Saturday, September 21, 2019

Is Something Essential Missing?

In 1989 two chemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons held a press conference to announce that they had discovered a process in which nuclear fuel would fuse together to create heat and energy in a small tabletop experiment. Their supposed discovery of "cold fusion" held out the hope of a cheap and abundant supply of energy for the whole world. Yet there were some immediate problems with the experiment. For instance, other scientists were not able to replicate the results despite following the recipe given by Pons and Fleischmann. But perhaps the most obvious hint that something was just not right was the absence of neutrons. In every type of nuclear fusion or fission, excess neutrons should be released. Pons and Fleischmann had originally claimed that their experiment produced excess neutrons, but when other experimenters saw none it became clear that they had not produced any either. When nuclear reactions occur, neutrons must be present. If they are missing then nuclear reactions are not taking place.

Over four previous blog posts, I have been discussing questions that scientists sometimes ask to determine whether or not a particular claim is true, and then asking those questions about the truth claims of Christianity to evaluate its veracity. One of those important questions is, "Is something essential missing?" If a certain required element is missing from a proposed explanation, then the explanation is likely to be not true. When it comes to truth claims from many of the world's religions and various world-views, I believe that there is an essential element that is present within Christianity, but missing from many other philosophies; thus giving credence to the Christian world-view. The issue has to do with human nature and human actions.

Just about every religion has a concept of sin or of wrong actions. Within Christianity sin is not just an action but the nature of humans who have chosen, in general, to turn away from God. Within Buddhism or Hinduism sin is related to karma and wrong actions have consequences either in this life or in the next. Within most monotheistic religions God is holy and sinful actions violate God's character and his standards. Even those who don't believe in God acknowledge that they have an internal idea of what is right and what is wrong and that they don't personally always live up to their own standard of what is good or virtuous behavior. In general, people know that their actions are not always right. Such knowledge can bring feelings of guilt or even despair.

Although every world-view has a concept of sin, all philosophies other than Christianity seem to be missing something essential: a truly satisfactory answer to the problem of sin. If humans are capable of acting badly and there are consequences to those actions, how can we overcome those tendencies and actions? But even more problematic is the question or how any individual can ever know if their good actions and choices are sufficient to overcome their bad ones? Is the standard 50-50? If one does half good actions and have bad actions is that sufficient? What is a good action? Does my attitude matter? Jesus made the claim that we are not only responsible for our actions but for our thoughts as well. Am I culpable for hateful or lustful thoughts? How good is good enough? If there is a God and he is holy is the standard perfection?

I know of many people from many religions who have developed hopelessness, despair, and even desperation because they could never break free from the cycle of karma or from the nagging conviction that nothing they did was definitively sufficient to overcome their wrong actions. Within monotheism, in particular, a holy God is so blameless and perfect, that any wrong or sinful action is considered a violation of his reasonable standard that we are evaluated against. The reformer Martin Luther himself was despondent because of his failure to always do what was right and because even the smallest offense violated the character of a truly holy God. With no objective standard of what is good enough, and no assurance that ones good actions can satisfy a holy God, all other world-views are missing a satisfactory answer to the problem of human sin.

However Christianity is the only world-view that acknowledges these problems: that any wrong action or failing is offensive to a holy God and that a perfectly holy standard is impossible to meet. No human will ever be perfect in actions and thoughts. God's perfect standard means that every  human falls short and that all humans are declared guilty of violating God's standard. There is not balance of 50% good actions and 50% bad actions. How many links of a chain must fail for the chain to be useless?

Jesus tells a parable of a servant who had acquired such a large debt that there was no way he could pay it. So the master paid the debt for him. That is the message and the solution to the problem of sin within Christian doctrine. All humans are guilty of sin and owe a debt they cannot pay. No good action or right deed is enough to meet the standards of a perfectly holy God. So God, out of love, justice, grace, and mercy, paid the debt for all individuals. The Christian answer to the problem of sin is that because every person's resources are insufficient to take care of the problem, the God with infinite resources took care of it for us.

I was once talking with a Muslim friend about his concept of heaven and the requirements for entry. He told me that he was adhering to the five pillars of Islam and hoping that his actions would be enough for him to enter heaven. But because he had no way of knowing what Allah's standard was he also had no way of knowing whether or not he would get into heaven. I told him that I knew I wasn't good enough to satisfy the standard of a holy God but because I was not relying on my "good" actions but on the payment Jesus made on the cross that I was sure I would go to heaven. My friend refused to believe that anyone could be assured of his or her eternal destiny. Within his world view the essential solution to the problem of sin is missing. But Christianity is not missing the solution. It is found in Jesus.


  1. It seems clear that every form of religion and the adherents know inherently and from their texts that ultimate justice must be determined and the consequences for injustice meted out by the only being so capable, God alone. We all know if our record over time were to be examined in the context of perfect justice we have no chance of being declared innocent, just and exonerated from our acts and thoughts in open
    defiance of each religions revealed commandments and tenets, sin itself. Christianity is the only faith that proclaims an advocate before God who has offered and taken the sentence, the punishment and paid the price to satisfy the ultimate justice that everyone knows must be administered.

    For the Christian who has trusted in Jesus the righteous we can rest in assurance without doubt the sufficiency of His advocacy on our behalf. Freedom now and forever given to the believer. The Good News indeed.

    1. "It seems clear that every form of religion and the adherents know inherently and from their texts that ultimate justice must be determined and the consequences for injustice meted out by the only being so capable, God alone."