Logically speaking, the outward behavior of Christian people should be irrelevant to the truth of Jesus Christ. Even true believers who know the gospel are prone to fail once in a while. What matters is what the Bible actually teaches, which is far from what the world sees in Christians.
Still, this objection is still very real to a lot of people, so it deserves to be addressed.
*Taking off the robot hat.
As a human being, it’s easy to discredit a belief system or religion if you see its adherents acting in unflattering ways. It’s just a natural response. In fact, Jesus was well aware of this natural tendency of human beings and instructed Christians to be like salt or a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16), meaning we’re supposed to set a good example and positively influence the world around us. Salt is meant to represent something that not only brings out full goodness (flavor), but also to preserve and keep things from rotting. We are to be holy and uphold morality in a world that naturally degenerates toward sin. A light, obviously, shines and counters the darkness, showing the right path.
Unfortunately, Christians seem to be failing in great measure (though to be fair, some succeed). Instead of drawing people toward Christ, many of us are turning off the world to the message. As Ghandi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
So what exactly is the problem? Let’s start with the root of the problem…
Most “Christians” are not actually saved.
This part should come as no surprise to some people, especially considering my deluge of posts about this topic recently. Sadly, many modern churchgoers—especially in America—believe themselves to be Christian, but are really participating in just another religion. A true relationship with Christ and the changing power of the Holy Spirit cannot be found in them.
Some people estimate that perhaps only 5–10% of so-called Christians in America are actually true followers. This means that the vast majority of people are living by their own flesh, and therefore are just as likely as the rest of the world to succumb to temptations and fall to sin. The problem is, if an atheist person committed some morally questionable act, no one would flinch. But if a “Christian” does it, it sets off alarms and people cry “hypocrite!”
What is it exactly that we do that offends the secular world?
1. An average situation…
Imagine a scenario where a churchgoer is on a business trip with a few of his work buddies. Let’s call him Jim. His buddies decide one night, after a hard day of negotiations, to hit up the local strip club and down a few beers. What is the right response for Jim? Admittedly, he’s in a rough spot.
On the one hand, he could succumb to peer pressure and decide to go along. After all, he doesn’t want to offend them or come across as a Jesus freak, would he? But the problem is, he has just undermined the gospel and any possible platform he might have to share the message in the future. If a month from now, Jim is alone with one of his work friends and brings Jesus up, that friend might be thinking about Jim’s behavior that night at the strip club. His friends might think to themselves, “There’s no difference between Christians and us except we get to save our time and money on Sundays.”
On the other hand, if Jim declines the invitation, he might face added pressure. “Why not, come on man!” This is where he needs a lot of discernment and tact. Jim has to communicate that he doesn’t agree morally to such activities without coming across as pious or overly judgmental. This is an extremely hard line to walk, and most will fail miserably. (It’s probably a lose-lose anyway, practically speaking.) If he condemns the activity too hard, he adds to the stereotype that Christians are condescending and judgmental. If he’s too soft, he’s not standing up for his beliefs and is perhaps being ashamed of the gospel.
As 1 Peter 3:15 says: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
This might mean that Jim will become less popular and that he won’t get invited to future events. They might label him as a party-pooper. So be it. At least he stood up for the truth without compromising and committing the sin of pride and condescension.
From that simple example, what I was trying to illustrate is that Christians either fail by going along with the world or by going against it with pride and spiritual piety.
2. Priests and pastors…
First off, I’ll share this rant by Christopher Hitchens, the militant anti-religious atheist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOamsF5r3TE.
I have to say, this is one of those rare times when I actually agree with a lot of what he says. The church has a lot to be sorry for, especially (historically) the Catholic church. Priests molesting young boys who are entrusted to their care and instruction is abominable. A history of anti-Semitism is not only abhorrent, but it’s strikingly UNbiblical and simple-minded. This kind of twisted behavior can only come about when we take something meant for good—the church—and turn it into a man-made institution, sullied by power grabbing and the substitution of earnest faith with rituals and rites. It’s no wonder so much has gone wrong over the past centuries.
