Seeker Series, Why? Does God allow evil?

quote anselm

Why does God allow an obliteration of people in a natural disaster without seemingly a thought or concern? Why God doesn’t just remove Satan and his evil schemes that he executes in this world? If God is all-powerful (omnipotent), this task would certainly be within his power. If God is all-knowing (omniscience), he knows the evil processes Satan will instigate. If God is all-loving and completely good, God should want to protect his children from any harm that may come to them.

 
• Evil is at work in this world, but not in the next.

 
God created the world in which the difficulty of evil/sin is possible, but it was not in his design that we participate in it. Man created the problem of sin and brokenness at the first fall of Adam. Adam exercised his free will by choosing to deny our creator’s direct command and ate the forbidden fruit. (Genesis 3:6-7) Written in his book, Intellectuals don’t need God & other modern myths, Alister McGrath maintained, “How do they (we) know that there cannot be morally sufficient reasons for God permitting suffering?” Consider the possibility that to “die” from this life and go to heaven is not punishment. Philippians 1:21 reveals, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”, therefore, gaining entrance into a heaven with overwhelming joy, happiness, and love. Do we as finite humans, with limited knowledge, have a capacity to judge if evil that has occurred is not allowed by God for sufficient reasons unknown to us? It is within boundaries of God’s known character attributes that he is all-loving. With that assurance we can assume that God is restraining evil in this world. God is inhibiting wickedness until his overall redemptive strategy is achieved. This permits all who will come to know Jesus Christ time to place their faith in him.

 
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23–24)

 
One would assume that God could stop evil, but to do so would require the end of this world. No one knows “the day or hour” of the end as we are told twice in the gospel of Matthew and once in the gospel of Mark. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32) To have an all-knowing God intervene during times of great evil would diminish the reason for sending his son to bear the suffering of this life for us. There is no pain, murder, evil, hate or anything not perfect in heaven. Yes, God could make it trouble-free to gain the promised reward heaven, but at what cost? The cost was his Son, and at his suffering, the admission price was paid. To maroon his children in the precarious position of an opulent spoiled child, waiting for the great protection of a parent would lead us to be unable to freely choose God’s forgiveness and grace He provided in Jesus.

 
Man, a broken self-deprecating individual could not justly determine the level of pain or evil at which point God should intercede. Would murder be the precipitating evil? How many murders must occur prior to intervention? Should the count be taken into consideration, the murder of one or the murder of 100 or more? If the needless killing is of someone who has lived a long fulfilling life, then is this considered a “needless death”? Does the death of a young child hold more weight within the balance of judgment of evil? Man’s finite mind is in no position to make decisions such as these, as all life is considered sacred. If not murder, what about natural evils that are not initiated by man? If we pronounce floods, tsunamis and other natural disasters that appear to our finite minds to needlessly take life as sufficiently wrong humanity cannot rightly conclude as to what level of disaster should or should not be contained as we have no visibility to the destination of the intended purposes.

 
God can and does intercede against all forms and methods of evil and when doing so carries out His design for His creation. We are not God, so to second-guess when God should or should not step in places us as God’s equal. Equal footing between God and man does not increase the status of man, but serves to decrease the status of a perfect, all loving, all knowing God. By doing this, He then ceases to be God. We need God to be God; man needs God in all his impeccable glory.

 
• So God restrains evil in this world, what does this mean for me?

 
Shake your fists, yell, scream and stomp your feet at God, and plead with Him to intervene for all wickedness and earthly sufferings. God is great enough to shoulder the burden. Place your reliance for security in this life in one who was sent to bear the evil and sin of this world, Christ Jesus. If it is God’s will to stop the evil for the last time he will do so. Directing your attention to Him is to correctly place your faith and expectant optimism exactly where it should be.

