Why Does God Allow Suffering and Evil?

Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? This is an age-old question. Either God is all-powerful but not all-good (and therefore doesn’t stop evil) or He is all-good but unable to stop evil (making Him not all-powerful). The general idea is to blame God for all evil and suffering and pass all responsibility to Him.

No Easy Answers:

Remember that God created Adam and Eve perfect, not evil. But they had the ability to obey or disobey God’s commands. Had they obeyed that one command (Genesis 2:16-17), they never would have had a problem. Since that time, the tendency toward sin has always been with us (Romans 5:12). We must remember that people are responsible for sin, not God.

So, why did God make us so that we could sin? Had this happened, we would no longer be human, but rather machines. Saying, “I love you” in person is so much more meaningful than hearing the same words from a hostage that I told to say it while I hold a gun to their head! We are not robots programmed to say the phrase, we have a choice.

Could God stamp out evil?

A time is coming when He will, because of His never-ending love (Lamentations 3:22). While the devil has his day, God is holding us by His grace and His unfailing love. If God would stamp out evil today, he would do a complete job. Stop war but stay away from us… lies, personal habits, lack of love. Who would still be standing if He were to do this tonight?

What God has done about the evil:

He has done the most drastic thing, the sacrifice of His Son. He was the only way to escape the inevitable judgment of sin and evil. To speculate the origin of evil is endless. No one has a full answer. Some things are classified as secret that only God knows (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Part of our problem is the limited definition of the word good. (See quote on p. 133)… justice dispensed according the severity of the infraction.

Exact-Reward concept:

Would God be good if He dealt with each person exactly according to his deeds? God’s goodness is not only displayed in His justice but in His love, mercy and kindness) Psalm 103:10-11). It is a faulty assumption that happiness is the greatest good, usually fleshed out in comfort. True happiness is not precluded by suffering. Some things can only be accomplished in our character brought about only by suffering (1 Peter 5:10.

Exact-reward is more on the lines of karma. Any attempt to alleviate pain or suffering would be interfering with the just ways of God. That is why Hindus do so little in helping the less fortunate. This idea does give us a clean rationale for suffering; it is all based on previous evil-doing. Christians at times have this same thought, “Why did I deserve this?” That cruel assumption is the argument of the friends of Job.

There are many instances where suffering is not related to one’s behavior; automatic assumption of guilt and needed punishment is not warranted. A man does reap what he sows (Galatians 6:7); the affliction of Miriam with leprosy (Numbers 12:10-11); the life of the baby made from David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:15); Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:10); a man born blind from birth (John 9:1-3); the Galileans more sinful? (Luke 13:1-3). If the punishment is for one’s deeds, there is never any doubt that it is happening due to the justice of God.

Judgment preceded by warning:

God is always warning about the consequences… turn from your wicked ways, why choose death (Ezekiel 33:11); you refused to allow me to gather you like chicks (Matthew 23:37); God is patient that you would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

How could a good God send anyone to hell? The point is that He doesn’t, we choose to send ourselves. Geisler says it this way, this world is the best way to the best of all possible worlds; one where we have free will yet there is no sin. Sometimes we are responsible for a weak building that collapses in a storm. Others die due to drunken driving. Cheating, lying and stealing are characteristic of our society and God cannot be blamed for it.

The presence of the enemy:

There is an enemy ready to pounce like a roaring lion (2 Peter 5:8). In the parable of the wheat and the tares, the enemy did this (Matthew 13:28). James 4:7 reminds us that he can also be resisted.

God feels our suffering:

He is not distant; He not only is aware of our suffering but He feels it (Isaiah 53:3, Hebrews 2:18, 4:15).

The risky gift of free will:

Evil is a necessary part of free will. He could stop evil but in doing so He would destroy us. The point of Christianity is to produce a willing consent to choose good rather than evil.

Much of evil can be traced back to the actions and evil choices of man and women: the bank robber kills, the embezzler ruins the company, refusing to heed a storm warning.

Some suffering is allowed by God as judgment; but the purpose is to restore or form one’s character.

God has a cruel enemy in Satan. He was defeated on the cross but is still around to wreak havoc on God’s people.

God is the greater sufferer when He sacrificed His only Son for our penalty.

Greatest test of faith:

Perhaps it is to believe that God is good in the midst of all this suffering. God never asks us to understand, but only to have faith and trust Him as a child does his earthly father. Peace comes when we realize that we do not have the full picture (Romans 8:28, Habakkuk 3:17-18).

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Do Science and Scripture Agree?

This is a pretty hot question through the ages. The issue could be how data is interpreted; often conflict comes from trying to make the Bible say things it was not meant to answer. Do scientists and some Christians disagree? Yes, like Galileo, the Scopes trial of 1925 or Wilburforce and Huxley.

Well meaning Christians:

Some try to make the Bible say what it does not say. For instance James Bishop Ussher (1581-1656) calculated the genealogy back to Adam and claimed the earth was created in 4004 BC. Ussher’s notes are not part of the original text so the Bible does not really say that the earth was created in 4004 BC. Statements can be philosophic interpretations of data which do not carry the same weight of authority as the data.

When a scientist speaks:

When a scientist speaks on any subject, he is likely to be believed. He may be speaking outside of his field but gets the same respect that should be given from within his field. Carl Sagan (professor of astronomy at Cornell) speaks on the subject of science and religion. Science is his field; religion is certainly not. He makes bold statements like the universe is all there ever was or ever will be. If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, would it not make sense to worship the sun or stars? But it makes no sense to worship the product of blind chance in a pointless process.

Honest differences:

If we stick to what the Bible actually says and what the scientific facts are, the area of controversy is much smaller. There are times of honest differences among Christians: like the meaning of the word “day” in Genesis 1. We cannot condemn someone with a differing view.

