Author Archives: Mark Hughes

THE THEORY OF SOMETHING

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was an 18th century mathematical genius who first posed the timeless question “Why is there something instead of nothing?” In 1710 he wrote Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil in which he concluded that our universe was the best of all possible worlds that God could have created. His belief in God was ridiculed by the infidels of his day like Voltaire, René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza. Leibniz’s accomplishments however would surpass that of even our best modern thinkers, like Stephen Hawking, by a long measure. He is probably not a household name because it is far too hard to pronounce. Leibniz was a childhood prodigy who became fluent in Latin and studied works of Greek scholars when he was only twelve. At fourteen he entered university and studied  philosophy, mathematics, and law. As an adult he was one of history’s greatest minds in physics, technology, philosophy, probability theory, biology, medicine, geology, psychology, linguistics, politics, law, ethics, theology, history, and philology to name a few. He published his discovery of calculus three years before Isaac Newton. I suspect he may have also been in a heavy metal band and was the inspiration for Guns and Roses guitarist Slash’s hair style.

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In one of Hollywood’s latest offerings, The Theory of Everything, the subject of the film is the personal life of renowned physicist Steven Hawking. It is based on a book by Hawking’s former wife, Jane Wilde Hawking entitled Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. It of course touches on his extraordinary career but has more to do with their life together and dealing with his debilitating motor neuron disease ALS.  Actor Eddie Redmayne was particularly convincing as Hawking and won the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts. Although the movie lagged in the last half hour and fizzled to an end, it still packed a highly emotional punch as it recreated the palpable sense of pain the family faced as they dealt with Stephen’s ever diminishing health. For me, the highlight of the film was the faith conflict between Jane and Stephen. This was very much part of their journey and may have been the catalyst that in the end doomed their marriage. The real life Jane has always been a person of faith, whereas Stephen has always prided himself as a rational man of science with no need for a celestial dictator. Jane claimed that he regularly mocked her faith, even as she in return showed him undying care and devotion. The title of the movie is based on Stephen’s oft quoted search for “one simple elegant equation to explain everything.” This so called theory of everything has eluded Hawking his entire life, and I believe always will, because it is based on a flawed premise. Hawking is determined to prove that the universe had the ability to create itself and that there is no need for a creator.

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In his earlier work, A Brief History of Time, which is a fascinating and enjoyable read, he begins with this statement. “However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.” Many, including his wife Jane, took this as a nod to the possibility of a Creator. Hawking has, for the most part, now hinted that what he meant by that was that one day we would know as much as God… if there actually was one. It was far more backhanded then most of us realized.

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In his most recent book, The Grand Design, he has made this audacious claim. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” In other words, he claims that gravity created the universe and not God. He has explained this further in interviews by saying, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.” What makes this a false, and frankly ridiculous statement, is the fact that science actually demands the opposite. Without getting bogged down in the science of it, every probable model of the universe requires some sort of ‘first cause’. Most notably Hawking has failed to answer the critical and scientific and philosophical question posed by Leibniz 300 years ago,’Why is there something instead of nothing?’ Although in The Grand Design he references the question and even claims to answer it he really only succeeds in re-asking it. If gravity created the universe, then who created gravity?

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As Kathy and I watched The Theory of Everything something jumped off the screen at me so powerfully that I said it out loud. As Stephen became more ardent in his atheism, the existence of God grew ever more evident. The two Christians in the movie, his wife Jane and the church choir director Jonathon Hellyer Jones , demonstrated uncommon selfless love towards an increasingly helpless Stephen. “Those two are more proof of the existence of God than anyone could ever ask for,” were the words that came out of my mouth. 1 John 4:12 says, No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. The only way our world is really going to see God is through the love of Jesus that we demonstrate by our Christian walk. Whether that was the intent of the movie, I am not sure, but it became so clear to me that I think it would be the perfect movie to watch with a skeptic and then engage them in the big questions of God and creation.

