Russell and Duenes

Archive for May 2012

$6.5 Billion Worth of Original Sin

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When I used to take my high school students up to U.C. Berkeley to discuss spiritual issues with the college students there, one of the most predictable viewpoints we would hear from the 4.0 students at CAL is that humans are born morally and spiritually neutral, or perhaps even spiritually good (though they might add that “society” somehow eventually corrupts them). If the CAL students were willing to admit that people might be wicked and sinful, it was usually reserved for some kind of genocidal maniac, or, predictably, for perpetrators of racism.

Yet G.K. Chesterton aptly pointed out that the Christian doctrine of “original sin” was the only doctrine that could actually be proved. That is, all one need do is look around at human culture and history, and one will see that we are born with an innate moral and spiritual corruption, with a bent toward wickedness and sin. And this afflicts all people alike, not just the mass murderers. Contrary to modern assertions, people are not born “generally decent,” a truth that our forebears realized better than we.

Evidence abounds, but an article in the New York Times from this past Saturday provides an entertaining exclamation to the point. Entitled, “With Personal Data in Hand, Thieves File Early and Often,” the article recounts how people have defrauded the I.R.S. on income tax returns to the tune of 6.5 billion dollars (and all told, it could amount to over 11 billion dollars). It’s quite a racket. The thieves, essentially, get a hold of people’s Social Security numbers, names and birth dates, and then electronically file bogus tax returns with false incomes before the real person can file his or her return. The I.R.S. then ships out the refund to the thieves (Some of the thieves set up bogus mail boxes in order to receive the money).

But this doesn’t really convey the whole picture, so here are a few choice portions of the article. The author notes that the rapid increase of this type of fraud – “the ease of electronic filing and the boom in identity theft” – have left the IRS in the dust. They simply can’t keep up with the criminals. So far this year, “with only 30 percents of the filings reviewed so far, the number [of fraudulent filings] is already at 2.6 million.” So what has the government done? “The United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida. . . formed a task force of 18 federal and state agencies, including the I.R.S., to combat the problem.” Result? The problem is only getting worse. The above attorney called it “a tsunami of fraud.” But you know, it’s only a few bad apples, right?

Apparently not. The article goes on, “In South Florida and Tampa, the problem has gotten so bad that police officers conducting unrelated searches or simple traffic stops routinely stumble across ledgers with names and Social Security numbers, boxes of stolen medical records and envelopes with [government issued] debit cards.” Routinely? Hmmm. The police called the amount of this type of fraud they are dealing with, “ungodly.” Indeed, the police report that they’ve found some of the fraudsters “driving Bentleys and Lamborghinis.” The sin is so deep that the U.S. attorney mentioned above “said he had seen tax fraud overtake violent crime in Overtown, a poor, high-crime section of Miami. He said criminals there were holding filing parties, at which they would haul out laptops and, for a fee, teach others how to run the swindle.” These guys are have turned crime into a social occasion.

It’s almost laughable, but for the human and financial resources that are spent combating it, to little or no avail. But the question I’m left asking is: Why did the New York Times even publish this article? Is it part of the “all the news that’s fit to print?” Or is there something in our souls that stands aghast at such human behavior? And should we be aghast? Or maybe a better question is, should we be surprised? Given that God has told us that we are sinful from our mother’s womb, that there is no one who seeks God, and that we all participate in the “ungodliness and unrighteousness of humankind, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom.1:18), we really ought not be surprised. We ought to be aware that we are desperately in need of our Savior. I ought to be aware. The problem is me. That we’re not aware, too, is part of our innate problem.



Written by Michael Duenes

May 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Memorial Day: The Death Toll Staggers the Mind and Heart

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My interest in World War 2 goes back a ways, and, thus, I occasionally take in some kind of documentary on it. This past week I happened upon an “American Experience” documentary entitled, “The Bombing of Germany.” (You cannot watch the last 5 minutes of this documentary without being profoundly moved.). It tells the story of America’s gradual change of heart about the ethics of wartime bombing. At the outset of our entry into the war with Germany, the U.S. held to the view that bombing of cities was unethical, and that we were only going to bomb military targets. The British had already attempted such a policy and abandoned it as futile. We somehow felt that we could succeed where they hadn’t. Thus, in bombing missions over Germany, we allowed the British to continue the bombing of civilians while we sent our bombers in, unprotected, in daytime, to hit military targets. As you might imagine, such campaigns brought losses of up to 20% for the United States. As such, these bombing missions could not be sustained. And over time, we too abandoned these “precision” strikes, and joined Britain in bombing cities, most notably Berlin and Tokyo.

But what boggles the mind is the human toll brought on by the WW2 fighting. I’ve heard it all before, but to be reminded again, slapped me into mute stupefaction. One cannot contemplate the reality of such a war without also meditating on the meaning of human existence, the evil of men’s hearts, and the reality of God.

One’s mind is concentrated by the pictures of charred, mangled, dead bodies, and the walking wounded amidst the rubble of bombed out Berlin. To see the now elderly German man in the documentary, who was a child in Berlin under the bombing, weeping as he recounts the events. To think of the numbers: 200,000 Russian soldiers killed in the final assault on Berlin, more than 100,000 British and American airmen killed, 500,000 German civilians killed by Allied bombing, more than 20 million civilian deaths in Europe alone, almost 100,000 killed in the bombing of Tokyo, roughly 90,000 killed in the bombing of Hiroshima, and likely over 50,000 killed in the bombing of Nagasaki. And this does not include other fighting and the millions upon millions of Soviet deaths in the war. I cannot get my heart around it, nor, in all honesty, do I truly want to. It means too many things that I would rather deny. Are there any more horrifying realities?

