Archive for the ‘Question and Answer’ Category

Ask the Authors-Question #5

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Question and Answer

The following is a concise answer to a question asked of the authors of this blog, intended to give a simplified answer to the question asked.  If you also have a question you would like to ask surrounding the Christian faith, you may pose your question by visiting the “Ask the Authors” page.  The warranted belief email address will be provided where you can ask your question.

Elena from the UK asked:

In Psalm 136, it speaks wonderfully about God’s love, but then it talks about Him killing kings, so does God love all people or only His people?

Matt’s answer:

Strangely enough, we were recently reading this passage together in a group and I was wondering if anybody was thinking that it was odd to praise God for His love when it speaks of Him killing mighty kings, Sihon and Og (Psalm 136:17-20), but I do not think it is odd.  In fact, I think if we consider a few key points, it becomes easier to understand.

Understanding God’s love

I think God’s love is inseparable from His justice.  I have quoted this before, but I will do so again because it sums up the point so well: “What sort of God would He be if He were not angry with everything that tries to wreck His good creation?” (Christopher Wright, The God I Don’t Understand, p.131).  If we truly believe that God is good and is a God of love, then I think we have to believe that He is a just God who punishes evil.  If a loved one is stolen from or defrauded, it would be unloving for someone who had the means to bring justice to do nothing.  In mentioning God’s love, the Old Testament also mentions His justice, because in His love, He does not want injustice to take place, so the concepts are integrally connected (Exodus 34:6-7; Deuteronomy 7:7-10).  If God were not allowed to be a God of love and punish the disobedient at the same time, then any earthly parent who disciplines their child could not also be said to love that child.  Now, I do understand that the issue is not a simple slap on the wrist, but in fact, taking the life of these mighty kings.  However, I do not think it is not a question of whether God can love and judge at the same time, but whether His judgement is just in dealing with His own people over against dealing with other nations, which leads into the next point.

Understanding God’s love for the nations

A misunderstanding of the Old Testament would be to think that God favours Israel in everything and hates the other nations.  In Leviticus 19, after telling the Israelites to love their neighbour as themselves (19:18), God commands them to love the stranger as themselves (19:34).  In Deuteronomy 10:17, it says that God is not partial and then it says that God loves the sojourner (10:18), and commands the Israelites to love the sojourner too (10:19).  So if God loves the foreigners, why would He kill them?  Well, because of their rebellion against God.  Sihon and Og were kings of the Amorites and God pronounced that they would be judged, at least 500 years before He actually did it!  This is shown in Genesis 15:16 where it says that the sin of the Amorites was not yet complete in the time of Abraham, meaning that around the time when the Israelites would be brought out of Egypt, the time for the judgement of the Amorites would have come.  So the Amorites had time to change their ways and live justly, and it could even be said that they had the same witness concerning God that convinced Rahab that He was God in heaven, the parting of the Red Sea (Joshua 2:10-11), for Sihon and Og were contemporary with Rahab.  However, they obviously did not change their ways, so God was just in judging them, since He knew their hearts (1 Chronicles 28:9; John 2:24-25).

Understanding God’s love for Israel

The references from Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 7 are a couple examples of God’s love for Israel, but it is also significant to consider how God dealt with Israel, His chosen people, when they were not obeying Him either.  In fact, when we call Israel God’s chosen people, we also have to understand that He chose them so that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in them (Genesis 12:1-3).  So even God’s love for Israel reflects His love for the nations, but let us look at Israel specifically.  Deuteronomy 1:31-45 describes how God carried Israel in the wilderness as a man carries his son, but they rebelled against the Lord in unbelief, so He condemned an entire generation to die before reaching the Promised Land.  Not only that, though, because Israel, after having rebelled and heard the judgement, they tried to take the land in disobedience to the Lord.  Then, guess who God allowed to defeat them soundly in battle?  The Amorites!  So, yes, God had given commandments to Israel that made them more aware of what would constitute obedience to Him or not, but if anything, that put a higher responsibility on Israel.  Whereas the Amorites had hundreds of years to repent, the Israelites were judged very soon after their rebellion.  If Israel was not obeying the Lord, God would favour the evil Amorites even over His chosen people to show them that they needed to obey His voice.  Israel might have had greater privilege, but they also had greater responsibility, and God judged the people according to their knowledge of Him.

That is a basic answer, but I take up this question in more detail, first in the introductory article to the relevance of the Old Testament and then in the article on war in the Old Testament.  Those may also be of interest if further explanation is desired.

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Ask the Authors-Question #4

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Question and Answer

The following is a concise answer to a question asked of the authors of this blog, intended to give a simplified answer to the question asked.  If you also have a question you would like to ask surrounding the Christian faith, you may pose your question by visiting the “Ask the Authors” page.  The warranted belief email address will be provided where you can ask your question.

