Christmas has passed but I have continued to think about its meaning and what it tells us about our God and His heart for His children. I’ll start with an amazing story of love and devotion despite unthinkable infidelity.
Many years ago, in Israel, there was a young prophet named Hosea who was marrying age. God spoke to him and told him that he was to marry a prostitute. Despite the obvious heartache it may cause him, he knew that God had always been loving, kind, and good to him. Even as Hosea trusted and obeyed, his Father went on to explain that his wife would continue to be unfaithful and that some of the children she bore for him would be conceived out of wedlock. At this point I would be thinking, “Okay, surely this isn’t God speaking to me. There is no way that God would ask me to do such a thing.” Nonetheless, Hosea continued to listen to God and was able to learn an amazing truth by listening and obeying even when he may have been grieved by what he was being asked to do. Everything played out exactly as God had told him. Hosea’s wife, Gomer was continually unfaithful to him. Yet, time and time again, Hosea went after her. God taught Hosea that God will continue to pursue unfaithful Israel even as she continually turns to other “lovers.” Ultimately, God will be united to Israel as we read in Hosea 3:5
But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king.[g] In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness.
Despite God’s anger over the unfaithfulness of Israel, He still tells of a time when the relationship will be restored.
The Lord says,
“Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;
my love will know no bounds,
for my anger will be gone forever. Hosea 14:4
Next we go to a dinner party where Jesus had been invited by a prominent religious man (a Pharisee). While there, some of the religious leaders and teachers began to talk about how Jesus was welcoming and even ate with sinners! Jesus shared the following story:
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 5:4-7
There is a lot of irony in what Jesus says here. The “religious” people didn’t know that they too were lost sheep. They needed to repent as much as the “sinners.” Still, Jesus paints a brilliant picture of a Good Shepherd who goes after His lost sheep.
These two stories tell me so much about Christmas and about the heart of God. They tell me of the amazing truth of the Gospel, that God graciously came after us! We were lost and didn’t even know it. We thought we could make it on our own. Silly sheep. We need a good shepherd. We run after things constantly because we think they will make us happy. We prostitute ourselves instead of resting in the arms of our loving Husband (stick with me guys—we are His bride). Silly Bride. We need our Groom.
Story of Stories—who’d have ever come up with the plan that God had. Our Groom would come after us. Our Shepherd would carry us. And, that He’d leave Heaven to be born into a cold, probably stinky, animal stall, and would live a life of pain, rejection, and perfect devotion and obedience to His Father so that He could be with us forever. Amazing.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For this reason he had to be made like them,[k] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14, 15, 17, 18
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Despite major delays due to health and family issues, here is the conclusion to our series on building a Christian worldview.
We started at whether truth was knowable. If so, how? Is there a God? How can we know, or rather, what does the evidence show? We looked at the laws of thermodynamics, evidence from cosmology, teleology, and scientific and historical methodologies for discovering truth. Upon determining that there is good evidence for a powerful first cause for the universe, we began to narrow it down to determine if the God of the Bible fits the description that the evidence reveals. Finally, we arrived at Jesus of Nazareth. He is the central figure of the Bible. Ultimately, His identity determines whether the Bible is an amazing book of history and other stories from our ancient past or the primary means through which the God of the universe reveals specific details about Himself, His character, His plan, and His design for how we, His creation can live life as it was intended.
The previous four entries dealt with the only options we have regarding the identity of Jesus.
1. Jesus intentionally deceived humanity by conscious fraud.
2. Jesus was, himself, deluded or deceived.
3. Jesus was Divine.
or, 4. That the biblical narratives that we read about were just made up by the writers.
All of these possibilities are addressed in abundant detail in the previous entries. We've arrived at the evidence pointing to Jesus as being the Divine Son of God as foretold by the Jewish Prophets. (Please refer back to those entries of you'd like to weigh the evidence I've presented--if you have things to add, or would like to challenge the data or my conclusions, please do so--respectfully of course.) Still, after presenting a multifaceted evidential look back at the historical Jesus, I felt there were three more miracles that I should share to give further insight into the character and identity of this man Jesus.
