Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
A hurricane destroys a city. A young mother dies of cancer. A man succumbs to depression and takes his life. When tragedies like this happen, the inevitable question is, “Why?” Amazingly, Jesus Christ asked the same question as he was dying upon the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) It is in that very question of Jesus that we can find helpful answers.
He absorbed our evil by His love. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they unleashed a Pandora’s Box of evil that impacts us to this day. But upon the cross, Jesus absorbed that evil, by lovingly sacrificing Himself. The apostle Paul put it this way: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13).
He empowered us to overcome evil by faith. Jesus’ sacrifice inspires us to identify with Christ by faith, and moves us to action ourselves. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Thus Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
He heals the hurt of evil by giving hope. The greatest medicine for healing is not penicillin or aspirin– it’s hope. During World War II, psychologist Viktor Frankl studied the lives of people who survived Nazi concentration camps, and found the survivors were those who had hope. The Bible says, “For in hope we have been saved” (Romans 8:24); “This hope we have as an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19); “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5).
Louie Zamperini was an American aircraft gunman in World War II, whose plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean. He and his friends floated across the ocean for a month, losing half of their body weight and nearly going insane, only to be captured by the Japanese. Because Zamperini had been a famous Olympic runner, the Japanese treated him with particular cruelty, beating him mercilessly. His story was made famous in the 2014 movie, Unbroken. But Hollywood only hinted at the rest of the story. After his return from war, Louie Zamperini suffered so much post-traumatic stress that he fell into despair and addiction. Then a young preacher named Billy Graham held a revival in his home in Los Angeles. At the urging of his wife, Louie went. Graham stood and asked, “Why is God silent when good men suffer?” He reminded the audience that God sends us messages through creation and through Christ that He cares for us. Zamperini remembered seeing a swirl of light in the sky when he was floating across the Pacific, awed by God’s creation. He listened as Graham talked about the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin, and that day, Zamperini found hope in Christ. For the rest of his life, Louie Zamperini followed Christ. He founded a ranch to offer hope to troubled boys, and he even traveled to Japan to forgive his prison captain.
Louie Zamperini found the answer to “Why” in the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So can you and I.
Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.
We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:
I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)
People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)
Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!
III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)
Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”
My wife and I saw the sneak preview of the new motion picture, The Shack. I posted a review earlier of the bestselling book (click here to read it) of the same title by William Paul Young, so I wanted to follow up with this review of the movie.
The Shack is a deeply emotional film about a man named Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington, who is angry at God because of the abusive and tragic circumstances he experienced as a child and as an adult. The film tells the story of a deeply personal tragedy that occurs at a shack in the woods, and how Mack gets a letter from God, inviting him to return to the shack and deal with his pain. Mack returns, and there meets God in three persons, who engage him in experiences and conversations that allow him to rediscover the goodness of God. After he resolves these issues and learns to accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, Mack returns to his family a changed man. The plot uses flashbacks to tell about the tragedies in his life. Much of the story is framed as a visionary dream, which is a major departure from the plot of the original book. The plot moves well at the beginning and the end, although it may seem a bit long in the middle, if you are not engaged in the conversations.
Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” a character representing God the Father, who appears to Mack as an affectionate African-American woman. She explains that since Mack could not relate to God as a father, due to his childhood experiences with an abusive father, Papa has chosen to appear as a mother figure. In fact, all three persons of the Trinity are there. The Son, representing Jesus, is a Middle Eastern man, played by Abraham Aviv Alush, and Sarayu (the Spirit), played by Sumire Matsubara, is represented by a young Asian woman who glows and shines and sometimes just disappears. Although God is represented as three different persons, they act in unison, as one person continues a conversation with Mack that he had earlier with the other person.
The movie deals powerfully with the question of why God allows suffering. Papa, The Son, and Sarayu do not offer easy answers, but they help Mack to get a bigger picture of how God loves, forgives and redeems. For example, when Mack angrily tells Papa that Papa could not be good and allow the Son to suffer on the cross, Papa shows nail scars in her own wrist, and says with tears, “Don’t think that I wasn’t also there when my Son died.” In another scene, Jesus sends Mack on a path to a cave where he meets a female called Wisdom, who lets Mack sit in the judgment seat of God and see what it is like to be a judge, an experience that overwhelms him, reminding him that no human should try to play God, and also hinting at the reason Jesus had to die for our sins. Unfortunately, the emphasis on God’s love is so strong, that a balanced statement about God’s holiness is lacking. God reminds Mack that sin has consequences, but when Mack bluntly asks Papa about God’s wrath, Papa could have said that God is holy and offended by sin, but instead only emphasized God’s goodness and love.
The film quality
This is a quality film production. There are breathtaking nature scenes, scenes filled with color and light, darkness and drama. The music is engaging, but not distracting. The main actors and supporting cast are all convincing in their roles. Octavia Spencer exudes love and kindness as Papa, and Sam Worthington explodes with emotion and pain as Mack. Country singer Tim McGraw does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Mack’s friend, who becomes a narrator of the story.
Comparisons with the book
Fans of the book will probably also like the movie, and some critics of the book may like the movie better than the book. I don’t remember hearing any profanity in the movie, although the book has some profanity. The portrayal of God the Father as a woman is explained sooner and more clearly in the movie than in the book. There were several passages in the book that critics accused of teaching universal salvation (that all people will go to heaven), particularly some conversations Mack had with the persons of the Trinity. Most of those controversial conversations do not occur in the movie, although the movie does repeat the words of Jesus that He is not a “Christian” (which came across as humorous to me both in the book and film.) The movie puts more emphasis on God’s love than on God’s judgment, although it it reminds the viewer that God does make judgments of heaven and hell and that sin does have consequences. After the movie was over, I asked my wife, who has not read the book, if she thought the movie taught universal salvation, and she said, “Not at all.”
Spoiler alert: If you have read the book, you will notice that the movie ends a little differently. It makes the whole encounter at the shack into a visionary dream, and while the book has Mack actually finding his daughter’s body and giving it a proper burial, the movie shows that happening as part of his dream. Then the movie focuses at the end on Mack going to church with his family and having a new faith in God. The movie added the friend as a narrator of the story at the beginning and end, which I thought was a good framing device for the story.
