Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Should Christians expect to know God’s will by means of feelings and intuitions?

There are two views on the topic of decision making and the will of God. The view you learn in the church is called “the traditional view”. I call this view the feelings/intuition view. This view that elevates feelings / intuitions to the level of divine communications from God. The more practical view is called “the wisdom view”. I call this view the battlefield commander view. I am a proponent of the wisdom / commander view.

Let’s learn about the two different views:

[The traditional view is] that God has a plan for our lives and that we receive guidance through methods such as “open and closed doors”, “feeling led” and “the still, small, voice”.

[The wisdom view] holds that God does not have an “individual will” for our lives, but rather that all of God’s will can be summed up within two categories, God’s sovereign will and God’s moral will. Basically God’s sovereign will is all the things that god decrees will happen. It is hidden (mostly) from us, and does not play an active part in our decision, although some of it is revealed in the bible. God’s moral will is the part that we must concern ourselves with in making decisions. It is fully revealed in the bible and our decisions must be made within it. We may use wisdom in applying god’s moral will to our lives, or we may be in an area not covered by god’s moral will. We must finally submit in advance to God’s sovereign will, being prepared for him to sovereignty intervene and redirect us through whatever means he wills (see James).

Here’s a bit more from someone else:

Regarding the view that God has a personal will for us individually that we have to discern and find, J.I. Packer says, “The first thing to say is that the idea of guidance is actually a novelty among orthodox evangelicals. It does not go back farther than the last century. Second, it has led people to so much foolish action on the one hand, and so much foolish inaction on the other, as well as puzzlement and heartbreak when the ‘hotline’ to God seems to go silent, that it has to be discredited. Third, it must be said that Scripture gives us no more warrant constantly to expect personal ‘hotline,’ ‘voice-from-the-control-tower’ guidance than to expect new authoritative revelations to come our way for the guidance of the whole church.” (Hot Tub Religion, page 118).

As to the point of the question, how do I make decisions, I attempt to make decisions in light of three factors: God’s moral will, wisdom, and my personal desires. If something is opposed to God’s moral will, then I should obviously flee from it. If it’s not opposed, then I consider the wisdom of the choices. For example, would it be wise for me to marry a woman who loves Jesus, though we have nothing else in common? Probably not. If the options pass the criteria of wisdom, then I’m free to choose how I wish. If I’m offered two jobs, and both are honoring to God, and both would be wise to take, then I’m free to choose the job I would like more. I don’t need to put out a fleece or await some other confirmation from God. If it’s moral and wise, then the only question as to whether or not it will honor Him is my attitude.

Some examples of this model used in the Bible (in theological circles referred to as the Wisdom Model) are in Paul’s planning of a mission to Rome in Romans 1:9-15, 15:22-24, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29), and Paul’s instructions for legal disputes (1 Cor 6:3-6).

The best book on this topic is Garry Friesen’s “Decision Making and the Will of God”. In it, you’ll find a full assessment about what the Bible teaches on this topic.

When I am trying to decide what will be effective, I look at Christian scholars, at their papers, books, and public debates. That’s effectiveness because it is addressed to a non-Christian audience in public with the force of reason and evidence. It is persuasion and it is addressed to rational minds. I want to change the minds of people who have a large influence on society on the whole. I don’t think that offering Christianity as life-enhancement or self-help is really “having an influence”. I think that offering Christianity as truth, with support, is “having an influence”.

So let me be clear about what I believe:

  • I don’t think that God normally talks to people directly
  • I don’t believe that life is an Easter egg hunt, filled with clues accessible only to emotion and intuition
  • I don’t believe that God expects people to discover a specific will for their lives using non-rational means
  • I think that people make up their own life plan that is consistent with the Bible
  • The goal of the life plan is to be effective, and there are no other considerations
  • I think that there are many good things a person can do, but that some are more effective than others
  • I think that with respect to the goal of serving God effectively, my happiness is expendable
  • I don’t think that the purpose of doing something for the Lord is to feel good about ourselves
  • I don’t think that people should choose ineffective things to do just because they like them
  • I don’t think that people should choose ineffective things to do just because they are good at them
  • I think people should do hard things that they don’t like – as long as it’s more effective
  • I don’t think that any course of action is as effective as any other – some plans accomplish more
  • I don’t think that life is totally unpredictable and irrational and subjective
  • I think that we can know what is or is not effective by studying and learning about the world
  • I think life is like a battlefield that must be surveyed, understood and acted upon deliberately

