Is Life Worth Living?

Is Life Worth Living?

People sometimes ask, “Is life worth living?” I recently read a police report of a young man standing on the ledge of a very tall building threatening to jump. He finally said to the police officer who was trying to talk him down, “Can you convince me that life is worth living?” The officer hesitated, not knowing how to answer that question, and the young man jumped. An interesting fact about life on planet Earth is that only humans can commit suicide. (There is a false story that lemmings commit suicide, but we have dealt with that before.)

The year 2020 gave everyone reasons to question the value of life. Disease, loss of loved ones, abuse, political chaos, sexual issues, and various mental issues have combined to cause people to desire a life worth living. One argument for faith is that it provides a reason to live, even when life’s traumas make it difficult.

What does atheism offer to make life worth living when things turn bad? When I was a child, singer Peggy Lee had a song titled “Is That All There Is?” She sang about wanting something very badly, but the result was never as good as what she imagined. It is like buying an expensive new car you have wanted to own for a very long time. Then after having it for a while, wondering why you spent that much money. Everything in life is like that. Even marriage has the familiar half-life. In courtship and engagement, you have the belief that your potential mate is that person with whom you want to spend your life. But once the newness wears off, marriage becomes something that takes effort to keep it working.

What I have described so far applies to all of us. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon, a man with great wealth and power, expressed his struggle with what the world offers. As you read through the book, you see that he does it all and has it all, but he finds it is all meaningless. The Bible is full of stories about men who had opportunities to be very successful. Moses had it made as the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. Then Hebrews 11:24-27 tells us that he “forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of Pharaoh to see Him who is invisible.” Paul was trained by Gamaliel, a well-known scholar, and was on his way to becoming a leader of Judaism (Acts 22:3). But, like Moses, he found something better.

So atheists and Christians face similar problems in keeping an active life worth living.
What makes Christianity different, and why does it lead to an optimistic, upbeat feeling about life, even when things go wrong? The answer is that Christians have a purpose for our lives. Solomon wrote as a conclusion to his discussion of life’s meaninglessness: “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil–this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13).

Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:8-11 that God had a purpose for his life and an eternal purpose which was accomplished in Christ. In Acts 9:10-19, God tells Ananias about Saul and says that “this man is my chosen instrument.” Having that purpose for his life drove Saul to become Paul and leave his leadership in Judaism to suffer abuse as a Christian.

We are all chosen instruments. Our skills and talents may not be as spectacular as Paul’s, but God created every one of us to do something unique. We must choose whether or not to accept the purpose for which God created us. But having a purpose and fulfilling that purpose makes life worth living, meaningful, and worthwhile. Not only do we find fulfillment in doing what God created us to do, but having purpose means being able to face the problems of life and use those things to accomplishing our purpose.

Being a Christian does not mean we will be immune to the problems that everyone faces. If that were the case, people would become Christians for the wrong reason to escape their problems. Instead, what Christians have is the promise of God that there will be a way of escape from those problems (1 Corinthians 10:13). Furthermore, the problems, including death, will be used as part of our service to God.

The heartbreak of having a child born with multiple handicaps and later losing my wife have given me unique opportunities and satisfaction in my efforts as a Christian. There is a life worth living when you have a purpose for existing, and you can see that the purpose extends beyond your existence on Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Alcohol and Marijuana Data

Alcohol and Marijuana Data

We see articles in the media about the benefits of using alcohol and marijuana, but the actual data does not support those claims. Here in Michigan, marijuana was approved for recreational use in January of 2020. The state has just released data for OWI (Operating While Impaired) cases since that time. The state records show a 73% increase in “cannabinoid-involved” crashes in 2020.

Another area of concern is the increased use of alcohol. There have been reports that drinking in moderation is beneficial to the body. A study by researchers from the University of Oxford seems to dispute that. The study of 25,000 people who reported alcohol intake shows disturbing effects of any amount of alcohol. The study focused on the effect of drinking on gray matter in the brain, involving regions that process information. The study showed that the more people drank, the lower their volume of gray matter. Gray matter decreases with age and dementia but adding the effect of alcohol speeds up the process.

The conclusion of the Oxford research was there is “no safe level of drinking.” The researchers say that damage to the brain is greater than damage from having a high BMI or smoking. Of course, there are other concerns, such as the effect on the heart and lungs, but drinking is a significant factor as far as brain damage is concerned.

Distilled alcohol and marijuana are recreational drugs that were unknown in the time of the Old Testament. Distillation has given alcohol greater potency, and the production of new sources of THC for recreational use is a more modern production of drugs used to escape the problems of life.

