I invite you to look at--

My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.

My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sports for Children

It is a risky thing to criticize another man’s religion, but that is my intent today. Actually, my target is not the religion of one man, but perhaps the closest thing we have to a national religion—SPORTS—and particularly the effect of this religion on children.
When I was young (shortly after the dinosaurs died off), league games for children were not held on Sunday. In our town, many churches had Wednesday evening classes for the whole family, so schools and sports leagues avoided games and practice sessions on that day as well. I know it is not realistic for me to hope that I can roll back the clock, but the professionalization of children’s sports is screaming out for a return to sanity.
 By the professionalization of children’s sports, I mean an attitude that places the success of the team above the welfare of the child. Every child must be at every practice session, or that child will not be allowed to play. The schedule of practice and games is intense because the level of competition requires total dedication.
The resulting pressure on family life can be severe, especially when two or three children are involved. Sally is dropped off at a practice field on one side of town by her mother who is planning to attend Willie’s game on the other side of town. Dad can hardly ever watch either Willie or Sally because he is busy coaching Jimmy’s team. And this goes on night after night, Saturday after Saturday, and Sunday after Sunday. If the children are involved in more than one sport, it goes on month after month.
Another problem with the professionalization of sports for children is the damage it does to their religious education. If children are required to be at all games and practices, and if these are held on Sundays or at other times of religious instruction, parents must choose between teaching faithfulness to God and faithfulness to the team.
The issue is not that children may miss twelve out of fifty-two weeks of lessons. My concern is the implicit message we are giving: “What’s the problem? You can worship God whenever you want, but you can only play baseball a few weeks a year. Don’t be such a legalist!” In other words, “The true God won’t mind if you split your worship between Him and the religion of sports.”
The Bible, however, says we should teach our children to put God first. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7).
I encourage parents to share this article with other parents. Go as a group to organizational meetings with this message: I believe the physical activity and the team spirit of this sport are good for my child. Therefore, I will do my part to help the team. I will help with fundraisers or coaching or transportation. I will not allow my child to quit in the middle of the season. I will bring my child to games and practices that do not compete with needed family time or with the worship of God. But you may not take control of the life of my family, and I will not give the soul of my child to the team.
If enough parents band together, you can make a difference, at least on the local level. Oh, and by the way, you need to protect children of different faiths. The leeway you want for your child must be granted others also.
(I wrote this for the December 1, 2012 Allentown Morning Call.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Sea

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea (Revelation 21:1).

John! How can you write it so calmly! And there is no longer any sea. With one line, that fabled arena of adventure, love, and lore is wiped away. It is consigned to oblivion.

John! Did you resent the sea, even though it fed you in your youthful days as a fisherman? Were you often seasick, or did you fear the sea? How can you give up the sea in a single sentence?

I love the sea. I miss it. It tugs at me, and my heart aches with the elves in the ancient stories who felt it calling them away from field and forest to sail toward the western lands. One of the happiest times of days gone by was the two years I spent at the San Diego campus of the University of California where I was within easy walk of a long and lonely stretch of sea and sand.

An unknown poet wrote some twelve hundred years ago,§

Liveth no man so large in his soul,
So gracious in giving, so gay in his youth,
In deeds so daring, so dear to his lord,
But frets his soul for his sea adventure,
Fain to try what fortune shall send.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This life on land is a lingering death to me,
Give me the gladness of God’s great sea.

No longer any sea. That seems like a great loss to me. But will there truly be no sea in the new heavens and new earth? Earlier John saw a vision of God’s throne room in heaven, “and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:6). A little later he saw “something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.”

These passages seem to combine the bronze sea that stood in front of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23-25) with the crystalline platform that supported the throne of God in Ezekiel 1:22-28.

What does it all mean? I think it means this. The sea that calls out to me on earth is a dim shadow of the true sea before the throne of God. There will be no longer any earthly sea, but its heavenly counterpart will call out even more strongly to my soul and in its call will be the answer that my soul seeks. The sea on earth is good and beautiful, wild and powerful and dangerous—just like God. I shall not miss the sea. I shall instead find it.

