Making It Personal

engineering-plansThere was an interesting article in the May 2015 issue of Civil Engineering magazine that got me thinking. Their ethics column dealt with the question of misuse of a professional engineer’s seal and made the following statement:

“Inherent in the message carried by a P.E. seal is the element of personal knowledge. With so much trust placed in an engineer’s assessment of professional documents, it is essential to know that the engineer is certifying the documents not on the basis of blind trust or an unsubstantiated belief in another’s work but because he or she has had sufficient personal involvement with the documents to know whether or not they meet the standards of the profession. Accordingly, the requirement of personal involvement looms large both in state licensing laws governing the use of an engineer’s seal and in the codes of conduct….”

Looking at this aspect of my life as a professional engineer and as a professing Christian, I see some parallels between the two.

  1. Personal knowledge is required in both cases. I shouldn’t stamp engineered designs that I didn’t personally design or thoroughly review. Likewise, I shouldn’t hold my Christian beliefs (or any, for that matter) just because they were my parents’ beliefs, or because they are generally socially acceptable where I live. I have to own them; I have to make them mine. But I don’t do that simply by accepting someone else’s beliefs unquestioned. They may be right, or they may be wrong; and ideas have consequences – some more serious than others. If I mistakenly trust a friend’s incorrect directions and take a wrong turn, the effects may be pretty minimal. But if the stakes are higher, like a life-or-death decision, it’s critical that I take full responsibility for that decision and choose wisely. If my eternal future is at stake, that’s not a decision I should (or even can) delegate to someone else. That’s on me, and “not to decide” is to decide.
  2. Blind trust or unsubstantiated belief may be accidentally correct, but that’s simply not sufficient for important decisions. A bad engineering design passed through supervisors and peer reviewers without adequate scrutiny can endanger thousands of people. A false belief, accepted blindly, can condemn countless people to an eternity apart from God. So it’s critical for each of us to examine ourselves, to understand both what we believe and why, and to verify that our beliefs are well-grounded, justified, coherent, and truthful. Our beliefs need to be warranted.
  3. Personal involvement – i.e. action – is required. If I’m stamping calculations or drawings done by someone else, it’s incumbent on me to personally act in a couple of ways. First, I need to take whatever action necessary to verify what I’ve received is correct before I stamp it. However, I also can’t fall victim to “paralysis by analysis”. I can either accept them as justified or reject them as insufficient, but I need to decide one way or the other. In examining my own beliefs, or prospective beliefs, I have to recognize that short of being omniscient, I won’t have every possible question answered to the nth degree when it comes to making a decision, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t make a reasonable, well-informed decision based on the evidence I do have. The absence of exhaustive data doesn’t mean I don’t have sufficient informative data to take action.

I want to avoid so-called “blind faith” in both my engineering and my Christian life. I want to “know whom I have believed” as the apostle Paul wrote[1]. In the words of Elton Trueblood, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” Rather than being blind, only Christian faith is sufficiently well-founded to allow trust without reservations to be warranted. God doesn’t ask us to put our trust in just anything. In fact, He doesn’t want us trusting our eternal life to anyone other than Him. This is why the apostle John tells his readers to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”[2] This is why Jesus pointed people to evidence of His authenticity, attested to by the miracles He’d done in the sight of those questioning Him.[3] This is why God always reminded the Israelites that He was the God who had led them out of Egypt, who had miraculously fed them in the wilderness, who had driven their enemies before them when they were ridiculously outnumbered by vastly superior forces.  These reminders were a constant call to put their trust in His proven power and love and faithfulness, in His repeated demonstrations that He is the only one worthy to be worshiped and obeyed. It’s a call He still issues to us today, to “taste and see that the Lord is good”[4], to “come and see”[5] for ourselves that He is our only hope, and to make Him our personal Savior.

[1] 2 Timothy 1:12, NASB.
[2] 1 John 4:1, NASB.
[3] John 10:22-39, Luke 7:18-23, NASB.
[4] Psalm 34:8, NASB.
[5] John 1:46, NASB.