The story of Jesus walking on the Sea (Lake) of Galilee is shared by Matthew, Mark, and John in their accounts in the New Testament. Looking at Matthew's account we get some additional details about this miraculous occurrence that give us further insight into Jesus.
1. Jesus had just performed a miraculous sign by feeding 5000 people and He and the disciples were now traveling across the lake to go minister to some other people.
2. Jesus tells his disciples to go ahead without Him. Jesus needed some "alone" time to pray. This taps in to the intensity of the relationship Christ had with His Father, as He followed up on an outrageously amazing miracle with going off to be alone with God.
So, Jesus was left by himself while His disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus needed time with God, and Jesus needed a means to meet back up with His disciples so that He could go meet the needs of the people in the next town.
3. Jesus through whom the Bible says that all things hold together, overcame the natural limitations of the physical universe and began walking to His disciples across the lake!
Something even more miraculous occurred. As He approached the boat, the fearful disciples wondered if He were a ghost. Peter volunteered, "If you're Jesus, tell me to join you ON the water. Jesus did, and Peter stepped out onto the sea. His eyes were locked on Jesus and he actually began to walk ON the water. Suddenly, the waves and winds distracted Peter and He began to sink. Jesus pulled Him up into the boat. Then the wind stopped and the disciples were amazed apparently not understanding that as the Creator of the physical universe, God can miraculously feed people, or walk on water. They aren't tricks. It isn't hard for Him. He is not limited by the physical universe. Additionally, He called Peter out to join Him! He expects that as we put our faith in Him, we will be able to do these things as well! In John 14:12 Jesus makes it clear, He tells His disciples, "you will do greater things than these."
The next miracle is the raising of Jesus friend Lazarus. Again, power, purpose, emotion, and the heart of our Savior is revealed. Jesus is sent word from Martha and Mary, Lazarus' sisters that Lazarus is sick "unto death." He responded that the sickness was meant to bring glory to God and stayed where He was for two more days. He then told His disciples that they needed to go to Judea that Lazarus was asleep. This got the disciples hot and bothered because the Jews had tried to kill Jesus the last time He was there. And, besides that, if he's asleep, he'll be fine. No need to put ourselves in harms way! Jesus told them plainly that Lazarus was dead. Jesus knew His mission and He told them it was time to hit the road. When they arrived to Lazarus' family let them know that Lazarus had passed away and that he'd been dead four days and was entombed. Jesus looked around at the sadness. He recognized that death had encroached upon one of His friends. This broken world with sickness, pain, and death brings such pain to people. In this moment, Jesus' heart was broken and the shortest verse of scripture was written.
Jesus wept. John 11:35
Despite knowing that He was about to raise Him from the dead, He wept. Jesus could have come in with trumpets and beating chest, telling everybody to chill. "Everything's gonna be fine!" "I got this!" Instead, Jesus wept. He entered into the hurt and pain that everyone else was going through. He goes there with them...us. He isn't just a fixer. He goes through the rough stuff with us. Then, because from the get-go, God's plan was to be glorified through the situation with Lazarus, Jesus called a man dead 4 days out of the grave and back to life. He does this today. Apart from Jesus, we are dead. We need Him to call us out of our self-styled tombs of everything we think we need, to Him, the only One we really need.
Finally, the one that seals the deal. If Jesus had done all the things we read that He did and was crucified dead and buried, and remained in the grave, we'd have nothing. We'd be left scratching our heads about who this person was and how He did all these great things, but was gone. Paul states it well in 1 Corinthians 15.
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
THE RESURRECTION is the greatest event in the history of the world. Our hope is not futile. Our hope is alive. His name is Jesus. He is no longer in the grave!
The blog will be changing in the coming days/weeks.
I have a final installment to do on the series we've done on developing a worldview. The final entry will discuss three miracles of Jesus that give us insight into Who He was. Meanwhile, I am pretty well recovered from three surgeries I had during August. Two were on my back, and one was on my left knee. I also started taking some classes at night at Highlands College. Stay tuned. The next entry will be in the next day or so.
