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Archive for October, 2015

Does God Condone Horrible Actions Toward Our Enemies According To The Psalms?

Reading the Psalms can be very confusing and disheartening if one is expecting God to be as moral as our conscience guides. Some of the Psalms talk about breaking the arms of evildoers, smashing in their teeth, or for their eyes to be darkened and their backs bent forward. Many of the Psalms seem to condone praying for horrible judgments on others which seem to contradict God’s very character or Jesus advising us to love our enemies. There may be some reasonable explanations for the writers’ words and feelings though they claim to represent God.

The psalmists’ words may not be as harsh if we readers were living in their shoes or people today that are at the mercy of terrorists and dictators who cut off heads or rape women and children. We too may pour out our heart in the same way toward our enemies. The Psalms don’t talk about slow torture or abuse of women and children. Psalm 10:15 talks about breaking arms of evildoers, but why not so they can’t continue to murder the innocent (v.8). Psalm 53:5 speaks of the desire to scatter their bones, but why not when “they devour people as though eating bread” ( v. 4). Why not pray for their eyes to be darkened and backs bent forward (69:23) so they can no longer “wound and talk about the pain of those they hurt” (69:26).  Who doesn’t pray for the justice, death, or disarmament of those who kill them.

Paul Copan’s in Chapter 11 of When God Goes To Starbucks provides many additional insights. God is never going to deny one the right to express their feelings. Who is to say God doesn’t allow initial feelings but in time helps one to have less violent feelings. Besides, emotions and actions are two different things. God never condoned the torture of humans and God has always been willing to withhold judgment if people confess their evil ways and change. It seems to me the Psalmists are simply emoting their tremendous anguish.

I don’t always entertain the possibility of my enemies confessing their wrongdoings when emoting. David expressed strong emotions but it is also thought King David wrote Psalm 103 where he speaks of a God who forgives all sins, is slow to anger, and abounding in love. David in Psalm 51 begs for forgiveness after committing adultery with Bathsheba and planning her husband’s murder. David even says: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways; and sinners will turn about to you” (v. 13). Not even David is foolish enough to think God is of the character to forgive his sins, but David doesn’t have to forgive his enemies if they repent.

Relationships often don’t reach any depth because they either don’t admit or they ignore feelings for fear of the consequences. Relationships remain stagnant and don’t reach the depth of intimacy possible if unwilling to take risks. Working though hate in a real way can lead to taking more positive actions. When we refuse to admit hurt or confront someone, there is often no hope for healing. Jonah preferred the Ninevites not repent so God could not show mercy, but Jonah eventually came to God’s ways. The writers of the Psalms either as writing or over time may have come to accept the possibility of forgiveness and judgment withheld if change took place. 

The writers could have also been protecting God’s reputation. God’s enemies did vile things despite being created in God’s image. If you speak horrible things about the mother of my children, I may express wanting to cut your balls off too. That is how I would feel. I would not necessarily take such actions even if you did not admit lies about my wife. Emoting and acting are two different things. We can always pour our hearts out to God as He guides us what actions to take toward others who continue to harm us and others in their way.

Does It Matter Christians Are Hypocrites?

I am not fond of the label “Christians.” I am talking about us people who claim a relationship with our Creator is worth considering. We are of course hypocrites. What human being lives up to the standards they know in their heart are honorable? Paul Copan is right: “The truth of a position isn’t undermined just because a person acts hypocritically…if we reject a philosophy of life based on hypocritical adherents, we believe nothing” (When God Goes To Starbucks, 201). But, the truth is many folks who are interested in spiritual matters are often hindered by the actions of those who claim a relationship with God is beneficial.

Beliefs about God matter as they can either alienate us or draw us closer. “Why, me!” can sometimes turn into “why God do you not love me.” This is the reason that I mostly write about what I think God is really like. It is claimed Hell is a reality. Who cares to respect a sadistic God? Characterizations of God must make rational and moral sense. We are not totally clueless of what God is really like since made in God’s likeness. But, it is convenient for me to forget that my actions are far more important than what words I may write in defending God to others.

One of the main problems is not when spiritual folks sin. The problem is we don’t confess our wrongdoings, seek forgiveness, and make necessary amends. We judge others about their sexual preferences rather than spend time living up to our own standards. We may fight for the unborn because we feel the child feels pain, but we fail to act respectfully toward others who disagree. We are not a Christian nation. Jesus didn’t try to turn the Roman Empire into a Christian nation. Jesus came to show among other things that serving was more important than gaining power.

