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Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #15, A Play on Words

We're on to the next-to-last argument fallacy entry.  After that, I'll post a sort of "friendly review" of all the fallacies, and then I'll move on to the next series of trivia posts.  Stay tuned, and I'm sure you'll see something you like!  On to why I think these posts are important... 

The world is teeming with arguments.  As a matter of fact, just before I sat down to write this post, I was talking about the hidden argument in a fictional television episode.  Frankly, speaking from the perspective of someone in the fiction writing business, I have to say that there are just as many arguments presented in art and creative literature as there are in straightforward essays.  Yet, when packaged in this glittering box, insidious ideas seem to gain wider acceptance.

Today's argument fallacy is more often used in poetry, fiction, and dramatic plays for stage or film.  When my professor taught it, he explained that this fallacy shouldn't be a part of formal debate, but he seemed to leave a window open for the creative arts.  I have some objections to that idea.  If all writing has a point to make--and so it seems, despite all the arguments to the contrary--than the point, if legitimate, should be presented logically in fiction as well.  Otherwise, it may be that a writer is using tricky wording to mask the weakness of his or her work's purpose.

Equivocation--An Artful Way to Confuse the Facts

Equivocation, as it is called, is a fallacy that plays around with the meanings of a word, using it multiple times in different senses in the same argument.  It sounds clever, and that is why it's so attractive to the creative literary types.  Equivocation often has the structure of a syllogism (a formal argument in which two statements are made and a conclusion is drawn from them):
Syllogism example: A = B, and B = C; therefore, A = C.
The syllogism becomes illogical when multiple word meanings alter the meaning and validity of the conclusion.
Example: Jesus is called the Word of God, and people call the Bible the Word of God, so Jesus must be the Bible.
 The structure of the syllogism is not always apparent, so the clearest identifier of the equivocation fallacy  is the use of the alternate word meanings to move from one point to another.
Example: I believe miracles can still happen, just like in biblical times!   It's miraculous how many people have turned out to help today!
(Biblical miracles are supernatural; a big turnout of people is not.)

This week, I wasn't able to find a good example of someone using this fallacy in a Bible story, but if you know of a reference, be sure to leave it in the comments section so we all can read it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dabbling Can Be Dangerous

If you know me, or have read enough of my writings (including my profile for this blog), then you know that I'm a collector of things, trivia, and experiences.  In college, I wrote papers and took classes on a variety of subjects, and drove professors crazy because I never picked a style or topic to make my "trademark style" in all that time.  My home is filled with a variety of collections, ranging from vintage fruit-crate labels to rocks and old coins, to piles of post cards and Eastern-style cookbooks.  Having said all that, I have to say that dabbling and collecting is overrated (hard to dust!), and sometimes it's even dangerous.

The Dangers of Dabbling

It might be the kind of danger that entangled Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant in the movie, Charade.  More often, though, it's a moral and ethical kind of danger.  People try everything that comes their way, believing that by expanding their knowledge and experience, they will be better-educated, metropolitan, well-rounded, or empathetic toward the "outsiders."  Instead, they end up jaded, cynical, and amoral, and they're usually angry at God (if they're even still willing to believe that God exists).  It hardly makes sense that learning about all the beauty and riches the world has to offer would work this way.  When we see the power of the human mind, see the beauty of nature, or enjoy the taste of an unusual food, why don't we appreciate the power and creativity of the God who made it all possible?  Why don't we see the pain that life without God holds, and cling all the more closely to Him?

The problem, at least as I encountered it in college, is that the more we explore and dabble, the greater the risk of losing sight of what is truly important.  When we dabble too much, we hear things that contradict what we already know.  Invariably, someone will come along, someone we respect, who will tell us that what we used to know was somehow "stunted" or "backward," and speak favorably of the new knowledge.  Sometimes, this person is correct; more often, however, this person is speaking out of a desire to justify his own mind.  The old knowledge you held offended him or her, because it denied a privilege or spoke condemnation over a lifestyle, and getting you to move on from that sore point will ease the discomfort for a little while, even if it doesn't take away the consequences for them (see an example of this dynamic in 2 Chronicles chapter 18).

