3 Things to Remember When Leaders Leave Your Church

When Church Leaders are Led to Leavewalkingawaygrey

If you have gone to a church of your own volition for any length of time you cannot help but have that church become a part of you. You likely chose that church for one or more reasons, and you have grown to love the people, the teaching, the music, the fellowship, the various ministries, etc. I know I feel this way about my church for sure. If I didn’t I wouldn’t call it my church home. One thing we can sometimes forget is that the leaders in the church have not sworn a blood oath to remain at your church, and your church only. Things happen. They might start families. They might grow in a way that leads them in a new direction. They might find themselves with a decision to make based on what God is calling them to do, and one of the choices might include moving to a different church.

Now if you have never been a part of a church of your choosing for any period of time you might think, “What’s the big deal”? Trust me. This losing a leader in the church can be a very big deal to many members of a congregation. This type of transition surfaces all sorts of emotions. Sometime those who remain at the church may field betrayed, disappointed, angry, saddened, concerned, confused, and everything in between. These emotions, when not handled prayerfully, can lead to a number of negative reactions with the most common being gossip, and even slander. Sounds pretty unbiblical, right? Well, it is. This is why I thought it important to remember three important points if you experience a leader leaving your church to join another church…

1) It’s Not About You

Notice some of the emotions I listed that church members might feel when a leader leaves to go to another church. Do you see a common theme? If you guessed pride or selfishness then you guessed correctly. We are called to go. Go to the lost. Heal the sick. Give freely what was given to us. Take a look at Matthew 10:5-15:

5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

If you are feeling some of the emotions I listed above I understand, but prayerfully ask are you more concerned about what is going on in your church? Or should you be spending that energy praying that the leader that is moving to a different church reaches lost people in a staggering way, and has a tremendously fruitful ministry that glorifies God in the highest? Energy spent in unrighteous anger is energy spent with frustrating results. Energy spent in broken-hearted prayer for the lost is energy spent chasing after that which God desires. Now that is energy well spent.

So remember, it is not about you. It is about reaching lost people in a way that glorifies God.

2) The Church is Not the Building

It is hard not to be protective of your church. When you do church right you grow such a deep sense of connection with both the place and the people. So when something seems to threaten either of those things it is easy to feel like it is time to fight back. But what is the church really? Is it the place? The building? Or is it something more? 1 Corinthians 12:13 provides us with a foundation of understanding.

13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

We are all baptized into one body. That sounds like unity to me, but I don’t see any mention of a building or a place. Paul gives us a deeper understanding still when he writes of what God did for Christ in Ephesians 1:22-23.

22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

So we are all baptized into one body, and that body is the church. So what does that have to do with a leader leaving to go to another church? Here is the thing. That leader is not truly going to another church. He or she is still part of the body of Christ, which is to say he or she is still part of the same (Big “C”) Church that you are a part of. Same Church, different address. In this way we are called to encourage each other. Consider Hebrews 10:23-24.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Should we be encouraging that leader? Absolutely! Can we still stir each other (that leader included) up to love and good works? Of course! Can we even continue to meet together with that leader? Why not? The church leader was not hit by a bus. There is no need to act like you can never possibly contact this person again. This is just a change of address.

3) God is Sovereign

God’s plan is not always your plan. In fact, I find more often than not God has something much better than I could have anticipated. There is something tremendously comforting in knowing that God has a plan, and that His plan will come to pass. We see support for this in Isaiah 46:8-11.

8 Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.

God declares the end from the beginning. He shall accomplish His purpose. So, if a leader leaves a church to go to another church you better believe it is part of God’s plan. How do I know that? Because if it was not part of God’s plan it would not have happened. Read that last sentence again, and let it sink in. This is what it means for God to be sovereign. The frustrating part is facing the unknown. What is going to happen after the leader leaves? Who will fill that spot? Will he or she do a good job? Why not ask what you can do to help fill the gap in the interim. Why not just trust in God’s plan? This shouldn’t be a stretch for a believer. After all we are speaking of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omni-benevolent creator of everything. Chances are His plan is pretty solid. You’re plan… not so much.

Lost and Found

When a church leader leaves one church to go to another for reasons that were fueled by thoughtful prayer and biblical consideration it is not up to us as followers of Christ to condemn that person, and it is certainly not up to us to speak ill of the person or the church he or she is moving to. It is up to us to encourage, to pray, to continue serving. We need to take the focus off of ourselves, and place it squarely on the things of God. We need to pray that the church leader will go after the lost with Christ-fueled vigor. And we need to do everything we can to support our church through the transition, and to support whomever fills that position. We can take heart in knowing that God has placed that person there with a purpose.

Salvation Lost, or Salvation Never Had?

SavedWithoutADoubt

How Saved Can a Person Be?

I have been reading Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur. In his book he mentions Hebrews 6, which is often cited as evidence for the idea that one can lose his or her salvation. Hebrews 6:4-8 reads as follows (ESV):

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

At first glance this passage would see to indicate that if, once someone is saved, that individual turns from God, then his or her salvation is lost forever. Can this be true?

MacArthur Adds Clarity

With regard to those who believe it is possible to lose one’s salvation MacArthur writes in Saved Without a Doubt,

Because they believe that warning is addressed to Christians, some interpreters think Hebrews 6 teaches that salvation can be lost. If that interpretation were true, however, the passage would also teach that, once lost, salvation could never be regained – that the person would be damned forever. There would be no going back and forth, in and out of grace, as most people who believe you can lose your salvation seem to assume. But Christians are not being addressed, and it is the opportunity for receiving salvation, not salvation itself, that can be lost. It is unbelievers who are in danger of losing salvation – in the sense of losing the opportunity to ever receive it.

So what leads MacArthur to believe that it is not followers of Christ who are being addressed? Notice the language used in the passage: those, them, they. The author is no using inclusive language such as us or we. It sounds as though the passage is referring to individuals who have come close to being followers of Christ, but never made the full commitment thereby essentially remaining unbelievers.

Author and Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh offers a rather famous example of such a person in Judas Iscariot. Here is someone who was in Jesus’ inner circle, but still remained ignorant who Jesus really was, and what He came to do! This makes me think of the times I have heard non-believers spout “if only” statements to indicate the type of evidence that would be sufficient for them to believe in Jesus (“If only God would write his name in the sky…”; “If only God would appear to me, even if just for a moment…”; etc.). Judas had first hand witness to Jesus’ ministry, and he still missed the point.

Can a Christian Lose His or Her Salvation?

Billy Graham does a much better job of answering the question of whether or not a Christian can lose his or her salvation that I likely would, so I have provided his answer below:

Only God knows if someone has truly and sincerely repented of their sins and given their life to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, but if they have, they now belong to Him forever, and their salvation is secure. The Bible says that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Remember: When we come to Christ, He comes to live within us by His Spirit — and He will never depart from us. And when we come to Him, God adopts us into His family and we become His children — and He’ll never disown us or disinherit us. If He did reject us, it would mean our salvation depends on how good we are. But we can never be good enough, for God’s standard is perfection. Our salvation depends solely on Christ, Who died to take away all our sins.

