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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 No 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 »
Dec 262014
 

Boxing dayAs Boxing Day has fallen on blog day (or Friday to the rest of you) I thought I would write a short blog on the subject. I was vaguely aware what it was all about; I knew it wasn’t about the sport of “Boxing” for instance, but I didn’t know anything else for definite other than that. I must confess I don’t like not knowing things so I decided to do some research and find out the facts.

The first thing that surprised me was that Boxing Day is largely not celebrated in America. However it is celebrated in Canada, although through the passage of time many differences have developed between the way we Brits and Canadians celebrate this day.

The second surprise I had was that the more I searched, the clearer it became that nobody actually quite knows where it all started. There are a number of theories and in fact it could be a little bit of all of them…or not. The one thing that all agree on though is the date: December 26th. But hereafter the theories of the origin of Boxing Day vary. Here are the main theories so take your pick!

  • Some believe it dates back to the Middle Ages when the Church of England had ‘poor boxes’ in which they would collect money. These boxes would then be opened on Boxing Day and distributed amongst the poor.
  • It could also be the tradition of trades people such as postmen, bin men etc receiving a box of goodies or money in recognition of great service throughout the year.
  • Another possibility is that this tradition stems back to when the wealthy had servants who had to work on Christmas day serving their masters. Their masters would give them a box of gifts to take home the next day, which would be their day off.
  • A tradition I wasn’t aware of was that during the Age of Exploration, when great sailing ships were setting off to discover new lands, a “Christmas Box” was a symbol of good luck. It would be a priest (bringing a bad name to Christianity in my opinion) who would place the box on the ship while it was still in port and the superstitious sailors would put money in it hoping for a safe journey. The priest would then seal it until the journey’s end when, upon safe return, he would say a mass of thanks and distribute the contents to the poor.

In many places Boxing Day is referred to as “St Stephens Day”. St Stephen was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Acts 6&7. It says that he was “Full of grace and power and was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was arrested and taken before the council, where he preached an amazing sermon to the religious leaders who took exception to him accusing them of putting to death the Messiah. He enraged them so much that they took him out and stoned him. Even while being stoned he still forgave his attackers. Now he is the type of hero I would like to celebrate on Boxing Day!

On a similar heroic note, the popular Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was set on Boxing Day (the feast of St Stephen). It tells the story of a king braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant . During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step by step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia(Modern day Czechoslovakia).

Let us take inspiration from “St. Stephen” and “St. Wenceslaus I”, continuing in the tradition of these two men, who stood strong against violent opposition and refused to compromise in the face of opposition and put themselves out to help the poor. Happy St Stephen’s Day!

 December 26, 2014  Posted by at 9:00 am Christmas No Responses »
Dec 192014
 

True meaning of ChristmasI have to admit that I get quite worn down with the Christmas palaver. It seems we say it every year that “Christmas gets earlier and earlier”. I think that’s mainly because the shops start to stock Christmas items while I’m still wearing shorts! It gets to November and all the Christmas adverts are on the tv and homes across our towns are starting to drain the national grid with their colourful (and sometimes very gaudy) light displays. It can be a very stressful time as the list to buy presents reaches its second or third page- and what to buy people? And how much should we spend? And can we afford it?

A couple of weeks ago, we as a family went up to London and experienced ‘Winter Wonderland’ in Hyde Park for the first time. It’s an impressive set-up; huge; lots of noise, sights, sounds and smells, but sadly didn’t fill me with the Christmas spirit I was hoping for. It was free to get in, but everything once you walked in was hugely expensive. The myriad of eating places (with their fantastic smells) provoked gluttony. The children (who think we are actually made of money) badger us constantly to go on this or buy that and it just left me feeling a little bit sad.

Before I leave you too depressed, I want to remind you (and myself) that this is not what Christmas is all about. It’s not about ‘winter wonderland’, it’s not about spending money we don’t have. It’s not about lots of television shows and films, or rich food or even (dare I say) spending time with friends or family.

