The Is-Ought Dichotomy

Can we know what we should do by observing facts?  Hume was the philosopher that asked this question.  

Can what “is” tell us what we “ought” to do?  

Hume saw a gap between facts and morality.  In other words, there is no way to know what to do by what we see to be the knowable facts of the world around us.  

Poison will kill you or the person to whom to sneak it.  So does that mean you should not give poison to someone?  Hume said we would have to know more, and what we could know would not be a fact, but an intuition.  

But I disagree with that.  

I agree that we have to have a moral code.  But I don’t agree that it must be based on intuition (or even faith).  When people intuitively know that they should not kill someone, I think there is actually a fact hidden in there somewhere.  We are being driven by facts as we see them.  But for most people, we are not aware enough of what our “facts” are, and so we don’t put them in the proper order.  Some facts are more important than others.  Getting this right will bring order and peace to your life. 

Fact: Poison is dangerous to your body and can kill it. 

Is this the most important fact in the situation of whether to eat poison, or even give it to someone else?  No, it isn’t. 

Fact: Staying alive is good.  

Is this the most important fact? It is a more important fact that the first one, but it is not the most important fact, because, why is it good to stay alive?

Fact: My life is my goal. 

Is this the most important fact? No, but is it the highest so far? It is not the most important fact because it sounds more like a value. It is only a fact (and a value) if it is a derivative of a hard fact. Here it is that hard fact.

Fact: I exist. 

This is almost the most important fact, and it is extremely important.  The fact that I exist means that I must value my existence.  But here is an even greater and higher fact.

Fact: God exists.

This is the highest fact and it gives meaning to the second highest fact (for me) that I exist. My life is a reality in God. He has given it to me. He has called me to live. I must live for him, because he is the highest fact. The Bible calls this his glory. My life is also my glory. Christians believe our sin at the beginning was to fall short of glory, God’s glory; which was our glory as his created image bearers.

You would be fair to ask me why I believe God exists. I’ll post that another time, but I think it is rational to believe it, especially the Trinitarian God of the bible. I have looked at the preponderance of evidence for the existence of Christ, the resurrection, and his claims to be God in the flesh. I think there is enough evidence to take it seriously. I also believe that Christianity as the Bible actually teaches it lines up with the facts of reality and the way things truly are. Then, without being able to see Jesus in person, I admit that here I go on rational faith. I should also mention that I have witnessed many miracles. This is also for another post.

So the fact that God exists (I AM), and has made possible the fact of my own existence (i am), means that there is no is-ought dichotomy. There is no gap. A fact of existence comes with a built in purpose. Everything that has life “works” for its own flourishing. Why? Because it must. Why must it? Because it exists. Does any living thing not work for it’s flourishing? None, except man, of course.

We are so confused that we often work toward our death.  This is to fall short of the glory of God.  This is to be subhuman (not animal-an animal would not work for its death).  This is evil.  

All humans naturally work to live, but since the vast majority do it unconsciously, they except false facts, which lead to false values that lead to death. However, since they also know on a deeper level that they must work to live, they walk in constant contradictions: anxious, confused, fearful, depressed, falling way short of the glory of God.

Even Christians get this wrong. We are thankfully saved by grace for “abundant life” (Jn 10:10). Jesus got this right, and he passed on to us the benefit, or the imputed righteousness. Jesus truly lived so that his death actually paid for our sin of never truly living, which is an affront to the Creator, and earns us his right wrath. This is why Jesus came. Put your faith in him. Close the is-ought gap and derive your moral ethical code from the facts (try these on for size).

You will truly begin to live when you start knocking down the contradicdtions, when you start aligning your goals with your abundant life, and stop all the sin. That is, stop all that leads to death. You were made to live forever, but most will die forever.

If this is your first time to my blog, I highly recommend starting with my two oldest posts and reading them from oldest to newest.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 5, Treating Others as Better than Yourself

Treating Others as Better than Yourself

The Bible calls us to “consider others as better than [our]selves” (Phil 2:3). How can this be if we are supposed to begin our stewardship of all God has given us at the most basic level, ourselves? The answer lies in the sense in which God speaks these words. To put others before ourselves can only be done in a certain way. This is a huge hang up for most people, because they think it means something that it doesn’t. But if it meant what part of us thinks it means, life would be very short: You wake up one morning determined to put others first. You feel hungry and start to get out your cereal bowl, but just as you are taking down the cereal, you worry that your neighbor hasn’t eaten. Is it common for them to miss a meal? No, but what does that matter? He has not yet eaten, so you must offer your cereal to him. Plus, you have more cereal.