Does this mean it doesn’t matter how we live? Absolutely not! If we live sinful lives, it may well mean that we haven’t given ourselves to Christ after all, and we’ve even deceived ourselves into thinking we are saved when we really aren’t. The Bible warns, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).

Make sure of your commitment to Jesus Christ, both as your Savior and as your Lord. Then thank Him that you now belong to Him forever — and ask Him to help you live a life that reflects His love and purity every day.

I really appreciate Graham’s perspective here, and I think there are a few key takeaways:

  1. Only God truly knows our hearts (God knows if we are committed, or just trying to fake it ’til we make it)
  2. Once His, always His
  3. Our salvation is evidenced by our fruits (Please do not misinterpret this to mean our salvation is because of our fruits or works)

You might notice some Calvanistic theology here (i.e. perseverance of the saints). At one time I was not a fan of Calvanist views; however, as I grow in my faith and understanding I admittedly find myself agreeing more and more with those views.

So How Can We Be Sure of Our Own Salvation?

How do we know? I mean how do we really know that we are saved? I offer as suggestive evidence of salvation the following criteria:

  • The individual affirms basic Christian doctrine such as: The Holy Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus, inerrancy of scripture (John 8:24; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
  • You can see it in an indvidual’s fruits (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Matthew 7:17)
  • The individual is guided through conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13)

This is not, of course, meant to be a checklist. As Graham mentioned in his writing above only God truly knows our hearts. God is perfect in his judgement. It occurs to me that if we are truly honest with ourselves we know what our true intentions are. Every time I sit to write a blog post I ask myself who I am writing for. Am I writing for myself? Or am I doing what I can to further His Kingdom? Pride can be tall tree, and truth a sharp ax (Hebrews 4:12).

We cannot be sure of our salvation if we are resting in our own deeds. We can only be sure of our salvation if we rest in Christ. As Graham mentioned, if we could lose our salvation then salvation would depend, at least in part, on how good we are. Here is the hard truth… we are all sinners. None of us is good. No, not one (Romans 3:10). That is the bad news. The good news is our salvation is not dependent on us. Christ is sufficient. It is in this fact that I take great comfort in knowing that I have been, am, and always will be saved.

Aside

Why I Came Back to WordPress.com

Wordpress

Back to Basics

Back in 2011 I started getting into apologetics. Admittedly, prior to that year I had not even heard the term, but once I did I was hooked. I decided to dabble in blogging, as I began to accumulate enough information to be dangerous. I tried a couple of different platforms before I landed in the WordPress.com world. After I got past the learning curve I really started digging WordPress. Eventually I got even more adventurous, registered a domain, and started hosting my own WordPress-based site. I had that site for about two years, and it was a great learning opportunity. Recently I got hacked in some fashion, and some of my site links were redirecting perspective readers to sites with highly inappropriate content – I was not too happy. This, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

I decided to come back to WordPress.com, and forgo the self-hosted site experience. I have discovered a bunch of great benefits such as:

  • No cost – always a positive
  • A community of folks with at least one thing in common – we are all bloggers
  • An opportunity to focus on what’s important

I realized that I spent way too much time on the look and feel of my website, and not nearly enough time on the initial intention of my foray into blogging – apologetics. I feel like I can focus once again on the content of my writing without being distracted with wondering if my site has the right look, or features, or whatever. I am really looking forward to getting back to basics, and, God willing, give folks something to chew on with regard to Christian worldview. Here we go!

Baptism, Salvation, and the Age of Accountability

PHOTO CREDIT: NT Blog

PHOTO CREDIT: NT Blog

Ask a Christian – Baptism and Salvation

I received a question recently submitted through the Ask a Christian feature on this site. This is a feature I kicked off a while back in hopes that individuals with questions about Christianity would submit those questions, and allow me to take a stab providing answers to the best of my ability. This particular question is as follows:

What happens if you die as a child, and haven’t been baptized?

This is certainly an important question. As a parent I am concerned about many things related to my children. The chief of these concerns is their relationship with God. I have Baptist Christian views, so you might imagine I find baptism to be an important part of believer’s walk with God. Keep in mind I do not find baptism to be important because I have Baptist views. Rather, I have Baptist views because I find such views to be biblical. With that said, let’s take a look at baptism, salvation, and something often referred to as the age of accountability.

Isn’t Baptism Just for Baptists?

Many Christian denomination believe in baptism albeit with different nuances. Some examples are Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, and – of course – Baptists.

What is baptism?

Peter writes the following in 1 Peter 3:21-22:

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ ,22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

In this passage Peter writes of baptism as “an appeal to God”. Does Peter mean that it is the act of baptism that saves? Notice Peter qualifies this statement by indicating it is “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” that this appeal must go. No power exists in the act of being baptizes, but only in the saving power of Jesus. Of high importance is the idea that no act that we can perform (or have performed on our behalf) can add to our salvation. We are saved “sola fide” – by faith alone – so we cannot boast in ourselves (Ephesians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 1:28-31), but in God. The bible describes a faith-based salvation. If baptism were a requirement of salvation then we would leave the door open to a works-based system of salvation. This is simply an unbiblical perspective that we should be wary of. To say we have to be baptized to be saved is to say that the work of Christ on the cross was insufficient, and that full salvation requires our personal intervention through the act of baptism. Are we really prepared to say that we have individual power that is greater than that of Jesus? I am not.

I should pause here a moment to note that there are multiple “types” of baptism indicated throughout the bible (baptism with fire, baptism into the Holy Spirit, and so on). Where I say “baptism” here I am referring to water baptism – the type of baptism that comes to most of our minds when we hear the term. Water baptism is more symbolic than effectual. John the Baptist exclaims the following in Matthew 3:11-12:

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John is referring to Jesus in this passage (“he who is coming after me”). This leads well into a good reason for being baptized if you are a believer… Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17). The primary focus of a follower of Christ should be to try to emulate Jesus as closely as possible. Additionally, baptism is a symbol of our commitment to strive to be more Christ-like. A symbol of our old life, our bondage in sin, being washed away to be born anew (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Salvation

OK, so while baptism is a biblical, symbolic affirmation of our commitment to Jesus, what then is salvation?  One of the most straight forward ways I have seen salvation explained is via the following three aspects:

Three aspects of salvation:

  1. Justification – Separation from the penalty of sin (Acts 2:21; Ephesians 2:4-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17)
  2. Sanctification – Separation from the power of sin (Romans 8:1-5; Philippians 2:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Hebrews 10:8-10)
  3. Glorification – Separation from the presence of sin (Romans 8:23-30; 2 Timothy 2:10-13)

A good summation of this concept has been written by Paul Tautges. In his article Tautges clarifies the above three aspects of salvation by referencing tense (justification – past, sanctification – present, glorification – future). For the purposes of this article I will focus on justification. Justification for followers of Christ was accomplished through Jesus’ work on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty that all of us, as sinners, should have paid. In contrast to sanctification, which is a process of the Holy Spirit working in us, justification was accomplished instantaneously. Even if we wanted to do works to “ensure our justification” we would not have the time to do anyway. That which Jesus accomplished in a moment (our justification) we could not hope to accomplish in a lifetime by our own hand.

