Advertisements

Monthly Archives: January 2011

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Eternal Destiny

I’m still researching some responses to DaGoodS’s remaining two questions that Christians hope no one will ask. But I wanted to put something up today, so keeping with the theme of questions posed to Christians, I’m going to answer two interesting questions.

A long time back, on Reddit, there was  a thread collecting all of the questions that theists allegedly can’t answer. In a previous thread, I began to answer some of those questions. I would like to continue by answering two questions that relate to the eternal destiny of the soul.

The first question I’m going to break up into pieces so it’s a bit more manageable.

Guy is an adulterer without repenting and thus, goes to hell, right? Another guy kills a hundred people, without repenting, and thus, goes to the same hell, right? Now, do you think it is proportional to treat both guys with the same fate?
Yes, because in both cases they have broken the same laws issued by God. However, just because they are going to the same place (hell) doesn’t automatically mean that they are in for the exact same punishment. The gravity of the sin will determine the amount of pain one suffers in hell.
I guess this next part of the question is supposed to make some sort of big “court-room-drama-style” revelation that makes everyone gasp, but it really makes the writer sound stupid:
However, if they go to “different places” according to the gravity of their sins, do they go under authority of God? If so, does it mean that God actually determines the penalty, and not the Devil?
Yes, God determines the ultimate punishment. The Devil is a created being, and he himself is going to hell, but not because it is his domain. Pop culture depicts the devil’s “home” as hell and Far Side cartoons show that he is the master of it, deciding the fate of wayward souls. But theology tells us that the devil’s home is actually heaven, and he was ostracized for rebelling against God. In Revelation, the devil is cast into everlasting fire the same as rebellious humans. He’s not the warden, nor is overseeing anyone’s fate there. He is suffering in it, alongside the other damned.
On to the second question:

If I kill your whole family and by my last breath I repent, would you feel comfortable meeting me in paradise?

What most critics miss about Christianity is that “easy-believism” isn’t what is in view. After establishing that sin means certain death for the people who continue in it, Paul rhetorically asked the Roman church, “How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Rom 6:2)?

Most churches today practice Gospel Lite, telling us that if we believe in Jesus, then we get to go to heaven. Never do they peel away the layers of sin in our lives, trying to show us that we need to repent of our former selves and live according to Jesus’ teachings. Above all, we must practice grace and forgiveness. Not by becoming doormats, but by embracing the greatest of the commandments and loving God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. Then, loving our neighbors as our own selves.

So, for the mass murderer who makes a deathbed profession, we have to ask ourselves, “How sincere is this guy, really?” He might just be trying to avoid hell by embracing that Gospel Lite prevalent today. If he isn’t sincere, God will know that and judge accordingly.

If he is sincere, and he is in heaven, then I will have my faith in God’s judgment to just and fair.

The bottom line is this: God does things at the counsel and good pleasure of his own will. He doesn’t ask his creatures how we would like to be dealt with, nor how he should deal with others. As he knows all, we should place some trust in his judgment.

In other words, just because a person once professed faith in Jesus doesn’t mean that he automatically gets the golden ticket and goes to heaven. There is a component of obedience that must be met as well.

Advertisements

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 9

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

I temporarily skipped questions #7 and #8 since they deal with unfamiliar territory. My familiar ground is philosophy, and those two questions deal with science. I will answer both tomorrow, to finish off this series. Which means that only question #11 will be dealt with today, and it’s a short one:

If God has mercy, doesn’t this render his justice arbitrary?

Mercy is selective by nature. When God has mercy, he is selecting certain people for salvation and passing over the rest for damnation. In DGS’s mind, selective automatically equals arbitrary. That’s a non sequitur.

If I wish to purchase a laptop, I need to think about a few things first. Primarily, my career field is going to be freelance writing, with emphasis on philosophy and Christian apologetics. According to freelance writing gurus like Bob Bly, the modern freelance writer needs reliable Internet access. Nearly all business for freelancers is conducted online these days.

Open source programs like OpenOffice.org for articles and short stories, Scribus for graphic designs and layouts, and CeltX for screenplays take care of most of my writing needs. Therefore, preinstalled software isn’t an important factor for me. I can customize my laptop with almost anything I need from the open source community.

The primary thing I’m looking at is WiFi access so I can work on the go, a big enough monitor that won’t cause eyestrain, and a comfortable keyboard since I’m prone to marathon-writing sessions. Carpal tunnel syndrome is not an option for me!