Jesus was successful in getting others to consider His ways because Jesus walked the talk. If our beliefs are truly life changing than people will simply know by the way we love others. But, sense I suck at loving others I often find it easier to write about beliefs that may hinder ones relationship with their Creator. Jesus did not come as a theologian but lover. How can we love people better so if interested, they can know how much their Creator loves them?

Love doesn’t have a hidden agenda. Some spiritual folks think their mission in relationships is to get one to say the sinner’s prayer to obtain a free pass out of hell. The sinner’s prayer or hell isn’t in the Bible. Jesus said the main thing was to treat others like you want to be treated. Personally, I think the best way to accomplish that mission is to get to know who God really is. Mother Teresa said that she was simply responding to God’s boundless love for her and for all of humanity. When one feels extraordinarily loved they simply want to return that love to others.

Besides focusing on the main thing, we might learn from how Jesus interacted with others. People who are not interested in God aren’t evil. Some non-spiritual minded folks put me to shame in how I treat others. God was always willing to live in peace, despite one’s beliefs, as long as they didn’t engage in such evils as child sacrificing, raping, killing, etc. Jesus did not attack people’s sexual preferences. Jesus attacked the real hypocrites – the religious. Religious folks are busy claiming they know truth and trying to impose that on others.

Jesus never shoved His ways down the throats of others. People have a way of letting you know if interested in what inspires you. Spiritual folks need to consider others’ opinions gracefully so one can work out their own convictions with as much consistency as possible. The truth is in any discussion you could be right, I may be right, or we may both be wrong. Once a discussion turns into a debate or argument we have both lost. If you claim to be spiritual ask a friend where they see hypocrisy in your life.

How The Hell Do You Get In Heaven – Will We Be With All Our Loved Ones?

There is absolute hope we will be reunited with loved ones someday. The Bible doesn’t have a Book of Heaven like it does on Jobs so discern if my understandings are wrong compared to other biblical interpretations taught. I have written elsewhere if you want to review Bible passages to defend what I say. I am confident you will be with your loved ones unless they are evil to the core. Some may choose a second death than spending eternity with a loving Creator.

Hell is the greatest barrier to such hope, but we can say unequivocally that Hell as a place of eternal, sadistic torture does not exist. No human would think this up and neither does God according to the Bible. Anyway, it is relationally impossible that God would treat his enemies worse than us. Sheol, wrongly translated as Hell in the OT, was a place of darkness occupied by the dead regardless of beliefs. Even Job, a righteous man in God’s eyes, desired to go there to escape tremendous suffering (10:21-22). The best translation for Sheol is Sheol.

Gehenna, wrongly translated as Hell in the NT, was a real valley in Jerusalem symbolizing a place of slaughter and judgment. Gehenna was the place of burned Israeli children sacrificed to false gods. Jesus used Gehenna to symbolize the horrors of adversaries of God who disposed of their enemies into the burning, worm-infested valley. Simply avoid a valley near Jerusalem close to death if concerned about going to Hell. The best translation for Gehenna is Gehenna.

Heaven is not eventually living on earth with God in blissness. God said He was never going to destroy the earth again like He did with the Flood. The NT spoke of the last days happening in the generation of their readers. The last days mentioned by Jesus were not the end of the world but the Old Covenant and temple system passing away. The New Covenant ushered all entering God’s presence immediately as Jesus overcame the grave for all by resurrecting.

Paul gives hope that our eventual citizenship after death here on earth will be in heaven where God will transforms our bodies (Philippians 3:20). Jesus promised Paradise to the thief on the Cross. But, the Bible doesn’t focus on the future but encouraging us to change in the present to make a better world. Jesus says the Kingdom of God was coming in His readers’ lifetime (Mt. 16:28). We can currently live more peaceful lives by considering heavenly than worldly wisdom. John 3:15 refers to eternal life as being in Christ, thus referring to a quality than future destiny.

