God Gets All The Blame


I hear it all the time, even from those who say they don’t believe in God: people die and suffer; there are wars and sickness and way too much cruelty and pain. And it’s God’s fault. Even Christians are bent on reserving the right to be mad at God, because if something goes wrong, well, it has to be His fault.

Really?

Seems to me, God told Adam and Eve not to eat from that one specific tree. You could almost say, that one insignificant tree, because they could eat from all the others at their disposal. All the ones that would give life, that would provide nourishment, that would NOT lead to death.

In addition, God did not hide the consequences from them: Don’t do this, because it will result in that. Sort of like saying, Don’t touch this live wire because it will result in your death. Or, don’t smoke this because it will result in cancer. Or, don’t drink rat poison because it will kill you.

Like that.

Eve allows herself to be tricked. The method Satan-in-snake-guise used was to make her question if she got the facts right: did God really say you’d die? Oh, surely not!

Adam was the one God had given the command to, so he knew exactly what God said, and he just flat out went for the poison, touched the live wire, smoked the cancer stick.

And then he blamed God. Well, indirectly. First he blamed Eve. And remember, God, You gave her to me. Hint, hint: it was Your fault.

Except it was their fault. God had made them in His image, so they had free choice. They were not robots. God could have made robots, but then we would not have been in His image. He determined that creating choosing people was better than creating robots.

So is God responsible for the choices we humans make? Especially when He spells out what the consequences of those choices will be? I don’t see it.

One of the principals who was my boss during a stretch of my teaching career, required each teacher to reduce our classroom rules to five. We were to list them and post them in the room, along with the consequences for breaking them.

One of mine was to turn in homework on time. The consequence for not doing so was a negative mark against the student’s grade. So for the students who received the lower grade because they didn’t turn in their homework [barring some unforeseen circumstances], who was responsible? The principal for requiring the rules and consequences? Me, for determining that doing homework should affect grades?

Blaming God for the suffering we humans bring on ourselves is no different.

And we do bring on our own suffering because we have Adam’s sin nature. We endure the consequences he walked into because our nature is just like his nature. He was made in the image of God, and then he sinned. We are made with Adam’s nature, meaning that we have God’s imprint on us, but we have Adam’s same fatal flaw.

Adam didn’t come into the world with a fatal flaw. We do.

How can you have a perfect society when it is made up of people with fatal flaws? And how is a broken society, God’s fault?

God’s image which we still bear, allows us to do amazing things and dream great dreams. It means we can be kind and thoughtful and generous and patient. Adam’s fatal flaw means we can be rebellious and selfish and cruel and dishonest.

The suffering we experience doesn’t result from the things God gave us. Suffering is a result of the things Adam passed on.

And the consequence is just what God said it would be. That He told us what would come out of rebellion does not mean that God is at fault for our rebellion.

In some ways, when Christians blame God it’s even worse. We know that God loves us, that He rescued us from the dominion of darkness, that He wants us to be like His Son, that He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us. And still so many play the blame game. God, why didn’t You . . . You should have done things my way.

I suspect part of the problem is that many Christians who know the Scripture that tells us God causes all things to work together for our good, become disappointed because we want to define good. Instead, God tells us what He means: “And those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…”

Sometimes, in the conforming process we don’t get what we want. If we always ate candy for breakfast, we wouldn’t be healthy. God wants us to be healthy, spiritually, and He will feed us accordingly.

It’s not appropriate for a child whose parent says, No candy for breakfast, to stamp her foot and scream, I hate you. The parent has the good of the child at heart,

This past fall I watched a parent take her daughter to get a flu shot. The child cried and said No over and over. But the parent insisted. Not because she hated her daughter. Just the opposite. She loved her daughter, and although the little girl would experience a brief sense of pain, the long term benefits were worth going through the suffering. The mom knew this. The daughter needed to trust that her mom was right.

That’s really where we all are. We need to put our hand in the hand of the only One who knows what’s best for us and walk with Him, even when we don’t see the good that will come from the pain.

Advertisements
Published in: on March 7, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Purpose—A Reprise


What is the purpose of life? Not just any life, but the life of a human being. Christians schooled in the Westminster Shorter Catechism will immediately answer that “the chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

It’s hard to refute that statement, for surely all of creation is to glorify God and at some point in the future “every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-10).

The problem I’m having with this concept is this: why didn’t God tell Adam and Eve their purpose was to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever? And when Jesus came, why didn’t He correct any wrong thinking and state what His followers’ purpose should be? Then when Jesus left earth, why didn’t the Holy Spirit set them on the right path and give them their ultimate purpose?

