Posted in Attributes of God, Beliefs, Christian Perspective, Communication, dialogue, Knowing God, love, Personal Testimony, Theology, Witnessing

False Ideas and the Idols we make: Witnessing to a Witness

Opening Thoughts…

Historically one of the first major heretics to arise out of the Christian faith was a man by the name of Marcion (2nd century; taught 140-155 A.D.). He denied many of the writings of the New Testament (hereafter N.T.) that seemed to share too much affinity with the Jewish faith of old. He took issue with the God of the Old Testament (hereafter O.T.) because he did not like the wrathful version of God he saw there. He looked at Jesus as the exact opposite; a person who was kind, good and loving. A version of this man’s teachings, based upon the same faulty assumptions, is still existent today.

When people read the N. T. this false veneer is presented on their interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth. He is portrayed as non-offensive and non-combative; a kind, loving, beggarly individual that would never say anything mean (he’d never want to hurt a person’s feelings) or sarcastic (he’d never want to cause contention with people). For many, the version of Jesus many people hold to today (even professing believers) is not compatible with what we read in the O. T. description of Holy God. It is often said, “Jesus loved everybody unconditionally.” Did he now? Is that really how He is described in the N.T.?

Witnessing to a Witness?

Yesterday, I had a forty-minute dialogue with a Jehovah’s Witness. He was attempting to invite me to a meeting they were having—a memorial service to the Last Supper. As he explained to me their position I politely listened. After he was finished I asked if he understood what the true meaning of the Last Supper was. “Well, to remember Jesus’ life,” he said. “Why is that important,” I asked? “What purpose did the cross of Jesus serve? What necessity did the blood of Jesus meet? To whom is His sacrifice applied, and what does it accomplish?” Besides his immediate detour on a discussion of whether or not the “Roman cross” was really a cross or “a stake,” he struggled with answering the questions I posed.

He said, “if you would only come to our meeting, then you would know our position.” In response I asked, “If I come to your meeting, would I be permitted to speak?” He shook his head and said, “no…you couldn’t do that, but won’t you be open minded, and just listen?” “If you did,” he added “you’d see the similarities that we have in our thinking.” Again I inquired, “Would you go to a seminar that atheists were holding and listen to them with an open mind?” Immediately, he said, “No, of course not!” “Why,” I pressed “for you would find that there are some things that you share in common with the atheist. There are things that they hold to that are common to all people.” He said, “But, they do not believe in God.” “Ah,” I said, “and herein lay our dilemma. You would suggest to me that I ought to go to your meeting to listen to what you have to say with an open mind. I could listen to what you have to say, just as I can listen to what an atheist has to say, because I am confident that by the Holy Spirit I can discern the truth from error. However,” I stated “if I were to offer you a similar invitation to my church to listen to my sermon, to hear my teaching, would you do so? Would you and your friends here be able to be as open-minded as you insist I should?” “Of course not!” he said. “That’s a problem,” I explained “for I see that you are not being very consistent .”

Trying to steer the conversation back to the reason why he came to my home he inquired once again, “Will you not come? I admit that I am not being consistent, but if you came to our meeting you would learn what we believe about this (the Lord’s Supper, what he continually called a memorial service) and in time might learn the truth.” Laughing a bit at his persistence I countered, “Why do you take communion?” (Now, I already knew that only the “anointed” in their cult were allowed to participate in taking communion at their memorial service, and the higher ups keep a running count of who claims to be of the “anointed class;” the 144,000 of Revelation 7:14; 14:1, 3). However, I had my own agenda at the moment and I wanted to make a point to a man that started off the conversation with me pretending to believe the Bible is the authoritative word on the subject of his beliefs.

He did not miss a beat in explaining to me that only the “anointed” could participate in the elements. I told him that I found that peculiar on two accounts. One, the Bible teaches that the disciples of Christ were to “do this in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22.19), and what we ought to notice if we read the Scriptures is that this rite was participated in by all members of the Christian community as seen in Acts (cf. 2:42, 46) and specifically in 1Cor 11:20-32. Two, on what grounds do you attempt to limit participation in what Christ commanded? From where do you get the designation “anointed” only, as the only class of Christians that may participate in the Lord’s Supper? Surely, the Bible does not teach this. Neither the Christ nor His apostles taught this, so why do you?

