Tell me why they had to die?

Tell me why that person had to die? I prayed… Why do you permit the wiping out of individuals in tragedy after tragedy without seemingly a thought or concern? Why don’t you intervene, to remove evil, to stop the hurt, to save us from… ourselves?

If God is all-powerful, then removing all evil would certainly be within his power.

God created this world in which the problem of evil is possible. (Gen 1:1) Although, it was not his intention that we participate in it. Man, created the problem of sin and wickedness at the fall. Humanity choose to separate itself from God’s design. Adam exercised his free will by choosing to deny our creator’s direct command and consumed the forbidden fruit. (Genesis 3:6-7) Free will is a gift. It allows us to freely choose between good and evil, right and wrong. It enables us to desire grace to work in our lives or to deny the allowance of his mercy. To unreservedly love someone is to give them the ability to choose. The choice to leave, to stay, and this opens the possibility them not returning the love you have extended to them. A suitable reason to allow evil to persist could possibility be the allowance of the liberty to choose God, but at that point the entrance is left open for wickedness and strife to enter. Thus, if God used his power to remove all evil, then the freedom of choice is removed likewise.

If God is all-loving and completely good, God must desire to protect his children from harm that may come to them.

Consider the possibility that the choice to permit suffering and distress provides growth and strength in God. (Romans 5:3) Written in his book, ‘Intellectuals don’t need God & other modern myths’, Alister McGrath maintained, “How do we know that there cannot be morally sufficient reasons for God permitting suffering?” (McGrath, A. 1993) One known character attribute of God is that he is all-loving. With that assurance, we can assume that God is restraining and deterring evil in this world. (John 17:15) 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. (Gal 3:22) To have an all-know and all-loving 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, death, murder, evil, or hate in heaven. (Matthew 16:19) Absolutely, God could make it trouble-free to gain the assurance of heaven, but at what cost? The cost was his Son, and at his suffering on the cross, the admission was paid. To maroon his children in the precarious position of a spoiled child, waiting for the great protection of a parent would render us incapable to freely choose God’s forgiveness and grace he provided in Christ. (Romans 8:18)

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. (1 Peter 2:23)

If God is all-knowing, he knows the wicked plans Satan will initiate.

Humanity is broken, narcissistic, self-seeking and cannot justly determine the level of pain or evil at which point God should intercede. (Romans 2:6) Would murder be the precipitating evil? How many murders must occur prior to intervention? If not murder, what about natural misfortunes that are not initiated by man? If we maintain earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters that appear to our finite minds to unnecessarily take human life as sufficiently wrong, humanity cannot rightly conclude as to what level of disaster should or should not be restrained. We have no visibility to the destination of the intended purposes. (Psalms 121:7) The human intellect is limited. It is not in the position to make decisions as all life is considered sacred. (John 1:4) The wisdom of an omniscience God is required to make these judgements. (Proverbs 1:7)
An all-knowing God will stop evil, but to do so would require the end of this creation as we comprehend the world now. No one knows “the day or hour” of the end, 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) God does intervene against all forms and methods of evil and when doing so carries out his intentions, for his creation. To predict when God should or should not intervene places us in the untenable position of God’s equivalent. Equal positioning between God and humanity does not increase the status of humankind, 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 remain fully displaying his knowledge and wisdom; and man, ought to desire God to continue in this unspoiled glory.

What does this mean for me? It means there is hope…

The pain and anguish of this world hurts, but there is hope. This optimism comes in Christ, sent by God to intervene into our pain, trials and suffering. Answers as to why someone had commit suicide, a marriage failed, or an ailing loved one was gone too soon are genuine questions with very real pain attached to them. Nevertheless, I urge you to plead with the Lord to intervene, for all wickedness and sufferings to end, and your grief to subside. (Romans 12:15) God is magnificent enough to shoulder the burden. Place your reliance for security in this life that there is hope. Hope in the one who was sent to bear the evil and sin of this world, Christ Jesus.

55 “Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55)

It is God’s desire to end all death and wickedness for the last time. For that reason, Jesus died on the cross for this very purpose; to put an end to all iniquity. Directing your attention to the cross is to precisely position 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)

1. 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.

2. Inserted Image- Credit: Unknown

Acts 15- What must we do to be saved?

“16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16)

lightstock-50827-grace-bible-verse

What is the final destiny of life and how are we “saved” to receive that destiny? These could be the greatest questions that everyone needs to answer. The end of this life will find each and every one of us. There is no avoiding it. Individuals attempt to create an answer to what happens after this life ends. Culture also speaks strongly as to how or what our focus should be on during our life. Just live in the now, do “right” by people and everything will work out fine. Focusing on “living our best life now” provides a vain attempt to avoid the providing any answer. But, avoidance is not an answer. Living for the “now” does not contain the power to provide salvation from your sin and bestow admittance to enteral life in glory with God. Each religion or worldview (a worldview is a person’s fundamental orientation of looking at the world around them) must be held to the same critical standard. The all need to answer the same question; “What must I do to be saved and have access to the afterlife?”

