Jan 302015
 

Do babies go to hellA couple of weeks ago we looked at the question “How can a God of love send people to hell?” but we didn’t cover the aspect of what happens to the unborn, babies or small children if they die before ever having the ability to make a choice to follow Jesus or not. It’s a fair question because the bible says that it is only through Jesus that we are saved (Acts 4:12) It also says that we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) so the assumption is that babies, small children are unsaved and heading for hell.

But that doesn’t sit right does it?

That answer is a bit black and white though, isn’t it? As in many areas of life there are no definitive answers in the bible and so we need to look at some general principles from the bible and form an opinion based on these.

I would always focus the attention firstly on the character of God. The bible reveals a lot about that.

First of all God is good

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

He is also trustworthy “All your commands are trustworthy” (Psalm 119:86)

He is also a righteous judge “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” (Psalm 9:8)

There are so many attributes I could fill a book (a very big book!)

Basically because he is righteous and just and good and also knows all things, we can therefore trust him implicitly.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think a God like that would send little children or even the unborn to hell?

Let me change angle.

The bible states that we are all sinners by nature and choice;

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

There is no-one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)

It even shows that we were sinful at or before birth;

Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.” (Psalm 58:3)

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

This means that yes, young children and even the unborn are sinful. Being so young, they are unable to repent or believe, but how different is that to adults? We have all turned away from God. There is no-one who seeks after God

there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:11)

Anyone who is a Christian is only a Christian because God has fore-ordained it because Salvation is from God alone and it is based solely on his grace.

who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (2 Timothy 1:9)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

God choosing us is called the doctrine of ‘Election’. Speaking about Jacob and Esau it says in Romans;

Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:11-13)

So the fact that anybodyis saved (Children or adult) is a miracle of God.

If God chooses and saves adults by his grace not because of anything they have done, will he not also save children by his grace as they have not even had a chance to do anything, good or bad?

There is evidence in the bible of God’s hand of grace on unborn children. Speaking of John the Baptist in Luke’s gospel it says..

for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” (Luke 1:15)

And King David says in the Psalms..

From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:10)

After the death of David’s child, David makes an interesting statement, which would certainly suggest that his newborn son has gone to heaven..

But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)

There are other clues in the bible if you look for them that suggest that young children or the unborn who die prematurely are at rest, which would certainly not be the description of hell. After Job has had all his family and possessions wiped out he mourns and curses the day of his birth. In Job 3:11–13 he says;

Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest

And in Ecclesiastes it makes a statement about a stillborn child;

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” (Ecclesiastes 6:3)

Better off? In hell?

Another interesting point to note is that throughout the bible, whenever judgement is mentioned it is always in the context of works, for instance;

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had doneas recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:11-12)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)

Even though young children are born with a sin nature and are therefore sinful, they have no chance to follow or reject God, so how can they be judged?

And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 1:39)

In conclusion

If your view of God is of a cruel, nit picky and capricious God who stands at the gates of heaven with a clipboard and if you don’t tick all the boxes you don’t get in, then you will believe that God judges harshly with young children and the unborn and resigns them to hell because “those are the rules.”

But if your view of God is based on how God has revealed himself in the bible; a gracious, kind, patient, giving, forgiving, merciful, compassionate heavenly father, who lavishes his grace on us not because of anything we have done but because of his great mercy, then I suspect your view might be quite different.

Let’s leave the last words with Jesus which I believe is the clincher;

Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

 January 30, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Hell, Salvation 2 Responses »
Jan 232015
 

slaveryBefore we start, let’s establish what we mean by slavery. If you mention the word slavery to most people in our society they will immediately think of the slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries where Africans were forcefully removed from their lands, transported on cramped ships and made to work on places like plantations in the Caribbean and the southern United States.

This is not what the bible means by slavery. In fact that practice of ‘man-stealing’ is clearly spoken against in the bible. For instance, in Exodus 21:16 it says that if anyone does that, then they should be put to death! It’s also clearly listed as a sin in 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

Slavery, however is mentioned many times in the bible. The Old Testament especially, mentions slaves frequently. It was a very common practice in ancient times, often resulting from the displacement of people due to war etc. Slaves were often treated really badly and thought of as no more than property to be treated how their master liked. In the Mosaic law God provided for slaves so they were treated respectfully and humanely. They were even to be released from their obligations after 6 years, unless they themselves chose to stay with their master (Exodus 21:2) These regulations that God provided for slaves, were really radical in ancient times. God cares for individuals but especially for the poor, destitute and marginalised.

As we are talking about slavery in the bible, let’s analyse why there was slavery in Israel. Without any form of social security it would have been easy for someone to fall upon hard times and selling yourself into slavery might be the only way you could provide for your family (Leviticus 25:39) A thief who was caught might have to go into slavery to pay off his debt (Exodus 22:3) people heavily in debt too could sell their children into slavery (2 Kings 4:1) This may sound cruel but it ensured their children were provided for.