In other words, this idea that Humankind has been given the central purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever seems to me to be something humans have cobbled together from various scriptures. By the way, the purpose the Westminster Catechism gives humans seems to me to be fulfilled by the angelic host. Are we to duplicate what they have been given to do?

According to Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve a completely different directive:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

First, God made humans His image bearers. Second, He told them to multiply. And third, He gave them dominion over the earth and the rest of life on the earth. God never rescinded his commands to Adam. Therefore, I submit, these are the purposes of Humankind.

Because Humankind introduced sin into the world, Adam’s original purpose was subverted, but not eliminated. Humans are still to multiply. I don’t think that command was ever about filling the world with more bodies, however. Without a sin nature, a child born before sin would have had the same relationship with God that Adam and Eve had. They could have communed with Him in transparent intimacy. They could have represented God to the rest of creation by administering just and merciful dominion over all of life. In other words, God wanted more people carrying out His work in the world, and it was up to Adam and Eve to multiply.

In many respects, the Church, God’s redeemed and reconciled people, have been recommissioned to accomplish what Adam and Eve failed to do.

We are to represent Christ to the world. Paul terms this as being ambassadors:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20a)

We are also to multiply.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Matt. 28:18-20a).

I recently read that Christians are not primarily to engage in a “pyramid scheme” of evangelism. That term, of course, has negative connotations because those participating had to put in money with the hope of getting a greater return in the end. This goal can only be accomplished by bringing as many other members into the scheme as possible.

Of course Christians aren’t to be engaged in disciple-making with some ulterior goal or with some sort of works-based reward system in mind. We shouldn’t be trying to notch our belt to signify another redeemed scalp.

But trumpeting the good news, playing the part of ambassadors, teaching others who can then turn around a teach others, is precisely what Christians are called to do.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2)

As I see it, because of sin, we are now on a rescue mission. Our chief end, just as it was Adam’s chief end, is to obey God–which Jesus says we’ll do if we love Him–and His primary commands haven’t change, though the scope of them has. Now we are to be image bearers to the rest of creation, including people who do not know the Son. In the process, we are participating in the multiplication of His people:

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29 – emphasis mine).

Throughout the New Testament there’s a discussion of “bearing fruit.” Primarily those references deal with one of two things–good works or people. In one parable, for example, Jesus admonishes His disciples to go out into the harvest because the fields are ripe. Then in the epistles, Paul talks about obtaining fruit among the Gentiles. Elsewhere he talks about some Christians planting, others watering, but God giving the increase–or bringing to fruition their work.

I suggest God receives glory when what He made works the way He intended it to work. The heavens, for example, declare His glory. How so? By the fact of their existence because what He made originally was good.

Because of the sin nature in Humankind, however, we do not glorify Him merely by our existence. We are not the perfect image bearers He originally made. We are flawed, which is the very thing Christ came to take care of. His work allows us to return to our work.

Yes, I happen to believe God will receive glory because of our doing what He made us to do. In other words, I believe that when we fulfill our chief end we will glorify Him. I also believe that when we fulfill our chief end, we will enjoy Him and that enjoyment will be without end.

Consequently, when we fulfill our purpose, we will bring about the things the Westminster Catechism declares to be the chief end of man. I just happen to think the men who put that doctrinal statement together put the wrong question to the answer. They should have asked, “What will result when Man fulfills his chief end?” Then the answer, “They will glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” works very well.

This post first appeared here in September 2013.

Satan – Is He Real?


wolf_on_alertIn discussing God with other people, I continue to come up against views about Him that contradict how He has revealed Himself. Where do those come from? After all, if I tell you about myself, you have no particular reason to think I’m distorting the truth. If I tell you I live in Southern California, I doubt if those visiting this blog automatically think, HA! a likely story! I suspect most people believe what I say about myself until I give them reason to believe otherwise.

So too with God … I would think. But a study of history shows this is not the case. From the earliest moments, there in Eden, Eve, when given a choice to believe God or not, opted for Not. Why?

Quite simply, a second source introduced a contradictory view, and Eve had to choose what to believe. One statement was true, the other false. One statement came from God, the other from a beautiful creature that told her what she wanted to hear.

Well, that last part is my interpretation. It seems to me that a good deal of temptation feeds into what a person would like to be true, with disregard to what actually is true.

So in Eve’s case, the beautiful creature before her asked for verification that God had put a restriction on what Adam and Eve could eat in the garden. Eve answered that they could eat from all the trees except for one, and that God said they would die if they ate from that tree.

The beautiful creature’s response? “You surely shall not die.” Essentially he promised her she could eat her cake and not suffer any consequences, although God had said just the opposite.

