A logical path to Christianity

March 18, 2013 2 comments

Like I often do, I’d like to start with a disclaimer…

This is my own way of thinking and it works for me, but it is by no means authoritative or complete. No one can actually come to believe in Christ without the Holy Spirit, but it helps to be able to fall back on logic in times of doubt and weakness.

I encourage people to think through these steps (or steps like these) and really dig at the heart of the issue. It perplexes me still just how little people delve into these things when literally everything is riding on them. Keep in mind that this is a logical path, so things like feelings, personal preferences, and predispositions need to be kept in check as much as possible. We are making probabilistic judgments along the way and ignoring what we like or dislike. As humans, these things seep into our decision-making and conclusions all the time, but it has little relevance here.

This is a very surface-level post, so don’t expect it to be comprehensive, but I think it’s a good basic overview. This is my simple three-step path to deciding that Christianity is the one true religion.

OK so the very first step is to decide for yourself:

1. Is there a personal creator of the universe? Yes or no? There are only two options.

*Based on some feedback I’ve gotten, I felt the need to clarify the term “personal creator.” In apologetics terms, this does not necessarily refer to a relational person or what not, but it simply refers to a being who decided to create by his own volition (as opposed to being some natural force without a mind). I suppose the “personal” part of it, as most people understand it, would be more directly addressed with the second question in this post.

Most people claim to believe “yes” to this question because some things seem inherently obvious (of course, many simply state “I believe there is a higher power somewhere” and leave it at that). The universe is not eternal—as skeptics used to propose—and therefore was created or came into being at a finite point in our past. Nothing comes from nothing, so there had to be some external first-cause, right? Natural causes couldn’t sufficiently handle this creation duty, and what natural causes are there to speak of anyway when “nature,” matter, and even time didn’t exist? (Yes, even time came into existence at the Big Bang, most scientists agree.) A personal being had to choose to create the universe rather than there being nothing.

Things like the Cosmological Argument and the impossibility of an actual infinite come into play here…and in my opinion, common sense. When we look around and witness the beauty and intelligence around us, it seems almost preposterous to think it all happened by chance from inanimate and impersonal matter.

So for me, the answer to this question is YES. That leads me to the next question…

2. Did this personal creator choose to reveal itself to us? Yes or no.

One could imagine a scenario where a disinterested creator or god brought this universe into being, and then stepped away to leave us to our own devices. It’s possible. But when we have to decide probabilistically whether this is the case, it’s hard to defend.

In my view, why would a powerful and personal creator make this world (and the resulting intelligent life) and have no interest in it? Why would this creator bother making humans who yearn for answers and even for worship in some form? Why would this creator be satisfied in making such splendor and complexity and being completely detached from it? Doesn’t it make more sense that this creator would ultimately try to make contact with us and for us to recognize him/her?

In my view, it makes more sense that if this grand creator bothered to make us, then a relationship of some sort would naturally follow. If you don’t agree, it’s hard to convince you otherwise (but I’d love to hear your train of thought on this).

Now, if this creator has revealed information and truths to us in some way, I think that would constitute what we refer to as a “religion” or set of beliefs. The question now becomes something else entirely…

3. Out of all the world’s religions, which is most likely to be true? Which one is the right one?

Before we delve into this, let me stop some of you peace-loving hippies (or postmodernists even) out there. 😉 No, not all religions can be right, and they do NOT all point to the same thing. They all state contradictory “facts” about this greater power and are mutually exclusive from each other. The issue is not “what’s true for you” because truth is true whether or not you feel it. Someone can believe with all their heart that 2+2 = 3, but they’d be wrong. Like it or not, there is objective truth…some things are correct, some things are incorrect. You can’t really get around that by trying to be open-minded when it comes to truth.

If this great creator (from steps 1 and 2) has such incomprehensible power, you can safely assume that he/she would make sure that the right set of beliefs is correct all the way. You can’t pick bits and pieces from different sources. Wouldn’t that be a rather incompetent higher power?

Anyway, a likely obstacle you’d come across at this point is this: “you can’t prove whether a religion is true. It’s all taken on faith, not evidence.”

