Good God, Bad World: The Theodicy

Peanuts rain
Matthew 5:45

the·od·i·cy (thē-ˈä-də-sē ) noun – An explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil

Habakkuk 1:2-3(ESV)
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.

In a world full of such beauty and love and happiness, we also find sadness, pain, and disaster. There are tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, plane crashes, school shootings, holocausts, wars, rapes, all manner of diseases, death… The Christian view of God is that He is good. That God is in control. That God cares and loves His creation. If this is true, then why is there so much suffering? This is perhaps one of the biggest if not the biggest stumbling block to many people when it comes to understanding God. And not just understanding God, but a lot of people just reject the notion of an omnipotent and omniscient God because of what’s known as the “problem of evil.”

Why does a good God allow evil?

Ancient skeptic and philosopher, Epicurus, said of God, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Are God and evil mutually exclusive? Does the existence of evil negate the existence of God? Some would say that to have both in the same universe would be a contradiction.

First let’s start with definitions. Let’s define “God” and “evil.” Merriam-Webster online defines God as “the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe.” They define evil as, “arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct. The “archaic” form is “causing discomfort or repulsion.” So, for its use in this blog “evil” consists of both natural and man-made trouble.

So God is defined as “perfect in power.” This means He can do absolutely whatever He chooses to do. As the Psalmist said, “He does whatever He pleases.” Being perfect in power He can stop all evil.

“Perfect in wisdom” means that He will never make a mistake and everything He does is absolutely wise. And being perfect in goodness means that all goodness dwells in Him and in Him there is no evil.

So if this all powerful, all wise, all good God exists and sees the evil in the world, why doesn’t He stop it?

Well we must ask ourselves what exactly is it we want stopped. Do we want God to stop all evil? If so and you’ve ever had an evil thought then you would want God to control your thoughts. If you’ve ever uttered an evil word, you would want God to control your speech. If you’ve ever done an evil deed or even made a mistake that caused harm, you would want God to control your actions. Therefore, we are asking for one of two things if we want God to stop all evil: 1. That God take all free will from mankind, or 2. God kill us upon our first evil thought, word, or deed.¹ And we can’t ask that justice be done to others and not to ourselves.

Now let’s break down Epicurus’ argument:

  • Is God willing to prevent evil? Well if He is good we would have to say yes. We also know from the Bible that He is willing to prevent evil. He Himself heals. And He sends people out to heal the sick, warn people of judgement, and free slaves.
  • Is God able? A perfectly powerful God is definitely able to prevent evil. But ability doesn’t mean necessity. A good God may allow things that we deem bad for other purposes. He doesn’t have to stop evil.
  • Whence then is evil? Or from where does evil come? This is an important question to consider when pondering the existence of a good God when evil is so prevalent in the world.

Is evil “bad” just because it causes discomfort and repulsion? If so, the act of a parent correcting a child is “evil.” But of course a parent correcting a child is doing a good thing. But it feels bad. It causes discomfort and no child- nor any adult for that matter – likes correction. And, of course we can say that a parent, or teacher, or friend that corrects is doing it for the other person’s good. Therefore, we would rarely call it evil because we know there is love behind it. So we can logically say there are some things which feel bad that actually aren’t. We can also look at childbirth, growing pangs, the pain we get in our muscles from exercise that facilitates gaining strength: not all pain and discomfort are bad.

But of course there are those things caused by wrongdoing. People with malicious intent doing bad things for a bad purpose. What are we to make of that? And if God can stop them and if it’s in God’s good will to end evil then why doesn’t He stop them? Well as I mentioned earlier, where then would free will be? God can do whatever He pleases, but to stop all evil men from doing evil deeds He would have to stop all evil hearts. As Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This would mean at best we would all be “robots” with no will of our own, or at worst destroyed at the first bad thought.