I think that every person is the commanding officer of his or her own life, and each person must study everything they can, make a plan that is consistent with the Bible’s moral prescriptions, execute the plan and achieve whatever they can achieve for the Lord. And the goal is not comfort or happy feelings, but real achievements. Not for the purpose of being saved, of course, because salvation is a free gift of God because of what Jesus did on the cross. Life is more like a battle than a vacation resort or a buffet or a shopping center. God’s will for us is not have happy feelings, but that we freely choose to sacrifice ourselves out of obedience and service to him. In my case, that means studying hard things, making money, saving money, and giving money away to good scholars, sponsoring good events and being persuasive to non-Christians. None of this necessarily makes me happy, but it does work to bring glory to God. I cried when I had to learn calculus, because it was so hard. But who cares? The main thing is that I have money now to sponsor Christian speakers or to give books to Christians to read, and God is happy with that.

I think that it is very important to realize that God is not impressed by our not being smart and not being effective. If we have the ability to be smart, then we should be smart, whether it makes us happy or not. If we have the ability to make money, then we should make money, whether it makes us happy or not. If we have the ability have a great influence, then we should have a great influence, whether it makes us happy or not. There will be plenty of time for happiness after we’re dead. But this life is a time of serving, and we should try to serve effectively, whether it makes us happy or not. With respect to God’s purposes in the world, my happiness is expendable.

Whenever someone questions my goals and plans by saying that I am asserting my will over God’s will, the first question I want to ask that person is this: “how do you know what God’s will is?” and “what is your basis for thinking that my plan to serve will not be effective?”. I want to know if I have misunderstood something about the way the world is, or miscalculated in some way. I want someone to look at my calculations and show where they are going to produce a less optimal result for the Lord. That’s the only concern I have – effectiveness for the Lord. Usually what I have found is that the other person wants to make the purpose of life their own happiness, and it makes them happier to choose what to do moment by moment, without having to study anything or make plans. It’s not that they have better goals (for God) or better plans (for God). It’s that they want their goals to be above God, and they don’t want to make plans other than to do whatever makes them happy.

This article by Greg Koukl may be helpful.

And I also found this summary of the Friesen book useful:

In nine parts.

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Study: fathers are important for the development of children’s brains

Fathers and children

Fathers and children

The study was reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Dr. Braun’s group found that at 21 days, the fatherless animals had less dense dendritic spines compared to animals raised by both parents, though they “caught up” by day 90. However, the length of some types of dendrites was significantly shorter in some parts of the brain, even in adulthood, in fatherless animals.

“It just shows that parents are leaving footprints on the brain of their kids,” says Dr. Braun, 54 years old.

The neuronal differences were observed in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is related to emotional responses and fear, and the orbitofrontal cortex, or OFC, the brain’s decision-making center.

[…]The balance between these two brain parts is critical to normal emotional and cognitive functioning, according to Dr. Braun. If the OFC isn’t active, the amygdala “goes crazy, like a horse without a rider,” she says. In the case of the fatherless pups, there were fewer dendritic spines in the OFC, while the dendrite trees in the amygdala grew more and longer branches.

A preliminary analysis of the degus’ behavior showed that fatherless animals seemed to have a lack of impulse control, Dr. Braun says. And, when they played with siblings, they engaged in more play-fighting or aggressive behavior.

In a separate study in Dr. Braun’s lab conducted by post-doctoral researcher Joerg Bock, degu pups were removed from their caregivers for one hour a day. Just this small amount of stress leads the pups to exhibit more hyperactive behaviors and less focused attention, compared to those who aren’t separated, Dr. Braun says. They also exhibit changes in their brain.

The basic wiring between the brain regions in the degus is the same as in humans, and the nerve cells are identical in their function. “So on that level we can assume that what happens in the animal’s brain when it’s raised in an impoverished environment … should be very similar to what happens in our children’s brain,” Dr. Braun says.

Read the whole thing.

I think this is important because we hear so much today that marriage can be redefined, that having one of each parent doesn’t matter, that live-in boyfriends and stepfathers have the same motivation to care for a woman’s children as the biological father does. We don’t want to make judgments, even if setting boundaries is better for children. A child’s well-being is enormously affected by the woman’s choice of biological father.  You can’t have it both ways – either we are going to judge women who choose men who don’t have the desire to commit to marriage, and do the father role, OR we are going to take things away from children by encouraging women to choose men based on “feelings” instead of abilities. Lowering moral standards and removing moral obligations hurts children. It sounds so nice when we tell women, “you can do whatever you feel like, and just forget about responsibilities, expectations and obligations”, but letting women be guided by their feelings harms children. My stock broker makes me feel uncomfortable because he knows more than I do, and does not respect my opinion. But I pay him to make investment decisions for me. I mustn’t let my pride get in the way of letting him do his job – a job he is more qualified than I am to do. Let him do his job.