Yes, there is a measure of faith in the unseen and incomprehensible; I understand that. But what we’re trying to decide is which religion is most likely to be true, given what we know and have available to us.

From my study of the major world religions, it was easy to notice some predictable patterns. Some dude has a dream or vision, and then tells other people about it. Sometimes, they are just the person’s own ideas. The hearers of these so-called truths or revelations sense conviction in that person’s voice and demeanor, and they decide he is not lying. Being superstitious and gullible, they start believing and following this original source. Eventually, their numbers increase and you have an established religion.

(Don’t get me wrong…it is my belief that many of these religious leaders believed their own story. There was not much understanding of dreams back then, and visions can come from various places and for different reasons…possibly were even demonic.)

Sometimes, the religion spreads by word of mouth in light of little or no opposition. Other times, it spreads by military might or government mandate.

In almost all cases, the source can be primarily traced to one man who in his enlightenment, writes some scriptures for people to follow. It takes maybe a few months or years. Nothing within these scriptures can be proved or disproved because they largely deal with the metaphysical. This person likely enjoys a heightened status as a leader of a new movement. Who doesn’t like having followers looking up to you, right?

But one religion stands out in stark contrast: Christianity.

The Bible was not written by one person trying to get followers, but rather 40 different authors spaced out over thousands of years. If you know your Bible well enough and pay close attention, you’ll notice a striking continuity and an unmistakeable unified purpose throughout. No single author or leader received all the glory, and if anything, they were severely persecuted or even martyred for their teachings.

We have the Synoptic Gospels, which all tell the same story (with varying levels of detail), so there is multiple attestation making it more credible according to methods that help determine historicity. Keep in mind that these people weren’t collectively working on something known as “the Bible” today. They were not collaborators, but rather were people who in some cases didn’t even know each other directly.

We also have biblical stories squarely entrenched in the midst of actual known human history. We see Caesars, Xerxes, and other known figures throughout. These are not fables in mythical settings with made-up events, but are real locations with historical details being confirmed by archeology and ancient historians continually (even including lost civilizations that modern scholars initially claimed the Bible made up…until they are proved wrong by the next excavation). The Bible even contains startlingly accurate prophecies regarding the man of Jesus and even the rise and fall of empires. The Dead Sea Scrolls and other finds confirm that these prophecies were recorded well before the actual events took place.

For me, the fact that the Bible tells us things we don’t want to hear even helps confirm its truthfulness. What other religion tells us that we are held accountable even for our thoughts? Or that we are unable to come to good standing with our own works and effort, but rather are completely dependent on the mercy of Jesus? That the love of money or wealth itself can be bad for you and is dangerous?

If I made a religion, I’d tell people to get as rich as possible. This would help support the cause, right? Other religions try to tell you things that make them appealing, like having multiple wives or the promise of 72 virgins in the afterlife…true biblical Christianity is hard and humbling.

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Nothing else even comes close.

Does this make Christianity a certainty? Of course not, but you might be compelled to agree that it’s the best candidate for the one true religion.

If this is true and the Bible is the true word of God, then at this point, does it really matter what you feel? Does it matter that you like Buddhism’s teachings better or that you find things in the Bible to be objectionable? You should know as well as anyone that you are fallible and prone to mistakes. What you believe one day can change the next.

The crux of the issue is what is true.

And that is the basic gist of why I believe Christianity to be the one true religion. It’s hard to capture it in a readable blog post, but I hope you get the idea.

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Renewed effort on this blog

March 18, 2013 4 comments

Hello all,

As I’ve made clear in previous posts, I’ve been struggling with a diminishing motivation when it comes to this blog. My original intent was to reach thinking people into making an informed decision for Christ, but I think people who are set in their disbelief cannot be convinced no matter what I say.

But as the domain registration expiration was approaching, I pondered whether to keep this blog active. Then I felt a pressing on my heart to ramp up my efforts once again. Even if it helps one or two people, it is worth the time and energy it takes. I can’t control the effects, but the worst thing is to give up and do nothing.

