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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Does that mean that God doesn't care?

If disease and death are part of God's design, does that mean that God doesn't care when something or someone dies? Is God indifferent to suffering and death?

Not according to Scripture! Let's consider a few verses dealing with death:

"The Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die." -- Psalm 116:15

Jesus once said: "What is the price of two sparrows - one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows." -- Matthew 10:29-31

Paul wrote to the saints of Corinth: "Since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God - for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can't be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection of the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life." -- I Corinthians 15:12-22 For the author of this blog, this is one of the most honest and straightforward statements in Scripture. Paul is clearly stating this stuff (about Christ and the resurrection) is either true or not - those are the only two possibilities.

In similar fashion, he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica: "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died." -- I Thessalonians 4:13-14

If we really believe that Jesus Christ died so that we might live, then we have to conclude that God does care deeply about the death of every human who has ever lived. Likewise, if we really believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that God resurrected him from the dead, then we have to conclude that God did that for us and does not intend to abandon us to the grave either.

Moreover, if we ignore Scripture and appeal to reason alone, we must inevitably come to a similar conclusion. If God has designed life to be predisposed to the perpetuation of itself and has imposed limits to aid in that pursuit, then we have to conclude that God cares deeply about life and death. It also does not make good sense that there would not be some spiritual mechanism for sustaining life when physical life is so preoccupied with the pursuit of immortality. In short, if we believe in God, a belief in some kind of Divine interest in the perpetuation of life seems to me to be a logical corollary to such a belief. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

God and the biblical preoccupation with procreation

Any serious student of the Old Testament has noticed that a considerable portion of that literature is devoted to the subject of procreation. In the very first chapter of Genesis, we read: "Then God said, 'Let the land sprout with vegetation - every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.' And that is what happened. The land produced vegetation - all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good." (verses 11-12) Continuing: "So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird - each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, 'Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.'" (verses 21-22) Likewise, we read: "Then God said, 'Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind - livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.' And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good." (verses 24-25) Finally, toward the end of that chapter we read: "So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply." (verses 27-28) All of that is in the first chapter of the first book of the Old Testament!

Nevertheless, it doesn't end there. Most of the remainder of the book of Genesis is preoccupied with telling the story of how mankind reproduced and spread out over the surface of the earth. There are genealogical tables informing us about who fathered who. The stories of the patriarchs of the Hebrews, along with their wives and children, are told. In fact, by the time the book has ended, there is a large family of Hebrews living in the land of Egypt. By the time that they leave Egypt, we are informed that they have grown into a great people. (Exodus)

In similar fashion, many of the laws of the Torah directly address the subject of procreation. There are laws regarding who is allowed to have sexual intercourse with whom. There are laws providing for the perpetuation of the names of people within the community who die childless. There are laws against sexual activities that do not lead to procreation. There are laws to ensure that males of military age will have an opportunity to produce offspring. There is also a provision for divorce, just in case the male is dissatisfied with the woman he marries. There are even stipulations within the law allowing for the appropriation of female prisoners of war for the purposes of Israelite procreation. Finally, although it is never overtly stated, it is implied throughout the Torah and subsequent historical books that polygamy was at the very least tolerated by God (a practice that would certainly seem to encourage procreation).

Dr. Jacob Wright (of Emory University) has proposed that this preoccupation of the biblical authors with procreation stems from their experiences of defeat and subjugation at the hands of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. He argues that their instinct for survival as a people in the face of this overwhelming defeat led to this preoccupation with procreation. In short, the leaders of the Israelites realized that their small numbers and limited resources simply could not compete with the populations and resources of the great empires that surrounded them. Thus, they concluded that their survival lay in the perpetuation of the community through procreation and the glorification of survival as the heroic ideal of their culture.

Hence, In the light of Dr. Wright's observations, I think it is reasonable for us to wonder whether or not this preoccupation with procreation was Divine in origin. As one who believes in the God of the Hebrews, I believe that God is concerned with procreation; but I am very skeptical that the Lord would have seen the issue in precisely the same terms as the human authors of Scripture saw it. In fact, the evidence provided by the world around us is probably a more reliable indicator of the Lord's thinking on the subject.

First, when we look at the world around us, we have to acknowledge that every living thing on this planet is preoccupied with the perpetuation of itself. This seems to me one of those self-evident facts that we would be hard pressed to get around. Nevertheless, it is also evident that there are some systemic factors that limit and/or regulate the process of procreation. After all, theoretically an organism has the potential to reproduce unlimited copies of itself.

However, God (or nature itself - depending on your perspective) has clearly imposed limits on this theoretical ability. The reproductive capacity of all organisms (including mankind) is limited by things like the availability of sunlight, water and soil within the ecosystem to which it belongs. The organism is further limited by the competition of other organisms for those same resources. For animals, the availability of plants and/or other animals that depend on plants is essential. Predation by larger, stronger and smarter organisms is a factor that limits the population size of many species of animals. Likewise, things like infertility, disease and birth defects can limit the population of a species. Homosexual behavior can also limit the reproductive capacity of a species. Likewise, as history has clearly demonstrated, climatic changes and natural disasters can have a significant impact on a species. Finally, the physical strength and adaptability of the organism itself can have a very practical impact on its ability to survive and reproduce.

Although we tend to see most of these things in a negative light because they can kill, reduce or limit the expansion of the organism, we must ask ourselves why these limiting factors were put in place by God (or nature)? Don't these things that limit the reproductive capacity of the organism ultimately help to ensure the survival of the species? There is, after all, a finite amount of space and resources available on this planet. What would happen if an organism could go on ad infinitum living and reproducing itself? Wouldn't that lead in the end to a lot of overcrowded, starving, miserable and dying organisms? Who imposed these limits on our reproductive capacity? Was it Almighty God? If so, God must regard them as good and necessary to the perpetuation of human life on this planet. Perhaps, when we are better able to control our own impulses, some of these limiting factors will someday become unnecessary? What do you think?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Hebrew God

Have you ever wondered: Why the God of the Hebrews? Why did the God of a small group of Middle Eastern people become the God of Western Civilization and much of the rest of the world? How did the Hebrew God replace all of the other traditions within the Western World to become the near universal conception of the Divine? Likewise, how and why did a book of Hebrew writings come to be regarded as the sacred text of so much of the Gentile World?

Think about it. Not only did we inherit the Hebrew God, we also inherited their conception of that God (through the writings we now refer to as the Old Testament of the Bible). This realization should be an absolutely astounding phenomenon to us, but most of us have never even considered this or given it any thought at all! For most of us, this realization confirms the truth of the old proverb: "You can't see the forest for the trees." We have been so busy with the particulars of our perspectives on God, Scripture and religion that most of us have failed to take note of their origins.

I'll say it again: We have adopted the perspectives of a relatively small and obscure group of people relative to God and "His" characteristics! Take a moment to let that sink in and marinate. Is there anything else in the history of humankind on this planet that compares to this phenomenon?

Admittedly, we have inherited many linguistic, legal, architectural and other cultural attributes from the civilizations of the Greeks and Romans. Likewise, we can still trace the influences of Egyptian, Babylonian and Persian cultures on the Western World. We can even point to specific things that we have inherited from the Eastern World - the great civilizations of China, Japan and India. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the religious views of most of the Western World derive from a small tribe of people who anciently inhabited a small strip of land in the Levant.

Having awakened to this realization regarding the source of our religious beliefs, we then have to ask ourselves: WHY? What persuaded peoples from many different religious traditions to abandon those traditions and adopt the religious traditions of this tribe of people? Was it something about the people themselves? Was it something about the nature of their writings? Was their literature somehow superior to the writings of other peoples? Was it something about their God? Was the notion of their God persuasive and seductive to other cultures? In short, what is/are the factor(s) that contributed to the near universal acceptance of the Hebrew God throughout so much of our world.

In beginning to answer these questions, it seems self-evident to me that one of the major factors contributing to this phenomenon was the uniqueness of the Hebrew perspective on the Divine. Many of the religions of the ancient world were polytheistic in nature. Many of those cultures believed in a pantheon of gods - there were gods for war, love, agriculture, hunting, sex, seas and a host of other things. Even where there was some concept of a supreme god, this entity was most often seen as presiding over many lesser gods. Even in the instance of the experiment in monotheism by the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, the deity was tied to a visible force of nature - the sun. In contrast to all of this, the Hebrew God was one, supreme, universal and invisible entity.