It looks like a laptop is going to be the way I’d go. Notebooks aren’t going to have a big enough keyboard or enough resolution for the monitor. I would like a physical keyboard, so most tablet PCs are also out. This is me being selective as to the sort of laptop that I’m going to eventually purchase.But, is that arbitrary?

The criteria I set forth are reasonable and help me discern what I’m going to invest time and money into. Though I’m being selective, none of these criteria are randomly chosen; I have a reason for each one. And this is how God works also: he had a reason for each elect soul he chose for the glory of heaven, predicated on his love and the good pleasure of his will.

Arbitrary would be if God were rolling dice as he made each soul, and only saving the souls on which he also rolled double sixes. But that’s not what happens; instead, God has a purpose for each soul made and a further reason for each soul he saves.

The rub is that we don’t know his criteria for who is saved and who is not. It’s not specifically revealed in Scripture. We know only that it has nothing to do with any perceived worth in the creature.

There is so much more. Election is a rich and dynamic doctrine, and I’ve already defended it extensively. More information is available here.

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 8

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

I have temporarily skipped questions #7 and #8 so that I can do a little bit more research. These are questions that lie outside the area I generally consider my specialty (philosophy), so I want to do some research. Since I didn’t want to lose my incredible momentum of posing, I thought I’d work ahead to give me some time.

So, let’s cover question #10:

What law, moral code or justice system was God following when He absolved David of his sin? More importantly, what moral code or justice system was God following when He killed a baby as punishment for a sin He absolved? (2 Sam. 12:13-18)

This question is asked only from a complete ignorance of God’s ontology. Let’s cover divine simplicity, but let’s start essentially by isolating God from the universe.

First, when you apply an adjective to someone, some external quality is modifying or describing this person–in addition to this person’s ontological make-up (e.g. the indelible qualities that make him human). If I say that someone is moral, for example, I’m using some generally accepted definition of “moral” and saying that this person’s behavior and attitudes usually conform to it. Read the rest of this entry

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 7

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

I have momentarily skipped questions #7 and #8, since they require more science to answer. Philosophy is more my area of interest and specialty. I will get back to them at the end, so we shall move forward for the time being to enable me to do a bit of research into the arguments that these questions cite. That way, I can’t be accused of an ad hoc response.

Question #9 has been refuted numerous times by me and others. Let us groan along together as we re-read it for the 3,000,000th time, and refute it for the 3,000,000th time:

If your God determined the only way to resolve the cultural clash in the Tanakh was to engage in genocide, how is it he conveniently found virgin females could be rehabilitated, but not one-day-old males?

This is a re-statement of the old arguments about divine genocide. I’ve argued that these are reasonable here. Paul Copan has forwarded some arguments with regard to genocide in the Bible in this article. Copan has since expanded that essay into a book.

I don’t have the symposium that Philosophia Christi published on Copan’s article, but you can order Philisophia Christi, volume 11, #1 (2009) from the EPS here and read it for yourself. I’ve listed the essays below, in case you have access to more scholarly databases than I do and can thus find the essays without much trouble. I highly recommend reading these essays. Read the rest of this entry

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 6

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

Question #6, the most foolishly misguided question, is:

If God lied, how would you know?

For some reason, atheists treat faith as a foul word that rivals the f-bomb for words that shouldn’t be used in civil conversation. This is because they are seriously misguided as to what it means.

Here are some skeptical examples representative of how they typically define the concept of faith:

  • Voltaire: “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”
  • Nietzsche: “Faith: not wanting to know what is true.”
  • Henry Ward Beecher: “Faith is spiritualized imagination.”
  • George Seaton: “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”
  • Even Ben Franklin had issues with faith! He said, “To Follow by faith alone is to follow blindly;” and “The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.”
  • Mason Cooley deserves the last word here: “Ultimately, blind faith is the only kind.”

These quotes show us that the atheist believes faith is belief without evidence, or despite all the evidence. That’s not true! D. Elton Trueblood has the real definition of faith: “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” J.P. Holding develops the idea of faith as trust in this must-read article.

Once you realize that faith isn’t a blind step in the dark, taken for no rhyme or reason, then you can understand that the answer to this question is a matter of faith. Faith is trust placed in one who deserves that trust.

As Christians, we have faith in God, and we have faith in the Bible since the Bible is an accurate revelation of God’s character and mission. Indeed, they are one-in-the-same revelation. The Scriptures affirm that God cannot (will not?) lie (Num 23:19; Tts 1:2; Heb 6:18; 1 Jn 1:5).

Having faith in God means having faith that the inspiration of the Scriptures is accurate, and what is in the Scriptures is an accurate representation of the character of God. The Scriptures are clear that God doesn’t lie.