What about “natural evil?” Stopping that wouldn’t inhibit human free will, right? Why doesn’t God stop natural disasters? Well, it would seem that most people “accept” natural evil as “nature being nature.” Not that they like all that happens in nature, per se, but that those things that happen naturally are more acceptable than “moral evil” caused by man. But for the atheist, the discomfort “natural evil” may cause has no good or bad to it. Actually, it should be seen more so as a good thing if it is just nature doing what nature does. It would be just the earth or universe replenishing itself or going through its phases. If plagues happen, it’s just nature. So why seek to cure disease? Also, what about nature would the inquirer want God to stop? Many aspects of nature that can harm us are also things that we need to survive on this planet. Would God need to make water less dangerous to prevent drownings? He would need to make the composition different, but then it would cease to be water. Lightning is another example. Lightning strikes kill many people every year. But, we need lightning. All life requires nitrogen-compounds and “the enormous energy of lightning breaks nitrogen molecules and enables their atoms to combine with oxygen in the air forming nitrogen oxides. These dissolve in rain, forming nitrates, that are carried to the earth.” (http://www.biology-pages.info/N/NitrogenCycle.html) Basically, we need lightning for healthy air and fertile soil.

Well, you might say “that’s all well and good but an all-powerful God could prevent lightning from striking people.” And you would be right. But, once again, that would involve preventing me from being in a certain place at a certain time so that I am not struck by lightning. “Well doesn’t Christianity claim that God does, in fact, intervene sometimes to prevent such occasions?” Yes, whenever God intervenes to prevent what would otherwise have happened, that is called a miracle. As Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis writes, “That God can and does, on occasion, modify the behaviour of matter and produce what we call miracles, is a part of Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare.” Have you or someone close to you said after some natural or otherwise unfortunate event, “I was supposed to be there at that moment but ________ happened and I’m alive because of it.”?

Now back to God’s wisdom. When we are children, our parents often tell us that we can’t do something we want to do. We think we are smart enough and mature enough to do whatever it is, but our parents spoil the fun with a “No!” or “Stop!” and sometimes, if we’re lucky enough, we get an explanation of why. Sometimes. Those other times we don’t get the reason because we wouldn’t understand it even if they told us. And we definitely wouldn’t agree with the explanation because we don’t understand it. Our parent’s life experiences and wisdom gained from those experiences have given them a better understanding of the world around us than we have as children. So, their no’s to us may seem cruel at times but it is often for our benefit.

God created the world around us and the universe beyond us. God sees the past, present, and future all at once. God, therefore, is more knowledgeable than our parents (and, of course, us) could ever have dreamed of being. Our knowledge is finite and therefore our wisdom and perception are finite. God is infinite and therefore His wisdom is infinite. So while we can’t always know the reasons of the pain and suffering we experience here on earth, we can know that God does. So, because of our ignorance the words of Job ring true, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3


Evil proves God exists. Why do we hate “evil”? Why would someone question why bad things happen? It is because we know that there is a standard of good and of rightness and therefore whatever is “evil” doesn’t seem to meet the standard. We know a line is crooked because we know of straightness. Anything that goes against the “transcendentals” (truth, beauty, and goodness) is evil, bad, or wrong. Since God is defined as perfect in goodness, He is the standard against which one judges evil. If God does not exist, whence then is evil? What standard does anyone have to judge evil? Evil and goodness would only exist as opinions.


If naturalism is true, the best hope we have is that we will return to the nothing from which naturalists say we came. That not only does pain end when we die but so does any amount of pleasure and joy. Nothing created us for no purpose and back to the void of nothingness we will return. All of our pleasures and pain on earth were for naught. No truth, beauty, or goodness awaits in exchange for all the suffering in the world.

However, the Bible tells us there is a reason that pain and suffering are in the world. Man’s sin is so potent that it affects the world. Adam and Eve’s disobedience caused death to come into the world. Before sin, there was no hard work, pain in child labor, shame, disaster, or death. The Bible also promises us that all will be made right again. That God is a God of justice. That one day man will be free from pain and suffering. That one day even nature will experience this freedom. This freedom is not just an absence of pain. Ceasing to exist could do that. No, this freedom from pain will be because of unconquerable and unending joy. This freedom comes to those who place their faith in God. This promise is for those of us that believe He has this gift awaiting us and that it is only available through His only begotten Son, Jesus. God has promised us that the pain on earth has been used to make a way possible to live eternally. The death that Jesus died on the cross was the death that brings us life. What was meant for evil, God is using for good.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:4-5(ESV)

