Train Up A Child?

The NIV renders Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” This verse has very often been a source of comfort for parents worldwide. Yet for the same reason it has been a comfort, ironically enough, it has also been a terrible burden for others. When children are young, these God-fearing people are promised that if they only make sure their children are raised in a biblical environment, then  whatever bumps may lie ahead, their children will remain faithful to the Lord. Unfortunately, as a great many godly parents can attest, things don’t always seem to work out that way. A large number of our youth are losing their faith in high school and college, and a great many never come back to the faith. These parents are forced to conclude that they didn’t, after all, “train [their children] in the way [they] should go” and that they were not the godly parents they hoped to be.

I would like to suggest, however, that we have completely misunderstood this verse. As wonderful as this promise may be to have, it simply isn’t found here (or, I would contend, anywhere in Scripture!). Even God, who is the perfect Father, found that the “children” He raised rebelled against Him (cf. Isa. 1:2).

The basic problem is with our translation of the Hebrew text. The word “should” is simply not found in the verse. The phrase in question is al-peni darkko, which is literally translated “according to his way” (see the margin of the NASB for evidence of this). The work derek literally means “a way.” When you add –ko on the end, it means “his,” and it is translated that way in many other passages (Prov. 8:22; 11:5; 14:8; 16:9, 17, etc.).

This means that far from being a promise, this verse is actually a warning, as it should be translated, “Train up a child according to his own way, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In other words, if you don’t discipline a child when they are young, then when they are old, there will be no way to turn them from their self-destructive path.

This understanding not only has full support of the grammar, but it also as the full support of the theology found in Proverbs with reference to children. Prov. 19:18 says that if we discipline our children there is hope for them and if we don’t then we are actually taking part in their death. Prov. 22:15 says that foolishness has to be disciplined out of a child, and 29:15 says that discipline makes a child wise, but an undisciplined child is a disgrace to his parents. And, of course, we have all heard Prov. 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him,” from which we get the statement, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

The Bible doesn’t guarantee that if we raise our children to fear God then they will always be faithful.  Children are human beings with their own free will. It does promise (or warn), however, that if we don’t raise our children to fear God—if we don’t discipline them the way we should—then they will be hardened in their foolishness, and that, I’m afraid, is a “promise” we can count on. Parents of wayward children need not get down on themselves. Parents of young children should take this very seriously.

Isn’t That Just Your Interpretation?

How can we know our interpretation of the Bible is what God intended?

It’s common in Bible study to hear statements like, “that’s just your interpretation!” Sometimes, when we talk about the Bible, the objector is more sophisticated and will say, “Don’t confuse your understanding of Scripture with Scripture itself,” implying rightly that our understanding is fallible but wrongly that we can’t know what the Bible teaches.

The central question is whether or not we can be objective in our interpretation. That is, can we understand what the text means in and of itself, apart from our pre-conceived notions. That last clause is extremely important. One of the hardest parts about getting the Bible right is getting rid of our presuppositions. For example, if you just presume that any reference to burning refers to Hell, you are very likely going to misinterpret Hebrews 6:4-6.

The vast majority of theorists, even in Evangelical circles, have concluded because of this that objectivity is impossible. They say that we cannot approach the text without presuppositions, and therefore, that objective interpretation is a myth. Unfortunately, what they don’t acknowledge is that if all interpretation is merely subjective, then there is absolutely no way to know what the Bible does teach. Truth cannot be known, so we may as well give up on “Thus saith the Lord.”

There are good reasons for thinking this is not the case, however. While it is true that we all approach the text with some presuppositions, two points are in order. First, when someone says that objectivity is impossible, they are assuming that they know something about the way the world works objectively. In other words, if all interpretation is just personal opinion, how can anyone know that all interpretation is just personal opinion? If that were true, then even the statement “all interpretation is just personal opinion” would itself subject to personal interpretation. We would have no way of knowing, and no reason to believe, that it represented reality at all. It appears, then, that objectivity really is possible on some level.

Second, the statement that all people come to the text with presuppositions is itself a presupposition. Now, if presuppositions can be changed (I can change my view of the idea of burning in the Bible), then what about the presupposition that all of us come to the text with presuppositions? Can that be changed? If not, then some ideas are immutable and necessarily true. And if some ideas are necessarily true, then we have an objective ground on which to interpret the text.