Over the previous three posts asking Who Was Jesus?,we discussed the words Jesus shared with His followers as well as His enemies. We shared a wide variety of issues that were addressed by Jesus. The words He shared revealed a person who didn’t show signs of delusion. He confronted difficult facts of His own life and future that a deluded person would have pushed out of their awareness. Jesus also displayed an uncanny understanding of human nature. Jesus words were at times, an indictment of his friends and followers, and at others, his detractors and those out to get Him. Jesus words also displayed a morality that actually raised the bar on moral norms of His day. His strongest pronouncements were often criticism of the religious “elite,” as He saw the hypocrisy of their lives.
Based on the discussion of His words, it appears unlikely that He was a deliberate fraud. And, it appeared unlikely that He was deluded Himself. And, due to the inclusion of the messy stuff, that was either hard to understand or difficult to accept, it appears unlikely that the story as told in the Gospel accounts is inaccurate. Still, the case for who Jesus was has its final “smoking gun.” Jesus did things that other people have rarely or ever done. We will look at several of these as well as some of his words related to these miracles.
Miracle: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs
There are many claiming to come from a “scientific” worldview who a priori rule out the possibility of the supernatural. As a result, they have eliminated the historical method and witness testimony that may refute their closed-system, materialistic view of the universe. (Note: materialism here refers to the view that all that exists in the universe is the material. It is often linked to secular humanism as a world view).
Jesus first miracle occurred at a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. One thing that is noteworthy about all of Jesus' miracles is that they weren't like "parlor tricks." He met real needs with the miraculous works He performed. On the occasion of His first recorded miracle in the New Testament, we find Jesus attending a wedding. In Middle Eastern culture in that day, a wedding feast was given over several days. There were strict cultural norms attached to hospitality in that society as well. The concept of reciprocal hospitality was an understanding that if you attended a wedding ceremony and ate and drank to your heart's content, that if you gave a wedding, your feast would provide the same type of experience to your attendees. Running out of food or wine reflected very poorly on the Groom's family (the hosts) and on the couple getting married. With that in mind, when told of the situation, Jesus fixed it. No fanfare. No pyrotechnics. He pointed out 6 twenty to thirty gallon clay "jars," (more like barrels to me!). These jars were normally used for ceremonial cleansing prior to eating meals. Jesus had the servants fill them with water. Upon drawing the water out of the jars, it had become fine wine. The wine was so good that the master of ceremonies commented about how good it was. This miracle helped celebrate marriage, bringing joy to the attendees and provided where there was need, thus preventing the subsequent shame of the hosts of the ceremony. (John 2:1-11)
In John 4:46-53, we read where a governmental official comes to Jesus asking Him to come to his home to heal his very young son who was deathly ill.
The official pleaded, “Lord, please come now before my little boy dies.” Then Jesus told him, “Go back home. Your son will live!” And the man believed what Jesus said and started home.
Again, no fanfare. Jesus simply spoke the word and sent the man home. When the man arrived home, his young son was well. He asked those who'd been attending to him when he recovered and he was told that it was at 1:00 pm the previous day. The man realized that was the exact time he'd been talking to Jesus. Important to note, I believe, is the length the man went to exercise his faith. He walked for an entire day, one way, to reach Jesus. Jesus saw the need and heard the desperation in this father's pleas and He acted.
In Luke 5:12-15, we read of Jesus healing a man with an advanced case of leprosy. People with leprosy were considered unclean and were often left to live alone in isolation or with other people who had the disease. No one wanted to be with them.
When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!”
Again, no fanfare, no hype, just compassion and a reversal of the natural processes that had brought this man to this place in his life. Jesus instructed the man to go through the normal process for ceremonial cleansing that was required and to tell no one that He had healed him.