Faith is suspect:

Can something that cannot be verified scientifically be dismissed as invalid or unreal? If a statement cannot be proved in a lab or confirmed by science, it cannot be accepted as reliable. There are other ways to acquire knowledge, than just in a laboratory. Consider falling in love. It cannot be confirmed in a lab yet no one would say it is unreal. The scientific method is only reliable on topics whose realities are measured in physical terms.

Scientific methods:

Faith is no detriment to reality. Science itself rest on presuppositions which must be accepted by faith before the research is possible. The universe is orderly, operates on a pattern, and we can predict it’s behavior.

The scientific method we know of today began in the sixteenth century, among Christians. They broke from the Greek polytheistic concepts that looked at the universe as in chaos and irregular. The alternative was a universe of order and there must have been an intelligent designer behind the patterns. Another improvable presupposition that must be accepted by faith is the reliability of our sense perception. One must believe that our senses are trustworthy enough to get a true picture of the universe and enable us to understand its orderliness.

Science is the only way to truth:

A Christian exercises faith and sees no incompatibility in using reason or intelligence. A scientist who is a Christian sees himself following the steps of the founders of modern science.

Science is incapable of making value judgments about the things is measures. There is nothing inherent in science that guides them in the application of the discoveries they make. Science can tell us how something works but it cannot answer why it works; whether there is any purpose for it in the universe. The Bible often tells us how, but rarely tells us why!

Is God Necessary?

Some have thought God was necessary to explain some things that could not otherwise be explained. Scientist will say that given enough time they can explain anything in the universe.

God is not only creator but the sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:17). The universe would fall apart if it were not for God. You still need God even if you understand everything. Knowing how the universe is sustained is not the same as things as sustaining it.

Consider DNA. Is God going to be thrown from the throne since DNA can be produced in a laboratory? These advances in science only emphasize that life did not come from blind chance, but from an intelligent mind! Science does not create ex nihilo!

Three views of evolution:

Evolutionism: that the universe has been evolving forever on the basis of a natural processes, mutation and natural selection.

Microevolution: describes a continued process or development within a species. A bear is still a bear, and dog is still a dog. A species is one of seven classifications (according to the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus) 1) Kingdom, 2) Phylum, 3) Class, 4) Order, 5) family, 6) Genus, and 7) species. Kingdom is the largest group and species is the smallest. Members of a species have a high degree of similarity and will generally interbreed only with themselves. Microevolution will allow for the creation of a new species but not the development of one species into a higher classification.

In Genesis 1:24-25, is kind the same as species? Likely not. It basically means that each kind produces offspring like itself.

Macroevolution: requires the transfer of genetic information from one species to a higher more complex classification. Factors along with chance cannot provide the information necessary to build legs on a fish. There are no missing links in paleontology; from whales to land mammals for instance.

Animal ancestors:

Christians hold to two non-negotiable facts: God supernaturally created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1), and God supernaturally created the first man and woman (Genesis 1:27). The Bible rules out the possibility of mankind evolving from a lower life form. The NT refers to Adam and Eve as historic figures (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:13-14, 1 John 3:12, Jude 1:11). Genesis was not an allegory!

The age of the earth?

Was it 4004 BC or millions of years ago? Look at the Hebrew word for day. Can it mean a period or are rather than just a 24-hour period? The first humans were created on the sixth day (Genesis 2:7-22, 5:2) and he named the animals and had a wife all on a single 24-period? God’s use of the word day is not so confined (Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8). Other theologians state that God created a grown up universe, Adam at 20, trees with rings, a rock with the appearance of age, mountain ranges in place. It’s not an argument for the Christian to push since the Bible is silent on the matter. We should be agnostic as to the age of the earth.

Commentary: The same word day is used in the Ten Commandments, a 24-hour period (Exodus 20:11). Adam did not start out as an embryo. There was vegetation on day three, yet now sun until day four, so photosynthesis would not have worked if day three was more than 24 hours.

A constantly moving train:

We are always learning, yesterday’s generalization is tomorrow’s discarded hypothesis. What is to say that evolution is the last assault on our origin? If the Bible becomes embedded in today’s scientific theories, what happens when the theories change 20 years form now? In 1861 the French Academy of Science published 51 scientific facts that controverted the Word of God. Today, not one scientist would support one of these 51 facts.

Many scientists ignore these evolutionary assumptions and consider only the seventh.

  1. Non-living things gave rise to living material; spontaneous generation.
  2. Spontaneous generation happened only once.
  3. Viruses, bacteria, plants and animals are interrelated.
  4. Protozoa gave rise to metazoa.
  5. Various invertebrate phyla are interrelated.
  6. Invertebrates gave rise to vertebrates.
  7. Vertebrates and fish gave rise to amphibia, to reptiles, to birds and mammals.

Observation:

These assumptions by their nature are not capable of experimental verification. They assume a certain set of variables occurred in the past.

Does one assume there is a God or not? It either happened by chance or there is an intelligent design behind it all. If God, where does one stand on Christ?

Extremes to avoid:

That evolution has been proven and anyone with a brain should accept it.

That evolution is only a theory with little evidence for it.

The issue is interpretation of the facts; we choose to believe what we do based on our interpretation of the facts. The presuppositions one brings to the facts, rather than the facts themselves, determine one’s conclusion.

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Are Miracles Possible?

Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. Jesus feeding 5000 people with two fish and five loaves. Did these really happen? Are we to take this literally?

The whole concept of God:

The real problem is not with miracles or prophecy but with the whole concept of God. Once we assume that God actually exists, there is no problem with miracles, because by definition God is all-powerful.

God is not bound by natural laws:

The real question becomes, “Does an all-powerful God who created the universe, exist?” If He does then miracles are possible. A miracle transcends natural law which God is the author. Some people define miracle as a violation of natural law, but this definition practically deifies natural law, and God becomes a prisoner to that natural law, and in effect ceases to be God. It’s fine to believe in natural law, because we can see the usual cause and effect process at work year after year. God does not restrict His right to intervene because He is over and beyond natural law, not bound by it. Laws do not cause anything but are a description of what happens or is observed.

What is a miracle?