I suppose in part you’d have to say I’m taking God’s word for the fact that this beautiful creature, elsewhere described as an angel of light and the tempter and a roaring lion and a dragon, the serpent of old, really exists. The thing is, the truth of his existence explains a lot. Sure, the presence of sin in the fabric of Mankind’s nature also accounts for evil in the world, but the unanswered part of the equation is, How did the creation God made good, become tainted by evil?

I don’t know how atheists account for evil, or for good, for that matter. I mean, apart from believing in a moral right and wrong, behavior just is. No one judges an eagle for swooping down and gobbling up a field mouse. No one faults a shark for going after the nearest seal.

But clearly we humans believe in wrong.

Some years ago when the Lakers won an NBA championship, “fans” took to the street, looted a store, started fires, threw things at passing buses. Most of us shook our heads and said, That is so wrong.

CEOs run their institutions into bankruptcy but take for themselves million dollar bonuses, and most of us say, That is so wrong.

A state governor tries to sell an important appointment to the highest bidder, and most of us say, That is so wrong.

So evil is here, in this world and in the human heart. Its presence confirms a source. The Bible points to Satan as the source.

Oh, yes, the Bible also identifies Satan as a liar and the father of lies. So the lie he told about Adam and Eve not dying … well, it was true to his nature, but it certainly was not true. Humans have died ever since.

Is Satan real? I suggest death proves he is. I suggest the fact that people tell lies, proves he’s real. I suggest the fact that any number of people question God’s existence, proves Satan is real.

Because, you see, he loves to delude people.

He also doesn’t want us to see he is behind the curtain pulling the strings. That’s why he appears as what he is not. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, for instance. A talking animal, for another.

Jesus had a face to face encounter with Satan, and the old liar even co-opted Scripture to try to use against the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus rebuked him and he backed off, but the encounter is another piece of evidence that Satan is real.

Satan is a rebel on top of everything else, and he does what he can to undermine and erode God’s plan and purpose. Death is his tool, but he also tries to accuse God’s people before the throne of grace.

Jesus answers every charge on our account.

But the war rages on. That’s why Paul tells us in Ephesians to put on the armor of God. We don’t war against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers—Satan and his followers.

If Satan weren’t real, wouldn’t God’s will reign on earth, here and now? Who could oppose the power of God’s Spirit?

Not that Satan is winning, though he undoubtedly wants to give that impression. But there simply would not be a fight. For His own righteous purposes, God allows Satan latitude here on earth. He can test and tempt and oppress and possess. He can manipulate events and people and even nature to do his bidding—all allowed by our sovereign God.

God created, Satan seeks to destroy. God breathed life into the humans He brought into being; Satan looks to kill and steal and destroy.

Yes, Satan is real, an adversary not to be taken lightly, but also one not to be feared because greater is He who is in you, Christian, than he who is in the world.

This post is an expanded and edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2009.

Published in: on February 1, 2017 at 5:14 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Good Men Don’t Need A Savior


church2Easter, which is the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is just ahead. Historically people who rarely go to church will make the effort to attend this coming Sunday. Many will hear Scripture read and sermons preached, all illuminating Jesus, alive from the dead.

Some smaller number will tie the resurrection to Jesus’s mission on earth—His sacrifice, His shouldering the burden of sin and dying that those who believe on His name might be saved.

The problem is, in western culture, most people don’t think they need to be saved. Trapped miners need to be saved. Kidnap victims need to be saved. Hostages in a botched bank holdup need to be saved.Puppies that fall into sewer pipes need to be saved. But the average, everyday person, living his life—going to work, coming home, watching a preseason baseball game on TV, having dinner, helping the kids with homework, turning in after the Late Show—the average, everyday person doesn’t need a savior, does he?

Actually, he does.

Because of the nature of time—a second ticking off without us really being aware of it, and us growing older without feeling all that different, until one day we start seeing the gray hair and feeling the stiff joints—because of the invisible eating away of our lives, we don’t realize we are in need of rescue.

Death is winning, though we try to ignore it or pretend it isn’t so. The irrevocable truth remains the same as the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God: the wages of sin is death.

Unless we’re rescued.

But who could save us from the certainty of death? How about Someone who already went through it and came out the other side with a new, glorified body?

Jesus, the resurrected Son of God can save us! Not from physical death—that’s a consequence that remains in place—but from spiritual death. From the grip of sin. From the strictures of the Law. From the accusations of guilt.

He can save us not only from, but to: to the hope of heaven, to a new and glorified body like Jesus’s, to life everlasting without the sadness and sighing we experience here and now.

There’s just one problem. Good men don’t qualify for rescue. Jesus came to rescue sinners.

The real problem, of course, is that there is no such person as a good man. Or a good woman. We are all sinners, but not everyone recognizes that fact. Some admit that they don’t do everything they should or that they did things they should have avoided. Their answer, though, it to simply try harder.