But wait, what about the other neighbor? Pretty soon there is no more food in the house. No matter, you have money, so you head off to the grocery store, but you get a little sick feeling when you walk in because there are other people there. You will need to pay for all their groceries before you pay for your own. Why? Because they are all to come before you. As soon as you find someone who is not in need of your food, you can eat. But that is just it, with seven billion people in the world, you don’t have a chance.

You might be thinking this sounds crazy and you would never do that. I believe you, but you still think you are supposed to…deep down…although you don’t, because at least part of you knows that is ludicrous.  These two parts are in contradiction.  You’ll never truly live it out, but you’ll always feel somewhat guilty.  This will always hold you back from enjoying what you have or truly giving out of your abundance.  

Let’s consider honor.  If everyone is greater than you, and should go before you, and should be considered to be a better person, then you might as well find a dirty floor somewhere where people are walking by all day and just bow down, face in the dirt, and live there.  But in fact, this would be dishonest.  Everyone is not greater than you.  Some people are greater than you by certain standards.  They might be more loving, honest, industrious, courageous, free in Christ.  They are ahead of you.  They are your equals in intrinsic value because you are both created in the image of God. 

Nevertheless, Jesus does say to put others first and to take the lowest place. He did wash the feet of the disciples, though he considered himself their Lord (Jn 13). He did say that whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Mk 10:43). So why did he say that if it is impossible? Because it is only impossible in a certain sense.

In a completely different sense, on a completely different plane, it is not only possible, but required.

We are not to rank ourselves in order of value. So we are not to take personal power over another. We are not to use others. We are not to violate the rights of others: taking their property, looking down on them, treating them as though they are not our equals, keeping from them equal opportunities, judging them by anything but the content of their character. We are to be just.

And when it comes to ourselves, we are to take our identity from the only place we are truly allowed to, from God and our very being. We have an identity as image-bearers, little “i ams,” and we have identity from Aristotle’s law of identity that says, a thing is a thing. Existence is a pretty profound truth, and as such, makes us matter. Since we matter, we don’t need anyone else to make us matter. We don’t need to elevate ourselves in status with our wealth and stuff, comparing to others and climbing in a class or status system. Class is irrelevant. Status is irrelevant. Being better than anyone else is irrelevant. Only who we are in God and in being/existing is relevant. After that, it is proper to judge ourselves by the ways that God tells us to: character, love, courage, truthfulness, purity. Being and existing according to these qualities is not penance or a way to win with God; it is rather the nature of the abundant life that Jesus died to give us.

So when should I consider others above myself?  When it would be justice to do so.  For instance, you are in a room with your family.  Everyone is reading and quiet. You decide to pull out your iPad and watch TV with no headphones.  There was an unspoken agreement that everyone was being quiet. You have broken it.  You need to have some terms with the others who are sharing the room, and treat each other fairly.  This is right, or righteous.  No one should be allowed to trample the rights of the others.  It is not proper.  

What about the others in the room? Should they say, “No, you are more important than us. Watch your show. We’ll deal with it.” If you were only one person saying that, it might be a Christlike thing to do. Except it could be a little dishonest if you are going to resent the iPad watcher. But as long as there are others there, they are the ones to stand up for.   An agreement needs to be spoken out loud with some ground rules and boundaries.  We’ll be quiet for an hour and then watch TV for an hour.  Again, you can be magnanimous and give up your own claims, but it actually isn’t right to allow them to be rude, to enable them.  

In a similar way, giving your cereal to your neighbor robs him of an important aspect of being, that is, productiveness and finding his own provision, which is something God actually expects us to do (2 Thes 3:10). So when we give to help or serve others, it should not be done in a way that enables them to be less than human. Then it becomes unloving. Once we know this, to continue to do it belies a false motive on our part. Is it manipulation? Do we love feeling needed? Do we not want to make them upset by cutting them off?

