My Father Worketh

Science, particularly the physical sciences, can be thought of as a search for causes. We want to understand how things work, the interactions and interdependencies between events so we can better understand and predict our world.

When some particular behavior or event (effect) is observed there’s an implicit assumption it was caused. We call this the Law of Causality (Cause and Effect); it’s so fundamental to the rational mind that violating it is absurd. It’s not only true — it’s formally true by definition: an effect is by definition something caused.

However, as we pursue probable causes to find an initial root cause, especially when examining historical events which we cannot replicate, we inevitably go back in time until we reach an event or state where there seems to be no possible natural cause: we then deduce that there must be an uncaused Cause. We call this observation the Kalam Cosmological Argument; it is formal proof of God’s existence.

One need not go all the way back to the beginning of Creation to find God causing effects: God has continued acting since Creation. (Jn5:17) While we should not presume God is the cause when we don’t yet understand how something works (God of the Gaps logical fallacy), we should be willing to acknowledge God as the Cause (a miracle) when this is implied by science itself: when any other probable cause violates scientific law.

Certainly, if we conclude a miracle has indeed occurred, we might later develop further scientific understanding and be able to explain it naturally, but this does not mean concluding an event is miraculous is unscientific any more than if we provide a plausible naturalistic explanation which later turns out to be false. In either case, we are being reasonable and honest based on our current understanding of science.

For example, a personal friend was shot in the chest multiple times at point blank range and survived. In analyzing his wounds, the attending surgeon found multiple instances where a bullet track terminated at the surface of a vital organ and the organ was undamaged; there was no bullet anywhere in the track, nor any alternate route found where the bullet might have exited the body. How does one explain the cause of such an event?

We may deduce the following: either [1] the surgeon lied (or was careless in his examination, which seems unlikely given his expertise, character and willingness to document and testify of the result – the x-rays are still available), [2] bullets ricocheted off vital organs and exited the body through the same path they entered (violating the physics of bullets fired at bodily organs), [3] the bullets vanished (violating the Law of Conservation Energy), or [4] this is a miracle.

Once we eliminate [1] by having multiple, authoritative witnesses interview the surgeon and examine the x-rays (which should be done with rigor, given the significance of the event), we must either conclude the laws of physics have been violated or accept this event as a miracle. (Jn 3:2)

Refusing to acknowledge the miraculous based on an a priori presumption of Philosophical Materialism is dishonest and irrational (Jn 12:37-38); it is simply a stubborn, willful refusal to acknowledge evidence, which is unscientific. Such bias will eventually be exposed as enmity against God by God Himself and punished accordingly. (Ro 1:18-21)

articles      blog

Let Us Reason

To read between the lines is to look carefully at what is written in order to infer truths which are not explicitly stated. We call this reasoning, and God invites to use it as we seek Him (Is 1:18), employing logic to expand from what is explicitly revealed to see what some might consider hidden, yet if one is paying attention and thinking deeply it becomes obvious.

To illustrate, the arrow in the FedEx logo may not be apparent until someone points it out; but once you see it you can’t stop seeing it. The arrow isn’t exactly hidden, but it isn’t exactly there either.

To see it you must look between the E and x at the resulting white space connecting them, which is really nothing by itself: the mere juxtaposition of the letters reveals a shape implied by what surrounds it, and this insight enhances the logo, making an impression which creates additional value.

There are many truths like this in Scripture; what is explicitly stated in the text often implies priceless truths which remain unwritten. We may consider what is unspoken, which we might think ought to have been spoken, or which is certainly implied by what is stated, to learn more about God and His ways.

For example, when Paul is meditating in De 25:4, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn“, he infers a principle for supporting Christian workers. (1Co 9:9-10) Paul reasons from the general context of scripture that God isn’t particularly concerned about the feelings of an ox, so He must be providing a general instruction in how we’re to treat those called serve in ways which make it difficult for them to earn a living in the traditional sense.