God’s solutions to human struggles have never involved anything destructive to humans. As our culture has become more atheistic, people have looked for substitutes for spiritual help and support. The use of alcohol and marijuana has resulted in an increase in mental problems of all kinds.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: USA Today Network for 6/7/21 and The Week for June 11, 2021 page 21.

Everyone Has Faith – But In What?

Everyone Has Faith - But In What?

I recently had a discussion with an atheist who said, “I have no faith.” I pointed out that his statement was simply not true because things in his life radiated a faith. He has faith in America, even though there are things going on in this country that might try to destroy that faith. He has faith in gravity. He doesn’t walk around worrying that gravity will fail, and he will float off into space. He has faith in the political party that he supports and even faith in a professional sports team. Everyone has faith. The question is not whether we have faith but what we have faith in.

What does your faith do for you, and is your faith growing or dying? Everyone has faith, but is your faith in any way dependent on another human being? If so, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed in that faith. People die. Politicians lie. Sports figures lose their ability. Philosophical beliefs radiate the inability of humans to think rationally.

I am an old man, and sometimes I make contact with atheistic people I knew years ago when I was an atheist. If they are still atheists, they cannot give me any evidence to support their atheistic faith. They are opposed to belief in God, but their atheism has not blessed them. They are getting ready to die with nothing but frustration, anger, disappointment, and disillusionment.

My atheist friend admitted that being an atheist had not improved his life. He then challenged me to show him how my faith had improved my life. That was easy. My faith led me to a wife who was a blessing to me. There was never any evidence in our 49 years of marriage that she even thought about being unfaithful. When death took her from me, my faith sustained me and led me to a second wonderful woman who has blessed my life. My faith has caused me to have an excellent relationship with my children. It has helped me find joy in a son who has sustained multiple birth defects.

My faith has also given me friends I can trust. I know they would never let me down, and I can rely on them for help in all circumstances. My faith led me to a career in teaching instead of the one my father picked out for me, which primarily involved making money. My teaching experience was rewarding and full of joy. My faith took me into a ministry that makes my life pregnant with purpose and full of value.

My faith causes me not to fear death. My faith is in Jesus Christ and His word, not in humans. I have received hatred and abuse from people who claimed to be Christians, but my faith in Christ has sustained me. I have not listened to the humans who have their own set of problems and refuse to follow the love and compassion that Jesus taught.

Everyone has faith, but in what? I want to share my faith with others because I want the world to be saturated with a belief based on love, service, and peace. God has given us all kinds of evidence for faith in Him. Life teaches us that not having faith in God and His Word brings misery and frustration. When Thomas had a faith problem, Jesus gave him evidence (John 20:24-29). Today we have more evidence than ever to believe and live by faith in God.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

God In the Flesh

God In the Flesh - The Rational God

Several years ago, I spoke at Ohio State University when a leading atheist maintained that God was an old Chinese woman. I pointed out that he should at the very least attack God on the level that God claims to be and not some straw horse god he had just described. He responded by quoting my old atheist friend Madalyn Murray O’Hair who said, “No God ever gave anything to man nor appeared in any way to man nor ever will.” Then I pointed out that God did precisely what Madalyn said He would not do when He came to Earth in the form of a human. Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.

Put yourself in the role of God for a moment. You have created humans, and you desire to lead them to a better way of living. How would you do it? You could make a violent entry to Earth, displaying all of your power and strength. What would that do? It might create a power struggle among humans to be your right-hand person.

That power struggle actually happened in the life of Christ. Matthew 20:20-23 tells about a mother bringing her two sons to Jesus and asking Him to make them His assistants in His kingdom. Another negative to this approach is that people would give service and obedience to God out of fear, not love. There have been those world rulers who tried to rule by power and force. People knuckled down to the ruler, but they hated him, and they rebelled at the first opportunity.

You can enslave a people for a short time, but ultimately they will revolt. The power struggle that always results brings out the worst in humanity. We see that happening in many places on Earth today. The kind of service that will last is one based on love, not enslavement. Jesus Christ, as God in the flesh, brought that kind of love.

It is also a fact that when a ruler lives a radically different lifestyle from that of his subjects, he has no way to relate to them. In today’s world, people try to imagine what it would be like to live the wealthy and opulent Hollywood lifestyle. Movies such as Camelot have had a theme that revolved around royalty trying to comprehend what it is like to live as “common” folk.

In Jesus, we see God in the flesh avoiding the show of force and the opulence. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that in Christ, we do not see one who lived a lavish lifestyle, but rather one who could “be touched with our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are.” Psalms 22:1 describes God in the flesh crying out at the frustrations of life, as we do. Christ repeated those words in Matthew 27:46. Isaiah 53:3-6 describes the suffering of Christ for us. God coming to Earth makes perfect sense if you understand that God wants a relationship with His creation. The Bible makes this clear in passages like John 1:1-3,14 and Philippians 2:6-8.