 
“4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelations 21:4)

 
McGrath, A. (1993). Intellectual Barriers to Faith. In Intellectuals don’t need God & other modern myths: Building bridges to faith through apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 21:4, Mark 13:32). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The New International Version. (2011). (1 Pe 2:23–24). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Seeker Series: Why? I will continue to judge… (And you will too)

quote anselm

Events of the past week were disheartening. Many in our society watched in dismay as the unthinkable became a reality and a new law of the land. Many thought it would never come to this. Some thought the battle was lost long ago and this day was inevitable. Personally I watched in shock and amazement as the battle shifted to social media. Dividing lines were drawn, statements proclaimed. Each claiming their “moral high ground” as masses watched and condemned or applauded the proclamation. Many pronounced the “who am I to judge position” or the “#LoveWins in the end” position. As this unfolded, I question where we are as church, universally speaking. Are we really fulfilling the great commission? Is this what the prescriptive commands in the Bible are to have us do?
As a universal Christian church we have lost our ability to provide a witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ by relinquishing the ability to properly evaluate society and/or a person’s actions or beliefs.
• You shouldn’t judge!
Many take the Bible passage in Matthew 7:1 of “Judge not, that you will be judged” and stop there. The prohibition is not to judge others in the same way as the, “Pharisees, who were very rigid and severe, very magisterial and supercilious, in condemning all about them, as those commonly are, that are proud and conceited in justifying themselves.” (Henry, M. 1994) Unfortunately, this first century exegesis of the Biblical text fails to carry over to a modern context very well. We are considering this passage in the 21st century context. There are no Pharisees currently around, but many still attempt to act as they did 2000 years ago. This line of thought from Jesus is cautioning us against judging hypocritically, uncharitably, unmercifully, with a spirit of revenge, and a desire to do damage. We should however, “Counsel him, and help him, but do not judge him.” (Henry, M. 1994)
Nonetheless, the statement of “You shouldn’t judge!” needs to be addressed. Do people judge other actions, items or people? Yes, and it is absurd to think that we do not do this waking moment of every day! A “You shouldn’t judge!” assertion is a self-refuting statement. A self-refuting statement is defined; “a statement is one that fails to meet its own standard, as another example, “I cannot speak a word in English.” We have to judge in order to function. We judge our behavior, others behavior, thoughts, what they value, and what they believe as determination of what coincides with reality. The “You shouldn’t judge!” statement is a judgment! It makes a claim to know truth. A value proposition of what is right and what is wrong.
For the sake of argument, let’s investigate what the Bible provides as a prescriptive command not to judge. John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7 told the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I ask you this, how did John know the Pharisees and Sadducees were a “brood of vipers”? John formulated a judgment of their actions and behaviors and called them into repentance! Other example is Paul speaking in Athens in Acts 17. Paul is rendering a judgment against their culture of idols that they worship.
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:22-25)
The Apostle Paul and John the Baptizer, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, made a judgment claims against a society, a culture, and groups. They attempted to show them the inaccuracies of their worldviews that would not lead them to repentance and righteousness before the one true God. As people of the 21st century, and as Christians, we are called to do the same. By pointing to the one true God, the one God who sent his Son so we may have redemption when placing our trust in him.
• Can we fulfill the mission?
The recent political decisions are not the end of the world. We should remind each other that the Christian faith has rarely been in the advantageous position in either culture or the political realms in the past 2000 years. This is but another small step to removing the coherent truth claims of the gospel message from the public square of ideas. What are we to do?