The Hebrew God claimed to be the Creator of everything else - the only True God. Unlike the gods of all those other peoples, the Hebrew God claimed to be beyond the capacity of humans to conceptualize, imagine or contain. Indeed, the Hebrew names for God indicate an entity that is so far above and removed from human understanding and contact as to be beyond description or quantification.

The first name given in the Hebrew scriptures for God is "Elohiym." (Genesis 1:1) As has been noted by many linguistic scholars, this word is unique to Hebrew. It is the plural of "El" or "Elowahh," and it literally indicates the God of gods or the Supreme God. In other words, the Hebrews were claiming that their God was superior to and above all of the gods that were worshiped by the peoples surrounding them. Moreover, the Hebrew author(s) of the book of Genesis went on to assert that this Elohiym was the Creator of everything else - the source of all else. Now that was a claim that almost demanded the attention of the rest of the world.

Later, in the account of Moses' encounter with this God, Elohiym tells him that "I am who I am." (Exodus 3:14) This passage is based on the Hebrew verb "hayah." It means "to be" or "to exist." Hence, this Hebrew God was literally telling Moses that "He" existed because "He" existed. In other words, this entity was self-existent and didn't require any other thing or force to sustain himself. Thus, it is strongly implied that everything else depends on the Hebrew God for its existence.

Continuing in this same passage from the third chapter of Exodus, we read that this God also revealed to Moses that his name was "YHVH" (the Hebrew scribes left out the vowels because they felt that this name was too holy to pronounce). It is interesting to note that this name harkens back to the verb referenced above and literally means the "One Who Exists." In addition to a name, this God identified himself to Moses as the God of his ancestors - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Exodus 3:15) In other words, this Hebrew God was an eternal God who had existed in times past and would continue to exist into the future.

Another unique feature of the Hebrew God was the fact that "his people" claimed that "He" spoke to them and inspired them to record his laws, stories and prophecies. Although the Hebrews did not have an actual nation-state for most of their history as a people, their religion served to provide them with a distinctive identity among the peoples of the earth. A major part of that identity was contained in the writings that we now refer to as the Old Testament of the Bible.

As Dr. Jacob L. Wright (Associate Professor of the Hebrew Bible at Emory University) has asserted, the Hebrew Scriptures were distinctive from the literary traditions of the other peoples of the Ancient World. Instead of glorifying the nation-state and heroic death on behalf of that entity, the Hebrew Bible praised procreation and survival of the family and tribe in the midst of a hostile world. When compared to the Babylonian, Greek and Roman funeral orations of heroic soldiers and citizens who died in the service of their country, the approach of the authors of the Hebrew Bible stands out as very unique and different. In short, the Hebrew God wasn't concerned with the same things that other gods appeared to be interested in - like serving the interests of the state. On the contrary, the Hebrew God claimed to transcend the state.

Hence, although YHVH was the God of a small tribe of people living in a narrow slice of the Levant, "He" transcended many of the popular notions of the Divine extant in the Ancient Western World. In other words, the Hebrew God had universal appeal. The notion of a Supreme, somewhat remote and invisible God made sense to people's internal expectations of what the real God would be like. Moreover, the fact that people could experience the Hebrew God internally and individually made him eminently superior to the alternatives that their respective traditions and cultures had produced.

Finally, the most important factor in the widespread acceptance of the Hebrew God was the appearance on this earth of a young Jew known to us as Jesus Christ. In the tradition of the ancient Hebrew authors of Scripture, this Jesus claimed to have a kingdom that was not of this world - one that was even superior to the Roman Empire. He also claimed to be the embodiment and fulfillment of all of the laws and prophecies of those ancient Hebrew authors of Scripture. And most importantly of all, this Jesus offered to sacrifice himself for the sins of all of humankind - thus enabling humankind to share in the self-existent, eternal life of the Hebrew God. So Jesus Christ was the "tipping point." As his followers spread the story of his life around the world, many of the people who heard that story came to believe that the Hebrew God was the genuine article.

In looking back on this remarkable phenomenon, we have to admit what an unlikely and yet somehow inevitable story this turned out to be. Also, we are forced to pause and reflect on the judgment of so many of our forefathers. And we have to ask ourselves: Does their collective judgment mean anything to us? Was their adoption of the Hebrew God (or "His" adoption of them, depending on your perspective) happenstance? OR was this all meant to be? Those are questions that each of us will ultimately have to answer for ourselves. Nevertheless, for this author, the historical fact of this phenomenon (the widespread acceptance of the Hebrew God) indicates to me that the Hebrew God is the genuine article!

*** Hebrew words from The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Biblical alternative to the Genesis account of creation

Most folks read the Genesis account of creation without any awareness that Scripture (Old and New Testaments) reveals another story about how everything was created. This other story, however, cannot be found in one or two chapters. Instead, it is constructed by putting many different verses from many different places in the Bible together. Moreover, this other story is quite different from the account found in Genesis.

First, this other account of creation begins in the New Testament. We read there: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3) In verse 14 of this same chapter, we learn that the Word is the one who later became Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus that God created all things through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 3:9)

In similar fashion, we learn in the New Testament that God and Jesus Christ were working off of a plan that was formulated and set in motion before this earth was created. In fact, the phrase "before the foundation of the world" appears three times in the King James Version of the New Testament. (John 17:24, Ephesians 1:4 and I Peter 1:20) Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory." (I Corinthians 2:7) He wrote to Timothy: "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (II Timothy 1:9) Paul also wrote to Titus: "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." (Titus 1:2)

In the Genesis account, it is implied that angels were created prior to man and the earth (the Serpent is already there in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve take up residence). In other scriptures, it is made plain that angels were created before man and the earth. When God answered Job out of the whirlwind, he said: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding...When the morning stars (angels) sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7) This is also implicit in what we read about the one who became Satan in the writing of the prophet Ezekiel. (28:12-15) Likewise, we read in the epistle to the Hebrews that angels were created to serve the heirs of salvation - mankind, and that man was created to be "a little lower than the angels." (1:14 and 2:7)

Thus we can clearly see that Scripture reveals that many things happened relative to the creation of this planet before the events recorded in Genesis. This serves to reinforce the awesome nature of what God did and our own recognition of the fact that we know very little about the actual nature of those events. Nevertheless, the message of the entire Bible is clear about one thing relative to this subject - God is the Creator of everything!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pride and Prejudice

I received an e-mail today from a couple belonging to the CGI congregation which I formerly attended requesting that they be removed from my e-mail address list. They informed me that they have not read my blog, but they apparently wanted to save some of my time when sending out e-mails (it wasn't that big of a deal - just a click or two of my mouse). They are symptomatic of a trend that I have been observing for many years now: Too many folks have simply stopped listening to anything that they happen to disagree with.

I personally know people who will only listen to Fox News or MSNBC News (depending on whether they happen to be conservative or liberal in their views). I know of other individuals (some of them in my own family) who will not listen to the President of the United States, because they don't like him or what they think he stands for! I have friends that will not read any material from any church other than their own, or anything written by a member of their own group that contradicts what they believe to be true.

Where does such an attitude come from? The simple answer is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Some folks are so convinced of their own correctness and righteousness that they feel that it is beneath them to even contemplate anything different. In other words, they are proud of what they know; and they firmly believe that what they know is superior to what other folks know. This knowledge acts as the filter for everything that they see, hear, smell, taste and feel - it colors every aspect of their world view. Hence, when they take in something that contradicts that or is unfamiliar to them, their automatic response is to reject it without further consideration - that's commonly referred to as prejudice.

In Scripture, God calls this a stony heart - one that is so calloused, hard and impermeable that nothing can penetrate it. Thus a stony heart is one that cannot grow or change. By virtue of the fact that it is encased in a hard shell, it is no longer capable of growth or alteration - no outside force can touch it.

The Christian life has been compared to human gestation - the growth and development of a baby in the womb. Question: What happens when a baby ceases to grow and develop? Answer: It dies! What happens to a Christian that has decided that they've got it all? What happens when a Christian ceases to grow in grace and knowledge? Don't get mad - I'm just asking.