I liked the original book, despite its flaws, but I liked the movie even more. What I like the most is that it deals with the important issues of pain, suffering, the redemption God offers through Jesus Christ. I wept several times as I thought about my own sin and need for forgiveness, and it moved me to want to be more forgiving towards others. My wife commented that the story touches nearly every person at some level in their lives. This film offers a vivid story that can open up discussions with our friends and neighbors about how our hope is found, not in an old rustic shack, but on an old rugged cross.
The Shack is a motion picture being released on March 3, 2017. It has a Christian message, yet some Christians are calling the movie heresy. What’s going on?
The movie is based on the bestseller of the same name by William Paul Young. (This is a review of the book. You can read my review of the movie by clicking here.) It is a deeply emotional story about why God allows suffering. The main character, Mack, gets a note from God, asking him to return to the shack where his young daughter had been murdered. Mack goes, and finds answers to his questions and doubts about God’s goodness. Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Then why the controversy?
Negative elements in the book
Many people are bothered by the portrayal of the Trinity in the book. God the Father appears as a black woman who goes by the name “Papa,” Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for “wind”) whom you can see through. Although they appear as three persons, they are shown as completely one, as they answer Mack in unison from time to time, and whenever he has a conversation with one of them, they always continue the conversations he had with the others. “Papa” reminds Mack that God is spirit, and since Mack had a poor relationship with his own father, he chose to reveal himself to Mack as a woman to get around his resistance. In fact, (spoiler warning: don’t read this next statement if you don’t want to know too much about the novel’s plot…) at the end of the book, after Mack is reconciled to his own father, “Papa” appears to Mack as a man.
Some people will be put off by a few uses of profanity in the book in the dialogue. There is one use of S.O.B., and a few other milder profanities spoken mostly in passages where the speaker is angry.
The most troubling part of the book occurs on page 182. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…” At this point, Jesus appears to be teaching universalism, that everybody will be saved. It appears that Jesus is saying that He has taken people from any background and transformed them. Notice the next words that William Young has “Jesus” speak:
“…I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“‘Does that mean,’ asked Mack, ‘that all roads will lead to you?’
‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'”
Perhaps this is universalism, or perhaps it means that Jesus is the only way, but He will do what it takes to reach us. The only thing that is clear is that it is left unclear.
Positive elements in the book
The book does a beautiful job of showing that following Jesus is more a matter of relationship than religion. It illustrates how suffering cannot be understood because we cannot understand all of God’s purposes, thus we simply must trust God.
(Spoiler warning: skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know too much of the plot…) Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is when Mack is asked to “play God” and decide which three of his children will go to hell and which two will go to heaven. Mack’s reaction to this awful choice helps him see how God works through suffering.
There are several good quotations in the book:
“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
God says, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.” (p. 204)
God says, “Forgiveness is about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.” (p. 224)
This is a review of The Shack, the book. The movie has several differences, so see my follow-up review of the actual film by clicking here. The movie has no profanity, and has fewer implications of universal salvation, as some of the above conversations that imply universalism are not in the film. Also, the depiction of God the Father as a woman is explained earlier and more clearly in the film.
Whatever your opinion about the depiction of the Trinity and other controversial elements in the book, it is an inspiring message of how God works through suffering that reminds us how we ultimately find hope not in the shack, but in the cross.
Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Barbara Robinson writes in her book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, about a Sunday School Christmas pageant. One child heard from Isaiah 9:6 that the Christ child’s name would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Wide-eyed, she responded, “He’d never get out of the first grade if he had to write all that.”
Perhaps we need to return to this familiar prophetic title with the same wonder of a child. We will see:
As Wonderful Counselor, Christ takes away our gloom.
As Mighty God, Christ takes away our doom.
As Everlasting Father, Christ adopts us all.
As Prince of Peace, Christ takes down the wall.
In the verses before Isaiah 9:6, we see how meaningful this really is…
I. Wonderful Counselor takes away our gloom
Isaiah 9:1 says “the gloom of the distressed will not be like that of the former times.” In this world, we often live in gloom and sorrow, but Christ takes it away. Our Wonderful Counselor listens with compassion, helps us see matters in a new light, confronts us with the truth, and guides us in the right way.
II. Mighty God takes away our doom
Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Because of our sin, we are living in the land of death, headed to a sinner’s hell. But the Christ child is more than a sweet baby; He is God in flesh, and able to save us from our sins by His sacrifice on the cross. He came to earth, so that we may go to heaven.
III. Everlasting Father adopts us all
Isaiah 9:4 speaks of the oppression and burdens of the people, who have no one to protect them. But God is a good Father, and His Son Jesus has come to adopt us all. When I say, “adopts us all,” I don’t mean to imply universal salvation; I’m speaking poetically of all who trust the blood of Christ, and then are adopted into God’s family, as if we were blood brothers and sisters. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised in John 14:18.
IV. Prince of Peace takes down the wall
Isaiah 9:5 speaks of the blood of war, from which Christ came to bring peace. He takes down the wall of sin (Isaiah 59:2), so that nothing separates us from God (Romans 8:38-39). He takes down the wall that separates us from our brothers and sisters in Christ: “For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
When missionary Don Richardson was trying to explain the gospel to a remote tribe, they could not understand the incarnation of God in flesh or the atonement of Christ upon the cross. But then he learned that when tribes wanted to make peace, they would exchange children to grow up in the other tribe. That was it! He explained that Jesus is our “Peace Child,” the Son of God, born as a Son of Man to make peace through His flesh.
Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah’s birth long ago. As you celebrate His birth, you can also be born again by faith (John 3:3). Have you?
Article Copyright by Bob Rogers
Fiddler on the Roof is a film about changing culture and faith among Russian Jewish families in 1905. In one scene, the village Rabbi was asked if there was a blessing for the czar, who had persecuted the Jews. He replied, “The Lord bless and keep the czar– far away from us!”
We may chuckle at the story, but we still wonder how do we actually pray for bad leaders. We feel a tension between the Biblical command to pray for all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and the fact that some of those in authority live ungodly lives and support unrighteous policies.