That, I believe, is what all of us shall find. The things that we fear to lose will be more grandly, gloriously, and satisfyingly present there than we can now imagine.

§ From “The Seafarer” in Old English Poetry, translated by J. Duncan Spaeth.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Tears of Jesus

Jesus was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) who wept over Jerusalem and at the tomb of Lazarus (Luke 19:41; John 11:35). Yet we worship the “blessed God,” the eternally and supremely happy God (1 Timothy 1:11; 6:15). He has anointed Jesus with “the oil of gladness above [His] companions” (Hebrews 1:9). Other passages speak of God’s grief over sin and the judgment it entails while insisting with greater frequency that God rejoices over His people. What do these things mean?

God’s emotional life is not one-dimensional. We must not imagine that His happiness goes up and down like a thermometer. Yesterday He was happy; today He is sad or angry; tomorrow—who knows? He is unalterably, unchangeably happy within Himself, but because He created a world outside Himself and then entered it to feel our pain and to bear our sins, He has chosen to make sorrow a permanent part of His experience. It is permanent because God’s knowledge is infinite and unchangeable. Though, in a figurative sense, He forgets our sins when He forgives them, in the most literal sense, He can never forget anything—especially not the sorrows of His Son. (By the way, we do not cause God to suffer. We cannot do anything to affect God; He afflicts Himself with our pains.)

God’s grief is, in some sense, limited because it is not an essential part of His nature. God’s joy, however, is unlimited because it its first of all in Himself and only secondarily in His creatures. His limited grief is swallowed up in His infinite joy.

As the tears of the sky wash over the land and into the ocean, making it salty, so the tears of Jesus have washed down into the infinite ocean of God’s joy. His tears, however, are not so dispersed as to be indiscernible. Rather, they impart a certain flavoring to that ocean, a salty tang that God’s joy could not acquire in any other way.

I was born near the ocean, and when I breathe in its salty fragrance, something deep within me cries out, “Home!” I think that will be the spontaneous response of my heart when I breathe in the tear-salted, joyful air of the celestial city—“Home! Home at last!”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The New Birth

Martin Luther

“Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” That is how Martin Luther described his conversion.

What does “born again” mean? The phrase occurs in 1 Peter 1:23 and twice in John 3 (where it may also be translated, “born from above”). John 3 describes a conversation between Jesus and a religious teacher named Nicodemus. Nicodemus objects that a man cannot enter into his mother’s womb and be born a second time, so Jesus clarifies “born again” as “born of the Spirit.”

In subsequent verses, we read that Nicodemus does not “understand these things”; he does not “accept” Christ’s testimony; and he does not “believe.” If he believes, he will have eternal life (John 3:16), but at the time of the interview, he does not. Since he has not been born again, these things make no sense to him.

Several conclusions flow from Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus.

First, the new birth is something God does. In the natural realm, we do not produce our own birth. Likewise, those who have been born into God’s family “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

Second, when Jesus said, “You must be born again,” He was not giving Nicodemus a command. He was telling him what his problem was. The reason he didn’t believe was that he had never been born again.

Third, the new birth must precede believing in Christ. You do not receive the new birth after you believe. To the contrary, you cannot believe until God works the miracle of the new birth in your heart. Then you necessarily believe.

This raises a problem in the minds of many people: Why does God command us to believe in Christ if we cannot believe until He changes our hearts in the miracle of the new birth? What use was it to tell Nicodemus that he was not born again if there was nothing Nicodemus could do to produce the new birth? The answer lies in the possible responses Nicodemus might have had to Jesus’ words.

For example, Nicodemus might have become angry at Jesus: “Jesus, why do you bother to tell me what’s wrong with me if you are not going to tell me how to change! That is either cruel or stupid. I think you must be off your rocker! I’m outta here!”

On the other hand, Nicodemus might have gone away with a heavy burden of guilt and sorrow. He might have said, “I am sure that Jesus was sent by God, so He must be giving it to me straight. My situation is hopeless. If God does not intervene, I will never believe and be saved. Woe is me!”

