Amy talks about eternity, feeling Christianity, talking to atheists, standards for clergy members, and transgender bathroom choice.
- Is an actual infinite impossible? If so, what of an eternal afterlife?
- What does one do who has the knowledge of Christianity and the confidence that its world view is true but struggles to feel it?
- Atheists seem to want to avoid answering for their claims by defining it as a lack of belief, how can we managed the conversation?
- Should clergy members be held to a higher moral standard than laypersons? If so, what is the biblical instruction on this?
- What is a good defense for *not* allowing transgenders to use the bathroom of their opposite birth gender?
Melinda: Hi there. This is STR Ask, Stand to Reason’s short podcast. This is Melinda the Enforcer, with not Greg Koukl this week. Drumroll. We don’t have drumroll. Amy Hall’s with me this week. Hi, Amy!
Amy: Hello, Melinda.
Melinda: Greg’s on jury duty. We didn’t want to miss a week for STR Ask. We were hoping maybe he’d get dismissed at lunchtime, but unfortunately, the defense attorneys up there haven’t figured out who they have on their panel yet.
Amy: I’m sure he’ll be off within the hour.
Melinda: Yeah, but not in time to get here.
Melinda: I mean, as Jay Warner Wallace always says, we’re the kind of people you want to do their civic duty. The only problem is you tend not to get on juries, right? Have you ever been called into a panel and questioned for jury duty?
Amy: I have, and I was kicked off immediately.
Melinda: Me too. Unfortunately, that seems to be what happens.
Melinda: I remember one time Greg was called in on jury duty and questioned in a panel. I can’t remember the question that was asked of him by one of the lawyers, but it basically ended up being about the Ten Commandments, “Well, you don’t really believe them, do you?” “Well, yes, it’s what our law is based on,” and Greg started going through it all.
Amy: Oh no!
Melinda: “Dismissed.” I remember one time I was called in, and they asked what I did for a living, and I told them, and the attorney said, “Well, okay, but, you do administration. You’re not actually involved in the ethics, values, and religion.” I said, “Yeah, I do that too,” and she goes, “Okay, dismissed.” Unfortunately, that’s what happens.
Amy: They never want us, Melinda.
Melinda: No. Nobody wants us, except here at Stand to Reason. I wanted you for the show, so that’s why you’re here. This is STR Ask, it’s our short podcast. Yes, Amy will also be on a timer, although she probably doesn’t need it like Greg does. We’ll see how many-
Amy: I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not.
Melinda: It is.
Amy: Okay, good.
Melinda: I mean, obviously it’s a virtue that Greg answers thoroughly.
Amy: I will admit, he does have more answers than I do, that’s for sure.
Melinda: Right, which is what makes him a very good talk show host. Sometimes it’s a virtue to be able to answer more succinctly, and that’s what we do on this podcast. That’s what we’re going to do now. Here we go. Ready, Amy?
Amy: Go ahead.
Melinda: Okay. Questions, of course, as always, come from Twitter. Go to Twitter and ask your question, including #STRAsk. The first question comes from JKWood1: “Is an actual infinite impossible, and if so, what about eternal afterlife?”
Amy: Okay, let me explain first what he means by an actual infinite. What he means is, is it possible for there actually to be an infinite number of things?
Melinda: In this case, moments of time.
Amy: Right. Infinity is really more of a concept. It’s not something that you can apply to things.
Melinda: It’s not an amount.
Amy: Right, it’s not an amount. No, it’s not possible to have an actual infinite. Then, the question is, how can we go on for eternity. The answer is, as we add a moment, each moment, there’s always going to be a finite number of moments. It’s just that that finite number is going to continue to increase forever. It’s not that we’re ever going to exist in an infinite amount of time. It will always be finite, we just add one after one after one.
Melinda: Yeah. Eternity is not the same thing as infinity.
Melinda: They’re two completely different concepts. The problem with time that we come into with an infinite amount of time is how something would have gotten started, how the universe specifically would have gotten started. You don’t have a problem with going on eternally into the future. We had a beginning point and we continue on eternally.
Amy: Right, because when-
Melinda: We couldn’t have arrived at it now if there was an actual infinite number of moments before us.
Amy: Right, just as we’ll never arrive at an infinite number in the future.
Melinda: Exactly, but we can keep going.
Amy: Right, right, right. There you go.
Melinda: Next question comes from Andrew Rappaport, our friend. He was just here a couple weeks ago.
Amy: Hello, Andrew.
Melinda: “Atheists-”... By the way, he asked if he could pray for me for anything when he was here, and I emailed him a couple days later and gave him something to pray about, and it got answered, like, three hours later. Thank you, Andrew. “Atheists seem to want to avoid-”... Uh oh, I threw away the other half of this. I have to go get it. Let me ask you another question, and then I’ll squeeze out, and I do mean squeeze out.