We often see this kind of reasoning explicitly stated in Scripture with the phrase how much more; when God shows us how to address the relatively unimportant, He expects us to reason similarly about more important yet related concerns. For example, if the saints shall judge angels, how much more are they qualified to judge temporal matters? (1Co 6:3) If we expect earthly parents to care for their children, how much more should we expect God to care for us? (Mt 7:11) If animal sacrifices sanctify the physical man, how much more shall the blood of Christ sanctify the spiritual man? (He 9:13-14)

We should certainly be careful when looking at the white spaces in scripture, but they’re indeed present and we should be on the lookout for them, meditating both on what’s explicitly written and prayerfully considering what’s implied.

articles      blog

In Himself Alone

Until quite recently, I’ve held what many might consider to be an extreme view of Total Depravity; I believed everyone (including me) will always make the most evil choice God allows them to make every time they make a choice, and that the only reason we do not act like Satan at every instant is the restraining grace of God. I can no longer hold this position, partly due to this verse: “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.” (Ga 6:4-5I am unable to make sense of this text, and many others like it, without abandoning my former position, so … I let it go, it’s history.

Evidently, there are degrees of real moral freedom within the boundaries of Total Depravity, such that we have some practical potential to do better or worse within these boundaries according to our own personal choices. Our depravity is evidently total in scope in the sense that all we do is tainted with sin (Is 64:6): we cannot ever do anything perfectly good (Ro 3:12), with 100% pure motives. (Pr 20:9)

However, while we may not be able to make any single choice with perfect motives, it is also evident we have some practical control of how far away we deviate from God’s perfect standard as we choose; we operate within some range of badness, and we can choose to be better or worse within this range. (2Ti 3:13) So, it appears that we are not totally depraved in degree, only in scope.

This is how we experience reality: we have moral freedom to make better or worse choices within some theoretical range of moral goodness, and this is also how God treats us (Mt 12:41); so, it makes sense that this is the reality, not just an illusion. Where these boundaries ultimately come from and how they appear within and impact each individual is mysterious, but a few things appear to be clear about it.

As a foundation, no human except Christ JEsus has ever been perfectly good at any moment (Mk 10:18); all the rest of us are rebels (Is 53:6), some more than others (Ge 13:13), but we’re all guilty (Ro 3:19), and God is perfectly just in punishing us in our rebellion. (Ps 145:17) We’re all sinners (1Jn 1:8) in need of a Savior to save us from this condition: we cannot save ourselves. (Ep 2:8-9)

That said, it is evidently also clear that we are not all equally bad; some of us make worse choices in our total depravity than others, and this difference is something we ourselves can and ought to control. God may even tend to reveal the gospel to those who are trying to make better choices within their unique range of moral ability (Ps 50:23), to those seeking eternal life. (Is 55:6-7)

This is not salvation by works; it is still God choosing to show mercy to the underserved (Ro 9:16), but it may also be God showing mercy to those who — though undeserving — are at least seeking mercy, trying their best (Ro 2:6-7), as bad as it is, within their own, unique degree of moral capability and freedom. (1Ti 1:13)

We perceive we are responsible to make the best choices we can, that it is up to each of us as individuals to do so, of our own free will, and that we don’t always want to make the most evil choice available to us, and that our actions are not all predetermined or compelled by any internal or external forces. Most importantly … we are commanded to live accordingly, and not assume we have no practical control or influence in determining our eternal destiny (Ps 50:23), but that we pursue God and His kingdom with all our might. (Lk 13:24)

If this is how we experience reality, and it is also how God describes reality, and it is also how He actually treats us, there’s sufficient reason to try to interpret all of scripture in accord with this perspective.

articles    blog

I Create Evil

The problem of evil in the world is challenging; we recognize pain and suffering exists — bad things happen — and we often describe this as (empirical or natural) evil. And if we’re thoughtful, we also recognize we all do things we ought not — we do wrong: when people deeply and willfully violate the universal moral standard of human conduct, we call such behavior (moral) evil. If God can prevent evil and does not, or if God Himself actually causes evil, we have difficulty understanding how God can also be just, good and loving.