Footnotes:
¹I present to you that this might be a false dichotomy. And it actually answers the question of “How can evil exist if a good God exists.” The third option is that God uses people to change things. He sometimes uses people to show the world His love and goodness. He uses people to spread His good news, administer justice and benevolence. Anytime God’s people do God’s will, we see God in action.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

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What Does “Inspired” Mean? (2 Timothy 3:16)

As I was perusing through my suggested videos on YouTube I came across a once popular pastor who claims he doesn’t believe in hell anymore. He also stated that he believed scripture wasn’t inspired by God but that man was inspired to write about God. “What’s the difference?” You may ask. The purpose of this blog is to answer that question.

In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, he states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,”(CSB). The word “inspired” is also used in the NASB and the NLT, among others. The NKJV and KJV use the phrase “given by inspiration of God”. The Darby translation says “divinely inspired.”

The ESV and NIV say “God-breathed” or “breathed out by God.” These two English versions come the closest to conveying the original meaning in this verse, as I understand it.

The Greek word used here is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) which is the combination of theos, meaning God, and pneustos, meaning to blow or breathe. So in the original Greek the term literally means “God-breathed.”

When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the late 4th – early 5th century, he used the term “divinitus inspirata.” Inspirata is where we get the English word inspiration. Nowadays, when we say inspired or inspiration, we usually mean that something or someone was our muse for a musical piece, a book, movie, or any other work of art.

However, that is not what Paul is conveying here in 2 Timothy 3:16. He is not saying that as man thought about God, that God acted as some artistic influence in the way that an artist paints a mountain he sees or in the way love inspires a song. He is saying that scripture is actually breathed out of the mouth of God Himself. As John Macarther says, “The Old Testament is the revelation of God to show men what God is like, who God is, what God tolerates and does not tolerate, how God desires holiness and punishes sin. The New Testament is God revealed by His Son in the life of His Son, in the message of His Son, in the understanding of the work of His Son, and in the culmination and the coming of His Son to establish His eternal kingdom. But in either case, Old Testament, New Testament, God spoke. What we have is, indeed, the Word of God. This is not the word of man. The New Testament writers wrote down the Word of God.”

Scripture is God’s words to us. It is the very Word of the living God. He shows us Himself and how we relate to Him. He shows us how we can get to know Him. He shows us the great lengths He goes so that we may know the love He has for us. Through Scripture God shows us how to love Him and our fellow man. And through Scripture we see how we can live eternally with Him.

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV)

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Matthew 18:19 and Prayer

Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer (1508)

If a group of believers pray’s for someone to be healed of an illness, and that person dies of that illness, then how are we to take Matthew 18:19?

This question was posed to me a couple years ago. My first thought was that person, if a believer, would be immediately healed upon their death when they leave their body. Also in their glorified bodies after their resurrection they will experience no more pain and sickness. This was my first thought. And while true, I didn’t take the context of the verse into consideration. Rather, I didn’t take the time to study the context.

Matthew 18:19 says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

At first glance this passage seems pretty up front. That whatever two or more believers ask of God, He will do. So if several Christians gather to pray for someone’s physical healing, we can be confident that God will heal them. Some would even say that God is “obligated” to do what’s being prayed for. That’s what many of us hear all the time anyway, especially in America.

This belief seems to be validated when we look at the verse immediately before and the verse immediately after. Verse 18 reads, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And verse 20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.

So now we seem to have a good formula for healing in Jesus’ own words. 1) Two or three gather making Christ present, 2) touch and agree, 3) bind and loose [binding sickness or demons and releasing blessing and healing, etc] 4) God will do it.

Sounds pretty cut and dry. But, what about the last part of the question posed at the beginning. “…the person dies…” One could take this sad result several ways:

  1. Someone praying or the one being prayed for didn’t have enough faith (Jesus did just say in chapter 17 that the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon because of their lack of faith).
  2. Or, there was unrepentant sin in someone’s life. John 9:31 says that God does not listen to sinners but those that do His will.
  3. Or, it just wasn’t God’s will at that moment to heal that person (2 Corinthians 12:8). But God is true to His word, so why would there be a promise if God would only keep it sometimes?