By the way, one inaccuracy of the movie was leaving the impression that Jane left Stephen and married Jonathon. The real story was that Stephen left Jane for his nurse in 1990, marrying her in 1995, and Jane did not marry Jonathon until 1997.

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HIP HIP HIPPOCRATES

Hippocrates of Kos (460 – c. 370 BC), was physician in the Classical Greece era and is regarded as the father of of modern medicine.  He is most often quoted as saying, “Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food”, however his greatest contribution to Western culture is undoubtedly the Hippocratic Oath.  For centuries physicians around the world have been taking the oath… or a derivative of it.  In the commitment to ‘first do no harm’ he specifically said, Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will get no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.

history_hippocratesFor hundreds of years the medical profession has adhered to the Hippocratic Oath but in one generation, through the decriminalization of abortion, they have already become the executioners of the unborn and ended 1.3 billion lives since 1980.  View the abortion clock here http://www.numberofabortions.com/ It is disconcerting to say the least. In the US there is a $5000 fine for killing an unborn Bald Eagle egg and yet we slaughter children like they are a plague infecting the earth. There is something perverse about having the same hands that try to save lives also being responsible for taking them. When our first child was about to be born, we discovered that our obstetrician also preformed abortions, we quickly switched to a doctor that did not perform them. I can’t imagine why everyone would not do the same if they thought about it.

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Last week the Supreme Court of Canada in an unanimous decision struck down our law preventing doctor assisted suicide.  This was in stark contrast to their ruling in the Sue Rodriguez case in 1992 that upheld the law.  Now the Canadian Parliament has 12 months to draft a new law that will allow doctors to help people take their own lives.  I am profoundly disappointed.  The fact that doctors would even be part of the equation is unconscionable.  They are the ones who will be asked to administer the poison that would end another person’s life. Hippocrates would roll in his grave to see the modern medical profession move from being the preservers of life, to becoming the administers of death. Doctor Henry Morgentaler devoted his career completely to killing unborn children and we awarded him the Order of Canada. South of the border Doctor Jack Kervorkian spent his assisting the aged and infirm in taking their own lives. He was a hero to many and died at 83… of natural causes. Five US states already have doctor assisted death legislation in place. For the most part they allow terminally ill, mentally competent patients with less than six months to live to request a prescription for life-ending medication. Proponents suggest we follow suit. The next step after that can be seen in Belgium and the Netherlands that allow children to take their lives with their parents consent. I think it is a dangerous path. Where will it lead, where will it end? Will society start deciding who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Will the lives of the young and old, the infirm and disabled someday become at risk?

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I think as Christians we need to rethink the pro-life position. Too many of us oppose abortion and euthanasia but are at the same time pro-capital punishment and pro-war. I feel that gives us a very weak basis from which we argue. The Old Testament is full of violence and death. I would not argue that point. But Jesus was the true example of pro-life. If people were dying, he healed them. If they were dead He raised them back to life. If someone was condemned to die (The woman caught in adultery) he pardoned them. I think it is impossible to imagine Jesus as anything but 100% pro- LIFE. The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

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We need to establish a new baseline for the christian pro-life position. Proverbs 6:19 says (The Lord hates) hands that shed innocent blood. The unborn obviously fit in that category, but so do those who are suffering of disease or pain and just want to end it all. We can offer them compassion and care but it is not our place to play God and end their lives. I sat by the bedside of my older brother as he died. He was suffering from lymphoma cancer and was partially paralyzed from a broken neck. At the end of every day he would say Goodbye and hope it would be his last. He would be disappointed when he awoke the next day. On the other hand I would never have let anyone accelerate the process. The palliative care people did an amazing job of keeping him pain free and preventing him from choking to death on the contents of his own stomach since his digestive system had shut down. Amazingly he was mentally clear to the very end and though not easy, he had a relatively peaceful passing.

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance: Your books were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. Psalms 139:16

My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Psalms 31:15

Hippocrates wasn’t even a Christian and he got it right 2400 years ago.  Hip Hip Hippocrates!

