Posted in Musings

The Compassionate Neighbor

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same’” (Luke 10.36-37).[1]

 

Narrow-sightedness…

When we read, we hone in on various keys in the text. We do the same thing with our hearing. I’m sure you’ve heard the familiar phrase “selective hearing.” That is usually a charge laid at the foot of the spouse who has failed to give an attentive ear to their significant other. It is not as if we do not hear, but we hear what we want to. A word, a phrase, an idea or symbol catches our minds eye and we run with it. We then filter out everything else said. Or in the case of the subject I started with “we…filter everything else we read out.”

A little Info on Luke 10:23-37

In the above text we find Jesus presenting a question to his questioner. Jesus has been teaching the masses in Israel. He has been demonstrating His authority and power. His knowledge and wisdom have been put on display. Everyone that witnesses Him is confronted by Him. Either He is an egotistical madman, or He is who He claims to be (cf. Luke 10.23-24).

A scribe or a “lawyer” (NASB), which is just another way of saying “an expert in the law” decides that testing the Lord is a good idea. He inquires: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25). This question is not really the question. Or said another way, this question is not really the issue that this religious leader is driving at. Remember, his desire was to test Jesus; to set a trap.

What this means for the reader is that when the religious expert asked the question, he was looking for a specific answer. He was ready for the answer given by the Lord. He anticipated it, as we shall see in a moment.

Jesus pointed this lawyer to the Law-Word of God. “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” (Luke 10.26). Every good Bible believing Jew knew the answer to this question. This expert in the law was ready for this moment. Immediately he recites a summary of the Law-Word of God:

“And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10.27).

Jesus acknowledges that the man is right, and then says “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10.28). And here is where we see that the questioner revealing his hand: “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10.29; italics added). Let’s let that simmer for a bit….

Introducing the Compassionate Argument

Recently, given the current COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been hearing of a great push for compassion on the eldest generation in our nation. The politically driven left winged media (a.k.a., the progressives) have attempted, with some force, to use their soapbox to ridicule Trump. Under the guise of what I now term the “compassion argument.”

We all know that “social distancing” has now become the immediate norm. Handshaking is for the foreseeable future off limits. And no longer will it be found acceptable to go to work or perhaps even venture into public if you catch a cold, a sniffle, or have an irritating cough. It could just be allergies, but “HEY” we don’t want to take a chance that you “might” be the death of “ME.”[2]

So, what is the “compassionate argument” or the “argument of compassion?” The argument of compassion states that we need to be concerned about the welfare of others. In other words, we need to be loving our neighbors.

From a practical standpoint the argument is said to look like this: Social distancing, avoiding all forms of brotherly (human) contact, and staying home when sick. If you fail to do these things. If you fail to stay away (6 feet now!) from people in public. If you cough, have a runny nose, go somewhere feeling fine and then end up feeling a bit under the weather, then, well there’s no other way to put it…SHAME ON YOU!

I say all of these things with my tongue firmly pressed in my cheek and a bit of a smirk etching on my face. I think that, as far as it goes, we ought to do these things to the best of our ability. We should be washing our hands, covering our mouths when we cough, blowing our nose rather than letting it drip onto our lips so that we can spit it on the unaware passerby when we enter into conversation.

If you feel sick and you are able to, stay home. Some might prefer that you always stay home if you get sick, but some of us have deadlines, inspections and unfortunately live week-to-week; and so, while staying home with a head cold might be desired it is not practical.

Back to Luke 10 and the Word called Love

When the religious expert asked Jesus the question about the greatest commandment, he was looking for a specific answer. When the media or some other uses the compassionate argument, they are doing the same thing. Sometimes when Christians read their Bible’s and they read or rehearse from memory the loving God/loving neighbor commandment, they too hone in on a specific answer. More to the point, they look to a particular word “love.”

Most people would probably say that love is a good thing. Hard to remember when you’ve been heart broken, but overall, mostly true. Emphasizing love may also be a good thing, but it is the manner in which we emphasize it, the sense in which we take it, prescribe it, live by it that determines whether or not this is true.

My concern in this post is what emphasis of love we as Christians place on it. I am not saying that the world does not love. Certainly, there is a version of love in the world, but that love is not comparable bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece with the Christian concept.

Seeking justification…

The scribe wanted to know “who his neighbor was?” The identity of his neighbor was the motivation for asking the question. The reason the scribe asked Jesus the question was to trap him. He had set a snare and he wanted Jesus to step right into it. From a historical and cultural context Jesus did a lot of things that irritated his fellow Israelites; the religious establishment in particular. One of those things was socializing with what I suppose we might call the “outcasts” of society. The “misfit toys” from the classic Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer clay-style cartoon.