But the Protestant church is not without blemish, either. You have pastors who are more interested in rubbing shoulders with the Washingtonian elite rather than being set apart from this world. There are people like Ted Haggard who embarrass the name of Christ by engaging in an active lifestyle of sexual sin and betrayal. Countless thieves, like Benny Hinn, use the name of God to fatten their wallets by deceiving the naive and trusting.
So what is going on?
It’s simple: they forgot—or never really knew—the Bible. They left the Holy Spirit out of their lives and they carried on alone, puffed up in their own pride and accomplishments (and congregation size).
Catholic priests mistakenly were taught that celibacy was holier than married life, and they chose a lifestyle that so precious few are actually called to. Think about it: Paul in the New Testament lived a celibate life, but he spent every waking minute preaching and arguing for God’s Word. When he wasn’t doing that, he was locked up in prisons and suffering. Do you think he had time to be a husband? Meanwhile, you have modern priests who interact with their parish members time to time and preach, but are left living a fairly comfortable life otherwise. With their weak flesh and idle time, it’s no wonder so many priests fall. Celibacy isn’t the way to go for most people.
Protestant pastors see their churches growing and they think, “Wow, I must be a good preacher!” They don’t spend every day in their Bibles, nor do they guard against the enemy. Pride or complacency (or straight-up being a fraud) opens the door and lets temptation come right in, besetting their lives with sin.
If only people would stay true to God’s word instead of their own insights and willpower. Man-made institutions and systems will always fail.
3. The bizarre and newsworthy…
You hear about it on the news all the time. The “Christian” mother who killed her kids because she thought God told her to (more like a demon). The “Christian” who opens fire on a Jewish crowd, thinking he’s fighting for some righteous cause (nevermind that Jesus was a Jew and that they are still God’s original chosen people).
Side note: Please stop calling Hitler a Christian and using him as an example. It’s ignorant and ridiculous. He was not a Christian, pure and simple. A person might call himself one for political purposes, but when your actions go against the Bible and you even plan on replacing scripture with your own book (Mein Kampf) in every classroom, that is not the work of a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It’s obvious as night and day.
Or how about the parents who beat their adopted children to death because they read from the Bible not to spare the rod? I guess they missed the part about being careful to discipline them. Perhaps they read Proverbs 23:13, which says: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” Common sense (and the countless other times in the Bible that refer to death as the opposite of salvation) would tell a normal person that the “he will not die” part refers to moral and spiritual death. By lovingly disciplining a child and correcting him, the parent is saving him from a future life of debauchery, corruption, and self-destruction. Heck, reading the very next verse should have made it obvious: “Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”
Again, this is just a result of bad biblical interpretation, twisting words to fit our own sinful agendas, or plain and utter stupidity. A wicked person can easily open up the Bible and find a way to justify his or her actions, but this blatant misuse doesn’t demean the actual word of God one bit.
So what can Christians do to fix this?
First, much of the criticism is justified, so we as a body of believers need to take responsibility and do better. Granted, we are judged more harshly than the rest of the world, that’s hard to deny. We could do the same things as a nonbeliever, but be impugned or labeled as a hypocrite for it. Is it a fair standard? Yes and no. Yes, because as true believers, we ARE supposed to be in a process of sanctification, so we simply cannot continue to live as the rest of the world. But no, it might not be completely fair because it’s still a process; none of us ever achieve perfection in our flesh.
Second, so-called “Christians” either need to give their lives over to God or stop calling themselves Christians. The word itself means “followers of Christ,” which entails actually following Christ’s way. They can attend church and call themselves seekers if they want, but they need to get it out of their heads that they’re set because of their false flu-shot salvation.
Third, we all need to bring the real Bible back to the church. Let’s ditch the man-made stuff that distracts from the true gospel—all the unbiblical rules, rites, rituals, and other things that supposedly make you holy. These things give people a false assurance and complacency that is dangerous in light of constant spiritual attack. If people were more biblical, they couldn’t possibly live their embarrassingly immoral lives and cast mud on the name of Jesus to the world.
