The Problem of Evil and Suffering…

epicurus-the-problem-of-evilAs many of you know, there was a tragic church shooting in Southerland Springs, Texas, over the weekend that took the lives of twenty-six people, including a pregnant woman and seven other members of her family. The youngest killed was a seventeen month old baby and the eldest was seventy-seven years old. In addition, twenty other people were injured.

When we hear about these types of tragedies it is common to ask, “Where is God in all of this?” There is no easy answer to this question, and when someone is hurt and grieving, almost any answer offered up seems to fall short of providing any real comfort and satisfaction.

The question is one of the most profound questions that we have to face, and is part of the bigger question of evil and suffering. It is at least as old as the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, who lived three hundred years before Christ, and is usually expressed something like this: If God is all powerful and all good, why is there evil and suffering in the world? If God is all powerful, then he is able to stop the suffering, and if he is all good, then he should want to stop the suffering. However, evil and suffering are a reality, therefore either God is not all powerful or he is not all good.  Expressed logically, the argument looks like this:

Premise A:  If an all good, all powerful God exists, then there would be no evil or suffering.

Premise B:  Evil and suffering do exist.

Conclusion: Therefore God is either not willing (he is not good), or he is not able (he is not powerful), to end evil and suffering.

This appears to be a sound logical argument. If premise “A” is true, and premise “B” is true, the conclusion logically follows.

Although there are some belief systems (such as Christian Science – which is neither “Christian” nor “science”) that deny the existence of evil (evil is just an illusion), most people would agree with premise “B”. All we have to do is pick up a newspaper, turn on the news, or look in a mirror to know that evil and suffering exists. We all daily face the reality of good and evil, right and wrong. We may not all agree with what constitutes good or evil, right or wrong, but there is a universal sense that some things are good or right while other things are bad or wrong. Since anyone concerned with evil and suffering already presupposes the validity of premise “B”, let’s move on to premise “A”.

Premise “A” says, “If an all good, all powerful God exists, then there would be no evil or suffering. However, I believe that this premise is flawed for a couple of reasons.

First, the premise, as it is stated, presents an over-simplified view of God. It only takes into account two of his many attributes; his goodness (holiness) and his power (omnipotence). However, there are many other attributes of God; his love, justice, sovereignty, mercy, omniscience, immutability, wisdom and grace just to name a few. All of the attributes of God must be taken into account. It is like a recipe. It would not be correct to call a cup of flour or a cup of sugar a “cake” because a cake is composed of more than just flour or sugar. But when you take the flour and the sugar and mix it in with the other ingredients in the proper proportions, then you have a cake. The same is true of God. It would be presumptuous to expect God to behave a certain way based only on one or two of his attributes. That would be something less than God and not the real God at all.

Just consider one of God’s other attributes, his omniscience. Omniscience means that God knows everything perfectly – past, present and future – from beginning to end. Because God is omniscient, there may be some overriding reason for him to allow evil and suffering that only he knows about. He may allow it in order to bring about a greater good or to prevent a worse evil. We are not omniscient, so we do not know what God knows. Therefore, premise “A” is fallacious because it does not take into consideration all of the attributes of God.

The second reason that I believe that this argument is flawed is that it assumes that because God has not already brought an end to evil and suffering that he will not, or cannot bring about its demise. It demands that God act “now,” rather than allowing a sovereign, omniscient God to bring about the consummation of history in his own time frame. In Revelation 21:4, we are told of God’s ultimate plan to end all evil and suffering:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

But why do we have to wait? Why doesn’t God act NOW to end evil? When he does finally judge sin and put an end to all evil, that will include every person who has never repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus. 2 Peter 3:9 says:

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise [to come again and judge the world]…but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

The Bible tells us that the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue to exist for the time being is because God is being merciful to us.

As you can see, evil and suffering are compatible with an all-good, all-powerful God.

Sometimes, the same argument is used to attack, not the character of God, but the very existence of God. That argument can be expressed something like this:

Premise A:  If God exists, then there would be no evil or suffering.

Premise B:  Evil and suffering do exist.

Conclusion: Therefore God does not exist.

But people who like to use the existence of evil and suffering as an argument against the existence of God, run into the problem of trying to explain how they can arrive at the concept of evil. Without a transcendent, moral lawgiver, there is no objective standard by which to judge any activity as good or evil. Good and evil then become subjective concepts, where each individual decides for himself what is good and bad, right and wrong.

Rather than the reality of evil and suffering being proof that God doesn’t exist, I believe that it is, in reality, a good argument for the existence of God. In order to understand what I am getting at, we will need to ask ourselves a serious of questions that were first asked by the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in his book A Critique of Practical Reason.

As I stated earlier, most people believe that good and evil, right and wrong, really do exist. When we talk about these things, we are talking about moral imperatives. In other words, we are talking about things that we ought to do and things that we ought not to do.

But why should we do some things and not do other things? What do we need for a system of morality to be meaningful? What is needed is justice. Right behavior must be rewarded and wrong behavior must be punished. Without justice, there is no practical difference between right and wrong. A person might as well do whatever they want if there are no consequences for his actions.

