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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Is It Possible to Prove God's Existence Without Using Faith?

Thanks for your excellent question.  Regarding "without using faith" I take you to mean proving God's existence without appeal to subjective experience.  I think this is a fine pursuit, but I would just warn at the outset that ruling out all subjective experience may be begging the question.  Which is when one assumes all "faith evidence" (IE, inner, spiritual experiences of God) isn't real evidence.  But is this so?  If we say all inner proofs are "nothing but emotion" and so rule them out as evidence, we've begged the question - we've assumed the very thing we're trying to prove.

William Lane Craig notes:
"If God does exist, He is certainly capable of communicating His truth to you in an interior way as well as through external evidences... many Christian beliefs are beliefs warranted to us by ...God's own testimony [inside]. Don't be too quick to dismiss it, lest you fail to hear the voice of God speaking to you."
So having said all that, you may actually agree with Craig that inner evidences are evidence, but your question is simply asking, "are there other, publicly available evidences?" I do not disagree that if the case for God relied ONLY on inner evidences it would be a much less compelling case.

It turns out the case for God's existence is very strong because it includes so much of the type of evidence you are interested in.  So on to that evidence.  There is so much material here I can merely describe 4 excellent, non subjective, non faith-based arguments.  I'll go more in-depth on the first, but I'll link you to 5 minute videos from Dr Craig's excellent YouTube page which will give you a primer on them all.

This is drawn from the core question, why is there something rather than nothing?  Everyone knows that things we see now are results of past causes.  You're here because of your parents, and they because of theirs and on back.  But does this chain of cause and effect go back forever?  Atheism requires that it does, but is this reasonable?

There are good reasons to think both scientifically and philosophically that the universe cannot be infinite in age.  Philosophically, actual infinites of anything usually lead to absurdities.  Imagine I went to heaven and God said, "you have to count whole numbers up to infinity before you can get in, but don't worry i'll give you as long as you need."  When I'm at 14 quadrillion, God gives the same assignment to another guy.  I think, man I'm so far ahead of this guy!  But actually, we both still have the same infinite number of numbers to count!  And therefore, we will both never get in!

Well, if you can't cross infinity positively, how can you cross infinity going backwards?  To say it another way, how can you go from minus infinity events to today?  It's impossible, because it's the same distance!  If the series of events in the past started infinitely long ago, it would have never gotten to today, because you would never have reached the first event to start the chain!

So the argument for God in all this is as follows: if everything that begins to exist has a cause, then even the universe must also have a cause, because it must have had a beginning in the FINITE past.  It could not have existed forever into the past, or else it wouldn't be here.

But if it is required that the universe began to exist, the cause of the universe must be something outside the universe, right?   A thing cannot cause itself, that's absurd - that would mean it already existed before it exists to bring itself into existence!!

We have to have what Aquinas called a PRIME MOVER - a FIRST CAUSE.  And if that cause was outside the universe, then we may infer some things about it.  It was enormously powerful, because it had to be greater than the universe.  An effect cannot be greater than it's cause.  But it would also have to be immaterial because matter is a property of the universe.  Another way of saying that is spiritual.  It would also have to be timeless, since time is also a property of the universe. And space-less, again because space is a property of the universe.

Thus we arrive at a rudimentary definition of God!  A timeless, space-less, immaterial, enormously powerful thing.

Now, this is where you can arrive at, just by THINKING about the universe and the question why there is something rather than nothing.

But science now gives this philosophical argument amazing support.  First the 2nd law of thermodynamics says that all energy always goes from states of high order and concentration to low.  In short, it says, everything is running down, entropy is a defining characteristic of the whole show.

This is true even if some parts of the universe temporarily increase in order and energy.  Local increases in order always come at a cost to the whole amount of order.  For example, if a goat is born from a single cell and grows up, that's an increase in order and concentration of energy.  But this comes at a net loss of usable energy to the whole system, from the grass it ate, the air it breathed, and the sun energy it took to fuel all this.

In fact, the universe is running down, like a car running out of gas.  If it had been here forever, there would already be no stars and no galaxies, because all suns, all galaxies are petering out, expending themselves.  Even as new stars form from old ones, the whole show is gradually losing usable energy until it ends in what they call the "heat death": All matter/energy one uniform low temperature, everything dead.

But everything is not dead, so there had to be a beginning a finite time ago.

Of course the most powerful scientific evidence for a beginning is the Big Bang model.  And here we have the most stunning physical proof that the universe had a beginning in the finite past.   The proof was in the discovery of the expansion of the universe and cosmic background radiation, both testifying to the "Singularity" - a point of almost infinite density and energy, in the finite past, out of which all things exploded into the 13 billion light year monstrosity we measure today.

But there's one thing more: not only can we infer a timeless, spaceless, immaterial cause for the universe, we can also infer that this cause is personal. Here's why:

Before the universe, there was truly nothing around, not matter nor the laws matter runs by.  NO THING.  But nothing comes from nothing.  So without matter or laws around to cause things to happen, if something did happen (and we're here so something really did happen out of nothing!) it would have to have been FREELY caused.  But the only source of truly free agency we know of, is a person.