 

 

Addendum: For the record this also means we should never be responsible for taking the lives of innocent people during wartime. The number of innocents that have died in the current War on Terror (or any war) should give everyone of us pause. And yes, I am familiar with St Augustine’s Just War theory. He tried to reconcile Christian pacifism with the world as it actually was; to bring together the pacifist teachings of Jesus Christ with the obligations of Roman citizens – including Christians – to fight for their country when required to. Augustine said that war was always the result of sin, and that war was also the remedy for sin. And if war was the remedy for sin, then war could sometimes be justifiable – but only if it was a remedy for sin. He stated that Christians did not have the right to defend themselves from violence, however they could use violence if it was necessary to defend the innocent against evil. That is a far cry from the hawkish modern position of many Christians on war today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FOOL ME TWICE

I need to apologize for being MIA in the blogging department this fall. I have had the busiest season in recent memory and realized the other day I had preached 47 times in 10 weeks… and then I wondered why I had no time for anything else. When I had a colleague rebuke me for my ridiculous schedule, I responded by saying that the English reformer John Wesley (1703-1791) preached 3 times every single day until he was in his 80’s. To which my friend aptly reminded me, “You’re no John Wesley!”

When I was growing up, in the very community in which I pastor today, there was a kid named Allen that lived down the street. He was the terror of the neighbourhood. If there was an incident he was likely at the center of it. When houses would be egged or garbage cans rolled down the street and the like, the police would start the questioning at Al’s door and usually didn’t need to look any further. He was voted most likely to grow up to be dead or in jail.  Instead he ended up as an executive vice president of an oil company. Recent studies have shown that apparently psychopaths are ideally suited for upper management.

Actually Allen wasn’t as bad a kid as our parents all thought, he just enjoyed stirring the pot and getting others in trouble. One day as we were walking home from school together, the neighbourhood bully John decided to join us. He was Al’s friend, not mine. Al began to go on about how John, a year older and half a foot taller, could easily beat me up. Being the proud and not so bright kid that I was, I took the bait and agreed to fight him.  Because I was always paranoid about getting my teeth knocked out (I guess I knew that someday I would need them to be on TV) I insisted that there could be no punching in the face. We started the fight and with one right hook John smacked me in the mouth and I was bleeding all over the place. My front teeth were loose but fortunately still intact. My mother was beside herself when I got home. She told me to stay away from those boys. I only mumbled through my swollen lips and made no promises.

The next day, no joke, the next day I walked home with them again. When Al started in about how I had lost the fight, I argued that I could easily have won but John had cheated and hit me in the face. Al suggested that we should have a rematch. Again I took the bait, this time making an even bigger plea that the rules would be regarded as my teeth were still loose from the day before.  We squared off again and, you guessed it, John punched my right in the mouth again and there was twice the blood of the day before.  My lip was cut and my teeth were pushed back into my mouth, but maybe by the grace of God I didn’t lose them.  I learned a life lesson that day.  Never trust a bully.

I tell this story in reference to the conflicts in the Middle East and Iraq in particular. By now most people realize that the 2003 invasion of Iraq turned out to be grossly misguided under the false pretense of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ This is not to say that Saddam Hussein was not still a bully, he was, and was not without culpability in provoking the West. Finally after 8 long years the last Western troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011 all the while claiming victory. They insisted that the country was now better off than with Saddam. The problem was, one bully was gone and another had risen up even more illusive and underhanded than the first – ISIL. This is an acronym for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. With its counterpart ISIS ( Islamic State in Syria) it has over 30,000 fighters. It is the most violent and diabolical terrorist group that has ever existed. It is so vile that Al Qaeda, which was responsible for 9/11 and 1000’s of deaths themselves, has disavowed them, calling their tactics too extreme.