I have found in the course of my life that I have always profited from exposure to opinions that are different from my own - even when I profoundly disagreed with the person on the other side. Sometimes another person can bring something to the table that I haven't considered before - maybe they've seen something that I didn't see. Some folks are frankly more pliable in the hands of God than I am, and I end up gaining new spiritual insights from having been exposed to them. Different opinions sometimes change or modify my opinion about something. Other times, they serve to reinforce my own opinion or strengthen my arguments in favor of what I believe; but I have found that I always profit from exposure to other opinions.

How sad and childish it is to plug your ears and close your eyes and stand in the corner by yourself! I hope and pray that I will never be content with what I know and who I am at any given moment. I want to grow in grace and knowledge for as long as I live. In fact, the alternative scares me - it sounds too much like death!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What a coincidence!

The folks who worship the Bible have a particularly difficult time explaining the stories of Abraham's and Isaac's lies to Abimelech, King of Gerar. Let's take a closer look at these two stories and see if we can make any sense out of them.

Let's look at the story of Abraham's encounter with Abimelech first: "And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife...Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou has done deeds unto me that ought not to be done. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing? And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake." (Genesis 20:1-11) "And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phicol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all thou doest: Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me...And Abraham said, I will swear. And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away...Wherefore he called that place Beersheba (well of the oath); because there they sware both of them. Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba. (Genesis 21:22-32)

Now let's look at the story of Isaac's encounter with Abimelech: "And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar...And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of that place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon...And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us...And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen, saying, The water is our's...And he wwent up from thence to Beersheba...Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar...and Phicol the chief captain of his army...And they said, We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee...And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac's servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, We have found water. And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city is Beersheba (well of the oath) unto this day." (Genesis 26:1-33)

Did you notice all of the similarities in these two stories? Let's enumerate all of them, just to make sure:
1) Both patriarchs go to live in the land of King Abimelech of Gerar.
2) Both men tell the king that their wives are their sisters to keep from being murdered by the people of Gerar.
3) Abimelech asks both men, "What have you done to us?"
4) There is strife between the servants of the patriarchs and those of Abimelech over wells.
5) Both Abimelechs are accompanied to a meeting with the respective patriarch by the commander of their armies - a man named Phicol in both stories.
6) The men acknowledge that God is with the patriarch in both stories.
7) Both patriarchs conclude a treaty with King Abimelech at Beersheba.
That sure sounds like a whole lot of coincidence from my perspective. What do you think?

Could it be that the same story was applied to two different men? That sounds reasonable doesn't it?
"But that would make the Bible fallible wouldn't it?" some will protest. "Yes, yes it would!" is my response.

This story brings up one other very important point about these patriarchs: They apparently didn't have very much confidence or faith in God's ability to protect them while they sojourned in Gerar! Instead, we are told that they resorted to lying in an attempt to save their own skins. Moreover, if their lies had not been discovered, their wives might have been subjected to illicit sexual relations with strangers. Thus, whatever we believe about the disposition of this story, we must conclude that this is definitely not the kind of behavior that a Christian would want to emulate.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The folks of Westboro Baptist Church aren't the only ones using God as an excuse to hate!

Many of my conservative friends think that it's unfair when I point to the outrageous statements made by the folks at Westboro Baptist Church about homosexuals. They say that this group represents an extreme, fringe group that is not representative of the fundamentalist culture at large. Well, while they may be extreme and fringe, they are certainly not alone.

The pastor of the Fayetteville, Arkansas based "Spirit of Peace Church" recently forwarded an e-mail to me that he had received from someone in the community (whom I will extend the courtesy of anonymity to - I certainly would not want to be publicly associated with such a statement). In an e-mail with "Despicable Piece of S__t!" as its subject, he wrote: "You are an abomination. If you have read the same bible that I have you know that to be true. I am not religious but know that what you affirm is deplorable. It is but a matter of time before the pressure of your sins become unbearable and you will rid yourself of this earth. Know that 99% of this state and most of this county find people like you to be sick freaks!"

According to their Facebook Page, the "Spirit of Peace Community Church is a congregational based church with its teachings based upon Jesus Christ. SOPCC has an outreach to all--affirming the dignity and diversity of all God's creation. We are LGBT affirming." I'm assuming that this individual has a problem with the last sentence of this statement - I can't imagine anyone having a problem with the rest of it.

It is interesting to note that an LGBT affirming church exists within this community because these folks are not welcome in most traditional and fundamentalist churches within the community. These are folks that love Jesus Christ and the Bible despite the fact that they have been persecuted and excluded by their brothers and sisters in Christ. Would the person who wrote this e-mail prefer to find these folks in a bar or bath house? What about you? Does the fact that some of these folk claim to be Christians and attend church on a regular basis offend you? Is the thought of a homosexual attending church offensive to you?

I am proud to call the folks at Spirit of Peace my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have worshiped with this group in the past and will continue to worship with them in the future. The folks who attend there are good and loving people - doing their very best to follow the example of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible. The person who wrote that e-mail admits that he is "not religious," but he somehow feels that he is morally superior to these folks. I don't see it.

Who is Miller Jones and why does he write this stuff?

Miller Jones is a pen name that I have used for years. My name is Lonnie Hendrix, and my identity has been public knowledge since the founding of this blog (when it was announced in The Journal: News of the Churches of God). However, as a few individuals have expressed confusion over the identity of the author of this blog, I wanted to set the record straight and assure my readers that I am not ashamed of anything that I've posted here and have no desire to distance myself from the opinions that I've expressed here. In short, Lonnie C. Hendrix owns this blog and all of its content.

I have been a student of the Bible all of my life. I was baptized into Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God at the tender age of seventeen. I was "disfellowshipped" from that organization in 1985 for dating someone who was not a member. Thereafter, I began attending the services of the Church of God International and continued my association with them for many years. I have also attended Church of God Seventh Day, Seventh Day Adventist and Seventh Day Baptist Services. I was awarded a "Certificate of License" by the Paint Rock, Alabama congregation of the Seventh Day Baptist Conference in 1994 and have participated in marriage, funeral and baptismal ceremonies. I have preached numerous sermons in front of SDB, CGI, and COG7thDay congregations over the years and have written numerous articles that have been published in church newspapers over the same period. I regard myself as a Christian and a teacher within God's Church.

I began writing this blog as a response to some of the very narrow views of God expressed by some of the folks that I have fellowshipped with over the years. Indeed, my own views of God were much too narrow and naive in times past. Over the years, I came to understand that God is much greater and more complex than I had imagined. Like many of my friends, I had created an image of God in my mind that did not comport with the world around me or what I was reading in Scripture. Instead of accepting the fact that I was created in God's image, I had unwittingly created God in my image. In short, I limited God with my own experiences, expectations and knowledge. Likewise, it was apparent to me that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ had essentially done the same thing to God.

Paul warned against trying to make God look like us. (Romans 1:23) God told Samuel that "He" doesn't look at things the way that we do. (I Samuel 16:7) God told Isaiah that his thoughts and ways were on a different, higher plain than those of humankind. (Isaiah 55:8-9) When Solomon built a temple for God, he acknowledged that God could not be placed in a box of human making and design. (II Chronicles 6:18) Indeed, he acknowledged that the whole universe was not sufficient to contain God!