What Paul and Barnabas answered in Acts 15 addressed an early argument within the first century church. “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1-2) Christianity believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ. God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5) Other religions and worldviews must address this difficulty. No one receives a free pass not to provide a solution. Let’s consider three other common belief systems.

An individual who adheres to Mormonism will consider this the path to salvation:

• There are three kingdoms of glory: the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, and the telestial kingdom. The glory we inherit will depend on the depth of our conversion, expressed by our obedience to the Lord’s commandments. It will depend on the manner in which we have “received the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:51; see also D&C 76:74, 79, 101)

In this Mormon doctrines and covenants (D&C) passage we see Mormons believe there are “levels” to heaven and that inheritance into “heaven” will depend on obedience or works completed in this life.

Devotion to Islam also claims a route to eternal life.

• In Islam salvation is achieved through good works and including “honorable deeds” such as, keeping five “pillars,” of Islam: witness for Muhammad, ritual prayers five times daily, alms giving, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Koran states in Sura 21:47, “On the day of judgment Allah will have a set of scales to weigh one’s good deeds against his bad deeds.”

Completing enough “good deeds” to win favor with an impersonal and unknowable god is an impossible task and obedience to this leads groups and individuals down dangerous paths. In both religions, works are necessary to gain favor with god and entrance into heaven or paradise.

Finally, let’s look at Pantheism a worldview that is commonly seen in Western Washington.

• Pantheism is the belief that God and the universe are one. The “God is everything, and everything is God” approach of Pantheism creates problems as it removes the personal identity and relational attributes of God.

Without a personal identity, there cannot be a relationship. It follows there would be no human destiny of the soul after this life with god if a relationship does not exist. Some forms of Pantheism assert the divine is an illusion, therefore making a god unknowable. Pantheism doesn’t answer the question of, “What must I do to be saved and have access to the afterlife?” It appears to avoid the question entirely.

All three worldviews are in direct contradiction to the personal and knowable God of the Bible.

“4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

“26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” “9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” (Hebrews 7:26 and 5:9)

So, what must we do to be saved?

“30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31)

The apostle Paul and Barnabas are refuting a basic question that remains for us today. Who is included in God’s saving grace? Apostle Paul argues that the saving grace that Jesus provided is for all, both Jew and Gentile, provided by Jesus on the cross, and is God’s alone to impart. “8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8) Paul references back to Peter in Acts 10, because the “gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:44) ensuring that God’s saving grace was provided by the Holy Spirit for all, both circumcised and uncircumcised.

How should we connect with others of a different belief system so they may have access to eternal life? Always with love, grace and the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 22:39) For all that come to the cross, hear and believe the true words of God are invited into His infinite grace. This is very good news! Someone who believes they need to “earn” their way into heaven should find a tremendous amount of relief and comfort knowing that God loves them and has provided the way for salvation! No amount of “works” or “deeds” will appease a god or defend a god that is detached from his creation.

To the believers, pray continually asking for the Holy Spirit to use you. Be the hands and feet of Jesus, doing the hard work that needs to be completed for the Lord. Witness boldly to others showing them God’s everlasting grace as it has been shown to you.

To the unbelievers, may we pray for you? We pray you find that your work placating God is unnecessary. We want you to know Jesus came to atone for your sins, transgressions, and failures. We, as Christians do not stand above you, but beside you, as sinners deserving of God’s wrath. We are all sinners. Jesus alone is the perfect sacrifice for you and for us all. Rest from your unwarranted works, my friend, they are not needed…

“29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Justice Divided Fairly, a Characterization of Heaven

Everyone is concerned with his or her future destiny. These infinite, open-ended questions of the afterlife appear to us at random times. A death of a beloved family member, an emotional television program or a story told by a friend may provide the mind cause to bring thoughts like these into focus. What happens to us when this life is over? Are Heaven angels bearing wings and harps, sitting on the clouds? Is there a final judgment for individuals, holding them accountable for their actions in this life? If there is a Heaven, does that mean there is Hell also? How can God send someone to Hell instead of Heaven? Is Heaven as great as a Christian believes? Both believers and unbelievers continually wrestle with the reality of an afterlife, heaven and causation’s for an eternal destiny. The questions are real, worthy of asking and insisting of solid answers.

