dead. Why?

That would be a vindication of the claims Jesus made about Himself – a miracle that authenticates His claim to be God and has authority over everything.

There are two approaches to come to the conclusion that the Bible is God's word.

The classical view starts with the existence of God (based on some theistic proofs) and then inductively looks at the evidence in the Gospels for what Jesus said and did on earth. At this point, we are just taking the biblical texts as generally reliable ancient documents rather than an inerrant Scripture. From there, we could confidently discover that Jesus claims to have divine authority and equal with God. Not only that, His death and resurrection make the most plausible explanation for the historical facts that confront us: an empty tomb and the emergence of the Christian movement. Therefore, Jesus has divine authority and we are justified to embrace His high view of Scripture as our own.

The presuppositional view starts deductively with the self-testimony of the Bible as God's Word and then, proceeds to show how only with this starting point that all our human experiences and knowledge are meaningful and not reduced to absurdity. It is a transcendental argument i.e. unless you presuppose the Bible as God's infallible Word, everything else (morality, knowledge, beauty etc) falls apart. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review of Miroslav Volf's Allah: A Christian Response

Volf, Miroslav.  (2011). Allah: A Christian Response, New York, NY: HarperOne. Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at the Yale Divinity School and founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

Using "political theology", Volf's main thesis is that the God of Christians and Muslims is the same. His approach is from that of a Christian but he is able to balance that with a few quotations from the Koran and Hadith. He argues persuasively that since "normative" Christianity's description of God's attributes is similar to "normative" Islam's description of Allah's attributes, therefore both religious traditions worship the same God.

When it comes to the issue of the Trinity (Muslims believe that Christians worship three gods instead of one), Volf brings in the masterful argument set forth by theologian Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – 1464) and that of Reformer Martin Luther. Volf gave a good summary of the explanation of Nicholas of Cusa of the Trinity to the Muslim so that there is "no dispute between Christians and Muslim about God's unity" (51). One part of his explanation is that "[n]umbers are for creatures. God is not a creature. Therefore God is beyond number - beyond the number one as much as beyond the number three" (52). It must be noted that Nicholas of Cusa came up with this ingenious explanation of the Trinity after the fall and rape of Constantinople in 1453 by the Muslim armies of Sultan Mehmed II and the Christians were trying to sue for peace. The argument by Martin Luther as explained by Volf was a bit confusing except that "the main emphasis of Luther's theology: God's unconditional love" (73). However it must also be noted that Luther's thinking was in the context of Sulaimen the Magnificent capturing Hungary and laying siege to Vienna. If Vienna falls, then the whole of Europe will follow. The Christians were again trying to find common grounds.

Having set the groundwork by appealing to Nicholas of Cusa and Martin Luther, Volf set forth to argue in the second half of the book that the common attributes of the Christian God and Islam's Allah are the same thus concluding that both are the same. All other points of differences are then explained under "eternal and unconditional love". Though I appreciate Volf's attempt to set a common ground for dialogue, and suspect his affirmation that "If Muslims and Christians have a common God, are not Islam and Christianity just two versions of the same thing?" (191), I am not comfortable with his approach.

As Volf himself has pointed out, the Apostle Creed reveals two essential aspects of Christianity - who God is  and what He has done. One cannot explain away so easily the Trinity- God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit in one Godhead (Christians believe in one God, not three Gods). Also the work of Jesus Christ on the cross cannot be explained away by just using the term "unconditional love" without going into atonement and Jesus' words "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). In the index of this 314 page book, there is only three references to Jesus' death on the cross.

The second sentence Volf's introduction chapter almost broke my heart. He writes, "Christian responses to Allah - understood here as the God of the Quran - will either widen the chasm or help bridge it" (1). In Malaysia, the Christians have been trying to appeal against the government who wants to restrict the use of the word Allah to Muslims only. In one sentence, Volf gives away all that the Malaysian Christians have been fighting for all these years. Volf is aware of this issue in Malaysia (80-81). Allah has been used as synonymous with God by the Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) speaking Christians in Malaysia long before Malaysia became a country. Allah is an Arabic word meaning God.