The thing is, we really do know what Christmas is all about; we just find ourselves getting constantly caught up in all the ‘stuff’. Christmas is about Jesus; His amazing descent from heavens throne room to a smelly dirty stable; His sacrifice, commitment; the grace and His very great love. “For God so loved the world that he gave..” (John 3:16)

God is the most amazing generous giver and He calls us to aspire to His generosity.

When we think about it, Christmas is a time when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday and birthdays usually mean gifts to the birthday person. However, at this birthday everyone else gets a present except the one whose birthday it is. We of course cannot give Him a physical gift, but how about getting a little creative?

I think a nice little gift would be the sacrifice of some of our time. How about setting aside 20 minutes or so each day to pray and meditate on His word? He’d like that. Or what about singing? Christmas is a time of singing and Jesus loves it when we sing our worship to Him. It only needs to be an audience of one, nobody else needs to hear (in case you’re worried about your voice!). Another idea of a gift would be to bless His brothers and sisters, our church family. That would be like giving to Him in His eyes. So also we could provide for the poor. They are always on His heart and we have been called to be Jesus’ hands and feet. Where He is not physically present He has called us to stand in His place.

I’m sure we could be very creative with ideas about what to give Him. And as we give, we will find it impossible to out-give Him because He will ensure we receive His peace in our hearts which far outweighs all the other ‘stuff’ this Christmas.

 December 19, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Christmas No Responses »
Dec 122014
 

God of old & newOn a superficial reading, the God of the bible can seem quite different in the Old Testament as He does in the New. If you are not careful you can focus on His wrathful character, where he smites whole nations and appears; angry and vengeful and compare that with ‘nice’ Jesus who went around healing people and cuddling babies!

Modern atheists and sceptics love to seize on this caricature and focus on God’s angry aspect without any reference to God’s qualities of love and patience etc. The well known atheist Richard Dawkins writing in his book ‘The God delusion’ said “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (page 31) ouch! I don’t even know quite a few of those words but they don’t sound very nice. Now Richard Dawkins I know, has an agenda, but is there an element of truth in his rantings? Is this God of anger and wrath so different to the God of the New Testament?

The idea that it is a different God has been around for centuries. It started with a chap called Marcion in the second century, who had this teaching ‘Marcionism’ named after him. He believed, much like the Gnostics of the time that the wrathful God of the Old Testament was a lesser god (with a small g) from the all forgiving God of the New. He was denounced as a heretic and his teaching was refuted for the following reasons;

The bible is God’s progressive revelation. He dealt with people very differently throughout history. We see this in the various covenants He had with characters like Noah, Abraham and David. Each covenant building on the other, each one revealing more and more of His plans and purposes. These covenants also meant he dealt differently with people. He established and called His own people, the Israelites who could demonstrate His character to the world. This was with the express purpose of reaching these people and demonstrating mercy and grace to them, but they rejected Him outright and subsequently had to face the consequences.

To describe God in the Old Testament as only angry is a huge misrepresentation. God is amazingly loving, compassionate and faithful. This is demonstrated again and again in the Old Testament.

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6)

But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf (Nehemiah 9:17-18)

For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 108:4)

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:13)

Any many, many other passages.

The fact is that in the Old testament, God had to jealously guard His people to protect them from their enemies because they threatened to destroy His plan of salvation for all people, for all time (God is always looking at ‘the big picture’). What has to be remembered is that God is a God of justice as well as love and the evil of His enemies could not be condoned and go unchecked. Even then he gave them ample time to repent. The Amorites in Genesis 15:16 had hundreds of years to repent and in Genesis 6:3, Noah preached for 120 years calling the people to repentance before God sent the flood. Surely enough time to give them a chance? This was not a case of God wiping out innocent people. They were all wilful in their rebellion and often engaged in very violent and barbaric practices. To not act would mean that God would seem unjust. God dealt with His own people as a father would discipline the child he loves. It’s not unloving but ‘tough’ love, designed to bring transformation, repentance and change.

