Thursday, August 16, 2012

The True Meaning of The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son

Q: Why is there more rejoicing in Heaven over the one who comes back, then the 99 that have done their best their whole life? Luke 15:7. I think there is something I am not understanding here, can anyone help me out?

A: **The conclusion of this answer is marked **SHORT ANSWER, and so you may wish to skip ahead and consult that before you read the rest. However my argument will make more sense if you read the whole thing through.

 In order to fully understand what Christ meant when he said: "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" it is important to examine the scriptural context, which Joseph Smith explained is one of the most important keys for understanding the meaning of any of Christ's parables:

 “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? … To ascertain its meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus” (in History of the Church, 5:261).

This saying was Christ's summation of His brief parable of the lost sheep and His transition as He began another, similar, parable about a lost piece of silver. He follows both of these with the parable of the prodigal son. As I mentioned before, context is everything, so what caused Him to launch into this seemingly rapid-fire litany of parables?

Let's examine the beginning of the chapter for the answer.

Luke 15:1-2  Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

The Pharisees and scribes condemned Jesus because he taught and associated himself with publicans (who were considered to be racial traitors) and other people whom the Pharisees and scribes had judged to be sinners. Another such instance is described in more detail a few chapters earlier.

Luke 5:27-32  And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

You might be interested to know that Levi is also called Matthew, the apostle and author of the Gospel. After Christ called him to discipleship, Levi hosted a great feast in His honor, which naturally was attended by many publicans. As a publican, Levi probably did not have many friends who were not also publicans. Publicans were tax collectors for the Roman Authority (or more typically King Herod) in Judea, and those that were Jewish were looked upon as race traitors and enemy collaborators. Publicans "were detested by the Jews, and any Jew who undertook the work was excommunicated." (LDS Bible Dictionary, 755) That is the reason why the members of the Jewish religious elite classed publicans with sinners-they were literally anathema among respectable Jews.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"If There Is No God Why Be Good?" Secular Morality Vs. Christian Morality and The Dangers of Moral Relativism

In this post I examine some of the faults and flaws inherent to atheism and moral relativism, and I also examine the real reasons why Christians elect to do what they do.  I wrote this post as a general response to many things that I have heard and seen concerning morality, moral relativism, and the respective immorality of atheism and Christianity as viewed by either side of the morality debate.  More particularly, I wrote my post in direct response to a selection from Richard Dawkin's book The God Delusion.  While I do attempt to refute some of his conclusions, I find that he raises several valid points which are worth considering by religious people, agnostics, and atheists alike.

I have deliberately avoided addressing the arguments of atheists in the past, as I do not consider it to be a productive use of my time, especially since I think that atheists and religious people should agree to disagree and get on with making the world a better place.  I chose to address this quote from Mr. Dawkins in this post in part because I think that he promotes some false assumptions that even some Christians may think that they believe, but I wrote it mainly because I believe his argument opens the door for the discussion of an important Christian principle.

"If there is no God why be good?  Posed like that, the question sounds positively ignoble.  When a religious person puts it to me this way (and many of them do), my immediate temptation is to issue the following challenge: "Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment?  that's not morality, that's just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap in your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base thought. As Einstein said, "if people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.'  Michael Shermer, in The Science of Good and Evil, calls it a debate stopper.  If you agree that, in the absence of God, you would 'commit robbery, rape, and murder', you reveal yourself as an immoral person, 'and we would be well advised to steer a wide course around you'.  If, on the other hand, you admit that you would continue to be a good person even when not under divine surveillance, you have fatally undermined your claim that God is necessary for us to be good.  I suspect that quite a lot of religious people do think religion is what motivates them to be good, especially if they belong to one of those faiths that systematically exploits personal guilt.

It seems to me to require quite a low self-regard to think that, should belief in God suddenly vanish from the world, we would all become callous and selfish hedonists, with no kindness, no charity, no generosity, nothing that would deserve the name of goodness."  (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 259)
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