At this point he tried to show me Rev 21:17 where the text speaks of measuring the wall of the temple and its measurement is “144 cubits.” He then said, “This coincides with the 144,000….” I interrupted at this point, “You mean the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel spoken of earlier in the book?” “Yes,” he said “this coincides with…” Again, I interjected “what’s a cubit?” “What?” he said. “Oh, well a cubit coincides with….” “No,” I stopped him “what is a cubit?” When he attempted the same song and dance I said to him, “A cubit is a unit of measurement isn’t it, similar to a foot?” “Yes, but it coincides with….” “the 144,000?” I finished. “Right, that’s right,” he told me without any hesitation.

I pointed out “Nope, that’s wrong. Rev 21:17 is speaking about a unit of measurement not a grouping of people. You are taking that text out of context and adding your own meaning to it, just as you do with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus told his followers to do this ‘in remembrance of him’ because it is His blood that paid the ransom price for our sinful lives. Jesus became a curse (cf. Gal 3.13), he became sin even though He never sinned, so that we might become the righteousness of God (cf. 2Cor 5.21). Jesus died to save His people from their sins (Matt 1.21),” I explained.

I continued, “The problem is that we do not believe in the same Jesus, we do not believe in the same God of Scripture—who is Triune in nature—for my God did for me what I could not do for myself. My works, my choice is not what saved me, my Lord saved me and I cannot deny my Lord.” He then attempted to adopt the same language as I had used for a few moments, but I ended up stopping him. I explained, “You use the same language that I use, but you do not mean the same things. The Father sent the Son into the world to die for His people (people given to Him by the Father), and the Son laid down His life for His people, and the Holy Spirit raises Christ’s people up regenerating them.”

With a look of confusion on his face he proceeded to say, “Though much of what you say Kris is true; much of what you say is ignorant and it comes from your ignorance.” Laughing a bit, I told him “Since you called me ignorant, I must ask have you not read? ‘God chose the weak out of the world, the poor out of the world and the foolish out of the world…’ (1Cor 1.27-28; paraphrased) you call me an ignoramus and that’s fine; God called me, I am His, and I cannot deny Him. He saved me from hell…but you my friend, you do not have this.”

Closing Thoughts…

About this point, you may have wondered if I forgot what I opened up with at that beginning of this post, but I have not forgotten. After my last statement my dialogue with this J.W. grew a bit animated. His disdain for the doctrine of hell became apparent. He identified my God as one who is wrathful and cruel. He said, “What sort of awful God would condemn a person like us, who lives what? Seventy or Eighty years to an eternity in torment! A loving God would never do such a thing, that wouldn’t be fair…seventy years for forever!?! God destroys those who do not faith in Him, who do not freely choose Him…He wouldn’t do what you suggest.” In the remaining couple of minutes in our conversation I asked if he believed God was truly holy and tried to explain the depths of our sin and need for Jesus as a substitute, but he would have none of it.1 He left in a hurry and I prayed for the man and the people who were with him.

This reaction of disdain and disgust is the norm when a person reads the commands of God, and the penalties that follow for our sin against Him. People have made God into an idol. They have elevated one or a few of His attributes, like love or goodness, above all others. The moment that God does not fit the mold that people have formed in their hearts of who they believe the God of the Bible should be, they offhandedly reject Him.

God is more than the supposed defining mark of love and goodness. He is also holy and therefore hates sin. He is Just and therefore, as judge delves out justice in all cases. God is many things, for many attributes are given in Scripture that accurately define His perfect characteristics (i.e. character/nature), but to elevate one over and above another gives a disproportionate view of who He is; and, is therefore by definition an idol. To do that with the God of Scripture is to take His Name in vain and blaspheme Him. This, ironically or not, warrants a penalty of a death sentence; to which (no surprise here!) people complain about, as being much too harsh. And to that kind of thinking I will respond with the words of the late R.C. Sproul, “What is wrong with you people!”