Or worse, do we hate ourselves and it alleviates some of our self-hatred?

There is something going on, and it needs to be discovered and rooted out. Human nature is such that for a great many people, even our own semi-adult children, if we allow them to be freeloaders or parasites by our own “generosity,” we harm them, and we are supposed to love them too much to harm them.

Responsible to Rather than for

Much more can be said about helping, giving ,and serving others, but there are many good books and blogs already about it. The only other thing I will say is that we are not to be responsible for other people. Not anyone, not even our own children (at least not in the sense I’m getting at). But we are supposed to be responsible to everyone. Everyone. In what way? We are responsible to others to be truth tellers, courageous, generous (without enabling), loving, kind, patient, but also discerning. We are to show the way to God by being a concretization of the abstraction that is the Christian life. We are to lead all the “horses” to water, but never attempt to force them to drink. The “water” is God in Christ, the truth, righteousness and the kingdom of God. We show it, and we tell it, but we don’t coerce or manipulate others to live it. That violates them and the command of Jesus to not lead like the Gentiles (Mk 10:42).

Furthermore, whatever we say we will do, we do. We understand that the meaning of life is stewardship for the glory of God. Being. Pursuing life for our own sake, for his sake. This is what it means to be responsible to everyone. It shows value to others and puts them above yourself in the proper sense. In this way there are no contradictions. We treat people with integrity and goodness. The outcome of this truthful living is the right outcome. God will get his way, and we with regenerated spirit will love it.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt. 1

How do most people think of work?  Most people think of work as something that you have to do, so that you can afford the things that you want to do.  They work for the weekend.  But the weekend is often just as hard, if not harder, at least for those with families.  There are kids to raise, notoriously difficult and labor intensive.  If it isn’t labor intensive then you are doing it wrong!  There is a house and lawn to keep up. Don’t forget about the fact that all week, spouses have been able to avoid one another while one or both of them were working outside the home.  Remember what God said about the curse on marriage?  Will it be fun for the wife to have a “desire [that] shall be contrary to [her] husband?”  It is potentially no fun for either one of them.    

And so much of the work is in the hopes of gaining enough to spend on pleasures. But those pleasures always fall short of being worth the effort.  When one lives for comfort and pleasure, the best part is the anticipation and the work to achieve them.  Getting the comfort and pleasure is never as great as we anticipate that it will be. Why? 

Because pleasure seeking is not actually what we’re made for. 

Think about something pleasurable, like eating cake. Anticipating it is great. Smelling it is great. The first two or three bites are great. But the third through the seventy-fifth bites become increasingly not great. In fact, they start to impact our emotions negatively as we begin thinking about the pain that is coming, the weight that will be gained, the early death that we can expect if we keep doing this, how disgusted with ourselves we are for not stopping. If cake is not your thing, insert sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, and you’ll see that emptiness and depression are the result of all of it. Right now in history is the worst time to be dealing with this, because we are so prosperous. If you didn’t have time for any of these things, because you spent all your time on toil in order to survive, you’d have other problems, but you wouldn’t have this one. The current age is the most dangerous in history in terms of having the time and resources to seek pleasure and comfort to our hearts content, which is actually impossible, though we are killing ourselves to learn that.

Principles vs. Vision

What is your vision?  

What is your five year plan?

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What are your goals and how do you plan to reach them?

These are the questions that make the world go round. Everybody who is anybody knows that you have to have a vision. Nothing has ever been accomplished that wasn’t first a goal.  Don’t you have to see what is wrong and lacking in your life so you can develop an idea of how to change it?  Then you can set some big, hairy, audacious goals to go out and achieve for the glory of God! 

I would respectfully like to challenge that notion and say that I believe that is not God’s way, but it might be satan’s. That is not how the Kingdom of Heaven operates, but it is how the dominion of darkness runs. How can you possibly know what you are to be in five years? “God told me.” No (respectfully) He didn’t. James 4:13-17 says,

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (ESV).

Unless, of course, God did tell you. But how would you know? There are several ways that a prophetic word of God could come, but none of them are “a sentence popped in my head while I was feeling: anxious, empty, insecure, fearful… just plain bad about myself and where I am right now.” 

An angel could show up (although you’d need to screen him based on Gal.1:8). There could be an audible voice, a burning bush, or an enormous hand writing on a wall.  There could be a dream, which would also need to be screened in some way. 

