100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

What Is The Book of Revelation About?

For those unfamiliar with the Book of Revelation, it contains a description of a vision that the Apostle John had. The vision contains such imagery as angels unleashing plagues upon the Earth, and of people obtaining a mark on their forehead or hand, called “the mark of the beast”, which later consigns them to eternity in hell. And people naturally want to interpret this vision. Many have claimed to know what the vision means, and yet there are many different interpretations. Some say it refers to actual events in our future where, for example, a government will require a literal mark imprinted in our forehead or hands. Others say it refers to actual events that have happened in the past, such as the reign of specific emperors and the specific persecutions that they carried out against Christians. I wouldn’t be confident enough to make specific claims like that. But I do think there are a number of basic things we can say about the book for certain, and that those things may be all we really need to know.

Firstly, there are seven letters written to seven churches, and these are not terribly cryptic. They are fairly straight forward, and I think they form the key to understanding the message of the entire book. The general content of each of these letters is to say that in each of these churches there are things that Jesus commends them for, but that there are those in the church who do things that Jesus rebukes them for. He thus divides each church into two groups - those who do what they ought and those who, despite attending the church, do not. Each letter has in common a sentence which begins: “The one who conquers…” (or in other translations, “the one who overcomes”). “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life”, “To the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” ... Each of these sentences, in each of the letters, are synonymous… The one who conquers will receive eternal life. That is to say, the one who does not continue in the errors that Jesus has named in these letters. This refers corporately to the churches but also to us individually. We fall into various errors, but how do we overcome these errors? Later in the book we read:

And they [the saints] have conquered him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11)

We also read in 1 John the passage:

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4)

This passage in 1 John, which refers to the world in the sense of the corruption of the world and its allegiance to Satan, reminds us again that it is not through our own efforts that we overcome our errors, but rather that our faith in Christ gives us that victory. The things that we do in this life are the effect of our faith. We do what pleases God because our faith influences us to do so. And we avoid errors for the same reason - our faith shows us our errors and gives us an aversion to them. So it is true that we work towards doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong thing, but it is because we have faith in Christ that we desire to work in this way and are able to. Thus, those who overcome the world (that is, the errors of this world), demonstrate evidence of faith. And in regards to the message of Revelation, this is really the foundation. What Revelation teaches us through the bulk of its content is that keeping ourselves from error in this life will be no easy task. It will be no easy task because there will be persecution towards us, and injustice done to us. The story of Revelation, presented in a vision, is (at a high level) this: That there are God’s people and then there are God’s enemies who war against God and against His people. They cause God’s people to suffer persecution and injustice. But in the end, God’s people are taken up to heaven and God’s enemies are destroyed. The key message of the book is this, then… that we must endure persecution and injustice in the assurance that God will bring justice in the end. The letters to the seven churches establish this basic message; those in the church who are truly the people of God will receive their reward, but those who are not will receive their judgement. The book ends on the same note, Jesus speaking saying…

Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. (Revelation 22:11-12)

In other words, from the time of John’s writing this in the first century AD until the return of Christ, yet future, the book has shown us that there exist the enemies of God and the people of God who suffer at the hands of the enemies of God, and that justice awaits them both at the return of Christ. And it teaches us that we are to allow those who persecute us to do so. As it reinforces in other places in Scripture…

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:39)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:18-19)

If we are the victim of persecution and injustice, we must not ourselves become persecutors as a response. Rather, we endure it, knowing that God is the one who is able to judge rightly.

And then we read something that I find very interesting…

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book (Revelation 22:18)

We see this as a warning against trying to modify the message of the book. But this, to me, also says something about the plagues described in the book. People try to interpret the various “plagues” in Revelation as somehow referring to some actual event, perhaps past, or of a future event - a nuclear war, or some chemical weapon… But Jesus is saying that to anyone, at any time in history, who tries to modify the message of this book, “God will add to him the plagues described in this book.” I personally feel that the things described in Revelation at least have a more general sense to them. Whether they refer to specific events in the past or in our future… they may well do… but that doesn’t exclude the idea that they refer to a general state of affairs for all humanity for all of history. People suffer war, famine, pestilence… we have suffered horrific wars, from the 100 years war in 1300-1400s or World War II as an obvious example. And we have seen the bubonic plague, or outbreaks of syphilis and ebola, to barely mention a few.