The tragedy is that people today have gotten so far away from understanding real love that they think of God as they would a dictator, a slave owner, or a military general. The kind of love that the Bible speaks of has a special name – “agape.” It is so far removed from the mindset of our culture that John 3:16 is a cliché without meaning to most people.

Even religious people have trouble with the concept of grace because they can’t comprehend that God is love. In the verses following John 3:16, we read the observation that men love darkness and reject God. God gave us a choice because He wants us to believe in Him and love Him as a Father, not an abusive dictator.

We have a book titled The Rational God that explores this subject in greater detail. It’s available from us for purchase or on loan. You will find our catalog of materials at doesgodexist.org. You can also purchase the book from the powervine.store.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

My Brother Jim and Alcohol

My Brother Jim and Alcohol

We have frequently pointed out that a massive percentage of the pain and death people experience is directly related to their choices in life. If you don’t believe in God, what do you use for support when you hit the usual frustrations in life? My brother Jim bought into my parent’s atheistic beliefs. For much of his life, he lived as an atheist.

When my youngest brother grew frustrated with the everyday struggles of life, alcohol became his tool for coping. That caused him to be unable to help others or find meaningful companionship. When he struggled with his normal sexual drives, he did not believe that marriage was the only way those feelings could be satisfied. My brother’s marriage failed because of his alcohol use, and it also seriously affected his relationship with his two sons.

My brother Jim was fired from his first teaching job because his alcohol use affected how he dealt with his students. One of his sons and I pleaded with him to realize what alcohol was doing to him, and gradually he began to move away from his addiction. He eventually got involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, started studying the Bible, and carried on extensive conversations with me about the existence of God.

I finally convinced my brother Jim to go with me and a group of 50 Christians as we toured the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, and the Canyonlands. In addition to showing evidence that the Bible accurately describes Earth’s history as revealed in these places, we all engaged in singing hymns, praying for one another, and studying God’s Word. At the end of the trip, my brother admitted that he could not be an atheist anymore and that he saw the validity of Christianity.

What do people in our culture do to relieve the pains that come in life? The use of drugs, including alcohol, has skyrocketed in my lifetime. Developing a relationship with God and working with those of like faith to establish a realistic approach to failure and frustration is not on the radar for much of our culture.

As people reject God, ridiculing the Bible,
and questioning its relevance to the struggles of life, the problems they experience have grown. The ultimate result of this is a massive increase in health issues related to drug use and an enormous rise in legal problems, including prison terms. More than half of the prisoners studying our correspondence courses are in prison because they abused drugs.

Unfortunately, the use of alcohol and the destructive nature of my brother’s early atheistic beliefs had consequences on his relationships and health. He had marginal relationships with family, had few friends, and never found the kind of joy that Christians have when they follow God’s Word. In addition, his health had been compromised by his use of alcohol. On May 28, he died from all the damage alcohol had done in the past. Living the Christian way of life is essential to give the hope of eternal life and to give us the very best things that this life can bring. My brother Jim is a case history that demonstrates that fact in vivid, realistic terms.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

No Room for Arrogance in Christianity

No Room for Arrogance

When I was an atheist, one thing that always turned me off was the seeming arrogance of religious people I knew. The “better than thou” attitude is not only unwarranted, but it is unscriptural. The Bible gives us no room for arrogance.

The classic biblical rebuttal of the attitude of arrogance is the parable Jesus taught in Luke 18:9-14. This parable was about a “religious” guy who did everything right religiously and a tax collector who was a Jew who betrayed his fellow Jews by working for the Roman government.

The Pharisee did everything right and told God about it. His opening line was, “I thank you that I am not like other men.” Then he went on to talk about all the good things he did. The tax collector looked down at the ground and “smote his breast,” which was a symbol of sorrow in that culture. Then he begged God for forgiveness. Luke tells us that Jesus “spoke this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others” (Luke 18:9).

Jesus and the apostles hit this theme over and over. In Luke 7:37-50, we see Christ contrasting the woman who was a sinner with the Pharisee, a part of the religious elite. Jesus praised her and held her actions up as exemplary while he condemned the Pharisee. In Romans 2:17-24, Paul addresses the hypocrisy of religious people who claim to be knowledgeable but don’t practice what they preach. In Matthew 5:14-16, Christ holds up His followers as people who are “the light of the world” for how they live.

