Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Crisis of Conscience

I have never been ashamed of being a Christian. I have been open about it in most all situations; with other Christians and with non-Christians as well. I've always been accepting of the beliefs of others too. It is not my place to tell others they are wrong. When I am speaking to non-Christians about my faith, I tell them openly what I believe is true, but stop short of telling them they are wrong or that I follow absolute truth and that they are deceived in their beliefs.

I have had discussions with other Christians about doctrinal differences of opinion, but have always known that there will forever be questions of theology that cannot be easily answered, so I try to allow for the fact that two people can believe in the same God, be saved by Jesus, and still not agree on the finer points of the religion. I enjoy conversations that allow me to build a deeper relationship with God through the questions and arguments of others. I will not say to someone that their scriptural interpretations are wrong, but I will stand firm in my beliefs and offer them an alternative to their way of thinking.

Over the last couple of days, several times I have been confronted with things that have given me pause and have been nagging at my mind. These occurrences have me wondering if I am being prompted to take a firmer stand with regards to what I believe is truth. Jesus clearly states in John 14:5-7 that he is Truth and that the way to the Father is only through him. I believe with all my heart that there are not several paths to heaven. There may be many paths to understanding, or many paths that lead us to Christ, but there is only one Jesus and he is the only Savior of mankind. He was not simply a kind and gentle man who prophesied or a legend to learn from; he was the Messiah (meaning the promised one). God promised to send Jesus and he did.

So, when confronted with Christian friends who are contemplating the divinity of Jesus, I am caught between my desire to be accepting of all beliefs and my feelings of obligation to set the record straight. It is not my desire to offend anyone. Nor is it my desire to boast that I know/have something that others do not, but I can't say that it is okay to be a Christian and believe that Jesus may have been just a great man or a legend. I can't say that, because by definition, a Christian is one who believes in and follows Christ. Furthermore to believe in and follow Christ means that one must believe in his divinity and accept that he is the only way to salvation.

Salvation brings up another sticking point issue for me. How do I speak of my own belief that there is only one way to salvation and discount the fact that, in so believing, it leaves a number of my friends out? They are good people, some of the best people I know, actually, but they do not believe in Christianity. In fact, some of them see it as a narrow minded and hypocritical religion and in a lot of ways I would agree with their assessment. How can I reconcile my love for these people and my faith that says they are condemned? In my mind I cannot, but in my heart, I have to.

I know in my heart that God is a loving God and he could not have sent Jesus here to die on that cross only to save a few. John 3:17 says that Jesus did not come here to condemn, but yet to save the world - the world, not just some. He has to have a plan. I have no idea what that plan is exactly, but it stands to reason that the plan would include as many people as possible. I will just have to wait and see how all this plays out because I know there has to be a plan. In the end I can't worry about those details and the salvation of everyone else; it is myself that I must worry about.

I have to listen carefully to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and speak up when I am called upon. Even if it offends, I still have to speak up. God expects me to speak the truth as I believe it; doing less would be a sin. Consequently, I have to stand up and say, again, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to Father God except through him as their savior. You are not required to believe that, unless you are a Christian. If you call yourself a Christian you must have that belief; it is fundamental to the faith.

As I continue to grow in my faith, I continue to be challenged, not only by the world, but also by myself and my God. I am challenged to step out of the place where I feel comfortable into unknown areas. I have to rely on the belief that God would not challenge me beyond my endurance and he would not ask me to do something and then abandon me in the middle of the course. It is my duty to stay the course with my eye firmly focused on Him as he takes me by the hand to the finish line.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Death Penalty

I don't cry easily, but this documentary had me sobbing. It is about a Texas prison chaplain who was in charge of sitting with and counselling death row inmates in their last hours, once they were brought to the death house. He was with close to 100 Texas death row inmates as they drew their last breath. Now, in his retirement, he works with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He talks about one young man who was most likely innocent, but yet was put to death.

Prison officials in Texas are adamant that death comes quickly and is painless, but this chaplain, who has been present at a lot these executions, says that is ultimately not true all of the time. In the case of one particular man, Carlos De Luna, the chaplain says it took 11 minutes for the death to occur. In addition to the fact that it took 11 minutes instead of the standard 11 seconds, leaving this probably innocent man in limbo, the drugs that were used to execute him are drugs that have been discontinued in animal euthanasia because it was determined that the death process from the drug is too painful to be humane treatment of the animal.

I sincerely do not understand how we can call ourselves a civilized society while still allowing this atrocity, capital punishment, to happen. Where is the outrage? The argument that the death penalty is a deterrent for crime is categorically not true based on statistics that prove that in 1982, when the State of Texas executed it's first inmate since 1964, there were about 60 prisoners on death row, there are now well over 400. This is despite the fact that men (and women) have been killed right and left in the last 28 years. It also doesn't provide the closure that the victims' families crave. It does nothing except kill another person. In the end there are simply two dead people, the victim and the perpetrator (hopefully the right one), and no healing for the victim's family. No retaliatory killing will ever bring a loved one back from the dead.

Try as I might, I cannot make sense of the systematic murder of human beings. Not while there is one chance in a million of ever executing the wrong person. What if that one person in a million was someone that you loved? What agony would it be to live every day knowing that your brother, son, husband, etc. had been killed for no reason? How is that any different than a cold blooded gangland execution? Senseless murder is senseless murder no matter how you frame it up.

Let's also not forget about the men and women who are paid to carry out these executions. I cannot even imagine what it does to their psyche when they are paid, year after year to strap a person down to a table and not simply watch them die, but also to administer the drugs or flip the switch that ends their life. Yes, these prison employees have a choice about whether or not they want to work in the prison system in a death penalty state, but I am certain that nothing can prepare a person for that kind of job duty. It has to haunt them. How could it not?

I know there will always be those who feel the death penalty is justifiable. I won't argue with them because chances are I won't change their mind, but in the same way, no one will every convince me that the death penalty is humane or that a murder for a murder can be condoned in enlightened society. It just seems pointless, cruel and unusual punishment.