Ultimately, the goal is not to be liked or to fit in. The Bible tells us straight up that the true gospel will probably bring hate upon us or persecution. But what we can’t do is undermine God’s glory by being poor representatives on earth. We can be hated for standing up for the truth, but we shouldn’t be hated for being hypocrites, thieves, and perverts.
1 Peter 2:11-12 tells us: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Our good deeds might not make an impact now, and in fact, standing up for the truth may bring persecution upon us. But it will bring further glory to God in the end. May we let the Holy Spirit guide us always.
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?
I was about to write about the third objection to Christianity (regarding science) when I came across this video. I sort of felt compelled to go ahead and respond to it now:
I’ve watched a few of his videos, actually, and while they’re difficult to get through since he babbles and misstates some of the arguments on the Christian end, he does bring up some good points. I don’t mean they’re good as in wholly valid, but I can see why others would stumble on these issues.
If I catch the gist of his video correctly, he’s basically saying that he is a former Christian and now he has been enlightened into atheism. Those poor Christian apologists then have to resort to telling him that he was never a Christian to begin with. Rather than acknowledge that he has genuine insight into the faith and can therefore rebut it, people will instead doubt the veracity of his past faith completely. Azsuperman01, the YouTuber, seems to imply that this is shallow, unfair, and cowardly.
Well, here’s what I think.
As someone who went the other way when I came to the fork in the road, I would agree that he was never saved to begin with. After all, the Bible makes it clear that if a person is genuinely saved, he turns his life over to the Holy Spirit and perseveres until the end.
I grew up in a Christian home, I experienced “revival” in my heart, and believed in my head that Jesus Christ was my savior. If anyone would have asked me if I was a true believer, I would have been sure in my heart that the answer was yes.
But Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB) warns: “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
Looking back, I’d say that for most of my “Christian” life, my faith was a house built out of straw. It was a sham, and I was worshiping a false and convenient god who allowed me to live a lukewarm life for him. The god that I created in my head was more than glad and even honored to accept the morsels of worship that I would offer him in my busy, cluttered life. He would be overjoyed that I took time out of my Sunday mornings to acknowledge him for an hour or so.
But this was not the God of the Bible. Somewhere along the line, I wrestled with my doubts and fought with them openly and honestly. I reasoned, “It’s time to take an honest look at the truth. If God is real, then why shouldn’t he prevail as long as I’m not biased or trying to weigh the evidence unevenly?” Thankfully, I was right. God (the real one) proved genuine and true, and today the Holy Spirit convinces me daily that I am His.
My sympathies are with people like the maker of this video. I don’t question his honesty or integrity at all, but I do believe he was deceived like so many others out there. If I think about it, if the devil is as crafty and hyper-intelligent as we are told, what would be the best way to lead people straight to Hell? It wouldn’t be an obvious lie, like “evil is GOOD and hate is admirable!” Most of us would sniff that out in a second. Rather, it would be a false gospel that on the surface closely resembles the truth…but it falls short of literal redeeming qualities to save the souls of its adherents.
So no, I don’t think it’s a cop-out for people to tell him he was never truly a Christian to begin with, unless by “Christian” you simply mean a follower of the religion. But when I say “Christian,” I’m referring to someone who has a genuine relationship with Christ, not merely intellectual assent.
Let me also address a couple of specific lines he states in the video.
First, at 1:53, he states: “Once you become a Christian, you basically lose your free will because once you’re a Christian you no longer have the ability to change your mind. You can’t just say, ‘I no longer believe that.’ …and since Christians believe that free will is really important, I don’t think using an argument that completely eradicates your free will is really the best one to use.”
If we become truly saved, then do we in fact lose our free will? Depends on your definition. We still operate and function normally, choosing which paths to take. But of course, he’s probably referring to the aspect of faith; whether to believe or not. And in that sense, yes, we “lose” our free will. We lose our ability to fall away and be damned since we are adopted into God’s kingdom forever.
…and the problem with this is what exactly? Free will is a power or gift of ours to decide whether to choose God as our Lord and savior. I’m not just spouting Christian rhetoric here; we are choosing for God to become our LORD. That means that we are willingly submitting to him as our master, and we are becoming his slaves. We are acknowledging Him as the father, and we are the obedient children.
