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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: 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

What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 1)

It keeps coming up in discussions with atheists that I say certain Christians are wrong about particulars of Christianity.  And they are.  If I’m right on certain things (which I think I am), then necessarily others who disagree with me are wrong.  Not a radical notion.

What do you suppose happens when I call a Christian’s particular doctrine into question?  I always get the same response from the atheist.  He sarcastically tells me that I believe I’m the only one who has found True Christianity™ and that I believe every other Christian will burn, just like every other Christian he has spoken to, because believers are all that arrogant.

I think that is more evidence of the shallow thinking of the atheist, not to mention their complete ignorance of theology.  Atheists, I’m going to make this as plain as I possibly can:  There is no such thing as True Christianity™! Read the rest of this entry

Apt Description of God

Chris Reese from Cloud of Witnesses featured a concise and excellent quote that perfectly describes the nature of God, as cited by Dallas Willard:

God is “the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being; the Being whose purposes and actions spring from Himself, without foreign motive or influence; he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences; infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only by himself, because an infinite mind can only be fully comprehended by itself.  In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived, and from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, and right, and kind.” [Adam Clarke in Cyclopaedia, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894), 903-4, quoted by Dallas Willard in Knowing Christ Today, chapter 4, n. 1.]

Let’s break take a look at just a few of these descriptors. Read the rest of this entry

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, 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