Atheist Arguments: God Is Cruel


Often atheists claim that God, if He exists, is cruel, even evil, because look at the people who died in the flood (which they also don’t believe in), or how about all those Egyptian soldiers who died when the Red Sea closed over them (another account atheists claim is nothing but myth). A third example are those Amalekites Saul was supposed to wipe out (yes, those would be people atheists don’t actually believe ever lived). The war against the Amalekites, according to these atheists, shows that God is genocidal.

Taken out of context those examples do make God look bad. But here’s the truth.

First, God’s nature. Scripture reveals the character of God throughout. He identifies Himself as merciful and true, good and kind. There are many other traits revealed and demonstrated, but most pertinent to this question raised by the atheist argument is that God is righteous and He is just.

Psalm 7 contains one such revelation:

The LORD judges the peoples;
Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous;
For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
My shield is with God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
And a God who has indignation every day.
If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword;
He has bent His bow and made it ready.(vv 8-12)

Notice that God’s job as judge is actually a hedge, a safeguard, a shield for the upright, to protect them from the wicked.

Here’s another passage in the Psalms that makes the point that God deals with the wicked. He won’t let them hurt others with impunity:

The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face. (11:5-7)

See? some atheists might say. There God is, hating and raining fire on people. Such a view misses the context again. The recipient of God’s wrath is the wicked who loves violence. As it happens even we fallible humans, with our imperfect laws and legal system and law enforcement officers, sometimes use deadly force to stop a violent person. We should not be shocked if God treats unrepentant oppressors and violent men in the same vein. After all, His knowledge is complete. His judgment is never wrong. So He doesn’t sometimes bring down His fire on innocent people. He gets the judgment right every single time.

The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. (Ps. 19: 9b-10)

Psalm 119 repeats the truth about God’s righteousness more than once:

5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.

75 I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,

137 Righteous are You, O LORD,
And upright are Your judgments.

Psalm 145 declares a number of God’s attributes, including His righteousness:

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
9 The LORD is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works. . .
17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways
And kind in all His deeds.
18 The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and will save them.
20 The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.

These last lines bring up the next salient point in the answer to the atheist argument that God is cruel. In His righteousness, in His justice, He saves those who call upon Him, which obviously pits Him against those who are doing harm. How can you keep people safe who are being oppressed without dealing with the oppressors?

As it happens, in the three Biblical examples atheists like to use to claim God’s cruelty, He did in fact deal with oppressors.

First the people in Noah’s day. Too often we forget why God sent a flood. Yes, judgment but why did the people have to be judged?

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:11-12)

As I read this, I think, Man would be extinct today if God had not stepped in and saved Noah and his family. Maybe not, but why wouldn’t Noah have eventually become a target for these violent people whose thoughts were only evil, all the time?

Then there were the Egyptians. These would be the people who ordered and enforced the killing of the Hebrew male babies, who kept them under slavery for 400 years. They would hardly qualify as innocent. When God judged them, He did so as part of the process of freeing His people from captivity. They were no match for the trained Egyptian army and chariots. So God intervened and stopped the potential slaughter of all the descendants of Abraham.

Which brings us to the Amalekites. This people group harassed Israel on their way to the Promised Land. Waited and watched and picked off the weak and the vulnerable. God did not send judgment on them right away. He gave them time to do the right thing, to turn from their wicked ways. He gave them a good 200 years! But throughout the exodus, throughout the time that judges ruled Israel, the Amalekites oppressed Israel. When God allowed Israel to select a king, He turned the punishment of the Amalekites over to him. As it happened, Saul didn’t complete the job. As a result, years later, a descendant of the king Saul had spared—a guy named Haman—hatched a plot to wipe out any and all Jews. He would have succeeded, too, if Queen Esther had not intervened.

Atheists see God’s intervention, His judgment of evil, His protection of the ancestors of the coming Messiah, as cruel?

I see the violent men in Noah’s day as the cruel ones. I see the Egyptians who were exposing babies and keeping a people in subjugation for 400 years, as the cruel ones. I see the Amalekites who were intent on destroying the Hebrews, starting with their weakest people, as the cruel ones.