But we know that in this life we do not always have perfect justice. Evil people are sometimes never punished for the things that they do, and good deeds often go unrewarded. So what would be necessary for perfect justice to take place if we do not always have perfect justice in this life? We would need an afterlife in which justice could prevail.

But even for justice to prevail in an afterlife, what would be necessary? What would prevent things from happening just as they do in this life? We would need a judge to rule in judgment over everyone’s deeds.

But would this insure justice? What if the judge was corrupt? In order to have perfect justice we would need a judge that was perfectly upright and good. He would have to be perfectly and infinitely holy without even the slightest speck of corruption.

But would this still insure that perfect justice is done? What if our perfectly holy and good judge made a mistake in the law? What if he based his judgment on faulty evidence? Even good people can make mistakes if they don’t have all of the evidence. What we would need is a judge that knew everything perfectly. He would have to have all knowledge about everything, everywhere, and at all times. He would have to be omniscient.

But suppose that we had a perfectly holy, perfectly omniscient judge who declares an evil doer guilty and passes sentence upon him. Would that still insure justice? What if the evil doer overpowers his guards and escapes from custody? What would be necessary to insure perfect justice is for our perfectly holy, perfectly omniscient judge to have power to carry out his sentence. How much power would he need? He would have to be all powerful. He would need to be omnipotent.

Does our perfectly holy, omniscient, omnipotent judge start to remind you of anyone?

So in order for good and evil…right and wrong to mean anything at all, there must be justice. And to have justice, there must be a holy, omniscient, omnipotent judge to dispense it.  Logically put, our argument now looks like this:

Premise A: If evil and suffering exist, then a perfectly holy, omniscient,                                   omnipotent God exists.

Premise B: Evil and suffering do exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, a perfectly holy, omniscient, omnipotent God does exist.

 

(SDG)

 

 

 

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Happy Atheist’s Day

In recognition of National Atheist Day (April 1st), I wanted to post the following article that I wrote in honor of the unofficial celebration. Feel free to leave a comment or to share it to your favorite social media.

“If I did not believe in God, I should still want my doctor, my lawyer and my banker to do so.” – G.K. Chesterton

national-atheist-day-2You may not be aware of it, but every year on April first we celebrate Atheist Day! OK…the official designation might be April fool’s day, but I think that the two names are interchangeable, and I believe that I have biblical precedence for believing so. In Psalm 14:1, King David writes, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Why would David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make such a claim? Why is it foolish to say that “there is no God?” To answer this question, let’s take a look at what atheism is and what it claims. You may be surprised to discover that this task is not as easy as it might seem.

Language is said to be arbitrary. That is, there is no natural relationship between words and the concepts that they represent. However, words, as a linguistic form, do have a history; they have an etymology that is useful in tracing them or their component parts to a common source and meaning.

The word atheism comes from the Greek word “theos” (God) and the prefix “a” (without). So in the broad sense of the word, an atheist is a person who lives his life without acknowledging the existence of God. Atheism is in contradiction to “theism,” which is the belief in a deity or deities.

Let’s look at another word – agnostic. This word is also derived from two Greek words; the word “gnosis” (knowledge), and the prefix “a” (without). An agnostic is one who believes that we do not possess sufficient knowledge to justify belief in a deity.

Atheism has undergone somewhat of a transformation over the past few decades. Prior to the mid twentieth century, the standard use of the word atheist was to designate someone who believed that there were no deities at all. It was a positive assertion of the nonexistence of God. There were very few people who actually would claim to be an atheist, and most people who did not believe in God would claim to be agnostic instead. The reason for this should be apparent; the assertion that “there is no God” is as much a claim to knowledge as is the claim “there is a God,” and requires the atheist to provide evidence of his assertion. However, It is impossible to prove a negative, “there is no…” In order to assert that there is no God, one would have to possess all knowledge (be omniscient) about everything, everywhere (be omnipresent). Ironically, this would give the person claiming that there is no God, some of the very characteristics of God.

Primarily through the writings of prominent atheists such as Antony Flew (who later in life embraced theism), the concept of the “presumption of atheism” gained wide-spread acceptance among what would become known as the “new atheists.”  The presumption of atheism, according to Flew, meant that we should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of God was made known. It made atheism the default position and placed the burden of proof on the theist to provide evidence for the existence of God. As Flew explains,

“In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist.” (A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro [Oxford:  Blackwell, 1997], s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew)

This changed the standard definition of atheism to a broader definition that also embraced agnostics, and gave way to several hybrid theological positions (see diagram below).

513px-theological_positions-svg

This “new atheism” freed the atheist from the untenable position of having to prove that God did not exist, but blurs the distinction between atheist and agnostic. As William Lane Craig points out, atheists “… are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities.” (Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig)

But is lack of knowledge about the existence of God – the core belief of atheism and agnosticism – really true? Is there a God and can he be known? As a theist and a Christian, I look to the Bible to answer these questions.

There are numerous references in the Bible that make it clear that God has made himself known to people everywhere through the process of natural revelation. (See my earlier post – Revelation, Inspiration, Illumination…What’s the Difference?)