At the very least we can say that if the visions of Revelation refer to actual plagues in the past or in the future, or to actual governments in the past or in the future, we can still, nonetheless, apply the message to ourselves. Do we suffer at the hands of unjust governments now? Do we suffer persecution for our faith? These are things which apply to us all, and the message is the same… To the one who conquers (by faith), there is a reward and justice will be done in the end.

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:21-22)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Why Was King David's Census a Sin?

In 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 we read parallel accounts of a census taken by king David. To summarize quickly what happens; David decides to take a census and commands the head of his army, Joab, to go and count the population. Joab tells the king not to commit such a sin, but David insists. As a result of this sin, however, God tells the prophet Gad to offer David a choice of three punishments; 3 years of famine, 3 months of warfare, or 3 days of plague in the land. And so, as a result, 70,000 people die of the plague and an angel of God stands above Jerusalem with his sword drawn, about to destroy it, before God decides to have mercy and halts the angel. He commands David to make a sacrifice of atonement for the people so that the plague might be stopped. This David does on an altar at the site later used by king Solomon to build the temple.

The question on many people’s minds, as well as mine for some time, is typically “What was so wrong about David, the king of Israel, taking a census?” It baffles us because a census seems like a reasonable thing for a king to do, and yet it was somehow wrong. And not just a little bit wrong; it was clearly very wrong and very serious. So I went to Google looking for answers but the few answers I read did not convince me. And I’m not going to disparage or discredit any else’s work, but dissatisfied with the answers I’d read, I simply referred back to the Scriptures themselves, and I think I have a satisfying answer to this riddle, which I’ll share with you for what it’s worth.

From the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, Israel was to travel to the promised land, subdue it and take up residence in it. In 2 Samuel 23, the chapter which precedes the story of David’s census in 2 Samuel, and likewise in 1 Chronicles 20, the chapter which precedes the story of David’s census in 1 Chronicles, we are told of David’s victories in warfare, particularly of how he defeated the kings and giants in the land. At the conclusion of these chapters, it seems to suggest that the land had thus been subdued. It is a key detail, then, that David is asking Joab, the head of his army, to take this census. It is clear that the purpose of this census is to number those who are able to go to war for David. When Joab returns, 2 Samuel 24 explicitly gives the results as “800,000 valiant men who drew the sword.” But Joab, forced by the king against his will to take the census, still refused to count the Levites, which are the priests of the land. If we read Numbers chapter 1, Moses was asked to take a census of “all in Israel who are able to go to war”, and then told “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list… But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle.” In other words, Joab recognizes the motivation of David’s census as preparation for war and refuses to count the Levites because they must not be counted as those who are able to go to war.

I imagine that there may have been many motivations for a census which would have been fine, even for David. King Solomon, in 2 Chronicles 2, counts all the foreigners in the land for the purpose of putting them to work. Here the purpose is not for warfare. And I even suspect that David, counting the people available to him for warfare, would have normally been fine in the case where Israel was justified in going to war. But here we have Joab, the head of the army, being asked to count the people after we’ve just been told that the land had essentially been conquered. It is my conjecture, then, that the sin of David was that he was planning for war that went beyond the mandate of God to subdue the land. Once the land had been subdued, Israel was not supposed to go invading other territories.

The conclusion of this event is the selection of the site for the temple and the commissioning of Solomon to build the temple. This event signifies the end of the subjugation of the land as God is telling the king to build a temple; the place where God would dwell amongst His people, no longer in a tabernacle, or tent, that was designed for moving from place to place. The temple signified that God could set up His permanent dwelling in the land and settle there because the land had been settled. It had been said that Solomon would have peace in Israel, and his name literally means “peace”. It was the name given to him by God precisely because there would be peace during his reign: “Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days.” (1 Chronicles 22:9). This was clearly prophesied of Solomon before Solomon was born, and so David knew that the subjugation of the land would be complete. After the events of the census, David instructs his son: "Is not the Lord your God with you? And has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand, and the land is subdued before the Lord and his people. Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God, so that the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the Lord." (1 Chronicles 22:18).

