The Bulletproof God

In the present day, it seems that national or world-wide tragedies are a monthly occurrence. The media can barely recover reeling from one calamity before another one strikes.

And the same questions are parroted again and again in each instance: Where is your God, now? How could he allow this?

To investigate this question, a thought-experiment may be helpful.

Imagine that God intervenes to prevent a school shooting. Dozens of children are prevented from dying, and their parents never realize the horror of losing a child. Instead these children reach adulthood, have children of their own, and then die some other way; perhaps because of a car accident, a heart attack or old age. Is their death any less devastating when their children have to mourn them instead of their parents? Which is more devastating, a quick death by a gunman or a slow death by decay, senility, and  marginalization? Arguably all death is equally tragic. The only thing that makes the school shooting exceptional in the eyes of the media is the number of people affected and the suddenness and violence with which it occurs. If one of those children were to die at the exact same age due to, say, leukemia, the parents are still robbed of a child, but the media would hardly waste ink on the occurrence.

Clearly stopping the occasional tragedy does not fix the problem.

So go a step further. Say God were to eliminate all natural evil. There would be no more floods or tsunami, no more earthquakes or AIDS. All human beings would be granted eternal youth and vitality.

Of course, this doesn't fix the problem either. It wouldn't stop people from bombing one another, starting wars, or walking into schools and gunning down children.

So what if God were to eliminate death entirely, and all would be granted immortality?

This circumstance would not prevent children from being kidnapped and sold on the sex market in Asia.

It would not prevent hatred, rape, slander, or all the miseries that result from other human beings.

What, then, if people were granted the ability to live out their various obscene fantasies of murder and sexual deviancy in an artificial construct, like the Matrix, where their actions do not impact the lives of real people?

In the 1960 episode of Twilight Zone titled “A Nice Place to Visit,” a criminal named Rocky is killed in a shootout with the police. Awakening in a paradise where he may receive anything he ever wanted, he plays slots at a casino, but bores quickly of winning every single game. After all, if he can have anything he wants, what good is money? He commits a crime, but finds that knowing that he can get away with anything removes the thrill. He bullies police officers, instantly gains the affection of any woman he wants, and luxuriates in the fanciest mansion he can imagine.

The instant gratification of his every desire makes him desperate. He pleads to his celestial benefactor, Pip, "If I gotta stay here another day, I'm gonna go nuts! I don't belong in Heaven, see? I want to go to the other place."

Pip retorts, "Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea that you were in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!!"

Pip begins to laugh as Rocky unsuccessfully tries to escape his "paradise".

While perhaps a bit heavy-handed, the point is well made. Human beings that receive everything they ever wanted, accomplish every goal they have sought, are some of the most miserable people on earth.

This can be seen in the lives of celebrities; attractive people who have the adoration of the masses, wealth, and access to all of the distractions that money and fame can afford. As any tabloid will reveal, these people are far from content.

What is called “The human condition” is not simply a problem of death, pain, or unfulfillment. Fixing these things does not remove the problem.

Christianity does offer a solution, whether or not it is appreciated. By rejecting one’s inherent corruption and trusting oneself to Christ, the Christian is promised not simply immortality and vitality; they are offered a purpose for existing – that is, a deep existential fulfillment beyond temporal gain. This certainty sustains them through the inconveniences and tragedies of mortal life.

Not only this, but Christianity claims a solution to the problem of death itself in its promise of resurrection and eternal life.

As seen by this thought experiment, in order to fix the human condition, the entire world would have to be reformed, indeed, people would need to be cleansed of a deep corruption. Then they would need to be made immortal. This is exactly the solution that Christianity offers.

To say that Christianity does not have an answer is a misplaced accusation. It would, perhaps, be more accurate for a person to say that they do not believe in the answer or that they do not like the answer.

But there is not a problem in this world that the answer does not address.

Question of the Week: Sympathy for the Devil?

On February 6th, 2018, The Mentionables received this question from Lewis R. via Facebook:

"As Christians we are told to love our enemies. Satan is our enemy. Should we love Satan?"
Franz Stuck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Franz Stuck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here are the answers from the Mentionables team:

This answer is from Mentionable team member, Joel Furches to see the answer from Network Member Marc Lambert, scroll below.

Of course there is not a reasonable Christian alive who would answer this question in the affirmative. Asked insincerely, all this question is trying to do is to point out a flaw or inconsistency in Biblical theology. Asked sincerely, the questioner is most likely just wondering how we get around this commandment in the case of Satan.