Natural revelation is the reveling of information about God that can be found in the natural world and is discoverable or discernible by such disciplines as natural science, astronomy, biology, physics, etc… The Bible says in Psalms 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

Natural revelation is also referred to as “general” revelation because it is part of Gods common grace which is given to all people everywhere to make known certain truths about God. Romans 1:19-20 says,

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

God adds, at the end of verse 20, that because of this knowledge about him that is given to everyone, people are “without excuse” for not believing in him. It is not a matter of not having knowledge of God, as the atheist and agnostic claims, but, as Romans 1:18 tells us, the unrighteous suppress the truth about God because they do not want to acknowledge him as God.

The Apostle Paul continues in Romans 1:21-22, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…”

And that, my friends, is why we have Atheist Day.

Soli Deo Gloria

(Author’s Note: For more information about how to dialogue with atheists, click here for an article at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry for some excellent suggestions.)

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The Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Weapon of Mass Destruction

weapon_of_mass_destruction

 

Much has been said in recent years about WMD’s, or “weapons of mass destruction.” Nations have engaged in arms races to see who could develop bigger and better WMD’s, until they are like two little boys standing waist deep in gasoline arguing over who has the most matches. Wars have been fought to keep other nations from developing WMD capabilities. Dictatorial and tyrannical third world nations, by virtue of their ability to slaughter tens of thousands of people with a single bomb, can now take their place at the table of world super powers.

While the world looks with keen interest at such places as Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and tries to assess the WMD capabilities of these nations, one of the largest organizations in the world has gone largely ignored, even though it has been in possession of a WMD far longer than any other world super power. That organization is the universal Christian assembly known as the “church,” and their WMD is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote in the epistle to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

(Romans 1:16 ESV). What did he mean by “the power of God?” What is the power of the gospel? What does the power of the gospel accomplish?

The word that we translate “power” is the Greek word dunamis, meaning strength, ability or power, particularly an inherent power residing within a thing. It is where we get the word “dynamite.” In Romans, it refers to the miraculous, inherent power of the gospel to bring a person into a saving relationship with God. But why do I refer to the gospel as a WMD? Let’s take a look at some of the things that the gospel has the power to destroy.

  • THE GOSPEL CAN DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE:

1 Corinthians 1:19 – For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

The Apostle Paul did not preach the gospel “with the wisdom of words” (1 Cor. 1:17), or with “the enticing words of man’s wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:4). Matthew Henry has this to add:

“He did not preach the gospel in this manner, lest the cross of Christ should be of no effect, lest the success should be ascribed to the force of art, and not of truth; not to the plain doctrine of a crucified Jesus, but to the powerful oratory of those who spread it, and hereby the honor of the cross be diminished or eclipsed.” – Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

Paul understood that the power of the gospel message was not in worldly wisdom or fancy oratory, but was inherent in the message itself. He recognized that there was more power in the plain preaching of a crucified Jesus than in all of the worldly wisdom and philosophy of his day. It was the preaching of this simple gospel message, by simple men, that turned the whole world upside down (Acts 17:6).

  • THE GOSPEL CAN DESTROY THE WORKS OF THE DEVIL:

1 John 3:8 – “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

Satan’s purpose is always the same: he seeks to exalt himself above God by opposing God and men, and his “works” are always performed with this in mind. What are some of the ways that Satan works to oppose God and men?

1. Satan opposes the gospel message and attempts to keep men from salvation in Jesus Christ:

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:11-12 ESV)

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)

2. Satan holds men and women slaves to sin and captives to his will:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV)

3. Satan seeks the destruction of believers:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)

4. Satan tries to corrupt the gospel message and the word of God through false prophets and teachers:

“And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 ESV)

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV)

 

  • THE GOSPEL MEANS THE DESTRUCTION OF SATAN HIMSELF:

Hebrews 2:14 – “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.

1. Satan’s destruction foretold by Jesus:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41 ESV)

2. Satan’s destruction foretold by the Apostle Paul:

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (Romans 16:20 ESV)

3. Satan’s destruction foretold by the Apostle John:

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.’” (Revelation 12:7-11 ESV)

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.” (Revelation 20:1-3 ESV)

 

  • THE GOSPEL BRINGS ABOUT THE DESTRUCTION OF DEATH AND THE POWER OF THE GRAVE:

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV)

When a person responds in faith to the gospel message, they pass from a state of spiritual death to one of spiritual life (Romans 8:10). They are then sealed by the Holy Spirit as a promise of the redemption to come (Ephesians 4:30). Matthew Henry has this to say about the redemption that is promised:

“There is to be a day of redemption; the body is to be redeemed from the power of the grave at the resurrection-day, and then God’s people will be delivered from all the effects of sin, as well as from all sin and misery, which they are not till rescued out of the grave. – Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11 ESV)

“…and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10 ESV)

 

  • THE GOSPEL IS POWER FOR DESTROYING OUR SINFUL DESIRES AND OUR SINFUL NATURE:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV)

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10 ESV)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

 

  • THE GOSPEL DESTROYS OUR HEARTS OF STONE THAT WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH GOD:

