A Time for Truth and Courage

Tony Campolo now supports “the full inclusion” of homosexuals and lesbians in the church. This articleDSC_8674 2 speaks of a new wind of the Spirit causing Christians to look afresh at Scripture on this issue.

Campolo has never been a compelling thinker. I once heard him say that politically he was “to the left of Mao.” I did not laugh at that in 1979 nor will I ever. Mao killed 90 million of his own people over fifty years of his reign, during peacetime. Campolo once wrote that Jesus was divine because he was fully human. I see. Any of our students at Denver Seminary would be strongly corrected for that incoherent and illogical Christology. Those won over by Campolo’s famous oratory should consider his arguments, which are poor.

Talk of “grace” and “tolerance” and “love” all you want. The Bible does not endorse any intimate sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Love covers a multitude of sins but it justifies no sin.

Paul warns us not to be flown by every wind of doctrine. Endorsing the LGBTQ philosophy is a toxic wind of false doctrine. In this, beware of fallacious thinking.

  1. You either accept LGBTQ people or hate them. No you show love. That does not mean endorsing sinful activity.
  2. The church needs to catch up with the times. No, it needs to fear the Ancient of Days, whose truth does not change.
  3. But many Christians are LGBTQ. Perhaps, but this does not justifying sinning in their sexuality by breaking God’s creation order and his commands.
  4. Jesus did not speak about LGBTQ people; therefore, he did not oppose it. This is an argument from silence and is, thus, fallacious. Not talking directly about X does not mean you are not against X. Jesus did not directly speak against bestiality either. Jesus did endorse the moral law of the Hebrew Bible, which forbids deviant sexuality (Leviticus 18); and Jesus authorized the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who taught that sexual deviancy came from the fall (Romans 1:18-32).

American culture is collapsing all around us. Christians are celebrating in the ruins, cheering the denial of biblical truth.

Will you have the courage to stand for truth? Will you do the work to back up your views logically and theologically? Will you be a pawn or a prophet? Will you speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) or cower in a corner?


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Christian and Eastern Silence

“The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” exhorts the prophet Hosea (2:20). Our world is famished for silence, but does not know it. Our needs often hide from our wants. We want more noise—music piped in everywhere, talking screens in multiple rooms of our homes and work and public spaces, words assailing us by displays in stores. Magic phones speak to us even as we attempt to speak to others. Our ears should be ringing, but only our phones do.

But some are waking up from the roar of words and noise. Several books warn us about the noise that is disquieting our souls. Some are secular, but give good advice. Other books, articles, and teachings are spiritual, but in an unbiblical sense. They seek to still the din within by emptying the mind through yoga and other forms of Hindu or Buddhist meditation. Buddhism is seductive, since it promises inner peace, required no worship, and is usually adopted by Americans in a piecemeal and uninformed way. Mindfulness is pursued, but the temple is ignored.

Humans, as fallen mortals, have a limited ability to sort things out. We often hurry through instead of think about. Then, not surprisingly, we act ignorantly—if quickly. But God gives wisdom.

Christian silence carved an opening to quiet the buzzing mind and twitching body in order to hear from The Word (John 1:1). This God is a God who speaks truth and reveals us our condition before “the audit of eternity” (Kierkegaard). But we are often deaf to God himself because of the noise that assails us on every side. Scripture commands us to listen to God, to harken to his speech.


Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).


Listening is done best without distractions. Silence creates that space. As Kierkegaard wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century:


The present state of the world and all of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence! Bring men to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today.


The great melancholy Dane wrote this before the advent of telephones, radio, television, or the Internet. Needless noise has emanated ever since the Fall. There is no need to keep silence at all times. There is a time to speak and a time to be enmeshed in noise for the sake of the Kingdom. However, we need to be replenished and rewarded with solitude and silence. Although it is not explained, and is difficult to interpret, the following passage may spark some needful reflection:


When he [Christ] opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them (Revelation 8:1-2).


Even in heaven, silence had its place. It should have its place with us now as well.

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Christianity, Cosmos, and Human Meaning

Recently, Bill Nye, The Science Guy, remarked in a YouTube video that Christians were fools for thinking that human beings had significance in a cosmos that dwarfs them. He is merely echoing a chorus of like-minded critics who employ to reason against Christianity. The smallness means insignificance argument is usually coupled with the old canard about Copernicus dislodging the earth from the center of the universe and, thus, dethroning man and destroying Christianity. Bertrand Russell was one of the biggest offenders, throwing this idea around in his popular, A History of Western Philosophy.

