A mainland Chinese construction company learned a hard lesson about having the right foundation. The company had nearly completed several high-rise apartment blocks across the border from Hong Kong. A number of the units had already been rented. Then a storm blew in and, to the horror of all, one of the buildings toppled over. Several workers were killed or injured.
An investigation determined the accident was caused by foundation problems. The builders had constructed 10-story high-rises on foundations that were suited for one- or two-story houses. The storm exposed the truth. The foundations couldn’t handle the load they were required to bear.
This news story reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus used the parable to emphasize the importance of building our lives on his teaching.
The crowds were amazed because Jesus taught with authority. The crowds were also amazed by his authority to heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead; by his authority over nature; by his authority to disregard the legalistic elements that had sprung up like weeds in the Sabbath laws; and even by his authority to proclaim himself equal with God.
The Jewish leaders rejected his claim of authority and believed they could solve the “problem” by killing him. A dead man is unable to rule over anyone.
Jesus’ resurrection blasted an irreparable hole both in their reasoning and in their foundation of self-righteousness.
Two thousand years later, with Jesus no longer physically walking the earth, people are still looking for ways to dismiss his claim of authority over them.
Considering the Options
I was first confronted by modern man’s way of ridding himself of Jesus at the liberal university where I earned an elementary education degree. Because of its church connection, the university required all students to take six hours of religious courses. In these courses, I was taught that God hadn’t made man. Ignorant early man, to explain the workings of nature, had invented the idea of God. Now that we were enlightened, and Charles Darwin’s evolution explained mankind’s existence, we could cast aside the old superstitions and prohibitions. We could be free to rule our own lives. We simply needed to accept that miracles don’t happen, demote Jesus to being merely a good teacher, and relegate the Bible to the category of myths and contradictory teachings. We then could take an existential leap of faith to maintain a form of godliness through our own power.
During my time at university, I saw many conservative Christian students convert to this new heady freedom.
Since then, it seems the options for discounting God’s authority have multiplied. We can take the recycled Hinduism New Age position that there is no distinction between God and man or between good and evil. We can hold some form of spirituality without talking about a specific god. We can revert to pre-Christian nature religion and leave out the nasty bits. We can decide that all religions lead to the same undefined god. We can make tolerance our god by letting each person determine his or her own truth, although the other person’s “truth” mustn’t disagree with our “truth.” Like Ayn Rand, we can scrap all religion and focus on achieving our own happiness as the highest moral purpose of our lives.
Besides these new choices, we still have Darwinian evolution teaching that all life evolved from simple forms. Interestingly, Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) by lamplight, as Thomas Edison hadn’t yet invented the electric lightbulb. Darwin knew nothing of the infinite complexity and interdependence of his supposedly simple forms. At that time, no one did. These microbiological revelations, which do serious damage to the theory of evolution, had to wait until electricity was harnessed and appropriate technology was developed in the 20th century. Despite the damage microbiology has done to Darwin’s theory, evolution remains an option for those determined to eliminate God.
Our options today are nearly as numerous as choices in house plans and furnishings. But the options in foundations remain limited. It doesn’t matter how modern or beautiful or expensive our house and its contents; if we don’t build on the right foundation, we’ve got problems.
So many people on that liberal campus, teachers and students alike, were too caught up in the attractive and persuasive furnishings of the new ideas. They didn’t check the foundations.
At the most basic level, we have only two options with regard to creation and authority. Either God created man or man created god. If God is creator, then God is the final authority. If man created god, then man is the final authority.
The various belief systems listed above all rest on the assumption that man is the final authority. If individuals can determine their own truth or happiness, construct their own newer version of Hinduism or pre-Christian nature religion, or decide they can be spiritual without God, they’ve made themselves the ultimate ruler of their lives. Even Christians can do this when they decide which of God’s commands to obey and which to ignore.
When we exclude God and give mankind the final authority, we immediately face problems. In a world where each individual decides what is right and wrong, what do you do when decisions clash?
Your next-door neighbor wants to have garage band practice all night and sleep all day. You want him to stop playing music at 10 p.m. so you can get a good night’s rest. Hitler, supported by social Darwinism, wanted to purify the German race by eliminating imperfections. The people he deemed “imperfect” objected.
Someone is sure to say that our freedom to act as we wish ends when it harms another. But who gave that someone the authority to impose this restriction on us? Even if we accept it, what if we don’t agree about who will be harmed more?
Your musician neighbor loses his job and his car is repossessed. A day later, he steals your car. You threaten to call the police. He points out that you have a job and can buy another car. But if you report him, he’ll go to jail and be left with a prison record. He’ll suffer more harm.
We have the same problem with making happiness the moral foundation for our lives. If your neighbor or Hitler claims that their actions provide them the greatest happiness, on what basis can you object without contradicting your beliefs?
If we build our foundation on our own authority, ultimately we have no solution for resolving conflicts except “might makes right.” Centuries of history and recent events in the Middle East show this solution is not desirable.
Handling the Load
When we build our lives without God, our foundation simply can’t handle the load we are placing on it. We have no final authority to solve conflicts. We can’t live out our fine-sounding beliefs, nor do we have a valid explanation for why we can’t. Like Darwin, our knowledge is limited. Despite the lies our ego tells us, we neither know enough nor wield enough power to correctly handle being the final authority in life. I, for one, can’t even consistently pick the fastest checkout line in the grocery store. When such a small task is beyond me, how can I correctly handle life’s much harder problems on my own?
When we build on the wrong foundation, sooner or later we will come crashing down like those newly constructed high-rises in China.
We know this is true of non-Christians. But even followers of the one God can build wrongly. The Jewish leaders did. They exchanged a relationship with God and obedience to him for a legalistic list of dos and don’ts that fed their self-righteousness (Romans 10:2, 3).
We can make the same mistake today. Our list probably won’t focus on hand washing, Sabbath restrictions, or fasting. Instead it might include requirements to hold specific political, environmental, or economic views. Or our list might acknowledge God’s love and forgiveness, but omit his call to obedience and the fact that disobedience has negative consequences. Whatever our list contains, when we make ourselves the final authority, we aren’t bowing to Christ’s authority and building our lives on him.
My years at the liberal university taught me I need to dig deep and think hard about what I believe and why I believe it, and to watch my life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16).
Many people don’t do this. Like the Chinese construction company that kept adding floors or the eager people who snapped up apartments, many are too focused on surface issues to give much thought to foundations.
Don’t make their mistake. Check your foundation. The storm is coming.
Karen Rees and her husband, Benjamin, have served in Hong Kong since 1975.