We generally use the term to describe anything out of the ordinary or something unexpected; however the term is used in the Bible in a different sense. Some events in the bible could have a natural explanation, like the parting of the Red Sea. High winds could have pushed the waters back, but the miraculous part was the timing. They just reached the shore, the Egyptians approaching, and all the Hebrews were able to cross on dry land.

One the other hand, there are some that do not have a natural explanation, like Lazarus being raised from the dead, or many of the physical healings (like leprosy or the man born blind). This is more than a psychosomatic situation.

Some believe that ancient people were gullible, ignorant and superstitious. Perhaps the disease they had could be explained by modern science, like demon possession could have been psychosis or epilepsy. A primitive person might see a modern jet and call it a silver bird god in the sky. But there is a problem with this perception, since many of the miracles do not fit in this category.

There is no natural explanation for the healing of a person born blind, then or today. How could anyone explain the resurrection of Jesus? One cannot get away with the supernatural aspects of the Bible.

Not in conflict with natural law:

Miracles are not in conflict with natural law! One definition of miracle is that they are unusual events caused by God; the laws of nature are generalizations about ordinary events caused by Him. Some people believe that miracles employ a higher natural law which is unknown to us. We must increase our knowledge we actually realize that the things we thought were miracles were actually higher laws of the universe, of which we were not aware at the time.

An act of creation:

On the other hand, we can view them as acts of creation. Biblical miracles are not scattered throughout the Bible randomly, but are associated with purpose. From the Exodus, through the prophets and into the time of Christ, miracles confirmed faith by authenticating the message or the messenger, or to demonstrate God’s love by relieving suffering.

Miracles are never performed for personal prestige, or to gain money or power. Jesus was tempted to do this in Matthew 4, and resisted, but He regularly used miracles to show evidence of His claims (John 14:11, John 10:25).

Why not now?

Many believe that if God would only do it today, then I would believe. But even in Jesus’ day, He dealt with this in Luke 16 in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The kicker verse is Luke 16:31. If people have ruled out the possibility of miracles, no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise. It’s like the talking animals in the movie, Babe (1996 – the dog spoke slowly and precisely to the sheep because it was a cold fact of nature that all sheep were stupid and no one could convince him otherwise).

We have reliable records:

We don’t need miracles today because we have reliable records that tell us these miracles really happened. If miracles are capable of sensory perception, then they can be matters of recorded testimony. If they are adequately testified to, then the recorded testimony has the same validity for evidence as the same experience of beholding the event. Every court operates on the basic of reliable testimony. If an eyewitness saw and recorded the event (like Lazarus’ raised from the dead), then this witness’ testimony is as good as being at the event.

Miracles were done in public: anyone could have seen and investigated the events. Even the chief opponents of Jesus never denied the fact He could do miracles! They either attributed the event to Satan or tried to suppress the witnesses.

Miracles were performed in front of unbelievers: Jesus was no cult member that deluded his private audience, it was before unbelievers, too.

Miracles were performed over a period of time and involved a great variety of powers: power over nature (John 2:1-11), power over disease (Mark 1:29-34), power over demons (Mark 1:21-27), power with supernatural knowledge (John 1:48), power over creation (Mark 6:30-44), power over death (Mark 5:35-43).

We have testimony of the cured: lie in the case of the man born blind (John 9:25) and Lazarus (John 12:10-11).

We cannot discount biblical miracles because of the extravagant claims of pagan miracles: many pagan believe in these miracles because they already believe in the pagan religion; the Bible uses miracles to help people discover the true religion (John 20:30-31).

Pagan miracles:

These do not display the same order, dignity and motive as those found in the Bible. They do not have solid authentication of the miracle. Same can be said of miracles in our time today, they do not stand to investigation. Just because some miracles are counterfeit, does not mean all miracles are counterfeit (like discovering a few counterfeit bills does not less the authentic bills).

The question is philosophical:

The question as to whether miracles are possible is not scientific but philosophical. Science says they do not occur in the normal course of nature or observation. Science cannot forbid them because natural laws do not cause not forbid miracles. They are merely description of what happened. The only question the scientist must ask is, “Are the records of miracles historically reliable?”

Miracles in the Bible are seen as God communicating with us. The whole matter depends on our belief in the existence of God; settle that question and miracles cease to be a problem.

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Does Archaeology Confirm Scripture?

At first the ancient cities were the targets of study, but soon there were found names and places that are in the OT. Persian governors spoke through their letters and Egyptian Pharaohs in gold-lined coffins can now be identified. Scholars found rich discoveries about the neighbors of the early Israelites. Reliability of the Bible has been affirmed in a number of important areas, substantiating the claims of the Bible.

Mostly the goal is to verify some specific biblical events that were doubted or ridiculed. Another is to help explain biblical culture and practices. When an apparent conflict exists, rather than conclude that the Bible is wrong, it is best to admit the problem exists and hold it open to further discoveries.

Sources for archaeologists:

There have been over 25,000 sites excavated in the Holy Land. Some sites the names have changed and others have remained the same for 3500 years, like Damascus.

How can these finds be dated?

Cities were rebuilt on top of the previous one. Fashions of pottery change. King’s had inscriptions on temple door hinges, and the names of the gods were written. Sumerian scribe had a catalogue system. A few miles from Ur there was found an inscription of a king with an unknown name, of the first dynasty of Ur, which the scribes speak as the third dynasty after the great flood. This is 3100 years before Jesus and 1000 years before Abraham.

Abraham’s time:

Places could not be identified until in 1933 a party of Arabs unearthed a stone statue that revealed a name of an elaborate palace called Mari (covering six acres and 260 rooms). 20,000 cuneiform tablets were found describing the culture. Another city, Nuzi, east of Mari on the Tigris River, discusses the customs that Abraham faced in Genesis 15:4 and Genesis 16:1-2, regarding Ishmael and Isaac. Hammurabi’s code required the slave’s child be kept, which was preempted by God’s command for Hagar to flee with Ishmael.