Perhaps it is not a friend or colleague who dislikes the way your background reflects upon him.  Maybe it's just a book written by someone who hates the things you've always believed, and so has employed every literary device, argument fallacy, and skewing of facts within his power to make what you believed look manipulative or outdated.  Believe me, I've read such books.  They're one really good reason why I started this blog.

So what am I saying?  Never try new things, live a spartan, deprived life and die stupid and isolated?  Certainly not.  I believe the world is full of beautiful things and vast stores of knowledge that God put here for us to enjoy--to His glory.  And we should enjoy them, but we should never forget that Satan has attempted to taint and pervert every one of those good things, because purity and goodness bring condemnation upon him.  When we try new things, we should stay away from things that speak against the goodness and purity of our Creator, and the lifestyle He has established for us.  These are like poison for our souls, and we would do well to know how to recognize them (2 Kings 4: 38-41).

Using Discernment to Guard Our Souls

How do we know what is good and what is evil?  So often the truth is buried under a complex tapestry of false ethics and tricky logic.  The Bible offers a clear solution to the problem, but it takes a contrite heart to learn the lesson:
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2: 15 KJV)
If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
       and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2: 2-5 NIV).
I put this in the King James Version because that was the way I learned it in Sunday school around the age of six.  In case you didn't learn it that way, or you are reading it for the first time in memory,  I'll explain it.  When you discipline yourself to learn the Bible, above all other knowledge, you will be prepared when someone (or a book, or a foreign religious teaching) challenges your beliefs.  In what way?  When you are presented with a muddle of truths, half-truths, and lies, you will be so accustomed to hearing what is true that you will be able to separate the truth from the midst of all of it.  You won't be clinging weakly to your belief by the meager ties of tradition or familiarity; you'll be confident, unshakable, in what you believe.  And that boldness and confidence is the reward of a diligent workman.

These days it can be terribly difficult for a Christian to know the difference between God's perspective on an issue and the latest popular view of how a Christian should react.  For the past ten years or so, I've encountered more and more people who are struggling to make the two things mesh, or who have just given up and adopted the postmodern there-is-no-truth perspective.  The only solution to their trouble is to get back into the Bible and be ready to be amazed.  Immerse yourself in the truth--don't merely dabble in it--and your foundations will become more secure.

"Aw, but how presumptuous you are, Rachel," some have said, "because you claim that the Bible is the only source of truth."  I'll answer them again, for your benefit as readers this time, that I'm more than presumptuous.  I am certain, not merely claiming that the Bible is the truth.  Why?  Because I've studied and I've seen, and the Bible has been proven accurate and trustworthy in every test.  In the end, all my dabbling just reinforces the wonderful, glorious truth that I already know, because I've done my best to take what is good and flee from what is evil in this world.

So, to summarize what I've just said:
  • Do dabble, do try new things, but desire only what is good.  Cherish what is godly and throw out what is corrupt. "He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it" (Proverbs 11: 27 NIV).
  • Don't join with those who encourage you to dabble in falsehood, but rather cling to the truth that you know. "In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them" (Proverbs 22: 5 NIV).
  • Never let anyone make you feel ashamed of the truth, especially if you've always known it was the truth: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'" (Romans 1: 15-17 NIV).
  • Don't be intimidated by those who seem to have more knowledge than you.  If you've studied the Bible, and their words cannot stand up to it, don't be afraid to say they are wrong. "Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.  I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.  I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts" (Psalm 119: 98-100 NIV). 
  • If in doubt, seek the Word of God for the truth, because in God, you will always find the truth.  Jesus Himself said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14: 6 NIV).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #14, No Alternatives

I just realized I've been talking about argument fallacies since the first week of this year!  I just hope that at this point my readers share some of my enthusiasm, or at least agree with my motives for posting all of this information.  (But if you're getting bored, don't worry. I only have 3 more topics to cover, and then I'm moving on to something else for the weekly trivia posts.)