They determine, for example, to learn from their mistakes. And to make up for them. They might decide to donate money to a good cause or volunteer at a community center or even at a church. The problem is, good things cannot wipe out the immoral acts or wrong doing of our past. Or of our future.

The truth is, we were made for relationship—with God and with others. But sin bent that purpose. After they sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. When He confronted them, Adam blamed Eve, and indirectly blamed God for giving her to him. Eve blamed the serpent.

What they didn’t do was fall on their face and say, I’ve sinned in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your child. They blamed and excused and tried to come off as if they were the injured party, not the one who was wrong.

Not much has changed. Come Sunday, I suspect a good many of the once-a-year churchgoers will walk to their cars after the service still wiggling and squirming out of the clear fact that they are sinners, not good men or good women. Who knows but a good many of the regular attenders will do the same thing. After all, they go to church every Sunday! That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

Well, no, actually it doesn’t. The good that we do can’t undo the wrong. Adam and Eve could have worked all day in the garden to cultivate it—a good thing. They’d be taking care of their environment. Oh, but wait. That’s the job God gave them to do.

But Eve could have accepted Adam’s authority and he could have loved her and clung to her and . . . and that’s also what God had told them to do. Every good thing was already normative behavior. There is no good thing that is above and beyond that can make up for a failing.

And of course we now have our sin nature to deal with as well, so the Bible now categorizes our righteousness, the rightness of our lives morally, as nothing but despicably filthy rags.

So we are left with two choices: confession or continued cover up. We can stop pretending that we’ll ever balance our wrongdoing with our good behavior, admit that we are sinners, and that we need a Savior. Or we can continue to try what has not worked in the past or pretend that the wrong we do isn’t really wrong at all. It’s society or our parents or our spouse or the police or the government or the church or . . . or . . . anybody but me, because I’m good and I don’t need a savior.

The sad thing is, God gives them what they want. They don’t want a savior, then they won’t have a savior. He’s not going to force anyone into His kingdom. He’s all about rescuing those who want out of the kingdom of darkness. Those who sit in the dark and call it light, who look at their evil thoughts and intentions and selfish, prideful actions and say, I’m good—well, there’s no rescue for them.

Published in: on March 22, 2016 at 7:04 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Work And The Weekend


Adam_and_Eve019In many regards, western culture is hedonistic. It’s all about pleasure, whatever makes me happy. Consequently there’s a running joke, that isn’t really a joke, about how horrible Monday is, how Tuesday is snooze day because it’s, well, not as hateful as Monday but still too far away from the weekend. Then comes hump day, which means, the hard part is over and we’re on the home stretch to day four, then finally to Friday. And THE WEEKEND!!

Of course the weekend is special because for two days we don’t have to go to work! We get to do whatever we want. We get to be who we really are—hedonists.

Sadly, many Christians have adopted this same view of life—the week is to be tolerated so we can get to the weekend and do what we want. In other words, work is simply there to finance the weekend.

It’s a bleak way of looking at life!

For one thing, the weekend is short. It’s not even thirty percent of our week. So that means seventy percent of our time revolves around something we’re trying to endure rather than embrace.

But more importantly, this hedonistic way of looking at life is purposeless. After the parties or the drinking or the carousing, after the games, the dinners, the movies, what do we have? How have we made a difference in the world? What have we achieved? What have we improved?

This “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” approach to weekend living means that we will pass into eternity as if we have no significance other than to work so we can play. It’s a contradiction of God’s intention for us.

If all we can say about the weekend was, I had fun, then our approach is also selfish.

And I say “we” because this view of work and the weekend has largely been adopted by Christians as well as the secularists of our society. We don’t seem to be different in our approach to work than the atheist down the block.

But shouldn’t Christians have a different view of work? God created a perfect world and put humans, who He called “good,” into that world, then gave instructions. First up was to care for, to cultivate the garden which was their home.

Granted, from what God said after Adam and Eve fell into sin, the work involved in cultivating nature was much harder than it had been. Nevertheless, Adam had a specific, God-given responsibility that required his time, attention, and expertise. He had a job. And it seems it was a big job, involving the animals as well as the care of the plants.

Clearly, work was part of God’s perfect created order. The big picture is that God gave Adam the responsibility of representing Him to the rest of creation. So it was a lot more than trimming and harvesting and naming.

That job was God-centric, productive, purposeful, other-oriented.

All that to say, I think Christians need to recapture this view of work. For one thing, God has blessed us with jobs. I know in the past I lost sight of that fact. After all, I was the one with the qualifications, the one who interviewed, was hired, planned, prepared, got up every morning, and worked through the day to earn my pay check.

