Thy Judgments Are Right

The goodness of God ensures His judgements are right (Ps 119:75); the righteous understand that any affliction or punishment He prescribes is perfectly appropriate, faithful and just, more than deserved. (67,71) To resist or complain when God afflicts us is to defiantly reject His goodness and claim He’s inherently malevolent and evil; it’s exalting ourselves above God, arrogant presumption of the highest order (Ps 19:13), insisting we know better. (Ge 3:22)

This includes all those suffering everlasting punishment (Mt 25:46); to believe in God and receive Him from there, from Hell itself, which the wicked should certainly still do (Re 22:17), is to acknowledge that all divine punishments are appropriate in response to offenses and crimes committed against God; the wicked shouldn’t complain against or resist the wrath of God, even from Hell. (Re 15:4) They should exclaim with all Heaven that God’s judgments are true and right. (Re 16:7)

However, the wicked will not do this (Ge 4:13), because the very wellspring of wickedness is the belief that God is not good, that He is unjust. (Ge 3:5) Even to escape the fires of Hell itself, the wicked won’t repent of this sin against God; they’ll stubbornly persist in it. (Re 6:16)

Consider the story Christ tells of a rich man in Hell, lifting up his eyes in torment, pleading with Abraham to relieve him in his misery. (Lk 16:23-24) He plays on mercy to tempt the righteous to do what God will not do, and thereby admit God’s justice is too severe. Yet Abraham aligns with God and refuses, reminding the rich man of his sins against God and Man, having profoundly neglected the helpless in their earthly suffering (21), and of the righteous consequences. (25)

The rich man’s next move is to again beg Abraham to do something else God will not do: send someone back from the dead just to warn his family to flee the wrath to come. (27-28) This is a second attack upon God, directed at His self-revelation, claiming it’s insufficient, again implying His punishments are unjust. Abraham again refuses, pointing out that his family has perfectly sufficient proof of God’s character and expectation: God has plainly revealed Himself in Torah and the Prophets. (29)

The rich man persists in his denial of the sufficiency of God’s provision, insisting that his family would repent and be saved if they witnessed such a spectacular miracle. (30) This is a third arrogant attack upon God, directed at His knowledge of Man: his presumption is that God is misinformed, that we’re mostly reasonable people, his family in particular, undeserving of eternal punishment; we simply lack sufficient warning to live in light of eternity. Yet Abraham remains faithful: God knows Man’s depraved heart and is revealing Himself to mankind accordingly.  (31)

What would God do if the wicked softened their hearts in Hell and acknowledged His goodness? If we know God well we know how He’d respond: His mercy is infinite toward those who fear Him. (Ps 103:11)

Why won’t the wicked honor God then, even from Hell? Why would anyone ever deliberately sin against God? This is indeed the true mystery, the mystery of iniquity (2Th 2:7): the desperate wickedness of Man; the godly are horrified by it; we may never fully understand it. (Je 17:9)

In repentance, regardless of our suffering at God’s hands (La 3:9), we admit to receiving the due reward of our deeds (Lk 23:41) and heed God’s warning to flee the wrath to come. (Lk 3:7) This is God’s gift to all who are willing to acknowledge that He is, and that He faithfully rewards all who diligently seek Him. (He 11:6)

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How Can Ye Believe?

Christ asks how we can believe in God when we’re more concerned about Man’s approval than God’s? (Jn 5:44) The implication is we can’t: before we can believe in God we must be seeking God’s kingdom and pleasure first and foremost as a manner of life. (He 11:6) If we’re out to please others we aren’t servants of Christ (Ga 1:10); and if we aren’t obeying Christ we aren’t seeking Him – we’re His enemies, headed for destruction. (Php 3:18-19)

This follows from the fact that esteeming Man’s approval above God’s is to trust unfaithful sinners more than the Holy One; it’s believing in Man rather than God, disvaluing God by serving the creature more than the Creator. (Ro 1:25) So, preferring the praise of men is unbelief in God by definition.

