One of the great things about being in a regular bible study with thinking adults is that you come across questions and issues that otherwise wouldn’t occur to you. This past week, one of my friends posed what seemed like a simple question, but I think it has a lot of deeper implications.
He basically asked, “Why is Satan so hell-bent on being evil? Why is he so opposed to everything good?”
This is the kind of question that might be overlooked because for so long, we’ve equated Satan with pure evil. But why is that exactly? If you really think about it, it seems almost cartoonish and unrealistic.
To illustrate, imagine a movie villain who is determined to destroy the entire world. He has no redeeming qualities, doesn’t care about anybody else in the world, and everything he does is pure evil. Whatever the “good” choice is, he does the opposite for reasons that are hard to finger.
Sounds kind of outlandish, doesn’t it? In my opinion, such a character would lack the depth and balance to make him seem realistic. Most villains today seem to believe they are doing something good, even if they are misguided or extreme in their measures. Take Magneto from the “X-Men” series, for example. He is one of the main villains, but he earnestly believes that mutants are the future and that homo sapiens are an obsolete species characterized by intolerance and ignorance.
So why is it that Satan is pure evil? How is that believable?
Simply put, it is because he has completely separated himself from God, who is the source of ALL moral good in the universe. Apart from Him, any modicum of good is literally impossible. The reason that human beings are capable of good—even villains—is because they are made in the image of God, which includes morality, dominion over this earth, creativity, etc.
If Satan were to commit even one decent act to the benefit of others, that would mean he is an additional source of good. This is, of course, not the case. In fact, one of his favorite tricks is to turn anything good into some destructive force. Self-assurance turns to haughtiness and pride; serving others becomes an ego boost and a way to feel morally superior; love and acceptance turn into tolerance for things that God explicitly states are wrong. The list goes on and on. You could name anything and chances are, Satan has distorted it in some way. We are all easily fooled if we are not discerning and Spirit-led.
OK, so now that we’ve established that God is the only source of good and that’s why Satan is pure evil…what does that mean for the afterlife? What does that mean for hell?
It means that once people have been eternally separated from God and sent to hell, they are now completely stripped of their godly nature. That means that it’s not going to be a chummy party down there by any stretch of the imagination.
I have actually heard atheists say, “Well, if I’m wrong and I’m going to hell, at least I’ll spend eternity with cool, interesting people! Maybe I’ll see Jimi Hendrix down there!”
Maybe you will see certain “interesting” people down there, but any redeeming qualities they may have had on this earth are going to be completely gone. Whoever you see down there is not going to be someone you enjoy, even if you were to somehow avoid the torment of the flames. You will not be having warm, friendly reunions.
Furthermore, if you are thinking that adopting Satan as your new master might be some consolation (because of his beauty or talents, maybe), then again, you are sadly mistaken. He is not going to be governing hell or setting up some kind of viable alternative to heaven. He is going to be thrown into the lake of fire and burning just the same as everyone else. Remember, God is the ruler of everything, even hell. Any power Satan currently enjoys is temporary, and there will come a time when God no longer permits him to act in rebellion.
Finally, I know a few of my long-time readers may be wondering about my stance on the eternality of hell. I apologize because this is long overdue, and you may have already noticed I took my posts on annihilationism down a while ago.
My view now is that hell is probably eternal torment, as the traditional view presents. I will concede that I’m not 100% sure, but much of the scriptural support for annihilationism came from the Old Testament where it talked about “death” and “being no more.” My knowledge of the Old Testament was far more incomplete at the time, and now I realize that conceptions of the afterlife were not fully developed during that period. Before Jesus came and fully paid for our sins, no one could go to Heaven (or even Hell) yet. Everyone who died went to the same realm, called Sheol, although there were separate places for God-fearing people. Sometimes, this is referred to as “Paradise,” but the terminology can get confusing. Either way, it didn’t make sense for God to talk about the afterlife much when His work of redemption was not yet complete (until Jesus said “it is finished”).
So my current idea of hell is that it is a place of eternal separation from God that probably involves the literal pain of burning flames. As the final humiliating act of defeat, Satan will be suffering there along with everyone else who chose to reject God and separate themselves from Him. There will be degrees of punishment, for sure, but we don’t know exactly what that will entail. In the end, whether you go to heaven to worship Almighty God or go to hell to pay the price for sin, God is glorified to the utmost by praise and justice.
After taking a hiatus from reading atheist-leaning material, I happened across this article today and decided to respond to it:
As Christians, we know that biblical truth hurts sometimes and comes across as offensive no matter what, and it’s our duty to still speak the truth. However, other times it serves no purpose other than to shut the other person down from even listening at all.
That being said, this is my own blog and I’m not saying this directly to anyone in particular, so I decided to write my own responses to the opinions she presented. The author’s portions are excerpted in italics.
1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”
The answer: Atheists are moral for the same reasons believers are moral: because we have compassion, and a sense of justice. Humans are social animals, and like other social animals, we evolved with some core moral values wired into our brains: caring about fairness, caring about loyalty, caring when others are harmed.
I agree that asking this question to atheists is a bit short-sighted for a number of reasons. First off, we should already know that according to naturalistic beliefs, human behaviors are supposedly adaptations that increase our chances of survival. Things that are beneficial to a group tend to persist in a flourishing species. So atheists would naturally turn to these sorts of answers when it comes to morality.
But this question is also short-sighted because as Christians, we should know a very simple and fundamental truth: God created ALL people in His image. This means a moral sense was instilled in every one of us; it is built into our nature. So whether or not someone believes in God is independent of whether they have a basic moral code. True, specific moral duties and responsibilities may differ (hint: when the Bible explicitly commands us to do something, it’s usually because we naturally do not want to do them). But we all have a basic sense of right or wrong. The question is, how do we objectively define what’s right or wrong?
You have to wonder, from a naturalistic perspective, if morals are simply an adaptation to promote survival, why not kill off unproductive members of the herd? Why bother taking care of the elderly or even barren women? Why not save our resources instead of taking care of handicapped individuals who can give nothing back? What practical benefit is there to some of these “good” deeds? As Christians, we know that every person has intrinsic worth as an image-bearer of God, but what value is there from a naturalistic standpoint?
And if someone disagrees with your sense of “good,” what right do you have to condemn them for it? If Hitler thought he was making the world a better place by killing Jews, how can we prove that he’s wrong and we’re right? Apart from some higher objective standard, we can’t. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know deep in our bones that killing humans is wrong, and it’s not just some arbitrary adaptation ingrained in us over time.
What’s so special about human survival anyway? From the naturalistic environment’s perspective, we are actually bad for the health of this planet, and doesn’t the planet have a higher importance than our species? Since it is home to every other creature we know about, maybe it’s not right to exhibit this form of bias. Maybe we should depopulate…war and killing could be of great practical benefit to the world.
I could go on and on about this, but I think the point has been made. We are all made to be moral creatures, but only with God as an objective standard can it really become something more than just some arbitrary result of probability and undirected adaptation.