Here’s a related question: Are biological fathers or unrelated men more dangerous for children?

This article from the Weekly Standard answers the question.

Excerpt:

A March 1996 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics contains some interesting findings that indicate just how widespread the problem may be. In a nationally representative survey of state prisoners jailed for assaults against or murders of children, fully one-half of respondents reported the victim was a friend, acquaintance, or relative other than offspring. (All but 3 percent of those who committed violent crimes against children were men.) A close relationship between victim and victimizer is also suggested by the fact that three-quarters of all the crimes occurred in either the perpetrator’s home or the victim’s.

A 1994 paper published in the Journal of Comparative Family Studies looked at 32,000 documented cases of child abuse. Of the victims, only 28 percent lived with both biological parents (far fewer than the 68 percent of all children who live with both parents); 44 percent lived with their mother only (as do 25 percent of all children); and 18 percent lived with their mother and an unrelated adult (double the 9 percent of all children who live with their mother and an unrelated adult).

These findings mirror a 1993 British study by the Family Education Trust, which meticulously explored the relationship between family structure and child abuse. Using data on documented cases of abuse in Britain between 1982 and 1988, the report found a high correlation between child abuse and the marital status of the parents.

Specifically, the British study found that the incidence of abuse was an astounding 33 times higher in homes where the mother was cohabiting with an unrelated boyfriend than in stable nuclear families. Even when the boyfriend was the children’s biological father, the chances of abuse were twice as high.

These findings are consonant with those published a year earlier by Leslie Margolin of the University of Iowa in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect. Prof. Margolin found that boyfriends were 27 times more likely than natural parents to abuse a child. The next-riskiest group, siblings, were only twice as likely as parents to abuse a child.

More recently, a report by Dr. Michael Stiffman presented at the latest meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in October, studied the 175 Missouri children under the age of 5 who were murdered between 1992 and 1994. It found that the risk of a child’s dying at the hands of an adult living in the child’s own household was eight times higher if the adult was biologically unrelated.

The Heritage Foundation’s Patrick Fagan discovered that the number of child-abuse cases appeared to rise in the 1980s along with the general societal acceptance of cohabitation before, or instead of, marriage. That runs counter to the radical-feminist view, which holds that marriage is an oppressive male institution of which violence is an integral feature. If that were true, then child abuse and domestic violence should have decreased along with the rise in cohabitation.

Heritage also found that in the case of very poor children (those in households earning less than $ 15,000 per year), 75 percent lived in a household where the biological father was absent. And 50 percent of adults with less than a high-school education lived in cohabitation arrangements. “This mix — poverty, lack of education, children, and cohabitation — is an incubator for violence,” Fagan says.

Why, then, do we ignore the problem? Fagan has a theory: “It is extremely politically incorrect to suggest that living together might not be the best living arrangement.”

The moral of the story is that it is a lot safer for children if we promote marriage as a way of attaching mothers and fathers to their children. Fathers who have a biological connection to children are a lot less likely to harm them. We should probably be teaching women to choose men who have a certain tenderness towards people they mentor or nurture, as well. These things are not free, you have to persuade women to value the male tendency to want to lead / guide / mentor. A lot of social problems like child poverty, promiscuity and violence cannot be solved by replacing a father with a check from the government. We need to support fathers by empowering them in their traditional roles. Let the men lead. Swallow your feminist instincts, and prefer men who take seriously their role of leading others upward.

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Which types of relationships have the highest rates of divorce?

A quiz for you, from Ruth Blog.

Question:

Same sex couples have had the legal right to form domestic partnerships in several European countries.  Denmark was the first to introduce registered partnerships, in 1989. Norway was second, in 1993, then Sweden in 1995. Data from 2 of these landmark countries, Norway and Sweden, as well as California,  have been studied enough to answer this question:

What types of unions have the highest rates of divorce?

  • Opposite sex married couples: men and women are so different, it is a wonder they ever stay married.
  • Male unions: men are naturally less committed, and less monogamous, so their partnerships don’t endure.
  • Female unions: women get so emotionally distraught over things. A union of two women, without any male counter-balancing their roller-coaster, is very unstable.

Hint: the answer is the same in all three countries!

And here’s the answer:

Female unions seem to have the highest divorce rates, followed by male unions, followed by opposite sex unions.

“For Sweden, the divorce risk for partnerships of men is 50% higher than the risk for heterosexual marriages, and that the divorce risk for female partnerships is nearly double that for men.”