Therefore, the First Cause must be personal, because it wasn't acting due to the force of natural law or "have to" - It was acting based on "want to", and only persons do that.

So the maxim "nothing comes from nothing" turns out to be true.  There is powerful "non-faith based" evidence for a very grand SOMETHING, and both philosophy and science hint strongly at the qualities of that SOMETHING, which sound very much like what we call "God".
Kalam Cosmological Argument

The fine-tuning of the fundamental properties of the universe is off the charts uncanny.  Without this immaculate, exquisite fine-tuning there could be no stars, and none of the physical context required for life. So there has to be a reason for this precision.

Options include, either chance, law or design.  There's no good reason to believe we could get that lucky by chance (multiverse theories notwithstanding), and there's no law above the other laws causing them to be so improbably precise.  The only other option then, is that they were designed, which is exactly how they appear.
Teleological Argument

Objective moral values are something everyone, everywhere implicitly and explicitly believes exist.  But if God does not exist, then neither do these objective values.  If God does not exist, moral values are rather subjective and relative to different cultures and times and derived from chemical and social evolution and have no real demand on us.

But no one actually lives this way.  Everyone (except psychopaths) acts as if they ARE bound to behave in certain ways that are good and avoid other behaviors that are bad.  And not merely for expedience sake, for often the bad is rejected even though it is much more expedient!!  Law then requires a ground in a Law Giver, thus the universal moral urge is powerful evidence for God.
Moral Argument

Jesus was crucified because he made the stunning claim that he was the long awaited Jewish Messiah.  But more so because he claimed that as Messiah he was the Son of Man, divine figure of Daniel's prophesy and further, that he would rise from the dead.  So if he did rise from the dead, this is powerful vindication of his claim to be God and evidence for God's existence.

The record of history (not assuming the Bible is 'inspired' but treating it as another ancient source) shows us 4 unavoidable facts about Jesus final days.  These events are agreed to by most scholars, believing and skeptical: Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate and interred in a known grave.  Jesus grave was found empty.  Jesus disciples experienced what they claimed were appearances of Jesus alive after his crucifixion.  Jesus disciples believed and proclaimed that they saw Jesus come back from the dead.   There is only one theory that captures those facts into a coherent explanation: Jesus actually rose from the dead.
Resurrection Argument

Friday, July 19, 2019

Is Robin Hood a Good Example of Living By A Higher Law?

QUESTION: So this is a theoretical question from my recent read of Robin Hood... I know technically he is stealing and breaking a core commandment, but he is also seeking after justice, trying to right the wrongs of another sort of thief, one which abuses those who are powerless to defend.  We have in D&D the concept of alignment. How one views laws of the land or society - from "lawful" to neutral to "chaotic". And also how one views the "laws" of life... Good, neutral, evil.  Robin Hood is the typical Chaotic Good archetype, seeing the laws of their present governments as corrupt and living by a higher law. But what does God say about this?  Thoughts?
RESPONSE:  I tend to look at core moral principles as inviolable, regardless of context, because from a Christian point of view, these laws are the very things that define goodness being derived from God's own nature. Therefore they are always right, even if it turns out wrong, and their neglect is always wrong, even if it turns out right.
I think Paul agrees with this when he responds to slanderers who accuse him of preaching lawlessness so that God gets more glory. He resists this "bad can lead to good" accusation by saying, 
Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just! Romans 3:8 
In other words, it is never right to say or do something evil, that good may result.  Ends do not justify the means.  I know there's lots of talk about situational ethics, and plenty of moral thought experiments where the ends seem to justify the means.  But the beauty of tying ethics to God is that there we find bedrock principles from which there can be no "progression"; no context, no subjective narrative, no relativity, just goodness

Now, you mention the laws of the land, which can fit into different boxes.  I fundamentally agree with this kind of evaluation.  There are laws above our laws.  Martin Luther King, who advocated civil disobedience, once said,
“One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’" - MLK
He's exactly right.  So the laws I'm thinking of are those just laws, whose justification lies in the very nature of God which is fair, benevolent and just.  About these laws, I think of them very much like I think about the truth and the beauty of math. The right formula is elegant and symmetrical and simple, but its beauty is not soft, not squishy, it's not indulgent of any imperfection, diminution, or flexibility. 

Robin Hood's stealing, which violates as you said,  a "core commandment" or as MLK put it, a "just law", only seems justifiable to us in a world marked by total brokenness. So it can seem expedient that wrongs chase other wrongs to mitigate them or reverse them.  The problem with RH is the same problem that occurs every time we attempt to right a wrong, but we find the thing standing in our way is a moral principle. That problem is our own hubris.

I would point out that the justification for Robin Hood is built on a presumption which his advocates rarely acknowledge: we presume to be sufficient judges of the ends, and also sufficiently in control that we know when to violate a transcendent moral principle and when not to. I mean here principles such as right to life, equality, fairness, truthfulness, respect, human rights.  We imagine that we know when and exactly how much we may violate these, in order to bring in a "greater good". This seems to me, to be God's territory alone. 