There are two things one must understand in terms of this command to love one’s enemy. The first thing is that the command comes out of a certain economy of the New Testament. Consider the parables of Jesus wherein a servant is forgiven by his master of a large debt, then refuses to forgive a fellow servant of a small debt. He is thereafter punished because he did not treat his fellow servant with the same magnanimity as was shown to him. In the epistles, Paul tells slaves to render good service to their masters and masters to render good treatment to their slaves. The reason? The two were both accountable to God, and were equal in status to God who is “no respecter of persons” - meaning he does not value any one person as superior to any other. All are equal in his eyes. Paul says that under the new covenant of Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.”

When Jesus says that a person should love their enemy, he finishes the sentence by saying “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

One should love one’s enemies because in God’s eyes all people are of equal value, and are accountable to Him for their treatment of one another. If a person is unjust toward another person, but the victim is kind toward the oppressor, God will render justice toward the one and favor toward the other. If the one takes revenge for their bad treatment, they are now both at fault in the eyes of God.

This is a matter of equivalency. Humans are humans and each human is as valuable as the other. But Satan isn’t human, is he? A person is under no obligation to love, pray for or serve an angelic or demonic being – a being who is in no way equivalent to a human.

In fact, one could easily ask just how one would go about loving Satan in the first place? Jesus gave explicit examples of loving one’s enemy: such as caring for them when they are in need of care, or lending them one’s cloak, or walking with them an extra mile and so on. The command to love one’s enemy is the exact same command as to love one’s neighbor – it means to do kindnesses to that person (no matter how unkind the person is in return). In point of fact, it is impossible to love Satan in this respect as there is literally no kindness one could perform for Satan. The proposition is a nonsensical one.

So no. The Christian is under no obligation to love Satan for many reasons, not least of which is that it is not even physically possible to do so.

This answer is from Mentionable Network Member Marc Lambert

Short answer: No.

Long answer:

I think to really get at this question we would need to know a few things. What is the definition of "love" at play in the "love your enemies" verse? And what is meant by those who are our "enemies"? Is Satan an "enemy" in the same manner intended in the verse?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" (Matthew 5:43-46)

When Christians are commanded to love, the connotation is selflessness. A placing of other people as being more valuable than your personal feelings or desires. It is not just a well wishing or thinking good thoughts. It is a conscious willful act of seeking the other person's good. In the reference in Matthew 5, Jesus puts the comment in contrast to hating your enemy. It was commonly understood to be right that you wish for (and even seek to obtain) misfortune to befall those who mistreat and harm you. So if we flip the script as Jesus seems to be doing, the opposite is that you would wish well for them, even behaving in a way that benefits them.

It is then pointed out that God gives certain blessings to everyone openly and without condition, and so should we. As Paul puts it in Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." A sentiment Jesus hammers on quite often.

OK, so does this apply to Satan?

No, for at least 2 reasons I can think of:

1. Our obligation to love our fellow man is rooted in our shared identity as being made in the Image of God. That cannot be said for other creatures. This is the reason why it is ok to eat animals but not humans. This is why that, although we don't act towards animals with cruelty in our hearts, we can use them as beasts of burden and euthanize them, if needed. The same is not allowed for humans. Likewise, Satan and other demonic being are not created in the image of God. While certainly awe-invoking, fearsome and powerful, they do not share the intrinsic worth and value as those created in the Image of God. Our obligation to them is more along the lines of animals.

 

2. While I guess it wouldn't be bad for us to have a heart that wished blessing and grace for everyone, even the fallen angels, I do not think that it is possible in a practical sense to act out that sentiment. Human being have free will and a shot at redemption and new life through Christ. Satan is who and what he is, and that ain't about to change. So, in keeping with the comparison from point (1) above, trying to act lovingly toward Satan would be akin to trying to act loving toward a rabid dog. Sure he may have been a great friend before, but now there's nothing to be done. You avoid or defend against, even put him down if you can, but no amount of loving gestures will have any effect on him. And so it is with Satan. The Bible says we are to defend and resist him, and await the day when God will put him down, never to trouble us again.

But loving? No.

Loving is not something we are commanded to do, or should seek to do, in regards to Satan or any other evil or demonic forces.

