In a discussion centered on his book Making Sense of God, Dr. Timothy Keller explains why people walk away from God, why secularists want scientific rationale, and why this fails, as our search for meaning, happiness and identity goes unsatisfied without seeking God in the process. Dr. Keller also discusses how, as followers of Christ, we need to understand what we believe, why we believe it and why it's critical that we communicate that to nonbelievers in a winsome way. (Part 2 of 2)
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Dr. Tim Keller: Christianity offers a meaning in life that suffering can’t take away from you, a satisfaction that’s not based on circumstances, that’s therefore kind of abiding,a freedom that doesn’t undermine love, an identity that’s absolutely stable and gracious and empowering, a hope that can face anything.
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John Fuller: Dr. Tim Keller is with us again today on “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time we had a great conversation with Dr. Keller about a variety of things. If you missed that program, get the download. Call us here at Focus on the Family. It will be worth your time to listen. Have a cup of tea or coffee with your spouse and really get into some of these meaty topics that we’re talking about. We’re taping in New York again today, so there’s gonna be some background noise probably.
Jim: We have an elevator nearby (Chuckling), so you may hear that, but it is wonderful and I am looking forward to it. You know, in the Bible in 1 John 5:20, it says, “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true and we are in Him, who is true, in His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” That’s a powerful statement and that’s what we’re discussing yesterday and today.
John: Yeah, the matters of why you should believe and Dr. Keller’s book is called Making Sense of God, those are the frameworks for the conversation continuing today. And as you said, Jim, we can offer a CD or instant download of both parts of this discussion at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And Dr. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church here in New York City. He’s written a number of books and this newest one, as I said, is called Making Sense of God.
Jim: Dr. Keller, welcome back to the program.
Tim: I’m glad to be here again.
Jim: The discussion last time was so good and we touched on the parenting aspect of that. But I think a lot of the listeners, this is where we’re all living. I mean, John has six kids and some at home and some on their way. And I’ve got the two teenage boys and we represent a lot of the folks listening.
So, when you’re looking at parenting and you’re talking about how you yearn in your heart to make sure your kids have an abiding faith, that when you’re older, they’re walking with the Lord and yet, you see research like from Barna talking about 70 percent of young adults, 20-, 21-year-olds who walk away from their childhood faith. A, what is happening in that dynamic with that young person? Why are they walking away? And then, B, many do come back over the next couple of decades.
Jim: So, is that a time for a parent to you know, ask God, why? What’s happening? Why has my son or daughter walked away? Talk about all those dynamics.
Tim: Well, I mean, I’ll just start with one. You might want to go back to others, ‘cause that was kind of a compound question.
Jim: It was; it was. I have the habit of doing that.
Tim: I would say, what I usually try to say to be of some comfort is, like I think it’s true, I usually say to a parent, have you not realized, do you not see--most of them are older obviously--how much you have been affected by your parents? As you get older, you’re constantly saying, “Boy, that’s the way my father or that’s the way my mother was.”
Jim: Not a good parenting tip to say to your wife, “That’s just like your mom.”
Tim: Yeah, well (Laughter) yeah, but you know, it’s inevitable that you start to see, I really was pretty affected by my parents. There’s a kind of hubris that when you’re young you say, somehow you know, “Well, I’m not gonna be like my parents. I’m gonna be very, very different.” As time goes on, they really lose a lot of influence.
And I actually have seen over the years a fair number of people come back to faith. I don’t know whether they got converted or they just relapsed and came back to the faith. It’s hard to know and they don’t know either. But I do see them coming back, because if the family was a fairly functional family and the parents were loving and they had faith, it definitely stays with the young adult as the years go by. It’s a live option for them in a way that it might not be for somebody else. So, I actually do see a fair number of people gravitate back or sort of come along back.
Jim: Well, it’s almost where the Scripture says, you know, train your child in this way and when he is old, he won’t depart from it.
Tim: It does have an impact.
Jim: It does.
Tim: Yeah, like I said, but maybe the first part of the question is, I do think a lot of times kids leave for social reasons. That is, either they um the relationship with the parents wasn’t good and I do think there’s plenty of studies that say, having a good relationship with your kid is more important for them embracing the faith than all the programs.