Okay. Next question comes from JerryDodge1: “What does one do who has the knowledge of Christianity and the confidence that its worldview is true, but struggles to feel it,” and I guess experience the reality of that?
Amy: That’s a difficult question to answer without being able to speak to him, because I’m not sure the reason why he wants to feel it. Is it because he’s... Is a lack of feelings causing him to doubt the truthfulness of Christianity, or is it that he just wants to have a more experiential faith where he has more feelings involved in the faith? I’m not sure which one of those he’s asking.
I’ll just respond by saying that I just read a book about John Newton called Newton on the Christian Life, and in this book, he was describing the stages of growth in a Christian life. He was talking about how, when we’re infants in Christ, we lean a lot on our feelings. We depend a lot on our security, on our feelings, how we feel about God. God allows that at first, but then when we become adolescents, God will step back a bit and allow us to grow by not having that support of the feelings. Part of the reason for that is that when we’re depending on our feelings for our security, we’re depending on something in ourselves. That’s not something we should be doing. We don’t want to look to our feelings for security. We want to look to something outside of us, and that is the objective work of Christ.
When the feelings start to wane, that’s when we learn how to depend on Christ, regardless of how we feel, because our feelings aren’t what save us. It’s what Christ did. Not having those feelings allows us to learn how to recognize our own weaknesses and our pridefulness and our self-sufficiency, and it drives us to depend on God completely.
That’s what I would say if he’s talking about it in terms of not having the feelings making him doubt. Now, if he’s just asking, “How can I have more feelings,” I would say, again, those feelings are going to come and go, but the way that we stoke those feelings is mainly through prayer and Bible reading. That’s a very simple answer, but-
Melinda: Don’t you think worship, too?
Amy: Sure. Worshiping, being part of a body of a church, all of those things. Praying with others, being part of a community. All of these things give the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in your life. As you’re reading the Bible, what I would say is, even if you don’t feel like it, if you’re not feeling like it, just have a habit and continue to do it. God will move when He wants to move, and He does that through the means He’s given us. We just keep availing ourselves of those means. God will move when He wants to move.
Melinda: I find when I do my Bible reading, I don’t find myself moved often. I try to reflect on the words, especially Psalms and stuff, but very often, the import of those words will come back to me in a more emotional way later that day or down the road, because I’ve hidden them in my heart, hopefully, and then they become applied in a new way. Then, the emotion comes through.
Amy: This is true with any relationship you have with anyone.
Amy: Your feelings are different all the time. Wasn’t it C. S. Lewis who said something like it could be what you had for breakfast that morning. We don’t depend on that, and we don’t expect it all the time. We do what God has given us to do, and then He’ll move when He wants to move.
Melinda: This may seem like a pointless question to ask a Stand to Reason person, but don’t you think there’s way too much emphasis on feelings in the modern church, and maybe it’s a reaction to the lack of emphasis of any feelings in the past? I think of the church I grew up in, and it was a wonderfully Bible-based body, but it was German Lutheran. Nobody talked about feelings, geez. Then you kind of go to the other side where people feel you don’t really have a relationship with God if you don’t have strong feelings about it on a fairly regular basis.
Amy: That’s why people were really suspicious of the evangelicals in England the Great Awakening and all those times. They called it “enthusiasm,” and they thought it was a bad thing. Yeah, it could be a backlash for that. I don’t know to what extent. I think part of it could be our narcissism.
Melinda: Our modern culture that’s so feelings-driven.
Amy: Yeah. Again, we’re focused on what’s inside of us rather than what’s outside of us. I think all those things play into it: the relativism, we determine truth by how we feel about it. All these things are tied up, I think, with this problem.
Melinda: Yeah. We define relationships these days based on your feelings. Feelings come and go, relationships come and go, and maybe people take that in, too, when they measure their relationship with God, the strength of the relationship based on how much they feel.
Amy: That’s a great point, because people do... And marriages and things, when they don’t have feelings they think they should have.
Melinda: Yeah. When I mentioned worship a little bit ago, too, I was thinking, in some of the churches I’ve gone to, and hearing people talk about it, it seems that sometimes the whole purpose of worship, people think, is to make them feel a certain way about God, when the purpose of worship is to glorify God. It’s Him-focused, not me-focused.
Amy: Yeah. Like I said, there is some narcissism in our culture.
Melinda: Yeah, and it’s kind of... To some extent, I’m sure, it’s impossible to measure its effect on us as Christians, but it’s something I think we constantly have to analyze and really be on guard for. There’s no way to take ourselves out of our culture, but it influences us in significant ways.
Amy: I want to stress again, I understand him wanting to have feelings.
Melinda: Oh yeah, feelings are not bad.