This second response is often the first step in God’s producing a repentant, believing heart. “For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).

A man must know he is sick before he will submit to a treatment that will change his whole life. A sinner must know he is helpless before he is low enough to receive the help that will reorient all his attitudes and priorities.

Apparently, Jesus’ stern message to Nicodemus had the effect of lowering his pride and bringing him to faith because in the dark hour after the crucifixion he came bringing spices for Jesus’ burial. If you do not yet trust in Christ, you cannot make yourself believe. Maybe you need to echo the prayer of a distressed man who said to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

[I first published this in the Allentown Morning Call a few weeks ago.]

Friday, July 6, 2012


What kind of God are You, my Lord?
Those who know You least say You are ugly,
a moral monster, an insufferable tyrant.
Those who know You best long to dwell in Your house
to behold Your beauty all the days of their lives.

Who is fit to teach me—
Those who know You least or
Those who know You best?

Who is fit to teach me?
You are, O Lord, for who knows You better
than You know Yourself?
You who are worshiped for Your beauty,
show me Your beauty that I may worship You better.
Is Your beauty
A snow-capped mountain—distant, cold, and severe?
A flower—fading and easily crushed?
A haunting aria—filling the soul with longing it cannot quite satisfy?

Surely these are but faint echoes of Your beauty,
The sound of a song heard dimly in the distance,
Or shadows cast by Your great light down into our darkened world.
An earthly melody may move a heart of flesh,
But Your beauty turns a heart of stone into living flesh.

So what is Your beauty, Lord?
What is more beautiful than Love?
Love that plans to surprise the ugly beloved with love
Love that sacrifices its life for the beloved
Love that gives the whole self to the beloved.
The love of the Father; the love of the Son; the love of the Spirit—
The eternal Love of the Triune God.

If You are a moral monster, O my God,
Why does meditating on Your beauty fill my heart with warmth
And fit me for loving my neighbor?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Man's Inhumanity to Man

The following essay was printed in the Allentown Morning Call on May 19. Following the essay, I’ve included my answer to an email I received after the article was published.

No animal kills as human beings do. Though he exhibited no prior mental instability, Sergeant Robert Bales is alleged to have entered two Afghan homes at night and killed 17 sleeping villagers, including women and children.

Marybeth Tinning, who initially confessed to killing three of her children, was eventually convicted of killing one daughter, and is strongly suspected of killing nine of her children between 1972 and 1985. Though perhaps the most notorious mother to murder her children, she is by no means alone, and every fresh instance shocks us.

Joseph Kony, who claims to be possessed by a spirit, has abducted tens of thousands of children to become sex slaves and child soldiers. He frequently kills the families of abducted children, leaving them no choice but to fight for him.

Modern, secular thought struggles to explain such horrendous examples of evil. Since its categories are inadequate, its explanations, though often insightful, fall short. Whenever someone “snaps,” the pundits begin to analyze the person’s family background, psychological profile, genetic predispositions, education and various stresses (including the economy, traumas of war, bullying and the like).

These analyses are often helpful, but they typically ignore the spiritual dimension of life. According to the Bible, two spiritual factors must also be considered. The first is human depravity. Though we are magnificent creatures, made in God’s image, we are fallen, twisted and broken. The wrong things we do may be stimulated by external factors, but the basic problem is inward: “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own evil desire” (James 1:14).

This is contrary to the modern notion that human beings are highly evolved animals who are perfectible if they receive the right upbringing, a decent education, and maybe a bit of genetic tinkering.

The other spiritual factor ignored by modern analyses of horrendous evil is the influence of evil spirits. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

I think Joseph Kony’s claim to have a spirit ought to be taken seriously. He may say it is the Holy Spirit, but no one who knows his history ought to doubt it is a devil.