Anna from Ukraine asked:

What does eternal life look like?

What will we be doing?

Will we recognize each other, and will we be married there?

Matt’s answer:

A picture that doesn’t do heaven justice
What I would want to say about eternal life, first of all, is that it probably doesn’t look like the picture we are given growing up in the church, or at least the picture I was given.  Whenever there was a picture or a video depicting heaven, it always seemed like everyone was sitting on a cloud floating in the air playing a harp, or something along those lines.  I didn’t actually realize how much my perception had been influenced by the picture until I did the School of Biblical Studies and read what was actually being said about the afterlife.  I found quite a lot of expectation to be focused on the coming of Jesus, the resurrection, and the new heavens and the new earth.  Of course, there are passages that indicate some kind of an intermediate state in between death on earth before the resurrection and the resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Philippians 1:22-24), which could involve some floating in clouds, but I found the overwhelming hope of eternal life to revolve around what was still to come, when the fullness of God’s kingdom was revealed, old things passed away, and all became new.

What does the New Testament say?
Paul says in Philippians 3:7-11 that he counts everything as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, wanting to attain the resurrection from the dead.  He goes on to say, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21).  For Paul, citizenship in heaven was integrally connected with receiving a resurrected body.  This was also his hope when he was on trial (Acts 23:6, 24:15).  It was what we would share with Christ if we would be united with Him in death (Romans 6:5).  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul was shocked at people claiming that there was no resurrection of the dead (15:12), because that would make Christianity futile (15:14, 17).  No, Paul says that there is resurrection of the dead, raising what was sown perishable to a glorious and imperishable body (15:42-43) and it would come at the end (15:20-24).

What will we be doing?
The question is then what comes at the end?  The ideas of Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 of new heavens and a new earth are picked up in the New Testament (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21-22).  What is uniform with these references, along with Old Testament references to the resurrection of the dead (Isaiah 26:19-21; Daniel 12:2-3), is that it will be a place of righteousness, where nothing unclean will dwell.  While that doesn’t give us so much information about what we will do, it does indicate that at least some of what we were able to do before will no longer be done.  What it does say for sure is that God’s servants will worship Him (Revelation 22:3).  The references in 22:1-2 could be taken to literally mean that we will have access to water and fruit, but I think it is much better to understand it symbolically as the life given by the fullness of the Spirit (John 7:37-39).  Paul says that we receive the Holy Spirit when we believe as a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Ephesians 1:13-14).  Going back to 1 Corinthians 15, when Paul says that we receive a spiritual body in the resurrection, he doesn’t mean an immaterial, transparent body, but simply that the body is led by the Spirit.  When the old things pass away and all things become new, there will no longer be evil and sin, so we will experience the full measure of the Holy Spirit like it was never possible on this earth.  We have small tastes of what it would mean through how the Spirit revealed Himself in Acts and other books, but as Paul said, he considered the present suffering to not be worthy to be compared with the glory that was to come.  Indeed, the creation will be restored from bondage and corruption, and so will we, because again, we have the firstfruits of the Spirit, but we will receive full redemption when the new heavens and new earth come (Romans 8:18-25).  I don’t think the Bible gives us a clear list of exactly what kind of activities we will do, if that’s what you were wondering, but whatever it is, it is more than anything we could imagine and is inexpressible in words (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Ephesians 3:20-21).
Will we recognize each other?

Well, if Christ is the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Corinthians 15:20-24) and “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory”, then we can expect that our resurrection body will be similar to His.  He was recognized, even if it took His disciples a while to get it through their heads that Jesus might be risen from the dead (Matthew 28:17; John 20:26-27, 21:7), and were even sometimes kept from recognizing Him (Luke 24:16).  Also, 1 Corinthians 15, in using the seed analogy, makes it seem like we might look different, because we have this new body, but the change is in the substance and character of the body and not necessarily the physical appearance (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).  Presumably, Elijah and Moses in Matthew 17, though not at this point resurrected, could be recognized, even though they were no longer alive in an earthly sense (Matthew 17:3).  Perhaps they might be seen in a different way, but they apparently lose none of their distinguishing qualities.  Matthew 8:11 also indicates that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are in the kingdom and that they could be distinguished from the many coming from the east and west to have fellowship with them.  This is perhaps another indication of what we will be doing, having fellowship together, but the point is that, one way or another, we will still be ourselves and will not lose our distinguishing characteristics.  In fact, we will likely recognize each other better than we do now, just by our physical senses, because in the new heavens and new earth, we will know people we have never met before.  1 Corinthians 13:9-12 says that we know in part now, but when that which is perfect comes, we will know fully and not simply be looking as if in a mirror dimly.  As we share eternal life with the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:23), we will certainly know them.  Clearly God wants us to love one another on earth, for whoever does not love, doesn’t know God (1 John 4:8, 20-21), so if knowing God is what eternal life is (John 17:3), then the love will certainly continue in eternity.  For this, I would say we need to know whom we are loving to truly love them.

Will we be married in heaven?

I assume you have Matthew 22:23-32; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38 in mind in asking this question, but if not, these references directly address that.  I have heard a married woman ask a similar question, because she read these passages and thought it would not make sense to effectively not be married to her husband any more.  It is possible that this is exactly what the verses mean, that those who attain the resurrection of the dead and are in the new heavens and the new earth, where there is no sin, will have such an incredible love for everybody, that there will not be a special love designated for the spouse.  After all, if there is no sin and we have resurrected bodies empowered by the fullness of the Spirit, our love for each other would be pretty incredible.

However, the way I read it (and by the way, I have decided not to get married and to remain celibate, so it is not like this interpretation is just what I would like to believe) is that the emphasis is on answering the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection.  They are basically asking whose wife the woman would be if seven brothers married her in turn and died before leaving offspring, one after the other.  Jesus’ answer addresses their misguided understanding of marriage in an earthly sense, which would be at least in part for reproduction.  Especially in Luke this becomes clear, when Luke presumably interprets for his Gentile audience what Jesus means when He says they neither marry or are given in marriage.  Luke adds to Mark and Matthew’s account that “they cannot die anymore” (Luke 20:36), so the reason people don’t go through the action of marrying and giving in marriage is not necessarily because nobody knows who is what to whom, but because there is no more reproduction after the resurrection, which is the reason for the odd situation with the 7 brothers.  Of course, then, in the next verses (37-38), if Abraham is still Abraham and he is still living, presumably Sarah might still be Sarah, and both of them would know that they had been married.  There would certainly be a difference in function, but I don’t see an indication that there would be a difference in relationship.  I could be wrong about this last one, but that is at least my take on it, so you can decide which option makes more sense.  I suppose we won’t know for sure what it will be like until we are there, but the information that we do have indicates that it will be like nothing else, in a good way.

Ask the Authors-Question #3

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Question and Answer

The following is a concise answer to a question asked of the authors of this blog, intended to give a simplified answer to the question asked.  If you also have a question you would like to ask surrounding the Christian faith, you may pose your question by visiting the “Ask the Authors” page.  The warranted belief email address will be provided where you can ask your question.

Maria from Sweden asked:

How can the God of the Old Testament be reconciled with the God of the New Testament?

Matt’s answer:

Adequate perspective on the love of God

To understand this, it is crucial to read the Bible itself and not simply listen to what has been said about it.  To start with the Old Testament, though I do not deny that it does present the wrath of God in some different situations, it might surprise some to see how much it emphasizes the love of God.  One example can be found in Exodus 34:6-7, where the LORD reveals Himself to Moses.  Though it certainly says that God does not clear the guilty, that is absolutely not where the emphasis lies, for it says that He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love (to the thousandth generation), and forgiving.  Another example is Ezekiel 33:11, where God says He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked repent from evil and live.  From this and various other references in the Old Testament, it is clear that God was a God of love even before Jesus appeared on the scene.

Adequate perspective on the wrath of God

Even more illuminating is taking a closer look at the God of love in the New Testament.  John 3:16 is a famous verse, but reading on we find that even though God did not want the world to be condemned, condemnation is conditional in terms of belief, so those who turn away in unbelief are condemned (John 3:17-18, 36).  So the wrath of God is not unique to the Old Testament, but is the righteous response of God to people turning away from Him.  As Christopher Wright correctly asks, “What sort of God would He be if He were not angry with everything that tries to wreck His good creation?” (The God I Don’t Understand, p.131).  If we truly believe that God is good and that His creation is good, how could we say that God loves us if He is not a God who judges evil?  Though we may not always totally understand the picture of God in the Old Testament, I would hope that we could see that God is both a just Judge and a loving Father, no matter what testament we read.

More specifically…

A problem most people think of when considering the depiction of God in the Old Testament is the question of wars in the Old Testament.  How could God command such a thing as war, and even wars that meant the destruction or displacement of other people groups?  This is a question worth examining at more length and I do so in an article in a series on the relevance of the Old Testament, looking specifically at the issue of war in the Old Testament.

Ask the Authors-Question #2

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Question and Answer

The following is a concise answer to a question asked of the authors of this blog, intended to give a simplified answer to the question asked.  If you also have a question you would like to ask surrounding the Christian faith, you may pose your question by visiting the “Ask the Authors” page.  The warranted belief email address will be provided where you can ask your question.

Sarah from Belgium asked:

How can we say that the Christian God is the true God?

Matt’s answer:

What does the Bible say?

A good place to start in determining what we can say about Christianity and God is the book that Christians consider to be the word of God Himself.  According to the Founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).  An early follower expressed similar sentiments when he said that there is salvation in no one else, and there is no other name by which to be saved (Acts 4:12).  In addition to the fact that there is only one way to God, there is only one God to find a way to (Isaiah 43:10-11; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6).  Furthermore, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not only a unique claim, but also the point at which Christianity can be shown to be either true or false (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).  It is therefore significant that this claim “can be established with a reasonable degree of historical certainty” (Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.206).  For more information on the resurrection, see my articles on the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

What are the implications?

I think the issue is not so much what the Bible says, but the difficulty of condemning people of other religions, sincere as they might be.  Though I believe that God is just, this question casts doubt on that, especially when thinking about those who have never heard the gospel.  Well, as Michael Licona puts it, there is general revelation, in that God’s invisible attributes are in creation (Romans 1) and then there is specific revelation: the gospel.  If the general invitation is ignored, God is under no obligation to offer the specifics (Evidence for God, p.196-197).  It is easy to assume that if these people would hear, they would accept Christianity, but that is not necessarily the case.  If God knows the hearts of people (1 Chronicles 28:9; John 2:24-25), He knows who would choose Him under what circumstances, and we even have examples of God revealing Himself to “lost” peoples (Joshua 2; Jonah 1:1-2, 3:1-10; Acts 9, 10).  So, I believe we can both claim that our God is the true God and not feel like we have to apologize for it.

Short answer to a question that deserves a long answer

In answering the question, I have briefly discussed the biblical indications of the exclusivity of Christianity and the implications of that for the world as a whole.  However, I do recognize that the question deserves much more explanation in the details.  Thus, a more adequate answer would have to come in the form of a series of articles on the nature of the gospel and its exclusivity.  We have not written those articles at this point, but we have evaluated the major worldviews and have provided arguments for the existence of the God of Christianity.  What remains to be discussed are the implications of that being the case and that will have to wait until some time in the near future.

Ask the Authors-Question #1

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Question and Answer

The following is a concise answer to a question asked of the authors of this blog, intended to give a simplified answer to the question asked.  If you also have a question you would like to ask surrounding the Christian faith, you may pose your question by visiting the “Ask the Authors” page.  The warranted belief email address will be provided where you can ask your question.

David from Sweden asked:

What makes a Christian a Christian?

Matt’s answer:

Believing in Jesus

It might be easy to say that believing in Jesus makes a Christian a Christian.  However, while this is thoroughly biblical, it is requires qualification, first in what is meant by belief and second by who is meant by Jesus.  A classic verse about belief in Jesus says that if you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).  As simple as this sounds, there were some false teachings in the early church that complicated things.  Paul made a point of mentioning three times in five verses that we are saved by grace through faith, not works (Ephesians 2:5-9), and elsewhere had to deal with people forsaking this grace to preach another Jesus and another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-9).  John had to deal with deceivers claiming that Jesus Christ had not come in the flesh and he said that they were not part of the church (1 John 2:18-27, 4:1-3; 2 John 7-11).  So even though belief in Jesus was sufficient, some had the wrong Jesus and the wrong beliefs.

For example…

A recent example of this involved a Christian woman who lashed out against some criticisms of the “Christian” convictions of a well-known Mormon, as she considers Mormonism to be just another Christian denomination.  Greg Koukl responded by saying that “terminology can be misleading if the doctrinal content is not the same.  It simply is not enough to say, ‘We believe in Jesus,’ even when a string of orthodox confessions are tacked onto the confession” (Solid Ground, p.4).  In other words, if Mormons do not mean what Christians mean when they confess belief in Jesus, then just like early church heresies, they are not Christians.  In the Book of Mormon, in contrast to the verses from Ephesians above, it says “it is by grace that we have been saved, after all we do” (2 Nephi 25:23).  If it is “Jesus plus…” it is not Jesus at all. Now, God knows the hearts of people (1 Chronicles 28:9; John 2:24-25) and He ultimately knows who is a Christian and who is not (2 Timothy 2:19).  However, the Bible allows some general conclusions about what makes a Christian a Christian by which we can judge, so we need not label everyone “Christian” who claims to be one.

More to it

There is more to being a Christian than believing in Jesus, but I single that out, because it is the crucial point cults and various other belief systems would attempt to supplant in some way or another.  Christians walk by the Spirit of God and exhibit its fruit (Romans 8:1-11; Galatians 5:16-24) and show their faith by their good works (Galatians 5:6; Philippians 2:12-13; James 2:14-26).  So there are other things that are common to Christians, but the distinguishing and central factor is belief in Jesus as the risen Lord.  An explanation and evaluation of the Christian worldview can also be seen in the series on worldviews, starting with the introductory article and then the article on Christianity.