Is it more terrifying to consider how easily we have forgotten the human idolatry, wickedness, folly, and pride that plunged us into such global death and destruction? Is it worse to delude ourselves, as we do today, into thinking that humans are born morally “neutral” or “good” so that we can attempt to comfort ourselves with this lie, because to tell ourselves otherwise, and to consider the results of such human wickedness, is emotionally unbearable? Are we afraid that looking at such reality is like staring into the sun? We don’t want to think that we too “are like those people” do we? We cordon off Hitler, Stalin, Hirohito and their minions into a separate moral and spiritual category and reassure ourselves that they are aberrations. But can one look into the abyss, not just of WW2, with its vast and high-powered killing machines, but into the gaping maw of human conflict from time immemorial, and sustain such an infantile belief in humankind’s “innate goodness?” And if it’s all just a part of some godless, “red in tooth and claw,” evolutionary process, then why the horror at such killing?

G.K. Chesterton aptly wrote that the Christian doctrine of original sin “was the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved…If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.” Yet God gets more to the point, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked; who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Yet there is hope, even in the face of such human evil. There is a goodness and light which has the power to change human hearts. One man alone has this glorious, sovereign, transforming power. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. He is the hope of the nations. He is the Prince of Peace. In His coming kingdom, the lamb shall lie down with the lion, and men will beat their swords into plowshares. Let us not hope in anything or anyone less. Lord, have mercy.


Written by Michael Duenes

May 26, 2012 at 8:22 am

He Supports Our Lot

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Sometimes a very simple truth in Scripture becomes all-encompassing, and we begin to see the vast implications of everything that God has spoken. One such Scripture is Psalm 16:5. I remember first being struck by this verse back in the 90’s, as I was reading Jim Elliot’s journals. It says, “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; Thou dost support my lot.” Of course I could look back over my whole life and see just how God has supported my lot the whole time, but I have been reminding myself of this truth with great regularity over the last few weeks.

Truly, God does support my lot. At the most basic level, God supports my body systems each second of each day: every heartbeat, every neuron fired in my brain, my kidneys cleansing my blood, every cell doing the millions of functions it must do each day to keep me alive. These functions do not keep going by some kind of evolutionary inertia. God supports my lot constantly.

At another level, God supports my mind and emotions. He rules and guides them. Every moment of lucidity and sanity I enjoy is a gift from his supportive power. Every insight, every bit of wisdom I’ve ever had has come from the fact that God is supporting my lot. God not only holds me together, he holds my marriage, my family, my friendships, indeed, all my relationships together. They don’t exist unless he supports and sustains them. Whatever favor I have with colleagues, professors, and neighbors, God is supporting.

But, you may ask, what about when he doesn’t seem to be supporting my lot? What about the lot of the person who falls into the darkest depression? What about the lot of the person who cannot think straight, indeed, who cannot think in a right mind? Is God supporting their lot? What about the person whose life just seems to be one unmitigated disaster after another?

I don’t want to speak tritely about these things. They are profound. When I say that “God supports my lot,” I’m not saying that, should my lot seemed to turn into a hell on earth, then God has stopped supporting it. God has purposes I don’t understand. God certainly may support my lot by having me fall completely on my face in any or every arena of life. I’m simply saying that whatever my lot in life, whatever its highs and lows, God is the one who is supporting it. Further, as long as I even have life and breath, God is supporting it. To have life is a gift at all times. And when I come to die, God will be supporting me through that as well. As the Psalmist also says, “My times are in your hands, O God.”

So I say to God each day, “You support my lot.” I think we can bank on this: God loves us with a holy and righteous love. Those who turn to him in faith are his children, and they bear his name. Thus, God has a tremendous stake in doing them good, and showing forth his faithfulness in their lives. So whatever lot God chooses to give me in life, even if one filled with unspeakable suffering, it is a lot graciously bestowed upon me and lovingly sustained in me. We do well to remember that God the Father was the constant source of support for His beloved Son’s lot in life, and it was a painful lot, yet a redemptive one. I have to think that such a redemptive lot is one he has for me, too, as for all his children.


Written by Michael Duenes

May 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections, Theology

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Feed Upon God Himself

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“He loves Thee too little, O God, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.” – Augustine

“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.” Jonathan Edwards, Works, II, 244.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”- C.S. Lewis

“In Your presence, [O Lord], there is fulness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – King David

“Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you/ As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;/ That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend/ Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new/…Take me to you, imprison me, for I/ Except you enthral me, never shall be free/ Nor ever chaste, except your ravish me.” – John Donne, Sonnet XIV

“Ah, how many Marahs have been sweetened by a simple, satisfying glimpse of the Tree and the Love which underwent its worst conflict there. Yes, the Cross is the tree that sweetens the waters. ‘Love never faileth.” – Jim Elliot, Epilogue, Shadow of the Almighty

“Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts, Thou fount of life, Thou light of men, from the best bliss that earth imparts, we turn unfilled to Thee again.” – Bernard of Claivaux

“Jesus, priceless treasure/ Source of purest pleasure/ Truest friend to me;/ Long my heart hath panted/ ‘Til it well-nigh fainted/ Thirsting after Thee./ Thine I am/ O spotless Lamb/ I will suffer nought to hide Thee/ Ask for nought beside Thee.” – Johann Franck

“The felicities of the blessed spirits that surround [God’s] throne, and your felicities, O Christian, are immortal. These heavenly luminaries shall glow with an undecaying flame; and you shall shine and glitter among them when the sun and stars are gone out. Still shall the unchanging Father of lights pour forth His beams upon them; and the luster they reflect from Him, and their happiness in Him, shall be everlasting, shall be ever growing.” – Philip Doddridge


Written by Michael Duenes

May 19, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Dallas Willard: Also Doubt your Doubts and Believe Your Beliefs

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Written by Michael Duenes

May 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

Posted in Duenes, Philosophy

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