I certainly would not claim that Sergeant Bales was demon possessed, but as the Ephesians passage indicates, ordinary people may be influenced by spiritual forces of wickedness. Unless you are someone like Joseph Kony, it is probably not right to say, “The devil made me do it” (Flip Wilson’s famous line). However, the devil may prey on and magnify our natural weaknesses in order to encourage the worst in us.

When I consider the inhumanity of man to man in the last one hundred years, I think the evidence for vast spiritual forces of evil is incontrovertible. Consider Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, the Kim dynasty in North Korea, and more recently Charles Taylor—the list goes on and on. Brutal dictators have murdered their own people by the hundreds of thousands, sometimes by the tens of millions.

Whether one considers individual atrocities or state-sponsored genocides, we are not like the animal kingdom. A lion kills, eats its fill, and rests. Human beings can be vicious without reason, and apparently without limit. As St. Augustine put it, “There is nothing so social by nature, so anti-social by sin, as man.”

But if the devil is real, then our world is not a closed system. If the modern, naturalistic worldview is inadequate, then the Bible’s account of our world deserves renewed attention. I believe that nothing explains our human condition as well as the biblical picture: Human beings, created innocent by God, have listened to the devil, rebelled against their Maker and can only be redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

*    *    *    *
The following is my response to an email from “a humanist” who acknowledged man’s inhumanity to man, but who believes that there is a scientific explanation for human evil.

Thank you for your note regarding my article in last Saturday’s Morning Call. I’m sorry to be so late in responding. I have been out of the office or out of town most of the week.

In my article, I certainly did not intend to minimize “brain function, psychology, genetics, evolution, chemistry or neurology.” I only wanted to indicate that I think them inadequate to explain the human condition. My understanding of the interplay between physical and spiritual factors is more complicated than I could explain in 650 words.

Suppose I walk into the kitchen and I see a kettle of water boiling on the stove. I ask, “Why is the water boiling?” My son, who is a physicist, gives me a detailed explanation of the transformation of electrical energy into heat, the transfer of heat by conduction to the water, and the water’s change of state from a liquid to a gas. Then my wife says, “The water is boiling because I want to make tea.”

Both explanations are entirely correct and complete in their own context, but both contexts need to be included for a more complete explanation of the event. Understanding our human condition requires both a naturalistic and a spiritual context for completeness.

Notice that this is different from a “god-of-the-gaps” explanation. The “god-of-the gaps” idea suggests that we plug God into all the gaps of our knowledge. For example, people used to think that God sent lightning and thunder. Then Benjamin Franklin discovered that lightning is just a big electrical spark, and thunder is the sound that the spark makes. Now that we don’t need God to explain lightning any more, His list of jobs has grown shorter.

A more biblically and theologically satisfying picture of the world is that scientific explanations of events in the world are complete and accurate in their context, but that another context is also needed to make sense of the world. For example, Psalm 104:21 says, “The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God.” Obviously, the psalmist knew that lions hunt for their prey, and that they sometimes go hungry, but he saw the balance of nature as an example of God’s superintending hand. In a more general sense, Colossians 1:17 says that in Christ “all things hold together.” God sustains the orderly and ordinary workings of nature so that we may investigate it with telescopes, microscopes or the Large Hadron Collider.

The need for a spiritual as well as a mechanistic explanation is less obvious in the natural world than it is in human relations, and it is most clear in the cases of extreme evil and exceptional virtue. That is the reason I wrote about the horrific evils of the past century.

I haven’t tried in this brief response to give you any defense of my position. If you are interested, perhaps I can. At any rate, perhaps you will find the foregoing interesting, and if not, thanks anyway for your note.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


Who was that eternal Image in Your mind, O my God,
        the image according to which You fashioned
my body and my soul?
Was I that image, or was it my neighbor?
Was there a separate image in Your mind
        for every human being to be born?

We are all different one from another,
and yet we are all the same,
for we bear one Image, the Image of God,
Since there is but one God,
we must be fashioned according to one Image.

Scripture says that Your beloved, eternal Son
        is the Image of the invisible God.
By Creation we were stamped with one Image.
Through History that Image is differentiated into many images.
By Redemption the many images shall be lifted
        to the closest possible resemblance to the eternal Image.
And yet they shall retain their differences.