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ENDNOTES:

1 I also spent some time with him in John 12:37-41 and Isaiah 6:1-10 proving that Jesus was the one whose glory Isaiah saw in the past as Yahweh (Jehovah), but no matter how clear the text was before him (even in his New Word Translation—NWT) he was confused by what he was reading and hearing (cf. Acts 9.22).

Posted in Attributes of God, Biblical Questions, Christian Perspective, Logic, Theology

Why God Asks Questions…

Recently, as I was purveying the blogosphere I stumbled upon a variety of questions that an individual dared the Christian to attempt to answer. I have no desire to name the individuals involved, but I will gladly accept the challenge. The first of these attempts will deal with Genesis 3. Specifically involving the following inquiry:

  • Does the hiding of Adam and Eve in the garden, and the subsequent questioning of the Lord God reveal a flaw in the incommunicable attributes of God? That is to say, does our foreparents hiding in the garden deny God’s omnipresence, and does God’s questioning them deny His omniscience

I think that the appropriate first step is acknowledging that the Bible is a written document given to mankind; in particular His people (cf. Deut 29.29a; Amos 3.7; John 15.15; Rom 16.26; 2Tim 3.16-17). And it is written in such a way that it is clearly perceived by the youngest and least educated among us. Moreover, the Word of God is written in many ways from man’s vantage point; which essentially means that certain historic events are retold in such a way that the reader (with an active imagination) is able to submerse themselves into the material viewing things how the person (or people) witnessed them. For instance, like Adam and Eve in the garden in Genesis 3.

For example, we are told in Genesis 3:8 that our foreparents “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day….”[1] This is what is properly termed a theophany or a Christophany (pre-incarnate Christ) in theological circles. Such an event is where God temporarily takes on creaturely form to communicate with His creatures in a special way (cf. Gen 17-18; Josh 5.13-15; comp Heb 1.1-3).[2]

Question #1

This brings us to our first question, “Does the hiding of Adam and Eve deny God’s omnipresence?”

No, not at all. For starters the hiding is told from the vantage point of the man and the woman. This is what they were attempting to do. When they heard the Lord approaching they sought to hide from him. Why? The same reason that we find them “[sewing] fig leaves together…[making] themselves loincloths” in an attempt to hide their nakedness (Gen 3.7), they were afraid. Afraid of what? Judgment.

Adam and Eve knew they were in the wrong, that they were in trouble and they didn’t want to be held accountable for the actions they’d performed. We see this same reaction when little kids hide from their parents when they have knowingly disobeyed, and they are attempting to avoid punishment. Now, we may try to sugarcoat this in a variety of ways, but the fact of the matter is that such behavior is nothing short of rebellion. This is nothing short of a refusal to be called to task.

Question #2

Okay, let’s have a quick look at the second question, “Does the Lord’s questioning of the man and woman deny His omniscience?”

The man and woman hear the sound of the Lord God as he is walking in the garden, and they hide. Perhaps, they are thinking, “If He doesn’t see us, then we may evade the consequences of their actions.” The Lord does not allow them to hide, he calls them from their hiding, “Where are you?” (Gen 3.9). Pay attention to Adam’s response for it reveals something about his motives.

Notice, God only asks “Where are you?” but the man responds, “I heard the sound[3] of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3.10). Adam gives information that was not asked for. Evidently, he felt compelled to justify his action of hiding, when he knew he should come forward revealing at the sound of the Lord’s approach. (Again, this is typical behavior of a child who has knowingly disobeyed.)

This prompts a couple of follow up questions from the Lord God: “Who told you, you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3.11). When the man attempts laying the blame upon his wife for his own sinful action (Gen 3.12), the Lord turns to her inquiring, “What is this that you have done?” (Gen 3.13a).

Why would God ask questions if He knew the answers? Why would God ask the man (and woman) of their hiding if He knew where they were and why they were doing it? These are legitimate questions, but how we come about answering them will say much about our own position.