I will not go in depth into each of the above three aspects of salvation; however, I have included some scripture references to support each. Additionally, I strongly suggest reading Romans 8 in its entirety, as this chapter covers all three aspects of salvation fairly comprehensively. The important takeaway for the question at hand is the instantaneous nature of justification. An 80 year old man is no more or less justified than an 80 second old baby boy.

The Age of Accountability

We know we are sinners from the time of our conception basis Psalms 51:5:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

So if we are sinners from the time we are conceived, are we held accountable for our nature of sin before we even understand we are sinners? The prophet Isaiah explains in Isaiah 7:15 when Jesus will reach what might be referred to as the age of accountability:

He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

Of course, Isaiah does not give us a specific age that this understanding will begin. So, we cannot know when a child should be considered accountable for his or her sin nature. We do have some insight into how Jesus felt about children by way of Matthew 19:13-15:

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

For Jesus to say the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children is not a statement to be take lightly, but does this mean that if a child dies before he or she understands good or evil that his or her soul is bound for Heaven?

Conclusion

Truly only God knows who goes to Heaven, and who does not. We can, however, make some inferences based on what we know from scripture. We know God is perfectly righteous (Proverbs 2:5-10; Job 37:23; Isaiah 5:16). We know how Jesus feels about children (Matthew 19:13-15). One can infer from these facts that a righteous God who loves children would not condemn to hell those who have not yet even developed the faculties to understand good or evil.

So what happens if you die as a child, and haven’t been baptized. It really depends on what your relationship with God looks like. If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior then you should feel confident in your salvation. If you are thinking that you need God in your life, but have not pursued God, then you should talk to someone to see what that looks like. Again, only God knows who goes to Heaven, and who does not, as He is the final judge. A believer, however, should feel confident in his or her salvation when following biblical principles. Another thing I am confident in is that we all need God in our lives. Without God we are lost. With God we have hope, and all things are possible. God gives us good cause to be…

believinforareason!

The Problem of Non-God Objects – First Take

PHOTO CREDIT: Huffington Post

 The Problem of Non-God Objects

Maybe you have heard of this argument against the existence of God before, but it is news to me. I stumbled on “the problem of non-God objects” this morning whilst doing my daily skim through of articles about a variety of topics related to theology, apologetics, and the like. I have been thinking about this problem throughout the day, and decided to take a first stab at putting together my thoughts on the subject. I will first line it out basis what I have read so far on the subject. Next I will offer some thoughts that perhaps begin to move toward clarity on the various points put forth by the proponents of the argument for the problem of non-God objects. Continue reading

Can God Create a Weight He Cannot Lift?

I have heard this question a lot lately… “Can God create a weight He cannot lift?”. In fact, I have heard the question so often as of late I thought the question warranted a post, so that I might help put the question to bed by addressing the question with a bit of logic. This question is generally asked to prove a point that God is not omnipotent. The question, however, fails in three ways:

  1. The question is logically contradictory.
  2. The questioner has made false, naturalistic assumptions about God.
  3. The questioner has incorrectly attributed specific constraints to God. Continue reading

Believinforareason – and the Reason’s Not Calvinism

Lately I have been thinking about Calvinism – what it means, whether it makes sense, and how it relates to Hobbes (OK, just kidding about the Hobbes part). According to Theopedia.com,

Calvinism is named after 16th century Reformer, John Calvin whose overall theology is contained in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Sometimes Calvinism is referred to by other names such as “Augustinianism” because Calvin followed Augustine(A.D. 354–430) in many areas of predestination and the sovereignty of God.

Theopedia further explains Calvinist doctrine can be summarized in five points referred to by the acronym “TULIP”. Each of the following excerpts of the acronym are taken from the Theopedia.com entry for Calvanism.

“T” is for…

Total depravity

Calvinism teaches that humanity is totally depraved. Due to the Fall, the original relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was severed by sin. This affected the entire human race, corrupting the heart, mind, and will of every person born. Thus, people’s natural actions and affections, whether viewed by man as bad or good, are never pleasing to God. The Calvinist understanding of total depravity does not mean that people are as evil as they possibly could be. People still make good choices (from a human perspective), but no matter how good they may be, they never gain favor with God. While total depravity is commonly associated with John Calvin, this theological viewpoint is based on the theology of Augustine (b. 354).

While I believe human beings are sinful by nature I believe labeling us all as “totally depraved” is a bit much. I do agree with Calvin that making good choices relative to human perspectives is not congruent with doing that which pleases God, I disagree with Calvin’s stance that we will never gain favor with God. I have said in the past, and this view still hold true for me today, that God is the definition of good. As such, anything contrary to God’s will is less than good. Thus, considering humans have both free will, and access to the Word of God we can and do sometimes make choices that are purposefully congruent with God’s will. Logically, such choices would be pleasing to God, which would likely, in turn, mean that we would find favor with God having made such compatible choices. Why am I so sure? Because, folks are still allowed into Heaven. If that is not a demonstration of having favor with God than nothing would be. So while I would agree that humanity is pretty jacked up, let’s save the phrase “totally depraved” for the extra tough cases.

“U” is for…

Unconditional election

Unconditional election is the doctrine which states that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based upon any merit shown by the object of his grace and not based upon foreseen faith (especially a mere decisional faith). God has elected, based solely upon the counsel of his own will, some for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:1521). He has done this act before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4–8).

Unconditional election is a tough pill to swallow. The most important bit here is the indication that God has chosen “some for glory and others for damnation”. This is flat out incorrect when compared to what scripture teaches. The verses referred to in Romans are intended to drive home the point that God can do as He pleases. These verses are not intended to indicate that God arbitrarily picks and chooses people for damnation or glory like some luck-of-the-draw plane boarding. Attention all passengers, if your ticket reads “Zone 1” you are destined for damnation. Thank you for choosing air Hell, and better luck next time. Furthermore, the verses mentioned in Ephesians 1:4-8 are meant to explain that all of our sin was destined to be paid for by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, not that the sin of some folks would be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. This specific doctrine speaks directly to predestination. The fact that God knows what is to come is not the same as God putting specific pieces in play to cause specific outcomes.