This begs the question: what other conditions preclude us from having saving faith? Any disposition to sin intentionally, on purpose, means we don’t fear God (Ro 3:18): we don’t revere Him as our King. This also is to mistrust Him, to reject Him, to disbelieve in Him. Salvation is far from such a heart. (Ps 119:155)

Is believing in and trusting God even something we can decide to do? Is this subject to the power of our will at all? (Ro 9:16) Believing God exists is certainly a necessary first step, but that’s not the same as believing in Him, trusting Him, receiving Him as He has revealed Himself to be. (Jn 1:12-13)

Suppose a man stretches a tightrope across Niagara Falls and balances a wheelbarrow across the raging torrents. To cheering spectators he yells, “Do you believe I can push a man across in this wheelbarrow?”

How do you respond?  Can you make yourself believe? Is this an act of your will, like scratching your nose? Maybe you figure he can, so you nod in subtle agreement, but then, pointing directly at you he commands: “Get in!”

Ah! Now we’ll see if you believe! Perhaps you’d be willing to risk your life, but if you’re shaking like a leaf … if you have any doubt at all (Mk 11:23), any hesitation at all (Ja 1:6), any fear at all, this isn’t trust, belief – faithFaith is knowing you’re safer in that wheelbarrow than anywhere else in the universe – perfectly secure, chill enough to fall asleep. That isn’t something you can just will yourself into knowing. Faith in God is a miracle: it’s supernatural assurance. (He 10:22)

Consider, if placing saving faith in God is an act of our will then it’s a work; for if an act of the will isn’t a work, then nothing is a work. Acts of our will are works by definition.

However, believing on God saves us from sin (Ge 15:6), yet no work can save anyone from sin. (Tit 3:5) Since no work can save anyone from sin, experiencing saving faith in God can’t be our work; so faith can’t be an act of our will; this must be the work of God. (Jn 6:29)

Yet God commands us to repent and believe on Christ (Ac 17:30), so how can this not be an act of our will?

Well, God requires us to be perfect (Mt 5:48); this isn’t an action, but a state of being from which our actions originate, and one clearly beyond our reach. (Pr 30:29) God’s command doesn’t imply our ability; it’s righteous for God to demand perfection of us: He can’t rightly accept anything less. (Eze 18:20)

The reality is that faith and repentance aren’t things we do, or actions we take, but characteristics of our state of being as we’re transformed by God; they’re two sides of the same coin (Ac 20:21) – both are gifts of right beliefs, affections and desires, a new heart, a Godward disposition. We don’t do faith, we have faith … to trust and obey God when our blind heart is healed to see and know Him more as He truly is.

And to repent, to stop believing lies, to have faith and start believing truth, God must intervene: He must give us repentance and faith so we can identify and dismiss the lies as we acknowledge the truth. (2Ti 2:25) So, while God may command us to be a certain way (1Pe 1:15-16), this doesn’t imply that we’re actually able to obey; our will is broken and corrupt. (Je 13:23)

Faith is rooted in the divine nature from which godly action springs (Ja 2:18): what we need in order to believe in God is a new nature (Ga 6:15), and we just can’t decide to have one.

Our inability to align with holiness lies in our being in a state of unbelief and enmity against God (Ro 8:7); in this state we deliberately choose patterns of disobedience which further enslave our will. We are, in our broken state, eating the fruit of our own way and being filled with our own devices. (Pr 1:31) Engaging sin leads to deeper bondage, the continual weakening of our ability to resist sin and choose good. God isn’t responsible for this condition, for our inability to choose good: we are.

Alienation from God is the result of our own ignorance and blindness (Ep 4:18), which comes upon us as we reject the light (Jn 3:36) and respond inappropriately to God. (Ro 1:21) In blindness we make more choices which alienate us even farther from God (Ps 73:27), leading to ever deeper sin and bondage (Ro 1:24), such that we’re continually becoming more irrational, confused, deceived, believing more and more lies about God, others and ourselves. (2Ti 3:13)

We can no more escape this spiraling descent into bondage and corruption through the effort of our own will than a rotting corpse can raise itself up from the grave (Ep 5:14), or the non-existent can conceive and birth themselves (Jn 3:7), or the wicked can give themselves new hearts (Ez 18:31) – yet God requires this of us.