Amy: I don’t want you to feel bad if you asked this question or you’re feeling bad about it. I don’t want you to beat yourself up if you’re not feeling, because that’s just the nature of being human, being fallen, being physical creatures that are affected by all sorts of things.
Melinda: Mm-hmm. I mean, you know. Greg, I think, is troubled sometimes that he doesn’t have stronger feelings about God. He’s talked about this. We both know he’s a very... He has a lot of strong feelings and emotions about things. It’s not an unusual thing. It’s not an unusual thing to struggle with. I think all those things that you said to engage in are good suggestions.
Okay, back to Andrew Rappaport’s question. The question got divided onto two pieces of paper, and I didn’t think I was going to need the second half. “Atheists seem to want to avoid answering for their claims by defining it as a lack of belief. How can we manage the conversation?”
Amy: Okay, this is a tactical question. What can you do if the person you’re talking to claims he has a lack of belief about God so that he doesn’t have to defend his not believing there is a God? I think what I usually do is, I immediately try to identify and have them defend their positive beliefs, because not believing in God entails many positive beliefs. Assuming they’re a materialist, they’re saying that the world began out of nothing with no cause, they’re saying there’s no transcendent moral value, there’s no objective morality, there’s no one we’re accountable to, the universe is random and purposeless, human nature is malleable, we can change it to whatever we want, human beings have only instrumental value, not intrinsic value. All of these things are related to not believing in a God. I would just start asking questions to find out what in their worldview, what positive claims they are making in their worldview, just to get around this.
Now, I think that the whole thing is bunk, because... Tim Barnett just wrote a great post about this on our blog, and he made the point, “A lack of belief doesn’t mean no beliefs. If I have no beliefs about,” I can’t remember what he said, “Sweden’s ski team, it’s because I don’t know anything about it, but saying there’s no God entails... Obviously you have beliefs about that, because you’re writing books about it, you’re making arguments about it, you have thoughts about it. Having no beliefs is having no thoughts about it.” I think it’s illegitimate for them to claim this, but just to get around it, I would start to prod them to find out more about their worldview and find out what their positive claims are, and then have them defend those positive claims, especially to do with morality and maybe the beginnings of the universe, things like that.
Melinda: Acknowledge things that can be known and the things that can’t be known. Yeah, that’s a really good suggestion, to probe those things that they will admit to having a belief about that support their atheism.
Amy: Right, because it’s all connected.
Melinda: Of course.
Amy: It’s one... It’s funny, because I’ve found that atheists really don’t like it if you tell them that they have a worldview, and I haven’t quite figured out what their problem is with that. As I explain, a worldview just means that you have a coherent understanding of reality. You’ve thought about the different things that exist that we know about, and you’ve synthesized it into a coherent view of reality. I think they don’t even like that to be said, because I think they’re afraid that we’re saying that they’re religious. It’s a very odd thing. I think I may have written a post about this a while back, I can’t remember. They don’t like the idea that they have a world view.
Melinda: That does seem odd. I mean, everybody’s got a view of the way the world is.
Melinda: Atheists, obviously, have very strong opinions about what can happen in this world and what can’t happen in this world.
Amy: Right, and saying you haven’t thought through that is not a compliment to yourself. I’ve never understood that. It could all be connected to this idea that they don’t want to have to defend what they believe, for some reason. Again, just keep asking questions and draw out their positive beliefs, and then have them defend those.
Melinda: Okay, good. Next question: “Should clergy members be held to a higher moral standard than laypersons? If so, what is the Biblical instruction on this?”
Amy: Okay. This is worded interestingly. Should they be held to a higher moral standard? Well, I think there’s one moral standard, and we should all be following it. However, the Bible does say that those who are in charge of us, it does put an emphasis on that. I looked up a couple of sections, because the ones that come to mind are 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, because both of those say... 1 Timothy 3 says, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach,” and Titus 1 also says the same thing, “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward.” They each go on to list a number of characteristics: not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast to faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching.
Part of the reason why I think they stress that when you’re choosing an elder, you really need to find someone who’s above reproach, is because the leaders are representing the church and Christ to the world. When they are not holding that standard, it’s reflecting poorly on Christ.
The end of that 1 Timothy 3 passage says, “He must have a good reputation with those outside the church so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” We don’t want the leaders to be in danger of having anything held against them that would damage the church, because they’re the leader, they’re the representative, and we don’t want them to represent Christ badly to the world.
The Bible does say that they are to be above reproach before they are given that leadership position, but that doesn’t mean it excuses other people from not doing that. Everyone is supposed to be doing these things, it’s just that those whom we choose to pick to be our leaders, we need to be careful about who we choose for that.
Melinda: They have to meet that standard more consistently.
Amy: Right, right.
Melinda: The first thing you said, I thought was interesting. We’re all held to the same moral standard, but I guess for leadership, the consequences if you aren’t are greater.