I see God as He’s described in the Psalms and elsewhere: He is a righteous judge, who administers justice, which He always gets right.

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Published in: on February 15, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (28)  
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The Pharaoh Who Didn’t Know Joseph


Joseph saved his family. Well, God did, through Joseph. He said it clearly to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” But it just dawned on me, the “many people” were also the Egyptians.

How many of them would have died during a seven-year drought if God hadn’t warned Pharaoh, through Joseph, so that they saved grain during the years of plenty?

Joseph was a hero. His father was an honored elder, so much so that many Egyptian dignitaries accompanied Joseph and his brothers to Canaan to bury Jacob in the family burial plot when he died.

But then the Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph came to power.

First off, he was afraid of the people of Israel. After all, they were so many! And of course he started playing the “what if” game. What if, in a battle against our enemies, they join the opposition?

That kind of thinking would have not taken hold if the people of Israel and the Egyptians were still friends. If the Egyptians were still treating them with respect. But apparently that wasn’t the case.

I’ve wondered, how did a people go from being protected to being enslaved. The roots were there in Joseph’s day. Scripture records that the Egyptians found it loathsome to eat with the Hebrews, which meant Joseph, even as the second in command of the nation, ate by himself.

Also back in that day, Joseph told his brothers that the Egyptians despised shepherds—which, of course, was exactly how the Hebrews made their livelihood.

So already the roots of division were in the society—elements of prejudice and disrespect.

Add in that Pharaoh “suggested” that some of Joseph’s newly arrived family could also care for his flocks and herds. Let the Hebrews do the dirty job, the Egyptians hated.

And would Joseph’s family have balked at this? Hardly! They saw Pharaoh and Egypt as their salvation. They would have died if they stayed home. Instead they were provided with abundant pasture land and the food they needed to survive the drought. Was caring for Pharaoh’s livestock too much to ask? Not at all.

Except, the foundation for slavery was undoubtedly laid right there. If the Hebrews did what Pharaoh asked when it came to the animals, why not ask them to “help” with the construction of a couple storage cities?

By the time the Pharaoh came to power who didn’t know Joseph, the Hebrews were not only numerous, they were invaluable. That’s the second horn of this ugly animal the Egyptians had created. Not only did they fear the Hebrews, they needed them and they didn’t want to lose them. So as part of the “what if” game, the Pharaoh postulated, What if they leave?

He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” (Exodus 1:9-10, emphasis added)

His way of “dealing wisely?” First he brought in taskmasters to oversee the Hebrews’ work. Next to assigned the Hebrew midwives to kill the baby boys when they were born. That plan didn’t work, so he passed the law that the boys should be exposed as infants—thrown in the river, killed, by their parents.

I think it’s safe to say, this man who did not know Joseph also did not know God.

Think for a second with me: why would he order only the boys to be killed? What would become of those baby girls when they grew up? No Hebrew men to marry. Would the Egyptians take them as wives? Or more likely take those slaves for their harems?

We have no idea how long this edict lasted or how many babies died. Was it a generation of Hebrews, which would mean there weren’t many men Moses’s age who were involved in the Exodus. But that’s another story.

From this Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph, I think it’s easy to see how fear changes everything. From offering friendship, mutual cooperation, protection, and shared benefits to slavery and murder.

Fear wasn’t alone. There was some greed there, too. This Pharaoh wanted to use people, particularly those he saw as inferior.

Are there lessons in this story for Americans today in conjunction with immigration? I’d say so. And I’d say they are these: don’t let fear dictate policy, in this story called “dealing with them wisely”; and second, don’t use people. Don’t use them as a political football, and don’t use them to further the American economy

Not heeding those two simple points may have the same kind of dire consequences for the US that they had for Egypt back in the day.

Published in: on September 4, 2018 at 5:08 pm  Comments Off on The Pharaoh Who Didn’t Know Joseph  
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Hard Hearts


My church is reading Exodus together. Daily we read the selected passage and one of us writes a short response. Today’s portion details the plague of hail.