First, there’s a difference between saying God allows evil, and saying God causes evil. There’s also a difference between saying God causes human suffering, and saying God causes people to be morally corrupt and wicked.

The Bible clearly states God creates evil (Is 45:7), but the immediate context doesn’t tell us what kind of evil God creates. Does God cause people to be wicked, to break His Law, or does He merely cause some (or all) human suffering?

Scripture tells us plainly God often causes human suffering: He punishes Israel when she breaks His laws (De 28:21-22) and He chastens those He loves. (He 12:5-6) His motive is always good (Ps 145:17): God punishes evil righteously (Ps 9:7-8), and He chastens His children to cause them to be holy. (He 12:10, Ps 119:75) He does not cause all human suffering (Lk 13:16), but He does ordain all of it for His purposes. (Ge 50:20, Ep 1:11)

But scripture does not clearly state God causes people to be wicked; rather, God says He doesn’t even tempt us to do evil (Ja 1:13), much less cause us to be evil; people are wicked all on their own. (14) This is the fact of Free Will: God allows us to sin against Himself and each other. (Ro 1:24-26) In fact, unless God restrains us from being evil (Ps 19:13), evil is the default human condition (Ep 2:1-3, Mt 7:11) and it’s been this way ever since the Fall of Man. (Ge 6:5)

The alternative is a God Who actually causes us to do evil and then punishes us for doing what He makes us do. (Ro 2:8-9) God might indeed be so, in theory anyway, but I’d need to confess I know nothing at all of His moral character, having lost all hope I ever could.

articles      blog

Signs and Wonders

A miracle is when God disrupts the natural order of Creation to cause an event with no natural explanation. When and why God chooses to perform miracles is a bit of a mystery, yet I expect we’d all love to see one; for many of us it would be a first. They’re indeed rare, and it’s quite natural to ask why God doesn’t do them more often, and put Himself on public display.

Yet a better question may be whether our desire to see a miracle or a sign from God is healthy and appropriate. God certainly does them from time to time, so there’s evidently good purpose in them when they occur, but is it ever right to ask God to perform a miracle or a sign to help us with our faith? or to be seeking signs and wonders, pursuing the miraculous as a manner of life?

As Christ rebukes Jewish leadership for their unbelief, some asked Him to perform a miracle or sign to prove He was/is the Messiah. Yet Christ dismisses the request, saying evil and adulterous people ask for signs. (Mt 12:38-39)

And as Zacharias asked how he would know if the prophetic words of the angel of God would be fulfilled, evidently asking for some additional proof beyond the simple angelic promise, he was questioning God’s character, so God rebuked his unbelief, striking him with dumbness for nearly a year. (Lk 1:18-20)

On the other hand, God didn’t seem to mind Gideon’s request for a sign that he’d be victorious in battle, asking for dew only upon fleece, and then only on the ground. (Ju 6:36-40) Evidently, there are times when our faith is weak, and it’s OK to ask for a little confidence boost.

Perhaps it’s related to our motive, what we’re struggling with. If we’re responding to all the light we have, if what we’re wanting to believe has little evidence to support it, and the personal stakes for acting on it are high, as in Gideon’s case, perhaps the request is reasonable. But if we’re just being stubborn and selfish, as the Jewish leaders evidently were, or if we’re putting God to the test, as perhaps Zacharias did, then this displeases God. (1Jn 5:10)

Asking for proof of God’s existence, when Creation itself proves it undeniably, when even atheists inadvertently prove God is real in the very delusion of denial, this is wickedness. Just like Pharisees asking for further proof of Christ’s Messianic claim in the face of countless miracles, unmatched in all human history (Jn 15:24), in light of the power, precision and holiness of His message (Jn 7:46) … not a good idea. (Jn 4:49)

Even now, those with reasonable access to the abundant witness of Christ’s resurrection (Ac 17:31) and message (Jn 12:48) will be held accountable for how they respond. Additional proof should not be expected here; it might do more harm than good. (Mt 13:58)