The scribe wanted Jesus to answer the question of the greatest commandment in order to pigeon hole the Lord into looking like a fool. Jesus had a reputation of associating with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and…Samaritans. If loving God was the chief goal of a godly person, which entailed being clean before God (not touching or dealing with that which defiled a person), then it did not appear Jesus fit the bill.

Being ceremonially clean was a legitimate concern for the Israelite as seen in the books of Moses. Since the Exodus God had set the offspring of Jacob (Israel) apart from the rest of the nations. This was a sign that they were God’s people. This was a status that they were set-apart (holy; i.e., clean) from the filth that permeated other nations. The religious elites of Jesus’ day had misinterpreted and misapplied the meaning of those texts, and so were in error. This man sought to justify himself as a true lover of God and he did so by insinuating that not everyone was his neighbor. For the non-ceremonially clean—those sinners outside of covenant Israel—he did not associate with.

This attitude is highlighted in Jesus’ parabolic teaching of the “Good Samaritan” in contrast to the religious leaders of Israel (Luke 10.30-33). The priest and the Levite steered clear of the man beaten on the road half-dead (i.e., left for dead). But not the Samaritan. This “unclean” Gentile-mingled mongrel (what the Jews of the period thought) demonstrated love for neighbor. He was compassionate (loving) on the person in need.

And so, Jesus’ question of the questioner at the end of his teaching— “Which…proved to be a neighbor…?” —nipped the issue in the bud. The Lord effectively flipped the trap on his opponent. How so? Well, to love God entailed loving one’s neighbor. And though it is impossible to love your “neighbor” without loving God first, you cannot really have love for God in your heart if you don’t love your neighbor (cf. 1John 3.17-18).

With expertise that could not be matched Jesus disarmed the trap and reset it for His unwary opponent. In other words, Jesus anticipated the follow-up question and answered the question in the way He did (which was biblically accurate) in order to entrap His antagonist. He does it by citing Leviticus 19:18.

A Quick Look at Leviticus

 I find this to be most interesting, and since it deals with the compassionate argument identified above, I want to make my final point with it.

 “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”

This text is sandwiched between two chapters filled with material that many Evangelical’s steer away from (some from embarrassment). Chapter 18 starts with God commanding Moses what to say to the offspring of Israel (Jacob). He says,

  • “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes and, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God” (Lev 18.3-4).

Towards the closing of chapter 20 we find the charge reiterated:

  • “You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them…I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples… ‘Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine’” (Lev 20.22-23, 24, 25).

The point being that God had called and set-apart the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in order to be His people (cf. Exod 19:4-6). He expected them to reflect His mind/heart. He commanded them to honor His Law, to be Holy as He is holy (Lev 19.2). The concern is to be different than the rest of the nations of this world. To be guided by the voice of God, to live according to His will, and not entertain the thoughts and practices of those nations that He had drawn them from (Egypt), and was giving them to possess (Canaan).

The command to love your neighbor came with numerous explanations (see Lev 19.9-18a). The key to remember was to be just in all things, which meant “…not be[ing] partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19.15). To act in anyway contrary to the edicts of God in light of one’s neighbor was to act hatefully in one’s heart which was expressly forbidden (Lev 19.17).

How this relates to the “Compassionate Argument”

We have in this country settled in on one object of concern. We have narrowed our focus to the tip of a pen. The dreaded Corona virus (COVID-19) is in our crosshairs. Many see nothing else.

The virus is deadly. People have gotten sick and some have died. It is therefore argued that we need to shut everything down in concern (compassion/love) for our neighbor. But loving one’s neighbor is not one-sided. We have made it one-sided though. How so? We have shown partiality to one group while neglecting another.

This bed has been made for some time in our nation as it stands regarding partial love. Class warfare argues to favor the poor while neglecting the rich (add any other descriptor besides “poor” or “rich” and it’ll still apply). That’s a sanitized way of looking at it. Class warfare argues to hate one sector of society for things that many find distasteful (often because of jealous/envy/covetousness) covered in an argument of love and compassion for another. We are doing the same thing with this virus.

It is being said that we need to be compassionate to the elderly, to the weak…we need to prevent the spread of this virus lest we kill others. This sounds good. It appears sweet. But what about the family who will lose their home? They’ve lost their job, but if things do not change soon, they will lose more. What about those families who are hurting because the solution has robbed them of living? Why is it not possible to practice good hygiene and let those who are not sick return to work? Are we so foolish and arrogant to think that there are not other things that can kill just as easily as this little bug?