Tim: So, if they respect you and that’s not easy, because kids need to find fault with their parents, I think, growing up. It seems like there’s a need there. They want to criticize. But if they actually respect you and see the role that faith plays in your life, they don’t see a lot of hypocrisy and they’re gonna find it. If there’s any hypocrisy in your life, inconsistency (Laughter), teenagers are going to find it.
Tim: They’re gonna create it sometimes, but sometimes they see it when it’s not there. But actually, if it’s there, they’re gonna find it. And if you’re able essentially to be a person of integrity, and have a good relationship with them, then that goes a long way toward them embracing it. The reason they walk very often is another set of friends that they really want to be part of. And they’re skeptical of faith.
Jim: And they’re finding identity in that group.
Tim: And they’re finding identity in that group, so an awful lot of it is looking back, people say, well, I got convinced out of the faith. But usually there’s [sic] a lot of social reasons.
Jim: Let me ask you this and you can put it in the “every” group, not just children or adult children, but what is deep within us, that yearning to discover the meaning of life? Is that a God-thing? Do you think that is put in our spiritual DNA?
Tim: Yes, I mean, obviously as a Christian, that’s how I see it. But there [are] plenty of non-believers who also would say, no one can live without meaning. I mean, there’s just tons of books out there saying, you’ve gotta have meaning in life.
You know, Viktor Frankl, who was in the death camps during World War II and survived, he was Jewish and he was put in the death camps, he wrote a very famous book called Man’s Search for Meaning, which essentially said this, that he was looking at the people who actually survived the death camps. I don’t mean physically survived them, but the people who didn’t just curl up and die just out of hopelessness or go evil. I mean, he said he saw a lot of people in death camps just basically do what they could in order to survive.
Tim: But he says, the ones that seemed to get through it with integrity were people whose meaning in life couldn’t be taken away from them. If your meaning in life was making a lot of money and then you get in the death camp, you’re just like everybody else.
In fact, most things that we put our meaning in are things in this world.
Jim: Right, material things.
Tim: Right and so, the death camp just takes that away.
Tim: And he admitted [that] the few people who were able to keep moving had either some kind of religious or quasi-religious meaning in life [survived]. Like one man, I’m not sure this is particularly the right Christian answer, one man at the death camp said, “My wife, who’s dead, is looking down on me from heaven and I don’t want to disappoint her.”
Now you know, Christians would say, well, that’s really probably not a sufficient meaning in life, not from a Christian point of view. And yet, it was something that the death camp couldn’t take away from him.
Tim: And so, basically, I think what I learned from Viktor Frankl was that secular worldview forces you to find your meaning in life in material things, things in this life. But then suffering takes it away and you are just absolutely destroyed.
So, one of the great advantages of faith in general and Christianity in particular is, it gives you a meaning in life that suffering actually enhances, because it can drive you more into God’s love. It pushes you more into God’s love.
Jim: Well, in that spirit of honesty, let me not wanting to step on toes, but ask each one of us—listeners, you’re included--this question and that is, you know, what if I don’t have meaning or happiness and I’m claiming to be a Christian? What’s the disconnect? So, I’m full of angst. I’m not at peace, but I do go to church on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday is kind of ugly.
Tim: Yeah, that’ll preach. That is toe-stopping. (Laughter)
Jim: It is, but it should be challenging, because we should be improving. That’s what the Lord wrote and said. That’s what Paul wrote and said.
Tim: Well, I think what you’re getting at is, it’s one thing to say my meaning in life is God. It’s another thing to actually have the existentially functionally, your heart really finds its meaning in God. I actually think that most Christians, in fact, all Christians have some disconnect. If we perfectly found our meaning
Jim: So, one, be at peace with the fact that you won’t be perfect.
Jim: (Laughing) And two, how do you become better if you’re feeling you’re in that hole that, you know what? I don’t feel the peace of God. I don’t feel joy. I’m not joyful.
Tim: Well, as a pastor, I can tell you how it usually happens, how people actually do grow in their resting in Christ more. It usually happens through suffering. So, generally what happens is, for Christians, we say God is our meaning in life, but other things are meaning in life. something comes along in life that hurts us, it drives us more into God and we actually grow more and more stable, because He becomes our real still point in the turning world. So, it’s a painful path, but that’s the way almost all of us grow more into God.