I believe that critical thinking is essential for becoming "savvy sheep" in this world, and that part of critical thinking is learning to spot a lie, however cleverly hidden.  While some people believe that it is a bad idea to study about theologies or philosophies that oppose the gospel, I think it's very important that we do learn about the things (and people) we say we oppose.  This is not to make ourselves like them, or even to sample what they are dabbling in.  We should be careful to guard our hearts from their influence.  The best way we can do that is to weigh everything we hear against the balance of many scripture verses to solidify our own beliefs.

Polarization, or the Either/Or Fallacy

This debate trick is similar to the Red Herring in that it is used to distract the reader from noticing inconvenient or missing facts.  In the Either/Or Fallacy, the speaker sets up pairs of opposing statements that appear to be the reader or listener's only two options.  This overlooks (perhaps deliberately) any other ways someone could approach the issue or solve the problem.  It is possible for a debate to come down to only two options or solutions (with many reasons that support this conclusion), but this fallacy is usually employed to cut short the debate or to create an arbitrary solution to a very complex situation. 

Example, Not an Either/Or Fallacy:  "Either you clean your room like I've told you, or you're going to bed with no tv," Mom said.
This is not a debate or a complex issue.  It's a statement of terms, a laying down of the law.  Using an either/or statement here is correct, because this is a dilemma with only two solutions.

Example: Every Christian must write to their government officials about this issue, or millions could die.
This may be a worthy cause--fill in a cause as you will--but writing to government officials may not be the only solution to the problem.  Perhaps you could work with a charity that deals with the problem, etc.?  It's clear that there may be many solutions, but the speaker or writer only wants you to choose the one suggested.

Example:  "This is what Sennacherib king of Assyria says: On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege?  When Hezekiah says, 'The LORD our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,' he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst.  Did not Hezekiah himself remove this god's high places and altars, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship before one altar and burn sacrifices on it'?
"Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand?  Who of all the gods of these nations that my fathers destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand?  Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my fathers. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!" (2 Chronicles 32: 10-15 NIV)
 The Either/Or Fallacy is more clear if you read the rest of the passage.  Sennacherib is stating that either you turn your back on your God and surrender to me, or you will die like all the others.  This excluded other outcomes, such as defeat at God's hand. Read the full passage here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Think On Good Things

I've been in a bit of a down mood for the past few days, maybe because of all the bad weather in my part of the world.  It seems that storm clouds, and being cooped up inside the house, tend to bring out all those thoughts about the things that aren't going well in life.  I've been delaying my next post for that very reason--no one needs to hear me gripe and grumble.

However, last night, as I was turning in for the night, I decided that others, including my readers, might be dealing with frustration or grief or some other thoughts that make them feel sad or grouchy on a rainy day. Perhaps this is something I ought to talk about, after all.

I can't offer a magic formula for improving a bad mood, but one Bible verse did come to mind last night:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)
Some medical research indicates that thinking about positive things or beauty can help a person recover more quickly from a loss or a health crisis.  Positive thinking can cause our bodies to release chemicals that help us cope with pain.  I've also read that thinking about something can literally distract the brain from picking up pain signals from an injury--in essence, temporarily lessening our ability to feel pain.

But, putting all science aside, I've got to say that for Christians, there is another, deeper benefit from thinking about "excellent or praiseworthy" things.  We have a relationship with the God of the universe, who is the source of all of those good things (James 1: 17), so when we're thinking about good things, we end up thinking about God.  Our hope is refreshed, because we remember again that there is a good God in control of everything, who is looking out for us, and who wants to hear from us.  It doesn't bother Him at all if we tell Him all about what is bothering us, because God loves us and is our friend and intercessor (Job 16: 19-21).  We aren't alone in our problems, and we have a God who is willing to step in and help us solve them, as well.   If we put our trust in God, He will not disappoint us.