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

IN SUMMARY – This is not an exhaustive treatment on the power of the gospel, but it should, at least, begin to show the mighty way in which it works in the lives of believers to effect the changes that God wants to make in them to bring about their sanctification and their redemption and conform them to the image of Christ. I will close with these words from John Piper:

“We remind ourselves that the gospel alone brings forgiven sinners to final, everlasting joy. Nothing in the world can do this except the gospel of Jesus Christ. Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam – they do not have a Savior who can solve the problem of separation from a holy God through sin, and offer sinners hope by grace and not works. Only one message saves sinners and brings them safely into the presence of God – the gospel of Jesus Christ. It alone is the power of God unto salvation.”  – Sermon by John Piper entitled, The Gospel Is the Power of God unto Salvation, June 21, 1998

(Soli Deo Gloria)

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The Exclusivity of Jesus Christ

one-way-001Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.   (John 14:6 ESV)

I – Not Muhammad. Not Buddha.  Not Krishna. Not Confucius. Not Moses. Not the Pope. Not Zoroaster. Not Laozi. Not Guru Nanak Dev. Not Joseph Smith. Not Mary Baker Eddy. Not Charles Taze Russell. Not L. Ron Hubbard. Not Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Not Sun Myung Moon. Not Anton LaVey, or any of a thousand other pretenders and false prophets. Only Jesus.

AM – A verb. An action. To exist. To live. To be.

THE – One in particular. Distinct from all others. Not “a” or “an”.

WAY – The manner. The method. The path. The door. The direction. The means. The road. The mode. The gate. The entrance. The opening.

AND – In addition to. Also. As well as.

The TRUTH – Not a lie. Not a falsehood. Not a deception. Not a fake, a phony, or a fraud, but a fact. A reality. A certainty. An assurance.

And the LIFE – That quality of existence characterized by growth and change. Living. Existing. Not dead or dying. Not stagnant or unproductive. Active. Abundant. Fertile. Full. Meaningful. Joyous.

NO ONE – A universal negation. Not anyone. Not Mother Teresa. Not Martin Luther. Not John Calvin. Not Saint Augustine. Not the missionaries. Not the preachers or the priests. Not your Sunday school teacher. Not your mother, or your father, or you siblings. Not your grandparents, or your neighbors, or your friends. Not you. Not me.

COMES – Approaches. Draws near. Gets closer to. Moves toward.

TO – In the direction of. In the vicinity of.

The FATHER – Abba. Daddy. The creator. The sustainer. The giver of life. The designer. The author. The provider. The protector. The judge. YHWH. Jehovah. GOD.

EXCEPT – Other than. But. Excluding. Apart from. With the exception of.

THROUGH – By way of. By means of. Via. By the use of.

ME – The one speaking. Jesus.

Jesus is the only WAY to God. He has the only TRUTH about God. He alone can give us LIFE with God.

Soli Deo Gloria

Posted in Controversial Scriptures, World Religions | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Did God Condone Slavery in the Bible?

josephsoldintoegypt

“Doesn’t the Bible teach that it is alright to own slaves and to even sell our children into slavery?”

An atheist friend of mine once posed this question to me, hoping, I believe, to demonstrate to me that Christians don’t really believe everything that is in the Bible because we don’t condone or observe some of the Old Testament practices that God allowed or even seemed to encourage among his people. The question is one worth looking at and comes from the book of Exodus: “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.”[1] Why aren’t Christians owning slaves and selling their daughters into slavery? Let’s take a look at that question.

Firstly, there are different aspects of Gods will that the bible refers to. There is what is known as Gods “sovereign” will. Also known as Gods will of decree or his perfect will; this refers to the will of God as his sovereign control over all that comes to pass. “…he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”[2] We will obey Gods sovereign will whether we want to or even know about it.

Another aspect of Gods will that the bible talks about is known as Gods “will of command” or his permissive will. This is the will of God that he commands us to do, but which we can choose – by virtue of our free wills – to disobey. We find this in the example of the Ten Commandments. This is a list of very specific “do’s and don’t’s” that are commanded by God, but which are disobeyed constantly.

God is immutable in his moral attributes, but he is a personal God who is involved in the day-to-day lives of his creation – a creation that is imperfect and sinful and possessing of a free will. There is no place in the bible that either endorses or encourages any follower of Jesus to own slaves. However, in the Old Covenant, God did allow for slavery. God, in his permissive will, allowed a number of practices under the Old Covenant which, nevertheless, were not part of his perfect will. Slavery is one example. Another example is divorce.

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.[3]

God made concessions under the Old Covenant for divorce, although he never wanted divorce to happen.

Secondly, Slavery was a fact of life in the ancient world. Victory in battle produced slaves – period. Even in New Testament times, slavery was a massive institution. It is estimated that in the first century BC, between 30 – 40 percent of the population of Italy were slaves.[4]  Slavery was vital to the economy and even the social fabric of ancient societies. Therefore, for his own reasons, God chose to regulate the cruelty of slavery rather than to ban it outright. Under the Law of Moses, he commanded that slaves be set free automatically during the year of Jubilee[5]. He forbade cruel treatment of slaves.[6] He commanded that they be allowed a certain level of access to the ceremonies of Judaism and so forth.

william-wilberforce-knowing

A Christian, William Wilberforce, 1759-1833, was almost single-handedly responsible for the abolition of slavery in Great Britain.