Jim: Then why do we rebuke suffering in the Christian community the way that we do? We run from it. Is that a Western thing for us? Is it an American thing?
Jim: I know we have Canadian listeners.
Tim: I think so. By the way, you can fall off the horse on the other side. There is almost an embrace of suffering and it makes me feel noble because I’m suffering.
Tim: But that’s generally not the American side of the horse that we fall off of.
Jim: In Western Civilization.
Jim: That’s not what we do.
Tim: We’re way more traumatized.
Jim: It’s what we avoid.
Tim: Yeah, yeah and most doctors I know and I have known a couple, doctors who have worked both in India or China or somewhere like that and in the West, say that westerners are far, far more traumatized by, you know, the same kind of suffering. People will just be absolutely traumatized by it. Other parts of the world, they take it much more in stride.
Jim: So, it’s one of our weaknesses.
Tim: It is definitely a weakness, but it’s partly because the secularism makes us functionally put more of our meaning in life into material things.
Jim: So, we talked about the joyless Christian. Let’s talk about the happy unbeliever. (Laughter)
Jim: Because I know people that have done well in their life. They don’t know the Lord. They tend to operate in biblical principles. That’s what I find very interesting, that they apply biblical principles without even knowing necessarily that they are.
Tim: Well, you mean, they’re savvy enough to realize a lot of those principles are just more wise.
Tim: There’s been a lot of discussion about the fact that more well-educated people are actually are more likely to marry and stay married and even though they’re very relativistic in their moral values.
Tim: But they actually have found out that marriages does work and staying together works and so, the divorce rate is lower amongst—
Jim: More high-educated.
Tim: --more highly-educated people, even though they’re more relativistic. So, that’s exactly what you mean and that is, they’ve realized that they don’t think of it as biblical principles. They just realize these work well.
Jim: Right and also, the fact that it’s probably one of the more common things we say. It’s so hard to witness to talk about Christ to someone who has a good life and they’re good people.
Tim: Right, yes.
Jim: They have good character.
Tim: And what I suggest is, that you just stay in a good relationship with them and wait for an opportunity, because honestly, the default mode even hardest, is to take complete credit for anything going well in your life. Or when bad things happen, why did God allow that to happen? When good things happen, well, that’s because I planned well. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)
Tim: I worked hard.
Jim: He gets no credit.
Tim: He gets no credit. I mean, and that’s part of the sinful human heart, that is, we screen out anything that God has done for us and we take credit for it. And that means that it’s very, very difficult. By the way, you do know the Bible says one of the worst things God can do is give you want you want.
[In] Romans 1 [it] actually says that the greatest judgment is to give people what they want. And if people actually get the life they’re looking for, there’s no better way to become hard and proud and self-righteous and out of touch with the reality that you need God.
Jim: Yeah and really, in the simplicity of it, you’re describing marriage and parenting. I mean, God is not that complex when it comes to those relationships. Marriage is about learning to be selfless. Parenting is about humility. I mean, in everything around us, He’s trying to teach us lessons about His character, isn’t He?
Tim: Yes, absolutely.
John: And our guest today on “Focus on the Family” is Dr. Tim Keller. We’re talking with him about his book, Making Sense of God. And we have copies of that here at Focus on the Family. We also have CDs or downloads of this two-part conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor call and we’d be happy to tell you more. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Tim, let me ask you this. The kind of mantra in the culture is, why can’t I be free to live the way I want to live? That’s especially true in the U.S. I don’t know if our Canadian listeners have that same kind of mantra, but in the U.S., don’t tread on me is one of our state mottos, right? There seems to be this deeply engrained idea that the worst offense is to tell me about your morality. We’ll debate science, but if you want to tell me about spiritual things, that’s intolerant of you.
Jim: How do you manage that environment? How do you get someone off the ledge where you can’t even talk to them to where you’re down, hopefully, in the square where we can have a discussion about spiritual things?
Tim: Oh, boy, everybody’s different, so when I’m actually in the moment, it always goes in a different way. If somebody says, it’s wrong for you to be telling me how to live my life, one of the first response you could do would be to say, “That’s interesting. You used the word ‘wrong’ and you’re calling me wrong right now. (Laughter) So, you’re telling me that I ought not to be doing something and I should be doing things the way you think I should be doing. Would you tell me how do you decide right and wrong? Because you’re using a standard of right and wrong. You’re using it on me right now.”
