Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Evil and Suffering

Just a quick note, I use the terms bad, evil, harm, pain, and suffering synonomously. I do not necessarily assume any sort of supernatural forces of evil for this argument.

A common argument against the existence of God is that He cannot exist because bad things happen in this world. It is a valid question to ask why a loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God would allow bad things to happen. However, as an argument against God, this is an illogical and self-refuting argument. The premises and conclusion of the argument go something like this.

P1. God is all-good
P2. God is all-knowing
P3. God is all-powerful
P4. Bad things happen

C1. Therefore, God does not exist

In other words, if premises 1-3 are true, then God should know of all evil that would happen and His goodness would compel Him to prevent it. Since bad things do happen, God doesn't exist.

As an argument against the existence of God, it is self-defeating. Instead of disproving God, it proves God because it assumes He exists for the conclusion to follow logic. The reason why is because of premise 4, that bad things happen. Without the existence of God, there is no such thing as absolute good or bad. We are just animals following our instincts like a lion that kills a zebra. It's neither good nor bad, it just is. Without God, moral judgments of good and evil are purely opinion.

Although this argument is illogical as a proof against the existence of God, it is still a valid and important question. To my knowledge, the Bible doesn't directly answer this question, but it does give us some insight. There have been whole books written on this subject, one of which is The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, so please understand that my answer is one of many and a very short version of it. Additionally, please remember that my answer and any others are merely possibilities. They could very well be correct, but we cannot know for sure since God has not given us the answer.

Before we begin, I think it important to address the different types of evil. There is harm done by people and by nature. Man is often responsible for bringing harm to himself and no reasonable person can blame God for this. For instance, the Bible is clear that we are not to have sex before marriage, so when a person does so willingly and gets a disease, they only have themselves to blame. On the other hand, innocent people are also intentionally and accidentally harmed by others. When this happens or when nature is to blame, people often feel God should have prevented it, but both can be explained biblically and logically.

The first answer that much be given to explain evil is original sin. God created a perfect world, but also gave us the choice to disobey His commands and we did. At this moment, sin entered the world. You may say it is unfair to pay for the sins of Adam and Eve, but an honest investigation of what happened leads me to the conclusion that every person who has lived since then would have done the same thing.

Beyond original sin, the typical answer is that bad things happen because God gave us free will. In this context, free will means that God does not force people to believe in Him and follow His commands. With this God given freedom, people are able to choose to do evil. The second part of this is love. If God forced us to believe in and follow Him (by not allowing us the ability to deny Him or through undeniable evidence of His existence), then we couldn't truly be able to love Him or anyone else. Without freedom, our love for Him and each other would be like the love a pet has for its owner.

In a broader and simpler explanation, God allows bad things to happen because He is looking at it through the big picture and sees the greater good. This is a good that we don't always see or think about but it is there. These greater goods could be love, free will, heaven, or commitment to God. This may seem harsh or cruel when speaking theoretically so I will use an illustration that I think is helpful.

All parents allow their children to be harmed in some way. Perhaps it is not always preventable, but I would suggest that it nearly always is. For instance, a child that falls and gets a scraped knee has been harmed. A child who is mocked on his first day of school or feels dumb for not understanding long division as quickly as his peers has suffered. The girl who feels self-conscious about her body or doesn't think she's very smart has felt pain. The child whose trust is betrayed by a teacher or neighbor has experienced evil.  All of these could be prevented by the parents. Yes it would be tough, but it could be done. A parent could essentially child-proof or pad their entire home and never let the child leave or interact with others and they would be safe. The child would be free from ridicule, most illnesses, jealousy, self-doubt, and almost all physical pain. Ironically, any parent who did this would be considered abusive. We let harm come to our children because we love them. We know that removing all potential sources of harm also removes so many more sources of joy, happiness, excitement, fun, and love that it is better to allow some harm to come to our children.