Elsewhere in the Bible, disciples are described as “bondservants.” This word has the sense of a slave who has completed his term with a master and is therefore allowed to go free. But some slaves—because of the harsh conditions outside in the world and/or because of the kindness of his master—would willfully choose to become bonded to that master even though he had no obligations. This is a good illustration of this relationship with God. We are giving up our freedom, in a sense, for the privilege of serving Him (and in return, being offered His love and protection).
Free will is important beforehand. But it’s not some kind of ultimate or eternal good.
Another point he brings up at the end of the video is this: “The problems in your religion don’t go away just because YOU don’t think I used to believe the same things you do, and experienced the same things you have.”
There are a lot of things I find funny about this statement. First, he assumes there are problems in our “religion.” If he means some of the people and institutions (basically anything human), then yes, I’d agree. But any perceived problems with doctrine need to be proved. As far as I know, I have yet to hear any problems with Christian doctrine that have not already been solved and addressed. It is his failure to find these solutions, and if he still has a problem with it, then it’s a personal opinion, not objective fact.
Second, he might have believed some of the same things that I do, that’s true. He may have even felt some of the same emotions. But so what? Does this somehow make him an authority? Are we to be fearful and approach apostate Christians with trembling and awe? Like I already mentioned, he didn’t experience the real Holy Spirit anyway, so comparisons are on the surface level only.
Excuse my rudeness, but to me, this evokes images of the skinny waterboy hanging out in the football locker room. Just because he was associated with the team at some point doesn’t empower him to call the plays or correct the real players’ technique. He’s free to express his football opinions, but no one has to care what he says. There may be times when he says one or two things that are correct—just as a nonbeliever can rightfully point out problems in the church—but the implication that he somehow has the inside scoop on all of us is absurd.
Personally, all these former “Christians” coming out and acting like they’re something special amuses me (and in some cases, I admit, annoys me). Changing your mind on something doesn’t bestow upon you magical gifts, nor does it elevate you in any way. There are countless believers today who were once atheists, so at best, it’s a wash. Personal testimony can be a powerful thing when there is a supernaturally changed life. But simply changing your mind by reading and learning some stuff isn’t really that compelling to me, sorry.
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.
Throughout the years—centuries even—this has probably been the single biggest objection to the Judeo-Christian God. Over time, I’ve learned to acknowledge the power of this line of argument and give it due respect rather than brushing it off as frivolous. I’ll try to be as comprehensive as I can (within reason), but I’m sure the war will wage on regardless. Please feel free to add and contribute in the comment section.
I’ll break this problem down into three main components:
1) Who is God anyway?
2) The Problem of Evil
3) Practical Implications
It’s important to discuss the Christian God as He actually is, rather than relying on the projections of misinformed men. So let’s start there.
1) Who is God anyway?
There are many ways to describe God and a multitude of attributes we could potentially discuss here. But I’ll try to focus on the relevant parts that normally feed into this argument.
First off, God is the creator of everything. He created every living being and the universe, including the laws and systems by which it operates. He also created angels, including those who rebelled against him and became demons.
Second, God prefers free will. Rather than creating automatons, it is clear that God holds free will in very high regard, even granting his angels the ability to leave him before the earth was even created. Likewise, He granted all of mankind free will. The Bible does not indicate whether animals have free will, but if I had to guess, I’d probably say no (judging from stories like Noah’s Ark and other examples where they seem to be controlled directly when necessary). Free will seems reserved for His higher elected creatures, and this is coming from an animal lover.
Third, God is omnipotent, or all-powerful. This point is very important. People must realize that there are certain things that God cannot do, but these “limitations” do not detract from His power and greatness. In a nutshell, God cannot act contrary to his character and essential nature, and He also cannot do some logically impossible things. God cannot lie or conduct evil himself. To say that God created evil is misleading, as evil is not a thing in itself, but rather a privation or lack of good (just as darkness isn’t a thing itself, but a lack of light).
He also cannot make a round square or create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it. Importantly, God cannot force or ensure that free creatures will choose the right way on their own volition.