It took me a long time as an atheist to realize the fact that “sitting in the chicken coup doesn’t make you a chicken.” Sitting in the Church building doesn’t make you a Christian. The assembly of Christians is not a venue to be entertained but a hospital for people seeking to be what God called them to be. If you are reading this and have been turned off by the arrogance and self-righteousness of people who claim to be Christians, please understand that those folks turned off Jesus Christ as well.

Philippians 2:5-8 reminds us that Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient even to the point of death, even death on the cross.” How can any of us be very self-righteous or arrogant when we think about that statement. There is no room for arrogance in Christianity.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Happiness Comes from Following Christ’s Teaching

Happiness Comes from Following Christ's Teaching - Robert Ingersoll
Robert G. Ingersoll 1833-1899

Robert Ingersoll is an atheist hero because he traveled the country attacking God, Christianity, and the Bible in the nineteenth century. Ingersoll is quoted as saying, “The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, the way to be happy is to make other people happy.” That statement is remarkably similar to the writings of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:10-13 and the words of Christ in John 16:22-24. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching.

Every attempt by atheists to provide an alternative to the teachings of Christ has ended up in frustration and pain. When an atheist built a town in Missouri with the name “Liberal,” it collapsed in a short time, with the founder saying he never again wanted to live in a town with no churches. Governments based on atheism in the past and today have not been successful in providing peace and prosperity for their citizens.

It is easy to attack Christianity while enjoying the blessings of Christ’s teachings. Offering a useful and positive alternative to what Jesus taught is another matter. As the United States drifts away from its Christian roots and embraces humanism, secularism, and atheism, we see an increase in suicides, shootings, racism, and abuse. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching.

When someone is incarcerated, the prison usually asks their religious beliefs for the record. Very few prisoners say “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “none.” In our prison work, we ask prisoners taking our correspondence courses to explain how they got to the point of being jailed. Merle Haggard wrote a song in which he said: “In spite of all my Sunday learning, to the wrong I kept on turning. No one could steer me right, but mother tried.” Haggard’s mother was a member of the Church of Christ, and his prison stint took place because he rejected the teachings he learned as a child. We hear that line over and over from many of our students in prison.

My father was an atheist, but he was a very moral man. I asked him one time why he was faithful to my mother. His response was, “I guess it is because of the way I was raised.” His father was a minister, and his mother was a strong Christian woman. Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them (Matthew 7:16). Atheism has no positive fruit in the long run. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching. Robert Ingersoll found a receptive audience only when he repeated the teachings of the Bible.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Inspiration for this came from Faulkner University spring bulletin 2021.

What Do You Think of the Bible?

What Do You Think of the Bible?

What do you think of the Bible? That is a critical issue we all must face. For many people, the Bible is a collection of fairy tales. Those who hold this view say that snakes talking, the globe being flooded, heaven and hell, and a shepherd boy with a sling killing a giant are on the same level as Mother Goose. They may be stories appropriate for children but not for well-educated adults.

For other people, the Bible is a great literary work comparable to the writings of Shakespeare or Edgar Alan Poe. Perhaps they might believe that in a few cases, it has moral lessons embedded in the stories. Many religious leaders view the Bible as CONTAINING the word of God but containing a lot of material that is not God’s will for modern-day people.

The Bible itself claims to be God-breathed, sometimes referred to as plenary inspiration. Passages like 2 Timothy 3:16 and John 1:1 claim that the Bible’s message provides all humans with everything they need for completeness and that the Bible is God’s Word for us today. The implications of this understanding for LGBTQ practices, abortion, and marriage are huge.

What do you think of the Bible? Here are some things that can help resolve whatever conflicts we may have with the Bible:

  1. Whatever you read in the Bible, consider who wrote the passage, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people it was written to would have understood it.
  2. Examine the words in the original language. Anyone can use a concordance to check out the Greek or Hebrew words to see what they meant. The word translated “giant” in Genesis 6:4, for example, refers to “fallen ones” and refers to moral issues and not super-sized humans. It was not a “whale” that swallowed Jonah. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable and the name Lazarus means “without help.”
  3. Look for historical evidence when considering the integrity of a passage. You can use archaeology, historical documents, and fossil evidence to evaluate the correctness of a statement. Many biblical accounts that skeptics challenged were later found to be supported by the evidence.
  4. Be sure to separate the physical from the spiritual. Humans frequently reduce God to our level. God is not an “old man in the sky.” God created humans in His spiritual image, not His physical image. God is not physical, sexual, or racial. He is not limited in space, nor does He have any needs that revolve around food, time, drink, or politics.
  5. Distinguish miracles from things that are unusual but possible. There are miracles in the Bible which are matters of faith and must either be accepted or rejected. Don’t expect anyone to prove that Lazarus or the widow of Nain’s son rose from the dead. Likewise, nobody can prove that Jesus walked on water or fed 5000 people in a desert place. If the Bible claims that a miracle happened, you can’t conduct an experiment to see if the claim is true. Miracles can’t be repeated or tested.
  6. Do not allow tradition or denominational creeds to replace the Bible. The Bible does not give us the age of the Earth, and there is nothing in the Bible about dinosaurs. A person can die spiritually, and hell is eternal punishment, not eternal punishing.