And surprisingly, God does what he asks us to do, for he has bound himself to himself, even if some more expedient course seems fairer/better.  Scripture says:
"If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself." 2 Timothy 2:13.
What a fascinating way for Paul to put it!  He cannot disown himself.  Put the two words together and you'll see how stunning this language is.  "God" + "cannot".  Unlike our Muslim friends, there are many things Christians believe God CANNOT do.  And apparently, among these is the disowning of himself.  What does this mean?  

God, Paul says, cannot separate himself from his own good character, as if it was a mere expedient that he made outside himself, which he can manipulate, alter or ignore at will, like the physical laws of the universe.  The irony about laws is that we cannot break physical laws but we can break moral laws.  God is the opposite, God can break physical laws (we call this the miraculous) but he cannot break moral laws which are lodged intrinsically within himself.

Christians envision a Judge of the Universe who is perfect, precisely because that's who he IS, not merely what he chooses to do most of the time or promote in us.  Thus, he is bound in some sense, to himself.  He cannot himself do evil, that good may result . Because that would mean disowning himself.  This "inability" in God, includes being bound to the good moral principles by which he made us.  He is bound by himself into a covenant of non-coercion with us, because the love at the heart of himself and our purpose to love him back demands freedom.

So we see in God the unwillingness - the inability even - to violate the good principle of our free will, even if such violations would achieve the end of all human suffering. All God has to do is snap his fingers like Thanos and make the world good again, or go away altogether.  But he will not, because he cannot!  Not because he lacks the power, but because the Judge running things won't violate goodness (himself) in order to do good!

Yet we act as if we have more knowledge or control than God when we act like Robin Hood. Take affirmative action. I think it was judge Roberts who said, "finally the only way to stop treating people differently because of race, is to stop treating people differently because of race."  Just one example where we've found this to be true: you don't fix wrongs with other (well motivated) wrongs. In fact, we make things worse. 

This is true in banking, where all the rules that were gamely fixed by smart men prior to the collapse of 2008 - men who just about brought the world system to its knees - were all rules first designed to solve some perceived Injustice. They were rules like those allowing (demanding!) people with crappy credit to get mortgages.  Those rules were all about "giving" to the poor; ostensibly to help others and do good, by violating some principle of goodness, like truthfulness in reporting income or credit score or the value of MBS.

Then, as we all saw, in a terrible reversal of Robin Hood, our violations of truth and fairness in the name of good, wound up stealing from the poor and giving to the rich.

Same thing for the oligarchic powers who at the same time declared, "we must violate the principles of the free market to save the free market."  If some core moral principle lies beneath free markets (and I believe one does), then this was wrong even if it "turned out right" - and some might quibble that the world system being "saved" means things turned out right.  Delayed an inevitable and horrible day of reckoning may be be much closer to the truth, and kicking this can down the road for our children or grandchildren to eventually deal with, exposes us as reprobates, not Robin Hoods.

Isn't Eden our best example? "Eat the forbidden fruit, get your eyes opened, know Good from Evil" - which had to be a good thing, right??  Isn't knowledge always progress? No!!  Not if it's gotten the wrong way. Isn't more equity always right? No!!  Not if it's gotten the wrong way. 

Isn't this also what the last century of socialist experiments taught us? Take over the means of production by any means possible - Robin Hood writ large, encoded into political philosophy - to get us some more equality!! 100 years later, 100 million dead and counting.

OR, we could do what we can lawfully to bring more equity, while humbly submitting to that transcendent goodness behind: "thou shalt not steal." (Exodus 20:15)  And trust God with what results.

What's the Connection Between Socialism and Trans-activism?

QUESTION: You can't help notice how hip both Transgenderism, and Socialism are today.  But I'm further noticing explicit and implicit connections between the two.  What's the reason for that?

RESPONSE:  If you look into it, Socialism and LGBT rights has a long and interesting history.  Just this year, transgenderism, gender nonconformity, and abolishing traditional family structures were huge issues at a recent conference in Chicago dubbed, Socialism 2019.  Summarizing one of the panel discussions, “Social Reproduction Theory and Gender Liberation,” one reviewer summarized how these modern socialists see themselves connecting to LGBT activism.
'Corrie Westing... argued that traditional family structures propped up oppression and that the modern transgender movement plays a critical part in achieving true “reproductive justice.” ...pregnancy becomes a tool of oppression, she said, as women who get pregnant and then engage in child rearing are taken out of the workforce at prime productive ages and then are taken care of by an economic provider.  Thus, the gender binary is reinforced, Westing said.  The answer to such problems is to “abolish the family.” The way to get to that point, she said, is by “getting rid of capitalism” and reorganizing society around what she called “queer social reproduction.”  She then quoted a writer, Sophie Lewis, who in a new book, “Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family,” embraced “open-sourced, fully collaborative gestation.”