Our interest in finding proof where God has not provided it, desiring further miraculous witness when God is generally pleased to work merely through apparently natural means, may be problematic in itself. The very existence of the Tanach is more powerful testimony than a resurrection (Ac 16:31), and its prophetic content is more compelling than Christ appearing to us in person. (2Pe 1:19)

God provides sufficient witness to convince anyone who’s willing to see, but not so much that mercifully limiting the condemnation of unbelievers is unreasonable. (Ro 11:32) We should be thankful for the abundant testimony God has already provided, and trust that the amount and types of evidence He chooses to give us are perfectly suited to fulfill His ultimate purposes and glorify Himself.

articles    blog

A Matter of Wrong

Our innate response to sin is telling; we understand the concept of right and wrong, and we understand justice — that wrongdoing must be punished appropriately. (Ac 18:14) This instinct reveals the gospel through deductive reasoning.

If someone has wronged us:

  1. Then we acknowledge a moral standard. This standard is revealed in our instinct to find fault with others whether they agree with us or not; we impose an expectation of right behavior which is independent of human opinion.
  2. Then there must be a moral law Giver Who created this moral standard. Nature can’t create such a standard (since it’s metaphysical, spiritual), and Man can’t create it (since it’s independent of Man’s opinion). Therefore God created it (there are no other options).
  3. Then God will hold us accountable for violating this moral standard. A moral standard presumes a divine evaluation of human behavior, as well as a divine reaction for our obeying or violating this standard: a moral standard is meaningless otherwise.
  4. Then God has openly revealed this moral standard to Man. It is unjust for God to hold us accountable for violating His moral standard if we have no way of knowing what His standard is. We may think we know it apart from divine revelation, but this is effectively indistinguishable from making it up as we go, since our sense of goodness is impaired and compromised by selfishness. (De 4:6)
  5. Then this standard is Mosaic Law. Torah is credibly claimed to be revealed by God to Man through Israel, His chosen people; there is no other remotely credible claim here. (Is 8:20) One may argue that Israel could conceivably have created Torah on their own, but once we deduce that God has openly revealed His Law to Man, Torah is our only viable option.
  6. Then we have all violated this standard. We have not loved God with all our heart, soul and might (De 6:5), nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves. (Le 19:18) We are all guilty of breaking God’s Law (Ro 3:19), and we’re without excuse. (Ro 1:20)
  7. So, in the same way we require just punishment for those who wrong us, God must justly punish our sin against Himself. Our instinct for justice generates anger instinctively; we’re created in His image, so we should expect this in God (Ro 2:8-9), but in a perfect way: there will be ultimate justice for God. (Ro 2:2)
  8. Yet the punishment we deserve is infinite: we can never pay it in full. Since our sin against God is entirely unjustified, offending One Who is perfectly holy, infinitely worthy of obedience and worship (Re 14:11) we’re all in a desperate case, with no alibi or escape, and there’s nothing we can do about this unless God mercifully intervenes on our behalf.
  9. So, we need a Savior to deliver us, not only from the punishment we deserve, but also from our very nature which deserves it. Seeing our need, God has kindly provided us just such a Savior (Mt 1:21), offering to deliver us not only from the punishment we deserve, but also from our very nature which deserves it. (Tit 2:14)

We can know all this by carefully observing ourselves and others. So, how shall we escape the wrath of God if we neglect so great salvation? (He 2:3) If we think this through as we should, we will see our need, repent and run to God for deliverance. (Ac 16:29-30)

articles  ♦  blog

The Law of Jehovah

When someone is challenging us on our moral beliefs, accusing us of hatred, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, gynophobia and/or whatever, I find it helpful to pause for a moment and ask them to explain their moral standard.

Those who are unfamiliar with God’s ways generally find them offensive and troublesome. They may come after us in fear, resentment and/or hatred for disagreeing with their claims; they may feel condemned, offended and even harmed by our mere unwillingness to approve their manner of life. Even if we’re personally very kind toward them and pose no direct harm, our mere lack of agreement may be deeply threatening to them.