The skeptic will reason that if God is all-knowing (omniscient) and ever-present (omnipresent) amidst His created universe, then our foreparents should not have been able to hide and God should not have needed to ask questions. That the text says they did hide, and God believed it necessary to ask questions proves that God is not omnipresent or omniscient.

Unfortunately for the skeptic, the historical narrative is not a teaching passage on God’s omnipresence or omniscience. To conclude that this text disproves these incommunicable[4] attributes of God. Or to say it reveals the Lord God has limitations in knowledge and where He can be, must be smuggled into the text. That is to say, what is being assumed at the outset (God can’t be omniscient or omnipresent, He must be limited) is being offered as the justification for denying these things about God. Even if the form of the logic seems valid at first blush, the underlying premises are inaccurate.[5]

A better approach is to draw from the text what is there, and then offer probing questions of the text itself. The text says God asks the man and woman questions, why? The text says the man and woman hid, why? Is it possible to know something and yet still inquire about it? Is it possible that the hiding is descriptive of what Adam and Eve are attempting to do, but is actually impossible for any creature of God’s to do? The answer is yes.

I have mentioned this before, I believe in another post, that if we want to argue for or against something that the Bible teaches, we need to turn to those passages that declare what we want to argue with directly. There are other passages of Scripture that explain explicitly that God is not limited in His knowledge, nor is His presence limited from parts or portions of His creation. A proper hermeneutical approach will lead one to first turn to those direct statements which are clear didactic teachings, and then uses them as a lens to properly interpret the less clear narrative portions of the Bible.

Relating to God’s Omnipresence

  • “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? Declares the Lord.” (Jer 23.23-24).
  • “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lad me and your right hand shall hold me” (Psa 139.7-10).
  • “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isa 57.15; italics added).
  • “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov 15.3)
  • “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Heb 4.13).

From texts such as these we learn by what right God asks His creatures questions. An ever-present God is an all-knowing God, for nothing can be hidden from His sight. The inquisition of His creatures is in the nature of accountability. God knew that Adam and Eve had disobeyed His edict. He knew that they had attempted to hide their sinful shame with a shoddy attempt at a new “green” clothing line (fig leaves are the clean energy craze!). He knew that they hoped to disappear from His presence to escape judgment (cf. 2Chron 18.23-24).

  • “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer 17.9-10).

Only one who knows the heart can judge the heart, but even the one who knows the heart requires that all His creatures bow the knee and confess (cf. Rom 14.11; Php 2.10; John 5.28-29; Rev 20.13). We should not be surprise that God interrogates the man and woman; that He draws out their confession of wrong doing like a person might draw venom from an asp’s wound. He similarly deals with Satan as he does all the heavenly host, as revealed in the book of Job (Job 1.6-12; 2.1-6; cf. 1King 22.19). The questioning does not reveal a limitation on God’s part, quite the opposite, for the questions are given by the Judge of all the earth (Gen 18.25).

A parent that catches their child in the act of wrong doing will still ask the child, “What were you doing?” even when they have witnessed the act. Why then ask the question? To draw out the confession. To hold our little ones accountable. To insinuate that the Lord is somehow limited in some way because he does likewise is dishonest and a bit hypocritical. Unless of course you have not taken the time to think these things over and are merely jumping to a conclusion that you find pleasing and appropriate.

Wrapping up with a Poor Man’s Analogy (or is it just a poor analogy?)

Realizing that I have gone a little long in tooth I will wrap this up as quickly as possible. Genesis 3 and the events recorded there are written in the form of a historical narrative. You are given a glimpse of what transpired on the day our foreparents transgressed. The text speaks of the man and woman’s actions and reactions to the Lord God (both His decree cf. Gen 2.16-17 and His calling to them).

Do the man and woman attempt to hide? Yes. Were they successful? No. The telling of this action is not a mark against God’s omnipresence, but a detail given from the man and woman’s vantage point. As creatures they thought themselves wise enough to hide from their Creator…they were wrong.