I am growing more and more convinced that we, in an effort to justify our fear and panic, want to sanitize false beliefs by calling them compassion. When in reality we care very little for our neighbor(s), and instead only care for our own skin!  


ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard Bible (NASB 95’).

[2] **Yes, I know I went from plural to singular verb form there but I did it on purpose. The real concern in all of this isn’t really about our “neighbor,” but is for many just the sacred “ME” regardless of how strongly one might argue the contrary.

Posted in Biblical Questions

Thoughts on Biblical Death

—My Thoughts so Far on Biblical Death—

Last week I promised to speak on the three types of death as a result of sin, and the one type of death that pertains to the righteousness found in Jesus Christ. I’ve been thinking through this process for a few weeks. I’ve also been writing on this subject for a little while now (much of which I have not published, but just kept a running file on my laptop). This particular post is a work in progress.

As with many of the things that I sit down to write I have a habit of hashing out a subject longer than what I initially intended. This particular instance is no different. Which is why I have been so delayed in getting this out there to my 2 or 3 dedicated readers (lol).

What I have decided to do is provide a brief outline of the material discussed below. I will then provide with this post point (a) under the heading Death: Result (wages) of Sin. After which each subsequent point will follow. I decided to break these up because of length.  Hopefully, this will give you the reader an idea of where I am going beforehand.

OUTLINE

I. Death: Result (wages) of Sin

    1. In Adam we all die. As his offspring we all inherit death as a consequent sentence of his disobedience in the garden. In Adam we become sinners, and as a result we die physically due to our separation from God. We are born unclean, unholy, unrighteous enemies of God; children of wrath.
    2. We are all sinners, but that does not mean all our sins are crimes. Some sins are criminal in nature and result in the swift judgment of God in terms of a death sentence. I have identified three subsets under this category in studying the Old Testament (Tanakh; hereafter OT).
      • Major—Group Death Sentence.
      • Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence
      • Cut-off—A death sentence in a metaphoric sense.
    3. We are all sinners and this, if not repented of, results in everlasting condemnation. This is found in the New Testament (hereafter; NT) more than any other part of the Bible

**Summation of the Parts: All of us die physically as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Some of us may die in this life, having our lives cut short, if our sins are worthy of a punishment of death by violating God’s law. Some of us may experience death figuratively speaking, in the sense of being cut-off, but this is not necessarily a permanent state. Some of us will experience eternal punishment for rebelling against our Maker, having died in our sins. For such, there is no repentance of sins possible.

II. Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness

    1. In Christ we all die[1]. However, what we die to is different than the death we were born into. We are born “dead in trespasses and sins,” but when we die in Christ, we are reborn “dead to trespasses and sins.” In Christ, we die so that righteousness may abound. In this way, He makes all things new, and we are new in that we are creations in/through Him. For these the power of death has been broken, and it is robbed from the victory that the evil one desired.

Death: Result (wages) of Sin

Adam’s Sin…

Because of Adam’s sin we all die. Thus, the apostle Paul writes the following categorical statement of fact:

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Rom 5.12; NASB).

Both sin[2] and death were (are) foreign concepts to God’s “very good” creation (Gen 1.31). Notice the order given as to their entrance into creation. First came sin and then death came later as the result of sin. Adam’s sin (the antecedent) brought death (the consequent) “to all men,” this is verified by the fact that “all [mankind] sinned,” (v.12) that “death reigned from Adam until Moses” (v. 14) before “the Law…was in the world” (v. 13).  Why? Because Adam’s “transgression,” (v. 18) his act of “disobedience” (v. 19), brought “condemnation to all men” (v. 18) as “the many were made sinners” (v. 19).

Two senses…

This death entails two key truths; physical and spiritual death.[3] This is a judicial sentence of God. This is the condemnation that Paul speaks of.  We physically die, “returning to the dust from whence we came” (Gen 3.19; paraphrased). We are also born spiritually dead as an inheritance from our forefather (Eph 2.3; Job 25.4-6).

Who Subjected What?

Moreover, we are a part of the creation that was “subjected to futility, not willing, but because of Him who subjected it” (Rom 8.20). If this approach seems novel to you, I am not surprised. We normally think of “creation” as something outside of us. The hills, the clouds, the rivers, and all wildlife, but mankind likewise falls under this designation. And while, Paul may in fact be speaking about the created order as separated from mankind, he does tie the two together in vv.22-23 where he writes,

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves….” (italics mine).