So without further ado, I will proceed to writing my first post in a while. Forgive me if I’m rusty at all, but I hope the Spirit will help me along the way. 🙂

Joe

Categories: General, Random thoughts

“How Culture Changes” (YouTube – Mark Driscoll)

November 27, 2012 1 comment

An interesting short clip about the direction of our culture and why it goes the way it does.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ah, the heights of human arrogance

November 19, 2012 5 comments

Human arrogance and pride is everywhere, and it’s not just the “hatetheists” who are guilty of this (again, described in this link: http://blogs.christianpost.com/confident-christian/profile-of-a-hatetheist-10298/). It resides in all of us, even those who call themselves Christians. Smart, educated people are especially prone to this pitfall precisely because they believe themselves to be smart.

While we may try to remove the more obvious signs of pride from our lives daily (particularly the socially unacceptable forms), I think a more hidden and dangerous kind threatens to destroy the possibility of salvation in many around us…even churchgoers who fully believe themselves to be saved.

This latent pride not only keeps someone from fully engaging with Almighty God in a genuine way, but it also gives people the false sense of security that they have nothing to worry about…that they are already right with God and the rest is just icing on the cake.

OK so what am I talking about? In a nutshell, it is this attitude: “I know better than God.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking…no one who calls themselves Christians would actually think or say this! Maybe not explicitly, but like love, feelings and words are not the best way to gauge whether we have the proper attitude. The best evidence is shown through actions and in the way we think.

Chronological Snobbery

This mindset presupposes that newer or more modern is always better. What we believe today is better than what “old-fashioned” people or societies in the past believed. “Traditional” has become a dirty word.

Why do people think this way? Because we have some evidence supporting this predisposition. Newer technology is generally faster and better. We can look into the historical past with 20/20 hindsight and see all the egregious mistakes that we have made. Since we appear to have progressed in some of these areas (e.g., slavery, racism, sexism), we conclude that we are always moving forward.

But this is a gross oversimplification, particularly when it comes to morality. Just as modern electric guitars do not beat a ’59 Gibson Les Paul, modern morality is not necessarily superior to the past overall. You cannot make blanket statements or judgments, but rather need to consider things piece by piece. As always, people love to think in ways that are convenient and neatly packaged, rather than nuanced.

For instance, yes, we can be jubilant in the abolition of slavery and that we have come to our senses that racism is wrong. We can be happy about getting closer to gender equality and laws protecting women from domestic abuse.

But as Bible-believing Christians, we should mourn the erosion of biblical and traditional marriage. We should feel immense sadness at the killing of unborn babies every day, while coming to grips with the ridiculous hypocrisy of judging China for throwing away unwanted daughters into dumpsters. “Choice” has become the ultimate good rather than right and wrong or the sanctity of life. Tolerance for all ideas has taken the place of pursuing and discerning actual truth.

We need to analyze things point by point. Not all modern things are better. If you believe Satan exists and is out to deceive the world, do you really think he’d make his acts of moral sabotage so obvious? Remember, he knows what he is doing and is smarter than the limits of our human intelligence. The only chance we have to withstand his barrage of deceptions is to be saturated in God’s Word.

Using Our Own Moral Compasses

There is supposed to be only one overriding moral compass in this world, and that is the Bible. The Holy Spirit also leads true believers, yes, but He never goes against God’s Word. There is never any contradiction, or else you are being misled by some other false spirit.

But nowadays, people regard their own feelings about moral issues as the ultimate guide for right and wrong. Nevermind what God said…this is what I feel. This is what I believe in my bones.

Again, there is just enough false evidence to lead us to conclude this is the way to go. That candy bar you stole when you were little? You sure felt that it was wrong, but you did it anyway. If only you had gone along with your trusty ol’ moral compass, surely you would have avoided breaking the law. Any time you lied to someone you care about, you felt a pang of guilty feelings. Sometimes, you have been led to do the right thing based on your conscience. All of this cumulative evidence leads you to believe that if only you are disciplined enough to follow your gut, you would do the right thing all the time.

So when your gut goes against what the Bible teaches you, without even knowing it, you trust your gut instead. Perhaps the problem is, subconsciously, you still need God and the Bible to prove themselves to you. Perhaps it’s not really your gut at all, but rather years of cultural brainwashing that have reformed your beliefs. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re immune to more advanced forms of peer pressure just because you’re out of high school now.