Does the Lord ask the man and woman questions? Yes. Does this mean God’s knowledge was lacking (not omniscient)?  No. In order to draw that conclusion, you must first assume it. Why then inquire? To hold the creature(s) accountable to their Creator; something the fallen creature rues more than anything else.

The text as a whole does not speak on God’s omniscience or omnipresence, you have to invite those two subjects to the party for they are absent unless you do. Am I saying it is wrong to discuss those topics with the current text in question (namely Gen 3)? No, but the assumptions you bring to the text will affect how you interpret it. If you would like to argue against God being omniscient or omnipresent, then you will need to deal with the statements by God or His prophets that speak directly about them.

In the same way I will not argue about the strength or weakness of the Pittsburg Steelers as an NFL team by turning to the obituary where one of their star players have died. The obituary may indicate a death of one of their star players, and therefore indirectly address a possible weakness now apparent on their roster, but the purpose of the obituary is not to speak about the NFL, or the Steelers, or the strength of their roster, or their offensive and/or defensive strategies. A more responsible attempt on my part would be to look first at those things that speak directly about the NFL and the Steelers organization, etc. and then comment on the effects that the loss of their star player might entail.

If you fail to see the connection there, then I apologize for the confusion.

Attempting to discredit something that the Bible plainly teaches about God (He is omnipresent and omniscient) by appealing to a text that does not directly address the subject in question is not a good way to prove your point. In the attempt to connect the dots, you have missed a few important ones along the way…

ENDNOTES:


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] There are other places in the Bible where anthropomorphic expressions are used that appear to give God humanly characteristics, but are intended to convey some truth in a way that the reader will be able to identify with in order to understand the actions of the invisible God of Heaven and earth (e.g. Exod 15.16-17; “arm” and “hands”).  

[3] The Hebrew term “shama” (heard) coupled with “the voice” (qol) carries with it the meaning of “to hear, listen to, obey (verb)” Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions. In other words, the sound Adam and Eve heard was not the Lord stomping on the ground, but calling out for attention. As a trumpet declares to the army who is fighting to begin their attack, being a call to attention (to obey the general leading them), so too are the man and woman notified that the Lord God expects their attention at that moment. Their hiding, therefore, is an act of rebellion…even if fear of judgment was the initial motivator.

[4] This means that these attributes are not communicated to the creatures that He has made. God alone possess these qualities. They are a part of His divine nature; essence/being.

[5] The form of the argument presented by the skeptic is similar to what follows: 1) If p then q. P therefore q. If God asks questions of Adam and Eve, then He is limited in what He knows (or where He can be). God asks the man and woman questions. Therefore, He is not omniscient (or omnipresent).

From a form standpoint, the logic is accurate (i.e. modus ponens; affirming the antecedent), however premise #1 is faulty. Omniscience does not preclude the asking of questions. Questions may be asked for reasons other than obtaining knowledge. A judge who has seen a digital video of the perpetrator under investigation rob the bank (identifying marks of tattoos or his mask fell off) will still ask whether or not they have committed the crime. The question is not needed to gain knowledge per say, but is presented to hold accountable the perp who has broken the law.

One further note on form logic regardless of the type of syllogism you are attempting to use to formulate your position. All of them can be tweaked to fit your preestablished presuppositions. A person is capable of writing a logical argument that is rational in terms of form (do the premises flow in a fashion that logically proves my point?) and in content (does it line up with my own system of thought?), but the strength or weakness of the argument lies in the validity of the premises themselves. Well then, who determines the validity (and veracity) of the claims being made? Depends upon your worldview. Ultimately, a position is determined by the commitments brought to the table by the person arguing (along with the one agreeing). I am not saying that truth is relative to the individual, it is not. However, the perception of the truth is relative to the standard to which one holds faithfully. To change faith commitments takes a radical seismic shift in the thinking of the individual in question. When it comes to faith in the Triune God of creation as revealed in the Holy Bible, this shift is only possible when the Holy Spirit moves on the person in question in such a way that their disposition towards the Lord is changed.