Foundational Assumptions

Liquefaction in 1964 Niigata Earthquake
Liquefaction in 1964 Niigata Earthquake

There’s a saying about what happens when you assume, but the fact is that we all have to make assumptions at some point. You can’t build a structure without some baseline support like footings or piers; and you can’t build a theory, a philosophy, a worldview without some basic assumptions. In engineering, a common assumption is that a few test borings on a job site will inform you of the soil conditions across the site enough to complete your foundation design safely. We assume uniformity unless the test borings indicate otherwise. Some of the areas of my state are notorious for holes and caverns called karst formations. A geotechnical engineer colleague told a group of us of one case of a test boring showing solid rock about 10′ from a proposed footing location, only to pour the concrete footing and not fill up the hole. The reason: the concrete dumped in the hole had broken through the roof of a previously unknown small cavern…. Site uniformity is sometimes a very inappropriate assumption. Hopefully, like good structural foundations, your foundational assumptions for your beliefs are well-grounded. For instance, whether you believe that objective truth exists will determine a great deal of what you can reasonably believe. I say “reasonably” because one can, of course, believe whatever one wants, but if you want to hold reasonable views that are not self-contradictory or absurd in their actual application, then you need to have good foundational assumptions.

On what do you build your worldview? Relativism is the view that truth is relative to each culture, time, or even to each person in some forms. It is a lot like soil sensitive to a process called liquefaction. It seems to support weight alright when things are good, but when an earthquake hits, it turns to quicksand and provides absolutely no support. Scientism, the idea that science, or more specifically, the scientific method, is the only way of knowing truth, is a lot like those problematic karst formations. The scientific method, and science in general, is rock-solid in its area of applicability. Where it’s dangerous is when used outside of those areas. Science is great at describing stuff in the natural world, at telling us what is. My whole career as an engineer is predicated on science’s correct descriptions of the way the natural world works. Where it falters is when it’s asked to prescribe, to tell us what ought to be. We can do social experiments to see if people are selfish or mean or hateful, but science can’t tell us why they ought not be that way. In the areas it was designed to be used, science is trustworthy, but outside of those areas, it’s like building on Swiss cheese. Atheism and secular humanism often go together, as one denies God while the other elevates man to God’s position of ultimate authority. Yet this has turned out to be like building in a swamp full of peat and other “compressible material”: the higher one tries to build, the more weight one puts on the foundation, and the more it sinks. As the last century’s experiments in Communism – which were solidly and proudly atheistic – proved, man without God makes for a foundation of morality that sinks to frighteningly awful depths. Is there anything solid we can build a philosophy of life on?

There’s a saying that to build high, you have to dig deep. In other words, a house may be able to sit on a simple slab-on-grade, but a skyscraper will often have foundations going several stories underground. And when you dig down and hit something solid like Manhattan bedrock, you have the makings for some of the tallest buildings in the world. When building your framework of beliefs, some ideas will be necessarily self-limiting. They simply can’t hold up under examination. On the other hand, the Christian worldview is able to encompass all of reality because it is uniquely authored by the Creator of all reality. That is why Jesus was able to compare those who heeded His words to those building on rock:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
– Matthew 7:24-27, NASB.

Build smart. Build your life on the only solid rock – Jesus Christ.

A Soul’s Worth De La Pena De La Pena

I attended a presentation by J. Warner Wallace a little while back, and took the opportunity to get another copy of his Cold-Case Christianity book to give to a friend of mine who’s an atheist. We discuss our opposing views at times, and my friend’s been kind enough to loan me quite a few of his atheist books. If you’re not familiar with J. Warner, he’s a cold-case homicide detective who was himself an atheist when he decided to investigate the whole Jesus incident like he would a cold-case (a really, really old cold-case…). What he found forced him to recognize the gospel accounts as the the most reasonable explanation for the historical evidence, and to consequently reject his prior materialistic worldview as untrue, and start following Jesus. He was nice enough to write a little note in the book to my friend encouraging him to not stop investigating, and to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

My friend appreciated the gesture, but hoped I didn’t spend too much money on it. I told him that if Christianity is false, then I wasted a few bucks, but if Christianity is true, then was there any amount of money that would be a waste? He replied that he still hoped I hadn’t wasted too much money. Was it a waste? Will he read it? Maybe, maybe not. There’s no telling, but I do hope so. Will it make any difference even if he were to read the book? Maybe, maybe not, but I think a clearly presented, well-reasoned statement of why something should be believed is powerful, even if not immediately accepted. Nevertheless, the short exchange got me thinking. What is a friend’s eternal life worth? Is it worth more than a grande frappuccino at Starbucks? How about a steak dinner? I’ve spent more on 1 meal at a typical restaurant than I did on that book, and the results were all too temporary – just a few hours before I was hungry again. But if, in reading that book, he sees the truth of Christianity, and accepts God’s free gift of salvation, then the results are not only lifelong, but eternal!