Yes. And no. God opened doors, prompted people to hire me, enabled me to get the education I got, gave me the ability to understand, to know what I needed to do, and the strength to do it. My pay check was God’s provision through the job God provided.

If we grasp the fact that God is the provider, then it frees us to look at our work differently—not as a profession that enslaves us (because how else will we pay for the mortgage and all the rest?), but as an opportunity to represent Christ to those toiling around us.

I can’t help but wonder how different our witness would be if we got up on Monday morning and said, Thank God I have a job? And, How can I serve You at work today?

Wouldn’t that attitude be noticeable, something radically different from how other people approach the work week?

And what about the weekend? I think rest and recreation have a place in our lives. God built us to enjoy—starting with enjoying Him. I think we may have forgotten that, what with all the angst so many have expressed over the demise of the Church in western society.

We’re so busy trying to make “church” relevant to Millennials and Gen Xers and Ys, that we may have forgotten the Church is God’s. It already is relevant. We simply have to remember that Christ is our head, Christ is the reason we come together, Christ is the center of what we do, Christ is the One we should focus our attention on.

The home is God’s too. So what happens on the weekend that causes dads and moms and kids to come together or to bless each other as they dive into some community (friends, school, what have you) activity, is something to celebrate. But not as if those times are more important than the time at work.

In reality, they are one and the same—different fields, but the same mission: to serve God, obey Him, love Him, represent Him to those around us.

Published in: on January 30, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 1


csffbannerThe CSFF May/June feature is Dream Treaders, a “tweener” book (between middle grade and young adult) by Wayne Thomas Batson. I’ve been trying to think how I can describe this book or what topics it brings to mind about which I could post. The truth is, the premise behind this novel seems quite unique, and the thoughts it inspires aren’t necessarily reflective of the book.

The closest thing I’ve read to this kind of story is Soul’s Gate by James Rubert, but again that comparison could be misleading. On the other hand, what Dream Treaders makes me think of is spiritual warfare, but it’s not an angel-versus-demon book.

So what is Dream Treaders about? I guess you’d say, it’s a fight for the mind, but not in the traditional sense. Not that Soul’s Gate is a traditional fight for the mind either, but Dream Treader isn’t the fight for the mind, one person at a time. It’s got a greater scope, I guess you’d say.

But I’ll give my review later in the blog tour.

For today, I’d like to think a bit more about this issue of fighting for the mind. In reality, I think the fight for the mind is the real spiritual warfare. Yes, there might be demons and angels involved—Daniel learned that demonic activity interfered with a timely answer to his prayer, so there is spiritual battle going on in the heavenlies, including activity that affects humans. However, that kind of warfare is not something most of us observe. Elijah apparently did, but he’s the exception.

The battles that we can and should be aware of are those for our mind and heart. Eve, when Satan confronted her in the guise of a serpent, was in a spiritual battle. At stake was what she would believe about reality—God’s version (if you eat of the tree, you’ll die) or Satan’s version (you surely shall not die).

Of course there’s also the matter of the heart—not just what I believe to be true but what I care about most. This, I tend to think, was the issue Adam faced. He knew what God had said. Satan was not fooling him in the least. But he still chose to eat from that tree. Why would he do such a thing?

Might it have been because he loved Eve so much he couldn’t imagine living if she had to die? If that were the case, he was essentially loving Eve more than he loved God. He was also doubting God’s ability or willingness to care for him. Unlike Abraham generations later, Adam couldn’t imagine a way that God could make this situation better. He couldn’t grasp the idea that God could redeem Eve and restore her to Adam.

Of course there’s also the possibility Adam wasn’t choosing Eve over God. He might have been choosing his own curiosity over God—perhaps he did, in fact, want see what it would be like to taste the forbidden fruit. Or perhaps he wasn’t content any more to be so compliant. Maybe he decided he did want to be more like God than he already was.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that Adam knowingly chose to disregard God’s clear direction because something else mattered to him more than God did.

The battle Adam and Eve waged with Satan is essentially the battle we all have had to wage ever since—every day, every hour, every minute: Will I believe what God has said and will I choose to do what I know He wants?

To some degree this is the battle that’s being played out in Dream Treaders, both in the contemporary world and in the Dream. Wayne Batson, of course, never points to this parallel. Rather, readers are left to think through the issues themselves. And that’s as it should be.

See what other participants in the tour are saying about the book, the story, and the meaning behind it. (Because I’ve been having computer issues, I may or may not be able to post specific article updates.)

When Did God Stop Talking To People?


Abraham005God talked with Adam personally and directly. With Eve too. Not just before they sinned, but afterwards when He was handing down their punishment and then when He made garments for them.

He talked to Cain, too—first when he presented an unacceptable sacrifice to God, then after he killed his brother and when He “appointed him a sign so that no one would slay him.” Regardless, Cain “went out from the presence of the Lord.”