Who was the One that subjected creation—including the entirety of the human race—to futility if not God? Yes, Adam sinned and the consequences we received are a result of his disobedience. But God in carrying out a righteous judgment subjected all of creation to this “slavery to corruption,” and the “hope that the creation itself also will be set free” is found in the “glory of the children of God” (Rom 8.21). How so? Specifically, redemption found in Christ alone via the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power (cf. Rom 7.24-8.2).  (This will be discussed under the primary heading–Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness in the days to come).

Forthcoming…

The three types of death we witness in the OT.


ENDNOTES:

[1] This speaks of those found in Christ via faith, which is the consequent of God’s activity beforehand (the antecedent). Cf. 1Cor 1.28-31; Eph 1.3-5.

[2] Though sin is often personified in Scripture it is not a substance. In terms of human nature, it is a stain, a corrupting influence. In terms of a legal transaction, it is a judicial judgment of condemnation, a relational break between the Creator and the creature. The Bible’s personification of it is done so that the reader might be better aware of its corrupting influence. It has broken the former bonds shared in the beginning when God first made the man and woman.

[3] For those that deny the reality of this claim, I wonder what state you believe mankind is in before Christ and the Spirit’s regenerating work? Why, if the person is good and not bent towards wickedness, then does the Bible say we need a new heart? If we are able to see the truth of God before the power of the gospel opens our blinded eyes, then why does the Bible say we cannot even see the kingdom of God unless we are born again? If we are able on our own strength to do what the law of God requires, then why does the Bible say that we are not open to the law of God, but hostile to it? Not only hostile to it, but unwilling and unable to obey?

Posted in Musings

Fear Blind: Sacrificing Freedom for False Security

 

Although I would imagine that a lot of COVID-19 material has been written on WordPress and other blogospheric sites, I find myself compelled to speak on the matter at least one more time. I do not do this out of anxiety or fear (although, I am well aware of how quickly and easily such things can grip your heart), but out of a desire to point out something that people need to seriously consider: The Unknown.

My concerns…

As a pastor, I’ve had to keep up-to-date on the daily news briefings related to this particular virus. I will admit up front that I am a conservative, and as such I prefer Fox News over other media sources. However, that is not to say that I take whatever Fox News says for granted. In my relatively short life, I have learned that I need to be critical of all teachings regardless of their proposed source. Therefore, I also watch other personally less than desirable media outlets like CNN and MSNBC, and I have been known to read the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, as well as the NY Times. Not from enjoyment, but I find it necessary to hear what the other side has to say.

In particular, I have paid attention to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) websites and their running number of verified cases vs. deaths. Why? To familiarize myself with the actual data, rather than extrapolated data based on models created with variable assumptions ingrained in them.

Two Important Articles put the Issue to Light

Last week I read an article by John Ioannidis an “influential Stanford University epidemiologist.”[1]  You can read his article HERE, but the gist of the argument provided by this highly respectable and cited researcher questions whether or not our response is akin to an elephant running from a cat and then subsequently falling off a cliff, due to fear of the unknown. In this humorous analogy the cat represents the data present on COVID-19, the elephant represents the totality of our response, and the cliff represents the unforeseen danger or unthought about consequences of acting without all the facts.

There was an immediate rebut of Ioannidis article provided by “prominent Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch” which you may also read HERE. Lipsitch argues that,

“if we don’t apply control measures, the number of cases will keep going up exponentially beyond the already fearsome numbers we have seen. Scientists have estimated that the basic reproductive number of this virus is around 2. That means without control, case numbers will double, then quadruple, then be eight times as big and so on, double with each ‘generation’ of cases.”[2]

Knowing How to Read

When we read our reading will vary depending on what type of literature it is. We all do this to some extent. No doubt some are better at this than others, but for the most part we do not read every piece of literature with the same interpretative lens.

For example, you read the comics for enjoyment. You’ll read the obituary to see who has passed on (either for a sentimental value or just curiosity). You read a sports section to see where your team (if you have one) has been competing against the other, etc.

When it comes to reading, I can get through a nice entertainment piece (novel, short story) very quickly. If my reading is research oriented then this take considerably more time. I highlight, draw lines, and scribble notes on any anything available. Recently, I started using “sticky notes” on my computer and was mildly impressed with their simplistic value for keeping my notes on various works organized. When I study my Bible I’m slower still.

An Appeal to Ignorance…

One of the things that I look for when perusing articles like the two I’ve mentioned thus far is identifying certain key terms. I do the same thing when I’m listening to various media outlets. Or, even when in conversation with others (much to the chagrin of my wife). When it comes to the COVID-19 crisis what I am constantly hearing is “…we don’t know how bad this thing will get,” “…we don’t know how many people have it, carry it, or will die from it.” In short, while the virus is certainly novel (new) there are many unknowns about it. What seemingly has people in a stir is the possibility of danger.