God allows us evil in the world because He loves us.  For the Christian, we can take comfort in the fact that Christ suffered for us on the cross, suffers with us, and will one day remove all suffering. By obeying God's word, we can virtually eliminate all self-caused suffering from our lives. When evil does come upon us, we can know that God will be there to see us through it and that it is only temporary. When the end comes, we get to go spend eternity with Him in Heaven, where this is no pain or suffering.

Here are a few verses that I think might be encouraging...

Romans 8:18 - For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us
http://bible.cc/romans/8-18.htm

1 Peter 5:10 - After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you
http://bible.cc/1_peter/5-10.htm

Revelation 21:4 - and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
http://bible.cc/revelation/21-4.htm

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why become a Christian

The answer to the question "why become a Christian" is both simple and complex.  The simple answer is that it is true (1).  The more complex answers lie in the follow-up questions, the most immediate one being "how do we know Christianity is true" (2)?  Once we accept the truth of Christianity, I think it is important to understand what it means for us (3) and how to become a Christian (4).  Each of these topics can be discussed in much greater depth; however, this post only gives a basic explanation.  I will discuss these topics in greater detail at a later point.

1.  It is true!
Because it is true, there should be no other reason necessary to believe.  Yes, many people identify as Christian due to a prescriptive upbringing or because they think the Bible is a good but imperfect guide to human behavior.  These are unfortunate instances, as we should never believe or follow anything that is untrue, even if it might appear to be beneficial.  This means that if Christianity was false, but it led to people being happier and kinder, we should not believe or follow it.  On the other hand, if it is true, but we don't like it, we should still believe and follow it.  For instance, I may not like gravity because I'd rather float through the air effortlessly, but it exists regardless of my liking or believing it.  Additionally, the air that I breathe, the water I drink, and the planet the houses them all depend on gravity to hold them together.  If I were to deny gravity simply because I disagreed with it, not only would I be wrong, but I would be dismissing one of the most important forces that are necessary to keep me alive.  This means that we should not choose to accept or dismiss Christianity on the basis of our likes and dislikes or pending the result of a cost-benefit analysis, but on the basis of what is logically and empirically true.

In practical terms, we cannot logically deny Christianity by using arguments such as "I want to have pre-marital or extra-marital sex and the Bible says these things are sinful, therefore Christianity is wrong or just not for me".  The other example would be denying Christianity out of the fear that it may bring persecution and possibly death or that it will cost too much time (serving) and money (tithing).  Dismissing Christianity for these reasons is a not a logical decision, it is an emotional reaction stemming from fear.  This type of argument also ignores the fact that God is necessary for the existence of the universe, He set the laws that govern the universe, and He created the time and money we're too fearful to give away.  Fortunately, God is loving and wants what is best for us (which isn't necessarily what we always think is best).  This means that the costs will always outweigh the benefits and when we commit our lives to Him, our will (likes and dislikes) becomes His will.  Coming from a position in my past that was directly opposed to just about all things righteous, I can honestly say that the way God has blessed me, shown me love, and changed my will and behavior, has already exceeded my wildest imaginations of what He could or would do.

2. How do we know it is true?
The Bible makes some pretty miraculous claims.  It records multiple people coming back from the dead, instantaneous healings, and a man living in a fish three days.  These claims and many others, such as God exists and created the universe, there is an absolute moral law, and that Jesus will come back to earth, cannot be empirically tested.  So how do we know what the Bible says is true and not just make believe?  Jesus said "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"  This means that is the Bible tells us of earthly things and it is wrong, then we can expect it to be wrong when it speaks of heavenly things.  Additionally, the Bible says that God cannot lie, is all knowing, and inspired the Bible. This means that if there is a single error in the Bible, it was not written or inspired by God.  So to answer the question, is the Bible true, we must evaluate the Bible for accuracy, consistency, and reliability, in addition to experiencing the power of God through a relationship with him.

The first check is accuracy.  There is a misconception that the Bible is opposed to science, but this is not true.  Yes, the church and many believers have made or are currently making mistakes regarding the claims of the Bible.  This problem essentially comes down to people imposing absolutes on ambiguous verses.  There is not a single line in the Bible that contradicts science or history.  In fact, as we learn more about science and history, empirical evidence has repeatedly reaffirmed the claims of the Bible.