This book is an excellent scholarly monograph in bridge building between two religious traditions. If it is from the Christian perspective, then one must be careful not to give away the basic tenets of one's faith.

Addentum (18 March 2011)

How does Volf "gives away" the battle for the name "Allah" for the Christians in Malaysia. This was at the very beginning of the book. Volf in naming his significant terms gave the term "Allah" to the Muslims and "God" to the Christians. We know what he is trying to do and if his thesis is correct it does not matter.
But if he is wrong then as a Christian he have given away the term to the Muslims.

The general reading public may not understand 'significant terms". All they will know is from this book, Volf suggests Christians and Muslims worship the same God which the Muslims call "Allah, and the Christians "God". It is likely most Muslims will reject this statement. However, they will be happy to point out that a prominent Yale scholar and theologian has used the term "Allah" exclusively to refer to the God Muslims worship and differentiated the term from the Christian God.

While I appreciate that he is writing from the North American context, however he must realise that the world is very interconnected and he has to be sensitive in his use of terms. Especially when he is aware of what is happening in Malaysia.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Argument From Desire

KPC-Thirsting for God

It was a great privilege to preach at Klang Presbyterian Church (English service) at 11 am today on the topic of Thirsting After God based on Psalm 63. I get the chance to refine the sermon further (for the third time) by incorporating some thoughts on Buddhist views about desire, attachment and suffering;
In Buddhism desire is considered to be the problem of humanity. Desire drives us to attachment and binds us to suffering. Since desire itself is the problem, the solution is to get rid of desire and attain Nirvana. But in order to get rid of desire, you must have the desire to get rid of desire. It seems you need the problem in order to get the solution.

But for the Christian, desire is not a bad thing in itself. The problem is when we desire lesser goods more than a greater Good. For example when we love money more than our family, this is wrong because our family is more valuable, a higher good compared to money. We have sacrificed a greater good for a lesser good. And when we desire anything in the world – be it work, ministry, family, career, ambition (things that are good in themselves) – when we desire them more than God, it becomes a problem. It becomes idol worship. That thing has become our true source of satisfaction and security. It is functionally our god, no matter what we say we believe.

So the solution is not to get rid of desire per se (you can’t do it even if you try). The solution is to have our love replaced and captivated by the Supreme Good – that is God Himself. Only a greater desire awakened by the Holy Spirit can expel our attachment to worldly things. Every day, we are faced with these questions: What is your deepest desire? What is your true source of satisfaction? What gives you courage to face the future? Denial of worldly pleasures alone is not enough. We need to have our desires transformed, redirected and fulfilled in what is ultimately satisfying and most glorious – in all that God is for us in Christ.
...the dynamics of hidden idols in our heart (hats off to Tim Keller's Countefeit Gods), explaining further the powerful Argument from Desire for the existence of God....

According to C.S. Lewis, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy (this longing)… Probably, earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing." Perhaps these yearnings for meaning, relationship and purpose in our heart are clues and hints that point us to the God who truly satisfies.

But some may say: “Well, just because I feel the desire for “fried ice cream” doesn’t mean that I will get it. Just because we want something doesn’t mean it exists.” But doesn’t the appetite for food in us mean that food exists somewhere? Isn’t it true that our innate desires correspond to real objects that can satisfy them, such as sexual desire (corresponding to sex), physical hunger (corresponding to food), tiredness (corresponds to sleep) and relational desires (corresponding to friendship)? And we have a longing that no amount or quality of food, sex, friendship or success in this world can fulfill. That is a powerful clue that the vacuum in our hearts is God-shaped and only a relationship with the infinite God can make it whole again. If our hunger points to food and our thirst points to water, could our desire for something beyond this world be a clue to something else? Perhaps we are made for another world beyond this material world that we can see.

And this meaningful song by Chris Rice called “Thirsty”...

I’m so thirsty, I can feel it

Burning through the furthest corners of my soul

Deep desire, can’t describe this

Nameless urge that drives me somewhere

Though I don’t know where to go

Seems I’ve heard about a River from someone who’s been

And they tell me once you reach it, oh, you’ll never thirst again

So I have to find the River, somehow my life depends on the River

Holy River, I’m so thirsty

Other waters I’ve been drinkin’

But they always leave me empty like before

Satisfaction, all I’m askin’

Could I really feel this thirsty if there weren’t something more?