God isn’t cruel to command the impossible – He does this in mercy, as a promise: if we hear His command, humble ourselves and seek life from Him (Ps 119:107), trusting He’s faithful (1Co 1:9), He quickens us (Col 2:13), conceives us with the truth by an act of His own will (Ja 1:18), and gives us new spirits and hearts (Ez 36:26) which delight in His Law. (Ro 7:22)

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Free Will

How do we reconcile Man’s Free Will with God’s Sovereignty? our responsibility to make good choices with God’s ultimate control of our behavior?

It’s clear that we all make choices of our own free will, and that our choices are not always good, yet we pray as if God governs other people’s choices and can control them as He wills; we even accuse God of letting people make horrible choices – we instinctively know He can prevent them.

It’s very difficult to understand how God can be in control of our behavior while holding us responsible – it’s like an open contradiction. This mystery is so profound, so difficult to grasp, many rebel against God because of it, or deny His existence altogether.

Yet denying God’s existence is equivalent to denying the existence of evil itself, so evil can’t be evidence of God’s non-existence: our very cry for justice proves we’re made in God’s image.

And rebelling against God for being in control while holding us responsible accuses God Himself of being unjust and evil, yet we can’t rightly define justice or evil apart from God … in fact, in redefining good and evil we’re exalting ourselves as gods. (Ge 3:22)

To resolve this dilemma, note that paradoxes are often rooted in incomplete perspective; in stepping back a bit and challenging our underlying assumptions we often find our answer.

If we assume Man is truly acting freely, apart from divine restraint, then God isn’t in control of Man by definition: thus it must be that Man’s freedom of choice is limited by God’s restraint. (Ps 76:10)

And if we assume Man’s evil choices are actually caused by God, then holding Man responsible for evil violates God’s own standard of justice (De 25:1); so Man’s own will is the ultimate cause of evil. (Jn 3:19)

And if we assume that God has no good purpose in allowing evil, then God is acting in a way that is ultimately harmful and not good; thus it must be that God knows what He’s doing, that He will be pleased in the final outcome, and therefore that it’s good. (Ps 27:13)

So, we resolve the paradox of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will by attributing evil entirely to Man’s total depravity, and attributing goodness to God’s intervening restraint: when Man chooses freely, apart from divine aid, Man makes the most evil choice God allows him to make every time he makes a choice, because that’s Man’s nature, freely chosen by him. (Je 17:9)

Yet God is constantly and mercifully intervening and controlling Man’s behavior by perfectly and imperceptibly restraining evil according to His perfect will and plan (Php 2:13); whenever God does permit evil it’s for a glorious final purpose (Ro 8:28), by which He intends to reveal and glorify Himself. (Ro 9:22-23) For this we ought to be genuinely thankful. (Ep 5:20)

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A Revenger

The purpose of civil government is to be a revenger, to protect us from evildoers by administering justice to those who break God’s laws. (Ro 13:4) With the advances of our modern military capabilities, this naturally includes providing for the common defense, shielding us from hostile foreign powers.

The primary reason for restricting government to this defensive role is straightforward: it’s the only entity which may lawfully take money from others by force (Ro 13:6), and this power to tax is very easily corrupted; limiting governmental power limits corruption.

Ensuring domestic tranquility is the one thing we as individuals or small groups are incapable of managing effectively; when we start taking the law into our own hands we no longer have a stable society, we have mob rule. So, maintaining civil order must be delegated to government, aligning us all with a code of conduct we collectively agree to follow.

Furthermore, it’s common sense wisdom to restrict government to minimal, necessary functions since government spending is the most inefficient and wasteful way to spend money. Consider the only four possible ways our money can be spent.