2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”
The answer: Atheists find meaning and joy in the same things everyone does. We find it in the big things: family, friendship, work, nature, art, learning, love. We find it in the small things: cookies, World of Warcraft, playing with kittens. The only difference is that (a) believers add “making my god or gods happy and getting a good deal in the afterlife” to those lists (often putting them at the top), and (b) believers think meaning is given to them by their god or gods, while atheists create our own meaning, and are willing and indeed happy to accept that responsibility.
We Christians find joy in a lot of those same things as well, and indeed, we believe a lot of them were given to us by God for the very purpose of making life on this earth more bearable. But enjoying something is a far cry from having a deeper, firmer sense of purpose. And trust me, as humans with prideful desires, we Christians would love to accept the “responsibility” of creating “our own meaning.” Who wouldn’t? It’s fun to play boss. But at the same time, we have come to grips that living like this is just playing an empty game. In the end, it’s all pointless apart from a greater purpose.
From the atheists’ point of view, the purpose in life is to enjoy every moment and to derive “meaning” in relationships and activities. But if you think about it, this sense of meaning is completely illusory. If humans are nothing but a collection of matter, randomly thrown together for no apparent purpose or design, then why are your family and friends special? Why are nature and art to be admired when they’re just an accident of impersonal and random forces?
What is “love” from a naturalistic purpose? Isn’t it simply a means to reproduce and to increase the chances of successfully raising offspring? Well, in modern day America, I think it’s safe to say that very few children die of starvation, even without monogamous parenting, so why not spread our seed as widely as possible? Why bother with marriage or commitment anymore?
If atheists are always accusing Christians of living in a fantasy world, I think it’s time that they come to grips with the illusions and mental tricks they are playing on themselves. Their sense of meaning and purpose are parlor tricks, and the prominent atheist Nietzsche is an example of someone who honestly understood these implications. He seemed to grasp that with the “death of God,” objective truth must necessarily break down. What’s ironic and sad is that while he referred to Christianity as a depressing and pitiful belief system, he himself ended up suffering a mental breakdown.
As for the last part of the question (“why don’t you just kill yourself?”), I really hope no one says this to an atheist. Apart from being cold-hearted or gimmicky at best (in trying to make some kind of poignant point), it is useless to wish death upon someone, especially if there is still time and a chance for them to find God. Better late than never.
3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”
The answer: No.
The somewhat longer answer: This question assumes that “atheism” means “100% certainty that God does not exist, with no willingness to question and no room for doubt.” For the overwhelming majority of people who call ourselves atheists, this is not what “atheism” means. For most atheists, “atheism” means something along the lines of “being reasonably certain that there are no gods,” or, “having reached the provisional conclusion, based on the evidence we’ve seen and the arguments we’ve considered, that there are no gods.” No, we can’t be 100% certain that there are no gods. We can’t be 100% certain that there are no unicorns, either. But we’re certain enough. Not believing in unicorns doesn’t take “faith.” And neither does not believing in God.
Ah, the good ol’ unicorns comparison to God, as if they were on equal levels as far as logic and evidence would direct us. But I won’t go into that now because I think I touch upon it frequently in some of my posts. The short version is this: we have solid and defensible reasons to believe in the existence of God; there are no such reasons to believe in the existence of unicorns. It sure does make a catchy (and extremely popular) argument, though.
Anyhow, I largely disagree with the author’s assessment that atheism doesn’t take the same (or greater) measure of faith as being a believer in, say, Jesus Christ. The honest answer should be “yes,” and let me explain.
As Christians, we have come to the conclusion that there is a specific God based on a number of influences and sources. These things can range from emotional leadings to stone-cold logic. Archeology and even science can lead some to the conclusion that there is a god. For example, Dr. Francis Collins—a prominent geneticist who led the Human Genome Project—believes that our DNA is actually the “language of God” and cannot be explained by purely naturalistic means. And yes, sometimes people believe without deeper investigation, but that’s usually because the existence of God seems so inherently obvious to them that they don’t feel a burning need to look deeper. While I would much prefer Christians to be better informed about their faith and able to defend their faith more competently (as the Bible even exhorts us to do), it’s hard to fault them too much for trusting their intuitions and common sense. In the end, we come to a conclusion we feel is reasonable, although there is that little leap of faith left on our part.
Now, with atheism, a similar track is usually followed. They emotionally feel things that turn them away from religion, such as anger at abuses in the church or judgmental attitudes. Perhaps it’s an abusive religious father or even strong homosexual tendencies that make the Bible’s teachings against this behavior highly objectionable to them. (This builds in an added incentive for such atheists to believe the Bible is wrong because its truth would put them in an uncomfortable spot. Perhaps that’s partially what motivated the author of this article to be an atheist, who happens to be a lesbian.) Then there is some form of “logical” thinking that takes place that utilizes catchy arguments to make the Bible seem ridiculous (but to be honest, I have yet to see any line of reasoning that holds up to any deeper scrutiny). Archeology says that a certain detail from the Bible cannot be corroborated (yet), and then science seems to take away the “need” for God, even if nothing directly contradicts His existence. Then, there is the apparent obviousness in thoughts like, “if there really were a God, why wouldn’t He show Himself? Why would there still be evil in the world?” With these seemingly reasonable lines of evidence, the last little leap of faith takes place when they trust their own intuitions and the conclusions of other people in published works or speeches, even if they could feasibly be wrong. Apparently, a smart-sounding and somewhat condescending British accent also helps greatly. The sad truth of the matter is that a mocking and sarcastic tone often comes with a built-in aura of superior intellect, for some reason.
Furthermore, the atheistic belief system mandates that a lot of the things we know and feel intuitively are not objective or real at all. They believe that the entire universe and life within it is nothing but a big cosmic coincidence, devoid of any purpose or design. They believe that science is conclusive and true, despite having a track history of being wrong and needing revision. They believe that anything that feels objectionable to them must be false, even though these feelings cannot be reliable as beacons of truth if they are merely adaptations for survival. They believe that fulfilled prophecies are merely math-defying coincidences or that they were manipulated in some way—even without any evidence of tampering. They will believe radically fringe ideas such as “Jesus never even existed” sooner than they will believe the words of first-hand witnesses who were martyred without recanting.
So yea, it’s not so ridiculous to say that it takes “the same (or greater) measure of faith” to be an atheist.
4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”
Calling atheism a religion assumes that it’s an axiom accepted on faith, not a conclusion based on thinking and evidence. And it shows that you’re not willing or able to consider the possibility that someone not only has a different opinion about religion than you do, but has come to that opinion in a different way.
This one is much like #3, so I’ll just quickly say that a religion can involve thinking and evidence as well (or at least from what I’ve seen, Christianity can). And truthfully, from what I’ve encountered, atheists don’t seem like the most “willing or able” to consider that they’re wrong either…not even on clear and simple points! Read any back-and-forth between a believer and an atheist and you’ll see an inability to even acknowledge any legitimate point made. So this accusation goes right back to the author of this article.