And I’ve heard about a River from someone who’s been

And they tell me once you reach it, oh, you’ll never thirst again

So I have to find the River, somehow my life depends on the River

Holy River, I’m so thirsty

I’m on the shore now of the wildest River

And I kneel and beg for mercy from the sky

But no one answers, I’ve gotta take my chances

‘Cause something deep inside me’s cryin’

"This is why you are alive!"

So I plunge into the River with all that I am

Praying this will be the River where I’ll never thirst again

I’m abandoned to the River

And now my life depends on the River

Holy River, I’m so thirsty

Thursday, March 10, 2011

CFM: Fed-Up By Detention of Alkitabs Again

Christian Federation of Malaysia: Detention of BM Bibles Yet Again

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) is greatly disillusioned, fed-up and angered by the repeated detention of Bibles written in our national language, Bahasa Malaysia. This time yet again at the Port of Kuching in Sarawak.

30,000 copies of the “Perjanjian Baru, Mazmur dan Amsal” i.e. the “New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs” are currently being withheld.

This is notwithstanding that the Government in its attempt to to justify its position against the use of the word "Allah" in the Alkitab, the Government had given the assurance that the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, will be freely available, at least in Sabah and Sarawak.

Since March 2009, all attempts to import the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, i.e. the Alkitab, whether through Port Klang or the Port of Kuching, have been thwarted.

The previous consignment of 5,000 copies of the Alkitab imported in March 2009 is still being held by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Port Klang. This is despite repeated appeals which resulted in the Prime Minister making a decision to release the Alkitab held in Port Klang in December 2009 which was reported to CFM leaders by several Cabinet Ministers and their aides.

In absolute disregard of this decision, the 5,000 copies of the Alkitab remain detained. The Prime Minister when told about the continued detention of these 5,000 Bibles at a hi-tea event last Christmas expressed surprise that the order to release the same held in Port Klang had not been implemented. However, nothing has been done by the authorities to ensure their release.

Prior to March 2009, there were several incidents where shipments of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia were detained. Each time tedious steps had to be taken to secure their release. It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic programme against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia.
Malaysian Christians, many of whom have grown up with Bahasa Malaysia as their principal medium of communication as a result of the Government’s education policies, must have access to Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia in order to read, comprehend and practise their faith.

The freedom of religion guaranteed as part of the fundamental liberties under our Federal Constitution is rendered meaningless if adherents to a religion are denied access to their religious texts in a language that they can understand.

It is an affront to them that they are being deprived of their sacred Scriptures. Many are wondering why their Scriptures are considered a threat to national security. All these actions in relation to the detention of the Bibles continue to hurt the Malaysian Christian community.

We would ask how the Government’s transformation programme can be successfully implemented if civil servants can blatantly refuse to obey the Prime Minister’s order? Is the Government powerless to act against these “little Napoleons” who substitute their own interests and agenda in place of the Prime Minister’s directives?

We call upon the Government to act now and prove their sincerity and integrity in dealing with the Malaysian Christian community on this and all other issues which we have been raising with them since the formation of the Christian Federation of Malaysia in 1985.

As an immediate step, we insist upon the immediate release of all Bibles which have been detained.
Bishop Ng Moon Hing
Chairman and the Executive Committee,
Christian Federation of Malaysia

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Has Science Disproved God?

It is common to believe that there is a conflict going on between science and belief in God. As a result, some Christian youths gave up their faith in college because they mistakenly concluded that science has proved that chance, random natural processes formed human beings and everything else in the universe. On the other hand, it does not help the cause of the gospel if people are not equipped with a robust understanding of Genesis that does not distort or deny scientific facts.

Scientists gain knowledge by making systematic observations, proposing hypotheses as explanations of phenomena and design experiments to to test their results. Good scientific theories are rational, true description of the world and accurately predict future results. By its methodology, science cannot prove or disprove God who is invisible, spiritual, beyond space and time.