There are thirty-seven miracles recorded in the four Gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). John states matter-of-factly that there were many more miracles performed that weren’t included in his narrative. We will conclude this series with a final look at three particular miracles as recorded in the Gospel accounts that I find compelling in describing the identity and character of Jesus. In this entry, we’ve established that Jesus was able to circumvent the natural order to accomplish His purposes. And, we also saw that Jesus heart was compassionate and that He desired good for those who came to Him. I hope this sampling of just a few of Jesus’ miracles stimulates thought, wonder, and maybe some good conversations with friends or family!
In Part 1 Who Was Jesus?, we covered the possibilities of His identity.
He was a fraud who was intentionally deceiving those who followed him.
He was deluded himself, and thought he was the Son of God, but wasn't.
He was Divine.
Additionally, we covered the possibility that the Gospel narratives were legendary, fictitious accounts that didn't accurately describe who Jesus really was. We provided good rationale for discounting this assertion.
In Part 2, we discussed Jesus own self-perception. We provided abundant testimony from Him and from His enemies (and/or the reactions to Him) as to Who He claimed to be. As we stated earlier, He was killed for something, and it wasn't for being a “good moral teacher.” He was killed for claiming to be God.
Part 3 will discuss other things Jesus is recorded to have said that may affirm His claim to be deity.
Matthew 5:3-12 commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, expresses how one should approach life with all its difficulties and how God responds to His people. The discourse is profound in its simplicity and sobriety as to what we face during our time on earth.
Matthew 5:17-6:18 details a higher moral law than had previously been given to the Jewish people. His words made people consider their heart attitudes and motivations rather than just the outward behaviors. His moral law dealt with WHO we are as human beings and not just what we DO. His teaching here even gets into religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness, things that people who hate religion talk about these days. Jesus decried it Himself 2000 years ago.
In chapter 6 of Matthew Jesus discusses how important it is for us to guard what we allow to enter our bodies through our eyes. He discusses man’s tendency to become anxious over physical provision and encourages us to trust God’s provision. He also makes it clear that greed prevents us from serving God.
Matthew chapter 7 contains one of the most often quoted passages in the Bible.
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
Most people stop the quote after the first verse. Jesus words are more in line with the “Golden Rule,” which follows in verse 12 of the same chapter. Here he teaches us to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” He is simply advising us to examine ourselves and to avoid making rash judgements of people. Instead, He instructs us to judge fairly as we would want to be fairly judged.
In Matthew 10 Jesus speaks of the cost of following Him. It is apparent He isn’t selling His followers on wealth, fame, or adulation.
“and you will be hated by all for my name's sake.” Matthew 10:22
Likewise, in Mark 10:44 Jesus says:
“and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.”
These are not the words of a megalomaniac. These are sober words that Jesus spoke so that His followers might understand that the Kingdom He often referred to was not one of earthly riches or power.
In Matthew chapter 16, Jesus explains to His disciples that soon He will be executed by the religious leaders in Jerusalem. The disciples are still thinking that His kingdom is going to be an earthly one and one of them, Peter, rebukes Jesus for saying that these things were going to happen. Jesus firmly let Peter know that Peter’s motivations weren’t the same as His. That Peter had set his mind on human power and prestige. He actually called Peter Satan in this exchange and then told His disciples the following:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
The verses I’ve shared in this entry do not prove that Jesus is God. That wasn’t my intention. I used these to rule out that He was a fraud or that He was deluded. A fraud wouldn’t have painted such a gloomy picture of what the future held. His words were rooted in a very sane understanding of what was facing Him and what would face His followers. There wasn’t a grandiose attempt at luring people into His “cult.” He spoke sober, sane, words of truth. Part 4 of Who Was Jesus? will focus in on the alleged miracles Jesus performed and the words He spoke in conjunction with these events.
History reveals that Jesus was arrested, flogged, and crucified by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect of Judaea serving under the Emperor Tiberius. Depending upon the historical documents reviewed, you will deduce that Jesus was executed for one reason or another. The four New Testament accounts of the life and death of Jesus agree that he was killed due to being falsely accused of blasphemy by the Jewish religious leaders who then reported to the Roman authorities that Jesus was leading a revolt of some sort. Christians believe that Jesus was God in human flesh and that He willingly allowed Himself to be executed as a means for mankind to be reconciled to God.