So what are we to make of this passage?

In one of my earlier blogs on how to understand the Bible, I mention that we must read scripture in its correct context. Picking a verse out of context can, and often does, lead someone to believe something that was not intended. So let’s apply Matthew 18:18-20 to its proper context.

The words of Jesus beginning with verse 12:
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Here we have Jesus speaking of what we call “church discipline”. He begins first by speaking about a lost sheep which is, in this case, a brother in sin. Another brother should try to correct the wayward believer in private. If he doesn’t listen then one or two more should try. The reference Jesus gives comes from Deuteronomy 19:15, One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” To call a brother out on his sinning there needed to be at least 2 witnesses. And these witnesses would work to restore their brother. If that doesn’t work, then the brother is to be brought before the assembly for the sole purpose of restoration from his sin. If after all that, he refuses to give up his sin then he is to be treated as though he is no brother at all. This is also referenced in 1 Timothy 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:4-5.


So what does the “binding and loosing” mean and what does Jesus mean when He says He is “there in the midst of them”?

A couple chapters before, Jesus tells Peter, ” ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.‘ Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Here we see Jesus establishing His church. His corporate body of believers which at that time consisted of Jews.

Another step of interpreting a text is understanding how the original hearers or readers would have understood the words. For example, in John 3 when Jesus told Nicodemus that he should have understood what being born again meant because he was a teacher of the law, we should ask ourselves where in the Old Testament would he have understood being “born again” to be referenced. The answer is Ezekiel 36:25-27.

So how would the Jews have understood “binding and loosing”? Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 18 states, “…these, in the common speech of the Jews, at that time, signified to prohibit and permit; to teach or declare a thing to be unlawful was to bind; to be lawful, was to loose.” So once again we see a certain judicial understanding to what this passage in Matthew means.

Henry continues, “When ministers preach pardon and peace to the penitent, wrath and the curse to the impenitent, in Christ’s name, they act then pursuant to this authority of binding and loosing. The key of discipline,which is but the application of the former to particular persons, upon a right estimate of their characters and actions. It is not legislative power that is hereby conferred, but judicial; the judge doth not make the law, but only declares what is law, and upon an impartial enquiry into the merits of the cause, gives sentence accordingly.

One reference for binding and loosing is found in the Gospel of John. After Jesus resurrection, He reminds His apostles of their authority. In chapter 20, verse 23, we read, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Sound doctrine and strict disciple are the two ways church leaders remit and retain sin:

  • “By sound doctrine. They are commissioned to tell the world that salvation is to be had upon gospel terms, and no other, and they shall find God will say Amen to it; so shall their doom be.
  • By a strict discipline, applying the general rule of the gospel to particular persons. “Whom you admit into communion with you, according to the rules of the gospel, God will admit into communion with himself; and whom you cast out of communion as impenitent, and obstinate in scandalous and infectious sins, shall be bound over to the righteous judgment of God.’ ” (Henry)

So we see from reading in context what Matthew 18:19 is really about.

So am I saying that we shouldn’t pray for healing or anything else? Not at all. I’m also not saying that gathering together to pray for someone is unbiblical. What I am saying is that whether one lonely believer is praying or 100 are praying together, God hears. James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Jesus even mentions how someone was healed through faith of just one person (Mark 5:34, Luke 17:19).

On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes God chooses not to heal. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul writes, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The context here is Paul telling the Corinthians how he could boast because of his visions of heaven but he chooses not to be a “fool.” Rather, He thanks God for his infirmaries because they keep him humble. Therefore, his boasting will only ever be in Christ. Even though he prayed three times for God resolve this issue, God chose not to. In choosing to say no to Paul’s prayer, God granted Paul the greater benefit of understanding the greater depth of the sufficiency of God’s grace.

Then why should we pray? First, because we are commanded to do so. Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:1 are among the many commands that we have from God to pray.