Jesus might know a little about life after death. What the Hell did He really say? When asked directly how to have eternal life Jesus said simply to love God and love others as yourself (Lk.10:25-27). Jesus didn’t advise one to get on their knees and offer a confessional prayer. Jesus was suggesting one can have the hope of immortality now by beginning to live by the golden rule. No one lives perfectly so Jesus was simply conveying that one begins to live forever when they consider God’s ways which are always in their best interests.

God created heaven on earth initially, but freedom is necessary for authentic relationships. Heaven then became our hope after we created Hell on earth. But, will all enter Heaven? Even saints on earth have regrets! Apparently, God’s justice will have an educative component and cleansing effect after our life here on earth for all. Some have never heard about God. Some had poor role models as parents so wanting nothing to do with a Heavenly Parent on Earth. God will invite all after death to join Him in a way we couldn’t. Who in their right mind will not accept such an invitation? I doubt any reading this or their loved ones. So be very hopeful. And consider that Heaven can start now despite the world we live in if we understand what God is really like.

Is God Immoral When Hardening Hearts?

One may read Bible passages that speak of God hardening one’s heart and be perplexed. It surely isn’t plausible that a moral God causes people to sin. The Bible says God hates evil but then to suggest God secretly causes people to commit evil acts seems ludicrous. Exodus 7:3 says: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart…” But, numerous times in the context of this story Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart: “But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go” (Ex 8:32). There must be a plausible explanation for only a mindless writer or editor would seemingly contradict themselves in practically the same breath.

One possible interpretative solution is to suggest the objectionable phrase is simply God withdrawing His influence because of choices made. There is a self-hardening in evil. Why isn’t it acceptable to interpret the more objectionable phrase by the explanatory phase occurring in the same context, which harmonizes with the rest of Scriptures’ portrayal of God’s character? Also, the idiom of the Hebrew language may explain such speak. William Green points out in Turkey due to the idiom of the language one might say: “I made my steamer run away” rather than “I missed my steamer” (Classical Evangelical Essays, Walter Kaiser, Editor, p. 211).

God could also have been active in hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Thomas Talbott in The Inescapable Love of God suggests the Hebrew word used for hardening literally means “to strengthen.” God could have given Pharaoh the courage to carry out the true desires of his heart (74-75). God’s hardening is not arbitrary. It is not as if God hardens one’s heart despite their wish to be moral. God doesn’t require evil to accomplish good. God would have gladly accepted Pharaoh’s change in heart at any time. God though giving Pharaoh the courage to fulfill his immoral desires could accomplish good in the long-run that may not happen otherwise.

God may further harden someone, that has chosen to rebel, for their own benefit. A loving God only asks us to do what is in our best interest. God’s wrath is simply the more severe form of God’s love. Parents often must show tough love by creating consequences that hopefully may change a child’s mind for their well-being. God strengthening Pharaoh’s heart allows Pharaoh to see the destruction of his sin. God sometimes may go to great measures so we might consider the welfare of all we impact. It isn’t necessarily immoral “For God to bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Rom. 11:32).

There is no evidence that God violated Pharaoh’s freedom. Scriptures as a whole suggest that God allows the freedom to continue to act on one’s evil choices. Sometimes, we may not interfere in a child’s life, allowing further destruction, knowing that may be the only way for them to eventually change for their own good. God not destroying evil allows mercy in the long-run as people in time recognize the devastation of their behaviors and seek forgiveness which prevents further acts of destruction. This story surely conveys that God used Pharaoh for His purposes to accomplish His will, which is always centered on His love for all people including Pharaoh.

Is God Immoral For Condoning Slavery In The Bible?

One may read Old Testament passages on the topic of slavery and question the morality of God or if there is any value in reading the OT. Some suggest that difficult topics in the OT are simply recordings of how the Israelites perceived God’s guidance rather than what God actually guided. There are other possible explanations that don’t seemingly undermine the Bible being inspired by God. I get it if some decide they just can’t read the OT because no interpretation seems possible based on what a loving God should be like. We are made in God’s likeness so we are not totally clueless of God’s character. We must not lose sight of that we worship a God and not a book. But, can slavery in the OT be explained that doesn’t make God a moral monster?

The truth is that Old Testament servanthood did not compare to slavery in the South that many of us are most familiar with. Paul Copan in Is God A Moral Monster explains: “By contrast, Hebrew (debt) servanthood could be compared to similar conditions in colonial America. Paying fares for passage to America was too costly for many individuals to afford. So they’d contract themselves out, working in the households…until they paid back their debts” (p.125). Israelites often could not pay off debt and only could offer their labor. Servants were always freed from their labor and debt at the end of six years, thus avoiding lifetime servanthood.