It is also curious that the three choices given to David all involve the deaths of many people in the land. Whether by famine, warfare or plague, many would have died. None of these are targeted only at David personally. But the punishment seems fitting; as David had planned to number the people in order to evaluate the army he had available to him, God was more or less foiling David's plans by taking away from that number. David purposed to build an army and God overturned his plans by thinning out such an army. People often consider it unjust that innocent people die because of the sins of one man, but there are actually several reasons why this is justified or wise on the part of God. The main point in this case is that David was the king over Israel. The decisions of those who are in authority unavoidably influence those they lead. That is literally their job - to make decisions on behalf of the people. And it is likewise true of anyone in authority, including you or I if we are in a position of leadership, from being a manager at work to being a parent in the home. If the decisions leaders make are good, the people benefit and prosper. But it is necessarily true that their poor decisions cause the people to suffer. The histories laid out in the Bible focus almost entirely on the decisions that the kings of Israel made and how those decisions affected the people. And in this instance, it was all the more fitting to reinforce this principle to the people and the new king, Solomon, who would soon take the seat of power. Even the punishment itself was offered as a choice the king should make between three options, and the king had to choose according to wisdom; something that Solomon became famous for as he asked, right from the beginning of his reign, that God give him wisdom to make the right decisions to lead God’s people.

The decisions of a king, as they related to spirituality, may not have led directly to the physical deaths of the people. But to lead people to disobey and defy God certainly led to their harm spiritually. It is better, then, to have this principle reinforced by seeing the physical harm caused to people for the disobedience of God by the king so that in future generations the spiritual harm caused by such disobedience might be avoided. The fact that 70,000 people died is of little consequence from the perspective of God. We all die eventually, and we must all prepare for death in this life by turning to God. Whether our death occurs today or sixty years from now, death is inevitable. Some 70,000 or more may have died in the warfare that David had planned. But David had chosen the plague when given his choices saying “for God’s mercy is very great” (1 Chronicles 21:13). David knew that there was the potential for God to call short the punishment. When I read the account, 2 Samuel 24 says that it lasted “from the morning until the appointed time” (ie the full three days), and yet it also seems to be that God relents from the final blow which was to take place. The angel of the Lord was said to have his sword drawn, about to destroy Jerusalem, but God had compassion on the people and said “it is enough” and called off the destruction (1 Chronicles 21:15). It is also noteworthy that the story begins with the phrase “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” (2 Samuel 24:1), suggesting that perhaps the people as a whole were culpable of some error. Perhaps they had once again began to worship false gods? And so God’s purpose was to chasten the whole population to some degree from the very beginning anyway. All in all, God’s purpose and His wisdom are seen in that David is brought to repentance and Solomon, his successor, surely learns to seek wisdom from this event, amongst probably other events in the life of his father.

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. Proverbs 28:15

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Should Men be Making Laws About Women's Bodies?

Internet Meme
“Men shouldn't be making laws about women’s bodies” reads the meme. The image has been posted all over Instagram in response to various states in America passing laws, or attempting to pass laws, which limit women’s access to abortion, such as reducing the time frame permitted for abortion to the first sign of a heart beat; around six weeks. But this statement, to me, presented as though it is the pro-choice movement’s best opposing argument, makes the least amount of sense for justifying abortion. In this day and age it seems that every new scientific discovery becomes a justification for some cause, and yet in this case people seem to be forgetting something that science has known for hundreds of years… that a fetus is a separate body from the mother. How are we concerned only for the body of the mother and not for the body of the child? Are we saying that those who desire an abortion are justified in making a decision to destroy an innocent child’s body because of how the presence of that child affects their own body? Of all the reasons one could use to try to justify abortion, this is surely the weakest.

