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Beatitudes, part 5: Blessed are the Merciful

The first four Beatitudes identify felt needs as virtues:  the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry.  The next three identify states of character as virtues.

The first is mercy; the merciful will receive mercy.

Some people think that mercy is not meting out a deserved punishment.  Not so.  Mercy is more akin to gratitude.  “Lord, have mercy,” is better understood as “Lord, continue to be gracious with us.”  That’s why the KJV renders “mercy” as “loving-kindness.”

This has to do with the honor-shame society of the Bible and the satisfaction of personal debts.  Taking the high road with people who owe you something is a virtue that God loves (see Mt 6:15-15; Mk 11:25; Lk 6:35; Eph 4:32).

Jesus told the story of a wealthy landowner who demanded payment of a huge debt from one of his servants (see Mt 18:23-35).  The servant didn’t have it, so the landowner forgave the debt completely.  Later, that same servant demanded payment of a far smaller debt from a fellow servant.  When the second servant couldn’t comply, the first had him thrown into prison.  The landowner then ordered the first service imprisoned.  Jesus said that if we do not forgive the debts of others, then God will not forgive the one we have with him.

Forgiving others, having mercy on the undeserving are all rooted in God’s character.  The real idea of Christianity is to transform us, no to leave us to enjoy the pleasures of this world.  We are adopted as sons of God, and he does so to mold us into the image of his Son.  Therefore, having mercy on others as God has had mercy on us is a sign of that transformation.

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Scripture Saturday: Why Some View God as a Moral Monster (Prv 28:5)

So far, I’ve been on time with Contradiction Tuesday, but late with Scripture Saturday.  Every single time.

This new job has really cut into my blogging time!

Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  After all, I need the money.  And, for the first time since I can remember, I actually like my job.

Now on to Scripture Saturday.

Many atheists argue that God is a moral monster.  They say that he has appalling standards compared to us humans.

Have you ever wondered why this is so?  Why do atheists think God is evil for punishing sinful people (like the Canaanites)?  Or why do they think he is a bumbling moron for allowing the Fall or creating Satan?

Simple.  Atheism isn’t just a rejection of the concept of a deity.  It is a decision with a serious moral dimension, and terrible consequences for the atheist — and I’m not referring to hell.  I’m referring only to earthly consequences, especially in the way one thinks as an atheist.  Let’s look at the Scriptures:

Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it completely.  (Prv 28:5)

Are atheists evil?  Maybe some are.  Most aren’t by human standards.  But by divine standards, they are as messed up as the rest of us (Rom 3:23).  The bigger picture is the second clause — people who seek the Lord understand justice.

Without seeking God first, perfect and flawless justice will mean nothing.

The atheist can hem and haw all he wants about how he sought God and there was no God to be found.  Balderdash.  He fails to understand true justice because he is not seeking God.

Therefore, God’s actions against people like the Canaanites seem to the atheist inexplicable and mysterious; evil or disgusting.  The atheist isn’t seeking God when examining the Bible, he’s really just window shopping “the god of some other religion” and comparing its actions with what he already believes morality to look like.  He finds this god as coming up short, and therefore Christianity is yet another religion that fails to meet his criteria.

No wonder he doesn’t believe in God.

Instead, reverse all that.  Let God set the bar, since God is (after all) God.  Then measure yourself by his standard.

What’s happening, according to Scripture, is that since the atheist is not seeking God, he cannot understand justice.

Scripture Saturday: Importance of Bible Study (Prv 28:9)

I’ve heard that some folks benefit from a regimented blogging schedule, so I thought I’d give it a shot to see if it helps me.  And that means I will now introduce two new features.  If I blog nothing else in the course of a week, I will blog the two features.

The first is Contradiction Tuesday, where I will detail a perceived contradiction in the Bible.  I’ll take requests for this series from skeptics and believers alike — e-mail me.  It will begin next Tuesday; I didn’t have time to do one this week.

On a side note, I’m thinking of adding Anti-Testimony Wednesday sometime in the future.  I would critique the latest “Why I’m not a Christian” bit from ex-Christian.net, with a private offer to the poster to defend him or herself here.  Since they don’t like their unbelief challenged on the site, this would be playing by their rules.  After all, the anti-testimony is posted publicly so it’s unrealistic to think that someone won’t pick it up and challenge it somewhere.