Apologetics: The Solution to the Unseen Problem in the Church and Academia

Apologetics: The Solution to the Unseen Problem in the Church and Academia

In the modern day, as irreligion quickly rises to push religion out of the public sphere, the Church has tapped back into an ancient theological practice, one that goes back to the first and second century with geniuses like Tertullian battling the secular culture around him. This is the practice of Apologetics. Much like an antibody laying at the ready to fight a virus, this dormant theological practice has risen and flourished in reaction to radical secularism.  

Question of the Week: Compatabilism

On February 6th, 2018, The Mentionables recieved this question from Brett S.

"I was wondering which position you would affirm to be more biblically and logically sound? It seems that under Comp. one may have a hard time seeing man as morally responsible, but LFW seems to go against the Biblical Narrative in certain cases. I would love some insight into this topic. Thanks!"

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Thank you for your question, Brett. Here are the answers from the team:

This answer is from Mentionable Network Member, Timothy Fox. To see the response from Joel Furches and Tyler Vela, scroll below.

This is a big question that has a lot of theological implications. But first we need definitions.

 

Definitions

I take Libertarian Free Will (LFW) to be the commonsense, everyday understanding of free will. Humans are free to make choices or refrain from choosing, and nothing and no one else is forcing my choices. For example, I decided to wear a red shirt today but I could have worn a blue one, or nothing at all. I am free to make real choices according to my nature.

Compatibilism is an attempt to reconcile free will with causal determinism. A compatibilist thinks humans will always choose according to their greatest desire, but they still have free will as long as they aren’t restricted from following that desire. So, according to compatibilism, if I chose to wear a red shirt today, that was my greatest desire and I could not have chosen to wear the blue one or go naked. Since I followed my desire, no one forced me to wear the red shirt, and nothing stopped me from doing it, it was my free choice.

But in my opinion, a compatibilist does not really believe in free will. It’s like saying a robot is free so long as nothing is hindering it from following its programming.

Response

Now to the question: Which view is biblical? LFW. While there are many examples, I think the best is 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NASB):

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

 

Paul is saying that when you sin, God had provided a way out so that you could have made a better decision. You had a real choice. You are not a robot following your programming, or strongest desire. When you sin, you genuinely could have done otherwise.

Now, some opponents of LFW misrepresent it as the ability to do absolutely anything. That’s dumb. I can’t fly. I can’t will my hair to grow back. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) Look back to my definition of LFW: I can make choices according to my nature. Humans don’t have the ability to fly, thus that choice is not within my nature to make. But I do have the ability to choose the clothes I wear (or don’t wear).

To head off another common objection, LFW does not entail that the unregenerate can “choose God” apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Neither does this does undermine LFW since the ability to choose God is not within the unregenerate person’s nature (1 Cor. 2:14). LFW simply means that I am free to make real choices according to my nature, and I think that is the model of freedom laid out in the Bible as well.

Now, the question ends saying “LFW seems to go against the Biblical Narrative in certain cases.” I would like to know what these cases are to see if they truly do undercut LFW.

I tried to make my case as simply as I could, and I know I may have sacrificed some technical precision in doing so. So if you’d like a further exploration of LFW and compatibilism, check out these articles by my FreeThinking Ministries colleague, Tim Stratton:

 

 

 

This answer is from Mentionable Joel Furches. To see the answer from Tyler Vela, scroll below.

joel furches.png

In answering this question, I am going to break two of my personal rules. The first is journalistic and academic: never speak in the first person and never address your audience directly. The second is apologetic: never address a subject you are not prepared to defend.

As regards the second, I can categorically say that I have not done the work on the topic of predestination and free will necessary to form and defend a conclusion. However, I do have a strongly held theory on this subject – a compatibilist model that satisfies both criteria and allows for all apparent contradictory passages in scripture, at least, so far as I have been able to ascertain.

In my theory, the sovereignty of God and the free will of man are directly concerned with the relationship each party has to the natural function of time.

Humans exist within the flow of time, such that each individual experiences the sequence of past, present and future. Consequently, in each moment, an individual uses experience and knowledge from the immediate or distant past in order to make free-will decisions in the moment leading to consequences in the future. This constant flow of human action within the construct of time is exactly what creates the free-will experience.

My impression of God, which is by no means shared by all Apologists or Christian philosophers, is that he exists in an eternal state outside of time. This makes for an entirely different interaction with the construct of time, and with time-bound creatures.