God was still talking to other people, though, and after Seth gave birth to his son, “Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD.” Men began to pray? To ask God for what they needed? Had something changed that required them to ask? Had God initiated the conversation up to this point, but now Humankind felt the need to do so? Why?

In some ways, this is a moot point because we know from Scripture, society moved further and further from God. Eventually Noah alone found favor in God’s sight. He was blameless, righteous, and “walked with God.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to extrapolate from that that God and Noah talked with one another.

Certainly God talked to Noah when He gave Him the explicit instructions involved with building the ark. And bringing in the animals. And his family.

After the flood, God continued to talk with Noah, telling him when to come out onto dry land, giving His promise never to flood the earth and destroy humankind in that way again.

Further, He repeated the first command He’d given to Adam and Eve, this time to Noah and to his sons: Be fruitful and multiply. He also told them the animal kingdom would fear them from that point on, He gave them animals for food, and He prohibited killing humans.

When Noah died, 350 years later, the world was a different place, with various people groups, located in different areas and speaking different languages. Six generations from Noah, the earth was divided, which I take to mean, the continents were formed.

And where was God during this time?

For one, He confused the people’s speech which caused them to develop different languages, and He dispersed them on the earth.

Why would He do that? Apparently because in concert they were acting for themselves and not for God’s glory:

They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.

The next interaction between God and humanity that Scripture records is God’s call to Abram, who we know as Abraham:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

In all this, I don’t see God pulling back or being silent. In addition, the people who were dispersed throughout the earth were all descendants of Noah’s sons who were party to that covenant God made after the flood.

It seems disparate cultures retain a flood story as part of their mythology, a logical outcome if those three young men passed on to their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren what they’d experienced. And if those great-grandchildren told their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the story would be preserved in some form or other.

The Biblical account, of course, has the advantage of being inspired by the Holy Spirit.

But here’s my question. What did all these different generations say about God? They told the flood story, but what did they tell their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren about God?

Were they angry with Him for confounding their language and dispersing them throughout the earth? Did they ignore Him so that their iniquities caused a separation between them and their God and their sins hid His face from them so that He did not hear when they called to Him?

Did He do what Romans 1 says—give them over to the lusts of their hearts?

We talk today about general revelation—the evidence of God in what He has made. Paul was clear:

That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

I believe in this general revelation, but what seems abundantly clear to me is that God first gave “special revelation”—His specific disclosure to those who would listen.

Cain didn’t listen, going so far as to leave God’s presence. The people who tried to elevate themselves by building a tower that reached to the heavens apparently didn’t listen to God, so He removed them from His presence.

But Abram, He talked to. Abram heard Him and believed Him and obeyed Him. Makes me think the question is wrong. God never stopped talking to people. Instead, why did people stop listening to God?

Published in: on May 6, 2014 at 7:36 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,

Sex And The Bible


Samson004I’m not sure where the idea has come from that Christians are prudish as opposed to moral. I don’t see the two meaning the same thing, and neither does the New Oxford American Dictionary. But what about the Bible? Is it prudish?

Not quite. No sooner does the writer of Genesis recount the creation of Adam and Eve but he reports, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Some people unfamiliar with the Bible have the strange idea that the first sin had to do with sex. I think that myth is reflective of a sex-crazed society, because it has nothing to do with reality.

Sex was part of creation which God declared to be good. In addition, His first command, even before “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Translated, that means, Have sex with your wife and have kids.

After Man sinned and God removed humans from the garden, sex remained as much a part of the historical record as any other human activity. In Genesis 4, for example, the Bible notes that Lamech took two wives—presumably the first to have bigamist relationships.

After the flood, when Noah and his family landed on dry land, the Bible notes that Ham, his youngest son, “saw the nakedness of his father” while Noah, drunk from wine, was passed out. Something happened, clearly, because when Ham’s brothers learned what he’d done, they “covered the nakedness of their father.” Noah awoke and “knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

Not a clear picture of what kinky thing happened in this family, but the event is not omitted either. Neither are the homosexual desires of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to rape Lot and the two angels who had come to take him out of the city.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from revealing Sarah’s attempt to “help God out” with the son He’d promised Abraham by giving her husband Hagar, her servant, as a mistress, since she herself was beyond child-bearing years.

Then there’s Jacob and the trickery of Laban which put Leah in the wedding tent the night Jacob thought he was having sex with Rachel. A week later, after completing his sexual obligation to his first wife, he then married the woman he loved. But throughout the years, Jacob’s sex life is about as open as . . . oh, say, David’s.