5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”
The answer: Atheists have groups and communities and movements for the same reasons anyone does. Remember what I said about atheists being human? Humans are social animals. We like to spend time with other people who share our interests and values. We like to work with other people on goals we have in common. What’s more, when atheists come out about our atheism, many of us lose our friends and families and communities, or have strained and painful relationships with them. Atheists create communities so we can be honest about who we are and what we think, and still not be alone.
I think this answer is very legitimate and well spoken. Humans were made to be social creatures by design because we are not to fight this fight (of life) alone.
I suspect, however, that it’s also fun to get together and mock religious types. I can’t say this for all atheist groups, but it’s hard to imagine them feeling much genuine sympathy for the rest of us, whereas Christians earnestly pray for nonbelievers all the time…sometimes with tears. I watched a video of four prominent atheists gathered in one room talking to each other, and it felt like a big religion-bashing fest where all parties involved were highly amused and reveling in each other’s apparent brilliance and wit.
And again, if atheists believe they are doing meaningful work, they need to be truly honest with themselves. If their efforts are at all difficult or costly, they really shouldn’t waste their time and energy on it. Why champion a cause if it takes away from their own resources and enjoyment? The world around them is just a fleeting and random collection of matter. In fact, it’s all steadily leading toward maximum entropy and will cease to exist eventually. There are no REAL concerns of lasting consequence. What difference does it make to them personally what others believe if they believe we’re all just going to die and return to dust anyway? It’s an exercise in futility if you ask me.
At least the social aspects mentioned by the author give us a more realistic, honest, and digestible answer to help us understand.
6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”
The answer: Atheists aren’t angry at God. We don’t think God exists. We aren’t angry at God, any more than we’re angry at Santa Claus.
And honestly? This question reveals how narrow your own mind is. It shows that you can’t even consider the possibility that you might be mistaken: that you can’t even conceive of somebody seeing the world differently from the way you do. This question doesn’t just make atheists mad. It makes you look like a dolt.
I think it’s disingenuous to completely deny this point, but I could be mistaken. Quite frankly, this is a line that atheists can stick to until death and there’s really no concrete way to prove that they’re angry at God (and they know it).
Maybe we’re all wrong about them. Maybe their way of expressing themselves is different from all other forms of human interaction I’ve ever seen. To me, name-calling, rolling eyes, and biting sarcasm directed at God usually indicate some form of emotion…dare I say, anger or bitterness. But what do I know?
They seem to hate or mock God’s laws. They ridicule passages from the Bible that seem outdated or absurd. They ask questions like, “Where was God when…?” And not in a purely speculative or investigative way, either. You’ll notice that error found in other areas rarely evoke the same amount of impassioned speech and mockery that surround religious discussion. Why is this?
I don’t buy that they’re only angry at the believer, not an “imaginary God.” Much of the time, the believer has good intentions, and it’s hard to believe atheists get THAT angry when some random person disagrees with them or doesn’t see things the way they see it.
If atheists weren’t angry with God on some level, you’d expect a much different tone from them than what you actually see. I also find the author’s accusation of narrow-mindedness and being a “dolt” puzzling considering her own choice of words.
7: “But have you [read the Bible or some other holy book; heard about some supposed miracle; heard my story about my personal religious experience]?”
The answer: Probably. Or else we’ve read/heard about something pretty darned similar. Atheists are actually better-informed about religion than most religious believers. In fact, we’re better-informed about the tenets of most specific religions than the believers in those religions. For many atheists, sitting down and reading the Bible (or the holy text of whatever religion they were brought up in) is exactly what set them on the path to atheism — or what put the final nail in the coffin.
Why you shouldn’t ask it: As my friend and colleague Heina put it: “‘Have you heard of Jesus?’ No, actually, I was born under a f**king rock.”
There are some interesting and semi-valid points given here.
First off, atheists did not become atheists by accident. They had to weigh information and decide to be that way, so of course they will already know some of the basic truths of religion. Asking them these simplistic things can come across and obvious and insulting. I concede that point.
As for whether atheists tend to be better-informed about religion than most religious believers…
I’d have to say yes and no.
Yes, they may have spent more time reading the scriptures or doing highly academic exercises such as using Google or ordering popular books off of Amazon to read the opinions of others. Sadly, many believers know precious little about the very truths they are staking their entire life and eternity on.
Atheists’ knowledge of the Bible > Casual/young believer’s knowledge
Then an interesting factor comes into play here. On a spiritual level, that factor is the Holy Spirit and “scales” falling off of our eyes. But even on a human level, there is another important differentiator: passion and motivation.
Imagine on one side, you have an atheist who thinks Christianity is foolishness. On the other, you have a curious and thorough Christian who wants to know God to the deepest level possible. Who do you think will understand the Bible better?
The atheist comes across a difficult passage, and already assuming that the Bible is flawed and man-made, he immediately concludes that the passage is in error. It’s a contradiction or an oversight. Then he laughs about it, but does his diligence in remembering the details so that he can equip it in his next argument with a Christian. At this point, he can already stump the ho-hum Christian who knows nothing of the Bible.
The motivated Christian comes across the same passage and feels conflicted about it. How can that make sense when it sounds so off? Then, he remembers a related passage, perhaps 1,000 pages later that adds another layer to consider. Then he checks cross-references, commentaries, and draw upon his deep well of understanding to finally decipher the true meaning of the passage. It now makes sense and is crystal clear. Through this deep probing, he now has a better sense of the truth and God’s character, even if the final conclusion is much different than what he initially thought or expected.
In the end, this Christian has a far better understanding of the passage than the atheist does. Why is that? It’s not because of superior intelligence, but it’s because of his motivation and willingness to stretch his thinking to allow truths to come to him rather than dictate things with his own intuitions and biases. It’s his humility and deep desire to know God that opens up the words on the page to him. Otherwise, they would remain hidden.
Before you scoff at this idea, you should know that this applies in a lot of other areas as well—for instance, simple things like sports or even frivolous things like video games. *Warning: Geek speak is about to follow, so you may want to tune out.
You could be the smartest guy out there, and even be naturally gifted at video games. You could quickly excel to a certain point without a ton of effort. But unless you actually care about a game and devote yourself to it on a deeper level, you will never unlock your true potential in it.
People who have never been at an elite level in gaming (or other areas) will find this hard to understand and agree with, but it’s true. Lots of capable gamers will try out a game, see what they recognize to be an obvious flaw or limitation, and decide not to play it competitively. They write it off as shallow and unworthy of their efforts. They quickly find it boring and move on.
But the dedicated gamer will go deeper. He will see what looks like an “unfair” flaw and discover ways around it. What seemed like a broken imbalance is now just one mechanic that has been solved and pushed aside. Then other mechanics are discovered underneath. A deeper, richer game is uncovered for this gamer, but it never would have happened if he was haughty and decided the game was as simple as it first appeared.
(When it comes to the Street Fighter series, I could go on and on about frame data, spacing, the meta game, P-linking, conditioning your opponent…but you get the gist by now. It’s never just as simple as the characters you see on the screen.)
In the same way, atheists fail to see the deeper level of truth beneath the surface. That’s because they assume there isn’t any. They also overestimate the power of their intelligence, as if they should be able to immediately crack any code presented before them.
