Archive for the ‘Morality’ category

Judging the Old Testament God with New Testament Morality

May 29, 2018


I am a fan of Perry Marshall, the author of Evolution 2.0, and a champion of the integration of science and faith. I don’t necessarily agree with him on his conclusions about evolution, but (frankly) that is only because I am not a science guy. I don’t disagree with him either. Perry Marshall, Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, and Francis Collins and BioLogos all present reasoned and evidence-based views on science and faith, as do others, and they don’t all agree.

Such is the character of being finitely human. We see in part. We know in part. We just don’t have the kind of perspective to be able to get our arms around the big picture to any degree of mathematical certainty. I enjoy reading them all, and I even listen to and read the atheists and agnostics from time to time.

One of the main objections to “the God of the Bible” is on the basis of morality, not of science. Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein both shared difficulty understanding a God who could/would allow so much pain and suffering in the world. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, what gives? So the thinking goes.

The recent post by Perry Marshall, Isn’t a Deist God a Little Less Troublesome?, deals with this issue. In the article, Perry responds to a someone who rejected Christianity on these moral grounds, but who could not get past the evidence that life could not have just happened the way it exists in the universe with such order without some Help.

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What the Gospel Means to the World

February 19, 2017
depositphotos Image ID: 19311001 Copyrightt cdp

depositphotos Image ID: 19311001 Copyrightt cdp

What does it mean to take up the cross and follow Jesus? Maybe it means being willing to be vulnerable and willing to be weak for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe it means putting the Gospel first and my desire to preserve myself last. Maybe it means being more concerned with the spread of the Gospel than my own reputation.

We hesitate to be outspoken about the Gospel because the Gospel means something different to the world that is perishing than it means to us. For those being saved, the Gospel (the message of the cross) is the power of God for salvation. But for the world, it is received much differently.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom[1] of the wise,
and the discernment[2] of the discerning I will thwart.”

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly[3] of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.[4]

God is about the business of destroying “the wisdom of the wise” and “the discernment of the discerning”. If that is God’s business, and if we are following after God, this should be our business as well. How then is God destroying the wisdom and discernment of the world?

The Jews demanded a sign, and Jesus dying on the cross was not the sign sign they expected. They expected a savior that would overthrow the Roman government and set up a self-governing Jewish state in the Promised Land. Jesus didn’t meet their expectations and became a stumbling block to them.

The Greeks wanted sophistication and clever philosophy. Their standard was Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics who developed systematic philosophies. The Gospel to them was foolishness, dull and lacking in the sharpness of thought that the Greeks expected of their thinkers. the Gospel seemed like foolishness to them. .

The world today wants tolerance, acceptance, validation and normalization of every form of thinking, affection and lifestyle. Anything goes, and the world demands validation of any identify, affection or behavior that someone wants to embrace. The Gospel that embraces self-restraint over self-love and which carries the message that following Jesus as the only way is seen as intolerance to the world.

Wisdom and systematic philosophy is out. The world doesn’t believe in signs anymore. The standard today is tolerance, acceptance and pluralism, sacrificing the truth on the altar of individual rights, freedoms and the license to be or do whatever one wants with no moral constraints.

In this world today, people who hold stubbornly to the Gospel are considered Neanderthal, provincial and vulgar. Taking up our crosses today means being accused of intolerance and “bronze age” thinking.  Black has become white. The Gospel is seen as moral depravity in this world that values the morality of man over the righteousness of God.

The Gospel is the word of an Infidel to the Muslims who bow only to Allah and are instructed to convert, subject or kill those who will not also bow. Yet our modern pluralistic society gives the Muslim world a pass while blaming the Christian church for intolerance.

In any age and in every age, the Gospel runs counter to the prevalent norms and worldviews of the times. The Gospel stands apart, and the followers of Christ stand with it.

Paul preached only Christ and him crucified to the Greeks who thought it was foolishness and to the Jews to whom it was a stumbling block. So we preach Christ who is the way the truth and the life to those who think we are intolerant, to the Muslims who think we are infidels, to the scientists who think we are ignorant and to the modern moralist who thinks their own morality surpasses the righteousness of God.

Significantly Paul, who’s ministry was to the Greeks and the Romans, did not eschew knowledge or philosophy or the signs the Jewish world was looking for. It wasn’t as if Paul was not a learned man, full of knowledge of Jewish history and scripture. He was trained up in the finest school of the Pharisees run by Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of the time.