How much are you worth? Jesus said,”For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”[1]  Your worth is more than all the treasure in the world, even if you don’t have a penny to your name. We have this  intrinsic worth because we are created in God’s image. If you want more background on that concept (sometimes called by its classical Latin term “imago Dei”), I’ve also posted about that here and here. To illustrate the value He places on each of us, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd that cared for each and every sheep in his flock. When one went missing, he left the 99 to find the 1 missing sheep.[2] He also tells us “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”[3] Not that buying a book is comparable to sacrificing one’s life for a friend, but the basic principle is that if you really care about someone, some level of sacrifice will be present, in whatever form and to whatever degree that takes. Jesus is telling us that actions speak louder than words.

Sometimes, it’s little things in life that remind us of bigger principles. As I look back, I can think of times when I might’ve said otherwise, but my actions loudly proclaimed that a few dollars or a few minutes of my time were more valuable to me than the eternal security of my friends. Maybe you are in the same place. Let me encourage you to join me in not remaining in that place of regret over past inaction, but rather seek out opportunities to humbly and graciously share the truth. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, “There is no greater act of charity one can do to his neighbor than to lead him to the truth.”[4]

[1] Mark 8:36, NASB.
[2] Luke 15:1-7, NASB.
[3] John 15:13, NASB.
[4] As quoted in Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 346.


love-of-a-lifetime-2Some people feel the Bible is antiquated and “out of touch” with our changing times. One example often pointed to is the biblical command for wives to be subject to their husbands. It is assumed that this is opposed to women’s equality, women’s rights, and seeks to enslave women in some barbaric, repressive, man-centered system. Here is the verse as typically provided in this case:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”[1]

However, this is one passage out of a letter, so it’s worth considering that there might be more to this. Let’s see if Paul has any instructions specifically for husbands. In fact, Paul typically uses pairs of commands addressed to each party when talking about human relationships (i.e. parents and children, masters and slaves, and in this case, husbands and wives).[2] So what is his direction for us husbands?

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.[3] This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”[4]

Looking over both passages making up this set of instructions for marital relationships, two things are asked of wives: submission and respect. Sometimes this causes some resentment, but is this really anything more than what most of us are expected to give our commanding officers in the military, our bosses in the civilian workforce, our law enforcement, our governmental leadership? As I was told in the Army, I was to respect the position even if I couldn’t stand the person in charge. In contrast, what is asked of the husband? Perfect, unconditional, self-sacrificial love that nourishes and cherishes our wife as if she were our own body. Men: we have the greater obligation here. To love our wives like Christ loved the church is a high standard, and an impossible one to meet without the supernatural power of Christ in us.  Something else to consider guys – if you have the verse about wives submitting underlined in your Bible, you need to quit sticking your nose into the verses directed to her, and work on following the verses directed specifically to you. This is like the case where Peter asked Jesus what would happen to John, and Jesus told him “What is that to you? You follow Me!”[5] If we loved our wives like Christ loved the church, I doubt there would be a woman on the planet who would have an issue with their part of this deal. I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses in my life, and respectfully submitting to the good ones that I knew had my best interests at heart simply wasn’t a struggle. It came pretty easy, actually. And this highlights another point: if a husband and wife are both aiming for God, they’ll always be walking the same direction, never away from each other.

There is also an exemplary aspect to this biblical hierarchy. We see in the Trinity that God the Son (Jesus Christ) is equal to God the Father, yet subordinated to the Father in role. [6] As Christians, we don’t claim that Jesus’ subordination to the Father in any way diminished His deity. In marriage, both husband and wife are equal in identity, in worth, and in rights before God. Both are created in His image. Both are also selfish sinners He died to save and make new. But even if both are equal, ultimately, there needs to be distinct roles for each, and an agreed upon leader responsible for a final decision when there’s disagreement. It’s not a matter of inequality of identity or worth or rights, but rather the practical need for defined roles and responsibilities. That word responsibility is one guys have been wanting to overlook ever since Adam first tried telling God “it’s not my fault! It’s that woman You gave me!”[7]  Guys, don’t pull an Adam; being “head” of your household should be a sobering realization of your responsibility before God, not a power trip.

The biblical model of marriage has taken a beating in recent years, perceiving a low value of wives by looking at only half the model in isolation. Yet this passage paints a different picture when we look at the whole, complementary model together. We highly value that which we love, and Christ calls us husbands to love our wives like nothing the world can even understand. And that, my friends, is a model for marriage that never goes out of style.

[1] Ephesians 5:22-24, KJV.
[2]Compare Ephesians 5:22-6:9 with Colossians 3:18-4:1, NASB.
[3] Quoting Genesis 2:24, NASB.
[4] Ephesians 5:25-33, NASB.
[5] John 21:19-23, NASB.
[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 257.
[7] Genesis 3:12, NASB.