The protection of servants and fair treatment is clear in the OT. In other ancient near Eastern laws, owners had no such accountability. Israel owners who injured a servant must let the slave go free (Ex. 21:26-27). Why didn’t God outlaw masters touching their servants? The Israelites perhaps were as close-minded to not disciplining servants physically that some are to not spanking their children. Simply stating that a parent must never touch their child accomplishes nothing if they are going to do it anyway. Laws help to protect children. The discipline of servants was tolerated and regulated for simply disallowing does nothing.

Why didn’t God simply abolish servanthood? God didn’t desire poverty and approve of behaviors that often lead to such conditions. To completely abolish servanthood during these times would leave many without care and food. God did command the golden rule (Lev. 19:18), but laws were set up when people treated servants as objects. God like we do made laws to protect victims. God allowing freedom means He must tolerate certain behaviors. God know people simply hide, not change their actions, if not done on their own accord.

The apostle Paul in the NT is often indicted for not just abolishing slavery. Paul, much like God with the Israelites, sought to change society within rather than demand immediately what he thought was right. If Paul had focused on abolishing slavery, Christianity would have been viewed as threat to the Roman empire and put people in more danger. Paul Copan says it best: “Paul (and Peter) didn’t call for an uprising to overthrow slavery in Rome. They didn’t want the Christian faith to be perceived as opposed to social order and harmony” (152). Paul was clear what he thought of slavery: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

God hates divorce as much as we do for the sake of children. God not outlawing divorce or polygamy didn’t mean He approved of such behaviors. Simply outlawing divorce doesn’t protect the victims who are often women and children. God knows power corrupts, but, God allowed Israel to choose Kings. Sometimes, we only accept the truth after suffering consequences of our choices. God did not create a patriarchal relationship between Adam and Eve. Is God supposed to continually wipe out cultures that fall into less than ideal relationships? God doesn’t overthrow societies but works within societies to hopefully make lasting change in the hearts of their citizens. Freedom is necessary for authentic, lasting change. God’s interference or dictatorship may actually prevent a superior world from developing as a result of the moral improvement of free creatures.

There certainly are passages that can make it challenging to defend God’s character. Most accept the first five books of the OT as a literary unit. One can point to passages that seem to protect servants and passages that enable their continued victimization. The editors were surely aware of and did not attempt to rewrite the supposed contradictions. There may be plausible explanations than assuming the bible editors were mindless enough to contradict themselves. A master could lose their live if they killed a slave. Servants could be freed if harmed. Servants were considered equal and not to be denied justice when they had a grievance (Job 31:13-15). Mistreated servants were not to be return to their abusive masters (Deut. 23: 15-16).

But, one may question the following passage that discusses how masters are to treat servants. I would make a law for a master to not lay a hand on their servants, but we discussed God didn’t always insist on His ways for those that would not hear it. The Bible recognizes that servanthood is a reality in a world of poverty and gave regulations for treatment by masters. Exodus 21:20-27 states if a master harms a servant that they die, it was understood the death penalty could be used. If they survived, why is there no punishment? Likely, it was assumed the loss of money via the servant’s labor was some punishment. The passage does go on to say that if a master knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

I am suggesting there are plausible explanations for God allowing servanthood type relationships in the OT. I obviously did not tackle all the difficult passages one might question when reading about the laws for such relationships. I encourage one read Paul Copan’s book that I have cited. We have to consider the issue of poverty at the time and the amount of wars which left foreigners without a means to survive. I have suggested that God works with the moral circumstances He is handed and attempts to lead in change that last. Perhaps within this backdrop the reader may understand why God guided the way He did and that the OT does not suggest God is schizophrenic – claiming to be moral but acting immoral.

Does Our View Of Suffering Matter?

In the midst of suffering it may best to get through it than try to understand it. It may be helpful though to thing ahead how we envision coping with suffering. Many seek to reconcile a belief in God with the harsh realities of sufferings in life. Lack of answer can make tragic times worse. We may ask sometimes where is God or what is God doing. “Why is this happening to me or my loved one” can sometimes turn into “why God do you not love me.” How we define God’s role in suffering can determine how we handle suffering.