O wondrous plan!
The plan of an infinite Mind,
the plan of an dying Love,
the plan of an indwelling Power.
the plan of the triune God.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bible among the Myths, by John N. Oswalt

Not long ago, a young lady, educated in one of the nearby liberal arts colleges, asked about the Bible’s relationship to pagan myths. Her teacher had asserted that Genesis 1 was just Jewish mythology based on earlier near-eastern writings. I had written a bit about pagan mythology in my book, The Beauty of God for a Broken World, and I knew somewhat more that I wrote. She seemed satisfied, but I wish I could have placed The Bible among the Myths in her hand.

I have often described the Bible’s creation account as an anti-mythology. Oswalt provides new depth for that description. He begins, in one sense, with the end of the story as he reviews how the combination of the Greek and Hebrew worldviews led to the unique understanding that we find in Western civilization.
As a result of that combination there was now an explanation for the Greek intuition of a universe [instead of a “polyverse”]: there is one Creator who has given rise to the universe and in whose creative will it finds its unity. At the same time the Greeks showed the Hebrews the logical implications of their monotheism (25).

Chapter 2 shows that to call the Bible a myth or a collection of myths stretches the definition of myth so much that it ceases to be a useful term. Chapters 3 and 4 highlight the fundamental contrast between the biblical and the mythological worldviews. Mythological thinking sees a continuity between the gods and human beings and all of nature. The Bible insists that God is transcendent. He stands far above His creation. There is no gradual scale of beings between God and the world.

“The Bible versus Myth” (chapter 5) examines a number of parallels between the Bible and its surrounding culture. It would be surprising if there were no such points of contact, but Oswalt shows that they function in entirely different ways in the pagan worldview than they do in the Bible.

The next two chapters argue that the biblical worldview provides the only solid basis for a truly historical perspective on life. Genuine history, as opposed to king lists and royal annals, is not found in the ancient near east.

The final chapter is perhaps the least interesting for the general reader. In it Oswalt reacts briefly with proposals by other Old Testament scholars who offer other explanations for the Bible’s worldview. I highly recommend this book for people who have heard that the Bible is just a bunch of myths.

Monday, March 5, 2012


O my God, You created me because of Your love.
You boast of an everlasting love for Your own people,
a love that has neither beginning nor end,
a love that exists eternally in the unchangeable I AM.

How, O Lord, did You love me before I came to be?
I was nothing before my mother conceived me in her womb.
Is not the love of nothing an empty, shapeless love?
No, for Your love is a shaping love.

The ancients tell of a sculptor, Pygmalion, who carved a woman out of ivory and then fell in love with his creation. Day after day, he gazed with futile longing at her beauty, until at last the goddess Venus took pity on him, and when he kissed the statue’s lifeless form, she began to live.

From what source did the statue derive her beauty? Was she not first in Pygmalion’s mind before his hand gave her form? Therefore, he loved her image in his mind before he loved her shape in ivory. Last of all, love brought her life.

And so, O Lord, in the eternal time before time,
You loved the Image in Your mind.
First, Your made time and the world in order to have a place
where You might put the creature that You imagined.
Then You fashioned flesh and blood and bone, and last of all,
You loved the work of Your hands into life.

Though this work of Yours was very good,
yet You were not contented with it.
The thing that was very good
must become better.
The image to whom You gave life
        must come to have a higher life.

And so, out of Your creation called Time,
You made something new.
You made something called History that through its passages,
You might perfect the image of the Image in Your mind.
Thus, the creature You loved into life in the Garden
        is loved into eternal life through the death of Your Image.

Friday, February 24, 2012


How long has it been since you heard someone say, “My goal in life is to be humble?” We encourage our young people to be athletic, popular, smart, assertive and sexy, but not humble. Not only is humility seldom sought; it has sometimes even been spurned. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, despised humility as a form of weakness.

Yet in Christian teaching, humility is prized as one of the highest virtues because it is opposed to pride, one of the seven deadly sins. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3-5).