As it turns out, there are many of these unchangeable, necessarily true presuppositions. The law of non-contradiction is just one more example. Nothing can both be and not be in the same way at the same time. You can’t say that words “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” means both that God created the earth and that He didn’t create the earth in the same way. Both may be wrong, but both cannot be right.

And by the way, this principle isn’t just true for biblical studies. It’s true for everything. There are many people who actually argue that we can’t know anything, because everything we know is tinted by what we already believe. But, of course, is that is true, then we can’t even know that we can’t know anything, nor can we know that our beliefs effect what we know. All such claims are self-defeating.

Biblical interpretation isn’t easy. Some complain and argue that it should be, but the Bible was written two thousand years ago (and some parts much further back) in different languages, in different cultures, to different people with different problems. Those barriers can be crossed, however, and given the right tools, we can be confident that we know what it teaches. If two people disagree, they can examine their reasons for taking the text like they do and discover which one (if not both) has not considered an important piece of evidence. Biblical interpretation can be objective. It doesn’t have to be just your interpretation.

Why Would A Good God Allow Bad Things To Happen? (Part 2)

We have already taken a first look at the question “Why would a good God allow bad things to happen?” There, we argued rather simply that the question itself is based on a false assumption, namely, that humans are good and therefore don’t deserve to suffer (for if we did deserve to suffer, then no one could or would complain that God allows it!). In and of itself, that answer is sufficient, but I want to take some time and look at another aspect of that same answer.

The fundamental problem with the Problem of Evil is that it assumes equality with God. We have already seen how it assumes moral equality. There is, however, another way in which equality is assumed that is equally absurd, namely, that we are omniscient. It goes without saying that bad things happen on a regular basis and that often times this evil goes unexplained. So often, our general question is recast in the specific: “Why would God let this happen to me?”

Notice that the question looks to find a particular reason, a justification, for any given evil. Here, we have to distinguish between reasons why things happen and reasons why God lets things happen. The answers to the former are often much clear than answers to the latter. A man may know the reason he lost his job was because his company is losing money. A woman may know the reason her identity was stolen was that she accidentally used an ATM that identity-thieves were monitoring. But why would God allow a company to lose money or thieves to monitor an ATM in the first place? Why would He allow such evil to happen? We will offer a general answer in another post. For now, we will note that rarely we are able to discover the reason (see Joseph’s explanation of why God allowed him to be sold into slavery by his brothers in Gen. 50:20). But before we do that, it is more important to put the question in its proper context.

Even if no answer is given, it does not follow that no answer exists. A person cannot conclude that there is no answer just because he cannot find one.

And yet, people are willing to condemn God on a regular basis for evil, even when it is possible that He has a perfectly good reason of which they are unaware. The only way they can judge God in this fashion is to assume omniscience. Their argument must go:

  1. I know of no reasons for this evil to have happened;
  2. I know every possible reason this evil could have happened;
  3. Therefore, there is no reason this evil could have happened.

    The Sanhedrin put God on trial two-thousand years ago. Amazingly, both Christians and non-Christians still do so every day.

The second statement, however, is obviously a claim to omniscience. Who among us can possible claim that they know everything about anything? Humans are barely capable of processing all the ramifications of what we intend to do. When we add all the contingent possibilities of what might happen if other people were to do other things in light of what might or might not happen in any given case, the potential reasons may as well be infinite. In essence, then, to say categorically that God was wrong in allowing something to happen is to assume complete knowledge of all reality, both actual and potential. It is, in other words, to claim to be God Himself.

This same problem presents itself when people accuse God of not preventing the most disastrous events in human history, be they man-caused or natural. Perhaps we could agree that God is within His rights to allow minor suffering, but He certainly could and should have prevented the worst of evils. But, again, this makes an unfounded claim to knowledge. How do we know that God has not stopped more catastrophic events? If He did, we would likely never know of them. There is always a “worst.” Perhaps the Holocaust or the Cambodian Killing Fields rank a full ten on the “evil scale,” but what if that is only because God has prevented far worse events? In other words, what if God had prevented those specific things. Then the things that would rate, say, an eight or nine on our hypothetical evil scale would be perceived by us as a ten, since then they would be the worst things experienced by humans.