God may tell you that homosexuality is wrong, but then you look around and see happy gay couples…you see them on TV and they are fun and pleasant. Maybe your favorite uncle or a friend is gay and you feel ashamed that your Bible condemns their behavior when you want to be supportive.

Your gut starts to tell you that maybe the Bible is wrong on this issue or it didn’t consider things as comprehensively as you have.

At this point, maybe you should consider giving God a few pointers and bringing Him up to speed on the things you know. After all, His omniscience and timeless knowledge no longer carry as much weight as your own feelings on matters.

Again, we see Satan’s cleverness at work here. While he is able to convince some extreme people that blatantly wrong things like stealing or murder are OK, for the most part, he knows these things are an impossible battle. So what does he do? Probably what we would do in the same shoes. Go after the so-called “gray areas” where you can put up a more convincing argument to go against God (note: many of these perceived gray areas are actually quite black and white if we are properly informed). Prey on the extreme powers of human rationalization and rack up some victories there.

Don’t be fooled guys. We can’t trust our gut completely, nor can we trust societal norms. Heck, people seem more likely to trust GQCosmo, or the liberal media these days rather than God.

If God actually exists, though, there is an ultimate authority on right and wrong and we are not it. Considering that people are wholly convinced about certain things—and these things differ based on time and culture—the ONLY reliable source of moral authority is the Bible.

If you go to different parts of the world, there will be countless people who are 100% convinced of opposite positions from you. Now we get into an issue of whose culture is better. You will inevitably think, “Ah, but they are a backwards culture. You can’t trust what they think.”

Do you really want to take on this kind of snobbery as well? What makes you so sure your culture is superior in every way? My opinion is that each culture has a few things right, a few things wrong. No one has it all figured out (and no one ever will).

If you don’t believe the Bible is the actual Word of God, then fine, that’s a different argument. But my point is that if you call yourself a Bible-believing Christian, you need to act like it. Don’t be a poser.

Imagine This Scenario

Imagine this. A guy sees a picture of a pretty girl on someone else’s Facebook. He decides from seeing this picture that he is meant to marry this girl. From the picture, he has constructed what he believes to be her personality. “I bet she likes taking nature walks and is reserved, but not overly shy.”

“I love her!”

He imagines what their dates would be like and the kind of parents they would be to their children. He would be the firm one to counter her nurturing hand and voice. He predicts the kinds of conversations they would have and the responses she would give to his questions.

Kind of creepy, right?

Well, now let’s say that he one day runs into her at a mutual friend’s party. He walks up and introduces himself to her, and he fully believes he accurately knows the kind of person she is.

Could he realistically expect her to fall for him immediately and agree to marry him?

Of course not! He’s more likely to get the following response than a yes to marriage: “I don’t know you, get away!”

Why is that? Because they never actually knew each other. He never met with her or developed a real relationship. Everything was according to his own imagination and was not grounded in reality.

The same goes for most “Christians” who have constructed their own image of God in their minds. They don’t read the Bible and get to know who He really is. When they do read, they change the obvious meaning to better suit their beliefs. They don’t wrestle with difficult truths and submit to His authority over their own. They don’t come to see who He really is.

Rather, they form an agreeable, politically correct, culturally relevant version of “God” in their minds. Maybe He’s a teddy bear. Forget the wrath stuff or divine judgment. “Forget what the Bible says, I’m sure God understands how things are now in America…”

But sure enough, these people are in real danger. They don’t know the true God, nor do they rely on Him as their authority. What do they think “LORD and savior” really means? It’s not “buddy and savior.”

Sadly, when these people reach the gates of heaven, they will likely be shocked to hear: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23)

But it really shouldn’t be shocking at all.

Why I’ve given up on reaching out to angry atheists

September 17, 2012 5 comments

This article sums it up better than I could ever write it:

http://blogs.christianpost.com/confident-christian/profile-of-a-hatetheist-10298/

If I ever come across a respectful atheist who seems genuinely concerned about finding the truth, I will gladly engage in dialogue with that person even if I have to go out of my way and inconvenience myself greatly.