We have addressed all of these issues repeatedly, and our websites, videos, and printed materials are available. What do you think of the Bible? It is “God-breathed,” but humans must apply common sense and serious study to resolve the challenges of skeptics. We have recently learned the importance of the biblical concept of quarantine, but the Bible speaks of many other practical areas of life. Give some serious thought to what you think about the Bible. Believing and applying it to decisions in your life can bring meaning to how you live and how you die.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Wind Bringing Quails to the Israelites

Wind Bringing Quails - common quails in Gaza today
Common Quail

Skeptics often claim that the Old Testament accounts of God providing for Israel are a bunch of silly fairy tales. One target is the way God sustained the Israelites in their journey from Egypt to the promised land. Two weeks ago, we posted about God supplying manna. Another area of interest is the wind bringing quails in massive numbers into the camp of the people (Exodus 16:12-13 and Numbers 11:31-32).

The Middle East Eye website carries an article titled “Quail Season Brings Rare Treat for Meat-Starved Gazans.” It tells of a regular migration of quails from Europe to the Middle East. If the wind is blowing against the migration, the birds become exhausted and land on the Gaza shore, where people capture them in nets to provide a source of badly needed protein. The point is that there is a natural way in which quails can provide food for a nation of people even today.

God provides for His people in two ways. One is by miraculous acts that are not natural and which require a direct act of God. These are rare, but they do happen. Jesus did things that have no natural explanation, and their purpose was to verify that Jesus was the Son of God. One of my favorite gospel songs is a song by the Booth Brothers titled “Ask the Blind Man, He Saw it all.” That kind of event does not have natural explanations.

However, far more common are situations like this one where we see God using natural forces to provide for the needs of His people. This action is no less significant because the timing met a specific need for the Israelites. God could have provided quails for food by any method He chose, but seeing the wind bringing quails to Gaza today offers strong support for God acting through natural processes in the biblical account.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Design of the Laryngeal Nerve in Giraffes

Design of the Laryngeal Nerve in Giraffes

Atheists try to refute any notion of design in the natural world. They look for examples of what they call “bad design.” In a National Geographic documentary titled Inside Nature’s Giants, Richard Dawkins criticized the design of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in giraffes. He said, “No engineer would ever make a mistake like that.” The distance from the brain to the larynx is about two inches, but instead of going directly to the larynx, the nerve runs from the brain all the way down the giraffe’s neck and into its chest. There it makes a U-turn and runs back up the neck to connect to the larynx. In a mature giraffe, that distance can be more than 16 feet (4.9 m).

Dawkins calls it “a ridiculous detour.” Atheists refer to Jerry Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True, in which he calls this “one of nature’s worst designs.” The question is whether there is any reason for this design of the laryngeal nerve.

The laryngeal nerves activate muscles that make sounds and also aid the animal in breathing and swallowing. What atheists fail to mention is that two nerves connect the brain to the larynx. The primary nerve, called the superior laryngeal nerve, makes a direct connection from the brain to the larynx. The recurrent laryngeal nerve, which goes to the chest before returning to the larynx, also connects to the heart and has branches to the mucous membrane and muscular coat of the esophagus.

The design of the laryngeal nerve is not a ridiculous detour but an example of incredible technique, making efficient use of the nerves to allow the animal to have its long neck so it can reach food that other animals can’t. Dr. Wolf-Ekkehard Lonnig of Germany’s Planck Institute says that the system’s design demands that “the recurrent laryngeal nerve needs to be, indeed, very long.”

The lack of integrity in the best-known atheists of our day is as distressing as the hypocrisy of some TV preachers. Dawkins’ videos are popular on YouTube, even though it is hard to believe an expert in biology would not be aware of the complexity of the giraffe’s nervous and vascular system. When assuming there must be bad design, a scientist must resort to explanations that don’t match the facts. The design of the laryngeal nerve shows the wisdom that God has demonstrated in every corner of creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center

HERE IS A LINK to the video where Dawkins makes his argument for evolution.

HERE IS A LINK refuting what Dawkins said.