  1. We can spend our money on ourselves. This is the most efficient way to spend money, since we tend to be concerned about both quality and cost; we’re incented to buy efficiently, to get the best deal for the kind of quality we want.
  2. We can spend our money on someone else. This is a less efficient way to spend money, since we tend to be much more concerned about cost than we are about quality; we’re incented to buy something less expensive even if the quality is unacceptable.
  3. Someone else can spend our money on themselves. This is an even less efficient way to spend our money: when someone else spends our money on themselves they tend to be much more concerned about quality than than they are about cost; they’re incented to buy something very expensive even if the higher quality is unnecessary or minimal.
  4. Someone else can spend our money on someone else. This is the worst way to spend money because when someone else spends our money on someone else they tend to be unconcerned about both quality and cost: they’re often incented by entirely unrelated factors; they may buy something very expensive even if the quality is unacceptable.

When government spends our money it’s Type 4 spending, the very worst kind. Government tends to be more wasteful and inefficient simply because it’s never directly impacted by its own decisions; it’s very difficult to hold government accountable for waste and inefficiency.

So, God’s prescription for helping the poor isn’t government handouts: it’s found in the hard work (Pr 14:23), ingenuity (Pr 8:12), diligence (Pr 12:27) and industry of free enterprise (De 15:10): being rewarded according to the kind of value we create. (1Ti 5:18) Once our own needs are met, we are to offer person-to-person charity, where we have some idea of who we’re helping and why. (Ep 4:28)

We’re less inclined to help those who won’t help themselves, who are unwilling to work (2Th 3:10), who squander their time, energy and money. (Pr 13:23) We know that consequences are generally the best teacher; when people suffer for their personal choices they tend to straighten up; but when we reward laziness and foolishness we tend to get more of the same.

Government bureaucrats don’t know who best to help and when, over-burdening value creators and rewarding problematic behavior to achieve political objectives, promoting apathy, mediocrity, and creating self-fulfilling cycles of sustained dependency and pathology which are extremely difficult to correct.

God’s way encourages us to contribute earnestly to our own welfare, to meet the needs of our own families (1Ti 5:8), and to enjoy the fruits of our own labor. (Ec 5:18-19) Then we’re to help those who, through no fault of their own, need our help to get back on their feet. (Ga 2:10)

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On the Sabbath

As we remember the sabbath (Ex 20:8) in the midst of a fallen culture, we find ourselves questioning what kinds of activities are allowed. This isn’t new; even in Torah-keeping cultures there’s controversy here. It’s one of the chief obstacles Jesus Christ Himself faced. (Jn 9:16)

God says we’re to stop working on sabbath (Ex 20:10), and do all our work the remaining six days (9), but He never defines work, and for good reason — it’s evidently related to our motives, which are context-specific. He does, however, give us some helpful examples.

Gathering manna on sabbath was forbidden (Ex 16:29), as well as cooking and preparing it (23), gathering firewood (Nu 15:32,35) and kindling a fire. (Ex 35:3) Conducting business as usual, in manual labor and routine commerce, violates sabbath (Ne 13:15-17), and carrying burdens profanes the sabbath. (Je 17:21-22)

Jews extrapolate from this to extremes, forbidding us to operate elevators, microwaves, stoves, light switches, or tear off pieces of toilet paper, drive a car, or lift anything heavier than an infant.

In light of our modern conveniences, is there perhaps a balance here which honors the spirit of sabbath without perverting it into a burden (Mt 23:4), especially in cultures which are ignorant of sabbath?

For example, is it OK to go to a restaurant, go shopping, warm up some left overs, or to go for a hike or a jog on Saturday? Perhaps this depends on what we do for work the other six days, to provide for ourselves and those we care for.

Perhaps we should each take the time to define what work means for us; maybe whatever that is should be off limits for us on Shabbat, without neglecting our duty to ourselves or others. If our work requires shopping during the week, then maybe we should avoid going on Saturday; if we’re manual laborers, then prioritize physical rest; if we make a living straining our brains, best forget problem-solving on Saturday.