We should also pray because it works. When we pray according to God’s will He hears us. The Bible is full of examples when God’s people prayed and God answered. In 1 Samuel 1, a woman named Hannah was in deep, emotional prayer by herself. She was praying for a child. God listened and blessed her with the son that would become the great prophet Samuel. In Acts 12, Peter is in prison and the church is praying for him. An angel appeared and freed Peter from his chains. Afterwards, Peter went to the house where the saints had gathered and were praying. There they were still praying when he shows up. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) avails much. (James 5:16)

For more information on prayer, check out Focus on the Family‘s articles on the subject here.

We must also remember that sometimes we don’t see the results of our praying. As stated in Hebrews 11, some people pass on to glory before they see the results of the fruit of their faith.

Lastly, as I stated at the beginning of this blog that healing actually will come to those who place their faith in Christ. That is a promise. By His stripes we are healed. Whether in this life or in the next.

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P.S.: All that being said, there is a power in Christian unity. We are the body and when the body joins together, we become a more complete picture of Jesus. All of us as different parts working and praying together, and building each other up.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Are Christians Commanded to Tithe?

The Widow’s Mite by Gustave Dorè 1880

Where your treasure is that’s where your heart will be also. -Jesus

There are often debates surrounding this question. Some say that tithing was only for Old Testament Israel. Some say that the mandate is still in effect for the New Testament Church.

So, which is it? Well, I’m not going to answer that question. You should prayerfully study the scriptures and be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

But I am going to ask you, the reader, to reflect on a few questions.

1. What is the heart of the person asking this question? In Proverbs we read, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit” (16:2 and 21:2). Are we asking to find a loophole to be disobedient? Perhaps they are asking because they don’t want to give 10%. But the Bible says God loves a cheerful giver. So maybe we should ask not what we are commanded to do, but be joyful of what we get to do.

2. Isn’t everything you have God’s? He provides us our money, our food, our time, our talents, our gifts. Therefore, whatever we give back to God, He only allowed us to have in the first place. It’s not 10% of what we’ve earned, it’s 10% of what God made us stewards of. Everything was created by God, so everything that exists is His. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters,” Psalm 24:1-2. And Paul reminded Timothy that we brought nothing into this world and we can’t take anything out (1 Timothy 6:7).

3. What would give God more glory, more or less of your earnings? Whatever gives God the glory also blesses the believer. Wouldn’t God get more glory with more of your time and possessions? If the Christian isn’t mandated to give 10%, God would still bless those that gave more of what they have. Scripture tells us that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly (2 Corinthians 9:6). David Guzik states, “A farmer sowing seed may feel he loses seed as it falls from his hand to the ground, and we may feel we are losing when we give. But just as the farmer gives the seed in anticipation of a future harvest, we should give with the same heart.” In the New Testament, Jesus said of the widow who gave only a couple coins into the temple treasury, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” This principle of giving is an echo of the widow in the Old Testament who gave her last bit of food to Elijah. Both widows gave all they had and were blessed as the result.

Are you willing to give 10% if God has commanded it? Are you willing to give it all to Him if He asks of it?

Like I stated, the purpose of this blog was not to be another arguing point for the tithing debate. But it’s purpose is for us to take a look at ourselves and our hearts behind our giving and not to be so black and white on the amount that we give. So, while I’ll leave the tithe debate up to others, I do believe these points I brought up are worth considering. All things considered, the Kingdom of God advances when the people of God give of their resources and time. What has God placed in your care that could be used? How are you making yourself available?

Further reading on giving: Deuteronomy 15:10-11, 16:17; 1 Kings 17:7-23, 1 Chronicles 29:6-17, Proverbs 3:9-10, 11:24-25, 21:26; Malachi 3:10, Luke 3:11, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, James 2:15-16

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

When God Takes Too Long

20171121_215653

Often in our lives we come upon difficult situations. We pray that God will handle these issues. We have faith that He will. We hope that He will. We wait on Him. But He seems to take His time. In the meantime we’re left waiting on progress or healing. We’re left waiting on a word from God or a display of His power and love. Often that is the plight of the believer. To wait on God.

It can get frustrating. We pray and pray and wait and wait. Sometimes it seems as though He is not there. Yet, we know in our minds and hearts that He is. We have seen Him work in our lives before. We have seen Him deliver us. We have seen Him heal us. We have seen His wonder working power in our lives and in the lives of others around us. But, when God seems silent we get impatient and faith can seem to dwindle. However, every new obstacle comes with a new lesson to learn.