Writing in the patriarchal times:

The city of Ebla has the most extensive discovery unearthed in the New East, dating back to the third millennium BC. It was a modern city, a highly developed culture. There was a room that had been burned, discovered in 1975, with 20,000 clay tablets on the floor; 5000 years of history. We know that biblical history took place in a world where writing was common.

The biblical kings:

Solomon’s splendor had been questioned, the large navy with no suitable coastline for a harbor. An army of 1400 chariots, and 1200 horses. Huge building projects… confirmed by excavations.

Solomon’s gold – 1 Kings 10:21

The description is breathtaking – 1 Kings 6:21-22, 9:11. This is not a scribe’s exaggeration, but a reflection of ancient times.

A conflict described:

In 1868, the Moabite Stone was discovered and the local Arab men thought they could get better prices by selling more pieces, so they heated it and then poured on cold water to break it. The archaeologists had already made an impression of the stone so the story was not destroyed. Chemosh is confirmed – 1 Kings 11:33, 2 Kings 23:13, Jeremiah 48:3. The stone also mentioned the God Israel, YHWY.

Daniel and Belshazzar:

Daniel names Belshazzar as the last king of Babylon, while Nabonidus is named in ancient Babylonian documents. Later discoveries were that Nabonidus removed himself for a ten-year stint in Arabia, leaving his son Belshazzar in charge, for all purposes he was the king. Prior to the Babylonian chronicles, Daniel is the only one that named Belshazzar as the king.

New Testament accuracy:

This is not so much digging for ancient civilizations, but finding written documents, with public or private inscriptions: shopping lists, private notes, legends on coins. Turns out the NT Greek was very similar to the language of the common people.

Stone inscriptions:

Luke took history very seriously and was right on all accounts. He includes many lines of historical details – Luke 2:1, 3:1.

No pious forgery:

Paul’s timeline confirmed at Felix’s replacement by Festus (Acts 24:27) in Nero’s fifth year, before October AD 59. Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 and a new pagan city was built on the site in AD 130. Keith Schoville, “Archaeological excavations have produces ample evidence that the Bible is not a pious forgery.” Basically, he says the Bible has never been proven false.

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Are the Bible Documents Reliable?

You have probably read stories about all the supposed errors that are in the Bible. The theory is that mistakes were made through two thousand years of translations and what we have today is a pale reflection of the original writings. But Christianity is rooted in history, and history has not changed. If the historical references in the Bible are not true, we can then doubt the reliability of the rest of the book. We will also ask the question, “Why do we have these books and no others?”

Who wrote the words?

The work of the scribe was a highly professional and a carefully executed task. There are no complete copies of the Hebrew OT earlier than around AD 900 (Masoretic Text), but it is evident that it has been faithfully preserved since AD 100 or 200.

There are translations from Hebrew into Latin and Greek. All copies that came from the Masoretic Text are in remarkable agreement, which attests to the skill and detail of the Masoretes.

Dead Sea Scrolls:

Discovered in 1947, the greatest archaeological discovery of the century. Clay jars in Qumran, dated 150 BC to AD 70. They hid the scrolls in preparation for the Roman invasion, in cave on the west side of the Dead Sea. There is a complete book of Isaiah and another with Isaiah 38-66, the books of Samuel, and two chapters of Habakkuk.

By comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls with the Masoretic Text we see remarkable accuracy. For example, in Isaiah 53 only 17 letters differ from the Masoretic Text. Ten of these were merely spelling differences (like honor to honour) that produce no change of meaning at all. Four are minor like the presence of a conjunction (which is often a matter of style). The other three letters are the Hebrew word for “light” which is added after, “they shall see” in Isaiah 53:11. Of 166 words in the chapter, only one word is in question and it in no way changes the sense of the passage.

The Septuagint:

This is the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, referred to as LXX, for the 70 scholars taking 70 days to complete, in the third century BC. So in comparison to the Masoretic Text, it appears that nothing has changed since 200 BC! It seems to be a rather literal translation. There is also another text called the Samaritan Pentateuch, but this has a Samaritan leaning and emphasis.

Three families of texts:

The question is, “What is the original version of these three families of texts?” It is said that what we have since 225 BC is just about the same document that Ezra read before the people after the Babylonian captivity.

New Testament documents:

Evidence tells us that the same is true for the NT. Generally anything that differs from early manuscripts would be variations in grammar or spelling, not more than 1/1000 part of the whole NT. There are about 6000 manuscripts that have survived to our time. Papyrus was used early, and highly durable. Another material was called parchment, skins of sheep or goats, used up until the middle ages until paper replaced it.

The dates of the NT documents indicate that they were written during the lifetime of the contemporaries of Christ. People were still alive who could remember that events. Many Pauline letters predate the gospels. These early documents can be compared to other ancient documents that have been accepted without question to their authenticity. Nine or ten copies of Caesar’s Gallic War exist, and they were written about 900 years after Caesar’s time! The history of Thucydides (400 BC) with about 8 copies, dated to AD 900. These copies are 1300 years after the original. By contrast, two excellent copies of the NT date to the fourth century. Fragments date back to 100 or 200 years earlier. There is a papyrus codex of John 18:31-33, 37 that dates back to AD 130.

The question of canon:

How do we know these are the books that are supposed to be in the Bible? Protestants accept the same books that the Jews accept in the OT. Catholics at the Council of Trent in 1546 decided to add others, called the Apocrypha. OT books were authoritative based on the utterances of people inspired to declare God’s Word. It’s not clear why they were accepted but it is clear that they were accepted. Jesus even agreed with the Pharisees on the authority of the OT, just not the traditions holding the same authority. The council of Jamnia in AD 90 closed the OT canon. The discussion was on which books to include rather than on which books to exclude.

Apocryphal books:

These were never received into the Jewish canon. Jews and Christians had never accepted them, and they are no where quoted in the NT. Some books like 1 Maccabees is valuable in retelling history, but are not considered as inspired sacred writings. Although not included at first the LXX included them for ecclesiastical purposes only.