The controlling falsehoods in this argument are both historical and logical. As C.S. Lewis notes, the ancients regarded the earth as tiny in relation to the rest of the cosmos, even if their knowledge of its vastness was not that of our own. No theology of human significance was ever tied to the relative size of humans with respect to the universe as a whole. No, human worth depends on the God who made man in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). The height, width, and weight of these image-bearers are irrelevant to their value. What counts is their nature. Humans represent God in the world through relationships, reason, emotion, and will. The Oxford Don drives this home in Miracles.

There is no doubt that we all feel the incongruity of supposing, say, that the planet Earth might be more important than the Great Nebula in Andromeda. On the other hand, we are all equally certain that only a lunatic would think a man six-feet high necessarily more important than a man five-feet high, or a horse necessarily more important than a man, or a man’s legs than his brain. In other words this supposed ratio of size to importance feels plausible only when one of the sizes involved is very great. And that betrays the true basis of this type of thought. When a relation is perceived by Reason, it is perceived to hold good universally. If our Reason told us that size was proportional to importance, the small differences in size would be accompanied by small differences in importance just as surely as great differences in size were accompanied by great differences in importance. Your six-foot man would have to be slightly more valuable than the man of five feet, and your leg slightly more important than your brain—which everyone knows to be nonsense. The conclusion is inevitable: the importance we attach to great differences of size is an affair not of reason but of emotion—of that peculiar emotion which superiorities in size begin to produce in us only after a certain point of absolute size has been reached (Miracles, chapter seven).

Here the critic may shift ground a bit and claim that Christianity is too anthropocentric, since it claims that God created all things for humans. The same critics, in fact, may do both at once, which is a contradiction. How dare we single ourselves out for such a compliment, we tiny mortals?

This barb bears at least two blunders. First, the Bible does not maintain that the universe has one purpose—to serve humanity. Rather, the cosmos is the handiwork of an infinite and personal Creator. The Maker crafted he world to manifest his goodness and to give him satisfaction, whether or not mortals are the beneficiaries. The Psalter features nature psalms or hymns that testify to God’s care and delight in the astronomic realm. Consider God’s call to nature in Psalm 148:

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
           praise him in the heights above.
       Praise him, all his angels;
           praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
     Praise him, sun and moon;
         praise him, all you shining stars.
     Praise him, you highest heavens
         and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,        

   for at his command they were created,
  and he established them for ever and ever—
   he issued a decree that will never pass away

(Psalm 148:1-6; see also Psalm 104).

The heights above, the waters below, the angels, the sun, moon, and stars, are all praising God—with no human in sight. The purpose of creation is to bring God glory, not to set man at the center. Genesis chapter one reports that God was pleased with his creation—the heavens and earth, the plants and animals—before he created human beings. These were wrought by and for God before having any significance for human beings.

However, man alone bears the divine image. The ruin wrought by the Fall could not extinguish this image. As a man, God came into the world through Jesus Christ to save sinners by his death and resurrection (John 1:14; 1 Timothy 2:15). God, in his love, gave us a hospitable planet, which is perfectly placed to sustain life as we know it. The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzales and Jay Richards argues this well. Still, this does not imply that the universe is anthropocentric. To the contrary, the universe is theocentric.

There is a second charge to unmask as errant. It is this: Christians are morally wrong to consider themselves as the objects of God’s special concern. Following from the accusation that Christians believe the world was made merely for humanity, atheists accuse believers of pride. After all, denying a special relation to God would be humble. Of course, the background assumption is that there is no God.)

But the skeptic cannot read the mind of a God he claims does not exist. The question is not, a priori, what seems the most humble way to view ourselves in the universe. Rather, the questions should be: Did God create us in his image and has he made a provision for us? The Gospel, moreover, indicts human beings as fallen and incapable of self-salvation. That is no compliment. And the greater something is, the farther it may fall. This is the human condition after the Fall.

Once again, I appeal to the master apologist, C.S. Lewis, this time for the last word.

Christianity does not involve the belief that all things were made for man. It does involve the belief that God loves man and for his sake became man and died. I have not yet succeeded in seeing how what we know (and have known since the days of Ptolemy) about the size of the universe affects the credibility of this doctrine one way or the other. . . . If it is maintained that anything so small as the Earth must, in any event, be too unimportant to merit the love of the Creator, we reply that no Christian ever supposed we did merit it. Christ did not die for men because they were intrinsically worth dying for, but because He is intrinsically love, and therefore loves infinitely (Miracles, chapter 7).