Every week or so they release another videotape of a Westerner being gruesomely beheaded. The actual number of beheadings are far worse than most know, possibly in the hundreds, including Kurdish children. The crimes are so horrifying as to be inhuman. I will not post images as I think it is unethical to do so. Unfortunately I was inadvertently exposed to some of the worst pictures and I am still having trouble getting the images out of my mind. They were indescribable. What kind of person could commit such grisly and heinous acts? I don’t know. What I do know is that they are trying to produce a revulsion that will evoke an angry reaction. The objective, in my opinion, is to try to goad the West back into the fight on Arab soil. It is working. But why would ISIL want Western troops back in the Middle East? Because they know the West cannot win a fight on their turf. Why? Remember my story of Al and John; bullies don’t play by the rules. Bullies are also cowards that hide behind masks, lurk in the shadows and pick on innocent people.

Canada and the US have already joined other nations and have dispatched airborne missions into Iraq. Military experts have warned that this alone will not work unless these missions are accompanied by ground troops. Of course it won’t, how do you remove an incendiary terrorist organization from the air? You can’t. Both our governments have repeated that we will not be sending ground troops back into Iraq. Lord, let that be so. This is not a cowardly position. Why would you fight a battle you cannot win? Why would we send more young men in to die needlessly?

In 2 Kings 19 King Hezekiah of Judah was under threat of the Sennacherib king of Assyria (Syria of today). It was an unwinnable situation as Assyria had 185,000 troops at their doorstep. Hezekiah had no possible effective military strategy so he went up to the house of the Lord and prayed. A long story short, the Lord heard his prayer and sent the Angel of the Lord down Sennacherib’s camp and wiped out all 185,000 in one night. Judah did not so much as raise a sword. We serve the same God today and I believe prayer is still our number one weapon against terrorism.

On a human level, I absolutely do not know what we should do about this crisis. I wish I did. I only know what we should not do. And that is to take the bait the second time. It is to that end I also pray because I will always remember the lesson my friend Al taught me on the subject. Bullies can never be trusted. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

– Peter Townsend (The Who)

 

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THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY

There are many Christian leaders today that would not see democracy as being important for the gospel. I mean after all, the world in which Christianity was born was anything but democratic. Jesus came in to a culture that was under the military occupation of Rome. As a Jew in Israel, He and his disciples had little to no democratic rights.  Caesar ruled the region in a violent, bloody and ruthless manner. Roman crucifixion itself was used as a deterrent; that insubordination in any form would not be tolerated and was punishable by death. Jesus’ trial was a sham and there was was really no ‘earthly’ way He was going to avoid conviction as the powers that be had conspired against Him and were going to make sure that an example would be made of Him. God, brilliantly, just weaved the inevitable into his grand plan. The apostles that carried on His work after Him lived under constant threat of imprisonment or death, and yet, the gospel flourished in the midst of overt persecution. There are dozens of historical examples of how sometimes persecution is actually good for the gospel. China during the Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong is a good example. The missionaries were expelled, the pastors were imprisoned, the bibles were burned and in those same years the church silently grew from some 50,000 believers to some 50 million.  Today it remains the country where Christianity is growing faster than any nation on earth.

There is nothing inherently biblical about democracy. The bible doesn’t teach it, endorse it or really even mention it. When God was in charge, He used a theocracy (Moses). When the people cried out for a monarchy he gave them one but warned that a king would likely abuse them… which they did. One thing is clear, regardless of the political model, God has little patience for tyranny.

Then Jehoahaz prayed for the LORD’s help, and the LORD heard his prayer. The LORD could see how terribly the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. So the LORD raised up a deliverer to rescue the Israelites from the tyranny of the Arameans. Then Israel lived in safety again as they had in former days. 2 Kings 13:4-5 (NLT)

Our challenge today is that we certainly do not live in any kind of theocracy where God is directing the affairs of man and we won’t until Christ returns to set up His Millennial reign. In the meantime democracy still seems to be our best bet for peace, good government and the harmony of life.  History has proven time and again that once we lose what little democracy we have, we steer headlong into tyranny.  Most of us do not realize how fragile democracy is.  In 1941 at the start of the second world war there were only 11 functioning democracies left in the world.  (Today that number is 25 full democracies and 51 flawed democracies) Europe had fallen into the grip of tyrants like Hitler of Germany, Mussolini of Italy and Franco of Spain to name only a few.  The resulting violence and chaos saw the loss of most civil liberties, immense hardship, destroyed economies and infrastructure and the death of 60 million young men in the space of only 4 years.