What about the New Testament?

These were included based on their inspiration rather than by majority vote. Many claimed apostolic authority (1 Peter 3:15-16). Jude 1:3 mentions 2 Peter 3:3 is a word from the apostles. Early church fathers like Polycarp, Ignatius and Clement mention a number of books of the NT as authoritative.

The second century brought on many heresies, so there needed to be a debate on which writings were authoritative. In the East, the final fixed canon for the NT dates back to AD 367 (a letter from Athanasius), which books were used as sole sources for religious instruction and which could be read for information. In the West, it was decided at the Council of Carthage in AD 397.

The criteria for selecting the canon: could it be attributed to an apostle? Was it used in the church? Was there conformity to standard church doctrine? Luke 21:33 is a solid conclusion on this topic of God’s written Word.

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Is the Bible God’s Word?

This is not the question that gets non-Christians to come to faith. Your view of the Bible is not as critical a question as where you stand with Jesus. Salvation is the issue. The Bible is God’s word whether we believe it or not. Our task is to present the claims of Christ and that the Bible is a historically reliable document. After one believes, the next question is “How did Jesus view the Bible?” Statements and claims of Scripture are not enough, but there is other information that cannot be ignored.

Beethoven was not God-breathed:

The Bible claims that it is God inspired, God breathed if you will (2 Timothy 3:15-16). This type of inspired is not the same as a musician is inspire to write his music. Biblical inspiration is unique, in that it is God-breathed. It is also not open to random interpretations (2 Peter 1:20-21), because its origin is from God. It’s not a bunch of human ideas.

The writers were also not mere writing utensils, like machines with no personality. God worked through their human personality to write just what God wanted them to write.

The prophets were constantly speaking for God (like in 2 Samuel 23:2 or Jeremiah 1:9). The words written were as if God spoke them, not the prophet (Galatians 3:8, Acts 4:24-25, Psalm 2:1). It was natural to use the phrases, “Scripture said…” and “God said…” just alike.

The New Testament writers claimed the same prophetic authority as the Old Testament writers (Matthew 11:9-15) like John was superior to the OT prophets. Paul speaks of his authority (1 Corinthians 14:37). Peter speaks of Paul’s letter on the same level as the OT Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16).

Jesus’ view of Scripture:

What did He think of it? How did He use it? That it is infallible (Matthew 5:18) meaning it will accomplish what it says it will accomplish. He quoted Scripture as the final authority, using statements like “it is written…” during the temptation story in Matthew 4:4, 10. It’s like the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).

So, if we have accepted Christ it would be inconsistent to not accept the Scripture’s authority. The heart of His teaching and work are based in the OT. He would be guilty of deception if He did not believe in the authority of the OT.

Helpful definitions:

Does accepting the Word of God mean we take it literally? A definition is required. We do not take figures of speech literally (Isaiah 55:12, Psalm 114:4, 6). Those who do not take it literally mean they frequently seek to evade some of its clear intent in the words.

What does inerrancy mean? First we must not impose 21st century standard of science and history to the biblical writers. The Bible describes thing phenomenally, as they appear to be, like in sunrise and sunset. Sometimes it uses round numbers instead of precise numbers, like there were 5000 people. Some apparent errors may be errors in translation (discussed in reliable documents chapter). Sometimes problems were resolves as more information became known.

What about fulfilled prophecies? It is not like vague generalities of fortune tellers “A handsome man will enter your life.” Fulfilled prophecy with specific details is evidence that God’s word came through the prophets (Jeremiah 28:9, Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Isaiah unmasks false prophets as they predict falsely (Isaiah 41:22-23). Prophecies of the Messiah and prophecies of historical events and prophecies of the Jews are different. The suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Micah 5:2), see more details on p. 69-70.

The Holy Spirit’s role:

The work of the Spirit is always toward some purpose. The Emmaus disciples had an aha moment (Luke 24:32). This same experience comes to us with the Spirit’s help.

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Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith – 1 Corinthians 15:14. Since we have already looked into the big questions of life (Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?), so if Christ rose from the dead, we know for certain that God exists, what He is like and that He has a great plan for humankind!

Not wishful thinking:

If the resurrection had never happened, Christianity is nothing more than a museum piece, and devotees whom many have given their lives were only poor deluded fools. Skeptics attack the resurrection because Christianity stands or falls on this fact.

One skeptic promotes that it is all a fable or fantasy, attempting to expose the faith as a fraud and superstition. While Frank Morison was doing his research, he could not get past the question, “Who moved the stone?” Lee Strobel has a similar testimony, while trying to expose Christianity as a lie, he examined the evidence and came to faith in Christ.

Data to be considered:

The fact of the Christian church: It can be traced back to the first century Palestine, around AD 32. Did it just happen or was there a cause for it? They were first called Christians in Antioch, and they turned the world up-side down – Acts 11:26, 17:6. They constantly referred to the resurrection as the basis for their teaching and living.

Then there is the fact of the Christian day: Sunday is the day of worship, and can be traced back to around AD 32. Something significant must have happened to change the day from the Jewish Sabbath to the first day of the week. Even more remarkable is the fact that many of the first Christians were Jewish!

There is the Christian book, the New Testament: There are six independent testimonies to the fact of the resurrection; three of them by eyewitnesses (peter, John and Matthew). These who helped transform the moral fabric of society could not have been skilled liars or deluded madmen.

Accounting for the empty tomb:

The earliest explanation was the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-12, 13-15) – Religious leaders gave money to guards to say the disciples came and stole the body while they were asleep. It was so false that Matthew did not even bother to refute it. If they were asleep, how would they know the disciples did this? It would be laughed out of court. This was also totally out of character of the disciples; they would be thieves and liars. But each of these disciples faced torture and martyrdom. People will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not however die for what the know to be a lie.