In other words, we are a reflection of him. Any books that we possess (including the Bible) are a representation of a piece of his mind, purpose and will. Hence, in my opinion, anyone who claims to have a handle on God is being a little arrogant and self-deluding. God is a topic that could be talked about forever - there are no limits or boundaries to that subject. And that is the kind of theology that the author of this blog is devoted to writing about.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day

Thank you Father for the life that you have given us.
Thank you for my mind and body and the heart that beats within my chest.
Thank you for every breath I take in and exhale.
Thank you for the eyes that you have given me to see my loved ones and the beautiful world that you have created.
Thank you for the streams, rivers, lakes, oceans and rain that sustain life on this planet.
Thank you for the mosses, grasses, ferns, flowers and trees with which you have covered the ground.
Thank you for ears to hear the words "I love you," and the sound of waves washing up on a beach.
Thank you for the way that an apple pie smells when it's baking in the oven.
Thank you for the way that a strawberry cheesecake tastes on my tongue.
Thank you for the star specked night sky and that big old yellow moon.
Thank you for the blue, blue sky and those big white puffy clouds that drift across it.
Thank you for the family that I was born into, and the one that I acquired along the journey that has been my life.
Thank you for the woman who has been my best and most faithful friend and the mother of my children.
Thank you for my children, for allowing me to take care of them and watch them grow to adulthood, and for the love and happiness that they have brought into my life.
Thank you for the grandchildren that they have provided for us, for their sweet smiles, their complete innocence, the miracle of their tiny feet and fingers, and the wonder in their little cherub faces.
Thank you for memories, good and bad - for all of the experiences that have gone into making me the man I am.
Thank you for the musical and artistic talents that you have given to others for my enrichment and enjoyment.
Thank you for sending your Son to this earth to save me from death by sacrificing himself for my sins.
Thank you for giving me your Holy Spirit to guide, comfort and sustain me on my spiritual journey.
And thank you Father for your love, compassion, mercy and faithfulness to me.
I am very thankful that you are my Father.

God doesn't care which religion you profess!

We've been looking at some perspectives on religion for the last couple of days. Naturally, the question arises: What is the bottom line on our religious views? Does God care if we are a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist or Christian? For Christians, does "He" care whether you are a Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Adventist or Armstrongite? In other words, does God care about which religion you profess?

"Of course He does! What a silly question!" many of my religious friends would answer. However, if we look deeply into the subject of our religious beliefs and ask ourselves a few questions about them, I think that any objective person would have to conclude that God doesn't care which religion you profess!

First, most folks begin this topic with the notion that their religious views are correct. They believe that their religion is God's religion. The reasoning process goes something like this: If my religion is God's religion, then all other religions are not. If my religious beliefs are true, then alternative views are false.

However, this line of reasoning brings a few questions to mind. Are your religious beliefs correct in every particular? How can you be sure that all of your religious beliefs are correct? If there is even the possibility that some of them aren't correct, doesn't that mean that your belief system is flawed? Have you ever changed one of your religious beliefs? If so, doesn't that clearly indicate that you now feel that your old belief was wrong? Does your religion have all of the answers? Does your religion possess all of the truth? Has your religion ever been shown to be wrong about some belief/doctrine/teaching? Have any of those beliefs/doctrines/teachings evolved or changed over the years? If you can answer yes to those last two questions, doesn't that clearly indicate that your group was wrong at some point in the past? How can the leadership of your group be sure that they're right now?

Don't all religions teach that the source of their beliefs/doctrines/teachings is Divine revelation? How does Divine revelation work? What does it mean to be inspired? Is human reception of Divine revelation always perfect? If so, why have beliefs evolved and changed over the course of the history of every religion extant on this planet? When a human is acting under Divine inspiration, does that mean that he/she is incapable of making mistakes? Does Divine inspiration make the finished product perfect and flawless?

Most Christians hold up the Bible as God's complete revelation of "His" will to mankind. Most Christians believe that the human authors of Scripture were acting under Divine inspiration at the time the original documents were written. However, if that is the case, then doesn't it follow that there is only one truth available to all Christians? And, if that's so, then why are there so many different beliefs/doctrines/teachings extant within the Christian community? "Because of deception!" my friends will quickly answer. Oh, I see - so humans are subject to imperfection in this realm even when they have God's Holy Spirit to guide, lead and inspire them?

"Well, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian!" they will answer. "Satan has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9), and only those whom God has called into His Church are truly Christians (John 6:44), they will say. So God is responsible for who gets called now and who gets called later? "Yes, that's absolutely correct!" they will respond. Then God really doesn't care which religion we profess! "What? How did you get that?" they will ask. If God is the One who is in control of the process, then it doesn't matter what line of thought or reasoning we choose to pursue does it? Isn't that what God effectively told Adam and Eve when "He" expelled them from the Garden of Eden? "Go your own way, make your own decisions about what constitutes good and evil and see what that gets you!" In other words, does it matter to God which deception you decide to settle into until He's ready to deal with you? "But we still have to make a choice when He calls us!" they will protest. You just said it again - when "He" calls you. In this line of reasoning, what you decide doesn't matter until you're offered the choice!

Christians have the distinction of being the most schismatic religion on this planet. We are truly skilled in this regard. We can take the smallest differences in beliefs/doctrines/teachings and turn them into life or death matters (and we're talking eternal life and death or eternal life in the flames of hell). Christians are fond of pointing out the flaws and inconsistencies in each others' beliefs/doctrines/teachings.

I have thought for some time that Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift should be required reading for all Christians. After explaining to Gulliver the political differences of the Tramecksan and Slamecksan parties, the Lilliputian Principal Secretary for Private Affairs explained the great religious controversy that existed among his people: "It began upon the following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his present majesty's grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy: but the books of the Big-endians have been long forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments. During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefusca did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: 'that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end.'"

Swift's matter of fact way of explaining the great controversies of Lilliputian society point out the absurdity of our own political and religious controversies. Are you a Big-endian or a Little-endian? In the final analysis, isn't God's opinion the only one that really matters? Aren't "His" beliefs/doctrines/teachings the only ones that truly matter? Shouldn't this realization put our own religious beliefs/doctrines/teachings into better perspective? And that is why I titled this post "God doesn't care which religion you profess!"

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How did the early Christian Church worship God?

Today, a typical Christian religious gathering takes place on Sunday (or Saturday). It is also usually held in a building that is owned by the congregants or the organization to which they belong. In most instances, there are rows of seating facing a central place of focus where those in leadership positions direct the service. The service itself usually incorporates Scripture readings, some kind of message (homily or sermon), singing, prayers and a ceremony commemorating the death of Jesus Christ (referred to as Communion, Passover or the Lord's Supper). The order, frequency and length of each one of these elements varies greatly depending on the particular group that is holding the service; but agreement is almost universal within the Christian community that these are the essential components of a Christian worship service. So we ask: How do these elements compare to how early Christians worshiped God?

First, it should be noted that the earliest Christians were all Jewish so there was a tendency among them to continue to congregate with other Jews in their temple and synagogues on the Sabbath. (Acts 2:46; 3:1, 8, 11; 4:1; 5:12, 21; 9:1-2, 20; 13:5, 14, 42; 14:1; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 19, 26; 19:8; 22:19 and 26:11) This is certainly understandable in light of the fact that Christ himself was a Jew who was accustomed to teaching in the temple and synagogues on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:9, 13:54; Mark 1:21, 3:1, 6:2, 12:35; Luke 4:16, 6:6, 19:47, 20:1; John 6:59, 7:28, 8:2, 20 and 18:20) In this connection, it is also interesting to note that Scripture readings were an important part of the synagogue service. (Luke 4:16-20; Acts 13:27 and 15:21) Hence, we can clearly see from these scriptures that the earliest Christian worship services were very Jewish in character.

Nevertheless, the continuation of Christian worship within the temple and synagogues quickly became untenable. The Jews who rejected the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah began to persecute the Christians in their midst and eventually began to eject them from their places of worship. (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18, 26; 13:50; 14:2, 4-5, 19; 17:5; 18:6, 12-16; 19:8-10; 21-26 and 26:21) This led to Christians gathering together for worship outside, in whatever edifice was available and in private homes. (Acts 16:13, 19:9, 28:30-31, Romans 16:5 and I Corinthians 16:19) Thus the practice of gathering together in their own building was a much later development in Church history that would have been entirely foreign to early Christians.

As has already been indicated, the book of Acts gives us many insights into the religious practices of the early church. We read that this was the condition of the church immediately following its establishment on Pentecost following Peter's first sermon: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers...And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people." (Acts 2:42-47) This situation is reaffirmed by this passage from chapter four: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." (4:32) This concept is certainly foreign to the Capitalist countries of today's Christendom.