Cry out to God
Ezekiel cried out to the Lord in distress on behalf of the righteous remnant. “I fell facedown and cried out, ‘Oh, Lord GOD! Are You going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel when You pour out Your wrath on Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8; see also 11:13). There is nothing wrong with crying out to God about your heart-felt concern. Ezekiel did. But don’t stop there.
Pray for God to work through bad leaders
Habakkuk cried out to the Lord about evil rulers. In Habakkuk 1:2, the prophet described life under the wicked King Jehoiakim this way: “This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.” Sounds like a modern news report, doesn’t it? God’s first answer to this dilemma comes in the next verses, saying, “Look at the nations and observe– be utterly astounded! For something is taking place in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it” (Habakkuk 1:5). He goes on to describe how God would bring judgment on Jerusalem through the Babylonians.
God often uses nations and rulers for His purpose, even evil rulers. God can hit straight with a crooked stick anytime He wishes. He used King Cyrus of Persia (Isaiah 44:28-45:1) to bring the Jews home from captivity. Daniel 2:21 says, “He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” Acts 2:23 shows how God even used evil leaders in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ: “Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.”
Therefore, we can pray for God to work through bad leaders. John F. Kennedy had many extramarital affairs, but God used his courage to stand against communist Russia in Cuba. Richard Nixon was corrupted by the Watergate scandal, yet God used him to open doors with China. We may pray for bad leaders by praying for good to overcome evil, despite their failures and sins.
Watch and pray
Returning to Habakkuk, we find two principles of prayer: expectancy, and faith. First is the principle of expectancy: the prophet finally resolved to be a “watchman” in prayer: “I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1). Likewise, we are to watch what happens with rulers, and continually pray, expecting that God will do something. The second principle is faith. The Lord encouraged the prophet to keep watching, and waiting, and then God revealed one of the greatest doctrines of the Bible: “But the righteous one will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). This verse is quoted repeatedly in the New Testament, reminding us that our salvation comes by faith and trust in the Lord, and Him alone (Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:11 and Hebrews 10:38). As Jesus said, “Watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41; Luke 22:46).
Ask God what you can do
Contemporary Christian singer Matthew West sings about how he saw all kinds of suffering and injustice in the world which disgusted him. Then the singer cried out, “‘God, why don’t you do something?’ He said, ‘I did, I created you!'” (“Do Something” by Matthew West, from the album, Into the Light).
Isaiah gives a similar response to our prayers complaining about bad government. Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would answer their cries when He saw social injustice in the land (Isaiah 58:3-10). The people were fasting and praying for justice. In this passage, God responded to the prayer by calling on His people to put feet to their own prayers. “Isn’t the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood? Then your light will appear like the dawn… and the LORD’s glory will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 48:6-8). God hears our prayers for justice to overcome evil, and He nudges us to get personally involved in fighting injustice. Pray for bad leaders by deciding to do something good yourself! You can vote for pro-life candidates, but don’t stop there; volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. You can vote for candidates who support the police and who fight for racial justice, but don’t stop there; show your kindness and speak up against mistreatment of the police and mistreatment of those of other races.
So what does all of this mean to us today? It means that no matter who occupies the White House, the State House or the courthouse, God is on His throne, and He is in control. It means that while we pray for and support godly leaders, we also pray for God to work His will through ungodly leaders. It means that we put our trust in the Lord, not in earthly leaders. It means that instead of just complaining about evil, we need to ask God what good we can do ourselves. Then we need to get up from our prayers, and do something good in the name of Jesus.
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
“Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10, HCSB)
Last week, I met a man who wanted to give up on life. I asked him if he knew the story of Job, from the Bible. He said he had a Bible somewhere, but had never heard of Job. So I gave him the short version of the story: Job was a good man who worshiped God, but he lost everything. Bandits stole his property, a storm killed his children, and then his skin broke out in painful sores. His wife told him, “Curse God and die.” When I said this, my new friend raised his eyebrows, and wanted to know what happened next. I explained that Job refused to curse God. Then his three friends came to comfort him, but instead of comforting him, they tried to defend God. They said Job must have sinned, and that was why God was allowing him to suffer. Job objected, saying he didn’t deserve his suffering. In the end, God spoke to Job, and restored his fortunes.
The wrong question to ask of Job
Many people go to the book of Job looking for the answer to why people suffer. Unfortunately, the only answers they find are negative:
Job’s suffering was not because God was angry or punishing him. Bildad, one of Job’s friends, accused him of this. He implied that Job must have forgotten God, so God forgot him (Job 8:13). But Bildad was wrong! God specifically said in Job 1:8 and 2:3, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.”
Job’s suffering was not because Job sinned. Bildad said that Job’s children died because of their sin (8:3), and Zophar, another one of Job’s friends, accused Job himself of being so sinful that “God has chosen to overlook some of your sins” (11:6). But they were wrong! Job 2:10 says, “Throughout all of this Job did not sin in what he said.”
Job’s suffering was not answered by God, either. After the long debates between Job and his friends, the Lord Himself answered Job from the whirlwind in chapters 38-41. But if you read those chapters to find an answer to suffering, you will be disappointed. It’s not there. Instead, God turns the questions on those who have been asking questions. “Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,” God asks (38:4). Then the Lord lists the amazing traits of His creation, and asks if Job can explain all of that. The point is blunt: We do not know all there is to know. Only God does. We cannot understand God. As the Lord proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
So what is the answer to suffering? The Book of Job doesn’t answer that question. In fact, it’s the wrong question to ask.
The right question to ask of Job
The question to ask is not, Why is there suffering? The question to ask is, What do suffering people need to do? The Book of Job has hope-filled answers to this question.
First, hold on to faith. Despite his losses and sorrow, Job fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh” (1:21). Later, in the middle of his debates with his friends, Job says, “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him.” This doesn’t fit with the so-called “prosperity gospel” that says if you just have faith, all will go well. No, this is a real-world faith, that holds on to God’s hand, even when it cannot see His plan.
Second, live in integrity. Satan, the old accuser before the Lord, said that Job would curse God if Job suffered. But Satan was wrong. This is one of the major points of the book. The word “integrity” is repeatedly used to describe Job. Notice the question Job’s wife asks: “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9) But Job rejects her suggestion as foolish, saying, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (2:10) We read in James 2:2-4 to consider it joy when we face trials, because God uses it to produce maturity in us. It has been my observation as a hospital chaplain, that suffering generally reveals the attitude that is already in a person. I’ve seen people handle horrible physical problems with grace and peace, while others with lesser physical ailments complain and are bitter. We choose how we will respond. Job set a standard, choosing to live in integrity.