What happens to us after this life is over has been fiercely debated by the science and philosophy disciplines for centuries. Science, while excellent with providing a hypothesis in this area can do little to provide concrete evidence. The existence of heaven cannot be tested evidentially by a designed experiment as with other areas of science. It would follow that since science has little to add, philosophy or more specifically the philosophy of religion is the discipline of choice. Well known Italian physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei stated, “…the scriptures tell us how to go to heaven, but not how the heavens go.” (Groothuis, 2013) Depending on your beliefs, Jesus of Nazareth is the only one that has been to heaven and returned. An explanation of heaven, the nature of what heaven is, and well-defined directives to gain entrance are contained in the scriptural New Testament account of Jesus and his teachings. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV) offers a sense of this life is not the end. “16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” This verse tells us that even with our earthly bodies “wasting away”, there is more. “The eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” describes heaven as a place where no association to anything in this life can be drawn too. Many have heard the stereotypical descriptions of heaven, and these thoughts come to mind; all white, with no distinguishing colors, drifting angels sitting of puffy clouds, softly playing harps and of course the “wings”. Verse 21:1 (ESV) in the book of Revelations offers insight as to how heaven will be upon the second coming of Christ. “1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” This is a tremendous statement. The weight of this shatters the myth of a placid, color neutral heavenly world, while a brand new heaven and earth is established. This would point to a fully restored earth, with real ground for God’s children to dwell and live within the magnificence of Christ and not drifting around on free-floating clouds. Revelations 21:3 (ESV) affords the believer another reason for excitement, as God himself will live in his newly created heavenly earth among us. 3 “…Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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.” The claim of no pain and crying, all former problems of this life will be gone offers a fantastic argument for belief in heaven. When this life is completed a gift is given. The gift of heaven is one of a new earth, where we will live among our Lord. Consequently, if we are to interpret these biblical texts correctly, no white clouds, wings and harps will be available.

Life on earth can be difficult and unjust. Humanity continues to act selfishly towards one another letting our own self-centeredness wound people we do not know. Even the people we hold closest to our hearts are not immune to unjustifiable hurt and distress. The cries for justice and fairness are heard constantly. As a community, we incorrectly look to government at all levels to protect us from ourselves. This is a misplaced hope, as hope ought to be in the one who created the heavens and earth. Naturally, with God’s promise of heaven also comes with the price of hell. This justice will befall on both believers and skeptics at the Day of Judgment. Each of us will be held accountable for our actions. Actions directed toward others, but also actions imparted on ourselves will be scrutinized. This is true justice. Justice divided fairly and in equal measure from a God fully outside the limits of a finite morality. It follows then if our actions and thoughts are true to God, heaven will be the reward but the opposite hell needs to exist for those who choose a life apart from God. How can a just and loving God send someone to an eternity of hell? How could God not send the unrepentant and unrighteous to hell? For God to unequally measure out justice would make God less of the God he is. God is the quintessential characterization of fairness. In this life, we desperately need him to be God in all of his immensity.
Sin is so horrendous to God, take into account the verse of Matthew 18:9 (ESV) “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” The Apostle Matthew uses an incredibly strong analogy that if your eye sins, it would be better to remove the offending body part than continuing in that sin. In the book of James our spoken words are called into question, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:6 (ESV) These verses are two of many in the Gospels that repeat God’s command for belief in Him and requiring a change of your life for following the only sinless one, Jesus. These passages are direct calls to repent and do our very best to lead a sinless life. At this point, God has literally no choice but to disseminate judgments to hell, if after these declarations man still chooses to exercise his or her “free will” and live a life apart from Him. A one-dimensional definition of Heaven and Hell can be understood as follows:

  • Heaven, an everlasting life living with God’s greatness and glory in his predestined creation.
  • Hell is an interminable existence of deadness while living apart from God and all His creation.

Heaven is as great as a Christian believes! Luke 12:32 (ESV) 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God wants to invite us into the Kingdom of Heaven. “Good pleasure” is the phrasing used by the Apostle Luke. The Lord wants to offer us the pleasure of being in his sight. As discussed earlier, scripture does not give the impression of a heavenly space void of all color or a drifting space of clouds. Actually, scripture alludes to heaven as a great feast or party. Isaiah 25:6 (ESV) “6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” This verse is very powerful with its description of “great” wine and “rich” food alluding to a magnificent celebration. In addition, Revelations 21:18-21 describes, “walls built of Jasper and a city of pure Gold and Glass”. Other jewels are depicted as well, Sapphire, Emerald, Onyx, Carnelian, Beryl and Amethyst among others. All the colors, food and drink in their splendor are illustrated in these scriptural accounts of Heaven. What images come to mind? Perhaps this invokes a great earthly vastness, full of glory and significance grounded in a physical reality, with no pain and sorrow with endless amounts of hope. Contemplate the absolute greatest time ever in your life. Thoughtfully think about on how you felt inside. Now, wonder about what this feeling would be if it was momentously more than it was. The finite human mind can hardly conceive let alone dream of a “heaven” this tremendous.

All have been offered admittance to this heavenly world, whether is the offer is accepted is a choice everyone must make. Micah 6:8 (ESV) “8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God…”