If we turn this into a question, “Should men be making laws about women’s bodies?” and consider this as a question about laws in general, then the answer is clearly yes. We should be making laws that prevent harm to women’s bodies. We should make laws that prevent women’s bodies from being stabbed or shot or beaten, or raped. A law which bans abortion is not so much a law which prevents harm to women’s bodies but rather it prevents the death of children’s bodies. A fetus has its own body, after all. And just as we should indeed make laws to prevent the harm of women’s bodies, we should all the more create laws which prevent the death of children’s bodies.

By making the statement “Men should not make laws about women's bodies” rather than asking the question “Should men make laws about women's bodies?” people are led by their emotions to oppose these laws rather than their intellect to consider them. Not only is it nonsense to assert that we shouldn’t make laws to protect human life, the statement subtly points the finger at men in order to provoke the emotional connotations that the feminist movement lends society. It is equally nonsensical to assume that women aren’t involved in the discussions and proposals of these laws, or that the motivation behind these laws has any kind of chauvinistic basis. The concern is for the children.

Another slogan I have read states “Abortion is a human right!” How so? What makes something a human right? Is it the fact that an Internet meme says it is? What makes something a human right is that people have decided that it is, in much the same way that people have decided that it is legal to have an abortion. And we can challenge what is and isn’t a human right in the same way that we can challenge what should and shouldn’t be legal. But we don’t even need to dig into the technicalities of what human rights are. Let’s just concede that is abortion is, in some way, a human right. We also know that humans have a right to life. And when two human rights conflict, surely the right to life outweighs this right to choose an abortion, no? But what of a woman’s so-called “right” to have an abortion? Am I insensitive to their motives to abort their child? When you consider, as I do, that abortion is the killing of a human being, then it is difficult to see how a woman has the “right” to do this. This right was established on the basis of the right to privacy. Again, the right to life surely outweighs the right to privacy. If someone commits murder the police will search their home for evidence of guilt purely based on suspicion. The right to privacy does not supersede the right to life.

I do not deny that there are difficult cases. Abortion may potentially be justifiable in the case where the delivery of the child has a high probability of killing the mother. And that’s only an example of a hard case; one which doesn’t necessarily have a clear answer. In the majority of cases the answer isn’t so difficult. The inconvenience of being pregnant or the financial burden that raising a child might impose do not justify the death of the child. And we know this to be true because we do not allow the death of the child after the delivery. The fact that there are a few inches of flesh between the child and the outside world shouldn’t justify the death of the child, in the same way as putting a baby in a box and throwing it in a river wouldn't justify its death because “there were a few inches of wood between the baby and the outside world.”

But at this stage in society the resistance towards laws which ban abortion exists not so much because there are valid logical arguments for aborting for whatever private reason, but because by creating these laws or declaring abortion legally as murder, society is saying to all the women who have had abortions in the past, “You committed murder.” No woman wants to be told that or admit that even to herself. At the moment she justifies what she did by saying “Hey, it’s legal. And if it’s legal it must be ok.” And what makes this so much harder is that we now live in a society where the greatest faux pas is to offend somebody. But praise be to God that He is a forgiving God. In Biblical times idol worshipers would offer their children as sacrifices to their idols. And even so, God said to the people, “They shall be my people and I shall be their God.” (Jeremiah 32:33-38) By way of explanation of this passage, sin does not go without punishment, but there is also forgiveness to be found. We, as a society, must learn from history and must change for the better. Even if you reject the Bible, you must see that a society that made it legal to sacrifice your child to an idol had an unjust law. Laws must change when they allow that which should not be allowed.

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

Monday, October 31, 2016

What's Wrong With Psychic Readings?

