Thursday, September 19, 2019

Questions from a Skeptic: Part III - How is it just to visit the sins of the father on the children?

To answer this question, I must look to see what God has said about this. The complete statement from God is this:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, "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, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Ex 34:6-7)

The background of this is important. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sini and even before Moses had a chance to give them to the people, they had made a golden calf-idol, started worshiping it, and indulged in other sinful activity. They knew this was wrong even though the Ten Commandments had not yet been given. When Moses saw it, he broke the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. After Moses stopped the riotous worship, God then told Moses to make two more tablets and bring them back up the mountain. This is when God spoke the above verses to Moses on Mount Sini. 

Before making any mention of visiting sins, God makes it very clear that he is merciful … forgiving … etc. You can’t read the second part without fully absorbing the first. This people had just committed the most grievous sins ever. They had seen God’s direct intervention on their behalf when he brought them out of Egypt and yet they quickly turned and worshiped a golden idol that they had made with their own hands. The even declared it was the god that brought them out of Egypt. Now, God lets Moses know how forgiving he is. He isn’t going to destroy the whole nation though they deserve it. 

It is also important to note that after this, the people continued to be disobedient to God’s commands. They refused to enter the Promised Land when first told to go in. God then made them wander in the desert for forty years until this rebellious generation (people over twenty years old) had died off. This is the way God punished them for their sins. What did he do to the children? Those who were twenty years old or younger? He led them into the Promised Land. They experienced God’s blessing as they took the land and occupied it. They followed the Lord’s commands and prospered. God did not punish the children for their father’s sins. He was gracious and showed his steadfast love to them.
This dramatically shows that what God said in visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation didn’t mean he was going to cause them to sin or punish them for their father’s sin. In addition to this, God clearly made a statute that children were not be put to death because of their fathers or fathers because of their children (Deut 24:16). Therefore, we must try to understand what God meant about visiting sins to other generations. 

One of the simplest explanations is that children often learn the bad habits of their parents. It doesn’t always happen, but smokers, drinkers, cursers, adulterers, and the like often have kids who do the same. These kids reap the consequences of their actions just as their parents do.

God made us to be imitators. His original design was for us to imitate him in holy living. However, because of the fall, we tend to imitate people. God knows this all too well and his statement about visiting sins is more about knowing that we tend to repeat the sins of previous generations. When you read the book of Judges in the Bible, you will see that this first generation followed the Lord. When that generation had died out, their children started imitating the nations around them and worshiped idols, just has their grandparents who died in the desert had done. 

This may sound very fatalistic, but we must remember what God said about being forgiving. In the book of Judges and on to the time of Jesus, various generations followed God and others went astray. Now, we have Jesus to imitate instead of sinful ancestors. Jesus gives us the ability to live godly lives by giving us his Holy Spirit to live in us when we turn to him in repentance for our sins and ask for forgiveness. The Holy Spirit working in us gives us the power to break the tendency to imitate sinful ancestors.

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.