“L” is for…

Limited atonement

Limited atonement (also known as “definite atonement”) is a doctrine offered in answer to the question, “for whose sins did Christ atone?” The Bible teaches that Christ died for those whom God gave him to save (John 17:9). Christ died, indeed, for many people, but not all (Matthew 26:28). Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church — the sum total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name “Christian” (Ephesians 5:25).

I think this concept of limited atonement requires further clarity. Christ did not die only for those pre-chosen by God to be destined to know His glory. Rather Christ died for the past, present and future sins of all of those who accept Jesus as lord and savior. I would agreed  with the last bit stating “Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church — the sum total of all those who would every rightly bear the name ‘Christian'”. To me this means that Christ died for those who actively seek and maintain a positive relationship with God, and share the good news with others so they may do the same. As long as we stay away from the concept of predestination this limited atonement piece makes sense to me.

“I” is for…

Irresistible grace

The result of God’s irresistible grace is the certain response by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ, himself, teaches that all whom God has elected will come to a knowledge of him (John 6:37). Men come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44), and the very Spirit of God leads God’s beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14). What a comfort it is to know that the gospel of Christ will penetrate our hard, sinful hearts and wondrously save us through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 5:10)!

I have written in a previous post, The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 1: Would a Moral God Kill Children?, about how God does not directly harden the hearts of humans, rather God allows the circumstances that lead to the hardening of hearts. The same can be said of the softening of hearts. After all, God is committed to this free will thing, and directly influencing decision making negates the purpose of free will. While the grace of God should not be underestimated, I do not believe people come to God because he has pre-chosen them to be knocked over the top of the head with grace. If this were true, why even bother with the charade of free will. Furthermore, if God truly wants us to love Him, why intervene at all? Can someone really love anyone if that person is left with no other choice? There is no “I” in me, so this doctrine is not for me.

“P” is for…

Perseverance of the saints

Those called and justified will certainly be glorified (Romans 8:28–39). The work of sanctification which God has brought about in his elect will continue until it reaches its fulfillment in eternal life (Phil. 1:6). Christ assures the elect that he will not lose them and that they will be glorified at the “last day” (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ’s promise that he will perfectly fulfill the will of the Father in saving all the elect.

Interesting that Romans 8:28-39 is used here. Even in the above explanation it seems that these “elect” have favor with God. How can people have favor with God, yet be totally depraved? Apparently tulips are contradictory. Once again we should touch on the concept of election and predestination. While I would agree that God has some level of predestination for us in that after Jesus’ death and resurrection God predestined those who chose to seek Jesus to be saved for eternity by Jesus, God did not pick and choose who would seek this opportunity.

Free Will is Incompatible with Calvinism

Free will, and predestination simply do not jive. How can we have free will if some plan has already been set in place that dictates exactly what the outcome of our lives will be? Simply stated – we cannot. How can we show love true love to God if we are not allowed the choice not to love God – we cannot. How can we ascertain the point of life in a if all of the most important choices in life have already been made for us – we cannot. It is for these reasons that I am not a Calvinist. Fortunately, Calvinism is not my only option. I have choices, and the freedom of will to make such choices. That is why I am…

believinforareason!

Stand to Reason Blog: Challenge: Does God Have Free Will?

Stand to Reason Blog: Challenge: Does God Have Free Will?.

Stand to Reason has bi-weekly question whereby readers of the blog can post questions for other readers to respond to. I found a recent question interesting. The question posted is as follows:

If morality is in God’s nature, then He is omnibenevolent, right? Does that mean that God cannot choose evil? So, if God cannot choose to do evil, does that mean He doesn’t have free will?

I have linked to the blog above. We should keep in mind when responding to this question that the Bible states that things do exist that God cannot do. For example, Hebrews 6:18 tells us God cannot lie.

Hebrews 6:18

so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
Does this mean that God does not have free will? I suggest taking a look at an article on letusreason.org before answering the question, which gives a list of things God cannot do. If you prefer the Cliff’s Notes version I can summarize as follows: God cannot do anything that is against His nature. So what is against His nature? Here are a few examples:
  • Sin
  • Deceit
  • Evil in general
  • Speaking falsehoods

I could go on, but I will not. God is good. The very basis of objective moral truths and duties. As such, anything contrary to God’s nature is not good, but let’s get back to the question. Does God have free will? The answer is, absolutely, yes. After all, how can a being without free will create beings with free will. Seems contrary in nature. Additionally, God makes choices all throughout history in a free fashion. God is both omniscient, and omnipresent. As such, God is in a unique position to exercise His free will with the benefit of knowing what the outcome of those choices will be until the end of time.

Let us take one more look at this from a different angle. Let’s take me. for example. I cannot throw a 1983 Chevy Malibu across the street. Does that mean I do not have free will? Certainly not. This does, however, speak to my limitedness, whereas God is unlimited. If God cannot do certain things doesn’t that limit Him? I contend that the fact that God cannot do the types of things listed above speaks to God’s power rather than perceived weakness. Items such as sin, deceit, evil,  and lies show a tremendous amount of weakness. The fact that God cannot engage in such activities means that God is so powerful that His power cannot be lessened by the issues of the world that plague mankind. How else can we have faith in God unless He is the ever-constant, omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, ever-graceful being that we know Him to be? I could never worship a God who is subject to the same weaknesses that I am through my sin-nature. Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:10

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
A weak God could not give us strength in the times of our weakness. Only a God who cannot do things such as those listed above can provide strength, as one additional thing exists that God cannot do… God cannot be weak. God is good/strong/benevolent/awesome, and that is why I am…
believinforareason

The Two Things You Can’t Do in Heaven

A while back I read Mark Cahill’s book, “One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven”. Cahill contended that “one thing” he refers to is witnessing. This, of course, makes good sense considering everyone in Heaven has already been saved. I recently read a quick comment on The Poached Egg site entitled “Can We Sin in Heaven? Here’s the Poop“. The author, Greg West, indicates that one can sin in Heaven insomuch as one has the ability to do so, but that one would not want to sin. Greg likens this to eating poop for a long time, then getting a steak, and not wanting to eat poop anymore after experiencing how delicious steak really is. Granted, Greg takes some liberties with his analogy, but I get the point.

While I appreciate Greg’s colorful analogy I disagree with his assessment. Jude 1:24 states:

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Bible.is)

If we are presented “faultless” before God then we will be in the presence of God without sin. To go to Heaven is to be delivered from sin for all eternity. This is just one piece of the puzzle though. God is pure goodness, thus without sin. To be in the presence of His glory is to be in the presence of pure good. Evil, or sin cannot exist in the presence of pure good. As such, no room exists in Heaven for sin.