And they will usually be a little bit perplexed at that, because they thought they were saying to you, you shouldn’t be using standards of right and wrong on people, except they’re using when it’s called “expressive individualism.” It’s an approach to life and it’s an approach to society that they have adopted. It’s not self-evident to all people that it’s right. It’s not empirically provable. And therefore, it’s a moral value.
And one of the biggest problems that secular people have is, they have a lot of strong moral values they’ve got no basis for them. And when I say they have no basis for them, I don’t mean they may not have strong feelings inside. Yeah, but they have no basis for telling anybody else why they should be living this or that way.
Generally, in the past, you always had some moral source outside the self that you could appeal to. And you could say, you ought not to do that because that’s the way Americans are or that’s what the Bible says or something like that.
But today since we say, nope, everybody decides what’s right or wrong for them and no one has the right to tell anybody else, you know, how to live. The question is, you’re doing right now the thing you just said I’m not allowed to do. And you have a moral vision, which if you’re going to push this on me, you need to give me some reason.
As a Christian, I can say I believe there’s a God. I believe He’s spoken in the Bible whether you admitted it or not, I think there really are moral norms in the universe. And that’s the reason why I believe in human rights. That’s why I believe that I should be kind to my neighbor and that sort of thing. So I have a basis for actually appealing to you.
Tim: You actually don’t have anything outside and yet, you’re making all kinds of moral judgments. Why? How? See, that’s the direction I go. Now that’s a bit adversarial.
Tim: Again, I think you need to know people before you have these conversations.
Jim: Right and in the moment and I get that and you don’t apply the same approach every time.
Jim: I hear that clearly. We touched on suffering last time.
Jim: In fact, we ended there and if you missed that program, (Chuckling) I would get it, ‘cause it was good. How is Christianity the only religion that makes sense out of suffering?
Tim: Well, now actually I wouldn’t go that far.
Tim: I would say, I’m gonna make a case where I think Christianity makes the most sense of suffering.
Jim: Okay, that’s a fair way to say it.
Tim: I mean, by the way, here’s Hinduism and Karma. You realize sometimes I actually almost envied their answer, but it’s too neat. Basically, any suffering that’s happening to you, you deserve because [it’s from] the previous life.
Jim: From the previous life.
Tim: So, you never have cause for griping, never, ever, ever. And so, your suffering always makes sense in terms of previous life. And now if you want to have a better life the next reincarnation, the next incarnation, you oughta just, you know, take it.
And I said, “Boy, that’s so neat.” Now I actually do think that, that’s in some ways heartless, because it’s really saying to anybody (Chuckling) who’s suffering, you know, suck it up and stop your blubbering, because you deserved it.
Jim: Yeah, you did something in the previous life.
Tim: And yet, rationally it’s a perfect answer.
Tim: It’s just, I think, unsatisfying. No, Christianity is the only religion that says God suffered, that the God who loves you, loves you so much that He was able to come into this world, was willing to come into this world and suffer Himself, so that someday He could end all evil and suffering without destroying you.
Tim: See, that means that even though that doesn’t explain why He hasn’t ended things yet, in other words, why hasn’t He just brought it all [to an end], we don’t know that and that’s the mystery.
Tim: But we do know He’s not allowing suffering to continue just because He’s just doesn’t care or He’s remote or He’s distant.
Jim: Or He enjoys it.
Tim: Or He enjoys it, because otherwise, why in the world would He have come down to earth and suffered Himself and the book of Hebrews says, whenever you’re suffering, you can go to the one God who actually knows what you’ve been through.
So, when I go to see somebody ‘cause I’ve suffered, I want to talk to somebody who’s been through what I’ve been through. Everybody feels that way.
Tim: So, in that sense, Christianity makes, I think, the most senses, because it says, God’s dealing with suffering. He’s giving you resources for right now. He has been through it Himself. That makes to me, both emotional and rational sense. The Karma does make rational sense, but it’s very unsatisfying emotionally. Whereas I think Christianity makes the most sense of suffering in every aspect.
Jim: At the end here, one of the arguments can be, I’ll let you talk to me about God, but don’t use the Bible as your source.