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Cosmology

Cosmology is the study of the nature and origin of the cosmos. The rare word, cosmogony, is sometimes refers to the origin of the cosmos. The study of cosmology requires that there be a cosmos that is physical. Idealists cannot, strictly speaking, be cosmologists since they claim there is nothing but ideas and minds. As such, cosmology ends up being a grand psychology. Pantheism falls into this category, since it claims that all is universal Mind and that there is no creation of anything apart from this Mind.

The cosmos exists for only one of three reasons. (1) It has always existed in some form, extending into an infinitely long past (2) It came into existence out of nothing and without a case a finite time ago (3) It came into existence a finite time ago because it was created by a First Cause. Consider each possibility:

  1. The eternal cosmos idea may be with atheistic or theistic. Materialists, such as Bertrand Russell, believe that the universe if “just there,” as he claimed in his debate with F. Coppleston in 1948. Some theists have taught—or allowed as possible—that the cosmos and God are coeternal, but that for all this time, the cosmos was contingent on God’s sustaining power. Thomas Aquinas claimed that natural theology can only prove this much. It takes special revelation for us to know that God created the world out of nothing a finite time ago.
  1. Pressured by the cogency of the big bang cosmological theory, some atheists affirm that the cosmos is not eternal. It originated at the big bang. However, they do not attribute a cause to this first event. The late Christian philosopher, Dallas Willard, called this “big bang mysticism.” This mysticism without God must grant that there are a-causal events or something can come from nothing without a cause. Principles such as this contravene all normal thinking about science and everyday life. There are no analogues to the big godless bang. As such, it is not rational to hold this view.
  1. If the cosmos began to exist a finite time ago, the best explanation for its origin is an immaterial being that is before and outside the cosmos. This Being possesses tremendous power (to create ex nihilo) and has the requisite knowledge to front load the big bang with all that is needed for life on earth. Thus, from modern physics, these divine attributes: creator, immateriality, unmatched power, transcendence, and knowledge (personality). As the Apostle Paul wrote: “ For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

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Creation

A creation is a particular kind of artefact brought about by an agent. Agency requires awareness, volition, and the ability to act. A painting by Van Gogh is a creation as is a tenor saxophone solo by John Coltrane. A creation is more than a rote production, however, since it possesses novelty. The human creator innovates upon given materials in nature and according his or her own nature.

Humans are creators because they are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). They represent God in this capacity in a finite modality. God creates out of nothing and without any limitation in power, goodness, or knowledge. Mortals create by working on what has been given by God—their being and the material available in God’s world (see Psalm 8). Unique objective value is brought into the world by creators, some of whom are rightly called artists.

Creations under the sun can go wrong, and bring imperfection or even evil into God’s creation. Speaking of those who abandon the reality of God for creation-worship, the Apostle Paul declares:

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil (Romans 1:29-30).

For example, pornography follows closely behind many forms of media, especially those of the Internet. Before cyberspace, sinners had patronized a pornography place, a store, wearing a disguise and leaving with the sexual contraband in a brown paper bag. Now, fallen creators have put it all online, and it is a click and a credit card away.

But God is not mocked. The works of darkness and death will be dragged into the light of God’s searching judgments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). The creations blessed by God will endure, to the praise of the Creator and to the delight of his thankful creatures. His creatures who have become “new creations” through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) will live deathless in an ever-living world. As the seer of The Apocalypse writes:

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:23-27).

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Christianity and Science: Reasons that Christianity Encourages Scientific Pursuits

Adapted from Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (InterVarsity Press, 2011, chapter five)

  1. The physical universe is an objective reality, which is ontologically distinct from the Creator (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 90:2; John 1:1).

2. The laws of nature exhibit order, pattern, and regularity, since they are established by an orderly God (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:18-21).

3. The laws of nature are uniform throughout the physical universe, since God created and providentially sustains them. Miracles are not violations of natural laws, but supernatural interventions at specific times and for specific reasons.

4. The physical universe is intelligible because God created us to know him, ourselves, and the rest of creation. (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 36:9; Proverbs 8).

5. The world is good, valuable, and worthy of careful study, because it was created for a purpose by a perfectly good God (Genesis 1). Humans, as the unique image bearers of God, were created to discern, discover, and develop the goodness of creation for the glory of God and human betterment through work. The creation mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) includes scientific activity.[1]

6. Because the world is not divine and is therefore not a proper object of worship, it can be an object of rational study and empirical observation.

7. Human beings possess the ability to discover the universe’s intelligibility, since we are made in God’s image and have been placed on earth to develop its intrinsic possibilities. The world and humans were designed for discovery.

8. Because God did not reveal everything about nature, empirical investigation is necessary to discern the patterns God laid down in creation.