Whatever version of accounts a person chooses to believe has to take into account the historical fact that Jesus was killed for some reason. The Jewish religious leaders, nor the Roman government would have executed a “good moral teacher,” without some sort of provocation. The Jews must have thought Jesus claimed something of Himself beyond what a “good moral teacher,” or simple Rabbi would have said. The Romans must have believed or been told something else as well. What makes the most sense? What did Jesus claim for Himself? Who did He say that He was? There are a number of places in the New Testament documents where Jesus made explicit claims as to His identity.
John 10:28-30 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Mark 2:5-11 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
The Jewish religious leaders knew what Jesus was claiming when He told the man that his sins were forgiven. Jesus didn't deny it. He didn't say, “No, I didn't mean it that way. What I was saying was...” Instead, He was even more emphatic, saying that as only God could forgive sin, likewise, only God could heal a paralyzed man. He then told them in essence, “I am God! I can heal and I can forgive.”
Jesus also claimed that He was the Good Shepherd, and that His Father commanded Him to give His life for His sheep. He claimed the ability to give up His life and to take it back again.
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” John 10:17-18
There are a number of additional passages where Jesus claimed to be God. There are many where He described Himself as “The Son of Man.” As opposed to this being a a mere expression for Jesus humanity, it is actually an exalted title for the coming Savior, or Messiah referred to by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 7) some 600 years before Christ.
Perhaps the most striking claim to me is found in John chapter 8, when Jesus uses the name God called Himself when speaking to Moses in Exodus 3. Moses asks what to tell Pharaoh when asked Who sent him to bring the Israelites out of from their captivity in Egypt.
God replied to Moses, "I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you." Exodus 3:14
In an interaction with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus tells them,
“Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.” The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!” At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.
Again, the Jews weren't confused about what Jesus was claiming. They knew exactly what He was saying, and Who He was claiming to be. That's why they picked up stones to try to execute Him. It seems that He must've determined that it wasn't yet time for Him to die. So, whether naturally, or supernaturally, He hid Himself from them.
My intent in today's post is to make it clear that Jesus knew His identity and made it clear. It was for His claimed identity that He was executed. Nothing else makes much sense in my opinion. It is clear that He claimed to be God. What did His other words and deeds reveal about His identity? We will further explore these clues as to the identity of Jesus next time.
When you boil everything down to the essential elements, you are left with the person of Jesus. Who was He? His human life on earth spanned a mere 30-ish years, and yet the impact of that short time on our planet has been without parallel in human history. Why? What was it about Jesus that caused such a stir? As C.S. Lewis famously wrote,
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not Intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)
Lewis clearly elucidates the dilemma faced by those trying to figure out, “Who was this Jesus?” We are left with what was termed thetrilemma,by a 19thcentury preacher named John Duncan.
1. Jesus intentionally deceived humanity by conscious fraud.
2. Jesus was, himself, deluded or deceived.
3. Jesus was Divine.
Another possibility exists. There is the possibility that the Jesus we read about in the Biblical narratives are legendary or “made up,” by the writers. When examining the 4 Biblical narratives describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we read incredible accounts of things that surely include things that are unusual and hard to believe. However, these accounts also contain things that are messy and don't seem like things that someone trying to create a character would include. For example:
So, we come back to the question of Jesus' identity and it seems that the trilemma gives us our only choices.
Let me know your thoughts.
My apologies for the lack of posts in a the last week. Things have been a bit crazy around the Gerelds' house. I wanted to bring things towards a close in my journey to a coherent, consistent, worldview, that accounts for the world as we experience it. The topic today will be to investigate the motivations for “making up” the Christian religion, or the evidence to support that its formation was based on historical facts that occurred in a real place, in real time, with and through real people.