It’s perfectly consistent with sabbath to engage in needful, useful activity, even if it happens to be difficult. (Mt 12:12) The key appears to be related to both our weekly routine and what it means to love each other. We ought to do our best to set the day apart, and not impose rigorous work on others, but when people are working anyway, how do we integrate this into our own observance? Must we isolate ourselves and disengage, or might it be wisdom to leverage their voluntary sabbath violations to make our own more peaceful, joyful and restful?

These questions get at the heart of obedience, yet we may not have definitive answers until our Lord returns. Meanwhile, each of us must do our best to honor Him as our conscience directs in our particular circumstances, enlightened by the Word, and the Spirit of the living God.

Keeping the spirit of Sabbath in mind, that it’s sanctified by our Father for our benefit in rest, what can do to set this day apart and make it more of a delight? This perspective will lead us on a journey to discover sabbath, to orient our lives around God’s appointed times of rest, teaching us, as each sabbath evening draws on, to rest in what He’s allowed us to accomplish for the week, and to worship Him as our Fountain of eternal rest.

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Divers Weights

Being biased is not the same has having a strong opinion; favoring one position above another doesn’t mean we’re biased. If that were true, then the more facts we understood the more biased and unfair we’d be.

Bias indicates a pre-disposition to hold a point of view regardless of the facts, to fail to be objective and fair, and to apply rules and principles consistently; it’s deciding to manage a conflict with a pre-determined outcome in mind, and to only accept facts or arguments which support a particular agenda.

For example, to engage in a flat-earth debate we need not be neutral on the topic to be unbiased, or even dispassionate; we simply need to remain objective, and consider all available facts in a consistent and rigorous manner. Even if we’ve already proven the earth is a sphere using mathematics and undisputed scientific facts, we can still be fair as long as we carefully consider the opposing view and evaluate it with logic and reason.

But bias is dishonesty incarnate; it’s like having two different sets of weights depending on whether we’re buying or selling, and choosing the set which favors us in each commercial exchange. This is an abomination to God (Pr 20:10); He explicitly forbids this (De 25:13-14) because it strikes at the very root of common civility. As society degenerates into this kind of dishonesty and selfishness the integrity of both personal and professional relationships deteriorates. Democracies can’t function this way, only dictatorships: we must either control ourselves, or be controlled by others.

Bias can be hard to see in ourselves; we might not be aware of some of our biases (we call them unconscious). We can be biased even when we’re right, even when we are very well informed, if we’re threatened by opposing points of view and refuse to give them a fair hearing. But we can easily perceive bias in others when they’re unwilling to treat our own position fairly; as it is in most matters of moral judgement, we recognize moral failure in others much more easily than we can see it in ourselves. (Mt 7:3)

So, if we wish to become consistently unbiased and objective, and to heal our own unconscious biases, we must be willing to let others challenge us, and to carefully consider counter positions in their strongest possible form. We can be wrong and not know it, and we can be holding the right position for the wrong reason, or with weak or insufficient evidence. Those who disagree with us are generally able to see our bias more easily than we can, and they can point it out.

Even when we’re fully convinced, we need to love the truth enough to be willing to change our minds, to try our best to see things from a different perspective, and to adjust and improve our position if it turns out we’re the least bit misinformed. We shouldn’t be afraid to listen intently, and to course correct when any aspect of our understanding is shown to be weak or amiss. It’s how we learn and grow, and it’s why opposing views are so incredibly valuable; we can learn something from anyone, even when they’re wrong.

Bias is particularly damaging in news media, which provide a vital service in keeping a civil society informed, providing access to new information and differing points of view. Media bias is evident when a news source consistently applies a double standard: dismissing evidence and/or cherry picking facts to align with a particular agenda. When stories are consistently spun to align with a pre-determined narrative, it’s no longer journalism … it’s propaganda, undermining objectivity and promoting dishonesty and bias in the culture.

Bias in politics is similarly destructive; when one side of the isle becomes biased, they tempt their opponents to do the same for self-preservation: we naturally feel vulnerable when the other side never admits to being wrong and only we do. Yet when both parties become entrenched in bias they enflame each other in dishonesty and destroy meaningful discourse, leading to incivility, and ultimately violence or divorce — the breakdown of civilization itself.