Thinking about good things doesn't just give Christians a temporary rosy-glow outlook--it reminds us of the future we have in Christ.  The pain or grief or just plain aggravation that we are facing today will not last.  Heaven is in our future, so even if our health gets worse or more bad things keep happening, that hope cannot be taken away from us.  Someday very soon, God will give us a final victory over the pain and the sorrow. 

So, today, think about those "excellent and praisworthy" things, and rejoice.  The same God who made those things has also made your future.  Cling to that promise, and feel your hope renewed. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #13, Don't Delude Yourself

I'm getting close to wrapping up this particular weekly trivia series, but I've still got a few good points to make, if you'll stay with me.

This week I found myself thinking about the history of the public school in the United States.  Very early on, in the days of the first European settlers on the continent, people only sent their children to school for a brief window of time each year (maybe 3 months or so), but when they did, the little girls went, too.  Literacy, above all else, was important to these early settlers, since they had been denied literacy and access to the Bible in Europe.  They wanted all their children to be able to read the Bible, even if they had no other basic school knowledge.

Try to imagine what it was like being controlled in that way, and you'll understand why literacy was so important to these parents.  Back home in Europe they weren't allowed to think for themselves, or interpret what they learned for themselves, on penalty of imprisonment.  In other words, controlling what they knew was a way of subjugating them.  As long as they couldn't read, they couldn't know that they were being deceived or controlled.

How do argument fallacies fit into this discussion?  Well, the relationship isn't the clearest one, but from my perspective, illogical arguments are just another way of bringing the masses back under the control of a speaker or leader.  They subjugate the partially-educated with half-truths and bald-faced lies, reshaping the truth to fit a goal and convincing people to defend causes they otherwise would not have shared.  They are an insult to truth and intelligence, and, in my opinion, a danger to true Christianity.  Still, I see them creeping into religious discussion all the time.

Can I change this single-handedly?  Obviously, no, but I know my words can help a few people.  I'm fairly certain a few have been helped, already.

Rationalization: Making a Reason Out of an Excuse

Arguments are backed up by reasons--that is, points that are based on defensible, provable facts.  An excuse, on the other hand, is based on less-solid evidence, such as opinions, subjective observations, and wishes.  Excuses cannot be defended by logic; in fact, they are ways of escaping logic, perhaps because the logical conclusion is causing discomfort.

When a writer or speaker uses an excuse as a reason for doing something or not doing something, it is called rationalization.  I hear rationalization most frequently in polite conversation, where it is used to try to avoid hurting someone's feelings.  Unfortunately, sometimes people need to know the real truth, not just an excuse, and rationalization denies them this knowledge.  This could have disastrous consequences.

Example: "I've never been the best student.  In fact, I don't think I've ever been right about anything my whole life, so I guess I'll take your word that the Bible says what you're telling me it says."

Example: "Laban answered Jacob, 'The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? Come now, let's make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.'" (Genesis 31: 43-44 NIV) (So Laban had promised his daughters and his flocks to Jacob as payment for many years of service, yet he excuses his pursuit of Jacob in this way.  He owns them; in fact, he's always had a right to everything, because some of it was once his.  Clearly, he's looking for an excuse not to admit that he's a liar who treats his own family badly, and that Jacob is right to run away.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Desolation and Hope

Last night I went to bed thinking about the Postmodern movement, especially postmodernism as it has appeared in literature and modern education.  It's completely opposite of Christianity in its basic principles.  Yet, it's ubiquitous, even in many churches these days.  So what is Postmodernism?  Why do I react so strongly against it, and why do I think you should take note of it?