In this respect, God could be said to be entirely immediate in every moment simultaneously. God’s nature is eternal and unchanging, as compared to the flow of time which is nothing but change. When God’s unchanging nature interacts with the changing construct of time, what occurs is a single action which directs all things according to his nature.

The best analogy I have for this is chemical. Imagine a chemical solution which is entirely uniform across its entire mass. Then imagine a fibrous strip of litmus paper which is multifaceted within each fiber. Submerge the strip in the solution and each fiber of the strip experiences a different response, but the chemical remains uniform and unchanged.

God’s eternal unchanging nature is fully revealed and defined as it interacts with every aspect of the consistently changing universe, just as the changes a litmus paper experiences reveals the nature of the chemical in which it is submerged.

Humans have free will insofar as they operate off the past to make decisions in the present which affect the future, but they do so entirely exposed to the eternal nature of God, which overwhelms and supersedes all things.

So God is sovereign in the sense that he is simultaneously creating the world, judging the world by flood, saving the world through Christ, and creating a new heaven and a new earth. The very act of creating time involves predestination and working all things according to his will - which is never inconsistent in any given time-bound scenerio. 

This can easily be seen in passages such as Deuteronomy wherein, after delivering the blessings and curses, God plainly tells the people that their future generations will break the commandments and stoke his wrath. At the same time God is delivering the law, he is enacting it on the future generations. It could also explain how Abraham could be justified by his faith thousands of years before Christ came. Because at the same time that Abraham was sacrificing his son, God was sacrificing his son.

However, the clearest passage that reveals this concept is Christ's statement, "Before Abraham was, I Am." In one brief statement, Christ has shown the temporal nature of man in contrast to the eternal nature of God.

This model has some pretty fascinating implications when it comes to the nature of Christ. Assuming this model, Christ would have uniquely been an eternal nature interacting with a time-bound nature. This thusly allows God - through Christ - to see the nature of time from within and without. Were this the case, it would give a pretty solid answer to the “Why did Jesus pray to himself”-type questions occasionally seen from skeptics. It might also go a ways toward explaining why Jesus didn’t know the date of his return.

Speaking of prayer, this model – to me – explains the effectiveness of prayer between fallible humans and an eternal, unchanging God. Under most models, it makes no sense that an omniscient, changeless and totally sovereign God would at all be affected or responsive to prayer, and yet prayer is practically commanded and at least encouraged by Christ. Yet if God’s eternal nature interacts with ever-changing time in a way consistent with that very nature, then prayer is simply an aspect of time which interacts in a particular way with God’s nature – somewhat in the way that a wall interacts differently when a rock or a tennis ball are thrown against it.

One can certainly develop this theme through scripture, but I haven’t the space here to do so.

Once again, I must stress that this is a theory, and not one I am currently prepared to defend. It is, however, a theory to which I currently see no defeaters. I am able to read most of the Bible through that lens, and it works consistently.

This Answer is from Tyler Vela

Thank you for the wonderful question. Due to the wildly complex nature of the question and the huge volume of literature on this issue, I’m actually going to keep my answer pretty short and simply touch on a couple key concepts to keep in mind as we discuss it.


My position: As a Reformed Presbyterian, I hold to a Compatibilistic reconciliation of the definite and predetermined decree of God for all things and for human responsibility.


My hermeneutical assumption: Scripture is authoritative and sufficient. What I find is that these conversations will almost always quickly move to and stay in the realm of philosophical discourse. I’m not opposed to philosophical discourse, however when we hold positions for philosophical reasons and then back into the Scriptures to find a way to justify it, that is not an acceptable practice. It may be the case that we can apprehend some truth in the Scriptures but struggle to comprehend it or hash out the details.


Divine Determinism is Scripture: There are clear passages in the Bible that God has predestined not only whatsoever comes to pass, but also our repentance and faith unto salvation (which is where the real tension lies). We see in Acts 2:23 that the action of the Jews in crucifying Jesus was part of the “predetermined plan” of God. When Joseph comforts his brothers in Gen 50:20, he says that they meant evil, but God had determined it for a good outcome. When Peter and John were released in Acts 4 and they began to glorify God that the city and the people and Pilate had all arrayed against Jesus “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Psalm 135:6 tells us that God does whatever he pleases and Job 42:2 tells us that no plan or purpose of God can be thwarted. Jer. 10:23 tells us that man’s way (his own path) is not even found in himself, and that he doesn’t even direct his own steps. In addition we can see that God has elected from before the foundation of the world who would be adopted as sons via repentance and faith (Eph. 1:4-5), and that all that he foreknew he predestined. Well in one sense God foreknows everyone so does this mean everyone? Well Paul continues by saying, “these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” This means that all of the ones who were predestined were called, all those called are justified, all those who are justified are glorified.” So unless one is a universalist, this foreknowledge is almost certainly a kind of covenant knowledge – those that he foreknew in a redemptive sense (just like we see in Eph 1). This means that he was the one determining from before creation, who would be redeemed. Much more can be said on this, but that should suffice for now.