I’ve noticed a progression in the plagues, from inconvenient and annoying to dangerous and deadly.

Hail might not sound like one of the deadly plagues but it was, because the hailstones were apparently large and could kill anyone who was not in a covered space. Essentially that meant farm workers and others who did manual labor.

There was more. The hail also destroyed the crops, which meant a famine was around the corner.

You’d think for sure that by this time Pharaoh would see that he couldn’t continue standing against God. Up til now he and his people had dealt with a three-day water shortage brought on by the water-to-blood plague, an inundation of frogs, gnats, flies, disease on the animals, and boils on people. Now hail.

And still Pharaoh hardened his heart. Then the incredible. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In essence there came a point that God simply gave Pharaoh what he wanted—to say no to God. God seems to have said, You want to say no to me? Fine! Then that’s what I’ll make sure you do.

The point is simple. Pharaoh couldn’t control God. He couldn’t stand against Him, refuse to go His way or do what He wanted. Time and again, at great expense to his people he proclaimed independence from God. He was not about to free those slaves because, who was the LORD?

God answered that question. He is the God who is greater than all the Egyptians’ gods. They worshiped the Nile, so God had Moses and Aaron turn the water to blood. They worshiped the cow goddess, and God brought pestilence to the cattle. They worshiped the sun god, and God brought a period of darkness over their land. They worshiped the god of the dead or the underworld, and God sent His avenging angel to take every Egyptian firstborn son.

Did Pharaoh get the message? Nope. Sure, he relented a couple times, but as soon as God removed the plague, he reverted to his old position. The Israelites were under his control, and he wasn’t about to let them go.

One thing that I’ve hardly ever heard addressed is that Moses wasn’t even asking if the people of Israel could be set free. He was asking if they could go on a three-day journey away from Egypt so that they could hold a worship celebration to the LORD.

Pharaoh tried saying yes-but. Yes, they can go but only the men. Yes, they can have their worship celebration, but they have to do it here. Yes, they can go but not their animals.

In the end, the people of Israel just left.

Pharaoh never agreed, never liberated them. In fact he realized after they’d been gone for a few hours that his land was in a sorry state—plants thrashed by the hail and later by locusts, most of the animals dead, their carcasses rotting. Families deprived of the son who should have carried on their legacy. And a good percentage of his work force had just walked off the job.

What to do but try to get them back. That’s what a hard heart does.

There’s no consideration that yes, the LORD is indeed the Almighty, the Creator of the ends of the earth. There’s no consideration that perhaps the wise thing here would be to obey, to listen, to relinquish his own will.

Pharaoh’s own advisors were begging him to let the Israelites go. They saw what he could not see. Perhaps they got out of the palace more and knew how desperate things were throughout the land—everywhere except in Goshen where the people of Israel lived.

But the thing about a hard heart, it resists reason, good advice, what logic says. It was all right there in front of Pharaoh—the Lord said to let His people go or A, B, C and so forth would happen. He didn’t let them go, and all of those warnings, or threatens, or promises, happened. Did Pharaoh finally admit, Maybe I can’t hold out against this God.

No, he was impervious to such clear thinking. He saw things the way he wanted to see them: all those people are on foot and unarmed. I can catch them with my horsemen and my chariots. They’ll come back if it’s the last thing I do.

He didn’t actually say that, but chasing down the people of Israel was, in fact, the last thing he did. He couldn’t defeat God and that’s actually who he was trying to resist.

He learned the hard way that God is in control, but that’s precisely what everyone who hardens his or her heart will learn. And I think that’s what Pharaoh and people like him can’t stand. They want to be master of their own fate, captain of their own soul, even if it means denying they have a soul.

But God is God. He will not give His place to another.

And He should not.

The one in control should not abdicate. That leads to confusion and chaos. The one who knows what’s right and good and best, should not give way to the one who only does evil.

The thing is, when people resist God and He sends them warnings and difficulties and affliction, He’s giving them a chance to stop and turn around, to yield to Him, to submit to Him. That’s a receipt for disaster because hard hearts like Pharaoh’s will ultimately face God’s judgment.