Consistency is the next test of truth that the Bible must pass.  This is a logical test of the law of non-contradiction, which basically says that something cannot contradict itself.  If the Bible makes a claim and then makes the opposite claim at a different time, then at least one of the claims must be false, which would discredit the entire Bible.  Once again, the Bible passes this test at every turn.  This is not to say that there are not difficulties within the Bible, but there are no genuine contradictions between any two parts of the Bible.  If you want to know more, these first two checks fall under the heading of the inerrancy of the Bible.

The last claim is one of reliability.  How do we know the Bible was written or inspired by God or that the men who penned God's Words did not make any mistakes?  We start with the Old Testament.  Jesus confirmed the Old Testament, meaning that we can automatically accept it as reliable, assuming we trust Jesus and the New Testament.  We know the NT is reliable for a few reasons.  It was recorded by personal eye-witnesses to Jesus' life and resurrection, except for Paul and Luke.  Paul had a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus, performed miracles in the name of Jesus, was confirmed by the other apostles, and wrote during the lifetime of eye-witnesses to the resurrection.  The last one also applies to Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts.  The authors were also clearly tools of God as they performed and recorded many miracles.

Additionally, the writers of the Bible included parts that would not have been thought of as reliable at the time, such as Mary's testimony that Jesus was risen.  If the writers of the Bible were trying to sell a false story as true, they would have made it a man that first witnessed this because women were not considered reliable eye-witnesses back then.  Many of the authors and apostles died for their beliefs, too.  Many people today die for their beliefs, but they do not die thinking their beliefs are false.  If the writers of the Bible knew the resurrection was fake, they would not have died for it.  However, we have no indication from the Bible or any other source that they did not die for Christianity.  To assert that they didn't die as martyrs or were possibly delusional would be unfounded make believe.  Lastly, the Bible was written within a generation of Jesus' life.  This means that any false doctrine that was spread verbally or in writing, likely would have been removed or corrected by the apostles, disciples, or other eye-witnesses

The last piece of evidence that I feel I must mention here is fulfilled prophecy.  The Bible makes specific predictions about events hundreds of years before they happened.  Attempts have been made to explain these away as fabrications or coincidence, but these counter claims do not fit the evidence.  If we truly accept the prophecies as true, then there can be no denying that the Bible was inspired by an all-knowing God.  This is especially true when one considers how Christianity spread through peace and love while Christians were being persecuted.

Once again, this is a very brief explanation regarding the reliability of the Bible.  For more information on this, see the post Is the Bible True (when I finish it).  It will still be brief, but will be much more in-depth than this small section.  For a more comprehensive understanding of how we know the Bible is true, see the works of Gary Habermas or Lee Strobel.

3. What does it mean?
If  Christianity is true, then there are many implications for humanity.  It would mean morality is objective and absolute as opposed to relative, the universe is coherent and ordered, life has purpose, people have intrinsic value, and there is an afterlife where we will be held accountable for the choices we made during this life.  Although this list is not all encompassing and the points are all related, I want to focus on the final one, that there is an afterlife.

The truth of the afterlife is a very powerful personal and emotional truth of Christianity. Death can be scary and we have a tendency to desire positive immortality.  We are eternal beings, made to live forever, and what we do in this life determines where and how we will experience the afterlife.  God gives us the opportunity to have everlasting life or to go to hell/perish. John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Once we accept the truth of Christianity, we realize that we are imperfect sinners, unable to achieve the perfect standard of God.  Some of us blatantly sin (stealing, killing, etc.), while some of us have more subtle sins (speeding, drunkenness, selfish ambition, etc.).  Ever since the fall of man (Adam and Eve's original sin) we have fallen short of the glory of God.  As a result of God's everlasting love, He shows us grace through Jesus so that we can be saved, but it is up to us to accept this free gift.