It was not as if Paul was an ignorant or unlearned man in Greek philosophy. When he addressed the people in Athens, he cited by memory Greek poets and philosophers. It’s just that Paul did not buy into the Jewish interpretation of scripture that missed the very Son of God among its pages. Paul did not buy into the knowledge and philosophy of the Greeks because knowledge and philosophy cannot save a man from his sin.

So today, it’s not as if Christians are intolerant. Jesus has instructed us to welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, to love those who are unlovely and even to love our enemies. Still, Jesus is the way the truth and the life and there is no other way to the Father but through Jesus.

It’s not as if Christians are not intelligent in the ways of science. Until very modern times, Christians led the world in science. In the last couple hundred years, Christians have abdicated the realm of science to the atheists and agnostics. The atheists and agnostics, in turn, have shut the Christians out by defining science narrowly, excluding any thought of god from it. Yet, people of faith are still involved in the sciences. We may even be going through a Renaissance of faith-based science today.

It’s not as if Christians are immoral. Far from it, Jesus called his followers to a higher morality even than the Jewish Pharisees, rooting out even thoughts that are sinful and serving others to the point of self-sacrifice. Jesus exemplified that morality because Jesus, the exact representation of God on earth, is the standard. .

It’s not as if there is any other way to salvation. Muhammad lived and died and remains buried. Jesus rose from the dead. There is no other Messiah. There is no other person in whose name is the power of life and salvation. Jesus is our bread. He is our water living water. Everything boils down to Jesus. As it was in Paul’s day so it is now in our day.

Taking up the cross and following Jesus, holding out the Gospel, will be met in much the same way as it was meet in Jesus’ day. The world that is perishing will not receive it, but it is salvation and life to those who will receive it. Even if no one receives it, still we carry the cross because there is not other Messiah and are no other words that give life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] Sophia means “wisdom” and supplies the root of the English terms “sophistication” and “philosophy”. In this sense, the Gospel is contrasted to the sophistication and philosophy of the world.

[2] Sýnesis is translated discernment or cleverness. Literally, it means holistic understanding by joining facts together; synthesized reasoning by bringing implicit (indirect) truths together. In short, it means a worldview. Thus, the Gospel is contrasted to the prevailing worldviews.

[3] Mōría means folly; literally, dull (lacking sharpness).

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Have Christians Lost the Moral High Ground on Immigration?

January 26, 2017
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Photo by Tim Butterfield


“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger[1] and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [2]

The parable of the sheep and goats and the explanation of it given by Jesus is relevant to the issue of immigration. This is not in the Old Testament, but the New Testament. This isn’t God talking to the nation of Israel (as if what God said to the nation of Israel has no bearing on us), but God talking to all of us through Jesus.

The bottom line is this: we will be judged by how we treat people.

A case can be made that God’s instructions to the Israelites on the treatment of strangers (aliens, foreigners, immigrants) doesn’t apply to us today, [3] like ceremonial and dietary laws don’t apply to us today as followers of Christ. At least, that is the position taken by James K. Hoffmeier in the article, The Use and Abuse of the Bible in the Immigration Debate, December 2011.[4]

Hoffmeier argues that conservative Christians should not take a position in favor of immigration. He says that only secularists and liberals hold to that position, and they misquote the Bible to support that position.

Before diving in to the issue, we should note that the discussion isn’t about whether immigration should be allowed, or not. We already allow immigration and always have. Few people are arguing that we should open the borders wide with no controls at all, and few people are arguing that we should shut the borders tight and not allow any immigration at all.

The issue is the extent of the immigration we should allow and the terms and conditions that we should attach to it. But, the debate sounds as if people are lining up completely in favor of open borders or completely i favor of closing them off. This isn’t the case, of course.

Another issue we need to contend with is the notion that the secularists and liberals have staked out the ground in favor of immigration. This notion is also false. Who is against immigration?! Who would refuse any immigration at all?!

But, what if those “secularists and liberals” are “right” in their policies that favor more compassionate immigration? Do we oppose things just because secularists or liberals ascribe to them? These are questions I ask myself as I consider the issues. Are we just reacting? I believe we should be guided, not by our opposition to positions taken by unbelievers, but by our own reading of the Scriptures and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I am neither a secularist nor a liberal. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and I believe that we are responsible to God whose Word is preserved in the Bible. My reading of the Bible leads me to take the position that we have a holy responsibility to welcome strangers, immigrants, into our land because that is the heart of God.