To be quite frank, I hate “What if…?” scenarios. Why? Because they are mere conjecture. The only person influenced by them are those invested in them. When a person or a group “makes a statement of ignorance about their respective [subject], and yet proceeds to draw a definite conclusion based on their non-evidence”[3] they have just committed a fallacious (false) argument; an Appeal to Ignorance. That is to say they have taken an “unknown” and then reasoned to a supposed known. This argument can be used in the same way from the opposite position; thus, it proves nothing.

Guessing Game…

Lipsitch in his article uses the terms “estimate,” “perhaps,” “unknown,” “nearly certain.” All of which amount to what? They are guesses, educated guesses…sure, but guesses nonetheless. How then can he claim that without the current measures enacted upon much of the current population that this virus will burn out of control doubling, quadrupling, even multiplying by a factor of 8? These are “what if” scenarios that may or may not occur.

This is what spurred Ioannidis to write the article he did. We are making decisions, in some cases radical ones, in order to fight an uncertainty…all the while pretending that we are certain our efforts will give a good outcome. This seems to be a wonderful case of the shifting sands argument. No foundation, but we keep building as if we are firmly established in our convictions on a rock. Assuming that our house will stand, when in fact it is near collapsing in on itself.

Current Data…

If you look at the current data, even as it seemingly grows as more and more cases/death totals come in, what do we find? That on average the mortality rate is about 1.2-1.5% in the U.S., and if we take the grant totals from around the world, we see about a 4.4-4.8% rate. There is no apparent rise. This does not remove a possibility of drastic increase, but it does seem to offer further support to arguments presented by those of the same mind as Ioannidis. Moreover, it highlights that one ought to make effective, logical arguments based on the data we do have. Not a mirage of data that is yet to be seen. If you argue, “Yes, but it could be worse,” then the rational questioner retorts “on what basis?”

A couple days ago, the president mentioned that on average 37,000 American citizens die every year from the flu (influenza). In 2017, it was nearly 80,000. Influenza is the 8th leading cause of death in the United States of America in 2018.[4] His point was that we’ve never done anything like this before; shutting the entire nation down out of fear. He didn’t say that last part, I did.

The Unseen Enemy

This fight against COVID-19 is caricatured as a war against an invisible enemy. Okay, but what “invisible” enemy are you truly fighting? A virus or the unknown?

When you attempt to argue from ignorance (i.e., Appeal to Ignorance) you are essentially building your position on fear (i.e., Appeal to Fear, a subset of Ignorance argument above). This is where a person or a group of persons “[argues] for a position on the basis that negative consequences will follow if a person [or group] does not accept the position.”[5]  Which is precisely the manner in which the current media storm, along with members of the medical community, and other “experts” argue.  If you don’t do “this” (and you can fill in the list of demands already being placed upon the American people), then “that” will happen. But “that” is unproven because “this” is not really known.

Who is this Enemy…?

I do agree that we are fighting a war against an “invisible enemy,” and not I’m not talking about the devil although I do not deny that he is invisible to the naked eye, and a truer enemy one will not find. But the real enemy we are fighting against (and we are losing) is our own hearts/minds.

Just another day…

Every day we face death. Every stinking day. We do not know when our deaths will come. I’m deathly allergic to all forms of bee venom (all manner of bees, wasps, and hornets). According to my allergist 1/10th of a normal injection of bee venom from say a “yellow jacked” would more than likely cause anaphylactic shock. Back in 2011 I circled the drain once.

“So what,” you say. “What’s the big deal? What’s that got to do with the current COVID-19 discussion?” you ask. My bee allergy is not relatable to COVID-19 as one is a virus and the other is a reaction to venom. Its not that type of analogy. What I am arguing is that I do not let that truth of the deadliness of the venom rob me from my way of life.

My family lives in the country. We live on a wooded 5-acre lot next to other larger wooded chunks of land. Bees, wasps, and hornets are everywhere. About every other year I have to have an exterminator come out and destroy a bald-faced hornet’s nest. Last year, the kids noticed one at the end of our long driveway. It was the size of a basketball, and there were huge hornets everywhere. They are extremely aggressive.

I cut over 2 ½ acres of grass every week. I also run 3 to 4 times a week on our property doing 5-K’s. We have an above ground swimming pool that attracts every type of bug around, including all of those that I am allergic to.