But for 99.99999999% of the time, God will not tell us the future. He will guide us and let us create it as we go. How will He guide us?  By His ways, His principles. His wisdom.

Biblical Principles

God’s ways are clearly communicated in Scripture by His commandments and the example set by His Son, Jesus. God tells us in the Bible how we are to live.  Jesus spent His entire ministry showing and telling about the Kingdom of God and how to live in it.

In addition, He fills us with His Holy Spirit when we are born again so that we can be guided by Him.  Every Christian has access to these two things: His Word, and His Spirit. So why do so many Christians have such a hard time getting by in life, and why do so many get obsessed with hearing God’s voice for their life? 

I think it is because following God, rather than satan is harder in many ways. Everything in our bodies and brain chemistry makes the way of the world more natural for us.  But the way of the Kingdom takes an ability to constantly push against that and trust God. 

Just like God, who identified Himself to Moses as I Am, we mostly are to exist in the present. James has it right. 

  • All such boasting about the future is evil.
  • The point is to know the right thing and do it. 

How then should we live?

God is I Am, not I hope to be.

Wake up in the morning, get into the presence of God and His Word, and then go throughout your day doing what’s right in your context as you continually practice His presence. He will present opportunities. He will provide. You cannot even imagine what He has in store for you, so you couldn’t possibly make it a goal to achieve. Just be and do, for the glory of God, by the power of God, thanking Him and trusting Him. 

Here are a few Biblical and practical principles that I follow. Feel free to add some of yours in the comments.  Also, I welcome conversation about my thoughts on vision vs. principles.  

My Principles:

  • Truth – The outcome of (telling, believing, accepting, insisting on) the truth is the right outcome.
  • Relationships – All relationships are to be horizontal, not vertical except the relationship with God. God is higher, everyone else is an intrinsic equal. It is never right to manipulate or coerce any fellow image-bearers, even your own children.
  • Recognition – Seeking recognition is always bad, always comes from insecurity and feelings of inferiority, and it will never deliver.
  • Stewardship – It is not about what we have, but how we use it. God will add to he or she who proves faithful.
  • Love – The absence of love is only hate (1 Jn 3:11-12). Love brother, neighbor, enemy, everyone.
  • Leadership – You can lead a horse (or people) to water but it is a sin to make them drink. Jesus said the gentiles lord it over and exercise authority over those they lead but it shall not be so with you. (Mk 10:42) Leadership is by example and reason.
  • Abide – The most important thing at any given time in any place is to abide in Christ (Jn 15).
  • Justice – God is totally just and to be like Him, so should we be just. This means trading value for value in the marketplace, the church, and the home. This is why Jesus had to die for us, to satisfy God’s justice because, being God it is not mathematically possible for Him to forgive sins without the cross.
  • I Am – God is a being that exists primarily in the present and so am I. In His image I am a little “i am,” meant to act like Him, and create, produce, bring order for my sake, for His sake.
  • Mercy – I am free in Christ to be merciful, as God is merciful.
  • Thankful – Thankfulness is part of stewardship. It is misery to sit around wishing we had something else, or some different situation. Instead, thank God for any little sign of God’s grace in your life, and you will experience more of it.

I Am

God is I Am and so am I. So are you; an image bearer with an assignment to produce. Life is the standard. Existence exists, so accept that and get after it. 

In the beginning, God created (Gen 1:1).   There was only one God in three persons, and then he created everything that exists.  In him, before the creation, were certain principles of Logos: logic, reason, math, objective truth, etc.  This is too mysterious for me to ponder too much, except to say that there is something fundamentally important about this fact.  Existence exists, along with objective truth of which God is the source.  

In Exodus 3:14 God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush. When Moses asked him who he was so that he could tell the people who it was who had sent him, God said to call him, “I Am.” God is saying, basically, that he exists. He is the essence of all existence. I hope that you are smarter and deeper than I and can get everything out of that fact that can be gotten, but I can at least tell you where my brain has gone. Stay with me a little longer.

God exists. Existence exists.

Also, I exist.  You exist. God made us, and so we are.  You can say of yourself “I Am.”  Why? Because you are. But isn’t that blasphemous? I mean, that’s how God defines himself.  No.  You and I are made in his image: 

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen 1:26-27).