C.S. Lewis: “Looking for God by exploring space is like reading Shakespeare's plays in the hope that you will find Shakespeare as one of the characters. Shakespeare is in one sense present at every moment in every play. But he is never present in the same way as Falstaff or Lady Macbeth… My point is, if God does exist, He is related to the universe more as an author is related to a play”.

Far from being a threat, science is only possible based on some faith assumptions: There is a real world out there accessible to our senses, our minds can rationally understand it and the uniformity of natural causes. The same personal Creator who created the world also created our sensory and rational faculties so it’s reasonable there is correspondence between them.

Joe Boots (“Has Science Disproved Religion?”): “If the universe is ultimately chaotic – if all is in flux – then you cannot finally know anything. How can we believe in the uniformity of nature in a chance-driven universe? How can we trust that the chemical accident of our brain is giving us valid knowledge? It is the Christian worldview alone that can provide the pre-conditions of intelligible science. It is God who provides the order, structure and regularity that make the cosmos rational. And he has made us in his image, with mind and spirit distinct from matter, capable of exploring and understanding the world.” The Christian worldview is foundational to science, at least consistent with it

Scientism: “Only what can be quantified by scientific methods or empirically tested is rational and true”. Therefore, miracles are impossible since they cannot be tested.

But scientism is self-refuting because what kind of experiment can prove that? The position itself cannot be quantified or verified in any scientific test. It is a philosophical claim about science rather than a conclusion of science. Alvin Plantinga: The argument is like the drunk who insisted on looking for his lost car keys only under the streetlight because the light was better there. Or even worse: Because the keys would be hard to find in the dark, they must be under the light. If God exists, miracles are possible

What is evolution?

Microevolution: Variations take place in an organism over time producing modifications of existing characteristics. These are adaptive changes, through natural selection, allow the organism to survive and reproduce. For examples, color variations in moths and bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics. This is not a disputed issue. Greg Koukl: “Microevolution may tell us how finches get larger beaks or how moths take on
darker colors, but it doesn’t tell us how we get finches or moths in the first place.”

Moreland: “Macroevolution is the general theory that all life arose from non-life in some pre-biotic condition (where chemical reactions plus some form of energy gave rise to the first life), and all life evolved from the first life up to Homo Sapiens”. This is the disputed area.

Christian positions in response to Macroevolution: (Reading the World)

Young Earth Creationists – Ken Ham, Henry Morris, Duane Gish
About 10,000 years old earth, literal reading of Genesis, question the dating of fossils, reject macro evolution.

Theistic Evolutionists - Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, Polkinghorne. God created the initial materials and set up the natural laws, then guided the whole evolution process.

Old-Earth, Progressive Creationists – Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples. Accepts big bang cosmology, dating of fossil record, rejects macroevolution, holds that God progressively intervenes millions of times to create new species

Intelligent Design (ID) – Philip Johnson, Dembski, Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection: the anthropic principle, specified complexity in DNA, irreducible complexity in organic structures, design can be empirically detected.

Exegetical issues in understanding Genesis 1 & 2: (Reading The Word)

Evangelical biblical scholars who take the Bible seriously have different interpretations of Genesis 1 & 2. What does bara (“to create”) mean? To create out of nothing or create some new thing out of already-existing materials. Does yom (“day”) refer to a 24-hour period or an unspecified period time as well? See Ray and Sue Bohlin in How to talk to your kids about evolution and creation ( for three possible views:

“The first is the literal or the very recent creation account. Some people would call the proponents of this view "young earth creationists." They believe that each of the six days of creation was a twenty-four hour period similar to our days today. These days were consecutive and in the recent past, probably ten to thirty thousand years ago. They hold that the flood was a world-wide and catastrophic event and that all the sedimentary layers were a result of Noah's flood. All the fossils, therefore, are a result of the flood of Noah.

The second way of looking at Genesis 1 is the Day Age Theory, sometimes called Progressive Creation. Here, each of the six days of creation is a very long period of time, perhaps hundreds of millions of years. God would have created progressively through time, not all at once. The flood was a local event in Mesopotamia or perhaps even a world-wide, but tranquil flood. Therefore, the flood did not leave any great scars or sediments across the earth.