If I were to get stung, I run the risk of dying. The mortality rate for a bee sting for me even with an Epi-pen and antihistamine meds is very high. Much higher than the current death rate of this virus that has so many in a frenzy. But I do not let that dictate my everyday life. If you drive a vehicle, you likewise do the same thing; you put your life and the life of others at risk. Should we ban the use of automobiles because they are the 3rd leading cause of death of American citizens (around 163,000 in 2018).

Freedom or Slavery…

My question is this? Are you really willing to give up your freedom to live in order to grapple with a false sense of security? Because guess what, you can still die at home. You can still get an illness at home locked up in quarantine. You can still break your neck, have a blood clot travel to your heart, lung or brain. Death is around the corner. It is the invisible enemy that is always hunting you (in a figurative sense). You will die, but it seems to me that an important question is “How are we going to live?”

If a depression does hit this nation, what will the ripple effect look like here in the U.S. and the rest of the world? Will we see parents destitute in poverty unable to take care of themselves or their families? Will we witness suicides rates rise as depression begins to set in? What about pillaging or war as people try to fight for resources? Will famine and other diseases see an increase? Do you think that is just an example of fear mongering?

What about the next time an unknown enemy descends upon us? Will the response time of governmental takeover be shortened? Are we really willing to sacrifice our freedoms for a false sense of security? I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I find them laughable. But do you really suppose that these scenarios are somehow less realistic than the one so many are holding to now in blind fear?

Please think…

Currently, we are pretending the cat in the room is more dangerous than the unseen cliff that we were precariously dancing around? I’m not fear mongering here. These are real realities. This situation we find ourselves in regarding COVID-19 needs to be examined from more than one angle. It reminds me of the part in Jurassic Park where you see the one velociraptor straight ahead, all the while you’ve missed the other two about to pounce on you from their hiding spots.

Our field of vision has become so narrowed that we are missing other life-threatening realities. Are you really willing to sacrifice your freedom for a false sense of security? Sadly, I think many people just might be. Time will tell.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Kelly Crowe, “Prominent scientist dares to ask: Has the COVID-19 response gone to far?” CBC News, modified March 19, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/coronavirus-covid-pandemic-response-scientists-1.5502423.

[2] Notice that Lipsitch does not know this, but assumes it. This will be identified later in the article by pointing to certain key terms in his writing. He argues from what is not known, and then makes a definite statement of what is known (or what he states is known) although this is not proven, but merely taken for granted. By stating this will happen, although the data to support his conclusions is lacking, is to appeal to the fears of people; evidently fears that Lipsitch personally has. Unfortunately, he is not alone.

[3] Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic in Theory and Practice: Refuting the Fallacies of Humanism, Darwinism, Atheism, and Just Plain Stupidity (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2011), Kindle Edition, loc 6176.

[4] This information is not hard to find if you are willing to set aside your social media accounts and do a little research on some reputable sites.

[5] Jason Lisle, Discerning Truth (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 20  ), 54, Adobe Digital Editions.

Posted in Beliefs

Is it Possible to be Present and Absent Before God? Understanding “Presence”

The Ability to think categorically is what enables us to make cogent, rational, logical arguments. This is true in every field of thought. This is especially important in the Christian faith, which is rooted in biblical revelation.

Errors in Thought

Categorical errors occur when an individual(s) fail to take note of and carefully identify one category from another. I’m not sure if this is just an American idiom but the phrase “You’re comparing apples to oranges” is an example of categorical distinction. In this usage it is comparing an overarching category (fruit), with an underlying category beneath it (different types of fruit). Both apples and oranges are considered fruit, but they are not the same kind of fruit. There are noticeable differences between the two. If we look closer, we see that within their respective type there are deviations within their type. This is evident in color, shape, acidity, etc.

Confusing God with us…

One of the more popular questions posed against God as the Creator of the heavens and earth is “If God created everything, then who created him?” This question is nonsensical. Why? Because it fails to make necessary distinctions between the two categories. For example, God is identified in Scripture as the Eternal One (Deut 33.27), He has no beginning or end, rather He is the cause of beginning and end (Isa 46.9-10; also Isa 44.6; Rev 1.8, 17-18). Therefore, God is infinite, He is not a creature (Isa 43.10). Creatures on the other hand have a beginning and are therefore not eternal (Gen 1.1).

Smelling Color…

Perhaps a simpler illustration is necessary in order to draw out what is being stated thus far. Look at the following question: “What does red smell like?” Are you able to answer the question? Why not? Because red is a color not a smell. The question confuses two different types of sensory responses. We see red, we don’t smell red.

Equivo-what?