Such was the case with the Israelites after they were freed from Egypt. Their leader Moses went before the LORD on Mount Sinai to receive instruction for the newly liberated Hebrews. They had just seen God’s power through 10 different plagues against the Egyptians. They had just seen God’s power as He parted the waters and they walked through the Red Sea. Afterwards they were waiting on Moses to come back with a word from God so they could make their way to the land promised them by God. They waited. And they continued to wait. I believe knowing that the promised land lay before them made them anxious and impatient. Their impatience with God caused them to commit a heinous sin, idolatry. They created a golden calf and began to revel and party. Why would they do this? Didn’t they know that a golden calf had no power? I think they knew this but since they didn’t hear from God when they wanted to they chose to make a god that they could see. They couldn’t see what they wanted to see when they wanted to see it so they created something they could see. So when they felt abandoned by God they turned to the ways of the land they had just come from. The Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years. They saw the idols of the Egyptians, some may have even dabbled in the Egyptian idolatry. But when they were freed from Egypt they still had some of Egypt left in them.

We can be guilty of the same thing. In God’s “silence” we turn to those things that we remember satisfied our flesh before we were delivered. But the Bible says it’s like a dog returning to its vomit. God delivers us from sins because only He can truly and wholly satisfy us. His provisions are more than anything we can ever imagine.

The same was true for Abraham and Sarah. God had promised that they would have a child. But the years went by and God had not moved yet. So they created their own answer by committing another heinous sin, adultery. They couldn’t see the child promised to them by God so they took the wrong path to make one they could see. 25 years went by between the time of the promise to the fulfullment of the promise.

Before the Israelites went into Egypt, Joseph was a picture of what to do when God seems distant. His brothers sold him into slavery when he was 17. As he worked as a slave he was falsely accused by his master’s wife and thrown into prison. But the Bible tells us four times (Genesis 39:2,3,21,23) that all this time “the LORD was with Joseph”. Knowing that, Joseph remained faithful in whatever he did. He was ultimately taken from prison and made an official to the Pharaoh…13 years after being sold by his brothers. Joseph endured a lot but he continued to patiently wait on God. How many of us would have given up way before then?

In our human experience, we have only a limited finite grasp of eternity. We can’t see what God sees. God sees the beginning and the end of all situations. Someone has said they were are like characters in a very extravagant painting. We can only see the spot that we are in but God sees the entire painting all at once. As scripture says “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

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God is always working while we are waiting. The Hebrews were waiting on Moses because he was talking to God. Neither he nor God had abandoned his people. God was doing a work and His people should have been patiently waiting on what He was doing. It’s the same with us. While it may seem God has not moved in whatever situation we are in, we can be confident that He is working all things together for our good. The worst thing we can do is try to get ahead of God and make things happen that He hasn’t condoned or that He just plain hates. We then take our faith away from God and put it on ourselves. And anyone who has ever made one mistake (that’s all of us) knows that we cannot compare anywhere close to a perfect God.

Further reading: Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 27:14, 37:4, 46:10, 90:4, Proverbs 3:5-6, Ecclesiastes 3:1,11, Lamentations 3:25-26, Isaiah 40:31, 55:8-9, Habakkuk 2:3, Micah 7:7, Romans 8:28, Galatians 6:9

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

God in the Flesh

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The Nativity by Gustav Dore, late 19th century

Colossians 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, . ..

In the Bible we learn that God came down and dwelt in the body of man. He was born of a woman, lived, ate, slept, cried, and died. In theology, this is known as the Doctrine of the Incarnation. The word “incarnation” means to be made into flesh. The Incarnation is one of the vital doctrines of the Christian faith although it has had its critics over the centuries. Here I seek to explore and defend the concept of God in the flesh.

In the Book of Genesis, God tells Eve that her Seed will crush the head of the serpent but the serpent will bruise the Seed’s heel (3:15). This was a promise from God that a man born of a woman would be the one to defeat the serpent, Satan. This gospel is the first revelation of who the Messiah would be. As time goes on in human history we are provided more info on this Man (progressive revelation).

In Isaiah 7:14, we are told that there will be a virgin who will give birth to a Child and His name will be Immanuel. Often in the Old Testament times, a name given to a person was actually a description of that person. Such is the case with Immanuel which means “God with us.” So this will be literally God dwelling among us as a man. Isaiah goes on to say in chapter 9, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…” So more is now revealed. God will dwell among man as a man. He will be of the lineage of David and will establish His kingdom. And from Genesis, Satan will bruise His heel but He will defeat Satan.

Now we come to the fruition of the promise made to Eve and to the people of God. The birth of Jesus. The only man born of a virgin, Jesus came to earth as the Immanuel that Isaiah foretold of 700 years before.

Like I’ve stated previously, in Matthew we see that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. And in the Gospel of John, He is described as the Word that was with God and the Word that was God (John 1:1). In Colossians 1:15, He is the “image of the invisible God.” In Philippians 2:6, He is the very nature, or form, of God. Hebrews 1:3 says He is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

Jesus is the “uncreated incarnate Creator of creation”. All things were created from Him, through Him, and for Him (Romans 11:36). Yet, the Creator came to earth and dwelt in His creation. This is referred to as the Hypostatic Union; Jesus being truly God and truly man. Jesus is the two natures of God and man in a single hypostasis (essence, substance, nature). He is the theanthropos, or God-man.

The dual nature of Jesus may sound confusing, but God is not the author of confusion. John 1 calls Jesus the light. Scientists have discovered that light also has a dual nature. The scientific community was once divided on whether light was wave or whether it was particle. However they’ve discovered that it is both wave and particle, something scientists used to consider an impossibility.

Some have argued that Jesus is not God because the Scriptures says He slept and that an all-powerful God does not need to sleep. This argument basically comes from a person who doesn’t take their own premise to its logical conclusion. That is, that God being all powerful can choose to place himself in a human body and limit that human body to the natural laws that govern all other humans; like the need for rest and food and water. He also came as a Jew meaning that He had to obey the spiritual laws He had given Moses about 1,200 years before. And He did so, perfectly.

Some people would say “is this like Hercules who was the progeny of a god and human mother?” NO. Jesus was fully God and fully man. The fictional Hercules was half-god and half-man. Some would say that Hercules only became a god after his death. Unlike Hercules, Jesus the Son was ALWAYS God. He says in the Gospel of John, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus says in the Garden of Gethsemane that He shared the glory with God before the world began (John 17:5). Therefore, there was no progression, or apotheosis, of Jesus to divinity. He was always God.

Jesus came to earth to be the propitiation, or atoning sacrifice, of our sins. He could only be this as a perfect man, but since there is no perfect man, God came to earth to be just that.

As John Piper states, “In order for Jesus to suffer and die, he had to plan way ahead of time, because … he couldn’t die. Immortal. He didn’t have any body, yet he wanted to die … for you. So he planned the whole thing by clothing himself with a body so that he could get hungry and get weary and get sore feet. The incarnation is the preparation of nerve endings for the nails – the preparation of a brow for thorns to press through. He needed to have a broad back so that there was a place for the whip. He needed to have feet so that there was a place for spikes. He needed to have a side so that there was a place for the sword to go in. He needed fleshy cheeks so that Judas would have a place to kiss and there would be a place for the spit to run down that the soldiers put on him. He needed a brain and a spinal column with no vinegar and no gall so that the exquisiteness of the pain could be fully felt. I just plead with you – when you’re reading the bible and you read water toy texts like “he loved you” and “gave himself for you,” you wouldn’t go too fast over it. Linger, linger, linger, and plead with him that your eyes would be opened.

Further reading: John 1:1-14, Romans 1:2-5, 8:3, 9:5, Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 1:1-3, 4:2

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

The Virgin Birth

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Jesus’ Birth by James Schultz, 2017

The virgin birth of Jesus is one the main tenets of the Christian faith. This miraculous event is recorded in Scripture. Had Jesus not been born of the virgin Mary, He wouldn’t have been the proper sacrifice for our sins. He would have been born into sin and therefore would have sinned. According to the Old Testament, the sacrifice for sin had to be spotless and without blemish. Regarding Jesus, this doesn’t mean spotless physically. This means that He was without sin. His blood did not carry the sin trait that was borne to the rest of us from Adam.

What about His mother? Wasn’t she human born into sin? The Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary was born without sin in order for her to  conceive a sinless Christ. However, there is no biblical proof of the Immaculate Conception (which begs the question; wouldn’t the same logic require Mary’s mother to have been born without sin to conceive a sinless Mary, and her mother before her, and so on and so forth?). Mary needed saving from her sins like we all do. It was believed in the past that the baby in the womb shared his mother’s blood. What we know today, however, is that the baby when in the womb makes his own blood. His blood is unique to himself. That’s why Jesus’ blood, and Jesus’ blood only, has the power to wash away sins.  “The fetal blood and maternal blood do not mix. In fact, if this were to be the case, there would be such immunological protest from the mother that she would soon make enough antibodies to the baby’s blood to destroy the pregnancy.” (https://www.babble.com/pregnancy/anatomy-fetus-placenta/)

Jesus was unique in that His father was God. Although the Bible calls the nation of Israel the child of God in the Old Testament (Exodus 4:22, Deuteronomy. 14:1) and those that place their faith in Jesus are His children (Romans 8:16-17) under the New Covenant, only Jesus is called the “only begotten”. Jesus is God’s only son in the same way God called Isaac Abraham’s only son (Genesis 22:2) even though Abraham had another son (Ishmael) prior to Isaac. The Greek word for “only begotten” is monogenēs (μονογενής) which literally means “one of a kind” or “the only of its kind.” In the ancient near East, a person’s lineage was based on who their father was, not their mother. Jesus was, therefore, of His father and not of His mother. This also has scientific bearing today. As this article from Discover magazine puts it “You may have inherited your mother’s eyes, but, genetically speaking, you use more DNA passed down from your father.” If Jesus was born of Joseph and Mary, He could not have been the only begotten son.

One of the main arguments against the virgin birth is that the word for virgin in the Book of Isaiah means “young girl” or “maiden”. Thus the prophecy only means that the Messiah would be born to a young girl.

This argument, however, fails to take a few facts into consideration. In Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14, the prophet foretells of the future Messiah being born of a virgin. The Hebrew word for virgin here is עַלְמָה or “almah”. Almah literally means “a virgin, maiden, a young woman of marrying age.” People dismiss that almah can mean virgin and say that it just means a young woman. And that Mary was just a young “betrothed” woman, not a virgin when she conceived Jesus. However, nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures does “almah” denote a young woman who is not a virgin.

An important part of understanding scripture is to understand what other scriptures say concerning the same topic. Let’s just say that we can’t tell whether Isaiah 7:14 is speaking of a virgin or just a young woman. Well we look to see how the authors of the New Testament would have read it. Matthew 1:22 is proof that the Jews of the time knew Isaiah 7:14 was speaking of a literal virgin and Matthew shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child, she said “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” If she were just a young and married woman, it would not have come as such a surprise to her. Gabriel also would not have had to say that the child would be conceived of the Holy Spirit. No other place in scripture describes a birth in this fashion. The prophet Samuel was a “miracle child” but scriptures plainly tells us that his parents “knew” each other before he was born (1 Samuel 1:19). Samson was a “miracle child” but He was not conceived of the Holy Spirit or born of a virgin. Isaac was a miracle born to Abraham and Sarah, not because Sarah was a virgin, but because she was too old too conceive.

The whole purpose for the virgin birth, the whole purpose for the incarnation, was the cross. Actually, it was love that led to the cross. The cross is of much importance because of Who was hung on the cross. It was God who became a man. Born of a virgin. Laid aside heavenly pleasure for the likes of earthly pain. Only God could do this. Only He could be the sacrifice for our sins.

As C.S Lewis says, “Now if we had not fallen, that would all be plain sailing. But unfortunately we now need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all – to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all. So that the one road for which we now need God’s leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked. God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.
But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.”

Further reading: Hebrews 7:26, Romans 5:12,17,19

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org