The series beginning today is Scripture Saturday.  What better way to kick off Scripture Saturday than with a verse on the importance of studying Scripture?

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.  (Prv 28:9)

Strongly worded.  If a person stops studying God’s Law, then that person’s prayer is an abomination.  An abomination!  That’s the strongest way God can revile something.  And here, God is saying that he will revile a person’s prayers if that person refuses to hear God! Read the rest of this entry

On the Euthyphro Dilemma

Is it moral because God says so or does God say so because it’s moral? False dilemma. It’s moral because that’s the way God is.  — William Lane Craig

I think that this an excellent and adequate response to the Euthyphro dilemma.  I believe that the answer is rooted in the ontology of God as perfectly good.

However, I don’t think that the skeptic would ever be convinced by such an answer.

He’ll just ask how we know God is good, and when we way “the Bible,” he’ll mention that the Bible also says to sacrifice turtledoves to “clean” women during their menstrual cycles, confirms the existence of unicorns, and prohibits football.

Now, all of those things are hyper-literal readings of the text and have simple responses. My point here is that the skeptic doesn’t accept the Bible’s description of anything, let alone God.

To illustrate, archeologists give the benefit of the doubt to ancient documents when a site contradicts a document. The thought is that the ancient writer was closer to the events and probably knows better than we do thousands of years later. Not to mention that its possible that a site might have been altered, destroyed, rebuilt, or built upon between the composition of the document and our discovery of the site.

However, when that ancient document is the Bible, then the error is automatically assumed to be with the Bible, and not assumed to be one of a myriad of possibilities like the ones I just mentioned. To recap, random ancient document contradicts a site: “There’s probably an explanation. Let’s assume the document is right and find out the reason for the contradiction.” The Bible contradicts a site: “Bible’s wrong, it’s complete fiction, God doesn’t exist. Three cheers for freethought!”

While I think that the answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma lies in God’s ontology, I think that in order to get the skeptic to see that, he must be willing to step out in faith and trust the Bible. However, given all of the skeptical attacks on the Bible (despite it previously thought to have been very reliable), there’s a long way to go on that.

By the way, I’m not the only one that sees this.  The Bible has yielded much good archeology in the past, and if we would continue to rely on it I have faith it will produce much more good in the future.  However, there is a serious prejudice against the Bible not only in archeology, but in every academic discipline.

History and archeology aren’t my thing, but I hope that other apologists who feel called to that area work hard to counter some of this anti-Bible sentiment in those fields.  If the Bible can be believed again as a reliable ancient source of history, then we will have taken a good step toward resolving some of the theological questions being raised as well.

God: Model Teacher

When I was in eighth grade, we started learning algebra.  The teacher told us that variables stand for numbers, and we either solve for the specific number the variable represents, or treat the letter as if could be any number.

When a particularly astute student noticed that x, y, and z were always used as variables, he asked if any other letters could be used.

The teacher said any letter would work, but told us to avoid i.  We asked why, and he replied that it could be too easily confused with 1.

But, math wizards, that’s not really why we don’t use i, is it?  It’s actually a mathematical constant, defined as the square root of -1.

Like a good teacher, my math teacher gave us what we could handle.  Later, those of us that either read the sidebars in our algebra books (because we’re extra geeky) or took calculus learned the real reason why we don’t use i as a variable.  Clearly, eighth grade students learning the basics of algebra wouldn’t have been ready to learn about imaginary numbers.

My eighth grade math teacher didn’t lie.  He just didn’t give us information that we weren’t ready to have.  Later, a fuller revelation of the facts would be realized.

This is the reason that God gave the Law.  Not because he was lying or misleading us.  And he didn’t “edit” things or change his mind later.  He gave us the system that our feeble brains could handle, and now he has fully revealed the purpose and meaning of the Law, freeing us from its tyranny to live by grace in Christ Jesus.

The Law was but a shadow of the perfect reality to come (Heb 10:1).  Now that the perfect reality is here, we may rejoice in him (Jesus Christ) rather than having to follow the Law.

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Nature of God (long answers)

More questions from the Reddit thread filled with questions theists can’t answer.  These still focus on God’s nature, and require lengthier discussions than the previous questions.  However, they are no less puerile.  First question:

If God is perfect, why is he “a jealous God”?