So, while I agree with Cahill’s view about not being able to witness in Heaven, I would suggest two things cannot be done in Heaven:

  • You cannot witness in Heaven
  • You cannot sin in Heaven

believinforareason

Ask a Christian Part 2: Tower of Babel

I received another interesting question from a long-time friend. My friend asked the following:

 When the people were building the Tower of Babel, and back then everyone in the world spoke one language. God came down and saw the tower and was impressed so to stop it he scattered the people around the world and made them no longer speak the same language. Now I’ve been wrestling this for some time now and though of a few reasons but why do you think God would keep them from cooperating and finishing the tower.

Option 1

The Bible does not offer any specific reason, so far as I know, for God taking the measures He did to prevent the tower from being built, so what I am presenting here is pure conjecture. My first thought on the subject is that God was making a point that the path to eternal salvation in Heaven will not be based on works. This message, I imagine, would have been quite clear.

Option 2

Genesis 11:4 reads:

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth”.

I find this verse interesting. My first impression was that “let us make a name for ourselves” was intended to mean that they were seeking glory. Of course the only true glory is that of the Lord, and the confounding of the people may have been God’s way of proving this point. The curious portion of the quote is, “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth”. Seems foretelling in a very specific way.

So which is it?

Maybe both. Maybe neither. Maybe something completely different. The reality of it is, at least from my perspective, that the tower would obviously never have actually reached Heaven. So what was the ultimate reason behind God’s actions?

I am open to suggestions.

Ask a Christian Part 1: Biblical Contradiction, Sinful Judgement, and Religious Fish Magnets

FAQ – Friends Ask Questions

I was thinking of what the topic of my next post should be when I had an idea. Why not make an offer, on my personal Facebook page, for anyone who knows me to ask any question they would like regarding Christianity or God? If you know me personally, or have read my post you know I am not a biblical scholar of any kind; however, I do have a passion for deepening my relationship with God through better understanding of my Christian trust. I figured worst case scenario I would have to do a tremendous amount of research to answer something deeply complex… which is a good thing really! Well, one of my high school buddies obliged. I have posted each of his questions below, in his words, along with my response. So begins “Ask a Christian Part 1”:

“OK, why does the bible contradict itself?”

James Warner Wallace (a cold-case homicide detective, former atheist, and current Christian Apologist) has a great article about perceived biblical contradictions on his site pleaseconvinceme.com. While I have provided the link to the article in this post I will summarize here as well. Wallace offers 10 principles that are helpful in understanding that perceived contradictions are not actual contradictions:

  1. Approach the scripture with a fair (i.e. open) attitude. While we (believers and non believers alike) are all biased in one form or another we should read the Bible with as much objectivity as possible.
  2. Find out what the original said. Wallace explains that while we obviously do not have the original manuscripts, we have very accurate translations. We should check out the various translations to get a full understanding of the intent of a passage.
  3. Find out what a particular verse or piece of scripture means by understanding the context, and additional biblical references. We get a lot of twisted scripture (scripture taken out of context, and its meaning altered) by folks unwilling to go the extra mile on this.
  4. Imprecise does not equal wrong. Yes, the Bible rounds some numbers… just like nobody actually waited in line at Wal-Mart for like a million years!
  5. Quotes are not meant to be verbatim. Oftentimes the author is just indicating that someone referenced a specific part of the Old Testament.
  6. Multiple perspectives do not equal contradiction. The various books of the bible were written by a variety of individuals respectively. Perspectives may vary slightly, but the facts remain the same.
  7. Though divinely inspired, the Bible was written by earthly people, so common language is used.
  8. Just because the Bible describes something, it doesn’t meant that God approves it. the Bible is actually quite clear about the types of human behavior God commands.
  9. Don’t sweat the copyist errors. Wallace explains his point by explaining 2 Samuel 8:3-4 states David took 700 horsemen, while 1 Chronicles 18:3-4 states David took 7,000 horsemen. Really though, how important is this piece?
  10. God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and perfectly good. Only He is in a position to make decisions such as those described in the Old Testament.

I would be happy to address any specific perceived contradictions to the best of my ability, but I thought J. Wallace’s (thank you to J. Warner Wallace for doing all of the heavy lifting on this one) article gave a nice summary of why the Bible is non-contradictory.

“Why are the people who live by the bible the ones quickest to judge. Isn’t that a sin?”

OK, we have a two part-er here. I am going to start with the second part first.

2 Timothy 4:1-2 states:

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

As Christians we are called to judge… especially fellow Christians! However, we are also warned not to criticize the sins of others when we are committing the very same sins, or worse! This is why Jesus said:

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5 ESV)

With that said, I would assume my friend is referring to those who are calling themselves “Christians”, but not actually living the life of a Christian. Thus, we have one of the top “reasons” (i.e. excuses) why people do not go to church. The truth of the matter is we are all imperfect sinners. Regardless of your worldview you will be able to find folks who fail to see the proverbial log in their own eye. You will see this in a far lesser degree from true Christians.

“What’s with the fish? What is that a symbol for?”

Elesha Coffman wrote a decent article on this topic at christianitytoday.com. Coffman explains the fish symbol has theological overtones, such as when Jesus fed the 5,000 with 2 fish and five loaves of bread. Coffman goes on to further explain the following (which I believe is the reason the fish symbol took off like it did):

Greeks, Romans, and many other pagans used the fish symbol before Christians. Hence the fish, unlike, say, the cross, attracted little suspicion, making it a perfect secret symbol for persecuted believers. When threatened by Romans in the first centuries after Christ, Christians used the fish mark meeting places and tombs, or to distinguish friends from foes. According to one ancient story, when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company. Current bumper-sticker and business-card uses of the fish hearken back to this practice.

Pretty interesting really.

In Closing

That is all of the questions my buddy had for me. Hopefully this shed some light on the questions he posed. As always, I am up for further discussion on any of the above topics. I hope that others will follow suit, and post some additional questions for me. If so, I look forward to writing Ask a Christian Part 2! Until then I remain…

believinforareason

The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 3: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis chapters 18 and 19 tell of God’s destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Does this show that God is immoral for killing the men, women and children in these cities? What about free will? Did God override our gift of free will out of wrath?

Background

Three men visited Abraham. As it turned out these men were the Lord and two angels. The Lord was en route to Sodom  as the Lord had heard the outcry that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were sinning gravely (See Genesis chapters 18 & 19 for the full text). Abraham attempted to intercede asking the Lord if He would spare the cities if 50 righteous people were found, then 45, then 40, then 30 until Abraham went as low as 10 righteous people. Each time the Lord agreed He would spare the cities if the number of righteous people Abraham suggested were found within. The Lord then sent the angels ahead to Sodom. Once the angels arrived in Sodom Abraham’s brother, Lot, took them in, and was hospitable, as was the strict custom in the region during this time.