So, regardless what the world does, we’re called to be objective: to fairly consider all the evidence available to us, to hear both sides of any conflict completely and thoroughly (Pr 18:13), and to make our determination of right and wrong independently of who the plaintiffs or defendants happen to be, even when it costs us personally. We should look at each matter as well as we can from all sides, listening carefully to our opponents as if they might know something we don’t.

And as we’re making moral judgements we must have an objective moral standard, or measure, by which to discern good from evil, and we must look to it consistently. The only other option is to make up our own morality as we go, but that’s a false way, self-deception (Ja 1:22): we don’t want anyone else doing this.

A reliable moral standard cannot be grounded in public sentiment or personal opinion, for this moves in and out like the tide and changes with the wind; we must be founded on a rock that’s immoveable (Mt 7:24): on the moral law of God Himself. (Ps 119:89)

And we must trust, as we make ourselves vulnerable by retaining our objectivity and conceding when we’re wrong, even when others won’t, that God both just and faithful: He will guide us into all truth (Jn 16:13) and reconcile all things to Himself (Col 1:20), according to His perfect timing, pleasure and will. (Da 4:35) We commit the keeping of our souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1Pe 4:19)

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To Fight

When is it appropriate to engage in combat, to take up arms, to inflict harm? Is there a time to fight? to the death if necessary? Does God require us to be passive in the face of evil and malevolence?

Marine Sgt. Michael Strank

If God ever taught anyone to fight, and He did (Ps 144:1), then there’s a time for fighting, a time for engaging in warfare. (Ec 3:8) When is that, and who should we be willing to fight?

It’s a soldier’s job to fight to the death, and we find many godly soldiers in scripture. (Ac 10:22) What’s unique about soldiers is that they’re under a governor or a king; their combat is subject to civil authority. (Jn 18:36)

In a private context, fighting to defend yourself and loved ones is generally permitted by civil authority; this is common moral understanding and it’s grounded in Torah. (Ex 22:2) Under such conditions it’s right to fight in self-defense, when physical safety is at risk.

But taking up arms to avenge a death (De 19:12), or to put down rioters, looters and anarchists, depends on the attitude of civil authority. Does local government want your assistance? Or at least not disapprove of it? If so, then cooperate as you’re able. If not, stand down, love your enemies and pray for them, seeking their welfare (Mt 5:44), looking to God to intervene with justice in His time. (Ps 119:84)

Herein lies a key difference between Christianity and Islam: Jehovah forbids taking the law — even the divine law — into our own hands (Ro 12:19), and deciding for ourselves when and how to put away evil (Ex 22:3); this is the duty of civil government (Ro 13:4), not the individual. (Ex 20:13) On the other hand, according to Islam, Allah commends killing infidels apart from civil authority, which is what makes Islam so dangerous.

God forbids avenging ourselves and others, righting perceived wrongs on our own, because when we’re offended our judgement is clouded and it’s virtually impossible for us to dispense justice. We can’t know exactly what another person deserves for what they’ve done; this requires knowing their heart and motives, and that’s entirely beyond our reach.

And even if we did know someone’s exact motivation, God has given us little indication how to precisely measure the degree of immorality of any given behavior, or to determine an appropriate ultimate punishment. In fact, God expressly forbids individuals from doing this. (Mt 7:1) His Law only gives civil authority the right to formally assess guilt, and to impose prescribed consequences for specific types of crimes, but even then He’s generally more concerned about cleansing society of willful evil doers (De 17:12) and discouraging rebellion (13) than actually administering justice.

The job of formally righting all wrongs belongs to God Himself, and not to Man (Ro 2:2), and God isn’t doing that just yet (Ec 8:11); He’s prepared a Day in which He’ll begin administring full justice (Ro 2:5-6), and His timing will be perfect.