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Can You Be Good Without God?

October 18, 2016

Theists claim that people could not do good without God. But, people do good things all the time, even without believing in God. Atheists, agnostics and people of all stripes can do good things and they do good things.

Obviously, believing in God is not a prerequisite to doing good things. A better question, is whether good can exist without God?

If God does not exist, what basis exists for determining good or bad? Right or wrong? (more…)

The Myth of Objectivity

September 16, 2016

Thoughtful and thought-provoking articles are a source for many articles I write. When those two characteristics are exemplified in the same single article, I often use it as a springboard. An article by Trent Horn, Neil DeGrasse Tyson Shows Why Science Can’t Build a Utopia[1], is my springboard for this article.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, of course, is the outspoken agnostic ambassador of science. The Horn article was precipitated by Tyson’s tweet: “Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence”[2] and Horn’s counter-tweet: “@neiltyson ‘Rationalia’ is as useless as ‘Correctistan,’ or a country whose constitution says, ‘Always make the correct decisions.'”

To illustrate what he means by his counter-tweet, the author used the example of a driverless car. Fatalities have already happened with them and will undoubtedly happen again. That isn’t the point, though. The point is this: how should they be programmed when confronted with two options – to run over pedestrians or run into an object that may kill the passengers?

How does Rationalia weigh the evidence to determine which is the best course? (more…)

Myth, Appearance and Reality

February 3, 2016

Some of the great breakthrough realizations in human history are that the earth is not flat, that the earth is round and rotating, that the Sun does not revolve around the earth, that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and the earth along with other round bodies in space rotate around each other kept in correlation with each other by gravitational pull. These realities are different than the appearances.

We appear to be standing on a stationary earth that, for all we can see, is flat. The Sun appears to rise, cross the sky and set every day. It is no great leap to understand that the sun might move around the earth, though the perception of a flat earth persisted into modern times. The moon seems to move around the earth in the same way the sun seems to move around the earth, but one does move around the earth and the other doesn’t.

Although we have known the realities for centuries, we still talk in terms of the appearances. We talk about the Sun rising and setting. We describe the phenomena as sunrise and sunset. Someone unfamiliar with our colloquialisms might hear us speak and think that we are ignorant of the truth.

The appearances have a strong hold on us. So strong that they persist in our language and how we describe things on a day to day basis. Those appearances stubbornly refuse to leave our everyday speaking patterns.

What other appearances and corresponding realities exist that we have yet to debunk or lay hold of? (more…)

Equality, Fairness and Me

November 9, 2015
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Bialasiewicz

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Bialasiewicz

I recently read an article on equality and fairness titled, surprisingly, People Don’t Actually Want Equality, by Paul Bloom published October 22, 2015, in the Atlantic. This seems like an heretical statement in the home of the brave and the land of the free where we grew up on a diet of equal rights. Of course, equality will never happen. Genes, heritage, place of birth, physical and mental disabilities and other things we do not control frustrate true equality.

The evidence in the article suggests we do not even really want equality. Studies show that “younger children actually have an anti-equality bias” and prefer distributions where they get a relative advantage.” One for you, two for me, sits well with the one who gets two. Small children and primates will complain bitterly if they get less, but are perfectly satisfied to receive more.

The author goes on to summarize: “What we see from studies of children and studies of small-scale societies is an early-emerging desire for fairness, and a particularly strong motivation not to get less than anyone else. But we don’t find a smidgen of evidence that humans or any other species naturally value equality for its sake.”

There is much more to the article, which I have linked above, and there are many nuances to human reactions, especially as we mature as people and societies. The article got me thinking, though, about the difference between society and human response to the Kingdom of God and God’s view of things. If you do not believe in God, you might as well stop here unless you are curious.

Comedian, Louis C.K., provides this glimpse at equality: When his five-year-old’s toy broke, she demanded that he break her sister’s toy, which would make things equal. He does it and, in the process, feels badly for the other daughter, while his five-year old “got this creepy smile on her face.” It reminds me of an eye for eye. That is certainly equal, and nothing could be more just, but it does not, ultimately, sit well with us.

It does not sit well with God either. God tells us what He really wants: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 NIV) Jesus restated the same thing when he said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13) He was speaking to the Pharisees, by the way, who thought they had a leg up with God because of their piety.