Third, hope in the Savior. One of the greatest cries of faith comes in the midst of the greatest pain, when Job says, “Even now my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is in the heights!… But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh” (16:19; 19:25-26). Long before Jesus Christ came, Job caught a vision of the Redeemer, who would die on the cross for our sins, and be our advocate before God the Father (Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5).
There is an fable about a poor man who had a valuable horse. People told him that he should sell his horse, so he wouldn’t be poor, but he refused. Then the horse ran away, and the people asked, “Why didn’t you sell it when you could? The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse ran away.” Later, the horse returned, with 20 wild horses, and the man suddenly became the owner of 21 valuable horses. This time they said, “We were wrong! Now we know why the horse ran away; it was to bring you riches later.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse returned with more horses.” Then the man’s son broke his leg, trying to tame one of the wild horses. The people said, “Why did you keep the wild horses? Now your son has a broken leg.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is my son broke his leg.” Then their country went to war against a larger, more powerful nation, and the army came to their town, forcing all of the young men to join the army, except for the son of the man with the wild horses. The people said, “Now we know why his leg was broken, to spare him from dying in the war.” Once again, the man said, “Don’t say that. We don’t know why. All we can say is my son did not have to go to war.”
Thus the question we need to ask is not why? but what? Not, Why do people suffer? but What do suffering people need to do? Even if we knew the answer to why, it would not help us do anything different. But the answer to the second question gives us hope and purpose that we can put into action. Because our Redeemer lives, we even after our skin is destroyed, we shall see God!
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” — Genesis 1:26, HCSB
Essay Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
The Bible says that human beings are made in the image of God. Scholars debate the theological significance of this– that humans resemble God as spiritual beings, rule with God as stewards of His creation, and have a relationship with God by faith. But let’s come down to earth and think about the practical significance of this:
If we are made in the image of God, then abortion is wrong, and murder is wrong, euthanasia is wrong and war is wrong unless it can be shown to be justified by saving more lives than it takes, because these things kill a soul that is made to be with Jesus.
If we are made in the image of God, then racism is wrong, sexism is wrong, pornography is wrong, kidnapping is wrong, and slavery is wrong, because it devalues somebody who is made in the likeness of the king of kings.
If we are made in the image of God, then it is wrong to abuse a child, or abuse a wife or husband, or abuse an elderly person; and it is wrong to neglect and mistreat people because they are poor or mentally unstable or mentally handicapped, physically disabled, or unable to care for themselves due to illness. For each human life is a spiritual life, capable of spending eternity with Christ, so how we treat them down here on earth will be remembered forever up there in heaven.
I. First reason: The First Cause. (Psalm 90:2)
Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.” So God has always existed, but the universe has not always existed. The universe had a beginning, when God created it out of nothing.
But why should we believe this? We have clear evidence that the universe has not always existed. Instead, it began to exist. If it began to exist, what started it? What was the first cause? The answer is God!
Someone might ask, “How do we know the universe has not always existed? How do we know that it started sometime in the past?” We know this from logic, and science also confirms it.
Think about it. It is logically impossible for the past to go into infinity. It is impossible to count down from infinity to one. There is always an infinite distance to travel, so we never arrive. In the same way, if the past went on into infinity, we could never arrive at the present. But here we are! So there must have been a beginning. (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 219-223)
Science has also given us reason to believe in a first cause. In 1929, astronomer Edward Hubble discovered that a dozen galaxies near earth were moving away from us at high speeds. Scientists today agree that the universe is expanding, because it had a beginning, which they often call the “Big Bang.” Scientists don’t know what caused the big bang, they just know it happened. But as Christians, we know that caused the Big Bang. God spoke, and bang! It happened.
The Big Bang Theory is not the only scientific reason to believe in a first cause. There is also the second law of thermodynamics. This scientific law states that the energy in the universe is slowly but surely being used up. Like a fire that eventually burns out, all the energy in the universe is eventually going to disappear. Now here’s where it gets interesting. If the universe existed for eternity in the past, then it would have already used up all the energy by now. But here we are, with energy still available to use. So the universe is not eternal; it had a beginning in the past. What other way is there to explain this beginning, except that an all-powerful, supernatural person was the first cause? (Groothuis, p. 224-226)
The only answer atheists can have to this, is to argue that the universe was caused by nothing but a pure accidental explosion. Not only does it take more faith to believe the beautiful complexity of the universe had no cause, but such belief would also mean that everything in life is meaningless, and has no cause or reason. So would you prefer to believe that an all-powerful Creator spoke the word and brought the universe into being with a purpose, or would you prefer to believe that everything began from no cause, and life has no meaning? The choice is yours, but thank God we have a better choice than to live a meaningless life that began by nothing and has no purpose. Instead, it makes far more sense to believe that there was a First Cause, a supernatural Being, who brought the universe into existence, and that our lives do have purpose and meaning.
II. Second reason: Self-Consciousness. (Genesis 2:9; Romans 7:22)
Those who believe in Darwinian evolution, think that the human being is a mere biological collection of atoms that assembled by chance over a long period of time.
The Bible, on the other hand, says that God formed mankind from the earth, and we became a “living being.” (Genesis 2:9). Romans 7:22 talks about understanding something “in my inner self.” Whether or not you believe the Bible, we all know that we have an inner self, a self-consciousness. As the philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I have an awareness of my own self; I have something within myself that makes me to be me.
But where in the human body is my consciousness located? Where is my self-awareness? No scientist has located it. Nobody can tell you that in this part of the brain, or any other place on the human body, is the location of self-consciousness. Nobody can tell you where it is, yet we know we have it.
And if I am only a biological collection of chemicals, then how do we explain the human appreciation for beauty, music, poetry and art, and how do you explain love?
If you are an atheist, there is no explanation for it. But if you believe in God, the answer is simple: God put it there.