Fourth, God is omniscient, or all-knowing. Now, there is some debate as to what omniscience entails. Does it mean God literally knows everything—past, present, and future (classic view and also assumed in Molinism)? Or does it mean He knows the knowable, and perhaps some things are left open and contingent on the decisions of free creatures (open theism)? Either way, it’s safe to say with certainty that God knows every possible thing of the past and the present. He also knows what he will accomplish in the future.
Fifth, God is omnibenevolent or all-good. In Him, there is no evil or darkness. This furthermore implies that God will always choose the path of the most good, rather than the way of more evil. He is the embodiment of love and wants people to come freely to him.
Finally, God is just and holy. Because God is just by nature, He cannot simply give people a free pass when they do wrong. He cannot tolerate sin. Due to his holy nature, God must remain set apart and separate from sin at all times. Of course, this is why He sent Jesus down to die for our sins, so that it’s possible for us to be clean in God’s sight.
I almost feel blasphemous trying to sum up God in such a short space, but I honestly believe that without this proper understanding of God, talking about things that contradict his nature (evil and suffering) is completely moot. Please know that God is so much more than what I’ve just described. I was also hesitant to start with the above section because much of it might give away the “answers” prematurely, but that’s OK. That being said, let’s proceed.
2) The Problem of Evil
This problem has been stated in a number of ways, but I’ll copy a couple that best describe this position.
Here’s the logical form:
- God exists.
- God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
- A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.
- An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
- An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
- A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
- If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.
- Evil exists (logical contradiction).
David Hume—a prominent philosopher of the 18th century—put it succinctly this way:
“Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”
Now, I’ll save you the suspense and tell you upfront that this logical problem of evil has pretty much been solved already. Many modern philosophers reject the old logical problem as inadequate and accept solutions to the problem, such as Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense. But I’ll rehash some of those ideas here in my own words, as well as infuse some of my own thoughts (may the Holy Spirit keep me from speaking falsehoods).
Basically, what the old philosophers failed to take into account are the fall of man and free will. These change everything. Perhaps in a sinless world, pre-fall, God would always choose to allow the path of the most good, no evil. He might repeatedly run up the scoreboard this way: +10 “good” points, +0 “evil” points. The good column would keep increasing, and the evil column would always remain at 0. This would have been possible.
But because of free will and man’s pride, it is no longer possible for there to be a zero in the evil column. Human beings are sinful, and the only way God could prevent them from conducting evil acts and inflicting suffering on others would be to infringe upon free will. God cannot (actually, will not) force a person to do good at all times, whether through manipulation of the mind or even of surrounding circumstances. Therefore, evil exists and God allows it.
Because there is no possibility of all good and no evil, God in his omnibenevolence chooses the path of the greater good (which by God’s estimation entails achieving good in light of free will). He has to allow some evil and suffering in order to achieve greater good. In order to get those +10 points in the good column, God might allow +2 evil (rather than the alternatives of +3 or +4). There is no option of +0 evil anymore, but even if there were, God might not choose it because it wouldn’t achieve as much good. Hopefully you’re seeing already that some of the premises of the logical argument laid out above are false.
The “best of possible worlds” argument is nebulous and highly speculative. How could a person possibly define such a thing? What is best for one person would be horrid to another. With God’s attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence, it’s not impossible to imagine that this current world is the best that was possible with free will in the picture. Perhaps a world with no troubles would never find the necessary brokenness to come to God.
What about when God himself seems to directly inflict pain and suffering, rather than simply allowing it?
Well, let’s turn to the Bible for a couple of famous examples, shall we?
In Genesis 6, we hear the story of Noah’s ark. Around this time, humans were starting to multiply on the land, but they were also becoming very wicked. God gave mankind 120 years to shape up, but aside from Noah’s family, they didn’t. So God sent a great flood to wipe out the evildoers and to start fresh.
In Genesis 18-19, we see that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were very sinful, turning away from God. God makes known his plans to destroy them, at which point Abraham famously pleads for God to spare them. Abraham asks whether God would spare the cities if even 50 righteous men were found. God agrees. Abraham reverently pushes his luck, and asks, “well what about 45?” (I’m paraphrasing of course.) God again agrees. This goes on repeatedly; 40, 30, 20, then finally 10. God even agrees to a mere 10.