Therefore, you are an image bearer of the I AM. You are at least a little “i am,” just like you are a little Christ if you are a Christian. Christian means little Christ. We are not to make graven images of the Father, first, because he said so, and second, because he already made one. Adam. You. Man is the image of God and that means something.

What does it mean that “i am?”

If that is true, what does it matter? Let’s start with God. He does everything because of his existence, because of the nature of his existence. What he says about it is that everything he does, he does for his glory (Isa 43:7). Why? Because it is glorious to exist. The phrase, “God does everything for his own glory,” starts with “God does.” To be God, is to do. God’s being requires, and has the effect of God’s doing. To be is to do. God does, because God is.

Before we keep going with God’s doing, let’s look at Adam’s doing.  Adam is.  Adam exists.  Adam’s existence means that Adam does things. And what things does Adam (and Eve, and you, and me) do?  It says in Genesis 1:28-29:

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

So that is what man was created to do.  In effect, he is to create. Who does that sound like?  God!  So part of being in the image of God is being a creator.  If God is the Creator with a capital C, then we are creators with a lowercase c.  Why would God create one of his creations to be creators?  So that we could continue to create on his behalf. He would effectually continue creating through his creators.  Man is “i am” like the great “I AM,” and to be “i am” is to be a creator. If we are not creating, then we are not being like God.  Right there is a clue as to what it means to live for the glory of God, or to do everything for God’s glory.  

Being uniquely human, is being a creator, a producer, a multiplier, a subduer of the earth (to create stuff out of it, like iron, fire, wheels, oil refineries, and solar panels, iPhones, and blog posts). Let me go out on a limb here and say that to be human is a potentially glorious thing, depending on the extent to which one lives out their calling as a bearer of the image of the glorious Creator who made them for that purpose.

Let me go out on a thinner, shakier limb and say that if God does everything for his own glory, and we are his image bearers continuing his work of creation, then we, too, might need to understand a sense in which we do everything we do for our own glory which is ultimately for his own glory.

Doesn’t Paul say in Romans 3: that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God? Why would it be sin to fall short of glory? Because we were created for glory. This is confusing because we only think of glory as coming from other men, but that is false glory. The glory God wants for us is the glory we receive at the judgment, at our glorification (Ro 8:30). Having been restored in Christ by his blood and sacrifice, we should start living a glorious life now. This means we start behaving like our maker, making, being, doing, according to his kingdom and his righteousness. The glory is not from men, it just is, and it is from God.

Please understand me. Everything we do is meant to be for the glory of God, but I think it is possible that because we don’t understand the honor that he has bestowed on us as his divine image-bearers, we can let our own self-doubt and self-loathing get in the way of what we could be doing for him.

This all speaks to purpose, and it flows from the basic fact of our existence. God has given us life. That means in part that “life” is the point of all this existing. He has called man to go and “live.” The purpose of man is to live. Jesus said he came to give us “life and life abundant” or “to the full” (Jn 10:10). There is something about that word “life” that goes with “creation” that goes with “glory”. We are destined as Christians to be “glorified” with him in heaven. If we are supposed to be living a restored life in Christ Jesus, then we are, in some way, supposed to be living a “glorified” life now, at least in part.

Here’s an example in Scripture of what it looks like to get a good and humble kind of glory here in this life: Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”  The writer is saying that if one is slow to anger and can overlook an offense, it shows that he has good sense, and good sense is glorious.  It is to his glory that he does this. In what way is it glorious?  It is glorious In the fact that it is an imitation of God to be slow to anger.  To the extent that we are imitation the One who is and always will be most glorious, we are glorious.  

Most Christians seem to think that glorifying God in this life means going to church as much as possible and worshiping. Also worshiping at home, and in the car. This is true, but not the whole truth. If it were the whole truth then we’d be right to hate ourselves, because we don’t spend twenty-four seven singing songs about God and to God (which I love to do). But I say that our whole life, whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). How? By pursuing life as a creator because you are created by the Creator for that very purpose, and by doing this creating in the way that God would have us do, by displaying his character and nature in the process. Take your place as “i am” because he is the ultimate “I AM” and you bear his image.