Map of Sodom and Gomorrah locations by bibleatlas.org

Before the angels laid down for the night Lot’s house was surrounded by the men of Sodom, who insisted that Lot release the men (in this case, angels, but the men of Sodom were unaware of this fact), so the men of Sodom could have sex with the strangers. Lot refused, and even offered his own virgin daughters to the men of Sodom instead! The men of Sodom refused the offering of Lot’s daughters and rushed Lot, but the angels pulled Lot inside, and blinded the men of Sodom, so they could not find their way inside. Lot was allowed to leave Sodom with his two daughters to Zoar (his son-in-laws-to-be refused to leave), and the Lord rained sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah thereby killing all of the people in the two cities.

What does the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah say about the morality of God in the Old Testament?

The short answer is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is demonstrative of two attributes of God: His pure goodness, and His grace. Consider that God said the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were “very grave” (ESV), or “extremely serious” (HCSB). For the Lord, in His purity and goodness, to give special attention to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah the immorality and sinfulness of the people of the cities had to have been outstandingly heinous. Further, the Lord’s omniscience allows Him to see what will happen in the future should the gravely sinful acts of the people of the cities be allowed to continue unchecked. Certainly we have evidence of what could have occurred (albeit on a much larger scale if the cities were not destroyed) recorded in the book of Numbers, which we will get into briefly in a bit. The Lord was outraged at the people of the cities in a way that no other being could be based on His own pure goodness. The Lord showed His grace by destroying the people of Sodom and Gomorrah thereby eliminating the possibility of the grievous sins of the people infecting others who may have come in contact with the people of the cities.

Did God directly impede His gift of free will by destroying Sodom and Gomorrah?

No, God certainly did not get in the way of the gift of free will the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were enjoying so frivolously. The impediment of free will should not be confused with consequences borne of the choices one makes. All choices have consequences. In this case the choices made by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah led to their ultimate demise. Any individual living today faces the same danger. While we may not see the Lord rain down sulfur and fire we certainly could face an eternity spent in a similar environment should we make choices in life that separate us from the Lord.

A taste of what could have been

We got a peek into Lot’s twisted sense of right and wrong based on the influence of Sodom when lot offered his own daughters to the men of Sodom in order to protect his house guests. The moral corruption does not stop there. After fleeing Sodom, Lot’s daughters executed a plan to get Lot drunk on wine, so they could have babies by him. Their plan worked, and each of the daughters birthed a son.

37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today.

If you recall in my post, The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 2: Would a Moral God Condone Genocide and Rape?, it was the daughters of Moab and Midian that seduced the Israelites in an effort to curse the Israelites. Imagine this type of corruption on a much larger scale if two full cities of like-minded sinners were allowed to continue.

God alone can forgive us our sins, but only if we truly seek Him to do so. God is the ultimate good. Ask yourself, would you do anything less for your children? When you ask yourself that question bare in mind that our human anger is more often then not, unjustified. God’s anger is righteous and just, as He knows all and sees all. Without God no objective moral truths or duties can exist, as we have no ultimate good on which to base such objectivity. God is good, and that is why I am…

believinforareason

Hell, Free Will, and the Importance of Options

I was reading an article on the CARM website by Matt Slick:

Does God hate anyone? | Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.

I was prompted to read this article due to a conversation I had recently with a fellow blogger, and a podcast I listened to consisting of a debate between Dr. William Lane Craig and Shabir Ally. All of these topics really came down to the following four questions in my mind:

  • Does God hate anyone?
  • Do people get sent to hell?
  • How important is free will?
  • What are we gonna do about it?!?

I believe the article by Matt Slick presents come compelling evidence that God does “hate”. I would, however, add that hate from God falls into the righteous anger bucket, while human hate falls into the unforgiving sinner bucket. So what does God due to those He has righteous anger toward? He disciplines them, of course. This concept is explained well in Hebrews 12:5-11:

 5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

#“My son, #do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6For #the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7It is for discipline that you have to endure. #God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, #in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to #the Father of spirits #and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, #that we may share his holiness. 11#For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields #the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So, is part of that discipline sending those individuals to hell? I do not believe so. After all, going to hell is optional. God provides us with the knowledge and tools to understand Him, and follow His will. Furthermore, He provides us with free will to make the choice to use that knowledge and those tools in a way that is pleasing to Him. If we choose to turn away from that which God has provided we are, in a very real sense, choosing hell. Certainly we do not have a situation here where an individual has done everything he or she could do to have a relationship with God, but God decided to “send” him or her to hell. Folks are just opting in!

Let us not forget that one of the most arguably amazing attributes of God is grace. So why does God let people make choices that result in an eternity in Hell? I would answer that by asking the question: how important is free will? I contend that free will is extremely important. Without free will what is the point? We cannot love God or anyone else without free will. None of the “choices” we make in life would have any meaning because we would have no choices to make – no free will. Should God step in where He sees fit, and interject to ensure that hell remains having plenty of vacancies? I would argue that free will is an all or nothing proposition. 
OK, so we have free will, and can make choices that keep us out of the whole weeping a gnashing of teeth scenario, but let us look at this from a different angle. My worldview includes an omniscient God. If God knows all than God knows which people will not accept Him, and will ultimately end up in Hell. Is this really fair? In fewer than 500 words… yes. Let us not forget that God calls us to be witnesses.Matthew 28:19-20 reads:

 19#Go therefore and #make disciples of #all nations, #baptizing them #in# #the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them #to observe all that #I have commanded you. And behold, #I am with you always, to #the end of the age.”

So, if we – Christians – would be work harder at what we are called by God to do perhaps fewer people would be born with the inevitable life conclusion resulting in an eternity in hell.

Let us not blame God for “sending” people to hell. Let’s smash the walls off of our comfort zone, and go do something about it. After all, we could be one conversation away from keeping hell at least one soul lighter.

The Morality of God in the Old Testament part 2: Would a Moral God Condone Genocide and Rape?

The Morality of God in the Old Testament part 2Intro

Welcome to part 2 in a series of posts on the morality of God in the Old Testament. In this post we will discuss the Israelite conflict with the Midianites.

Numbers 31 tells of God speaking to Moses with instructions that the Israelites should:

2 “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”

What was so bad about the Midianites?

Vengeance may, at face value, seem like a concept outside of God’s character; however, the commands given to Moses did not stop at vengeance.

17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.

This is where this chapter of Numbers really gets a lot of questions. The two most frequent questions I see are as follows:

  1. Does this account go so far as to constitute genocide?
  2. Does God really give instructions to the Israelites to keep the virgin girls for themselves for the purposes of rape?

Before we address these two questions we should likely first answer the question: What was so bad about the Midianites?

Numbers 25 tells us:

1While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods

In this case, the people of Moab and Midian specifically sought to curse the Israelites at the direction of Balak. Instead, however, of direct assault against the Israelites the daughters of Moab and Midian were used to seduce Israelite men into committing acts of sexual immorality, and worshipping pagan Gods. Considering this type of behavior is in direct conflict of the laws given to the Israelites by the Lord through Moses. This was the gist of why the Lord was angry with both the Israelites and the Midianites.