Although slavery still exists today in those parts of the world with predominately Muslim populations, it has been the work of Christian abolishinists throughout the west that has been responsible for the demise of slavery as an institution.[7]

Thirdly, as for selling their daughters into slavery… The first rule in Biblical hermeneutics is to let scripture interpret scripture. That is, never try to interpret a verse by itself, but interpret it in its literary and cultural context. We follow this same rule with anything that we read. The Hebrew word “ebed” and the Greek word “doulos,” which are both translated as “slave” in the Bible, encompass a range of relationships whose usage must be determined by the context. If you do not interpret it in context, you can make a text say anything.

Slavery in the Old Testament was overwhelmingly voluntary, and was usually initiated by the slave or the slaves’ family as an economic and social benefit. This servitude could extend, at the utmost, only to six years. It was nearly the same as in our recent past, in cases of apprenticeship, where the parents bind the child for seven years, and receive from the master so much per week during that period. A man might, in accordance with existing custom, sell his daughter to another man with a view to her becoming an inferior wife, or concubine. In either case, the Bible clearly states, “If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service.” [8]

Lastly, the Bible was never designed to serve as a manifesto on controversial political issues. It is rather primarily the story of how God, over time, has worked His sovereign will in this universe, and is still able to do so, through the hearts and minds and lives of those who trust Him.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Exodus 21:7

[2] Daniel 4:35

[3] Matthew 19:4-8

[4] See article “Slavery” at Encyclopedia Britannica http://www.britannica.com/blackhistory/article-24157

[5] Deuteronomy 15:12

[6] Leviticus 25

[7] See article “Christianity and slavery-Movement towards abolitionhttp://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_slav3.htm

[8] Leviticus 25:39

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Christianity vs. Christmas

santajesus02paid

OK…time for a pop quiz. First question: True or false – According to the gospel of Luke, a multitude of angels appeared to the shepherds who were watching their flocks on the night that Jesus was born, and sang praises glorifying God. Second question: According to the gospel of Matthew, how many wise men visited Jesus after his birth? Alright, let’s do one more. In which book of the Bible are Christians instructed to celebrate the birth of Jesus? (Hint…it is not in any of the gospels.)

Now let’s look at the answers. How do you think that you did? The answer to the first question is “false.” The gospel account never mentions angels “singing.” Actually, there are no references anywhere in the Bible to angels singing. If you answered “three” for the second question, you would be incorrect. The gospel of Matthew never says how many wise men, or “magi,” visited with the infant Jesus and his mother. Tradition has always assumed that there were three because of the three gifts that are given – gold, frankincense and myrrh.

What about the third question? In which book of the Bible are Christians instructed to celebrate the birth of Jesus? This was also kind of a trick question, because there is no place in the Bible where such instructions are given. Does that surprise you?

The origins of Christmas actually pre-date Christianity, and have their roots in the celebration of the winter solstice which many ancient cultures commemorated. It wasn’t until the early part of the fourth century that the church adopted the day as a holy day to honor the birth of Jesus.

After the protestant reformation in the early sixteenth century, the puritans refused to celebrate Christmas. They viewed it as a “Roman Catholic” holiday that sought to re-offer the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. They also pointed to its pagan origins in the observance of “Saturnalia”, a weeklong celebration that lasted from December 17th to the 25th, that honored the Roman god, Saturn.

In 1644 the English parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell and his puritan supporters, banned the celebration of Christmas. The puritans in the New World soon followed suit. In May 0f 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law, that remained the law for the next twenty-two years, forbidding the celebration of Christmas.

After 1680, Christmas celebrations were legal, but its legal status did little in the minds of puritanical New Englanders to soften their resolve to refrain from the reveling and merrymaking that was still considered to be intemperate – “all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” It took almost another century for the celebration of Christmas to gain popular acceptance. It wasn’t until 1870 that President Ulysses Grant declared Christmas a federal holiday.

Today, Christmas is viewed as both a holy day and as a secular holiday, with themes of consumerism and greed sometimes overpowering the more charitable and sacred ideas associated with the day.

For a good treatment on whether Christians should be able to celebrate Christmas or whether they should consider it a pagan holiday and avoid it all together, click here to see an article by Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).

Soli Deo Gloria

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An Atoothfairyist’s Tale: How To “Not Believe” In Something

tooth-fairy-17

I am an “a-tooth-fairyist.” That is to say that I do not believe in the Tooth Fairy. I have been an atoothfairyist for almost my entire life.  As an atoothfairyist, I hardly give the tooth fairy a second thought. As a matter of fact, until I decided to write this article, I can’t even remember the last time that I thought about the TF. After all, why would I spend my time thinking about something that I do not believe exists? There may be rare moments when the TF comes up in conversation, or when Hollywood decides to make a movie about the TF, but for the most part, the TF doesn’t affect me or have any impact on my life, my worldview, or my daily thoughts and activities.