In short, we don’t know the extent of what God has or has not done on our behalf. We don’t know why He might or might not have allowed things to happen. To pass judgment, then, on God for allowing evil is tantamount to a jury passing a guilty plea before hearing the first witness. We simply do not, and never will, have enough information to be justified in declaring God guilty of anything!

Finally, we should note that this is God’s own defense. In Job 38:2-3, He asks the defiant Job, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” He then proceeds to barrage Job with questions he is completely unable to answer. The point is clear. If Job’s knowledge is so limited, what right does He have to challenge the reasons of an omniscience God?

People would do well to remember God’s challenge. Evil and pain hurt. They are, however, no basis on which to judge God. To do so is to stand in His very place and claim the right to sit on His throne, and that is a position that no one except He is qualified for.

Does God Hear the Prayers of the Lost?

It is often said from pulpits that the first prayer God hears from a person is their prayer of salvation. Is this true? Does God hear the prayers of the lost? In one sense, the obvious answer is yes. God is omniscient and omnipresent. It is not as if God is unaware of what non-Christians are saying or doing. Of course He hears their prayers. But when people ask the question, they seem more to have in mind the question of whether or not God honors the prayers of the lost.

There are several aspects that need to be considered. First, it seems that God does not particularly honor the unbeliever’s prayers. Isa. 45:20b says, “They have no knowledge,  who carry about their wooden idol and pray to a god who cannot save.” If nothing else, this definitely shows that prayers to anyone except the True God are worthless. Yet at the same time, Jesus says in Matt. 5:45 that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Thus, although God may not specifically honor prayers to false gods, that does not keep Him from showing His kindness to everyone. In other words, God doesn’t make a person’s life miserable just because they refuse to worship Him. Instead, He allows them the same graces He provides humanity in general (even though humanity in general rejects Him).

Two other passages offer more details on this issue. First, in Rom. 10:9-10, Paul says that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. We have already discussed why this isn’t referring to salvation from Hell in another post, so we will limit our remarks now to recognizing the fact that it is those who believe in Jesus and call upon Him who are delivered from danger. This implies that one must be a believer if his prayers for deliverance are to be heard. And yet in Jonah 3:6-10, Nineveh, after hearing Jonah’s prophecy of doom, repented of their sins and were spared. Many have taken this as a reference to their individual salvation, but the text says nothing about that one way or the other. Actually, the entire point of the story of Jonah is that God wants to have mercy on all mankind, whether they follow Him or not. How do we square these two passages?

The answer tells us a great deal about the way God answers prayer generally. The context of Rom. 10:9-10 is Paul’s discussion of Israel and their rejection of Christ. They were about to be destroyed as a nation if they did not turn to Jesus (as it happened, they were destroyed a few years later in AD 70). It is important to note that while Israel may have been unbelievers, unlike the Gentiles, they still had (and have!) a special relationship with God. Their destruction was punishment for a particular sin: the rejection and crucifixion of their King. Nineveh, on the other hand, averted their destruction by doing what Israel would not, namely, turning for their sin.

It seems, then, that while God does not honor the prayers of the lost generally, He certainly judges all men according to the common sense of right and wrong inherent in us all (cf. Rom. 2:14-15). Unbelievers are just as capable of turning from their sin, and thus from their judgment, as believers are.

Yet this does not mean that just because a person is a believer that God is going to honor their prayer, either! Two examples should be enough to demonstrate this point. Isa. 1:10-20 is startling in its sharpness. God was extremely angry with Israel, and during His warnings, He says specifically, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood” (Isa. 1:15, NIV). God clearly refused to hear the prayers of a sinful Israel. And yet a similar warning is repeated in a very specific application in the NT. Peter warned husbands against mistreating their wives “so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Pet. 3:7). The fact that sin hinders prayers is consistent with what we read in Isaiah. God honors not the prayers of the believer, but the prayers of the righteous, which is to say, those who walk before Him. James says this explicitly in James 5:16b, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” He said that after five chapters of explaining what it means in practical terms to be righteous.