“For Norway, divorce risks are 77% higher in lesbian partnerships than in those of gay men.”  (The Norwegian data did not include a comparison with opposite sex couples.)

In California, the data is collected a little differently. The study looks at couples who describe themselves as partners, whether same sex or opposite sex. The study asks the question, how likely is it that these couples live in the same household five years later. Male couples were only 30% as likely, while female couples were less that 25% as likely, as heterosexual married couples, to be residing in the same household for five years.

The only contradictory data I have found to this pattern is from the Netherlands. In the Dutch data, same sex couples have a 3.15 times greater dissolution rate than opposite sex cohabiting couples, and a 3.15 x 3.66 or 11.5 times greater dissolution rate than opposite married couples. But, female couples seem to be more stable than male couples.

And not all married heterosexual couples are equally stable.

Consider this USA Today article from 2011 about that.

Excerpt:

It’s been proclaimed from pulpits and blogs for years — Christians divorce as much as everyone else in America.

But some scholars and family activists are questioning the oft-cited statistics, saying Christians who attend church regularly are more likely to remain wed.

“It’s a useful myth,” said Bradley Wright, a University of Connecticut sociologist who recently wrote “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told.”

“Because if a pastor wants to preach about how Christians should take their marriages more seriously, he or she can trot out this statistic to get them to listen to him or her.”

The various findings on religion and divorce hinge on what kind of Christians are being discussed.

Wright combed through the General Social Survey, a vast demographic study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and found that Christians, like adherents of other religions, have a divorce rate of about 42%. The rate among religiously unaffiliated Americans is 50%.

When Wright examined the statistics on evangelicals, he found worship attendance has a big influence on the numbers. Six in 10 evangelicals who never attend had been divorced or separated, compared to just 38% of weekly attendees.

[…]Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agrees there’s been some confusion.

“You do hear, both in Christian and non-Christian circles, that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to divorce and that is not true if you are focusing on Christians who are regular church attendees,” he said.

Wilcox’s analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households has found that Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.

Nominal conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were 20% more likely to divorce than the religiously unaffiliated.

“There’s something about being a nominal ‘Christian’ that is linked to a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life,” Wilcox said.

Here’s a quote from an Oklahoma State University study that confirms the Wright and Wilcox conclusions:

History of Divorce and Religious Involvement

Those who say they are more religious are less likely, not more, to have already experienced divorce. Likewise, those who report more frequent attendance at religious services were significantly less likely to have been divorced. This pattern of findings held using various analytic techniques that test which variables differentiate persons who have been divorced from persons who have not been divorced, while controlling for other variables that might affect the interpretation of the data, such as age, age of first marriage, income, and gender. When both the global rating of religiousness and the item assessing fiequency of attendance at religious services are entered into the same analysis, the attendance item remains significantly associated with divorce history but the global religiousness item does not. This suggests that a key aspect of how religious faith affects marital relationships may be through involvement with a community of faith.

Basically, the more your worldview grounds self-sacrifice over self-centeredness, the more stable it’s going to be.

Related posts

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Jennifer Roback Morse lectures on sex and sexuality at Harvard University

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dr. Morse delivers a talk based on her book “Smart Sex” at Harvard University.

The MP3 file is here. (21 Mb)

Topics:

  • the hook-up culture and its effects on men and women
  • cohabitation and its effect on marriage stability
  • balancing marriage, family and career
  • single motherhood by choice and IVF
  • donor-conceived children
  • modern sex: a sterile, recreation activity
  • the real purposes of sex: procreation and spousal unity
  • the hormone oxytocin: when it is secreted and what it does
  • the hormone vassopressin: when it is secreted and what it does
  • the sexual revolution and the commoditization of sex
  • the consumer view of sex vs the organic view of sex
  • fatherlessness and multi-partner fertility
  • how the “sex-without-relationship” view harms children

52 minutes of lecture, 33 minutes of Q&A from the Harvard students. The Q&A is worth listening to – the first question is from a gay student, and Dr. Morse pulls a William Lane Craig to defeat her objection. It was awesome! I never get tired of listening to her talk, and especially on the topics of marriage and family.

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Should you marry someone who promises you that “there will be no divorce”?

I was having a chat with a friend of mine who just got out of a serious relationship and I was trying to pick his brain to find out everything about the woman he was intending to marry so I could see why things went wrong. He told me that she had told him over and over that “there would be no divorce” and that he found that very convincing, despite very obvious warning signs in the area of respect (which I wrote about yesterday).

Well. I was very surprised to hear this, and so I asked him whether he thought it was enough that this woman told him that “three will be no divorce”. He said yes. This woman had experienced the divorce of her own parents and she was resolved (by act of will) never to let that happen to her. He found that acceptable, but I didn’t because I know the numbers on this, and I know that children of divorced parents are more likely to divorce themselves. So the pain of divorce is no deterrent here.