Equal Opportunity

Prior to the Lord striking the Midianites through use of the Israelites the Israelite transgressors were first dealt with – the leaders of the transgression more severely, and the remainder with a plague that took the lives of 24,000 Israelites. Of course, no one today should be surprised that the Lord disciplined His chosen people. After all, Hebrews 12:5-6 tells us “… “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives”.

The discipline of the Israelites did not, however, mean that the Midianites would not have to pay a price for purposefully leading the Israelites into sin.

Back to the Questions

  • Does this account go so far as to constitute geonocide?

The short answer is, no. Dictionary.com defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group”. Thus, by definition this event does not constitute genocide, as a portion of the Midianites were spared. Certainly this event is not akin to the Holocaust.

  • Does God really give instructions to the Israelites to keep the virgin girls for themselves for the purposes of rape?

To be fair, the text has no indication that God gave a specific command to rape the Midianite virgins. Secondly, God commands those who were in battle, and any spoils from that battle to remain outside the camp for seven days to go through a purification prior to reintegrating with the camp (Numbers 31 19-20).

 19 Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. 20 You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.

Sexual relations with any of the women captured would have caused further impurity thus disallowing the soldiers back into the camp for an extended period of time. The text makes no reference of such instances. Clearly, no evidence exists to assume the Midianite girls were kept for the purposes of rape. One may ask why only the virgins were kept. Logically, the virgin Midianite girls could not have been part of the plot to curse the Israelites through seduction since those girls had not laid with any man. As such, these girls were spared punishment.

Still, was all of this really morally correct?

The difference between God’s anger or vengeance and our anger or vengeance is God is always just. Our anger more often then not stems from our sin nature, and is therefore not righteous anger. Furthermore, God is omniscient. He knows all outcomes, everything that was and everything that will be. God is in the ultimate position to make decisions involving human life. We owe God everything, yet He owes us nothing. In the case of the Midianites we had a people attempting to corrupt another group of people in a very specific manner. We can hardly attempt to consider the Midianites innocent in this matter. Certainly the Israelites that fell victim should have had the fortitude to turn away from Sin; however, despite being the chosen people of God the Israelites were still human. As humans we will sin. This is not an excuse for the Israelites – just a statement of fact.

The bottom line? God is just. God is morality. God is good.

And I am believinforareason.

The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 1: Would a Moral God Kill Children?

Intro

I have debated with several atheists regarding the morality of God. These debates inevitably focus on events described in the Old Testament. This blog will be the first in a series commenting on typical Old Testament scripture cited when atheists are railing the alleged immorality of God. The first Old Testament scripture I would like to dig into is found in the book of Exodus, and is regarding the final plague against Pharaoh, and the people of Egypt – death of the first-born child.

Background

In this book of he Bible God speaks to Moses, and gives him instructions to go to Pharaoh with his brother Aaron with a plea to let the Israelites leave Egypt to go into the wilderness, so they might worship God. Gd directs Moses to give Pharaoh an ultimatum with each refusal from Pharaoh yielding an increasingly worse plague set forth by God. The tenth and final plague involves the death of the firstborn child of every Egyptian. Admittedly killing children is shocking enough, but the piece that really hangs folks up is the mentions of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, which, at face value, is oftentimes interpreted as God purposefully precluding Pharaoh from letting the Israelites go. Further, this then inevitably invokes the notion at God wanted to kill he firstborn children of the Egyptians – an absurd notion, but I understand the confusion.

Hardening of Hearts

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is spoken of many times throughout Exodus. One of the earlier mentions is in Exodus 4:21. In the ESV of the Bible Exodus 4:21 reads, “And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in y our power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (youversion.com). The next reference occurs in Exodus 7:3, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the in the land of Egypt [7:4] Pharaoh will not listen to you” (youversion.com). Ah, but in Exodus 8:15 it reads, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord said”, and in Exodus 8:32, “But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go” (youversion.com). So who is hardening whose heart here anyway? Again, in Exodus 8:12 we are back to the Lord hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But in Exodus 9:34 Pharaoh is said to have hardened his heart. By the time we get to Exodus 10:1 the Lord says He has hardened not only Pharaoh’s heart, but the hearts of his servants as well.

In the article by Dr. Dave Miller and Kyle Butt, Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?, the question posed by the title of the article is addressed in two ways. I will attempt to summarize:

  1. The first point explains, “In his copious work on biblical figures of speech, E.W. Bullinger listed several ways that the Hebrew and Greek languages used verbs to mean something other than their strict, literal usage. He listed several verses that show that the languages “used active verbs to express the agent’s design or attempt to do anything, even though the thing was not actually done” (1898, p. 821)”. I may, for example, say someone made me look ridiculous; however, in reality, I looked ridiculous due to my own actions.
  2. The second point explains, “Bullinger’s fourth list of idiomatic verbs deals with active verbs that “were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do” (p. 823, emp. in orig.)”. In this sense God allowed the circumstances for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (read, “free will”), but did not actively harden Pharaoh’s heart.

To answer the question, Pharaoh hardened his own heart while God allowed the circumstances (through human free-will) for Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened.

OK, But Why Kill Children at All?

Let us not forget that the Egyptians were not innocent in the book of Exodus. Look at Exodus 1:8-16, for example:

8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”

Pharaoh, in this case, made the first move in attempting the kill the firstborn of the Israelites as a matter of oppression, and population control. It is important to note here that the term “firstborn” refers specifically to the first male child born. Exodus 21:23-25 provides an example of the “eye for an eye” laws set forth with regard to slave ownership (similar to the code of Hammurabi). Early in Exodus the Israelites are certainly slaves to the Egyptians.

23 But if there is harm,t then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

So we have an established premise for the 10th plague. Certainly not just killing kids for the fun of it. Glenn Miller of Christian Think Tank crunched the numbers in his response to a reader inquiry entitled Was God being evil when He killed the firstborn in Egypt?. In summary, Miller estimates: Innocent Egyptians killed in the tenth plague: 69,000; Innocent Hebrew infanticide killed in the infanticide program of Pharaoh (and successors): 2,750,000. The Egyptians are really beginning to look less innocent by the minute here.

OK, but still… killing children? 

Were it not for God taking the lives of these Egyptian children a few things would have happened:

  • Hebrew firstborns would have continued being slaughtered by the millions
  • Egyptian children would have been raised in a culture that supports infanticide and physical oppression
  • The Lord would not have fulfilled his promise to the Israelites

In this case the Lord actually saved more children’s lives then he ended. Additionally, the Bible does not indicate that the Lord tortured these children. The children’s physical lives were ceased; however, the souls of the children would have been allowed to live for eternity with God in perfect peace – a far cry from the horror brought by the Egyptians against the Israelites.