The third view understands Genesis 1 as a Literary Framework. This view suggests that Genesis 1 was not meant to communicate history. Peoples of the Ancient Near East used a similar literary device to describe a complete or perfect work; in this case, a perfect creation. God could have created using evolution or progressive creation; the point is that there is really no concordance between earth history and the days of Genesis 1.”

The literary framework begins with a “formless and void” earth in Gen 1:2. The first 3 days remove its formlessness with light, sea and sky. The last 3 days remove the void by filling them with living things. In any case, humility and respect for differing views among Christians who take the Bible seriously are called for.

The Big Picture: Controversy should not distract us from the key messages of Genesis. (See Tony Watkins’ What you need to know about the evolution debate -

God is the creator of everything. The universe owes its existence solely to God's will.
The universe didn't create itself and it didn't appear by chance.

The world reflects its creator. The created world is orderly (and therefore understandable by rational human beings) and good. It shows us enough about God that there's no excuse for anyone not to believe in him (Romans 1:20).

God is the law-giver who gave us the responsibility of being stewards of the earth. All created things have a divinely appointed purpose and not a product of random accident.

Human beings are God's image bearers, reflecting His character in our self-consciousness, creativity and aesthetic awareness, rational and moral responsibility and relational and spiritual dimension.

Human beings are rebels against God. Sin ruined our relationship with God, nature and each other. So we live in a world of alienation, fear, violence and lies. We hide from God and from each other. We are under God's judgment. Incredibly, God still sought out the fallen couple and promised gracious redemption (Genesis 3).

A Possible Strategy: Share our convictions in this issue humbly and be willing to listen to others. There is space for diversity on some of the details. Emphasize on the major message of Genesis. Be ready to challenge macroevolution on scientific grounds (Intelligent Design) if required. But even if macroevolution is true, why can’t God guide and superintend the natural processes in creation? It cannot logically disprove God.

The Big Bang: William Lane Craig: “The absolute origin of the universe, of all matter and energy, even of physical space and time themselves, in the Big Bang singularity contradicts the perennial naturalistic assumption that the universe has always existed.”

What about Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design?

John Lennox:
“According to Hawking, the laws of physics, not the will of God, provide the real explanation as to how life on Earth came into being. The Big Bang, he argues, was the inevitable consequence of these laws ‘because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’

…But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions... His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine.

That is a confusion of category. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up… To use a simple analogy, Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in themselves never sent a snooker ball racing across the green baize. That can only be done by people using a snooker cue and the actions of their own arms.”

What about multiple-universe theory to explain the fact that our universe appears fine-tuned for human life to exist?

Tim Keller, The Reason for God:
“Alvin Plantinga gives this illustration. He imagines a man dealing himself twenty straight hands of four aces in the same game of poker. As his companions reach for their six-shooters the poker player says, "I know it looks suspicious! But what if there is an infinite succession of universes, so that for an possible distribution of poker hands, there is one universe in which this possibility is realized? We just happen to find ourselves in one where I always deal my self four aces without cheating!" This argument will have no effect on the other poker players. It is technically possible that the man just happened to deal himself twenty straight hands of four aces. Though you could not prove he had cheated, it would be unreasonable to conclude that he hadn't.”

Robert Jastrow:
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Pluralisme Agama: Alternatif Ke-Tiga

Kebelakangan ini, soal pluralisme agama semakin hangat berikutan kenyataan Perdana Menteri Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak kepada umat Islam agar menjauhi pluralisme agama. Menurut beliau, fahaman yang meletakkan semua agama sama taraf di depan Allah bertentangan dengan kepercayaan Islam.

Beliau juga berkata, “Jangan salah faham kenyataan saya. Saya tidak menghina agama-agama lain tetapi ini berkaitan dengan soal akidah.”

Sehubungan dengan itu, Jawatankuasa Mempromosikan Persefahaman dan Keharmonian Antara Penganut Agama telah ditubuhkan tahun lalu bagi memupuk hubungan baik di kalangan masyarakat majmuk di Malaysia.