God is “jealous” for one reason.  He is the ultimate being and the ultimate reality, the definition of perfection, goodness, and holiness.  God created life and sustains the universe that supports it.  He alone is the embodiment of divinity and is worthy of worship.

Yet people refuse to do so, when it is their duty.  We understand that duty, which is why human evolutionary biology is becoming such an important field.  As is embryology, paleontology as it relates to the origin of earth, and cosmology.  We want to understand where we came from, but we aren’t seeking the One who created us, only the culmination of perfectly natural laws that put us here.

Let’s say that Bob has a daughter named Beth, and was a perfect parent to her, never failed her, always encouraged, mentored, and uplifted her, and did everything to see that she succeeded in life.  Would Bob the a-hole if he becomes jealous when Beth suddenly cuts him completely out of her life and starts calling Steve “dad,” even though Steve only became a factor in her life last Tuesday, and has literally done nothing for her?  Should Bob just let it go and forget about it?

No, and therefore neither should God.  He is that perfect parent, unfailing and perfect in love, upholding and sustaining our existence after having created us and blessed us abundantly.  When we deny him and seek a natural explanation for our origins (or other gods), then he has every right to be jealous.

If Men (who are imperfect) does not condemn the children because of crimes commited by their parents, how can God (who is perfect) do it?

As I have argued repeatedly, that is most certainly not what is happening.  Sin is both action and ontology.  Adam’s sin introduced corruption and sin into the world; our own sinful natures are consequences of that.  We are not condemned for the sin of Adam, but by it.

Think of this illustration.  If I punch you in the face and break your nose, you didn’t ask for that.  You’re mad at me.  You probably wish I hadn’t done it.  But, at the end of the day, you still have to suffer the consequence of my action.  It’s not fair, is it?  Yet it happens everyday.

Guess what?  If I’m an alcoholic who beats my wife everyday just for good measure, then my daughter is going to seek a husband who beats her and my son will beat his girlfriends.  Both will likely be alcoholics, as well.  They didn’t ask for that; it’s not fair!  But it will happen to them all the same.

Bottom line: we are not immune to the consequences of someone else’s actions.  I don’t deserve hell because my grandpa killed a man just to watch him die.  I deserve hell for the lies I’ve told, for the lustful staring at Angie the Anti-theist (because I’m married, not because she’s an atheist, no hate mail for this–I’m complimenting her by saying she is gorgeous), for the history paper I plagiarized in high school–I could probably go on!  All of these sins leads back to Adam introducing sin into the world in the first place, but the fact that he introduced it doesn’t obligate me to join the depravity.  I do that all by myself.

What would a god be doing before creating a universe?

Mind-numbingly stupid question.  Time is a function of spinning masses of material that create gravity, bending space and acting on other objects contained in space.  The revolution of the planetary bodies around a sun, and the revolution of these suns around a central point of a galaxy, and the spreading of the galaxies outward from a central emanation point create a chain of cause to effect, that effect becomes the cause of another effect, and so on.  This creates the sensation called duration.

Take away space, and with it all the rotating, revolving masses within it, and you have eliminated the chain of cause to effect which is the cause of another effect, and so on.  No more duration, itself an illusion created by linear cause and effect chains.  No duration, and you don’t “do” anything to “pass the time,” because there is no time to pass!

So, God’s existence, “pondering” what to do with this existence, “deciding” to create a universe, “planning” what sort of universe to create, “mulling” possible universes over, and finally “creating the universe we see” would seem to be simultaneous actions for a timeless/spaceless being, given the absence of space-time and no way for him to experience duration.

God might have willed itself, heaven and hell all out of existence last year. How would you know?If god created man in his image, does he have a nose? If he has a nose are lungs attached to the nose? Does God breathe? If so why did he create a universe where 99.99% of it is a vacuum? If he does not breathe why does he have a nose?

I get the strange feeling that this is meant to be facetious, since I can’t prove the first portion of it, and the rest of it sounds like those goofy philosophical inquiries, like “Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?”  So I’m tempted not to take this paragraph too seriously.

I can’t answer any of it with certainty, but I can explain why I think that the whole thing is misguided and puerile.

First, I don’t believe that God would commit “deicide.”  The reason is that the Bible reveals that God not only created the universe, but he also sustains it.  This is why God is a philosophically necessary being; without him, no universe, no life.

