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 Notion of Nothing is Quite Something

Image
I have been reading quite a bit lately about the evolution-creationism/intelligent design debate. Certainly I am not a preeminent scholar, or am I a published (or unpublished) scientist. I am simply a relatively reasonable guy who likes to ask questions. With regard to the argument for evolution it seems only one question is really needed… “what created that?”. No matter how far back we can allegedly trace the common descent theory at some point the “first thing” had to be created. We have yet to determine how to create something (especially a living something) out of lifeless nothingness. I cannot get past that idea. The idea of nonliving nothing creating living something is completely nonsensical to me.

In addition to this I was reading through a Callie Joubert article, “The Unbeliever at War with God: Michael Ruse and the Creation-Evolution Controversy”, and Joubert brings up an interesting point. Arguing favorably for evolution can be called a religious worldview just as easily as arguing favorably for creationism. So why teach one over the other in a classroom? Even if, for the sake of argument, this was a religious debate The Washington Post reported that a 2005 U.S. poll estimated atheists to represent approximately 5% of the total U.S. population. Hardly an overwhelming sampling to justify ignoring creationism in the classroom. If we are to raise our youth to be critical thinkers we have an obligation to present these youth with unbiased options, and allow viewpoints to follow.

Back to the worldview vs worldview topic. Many atheists tout science as practical, and steadfast with regard to “knowing” things. These same folks oftentimes accuse believers of assuming and interpreting all too freely. The fact of the matter is that science makes many assumptions when testing hypotheses. With regard to evolution, for example, scientists oftentimes use a technique known colloquially as carbon dating. This technique works basis the assumption that the ratio of 14^C in the atmosphere has always been constant. If this assumption is false the carbon dating technique is useless. Furthermore, science uses philosophy to test hypotheses. The philosophy of mathematics, for example. If 1+1 does not equal 2 we have a problem! Of course, I am not by any means a disbeliever of science. In fact I am a huge fan of technology, and I submit that science has brought us a plethora of fantastic things from smartphones to medicine. I do, however, believe that science has boundaries, and one should not make assumptions where even the circumstantial evidence does to point to the alleged truth he or she is pushing as fact.

This circles me back to the notion of something coming from nothing. To create something requires a creator, or, at a minimum, a catalyst. Even if a simple catalyst is required to create I have to ask, who or what created the catalyst? And then who or what created the thing that created the catalyst, and so forth. I simply cannot buy into the fact that something came from nothing. It just makes logical sense to me that an omnipresent creator was the catalyst that created the something that eventually led to the somebody that is writing this blog.

God is good.

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.