Ini mencetuskan reaksi berbeza daripada setiap lapisan rakyat. Ada yang menjadikan pluralisme sebagai modal politik untuk mendakwa pihak lawan sebagai pencetus ‘ancaman’ ini. Ada pula yang melihat usaha dialog antara agama seakan-akan ‘merendahkan’ martabat kepercayaan Islam setaraf dengan agama yang lain.

Dan ada juga aktivis seperti paderi Thomas George yang berpendapat bahawa pluralisme ala-John Hick adalah pendekatan paling berkesan demi mengatasi gejala diskriminasi, prasangka dan penindasan sesama manusia. Menurut beliau, semua agama adalah konstruk manusia yang sahih membawa para penganut kepada Tuhan. Fenomena agama seumpama beberapa orang buta yang bergaduh setelah meyentuh hanya sebahagian tubuh gajah buat kali pertama. Setiap penganut menganggap agamanya benar dan sempurna, tetapi hakikatnya, persepsi mereka merangkumi hanya sebahagian wahyu Tuhan.

Akan tetapi, kedua-dua reaksi ini memperlihatkan kekeliruan berleluasa bukan sahaia dari segi makna sebalik ideologi pluralisme agama malah dari penghayatan erti toleransi dan persefahaman yang sebenar.

Mungkin ada third way (jalan kesederhanaan) yang lebih berkesan.

Pertama, rukun pluralisme adalah eksklusif juga: “Semua agama hanya seumpama perspektif terhad orang buta mengalami Realiti yang sama, Sekarang biar saya dedahkan Kebenaran yang tepat dan sempurna!” Orang lain semuanya buta tapi penganut pluralisme agama sahaja yang nampak gajah itu. Dari mana datangnya ‘wahyu’ ini?

Mungkin secara tidak sedar, hujah pluralisme agama jelas bercanggah dengan fahaman agama lain.

Kedua, sifat toleransi dan sama hormat menghormati dapat dipupuk dalam kerangka agama masing-masing. Tidak perlu kita mendesak penganut agama lain agar menerima ideologi pluralisme agama sebagai syarat bermuafakat. Hakikatnya, toleransi itu mengandaikan kewujudan pandangan yang tidak sama. Kalau semua penganut sudah bersetuju menerima pluralisme agama, maka tidak perlu lagi toleransi kerana sudah dicapai kata sepakat sebelum sampai ke meja perbincangan.

Dialog antara agama yang sah tidak mendesak mana-mana pihak mengubah kepercayaan mereka. Walaupun pendapat berbeza, sifat saling hormat-menghormati mustahak kerana tidak harus adanya elemen paksaan dalam kebebasan beragama dan bersuara.

Akhir sekali, kekuatan ‘ancaman’ pluralisme agama sebenarnya datang daripada pihak yang memperalatkan agama sebagai alasan diskriminasi dan memecah belahkan masyarakat majmuk Malaysia bagi kepentingan politik mereka sendiri.

Oleh itu, ramai yang jelak melihat tindak-tanduk eksklusif ini berpendapat bahawa alternatif pluralisme agama adalah kezaliman dan kepincangan sosial. Kalau tolak pluralisme agama maka kena terima diskriminasi dan penindasan golongan minoriti.

Yang penting, pemimpin-pemimpin semua agama harus tampil mencari kaedah sosio-politik terbaik demi menekuni hubungan antara agama serta menangani isu sensitif seumpama penggunaan kalimah “Allah”, Subashini, Revathi, Lina Joy dan lain-lain dengan cara bermuafakat. Forum antara agama adalah platform paling sesuai bagi mereka mempertahankan martabat rukun agama daripada unsur-unsur hasutan yang mempolitikkan agama demi keuntungan peribadi.

Atas sebab keTaqwaan kepada Islam sebagai ad-Deen, fahaman pluralisme agama maupun konsep demokrasi majmuk dari teologi perjanjian Kristian, semua pihak harus meyumbang tenaga ke arah masyarakat adil dan harmoni di Malaysia yang berbilang bangsa, bahasa dan agama daripada sumber kepercayaan masing-masing.