Here’s a news flash: no one is as smart as they think they are. (I’m constantly reminded of this, which is one of the useful, humbling quirks of marriage.) Here’s another one: If the Bible was inspired by God, do you really expect to be able to figure it all out with a few hours, months, or even years of half-blinded study? Even if it were man-made, scholars over many centuries have written countless volumes about the Bible that would astonish you in their complexity. Are you in a position to top that? If you can’t master Shakespeare in a couple of years, what makes you think you’d be able to master something this comprehensive and grand?
I can honestly tell you that every time I read a passage after not reading it for a while, I see something new jump out of the page. And that’s with passages I’ve read numerous times before! How much more complex would it be to piece together the entirety of the Bible logically and theologically? From what I’ve seen, the more you know, the more it fits…often in ways you never expected.
The conclusion is this: unless an atheist somehow had the right mindset (and the Holy Spirit’s guidance) while poring through the pages of scripture, it’s erroneous to say that they know it “better” than informed believers. It’s just the reality.
8: “What if you’re wrong?” Sometimes asked as, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”
What if you’re wrong about Allah? Or Vishnu? Or Zeus? What if you’re wrong about whether God is the wrathful jerk who hates gay people, or the loving god who hates homophobes? What if you’re wrong about whether God wants you to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? What if you’re wrong about whether God really does care about whether you eat bacon? As Homer Simpson put it, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!”
Are you really that ignorant of the existence of religions other than your own? Has it really never occurred to you that when you “bet” on the existence of your god, there are thousands upon thousands of other gods whose existence you’re “betting” against?
I agree that using Pascal’s Wager as the sole or primary argument to believe in God is a foolish exercise. In my opinion, while it can’t be completely discarded, there are a lot of other considerations that contribute to making a firm commitment.
Yes, Christians are “betting” on our God in some sense, but it’s not a blind bet at a roulette table full of equally appealing choices. For many of us, it’s a weighed and informed decision that appears more and more in our favor as we inform ourselves.
Again, I go into a lot of this stuff in my other posts, but there are solid reasons to believe Christianity is the real truth as opposed to the other religions. In fact, a little effort quickly reveals how shockingly little credibility any other religion has.
It’s not a simple game of luck we’re playing. Like any reasonable person, we learn what we can and make the best decision based on what we know.
9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”
The answer: I’ve actually written an entire book answering this question ( Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless). The short answer: Not all atheists are angry about religion — and those of us who are angry aren’t in a constant state of rage. But yes, many atheists are angry about religion — and we’re angry because we see terrible harm being done by religion. We’re angry about harm being done to atheists… and we’re angry about harm done to other believers. We don’t just think religion is mistaken — we think it does significantly more harm than good. And it pisses us off.
Organized religion has indeed done many wrongs in this world. The church is not exempt from this unfortunate fact. But none of these wrongs were directly in line with God’s will or the scriptures. They were a result of manmade institutions and corruptions due to the flesh. If you’re going to get mad about something, get mad at what we humans have molded religion to be.
But being mad about these transgressions is wholly separate from the truth of God’s Word. Furthermore, you might as well be constantly mad at everything and everyone because nothing is exempt from great sin.
Heck, I’m glad to be an American but does it make sense to continually stew in anger at my countrymen because of the corruptions in our government? Or to hate white people for the injustices committed against people of other races and the indigenous people on this continent?
We’re ALL at fault in some way because we are all wretched sinners. That doesn’t change the truth of the gospel one bit. Using past wrongs to justify unbelief is not only a cop-out, it’s unreasonable.
If you’ve been in the American church for any amount of time, you are probably familiar with the concept of the “sinner’s prayer.” Basically, a preacher asks people in the congregation to repeat after him if they are interested in having Jesus Christ come into their hearts and save them. The prayer will generally go something like this: “God, I know I’m a sinner, and without you I am destined for eternal punishment. I repent of my sins. Please forgive me and come into my heart. Be my Lord and Savior. Amen.”
Poof! If you’ve repeated this prayer, then you’re now magically saved, right? Well, not exactly. It doesn’t work like a flu shot.
People will often point to the fact that when they repeated these words, they “meant it” and therefore, it has to be legitimate. Well, maybe or maybe not. The problem is, the words that come out of our mouths can often be at odds with what’s actually in our hearts—even if we feel like they are the same.
People can be swayed very easily by their feelings, whether it be the lovey-dovey atmosphere created by the powerful preaching, dim lighting, or soothing music. It could also be peer-pressure-induced, where friends or loved ones nudge you into saying the prayer or answering the altar call. Either way, the Bible warns us in Jeremiah 17:9 that human hearts are deceitfully wicked…who can know it?
There is not one place in the Bible that tell us that repeating a formulaic prayer will grant us salvation. A simple man-made prayer does not have special abilities. However, these prayers often contain a lot of correct elements that clue us in on how to actually find Jesus. Using my sample prayer, let’s break it down a bit.
“God, I know I’m a sinner, and without you I am destined for eternal punishment.”
The first step toward real salvation is acknowledging and understanding fully that we are sinners. This is more than saying “I’m not perfect” or “I have done wrong at least once in my life.” Everyone in the world could admit to that! No, this means recognizing that we have broken God’s law and that as sinners, we are broken beyond repair. This is letting go of the secular idea that we are essentially “good people” who slip up sometimes. Rather, it’s a realization that our sin nature leaves us in a very grave situation. We are rotten to the core, and there’s nothing we can do about it on our own. In light of a fully just God, we deserve hell.
Do you really believe that? Or do you look at other people around you and say that you are comparatively “good”? Do you secretly think, “If God turned me away from heaven, that would be unfair!” If you feel this way, you are not ready.
“I repent of my sins.”
Do you really? In addition to genuine remorse for your sins, are you ready and willing to do whatever it takes to turn completely away from that lifestyle? Do you see those things in a different light now, as dirty and serious? Or do you cling to your desire to dabble in sin, do enough “good” to cancel out the bad? Do you wish to be saved but have no desire to be sanctified?
Do you think this way? “Of course, I want to go to heaven! But while I’m here on earth, I don’t need to be a saint or anything. I’ll live it up because Jesus loves me and forgives me.”
If this is your mentality, then you are not genuinely repentant. Someone who is ready to be a Christ-follower may slip up time to time, but they do not brush it off as if it were nothing. When they slip off the narrow path to life, God comes for them and they continue fighting their flesh. If this is not you, you are not ready.
“Please forgive me and come into my heart.”
Let’s think about our own lives for a minute here. Let’s imagine you are married and you’ve had a heated argument with your spouse. Hurtful words were hurled and you’re still stinging from the pain.
Now, let’s say he or she comes up to you and says, “Please forgive me.” You look at them, and they are not truly sorry, nor do they have any intention of trying to improve themselves in the future. They just want the fight to stop so you can cook them dinner or give them other benefits. Would you forgive them?