In similar fashion, the simplicity of the original communion/Lord's Supper/Passover service would be foreign to many of today's Christians. Paul wrote to the saints of Corinth: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

As has already been indicated in a previous post on this blog, Christians began meeting together on Sunday as a way to distinguish themselves from the Jews. This happened as a response to the fact that some of the more Orthodox Jews pushed them out of their temples and synagogues, and as a consequence of the fact that the Jews were singled out by their Roman overlords for intense hatred and persecution with which Christians did not want to be associated. Thus, by the end of the First Century, a Christian tradition that would be recognizable to most of the Christians of today began to emerge.

In his first Apology, Justin Martyr talked about the observance of the communion/Lord's Supper/Passover and then proceeded to describe the way that Christians of the early Second Century worshiped God. He wrote: "And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm)

In looking at these practices of the earliest Christians, it should quickly become apparent to all of us that we have placed way too much emphasis on the rituals and procedures of worship. Although the outlines of current practices are readily observable in the accounts that we have studied of early worship services, it is also clear that we have formalized these practices and given them a structure and rigidity that would have been alien to our early brothers and sisters in Christ. Shouldn't we all be more concerned with the spiritual significance of what we are doing every week than with the forms and rituals associated with it? What do you think?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Is religion about the worship of God?

Religion has been defined as: "an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion). Many of us call ourselves Christians and belong to an organization (or attend a church) that has a statement of beliefs and employs some kind of ritual or routine that is meant to worship God. Is that, however, how God defines religion.

James wrote: "If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." (James 1:26-27, NLT) In other words, if you really want to worship God in the way that is acceptable to him, you will be doing the kinds of things that "He" does.

This is the essence of what Christ told Peter just before he ascended into heaven: "If you really love me, feed (take care of) my sheep." (John 21:15-17) Christ made very plain to his disciples (and the Jewish leaders of the time) that God the Father was not interested in the rituals of religion. God wanted them to demonstrate the same compassion and love that "He" had shown for them. (John 13:35)

For some folks, the ritual of worship is everything. Many folks participate in public worship so that they can demonstrate their piety to each other - to show to the world that they are religious. Christ rejected this kind of religious display. He said: "Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don't do as the hypocrites do - blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity...When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them...When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again." (Matthew 6:1-7, NLT) Christ said that God was looking for sincerity and private demonstrations of one's devotion to God.

Finally, there was an occasion when Jesus Christ was discussing the subject of worship with a Samaritan woman, and he told her some things in the course of that conversation that are relevant to all of us. He said: "But the time is coming - indeed it's here now - when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24, NLT)

The writings of the New Testament are very clear about the kind of religion that God is looking for among "His" followers. God is not looking for physical rituals of worship. God is not looking for structure, chants, readings, professions, statements, stained glass, pulpits or pews. God is looking for thoughtfulness, sincerity, spiritual depth and Godly compassion for others. That's the kind of worship that God wants and expects from us - at least that's what Scripture tells us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The problem with: If I do this, then God will do that

Many Christians have unwittingly pushed Jesus Christ out of the central role that he should occupy in their faith and lives. These folks see God's covenants and promises as "if/then" propositions. The reasoning goes something like this: "If I'm good, then I will get to go to heaven when I die;" or "If I overcome sin, then God will allow me to be in His kingdom;" or "If I obey God's laws, then God will give me eternal life;" or "If I have the faith to claim God's promises, then I will receive what He has promised." This kind of reasoning is so seductive that it's probably safe to say that we have all indulged in it from time to time. Indeed, this is probably the most popular theology extant in Christian culture today!

Nevertheless, there are some profoundly anti-Christian (anti-Christ) features to this theology. Although it is true that God wants us all to develop "His" holy and righteous character in this life, we must come to understand that our salvation does not depend one whit upon us! God wants us to obey "Him," but we must understand that our obedience doesn't earn us anything - God just expects it. There is no quid pro quo with God!

"But didn't Christ say: 'To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life' (Revelation 2:7); 'He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death' (verse 11); 'And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations' (verse 26); 'Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God' (3:12) and 'To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne?' (verse 21)" my "if/then" friends will ask. Don't these scriptures clearly state that we have to overcome to receive these promises?

Yes, but what and how do we overcome? We have to overcome sin, Satan and the world that "he" has inspired. How? By accepting the fact that Jesus Christ overcame these three things on our behalf. John said that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. (I John 1:7) He went on to say that Christians will overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 12:11) Jesus Christ told his followers to be happy because he had overcome the world for them. (John 16:33)

What about obedience to God's Law? Isaiah once wrote that all of our righteousness is like "filthy rags" in God's sight. (Isaiah 64:6) In other words, it isn't sufficient. In this connection, it is instructive to note what Jesus Christ told his followers about obedience. He said: "Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do." (Luke 17:9-10)

Brethren, let's stop focusing on ourselves and what we can do. Rather, let's focus on what Christ has done for us. Scripture says that the only thing that we have earned is death - eternal life is the gift of God that we receive because of what Jesus Christ did for us. (Romans 6:23) We have to accept the fact that our own efforts will not get us there - Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6) No man will ever stand before God based on his own merits or initiative. There is no quid pro quo with God!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Let's say that it is a sin in God's sight...

My daughter recently sent me a link to a post by Benjamin Corey entitled Some Things To Consider If You Think Being Gay Is A Sin. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/some-things-to-consider-if-you-think-being-gay-is-a-sin/) In his post, Mr. Corey acknowledges that the theology of some of his more conservative friends is probably never going to change on this subject. This realization led him to ask something else of those friends - a challenge that I'd like to pass along to my conservative friends.

Mr. Corey points out that there are all kinds of "sinners" that we (the Christian community) do not feel compelled to reject or isolate from our fellowship. He cites obese Christians as a good example of this phenomenon. He points out that over-eating or gluttony is a sin. Mr. Corey points out that this behavior amounts to a type of greed and covetousness and can even morph into idolatry when it becomes obsessive. Nevertheless, we as a community do not isolate or force those among us with this problem out of our midst. We don't force them to form a separate obese congregation. Since we don't do this for our obese brothers and sisters, Mr. Corey asks why do we do it for our gay brothers and sisters?

If you believe that homosexuality is a sin in God's sight, why are you treating gay people different from other sinners? If exclusion of sinners is our standard, shouldn't we also be excluding alcoholics, drug atttics, shopaholics, sportsaholics, adulterers, thieves and folks with anger management issues from our midst? Aren't we all sinners? Aren't Christians sinners that have been forgiven because they have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and continue to rely on him as their Advocate before God? Didn't John write that if we (Christians) say that we don't sin that we are liars and the truth is not in us? (I John 1:8)

Mr. Corey points out that we don't exclude obese people from our midst because the sin of over-eating is culturally acceptable. We acknowledge that the reasons for this phenomenon are complex (sometimes even physiological in nature) and often related to some trauma in the person's background. As such, we are willing to love these folks and refrain from personally judging them. In short, we are willing to leave their sin(s) in God's capable hands and include them in our midst.

Why do we single out homosexuals who are trying to be Christians for different treatment? Is that logical or fair? Didn't Jesus Christ once tell the Pharisees that it was the sick who needed a doctor? (Matthew 9:12) What do you think?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Did God share all of the sentiments that they expressed?

I recently devoted a post to the harsh language used in Psalm 137. However, as one commentator privately pointed out, this psalm is one of several known as the "Imprecatory Psalms." These psalms invoke curses upon (or pray to God for the punishment of) certain people(s). Theopedia (http://www.theopedia.com/Imprecatory_Psalms) includes the following psalms in its list: 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137 and 139. Let's look at a few quotes (New Living Translation) from the other psalms listed in this category:

"Arise, O Lord, in anger! Stand up against the fury of my enemies! Wake up, my God, and bring justice!" 7:6

"O Lord, oppose those who oppose me. Fight those who fight against me...Bring shame and disgrace on those trying to kill me; turn them back and humiliate those who want to harm me. Blow them away like chaff in the wind - a wind sent by the angel of the Lord. Make their path dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them." 35:1-6

"Let death stalk my enemies; let the grave swallow them alive, for evil makes its home within them." 55:15

"Break off their fangs, O God! Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord! May they disappear like water into thirsty ground. Make their weapons useless in their hands. May they be like snails that dissolve into slime, like a stillborn child who will never see the sun. God will sweep them away, both young and old, faster than a pot heats over burning thorns." 58:6-9

"Destroy them in your anger! Wipe them out completely! Then the whole world will know that God reigns in Israel." 59:13

"Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see, and make their bodies shake continually. Pour out your fury on them; consume them with your burning anger. Let their homes become desolate and their tents be crushed..Pile their sins up high, and don't let them go free. Erase their names from the Book of Life; don't let them be counted among the righteous." 69:23-28

"Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you - on kingdoms that do not call upon your name." 79:6

"When his case comes up for judgment, let him be pronounced guilty. Count his prayers as sins. Let his years be few; let someone else take his position. May his children become fatherless, and his wife a widow. May his children wander as beggars and be driven from their ruined homes. May creditors seize his entire estate, and strangers take all he has earned. Let no one be kind to him; let no one pity his fatherless children. May all his offspring die. May his family name be blotted out in a single generation." 109:7-13

"O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!...O Lord, shouldn't I hate those who hate you? Shouldn't I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for your enemies are my enemies." 139:19-22

That's some pretty strong language, but is it God's language?