III. Third reason: Religious Experience (John 9:25)
The man born blind who was healed by Jesus could testify to a changed life, and nobody could dispute his experience. In John 9:25 we read, “He [the blind man] replied, ‘Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'”
In Isaiah 6:1-5, Isaiah had a face-to-face encounter with the Lord in the temple; in Acts 9:1-9, Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus and had a life-changing conversion experience.
This series of blog posts was originally presented as a series of sermons at the church I was serving in near Savannah, Georgia. When I presented the message, a student at Armstrong Atlantic State University, came forward at the end of the early worship service to publicly profess her faith, and at the second morning service, she gave her testimony to the congregation. She told how she did not believe in the existence of God, but she began to seek God. She heard all of the same arguments for the existence of God that we have talked about last week and this week, but she was still undecided about whether she believed. Then she decided to go with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Armstrong Atlantic State University on a mission trip to Haiti. That week, she prayed, and said, “God, if you are there, will you reveal Yourself to me.” Later in the week, she was walking through a voodoo area of Haiti, where all of the statues had been destroyed by the earthquake, and she looked up and saw a statue of Jesus on the cross. Her friend had been encouraging her to have faith in God, and right then she looked up and saw the statue. She decided that if she turned away then, she would never believe. That experience finally brought her to belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ.
The religious experience of millions of people is a powerful evidence for God. People can deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the fact that millions of people of every time, language and culture have believed in God and claimed to have an experience with God. When the white men first came to the New World, they found Native Americans who had never had contact with Western society, yet they believed in a Great Spirit.
Atheists sometimes claim that people who believe in God are ignorant, or even neurotic. But they have a more difficult time making this claim when confronted with the fact that so many great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln believed in God, great musicians like Ludwig von Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach believed in God, great artists like Leonardo da Vinci believed in God and great scientists like Werner Van Braun believed in God. My late uncle, Dr. R.A. Clinton, Jr., was a rocket scientist who worked alongside Van Braun in building a satellite at the space center in Huntsville, Alabama. My uncle later became the leading American expert on Russian missile technology. Yet brilliant as he was, Uncle R.A. was also a believer, who taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church of Huntsville for over 25 years.
Atheists often claim that much harm and cruelty has been done in the name of God. However, atheists must also face the fact that millions of people were massacred by atheist dictators like Joseph Stalin and Mao-tse Tung. Atheists are correct that people with distorted views of God have done great harm, whether they were misguided people who claimed to follow Christ, as in the Crusades, or the brutal terrorists of ISIS. This points to the fact that it is not enough to believe in the existence of God; one needs to know the personal God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, and truly obey Him. True followers of Christ have fed millions of hungry and in the name of God millions of sick have been nursed to health. After Hurricane Katrina, there were no atheist relief organizations to help, but thousands of churches and Christian organizations came to help. The life-changing experience of the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, is the greatest reason I know to believe in God. How about you? Do you believe?
Many atheists today not only don’t believe in God, but they act like they are mad at God. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great are two of the bestselling books on God, and they are written by atheists!
Peter Hitchens, the brother of atheist author Christopher Hitchens, describes this attitude as a “rage against God.” He describes how one atheist “thanked God that he no longer believed in Him.” (Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God, p.19)
It makes you wonder why they fight so hard against somebody they don’t believe in, doesn’t it?
However, there are other atheists and agnostics who seem to have genuine struggles with believing in God. Timothy Keller is a Presbyterian pastor in New York City. He had a brilliant young scientist who struggled with this. He had a feeling that God existed, but as a scientist, he wanted proof that God exists. He said, “I can’t believe unless I find at least one absolutely airtight proof for God.” Finally, the young man began to realize that proof wasn’t necessary. What he needed was clues. If we have enough clues, we can believe. (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p. 127-128) After all, a jury is not required to have absolute proof to convict a criminal, they are only required to have evidence that is “beyond all reasonable doubt.”
So, can we know that God exists, beyond all reasonable doubt? Yes, I believe we can.
It is reasonable to believe that God exists.
Atheists often ridicule people who believe in God as ignorant and stupid. “I don’t believe in God, I believe in myself,” says the atheist. G. K. Chesterton points out that most people who are in lunatic asylums believe in themselves, too. (Gilbert K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy, p. 175.) A man can believe he is a chicken and believe in himself. A woman can perform for the judges of “American Idol” and believe in herself. That doesn’t make their beliefs true.
I submit to you that it is more reasonable to believe in God.
Every argument that atheists use can be turned on them, and in addition there are many, many reasons that can be given to believe in God.
For example, atheists claim that belief in God is wish-fulfillment. They say that people wish there is a God, so they dream him up. But we can reply that atheism is wish-fulfillment. Atheists wish away any moral responsibility by wishing God did not exist so that they don’t have to be accountable to Him.
Again, atheists claim that belief in God is “the opiate of the people.” That is, they are saying that people escape reality by believing in God. But we can reply that atheism is the opiate of the conscience. In other words, atheists try to escape moral guilt for their sin by saying there is no God (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 130). Bob Gass says, “An atheist can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman.”
So every argument that atheists use against faith can be turned on its head. What’s more, there are many, many arguments that can be used in favor of faith in God. Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli list 20 of them. (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pp. 48-86.) For the sake of time, I will give you three good reasons in this essay, and three more next time. First, we will look at these reasons: a reason from logic, a reason from design, and a reason from morality and conscience.
A. Logic. (“The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist.'” Psalm 14:1, HCSB)
There are many logical and philosophical arguments for the existence of God.
During the Middle Ages, a philosopher named Anselm had an interesting argument for God. It’s called the ontological argument. It goes like this: He said that the fact that the idea of God exists in our minds indicates that He is real. After all, God is the greatest being there is, so if He exists in your mind, then He must also exist in reality, because reality is greater than your mind, and if He is in your mind and He is the greatest being, then He must also exist in the real world! (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 187-188)
Over the years, people have debated back and forth whether Anselm’s argument is true or not. But even if Anselm’s logic does not prove that God exists, it is impossible to prove that God does not exist!
Proving that God does not exist is like proving that there is no gold in Alaska. It is much easier to prove that there is gold in Alaska. All one has to do is to find one speck of gold dust. But to prove there is no gold in Alaska, one would have to dig up every cubic inch of the largest state in the nation.