The Jewish or Roman authorities stole the body: But why? Evidence they did not comes out of their silence in the face of the bold preaching of the resurrection by the apostles. They were in rage and did all they could to squash this new faith. The truth is that if they had taken the body, they would have paraded the bloody corpse through the streets of Jerusalem!

The women, distraught with grief in the pre-dawn light, went to the wrong tomb: They imagined Christ was alive because they found a tomb empty. If this happened, the authorities would have just gone to the right tomb and produced the body. It is also inconceivable that all the disciples would have made such a mistake, and Joseph of Arimathea would not have gone to the wrong tomb (it belonged to him – Matthew 27:57-59, 60-61).

The swoon theory: Jesus did not actually die, but was weak, exhausted and passed out, but in the cool of the tomb was revived and got out. First off, these Roman guards were good at their trade; they knew dead when they saw it! If Jesus revived, how did he regain strength without food or water for three days? What about the blood loss? How did He remove the grave clothes? How did He roll away the stone, overcome the guards, and walked miles on spike pierced feet? How do you explain the appearances of Christ with only the nail wounds? He would have looked like a resuscitated corpse not a glorified Savior.

The appearances of Christ:

This happened from the morning of the resurrection to 40 days later. He appeared to Peter and John, the disciples, over 500 people, in different places (the tomb, the upper room, to the Emmaus Road). These eyewitnesses testify that this actually happened.

Was it a hallucination? These people were a diverse group and dispositions, not said to be imaginative of nervous minded. Hallucinations are subjective and individual; no two people have the same experience. When He appeared to the 500, over have of them were alive by the time Paul wrote about it in First Corinthians 15. Hallucinations usually take place at certain times and places. These appearances happened indoors, outdoors, and at all times during the day. Some of these experiences took place over a long period of time, abruptly ending after the ascension.

A hallucination is generally comes from an intense desire to believe something that is not there, so he attached reality to the imagination. But these disciples were persuaded against their wills to believe He was raised from the dead. They came to the tomb with spices in hand. Mary did not expect to see Jesus alive, and even mistook Him for the gardener. The disciples believed he story to be an idle tale. When they thought they had seen a ghost, He calms then by inviting them to touch Him and even eating with them, something a hallucination would not have done.

Then there’s Thomas. He wasn’t about to believe in this hallucination! When Jesus shows up, he exclaims “My Lord and my God.” To hold to the hallucination theory is to ignore the evidence. What changed these cowardly disciples into men of courage and conviction? How do we explain Peter’s denial before the crucifixion to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, later risking harm and jail time?

Contemporary proof:

If Jesus is alive, He is ready to invade your existence. Thousands of people across the globe have trusted Him with their salvation, and testify how He changed their lives.

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Is Jesus God?

It is impossible to know for certain that God exists and what He is like unless He takes the initiative and reveals Himself to us. A clear clue is found in the stable in Bethlehem. The paranoid Herod had all male children age two and younger murdered; the slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:1-18). We see Jesus at age twelve in the temple, “My Father’s house” (Luke 2:49). He lived in obscurity for about thirty years until He started His public ministry. Common people heard Him and they marveled at His words spoken with authority (Matthew 7:29).

Jesus said He was the Son of God:

He had many shocking statements that began to identity Him more than just a remarkable teacher or prophet; He clearly claimed deity. The question for Peter and all of us, “Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:16-17). What was the impact of His words? The Jews sought to kill Him, no mistake of what Jesus was claiming (John 5:18, 10:33). Not only did He claim deity in His words, but also in His actions. He healed and forgave the paralytic’s sins (Mark 2:5-7).

The title of Son of Man asserted His deity. The High Priest asked Him if He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One, and Jesus answer, “I am.” (Mark 14:61-64). John Stott puts it this way,

  1. to know Him was to know God (John 8:19, 14:7);
  2. to see Him was to see God (John 12:45, 14:9);
  3. to believe in Him was to believe in God (John 12:44, 14:1);
  4. to receive Him was to receive God (Mark 9:37);
  5. to hate Him was to hate God (John 15:23);
  6. to honor Him was to honor God (John 5:23).

Only four possibilities:

  1. Liar – He claimed to be God and He knew that it was false. If this is the case, there is no way that He could be revered as a good moral teacher.
  2. Lunatic – He claimed to be God and He did not know that it was false. If He is deceived in the area of His identity, He cannot be trusted with much else. But there is no evidence of an emotional imbalance we find in a deranged person.
  3. Legend – He was a man who had enthusiastic followers who centuries later put words into the mouth of Jesus. Evidence shows that four individual biographies were written within the lifetime of the contemporaries of Jesus; no later than AD 70. If the claims of deity were not true, people in the day would have repudiated the claim. The story would never have gotten off the ground. Besides, there are simply not enough generations to elevate these claims to the status of legend. The documents have an early dating.
  4. Lord – Claims don’t mean much, talk is cheap. What credentials do we bring to substantiate the claim? Miraculous signs backed up what He claimed (John 10:38).

What were Jesus’ credentials?

  1. His character – He was unique in that He was sinless (John 8:46). We read of His temptation but no prayers of forgiveness (what He told His followers to do). This lack of moral failure is in contrast to the history of those called saints. As people are drawn to God, they are overwhelmed by their sinfulness. John, Peter and Paul mentions the sinlessness of Jesus (1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5 and 2 Corinthians 5:21). Pilate found no fault in Him (John 18:38), and the Roman centurion recognized the uniqueness of Jesus (Matthew 27:54).
  2. His power – He could calm a raging storm and the question arises, “Who is this?” (Mark 4:41).
    1. He turned water into wine (John 2:9-11)
    2. He fed 5000 men with five loaves and two fish (John 6:10-13)
    3. He raised people from the dead (Matthew 11:4-6, Mark 5:40-42, John 12:1)
    4. He healed people of disabilities and diseases (John 9:25, 32) – lame walk, blind see, mute speak.
  3. His resurrection from the dead – He predicted that He would rise from the dead, and did it to prove He was right (Matthew 12:40, 26:61, Mark 8:31, 9:31, John 2:19).