In New Testament times slavery was still equally prevalent and universal. It was still a means for people to pay off debts and even survive if times were really hard. This is probably why slavery was not condemned outright in the bible. If Christians had somehow managed to get slavery banned, there would undoubtedly be more deaths, so you could say keeping slavery in that society was actually the humane thing to do! So rather than condemning slavery, Paul and the writers of the New Testament wrote some very counter cultural advice on how slaves and masters were to behave in a society where slavery was very normal. Their attitudes were to be radically different to the way the rest of society behaved, which is no different to how we should behave, as Christians, in our workplaces.

As long as there has been human sin and mankind’s inhumanity to his fellow man, there will always be a form of slavery. Don’t for one minute think that in our modern age that slavery has been eradicated, far from it. In a 2014 comprehensive study it was reckoned that there are currently 35.8 million slaves living in the world today! (http://www.walkfree.org/)

The bible knows that the human heart is in slave to sin and that while we walk in that sin, slavery will always be prevalent. But far from condoning slavery, the hope of the gospel is that everyone who puts their hope in Jesus will stand victoriously free, no longer in Physical slavery or spiritual slavery and that is something to look forward to.

 January 23, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Bible No Responses »
Jan 162015
 

Is the bible sexistWe have been looking at various bible difficulties over a number of weeks. Another difficulty people commonly raise with the bible is that it appears by many to be quite sexist. The Old Testament is mostly dominated by men and when true heroines do appear they still seem to be subservient to men (such as Esther).

When reading the Old Testament we should be mindful that it is a very ancient book. It records events as they were ‘warts and all’ it was written without intention to gloss over the nasty parts. When reading it, you must consider the culture at the time which treated women very badly and on many occasions as no more important that property. They were not allowed to contribute fully in society and were constantly subjugated, such as the draconian divorce laws which allowed for a man to hand his wife a written divorce paper for simply burning the dinner. Within all this injustice and inequality, if we read the bible carefully, we see a God who continually stepped in and gave women honour and dignity. God’s intention has always been that men and women are to work side by side, each with their own specific gifts and tasks to perform. There are some significant women in the bible such as Deborah who was one of Israel’s judges who Inspired Israel to victory when men weren’t up to the job (Judges 4&5). Other strong women in the Old Testament were Rahab, Esther and Ruth. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus resurrected after his crucifixion (John 20:15-18). There were also women at Pentecost who were filled with the Holy Spirit when He fell in power. It was a woman who truly grasped what Jesus was going to face before any of his disciples caught on in Mark 14:8. And it was almost exclusively women who stayed with him at the cross (John was the only exception)

In Galatians 3:28 it says There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We are all equal before God. So how do we square this passage with for example 1 Timothy 2:12?

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Do they not contradict each other? I don’t think so, because although we are equal and one in Christ, we have different roles assigned to us. God has made us and designed us to fulfill certain functions. There are of course always exceptions but in general He designed men; bigger and stronger to protect women and children and He gave women much more compassion and durability when it comes to child rearing etc. It has never ceased to amaze me how women cope with the demands of small children and the care and attention they provide 24/7. I have always maintained that infant mortality would increase dramatically if it were only men responsible for their upbringing! We are made in a certain way to fulfill roles that God has ordained that men and women should complete. These roles are not haphazard, they are part of His great design. He is certainly not being sexist!

We mustn’t take verses out of context though and it is important firstly to say that the translation ‘man’ in 1 Timothy 2 could equally be translated husband, which adds a whole new light to this verse. Also, this verse could conceivably be referring to one particularly domineering woman in Ephesus where Timothy was leading. But in other New Testament passages we also see women teaching. Women such as Priscilla, who with her husband Aquila taught Apollos (Acts 18:26) and Timothy himself was taught by his mother and his grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15)

I believe the only office not available to women is that of an Elder. Unfortunately, some people seem to spend all their time debating this one prohibition when there are numerous other wonderful roles that God has provided to complete and fulfill women. Instead of complaining, we should be encouraging women to reach their full potential and thrive in everything He has given them to do. As the French say vive la difference!

 January 16, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Uncategorized No Responses »
Jan 092015
 

hellWe are continuing in a series of blogs around the theme of bible difficulties. We have already looked at the argument that the bible is God’s word and can be trusted, but the problem is, the amount of difficult questions it raises. Last week we looked at how a good God could allow evil and suffering in the world and we saw that God has placed a high value on human beings having the ability to make choices (called ‘free will’).

This week we look at a problem which is associated with last weeks question and that is; “Why would a God who is good and loving send people to hell, which is a place of eternal torment?”

God sending people to hell, from a human perspective seems very unfair. From our point of view it is really difficult to imagine people being subjected to eternal suffering. Eternal is forever, never ceasing. Surely that can’t be right?

It’s important though that we take a balanced view. It is a very emotive subject and we need to see the situation not just from our own viewpoint. The bible helps with a number of starting points which we need to consider;

An important thing to consider is that God is holy;

for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Holiness is perfection, a complete absence of sin. Not even having the ability to sin. God is completely pure and incorruptible, the absolute standard. And importantly, not even allowing sin to be anywhere near His presence.