In a similar way, what would you have to know to prove there is no God? You would have to know everything! Once the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair was debating Jerry Root. Root asked her, “How much of that which there is to be know do you claim to know, 10%?” She laughed and said, “Okay, 10%.” Then he asked, “Is it possible that God might exist and be part of the 90% of reality that you admittedly don’t know?” She paused and was silent for about a minute. Then she said, “No,” and quickly moved on to another question. She did not want to admit the obvious—that unless you have all knowledge, you cannot prove that God does not exist. (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 85-86)
In fact, it is absolutely impossible to prove that God does not exist, unless you can prove that the idea of God is nonsense or a contradiction, and nobody has been able to do.
No wonder Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”
B. Design (“For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20, HCSB)
In December 2004, Great Britain’s most famous atheist, Antony Flew, decided at age 81 that he could no longer deny the existence of God. What caused him to change his mind? It was the complexity of the scientific evidence discovered in nature, especially the amazing evidence of DNA, that made him decide that it had to designed by an intelligent Creator.
“I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries,” Flew said. “… I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.” (“Famous atheist now believes in God,” Associated Press, December 9, 2004; David Roach, “Famed atheist sees evidence for God, cites recent discoveries,” Baptist Press, December 13, 2004.)
The design of God’s creation, from the tiniest protein to the most complex galaxy is another reason to believe in the existence of God. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Atheists reply that the amazing complexity of nature happened by chance over millions, even billions of years. But as Antony Flew finally decided, it takes more faith to believe in chance than to believe God designed it! Why? Suppose a combination lock has numbers ranging from 00 to 99, and only one sequence of turns can open the lock (e.g., 34-98-25-09-71.) There are 10 billion possible combinations, but only one can open the lock. Saying that nature happened by pure chance is like saying that I randomly twirled the combination lock until it opened. It could happen by chance, but it might take a while. Let’s see, 10 billion seconds is a long time, isn’t it? Multiply that by every species that would have to randomly mutate into another species, and you get an idea of how unlikely it is that nature became so complex by pure chance. On the other hand, if someone turned the lock a few times and opened it on the first try, we would assume it was not by chance, right? In the same way, when we look at the complexity of creation, we can reason that it didn’t happen by chance, either, but God made it. (William Demski, The Design Revolution, p. 87)
C. Morality and conscience (“For I am Yahweh your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44, HCSB)
So we have seen that it is impossible to prove there is no God, and it is reasonable to believe in God because God has placed an awareness of Himself in each of us, but it is also reasonable to believe in God because of the scientific evidence of creation. Now let me give you a third reason to believe in God: the moral compass in your own conscience.
Leviticus 11:44 says, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” Because God is holy, he calls us to be holy. We believe in morality because there is a God who is holy and good, who put that universal moral code in our souls and expects us to do right.
Atheists never get tired of telling us that everything happened by chance. We should ask them, then where did morality come from? Did we just happen to decide by chance that feeding the hungry is good and committing adultery is wrong? No, reasonable people recognize that morality is a quality within our souls. Peter Kreeft says that the “moral conscience is the voice of God within the soul” (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 73).
Many postmodernists would say that there is no God and no absolute right and wrong because everybody has to find his or her own truth. They would claim that what is moral for you may not be moral for me. Thus they would claim that morality does not mean there is a God, because different people have different morality.
We would disagree, saying there is a universal moral code, because everybody knows that murder is wrong, and stealing is wrong, and child abuse is wrong, and that feeding the hungry and healing the sick is good. But for the sake of the argument, suppose the postmodernists were right, that everybody has to find his or her own right and wrong. They would still have to admit that there is still one moral absolute: we all need to follow our own consciences. But where did you get a conscience, and why do you have to obey it? It must have been given to you by someone higher and greater than yourself, if you’re supposed to obey it. That Someone is God.
You see, if atheists are right, then there can be no moral absolutes and there is no reason to obey the conscience (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 72-77). Most atheists are peaceful people, but most atheists live in predominantly theistic cultures, where a moral standard influences believers and unbelievers alike. But it is a fearful thing to think of what the world would be like if the predominant view was atheism, and the culture felt no accountability to a Supreme Being. I believe we have already seen how violent this could be in history, through the French Revolution, Joseph Stalin in Russia and Mao Tse-tung in China.
We have seen that it is impossible to prove that God does not exist. We have also seen that it is reasonable to believe that God does exist. It is logical because the idea of God exists in every human, because God reveals Himself in the design of creation, and because of the existence of morality. In the next essay, we will look at three more reasons: that something had to cause the world to begin, that something causes us to be conscious of our existence, and the personal experiences people have had with God. We will cover those in more detail next time. But let me conclude with this simple question: Since it is reasonable to believe that God exists, why would you not seek to know God?
Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
If you were going to seek God, where would you look? What is the best-known book in the world that more people have consulted to know God, more than any other book? It’s the Bible, isn’t it?
And when you read this book, what person rises to the top as the theme of this book? He is God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ, isn’t He? Listen to what Jesus Himself said about seeking God in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
If you look for God, you will find Him revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is like the magnifying glass of faith. When I put a magnifying glass over a book, the tiny letters come into focus as they become larger and clearer, and letters around the edges become distorted and unclear. When I seek God, I discover that Jesus is the magnifying glass that brings God into focus. In Jesus I see God in the flesh. In Jesus I see God’s love lived out by His sacrificial death on the cross. In Jesus I find how I can believe in God. (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, p. 139.)
I pray that you will seek God through His Son, Jesus, Christ.
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A lot of Christian films have poor acting and predictable scripts, so I was quite surprised at how good this movie was. Of course, it was predictable in defending the belief in God, but it presented that message in a way that was creative and hip. The film introduced a variety of characters but did not show how they all connect until later in the film, giving the subplots an unpredictability, even as the main plot was fairly much what the viewer expected. It targeted a young audience, as the protagonist and most of the primary actors were young adults who constantly used smart phones, computers, and visual media to communicate, and it all came to a conclusion during a Christian rock concert.