So does God hear the prayers of the lost? A more appropriate question is whether or not God hears the prayers of the unrepentant heart. God may hear all, and He may cause His grace to fall on all in general terms, but those who are living in sin can expect to be essentially put on ignore by Heaven. This includes both believers and unbelievers. Only those who walk daily in faith and righteousness can expect God to honor them so that if they ask they will receive, if they seek they will find, and if they knock the door will be opened (Matt. 7:7).

Who Has the Burden of Proof?

In the 1970s, Anthony Flew, one of the world’s leading atheists who converted to deism late in life, wrote a book called The Presumption of Atheism that changed the atheist/theist dialogue forever. In it, he argued that atheism should be assumed until theists prove that God exists. In other words, in the absence of strong evidence for God, one should be an atheist. Further, one was not required to put forward arguments in favor of atheism, because it was, he believed, the default position.

Modern atheists have taken his argument further. Traditionally, the word “atheism” referred to the belief that God did not exist. It is a standard rule of debate that if a person makes an assertion, they are required to provide evidence for its truthfulness. Therefore, if an atheist declares “God does not exist,” he is required to give reasons for his disbelief. The word was redefined, however, to mean “a lack of belief in God’s existence.” Under this new scheme, atheists began to argue (and still do today) that they don’t have to justify their disbelief for the simple reason that they do not positively disbelieve; they simply lack belief. Therefore, since they make no positive assertions, they need not prove their case. It is the theist, they say, who has the burden of proof. Since we advocate God’s existence, we are the ones who have to prove our case.

Between these two arguments, atheists have built a defense system that is often difficult to penetrate. On the one hand, the atheist (as it is now defined) does not have to defend his or her position. They are content to deny arguments for God’s existence, which, according to this system, ends up justifying their disbelief as atheism is the assumed position. What makes this particularly difficult is that atheists themselves are often unclear on what qualifies as sufficient proof to justify belief in God.

In general, there are two strategies theists can employ when they find themselves talking to someone who holds this view.

First, we can point out that one who merely lacks belief has been traditionally understood as an agnostic, which is one who does not know whether or not God exists. Whether or not they accept the label, once they admit that they do not hold to a positive belief in God’s non-existence, we can hold them to that position when citing future arguments. For instance, if we use the Moral Argument and they insist that morality must be subjective because God doesn’t exist, we can remind them that they can’t assert God’s non-existence. In other words, we hold them to their stated neutral position.

Second, we can challenge their basic position. Do they really just lack belief, or do they positively belief God does not exist? In reality, they probably hold something of a middle ground. If they were to rate their disbelief on a scale of one to five, with one being complete neutrality and five being convinced that God is impossible, most self-professed atheists would admit to being somewhere around a three (at least, in my experience). But in that case, any degree to which the atheist moves away from absolute neutrality, they are required to give evidence for their position.

Beyond all this, we can argue that Flew was simply mistaken, and that a prima facie case may be made for the presumption of theism. No culture in human history has ever been discovered that was naturally atheistic. Human beings, as modern science is now finding, seem hardwired for belief in God. While the atheist can attempt to explain that as a factor of evolution, the theist may point out that shy of any good reason to believe that is the case, there is no compelling reason to believe that every culture is wrong. In fact, if God really does exist, we would expect Him to make Himself known on at least some level to everyone, which seems to me exactly the case. Further, when we consider the basic human desire for purpose and meaning, and when we realize such things are empty without God, their presumption–that is, the assumption we should make before we get to the evidence–certainly should be that God does exist.

Many arguments can be put forward to offer evidence for God. We will look at a great many of them. In the meantime, we should not allow atheists to argue that only the Christian has the burden of proof for his position. If they are truly neutral, they should be able to present reasons to ignore the surface evidence of all human history (not just present an alternate explanation!) to justify at least their neutrality; if they actively disbelieve, they’re in the situation as we are. If we are to be honest, we all have to justify why we believe what we do. No one gets a free ride.

Is The Gap Theory Biblical?

Chris What is your stand on The “Gap Theory” of Genesis 1? Does it really matter? Does this “theory” explain the war in heaven with Lucifer as some suggest? – Michael L.