Published in: on February 22, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (6)  
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Is God’s Power Limited?


quail-2-703602-mI suspect if most Christians who believe the Bible were asked if God’s power is limited, we’d say, No, of course not. Some who identify as Christians but think Peter walking on water was symbolic and Daniel’s friends surviving a fiery furnace was myth, probably have some reservation about God’s power.

The thing is, whether we say God’s power is not limited or if we hedge the question, we mostly live as if we don’t think God has unlimited power. Not a surprise really. Even Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s power.

This would be Moses who saw a burning bush that didn’t burn up, who talked with God, who had his staff turn into a snake at God’s word, who initiated the plagues of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, who met with God to receive His commandments.

Yes, that Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s unlimited power.

The situation was this: after more than a year of manna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the people of Israel started to complain. Seriously complain. There was a Back to Egypt faction, and a Down with Moses faction brewing. Already they were looking back at their old life with nostalgia. Things were better in Egypt. They could get good food for free. Never mind that they’d been slaves, so nothing from the Egyptians was free. Still, their complaints mounted.

Finally Moses brought the matter to God. The people were too much for him. He couldn’t handle the pressure alone. God gave him a group of elders to share the burden, but still there was the matter of food. The people specifically wanted meat.

God, as He so often does, said, Fine. They want meat, I’ll give them meat. In fact, I’ll give them so much meat they’ll be sick of it:

Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Num. 11:18b-20)

Excuse me, God, Moses answered. You may be forgetting something. We’re talking about 600,000 people, and You’re saying You’re going to give them meat for an entire month? Actually it was Moses who was forgetting something. The rounded off number of 600,000 was the men listed in the census and did not count women and children. The total could easily have been a million and a half.

But even underestimating the number of people who needed meat, Moses didn’t see any way God could do what He said He’d do. No way, Moses said. If we killed off all our livestock, there wouldn’t be enough meat to satisfy the demand for a month. Even if we over fished the sea we’re camped beside, there wouldn’t be enough for the whole company.

Here was an odd situation: God said it; Moses didn’t believe it.

Some how, because Moses questioned the limitless power of God, I feel a little better about the times I question God’s ability to do what He says He’ll do. I shouldn’t feel better. My excuse is that Moses had the advantage over me because He got to see God turn water to blood and cause darkness to fall on the land for three straight days and to send locusts to eat up their crops and hail to strike any living thing left in the fields. He saw the angel of God pass over Israel and strike down the first born of Egypt. Of course He should have believed God could do the impossible. He’d already seen it. Advantage Moses.

Except, I have the advantage of the cross and the risen, resurrected Lord Jesus. I have God’s written revelation chronicling fulfilled prophecy. I have His Holy Spirit living in my life, guiding me into all truth, acting as my Advocate with the Father.

Advantage Becky.

The point is, Moses didn’t really have a more sure way of knowing that God would fulfill His word. He had to trust and I have to trust.

Moses, quite frankly, thought God couldn’t pull it off. But to his credit, he didn’t start painting Return To Egypt Or Bust signs. His questions went straight to God.

You’re kidding! Six hundred thousand people? Meat? For a month?

God simplified things:

The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”

Somehow, miraculously, God sent quail up from the sea. The birds surrounded the camp within a day’s walk. There were so many of them they stacked up a yard deep.

summertime-wild-flower-meadow-2-1354217-mIs the Lord’s power limited? Yeah, that would be NO.

If He wants to send quail to teach a lesson to His people about craving more than what He’s given, then He can send an impossible number of quail. So, too, today. If God says He will not fail or forsake His people, we His people can know He won’t fail or forsake us.

His word is sure, settled in Heaven, and unlike the flower of the grass that withers, it will stand forever.

This post first appeared here in September 2014.

The Picture Of A Stubborn King


Israel_Museum_290416_Pharaoh_in_Canaan_02

Those who don’t believe in God give Him a bad rap. They criticize Him in blasphemous ways. Not so different from the Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled over the people of Israel in Moses’s day.