The acting was outstanding, both by the lead characters and the supporting roles. It was some of the best acting that I’ve seen in a Christian film. The dramatic tension made a very intellectual argument interesting, bringing it to a climax that was so strong that the theater audience where I was broke out into loud applause. Atheists will hate this film, but they cannot dismiss it as simple-minded or shallow. But what might infuriate atheists the most was that the movie showed that it is not only reasonable to be a believer, but it can even be cool to be a believer.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
Cal & Rose Samra tell how Thanksgiving Day was approaching, and a family received a Thanksgiving card with a painting of a Pilgrim family on their way to church.
Grandma showed the card to her small grandchildren, saying, “The Pilgrim children like to go to church with their mothers and fathers.”
“Oh yeah?” her grandson shot back, “if they really like to go, then why is their dad carrying that rifle?”
Which raises a question this Thanksgiving: do you really like to worship God and give Him thanks?
John Walker from Post, Texas, tells about a Christian farmer who visited a city and went to eat at a fine restaurant. When he received his food, he bowed his head and quietly gave thanks to God. Some rowdy teenagers at the next table sneered and said, “Hey farmer, does everybody do that where you live?”
The old farmer looked at the young man and calmly said, “No, son, the pigs don’t.”
Don’t be a pig this Thanksgiving. Be willing to give thanks to your Creator for all His gifts to you. Do it gladly, without somebody having to hold a rifle to your head.
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Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Some people get so caught up debating how to fit different scientific views to the creation account in Genesis chapter one, that they miss the great theological truths in this chapter:
1) God created! Only God can create, and He does simply by speaking the Word, “Let there be…” and creation comes out of nothing (compare Hebrews 11:3).
2) God’s creation is good! Repeatedly, God saw what he created and “saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). When He created mankind, He said it was “very good.”
3) God’s creation is under His Lordship. God is the one in control. He speaks, and it comes to be. God alone is to be worshiped, not “Mother Earth” or the sun or moon, which is why God deliberately did not name the sun and moon (Genesis 1:16). Compare Romans 1:25.
4) God’s creation is under mankind’s trusteeship. Man was told to subdue and rule creation (Genesis 1:28), but also to “watch over it” (2:15). We have a responsibility to be good managers, for we don’t own it; God owns it all (compare Psalm 24:1).
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John Calvin was wrong about Romans 9.
Calvin, the Protestant reformer of Geneva, Switzerland, was a great theologian. He became famous for his emphasis on the sovereignty of God and God’s predestination of our salvation. But in his commentary on the ninth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, John Calvin took predestination beyond anything the apostle Paul intended to say.
Qualifications of what I’m saying
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe that salvation is completely by the grace of God and cannot be earned by our good deeds. I believe that God is merciful and just, and I believe in the sovereignty of God. I also believe that when we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, the Bible says that we are chosen, or predestined.
My disagreement is with a specific brand of Calvinism and with a specific statement made by John Calvin in his own commentary on Romans. Many will argue that Calvin himself took a different position in some of his other writings, and that may be true, but it does not change the fact that Calvin was wrong in his commentary on Romans 9.
The key verses and Calvin’s comments
The debate centers around the key verses, Romans 9:18, 22 (HCSB): “So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden… And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction?”
Calvin says in his commentary on Romans 9, “Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will… that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end—that they may perish.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Romans.)
John Calvin’s interpretation of Romans 9:18 and 22 has been called double-edged predestination. This interpretation teaches that the saved are predestined to be saved, but also that the lost are predestined to be damned. At first glance, one can see how Calvin would interpret this passage the way he did. But a study of these verses in light of the entire chapter reveals a completely different picture of what Paul was saying.
God is not unjust
Calvin’s interpretation makes God arbitrary and implies that God is unjust. Yet Paul reminds us in Romans 9:14, “Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not!” Let’s go through the chapter and see how God is both merciful and just.
Hardened clay and melted butter
When Romans 9:18 says that God shows mercy on whom He desires and hardens whom He desires, this does not mean that God is arbitrary or unfair. Let’s look at the context of this statement. In the previous verse, verse 17, Paul spoke about Pharaoh, who hardened his heart and would not let the people of Israel go from slavery. But if one reads the story in Exodus, one finds that half of the time it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and half of the time it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. What Exodus described was the process by which God brought out the hardness that was already in Pharaoh’s heart. As Dale Moody says, “The sun that hardens the clay melts the butter.” (The Broadman Bible Commmentary, vol. 10: Acts- I Corinthians, “Romans,” by Dale Moody, p. 230.) Thus God was not making Pharaoh do something that Pharaoh didn’t already want to do. Likewise, God does not take away our free will to obey or disobey.
The clay pot and the potter
Next, we note that Paul uses the example of a clay pot to illustrate predestination. He says in verses 20-21, that we have no right as mere humans to talk back to God about His will. It is interesting that Jeremiah 18:5-10 also uses the clay pot illustration to show how God reacts differently when we respond differently. Jeremiah says that if a people whom God warns will repent of their evil, then God will relent of his disaster and not inflict on them the disaster God had planned. This shows how predestination works in the mind and heart of God. Of course, God in His foreknowledge already knows what we will do, so when we choose Christ, God speaks of having chosen us.
A choice by faith
Romans 9:30-33 shows how salvation comes by a free choice to believe the gospel, not by arbitrary predestination. It does this by drawing a contrast between Gentiles who obtained righteousness and the Jews who did not obtain righteousness. What was the difference? It was their faith! Verse 30 says the Gentiles obtained a “righteousness that comes from faith.” Verse 31 says Israel did not achieve this righteousness. “Why is that?” Paul asks in verse 32. His answer: “Because they did not pursue it by faith.”
Objects of wrath and objects of mercy—treated differently
With all of this in mind, let us return to the key verses that are central to this debate, Romans 9:22-23. These verses have been interpreted as teaching double-edged predestination, because they speak of the “objects of wrath ready for destruction” and “objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory.” However, what many people miss here, is that Paul describes the objects of wrath (the damned) and the objects of mercy (the saved) in different ways in this passage. The Greek grammar in verse 22 describes the “objects of wrath ready for destruction” with a perfect participle in the middle or passive voice. Thus it describes the objects of wrath, which refer to the lost, as “having been made ready for destruction,” which may mean they prepared themselves for destruction by their own unbelief. Notice also that God “endured with much patience the objects of wrath.” In other words, God patiently waited for their free choices, because, as 2 Peter 2:9 says, God is not willing that any be lost.