Origin Story: Optimism to Desolation

The Postmodern movement came out of World War I, especially from the writings of soldiers who came back from the war and entered the educational field.  They had grown up in an optimistic society (Modernism) which joyfully welcomed scientific advances that they believed were going to make the world a better, more peaceful place--a utopia, if you will.  The "power of the human spirit" was practically worshiped, as the literature of that earlier era indicates.  Filled with this belief in the goodness of man, these young soldiers marched out to a war they thought would be full of chivalry and human goodwill.  Instead, they saw desolation, destruction, and horror that was unlike previous wars.  War was also much more impersonal; people killed people remotely, from long-range guns and poisonous gasses.  It was also bleakly pointless, as friend turned against friend purely because they came from different nations.  They had this bleak sense that all the soldiers were just machines or pawns in a political chess game, and that there were really no clear winners, no clear hero and foe.

When the soldiers came back from the war, their old idealism and humanism were gone.  Their "god" (man) was dead, and they didn't turn to the God of Christianity, which they blamed instead for allowing all that horror to exist.  Then came the Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust. Out of this terrible chain of events emerged a clear belief structure that has been carried forward in our culture to such an extent that I don't believe many people even consciously recognize it anymore.  It's as if we have always looked through postmodernist lenses--but that doesn't mean that we have to go on thinking that way.

The Smoke Cloud: Postmodern Ideology

For those who had their young idealism crushed in the war, it was as if the bottom and the top had come out of their world; they were drifting through a confusing fog, trying to find their way, and feeling helpless and alone.  Their worldview reflects this feeling.  Here are a few of their central beliefs:
  • God is dead, weak, or evil.  He owes mankind an explanation of why He would allow people to do such horrible things to each other.
  • Mankind has no hope and no future; they can't even fix themselves.  One day they will completely destroy themselves.
  • There is no clear right and wrong; good is mixed with bad, and the right thing depends on the circumstances, not ultimate ideals. (Ideals failed us; they can't prevent devastation.  Only our best efforts will put off the inevitable.)
  • Life is impersonal, meaningless, valueless.  Without hope, without real love, people are just machines.
  • Truth cannot be found or known.  Because of this, it is best and wisest to stay in a perpetual state of questioning.  Ultimately, questions are better than answers.
  • We exist, not to better ourselves or others or to achieve a goal, but to get what we can out of life while we have it.
  • There is no Heaven or Hell; there is no afterlife.  Life is bleak, joy is rare, and people who believe there is something to look forward to are just fooling themselves.

The Hope of Man

When the whole world lies in ruins and ashes, some people have responded with Job's wife's reaction: "Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!" (Job 2: 9 NIV).  I don't believe this is the right or even rational reaction; this thought pattern is born out of grief, anger, even brokenness, but it can be healed and corrected with God's help.

I further believe that God has responded to all the concerns of the Postmodern movement in the Bible, so that they don't have to feel that they've been left hanging--although the answers may not be what they want to hear.   In fact, I think that some books of the Bible are uniquely written to address these questions, such as Job and Ecclesiastes.  What is the purpose of man (Ecclesiastes 12: 13)?  Does God = easy times, or can He exist in bad times (Job 2: 8-10 NIV)?  People don't value people, but does God value people (Genesis 9: 6; Luke 12: 6-8)?  Can truth be known (see my involved analysis of a passage on this topic in "What is Truth? Heeding the Voice of Truth")?

I have written much on this topic.  You only have to click the labels "postmodernism" or "truth" at the end of this post, or search at the top left corner of this page for my series on the Postmodern stage play, Waiting for Godot (Waiting For God, Parts 1, 2, 3).  I feel the grief of the Postmodern movement.  The first time I ever came to understand it in college, I cried for these people.  They are truly lost, hopeless, wandering around looking for something to grab onto in a world that seems to them no more solid than a mustard gas cloud.  They have a veil over their eyes, like I spoke about in Beyond the Veil last week.  Who will correct them and reach out to them?  How will they ever find hope if no one offers them a way out of their hopelessness? 

