11 January, 2007

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

The Bible Answer to Human Tragedy

Suffering is a problem in life that comes home to everyone. A child is born blind, deformed or mentally afflicted; and the question comes: Why? The child has done no harm. A kind & giving woman, in the prime of life, is racked with pain in a hopeless disease that can only end in death. Why her? These are the people who can least be spared, can they not? Millions in the world are suffering semi-starvation and disease in countries with vast populations and little fertility. Others perish or are made homeless in floods and earthquakes. Why should they suffer?

Pain, torture and death have been imposed on helpless millions by the tyranny of man and the destructiveness of modern war. Countless lives are lost in acts of terrorism, by brutality and hijacking. Accidents there have always been, but the scale of today's disasters and natural calamities is often overwhelming: a passenger aircraft crashes; an oil rig blows up; fire traps hundreds in an underground train. People ask: Why does God allow it?

The questions readily rise to mind and on the surface seem reasonable: yet a candid look at them shows that they carry certain implications. They imply that suffering in human life is inconsistent either with the power or with the love of God: that as a God of love either He has not the power to prevent the suffering, or if He has the power then He has not the will, and is not a God of love. It is assumed that the prevention of suffering as it now affects the apparently innocent is something we should expect from a God of love who is also Almighty. Are these assumptions justified?

Facts of Life
Some facts about life must be taken into account before we try to form a judgement:

Man lives in a universe of cause and effect and the consequences of certain causes are inescapable. Fire burns, water drowns, disease germs destroy. These facts have moral implications. Men live in a universe in which the consequences of what they do are inescapable, and therefore their responsibility for what they do is equally inescapable. Without this burden of 'natural law' man could do as he liked with impunity, and there would be no responsibility. God made the universe this way because He is a moral God who makes men responsible beings with freewill to choose how they will act.

Man's neglect and misuse of his own life has corrupted the stream of human life itself, and left evils which fall on succeeding generations. These, again as part of natural law, may manifest themselves as hereditary weaknesses and tendencies to disease. The very stuff of life may be affected as it is passed on from generation to generation.

The consequences of man's acts are not only directly physical. The social and political evils which they have created throughout history have left a gathering burden on the generations following. People today are caught in a net of the consequences of past history, and even when they try to right one evil, another is brought to bear: "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22).

Should People be Saved from Themselves?
Taking such facts as these into account, it must be asked, What is it we are really doing when we require God to remove suffering? Are we not asking that God should (a) suspend natural law, (b) divert the consequences of heredity, and (c) turn aside the effects of man's inhumanity to man? Have we the right to expect God to save men from the consequences of human acts? Would it be a moral universe if He did?

These questions can only be asked of situations when the hand of man is involved. Earthquakes, tempests, famines and floods are called 'acts of God' because usually there is no other explanation for their occurrence. So if we look beyond human acts to natural disaster, we find that it falls upon all, innocent and guilty alike. As soon as we begin to question the suffering of innocent victims of these disasters another dilemma is raised. Are we saying that the calamities should be selective in their working, searching out only those who deserve to suffer'?

An Evil or a Symptom?
Underlying all the loose thinking on the subject which has been surveyed so far is one basic assumption: it is that suffering is evil in itself. It is this belief that suffering is the essential evil that lies at the root of Buddhism. The Bible view is radically different: suffering is not evil in itself, but a symptom of a deeper evil. The Scriptures portray suffering as a consequence of sin: not necessarily the sin of the individual who suffers, but sin in the history of man and in human society. Its origin is succinctly put by the Apostle Paul:

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).

The sentence upon the woman after the disobedience in Eden says:
"I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."

To the man God says:
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:16,19).

The teaching is simple. With man's disobedience there came a dislocation in the relationship between the Creator and the created; the relation between God and man is out of joint. The first sin brought a fundamental change which affects all with the evils which are common to man. Death is universal: God does not modify it for the particular individual. The Bible teaching is that men are left to their own ways and the working of natural law, though there may be times when natural disaster is divinely directed as a judgement upon man and for the cleansing of the earth. The outstanding example is the flood in the days of Noah.

At the same time it is true that in the Bible, for those who seek to serve God, suffering takes on new meaning; they are in a new relationship to the Creator, and will learn to see tragedy in a new light. What is it?

A Godly Man's Experience
The answer may be seen in the example of Job. Here is a devout man who meets with disaster in the loss of his flocks and herds-the source of his wealth; with terrible bereavement in the loss of all his children at one stroke; and then is stricken with a tormenting disease which separates him from men. Yet he says: "What? Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). He recognises the important principle that he cannot claim good as a right: it is not for him to decide what God shall do.

"Does Job serve God for nought?"
While, therefore, the Book of Job offers no simple answer to the problem of suffering, it has been raised to a wider level. Only by loss and suffering could Job know that he did not serve God for the sake of houses, lands, flocks and herds, or even children. He did not even serve for the sake of his own skin, his health and wellbeing. He worshipped God for Himself, and in spite of all the wild words which came from his stress of mind and body he had an ultimate belief in God's righteousness and faithfulness. It was only when stripped of everything that he really knew that God was his only refuge, and in that discovery he was triumphantly vindicated against the slander of the Adversary epitomized by the three friends.

Job's faith in God was put to the test under trial, and by trial it was tempered as steel. It was by his final acceptance of the wisdom of God, and by learning that faith could be developed through suffering, that Job came at last to the fuller knowledge of God.

Some Conclusions
The conclusions to be drawn from what has been considered so far may be summarised as follows:

• Man lives in an ordered universe of cause and effect and must accept its consequences; and since sin entered into human life these must involve suffering. The suffering, however, may not be directly related to the sin of the sufferer but may result from the acts of former generations.
• At the same time it is the universe of a God of wisdom and love who can guide and control the suffering for those who seek Him in order to bring them to a deeper knowledge of Him.

A Divine Discipline
It is in the light of this latter conclusion that we may understand a passage in the Letter to the Hebrews based on a saying in the Book of Proverbs: "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:5-12; Proverbs 3:11-12).

Read in its context, the passage expounds itself. Suffering and loss are common to man, but for the children of God they are directed by their Heavenly Father as a spiritual training, and as such are the expression of His love.

04 January, 2007

A Conversation With Jacques

Jacques original post:

Precisely because Jesus threatens unbelievers with Hell in the NT, the Church used the Purgatory as a place where stillborns and people who died before Christ's coming go to be purified, along with those who died with venial sins.

Christian doctrine fill in gaps and justify biblical contradictions. Were the "Word of God" perfect it wouldn't need an army of apologists through the ages.

I concur with you in that Hell was a place created by men and women. Religions were created by men and women too.

Even Jesus said "let the dead bury their dead" implying that there's no afterlife. But what does he say in Luke 23:43? Verily I say to thee, To-day with me thou shalt be in the paradise.'

Luke 16:23 and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom
After reading the above, to me is clear that Jesus believed in Hell as a place of eternal torment akin to the Hebrew Sheol and Greek Hades.

Death is not extinction; but Sheol, the underworld of the dead, in early Hebrew thought is not very different from the Babylonian Aralu or the Homeric Hades, except that Jahve is God even there.

Also, was Lazarus in heaven yet Jesus resurrected him to suffer earthly vicissitudes once again? Was Lazarus in hell? There's no soul at all and Jesus just reanimated Lazarus' body? Lazarus' soul was just asleep?

If even you know Carbon-14 is an unreliable method to measure geological ages past the million years mark, don't you think Paleogeologists and Paleontologists know better than you? They use radioactive isotopes with longer half lives other than those of carbon, such as uranium.

The Hebrew calendar counts since the Creation, we are now in 5767. 2000 years have passed since Christ's coming, 4707 years since Tyre's foundation (Herodotus). What do you think about dinosaur and hominid fossils? Did humans and animals change drastically in the 1060 years between the Creation and Tyre's foundation?
Was Earth created with fossils built-in?

Fossils are very scarce. Had the Flood happened there would be millions of fossils stacked in the same geological layer, everywhere.

There aren't any remains of animals foreign to the Middle East near the site where the Ark is supposed to have landed. There are no fossils of penguins, no kangaroos, no sloths, etc., near Mt. Ararat, Turkey.

Speaking of Turkey, the Black Sea flooding (The Mediterranean pouring its waters in the Black Sea basin) was not a global event. The Black Sea flooding was gradual, it didn't happen in just 40 days and 40 nights.

Daniel is as vague as Nostradamus in his prophecies. http://www.aboutbibleprophecy.com/daniel_2_32.htm

For example:
2. Daniel said that the head-of-gold empire would be followed by an empire symbolized by arms of silver. Christian scholars have often interpreted this to refer to the Medo-Persian empire which later conquered the Babylonian empire. The scholars say that the two arms refer to the two groups - the Medes and the Persians - who comprised the Medo-Persian empire.

Wow, amazing! The Medopersians were described with astonishing exactitude and detail! In this case the prophecy would have been valid had the author clearly written the name of that empire i.e. "Medo-Persian Empire"

According to Genesis 1:14-19 the stars, that gigantic balls of hydrogen that dwarf earth by several orders of magnitude, were made just to modify Earth's darkness a bit. Genesis also says that day, night, Earth, dirt, water, atmosphere, vegetation were created before stars. We now know stars predated Earth, and it seems logical since hydrogen is said to be the most abundant element in Universe and that helium and hard elements like iron, carbon, etc., are created by nuclear fusion in stars.

02 January, 2007

How Many Creations?

Bible skeptics claim Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are so different that they exclude each other and cannot be reconciled. Some believe that they are so dissimilar in teaching that they actually contain two different accounts of creation. Does the Bible contradict itself? Were there two creations?

Starting at the beginning, we know Genesis 2 is not a simple retelling of Genesis 1. How can we determine this to be true? First, we examine the overall context. Genesis 2 is considerably different in regard to the emphasis of the content. Genesis 1 dedicates four verses (13%) to the creation of humans, beginning with verse 26. However, Genesis 2 dedicates nineteen verses (76%) to the creation of humans, beginning with verse 7. Since there are no real chapter breaks in the original Hebrew manuscripts, the story of the creation of humans continues throughout Chapter 3 (another 24 verses). Obviously, the emphasis of the two "versions" is quite different. Keep this in mind as we continue forward.

Secondly, Genesis 2 isn't an account of another creation. Why do we know this? Because of what's 'missing' in Chapter 2: heavens and the earth, the atmosphere, the seas, the land, the sun, the stars, the moon, the sea creatures, etc. Specifically Chapter 2 mentions only things directly relevant to the creation of Adam and Eve and their life in the garden God prepared specially for them. This is in keeping with the emphasis mentioned above.

In summary so far, Chapter 1 can be understood as creation from God’s perspective; it is ‘the big picture’, an overview of the whole. Chapter 2 views the more important aspects from man’s perspective. Since Chapter 2 is viewed from the perspective of man after he was created, this would explain why so many of the elements listed in Chapter 1 are 'missing' (creation of the sun, moon, etc.) and more of an emphasis on things relevant to an individual's viewpoint (e.g. Gen 2:9 - trees that were "pleasant to the sight and good for food"). This is further highlighted by the geographic descriptions of the placement of Eden outlined in the text that follows. If Chapter 2 describes man's perspective, then surely this chapter should only describe events that occur in Adam & Eve's immediate environment (Eden), right? Correct. All the events of Genesis 2 occur in Eden.

1. Adam was placed in the garden to cultivate it.
2. God brought to Adam the animals He had already created for him to name.
3. Since a suitable companion was not found for Adam, God created Eve.
4. The narrative concludes with the initiation of the first marriage.

All the creation descriptions in Genesis 2 can be attributed to the preparation of a place in which the first humans will live.

But what about the apparent contradiction between Chapter 1 & 2 in regards to the creation of animals? Between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve, the KJV/AV Bible says (Genesis 2:19) ‘out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air’. On the surface, this seems to say that the land beasts and birds were created between Adam and Eve. However, Jewish scholars apparently did not recognize any such conflict with the account in Chapter 1, where Adam and Eve were both created after the beasts and birds (Genesis 1:23–25). Why is this? Because in Hebrew the precise tense of a verb is determined by the context. It is clear from Chapter 1 that the beasts and birds were created before Adam, so Jewish scholars would have understood the verb ‘formed’ in Genesis 2:19 to mean ‘had formed’ or ‘having formed’. If we translate verse 19 as follows (as the popular NIV does), ‘Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field …’, the apparent disagreement with Genesis 1 disappears completely.

Genesis 1 is the account of the creation of the universe and life on planet earth as it happened in chronological sequence, with day 1, day 2, evening and morning, etc. Genesis 2 is simply an expanded explanation of the events that occurred at the end of the sixth creation day – from the viewpoint of earthbound man and woman. The order of events is not the major concern of Genesis 2. In recapping events they are not necessarily mentioned in chronological order, but in the order which makes most sense to the focus of the account. For example, the animals are mentioned in verse 19, after Adam was created, because it was after Adam was created that he was shown the animals, not that they were created after Adam.

The Bible - Fallen Angels

The biggest and most glaring problem with the belief in fallen angels is the reference to such a fall in Revelation 12. The fall of Satan and a third of the angels is reportedly said to have happened sometime during or before creation, however a quick look at Revelation 1:1 shows that this timeline is impossible:

Rev 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.

There can be no doubt here that Revelation does not contain in it any event which has already occurred (since this would be a contradiction of "come to pass"). Thus to use this passage to prove an imaginary event before creation is absolutely incorrect.

If I were to ask: 'Can you give me a brief Biblical history of the devil, according to your interpretation of Bible passages?' the responses would be highly contradictory. According to mainstream Christian 'reasoning', the answer has to be something like this:
1.The devil was an Angel in Heaven who was thrown out into the garden of Eden. He was thrown to earth in Genesis 1.
2. He is supposed to have come to earth and married in Genesis 6.
3. At the time of Job he is said to have had access to both Heaven and earth.
4. By the time of Isaiah 14 he is thrown out of Heaven again and back to earth.
5. In Zechariah 3 he is in Heaven again.
6. He is on earth again in Matthew 4. He is "cast out" at the time of Jesus' death, according to the popular view of "the prince of this world" being "cast out" at that time.
7. There is a prophecy of the devil being 'cast out' in Rev. 12.
8. The devil is "chained" in Rev. 20, but he and his angels were chained in Genesis, according to the common view of Jude v 6. If he was bound with 'eternal chains' then, how is he chained up again in Rev. 20?

From this it should be obvious that the popular view that the devil was cast out of Heaven for sinning cannot be true, seeing that he is described as still being in Heaven after each occurrence of being 'cast out'. It is vital to understand both 'Heaven' and the devil in a figurative sense.

As for the possibility of angels sinning: Jesus tells us in Rev 4:11: "THOU hast created ALL things and for thy pleasure they are and were created". The purpose of this special creation of angels by God is explained by the Apostle Paul: "Are thy not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation". Are demons/fallen angels ministering spirits in the sense of this verse...?

It is not realistic to assume that He created one bad angel and one good one, and so on. He created perfect immortal spiritual beings, the like of which we hope to be when the Lord Jesus rewards those who have loved and served Him. IF it was possible for angels to sin then what is the value of being made like unto the angels? Why resist sin in this life supposedly secure in the hope that we will be made LIKE UNTO THE ANGELS (Luke 20:35), if we are merely exchanging one sinful nature for another? This is not the case at all, for God created these pure spiritual beings to be in His presence and we are told by Habakuk "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil and canst not look on iniquity." (Hab.1:13).

Thus there could never have been angels thrown out of heaven for rebelling against the Father. It's nothing short of an impossibility.