In the same way, God is not interested in idle words and empty gestures. As Paul Washer once said, “the greatest heresy in the American church is that if you ask Jesus to come into your heart, he will definitely come in.” No, this isn’t how it works. If Jesus sees your heart and you are not ready or willing to do what it takes to make it work, he will not come in. He does not force himself upon you just because of some words you’re repeating in an instant of conviction.
There’s a reason why many will come to the gate and say, “Lord, Lord,” only to hear Jesus say to them: “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23) How do you know this isn’t going to happen to you?
“Be my Lord and Savior. Amen.”
People often think about Jesus as their savior, but that’s it. They are glad he will whisk them away to heaven and save them from the flames of hell, but they forget about the other requisite part.
He has to be LORD.
Most people in America will call themselves Christians, but they are the furthest thing from Christ-followers. They prayed a prayer and called him “Lord,” yet they live their lives as they see fit.
When someone is your LORD, that means he is your master. You are his servant/slave. Does your mentality really reflect this at all?
If the Bible says something is sinful or commands us not to do certain things (or support them), do you brush it off as outdated “advice”? Do you regard the opinions of man and culture more highly? Do the things that scientists proclaim to be true take precedence in your life?
Do you gloss over the uncomfortable portions of scripture that do not appeal to you, but rather focus heavily on God’s grace and love? Do you profess to love God but fail to live out his commands? John 14:15 tells us that if we love Him, we are to obey.
If you have the (surprisingly common) mentality of “I’ll follow, but only when I really agree,” then Jesus Christ is not your Lord. ANYone will follow someone’s commands if they fully agree with them already. Are you willing to obey even when you don’t fully understand or it rubs you the wrong way?
If God is not your Lord, then He is not your savior. Please don’t fool yourself.
If everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is capable of deceiving themselves and feelings are an unreliable measure, then how in the world can you know if you are really saved? Well, the Bible says that a good tree will bear good fruit (and a bad tree will bear bad fruit…and be cut down and thrown into the fire) – Matthew 7:17-19. It exhorts us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) to see if we are in the faith. The test is not whether we prayed a prayer one time in our life, but rather whether our lives are truly changed and on the narrow path in this world. Are we being sanctified? Are we convicted of our sin and repenting continually?
Granted, change is a gradual process for most people, but the trend should be unmistakeable over time. If you were “on fire” for Christ for a short period of your life but have fallen back to a secular lifestyle, there is a possibility that you are like the second or third (unsaved) soils in the Parable of the Sower.
James calls faith without deeds useless and dead. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14)
If we are living our lives just as we were before, or we appear just like the world around us, then this is a serious symptom of a “dead” faith. This doesn’t mean that you are simply living a feeble Christian life, but rather, it means you are not His at all!
In conclusion, reciting the so-called “sinner’s prayer” has no magical powers on its own (though it does have some useful elements in it). This is not the way to test if you are a Christian. The true test and evidence comes in the way you walk and talk, the way you think. Is it conforming to God’s Word, or do you still belong to the world? Remember that you cannot serve both the world and God; it’s one or the other.
In fact, if you are truly a child of His, chances are at some point, the world will hate you or find you foolish (e.g., Matthew 10:22; 24:9; John 15:19). If the world finds you perfectly agreeable, then raise the red flags…there’s something wrong.
This topic came up in conversation last night, and while it seems like a basic topic on the surface, it’s really a lot more in-depth than people think. But thankfully, the bottom-line conclusion seems to be the same for those who oversimplify things and for scholars who have done all the necessary research and exegesis: true salvation cannot be lost.
1 Peter 1:3-5 tells us: “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”
This is usually where people stop. Feels good doesn’t it? A sense of security sets in, and all worries are alleviated. But as human beings, we always need to remember the practical, application aspect of it. In short, true salvation cannot be lost, but professing faith can. In other words, it all goes back to the whole “fruit” issue of whether we are genuine Christians or not. Many people have themselves fooled because they like easy, convenient answers, but the Bible does not tell us that gaining Christ is supposed to be a simple, one-time “decision.” Philippians 2:12 tells us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” not just rainbows, smiles, and relief.
One of the biggest tests for true faith is endurance (Hebrews 3:14). True faith endures to the end, false faith fizzles out at some point. But until we reach the end, how can we know for sure that we have a true faith in the meantime? After all, we all backslide time to time (although I’m convinced a true believer cannot backslide past a certain point of severity or length). That’s why the Bible tells us not to take it lightly and to keep growing in the faith. We can know in our heads that true salvation cannot be lost, but we must constantly test our faiths and examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) to make sure we fall into that “true” category. Imposter Christians might be fooling themselves as well—possibly with the help of the ever-crafty Satan, who probably just loves fake believers who stop trying. It’s like being in a war and a blinded person is unknowingly fighting for the other side.
Anyway, what is a passage like Hebrews 6:4-8 actually saying then? It sure sounds like it’s saying that those “who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit” can later fall away and crucify Christ all over again. Well, let’s take it step by step here…
First, a professing Christian probably goes to church. He probably even goes on retreats or to conferences once in a while. So he has been in the company of true believers. He has seen them, talked with them, and shared in fellowship.
Second, he may have even felt (or indirectly experienced) some of the Holy Spirit passing through a certain venue or event. He may have gotten caught up in the swell of music—or dim lighting, crowd pressure, mood, etc.—and lifted his hands, filled with emotion. Mob mentality or some similar form of peer pressure is one heck of a powerful thing. While these feelings can be great sometimes, we also need to be aware that our hearts are deceitful above all (Jeremiah 17:9). Feelings are not an end-all, be-all indicator of a saving experience, no more than butterflies are evidence of true love between two people. I guess you can compare infatuation to real love in the same way you can compare mere professing faith to true faith. Or just think of the rocky/thorny soil examples in Jesus’ parable. But if you NEVER get fuzzy feelings, that could be evidence of a hidden problem…
Third, this professing believer may have read the Word of God, prayed, and done all the things that true believers do. He may have even had glimpses into the beauty of the Word and appreciated it.
In many ways, this person may have “tasted” or “shared” in common experiences with us without being truly saved. But why does the author of Hebrews seem to think they are even worse off than before? Because if this professing Christian later falls away—rather than transitioning into true faith—he will think that he has seen it all. “Been there, done that,” he will think to himself, and he will be less likely to give Christ another chance later on with an open mind. A part of his heart will be hardened, almost like a person who has experienced broken trust. It will take that much more to buy into Christianity the next time, if there ever is another opportunity for that person.
So what can true believers learn from all of this? It’s important for us to never grow complacent! The following passage (Hebrews 6:9-12) brings us some more crucial advice:
9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
We need to realize our full potential as believers…growing lazy is the easiest thing to do for many of us. Heck, that has been one of the biggest struggles throughout my life, whether in worldly or spiritual affairs. But by pressing on continually, we will please God more and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Or, if our salvation was not true to begin with (but we were falsely convinced it was), we may end up truly finding the Lord along the way because God honors diligence and effort. Maybe by staying immersed in scripture and prayer, the not-yet-saved person is increasing his or her chances of finding that “aha!” moment. So there’s nothing to lose by being diligent and working out our salvation with “fear and trembling,” but eternity to gain.