Many have wondered what the obsession on the political left is with Transgenderism.  Let's face it, they say, even if you have genuine concern for the freedoms and acceptance of transgendered people, we’re talking about a tiny fraction of the population.  Can that really be a winning political issue?  Why spend so much time on this?  Surely there must be some political expedience beyond a moral crusade for the right to have 48+ gender options on Facebook!

Turns out, there is.  This conference points overtly to the real reason – support for the trans-rights movement facilitates knocking out our inherent connection to biological sexual reality, which oppressively ties women to the family model that naturally arises out of binary sex.  This is gold for socialists who need a reason for revolution against oppression.

Now, where they see this as inbuilt oppression, built literally into the very fabric of sex, someone else may see a very different and liberating design.  If the binary nature of sex ties us to traditional family structures, it also provides a very immediate and local answer to our innate longings for purpose, belonging, connection and interdependence.  But if that is true, the socialist is very right to assume the traditional family is standing in the way of the Marxist dream, for it is the very thing keeping us from needing or looking to a Central Planner to find meaning, purpose or even aid or justice.  People getting their needs met in stable family structures and finding satisfaction in local control of their lives do not generally consider themselves oppressed. 

Well, there can be no greater threat to the central planning required by socialism than a happy people that doesn’t need its government, except for the most basic of protections.  Socialism/Marxism requires an inflamed, unhappy populace that demands its overseers be given total power to control the means of production so that experts can redistribute it, so everything can be fair - ostensibly to end all oppression and inequality.  

But if we are happy with home, with a family, with the provisions the stable nuclear family provides, with the freedoms that come from local control of power, such an inflamed populace never materializes – and Marx’s predicted revolution is dead in the water.

The only way to foment the Revolution that stubbornly isn’t happening in the West, is to break our "addiction" to family.  To do that, you have to find a way to cast the family as evil, as an institution of sexual oppression, and to undermine the sexual realities that underpin it.  So trans-activism is not ultimately a campaign to end injustice for 0.02% of the population, but rather is more fundamentally a means to undermine the biological realities of sex and cast binary sex as inherently oppressive.  

“Women can’t be free and equal, until women can be men” is the message.  Very few women, of course, will ever want to be men, but I think many, many women (and men) will gobble up the basic idea that unless I can be another sex, unless I can say no to my predetermined role conferred onto me by my gender, I’m not really free.  Thus, I am in some sense “oppressed” by nature.  If I remain tied to the biological roles that my sex inherently puts me in (having babies, if I’m a woman), I’m a victim of oppression.  Thus, revolt, rise up, cast off the role nature gave you, it’s inherently keeping you down and unequal!  

This is the Socialist Ideology inside the Trojan Horse of the Trans movement.  Break down and reinterpret sexual reality, to open up the plausibility and the attractiveness of Marx's long predicted revolution.   

I looked up this conference, and found it had the tag line “No Borders, No Bosses, No Binaries.”  So we're not speculating about the connection as if it was some kind of conspiracy.  Marx's big idea needs an oppressor class.  As the middle class in America continues to thrive (despite increased wealth inequality, which is far less relevant than standard of living, by which measure the poor are doing better than ever), the idea that we need to revolt against the Gates and the Buffets of the world cannot get off the ground.  

But some bad ideas are like zombies and they refuse to stay dead.  Modern Marxists have had to invent a new oppressor class, and new oppressors and therefore new reasons for revolution to motivate us toward the Utopia.  This is it: the oppressors are cis-gendered persons whose traditional reproductive model ties women to home and family and children, takes them out of the workforce which somehow makes them oppressed.  To support this narrative, gender has to be seen as fluid, binary sex as a false assumption perpetuated by capitalists, and the work of gestation and reproduction painted as an unfair and unnatural "burden" to be freed from.

Of course, this whole story vilifies birthing and parenting as "less than" so how could such a program sustain a society?  The answer, in the newest version of the workers paradise, gestation is "open sourced" and we must assume some form of artificial, publicly controlled surrogacy will be the way all babies come into the world, and then would all be raised collaboratively.  At least in this, socialists haven't changed much..

Against this, is the Christian view.  We believe nature is not an unplanned reality.  Therefore, we believe we can read many things "out of" nature that reveal planning and design to us from the Planner and Designer.  When it comes to sex, we read out of sex, intention.  (Rather than reading "in to" nature whatever we want) Specifically, we see God's intention.  Not just for how we reproduce, but for who we reflect, namely God himself.  We see inside the binary nature of humans, the Image of God. To be born into your particular half of this mystery (male or female) isn't oppression, it's calling and mystical reflection of the divine, to be celebrated, not bemoaned or striven against. 

Christians can agree heartily with the new communist thinkers and sympathizers who (like the old ones) think the family a great and powerful obstacle to a secular paradise.  But unlike those who frame it and the binary sexual design underneath it as evil, we see a very great and powerful Good.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Does the Bible Condone Rape?

QUESTION:  Why does the Bible promote rape, in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 by commanding a rape victim to marry her rapist!