First he enslaved God’s people and oppressed them. That shouldn’t be overlooked. The Pharaoh who ruled when Joseph came to power recognized God as the One who gave the interpretation of his dreams:

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” (Gen. 41:39-40)

He even gave Joseph a new name which is most likely interpreted “God speaks; he lives.” He also gave Joseph his daughter to marry, so Joseph’s sons were in the line of the Pharaohs.

But there came a day when a Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph came to power. That suggests to me there was a coup which brought a new leader to the throne. He not only didn’t know Joseph, he didn’t recognized God, and he said so when Moses first met with him.

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)

That was his second mistake, a second overflow of his stubborn heart. Egypt was a polytheistic culture. They had no reason not to accept Yahweh at least as one of their gods. But this Pharaoh was determined not to give place to God Most High.

When Moses produced the signs that God empowered him to perform—turning water into blood, and his staff into a serpent, which, incidentally ate the serpents that Pharaoh’s magicians produced—Pharaoh remained unmoved. Moses had been convinced by these signs and the people of Israel had been convinced by these signs. But not Pharaoh.

He wasn’t convinced later when his own people had had enough of the gnats (or lice) that covered them.

The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:18-20)

Things got worse. Pharaoh went from rejecting God to trying to manipulate Him by contorting what Moses asked. First Pharaoh said, OK, you can worship your God, but you need to stay here in the land. No three-day trip outside Egypt.

18th_dynasty_pharaonic_crown_by_John_CampanaAfter his people endured another plague, he tried a different approach. He’d let them go, but only the men. His next idea was that they’d have to leave their animals behind.

Sandwiched in between these attempts to manipulate God’s direct requirement were times of duplicitous refusal to do what God required. Oh, sure, Pharaoh said the right thing—this time, and then this time, and later this time he’d let the people go. But as soon as the suffering had abated, he changed his mind.

Pharaoh wanted to stay in control

Clearly he wasn’t in control. Nor was his river god or his insect gods or his frog god or his cow god or his sun god. But Pharaoh tried to bargain with Moses, to set up a quid pro quo scenario—if you do this, I’ll do that. But he was a liar and a manipulator.

God’s been blamed for Pharaoh’s hard heart, but the accusation has no merit. Scripture says Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that God hardened his heart.

But what does the original word we translate harden mean? It’s actually not a bad thing for the most part. Strong’s Concordance gives this definition:

to fasten upon; hence, to seize, be strong (figuratively, courageous, causatively strengthen, cure, help, repair, fortify), obstinate; to bind, restrain, conquer

The idea, then, is that what Pharaoh had decided, he fortified or encouraged himself to do. He determined to stay the course he’d chosen. God also bound him to that course of action—not an action God had caused him to take.

God ascribes motive to Pharaoh at one point, even as He reveals His own motive for dealing with the man as He did:

But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go. (Exodus 9:16-17)

Pharaoh’s issue, then, was the same one Satan has and that he has infected the rest of us with: he wanted to exalt himself to be equal with God. In this instance, Pharaoh wanted to play God in the lives of the people of God. He wanted to tell them where to go and what to do, for no other reason than that he had the power to do so. (See for example Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw, a necessary ingredient for making brick, from the Israelite slaves, while still demanding that they meet his chosen product quota.)

At any turn Pharaoh could have acquiesced, and let God’s people go a three day journey into the wilderness and worship Him. Egypt would have escaped the plagues. Israel would have remained in bondage. The only thing this decision would have cost was Pharaoh’s self-importance. He would be taking direction from God through Moses and Aaron, and he could not abide by such a blow to his ego. He had exalted himself against God’s people, and, stubborn man that he was, he wasn’t about to back down.

Little did he know that God would bring him to his knees and in the process would display His power throughout the world, from generation to generation.

Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on The Picture Of A Stubborn King  
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Standing Up For Magic


magic-book
Several speculative writers (E. Stephen Burnett at Speculative Faith, for one) have been looking at the subject of magic from the vantage point of Christians trusting something other than God and His word in their pursuit of righteousness—including their efforts to controvert magic. As a result, some in this camp take a stand against speculative fiction, whether from a Christian or not, that includes magic.