9. The intellectual virtues essential to carrying out the scientific enterprise (studiousness, honesty, integrity, humility, and courage) are commanded as part of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:1-17) and are the available through the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:13-25).[2]

[1] On the significance and depth of the creation mandate, see Francis Nigel Lee, The Central Significance of Culture (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1976), chapter one.

[2] On the presuppositions of science, see also J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987), 198-201.

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Let Books be Books

Many books today seem afraid to rely on pure text. They are books that seem to be embarrassed to be what they are: books, that is, orderly collections of words formed into sentences and paragraphs.

Too many books are filled with one-sentence paragraphs (usually a sign of poor style and impatience), call-outs that repeat what is in smaller print elsewhere on the page (annoying), stand-alone call-outs with little connection to the flow of the text. I find disorienting. When do I read these rude interruptions? That is their context? We also find lists, bullet points (the bane of orderly discourse, but the balm of PowerPoint), and font variations. They are more like the children’s books of old.

This is enough to send me screaming to acres and acres of pure, small, hard text: Augustine’s The City of God or any book by Kierkegaard or Dostoevsky or even Being and Nothingness by Sartre! (But Heidegger’s Being and Time…don’t go there, although I own it.) These books require concentration, fixation, and focus. One cannot breeze through them. These works have heft; they must be mastered; they cannot be skimmed. I say: Let books be books!

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Principles For Taking Every Thought Captive: Part III

Here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). If you missed the last list posted, catch up here and here.

  1. Carefully and prayerfully consider your use of all electronic communications media. These often sap our knowledge and divert us from godly habits of the heart. Consider engaging in a protracted media abstention in which you eliminate a commonly-used electronic system for a week to ten days. It will profoundly change your view of technology. See my book, The Soul in Cyberspace. For my more recent thoughts see my interview with Tim Challies at: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/challies/the-soul-in-cyberspace-an-interview-with-douglas-groothuis-11603254.html Consider also the thoughtful, secular book, Hamlet’s Blackberry. For a broader historical and culture critique read Neil Postman’s magisterial work, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. The best book on television is Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. See also my article in The Christian Research Journal, “Understanding Social Media” at: http://www.equip.org/PDF/JAF2333.pdf. For a more scholarly paper, see Douglas Groothuis, “Christian Scholarship and the Philosophical Analysis of Cyberspace Technologies,” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 4 14 (December 1998): 631-640. This is on line at: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/41/41-4/41-4-pp631-640-JETS.pdf.
  1. Listen to thoughtful radio programs and podcasts. Many gifted Christian teachers and preachers can be heard in this manner. Redeem the time by listening to them in your car or while exercising or when you cannot do anything else, such as when you are ill. Of the talk radio, hosts, Dennis Prager, a conservative Jew, is probably the most civil and intelligent. He is refreshing in that he addresses more than just politics. Another excellent source of cultural criticism from a Christian or Christian-friendly viewpoint is Mars Hill audio, hosted by Ken Myers, author of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture. Some audio books of thoughtful books are available for purchase or from a library.
  1. Take periodic times of silence, for either short or long periods of time. Our culture is too noisy and over-stimulated. We need quiet to compose our bodies and souls before God in cognitive meditation, prayer, and rest. As Ecclesiastes says, there is

a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak  (3:7; see also Habakkuk 2:20).

  1. Consider Denver Seminary for further education. I head the MA in Apologetics and Ethics. We also offer a Certificate in Apologetics and Ethics (10 semester hours). See: denverseminary.edu

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Principles For Taking Every Thought Captive: Part II

Here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). If you missed the last list posted, catch up here.

  1. Develop your skills at speaking and teaching and conversation. American linguistic culture is ugly, sloppy, and lazy. Instead of blending with the inarticulate herd, broaden your vocabulary, work on articulation, and listen to the people with which you are speaking. On writing see the classic Elements of Style by Stunk and White. On public speaking see Stand Like Lincoln, Speak Like Churchill by James Humes. Consider joining a Toastmasters club to refine your speaking skills.
  1. Read thoughtful Christian books, both classic and contemporary. While we often emphasize popular books, we should not forget time-tested classics written by Augustine, Calvin, Pascal, and Jonathan Edwards. Twentieth century writers such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, John Stott, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and Os Guinness make for hearty and rewarding reading as well.
  1. Certain periodicals are edifying as well. For keeping the pulse of contemporary evangelicalism, see Christianity Today. Political and cultural issues are carefully addressed in First Things, which now has a rather strong Catholic focus. To stay abreast of cults, religious movements, apologetics, and ethics read The Christian Research Journal.