But from what I’ve observed, too many people seeking discussions with Christians are only out to “win” and tear down what you hold so dear…which would be fair if they could lean on sound logic at least. It really does feel like an exercise in futility, though, and I’m encouraged to read that even Jesus recognized a useless battle when He saw one:

Matthew 15:14: “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

People who aren’t interested in the truth would not accept truth even if you spoon-fed it to them. This is one of the reasons why this blog has slowed considerably…I like that it can help current believers, but my original purpose and passion of shedding light to those who wanted to see it has almost burned out. I pray that God will instill love in my heart so that I can at least pray for these kinds of people, but it’s difficult to even care sometimes when people are so disrespectful of such a majestic God.

Chick-fil-A: The beginning of Christian persecution in America?

August 1, 2012 1 comment

Students of eschatology know that in the end times, believers will be subject to an immense amount of persecution—the likes of which have never been seen before (and considering the historical severity of persecution—say, under Nero—that’s saying a lot).

It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in a “modern” and “educated” society like America, but it’s rapidly becoming less and less far-fetched.

Consider what’s happening with Chick-fil-A these days. Due to a simple statement of faith and personal beliefs, the masses are calling them bigots, discriminatory, and “hate chicken.” Some even have compared the business and President Dan Cathy to the KKK. It’s not just opinionated social media types, either. Politicians and celebrities are getting in on the Bible-hating fun, even going so far as to threaten zoning their cities to disallow the expansion of Chick-fil-A businesses.

What’s next, a lynching party organized on Facebook and Twitter?

As Moehler writes in his CNN opinion piece, this is an unmistakable sign that religious liberty is at stake here.

Even in the eyes of the worldly and secular, what did Cathy do that was wrong? All he did was state his opinion—which, oh by the way, has been the long-affirmed traditional view throughout human history: that marriage is between a man and a woman. And it’s not like he held a widely viewed press conference in front of the public to say this. He was speaking to a Baptist newspaper and a Christian radio station for goodness sakes.

Dan Cathy has never told his Chick-fil-A restaurants to forbid serving homosexuals, nor do they prohibit hiring such individuals. He was merely affirming his biblical views to a small audience interested in such things. Edit: His belief in coming judgment to America is merely echoing the lessons taught from Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The attack on him and his business is far worse than any offense he may have made. People may not realize it, but they are essentially attacking the Bible and the Christian religion altogether. The Bible clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman, and if you’re going to call that “hateful” and discriminate against those views, then you’re attacking religious freedom. Period.

Sure, there are so-called Christians out there who politely disagree with what the Bible says and go along with society, but these people are sadly mixed up. You can’t disagree with parts of the Bible or take some sections as true or untrue (context considered, of course). You take it whole or nothing at all. Either it was God-inspired or it wasn’t. And no amount of backwards hermeneutics and clever reasoning can steer away from the obvious truth.

This is partly what is meant in Revelation 3 when we are told that it’s better to be hot or cold rather than lukewarm. Take a stand for or against the Bible, but don’t insult God by calling him half-right or obsolete.

Now, imagine where it goes from here. It’s not hard to speculate on the clear direction of the tides.

Support for abortion (gross euphemism: “choice”) has grown steadily over the decades. Eventually, Christians who speak out against the killing of unborn children will be labeled as “anti-feminist” or tragically out-of-touch. (Oops, that’s already the case.)

Gay marriage is already tipping toward the majority. Marriage for all is somehow equated to human liberty and basic rights, and anyone opposed is compared to racists and bigots of the past. Everyone in this country is terrified of repeating mistakes in history (i.e., racial discrimination and slavery), so they fallaciously expand “tolerance” and inclusiveness to moral extremes. Cathy was not attacking any group of people; he was defending an institution.

Radical advances in science show that stem cell research can potentially save millions of lives. Christians who are opposed to using human life as test tube fillers are accused of holding back science and contributing to needless disease and death.

A novel chip implant can do away with all credit card fraud, medical history record issues and delays, and even keep the nation secure from outside terrorists and criminals. Christians who are opposed to getting this chip—for fear that it may be the Mark of the Beast foretold in Revelation—are suddenly outcasts and rebels who have something to hide. They are eyed suspiciously, and op-eds abound on CNN about how these troublesome kooks jeopardize the safety of us all.