Jesus Christ said: "You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48

Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that these psalmists were not acting in the capacity of true children of God when they wrote these passages. "But why would God allow them to write those things and have them included in Scripture?" we ask.

These passages are yet another proof that the writing of Scripture was indeed a joint product of the human and the Divine. They are also demonstrative of a principle about the Lord's character that many Christians overlook: God wants us to be honest with "Him" about our feelings - God doesn't want us to pretend to be more righteous than we really are - God will not ZAP you for being honest with him!

I heard a sermon on Pentecost that made me realize that the book of Jonah has a direct bearing on the subject at hand. Like these psalmists, Jonah was mad at his enemies - the Ninevites. He wanted to see them be punished and suffer at the hands of God.

However, when Jonah finally preached God's warning message to them, Scripture informs us that the people of Nineveh repented (Jonah 3:5-9). As a consequence, God decided not to bring to pass the bad things that Jonah had prophesied against them (verse 10).

Now, notice Jonah's reaction to this series of events: "This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: 'Didn't I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now Lord! I'd rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen." Jonah 4:1-3

Did you catch that? Jonah already knew that the Lord was loving and merciful. He simply didn't approve of that attitude - he didn't think that mercy and compassion were fair in this instance.

Did the Lord ZAP Jonah for expressing how he felt about what had happened? NO! God already knew what Jonah was feeling in his heart. Although God knew that Jonah's feelings were wrong, God did not destroy him for his lack of love, compassion and mercy. Instead, God asked him if he was justified to feel the way that he did(verse 4).

Next, we are told that God caused a leafy plant to spring up in the desert to shade Jonah from the sun (Jonah 4:6). Jonah loved the tree and the shade that it provided. Nevertheless, God was not finished with Jonah. God was trying to teach Jonah to be more like him. So God caused a cutting worm to destroy Jonah's shade, and then sent a "scorching east wind to blow on Jonah." (verses 7-8)

Jonah was angry again. In the concluding verses of the book, we read: "Then God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?' 'Yes,' Jonah retorted, 'even angry enough to die!' Then the Lord said, 'You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?" (verses 9-11)

My take on the "Imprecatory Psalms" is this: God allowed these psalmists to vent their anger and frustration, because that is what they were honestly feeling when they wrote those passages (and God doesn't zap people for being honest about their feelings). Nevertheless, allowing them to express themselves and have those expressions appear in Scripture, does not mean that God approves of (or shares) the sentiments behind them! What do you think?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

God and "The mystery of Human Sexuality"

In the most recent issue (Summer 2014) of their newspaper (The International News), the Church of God International published an article by Mr. James McBride entitled The Mystery of Human Sexuality. To say that this writer was shocked by the virulently anti-homosexual language of the article would be an understatement. Nevertheless, this article does present another opportunity to explore and examine what Scripture, the Holy Spirit and common sense have to teach us about the subject.

Mr. McBride wrote: "In respect of our sexuality God revealed vital principles, based on a single male-female partnership committed for life." I guess God forgot to reveal this to Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon; because they all had more than one wife (Solomon had 700 "primary" wives and 300 "secondary" wives or "concubines"). By the way, David and Solomon were authors of Scripture (just in case anyone had forgotten that little nugget). "Old Testament," you say? How many women did the bridegroom end up marrying in the Parable of the Ten Virgins? (Matthew 25:1-12) Correct answer: FIVE - God apparently forgot to set Christ straight (no pun intended) on that one too!

I'd also like to ask Mr. McBride's readers to consider some other scriptures, in light of the fact that he says these principles are based on a "partnership committed for life." If that's the case, then why did Moses provide Israelite males with a provision for divorcing unwanted wives? (Deuteronomy 24:1) If that's the case, then why did Christ make provision for divorce? (Matthew 19:9 - Christ did limit the provision to fornication) If that's the case, then why did Paul make provision for divorce? (I Corinthians 7:10-15 - Paul was a little more generous than Christ in his excuses for separation/divorce) What happened to the commitment for life?

McBride went on to assert: "In homosexual relationships, however, "monogamy" is rare. While a few such long-term partnerships exist, yet over 40 percent of homosexual men have as many as five hundred partners during their (shortened) lifespan. Most such liaisons don't last over two years."

Let's give Mr. McBride some credit, he grudgingly admits that a "few" monogamous relationships exist within the homosexual community. I wonder if the fact that this community has been repeatedly told by "Christian" society that they are condemned to the Lake of Fire for having sex with someone of the same sex (whether it's with one or a hundred doesn't matter) has anything to do with this behavior? At any rate, five hundred partners still doesn't beat Solomon's record! Oh, and just to set the record straight (no pun intended), a majority of researchers agree that most heterosexual men and women have multiple partners in the course of their lifetimes.

Mr. McBride went on to assert that "Covenant-bound couples were created to produce offspring." He wrote: "God issued the self-limiting instruction: 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.'" Although McBride gave a nod of empathy to infertile couples, he quickly went on to reaffirm that the production of children is the God-ordained purpose for marriage. Then he concluded his thought with the following: "Same-sex liaisons, no matter how loving or long lasting, frustrate this divine instruction. If homosexuality were universal - and an estimated one percent only of mankind is homosexual - it would end the human race in a generation."

First, am I detecting a little Roman Catholic undercurrent in Mr. McBride's assertion that reproduction is the purpose of human sex? I thought that the primary purpose of human sexual intercourse was to express love between two individuals - to make two into "one flesh." Are infertile couples unwittingly frustrating this Divine instruction about children or does trying count? What about couples who decide not to have any children? What if a homosexual couple manages to jump all of the legal hurdles and adopt children? Are they still frustrating God's purpose? Finally, I like how Mr. McBride reduces homosexuals to a very small and manageable minority of one percent (Does that make it easier to pick on them?) And I don't think there's much of a chance that everyone will "convert" to homosexuality - so humankind is safe on that one!

Mr. McBride went on to say that Paul asserted that "Male and female homosexuality is contrary to nature." We will forgo the debate over whether or not Paul asserted such a thing. The people of Paul's day didn't have any understanding of the concept of sexual orientation. This one is common sense. If a man is sexually attracted to another man, wouldn't it be against his nature to have a sexual relationship with a woman? Just as it is "natural" for a heterosexual man to be attracted to a female, it is "natural" for a homosexual man to be attracted to another man. Whether one believes that acting on that impulse is a sin or not, the impulse itself is a function of the person's sexual orientation. Could you, Mr. or Mrs. Heterosexual, force yourself to be attracted to someone of the same gender - let alone have intercourse with them?

Thank you Mr. McBride for demonstrating once again that the traditional teachings of "Christianity" on this subject do not align with the scriptural evidence or appeal to common sense. Jesus Christ, John and Paul said that the most important element in dealing with any brother or sister is LOVE. Are we demonstrating love for someone by repeatedly consigning them to the flames of the Lake of Fire? It is my sincere desire that the Church of God International will think twice about swallowing this one!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

God's adversary

In one of the comments regarding yesterday's post, it was made clear to me how very attached some folks are to the notion that Satan is somehow ultimately responsible for our sins. Is that so? Will God accept the excuse from our mouths, "The Devil made me do it!" Does the "buck" stop at Satan?