RESPONSE:  This is one of those Bible problems where we read back into a passage all of our current cultural sensitivities and run into deep misunderstandings as a result.  Let’s just read the passage in question to begin:

Deut 22:28-29:  When a man comes upon a virgin who has never been engaged and grabs and rapes her and they are found out, the man who raped her has to give her father fifty pieces of silver. He has to marry her because he took advantage of her. And he can never divorce her.

At first glance, this seems to command that a rape victim must marry her abuser! Could anything be more cruel or unfair?  Looked at this way, this passage has been pointed to by many skeptics and atheists as evidence that the Bible is immoral, and misogynist.  How can the law that comes from this ancient Tribe be considered the law of an all-good God?

But wait.  Before we settle on the premise of your question, namely that this passage condones that which is evil, we have to objectively understand it first.  To do that, we have to get out of our own perspective and travel back into a very different world, the world of the ancient near east.

In many ways we might say this world is morally inferior to our own, because it tolerated slavery and patriarchy and polygamy.  People in this strange world aren’t assumed to be equal before the law, and personal liberties aren’t taken to be the most important part of public policy.  Isn't this horrible and wrong?

But these kinds of thoughts lead to an interesting side conversation with three points to make:

First, on what basis do we judge this law as immoral?  The skeptic who rejects the idea of God and objective moral absolutes is in a bit of a conundrum here.  They presume that morals are relative to different times and cultures, built into us by social and chemical evolution, with no objective basis.

But then they look at this sex law of the ancient Israelites and make the bold claim that it’s wrong.  Not just ineffective or inconvenient to us, but actually wrong in an objective sense.  But how can one make such a claim unless they know what good actually is?  And if there is no objective right, then by what standard do we called this rape law backward, regressive or immoral? 

Secondly, the modern, Western critic of Mosaic Law rarely realizes that their basis for critiquing the Bible is the Bible itself.  In other words, the development of Western sensibilities regarding things like personal liberty, sexual boundaries, and individualism are built on premises which would not be self-evident to us, unless the Bible had first paved the way.

Moral developments we take for granted, do not pop into the world out of nothing.  We can thank the work of primitive revelations through figures such as Moses, which lead most today to believe that might does not equal right - an idea which was decidedly not “self-evident” to most people at most times in human history.

Third, the modern critic of Moses usually has no handle on the moral excesses of their own era when they make sport of the excesses of another.  We most recoil at Mosaic Law in the places where that law describes a people bent severely toward honor and chastity and tribal security.  We might see these as “lopsided moral developments” not because they are evil, but because some part of the good objective moral code, which we all acknowledge, has gotten out of whack.

But if we see ourselves as truly objective, we ought to be able to see similar lopsided moral developments inside our own culture – developments which might also stem from some piece of the objective moral law.  Yet, out of whack, they lead us into all kinds of evil as well – evil which people in Moses time would spot easily and criticize us for.

Turning now to those cultural moral excesses of Moses time, we must realize they put a high value on virginity. This is in contrast to our own age, whose commitment to sexual restraint hovers somewhere near zero.  Also, their culture believed women needed to be protected under the oversight of a leading male (their husband or father), in part because the world was filled with rapacious and predatory men whose power is only checked by other powerful men.

Once you understand that context, you can begin to understand why the rule above could be considered fair and just - benevolent even!  When considering Mosaic Law, the modern believer (or skeptic) never has to accept the temporal conditions as ideal or good.  We don’t have to love patriarchy or polygamy or slavery.  No!  We are however, trying to discern whether, given the non-ideal temporal cultural conditions, the law’s transcendent principles can legitimately be considered good.

The evidence says yes. 

First, note that the woman raped does not have to marry the man, the man has to marry the woman.  You might think this is mere semantics – they are married in either case, the victim and the abuser!  Yes, but the way the law puts its demand helps us realize that the consequence is a punishment to the abuser and a grace to the victim.

This is further spelled out by the following rule: he cannot divorce her.  This means the rape exempts the man from being able to make use of the divorce permission Moses would give later (Deut 24:1).  Marriage in this culture was not a romantic institution (though marriages could be very loving) so much as one of economic and social stability.  And women had very few tools to sustain themselves economically on their own, unlike today.  

So to be forced to marry the woman he violates, the man is forced by law to take on the responsibility of providing care for her – forever.  He can’t even make use of the “out clause” which Moses gave for “impurity”.  The rape means he is on the hook to provide for her, no matter the state of her future fidelity to him!

Again, given the high value of virginity, the man has not only violated her physically, but he has taken away from her a primary “dowry” she brings to any marriage union. Having stripped her of that, if he doesn’t marry her, it is likely no one else would.  And thus a raped woman is left to a life of poverty and likely prostitution or slavery to survive.

Interestingly, we have an example of just how in that cultural context, it would be the rape victims who might covet such a law, as a benevolent provision for justice.  In the time of King David, his daughter Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon.  In 2 Samuel 13:13 she very much seems to have wanted Amnon to marry her after the rape!  Why?  Because she knows that in that culture it would be very difficult to find someone to marry her and she would rather be married to Amnon and have lifelong security than to be desolate and single.