Having this type of attitude as a non-believer makes it very difficult to understand the behavior of another group of non-believers, the atheists. They behave in a totally different way from other groups of non-believers, such as the a-leprechaunists, the a-unicornists, or the a-little-green-man-on-the-moonists. Let me give you some examples.

Although there are probably millions of people across the globe (most of them under the age of five) that hold to toothfairyism, my guess would be that the vast majority of the world’s population are atoothfairyists. There are no reliable figures for the number of atoothfairyists in the world because we just don’t care. It would be an irrational waste of time to number ourselves over a non-belief.

Atheists, on the other hand, take great pains and great pride in keeping track of their numbers, as evidenced by this Wikipedia article entitled, The Demographics of Atheism. They have even taken the time to extrapolate the numbers in order to determine when they can expect to surpass the world’s population of theists. Psychology Today reports in an April 25, 2012 article, how atheists are waiting with eager anticipation for the year 2038, so that they can finally spike the ball and dance in the end zone (Atheism to Defeat Religion by 2038.)

Another way in which atheists differ from other groups of non-believers is in their impressive number of vocal and energetic “professional” atheists – people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett. These are men whose whole professional identities are wrapped up in their non-belief, and they work tirelessly to spread the gospel of atheism wherever they go. Professional atheists hold seminars and conferences. They debate theists and are in high demand on the lecture circuit. They do pod casts and radio and television programs. About the only thing that they don’t do in their evangelistic zeal is go door to door.

One compilation of the 50 top atheists in the world today makes the following statement about the men and women that they included on their list, “To make the cut, one has to do more than merely question God’s existence or even deny that knowledge of God’s existence is possible.” They list several important requirements for inclusion on the list:

  1. Celebrity – “To make our list, the atheist must have a public identification with atheism and must have made some public impact by challenging religion and/or promoting atheism, either in print or on the Internet. In other words, our ranking is a list of people who are well known because they are atheists.”
  2. Energy – “To make our ranking, the atheist must be an activist. He or she must exhibit some desire to win others over to atheism.”
  3. Seriousness – “…we put a premium on the depth and seriousness of the man or woman’s case for atheism. We ask ourselves this question: How many rounds could this person go in the ring (so to speak) with a top-notch defender of religious belief?”

In comparison, to my knowledge, there is not one single atoothfairyist missionary. Not one! After all, it would be rather silly to put that much effort into a non-belief.

Atheists are also prolific writers. Besides magazines, journals, blogs and a plethora of websites, the last forty years or so have seen the publication of numerous books by the “professionals.” Richard Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion, has sold over two million copies in English, and has been translated into thirty-four other languages worldwide.  In March of 2007, The God Delusion, by Dawkins; Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris; and God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, by Victor J. Stenger, all appeared on the New York Times best seller list. It was the first time in history that three books on atheism appeared on the list at the same time.

Of the nearly 2,700 titles at Amazon that had the words “Tooth Fairy” in them, not one of them was written by an atoothfairyist trying to debunk the existence of the tooth fairy, or ridiculing believers. The reason that you will never find a copy of The Tooth fairy Delusion, or The Tooth Fairy Is Not Great, is because we don’t care if anyone wants to believe in the tooth fairy. We don’t demand that everyone thinks the same way that we do.

That brings me to another way in which atheists are different from other types of non-believers. If an atoothfairyist meets someone who believes in the tooth fairy, we might think that they are a little silly, but I doubt that there would be any name calling or fist fights breaking out. I don’t believe that there is any evidence for the existence of the tooth fairy, but if someone could present such evidence to me, I would be eager to hear it. I mean, could you imagine it? A supernatural being that visits you when you are asleep and pays you for your lost teeth! That would be awesome if it were real.

Atheists, on the other hand, don’t want to hear the other side of the argument. As a matter of fact, at the 2012 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., atheist poster boy, Richard Dawkins, instructed the crowd of cheering rally-goers that when they meet someone who says that they are religious that they should be “mocked and scorned.” Forget using civility and logic to confront a theist’s arguments or beliefs. Just show your contempt by ridiculing them. Did anyone there see the hypocrisy of Dawkins saying this at the end of a rally for “REASON?”

Atheists are also pretty good at social networking. They form societies, like the American Atheists. You can join the American Atheists with an individual membership for $35.00 a year. Or if you are a true, died in the wool (non) believer, you can get a lifetime platinum membership for a mere $12,000.00. If that is a little steep for you, you can settle for a subscription to American Atheists magazine. As an atoothfairyist, I would have better use for $12,000.00 than to support the promotion of my non-belief in the TF.

Atheists have their own political lobby groups like The Secular Coalition for America, a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization whose purpose is to “amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States.”  They are headquartered in Washington, D.C. where they can have “ready access to government, activist partners and the media.”

We atoothfairyists don’t feel the need to lobby congress. We feel pretty secure in our right not to believe in the TF, and our rights aren’t even covered by the first amendment, like the atheist’s right not to believe.