However, the Greek grammar is different when referring to the “objects of mercy” in verse 23. Paul describes the “objects of mercy” as those “that He prepared beforehand for glory.” This time, Paul uses the active voice to describe God’s action of salvation. In other words, Paul speaks of the saved as actively being predestined by God beforehand, but Paul speaks of the damned as passively being predestined, implying it is the result of their own choices, which God in His omniscience already knew they would make.
Why John Calvin was wrong
John Calvin said that the apostle Paul taught in Romans 9 that God created the wicked for the purpose of damning them to Hell. But when we read Paul’s words carefully and in context, we see that Calvin was wrong. Instead, Paul says that God is not unjust. He says that God hardens the heart, but those are hearts that have also freely chosen to harden themselves. He says that we are like clay pots that cannot question God who forms them, but those same clay pots do have a choice to respond to the potter’s hands. If anybody is an object of God’s wrath, it is because that person has failed to obtain salvation by faith. The choice is always ours, but God always knows what choice we will make.
(For the next three days I will be publishing a guest blog on what happens upon our death, written by my mother, Joyce Clinton Rogers. Today’s post is on near death experiences. Tomorrow’s post will be on the afterlife. The third post will give an annotated bibliography of her sources, for your further reading.
Joyce C. Rogers is a graduate of William Carey University (B.S.) and the University of Southern Mississippi (M.Ed.). She has written Sunday School literature for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, including a unit on the afterlife. She and my father, Robert H. Rogers, live in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.)
What happens the moment you die? Where will you go? How will you get there? When you arrive, will you know people? Will angels escort you? What are Heaven and Hell really like? Are near death experiences (NDEs) real? Is death the end?
I experienced deeply moving and spiritual experiences at the deaths of each of my parents, which contributes to my interest in these matters. When my Dad passed away in 1975, I mentally “saw” his body floating at the ceiling of the hospital room. He said, “Don’t cry. I’m fine.” This was said to my mind or spirit – I don’t know how to describe it. It was very real to me. I haven’t forgotten it, after 38 years. Incidents like this don’t seem to be that unusual, as I will explain later in this article.
In 1992, my mother passed away following a long illness and suffering. I began to wonder about my own death. I did not and do not doubt my salvation, but I was troubled about the physical part of dying. I prayed about this continually until I felt directed to read Isaiah. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, NASB)
This answer was very real and satisfying. It was also very emotional. I could not share it without tears for several years, but this answer erased my fear and stopped my worrying. Of course, I am not trying to hurry that time, either.
In my quest to understand more about near death experiences (NDEs), death and the afterlife, I made an exhaustive study of the Bible, as well as 21 books and five audiovisuals. Here is a summary of what I learned. First, we will look at NDEs, and in the second part, we will look at the afterlife. Third, I will give an annotated bibliography to assist you further reading on the subject.
One of the first books I read on the subject of NDEs was the delightful little book, Heaven is for Real, a Little Boy’s Astounding Story of his Trip to Heaven and Back. This book captivated my interest and made me want to know more about these experiences.
Another book that has been an inspiration to me is 90 minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. When I saw and heard Don Piper speak at Hardy Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, MS, I was surprised to see that he seemed perfectly normal physically – no limps or obvious scars. He was in a horrific car accident and was pronounced dead for an hour and a half. After a minister prayed over him and sang hymns, he began to sing with the minister! Needless to say, everyone was astonished! He recovered, but it was a long and difficult recovery.
At first, Don did not want to share his NDE. He thought others would not believe him. (This is a common reaction.) He also considered the experience very intimate and holy. Later he was persuaded that others would benefit from his story of going to Heaven, of being welcomed by loved ones, and experiencing heavenly wonders. He then wrote his book and began to speak on many occasions.
One of the most touching stories told in Heaven is for Real is the experience of the little boy, Colton, when he met his sister in Heaven. Since he was not quite four years old, his parents had not told him that his mother had miscarried. But he met a little girl in Heaven who told him that she was his sister. His parents were astonished when they heard this. They had not known that the miscarried baby was a girl or that she was being cared for in Heaven. I shared this incident with a ladies’ group. One lady was in tears because she had miscarried a child. She found immense comfort to think her child was prospering in Heaven.
An extensive account of the sights and sounds of Heaven are given in My Time in Heaven by Richard Sigmund. He declared that “absolute joy and total love are the rule in Heaven.” He tells of being escorted to Heaven by angels and of seeing Jesus.
Earlier, I described the “out of body” experience I had when my father died. There are many stories of “out of body” experiences. One story about a girl hit by a car is in the book Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife by James L. Garlow and Keith Wall. She could see her body and people trying to help her. She felt perfectly at peace at the time. She said she had a conversation with God in which she asked to go back and finish her life. She told God she would witness for Him now that she knows God is real. God allowed her to come back.
There are also many, many accounts of NDEs. I think some people don’t share these accounts because they are afraid that others will not believe they are true. Testimonies of children are to me especially believable and endearing.
Stories of going to Hell are told much less often. However, they are told. In Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife, there is a story of a man whose heart stopped during heart bypass surgery. He became aware of darkness and demons. With horror, he began to pray for God to deliver him. He realized that he had not confessed sin and acknowledged God in his life. He recovered and immediately wanted to be baptized. He was not shy about sharing what happened to him. “I know God is real and that Jesus died so I don’t have to go back to Hell ever again,” he said.
There are stories written by a hospice nurse in Glimpses of Heaven: True stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey by Trudy Harris. Each experience related is unique. Most want their affairs settled, including relationships before they “let go.”
Catherine Marshall wrote the Foreword to Betty Malz’s book, My Glimpse of Eternity. Betty was pronounced dead and the hospital sheet pulled over her head. Twenty eight minutes later, she returned to her body after getting a glimpse of Heaven. Catherine Marshall said, “Upon occasion God breaks into human life to give a glimpse of what lies ahead. Betty Malz’s remarkable experience is a resounding ‘Yes, there is life after death.’” Betty sang with the angels and understood several different languages used in the music.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(Coming tomorrow: OUT OF THIS WORLD! Part Two: The Afterlife)