Also, given that God is timeless, he doesn’t “come into” or “go out of” existence the same way as we would be able to.  “Beginning” and “end” are concepts that are functions of time, which God is not subject to.  So it’s pointless to speculate about what would happen without him, or what things would look like if he wasn’t there–that can never happen.  Without him, there is literal eternal nothing.  The type Francis Schaeffer referred to as “nothing-nothing.”

When the Bible states that God created man in his image, what it means is that God’s basic attributes are reflected in man: moral freedom, sovereignty, intelligence, creativity, and things like that.  It doesn’t refer to appearance.  It isn’t a physical reference, but a mental one.

So the rest is the puerile portion.  No, God doesn’t have a nose as he is immaterial: timeless and spaceless.  So no lungs or breathing; God isn’t a material being with material needs.  As we covered in the previous question, God has no needs; he is entirely self-existent.

I’m not even touching the rest.  I’m not sure why I even took this last question seriously.

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Nature of God (short answers)

These questions come from an ancient-by-Internet-standards Reddit thread that compiles questions that theists supposedly can’t answer.  These questions discuss the nature of God.  These questions only required a few quick sentences in reply, as they are a bit puerile.  Let’s dive right in:

All mainstream religions hold that God is Perfect, needing nothing, never changing.

But how could a Perfect being do anything? To do something, a motivation or decision must exist that sparks an action. Any of these things – motivation, decision, action – are all changes. To feel motivated is to desire, want or need something – and a Perfect being cannot desire, want or need or they are not Perfect. To decide anything requires a being to go from a state of having not decided to having decided. Of the two, which one would be a state of Perfection and which a state of Imperfection? To act is a matter of changing in some way. So again, at which point would such a being be Perfect versus Imperfect?

God is described as “unchanging,” or some say the fancier “immutable.” This attribute of God, however, describes only his ontology, not his agency.  What this means is that God can initiate volitional changes (such as become motivated, make a decision, or perform an action) because these are matters of the will and do not fundamentally alter God’s being.

However, God couldn’t (if I can use that word without opening up a can of worms on the “omnipotence” front) make himself into a squirrel.  He couldn’t initiate a change that would fundamentally alter his ontology (his make-up, his being).  Which is why God can’t lie–that is an deceptive action, something which is contrary to the attributes of goodness and holiness.  Also, since God is impartial and just, lying would besmirch those as well.

Why does god have no issue killing innocent people?

There are no innocent people.  Everyone has transgressed the law of God.  In the creation story, we find that sin (that is, a transgression of the law of God) means that we will experience death.  Therefore, death is both a punishment for sin as well as a symptom of the corruption that sin introduces into a perfect world.  All people deserve death.

How that death is to occur is a matter of God’s divine decree.  Life isn’t a guarantee.

How can God’s forgiveness be unrestricted if we need to repent?

Forgiveness is a function of God’s mercy; he is merciful to forgive us if we repent because mercy is selective by its own nature.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be mercy.  God is perfectly fair to attach conditions to it.

How can God be just if we are born unequal?

All I can say is that divine justice doesn’t consider inequalities within a person or any external circumstances constraining that person to render a judgment.  It considers only the relevant facts of any case, so any sort of inequality would only be considered if relevant to the eternal fate of the person so born.

I don’t have a clue what this question is getting at, so I can only offer that generic little blurb.

What need does a god have to create anything?

He doesn’t need to create anything, but he did it anyway.

I really only need to eat, sleep, and breathe.  But, today I cleaned my living room from top to bottom, moving all of the furniture and using the Swiffer Wetjet behind and underneath everything.  I didn’t need to do that.  I watched The People’s Court and Judge Mathis.  I didn’t need to do that.  I drank a lot of Pepsi.  I really didn’t need to that, and probably shouldn’t have.  I watched the bits I missed of Tangled.  Cute movie, but I didn’t need to do that.  I read another chapter of Screenwriting by Syd Field.  Fun and informative; I’d really like to sell a screenplay and be the next Joe Eszterhas (though I’d never write something like Showgirls or Basic Instinct; I only said that because we’re both from Ohio)–but I didn’t need to read that book, either.

What about you?  Did you do anything today besides eating, sleeping, and breathing?  I’m betting you did!  So why is it shocking that God would do something he has no actual need to do, given that we are made in his image?