While many stimulating sermon messages this past weekend were crafted and conveyed, many used the “love wins in the end” perspective. Twitter hashtags created the #LoveWins message further creating a buzz of anticipation in the social media realm. Both sides of the argument claimed “love” and rainbows with an exciting splash of colors permeated all corners of the internet. While this made everyone feel really good. Happy colors have a way of uplifting a person’s philological state. (Basic commercial marketing 101) It accomplished nothing in the way of constructive dialog about the issues our culture faces.
#LoveWins alienates both sides from the issue at hand. Both are claiming to be “loving” faction. From the Christian perspective, love does NOT win, love HAS ALREADY won. Love won at the cross of Calvary when Jesus was crucified for us. All of us, nasty, gross, deplorable, self-serving sinners benefited from God’s redemptive action in his creation. Jesus was sent as a sign of God’s claim on his creation providing pathway to him as a substitutionary atonement that diverts God’s wrath. Yes, wrath! You cannot have love without hate. An example is; if you love children, you hate child abuse. You cannot have one without the other. It follows then, if God loves his people, created in the likeness of himself, there will be a natural hate of sin because of his love for us. In some aspects, the universal church has minimized this attribute of God. God will not be mocked and there is a wrath of God coming for those who make the willing choice not to follow him. Additionally, a #Lovewins mantra fails to address the full totality of the problem. A biblical love is “sacrificial, efficacious, and seeks what is right (1 Corinthians 13) and it cannot intersect with sin.” Yes, love your neighbor, but no, I do not have to affirm or condone sinful behavior. It would be the same if; I in my sinful nature was having an inappropriate relationship with my neighbor’s wife. You, as my other neighbor knew this was taking place. At this point you’re forced to make a judgment. Is this right or is it wrong? Remember, for those who may wish to walk the fence on this, you receive no free pass. No judgment of right or wrong is really a judgment. A non-decision is really a decision stated in the words you do not speak. Sexual sin is sin and it is wrong.
Speaking to my own community of faith, our leadership provided a message that was thoughtful and timely regarding our current cultural state. Outlined in the message were points to consider about Satan’s actions in God’s creation. To follow along with those points made, I wish to go one step further. How do we look to ourselves and make our lives a consistent Christian witness?
1. Stop the defeatist Christian naval gazing!
Collectively more time is spent watching television, posting pictures of stupidity on social media (guilty!) and faking a coherent Christian worldview then actually engaging in a discussion about problems of the heart (read, sinful nature) we all have. Your children, your car, your job, even you spouse are not god, but in some cases, we have made them one. The one true God should be your God, and if you really proclaim him as Christ and Lord of all, then do the difficult work and open your Bible and learn something about him!
2. Engage in learning!
Learn about the issues and how to develop a Christian worldview. Read a book. Not just any book, but a book that discusses the historical positons of the Christian church. Something written by a pillar of the Christian faith (Wesley, Calvin, or Luther) or by a highly educated scholar and the book was critically reviewed by their peers. Any new-age semi-Christian spiritual garbage written by a “popular” pastor, who ignores the basic tenets of the Christian faith, is rubbish.
3. Connect with a Growth Group and get in the game!
The modern church so adores the doctrines of Justification and Adoption, but barely utters anything about the doctrines of Sanctification and Perseverance. (If you don’t know what those words mean, you just proved my point.) Learn the doctrines of the Christian faith and learn how to teach them to your family and defend them in the public square of ideas.
• In conclusion…
Stop looking at the left or right political party to save you. Learn everything you can about the one true Savior of the world. He alone is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (Rev 19:16) God is sovereign over all, but we have a role to play in his Kingdom.
I end this post with an open invitation to the members of my community of faith. If you disagree with me, then engage me. You can go sulk in the corner and talk about how the “guy who writes about God” spoke harshly or you can connect with me on the City and we will open the scriptures, examine what the word says, figure how to apply it and defend it.
If we can’t even create disciples among ourselves, then how can we expect to be salt and light to a broken world that desperately needs to hear the message…
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)

