Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Cats, Oh My!

Although I have owned a couple of them over the years, I’ve never been much of a ‘cat person’. Nonetheless, I have to admit that they are pretty amazing critters.
And I’m not talking about just those little ‘tabbies’ or ‘Persians’ or ‘Siamese’ cats; the big, wild cats have the same characteristics and capabilities as those ‘precious’ little house cats. Whether they are jumping incredible heights, stalking in total silence, or patiently waiting to pounce . . . cats are truly amazing.
When you consider all that those little house cats can do and then extrapolate it out with increasing size and strength to bobcats, cougars, jaguars, leopards, lions, and tigers – not only are cats amazing, they are very scary, too!
This was brought home to me a few years ago when I was visiting with some folks who were renting some family property out in Winnsboro. These folks were ‘rescuing’ tigers from various animal parks and they had some wire enclosures built to hold about five or six tigers.
One particular tiger was in an area about ten feet square and he was cooling himself by laying in a ‘kiddie’ swimming pool that was on the opposite side of the enclosure from where I was standing (on the outside, mind you!). I was just standing there mesmerized by him and pretty much minding my own business. And then . . .
With no warning whatsoever, that tiger leapt out of the water and all of the way across the enclosure. In the blink of an eye, he was ‘standing’ over me with his front paws resting against the enclosure about two feet over my head and his hot breath panting against my forehead while drool was dripping off his enormous fangs.
Whether I was soaking wet from all of the water that was on the tiger when he pounced or because I had wet myself in fear, it was painfully obvious that without the protection of the enclosure I would have been dead. And I would have been dead before I could have even taken my hands out of my pockets.
You are probably very familiar with the following verse: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8, NIV) When hearing that verse quoted, I’ve always had an image in my mind of those ‘Lions of Tsavo’, which have been immortalized in various books and movies (most recently the 1996 movie, The Ghosts and the Darkness).
As best that I can recall about the Tsavo lions, two male lions put the construction of an entire railroad line in East Africa on hold because they were stalking around the camps and the workers, picking off people one by one. Over a nine-month period, those two lions killed 135 people – obviously more than they would have needed just for food.
So, when I hear 1 Peter 5:8, I have envisioned those Tsavo lions stalking around the camp, . . . growling . . . sometimes roaring. I see the shadow of a prowling lion silhouetted on the canvas of a tent as workers huddle in fear inside. I see the faint outline of lion crouching behind a scraggly bush. I imagine people on constant watch of a known danger that lurks ‘out there’. I hear a distant roar and a blood-curdling scream.
But I’m not sure that my past visualization of what 1 Peter 5:8 is saying was all that accurate. I recently read The Message version of that passage and it says: Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up.
Coupling that translation with my experience with the tiger makes a lot more sense to me and I think is more appropriate in context. You see, the devil seldom announces his presence and he seldom makes his intentions known. There would be little need to warn us to “be self-controlled” or be alert” if we were well-aware of the devil’s presence around us – we would naturally be ‘on guard’.
But when we are going about our day-to-day, ordinary lives and become comfortable and lazy and are no longer alert – he pounces. We may start off ‘watching’ and being ‘alert’, but as time goes by with nothing happening and no red dude with a pointy tail jumping out, we lose focus and get careless.
But he doesn’t.
I once watched an ordinary house cat out in a field for about 45 minutes. I was convinced he was just sleeping, although in a rather odd position. Then, in a flash, he pounced. He knew that if he waited long enough, the mole that was underground would assume all was safe since the ground wasn’t vibrating and nothing had moved in a long time.
That was the mole’s last assumption.
Like a cat of any size, Satan is an amazing, patient, relentless, and efficient predator. And he uses the element of ‘surprise’ with astonishing results.
Are you waiting to hear Satan’s ‘roaring’ and see evidence of his ‘prowling around’ to take the necessary steps to protect yourself - to be ‘on guard’? I know from personal experience that if you wait for the first sign of trouble, you could be in his clutches before you know what hit you.
Or are you going to be on the alert at all times? Are you going to acknowledge that he is always out there - . . . Prowling . . . Stalking . . . Waiting.
He is going to be ready. Are you?

Be serious and keep watch; the Evil One, who is against you, goes about like a lion with open mouth in search of food; Do not give way to him but be strong in your faith (1 Peter 5:8-9(a), BBE)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Will You Take Pascal's Wager?

Even those of us who may not do a very good job of it acknowledge that it is wise to plan ahead for our financial future. We know there will be a time when our earning capacity will be diminished or gone, we know there will be a time when large amounts of money will be needed for our children’s education, we know there are many reasons to plan ahead for all kinds of various circumstances.
Wisdom would dictate that we consider those ‘knowns’ about our future as we live our lives today. Rather than being foolish and betting our financial futures on winning the lottery, we try to ‘hedge out bets’ and invest for the future.
I recently received an email that reminded me of another argument dealing with ‘hedging our bets’ in planning for our future. This argument deals with believing in the existence of God, and it was put forth by the 17th century French mathematician and scientist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). It is called ‘Pascal’s Wager’.
As somewhat of a philosopher, Pascal did not believe it was possible to prove the existence of God (despite what Romans 1:20 says). But he believed it was much more reasonable and logical to believe in God than to not believe in God. (And he was referring to the belief in the ‘Christian God’, not just ‘a god’ or ‘Allah’, etc.)
The argument of Pascal’s Wager went something like:
1. God either exists or he doesn’t exist (the only two options).
2. If God exists and you believe in him, your eternal rewards will be great.
3. If God exists and you don’t believe in him, your eternal damnation will be great.
4. If God does not exist yet you believe in God, you have not lost anything.
5. If God does not exist and you didn’t believe in him, you gain nothing.
Thus, from a self-preservation standpoint alone, it is only logical to believe in God. God has to either exist or not exist. If God doesn’t exist, belief in him (or not) doesn’t really have any consequences. However, if God does exist, whether or not you believe in Him is of utmost importance.
So, even if someone thinks the likelihood that God exists is small, they have much more to gain by believing in him than could possibly be lost by not. Logic would therefore dictate that one believe in God.
Philosophy was never my strong suit as I am much more of a concrete thinker. And I don’t think anyone can use Pascal’s Wager to convince a non-believer to believe in God. But, I do think that Pascal’s Wager is a great tool to use to open up dialogue with those non-believers in our lives who don’t think it reasonable to believe in the existence of our God.
For someone to bet their financial future on the lottery, their odds of winning are one in 25,827,165. But, under Pascal’s Wager, regardless of the ‘probability’ someone attributes to God’s existence, the odds of whether or not God exists are still 50:50 – He either exists or He doesn’t. If He does exist, the odds are 100% that one will go to heaven by believing and 100% that one will go to hell by not believing.
The odds would seem to require that one seriously consider God’s existence.
Maybe Pascal’s Wager can open up some interesting conversations with your non-believing friends.
And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT)