This is a very good question that my wife raised after my last entry, and I’m sure I don’t fully understand it yet (does anybody?)…but I’ll take a stab at it for now.
*Disclaimer: When I say “speaks to you,” I’m referring to a literal and direct form of communication. The leading of the Holy Spirit is a separate and complex issue on its own, though I do touch upon it here.
All I can really do—since I’m limited in this kind of experience—is theorize and try to deduce truths from the scriptures and from my coursework. I’m basically using what I’ve read and observed in the Bible and trying to make reasonable assumptions for today. You can also take some of the things I wrote in my previous entry regarding demon deception and flip it around (for instance, God often tells people what they don’t want to hear or do, considering our naturally sinful flesh).
I’m going to try to limit it to three basic conclusions, and you can decide for yourself whether my reasoning is valid:
1. God speaks clearly and decisively.
If you think or feel you might have been told something from God but you’re not sure, then it wasn’t from God…at least by direct authoritative means.
When God speaks to someone on earth, whether personally (as a theophany…never directly in full glory) or through a messenger angel, the recipient of that communication is never left wondering what he or she was told. All we need to do is consult the Bible and we’ll see this demonstrated repeatedly.
A clear demonstration of this is found in 1 Samuel 3 where God is calling Samuel to be a prophet, but Samuel thinks it is Eli calling him from the other room. This shows us two things: 1) God can communicate in an audible voice with actual words; and less importantly, 2) His voice might not be as booming and distinctive as we assume (God doesn’t even need to sound the same every time; it’s not like He has a fixed set of vocal chords or anything…He probably just uses what is most effective in each situation).
Another famous example is when Paul (formerly Saul) met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Acts 9:3-6: “As [Saul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
I think it’s clear that when a communication is truly from God, we are left with more than feelings or urges. We are left with actual words, instructions, warnings, and awe. I like what Greg Koukl (str.org) said on one of his podcasts, and I’ll paraphrase: “If you’re going to say, ‘God told me,’ then you better be prepared to say something that is on the same level of authority as the Bible and God himself.” While it may be tempting, we should never use the phrase “God told me” lightly.
Now, this is not to discount the leading of the Holy Spirit for believers, which is also important and much more frequent. Sometimes, He can lead us strongly with convictions and desires, but this would generally be used for more localized purposes such as the direction of your own life. The Spirit might be leading us on the right path or growing us to become a stronger, more faithful person. To confirm answers to prayer, we will often get support and agreement from godly brothers and sisters who are not as clouded with emotional bias and tunnel vision.
But this does not seem to be the way that God uses people to command others with bold authority. You cannot use the leading of the Holy Spirit and accurately say, “God told me to tell people…” God knows our propensity to misjudge feelings and convictions, so He uses something more concrete when history is on the line.
What about an angel/messenger of God? Well again, there is no uncertainty. When people are approached by angels, they are usually in awe and fear, and again hear direct words.
Luke 2:9-10: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Revelation 22:8: “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.'”
These angelic examples bring us to the next point…
2. If your encounter was definitely supernatural, then consider whether it was truly a messenger of God or a demon.
If we encountered something supernatural, we would know it unmistakably. But is seeing a greater being necessarily a good thing? Is it a messenger of God or of Satan?
Notice how both angels responded to people’s fear and even worship. “Fear not” and “Worship God” were their reactions. They were delivering a message for God, and they did not want to intimidate or impose their superiority over people. They quickly turned away worship because they wanted all glory to go to God, not themselves.
Angels always deliver messages that are consistent with the Bible and further God’s glory, not any individual’s. Often, these messages concern a nation’s repentance or deliverance.
Contrast that with a very probable demonic encounter—one involving Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
To his credit, Muhammad actually suspected that he had been approached by a demon or even had been possessed, but he was given assurances from his wife and uncle that it was from God. This demon, posing as Gabriel, told Muhammad to recite: “In the name of thy Lord who created, Created man from a clot of blood.”
Here we have something that directly contradicts or adds to scripture. That is the first big clue. Nowhere does the Bible say we were created from a clot of blood, but rather from the dust of the ground.
Muhammad was left with great fear instead of being comforted and assured, as with angels. (Demons do not care about our well-being, but want to destroy us.) He also experienced numerous violent seizures when he would receive these visions, further supporting the fact that there was some level of possession going on. In the end, great glory wound up going to Muhammad on this earth as the revered leader of a new religion. Most prophets in the Bible, however, wound up being ridiculed, persecuted, and martyred.
3. Genuine spiritual encounters are rare today, but not impossible.
You may be thinking, “If this stuff is true, then we probably never hear directly from God!”
I would partially agree with that assessment. We still are in communication with Him through prayer and such, but the need for God to speak direct words to us is vastly reduced. The two biggest reasons for this are: 1) The Bible and 2) The Holy Spirit. God’s Word is now complete and we are given the information we need to live our lives according to His will. When a specific leading is needed, the Holy Spirit guides our lives as true believers in the right direction. The Holy Spirit came to us at Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, so functionally speaking, it’s primarily His time on earth now.
That being said, I do believe that God has more in store for us as far as communicating directly. We definitely know of at least two cases in the future when God will speak to people: the two prophets spoken of in Revelation during the Tribulation. They will receive precise instructions on what to preach and warn people about. Again, we see a clear purpose in history for doing so.
Some people—including pastors—claim that God has spoken to them and told them things. I won’t mention names, but certain big-name prophecy guys say this or at least strongly hint at it.
Yes, it’s possible that God can still speak directly to people for a greater purpose. But all it usually takes is one look at the track record of these “prophets” to dismantle their case. If they have proclaimed something in the name of God and have been wrong even ONCE, they are false plain and simple. “The rapture is coming on this date!…oh wait, nevermind, now it’s this date!” Write them off as prophets immediately, though they may still have some valid teachings to offer.
God is never wrong, and neither are His prophets if they have genuinely been chosen for that purpose.
It’s been weighing on my heart these days to start a “series” of sorts called “Misinterpreting Scripture” (I know, clever). My goal is to take a look into various passages of the Bible that are often misinterpreted and/or mocked in order to gain more clarity on what God is actually telling us.
When people misinterpret scripture, it’s usually due to one or more of the following reasons:
– taking verses out of biblical context without knowing the big picture
– reading on the surface, rather than thinking things through and using some basic logic and common sense
– not taking into account pertinent historical or cultural information
– distorting the message by infusing the Word with our own expectations
– not knowing what the original Hebrew or Greek says (i.e., the inherent weaknesses of translation)
Motives for these failures range from simple ignorance to deliberately seeking out passages that seem outdated and outlandish today to mock the Christian faith.
The more I learn about the Bible—and there are always more layers to uncover—the more I am amazed at its depth and complexity. I know I say this a lot, but it strikes me as sheer arrogance and stupidity whenever someone thinks they’ve found some gaping theological hole through their own brilliance or “reason.” If you’re not willing to take faith in what the Bible says, at least give centuries of serious scholars some credit. People have been poring over the pages of the Bible more intensely than any other work in history. You are not so special that you’ve found something that others have not (and have already solved for the most part).
And for those who have faith in the Bible, please know that it is not as simple or straightforward as a history book or instruction manual. You must stay engaged intellectually—you cannot check your brain at the door! We are to love the Lord our God not with just our hearts but also with our minds. But most of all, we must be in tune spiritually. Without the voice of the Holy Spirit, we cannot hope to understand what God is actually trying to tell us.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14. How true these words are!
As we’ve seen, Satan does an excellent job of tricking the world. In some cases, his work is evident in gruesome displays of immorality and wretched appearance, but in most cases, he disguises his work very well. His intent is masked with fluffy and warm exteriors, and without the right spiritual mindset (or “glasses”), we can be blind to his power.
Sadly, those in the church are not immune to his charms and tricks. In fact, you could argue that some of his most devastating victories have been won in the hearts of those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, Satan goes for the small wins and deceptions. There are a lot of those. In other cases, he methodically manages to pull off huge lies that perpetuate throughout the body of believers. I believe that many souls are lost because of this.
Generalities and vagueness aside, let’s dive into some specifics. Mind you, there’s no way I will be able to cover them all, or even a satisfactory amount. I bet I’m going to want to edit this post over and over as things come to mind. Maybe this is a work in progress…which is part of the reason why it took me so long to write it. I kept telling myself, “I know I’m going to leave out something important! I need to be prepared!” But then I realized, maybe this was a stalling tactic of some sort, paralyzing me from actually getting off my butt and doing it. Rather than tackling the whole mountain, let’s take it one upward step at a time.
(My goodness, it’s been a while. I’m babbling even more than usual.)
Satan loves to distort the concept of God’s supernatural power in the minds of believers.
You hear things like, “With God, nothing is impossible,” or “God is Almighty and All-Powerful!” These things are true, right? Right! So there’s no danger in exaggerating and stretching these things out to their limits, right?
Sometimes, we inject our own ideas and expectations on these truths, distorting them. And that’s exactly what Satan wants us to do. Remember, he is very, very clever. He knows when he can be blatant and obvious, and he knows when he has to be subtle. Because most people are bad at detecting subtleties (or don’t bother to really think), he chooses this route quite often.
“With God, nothing is impossible.” God is Almighty and All-Powerful!”
When we hear these things, we expect that it means that whatever God does, He would do it in the most spectacular and impressive way possible. This might mean that God works instantaneously and not slowly. With a quick *snap* of His fingers, His work is done. That’s the most powerful thing we can imagine, right? After all, if we can imagine a being doing something more quickly, wouldn’t that make it more powerful than God?
But notice the Bible said nothing about these other details. Since when is power always defined in speed and style?
If God created the world as we know it in six days, people who buy into these concepts might wonder why He didn’t do it in six seconds…or one second…or an instant. After all, if God is maximally powerful, why couldn’t He do it quicker? Certainly, a universe that is billions of years old is completely out of the question. MY God would never take that long.
Oh really? Then why did it take 150 days for the waters to recede after the great flood with Noah and his family waiting in the ark? Why did God require animals on the ark instead of just creating them all over again after it was over? Why did it take God more than an instant to create the universe? Why did Joseph have to endure so many trials and setbacks before he finally rose to power in Egypt? Why did Jesus have to reach the age of 30 before he began his earthly ministry? Why did Jesus rise from the dead on the third day rather than the second? Why did God allow the enemies of Israel to dominate and rule over them for so long? Why did it take almost 1,900 years before the Jews were given back their homeland of Israel?
The list of examples could go on and on, but you get the point. For whatever reasons, God chooses to take His time on things so that they end up just right. Remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 3:9a: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness.”
With my lowly human brain, I can think of a lot of reasons explaining the examples above. And that’s with my limited perspective and knowledge. Surely, God has much more knowledge in doing what He does.
From what I’ve observed and noted, God seems to prefer directing natural processes to meet His ends. This is not lazy nor does it diminish His power; remember who created and put into place those natural processes in the first place! You think gravity and other forces just existed by themselves? There is something glorious in the way that God can manipulate His complex creation to do the job rather than going *poof, it’s done* like some kind of magic trick. Sometimes it helps to think of God more as the ultimate chess master (seeing an infinite number of moves ahead) rather than a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat.
Consider two hypothetical artists. They are both able to create the same exact masterpiece painting, but Artist A takes 10 days and Artist B can get it done in 10 minutes. Surely, Artist B is better, right? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. If I knew he did it in 10 minutes, I would think, “Wow, that’s amazing that he is able to physically create something like that so quickly!” But if I only knew of Artist A, I would appreciate his work on a different level. “I wonder what he was thinking as he was carefully and deliberately painting those strokes. What life experience was he drawing upon to create such a beautiful painting? What was he feeling, and what was he trying to communicate?” There would be a deeper level of appreciation and glory for Artist A, I believe, all other things equal. Maybe it’s something like that with God as well.
Maybe during those 150 days of water receding, God was putting into place a new system of condensation and rain cycles. Remember, it didn’t rain the way we know it today before the flood. Water was largely in the ground up until that point, not suspended in the sky. He was changing the entire ecosystem and inventing a new precipitation method. Plus, it naturally takes time for water to soak into the ground, evaporate into the air, etc. There was a lot going on. Noah and his family were perhaps left in the ark to praise and worship God without any earthly distractions. No fields to tend to, no work to be done…just waiting and focusing on God.
Maybe God created the world in six days then rested on the seventh to model a full week for us. In fact, this isn’t really a “maybe” (Genesis 2:3 makes it pretty obvious). By the way, God didn’t rest because He was “tired”…I’ve heard that one jokingly said before by atheists. Think about it. He rested not only to model behavior for us, but because He was DONE. There was nothing left to do. And when you’re done working, you rest whether you’re tired or not. (Good grief.)
In other cases, it seems people need to go through a lengthy development process where their character will be more in line with God’s purposes for them. Or in Israel’s case, they needed time to repent and to be punished for their wayward tendencies. People are stubborn, but especially the Jews in the Bible. You’ll notice (e.g., in Judges) that there was an endless cycle of the Jews messing up, God forgiving them, and restoring their blessing…but each time this would happen, God would delay the restoration more and more. Eventually, I guess it took 1,900 years for the Jews to take back their homeland (1948), and it really only could happen after great suffering first (Holocaust, which ended in 1945). Satan might whisper, “Why didn’t God snap His fingers and move the hearts of the nations to give the Jews back their land? Maybe God is just cruel, or doesn’t exist at all!”
But God never works that way. Reading the Bible should make that obvious, and we have a ton of precedent to inform us. God puts events in history into motion to produce the desired outcome. His plans supersede all of Satan’s (and therefore the rest of the world’s) hate for the Jews. There are a myriad of other details that we cannot possibly see or comprehend.
As for Jesus rising on the third day, I’ve heard a number of theories. I think the main reason is timing…falling on a certain day of the week, or even lining up with the traditional Jewish feasts (which is very significant in prophecy). I’ve also heard that it would take that amount of time to confirm with certainty that he was actually dead—or if he wasn’t, being trapped in that tomb with no food, water, or medical treatment after being severely tortured would finish the job. The point is, we don’t always know the “why” reasons. God does things according to His own schedule and methods. His greatness and power are not subject to our expectations or imaginations.
Satan loves to stretch the meaning of “God’s love.”
You’ll hear it over and over again in many modern churches. “God is love, God is love”…”God wants the best for everybody’s life!”
Is this not true? Of course it is, but not in the way they’re thinking. Because of God’s love, His greatest desire is for everyone to come into a closer relationship with Him. Why? Because He knows that’s best for us, whether we agree or can see it or not. Anything else we seek in this life will only end in dissatisfaction or even spiritual (and eternal) ruin.
What this does NOT mean, however, is that God wants everyone to be “happy,” rich, or comfortable in this world. God does care about our temporary earthly happiness somewhat, but it’s a very distant #2 (or #200) to our eternal position.
Also, His “love” does not equate to full acceptance of everything we do and are. His love sometimes necessitates punishment to get us on the right path. His justice and righteousness sometimes mandate destruction.
A parent who truly loves his child would punish her if she were to lie or steal. A parent who leaves the child alone to her errant ways is only setting her up for future failure and misery. How is that love?
In the same way, God’s love means that He cannot accept our sinful ways and leave us alone. I was reading some of the comments for an article about Washington (the state) legalizing same-sex marriages, and I was disturbed (but not all that surprised) to see a number of “Christians” chiming in to chastise the church for opposing homosexuality. They would say things like, “Jesus is love, but sadly, the church seems to think that discriminating and hating is the right way. They are distorting Jesus’ message.”
No, misinformed Christian, you are distorting Jesus’ message by implying that He would be “accepting” of homosexuality to begin with. How could anyone who claims to know the Bible think that this is some sort of gray area? God hates homosexuality, period. It was often the last (and worst) thing God would tolerate before He destroyed entire cities and populations. That doesn’t sound like warm and fuzzy acceptance to me. In fact, I wish the whole Disney-movie expectations of God would be done away with once and for all…love is not about butterflies and roses. The Bible is far from being “G”-rated.
The truth is, God loves people and therefore desires that all turn away from this sin. If they do not, then He is left with no choice but to severely punish with His wrath (people love to forget about His justice and law). Is it “loving” to say to a person, “It’s OK to keep on lying and stealing. I love you!”? Or, “I love you my son, and therefore I don’t care if you go out and live recklessly, impregnating women and destroying yourself with drugs”? Of course not. Then why do we think God is up there saying, “It’s OK to live a homosexual life. It’s just who you are!”
If who I am is wrong, then I need to fix myself, simple as that. If a man naturally wants to lust after every attractive woman he meets, he needs to keep that in check rather than saying, “But that’s who I am!” Since when is what we want (or even “need”) to do some kind of reliable gauge for right behavior?
You get the point.
This is getting a bit long and I’m running out of time, so I will have to continue at a later point. I hope this has given you enough to chew on for now. =)
Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last posted here. I don’t even know where to begin, which is part of the reason why updating gets hard after a while. There’s no single burning issue you need to address; there are about 100 of them.
But a little gentle (and much-needed) prodding pushed me to post today. I honestly have no idea what direction this post is going to take, but I hope it turns out coherent and useful.
I’m officially done with my first whole semester of seminary—four courses down, 27 more to go. I’ve learned so much, but I’m afraid of how much I’ll actually be able to retain. A lot of the things you learn are much more technical and in-depth than you’d expect, and finer details are harder to remember and recall in the long run. One thing I will say is that it is probably very different from what people expect. For instance, skeptical people and believers alike probably think that going to seminary is a hug fest where you hear a bunch of assuring facts to buff up your faith, while ignoring the difficulties and controversies. It’s probably just a way for Christians to make each other more firm in their beliefs while shielding them from the outside scholarly world, right? A big, naive religious bubble?
Well, that is completely NOT the case. If anything, I’m amazed (and impressed) at the objectivity of our lessons and texts. All opposing viewpoints are considered, and any holes in our understanding—including apparent discrepancies or contradictions—are addressed out in the open. This further confirms my amusement at atheists who think that they are uncovering flaws and gaps that Christians are unable to see. I’ll save you the suspense, skeptics. If you think you’ve brilliantly “discovered” a “mistake” in the Bible, Christian scholars have probably been discussing and researching it for centuries. And most likely, they have about five plausible theories you would never think of on your own. A Google search won’t show them either. I’ll even go so far as to say that if you took all the scholarly works on every other religion in the world and combined them, you would still fall short of the amount of research that has been done on the Old and New Testaments. There is no close second place.
While exposure to all of this has confirmed that our belief is sound and deeply considered, I have to admit something ironic. In the middle of learning all of this biblical and academic information, it is very difficult to keep one’s relationship with God in the right place…especially when there are always new worldly distractions! I think Ray Comfort put it best when he said you have to be careful in seminary not to let the fire die out while you’re busy collecting sticks. This is so true. I’ve almost turned seminary work into an academic exercise, and it has replaced my devotional time with God and deep Bible reading. I feel the fire glowing dimly; it is no longer blazing. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, as a true believer, I am constantly feeling the tug of the Holy Spirit on my heart. In fact, there have been strange things put into my life—in progressing impact and severity—that are serving as a wake-up call to my spiritual life. I can’t go into too much detail here on a public blog (a burn on my arm for starters), but God is calling louder to the point where I can no longer ignore Him. I know that if I tune Him out any further, I do so at my own peril. The fear of the Lord is drawing me back, and I prayed last night with genuine thankfulness for it! Imagine being thankful for fear toward anybody else haha. It’s funny how closely related the fear of God and love for Him can be. And let’s not forget that both aspects of our relationship are vital. You can’t just rely on one or the other, you must have both at all times.
I admit, when I was doing “well” spiritually, a bit of complacency was setting in. I was starting to see God as something of a buddy, which He is, but not as much more. “He’s got my back now,” was the way I was thinking, but I failed to take into account that I was still free to screw it up. God is sovereign always, and I must never allow myself to get too comfortable again. Fear and love, fear and love, fear and love…repeat it a thousand times.
While God’s spiritual reminders and tugging can become more severe and even scary, what’s even more terrifying is the thought of getting to the point where He no longer beckons. Please don’t let yourselves get to the point where His voice has been completely drowned out. He is a patient God, but at some point if you don’t do your part, He will let you go (read, for example, Luke 13:6-9). You will be “free” to lead yourself to your own wasting away or destruction. Let’s never get complacent…I need this reminder as much as anybody else.
I pray that in the upcoming semester, I will balance out seminary texts with my personal growth and devotional time. There is absolutely no substitute for reading the Bible EVERY DAY and praying to God. Learning about what some German scholar thinks about Markan priority or different theories of authorship are interesting, but they do not necessarily fuel the fire. We must keep it burning.
And by “we,” I’m largely talking to myself, but I hope anyone else reading this heeds my warning as well.
If you read the Bible enough or deal with people’s responses to it, you’ll inevitably come across the question of whether it’s “fair” for God to kill people. Why is it that God can wipe out an entire city—or even most of the world’s population (Noah’s flood)—and He’s still all good, loving, and just?
Well, let’s get the obvious cliche answer out of the way first. By the way, being cliche doesn’t mean it’s not true.
God is sovereign and creator of everything.
If God created the entire universe, including every single person in it, then who are we to tell Him what He can or cannot do? Technically, our lives are in His hands, even on a daily basis. The Bible tells us (e.g., Psalm 54:4) that God sustains our lives, gives us our every breath. Why then is He obligated to keep us alive if we have completely turned away and rebelled? What does God owe us? The answer is, of course, nothing.
This answer is really at the root of the issue, but it’s not enough for some people. So let’s take a practical look at how we can justify God’s killing of people (even though a perfect being should never have to justify His actions to us). Note that this next section is based on human reasoning (mine) so it’s prone to error, but it’s just one possible way to look at it.
God knows every person and is completely just, punishing and rewarding accordingly.
Here are a few verses to read and consider before we dive in:
Luke 12:47-48: “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Jeremiah 17:10 “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
Psalm 62:12: “and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.”
What do these verses tell us in a nutshell? First, there are varying degrees of punishment and reward. In hell, whether you’re a traditionalist or annihilationist, it’s clear that people will be punished according to their deeds. This may mean longer suffering or a different measure of severity; we cannot know for sure. Second, God searches the heart and examines the mind. This means He knows our thought life and our actions—past, present, and future. Whether or not every one of our future actions is set in stone is not important. God knows where we’ve been and He knows the direction/path of our lives. He literally knows us better than we know ourselves.
Finally, God is loving. Sometimes, this seems to be at odds with His perfect justice, but it’s really not. They work together, but logically we can assume that God would want people to suffer the least amount of punishment while still achieving perfect justice. He will not overly punish anyone—there is no overkill with God.
So now let’s apply this to instances in the Bible. Picture the city of Sodom, where wickedness abounded. God was rightfully angry and wrathful when He wiped it out. But what gets lost in the skeptics’ minds is that God was also just and loving.
He was just because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), but He was also removing a source of corruption from the world. Is it any secret that moral decay spreads quickly when left unabated? If you think peer pressure (and culture) is something that only affects feeble-minded teenagers, think again. It affects everyone, though to differing degrees.
If the people of Sodom were allowed to live and increase in population and influence, can you imagine how much the rest of the world may have followed? Every time a wicked people was allowed to live in the Bible (usually in disobedience to God’s commands), they would cause the righteous around them to fall to sexual immorality and idolatry. The natural flow of the stream always goes from difficult –> easy, high to low.
For example, the Jews—God’s chosen people—were easily taken in with Baal worship and some even committed the reprehensible act of child sacrifices. These kinds of things wouldn’t have happened if the wicked around them were wiped off the earth. If you think the world is full of evil and suffering today, please know that it could have been much worse if drastic measures had not taken place in the past.
All it takes is one prominent figure—for instance, in the music industry—to push the limits of decency, and the world will swiftly follow. Things that used to shock us or seem abhorrent quickly become the norm. We need more and more extremeness to elicit any moral outrage from us as we grow increasingly callous and desensitized. God knows that this is how humans are. In His wisdom and foreknowledge, He cuts off the source of corruption like a cancerous tumor…and then people accuse Him of being “mean” and “petty.”
God was also loving in this scenario, even to the Sodomites. Think about it logically here: if God punishes people according to their deeds, then you would think that MORE bad deeds would incur MORE punishment in the long run. So if God knows that the Sodomites were a lost cause, unwilling to turn from their ways, then wiping them off from the face of the earth instantly is the most merciful solution. This way, they will enter into the afterlife with a shorter rap sheet. Simply put, God will have less to punish than if He had allowed them to live longer.
Remember that sin entails punishment since God is perfectly just, but God’s love wants to limit the severity of that punishment if at all possible. The only way to do this (without infringing upon free will) is to cut a person’s life short if they’re headed down the wrong path.
This principle also applies to “good” people as well. Consider King Josiah whose life was ended at 39 years of age. All throughout his life, He served God and brought his people back away from idolatry. So why didn’t God allow him to live longer? Well, we may never fully know the answer to that question. Part of the reason lies in the sins of Judah leading up to that point (2 Kings 23:26-27). Realistically, there are consequences for past generations’ mistakes as well as federal headship.
But also, the event that caused his undoing may hold some hints. Egypt was marching up to the Euphrates River to help Assyria against the Babylonians, and the Egyptian pharaoh had rightly warned Josiah not to interfere. Their quarrel was not with Judah, and God had warned against attacking the Egyptians at this juncture (2 Chronicles 35:20-22). But Josiah, overly confident and reckless, decided to try anyway. He was killed for failing to take heed of God’s warning. Pride had started to seep into him after all the blessings God had poured out onto Josiah’s kingdom.
So why did God kill Josiah so quickly after one act of disobedience? Maybe it was a necessary part of God’s timing regarding judgment on the kingdom of Judah. But also, maybe God knew that Josiah was on the same track as King Solomon who preceded him. Solomon had started out his reign in complete and humble submission to God. After he prayed for wisdom—which greatly pleased God (because most people would have asked for riches and power)—God blessed his kingdom mightily. Solomon’s kingdom became wealthy beyond imagination and the king’s wisdom was known through much of the world around him. But this eventually caused pride to seep in, and not only that, but Solomon was taken in with the desires of his flesh—namely, scores and scores of foreign women as his wives. Solomon’s empire began to crumble away, and the next generation would see the kingdom split into Israel and Judah.
Anyhow, sorry for that detail. It’s still fresh in my mind from my studies, but the point is that Josiah may have been on a similar track. By killing him at 39, God may have seen that Josiah’s later years (from 40-on) would be more bad than good. So God lovingly allowed Josiah to die then and enter into the afterlife with a relatively clean record. Eternal reward infinitely outweighs all temporary worldly prosperity, including a long life.
I hope this made some sense and that I didn’t ramble on too much. Again, this is just my take, and it’s therefore very limited. But you can see how we can make some sense of God’s actions if we’re not so quick to close our minds. Knowing the Bible in its entirety helps, too. You can’t look at one piece of scripture in isolation, but rather, you need to piece it together in light of the overall picture.
God knows what He’s doing, folks, and please take comfort in knowing that He’s a lot wiser and loving than you and I could ever be.
Love is patient, love is kind…love is jealous?
Jealousy gets a bad rap sometimes, and as I often emphasize on this blog, I think it has to do with people’s tendency to oversimplify everything. Most people want their truths in obvious blacks and whites; nuances are troublesome to deal with. (There are also shortcomings with any human language that people seem to ignore.)
But if you think about it, true love cannot be wholly separated from jealousy. There are good and bad types, to be sure, and it’s important to differentiate between the two.
For instance, if I love my wife fully, it is not possible for me to be OK with her professing romantic love for some other man, or even overtly flirting with someone else. If I’m fine with her caring about another man more than me, then I think that points to an obvious lack of love on my part for her. I wouldn’t be jealous if I only had some kind of nonchalance or apathy toward her, but with complete love, jealousy is always a potential reality. This is a good kind of jealousy. It is a healthy indication or symptom of true love.
But if I feel strongly that she is not allowed to come in contact with any other men out of paranoia, or if I lose sleep over her commenting on the attractiveness of a certain Korean celebrity actor, then that points to something different. That kind of “jealousy” points to my own insecurity or a possessiveness that betrays the oneness and equality that is found in marriage. Rather than looking out for her happiness—out of love—I am watching out for my own fulfillment, using her as the object to achieve that means. Put another way, she becomes a means to an end (my own satisfaction) rather than an end in herself.
Now, considering that God is the embodiment of love (and truth, justice, goodness, etc.)…should the following verse surprise us at all?
Deuteronomy 4:24: “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
“But that’s the Old Testament God,” some people say. “Jesus changed all of that.”
Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.”
(By the way, I wish I didn’t have to point this out, but “hate” in the verse above does not refer to an intense feeling of dislike. The verse is emphasizing the relative unimportance of our earthly families compared to God. Considering that many other parts of the Bible show that family is highly important, this stresses how much more God is to be exalted in our lives.)
God is perfect in love for us, so jealousy comes hand in hand. He has no apathy toward His people, so is it any wonder that He views it as abhorrent when we make anyone or anything in this world higher than Him in our lives? Whether it’s a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, child, money, career, health…whether it’s a good or bad thing…how can God NOT get jealous? When we choose work or play over spending time in His word, can we rightly say, “Oh, God will understand. He is love! He’s my teddy bear!”
It’s BECAUSE He is love that He cares. In fact, He gets fiercely angry with righteous anger when we exalt idols in our lives. We often read the Old Testament and snicker at the stupidity of the people bowing down to golden calves and figures. How is it any different when we care more about popularity or success than growing in righteousness toward God? People haven’t changed; the types of idols have.
Always remember that God is a jealous God. And guess what? You WANT Him to care when you stray too far because that means He’s in love with you and wants you for Himself. When you no longer see His jealousy for you, that’s when you have to worry…
Psalm 81:12 shows us what God does to those who have rejected Him out of arrogance and idolatry. He doesn’t always destroy them in an outward act, but sometimes from within their own hearts: “So [God] gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
That is scary. Have you ever wondered how some people who have rejected God seem to be doing so well in this world? It’s because God has stopped thwarting them. He is no longer jealous for them. In fact, He’s given them over to the fate they sought after so hard: temporary pleasure in this world for eternal damnation. Bad trade if you ask me.
There seems to be a new sheriff in town, and his name is Science. Word has it that a logical person can now only believe in things that can be proved and confirmed in a laboratory. Since there seems to be no empirical, testable evidence for the supernatural realm, we therefore need to throw out the whole antiquated notion of some unseen power known as God.
But is this necessarily true? Is this some kind of logical truism?
“I find that science is a way of explaining the natural world, but it has its limits….I can identify no conflict between what I know as a scientist—including all of the details of our own DNA sequence—and what I know about God who created the universe, who put all of these opportunities in place, and had a plan.” — Dr. Francis Collins, physician-geneticist, director of the NIH, and former director of the Human Genome Project.
Hmm, that’s odd. One of the most respected scientists in his field is a devout Christian. How can this be? Is he suffering from some sort of dementia?
Well, in my opinion, Dr. Collins is simply exercising a surprisingly rare kind of rationality. He knows where science is useful, and he also seems aware of where it cannot reach. If the whole enterprise of scientific discovery deals with the natural, observable world, Dr. Collins seems to grasp the obvious concept that science can do nothing to disprove anything supernatural.
So what’s the problem then? If science is not logically incompatible with Christianity, why does this notion persist? Well, that’s something I can’t emphatically answer, but I can at least share my guesses and opinions as always.
Religion seems to have a bad track record of explaining things
In the early days, people used to attribute almost everything to the “god of the gaps” in whichever form he/she took. If it rained, they would thank Zeus (or insert Flying Spaghetti Monster here) for helping their crops. If it rained too much, they got angry with their god or grew fearful. When thunderstorms came, they assumed it was some form of celestial shouting or wrath. If someone was suffering from depression, demons were the cause. If a rainbow formed, they knew it was a sign of peace from God.
But then what happened? Science came along and explained humidity and the cycle of precipitation. People learned more about the mechanisms of thunderstorms (such as the three stages: the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage). Technology increased and we became able to detect chemical imbalances or deficiencies, as well as sociological/psychological factors to assist in treating depression. A rainbow became nothing more than a fancy manifestation of light reflection off of moisture.
Then, people looked back and remembered the religious people and said, “Zeus who? God who? Science has shown us the cause.” The scoffing became increasingly widespread, and the religious crowd shrunk back and waited for other inexplicable phenomena to insert their god of the gaps once again.
Science has produced tangible, observable results and benefits
Not only has there been enormous progress in medicine and other natural sciences, but even in our everyday technology and leisure. We own iPhones, laptops, and stay connected with each other through the internet. We drive our fuel-efficient cars to distant locations while a computerized voice speaks, guiding us to take the right exit in a quarter of a mile. All of this is possible because of science.
God, on the other hand, is invisible and mysterious (again, I encourage you to check out this video and make the natural connections…we are the Flatland inhabitants, God is the apple: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VS1mwEV9wA&list=FL7oX58RAnMNM&index=29).
We have militant atheists speaking out against Him, yet they seem to be enjoying their lives just fine. No lightning strikes them down. People say things like, “If God is real, show me a sign! Anything!” And yet, nothing happens. Nothing empirical or observable…so many conclude He must be illusory.
Christianity makes perfect sense, even in light of modern science
If you step back and think about it—as Dr. Collins and many others like him have noticed—Christianity actually fits in perfectly with what we know and observe. Science is indeed useful, but it only increases our knowledge of HOW things work. It does nothing to answer the WHY/for what questions. Coupled together, knowledge of science and the Bible can help to answer both insofar as they are knowable.
For instance, when we learn how rain and thunderstorms come to be, are we really disproving God? No, not at all. All we’re doing is getting a glimpse into His handiwork. We might be able to learn something about the mechanisms God uses to bring about that kind of weather, but it still does nothing to diminish the power and ingenuity it took to originally put those systems in place. We might be able to observe the chemical composition and electrical impulses of love, but that doesn’t encapsulate its entirety. If God created the laws of nature, why wouldn’t He use them to produce the desired outcome? If God made a rainbow as a promise of peace to Noah, why wouldn’t it happen by reflecting light in the water of the air—the very things God himself created in the first place?
Let’s say we were able to somehow recreate some great painting using a computer program. By inserting a painting into the scanner, this program could tell you exactly which paints the artist used, which strokes were made in what direction and with what amount of pressure, the sequence…everything. Does this in any way diminish the artist’s work? In the same way, how does being able to analyze some natural process rob God of His glory?
In Christianity, unlike other religions, we are also told that God made us in His own image. Perhaps part of that entails the powers of creativity and invention (the lesser cousins of creating). It makes complete sense to me that God—who loved us enough to allow us to bear some of His likeness—would want to share the knowledge of this world and not make everything foreign and scary to us. Are we to then turn around and use those gifts as an attack against Him?
Whether (theistic) evolution is true, this remains the same. Mapping the human genome in no way causes us to be on God’s level, but rather gives us a glimpse into His extremely complex and amazing creation. If we can make some medical use out of it, then that’s a sweet side benefit as well.
The very fact that the laws of nature work so well, to me, points strongly to God. The fact that the universe seems exquisitely fine-tuned for life is strong “evidence”…about as much as we can expect in the natural realm to shed light on the supernatural; a 2D slice of a 3D apple, if you will. We shouldn’t expect to be able to see God (or we’d die in our sinful state—Exodus 33:20), nor test Him with arrogant and petulant demands (Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12).
If there was no God, why should we trust our own faculties to be able to arrive at reliable conclusions about anything? Wouldn’t everything we think and feel simply be an adaptation geared toward survival and not truth?
Don’t believe the hype. Science in no way disproves God or the Bible. In fact, the details that we CAN actually test check out just fine. On the whole, the world that we observe seems to point to a Designer, and we as the designed should learn to appreciate what we see rather than trying to take credit for something that’s not ours. Any tangible progress we make is only possible because we were gifted with minds and creativity (and opposable thumbs) from the Creator in the first place.
Albert Einstein, who did not have a personal relationship with God, once said this: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe; a spirit vastly superior to that of man. And one, in the face of which, we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
That was about 50 years ago. Have our egos become so inflated in such a short time that we now believe man’s science to hold the key to the universe?