Bottom line? True salvation cannot be lost. But we better make sure our salvation is true by treating the issue with tons of reverence and priority (but not paralyzing paranoia)! Let’s not take the wonderful truth of God’s eternal gift and twist it into an excuse to live shoddy Christian lives.
Kind of an odd topic, isn’t it—how to read the Bible? Easy, you pick it up and open it. But this post is more about sharing what I’ve found helpful when approaching the scriptures. There’s some practical advice, but also warnings about having the right mindset and expectations. Understanding God’s word and taking it in properly is hard to do, but hopefully we can improve our chances by keeping some of these things in mind.
First of all, prepare. Try to pray before reading.
This is self-explanatory. We need to settle down from the worries of this world and try to hone in on the Holy Spirit’s voice as we read. For seekers, it might be prudent to just take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus, but also relax. Don’t have a million things going on around the home. If you must, try to get away behind closed doors where you’ll have some peace and quiet.
Where should I even start?
That depends on where you are spiritually and what you’ve read before. But generally, I’d advise people who are unfamiliar with the Bible to start with Matthew. If you’re getting re-familiarized, I’d suggest the same. The reason for this is because Matthew pretty much covers most of the important theological points (though not always in depth), and of course, the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way to salvation, so it’s obviously important to learn about him and his teachings. We learn about heaven, hell, sin, repentance, salvation, the Trinity, and even about the end times. We learn about Jesus’ miracles and parables, and then his death and resurrection. There’s a lot there to read and review, even for those who have gone through it before.
I hesitated to do this, but I’m trying to be helpful here. While every book of the Bible is immensely important, there are certain ones that are more popular on the basis of their content and scope. Some of these are: Genesis (origins, Noah, Abraham, Joseph), Exodus (Moses and the law), Proverbs (wisdom), Job (suffering), Isaiah (prophecy), Acts (early church history, Luke “sequel”), Romans (theologically dense, difficult issues), James (short but practical), and Revelation (end times).
…but please don’t limit yourselves to these books!
Should I take what I read in the Bible as literal truth? How do I know when it’s figurative?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this because the Bible holds a number of different genres in it. Some of it is history, some allegory, other parts are poetry. But usually, it’s fairly clear.
Much of the Bible is a retelling or simple account of actual events that have happened, so those parts are obviously meant to be literal. When Jesus tells parables, they are figurative stories meant to teach real truths. Context and common sense are pretty reliable guides, though we’ll always have a somewhat limited perspective. When it comes to moral truths or teachings, the safe assumption is to err on the side of literal meaning.
Can I trust every word of the Bible? Am I reading the same words from the original text?
This is a question about inerrancy—a popular topic, especially after the works of Bart Ehrman—and my short answer is yes. The Bible you have today is the Bible they had centuries ago. Nothing of significance has been altered. In fact, every time we find an older and older copy, it matches up excellently.
Now, this isn’t to say that there might not be a few differences in nuance or grammar. Having numerous translations pretty much guarantees this. There are also words in ancient Greek or Hebrew that simply don’t exist in English, so scholars have to try to capture the meaning in other ways. This is why having more than one translation (and thank goodness, all of them can be found at biblegateway.org) can be useful for study. For personal devotion, however, sticking with your favorite trustworthy translation is just fine.
Also keep in mind that things were done differently back then. There might be literary style elements to consider, some of them unfamiliar to us in the modern age; one gospel might be strictly chronological while another one might be ordered more thematically. Genealogies tend to include names of the famous (or infamous) of the line while excluding some of the in-betweens. Therefore, you can’t expect to accurately date or calculate time lapses; there might even be differences in genealogies from one book to the other, depending on emphasis.
Furthermore, be aware that certain things like quotation marks didn’t exist. Some things are paraphrased when necessary (especially among the gospels). There was no such thing as bold, italics, and underlining. Instead, emphasis was given by repetition and by spelling out the same concept in a variety ways. If something is mentioned repeatedly, it’s probably important.
What about the parts that don’t make sense to me?
I will say that there are parts of the Bible that won’t make much sense—or will even seem contradictory—unless you know the whole of Scripture. You need to be able to compare it to other passages, reconcile them, then arrive at a solid truth. For instance, in Luke 14:26 when Jesus says you must hate your parents and even yourself to follow Him, use your common sense and realize it must mean something different from your initial reactions. In fact, in other parts, the Bible tells us to honor our father and mother. So are these two passages at odds with each other? Clearly not. We are to honor our father and mother as God commanded, but we must also love God so much more to the point where we’d be willing to leave our parents and defy them if necessary. It’s a strong statement to make, but it’s communicating the simple and consistent point that God should be #1 in our lives. And obviously, it’s not calling you to hate yourself (as God’s beloved creation), but rather to set aside your pride and selfish ambition to follow the true way.
Be wary of this kind of thinking: “How could He say or do something like that?” Remember that if God is real and the Bible is true, it doesn’t matter what your personal opinion about it is. I do promise you that if you continue pressing on in gaining biblical knowledge, it will most likely start to add up and resonate better with both your logical and moral sensibilities.
Try to avoid arrogance or chronological snobbery. Consider historical context.
Remember how you used to think when you were a child? Or even just a few years ago? Didn’t you think you had reached the pinnacle of moral judgment and wisdom back then? Well obviously, none of us have. We are flawed creatures and a constant work in progress. Consciously or not, we are shaped by the world and culture around us, which is often driven by sinful motives and the resulting fallout. Don’t assume that everything you believe today is loftier than what will ever be or was. People will look back someday in the future and scoff at the positions you take on moral issues today.
If God’s Word is true, then it is always true and transcends the current tides of popular opinion. Therefore, logically, the fact that it offends us or is disagreeable can’t possibly be the measure by which we gauge its credibility. The Bible’s aim is not to be agreeable. In fact, it tells us that the word is foolishness to the perishing and that those who hold to the truth will actually be hated for it. If you’re expecting to hear teachings and stories that always make you feel warm inside, you’re in for quite a shock. Sometimes, the words are expressly meant to shock you into life, or to convey harsh truths with a direct and unpleasant tone. Some of the people in the Bible have done horrible things. Not everything is condoned or meant to be a positive example, but rather it is meant for us to learn from others’ mistakes.
For these reasons, I caution against reading the Old Testament until you’re willing to approach it with an open mind and a willingness to consider context carefully. Otherwise, you’ll end up just like the countless atheists and “enlightened” YouTubers who think that Christianity is hopelessly outdated and even barbaric. The world isn’t a bed of roses, and the issue of sin and law is not to be taken lightly. God’s judgment often seems overly severe to the uninitiated, but a deeper look will reveal His perfect justice and even His enormous patience (which vastly exceeds our own).
Try to read with an open mind and check your biases and preconceptions at the door.
Rather than trying to fit the Bible into the shape of your life, try to let it speak to you and mold you. You’ll be surprised at what you find in its pages. In fact, when I started seeing what God actually said instead of what I had assumed or been taught, everything made more sense and became more exciting to me. Don’t brush over the facts that you don’t like or try to rationalize as you read. Be willing to tackle hard truths head-on, rather than taking the easy route that so many others take.