If you are looking for deity free romance, there are even dating sites for atheists, like Atheists Dating Service, Dating for Atheists, and Atheist Passion to name just a few. No dating sites for atoothfairyists. I checked.

Atheists claim that atheism is not a belief system, but merely a state of being. This works out to their advantage because holding a belief might require an atheist to offer evidence for his beliefs, just like a theist should be able to offer evidence for what he believes. But anyone would be hard pressed to explain their behavior – all of the books and seminars and lectures and debates and attitude and in-your-face-ness – if atheists are not trying to promote something; some kind of belief or agenda. I see several possible explanations for all of their zealousness:

  1. Atheism truly is not a belief and atheists truly do not believe in God. However, they don’t want anyone else to believe in God either. It’s their way or the highway. This would be an extreme form of intolerance.
  2. Atheism is actually a belief in one or more “isms” that atheists are not willing to admit to, such as naturalism, empiricism, scientism, or materialism. This way they do not have to defend their beliefs. They can just go about the business of attacking the beliefs of others. This would make atheists extremely disingenuous.
  3. A third possibility for their fervent efforts to propagate atheism and eradicate theism is that atheists hate God.  However, to hate something that they do not even believe exists would make atheists extremely irrational.
  4. I think that the most likely explanation is that atheist hate religion and religious people because we remind them of their ultimate responsibility towards God, and that is a responsibility that they are desperately trying to ignore. Romans 1:18-24 describes this effort of sinful man to suppress the knowledge of God. Denying God, in the face of what the Bible declares as the evident truth of his existence, would make atheists extremely delusional.

I am an atoothfairyist. If I am ever presented with evidence to the contrary, I will thoughtfully consider whether the evidence is logical and compelling – like any rational person. In the mean time, I will not get excited. I will not get provoked. I will not get worked up or get emotional about the subject. I will not attack those who choose to believe in the TF. I will not be writing any books about atoothfairyism. I will not be networking with other atoothfairyists, attending conferences or seminars or debates. When I am done writing this article I doubt that I will give the TF a second thought. After all…that is what it means to not believe in something.

Soli Deo Gloria

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What’s In A Name?

whatsinaname

I recently hosted an interaction on Twitter between myself and about a dozen people who claimed to be atheists, in which I asked the following question, “What do you think are the strongest and the weakest arguments for the existence of God?”  Many of the comments that I got back were pretty mean-spirited and insulting, and I could tell that some people just wanted to argue with me. Here are some of the more mild responses that I received from those who were gracious enough to offer one. Most of the comments were along the same line:

  • “There is no argument for the existence for god other than a knee jerk reaction to the unknown. Weakest argument is, any.”
  • “At best, the strongest argument for God’s existence is weak, but I can give you tens of thousands of pages proving he doesn’t.”
  • “There are no good arguments for the existence of gods…zero objective evidence and no logical proof.”
  • “Strongest=weakest: the claims made in the Bible.”

I then got a little more specific and asked about their reactions to the philosophical arguments for the existence of God – the cosmological, ontological, teleological, and moral arguments – and I got the following responses:

  • “I don’t see any argument whether it be cosmological, moral etc to be any stronger or convincing than blind faith. All fail equally.”
  • “Ahh ok well in that case my reaction to any person trying to argue that God exists would be pity.”
  • “I do not feel as such: I have concluded that such arguments display a lack of critical thinking skills by the proponents.”

All-in-all, it was a rather frustrating exchange for me. Other than the gentleman that stated that the claims made in the Bible were both the strongest and weakest arguments (a logical contradiction), I could not get anyone to give an actual example of a claim for Gods existence that they felt either had or lacked merit. All I was offered were sweeping generalizations.

I really expected more. Responses were coming back from people who had the words “atheist” and “agnostic” and “secular” right in their profiles. These were people who not only didn’t believe in God, but they were proud of the fact! Their identities (on Twitter at least) were wrapped up in the fact of their unbelief. One would expect that they would have given a lot of thought to the question that I had posed, and were better equipped to give a more precise answer to my inquiry.

This makes me wonder if people who claim to be atheists and agnostics have any familiarity at all with the classical arguments for Gods existence. I suspect that most of them do not. I suspect that most of them have made their decision to be an atheist based not on any sincere and thoughtful examination of the evidence, but simply because they do not want God to exist because they do not want to be accountable to him. It is not so much that they are “a-theist” (without God), but that they are “anti-theist” (against God).

The following chart illustrates the four positions possible with regard to our personal theology. I believe that everyone falls into one of these four groups. Future articles will take a closer look at each of these groups to see what the Bible has to say about them, as well as looking at the classical arguments for Gods existence.

 

Four Types of Personal Theology

So, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but no disrespect to William Shakespeare, an atheist is not an agnostic is not an anti-theist is not a theist! Being able to recognize the difference when we are talking to people will better enable us to communicate to them the truths about God.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Revelation, Inspiration, Illumination…What’s The Difference?

revelation20inspiration20illuminationThe difference between revelation, inspiration, and illumination may seem to be a technical one; however, it is a very important one. Many Christians use these three words interchangeably. It is incumbent upon believers to understand how God makes himself known and how he gets that knowledge into the hearts of man.