 

 

Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1643). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Seeker Series, Why… Christian “Intolerance”

toleranceBanner1

​In 2013 a nationwide phone-poll research study was commissioned by now shuttered Mars Hill Church. 913 thousand calls were dialed, 70 thousand conversations occurred and of that, one thousand, twelve minute individual interviews were conducted. This data, taken from the age ranges of 18 to 44, told us that the number one objection if Christianity is that, “it is intolerant”. Significant information from the culture in which we live in, but what is the definition of tolerance? Are we talking about the same concept of toleration of others?

Dictionary from 1828 Webster’s dictionary: TOL’ERANCE, [L. tolerantia, from tolero, to bear.] The power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring

Dictionary.com 2013: tol·er·ance, 1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry. 2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own. 3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint. 4. the act or capacity of enduring; endurance

• In our modern culture, we have modified the definition of tolerance.

By the definitions above, somewhere the meaning of tolerance has changed. In my own Christian walk, I have always felt this tension, but never understood where it originated. As Christians, the Bible tells to “love our neighbor, as we love ourselves” (Mark 12:31). We our told in our churches, to “go out, and be disciples for Christ” (Matthew 28) and to love people and share the way we view the world, but when we do our culture pushes back. We are told we are wrong, old fashioned, uneducated. Even worse, we are called hateful, raciest and bigoted. Why is this case?

I would argue that it is the changed definition of tolerance (or intolerance) that is a critical diversion of two completely opposing worldviews. As Christians, we are sharing our faith with the assumption that the receiver will understand our message. We take for granted that when sharing the way we view the world; it is received, mentally processed and understood. This is assuming too much.

On one hand, a non-Christian views the world as “getting better”. This view could be traced back to the Enlightenment age, when human achievement through scientific discovery pushed the boundaries of authority. The non-Christian might feel that with further education and self-discovery the world we live in and how we treat one another will continue to improve over the course of time. However, Christians do not view the world under these enlightenment knowledge conditions. Our view can be traced back to Genesis 3 and the “fall of man”. We view that the world is not getting better, but worse. Stated in a theological term, a “total depravity” that stems from a heart that is separated from God. This Christian doctrine of the fall of humankind understands the Bible teaches, as a consequence all people born into the world are morally bankrupt, imprisoned to sin and is, apart from God’s grace unable to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation.

“10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:10-11)

• So where does this new definition of tolerance leave us?

It leaves us with two people, who are literally facing completely opposite directions on how the world works, and how we are to interact with it. Two completely different belief systems, that each seem outlandish and unbelievable to the other. When we share beliefs or worldviews we are assuming the other person views the world as we see it, or at least, close to it. We are not even in the same ballpark!

So, if we are viewing humanity completely differently, where does the tolerance come in? The definition of tolerance, as discussed above, has changed from “capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring”, with someone who has a different viewpoint to “affirming someone” who has a different viewpoint.” When we tolerate we endure, we love, we have patience, we have steadfastness, and sufferance with their opposing viewpoint.

The tolerance definition has moved to full affirmation of the opposing view; anything less you will appear intolerant of the opposing viewpoint. This makes no sense, and goes against the very meaning of the word tolerance. Unfortunately, in our modern culture we now must believe in everything, (or affirm) every belief or run the risk of being labeled hateful, raciest or bigoted. This leaves little room for the Christian to share their worldview of the redeeming offer of salvation in Jesus Christ and further exacerbates the privatization of faith from the public square.

Of course, isn’t the non-Christian being “intolerant” of the Christian worldview? The answer would be yes! It would be a self-refuting statement. A self-refuting statement is defined; “a statement is one that fails to meet its own standard, as an example, I cannot speak a word in English.” Other examples of self-refuting statements are; “You shouldn’t try to convert people.” The non-theist is trying to convert you to their point of view. “It is arrogant to claim to have the truth.” The non-theist is making the claim that they have the truth. “You should be tolerant of all views.” Again, the non-theist is claiming that all views are acceptable, but showing no tolerance to your opposing view. Exactly who are the intolerant groups here?

• What does this mean for me?

As the Bible teaches us throughout Christianity’s history culture has made every attempt to push it to the sidelines. Repeatedly, the truth of the word never fades, never changes, and never fails us as the enduring truth. Christians must continue to lovingly share the gospel, and actively live out their faith, to do anything less is dishonest to ourselves and goes against the gospel. Christians must push back against culture and treat everyone with love and respect. This does NOT mean we should be tolerant of sinful deeds, elicit behavior, or activities that are not grounded in a biblical understanding of the world we all live in. On the other hand, it does mean that we are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in a world that is desperately searching for meaning and understanding of human nature. The gospel is Jesus Christ is that coherent and tolerant worldview to answer society’s inquiries about itself.