But it seems to me that few have taken the time to ask themselves how and why they’re so convinced they’re right: they have no explicit moral standard to reference, and I expect most have neglected to give this the attention it deserves.

This is likely the root cause behind their defensiveness: when all we have to support our behavior is blind emotion, feeling intimidated is perfectly natural when we’re challenged. Pointing this out can be extremely powerful and disarming in the midst of heated conversation.

For example, when a transgender male (thinking he’s female) accosts us for not referring to him as “she”, we may simply ask, “Can you please tell me what your moral standard is? How do you decide what’s right and wrong?”

Clearly, these folk have a VERY strong sense of morality, but they’re evidently making it up as they go. Their feelings are so powerful that questioning and challenging their emotions is unthinkable.

Yet if we can engage them in civil dialogue, we might be able to point out that simply because we happen to want something to be true doesn’t make it so. They would likely agree with this (else, they should concede that all other opinions are as valid as theirs).

Then, observe with them that they’re already instinctively acting this way; in rejecting our feelings and treating our opinions as invalid, they’re claiming the existence of a universal moral standard, independent of human opinion, which we should all obey. They can’t intelligently disagree with this; no one can.

Since they’re already doing this right in front of us, acting as if they’re passionately following a universal moral standard, ask them to explain this standard so you can study and understand it. Ask them where it came from and who revealed it.

Point out that any universal moral standard, being independent of any and all human opinion, must by definition be a divine standard, revealed to Man by God Himself: Nature cannot create such a standard. Ask them what evidence they have that their moral standard is inspired by God.

The point is this: those decrying hate may hate Jehovah’s standard and trash it all day long, but without an explicit, divinely inspired moral standard, they’re being fundamentally inconsistent. No one can live as if there’s no universal moral standard: we can’t just make it up as we go; it’s not how we’re designed. Doing so creates emotional imbalance, intellectual dishonesty and personal instability.

The law of Jehovah, His perfect standard (Ps 19:7), is the only one which has any remotely credible claim to being divinely revealed (De 4:6-8), and it’s right. (Ps 19:8) Asking those who hate it to tell us about theirs might be a good first step forward in helping them see.

articles  ♦  blog

They Chew the Cud

God often gives us commands without explaining why; He doesn’t owe us an explanation. Obeying Him simply because He says so is likely the highest form of respect and love. (1Jn 5:3)

Even so, many ask why we keep certain laws for which they see no good reason; such as dietary laws. Since I also like to understand why God’s laws are good I try to provide some reason in addition to, “God says so.”

I see an indication from the dietary detail that we shouldn’t eat carnivores or scavengers, and have often cited this as a possibility; it is the kind of food generally discouraged by cardiologists and other health professionals. However, recently, when asked why we don’t eat horses, I found a more interesting and inciteful explanation: efficiency.

Horses are unclean because they don’t have a split hoof and because they don’t chew the cud. However, horse flesh is quite nutritious, it’s less fatty than beef, and they’re vegetarian, so why aren’t they on the menu?

As it turns out, animals which chew their cud are more efficient at turning food sources into nutrition for humans; they’re a more economical source of food: they consume less nutritious food themselves and produce a better meal for us. So, cultures who eat beef will tend to prosper and thrive more than those who eat horses.

God has a good reason for every one of His laws; they’re holy, just and good because He is. (Ro 7:12)

articles  ♦  blog

All Things Are Lawful

The concept of sin, violation of moral law, is a complex matter. It’s often unclear whether some act or thought is sinful, or to what degree it’s sin.

And there are statements in Scripture which might lead one to reason that God’s definition of sin has changed over time, and even that sin no longer exists, such as, “all things are lawful for me.” (1Co 10:23) This means something, and it’s evidently very important.