Sometimes this error of categorical distinction occurs when people equivocate on a particular word.[1] This is often done as a justification for evolutionary thought. One of the statements that can sometimes be found is “We know evolution is true, because we see evolution happening all around us.” Though the same word is used—evolution—the meaning or the sense in which the term is being used in the sentence is different. The person argues for evolution (from nothing something, from single cell to multiple cells, from dinosaurs to chickens) on the basis of seeing evolution (change within a particular kind; e.g., multiple breeds of dogs or cats, or finches and their beak size) through the process of natural selection. The first sense of the word “evolution” has Darwinian connotations, whereas the second use of the same word just means “change.”

On Eternal Destinations

Now since I am concerned about biblical thought, and the Christian worldview in particular, we are going to look at a couple of examples. In order to keep this post somewhat shorter than my previous ones, I will only deal with one today and then later we’ll look at another; maybe two. In the debate regarding the final state of mankind—eternal punishment or eternal life, you will find two ways that the term “presence” is used. Those that believe that Hell is a destination for the reprobate, a place founded in eternity where conscious torment will be a reality, often say that those who endure such a fate are “separated from the presence of God” (Rev 21.8, 15). Whereas, those who are found in Christ, have their names written down in heaven, will enjoy the presence of God forever in conscious delight (Rev 21.1-4).

The key term is “presence.” Those not in Christ will be cursed, condemned to outer darkness, separated from the glorious presence of God. On the contrary those in Christ will be blessed, embraced by the light of God, enjoying His holy presence without end. A key text in this debate is seen in 2Thessalonians 1:8-10a. God will,

“…[deal] out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day…” (NASB).

Presenting the Case for the Conditionalist/Annihilationist…

Edward Fudge states that “Paul tells the Thessalonians that God will punish the wicked—with everlasting destruction which proceeds from his presence and removes the wicked from his presence forever.”[2] Later in his debate with Robert Peterson, Fudge will further comment on this text cited above: “Some Traditionalists argue that the wicked are not really separated from God’s presence as this passage says, but are only separated from his grace…[Peterson] knows that if sinners were truly removed entirely from God’s presence, they would cease to exist.”[3]

Presuppositional Fragment…

Fudge’s conclusion regarding what “presence” (prosopon) means here in 2Thess 1:8-10a is telling. His conclusions are drawn from his Conditionalist/Annihilationist convictions. That is fine. He is entitled to his thoughts on this issue, as are others of his ilk. Doesn’t mean he’s accurate. And since he’s already passed and gone before the Lord, I’d imagine he has a better understanding now than he did then.

His comments though do raise in an interesting question. In what sense does Paul mean in his use of “presence.” Furthermore, in what way does Scripture speak of the “presence of God?” Is it possible to be in God’s presence and at the same time driven from it? I’ve touched on this issue before, but it bears repeating.

Back to the Beginning

Look at Genesis 4:16.[4] What does it say? It reads,

“Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

If God is omnipresent is it possible to be driven from His presence? Well, according to Scripture it is possible. In fact, this is not the only time such language is used.

  • In Leviticus 22:3 we read, “Say to them, ‘If any one of all your offspring throughout your generations approaches the holy things that the people of Israel dedicate to the Lord, while he has an uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from my presence: I am the Lord” (ESV).—This is an example of being “cut off” from the presence of God due to uncleanliness (see for example vv. 4-5). The point here is that one is cut off from God’s presence, denied access to His holy gifts due to uncleanliness. This could only be remedied by them being declared “clean” (e.g. Lev 13.44-46; 14.1-32) In the gospels we see this reality when the leprous call out to Jesus to heal them—i.e., make them clean (see Luke 5.12; 17.12).
  • Jeremiah 52:3, “For because of the anger of the Lord it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (ESV; cf. Jer 15.1; 23.39). —This is an example of being removed from God’s presence in the sense of a condemning judgment (sentence). This is the type of sentence that Cain received from the Lord (Gen 4.10-12). Those in Jerusalem of Judea at the fall of mighty king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon were “cast out from the presence” of the Lord God, but as we see in the text not all were killed (see Jer 52.10-11). Some were taken as exiles (Jer 52.15); others were left in the land to work it as slaves of Babylon (Jer 52.16).
  • Jonah 1:3, “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord” (ESV). –This is an example when one of God’s creatures attempts to flee from His presence through an act of disobedience. Though one cannot truly get away from Gods presence (i.e., omnipresence), he/she may experience separation from the Lord’s presence through acts of disobedience. Of which, the prophet Jonah was most certainly guilty.