This is a fantastic question, and one that I appreciate on a personal level because several years ago I seriously entertained the possibility. For those who aren’t familiar with the theory, the argument is that there is a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. It was popular with such well respected expositors as J. Vernon McGee. Supposedly, the millions—even billions—of years that scientist say the earth and universe has been around can be put between those two verses.

The chief evidence for the theory is Isa. 45:18, which says God “did not create [the earth] to be empty.” The word for “empty” here is tohu, which is the same word used in Gen. 1:2, “the earth was formless (tohu) and void.” Advocates say that if the earth was not created tohu, but by Gen. 1:2 it had become tohu, then something must have happened to the original creation in Gen. 1:1. This is further backed by the fact that the verb “was” in “and the earth was formless and void” in Gen. 1:2 can be translated “had become,” which means Gen. 1:2 could actually be rendered “and the earth had become formless and void.”

On the surface, this appears to be very compelling. However, the use of tohu in Isa. 45:18 isn’t as strong evidence as it first appears. The important part of the verse says, “he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited.” In Hebrew poetry, which this passage is an example of, two clauses set side by side are used to enhance meaning. Thus, when Isaiah says God did not create the world tohu, it means that God did not create it to be tohu as the next clause demonstrates. Instead, it was created to be inhabited. It was created for us (as evidenced by the fact that the context is the final salvation of Israel).

This brings us to the second part of your question, which is whether or not it explains the war in heaven. Again, many advocates of the Gap Theory argue that there was originally a pre-Adamic race ruled by Lucifer. Lucifer, however, caused a war in heaven at which time he was cast to earth. As punishment, God destroyed his kingdom, enshrouding it in darkness for hundreds of millions of years. Thus, the creation story of Gen. 1 is actually a story of recreation, not of the original creation. It is also why the first words God speaks are “Let there be light.”

Beyond the fact that there is little biblical evidence for this position (the Bible does talk about a war in heaven and Satan being cast out, but it does not connect it with the early earth or a pre-Adamic race; in fact, a pre-Adamic race is nowhere mentioned in Scripture), Isa. 45:18, the very verse appealed to support the Gap Theory, actually works against it. If God did not create the world to be empty but instead created it to be inhabited by humanity, then it makes no sense to say that it was created for Lucifer and his kingdom.

A final point has to do with general motivation for advocating a gap theory. Historically, no one ever found such a gap between the two verses until science came up with millions of years that supposedly needed to be explained. Whether or not science is right, the point is that we shouldn’t look for ways in Scripture to explain it away. Biblical passages must be taken in their own contexts. One of the surest ways to come up with a bad reading of a passage is to be looking for a meaning in it. As well intentioned as gap proponents are, I’m afraid they’ve done just that. Their good intentions have turned out to be the very thing that has caused their mistake.

Can A Person Be Moral Without God?

Can a person be moral without God?

Atheists are often attacked by Christians as being inherently immoral. The Bible certainly does not speak very highly of atheism (Ps. 14:1), and polytheism and idolatry are condemned as ignorant and immoral positions (Isa. 44:6-20). Indeed, the first of the Ten Commandments is a declaration that one must worship only the One, True, Living God (Ex. 20:2-6). But does this mean that atheists cannot be moral?

There are actually three answers to this, depending on how the question is interpreted.

First, if “being moral” is interpreted in the popular way of “being good” or “doing the right thing,” the obvious answer is that, yes, an atheist is perfectly capable of being moral. In fact, as Christians, we must insist that biblically they can be as moral as anyone else. The Scriptural proofs for this are easy enough. Rom. 2:14-15 says:

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them (NIV).

Gentiles were those who did not believe in Yahweh. It doesn’t matter whether they were atheists or polytheists. Denying the True God is one way is the same as denying Him in another. And yet in this passage, Paul asserts that they have the moral law “written on their hearts.” In other words, they know right from wrong. But they do not merely know it, they “do by nature the things required by the law.” Thus, Paul says explicitly that unbelievers actually do behave morally! To argue, then, that an atheist cannot be moral is to deny Scripture. Further, the Bible consistently speaks of God’s judgment on sin, even against the heathen nations. If they were not capable of doing good and did not know right from wrong, on what basis would God judge them? Finally, our own experience confirms Scripture. Who does not know an atheist or a member of any other religion who is not a kind, loving person, who takes care of their families and looks after the needs of their neighbors? It is obvious, then, from any perspective, people can be moral without God.