The bible describes God as unchanging (Malachi 3:6) and so let’s briefly look at the similarities between the God of the Old and the New Testaments;

We mentioned that God disciplines His children in the Old Testament but He also does this in the New;

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrew 12:6)

He is still a God of righteous wrath in the New

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

And He said some harsh words in Mark 16:16

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

And even though Jesus demonstrated the most amazing love and patience on many occasions he did still show his righteously angry side when He twice turned over the money changers tables and drove them out of the temple and when he rebuked His disciples on a number of occasions and the way He spoke to the scribes and Pharisee’s.

In summary it is very important to study the bible correctly and see that God has demonstrated His character in multi-faceted ways. It is also important to note that He is sovereign and is fully justified in whatever He does. I am so glad that throughout His dealings with mankind His mercy has triumphed over His judgement continually. He doesn’t always treat us as our sins deserve and that is why He is worthy to be praised.

 December 12, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Uncategorized No Responses »
Dec 052014
 

Second chanceI asked all my readers recently to provide me with any questions you may have that perhaps you have struggled with or wondered about as you have read the bible and I would do my best to bring an answer.

The title of this blog is the condensed version of one of these questions.

To expand it a little, the question was; “Given that God is a just God, it would seem unjust if someone died who had actually not rejected Jesus because they had never understood whilst alive. Surely they must have a chance to choose to accept or reject Him, so would they be given a chance to make that decision after death?”

A similar question would be “What happens to the people who have never heard the gospel?

That’s a great question! As you will have noticed in nearly all my blogs, I have used scripture a lot to back up what I am saying. This can be quite an emotive subject and so rather than give my own opinion, as best I can, I want to answer this question with the unchanging, eternal, word of God, whether I particularly like the answer or not. Remember as I said last week we want to get past our own opinions and hear what God really wants to say.

I know that some will disagree with me on the next point, but let’s start with the issue of salvation. Who is responsible for it? Is it God or ourselves? Some would say that it is only our choice, we are the ones who see our need to be saved and so when we realise this we repent and are saved. God provided it but the decision belongs to us. This is commonly referred to as the Arminian position.

The bible states that before we are Christians we are ‘dead’ in our sins (Colossians 2:13 and Ephesians 2:1) and the last time I noticed, dead people are incapable of making decisions! I believe that it is God who is the ‘Founder and perfector’ of our salvation as it says in Hebrews 12:2.

Ephesians 1:4 also makes it clear that God chose us. “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Jesus makes this even clearer when He said;

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide (John 15:16)

So point number one is that salvation is dependent on who God chooses, not on our own decision, even though it feels like our decision when we do receive him. We were drawn to make that decision by The Holy Spirit

So what about the question of God being unjust to people who don’t even get to choose?

The bible is clear that actually no-one is without excuse;

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Also that no-one has an inclination to seek after God either;

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)

The natural state of everyone is rebellion towards God, we are all the same. Even if we were given a second chance we wouldn’t take it. Many people have received amazing miracles & still rejected God. Even Jesus when He walked this earth, after performing amazing miracles and seeing the dead raised was still rejected. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 The rich man asked for warnings to be given for his 5 brothers who are still alive and Abraham responded;

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

The hope of a second chance is completely extinguished by the verse in Hebrews 9:27

it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

So the answer is that when we die, everyone receives justice, we all get what we deserve. For some of us though who have put our trust in Him and who God has called, we receive the most amazing mercy. We who were once God’s enemies are declared righteous and welcomed into the family of God as His own children for all time.

If you have any other questions about the bible you would like me to look at, please let me know in the comments below. I will be looking at a few more bible difficulties in the coming weeks.

 December 5, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Salvation No Responses »
Nov 282014
 

disagree with bible 2Last week we started to look at the reasons why people disagree with the Bible. We talked about the correct interpretation of the Bible, “hermeneutics”. We also looked at the importance of interpreting the Bible based on various historical and cultural factors, original language and context in which the passage was written. This then helps us understand the original meaning, enabling us therefore to fully grasp what God is actually saying to us. We cannot simply interpret it in any way we choose, nor completely disregard certain passages simply because we don’t like them.