The road to follow Jesus was not paved with gold on this side of eternity. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself, told the disciples to expect trouble in this world (John 16:33) The aim of following Christ was to be transformed to be made more like Jesus until going on to join Him at home in Heaven. For the twelve disciples who'd followed Christ in His ministry years, or immediately after His resurrection, the commitment to following the carpenter turned itinerant rabbi wasn't met with fame and fortune. Rather, it was primarily met with scorn, derision, hatred, anger, and rejection. Ultimately, for all but one, and maybe two, of the disciples, their belief and resulting commitment to sharing the story of Christ and how He reconciled man to God led to their martyrdom. Various sources reveal how Jesus' disciples left this world.
What do you think? Let me know. Comments and questions are welcome!
I borrowed the causes of death for the disciples from a National Geographic Article. I also learned these in my Church History class from seminary.
For me, one of the most compelling reasons I believe in a good God is the nearly universal human awareness of morality. There are wide-ranging opinions regarding morality. Many people say that morality is subjective. To support their claim, they point to different cultures and the vastly different moral norms found around the globe. It is true. In one culture someone may bring their neighbor dinner while in some remote areas of the world, someone may eat their neighbor for dinner. This extreme example aside, moral norms do vary widely. However, what is consistent is that all people have some sense of morality. Some will balk at this statement claiming that they themselves, or others may be amoral, that “anything goes,” as far as they are concerned. This breaks down as soon as someone “wrongs” them or someone they care about. At that point a person is convinced that morality is a real thing. Still, the argument is made that morality is a human construct, or the result of evolutionary processes that came about to preserve mankind in the survival of the fittest.
The idea that morality is the result of societal evolution is a popular notion, but one that I believe is flawed in its failure to account for moral behaviors that would seem to be in direct opposition to evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory and the terms “Survival of the Fittest,” and Natural Selection, refer to the process of less dominant genes ultimately being “beaten out” or removed from the gene pool through various means. For instance, more well adapted organisms may selectively mate with other well adapted partners to the exclusion of the less adapted organisms, thus ending the genetic line of the lesser organisms. Other factors may also play a role in the removal of the so-called “bad genes.” Environmental conditions may change and eliminate some. Predators, including those of the same species may eliminate genetic competition by killing rivals.
When this occurs in nature, among wild animals, there is little concern about morality. The exception to this would be that many people will lament the damage that man has done to the natural environment in cases where an animal's decline may be attributed to mankind's intrusion into nature. Of course, this thought process seems to miss the fact that man's so-called intrusion into nature could also be looked upon as Natural Selection at work as man is supposedly the top of the food chain and the pinnacle of evolution up to this time. Though people tend to blame humanity for our encroachment on other wildlife, most human beings still agree that human life has worth. Therefore, killing people has been looked upon as immoral throughout history with few exceptions. There have been horrific genocides over human history and these have been roundly criticized by humanity. Still, what drove those who committed these atrocities? Did Hitler not aspire to create the Master Race? Was his idea out of line with evolutionary theory, or was it acting upon evolutionary theory? Richard Weikart, Professor of History at Cal State Stanislaus, has written several books addressing this topic. Criticism or praise for his books seems to depend on the worldview of the critic. In his book, From Darwin to Hitler, Weikart explores the connection of Darwinism to Hitler's beliefs and the moral impact these beliefs had in Nazi Germany.
Looking at Nazi Germany gives us an example of an entire culture buying into a particular ideology and the devastating effects that were manifest as a result. Without an objective standard for morality, we are all subject to formulating our own. This is a perilous state for humanity. Things can go smoothly for a culture as long as those in power share common moral norms with the people they lead or govern. However, if those in power have a different ideological or moral belief system, there is reason for the populace to be fearful. If there are no moral absolutes, if there is no objective moral standard, then opinions, feelings, preferences, and ambition may drive the morality of a society. The ramifications for this are profound, particularly if we look at it from an evolutionary standpoint.