Why doesn’t God, if good and all powerful, eliminate evil? Richard Rice’s book Suffering and the Search for Meaning is a great read in ways we may try to make sense how the goodness of God and evil can co-exist. (I tend to use evil and suffering interchangeably as suffering is evil and evil is suffering.) The author wisely suggests that our view of suffering may not help someone else. Some answers may be better than others, but we should not attempt to convince one of our views at their expense. All need a personal theory that is comforting during suffering.

Richard Rice addresses the many different views of suffering. Some would say there isn’t a God so there is no need to reconcile God and suffering. Other views seem to be attempts to get God off the hook. Some suggests Satan is behind the suffering in the world but one may question why God gives Satan this much control. Some defend that God determined suffering was necessary for moral growth. Others would suggest God can do a lot but God cannot do all He wants by controlling the amount of the suffering in the world.

One main traditional view to protect a certain view of God’s power argues that nothing happens outside of God’s will. Some prefer to protect a view of God and His power by suggesting everything happens for a reason as designed by God. This implies God controls the amount of suffering in our life and has a predetermined plan for our suffering. This view though is too much for many to bear. Is God really responsible for the timing when a drunk driver kills another driver? Why doesn’t God at least control extreme evils where millions die to bring about a supposed good plan?

There is another view that has helped me and I anticipate helping me cope with possible extreme suffering in the future. If you have struggled with any of the above views, you may consider the below. It is what is commonly referred to as the freedom model, and I will suggest an open view of the future as it makes more sense to me when it comes to God’s creating freedom.

  • Evil was not created by God but originates from the hearts of human beings. God had wished for us to freely choose to live with one another in harmony. God longs for what human parents desire – children who freely relate in love than out of fear. No amount of good resulting from suffering justifies the evil actions of others, but freedom was necessary to obtain the highest good in relationships. Not even God can force true love. Without freedom God could be accuse of not creating the “best” world. The only way for earthly or heavenly parents to ensure there is never any suffering is to not risk creating.
  • God knows of all possibilities and is never caught off guard, but God did not know if we would choose evil. The future must be open if there is to be genuine freedom. This view of the future preserves the integrity of freedom. This gives more integrity to passages that advise God grieves with us. Some prefer to believe God doesn’t know an unknowable future because it empowers them to relate to such a God. It is easier for many to worship a God who doesn’t control everything as opposed to a God who accepts no resistance.
  • God obviously allows suffering because a God powerful enough to create can destroy. God values freedom. God apparently also values forgiveness and the possibility of change rather than instant justice. Human parents nor God are sadistic because they don’t squash freedom to avoid suffering. We give our wayward children opportunities to change despite the harm caused to themselves or others. Also, suffering which is a possibility in a free world can change the hearts of others. Martin Luther King’s suffering moved the scales from the eyes of many who tolerated bigotry.
  • God ultimate response to evil and suffering is the slow, necessary way of the incarnation. The Cross was not to satisfy some need in God at the expense of His Son but to satisfy a need in us at His expense. God sought to change our attitude about God, not God’s attitude toward us. God choose to experience undeserved suffering in hopes to persuade us to walk hand in hand with our Creator through any tragedy to bring good from what was intended for evil. God is not the cause but God can be the rescuer.

It is easier to explain moral evil than natural evil with this freedom model. We understand deserved suffering (i.e. consequences of bad actions), but we can ask why God doesn’t at least limit the scope of some undeserved sufferings. It is complicated. God would still be questioned unless God stopped all abuse not some abuse, all natural disasters not some natural disasters. We demand God take control but we seldom give God total control of our lives. We may not be able to explain why God chooses to intervene miraculously sometimes. I do know to intervene all the time is to make a mockery of freedom. God answering all my prayers is not in my best interests in the long-run.

We may wonder why God didn’t go ahead and create heaven on earth if one day there is no sin, but moral growth may be a necessary journey to eventually not choosing sin. Perhaps the only way to defeat evil in us, other than destruction, is for us to persevere and overcome evil. We cannot prove there are no good moral reasons for allowing freedom resulting in so much evil. Argue with God. Question God. Seek to understand God. I am convinced God will never abandon us as we seek to understand and depend on God. God works to somehow bring some good from suffering and provide hope that one day there will not be suffering.

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