Why is humility so important for the Christian?

1) Humility fosters community. While there is a proper pride in doing our work well, egotistical self-assertion leads to competitiveness that undermines our relationships. So Scripture says, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:2-4).

2) God is great and we are small. The God who spoke the universe into being is infinite in power and wisdom. It is only common sense to echo the wonder of the psalmist: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him” (Psalm 8:3-4)?

3) God is holy and we are sinful. God’s indictment of ancient Israel applies to each one of us. “Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him” (Isaiah 1:4). It is folly to pretend that we will be able to hold our heads up in pride before Him who “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16) and “from whose presence earth and heaven fled away” (Revelation 20:11).

4) Humility is necessary to receive divine forgiveness. God will not forgive people who refuse humbly to acknowledge their sins. As long as we hold on to our supposed goodness and worthiness, our hands are too full to accept the gift of mercy and grace God wants to give us. “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time (1 Peter 5:5-6).

What kind of humility pleases God? We must—
·         Acknowledge to Him that we have sinned and that we cannot save ourselves (Luke 18:10-14).
·         Trust in Jesus Christ who died for sinners and rose again to lift them up to God (Romans 4:22-5:2).
·         Forgive others “just as God in Christ also has forgiven” us (Ephesians 4:32).
·         Reject envy and be glad for the success or good fortune of others (James 4:1-2, 7-10; Romans 12:15-16; 1 Corinthians 12:26).
·         Serve others rather than demanding that they serve us (Mark 10:42-45).

This is the kind of life that is truly beautiful. May God grant us humble hearts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Why, O Lord, did You make us?

Was there an emptiness in You
that You sought to fill by creating what You lacked?
Such a thing could never be,
for how can emptiness fill itself?
Did Your Being need other beings
        to fill up the measure of Your Being?
Is it not folly to imagine that You could increase Yourself
by adding to Yourself creatures
that were nothing apart from You?
Omnipotent Creator of all,
did you possess such an excess of energy
that You were not able to contain it?
Were You forced by Your fullness
to overflow into some other vessel,
a vessel of your own making,
a world fashioned from Your overabundance of being?
Surely, You have power over Your power.
If any being in the universe is capable of self-control,
without a doubt, it must be You.

Why then did You make us,
if You had no emptiness that we might fill,
if You were not bursting with unstoppable energy?
If You were not forced to create, then You simply chose to do so.
What is Your choice, but the action of Your will?
What is Your will, but the expression of Your desire?
What is Your desire, but the direction of Your love?

Therefore, You made us because of love.
Love at its best may give to the needy,
but it does not spring from the need of the Giver.
Creating love is an exercise of Your will,
not an overflow of Your substance.

But who or what was loved
in that time before time began,
and why?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Does God Change?

This is a response to some friends whose Mormon neighbors say that their new revelations are a result of God's changing His mind.

We need to distinguish from Scripture what changes and what does not change in reference to God.
1)     God’s nature does not change. His knowledge, holiness and power neither increase, nor decrease over time.
God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)
Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end. (Psalm 102:25-27)
For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

This is contradictory to the Mormon conception of God. They believe that God was once as we are, but he has progressed or evolved to become a god. We also may progress to become gods (Doctrine & Covenants 132:19-20 [D & C is one of the Mormon authorities alongside The Book of Mormon]). See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_cosmology#cite_note-14

2)     Because God’s nature is unchanging, His plans and purposes do not change.
Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, “My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation. (Psalm 33:11)
In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17-18; see vv. 13-20 for context)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 – God’s purpose in election was formed before the foundation of the world)

3)     When God is said to repent or to grieve, Scripture is describing the emotional reaction of God to human sin; it is not saying that God has changed His eternal plans and purposes: The LORD was sorry [nacham] that He had made man on the earth (Genesis 6:6). The Hebrew word (nacham) can refer to an emotional response or to a change in mind as we see in an interesting set of verses in 1 Samuel 15.
I regret [nacham] that I have made Saul king (v. 11).
Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind [nacham]; for He is not a man that He should change His mind [nacham]. (1 Samuel 15:29)
Verse 11 is parallel to Genesis 6:6.