From an evolutionary view, humanity should aspire to keep the strongest, smartest, most well-adapted genes in the collective gene pool. Those who don't advance the genetic ascension should be eliminated. As opposed to a moral obligation to care for the elderly, sick, weak, physically or mentally challenged, these people should be removed from the gene pool, and they should not be allowed to use the limited resources available as the earth's population continues to grow. In essence, these “needy” people should be killed. That sounds and is reprehensible. Yet, I find it difficult to come up with a rational argument against it from a purely evolutionary standpoint. On the contrary, there are things that we see in humanity that we instinctively know to be good. These acts contradict a purely evolutionary explanation. For example, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor was a Navy SEAL manning a sniper hideout along with three of his SEAL teammates during operations in Ramadi, Iraq. On September 29, 2006, insurgents apparently located their position A grenade was tossed through the doorway into their rooftop hideout. Monsoor was closest to the door. His teammates said that “He never took his eye off the grenade. His only movement was down toward it.” Mansoor threw himself onto the grenade killing himself, but saving his teammates. As a member of a SEAL Team, Monsoor would be considered elite in several areas. His physical strength, endurance, and skills would be among the best in the world. His mental aptitude and emotional and psychological prowess would also have to be elite as the training required to become a SEAL is renowned for its brutal combination of physical and emotional endurance challenges. The genetic profile of a SEAL would be a definite “keeper,” for the evolutionary gene pool. Yet, when we see heroism like that of Michael Monsoor, we marvel at the goodness, bravery, and valor of a person who would make such a sacrifice to save others. An evolutionary theorist may contend that this moral choice was made to preserve the genetic contributions of his similarly gifted teammates. This contention seems extremely flawed in that it removes a primary objective for any organism living within a system governed by evolutionary laws. That motivation? To keep your genetic material in the gene pool. Additionally, the choice to sacrifice oneself for the others, to genuinely align with “Survival of the Fittest,” must only be made if it is conclusive that the genetics of the survivors is superior to the one who makes the sacrifice. Obviously, in the heat of battle, these types of choices are made, not because of “evolutionary forces,” but because of character, goodness, and love. I will provide one final example that, for me, is difficult to explain if morality is an evolutionary construct. The name Benedict Arnold has become synonymous with betrayal. Arnold served as a general for the American Continental Army in the Revolutionary War before defecting to the British and leading their troops against his former country as a Brigadier General. Most of us view betrayal as one of the most egregious and hurtful actions that can be taken against another person, or people. Yet, why would this make sense from an evolutionary standpoint? Arnold benefitted greatly financially and vocationally. One could argue that his actions were consistent with a “survival of the fittest” mindset. A traitor may rightly see that their best chance at living and prospering may be to sell out their friends, workmates, etc. If the others weren't smart enough to make that choice, then, they deserve what they get. Of course, this isn't how most people view life. Most of us see these types of actions as despicable. We know that these selfish actions are wrong. Why? God teaches us through the words of Paul as he writes to the church in Rome:
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) Rom. 2:14-15
There are an abundance of verses in the Bible that tell us that God is good. Psalm 106:1 says “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Jesus Himself said, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good...." The biblical worldview believes that morality is objectively established by the One Who is good. God is good and defines good. In the same letter to the Roman church, Paul tells them that the mind of man has been darkened by sin. He says that, as a result, we make wrong choices. The prophet Jeremiah writes in his book that the heart of man is deceitfully wicked. This may sound harsh, but it does explain the extremes in what various cultures have arrived at in their definitions for morality. It explains the horrors that are possible when morality becomes a relative choice made by mankind that is often driven by convenience or popular opinion. Objective morality as defined by God requires that mankind submits to His authority. This is humbling. I know that there are times in my life when I have tried to define my own morality. My prayer is that I live a life of constant repentance from that tendency. I believe that many people have a mistaken idea about what submission to God's authority really is. Yes, it can be difficult (but life is difficult anyway!). However, submission to a good God, a God who designed every good thing, is not intended to spoil our fun. To the contrary, Jesus tells us that He came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The One who invented fun, joy, food, sex, happiness...the One who is good, wants you to have life and have it the way it was designed.