I have a busy weekend ahead of me, so I'm leaving this post open-ended.  Please, leave a comment with your insights, and, I hope, plenty of Bible references.  This is a spiritual struggle, so don't forget to use your sword.
How would you, as a born-again Christian, respond to someone struggling with the Postmodern ideology?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #12, Us vs. You

Every week I talk about bad rhetoric, expressing my desire for those who truly know God to learn how to use rhetoric correctly when they are preaching the Bible (and when they are hearing it preached).

Still, rhetoric is only so useful.  I believe that the Bible is logical, but I also know that the most impeccable human logic doesn't save a human soul.  The fact is, people who don't want to listen will still refuse to listen, no matter what you tell them.  Salvation is a choice of the heart, and the decision is made where no one can interfere with it.

Ultimately, logic and rhetoric are just ways to present the truth on a platter.  Good logic cuts off all exit points except the choice the author or speaker wants the listener to make.  Bad logic tries to take shortcuts to this end, ignoring the listener's intelligence and trying to drag him or her along.  Whether (and how) the listener accepts what is offered is his or her personal choice. 

Ad Populum: Imaginary Common Ground

Ad Populum, Latin for " to the people," is a type of crowd appeal not unlike the Bandwagon fallacy.  This time you aren't being called "uncool" if you don't go along, but you're still going against an imagined crowd of people who are unified by a common belief--with the author speaking on behalf of this crowd.  This crowd's beliefs are vague, but unanimously held in common.  The gang is often called "we" or "us" and want "you" to join.  The one using the  Ad Populum argument assumes that you are part of the vaguely-defined group (or are favorable toward this group) and therefore will go along without further argument or logical debate.

Another recognizable characteristic of the Ad Populum argument is the use of emotionally-charged words and connotative meanings when describing the "group" the listener has been included in.  The broadcast media in the U.S. call them "hot button" terms, because they tend to inflame and blind the audience to the potential differences between themselves and the imagined "group."  In the non-religious world, that might include terms like "patriot," or "terrorist"; in the Christian community, that may include words like "Pharisee," or even "fellowship."  These words may be accurate descriptions, but they shouldn't be used in lieu of real reasons, definitions, and logic in a discussion.

Note: Christianity is full of "us" and "them" language, but the two groups are repeatedly and clearly defined (not vague).  Furthermore, the division of these two groups is not the end of the debate--it's the beginning.

Example: "Because we love our country, we won't go along with these radicals whose very existence threatens our peace."

Example: "Ahab king of Israel asked Jehoshaphat king of Judah, "Will you go with me against Ramoth Gilead?"
      Jehoshaphat replied, "I am as you are, and my people as your people; we will join you in the war." (2 Chronicles 18: 3 NIV). Jehoshaphat includes a lot of people who are not like Ahab in his generalized use of the word "we."  For him, this seemed to be the end of the debate; the two countries and their citizens were alike because they were descended from Abraham, and thus needed no further rhetorical persuasion to go to war.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beyond the Veil

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth shook and the rocks split.  --Matthew 27: 50-51 NIV

Over 2,000 years ago, as Jesus hung on the cross on a trash heap just outside of town, His mockers gathered around to leer at Him and hurl insults.  Once again, as before, God sent clear signs to prove what Jesus had said about Himself.  A massive earthquake shook the place, breaking rocks and, more importantly, tearing the woven, embroidered tapestry that hung in the temple.  This curtain separated the Holy Place where the priests worked and the Most Holy Place, which was forbidden territory except under certain conditions.  No one was supposed to even look inside that place for fear of being struck dead.  What changed?  What did the torn curtain mean?  What does it mean for people today?

Symbolism of the Veil in Scripture

 We see again and again in Scripture examples of God veiling Himself from those who were in His presence.  Usually a cloud of smoke hung over the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16: 2).  In fact, when God gave Moses the religious laws Israel was to follow, He appeared in a cloud at the top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 24: 15-18).  Also, at the dedication of the temple that Solomon commissioned, a huge cloud heralded God's presence, filling the whole building to the extent that the priests could not enter the temple (2 Chronicles 7: 1-3).  I could keep listing examples, but I think you get the idea.