Jim: How do we relate to the natural world as Christians and use certainly Scripture needs to be used. I would never say, you can’t tie my hands like that. But how do we use the world around us to also encourage people that God is who He said He is?
Tim: Well, if you read the Making Sense of God book, I do bring the Bible in at the end of a chapter. In the first part of the chapter, what you really want to do is, you want to say, here’s something. You say to a non-believer, here’s something we both see. We both see the need for this. Or we both agree that this is good.
So, you always start with something you both agree on. Then you say, but now if you believe this, don’t you see there’s a problem here with your own [reasoning]? Like I did it a minute ago when we were talking about morality. You know, I also agree, for example, that you should take care of the poor. You know, that’s great. I’m glad you’re doing that.
But how would you say to somebody else they oughta do it when you say morality’s completely, you know subjective? It’s only something that you create inside. How will we ever have a program for justice if morality’s something you make up?
So, you start with something good and then you move to something that is a problem that within their own [sphere]. By the way, that’s a problem on their own terms, not on your terms, but it’s a problem within their own way of living and thinking.
ThenI can bring the Bible in to say, this is what would resolve that and then I bring in the Bible. Now I have to bring in the Bible, because ultimately, it’s where we find out about Jesus (Chuckling) and about everything.
Jim: Ultimately you have to.
Tim: But I think I’m responding to your question by saying, you don’t critique somebody’s beliefs from some framework outside of their own framework; that’s unfair. It’s unfair to say, you’re wrong because you don’t have my beliefs. That won’t get very far.
Tim: They’ll say, we’ll okay; I know I don’t have your beliefs. But we[‘re] just yelling at each other. You go inside and you say, on the basis of what you do believe which I like, why don’t you believe this? So, you try to critique people on the basis of their own framework, their own way of thinking. And when they see and if they see it’s a problem, then you could say, “Well, you know, Christianity’s got a resource for that.” Or Christianity’s got an answer for that.
And so, that is what Christians don’t seem to do. In fact, actually neither do non-Christians. Go to the Internet. Nobody ever says, here’s why you’re wrong within your own framework on your own terms. They always say, you’re wrong because you’re not like me and that, of course, gets us nowhere.
Jim: We have spent a couple of great days together and this last question is the right way to end. Why should I believe in Jesus?
Tim: The answer answers itself, if you would be willing to take a long look at Him. That’s all. I mean, you might want to say, why should you enjoy Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons?” Why should you enjoy Mozart’s, you know, “Symphony 40?” The answer is, listen to it and when you find something beautiful, it’s an end in itself. You don’t say, well, here’s [sic] all the reasons why it’s beautiful. You either find it beautiful or you don’t.
In the end, if you really take a look at Jesus, you look at His words, you look at His deeds, you ponder them, you look at Him in a sense, walking through the pages of the gospels, you will be compelled, I think. Then you start to ask yourself, well, how do I know it’s true? But to start with, you’ve gotta see the beauty of Jesus. You gotta me compelled and that’ll move you toward asking the more rational questions about whether it’s true.
Jim: And what I love about that is, the challenge for each one of us as believers, how beautiful is our Lord being expressed through us to a world that doesn’t know Him?
Tim: Yeah. I have to say, here’s the way. The Bible perfectly shows you the beauty of Jesus Christ, but the Bible also says that we’re supposed to at least, imperfectly show people the beauty of Jesus Christ.
Jim: Tim, it’s been great to have you with us.
Tim: I’m so sorry to have to leave you, but (Laughter) it’s been great to be with you, too.
Jim: Thank you.
John: Well, you can find out more about a CD or a download of our conversation with Dr. Keller and his book, Making Sense of God when you call us here. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or online, we’re at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: And I believe so much in this message, the book by Tim Keller, Making Sense of God, that you know, if you can’t afford it, whatever you need to do, just give us a call, a gift of any amount, we will say thank you by sending you a copy of Dr. Keller’s book. And I know it will help you. It’ll certainly challenge where you’re at as a believer. It’ll challenge you as a non-believer obviously and I think it’s worth and I’m hoping the financial partners think it’s worth making that available again for a gift of any amount. And we will say thank you by sending the book along.
John: Well, thanks for listening. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, I’m John Fuller, hoping you’ll join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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