The simple definition of democracy is letting the people rule themselves.  By far my favourite quote on the subject is from one of history’s great champions of freedom Thomas Jefferson.

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.

When the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall fell in the late 80’s early 90’s it looked like democracy was set to take the world by storm and that a new dawn of peace was going to settle upon the globe. The season was very short lived. There are more tyrants in the world than ever. Russia’s fledgling democracy has already retracted into a one man dictatorship under ‘Czar’ Vladimir Putin.  The former KGB head has cracked down on dissidents, jailed political rivals and clearly has his sights set on restoring Russian to the ‘superpower’ it once was as the former USSR.

Earlier this year Crimea held a referendum to secede from the Ukraine and join Russia instead.  96% voted in favour. Commentators argued whether the vote was legitimate or coerced or what. Almost everybody missed the irony of this story. By voting to join Russia, the Crimeans voted away their democracy in what might end up being the last free vote of their generation.

Let’s bring this closer to home. We are losing democratic freedoms everyday in Canada and most of us don’t even notice. In May of this year Justin Trudeau announced that his party would not allow any pro-life candidates to run in the next federal election. Pro-choicers (as they call themselves) lauded the move as a great progressive step forward for the party. My question is, regardless of one’s view of abortion, how can limiting the religious or moral views of a candidate be progressive? Would that not be by definition regressive, or even oppressive?  Would not disallowing pro-life candidates be unconstitutional in that it would restrict one’s rights of freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the democratic right to hold political office? Was it not Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre, when he was Prime Minister of Canada, that entrenched those very rights in his Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Ironic isn’t it?

After the announcement Cardinal Thomas Collins, Toronto’s Roman Catholic archbishop, wrote an open letter to Trudeau urging him to reverse his position.  He argued that, “Political authority is not limitless: it does not extend to matters of conscience and religious faith. It does not govern all aspects of life.” He further challenged the Liberal leader,  “Political leaders in our day should not exclude such people of integrity, no matter how challenging they find their views,” he wrote. “I urge you to reconsider your position”

Trudeau responded by saying, “I had an extraordinary example in a father who had deeply, deeply held personal views that were informed by the fact that he went to church every Sunday, read the Bible regularly to us, and raised us very, very religious, very Catholic,” said Trudeau. “But at the same time he had no problem legalizing divorce, decriminalizing homosexuality and moving in ways that recognized the basic rights of the people. He held his personal views very, very strongly. But he understood that as leaders, as political figures, as representatives of a larger community, our utmost responsibility is to stand up for peoples’ rights.”  What a minute, let me get this straight; he was very, very religious, read his bible every day and went to church every week but did not let any of that in any way influence his policy making? I was trying to think of a definition of hypocrisy but it’s  just not coming to me at the moment

There is no question that the Cardinal’s words have fallen on deaf ears, but I still have to give him full marks on a number of levels. What most Canadians do not know is that religious leaders are no longer allowed to publicly oppose the positions of political candidates.  Canada Revenue Agency has been slowly rewriting the rules for religious charities to essentially restrict them from participating in the democratic process. Cardinal Collins was taking a considerable risk by addressing Trudeau’s position directly. For the record, that is not something I would ever do. I wouldn’t even bring it up. I would never criticize the young, inexperienced and gaffe prone Trudeau. If he wants to suspend the fundamental democratic freedoms of his potential candidates, that is clearly none of my business and I need to just keep my big mouth shut. If he wants to smoke pot and encourage other Canadians to do so by legalizing it then that his prerogative. I am not allowed to have an opinion. The demise of democracy is upon us, but my biggest fear is that most of us won’t notice, and those of us who do care are not allowed to speak.

 

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