4. How to become a Christian
So then the final question becomes, how does one become a Christian?  You will be a Christian, "if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus as Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." (Romans 10:9-10, NASB).  Once you have done this, I recommend that you begin reading the Bible on a daily basis, starting in John (the NT starts with the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which essentially give us the same information).  I think it is also important to find a church and get involved with other believers on a regular basis(Hebrews 10:25).  Join a small group through your church and connect with other believers (Matthew 18:20).  Get baptized to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts2:38), but also as a public profession of your faith to be part of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13)


Verses mentioned above are NASB, unless otherwise stated.  To check look up verses, read them in their context, find cross-references, and read commentary, go to http://bible.cc/


If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail (jaymedenwaldt@hotmail.com).  For daily updates, go to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ChristianityForEveryone).  Thank you for reading.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Introduction

Truth is for all people. Nobody says that math is true for Americans, but not for Europeans. It is true here, there, and everywhere in the universe. Unfortunately, people make the mistake of claiming truth is relative when talking about God, religion, morality, and reason. I say it is unfortunate because in the same way that math is true, Christianity and its proclamations are true for everyone, everywhere. The truths of Christianity are so incredibly cogent, consistent, unique, comprehensive, satisfying, and necessary that I think any unbeliever must be either 1.) honestly searching for truth and haven't yet collected enough information to decide to become a believer or 2.) they are so biased against the idea of God that they are unable to put aside feelings in favor of objective truth.

I am starting this blog for a couple reasons, but mainly in an effort to bring glory to God. I am currently in the process of developing a Christian tract, which I will use to spread the Word and it will serve as a business/contact card. The tract will direct people to this website for more information and give out my contact information for an opportunity at true discipleship. This blog will also be a place for me to write down my thoughts on God in a way in which others can read it.  This will hold me accountable for getting my thoughts written down and ensure my beliefs remain true to the Bible, all while encouraging spiritual growth and understanding in others.

The reason I am developing my own tract is because I have never seen a one that I have liked. There are various reasons I have not liked them, but generally speaking, I question their effectiveness. I am trying to write one that I think people will actually read and understand.  I also want to give my contact information and this website so they can ask genuine questions or at least have an place to go to find the answers easily.

This blog will also be a place for me to write down and organize my various thoughts on Christianity for my own good, for family and friends, and for those who receive a tract. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life," but sometimes Christians stand in the way of that message. I hope to write in a way that is understandable and loving so that everyone can see that Jesus is for them.

Christianity, unlike any other worldview or religion, is relational AND it is comprehensive. To achieve salvation, it is only required to believe that Jesus is Lord of your life. Although you can decide to become a Christian as a result of knowledge, experiences, or feelings, it is ultimately dependent on a relationship with Christ, which is completely different than any other worldview. Other worldviews (including atheism) require specific knowledge, experiences, or feelings to achieve salvation or enlightenment. For instance, to be an enlightened or cultured atheist, one must achieve a high point of knowledge and worldly experiences. In Judaism, one must follow the rules of Mosaic Law.

The problem with all other worldviews is that they are exclusivistic.  While anyone can hold these worldviews; however, not everyone can achieve the pinnacle of the belief system due to mental or physical barriers. Christianity is different in that no matter what a person's level of intelligence, mental or physical health, feelings, education, life experience, or location in the world, they can still have a relationship with Jesus. All you have to do is believe in Jesus and you will be saved (Matthew 10:32, John 3:16, Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9, 1 John 4:15, etc). This does not mean you have to believe God exists for even the demons believe that (James 2:19), but it means that you put your trust in who Jesus is and what God has done through Him (Romans 10:11, 1 Peter 2:6)

I intend to post something on here about once a week, but I am not making any promises. I have also created a complimentary site on Facebook that I will use to post more regularity. The Facebook site will be where I post links, quotes, and other things that I come across on a daily basis. The address is http://www.facebook.com/ChristianityForEveryone

I hope to receive feedback, so please let me know if you have any thoughts or opinions on anything I have written. Thank you for reading.