Another comment underscored the fact that many folks believe that Satan is so powerful that "his" powers are just barely superseded by those of Almighty God. These folks look at the landscape of the Bible and see God engaged in a titanic struggle with the Devil for the souls of mankind. In this view, mankind is held in the chains of a gigantic prison that Satan has devised and built for them; and God is desperately trying to free the captives before it's too late. Are these views consistent with Scripture and reason?

Jesus Christ did tell the Pharisees: "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." (John 8:44) The reasoning goes something like this: Satan is the originator of sin and the father of lies (fact). Therefore, he is responsible for every subsequent sin that has ever been committed and every lie that has ever been told. (conclusion) The problem with this reasoning is that the jump between the fact and the conclusion is much too big. It is, in short, illogical.

We all remember the story of the Serpent's temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden. (Genesis 3:1-7) We know that, by persuading them to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, Satan insured the death of Adam and Eve and their descendants. Hence, we can all understand why Christ referred to Satan as a "murderer from the beginning." Likewise, we understand that Satan lied to Eve when he told her that she would not surely die if she ate the forbidden fruit - the first awful lie with horrible and long lasting consequences. So we can all see why Christ called Satan the father of lies.

Now take a moment to consider. How do those facts allow us to reach the conclusion that Satan is responsible for everything that followed? Do humans have free will? Did Satan coerce Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, or did "he" persuade them that it would be OK to eat it? If Satan's power is coercive in nature, then I concede the point to my friends on the other side of this proposition (but that presents some profound philosophical and theological problems for them). If Satan's power is persuasive in nature, then the one who has been persuaded is still ultimately responsible for his/her own sins!

This idea of personal responsibility for sins is directly connected to the free will that God has given to each and every one of us as an essential component of "His" plan for us. Satan is the father of all liars. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (Ezekiel 18:20) In other words, Satan is responsible for "his" sins; and "his" children are responsible for theirs! "The Devil made me do it," will not work on Judgment day!

"OK, so the Devil doesn't have the power to coerce us; but isn't it fair to say that Satan has almost unlimited power at his disposal?" my friends will persist. "Doesn't Scripture make it very plain that "he" is much more powerful than humans?" Let's look at what Scripture reveals about these topics.

In the first pages of the Bible, Satan's movement and activities are limited; and "his" ultimate fate is predicted. (Genesis 3:14-15) As mentioned in other posts on this blog, Isaiah and Ezekiel reveal that Satan's rebellion against God was a failure; and that "he" will ultimately be destroyed by God. (Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28) The book of Job makes very plain that Satan had to acquire God's permission before "he" was allowed to do anything to Job. (chapters 1 and 2) In numerous passages, Christ (and Christ's name) was shown to be in absolute authority over the demonic kingdom. (Matthew 4:1-11, 8:16, 28-34, 9:32-33, 12:22, 15:21-28, 17:14-21, Luke 9:1, 49, 10:17, Acts 5:12-16, etc.) The book of Revelation reveals that Satan and "his" angels were defeated in battle with Michael and "his" angels. (Revelation 12:7-9) We are also informed in that book that Satan will be imprisoned for one thousand years, and then thrown into the Lake of Fire where "he" will be consumed by the flames. (Revelation 20:1-10, Satan does not have God-life, immortality; also see elsewhere an explanation of what is meant by eternal torment or punishment). Hence, from these scriptures, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Satan is on a very short leash; and that God is in complete control of the overall fulfillment of "His" plans and purposes.

"But doesn't Scripture indicate that Satan is walking around like a 'roaring lion' seeking people to devour?" (II Peter 5:8) my friends will persist. Yes, that's why Peter instructed his readers to be sober and vigilant. It is not inconsistent with what we have discussed heretofore to acknowledge that Satan is more powerful than us. After all, Scripture does say that we were created "a little lower than the angels." (Hebrews 2:9-16) However, just like Peter, Paul assured his readers that they had the necessary tools available to them to be able to withstand the wiles of the Devil. (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Brethren, Satan has hoodwinked all of us into believing that "he" is much more powerful than "he" really is. That is "his" modus operandi (how he operates) - he deceives. The Devil has no power to coerce you to sin. Jesus Christ came here to pay the penalty for your sins - not the sins of Satan. So let's all stop giving to our Adversary more credit than "he" deserves. God is in control!!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The throne is God's to give

Some folks have assumed that God made Lucifer (now Satan) the king of this earth. They point to Satan's temptation of Christ as the basis for this assumption. According to them, the fact that Christ does not refute Satan's authority to offer him all the kingdoms of the earth strongly implies that they were Satan's to give.

Speaking of Satan's temptation of Christ, Herbert Armstrong wrote in his The Incredible Human Potential:
"Jesus had been required to overcome Satan—to resist
and defeat him—in order to qualify to sit on the throne
of the whole Earth!"
"Consider! Think on this! If Jesus was required to overcome
Satan—the former Lucifer—who is still on the throne where
God originally placed him—in order to qualify to succeed
the disqualified Lucifer on that throne—should we humans
be required to do less, in that we also may sit on that throne
with Christ?"

These views, however, are refuted by a careful examination of the scriptural evidence and sound reasoning. (In this connection, the reader may also wish to read my post entitled "God is not working on plan B") In short, the Bible clearly indicates that the "throne" of this earth has always been God's to give; and that it has never been Satan's to hold or give to anyone else! Moreover, Jesus Christ was required to obey God's Law to qualify to receive that throne - to triumph over sin. To be sure, as the chief promoter and instigator of sin among humans, Christ had to face the same challenges that the people he was sent here to save have to face - and that certainly included a confrontation with Satan.

In beginning this discussion, it is important to understand the nature of Satan's dominion. Yes, Satan does occupy a "throne." After all, Lucifer did say, "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north." (Isaiah 14:13) As stars are clearly associated with "the host of heaven" in Scripture, and the author of the book of Job reveals that all of the "morning stars" joyfully sang together at the creation of the earth (Job 38:7), we may reasonably conclude that Lucifer intended to make himself the ruler over all of the angelic host. This, however, would have been a usurped throne (had he achieved his purpose, which he did not - more on that later).

The Hebrew word translated into English as "throne" in the fourteenth chapter of Isaiah has a somewhat broader meaning than the English word implies. According to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, the Hebrew word indicates a seat of honor. God told Ezekiel that this great angel that became Satan the devil was originally designated by God to be one of two cherub's whose wings covered the throne of God in heaven (see the details for the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant and Ezekiel 28:14). I think that this would qualify as a "seat of honor" by almost anyone objectively evaluating the evidence. Admittedly, it is probably reasonable to speculate that Lucifer also had other angels under "his" authority, but this is not explicitly indicated in Scripture.

Lucifer, however, was apparently not satisfied with his "throne." The cherub coveted a more prestigious seat of honor - a more lofty throne. Although we cannot be sure about the chronology, John wrote that: "there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not (they didn't win - they weren't successful); neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Revelation 12:7-9) So this cherub that had been stationed at the very throne of God in heaven lost his seat of honor there. Earlier, in this same chapter of Revelation, we are informed that the dragon's tail "drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." (Revelation 12:4) Hence, we could also reasonably deduce from this information that about one third of the total number of angels followed Lucifer in "his" rebellion.

This is an important point in interpreting the information that is revealed here: We must closely follow what has happened and consider all of the information we are given together. By following Satan, these angels made him their leader, ruler or king. Whatever "his" relation to these other angels prior to the rebellion, they effectively made "him" their king by following him into battle against the armies of heaven. Now even Jesus Christ said that a kingdom that is divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25-26), so it is reasonable to conclude that Satan's "kingdom" was organized (which is also implied elsewhere in Scripture).

In fact, Paul wrote that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (places of authority)." (Ephesians 6:12) Read that passage again! It clearly states that our struggle is against spiritual entities that rule over "the darkness of this world" - not the whole world, just the bad and evil part of it! This verse strongly implies that Satan's "kingdom" is organized, but it does not state or imply that this kingdom holds sway over the whole earth. In fact, the Scripture does strongly imply the very limited nature and extent of that kingdom.