The majority starts to grow to deafeningly loud numbers, and the voice of faithful Christians is drowned out. The mainstream’s “patience” with these unsavory citizens breaks and full-fledged persecution ensues, spurred by the liberal media. Most self-proclaimed Christians will fall away, telling themselves (with a modern spin and much rationalization): “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:4).

It’s really not that hard to imagine…nor is it as far away as we might hope.

Humility = Blessing

June 25, 2012 Leave a comment

As you all probably know, the Miami Heat are now the NBA champions. LeBron James—one of the most talented players to ever play the game—finally has his first ring after a nine-year career full of “potential,” but never the prize.

A lot of people rooted against the Heat, and for good reason. Two years ago, LeBron James left everyone in the dark about where he was going to play next. He announced a TV special on ESPN called “The Decision,” which was basically nothing more than self-hype and cheesy suspense. Every basketball fan was dying to know where LeBron would be going, and he knew it. He milked his popularity and renown for all it was worth. And then he struck the dagger into Cleveland’s heart on national television by finally announcing that he would be “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” They burned his jersey and their love affair turned into an intense hatred.

As a somewhat impartial viewer, I totally understood his decision from a basketball standpoint. Here he was, a one-man team, leading the Cavaliers to the NBA’s best record. He took them to the finals in 2007, but it was clear that he was not getting the help he needed. LeBron was dominating on the floor, and the rest of his team was basically watching. Even Michael Jordan—the greatest of all time—didn’t win a championship until Scottie Pippen arrived. Kobe couldn’t win without Shaq until Pau Gasol came to L.A.

LeBron’s fall from grace was swift. There’s hardly anything like it to compare to in sports. He went from one of the most respected, touted athletes in the league to the #1 villain. He was booed and mocked regularly. Honestly, it was with good reason. In addition to disrespecting Cleveland, his self-aggrandizing was getting out of hand. This “Welcome Home” party for the Miami Heat was just ridiculous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9BqUBYaHlM. The “Big Three” was basically saying how practice was going to be tough against each other, but winning games was the “easy part.” They boldly proclaimed that they would win “not one, not two, not three…[championships].” Do you know how many great, all-time players have never won ONCE? For them to make it sound easy was a slap in the face of all the past legends.

Their first year together, Miami reached the Finals against a somewhat aging Dallas Mavericks team. Here, I must take a detour!

Miami won the championship in 2006 with Shaq and Dwayne Wade (a rising superstar at the time) at the helm. They had fallen behind 0 games to 2—beaten convincingly in those games—and Dallas did something that was brash, even by Mark Cuban’s (the owner) standards. They already began planning the victory parade, and people knew about it. They had gotten full of themselves and wrote Miami off. You know the rest: Miami won the next four games to take the championship. Dallas was devastated and humiliated.

Now in the 2011 finals, the script had been flipped. Miami was the cocky team, and Dallas was the underdog. Dallas, drawing on the pain and experience of the past 5 years, pulled off the upset and defeated the star-laden Heat team. Sports writers everywhere criticized the Heat and picked apart their flaws. As Dwayne Wade later put it, “so much pain, so much hurt, so much embarrassment.” They were put in their place.

This year, they were different. They didn’t make assumptions about their fate as champions, they simply went out and played every game hard. LeBron let go of both his hate for the media (who blasted him for “The Decision”) and his supreme arrogance…he no longer seemed to hold his nickname, “King James,” as dear. This time, drawing upon the deep well reserves of hurt and failure, the Heat triumphed over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a quick 5 games. Afterward, there was no “told you so,” chest-beating, or defiant superiority. There was relief and sincere gratitude for what they had accomplished.

LeBron admitted that he had to hit “rock bottom” before he could become the player he had to be. This makes perfect sense in light of certain passages of scripture:

James 4:6: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Proverbs 3:34: “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.”

Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Proverbs 29:23: “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”

Matthew 23:12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

And so on, and so on…

Whether Christian or not, we as moral creatures all intuitively know that pride is wrong. It is offensive for reasons that cannot be easily explained by natural law. But it’s fascinating to see the Bible’s words play out repeatedly in our world today.