So should we believe that people can avoid a divorce just by saying they will? I told him no. And for an example, I offered a thought experiment. I said to imagine two runners on a track who are charged with completing 10 laps. One runner is a Navy SEAL like Mike Murphy, who has been trained to run miles and miles carrying a 60 pound load. In the mountains. The other is a 300-lb couch potato whose idea of exercise is reaching for the TV remote control. Suppose I ask both runners: do you intend to finish the 10 laps? Should I believe them if they both say yes?

Look, marriage is like building a house. People can say whatever they want about their prospects for success, but the will doesn’t decide here. You have to certain skills, you have to have a certain amount of money, you have to have a plan, you have to be able to read blueprints, you have to be able to hire specialists, you understand the differences between materials, etc. When you think about it, no long-term enterprise can be accomplished by act of will. Piano recitals, math exams, investing for retirement… nothing can be done by sheer act of will.

Now with that being said, let’s take a look at an example.

An example

I found this article in the Wall Street Journal way back in 2011, but it fits my conversation with my friend.

The author, Susan Gregory Thomas, lists some of the mistakes she made that led her to get a divorce in her first marriage.

This is the first thing I saw that caught my eye:

“Whatever happens, we’re never going to get divorced.” Over the course of 16 years, I said that often to my husband, especially after our children were born.

So she is trying to express an intention here, repeatedly, to her husband. I think the point here is that she did have good intentions but as we shall see that was not enough to prevent the divorce. That’s a warning to others that good intentions are not enough.

Here is the second thing:

I believed that I had married my best friend as fervently as I believed that I’d never get divorced. No marital scenario, I told myself, could become so bleak or hopeless as to compel me to embed my children in the torture of a split family. And I wasn’t the only one with strong personal reasons to make this commitment.

I noticed that a lot of people seem to think that being compatible is very important to marriage. But I don’t think that it is the most important thing. For example, you would not expect two cocaine addicts or two gambling addicts, etc. to have a stable marriage. I think marriage is more like a job interview where there are specific things that each person has to be able to do in order to make it work. So again, she’s giving a warning to others that compatibility is not a guarantee of marriage success.

And there’s more:

My husband and I were as obvious as points on a graph in a Generation X marriage study. We were together for nearly eight years before we got married, and even though statistics show that divorce rates are 48% higher for those who have lived together previously, we paid no heed.

We also paid no heed to his Catholic parents, who comprised one of the rare reassuringly unified couples I’d ever met, when they warned us that we should wait until we were married to live together. As they put it, being pals and roommates is different from being husband and wife. How bizarrely old-fashioned and sexist! We didn’t need anything so naïve or retro as “marriage.” Please. We were best friends.

Sociologists, anthropologists and other cultural observers tell us that members of Generation X are more emotionally invested in our spouses than previous generations were. We are best friends; our marriages are genuine partnerships. Many studies have found that Generation X family men help around the house a good deal more than their forefathers. We depend on each other and work together.

So here I am seeing that she rejected sex roles, parental advice, or the moral guidelines of Christianity. Again, she is discussing some of the factors that I at least think contribute to divorce. I think that she is right to highlight the fact that she was wrong to disregard the statistics on cohabitation.

So here are some of the mistakes:

  • reject advice from parents
  • avoid chastity
  • cohabitate for EIGHT YEARS
  • embrace feminism, reject complementarian sex roles
  • thinking that good intentions would overcome every challenge

So, what does the research show works to have a stable marriage?

  • chastity
  • rejection of feminism
  • regular church attendance
  • parental involvement in the courting
  • parents of both spouses married
  • no previous divorces

Guess what? You can’t break all the rules and still succeed by sheer force of will.  If you break all the rules like that woman in the story, you can’t have a working marriage. Not without repudiating everything you believed, and taking steps to undo all the damage from everything you’ve done. You can’t keep all the bad beliefs and bad habits you’ve built up and marry them to a marriage that will stand the test of time.

A good marriage is an enterprise, and it requires that your character be changed to fit the requirements. There is no way to short-circuit the preparation / selection processes by act of will. And just because your friends are getting married, that’s no reason for you to rush into it unprepared. The best way to prepare for marriage is pick people of the opposite sex and practice marriage behaviors (e.g. – listening, helping) with them – even with people you don’t intend to marry. Take an interest in their lives and practice denying yourself to help them with their problems. That’s better than making idle promises you’re not able to keep. And this works the same for men and for women. Both people need to get this right.

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