Meanwhile, when it’s time to defend ourselves, we must do so benevolently, in love (1Co 16:14) — using only minimal necessary force to protect ourselves and others from malevolence, all the while esteeming others better than ourselves and praying for those who would abuse us. (Php 2:3) All other forms of strife, wrath and anger are forbidden. (Ep 4:31-32) So, when we find malice lingering in our hearts, harboring a desire to inflict harm or see evil punished (Pr 24:17-18), it’s time to step back and examine ourselves; our wrath does not work God’s righteousness. (Ja 1:20)

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A Cheerful Giver

What are the biblical principles related to raising financial support for a Christian project or ministry? We see a wide variety of approaches, from George Mueller, who never told anyone about any particular need except God, praying for everything required to care for hundreds of orphans for years, to organized religions claiming they’ve replaced Israel in some way and have a right to demand a tenth of our income, to cult leaders promising God’s blessing and favor on generous donors. Where’s the biblical balance?

If we consider the example of Christ and the Twelve, we’ve no record they ever asked anyone for money. Given that the temple was still functioning, they couldn’t pretend to merit the priestly tithes and offerings like the Church does today, and it seems contrary to their spirit of dependence on God to be asking the public or each other for money. It seems our dear brother Mueller may have got it right.

However, we do have an example of the Apostle Paul taking up a collection for the poor saints which were at Jerusalem (1Co 16:1); though he didn’t specify an amount or percentage, he expected everyone to give something in accordance with how God was blessing. (vs 2) How do we integrate this with the example of Christ and the Twelve?

In this particular instance, Paul said it was a matter of spiritual duty for these particular people to give to this particular cause, and he derives this duty from the fact that Gentile believers were indebted to the Jerusalem saints for the blessings of the Gospel. (Ro 15:26-27)

If someone has a duty to donate to a particular cause, then it’s reasonable to ask them to give accordingly. Torah provides many examples of this kind of obligation, specific instances of how we’re to care for the poor and vulnerable. (De 15: 7-8, 12-14, 16:16-17, etc.)

But apart from formal obligation, the rule of common charity must apply. Do we appreciate being asked to give to a ministry we already know about, which we have not already purposed in our hearts before God to support? Does this edify and encourage us, or do we feel pressured to give when we’d prefer not to? Does it feel intrusive, as if someone is meddling in our personal affairs? If we decide not to give, do we feel obligated to justify ourselves? Do we ever decide to give just to make ourselves feel better, or to appear generous to others?

Once we’re aware of a need, directly asking us to donate tends to put most of us on the spot and make us uncomfortable. This should tell us what kind of behavior it is: uncharitable. Unless we’re already interested in donating, most of us feel a sense of pressure in this context, a requirement imposed on us to make an immediate decision: to either decline to give and justify ourselves (as if the ask implies an obligation), or to give so we’ll feel better and appear generous to others. In either case, we perceive the act of being asked as a form of manipulation, to get us to give when we wouldn’t otherwise. This isn’t giving from a cheerful heart; it’s something neither Paul nor Christ would promote, even if it happens to increase donations.

When we desire to support a particular cause that excites us and aligns with our goals and world view, sensing God’s pleasure that we do so, we give with cheerful hearts without being asked. This is the kind of giving God loves (2Co 9:7), and it’s the only kind we should be encouraging in others, outside formal obligation.

Making someone aware of an opportunity to give, informing them of a ministry, its mission and how it’s funded, is perfectly consistent with charity: it doesn’t directly pressure anyone. As we have opportunity to spread the word and inform others of a godly cause, we should leave the commitment between them and God, as they seek His will in the stewardship of their time, money and resources.

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Rent in Twain

When Christ died, the veil of the Jerusalem temple ripped into two pieces, from the top to the bottom. (Mt 27:51) From what we know of this veil*, it is evident that this was a supernatural event: God Himself tore this veil. What does this signify?

Most Christians claim this event signifies the abolishment of Torah, the Mosaic Law, or at least the sacrificial system and the ceremonial aspects of Torah, but Christ says the entire Torah will be relevant until Heaven and Earth pass away (Mt 5:18); last I checked, both are still here, so this event must signify something else.