Allied to this is the fact that He is righteous

God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day. (Psalm 7:11-12)

Meaning He will only do what is right, He cannot do and accept wrong. It is against His very nature

In perfect balance with His Holiness and righteousness is His love. God is a God of love. He is the meaning of the word, it too is in His very nature.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

This aspect of love is why we see that God takes no delight in people going to hell

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

If God were to only be loving He would let everybody off and in fact if He was only just, Hell would be full, including all the people who have ever existed. God has balanced his righteousness and love in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus took our sin on himself and has made, through His body, an escape from hell. Justice and love were both served on the cross of Jesus Christ.

This now brings us to the subject we looked at last week. There is a very real sense that God doesn’t ‘send’ anyone to hell. All who go there deserve to be there because that is what they have chosen, that is their ‘free will’. Sin continues in this world through the choices we make that are not in God’s plan. Choices we make to go our own way each day. You may say that they are not ‘big’ sins like rape and murder, but actually the biggest sin of all is rejecting the one who has provided a way of escape from the punishment of the consequences of our sin and those that go to hell have committed that sin.

Ok, so what about young children, babies, those who have never heard of Jesus? What happens to them? Well, our ‘human’ assumption is that they are innocent, but actually the bible suggests that we are all born in sin, we are born with a sin nature and therefore guilty.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12)

We simply don’t know enough about God’s judgements as He has chosen not to reveal them fully to us, but what we do know is that He can be trusted completely. As we have seen already He is completely Holy, entirely just and utterly loving so what He will do will be right. What a comforting thought to know.

 January 9, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Hell No Responses »
Jan 022015
 

Why would a good God allow evil to existBefore Christmas I started a few blogs about bible difficulties. I’m continuing that subject this week with a very common argument against Christianity and the existence of God. This is not so much a bible difficulty as a problem that people have with God himself, although the bible gives us plenty of clues as to why evil still exists.

The bible makes it clear in various places that God is good, holy, righteous and all powerful.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3)

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:11)

The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4)

It is clear that God, as the creator, has the capability to stop sin and also hates it and desires that it be eradicated completely. This raises the question from opponents that either He is not powerful enough to stop evil or He is powerful enough to stop it but is just not as loving as He says He is and chooses not to stop it. If He is both fully capable of stopping it and genuinely wants it ended, why is it still around and seemingly more prevalent than ever?

The key point in this whole argument is that in His wisdom, God has decided to allow us ‘free will’ we have ability to choose good and follow God or to choose evil and rebel against Him.

He could have made us machines that don’t know right from wrong or ones that have no ability to choose. I don’t know why He didn’t choose either of those two options, but I feel it must be something to do with the joy we experience when we worship Him freely. His giving us the choice must have been the most loving thing He could do for us.

People will still argue why God doesn’t stop the worst evil in the world, but surely, if He is going to stop some, where should He stop? Another option would be to stop all the evilest people, but if they are removed, pretty soon we are the most evilest people on the planet and we should be removed too. The bible makes it clear that we are all sinful, each and every one of us and it’s not just our actions that are evil but our thoughts as well

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

People in every generation have struggled with these very real questions, but thankfully as I said before there are helpful clues in scripture. Let’s consider 7 thoughts to help us through:

(1) Jesus was well aware that there would always be evil around

In John 16:33 He said “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” Nothing takes Him by surprise.

(2) Evil was not created or caused by God

We have already looked at that in the passage in Deuteronomy 32:4

(3) Most suffering is caused by human sin

If you analyse it, everything that goes wrong with people (apart from natural disasters etc) can be boiled down to sin; such as anger, jealousy, greed and pride.

(4) We live in a fallen world

After Adam and Eve sinned the whole creation was corrupted by the curse. The world became distorted and ‘off centre’.

(5) God will ultimately judge all evil

The reason sin is not all judged immediately is because of God’s patience and His desire for people to be given time to repent. But one day, on that final day, everything will be judged and justice will be served.

(6) God suffered too

He is not distant from our suffering, not detached from it. Jesus not only suffered it in his life, but when He died, took on the full weight of mankind’s evil

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

(7) God can bring good out of bad.

Look at the example of Joseph in Genesis where he was sold into slavery, abandoned, forgotten about and thrown into prison, but God turned it all for the good of the whole nation and his family. He was able to forgive his brothers because he recognised God’s plan in and through his ordeal. He said to them:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

God is so good that even when evil seems to be triumphing, God can still turn it around. The greatest example of course was Jesus who won the ultimate victory in the face of the greatest evil.

In conclusion; In a world of free choices, God’s will is rarely done. Going our own way is much more common. We shouldn’t blame God for the atrocities committed on a daily basis, blame the people who blatantly ignore His commands, put there for our good. We were made for a relationship with God, but He will not force himself upon us. He is all to ready to comfort, guide and direct us, but the choice is ours.

 January 2, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Goodness No Responses »