A second interpretation of the question is to take “be moral” as referring to one’s essential moral character. Is it possible for a person who does not believe in God to be considered a “good” person. It must be stressed that this is a theological interpretation. Under this view, the answer is no for three reasons. First, unbelief is a sin, and no person who sins can be considered good or moral. Second, everything not done from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). Thus, in this view, even the good the atheist does is worthless, theologically speaking, because, like all sin, it is rooted in the desire to serve the self rather than God. However, before Christians even consider pointing the finger and declaring atheists immoral, we should note that we are in the same boat! Rom. 3:23 says that everyone has sinned, which means that none of us are good or moral. Further, Jesus Himself declares that in the theological view, there is only One who is good, which is God (Matt. 19:17). Christians, then, are no more good than atheists are, a fact that Paul recognizes in Rom. 7:18, saying, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (NASB). So again, in this view, no one can be moral without God, but by the same taken, no one can even be moral with Him in this life.

Finally, the question may be interpreted philosophically to mean “Can a person behave in a fashion that can truly be called moral if God does not exist?” Here, the answer is certainly no. We should note, however, that this view of the question has nothing to do with atheists or theists. It has to do with atheism or theism. That is, if God does not exist, there is simply no such thing as morality, and if there is no such thing as morality, then it makes no sense to call anyone moral!

But why should we believe that without God, morality doesn’t exist? The reason is simply that in His absence, all moral statements are merely matters of preference. You would never say the statement “Chocolate is better than vanilla” is moral or represents anything real in chocolate itself. It only expresses your own view. In fact, it is just shorthand for, “I prefer the taste of chocolate over vanilla.” Thus, perhaps surprisingly, whenever two people are arguing over which book, movie, food, song, etc. is “better,” neither can truly claim to be right and the other wrong. If I say, “This is a good song,” I am actually saying, “I enjoy this song.” It makes no sense to respond with, “No it isn’t! It’s a terrible song.” All you are really saying is, “I do not enjoy this song.” Both people are exactly right because they are only speaking about their own taste preferences. Shy of an objective definition of what makes a song “good,” such statements are nothing more than opinion.

When we take this line of thinking to morality, we discover that statements like “slavery is wrong” really only mean “I don’t like slavery” if God does not exist. Some may try to avoid this conclusion by saying that slavery is wrong because it harms others, but then all they done is move the problem back one step. Now they are simply saying, “I don’t like hurting others,” rather than “Hurting others is wrong” as they think they are saying. Still others will argue from an evolutionary perspective that people treat one another in a certain way because it is good for the species and helps us survive. There are two problems with this answer. First, the statement “It is wrong to do what hurts the species” is still just a personal value statement that actually just means, “I don’t like doing what hurts the species.” Morality still has not been grounded in any objective reality. Second, even if we grant somehow that this morality is objective, there is no objective reason for holding up this value rather than another. If evolutionists are right and morality is just a tool we developed over time to help us survive, then there is no real reason to maintain the ethic. Perhaps rather than valuing what is good for humanity, I value doing what is good for me, regardless of the pain it brings others. If I can be guaranteed to avoid the consequences of my behavior, in this view, why restrain it? To say my behavior is “wrong” is only to say that I have rejected your personal opinion.

Against all this, if God exists, it is obvious that moral statements can have real meaning. If God created the world to operate according to certain laws and intended mankind to treat one another in a specific way, then for us to reject that order and behave as we see fit is truly is wrong. We truly ought to do one thing and instead we do another. We can say such things are wrong because they truly violate reality as it actually is. Such statements have objective meaning. Thus, it only makes sense to talk about a person being moral if God exists. If He does not, the best we can say is that we approve or don’t approve of people’s behavior.

As Christians, we must be very careful to handle Truth with care. When we tell atheists that they cannot be moral in the first sense of the question, we are simply being unbiblical. When we tell them that they can’t be moral in the second sense, we are just being hypocritical. And we can’t tell them that they can’t be moral in the third sense, because God really does exist, which means we really can credit them with moral behavior, despite the fact that they ignore the foundations of such statements.