The statement, by itself, could mean several different things. It could mean, for example, that God’s Law no longer applies to the author, or to certain people, or to everyone, in which case there’s no more moral law and therefore no more sin. Yet this begs asking what lawful means; in order for something to be in accordance with the law it seems there must, in fact, be a law with which to be aligned. And this we all know, that there is still a moral law, and we reveal this when others wrong us. We cannot live otherwise.

It could also mean that every thing which isn’t explicitly forbidden by God is lawful: since being contrary to God’s Law isn’t a thing for one who fears God.

The first rule of interpretation in scripture (hermeneutics) is to respect context: first the local, immediate context of the surrounding verses, then the chapter or book of the Bible containing the text, and ultimately the whole of Scripture.

In this case, the context is about eating food dedicated to idols. (19-21) The entire context is about how this is not expressly forbidden by God (1Co 8:4); dedicating food to an idol changes nothing about the food itself: it doesn’t make the food unfit to eat.

However, as the context bears out, though it may be lawful to eat food sacrificed to idols, it may not be expedient; in other words, it may not be suitable for achieving a godly purpose. If others are tempted to go against their conscience through lawful behavior, then this behavior is harmful and violates the higher law of love, even though it’s not unlawful in itself.

This second way of interpreting the text is consistent with the whole of scripture, whereas the first is not only explicitly contrary to scripture, it’s self-deception, missing the truth altogether. (1Jn 1:8)

If we’re picking and choosing texts out of context to support our position, we’re very likely heading for destruction. (2Pe 3:16) If all scripture is given by inspiration (2Ti 3:16), any interpretation must be consistent with the entire Scripture. To find the truth we must rightly divide the Word of Truth and not handle God’s Word deceitfully. (2Co 4:2)

articles  ♦  blog

Vengeance Is Mine

The question of evil and suffering in the world is perhaps the strongest argument against the existence of God. The reasoning is that since a good and loving God wouldn’t allow so much evil and suffering, either God is not good or there is no God. Many are deceived by this line of thought.

There are two basic problems with this argument. The first lies in a presumption that no ultimate good can possibly come of all of the evil and suffering God allows; that He simply cannot have a good reason for doing so. This is merely arrogance, claiming to have ultimate knowledge of what constitutes a good outcome, and defining the meaning of life in terms of human innocence and suffering. It is a man-centered view of existence and presumes to know better than God.

One obvious benefit from God allowing evil is that it provides a context in which God may fully reveal and glorify Himself. If there were no sin we would know very little about the love, wrath, faithfulness, justice and amazing character of God. God does promise He will eventually deal justly and perfectly with all sin (Ro 12:19); nothing will go unresolved. If we don’t find this a sufficient motive for God allowing evil and suffering, if we don’t value God’s response to sin, perhaps we don’t rightly value the glory of God.

The second major problem with this argument lies in how to define evil itself if there is no God. Plants and animals aren’t evil; only Man is evil. Animals don’t violate moral law as they impose suffering – they live according to their design and aren’t punished for this; justice is irrelevant in the realm of Nature. Man is evil because he violates a moral standard or code which define his actions as wicked and inappropriate; the victims of evil therefore require justice.

For any moral standard to be legitimate and binding, one to which we may rightly hold people accountable, we intuitively understand that this standard cannot be sourced in Man himself, merely our opinion or preference. Apart from a divine standard, one man’s opinion about good and evil is just as valid as any other. Yet we act as if our understanding of morality is binding on others whether or not they agree with us; it doesn’t matter how many people hold a certain moral belief, a standard doesn’t become legitimate just because we like it.

This is inherent in our understanding of morality itself and we cannot escape it; we impose our definition of evil on others irrespective of whether they agree, as if moral law were a divinely revealed, universal standard.

The very fact that we accept the existence of evil in the world is actually then very strong evidence that there is a God. In other words, the argument we are considering here must borrow God’s definition of evil in order to even be an argument.

We cannot live as if evil doesn’t exist, or as if it’s merely a matter of preference or opinion: all of us believe in God in this sense –  we act as if there’s a divine being with a moral standard which He uses to evaluate human behavior, a standard to which he holds all people accountable.

articles  ♦  blog