Our own Christian experience combined with historical evidence give us a solid conviction that Jesus is exactly who He said He was. He changed the world, the calendar and the lives of people for centuries.

Study questions:

  1. In what ways did Jesus claim to be the Son of God?
  2. What are the four possibilities in evaluating these claims?
  3. What is the evidence for and against the theory that Jesus was a lunatic?
  4. What evidence do you remember that the gospels account for an actual person rather than a legend?
  5. How do you answer a person that says Jesus was just a good moral teacher and not God?
  6. How did Jesus prove His claim to be God?

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Is There a God?

Quite a profound question, since the dawn of time:

“More consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.” – Mortimer Adler.

The whole tenor of human life is affected by whether people regard themselves as supreme beings or acknowledge a superhuman being whom they conceive as an object of fear or love, a force to be defied or a Lord to be obeyed.

God in a test tube:

  1. God cannot be proved through scientific methodology.
  2. The reason lies in the nature of history itself, and the limits of the scientific method. In order to be provable scientifically, it must be repeatable. But while the facts of certain events in history can’t be proven by repetition, it does not disprove their reality as events (creation, assassination of Lincoln, crucifixion).
  3. Scientific method deals only with measurable things. No one has ever seen three feet of love or two pounds of justice, but it is foolish to deny their reality.
  4. Evidence for God?
    1. Anthropology: a universal belief in God, a Great Spirit, a Creator, even in societies that are polytheistic.
    2. Old idea of how religion developed: monotheism was the apex of gradual development that began in polytheism.
    3. New research: oldest traditions around the world of a Supreme Being.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 – eternity is set in the hearts of men. Pascal called this the God-shaped vacuum in every man; Augustine wrote that “our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”

The law of cause and effect:

  1. No effect can be produced without a cause.
  2. Bertrand Russell, in Why I Am Not a Christian, God was the answer given to him for many of his childhood questions. In desperation he asked, “Well, who created God?” No answer came and his faith collapsed. But by definition God is eternal and uncreated.
  3. R. C. Sproul – “Being eternal, God is not an effect. Since He is not an effect, He does not require a cause.”

Infinite time plus chance:

  1. Inventions do not come into existence without first having a design. We find objects and books that mandate that an intelligent mind was at work. How much more would the complexity of the universe and life itself require a Designer.
  2. Our two choices: Our universe came together by chance, or our universe came together by purpose and design.
    1. Ideally prepare primordial soup, jolted by frequent electrical charges, over an unlimited period of time, that some life form would then evolve. How long would it take a blind person to solve a Rubik’s Cube? One move per second, without resting, it is estimated that it would take 1.35 trillion years; therefore a blind person could not solve a Rubik’s Cube.
    2. So look at DNA. To get 200,000 amino acids in one living cell to come together by chance, it would be 293.5 times the estimated age of the earth (which is set at 4.5 billion years). The odds are better that a blind person can solve a Rubik’s Cube!
    3. Junkyard mentality: What are the chances that a tornado might blow through a junkyard containing all the parts of a 747, accidentally assembling them into a plane, and leave it ready for take-off?

Order and design in the universe:

  1. Look beyond the observable world: protons and neutrons, and the vastness of galaxies. Who gave the specifications?
  2. A working TV – glass, metal, wood, wires, all coming together by natural selection or it is a self-assembled product?
  3. The earth is in delicate balance: (pp. 28-29) temperatures, peculiar properties of water, size of the atmosphere, distance from the sun, the lunar orbit,
  4. The human eye: lens, retina, nerve, brain – chance? Darwin stated in his Origin of Species, “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” (Chapter 6, p. 186). He then goes on to explain how it could have actually happened. The problem is that he appeals to reason, then goes on to paint a picture of imagination and possibility, desiring us to accept the process even without evidence. (Irreducible complexity).

The universe had a beginning:

  1. The Lord laid the foundations of the earth – Psalm 102:25.
  2. Continuous or steady-state theory – galaxies move farther apart and new galaxies where formed in between. Matter is continually being created. Hydrogen is renewed out of nothing. But Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies says the opposite is true. Whenever a star is born, it begins to consume some of the hydrogen in the universe. The theory of a continual universe is untenable or indefensible.
  3. Oscillating Model – The universe is like a spring, expanding and contracting, repeating endless cycles. A closed theory, no new energy is put into it, and gravity always pulls everything back together. But the universe is clearly losing density with no sign of going into reverse. Both of these fail to look at the observable cosmology!
  4. Big Bang Theory – Dr, Edwin Hubble, plotted speeds of galaxies, and confirmed they are moving apart at enormous speeds. If it is all moving away, at one time it must have all been compacted into a very dense mass. In 1965 science discovered that the earth was bathed in a faith glow of radiation, an exact pattern from an explosion. But Robert Jastrow (an agnostic) comments: astronomical evidence points to the biblical view of the origin of the world. Details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same – a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.
  5. Even if the universe began in a bang, science cannot explain how the elements were ripe for the event. It certainly cannot be a Who that got it started! Jastrow concludes, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

The moral argument:

  1. C. S. Lewis – “right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe.” That’s my seat. That’s not fair. Suppose I did the same to you. C’mon, you promised.
  2. There is an appeal to some behavioral standard that the other person is assumed to accept. Is there a law or rule of fair play? Lewis says that quarreling is one man’s way of showing the other man is wrong.
  3. This law has to do with what ought to take place. It is more than cultural or societal standards. There is surprising consensus from civilizations about moral decency. If there were no set standard, there would be no difference between Christian morality and Nazi morality.
  4. Lewis said it cannot be a social convention, but more of a mathematical table. Two plus two is always four, no matter what your culture. So, there is a Somebody who set a standard: fair play, unselfishness, courage, good, faith, honesty, truthfulness.

God – the celestial killjoy:

  1. Who can fathom the mysteries of God – Job 11:7.
  2. He does not peer over the balcony of heaven and zap us, saying, “cut it out.”
  3. He is not the sentimental grandfather in the sky saying, “boys will be boys.”