"But hasn't Satan deceived the whole earth?" (Revelation 12:9) my friends will challenge. "Isn't he the god of this world?" (II Corinthians 4:4) they will insist. Yes, Satan has deceived the whole earth, and we have been willing participants in "his" efforts to do so. He is the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), the one who floods the atmosphere of this planet with "his" lies and evil attitudes. Nevertheless, allowing or permitting someone to temporarily exercise such authority, does not mean that God made him king of the earth or instructed him to do what he has done. Likewise, Satan is the "god of this world" in the sense that we (humans) have all made him our god - not in the sense that THE GOD designated "him" as such.

Brethren, make no mistake, Satan is a usurper whom God has allowed to temporarily exercise a limited amount of authority over the angels and people who populate this planet to further "His" own purposes and plans. Scripture informs us that Satan knows that "his" time to work mischief here is very limited. (Revelation 12:12)

Now, what about that confrontation between Christ and Satan? Let's take a closer look. We read: "Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory (greatness) of them, And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." (Matthew 4:8-10)

Notice that Satan offered Christ only what was "his" to give - the kingdoms (dominions) of this world. He did not offer Christ the throne of the earth, because it wasn't "his" to give. He offered this to Christ on the condition that Christ would worship him. Christ didn't even bother with the offer. Instead, he attacked Satan's condition. Christ directly challenged any authority that Satan thought he had by pointing out that only God is worthy of worship. In other words, Jesus Christ completely ignored the question of whatever petty authority Satan had arrogated to himself. Christ went to the heart of the matter of who was truly in authority here, in heaven and throughout the universe!

God told Moses that the earth was his. (Exodus 19:5) David declared that "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." (Psalm 24:1) In the book of Daniel, we read that "one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:14) When Christ's disciples thought that the establishment of the kingdom was imminent, Jesus told them "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return." (Luke 19:12) When some of his disciples asked for the seats of honor on his right and left when he occupied his throne, Christ told them that those offices (thrones) were his Father's to give. (Matthew 20:23) To the church in Laodicea, Christ said: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." (Revelation 3:21)

What Daniel said clearly makes sense in the larger context of the Bible as well. Since God originally gave humankind dominion over the surface of the earth (Genesis 1:26-28), it makes sense that the Son of Man and his followers would eventually occupy the "throne" of this planet.

Clearly, the "throne" of this earth is not currently occupied by Satan the Devil, and it has never been his to give to anyone else. The "throne" of this earth is God's to give!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Does the reality of evil in our world make the existence of God a fantasy?

Epicurus is widely credited with being the first philosopher to formally state this challenge to the logic of God's existence (or, in his case, the existence of gods). Nevertheless, many atheists and agnostics have employed this same line of reasoning to disprove the Judeo-Christian conceptions of God. Epicurus and his followers suggest that the presence of evil in our world presents some profound philosophical problems for those who believe in a God that is supreme, benevolent and aware. The basic argument is that there are three conclusions available to us: 1) God wants to remove evil, but is unable to do so; 2)God has the ability to remove evil, but will not do it; 3) God is able and willing to remove evil. If the first conclusion is admitted, God is shown to not be supreme. If the second conclusion is accepted, God is shown to not be benevolent. If the third premise is approved, then why does evil exist in our world? If we answer that question by stating that God is unaware of its existence, then the belief in a God that is aware is shown to be unjustified!

Although some folks have chosen to get around this apparent conundrum by denying the existence of evil, the overwhelming majority of folks on this planet (both theistic and atheistic) acknowledge it. However, if we are willing to acknowledge the existence of evil, doesn't that necessarily demonstrate the existence of good? Doesn't that, in turn, present some philosophical problems for atheists and agnostics? If "good" is a random or arbitrary occurrence, then what makes it "better" than evil? If we appeal to our own perspective as defining the difference between the two, doesn't that make any difference purely subjective and without real value to any objective determination of the difference? Is good really good, or does it just depend on where you're standing at the moment? Also, is it possible that how we define good and evil may differ from the way the Almighty defines them?

Getting back to Epicurus and his disciples, I would answer their questions with a consideration of the elements of time, causation and God's overall purpose/plan. Is it fair or logical to reach conclusions about the existence of a supreme, benevolent and aware God without examining these elements relative to the existence of evil?

Scientists have estimated the age of the universe at approximately 13.8 billion years. Likewise, it is generally accepted that our earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years. Fossil, archeological and genetic evidence suggest that modern humans have lived on this earth for about 200,000 years. If we take the lesser figure (the age of the earth, which is about one third the age of the universe) and compare it to the entire record of human history and suffering, we begin to see that time may be very important to this discussion. If my calculations are correct (the amount of time humans have existed divided by the age of the earth), then the entire time of human existence would account for only a small pinpoint on even a very condensed timeline representing the age of this planet. When we are discussing time on this scale, a one hundred year old person's entire lifetime appears as less than the blink of an eye!

In short, the Creator's perspective on time has to be very different from our own. Forget for a moment that some Cosmologists have theorized that time itself is an illusion. If we accept that the passage of time is a valid and "real" concept, then we must admit that our perspective on it is so limited as to be almost useless in evaluating its impact on this discussion. After all, Scripture does indicate that the passage of a thousand years for the Lord is the equivalent of the passage of one day for us! (Psalm 90:4 and II Peter 3:8) Hence, from the perspective of eternity, we can readily see why Paul would characterize a lifetime of suffering as momentary. (II Corinthians 4:17)

In addition to the element of time, we must also consider the factors that have produced the evil that we behold around us. Once again, it is instructive to ask ourselves a few questions about the causation of evil. Did God create evil? Is God the source of the evil around us? Did God create Satan the devil? Do we play any role in the creation and perpetuation of evil? Who is responsible for the wars, inquisitions, persecutions and holocausts that have marred human history? We call natural occurrences like tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis "Acts of God." We also characterize the consequences of these disasters as evil. Is God responsible for them because "He" created the forces that produce them? Do people have any culpability in these evils for building dwellings without storm shelters, along coastal lowlands or on top of fault lines? Has science ever demonstrated that our personal or collective behavior has ever contributed to the formation or progression of disease or famine? In short, is it fair to lay everything that happens at God's doorstep? Do things ever just happen, or has everything been preordained by the Creator? Is everything that happens someone's fault?

Scripture informs us that God did not create Satan the devil. We are told that an angel (God did create the angel) named Lucifer decided on his own to rebel against the Lord and pursue an evil course. (Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28) Scripture also informs us that humankind made their own decision to reject God's notions about what constituted "good and evil" and make that determination for themselves. (Genesis 3) Solomon wrote that sometimes things just happen, and that no one should be blamed or credited for their occurrence. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Likewise, Scripture informs us that none other than Jesus Christ taught the same thing about happenstance. (Luke 13:1-5)

Finally, we must also consider the element of a Divine purpose or plan in the things that happen on this earth - good and bad. Does God have some purpose or plan for humans? Is there meaning to our existence? Is there meaning to our suffering? Scripture informs us that God does indeed have a plan and/or purpose.(Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11 and 3:11) The message of the Bible is that God wants to make us all a part of "His" family - that "He" wants us to share eternal life with him. (Romans 6:23 and 8:14-39) The ultimate vision of the Bible pictures a world in which there won't be any more pain, suffering or sorrow - a world where evil will be banished forever. (Revelation 21:4-5) Hence, God does have the ability and the will to destroy evil.

The Bible also reveals that individual participation in this plan is voluntary, not mandatory. In this sense, the temporary existence of evil makes sense. The "good" is clearly contrasted with the "evil." Humanity has been permitted to see just a snapshot of the awful reality of "evil" (remember the time element mentioned earlier). In this way, although "He" is not the source of the evil, God has used it to make our decision easier - to clearly delineate the choices before us. Moreover, contrary to popular traditional opinion, the rejection of God's offer does not result in an eternity in flaming torment - the Bible teaches that eternal death is the consequence for the rejection of God's offer. Additionally, fairness and common sense dictate that the parameters of the plan (and God's perspective on good and evil) would have to be fully understood by those judged to have rejected it/them. In other words, the Lake of Fire will not be populated with ignorant masses of miserable people who have been cheated out of an opportunity to have something better.