4)     Although God does not change, and His eternal plan does not change, He works out His plan for the world in a succession of steps. After the fall, and again after the flood, the human race rapidly deteriorated so that it became like a group of 2-year-olds all throwing temper tantrums at the same time. God began the moral re-education of the race and the spiritual preparation of the world for Christ by making a covenant with Abraham. Later He put a hedge around the nation of Israel and separated it from the surrounding culture by giving the covenant of the Law to Moses. All of this was leading up to Christ (Galatians 3:15-25). God’s final revelation to the world is summed up in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4—indeed the whole book of Hebrews is about the finality and supremacy of Christ).

The apostles and prophets of the New Testament explained the meaning of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and return. They were instructed by the Holy Spirit to enable them to do this (John 16:12-15; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). God revealed truth to the apostles; they spoke and wrote it in Spirit guided words; the Christian has the Holy Spirit to help him understand what the apostles wrote. With the passing of that generation of apostles and prophets, new revelation for the whole church ceased. (Of course, God still gives individual guidance, though seldom with any special signs.)

The last Old Testament prophet predicted the arrival of the next prophet, who turned out to be John the Baptist (Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 1:13-17; Matthew 11:7-15). Similarly, the last New Testament prophecy predicted the arrival of the next prophets who will prophesy in the days immediately before Christ’s return (Revelation 11:3-12). So until people see two men who can do the amazing miracles given to these men, they ought not be bamboozled by prophetic claims.

5)     Both Muhammad and Joseph Smith claimed to receive revelations from angelic figures. Their revelations are not consistent with the gospel. This is how Scripture evaluates them.
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)

6)     Regarding the Mormon claims that there are many gods:
Scripture sometimes refers to other gods, but these are either empty nothings (Psalm 95:6; 115:4-7) or demons (Deuteronomy 32:17). The gods of the nations are “by nature are no gods” (Galatians 4:8). Scripture is very clear that there is no other god who is worthy of the name.
“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.” (Isaiah 43:10)
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. (Isaiah 44:6)
Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none. (Isaiah 44:8)
I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me. (Isaiah 45:5)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Holes in Secularism?

An atheist says atheism has holes religion can fill
Alain de Botton:Atheism 2 (A TED presentation)

This video was sent to me by a good friend who asked me to comment on it. Here is what I replied to her.

The talk was very interesting (and entertaining). The Roman orator Cicero noticed that every nation has its gods. He took the consent of all peoples to be a fact or truth of nature: that some deity must exist. Romans 1:18-23; 2:12-16 indicates that the human heart has a knowledge of God and His law--a knowledge that men may suppress, distort and deny. So if secularism is admitted to be full of holes, and if religion provides material to plug those holes, what does that suggest? Here's a word picture for what I think is happening. Secularism has tried to put a hard brass dome over our heads, a dome that is designed to keep anything immaterial or supernatural out of our lives and thinking. However, the dome has holes and something from outside keeps poking through. Not only that, but the thing that keeps poking through turns out to be just what we need to be fully human. Why, therefore, should one assume that secularism presents a complete picture of reality and of human life? Is it not reasonable to ask if there is something more; something outside the brass dome of matter and energy; something that not only can, but must break through that dome? (I have used "secularism" instead of "atheism" because many secular people are practical atheists, even if they would not describe themselves that way.) 

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Value of Human Life (part 4)

(For the first 6 sections of this essay read the three previous posts, beginning in December 2011.)

7.      Two Final, Unrelated questions

Two questions were raised as a result of the preceding study. Here are brief responses.

A.          Euthanasia

If we owe respect and kindness to every human being, wouldn’t it be respectful and kind to administer a fatal drug to someone who is enduring intense suffering from a terminal illness? Why should I treat my suffering dog with more compassion than I treat a suffering human being?