God has penetrated the finite:

  1. In these last days He has spoken through His Son – Heb 1:1-2.
  2. If you wanted to communicate to a colony of ants, the best way would be to become an ant.
  3. J. B Phillips, the earth is “the visited planet.”

Changed lives:

  1. There is a clear presence in the lives of men and women today.
  2. Change takes place in believing individuals.

Study Questions:

  1. What must happen for something to be scientifically proven?
  2. Why can we not prove God’s existence?
  3. Since the beginning of time, peoples of the world have sensed a creator of the universe, why do you think that atheists believe they have the upper hand by saying it ain’t so?
  4. Discuss the cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God.
  5. Discuss the moral argument of the existence of God. How would you argue for and against this argument?
  6. Changed lives as a proof is very subjective. How would a born-again believer’s testimony be different from the devotee of another religion?
  7. What personal evidence can you offer?
  8. What other arguments for or against the existence of God can you think of?
  9. Which argument seems most meaningful to you? Which one least helpful?

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Is Christianity Rational?

Know Why You Believe:

My Sunday School class studied the book, Know Why You Believe, a classic book by Paul Little. It’s plain and simple apologetics for the rest of us.

  1. Is Christianity Rational?
  2. Is There a God?
  3. Is Jesus God?
  4. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
  5. Is the Bible God’s Word?
  6. Are the Bible Documents Reliable?
  7. Does Archaeology Confirm Scripture?
  8. Are Miracles Possible?
  9. Do Science and Scripture Agree?
  10. Why Does God Allow Suffering and Evil?

What is faith? Does it mean to believe in something you know isn’t true?

Don’t check your brains at the door:

  1. It is not only essential to know what we believe but to know why we believe it.
  2. Christianity is true whether we believe it or not.
  3. Two broad viewpoints these days:
    1. The anti-intellectual approach: (Colossians 2:8) suggesting that Christianity is non-rational if not irrational. A clear presentation of the gospel is important but it is not a substitute for faith. The Spirit is at work helping people to understand the truth, convicting the world of sin. Read the Invisible Gardener quote and the response (p 15).
    2. The exclusively rational approach: perhaps everything depends upon the mind. There is an intellectual factor, but there is also a moral factor (1 Corinthians 2:14) that says apart from the Holy Spirit, no one will ever believe.
  4. How do you feel the world challenges your faith?

Know some answers:

  1. We are commanded to be knowledgeable (1 Peter 3:15) for sound reasons. Why would the Bible have such a command?
    1. To strengthen our faith – we should know more than the fact that Jesus lives in our hearts.
    2. To validate our experience – a non-believer can claim his experience is just as valid and we are stumped. We cannot drive ourselves to believe something of which we are not intellectually convinced.
    3. To show that we believe something that is objectively true, regardless of who told us (like our parents or SS teacher, first-hand faith).
  2. How would obeying 1 Peter 3:15 help dispel the faulty concept in non-believers’ minds that faith is believing something you know isn’t true?

A rational body of truth:

  1. Perhaps no one has ever presented the facts to us logically. Faith is more than superstition based on emotions.
  2. The Great Commandment to love God will all our heart, soul mind and strength (Matthew 22:37) which involves the whole person.
  3. Paul defends and confirms the gospel (Philippians 1:7) which tells us that the gospel can be rationally understood and supported.
  4. The gospel is equated with truth, and opposed to error (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Non-Christians are defined as rejecting the truth (Romans 2:8).
  5. Paul asserts that it is not because people don not have enough knowledge to know the truth (Romans 1:20) but they have exchanged the truth for a lie (Romans 1:25).

Moral smoke screens:

  1. The moral issue overshadows the intellectual issue: it is not that people cannot believe, but that they will not believe (John 5:40).
  2. Moral commitment leads to a solution of the intellectual problem (John 7:17).
  3. Question: If Christianity is rational and true, why don’t more educated people believe it? It’s simple, because they don’t want to believe it! It’s not a matter of brain power; it is a matter of the will.
  4. Do you agree of disagree?
  5. Do other factors (like an abusive earthly father) keep someone from fully trusting God?

Doubt strikes terror:

  1. Sometimes we question our faith and wonder if it’s true, especially if you were raised in a Christian home. We believe it because we have confidence and trust in the person who told us about it. Re-examination is needed; to become first-hand faith.
  2. How can we know that we are not taken by church propaganda? Come back to two factors:
    1. The objective, external, historical facts of the resurrection.
    2. The subjective, internal, personal experience of Christ.
  3. Would a good Christian ever doubt? Like your faith is slipping because you began thinking. When challenged by an educated skeptic, they conform under pressure and then shed a faith that they never embraced as their own.
  4. How are doubting Christians usually handled in this church?
  5. Is there a group where doubters can discuss their issues in a non-threatening way?

Don’t hit the panic button:

  1. If you don’t have the answer, just promise to get one; no one has thought up just this week a question that will bring Christianity crashing down.
  2. Some things are never going to be answered (Deuteronomy 29:29). Christian faith goes beyond reason, not against it.
  3. Exposure to non-Christians reveals the same questions come repeatedly, and are limited in the range. One can predict the questions that will arise within a half-hour.

A doubter’s response:

  1. Doubters need to understand that they must come to a decision rather than find an answer.
  2. To make no decision is to decide against Christian position.
  3. To continue to doubt in the face of adequate information may indicate an unwillingness to believe and a will set against God.

Study Questions:

  1. For centuries the church did nothing to foster spiritual knowledge and Christian growth. Today we have millions of Bibles, thousands of churches and hundreds of ways to access information. Do you think it is easier or harder to have a genuine and growing relationship with Christ than in earlier centuries?
  2. What reasons do you see in your friends who refuse to believe? How can you help them through the roadblocks?
  3. Apart from the Holy Spirit, no one will believe. Pray now for the Spirit’s intervention in the lives of people you know.

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