4. Be aware of secular culture and non-Christian religious expressions through your reading of periodicals and books. I also read the Sunday New York Times and The New Yorker for sophisticated secular views—in, in the latter case, for their superb cartoons. Commentary is excellent for conservative Jewish views. Books and Culture reviews significant Christian and other books. This is a resource for discerning what non-Christian books you should read, as is The New York Times book review. I also check Harpers, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, and Wired to look for significant articles. I find browsing at bookstores especially helpful, if you can find a brick and mortar bookstore left. We should be grateful that the Denver area has three locations of The Tattered Cover.

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Being

A term referring to that which is opposed to that which is not–or, to non-being. However, it is not that simple for some philosophers, especially the existentialists Sartre and Heidegger (in his earlier work).

Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) penned a ponderous tome called Being and Nothingness, which covers the waterfront nicely. Of course, most philosophers are more concerned with being than nothingness, since if you have being that is all you need. Sartrean existentialism loses its oomph if nothingness is removed from it. But since nothing is nothing, then nothing would—or could—be removed. Still, it is easier to sell a book called Being and Nothingness than to sell one called simply Being.

Buddhist philosophers often write books about nothing (or Nothing), though, since that is roughly what Nirvana is. However, the Buddhist Nothing seems to be more of a something than Sartre’s Nothing. But of this, I have nothing more to say.

Some may be surprised to learn that Sartre was a closet theologian, who believed in creation ex nihilo, or ex nihilo at least. Having chased God out of his life (as he himself once put it), he could not invoke God as the Creator of all else. Instead God’s role was filled by (you guessed it) Being—or was it Nothingness? This is the rather dry narrative.

Always, there was Being. There was, and is, no reason for Being. At first, Being was alone, the being in-itself—sans consciousness and worries over non-being. Then, for no reason, being-for-itself arose or immerged. That is you and me, anxious beings who would eventually claw away to understand Sartre (and, see below) Heidegger. Being for itself defines itself in relation to non-being. As such, it tries to attain what is now nothing, but could turn into being with proper anxiety and existential crises. Thus being for-itself defines itself against Nothing, having sprung from the loins of being-in-itself.

My reader may wonder how this resembles creation ex nihilo. You see, the for-itself came from the in-itself; but the for-itself has nothing (that blasted word again) in common with the in-itself. Therefore, it comes out of nothing. In other (analytical) words:

  1. The for-itself differs categorically from the in-itself
  2. The in-itself proceeds the for-itself.
  3. The in-itself and the for-itself are not on speaking term. That is, they have nothing in common
  4. If (1)-(3), then something (the for-itself) comes from nothing, ex nihilo
  5. Wow!
  6. There is no possible explanation for how this occurs, says our frowning Sartre while hunched over a table in a French café sipping coffee and surrounded by adoring For-itselves eager to know about being and nothingness.
  7. Nevertheless, something cannot come from nothing. Nothing ever could.
  8. Therefore, Sartre’s account of being and nothingness, of the in-itself and the for-itself is (hold your breath) false.

Now let us consider a frowning German, Martin Heidegger (1976), whose prose has generated a vast and unending secondary literature for his intrepid interpreters.

Once upon a time, according to the Great Being-teller—in halcyon times preceding Greek fussiness over logic—men walked with Being alone. This, for Martin, was better than simply being alone. They could commune with Being. Then, logic ruined everything, except the logic of Heideggarian Being, offered—appropriately enough—by Herr Heidegger.

This is so weighty, that a film was made called, “Being There” (1979), starring Peter Sellers. “Rotten Tomatoes,” has given this a 96% for what it’s worth. But Sellers’s character, “Chancy Gardener,” lacks gravitas, being who and what he is. Who is he? A being estranged from Being, who derives all his information from television. His being in light of Being is pointless.

Can we clear the air and start anew? Perhaps we can.

In the beginning was not the nothing, but the Word. All things, being-in-itself and for-itself, were created by the Word, who is a He, not an It. That is, everything comes from someone (John 1:1-5). This bedevils existentialist atheists, but is true, nonetheless.

Therefore, all being has its origin and owes its continuation to a Supreme Being, who is the perfect form of being in-itself and being for itself. This means that this Being, being who he is, suffers no conflicts with non-being. Of himself, he says “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). God he has consciousness and exercises agency with respect to the being he has created (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 90:2; Revelation 4:11).

Come, let us now laud the Supreme Being with all of our created being. He answers our philosophical problems and gives us meaning. For this is how things stand with the Supreme Being and beings.

Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name (Psalm 103:1, NIV).

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