Conclusion

No doubt that this particular event in Exodus does not show the Lord as immoral, but as graceful, loving, fair and just. Ultimately, the frequent misconception regarding this event is due to a misconception of God’s nature… His essence. God is good – the basis for all objective moral truths and duties. Without God we have no basis for objective moral truths and duties, as everything becomes subjective. Something may be perfect relative to imperfection, but when we compare our lives to Jesus how far we have fallen becomes abundantly clear. The morality of the Old Testament God is identical to that of the New Testament God, as the two beings are one and the same. No line in the sand exists.

God is good, and this story found in Exodus is just another example of why I am…

believin’ for a reason!

The Terrible Truth of Relative Morality

William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris: Is Good from God?

For some time now I have been interested in the question of whether or not God can exercise a choice to commit an evil act. Arguably this question has a direct impact on the question of how one goes about establishing what is objective moral truth, and if objective moral truth can be established sans God.

Recently I have been listening to a podcast of a relatively older debate between Dr. William Lane Craig, highly regarded Christian apologist, and Dr. Sam Harris, highly regarded atheist, on the subject of whether or not objective moral truth can exist in the absence of God.

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-sam-harris-debate

As one might imagine Dr. Craig argued that objective moral truth cannot exist without the existence of God, as God is essentially good, thus God is the basis by which all objective moral truth is measured. Certainly Dr. Harris took the opposing view attempting to leverage science to explain that objective moral truth was not dependent on divinity, as objective moral truth is founded on the universal understanding of sentient beings that collective well being is the basis by which “good” is measured.

As one might assume the Craig-Harris debate went on for some time with well thought out arguments presented by each side. The short version is that Dr. Harris, in this case, did not have a proverbial leg to stand on. Regardless of how Dr. Harris use shocking examples to attempt to support his viewpoint Harris did nothing more than repeatedly provide examples of relative goodness based on the well being of sentient creatures. Working in quality control in a food manufacturing environment I am used to referencing regulatory agencies, and audit standards as an authoritative basis on which to make decisions. When a question arises, which sparks a debate over a particular requirement I cannot simply phone a friend for the final answer. I require a reference from an authoritative source by which to judge the situation, and determine precisely if the product is compliant or noncompliant. Without that reference point from a recognized authority I would have no other option, but to compare the situation to a similar situation that has occurred in the past. Even then the best I can do is conclude that the product in question is either compliant or noncompliant relative to the situation to which I am comparing.

Thus, without God as the ultimate authoritative reference of goodness, morality, compassion, and so forth, we are left with subpar references by which we can hope to do no better than to determine subjectivemoral truths relative to experience, or societal norms, or similar situations. Certainly I can see the appeal here, as I would have no problem whatsoever being morally “good” when compared to a murderer, child abuser, or [insert emotion-triggering imagery here]. Nonetheless, I am convinced God not only exists, but it the very definition of goodness and morality. Following that logic, I cannot in good conscience measure the level of “goodness” or “morality” I have achieved by relative comparison with individuals as inferior as I am. I must strive for something more, and that something more requires the dedication and devotion of my life to Christ. Compared to Charles Manson I am saintly. Compared to Jesus Christ I am closer to Charles Manson. Regardless, through the compassion of God I am given an unimaginable gift of reprieve. By striving to live more like Jesus I can have confidence that I am coming closer to being a “good” person, not by comparison to other sinful creatures, but through actively seeking the objective moral truths of Jesus Christ.

God is good.

Aside

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

At least you will still have a job…

Howard Camping, President of Family Radio, felt strongly that on May 21, 2011 the Raptue would occur. The rapture is the first stage in a string events leading to the end of times as described in the book of Revelations. Not only was Camping convinced, but many of his followers were equally as sure. So sure in fact that many of these individuals sold some or all of their worldly possessions to advertise for the event similar to a major sporting event. Many of these folks got rid of worldly possessions thinking that such items would no longer be needed. It is not the 22nd of May, and either I was not deemed worthy to take up to Heaven, or Camping’s math is off. Here is my question though: if you are going to do things differently in your life knowing that the Rapture is happening soon, then have you been living your life as you should to begin with? A friend of mine mentioned she saw a plane flying around Coolray field for a couple of hours with a sign about 5/21 last Friday (5/20). Why would someone pay for that advertisement just because they were convinced the Rapture was about to occur? Why would that same individual not pay for an advertisement like that to spread the word of Jesus regardless of how near or far the Rapture was?

Don’t get me wrong here. I am lightyears from perfect, but the whole thing just doesn’t make sense to me. As Christians we should live every day as if were were going to face judgement tomorrow. I know I would still have plenty to answer for, but I also know that I am heading in the absolute right direction. I recently heard the phrase “directionally correct”. I believe that explains my current walk toward Jesus… not without flaw, but directionally correct. I will pray that those who lost everything due to the teachings of Camping find it in their hearts to forgive him for his misguidance, or better yet, to realize he is not to blame for their misdirection. I pray that Camping will spend less time trying to find the calculation to Heaven, and more time in an evangelical capacity. I pray the Lord guides me to make wise choices despite myself as I continue my path to His house. In the mean time, and in the words of the 90’s phenom band, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”.

How Good is Good Enough?

Not too long ago I finished reading Andy Stanley’s book “How Good is Good Enough”. I wish I would have read this book prior to the conversation with my close friend I mentioned in an earlier post. This is a question I struggled with when asked why God would let “good” people go to hell simply for not accepting Jesus as Lord and savior. One point Stanley brought up is the lack of a specific metric to indicate what equals “good”. Good to me may very not mean good to someone else. Is good just never killing anybody? If so, that is an easy one! Does good mean never comitting adultery? No sweat! The Bible throws a wrench into the “I am a good person” theory. Jesus explains in Matthew 5:28, “But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. Say what?!? So if you even think about lusting after another woman you have already sinned. For some, this point alone makes the “good” thing not so easy. Let’s look at extremes. Is the meaning of “good” in the mind of Hitler congruent with the meaning of good to Billy Graham? Not likely. The New Testament is chock full of occurrences of Jesus forgiving people who were far from the average individual’s definition of good. Jesus forgives prostitutes and tax collectors and people who were routinely cast from society.

So why would God allow good people to go to Hell? Keep in mind that good compared to woldly people is not much of an accomplishment. Everyone is full of sin of one kind or another. The key to Heaven is striving to be good relative to Jesus. The Bible gives very clear instructions on how to achieve this. Not necessarily easy instructions to follow, but instructions nonetheless. I suppose following the instructions laid out in the Bible has got to be easier than attempting to conform to some human definition of good with no specific set of guidelines or boundaries. Ultimately, being good just isn’t good enough, but we have a pretty decent “how-to” book on doing what it takes.