Consult commentaries and Bible dictionaries when you encounter difficulties.
Commentaries can often be helpful, and it’s good to have more knowledgeable people explain difficult passages. But also be wary: even commentaries are man-made. They are simply doing their best to accurately decipher God’s word, so try to be discerning about what you take in. Finding reliable sources is pretty important, but they can never supplant the Bible and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Remember that the Bible is smarter than you.
Whoa there, back it up. What do I mean by this statement?
Well, the way I see, there are two possibilities: 1) the Bible is the inerrant word of God Himself, or 2) the Bible has persisted and succeeded in fooling people for centuries in the face of the highest level of scrutiny ever brought upon an ancient work. The level of scrutiny the Bible has endured far outweighs anything the Qu’ran or Book of Mormon has seen…combined. So the Bible is either perfect because it is God-breathed, or it is exceptionally clever in unprecedented fashion.
Either scenario means that you probably aren’t going to outsmart the Bible. In other words, you’re not going to see something that has eluded everyone else, nor are you going to find a gaping hole that no theologian or scholar has already attempted to address. I’m dumbfounded when I see countless videos on YouTube where people will find supposed contradictions and the passages are literally from the same book or even chapter! Come on, give us some credit. You really think the authors could have been that dumb? (If the Bible was a fraudulent book that had been doctored over time, don’t you think someone could have already removed those “glaring errors” anyway?)
I’m not saying this to be critical for the sake of being critical, but rather it is an exhortation to keep this in mind as you read openly and humbly.
And last but not least…
Read the Bible in big chunks!
You wouldn’t watch a movie 10 minutes at a time and take long breaks in between, would you? Does it make sense to listen to a song a few lines at a time, pause, then resume it after a breather? No, of course not. Whether it’s a movie, song, book, or even a video game, you need to experience it in proper doses to get the full experience.
In the same way, reading the Bible a few verses at a time—or even the old chapter a day—is better than nothing, but you’re not going to get as much out of it. You need to get a sense of the whole picture, rather than taking a small bite and expecting to be satisfied.
Many of us are busy, but really, don’t we all have at least 30 minutes to spare on most days? Cut back on some TV time or something if you have to. I myself am guilty of this as well…leaving God’s word my leftovers! But whenever I actually take the effort to sit down and spend time in the Bible without distractions, I never regret it. Recently, when I read the entire book of Matthew in one sitting, I remember finishing it and breathing out this long sigh of satisfaction. It really was a different experience than my usual chapter here and there.
Not only is the Bible reading experience better this way, but we’ll also tend to understand things better from a wider perspective. Often when you pick a spot to read, you’re missing all the parts leading up to it. For instance, if you read 1 John 5:13 without reading the preceding five chapters, you might think it was all about easy assurance of salvation. You wouldn’t catch all of the tests and measures leading up to that verse.
If you really are pressed for time, then by all means, read a smaller portion carefully. Don’t power through a lot of chapters and miss everything by skimming (even if you read word-for-word, your mind can’t possibly keep up and digest everything). But most of us do have the time to read carefully AND in greater amounts.
All that being said, good luck and enjoy!
For more on this topic, here are some helpful links from which I drew some of this advice:
Is the Bible literally true?
The Gospel is not cool to the world:
Arrogance and chronological snobbery:
Whole sweep of Scripture:
Videos about inerrancy:
Update, 08/17/11: I’m actually getting a head start on some of my seminary reading (starts Monday the 22nd) and what do you know? The first essay we’re assigned to read and analyze talks about the age of the world and creation. There are definitely some theories and concepts I was unaware of, so I’m going to have to update this entry with these new findings shortly.
Ah, the good ol’ age-of-the-world problem. This is a very common objection to Christianity: the claim that science has already proved wrong the creation account found in Genesis 1. Scientific methods have dated the universe to about 14 billion years, and the earth is probably around 4.5 billion years old by their estimations. The traditional view found in Genesis seems to suggest that the world is only about 6,000-10,000 years old. Obviously, something is amiss.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area by any means. I’m only about to share what I’ve looked into so far and what others have found. Honestly, I think this is a subject we can never be sure about, and our conclusions are probably going to change a few more times over the years. But I hope you’ll agree with me that the issue isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, and that there is room for flexibility.
So without further ado, let’s move onto some observations.
The evidence seems to point toward an old-earth theory.
By current dating methods, scientists are able to conclude on a fairly consistent basis that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Geology looks at rock strata, estimates the time in between each layer, and can pretty much count up the number of years. They know that such formations are slow and take a long time, making the young-earth view implausible.
There is also the method of carbon or radiometric dating, by which scientists can calculate the age of various fossils and other substances they find. They do this by knowing the half-life of a certain element, such as carbon-14, and judging by how much is remaining, they calculate how much has decayed and how long it took to get there.
Finally, an argument for the old-earth theory is that evolution could not have taken place to form the wide variety of complex organisms we see today in mere thousands of years. (They have enough trouble as it is trying to figure out how it could have happened to this degree in billions of years without divine intervention.) **Big side note: Do I believe fully in evolution? Well, it depends on how you’re defining it. But that’s a whole can of worms I won’t open quite yet!
That is the dumbest, quickest, crudest explanation of old-earth dating you will ever see.
Does the Bible contradict what science has shown us?
The answer is no. You’ve all probably heard the popular answer to this, which is the day-age theory: the Hebrew word “yom” in Genesis can be interpreted in numerous ways. It literally means a 12-hour period OR a 24-hour period OR a long, indeterminate amount of time. How do we know which one to use? Beats me, but I think comparing the usage of “yom” in other books of the Bible is ill-advised here since the creation account is a different animal altogether. Needless to say, we need to be flexible on its usage.
So if the duration of one “day” (“yom”) to another is indefinite, what can we glean from the scriptures that is actually useful in the context of comparing to science? The order by which things are formed. It is here that we find striking congruity between the Bible and what modern science has found. Tellingly, the Bible happens to be the only “holy book” in the world that got it right, even thousands of years before such knowledge was known by the scholars of the day.
(Click here for a fairly detailed breakdown: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/day-age.html.)
Again, I won’t go into too much detail or regurgitate too much, but one important point to note is that in Genesis 1:1-2, it is clear that certain things were created BEFORE the first yom. What were those things? Well, it just happened to be the “heavens and the earth” (“heavens” obviously means space and the rest of the universe, as it is separate from earth, which contains our notion of “sky”). Not only that, but there were waters over which the Holy Spirit was hovering. All this before the first creation day.
Going back to cosmology for a second, we know that the very first instant of time is when the big bang occurred. It is when time, space, and matter literally came into being. Before this happened, there was no such thing as time, only a singularity, so it makes sense to call this moment of creation “in the beginning.”
Obviously, if God is eternal, there was no beginning for Him. So Genesis 1:1 is starting from the instant of the big bang.