This week we will look at some reasons why people disagree with the Bible.

The first problem which may be encountered is the fact that the Bible is very honest in describing God as He actually is, not how we think He is. We are inclined to make God in our image rather than the other (proper) way round. If a particular Bible passage describes God in a way that is uncomfortable to our 20th century, western, comfortable sensibilities we can get quite upset. This can be heightened if we don’t truly understand the context in which the passage was written. We can get so hooked up on the fact that God is love (and He clearly is) that when we see the ‘just’ or ‘righteous’ side to His character, we recoil. We can perversely think that loving people is somehow letting them off all the time. This is not love! Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to bring discipline as correction.

As human beings, we are inclined to believe we have a divine right to live full and trouble free lives and we get upset when it doesn’t quite turn out like that. God’s holiness would truly be served if He killed us as soon as we sinned, but actually His love and mercy allow us to live many more years than we deserve, even living them in rebellion to Him. We get upset at the wiping out of entire people groups in the Old Testament, yet fail to fully see how sinful and evil these races were and how long God allowed them to continue in this state. God is so much more patient than any person on this planet and we need to remember that sometimes many years have passed between one chapter and the next in our Bibles. If we were in God’s position we would not be able to stand for the injustice witnessed for a fraction of the time that He does.

We have a tendency to seriously underestimate the holiness of God. We can be naturally accommodating of sin, especially ones we consider small. God is not like that; He is supremely holy and therefore cannot stand sin in any measure.

Even when we get past God’s character and nature, we can find ourselves feeling upset with some of the things He says. The Bible describes certain behaviours and attitudes as right or wrong, no matter what society says. This is probably the most common reason the Bible causes offence. The Bible states that “…There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).

Many things may seem right to us, but that doesn’t mean they are. Our society gets very upset when we proclaim something as wrong. They want to call it an ‘alternative viewpoint’. This is because human beings will go to great lengths to defend their own decisions and behaviour. When we uphold the Bible’s standard we are accused of being intolerant. Society doesn’t like judgemental statements. But God is our highest authority and He can say and do as He likes; this is what greatly upsets people and may be perceived as unloving: “Who is God to tell me what I can and can’t do?”. But the fact is, He knows us because He made us and He knows what is right and wrong. He says it for our own good as a loving parent, much like a parent who tells their child not to play near the road. The parent is in a much better position to see the danger than the child who thinks the parent is spoiling their fun.

So how should we approach the Bible, especially when we read bits that we really struggle with?

(1) Pray

Ask God to change your heart and desires. We live in the world and we can so easily subconsciously take on the world’s values without even noticing it. If we read the Bible with an openness to learn and a love for God in our hearts, He will help us and change our hearts. He does this because we are His children and He loves to speak to us and direct us. The passages we struggle with and the reasons we struggle with them could well be God’s vehicle to remove false idols and bad attitudes from our lives.

(2) Study

Make sure that you are reading and interpreting correctly the passage of Scripture in question. Does it really say what you think it does? Follow the principles of hermeneutics as highlighted in last week’s blog and keep digging. Get a good study Bible or a good commentary. The more we study the Bible and understand the story as a whole, the more we learn that the parts that seem hard to understand on their own make much more sense within the wider context of the whole Bible.

(3) Understand that our culture is not ‘normal’

Our culture is not to be the means by which we judge things. Actually, our culture is permanently shifting its beliefs and attitudes. Things we believed 50 years ago are very different to what we believe now and what we will believe in another 50 years time. God’s word is constant, eternal and unchanging. Be willing to look at your worldview, culture, and the values around you and understand that just because they are what you are familiar with, this does not make them right or good. As a Christian, the Bible should always be your highest authority

The most important thing is to keep reading and keep trusting God to bring clarity. Sometimes we simply have to accept that He knows best and we need to trust Him.

If, whilst reading this, particular bible passages that you struggle with have come to mind, why not contact me and I’ll see if I can provide an explanation. I enjoy a good dig!

 November 28, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Bible No Responses »