Questions, comments, cries of outrage?

What About Atrocities Committed In God’s Name?

One of the most common criticisms against Christianity and the belief in God in general is the millions of people who have been killed by religious extremists and in religious wars. Don’t all the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity disprove it or at least make it highly unlikely?

From a strictly logical perspective, the question makes little sense. Just because the adherents of a system do bad things, that doesn’t make the belief system false. To argue it does is to commit a particular logical fallacy called a “genetic fallacy.” For example, suppose your first grade teacher who taught you your multiplication tables turned out to be a murderer. That wouldn’t mean that the math he taught you was false, would it? The point is that arguments have to be decided on their merits rather than on the quality of the person from which they came. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t matter how many Christians do evil things. The question is whether or not the evidence for Christianity withstands scrutiny.

As sufficient as that answer is, however, it still leaves a deeper question unanswered. If the God were real, how could He let such things happen? We may appeal to free will to explain suffering generally, but what does it say about the character of God if He allows His followers to abuse others in His name? Does that not imply that He condones such actions?

Christian atrocities are a sad part of our history. The Salem Witch Trials are just one such example. It is important to remember that just because an action is taken in God's name does not mean it was sanctioned by God.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it assumes that God somehow needs defending. The implication is that God’s followers are His representatives, and that our actions reflect on Him. Yet the Bible nowhere describes us as such. In fact, the closest description we have of that shows the fallacy of this kind of thinking. Gen. 1:26-28 says that we were made in the image of God. That image does imply representation. Literally, we are the visible representation of the invisible God. Yet the entire point of the story of the Fall is that mankind chose to represent himself rather than God. Our atrocities are our own, not His. To illustrate, imagine a group of men who stole a country’s flag and under that flag attacked a village, killing its residents. At first glance, it would appear that the country represented was responsible for the attack. Upon closer inspection, however, we realize that though the actions may have been taken “in the name of” that country, they were unsanctioned.

No sin is sanctioned by God, therefore, no sinful act in His name represents His intentions. Anyone, Christian or not, can claim to do anything they like. The Bible consistently warns against false prophets. These were men who claimed to speak in the name of God. It is instructive that God warned us against such men rather than stopping Him themselves. They will have their judgment along with everyone else. Likewise, God will judge His own who acted falsely in His name.

As an aside, some try to get around this question by arguing that such people are not “true Christians.” I would strongly encourage people not to use that argument. It may be true that such people are false Christians, but the theological implications of using behavior as a test of salvation are dangerous indeed. Belief, not behavior, decides one’s relationship to God. The point is that anyone, Christian or not, can claim to act in the name of God. He will sort out in the end who did and who did not, and those who did not will bear their shame.

There certainly have been many crimes committed by Christians. We must not shirk away from that. Paul recognized his own struggle with sin in Rom. 7:14ff. Yet we must recognize that Christianity itself can never properly be used to sanction sin, no matter how much twisting people do with Scripture. Our job is to be on guard against such people. The blame is on them, not God.

What Is Pride?

A wave can be an incredibly powerful, and often destructive, force. It makes a perfect word picture for human pride.

We all know that pride, at least in most cases, is a bad thing. Humility is the thing we are to strive for. Yet as soon as we make these statements, qualifications start arising. Pride isn’t always bad, is it? There’s nothing wrong of being proud of your achievements, your children, or your country, right? And we’ve all met people who seem so humble that they can’t take a compliment. That sort of extreme doesn’t seem very appealing. So what is it we really mean when we talk about preferring humility over pride? What does the Bible say on the matter? We will look at humility tomorrow. Today, let’s start with looking at the biblical concept of pride.

The main OT word is ga’a. Its primary meaning is “to rise,” though this “rising” is used in a variety of ways. For instance, in Ex. 15:1, God is “highly exalted.” Our word is used in an intensive construction here, and the word picture seems to be God rising like the crest of a great wave and casting Israel’s enemies, in this case Egypt, into the sea. A similar usage is found in Job 38:11, where the waves are called “proud.” That is, the rise greatly, and no one can stop them but God.