Amy: Right, for the whole church.
Melinda: Yeah, because they represent Christ to the world, but also to their congregation, and especially maybe the newer Christians and the younger ones who need more guidance and teaching and stuff. If the person they respect fails significantly, that really affects their faith, too.
Amy: Right. I mean, we hear all the time about people who leave the church because a pastor acted in some way they didn’t like. I think... I guess it wasn’t these. There must be another passage that I didn’t think of, because I know there’s one that says, “Not a new Christian.” That’s another one. Not only do they have to be above reproach, but they have to have a track record of that. A lot of times, you’ll see people rise quickly and they’ve not been proven, and then they fall either because they had other motives the whole time, or they just-
Melinda: They just hadn’t been tested yet.
Amy: Yeah, they just haven’t matured enough.
Melinda: Yeah. I know Greg read a passage a month or so ago that elders also have to be familiar with the word of God.
Melinda: Because they have to teach this and hold fast to that teaching. They even have a higher standard for their biblical knowledge.
Amy: Right. I think both these passages mention that. Maybe just the Titus one. “He has to be able to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
Melinda: Okay, next question. Comes from, this will be the last one, Eva Biers: “What is a good defense for not allowing transgenders to use the bathroom of their opposite birth gender?”
Amy: The reason why we separate bathrooms is because we have different bodies. That’s the reason. What happens in the bathroom is related to our bodies and our bodies are different. That’s not really related to our minds or what we think about who we are or what our gender is. When you have someone who has a male body going into a women’s bathroom, those women are going to be exposed to male bodies. Just in terms of modesty, for the sake of the women, it’s not right. If the reason why we’re separating people in the first place in these bathrooms is because of bodies, then that should be the criteria.
Now, I don’t have... Is this about schools, specifically, or is this about everywhere?
Melinda: It doesn’t say, but it probably has to... In California and some other places, now, it’s required that people be allowed to use the bathroom or the locker room with the gender they identify with.
Amy: Well, and you can see with locker rooms, that’s especially true. People are changing. Women changing in front of a man, or a man changing in front of women?
Melinda: Yeah, I didn’t even like changing in front of other girls in high school.
Amy: Yeah. It doesn’t make sense, because the bodies... See, this is why, if you’re going to define gender by our minds, it just doesn’t even make sense because our bodies reflect our gender, our sex. When you have people changing, then that’s a problem. You can see that there’s all sorts of opportunities for abuse, of people abusing this whole role. Who’s going to stop someone who goes in there, and they don’t want to risk getting sued, or whatever? If a place wants to have a small bathroom that’s unisex where people can go in one at a time, that seems like a perfectly good way to resolve this.
Melinda: Mm-hmm, a third way option, there.
Melinda: Yeah. It’s not just about the person who is gender-confused in this regard, it’s about everybody else who uses the bathrooms, too. This is where we live in a community, and sometimes the minorities, in this case, the gender-confused minority, needs to also be respectful of the majority, and the entire community.
Amy: For some reason, they’re willing to upset... There was some case not too long ago where a bunch of the girls from the school were upset about it, but they didn’t have any problem upsetting the girls having a male student changing in front of them to make that one happy. Sometimes when you’re a minority, you deal with the difficulty for the sake of the community. I’ve had to do that in various circumstances for different things, where I’m in a minority for some reason, and I deal with it. You make allowances, because you are part of a community.
Melinda: Yeah. I heard a story... Somewhere in Southern California at a secular high school, the parents are challenging this, because in this case, it was a girl who identifies as a male using the boys’ locker room, and of course, well, a lot of people would joke and say, “Isn’t that every teenage boys’ desire?” The boys didn’t like it. The parents were appealing on exactly this point, that, “Can’t we make some kind of allowance for this confused girl, but also protect the feelings of the boys, the other children?”
Amy: Right. Because physical bodies are objective.
Amy: It’s just a fact. I just wish people could understand that when they’re making these laws. That’s not going to change. No matter what you think about it, your body’s still going to be what it is.
Melinda: Right. It kind of comes back to the issue of tolerance that comes up quite a lot. Tolerance is a one-way street. That’s the way it is these days. Tolerance is a two-way street. It goes all the way around. There has to be tolerance for the people who are struggling with confusion, but there also has to be tolerance for the people who have still traditional, very valid feelings and morality, and that needs to be tolerated as well.
Melinda: Okay. Thank you, Amy.
Amy: Thanks for having me!
Melinda: This is the end of the Girls’ Edition of STR Ask. Thank you, Amy, for your good answers. That’s it for this week. Theoretically, Greg’ll be back next week. The podcast is posted every Monday. You can find it on iTunes, STR.org, and our app, all the usual places.
I’m Melinda the Enforcer, with Amy Hall, for the STR Ask podcast.