These three will be sufficient to prove the point that I am making, though many more might be cited (e.g., Psa 78.60-61; Ezek 10-11; Hos 9.12-17).  To be cut off from the presence of the Lord does not entail annihilation as Fudge and others of his tribe argues. To be driven from the presence of the Lord means to be denied fellowship. Often this is referred to in biblical language as death. Sometimes it is spoken of in the sense of physical death (I would argue that this is a primary emphasis in the O.T.).  However, as these text reveal this is not always the case, death is used in a figurative sense as well.

Now a wise one might point to Jonah and say, but that does not seem to be the case with him. His fleeing from the presence of the Lord…how can you understand that figuratively as death? Two reasons: 1) He attempted to separate himself from God by fleeing His presence (an act of disobedience; sin), 2) God demonstrated to Jonah what a continued state of fleeing would bring—death. When Jonah was cast into the waters, he experienced death (figuratively) and was granted life (graciously) only when he cried out to the Lord for mercy (see Jon 1.15-2.9).[5]

Again, to be driven from the presence of the Lord as Paul most definitely speaks of in 2Thess 1:8-10a nowhere insinuates annihilation. You can be cast out from God’s immediate presence, and yet at the same time be in His infinite presence. To argue that this word can only be conveyed in one sense is to ignore other senses in which the word is used in the Bible. It seems to me that Paul would have been well aware of the varying senses in which the concept of “presence” was used in regards to the Lord in light of Holy Scripture.

What might we say of words like “know” or “fire”? Are they always used in a “one size fits all” way? Are there variances in which the Bible uses such terms? What do we say of death?

My Thoughts so Far

There are three types of death that occur in Scripture as the result of sin. And as it pertains to righteousness in Jesus Christ, there is one. The first three are a result of sin. The last one is a result of Christ’s sacrifice. Sometime next week, I will begin to unpack this. Until then, try to have a good weekend in the Lord. Enjoy His blessings. Enjoy your family and draw strength from Him to fight any fears that might be seeking to dominate your heart during this time.


ENDNOTES:

[1] “When debating on any topic, it is very important that we pay close attention to the meaning of words and how they are being used in a debate. Most words have a range of possible meanings, but only one of those meanings will properly fit the given context. When someone shifts from one meaning of a word to another within an argument, he or she has committed the fallacy of equivocation.” Jason Lisle, Discerning Truth (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2010), 11, Adobe Digital Editions.

[2] Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 60.

[3] Ibid., 200.

Understanding Fudge… (No, not the delectable treat)

On the surface it certainly appears as if Fudge is speaking of the term “presence” in the same way. But as I read his writings, I see that what he means by presence is really to be completely done away with, to not exist anymore. For example, in referring to Psalm 1 he says, “This psalm speaks of exclusion from God’s presence, a principal theme of Jesus’ teaching and that of the apostles” (p. 30). Again, at first glance this appears straightforward enough, but the question is “What does Fudge mean by being excluded from God’s presence?” As he works through the O.T. he ends his study with two prominent passages in Isa 66:24 and Dan 12:2. In reference to both he identifies the central point of the writers as “The shame and contempt here are ‘everlasting’ because the loathsome disintegration of the wicked will never be reversed” (p. 33). What Fudge earlier identified as “annihilation” (p. 30; in ref. to Rev 20.14).  This is seen in an even later reference by Fudge when he writes, “Just as the indescribable light of God’s presence identifies eternal life for the immortal saved, so absolute, unending darkness portrays the everlasting destruction of those who perish in the second death” (p. 72; in ref. to Jude’s letter)[3] After Fudge finishes his walk through the Bible he gives his readers the following conclusion as to what it means to be removed from God’s presence:

“At the conclusion of [God’s] judgment he will banish them from his presence forever [meaning what?], to a place Jesus compares both to fire and to deepest darkness. The lost will see the saved going with God to eternal reward. They will weep and grind their teeth in anger, but God’s sentence will be carried out. They will be destroyed, both body and soul, forever. That punishment will never be reversed, and it will be as everlasting as will be the life of the saved with God [i.e., annihilation]” (p. 81).

[4] This text is one among many cited by reference works like the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.

[5] I am not here arguing for or against Jonah’s elected state. I believe in divine election, and I believe that Jonah is amongst that number. That is not to say that the elect does not sin, obviously they do. And there are times when those sins bring a hefty price. Sometimes that price is clearly laid out in the Bible, but at other times it is not. The point here is that Jonah did experience death in terms of separation from blessing in that He received a negative reward from the Lord (i.e., a curse) until he repented. God disciplines His children because His children respond appropriately to a spanking. Sometimes the spanking seems rather harsh, and sometimes we seem to enjoy getting our butts whipped, but the point is that Jonah experienced a temporary event that demonstrates an eternal reality for those who refuse to humble themselves before the Lord above.