What this means is that there’s no need to consider how to know if God has lied or not. He’s not going to. It’s a moot point.

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 5

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

Question #5:

What century did the Exodus occur?

Trying to chip away at the historicity of the biblical accounts here.

No one knows, actually. Few scholars actually completely discount the possibility of the Exodus; in other words, most believe that it probably happened but we’re unsure of the exact date. James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, who previously tried to trash Christianity with the Jesus Tomb documentary, came out with Exodus Decoded, wherein they lay out a case for a historical Exodus.

Like the Jesus Tomb fiasco, this documentary is laden with evidence that supports their conclusion. Rather than explored or refuted, contradictory evidence is swept under the rug. They wish to make only their case, and try the case in the court of public opinion where an impressive TV special is all it will take to convince most people that you’ve got something.

So, here’s the rub: if the archeologists don’t know, then I’m happy saying that I don’t know, either. When more evidence comes to light, I’ll be happy to conclude something then.

Another Argument by Twitter

I hate argument by Twitter. Atheist @Monicks tweeted the following on Jan 5, 2011:

If there really were a god, nobody would need faith!

Faith = Trust. Sorry, but you FAIL–once we see that God exists, then we would still need to trust him. That trust is informed by reason (not opposed to it), by virtue of God’s past dealings with humanity. Those dealings are described in the Old Testament, and the sovereignty of God is re-enforced in both Testaments. God has ordained the end as well as the means: he is in total control. As Jesus aptly put it, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Lk 11:23).

The issue is your definition of “faith.” It is most emphatically not “blind faith,” or “belief in spite of overwhelming evidence.”

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 4

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

Question #4 is interesting:

Why is it whenever I try your suggestion to “find God” (i.e., go to nature, read the Bible, pray), God never shows up? Worse, why am I arrogant to expect him to, when I followed your instructions where you told me to expect him to?

I have no idea what DGS means by “shows up.” If he expects God to make a personal appearance, that’s not going to happen. Paul is literally the only unbeliever I know of to convert based on an apparition appearing to him; everyone else that God personally appeared to already believed.

So, as most of these questions seem to, it really comes down to a question about wordview. I’ve discussed previously how quantum mechanics, under the many worlds hypothesis, predicts that “supernatural” forces can affect events on this plane of existence (though “natural” and “supernatural” are arbitrary distinctions based on the observer’s point of view and have no meaning as such). Read the rest of this entry

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 3

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

Question #3 embodies two typical atheist objections to Christianity, which I’ve answered in my reply to God is Imaginary here and here. DGS asks:

If you believe your God has phenomenal cosmic power, and is able to sustain the universe, why do you have savings accounts, pension plans, insurance, college funds, stock portfolios and locks? Just in case?

DGS links to his previous article on that topic, which I will now specifically address. The post talks about how a church had armed guards in place, and one managed to halt a tragedy in progress (see this news item).

DGS says that when churches put things like this place, they are not acting as if God exists. Kind of like the sarcastic picture on the right. More to the point:

Stores and business put locks on doors. We would say that is wise of them to do so. But is a Christian demonstrating a lack of faith by doing the same thing the world does?

I don’t think that the Christian is. I think that the Christian is displaying good stewardship. More on that in a minute; first, let’s take a look at the so-called biblical support that DGS feels refutes some possible counterarguments.

Christians might say we aren’t called to be stupid. To that, DGS says:

Every church I have ever attended had locks on the door. Every church I attended in the past two decades also has an alarm system.

If God was in control—why would there need to be locks? Oh, we can claim God doesn’t want us to be stupid, and we should use common sense and wisdom, yet this flies in the face of 1 Cor. 1:20-21 which says the wisdom of the world is foolishness.

First Corinthians 1:20-21 is part of a larger argument (1:18-2:16) and isn’t a call to reject all wisdom of the world. It is an argument for accepting Jesus as Messiah despite the fact that he died the most shameful and disgraceful death that a person could die. In the ANE, a crucifixion all but guaranteed a type of public humiliation that we have no equivalent for in the modern world: everything the crucifixion victim did and everyone he was related to suffered disgrace, humiliation, and was ostracized from society. Paul was arguing that God often uses foolishness to shame the wise and worldly. Therefore, I don’t find that this verse particularly supports DGS’s argument that churches shouldn’t need door locks if the faithful who worshiped there truly trusted God.