In fact, this is exactly what happens to Tamar because Amnon – to add to the enormity of his crimes – disgustedly rejects the very woman he, seconds ago, could not live without (2 Sam 13:15).  So she lived without marrying the rest of her life (2 Sam 13:20). 

But one may still protest, even if she gains a lifetime of security in compensation for her honor being violated, surely that is a life sentence of awkwardness and bitterness, even if she is cared for.  We must understand another piece of accompanying Mosaic legislation that mitigates this concern.  For in Exodus 22:16-17 we read:
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride price for virgins."

If we put the laws together, this addendum clearly states that the woman does not have to marry her rapist if her father refuses to give her to him.  And even in that culture, as in ours, it is difficult to imagine a dad granting permission for her to marry a man that she utterly hated.  Even under the absolute jurisdiction of their fathers, women in the Ancient Near East could have some say in their own marriage decisions (Gen 24:57).  If the father then refused to grant permission, the rapist would still have to pay the bride price (since he had stolen her marriageability by his action) and not get a bride.

So in fact, the Bible does not condone rape, since it clearly commands the death penalty for a man who rapes a married or betrothed woman (Deut 22:22-27).  And as for young virgins so violated, God’s law actually spared them the double cruelty of a lifetime of destitution, sold into slavery or prostitution.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

What Was the Pillar of Cloud and Fire?

QUESTION:  I’m really struggling in reading the Old Testament.  It’s hard, so much that seems weird or wrong!  What I am I supposed to do or learn with all this?  A problem from Numbers 9:15-23, I am trying to understand the Cloud of the Tabernacle.  I do get that this is God working thru a cloud.  However, I don't understand why the verses speak of how the cloud stays overnight, or can go on for a few days, a month, or a year in verse 22.  Was this for 'obedience'?  Especially when it said it could linger there for a year.  How in the world can they stay inside for a year?  It doesn't speak of how long the cloud was there from beginning to end.  Nor does it say the purpose.  Was there something going on in the region that God was protecting the Israelites? 

ANSWER: Thanks for your question.  As you read the Old Testament keep one thing in mind:  you believe in its inspiration and authority ONLY because Jesus did.  Jesus is the lens through which we Christians read and understand the Jewish Scriptures.  Our whole faith is built on what God did after this, in fulfilment of all this.  It’s a set up, and an opening act; it’s not giving us the whole story of who God is, but rather it’s anticipating the full work of Jesus. 

And so the laws especially must be read through the lens of a post-Law covenant which we have in Christ.  This is the record of God’s agreement with one people, the Gospel is a record of God’s agreement with ALL people.  The early apostles were clear that what you’re reading here are “shadows” of the good things we have in Christ.  Read Hebrews 10:1-18 and 1 Cor 10:1-6, to set your mind in a correct posture for your reading of the Old Covenant.  These are not our laws nor our covenant, these are now examples for us, illustrations of the Christian life, inspiration for our journey.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit and useful for correction and training?  Of course!  But only when “used properly” – as Paul says in 1 Tim 1:8.

This won’t take away all the difficulties you read about, but it will help you hold them with a looser hand, as you rest in the knowledge that whatever else God may be, and whatever he was up to with the Israelites, He cannot be different than what I see in Jesus who said, “The Father and I are One”.  Whatever God was up to must have always been pointing at Jesus.  Whatever confusion comes from how God acts in the early stages of biblical revelation, clarity is found in Christ. 

A good article to help you with the Old Testament is:

So about Cloud of the Tabernacle in Numbers, no one knows what that was.  I think you are right that the point of the Cloud moving is simply that the Israelites are learning obedience.  God says go, we go, and it doesn’t matter if we only set camp for a day.  Likewise, God says stay, we stay, even if that’s years at a time in one location.

The other reason for this direct physical manifestation of direction was likely so that they built their trust in Moses as God’s servant.  Moses received so many direct communiques from God that maybe a resentment would build in the people (as it would toward a cult leader, for example).  We know this happened in the Community from time to time (Number 12:1-2).  How can we trust you, Moses, if you’re the ONLY one getting the “messages”??

Now, God disciplined Aaron and Miriam for rebelling against Moses, but that’s only because that they failed to accept the very public confirmations of Moses that God gave, which is exactly what I’m talking about.  To be skeptical of a prophet dictating from God without such confirmation is actually a GOOD reaction, not a bad one!  Historically, with Mohammed in a cave or Joseph Smith with the angel Moroni and golden tablets, few in those movements really challenged the veracity of the messages.  It was just, “trust me, God speaks to me, and you listen.”

Well, unlike those false religions, true religion always has multiple vehicles to attest to the revelation.  True religion is done out in the open.  Biblical faith is built on events, not merely ideas.  With Jesus, we have 4 gospels and the record of hundreds of witnesses to his resurrection.  And when God was calling the people out of slavery he used Moses in a special way – yes – but he did not shy away from proving himself publicly and openly to the WHOLE community.  The point would be to give them confidence that in fact it was God leading them and not just the hair brained scheme of one man, Moses, getting revelations in secret.

So at Sinai we see God proving himself in thunder and provoking awe in Ex 20:18-19, to ALL the people.  So much so, the people want LESS proof, not more!  When was the last time you heard a person say, “I want God to stop talking to me so much in public acts that prove his godhood and power”??  Well, the cloud is another device just like this (a more gentle one perhaps!) that again proves to the community that God is leading them, not Moses.

As to why they moved so much, no one knows.  It seems arbitrary.  Some speculate that the cloud and fire refer to the volcanic activity of the Sinai range.  If you’ve been to Hawaii and observed the active volcanoes there, you know that during the day, all you see of a live volcano from a distance is the smoke, but at night you don’t see the smoke, but rather the fiery glow of molten rock.

Some would therefore say hovering “over the tabernacle” should be read as a euphemism for the connection between the mountain of God and God’s direction to the congregation.  I don’t know if that’s the right way to see it, but it may mean the movement of the pillars were tied in some way to something going on geologically in that region and as you speculate, might therefore have been about their safety.  Other references to the pillars of cloud and fire seem to indicate it could not be connected to the Mountain of God, but was truly mobile, a supernatural phenomena of some kind (Ex 13:21).

The main lesson of the cloud remains a very simple one:  when God says “go” we go.

Finally, I think you might be confused by the KJV reading of verse 22.  When it says they “remained in their tents”, that means more accurately, “They stayed at that campsite and did not move on” as long as the cloud remained over the tabernacle. They did not literally stay “in doors” for months or a year at a time!!

The NLT helpfully renders the verse like this:
Num 9:22-23: Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Does God Love Satan?

QUESTION:  You say God wants us to love our enemies.  But does God love his enemies?  Specifically, does God love Satan?

ANSWER: It's unquestionable that God certainly loved Satan (past tense), for Christians have always held the idea that Satan was God's highest creation.

A Scripture that speaks about this intimate relationship (I make the case for why this may still be informative about Satan even if the immediate context is about a Babylonian king here) is this:
Ezek 28:12-14
You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God.
Every kind of precious stone covered you:
carnelian, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, turquoise and emerald.
Your mountings and settings were crafted in gold;
they were prepared on the day you were created.
You were an anointed guardian cherub,
for I had appointed you.
You were on the holy mountain of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.

Clearly, deep love is implied in the honor and position given to this anointed Guardian Cherub.  God is love (1 John 4:16), so how would he not love this creature?

But even after he rebelled against God, God must still have loved Satan, simply because God continued to grant his Enemy life and existence. He even allowed him to come into his presence and converse and challenge God. (Job 1:6).  The freedom God has given him up to this day shows God loves even this enemy.

You may counter, that this implies that God is evil, for he loves a being of pure evil.  But Satan is not pure evil.  Satan has a will bent on evil and he is totally, morally corrupt.  But the fact that Satan has a will, is good.  And Satan has personality, and power and intelligence, all of which are good. What God loves in Satan is what still remains of God (which is good), despite the monstrosity of his evil deeds and his complete depravity.

However, since Satan's will is utterly and unalterably set against God - his very name means "Adversary" - he's a different kind of enemy than humans can ever be. We are to love all human enemies because God sees every person as redeemable. God can reclaim any person and He specifically uses love to do it (Romans 2:4); that's why we wants us to love our enemies.  By love we are engaging in God's chosen battle strategy for all his lost human enemies (Matt 5:45) - the ones he died for, while they were still his enemies (Rom 5:10).

However, we get no sense from Scripture that the fallen angels or their Leader are redeemable, so their rebellion must be final. So with demons we would never seek to bless them (that's what love does) because blessing can never turn them.  In fact, blessing them (in whatever way that's possible) may actually help them turn us away from God!

Therefore, neither we nor God are obligated to love Satan by the same principle of blessing by which we love human enemies.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

How Should I Deal with Guilt?

QUESTION:  When I read the Bible at times something's that I read convict me and I feel sad and I feel that I am letting Christ down by not doing what it says in the Bible.

ANSWER: Thanks for the question.  What you're struggling with is common to most Christians at one point or another.  In a word, it's guilt.  

Each person, Christian or non-Christian has a sense of being accountable to God for their behavior.  The Christian's sense of "oughtness" magnifies exponentially as he/she comes under the conviction of the explicit instruction of our Faith for how to live – the black and white guidelines, moral precepts, commandments, in the Bible, on top of the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.

Here's how I resolve the feelings you're talking about.  I keep in mind that once I've let the moral commandments of the Bible bring me to that place of conviction, that's about the moment where those same commandments have fulfilled their duty and I need move on to something better.  

That better thing, is the Spirit of God inside me. 

What I'm referring to you can read for yourself in Romans chapters 1-8 which I'd encourage you to do this week.

To summarize, the Bible says the Law - both the internal law of your conscience and the explicit instructions of the Bible - have not been given to help us feel right with God.  If you look to the rules in the Bible to help you feel good about yourself before God, you're going to be a mess, because the exact opposite will be the case.  The Law was given to "increase the consciousness of sin."  (Romans 3:20, 5:20) 

You need to hear that.  

The Bible's moral codes (the Law); that is, the stuff you're reading in there that you're supposed to do, but you don't do perfectly... was not given to absolve your guilt.  It wasn't given as the path to be acceptable to God.  The law was given to increase your sense of sin - to highlight the truth that you are spiritually dead and fallen out of relationship with God.

Well, guess what?  It sounds like the law has achieved it's goal in you!  You feel conscious of sin, of letting Christ down.  You are vitally aware that God is holy and you are not, that there are areas where you do not measure up, that you have not done what God has explicitly asked you to do.  

OK, the Law's job is mostly done. 

You need something else at that moment:  a reminder of what our Faith in Christ is all about.  It's not about Law but about Righteousness.  For in Christ the bible says, (Rom 3:21-22) a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made available. 

You must understand that what righteousness means is simple 'being right' with God.  If you are righteous then, the relationship with God is fixed.  





He accepts you.  You are friends.  He's not mad at you anymore.  If you thought you could be right with God by doing all the stuff in the Bible, then you would always remain insecure about your future with God because it depends on your performance.

But if God himself - who holds the moral code in his hand, who Himself gave us the Bible which convicts you so strongly, who is the primary party offended in all our sin - if this God himself declares you “not guilty”, they how can you remain sad any longer?  You've been rescued by amazing Love that knows you can't keep the law, and has decided to carry your debt, pay your wages and declare you "right" through the sacrifice of Christ.

Read this:  Rom 8:31-33  
"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies." 
 Are you hearing this?

We've received this grace by a humble faith and faith alone.  You didn't earn this gift.  It's free.  Now, that doesn't mean we go about grossly offending God with impunity.  Paul carries on his argument with these words:
Rom 6:1-2  "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!"
In Christ we are called to obedience out of gratitude for the gift we've received.  We seek to obey, just like we were seeking to please God before we knew Christ but in a new way:  the way of the Spirit, not the way of the Law.  The Spirit's way is as a way of saying thank you.  The law's way is a way of trying to gain favor.

Jesus showed us how this works when he allowed a very notoriously sinful woman to anoint him and fawn over him in front of some religious leaders.  They thought that the way people get right before God is by never doing anything bad, so they were indignant about this display of affection.  

Jesus in the home of Simon the Pharisee
But Jesus gave them an illustration... If two people owe a man money and he forgives both debts, who will love the man more?  The one who owed him the most, obviously.  So Jesus points to the woman and says, Luke 7:47  
"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
He wasn't saying the indignant men didn't NEED to be forgiven much.  They just had no SENSE of needing to be forgiven much because they were self righteous. The woman on the other hand, knew of her great debt and in being forgiven of it, she was not self righteous, she was "God-righteous".  That is, she didn't declare herself righteous, Jesus did.   In response she lavishes great love on Christ.  

This is Jesus' way of spelling out how a true Christian must go about their business of obeying God.  It's a gratitude response of love, not an anxious earning.

So if you as a Christian now fail to obey Christ in a given area, you have not fallen out of relationship with Christ.  Because that relationship wasn't ever, nor can it ever be sustained by you being good enough.  So get off that works treadmill!  It's a no win situation, which Paul expounds on Romans 7.  It's a defeated life of never measuring up. 

What you need is grace - in two ways.

First the grace of forgiveness. Ask for it, and receive it whenever you don't do what Jesus commands, whenever you feel convicted or sad that you sinned and let Christ down.  This is not a surprise to him.  This is why there had to be a cross.  He knows what you're made of.  But that doesn't mean he wants you to keep on doing this, because he wants victory for you.  He made you for Freedom and Life!

Second you need the grace of the Holy Spirit inside who now gives new power to help you walk in a new way of life.  Your job is not to beat yourself up over failure, but to daily submit your will and thought processes to the Holy Spirit.  

Rom 8:6 says, "the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace..."  If you walk in daily moment by moment friendship with the Holy Spirit, as a sort of continual conversation, you will find his power to bring life and peace, more victory and less moments of "letting Christ down."

Watch out that you don't become trapped again to a religion of works.   That's why you turned to Christ in the first place; because you could not measure up on your own.  And one of the things you surrendered was the pride of thinking you could make God happy or love you more by how "good" you were.  Ironically that way of thinking, though filled with deep longing to be "good enough" leads to terrible anxiety and fear and increased sin. How?  Because outwardly might look OK to others, but from God's perspective, inwardly you're dying with guilt and fear which are antithetical to the life of Christ.

Leave that whole way of thinking behind and say to yourself I'm an adopted son or daughter.  God is my Father who accepts me.  I AM righteous - it was given to me as a gift, and the law no longer has power over me, to condemn me, because I died to it.  I live now by the Spirit of Christ living in me.  Not perfectly, but more and more as I call on him and submit my will to him.  Use the law only as a clarifier of what God's will actually is for you - not as a judge over you - and then resolve to live in that will by the power of the Holy Spirit out of pure love and gratitude for his amazing, relentless forgiveness.

Paul sums it up in Rom 7:4:  
"So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God."