First, though he loved Rachel, he continued to sleep with Leah, as evidenced by the four sons she birthed. Rachel, on the other hand, was barren, and demanded Jacob give her sons. He responded by saying, Am I God who has closed your womb? Notice, he didn’t say, OK, I’ll move back in with you. Apparently, Rachel’s barrenness was not due to a lack of sex between her and her husband.

Rachel’s jealousy led her to give Jacob her servant as a mistress. He didn’t object and had two sons by that woman. Leah didn’t want Rachel to get ahead of her, so she gave Jacob her servant as mistress. In the course of time she delivered two sons as well.

But Jacob still loved Rachel and apparently was now living with her exclusively. Except one day Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes one of her sons had found in the field. Leah ended up agreeing . . . if she could sleep with Jacob that night.

And Leah once more got pregnant. And again. And again.

But at some point Jacob went back to Rachel because God opened her womb, and she gave birth to a son named Joseph.

Joseph—this would be the boy whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he fended off the advances of his master’s wife and landed in jail because of it. Let me be clear. This was not some mild flirtation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph day after day and said, Lie with me.

Then there’s Joseph’s brother Judah, whose daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her (he thought she was a prostitute—so much more upright!)—and had twins by him.

Should I go on to the gang rape and murder Judges records or the mass kidnapping of women the Israelite leaders engineered so the men of Benjamin would have wives. Then there are Samson’s exploits with various women and David’s adultery.

I’m sorry. If someone thinks Christians are prudish it’s because a) they don’t know what’s in the Bible; or b) they’re talking about professing Christians who don’t read the Bible and are formulating their attitudes about sex from some other place.

Because, yes, many of the examples I mentioned above are not what we’d call ideal examples of a sexual relationship. But that’s part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about sex or any other topic. Jesus Himself had some clear instruction about lust, and He didn’t shy away from telling the Samaritan woman precisely what her marital status was (You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t your husband).

He didn’t camp on her sexual failings, however. He didn’t tell her to marry the man she was living with and then come back to see Him. But He also didn’t hesitate to tell the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should sin no more.

Prudish? The Bible is not prudish. People who read the Bible will see the good, the beautiful, the disturbing, the vile within its pages. A Christian who pays attention to what God says about sex through the lives and decrees and admonitions in Scripture can hardly have a prudish attitude toward sex.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex, but it also never presents sex as mankind’s problem. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

Published in: on May 1, 2014 at 6:32 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I Ran A Red Light


stoplights at twilightA month ago I ran a red light. Generally running a red light is not something a person does intentionally, but in my case, and to my shame, I knew exactly what I was doing.

I’d met a group of friends for dinner, and we were carpooling to another location, following the one who knew the area best. I was the third car down the line. Our leader came to a red light at a T intersection on a stretch of road that seemed quite deserted. She stopped but, with only the slightest hesitation, proceeded to accelerate through the intersection.

What? I thought. She just ran a red light!

The driver in front of me pulled up, looked for oncoming traffic–and there still were no cars in sight apart from another stopped car in the lane next to ours. Driver number two accelerated through the intersection.

By this time, I’m beside myself. What am I supposed to do? The lead car is quickly distancing itself from me, and the driver of the vehicle behind me–also a part of our caravan–might well be growing anxious about the separation. I pretty much know the way to our destination, so does it really matter if I lose track of the lead car?

On the other hand, this light is red, and there is NO traffic, except for us suckers sitting there waiting for it to turn. What if the light is broken? That’s probably it! My friend who arrived at the light first and who knows this area probably came this way earlier and realized the light is broken. It must be broken.

And I accelerated through the intersection.

But what would the car behind me do? Would that friend run the red light too? I glanced in my rear view mirror. Sure enough, with a moment’s hesitation, she sped to catch up–just as the light turned green.

Further down the block, the first two cars in our caravan were pulled over to the right waiting for the lost half of our group. We reconvened our line and off we went

When we all reached our destination, the lead driver asked, What happened to you? We thought we lost you.

I was sitting at the red light trying to decide if I should follow or wait for it to turn green, I explained.

What red light? she asked.

What red light? the driver of the second car said.

Uh, the light you both blew through.

Neither one of them had noticed that they were at a light. Perhaps because the road was so deserted or because of the T configuration of the intersection, they reacted as if they were at a stop sign.

But I knew I was running a red light.

And suddenly I felt as Adam may have felt.

Eve was deceived and ate the fruit God had warned against. Adam ate and knew what he was doing.

In the same way, I ran the red light, not because I was deceived, but because I didn’t want to be separated from my friends. I didn’t want to lose sight of the drivers ahead of me, and I didn’t want the driver behind me to be irritated with me for not following.

How much more would Adam have determined he didn’t want to be separated from Eve? He already knew there was no other suitable partner for him. And he knew God had fashioned Eve especially for him. How could he lose her now?