Just what is God’s wisdom on protecting earthly things, then? Jesus very often told parables where a rich landowner trusts possessions to a steward (usually a servant of some sort). The rich landowner represents God, and the servants (stewards) represented humans. Using this imagery, Jesus is teaching us to be good stewards. Ultimately, everything belongs to God, and he will ask for it back some day. Better to return in better condition than we found it, for God won’t accept it in the same condition (and that probably means he will be outraged if it is worse condition!).

The Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30) is a good illustration. Here, a landowner goes on a journey and entrusts talents to three different servants (v. 15). The first two invest the money wisely and return the original talents with dividends to the landowner (vv. 20-23). The third, however, buried his and thus was only able to return the original talent (vv. 24-25). This enraged the landowner. He told the servant he should have at least put the talent in the bank, that way at least it would have accumulated interest (v. 27).

The point is that God expects us to be good stewards of what he has given us–and it all comes from him, the spiritual (Eph 1:3-4) and the material (Jms 1:17) blessings. In order to fulfill that calling, we must take measures to protect what God has given us; not burying it like the slothful servant in the Parable of the Talents, but locking the door and alarming the building.

Accidents do happen, and therefore the church should take an insurance policy out for fire, theft, or other contingencies. Could the God of the universe stop a fire from hitting a church? Of course he could! But trials come (Jms 1:2-4), and it is through those trials that our faith is made stronger (Jms 1:12). We are just fools if we don’t think it could happen to us.

This isn’t showing a lack of faith in God’s ability to protect us, but is showing our obedience to him in safeguarding what he gave rightfully to us to use. We are the servants who are investing our talents and paying God back the original plus dividends.

Next:

Ever attend a church which has a building project? Perhaps needs a new roof? The same thing—a chart is put up in the lobby in the form of a thermometer, with each “goal” of contribution being a mark, and as the money comes in from the members, it is slowly filled in with red. Does the church say, “We need a new roof—don’t worry—God will provide”? Nope. The church says, “We need a new roof. Let us pray, and pass the plate.”

While the thermometer picture is overused, that’s not really the point here. The tithe is frequently brought up as a lack of faith in God. In reality, the tithe is a test. It is often said that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). This is true, and we (as Christians) aren’t giving 10% compulsively, under duress or penalty of hell. Rather, we are giving as an act of worship some of which God has given us so that the wealth can be spread. And we don’t have to give 10%; we may give what our hearts (and budgets) allow, proportionate to the wealth God has given us. We could give less, or (better) we could give more.

I’m not Pat Robertson or Paula White. I am not suggesting that giving more than 10% will give you yet more wealth in return. That isn’t promised anywhere in the Bible. Instead, I want to unequivocally say that I believe that the tithe isn’t limited to 10%, nor is it a 10% minimum. Giving what we can afford is the mark of responsible stewardship. This isn’t to reap a material reward, but to reap a spiritual one.

Churches do more than just build buildings: they fund missionaries and assist needy families in the area. All of that is made possible by the tithing of the faithful.

Yes, churches also pay bills and staff members’ salaries out of that tithe, but those are necessary and worthy expenses. The bills enable the building to have heat, running water, and other amenities that a person would expect from a quasi-public building. Which could work to bring in people, and in some cases (as is egregiously demonstrated in a TV spot for a church local to me) keep people coming. (My wife and I were both struck by this TV ad, which asks members of that church why they come to services. Only one of the half-dozen or so interviewees mentioned Jesus. One touted the fact that the church has a rock-climbing wall!)

As for staff salaries, the staff members are domestic missionaries, charged by God with spreading the gospel. Even Paul agrees that paying a church minister is a worthy use of the tithe (1 Cor 9:1-14; yet he himself does not by choice vv. 15-18).

While DGS sees health insurance and requests for tithe money as faltering on the part of the faithful, I believe that both are examples of the faithful’s obedience to God. We give tithes not out of compulsion or fear of hellfire and damnation, but out of love for God–to see the work of the gospel, spread by faithful ministers, continue to touch lives in our local community and abroad. Insurance of all sorts protect what we have, showing that we are good stewards in preparing for the inevitable destruction of earthly goods.

Much more could be said about stewardship. It is a lifestyle, not a formula for managing money. Time, talents (like singing, not the money in the above parable)–everything that is a gift from God should be used for his glory, proportionate with what the Christian can give. This is true obedience, not cowering in fear and lack of faith.

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Sidebar on 1 Corinthians

The first of today’s posts on DaGoodS’s (DGS) questions will come a bit later, as I wanted to examine a side issue that was raised. The discussion revolves around a specific interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:20-21. DGS thinks it supports a rejection of all worldly wisdom. However, I believe that in its proper context, it is trying to argue something far different. Read the rest of this entry