Thousands of people, every day, go to a psychic or medium to have a psychic reading. These days, on the Internet, you can even get one done without leaving home. The psychic can just email it to you, or send it to your Facebook Inbox, without (supposedly) ever seeing more than your little profile pic. The question is, how do you know that they have received any kind of supernatural insight about you at all? More importantly, do you even care, or are you just ready to believe they have "the gift"? But I’m not going to attempt to debunk psychics and their readings as being fake. What I would rather like to consider is that, even if they’re true, where do they claim to receive these insights and why does that matter?

Invariably the claim is that these insights are received from either the dead or from demons. But if we acknowledge ghosts and demons, then we acknowledge a Spiritual realm, and we know that there was a man who claimed to have all authority over that Spiritual realm. Jesus Christ met many people who were possessed by demons, and those same demons were subject to Him and feared Him. The Bible itself acknowledges the existence of ghosts and demons and their ability to speak to the living, and demonstrates unequivocally that Jesus Christ has authority over them, and not only when He cast them out at a single word. At the same time, He has made it possible for us to approach Him in prayer and to ask Him whatever we desire. Why would we not go to the Man whom we know is greater and who has genuine concern for our well being?

There are a number of answers for why we might not do this. The first, I think, is that Jesus doesn’t give us the answer we want. In fact, Jesus will be quite silent with regard to questions regarding our future. “Will this marriage last forever?” Silence. “Will I die young?” Silence. “Will I have more children?” Silence. What’s wrong with the guy!? He doesn’t answer any of these questions! Is He even there? Does He really even exist? … Or are we asking questions that ought not to be answered? Take that first one, for example. “Will this marriage last forever?” This is the very question that my mother asked a psychic before she became a Christian. And the psychic said, “No, you will be married twice.” From that day forward my mother lived in constant fear of losing her husband. “Don’t go for that drive, you might die!”, “Don’t befriend that woman, you might have an affair!”, or she would tell herself “Don’t let him catch you not looking your best, he might lose interest in you!” She could have gone insane! But thankfully she became a Christian and realized that Christ does indeed have all authority over all things. And that whatever had been said about her future, true or not, was in God’s hands - and that He could even change what might have been. My parents are still together and in their 70’s. And even if my father were to die tomorrow and my mother remarry, the psychic is hardly vindicated since her answer (or that of her demonic source) can still be considered deceptive and destructive. Better to not have had an answer - all it led to was fear and pain. Even the true answers of the demonic sources are only designed to cause us pain. But God, for our good, keeps such knowledge from us. We are admonished, rather, to put our trust and faith in Him - trusting precisely that He knows our future, controls our future, and will be with us to the end, through the good and the bad.

Another reason we might not seek Jesus is that we don’t believe the ghosts and demons are evil. Part of this association comes from film and literature. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to all of these vampire novels which are all “just a bit of fun”, they generally all depict “the demon with a human soul” or “the demon who’s fallen in love and has changed their ways.” But this is all fiction. Of ghosts it’s easy to imagine that, since they were once people like us, they might have compassion on us from the other side and want to help the living. Perhaps you think it’s your actual grandfather who is speaking to you through the medium. Whether we believe we’re talking to a “friendly demon” or to our deceased loved ones, the truth is that what we’d like to believe may not be the reality of it, and we have no way of knowing. For every one who says “But the spirit knows secrets I only ever told grandpa”, I can imagine a scenario where an evil demon is threatening an old ghost to reveal such information “or else”. We really don’t know what’s going on behind the veil. We’re safest sticking with what we do know, and that’s that God forbade the practice of a medium. We need to trust that He had good reason to do so. After all, He sees plainly behind the veil, and we know He has our good in mind. Our faith must be in Him and not in people - living or dead.

You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you*, from your brothers - it is to him you shall listen.
Deuteronomy 18:13-15

*Understood to be a prediction of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:22-23, Acts 7:37)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Are Christians Now Persecuted by the Gay Community?