The answer is simple. God has given us the right to take an animal’s life for food (Genesis 9:3). Therefore, while animals are important to God (Proverbs 12:10), their lives are not sacred.

However, God has reserved to Himself the right to determine the length of our days.

Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:5-6)

See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand (Deuteronomy 32:39).

Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass (Job 14:5).

Therefore, the issue is greater than our opinion of the most compassionate way of helping a suffering person. We are obligated to obey God and to leave in His hands the lives of His image bearers. God has not chosen to end our lives before we suffer, and while this may seem unkind or cruel to us, we trust His goodness and His wisdom. The obvious exception to leaving death in God’s hands is when the state executes a murderer in obedience to God’s command. (See also Romans 12:17-13:4.)

B.      How can we be images of God if God forbids images of Himself?

This question would not occur to people in most churches today because the meaning of the second commandment has been largely forgotten.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me (Exodus 20:4-5 ESV).

Many people mistakenly think that the commandment only refers to images of false gods. Moses clarifies this misconception in a sermon to the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female (Deuteronomy 4:15-16).

The golden calf Israel made in the wilderness was not an image of a false God. It was an image of Yahweh because the calf was an image of the God who brought them out of Egypt, and when it was set up, the people celebrated a feast to Yahweh (Exodus 32:4-5). When Moses came down Mount Sinai and saw what they had done, he was so furious that he shattered the two tablets of the law that God had cut out of stone and engraved with His own hand.

Some argue that after God took on a human body and soul in the incarnation, it became legitimate to make images of Christ. However, the New Testament knows nothing of this, and the apostle Paul specifically condemned images made in the form of man (Romans 1:22-23). Why didn’t he write, “Put some clothes on that naked image of your god and call it Jesus”?

So if God is hostile to images of Himself, why did He make us in His own image and likeness? I don’t have an inclination to go into the all reasons for God’s rejection of images, but here is one that helps to answer the current question.

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell;7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat (Psalm 115:3-7).

God cannot be represented by anything that is dead. He is so full of life and power that any non-living image makes a mockery of Him. When God made human beings in His image, He guarded against false worship by making all of us in His image. He did not set up one particularly fine specimen of humanity and say, “This one is in My likeness.” A poor, illiterate farmer in rags is no less a bearer of God’s image and no less worthy of honor than a wealthy, well-educated corporate executive. (Perhaps those of us who are tempted to worship our favorite movie stars, athletes or musicians ought to repent and kiss the feet of a few beggars.)

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Value of Human Life (part 3)

[For sections 1-5 in this essay, read the previous two posts in December 2011.]
6.      Does the body have value when nobody’s home?

From the foregoing considerations, the answer obviously is yes. The bodies of those who have died should be treated with respect and even a kind of reverence because at the shout of Christ (John 5:25-29) they shall be raised either to incorruptible glory or to inconceivable horror.

We see the importance of the body in God’s condemnation of the pagan nation Moab “Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime” (Amos 2:1). This is not a blanket condemnation of cremation. Enemy soldiers disinterred the king’s bones and burned them to lime, which could then be used for plaster. Their offense was desecrating the body of the dead king.

Greek and Roman philosophy tended to disregard the body as the prison house of the soul, and cremation was common, especially among the Roman nobility. In this context, the church insisted on the burial of the dead as a testimony to the importance of the body and its future resurrection. However, the Bible does not forbid cremation, and the disintegration of the body by fire or by natural decomposition is no hindrance to the resurrection. The body is like a seed which must die in order to grow into a mature plant (1 Corinthians 15:35-43). If cremation is viewed as a means of disposing of an unwanted corpse, it may be an act of desecration (except perhaps during a plague or when large numbers of decomposing bodies threaten public health). Normally, however, people treat the cremated remains of their relatives with loving care. In such cases there is no Scriptural objection to cremation.

If a dead body is to be treated with respect, certainly the body of a comatose patient should receive considerate care. In my view, that care should continue as long as life endures, but the life of the body need not be maintained indefinitely when the brain functions necessary for consciousness have ceased and cannot be restored.