The veil of the temple represents the physical body of Christ (He 10:20), so on one level the tearing of the veil might signify the death of Christ, the destruction of His earthly, mortal body: the veil was torn as Christ was crucified. The breaking of His body for us (1Co 11:24), His atoning death for our sin, provides a living Way, an eternal way to God, outside time and space, always new (He 10:19-20), the only way anyone has ever connected with God, or ever will. (Jn 14:6)

We might also observe that we aren’t told which temple veil was torn; there were two (He 9:3): the most visible veil, the one most people would be more familiar with, separated the outer court from the sanctuary. (He 9:2) A torn inner inner veil, separating the Holy of Holies from the sanctuary, could easily have been concealed by the priests and never verified. Perhaps both veils were symbolic of Christ in some way, but it is perhaps the outer veil that is the most relevant, for Christ is that essence of the Father Whom we can all see. (Jn 12:45)

God destroying this outer veil in a publicly visible manner may have been a declaration of His departure from the temple. (Mt 23:38) The temple had already been destroyed twice, abandoned by God in advance (Ez 10:4, 18-19a), and it was ready to vanish away again. (He 8:13) It makes sense that God would depart from the temple well prior to it’s being destroyed, and to make this known, giving the people a sign they should repent and seek Him in the context of pending divine judgment and immanent danger.

Since God hasn’t actually yet told us explicitly what the rending of the veil of the temple means, this isn’t something we need to know. What we do know is that the veil is not obsolete; it is essential to a functioning temple, so it will return with the rest of the earthly temple of God. (Re 11:1-2) Any reasonable speculation on this point, why God tore it during the crucifixion of His Son, must be consistent with the whole of scripture.

  • See comment below.

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Knowledge of Sin

How do we know what sin is? How do we know what’s right and what’s wrong? We all respond as if some actions are good and some are evil, but why do we respond the way we do? How do we know?

Because we’re all made in God’s image, we can’t help but react as if good and evil exist; this is built right into our DNA. And it’s perfectly natural to make up our own definitions, to decide for ourselves what’s right and wrong.

But deciding for ourselves what’s good or evil actually contradicts the very concept of good and evil. Claiming something is good or evil means it is so regardless what anyone else thinks about it; we know this instinctively, it’s rooted in the very claim. But if we can decide for ourselves what good and evil are, then everyone else can too, and then it is all just a matter of opinion, contradicting the very essence of what we know intrinsically to be true.

So if good and evil really do exist, then it isn’t a matter of opinion, yours or mine or anyone else’s; not even governments can define morality. If an action is truly good or evil, then it can only be so because some divine Being says so. There can be no other basis for morality.

This is why Scripture says we can’t know what sin is apart from God’s Law: Torah. (Ro 7:7) It’s only through Torah that we can correctly identify sin (Ro 3:20); and any alteration of Torah corrupts the divine standard of righteousness, and thus the very definition of sin. (De 4:2)

Our old man understands Torah as God’s eternal law and rejects it (Ro 8:7), departing from the light of Torah (Is 8:20), loving darkness instead. (Jn 3:19) Those breaking any of God’s laws violate Torah as a whole (Ja 2:10), and are the least in God’s kingdom. (Mt 5:19) But our new man delights in Torah (Ro 7:22); it lights our way (Ps 119:105), for Torah is light. (Pr 6:23)

Who dares presume the right to decide which of God’s laws are no longer relevant? (Ps 119:6) What standard would they use to judge God’s Law like this? (Ja 4:11) How can a finite being prove any of God’s Laws aren’t eternally good? (Ps 119:152) Torah is timeless. (Ps 119:160)

To sin is to break Torah (1Jn 3:4a), for sin is defined as breaking Torah. (4b) We hide Torah in our heart that we might not sin against God (Ps 119:11), for all who err from Torah as a manner of life will be trodden down, exposed as deceitful and false. (Ps 119:118) The nature of God’s children is that we keep His commands. (1Jn 2:3)

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