There is a website called change.org on which people can point out what they perceive to be an injustice or a problem with society, and people are invited to sign a petition to show support for this view. This petition is then sent off to people who may be able to make a change in this area, and bring justice to a situation. In one sense, I love this site, because I can be involved in trying to bring justice into the world, which is something that God explicitly desires of us (Micah 6:8). But then, on the other hand, people claim that there is some injustice or wrong-doing, and I disagree strongly - but there is no place for me to show my opposition. Instead, it seems that no petition ever fails since, on the Internet there are always enough people who see things as you do. So rather than being a win because of a majority vote, it's always a win simply because "enough" people agree with you. And what constitutes "enough" is kind of arbitrary, if you ask me.

But here's the latest case in point. One citizen has complained that a publicly funded high school has said they would not have accepted a certain student had they known about her homosexual parents from the beginning. And to many people, this looks like discrimination, and they want to call this an injustice and have it put up on change.org, calling for changes to be made to the Equal Opportunities Act. However, surely we can just as easily look at this from the opposite direction. This Christian school is rejecting students on this basis in order to make a statement in opposition to homosexuality. That's the reason - it's about the statement that they are making. And so by saying that a Christian school can't make this statement, you are asking this Christian school to deny what makes them Christian. That is, to be Christian is to believe and stand by what the Bible teaches us. It is equal to forcing the Christian to deny their belief in God, or in Jesus Christ, or any other tenet of Christian faith. And in that sense, it can just as logically be called discrimination against Christians.

I don't really understand why we should expect such a demand from a Christian school. You know they're a Christian school, and you know then that this is something that conforms to Christian belief and behavior. Telling the world what God approves and disapproves of is part of what it means to be a Christian, and so they are simply being Christian. Do you expect that they won't talk about Jesus in the classroom as well? Do you expect them to teach that evolution is true? Do you expect them to advocate abortion as an option for women? No; they're a Christian school and they're behaving like one. The school is publicly funded, but that shouldn't make any difference - they're publicly funded to be a Christian school. Where their money comes from doesn't change their nature. If you don't want your child to be taught that homosexuality is wrong, don't go to a Christian school. If you want them to be taught that evolution is true, don't go to a Christian school. Muslims wear burkas, Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusions, and Christians don't approve of homosexuality. Be like the rest of the world and say, "What a bunch of weirdos", (if that's how you feel), and move on. But if you feel like you're being persecuted or discriminated against in this situation because you're gay; honestly, it's like going to Pizza Hut and asking for a Big Mac, and then being horribly offended that they won't serve you one. It's kind of strange that you would expect them to. It's almost like you went in there just to set them up for a dispute.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. ... If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:19-20)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why is Christianity So Offensive?

Many people find Christianity offensive, but if you ask around I believe you'll find that there is no common answer as to what is offensive about it. Some well known people like Richard Dawkins have stated why they find Christianity offensive, and many will simply regurgitate their answers. But in reality, I've heard many and conflicting reasons as to why Christianity is allegedly offensive. And according to the Bible, this is exactly what we should expect to find. In fact, I believe that there has never been a soul alive who was not offended by the Bible. This is because, according to God Himself, our fallen humanity is by nature opposed to God. We will all be offended by the Bible and its teachings, but many of us by the grace of God will be transformed so that our whole perception is changed.

I have spoken to an atheist friend of mine some time ago who said “The thing that upsets me about Christianity is that it’s all too easy! You say ‘I believe in Jesus’ and then, oh goody, you don’t suffer eternity in hell.” So he’s offended that Christianity is “too easy”. And although he’s oversimplified things, his point still stands. Being accepted by God is, in fact, “too easy”, because in reality it should be utterly impossible. No amount of good works is sufficient to merit acceptance from God. So in a sense, the level of difficulty with which God has provided us acceptance with Him is hardly cause for complaint. But then you have people on the exact opposite side of the fence who are offended by Christianity because God seems to have made it too difficult. Why can’t God simply accept us, regardless of how we behave or what we believe? This is what I mean, and what the Bible means, when it says that our fallen nature opposes God. God cannot “win” - either He’s made things too easy or they’re too difficult… people will always find something to be offended by.