This kind of consistency with modern science is definitely a plus, though perhaps not a must (as science is fallible and is prone to correction from generation to generation). Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, shares this in his testimony:
I found the Bible noticeably different. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed at the quantity of historical and scientific (i.e., testable) material it included and at the detail of this material. The first page of the Bible caught my attention. Not only did its author correctly describe the major events in the creation of life on earth, but he placed those events in the scientifically correct order and properly identified the earth’s initial conditions.
(Also read a detailed breakdown of why old-earth creationism may be the more accurate biblical view, not just scientific: http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/animal-death-before-adam/introduction-creation-date-debate.)
Some may wonder at this point, well what took God so long? Remember that God doesn’t operate on our timetable, and he is a being who can exist outside of time. Plus, God seems to like putting systems and natural laws in place and letting things take their course. Why wouldn’t he? He is the author of all things. One example of this would be after Noah’s flood where it took 150 days for the waters to finally subside. Could God have made the water disappear instantly? Sure. But why not let “nature,” His created system, handle things naturally?
What about Adam and Eve? Were they literal?
In my opinion, Christians must believe that Adam and Eve were literal human beings. Why? Because Jesus Christ himself spoke about them as if they were literal, and to my knowledge, everything rises and falls with the perfect knowledge and divinity of Christ.
How does this gel with the old-earth view? Well, quite simply, Adam and Eve were probably the first human beings according to God’s definition. They were the first ones created in God’s image, and therefore were the first soul-bearing creatures. There may have been human-like creatures before this, possibly walking erect and resembling us, but this is where the spiritual element of man was born. To God, this is where the story gets interesting.
Remember that the Bible does not include every superfluous detail, nor is it meant to explain science to us. It is simply to point us toward God and to teach us about things that are spiritually relevant.
Isn’t this day-age/old-earth theory just a modern retreat in light of science?
Fair question, but the answer seems to be no. Even Saint Augustine, in the 5th century, postulated that the word “yom” could mean something other than literal days. This was well before the world had any concept of an old earth. If you read the Genesis 1 account carefully, there are certain events that clearly seem to take longer than a regular 24-hour day.
Are young-earth (6,000–10,000 years) creationists crazy?
Well, perhaps. Organizations like Answers in Genesis don’t seem to have a ton of street cred in the scientific community. But I’m going to admit right now that there are times when I’m tempted with this view.
I know that it goes against my usual philosophy of “going where the evidence points,” but I sometimes can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that the age of the world is one of those “earth is flat” type of things. One day, maybe we’ll look back and laugh, saying, “I can’t believe we used to think the earth was 4.5 billion years old!” I know, I’m destroying any credibility I have with each sentence I write here.
What possible support could there be for the young-earth view? Well, first there is the “simple” reading of the Bible. True, “yom” can literally mean both a regular 24-hour day or a long era—nothing figurative about it. But perhaps it’s just my conception of God and his timetable. This is a completely unreliable way to think, by the way, as the Bible clearly states that to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (meaning time is not felt by God in the same way as people).
But second, I also find a lot of little curiosities that individually, don’t amount to anything, but together are striking (to me anyway). We don’t have any written, recorded history before about 2,500 BC. Everything we know of seems to have happened in an amazingly minuscule amount of time. Think about it: from the earliest recorded history to today, only thousands of years have elapsed…yet we have gone from using primitive tools and walking in the dirt to flying jets and broadband internet. If the 4.5 billion year age of the earth is correct, we’ve gone from primitive to very advanced in literally one-millionth (1/1,000,000) of the time the world has existed. There are a lot of little things that nag at me like this. Then again, perhaps it is because humans—as image bearers of God—have only existed for thousands of years, and it has nothing to do with the age of everything else.
I also think that dating procedures could be prone to unseen error. I know I’m going out of my element here, but what if the half-lives of certain elements were not always at equilibrium? What if 6,000 years ago, the half-life of carbon-14 was totally different, changing a constant in the equation and affecting the outcome drastically? So anything we found that is actually 7,000 years old might be calculated completely wrong?
The biggest unknown variable in all of this, to me, is Noah’s flood. If it literally happened, which I believe wholeheartedly, there is no way to anticipate the way it could affect our dating methods. This wasn’t a simple rainstorm or flood as we know it today. This was a worldwide, biblical, supernatural event where the mountaintops were covered in water. The flood waters actually come from above AND below from within the earth, and who knows what minerals came up with it? How can we possibly attempt to simulate the effect this kind of catastrophic event would have on the earth and it’s rock layers? Is this perhaps why we have so many fossils preserved where animals seem to have suddenly died? (Why aren’t we forming fossils today, but instead, animal carcasses and bones simply decay into the earth?)
Finally, I think that it’s possible (though maybe not probable) that in creating the universe, God stretched and placed things in such a way that life could be supported. Perhaps this process gives everything the appearance of age, if we’re measuring by distances and such. To me, this is a big fat “who knows?”
I’m not saying I’m a young-earth creationist or that it’s even preferable in any way. Believe what you want; theologically, it makes little difference. But I think it’s prudent to at least acknowledge different possibilities, especially when we’re dealing in an area that can’t be fully confirmed in a laboratory.
If I were a betting man, I’d probably go with old-earth, but I don’t feel qualified to take a firm stand either way.
Sometimes, I’m a bit surprised that people don’t see the difference between early Christian martyrs and, say, Muslim martyrs. It’s really quite clear once you think about it.
A typical conversation might go something like this:
Christian: “The disciples’ willingness to die proves that Christianity is true!”
Skeptic: “Well, other religions have had plenty of martyrs throughout their history. According to you, their religion is false, so it seems people are willing to die for things that aren’t true.”
Here’s the simple but important difference: martyrs of other religions are willing to die for their beliefs. Early Christian apostles and martyrs died for something they knew to be true—something they had seen with their own eyes.
I’m willing to give Islam the benefit of the doubt and say that Muhammad probably wasn’t intentionally deceiving people. He doubted the veracity of his own dreams and visions, even wondering if they were demonic (possibly). But his wife convinced him that he was hearing the word of God.
Now, many people throughout history have mistakenly believed to have heard or felt God, instructing them to do something or leading them in a direction. If they are wrong but delude themselves, then yes, they may be willing to die for that belief. Unless someone has actually had God speak to them for real, they probably wouldn’t know the difference between a true vision and one conjured up by their own imaginations (or demonic deception). Relying on a second-hand analysis, such as by one’s spouse, is even more unreliable. In the past, our understanding of dreams was also very poor, so this kind of misinformed conviction is to be expected.
But with Jesus’ disciples, this kind of delusion is not really a possibility. If they were making up the story of the gospel, or if they had stolen the body of Jesus, they would have ridden the wave of Christianity for as long as it benefited them…then given it up once their lives were on the line. Instead, we see all of the disciples except one (John, who miraculously survived and died years later) courageously and willingly going to their deaths.
They didn’t die for a belief or convictions from a vision. They died after having seen the risen Christ in person with their own eyes—together in groups, no less. This wasn’t a story they made up or something they heard from others. They died for first-hand knowledge of the most tangible kind.
That’s the difference.