The pattern emerges that there is always something between God and those who are communicating with Him.  No one was allowed to see God's face, because they would be struck dead.  This, I know, is a hard concept to explain to a skeptic.  Struck dead if they looked God in the eye?  What, is God vain or something?  No, God is not vain.  The problem is the sinfulness of the people.

God, by nature, is just.  He has set appropriate consequences for offenses, and He deals the punishments out at the appropriate times.  Like anyone who loves justice, God cannot allow injustice to continue in His presence. Furthermore, the purity of God's presence reveals the sin in the hearts of the people (Psalm 90: 7-9)--like the candling of an egg, really--and faced with that, God must act with justice.  The consequence of sin and rebellion is death, and in the days of the old temple, it was dealt with on sight.

The only thing to assuage God's wrath was the blood of an innocent sacrifice; therefore, if the priest was going to safely walk on the other side of the curtain, inside the Most Holy Place, he had to bring and sacrifice an animal.  For all the skeptics who might be reading this, I've got to say that God wants justice and obedience more than He wants a whole bunch of dead animals.  See my other article, To Obey is Better than Sacrifice for more on this topic.

So, we see again that the thing that really separates people from God is their sins.  In order to safely approach God, they had to have something to cover those sins, whether it was a curtain, a cloud, or the blood of a sacrifice.  The veil was not symbolic of the sins of the people; it was symbolic of mercy and atonement, and it was forever in God's presence, keeping back His justifiable wrath against disobedience.

When Jesus, an innocent man and the Son of God, died, He became that Veil between God and man (Hebrews 10: 19-27).  The curtain in the temple was no longer necessary, because the symbol had been personified in the person of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, the curtain was torn "from top to bottom," because God Himself had sent Jesus to be the sacrifice to satisfy the law's just requirements.  Christ's atonement was not an idea invented or put into place by man--this was done by God, from the top down.

The Veil for Today

There is another veil discussed in the Bible--that of the veil that the Israelites asked Moses to wear after he had been speaking to God (Exodus 34: 30-34). This was a veil, not to shield the people from God's wrath, but a shield they put between themselves and the power of God.  They were afraid to really face that power or accept it; they were hiding from God, rather than seeking Him, because when they saw the power of God's presence in Moses' life, they felt God's disapproval of their sins.  As long as Moses wasn't reminding them of what they weren't doing, as long as Moses wasn't making them feel judged, they were comfortable to continue the act of outward obedience.  This is the veil Paul spoke of when he wrote,
We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.  But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3: 13-16 NIV)
Even now, even today, when Christians all over the world are thinking about that day, over 2,000 years ago, when Christ died and the veil was torn in the temple, there are many who still draw a curtain over their hearts and refuse to accept the way God sees them.

And how does God see us?  Certainly not as perfect people, above judgment and not requiring punishment.  If God really thought that we were, deep inside, good people, it wouldn't have been necessary to send His Son to die for us.  What Christ's sacrifice reveals is that God sees us as failures--yes, failures--who needed His help.  We must not fool ourselves into believing the humanist teachings in the church that say that "God believes in me," or that "God isn't angry."  The fact is, sin makes Him angry--justifiably so.  But the fact that Christ became the veil, and that it no longer stands between us and God's presence, should bring relief and joy.  When we won't let God judge us, we are lost; but when we pull aside the veil and accept the reality that we need God, He can change us and fix us, taking away the sin that brings wrath.

Yes, God is angry about sin, but He didn't want to cast us forever out of His presence, so He sent atonement for us in the person of His Son!  Yes, we are failures, but we have hope, because Christ didn't fail in His mission!  Because of Jesus, the way to God stands open--opened from the top to the bottom--so that when we submit to God's judgment, we can joyfully enter God's presence without shame or fear.  Mercy has made a way for us.  Today will you accept what God has offered you?