The important thing here is to understand that God does not want to impose strict justice. He takes no pleasure in it. He does not want to take an eye for an eye. He does not want anyone to perish because of unrighteousness. ( 2 Peter 3:9)

But, ironically, justice is what we insist on many times. We want everything to be equal or fair. It is our natural tendency. What that means to us may develop over time into something more sophisticated than two for me, one for you, or even an eye for an eye, but that desire for justice and fairness does not go away.

We live in an obviously unjust and unfair world. Why God allows injustice and unfairness to continue is an age old question. We tend to think we are taking the moral high ground when we ask, “Why?” Some of us blame God and are angry at Him for it; others find injustice and unfairness a reason not to believe that God even exists.

Inequality and unfairness have existed since Abel made a better offering than Cain and Cain killed Abel. Arguably, the fall and the introduction of sin into the world through Adam and Eve’s choice to ignore the instruction of God was the beginning of injustice and unfairness. The perfect twisted into the imperfect.

God could clean the slate and start over again, but that is obviously not His plan. He did that once and promised not to do it again. The only solace is that this imperfect world will end. God promised that too.

And that gives us a clue to God’s perspective. There is something better. We know that too, intuitively. We long for that. Some of us spend our lives striving for that – striving in vain some might say. What is the use? We cannot change the character of mankind. Our efforts are like the boy sticking his fingers in the holes of the dike.

Some people accuse Christians of checking out, waiting for the rapture. Indeed, we do have eternity with God to dream of, but we dare not “check out” yet. We are not there yet. There is a reason we are here, on this earth, among the injustices and unfairness.

We are clearly “tested” on our own reactions to people in need. When we feed the hungry, cloth the naked and give to the poor, we do that to and for God. We are measured by our compassion and the efforts we give to meet those who have need. This unjust world in which we live is the place where our hearts are tested and found full of the right stuff, or, more than likely, wanting.

The longing for equality or fairness and the desire to do something about it is a redemptive desire. It is a desire that God shares. We often let the inequalities, injustice and unfairness, however, drive us away from God. We become judgmental and righteous. We feel it is up to us to demand and exact justice. The equality and fairness and justice that people demand and seek take on a character that is full of prideful humanity and void of the spirit of God.

We focus on comparisons, and we focus on the here and now, but God sees things differently.This momentary existence is nothing in comparison to eternity. If we lived as if this life is just a short introduction to eternity with God, we should act differently. It should not make us indifferent to the needs of our fellow men; it should spur us on to take from our wealth and even our own needs to share with those who have less than us. This is not our natural tendency. But, if we know our treasures are in heaven, then the things we have here and now should not matter so much to us; we should be more willing to share with those who are suffering in the present.

Our focus is all too often on the wrong things. We focus on ourselves and our needs and our wants. When we look to others, we tend to see them in comparison to us. If people have more, we are jealous. If they have less, we feel relived that we are not like them. If we are compassionate, we feel there “ought to be a law” that changes inequality. Of course, there would be no inequality if we all shared what we had with others in need.

We also tend to advocate for fairness for what we lack or those with whom we identify lack. Pick a cause and examine the people who are promoting the cause; most of those people are effected adversely by whatever evil the cause seeks to address. Those advocating for women’s rights tend to discount inequalities that men suffer. Those advocating for illegal immigrants tend to discount inequalities that naturalized citizens suffer. Inequalities are equal opportunity oppressors. Numbers will show greater inequality and greater injustice in certain people groups, but that is no consolation for the individual suffering inequality or injustice.

As God relates to us, we should relate to others. He extends the one thing we need most, relationship with Him, which He gives freely, and He promises eternity with Him where there are no tears, no sorrow and no pain. All things will be evened out in the Kingdom of God. This is what we long for and what we are made for. In the meantime, we should be working toward the Kingdom of God on earth. Seek first the Kingdom of God is God’s instruction to us.

We should not be comparing ourselves to others. If we have enough, that is all we need; if we have more than enough, we should share with those who do not have enough. This is a very different ethic than what we naturally tend to adopt. This is actually the Christian ethic, though you would not know it by observing most churches. The First Century church shared everything in common with each other. Individual needs were met by the faith community.

Even those who advocate for a more equal distribution of wealth (call it socialism or whatever) do not live the ideal they advocate. We all, me included, take care of ourselves first and expect the government, or churches or other organizations to help those who cannot help themselves. Some of us lend our time to those things, but we live for ourselves.

We may talk a different game, but let’s be honest here. We live more like the children in the studies that are the subject of the Atlantic article.


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