FROM GOD TO MAN: The first step is revelation. This is the process by which God makes known to man truths that he otherwise could not know. For example – the details of creation as recorded by Moses in the first two chapters of Geneses. It would have been impossible for Moses, or for any man, to know these details since there were no men present to witness them. It is only because God revealed these things to Moses that he was able to record them in the Genesis account. Revelation happens in two main ways: natural revelation, and special revelation.

Natural revelation is the reveling of information about God that can be found in the natural world and is discoverable or discernible by such disciplines as natural science, astronomy, biology, physics, etc… The Bible says in Psalms 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” Natural revelation is also refered to as “general” revelation because it is part of Gods common grace which is given to all people everywhere to make known certain truths about God (Rom. 1:19-20). God also uses natural revelation to instill in people everywhere an ethical code of conduct – a sense of right and wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). So it is through natural revelation that we have both knowledge of God – that he exists and that we are somehow responsible to him; and  knowledge of right and wrong and a sense of our inability to live up to Gods requirements.

Although natural revelation informs us about God and his ethical requirements, it does not give us specific information about how to be saved. That is the job of special revelation, which refers to the written revelation of God (the Bible) and to the person of Jesus Christ. Whereas general revelation lets us know about the existence of God and his moral code, special revelation reveals such things as the gospel, sin, heaven, hell, redemption, etc…

The canon of the Old Testament was completed by the end of the first century. The New Testament canon found its completion by the end of the fourth century. Since that time, the combined 66 books that make up our present Bible have been universally recognized by protestant Christians as the sole and final authority when it comes to the special revelation of God. All teachings and all doctrine must harmonize with the scriptures, for it is the revelation of Jesus Christ contained in the scriptures that make up the foundation of our faith (1 Cor. 3:10-12). Special revelation is considered closed. That is, everything that God would have us know about him concerning his nature, his attributes, and his character, has already been revealed to us and are contained within the Bible. If God had not closed the process 0f revelation, then we would continually be subject to “new” revelations without any standard to judge them against. Someone could come forward with the revelation that Jesus is unpredictable and will do whatever he wants to do, even lie, if it accomplishes his purposes. If we are open to new revelation, then what is to prevent us from accepting this teaching? It can stand on its own. On the other hand, if revelation is closed, then all new teachings must harmonize with what we already know from the scripture to be true about Jesus – that he cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and that he always acts consistently with his character and attributes (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).

FROM MAN TO PAPER: The second step in the process is Inspiration. This is the means by which God ensures that his revelation is properly written down or in some other way communicated. The word “inspired” occurs only one time in the New Testament (II Tim. 3:16)1 and means literally “God breathed”.

There are several theories regarding the inspiration of the Bible. The Natural theory holds that there was no supernatural element at work in the process of writing the Bible. It states that the writers of the Bible where only inspired in the same sense that an artist might be inspired to create a painting or a composer a symphony. In this theory, human error is not only possible, but likely to happen.

The Dictation theory of inspiration states that God dictated the words of the Bible to the Bible writers, who had no input of their own with regard to individual perspective or style.

A third theory of inspiration is the Partial Inspiration theory. This theory states that the Bible “contains” the word of God, but you have to sort out all of the other myth and legend that are also present in order to get to the truth.

The Plenary-Verbal theory of inspiration, held to by most conservative theologians, teaches that all (plenary) of the very words (verbal) of the Bible are inspired by God. In this view, the Bible is believed to be inerrant (free from error or contradiction), and infallible (trustworthy, dependable). Peter said that this was true of the Old Testament scriptures (II Peter 1:20-21), that it was true of his epistles and those of the other apostles (II Peter 3:1-2), and that it was true of Paul’s writings (II Peter 3:15-16).

FROM PAPER TO HEART: The final part of the process is that of Illumination. This is the means whereby God causes the written revelation of his word, or the inspired preaching or teaching of his word, to be understood by the human heart. Whenever we receive a new insight into God’s word, we are having our hearts and our intellects illuminated by Gods inspired revelation. The Holy Spirit illuminates both the unsaved” (John 16:8-11; Acts 2:14-41) – to open their hearts to a saving knowledge of God, and the saved (John 14:26; 16:13-14; I Cor. 2:9-13) – to guide them in the process of sanctification.

Understanding the difference between these theological words can help us to guard ourselves against those wolves in sheep’s clothing that would come and try to pervert the gospel of grace with “new” teachings and revelations from God.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Recovering from Spiritual Abuse: Fearing the Good

flossing-1A large part of the recovery process after leaving a cult is learning to discern what things are good and what things are harmful. A spiritually abusive group will often take what is good and attach to it a negative meaning or connotation that often times will color our perception of that thing once we have made our escape from the group.  This is a wonderful article by Stephen Smith discussing some of the good things that we may fear after leaving a cult.

Recovering from Spiritual Abuse: Fearing the Good

Check out the rest of Steve’s blog at Liberty for Captives. There is a ton of great stuff there.

Soli Deo Gloria

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