I’m convinced that those who would blackball a work of fiction for including magic are in the minority, but I don’t think it hurts to take another look at the subject. Here’s a reprise of an article that examines magic using the lens of the Bible.

– – – – –

Some time ago I had a discussion with a Christian who considers much of speculative fiction to be opposed to the Bible. I’ve only had a few encounters with people who hold this view, though other writers have spoken of being surrounded by such folk.

The exchange reminds me that it’s wise to confront this attitude head-on, with Scripture, starting with the fundamental question some ask: how does a Christian fantasy writer handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting.

Here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … Someone may well say God’s work is miraculous, not magic. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in 2010 and was republished in August 2013.

The Heat Is On, Or The Rain


storm-1442004-mSome of you may or may not be aware that Southern California where I live is experiencing an extended heat spell. September is often one of the hottest months here, but some Septembers are hotter than others. This one is record-setting for a number of cities.

Yesterday LA tied the record at 103°. My computer has a weather channel app, and I knew it was going to be a hot day when the predicted high was 96° and the current temperature at 1:00 pm was 102°.

Ironically, the local news had more to say about the rain some in the viewing area experienced. All summer long we’ve had one hurricane after another sweep up from the south, bringing humidity and occasional rain, mostly in the high desert and mountains. This latest storm, the remnants of Hurricane Odile that hit Cabo San Lucas in Mexico’s Baja California, brought thunder and lightning and strong winds, even a few would-be tornadoes that never touched down. The rain was more like a torrential downpour that knocked down trees and flooded various buildings, including one high school gym.

Of course the heat can’t be ignored. Some communities have experienced power outages and some schools have dismissed at noon because of a lack of air conditioning.

Oddly enough, the weather extremes have made me think of the Egyptians and the plagues they endured. I wonder how much the average Egyptian, without email, Twitter, or Facebook, knew about Moses and his demand to Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go to worship God.

When the first plague hit—the water-to-blood event—did the people think it was some sort of anomalous extreme they had to work around? Extra work, sure. They had to dig beside the Nile to get water fit for consumption, but not, surely, an act of the Israelite God.

When the frogs came, did the people revise their thinking? Or did they see a cause/effect connection—the bad water had chased the frogs onto the land and into their homes.

Then the gnats or lice followed and the swarms of other insects. And we know that insects can carry diseases, so no surprise that pestilence followed. Or maybe the Egyptians, who may not have known the connection between bugs and disease, were surprised.

At what point did they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was bringing these “natural disasters” on their land? Was it when Goshen where the Israelites lived became exempt from the effects of the plagues? Was it when Pharaoh’s magicians could no longer replicate what God did through Moses? Was it when boils appeared on humans and animals alike after Moses stood outside and threw ashes in the air?

At some point, Pharaoh’s advisers got the picture that God was behind all they experienced, and they urged their supreme ruler to capitulate. Eventually the everyday people got the picture, too, because they eagerly gave the Israelites their gold and silver and valuable cloth just prior to their exodus.

In fact, after the final plague, when the Egyptians awoke to find the eldest son in each house slain on his bed, they “urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, ‘We will all be dead.'” (Ex. 12:33.)

I’m just silly enough to believe that heat waves and monsoonal floods and wild fires and tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes and West Nile Virus, while certainly not plagues, are nevertheless from God—“natural” events He uses to press us to His side.

The Egyptians were disbelieving until they couldn’t not believe. They may not have concluded that God was God and Ra was not, Pharaoh was not, the Nile was not, but they knew that Moses’s God must be obeyed.

Are we like the Egyptians? We know all about weather patterns now and, via satellite, can see hurricanes forming. We can track jet streams and air currents and the movement of high or low pressure zones. We aren’t like Pharaoh’s magicians in that we can make nature happen, but we can predict it. Which gives us a sense of control over it.

So I wonder if we don’t miss what God might be doing to press us to His side, to call us to repentance, to summon us to obey Him and not the idols of the world. I wonder if all our accommodating of the heat and the rain while we go about our daily business, is us sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, I don’t want to hear you, God.

Would that we could be like the boy, Samuel, who, when he heard God calling, responded by saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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