Is There a Conflict? I hardly need to show human choice and responsibility in Scripture. We do not really disagree with our Arminian and Traditionalist brothers on this. So does the existence of divine determinism in some way make human freedom an allusion? Does it make God unjust for judging people as morally culpable if they cannot resist his will? The answers here are actually simple if we simply allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves. If there is divine determination in the Scriptures, then that just means that a notion of Libertarian Freedom of the Will (LFW) is not present in the scripture. Unfortunately, many who hold to LFW assume that LFW is the only substantive concept of freedom of the will. That unless our choices are left completely unfettered by the constraints of our nature, our greatest desires, the definite decrees of God, etc. that we do not have limited creaturely (but real substantive) freedom, but that we have no manner of freedom and are no different than robots. This is simply begging of the question on stilts. The Scriptures clearly teach both – not only that God is sovereign but that whatsoever comes to pass is part of God’s decree and has been predetermined to occur according to the definite plan of God. It could not be any different. But you may ask me, how is that fair? How can God find us morally culpable and at fault when we cannot resist his determined plan and will?


It’s great that you ask that. Do you know who else asked that exact question in the Scriptures? When Paul tells of God’s meticulous activity in choosing Jacob and rejecting Esau before they were even born or had done anything good or bad, and his hardening of Pharaoh so that God’s purpose might be displayed and his glory revealed, when he showed that it is not based on the one who wills or the one who works but on God alone who determines when he has mercy and when he has wrath, then Paul’s interlocutor shows up again. The objection Paul imagines his reader to have is exactly that objection. Rom. 9:19 reads, “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”” That is the objection of the advocate of LFW – God would be unjust for judging people if they cannot resist his will.


Notice Paul does not agree with them. Neither does he correct them as misunderstanding what he has said and stating that he was defending LFW the whole time. In fact he sharply rebukes them in the manner that God rebuked Job – who do you think you are to question God? God has the right over his creation like the potter has the right over his clay to make what he wants – vessels of mercy or vessels of wrath. In fact, Paul doubles down on this response and asks, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? That is, what if God determined them for wrath so that he could make his wrath and his power known? Some will try to say that he is just saying that God could have done this. Even if that were the case that God could do that, it means that he could do that without being unjust and the objection from the LFW advocate still fails. But Paul does not merely leave it as an abstract hypothetical. He does not just say “what if God did that…” but then continues by saying, “And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory…” That is, God not only could have done that, but that is exactly what God did. God did create the vessels of wrath to display his glory to the objects of his mercy and he was entirely just in doing so.


Conclusion: While I have not here engaged in philosophical speculation about how exactly divine determinism and human responsibility are related and interact, and how and why God determines some specific action in his sovereign and providential running of creation, I think that I have shown enough scriptural justification that this is the view that is concord with the teaching of the Scripture. When discussing these issues, we should always ask the person who gives a robust philosophical treatment, “okay, but what do the Scriptures teach.” And if, as part of their objection to the clear tension in scripture between divine determinism and God’s providential predetermined plan on the one hand and human freedom and responsibility on the other, forces them to offer a protestation or an assumption that is expressly used by Paul as an unbiblical view that he directly refutes, then something has gone horribly off the tracks. I would rather align my theology with Paul and the rest of scripture and not be able to fully work out the details, then to have a fully thought out philosophical system that is based on assumptions directed refuted by the scripture itself.


Soli Deo Gloria.

A Hume Divided Cannot Stand

A Hume Divided Cannot Stand

The New Atheists frequently will appeal to Saint David (Hume) in their rejection of miracles. In this article, in brief, Mentionable Tyler Vela will present why Hume’s "On Miracles" is fundamentally flawed on numerous levels. More can be said on Hume than what is presented here, however, so please, if you have any questions leave them in the comment section and we will do our best to reply in a timely manner.