What happens? Not even 10 righteous are found in that city, so God proceeds with destroying them.
In each case, you’ll notice that God displayed great patience. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter, and like a doctor, God had to remove the cancer completely. In the real world, we know that wickedness spreads like a wildfire. Something starts out as the exception, a taboo, but very rapidly it becomes totally acceptable. Eventually, it becomes the norm. With our finite minds, we might disagree with God’s wrath, but we don’t know the whole picture. If God had spared those wicked people, it’s very easy to imagine that our world would be a much worse place today. There would much more evil, and yet people use those examples against God. He just can’t win in some people’s eyes.
Besides, God is the one in charge. Skeptics will cringe at this concept, but who are we to question Him? In Isaiah 55:9, God reminds us: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” If God exists, don’t you think there would be things you don’t understand or agree with? What makes us think everything should agree with our flawed preferences and sentiments?
Don’t count out the Devil!
Oh boy, I can already hear the eyes rolling. But it’s true, if there is a such thing as the God of the Bible, then there is an enemy who we call Satan. You can’t count out the devil in an argument about whether God exists because that’s presupposing the very thing you’re trying to prove. If the idea of evil and suffering bothers you, you can’t hold it against God without first acknowledging the reality of Satan and his demons.
Satan is called many names in the Bible, including deceiver, enemy, father of lies, lawless one, murderer, tempter, wicked one…and most tellingly, “god of this age” and “ruler of this world.” Does this sound like someone who might have something to do with some of the evil and suffering you see today? Perhaps! The devil presents himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and he is extremely attractive and cunning. He is smarter than you. He is smarter than all of us, and his lies perpetuate and spread, causing more grief and evil.
I’m convinced that Satan has tricked the scientific world into throwing labels at certain maladies and illnesses, when some of it is actually demon-induced. Consider the case of “Emily Rose” (Anneliese Michel…pictures and audio recordings here), whom the doctors tried to fix with every scientific terminology and concept in the book. They called her depressed, epileptic, and couldn’t face the fact that perhaps there was something else at work here. To the world, she looked like a victim of random chance and forces. In spiritual terms, she was attacked by demons. Until Jesus returns to vanquish them once and for all, spiritual warfare is a reality to consider. Not everything is explainable by natural means.
(Who knows? Maybe in 100 years, the devil will convince the world that love is simply a biological and chemical process, when it’s so much more than that.)
Speaking of natural, what about “natural evils” such as earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.?
I need to tread carefully here. I will say cautiously that it is at least possible that God can use these things to punish wickedness or accomplish some greater good, just as He has in past history. But let’s push this line of reasoning aside.
It has been suggested by apologists, and I agree with them, that natural disasters are a way of inspiring reverence and fear of God. It doesn’t necessarily need to target specific people, but it reminds us all that “oh yea, we’re just human…ultimately, there are forces greater than us that even our mighty technology can’t defeat.” Can you imagine a world where there were no disasters, no thunderstorms, no fearsome waves at sea? We would become even more full of ourselves as the masters of this world, and we’re already experts of pride as it is.
Furthermore, the fall of man necessitates that the world no longer functions optimally. Before the fall, we were designed to live forever. It’s hard to imagine now, but the systems and laws in place wouldn’t have been able to harm us. Gravity—a morally neutral force—would not have been able to bring us crashing to our doom from a steep drop. Thorns, if they existed, wouldn’t prick us. Animals wouldn’t carry venom. Childbirth wouldn’t be painful, and women couldn’t have serious complications from it. The plates of the earth would no longer move to create earthquakes, and the seas would probably be calm. But of course, man did sin and that all changed. Once sin entered and gave birth to death, all of the possible harms became an unavoidable reality.
OK, I know I said I would tread carefully, but I can’t help myself. As an example, let’s imagine for a minute (and I have no proof, nobody does) that God created HIV as a judgment or deterrence. Deterrence from what? Bestiality, homosexuality, and promiscuity are three possibilities (in fact, Sodom was known for homosexuality and is where we get the word “sodomy”). We know from numerous examples in the Bible that sexual sins seem very serious to God and are met with severe consequences.