I wonder what justification he gave himself? Was he already formulating the “God made her and gave her to me, so He can’t fault me for doing what I need to do to stay with her” argument?

It’s impossible to know the particulars of his thought process. But I know from my own experience I felt in a clear way, the pressure to stay with the group even if it meant running a red light. I can only imagine how much more pressure Adam felt.

I wish I could say I chose obedience instead of conformity, but I didn’t. I responded no differently than Adam did. Which puts to death the argument that it’s preposterous for all Humankind to suffer because one guy slipped up.

I have no doubt that I would have eaten if I was in that garden and some other deceived person–my own Adam perhaps, or my good friends Adam and Eve–had taken a bite and handed fruit to me.

Published in: on October 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

Purpose


Adam_and_Eve019What is the purpose of life? Not just any life, but the life of a human being. Christians schooled in the Westminster Shorter Catechism will immediately answer that “the chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

It’s hard to refute that statement, for surely all of creation is to glorify God and at some point in the future “every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-10).

The problem I’m having with this concept is this: why didn’t God tell Adam and Eve their purpose was to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever? And when Jesus came, why didn’t He correct any wrong thinking and state what His followers’ purpose should be? Then when Jesus left earth, why didn’t the Holy Spirit set them on the right path and give them their ultimate purpose?

In other words, this idea that Humankind has been given the central purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever seems to me to be something humans have cobbled together from various scriptures. By the way, the purpose the Westminster Catechism gives humans seems to me to be fulfilled by the angelic host. Are we to duplicate what they have been given to do?

According to Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve a completely different directive:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

First, God made humans His image bearers. Second, He told them to multiply. And third, He gave them dominion over the earth and the rest of life on the earth. God never rescinded his commands to Adam. Therefore, I submit, these are the purposes of Humankind.

Because Humankind introduced sin into the world, Adam’s original purpose was subverted, but not eliminated. Humans are still to multiply. I don’t think that command was ever about filling the world with more bodies, however. Without a sin nature, a child born before sin would have had the same relationship with God that Adam and Eve had. They could have communed with Him in transparent intimacy. They could have represented God to the rest of creation by administering just and merciful dominion over all of life. In other words, God wanted more people carrying out His work in the world, and it was up to Adam and Eve to multiply.

In many respects, the Church, God’s redeemed and reconciled people, have been recommissioned to accomplish what Adam and Eve failed to do.

We are to represent Christ to the world. Paul terms this as being ambassadors:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20a)

We are also to multiply.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Matt. 28:18-20a).

I recently read that Christians are not primarily to engage in a “pyramid scheme” of evangelism. That term, of course, has negative connotations because those participating had to put in money with the hope of getting a greater return in the end. This goal can only be accomplished by bringing as many other members into the scheme as possible.

Of course Christians aren’t to be engaged in disciple-making with some ulterior goal or with some sort of works-based reward system in mind. We shouldn’t be trying to notch our belt to signify another redeemed scalp.

But trumpeting the good news, playing the part of ambassadors, teaching others who can then turn around a teach others, is precisely what Christians are called to do.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2)

As I see it, because of sin, we are now on a rescue mission. Our chief end, just as it was Adam’s chief end, is to obey God–which Jesus says we’ll do if we love Him–and His primary commands haven’t change, though the scope of them has. Now we are to be image bearers to the rest of creation, including people who do not know the Son. In the process, we are participating in the multiplication of His people:

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29 – emphasis mine).

Throughout the New Testament there’s a discussion of “bearing fruit.” Primarily those references deal with one of two things–good works or people. In one parable, for example, Jesus admonishes His disciples to go out into the harvest because the fields are ripe. Then in the epistles, Paul talks about obtaining fruit among the Gentiles. Elsewhere he talks about some Christians planting, others watering, but God giving the increase–or bringing to fruition their work.

I suggest God receives glory when what He made works the way He intended it to work. The heavens, for example, declare His glory. How so? By the fact of their existence because what He made originally was good.

Because of the sin nature in Humankind, however, we do not glorify Him merely by our existence. We are not the perfect image bearers He originally made. We are flawed, which is the very thing Christ came to take care of. His work allows us to return to our work.

Yes, I happen to believe God will receive glory because of our doing what He made us to do. In other words, I believe that when we fulfill our chief end we will glorify Him. I also believe that when we fulfill our chief end, we will enjoy Him and that enjoyment will be without end.

Consequently, when we fulfill our purpose, we will bring about the things the Westminster Catechism declares to be the chief end of man. I just happen to think the men who put that doctrinal statement together put the wrong question to the answer. They should have asked, “What will result when Man fulfills his chief end?” Then the answer, “They will glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” works very well.