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Hell

A question from the Reddit thread of questions we theists supposedly can’t answer (but we really can, but if we do, then we’re full of it because we’re not supposed to have all of the answers, but if we don’t have all of the answers theism is false; atheism makes my head spin–I’m way too consistent in my personal judgments to ever embrace atheism!).

This question concerns hell, and it’s a common one:

How can God’s love be unlimited if there is hell?

Hell is a fate to which humans consign themselves.  God is basically the ultimate respecter of persons.  He has laid the cards on the table–no matter how deeply we penetrate the black box of existence, it becomes increasingly complex and ordered.  No matter how far we probe the cosmos, the evident beginning of everything is found.  Ultimately, it all points to a First Cause that is itself an intelligent creator–a person, God the Father.

Jesus, the second person of God–the Son, has revealed the Father to mankind by becoming one of us.  The wrath of God against ungodliness has been appeased in the sacrifice of the Son to those who have faith (active faith, faith that does something; different from mere assent to a certain worldview).

From the Father and the Son comes the Holy Spirit, which is the evidence of God’s action in the world.  He calls us, convicts us of our sin, and regenerates us in faith to become sons of God and conform to the image of Christ.

The cards are on the table, and they are many and obvious.  But no one is  coerced to love God.  I don’t believe loving God is choice per se; rather, it is a revelation of something already inside you from the start.  Being a Christian isn’t something that you do once in an altar call, but a lifelong journey of self-discovery.

If you refuse the free gift of grace, living life apart from God, God doesn’t snuff you out of existence (though we could argue that he would be justified in doing so).  Instead, he allows you to remain in tact, living both on earth and into eternity.  The soul was created for eternal fellowship with God, to snuff a person out of existence would be to violate the ontology of the soul.  Make it something that it isn’t.  So, what to do with the soul that rejects God?

Well, heaven with God wouldn’t be nice.  If you rebel against and ultimately reject the fellowship of someone (such as divorcing a spouse), you don’t want to spend a solid second with that person ever again–let alone all of eternity!  It would be worse torture than, well, hell.  Cruel, even.

I’ve heard many an atheist express sentiments like this.  Over the course of keeping this blog and venturing into discussion forums with various atheists (such as Theology Web, the Rational Response Squad discussion board, the Why Won’t God Heal Amputees forums, and the Is God Imaginary forums), I’ve heard several times over things like, “I’d rather spend eternity in hell than be in heaven with your God!”

This is predicted in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16:19-31).  In it, a rich man dies and goes to (presumably) hell, while a beggar named Lazarus ascends to (presumably) heaven.  When the rich man realizes that he’s lost, does he try to alter his fate?  Nope–all he does is ask for a drink of water, something that would satisfy his immediate need only.  Then, he wants to warn his family so that they won’t suffer the same fate.  Notice: he doesn’t want out of hell!

This is why C.S. Lewis observed, wisely I think, that the doors of hell are locked from the inside.  No one is there that doesn’t want to be there.

Hell is perdition and separation.  It is, ultimately, what the sinner wants–total separation from God.  God is giving him his way.  However, for those who submit to God’s way rather than their own, glorification in heaven awaits, and eternal fellowship with God.

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, the Atonement

I was recently directed to a Reddit thread where the atheists were proposing questions that theists can’t answer. Surprise, surprise, we can answer them, and in many cases have answered them (just not the satisfaction of the atheist). Of course, personal satisfaction isn’t a prerequisite for truth.

That said, what follows are questions from that thread that center on the Atonement. Read the rest of this entry

Saints Alive!

Jimmy Akin has an interesting article about former Pope John Paul II’s progress on getting canonized a saint. Not that JPII is advancing the cause, of course, but that his supporters are pushing the Vatican to name the recently departed pope a saint immediately. As in now.

I wanted to comment because a statement in it ties into my recent post answering questions from a Reddit thread enumerating questions we theists supposedly can’t answer (but we really can). That previous article was on questions that tied specifically to the soul’s eternal destiny, and Akin touches ever-so-briefly on that.

Akin’s article had a statement that dropped my jaw with regard to determining eternal destiny. Before I give my thoughts on that statement, let’s begin with asking why the Vatican would have an interest in thoroughly investigating a potential saint before canonizing him.There are three points to bear in mind. Read the rest of this entry