Now, in what logical world would it be practically impossible for a person innocent of these things to contract HIV accidentally through blood? It is rare, but it must be possible. But rather than seeing these people as victims of God’s supposed sloppiness and negligence, we can view it in a number of ways. It is an inevitable result for a few people to befall this horrible fate because of the fall of man and because of logical possibility. It is also possible that God could be using these circumstances for the greater good. And we also know that it saddens God when people are in pain, but like a loving parent, sometimes it must be carried out.
3) Practical Implications
So what possible “greater good” are we talking about here? How could evil and suffering turn out to be good, practically speaking?
Well, the number one “good” that can result is the salvation of souls and drawing closer to God. This is not simple speculation, but rather found in the Bible over and over again. Don’t let the Joel Osteens of the world fool you; we are not meant to live on this earth in complete bliss and prosperity. In fact, even as believers, God ensures us that we will find suffering at some points in our lives. The Bible tells us to EXPECT suffering, which is the opposite of what skeptics believe Christianity should entail. When it comes, we need to have the right approach.
1 Peter 4:12-13: “12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
James 1:2-4 (ESV) says: “2Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Trials and suffering make us more complete. Hardships strengthen our character and also provide a testing ground for our faith. If severe suffering never came to us in life, we might never know for certain if we are truly saved in Christ. What is one way to test if a love relationship is real and not just temporary butterflies? See how you persevere through the rough times, whether it’s long distance/separation or even arguments to sharpen each other and clean out the selfishness.
Pastor Lon Solomon of McLean Bible Church shares that having a severely handicapped daughter—who suffered from countless seizures—was the best thing God could have brought upon his life. Lon was angry with God at first, but in the end, dealing with the emergency hospital visits and intense care-taking made him a better father, husband, pastor, and a person. His daughter, who has a mental age of a child, lives a happy life. She will live the rest of her life—and die—as a child, which most believe ensures her salvation. What more could a parent hope for their children and their own lives? Brokenness can become an enormous blessing.
Sometimes, evil can be turned on its head and turn out for good, even in worldly circumstances. Consider the story of Joseph in late Genesis, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers but ended up being enormously powerful and influential. We can’t expect to always see the end result from our very limited perspective, so the best thing is to trust rather than curse God.
And do we, as Christians, believe in an indifferent God who makes us suffer while He sits on his cushy throne? By no means! We have a savior who gave up his lordship in heaven to become a lowly carpenter, to be spit on, whipped, mocked, and crucified on a cross for OUR sins. We have a God who knows first-hand much of the things we’re going through. We have a savior who rather than being a stoic who always said things like, “Oh, suck it up,” he actually wept for the death of Lazarus (John 11).
What’s the opposite of suffering on this earth? Complete prosperity, which is often represented by wealth in the Bible. And what happens to those who flourish, live a very comfortable lifestyle, and avoid the trials that many of us endure? They become lukewarm, only to be spit out of the mouth of God (Revelations 3). Just as a person cannot gain muscle without painful exercise and devotion; just as a person cannot increase in his knowledge without diligent and arduous study; just as a person cannot become patient and strong without first enduring ordeals; a person cannot truly know God without experiencing suffering.
Many of the poorer countries in the world that have experienced great suffering are the most devout and spiritual. James 2:5 says: “5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” We see this to be true in various studies and surveys. In America, many SAY that they are Christian, but as I’ve made clear in my earlier posts, the actual number of saved are probably few. Our prosperity and lack of suffering have made us soft. We have become like the rich young ruler or the church of Laodicea.
Those who suffer may turn out to be the most fortunate and blessed in the end. Perhaps as we look back on our short earthly lives from heaven, we will envy those who endured many hardships for a relative speck of time, only to be rewarded in eternity.
Matthew 19:30: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
I knew from the get-go that there would be no way for me to cover all possible areas of this topic. There have been entire books written on the subject, and even those focus on particular areas. For further insight, I suggest the following:
WLC–Problem of evil: