Thursday, September 12, 2019

Questions from a Skeptic Part II: Is God Just?

The definition of just is, “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good.” Who defines what is morally upright or good? If we use our own definition of morally upright and good, then it changes every few years. What was thought to be morally upright 100 years ago has radically changed in this country and many others as well. Though to be fair, 100 years ago, people still practiced immoral activity, but they didn’t try to sell it to us as moral. They knew it was wrong, but just went ahead and did it anyway.

If God were unjust it would mean that he not only does morally wrong things, but he would also change the definition of what is morally right and wrong just like we do. However, when you read the Bible, the things that are described as immoral do not change from the beginning to the end. God doesn’t change so his standard of what is right and wrong doesn’t change. Regarding his character, the Bible says, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut 32:4).  God has set the standard for moral uprightness and he is the only one who can meet that standard. 

None of us can live a life without breaking at least one of God’s moral standards. Who has never told a lie? Who has never thought badly about another person? (Should you object to these being God’s standards, remember that these are universally accepted as wrong in every society.) Who has ever always done the right thing, at the right time, every time? Jesus is the only one who has ever met that standard and that is why he is qualified to die in our place. 

Another aspect of being just includes the necessity to punish wrong. Since we are all sinners, we should face punishment for our sins. There is no easy way to say it.  In God’s justice, we should all go to hell. But God is also merciful and doesn’t want to punish us. How does he reconcile his justice and his mercy? He did it by having Jesus take our punishment. When we accept Jesus’ death in place of our own and recognize our sin against God, God gives us mercy instead of our just punishment.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Question from a skeptic: Part 1 - Is God Fair?

The questions that have been asked in this series are in the realm of philosophy in the subcategory of theology. In any discussion of philosophy, we have presuppositions that we should acknowledge. Not all philosophers do this, and it makes it hard to have good dialog because they may then use the same terms but have different meanings depending on the presuppositions. My most important presuppositions follow:

  • Humans have five basic senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. With these senses we perceive what is physical and form our ideas of reality.
  • God is spirit who lives in a spiritual realm. He doesn’t have a physical body and cannot be perceived by any of our physical senses.
  • There are some things in our physical world that point to God and indicate that he exists. The very existence of our physical world is one of them. People say that the universe has always existed, but logic says that for something to exist (other than God), something had to create it. That something is God.
  • Since we can only detect physical things, any concept of what God must be like is extremely limited. We can only observe nature and guess about the God who created it.
  • The only accurate description of God must come from him revealing himself to us. He has done this through prophets and direct conversation with people of the past who faithfully wrote what he told them. Lastly, he became a man and revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
  • God’s revelation of himself to us has been recorded in the Bible. Abundant research on the Bible has shown it to be an accurate recreation of the original written texts from before Christ and after.

With these presuppositions the answers to these questions must rely on what God has told us about himself and not what we would like God to be like. 

 Is God Fair?

Fair in this context fair is an adjective and means, “in accordance with the rules or standards; legitimate” (Microsoft dictionary). If we are talking about God’s action then fair is an adverb defined as, “without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage.”

Whether or not God is fair, you must understand that we believe certain things are fair and certain things are unfair based upon our judgement of what is right and wrong. If we say God is fair or unfair, we are judging God by our standards. it is better to look at the Bible to understand what God believes is fair and adjust our standards to his. The Bible is very clear that everyone has sinned. Because everyone has sinned, they have violated God's perfect law. the Judgment for sin is based upon God's judgement and his standards not on our judgment of our own standards.

You may ask, why does God have the right to set the standards? We must remember that God has created all things. Everything belongs to him and without him nothing would exist. Because he has created all things, he has the right to set the standards for what is right and wrong. Fortunately, God is also perfectly holy. Because he is holy there is no evil or impurity in him. That means any standards that he sets up are also completely pure and right.

Getting back to fairness, since we have sinned and violated God's laws then it is reasonable for us to be punished. If God were 100% fair, then every one of us would be punished and there would be no way for us to escape that punishment because there is nothing we can do to earn our redemption. However, in this sense, God is not fair. This can be seen in that God himself came to the Earth in the person of Jesus Christ and died on the cross to take the punishment of our sins upon himself. That is the demonstration of total unfairness. Jesus did not sin and therefore he should not have died for any reason whatsoever. How can it be fair for Jesus to be punished for the things we have done wrong? Instead of being fair – at least from a human standpoint- God demonstrates his love for us in this while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:6).

Because God is not fair in his treatment of his own son, Jesus, we are granted pardon of our sins when we turn to Jesus and have faith that his punishment covers all our sins, past, present and future. This doesn’t sound fair to us and many people do not accept this pardon because in their minds, they believe they must earn forgiveness for it to be fair.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Was Paul the Twelfth Apostle?

Related imageA friend of mine said that J Vernon McGee believed that Paul was the 12th Apostle and wanted to know what I thought about it. This means that he didn’t believe that Matthias was God’s selection as the replacement for Judas. The fact that Judas betrayed Jesus makes it clear that calling someone an apostle and being an apostle is two different things. Though Judas was called to be an apostle, he is only called that until his betrayal of Jesus. Yet the definition of an apostle is one who is called by Jesus to carry his message to the world.[1] With that in mind, any number of the original disciples could be called an apostle, and indeed the Bible even calls Barnabas an apostle (Acts 14:14). However, when it comes to the Twelve, there can be no more with that designation.
To determine if Matthias or Paul should be considered the 12th Apostle, I started with Acts 1:15-26. This passage lays out how the apostles chose Matthias to be the 12th apostle. They decided that it must be a person who had been with them from the time Jesus started his ministry (vs 21). It was from Jesus’ baptism and had to be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (vs 22). The 120 people gathered together (vs 15) selected two people who met these criteria (vs 23). Then they cast lots and asked the Lord to select the one he has chosen (vs 25). The lot had to pick one or the other. There was no opportunity to pick someone else, therefore they presumed the Lord had picked Matthias.

As I look on this scenario, I note some things that leads me to believe that Matthias was not the Lord’s choice of the 12th Apostle. First, the people who were gathered had not yet received the Holy Spirit. That occurred later. The 120 people made the choice from human understanding, not by divine selection or guidance. There is no mention that the Lord led these people to select two people, much less these two. If you look at times in the Old Testament when someone was chosen by lot, the whole community was subdivided until an individual was taken (Josh 7:16-18, 1 Sam 14:40-42). If God wanted one of the 120 to be the 12th Apostle, it seems that Acts would have recorded that he moved Peter to do this. That may be presumptuous on my part or presumption on Peter’s part since he had not yet been filled with the Spirit. The Bible normally explains it when God prompts people to do something versus simply telling us when a person comes up with the idea out of his own head.

When it comes to Paul, he is certainly called by Jesus to be an apostle (Acts 9:6, 15). A more detailed account of what Jesus said to Paul is found in Acts 26:14-18. So, Paul wasn’t part of the early ministry of Jesus, but that was a human criterion, not necessarily God’s. He saw not only the resurrected Jesus but the ascended Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was appointed by Jesus to be a witness to the things of Jesus he had seen (Acts 26:16) to the Gentiles. If this isn’t a description of an apostle, then what is?

His life and his testimony certainly reveal that he acted in the way we would expect the 12th Apostle. He wrote more books of the New Testament than any other Apostle (most didn’t write any). No one else in Acts was directly called by Jesus. Matthias was never mentioned in the Bible outside of Acts 1:23,26. Though that would not mean God didn’t select him as the 12th Apostle, it certainly pales in contrast to the way Paul was called and what Paul did.

So there it is, my reason for agreeing with J Vernon McGee that Paul was actually the 12th Apostle.

[1] NT:652 a messenger, one sent on a mission [general] … with special ref. to the Twelve: Matt 10:2, Mark 3:14, Luke 11:49, Eph 3:5, Rev 18:20, al., equality with whom is claimed by St. Paul, Gal 1:1, 11 ff, 1 Tim 2:7, a1.; (from Abbott-Smith Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2014 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)