Jesus was faced with this constantly. People were offended when John the Baptist led a life of asceticism, and then were offended when Christ ate and drank to the full, with prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors no less. When Jesus visited such people, he didn’t care what people might think because He knew that people would be offended either way; because the problem isn’t what He was doing, it is our opposition to God. Jesus told a parable in which a man hired various men to work in a vineyard, each working a different number of hours, but in the end all were paid the same. The men were offended that the ones who worked longer weren’t paid more, but the owner of the vineyard said (to paraphrase) “What have I done wrong? I’ve only showed generosity.” Likewise, people like my friend are offended by how easy it is to be accepted by God, and how, in a sense, the same reward is given to those who work hard at preaching the gospel, for example, as to those who believe in Christ and only speak of Him to the relatively smaller number of people they come into contact with. And yet it’s just as crazy - to be offended at God’s amazing generosity!? Again, fallen humanity is in opposition to God by its very nature, even if it doesn’t make sense. Similarly, the religious men of Jesus’ time were always upset with Him for healing people on the Sabbath, a day in which no one was supposed to work. And this is, of course, beyond belief. They’re upset because Christ did a good deed. And “good deed” isn’t strong enough an expression… it was a deed greater than anyone else can even do. The problem is not Christianity. The problem is us. We all, by our very nature, oppose God and are offended by Him. How often have I heard people say “I don’t need God, I am fine on my own.” Wait, are these people offended because God wants to help them and have a relationship with them!? This is our fallen nature talking contrary to proper reason.

Several times in the life of Jesus, the religious leaders were so offended by Him they were going to stone Him, and of course in the end they crucified Him. But Jesus said, on one occasion, “I’ve shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered Him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Perhaps the real offense of Christianity is that Christ claimed to be God Himself. This implies that what Jesus taught was of greater authority than any other religion or philosophy. Ultimately, this is the great offense of Christianity, from the person who says “I’m fine without God” to the person who says “Why can’t God simply accept everyone regardless.” Each of these reasons all boil down to the same essential thing... each one is really saying, “There is another ‘way’... there is my way; the way that I think is right.” Ultimately, the offense of the Bible really is that our fallen nature opposes God, in that this nature of ours does not want to submit to God. All people, without exception, are offended by Christianity and the Bible until they are prepared to submit to God. Once you do submit to God, there is no longer anything offensive about Christianity, for who can say to God “you’ve got it wrong”, since the crucial thing about submitting to God in the first place is acknowledging that He created us and has every right to tell us how things ought to be and how we ought to live.

Our fallen, sinful nature prevents us from coming to Christ, because we are offended by Him. But people do come to Christ because Christ Himself changes our very nature. How is it that Christ does this for some and not for others? This is a topic for debate amongst theologians, but for me, I put together passages which say “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32) and “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Hebrews 3:7). So, then, there is some way in which God presents Himself to us all, and some way in which we hear His voice. And maybe that’s different for everyone? This very day I spoke to a man who said that, while jogging, he “felt the presence of God”. Whatever we might want to say about that experience, it was profound enough to have prompted him to ask questions about God and to begin to investigate religion. Whatever the case may be for us personally, we are clearly given the opportunity to open up to God and submit to Him, or to “harden our hearts” as the Bible warns against. This appears to be, in my view, something we can do prior to Christ changing our nature of opposition to Him. That is to say, while in opposition to Him, (and this very much accords with my own experience), we are able to reason and say “Look, God, I don’t like the idea of giving up my sins or changing my beliefs, but… I believe that whatever you might change in me, it will be for my good, because you are all wise. You created me after all, and you know best.” And so that step of faith where, in a sense you’re still in opposition to God, not wanting to change, and yet being prepared to change, even to give up your own identity for whatever God will transform you to be, is possible, (or is made possible by Christ) in all of us, fallen as we may be. And so, given that we are all offered the gift of salvation, what cause for offense can there really be?

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-17)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is Ebola the End of the World?

To be honest, I haven't read any hype saying that Ebola is the end of the world… the fourth horseman of the apocalypse some such? But neither have I been looking for such articles. Still, the thought can't help cross one's mind. The news reports sound just like the introduction to one of those post-apocalyptic, Planet of the Apes style movies. A virus wipes out all of mankind leaving a tiny remnant of a population who happened to be immune or some such. Or maybe the virus was let loose by the Illuminati as they plot to destroy all of mankind, save the super elite who will have exclusive access to the antidote, which they already have? Like I said, I haven't been reading the theories, but I'm guessing there are some out there that go something along these lines. Well, I not prepared to stand up and say "The end of the world is at hand!" but I do want to say that an end is coming, and whether this is it I don't know. What I do know is that whether it comes now or hundreds of years from now, an end is coming and we must all be ready. When a crisis such as this arises, there is no shortage of people who will say "This is the end of the world!" But that just proves the point that a crisis like this reminds us of how feeble our existence is, and the fact that Man has survived so many of these close calls is testimony to the fact that there is a God who is in control of all things.

The Book of Proverbs, which epitomizes God's wisdom, says:

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Proverbs 22:3)

Throughout the Bible, God presents to us the danger over and over again; that is, the theme of a judgement to come, and we can either be prudent and wise, or "simple" as in the proverb. Noah believed God's warning and so built an ark to hide in (Hebrews 11:7). And when the angels came to Lot, living in Sodom, they warned the whole family. But his soon-to-be sons in law scoffed at the news. They perished when the hailstones fell. The warning of danger came to these people, and each one had a different response. Similarly Jesus warned us:

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30)

We don't even have to get caught up in technical matters of a Great Tribulation and the Rapture. All we need to notice here is that a future end is still to come, and we can have the response that has proven to fail from these two examples of Noah and Lot (which are only two of many), or we can have the response of faith which, like the faith of Noah and Lot, saved them.

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. The wisdom of this statement is evident to anyone, but the problem for many is that they don't see the danger. They don't see it because they don't believe Jesus. Is Ebola the end of the world? I don't know. But we've been through world wars and we're still here, nuclear missile crises and we're still here, environmental disasters and we're still here. But how foolish it is to think that we survived these things because we are invincible? Any of these could have been our end. How close to destruction do we have to get before we'll take God's warning seriously? My fear is that when the Ebola virus is contained, people will say to themselves "Hooray for mankind! We're so clever that nothing can defeat us!" And they'll forget that all of mankind could have suffered an "end of the world" devastation. They'll forget that the reason they Googled "Is Ebola the end of the world?" is precisely because at one point they started to wonder... maybe the Bible's warnings are true? Whether Ebola is the end of humanity or not, it should indeed remind us that our very existence rests solely in God's hands - we are powerless to circumvent His will. And we should realize that God is not about making idle threats but even Ebola is a serious warning from God. Whether it is, in fact, a plot by some secret organization, we are powerless to stop it. If it is the angel of death, like in the days of King David's census, we are powerless stop it. Powerless, that is, unless we repent.

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. In this sense, the prudent sees the danger because they believe God's Word. If you don't believe God's Word you won't believe that the Ebola danger is in God's hands, but rather in the hands of scientists in a lab. No wonder the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But repentance, which is evidence of belief in God's Word, can save us. There is something we can do to "hide ourselves" from the danger. When Nineveh repented, God spared Nineveh. When Josiah humbled himself, God delayed the captivity. And God says explicitly:

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. (Jeremiah 18:7-8)

True repentance is not just turning away from the evil deeds themselves, but away from the very heart of evil; and that necessarily means subjecting one's self to God. An atheist will say "I'm moral", but but by what standard is he moral? His own. And he can define morality any which way it suits him. No, believing that there is an end for those who harden their hearts toward God, you must also submit yourself to God. Sodom and Gomorrah is explicitly called an example of what is to come, as we have seen, yet Jesus said "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day." (Matthew 11:23) In context, the implication is that they would have remained because they would have repented. If Sodom is a forewarning of what could happen to us, then so is the message that if we would repent we might be spared.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25)

For he will hide me in his shelter 
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
(Psalms 27:5)