I see goodness in the world. I see evil in the world. I believe both are real. Therefore, I believe in a good God, and I am so grateful to Him.
Until next time!
Evolution has become the go-to response for many who hold to an atheistic worldview when asked to account for the appearance of life on earth. Despite this common refrain, evolution has never been an explanation for the beginning of life. The theory of evolution as presented in Darwin’s Origin of the Species, does not offer an explanation for the appearance of life. Darwin's theory assumes the existence of life and then offers an explanation of how these first, primitive organisms evolved to bring about the remarkable diversity we see today.
Some of the best minds in the world have worked tirelessly trying to formulate laboratory conditions that would allow inanimate, non-living matter to come together to create life. They have never been able to do so. Amazingly, if they were able to construct some sort of living organism, all it would prove is that with the proper environmental conditions, a mind could, through the use of intelligence, design life. The possibility of the environmental conditions coming together and forming life by chance is highly improbable for numerous reasons. Supporters of the idea of spontaneous generation of life (abiogenesis) have presented various ideas including the so-called “primordial soup,” (a pond, puddle, ocean, lake, etc.) where the various building blocks necessary for the development of life came together and began to mutate, and somehow randomly produced a self-replicating entity. Early evolutionary biologists greatly underestimated the complexity of even the simplest life forms. A simple protozoan is often thought to be one of the earliest, simplest organisms. Even these “simple” organisms are now known to be overwhelmingly complex.
One of the many scientists who worked in the laboratory to build foundational components for life was Stanley Miller. He was able, through input of an electrical charge in combination with water vapor, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen gasses to form amino acids in a test tube. This has been hailed by many as proof that under the right circumstances, life could be formed by chance in earth's early environment. As I mentioned before, this merely proves that intelligence combined with the right ingredients in the right place, in the right combination, could produce a starting point for life as amino acids are foundational for the formation of proteins. Having all the raw materials necessary to build life isn't the issue. Synthesizing these ingredients in the right combinations, amounts, and in an environment that supports their stability, is what makes abiogenesis extraordinarily improbable given the current atheistic beliefs about the age of the universe, the stability of compounds, and about just how many “ingredients” are necessary for the simplest life to develop.
The simplest life form requires millions of parts at the atomic level.1 In a 1973 book entitled, Evolution: Possible or Impossible, James Coppedge laid out the following time and probability estimates. He allowed for the commonly held view that the earth is 4.6 billion years old, AND that all the components necessary for life were available in the primordial sea, AND that bonding processes were sped up by a trillion times, AND that every atom on earth was used. With those parameters in place the estimated chance of one protein forming would be approximately 1 in 10,000. A protein is not life. It is a building block for life. An estimated 239 proteins are necessary for life to exist. Coppedge estimated the probability of those 239 proteins forming with those assumed properties present on earth to be 1 in 10119,879. The time required to accomplish this would be 10119,831years. This is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000........ longer than the earth has existed. (The number would be 10 with over 100,000 zeroes after it longer than the earth has existed.) This is outside the range of probability. Keep in mind that a fully functioning first organism needs to form before any natural selection/evolution can take place.2
For me, it doesn't appear that there is any good reason to believe that life just popped into existence. Rather, I believe that many atheistic scientists have a preconceived bias that it had to happen through naturalistic causes and therefore a supernatural cause is ruled out a priori. That seems to be a more closed-minded approach to where the evidence leads than that of the theist.
In the upcoming post, I will begin to move away from these high-science discussions to more of my philosophical reasons that I believe God exists. Next we will discuss the possibility of objective morality.
2Coppedge, James, F. 1973. Evolution: Possible or impossible? Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.
Each day we go into the world with the opportunity to make an impact. Each person whose paths cross ours matters. Lives intersect for a reason. I believe there is One who directs our steps to these sometimes seemingly random meetings. My goal for these encounters is that I make a difference. That is my desire for those who venture across my blog. I hope you are blessed and it makes a difference for you.