It is easy to see how this concept of rising up is used to picture pride. Positively, the land of Israel is Jacob’s pride because of its excellence (Ps. 47:4, etc.), and that because of its relationship with Yahweh. Further, God’s majesty—His rising—is described by the same word (in this context, it is usually translated by doxa, “glory,” in the Greek translation of the OT). More often than not, though, pride is a negative trait. Specifically, the concept is arrogance (cf. Prov. 15:25, etc.).

The second major OT word is zid (or zud). It is a picture of boiling over, and the word picture is related to the rising water we’ve already seen (cf. Ps. 124:5, which refers to proud, raging waters that represent overwhelming trouble in life). Usually, it refers to a sense of self-importance, an attitude against which God is strongly opposed (cf. Prov 3:34; though a different word, the same concept is evident). Specifically, when I presume I have authority I do not, I will act in a manner not appropriate for me. Usually, this entails actively rebelling, often willfully, against a higher authority (cf. Deut. 1:43; 17:12-13; 18:20).

The two main NT words for pride are huperephanos and alazon. The former is often found in lists of vices (Mk. 7:21-22) and is translated as “arrogance.” The latter refers to boasting or bragging in both classical Greek and the NT. Such people are those who delude themselves by claiming to be greater than they really are. In Rom. 1:30, both of these words are listed as the outcome of idolatry.

The connection with idolatry is very revealing. The biblical concept of pride is the rising up of someone, their claiming of authority, and their boasting in who they are. If those things are done only in the Lord, then there can be no charge of arrogance. Yet when man rises up in himself and claims for himself authority he does not have, when he rebels against God and boasts in his own power, he is properly said to be full of pride. Such things necessarily flow from idolatry, for to deny our dependence on God and place it in lifeless gods is actually to place our it in ourselves. So, the question is, in whom are we glorying? To glory in God is not pride. To glory in ourselves is!

Pride is the most difficult of all sins to overcome, because it is that which focuses on and glories in the self. It is very difficult to focus on others, but that is God’s own ethic, and it is His command for His children (see Phil. 2:4-5). It is the very essence of love, which means that love for others and pride in the self cannot mix.

So, who are you glorying in? Are you a loving person or a proud one?

What Is A Friend?

What is a friend? All of us understand the importance of friendship in our lives, but what does the Bible say a friend actually is?

The Greek word consistently translated “friend” is philos. Particularly interesting is the fact that this word is derived from the verb phileo, which is synonymous with agapao, which means “to love.” Strictly speaking, then, a friend is one who loves or is loved. This stands in contrast with enemies, who hate or have an aversion to another. A great example of this is found in Matt. 11:19, where Jesus is called a “friend” of tax-collectors and other outcasts of Jewish society. Far from wanting to stay away from them as the Pharisees did, Jesus willingly spent His time with them and demonstrated His love in very practical ways.

By extension, a friend is one who is devoted to another. Because of this, Abraham is called a “friend of God” in James 2:23. Likewise, those who devote themselves to Jesus are His friends (John 15:14ff). A good secular example of this is found in John 19:12, where Pilate is threatened with the charge of not being a “friend” of Caesar if he didn’t have Jesus crucified. This, then, helps us understand why James said that friendship with the world is enmity with God, for we cannot be devoted to both.

The word also refers to general companionship in passages like Luke 7:6, etc.

We see the word itself has a fairly broad meaning. Like any word, context helps decide the specific view in meaning. The same is true in OT usage. The main word there is rea’ and includes close, intimate friendships all the way to mere companions. In Ex. 33:11, for instance, God speaks to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend,” but 1 Sam. 14:20 finds the Philistines turning their swords on one another (on their “friends”). Sometimes, this vagueness can create interesting theological discussions. For instance, are Job’s three friends actually true friends? Though not explicit, the question of true friendship may well be a sub-theme in the book as it helps us understand how to counsel friends who are suffering.

The bottom line we can take away is that a friend, in the biblical sense, is one who loves and is devoted to another. Our friends, then, are the ones who are there for us no matter what, which is what we should be willing to do for others. That also means that a lot of people whom we think of as our friends aren’t our friends at all. Worse, it may be that we aren’t the friends we think we are to others! Most significantly, it is an amazing thing that we can be not merely God’s followers, but even His friends, and He can be ours. He is already devoted to us. The question is, are we devoted to Him? True friends always are.